Catra doesn’t have a flying horse. She doesn’t have a spaceship. She doesn’t even have magical powers. All she has is this dinghy, and the determination to make it to Beast Island.
She heaves on the oars, muscles straining against the choppy ocean. It’s slate grey, and it stretches as far as she can see in every direction. She wipes the rain out of her eyes and squints down at her tracker pad, then sags in exhaustion. She’s close.
Which is good, because the waves are getting higher, the sea getting rougher and wilder. Wind hurls itself against her, needling through her clothes, through her fur and straight to her skin. She’s soaked to the bone.
All she wants is to close her eyes for five minutes. Five minutes and she’ll be ready to go again. Five minutes…
Catra jerks her head upright and looks wildly around her. That was a lot more than five minutes. Her boat is floating aimlessly on huge swells of water, tilting first one way, and then the other. Catra’s tracker pad is on the bottom of the boat in a puddle of water.
“No no no no no!” Catra mutters, frantically picking it up and trying to dry it on her leggings. It’s woefully ineffective, because every part of her is drenched. The trackpad screen is dark.
She smacks it frantically, presses the power button a couple dozen times. The screen flickers, then brightens and comes to life, and she lets out a sigh of relief. She pulls up the map.
She’s farther away now, because of course she is. But not as far off course as she’d feared. Catra wearily grabs the oars and starts rowing again.
Hours later (it feels like stars have lived and died in that time), she spots a bump of land rising up out of the ocean. Or…land might not exactly be accurate.
Beast Island slowly grows larger behind her as she continues to row.
As she gets closer, the waves change. They’re no longer ocean swells. Instead, they crash against the sides of the island with echoing, bonecrushing force. They’ll dash her to pieces in a second if she’s not careful.
Catra rouses herself from the trance she’d fallen into in the monotony of rowing. This will require her full attention. Staying far enough away from the island that she avoids the surf, she laboriously navigates the dingy to a gap in the sheer walls of the island. This spot has what almost appears to be a beach, a place where the crashing waves wash harmlessly up a steeply sloping inlet.
She stands up in the center of the boat, hands still on the oars. She judges the wave rhythm, the window she’ll have to nail. Catra takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. Then she sits back down facing away from the shore, towards the stormy sea and somewhere far away, the mainland.
Catra eyes the swells, slowly rowing towards the beach a little bit at a time. Here comes a big one. And…..now!
She heaves on the oars and the boat shoots forward, precisely as a swell comes in and transforms into a wave. Her tiny boat rides the crest of the wave forward terrifyingly fast, and Catra has a thought that maybe this is the end of her, as she both hears and feels the water dropping away out from under the boat with a roar. It inches back towards the stern more with every passing instant and it’s up to fate whether she gets to the shore before the boat tips forward with the crashing wave.
The wave crashes to the shore, and the dingy is swept forward along with the water, forward, forward, slower and slower, almost stopping—
Catra leaps out of the boat onto the gravelly beach, icy water pooling around her ankles. She snatches the bowline from where it’s been coiled in the front of the boat, and sprints towards the back of the beach, wrapping the rope around her hand as she runs.
She barely makes it to a steel pipe that errupts out of the gravel and wraps her arms around it tightly before the bowline goes taut, yanking on her hand.
She manages to fumble and grab the fist holding the rope with her other hand, which is wrapped around the pylon, as she feels the dinghy doing its best to drag her back out to sea.
The tension slacks off a tiny bit. Catra unlocks her arms from around the pipe and starts heaving on the rope hand over hand, working as fast as she can.
The boat rumbles up the slope of the beach. Slowly, much too slowly.
Another wave crashes ashore, and the rush of water lifts the boat and brings it rapidly towards Catra’s pylon. She frantically draws the rope in hand over hand, then wraps her arms once again around the pylon as the ocean retreats again. This time, the drag on the bowline is weaker, although it still takes most of what she has to keep hanging on.
The dinghy is now all the way up the beach. Catra securely lashes the bowline to the pylon, and then sags against it. She made it. She’s here.
She blinks, and realizes the gravel she’s been blankly staring at for the past ten seconds isn’t gravel. It’s bits of steel, chunks of pipes, shattered remains of crystals, the circuitry etched on them still faintly visible. It looks like what Entrapta dumps into her garbage bin, with all the sharp corners rounded away.
The crystals are smooth and filmy, almost pebble-shaped by now. Catra scoops one up and slips it into her pocket. It’s almost definitely useless. But there’s something beautiful about that chunk of eroded crystal that she can’t articulate, and who knows. Maybe it’ll be her good luck charm.
Catra forces her legs to move and trudges up the steep slope of the beach. The garbage gravel chunks are big enough that there’s no truly stable surface, and her feet sink into it up to her ankles with every step. When she comes to the back of the alcove, there’s no easy path up.
Good thing Catra has never needed a clear path to climb to the top of anything.
She leaps into the air and catches the edge of a slab of metal glittering with glowing gadgetry. It’s knife-sharp against her palms, but she heaves herself up, then hops from one piece of junk to the next pipe, until she reaches the lip of this cliff made of trash.
Catra hauls herself over the side, and flops onto her back on the miraculously solid ground she finds.
She’d like to close her eyes for a second, but in this place sleeping isn’t an option. Her sensitive ears pick up click-clacks, eerie moaning noises, worse things she doesn’t care to identify.
Her fingers fumble for her breast pocket, and carefully extract a piece of paper, folded over into a tiny square. It’s soaked through, and when Catra delicately peels apart the layers of the note, she’s dismayed to find that the writing is almost completely illegible.
But that’s okay. She memorized it days ago.
I have to go. I don’t know
when if I’ll be back. Everything got to be too much. It’s nobody’s fault but mine, especially not yours. You have always been the best of me, and I know I’m hurting you. I’m sorry. But I can’t go on like this. I love you. I love you. I love you.
Even before this expedition across the sea, the note had been hard to read. Not because of the handwriting—Adora’s handwriting is always crisp and clear and perfect—but because of the tearstains that had caused the ink to bleed in places.
Catra has carried this note in her pocket for over a month. Five weeks since she last saw Adora. Five weeks since she’d woken up to this note on the pillow next to her, the place in their bed next to her already cold.
Five weeks dragging around her broken heart, her grief, the terrible, terrible hope that won’t let her rest until she finds Adora and brings her home.
Catra slowly turns onto her side, then her stomach. She lifts her tired body up onto all fours and stares at the ground for a moment, blinking away the dark spots in her vision when she starts to move. She hadn’t realized just how far Beast Island is from the mainland. She gets to her feet and faces a yawning maw. There are lights blinking in the darkness. Blinking, and moving.
A direct approach will telegraph her position to anything close by. So instead, Catra leaps up to a higher spot. She pulls out the tracker pad and glances it, but it only shows glitchy static and she tosses it aside (places it carefully in a location she won’t forget). It won’t help her in there.
She takes one last look back at the sky, the whitecapped waves, drinks in glimpses of the purple glow of dusk between the clearing stormclouds, the stars that are just beginning to appear. Will she ever see them again? Maybe. Maybe not. But she’ll find Adora if it’s the last thing she does.
And, well, it might very well be the last thing.
Catra turns and heads into the darkness.
Beast Island sucks even more than she’d imagined, Catra thinks as she springs out of the path of a rampaging worm-like creature. A fleck of acid from its dripping fangs manages to land on her forearm, and she wipes it off on a piece of tech with a hiss.
Why on earth did Adora come here?
She’s thought the same thing at least every five minutes since she arrived several hours ago, and so far, she hasn’t seen a single redeeming quality to this place.
Which is, of course, exactly why Adora came here.
Catra should have seen it coming. She had seen it coming, in a way. She’d noticed the way that for weeks, Adora hadn’t quite met her eyes. She’d seen the way that Adora had shied away and made excuses whenever Bow or Glimmer had stopped by to invite her to come with them to do a cleanup at another village or make another encouraging speech to people desperate for leadership. Her empty eyes when they’d negotiated the terms of the peace.
She’d noticed Adora’s blank stare whenever the topic of She-Ra happened to come up.
She’d noticed a lot of things. And she hadn’t said anything, had waited for Adora to be the one to bring it up.
Expecting Adora to voluntarily talk about it was where she went wrong. It’s the thing that has haunted her for weeks. Maybe, if she’d only tried to talk to her about it…
But Catra knows this isn’t her fault, that all the what-ifs in the world don’t do any good. Catra remembers when she first learned that She-Ra was really, truly, gone, and how Adora’s voice had broken as she’d said it. She should have known then.
But she’d hoped. Hoped that Adora would come back, all on her own, would shake herself out of whatever funk she’d obviously fallen into. That Catra would wake up from this awful nightmare.
She’d brought the tracker pad with her when she packed her things, had told Glimmer and Bow to contact her the moment they heard from Adora, and then she’d headed away from Brightmoon and into the Whispering Woods with a light backpack packed with only the basics slung over her shoulders.
They’d contacted her, alright. But never with the news that she wanted to hear. They’d wanted to know if she’d found anything, which she never had. They wanted to check up on her. Catra didn’t want their pity, or their doubt. They wanted to talk to someone who understood. That she was grateful for.
Catra spots movement out of the corner of her eye and in a flash, she’s ready for anything. What slinks out from the shadows is a malformed creature with eyes dotting its sleek black body. Catra can’t tell if it’s mechanical or organic, or both. Frankly, it doesn’t matter when it’s launching its body at her chest, needle-thin teeth aiming for her heart.
She slashes out with her claws, and the creature falls to the ground. On either side of her, sliced to ribbons. Catra pokes one half in curiosity. It seems to have been a living thing on the inside, with an exoskeleton of First Ones tech surrounding its soft body.
Catra doesn’t feel bad. It would have ripped her heart out of her still-living body and feasted on it.
Beast Island is lot more…dense, than she’d first imagined it to be, when Bow had recounted the tale of his and Adora’s trip to the ruin. His story hadn’t conveyed the three-dimensionality of the place. Probably because Bow is only a human, and had kept his feet firmly on the ground most of the time.
Catra, on the other hand, shimmies up pipes and groaning slabs of metal like they’re a big, deadly playground. It’s not so different from all the time she and Adora had spent exploring the Fright Zone. Well, it’s deadlier, she thinks as she swipes a small creature off the archway she’s currently crouched on before it attempts to pounce. But only slightly.
Technically, Catra doesn’t know for sure that Adora is here. But she has a feeling. And her instincts tend to be good when it comes to Adora. This is the last place that Catra added, hesitantly, to her list, the first night camped out in the Whispering Woods, the place she wanted to avoid if at all possible. If she couldn’t find Adora anywhere else. And by now, she’s crossed everywhere else off.
Movement on the ground, and Catra’s laser-focused on it. But it’s only a large beetle, trundling out from under a scrap pile towards a twisting, glowing membrane. She’s about to dismiss it as harmless.
Which is when a metal spear comes out of nowhere and violently spikes the beetle to the ground with a sickening cracking, squelching sound.
Catra whips back to watch.
There’s a shadow moving, from the direction of the spear.
And then, the only girl Catra has ever loved appears from behind a purple crystalline pillar. She moves quickly towards the beetle, wrenches the spear out of the ground, deftly twists the head off the bug and takes a crunching bite.
Catra doesn’t consciously decide to move. But she finds herself leaping down from her perch and landing in a crouch. She straightens up. “Hey, Adora,” she says.
Adora jerks her head up to look at her, eyes as wide as saucers, and now Catra takes a second to really look at her.
Adora’s bangs hang into her eyes, signature ponytail gone. Instead, her hair is pulled back into a low bun with what looks like electrical wire. She’s barefoot, the frayed edges of her pants cut to just below her knees. She’s only wearing her beige undershirt, and there’s some kind of…toolbelt slung around her waist.
She looks haunted.
Catra desperately wants to run into her arms, wrap her up in a hug and never let go, but something in Adora’s expression stops her in her tracks.
It takes a long time for Adora to respond. Like she has to think hard to formulate the words. Finally, she speaks. She juts her chin forward and scowls at Catra, “Why are you here?”
Which is not what Catra wanted to hear. So she falls back on flippant. “Geez Adora, can’t a girl scour the planet for weeks for her girlfriend without getting interrogated about her intentions?”
Adora’s face smoothes into that blank expression that’s been showing up against the backs of Catra’s eyelids for weeks. “Oh. Why? I left you a note.”
Catra squints at her, scoffs, “Tell me you’re kidding.” But there’s a pit in her stomach. This wasn’t how she imagined this going at all.
A skittering sound, and they both whip their heads toward the direction it came from. Adora hefts the spear into the air and catches it, repositioning her grip. “Well…we better go. It’s not safe here.”
Catra feels unsure of herself, suddenly. “You’re not gonna tell me to leave?” She asks, and hates how needy she sounds.
Adora shrugs. “You won’t if I do.”
Which is true.
Catra follows Adora as she takes a winding path through the artificial jungle that is Beast Island. Her mind is racing. Adora is…different than she’d imagined, when she’d imagined finding her dozens, hundreds of times. Catra hasn’t noticed any obvious signs of distress. If anything, when Catra tries to get a read on her emotions, Adora is a blank wall, which is disconcerting. Adora has never been good at hiding what she’s feeling.
They arrive at a kind of cave-hut, nestled in the roots of one of these tree…computer…things. Catra takes everything in, looking at the uneven walls, the counter that is one giant First Ones crystal sitting on a couple pipes. The Horde helmet Adora tosses the bug carcass into. She’s looking for something, anything, that will give her a clue as to why Adora is here, why she left in the first place.
“Dinner?” Adora asks, after a minute. When Catra meets her eyes, she realizes Adora isn’t looking at her, she’s looking through her.
“Uh, sure,” Catra says hesitantly.
Adora drags the helmet across her glittering magenta counter and grabs a short metal rod. She starts mashing up the bug remains, in a squishing, squelching rhythm.
Catra’s mission might be more difficult than she thought.
Catra sits on what seems to make for a chair, but is also an old pipe segment of some kind. “You make all this?”
“No,” Adora says, still fixated on the bug mush, “Micah used to live here. Before we—before we rescued him.” Her voice hitches, ever so slightly.
She grabs another container and pours a generous amount of greyish powder into the helmet.
Catra wrinkles her nose. “What’s that?”
“Powdered bug exoskeleton.” Adora mutters, and mixes everything together. She turns to a complex apparatus that Catra couldn’t hope to guess the purpose of, and fiddles with a knob. A hemispherical blue glass thing that Catra is guessing is the eye plate of one of those mechanical monsters, flickers to life.
After a minute, Adora holds her hand over it, and nods. She starts scooping handfuls of that bug stuff and flattening them on the surface of the glass.
“Is that…safe?” When Adora doesn’t respond, Catra repeats herself.
“I dunno,” Adora says flatly, “Micah is still alive.”
After a little while, Adora scrapes the bug patties off the probably-toxic stovetop with a thin piece of metal and puts them on two plates. She sits down across from Catra and takes a bite out of one of her patties.
Catra gingerly pokes at one with the tip of her claw. “What does it taste like?”
“Worse than ration bars. But only slightly.” Adora says, munching away.
Catra tentatively takes a bite. It’s an accurate description.
She watches Adora as she eats. She wants to yell at her, shake her until regular Adora comes back. She doesn’t do any of that.
Finally, she asks softly, “Why are you here, Adora?”
Adora takes a deep breath, and then lets it out, long and slow. She closes her eyes for a second. Then she stands up. “I need to show you something,” she says.
So Catra follows her.
She follows her through the forest of creepy trees and past the ruined remains of statues, and skeletons with rotting flesh hanging off them, and still-living creatures that stare with dead eyes.
Catra hurries to catch up with Adora, who has gotten ahead of her. “Adora,” she says, and catches her hand.
Adora shudders, and for a second there’s a clearness in her eyes. For a second, she’s really seeing Catra. But then she shakes Catra’s hand off. “Don’t.”
Catra’s heart clenches so violently it hurts. She wasn’t sure if she had a heart anymore, or if it disappeared with Adora. But apparently it’s still there, hoping. Dammit.
Adora leads her to a stone structure at what must be the center of the island. She pushes aside the noxious-smelling vines to reveal a pitch dark tunnel.
“Uh, Adora, I don’t really think—“
Adora flips open a pocket of her belt and pulls out a glowing shard of crystal, and heads into the tunnel, and Catra has no choice but to follow.
The room at the end of the tunnel—or cavern might be more accurate—is dim. Their footsteps echo as they walk across the stone bridge to the obelisk at the center. Adora fiddles with the dials.
Holographic displays come to life all around and above them, flickering with messages. Catra is sure there are a lot of errors, given the state of the whole First Ones system.
“Do you know what those say?” Adora asks.
“Uh, no, I can’t read First Ones writing, obviously.”
“Neither can I,” Adora says hollowly.
Catra blinks at her. “But I thought that only First Ones could…read…”
Adora crosses her arms, looks at a point over Catra’s shoulder. “They can. If they learn. But I—I never did. It was…it was just her.”
“I’m not the hero of the story, Catra. Not anymore.”
Catra thinks maybe she’s starting to figure out why they’re here, a little. “Adora…you did the right thing, you know that right?”
“Of course I do!” Adora says harshly. “How could saving millions, I don’t know, billions of lives not be worth it?” Her voice is rough, and loud, and brittle. “How could it be anything except good? How could I—“ She breaks off, jaw clenched, fists tight balls at her sides, and then in one motion she slams her fist into the wall.
There’s no stone-cracking force behind it, no superpowers aiding her now. Adora glances down at her knuckles, which are starting to bleed, distantly.
Catra longs to reach out, to close that cavernous space between them. “Why did you bring me here, Adora?”
“Because I can’t read this!” Adora yells, throws her arms to either side. “I can’t fucking read this, Catra, do you understand what that means?”
“Yeah, probably that your connection to the sword made you able to read First Ones writing,” Catra says.
“It means that—“ Adora’s voice breaks and she turns away from Catra, shoulders around her ears. And then, in a voice so soft the only way Catra would ever be able to hear it is her superior feline hearing, “That the only thing I was ever good for…was never me. It was always her. But she was evil. Corrupt. And…” she trails off, and then, almost inaudible, “and I still want her back.”
Catra can’t stay this far away from her any longer. She strides to Adora, grabs wrist. She won’t let go again. She says, “Look at me, Adora.”
Adora slowly, slowly lifts her head. When her eyes finally meet Catra’s, they’re red-rimmed and watery.
Now that Catra is touching her, she can feel Adora shaking. And suddenly, all the emotions that Catra has been forcing down for over a month flood through her. Her voice is fragile when she asks the only question that really matters. “Why did you leave? Why did you leave me?”
Fat tears tremble in Adora’s eyes, cling to her eyelashes. She doesn’t blink.
Catra knows this drill. It only counts as crying if there are tears, right? Adora says, age ten, rubbing Catra’s back in their bunk after she’d tripped and sprained her wrist during training, and Shadow Weaver had verbally stripped her down until she was nothing but a guttering candle, holding back sobs with claws digging into her thigh. You didn’t break, Catra. You’re so strong, Adora tells her, soothes her until she stops shaking, until finally they drift off to sleep together.
But now, inevitably, the tears grow to big to be contained in Adora’s unblinking eyes. They streak down her cheeks, gather under her chin and in the crease of her mouth.
And Catra can see the fury in her eyes.
Adora’s words are biting. “I’m not supposed to get a happy ending, Catra. People like me—we’re not the ones who get to live our lives, after. We’re the ones who get used up in the war. So nobody else has to.”
“So here I am!” She spits, louder, her voice echoing in this cavernous room, and she throws out her other hand to the room, “Here I am, and—and nothing means anything!”
“Glimmer, and Bow, and everyone, they always kept a future in their minds, a future they wanted to reach. I never did, Catra, do you get that? I never even tried. I never thought of a world after the war. Because it’s all I’m good for.”
“And now we’re here. And I’m useless. I can’t—what am I supposed to do now?” Adora asks, voice cracking, and she’s not looking at Catra when she says it. She’s staring past her, to where the central pillar of this place looms, flickering readouts streaming through the air.
And now Catra does get angry. “So you ran away because you don’t deserve anything?” She asks, and there’s a grating edge to her voice. “Fuck—Adora, did you ever think about anyone else? Why don’t I deserve my happy ending? Why don’t we?”
It’s not what she should say, it’s not how to de-escalate this situation, but it’s what bubbles up from deep inside her, bursts out of her without conscious effort.
Adora locks eyes on her. “Don’t try to say this is me being selfish, Catra.”
Catra makes a frustrated noise. “Well it is! You have so many people, who love you, who care about you, who want you to come home. And you’ll just throw it away because you don’t think you deserve it? Nobody deserves anything in this world! Every single one of us has done something we regret. Do you know how many regrets I have, Adora? A mountain of them. An eternity of them. You don’t get that excuse.”
Adora’s eyes are flashing, and Catra is glad for it. She’s happy to see feeling in those blue-grey eyes, even if it’s this, even if it’s anger.
“Maybe I am being selfish. Fine. But tell me this. What’s the—what’s the fucking point of me without her? Just—tell me!”
And now Catra can feel her desperation, her fear, the towering insecurity in Adora’s broken words. She feels Adora’s grief like a physical blow, like an ice-hot coal in her chest, slowly burning into her.
Because Adora? She’s lost more than most of them.
Catra had thought, at some point, that maybe things would just be okay now. That the past was in the past. If Catra was doing better, if she could manage to forgive herself most days, if she could see Adora’s scars and not hate herself for it every time…that was good, right? That Adora had forgiven her, that she could maybe envision a future that didn’t end in flames…that was more than she’d ever thought she deserved. And that they could have a happy ending, her and Adora, together.
It turns out that a happy ending is only the last page of the book. And that there are an eternity of invisible pages after that. And they’re hard and sometimes they’re good, great even, and sometimes they’re almost as bad as those things in the story. They’re just not as exciting, and so books stop in the place where everything will probably be okay, for most people.
And the girl who once was She-Ra, falling to pieces under the weight of her absence, isn’t something they teach you in Force Captain Orientation.
The girl who saved the world and willingly gave up everything she’d ever wanted to do it. Who had looked for guidance on how to be a good person, how to be the best person she could be, how to save the world, and then have that advice proved to be corrupted every time. And none of them had thought that maybe—maybe, when it was all over, that girl would struggle know how to live in a world without blood.
Adora pulls her wrist from Catra’s grasp, and sits down, swinging her legs over the edge of the stone walkway. Tears are still streaming down her face, but the only sounds Adora makes are occasional huge, rattling inhales. She grips the edge, knuckles white, except where they’re red with her blood. The blood makes its way down her fingers to the side of the walkway and streaks down the face of it.
Catra carefully, slowly, sits down next to her. She peers over the edge, and wishes she hadn’t. Heights don’t bother her. But the blackness, the draft blowing up from below them, is unsettling. This hole might go all the way to the planet’s core.
Her tail reaches around, ever so lightly curls around Adora’s far arm, and Adora’s breath hitches. Then she exhales, long and heavy.
Adora’s voice is soft, and quiet, and so so fragile. “I left because…” she trails off, looks somewhere across this big, empty cavern. “It’s like—it’s like—you’re told your whole life that you’re destined for greatness. And then greatness comes, and it’s different than—than she meant, but it’s still greatness, right? You have this destiny. And everything is telling you that you’re the one, the only one, the perfect one to be that…that hero.”
Adora pauses, the seconds stretching out long, twisting and taking on a life of their own.
“And then you do it. But it’s not…not the way I thought it would happen. She-Ra…” Adora hunches forward, like she’s bracing herself for a blow, and her voice breaks when she says, “she wasn’t a hero, Catra. Her whole purpose was to—and I didn’t even—“ she takes a shaky breath, “There was never a path that didn’t lead to destruction. Maybe not here, not on Etheria. But somewhere else. She existed to raze worlds to the ground.”
“And once she’s gone I have to pick up the pieces. And I fought, because I had to and because it’s all I know how to do. And we won, because it was the only option besides destruction. And now that it’s over…everyone looks at me and remembers when I was a superhero and that’s all they see. No matter what I do, everyone will always attach “former” to me.”
“What is greatness after it’s all used up?” Adora asks, hollowly, “It’s nothing. A burned-out shell. And what better place for ashes than here, a place for used up things?”
“I’m not a hero, Catra. I’m only a weapon. Point me somewhere and I’ll burn it to the ground and—and ask for a pat on the back after. There’s nothing left of me when you take that away. Just…war and blood and pain.”
Adora sniffs, and wipes her face, which only succeeds in smearing blood across it.
Catra is quiet. She doesn’t have an answer, really. Not on how Adora can find meaning in her life again. But she can help with part of it.
“I don’t. Think that.” Catra says haltingly.
Adora turns slightly towards her, still not looking, but listening. It’s good enough. Catra forges onward. “I never—you never—I never think of you as a former anything. Except a former enemy, maybe.” She laughs humorlessly. “I fucking hated She-Ra, you know that right?”
“Cuz I was always messing up your plans,” Adora mumbles, “I was thwarting you.”
“No,” Catra says, more forcefully than she intended, but it’s a true forcefulness. “You think that everyone likes you because of She-Ra, because of her power. I love you in spite of it. You’re the one who I have always loved, Adora.”
“How?” Adora asks desperately, looking at Catra with wild eyes, “Nothing about me is better now than before! Now I’m just this…useless person. All my skills are pointless. Everything I know was designed for winning wars.”
Catra turns to meet Adora’s eyes head-on. “I’ll prove it to you, if you want.”
Adora laughs tunelessly. “How in Etheria can you do that?”
Catra bumps her shoulder against Adora’s gently. “Did I ever once call you She-Ra?”
Because there are a few things that Catra knows for certain. That she’s a survivor. That the shadows will make her heart race for the rest of her life. And that Adora has always been, and will always be, the core of her. The thing that’s left when everything else is stripped away. And it’s always been Adora. Not She-Ra, not her magic or her power or any of it.
Catra can see Adora thinking, running all their encounters during the war through her head. She sees the moment Adora realizes that it’s true as her eyes go wide.
This time, Catra is the one who has to look away. “You were never She-Ra, to me,” she mumbles. “I hated her because she’s…she’s what took you away from me.”
Catra swings her legs against the wall of this walkway, heels bouncing off the cold, smooth stone. “Maybe it’s true, that war is all you were made for. But you can make yourself for something different. Maybe now it’s time to let yourself just…grow.”
She slides her hand so her pinkie is pressed against Adora’s. After a long moment, Adora shifts her hand and links their pinkies together.
It’s a tiny gesture. But for the first time, Catra thinks there’s hope for them yet.
There’s a lump against her thigh, and for a second she’s confused, before she remembers what it is. She fishes it out of her pocket. “I picked this up on the way here. Tell me what it is.”
Adora sniffs and says waterily. “A First Ones crystal?”
“Yeah, it used to be. Now it’s something different. Now it’s this pretty rock I picked up because I liked it.” She pauses. “You’re right. People will probably look at you and think of She-Ra for the rest of your life. It’s part of you, it made you who you are now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow into something new.”
She turns towards Adora and laces their fingers together. “Come home. Please. I need you.” Her voice breaks.
Adora’s fingers tighten on hers.
After a minute, she exhales. Then she says, “I probably won’t stop being a disaster.”
“I don’t expect you to.”
“I’ll probably never totally move on.”
“I know. It’s okay.”
Adora turns towards her abruptly, and her face contorts into something between a grimace and a smile. She lets out a sob. “I love you,” she says.
And then the dam bursts, and Adora is crying into her chest and Catra puts her arms around her and holds her tight.
It takes a long time for Adora to subside into occasional hiccupping sobs. That’s okay. Catra can just hardly believe that she’s real, and here in her arms.
Catra squeezes her eyes closed, feels her own tears damp on her face.
“Guess there are tears,” she says shakily, when Adora’s breathing is almost even.
Adora sniffs and mumbles into her, “Shadow Weaver can go to hell.”
Catra lets out a snotty huff of laughter, then sniffs. “Yeah.”
Adora draws back and takes one of Catra’s hands in hers. She stares down at their two hands, then slots their fingers together. “How long have you been…”
Catra says softly, “Thirty-six days. I left the morning you were gone.”
Adora squeezes her hand tightly and says in a small voice, “Oh.”
Catra gently, but firmly, takes Adora’s face between her hands. Adora looks back at her, eyes swollen, but now they’re not looking through her. They’re seeing her. “Adora,” she says, voice scratchy from tears, “you are enough. Exactly how you are. You don’t need She-Ra—“
At this, Adora’s breath hitches.
“Just breathe, okay? Just breathe.” She takes a deep breath, lets it out slow and measured. Keeps doing it until Adora is breathing with her, until the catches in her breath are almost gone, before she continues. “You don’t need She-Ra, you don’t need the sword or the hair or the magic to be worthy. Okay? You are worthy of love. Of praise, of respect, just you.”
Adora whispers, “Why do I still want it though?”
Catra has to laugh, a tiny bit. “It’s human to be just a little selfish.” She thinks for a moment. “And it’s okay to miss her. She could do a lot of things. But Adora…you’re the one who made her into a hero. Not the sword, or the heart, or the power. It was all you.”
Adora closes her eyes, and two tears slip out of the corners. Catra runs her thumb over Adora’s cheekbones. “I’ll spend every day for the rest of our lives telling you that if it’s what you need to hear. You are worthy of love. And I love you. Even if,” she continues in a different tone of voice, “it would have been kinda fun to do it with a giant buff warrior lady.”
Adora opens her eyes and lets out a little huff of laughter. “I’ll hit the gym for ya.”
Catra smiles softly. “See? Nothing a little weightlifting can’t fix.” She slides her hands to cradle Adora’s head lightly enough that Adora can stop it in a second, pulls her to her.
Adora’s mouth falls open, and her eyes slide closed and she tilts her head ever so slightly, and Catra kisses her for the first time in what feels like an eternity.
It’s slow, and soft, and Adora’s cheeks are still wet, and it feels like home. And Catra had a thought that she pretended not to think in the last five weeks that maybe she’d never get to do this again, never have Adora in her arms again, never get to kiss her again, never get to tell her she loves her again, and her relief is as enormous as the ocean surrounding them.
She breaks away to press her forehead to Adora’s. “I love you,” she breathes, and realizes that now she’s crying.
Adora whispers, “You came to get me,” and then she’s crying and laughing at the same time, and now Catra is too, and she sweeps Adora into a bone-crushing hug and never wants to let her go.
After a minute Adora lets go and scrambles to her feet, and offers her hand to Catra. Catra takes it, and Adora hauls her up. Catra feels shaky, and she knows Adora is too. It’s fine, everything will be okay, and Catra presses the piece of beach glass into Adora’s hand. “Here,” she says. “So you don’t forget.”
Adora smiles softly at her. “I won’t.”
Catra can’t bear to let Adora’s hand go, and Adora doesn’t seem to want to either. But she pulls Adora over to the display and punches a button. The glowing readouts dim, and then go out. Then Adora is pulling her away, and they walk hand-in-hand back down the dark tunnel.
She-Ra may be gone. But Adora is beside her, and she’s warm and alive and she’s coming home and there’s nothing that could make Catra happier than that.