Adora has not slept soundly since the war ended.
Catra, at first, fails to notice.
The first night they shared a bed together, in Adora’s room that unspokenly turned into theirs, Adora left their bed in the middle of the night. Catra felt the slow shifting of Adora’s body out of her arms, and when she was a bit more conscious, saw her silhouette gently push the door of their bedroom open. She watched, bleary-eyed and half asleep, as Adora slipped quietly out of their room. Catra had quickly fallen back to sleep after that, only to be woken up by the soft shifting of covers and warmth against her back.
She thought nothing of it that night. Perhaps Adora had been hungry, or thirsty. Perhaps she needed to use the restroom. Perhaps, in true Adora fashion, she went for a quick peek on the highest balcony at Bright Moon’s castle, scanning the area for life and threats. Catra would not put it above her- the stunning serenity that the world had fallen into after the eradication of Horde Prime had been a jarring new reality in its first few days. No more battles, no more fighting, no more near-death experiences. But Catra has known Adora long enough to realize that in the back of her mind, always- always - there is a lingering concern for the safety of others.
Catra had snuggled backwards into Adora’s strong hold that first night, unaware of how much time had passed while she was asleep. She drifted off once more and failed to notice that Adora had begun to cry, quietly, into the back of her neck.
The next morning at breakfast, Catra says, “I can sleep on the other side of the bed so that it’s easier for you to get up.” Adora’s fork stops in mid-air.
“Huh?” Catra raises an eyebrow.
“You went to the bathroom or something last night, right? I can sleep on the other side of the bed so that you’re closest to the door. It’ll be easier for you to get up,” Catra says easily. She takes another bite of her bread roll and watches Adora nod slowly.
“... I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that I had woken you up,” Adora mutters, and Catra knows she doesn’t even have to look at her to hear the apology in her voice. She reaches out, puts a hand on Adora’s thigh, and smiles softly.
“No, hey,” she says softly, and Adora meets her eyes. “You didn’t wake me up. I just got cold and noticed that you had gotten up. You’re, like, a human furnace for me. It’s the one thing you’re good for,” Catra teases, and Adora chuckles softly as she playfully pushes Catra’s shoulder.
“I told you to get an extra blanket, dummy. You suffocate me in my sleep because you run cold.”
“I’m not the one who sleeps in the fetal position. You’re just so easy to roll over and squish.” Adora laughs again, and Catra’s heart melts at the soft gleam in her eye.
Adora’s fork finally meets her mouth before she says, “Tonight, I’ll be the big spoon. Then you’ll enjoy sweet, sweet suffocation.” Catra rolls her eyes with a smile.
“Death by a hot girl?” she laughs, standing up to kiss the top of Adora’s head. She doesn’t miss the way Adora’s cheeks flare with a pretty red blush. “That’s always been how I wanted to go out.” Catra saunters away to help Scorpia draft designs for her new palace, but the word tonight rings in her head.
‘Tonight’. There will always be a ‘tonight’ with Adora. One of the many luxuries she is letting herself bask in during the war’s aftermath- a luxury that she has denied herself for far too long.
They snuggle into bed that evening and Adora’s hand slithers up Catra’s shirt to draw soft patterns on her back with the pads of her fingers. Catra hums at the sensation, pleased at the warmth that Adora’s touch brings her.
“You’re purring,” Adora teases softly, and Catra groans in response. She flicks her tail out to wrap around Adora’s ankle.
“I am not purring,” she growls, but Catra’s voice lacks any malice or frustration. Adora laughs, and Catra begins to notice the ‘I’, the ‘L’, the ‘O’, and the ‘V’ being traced against her spine. She shudders involuntarily, but begins to purr harder at Adora’s sentiment.
“I like it when you purr,” Adora murmurs. “I think it’s really cute.”
Catra can feel the warmth of a blush grace her cheeks, and she knows that Adora notices because she does not let it go unknown. Adora smiles- gorgeously, so gorgeously - at Catra, leans down, and captures her in a kiss. Soft, slow, and completely unhurried. Catra feels herself melt at Adora’s touch, at the warm pressure of her lips, at the way her hand comes up to cup her cheek. Adora runs her thumb across the flushed red skin of Catra’s cheek and pushes forward, pressing Catra’s head further back into her pillow. The other hand, still resting on Catra’s back, begins to trace ‘E’, ‘Y’, and ‘O’.
Adora’s hand does not finish its sentence, because when Catra nips gently at Adora’s bottom lip, the hand on her back digs its nails into her skin as she gasps softly. Catra doesn’t need her to finish- she knows what she was going to say. She hikes her leg up onto Adora’s hips and pushes her over so that Catra is straddling Adora’s thighs. She leans down into Adora’s ear, now bright red, and whispers, “I love you too.”
Adora lets out a soft sigh at Catra’s words and pushes her head up to catch Catra’s lips once more. Catra lets her get away with it- she could never deny Adora, deny her touch, deny her love. After so many years of doing so, she wonders how she ever managed to live with the insufferable longing that she felt for Adora and the love she now offers, free and bare, to Catra. Catra refuses to fight this feeling any longer, so she lets herself sink down into the kiss, resting on the soft skin of Adora’s exposed thighs. She feels a ‘U’ being traced softly on her back before Adora’s hips rock upwards, and any teasing remark she had about Adora finishing her sentence flies out of her head as she meets Adora’s hips with the same pressure.
That night, Catra falls asleep facing Adora, nestled into her chest with Adora’s arm wrapped securely around her waist. Exhaustion from their day comes quickly, and Catra welcomes the soft lull of sleep as she drifts slowly away.
She blinks awake at the lack of warmth hours later, and jolts slightly awake when she feels Adora wrap her arms around Catra once more. Catra cannot help but feel slightly saddened at the brief moments of Adora’s absence- cannot help but miss her presence. In another life, Catra would have called herself greedy, but now, she feels as if she has the right to be.
So, Catra does not press, she does not bother, and she does not bring it up. There is nothing to discuss- Adora gets up to use the restroom or get a glass of water before returning to bed. Catra is not one to be upset over a few moments of lost sleep if it means being able to fall asleep in the comfort of Adora’s arms all over again that night.
Until Catra starts to anticipate it. Weeks into Adora’s new habit, Catra’s body has learned to wake itself, just barely, just moments before Adora begins to detach herself from Catra. Catra is now awake enough to see Adora slip on her shoes and a jacket before she slips soundlessly out of the room. Catra is alert enough to see that Adora is alert herself- she does not stumble over her movements or reach out blearily for the door of their closet. Adora moves purposefully, gracefully, and quietly.
This tells Catra two things. The alertness of Adora’s movements tell her that Adora has not been asleep before she leaves their bed in the middle of the night, and the shoes that she slips on tells her that Adora has been walking outside.
After this revelation, Catra chooses not to act on it for the first few nights. She understands Adora’s restlessness- knows this from her ‘sleep-fighting’ habits as a Horde cadet and her intrinsic motivation to protect, to observe, to be active. Catra understands the feeling of lingering unease, for she had spent many sleepless nights in the weeks leading up to the fight against Horde Prime and days after the end of the war.
She is not worried for Adora’s lack of sleep because as cadets, they were only granted four or five hours a night before they were forcefully woken up to begin training that day. She knows that Adora is not the kind of person to need a full eight hours of sleep, but given that the luxury is being offered freely to them, Catra cannot help but wonder why Adora won’t choose it. But still, she does not bring up her concerns to Adora. She wants Adora to have the space that she needs to grow into Catra and their new life together. She wants Adora to come to her if there is a problem, and to act on the trust that she has placed in her.
So, she lets Adora leave at night, and welcomes her back with open arms until she returns.
Adora’s habit of leaving their bed and coming back continues, until one night, she comes back smelling of metal and tears. The next night, Catra decides to follow her.
She waits a few minutes after Adora has closed their bedroom door to slip on her gloves and make her way out.
When she makes her way into the hallway, Catra can see Adora’s shadow at the very end of the hallway, turning to make a right. Adora is clad in nothing but compression shorts, a sports bra, and running shoes, and she is left defenseless against the sharp sting of Bright Moon’s winter. Her hair is loose and cascades down her shoulders, curling slightly at the ends. Catra follows behind quietly, the hard pads of her feet touching the ground with purposeful grace as to not give away her presence. She follows Adora outside of the main corridors of the castle and into the exit hallway. Adora stutters to a stop before she pushes open the back door of the castle and is drenched in the white glow of moonlight. Catra, momentarily distracted by the way Adora’s hair shines in the light, almost forgets to follow her out before the door closes.
She follows Adora through the back gardens, past the armory building, and around the statue of Queen Angella. She tip-toes over branches, flowers, and ant piles as she struggles to keep Adora, who has gradually picked up her pace, through the woods near the castle.
Adora comes to a stop at Mara’s ship. Catra watches as Adora presses a hand to the hangar door and narrows her eyes in an attempt to see through the bright light that emits from the door at Adora’s touch. The hangar door hisses open and hits the ground with a thud. Catra watches Adora curl and uncurl her fist at her side- hesitating to step onto the ship. Adora must have solidified her resolve, because she begins to climb up the platform. Catra bounds quietly after her and slides into the hangar moments before the door closes tightly shut.
She hides behind a spare cargo box filled with ration bars as she watches Adora press another hand to the door leading to the main deck. The door slides open, and again, Catra slides through the entrance at the last minute in order to keep a semblance of distance between her and Adora. She presses her back into the wall in the corner of the room, hoping that the darkness of the main deck is enough to keep her hidden.
Adora sits down on the pilot’s chair, drops her head into her hands, and lets out a broken, hollow sob.
It takes every ounce of self-control in Catra’s body not to run over to Adora, not to give away her presence, not to slide into the chair behind Adora and hold her against her chest. She pushes down the visceral need to wipe away Adora’s tears, now seeping out from behind her hands and running freely down her wrists. She clenches her teeth at the way Adora’s voice rings out across the room- haunted, broken, and absolutely pained.
It takes Adora a few moments to recompose herself before she swipes at the controls on the chair’s right arm. A holograph springs to life in front of Adora, shimmering white in a text that Catra only recognizes as First Ones code.
“Administrator detected. Hello, She-Ra,” Darla’s voice rings. From the angle she is looking at Adora from, Catra can see her jaw clench rightly.
“Show me the videos again, Darla. The ones of Mara.”
Catra furroughs her eyebrows. Who’s Mara?
“She-Ra, a scan of your current physiological state shows that you are in much more severe emotional distress than the last twenty seven scans. I have been analyzing your words and speech patterns during these visits in an attempt to understand the complexity of your current state. May I instead provide you with a program that may be of aid to you?”
Adora laughs, short and devoid of humor. “Sure,” her voice cracks, “What have I got to lose?”
A dark-skinned young woman flickers to life in front of Adora. The hologram is bright and shimmering in the dark light of the main deck. Adora leans forward in the pilot’s chair as her eyes widen.
“... Mara?” she breathes. The woman smiles at Adora.
“I… wait, can you…?”
Mara shakes her head, as if she knows what Adora was going to say. “I’m not real. I am just a simulation of her thoughts and actions, created by this ship’s A.I after recording and analyzing her speech patterns, her dialogue, and her physical actions on this ship.”
Adora leans back and casts her eyes to the ground. “... Oh.” Mara takes a step forward, and her smile reappears.
“But, that means that I’m pretty much Mara. Her words, her actions, her thoughts. The sh- er, Darla thought that this might help you. So, what’s wrong, Adora?”
Adora says nothing for a moment, before, “This… I- this is stupid. I’m just being stupid."
Mara’s smile softens. “You wouldn’t be here if it was stupid, would you?”
“You don’t know that,” Adora says haughtily. Mara chuckles.
“Oh, but I think I do. Tell me what’s wrong. We can figure it out together.”
“This… this isn’t something I think you can help me with. I’m sorry. Thanks for trying, though, Darla.”
The hologram steps forward, and Catra can see Adora flinch in her seat. “You don’t know until you t-”
“Fine. I have no purpose,” Adora’s voice spits out. Catra’s heart lurches at the pain in her voice, gritting out like it has been hidden for years. “There is nothing for me to do anymore. I am nothing without a purpose. I was brought to this planet to fulfill one purpose. But now, the war is over, there is no more Horde, no more threat, no more end-of-the-world danger. We did it. And now, I’m useless. What is there left for me to do? What do I do next? How do I keep living, when the only reason I’m alive is gone? What good is Adora when she only exists to be She-Ra?”
“Is this why you’ve been having trouble sleeping?” Mara’s voice asks softly. Adora hesitates.
“I… I don’t know. I think, maybe, it’s this on top of just feeling restless. Like there’s some new threat out there, waiting, and I don’t know about it. Or maybe there’s not, and I’m just paranoid. I feel useless, and I feel restless, and I want to do everything and nothing all at the same time. But, I mean, what’s the point for me if there’s nothing for me to do? I can’t stop feeling useless, but at the same time, I just-”
“Adora,” Mara says. “Take a breath. Collect yourself for a moment.”
“I can’t,” Adora says, breathlessly. Catra sees Adora’s cheeks slowly turning pink as her frustration increases. Her chest heaves, up and down, and her fists clench against the arms of the pilot’s chair. She doubles over, as if she’s in pain. “Mara, I- I don’t- I can’t-”
Mara’s face smiles sadly at Adora. She strides over to where she’s sitting and reaches out to cup her shoulder, but her hand hovers above Adora’s skin, like she knows that any attempt to touch Adora will cause the light to fade right through her. “Adora,” she starts, “being She-Ra… sucks .”
Adora’s eyes widen comically, as if she had not expected Mara to say that, before she throws her head back and begins to laugh. Mara’s voice joins in with her, and Catra watches as her girlfriend and a hologram laugh over the pain of being the lone defenders of the universe.
“Yeah,” Adora whispers, wiping tears away from her eyes. “Yeah. It sucks.”
Mara smiles- genuinely, this time. “But it doesn’t have to suck.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t get to train you,” Mara then says, derailing the conversation and starting somewhere completely new. “I would have liked to. I would have liked to live long enough to learn more about being us and help you through it. But, then again, I’m already about a thousand years older than you.”
Adora snorts, but it lacks the humor that it is usually accompanied with. “Yeah, grandma. Thanks for the sentiment.” Mara simply hums in response.
“I died when I was around your age, you know? You’ve seen my last log before it happened. I was scared. I was… I felt hopeless. I felt not in control, and free, and terrified, and happy, and sad all at the same time. I felt like my death was the only choice I ever made for other people that I also made for myself. Being She-Ra comes with the burden of having no say over what happens to you or your destiny. You can’t choose this path- this path chooses you, and it forces on you every choice that it makes. Every consequence.” Mara’s hologram disappears and shimmers into view across the room, stalking her way around the control panel with her hands behind her back. “Every ounce of pain. You don’t get a choice. You never get a choice. I didn’t get one until I made one for myself. I sacrificed my own life- I sacrificed being She-Ra - so that the ones after me wouldn’t have to go through such a thing.”
“Mara, I’m sorry, but I did go through it. Light Hope all but forced me to activate the Heart. I almost died in the Heart because I had no other choice when I couldn’t summon She-Ra. I’ve had to put my life second with everything I’ve been forced to do. I don’t want to die. I never did- do. I never do. But I don’t have the luxury of putting my life first,” Adora says. Catra screws her eyes shut in an attempt to block out the pain and desperation that Adora’s voice carries.
Mara quirks an eyebrow. “But you didn’t, did you?” Adora blinks. “You chose not to activate the Heart.” She shakes her head slowly.
“... No, I didn’t. I made that choice.”
“And you chose to destroy the Sword.”
“And you chose to let yourself love.” Catra sees a grin spread across Adora’s face.
“Yes. I did. It… it saved me. And I chose that.”
Mara spins around, suddenly, and Catra tries to force more of her body against the wall to hide herself from the hologram’s view.
“Adora, that’s my point. You made those choices all on your own, even when you thought you couldn’t. You were born into this war- taken from another planet to fight in this wa r- and forced to go on a path that you didn’t even know existed. It’s terrifying, it’s lonely, and it’s so, so painful. But, Adora-,” Mara says, walking over towards where she’s seated in the pilot’s chair, “-your current grief does not come from your absence of choice. It comes from your new freedom to choose.”
Adora furrows her eyebrows. “I… what do you mean?” Her voice is small, breathless, and Catra cannot help but be reminded of their childhood. When they would ask each other questions- So, do you like anyone? Are you okay? What’s wrong? The painful innocence of Adora’s voice makes her heart break.
“Adora,” Mara says, firmly. “There is no new threat. There is no Horde or Heart of Etheria anymore. There is no universally-pressing need for She-Ra at this moment. The visible, predictable parts of your destiny have ended. You have met them. You ended the war. But now, now- ” Mara reaches her hands out to Adora, “- you have the freedom that none of the women before you have ever had. You have the freedom to choose what She-Ra does, what she fights for, and when she is needed. You don’t have to fight for the Grayskull Squadron anymore, Adora. You can fight for you. For your friends. For the people you love. You get to choose for yourself now, Adora. You don’t have to follow any rigid destiny or plan that was already cut out for you, and I think that’s where your problem comes from. You’re not used to letting yourself be happy.”
Catra sees that now, tears are flowy freely down Adora’s face, out from her darkened and sunken eyes. Adora reaches up to hastily wipe away tears from her face with the sleeve of her jacket. “I… you’re right,” she whispers. “You’re right. You’re right. I’m just… I- I’m not used to this. I never got to choose,” she looks up at Mara, pleading. “You never got to choose. None of us ever got to choose, did we?.”
Mara smiles sadly. “That’s right. We never did. You, Adora, you are the first. So, take it with stride. You have a purpose. It’s not just being the wielder of She-Ra’s magic- your purpose has always been to control what She-Ra does and what she fights for. But, now, your purpose is to choose things that make Adora- not She-Ra - happy. Your purpose is to choose what She-Ra will fight for next, and when she will fight. It may be big things, or it may be small things. The universe will always need She-Ra- her magic, her power, or her guidance. But She-Ra is nothing without you , Adora, and the people who love you will always need you .”
Adora lets out a broken cry before she brings her hands to her face again. “But what if I make a mistake? What if I do something wrong? What if I’m… I’m too selfish? What if I… what- what if- Mara, I-”
“Adora,” Mara says softly. “You have the freedom to make mistakes, too. You have fulfilled the first part of your destiny as She-Ra. You saved Etheria, and you saved the universe. Cherish your accomplishments, but do not let them pull you into another sense of necessity. Now, you get to choose what your destiny is next. If it’s another battle to fight, then you’re ready for it. But if it’s just to keep peace, to protect, or to never need to summon She-Ra again- then you’ll be ready to do that, too. Even if it might be some taking used to. But you both are here for a reason- Adora and She-Ra- and it is no coincidence that you are the same person. People need the both of you, in different ways.”
Adora nods as she continues to wipe at her wet cheeks. “I’ll try,” her voice shakes out, “I’ll try. I’m going to try.”
“I know you will. I wish I could have met you. Really met you,” Mara says softly as her gaze drops to the floor. She smiles, and Catra feels the bittersweetness of the action. “I think we would have been very good friends.”
Adora barks out a shaky, watery laugh. “Yeah,” she whispers. “Me too.”
“Goodbye, Adora. Say hello to Razz for me. And make sure that you turn off the security protocol for unauthorized visitors when you both make your way out.”
Catra feels the hair on her tail bristle as her entire body comes to a cold freeze. Did she see her?
“I will. I… Thank you, Mara.”
Catra whips her head around to look at Adora. Had she known this whole time?
Mara’s figure shimmers out of view, and Catra stands nervously before Adora turns in her chair to look her dead in the eye. It took less than a second to find Catra, and she has the sinking feeling that Adora had known she was there the entire time.
But instead of being mad, instead of yelling, or instead of bombarding her with questions, Adora simply turns to hold her arms open for Catra. Her chin starts to wobble and her lips quiver as she stares at Catra with watery eyes, and in no time, Catra has closed the distance between them. She wraps Adora tightly into her arms as she begins to sob, her whole body wracking with the force of cries that tear from Adora’s chest and through her throat. Catra brings a hand up to stoke Adora’s temple as she buries herself into Catra’s neck, sobbing freely into her protective embrace.
Catra holds Adora like this for seemingly hours, but in reality, Catra knows that it’s only minutes. Adora finally manages to get a new hold on herself before she lifts her head from Catra’s neck and presses her forehead against hers. “Hi,” she breathes, and Catra smiles gently.
“Hi. Are… are you okay?” she asks, hesitant to send Adora into another fit of crying. Adora takes a slow, deep breath in.
“I… yeah. I think I will be,” she breathes. She leans away and sniffles once, twice, before bringing her knees up to hug them. Catra settles completely behind Adora in the pilot’s chair and wraps her arms securely around her waist. She sets her chin on Adora’s shoulder and pulls Adora’s back into her chest, settling one leg on each side of Adora’s hips.
“How did you know I was here?” Catra asks softly, and Adora chuckles lowly and points to- oh . The front window of the ship is reflective. “... Are you mad?”
“No,” Adora says quickly. “I… I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this since it started, but I didn’t know how to explain it, and I didn’t want to burden you with it. I thought it would just be easier to show you when I saw that you were here.” Catra shakes her head vigorously.
“No, Adora, you’re not burdening me with anything. You know that. You can tell me anything,” Catra breathes into Adora’s ear. She feels Adora nod against her cheek.
“I know that. I do. But, this… Catra, this is…” Adora’s voice trails off, and Catra does not prompt her. She waits as Adora seemingly struggles to find her words before she continues.
“I started coming here in the middle of the night after I stopped sleeping. I’ve always had this… I don’t know, worry. This feeling of inadequacy. I’m alive solely for the purpose of being She-Ra, but without something to be She-Ra for, what’s… what’s the purpose of me?” Catra wants to say something to contest that thought, anything , but Adora continues.
“I came here to watch Mara’s old logs, thinking that maybe she felt the same way too. That maybe I could learn something from her. And after the first night, I just kept coming back here to watch them. I needed something to distract myself, even after I watched them all maybe fifty times each. Eventually, I just ended up… I don’t know, crying here, I guess. I thought it was better than waking you up in the middle of the night. I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to talk about this,” Adora finishes. Catra tightens her hold on Adora’s waist.
“Don’t be sorry, Adora,” she murmurs in her ear. “It’s okay. I’m sorry that you felt that way. I’m sorry that I didn’t notice.” And she is- she is horrified at herself that she had allowed Adora to suffer alone for so long, for so many painfully sleepless nights. Adora shakes her head.
“No, it’s okay. I didn’t want you to know, at first. I kept coming back here because it was nice to just be around something that reminded me of another person who shared the same feeling as me. But it didn’t help much when I both realized that neither Mara or I thought we would live to see the end of the wars that we were in,” Adora says softly.
Catra’s skin crawls at the implication that Adora had expected- even welcomed- her death. She remembers the heat coming from the Heart, the downcast look in Adora’s eyes, green crawling up her veins, her admission that she was ready to give up her life. Catra takes a deep breath in to calm herself.
“It’s okay,” she interrupts gently. “That was pretty morbid. I know. But that’s my burden. It’s… my curse. You saw what happened. Tonight was the first night Darla did this. I didn’t even know that she could. But… I think it helped, some. Just a little bit.” Catra relaxes her grip on Adora, no longer terrified that she will float away if she lets go.
“Good. Good,” she mutters. Adora nods. After a moment of silence, Adora lifts her head to speak again.
“Do you know what Murphy’s Law is?”
Catra looks sideways at Adora’s profile. “Murphy’s Law?” Adora hums and settles further back into Catra’s chest.
“‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong’. I learned about it in a book I read in Bright Moon’s library during my first week here. I think… I think my entire life has been one big example of Murphy’s Law up until this point.”
“... What do you mean?”
Adora stands, suddenly, and steps onto the floor of the main deck. She walks to the middle of the room and lifts her head out towards the windshield, her gaze fixing on the stars visible in the shadows of the trees beyond. “Everything bad that could have ever happened to me has happened. I was kidnapped from my home planet and brought here. I was raised in the Horde. We were beaten and abused. And one day, this sword starts calling my name. Calling out to me. And every cell in my body forces me to go back and find it. It turns me into an all-powerful magical entity without my permission. I lose you, I get dragged into this war, and later I find out that the only reason I’m alive, basically, is to end a war that I’ve fought on both sides for. People have been killed right in front of me. I’ve failed to save so many people that I could have. I thought- Catra, I thought you were dead. And there was nothing that I could do about it. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong in my life- losing you, losing people, losing She-Ra, almost losing the war, almost dying, losing my entire purpose- has happened. I’m the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law. Put my picture in a textbook,” she finishes, laughing hollowly. A single tear slides down her flushed cheek as she smiles painfully through her tears at Catra.
Catra thinks to stand, to reach out to pull Adora back to her, but her words have sliced through Catra’s heart like a hot knife. She’s not scared of Adora, but scared for her. Scared of the pain that Adora feels, scared at the hopelessness, scared at the trauma that is slowly eating its way through her. Adora’s manic state presses on.
“I have had to put my life on the line so many times because I was the only person who… I don’t know. Was strong enough to do it? It was my destiny. I am alive because I had to be ready to die for a cause I didn’t choose to fight for. I don’t want to die, Catra. All of those times, I- I never wanted to die. But I knew that I had to be ready to.”
“But…” Catra says, tentatively, “... it’s the cause you believe in, right?”
“Of course,” Adora says quickly. “No, I… of course I believed in stopping the Horde once I realized what was happening. Saving Etheria. Taking us out of Despondos. But, I just… I didn’t get to choose how I did it. I had to suffer for so many years before I found the sword and everything started. I lost you, I lost so many things when it was happening. But maybe I should just be grateful where things are now. That everything is over.”
Catra finally stands and moves slowly towards Adora, waiting for her to back away or flinch in her frantic state. No such sign comes. Catra feels her body relax, slightly, at the look in Adora’s eyes when she meets them, asking her to come to her. She can’t refuse her.
Catra tip-toes over to Adora and presses herself against her back, wrapping her arms around her waist once more and letting her tail wind around Adora’s wrist. She pulls Adora back towards her, and Adora’s head tips back to rest against Catra’s shoulder. Catra feels Adora’s breathing even out as she relaxes into her embrace. Her relaxation, however, does not last long.
“I’m an alien, Catra,” Adora says suddenly, and Catra’s ears stand on her head at the mild but frantic tone of Adora’s voice. “I’m literally an alien from another planet, and I was kidnapped when I was a baby and brought here to become She-Ra. I didn’t plan for that. How could I have known that? Who are my parents? Where is my family? The people I come from are greedy, and selfish, and power crazy, and I got dragged into it for no reason. Why me? I was never in control of my life from the second I was born. You think I wanted this?” Adora turns to face Catra hastily, her eyes wide and wild. “You think I chose to be She-Ra? You think this was my first choice? No! No, not for a second! If someone asked me what I wanted, I would have never touched that sword if it meant I would be in control of my own life!”
“But, do you regret it?” Catra asks softly. She doesn’t know where the line is, doesn’t know the limit to what she can ask Adora about this topic. She is treading across an uncomfortable, unknown territory, and she can only hope that Adora does not react poorly to the questions she wants so desperately to understand.
“That’s the thing,” Adora laughs mirthlessly. She brings her hands up to her head and smooths her hair back forcefully. “I don’t think I do. I would do everything the same way all over again because I can’t think of another way to do it. I’ve never been given the freedom to choose what happens to me, and I can’t imagine things happening another way. I just- I hate that I had to be without you for so long. It killed me. Us being apart, Catra, it… it really killed me.” She drops her head back on to Catra’s shoulder.
“It hurt me, too,” Catra whispers painfully. Her throat is raw with emotion, but she presses on. “It did. It hurt every single day, and it got worse every second. I missed you so much that it destroyed me. But, from where we are right now, together, here… I don’t think I would change anything that happened. I think…” she lets herself trail off as she tries to find the right words. “I think we needed the time apart to find ourselves and let ourselves be hurt before we got here. I think it was the only way things could work out like they are now.”
Adora falls silent for a moment, and Catra focuses her attention on Adora’s slowing breathing. She closes her eyes and leans into Adora, and-
“I’ll take it that those therapy sessions with Perfuma have been working,” Adora teases softly. But Catra cannot find it in her to be mad, to throw back a quip at her, or do express any sort of frustration towards her. Her heart tightens as she hears Adora, her Adora, for the first time that night. A small slice of her usual upbeat, teasing self.
“Maybe you should join me, sometime,” Catra mutters back instead. Adora goes rigid in her arms, and Catra’s mind goes into overdrive as she quickly starts to backtrack. “I mean, like, if you want to. But you don’t, like, have to come if you don’t wa-”
“I don’t think she’ll understand,” Adora whispers sadly. “I don’t… I don’t really think she’ll be able to help. I think that this is something I have to work through alone.”
“You don’t have to be alone, dummy,” Catra says, and she lets the frustration of her words seep into her tone. “I’m right here. You don’t have to do things alone. You can choose not to do things alone. Did that weird hologram teach you nothing?”
Adora chuckles softly, sadly, and turns fully into Catra to bury her head in the crook of her neck. “Maybe you’re right. I guess I’m just not used to it yet.” Catra hums.
“I feel that. I’m not really used to sleeping in a gigantic castle and eating pound cake, but here we are,” she quips, and her attempt to make Adora feel more at ease works. Her shoulders shudder slightly as she laughs again, and Catra lets a smile take over her face.
“I didn’t fall in love with She-Ra,” Catra continues. Adora lifts her head to look up at her. “I fell in love with you. And for so long, I hated She-Ra because I thought she took you from me. I guess… I guess I never realized that you never chose to be She-Ra. That you never really chose to do anything that happened. You just had to. I thought you just made the decision to leave on your own without ever considering that it was something you had to do. But now, I think I’ve learned enough about She-Ra and whatever destiny she has to know that I was wrong. But I was mad at you for so long because I thought you chose to leave the Horde, but I don’t think I understood that it was me who made the choice to stay. I could have gone with you, but I didn’t. I never really understood that you didn’t get to choose what happened to you until we went into the Heart.”
Adora holds her gaze on Catra’s face, but Catra cannot bring herself to look Adora in the eyes. “I know I was mad at you for taking the Failsafe, and I was mad because I thought you were making that choice above yourself. But I know, now, after everything that happened in the Heart, and with the war, that you had to. You really were the only person who had the strength and the power to do it. And after that, I was mad that you never got to choose what you wanted, or let yourself choose. It was selfish. And…” Catra gulps, finally meeting Adora’s watery eyes. “... I’m sorry. I don’t think I ever really apologized to you for how I acted. I- I didn’t understand.”
Adora tightens her arms around Catra and presses her lips against her neck. “It’s okay,” she murmurs into Catra’s skin. “Don’t be sorry. It was a wake-up call that I really needed. I would have been killed in the Heart if it wasn’t for you. We would have lost the war, and we would have both died.” She looks up again at Catra, and Catra’s heart lurches at the tears falling down her cheeks.
“I told you how I felt because I thought, in the Heart, that it was going to be the first and the last choice I would ever really make for myself. Who would have thought that me being selfish for once in my life would be the only thing that would save me? That would give me power?” Adora says, and she smiles through her tear-filled eyes. Catra tries to blink away the stinging heat of tears in her own eyes.
“Shadow Weaver told me that you were distracting me and confusing me. And it was getting in the way of being able to summon She-Ra. And… she was right.” Catra goes still before Adora continues, “I was so caught up in how I felt about you, and I was so confused about how you felt about me. I didn’t ask, and I was scared to. I was distracted by you all the time, and I was scared to tell you how I felt because I didn’t want you to leave. But when you did, it only made things worse. I wanted to choose you so badly, Catra. I wanted you so badly that it tore me apart. I- Catra, I-” Adora stops herself as the tears in her eyes begin to overflow, and she lets out a soft choking sound as she grabs the collar of Catra’s shirt and buries her head into her collarbone.
“I love you,” Catra murmurs into Adora’s head, interrupting her gently before she throws herself into another fit of mania. She closes her eyes and tries to even out her breathing in order to stop the tears in her eyes from overflowing. “I love you, Adora. I love you so much.”
Adora begins to sob again, and Catra can only think to tighten her hold on her waist. “I love you,” she cries. Catra’s barriers break, and she finally lets herself cry when she feels a warmth and a wetness above her collarbone. “I love you. Everything hurts, and I don’t know what to do, but the only thing that I’m sure of is that I love you. I love you. It’s the only thing that matters.”
“I love you too,” Catra manages to choke out. Her throat is dry and raw as she tries not to let herself break down in front of Adora, who is clinging fiercely to her. Catra recognizes that Adora needs someone to support her, to hold her, to lean on. Adora, who throws her life on the line without a second thought because it’s her duty and just a part of who she always has been. Adora, who doesn’t rest until everyone is safe, accounted for, and well-rested. Adora, who has held up this world, the universe, and the people she loves with her own two arms for so, so long. Adora, who takes care of everyone, who has never had someone to take care of her.
Adora hiccups into Catra’s neck as another wave of sobs tear through her chest. She walks Adora, slowly but surely, back to the pilot’s chair. She eases her to sit and catch her breath, but she reaches out to Catra and wraps her arms and legs around her frame. She grasps onto every part of Catra that she can hold and fists her hands into her sleep shirt as she continues to cry. After a moment, when Catra feels that Adora is finally beginning to calm down, she tries to speak again.
“We don’t have to figure everything out right now, Adora,” Catra mutters, bringing a hand up to smooth back the loose strands of Adora’s hair. “We don’t. It’s okay. We can just focus on learning how to live a brand new life. We have all of the time in the world to figure this out together, okay?” Adora nods into Catra’s chest.
“Maybe you can finally figure out how to relax every once in a while,” Catra teases softly, and Adora lets out a soft laugh through her dying tears.
“Not at the beach,” she whispers. “It’s so hot and sandy. It sucks.” Catra smiles.
“We don’t have to go to the beach. We can just… stay in bed forever. And eat a bunch of those fruit snacks that you like. We don’t have to do anything, or we can do everything we’ve ever wanted to do.”
“Can we eat the blueberry ones?” Catra smiles at the hopefulness of Adora’s voice- a semblance of Adora’s personality shining through her pain.
“You have to get to them before I eat them all. They’re my favorite, too,” she chuckles. Adora brings a hand up to gently swat at Catra’s shoulder.
“You hate me,” she says, and Catra can hear her playful pout. She grabs the back of Adora’s neck to pull her gently away from her chest. Adora looks up to meet Catra’s eyes, stormy gray and still welling with tears. But Catra’s heart jumps at the slight glimmer of life returning to Adora’s eyes, and she pounces on it.
“I love you, you idiot,” she breathes, touching their foreheads together. “I love you like I have never loved anything else in this world. You are the only thing that matters to me. And I love you.”
Adora smiles, freely and happily. “I love you, too, but if you eat all of my fruit snacks, I’ll kill you.”
Catra hums. “Then, it’ll be just like old times,” she quips, but she regrets the words as soon as they leave her mouth. Adora, however, takes her attempt at a joke in stride.
“I’ll need to put on that ugly skirt for it to be like old times,” she laughs, and Catra feels herself sink back into relaxation. Adora pulls her closer and rests her head against the middle of her chest once more.
“Thank you,” she says softly. “Thank you for coming tonight. For loving me.”
Catra brings a hand up to play with the hair on the back of Adora’s neck. “Anything for you,” she says back. She feels Adora smile against the thrum of her heartbeat.
“Are you ready to go back to our room?” Catra asks. Adora looks up at her, briefly, before she nods silently. Catra steps back to allow Adora to stand, and offers her a hand when she stumbles slightly, exhausted from crying. They walk back to Bright Moon’s castle, hand in hand, unhurriedly.
The sun is now peeking out of the horizon, casting a golden glow on the sky and the two women as they walk slowly towards the main hall’s entrance. The morning shift guards let them pass wordlessly, and Catra is grateful that neither men have decided to comment on Adora’s disheveled hair or puffy, red eyes. They walk silently up the stairs to the dormitories, take a left at their hallway, and slip back into the warmth of their room. Soft light pours through their curtains, and Catra cannot help but marvel at the way it makes Adora glow as she settles into bed.
“I love you,” Catra whispers once more as she wraps her arms around Adora’s waist. She feels Adora hum softly and press her back further into Catra’s chest. She will say it over and over again, a thousand times more, to every person she ever sees in her lifetime.
“I love you, too,” Adora says softly before a yawn takes over her mouth. She settles her head on their pillow and in mere moments, Adora is sleeping soundly, softly, in Catra’s arms.
Catra does not sleep until the afternoon rolls around and Glimmer begins pounding on their door to get dressed and come to lunch. She spends the four hours that Adora is asleep analyzing every word that she said to her, again and again in her head. She thinks about what Adora had confided to her, and knows that this is something that only Catra has been told about. It takes every cell in her body not to begin crying at the bitterness, the pain, and the desperation that she remembers in Adora’s voice when they were in the ship. The mania in her eyes and her hands. The frantic tone of her voice. The way she had lurched over, like she was in physical pain, while she was talking to the hologram. The tears glistening in her eyes and pouring down her cheeks as she cried, and wept, and sobbed into Catra because of her incurable pain.
Catra decides that what she will do- the only thing she knows to do- is talk to Perfuma about a therapy session for Adora the next time she sees her. Perhaps, Catra will ask Perfuma about better listening techniques she can learn the next time Adora feels like this. She cannot think of another way to help Adora without fully understanding her pain. She knows, deep down and sadly, that she will never completely understand what Adora has suffered through, or what she is currently suffering through. So, she makes a tentative plan to ask for help as a start. She wants to do something to help, she must do something to help, but she settles for a starting point for now.
When she wakes, Catra can tell that Adora knows better than to comment on the dark circles under her eyes from lack of sleep. She presses a kiss to Catra’s cheek when they are finished dressing and grabs her hand to lead her down the hallway.
That night, Adora does not leave their bed.