It’s strange to be in the Fright Zone again.
Years have passed. It looks like a different place — the busted remains of the Horde’s machinery have long since been carpeted with flowers, new life blooming out of the rubble of a former one. There are homes here now, people living their lives without the choking grip of the Horde. Catra brushes a hand against a moss-covered ledge bursting with flowers and thinks, Adora did this. Adora squeezes her other hand and Catra thinks, We did this.
Adora’s shoulder knocks into hers. “Hey,” she says playfully, and Catra drags her gaze away from the beautiful streets of Scorpia’s newly reborn kingdom and to Adora’s cornflower blue eyes. Adora lifts their joined hands to her mouth and presses a gentle kiss against the back of Catra’s hand. “Are you okay?”
Catra swallows and looks back out at the former Fright Zone. She hadn’t wanted to come — had been dreading the Princess Prom for weeks, not knowing which ghosts would walk beside her as she traversed her childhood home. She and her friends had crossed the universe and back again, bringing magic to those planets that had spent a thousand years leeched of it under Horde Prime’s rule. They had fought monsters the likes of which would never be seen on Etheria, had walked through worlds with inhabitable atmospheres, had left all of them better than they had found them. And Catra had been scared of the Fright Zone.
But it’s not the Fright Zone. Not anymore. She can still see the familiar apex of the Horde Headquarters, the precarious scaffolding that she and Adora used to clamber up so that they could survey their known world. It drips with vines and flowers now, just like the rest of the city. Instead of anxiety, Catra looks at it and feels awe.
Horror Hall towers ahead of them. At least, that’s the name that Catra knows it by. Like the rest of Scorpia’s kingdom, the former shell of a castle has been restored. It juts out of the crater of the kingdom, the purple of its walls standing bold and proud. Catra isn’t sure if the flora that winds its way across the outer walls of the hall are a result of She-Ra’s triumph over the Horde or simply Perfuma’s redecorating habits.
Like a crown jewel, the Black Garnet has been set at the peak of the fortress. Looking at it now, a source of magic in the rightful hands of a friend rather than a stolen weapon wielded against her by Shadow Weaver, Catra can appreciate its strange beauty. The walls of Horror Hall hum with the electric magic of its runestone.
She squeezes Adora’s hand back.
“Yeah,” she says. “I’m okay.”
“You won’t be okay if we’re late,” says Glimmer. She pushes them forward, propelling them toward the doors of the castle, where a guard is ushering guests in.“Get a move on.”
“After you, your highness.” Catra flourishes her arm, dropping into an insouciant bow that has Adora giggling. She had expected Glimmer to roll her eyes, but instead they dart to her shirt and go wide. Catra raises an eyebrow, following her gaze. Her jacket, a white and gold deal that coordinates with Adora’s dress, has shifted open, revealing the red of her shirt underneath.
“Do I have something on my shirt, Sparkles?”
Glimmer’s mouth drops open. “You two—”
“Oh,” says Bow, hands coming to rest on Glimmer’s shoulders. He veers her gently toward the doors, where an impatient guard is motioning for them to pass. “It’s our turn.”
And then, they’re ushered into the palace.
“Does Perfuma live here?”
“Only some of the time,” Adora responds automatically. She looks around the castle, hand still wrapped around Catra’s. The inside is just as magnificent as the outside, the ballroom a great opening paneled in purple and red metal. Set into the walls are murals, and in their semi-abstract faces, Catra sees Scorpia’s ancestors. The place is absolutely swimming with flowers.
It’s far warmer inside the electric fortress than Princess Frosta’s palace had been. Catra shrugs out of her jacket and sweeps it to one shoulder like a capelet as they migrate toward the raised dais of Scorpia’s crimson throne. At her side, Adora rattles off information about the palace like a battle strategy. “The two of them alternate between here and Plumeria. My research indicates that Perfuma has been here for about a month for preparation.”
Catra raises an eyebrow at her. Adora levels it back.
“What? Didn’t you read my dossier?”
Catra tips her head back and laughs. She throws an arm around Adora’s shoulder, slips her hand up to nestle in the hair at the base of her neck. Adora’s hair is loose, for once, and it streams through Catra's fingers like spun gold. “You studied for a party?”
“A lot can change in a few months! I wanted to be prepared.”
“You never change,” says Catra. She unsheathes her claws, just enough to draw the tips soothingly over the nape of Adora’s neck, and Adora leans into the touch. Catra uses the position to gently tilt Adora’s head to the side, bringing their gazes together. “Have I mentioned that I love you today?”
Adora rolls her eyes. The action is at odds with the fond smile on her face. “You can say it again,” she murmurs, and Catra is flooded with the desire to lean up and kiss her.
She almost does it — but a delicate, pointed cough sounds from behind them, reminding Catra that they’re in public. And in line.
The guards winging the base of the stairs rush them ahead, but Catra still takes the time to glance over her shoulder and fix the duo behind them with an annoyed look. She drops her arm from Adora’s shoulders, and instead twines their hands together as they ascend the steps.
Hands still joined, they drop into a low bow at the summit of the steps. Catra smirks — Adora doesn’t say anything, but Catra can feel her counting in her head.
They rise as one.
“Revered hostess,” says Adora, and she sounds like she’s speaking from a script. “We come into your hall under the ancient rules of hospitality, bringing greetings from—Aaah!”
Before Adora can even finish her spiel, the two of them are swept into a bone crushing hug. The familiar shell of Scorpia’s claws press into Catra’s side. At one time, it might have been annoying, but now Catra laughs. She doesn’t know why they expected anything less.
“You guys,” says Scorpia, scooping the two of them into a back-breakingly tight embrace. “You made it!”
“Hey, Scorpia,” wheezes Catra. It could be worse. She could be —
A muffled sob sounds in her ear. There it is.
“I’ve missed you!”
And there go the waterworks. Catra smiles against Scorpia’s neck, tries to fit her hand around the bulk of her side to pat her friend’s back. It’s a bit difficult when she’s swinging like a ragdoll from Scorpia’s powerful arms, but it feels… good. Regardless of the amazing worlds they had traipsed through and the amazing people they had met, none of them compare to the rush of seeing her friends again.
Except for maybe the rush of blood black to her limbs when Scorpia, still sniffling, finally releases the two of them.
Perfuma must have gotten to her too. Her verdant headdress circles Scorpia’s brow like a floral halo, rich pink flowers spilling from the sides. It’s an odd contrast to the black and red ballgown draped over Scorpia’s solid frame, but somehow it suits her. Behind her towers a scarlet throne, its apex pointing into a sharp spike that mirrors Scorpia’s own tail. Perched on one of the arms is a laughing Perfuma.
“We’ve missed you too,” Adora says.
“What was it like? Where did you go? What did you even eat?” And like that, Scorpia is off, spewing the usual questions without offering even the space of a breath to answer them. You would think that they had been gone for years, rather than a couple of months. This last journey had been neither the shortest nor the longest of their voyages, a simple check-in on some of the closer planets they had become acquainted with. With Scorpia, it doesn’t matter though — days, months, years, she misses them all the same.
The line piles up behind them. Catra holds back the petty urge to turn back and stick her tongue out at the person who had coughed at her and Adora earlier.
A gentle hand at Scorpia’s shoulder stops her. Perfuma steps around her, absolutely glowing in a frothy pink dress. A familiar pair of garnet earrings are suspended from her ears, the same twin jewels of blood red that Scorpia wore at their first Princess Prom all those years ago. She greets Adora and Catra with a hug of her own, one that has Catra nearly spitting strands of bouncy blonde hair out of her mouth. When she pulls away, she sweeps her dark eyes over Catra and Adora, taking in the difference the years have made.
“Scorpia!” She squeals, apropos of nothing, and nudges at Scorpia’s side. Her eyes flick to Catra’s shirt and then to Adora, and Scorpia’s follow.
“You guys!” For some reason, that just sets Scorpia off again. Fresh tears brim at her eyes, and before Catra knows it she and Adora are swept into another bone crushing hug. Perfuma joins in this time. By the time the two of them are set back down again, Catra feels like she has gone through a tornado.
Adora doesn’t look much better. Her diadem has gone askew. She shifts it carefully, and only succeeds in making it worse. “You two, uh, really missed us, huh?”
As her hands fall from her mussed hair to her sides, Scorpia catches them. She clasps Adora’s hands within her enormous claws and says, “You have to tell us everything! When and where and how and—”
A pointed cough sounds from behind them. Catra has never been more thankful for a cough in her life. She loops a hand into the crook of Adora’s arm and says, attempting to adopt the same stilted formality of Adora’s greeting, “Scorpia, revered hostess—” Scorpia outright glows at that “— we would hate to keep you from your other guests…”
With a series of very careful negotiations, Catra and Adora finally manage to extract themselves (literally) from Scorpia and Perfuma. They descend the dais with Catra’s hand still looped around Adora’s arm. Catra can’t shake the distinct feeling that the other guests lining up to greet Scorpia and Perfuma are watching them. After that scene, she’s not surprised.
Once she has successfully spirited Adora to a dark corner far from the throne, Catra asks, “What was that abou—”
The question is cut off by her own yelp when Adora grabs her by the hips, whirling Catra to face her. She scrutinizes Catra’s button-up, which has become mussed by all of the manhandling.
“What? Do I have something on my shirt?” She follows Adora’s gaze, the two of them searching it for… whatever Scorpia and Perfuma — and earlier, Glimmer — had seen in it. It’s… just a shirt. A nice shirt, rich red satin clasped together with a golden pin that Adora had accidentally stabbed Catra with when she slid it into place earlier. It’s the same one that Adora has had almost her whole life, the single possession that had been hers when they lived among the Horde.
“No,” says Adora in confusion. She releases Catra’s hips, and Catra makes a show of smoothing her shirt back down. “I guess they really did just miss us.”
The music swells in the ballroom behind Adora. Catra’s gaze sweeps over her shoulder, watching as Scorpia greets the last of her guests. Soon the ball will begin in earnest, the floor flooded with a wave of dancing figures. It makes her feel nostalgic. For a while, Catra had only remembered that first dance with a hot rush of shame, burning with the knowledge that Frosta’s ball had been the catalyst for so many of the fractures in her and Adora’s relationship. At the same time, the ghost of Adora’s warm waist in her hands had haunted her for years. They had known each other for so long — had trained together, slept together, wrestled together for years. Never before had they danced.
The thought doesn’t flood Catra with shame anymore. They have danced since. On alien planets under a thousand stars, in their bedroom on bright mornings. The first dancers take each other’s hands, and Catra smiles.
“Well, that’s Scorpia for you,” says Catra. “Here — stay still.” She catches the line of Adora’s jaw in her hands, tilting her head down to survey the damage. Tenderly, she sweeps the loosened bits of Adora’s hair back, tucking a dislodged lock behind her ear. With gentle fingers, she fixes the skewed diadem until it sits level above Adora’s brows.
“You know, Adora,” says Catra. Her fingers slip down the sides of Adora’s face, her sharp jawline, the slope of her neck. Their faces are so close. Catra leans in and Adora’s head tilts toward her, anticipating a kiss. “If you wanted to twirl me, you could have just asked me to dance.”
This time it’s Adora’s turn to let out a yelp as Catra, laughing, takes Adora’s hands in hers and whirls her out onto the dance floor.
The problem with these dances, Catra muses, is that they change partners every five seconds.
She whirls Adora away to step on someone else’s feet for a few minutes, laughing as she does so. She’s already counting down the rotations until Adora’s hand is back in hers when her next dance partner is in her arms. She nearly jumps out of her own skin when she finds her own mismatched eyes staring back at her.
“Hey, Kitten,” the other Catra purrs, and drops herself into a deep dip.
The only thing that keeps Catra from dropping her doppelganger to the floor is sheer instinct. She lunges forward to keep her from hitting the ballroom floor, and as she does shadows begin to seep from the skin of her mirror. The change happens quickly, ribbons of a black void punctured by glittering stars weaving into the figure and then seeping away again. Bones shift under her fingers, the form solidifying itself into an all too familiar form.
“Sorry — is this better?”
The face staring up at her is Adora’s, though the expression isn’t. Dark eyebrows form a taunting arch above Adora’s pretty blue eyes.
A cloud of annoyance looms over Catra. This time, she does let go.
Not-Adora lets out a yelp and lunges forward, clinging to Catra’s collar — and then the tendrils of inky darkness consume Adora’s form once again. It washes over the figure in front of Catra as it condensesat the waist, elongates through the leg and torso. The new figure in her arms towers over Catra, standing almost at She-Ra’s larger-than-life height. Their skin is grass green, their eyes a luminous yellow, and their pointed teeth bared in a wicked grin.
“What?” Double Trouble asks, eyebrows still contorted in the same teasing position. “I thought it was a stellar performance. Maybe my best yet.”
Rolling her eyes, Catra hauls them back into an upright position. “Don’t do that with her,” she mutters, and spins Double Trouble into a vindictive twirl enthusiastic enough to make their head spin. Double Trouble’s hair fans out around their verdant shoulders. They are clad in a slinky black dress and a pair of heels that probably should have been confiscated by the guard on weapon duty.
A few years ago, Double Trouble’s appearance would have triggered a reaction in Catra that would have resulted in both of them being promptly booted from the ballroom. Enough time has passed that hatred has given away to mere annoyance — and, at times, begrudging amusement.
“How did you even get in here?”
“I’m a plus-one,” says Double Trouble, as if it were obvious.
Catra spins the two of them again, and the ballroom becomes a blur of kaleidoscopic color around them. “Whose?”
“Depends who’s asking,” Double Trouble says with a wink. “Are you having fun, kitten? Or maybe I should say—” their hands part on a rather elaborate turn, and when Double Trouble catches her hand and waist in theirs, they flip the position. No longer in the lead, Catra finds herself being dropped into a low dip. “—housecat? Congratulations, by the way.”
There’s a reason Catra likes to be in the lead. She finds herself pulled upright again. The ballroom spins around her by the time Double Trouble is done putting her through a series of complicated twirls. It’s a miracle that the gold-touched jacket draped over one shoulder hasn’t gone flying across the dance floor to smack some unsuspecting party goer in the face. Catra thinks she might be sick.
“I’m surprised it took so long, really.”
“What are you—” not again. Another twirl, and then Double Trouble’s hands part from hers. She finds herself spun towards her next partner, and Double Trouble’s teasing voice carries across the dance floor.
“Don’t forget to send me an invitation!”
Catra makes it through one more dance partner before bowing out and slinking off to a refreshment table to prevent herself from hurling. She had intended on working her way through the dance circle until her hands met Adora’s again, at which point she had planned on never letting go. Instead, she finds herself nursing some kind of punch and watching as someone else spins her girlfriend across the dance floor.
Spinnerella is just as formidable on the dance floor as she is on the battlefield. Even without meaning to, she summons minor gusts of winds as she sweeps Adora across the dance floor, and the effect makes Adora laugh so hard that she can hardly keep in time with the music— already a challenge for her under normal circumstances, but almost impossible with Spinnerella twirling at her silky hair with a miniature cyclone. Catra smiles into her goblet as she watches the two of them.
Tries to watch the two of them, at least. She keeps getting interrupted by every friend, acquaintance, and random citizen that the mighty She-Ra has come in contact with. Each one of them heaps her with congratulations, shooting her a knowing smile when she returns their greetings with a blank stare.
She is practically hiding behind a veritable tower of pink-iced cakes before she is finally left in peace. Semi-peace, at least — the only person in the vicinity is Entrapta, characteristically underdressed and chattering on and on with some kind of observation about the properties of Scorpia’s palace. Catra carefully directs anyone who comes her way to Entrapta for a spiel. As long as she nods intermittently and occasionally passes a platter of miniature cakes Entrapta’s way, she’s in the clear.
Catra lets out a monumental sigh. When she looks up, Adora is watching her from across the dance floor. Her eyebrows are arched in concern. It’s stupid, how happy it makes Catra to catch her eye like that— her ears and tail perk up, a sappy smile already pushing its way onto her face. Separated by the whirring bodies of dozens of dancers, Adora smiles back.
“Wow,” drawls a familiar, sarcastic tone. “You two are even grosser than usual.”
It’s better than a random congratulations, at least.
“I guess I can’t blame you,” says Mermista, yet it sounds like an accusation. She snakes a hand out from the long, elaborately embroidered scarf thrown over one shoulder. It ripples like water as she helps herself to one of the little cakes. Fastened around her neck is a completely incongruous red handkerchief. “You should have seen Sea Hawk when I proposed. Like, he had done it three times already and I had said no to him each time, so by the time I asked it was all, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, blah blah, I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life, blah blah blah.”
Catra blinks. Scratch her previous thought. This is worse.
It’s better than the man, the menace himself serenading Mermista with his usual crooning, but there is something about the fond look that passes over Mermista’s face that is just… wrong. Why Mermista thinks Catra wants to know about her proposal, Catra has no idea. She had already suffered the (admittedly beautiful) wedding, musical outbursts and all, before they departed for their last exploration. She had needed those months of quiet solitude provided by space travel to recover.
She shoots Entrapta a desperate glance, and Entrapta doesn’t even look up at her — too busy probing at some kind of electricity conductor on the wall that could probably fry this entire place if prodded too hard. Catra wouldn’t mind.
With the closest thing she has to an ally too preoccupied with blowing the place up, Catra attempts to inch away to another one of the islands of food scattered around the dance floor. Mermista does not get the memo.
“I mean, who asked who anyway? How? Were there fireworks? Sea Hawk’s first proposal had fireworks, but they were so lame. He set, like, his own ship on fire and I had to swim us back to Silenias and… Um, are you even listening to me?”
And here Catra had thought that if she could back away slowly enough, she could escape. She takes another step backwards and runs smack into a person roughly the height of a tree, the sensitive length of her tail pinched between them.
Her ears go stiff, and she struggles to keep her claws sheathed. “Watch it!”
“You ran into me,” says Frosta petulantly, and Catra cranes her neck up to look at her. The heir to the Kingdom of the Snows had shot up in the past few years, but it’s still difficult to see her as anything but a little kid — especially when her mouth twists into a pout, her blue-black eyebrows knitting together in annoyance. “Are you trying to ruin another party?”
“That was ten years ago!”
Frosta lets out a petulant hmmph, and Catra rolls her eyes. She’s halfway to darting underneath the dessert laden table and hiding behind the layers of frilly table dressings until everyone else gets the hint, when an insistent hand presses against her elbow and inelegantly yanks her back.
“Ugh, Frosta, we’re talking about grown up stuff over here?” Mermista drawls, her blue-painted nails curling into Catra’s arm. With her free hand, she makes a shoo motion. “Go away.
“I’m twenty one,” insists Frosta, which doesn’t make Catra feel old at all. When the only reaction she is rewarded with is a blank stare from Mermista, Frosta tacks a pouty, “and three quarters,” onto the end.
“Anyway,” says Mermista, the word dripping with dismissive ire, “so, what, were the two of you planning on telling anybody, or—”
“—wait,” says Frosta, and for the first time in this excruciating exchange, Catra sees something other than a pout cross her youthful face. She looks at Mermista with a sense of clarity that Catra desperately wishes she were a part of. “Are Adora and Catra—”
“Um, isn’t it obvious?”
“Isn’t what obvious?” snaps Catra, her chest blooming with a kind of incandescent frustration she hasn’t felt in years. Her ears are standing in two tense peaks on her head, her tail gone bushy with agitation. Princesses. It was easier when they were trying to kill her.
“Hey, hey, relax,” cuts in a smooth voice.
Kind as she is, there is something about Netossa that always makes Catra feel geared for either a solemn lecture or sage advice. Judging by the way Mermista’s hand loosens on Catra’s arm, she must feel the same way. Catra seizes the opportunity to yank her arm back.
Netossa’s suit is crisp, the midnight blue fabric immaculately tailored to her athletic form. The wrap tossed around her shoulders is a perfect match to the white cloud of hair piled atop her head. She glances around the group, taking the chaos in. When her gaze lands on Catra’s irritated form, she aims a sympathetic smile in her direction.
It doesn’t comfort Catra. If anything, the taut muscles of her shoulders go more stiff. “If one more person says congratulations —”
Netossa laughs at that, throwing her head back and exposing the bubblegum pink choker around her neck. She good-naturedly pats Catra’s shoulder. “Yeah, I get that. I was the same way—”
“—um, no you weren’t,” mutters Mermista.
“—but everyone’s just excited for you.” The hand wrapped around Catra’s shoulder gives a comforting squeeze. Netossa turns her attention to the princesses crowded around Catra and says, “But the rest of you should give the girl some space. It’s a big deal.”
“Okay, what are any of you even talking about?” Erupts Catra. With each word, the volume of her voice hikes higher— not enough to carry over the swell of the music, but loud enough to make a point. Her hands clench and unclench in front of her, the sharp points of her claws extending with her frustration. “What is a big deal?! Congratulations for what?!”
A moment of silence wells up in the space between the little group. Music still explodes on the ballroom behind them, its sharp crescendos a contrast to the soft murmur of muffled conversation and laughter that permeates the room — but the princesses around Catra are silent.
Netossa’s hand on her shoulder goes limp. Her eyes go wide — they drop to Catra’s chest and then back up to her face. Her shocked expression is mirrored on the faces of the other princesses. Somehow, Catra has even managed to wash the perpetual boredom from Mermista’s face.
“Aren’t you two—”
“If you’re done talking about Adora and Catra getting married,” says Entrapta, with all the subtlety and tact of a sledgehammer, “I have calculated the voltage needed…”
Wherever the rest of Entrapta’s sentence is going to go, it falls away. The whole room falls away as understanding hits Catra like a bolt of lightning, an electrifying shock to her system that leaves her reeling. Getting married? Her and Adora? Questions well up on her tongue — What? Why? — and she doesn’t realize she has fumbled through those fragmented inquiries until Frosta answers her.
“Um. You’re wearing Adora’s pin.”
Catra’s hand flutters to cover the gold-tipped wing clasping her shirt together. It’s a protective gesture — for herself as much as for Adora as three sets of eyes linger on the accessory. It’s probably Adora’s oldest possession, and when Catra’s fingers brush against the cool metal of its surface she can feel the many scratches and impressions littered across its surface. Catra doesn’t even know where Adora found it — but she had worn it for years, the only touch of personalization she had ever given to her Horde uniform, even while Catra shredded and customized her own.
It had been Adora’s idea for her to wear it tonight, a touch of gold to tie the shirt to her jacket. With everyone staring at it, wearing the pin seems unbearably intimate for some reason.
“She ne-ver takes that thing off,” says Mermista. “We figured that you two, you know.” She tugs at the red scrap of fabric tied around her neck.
Catra stares at her blankly.
“You know,” repeats Netossa. “‘An exchange of tokens, an exchange of vows, an exchange of hearts.’”
Catra laughs outright. “‘An exchange of’ —what?! What kind of princess mumbo-jumbo is that?”
With a groan, Mermista puts a hand to her face. Netossa and Frosta are openly staring at her. The only one who doesn’t seem to care is Entrapta, who has turned her attention on the snack table instead.
“It’s a tradition,” Mermista says. “Like, I gave Sea Hawk my bracelets and he gave me — this.” She tugs at the little scarf around her neck, and a spark of recognition alights in the recesses of Catra’s mind. As much as she tries to forget her encounters with Mermista’s husband, she does remember that red handkerchief being part of his ridiculous get-up.
“And Spinny and I exchanged necklaces,” says Netossa. Her fingers brush against the mismatched choker at her throat, the material of the necklace a vibrant pink against her dark skin. A smile touches her mouth. “She gave me hers first. I had the whole thing all planned out, and then—”
“Wait a minute, you guys think Adora and I got married? Because of a pin?” Heat floods Catra’s face. She crosses her arms over her chest, still intent on hiding the pin from view.
“Uh, duh,” says Frosta. “That’s how it works. Don’t you know anything?”
“Apparently not,” snaps Catra. Apparently that’s what growing up a child soldier will do for you. Catra fixes Frosta with an icy glare, and suddenly she is very interested in a platter of pastries at her side.
“Or engaged,” offers Netossa helpfully. “Normally that’s engaged.” She raises a pale eyebrow. “You really didn’t know? You didn’t grow up thinking about what you would give to your future partner, or what they would give you?” She rubs the choker on her neck between her fingers and says wistfully, “Spinny had this since she was a kid…”
Catra shrugs. She had grown up planning the imminent destruction of the rebellion and the princesses of power, of claiming all of Etheria in the name of the Horde and rising to a position of glory. With Adora by her side, of course — in all of her childhood dreams it was the two of them against the world, pushed to such a height that no one could ever pull them apart. All of Etheria could burn around them, but it wouldn’t matter. At least they would be together.
But Catra can’t really admit that, so she says instead, “Um. No?”
Her gaze drifts out to the dance floor again, just in time to see Bow catch Adora in his arms. The two of them laugh, even more so when it’s Adora’s turn to spin him in an elaborate circle. They’re too far for Catra to actually hear them, but the memory of Adora’s laugh sounds in Catra’s ears. Her hand, still pressed against her abdomen, curls in around the pin.
It’s ridiculous. Her and Adora — married?
Her stomach flutters at the thought of it.
Adora looks up and catches her watching. She smiles — and then it falls. She must see something in Catra’s expression, because her eyebrows knit together in concern. Her hands fall from Bow’s. Before Catra knows what’s happening, Adora is cutting a straight line across the dance floor.
Netossa follows the line of Catra’s gaze. Her mouth curves into a smile when she sees Adora.
“So, does Adora like, know that you don’t know?”
“What?” Catra asks distractedly. Her eyes are still fixed on Adora. They have so few opportunities to get dressed up, and she looks so pretty in her gold-touched ivory dress. It takes a moment for Mermista’s words to sink in. When they do, she nearly strains her neck whipping her gaze toward her. “Wait, what?”
“Like, does she just think you said yes, or is she totally clueless too?”
A jolt of anxiety courses through Catra. Does Adora know? Does she realize that everyone thinks that they’re married? Is that something Adora would even want?
“Oh, hi Adora,” says Entrapta, putting a swift end to that line of thought. Catra looks up to see Adora — face gone pink with the exertion of dancing, her hair disarrayed around her face — striding closer toward them.
“Hi, Entrapta,” says Adora distractedly. Her blue eyes cut to Catra and she says, breathless, “Hey, Catra, is everything—”
Before Adora can be assailed by the group around them, each one of the princesses visibly teeming with curiosity, Catra steps forward and sweeps her into her arms. One hand comes to settle at the small of her back, the other one slipping into Adora’s and threading their fingers together.
“Oh, hear that?” Catra squares her shoulders and raises their joined hands. She fixes Adora with a charming smile and is elated that even after all of their years together she can still make Adora brush. “It’s our song.”
As she leads Adora back out to the dance floor, she prays that Adora doesn’t hear Mermista’s muttered “Ugh, newlyweds.”
“I have never heard this song in my life,” Adora declares.
“Yeah, well, I needed an out,” mutters Catra. Her heart is still pounding with the anxiety of the previous conversation, but something about having Adora in her arms puts her at ease. She focuses on the counts of the music, on leading Adora through the steps with as much as grace as she can. “Did you see that? I was ambushed by a group of princesses.”
“You mean… our friends?” asks Adora, one eyebrow arched playfully. She is punished for her teasing with a sporadic twirl, and Catra nearly gets a mouthful of wheat blonde hair. Once Adora is facing her again, she says, “What were you guys talking about?”
“Um,” says Catra eloquently. She twirls Adora again while she thinks. “You know, stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Just stuff,” says Catra. Before Adora can cut in again, she asks, “Hey, has anyone said anything weird to you? About us?”
Adora’s brow furrows. Part of Catra regrets asking. Adora is the kind of girl who studies for a party. If she thinks that something is going wrong, she will stop at nothing to figure out what happened — but Catra needs to know if Adora knows what everyone else is whispering. If she knows what the little gold accessory on Catra’s shirt means.
“Why?” And there the worry is. “Catra, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, it’s just…” The rest of the dance floor switches partners, but Catra’s hand nestled at the small of Adora’s back stays firm. Adora doesn’t seem any more eager to leave, though they do switch positions. “Do people seem, you know. Happy for us?”
Adora blinks. “We just got back from a long voyage, like two days ago,” she hedges. “Everyone’s just happy to see us.”
“What about Sparkles and Bow?”
Adora tilts her head, considering. “What about them?” She asks, rotating the two of them to the beat. She has gotten better at the whole dancing thing compared to the first time they did it, and now that she has taken a couple of turns around the ballroom she is considerably more relaxed. There are only so many things to do during weeks of space trouble and once they had exhausted themselves with the obvious, it took a bit of creativity to keep from boredom. She and Adora had done this more than once in their closet-like room, pushing the bed to the far wall so Catra could try and teach Adora a thing or two. Catra tries to let herself relax into Adora’s arms like she could in the quiet vacuum of space, but it’s considerably harder when she knows everyone is watching them and why.
“Is everyone losing their minds over them?”
“I don’t know,” says Adora. “Does it matter?”
It sure does! Catra thinks near hysterically. She switches tactics and asks abruptly, “Why did you give me your pin?”
“Because… I thought it would look nice? You’re being weird.”
“Has anyone mentioned it?”
“No? I mean,” Adora pauses, considering. “Spinerella asked when I gave it to you? Which was kind of weird?” Intrigue dawns on her face, and she slowly says, “So did Bow. And he said I should talk to Glimmer, but—”
Apparently Adora has learned a trick or two. In one smooth movement, she lowers Catra into a smooth dip. It’s at the absolute worst time though, because she drops Catra just as she starts to say, “Adora, everyone thinks we’re married.”
“What?” Adora asks, then drops Catra.
Almost drops Catra. Catra clings to Adora like a frightened cat, and the shock is enough to make her almost feel guilty for doing the same thing to Double Trouble earlier. Almost. Only supreme restraint keeps her from unsheathing her claws and accidentally sinking them into Adora’s back. She would hate to ruin the dress.
“Sorry! Are you okay?” Adora gingerly raises Catra back up, rubs the hand on the small of Catra’s back with small, soothing circles. “Wait, did you say—”
The song changes, and once again they are expected to switch partners. A man wearing what looks like a still living plant, no doubt a denizen of Plumeria, extends his hand toward Adora and Catra jerks her head in the universal gesture of Beat it.
Adora takes a look around the ballroom as if for the first time. Now she must notice the way all eyes are on the two of them, because she drops her hand from Catra’s back. She lowers their hands but keeps them intertwined.
“Come on,” Adora says, giving a quick tug to Catra’s hand. “Let’s go somewhere a bit more quiet.”
Getting out of the palace is a process. It’s more exhausting than some of the battles Catra has lived through, as the two of them try to politely extract themselves from every cluster of curious guests that step into their paths. Adora spares a second for niceties at the beginning while Catra just charges through. By the time they make it out of the foyer, Adora has adopted Catra’s topic of charging blindly ahead.
Stepping outside of the doors and into the streets of the former Fright Zone may be one of the biggest accomplishments of Catra’s life. Exhausted, she and Adora share a look of mutual triumph that has Catra giggling until she realizes why exactly they’re outside, and anxiety chews at her once more.
“So let me get this straight,” says Adora “Everyone thinks we’re…”
Catra cuts her off with a glance at one of the guards, who is too obviously Not Paying Attention to actually be ignoring them.
The three of them stand there awkwardly until Catra finally says, “Hey.” She flicks her tail to tap Adora on the shoulder. “Race you to the lookout?”
She takes off without waiting for a response, cackling as the night air is filled with Adora’s shouts of mock-outrage. They’re not too far from their old stomping grounds, and tracing her old path is like a muscle memory. Catra doesn’t even have to think about it to find the old footholds, to leap to the next platform. Instead of cold metal beneath her fingers, she finds the soft press of flowers and vines carpeting the railing.
It takes longer for her to take it to the top than it had when they were younger. Catra blames that on the bits of flora stuck underneath her claws and the constraints of her formalwear. And the boots — this was much easier without shoes, even if Adora would tease her about it.
When Adora finally arrives, Catra is perched on the railing with one leg thrown over the other, head tossed back to look at the stars overhead.
“You’ve got to be faster than that, Princess,” says Catra without turning to look at her.
“You always play dirty,” says Adora, voice close. The skirts of her dress drag against the greenery carpeting the platform, her footsteps muffled by the grass underfoot. She presses her hands to the railing on either side of Catra, caging her in. Her chin sinks down to rest on Catra’s shoulder.
Catra tilts her head, leaning to press her temple against Adora’s. They stand like that in silence, a comforting warmth suffusing Catra where Adora’s body is pressed to her back. The warm summer night is filled with the scent of flowers. Below them, Scorpia’s kingdom is lit with the glow of lanterns and the occasional square of soft light leaking from a household window. The greenery that She-Ra had bestowed upon the area is a velvety blue in the darkness, illuminated here and there with bioluminescent flowers. Above them is a sea of stars — thousands and thousands of stars, stars that Catra will never get tired of looking at after a life lived in the void of Despondos.
Adora’s arms circle her middle. Catra covers them with her own and leans back into Adora’s embrace. One of Adora’s hands brush at the pin fastening Catra’s shirt together.
“Is that what you wanted to get away for?” Teases Catra. She can practically feel Adora’s cheek flushing where it's pressed to hers.
“You’re the worst,” says Adora, but her hand doesn’t drop from that point against Catra’s chest. “Do people really think we’re…married?”
Catra snorts. “Everyone. Or engaged. Or whatever.”
“Because of… a pin?” Adora’s hand shifts, drawing small circles against the surface of the object in question.
“Yeah,” says Catra. She sighs and leans back further, propping her head back on Adora’s shoulder and staring up at the sky. “It’s this whole thing, apparently. Vows and stuff and hearts. Or something.”
“Bow is always wearing one of Glimmer’s earrings,” Adora says. “I thought it was just... them being them.”
“Yeah, it’s like a tradition I guess” says Catra. She runs a hand up Adora’s arm absentmindedly. “So when I showed up with this old thing—”
“— it’s not that bad—”
“—Everyone thought…” Catra’s face flushes as she remembers all the raised eyebrows and wide eyes, all of the whispers and happy congratulations. “Well, you know. Crazy, isn’t it?”
Catra pauses. She shifts, leaning upright to break out of Adora’s embrace. Adora’s arms tighten around her for a second, then fall away. She steps back, giving Catra the space to drop from her perch and turn around.
“I… I don’t know,” says Catra. She leans back against the railing, focusing on the plush feel of plant life beneath her fingers to ground herself.
Adora is so close, Catra can see every minor expression play out on her pretty features. She lifts a hand and touches the pin again, more tentatively this time. It sends a shiver up Catra’s spine that has nothing to do with the cool night breeze.
“Did you ever… think about it?” She asks.
“I don’t know,” Catra says again. Her gaze drops to Adora’s hand.
Marriage? Until a few years ago, she didn’t even really get the point. An excuse to throw a party? An address to send your remains to? There had been neither love nor family within the Horde, not even fidelity to a cause. Friendship and partnership had been discouraged amongst the cadets, their bonds with one another so thoroughly manipulated by Shadow Weaver and their superior officers that it had been nearly impossible to know who to trust. Whatever love she had experienced growing up had been something precious, something brought into the world for just her and Adora. The concept of marriage had been as alien to Catra as the foreign grounds she had walked upon in their intergalactic voyages.
It’s a vow to stay together forever, Glimmer had told her once, before her own wedding. Isn’t that what Catra has been doing her entire life? Standing by Adora’s side, holding her hand with the intent of never letting go? Her and Adora against the world, her childhood dream. She had lost it during those chaotic years where the two of them had stood on opposite sides of an ever growing rift, but they had long since bridged that gap. Catra has made that vow every day since. She doesn’t need some stupid ceremony to show it.
“I don’t either,” Adora says. Her blue eyes flick to Catra’s face. “It’s so… different.”
It’s comforting to know that Adora is just as clueless as she is — that so much of the world is as unknown to her as it is to Catra. The circumstances of their childhood had kept them from so much. She had loved and yearned for Adora for years, but never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined…
Being Adora’s wife.
“Yeah,” says Catra. She sighs, tilting her head so that she can see part of the Fright Zone and the rest of Etheria beyond. “It’s a whole other world out there, huh?”
Adora doesn’t answer her. When Catra looks back, she is wearing an expression that’s hard to parse. Her mouth is a line of determination, but her eyes are soft.
Adora’s other hand raises to the pin. Catra watches in confusion as Adora uses careful hands to push at the clasp, gently sliding the pin from her shirt. She can feel the heat of Adora’s hand through the thin fabric of her dress shirt, and wonders if Adora can tell that her heart is pounding in her chest.
“Wow, you really did come here to do something else, huh? All you had to do was ask,” Catra jokes weakly. A torrent of complicated feelings swirls inside her chest. She tries to tamp down the bitter sting of — disappointment? Fear? It had been embarrassing, sure, to have all of those knowing eyes watching the two of them, but the assumption hadn’t been entirely… unwelcome. It makes her chest tight to think that Adora didn’t feel the same way. That she didn’t want…
“I didn’t know when I gave this to you,” says Adora, looking at the little pin in her palm, “what it meant.”
“Uh, yeah, I think we already established—”
“But I do now.” Adora lifts her earnest blue eyes to Catra. Even now, with her heart threatening to quietly break, Catra finds herself lost in them. “Catra, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
Everything stops when Adora asks, voice trembling, “Will you marry me?”
Catra’s throat is tight. Hot tears prick at the corner of her eyes, burning when they escape down the side of her face. She turns her face away from Adora, wiping at the tears with the back of her hands and attempting to hold at bay the others threatening to spill over.
“Oh, Catra,” says Adora softly. Her serious expression gives way to one of concern. She presses her hands to the sides of Catra’s face and brings their foreheads together. Her fingers soothingly stroke through her hair. The pin is still cupped in her hand, and the cold swoop of its metal wing presses against Catra’s cheek. “Don’t cry, Catra,” she murmurs, fingers still petting Catra’s hair. She leans forward, brushes her lips over Catra’s in the ghost of a kiss, and says, “It’s okay.”
She continues like that for a few more moments, pressing gentle kisses to Catra’s face and whispering a soft litany of comforts while Catra gathers herself.
Once she has reigned the tears under control again, Catra takes a deep breath. “I don’t—” Catra starts. Her throat is tight, but at least she isn’t crying. Adora tenses against her, and she realizes how that must have sounded. Just as Adora’s hands go limp on her face, threatening to fall away, Catra sweeps a hand up. She covers Adora’s hand in hers and leans into the touch, pin and all. “I don’t have anything to give you,” she says, voice quiet.
It’s true. So little of what she had grown up with had been hers. Everything she had in the Fright Zone had ultimately belonged to the Horde. Everything. Her bed, her clothes, her weapons. Growing up, possessions had meant nothing — just one more thing that someone else could take from her. The only thing that had ever been hers was the headgear that she had worn for years, and that had been taken from her by Horde Prime. Even in Bright Moon, her possessions are sparse. She has trinkets here and there, little gifts from friends that she appreciates but has rarely worn, but nothing like Adora’s pin. Nothing that means something, nothing that is part enough of her to give to Adora.
Adora’s face pulls away. She doesn’t loosen her gentle hold on Catra, instead uses it to tip Catra’s face so that their gazes meet. Her eyes are bright with unshed tears, her mouth curved into a small smile.
“I don’t care about that, Catra” she says. “I don’t want a necklace, or a pin, or whatever. I just want you. I want to be with you, forever.” She slips her hands from Catra’s face, ghosts the tips of her fingers along Catra’s jaw as they descend. She uncurls one hand, and the wing-shaped pin sits on the palm of her hand, scuffs and scratches on display. “Will you marry me, Catra?”
“Yes,” says Catra, and her voice breaks on the word.
With trembling fingers, Adora fastens the pin onto Catra’s shirt again. This time, she doesn’t accidentally stab Catra with it. Catra wouldn’t even care if she did, too caught up in the fact that once the clasp is clipped shut, the two of them are engaged.
When Adora pulls her in for this kiss, Catra is definitely crying. Tears stream from the corner of her eyes, and Adora uses her thumbs to wipe at them gently. She teases Catra about it between kisses, even though her face is wet too. The flower covered rail bites into Catra’s lower back, but she couldn't care less. She lets Adora press her back against the rail, lets her bury her in kisses until the tears subside.
The familiar comfort of Adora is somehow different here, in this place that had been their only escape for so long. She used to dangle her legs over the edge of the platform with Adora at her side and dream of threading her fingers into Adora’s long blonde hair and kissing her. She would curl her claws into the metal of the platform in restrained want until her fingers hurt, knowing that reaching out like that would ruin everything. Knowing that urging those feelings down was the only way to keep the two of them together.
Everything is different now. Flowers have bloomed from their once corroding hideaway, and Adora is kissing Catra like she is everything she has ever wanted in her life. All of those childhood fears are put to bed knowing that no matter what, she and Adora will always be together. She doesn’t need a pin or a ceremony to know that, but the small press of metal against her sternum still makes her giddy with excitement.
When Adora finally pulls away, her face is flushed. Wisps of blonde hair are matted to the side of her face with dried tears. Even like this, red-faced and puffy-eyed, she’s beautiful. Catra smoothes the wisps of hair back from her face — from her fiancee’s face, her soon-to-be wife’s face.
They hold each other for a while, arms wrapped around each other as they stare out at Scorpia’s kingdom. The darkness beyond holds the Whispering Wood, Bright Moon, all the many places they have traversed. The darkness overhead holds a net of stars and untold galaxies, planets that the two of them have crossed together. Here, though, is where it started.
Adora’s arm slips from Catra’s shoulders to loop around her waist.
“So,” she says, wearing the mischievous smile that Catra has always loved her for. “What do you say we go tell everyone else?”