There’s no sunrise or sunset in space. Just an infinite, shimmering curtain of stars against a rich black background. The light—or lack thereof—doesn’t change, doesn’t waver.
There are no routines out here in the wider universe. No routines like the ones they had back on Etheria, anyway. There’s simply no visual way to tell when it’s morning, or night, or afternoon.
Adora—Catra's girlfriend—can’t live without a schedule. She sets several alarms each day to ensure that they eat meals at proper times, go to bed at normal hours, and never sleep too late.
Several alarms. Too many alarms.
Alarms that Catra would like to smash to pieces.
But they go off each “morning” regardless, beeping so insistently that Catra must shield her ears with a pillow. It’s truly unbearable, that beeping. A blaring, repetitive noise that grates on Catra’s hearing like a jackhammer pounds through concrete.
“I’ve got it!” Adora says all-too-brightly, reaching over Catra to silence the alarm with a simple press of a button. Catra doesn’t need to open her eyes to tell that Adora is smiling and eager to start the day. She is, and always will be, an infuriatingly cheerful morning person.
Adora successfully hits the off button, and finally, the room falls quiet. Blissfully quiet—the way space is supposed to be.
Though Adora claims otherwise, Catra suspects that these alarms are set to when Adora thinks it’s appropriate to wake up: namely, the crack of dawn. The same time Adora always chooses to wake up back on Etheria. Not that Catra can confirm it without an actual dawn to compare it to. But it definitely feels far earlier than Catra’s typical 10AM wake-up time.
And so Catra sighs, prepared to let herself fall back to sleep—to enjoy this silence and darkness while it lasts.
But evidently, Adora does not intend for it to last for long.
“Can we have some lights please, Darla?” she asks.
There’s no real person in the room named Darla. Only the ship that surrounds them, and the so-named artificial intelligence that controls it.
“Of course, She-Ra.”
And so, the lights flash on, glaring an obnoxious dark yellow through Catra’s still-closed eyelids.
With an irritated moan, Catra repositions her pillow so that it’s covering her face, hoping to recover whatever darkness she can still find in this too-bright room. She just wants to sleep. Is that really so much to ask? Maybe there are no sunrises in space because space travelers don’t need to do anything but sleep—especially when they haven’t seen a notable planet in weeks. Has Adora ever considered that?
But apparently, Adora has not. She tears the pillow from Catra’s grasp—once again exposing Catra’s sleep-crusted eyelids to the light.
“Good morning,” she says, then leans down to press a kiss into Catra’s forehead.
Each word is positively brimming with affection and cheerfulness. It would be sweet, Catra thinks, if she wasn’t so goddamn tired.
Catra only grumbles an incoherent response. Melog—who lies at the foot of their bed—grumbles something equally incoherent. When it comes to being so rudely woken up, Catra can always count on her magical space cat to share her annoyance.
Adora squeezes her face up against Catra’s in a very cruel attempt to nuzzle Catra awake. “C’mon, Catra. You can’t just sleep the whole day away.”
“Yes,” Catra mutters, knowing that Adora won’t leave her alone unless she says something. “I can. We’re in space. There’s no day or night or morning or anything. There’s only you and your stupid alarms—”
“Catra,” Adora groans. “Come on, I told you. These alarms are synchronized to the days and nights on Etheria. If we don’t follow them, we’re gonna have terrible space-lag when we get home—”
“If space is training me to sleep all day, then that’s the way I want to live.”
Adora snorts. “You’re ridiculous.”
“And you’re disgustingly chipper in the morning.”
“Morning?” Adora says mockingly. “I thought you said that mornings don’t exist out here.”
“You’re disgustingly chipper all the time, then.”
Adora chuckles, then presses another kiss into Catra’s bare shoulder. “Seriously. Get up and get dressed. We’re supposed to be passing over a planet today. One that isn’t, y’know...” Her voice darkens a bit. “Destroyed by Horde Prime.”
Catra feels the cot shift as Adora rolls out of bed. She cracks open an eye to watch as Adora slips on her undergarments. Of course, it’s not quite as fun as watching her take those undergarments off, but it’s still one of the better views she can enjoy during this horrible time that Adora calls “morning.”
She smirks as she catches Catra watching. “Would you just get up already?”
“Why don’t you turn into She-Ra and make me get out of bed?”
Adora shoots her a look. “Are you asking me to pick you up with one arm and physically toss you out of bed? Because She-Ra can do that, if you want.”
“I was more hoping for being carried bridal-style,” Catra says, then sighs in an aggrieved sort of way. “But clearly you’re in no mood to have fun.”
She hears Adora unzip the bag she packed for the trip and begin to rifle through its contents. Catra, meanwhile, hauls herself upright and begins to stretch—yawning widely and loudly to shake the tiredness from her body.
Catra is just rising to her feet when she hears Adora make a little noise of confusion. Adora is kneeling on the floor now, and as Catra cranes her neck to look, she notices that Adora has strewn her clothes and belongings all over the ground—piled around her in chaotic, unfolded heaps.
That immediately strikes Catra as strange. Adora isn’t one to leave clothes unfolded for any purpose. She’s quite particular about folding each and every garment before placing it neatly in her bag, and she’ll refuse to sleep unless absolutely everything is put away.
“I don’t know. Maybe. Have you seen my jacket?” Adora asks, still closely examining the bag for hidden pockets or other invisible locations that the jacket might have disappeared into. “Or my shirt, for that matter—”
“Oh, right,” Catra says, just now recalling. She points to the far corner of the room. “They’re over there.”
“Over there—?” Adora squints in the direction of Catra’s finger. “Why would I put them there?”
Adora stands and shuffles over the corner, carefully circumventing the piles of clothes left behind. She stands in the corner for several moments, staring at something on the floor where the two walls meet, and then turns back to Catra with a perplexed sort of expression.
“This is a pile of shredded fabric.”
Catra nods knowingly. “Yes.”
Adora rolls her eyes. “Not funny, Catra. Where’s my jacket?”
“That is your jacket,” Catra says. “And your shirt. I tore them up.”
She gapes at Catra. “You what?”
“I tore them up,” Catra repeats, speaking around yet another enormous yawn.
“Wha…? When did you—?” Adora sputters, falling to her knees beside the shredded fabric, holding up each piece for close inspection, frantically trying to confirm whether Catra is telling the truth.
“Last ‘night,’” Catra says carelessly, creating air quotations around the last word. She shrugs. “I had a bad dream and decided to work through some anger.”
“On my jacket?”
Catra shrugs again and reaches out to scratch Melog on the head. “Well, yeah. I’ve been meaning to get rid of that thing for a while.”
Adora’s eyes narrow. “What does that mean?”
“Adora,” Catra says seriously. “You’ve had that same jacket since you were fourteen. It’s literally a Horde-issued jacket. But the Horde’s gone now, and really, the jacket should be too.”
Catra reaches down and pulls her own crumpled clothes off the floor—a black crop top and a pair of maroon leggings that she left there from the night before. She gives the wrinkled shirt and pants a shake before lifting them high as an example.
“See?” Catra says. “You don’t catch me wearing anything from my days in the Horde.”
It was the first thing Catra threw away, in fact, after Bright Moon was rebuilt and its tailors up and running again. Her old jumpsuit. The one that the Fright Zone’s factories custom-made for her, back when Catra was still Hordak’s second-in-command.
Later, when she officially became a rebel, Catra doubted the Bright Moon citizenry would take kindly to seeing her in that uniform—the uniform of the enemy. So it was best, she thought, if all traces of that old empire were simply thrown away.
But that jacket…
Adora had kept it all this time, for some unfathomable reason. Sure, she removed the officer’s badge and cut away the Horde’s emblem. But no matter how she altered it, it was still very clearly a Horde uniform. And it always struck Catra as strange that She-Ra, the rebel’s greatest hero, spent half her time parading around in the clothes of the enemy. Surely, someone must have suggested a change of clothes at some point.
Well. Catra supposes it’s a thing of the past now. The jacket has finally been disposed of. And there’s still enough of the white shirt to wear as a crop-top if Adora wants.
(Though if she doesn’t want it, Catra will happily take it for herself.)
“B-but—” Adora stammers, fruitlessly trying to reassemble the shreds of red fabric between her hands, “I thought you liked the jacket!”
Catra gives another shrug as she pulls on her own clothes. “It was fine, I guess. Back in the Horde. Though the shoulder pads were kinda stupid-looking.”
“Stupid-looking?” Adora repeats numbly, dropping the fabric to the floor.
“Uh-huh,” Catra agrees. “Stupid-looking.”
Adora looks hurt now, though Catra really didn’t intend it that way. The jacket was always cute on Adora. Everything is cute on Adora. But that doesn’t change the fact that the jacket was over seven years old and once belonged to an evil, now-defeated empire. The jacket practically begged Catra to be torn to pieces.
“But...what else am I supposed to wear?” Adora asks, sounding thoroughly lost.
Now fully dressed, Catra walks over to that bag that Adora turned inside out while searching for her jacket. She rummages through the piles of clothes until she finds what she’s looking for—a parcel wrapped in brown paper, untouched and discarded with the rest of Adora’s belongings.
Catra is the one who placed the parcel in Adora’s bag. Weeks ago, she put it there—hoping that Adora would discover and unwrap it. But she never once looked at it. Not when her usual jacket, shirt, and pants always sat at the top of the bag.
“Not that you ever noticed, since you wear the same thing every day,” Catra mutters, then extends the parcel for Adora to take. “But I had this made for you, back in Bright Moon.”
Adora stares at it for a moment, looking stunned at herself most of all—for never realizing that the parcel was sitting in her bag the entire time. And then, slowly, she reaches out to take it from Catra’s hand.
She turns it over in her hands exactly three times before tearing open the paper. Inside is smooth white fabric glinting with golden accents—a deftly folded tank top, one with a high neck and designed for wicking sweat, just as Adora likes. And then, beneath it, a matching white-and gold jacket with a red inner lining.
Catra probably put more effort into the design than she’d care to admit. But clothes have always been important to Catra, somehow. They were the only truly unique things Catra could claim back in the Horde—either because she tore up the uniforms she was given or (later, when she had more power) custom-designed them.
And, well...she wanted to share that with Adora, somehow. Especially now that they can both wear whatever they want.
But of course, that old jacket—and the bad memories it held—would have to be removed from the equation first.
“It’s white and gold,” Catra mutters, blushing and struggling to meet Adora’s eyes. “Or at least mostly white and gold, with some red. Like She-Ra.”
Now that they’re unwrapped, Adora just keeps staring at the shirt and jacket—turning them over in her hands in an endless rotation.
“You want me to look like She-Ra?” Adora says quietly.
“Well, sure,” Catra says, frowning—not quite understanding the question. “The colors look good on you.”
Finally, they look up at each other—eyes colliding across the room. For the life of her, Catra can’t decipher Adora’s expression. Can’t figure out at all what she’s thinking—can’t figure out whether she likes the clothes, or hates them, or is still mad about the jacket.
Awkwardness fills the room like an ever-growing, unpoppable balloon. Catra can feel it pressing against her. Crushing her, almost, as Adora says nothing and Catra says nothing in turn.
Catra forces herself to yawn again, just to have something to do.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” Catra says, stretching both arms high above her head, “but I’m starving. Do you wanna head to the main deck for breakfast?”
Adora clears her throat, then jerks her hand toward the piles of unfolded clothes strewn around her feet. “I think I should clean up this mess first. But don’t wait for me—you go. I’ll catch up.”
“Are you sure?”
Adora nods perhaps a bit too fiercely. “Positive.”
“I can wait,” Catra says. “It’s really no big deal—”
Adora closes her eyes and sighs. “Really, Catra. Just go eat.”
Catra merely stares at her for a few moments—at the way she kneels and begins meticulously packing away her clothes, devoting her entire attention to the task. Refusing to even shoot Catra another glance as she and Melog shuffle out of the room.
Catra mutters, “Okay. If you say so.”
Catra smiles triumphantly as she sweeps into the room, Melog trailing closely behind her.
“Well, I finally did it,” she announces. “I finally took care of that stupid jacket!”
Bow and Glimmer are already there, spoons clattering against their half-empty cereal bowls. Catra feels somewhat vindicated to see that they look just as tired as she does. Adora set alarms for them as well, and their collective exhaustion only affirms Catra’s suspicion—that Adora is definitely training them all to become insufferable morning people.
Glimmer narrows her eyes at Catra and drops her spoon back into her bowl. “What jacket?”
Bow and Glimmer exchange concerned glances.
“You mean her red one?” Glimmer asks, sounding oddly alarmed. “From the Horde?”
“Well, yeah,” Catra says.“What other jacket does she have?”
“And by ‘take care’…” Bow says slowly, gesturing for her to continue. “you mean...?”
“I tore it up,” Catra declares as she drops to the floor beside Glimmer and Bow, her own spoon and cereal bowl in hand. “Destroyed it.”
And Catra thinks that’ll be the end of the conversation. That Glimmer and Bow will congratulate Catra on this excellent service to the fashion world, and then move on to far more interesting topics for the remainder of their breakfast.
But the horrified looks on Glimmer and Bow’s faces quickly spoil Catra’s appetite. They’re both staring at her, for some unfathomable reason—each of them open-mouthed and flushed with panic.
Catra lowers her spoon and gives an exasperated sigh. Beside her, Melog gives an exasperated mew of their own.
“What?” she demands. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
A pause. And then—
“You destroyed Adora’s jacket?” Bow shrieks, jumping to his feet.
Catra winces at his volume. “Yes, that’s what I said, isn’t it? Now, would you quiet down? It’s too early for this kind of yelling.”
“You destroyed Adora’s lucky jacket?”
This time, it’s Glimmer who asks that all-too-redundant question. She surges forward and grabs Catra by the shoulders, her eyes alight with fear.
“What do you mean, lucky jacket?” Catra says, tearing her shoulders out of Glimmer’s grip. “It’s not a lucky jacket, it’s just a jacket—”
“No,” Glimmer tells her pointedly. “That’s Adora’s lucky jacket. When she’s not wearing it, bad things happen.”
Catra shakes her head disbelievingly. “What are you even talking about?”
“Do you really think you’re the first person who’s tried to get Adora to change her clothes?” Glimmer asks. “Horde fashion isn’t exactly well-liked in Bright Moon. Pretty much everyone wanted that jacket gone. But every time we tried—”
“So?” Catra interrupts. “It sounds like you should be thanking me for finally getting the job done—”
“Every time we tried,” Glimmer continues loudly, as if trying to speak over any other potential interruptions, “some sort of disaster would strike. Rebel villages would be attacked. She-Ra would start losing fights. Adora would trip and break her ankle—”
Catra rolls her eyes. “C’mon, Sparkles. Those are just coincidences.”
“That’s what we thought at first too,” Bow says in a hushed, foreboding sort of voice. “But whenever we gave her jacket back, everything would just stop. Stop, completely. We did controlled experiments. The removal of the jacket was always the one factor that brought about the bad luck.”
Catra throws up her hands. “Again, a coincidence—”
Glimmer raises an eyebrow at Catra. “Is it?”
“Yes,” says Catra, firm. “It is.”
“Then where was Adora’s jacket when she defected from the Horde and left you behind?”
At first, Catra thinks it’s a stupid question. Adora never took the damn thing off, of course she was wearing it when Catra came for her at Thaymor—
Except that...now that she’s remembering…
Adora wasn’t wearing it. Adora wasn’t wearing her jacket at Thaymor.
“Glimmer and I threw the jacket in a bush to help Adora blend in better,” Bow explains. “But as soon as it was off, Thaymor was attacked, you and Adora had that falling out—”
“The jacket didn’t cause our falling out!” Catra tells him furiously. “We had an ideological disagreement, the jacket had nothing to do with it—”
“That’s what you think,” Bow says. “But Glimmer and I have long held a theory that if we never took off Adora's jacket, we could’ve avoided the chain reaction that led to the Battle of Bright Moon, the portal, the arrival of Horde Prime—all of it. Because really, it all comes back to you and Adora having that fight—”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Catra says. “It’s just a jacket. And there were a whole bunch of other factors that caused those things to happen.”
“Oh yeah?” challenges Glimmer. “Well, what about Princess Prom? Adora switches from a jacket to a dress and Princess Prom was ruined for the first time in centuries—”
Catra snorts and crosses her arms. “Well, maybe Princess Prom sucked for you two, but I had a great time. Namely, because I was the one doing the ruining.”
“So you say. Except that it allowed Shadow Weaver to capture Adora. And then she tried to memory-wipe Adora to replace you.”
Catra and Melog both hiss at the mention of that nasty little detail, but Glimmer doesn’t even acknowledge it—she just keeps on barreling forward with her so-called ‘proof.’
“And then I started glitching, and then we left Entrapta behind, and then—” Glimmer sighs and shakes her head. “The jacket keeps bad luck away, okay? If that wasn’t the case, we would’ve gotten rid of it long ago.”
“Catra,” Bow says urgently. “Where did you put the jacket? Maybe we can get it back to Adora before something bad happens—”
Catra only shakes her head again. “You two have officially lost it. Nothing bad is gonna happen. It’s a jacket. Not a lucky jacket. Not a magical jacket. Just a jacket. Plain and simple.” And then, for good measure, she points an accusing finger at Bow. “And besides, aren’t you the one who always says that the Best Friends Squad doesn’t need luck?”
“Yeah,” Bow says. “But only because we’ve always had the jacket!”
Catra pinches the bridge of her nose. Bow and Glimmer have always been ridiculous in their "pastels and sparkles and royal balls" way of thinking. But this? This is an entirely new level of nonsense, even for them.
“You know what I think?” Catra asks. “I think that this will be a great opportunity for everyone to learn that pieces of clothing have literally no influence over good or bad events.”
Glimmer groans in frustration. “Catra, please. Just take us to the jacket!”
“No way! It’s in pieces, as it should be.”
“Stop freaking out, nothing bad is going to—”
A whistling, creaking explosion lurches the ship dangerously to the side, and Catra finds her cereal spilled all over her lap.
The thump of bodies hitting the floor tells Catra that both Glimmer and Bow have been knocked off their feet. Only Catra and Melog are spared from a similar fate since they're already sitting down. Though they’re not entirely spared—the cold milk on Catra’s clothes evidences that well enough.
Alarms start to flash red all across the ship. Not the mildly unpleasant, time-indicating ones that Adora has so meticulously set, but the scary, warning lights that indicate the rapid unfolding of a critical situation. Catra can only stare at those lights in a shell-shocked sort of paralysis, unsure of what caused them, or what to do next.
“ALERT,” comes Darla’s voice, blaring to life through every available speaker. “SHIP IS UNDER ATTACK. HULL INTEGRITY REDUCED TO SIXTY PERCENT.”
Glimmer wobbles to her feet just so she can glare down at Catra.
“What did you do?” Glimmer demands furiously.
“Me?” Catra shrieks incredulously. “I didn’t do anything! Someone’s attacking the ship!”
“It’s the jacket!” Bow screams. “We’re gonna die because you tore up the jacket!”
“Shut up! This has nothing to do with that!”
Before they can argue further, Adora quite literally skids into the room—her boots squeaking across the metal floor.
Bow and Glimmer snap their mouths shut, trying very desperately to look innocent of...something. Though Catra has no idea what. But it’s a bit ridiculous-looking, how much they’re pretending that everything is fine when the situation is so plainly far from it.
Though most surprising is Adora herself. More specifically, Adora’s clothes. It seems that she’s finally donned the outfit that Catra picked out for her. And frankly? It looks good. Amazing, even. It fits Adora in all the right places and gives her the same air of authority that the She-Ra armor does.
Catra will admit it. Her girlfriend looks hot. Not that she doesn’t always look hot to Catra. But the new jacket definitely doesn’t hurt.
“What’s happening?” Adora says, glancing between Catra, Glimmer, and Bow with bewilderment, clearly hoping that they have more information than she does.
“We’re being attacked!” they all say, at once. Because that’s everything they know at the moment. Well, everything they know except the jacket’s supposed involvement. Which Catra still isn’t convinced about.
“Yeah, I got that part,” Adora says, and then immediately throws herself into the pilot’s chair at the center of the floor. “But by who? And why? Darla—”
The computer responds to Adora’s voice, immediately bringing up a holographic log of the damage. There’s a lot of it. Too much.
“Darla, can I get a visual on our attacker?”
A new hologram expands, revealing a rather menacing-looking, dark red ship clinging close to their tail, its weapon systems engaged. Catra doesn’t have a ton of experience with space travel, but it doesn’t look like one of Horde Prime’s ships, and it doesn’t look anything like the First Ones ship that they’re currently inside.
“Who is that?” Bow asks.
“I don’t know,” Adora says. “But they’re following us and clearly not very friendly. Darla, redirect power to our rear shields.”
Catra is about to move forward—wanting to get a better look at the ship pursuing them—when Glimmer once again grabs Catra by the shoulders and tugs her behind Adora’s chair.
“You need to return Adora’s jacket before that ship blasts us apart,” Glimmer hisses—quietly enough that Adora can’t hear. “It’s the only way to put a stop to this—”
Catra lowers her voice to match Glimmer’s, then asks, “Why are we whispering, exactly?”
“You know Adora,” Glimmer whispers back. “She’d never stop blaming herself if she knew her own jacket had such a profound impact on the fate of the universe—”
“It does not have a profound impact on anything, it’s just a jacket!”
“That jacket did not cause that ship to attack us. Besides,” Catra gestures excitedly to the chair. “Did you see how good she looks in the outfit I got her? I should’ve done this weeks ago—”
“Look, whatever you’re whispering about back there,” Adora calls somewhat frantically—and angrily—over the back of the chair, “can you both please cut it out and help me stop the ship that’s trying to kill us!”
And, as if on cue, another enormous BOOM echoes across the ship, tilting the floor so that both Catra and Glimmer ram face-first into the chair. Melog yowls in sympathetic pain from somewhere at Adora’s side.
“HULL INTEGRITY AT 45 PERCENT,” Darla announces gravely.
“Darla!” Adora shouts. “What’s our best option for evasive maneuvers?”
“Suggested course: land on nearby planet Antares and seek repairs.”
“Antares?” Adora echoes. “Is that even a safe place to land—?”
Catra and Glimmer reemerge from behind the chair just as Darla opens up a large array of holographic records on Antares, the planet in question. Each hologram provides comprehensive information on Antarian life: its atmosphere, its culture, its trade, and its major locations of interest.
“Atmosphere is compatible. There are several ports in which to purchase parts and obtain the services of a repair person.”
“We will be orbiting the planet in less than 5 minutes.”
Adora blinks, surprised. “We’re that close already?”
Another blast drives its way into the side of the ship, resonating like thunder across metal and silent space. The force of it sends Catra nearly sprawling to the floor.
“HULL INTEGRITY AT 30 PERCENT.”
“Hold on,” Catra says, clutching tightly to the chair to reclaim her balance. “Something’s wrong. They have us in their sights, but they’re only firing every couple of minutes.”
Adora shakes her head. “That sounds like a good thing, not a bad one—”
“Yeah, but…” Catra gestures to the holographic version of the planet Antares glinting in the air, “maybe they want us to land. Maybe this is a trap.”
“Well, we’ll either get blasted to pieces here...or get blasted to pieces on Antares,” Glimmer says, then raises her hand. “I vote Antares.”
And then, one by one, Adora and Bow each raise a hand as well, casting their votes.
Catra sighs. “Fine. But if it’s a trap—”
“You can say you told us so,” Adora finishes for her. “But for now, let’s just focus on surviving the next few minutes.”
Darla swerves herself clear around Antares, using the planet's physical mass and gravity to conceal themselves from the sensors of that strangely hostile ship.
Their entry is frighteningly shaky given the damage they’ve sustained to the hull. But it’s a successful entry nonetheless, one that safely brings Darla to one of the ports suggested in the ship’s records.
“Potentially one of the oldest spaceports in the universe,” Adora reads from the hologram, sounding intrigued to be somewhere with such a rich historical significance.
Though Catra is a bit too nervous to care much about the historical significance. For one thing, there’s that ship—the mysterious one that nearly killed them, and could still be pursuing them at this very moment.
And for another thing, there’s Adora herself. Adora, who keeps pulling at the sleeves of her jacket, or picking at her new shirt like her skin itches beneath it. Adora, who keeps refusing to meet Catra’s eyes for longer than a moment.
Adora is in the cargo hold when Catra finally manages to corner her somewhere private. She’s packing a backpack of some kind, gathering supplies before they emerge from the now-landed ship.
“Hey,” Catra greets quietly. “You’re not mad, are you? About the jacket?”
Adora shakes her head, but it’s not convincing. Catra stares at her pleadingly, but no matter how she tries to hold Adora’s gaze, it always slips away. Gravitating toward the floor, or the backpack clutched between Adora’s hands.
“I’m sorry,” Catra admits, despite how it bites at her pride. “I should’ve asked first—I just...I didn’t know that the jacket actually meant anything to you.”
Because really, she stands by her decision. The jacket was a symbol of the Horde, and it really, truly, needed to be replaced—
But she never wanted to upset Adora. The point of the new clothes was to make sure that Adora wouldn’t miss the jacket, once it was gone.
Adora says nothing. She just keeps shoving supplies into the backpack: packets of freeze-dried fruit and extra toothbrushes and other items that Catra is sure that they won’t actually need.
“I said I wasn’t mad, okay?”
Adora’s words reverberate through the cargo hold, sharp and loud and irritated. And it couldn’t be more obvious that Adora is lying, that the exact opposite is true. That Adora is very, very angry, even if she refuses to admit it.
But Catra doesn’t understand. Adora has never mentioned the jacket being special in any way. Sure, Glimmer and Bow claim that it’s lucky, somehow. But Adora? Adora has never said a word. Has never mentioned a reason for wearing that jacket beyond the comfort of its familiarity.
It’s a bit too forceful—the way Adora shoves the pack into Catra’s arms.
“This one’s yours,” Adora mutters. “I’ll go pack another one.”
Adora marches past her, heading somewhere that Catra is fairly certain doesn’t have any more backpacks or supplies. But she doesn’t mention that. She doubts Adora would appreciate it if she did.
The planet Antares is a colorful, high-tech utopia. The kind that would make Entrapta drool just by looking at it.
Shining hovercrafts speed through the skies. Sleek metal buildings burst from every available stretch of ground, taller than Catra knew buildings could be, reflecting the sunlight off blue and purple-tinted glass. Holograms project into the sky, advertising all sorts of intriguing products that Catra can hardly pronounce, let alone understand what they do.
The people here are oddly stylish, too. All geometric clothing and strange headpieces. Robotic limbs and gleaming jewelry.
It would be a wonderful place to visit, Catra thinks. If it weren’t for one fairly significant drawback.
“Bad news,” Bow says. “The ship needs repairs.”
Glimmer raises both eyebrows at him. “Uh, Bow? We knew that already.”
“Well, what we didn’t know,” Bow continues, “is that repairs cost money. A lot of it. And considering where we came from, we don’t have any kind of money that these people accept.”
Adora scratches her chin. “Maybe we can offer to do work in exchange for repairs?”
“Or maybe I can pickpocket these very cushy-looking Antarians,” Catra offers sarcastically, rubbing a hand behind Melog’s ears.
Adora glares at her. “That’s an excellent way to get us arrested on a planet we’re already stranded on.”
Catra makes a face. “I was joking, obviously.”
“Well. It wasn’t funny,” Adora says, already turning her back to Catra. “I’m gonna go ask around—see if there’s some way we can safely earn some money.”
“Wait,” Catra says. “Why don’t you try, I don’t know—turning into She-Ra?”
Adora shoots Catra another glare, looking positively outraged by the suggestion. “And why would I do that?”
“Well, She-Ra did kinda save the universe,” Catra reminds her pointedly. “So if people see She-Ra asking for help, rather than some random girl, they may be more inclined to donate a few bucks—”
Adora’s glare only hardens. “I’m going to find us the money we need,” she grits out. “And I’ll do it as myself, not as She-Ra.”
And then, with a swoosh of a blonde ponytail, Adora storms away.
Catra can feel Glimmer and Bow staring at her. Bow clears his throat to diffuse the awkwardness, and Glimmer’s expression is smug in Catra’s periphery.
“Huh. You two don’t seem to be getting along all of a sudden,” Glimmer says. “Could it be, perhaps…?”
“Do. Not. Say it,” Catra hisses.
“...the jacket?” Glimmer presses onward. “The jacket, driving this wedge between you?”
A pause. And then—
“Alright, fine,” says Catra bitterly, crossing her arms. “So she’s mad at me for tearing up the jacket. But that doesn’t have anything to do with luck. It’s just a misunderstanding—”
Glimmer drags both hands down her face and groans.
“Catra—what are you not understanding about this situation?” Glimmer demands. “Since you tore up that jacket, we’ve been attacked, driven from space, stranded on an alien planet, and now, you and Adora are fighting—”
“All! Just! A Coincidence!”
That’s what Catra insists, anyway. Right until an enormous spaceship plunges from the sky and nearly lands on top of them.
“Look out!” Bow cries, tackling Glimmer, Catra, and Melog to the ground as fire and fuel continues to roar from the ship. It lowers itself mere inches away from their bodies, nearly singing their skin with heat from the booster rockets.
The surface of the ship still burns bright orange as it lands—the metal smoldering from its searing tear through the atmosphere. Catra can only lie on the ground, dumbstruck, watching as the orange fades to dark red. The same dark red she saw in Darla’s holograms.
It’s the ship that attacked them, back in space. The one that forced them to land on Antares.
Several moments pass, but the four of them are still too stunned to move. It is only when they hear the ship’s engines switch off and the bay doors start to hiss open that they collectively scramble backward, clambering over each other to stand upright.
Though Catra only brings herself to a defensive crouch, her claws extended. Whoever emerges from that ship—they’ve more than proven themselves unfriendly. Between the shooting and the near-landing on top of them just now, it’s a miracle that Catra and her friends are still alive.
Apparently, she’s not the only one who feels that way. From the corner of her eye, she can see Bow nocking one of his arrows. And though Glimmer is without magic this far into space, she too prepares for attack—pulling out her father’s staff and raising it like a club.
The ship’s doors glide open. Hydraulics whir as a ramp extends from somewhere within, unfolding piece by piece until it clatters—fully assembled—upon the metal floor of the docking port.
Catra keeps her eyes fixated on the open doors some distance above them. Her ears twitch as she registers a...thumping of some sort. A hollow, metallic, rhythmic noise.
Footsteps. Catra is hearing heavy, lumbering footsteps.
And that’s when she sees him emerge from the darkness. A hulking figure covered from head to toe in gleaming metal armor, every inch of it spotless and polished in the sunlight. He is silver, silver everywhere—save the small patches of skin revealed by his helmet and the bright red cape draped over his shoulders.
He is impossibly broad with muscle. Impossibly tall, too. Taller than Catra knew a person could be.
Well, except for one person. Adora. She-Ra. But she’s only that tall when she chooses to be.
An amused smile spreads across the stranger’s mouth at the sight of them.
“Greetings, Etherians!” he beams. “A wonderful day on Antares, is it not?”
Glimmer, Bow, and Catra glance at one another, not sure what to make of this—the misguided pleasantries and friendliness.
“Uh,” Bow squeaks. “I suppose it is a pretty nice day?”
Glimmer elbows him, shooting him a look that plainly asks, Really?
“What?” Bow whispers to her, rubbing his side. “It is a nice day!”
“We’re not interested in small talk,” Catra calls up to him—this stranger in bright silver armor. “Who are you? Why are you trying to kill us?”
The man sounds disturbed by the very suggestion. And then, suddenly, he begins to laugh. A booming, hearty laugh that seems to make the metal ramp vibrate with every peal.
Finally, he seemed to get his laughter under control, swiping tears from his eyes. “Oh no, no, no. I have no desire to kill Etherians. It is beneath me.”
“Beneath you—?” Catra sputters, outraged. “You tried to shoot down our ship—!”
“No, no—not shoot down,” he says, shaking his head. “I had no intention of killing anyone with that blaster fire. I was merely issuing a challenge.”
Glimmer blinks. “A challenge? A challenge for who?”
“For her,” he says, as though it’s obvious. “For She-Ra. Was that not her ship?”
Glimmer, Catra, and Bow exchange yet another glance. It takes every fiber of Catra’s self control not to scream ‘I told you so!’ because really, she predicted that this was some sort of trap. That the dark red ship—and the armored stranger aboard it—had merely been prodding them to land.
He’s after Adora, for some reason. And despite Catra and Adora’s current argument, nothing has changed—not really. Catra will still do anything to protect her. Even if that means pretending that Adora isn’t with them at all.
“She-Ra?” Catra says, feigning astonishment. Pretending as though she’s never once met She-Ra. Which, of course, is probably the greatest lie in the history of the universe, considering Catra’s childhood and current relationship status.
But still, Catra laughs like she can’t believe it, like she can’t believe what this armored man is suggesting. Why would a complete stranger like She-Ra ever associate with humble travelers like Glimmer, Bow, and Catra?
“Oh no,” Catra says, chuckling perhaps a bit too forcefully. “We lowly Etherians don’t mingle with She-Ra. She has her own transport. A magical… space… horse?”
She hears Glimmer stifle a snort, and Catra knows. She knows it’s a lame fabrication, but it’s all Catra can come up with at the moment. She only hopes that she can convince this random, heavily-armored man to leave before Adora returns.
“A space horse?” the armored man repeats, sounding skeptical.
Glimmer, Catra, and Bow all nod together despite the absurdity of the lie.
The man scratches his chin. “Strange. But all the eyewitnesses said that she’d be traveling in a colonial-era First Ones ship. And that—” he points to Darla, deposited only a few feet away in the same port. “—is the only colonial-era First Ones ship anyone has seen in centuries.”
Glimmer flaps a hand. “Oh, we have tons of those ships on Etheria. Practically everyone gets one. But like Catra said—we’re not traveling with She-Ra. We’re just vacationing. Seeing the universe, exploring distant planets. You know how it is.”
The man sighs deeply. “How disappointing. I was looking forward to meeting her.”
Bow nods sympathetically. “I know, I know, She-Ra is a pretty big deal and everyone wants to meet her. But, considering that this has been a big misunderstanding—” Bow’s voice grows stunningly high-pitched, enough to make Catra grimace. “—maybe you could leave us alone and be on your way?”
The armored man hesitates, slowly pacing down the ramp in consideration of Bow’s request. Catra, Bow, and Glimmer can only hold their breaths as they wait—praying that this poor excuse of a lie somehow resolves the situation.
But ultimately, the man only shakes his head and releases another sigh. “If only that were possible. You see, if She-Ra is not here, I’m afraid I will have to take extreme measures—”
And then, before any of them can react, the armor man surges forward and grabs Bow by his quiver, lifting him directly off the ground and holding them there.
“W-whoa, whoa!” Brow cries, legs flailing—whole body struggling to squirm out of the man’s grasp.
Glimmer screams and smacks her staff into the armored man’s helmet. But it does nothing—failing to make anything close to a dent. In fact, he doesn’t even react to the blow, this armored stranger. He only continues standing there with Bow suspended in his grasp.
“Put—him—down!” Glimer shrieks, hopping up and down in a futile reach for Bow’s hand.
Both Catra and Melog launch themselves onto the man’s body, clinging to his neck and his legs. But no matter how she or Melog strike, they can’t get past that impenetrable armor. Their claws are entirely deflected by that pristine, silver surface, and Catra swallows a yelp as her nails nearly break against it.
They’re all screaming, fighting, grappling—but the armored man hardly seems to care. He only stands there looking vaguely troubled as he continues to hold Bow high above the ground.
“Please understand—I hoped to avoid conflict with your people,” the man tells them semi-apologetically. “But I have no choice. You must contact She-Ra and tell her that if she wishes to rescue this Etherian hostage, she must meet me here, on Antares.”
“Who even are you?” Catra demands, still trying—and failing—to sink a claw into something that draws a reaction. “And what do you want with She-Ra?”
She sees his lips quirk into another smile. “I am surprised you haven’t heard of me, little Etherian. On my planet, they call me—”
“What the hell is going on here?”
Catra knows that voice better than any other. A voice that grows louder—closer—with every word.
Catra cranes her neck to see a very stunned-looking Adora sprinting toward them, her eyes wide and her ponytail flying out behind her.
And why wouldn’t she be stunned by this ridiculous sight? Bow suspended in the air. Catra and Melog clinging to this humongous man’s body. And Glimmer beneath them all, jumping and yelling and attacking with her staff.
Adora skids to a stop before nearly colliding with them all. For a moment, she merely stands there, staring at them, her chest heaving. Just a small figure framed against the enormous bulk of the man that now holds Bow hostage.
“Look, I don’t know who you are—” Adora warns, “but if you don’t let my friends go, you are going to be very, very sorry.”
A moment passes in which the armored man simply examines Adora, looking mildly surprised to be threatened by someone so much shorter than he is.
“Another Etherian?” the man says. “I didn’t expect there to be so many on that ship. Well, no matter—perhaps you will be more cooperative than your companions. I need someone to carry a message to She-Ra for me.”
Adora’s nostrils flare. “A message for She-Ra, huh?”
“Yes,” says the man, nodding. “Please return to Etheria and tell She-Ra that if she wishes to save this Etherian hostage—” Bow yells indignantly as the man gives his quiver a little shake. “She must come to Antares and battle me.”
“Battle you?” Adora shakes her head in confusion. “But why do you want to fight She-Ra? Who even are you—?”
“My name,” the man announces loudly, “is General Sunder. For many years, I was considered the greatest warrior in the known universe. My axe held the Horde at bay, and it was my destiny to someday defeat Horde Prime—to wipe his empire from existence. But She-Ra robbed me of that destiny.”
“Well,” Adora says with forced calmness, reaching tentatively toward Bow—as though she might discreetly yank him from Sunder’s grasp. “It sounds like She-Ra did you and the universe a big favor. As a thank you, you should probably just let Bow go and—”
But General Sunder speaks right over Adora as though she’s not there, practically spouting his whole life story for all of Antares to hear.
“In defeating Horde Prime,” Sunder continues, nearly yelling. “She-Ra took my title from me. She is now considered the universe’s greatest warrior. And so, if I am to reclaim my title and my honor, I must defeat She-Ra in single combat. And only then will my honor be restored to me.”
He raises his fist as he calls out the last sentence, declaring the words as though recounting some glorious battle that already happened.
He looks down at Adora again, then attempts to shoo her away. “Now get going, little girl. Send She-Ra my message.”
Adora clenches her fists at her sides but doesn’t move.
“Okay, well, first of all—I’m not a little girl. And second…” Adora gestures proudly to herself. “Consider your message already delivered. Because I’m her. I’m She-Ra. And despite how much of a jerk you’re being, I really don’t want to fight—”
Sunder gapes at her. “You? You’re She-Ra? Beautiful She-Ra—who is seven feet tall, with golden hair, and enormous muscles. That’s you?”
Sunder squints at Adora—appraising her from her tips of her toes to the top of her head—and then erupts into laughter yet again. It’s hysterical, disbelieving laughter, the kind that brings even more tears to his eyes.
“But you’re so small,” he snorts, still hysterical. “So small, and scrawny, and unimpressive. You could hardly give me a bruise, let alone destroy Horde Prime—”
Adora’s eye twitches erratically.
“Yeah, well. I did. I defeated Horde Prime.”
The statement only sends Sunder into another fit of laughter, the force of which is so violent that Catra is quite literally thrown off Sunder’s back. She yelps as she flies backward, landing and rolling across the hard metal floor until she finds herself sprawled on the ground, several feet away.
“Catra!” she hears Adora cry.
Catra looks up to find her gaze locked with Adora’s. There’s a nonverbal question in Adora’s eyes, one that Catra knows well.
Catra gives a slight but firm nod of assurance. She’s bruised, sure, but not injured more than that. Besides...Catra is quite certain that Adora has bigger things to worried about. Namely, the armored giant of a man standing directly in front of her.
Sunder’s laughter fades. When he speaks to Adora next, his voice sinks into a growl—one that is distinctly less friendly, or amused.
“I am not a fool, girl,” Sunder tells her, then gestures to her clothes—the jacket and the shirt that Catra gave to Adora only hours before. “You may dress like She-Ra, but you are not her.”
Adora tears her eyes from Catra—still recovering on the ground a short distance away—and returns her gaze to Sunder’s arrogant, half-concealed face. Her fists begin to tremble at her sides, her knuckles stark white as she clenches them ever-tighter.
Catra knows that glint in Adora’s eyes. That furious arch of her eyebrows. The rigidity of her shoulders and the painfully thin line of her mouth.
Catra hasn’t seen Adora this angry in a long time. It’s a specific sort of anger, the kind reserved for enemies who’ve gotten too deeply under her skin, or into her head. Catra hasn’t seen it since Adora battled Horde Prime himself. Or before that, when Adora fought...
Well, when Catra and Adora were fighting each other.
“Fine!” Adora shouts. “You want She-Ra? You’ll get She-Ra!”
Adora raises her hand toward the sky and then, in a booming voice, yells—
“For the Honor of Grayskull!”
Shimmering, colorful magic envelopes Adora’s whole body.
Or at least it does for a moment. But it flickers away just as quickly, leaving Adora with nothing but the sword in her hand. The sword, but none of She-Ra’s magical strength or height or armor. She is simply Adora, holding the sword the way she did so long ago, when it was a physical object rather than a manifestation of She-Ra’s magic.
Adora stares at the sword, dumbstruck, then glances down at her own body. She’s no taller than she was a moment ago, and there’s no white-and-gold fabric stretching across her legs. Only her usual khaki pants and red boots.
Adora inhales sharply and lifts the blade again, repeating “For the Honor of Grayskull!” one more time, as if restarting the transformation might somehow shock her own magic into compliance. But this time, there’s not so much as a spark of magic. Just the sword glinting in the sunlight, like a taunt. A tease of She-Ra’s power.
Catra watches Adora, horrified. She doesn’t understand. Why can’t Adora transform?
Adora looks up at General Sunder somewhat sheepishly. “Uh,” she gulps, “I guess I’m having some technical difficulties—”
But General Sunder is utterly gawking at her—completely awed, despite Adora’s inability to turn into She-Ra. (Or at least, the rumored version of She-Ra that he traveled here to fight.)
“Magic,” Sunder murmurs, as though that word—magic—is something foreign and miraculous. “Just like in the stories. So it must be true, what you say. You are She-Ra.”
“Well, uh,” Adora says, nervously scratching the back of her neck. “Sometimes, yes. But not right now. Maybe you could come back later? I guess I’m not in an ‘epic single combat’ sort of mood today—”
But again, Sunder refuses to listen to her. He only keeps staring. Only keeps looking down at Adora and the magical sword in her hand. His expression reminds Catra of some sort of carnivorous beast—one that watches injured prey with nothing but malice, nothing but hunger.
And then, with a daunting sort of effortlessness, Sunder rids himself of the rest of his attackers: he shakes Melog from his legs, knocks Glimmer to the side, and drops Bow carelessly onto the ground—effectively clearing a charging path between himself and Adora.
And then, finally, he reaches downward, pulling a thin, cylindrical metal device from his hip. A device that expands in his grasp, extending and unfolding until it arranges itself into an enormous double-bladed axe. A terrifyingly formidable weapon that matches with the rest of Sunder’s seemingly indestructible armor.
Adora has no armor. None at all. Just the stylish jacket Catra designed for her. And unfortunately, Catra didn’t have the foresight to make it the least bit indestructible.
“You are still smaller than I expected,” Sunder says with a broad, wicked-looking smile. “Though I suppose I cannot complain. I suspect that this will be far easier than I anticipated.”
“Adora!” Catra cries, terrified. “Run!”
But it’s too late. Sunder charges forward, lifting his axe in an arc that aims directly for Adora’s head.
“Adora!” Catra screams, paralyzed in fear. He can’t do this, he can’t—
But Adora manages to roll out of the way at the very last second. The axe plunges into the floor, slicing a deep gash into the metal. If there was still a head there, when the axe landed… it surely would have been separated from its body.
Adora comes up kneeling—panting—while Sunder yanks his axe from its freshly-carved perch on the ground.
“Wait!” Adora yells, crawling on her palms, sword scraping across the ground as she drags both the blade and herself backward. “Can’t we talk this over? Settle this by playing a board game instead?”
“There is nothing to discuss,” Sunder tells her with a slight shrug. “But please know that it is nothing personal. I admire you for destroying Horde Prime. Truly, I do. But I must restore my reputation—”
He raises the axe again, and this time, Adora lifts the sword to block the strike. The sword and the axe meet in a shower of sparks, and for a moment Catra thinks that Adora’s doing well—that she’s fending him off. But Adora’s arms soon begin to tremble like leaves caught in a heavy wind, near-collapsing from the effort of keeping that axe from embedding itself in her body. Mere moments pass before she’s screaming, whimpering in pain, and Catra knows that she can’t fend off Sunder’s inhuman strength for much longer, not without She-Ra–
“Bow!” Catra shrieks, stumbling forward. “Help her!”
But Bow is already nocking and firing—sending a net arrow directly at General Sunder. The ropes explode midair and wrap tightly around him, forcing his arms to his sides and the axe down with them.
She hears Adora’s relieved gasp as the pressure on her sword relents. The sword tip drops to the ground, clattering sharply, and it’s in that moment that Catra knows that Adora won’t be able to hold off another direct strike of that axe.
Catra rushes forward, meeting Melog somewhere in the middle so that she can jump onto their back. Together, they sprint toward Adora at full-speed. They can’t afford to waste a moment. Catra doubts that Bow’s net will hold Sunder for long—
And then, as if on cue, Sunder releases a guttural cry and throws up his arms. He is too strong to be contained, and the ropes snap like cheap elastic, flinging themselves to the floor in a broken heap.
But Catra is just close enough, and what Sunder has in strength, he lacks in speed. He is too slow to react when Melog shoots past, allowing Catra to clamp a hand around Adora’s new jacket and yank her onto Melog’s back, beside Catra.
And then, once they’re a suitable distance away, Melog immediately turns invisible, with Adora and Catra concealed alongside them.
“Do you have no honor, She-Ra?” Sunder roars, glancing around furiously—searching for Adora, despite her sudden disappearance. “Refusing to face me by yourself—and now, running away? Are you such a coward?”
Catra feels Adora begin to shift beside her—preparing to deny the taunt—but Catra wraps an arm over Adora’s mouth, effectively gagging whatever she was about to say.
“He’s going to kill you,” Catra hisses as quietly as she can, speaking directly into Adora’s ear. “You’re not strong enough to fight him, not without turning into She-Ra.”
Adora squirms indignantly beneath her grip, but doesn’t struggle more than that. Even she knows her limits, in this case. They can both feel it too—the way Adora’s arms still tremble from her last close encounter with Sunder.
“Perhaps you would be more willing to fight me if I offered stakes?” Sunder calls, beginning to stalk forward. “I noticed your ship is in need of repairs. I will happily pay for them—if you defeat me.”
Catra rolls her eyes. Considering that he caused the damage, he should pay for those repairs whether Adora wins the fight or not. But of course nothing makes sense in crazy warrior-man land, otherwise this fight wouldn’t be happening at all.
“Of course, if you lose...I shall simply kill you, and keep your sword as a trophy. I have never wielded a magical sword before. It is an experience I look forward to.”
Catra stiffens. There is no way in hell that Catra is going to let this arrogant, sexist piece of shit kill her girlfriend.
Sunder’s eyes flit around the room. “Still no answer?” He sighs. “Very well. I suppose I should return to a previous tactic, then.”
Sunder raises an arm to block a sudden barrage of Bow’s arrows, shot from the foot of the ramp to Sunder's ship. It’s a noble effort from Bow—one that Catra is grateful for—but those arrows only bounce harmlessly off Sunder’s armor, ricocheting to the ground as broken spines of wood.
Sunder turns to Bow and smiles pleasantly. Too pleasantly. And Catra realizes what’s happening a split-second too late.
“Prepare to die, Etherian archer,” Sunder says casually, in the same lighthearted tone he used only minutes before—when he remarked, “A wonderful day on Antares, is it not?”
He’s still smiling when he hefts his axe and begins running directly toward Bow and Glimmer—
And then Adora is squirming, bursting from Catra’s arms, tumbling off Melog so that she can pursue him—pursue Sunder’s charging figure. The invisibility slips from her body as she goes, and Catra can do nothing as she shimmers back into sight.
But Adora is waving her sword and demanding Sunder’s attention. “No! Stop!” she calls frantically, “I’m here! I’m the one you want! I’ll fight you!”
It’s surprisingly graceful—the way Sunder slides to a stop and spins around, pivoting until toes and axe alike are pointed determinedly at Adora’s body, several feet away.
“A wise choice, She-Ra,” he compliments. “I knew you had some honor within you. And for that, I promise to make your death as swift and painless as possible.”
“That ship you damaged,” Adora says. “It’s not just mine. It belongs to my friends too. I need your word that if you kill me, you’ll help them get home.”
There’s no point in hiding anymore, not now that Adora has escaped Catra’s grasp. Melog allows the invisibility to fall away, revealing Catra’s rage to all surrounding eyes. Because of course Adora is doing this—trying to bargain for their safety with her own life.
“Adora!” Catra shouts. “Don’t be stupid—!”
“Very well,” Sunder says, nodding. “I agree to your terms. Truthfully, I hadn’t been aware that you were traveling with so many companions. I believe that it's best if we keep this fight between us. Don’t you agree?”
Adora shoots Catra an apologetic glance, and then, when she turns back to Sunder, she is nodding in wordless agreement, the sword clutched tightly in her hand.
An idiot. Catra’s girlfriend is a complete and total idiot.
“Good,” Sunder says, grinning with anticipation. “Then let us fight as warriors.”
Adora raises her sword. Sunder raises his axe. And Catra can’t believe this is happening. She can’t believe that only yesterday, they were gliding through space—unharmed and, frankly, bored. Their lives unthreatened. Their days occupied with nothing but talking and relaxing and waiting to find a planet that Horde Prime had not yet destroyed.
But then everything fell apart so suddenly. Instantly, even. First, the ship was attacked. Then Catra and Adora started arguing. And now Adora is quite literally being hunted—and unable to turn into She-Ra to properly defend herself.
How could it have gone so wrong so quickly?
Of course, Catra knows the answer. Just as Glimmer and Bow had known the answer, and tried to warn her.
The jacket. If Catra hadn’t destroyed Adora’s stupid lucky jacket, none of this would have happened.
As Adora and Sunder begin to charge at one another, Catra directs Melog to Glimmer and Bow’s side. Melog bounds toward them eagerly, and as soon as she’s within their hearing range, Catra begins doling out instructions.
“Bow!” she calls from Melog’s back. “I need your help putting Adora’s jacket back together! It’s the only way to save her!”
“Ha!” Glimmer says gloatingly. “So you admit it! You admit the jacket is lucky!”
“Yes, okay? I admit it!” Catra yells—and it’s absurd, the way the tears begin springing to Catra’s eyes. Because really, this is her fault. Their ship is ruined, Adora is mad at her, and now Adora may very well die because of Catra’s jacket-destroying selfishness—
“I admit it!” Catra cries, “I admit that tearing up the jacket ruined everything! That the jacket was lucky, and without it we’re completely screwed—”
The clang of metal-on-metal forces Catra’s entire body to tense in fear. She glances over her shoulder at Adora, expecting to find Adora already sunk to her knees, struggling to keep Sunder’s axe from sinking into her neck.
But that’s not what she sees. Not yet, anyway.
Instead, Adora is careful to only redirect the axe, barely brushing it with her sword. She knows now, at least, that her physical strength is outmatched in this particular case, and she instead devotes her entire focus to sidestepping Sunder whenever he is about to strike. As soon as the axe is up and moving, Adora ducks under Sunder’s arms, pivoting until she is positioned directly behind him, or beside him, or rolling between his legs. The axe is heavy—that’s what makes it deadly. But that weight is also what makes it slow.
Despite herself, Catra smirks. That’s my girl, she thinks proudly. Because this strategy looks a lot like one that Catra herself once used, back when she battled She-Ra on Etheria.
Catra is not proud of the way she used to fight, back then. But she is proud to see her own fighting style finally doing Adora some good.
Unfortunately, Catra knows from first-hand experience this tactic will not buy them much time. Sunder will eventually switch directions mid-swing, or get lucky in some other capacity. And then Adora will catch that axe with her body.
“Catra!” Bow exclaims. “Where is it? Where did you put the jacket?”
Catra swallows her anxiousness and wills herself to remember. “The corner of our room. There’s a pile of fabric. The jacket’s there, but it’s in pieces—”
“I’ll duct tape it together if I have to,” Bow says solemnly, like he’s making a blood oath. And then he’s off, sprinting toward Darla at full speed.
Catra turns to Glimmer next. “I’ve got a job for you too,” she says. “Take Melog, and sneak onto Sunder’s ship. If he follows you onboard, you can use Melog’s invisibility to slip away.”
Glimmer blinks. “Why? What’s on it?”
“Oh, nothing much. Just a weapons system capable of reducing a spaceship’s hull integrity to what… 30 percent?” Catra smiles mischievously, then jerks her head in Sunder’s direction. “Imagine what kind of damage it can do to a person.”
Glimmer returns Catra’s somewhat nefarious smile. “You know…there are days when I appreciate how evil you once were.”
Catra nods smugly. “I know.”
“But what are you going to do?”
Catra rolls her eyes. “Oh, the usual. Go save my girlfriend from self-destructive acts of heroism.”
They smile at one another, and then Melog moves beside Glimmer—allowing invisibility to encompass them both, erasing them from Catra’s sight. Catra can only assume that they’ve taken off, heading up the ramp to Sunder’s ship.
Catra spins around just as Sunder’s jabs his fist into Adora’s stomach. It’s not the cleanest punch—in fact, he barely catches her with the edge of his knuckle. But whatever does make contact is forceful enough to send Adora toppling to the ground, the sword clattering from her hand.
Sunder grunts with satisfaction at the sight of her—Adora, on the floor and momentarily weaponless—and then raises his axe for another attempt at a beheading.
Catra hisses and again launches herself onto Sunder’s back, wrapping both arms around his tree-trunk of a neck. She struggles to keep hold of him. The surface of the armor is so smooth, like glass beneath her fingers. And then she wonders…
Catra begins scraping her nails in long, squealing lines across his helmet. It’s a terrible, high-pitched sound—the kind that makes Catra’s own ears ring. She can only imagine how awful it sounds to his ears, enclosed in that metal echo chamber of a helmet.
And, as Catra suspected, Sunder is forced to drop his axe, instinctively raising both hands to protect his hearing. But he can’t. Not with his ears so completely enclosed in that sleek metal.
“Catra?” Adora calls, staring up at her from the floor.
And with one look, Catra can tell that these short minutes of battle have already left Adora exhausted and dazed. Her hair is spilling out of its ponytail. Her forehead is drenched in sweat. Her breathing, too, is ragged and shallow, like she’s been running a race for hours.
She can’t take much more of this. None of them can.
Finally, Sunder gives up on trying to cover his ears. He instead throws both arms backward, hands grasping for Catra—trying to shake or throw her from his back. But she only holds on tighter.
“This is between She-Ra and I!” Sunder bellows. “Leave the battlefield, or else I will be forced to dispose of you—”
Adora wobbles to her feet, sword in hand. “Catra,” she says again, warningly, like she’s urging Catra to leave before she hurts herself. But Catra isn’t finished with Sunder. Not yet.
Catra only winks at Adora. Because despite appearances, she does have a plan.
“Oh, don’t worry. I don’t plan on interrupting your epic battle. I’m just settling a quick personal score….”
And then Catra flings a hand into the air, allowing a moment to pass in which she leaves it there, suspended—the nails glinting menacingly in the sunlight—before she drives them downward, raking her claws across the few exposed parts of Sunder’s face.
He screams, one hand furiously grabbing for Catra, the other clutching at his bleeding skin—but it’s too late. Catra is already catapulting off of him, jumping backward until she lands in a crouched position, several feet away.
She straightens to full height, admiring her handiwork. Catra considers herself quite reformed, so she’s a bit out of practice when it comes to maiming people. She didn’t quite manage to gouge out his eye like she intended, but she did cut a set of nasty-looking gashes across his mouth, the claw marks bright red and oozing.
“That,” Catra smirks, “is for insulting my girlfriend. She’s a lot of things, sure. Stupidly selfless. Terrible at lying. But unimpressive?” She shakes her head, then sends an appreciative glance in Adora’s direction. “Never.”
Adora’s eyes soften as they meet Catra’s. And it’s through the affection in Adora’s eyes that Catra knows. She knows that despite how they argue, nothing is truly broken. Not beyond repair, anyway. And Catra will be damned if she lets Sunder kill either of them before they figure things out.
Blood drips onto the floor as Sunder reaches semi-blindly for the axe on the ground, beside him. The motion is slow—like he’s trying too hard to seem threatening, to draw attention to the deadliness of his weapon and enormity of his bulk.
“If your lover insists on protecting you, She-Ra...” Sunder seethes, spitting She-Ra’s name as though it’s a terrible insult. “then I will kill you both!”
“No!” Adora steps forward, outstretching a hand as if to stop him. Her voice grates somewhere between harshness and desperation. “This is between you and me, okay? Just you and me—right, Catra?”
But Catra only sticks her tongue out at Sunder.
“Horde Prime would’ve kicked your ass,” she jeers, watching in satisfaction as outrage spreads across Sunder’s features.
“Catra, don’t—!” Adora cries, eyes wide in furious disbelief.
But it’s no use. Sunder utterly roars, barrelling forward with his weapon and his rage pointed entirely at Catra. Droplets of blood fly out behind him as he charges, and Catra can only prepare to dodge—
Catra stands there, rigid with panic, as Sunder is knocked off his feet by a blast of bright red light.
Smoke curls from his once-pristine armor, which is now blackened across one shoulder. Catra glances to the side, where Sunder’s ship is parked, and knows that Glimmer must have successfully seized control of Sunder’s weapons system.
Sunder struggles to his feet, panting. His eyes seek the same destination as Catra’s—his own spaceship, now turned against him.
His whole face goes slack with shock. “My ship. You’ve commandeered my—”
He doesn’t get to finish the sentence. Not before another round of blaster fire bombards his stomach, sending him gasping and toppling to the ground.
Catra glances over her shoulder to see Bow sprinting toward them, practically tumbling down Darla’s ramp. In his hands is a bright red thing. Strips of fabric held together with thick pieces of black tape. He waves it almost triumphantly as he runs.
Sunder groans, but he’s still staggering to his feet. The armor is a bit burned, yes, but it’s not even dented by that blaster fire. Catra knows that it’s only a matter of time before he collects himself. And then he’ll pursue Glimmer and Melog aboard that ship, or renew his attacks on Catra and Adora.
They need She-Ra. Only She-Ra can defeat him.
And Catra has a theory on how to get her back.
“Bow!” she calls, raising both hands and hoping that he understands what she says next. “Fire an arrow! I’ll catch it!”
Evidently, he does. She watches as Bow ties the jacket sleeves around the tail of a nocked arrow, and then, with a careful jerk of his elbow, sends it flying into the air. The arrow and jacket speed off in Catra’s direction, and in an impressive display of Catra’s own reflexes, she manages to snatch the arrow from midair.
She frantically unties the sleeves from the arrow, unfolding the fabric within her hands. Somehow, the jacket even worse-looking up close. More duct tape than fabric, really. Frayed on every possible edge. It might just be the most hideous piece of clothing that Catra has ever seen, now that it’s been resurrected from the dead. But they don’t have a choice—Adora will have to wear it.
Catra rushes over to Adora and shoves the jacket into her arms. “Here!” she tells her. “Put this on!”
Adora’s eyes flit between Catra and the jacket uncomprehendingly. “What?”
“Put it on before it’s too late!” Catra urges her. “Hurry, we don’t have time!”
Adora’s mouth twists with disgust as she stares at the jacket in Catra’s hands. She shoves it away. “Why would I...? Catra, it’s held together by duct tape—”
Catra shakes her head and again pushes the jacket into Adora’s arms. “It doesn’t matter. Bow and Glimmer never told you, but that jacket is lucky. If you put it back on, people will stop attacking us, and we’ll stop fighting, and you’ll be able to change into She-Ra–”
“No!” Adora refuses, shoving it back. “You told me it looked stupid!”
“I didn’t mean it!” Catra tells her desperately. “Really, I didn’t—”
“Yes, you did!” Adora snaps. “You did mean it, don’t deny it.”
And then, inexplicably, Adora is crying. There are tears streaming down her cheeks alongside the beads of sweat, her whole face scrunched up in an expression of pure hurt.
Catra knows that they have no time. She can hear Sunder behind them—staggering to his feet, lumbering toward his ship despite the constant blaster fire that seeks to knock him to the ground.
But Catra can’t not do this. She can’t keep herself from reaching out and cupping Adora’s cheek, swiping away those baffling tears with a thumb.
“Adora,” Catra murmurs. “I don’t understand—”
“You really don’t remember it, do you?” Adora says, in a voice that’s equal parts small and devastated. “You really don’t remember the day I got that jacket.”
“Of course I do,” Catra says, “We were fourteen, and you’d outgrown your old uniform and needed a new one. Cadets get five uniform options, and that was the one you picked—”
Adora shakes her head so fiercely that she practically bats Catra’s hand away. “No—I didn’t pick. You did. I asked you to do it.”
Catra blinks. “What? No, I didn’t—”
“Yes, you did! I couldn't decide, so I asked you to choose for me. And you pointed to the jacket and said, ‘That one. I like that one.’”
The vaguest recollection resurfaces in Catra’s mind. Yes, she does remember that now. She remembers sitting in the barracks, watching as Adora tried on several uniforms—one after the other. The jacket was the last one tried, and ultimately, the one that Catra chose for her.
But it’s also true, what Catra said earlier—that she had always thought the shoulder pads looked stupid. So why did she make that choice? Why did Catra pick that jacket for Adora, despite never truly liking it?
And then she remembers. Remembers how she desperately averted her gaze as Adora changed clothes in front of her, unabashed—trying on each uniform before Catra’s adolescent eyes. Eyes that latched onto the uniforms that were too tight, or too low-cut. Eyes that stared with such focus that Catra frequently forgot how to breathe.
Fourteen. They were fourteen when Adora needed a new uniform. At the height of puberty, the both of them. It was a time when Catra started to find herself very, very distracted by Adora’s body—her muscles and her curves and everything in between. It had started to impact Catra’s training scores, her exam grades, her sleep patterns.
Catra didn’t choose the jacket because she thought it looked nice. Catra chose it because she thought, out of all the uniforms, it would distract her the least. She knew that thick, puffy jacket would cover Adora’s broad shoulders, conceal some of her curves and muscles, and let Catra breathe a bit easier around Adora for once—
Catra snorts at the memory.
Adora looks mortified. “Are you laughing at me?”
“No,” Catra says quickly, raising both hands in a gesture of mock surrender. “I just...we remember that day a bit differently. I’m laughing at myself.”
But the reassurance doesn’t stop Adora’s shoulders from shaking. Doesn’t stop the tears that strain and smother her voice as she speaks—tears that fill her nostrils, and stain her cheeks.
“I kept that jacket,” Adora says, “because it was the only piece of you I had, after I left the Horde. I was She-Ra, suddenly, and I wasn’t sure if she was me, or someone else that I was transforming into. But when I wore that jacket, I knew who I was. I was Adora. The same Adora who you liked, who once meant something to you, even if I didn’t anymore–”
Adora cuts herself off with a strangled sort of sob, covering her mouth with a hand.
Catra can only stare at her, dumbstruck. She never knew this. She never would have even guessed at it. The picking of that jacket was such a careless, juvenile, selfish decision to Catra, one that she’d nearly forgotten about.
But knowing this now—knowing that it affected Adora so deeply…
She just doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know how to make this right.
“Adora,” Catra says, tucking the jacket under her arm and reaching out to touch Adora’s shoulder.
But Adora shakes it off, affixing her eyes to the ground.
“You were always the one person who didn’t care whether I was She-Ra or Force Captain or anything else. But now…”
She wipes a sleeve across her eyes. The sleeve of her new jacket, the jacket that Catra designed for her.
“I don’t know anymore,” Adora cries. “You kept saying all those things, asking me to turn into She-Ra. Getting rid of my old jacket. Making me clothes that look like hers. Like She-Ra’s. And I know. I know that she’s prettier than me. That everyone wishes I was She-Ra all the time. And why wouldn’t they? Everything about her is perfect. Her clothes, her hair, her body. But I always thought you didn’t care about any of that. That you liked me for me, not She-Ra. But you don’t—”
Catra reaches out, trapping Adora’s face between her palms and startling Adora into silence. Her cheeks are cold and wet beneath Catra’s hands, but she doesn’t let go. Doesn’t pull away.
“Are you kidding?” Catra demands. “Is that what all this was about? You really think that I prefer She-Ra to you?”
Adora sniffs, but doesn’t answer.
“Adora,” Catra says seriously. “I need you to look at me...and listen to me closely.”
For a moment, Adora doesn’t do it. She doesn’t look up, doesn’t meet Catra’s eyes. Only stands there, refusing to listen. Refusing to hear what Catra has to say.
But then, slowly, she lifts her gaze from the floor, letting herself watch Catra with a curious sort of trepidation. And Catra knows that this is important—that she has to make these words truly count.
“Adora,” Catra says. “You need to understand that I have been in love with you my entire life. You. Not a Horde Officer. Not She-Ra. Just you, just Adora. And I will continue loving every part of you, even if you never turn into She-Ra again. Even if you can’t turn into She-Ra now, and Sunder kills us—”
Catra pulls Adora closer, until their foreheads are touching.
“I will spend my last moments thinking about how much I love you, and how lucky I was to have been loved by you. I love you, Adora. I love everything about you—including your hair and your body. I love your laugh, your smile, your bravery. The dimples in your cheeks and your determination and your ridiculous strength. And I’ll love whatever you wear, no matter how stupid-looking. You could wear the stupidest-looking jacket in the world, and I’d still think it looks perfect on you.”
More tears squeeze their way out of Adora’s eyes. But they’re different, somehow. Tears of relief rather than frustration and fear. And Adora’s nodding now, nodding as if she understands, and believes her—
Adora cradles Catra’s hands in hers—pressing Catra’s palms even more tightly against her skin.
“I know I’m being stupid,” Adora says, voice still thick from crying so hard. “It’s just that…I know that everyone wants me to be She-Ra, and I start to think that no one wants me anymore—”
Catra rubs a thumb across Adora’s tear-stained cheekbones, warming them with her fingertips.
“Do you really wanna know why I picked that old jacket?” Catra asks. Her voice is quiet. Embarrassed.
Adora hesitates—as if nervous to know the reason—then nods.
“I chose it...because it was ugly. Because the sight of you in anything nicer was enough to make me hyperventilate.”
Adora makes a sound between a sob and a laugh. “Stop messing with me—”
“I’m really not. I was fourteen, Adora, and I already had a huge crush on you. Do you really think I could’ve handled the sight of you in tight leggings every day? Or a shirt with a boob window? I would’ve actually died—”
And then Adora’s laughing. Really, truly laughing.
“Honestly, it’s so unfair that you get to be Adora and She-Ra. That much pretty shouldn’t be allowed to occupy the same body.”
Adora snorts and gives Catra a playful shove. “You are so cheesy.”
“You’re right,” Catra says. “And I’m about to get cheesier.”
Adora looks partially suspicious, partially intrigued. “In what way?”
But Catra isn’t given the chance to explain. Not yet, anyway. Because, suddenly, General Sunder gives a mighty yell, and Catra and Adora are forced to break apart, their heads spinning in the direction of Sunder’s voice.
Sunder is on his feet now, and it seems that he’s finally discovered a way to defend himself from all that blaster fire. He’s repurposed the enormous face of his axe as a shield, of sorts. Using it to deflect the surges of energy from his very own weapons system.
As they watch, Sunder cuts a blast of red light out of the air, and then begins marching resolutely forward—toward the ramp of his ship. Glimmer and Melog must still be inside, somewhere. And they’ll be trapped there if he makes it up that ramp before they escape—
“Whoever is foolish enough to try to steal my ship,” Sunder growls. “I will make you very sorry.”
Catra smiles and turns back to Adora. “Remember the last time you had trouble turning into She-Ra?”
And of course they both do. It was during Horde Prime’s final assault of Etheria, when he sought to take control of the planet’s Heart. Adora had been poisoned. She was collapsed on the floor, dying in Catra’s arms. And only then did Catra finally admit the truth: that she’d always loved Adora, and couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.
What happened after that was even more miraculous. Adora admitted to loving her back. To loving Catra, despite everything. And Catra could only lean in to kiss her, with Adora shimmering with magic as she drew closer—
Catra grabs the collar of Adora’s new jacket and tugs, pulling until their lips are mere inches apart. “Maybe we should try the same tactic as before…?”
Adora hums like it’s the best idea she’s heard all day, then clasps both hands around Catra’s waist, towing their bodies close together, until all Catra can see are Adora’s eyes and nose and lips—
She closes her eyes, letting the sensation of Adora’s lips spread through her veins. It fills Catra with a buoyant, trembling sort of thrill—the kind that only Adora has ever elicited within her.
And then there’s something else too. A strange sizzling, tingling feeling—along her lips, her arms, her legs...everywhere. Like she’s standing too close to a fire, and catching the sparks with her skin.
She knows that it’s something of a cliche—that kissing someone can cause sparks to fly. But Catra is certain that this isn’t some love-induced hallucination. This is real. A mist of physical energy, all around her—radiating from Adora’s lips, as well as every other part of her.
It’s magic. Catra feels magic.
Catra opens her eyes. And there she is, leaning down over Catra from her now-immense height—her whole body surrounded by an aura of colorful magic. Her eyes glowing an incredible, unmatchable blue.
Adora blinks slowly, then takes a moment to examine herself. Those impossibly long legs and unbelievably strong muscles. The long ribbon of hair curling from her ponytail. The gleaming tiara framing her face.
Adora laughs, relieved to have completed the transformation. “I guess you’re my lucky charm.”
Catra rolls her eyes and groans. “God. And you call me cheesy.”
Catra steps backward, admiring She-Ra from only slightly afar. She holds up the fraying jacket that she tucked beneath her arm. It’s still so poorly held together, with strips of fabric falling off at the barest movement.
“Do you...uh…want me to take this back aboard the ship?” Catra asks a bit guiltily. “If you still want it, I mean. I’ll stitch the whole thing back together by myself if I have to.”
Adora stares at her for a moment, smiling like she couldn’t be more touched. But she doesn’t nod or agree—doesn't ask Catra to preserve that heavily torn-up heap of fabric. She only shakes her head like she couldn’t be happier to see the jacket go.
“No way,” she says, eyes glinting with humor. “I think we should put it out of its misery, don’t you?”
Catra nods, secretly relieved that she won’t have to suddenly teach herself sewing. And even more relieved that she’ll never have to see that stupid-looking jacket again.
“And...I didn’t thank you before, but—” Adora leans down to kiss Catra on the forehead. “The new one is great. I love it. Just like I love you, Catra.”
Catra grins and blushes like a total idiot as She-Ra releases her and strides confidently forward, toward Sunder. He’s nearly to the ramp of the ship now. But Catra knows that he won’t be there for long.
“Hey! Sunder!” She-Ra calls.
His eyes are wild with fury as he turns toward her voice. But when his gaze finds her instead of Adora—She-Ra, so tall and imposing and sparkling with magic—his entire face slackens in shock. It’s almost laughable, his expression. The unhinged jaw. The eyebrows raised so high, they’re practically climbing into his helmet.
She-Ra only smirks and swings her sword, cutting quick, graceful circles into the air.
“Care to finish our fight?” she challenges. “Or are you too busy crawling back to your ship?”
“B-but—” Sunder stammers. “What happened to the other girl—?”
“I am the other girl,” Adora says, gesturing to herself. “What? You’ve never seen a girl change her clothes and grow several feet in height before?”
For a comical moment, it seems as though he’s searching his memory—trying to remember if he has, in fact, ever seen a girl grow several feet in height on command, which he definitely hasn't. The realization only seems to bring him frustration when he comes to it.
“Magic…” he growls, beneath his breath. And this time, he doesn’t say the word like it’s something miraculous, or awe-inspiring. He utters it like an obscenity. Like it’s something he’d prefer to wipe from the face of the universe.
“You know, I tried to explain it to you,” She-Ra says slowly. Casually—almost chiding. “But you wouldn’t listen.”
His voice is accusing when he says: “You sought to tire me out.”
Well, that’s not exactly true. It was Catra who tried to stall him. Stall him, at least, until she could help Adora successfully transform into She-Ra. If Catra tired him out along the way, that was only a lucky side effect.
But Adora leans into the lie. She might as well have fun, if she’s to fight Sunder like this.
And so she smirks even more, shifting the hilt of her sword until it’s clutched between both hands. “I thought I’d test your mettle first. See if you’re worth my time.”
He still doesn’t move. Only tightens his grip on his axe.
“What? Too afraid to fight someone your own size?”
And that’s the last taunt he will tolerate from her. He snarls like an animal, raising his axe high above his head. And then–like so many times before—Sunder charges forward.
She-Ra only smiles and raises her sword.
The fight is over quickly, after that.
Adora has perhaps too much fun with it. Her sword meets Sunder’s axe with incredible ease, effortlessly holding the parry with a single hand while yawning exaggeratedly into the other.
And then, when she grows tired of yawning, she pushes forward with her sword—generating enough magical force that Sunder is sent stumbling backward, the axe nearly slipping out of hand.
He wobbles for a moment, struggling to maintain balance. But he’s too stubborn. Too determined. Too quick to move forward again, intending to strike a deadly blow.
But She-Ra doesn’t let him. Magical vapor rises from Adora’s sword, and then, like she’s swinging a bat, she swipes a shockwave through the air. Sunder is knocked straight off his feet, onto his back, breathless and gasping for air.
And that’s the game she plays for the rest of the fight. He charges, screaming curses and insults, while She-Ra stands at the ready, waiting for him. Sometimes she uses her magic or her strength to send him sprawling to the ground. Other times, she allows him to get close—the axe whizzing by her ear—but it never touches her.
She takes advantage of their proximity, when she allows it. Only then can she reach out and tear bits of armor from his skin—metal that creaks and groans as she bends it away from his body. Her muscles swell as she pulls at it, her teeth clenched, but she’s still more than strong enough to send the metal plates flinging to the floor.
Eventually, Sunder doesn’t look much like himself at all. Nearly armorless. Covered in bruises. Wearing only a thin black shirt and dark trousers. It almost makes him seem like a normal person, rather than a hulking, metal-clad monster.
He lunges forward one last time, but it’s a desperate, futile attempt. She-Ra’s sword begins to glow within her hand, and then, with the smuggest possible satisfaction, she swipes her blade clear through the handle of his axe.
Sunder stares, stupefied, as the axehead topples to the ground with an unholy clang.
He can do nothing as She-Ra reaches out and plucks away his last piece of armor—that metal shell of a helmet, still layered so completely over his face and scalp.
It takes two of She-Ra’s hands to pull it apart—splitting it in half like she’s tearing fabric at the seams—but it falls to pieces all the same, both halves of the helmet echoing hollowly as they drop to the ground.
Without the helmet, Sunder’s hair is wispy and brown. Matted down by sweat and the pressure of that once-heavy armor.
Catra hears Sunder make a helpless sort of noise—like a whine—as She-Ra kicks him lightly onto his back, weaponless and unprotected. He can only lie there, prone and gasping for breath, as She-Ra looms over him—tall as the distant skyscrapers.
She-Ra’s swordpoint finds his bare collarbone. It hovers there dangerously, like a threat, but goes no further.
“Well?” she demands. “Do you surrender?”
He doesn’t answer. Not at first. He only sets his jaw and glares.
“Come on,” Adora urges, twisting the sword tip just enough to make him squirm. “Don't make me humiliate you more than I already have.”
“Alright, alright!” he yells. “I surrender!”
Adora rolls her eyes and pulls her sword away. “See?” she says. “That wasn’t so hard.”
And then, to everyone’s surprise—including Catra’s—She-Ra is kneeling and outstretching a hand, reaching down to help Sunder to his feet.
Sunder stares at the hand like it might be a hallucination. “What are you—?”
“We had our fight. I won,” She-Ra says. “But we don’t have to be enemies beyond that.”
He hesitates, awed by her unbelievable generosity. And then, slowly—tentatively—he takes it, allowing himself to be yanked somewhat forcefully to his feet.
For a moment, he stands beside her, looking strangely exposed without his armor. Shuffling from foot to foot. Struggling to meet She-Ra’s eyes. He clears his throat. “You are…” Another, louder attempt to clear the threat. “...just as powerful as the rumors claimed you would be. And just as beautiful—”
She-Ra scoffs like she couldn’t be more disgusted, then shoves a hand into his face—trying, desperately, to keep him from saying anything else.
“Yeah, okay—that’s enough of that. I am really not interested.”
He blinks at her, taken aback. “Then why would you spare me…?”
“Spare you? Is that what you think this is?” She shoves him. “You still owe me ship repairs, remember? I’m supposed to be in space right now, restoring magic to the universe—not fighting random warrior-men for no reason.”
She glances over her shoulder at Catra, and for a moment, they share a warm smile. She keeps her eyes on Catra as she says: “I’d like to get back to the peace and quiet, if you don’t mind.”
“Adora, you were amazing!” Bow exclaims, throwing his arms around her. “And Glimmer—that blaster work! Incredible! And Catra, I don’t know what we did before we had your planning skills—”
They’re back aboard Darla now. The ship is still docked on Antares, currently having its hull repaired. Catra can hear the dull clang of tools against the outside of the ship—the noise of the tireless repair people restoring the shields, bit by bit.
“Thanks, Bow,” says Adora, smiling as she leans into the hug. “I am so sorry for taking so long to turn into She-Ra. I guess I was having trouble wanting to be She-Ra, and that kept me from transforming.”
“Because you didn’t have the jacket, you mean?” Glimmer asks, shooting Catra yet another accusatory glance. “The second you got it back, the fight fell in our favor—”
Catra throws back her head and groans loudly. “For the last time—the jacket is not lucky! In fact—”
She smirks with satisfaction and tweaks Adora’s side, causing Adora to shriek with laughter. “The jacket’s gone. We threw it away for good. Adora has a new one now—one that she likes better.”
Adora is still giggling when she turns back to Glimmer and Bow. “Did you really spend all that time thinking that my jacket was responsible for nearly ending the world?”
“Well, yeah,” Bow says with a shrug. “We always seemed to start losing fights when you took it off.”
At first, Adora seems skeptical—just as Catra once did. But then Catra sees her start to think more deeply about. Sees her recalling all the times she took off the jacket in the past, and immediately found herself confronted with disaster.
“Coincidences!” Catra assures her. “Like I said before—.”
“No,” Adora interrupts, voice devoid of the laughter from only moments before. “I don’t think it was.”
They all stare at Adora, waiting for her to elaborate. She sighs in that way that Catra recognizes—like she can’t believe how foolish she’s been.
“The jacket did affect our battles. But not because it was actually lucky. It just...it made me feel like myself—like someone who mattered. So whenever I didn’t have it on, I think I’d just…” She sighs again. “I would lose my cool. Get stuck inside my own head, or start doubting myself. Just like today.”
She shakes her head. Firmly. Fiercely. Like this is a mistake that she’ll learn from, and never make again.
“But that’s not a good way to live—attached to a piece of clothing like that. It’s just a jacket, not a part of me.” She glances around at all of them—Glimmer, Bow, Melog, and Catra—and smiles. “Not the way you all are.”
Bow’s eyes start to shimmer with joyful tears. “Aw,” he gushes, outstretching his arms. “Come on, everyone! Best Friends Squad group hug!”
Catra pretends to be annoyed—groaning all the while. But she secretly enjoys when they gather together like this, arms slung around each other’s backs. She especially enjoys the way Adora smiles at her from across the small circle of the embrace, mouth curved into a gentle smile and eyes filled with deep affection.
The door is barely closed when Adora practically tackles Catra, sending them both stumbling toward the far side of their room. Adora catches Catra just before her back hits the metal wall, pinning Catra between her arms while cushioning the impact with her hands.
Adora’s lips find Catra’s almost desperately, and Catra sighs against her when they do. Blindly, she reaches for Adora’s waist, pulling at her hips until they’re completely flush with her own.
They stand there for a while, pressed against the wall. Catra arching into Adora as she trails kisses along Catra’s mouth. Her neck. Her eyelids. Biting down ever so slightly, enough to make Catra gasp and her eyes flutter shut.
“You said all those things you love about me,” Adora murmurs between kisses. “But I never got to tell you what I love about you.”
Catra tries to say something snarky—maybe tease her for being cheesy again—but it only comes out as a mangled sort of moan.
Adora cradles hands on the sides of her face, rubbing a thumb across Catra’s cheekbones. “I love these. Your freckles. They’re so pretty, Catra.”
She leans closer to press her lips against those too. A kiss for every freckle, she would guess—not that Catra can remember how to count, at the moment.
Adora is still kissing those freckles when Catra feels one of Adora’s hands tangle in her hair. Pulling lightly at the strands. Her hair is something of a bob now, months after Horde Prime cut it—too short to pull into a ponytail but too long to look remotely stylish. Normally, Catra can hardly stand it. But right now, for some reason, she just can’t find a reason to complain.
“And your hair,” Adora says, sliding her mouth toward Catra’s jaw, where she can feel Adora’s breath gusting across her neck. “I love how wild and soft it is.”
Catra whimpers a little as Adora gives her hair another slight tug.
“Y—you’re driving me crazy, Adora,” Catra manages.
“You know what drives me crazy?” Adora continues reverently. She releases the hair to stroke a finger behind Catra’s right ear. “Your ears. Bow’s right. They really are so cute.”
Catra makes a sound between a snort and a gulp. She’s sensitive behind her ears—Adora knows that—and the sensation of Adora’s finger there, stroking up and down, is nearly enough to make Catra’s legs buckle.
She twists her hands into Adora’s new jacket, clinging tightly to remain upright. Her voice wavers slightly as she asks, “Alright, can we not talk about Bow in the bedroom?”
“Okay,” Adora says, all-too-amenable to Catra’s suggestion. She raises another hand to stroke the other ear—and truly, it’s unavoidable, the way Catra starts to purr. It's frankly miraculous that she managed to delay it this long, between Adora’s kisses and compliments. “Let’s talk about how smart you are. You are so smart, Catra. The smartest person I know. And the strongest.”
This time, Catra’s snort sounds like it should—but only because Adora’s words are just so goddamn ironic. “Says the girl who can crush tanks in her bare hands.”
“There are different types of strong, Catra,” Adora tells her, leaning back so that she can stare at Catra more directly. “You’re strong. And smart. And loyal. And I am so lucky to have you.”
Catra blinks once, twice, three times. She won’t do it. She will not cry now. If she does, it’ll be sure to kill the mood, and she’ll just be utterly humiliated.
Adora pulls her hands out from behind Catra’s ears, trailing down Catra’s sides until they just barely slip beneath the hem of Catra’s crop top. Catra sighs softly as Adora’s fingers begin to brush ever-so-lightly across her ribs, lingering as though they’d like to climb further upwards, but have decided—quite annoyingly—to take their sweet time.
“And in case you haven’t figured it out yet,” Adora says, grinning. “I really, truly love your body. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to—”
Catra surges forward to silence Adora’s mouth with her own. This kiss is brief, and searing, and distinctly frustrated. Catra pulls away only so that she can shoot Adora a glare.
“Are you gonna take off your clothes?” Catra demands. “Or am I gonna have to tear up another jacket?”