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They’re play-fighting in the garden outside their room, and Catra realizes she’s forgotten how much fun it is to spar with Adora for no other reason than the adrenaline. Bright Moon stands tall, protective around them.

Adora is stronger, but Catra is faster, and she evades and ducks and slides away from each of Adora’s attempts to subdue her.

She can’t help but get closer and closer to Adora, though, tempted to see how close she can get without being caught. Finally, one of Adora’s advances works, and the two of them tumble to the ground, rolling over and over each other until they’re struggling on the grass, Adora quickly gaining an advantage now that Catra can’t simply dart away from her.

Adora succeeds in pinning Catra to the ground, one leg on either side of Catra’s hips, hands around Catra’s wrists.

Her face inches away from Catra’s, Adora pants, “I win.”

Catra grunts and makes one last futile attempt to throw Adora off, but the last of her resolve dissipates when Adora, voice low and thick, says, “You know, I think you like losing to me.”

Catra melts into the ground. She feels an insistent pull low in her abdomen, wishing they were alone in their room. She’s trapped in between Adora’s muscular legs, and Adora is smirking at her from above, and she thinks about how satisfying it would be to wipe that smug look off of Adora’s face.

So Catra quickly leans up and kisses her.

Instantly, Adora’s hold on her loosens in surprise at the sudden contact, and Catra uses the moment Adora’s guard falters to flip her over onto her back, kissing her still. But Catra’s so satisfied with herself and her trick that she starts laughing, and that gives Adora time to pin her again but she’s laughing too, and then she’s tickling Catra mercilessly.

They end up side by side on the ground, out of breath, and Adora clasps Catra’s hand in hers and places it over her heart.

 

-----

 

Catra was 12 when she and Lonnie stumbled across two older cadets kissing in a dark corner of a storage room.

Lonnie snatched the back of Catra’s shirt and pulled her behind a stack of crates, hiding them so the older girls didn’t notice them, too preoccupied with each other to have noticed they were no longer alone.

Catra was so surprised that she was frozen. The older girls were embracing, bodies flush against each other, the shorter girl running her fingers through the taller girl’s hair. Their lips were pressed together, and they looked as if they were desperate to be even closer to each other than they already were.

Catra didn’t know anyone could do what these two were doing. She didn’t know girls could do that with each other. Her face heated up and she felt a strange mix of excitement and apprehension, not sure if what she was seeing was good or bad or neither of those things. 

Breathlessly, and more to herself than to Lonnie, Catra whispered, “What are they doing?”

“They’re kissing, you idiot. Don’t you know what kissing is?” Lonnie said, proud of herself and her worldly knowledge.

“Of course I know what kissing is, dumb-face!” Catra shot back.

This exchange led to a slightly half-hearted tussle between the two of them that Catra felt obligated to do just in retaliation for the insult, and the sudden noise startled the kissing girls, sending them sprinting from the room without so much as a glance back to the source of the disruption.

But Lonnie wasn’t completely wrong. Catra knew about other kisses, like kisses on the cheek, or a bruise or scrape. She and Adora would kiss each other like that at night. Just a few days ago Adora kissed Catra’s hand before bed for no discernible reason and Catra was so affected by it she’d lain awake for an hour after Adora dozed off.

This, though. What those girls were doing with each other created a crack in Catra’s small world, a fissure in what previously seemed to her like a life that would always be exactly the same as it was now. 

Catra spent the rest of that day feeling a little bit like she was floating, lighter from the day’s revelations. She wanted to tell Adora what she’d seen, what she’d learned, but every time she was about to, her heart beat a little too quickly, her throat too dry. She couldn’t form the words, and she wasn’t sure why.

It was the first time in her memory she hadn’t been able to tell Adora something.

 

----

 

Glimmer is always finding herself surprised by Catra.

First of all, there’s the effect Catra has on Adora. She brings out qualities in Adora that Glimmer has seen before, but with Catra, they’re brought to the surface rather than simmering just below. With Catra, Adora is more mischievous, child-like, even relaxed. The way they tease and chase and needle each other for no other reason than that they just can , that they’ve known each other so long they have a language all their own, and one of their greatest delights is to speak it with each other.

It’s impossible not to notice the gravitational draw they have towards each other, a push and pull like the moon with the ocean’s tides, the way they can tune out everything and everyone but each other no matter what might be going on around them. 

Sometimes they’ll be so engrossed with each other, talking low so no one else around them can hear, that they’ll call one of their names, trying to get their attention, and Catra and Adora won’t even hear it. Bow termed this laser focus on each other “the bubble,” something that’s catching on among the rest of their friends, and it’s becoming the latest in a long line of fun ways they’ve found to tease Catra and Adora.

Glimmer especially likes how Catra doesn’t let Adora get away with neglecting herself. Catra seems attuned to Adora, able to anticipate when she’s about to push herself too much, too hard, too far. Like yesterday, when Adora didn’t want to stop working and go to dinner with Glimmer and Catra.

“I’m fine, Catra,” Adora said.

“I didn’t say you weren’t, I said come to dinner.”

“I’m almost done.”

“You said you were almost done two hours ago, which means you probably finished the last thing and started something else. You can’t fool me, so don’t try. It’s insulting.” 

Adora scoffed. “Is that right?” But there was no bite to it; she was listening. Adora listens to Catra, and Catra can make Adora slow down when no one else can.

“Listen, it’s my job to lightly bully you into taking care of yourself,” Catra said.

That made Adora snort, and then she was laughing, and then all three of them were laughing together, and any tension dissipated from the room. Adora let them take her to dinner and promised that she would wait until the morning to finish her task.

Second, Glimmer loves Catra. That’s something she couldn’t have imagined at one time, and yet it’s true. Without Catra, she doesn’t know how she would’ve made it when they were both trapped on Prime’s ship. Literally, of course, because Catra was eventually the reason Glimmer escaped, but it was more than that. Glimmer had been so deeply sad on Prime’s ship, so guilty, thinking about Bow and Adora and the ways she’d hurt them. Catra’s presence made all the difference for Glimmer in those terrifying days among Prime and his clones. 

Even though they were very different back then, separately and as a unit, that was where their friendship, tenuous as it was at the time, began. Catra kept Glimmer from totally losing it. Without those long, meandering conversations back to back at Glimmer’s cell, Glimmer isn’t sure what she would’ve done.

Now, here in Bright Moon, Catra is Glimmer’s friend, someone she goes to for company, for conversation, for understanding. Glimmer feels understood by Catra, feels like she doesn’t have to hide her anger, her frustration, the parts of her that aren’t pretty and sparkly and queenly.

Sometimes Glimmer thinks about the person Catra might’ve been, if maybe she’d been as lucky as some others. As lucky as Glimmer, maybe. If Catra had been a princess who got to grow up in a home full of people who loved her, things might’ve been much different. And even with all the disadvantages, Catra made the choice to change, herself and her life, every day. It makes Glimmer feel proud.

Third, Glimmer trusts Catra. Just a few weeks after Prime’s defeat, she asked Catra to act in a more formal capacity as her Counselor, which Catra was basically already doing, so why not make it official? Glimmer had seen initial hesitation on Catra’s face and charged forward. 

“It would just be more of what you’re doing now! You’d come with me on state visits and more official things like that sometimes, but mostly you’d be here, helping with all the day-to-day stuff. You’re good at that, you know. You’re super organized and that’s not always what I’m best at. Help me out? Please?”

Catra had shuffled from foot to foot, then smiled, almost shyly.

“Okay, Sparkles. Since you asked so nicely.”

Glimmer clapped her hands and gave Catra a quick hug, leaning back and squeezing Catra’s arms. “Oh, yay! This is going to be great . I have to go tell Bow!”

Now, they’ve made it past the one year anniversary of the end of the war, and the party a few days ago had been an enormous success. Everyone they loved had been there; all the princesses from all the kingdoms, Bow’s dads, Aunt Castaspella. Even Huntara made an appearance. They’d danced long into the night, only going to bed once the sky began to lighten. 

Everyone slept late, wandering into the kitchens at various points in the late morning, and Seahawk and Adora invented a complexly-scored game where they threw grapes at each other from opposite ends of the table and tried to catch them in their mouths. Eventually, people started taking bets, and Mermista groaned repeatedly, and Glimmer basked in the happy chaos.

Glimmer feels so content. Her best friends are all here with her. They’re safe, they’re together. It feels like the realization of everything they fought for.

 

----

 

Adora doesn’t like paperwork, but she loves Catra and Glimmer, so here she is.

They recovered thousands of files from the Horde after Prime’s defeat, and they all fell into the Rebellion’s lap. Catra and Glimmer have done the vast majority of sorting through it, the two of them combing through stacks of papers that Catra then sorts into an intricate organizational system that she’s very protective of and won’t let Adora near “unsupervised.”

They don’t actually need a lot of it, but they have to go through all of it, just in case, and Glimmer asked for her help, informing her dramatically, “We’re perishing in there, Adora. Perishing .”

Catra had rolled her eyes, amused. “We’re actually fine, but the extra set of hands wouldn’t hurt.”

So now Adora’s at her desk in the bedroom, rifling through a mind-numbingly dry stack of inventory logs from her own early days in the Horde that she’ll give to Catra later, if any of it ends up being important. She’s halfway through the stack when she finds something out of place. It’s from six years ago. In large block letters at the top, the paper reads “INCIDENT REPORT.”

Adora’s curiosity makes her scan the heavily redacted page, but she’s only half-interested until she sees a name she recognizes.

Catra’s name, followed by several lines of blacked-out text, followed by another name.

Adora.

Adora’s surprised because she never had any of these. Or at least, she thought so. She was one of just a few cadets who didn’t. A lot of it was her own over-achieving, rule-following nature, but there were also the small things she didn’t get called out on that other cadets were reprimanded for. Part of the dubious honor of being Shadow Weaver’s “favorite,” most likely.

She stares at it for a few seconds, squinting her eyes, trying to understand what she’s seeing. There’s so little information left, the majority of it unreadable. But there are stray phrases and words here and there: “out of bounds,” “disturbance,” “misconduct,” “fraternization.”

The last word lodges in the back of Adora’s mind, and she turns it over and over, trying to make sense of it.

Six years ago . . .

There’s something nagging at the back of Adora’s mind, something she half-remembers but can’t get a good look at in her mind’s eye.

Her eyes travel to the bottom of the report to a box labeled “injuries.” A handwritten scribble reads, “left shoulder, bottom lip.”

Realization sets in. Catra’s left shoulder. It always gives her trouble. Sometimes she can’t sleep on her left side when it’s really bad, and Adora will massage it for her until the pain subsides a bit. She never gave much thought to it, assuming Catra had fallen one too many times on it in training, and Catra had never told her otherwise.

The report is signed with hastily scrawled initials: “SW.”

Adora gets up from the desk and goes to find Catra.

 

----

 

Catra is lying down under her favorite tree, a tall oak with long branches that gives a wide ring of shade around her. She’s reading when she hears a door open and close and looks up, sees Adora enter the garden. Adora is walking towards her quickly, all speed and determination, and Catra can tell immediately that she’s off.

Adora reaches her, thrusts a piece of paper towards Catra.

“What is this?”

Catra sits up, taking the piece of paper from Adora. She sees the title, the black lines covering most of the page’s text. Then she sees her name, but she’s promptly ready to dismiss it.

There’s countless ones of these “incident reports” that Shadow Weaver concocted throughout Catra’s growing up years for the smallest infractions. Some from when she was very small, about things like, “Catra wasn’t paying attention in class this morning,” “Catra drew on the table with a pencil,” “Catra did this, Catra did that.” A lot of it was bullshit, and the more serious stuff was when she got into fights with other cadets outside of training, but even those had mostly subsided as she got older.

But then Catra looks at the date. Six years ago.

Six years ago.

Oh.

Adora clocks the recognition on Catra’s face. 

“You know what this is,” Adora says. It’s not a question.

Catra stands, needing to feel the ground beneath her feet, and hands the report back to Adora.

“There’s a ton of these, Adora. You know how Shadow Weaver was, she made one of these for everything.”

“Not like this. This one’s different.”

“Because you’re in it?”

“Because we’re both in it.”

“Adora, it’s not important.”

“Really? Under ‘injuries’ it says ‘left shoulder.’ Your left shoulder is always acting up.”

Catra hopes against hope that Adora doesn’t remember. But of course, she does.

“It’s from that time, isn’t it?” Adora says.

Catra doesn’t respond, and that’s all the answer Adora needs.

“You told me I could never ask you what happened.”

Catra remains silent.

“You never told me it had something to do with me.”

Catra’s stomach twists painfully. “It was so long ago, Adora. It doesn’t matter.”

“You know, you said that then, too. You came back in pain, looking like you’d seen a fucking ghost, and you wouldn’t talk to me, and you said it didn’t matter. What you didn’t say is that I was a part of it, too, somehow.”

“Adora, please. Why do we need to talk about this?”

“Because I need you to trust me! And because it’s not only about you, I’m in this, too! Everything is different now, Catra, everything . We’re safe here, and Shadow Weaver is gone, and we don’t have to worry anymore.”

“I’m not worried about Shadow Weaver.”

“Then why won’t you tell me?”

“Because I don’t want to break your heart!”

Catra didn’t mean to yell, but she did, and Adora looks stricken.

Catra sighs, lets her head fall into her hands. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell.”

Adora’s voice is quiet, so quiet. “What do you mean you don’t want to break my heart?”

“It’s just going to hurt you. I don’t want it to hurt you,” Catra says, desperation staining her words.

Adora’s eyes fill with tears. “Well, too late. It’s already hurting me.” She turns and begins to walk away.

Catra reaches out for her arm. “Adora, wait!”

But Adora is already on her way across the garden, the traitorous piece of paper still clutched in her hands.

 

----

 

Catra needs to talk to someone. She needs to talk to someone who’s not Adora. She’s scared because if she says this out loud, it brings it into her present, this beautiful present that she doesn’t want spoiled by the past. If she says it out loud, it makes it real again. But she has to talk to someone or she’s going to explode, so she makes her way to Glimmer and Bow’s room.

Glimmer is sitting at her desk, writing a letter. Catra knocks on the open door.

“Glimmer?”

Glimmer turns around, smiling. “Hey, Catra! Is it already 4:00?”

She and Glimmer started having tea together every afternoon a few months ago, not really on purpose, but the ritual has continued ever since. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they read together, sometimes they play cards.

“No, not yet. I just, um—I want to talk to you about something.”

Glimmer is on high alert, but trying to act casual. “Of course! Come sit down. What’s up?”

Catra takes a seat in a chair near Glimmer, facing her. “Adora found something in those files, the ones we’ve been going through.”

Glimmer groans. “Ugh, those fucking files. What’d she find?”

Catra clears her throat. “She found something about me—about us , actually, an incident report from something that happened a few years ago.”

Glimmer raises her eyebrows. “An incident report? What kind of incident?”

“It’s something . . . something Adora doesn’t know about.”

“Wait, I thought you said it was about both of you. How would Adora not know about it? Doesn’t she remember?”

Catra levels her gaze at Glimmer, hoping she’ll understand her meaning. “No. Adora doesn’t remember.”

Glimmer’s expression is all confusion until something seems to occur to her, maybe just the beginning of half of a thought, and she stills.

“Catra, what happened?”

Catra starts to speak, then stops, trying to decide on a way through this. “You know how me and Adora kissed in the Heart?” she says.

Glimmer grins at her. “Yeah, I’ve heard a thing or two about it.”

Catra blushes, half-heartedly kicks at Glimmer’s shins. “Right. Well, Adora thinks that was the first time. That we kissed, that is. But, um—it wasn’t.”

Glimmer’s eyebrows scrunch together. “What do you mean?”

“That wasn’t the first time me and Adora kissed.”

“Wait, I’m confused. You and Adora kissed before the Heart? When?” 

“When she and I were still in the Horde together.”

Oh, wow, okay, um. Then why—why does Adora think the Heart was the first time?”

Catra’s heart rate picks up. “That’s what I need to talk to you about. To tell you.”

Glimmer takes Catra’s hand automatically, then startles just a bit, gripping the hand tighter. “Catra, you’re shaking. What’s going on?”

Catra tries to speak, but she feels like all the air is leaving the room, and it starts to feel smaller, and she’s getting dizzy—

“You can tell me,” Glimmer’s voice interjects, sincere, warm.

It grounds Catra, and she takes a few seconds to make herself conscious of the room around her. There is enough air, Glimmer is right here, and she can tell her. She can tell her.

It’s safe now.

Catra closes her eyes, breathing, then opens them again.

“Me and Adora were 16.”

 

 

 

She’s gotten her story out, but she’s looking down at the floor, and she’s afraid to look at Glimmer. She keeps her head down, hair falling like a curtain over half her face, just past her shoulders now. Then, a hand on hers, another on her shoulder, applying soothing pressure.

Catra looks up.

Glimmer is looking at her with fierce, teary eyes full of so much empathy that Catra can’t look away. 

“That never should’ve happened, and she had no right to do that to you.”

Catra crumples.

Glimmer’s arms are around her in an instant, holding on tight, and Catra lets the tears come. She cries like she hasn’t cried since she was a small child, since she first arrived at the Fright Zone, missing a family she can’t quite remember.

A few minutes later, Catra manages to steady her staggering breaths.

“What if she hates me? For keeping this from her?”

“Adora will not hate you. Not for this, not for anything else.”

“But—”

“Catra, first of all? That wasn’t . . . that wasn’t your fault. And second, Adora’s loved you through so much already. Trust her to love you through this, too.”

Catra lets Glimmer’s words settle in, sink in.

Trust her .

Catra exhales. “Adora said she needs me to trust her.”

“Then do that, Catra. You can trust her.”

Glimmer gives Catra one more squeeze, then releases her from the hug. She crouches down until she’s eye level with where Catra sits.

“You both went through a lot for this love, didn’t you?”

Catra nods, slowly.

“From where I’m standing, it doesn’t look like anything could get rid of it,” Glimmer says. “And a lot of people have tried.”

Catra snorts. “Including me.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but since you did,” Glimmer smirks, eyes sparkling.

Catra shoves her, but playfully, no real effort behind it. Glimmer shoves her back, laughing.

“Come on,” Glimmer says. “It’s definitely 4:00 now.”

And it is, so they have their tea. Glimmer beats Catra at cards, and Glimmer’s enthusiasm at “vanquishing” her makes Catra feel lighter, like maybe she can do this next part.

 

----

 

She knows Adora hears her come into their bedroom, but she stays where she sits on the window seat looking out their bedroom window, waiting for Catra to speak first.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra says softly, cautiously.

Adora shifts in her seat and turns to look at Catra. She looks tired, a little worn down. “Hey.”

Catra walks towards her, sitting down on the opposite end of the window seat, crossing her legs underneath her and facing Adora.

Catra takes in Adora sitting across from her, her hair down around her shoulders, long now, longer than Catra’s ever seen it. Catra likes to twirl the ends around her fingers when they’re talking late at night in bed. Adora’s wearing the light blue sweater Castaspella made for her and Catra’s leggings, a reversal of the norm of Catra stealing Adora’s clothes, and she’s holding her arms like she does when she feels anxious. She looks so impossibly soft . Catra wants to hold her close and keep her safe.

“So. We need to talk about this,” Catra says.

Adora nods. “Yeah, we do. There was a word in there that I can’t stop thinking about. ‘Fraternization.’”

Catra flinches ever so slightly.

Adora sees, her eyes full of worry. “So you know what that was?”

“Yes,” Catra says. “Just—just let me get it all out. It’s the only way I’m going to get through it.”

Adora looks down, nods. “I can do that.” Then she meets Catra’s eyes. “Trust me. Please.”

Catra takes a deep breath in, then out, her hands pressed to her chest to feel the rise of the inhale followed by the fall of the exhale. She’s glad she got most of her tears out with Glimmer earlier. Adora rubs her foot on Catra’s ankle, reassuring.

“We were 16,” Catra begins.

 

----

 

Six years earlier

 

Catra is laying down on Adora’s bunk, pressing her feet through the slats of the bunk above, absentmindedly kicking the thin mattress of her own bed. It’s one of those times where she doesn’t have anything to do or anywhere to be, that even though rare, does still occasionally happen.

Adora is off trying to beat her own time on their latest combat simulation, and while Adora claimed it was “just for the practice,” Catra knows she wants to shave off at least ten seconds. Ten seconds doesn’t seem all that important to Catra, but it’s important to Adora, and Catra tells her that she’ll be in their bunk when Adora’s done.

“We’ll have something to celebrate when I get back,” Adora said before she left.

“So cocky,” Catra had replied, which prompted Adora to throw a pillow at her that Catra threw back, laughing.

Catra’s bored, so she decides that she’ll meet Adora halfway instead and makes her way down the hallway outside the barracks. Catra ducks into a supplies room, a shortcut to the other side of this corridor that will take her to the simulation rooms faster.

Adora must’ve had the same thought, because she comes bursting through the other end of the supply room, eyes bright, smiling wide as soon as she sees Catra.

“Catra!”

Adora is running towards her, and she looks so happy she’s almost glowing.

Adora reaches Catra and wraps her arms around Catra’s waist, and Catra slings her arms around Adora’s neck as she feels her feet leave the ground. Adora lifts Catra into the air and spins her around and it snatches the breath from Catra’s lungs.

She got taller.

“I beat it!” Adora says, delighted. “I beat it again and I shaved off twelve seconds!”

Catra laughs, a little winded. Adora sets her down and Catra tries to think of something teasing to say, but Adora is still holding her and Catra’s head feels a little cloudy and she can’t seem to think of anything. 

Catra steadies herself by putting both her hands on Adora’s shoulders, Adora’s arms still slung loosely around her waist. It helps, and she manages to get her bearings for a second.

“Well, of course you did, dummy. You’ve only been running yourself into the ground with it for three weeks.”

Adora laughs, bright, like a bell, and hugs Catra again, standing still this time, and Catra leans into the hug. Usually when they’re this close and this still, they’re in bed, face to face, so she hasn’t had much opportunity until now to notice that Adora has more than a couple inches in height on her now, more like a few.

It’s different right away, and they both feel it.

Adora tenses against Catra’s body, just for a moment, then softens, giving in even further to the embrace. They stand there for what feels like a long time. An almost dangerous amount of time. But no one’s around, and they’re hidden by the stacks and stacks of crates full of weapons parts surrounding them, and it feels so good being like this, so Catra doesn’t pull away and neither does Adora.

Catra is resting her cheek on Adora’s shoulder, just listening to her breathe, and she can feel the fluttering of Adora’s pulse point on the side of her neck. Adora pulls back, just a little bit, so that she can see Catra’s face, but she doesn’t let go. Catra quickly feels self-conscious under Adora’s scrutinizing look, so she says the thing she can’t stop thinking about. 

“You got taller,” she says, then immediately flushes, but Adora just giggles in that dorky way she has that Catra actually really likes.

“Yeah, I guess I did.” 

They just look at each other, not saying anything, not moving, leaning against each other. Catra laces her fingers together behind Adora’s neck, stroking the soft blonde hairs at the nape of her neck, hoping Adora won’t let go, not yet. Not yet.

Adora’s blue eyes search her own, and for what, Catra’s not sure, but she must find what she’s looking for because it’s Adora who closes the last, infinitesimal amount of space between them and gently presses her lips to Catra’s.

Catra’s head swims. Vaguely, she registers one of her thoughts as, oh, she knows what kissing is, too .

There’s no space left between their bodies but Catra feels like she still can’t get close enough to Adora, like she wants to meld into one form. Adora rubs her thumbs in circles on the small of Catra’s back, and a pleasant shiver runs up Catra’s spine as she sighs into Adora’s mouth, who hums back appreciatively.

Catra’s drowning in this, whatever this is, and she doesn’t care. If she can just keep feeling Adora’s soft, sweet mouth on hers, Adora’s strong arms holding her close, she’ll let Adora drag her to the bottom of the ocean.

After what feels like hours, maybe days, they pull apart, but just barely, breath still mingling between them, and they’re both trembling.

Adora’s cheeks are rosy and she looks like she might be about to say something, but Catra can’t let her break this spell, not yet, so she moves her arms from around Adora’s neck to cup her face with her hands, pulling Adora back in for another kiss. This time is deeper, and a little desperate, and more , and Catra opens her mouth just enough to let Adora slip her tongue inside.

They’re so caught up in each other that they never have a chance to notice Shadow Weaver appearing near them.

The force of Shadow Weaver’s magic tears them apart and throws them to opposite sides of the room, Catra’s back and shoulder hitting a concrete wall, hard , and she sinks down to the floor, while Adora is thrown against a tower of crates that falls over from the force of her crashing into them.

Catra groans, ears ringing, shoulder burning with a sharp pain, and tries to stand, but she falls to the ground.

Shadow Weaver towers over Adora, emanating a concentrated rage that fills the room.

“Adora, go to your room and wait for me there.”

Adora, clearly dazed from the impact, tries to protest. “Shadow Weaver, it’s not—"

“Do as you are told.”

Adora manages to stand, swaying a bit from side to side. “Shadow Weaver, please—"

Go, now, or Catra will suffer the consequences.”

That works. Adora looks back at Catra, and the raw pain on her face, the weight of that devastation, makes Catra want to scream.

The last thing Catra remembers for some time are red tendrils of electricity lifting her into the air.

 

 

 

Catra comes to with a start. Her head is pounding.

She slowly sits up, vision a little blurry, rubbing her temple with trembling fingers. She doesn’t know where she is at first.

Wait—

Now she knows where she is. She’s been here before.

She’s in the hole, an impossibly tiny, cramped cell with nothing in it but a concrete slab “bed” and a toilet in the corner.

Shadow Weaver stands over Catra where she’s managed to sit up on the room’s only furniture, glowering at Catra from above. Catra stares back at her, determined not to look away.

The back of Shadow Weaver’s hand connects with Catra’s mouth so quickly Catra doesn’t see the blow coming, the thwack sound of the hand’s impact on Catra’s face echoing through the metal room.

It’s so average, so physical, so decidedly non -magical that Catra doesn’t know how to react. She stares unblinking at Shadow Weaver as she tries to process what happened, unable to look away.

Shadow Weaver leans down and spits the words out through gritted teeth, eye-level with Catra.

“You worthless mongrel.”

A warm trickle of blood leaks down Catra’s chin from her split bottom lip but she can’t move her hand to wipe it away.

Shadow Weaver glares at her.

Catra licks the blood from her lips, metallic, warm, bitter.

“Why are you positively determined to destroy Adora and her future?”

Catra says nothing, biting down hard on her tongue. More blood.

“Despite your best efforts, I can make this indiscretion as if it never happened, and Adora will remain on track,” Shadow Weaver says.

Catra’s heart sinks.

Shadow Weaver continues. “Adora will have no recollection of your . . . fraternization. I will make certain of that. You, however. You I will leave as you are, so that you will remember . You will remember every moment of this, and you will never speak to Adora of this matter. Because if you do, I will extinguish the life from your body myself.”

Catra’s face is hot, her skin tight. She feels like she’s outside of her body, watching this happen to someone else.

Shadow Weaver turns towards the door of the cell, making to leave, when Catra finally regains control over her voice and whatever small amount of defiance she can still muster.

She says it to Shadow Weaver’s back.

“She kissed me first.”

Shadow Weaver stops abruptly, but doesn’t turn around.

“Lying will not improve your situation, Catra.” 

Catra is already bleeding and in the hole and won’t see Adora for who knows how long, so she only repeats herself. 

“She kissed me first. You can make her forget, but she still did it. You can’t make her stop caring about me.”

This time, Shadow Weaver turns, fixing the large, white, glowing eyes of her mask on Catra. 

“We’ll see about that.”

Catra keeps going. “What are you going to do to her?”

“As I said, she will have no recollection of—”

“That’s not what I mean. You have some kind of—some kind of plan for her. What is it? What are you going to do to her?”

“Oh, Catra. Worthless and delusional. All I am going to do is guide Adora where she is meant to go.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Shadow Weaver sighs. “You couldn’t possibly understand the greatness for which she is destined. You are not like her. You never will be.”

The words land heavy on Catra’s heart. She shrinks, tears stinging the backs of her eyes.

Shadow Weaver turns and slams the cell door, the heavy lock on the other side sliding into place.

 

 

 

Catra has no concept of time. Sometimes she thinks it’s been a couple of days, but then it’ll feel like it’s been weeks. Without the regular cadet schedule that normally structures her days, she can’t tell.

Shadow Weaver is in and out of the cell.

Sometimes she just stares at Catra, the single fluorescent light in the ceiling shining down on both of them, neither of them speaking.

Sometimes she brings her shadows with her, and they swirl around Catra in a way that makes her feel like she’s choking, suffocating, like she can’t breathe at all, until suddenly, they let go and Catra is gasping for air.

Sometimes she uses her electricity and Catra’s entire body convulses, suspended mid-air one minute, crumpled in a heap on the floor the next.

“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,” she sobs, long after Shadow Weaver leaves the room.

 

 

 

It could be hours later, it could be days later. But the next time Shadow Weaver comes to the cell, Catra decides she’s leaving with her. She doesn’t care what she has to do, what she has to say; she just knows she has to get out of here. 

Catra wants a shower. She wants to sleep at regular times. She even wants to eat with the rest of the squad at mealtimes and listen to Adora and Lonnie argue over hand-to-hand combat techniques.

She wants to see Adora. She doesn’t want to see Adora.

Shadow Weaver arrives for another apparent staring contest.

Catra feels desperate, nearly wild, at the thought of being alone in this room for one more minute.

“Please—please don’t leave.”

Shadow Weaver cocks her head to one side, crossing her arms. “All you have to do, Catra, is prove to me that you have learned your lesson.”

Catra gulps, hoping Shadow Weaver can’t hear it. “I have. I know better now.” 

“And what is it exactly that you know now?”

“That it was m-my fault. That I shouldn’t have done it.”

“Why should you not have done it?”

Catra closes her eyes, just for a beat, then opens them. “Because nothing should get in the way of Adora’s future.”

Something about this works. Shadow Weaver noticeably shifts, moving closer to Catra in a way that feels less menacing than the past few days. She stops in front of Catra’s bed and leans down, places her hands on Catra’s knees.

“Oh, Catra. You must know that everything I do, I do because it is for the best.”

Catra swallows. Nods. “I know.”

“Now, what else do you have to say?”

Catra’s voice is tiny, threadbare. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” 

“What else?”

Catra draws in a ragged breath, the next words settling heavy in the pit of her stomach.

“I’ll never do it again.”

Shadow Weaver leans in close and gently, so gently, places a gloved hand on the side of Catra’s face, cradling her, and Catra leans into the touch, closing her eyes, grateful for the contact, for the softness, for the forgiveness.

Shadow Weaver’s grip suddenly moves to Catra’s jaw and tightens, and Catra’s eyes snap open.

Shadow Weaver’s next command comes through clenched teeth.

“Say it again.”

Catra hates that she’s shaking, but she can’t make herself stop. Shadow Weaver’s large, glowing eyes bore into her own. 

She obeys.

“I’ll never do it again.”

Shadow Weaver releases Catra’s jaw, tenderly stroking the same spot she had been gripping seconds earlier. 

“Oh, Catra. Be grateful that I am only protecting Adora from this one incident. I should loathe having to remove you from her mind completely. There is nothing I would hate more than if you forced my hand again. Especially if you forced me to do something far worse than shut you up for a few days.”

Catra hates how small, how young, her voice sounds. “I won’t. I promise.”

 

 

 

Shadow Weaver opens the cell door, gesturing outside with one arm.

“Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we?”

Catra stands, cautiously walking the short distance to the door, and Shadow Weaver lets her walk out. She follows Shadow Weaver towards the showers as if in a trance, squinting at the bright fluorescent lights that line their path. She feels like she’s been gone for five years. She feels like she’s been gone for five minutes.

Shadow Weaver tells Catra to take twice the normal allotted shower time. Catra feels shaky with gratitude. Shadow Weaver leaves after telling her to come to dinner when she’s done.

Catra peels off her clothes, stepping into the spray of water, her skin almost smarting at the sensation. She quickly relaxes, though, letting the water run over her, imagining every bad thought and feeling being sloughed off by the water and disappearing down the drain. She massages her scalp and revels in the feeling of her hair getting clean and soft again.

Adora isn’t at dinner and Catra is overcome with relief. She must’ve eaten during the first shift. Catra doesn’t want to see her yet, and especially not here, not in front of other people. Especially because some of those other people are watching Catra with curiosity, waiting to see how she’ll act after being gone for longer than she’s ever been gone before. Catra keeps her expression blank, pretends that nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Shadow Weaver gives Catra rations and a half for dinner. The other cadets are silent, but Catra can see the bewilderment on their faces. They can’t reconcile Catra’s multiple days in the hole with this kind of favor from Shadow Weaver, of all people.

Catra’s stomach turns and she doesn’t feel like eating, but she knows Shadow Weaver is watching. Catra eats anyway.

 

 

 

When Catra returns to the barracks, Lonnie, Kyle, and Adora are there. Lonnie and Kyle exchange a quick glance, then leave the room without a word, like they don’t want to see what’s coming. Catra feels deliriously grateful for it. She doesn’t have the energy to snap at them to get out.

Adora is staring at her, and because tact has never been Adora’s strong suit, she demands, “What happened?”

Catra shakes her head, says nothing. It’s so hard to look at Adora. It’s so hard, but she makes herself do it.

Her hair is down.

Adora pushes forward. “You’ve been gone a whole week. I’ve been worried sick. What happened?”

“It doesn’t matter.” I like it when her hair is down.

“It doesn’t matter ? What the hell do you mean, it doesn’t matter ?”

“It means that it doesn’t matter! I’m here now!” Catra says, already exhausted by how hard it’s going to be to get Adora off her back.

“Please, Catra, just talk to me,” Adora says, pleading.

“It doesn’t—”

Adora fumes. “Don’t you dare say it doesn’t matter.”

Catra puts her hands on her hips, tries to look indifferent. “Well, what do you want me to say?”

“The truth would be nice, for starters.”

“Too bad, then.”

Adora sounds desperate now. “Why won’t you just —“

“You can never ask me what happened, Adora! I mean it!”

Catra’s yelling, and it makes Adora pause, at least for a moment. She watches a slew of conflicting emotions cross Adora’s face, her mouth setting in a firm line.

“I can’t promise that,” Adora says.

“You have to.”

Before Adora can respond, Catra doubles down. “Do this for me.”

Adora’s unease radiates off of her in waves, but she doesn’t say anything.

Catra takes a deep breath. “I’m going to say one thing about this and you better listen to me.”

She has Adora’s full attention.

Catra looks Adora dead in the eyes. “She’s going to try to kill you one day, and you’re not even going to know that’s what’s happening.” 

Catra doesn’t have to say who “she” is. Adora is astonished, confused, angry. Hurt. All of it flashes across her face, like she can’t settle on a single emotion.

Catra doesn’t wait for her to decide and walks out of the room.

She barely makes it to the bathroom before she throws up.

 

 

 

Adora watches Catra as they get ready for bed, as if she’s gauging whether or not to say anything, but she stays silent as Catra climbs onto her own bunk, Catra’s left shoulder silently screaming in protest at the effort.

Catra lies awake, staring at the ceiling, feeling detached from her surroundings, from her own thoughts. She wonders if maybe this is another night she’ll be up until wake-up call, but she can’t bring herself to care.

She feels Adora climb up onto her bunk from behind her, but she doesn’t turn around, can’t trust herself to look at Adora.

In the end she doesn’t have to. Adora lays down behind her, curling a cautious arm around Catra’s waist, and pulls Catra in close to her. Catra doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t resist the hold. 

Catra can hear Adora crying softly, her body trembling against Catra’s. Catra’s heart sinks and she hates herself and she hates this place and she hates how scared she is and she hates that she can’t just turn around and tell Adora exactly what she wants to know.

Why can’t it be like that? Why can’t it be easy?

All of it makes Catra start crying, too. They hold onto each other, shaking, for a long time.

Later, Adora’s whisper is full of tears, desperate, and she clutches Catra’s waist as she speaks.

“Don’t do that again. I can’t handle it. I was so scared. Don’t do that again.”

Catra sucks in a breath through her tears. She knows she can tell her the truth in this, at least.

“I’ll never do it again.”

Adora doesn’t let go of her for a second, and eventually sleep finds her. Catra is awake for a while longer, thinking. If this is all Catra ever gets from Adora, if this is all they can have, she can learn to be content. She can be content just out of Adora’s reach, just close enough, but not too close.

She wishes she didn’t know what it feels like to have more.

 

----

 

The effort of having told this story twice in one day has Catra feeling wrung out, limp, like her bones have turned to noodles and she’ll collapse in a pile if she tries to stand.

“I was so scared. I was scared of what she would do to me, what she might do to you, if I told you,” Catra says. “I was scared she would take me out of your memory completely. Just erase me. Us. It’s been so long, and I didn’t think there would ever be a time when I could tell you. I never thought it would be,” Catra has to choke out the next word, “safe. And by the time it was, I didn’t know how to tell you, if I even should tell you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

Catra’s head snaps up. Adora is staring at her, expression almost blank.

“Because . . . I didn’t tell you. Because I kept this a secret from you.”

Adora’s voice is strangled, tinny. “What else were you supposed to do? What other choice did you have?”

“Adora . . . ”

Catra sees now that Adora’s hands are shaking, violently. She’s agitated and can’t stay still, getting up from the window seat to begin pacing back and forth across their bedroom.

“You didn’t have a choice , neither of us did, we never did, we never got a say —”

Adora’s voice is higher now, nearing shrill, and Catra moves towards her, not sure what she’s going to do but knowing that Adora is starting to panic and that she needs to do something .

Adora continues. “She would’ve—oh my god, I think she really—I think she really would’ve killed you if you’d told me, if I’d known what happened.”

Catra watches her pace, Adora’s breathing getting shallower. “Adora, breathe. I need you to breathe.”

Adora doesn’t seem to hear her. “She took it from me! I don’t remember it because she took it from me! It was mine and she went into my mind and she took it from me.”

Adora is sobbing now, and Catra approaches her carefully, reaching out to put her arms around Adora. Adora’s legs give and they both sink to the floor, Catra holding Adora steady in her arms.

Adora cries and Catra doesn’t let go. They stay there for a long time. 

When Adora’s tears subside a bit, Catra helps her up. Adora allows herself to be pulled to her feet and led to the bed, and Catra settles Adora between her legs until Adora’s back is propped against Catra’s front. Adora continues to cry, quietly, and Catra murmurs calming reassurances into her ear. 

After Adora has been quiet for a while, her breathing more even, Catra braids Adora’s hair, something that always soothes Adora, deft fingers weaving the tawny strands together. Catra gives her a glass of water from the nightstand and watches her drink until she hands the glass back to Catra. “Talk to me, baby,” Catra says, lightly scratching her nails up and down Adora’s arms.

Adora takes a deep breath. “I just feel . . . violated. And sad. I’m sad that Shadow Weaver controlled me so much more than I even knew. I’m sad that I don’t remember what it felt like to kiss you. I’m sad you went through it alone. I think I’m going to be sad about it all for . . . for a while.”

Catra kisses the top of Adora’s head, smoothing her bangs away from her face. “You can be sad as long as you need to be.” She pauses; then, “And you can be angry, too. Including with me.”

“But that’s not even it. I’m angry that I didn’t know. But I have no idea what I would’ve done, if it’d been me in your place. I’m just so—she hurt you because of me.” Adora’s voice is so sad, so small.

Catra tips Adora’s face back and towards Catra so that she’s looking at her. “No, she hurt me because that’s just what she did , what she always did. She hurt everyone around her, including you. And it wasn’t your fault, none of it.”

Adora looks at her, eyes sharp. “It wasn’t your fault, either. What she did to you. What she did to us.”

Catra feels wobbly, tender at these words. “That’s what Glimmer said.”

“Glimmer is right. And so am I.” Adora gives her the smallest smile and Catra feels a flutter of relief.

“So cocky,” Catra teases, hopeful.

Adora thumbs Catra’s chin. “Listen, if it’s true, it’s true.”

Adora turns around again and leans back. They’re silent for a few minutes, but it’s comfortable, not tense, and Adora holds Catra’s hand, methodically stroking Catra’s palm.

Eventually Adora breaks the silence. “Remember what I told you I said to Shadow Weaver? Right after I got the failsafe?”

“You told her you’d make sure she didn’t get her hands on the magic.”

“No, before that.”

“. . . Oh. Yeah, I remember.”

Adora closes her eyes. “I told her, ‘you ruin people.’ I meant it then, I really did, but I think—I think I’m still understanding just how much it’s true. She really . . . she did everything she could to—to ruin us.”

“She didn’t in the end, though,” Catra says, stroking Adora’s palm with her thumb. “She tried to ruin us, and maybe she did for a while, but it turns out . . . the way we are for each other—she couldn’t break it.”

“And nothing ever will,” Adora says. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Catra loves her so much in this moment she could burst. “Not if I do, either.”

 

----

 

Glimmer runs into Catra in the kitchens. The castle is dark and hushed, and they’re both there for late night provisions.

Without a word, Catra folds Glimmer into a hug. They stand there for a moment, holding on. 

“Are you good?” Glimmer whispers, even though they’re the only ones around.

“I’m good,” Catra whispers back.

“And Adora?”

“It’s hard. But I’ve got her.”

Glimmer kisses Catra on the cheek. “I know you do.”

 

----

 

Adora needs Catra a lot the next day.

When they woke up, later than normal after being up for so much of the night, the first thing Adora did was turn towards Catra and say, “I want to stay close to you today.”

Catra gave her a sleepy smile and tapped Adora’s nose once, twice. “We can make that happen.”

They hold hands under the table at breakfast. They sit side by side in a meeting, hips touching, one of Adora’s legs crossing over Catra’s, ankles intertwined. Catra links her pinky finger with Adora’s, a signal they started using before Adora can even remember. One squeeze to check in, two squeezes back to say, “I’m okay.” Adora squeezes back twice.

In the late afternoon they spend an hour tangled up in bedsheets, and Catra moans while Adora nips marks along the column of Catra’s throat, on purpose.

Now it’s after dinner and she’s laying on Catra’s chest in their bed, listening to her heartbeat, feeling the gentle vibrations created by Catra’s voice as she reads out loud from the book she started yesterday. Tears begin to quietly spill from Adora’s eyes, and she doesn’t bother to wipe them away. Catra sets the book down for the moment, rocking Adora gently side to side in her arms.

Adora curls her fingers into Catra’s shirt, clutching the fabric, and whispers the words that have been tormenting her in the back of her mind for the last hour. “I feel guilty for kissing you then. When it wasn’t safe.”

Catra draws in a sharp breath, then tips Adora’s chin up with her thumb and forefinger, making her meet her eyes. “No, no, no, no, don’t think like that. I don’t want you to think like that.”

“But—”

“Adora, no. That kiss, it made me hope. Even when it didn’t make sense to hope. It still made me wonder if maybe, someday, we might be . . . something more like we are now. Just because you did that. It’s a—a complicated memory. Like a lot of the ones from when we were growing up, I guess. But that kiss . . . I don’t want you to regret it.”

The thought heartens Adora. “It really made you hope?”

“Yes, it did.”

Adora relaxes, just a bit. “Maybe that’s a good part, then. Maybe.”

Catra smiles down at her. “I think so.”

Adora pauses, thinking. Then, “You know what makes me happy?”

“What?”

“That you were my future all along.”

Catra looks like she wasn’t expecting that, like she’s sort of awed by it. “Do you really think so?”

“Of course,” Adora says, sincerely. Then, wryly, “How else could you explain all this?”

Catra snorts. “A fair point.”

“Catra?” Adora says.

“Yeah?”

“I hate her, I think. Does that make me bad?”

“No. That doesn’t make you bad.”

Adora sighs. “Okay.”

Adora lays her head back down on Catra’s chest, calmer now. She even starts to drift off, in and out of sleep as Catra continues reading to her.

She stirs when Catra stops reading. 

Catra leans down to Adora’s ear, murmuring softly, “I’m so happy you’re my future, too.”

 

----

 

Catra is getting to a very enjoyable level of buzzed, and she’s sitting with Scorpia and Bow on the patio taking in the sound of music playing, their friends around them laughing and talking, the fairy lights strung up above them swaying leisurely in the night breeze. Scorpia has been energetically showing her and Bow how to play a card game she learned from Perfuma, and Catra feels a profound thankfulness for her and the friendship they’ve built and rebuilt, bit by bit.

It’s Glimmer’s birthday and they’re having a party. After a month of practicing, Catra made Glimmer a cake for the occasion, lemon with raspberry cream cheese icing, and it turned out good. Like, really good. Glimmer pronounced it one of the best she’d ever had, then looked at Catra meaningfully.

“You know, this is a pretty perfect day.”

Then she winked, and Catra grinned back at her.

“Yeah, it is, isn’t it, Sparkles?”

Glimmer beamed back at her. “I feel like we’re going to have some more of these.”

Now, Catra is looking for another drink and for Adora, who was last seen challenging Sea Hawk to some sort of competition that Catra half understood.

She sees her talking to Glimmer who’s on her way inside, and when Adora spots Catra, she brightens like she hasn’t seen her in 20 years instead of 20 minutes.

“Catra! There you are!”

She’s so fucking cute.

Catra chuckles. “Here I am. Did you win?”

“Of course I did!” Adora sways the tiniest bit, just enough to make Catra give her a hard time for being such a lightweight.

“Wait, don’t tell me. Is She-Ra already drunk?”

“No! Not yet. I’m just feeling gooood. Reeeeally good,” Adora replies, raising an eyebrow.

Catra laughs, and Adora pulls Catra towards her and into an embrace, her arms around Catra’s waist, looking down into Catra’s eyes.

“You’re, like, soooooo pretty. Do you know that?”

Catra laughs so hard her shoulders shake. “I guess I do now.”

“I don’t know if you do, though. I’m gonna have to tell you a lot. A loooooot.”

“Okay, well, that’s something to look forward to.”

“Don’t you think I’m pretty?” Adora asks, her eyes wide in mock offense.

Catra leans in close, whispers her next words just a breath away from Adora’s lips. “Oh, princess. I think you’re beautiful .”

Adora lights up, blushing and charmed, as if Catra hasn’t told her she’s beautiful dozens of times.

“Come on! I’m going to make us both drinks,” Adora says, grabbing Catra’s hand and tugging her towards the door.

“As much as I’d like that, I feel like you’re not hydrating, so first I’m going to get you a water, okay?”

Adora sighs, dramatically, as if Catra’s insistence on keeping her hydrated is one of the greatest burdens she has to bear. “Fine, I’ll drink your water. But then you’re making another drink with me.”

Catra kisses her on her cheek. “You’ve got a deal.” 

Adora scrunches her nose pleasantly. “I like when you do that.”

Catra grins, kissing Adora’s lips this time, quick, and then makes to turn away in search of the promised drinks, but Adora stops her.

“Hey,” she says, clasping Catra’s hand before she can completely turn away. “Do that again.”

Adora’s smile fills Catra’s heart to the brim.

So she does.