Catra thinks, maybe, that she has grown fond of Glimmer.
Glimmer is loud, she is abrasive, and she is entirely irrational. Glimmer moves quickly, and if the stomp of her foot does not alert everyone to her presence, the bright sparkle of her entire being sure does. She is careless but with careful thought, she is kind and aggressive, but mostly, she is good. Catra knows that Glimmer is a good person, despite their shared lament of the mistakes they have made towards their friends.
Catra pushes down the correction that Adora, where they stand now, may not be her friend. She might be. She doesn’t know.
When Glimmer sneaks up behind Catra, who is sitting on the ledge of one of the windows on the main deck, ‘good’ is not what comes to mind when she registers her. After the hard thud of her heart slows when she’s calmed herself down from the scare, she leans more towards ‘fucking annoying’.
“See anything cool?” Glimmer asks, peering past Catra’s head and into the expanse of the stars.
Catra vaguely realizes, given Glimmer’s attire- a long T-shirt and biker shorts- that it must be time for bed. But she’s alert, not feeling any fleeting semblance of drowsiness. When she closes her eyes for too long, she sees green and white and black and then nothing and-
She prefers to stay awake.
Catra hums. “Just stars, I guess. Couple of fuckin’ rocks. Nothing we haven’t been seeing the past couple of weeks.” She turns to look out of the window, again, but her view of nothingness is partially blocked by the reflection of Glimmer in the window.
“Can’t sleep?” Glimmer asks, softer this time. Catra says nothing. “I… It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. But, I don’t know, I just…” She trails off, and Catra, as utterly socially stunted as she is, doesn’t need her to finish to know what she’s talking about.
“I get it,” she says, turning and pulling her feet on the ledge to rest her chin on her knees. Glimmer hops up onto the space beside her and lets her own short legs dangle off of the edge. “I do. I don’t sleep much either, anymore. Not after… you know.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do know.”
They sit in silence, just for a few minutes. In a way, it’s nice. Cathartic. They both know what the other is referring to, know how it hurt them and know how it still hurts them.
You had it worse than I did, Glimmer had said to her the first sleepless night they ran into each other on the main deck.
Don’t, Catra had interjected. Don’t think stupid shit like that. Just because I had it different than you doesn’t mean that what you went through wasn’t fucking horrifying. I guess, in a way, we were both prisoners. Or, something like that.
“How are you?” Glimmer asks suddenly, pulling Catra from her thoughts. Catra shrugs in response.
“I… I don’t know. Entrapta took that damn thing off of me and I don’t… I don’t see him anymore. Not unless I need to remember something. It’s fine.” She pauses, and then corrects herself, “It’s better.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
Catra doesn’t try to hide the surprise that spreads across her face. She turns her chin towards Glimmer and raises an eyebrow at her pointedly. Glimmer has a small smile on her face, sharing a secret that Catra doesn’t think she wants to know.
“I’m talking about… you know.”
“No, dude, I don’t know.”
“You know who.”
Catra wrinkles her nose. “Prime? Sparkles, you can say his name, it’s not like you’ll summon h-”
“I’m talking about Adora, you fucking clown.”
Catra snaps her jaw shut. Oh.
Adora’s name spreads through her like heat, and Catra can’t decide if it’s good or bad. They haven’t seen each other around the ship, much, unless the group is meeting to discuss flight stops or they bump into each other. They’ll share a glance, they’ll exchange pleasantries in the morning, and they’ll discuss plans for the day and repairs needed for the ship, should they come up. But after that first night when Catra was brought on the ship, when she fell asleep curled in Adora’s strong arms, and when Catra had her chip removed, they haven’t touched each other like that since. They’ve barely even spoken.
Adora keeps her distance, and Catra doesn’t know why, so she keeps hers.
“She’s not avoiding you, you know,” Glimmer continues casually. “Well, I mean, uh. She is, I think. But-” she waves her arms frantically at Catra, “- not in the way that you think! Not in a bad way. She just wants to give you space, I think. She doesn’t want to crowd you or overwhelm you.”
Catra snorts. “Well, she’s doing a great job about being fucking weird about it.” Glimmer hums, and Catra turns her body fully towards the other woman.
“I just. Fuck. I don’t get it. I don’t get why she came back. It was so easy for her to leave and for her to see me as an enemy for all of those years, and then she decides to fucking come and get me from his fucking ship. It doesn’t…” Catra can’t find the words, and she runs a hand through her choppy hair, harshly.
“It… it doesn’t make sense to me, Sparkles. It doesn’t make any fucking sense. And it doesn’t make any fucking sense why I’m telling you any of this.”
“It’s because we’re friends, now,” Glimmer says haughtily, smirking up at Catra. She groans and swats at the smaller girl’s shoulder.
“God, we are NOT friends-”
“Oh, I’m sorry, do you sit and bond over shared trauma and failures as a person with just anyone trapped on a genocidal maniac’s mothership with you?”
“... You make a fair point, honestly.”
Glimmer chuckles, and Catra lets herself shoot her a small grin in return. After a moment of silence, Glimmer speaks up again.
“For Adora’s first six months at Bright Moon, she had a curfew. She would have to be in her room by ten at night, and there were guards stationed on her balcony and outside of her door every night. She couldn’t leave unless she needed to use the bathroom or needed water, and if she was allowed to leave, she had a detail with her.”
Catra raises both of her eyebrows at this. “Uh… what?”
Glimmer nods, sadly. The look in her eye is far away, somewhere Catra doesn’t think she’s been to. “Her first week there, she tried to leave in the middle of the night. She took the sword and a bag of things and jumped from her balcony. The night guards found her halfway to the Whispering Woods, and they dragged her back. I only found out about this two years later, but apparently, my mother made her sign a contract that said she would follow all of our rules and not try and leave again or else she would be considered a traitor to the Rebellion and be arrested as a prisoner of war.”
Catra’s eyes blow wide. “... Dude, what the fuck?”
Glimmer nods. “I know. Adora never told me any of this. I was… I was looking through my mom’s old things in her office when I was getting ready for my coronation. I found the contract and a log entry of her interrogation from the night she tried to leave.”
“... Why are you telling me this?”
Glimmer turns her body fully towards Catra and looks her straight in the eye. Catra feels uncomfortable under her gaze, her firm eyes and her clarity. “She kept telling my mother that she had to go back to the Fright Zone. That there was something she had to do. Something about a promise.”
You promise? She hears herself asking, her tiny voice muffled by the blanket over her head.
I promise. Big blue eyes, messy blonde hair, and two missing teeth. A genuine smile.
Catra feels all of the air leave her lungs and she blinks back the tears that spring to her eyes, hot and wet. “I…”
“I think she was trying to go back for you. And we stopped her. I mean, think about it, though. Why would the leader of the Rebellion let the most powerful weapon on the planet leave in the middle of the night to sneak back into the headquarters of the army we were trying to bring down? I… Catra, do you really think Adora would have come all that way to get you with no She-Ra and barely a plan if you didn’t mean something to her?”
Catra furrows her eyebrows in confusion. “Uh, She-Ra was there, Sparkles. Pretty sure She-Ra is the reason I’m not fucking dead right now.”
“Did nobody tell you?” Glimmer breathes, her eyes going wide. “Oh, Catra… Adora broke the sword to stop the Heart from activating the day we were taken. Bow told me that she hadn’t been able to summon She-Ra for weeks. She didn’t have She-Ra when she went to go get you. That… honestly, that was luck. Or, whatever you want to call it.”
Catra can feel her face go numb and her blood run cold. Time stops, just for a moment, as her head swims with emotions that she can’t put words to. She didn’t have She-Ra. She wasn’t armed. She could have died.
She would have died because she went back to save her.
Catra presses the palms of her hands into her eyes and breathes out, slowly but forcefully. “Fuck.”
“No, Sparkles, I… Fuck. Are you kidding me? Is she that fucking stupid?”
Glimmer huffs out a laugh and turns away again, this time, pulling her knees up to her chin to match Catra. “Probably. You know her better than I do, though.”
Catra freezes at this. She looks down at her feet and tries to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach. “No. I don’t think I do. Not anymore.”
Catra sees Glimmer give her a look from her peripheral vision. “Sorry, did I miss the part where you didn’t grow up attached at the hip?”
“No- ugh. That’s not what I mean.” Catra licks her lips, trying to find words that don’t give any power or voice to her frustration. “She’s different, now. Adora is different.”
“And is that good, or is that bad?”
“... I don’t know.”
“What do you want it to be?”
Catra pauses at Glimmer’s words. She bites the inside of her cheek and unclenches the fist that she didn’t know had tensed up. The release of her claws from the palm of her hand stings, but in a way, it’s grounding. Catra takes a small breath in. “I didn’t see much of her when we were on Etheria. I really only saw She-Ra, and when I did, we were fighting. But… I- everything is different now, I guess. I don’t really know who Adora is now outside of, you know, everything. But, I think I want it to be good.”
“What do you mean, ‘why’?”
“Why do you want it to be good, Catra? Why do you want Adora being different to be a good thing?”
It’s a loaded question. Catra can see the double edge of the words like the sword she’s been at the end of all too many times. Catra can sense the meaning behind Glimmer’s words, the challenge of it.
Catra decides to rise to it.
“... Because I want to change. And I want it to be a good thing, too.”
Glimmer grins at her, wide and toothy, and flings her arms around Catra’s small shoulders. She flinches, briefly, before letting herself relax as much as she can into the other woman’s fierce embrace. Glimmer shoves her cheek into Catra’s bony shoulder, and Catra stays as still as possible in an attempt not to ruin a moment with someone she thinks- no, she knows- is her friend.
“You’re a good person, Catra,” Glimmer mumbles into her shirt. “You’ve done some shitty things, yeah, but so have I. But doing bad things doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Maybe I should have listened to what Adora said about you all these years, after all,” she jokes, but Catra’s ears perk up at attention.
“What?” she hisses, hushed and frantic. “What the hell did she say about me?”
“Nothing I didn’t just say.” Catra can feel the other woman smirking into her shoulder, and the smugness of her words seep into her voice. She huffs.
“Yeah, okay, whatever. Be vague. I don’t care.”
“Think you do, though.”
“What are you, a fucking mind reader?”
“No. I’m just your friend.”
“You’re not gonna let that go, are you?”
“Oh, Catra,” Glimmer sighs, lifting her head from her shoulder. “Not in a million years.” She swings her body off of the ledge and her feet hit the metal floor of the deck with a small thud. She turns to Catra, who is looking at her, bewildered, and doesn’t bother to cover the yawn that escapes her mouth.
“I’m going to sleep, and you should probably do the same. Or, at least try. But… it was nice talking to you though, Catra.” She smiles up at her, and Catra smiles back, small but genuine.
“... You know, you’re not terrible to talk to either, Sparkles.”
Glimmer snorts, turns, and begins to pad across the deck and back towards the sleeping quarters. Catra watches her walk away, groggy and slowly, and almost lets her out of her sight before she finds herself calling, “Hey, wait.”
Glimmer turns to her, an eyebrow raised and the back of her hand covering her mouth. “Hm?” she yawns back.
Catra’s ears go flat on her head, but she pushes down her embarrassment in favor of her burning curiosity. “Uh. You, um, never really told me why she’s, like, not really talking to me. I dont… I don’t really get it, still. After everything you just said.”
Glimmer smiles softly, and Catra picks up on it from the way the fluorescent lights of the control panel on the wall next to her illuminate the side of her tired face. “I think that’s a question only she can answer. Goodnight, Catra.”
Glimmer turns and disappears down the hall, leaving Catra to stare back into the abyss of dim stars and darkness engulfing them outside. She sighs and leans her head against the thick glass of the window, letting her choppy hair fall into her eyes. Glimmer’s words roll around in her head, burning and loud like a new wound.
Do you really think Adora would have come all that way to get you with no She-Ra and barely a plan if you didn’t mean something to her?
Catra lets herself think about it in the silence of her own company. Darla hums quietly underneath her, and Catra lets out another sigh, quieter this time.
She means something to Adora. Glimmer has just told her this, and she vaguely remembers Adora telling her something similar on Prime’s ship. Adora came back for her. She came back for a reason. The reason, she does not know, and she is not entirely sure that she wants to know. She has a chance at any kind of relationship with Adora now, but it’s new and it’s dangerous and it’s fragile.
But Catra wants and she wants and she wants, so badly to the point that it’s suffocating on some nights. Adora is here, she is so close, and by the way their trip back to Etheria is going, she’s going to be close for a while.
Catra would have jumped at the opportunity to be around Adora like she was before- the jokes, the teasing, the secrets, the trust. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that she didn’t miss Adora during all of these years- she did, so viscerally that it pained her.
Now, she knows that Adora might have felt the same way.
The problem is: she’s here now, with Adora, but it’s not her Adora. Adora still laughs the same, she smells the same, she still makes the same stupid fucking jokes and puns that drove Catra up the wall when they were cadets but make her heart lurch with fondness now. She still works herself into a tizzy when they’re planning for rest stops and where to gather more fuel cells. She has the same crook of her eyebrows and still pokes her tongue out of her mouth when she’s too focused or just the slightest bit confused. She’s still wearing that damn jacket.
But there is a side of Adora that Catra does not know, not in the slightest. This is the woman she’s grown into three years outside of the Horde, outside of the war, outside of her. She holds the same light in her eye, at certain moments, and she has similar but new mannerisms. This Adora is older, she is stronger, and she is powerful. This Adora doesn’t have any baby fat on her face- only sharp cheekbones, a defined jaw, and purple bags under her eyes. She is taller, she is much more muscular, and her voice is just a hint more rounded than Catra remembers it being. She has new anxieties, new priorities, a new destiny, but the same kindness. There is an edge of seriousness to her, an edge of sadness, that she has never seen in Adora before. This is a woman that Catra does not know, but knows all too well.
Something about Adora is different, and Catra is too scared to get close enough to find out what exactly it is.
She decides, against every bone in her body screaming at her not to, that she’ll be rejected, that she does not deserve to know this Adora, that she owes it to her to try.
She takes a liking to Bow almost instantly.
That is, when he’s not doting on her like she’s a fucking baby.
She, Bow, and Entrapta are squished together in the tiny maintenance room, surrounded by the hum and crank of old technology around them. Bow had mentioned to her, as he passed by her room, that he could use some help with re-aligning the air pressure’s main rotaries. She silently followed him below the deck because, well, she really had nothing better to do. Glimmer was busy trying to call her father from the depths of space, and Adora had been seated in the captain’s chair since before any of them had woken up, doodling weird symbols into a leatherback journal. Catra had decided that the best course of action would be to not bother either woman.
Entrapta is digging around a box of spare parts in the back of the maintenance room while Bow flits around her, oo-ing and ah-ing at her ears like he did while they were on Krytis. Wrong Hordak stands next to her, holding the tools that Entrapta piles into his arms with a smile on his face.
“Can I touch them?”
Catra growls. “I’m not a fucking pet,” she spits, and immediately, Bow stops.
“Right. No, you’re right. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” He turns and looks down at his data pad, humming when a blue notification about the air pressure systems pops up. He taps away while Catra stares at his back, shocked.
Nobody has ever respected her space that quickly before. Nobody, at least, besides Adora.
“Okay, Catra, can you hand me the blue wrench and the green screwdriver?” he asks, bending down to slide himself under the air pressure unit’s rotary system.
“You’re asking the colorblind person to hand you the color-labeled tools?”
“I- uh,” he stutters, looking up at her with wide eyes. “No problem. They’re in the case right next to you, and they have numbers under the slots they’re in. Five and eleven, I think.”
Catra blinks down at him. “You… you totally missed an opportunity to make fun of me.”
Bow blinks back up, his brows furrowed in confusion. “Why would I do that?”
“I mean, I make fun of you. Sometimes.”
“All the time.”
“Well,” Bow sighs, “You really can’t control being colorblind, can you?”
“Nope. I can control the fact that I wear hearts on every piece of clothing that I own because my dads make them for me, and I think they’re cute.” He shrugs. “Fashion comes with a price, and it’s a crime to look this good. Maybe you teasing me is my punishment.” With that, he slides back down and juts an open palm up at Catra. “Wrench five and screwdriver eleven, please!”
Catra rolls her eyes and turns to the large, black case in front of her. She unlatches the front hooks and opens the case, her eyes scanning for the tools needed. She grabs the both of them with the same hand and lazily pushes them into Bow’s waiting hand.
“Here,” she grumbles. He raises his thumb up at her, the rest of his fingers still wrapped around the tools.
“Want some help?”
Catra turns towards the doorway to see Adora leaning against the doorframe. She’s wearing a white tank top and black joggers that bunch at her ankles. Her muscled thighs are tight against the fabric of her pants and the strong definition of her arms bulge out at Catra from their criss-crossed position against her chest. Her hair is pulled back, as always, but the signature poof of her hair is missing. Her ponytail rests lower on her head, and strands of hair fall out and frame her face.
She’s exhausted, and she’s gorgeous.
Catra, finally, finds her voice. “Uh, I don’t think that’s really a me question.”
Adora chuckles and slides into the room, pushing a box out of her path to make her way over to the table that Catra is standing by. She leans her forearms against the case of tools and tilts her head down to look at the top of Bow’s head, who is still underneath the air pressure unit. “Hey, maintenance man. Do you want a hand, or are you guys all good here?”
“I think we’re good!” Bow’s voice calls out, muffled. Adora scrunches her eyebrows together and leans down even more.
“What did you say?”
Bow peeks his head out from underneath the machine, uncovering his mouth. “Hey! Sorry. No, I think we’re all good here, thanks. Catra’s been my buddy for the day, and she’s actually not terrible at this!”
Adora tilts her head to look up at Catra and cocks an eyebrow, a grin spreading across her face. “Is that so?”
Catra loathes the way her body heats up under Adora’s stare. “Whatever. You pick up a thing or two from Entrapta when you spend every fucking day with her for, like, a year and a half.”
A clattering sound is heard from across the room. “Catra was an adequate mechanical assistant when I needed one.” Entrapta’s voice mutters, carried softly by the echo of the room. “She had quite the affinity for it, but didn’t like following my directions. Honestly, I expected nothing less.”
Catra scoffs at her, but Adora does not react to Entrapta’s words in the slightest. She doesn’t even move her eyes towards the left side of the room, where the sound is coming from. When Catra turns her attention towards Adora again, she sees that she’s taken an interest in the data pad on the table in front of her. Her eyebrows scrunch as she taps on the screen.
The poor lighting of the room does everything to illuminate the scars that litter her body. Raised, white lines are scattered all across her arms, her chest, and her hands. Some are long and jagged, while some are short and faded. There’s a splotch of white and red that spreads across the back of Adora’s right shoulder, just barely peeking out from the strap of her tank-top, that Catra recognizes as a burn scar. There are a few angry purple and red scars, wider and newer than the rest of them, slashing across her forearm, stretching from her right thumb to her wrist, and one particularly wide one running across the width of her deltoid. The light of the room brings attention to the scar near the end of Adora’s left eyebrow, accenting the faint white line that cuts upwards through her brow.
The sides of her head are shaved, Catra notices not for the first time, and small patterns of symbols are etched onto the sides of her head. They’re foreign, and Catra is scared to ask anyone what they mean or where they came from.
Adora turns her head to the right as her body moves to plug the data pad into the outlet next to the pair. Catra grits her teeth at the sight of the three red lines that drag down the left side of Adora’s jaw.
“Catra,” Bow calls, pulling Catra out of her impending spiral. “I need the red screwdriver, but I don’t remember what number it’s labeled.”
Catra nods down at him and huffs before turning her attention to Adora, who still has one arm resting against the case of tools as she continues to tap at the data pad.
“Adora,” Catra mutters. Adora makes no move to look at Catra, nor does she even give any indication that she heard her. Catra raises both of her eyebrows.
Oh, so she’s flat out fucking ignoring her now.
“Adora,” she hisses again, louder this time. Still, no response. “Adora.” She waves a hand in front of her face, and Adora finally tilts her head to the left to look at Catra, as if nothing had just happened.
“I’ve been trying to get your attention for, like, five minutes.”
Adora’s face falls, abruptly, and her expression turns blank. “I didn’t hear you. What do you need?”
“Uh,” Catra falters, thrown by Adora’s sudden change in demeanor and expression. “Uh, Bow needs the, um, red screwdriver. It’s in the case you’re leaning on.” Adora looks down beneath her forearms and moves to turn the black case towards her.
“I can get it out. Don’t worry,” she says, unlatching the case. She finds the screwdriver with ease and leans down to hand it to Bow, who shoots another thumbs-up at them with his fingers clenched around the tool. Adora snorts.
“Try and remember the number labels next time, it’s hard to see the different colors in this light. It sucks,” she says, leaning back up to grab the data pad. She smiles softly up at Catra, who cannot focus on anything besides the roaring of her heartbeat in her ears.
Catra had always made a concerted effort to hide the fact that she was colorblind when they were younger, and as they got older, Adora would always try and find subtle ways to help her with any color-problems presented to her if they came up. One day, she had told the man working at the cadet’s cafeteria that he shouldn’t mix the different colored ration bars onto one large serving plate, and should instead separate them onto different plates so they would be easier to pick out. That habit quickly picked up- Adora telling people to organize things differently, or organize them without the use of color, in an attempt to draw attention away from Catra when she had trouble discerning certain shades of things. Ration bars, training badges, score sheets.
It was subtle, and to anyone who wasn’t aware of the real meaning behind her words, Catra had always been sure that people had just thought that Adora was being picky, or criticizing, or somewhat rude.
Now, she understands that it was a small burden that she had shouldered in an effort to make Catra feel more comfortable.
Catra takes as big of a step back from the table as she can in the small space that the four of them are cramped in. Her back hits a tower of boxes that shakes under the soft impact. Catra watches as Adora leans down to hand Bow another tool, stands to survey the room, and lets her eyes land on Catra’s frame.
“I’m going back up to the main deck to pilot,” she says, just a tad loudly. It may be the sensitivity of Catra’s ears that pick up on the volume, and Catra can’t tell if it’s on purpose or not. “Call me if you need anything, okay?”
Bow finally emerges from underneath the air pressure machine and claps his hands together as he stands fully. “No problem. Thanks, Adora!” he calls to her, cheerfully.
Adora smiles at him and turns to walk out of the room before stopping just before the doorframe. She cranes her head back, just slightly, to glance one more time at Catra. Catra shuffles her feet awkwardly under Adora’s look, but she makes an effort to offer the blonde woman a thin-lipped smile.
Adora pauses and grins back at Catra, the dimple on her left cheek curling. She holds Catra’s gaze for just a moment before turning her head and disappearing down the hall.
Catra lets out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.
“You guys… are so awkward. Wow.”
Catra turns to hiss at Bow, who holds his hands up defensively. “What? I’m just saying!”
“It’s true,” Entrapta mutters, her voice bouncing off of the walls from a new side of the room. “It’s very obvious that there are many things unsaid between the two of you, and that’s causing an emotional disconnect in your relationship that translates into social awkwardness.” She pauses. “It’s really unbearable for everyone.”
Catra scoffs and puts her hands on her hips in an attempt to be assertive. “Okay, well, it’s not entirely my fault. You were literally right there. She ignored me when I spoke to her.”
Bow stops and his face falls, just slightly. “Wait, what side of her were you standing on?”
Catra’s face bunches in confusion. “What? Why does that matter?”
“Right or left?” Bow asks again, his voice firmer. Catra cocks an eyebrow at him.
“I was standing on her left side. What does that have to do with anything?”
Bow turns to her, dipping his head slightly. “Adora’s partially deaf in her left ear.”
Catra’s ears snap flat on her head as her heart plummets. “... What? She- what?”
Bow shakes his head. “It’s harder for her to hear soft noises, but she’s told us that it’s completely manageable. Um.” He pauses for a moment and looks away, averting his eyes from Catra’s one wide stare. “We were on our way back from Elberon about a year ago when we picked up a distress signal from a village nearby. Horde bots were intercepting their wheat export and started to attack the village. Adora went in to help this family that got stuck under some rubble, but she didn’t have time to summon She-Ra. Something exploded close to them, I guess, and Adora was closer than she should have been.”
“Can’t that be healed? Magic can fix that, right?” Bow sighs and nods, looking down to fiddle with his thumbs.
“Yeah. It can. She’s refused nine healers. She has this thing where- I don’t know. Glimmer and I both think it’s insane. She doesn’t let anyone heal certain injuries or scars because she wants to ‘remember the mistakes she made’,” he says, emphasizing the last part of his sentence with finger quotation marks. He shrugs again, his eyes sad. “I mean, you can’t have missed the way she limps around the ship sometimes. It’s when her ankle is acting up. She snapped it clean in half when she was helping evacuate Krentia during another bot attack, and didn’t let anyone heal her. It never really healed properly.”
Adora had always been somewhat of a stickler for health. She had a terrible habit of flitting around the other cadets in their squad after a training session to make sure that none of them had any serious injuries, and if they did, she wouldn’t leave them alone until they had hobbled into the medical bay. Catra had always known Adora to take her own health seriously- she woke up at the same time every day, had the same routine, took the pills that the medical bay had prescribed to her, refilled her canister of water six times each day, and had a first aid kit laying underneath her- their- bunk.
Adora took vitamins. She volunteered herself first for the routine mandatory check-ups that cadets were subjected to. She never over-ate or under-ate. She stretched before she exercised. She slathered healing balm all over her body after particularly rough days, and Catra can still hear her voice, higher at seventeen, chiding, “You know, if you wake up with a bruised back tomorrow, don’t come crying to me when General Marx kicks your ass.”
This is another part of Adora that she does not know at all- something new- and it terrifies her to her core.
Catra fights the cold numbness spreading her body and nods, slow and shaky. “She, um. She has a bunch of scars on her arms. And her hands. And the… the ones on her jaw.”
“I… Bow, I don’t-”
“You don’t have to,” he cuts in softly. Catra clenches her jaw and wraps her arms around her torso, trying to steel herself from succumbing to the continually sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. “It’s okay. Honestly, Catra. It’s okay.”
Catra nods and ignores the lump lodged in her throat. “It’s... really fucked up.”
Bow huffs out a small, sad laugh. He cocks and eyebrow at her and smiles, his expression not quite reaching his eyes. “I think,” he starts slowly, “That this war has done a lot more to us than we thought it did. Well, that and other things.”
“What other things?”
“It’s not just the fighting that hurts us, I think. It’s the things that come after. You know, the loss. The… the tolls. I think we all have to deal with it in different ways to get by, sometimes. Now that I think about it, I think each of us has lost someone. Entrapta lost Hordak,” he says, his nose wrinkling in confusion. “Whatever was going on there. I lost my only sister to the war, but I’m still thankful for my twelve brothers. Glimmer…”
“I know. Trust me, I… I know.”
Bow nods and doesn’t speak more on the matter. Catra, silently, is grateful.
“Am I right to say that you lost Adora?”
Catra goes still for a moment before nodding slowly. “Yeah. I think you are. The day she decided to leave.”
“Catra, I really don’t think she felt that she had much of a choice.”
“It doesn’t matter how she felt about it,” Catra snaps, her tail going rigid. “She still did it. She still made that choice.” She berates herself mentally for the harsh tone of her voice, but it’s too late to change it.
Bow sighs and takes a step back from her. He kicks the lone screw by his foot across the room, and it clatters against the metal of the machinery nearby. “I… I don’t think that’s completely true. I’m not going to try and overstep. It’s not my place. But, I think that you really should try and consider things from her side.”
“I’m not asking you just as Adora’s friend. I’m asking you as your friend, too. Okay?”
Bow looks down at her, his eyes wide but firm. He’s pleading with her, Catra can tell, silently. He’s asking her to trust him, to trust herself. Bow is kind, he is nice, and he is genuine. That much, Catra can easily tell. This man will not try to trick her, deceive her, or lie to her. There is nothing to gain from doing so, and at this point, Catra has nothing but something to gain from trusting him. Catra’s really in no position to refute him.
“Yeah,” she spits. “Okay. Whatever.”
“Good,” he smiles, turning away. “I need to go and check the air pressure monitor on the main deck. You wanna come?”
Catra shrugs. “I got nothing better to do, anyway.” Bow chuckles and turns to lead them out of the maintenance room, but stops abruptly.
“I’m still not trying to overstep,” he says softly to her. “So, I’ll put it like this. You lost Adora. But, I don’t think you’ve ever stopped to consider that Adora lost you, too. That’s… I don’t think that’s something she ever wanted.”
Catra freezes in her step.
He’s right. She hadn’t considered that. She had been so consumed by her own rage, her own pain, her loneliness, her confusion as to why she felt so strongly about Adora’s departure. She had not once, nor had she considered to do so, stop to really think about if Adora had actually missed her or not.
That much, however, is becoming clear as the days and nights blur together on the ship.
Catra turns her attention to Bow. “What?”
“It’s a message from Adora,” he says, pointing to the data pad in his hand. His eyes are wide, visible with fear. “We need to go up to the main deck. Something’s wrong.”
“NOT DARLA!” Entrapta screams, running past them in a blur of purple.
She and Bow run up the stairs towards the deck at break-neck speed. Glimmer slides into the room just after them from the entrance at the other hall, eyes alert and hair rumpled.
“This better be good enough to interrupt my nap,” she grumbles. Catra sees Adora still in the captain’s chair, her arms laying on either side of the armrests. One of her fists is curled, and her left foot taps quickly on the metal floor.
Entrapta flies past Adora and towards the main control panel system, running from each console to check for problems. “What is it, Adora? Another air pressure malfunction? That’s unlikely, because Bow and Catra just fixed it. Are we low on fuel cells, again? Or, are we-”
“The manual piloting controls are locked,” Adora spits. “And I don’t know what happened.” The tone of her voice is harsh and quipped, causing everyone in the room to still. Glimmer and Bow share a nervous look out of the corner of Catra’s eye.
Adora sighs, standing from her chair to turn to the group. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I just- it was fine one minute, and the next, it wouldn’t let me pilot anything. I managed to get the autopilot system set up, but it won’t last forever.”
Glimmer and Bow both step forward, their words twisting around each other.
“Maybe we can re-route the central command unit to the-”
“- turn the autopilot off and reset the day’s first entry log, maybe it’ll-”
“- need a way to get around the firewall for the alternate-”
Entrapta decides to jump in.
“Oh! We should look in the auxiliary room for the emergency co-”
“Stop,” Adora interrupts, her expression thoughtful. Her eyebrows are pushed together as she looks down and to the side, and Catra recognizes that Adora is trying to recall something. “I know what to do.”
Entrapta cocks her head at Adora and then nods, stepping away from the main control panels. Adora steps onto the ledge of the captain’s seat and lowers herself in, slowly, her eyes set and her jaw clenched. Glimmer and Bow both take a step back from the chair and share a look with each other. Glimmer’s eyes catch Catra’s, and she doesn’t miss the lingering look of concern on her face.
When Adora opens her mouth, she speaks in a language that Catra does not recognize. The ship whirs to life at Adora’s words, the lights turning pink- something Catra has not seen it do before. A hologram sputters into light in front of Adora, displaying unknown symbols and glyphs in a pattern in front of her. Adora reaches into the hologram and begins arranging each of them into different patterns, connecting and moving the shapes and symbols around her. When she’s finished, she presses down on a button on the arm of the chair and speaks again in the strange language. The holograms turn green and fade away.
“Override command detected. This course of action is locked, and only accessible through the administrator’s master passcode. Please enter the master passcode.”
Adora’s tongue forms around strange words, and the bottom panel near the captain’s chair opens below her feet. A cylinder with a slit at the top rises from the open panel and stops just at the height of Adora’s knees.
“She-Ra, please place Runestone technology into the chamber for access to the Past-Life Pilot Program.”
Adora’s hand rises from the arm of the chair and she splays her fingers out. Her eyes fall closed with concentration and her brow creases with frustration as blue light flickers in front of her hand. Finally, the sword materializes from light in front of her, and Adora grabs the golden hilt. She stands from her chair, sword in hand, and slides the blade into the slit of the cylinder. When she twists the sword to the left, a symbol flickers to life in front of her in a new hologram.
“Please confirm that this is the temporary pilot you wish to utilize.”
Adora’s fingers press into the hologram, and it disappears. The lights in the ship turn green at the action, and Adora pulls the sword out of the cylinder. The cylinder rotates back into the open panel below her, and the door of the panel slides shut.
“Administrator action confirmed. The Past-Life Pilot Program has been activated. Please refrain from touching the main deck’s control panels, the manual pilot controls, and the emergency landing panel. This program will be active until the administrator’s master passcode is utilized again.”
Adora heaves out a breath and drops to her knees. The sword clatters out of her hands and onto the floor, disappearing after only a moment. Glimmer rushes forward to grab Adora’s shoulders and help her sit back in the captain’s chair.
“You got the sword,” Glimmer mutters, her eyes flickering over Adora’s body. Adora nods weakly and gently bats the other woman away, bringing a hand up to drag down her face. Catra notices the light sheen of sweat on Adora’s forehead and the exhausted look in her eyes.
“Yeah. I… I think I need to take a nap now, though,” she slurs, hoisting herself out of her seat. She stumbles, just for a moment, but it’s long enough that both Bow and Catra both lunge forward and brace themselves to catch one hundred and sixty pounds of muscle.
Adora doesn’t fall, though. She straightens herself up and shakily steps off of the platform where the chair is elevated. She meets Catra’s eyes, briefly, before turning away quickly as she makes her way towards the hall of sleeping quarters. “I’ll be back in an hour. Wake me up if anything changes.”
“What exactly did you do, Adora?” Entrapta calls at her. Adora stops and cranes her neck back to look at the three of them still on the main deck. Catra’s stomach sinks at the look in her eye.
“It’s Mara’s ship, not ours. I thought that she’d want to fly for a while. I’ve been doing my reading.”
Adora’s frame is gone from view in seconds.
“I didn’t know that was a thing,” Entrapta grumbles, stomping over to sit in the captain’s chair. Bow shakes his head.
“Me, neither,” he exhales, his eyes wide. Glimmer hums.
“She’s overworking herself again. That’s the first time she’s been able to summon the sword fully since Prime’s ships attacked us,” she says, her face etched with concern. Catra scoffs.
“She’s always been like this. It’s not new. You just need to let her recharge herself. She’ll be fine when she wakes up,” she says to the pair, cocking an eyebrow at them. Glimmer shakes her head.
“I… well, she used to be like that, I guess. When we first met her. Now, though…” she trails off, looking to Bow to finish her sentence.
“She just gets worse,” he supplies, his eyes dark. Catra gulps.
“What do you mean, ‘worse’?”
“It’s, like, ugh,” Glimmer flails, dropping her head. “She’ll just go and go and go, and when we tell her to take a break, sometimes she does, but she just always ends up more tired and anxious and… I don’t know.”
“She doesn’t sleep well anymore, either,” Bow adds, crossing his arms. “Well,” he corrects, turning to Glimmer. “She didn’t sleep well when we first met her, either.”
“Always sleep-fighting,” Catra whispers under her breath. Glimmer smiles sadly up at her.
“I don’t even think she sleeps at all. I had to carry her to bed one time because she passed out in the middle of an Alliance meeting while you two were, uh… when you were still, uh-”
“Being held hostage by Horde Prime?” Catra cuts in, smiling ruefully at Bow. He nods sheepishly and rubs the back of his neck.
“Yeah. That. It’s not the first time that it’s happened, though. I had to help her to her room last week when I found her on the floor in the kitchen.”
Both Glimmer and Catra’s eyes go wide. “Bow,” Glimmer starts, her voice low. “Why didn’t you-”
“She made me swear not to tell anyone!” he yelps, raising both of his hands defensively. “Listen, you know I love Adora, but she can be really scary. She’s just so tall.”
“And ripped,” Catra snorts. A blush crawls across her cheeks when Glimmer and Bow both turn to her, surprised.
“Uh, wasn’t really going down that route, but everyone has their own things, I guess,” Bow laughs weakly, scratching his head. Catra’s tail bristles as she fights down the feeling of anger that rises up inside of her chest.
“It is not- ”
“Hey, I’m not blind, but I also don’t judge,” Bow says cooly. Catra grimaces at him, and he takes it as his cue to walk away.
“Remember what I said earlier!” he yells behind him. He follows Adora’s path to the hall of sleeping quarters, leaving Glimmer, Catra, and Entrapta alone on the main deck.
“What did he say earlier?” Glimmer asks. Catra smirks at her, recalling their midnight conversation from a few weeks ago.
“Nothing you didn’t say earlier.”
Catra can’t sleep again.
It’s not like it’s new.
They're about four months into their journey back to Etheria, and they’re due to arrive at the blockade surrounding the planet any day, now. Melog is sound asleep in her quarters, and didn’t stir when she slid out of bed for a walk to clear her head of green and white and black and then nothing and-
The door to the main deck slides open, and the smell of alcohol hits Catra first.
Adora is sitting in the captain’s chair, and Catra can tell from the humming that she recognizes as coming from Adora’s low voice. It’s a song she doesn’t recognize. Catra moves towards the right side of the room as she walks slowly towards the chair, making her steps exaggeratedly loud to ensure that Adora can hear her coming.
She stops just next to the chair, but Adora doesn’t make any move to greet her. Instead, she says: “I heard the door slide open. It’s okay.”
Her leg is pulled up to let her chin rest on her knee. The chair is large, large enough for two people to sit in it, if they really wanted to. Next to her on the chair is that leatherback book that she’s been drawing in for the past couple of weeks. On the armrest beside her is a glass filled with brown liquid, and Catra already knows what it is.
“Since when did you start drinking?” Catra can’t stop the words before they exit her mouth.
Adora quirks an eyebrow up, her eyes not yet lifting from the book to meet her own. “I came to learn that parties aren’t fun without alcohol pretty quickly. Alcohol makes parties fun, so it must make other things fun.” Adora shrugs, and her hand begins to move across the page again. “I was right.”
“... Are you drunk?”
“No,” Adora says quickly, as if she had been expecting the question. “I can’t get drunk off of whiskey. Also found that out pretty quickly. Magical tolerance, or whatever. I can get a nice buzz going, though.” She huffs and moves to erase something on the page she has open. “We all have our vices, I guess.”
Catra hums, unsure of how to respond. Adora hasn’t asked her to leave or pushed her away, so she takes it as a silent invitation to take a step closer. When she does, she’s able to peer over Adora’s shoulder and look at the page she has open. She’s drawing a litany of tiny symbols, the same ones-
“- Same ones from the ship,” Catra mutters. This time, Adora finally cranes her neck up to look at Catra. “Those symbols are the same ones the ship had earlier. When you did the thing with the sword.”
Adora shakes her head. “No, these are different. It’s all First One’s language, though. Here,” she says softly, lifting her journal more towards Catra. She lifts a finger to drag along the page as she speaks. “The branch is the start of a new word. The dots on either side mean the start and end of the word. The shapes beneath it are consonants, and you have to read them from right to left.”
“Huh,” Catra says. “Wish I had known that before.” It’s a poor attempt at a joke, and she regrets it as soon as the words start to leave her mouth. Thankfully, though, Adora chuckles and snaps her journal closed.
“It’s helpful, sure. Especially with how old this ship is.”
“This is a First One’s ship?”
Adora nods. “It belonged to the She-Ra before me.”
“Mara,” Catra recalls, and Adora nods again. “When did you have time to learn an entire dead language? I knew you were always kind of a nerd, but that’s pretty extreme.”
Adora goes still, and Catra’s mind races through a backtrack of her words to see if she’s said something wrong. Was it calling her a nerd? Is it too soon for that? Is that some kind of Bright Moon slur?
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before,” Adora starts, her voice shaky. “A baby is born with the sole purpose of becoming a weapon to end the war of all wars, is taken from her home planet through a portal by a sentient piece of First One’s technology to make sure she does it, and ends up growing up in the genocidal military cult that she was born to end. What’s the punchline?”
Catra’s mouth sputters open, and she forces her jaw shut. “... I-”
“The punchline-,” Adora laughs, holding up two thumbs and pointing them towards her head, “- is that she was born with the ability to read First One’s writing, but she doesn’t know if it’s because she’s the weapon or because she’s a First One.”
Catra tries to find words through the panic growing in her mind, and when she does, what comes out is: “That was a really shitty joke, Adora.”
But Adora throws her head back, cackles darkly, and reaches towards the cup of whiskey on the armrest. “Yeah, I know. You were always the funnier one.”
Catra hums in agreement. “Glad to see that hasn’t changed. But, I thought that Shadow Weaver brought you through that portal?”
Adora shakes her head and takes a sip from her glass. “No, she lied. Of course she lied. I- wait, you weren’t there for that. How did you know that?”
Catra looks anywhere that’s not Adora’s inquisitive face. “The cameras in the secure rooms are always recording, you know,” she grumbles.
“Okay, stalker. Whatever.” They lapse into silence for a few moments, before Adora asks, “Do you want some?” She holds her glass out towards Catra, who shakes her head.
“Uh, no, thanks. I’m not really a fan of that stuff. I’m more of a smoker, though.”
“Yeah,” Adora grins. “I tried that stuff, and I couldn’t breathe for the next hour. Sounds like you, though. At least sit down. The floor is freezing, and you’re not wearing socks.”
Adora pats the armrest to her right, scooting towards the other end of the seat to make room for Catra’s legs. Catra hesitates, just for a moment, before meeting Adora’s eyes and seeing the genuine expression on her face. She jumps slightly to make sure that she reaches the armrest before settling into the back of the chair, one leg dangling off the edge, the other resting on the seat of the chair.
Catra doesn’t know what to say. She didn’t expect to actually have a full conversation with Adora tonight, let alone sit with her. Alone. Together. She tries again to find words, but fails, and she braces herself for the awkwardness that is sure to suffocate her.
“Can’t sleep?” she finally settles on. Adora’s shoulders shake with a forced laugh.
“You could say that.”
“Bad dreams, then?” Catra is careful not to overstep, but still, she wants and she wants and she wants.
Adora licks her lips, and her expression turns thoughtful. “They’re not dreams. They’re... I guess, more like visions? I don’t know. But, they’re not helpful, and they’re not fun. So,” she sighs, “I stay up when I can. Someone has to watch our course, anyway.” She cocks an eyebrow up at Catra. “You?”
Catra wants to say, I can’t stop thinking about you. Everything you do makes me confused and nervous and excited, and I’m happy to be around you again, but I don’t know if you forgive me and I don’t know how you feel about me. Everyone keeps talking to me about you and you’re so different, and I don’t know what to do, and I lose sleep because I want you to hold me like you did that first night and I love you. I’m sorry. I love you.
Catra clenches her jaw. “Bad dreams,” she grits out instead. If Adora notices her tension, she doesn’t comment on it.
“Glimmer said that she told you about the sword.”
Catra glances to her left at Adora, who is swirling the alcohol in her glass. “Yeah,” Catra replies slowly. “She did.”
“Hm. I… I guess there’s a lot to catch you up on then, huh?” Adora huffs, a sad grin spreading across her face. Catra reaches out to gently kick her foot against Adora’s shoulder, grabbing her attention from the cup.
“You can, you know. Catch me up.” Catra cringes at herself, before adding, “If you want, I mean.”
Adora nods and sets the glass down. She huffs out a soft laugh and rests her head against the back of the chair, closing her eyes. “It’s a long story. Like, it’s a really long story.”
Catra exhales and braces herself. “I’m not going anywhere,” she says softly, and she means it. “I’ve got time.”
Adora opens her eyes and turns fully to look at Catra, her eyes wide with surprise and hopefulness. “Yeah?” she breathes.
“Yeah. I’ve got time.” Catra smiles down at her, and it’s small, just like the other ones she’s been giving. But this one is easy for her, it’s genuine, and she hopes that it conveys the truth that she tried to put into her words.
“Well,” Adora nods slowly, taking a long sip from her glass. “Okay.”
An hour passes. Maybe two. Maybe more, but Catra doesn’t care to keep track. She listens to Adora tell her about the visions she started having when she first became She-Ra, someone named Madame Razz, and visions of Mara. She waves her hands around, just like she did when they were growing up, as she speaks, telling her about the First One’s citadel and someone named Light Hope and the weapon that She-Ra was created to wield. She tells Catra about the vision she was shown of the portal, and she uses the word ‘alien’ a few times in reference to herself as a poor attempt to lighten either the mood in the room or her own as she continues. Her cheeks are red, her eyes flit between sad and angry, and she speaks quickly, with purpose. Like the words will hurt her if she lingers on them for too long.
She clenches her jaw as she tells Catra about being forced to activate the Heart and forcing the planet out of a dimension called Despondos, and she cuts herself off at the first mention of the physical pain that she had felt, instead pointing to the First One’s symbols seared onto the sides of her head. She tells her about shattering the sword- on purpose- in an attempt to stop it before the Heart killed everyone. She tells her about the research she did at Bow’s fathers’ house, reading about She-Ra and the abilities that she had not yet understood or even discovered. She tells her that She-Ra can heal people, can resuscitate people, can create life and nature and lift an entire city if she wanted to, and she finishes with:
“- and now, I can’t even fucking summon her.” Adora flops down into the chair, exhaling harshly. “And it’s, you know, great. Fucking great. Like we’re not in the middle of a fucking war, or anything.”
Catra’s eyes go wide. “Okay, number one: wow. That’s, uh, a lot. Shit. Number two: I’ve never heard you curse like that in my life. Maybe you haven’t gone soft, after all.”
Adora chuckles darkly. “I’m so covered in scars that I look like that knife-throwing board that was in the weapon’s room that we used to sneak into all the time. No, I don’t think I went soft at all.”
Catra chuckles and mirrors Adora’s movement, sliding back into her position on the armrest. “You mean the one we would hide in when we wanted to scare Kyle on the way to block lunch?”
Adora snaps her fingers. “That’s the one.”
Catra laughs, and Adora joins in, soft and nostalgic and painful. They fall into another silence, but this time, Catra feels anything but awkward. It’s nice being able to talk to Adora like this again, to be able to laugh with her and be near her. To trust her, and to have her trust her back.
“It must have been nice, though, having all of those parties thrown about you,” Catra sighs, resting propping her elbow up on her knee to rest her chin on her palm. “She-Ra-themed cake, huh? I don’t think I’d mind eating one of those.”
Adora seemingly ignores the innuendo at the same time that Catra catches it and bites the inside of her cheek. “I guess,” she mumbles, looking down into her lap.
Catra rolls her eyes. “Oh, come on. You don’t have to be humble. You’ve saved a bunch of people. It’s gotta be fun when they throw themselves at you afterwards.”
Adora shakes her head sharply. “Actually, no. It’s really not. It was fun, at first, but things got more serious and I don’t enjoy them anymore.”
Catra huffs and rolls her eyes again. “Give me a break, Adora. You’ve always loved being the center of attention. That was literally your thing back in the Ho-”
“Do you think I wanted this?”
Adora is looking at her fully now, her eyes wide and alive with fire and anger. Catra jolts backwards, almost falling off of the armrest. “Woah, hey, I didn’t-”
“You actually think that this is something that I wanted? To be this- this… this?” she yells, her voice raising in volume. She gestures wildly to herself, scars and burns and wounds.
Catra gulps and trembles, leaning back as much as she can from Adora. “I- I didn’t, Adora, I didn’t-”
“No, you didn’t,” she spits, standing abruptly from her seat. She paces a few steps away from the chair, her back turned to Catra. Catra clenches both of her fists tight, and she feels blood spill into her palms from the cuts that her claws open.
“I didn’t- God,” Adora laughs, running a hand over her hair. “I didn’t want this. Not this. Catra, I hate being She-Ra. I hate it. I really thought…” she trails off and turns back to Catra, her face red and her eyes brimming with unshed tears. “I thought that you of all people would understand that.”
Catra finally finds her voice, and when she does, she finds that her anger comes with it. “No, I don’t understand,” she cuts back, standing to meet Adora’s posture. “I didn’t, and I still don’t. You left without a second thought, and then you decide to come back and play the hero because you feel guilty about me, or whatever. I was in trouble. Of course you had to go and play the hero. It’s what you do.”
Catra knows that this isn’t true. She believes Bow, and she believes Glimmer. She wants to believe Adora, she does, but her insecurities bubble quickly to the surface before she even has time to count them.
Adora’s expression shatters Catra’s heart. “What is it about me that makes you think that? What the hell did I do to make you believe that I get off on this? Do you actually believe that? Are you serious?” Her voice is softer, now, but it cracks with emotion.
The old Catra sees an opening, and she takes it.
“What makes me think that?” Catra parrots back, stepping closer to Adora’s shaking frame. Her body trembles again, but this time, with anger. She ignores the pang in her heart when a tear slides down Adora’s face. “You left! You left me! What was I supposed to think? You left me without a second thought to go be a princess with your brand new friends and you didn’t even stop to-”
“I didn’t want to leave!”
“You think I- fuck. FUCK!” Adora yells, curling in on herself. Catra fights the instinct to reach out and take her into her arms. She stays rooted where she is, ears flattened onto her head and tail rigid.
“I didn’t want to leave. Catra, I- God. I didn’t want to leave. It hurt me so badly that I couldn’t sleep for months. Every time I saw you was like a slap to the face. You were so quick to see me as your enemy, and it… it hurt, Catra. It hurt. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave you.” Adora’s eyes are wide and frantic, now, tears flowing freely down her face. She takes a step towards Catra, who takes a step back from her.
“But you did,” she says softly, her eyes dropping to look at Adora’s feet. “You left anyway.”
Adora runs a hand over her ponytail, and the frantic expression comes back onto her face. “Of course I did. Of course I had to leave. I- what the fuck else was I supposed to do?” Catra opens her mouth to respond, but Adora raises both hands at her. Her movements are wild and harsh. She doesn’t recognize the woman in front of her as Adora- this is a woman who is angry, sad, and burdened.
This is the difference. This is what’s different about Adora. It hits Catra like a punch to the gut as her face drops, any anger left in her seeping out of her skin and disappearing.
“What else could I have done?” she mutters to herself, both of her hands clasping together to rest on top of her head. Catra watches as she begins to pace again.
“If I went back, the sword would have found me again. Or, Light Hope. Or, Shadow Weaver would have found out about the sword and used She-Ra for the Horde. I knew they were bad. You knew they were bad,” she says, looking at Catra. She lets out a watery laugh and turns back fully towards Catra.
“If I had stayed, that fucking sword would have found me again. The war would go on, and the Horde would have already won with She-Ra. I- tell me what you would do if you touched a sword in the forest that turned you into an eight-foot tall princess, and then some voice starts talking to you and telling you about some magical fucking destiny and being a weapon and all of this shit that you never knew about yourself. How you’re supposed to bring balance to the world, or whatever. That it’s the only reason you even exist. What do you do, Catra? What the fuck would you do?”
Adora’s words fumble into each other, hurried and frenzied. Her cheeks are stained with tears and her eyes are wide, boring into Catra’s own eyes, which are blurred with tears of her own. Catra sucks a breath in and thinks . “... I don’t know.”
Adora laughs bitterly, and Catra hates the sound of her voice. “Exactly. You don’t know. Nobody knows. Do you- do you think I got to choose? Do you think I chose this? I didn’t have a fucking say. I wake up one day, and suddenly, I have the power to wield this divine fucking all-powerful princess magic, and then I find out that that’s the only reason I’m alive. I’m alive so that my body can be used to host some magical fucking spirit that already has a plan and a motive and a goal. I don’t get off on being She-Ra, Catra. I never have. I hate it, I can’t stand it, and I never wanted it in the first place. But it’s me!” she laughs through tears, propping her hands on her knees as she bends over. “It’s me. Of course it’s me. And it’s just my fucking luck, too.”
Catra stumbles forward, desperate to do something, to say anything. But she doesn’t know what to do, not for this Adora- this woman who is older and scarred and angry and sad and burdened, threatening to collapse under some invisible weight that she has been forced to shoulder.
“I don’t like playing the hero, but I have to be. I have to. People look up to She-Ra, and they depend on She-Ra, and I have She-Ra, so it has to be me. I’ve been asking myself why for years and I don’t know. But it’s me, Catra.” Tears start falling down her cheeks again, and her smile is forced and painful. “It has to be me. It’s out of my control, and it’s not what I ever wanted, but it has to be me. And I’m trying, I’m trying so hard to be what people need me to be, but I can’t- Catra, I can’t do this anymore, I don’t know how to do this, I don’t want- I- I can’t-”
Catra finally lunges forward to grab Adora before her knees hit the ground. Her tall frame shakes as she sobs, burning her face into the crook of Catra’s neck. She clings at her like a lifeline, like if she lets go, Catra will disappear again or fade away or leave.
”I’m scared, Catra,” Adora cries into her shoulder. Her teeth are clenched and her jaw is tight with pain. “I’m scared. I don’t even know if I’m going to see the end of this war, and I’m scared, and you’re here now, and I missed you so much, but it makes me nervous and- and I’m scared. I’m so scared.”
”I’m here, now,” Catra agrees quietly. Adora nods into her, another sob wracking through her body. Catra’s heart seizes at her words, shaky and leaking with vulnerability. She decides to read into them later, wanting to focus on the moment. On Adora. “I’m here. We’re here. We’ll figure it out. We’ll- you hear me? We’ll figure it out, Adora. Okay?”
She snakes her arms around Adora’s shoulders and slowly lowers them to the ground as Adora continues to cry, her sobs quiet but violent. Catra remembers the times where Adora has cried to her, in their childhood, smashing her face into Catra’s stomach as she cried over some criticism or punishment or painful inconvenience of the day. She remembers the way Adora had always been soothed when she started to run her fingers through her hair.
Catra slowly reaches up towards Adora’s low ponytail to gently pull the hair tie away, freeing blonde locks and letting them drape over her broad shoulders. Shaking fingers come up to her scalp and begin to drag their way through Adora’s hair, freeing themselves from any knots or tangles that come up in their path. They start their path again once the last bit of hair slinks out between long fingers, and Catra begins to calm down when she realizes that Adora is, too. Her breaths are longer and deeper, and her shoulders begin to shake less and less.
Catra lets the weight of Adora’s body push her down onto the floor, and she bites back the hiss that bubbles in her throat when cold metal touches her shoulders and arms. She lays back fully onto the floor and pulls Adora down with her, slow and gentle, in an effort to keep her calm. Adora keeps her head buried into the crook of Catra’s neck. When she feels that her body has relaxed enough, and when the last of her sobs leave her body, Catra breathes in.
“You asked me to come with you, and I said no. You asked me so many times,” she says softly into Adora’s hair. She feels Adora take a shaky breath in, her chest expanding with the force of it.
“I know,” she breathes back to her. Catra doesn’t fight back the tears that spring to her eyes, this time.
“I said no. I was so mad at you, Adora. I just… it hurt. It hurt like nothing I had ever felt before.” Adora nods weakly against Catra’s neck.
“I’m sorry,” she whimpers, her body tensing again. Catra’s heart picks up as her blood runs cold at the thought of upsetting Adora again. She brings her hand back up to Adora’s hair and begins to run her fingers through soft hair once more.
“Don’t be,” Catra whispers. “Don’t be. Adora, I… I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. But I do now, okay? I do now. I understand why. Don’t be sorry.” She presses her lips to the top of Adora’s head and breathes in her scent, sweat and earth and something so distinctly her. “Don’t be sorry. I understand. I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
Adora laughs weakly into her collarbone. “You already apologized for everything. We’ve both hurt each other.”
Catra laughs at that, low and breathy. She feels Adora’s lips move into a smile against her skin, and her heart flutters at the softness and at the feeling. “Yeah,” she says into her hair. “We’ve really done a number on each other.”
“Do you think we’re gonna be okay?” Adora mutters into her neck. Catra huffs out a laugh through watery eyes and a trembling frame.
“I know we will be, dummy,” she whispers back, pressing her lips onto the top of Adora’s head.
Adora brings a hand up to rest just above Catra’s heart, and Catra brings her own hand up to press against the small of Adora’s back.
“I’m sorry I’ve been... you know. Kind of avoiding you,” Adora says slowly, her voice now even but still muffled. Catra hums in response, continuing the comb of her fingers through wheat hair.
”Can’t say it hasn’t sucked.”
Adora’s fist tightens above Catra’s heart. “I’m sorry for that, too. It’s just- it’s a lot, you know? I... you make me nervous.” Catra cocks an eyebrow at that and tilts her head down to peek at Adora’s head.
”Nervous?” Her voice seeps with cockiness, and she hopes that the playful tilt of her tone keeps Adora from spiraling back into her own head. It must work, because Adora just huffs.
”I don’t really know how to do this. This. You’re here, and I feel like I can finally breathe again, but. I don’t know. Things are different. I don’t... I don’t know how to do this.”
Catra bites her tongue hard enough that she tastes copper. Adora’s words have a meaning to them, a meaning that she wants so badly to be true but is scared that she’s read wrong. She wants to ask Adora what this is, what they are, ask her what Glimmer meant by Catra meaning something to her. Her hand stops to cradle Adora’s head further into her neck, and she buries her nose fully into Adora’s hair. “We’ll figure this out, too. Okay?”
Slowly, Adora nods. Stray strands of hair fall forward onto Catra’s chest. “Okay.”
The cold metal of the floor beneath Catra is warm now from the heat of her skin. Adora relaxes on top of her and curls slightly further into her, her lips heavy against Catra’s neck, her knee propped up against her thigh, and an arm slung around her waist. Catra presses her lips to Adora’s head once more, trying with everything that she can to put meaning into the action.
Adora’s breathing evens out after a few moments, and Catra feels her own eyes grow heavy with exhaustion. The stars surrounding the ship flicker through the glass of the window, and the darkness encompassing the both of them contrasts against the colors of the planets and stars that dance through space around them.
When Catra falls asleep on the floor of the ship, Adora snuggled into her, she feels peace for the first time in three years.
She feels love.