“Clouds? They seriously have a cloud beach here?”
Catra gaped at the ocean of white before her. It was like a mist settling over a field of snow. It unnerved her to think that if one were to walk too far out, they would fall under, pulled finally to the ground far below, never to resurface. This might be worse than actual water, she thought sourly.
Glimmer chuckled and put an arm around Catra’s shoulder. “Wait ‘til you see the healing springs.” she said with a wink. Catra groaned.
“Oooooh! I can’t wait to soak all my cares away! This was such a good idea, Catra.” Bow exclaimed, wrapping an arm around Catra’s other shoulder.
“Yeah! You always have the best ideas! We should really listen to you more often.” Glimmer added, hugging her more tightly.
Catra blushed and looked away, still shy about being so kindly praised and touched in such an affectionate way. She had been getting better about the hugging; she no longer felt the intense need to slip out of peoples’ grasps when they held her, at least not with Bow and Glimmer. The way their rough fingers ruffled her fur was not making it easy though. “Yeah, well, I figured we could all use a… morale boost.” She grumbled.
The Best Friend Squad had decided to take a few days off and take a trip to Mystacor for some well-deserved relaxation. It had been Adora’s idea, but Catra had been the one to make it happen. It was something Adora had mentioned to her and she simply couldn’t get it out of her head. The last time she had been to Mystacor was… not something she wanted to relive, and she was more excited than she thought she ought to be by the prospect of making some good memories here. In fact, she was excited to begin to rewrite bad memories in all the places she had once tried to destroy.
They all worked so hard putting everyone else’s lives back together; Catra reasoned that they deserved to be pampered for a few days. Especially Adora, she thought. Adora had been giving far too much of herself to the people of Etheria in the past few months, to the point where Catra often found herself interceding on her behalf. No, She-Ra will not help you rebuild your fence. No she will not find your lost dog. No, she won’t help you sow your fields, do it yourself! She’s been working all day. Let her rest! If one more person tries to rope you into fixing their problems, I’m going to– Everyone on the planet seemed to believe it was She-Ra’s job to solve all of their banal little conundrums. She knew Adora could not say no. Catra on the other hand, had no problem telling off the people of Etheria; with threats of violence, if it came to it. The first few times she had done this, Adora had protested, because of course she had. But after a while, she began to seem… grateful for Catra’s intervention. Adora was exhausted, anyone who was actually paying attention could see that. She deserved better, and all Catra wanted was to give Adora what she deserved. She wanted to give Adora the time and care that Adora gave to everyone else. Of course, Catra didn’t actually believe that Adora was capable of relaxing even for a second, but at the very least it would be funny to watch her try. Perhaps for just a little while they could think about something other than reconstructing towns and wrangling clones.
“Oh this is going to be so much fun!” Glimmer squealed, hugging Catra more enthusiastically. Catra suppressed the urge to flex her claws into Glimmer’s side. “We’re going to relax on the beach, get rejuvenated in the hot springs, get pampered in the spa. And Aunt Casta’s going to be…. Oh! Aunt Casta! I forgot to tell her we were coming!”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy to see us. I mean, when is she ever not happy to see us?” Bow said amicably.
Glimmer groaned and released her hold on Catra, extending a hand out to Bow. “Come on, we’d better go find her.”
Bow smiled, gave Catra one last gentle squeeze, and took Glimmer’s hand. In the blink of an eye, they were gone. Catra shook her head, suppressing a grin, and turned to Adora, who she noticed had been suspiciously quiet since they arrived. She was surprised to see a thoughtful, almost uncomfortable expression on Adora’s face.
“Hey, are you okay?” she asked, lowering her voice. She was using her gentlest tone, the one she reserved only for Adora’s ears.
Adora turned to look at her, startled out of her reverie. “Yeah… yeah, I’m okay.”
Catra raised an eyebrow at her.
“Aw, are you worried about me? That is so sweet.” Adora said teasingly, nudging her with her shoulder.
Catra chuckled and bumped her back playfully. “Yeah, well, we’ve already established that I’m not-so-secretly sweet now.” She wrapped an arm around Adora and noticed how her body tensed under the touch. “You sure you’re okay?”
Adora forced her muscles to relax and offered a weak smile. “Yeah, I’m… I’m fine.”
“It’s cute how you think you can lie to me.” She said, the barest hint of a familiar vicious sarcasm leaking onto her words. She quickly smoothed the rough edges of her tone and continued more gently. “You know this whole emotional honesty thing needs to go both ways. Just… tell me. Please.”
Adora sighed and looked down at the ground. “I just… I don’t know what’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong! That’s the thing. I just… I feel weird today. I’m… probably just stressed.”
“Weird how?” Catra coaxed.
Adora thought about it for a moment, furrowing her brow.
“I don’t know, just… off. Like… like something’s wrong. Even though I know nothing’s wrong. Is that… is that crazy?”
Catra’s eyes reflected only gentle understanding. “No, it’s not. I… know how that feels.”
Catra averted her gaze, her thoughts wandering to all the times she had gotten lost in a maze of her own tortured memories. Adora put a comforting hand on her shoulder and Melog rubbed its face against her leg. She smiled and looked back up to Adora, whose eyes were now filled with concern. Typical , Catra thought. Only Adora could so thoroughly avoid her own problems by focusing on someone else’s.
“Adora, stop looking at me like that. I’m fine. We’re talking about your issues right now. Don’t deflect by trying to make this about me.” she said.
“Psh, I don’t do that! Do I do that?”
“Yes! You always focus on how everyone else is feeling and push down how you feel. And it’s infuriating.” Catra accused with a light chuckle, punctuating her words with an affectionate graze of her tail over Adora’s arm.
Adora looked at the ground bashfully. “Sorry.” She murmured.
Catra rolled her eyes.
“Hey. C’mere.” She wrapped her arms around Adora’s shoulders and Adora happily fell into her embrace, nuzzling her face into the soft fur at Catra’s neck. Catra could feel Adora’s body slowly relax in her arms. A small smile tugged at her lips as she buried her nose in Adora’s golden hair, taking a deep, luxurious breath. This is what today was about. This is what they had come here for, and Catra would be damned if she weren’t going to do everything in her power to make sure that Adora got the peace and relaxation she deserved.
“Come on.” she said after a moment. “I think I hear that beach calling our names.”
It wasn’t long before Glimmer caught up with them, accompanied by Aunt Casta. By this time, it was nearly noon and Castaspella had insisted that they all enjoy a nice lunch together, which was mostly dominated by Casta catching up with Glimmer about the goings-on in Brightmoon and gushing about the sweaters she was going to knit all of them. Catra noted how Adora remained uncharacteristically quiet. She reached a comforting hand under the table and found Adora’s fingers. Adora smiled at her and held her hand tightly but did not say anything.
After lunch, they were ready to hit the beach. Aunt Casta bade them to follow her to the guest rooms, where she had already had their luggage transported. One room for the girls, and one for Bow. Glimmer knew better than to argue with her aunt about this, so she simply rolled her eyes and murmured to Adora that she would obviously be spending the nights with Bow in his room so she and Catra wouldn’t have to worry about privacy. She said that last bit with a sly grin. Catra smirked and grazed her tail down Adora’s back. Adora blushed and chuckled nervously. The plan was to settle in, unpack, get changed, and meet at the beach in half an hour or so. Melog had run off somewhere, eager to explore the magical workings of Etheria. Glimmer hastily gathered her things and teleported to the room across the hall, leaving Catra and Adora alone.
Adora could feel her body tense as soon as Glimmer left. The thought of being left alone with Catra sent a thrill of anxiety up her spine. It was just Catra; Catra who she loved, who she shared her life with, who had been there to see her through all of her most terrible memories. Why was she so anxious to be left alone with her now? Of course, she knew. She knew that Catra was going to see right through her emotional charade. She knew that no matter how hard she would try to hide it, Catra would see the fear that beat in her chest, would feel the tension growing in her body.
Adora didn’t know why she was feeling this way today, and more than anything she just wanted it to go away, to leave her alone so she could enjoy what little time she had off. Perhaps it was because she was taking time off. There was still so much to do, there were people out there with no homes, separated families, people who needed her help – no. Not today. Just for today, she was not going to think about it. Just for today, she was not going to hold herself responsible for all of the problems in Etheria. Just for today, she was going to enjoy herself and enjoy the time she was getting to spend with the people she loved most.
Adora got dressed quickly, throwing on a simple white tank top and a pair of red shorts, eagerness fueled by a growing lump of anxiety in her throat. She desperately tried to swallow it, both literally and figuratively. She knew how this worked. The more she thought about it, the bigger it would get. The trick was to not let it consume her. She had to get out of her own head, stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it, stop thinking about –
Her eyes followed the sway of Catra’s tail and trailed upward to her back as Catra leisurely pulled off her shirt. Her ear flicked and she turned and met Adora’s gaze over her shoulder. She smirked at the blush flowering across Adora’s cheeks but said nothing. Her silence was almost worse than whatever smarmy quip Adora knew was running through her mind. Catra then reached for the hem of her black leggings and slowly, excruciatingly slowly, pulled them down around her ankles. That was it.
Adora lunged at her, slamming into her roughly, catching Catra around her waist, and began to pepper sloppy kisses up her shoulder to her neck.
“Stop, that tickles!” Catra giggled, half-heartedly struggling against Adora’s firm grasp.
Adora laughed, took a deep breath, and blew a loud raspberry right in the crook of Catra’s neck. Catra shrieked and nearly sent them toppling over with the force of her effort to get away.
“You doofus, why are you like this?” she said, laughter coloring her words. She spun in Adora’s arms so that they were facing each other.
“What can I say, I grew up with you .” Adora replied.
“I’ve created a monster.” Catra said with a lopsided grin.
Adora fell into that smile, that beautiful, stunning smile. Her gaze softened as she gently stroked the fur down Catra’s bare back. She heard Catra’s breath hitch and felt the blush rise in her cheeks as Catra ran her nails over her exposed collarbone. Adora’s heart began to race, not with anxiety but something much… needier. She pulled Catra against her forcefully and ran her fingers through the fur just above her tail. Catra gasped and her hands wandered to Adora’s hair, threading her fingers through it, freeing strands of it from the tight ponytail on her head.
They both startled back as they heard a sharp knock on the door.
“Come on you two! The beach awaits!” Glimmer’s voice called from the hallway.
“Every time.” Catra chuckled, shaking her head.
Adora was not amused. As soon as Catra’s hands left her, she felt the tightness in her chest resurface. She let out a frustrated groan before sighing in resignation.
“Okay, we’re coming.”
“We could have just walked.” Catra griped as they appeared in a flash on the shores of Mystacor. She had gotten used to Glimmer’s spontaneous teleporting, and though it no longer made her stomach turn, she still found it incredibly disorienting.
“I don’t think you understand how urgently I need some calming waves in my life.” Glimmer shot back, grinning at her from behind a pair of lavender sunglasses.
She began to unroll a large beach blanket and sat down next to Bow. Adora stood tensely behind them.
“Okay. Relaxing.” she said resolutely, as if she were trying to talk herself into it.
“Adora, did you forget how to relax? Again?” Glimmer teased, settling into a comfortable position in Bow’s arms.
“No!” Adora rebutted defensively. She took a seat on the blanket next to Glimmer and Catra sat down beside her, eyeing her. She watched as Adora took several shaky breaths, as if she were trying to calm herself down. Bow and Glimmer seemed to notice. They shot Catra questioning looks behind Adora’s back.
“Hey,” Catra said softly, placing a hand on Adora’s shoulder. “We don’t have to just sit here if you don’t want to.”
“No, this is why we’re here. I need to relax. I’m going to relax.” Adora responded. From the look of it, she was doing the exact opposite of relaxing.
“I mean there are other ways to relax, dummy.” Catra said affectionately.
Adora stared at her and Catra reached up and placed one long finger on the tip of Adora’s nose.
Adora blinked in confusion before both of them leapt up, Adora almost tripping over the blanket. She lunged forward but Catra was too quick. She danced around Adora’s seeking hands and began to run along the beach, giggling. Adora pursued her, a doggedly determined smirk on her lips. Catra threw snide taunts at her, finding herself distracted by Adora’s stubborn grin and the melodious sound of her laughter. They chased each other like they had when they were children, like they had been chasing each other all their lives.
They had run off quite a ways, when Catra’s foot caught on a rock and sent her tumbling to the ground. Adora, mid-tackle, fell on top of her with a loud oof! She raised her head and they stared at each other for a moment before erupting into a fit of laughter.
“Didn’t think you’d make it that easy.” Adora teased.
“Oh, that was easy, huh? I’ll show you easy.” Catra shot back, pushing Adora’s face away playfully. They wrestled in the sand until Catra slipped out of Adora’s grasp and began running back up the beach. Adora eagerly scrambled up and chased after her.
They continued like that for quite a while as the sun slowly drifted across the sky. Eventually, they settled back down on the blanket beside Bow and Glimmer, breathless.
“How was that for easy?” Catra jabbed, a bright smile playing on her lips.
“Catra, kicking sand into my face is cheating!”
“Says who? Are you the King of Tag now on top of Saviour of the Universe? You don’t make the rules.”
“That’s obviously cheating! Glimmer, as queen, you need to standardize these tag rules.”
Glimmer rolled her eyes. “Oh, sure Adora, I’ll get right on that. I’ll put it on the list right after rebuilding Sileneas, securing our trade routes, and establishing diplomatic relations with the ex-Horde factions.”
“Whenever you get the chance, Sparkles.” Catra responded, chuckling.
Adora rested her head in Catra’s lap and for the first time since they had arrived, finally began to relax. They sat in the sun and listened to the gentle waves, and after a while, Adora began to echo Bow’s soft snoring. Catra brushed her fingers lightly through Adora’s hair and looked down at her fondly. Glimmer watched them, smiling.
“You know, I’ve never seen her like that. Not before you joined us.” She said quietly.
“Like what?” Catra asked, turning to her.
“Like… playful like that. She’s never been like that with me and Bow. I mean not… not the way she is with you. You just... bring out a side of her that I've never seen.”
Catra blinked and looked back down at Adora, snoring peacefully in her lap. “It’s always been that way with us. I guess in the Horde… we learned to push each other. We had to make each other stronger, we had to be better than anyone else.”
Glimmer smiled warmly. “Now you make each other better in different ways.”
Catra glanced at her, surprised, and then looked back down at the faint smile still lingering on Adora’s lips.
“Yeah. I guess we do.”
A deep, gravely female voice rang in Adora’s ears. A voice from the past. It said her name lovingly, a mother calling out to her child.
She saw a figure step out of the darkness. Or perhaps the figure was part of the darkness. Adora could not tell. A long, red robe and snakelike hair, black as the pit. The sorceress’ face was hidden behind a mask the color of blood.
That was Catra’s voice. Adora could see her small figure, cowering behind red, flowing robes. She was young, her hair was wild and unkept, just as Adora remembered it from when they were children. They were not children anymore.
Shadow Weaver’s sharp fingers dug into young Catra’s tiny shoulder and Catra screamed her name. She looked at Adora pleadingly, tears in her eyes.
Catra called to her but her voice was... different. Older. Where was it coming from? She sounded so far away, as if Adora was hearing her from underwater. Young Catra screamed in pain. Adora rushed forward but it was as if her legs were mired in quicksand. She willed herself to run but her feet would not obey. She saw dark shadows rise from the ground, engulfing young Catra, who cried out in terror.
Adora awoke with a start, sitting up straight, gasping for breath.
“Adora, it’s okay. You’re okay.” Catra said gently, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
Adora turned to look at her, her eyes wide with fear and confusion.
“Adora, hey. Look at me. You’re okay. We’re in Mystacor.” Catra tried again.
Adora looked around at her surroundings. They were still sitting on the beach on Glimmer’s blanket, though Bow and Glimmer were nowhere to be seen. The sun was just beginning to set on the horizon casting a pink and red hue onto the sea of clouds before them.
She turned back to Catra. They stared at each other for a moment before Adora threw her arms around her and buried her face into the soft fur at Catra’s neck. Catra held her back tightly, whispering small assurances. “It’s okay. I’m here. We’re safe.”
Adora held onto her like if she let go Catra would fall into the sea of clouds and never return. The image of black shadows consuming her tiny body was still fresh in her mind.
“You were dreaming.” Catra said gently. “It was just a dream.”
“Just a dream.” Adora repeated. She tightened her grip, her fingers digging into Catra’s shirt.
Catra tenderly rubbed small circles in her back while Adora took several deep breaths. Just a dream, she told herself. Just a dream.
Eventually, her iron grip around Catra loosened and she leaned back to look at her. Catra peered back at her, gentle understanding in her eyes. She knew what it was like, the nightmares. She knew Adora needed to feel safe and loved, needed to be reminded of what was real and what was not. Catra slowly reached up and trailed her fingers down Adora’s face. The loving tenderness in Catra’s smile made Adora’s heart ache and she felt her own lips tugging upward, mirroring it.
“You good?” Catra asked softly.
Adora placed her own hand over Catra’s, holding her palm against her face and closing her eyes.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. I’m okay.” she responded.
“What were you dreaming about?” Catra asked without preamble. “You were calling my name. Not in a good way.”
Adora could not help but smile more broadly at Catra’s teasing. It was familiar. It was normal. It was real. She grounded herself in the feeling of Catra’s touch, in the way she smelled, woody and gritty and natural, like fresh soil and sandalwood and home.
“I was… it was…” That familiar pained expression appeared on her face, the one that Catra knew meant she was withholding some painful thought. Catra wrapped her tail around Adora’s waist protectively.
“It’s okay. It’s just me.”
Adora took a few more deep breaths. “It was… Shadow Weaver. And… you.”
Catra waited patiently, rubbing her thumb over Adora’s cheek.
“It was… we were children again and Shadow Weaver… she… I don’t know, she… she had you. She was keeping us apart. And she was hurting you and I couldn’t reach you.”
“I’m here. We’re safe. Shadow Weaver is gone. She can’t hurt us anymore.” Catra said softly.
Adora nodded and gripped Catra’s arms tightly. Maybe it was just remnant fear from her nightmare, but she caught herself thinking that she never wanted to let go, never wanted to let Catra out of her sight again. She needed her. She needed to feel Catra was here with her. She needed to feel her soft fur in her hands, she needed Catra’s hot breath to whisper in her ear, she needed –
She leaned her head up and hungrily caught Catra’s lips with her own. Catra paused for a moment, surprised, before eagerly kissing her back. Adora’s hand wandered up to Catra’s face, threading her fingers through the velvety fur there, holding her in place. She slid her tongue over Catra’s lips and Catra could not help but open her mouth and inhale sharply. Adora took the opportunity to glide her tongue over Catra’s teeth and capture her in a slow, open-mouthed kiss.
A low groan escaped Catra’s throat and Adora wrapped an arm around her, pulling up the hem of her red tank top and gliding her fingers up the fur on Catra’s back. The fire in her mind seemed to burn away the anxiety that had been plaguing her all day. This is what she needed, she thought. This is what she needed to be feeling. No tightness in her chest, no fear hanging over her, just Catra’s fierce warmth, the softness of her fur against her lips, the way her tail clung around her, pulling her in –
“Adora.” Catra said, pulling back slightly, startled by Adora’s aggressiveness.
“Catra, please. I need…” She grasped Catra tighter and leaned in, seeking her lips. They both jumped at the sound of Glimmer teleporting in right next to them.
Glimmer’s eyes immediately found them, and she raised an eyebrow as she spied Adora’s hand up Catra’s shirt and the intense blush that spread over both of their faces.
“Well, don’t let me interrupt.” She said, smirking.
Adora quickly stood and brushed herself off, looking down at the ground. Catra’s eyes followed her with concern.
“We were just… uh…” Adora started nervously.
Glimmer cut her off with a wave of her hand. “Adora, I’m just messing with you. You don’t have to explain yourself to me. I just came to tell you guys that dinner is ready. Aunt Casta sent me to fetch you. But if you’d rather me get out of your hair…”
“No!” Adora said quickly. “It’s fine. We were just… dinner! Let’s have dinner.” Catra raised an eyebrow at the subtle edge of frustration in Adora’s words.
Adora turned to her and offered a hand to help her up. Catra took it hesitantly and let out a squeal as Adora pulled her up a little too forcefully.
“Sorry.” Adora said, her eyes widening, loosening her grip on Catra’s hand.
“It’s okay. Adora, are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m okay, I just need… dinner. Let’s go to dinner. I’m okay.”
Catra furrowed her brow, unconvinced. “You promise?”
Adora paused and took another deep breath.
“I promise. Come on. Let’s go eat.”
The three of them meandered through the halls of Mystacor at Catra’s insistence that they were perfectly capable of walking and Sparkles, if you surprise teleport me one more time –
Adora noted how both Catra and Glimmer were eyeing her. Glimmer tried to break the silent tension with some remark which Adora did not hear, though she laughed and nodded in an automatic response. There was a strained lilt to her voice and something evasive in her averted gaze. Glimmer raised an eyebrow at her.
“Hey, are you okay?” she asked.
“What? Yeah. Why does everyone keep asking me that today? I’m fine, I’m just… stressed, that’s all.” Adora attempted to brush it off.
Glimmer held her gaze and Adora squirmed uncomfortably.
“Adora, you are seriously the worst actor in the universe. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
Adora shifted and then scowled. “It’s not… I don’t know, Glimmer. I just… I feel…” she was struggling to put her feelings into words. Or perhaps she could not bear to admit what she was feeling, that there was a fire in her nerves and a cold tendril of dread creeping up her spine and she did not know why. She exhaled sharply. “Can we talk about it later?”
Glimmer frowned at Adora’s obvious deflection. This wasn’t like her. Adora glared at the ground as the queen debated on whether or not to press the issue.
“Okay, yeah. Sure, Adora. Just… we’ll talk about it later I guess.”
Adora gave Glimmer a small, grateful smile and nearly ran into Catra who had suddenly stopped right in the middle of the hallway.
“Catra, what –“ Adora started, following her gaze upward. Her words died in her throat and her blood ran ice cold. They were standing right in front of the statue of Shadow – of Light Spinner. It had been refurbished since the last time they were there. Her face was no longer charred out, instead her cold stony eyes gazed benevolently down at them. Adora felt a sudden swell of emotion. At first it felt like a bittersweet nostalgia, but as it grew, she felt her pulse quicken and bile rise in her throat.
Catra stepped forward and grazed her claws along the base of the statue, reading aloud the inscription there:
“May you always find the light in the darkness.”
It was short and simple and reverent, and Adora felt her knees grow weak and her stomach churn.
“Aunt Casta thought since… since she saved you two at the Heart… and helped with the failsafe and… maybe it doesn’t justify everything she did but…” Glimmer began uncertainly.
Catra sighed, took a step back, and clasped Adora’s clammy hand tightly in hers.
“It’s… really nice, actually.”
Adora turned and gaped at her, surprised. How could Catra say that? After everything Shadow Weaver had put her through? After what she had put both of them through? And why did it make her so… angry to hear her say it? Catra simply turned to meet her gaze and shot her a small but sincere smile. Was she seeing things? Adora had expected her to… to lash out, to rage, or at the very least to shut down and sulk. Who was this and what had she done with Catra?
Catra squeezed her hand gently and her smile slowly faded. “Adora.” she said, concern rising in her voice.
Adora realized her hand was shaking. She pulled it away from Catra’s and held it to her chest. The tightness there was getting worse. Tears were beginning to well in her eyes, no matter how hard she was willing them away. Catra said her name again but her voice shrank away, like a fading echo. There was a ringing in her ears, drowning out all other sounds, all except…
She heard Shadow Weaver’s voice, clear as day, calling her name. Adora frantically looked up into the eyes of Light Spinner, whose gaze suddenly seemed anything but benevolent.
“Adora, look at me.” Catra commanded with such urgency that Adora could not help but obey, her long fingers guiding Adora’s face toward her. She met Catra’s gaze and gasped for air as she released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Catra’s hands cradled her face and her mismatched eyes stared into her intently. She felt a tear slide down her cheek, caught by Catra’s firm fingers.
“I… I didn’t… I don’t know what…” Adora began shakily.
Catra quietly shushed her and brought their foreheads together, purring softly. “It’s okay. I know.”
Adora breathed deeply of Catra’s familiar smell, and her hands instinctively wrapped around Catra’s waist. Catra’s touch was a soothing balm washing over her, the soft vibration of her purr seemed to dissolve the creeping dread in her chest. Catra held her and purred softly against her forehead until her breathing returned to a more natural rhythm.
“Sorry.” Adora murmured after a moment. “I don’t know what that was.”
“Don’t apologize.” Catra whispered. “Just tell me you’re okay.”
Adora let out a strained sigh. She held Catra tighter and said nothing.
Adora was not okay. She was antsy. Jumpy. Almost… angry. Catra could tell by the way she gripped her silverware and how her eyebrows stayed scrunched up all throughout dinner. She had chosen a seat at the end of the table, as far from everyone else as she could get, which meant that Catra was sitting next to Aunt Casta, with Glimmer and Bow on the other side. Catra had told her that they didn’t have to go to dinner, that they could take a walk and talk about it or go back to their room and rest, but Adora had quite fervently insisted.
“And then I said, ‘Eye of newt? Who taught you magic? Silenean pirates?’”
Glimmer laughed animatedly. At least someone knew what Casta was talking about. Or she was just really good at pretending.
Catra kept clandestinely stealing glances toward Adora who was half-heartedly picking at her food with a fork. She brushed her tail over Adora’s arm, but Adora shied away from her touch.
“That’s like trying to use snake oil for a transformation spell.” Glimmer said, chuckling.
“Oh, believe it or not, I’ve had problems with some of my older students trying to sell snake oil to the younger ones as a prank. You wouldn’t believe the nonsense these children will buy into, and you certainly don’t want to know what was really in those vials!”
They continued to talk about magical gibberish, but Catra had stopped listening. Bow smiled and laughed along with the girls, though he was clearly as lost as Catra. Adora finally dropped her fork and sighed, apparently done with keeping up the appearance of eating.
Catra frowned. She had never known Adora to pass up a meal in her life. She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by Castaspella calling her name.
“Catra! You’ve been quiet. Tell me about your adjustment to life in Brightmoon. Is it much different from the Horde?”
Catra blushed and looked down nervously. Adora raised her head, suddenly interested in the conversation.
“Oh, uh… yeah, it’s… really different. There’s um… lots of different… things.”
“I can imagine!” Casta said politely. “Oh it must have been terrible growing up in the Horde. Glimmer says all you had to eat were these awful ration bars. And the beds were hard as rocks!”
“Yeah, that was… I mean it wasn’t so bad.” Catra squirmed uncomfortably under Casta’s questioning.
“Oh, but that’s all in the past! Look at you now! A mighty rebel in the face of tyranny. You must let me knit you a sweater. And I love what you’ve done with your hair.” As she said this, Casta reached up and lightly brushed Catra’s bangs.
Catra heard Adora inhale sharply before violently slamming her fists on the table.
“Get away from her!” she shouted, quickly rising to her feet, knocking over her chair behind her.
Casta gasped and drew her hand back. The room suddenly went silent. Catra watched as Adora glared at Casta. She watched as Adora blinked and her expression slowly morphed from rage into startled confusion, as if she were coming out of some sort of trance.
“Sorry, I… I don’t know what… I… I just…” Adora stammered. She looked around at the surprised and concerned expressions on her friends’ faces until her eyes met Catra’s. The look in her eyes… it wasn’t fear or concern like the others, but something… sadder. Adora felt her heart clench. She stumbled backward and before anyone could stop her, hurriedly ran out of the room.
All four bodies rose. Glimmer and Bow called Adora’s name and began to run after her, but Catra quickly stepped in front of them, holding up a hand.
“Wait,” she said. They stopped and stared at her, desperate concern written clearly across their faces. “I got this one.”
Bow and Glimmer glanced at each other before nodding uncertainly. Catra turned and ran out the large double doors and into the night.
Adora was not hard to find. Catra could hear her angrily pacing in the gardens just outside the dining hall. She approached cautiously.
“Adora,” she called out softly.
Adora spun around to look at her, startled, before self-consciously wrapping her arms around herself and glaring down at the ground. Catra walked over to her, stopping just in front of her, without touching her.
“So that was weird.” she started as delicately as she could, feeling out the tone of this conversation. It wasn’t an accusation, but Adora tensed and gritted her teeth all the same.
“Don’t you think I know that?” she snapped. Catra held her gaze calmly and Adora raised her hands to hide her face. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m… I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
“Adora, it’s okay. Slow down. Just… breathe.” Catra reached out and gently took Adora’s hands. She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly until Adora took the hint and took several unsteady breaths with her.
“Tell me what happened.” Catra coaxed with all the gentleness of a summer breeze.
Adora tightened her grip around Catra’s fingers but did not speak.
“Hey. Talk to me. Please.” Catra pleaded.
Adora let out a trembling sigh.
“I don’t know. It was like… like… Casta mentioned your hair and it… and the way she brushed it back… it just made me think of…”
Adora looked at her intently. “No. Shadow Weaver.”
Catra’s eyes widened in recognition. “Oh right. When we were kids. She’d only touch me like that when she was about to do something horrible to me.” It was Catra’s turn to avert her gaze, replaying the memories of the physical and emotional abuse she had endured by the sorceress’ hand.
“Yes! And I just… suddenly remembered that and it was like… like…” Tears began to form in Adora’s eyes as she went on. “Like it wasn’t Casta anymore, it was her . And I… I saw her, it was like… like I was back in that moment. Back in that memory. ”
“It’s okay. We’re not there anymore.” Catra soothed. “Shadow Weaver is gone. She’s never coming back.”
Adora stared at her. Catra’s calm demeanor was… confusing, and also… comforting. She held Catra’s hands tighter.
“This has happened to you before.” It was not a question.
Catra nodded solemnly. “Yeah. Like, a lot.”
Adora’s face contorted in concern and she reached up to brush the fur on Catra’s cheek.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was… like this. I didn’t…”
Catra smiled. She was wise to Adora’s tricks. She was not about to let this conversation stray to her problems.
“Hey, it’s okay. Adora, this isn’t about me. This is about you.”
“But it is about you.” Adora replied emphatically. “Catra, I… I couldn’t protect you. Not from Shadow Weaver, not from Prime. And I… I can’t… I can’t do that again, I can’t watch one more bad thing happen to you, I just… I can’t…”
“Hey, I’m here. I’m with you. Nothing bad is going to happen to me, okay?”
“You don’t know that!” Adora cried. “All my life, I’ve watched these terrible things happen to you and I couldn’t do anything about it! Even now, even with all my power, I can’t…” She clutched at the fabric of Catra’s shirt and held her gaze as a single tear ran down her cheek. “I’m not strong enough.”
“Hey, I’m going to stay right here with you, okay? I’m not leaving.” Catra ran her thumb along Adora’s jaw and her lips tugged upward in the faintest hint of a smile. “Nothing really bad can happen as long as we have each other, right?”
Adora looked at her sadly, tears swimming in her eyes.
“I can’t lose you.” she whispered. “I’m not… I’m not strong enough.”
“You won’t. I’m here. The war is over. There’s no more fighting. No more danger. We’re safe.” Catra quickly assured.
Adora shook her head. “I know. I know that we’re safe and everything is fine and… and that’s the problem! I know that, but I don’t feel… why do I feel like something bad is about to happen? Why don’t… why don’t I feel safe?”
Catra gazed at her with nothing but sad understanding.
“Because we never have been.”
Adora inhaled sharply. Catra reached up to lightly brush away her tears as they spilled over.
“It’ll pass. I promise. I’m here with you.” Catra soothed.
“It won’t! You don’t understand it’s…” Adora trailed off, staring guiltily at the ground.
Catra narrowed her eyes. “Adora, how long have you been feeling like this?”
Adora squeezed her eyes shut and hesitated to answer.
“A while.” she finally murmured.
Catra sighed and wrapped her arms around Adora’s waist, holding her close. Adora tensed, and then slowly snaked her hands around Catra’s neck, burying her face into her shoulder. Catra could feel her hot, wet tears leaking into her fur.
“You idiot,” she said softly. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Adora sniffled violently into her neck and her grip tightened.
“I didn’t… I didn’t want you to…” she croaked, struggling to get the words out.
Catra was patient. She began to gently rub up and down Adora’s back, purring against her chest. Adora held her so tightly it almost hurt. She leaned her face into Adora’s hair and whispered into her ear,
All of Adora’s walls came tumbling down. She let out a pained wail and cried,
“I didn’t want you to know I was still scared. I’m so scared, Catra.”
She began sobbing in earnest, holding onto Catra like her warm body was the only thing keeping her tethered to the earth. Catra held her back tenderly, planting light kisses on the space behind Adora’s ear. Adora cried and cried and Catra had the creeping suspicion that she had been holding these tears in for a long time.
“It’s okay to be scared.” she whispered.
Adora shook her head against Catra’s shoulder. “No, I can’t... I - I’m -“ she started, unable to get the words out through her choking sobs.
“You’re what?” Catra prompted, knowing full well what Adora was trying to say. “Because you’re She-Ra?”
Adora sniffled and nodded into Catra’s fur. Catra rolled her eyes and smiled fondly at the trembling mess of a girl in her arms.
“Not right now you’re not. Right now you’re just Adora. And Adora, you’re allowed to be scared. You’re allowed to cry. And you’re even allowed to be weak sometimes. It’s okay to just let yourself… be a person.”
Adora’s convulsive sobs were beginning to slow into soft sniffles.
“Everyone is counting on me.” she protested. “I have to… I have to be…”
Catra pulled back to look into her eyes, cradling Adora’s face with her gentle hands.
“Adora, listen to me. You don’t have to be anything for anyone else. You are so strong and infuriatingly noble and... beautiful and you are so, so good. And that’s enough. You’re enough.”
That made Adora tear up all over again, for a completely different reason. No one had ever said that to her before. Not in those words. Her conversation with Mara at the Heart rang in her ears. You’re worth more than what you can give to other people. You deserve love too. A small smile began to tug at Adora’s lips through the tears streaming freely down her face. And Catra… Catra had always been there for her, but never quite like this. The gentleness with which she handled Adora’s fragile emotions was… surprising. And impressive.
Adora let out a sound that was a half-chuckle, half-sob. “When did you get so good at this?” she asked, wiping at her eyes.
Catra’s ears went flat on her head and she averted her gaze as a light blush spread over her cheeks. “I may have been having… conversations with Perfuma. For a while now.”
“What?!” Adora exclaimed, her smile widening. “You’ve actually been seeing Perfuma? And you didn’t tell me?”
Catra scowled. “See, this is exactly why I didn’t tell you. Now it’s a thing and… and we’re supposed to be talking about you!”
Adora laughed, wiping away the last of her tears. Catra smiled at the sound.
“Come on, you doofus.” Catra said, rolling her eyes. “I think it’s time to put you to bed.”
Adora smiled an impish smile and ran her hands up Catra’s sides. “Whatever you want.” she lilted in a sultry tone.
Catra’s palm moved to cover her face. “You are unbearable.”
Adora chuckled and kissed the back of Catra’s hand, and then her cheeks as Catra lowered her fingers from her face. Catra whined but was betrayed by the low purr that emanated from her chest. They rested their foreheads against each other and stood in each others’ embrace. The tightness in Adora’s chest was finally gone, replaced by a dull soreness and heavy exhaustion. They simply stood there and held each other for a while, as the moons slowly drifted across the sky.
Adora found herself standing under the statue of Light Spinner. She had awoken just before dawn, long before the bustle of the day would begin, and had silently slipped out of bed. She walked leisurely through the grand halls of Mystacor until she had found her way here, at the foot of the memorial. Perhaps it was her mind trying to tell her something, that she needed to face what had happened to her, what she had watched happen to Catra over and over. Or perhaps the statue had simply caught her eye as she wandered aimlessly through the halls. Whatever the case, she could not seem to walk away from it, could not tear her eyes from the stony gaze of the closest thing she had ever had to a mother.
Suddenly, she felt a soft tail brush along her back and heard Catra yawning blearily next to her.
“Why are you out here so early? Early is for sleeping.” Catra said tiredly, rubbing her eyes.
“I just… I couldn’t sleep anymore. What are you doing out here? You hate waking up early.”
“I got cold. Came to find my space heater. And look, I found her.” Catra replied with a familiar playful sarcasm.
Adora smiled and wrapped an arm around her waist. Catra leaned into her embrace, purring softly next to Adora’s chin.
“You okay?” she asked, nuzzling into Adora’s neck.
Adora squeezed her lightly and let out a long breath.
“Yeah. I’m okay.”
Catra smiled at Adora’s transparent sincerity. She could hear the relief in Adora’s voice and felt the way Adora leaned into her touch. She placed a soft kiss against Adora’s jaw and then followed her gaze upward, toward the statue before them.
“Think we’ll ever get over all the things she did to us?” Adora asked quietly.
Catra took a deep breath, considering her answer.
“I don’t know.” she said simply.
Adora swallowed. “You know… I didn’t really realize that how we grew up wasn’t... right, not for a long time. I mean, I knew it wasn’t good but… I didn’t realize how bad it was. But after I moved to Brightmoon and joined the rebellion… like, I saw the way Angella was with Glimmer and how all the parents in Brightmoon were with their children and I… it made me so angry. I was… jealous, I guess. That we didn’t have that. And I began thinking of all the things she did to us… did to you. And I…” She squeezed Catra tighter and took a trembling breath. “I’m sorry. For letting her treat you like that. I wish I could’ve done- ”
Catra silenced her with a finger over her lips. “Adora, there was nothing you could have done. You were a child. And what she did… she didn’t do it because of us. We didn’t deserve to be treated like that. She did it because that’s who she was.”
Adora sighed and threaded her fingers through Catra’s, holding her warm hand to her face. “She made me feel like… like I was special. And at the same time she made me feel so powerless. Like I could do anything as long as I did what she told me to. She made me feel like I had to be… what she wanted me to be. I don’t even know what that is.”
Catra nodded and rubbed her thumb along Adora’s jaw.
“She made me feel the opposite. Like I wasn’t good enough. Like I would never be good enough. Like I wasn’t good enough to be Force Captain, like I couldn’t do anything right. Like I wasn’t good enough for…” She dug her claws lightly into Adora’s skin and grimaced. “For you.”
Adora held her closer and planted a soft kiss at the corner of Catra’s mouth.
“You’ve always been enough for me.” she said, smiling comfortingly. “You’re all I’ve ever wanted. You’re the only thing I ever wanted for myself. I guess I thought that was selfish. Like I didn’t… I didn’t get to want things. Not unless it was… what she wanted for me.”
“I know. I guess for a long time, I believed her too. I guess that’s why I… y’know, did what I did for so long. Like, I finally was good enough, more than good enough. To be Force Captain, to be Hordak’s second. But it wasn’t what I wanted.” Catra exhaled sharply, a small, cynical smile tugging at her lips. “All I ever wanted was you.”
Catra looked back up at the spectre of their past towering over them and Adora followed her gaze.
“Think we’ll ever be able to forgive her? I mean, after everything?” Adora asked absently.
“Forgiveness isn’t something you do for someone else.” Catra replied somberly. “It’s something you do for yourself. It’s giving yourself permission to move on. And you don’t have to, if you aren’t ready, but… the longer you hold on to that resentment, the more it just tears you up inside. Forgiveness is choosing to not let it tear you up anymore.”
Adora blinked at her, astonished by the words coming out of her mouth, then chuckled lightly and squeezed Catra just a bit tighter around her waist.
“Those sessions with Perfuma have really been helping you, huh?”
“Yeah, they have. And I think that maybe… maybe they can help you too.”
Adora stared at her and Catra held her gaze unwavering. She was serious, Adora realized. She took another deep breath and looked back up to the statue as she answered.
“Yeah. Maybe you’re right.”
Catra smiled and nuzzled her nose into the crook of Adora’s neck, a light purr vibrating through her chest.
“Come on, you can do better than that!” Catra bellowed.
Glimmer scowled and readied another burst of magic. It took her only a second to charge the magic in her hands, but in that time, Catra had somehow closed the gap between them and rested a claw against Glimmer’s forehead.
“Not good enough.” She smirked.
Glimmer released the magic in a wave in front of her, but Catra was once again too quick. She easily dodged Glimmer’s bombardment by flipping herself over the queen and giving her a light shove from behind.
“Ugh, how do you keep doing that?” Glimmer complained loudly.
Catra chuckled. “I told you that you couldn’t beat me in a fair fight.”
Glimmer spun to face her, her hands crackling with wild magic, ready to strike again. Then her eyes locked onto something behind Catra and the magic faded. She stood up straight and smiled.
“Looks like we have a spectator.”
Catra warily turned and saw Adora standing on the steps to the training grounds, smiling at her in a way that made every hair on her body stand on end. It was intense and soft, loving and longing, all at the same time. She heard Glimmer shout from behind her as the queen leapt onto her back in a surprise attack. Catra easily caught Glimmer’s arms and flipped her onto the ground hard. “Nice try, Sparkles.”
Glimmer just groaned at her.
Catra chuckled and looked back up to Adora who raised one finger and did a beckoning motion. Catra swallowed and stepped over Glimmer toward her. Adora eagerly began walking, meeting her halfway.
“Hey, what’s up? How did your –“ Catra’s question was cut off by Adora’s lips as she grabbed Catra by her collar and pulled her in for a long, demanding kiss. Catra could not help but surrender to her. Her heart fluttered in her chest. Every time felt like the first time, even after so long. Catra hoped it would never stop feeling like this.
Eventually, Adora did pull away, leaving Catra dazed and breathless.
“Guess that means your meeting with Perfuma went well.” she stammered.
Adora nodded and leaned in again, brushing their noses together.
“It did. It was hard and I cried. A lot. But, it helped. I didn’t realize I needed this so badly. Thank you.”
Catra blushed. “I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”
Adora smiled. “I am. It’s been a really good day.” She pulled Catra closer and brushed her lips against her sensitive ear. “We can make it even better. Go somewhere private.”
Catra visibly shivered. “Anything you want.” she whispered.
Adora chuckled in her ear and Catra swore she could hear Adora biting her lip.
Catra tensed and scowled as they were once again interrupted by the sound of Glimmer teleporting right next to them.
“Adora, are you trying to steal my training partner?” she asked with mock indignation.
Instead of pulling away, Adora held Catra closer to her body and shot Glimmer a sly smirk. “Yep.” She replied in a low tone, loudly popping the ‘p’.
Glimmer matched her mischievous smirk. “Got something more important to do?”
Adora looked into Catra’s eyes and definitely did bite her lip. “Yep. Something really important.”
Catra found herself blushing under Adora’s lidded gaze. It was unlike Adora to be so… brazen. Catra smiled. She decided she liked brazen Adora. She could get used to her. And she could certainly play along.
“Oh you mean sneaking away to make out?” Glimmer asked teasingly, her smug smirk growing wider.
Catra met her smirk with one of her own and ran the tip of her tail down Adora’s leg.
“That’s right, Sparkles. Why? Wanna watch?”
Glimmer’s eyes widened and a fierce blush spread over her cheeks. She let out a hearty laugh at Catra’s shameless rebut and shook her head. “Go on then, don’t let me stop you.”
Before they could say anything else, Glimmer shot them a wry wink and was gone. The two girls glanced at each other before erupting into a fit of laughter. Adora took Catra’s hand and led her across the training grounds, to a place where they would not be interrupted.