Scorpia never should have invited Hordak inside.
Though Catra can’t really expect anything else—not from Scorpia. Time and time again, she’s proven herself to be insufferably friendly. So friendly, in fact, that she didn’t think to turn Hordak's scowling face away when he appeared on Catra’s doorstep, fangs glinting menacingly in the silvery moonlight—his eyes glowing a bright, demonic red.
He is, and always will be, the least human-looking vampire Catra has ever seen. Catra hopes that the future will spare her of a similar appearance, in the years that follow.
“I demand to speak to the Countess Catarina Leonarda,” he growled.
And, of course, Scorpia was too kind-hearted to refuse. She nodded, gesturing to the foyer with a smile. “Come right in,” she told Hordak good-naturedly.
Unfortunately, now Catra must entertain Hordak in her sitting room. Not that she pays acute attention to anything he has to say—only pretends to do so. Instead, her focus lies on the half-blank canvas in front of her, and the paint-smeared palette clasped between her fingers.
She perches forward in her chair, attempting—despite her loud, scowling distraction—to apply a careful stroke of dark gold. An eyelash, long and lovely, the kind that casts sweet shadows over cheekbones.
“This hunter has proved to be particularly dangerous,” Hordak hisses, pacing the floor—each step tracking mud across Catra’s lush, clean carpets. “They wiped out an entire nest of our brethren. There are practically no vampires in London anymore, can you imagine?”
Catra hums her apparent disbelief but keeps her eyes trained on the canvas. Her brush dips into the gold once more, mixing it a bit with some dark green to produce a shadow. Again, she leans forward, hand unnaturally steady as she approaches her mark.
“Are you listening to me, Countess?”
“Yes, yes,” says Catra dismissively, after the successful addition of another eyelash. “A particularly uppity vampire hunter is giving you trouble. They won’t be the first, or the last. So why, I must ask, are you pestering me with this?” She raises an eyebrow at him, gazing speculatively over the top of the canvas. “I’m rather far from London, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
“It’s not just London,” Hordak says. “It’s all over Europe. Paris, Copenhagen, Madrid—”
“I’m also not in a major city,” Catra adds.
“I’m simply giving examples,” Hordak huffs angrily. “There are many other vampires—great vampires, ancient vampires—whose eternities have been snuffed out by this upstart.”
Hordak would know. He is one of such ancient vampires. An ancient vampire lord of some sort—Catra never paid much mind when he explained it years ago, during the first time he arrived unannounced on Catra’s doorstep. So determined was he to meet every vampire on the continent—and invite them into his little nest-slash-cult.
Obviously, Catra refused that invitation.
And if he didn’t have so many loyal followers, Catra wouldn’t even bother to see him now. But he’s not the sort of vampire even other vampires would want to cross.
Though she does find some joy in ribbing him, however much she’s allowed.
“Do you know who they are?” Catra asks. “Or what they look like?”
Hordak shakes his head solemnly. “No vampire has ever lived to tell the tale, unfortunately. If we’re going to rid ourselves of this threat, we’ll need them to come to us.”
Catra rolls her eyes and sets down her palette on the nearby drawing table. Her arms wrap across her chest. “Then why don’t you set a trap for them and be done with it?”
Hordak’s lips curl into a menacing smile. “That’s precisely why I’m here, Countess.”
Again, Catra rolls her eyes. “We both know I’m not a real Countess. It’s just a ruse.”
Hordak shrugs. “Whatever we take becomes ours. Wealth, power, blood. That is the way of our kind.”
“Say what you want. It’s still play-pretend,” Catra mutters. “And you’d best get to your point, Hordak.”
“I have heard a rumor,” Hordak says slowly, “that this vampire hunter has accepted a case in Willowdale.”
Catra sets her jaw.
“Surely, you know that Willowdale is the village closest to your castle,” Hordak continues. “And I can’t think of another vampire in the area.”
Teeth gritted, Catra asks, “Whose case did they take, exactly?”
“Some heartbroken mother who found her innocent son’s body in the creek last month,” Hordak tells her all-too-nonchalantly. “The boy’s body was drained of blood—though I’m sure you knew that already.”
Catra would hardly call that boy innocent. And he was hardly a boy, for that matter. He was nearly thirty when Catra killed him, and before that, he’d attacked several of the other girls in the village. Left them bloodied and bruised and crying in the forest.
She doesn’t regret it. Not in the least.
“The point I’m making,” Hordak says, “is that, for once, we know where the hunter is headed. To you. So if you’d let me set a trap for them—”
“No,” says Catra. “I want none of your vapid little underlings clogging up my halls—spilling villager blood all over my floors. You’re tracking mud as is.”
Catra doesn’t care much for her ‘brethren,’ as Hordak calls them. Many of them—like Hordak’s followers—are mindless monsters. The minority are people like Catra, who simply try to scrape out what little joy they can find in what will likely be a miserable, lonely eternity.
If a hunter has come to kill her, she will defend herself. That much is true. But she is fully capable of protecting herself without Hordak’s help.
“If the hunter comes, I’ll make sure they never bother anyone again,” Catra says, examining her long fingernails. “But I’ll handle it as I choose. This is my home, after all. I’ll deal with trespassers as I see fit.”
From the corner of her eye, she sees Hordak’s scowl twist into something truly horrific.
“Very well,” Hordak says. He plucks up his hat from the arm of the couch. “Send me a messenger when you succeed. If I don’t receive one…”
“You can assume the hunter killed me, and move on with your immortal life,” Catra finishes impatiently. “Now can you leave me to my work? There are only so many hours left in the night.”
For a moment, Hordak hesitates—scowling yet again. He grunts in dissatisfaction as he approaches the door to the sitting room. Before he goes, she can sense him stepping behind her, eyes raking over the partly-finished canvas.
“Agh,” Hordak groans. “Don’t you ever grow tired of painting the same thing?”
“The only thing I tire of is your presence in my house,” Catra snaps. “If a hunter plans to kill me, I’d at least like to finish this piece before my untimely end.”
From her periphery, she sees Hordak shake his head and depart from the room. The door to the castle slams shut with a thundering clang behind him, leaving Catra alone with a crackling fireplace...and a half-done painting. A painting of a woman with long blonde hair and blue eyes, her toes dipping delicately into the surface of a dark, almost opaque lake.
Catra sighs and picks up her palette. Eternity is good for perfecting one’s painting skills, if nothing else.
Adora pounds her fist against the thick wooden door, the sound of her knocking swallowed by a deafening crash of thunder.
Rain pours down the contours of her face, blurring her vision. Her hair clings to her forehead in damp, frizzy waves that spill from her braid.
The storm is even worse than Adora anticipated. Lightning flashes, painting the massive stone castle against a backdrop of white—but only for a moment. When the light fades, the parapets, towers, and belfries again shroud themselves in darkness and rain.
Well. Despite how obnoxiously drenched she is, Adora can’t exactly complain. The effect of the storm will make her seem all the more helpless—a mewling, shivering damsel in distress, desperately in need of shelter.
What better victim could a vampire ask for?
And that’s exactly what Adora wants: an unsuspecting, predatory vampire—their eyes too clouded by hunger to properly distinguish the threat directly in front of them.
Because Adora is a threat to them, however deceiving her appearance might be. She can hardly count the number of vampires she has killed. Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? She’s exterminated them in every major city, in forests all throughout the countrysides, and in sea caves along the coast.
And this one will be no different. At this point, Adora has tried out a hundred different vampire-killing methods. The best, she has learned, is setting a trap. Pretending to be weak and helpless, only to stake the vampire as it swoops in to feed.
Adora is no perfect actress. But it’s not exactly difficult to pretend to be cold and lost—especially on a night like this.
The second most effective tactic is the one so many legends speak of: finding the vampire’s coffin. But it can be tricky. Especially in a castle this large—
Thunder claps like the shot of a rifle. Up the road, her horse bucks and whinnies —pulling, yanking on the leather bridle that ties him to a nearby tree.
Swift Wind has never enjoyed thunderstorms. Perhaps she should have left him at the nearest inn, like she usually does on a hunt. But then again, Adora wanted access to her supplies: the crosses, wooden stakes, and bottles of holy water concealed within the inner lining of her riding bag.
The last time she forgot to bring them, a vampire nearly finished her off. If it wasn’t for the makeshift stake she crafted, a leg yanked from a wooden chair—
The lightning smacks at the sky in a flash of blinding white, followed by yet another roll of thunder.
Adora doesn't wear dresses much anymore, not at all—they only slow her down, and speed is critical when grappling with the undead. But for the sake of her ruse, she threw one on today. A simple beige thing made of thin, scratchy fabric—purchased from an innkeeper’s wife some years ago. It’s hardly enjoyable to wear on a good day, and it’s especially unbearable right now—soaked and heavy as it is, with the rain filling every seam and thread.
Adora again raps her knuckles against the wood. “Please!” she calls, plastering desperation across every word. “I’ve fallen off my horse! Can anyone offer me assistance?”
No answer. Just silence.
Adora narrows her eyes. She’s never seen a vampire reject a victim like this. The way Adora has made herself appear, she should seem like an all-too-easy meal. The vampire should be falling over themself to throw open the door.
She remembers what the grieving mother said. That a Count once lived in this castle. That he passed away suddenly—unexpectedly. And some distant relative took his place. An alluring woman, the mother described—though she only seemed to emerge at night.
Adora waits at the door for several more moments, nearly wondering if she should depart—if the castle is abandoned, and that a prank has been pulled on her by the mother that hired her. It would not be the first time such a thing has happened.
But...no. Adora doesn’t think so, in this case. She saw that woman’s tears—her loss. Her grief.
Adora knows loss. Knows grief. It’s not…well, it’s not something easily feigned.
Adora sighs, leaning her forehead against the rough wood of the door, pressing her palms to its surface. She still hears nothing. Feels nothing—not even the vibration of footsteps through the wood.
Perhaps she will try again in a few days.
Mud sloshes around Adora’s feet as she turns, prepared to walk back toward her horse—
But then, just as she takes a step away, she hears the unlocking of deadbolts and the creak of rusted hinges. Her head whirls around as the enormous door finally creaks open, revealing a sliver of warm candlelight from beyond the threshold.
A woman peeks out. A very tall, broad woman who Adora immediately finds herself somewhat jealous of, just on sight. What she would give to have a bit more height, a bit more muscle. The undead already have so much unnatural strength, and Adora is just one woman—and an average-sized one at that.
For a moment, the woman merely stares at her—eyes widened and mouth slightly agape, almost like Adora is the ghost of someone long-dead, returned to haunt her.
But then she collects herself.
“Oh, come in, Miss!” the woman says, utterly beaming at Adora from where she stands. “Let’s get you warmed up from this downpour.”
Adora eyes the woman warily for a moment. With the world blurred by rain, it’s difficult to tell whether this woman is the vampire that Adora is looking for.
She will need a closer look, in the light.
Adora gives a shaky nod, clutching at her elbows as she steps forward—reclimbing the stairs and slipping past the wooden door into the golden light of the foyer.
The warmth of the room hits Adora like a physical wall. After blinking at the abrupt change in light, she finds herself standing in a grand cavern of an entryway—gleaming marble floors, arched high ceilings, flickering candelabras, and fine paintings of men and women that Adora can’t hope to identify.
The door closes behind her, the thick wood settling into its frame with an echoing boom. Behind it, the rain is muffled. A dull pattering rather than endless artillery.
“You must be freezing,” the woman says, and immediately pulls a thick shawl off the nearby coat rack. Gently, she lowers it onto Adora’s shoulders. Her knuckles brush against Adora’s clothes as she arranges it over Adora’s arms and back, and Adora takes notice of her hands.
They are warm, her hands. Too warm.
Too warm to belong to a vampire, anyway. Vampires are undead and, therefore, quite cold to the touch. Noticeably so. But even through a layer of fabric, Adora can feel the very-human heat radiating off the woman’s skin.
“Thank you kindly,” Adora says, shivering yet again. “I’m sorry to bother you so late at night. But my horse—the thunder scared him. He threw me off and wouldn’t let me mount again. This storm truly came out of nowhere—”
“Oh, not to worry. We’re happy to assist you.”
Adora arranges her features into bewilderment. “We?”
“Me, of course. And the Lady of the castle,” the woman says, pulling yet another coat off the rack and dropping it onto Adora’s shoulders. “She’s the Countess, I’m just part of the staff—here to keep the castle in order. But you’re welcome to call me Scorpia, Miss.”
Adora’s eyebrows shoot up. “A Countess! Oh my, I’m sorry to intrude. I’m no noblewoman. I’m hardly fit to stand in such a Lady’s house, especially in this state—”
She looks down at her soaked dress with exaggerated helplessness.
“Nonsense!” Scorpia cries. “As I said, we’re happy to help you. Trust me—the Countess doesn’t care much for the company of other nobles. And besides, you’re...well. You look like fine company. Now, I imagine your horse will need stabling, hm?”
Adora nods. “He’s very jumpy right now, though.”
“Oh, not to worry,” says Scorpia “I’m quite good with horses. I should be able to calm him down. Let me grab my umbrella—”
She reaches behind the coat rack, locating a black parasol—the kind Adora has only ever seen at funerals, and then throws the front door open yet again. The sound of rain and thunder practically blasts through the opening, no longer stifled by the thick wood.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to—?” Adora begins to ask, pointing to the shadow of her whinnying horse. Adora, at least, is already soaked to the bone. There’s no need to trouble this poor woman any more than she already has—especially when she’s likely the captured and mind-controlled servant of a vampire.
“I’ll be just fine,” Scorpia insists. “You stay here, and warm yourself up. I told the Countess we had a visitor, so she’ll likely be down to greet you.”
And with that, Scorpia steps outside, and shuts the door behind herself.
Now alone, Adora glances about the room. There’s a large staircase leading from the entryway—grand and winding. Gilding on the ceiling. A chandelier dangling overhead, the candlelight dancing in facets of crystal.
She draws closer to the wall—examining the many portraits hanging there, each of them bordered by thick golden frames. A man with a dense mustache. A woman with an absurd-looking pile of gray ringlets. A young girl in a frilly pink dress. All of them, very wealthy and snooty-looking. The kind of people Adora would have made fun of, had they passed through the shop where she grew up.
Though one particular painting catches Adora’s eye. A landscape, rather than a portrait.
It’s a painting of a lake. A wide, glistening lake—topped with algae and water lilies, the water carving a clearing into the scraggly woods that surrounds it. A dock juts out over the water, rickety and wooden. And Adora thinks...she thinks she sees two figures there, on the dock, sitting hand-in-hand.
But they’re just vague silhouettes for the most part. Whatever features she sees, they’re hazy and too small to properly examine. A dark head of curls. A curtain of golden hair catching sunlight.
Adora leans closer, her face pressed close to the painting. Examining—practically inhaling—every paint stroke.
It’s just...Adora feels like she’s seen this painting before.
“I painted that one myself,” a voice calls, echoing down from somewhere above—causing Adora to jump.
It’s a proud voice, practically dripping with smugness. “I didn’t much care for the paintings that came with the place,” it continues. “If I have the time, I hope to replace them all. Every last one.”
Adora freezes, her whole body seized by a sudden fit of memory and nostalgia. That voice—
It’s not just the painting that’s familiar. Adora knows that voice. She knows that voice, knows it too well, if anything—
She whirls around, eyes trailing up the winding staircase. But as soon as Adora’s vision settles at the top of the stairs, she finds herself devoid of breath and thought. Her jaw drops open. Her heartbeat skids.
The sight that greets her is equal parts achingly familiar and disconcertingly foreign. The lean, graceful figure. The dark curly hair. The mismatched eyes that nearly glow in the candlelight. One blue. One gold. Both of them widened in shock at the sight of Adora staring back at her.
Adora would know those eyes anywhere.
Even though the woman they belonged to was murdered seven years ago.
Catra swept down, catching Adora’s lips in a searching, almost hungry kiss—causing Adora to gasp and shiver beneath her mouth.
Again and again, Catra kissed her—pressing her into the work table. Her full weight balanced atop Adora’s hips as she rocked forward.
“Wait…” Adora gasped during a short reprieve, during which Catra had instead decided to kiss her neck, freeing Adora’s mouth to speak, “...won’t Miss Weaver catch us?”
Miss Weaver. The cruel perfectionist of a seamstress that Catra and Adora were both apprenticed to—and had been since they were children.
Miss Weaver promised them a future, at the very least, which was more than most orphans could boast. And Adora was undoubtedly Miss Weaver’s favorite. Adora’s sewing was utterly coveted by her clients. She excelled at neat, flawless stitches and intricate patterns—the kinds that Miss Weaver’s competitors viciously envied.
And if Miss Weaver discovered that Catra was distracting Adora from that sewing…
Well. Miss Weaver wouldn’t hesitate to throw Catra out on the streets. Especially with Catra’s recent track record of disobedience.
But Adora would be lying if she said she didn’t love when Catra distracted her.
Catra chuckled and sat partially upright. Her eyes sparkled in the half-light of the dressmaker’s shop, illuminated by the flickering of wax candles that lined nearly every surface.
Though Catra and Adora were still safely out of sight should any passerby walk past the storefront, the light from a nearby window told Adora that the sun was nearly set—the sky bleeding dark red and purple. Dusk giving way to night.
“No way,” Catra said confidently, fingers tracing down Adora’s sides—dragging through the fabric of Adora’s bodice and pressing insistently against the corset beneath. “She’s off buying thread in the next town over. She’s so damn picky, it’ll likely be hours until she comes back.”
And Catra was likely right. Miss Weaver would examine every piece of thread before selecting a single spool. She likely wouldn’t be back until long past dark.
Which left plenty of time for Catra and Adora to do what they pleased.
“I hope she stays gone all night,” Catra breathed, voice laden with suggestion.
Adora grinned. “Want me all to yourself, do you?”
Catra rolled her eyes. “Don't flatter yourself. I just know that the best way to keep you quiet...” Again, Catra started leaning down. "...is to kiss you breathless."
Adora snorted. “Such a charmer, you are.”
And then she rolled over, her grip tight on Catra’s waist as they spun across the tabletop.
Catra yelped as she found herself pinned beneath Adora’s weight—their positions reversed with Adora suspended over Catra’s body, smirking as her hair spilled and hung in the air.
She leaned down with agonizing slowness, hovering her lips over Catra’s for several moments—breath exchanged in panting gusts as Catra watched every inch of her descent with wide, enraptured eyes—before finally lowering herself onto them, reveling in the muffled noise of pleasure that Catra made. She kissed Catra thoroughly, and deeply, until Catra was the one too breathless to speak.
Catra and Adora had worked together in this shop for most of their lives. Their parents died long ago—neither of them could remember how. All they recalled were the terrible years in their respective orphanages, the ones that preceded their arrival in Miss Weaver’s shop.
Not that working in Miss Weaver’s shop was at all pleasant. Miss Weaver demanded that they work endlessly—sewing, stitching, repairing, washing, cleaning. Each night offered little sleep thanks to the near-impossible deadlines that Miss Weaver set.
Adora knew that Miss Weaver did not house them because she wanted children to raise. No, that wasn’t it at all. Miss Weaver simply wanted free, skilled labor. And Adora and Catra had the best sewing abilities out of all the orphans she searched through.
And their sleeping accommodations were hardly luxurious when they managed to use them: just two worn, straw-filled cots in the flat above the shop.
Though Catra barely ever used the second one. Ever since their first year in Miss Weaver’s shop, Catra had instead opted to sleep at Adora’s side—sharing her single, too-narrow cot despite how it crushed them together, and yanking herself away in the rare instances that Miss Weaver checked on them as they slept.
Adora didn’t mind at all. In fact, she couldn’t imagine sleeping without Catra there, beside her.
“Your cot’s nicer, is all,” Catra had told Adora, at first. “It’s only fair that we share it. Besides, we’re both warmer this way.”
It hadn’t been until they were older—when they were sixteen—that they finally admitted the real reason to each other.
Over the years, Catra and Adora had remained each other’s only comfort. Scrambling to help each other make deadlines, tutoring one another after Miss Weaver’s most difficult lessons, playing games in whatever free time they carved for themselves.
Catra was funny. And proud. And smart. And so incredibly beautiful, with her lovely curls and blue-gold eyes.
No one else had eyes like Catra’s. And it was startling, sometimes, for Adora to realize that not everyone admired them in the same way.
“Eyes of two different colors,” said one man to Miss Weaver, “are a sure sign of mischief in a woman. You’d best keep an eye on this one, lest you find her writing her name in the Devil’s book.”
Miss Weaver hadn’t raised them to be religious; it would’ve taken too much time from their sewing. In fact, she’d only taught them how to read so that they (particularly Catra, who excelled at mathematics) could help with Miss Weaver’s bookkeeping.
But Miss Weaver nonetheless pretended to be horrified. “Of course, sir,” she said, smacking Catra on the back of her head—forcing her to drop her needle. “I will keep a very tight leash on this one, mark my words.”
And she did. Miss Weaver had always been so quick to insult Catra’s sewing skills or intelligence or work ethic. Or worse, whenever Catra did anything that Miss Weaver deemed “insubordinate,” she took to hitting Catra—no matter how much Adora begged her to stop.
And after suffering so many years of her reprimands, Catra’s patience had clearly worn thin. She had stopped fearing the consequences of Miss Weaver’s anger. Especially now that she and Adora were both eighteen—mere months from the end of their apprenticeships.
“Keep producing shoddy work like this, Catarina, and I’ll send you to live on the streets,” Miss Weaver had once threatened Catra, a swathe of fabric clenched in her fist. “And that’s where the vampires will get you, mark my words—”
Catra had laughed. “There’s no such thing, you batty old woman—”
“Tell that to Jeremiah Hudsun,” hissed Miss Weaver. “Just last week, they found his corpse in the alleyways—drained of blood. Just ask his widow, she’ll tell you the same.”
Catra had merely rolled her eyes, muttering, “Being drained of blood is better than suffering your nagging, if you ask me.”
And Adora had smiled a bit at that. She hadn’t believed in vampires either, back then.
But then Miss Weaver had smacked Catra across the cheek—hard enough to leave a red splotch—and Adora stopped smiling.
Their apprenticeship had already lasted for an oddly lengthy period of time. Most dressmakers were only apprenticed for five years. But Miss Weaver insisted that her dresses were special, and required longer-term instruction (though Catra claimed that Miss Weaver only wanted their free labor to last as long as possible).
The approaching end of their apprenticeship had made Catra too bold. Bold enough that she kissed Adora whenever Miss Weaver looked away, or took dangerously frequent breaks to draw or read—activities that Miss Weaver had forbade so long as there was work to do.
“She’ll have no power over us, soon enough,” Catra had kept telling Adora, whenever Miss Weaver was out of earshot. “And then we’ll get out of here. The both of us. We’ll start our own dress shop and be just fine.”
Adora had smiled at the words...but she wasn’t entirely sure that she wanted to leave Miss Weaver’s shop. Yes, Miss Weaver was cruel. But her dresses were quite popular, and Miss Weaver had promised Adora fine wages once the apprenticeship reached its term.
And besides...this shop was the only home Adora had ever truly known. It was hard to picture herself leaving it, even as Catra, grinning and blushing, spoke to her of far-off places they could live or visit together. Places she had read about in her books, or drawn from her imagination.
“I love you,” Catra said, between kisses. “And I can’t wait until we can do this all the time, whenever we want—”
Adora smiled, leaning down to kiss her again. “I love you too, Catra.”
The sight of Adora—drenched in rain, draped in shawls, hair clinging to her forehead—causes Catra’s mouth to fall open. If she still required air to breathe, she would have gasped.
Though she looks a bit older (and more waterlogged) than Catra remembers, Adora is still just as beautiful as she was on the day Catra last saw her. Her hair pulled back into a loose braid, her cheeks colored a soft pink. Too-long eyelashes cast shadows across her cheeks as she blinks, and blinks again, as though trying to confirm that she’s not dreaming.
Catra never thought she’d see Adora again. Lost to time and distance and misfortune, the both of them—
Catra swallows and unclenches her hand from the railing, desperately trying to collect herself. Her knuckles had grown stiff with the force of her grip.
“Catra?” Adora murmurs.
She sounds somewhere between hurt and surprised and ecstatic, and Catra doesn’t know how to react. Her heart has been still for years—deadened by her transformation into a vampire—but if it still lived, it would surely be beating out of her chest.
“Evening, Adora,” Catra manages with some semblance of a cheeky smile, and she’s relieved to discover that she sounds more confident than she feels.
Catra keeps her eyes on Adora as she descends the stairs. It’s a miracle of vampire grace that she doesn’t trip over her dress and find herself tumbling down, her gaze is so affixed to Adora’s face as she goes.
Upon reaching the final step, Catra approaches Adora with careful slowness. She doesn’t understand how it’s possible that Adora is here. Fate, perhaps. Or maybe—if what Hordak said is true—bad luck.
There’s a part of Catra that wants to run forward and throw her arms around Adora’s shoulders, tugging her into the world’s tightest embrace... She wants to press her lips against Adora’s lips and taste her breath in the same way she used to, back when they shared the same little pocket of the world.
But she hesitates. She knows what Hordak said—that a vampire hunter was coming to kill her. How strange that Adora arrived here, just when the vampire hunter was supposed to. But Adora couldn’t possibly be—
“Catra,” Adora breathes as she draws closer. “You’re…”
“A countess?” Catra interrupts with a small laugh, gesturing to herself—and the fine dress she, thankfully, was already wearing. “Hard to believe, I know. No one was more stunned than I was, back when I first found out.”
Adora blinks again, confused. “No,” she says, stepping forward and shaking her head. “I mean, yes, I’m surprised that you’re a countess now. But Catra...I’m more surprised that you’re here at all, that you’re a—”
Scorpia chooses that moment to throw open the door, the rain roaring its way into the room upon her entry. She very dramatically shuts her dripping parasol and hangs it upon the coat rack, then turns to Adora and Catra with a smile.
“Well,” Scorpia beams, kicking the door closed behind herself, “your horse is all nice and cozy in the stables. Should be just fine there for the night.” Her eyes find Catra. “Should we find a room for Miss…?”
Scorpia trails off. Evidently, Adora did not yet disclose her name.
“Grayskull,” Adora and Catra say, in unison. As if Catra could ever forget such a thing.
The synchronicity of their voices causes Adora to blush—hot blood flooding her cheeks like paint spilling across one of Catra’s canvases—and Catra suddenly remembers how long it has been since she last fed. Even from here, Catra can sense the blood flowing through Adora’s veins, filling her entire body with vitality and warmth and loveliness—
Catra bites her lip, willing her fangs to stay retracted. Of all the times for Adora to arrive unannounced—
“Why don’t we draw Miss Grayskull a hot bath?” Catra suggests, speaking to Scorpia. “We don’t want her to catch a cold from all that rain. That storm outside looks truly monstrous.”
Scorpia nods. “Yes, my lady. Miss Grayskull—would you prefer a perfumed soap? We have a violet soap, lilac, rose—”
Adora glances at Catra in confusion, then back to Scorpia. “Um. I’ve never used anything except regular soap for a bath—”
Catra sends another smile Adora’s way. “I think you’d like lilac. You said that was your favorite flower, back when we…”
Back when we worked for Miss Weaver, Catra thinks, but does not say.
Adora stares at her feet and pushes a rain-soaked hair behind her ear. “A-alright,” Adora stammers nervously. “Lilac it is, then.”
“And after that…” Catra turns her attention back to Adora, lips quirked into a smirk. “I still have yet to eat dinner. Perhaps you’d care to join me, Miss Grayskull? I imagine your journey has left you quite starved.”
Adora very clearly hesitates, still staring at the floor.
“I have a fine cook on staff,” Catra continues. “And what could be better than hot stew after such a chilly, rainy ride?”
At that, Adora glances up, finally. “You have a cook?” she asks, bemused—almost to the point of outrage. It nearly makes Catra laugh.
“An excellent one, in fact.”
Again, Adora hesitates—eyes squinted slightly. But then—
“Well,” says Adora finally. “In that case...I suppose I could use a good meal.”
Catra’s smile broadens and she turns toward the stairs. “Excellent. I look forward to your company.”
“Wait, my Lady—” Scorpia calls, causing Catra to spin back around with an eyebrow raised. She sees Scorpia hold up a soaked leather bag. “I believe Miss Grayskull’s clothes are in here and...well...it might take them several hours to dry. Should we loan her a dress for the evening?”
Catra sizes Adora with her eyes, trying to keep her gaze from lingering too long in any particular location—not that much can be seen under the multilayers of shawls. But Adora nonetheless flushes under Catra’s scrutiny, face turned pointedly away.
It doesn’t stop Catra from seeing the blood that again floods her skin, forcing Catra to give another swallow just to keep her mouth from watering.
“Y-yes, absolutely,” Catra agrees with a nod. “But she’s much taller than I, so...perhaps one of my aunt’s dresses?”
Her aunt. Or really, the long-dead wife of the Count who once owned this estate. Though the Count was a widower of many years when he died.
Catra killed Count Edmund Fletcher around four years ago. He was a notably unpleasant man—wealthy beyond compare, but incredibly rude to his staff and willing to let the nearby townspeople starve while he threw lavish feasts for himself.
No one really mourned when Edmund Fletcher passed away in his sleep. And no one really cared to investigate what had killed him....so the small bite mark on his neck went utterly unnoticed.
And especially no one complained when his estranged niece arrived to claim the estate in his place, despite the fact that Count Fletcher had never once mentioned having a niece.
Still. Catra appreciates the fine belongings the Count left behind. His wife’s clothes, for instance, are quite lovely. Lovely enough that even Miss Weaver would have been jealous of them.
Catra personally tailored many of Countess Fletcher’s dresses to fit herself properly—shortening them to properly accommodate her own stature. Though the loveliest dresses couldn’t be altered without permanently damaging some of their most intricate features. Those are the dresses that still sit in Countess Fletcher’s old wardrobe. And they’d likely fit Adora just fine.
“Very well, my Lady,” says Scorpia, even though Scorpia knows that Catra isn’t a real Countess at all. Just a vampire playing pretend.
Not that playing pretend isn’t fun. Especially now, with that utterly dumbstruck expression on Adora’s face.
Catra outstretches an arm toward the stairs, beckoning Adora to climb first.
“Come, Miss Grayskull,” says Catra. “Let’s settle you into a room.”
Adora jumps as though startled to be spoken to. “Right,” she says, nodding slowly. “Thank you.”
And with that, Adora moves forward. Catra notices that she keeps her eyes focused straight ahead as she sweeps past, her waterlogged dress dripping water on the tiles with every step.
But as Adora begins ascending the staircase, Scorpia briefly steps aside—leaning close to whisper in Catra’s ear.
Whispering, Scorpia asks, “Isn’t that the woman from your pa—?”
But Catra shushes her before she can finish. She grumbles, saying, “I will not discuss this now. Focus on helping Miss Grayskull get comfortable. Just...draw her a bath. Make her some tea. And do whatever else hospitality requires.”
“In the meantime,” Catra continues—still whispering harshly. “I’ll be moving my paintings to my bedroom. I’ll let you know when I’ve picked out a dress for Miss Grayskull to wear.”
“Um, excuse me?” Adora’s voice calls, echoing across the high ceilings.
Catra looks up to see Adora at the top of the staircase, hovering at the entrance of a nearby hallway—staring down at them from over the railing.
Catra and Scorpia can’t afford to stand here, discussing, for a moment longer. Adora will grow suspicious. Most countesses don’t argue with their staff, after all. The nobility don’t usually tolerate disobedience.
But Catra is far from being true nobility, however much she might pretend.
“I don’t know where to go next,” Adora says somewhat sheepishly. “Could I have some assistance in finding one of the guest rooms?”
“Of course!” says Scorpia with a nervous laugh, surging forward to join Adora on the second floor. She lifts her skirt an inch to sprint up the stairs, her shoes clattering across the marble in her haste. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Be right up—”
It strikes Catra as strange that Adora didn’t make any such noise. Vampires like Catra are unnaturally silent when they move. But regular humans like Adora…
Well. They’re not usually so graceful that they make no noise when they walk. Not unless they’ve given it significant practice.
Within moments, Scorpia has joined Adora there, in front of the second-floor hallway. She gestures for Adora to follow her as she continues onward, determined to lead Adora to the correct room.
But before she follows Scorpia into that hallway—slipping behind the wall that hides their bodies from sight—Adora grants Catra one last lingering glance. It contains all the things Adora’s voice did, back when she first realized that Catra owned this estate.
Hurt. Surprise. Joy.
Catra can’t say she feels any differently, seeing Adora again.
And it’s better to feel something, even for a moment, than to spend an eternity feeling nothing at all.
Adora and Catra grew up nestled somewhere between the countryside and the city.
Miss Weaver’s shop served a rather bustling stretch of town. But after a mere fifteen minutes of walking from the shop’s door, civilization gave way to grassy meadows, scraggly woods, and other hallmarks of untouched nature.
Once a week, Miss Weaver would send Catra and Adora to do laundry by the nearby lake. It was the only consistently pleasant part of Catra’s week. She didn’t care much for doing laundry, that’s for certain, but she loved the lake. She loved escaping the cramped interior of the shop, loved the sweet scent of the nearby wildflowers, loved the way the sky would color the lake in blues and yellows and whites.
And more than anything, she loved her moments alone with Adora.
Catra can’t recall the exact moment she fell in love with Adora. Maybe it was the moment they first met—seven years old, all stammered words and nervous giggles. Or maybe it was in the many moments after: Adora, braiding her hair, tucking the strands into a neat, smooth pattern; over, under, over, under. Adora, laughing as Catra told a particularly funny joke, her head thrown back and joy ringing from her lungs. Adora, watching Catra’s face with rapt attention as she jointly rubbed a salve into their hands—their skin cracked from winter and hard work, but warm beneath each other’s touch.
Catra remembers that day out on the lake—sixteen years old, the both of them, with heaps of laundry in their arms. Adora scrubbed one old dress across the washboard, plunging it partway into a bucket of water between each scouring. Catra, meanwhile, stood nearby, hanging the already-washed clothes on a line strung between the trees.
She couldn’t help but stare at Adora over the clothesline. Admiring the way her brows pulled together in concentration, all attention focused on the task before her. Breath catching at the way the sun lit up her hair, imbuing it with strands of pure gold.
Catra had started to notice the way that other townspeople—particularly the young men who wandered into their shop to pick up orders for their mothers—tended to follow Adora with their eyes.
And why wouldn’t they? She was just so obnoxiously beautiful. Tall and strong and blonde with gleaming eyes and a kind smile.
“Mister Pearson seems to fancy you a great deal, my dear,” Miss Weaver had told Adora, just that morning. She was referring to the son of a wealthy businessman in their town. A supposedly handsome young man, but Catra just didn’t see how or why.
Adora hadn’t looked up from her sewing at the observation. “Oh?”
“Perhaps he will ask for your hand someday,” Miss Weaver had continued. “It would be a good match. And you could continue working at the shop.”
Catra hadn’t realized, until that moment, how much the idea frightened her—the thought of Adora marrying. The thought of Adora kissing someone, sharing another person’s bed.
Of course, Catra and Adora had never done more than curl up together in the same bed—their sides touching to share body heat in the too-cold flat. But still. Adora was far too young to get married, far too young to—
“We really must keep Miss Weaver from spilling tea on her dresses,” Adora said with an exhausted huff, wiping the crook of her elbow across the sweat gathered at her forehead. “I can’t get this stain out. Not for the life of me.”
Catra smirked and snapped two more clothespins around a pair of stockings.
“If we stay out past dark, we can say the vampires stole the dress from us,” Catra said lightly. “Miss Weaver loves to complain of vampires already. Why not give her another reason to hate them?”
Catra gave an exaggerated flapping of her arms—suggesting a bat—and bared her teeth. Arms still flapping, she briefly ran around with a wet skirt clutched in her hand. The fabric flung out behind her as she galloped around—a silly imitation of a bat stealing an article of clothing.
Adora laughed as Catra staggered to a stop, then raised an eyebrow at her. “I don’t see how that will help. On the one hand, she berates us for not properly cleaning her dress. On the other, she berates us for staying out too late.”
Again, Catra only smirked. “You’re not examining the full benefits of the latter option.”
“Think about it,” Catra said, hanging up yet another pair of stockings. “Either way, she berates us. But if we do stay out late, you won’t have to do all that extra scrubbing. And we’d get some extra time to ourselves. Just the two of us.”
Catra thought it was just a casual observation. But upon looking away from her latest clothespin, she noticed that Adora was frozen—cheeks colored red, lips slightly parted. And unfortunately for Catra, Adora was even more obnoxiously pretty when she blushed.
Catra blinked. Stared. It was...it was simply getting to be too much. For years, she had pretended to simply care for Adora as a friend—her best friend in the entire world. But as the years progressed, and Adora turned prettier and smarter and sweeter with every passing day…
Truly, Catra only grew to hate those words more and more. Best friend. Best friend, and only that. The thought was unbearable. Even now, Catra found her eyes lingering on Adora’s slightly parted lips, hung open by her inability to craft a response.
Catra wished she could kiss Adora into the same speechlessness. She wished she could hold Adora as she had always wanted to. Not for playfulness or convenience...but because she loved her. And Adora loved her in turn.
But that was likely a fantasy. Adora loved her, sure. Catra knew that. But Adora couldn’t possibly love her the same way. She couldn’t.
More likely, she was in love with that Mister Pearson fellow. All the girls in the town were.
But Catra...Catra had to know. She had to know, finally.
Eventually, Adora cleared her throat and resumed her scrubbing. Though Catra noticed that her pace was more irregular now—and her eyes seemed almost determinedly focused on the washboard in her hands.
Catra slowly lowered her hands from the clothesline. And then, just as slow—her eyes never wandering from Adora’s face—she ducked beneath the line, and carefully walked closer, seeking Adora’s spot on the lakeside.
Adora didn’t look up. “Hm?”
“Adora,” Catra said again, upon reaching the spot beside her. She crouched down, lowering herself into a kneeling position. “Can you look at me, please? I have...”
A sigh erupted from her lungs, shuddering and thick. She shut her eyes. Inhaled, exhaled. When she opened them, Adora was staring at her—eyes pulled wide and somewhat panicked.
“Is everything all right, Catra?”
Adora rubbed her palms on her dress, drying them, then grasped for Catra’s hands. Gladly, Catra let her take them.
“You don’t…” Another sigh from Catra. “You don’t fancy Mister Pearson, do you?”
Adora blinked, hands loosening slightly around Catra’s.
“Oh,” Adora said. “Well, no. Not at all, really.”
Again Catra found herself sighing, though this time in relief rather than anticipation. “Good,” Catra said. “That’s good.”
Adora’s eyebrows pulled together. She examined Catra’s face for several moments, her features twisted in an odd expression of displeasure. And then, quietly, she asked, “Do you fancy him?”
Now it was Catra’s turn to blink in confusion. “What?”
“Well, it’s that...whenever he’s in the shop, you always watch him so closely,” Adora said. “The way you look at him. It’s different. It’s not the way you look at me.”
And that was when Catra noticed a strange trembling to Adora’s voice. And to Adora’s hands. It seemed, suddenly, that Adora was trembling all over.
And just like that, Adora would not stop speaking. Words fountained from her mouth in an unstoppable, rambling flow. Her hands fastened so tightly around Catra’s fingers, her knuckles pulled white.
“I just...I didn’t mean to make you jealous, Catra. I swear, if you love him, I won’t get in the way. I just...I want you to be happy. I want nothing more than that. Even if—”
Adora cut herself off, then whirled around with a gasp. Her hands were still around Catra’s, but she was looking away—eyes pointedly fixated on the opposite lakeside, rather than Catra’s face.
Catra’s mouth fell open. Catra, fancy Mister Pearson? For God’s sake, what was Adora rambling on about?”
She couldn’t help but press. “Even if what, Adora?”
Adora released a sound—some cross between a whimper and a sigh, shaky as all else about her. And finally, finally, she turned around, head tipped down, watching Catra from beneath her eyelashes as though embarrassed.
“Even if it breaks my heart,” Adora admitted, at long last. “I can’t imagine my life without you, Catra. And I don’t want to. But...if he makes you happy…”
Adora trailed off. And for a long period, neither of them spoke. All that could be heard was the wind, the humming of insects, the squawking of birds. Normal, natural, serene sounds—so unlike the pounding heartbeat in Catra’s chest and ears.
“Mister Pearson does not make me happy—I don’t know him. I don’t even find him handsome,” Catra murmured. “But...you do that. You make me happy. I only watch him because...well. I’m afraid of him. I’m afraid that he’s going to take you away from me.”
Adora’s eyes widened. Blinking, blinking, yet again.
“I’m in love with you, Adora,” Catra said, the words fluttering out like leaves falling from the nearby trees. “I always have been.”
Adora stared. Catra willed herself to stare back, unafraid. Even if Adora didn’t feel the same, even if Adora ran back to Miss Weaver and demanded to sleep in a separate room. Catra had to say it. Catra had to know.
She didn’t look away, not even as Adora removed her hands from Catra’s.
She didn’t look away, not even when those hands rose up...and layered themselves across sides of Catra’s face, the thumbs rubbing against Catra’s cheekbones.
Adora was nodding—nodding, frantically—leaning her forehead close to Catra’s, scooting her entire body closer by dragging her knees through the dirt.
“I love you too,” Adora gasped, tears welling in her eyes. “I’ve loved you for so long...I didn’t think—”
Catra surged forward, silencing her with a kiss—relief filling her every vein, overflowing like the lake after a rainstorm.
That was their first kiss. One to precede many after. Most of them there, at the lake, with Adora’s hands smelling of soap and Catra’s laughter echoing through the trees.
Catra steps down the hallway, carefully folding the dress in her arms to keep it from dragging across the floor.
As she walks, she encounters Scorpia departing from the nearby bathroom, the door shutting behind herself with a small clatter. She glances up at Catra with wide, startled eyes.
“Catra,” Scorpia gasps, scurrying away from the door—once again leaning close to whisper in Catra’s ear. “What do we do?”
Catra narrows her eyes and hefts the dress slightly higher. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Scorpia says, “Why do you know that woman? And what do we do about her?”
Catra settles both hands on her hips. “Miss Grayskull is an old friend. And we shall do as I said—give her a meal and a place to sleep for the night.”
Scorpia’s eyebrows shoot upward. “So the paintings—”
“Memories, alright? I was painting from memories. She was...” Catra pauses. “She was very dear to me.”
“But what if she’s....well...?” Scorpia trails off, staring at Catra in wide-eyed helplessness. Glancing to the closed bathroom door and back.
“What if she’s what?” Catra demands somewhat impatiently.
Scorpia sighs and lowers her voice even more. “What if she’s....you know...the vampire hunter. The one that Hordak warned us about.”
There’s a pause as Catra considers the idea. But it lasts for mere moments, as Catra determines the prospect far too absurd.
“Adora, a vampire hunter?” Catra laughs. “No. No way. Adora is a dressmaker. There’s no way she cleared out London’s largest vampire nest with nothing but a chair leg.” Catra shakes her head fiercely. “The Adora I knew—she was gentle. She wouldn’t hurt anyone. Vampire or otherwise.”
“Well, if you know her so well,” Scorpia says, “then what did she think happened to you, after you were turned? Seems like you haven’t seen each other in a long while.”
Catra hesitates. “Well…”
The truth is, Catra doesn’t know. After she was turned, Catra journeyed back to find Adora—returning to Miss Weaver’s shop—only to discover that Adora had disappeared. She had reached term on her apprenticeship, the townsfolk said, and set off to open her own shop somewhere. Where she was headed, no one knew. Which meant that Catra could not follow, nor could she find a means to contact her.
But...does any of that really matter, if Adora is here now?
Scorpia continues staring at Catra, waiting for an explanation.
“I don’t know what happened to her, exactly,” Catra manages, shuffling her feet a bit. “We just...lost track of each other.”
“So who are you to say that she hasn’t taken up vampire hunting as a hobby?” Scorpia demands, still whispering. “I just helped the woman undress and well...she’s very strong-looking for a gentlewoman. If anything, she’s got the muscles of someone who chops trees for a living.”
Catra bites her lip. The last thing she needs to hear about right now is Adora undressing.
“I’m saying there’s a fair chance that this woman is a vampire hunter,” Scorpia warns. “And we’d best be prepared to fight her.”
Catra shakes her head. “Scorpia—”
“It seems like you want to believe otherwise,” Scorpia says. “But that won’t change the fact that she might be here to kill you.”
“Oh please, Scorpia,” Catra says with another light laugh. “What are the chances that my closest childhood friend happened to become a vampire hunter, and then happened to take a case in the nearby town? The chances are...well, they’re astronomical.”
“The world is small,” says Scorpia. “The fact that she’s here at all proves that. And besides, we’ve encountered vampire hunters before. We both know what makes a person devoted to that cause.”
Catra raises an eyebrow. “Do we, now?”
“Of course,” says Scorpia. “It’s almost always the same. These hunters...they’ve all lost a loved one to a vampire. Whether that means the vampire drained them, or captured them, or turned them…” Scorpia raises an eyebrow of her own. “How close were you with Miss Grayskull, did you say?”
Catra’s mouth falls open, prepared to speak, but finds herself unable to summon a reply.
“She...she wouldn’t do that. Not just because I was turned. We were close but...she’s not the type that she’d go around staking every—”
Catra shakes her head. The idea is absurd. Adora, a vampire hunter? It just doesn’t make sense.
“I’d best lay out her dress before she’s done bathing,” Catra says quickly. “Which room is she staying in?”
Scorpia sighs, clearly disappointed at Catra’s failure to listen. “First bedroom on the right.”
“Idiot!” Miss Weaver screamed, hauling Catra by the fabric of her dress and tossing her out the door. “That’s the last time you ruin one of my sales, mark my words.”
Catra stumbled, falling to her knees—her palms flat upon the cobblestones.
“Miss Weaver, please,” Catra could hear Adora begging. “She didn’t mean to. We can...we can make another dress. I’ll work overtime to make it perfect, I promise—”
Catra glanced back to see Adora trying to shove her way past Miss Weaver, trying to reach Catra just outside the shop, on the ground. Tears welled in Adora’s eyes, but Miss Weaver would not permit Adora to leave—to help Catra.
“Not a word!” Miss Weaver shrieked, elbowing Adora back from the door. “You’ll work overtime regardless for even trying to defend this useless wretch!”
It wasn’t fair. Catra was only two weeks away from the end of her apprenticeship, and now Miss Weaver decided to lash out against her? A parting gift, Catra supposed. Miss Weaver wanted one last chance to torture Catra before she’d never see Catra again.
And, of course, what better way was there to torment Catra than this? She was on the ground—fallen, insulted, and humiliated before the entire town. Catra already lacked respectability as it was, thanks to her eyes. People were far too superstitious—they thought her strange. But if everyone believed she was troublesome too…
Well, she’d never be able to make a living in this town. Not that Catra intended to stay. She’d take Adora and run as soon as she was able—
“You’ll sleep on the streets tonight, Catarina,” Miss Weaver hissed. “Maybe that will finally teach you.”
“Please, no, Miss Weaver—” Adora cried, renewing her efforts to fight her way outside, but Miss Weaver once again blocked her, Her enormous hoop skirt posed a significant barrier.
“And you—” she said to Adora. “you’ll go back inside and finish your work. Or would you both like to be reported to the magistrate for disobedience?” She reached out and patted Adora’s tear-stained cheek. “It’d be a shame to see your future gone to waste over a single moment of poor judgment.”
The magistrate. If Miss Weaver reported either of them to the magistrate, she could very well be imprisoned. And they’d never be trusted to open their own shop. Apprentices who violated the terms of their indenture were poorly viewed—made outcasts by society.
If Catra and Adora found themselves before the magistrate, their hopes for the future would dissolve.
Adora glanced helplessly between Catra on the ground, and Miss Weaver in the doorframe.
Catra met Adora’s eyes and shook her head ever-so-slightly. They couldn’t risk this. Not now, not when they were so close. She’d let Miss Weaver inflict this one last torture...and then it’d be done. In two weeks’ time, they’d be free of her.
“It’s just one night,” Catra said, rising to her feet. She used both hands to sweep dirt from her skirt. “I’m not afraid.”
Miss Weaver laughed. Her fingers curled around Adora’s arm and roughly yanked her back inside. Adora inhaled sharply and gave one last, “Catra!” before she was pulled out of sight.
“You should be,” said Miss Weaver with a wicked grin.
And the door slammed behind her.
Catra carefully spreads the dress across the bed.
It was one of Countess Fletcher’s finest gowns. A pale gold, sewn with delicate, shimmering thread. All across the bodice and skirt are intricate patterns of lace and pearls—so intricate, in fact, that Catra could never alter it without damaging those patterns beyond repair. It merely sat in Countess Fletcher’s wardrobe for years, gathering dust.
It was the first thing she thought of when trying to decide on a dress for Adora. It matches her hair. And Adora always looked lovely in gold, even if the gold was just thread between her hands—the makings of a dress intended for someone else.
She smooths any wrinkles from the surface of the dress, then straightens. With her task complete—the dress delivered—there is no reason for Catra to linger here, in Adora’s room. She’d best leave and prepare herself for dinner.
But as she heads for the door, Catra finds her eyes drawn to something on a hook by the wall.
Adora’s riding bag.
Even from here, Catra can tell that it’s still largely soaked—practically dripping onto the floor. And Catra knows that she shouldn’t. She shouldn’t look in that bag. Adora could finish bathing and return at any moment.
But after what Scorpia said…
With a grunt of dissatisfaction, Catra spins around and storms over to the bag. She pulls it toward her, and carefully, she flips open the outer flaps, pulling them wide to glance inside.
The first two pockets are nothing but clothes, tonics, soap, and other typical articles of travel. Nothing of interest.
The remaining pockets are equally uninteresting, as far as Catra can tell. One contains papers that Catra does not care to read—letters, by appearance, though Catra is in too much of a hurry to check. One or two books—for pleasure-reading, Catra assumes. A packet of sugar cubes, presumably for Adora’s horse and…
And that’s it. There’s nothing else in the bag.
Well. It’s as Catra suspected. Adora can’t possibly be the vampire hunter. No vampire hunter worth their salt would stumble into a vampire’s dwelling without proper weaponry on their person. And unless Adora took them into the bath with her, which Catra highly doubts.
She releases the bag with a relieved sigh, causing it to swing back toward the wall—
The noise that bag just made...
There were the typical sounds of glass tonic bottles tinkling together, yes. But there was something else too. A dull, almost-hollow clattering. Like wood falling upon wood, or wood falling upon glass.
Catra gives the bag another short shake. The sound repeats, strange as before.
And more than that...the bag feels a bit too heavy to contain so little.
With a shaky sigh, Catra sticks her hand into the pockets once more, feeling along their interiors for something, something hidden—
And sure enough, there, in the largest pocket, she feels something. A collection of hard, geometric objects—poking out from some sort of inner lining of the bag. Catra searches blindly with her fingers until she finds it—the button that fastens shut this apparent “hidden pocket.” Her movements are somewhat frantic as she scrambles to get it open.
Though she ultimately comes to regret such carelessness. As soon as she manages to yank open the pocket, something falls out. Something heavy and wood-made and burning.
Catra yanks her hand away with a hiss, hand smoking slightly from the contact, though the charred panel of flesh heals as she watches.
Wide eyes come to rest on the bag’s interior, now truly yanked open, and Catra sees what caused such terrible pain.
A cross. A cross has fallen out of the pocket. As have a pair of wooden stakes, a few bottles of holy water, and several more crosses of various shapes and sizes.
A vampire hunter’s toolkit, if Catra has ever seen one.
Adora is...Adora is a vampire hunter, just as Scorpia said.
Adora is the world’s greatest vampire hunter, and all Catra—a vampire—wants to think about is kissing her, falling against her lips and staying there for all eternity.
Carefully, Catra uses one of the stakes to prod the crosses back into their pocket and then returns the stakes to their proper place too. Adora can’t know that Catra was rummaging through her belongings. It wouldn’t even be a joke to say that Adora would likely kill her for such an invasion of privacy. Not after Catra’s recent discovery.
She has just released the bag yet again when a voice murmurs, “Catra?”
Catra spins around. In the doorframe stands Adora, clad in a thick bathrobe—one of Catra’s, most likely. Her hair is damp and hanging loose. And her entire person smells overwhelmingly of lilac.
Adora stares at Catra, clutching tightly at her bathrobe as she steps into the room. It’s a particularly rich fabric, this bathrobe. More luxurious than anything that Adora is accustomed to. Maybe she could’ve hoped to touch fabric so fine, back when she worked at Miss Weaver’s shop. But she hasn’t been there since…
Since a few weeks after Catra died.
Not that she looks particularly dead right now. Catra startles at the sound of Adora’s voice, dropping hold of Adora’s riding bag, thereby letting it swing against the hook that holds it.
“What are you doing?” Adora asks.
Catra slips both hands behind her back. “I was simply dropping off your dress for the night,” she explains, gesturing to the bed—and the gauzy swathe of golden fabric half-blanketing its surface. Adora can’t even imagine how it will look on her. She’s never worn a dress fancier than simple wool.
“Ah,” says Adora, taking another step closer. “I see. Thank you.” She raises an eyebrow. “Were you placing a dress in my riding bag too?”
Catra smiles just a bit too dazzlingly.
And truly, she is just as dazzling as Adora remembers—perhaps even more so, though she doesn’t look a day older than when Adora last saw her. Such fine, beautiful features—splayed freckles and smirking bright red lips. Eyebrows arched and mysterious, like she’s always issuing a challenge.
Catra has always been beautiful, but nighttime has a particular effect on her beauty. The way the candlelight flickers over her features, casting light across her mismatched eyes—
And her figure...God, that was always torturous. Especially right now, in such a perfectly-fitted gown. The bodice clinging close to her narrow chest and hips, the skirt hanging loose and graceful, almost carelessly but clearly not—
But Adora shakes her head. She can’t afford to get distracted. Adora’s client said that a vampire lived in this castle. And though she still...she still feels attached to Catra, somehow, it can’t change the facts. It can’t change the fact that Catra may be the very vampire that Adora is hunting.
“No,” claims Catra. “I was simply checking to see if your bag is any closer to drying.”
Adora nearly laughs. “And is it?”
Catra clears her throat. “No. In fact, you should likely move it closer to the fire. Otherwise, it will still be drenched by morning.”
Adora takes another step forward, until they’re sparsely a meter apart. “Good to know,” she mutters, and will likely take the advice. But not yet.
Silence falls as Adora watches Catra and Catra watches Adora back. She can’t be sure how much time passes. Minutes. Hours. Days. When they’re together, time ceases to matter. Apart, it drags slow and torturous—like it has for the past seven years. But now that they’ve been reunited...time once again begins to stretch and condense and shatter into unknowable pieces.
But Adora is the first to break the silence—and reinstate the movement of the clock.
“What happened to you?” Adora murmurs.
She outstretches a hand. Out and away it goes...but she fails to hold it far enough to touch any part of Catra.
Catra’s eyes flash. There’s something there, in those eyes. Something that Adora recognizes. But also something that Adora doesn’t.
“You thought what?” Catra demands, half-amused.
Adora’s breath catches. But then, slowly, she manages, “I...I thought you were dead, Catra. That someone had killed you—”
Catra’s expression does not change. She doesn’t display a shred of pity, or remorse. Only the complicated mixture of amusement and something unidentifiable.
“And I thought you were gone,” remarks Catra. “But clearly we were both wrong. We should count ourselves lucky and think nothing more of it.”
With that, Catra sidesteps Adora and begins approaching the door, her back turned. Adora spins around to follow her —maybe even stop her.
One of Adora’s hands grabs a hold of Catra’s sleeve, gripping fine lace. Her hold is firm. She doesn’t yank Catra back...but she doesn’t let go either.
“Please, Catra,” Adora begs. “I just want an explanation. I want to know what happened to you. Because…” Adora shakes her head, tears welling in her eyes. “If you weren’t dead...if fate didn’t take you from me…”
Her voice grows shrill, and thick. She doesn’t break from Catra’s gaze.
“...then where, exactly, did you go?”
She sounds like a child, almost. A child asking where flowers hide in winter, or how rabid dogs find new homes.
At this, Catra’s face softens. And Adora wishes, more than anything, that Catra’s sleeve felt warm to the touch. That the dress felt hot as worn fabric, rather than cold as a burial shroud.
“We can talk about it over dinner,” Catra says, very carefully angling herself toward the door. She angles herself so carefully, in fact, that Adora has no choice but to release the sleeve, rather than tear the lace. “I’d...very much like to talk about it over dinner. I would really just like to talk with you, in general.”
Adora hesitates. Then nods.
“Dinner, then,” Adora says, looking down at the floor. Ashamed at her own desperation. “Will anyone else be there?”
Catra shakes her head.
“Not tonight,” Catra tells her. “Tonight, it will just be the two of us.”
And with another dazzling smile and a rustle of her gown, Catra sweeps out of the room.
Adora sat at her sewing table, glancing surreptitiously at Miss Weaver’s nodding head and drooping eyelids.
Miss Weaver had decided to stay the night at the shop, determined to keep Catra outside and Adora here, at her workstation—sewing all night long. She planned to supervise Adora, thereby ensuring that she couldn’t let Catra inside from the cold and inscrutable night.
But Miss Weaver had not been accustomed to staying awake the whole night. Her years feeding off Catra and Adora’s hard work had allowed her to enjoy too many full, satisfying nights of sleep. And now she was drifting off. Half-sleeping in her chair.
Adora continued sewing until Miss Weaver’s breath grew steady and rhythmic. Once her eyes were shut tight and her head leaning forward in sleeping languidness, Adora carefully set down her needle and soundlessly pushed back her chair.
Her feet were noiseless as she climbed the stairs to the flat above. She did her best to avoid the specific stairs that would reveal her disobedience—the ones that would shriek and squeal beneath her weight. But she didn’t quite manage to avoid a pair of particularly creaky steps, one of which inevitably squealed under her foot.
Adora glanced back at Miss Weaver with wide, panicked eyes. She expected her to wake—to scream. To threaten Adora with humiliation and punishment from the Magistrate—
But Miss Weaver did not stir. She continued sleeping, undisturbed.
Adora quickly ascended the remaining stairs, only briefly entering the flat to collect a small pile of blankets. None of them were very thick or soft, much to Adora’s displeasure. They were worn and scratchy and thinned by too many washes. But it was better than nothing, Adora knew.
She planned to join Catra outside. At least then they could suffer Miss Weaver’s punishment together, by each other’s sides. And if Miss Weaver discovered them, she could only blame Adora for disobedience—Catra would have fulfilled her punishment as given.
With one arm full of blankets and the other carrying a single lit candle, Adora returned downstairs and—satisfied to see Miss Weaver still fast asleep— approached the shop’s entrance.
Adora pulled the door just wide enough to slip outside, then shut it behind herself with a slow, easing push. It hardly clicked as it closed.
Adora breathed a sigh of relief, back leaning against the door. Free at last.
Though the feeling of freedom did not last. She was suddenly struck by how utterly silent it was out here, on the streets. In the dark. Most nights, even while enclosed in the flat above the shop, Adora could hear crickets chirping or wind whistling. She never thought of the outdoors as a silent place. Not until now.
It was quiet, out on the streets. The cold air frighteningly loud in its absolute, all-encompassing silence.
It wasn’t a peaceful silence, either. It wasn’t the kind of silence Adora found when swimming in the lake with Catra, their heads dipped under the water.
It was the silence of something stifling its breath. The sound of something trying to hide and disappear, lest it be noticed by something far worse.
She glanced about, searching for Catra in the impenetrable darkness. There were a few lit street lamps. And, of course, the candle in Adora’s hand. But there were no other light sources by which she could see.
“Catra!” she hissed to the night. “Where are you?”
She swung the candle around, casting the flickering light across the surface of each nearby thing. She examined every inch of the cobblestones at her feet, hoping to find Catra sprawled against them, fast asleep despite the cold.
Even Adora was not foolish enough to expect Catra to be well, given the circumstances. But Adora hoped to ease her sufferings in some small measure.
And truly, all Adora wanted was to pull Catra into her arms, and lay the blanket across their bodies. They could face the night together—keep each other safe.
So long as Adora found Catra before morning, she thought with some annoyance.
But as she continued to search, she failed to find anyone—or anything. The streets and cobblestones were empty of people. Empty of everything, really. All homes were shut up and locked. All animals tucked into their stables and coops. All carts wheeled away to some hidden location.
Alone. Adora was completely alone out here—
No, she thought to herself—head shaking. Catra was out here somewhere. Catra needed Adora right now. And it was Adora’s responsibility to find her.
“Catra!” she hissed again. “Where are you?”
And that’s when Adora heard...something. A slight rustling sound, coming from somewhere beside the shop.
Adora whirled in the direction of the noise, her candle hefted high.
“Catra, is that you?”
Gulping, she approached the alley that ran parallel to the shop—the one place she hadn’t yet checked. It was here that Adora hesitated. It was especially dark in that alley. Darker, even, than the nearby streets, which at least boasted a few street lamps.
But this alley…it might as well have been filled with black tar.
But then came that sound again, muffled but undeniable. That rustling. But that wasn’t all—not this time. Adora heard something else. Something worse, though quiet. A woman’s voice, however unintelligible in its noises. So high, but so faint to Adora’s ears.
Whimpering. It sounded like whimpering.
Immediately, Adora found herself assaulted by the image of Catra crying—alone, in that dark alleyway—and she could no longer stand to hesitate. She marched forward, the candle outstretched far ahead of her.
From the mouth of the alley, the candlelight didn’t reveal much. Just a shadow. A figure leaning against a wall.
“Catra?” Adora asked. “Love, are you alright?”
The figure shifted slightly, but said nothing. It only released a high, pained whimper.
Adora drew closer. “Catra, it’s alright. I’ve brought blankets.”
She stepped closer. And closer.
Only when she was a few meters away—the candlelight touching the far edges of the alley—did she finally see...
Something wasn’t right.
It was Catra, yes. That much was clear. But rather than find Catra sitting alone, slumped against the alleyway...there was someone else there. Someone curled around Catra’s limp body as her head lolled to the side. A dark cloak. A head tipped downward, the features concealed by a large hat.
But Catra’s face...oh God, Adora would never forget Catra’s face. The feeble way her eyes fluttered, the parting of her lips as she whimpered and cried in pain.
Because the stranger, whoever they were, had their teeth sunk deep into the side of Catra’s neck—blood spilling down the wound in a slow, gleaming trickle.
“Catra!” Adora screamed, abandoning all discretion—all hope to avoid Miss Weaver’s punishments. That didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was Catra, right in front of her. Catra, in danger.
Desperately, she sprinted forward, dropping the blankets on the cold ground in her haste to get to Catra, protect Catra—
But then the stranger gave a terrible snarl, a hiss. A monstrous sound that couldn’t possibly belong to a human being.
Adora gasped as the stranger shot to their feet with impossible speed—as though they stood between the blinking of her eyes. But she wouldn’t….she wouldn’t let that stop her, let that scare her.
She had just barely closed a hand around the stranger’s cloak—a brief flicker of hope filling Adora’s heart—when the stranger tightened their arm around Catra’s torso and jumped.
They jumped, yes, but not in the way a person would. They jumped far away, their body blurring as they shot upward toward the roof of the adjacent house, utterly propelled by those unnaturally strong legs. Adora could do absolutely nothing as they flung themselves out of reach. Meters, yards, blocks out of reach, with Catra still clutched in their arms, her body lolling limp and listless beneath their grip. The stranger’s sudden escape left Adora with nothing to hold onto, nothing, nothing at all except a torn piece of black cloth—
“No!” screamed Adora, tears streaming down her face. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. She sprinted after them, scrambling out of the alley. Slipping, falling. Getting up again. A dreadful part of her mind fearing that she’d never catch up—that she’d never even keep up.
But she wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t let Catra go, wouldn’t let her be taken—
But then, finally, the stranger disappeared into the woods at the edge of the town. Into the trees. Into the darkness. Far outside the boundaries of Adora’s sight and speed and hope for the future.
And she never saw Catra alive again.
Adora examines herself in an ornate mirror.
She has never experienced such lavish accommodations in her life. The gilded mirror at the corner of her bedroom is just one of many extravagant oddities she’s encountered thus far. More stunning, perhaps, was the marble bathroom filled with perfumed soaps. Nice soap is exceedingly expensive on its own, but perfumed soap? And for a building to even contain a bathroom is a signal of the owner’s immense wealth—
It’s overwhelming, is all. She cannot believe that Catra has been here the whole time—living in luxury—while Adora has spent her life on the road, hunting down vampires in caves and sewers, forests and dark alleyways.
Even the concept of a mirror is somewhat foreign to her. Certainly, she makes herself look presentable whenever she’s in public (and whenever she lures vampires within range of a wooden stake). But she hardly spares much thought—or examination—to her appearance. And she especially gives little thought to looking attractive.
If Adora is being honest with herself, she’s never expected to live long enough to fall in love again. She hunts vampires by trade—a lone woman against hordes of the undead. She’ll be lucky to reach thirty, let alone find someone who…
...someone who made her feel the way that Catra did, back before that dreaded vampire took her.
Ever since then, Adora has shown little concern for love, or even attraction. She’s too focused on her mission: to wipe out every vampire she encounters. Otherwise, they’ll only continue destroying families and lovers and god-knows-what-else.
But now she suddenly finds herself fussing over her appearance. Nervously picking at her braid, agonizing over how out-of-place the simple hairstyle looks, especially when compared to the ridiculously elaborate dress Catra has lent her.
It’s the finest dress Adora has ever worn. Probably finer than any dress Adora has ever seen. And Adora is no stranger to lovely dresses. She spent years toiling as a dressmaker, after all.
Her eyes trace the intricate lace designs that overlay the golden fabric. Leaves, by appearance. Leaves and branches dotted with small pearls in the place of berries.
The dress hangs off Adora’s shoulders elegantly, she’ll admit. But the thought of revealing so much skin—particularly the skin of her chest and neck—strikes Adora as dangerous. She’ll be dining with a suspected vampire, for God’s sake. And her neck is on full display—a buffet set before a vampire’s fangs.
But as she glances back at her still-soaked riding bag, she knows that she’ll have no choice. The rest of her clothes are still soaked. And judging by what Catra herself was wearing—or even what Scorpia was wearing, finely dressed as she was—asking for an alternative probably won’t earn her a different result. Adora will likely find herself in another annoyingly stylish dress. Stylish dresses are all anyone in this castle seems to wear.
She releases a sigh. Rich people. Honestly.
And one of said rich people may very well be a vampire. Which is why Adora felt compelled to stuff a wooden stake into her stocking, just for peace of mind.
She doesn’t even know why she agreed to dinner. It’s a waste of time. She should just use a cross to confirm whether Catra is a vampire or not, and then act accordingly.
Though Adora feels like she knows the truth, even now. There’s no other way that Catra could have survived an attack like the one Adora saw. Not without being turned, or killed. And the Catra in this castle does not currently lie in a grave. Which leaves Adora only one plausible option—
And yet, that doesn’t keep Adora from hoping. Hoping, desperately, that she’s wrong in her suspicions. Because if Adora is right...how exactly is she supposed to stake Catra—?
A knock at the door startles Adora out of her thoughts.
“Miss Grayskull?” calls Scorpia. “Dinner is ready.”
Adora smooths out a few nonexistent wrinkles in her dress, takes a deep breath, and walks toward the door.
Catra is utterly unprepared when Adora enters the dining room.
Which is strange, considering that she was the one who sent Scorpia to fetch Adora to this very room.
Catra spent the minutes leading to Adora’s arrival preparing herself—fabricating a sensible story to explain her disappearance from the dress shop all those years ago.
But would Adora even believe her? She’s a vampire hunter, just as Scorpia and Hordak warned her. She likely knows the truth, no matter how many lies Catra might try to feed her. And Catra should have killed Adora the second she discovered those stakes and crosses in her riding bag. Clearly, Adora came to kill Catra.
But then again...why hadn’t Adora attacked yet, if she brought all those weapons? What was she waiting for?
Catra sighed. Nothing about this situation made any sense. For now, she could only continue the charade. She refused to be the first to strike. Not when it’s Adora she’d strike out against.
No. Catra would continue pretending to be the gracious host. She resolved to remain calm and collected when Adora arrived—and perhaps just a little coy and flirtatious. To entertain herself, if nothing else.
But those hopes were dashed as soon as Catra’s eyes settled on Adora, clad in that dress.
She knew it would look lovely on Adora. But she didn’t realize that it would make Adora appear downright ethereal, practically glowing and shimmering in the candlelight. A body immersed in gold from head to toe.
So many times, Catra has examined this dress of Countess Fletcher’s. It’s always struck her as beautiful, but never as beautiful as it looks right now, framed against Adora’s figure.
Catra stands and steps closer. “Evening, Adora,” she says, smiling—then immediately berates herself internally. She’s said that already, hasn’t she? It’s still evening, just as it was when Adora arrived.
So, after clearing her throat, Catra adds: “You look wonderful.”
Adora blushes and glances down at her dress, which continues to sparkle delicately in the firelight. The force of her blush nearly sends Catra reeling—the blood flowing deliciously warm all across her shoulders, neck, and cheeks, coloring the skin in various hues of pinks and reds.
“Thank you,” Adora says slowly, punctuating the words with a small curtsy. “It’s a beautiful dress.”
Catra shakes her head.
“I said you look wonderful,” Catra remarks, before she can stop herself. “The dress has little to do with it.”
At that, Adora’s eyes pull wide—and the blush seems to deepen several shades, nearly causing Catra’s fangs to emerge of their own accord. But she forces them back, cursing herself all the while. Catra really must stop digging herself into this grave. If Adora blushes one more time, Catra might just lose control—
“I—” Adora stammers. “T-thank you, I suppose.”
Catra barely manages to keep her hands from shaking when she gestures for Adora to sit, pulling out the closest chair.
“Please,” she says. “Make yourself comfortable.”
Catra outstretches a hand for good measure, intending to help Adora lower herself into her seat.
For a moment, Adora hesitates—eyes fixated on the hand with fearful intensity. Her arm, frozen at her side.
Really, Adora, Catra thinks, resisting an eye roll. I won’t bite.
Well. Catra doesn’t intend to bite her, anyway.
And then, finally, Adora gives a small nod and obliges—taking Catra’s hand. Her fingers are warm and calloused within Catra’s grip, and Catra hears Adora make a small, almost disappointed gasp as their skin makes mutual contact.
Catra raises an eyebrow.
“Something wrong?” she asks, leaning over Adora with a smile.
Adora shakes her head fiercely. “No. I just…” Her eyes fixate on the silverware in front of her, on the table. “Nothing. It was nothing.”
Once Adora is settled, Catra walks around the long dining room table and arrives at her own seat, across from Adora. It’s a maddening amount of distance to set between them, but Catra knows that it’s courtesy to place both guest and host at the opposite heads of the table. Catra just wishes that Count Fletcher hadn’t made the table so long.
“So,” Catra says, falling into her chair and crossing her legs. “I suppose you’re wondering how I’m alive.”
Adora looks up from her cutlery and nods.
A part of Catra wants to reveal the truth. So what if Adora is a vampire hunter? She’s still Adora. Adora, the kindest woman Catra has ever known. Adora, who would stay up the whole night just to help Catra meet her deadlines, even when they weren’t Adora’s deadlines to fulfill. Surely, she’ll understand.
And really, it’s not like Catra chose to become a vampire. The vampire who took her said she could either die of blood loss, thanks to the copious amounts they drank from her neck….or she could agree to be turned. Neither option was particularly desirable. But Catra didn’t want to die—not fully, anyway. Not with the knowledge that Adora was still out there somewhere, waiting for her to come home.
Besides, as soon as she was turned, that same vampire became her first victim. Her vengeance was swift, and brutal. And though she couldn’t feel off them, she could make them suffer for what they did to her, and the many others before her.
Though she does somewhat regret her first real meal, after being turned. A vulgar old man who shouted disgusting things at her as she walked by. He’d probably meant none of them, not really, but he’d chosen the wrong time to test her patience. She had been so very hungry.
Catra resists another sigh. She doubts Adora would approve much of that last part. Catra can’t justify all the things she’s done, all the people she’s killed. Some of them deserved it, she claims to herself. But she can’t be entirely sure of that fact.
Catra feeds as rarely as she can. Animal blood is a suitable substitute for certain periods of time, but it cannot sustain her forever. Not without plagues of weakness and terrible illness. At least once a month, she must feed on human blood to carry on.
Sometimes she will go to those already dying—beyond the help of healers—and grant them a quick death while slaking her own thirst. Other times, like with the young man who hurt those girls, she will use her nature to dole out punishments to those who deserve them.
But again, she doubts that Adora will approve of Catra’s efforts to replace the angel of death, or her play-pretend at judge, jury, and executioner. Adora was always such a stickler for the rules.
So Catra returns to her original plan—to lie. Or, at least, cling close to the truth without revealing it entirely.
“I was kidnapped,” Catra says. “That night Miss Weaver left me outside—a stranger came and knocked me unconscious. There was little I could do.”
“I know,” says Adora, nearly whispering. “I saw them, when they took you. I tried to stop them—”
Catra blinks. She doesn’t remember that part. But then again, she remembers little from after the vampire began to drain her blood.
She is about to reply when the kitchen staff finally emerge, carrying a steaming pot of stew and two wine bottles from the cellars beneath the castle.
One server lays out a bowl and a wineglass before Adora, then begins to ladle stew into it. The second server pours the wine into Adora’s glass—dark red liquid gushing from the bottle. Adora watches the pouring of the drink as though entranced. And as soon as the server is done, Catra sees her give the glass a discreet sniff—as though confirming that the drink is, in fact, what it claims to be, and not something that once pumped from a human heart.
Catra nearly laughs. The liquid in that glass—it’s most definitely wine, despite how Adora might fear otherwise. One of the Count’s rare vintages. Catra gave most of them away, as she doesn’t drink much wine anymore. But she kept a few bottles for rare occasions such as this.
Though she’ll admit that the second bottle, the one poured into Catra’s glass, and Catra’s glass only…
Well. The contents of that bottle actually did once pump from a human heart—an arrogant hunter who enjoyed poaching on the grounds outside the castle. Catra gave him several warnings to stay off her land, but he simply would not listen. So he’s been the source of her last two feedings—with more of his blood stored away for future feedings as well.
It’s funny, Catra thinks. That Adora’s wine and Catra’s glass of blood don’t look all that different to the naked eye.
“The kidnapper took me far from Miss Weaver’s shop,” Catra continues explaining, swishing the blood around in the glass a little. “I managed to escape. But once I did, I had no idea where I was. It took me a long time to find my way back. Months, even.”
Truthfully, Catra also dawdled a bit in returning to Adora. The last thing she wanted was to put Adora in danger. If she had returned to her right away, before she had properly learned to control her cravings for blood…
“After that,” proceeds Catra, “I finally made my way back to Miss Weaver’s shop. But apparently you had already left. And no one knew where you’d gone, or how to contact you.”
She sees Adora gulp, a hand grasping blindly for the wine.
“Yes,” replies Adora, still half-whispering. “I left as soon as my term was finished. I mean, I thought you were dead, Catra. And, well...”
Catra stares at her, an eyebrow raised—prodding her to continue.
“I couldn’t stay there, in that shop. With all those memories of you. Knowing that you were gone, that you had been taken—”
Adora cuts herself off with a strangled sort of gasp, and again looks down at the table. Her eyes become unsettlingly focused on the stew in front of her.
“I didn’t know,” Adora says firmly, as though assuring herself of that fact. “I didn’t know. Everyone told me you were dead. And since you didn’t come back for me, I thought it must be true.”
“I did come back,” Catra whispers. “It just wasn’t right away. And when I did, you were the one who was gone.”
Silent persists for a few moments, after that. And Catra wonders what would have happened if she did return right away—if she had controlled her blood cravings sooner. Would Catra have spent the last seven years with Adora by her side? Would she have spent every night smiling at Adora, rather than toiling over paintings of her?
“That still does not explain how you became a countess,” Adora remarks. “I thought that you were an orphan, same as me. That we both came from nothing.”
“Yes, well,” Catra says with a shrug that seems just a hair too forced. “It seems I had an estranged uncle that had no desire to raise me, but had no other relatives. When he died, I received complete ownership of his estate and title.” Catra smiles broadly. “A stroke of good luck, really.”
Adora raises an eyebrow of her own. “You’d call the death of your closest living relative ‘a stroke of good luck?’”
Catra’s smile fades. “I just meant that...well...after living with nearly nothing for so long...it was nice to finally have some power.”
Her eyes narrow. “Is that what you call it? Power?” Adora glances around the dining room. “It seems rather lonely to me.”
Catra doesn’t answer.
Adora simply takes a sip of her wine.
“And, of course,” Adora continues, setting down the glass with soundless precision, “the townspeople have all sorts of rumors about this castle.”
Catra keeps her expression decidedly neutral when she asks, “What kinds of rumors, exactly?”
Adora’s eyes shine from across the table. “Oh, nothing special. Rumors typical of old castles like these. That it’s haunted. Cursed. That there’s a vampire hiding within these walls—one who emerges to prey on the nearby village.”
Adora pantomimes claws and fangs, and Catra cannot help but laugh loudly at how wildly inaccurate it is.
It’s the first time Adora has smiled since arriving, too—this laughter in reply to Catra’s laughter. She smiles, and she laughs, and Catra cannot begin to describe the warmth that fills her ribcage at the sight of Adora tipping her head back, her mouth split into a grin.
Though it doesn’t last nearly as long as Catra wishes it did. Adora’s laughter fades like a candle being snuffed out, stifled by yet another one of Adora’s attempts to clear her throat.
“But they must be simply that,” Adora says, reaching again for her wine. “Rumors, and nothing but. Or do you disagree?”
Catra just hums, and lets Adora interpret what exactly it means. She won’t deny who she is when asked. But she won’t waste time dispelling rumors that Adora already knows to be true.
“Perhaps you should explain how the last several years have treated you,” Catra says. “Did you open your own dress shop?”
Adora shakes her head. “No,” she replies. “I decided to do some traveling. Meet new people. Learn other trades. Dressmaking no longer held much appeal, once you were gone.”
Yes, Catra suspects that’s true. given what Hordak said about Adora’s vampire hunting activities London and Madrid and Paris—
Adora has certainly been traveling. And she’s certainly been meeting new people—though she seems to have a bad habit of staking those people upon meeting them.
“Aren’t you going to eat your stew?” Catra asks, gesturing to the still-steaming bowl in front of Adora.
“I was waiting for you to begin eating yours,” says Adora, smirking. “But it seems like you have no urge to partake. Your bowl remains quite empty.”
Catra smiles. “No. I’m afraid my appetite is failing me at the moment.”
Adora leans forward, balancing her chin on a hand. “Is my beauty feast enough for the eyes?”
Catra snorts and rolls her eyes, but won’t deny it. She is grateful for the teasing—it’s the most Adora has sounded like herself since she arrived.
“The years have not reduced your big-headedness, I see.”
Adora’s smile is broad as she finally dips a spoon into her bowl, blowing on the stew as it hovers just outside her waiting lips.
“There are some things that time can’t change, Catra.”
Adora knows she shouldn’t let herself fall so deeply into conversation with Catra. She took Catra’s hand, after all—when Catra helped lower Adora into her chair. Adora felt how inhumanly cold Catra’s skin was. And really, that told Adora all that she needs to know.
Catra is a vampire. Catra is the vampire. The very vampire that Adora arrived to exterminate, just as she promised that crying mother—
But right there, sitting across from Catra…
Adora can’t help it. She can’t help but forget that terrible truth. How can she possibly accept that Catra is anything but her old self? She acts no different—telling the same jokes, smiling the same smile. In every word and mannerism and sweep of her eyes, that person is, without a doubt, Catra. The same Catra that Adora loved all those years ago.
And...it’s just so hard. It’s so hard, because she feels like Catra. And Adora wants nothing more than to climb across that table and tug Catra’s lips onto hers, enveloping her in an embrace...
But it’s not Catra. It can’t be Catra. It’s the vampire that has replaced Catra. And if Adora lowers her guard in any way, that vampire will be sure to take advantage, and drain Adora of her blood—
“I suppose we’d best turn in for the night,” Catra says with a sigh, rising smoothly to her feet. Her mouth is still curved into a smile from their last topic of conversation—a nostalgic discussion of the stray cat Adora and Catra used to feed, despite how Miss Weaver yelled at them for it. In exchange, the cat would leave a dead mouse just outside the shop—seemingly in protest of Miss Weaver’s hatred of it.
The memory filled the room with their laughter. And somehow, that makes everything worse. It makes it worse to know that Catra still possesses all her memories, despite the fact that she’s now a vampire. Because, really, don’t memories make a person who they are?
Adora pats at the corner of her mouth with a napkin, nodding. She can’t even guess what time it is. Only that it must be incredibly late.
When Catra walks to Adora’s side and outstretches a hand, Adora takes it—yet again stifling a gasp at how unnaturally cold Catra’s skin is—and allows herself to be lifted to a standing position.
Only when she stands does Adora realize how close Catra is. Her face mere inches away from Adora’s.
“Thank you for dinner,” Adora says, blushing again despite herself. “It was delicious.”
Adora awaits a response. A simple “my pleasure,” would suffice. Or perhaps a more typical “you’re welcome.” But Catra doesn’t say a word. Not immediately, anyway. She merely stands there, staring at Adora. And the longer the silence lasts, the more Adora’s blush deepens and reddens.
And then, for the briefest of moments, Adora sees Catra’s eyes slide down, trailing to a spot just below Adora’s chin.
Her neck. Catra is staring at Adora’s neck.
But despite herself, Adora is staring at Catra’s lips. They really are just so impossibly red and gleaming. It makes Adora wonder whether they were drinking the same wine, back at dinner.
It’s a terrible thought. One that leaves Adora half-tempted to reach down and free the wooden stake from her stocking. She’s killed vampires for far less.
But if Adora is being honest...with those red lips, right there…she is just as tempted to lean forward, to wrap her arms around Catra’s back and pull her into a kiss—
“I’ll leave as soon as possible tomorrow morning,” Adora says. “That way I won’t burden you or your staff any further.”
Though Adora is lying when she says this. More likely than not, Catra will try to sneak into Adora’s bedroom to feed. Such is the way of vampires—they are known to drain sleeping victims, after all, and Adora takes advantage of the fact. She cannot count the number of times she has pretended to be asleep, only to stake that unsuspecting vampire before their fangs made contact. It’s a risky ambush, of course. But it works quite well.
And if Catra does not attack tonight...Adora will wait until the early morning hours, when sunlight streams through the windows, and Catra is fast asleep in her coffin. A coffin that Adora will find, and open...so that she can stake Catra as she slumbers. Just as Adora has done to so many vampires before.
But despite how she tries, she just can’t imagine it right now. She cannot imagine doing those things to Catra. Impaling Catra, hurting Catra in any way—
She especially cannot imagine it now, as Catra finally tears her eyes away from Adora’s flushed neck, focusing instead on Adora’s face. Studying her features with utmost attention.
She cups a hand against Adora’s cheek, gentle fingers splayed across her jaw and chin and cheekbones.
Her hand is cold, just like before.
“You don’t have to leave, you know,” Catra whispers, still scrutinizing Adora’s face. The near-dead candlelight appears almost liquid within Catra’s blue and gold eyes.
Adora inhales. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Catra says, leaning closer—nose dipping upward toward Adora’s, “that you can stay however long you’d like. What you said before—you were right, you know.”
“Right about what?” Adora breathes. She shouldn’t let a vampire get so close. She shouldn’t—
“Being here...this castle…” Catra draws closer and closer and for the life of Adora, she cannot look nor step away. “It is very lonely. And I fear that it will continue to be that way, so long as you’re not here...”
But just as their lips nearly touch, Adora hears footsteps clatter closer—and a voice call out, “Miss Grayskull? I’m here to bring you back to your room.”
Catra and Adora jerk away from one another. Adora’s cheeks burn bright red, and she tries, desperately, to keep her expression neutral as she looks over Catra’s shoulder.
Scorpia stands at the doorway—smiling pleasantly with her hands clasped in front of her.
“Yes, of course,” Adora says, voice trembling far more than she would prefer. She picks up her dress slightly and pivots around Catra, practically scrambling out of the room. “Thank you, Scorpia.”
But despite her haste, despite her persistent blush, Adora does spare Catra one last glance before she leaves. Her eyes falling tentatively over her shoulder toward Catra behind her.
Catra smirks. And Adora thinks that she can see, right there, just the barest tip of a fang, gleaming white and sharp—
And then Scorpia is ushering Adora out of the room.
Adora is careful when settling herself into bed.
She hides several crosses and stakes beneath the covers, within hand’s reach. She also leaves one stake strapped to her thigh, should the vampire attempt to drag her out of bed. And, finally, there’s a bottle of holy water on her nightstand, disguised as tonic. A last-ditch defense if she needs to make an escape.
Adora slips under the covers, closes her eyes, and waits.
She focuses on keeping her breathing steady and deep, like a real sleeping person’s breathing would be. Though she remains herself alert for the sound or feel of someone drawing close—opening a door or a window, or leaning over the bed.
The thought fills Adora with anxiousness. She can picture it—Catra, sneaking into her bedroom. Curling fingers around Adora’s throat and sinking fangs deep into her neck.
But she shakes her head—shakes it off. Adora has done this countless times before. Just because it’s Catra doesn’t mean Adora won’t succeed. So what if Catra knows Adora better than any vampire she’s faced in the past? Catra has never seen Adora in a fight before. How could she possibly know how to counter her well-tested tactics—
No. No. Adora is prepared. Ready. She has the upper hand. She just needs to make herself look convincingly asleep, and then strike at the perfect moment.
So Adora loosens her muscles and breathes. Over and over again, she breathes, her chest rising and falling in every repetition, heart pumping loudly in the silence of the room.
“Oh, Adora,” a familiar voice whispers. “Look at you. You’re a nervous wreck.”
Adora’s eyes fly open.
And there, standing right beside Adora’s bed, is Catra. She is dressed the same as before—still clad in that dark evening gown, her delicate figure framed against the moonlight spilling between the curtains.
Catra watches Adora with unmistakable amusement. A smirk spreads across her lips, revealing a pair of white, glistening fangs—each one tapered to a deadly tip.
Adora gasps, her hand grasping frantically for one of the stakes beneath the blanket—but finds that the blanket has inexplicably disappeared. Gone, alongside her weapons, leaving only a bare mattress and Adora atop it.
The stake strapped to her thigh. That...that must still be there, except—
Except it’s not. It’s not. Somehow that’s gone too. All of Adora’s weapons are gone, vanished into thin air—
It’s a glance at the nightstand that decimates Adora’s last hope. Even the holy water is missing. Adora is weaponless, defenseless—
It doesn’t...it doesn’t make sense. Adora would have felt Catra removing the blanket. Or the stake attached to her leg. The holy water did not even look like holy water, for God’s sake. How did Catra know, or better yet, how did she even touch the crosses—?
“Oh dear,” Catra says, stepping closer. Still smirking as she feigns concern. “Looking for something?”
Adora trembles. Without the blanket, she finds herself freezing, the skin beneath her nightgown dotted with goosebumps...
She should get up. She should get up, and run for the door. Try to escape while she still can—
But she can’t, for some reason. She can’t. No matter how she tries, Adora’s legs just won’t move. They stay sprawled on the bed, her toes near-numb with cold.
Frozen. She is frozen under Catra’s gaze.
Adora supposes she could scream for help. But this castle is remote enough that it’s unlikely anyone will hear. The staff might, perhaps. But they’re likely captured and controlled by Catra. It’s not uncommon, after all, for vampires to take human servants and hypnotize them to do their bidding.
“Are you going to kill me?” Adora whispers.
At this, Catra frowns. She lowers herself onto the edge of the bed, never once taking her eyes from Adora’s face.
“Really, Adora. You must know I wouldn’t hurt you,” Catra says, and she seems genuinely offended by the idea.
And...yes. Adora knows that Catra wouldn’t hurt her. Or, at least, the Catra she once knew wouldn’t. But Catra is a vampire now. Things are different now. They have to be—
Slowly, Catra’s smirk returns, and she scoots closer to Adora on the bed. “Well. Not unless you asked me to hurt you, I mean.”
Again, Catra’s hand cradles Adora’s cheek, and Catra leans down, down, down, until her face is hovering just over Adora’s, dark curls spilling a curtain all across Adora’s vision.
Adora stares up into those mesmerizing blue and gold eyes, startled to discover that they look the same as they always have. That they look at Adora in the same way they always have. With affection. With love. And God, Adora has never missed someone so much in her life—
“What do you want, Adora?” Catra asks, stroking her fingers down Adora’s cheek, and then further still, down her neck.
Adora scrunches her eyes shut. She can’t do this. She shouldn’t do this. Catra is a vampire. A vampire, for God’s sake, and Adora is a vampire hunter—
But Adora still loves her. She cannot help it, cannot deny it.
Adora opens her eyes, brows pulled together. Determined. Decided. And then, in a voice that sounds like it’s crumbling, Adora whispers, “Kiss me.”
For a moment, Catra only smiles. And then she lowers herself down, lips falling across Adora’s in a sweet, gentle kiss. A slow, languid meeting of lips that Adora cannot help but sigh into. Slow, but only at first. It gradually grows in intensity until Adora is panting against Catra’s lips, a tongue slipping into her mouth. It’s been so long, so long, since Adora has felt anything like this—
She feels Catra straddle her on the bed, knees on either side of her waist. With better leverage, she kisses Adora with even greater force. And it’s strange, Adora thinks, to find Catra’s lips so cold, but somehow she doesn't mind. Not so long as it’s Catra.
A small noise of pleasure escapes Adora’s mouth as Catra’s lips trail away from their original target, instead pressing into cheekbones and forehead, ears and jawlines, and then, finally, moving farther down. Past the chin to the neck, lips lingering threateningly close to Adora’s pulse point.
“What do you want, Adora?” she hears Catra ask again as she begins to suck the skin at that spot. Her breath is cold against Adora’s skin, and she shivers. It’s difficult to forget how warm Catra’s breath once was. But now...now it’s all different.
And yet, despite the cold, despite the danger, Adora can’t help but gasp and revel in how wonderful it feels. She wants more. Needs more.
So then, without considering the consequences, Adora breathes out, “Bite me.”
Catra does not hesitate. Without warning, fangs plunge into Adora’s neck and she cries out. It’s painful, yes, but also somehow not. A wonderful mixture of pleasure and pain that she never quite imagined—
She clutches at Catra’s back. The fangs drive deeper, and Adora gives another cry, the pain spiking through every nerve in her body—
Until Adora shoots upright with a gasp, her chest heaving.
Adora wakes to an empty room.
Unlike in the dream, the blanket still covers the mattress—as well as Adora’s many vampire-hunting weapons. She finds each cross and stake exactly where she left it. And there, on the nightstand, the holy water sits untouched—not disappeared, like the one in the dream.
She finds herself completely alone. There’s no sign of Catra. No sign of anyone, save her own reflection in that ornate mirror at the room’s far corner.
A hand climbs to Adora’s neck. With a trembling touch, she examines the skin for puncture marks, but finds nothing but smooth, unbitten skin. Which means that Adora’s blood is still exactly where it should be, and not pouring into Catra’s mouth.
A dream, she realizes with something like a nervous laugh—though it is far more broken-sounding, even to her own ears. A dream. It was just a dream.
A ridiculous, terrifying dream—
Adora’s head falls into her hands. Her breaths continue to escape in jagged, uneven pants.
God, what was that? Why did she ask Catra to do that? To bite her? She wouldn’t...she wouldn’t do that, Adora is a vampire hunter, for God’s sake—
Adora sits up, staring at the door as if Catra might break it down at any moment.
What if Catra is hypnotizing her?
Yes. It’s the only explanation. Some vampires are known to hypnotize people. Their servants, usually, but sometimes their victims as well. Catra’s staff is likely hypnotized. But the ability to enter someone’s dreams...that’s a rarer ability in vampires, though not unheard of.
Adora clambers out of bed and begins to pace, a stake clutched tightly in her hand. So tightly, in fact, that her fingers stiffen almost immediately.
But would Catra really…?
Would she really try to manipulate Adora like that?
Adora shakes her head. There can’t be another explanation. Adora has never once dozed off during a hunt before. Not like this. And sure, she had a little wine, but likely not enough to make her pass out so completely—
And Adora doesn’t want…
Obviously, she doesn’t want Catra to bite her—
No. No. That must be the hypnosis talking.
Adora needs to put a stop to this. She came here to kill a vampire, and kill a vampire she shall. Even if that vampire wears Catra’s face. Even if that vampire has a seductive smile and a pretty voice and annoyingly red lips—
No. Adora must act. She must do what she came here to do.
So Adora throws open the curtains and waits until sunrise.
She does not sleep for the rest of the night.
When dawn begins to creep over the horizon, Adora dresses herself.
Not in the absurdly fancy dress from last night, and not in the plain wool dress from yesterday, but in her usual vampire hunting garb—now finally dry.
Men’s clothes, Miss Weaver would call them, but Adora doesn’t care what Miss Weaver thinks anymore. A loose dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up above the elbow. A pair of trousers held high on her waist by a pair of wool suspenders. And, finally, a vest to keep Adora warm, should she need to escape the castle without first grabbing a coat.
She straps several stakes to her legs and stores another within her shirt sleeve. Within her vest, meanwhile, she places several crosses and vials of holy water for easy access.
She has done this so many times before, Adora dresses and prepares herself almost entirely from muscle memory. Each item on her person has proven to be critical in combat with a vampire. And those items will likely prove critical again, when Adora confronts the vampire in this castle.
When the sun fully arrives—slanting golden and pink through the window—Adora finally slips from her room, and into the hallway. She is relieved to find the passage empty of people, though the staff will likely be waking soon to start their daily chores.
The vampire has proven that she has a taste for luxury. She took this castle for herself, maybe even killed the Count. If she worked so hard to take what was once his...she wouldn’t deny herself the finest bedroom. Even if she no longer has use for a bed.
It’s not exactly hard to find that bedroom—the master bedroom. It’s the only double-doored room on the second floor, with intricately carved molding around the entrance.
Quietly, Adora curls a hand around one doorknob, and twists.
It does not budge.
But Adora expected as much—the vampire isn’t stupid. And luckily, neither is Adora, and she’s prepared for this contingency. She deftly pulls a metal clip from her hair and slides it into the key slot, jiggling and prodding the lock until she hears the faint click of the door’s unlatching.
Well. This is it, she supposes. This is where the vampire will meet her end.
Adora takes a deep breath, closing her eyes for the briefest of moments. Her knuckle clenches tightly around the knob.
And then, slowly—quietly—she pushes the door open. It yawns without so much as a creak.
Adora surveys the room. It’s an enormous bedroom. Divided into two parts, with the sleeping area situated closest to the entrance, and some sort of study sitting beyond a pair of half-open French doors.
There are windows, too. Huge ones. But they’ve been entirely covered by thick, dark curtains. Adora can’t spot a single shred of sunlight between them.
Though Adora soon finds herself distracted by the enormous coffin at the center of the room. It sits in place of the bed—the original mattress and frame were likely removed when the vampire gained control of the estate.
It’s vampire nature, after all, to sleep during the day in some enclosed dark space. Coffins are preferred in most cases. Though Adora has seen some vampires retreat to caves, or closets, or—in one ridiculous case in Prussia—a barrel of mead.
The coffin is shut tight, and the vampire is nowhere in view. Which means that she has likely settled into her daily slumber, within the coffin. One that she will only awake from when the sun sets.
Well...one that she might have awoken from, if Adora had not arrived to destroy her.
Adora draws closer to the coffin, stepping carefully across the floorboards. One loud creak could give her away, so she tests each board with a single toe before pressing her full weight against it, listening for the barest squeal or creak, and avoiding it accordingly if she suspects it to be loud.
Finally, finally, Adora is standing beside the coffin. She circles its perimeter until she finds the side with the latch. Unlocked, thankfully—though Adora has encountered plenty of vampires who try to lock their coffins. But this vampire likely expects herself to be protected here, in her own castle.
Adora pulls out one of the stakes strapped to her thigh. She clutches it in her dominant hand, fingers curled into a tight and well-practiced grip. With her other hand, she slips her fingers beneath the latch, prepared to throw it open.
Adora closes her eyes. Inhales. Exhales.
She pictures Catra, beneath the coffin’s cover. Catra, peacefully asleep, her arms crossed over her chest. Mouth curved into that sweet sleeping smile that Adora remembers from back when they used to share the same bed.
Can Adora really do this? Can she kill Catra?
But then Adora remembers her dream from last night. How defenseless and pliant Adora was, with Catra standing over her. The way Catra bit her, draining Adora of her blood. Obviously, Adora would never want that. She would never want to be a vampire’s meal. Or worse...turned into a vampire.
Catra must be manipulating her—hypnotizing her. She must be.
And if Adora doesn’t do this now, it might not be long until Catra seeks to make that dream a reality.
There’s no time to waste. Adora must do this. Adora must do this right now.
And so, with yet another sharp exhale, Adora sends her hand flying upward, and with it, the coffin lid. It flings open with a mighty crash, but Adora doesn’t care if she makes noise now. The vampire won’t be able to react right away, not as she’s waking from sleep.
Adora closes her eyes. She cannot bear to look. Practice will tell her where the heart is, but she will not look. She will not look as she stakes Catra into oblivion.
So Adora leans herself over the coffin, the stake clutched in both hands, prepared to plunge into Catra’s heart—
But then she pictures Catra yet again. Catra, who Adora wanted to spend her life with. Catra, laughing. Catra, leaning down to kiss Adora. Catra, swimming beside Adora in the lake, her hair flowing wild and dark in the water.
Her grip on the stake loosens. Her muscles freeze. And God...she can’t do it. She just can’t. If there’s even a trace of Catra, in there. The slightest trace—
Adora opens her eyes and glances down. Down, at the coffin. Down, at Catra.
But Catra isn’t there. Catra isn’t there at all. The coffin is empty save a padded interior and a single pillow, and Catra is nowhere in sight.
“Do you really think I’m stupid enough to sleep while a vampire hunter is visiting my home?” a voice asks impatiently. “Come now, Adora. You know me better than that.”
Adora gasps and spins around.
Catra is standing behind her, a hand at her hip, eyes narrowed in accusation. She’s still in her evening gown, her curls still hanging loose around her shoulders.
“Y-you…” Adora stammers, wide-eyed. “You knew?”
Catra nods. “I stood behind the door for half the night, waiting for you to come in.”
Catra rolls her eyes. “Well, if the bag full of weapons hadn’t given it away, watching you try to stake me through the heart would’ve been a clear enough indication.”
And then, for the first time since Adora’s arrival, Catra appears distinctly and thoroughly angry.
“Were you really going to stake me?” Catra demands, gesturing to the coffin with near-violent outrage. “After everything?”
Adora shakes her head, mouth opening and closing like a fish’s. “I should. I should stake you. You’re not...you’re not you anymore.”
Catra’s expression grows bewildered, but does not lose its fury. “I’m not me? What the hell does that even mean?”
“You’re a vampire,” Adora insists. “You died when you were turned. The Catra I know is gone and—”
“What do you mean, I’m gone?” Catra gives a little wave. “I’m right here, Adora. Yes, I might crave blood on occasion, but I’m still very much myself. I still act and talk and think like I always have.”
“And yet, you’ve killed people,” Adora says, fingers tightening around the stake. “The Catra I knew...she would never—”
“You mean the man the townspeople found in the creek?” Catra says, an eyebrow raised. “Is that who you’re raving about?”
“How did you—”
Catra laughs. “Oh, believe me—he wasn’t as innocent as his doddering old mother told you.”
Adora blinks. “What do you mean?”
“He habitually terrorized the women in the town,” Catra informs her. “And whenever those women complained, his family denied it. And them being a wealthy family, the authorities weren’t inclined to disagree. So yes.” Catra crosses her arms and smirks. “I killed him, and I drained him, and I’d do it again if given the choice.”
“Not in the least,” replies Catra. “Ask any girl in town. They’ll tell you the same thing.”
Adora shakes her head. “That did not give you the right to kill him!”
“And what gives you the right to kill vampires, hm?” Catra demands, hands balled into fists at her side. “You play judge, jury, and executioner as much as I do. The only difference is that I need to feed to survive—no one’s forcing you to kill vampires. ”
“If you’d faced what I faced, you’d feel just as compelled!” Adora steps forward, eyes wide with indignation. “At least you had the comfort of knowing I was alive, after you were turned. But I had no such comfort. The only comfort I could claim was my new mission—to ensure that no one else would suffer what I had suffered, when you disappeared.”
“Well, I’m not disappeared anymore,” Catra hisses. “And yet, here you are. Trying to stake me as if I were some London vampire in the sewers—”
“If you were a London sewer vampire, you’d be dead already!” Adora says, waving her arms wildly. “Who am I, if not the best vampire hunter on the continent? I’ve killed your kind in every corner of Europe. In every building and sewer and cave. I’ve torn vampires away from the necks of babies and shot wooden arrows into vampires climbing into children’s windows. But because it’s you…”
Adora gasps, the breath slicing through her lungs like something sharp and shuddering and deadly.
“...because it’s you…”
The stake falls from Adora’s hand, clattering sharply against the wooden floor.
She cannot continue onward, cannot stop the tears that spring to her eyes. This is where Adora’s story ends, she supposes. Killed by a vampire with her lover’s face. How awful. How poetic. How heartbreaking.
Catra watches her carefully. For several moments, she does not speak. Only stares. Only studies. And then, finally—
“I should have killed you the moment I discovered those weapons in your bag,” Catra says, her voice surprisingly calm. “But do you know why I did not?”
Eyes still overflowing with tears, Adora replies—almost chuckles, though the words are far too thick: “Because you wish to drain me of my blood?”
Catra sets her jaw, her eyes growing hard. “Is that what you think?”
“It is your nature,” Adora says, rubbing at her eyes and nose. “You sought to hypnotize me to do it.”
“Hypnotize you?” Catra blinks, brows pulled low over her eyes. “What on Earth are you talking about?”
“Do not pretend!” says Adora sternly. “You infected me with that dream, didn’t you? A dream where you tried to seduce and bite me—”
“Seduce…” Catra repeats slowly, “and bite you?”
“Yes,” replies Adora, teeth gritted. “But it will not work, Catra. Surely, you must know that I—”
But Adora does not finish. Not before she is interrupted by Catra’s laughter. Hysterical, endless laughter. The kind that sends Catra’s head back, and arms around her stomach.
“You think…” Catra gasps between peals. Then keeps laughing. It’s several moments before she’s able to try again, still laughing between every word. “You think...I hypnotized you...into dreaming about me seducing and biting you?”
“That is exactly what I think,” says Adora furiously.
“Adora,” Catra sighs, still coming down from her laughter. “I have never once hypnotized a person. I don’t even know how.”
“Do not lie to me,” hisses Adora. “Of course you’ve hypnotized people. Why else would your servants agree to serve a vampire—?”
“My servants,” Catra says, “worked for the Count who once owned this estate. When I took ownership of it, they wished to keep living and working here—and I agreed to keep paying them. And honestly, from what I’ve been told, I’m a much better employer than the Count ever was. Even with my unique diet.”
Adora narrows her eyes. “And what about Scorpia?”
“Scorpia,” Catra continues, “was nearly burned at the stake for witchcraft several towns over. Rather than let her die, I gave her shelter here. And she’s hardly my servant, mind you. She’s my friend—though we pretend otherwise when we have guests.” Catra sounds somewhat indignant when she says, “Believe it or not, I do my fair share of work in maintaining this castle. We all do. I’m not controlling anyone—and I wouldn’t call anyone my servant.”
“Is that so?” Adora demands. “So you refuse to control them, but you’re fine with controlling me?”
“Adora,” Catra says impatiently. “I am not controlling you.”
Adora shakes her head. “How can I possibly believe you?”
“Because,” Catra says, “if I were controlling you, I wouldn’t need to work so hard to convince you otherwise, would I?”
Adora’s mouth opens to answer—
Then snaps shut.
Catra does...She does have a point.
Catra sighs, then steps closer. Closer and closer, she walks, until she’s mere inches away from Adora, bending over to scoop the wooden stake off the ground. Adora is too confused to ask why, let alone stop her as she straightens—the stake grasped tightly in Catra’s hand.
And she is especially confused when Catra spins the stake around, and points it directly at her own heart—the tip hovering over the bodice of her evening gown.
Catra’s other hand reaches for Adora’s, guiding it to hold the stake in place. Adora doesn’t know what to do—doesn’t know what to say. She can only keep her hand where Catra has placed it.
“Adora,” Catra says. “I will make this easy on you. If you truly believe that I am an irredeemable monster incapable of loving and being loved…” Catra releases another sigh. “Then you have my full permission to stake me through the heart—right here, right now. I will not fight you.”
Adora freezes, her eyes wide. But Catra does not pull away. Does not move her body away from the stake.
“The choice is yours,” says Catra quietly, both eyes slipping closed. “I leave my fate—or lack thereof—in your hands.”
Adora can only stand there, frozen. Her stake hovering mere centimeters over Catra’s heart. Like this, it would be easy. It would be easy to destroy Catra, just like she came here to do. Catra is practically begging her to do it, in fact.
But this...this is the first time that Adora realizes that she doesn’t want to. Right here, right now, she has every capability. All power rests in her hands. But despite it all, Adora just doesn’t want to kill Catra. Even if it means ridding the world of another vampire. Even if Catra begged her to, she wouldn’t. Wouldn’t, not couldn’t.
Adora is in love with Catra. No matter Catra’s nature. No matter Catra’s cravings for blood. Adora has been all along, and still is, and perhaps always will be.
“Or,” Catra continues, “you could perhaps accept that your desires, rather than hypnosis, placed me inside this dream of yours…” A dreadfully amused smirk twists across Catra’s lips. “And we can move on from there.”
Adora groans in humiliation, then drops the stake to the ground yet again. “Lord, you don’t have to mock me for it—”
Catra laughs and steps even closer, her hands curling around Adora’s fingers—intertwining them. Holding hands, the both of them, for the first time in years.
“Can you really blame me?” asks Catra, smiling broadly. “You have one arousing dream and you immediately assume it’s mind control.” Another laugh. “You really are ridiculous.”
“You never finished explaining why,” Adora says pointedly, trying to change the subject.
“Why you didn’t kill me after finding all those weapons,” Adora says. “Clearly, I was here to kill you. But you did not even try to defend yourself.”
Catra releases another chuckle. “Do you really wish to know why?”
“Yes,” replies Adora. “I do.”
With a far softer laugh and a contented hum, Catra begins dragging Adora toward the study—but stops just outside the French doors.
“If I tell you,” Catra asks, “do you promise not to laugh?”
Nodding, Adora says, “I promise.”
She can see that Catra is still hesitating, pulling nervously at her curls and scratching behind her neck.
“Really, Catra,” Adora says. “You just trusted me not to stake you. Can’t you trust me not to laugh?”
Catra blows out a puff of air, still far too inexplicably nervous—but seemingly resigned to her fate. And then, finally, she pulls both French doors wide open to reveal—
Adora’s own face stares back at her from all sides. She is the subject of an enormous collection of beautiful paintings. Though they are not all the same, these paintings. In some, Adora is merely a sleeping face, curled up against the viewer in bed. In others, Adora is some sort of lady of the lake, swimming with her hair turned half-green by algae and lily roots. And in her quickly-decided favorite, she is reading a book by a warm fireplace, her own features more relaxed than she has ever seen in a reflection.
“Oh wow,” Adora breathes, head swiveling around to view each and every one. “Did you make these?”
“Yes,” Catra replies, very pointedly staring at her own feet.
Adora makes a disbelieving noise. “They’re incredible,” she remarks, meaning it entirely. The lighting, the colors—they are truly gorgeous. “But am I really all you’ve painted for seven years?”
“You’re not all I’ve painted,” Catra hisses. “But...you were my most frequent subject.”
“I’m...flattered. Really I am,” Adora says, stepping closer to the one of herself beside the fireplace. Every detail is perfect, the fire almost appearing to flicker before Adora’s very eyes. “But why me?”
Catra releases another laugh. “Why do you think, Adora?”
Adora does not answer. At this point, she knows what to hope for—but doesn’t want to assume anything.
“Every night for the past seven years, I woke up wishing to see you,” murmurs Catra. “And since I could not, I was left with this. Painting you. Remembering you.” Her eyes pull away from the floor, and find Adora’s almost immediately. “Even if it was a poor substitute.”
Adora laughs and turns back to the painting. “Well. I’m afraid your memory is rosier than you thought.” She gestures to herself—at the golden hair and long eyelashes. “You’ve drawn me far too prettily.”
Catra smiles. “I absolutely did not. If anything...” She steps closer. “I did not do you justice.”
Adora feels another blush heat her cheeks.
“I meant what I said, back at dinner,” Catra says, continuing to approach at a slow, almost cautious pace. “You can stay here as long as you like.”
“But is that what you want?”
Catra stares in confusion. “What?”
Catra is close enough to touch again, and Adora reaches for her hand. Catra takes it readily.
“I mean. Are you sure you want me to stay?” Adora says. “I don’t want to impose—”
Catra laughs, voice ringing loud with humor and disbelief. “I bring you into a room full of paintings I made of your face, and you ask whether I want you to stay?” She leans her head against Adora’s chest and curls both arms around her back. “Yes, Adora. I want you to stay. I’ve never wanted anything more than that.”
Relief settles deep in Adora’s chest. Catra wants her. Her, Adora, not just Adora’s blood. Catra wants Adora here, with her.
And now that they’re here, together again—
The fact that it’s even possible, after everything—
And then finally, finally, Adora is kissing Catra. Kissing Catra, kissing her deeply, in real life, for the first time in seven years. It is different without Catra’s warmth—the dream was right about that part. But it’s still incredibly perfect. It’s still everything Adora has ever wanted.
She kisses Catra long, and deeply. Kisses her until they find themselves stumbling toward the wall, knocking over a painting in the process, breathy giggles exchanged between gasping lips. Catra hoists her legs around Adora’s waist, her body held arched and aloft in Adora’s arms—
Adora’s back hits stone, but Catra just keeps kissing her—nails pressing sharply into Adora’s cheeks. And God, she has missed Catra so much. She loves Catra. She loves Catra more than she can express—
“Don’t you dare leave me again,” Adora gasps between kisses. “This time, we stay. We stay together.”
She feels Catra nod, feels her deepen the kiss. And Adora’s whole skin is set alight as Catra kisses everywhere she can reach—cheeks and chin and eyes and ears. But then she’s trailing lower and lower, down beyond Adora’s chin and across her throat, and there, hesitating at the pulse point—
“We’ll stay together,” Catra whispers.
Her fangs scrape against that spot—causing Adora to gasp even louder, her eyelids fluttering. She can feel Catra smirking against her skin.
“...forever, if you want.”