Long past midnight, Adora finally decided to go to bed. She'd spent the whole day with Glimmer and Bow, making restoration plans for the towns damaged during the war. They left a few hours ago, leaving her and the silence of the room. She reassured them she wouldn't work too long, but that plan was doomed to fail from the start.
Adora rarely slept, but when she did, she had nightmares of what could have been; She did her best and it wasn't enough; She tried and failed and tried again and it wasn't enough; The world ended worse than before, and it was her fault; She was useless.
And the ones that hurt her, haunted her: in her nightmares they would always say, "I am disappointed in you". They would follow her, like a shadow. They were there when she woke up, and a feeling of shame crept over her. Sometimes it got so bad, she couldn't bring herself to look in the mirror: Too afraid that she would see the reflection of the girl she saw in her nightmares. A disappointment.
Planet restoring and universe saving was far more than a one person job, so she worked more than one person should. She repeated to herself, just one more task, until the meaning of 'one more' no longer meant anything at all.
It all went well until the last couple of weeks. The burnout crept up on her faster than she prepared for. She tried so, so hard to be okay, but the fact of the matter was, she absolutely wasn't. A drop in her efficiency would point to compromise, and she would do anything to prevent it, but the panic attacks became more and more frequent and harder to hide, sleep became less and less of a regular occurrence and anything other than work became pointless.
Adora looked once again at the pile of papers she needed to sort through, lancing a painful jolt of fear through her chest. She cursed under her breath, and clenched her hands into fists, thudding her hand against her leg. She tried to grab at something - anything - to ground her body, but it was too late. She already rode the wave. When did it start? Had it always been like this?
The hit hurt hard enough to bruise, but Adora didn't know that yet. The ragged gasps from her lips and the tightness in her chest were all she could focus on.
Her body shook and the tears came and came and didn't let down. Her pulse thundered in her ears, growing louder and louder with each gasp of air.
"Sorry, 'm sorry, so sorry…"
She didn't know who she was apologising to. Her friends? Herself? The universe? Catra?
Another gasp. She jolted her head away from where it rested on the table to look Catra in the eyes.
"Nononono- Adora?" Catra sounded high pitched and panicked at first, but quickly turned soft. She knew what to do. "Hey, breathe. You're safe now."
Adora took a breath, shaky, but better.
"Good. Again for me."
And again. Again.
"It's okay, you're okay."
She looked at Adora again - vulnerable, somehow small - and something ached deep within her chest. Adora had given her so much, most importantly a future, where she could finally be there for her, the least she could do was take that opportunity.
"I love you." She always had. On battlefields, in shadows, in the wreckage of a planet crumbling into space. "I love you."
Adora's breathing had gradually slowed into a gentle rise and fall. Catra began, "Can I ask what you are doing up at - I don't know, three in the morning - surrounded by work?" It seemed harsh, but there was no bite. Only concern.
"I-" Tears were already threatening to spill again. "I feel… bad."
"Well, obviously." Catra smirked, "Sorry. Why do you feel 'bad'? You haven't done anything wrong."
Adora sighed, Catra usually knew how to challenge Adora's thoughts when it came to situations like this. "Yes but I haven't done enough right, either. I thought that maybe if I did more I'd finally feel worthy of this - my life - but I kept going and- and-"
"Shh, you're spiralling again." Catra gently moved the hair that stuck to Adora's face, and she leaned into the touch. Her heart ached. "Shh,"
"You've been coming to bed much later recently, I thought nothing of it for a while, but today our bed felt particularly cold. I'm glad I came looking for you."
Adora cursed herself for letting herself go this far. She wished she was worthy of Catra's trust. "I thought you would be mad. At me, that is. For avoiding you, and not telling you the truth."
"I promise I'm not mad. Sure, I wish you'd told me sooner, but not mad. Besides, now's your chance, and I'll always be here if it ever gets too much. What's been going on in that head of yours?"
'Um…" Catra ran a soothing hand over her thigh, encouraging her to continue, but Adora jerked away.
"Do you not want me to touch you?"
"No, no, it's…" She sighed, "Not like that. I think it's… bruised." A sick feeling rose in her throat.
A brief silence passed while Catra processed. "Bruised, like, you did it? Just now?"
Instead of talking, Adora looked down at the floor, which said all Catra needed to know. "Sorry. Don't be mad, I just - I thought it would help but it didn't, I wasn't really thinking rationally."
"It's not good that you did it, but I'm here now. My point still stands, I'm not mad. But you will let me take a look at it later so we can put some cream on it. Ok?"
Adora sighed, thankful, "Yeah, okay." She probably would have left it otherwise, amongst battle, it never helped much to get precious about a bruise. Catra always stood as a reminder that things were different now. "Are you sure you don't mind? I've been avoiding you for too long and you're.. Taking care of me?"
Catra softened yet again. "Adora. I would take care of you forever just to see you okay. I know that's impossible but Gods, I would do anything I could. Now, back to you, how did you end up here?"
Right. Adora wasn't totally sure where to begin, the last few weeks had only been a blur of nightmares and terrible thoughts.
"I've been having these… Nightmares. Most of them involve Shadow Weaver in some way, but some of them are people I don't even know at all. They make me feel like I'm letting everyone down. Like no matter what I do, it'll never be enough for them." Adora stopped to look at Catra for reassurance before continuing, "So I started to work more, in hopes that maybe they would stop, but they didn't. The expectations were bottomless. I was - and am - stressed all the time, and it gave me panic attacks, more than I've had before."
Catra raised her eyebrows knowingly, but always with a layer of concern. "I'm not surprised, more work and less sleep is obviously a recipe for disaster."
"I don't know why I didn't come to you sooner… I guess i just convinced myself that I would be okay… And that didn't really work out. It's all a bit stupid now that I-"
Catra put a hand on Adora's shoulder. "Hey. It isn't stupid at all. You're burning out, and that's a very important issue to me - to us."
"I don't know how to make the nightmares stop. I thought it would be easier if I did more, but it wasn't." Her voice broke, as the reality of the situation finally set in. "I'm so exhausted, I don't - don't know what to do…"
"Take a break."
Adora froze, the words inciting a surprised expression obvious enough for Catra to know those words had an impact. "I know it feels like you're only worthwhile when you're doing things - helping - giving yourself away, but you don't have to prove to anyone that you deserve to be here, ok?"
"No buts. You do, intrinsically. My love for you is unconditional, you don't have to earn it, or deserve it; I'm here, no matter what."
Adora choked on a sob. "You're doing so much, and I'm so proud of you; that won't change if you want to take time off. I wish people would tell you more, because you deserve to be told everyday. You're doing great, Adora, so, so great."
One more breath and Adora broke like a wave. She gripped Catra's shirt like she might slip away into the moonlight, and buried her head between her neck and shoulder. Adora mused over the suggestion in her head again. The idea of a break tempted her, but what would that mean for the restoration efforts? She could carry on regardless, to try harder and push through another week.
How long had it been since she'd spent an entire day with Catra? Too long.
"I can hear your brain from here, Princess. What do you want?"
"I think-" Adora hesitated for a moment, "I want to be with you. I want to leave all of this; Shadow weaver, the nightmares, the stress, all of it; I want to leave it all behind."
Catra's face broke out into a grin, though Adora couldn't see it. She knew how hard it was for Adora to do something like that.
"How about this: Tomorrow, we sleep in. You can wake up late for once, lie there, while hold your hands, and play with your hair. Then stay in bed until Glimmer comes and drags us out."
"That sounds… nice."
"Yeah? And we can walk through the gardens in the afternoon sun, until we get hungry. We'll raid the kitchens for cake and eat it with our hands because no one can stop us."
"Bow, Glimmer and I used to do that all the time." She heard Adora smiling in the way that she talked - a good sign.
"And we can do that every day until you feel better. For as long as you need." As if she'd read Adora's mind, she followed with, "There's no war anymore. The world won't end if you took a few days off, ok? I promise."
"Okay." Adora trusted her judgement.
"But… I just have one more thing I want you to do. Hey, look at me."
Adora moved away to see her reflection in Catra's eyes, her gaze soft, trusting. "What is it?"
"If you ever have a nightmare or panic attack, please come and find me. If it's night time, wake me up, okay? I know you know this already, but it can't hurt to remind you that I'll always be here for you no matter what. I want to be."
Catra held Adora's face like the most precious thing in the world, and maybe it was. "Your problems are not a burden. Remember that. You look out for me, and I look out for you."
"I love you." Adora murmured against Catra's lips, "I love you so much."
"I love you too. Now," She stretched her arms with a deep yawn, "I think it's time that you and I got some rest. We have a lot of sleep to catch up on."
"Mhm, bed time."
Adora's body trembled as she stood, heavy under the weight of the past few weeks. Catra put an arm under her shoulder and the weight became less heavy. They stayed just as close as they walked through the moonlit corridors to their room. The soft pads of their feet were much louder in the silence.
Through the window of their room, constellations grouped together in the sky, their blazing glow reflecting against the glass.
Adora almost wanted to sleep in her clothes, but for once decided to favour her own comfort over efficiency. She changed into her pyjamas and curled up under the sheets next to Catra, who pulled her against her chest and stroked her hair in repetitive motions, continuing to do so until Adora's breaths lulled into a sleepy rhythm. She vowed to be there if Adora ever had another nightmare or anxious thought. For now she'll be safe, calm, and finally, finally relaxed.