“Who hasn’t ever wondered: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?”
— Clarice Lispector
The first time Catra went into the Whispering Woods, the world ended, only Catra didn’t know it yet. She couldn't have foreseen the sword and the fractures it would create. She couldn't have imagined something calling to Adora in the middle of the night, old magic and destiny—something Catra now knows is synonymous with ruin. She just knew that Adora wanted to cheer her up, because Adora was kind that way. And it worked, speeding away on the skiff was the longest Catra had gone without her smile vanishing. It was the furthest from Shadow Weaver she’d ever been.
This time, the world ends in a literal way. It makes sense that Adora dragged Catra back to the woods against her will. It's the same place where Adora first disappeared, where it all went wrong.
Everything shakes—the ground, Catra’s stomach—nothing is steady, not even Adora’s voice. Uncharacteristically afraid and unsure, Adora’s lips tremble as she says, “I won’t leave you behind again.”
Deep down, Catra wants to believe in Adora’s sincerity, but it’s too late for them now. Adora had left her behind in their first world without a second thought, and she’s going to leave her behind in this one, too.
“Why can’t you just stay?” Catra asks, anyway. That’s what she really wants, she would confess it to Adora if she thought it would make a difference. “We have everything we ever wanted.”
Adora replies by telling her it isn’t real, as if Catra wasn’t already aware of that. A world where Adora stays with her is a kinder world than Catra deserves. But Adora doesn't know these rules, so she reaches for Catra as if she could heal her splintered heart by touch alone. Catra shoves Adora off. She’s easier to push as Adora than She-Ra. Adora might be stronger than she was in the Horde, even without She-Ra, but Catra’s stronger now, too. Without Adora holding her back, she’s stronger than she’s ever been.
Adora, the fool, runs after her. “Why did you do it?” she asks.
Catra denies the truth, even though it’s no use; the world is collapsing. Denial won’t buy them time. The ground shakes violently, unrelenting, as if it’s been holding a grudge against the woods. Adora says they have to leave, but Catra doesn’t hear it, she holds her arms close and shuts her eyes. One of Catra’s earliest memories is of Adora at five, with a gap in her front teeth, making a promise she’ll eventually break. Fifteen years later, Adora stands behind her, repeating those same words, as if she could remedy the first promise she broke.
Something in Catra has been gnawing at itself, but now it cracks. She laughs. She laughs with everything she has. Adora doesn’t get to see her cry, not now, not ever again. Catra isn’t a little kid who needs someone to look out for her anymore. She sees the way Adora’s face falls, eyes wet, hurt, betrayed. Catra’s all too familiar with what betrayal looks like, she hopes Adora likes the taste of her own medicine.
“You’re going to destroy everything!” Adora says, as if Catra’s whole world hasn’t been destroyed, twice now, by Adora’s hand.
“I don’t care. I won’t let you win; I’d rather see the whole world end than let that happen,” Catra says. She means it with every cell of her body.
The earth opens up. As the world floods with white and purple light, Catra realizes this is it, a childhood prophecy, “Together at the end of the world,” Adora had once said. Turns out Adora is capable of keeping one of her promises after all. Granted, these aren’t the circumstances Catra imagined: it should have been the two of them together, wearing Force Captain badges. They should have been older, too—with graying hair and skin marked with battle scars. They shouldn't have been on opposite sides of the crossfire.
Catra pulls Adora closer. And then there’s a rift—an actual, physical rift—between them. Catra falls. There’s some irony, Catra thinks, as she’s the one barely hanging on to the ledge before her. The earth under her palm is damp, difficult to hold on to.
And it’s almost laughable, the way Adora still reaches out for her, as if Catra could grab her hand without dragging Adora down with her in the process. Catra hates Adora for the gesture. She hates that even after everything, Adora is still playing the hero, reaching for Catra as if saving her will make everything better.
Catra doesn’t want to be saved. She doesn’t want to be saved by Adora especially. So she narrows her eyes at Adora, and lets herself fall.
Catra’s sitting on the floor of Hordak’s sanctum. She blinks. That’s not right—she was just fifteen feet away, right by the switch. No, she was in Adora’s bedroom, waking her up—but Adora never had her own bedroom in the Fright Zone, she always slept in the bunk below Catra’s. No, Catra was in the Whispering Woods with Adora—what were they doing there?
Her cheek is sore and Catra rubs it, tenderly, trying to recall the source of its pain.
A vortex bright and blue and menacing opens out of thin air. It has to be the portal. Catra did pull the switch, she remembers now.
(She remembers Adora sticking up for her, begging Shadow Weaver to let her bring Catra to Thaymor, she remembers blue eyes shining with pride because they took down Thaymor together, she remembers Adora’s arm around her in the hallway, and in the locker room, their hands together, fingers entwined, their spot on the roof—Adora seemed scared but Adora never looks scared, and they were in the woods, again, Adora saying the word promise and not meaning it.)
There’s a magical chiming sound, and the light only gets brighter. Catra braces herself for Adora to step out, Adora the hero, the savior, the one who fixes things.
A figure does emerge into view, but she’s far too tall to be Adora, even as She-Ra. She has wings.
It’s the queen. Catra’s fairly certain her name has something to do with angels, Entrapta tried to explain the mythology behind it once. But her appearance doesn’t make any sense. The queen didn’t come to the Horde to rescue Adora with the others. The queen has never left her castle for as long as Catra’s been fighting.
So why is she here now?
Catra stands up, scans around. There are all the princesses, and Arrow Boy, accompanied by Shadow Weaver. (Catra briefly remembers acceptance, the warmth of her touch—before remembering that it wasn’t real.) Catra feels like she’s going to be sick. Catra looks around again, back to where Adora was tied up. The bindings are still there on the columns, unbroken. The cloth that covered her mouth is on the floor. Catra frowns.
It doesn’t make any sense. Adora was there, Catra made sure of it. She didn’t take her eyes off of her when she pulled the switch.
“I didn’t make you pull the switch,” Adora’s voice says, an echo, far away. But Catra can’t recall when Adora ever said that to her. Catra closes her eyes, trying to picture the way Adora looked when—her eyes flash open. The lab is shaking, Hordak’s portal machine is falling apart, and everything else looks like it’s about to shatter. Catra doesn’t have time to look for Adora, she shouldn’t waste her energy wondering where she is in the first place. It’s not like Adora would give her the same courtesy.
“Where’s Adora?” someone asks. Catra thinks it’s the sparkly one.
“There’s no time to explain,” the queen answers. “We have to get out of here, now!”
The princesses are retreating, that gives Catra some relief—she doesn't think she has the strength to fight right now. But before she exits the room, she does another quick sweep: Adora's not here, the queen is right. It’s more disappointing than anything. Catra won this round, and Adora doesn’t even have the decency to let Catra gloat. That’s all it is.
It’s not concern at all.
ONE MONTH LATER
Adora’s sword is heavy, Glimmer doesn't know how Adora carried it with one hand as if it weighed nothing. Maybe it was lighter for her, for She-Ra, or perhaps Adora was just that strong. But Glimmer carries it solemnly without complaining. If Swift Wind notices that she's struggling, he doesn't say anything. He hasn't been his usual playful self; he hasn't sung once since Adora stayed behind.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Swift Wind asks. “It hasn’t worked before.”
“That doesn’t mean we should stop trying,” Glimmer replies, her patience wearing thin. It’s still strange to walk alongside Swift Wind without Adora around. Glimmer would prefer to teleport to the Crystal Castle on her own, but she’ll need every bit of magic she can use once the mechanical spiders get summoned. They're getting easier to fight now.
“I know but, I was She-Ra’s steed, you’re a princess who has She-Ra’s sword, and Light Hope is still ignoring us.”
For an entity whose purpose is to serve She-Ra, Light Hope doesn’t seem to care that Adora is missing. If she does, she hasn't indicated so. Light Hope hasn't revealed herself to Glimmer this entire time, Glimmer's only encountered the spiders.
“Light Hope can’t keep ignoring us forever,” Glimmer huffs. “Not if she wants to bring She-Ra back.” It’s easier to call her She-Ra than Adora. Adora was her friend, a dear one, and now she's lost. She-Ra was the heart of the Rebellion. Glimmer knows there's really no distinction, but she has to separate them in her mind to process. She tried explaining it to Bow once, but he didn't understand. She thinks she accidentally offended him.
But Swift Wind doesn't try to correct her.
“Have you still not been able to sense her anywhere?” Glimmer asks. She had hoped that since She-Ra and Swift Wind have a sacred bond, he would be able to find where she is. But unsurprisingly, the bond doesn't seem to transcend realities. He wasn’t even sentient when the portal took over.
Swift Wind sighs. “Sometimes I think I can pick up a trace, but it disappears before I can pinpoint it. I—I don’t think it’s really her, though. I just want it to be.”
Glimmer nods. “I understand, it doesn’t feel like she’s really gone. Sometimes it feels like I’m going to find her sneaking around in the kitchen or goofing around in the courtyard.”
Swift Wind laughs. “That sounds like Adora,” he says. “I miss her.”
“Yeah,” Glimmer says sadly, “me, too.”
There’s not a body. It would be unnerving, if Glimmer weren’t already used to mourning somebody without a grave. The closest thing they have now is an ice sculpture Frosta made for She-Ra, standing in the garden, tall and preserved. A princess, a story, a legend. Glimmer grew up on tales of bravery, princesses with their trials, princesses in other wars. The princesses rarely died, in the stories. And none of them were as brave as Adora.
But the problem is, Adora isn’t dead, she’s stuck between two worlds: one functional, one broken. Glimmer’s not going to spend any more time mourning her when there’s a chance they can still find her and bring her back home.
At first, Glimmer had been clinging to the hope that Entrapta was mistaken—that once reality was restored, Adora would appear, somewhere. But she hasn’t. A month has passed and they’re not any closer to finding her, and as skilled as Bow is with tech, he can’t make a portal. But Glimmer’s certain that if they have the sword, they might not need to rely on science alone. The sword itself is magic and it's connected to Adora. If they can find a way to access its magic, they might be able to use it to pull her through to this plane. But Glimmer won’t know if this is remotely possible without Light Hope’s help.
The woods are starting to look familiar to Glimmer, now.
“We’re almost there,” Swift Wind says nervously.
Glimmer braces herself. She's lost count of the number of times she and Swift Wind have tried to contact Light Hope, but each time, an unseen holographic voice calls her an intruder, and sends forth mechanical spiders. It doesn’t matter that Glimmer has said the correct keywords, that she has brought the sword, that she has shouted the news of Adora’s disappearance over and over until her voice went hoarse. The Crystal Castle has dismissed her.
“Are you ready to face those spiders again?” Glimmer asks.
Swift Wind groans in response. He opens the door, and they enter.
The usual holographic woman isn’t there to greet them, and thankfully, there are no spiders in sight either. Even without them, the place is creepy, Glimmer can’t comprehend how Adora was so willing to train here every week. The castle is colorful with its vibrant reds and blues, but at the same time it’s an ancient and hollow place, a shell of what the First Ones had created. Glimmer grinds her molars. This place had remained untouched for a thousand years, waiting for She-Ra. Now She-Ra is gone, and there isn’t a single sign that the castle or its inhabitants know.
"You go first," Glimmer says.
Swift Wind clears his throat. “It is I, Swift Wind, She-Ra’s noble steed, and I demand that you show yourself, so we can bring She-Ra back!” There's the sound of Swift Wind's words echoing through every chamber, but as it fades, they're only met with silence. There's not even the faintest metallic footstep from a spider. "You try," Swift Wind says, hiding his face with one of his wings.
“Light Hope!” Glimmer calls loudly. “Please,” she says, quieter this time. “I’ve tried to tell you before but Adora—she’s stuck in the portal Catra made.” There's nothing. Glimmer drops the sword, letting it clammer on the ground. “Don’t you care? She-Ra is gone! Etheria needs you to help us bring her back!"
The only thing Glimmer hears is the sound of Swift Wind breathing. She summons magic and releases it across the room, shimmery and hopeless.
"Well, at least there aren't any spiders this time," Swift Wind says cheerfully.
Glimmer sighs. "At least when there were spiders, it meant Light Hope was acknowledging our presence. The silence is a bad sign."
Swift Wind walks in place, his hooves clacking on the ground. "What should we do now?"
Glimmer crosses her arms. "We'll wait, for a bit. Light Hope has to be in here somewhere, right?"
"I don't think she can leave the castle," Swift Wind answers. "At least, I haven't seen her leave the castle. So, who knows!" he says exasperatedly. "Who knows," he says again, softly. “She’s probably in the system somewhere, waiting for us to leave.”
“Well, she’s not going to get rid of us that easily,” Glimmer says. She picks up the sword from the floor and sets it down on a flatter piece of crystal. She takes a seat next to it, and fiddles with her thumbs.
“We’re going to miss the alliance meeting if we stay here much longer,” Swift Wind points out. Glimmer remains silent, and Swift Wind hums as he senses her lack of concern. “You planned on skipping the meeting today, didn’t you.”
“There’s nothing new to talk about,” Glimmer says curtly. “The Horde isn’t even actively fighting us right now. I think they can hold the meeting without me."
Glimmer doesn't even know if Catra's aware that She-Ra's gone, she hasn't encountered her since they had to flee the Fright Zone. But her attacks have ceased with Adora’s absence. The entirety of the Horde seems to be in suspense, there hasn't been a single bot attack. Glimmer’s not sure why. Surely if the Horde knows that She-Ra’s gone, they would have tried to strike them down, now that their most powerful opponent is out of the way.
Alternatively, it’s possible Catra is grieving Adora’s own loss in her own way, but Glimmer’s skeptical. She was there in the lab, a witness to Catra’s spite as she pulled the switch. Catra was going to do whatever it took, and she did. Glimmer will never forgive her for it. It's this thought that makes her want to cry.
“I was attuned to Adora’s emotions, you know,” Swift Wind says pointedly.
“You’re not attuned to mine,” she replies.
“No, but I can tell you’re upset,” he says. “Adora made the same face when she was thinking about Catra.”
Glimmer blinks. “How did you—”
“I’m a magical being,” Swift Wind says, pleased with himself. “I know things. Like how you’ve been avoiding Bow and Queen Angella.”
Glimmer flinches when he mentions her mother. She hasn’t looked her in the eye since she delivered Adora’s final words.
“I don’t understand,” Glimmer says, once all of them are back in Bright Moon. “Where’s Adora?”
“Adora said she had to be the one to close the portal,” Angella says gently. Weepy and anguished, she adds, “She wanted me to pass on all her love, she said she was sorry that she had to stay behind.”
Glimmer pushes herself out of Angella’s embrace.
“You just let her stay there?” Glimmer asks.
“Glimmer, my darling—”
“I don’t want to hear it!” Glimmer says. It doesn’t matter that reality is back. Glimmer feels like she’s going to be sick. She had her dad back, briefly, and lost him. Glimmer could accept that, then, she had lost him once before. She can’t accept that Adora’s gone.
“I’m not avoiding Bow on purpose,” Glimmer says. “It’s complicated.” It wasn't always. Sure, Glimmer has sometimes felt that the two of them have been skirting around something that might be more than platonic, but she doesn't let herself think about him like that these days. They're both guilty. Back in the portal, they had listened as Entrapta explained that someone would have to stay in the portal and close it.
When Bow and Glimmer dissolved with the light, they thought they were making it easier for Adora. The portal was following her, and she was trying to protect them, they thought they were unburdening her. But the key to the portal was the sword, and the sword belonged—belongs—to Adora. Of course Adora would find the sword and stay behind. Who else would have made that choice willingly?
She has a hard time looking at Bow without being reminded of their shared guilt. It's been a month, and they still haven't talked about it. Glimmer doesn't think she can tell Swift Wind, or anyone else the truth until she and Bow address what happened. But she’s not ready yet.
“Well, I’m here to listen,” Swift Wind says. “I’ll skip the meeting too, in protest. Do you believe that after everything, I still don't have my own chair at the table?"
Glimmer laughs. “I’ll make sure you get your chair,” she says.
Glimmer ends up teleporting them back to the garden with She-Ra's ice sculpture. She doesn't have to bother re-charging this time, thanks to the absence of spiders.
“Care to go snack on some apples with me?” Swift Wind asks.
Glimmer shakes her head. “Maybe a different time,” she says.
“Suit yourself,” Swift Wind says, taking off into the air.
Glimmer laughs. "Some things never change," Glimmer tells the She-Ra sculpture. I hope you're okay, wherever you are, she thinks. The sculpture doesn’t answer. The flowers surrounding it sway delicately with a breeze, and birds sing. They don’t know that Adora’s gone. It’s strange how the rest of the world can move on so easily.
Glimmer finds herself holding her breath as there’s a sudden stillness in the garden—covered with shadow, the flowers stop swaying, and the birds stop singing.
“I take it that the First Ones' artifacts refused to see you,” a voice says from behind her. It's a false concern, Glimmer can recognize that now. Shadow Weaver’s deception is smooth, subtle.
“It’s none of your business,” Glimmer says. She turns to face her. Shadow Weaver is alone, which happens sometimes—to Angella’s dismay. “Where are your guards?”
Shadow Weaver smiles slightly, and that’s enough for Glimmer to recognize danger. But she has questions. Angella's information on the First Ones is limited, and even though Bow has gone back to his fathers' library, they haven't been able to find anything useful. But the First Ones had a better understanding of magic, and Shadow Weaver is a sorceress, or at least, she used to be one. “What do you know about the First Ones?” she asks.
“I know that the holograms they've left behind are... outdated. You won't find much use for them."
“They're not completely useless," Glimmer argues. "One of them was training Adora before—”
“Before she sacrificed herself. Yes, princess, I am aware. What are you going to do when the Horde defeats us because you’ve wasted too much time trying to get a hologram’s attention? It will be of no use to you. What you need is to strengthen your magic. I can help you do that.”
Glimmer frowns. “What I need is the First Ones' understanding of magic. Even at your strongest, you don't have what it takes to reach Adora—wherever she is."
Shadow Weaver hums. "I was able to siphon magic from a runestone once before," she reminds her. She points to the sword. "The sword is no different."
Glimmer hugs the sword closer to her. "I'm not going to let you steal magic from Adora's sword."
"I could teach you how to take it for yourself, princess," Shadow Weaver says. "Surely Adora wouldn't mind, not if it was you."
Glimmer winces. The last time Shadow Weaver "taught" her anything, she took too much magic from her. The transporting, the shadow magic, the waves of electricity—Glimmer had felt sorry for Catra, at the time.
“Guards!” Glimmer calls.
Glimmer gives Shadow Weaver her best glare and stands as tall as she can, watching the guards escort Shadow Weaver back to her quarters.
When Glimmer retires to her own quarters, they're already occupied. Thankfully, said occupier is Bow, not her mother.
He's sitting on her alcove, tinkering with an arrow. His eyes stay pointedly focused on the arrow as he says, “You went back to the Crystal Castle, didn’t you,” he says.
“I had to try again,” Glimmer replies. “I’m sorry for not telling you, I—”
“I wouldn’t have stopped you, but I would have liked to know,” Bow glances at her warily. “With Adora gone—I don’t want to have to worry about where you are, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Glimmer says again.
“It’s okay,” Bow says. Glimmer doesn’t think it really is okay, but suspects Bow wants to move forward, for now. “Did anything interesting happen this time?"
Glimmer shakes her head and sits down next to him. “There weren’t even any spiders. It was completely empty.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Bow says.
“I know,” Glimmer says. “I just don’t understand why Light Hope won’t even try to help us.”
“It doesn’t make any sense to me either,” Bow says, frowning. "Why wouldn't she want to help Adora? She has to know she's missing, right?"
"Trust me, I've made the message clear," Glimmer says. She sighs. If they can’t reach Light Hope, she doesn’t know what the Rebellion’s next move should be. "Did I miss anything important from the meeting today?"
Bow shakes his head. "There still aren't any bots. Mermista thinks we should use this time to be on the offensive, but Perfuma thinks we should wait till the Horde actually starts attacking us again,” Bow pauses, and looks at Glimmer cautiously. “And... Angella was worried about you.”
Glimmer avoids his eyes and sighs. “I still don’t get why she’s able to call meetings in the first place, considering she’s the reason we lost She-Ra.”
“Adora—” Bow says, as if he’s correcting her, but then he stops himself. “She wouldn’t want you to ignore your mom. It’s not her fault Adora—”
“Maybe I’m not ready to forgive her yet,” Glimmer says, hating the way her bottom lip quivers. She doesn’t blame her mom for all of it, she blames herself and Bow for thinking Adora could handle this on her own, she blames Adora for choosing to stay behind at all, and she blames Catra for setting off the portal in the first place.
“Okay,” Bow concedes. “You don’t have to forgive her but, I think you should talk to her, Glimmer. It might help.”
“Help what, exactly?” Glimmer waves her hand up. “It’s not like she can go back and—”
“And what, take Adora’s place in the portal instead?”
“What?” Glimmer blinks. She had never thought about that alternative. “No, I don’t want anyone to stay trapped there. I just want Adora back!” She can’t hold back her tears anymore, she lets them fall, warm and angry.
Bow hugs her, and she cries harder. “I want her back, too,” he says. “Maybe… maybe if we can convince Entrapta to be our ally again, she could figure out—”
“Entrapta’s portal is what got us stuck here in the first place," Glimmer says, wiping at her eyes. "And something was wrong with it, it was imbalanced—that's why someone had to stay behind. If science can make a faulty portal, I don't see why magic couldn't make a better one."
“I thought you couldn’t reach Light Hope in the Crystal Castle,” Bow says.
“I’m not done trying. The First Ones… they knew how to control magic. They connected it to the sword, and the sword’s connected to Adora, through She-Ra. If Light Hope can’t bring her back—” Glimmer looks around. She knows Shadow Weaver’s powers are limited now, not gone, but Glimmer wouldn’t be surprised if she was still using her spies to listen to them. “Shadow Weaver might—”
“Please stop that train of thought,” Bow says.
“I know,” Glimmer says. “I still have my grievances with her too. But if Light Hope can’t help us, maybe Shadow Weaver will. Otherwise—” well, it’s not looking good for Etheria’s future. “I don’t know if we can win this war without She-Ra, she brought—” hope, laughter, life, love.
“She brought the rebellion together,” Bow agrees. “If we can’t—if we can’t get her soon, we have to prioritize defeating the Horde. When Adora does come back, it’d be nice to welcome her back to a more peaceful world. It’s what she deserves.”
"We owe her, Bow," she says quietly.
Bow shifts in his seat. “I should get going, I guess.”
“Wait!” Glimmer says. “You can stay, if you wanted.” They haven’t had a sleepover since Adora left. Glimmer can’t remember the last time she and Bow spent the night together, alone.
“Are you sure?” Bow asks. There’s still so much left unsaid, Glimmer doesn’t know how much longer they can avoid it.
“I’m sure,” Glimmer says. She wants to say she misses him, but it would sound strange, they still see each other almost every day.
“Okay,” Bow says. “I’ll stay.”
She pulled your tail once when you were children, out of curiosity. She was only five or six, but you were also that age, so you got her back: you tugged her ponytail, fine and fair. She never pulled it again, after that, if any other kid looked at your tail for too long she would get defensive, because she knew it hurt. Likewise, you glared at anyone if they looked like they wanted to mess with her hair.
But you’re not kids anymore, and Adora thinks she's drowning.
Nothing here in this portal is real, you're not sure you're even real, you're just aching memories—some aren't even yours, you think—and anger. But you don't suppose Adora knows these rules, and she thinks she's drowning. She was never the best swimmer, neither were you. But you lift her head up above the fake water, pulling her hair in its somehow still intact ponytail. Really you’re doing her a favor, but she won’t see it. Since she’s no longer a child either, she doesn’t try to pull your tail in retaliation.
She gasps for air, and you tilt your head. This girl used to be the only reason you were still alive, that's what Shadow Weaver used to say, anyway. Perhaps right now, you're the only two left alive, if you even count, that is.
“You took everything from me,” you say to her. She doesn’t look like she believes you, and she doesn't understand. She is—was—everything to you, once. You still know all her weaknesses, she used to know yours. If she still knew yours, she would have defeated you already. She might have been able to convince you to switch sides.
You continue to taunt her. You’ve always been full of anger. This is nothing new. You’ve tried to swallow it back, but anger festers, a fever, a burn. (When you were young and burned your tail on the incinerator, she tended it, bandaged it, and stole supplies to do so.) It’s easier to blame her than accept your part in this. But you’re not entirely lying. If she never came through the portal, she would never have broken your heart, and you wouldn’t be in this predicament now.
And what a predicament it is. You’ve always wanted her attention, and now you have it.
And she hits you, as Adora. Adora never fought you, not as herself, only as She-Ra. But She-Ra’s not around. “I didn’t make you pull the switch,” she says. She always was infuriating that way, thinking that she was in the right. She still thinks she's right.
And you burn. Have you ever not? Was there ever a time those blue eyes looked at you and you weren’t warm all over?
You hate her, you think.
Catra has been a force captain for nearly two years now, and she's still not used to being the only one in her room. When Catra first moved into her private quarters, sometimes she would still wake up convinced she was in the barracks with everyone else, expecting to hear Adora’s snores below her. It took her a while to get used to the silence, not that the Fright Zone is ever completely silent, there is permanent whirring and humming from its machinery.
She knows better than to wake up thinking she’s near Adora, but for a few, short-lasting seconds, Catra forgets that Adora is gone. That she’s the reason she’s gone. The sinking feeling in her chest is what reminds her.
"She-Ra is gone," should have been a statement that ended the war. It should have been a victory. For bitter months, there was nothing Catra had wanted more than to get rid of She-Ra for good, she just wanted Adora to come back home. Adora herself wasn't supposed to disappear in the process.
But when Scorpia had said those words joyously and reluctantly, Catra couldn't share her joy, couldn’t celebrate the Horde’s inevitable win.
"What do you mean she's gone?" she had asked, teeth clenched. She didn't believe it, at first. She thought it was a ploy, a trick. She thought the Rebellion was lying, with the intention of luring out the Horde in order for She-Ra to appear out of nowhere and smite them all.
So they held back for two weeks. And when Catra realized it wasn't a lie, that She-Ra really was gone, she lost all motivation. Hordak didn't seem inspired either, so they've all been sitting, waiting for the next move.
Catra doesn’t know what her last words to Adora were. Or rather, she doesn’t know which one counts. She remembers her anger in the portal, but she doesn’t remember saying what she said. It only comes back to her in shadowed nightmares. It’s the icy guilt that prevents her from falling back asleep. She tells it to fuck off, she shouldn't care. Nothing is going to stop the Horde from winning, with She-Ra gone.
Catra crawls out of bed, brushes and straightens her hair. That’s a thing she makes time for, now. Her hair tufts are gone, so is her innocence, she supposes. So is Adora.
She read somewhere once that people wear black when they’re in mourning. That has nothing to do with the almost entirely black outfit she wears now. It had started with the sleeve, for her arm, which burned for weeks after the incident with the portal. Ointment didn’t help, and neither did ice packs. Then, the heat died, leaving her arm a permanent deep, icy cold she hasn’t felt since the Northern Reach. So, she donned a black sleeve, and eventually got everything else to match. Her arm isn't as icy as it was a week ago, but sometimes she still shivers.
Scorpia was the only one to acknowledge the outfit change, she asked, “New look?” and Catra only growled in response. But she doesn’t feel the need to growl anymore, she doesn’t feel the need to feel anything anymore, aside from the taste of victory. If Adora’s gone, she’s going to finish what she started. She might as well go all out. She can't let Adora's absence go to waste.
She avoids the cafeteria, she thinks she finally lost the appetite for ration bars, anyway. She'll eat something from contraband later, if she remembers.
Hordak’s lab is the same wreck it was when the princesses were here. It’s full of broken machinery and tools Catra doesn’t know the names of. Entrapta knows—Entrapta would know. She still haunts this place. The whole Fright Zone is filled with ghosts and judging by the way Hordak is sulking in his corner, she's not the only one who sees them.
Catra shakes her head, she can't think about ghosts and lost princesses and shadows. She needs to talk some sense into Hordak. Their troops are growing restless, and that makes them dangerous. It's the longest they've been bound to the Fright Zone.
“Our troops aren’t doing any good just sitting around,” she tells Hordak.
“We shouldn’t waste any more of our resources,” he says, gesturing to the shattered equipment in front of him. “Not after you depleted so many when the portal failed.”
“Failed?” Catra asks. She crosses her arms. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. She-Ra is gone. The Rebellion will crumble without her." Catra could point out that Hordak was stuck in the same place for decades before She-Ra was even a threat to the Horde. But she's feeling generous today, and she doesn’t think the little ego he has left could survive that. "Now is the best time for us to strike,” she says.
Hordak only grunts in response—great with words, as always. Imp flits around behind him, and Catra's eyes narrow.
“What am I supposed to do with this place?” he asks.
“It’s been a month since the portal,” she says coolly. “Get. Over. It. Get a cleaning squad in here and start from scratch. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.”
"I need more resources to start building new weapons again."
"I know where to get more First Ones' tech," she says. "I'll get a team to retrieve it."
She leaves him there. He really isn’t much help.
Nothing is much help to her now.
Catra goes to a roof. Not the same one she spent countless hours with Adora—it’s forbidden to her now. She doesn’t think she’s allowed. There’s not a single sign Adora had ever been there at all, in the portal world or otherwise. Catra has no proof, and she doesn’t count memory, not when Shadow Weaver probably took some of hers as well, or altered them.
The sky is a deep, bruising purple. She missed the moonset. That might be for the best, she hasn’t watched one since—
“Is that what you really want? To rule the world?” Adora asks her. Ruling the world seems to have a weight to it now, greater than the dream of two child soldiers who wanted to be in control of their future.
Catra wants to say “No, dummy, I just want to be with you,” but there’s a reason she can’t be with Adora, even though she’s right there, next to her. But she still feels far away. “Yeah,” she answers instead. “Obviously. Isn’t that what you want too?” They talked about it before, once. Catra doesn’t know why their plans should be different now.
But Adora doesn’t seem thrilled with that answer.
Catra isn’t thrilled with it either.
Catra shivers. Does that conversation even count? She doesn’t know. It was all fake—the world where Adora never left. If Shadow Weaver’s kindness towards her wasn’t real, does that mean Adora’s kindness towards her was fake, too? The Adora she knows—knew—wouldn’t laugh like that with her anymore, but it felt like it used to. As if Adora had never left. Adora used to laugh loudly, used to tease her fondly. She was always like that: playful, witty, bright. Those pale blue eyes always met hers as if Catra was something that could be adored.
“I won’t leave you behind again,” Adora had promised her, back in the portal. Catra knew it was a lie when she said it, but this time, Adora didn’t just leave her, she left everyone behind.
Catra doesn’t know if it makes it better or worse that it was Adora’s choice. That’s what the spies say, that someone had to stay behind to close the portal, and Adora volunteered. The hero, the savior. Is that what you really wanted? Catra wonders.
“How’s it going, Wild Cat?” Scorpia asks, disrupting her thoughts.
“Don’t ever ask me that again,” Catra says.
“Sorry, it’s just, you seem a little on edge,” she says, which is perhaps the biggest understatement of the century. "And I know you've been dealing with—"
"I'm dealing with moving forward," Catra says. "We've been lying low for too long, but that's going to change. Tomorrow we're going back to the Crimson Waste, and we're bringing that First Ones' ship back with us. Hordak needs the tech. Help me get a team together, we're moving first thing in the morning."
"Well, as excited as I am to be… doing something again… isn't that a little last minute?"
"It's plenty of notice. Don't you want to go back to the waste? I thought you liked it there. Good for your exoskeleton or whatever."
Scorpia’s expression changes for a second, before returning neutral. Catra hasn’t forgotten what happened between them. Maybe they could have been happy, there in the waste, if Adora was never in the picture. It was a fleeting thought, and Catra—she couldn’t forget Adora then, she certainly couldn’t forget Adora now.
“You got it boss,” Scorpia says understandably, and thankfully has the sense to leave her alone.
Catra stares at the moons. She wonders if Adora can see them, wherever she is. She can’t stand the thought of Adora being surrounded by nothing but burning bright purple light.
She doesn't linger for much longer after that.
The good news is that Shadow Weaver isn’t here, lurking behind corners and spying on her. Well, Catra hopes that Shadow Weaver isn’t strong enough to spy on her anymore. She still gets a chill sometimes, as if one misstep will get her in trouble. She wonders if that will ever go away.
She walks back to her quarters slowly. She stills as she passes the door leading to the shortcut to the locker room.
It had disappeared when they were in the portal—Catra forgot about its existence. Tentatively, Catra presses her hand against the door. It’s cool to the touch, just like everything else here: cold and hard and devoid of anything good. How many times had she and Adora taken this shortcut, laughing at one of their jokes, or silent and sullen after a rough day of training? Catra swipes at the door, leaving her claw marks. It’s stupid that the door has returned, but Adora hasn’t. Catra can only wonder if Adora exists in that doorless void now, if she’s still alive at all.
Catra made her choice and she is living with it, like Adora had said.
She’s not living with it well.