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baby, i'm a house on fire (and i wanna keep burning)

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Lord Catra isn’t what Adora expected.

For instance, she’s not a man. The stories don’t talk about that part.

When people whisper the fearless general’s name amongst themselves, when children tell stories to scare each other, when parents tell their young to behave or Lord Catra will come to take them away, they never mention that she’s a woman. It seems to be an understanding that someone as cruel and as ambitious as Hordak’s right-hand man could only be… well, a man.  

Adora wonders if that says more about them or Hordak.

Catra marches south and doesn’t lose a single battle after her victory at Bright Moon. Queen Angella is dead and King Hordak is crowned. Princess Glimmer is missing, declared a traitor to the crown. Adora knows it’s only a matter time before the Horde reaches them too.

There’s no point in fighting but they do anyway. Adora never learned to take things sitting down. An eventual defeat is better than surrendering, and it is her goddamn castle. Her people.

By marriage, it would be Catra’s too.

Catra is younger than she imagined as well, Adora remarks, as Catra stands before her at the front of the church, wearing trousers, an embroidered jacket, a white shirt, and a fur-lined dark cape. Her outfit is dominated by black to match Adora’s white.

Not much older than Adora herself, she wagers. Strange to think that someone so young and practically nameless could have risen so quickly among Hordak’s ranks. Adora’s heritage was given to her by birthright, but Catra made her name for herself. That’s something Adora could have respected, if not for the circumstances.

The general is also far less fearsome than the stories tell, and far more annoyingly smug. Shorter and smaller. A runt. When Adora first saw her, she couldn’t help thinking, “This? This is the person who conquered Bright Moon and raised hell all over Etheria?”

Of course, then she defeated Adora’s army and occupied her castle, so perhaps she shouldn’t have underestimated Catra’s abilities.

Adora thought she would be executed then, just as Queen Angella, and a defiant part of her jutted her chin out and dared them to do it. But after a week spent in her own dungeon cells with only the mice to keep her company and no news of the world outside, she was ushered back to her chambers by two of Catra’s guards, then promptly bathed, fed, and clothed by three wide-eyed maids.

Adora was confused. Did they dress her up in white silk and curled her hair like that just to look pretty when they chopped her head off? Surely not.

Somehow, the real answer was worse.

“Marry?” she had echoed, shock coloring her voice as she stood face to face with Catra in what was apparently, her wedding dress. The two guards stood behind Catra, posted at the door. “You want me to marry you?”

“I don’t want anything of the sort,” Catra snapped, true frustration and contempt leaking through. “But we will, either way.”

They couldn’t mean it.

“Kill me,” Adora threw out, unsure why she was protesting when she should be celebrating that she would live to take them down another day. This was humiliating. “It will be easier.”

“Believe me, I agree.” Catra turned to give her guards a nod who opened the door for her and waited as she turned back to Adora. “Unfortunately, we’re stuck with each other.”

That’s how Adora finds herself standing at the front of the church in a white dress as the priest recites prayers from his book in a monotone voice. Everyone is frighteningly silent, as if witnessing a tragedy. Which, she supposes, isn’t too far from the truth. Even if this isn’t all that different from how Adora imagined she would marry someday. Always to a stranger for the good of her people, never for herself. But the man in her imagination was at least an ally, a beneficial political union, perhaps a kind and young lord – not a general of the enemy. This isn’t for the good of her people, only for the good of Hordak. That’s what almost makes her wish they would have executed her instead.

The ceremony is cold and uncomfortable. Adora barely hears anything the priest is saying. She avoids looking at Catra, and stares at the intricate painted walls of the church, numb to the whole spectacle around her. When she dares short glances at Catra, she’s scowling too. Good, Adora thinks viciously, not even a little sorry for the satisfaction it brings her. If I must suffer, so do you.

Hatred flows through Adora’s veins, the priest drones on in the background, and Catra raises her eyes to hers. She doesn’t reel back from the burn of Adora’s stare, meets her glare with one of her own, and Adora feels her indignation rise as she realizes Catra has the nerve to be angry at her. As if Catra was the victim in the situation. The nerve.

So lost she is in her rightful anger that Adora doesn’t hear the priest talking to her until he clears his throat. “Lady Adora?”

Adora snaps her head to him. “What?”

It’s instinctive, and perhaps a little harsh for the setting. She hears a few snickers from the pews, the dead silence broken by her rude remark. There’s even an amused smirk on Catra’s lips.

The priest splutters awkwardly. “I said, do you take Lord Catra as your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold –”

“I do,” Adora interrupts impatiently, having no desire to listen to these meaningless, impersonal words. Catra raises her eyebrows at her haste but Adora ignores it. It means nothing to her, nor to Catra. It’s a political contract, a bargain and a leverage, not a marriage.

Hordak wants the castle and he wants Adora alive. He needs her soldiers and her people compliant, he needs them afraid but not angry. He found a way to have it both.

As long as Adora is alive, her people would not rebel on their own, and as long as Catra’s soldiers occupy the castle, Adora would not risk a move against the Horde. Grudgingly, Adora admits that the bastard knows what he’s doing.

Let Adora live, let her graciously keep her castle, let her marry one of Hordak’s most trusted soldiers… It’s a ploy to show them the Horde can be generous. Perhaps they aren’t so bad after all, the people would say. Only Adora knows better.

He couldn’t have her martyred to become a symbol of the rebellion. Right now, the armies of Etheria are scattered, defeated, licking their wounds – those who survived. All they need is a cause to unite under. Hordak is smart enough not to give it to them.

And if Adora was smarter, braver, bolder, she would have martyred herself.

Instead, she lets herself be used as a puppet. For now, she vows to herself, accepting her fate as Catra echoes her “I do.” Only for now. I’ll have my revenge.

In their chambers, after Adora dressed in her nightgown and Catra changed into her robes, (separately and turning away from each other) Adora takes off her ring and throws it in the corner of the room. There are some things they just can’t make her do.

Catra raises an unimpressed eyebrow, looking bored by her outburst. “Are you done?”

“You can take my castle,” Adora begins, straightening her spine and lifting her chin proudly, the way her mother always used to do when she gave a speech to her people “my name, my freedom – but not my heart.”

“I don’t want your heart, Lady Adora,” Catra says, a mean smile playing on her face. Lady feels so mocking coming from her mouth. “You may keep it, it’s all the same to me.”

Then she snorts, pushing the covers back from the right side of the bed. Adora watches with growing disdain. “You nobles are all the same. So self-important.”

Adora refrains from pointing out that she calls herself a lord, technically making her a noble as well, even if she wasn’t born one. Certainly now, with their marriage sealing it.

“Does that justify taking what you want without a thought to the consequences for others?”

“Survival of the fittest.” Catra shrugs as she settles against the pillows. “If you can’t protect what’s yours, is it really yours? I worked for what I have. What have you ever done to earn this castle besides have the fortune to be born into nobility?”

With an indignant noise, Adora puts her hands on her waist. That’s just not fair. She might have been born into this, but it’s not as if she didn’t work for it too. She studied history, geography, politics, warfare. She trained herself in swordplay, a knowledge that wasn’t required of her. She took her responsibilities seriously because she wanted to be the best ruler she could be for her people one day. Catra couldn’t just waltz in, take what’s hers, occupy her castle, force Adora to marry her, then have the nerve to judge her for it.

“You don’t even know me. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Adora expects a backhanded insult but unexpectedly, after a beat of silence, Catra laughs. “Oh god, you’re so easy to rile up. You should have seen your face.”

“Excuse – are you – seriously?”

Catra shrugs, the expressions she wears innocent as she deadpans, “Yes, my lady?”

Adora hardly believes it. Catra rides into her castle like she owns it, keeps her a prisoner in her own dungeons for a week, has her dressed in a wedding gown for their impromptu wedding, and now she has the nerve to tease her like they’re old friends. Catra has the nerve to do a lot of things, apparently. Adora isn’t sure how to feel about that. It would almost be admirable, if she wasn’t so angry.

Impulsively, she walks to the bed and throws her pillow at Catra’s face. “You can sleep on the floor.”

Catra pulls the pillow away, squinting at Adora in disbelief. “Seriously?”

Adora shrugs as she pulls back the covers on her side of the bed. “You’re easy to rile up.”

Occupied by Catra’s soldiers, it’s an unspoken warning that any act of rebellion would cost the lives of her people. Catra seems to instinctively know that Adora would not risk that – or she’s just too careless and foolish – because she does not bother limiting Adora’s access around the castle. Adora thought she’d essentially be a prisoner in her own home but Catra doesn’t seem to care. She isn’t bothered by the sword Adora always keeps at her waist. She eats her food without a thought to it being poisoned. She sleeps in their bed without wondering if Adora is going to stab her in the back. (Which is tempting, sometimes, when she snores so loud that Adora can’t fall asleep, but she settles for accidentally kicking Catra in the shin.)

The constant bickering and Catra’s cutting remarks are almost a comfort. It’s a familiarity that keeps Adora sane while the search for Princess Glimmer begins. Castle Grayskull is fine-combed as well, but it’s not as though Adora is secretly hosting the missing princess, and they find nothing. The war is on pause, the battles temporarily ceased, as all but Castle Chill have fallen. With winter coming, King Hordak can’t risk moving his troops without resources. The focus shifts to finding Glimmer, no doubt to be executed, and Adora worries every day, heart in her throat whenever a message arrives from Bright Moon to Catra.

Catra gives her an unreadable look each time as Adora anxiously shifts on her feet by Catra’s desk, willing to sacrifice her pride and beg for any news of her friends. Fortunately, Catra doesn’t make her beg. It’s a small mercy, one Adora doesn’t quite understand. Catra reads the letters, and before Adora could say one word, she shakes her head and tells her, “No news of the princess.”

Adora nods and leaves without a word. She doesn’t want it to stop so she doesn’t question it. A “thank you” burns on her tongue every time but she thinks that might make Catra stop too. They don’t have that kind of relationship. They’re barely a little less than enemies. And after everything the Horde put her through, Adora thinks she’s owed this kindness from Catra. But she can’t afford to be kind in return; her hatred is her only weapon.

Then, after the fourth time, Catra stops her at the door by calling her name. Adora turns back, wondering if Catra actually expects a thank you. But looking at her, gratitude seems to be the farthest thing on her mind. There’s a frown on Catra’s face, and when she talks, it sounds like she has trouble getting the words out.

“I need a favor.”

Adora almost laughs. The nerve. “Are you serious?”

Catra crosses her arms across her chest, glowering, but she doesn’t quite meet Adora’s eyes. Adora almost falls over when she realizes Catra is self-conscious. “Surely, my lady wife wouldn’t refuse me a simple favor.”

Now Adora is intrigued. “That depends on what my lord wife desires.”

Catra sighs, embarrassed, and Adora enjoys this a little too much. It’s nice to feel in power again. “Dine with me tomorrow.”

And well, that isn’t what Adora expected. “What? Why?”

It’s not as though they have never eaten together but… most of the time, they don’t. Adora eats in the dining hall with the servants, like she always does, and Catra usually sticks to her chambers. Perhaps she doesn’t want to provoke anyone’s ire with her presence. She, too, knows that no one likes her much around the castle. Sometimes she shows her face, being the lord of the castle, but those nights are always tense and quiet. Adora will admit she prefers Catra’s absence to that.

“Look, I’m having guests. It would be unmannerly if my wife didn’t greet them with me, right?”

Adora knows Catra’s guests mean people allied with the Horde. She has no desire to play host for any more of them, but she won’t be cowed in her own castle either. It’s time to take back some control.

“Alright,” Adora nods, watching Catra slump in her seat. “I’ll dine with you.”

The next day, when they wait by the gates to greet their guests, Adora gives Catra a long scrutinizing look. Catra turns, blinking slowly. “What?”

“Is this really how you want to dress in the middle of winter?”

Catra raises an eyebrow in surprise.

“Your coat doesn’t seem very warm.”

“It’s just fine.”

Adora shrugs and looks back to the carriage approaching in the distance. “Suit yourself.”

Catra’s guests aren’t what Adora expected. That seems to be a theme regarding Catra. Maybe at this point, she shouldn’t be surprised. Still, when she first comes face to face with Lady Scorpia and Lady Entrapta, Adora is angry. They’re Etherian nobility, just like her, yet they allied with the Horde and helped them defeat Queen Angella’s troops. In Adora’s eyes, that’s almost worse than what Catra did. She can’t understand their motivation and can’t forgive their betrayal, so she’s prepared to be just as hostile with them as with Catra.

But when they arrive, Adora watches in shock as Scorpia greets Catra with a delighted exclamation of her name, pulling Catra into a hug that she only barely attempts to fight. There’s begrudging annoyance on Catra’s face as she pats Scorpia’s back but Adora thinks she sees fondness hidden underneath all that façade.

When Scorpia lets her go, (after Catra very strictly tells her to) she turns to Adora with a gleam in her eyes.

“Ooooh, and she must be your wife!”

Suddenly, Adora feels like a bug under microscope as both Scorpia and Entrapta gaze at her curiously. There’s no reason for her to want to live up to their expectations but they’re Catra’s friends (she hasn’t realized Catra had friends) so they must have their reservations about this arranged marriage. Adora shifts, uncomfortably, on her feet, resisting the urge to look at Catra for help.

“Welcome to Castle Grayskull –”

Scorpia’s face changes from contemplation to glee, and out of the blue, she throws her arms around Adora as well. Adora lets out a small sound of shock as Scorpia envelopes her in a giant bear hug, squeezing tightly. It’s unexpected and strange but Scorpia is warm and strong and Adora gradually eases into it.

It’s… kind of nice. No one has hugged Adora in a long time. There was no one to. And Scorpia is a good hugger, Adora admits to herself reluctantly.

“Sorry about that,” Catra says awkwardly, avoiding Adora’s gaze as Scorpia lets her go.

“No problem,” Adora shakes her head, an involuntary smile on her lips. Dammit, she didn’t want to like them.

“So good to meet you,” Scorpia says, still holding onto Adora’s arm. Then she grabs Catra’s arm too and yanks her closer to stand beside Adora. Catra stumbles and Adora blinks. “Ah, look at you two. I can’t believe our Catra is married. It’s a shame we missed the wedding.”

Adora gives Catra a weird look and she rolls her eyes, shrugging at Adora’s unspoken question. When they begin to walk inside, Adora hangs back, whispering to Catra.

“Uhm, they do know we were forced to get married, right?”

“Don’t mention it. Scorpia is a romantic,” she spits out the word like it’s garbage, then picks up her pace to leave Adora behind without a backwards glance. Adora follows silently.

Dinner is… an event. Scorpia asks a lot of questions, intent on getting to know her best friend’s wife, and Entrapta contributes sometimes, even though she seems to be lost in her own world. Catra is clearly the grouch out of the three, but Adora can tell there’s genuine fondness between them. It keeps surprising her, all these new sides to Catra that she never would have guessed existed. From the faceless big bad general to a short scrawny woman to a wife who shares her letters with her to just a girl, younger than ever, annoyed at her friend’s teasing.

Adora humors Scorpia by answering the questions she has for her, talking about her childhood growing up in the castle, and telling Entrapta about the way their sewer system works when she cuts in. In return, Scorpia entertains her by telling her stories of Catra from before she became Hordak’s most trusted general.

“Because your wife should know where you started,” Scorpia tells Catra when she protests. Catra huffs, crossing her arms across her chest with a murderous expression, and Adora grins as Scorpia launches into a story about nighttime adventures, cobwebs, and Catra.

As Scorpia is talking enthusiastically, Adora chances a look at Catra, grumpy and scowling as she props her chin up with her hand. She seems embarrassed by Scorpia destroying the scary and badass image she cultivated for herself, but Adora can’t hide her laughter as she hears about Catra walking into cobwebs and freaking out for a full minute.

Her lord wife, Hordak’s most terrifying general – screaming about cobwebs. It’s absurd, it’s astonishing, it’s… human.

And though Catra glowers and fumes and acts all huffy, Adora sees her in a new light. She doesn’t realize she’s grinning at Catra until Scorpia gives her a teasing wink. Then the smile freezes and Adora eats her supper without looking at Catra again.

Two days later, Adora wakes as usual to go about the day’s business, and Catra groans and remains in bed. That is nothing unusual, Catra usually lingers in bed a little longer than Adora, before grumpily picking herself out of the blankets and making her way to the dressing room as Adora eats her breakfast. So Adora pays no mind to her at first, though she does note that the way Catra pulls the covers over her head is a little strange.

After she’s bathed and dressed and ate her breakfast, and Catra is still in bed, Adora approaches her.

“Okay, what’s your problem?”

Catra groans, very dramatic and guttural, and mumbles from under the sheets, “I’m dying.”

Adora almost laughs. The big bad general, sick in their marital bed. How human of her.

She pulls the covers down, ignoring Catra’s undignified whine, and takes a look at her, sprawled pathetically in bed, miserable and feverish. Adora puts a hand to her forehead. “You’re sick. I told you to wear warmer clothes.”

Despite her state, Catra has the energy to deadpan, “Yes, mom, you did.”

Adora rolls her eyes.

“I don’t have warmer clothes, okay?” Catra grumbles, grabbing the covers and pulling them back over her possessively. “Winter never gets this bad in the Fright Zone. What’s it to you, anyway?”

Good question.

“Nothing,” Adora shrugs with an air of indifference. “Die of pneumonia for all I care. All the better for me.”

“Ruthless. I like it.”

“Hmpf,” Adora says, then, against her better judgement, walks out to ask the cook for some hot chicken soup. It’s not like she owes Catra anything, she rationalizes on the way there. But she’s her wife or something. Adora remembers her mother bringing her hot soup when she was ill as a child, stroking her hair, and telling her bedtime stories. She remembers Madame Razz fussing over Lady Mara, bringing her tea and helping her sit up to drink it, and she remembers her telling Lady Mara that she needs to wear warmer clothes.

Adora sighs, twisting her hands. It’s just the kind thing to do.

Adora thinks Catra’s eyes may bulge out of her sockets when she brings the soup to their room. She sets the tray on the nightstand and helps Catra sit up, ignoring the incredulous look Catra is giving her. The naked shock and vulnerability leaves Adora a tiny bit uncomfortable but she pushes through and settles in the bed besides Catra.

“You don’t have to do this,” Catra tells her, no questions or thank yous, just reaching for the spoon herself. But she’s pale and sweaty, her hand is shaking, and the soup spills over on the tray before Catra could lift it all the way up to her mouth.

Adora gives her a look. “Yeah, I don’t particularly want our bed covered in chicken soup, so I think I’ll help, if you don’t mind.”

Catra raises her eyebrows. “Our bed, huh?”

“It is,” Adora says simply, and lifts the spoon to Catra’s mouth. Catra obliges, thankfully refraining from pointing out that a maid could do this as well.

She eats in silence for a while, only the clink and clatter of the silverware filling the room. When the soup is almost gone, Adora blurts out the question that’s been on mind for weeks. The air is different between them today. With Catra ill and sitting so close that their arms are touching, it feels safe to let down her guard and talk about things they never talk about.

“Why do you always tell me about Glimmer?”

Catra goes still, swallowing the last spoonful. She remains silent for a while and Adora waits, watching her profile as Catra stares ahead.

“Should I be unnecessarily cruel to my wife?” she says at last.

Adora shrugs. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Though maybe, now, after two months, she would be. A little.

Catra sighs, then gives her a pointed look. “Why are you taking care of me?”

Adora has no answer to that.

That night, Adora tells the servants to find Catra some season-appropriate clothing: a couple of fur coats, scarves, warmer trousers. She dumps them on Catra’s side of the bed unceremoniously when Catra is finally feeling better. Neither of them ever mentions it but Catra wears her new clothes and doesn’t get sick again.

Some several months into their marriage-in-name-only, when winter thaws and the first flowers begin to bloom, Catra finds Adora in the courtyard, practicing swordplay with the captain of the guards. Adora doesn’t notice her at first, (Catra has a way of appearing silently in places) but when they take a break to drink and catch their breaths, her lord wife is there, watching with an expression that Adora can only describe as intense. She isn’t sure what to make of it – curiosity, disapproval, respect? Perhaps Catra doesn’t want her lady wife to be so unladylike.

“Should I not practice swordplay, my lord?” Adora asks, haughty and mocking as she curtsies in jest.

Catra shrugs, the poker face still on, a strange glint in her mismatched eyes. “I didn’t think a lady like you would interest herself in swordplay.”

Adora almost snorts. “Did you think the sword at my side was just for show?”

“To be frank, yes.”

“Hmpf.” Adora looks around, the guards and servants going about their business, and an impulsive idea springs into her brain. “Care to fight me?”

Catra lifts a shoulder, shaking her head. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your practice, carry on.”

She turns to walk away but emboldened, Adora calls after her. “I challenge you.”

That stops Catra and the servants alike. Everyone waits and watches as Catra slowly turns back, an inscrutable look in her eyes. Adora curls her lips into a daring smile. “Surely, a general like you could teach me a few things.”

In truth, Adora knows Catra isn’t a soldier, she’s a strategist. Sure, she’s fought battles and she’s won them, but she prefers to lead, not fight. Adora wagers she’s better at swordplay than Catra. But Catra doesn’t know that. And she wouldn’t turn down a challenge in front of the entire courtyard.

Catra steps forward, waving her arms towards Adora’s sword in her hand. “And then you cut an artery and call it an accident. Clever.”

Definitely a strategist.

Adora scoffs. “Please. If I wanted to kill you, I’d be cleverer than that.”

Catra raises her eyebrows as if saying, “oh, really?” but she walks ever closer, never taking her eyes off Adora. The captain tosses her a sword and the fight begins.

It’s like a dance they never practiced. They’re familiar with the moves but they haven’t had the chance to learn each other’s rhythm yet. So they experiment, push and pull, test each other’s limits. Catra swings her sword and Adora sidesteps. Adora charges ahead and Catra recoils. Catra attacks and Adora blocks. Their swords come together again and again but they never manage to break skin.

Catra is sneaky and hard to catch. That’s her strategy. She’s small and light on her feet and moves around in a way that makes it impossible for Adora to react in time. Her sword is heavy and doesn’t move as fast and Adora knows Catra is aiming to tire her out. But years of practice means Adora doesn’t tire easily and for the most part, they seem to be evenly matched.

Adora admits Catra can put a good fight. After all, if you can’t be caught, you can’t be hit. For a moment, it looks they’re at a stalemate.

But then –

Adora missteps on purpose and when Catra rises to take the bait, Adora twists her sword and knocks Catra’s out of her hand.

Catra stumbles backwards and loses her balance.

The courtyard holds their breath in unison. As Catra falls to the ground, Adora puts her blade under her neck and realizes how easy it would be to nick it. But maybe the thought isn’t so appealing anymore. She carefully tilts Catra’s face up with the edge of her sword and meets Catra’s stare with her own. The rush of power feels nice. Familiar. A little bit smug, a little bit justified. I’m taking back control, she thinks with a heady rush.

There’s no fear in Catra’s eyes but Adora swears her eyes are just a little darker when she looks up at her. Respect. Maybe it’s respect she sees reflected in Catra’s eyes.

Adora lets the sword drop after a second, and steps away. The courtyard snaps back to life in an instant, clapping and murmuring amongst themselves. Catra is still on the ground, looking up at her, and after a moment, Adora boldly offers her hand and hauls her up. There’s a heavy pause. Then Catra gives her an impressed nod and lets go of her hand. Adora stares at her walking away a little too long.

“You play dirty,” Catra comments that night as they get ready for bed.

Adora shrugs, hiding a smile with a neutral expression as she unfolds the blankets.

“It occurred to me that you’re not the only one who can do that.”

It must be dawn when Adora blinks herself awake. The light streaming through the curtains is too mellow to be morning yet. Disoriented, she shifts around until a quiet frustrated groan stops her. Suddenly, she’s very aware of the arm tightening around her waist, of the slow puffs of air tickling her neck, of the warmth pressing against her back.

Adora turns slowly, almost scared to come face to face with Catra. She lets out a quiet breath when she realizes her fussing hasn’t truly woken her. Catra is serene in her sleep, chest rising and falling with each steady breath, and Adora stares for a moment, breathless.

This has never happened before.

It takes her by surprise, makes her feel warm and nervous and confused, and for the first time, she thinks, maybe we can do this. Rule together. Maybe they can be a team.

Her eyes feel heavy. She’s too tired to figure out what this means. It just feels nice. Maybe in the morning, she’ll have the answers.

Adora sighs, closes her eyes, and goes back to sleep.

That morning, Catra is up before Adora, a first in their so-called marriage, and she says nothing about their accidental cuddling so Adora says nothing. But Adora notices, over the next couple of days, the lingering looks, the shared smiles, the easy banter. Catra begins to attend dinners with her in the main hall and their subjects don’t stare at them in tense silence anymore. Catra makes mean but teasing jokes, and Adora smiles to herself when she turns to Catra and catches her quickly averting her eyes.

It’s good. It’s almost perfect.

Then Catra leaves for a campaign in the North and Adora doesn’t know how to feel. Or act.

The nights are long without her. Dinners lack her brash spirit and mean remarks. Sword practices are without her watchful eyes and less than helpful commentary, and reading in their chambers without her annoying presence feels lonely.

Adora knows she’s not supposed to hope for Catra’s safe return. She knows Catra is still the enemy. But lately, she’s felt less like that and more like a friend. A partner, perhaps. Someone she could count on.

Yet Adora can’t deny that Catra leaving to conquer lands for Hordak is a harsh wake up call. During winter, they’ve grown soft, comfortable, forgetting the reality of their situation. Now, Adora is forced to confront the fact that Catra is still, and perhaps always would be, a general of the Horde. Enemy of her people. Right hand of the man who turned this country into a warzone.

Someone who seeks power for his own gain, who cares only for himself, who wants to kill her best friend, and would happily discard of Adora too, if he could.

Adora finds she can’t ignore that anymore. But she’s undeniably glad when Catra returns home unharmed and without victory.

You should have prayed for her to fall in battle, you hypocritical fool. Instead, you pace the floors before her arrival and run outside the courtyard to greet her ahead of time. What would Glimmer think of you now?

Adora pushes the shame to the back of her mind, watching as Catra dismounts her horse and walks towards her. Adora swallows, dimly noting that her heart is racing like crazy. Each step Catra takes towards her feels like an eternity until they’re standing face to face, silent and tense with possibilities.

Catra breaks the silence, a smirk curving on her lips. Adora’s throat is strangely dry.

“Hey, Adora.”

Catra is gorgeous, she realizes. Adora supposes a part of her always knew but she never let herself think it. It’s undeniable now, staring into her face, as blinding as the sun.

And before she could think about it, Adora throws her arms around Catra, and whispers in her ear, “Welcome home.”

Adora isn’t stupid, she knows something shifted between the two of them ever since that morning in the courtyard. What it is or what it means is a more complex question she doesn’t have an answer to. But she knows it means something, the intense stares and small smiles. The accidental touching. The almost flirting, if she was brave enough to admit it. Adora doesn’t know what to do about it, or what Catra wants to do about it. She must feel it too, but she might not want to. Truthfully, Adora isn’t sure she wants to.

They’re on different sides of the war, and married or not, Adora hasn’t given up on Etheria. When Glimmer returns to claim her throne, she’s ready to fight beside her. She’s merely biding her time until they can attack again. And if it comes down to her kingdom or Catra, Adora knows her choice, clear as day. For her mother, for her queen, for her best friend, for her people.

Whatever’s between them can’t – won’t stand in the way of that.

But Catra is different since the campaign. Adora notices the small things, the long silences, the morose attitude, the fewer jokes. Something has happened. Something that leaves the shadow of worry in her eyes, that has her staring contemplatively out the window every time they dine together. Maybe it’s the shame of her defeat. Maybe it’s Hordak’s growing impatience regarding Glimmer’s disappearance. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Adora knows Catra won’t confide in her about it on her own, and Adora doesn’t know where to even begin to ask about it.

So it remains unspoken, only communicated in fleeting glances over dinner, like so many other things between them.

Then one night, when Adora doesn’t expect it, Catra breaks the silence. She’s sitting across from Adora at the table, pretending to be engrossed in some official papers from Bright Moon, while Adora reads a book recommended by Madame Razz. It’s a common nightly routine for them but Adora notices that Catra hasn’t turned the page for ten minutes. She stares ahead with pensive eyes, and Adora almost entertains the idea of inquiring about it when she speaks up.

“Did you mean it?”

Adora looks up in surprise. The candlelight illuminates Catra’s face in a warm orange glow, casting dark shadows across the floor. “Meant what?”

Welcome home.

Air leaves Adora’s lungs in a whoosh. She stares at Catra, surprised.

This is all the things they leave unspoken, everything they don’t talk about. Expect, apparently, Catra doesn’t want to leave them unspoken anymore. And Adora doesn’t know what to do with that.

She clears her throat, uncomfortable, glancing away. She tries to dismiss the conversation because that’s easier than talking about it. “Well, you live here now, don’t you? So this is your home, your castle.”

“No,” Catra shakes her head, and the strange wistful quality of her voice makes Adora glance back at her, “this will always be your castle.”

Adora doesn’t quite know what Catra is trying to say but she knows something’s different tonight, something in Catra’s gaze is more meaningful and sincere than she’s used to. A heavy moment passes between them. Adora scarcely breathes as she stares at Catra, uncertain. Is she as dazed as Adora? Overwhelmed by this tingle of excitement pumping through her veins? Is her heart beating fast too?

Adora wonders if this was inevitable from the start.

Then Catra breaks their stare and looks out the window into the darkness of the night. “You know, I was wrong.”

“Yeah, I know – wait, really? About what?”

“About you,” Catra shrugs, and that could mean a thousand things, really. Adora waits for her to elaborate. Her heart is definitely not hammering in her chest right now. “You did earn this castle.”

“Oh,” Adora swallows, and there it is again. Thinly veiled clues wrapped in off-handed compliments. What is she trying to say? Adora lets out a laugh that’s more strained than carefree. “What’s with you and the flattery tonight?”

“I’m not flattering you.” Catra rolls her eyes, and it’s such a taunting and familiar gesture, it eases the tension in Adora’s stomach. “It’s the truth.”

“You want to know my truth?” Adora asks after a pause, making a split-second decision. Catra raises her eyebrows, a gesture for her to continue. “I think you know the Horde is evil.”

Catra stills and Adora watches her face for any signs of anger. There’s nothing but intrigue. It’s too late to back down now and Adora doesn’t want to, anyway. She wants Catra to see reason because if she does then maybe… maybe…

“You know these people. My people. You’ve been here a while now. You’ve seen their pain, their suffering. You might have even grown to like them.” Adora pauses, searching Catra’s eyes, imploring her to see it from their point of view. To understand that Etheria is struggling under Hordak and it’s only going to get worse. To realize that Catra could make a difference.

“You don’t have to do this,” Adora goes on, confident but careful not to push too hard. It’s a precarious balance. “You have a choice.”

Catra snorts but it sounds sardonic rather than dismissive. As she looks down at her feet, Adora detects the familiar glint of fear in her eyes, and suddenly, Adora has enough of tiptoeing around the issue.

“What is it?” she asks, at last, straightforward. If this is a night of truths, perhaps Catra will finally tell her what’s bothering her.

And to her surprise, Catra sits straighter in her seat and looks Adora in the eye. “The King,” she says, and there’s surprising contempt in those words from someone the people call Hordak’s most loyal general, “has decided that you’ve outgrown your use.”

Adora grows still. “What?”

Catra shrugs, not as nonchalant as she probably meant it. “You can’t be surprised. This was always a temporary marriage until it was safe to get rid of you.”

Well, it’s good to know that’s how you feel, Adora thinks, bitter, swallowing the words. All at once, the room feels colder.

“He wants to kill me?” she demands, carefully neutral.

Catra is silent. She doesn’t look Adora in the eye and after a moment, it dawns on her.

“He wants you to kill me?” Adora asks, the neutrality gone, shock and anger coloring her voice. The words taste like acid on her tongue.

Catra sighs but still doesn’t look at Adora. “And make it seem like an accident, yes. Or an illness. He doesn’t want the people rebelling.”

Adora takes a moment to process this. She supposes if she wasn’t so busy thinking she could have a future with Catra, she would have seen it coming. Hordak never meant to keep her around forever, she knew that. He was biding his time too. And now that it’s been months since their wedding, it would be safer to dispose of Adora and make it seem like an accident. Her people have grown comfortable, let down their guards, stopped expecting the worst to happen. If Adora died now, it wouldn’t seem so obvious that her death had something to do with the Horde. Just a simple accident, an untimely illness – no one would think anything of it. Smart.

And bad. Very bad for her.

“It was my plan,” Catra blurts out.

Adora is startled.


Catra doesn’t look at her as she speaks, tracing the wooden patterns of the table with her fingers. “He wanted to kill you immediately. I told him it wasn’t a smart idea, not so soon after Queen Angella’s death, and it would only lead to an uprising. I suggested we wait it out, bide our time until your people have settled, and then get rid of you… quietly.”

She looks up at last, holding Adora’s gaze without flinching, mismatched eyes boring into her soul. “It was my idea.”

Adora doesn’t know what to say. Her chest feels near bursting with all the things she’s feeling. She shakes her head, struggling for words until she eventually blurts out, “I – why are you telling me this?”

It doesn’t make sense; if Catra is going to kill her, surely, she must know that Adora won’t go down without a fight, and even if Catra succeeds, Adora will make sure her people will know the truth, at least –

But Catra laughs, bitter and without humor. “Because I’m not going to do it. And if I’m going to turn my coat, I figure I might need my wife’s support.”

Adora’s breath catches in her throat. She stares at Catra, scrutinizing, trying to see if she means it, if she’s serious about this. She sees nothing but the truth written on Catra’s face. It could be a trick, the logical part of her mind warns her, but Adora silences it. Her heart knows Catra isn’t lying.

Adora breaks into a grin and after a moment, Catra mirrors it. She looks almost shy as she looks up at Adora under her eyelashes, something soft and warm in her gaze.

“Catra,” Adora begins, unsure of what she wants to say, but knowing that she can’t keep quiet anymore. The words are on the tip of her tongue, her feelings spilling over, overwhelmed by everything she’s been keeping locked away.

“Yes, Lady Adora?” Catra asks, coy, and suddenly, lady doesn’t feel so mocking anymore. Something warm sparks in Adora’s stomach. She realizes they both knew this was coming.

Adora leans over, Catra’s eyes following her movements, and she says, “Kiss me.”

So this is what it comes down to. Catra is defying orders and defying the Horde. Perhaps, Adora thinks with a smirk right before Catra kisses her, they should have killed her after all. But Hordak has made his bed by ordering them to marry and now he must lie in it.

She wears their wedding ring when she breaks into the Fright Zone two months later.

Unsurprisingly, the Horde doesn’t take too kindly to traitors. Word gets around and when Hordak hears about Catra’s desertion, he puts a bounty on her head. A month later, the Horde takes Catra away from Adora, but Adora isn’t going to let them keep her.

She marches into the Fright Zone, a woman on a warpath, and she isn’t alone. Scorpia, more loyal to Catra than she’s ever been to the Horde, accompanies her, and Entrapta, devoted to her friends, tags along. They distract the guards on the ground floor while Adora barges into the room they’re holding Catra.

“I want my wife back,” she announces casually as the soldiers stare at her in motionless shock.

Catra raises her hands in the background, tied together with a rope. “That would be me.”

Adora gives her a smug look before the guards attack. Three minutes later, they lie unconscious at her feet as Adora unties Catra and stumbles back from the force of her kiss. Catra pulls away with a grin, gesturing around them, “That was impressive.”

Adora laughs, and even in the heart of enemy territory, she feels light as a feather. They can find Glimmer, they can defeat Hordak, they can restore the throne. Catra has a lot to make up for but Adora trusts her. Together, they will be unstoppable.

(When they find Glimmer three weeks later, she hugs Adora tightly, Bow throwing his arms around both of them, and for a second, all is right in the world.

Then Glimmer pulls away and throws Adora a deeply concerned look. “I heard you had to get married to that terrible terrible Lord Catra. I couldn’t believe it, I was so angry. Are you okay?” She turns to Catra. “And who are you?”

Catra raises her eyebrows, looking both amused and offended. Still not many people expect Catra to be Lord Catra.

“Terrible twice?” Catra asks, biting, and Adora sighs. This is going to be a long discussion.)