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for what binds us

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"and when two people have loved each other see how it is like a scar between their bodies, stronger, darker, and proud; how the black cord makes of them a single fabric that nothing can tear or mend." 
- "FOR WHAT BINDS US," Jane Hirshfield

"The wound can have (should only have) just one proper name. I recognize that I love - you - by this: you leave in me a wound I do not want to replace." 
- "THE POSTCARD: FROM SOCRATES TO FREUD AND BEYOND," Jacque Derrida (trans. Alan Bass)

 

 

 

 




A change:

It’s hot out. That in of itself isn’t unusual. A combination of it being mid-June and climate change equals temperatures up to the 90s. It’s usually manageable as long as Adora stays indoors, but the AC’s broken. She takes a dip in her pool for a bit, which helps for a short time. The thing is — swimming laps over and over again by yourself gets boring after a while. So she pulls on a tank top and shorts over her one piece, already knowing that her mom would kill her if she ever caught her out in public dressed like that, and bikes over to the store.

She doesn’t really count how many popsicle boxes she shoves into her basket. It doesn’t seem like a lot, anyways, so she heads to the express lane and waits behind an elderly couple. Water drips from her ponytail onto her back, and her shirt clings to her skin with sweat.

Right as she starts loading her items onto the conveyor belt, a familiar voice says, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Adora blinks; pauses. “Excuse me?”

A girl roughly around her age glares back at her. She’s in a white crop top and high waisted shorts, frizzy hair pulled up into a messy bun at the top of her head. A little green grocery basket with a box of tampons and five bags of Flamin Hot Cheetos inside hangs off the crook of her elbow. “It’s the ‘ten and under’ lane, asshole,” she says. She points a manicured finger at Adora’s boxes. “You’ve got, like, fifteen there.”

“No, I don’t.” She turns back to her items and counts — Her face burns. “Oh.”

“Oh,” mocks the girl. She rolls her eyes: one a dark blue, the other a golden brown. Something scratches at the back of Adora’s skull. “Who buys that many popsicles anyways?”

Adora bristles. “Who buys that many bags of Cheetos?”

The girl places a protective hand over the mentioned snack. “Last I checked, five is less than fifteen.”

“Last I checked, that’s still enough to give you heartburn.” The conveyor belt starts. The cashier scans every box, eyes flitting between the two girls. Adora offers a sheepish smile. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he says in a tinny voice. He’s scrawny, and familiar too. Probably from walking around town, she figures. His name tag says Kyle in all caps. “You’re not that much over the limit anyways.”

“Did they stop teaching math in this town?” snaps the girl.

Kyle’s shoulders are practically up to his ears. “Catra…”

“Ugh, whatever.” She scowls. “Just hurry up.”

Adora sighs. She rubs her forehead. Soon enough she pays and bags her items, the burn of Catra’s glare warming the back of her neck. She hurries out to unlock her bike. She’s still putting all the bags into her basket when there’s a clink right beside her. She jerks her head up and locks eyes with Catra, scowling.

“Can I help you?”

Catra snorts and starts unlocking her own bike. “Nope.” She throws her bag into her bike’s wire basket and turns to Adora with a raised brow. “Do I know you or something?”

“I —” Adora tilts her head, considering. “I don’t think so? Maybe we’ve seen each other around.”

Catra’s eyes travel from Adora’s feet, up her legs, all the way up to her eyes in a slow crawl. She’s gripping her bike’s handlebars, frizzy curls escaping her updo and surrounding her face. “I think I’d remember you.”

Adora’s face burns.

With a smirk, Catra mounts her bike. “See ya around, princess,” she says and pedals away. Adora watches till she rounds a corner, mouth dry, and then starts on her way home, heartbeat thudding loud in her throat.

 

*

 

Routines are comfortable. Adora lives off them. You see, every morning she wakes up at six A.M. on the dot, pulls on her workout clothes, and heads to the small gym just down the block. A solid hour later it’s a short walk back home, a shower, breakfast, and then she heads to City Hall to report to her mom’s assistant. She sorts out the paperwork, gets everyone coffee — typical intern stuff. When her mom finally glides into the office, dark hair tied back into a strict low ponytail as the base of her neck, Adora’s always quick to follow after her. By five in the afternoon she and her mom are out the building and on their way home. The car ride’s always a back and forth political discussion, or more like a quiz with the way her mom throws terms and concepts and political theory at Adora until her head’s ready to burst. Then it’s dinner, and more books for Adora to read, and she’s in bed by ten.

It’s always been this way. She doesn’t know anything different. She was home-schooled her entire life. She graduated and got accepted to Fright Zone University with a full-ride scholarship and glowing recommendations from multiple City Hall employees. She’s worked at the mayor’s office from the day she hit sixteen. Every article of clothing in her closet is government appropriate and organized by color, length, material, and season. She’s lived in her mother’s mansion her whole life; can roam the halls by muscle memory alone.

The thing is —

See, the thing is, she doesn’t know any different. Her closest friend is her mom . She’s never had friends, not really, unless you count that one white horse she visits sometimes at the stables. Swift Wind, she called him, only for her mom to storm away. Still, she let Adora lease him under her name. There’s a private school a few blocks away. She never attended, even when she begged her mom to let her.

“I’m protecting you,” she always said, a hand cradling Adora’s chin. “I’m preparing you for greater things than any school could ever teach you. I’m providing you with the best tutors money can offer.”

So, that was that.

Things never change. Not really. Save that brief interlude one summer day, things stay the same. She works out. She goes to her job. She goes home. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Starting university might change things, but that’s still months away, and she’s meant to start a paid internship soon, meaning more hours, more work —

She’s bored, she thinks.

 

*

 

She finds Catra’s Instagram. It’s easy, really, considering the complete lack of Catras out there. It’s a modest profile: Only 345 followers and nine photos. It’s public. Adora scrolls through the photos, all the way up to the earliest post only 3 months ago. A mirror selfie, Catra leaning against the very edge of her bed in a pair of black high waisted shorts with red flannel tied around her waist, and a burgundy crop top. A small red stud glints above her belly button.

Technically speaking Adora’s not even supposed to have an Instagram. She was running the City Hall account for a while, and that was the only account she had for a time, except she couldn’t exactly like a bunch of memes through it. So she made one for herself and prayed her mom never found it. She keeps it private, has exactly 1 follower, and mostly just follows a bunch of celebrities and meme accounts. All her photos are just the landscape around her, or Swift Wind and the stables, or gym selfies, or motivational quotes. Nothing much worth looking it.

She gnaws at the inside of her cheek; turns her options over.

She hits follow.

 

*

 

hey, adora.

She’d woken to the buzz of her phone. The message winks up at her. Adora stares at it for what’s probably way too long. She looks at the time stamp (2:56 AM) , and then at the message again, and then at the follow request. It’s three in the morning. Moonlight streams through the gauzy white curtains at her windows, illuminating the room in a quiet silver. She thinks about locking her phone and going back to sleep, except —

There’s something familiar about the words. Something scratching at the back of her skull, persistent, but quiet. She bites at her lip and replies.

 

*

 

lmao you’re kidding

you’re the mayor’s kid??

Why would I joke

about that…

dude my dad HATES her

What? Why?

you rly wanna know?

Uh, yeah

two words: horde industries

?

my dad’s hordak

romeo and juliet’s got nothing

on us huh

 

*

 

She learns things like Catra moved out the second she turned 18; like Catra lives with two grad students near Fright Zone University, paying off her rent by working at the campus café until she starts the semester this upcoming fall and moves into the dorms; like Catra actually wants a dog, not a cat; like Catra hates her dad, really, honestly hates him, and every piercing (one belly; three on each ear lobe), and every tattoo (a red rose crossed with a black sword right at the center of her chest; a black cat slinking along the skin right behind her left ear) is just another big middle finger towards the rigid lifestyle he forced her into.

She’s adopted, just like Adora. Neither of them remember their biological parents. Adora never felt like she needed to. Catra never bothered searching.

why bother , her message says. hordak probably had them killed or something.

They don’t exchange numbers. Adora’s mom won’t see a new number on the phone bill. It’s safer. Catra was supposed to inherit Hordak’s business empire until she was completely disowned.

i don’t know how you can stand all the shit , she tells her one night.

Adora stares at the message long and hard, laying on her back in bed.

Me either , she finally sends back.

 

*

 

“Well look at you,” Catra says. “Guess I’m underdressed.”

“Shut up,” Adora throws back, grinning. She shrugs off the pastel pink cardigan and ties its sleeves around her waist. There’s not much she can do about the silk blouse or matching slacks, but this is better, at least. “I told you I was just at work.”

It’s high noon, the sun blaring hot and heavy at their backs. Adora only managed to get out of work after an entire morning spent gradually complaining about a headache, and cramps, and back pain until her mom settled a hand on her head and told her to go home to rest.

Catra’s on her bike, leaning with one foot on the pavement. Her hair’s braided long down her back, her bangs pulled away from her face with a red bandana. Black swimsuit straps peek out from under her loose tee shirt. She gestures at the front of her bike with a wave of the hand. “Well, your carriage awaits.”

By the time they make it to Adora’s house, they’re both soaked in sweat. The blouse’s drenched in it, and past ruined. She makes Catra hide her bike in the bushes at the end of the block and sneaks her in through the pool house by the back.

“The gate has security cameras,” she tells her.

“Jesus fucking christ,” Catra says.

The inside of the house breathes empty. By now any cleaning crew has left, and her mom’s not due home till around 5:20. The entire mansion sprawls large and opulent, by far the biggest one in the entire town. An inheritance, her mom once said, smile curling at the corner of her mouth, as if she’s just said a joke only she would understand. Adora gives Catra a quick tour of the kitchen, the living room, past the foyer and the kitchen. She’s rushing through it, she knows, but the longer she stays in her clothes, the more she itches to peel them off.

They’re nearing the hall with Adora’s room when Catra pauses and says, “Whoa,” all amazed like, the first time throughout the entire tour of the place. Adora stops and turns, catching Catra peeking into —

“Shit,” she says. “We’re not — We’re not supposed to go in there.”

“Why?” Catra steps into the study. It’s the biggest room in the house, the walls lined with books, after books, after books. Little planetary models hang off the ceiling decorated with a painting of the night sky and constellations. There’s a spiraling metal staircase at the other end of the room leading up to the second floor. Her mom’s dark mahogany desk rests by the corner of the first floor. Hanging on the wall right above it is a sword with a golden hilt in a matching gold, intricate scabbard. A glittering sapphire rests center hilt, practically pulsing in the light.

“What’s with the sword?”

Adora shrugs. “A gift from some princess. It’s priceless or something.”

Catra squints. She steps closer, neck craning. “I feel like.” She pauses. Her eyebrows furrow. “I feel like I’ve seen it before or something.”

The few times Adora’s stepped foot into the study she‘s stared up at the sword, a persistent feeling of familiarity coiling tight in her chest. Like deja vu, or whatever. Like that golden hilt was crafted to fit right in her hand; the blade balanced perfectly for her and her alone. She always chalked it up to an overactive imagination. “Internet?” she offers with a shrug.

Catra shakes her head. “I don’t — I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Okay. Weirdo.” Adora grasps Catra’s wrist. The tips of her fingers touch from where they curl around it. Her stomach flutters. “C’mon. We really can’t be here.”

She takes her to her room, all the way at the opposite wing. By the time Adora leaves her closet, finally changed into her red one piece and a pair of shorts, Catra’s settled on the bed and started to swing her feet from where they hang a few inches off the ground. She’s wearing black flip-flops, her toenails painted a dark red. She leans back on her hands, head lolling to the side. “Your room reminds me of a 40 year old.”

Adora blinks. The walls are a plain white, decorated with paintings of mountains and forests and a single black-and-white photograph of the stables on the other side of town. She has a single bookshelf full of books she’s still getting through. Her duvet’s a solid white. The decorative pillows are orange, and pink, and red, and decorated with little floral patterns. She remembers being fifteen, staring longingly at a constellation decorated duvet, at posters of bands and celebrities she liked, and her mom guiding her away.

“I’m an old spirit,” she answers instead. She drapes a fluffy towel over her shoulder and starts to head out. “C’mon. We only have a few hours before my mom gets home.”

The pool is Adora’s favorite part of her home. A large, sprawling thing with a faux waterfall at one end and a bunch of twinkling fairy lights hanging over their heads. She’s spent every summer swimming laps up and down up and down until her shoulders and back showed the years. Her mom never joined her. Sometimes she sat at one of the white lawn chairs, under the shade of a big matching umbrella, and read a book. Sometimes she watched Adora swim. She hasn’t done either since Adora hit sixteen almost three years ago, though.

As soon as they’re out back, Catra kicks off her flip flops, strips off her shirt and shorts, giving Adora a quick flash of dewey brown skin, a flat stomach with that red stud glinting, and jumps right into the deep end of the pool, only a few feet away from the waterfall. Adora picks up all her belongings and deposits them on a lawn chair before she does the same. As soon as she resurfaces Catra splashes her right in the face, and well, it’s a bloodbath from there.

They wrestle, Catra finding a way to cling onto Adora’s back until Adora dives underwater and flips them right around, and then they’re swimming after each other, chasing until their giggles echo loud and high throughout the backyard. At some point Adora snatches Catra’s bandana headband from her head and dives back underwater. At another Catra insists on carrying Adora on her shoulders.

“Are you fucking Thor?” she pants, hands gripping Adora’s thighs tight. She cranes her head back so that it presses against Adora’s stomach. “Where’d you even find the time to get this ripped?”

Adora shrugs, cheeks flushed. She’s warm all over, but especially everywhere Catra’s touched. “What? You want work-out tips now?”

Catra sinks underwater and swims out from between Adora’s legs. She kicks at her stomach and propels herself to the other end of the pool. Adora’s all too giddy to follow.

They spend the next few hours like this. It’s — fun. Adora can’t stop laughing. She can’t remember the last time she laughed like this. Maybe never. It’s going fine, really, until they’re both out the pool drying off and Adora turns her back towards Catra and hears a pained hiss. She stiffens.

She forgot —

“Sorry,” says Catra. “I didn’t mean to —”

Pulling her shirt on, Adora gives a curt, “It’s fine.”

“You must’ve pissed off a giant ass cat.”

“Yeah,” Adora says, turning to face Catra. The scars are ragged pink dragging down her back, right at her shoulder blades. They’re raised and ragged and big. Bigger than any housecat. She hides them as best as she can, except when she goes to the pool, and she can’t believe she forgot . “I, uh. Hiking incident. I don’t — I don’t really remember.”

“Oh.” Catra tilts her head. The skin between her brows wrinkles, and Adora wants to reach forward and smooth it out. “That sucks.”

Adora laughs. “It’s fine. Like I said, I don’t remember.” She hands Catra her shorts. “C’mon. You gotta leave.”

 

*

 

A turning point:

She dreams, that night. A tight, stoned terrain with a cliff; a battle playing like a storybook in the water down below, a glittering castle overlooking it all. She is not herself. This she knows. She is taller, stronger. She is damaged, right down to the core. Shredded skin of her cheek stinging with pain, her ribs aching. She is tired. Bone tired. Of fighting, of crawling towards forgiveness on aching hands and knees. What she’s repenting for she does not know.

Claws dig and drag down her back, razor quick. Just like that. Her vision reds. She screams.

“You, on the other hand, you’re not looking so good.” The voice, familiar like the back of her hand, sounds gleeful, taunting.

Adora gasps awake.

 

*

 

Here’s the thing: She never asked. She tells Catra, Hiking incident , the excuse flying off her tongue before the thought’s fully formed. She never asked, though. She doesn’t remember. That’s the truth.

She first noticed the scars blooming rose red on her back when applying sunscreen a few weeks ago. The raised ridges were tender to touch, still sensitive, as if only recently healed. She scrambled to the pool house bathroom and stared at the scars reflected back from the mirror until they were stamped to the back of her eyelids, always there when she closed her eyes.

She doesn’t remember.

Her mom would’ve done something about them. She never lets Adora carry on unless she’s utterly flawless. Never allowed her outside unless dressed prim and proper, not a single hair out of place, not a single loose thread on any clothing. Never allowed her to tan, even in the summer. Never allowed her to walk around the mansion without a pair of slippers on. Never allowed her to dye her hair cotton candy pink or pierce her ears. Never allowed her anything, really, other than the stables. She’d gotten a tiny harmless mole at the turn of her jaw removed last month at her mother’s request, for fuck’s sake.

She doesn't remember. That’s the truth.

Here’s the thing: Catra’s stare lingered. She had felt it agonizingly drag up her back. She apologized for staring, but something about the twist of her mouth ached a familiar pain. Everything about Catra did, as if Adora’s known her for years, and years, like the back of her hand littered with little claw marks despite never having owned a cat. Funny, really, how she never thought too long on it now.

It had been Catra’s voice, in the dream. This she knows.

 

*

 

“You’ve been spacey, dear.” Her mom stares straight forward. She is neither smiling or frowning despite the concern weaving through her voice. “Is everything alright?”

Adora turns away from the passenger window; forces her back straight, her hands to settle on her lap. “Yes, ma’am.”

The car slows to a stop at a red light. Her mom turns to her, head tilted. Not a single lock of long, black hair escapes that tight, low ponytail. “Are you sure? You’re not feeling ill again?”

“No.” Adora shakes her head. “I think I’m just — nervous about starting school soon.”

The light changes. The car rolls forward. “I did tell you to take a year off. Continue working at the office until you feel well enough to begin school.”

“I know. I’m not changing my mind,” Adora says. “It’s just jitters. They’re normal.”

A hum. The car burns silent. Then: “Are you taking your meds?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her mom flicks a stare in her direction. “If your anxiety gets worse, I can ask the doctor to increase your dosage.”

“It’s not worse. I promise.”

“You’ll tell me if it does.”

“Of course.” Adora smiles. “I tell you everything.”

 

*

 

“This place is a mess.” Catra kicks off her shoes. “Never really much a point to cleaning up when Entrapta’s just going to trash it in three seconds anyways.”

The small apartment radiates chaos: Stacks of machinery in every nook and corner, piles of laundry in every which way, dishes stacked to the very top in the kitchen, and a toppled back sofa. The TV has a hole right at the very center.

“It’s fine,” says Adora. She pulls her own shoes off and settles them by the door. She told her mom she was at student orientation all weekend. It’s not entirely a lie. She did register for her classes in the morning and sign into her room and leave enough belongings behind for her roommate to know someone’s staying there overnight. She just...happened to leave after the academic parts.

Today Catra has her hair braided long down her back and tied off with a red scrunchie. Her too big, loose jeans are bunched at the waist with a thick black belt. She’s wearing that white crop top from the day they met. She’s leaner than Adora, entire form lithe and petite. Her nails are painted a deep blue. She doesn’t have acrylics anymore, the nails trimmed short and round.  

She leads her down a packed hall, stepping over more books and documents — “Ugh, fucking Entrapta ” — and into a room at the very end. Dark curtains pulled clean shut darken the room almost pitch black save for a single TV turned on at the corner, screen displaying the Roku menu. There’s a small twin bed shoved against the wall, the blankets bunched and wrinkled, pillows strewn over the mattress. It’s fairly empty other than a black dresser and a nightstand next to the bed.

Catra slinks into the room; plops right onto the bed. She picks up the Roku remote. “What do you even watch?” She clicks on Netflix and starts scrolling through several titles. “A bunch of One Direction documentaries?”

Adora flushes pink, settling on the opposite end of the bed. “Hey. They were a good band.”

“Lemme guess: You were a Harry girl.”

A snort. “Zayn.”

“Oh. Someone’s got taste.” Catra grins.

“I’m here with you, aren’t I?”

Red blooms on Catra’s cheeks. She makes this little humming sound and turns back to the screen. Adora hops a little closer to the center of the mattress. She nudges Catra’s shoulder. “What? You can dish out, but can’t take it?”

“Oh my god. Shut up.” Catra rolls her eyes, except there’s a hint of a smile right there at the corner of her mouth. She picks some random movie and starts arranging the pillows so that they’re all along the wall. Settling upright, she sits next to Adora, legs crossed. Before Adora overthinks it, she scoots close enough for their sides to touch and leans back against the pillows.

Catra picked some horror movie, Adora realizes about halfway through when someone starts choking on their food. As soon as the first person falls dead Adora yelps and curls against Catra, hiding her face in her hands. Catra’s shoulder shakes with silent laughter. Adora shoves at it. She clings to her arm.

Which is fine, she thinks. Friends do that. Catra lets her.

The movie’s kinda slow, after that. She’s been up since six in the morning, and has walked all around the FZU campus with an overeager orientation leader, and picking her classes was a bit of a headache. Catra’s warm and solid beside her. Adora’s eyes flutter shut.

The next thing Adora knows she’s waking up to Catra gently shaking her shoulder. She blinks once, twice. Catra chuckles. “You know you drool, right?”

Her hand comes to the corner of her mouth. Sure enough there’s dry drool. She wipes at it, blushing and muttering “Shut up” to a laughing Catra. “What time is it?”

The screen of Catra’s phone lights up. It illuminates Catra’s face a cyan blue. “Midnight.”

“What?” Adora jerks up and scrambles off the bed, collecting her jacket from the floor. “Shit! Shit. I have to head back —”

“Dude.” Catra hops off the bed. She grabs at Adora’s arms and leans forward. This close Adora can count the individual freckles splattered over the bridge of her nose, her cheeks. Her breath catches. “It’s late. Just stay over. Your mom thinks you’re staying overnight at the dorms anyways. It’s fine.”

She gnaws at the inside of her cheek. “What if she finds out?”

“She won’t.” Her hands slide down and grasp her own, fingers intertwining. “You already went to orientation, right?” Adora nods. “Then you’re fine. We’ll just wake up early so you can get back before everyone else wakes up. What time is she picking you up?”

“Noon. Her lunch break,” she says.

“There you go.” Catra smiles, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “C’mon. Just stay the night.”

Adora bites her lip. Catra’s eyes flicker down to her mouth.

“Okay,” she says, finally, face warm. “Okay. I’ll stay.”

Catra’s grin burns bright. It’s the best thing Adora’s ever seen.

 

*

 

Catra lends Adoda a pair of plaid cotton shorts and a large tee shirt. She changes in the bathroom and by the time she comes back into the room, Catra’s already changed into a tank top and loose Batman pajama pants.

“Would’ve pegged you for a Catwoman fan, actually,” says Adora. A pillow flies at her. She dodges with a delighted squeal.

“Ha. Ha.” Catra sits at the edge of her bed and rolls her eyes. “Soooo original. How long did it take you to come up with that one, genius?”

“It came naturally. You can’t plan genius.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“You love me.”

“Keep telling yourself that.” Catra grins. She pulls up the blankets and slides into bed, all the way to wall. Adora hesitates. Catra raises an eyebrow. “You gonna sleep on the floor?”

She crosses her arms; shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “If you want me to.”

A snort. “Get in here, idiot.”

It’s a tight fit, even with the two of them lying on their sides facing one another. Their legs brush together. This close Adora can make out Catra’s face in the dark: the curve of her mouth; the dimple at the center of her chin; the slight upturn of the point of her nose; the small scar bisecting her left eyebrow. Her eyes are heavy lidded, searching Adora’s face. It’s been almost two months of this, trading messages back and forth, sneaking off together when they can. Every inch of Catra’s face is familiar, regardless of how little time has passed. The days dragged on, before her; a slow, dreary haze, like nothing more than going through the motions.

Adora feels wide awake.

“You’re my first friend,” Adora whispers, the words out before she’s even thought them. “I’ve never — My mom —”

Catra nods like she understands. The warmth in Adora’s chest swells with the act of being known. “Before I moved out,” she says, voice low, “I was the same. I’m lucky I met Scorpia and Entrapta, but...” A pause. “It feels like — It feels like I’ve known you forever, y’know. Is that dumb?”

Adora shakes her head. She props herself up on an elbow, meeting Catra’s eyes. Her hair curtains around them. “No. I get it. That day at the store —”

“God, Adora, who buys fifteen boxes of popsicles?”

She shoves at Catra’s shoulder, but Catra reaches out and grabs her by the elbow, tugging her down so that she’s on top of her, their torsos pressed together, practically nose-to-nose. Her heart threatens to leap out of her throat.

She gulps. “It was hot,” she says, voice thin. Her brain catches up to her and her face burns . “That day, I mean. It was hot out. Climate change, y’know.”

Catra chuckles, her chest rumbling with the force of it. “I know.”

“Do you ever feel like —” Adora bites her lip; mulls it over. “Like maybe we’ve been here before?”

“I think I’d remember a girl pinning me in bed,” replies Catra, except her voice holds none of the sting of a joke. Her brows furrow, almost like she knows exactly what she means. Adora thinks of that day in her mother’s study, Catra glaring up at the sword like she knew it.

Adora rolls with it, anyways. “Technically you pulled me down.”

“Technically you pulled me down,” she mocks, pitching her voice higher. She smirks up at Adora.

“Anyone ever tell you you act like you’re five?”

“Anyone ever tell you you act like you’re forty?”

Adora can barely bite back her smile. She flops back onto the mattress and says, “Goodnight, Catra.”

“See what I mean? Ancient.” Their legs intertwine. Catra tugs at a lock of Adora’s hair, like a bell. “Night, Adora.”

 

*

 

A dream:

A cloud of smoke billowing across a broken field. Tanks lie uprooted and toppled onto their sides. The ground rises up in random cracks and patterns, an unnatural break. Adora is not herself again. This she knows. She is towering white and gold, standing taller than she ever has before, hair floating in glowing waves around her. She falls to her knees. She pulls back into herself.

When she looks up, the smoke parts. Catra, eyes wide, stares back at her across the field. In the haze of softly lit violet smoke her eyes glisten blue and gold. Her tail — her tail hangs down. Her ears lie flat against her head.

“Catra,” breathes Adora.

The expression shutters; the blinds pull closed. Catra’s eyes narrow. Her shoulders form a solid line.

You should’ve seen your face, she once said. You were all, Oh, no, betrayal!

Catra turns away and runs. Adora lets her.

 

*

 

This time Adora wakes in silence. No fluttering of the lashes; no soothing coming to consciousness. She was dreaming and now she is awake, aware of the body pressed against her own. She is wrapped around Catra’s back, arm clinging to her waist, face buried along the back of her neck. The blanket lies at their feet, kicked off at some point.

The dream lingers. Her chest aches with an unknowable feeling — something like melancholic nostalgia, maybe, except not really. It hurts, she thinks. The dreams hurt. The scars on her back pulse with it.

She untangles herself from Catra, slowly sliding out of bed and padding out to the bathroom. Once she’s done everything she’s needed to and changed back into her clothes, she returns to Catra’s room and lays the folded pajamas at the foot of the bed. Catra’s still asleep, curled up on her side, face smooth and peaceful, nothing like the heartbroken glare from her dream. Adora’s throat closes.

It was just a dream.

She sits at the edge of the bed and lays a hand on the center of Catra’s back, calling out her name. She doesn’t move. She says it again. Nothing.

Little snores escape Catra’s mouth. She burrows her face against her pillow. Somehow her hair managed to stay in its braid. Stray curls escape regardless, poking out here and there.

“I gotta go,” she whispers. “Bye, Catra.”

Catra stays asleep. Right before Adora closes the door, she pauses and takes one last look at her fast asleep. Every inch of her itches to go back; to curl up against her and close her eyes to the world outside.

She leaves.

 

*

 

The gala’s fully underway by the time Adora’s phone buzzes in her pocket. She excuses herself away from the group of City Hall interns only a few years older and makes her way to the bathroom. She doesn’t pull her phone out until the door is firmly locked behind her.

It’s a Snapchat notification: A close up selfie of Catra’s nose, eyes, and forehead angled from below captioned “wyd???”

Adora snorts. She sends back a quick mirror selfie, peace sign over her face with “Hiding from politicians” as a reply, and hits send. She tightens her ponytail and straightens her blazer before stepping back outside.

A bunch of city council seats are up for grabs this upcoming term which means endless fundraisers and rallies and galas. Her mom’s only halfway through her term as mayor so she’s fine. Their mansion’s the largest building in the town, though, so she generously offers to host most of the events — as long as she favors the person asking.

Politics.

It’s exhausting. Adora’s pretty sure she doesn’t actually want to become a politician. The path has been laid out for her. It’s easy, like a red carpet rolled out ahead of her. She just has to put one foot in front of the other, even if every step weighs heavy.

Most of the crowd’s either buzzed, drunk, or on their way there. As far as she can tell she’s the youngest person in the entire building, any minors left to nannies or babysitters, she figures. The interns are off to one corner, still sipping at their drinks, laughing about something or the other. She can already map out the conversation in her head, the inside jokes she won’t be privy to, the slight side eye they’ll give her knowing full well she’s only in the position she’s in because of her mom.

One of them starts to turn in her direction. Adora looks down and scurries away. Outside is just as packed, people standing in little clusters around the pool with its glittering fairy lights illuminating the backyard. No one pays her mind as she maneuvers between the tight space. Finally she enters the pool house and shuts the door with a relieved sigh, leaning against the wooden surface and shutting her eyes.

“Uh,” a voice cracks. Adora’s eyes snap open. “Hi?”

A boy and a girl around her age sit on the floor by the tiny loveseat, a deck of cards between them. The girl’s pink hair sparkles under the low light just like her pretty violet dress. The boy sits up back ramrod straight, in a white blazer and a cropped button down shirt. They both stare back at her, eyes wide.

She raises an eyebrow. “Is that Uno?”

“Yup,” the boy replies. “You wanna play?”

The girl pouts. “Bow,” she hisses.

Bow waves her off. “Glimmer’s just mad because I was going to win anyways.”

“You were not!”

“You in?”

“Sure,” Adora says, plopping down on the floor beside them, forming a tiny circle. “I can’t be here too long, though.”

“You’re Adora, right? Mayor Weaver’s daughter,” Bow says. He gathers all the cards and starts to shuffle them.

Adora blinks. “Uh. Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

“Bow knows everyone.” Glimmer rolls her eyes, but there’s a smile tugging at her mouth.

“It’s called being polite.”

“Uh huh. Stalker.”

Bow sticks his tongue out at her and starts to pass the cards around until each of them have seven. “My dads work at the library. They’ve mentioned you before.”

“Oh!” Now that he mentions it, he does look like George. Something about the shape of his eyes, the turn of his jaw. “Lance and George, right?”

He grins. “Yup. They’re here tonight, actually. So is Glimmer’s mom.”

“I didn’t think anyone under twenty was actually here,” says Adora.

“Ugh, yeah. Everyone’s so boring.” Glimmer starts organizing her hand, tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. “Sorry for stealing your hiding spot.”

“It’s fine.” Bow shuffled the deck badly. Adora’s hand is almost entirely blues save for one green and one red. “It’s not like you guys got into my room.”

“Not like we could find it. Your place is huge. I got lost on my way to the bathroom,” says Bow.

Glimmer nods solemnly. “It took me, like, ten minutes to find him.”

“Sorry. I don’t even know why we even need this place when it’s only two of us.”

A snort. “My mom’s the same way. We live in a ridiculous house and it’s literally just us.” The card laid out in front of them is a red seven. Glimmer lays down a green seven. “She’s the principal at Bright Moon Prep.”

It’s like a light switch flipped on. “I wanted to go there,” Adora says. She puts down a blue seven. “But my mom said homeschooling was better.”

“Aw, we could’ve gone to school together.” Bow pouts. He adds a blue one card.  

Adora shrugs. “You guys going to FZU?”

“Nope. Still got another year to go,” says Glimmer, and then she does the unforgivable: she sets down a plus four. “Sorry!”

“Oh now I’m glad I didn’t go to school with you.” Adora groans and starts pulling out cards from the deck.

“Don’t be a sore loser.”

Bow snorts. “Hilarious coming from you.”

“Shut up, Bow.”

The game continues this way for a while. Bow and Glimmer trade jabs at each other, and Adora tries not to laugh too hard at them, but they fold her into the dynamic fairly easy. Bow wins the first round, after which Glimmer declares that their friendship is over, and then Glimmer wins the second. It’s ridiculous. Adora keeps losing. At one point she has over fifteen cards in her hand.

Her phone buzzes. She pulls it out of her pocket and sees another notification from Catra. She starts to smile, pink spreading over her cheeks, when a picture of her mom takes over the screen. She almost drops the phone.

“You okay?” asks Bow.

Adora nods. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry. I just — I gotta take this. Sorry.” She pushes herself up and smooths at her white slacks. “Maybe I’ll see you guys later?” She doesn’t give them the chance to answer before she’s picking up the call and walking out the door.

“Where are you?” her mom says. She has to practically shout over the buzz of conversation.

“I was out by the pool.”

“Come back inside. I need to introduce you to several acquaintances.”

She hangs up.

For a solid minute Adora stands outside the pool house, phone still pressed to her ear. At her side her hand curls into a tight fist, nails digging into the meat of her palm. She forces a breath in, and then out.

“Are you alright?”

Adora jumps. A man in his fifties with thinning blue hair slicked back stands in front of her, a prosthetic hand gripping the stem of an empty wine glass. He stands almost a solid foot taller than her, clad in a black suit. He doesn’t — actually look that concerned, white face practically blank and devoid of emotion save a singular raised brow.

“Uh.” Adora stuffs her phone back in her pocket. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

He hums. “Weaver’s daughter, I presume.”

She blinks.

“Tell me,” he starts, “how is Catra these days?” When Adora blanches, he continues, “You’re not a bad companion, though I do have to wonder why you only meet in secret. Then again,” he shrugs, “considering Weaver’s track record —”

“How —”

“It’s a small town, Adora.” She falls silent. He smiles, his thin pale lips barely a curve. “I heard rumors regarding your mother and a congressional campaign. She’s done wonders for this town, has she not?”

“She has,” she replies, voice strained.

“Imagine if her campaign were to gain the support of the Horde.” A waiter walks past, holding a tray of champagne flutes. Hordak raises a hand. The waiter stops and Hordak trades the empty glass for the champagne. “Silence comes with a price, Adora. You are aware of this correct?”

“Excuse me?”

He hums and says, “Ah, there’s your mother.”

Sure enough, her mom steps out from the house, her red suit a beacon amongst the monochrome attire of the night. A singular lock of black hair escapes that impeccable ponytail. She stands, stock still, eyes roaming the crowd until she locks onto Adora and Hordak. Her mouth twists in a grimace.

“It’s been a pleasure, Adora.” Hordak starts to walk away and says over his shoulder, “Give your mother my best.” The crowd swallows him up. No matter how hard Adora tries, she can’t make him out anywhere.

Out of nowhere, her mother all but slams into her, face frenzied. She grips Adora’s arms, leaning in close. “What did he say to you?”

“Nothing!” she yelps. “He was just saying hi.”

Her eyes, an unnatural green, roam over her face. They flicker neon green and then back for just a second. Almost like they glowed — “Don’t lie to me, child.”

“I would never. I swear.”

It seems to settle her. Her mother lets her go and smooths at Adora’s white and gold blazer; fixes her collar and tucks a lock of hair behind Adora’s ear. “Never lie to me, Adora. I trust you, you know that,” she says. “But I cannot stand liars.”

“I know, mom.” Adora’s shoulders curve inwards, practically up to her ears. “You can trust me.”

She kisses her forehead. “Good. Now, come inside. They’re waiting for us.”

 

*

 

She dreams of another world, a different world, with a pegasus, and swords, and tiaras, and war. She dreams oppressive green smog; the whir of machinery; a lifetime of bruised knuckles, scraped knees, and training simulations after training simulations, with a pair of neon green eyes always there, always watching; writhing, curling, twisting tendrils of black everywhere she turns, ready to grab at every limb. She dreams a childhood curled against Catra; a childhood laughing with other recruits, until they grow taller, leaner, and fall in line as cadets.

The dreams are not always good, and they are not always bad. They just are. Adora wakes with an urgent sense of foreboding, like they’re inevitably barreling towards the end. Adora wakes with the taste of blood in her mouth. It is familiar.

Catra is always there, except it’s not her, not really. She is claws, and cat-like ears, and curling tails, and venom on her tongue. She is the familiar and loved shifted into something aching and feared. Someone longed after. Someone hated.

“Of course it’s not over,” she taunts in a dream. “It won’t be over until Bright Moon is destroyed and the Rebellion falls. It won’t be over until darkness covers Etheria forever. And it won’t be over until I see the looks on your friends’ faces when they find out that you failed; that you were too weak to save them."

The scars adorning Adora’s back pulse, and breathe, and scream. They tell a story. She’s not sure she wants to listen.

 

*

 

“I can’t believe you’re a fucking horse girl,” Catra laughs. “A horse girl!”

“Your name is Catra and you have a cat tattoo,” Adora says. “You don’t even like cats. Are you really in any place to judge me?”

“Uh, duh? Because I’m not a horse girl.”

Adora groans. “You’re so annoying.”

“I know you are but what am I?” Catra says. Adora shoves her shoulder and she falls into a pile of hay with a shriek. “Jerk!”

“I know you are but what am I?” Adora mocks, raising the pitch of her voice. She smirks and crosses her arms.

The stables are fairly empty today save for the owners of the property. Hottest day of the summer means a dip in activity, everyone far too eager to stay indoors with their AC instead of out horseback riding. Catra practically threw herself out of the car when Adora finally relented and told her where they were heading.

The inside of the barn has working fans, though, and most of the horses are calm. Swift Wind perks up when Adora walks in, head lifting to meet her eyes. Adora couldn’t stop the grin on her face even if she tried. She pets his muzzle and presses her forehead against his.

“Hey, buddy. I brought a friend today,” she says. She looks up and finds Catra standing a few feet away, eyes soft, hair haloed by sunlight streaming from the clear glass windows above their heads. “We can take him out in a bit, but if you’re not comfortable with that we can just brush his coat and feed him.”

“He’s not gonna, like, try to kick my head in is he?”

Adora shakes her head. “He’s gentle. C’mon. He’ll like you, I promise.”

Catra takes a tentative step forward, and then another, until she’s beside Adora, the faint scent of her body spray wafting in the air between them. She stares at Swift Wind, and Swift Wind stares back. He nudges her chin up with his muzzle.

Then he snorts, spit flying in her face.

Catra stumbles back with a shout and wipes at her face. “Ew!”

“He likes you!”

“Can he like me a little less?”

“But you’re so lovable.”

“You’re intolerable.”

“Oh, big word. You get an extra point on the SAT for that one?”

“God, shut up,” Catra says. “Are we gonna take that thing out or what?”

Adora grins. “Really?”

“Not everyday someone takes me horseback riding. Might as well take advantage.”

“Okay! Okay. Oh, man, you’re gonna love it, I swear. I mean, we can’t actually stay on him too long because it’ll hurt his back, but I can take you around this one field they have that’s really nice.” Adora opens Swift Wind’s stall. She puts the halter on him and then bridles him. She reaches for the saddle, but hesitates.

“What?” asks Catra.

“Technically we should go bareback, but —” She gnaws at the inside of her cheek. “It’s gonna hurt you a little?”

“At least buy me flowers first.”

Adora rolls her eyes. “You’re intolerable,” she echoes. She leads Swift Wind out, Catra following after them. The field she leads them to is the largest one at this equestrian center, filled with tiny flower-filled bushes, and trees, and boulders. Technically she’s supposed to be out here with an instructor, but she hasn’t really needed one in years. Swift Wind never spooks or startles; always seems to know where to go, as if attuned to what she wants. He’s the best behaved horse in the entire barn.

She mounts him first. Once she’s settled as far as she can without hurting his neck, she reaches out for Catra and helps her up. “Scoot up,” she tells Catra and grabs her hands, settling them at her waist. “If you start to lose your balance at all, tell me. Because the second you start slipping, I’ll fall too.”

“This thing is a death trap,” Catra says, voice curiously husky and dry. Her nails, so much shorter than when they first met, dig into Adora’s sides. “I’m going to die because a white girl asked me to get on a genetic monstrosity.”

“He’s a gentle, loving creature. He’s majestic.” The slight burn and stretch to her legs is a familiar pain. She squeezes her calves against Swift Wind’s sides. “Giddap.”

“For fuck’s sake —” Swift Wind starts forward at a slow trot. Catra yelps and wraps her arms around Adora’s waist, chest pressed tight against her back.

“Nice, right?” She steers Swift Wind further from his barn, keeping her grip firm on the reigns. “Want me to slow down?”

“No,” Catra answers, breathless. She clutches tighter at Adora, fingers gripping her shirt. Her palms are hot even through the thin cotton. With every sway of Swift Wind’s steps her chest brushes against Adora’s back. Her legs touch the back of Adora’s thighs. They ride around the field for over an hour, Swift Wind sure and strong beneath them, Catra’s arms tight around Adora’s waist. Catra mocks Adora, but she’s laughing, and Adora can hear the grin in her voice, can practically see it even without turning to look back at her. This goes on until eventually even the muscles of Adora’s stomach and arms start to burn.

She steers Swift Wind back to the stables and coaxes him to a stop with a gentle, “Whoa,” unmounting by the entrance. She helps Catra down. Catra’s legs shake once she steps foot on the ground, but she doesn’t fall, which is more than Adora can say for her own first time riding a horse.

“You good?” Adora says, a hand at Catra’s elbow.

Catra gives her a look. “I’m not working out for a solid year.” She lays a hand over Adora’s, scowling. “No wonder you’re ripped.”

A snort. “I’m not that —” Catra narrows her eyes up at her and digs her nails into the skin of Adora’s hand. “Hey, ow .”

“Whatever, Thor. Wanna carry me back to the car?”

“In a second.” At Catra’s hopeful look, Adora grins. “Lemme just put Swift Wind back.”

“Adora, I swear, if you let me go I’m going to collapse. I’ll never get up again.”

“You’re such a baby.” She pulls Catra’s arm over her shoulder and settles her own around Catra’s waist. With her free hand she takes Swift Wind’s reigns. She leads them to Swift Wind’s stall, only letting go of Catra once she’s close enough to lean against a wall. She unbridles Swift Wind and lays a gentle hand on his face with a soft, “Thanks, buddy.”

He whinnies. Adora laughs. It takes a quick few minutes to brush through his coat till he’s shiny and smooth, and then she’s closing his stall, stepping back with a wistful smile.

“You really love him, huh?”

Adora turns to catch Catra still leaning against the wall, arms crossed, a soft smile curving at her lips. Her hair, frazzled and curling every which way in the heat, hangs loose down her back for once, bangs held back by a red bandana. She’s in those loose jeans she has to cinch at the waist with a belt and a red tank top. She looks nothing and everything like those haunting dreams, her entire presence binding and entrancing.

“Yeah, I do.” she answers. She holds Catra’s eyes. “He was — This is going to sound so depressing, wow,” she laughs. “It’s just...He was my only friend for so long, y’know?” She steps closer and grabs Catra’s hand; presses their palms together, intertwining their fingers. Her heart beats fast in her ears. When she looks down, though, she sees Catra’s racing pulse at the dip of her neck, evidence of her own nervous heart.

Catra raises a single brown brow. “And now?”

“And now,” Adora says, meeting Catra’s eyes again, “I gotta drag you back to the car.”

Except neither of them move. Catra drags their joined hands to her chest; cradles them close. She tilts her chin up, eyes locked on Adora’s.

The stables are empty save them and the horses, and quiet. It’s hot, too hot, especially pulled together like this with Catra staring up at her like a challenge. She breathes out slow, the swell of her chest moving along with it. Her brown skin gleams in the bright light.

When Adora leans down, Catra’s breath hitches. Adora pauses. She lets go of one of Catra’s hands, dragging the tips of her fingers over the freckles on her cheek, the turn of her jaw, down to the elegant line of her throat. She tucks her hand behind Catra’s neck. “Can I —”

“Yes.”

The first press of their lips is soft, chaste. Catra’s lips are dry and chapped. When she pulls back, heavy lidded eyes trained on Adora’s mouth, she runs her tongue over her bottom lip in a quick flash. Adora draws her back in, slotting their mouths together, chest warm and fluttering. She’d imagined this a million times; had hoarded fantasy after fantasy, desire coursing through her veins for things she’d never been allowed to want: Catra’s lithe waist under her hands; her mouth parted against her own. Small hands slide up to the small of Adora’s back and pull her closer just as Catra deepens the kiss with a small noise —

Red films over her vision. Below her, scrambling on her hands and feet, Catra stares up at her with panicked eyes, and she says, “Adora, wait!” except she raises the sword, veins pulsing violent, the blade glinting in the snowstorm

Adora’s stumbling back, a hand touching her temple. In front of her, Catra clutches at her head —

A cry: “Because you left me!”

— and Adora falls to her knees, digging the heels of her palms into her eyes.

Shadows creeping everywhere, nowhere. Shadow Weaver’s voice curling in her ears, “Rule by my side,” a hand cupping Adora’s cheek.

All at once, memories flood into her head: Glimmer and Bow at Bow’s dad’s library; the three of them traveling Etheria on Swift Wind’s back; Catra running a nail over the sword’s blade, “I wonder what I could’ve been if I’d gotten rid of you sooner,” falling so easy from her lips; Bright Moon, and the Fright Zone, and everything — everything . She remembers —

She remembers.

Her head feels ready to burst. She groans, hand flexing against the wooden floor. It takes her a moment, and then another, until she can force her eyelids open and blink into the light. The stables, all at once familiar and alien. The whir of the fans hanging above them. The horses staring forward blankly. Catra, staring back at her from the floor, dazed and angry.

Catra.

“What the fuck did you do to me,” she says. Adora half expects her tail to lash out behind her, but that’s a different life.

Horror clutches at Adora’s insides. She does a poor job at hiding it. “What did I do? You think I have any idea what’s going on?”

“You’re the princess here! Considering your freaky castle magic tried to kill me before —”

“That wasn’t my fault!”

“Oh, nothing’s your fault, is it?”

“Can you stop? Just once? I’m just as confused here, Catra, okay?” Adora struggles to her feet, knees shaking. Her mouth is dry. She clenches her eyes shut. “Let’s just leave. We can...Let’s figures things out in the car.”

Catra’s chest heaves like it’s a struggle to breathe. When she stands, her left calf trembles. “You’re crazy if you think I’m going anywhere with you,” she says. “I’m going home.”

Adora lets her get ten, maybe fifteen steps away before she points out, “I drove us here.”

 

*

 

For the most part the car ride is silent. Out of spite Catra turns up the AC as high as it’ll go and points it away from Adora and towards her. She even props her sneakered feet on the dash. Adora almost tells her to put them down, that her mom’ll get mad, but that’s not really her mom now is it.

Her hands won’t stop trembling, no matter how hard she grips the steering wheel. She’s been living with Shadow Weaver. She’s been playing house with the monster under the bed, the shadows following her every move. She hadn’t known .

“What’s the last thing you remember?” she says, finally. Anything to get out of her head.

Catra stiffens in the passenger seat. “None of your business.”

The car screeches to a stop. They’re still miles away from town, on a long empty stretch of road surrounded by forest. Adora forces the car into park. Her jaw clenches tight. “Fine. You want to know what I remember?” She stares ahead; can’t make herself look at Catra. “I woke up to Shadow Weaver in my room at Bright Moon. She had my sword. And then,” she waves a hand, “this.”

“This,” echoes Catra, voice tight. “Have you always been this eloquent?”

“Clearly. I’m sure it’s what you liked about me.”

“I don’t li—”

“Like me. I know.” Adora turns, catching Catra’s profile. “Get a new catchphrase.”

Catra’s arms are crossed over her chest. Her fingers dig into her biceps. “Whatever. Take me home.”

“Shouldn’t we talk about…” she tapers off; gestures between them. Catra flicks a glare in her direction, mouth twisted in a scowl. They stare at one another for a long stretch of time until Adora scoffs and shakes her head. “Fine. Whatever.”

 

*

 

She drops Catra off at her apartment. She doesn’t even say goodbye; just slams the door shut behind her and storms into the building without a glance back, the line of her back tense. Despite everything, Adora lingers. She stares up at one of the third floor windows, at the one she thinks belongs to Catra’s bedroom, and remembers a night curled along Catra’s spine, her palm against the flat plane of Catra’s stomach.

That used to be normal, in another life. She used to never question laying beside Catra in bed. Expected it, really, after a long day of class or training until a fall in the woods, a sword and a destiny bigger than either of them.

She doesn’t know how to reconcile both lives. She doesn’t know what to do with this.

The curtains open. Adora startles, and Catra’s looking down at her through the glass, her grimace clear as day.

Adora hits the accelerator. The tires squeal loud as she speeds away.

 

*

 

“You’re late,” her mom — Shadow Weaver says. She sits at the kitchen counter, laptop open and a plate of steak and salad beside her. A pair of silver horn-rimmed glasses are pushed up her head. The sight is at once familiar and unfamiliar. Goosebumps rise up along Adora’s arms.

She forces a sheepish smile and grabs an apple from the fruit basket. “Sorry. You know how I get at the stables.”

Shadow Weaver gives her a look frighteningly reminiscent of times she pulled Adora aside and hissed about her training scores, about Catra’s insolence.

“You’re an adult, dear,” she says. “You must learn to manage your time better.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You’ve been so absent-minded as of late. Are you sure everything is alright?”

Adora nods. “I promise.”

“If you say so.” Shadow Weaver pauses to type at something on her screen. She tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear. When she looks back at Adora, her eyes are crinkled at the corners, the hint of a gentle smile curving her lips. The dual affection and terror that rises in Adora’s chest is worse than anything she’s ever felt. “Do you want to order something for dinner? My treat.”

“That’s okay, mom.” The word sits wrong on her tongue. Adora polishes the apple on the fabric of her shirt. “I’m not too hungry. I’m just gonna to head up to my room.”

“Alright,” says Shadow Weaver. “I love you, Adora.”

Adora’s eyes burn. “I love you too.”

 

*

 

In the middle of the night, her phone buzzes next to her head. Her hand fumbles for it. Once she actually manages to find it, the screen brightness blinds her and she has to blink away black spots from her vision.

A single Snapchat message from Catra:

I’m in the pool house.

It takes a moment to register. The time flashes 2:28 above chat screen. Shadow Weaver must be fast asleep, tucked neatly and comfortably in that lush king-sized bed of hers littered with fluffy satin covered pillows. She won’t notice her sneak outside, Adora thinks.

She pulls on a pair of sweatpants and slips on the sliders she kicked off near her bed a few days ago. She sneaks out of her room, careful to shut the door behind her, and pads out of the western wing, all the way downstairs and out to the backyard. The pool house lights are off. The windows are curtained shut. Adora hesitates at the door. Her hand hovers over the doorknob with a slight tremble.

She pushes it open.

Inside, Catra sits on the loveseat with her arms hugging her knees to her chest. Other than that red bandana holding her bangs back her hair’s a wild mess, unbrushed and frizzy, like she hadn’t bothered to tame it after their day outdoors. The collar of her baggy shirt pulls to the side, revealing a prominent collarbone. Her leggings are ripped at the knees.

Adora seals the door shut behind her, and Catra stares at her warily.

“Shadow Weaver has your sword,” she says.

Adora waits.

“Do you think if you got it you’d be able to take us back?”

“I don’t know,” answers Adora. “Maybe. Mara — the last She-Ra — used it to trap Etheria into Despandos. So, technically I should be able to use it for something like that.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

Right. “It’s why Etheria didn’t have stars,” she says. “We were trapped in a different dimension from the one we’re in now. Mara transported the entire planet, so.”

“Sounds like a bad sci-fi movie.”

“Too bad it isn’t.” Adora’s eyebrows furrow. Neither she or Catra have moved. “She must’ve somehow used the sword’s runestone to do all this.”

“Okay.” Catra unfolds from her spot. The shirt’s hem falls to her knees. She crosses the distance between them with slow, careful steps. “You get the sword when she isn’t home,” she says. She comes to a stop barely a foot in front of Adora, closing in until Adora’s back hits the door. “Then you undo all of this.”

“That simple, huh?”

Catra smiles. It doesn’t match her eyes. “That simple.”

“You could’ve messaged me that, you know,” she says. “Didn’t have to make a trip all the way here.”

“I’m staying the night.”

“That’s a little presumptuous.”

Her eyes don’t look the way they did across a broken battlefield, the smoke billowing in the air between them, but Adora’s falling into them anyways. The brown should be gold; the gold should be brown. Adora’s loved her in both dimensions regardless.

“I’m going to be there when you get your sword back,” Catra says. “The old hag works tomorrow, doesn’t she?” At Adora’s nod, she continues, “The moment she’s gone, we go into that study and fix this shit. We get our lives back.”

“What if I can’t do it?” asks Adora. “What if I can’t figure out how to get us back?”

“You will. You have to.”

Life here is simpler: no war; no military; no magic, and castles, and nobility to adhere to. Here Catra never dug her claws into her back nor infected her sword. Here Adora never left. She doesn’t say, Part of me doesn’t want to. It is not allowed. Etheria looms over them. Love gives way to duty, and she has always loved Etheria more.

“I don’t want to go back to hating each other,” she admits. She wants to reach for Catra; wants to draw her closer, embrace her, touch her. She suddenly, viscerally craves a quiet afternoon and a kiss in the stables.

Catra settles a hand on the center of Adora’s chest, right over her galloping heart, her expression unreadable even to Adora who has known her the entirety of a different life. “We’re going to have to,” she says. “It’s a war, Adora.”

“I know,” she responds. “Doesn’t make it any easier.”

“Has it ever been easy?”

Adora shakes her head. She settles a hand over Catra’s and squeezes her palm. “Never.” And her mouth, she can’t stop: “Want to make it harder?”

“That’s an awful pick-up line,” she says, but she tilts her chin up, leans in closer.

“You’re not saying no.”

Catra’s breath ghosts over Adora’s mouth. “I’ve got nothing to lose.”

This time Catra closes the gap between them. Catra kisses Adora, and Adora’s free hand charts the unforgiving cut of Catra’s jaw, the hollows of her cheeks. Catra kisses Adora, and Adora kisses back. Her hand is fitted to the lithe curve of Catra’s waist. Catra lets go of her hand to cradle Adora’s face between two calloused palms. Every inch of Adora’s skin burns.

For once Adora forgets what is and isn’t allowed.

Catra stays.

 

*

 

The moment Shadow Weaver’s car drives off the property, Adora lets Catra into the house. They’re both silent as they make their way to the study, hands brushing with every step, but they never reach for each other. The mansion is quiet; their footsteps echo. Just like Shadow Weaver, really, to give herself too much, to make herself so high up the ladder.

The study is bathed in sunlight, just as large and luminescent as the fake memories Shadow Weaver gave her. Adora has to climb onto the office chair to reach for the sword and once she grips the handle, everything is clearer, louder, like the world had been muted and suddenly she could see and hear and feel . The hilt is fitted to her hand. The blade is balanced just for her.

The runestone gleams.

“I hate that thing,” Catra says.

“I love it,” Adora responds.

“Whatever. Can you just do your thing?”

Adora hops off the chair and twirls the sword in her hand, grinning at the flash of light, the familiar weight of it in her grip. She looks back at Catra and takes in the mussed hair, the edge of a purpling hickey peeking out from the drooping collar of her too big shirt, and she stills her hand and reaches for Catra’s.

“We’re going to fix things,” she promises. “I don’t care what happens, okay? You and me, we’re going to make it.”

What she doesn’t say: I love you. I always have. I always will.

Catra angles her head. Her eyes are unknowable: She has gone somewhere deep within herself, to a place Adora can’t follow. “Okay,” she says. “Get on with it.”

Letting go, Adora takes a deep breath. She holds the hilt with both hands and closes her eyes. The sword’s magic pulses in the air, in her veins. She tries —

“I should’ve known.”

Adora’s eyes snap open. At the door stands Shadow Weaver. Her hand is outstretched, a black tendril shot out and holding Catra up in the air. Her arms are pinned to her sides and her legs kick at the air.

“I thought I felt her presence this morning,” continues Shadow Weaver, “but I told myself that couldn’t be. That you wouldn’t lie to me, not again.”

“You lied to me!” Adora widens her stance; clenches the sword’s hilt tight. “You — You made me forget. You made us all forget.”

“It was for your own good!” Shadow Weaver bares her teeth. “I even saved her . Do you think she’d still be alive without my intervention?”

“Shut up!” Catra thrashes in the shadow’s grip. “That’s your fault! If you hadn’t tricked me —”

“What are you talking about?” asks Adora.

“It doesn’t matter!” Catra yells. “Use your fucking sword and get us out of here, now.

“Are you that desperate to go to Beast Island for me, child? You’ve always been obtuse, insolent, and lazy, but I never thought you had a death wish.”

“Catra, what is she talking about?”

“You take us back and you’re condemning us all,” Shadow Weaver continues. “You’ll be forcing us all into a war with no end on a dying planet. Everyone here is happy and safe. I’ve cared for you, have I not? I laid out a secure future and prominent career for you.”

“You kept me isolated and alone, in a life I never wanted or asked for,” Adora manages. “I was lonely. You knew that. You had to know that. But you didn’t care .”

“I always cared —”

“No, you didn’t! You never loved me. You only love yourself.”

Shadow Weaver scowls so deep the expression just might engrave itself onto her face. “Let go of the sword, Adora.”

Something yanks at her foot. Adora stumbles, just barely catching herself, and see black tendrils curled around her ankles and traveling up her legs. They tug at her again, and this time more appear from thin air and pull her shoulders back, grip her wrist. She screams and struggles. She slashes at them. They dissipate in the air.

“Now, Adora!”

The tendrils swell until they form a circle around Catra’s body. Shadow Weaver disappears.

Her laugh echoes.

“You don’t know what’s best for you,” she says, everywhere and nowhere at once. She rematerializes behind Adora and grips her jaw, turning her head to look back at her. “But I do. We’ll start over, and this time she’ll be gone. No more chances.” She tightens her grip. “I love you like a daughter, Adora. When will you understand this?”

She remembers a childhood with Shadow Weaver on one knee, teaching Adora how to lace her boots, tie her shoes. She remembers Shadow Weaver, a hand settled on the top of her head. She remembers Shadow Weaver in the car quizzing her, testing her, until Adora’s head felt ready to burst. All real, all fake. A life she created out of greed.

Adora’s hand tightens around the hilt of the sword.

She wrenches out of Shadow Weaver’s grip and pivots and drives the blade right through Shadow Weaver’s stomach. Shadow Weaver stiffens. She does not gasp. She does not stare at Adora with wide, frightened eyes. The curling shadows disappear and Catra falls to the floor behind them with a thunk and a groan, and Shadow Weaver curls around the sword.

“Adora,” she whispers.

Adora turns the blade, slowly, bile rising in her throat at the resulting squelch, the blood dribbling out of the corner of Shadow Weaver’s mouth. Her eyes burn.

“You taught me best,” she says.

The sword’s runestone glows an iridescent white, the light growing larger and larger. A brown hand settles over hers, fingers curling around her own. Adora looks up and meets Catra’s eyes, now blue and gold. She’s saying something, her mouth moving, but it’s lost to the eerie hum of magic as the light swells and stretches and grows until it consumes the room.

 

*

 

“You know what’s funny?” Glimmer says, days later. “I still remember everything. Like, a past life, or something. Sometimes I still reach in my pocket for my phone.”

“I gotta be honest: I miss phones. We need to make them here,” adds Bow.

The three of them are starfished on a patch of grass on the castle grounds, their heads forming a small circle. Adora stares up at the three moons hanging above. Her hands rest folded over her stomach.

Four days without a word from Catra; without a looming shadow or creeping sense of doom. Etheria is as it always was, still dying, still floating lonely, a war spreading over its lands, but it’s — home.

“You never did tell us how you got us back here,” Glimmer continues. “Or even how you figured out what was happening.”

“It’s not much of a story,” Adora tells her.

“Oh, c’mon —”

“Glimmer, she’ll tell us when she’s ready,” Bow interjects. And then they’re going back and forth, comparing footnotes of their time on Earth, the discrepancies between their stories. Adora listens as long as she can until she excuses herself and makes her way to the Whispering Woods. They’re still damaged. Their progress has been slow.

She walks slow, without purpose. The woods are endless and mysterious. The sword at her back weighs a familiar comfort. She allows it to lull her and put her mind at rest, for now.

A branch snaps. A bird shoots up into the air, a cry wrenched from its throat. Adora pulls her sword out by instinct and holds it out, eyes narrowed, ready for the attack that never comes.

Instead, a voice as familiar as the back of her hands; an instant balm, and relief:

“Hey, Adora.”