When Catra was in her second year of junior cadet training, she ended up in the Horde infirmary.
Injuries were common. Injuries bad enough to land a cadet in the infirmary, less so. For an injury to land Catra in the infirmary… well. The prospect of a cadet dying on their watch was the only thing that could scare a training officer badly enough to drag her there.
One moment Catra had been in the middle of a training sim, leaping effortlessly about the arena and occasionally diving in to help Adora take down an enemy, and the next a bot had charged from the shadows, straight into Adora’s blind spot. She didn’t think, just reacted; shoving Adora aside before diving for cover herself.
She hadn’t been fast enough.
The last things she comprehended were the arm of a bot descending toward her, a feeling of weightlessness, then a blinding flash of pain as she slammed into the solid metal wall of the training arena.
It took a long time for her to wake, after. Awareness came in bits and snatches. Blackness first, an empty void fading to the sterile walls of the Horde infirmary—so rare and unnerving a sight that it almost shocked her fully awake before consciousness slid from her gasp again. Muffled conversation drifted to her ears, distant and watery.
Time skipped forward, and the infirmary melted away. Instead, the familiar green light of the barracks pierced the darkness, lanced through her half-open eyes like a knife. She twitched, blinking, slowly processing the thin mattress and cool draft of the bottom bunk, then… the warm pressure of Adora’s hand loosely curled around her own, blonde head resting on her arm atop the edge of the bed.
Waking now was everything and nothing like that memory.
Catra flexed her fingers slowly, eyelids fluttering, squinting against dim light while past and present swirled through her aching mind. The ceiling looked... wrong. Her fist clenched weakly, seeking the phantom warmth that lingered on her hand.
Snatches of panicked conversation reached her ears. Not sure… alive… can’t stabilize without…
Voices shot back questions, rapid and pitched high with worry. The voices were familiar, somehow. Grating.
The ceiling was wrong.
She was forgetting something. Something important.
A jolt of panic ran through her body, tensing every muscle as she tried to shoot upright—and fell back with a weak groan, sinking into the soft bedding. Adora. She was supposed to be alright, but the nagging concern as they flew toward Bright Moon, the panicked tone of the healers—Catra tried to pull an arm up to support her weight, but her muscles trembled and screamed. Her skin was already slick with her own sweat, soaking into the sheets that trapped her limbs.
A hand came from the murky shapes overhead, pressing her shoulder gently down into the unfamiliar mattress. Had she been able to move, she would have lashed out with claws and teeth, but now—
“Adora,” she croaked, desperately, the word muffled and cracked through her dry mouth. “Where—”
“Hush.” The voice attached to the hand was unfamiliar, but not unkind. “You must rest.”
The wrong ceiling swirled and faded away, taking the strange voices with it.
The next time Catra woke, it took several moments for her to realize she’d opened her eyes at all.
It was dark. So dark that even with her feline eyesight, it took a full minute of painful blinking and squinting for the faint moonbeams drifting through the room’s high windows to solidify into murky shapes. Or maybe half a minute. Or maybe half an hour. The concept of time didn’t feel like it was working too well at the moment.
A faint yellow glow pulsed in the darkness, and she let tired eyes drift shut as she worked her other senses. The scents of soap, linen, and medicine mingled together, but underneath it…
Her nose twitched, eyes flying back open as adrenaline rushed at a familiar smell. Sorcery. This had an unfamiliar odor to it, though. The underlying hint of ozone was unmistakable to her heightened senses, but this—this had a floral, almost pleasant scent; especially when compared to the acrid, rotten-meat stench of Shadow Weaver’s magic.
She squinted into the dark, braving the fierce ache of her muscles to lift her head enough to see the source in the darkness. Her heart seized as the yellow glow pulsed brighter for a moment, finally allowing her to see the form that lay in the bed opposite her.
The splay of her golden hair was unmistakable, tinged brighter by the yellow light. Rows of strange glass bottles filled with colored liquids lined the bedside table, and the source of the glow finally became clear: a large, complicated circle of magical runes floating just above Adora’s body.
A cocktail of emotions swirled through Catra. Relief at seeing Adora alive. Surprise that the princesses had let them be in the same room at all. Most of all, confusion and alarm at Adora’s clearly worsened state. Thick bandages now swathed her midsection, just barely visible above the blanket that covered her lower half. She’d known that Adora’s condition was worse than she let on, but this…
The familiar, bitter tastes of fear and powerlessness rose in her throat. Catra was suffused with the desire to cross the room and curl up at the foot of the bed so Adora’s quiet warmth could assure her that she was there, alive, but… well, she couldn’t really move. The brief shot of adrenaline had worn off again, familiar aches and pains making themselves loudly known. She sank reluctantly back into the bedding.
After a moment, something snagged at the back of Catra’s mind. It was quiet. So quiet that the silence of the massive room seemed almost oppressive. She opened her eyes a sliver to glance around. She’d expected there would be guards. Or healers. Or… anyone, really.
Her eyes slid shut again. That was a problem for a less tired, less achy Catra. She let the thoughts slip away from her tired mind. If she concentrated, her heightened senses could just barely make out the soft, raspy sound of Adora’s breathing.
For now, that would have to be enough.
The steady rhythm lulled Catra’s eyes shut.
It was a little shakier than she remembered.
She.. she should have inhaled by now.
Catra’s eyes flew open, ears straining for the slightest sound, and was greeted only by silence.
Adora wasn’t breathing.
The rune circle floating above her flickered in the dark, its glow dimming.
Healers. Where were the cursed healers?
Catra tried to call out, but the word stuck in her throat as a dry croak. How could this be happening? An enormous castle, and no one was here to make sure their patient wasn’t dying?
She cast her gaze desperately around the room, finding nothing but moonlight and shadows and a faint glint of metal—
She-Ra’s sword. It lay on a table near Adora’s bed, forgotten, apparently shoved aside in the haphazard rush to heal their hero. It was a long shot, but…
The sigil floating above Adora’s body flickered, fading.
Adora was going to die, in an infirmary, and all Catra could do was sit and watch.
Magic had helped heal her before; maybe it would help now. She had to get the sword closer to Adora.
Imbued with a sudden strength, she wrenched the covers off and stumbled toward the sword on trembling legs, staggering into the bedside table where the sword lay and knocking a row of bottles to the floor with her clumsy movements. The clattering filled her ears as she drew in a ragged breath to quell her nausea, hanging onto the table for dear life as the room spun around her.
A soft wheeze came from Adora’s bed. The sigil flickered again, dimming further. Panic closed off Catra’s throat.
Somehow, she managed to close numb fingers about the sword’s hilt, pulling the blade off the bedside table. Lifting it seemed beyond the capabilities of her trembling arms. The blade hit the floor with a resounding clang, echoing and fading as she dragged it toward Adora’s bed, her uneven footsteps followed by the ringing sound of steel scraping against stone.
In the silence, the sounds were loud enough to make Catra’s ears hurt. Adora didn’t stir.
With the last of her strength, Catra heaved the sword up onto the bed, its point sinking into the mattress as Catra sagged boneless, breathless, against the hilt.
No rush of magic, no brilliant light. Adora lay utterly still below her. In the pale blue cast of the moonlight, she may as well have been dead.
“No.” The word was a whisper, cracked and dry. “No. Please.” The room became distant and dark, blurred by her tears.
The runestone started to glow.
Faintly at first, then brighter. The magic sigil strengthened as well; thin, fading lines growing bolder and more vibrant. For an infinite moment, Adora did not move, but then—a deep, shuddering breath, and both sigil and runestone blazed brighter than ever before.
Catra dropped her head against the hilt of the sword where it lay planted in the mattress, a ragged laugh of relief tearing from her exhausted lungs even as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Of course, that was when the healers showed up.
The arrival was heralded by a sharp gasp, followed by the clatter of metal and ceramic against stone. Catra whirled to see a middle-aged woman in the entryway with the remnants of a tray scattered about her feet, staring with wide, horrified eyes, hands pressed to her mouth as she backed slowly away. Catra found herself far too tired to care. Her vision was starting to gray at the edges, abused muscles screaming in protest as the adrenaline and exertion caught up with her healing body.
“ There you are,” Catra hissed, stepping away from the bed in an uneven lurch, balance failing.
The woman screamed and dashed out the door. In the next instant, guards rushed in—of course, waiting just outside the doors—and crossed the room before she could properly react, twisting aching arms behind her back until bolts of fire ran through her mistreated shoulder and the deep cuts on her upper arm. She gasped, vision whiting out for a moment.
“Hey, watch it— ”
There were hurried footsteps as the lights brightened and more bodies rushed in, but Catra couldn’t make out the details through her pained haze. The fact that her face was currently being pressed into the white sheets of an empty bed didn’t exactly help.
“What were you doing to She-Ra?” a guard shouted from behind her.
The frantic beat of more footsteps flooding into the room reverberated in her ears, the sounds echoing and stretching in a disorienting cacophony. She could finally feel her consciousness starting to slip away. She took a deep breath, trying to force the encroaching darkness back for a moment longer.
“The sword—she needs the sword. Wasn’t breathing. Don’t move it—” Catra broke off, hissing, as the guard shifted their weight painfully against her twisted arm. “—don’t…” Her already tenuous grasp on the world was rapidly fading, dimming the pastel walls to a faint gray. “Don’.. move it…”
Darkness took her.
Somehow, for all the times Catra had imagined being captured by the evil princesses as a child growing up in the Horde, she’d never pictured quite so many... pillows.
Apparently, it was nearly impossible to find a place in Bright Moon that wasn’t garishly colored and absolutely smothered in throw pillows, even if you were a suspected war criminal slash would-be princess assassin.
Catra had woken several hours ago drooling a sizable damp spot into one, and was currently dragging a sharp claw through the soft, expensive-looking fabric of another, white fluff spilling out through the fresh seam. She slowly, spitefully, plucked several handfuls of stuffing into a growing cloud at her side before methodically ripping the casing to shreds.
It didn’t really make her feel better.
She rose from her seat on the stone floor, biting back a groan as the motion pulled on the deep claw marks in her leg. The healers must have used some magic on her as well, but she was far from fighting condition. She limped a few steps forward before raising a claw and tapping at the air in front of her, feeling the slight sting of magic buzz through her finger. Purple energy rippled outward from the place she touched; the large sigil on the floor below her feet pulsing briefly brighter with the same color.
She stared at the pillow nearly brushing her foot. The room may have been drafty and cavernous, but it obviously hadn’t been designed to hold anyone against their will.
Well. Adora said there weren’t any prisons in Bright Moon, but clearly those princess types could get creative.
Adora. A wave of panic swept through Catra before she shoved it back down. She’d been confined to the magic circle for hours, long enough for a meek assistant healer to bring her a tray of food and some foul-smelling potions before scuttling fearfully away. She ate the food, hating how delightfully flavorful it was, and stared balefully at the potions for at least an hour before downing them in one unpleasant gulp. Didn’t kill her, as it turned out. Actually helped with the pain some.
But still, no news of Adora. No answer to her shouted demands to see Glimmer, the Queen, a guard, anyone who could tell her what was happening in the infirmary. If Adora was alive—no , she thought, forcefully, starting a slow, limping pace. No, of course she was alive. If she was okay. If they’d kept the sword with her. If she was healing.
Catra stopped and sighed, tapping idly at the magical forcefield and watching as the resultant undulations temporarily filled her vision. Footsteps sounded in the hall beyond the doors, and her ears perked up at the sound of the heavy door to the room scraping open. The purple ripples of energy before her resolved into the forms of both Glitter Princess and her mother, flanked by dour-faced guards.
Catra narrowed her eyes at the short, pastel-colored princess, who returned the expression with enough vigor to curdle fresh milk.
“Sparkles,” Catra acknowledged.
“Horde Scum,” came the flat response.
“Come to gloat?”
“Over an insignificant force captain?” Glimmer sneered. “No, thanks. I only gloat over prizes that are actually worth something.”
Catra’s lip curled up in snarl. “Why don’t you come a little closer and we’ll see who’s worth something, princess—”
“Children.” Catra froze involuntarily at the queen’s stern command, distantly irked at being called a child. Angella towered above them both, hand raised, exhaustion lining her face.
“Glimmer, please.” The queen’s tone softened somewhat, and Glimmer crossed her arms with a huff.
“Fine.” Sparkles inhaled deeply, then shot out her first question with a glare in Catra’s direction. “Why did you come to Bright Moon?”
Catra leaned back, crossing her own arms, desperate not to betray her own anxiety. “How's Adora?”
“I’m the only one asking questions here!”
“I asked first.”
“I asked second.”
Glimmer threw her hands in the air. “That’s not how this works! You are the prisoner, I am the questioner—question-asker… person… you answer my questions!”
Normally, Catra would love to gloat—but it was getting harder to breathe around the twist of fear. “I’m not answering anything until you tell me how Adora’s doing.”
“Why do you care? You’re the one who tried to kill her!”
Catra bared her teeth, a simmering rage bubbled within her. “I’m the one who tried to save her while your worthless healers were off sucking their thumbs!”
“Enough!” The queen’s wings snapped out to their full extension, filling the room, and Catra fought the instinctual urge to shrink back. Instead, she forced herself to stand up straighter, offering a defiant stare. It was a move borne of years of practice.
“Catra,” the queen addressed her, voice measured and even. “You are a Horde officer. You have been an enemy to Bright Moon and to She-Ra— Adora— for as long as she has been with the Rebellion. Yet, for some reason, Adora took great pains to assure us you were not a threat. Your wounds were treated and you were left unrestrained, and you repaid this trust with an apparent attempt”—Glimmer scoffed—”on Adora’s life as she slept. We are here,” Angella took a moment to spare a stern glance toward her daughter, “to hear your reasons why.”
It was more of a snort, really—a short, disbelieving sound she couldn’t contain. The queen raised one perfect brow.
“I’m sorry,” Catra said, wiping the mirth from her eyes, “But I spent days dragging Adora’s sorry ass through that horrible crack in the ground. There were dozens of times I could have saved my own skin and left her to die in the woods. Why would I bring her to Bright Moon just to fail at killing her in the one place where I would get caught trying?”
Glimmer tapped her foot and scowled in the background, but Angella’s expression was carefully blank. “You were seen standing over her unconscious body with She-Ra’s sword. You must realize how this appears.”
Catra sighed, staring up at a blank part of the ceiling and hoping vaguely that it would give her patience. “For the love of—I wasn’t trying to kill her.”
“Liar! You expect us to believe—”
“Glimmer.” Angella’s wings flared slightly. “Given your emotional connection to this situation, it would be best if you wait outside for the remainder of this conversation.”
With an angry huff, Glimmer spun on her heel and left the room, slamming the door shut behind her.
“Ah, the legendary poise of royalty,” Catra mused, picking idly at a nail.
Angella said nothing, simply staring at Catra with wings and arms folded until the girl’s skin began to prickle.
“What?” she snapped, finally.
“You’re rather alike, you know,” the queen observed. “Moreso, perhaps, than you’d care to admit.”
Catra scoffed. “As if. The only thing that’s keeping me from hating her sparkly guts entirely is that she’s decent in a fight.” She rubbed at a patch of singed skin. “Even if it takes her way too long to warm up.”
Angella hummed. “Often the people we dislike the most are the ones most alike to us.”
“I’ll try not to be insulted by that, your majesty.”
The corner of the queen’s mouth quirked upward. “A surprising display of restraint for a supposed assassin.”
“I told you—” Catra started, then cut off when the queen raised a hand.
“No need. I believe you.”
Catra gaped. “You... you what?”
“I believe you were trying to help Adora.”
Catra stared, blinking, then gestured expansively to the barrier of purple energy between them. “And this is for what, decoration?”
Amusement flitted briefly across Angella’s face. “I have lived long enough to hear the truth in your words. However, you must realize that your actions could appear quite threatening, particularly to those who know your history and wish to protect Adora.”
Well. That was new.
“Like your daughter,” Catra said.
The queen folded her hands before her. “Among others.”
“She’s... okay, then? Adora?”
A slight smile graced the queen’s face. “She will be.”
Relief rushed through Catra and out in a soft exhale. When her eyes opened again, Angella’s were on her, filled with an unnerving mixture of curiosity and knowing that immediately made sweat gather around Catra's collar. She blinked, and the queen’s expression relaxed. Catra did not.
“Thanks in large part to you, if you’re to be believed,” Angella continued. The piercing gaze returned for a brief moment. “You truly do care for her, don’t you?”
“What? I—no. It was—a tactical advantage. To help her.”
“A tactical advantage to abandon your position as Force Captain, risk capture and death by aiding your rival, and then enter the city of your enemies?”
Catra groped in silent desperation for a shred of justification. Her face was uncomfortably warm.
“It… would have been a waste to kill She-Ra when she could have been brought back to the Horde,” Catra mumbled, not even believing her own words. “And if they were going to kill me for that, then maybe the Horde isn’t the place for me either.”
“I can certainly agree with you there.” The queen took a deep breath. “I’m pleased you’ve had this change of heart, Catra, but there are some who will take time to trust it.”
No surprise there. These Bright Moon rebels might be soft and excessively forgiving, but even they had limits. Still, it grated on her that this was one time when all that mush would have worked in her favor, and she just—
“I’d still like to see Adora.” The words left her mouth before she could stop to think about them, and regret instantly followed.
Angella stilled, appearing to consider.
Of course. Of course they wouldn’t let her out of this stupid, magical, pillow-stuffed cell. Still, Catra couldn’t help but justify herself.
“I’m not going to hurt her,” she said, defensively. “I’ve been trying to help her since we fell into that stupid crack in the ground. Why would I want all that hard work to go to waste? If I wanted her dead, all I had to do was leave her in the woods.”
The queen quirked an eyebrow. “Regardless of your intentions today, you hurt her before.”
Catra fought the urge to flinch away from the truth of the words.
There was silence. Catra found herself trying to fill it.
“I—we—we were enemies. Enemies… hurt each other.”
Silence stretched again. This time, she kept her lips clamped shut.
The queen finally spoke. “How old are you?”
Catra bristled. “I'm a Force Captain.”
“I asked your age, not your rank.”
“I…” she scrambled. Everyone knew their age. All the cadets had some memory, a blurred vision of parents, a dim recollection of celebrations—echoed cruelly by the hushed congratulations from squadmates in the barracks, huddled around a stolen lump of gray ration bar. Even the ones born into the Horde knew the date.
“Before my promotion, I was a senior cadet. Eighth degree,” Catra said, with as much pride as she could muster.
Angella ignored her answer. “When were you born?” She pressed.
Catra shut her eyes tightly, as though trying to block out the question. Every cadet knew. Every cadet knew something about who they were, where they had come from.
Every cadet except her and Adora.
“I don’t know!” Catra shouted, slamming her fist against the barrier and then wincing at the jolt of pain that rippled through her still-healing arm. “I don’t know,” she repeated, quieter. “Neither of us know. The ones born into the Horde do, and so do all the older recruits, but Adora and I were—we were too young.”
“Young,” Angella repeated, a soft sadness about her eyes. “Yes… you still are, both of you. Far too young.”
“I’m not a child,” Catra spat.
“No,” Angella said, the sadness deepening in her expression. “That was taken from you.”
For once, Catra found herself at a loss for words.
“But that's not the topic of this conversation,” Angella said, giving her head a slight shake. “I will speak to the healers regarding your request. In time, we may be able to come to an arrangement.”
Angella turned and started toward the doors, pausing as they opened to glance over her shoulder and give a single nod. “Until next time, Catra.”
The door slid shut, and Catra was alone once more.
Adora was, to her great surprise, not dead.
At least, if she was dead, she’d expected it to feel a lot less… weird.
Her first sense of awareness was floating in a nameless void. She felt nothing, saw nothing, thought nothing. The only hint of emotion in her mind was a vague sense of relief, like the Nothing was more pleasant than whatever she’d left behind. Eventually, something broke through the darkness—a golden light, dim at first, then brightening. It stung her eyes, spreading through her body, bringing with it a distant ache that sharpened and intensified as the light grew ever brighter. It hurt . Something pressed at the edges of her memory. A sense of… duty. Responsibility . She had to return, no matter the cost. She had always bowed to that sense, built her life around it, but now, finally, some part of her rebelled.
All she wanted was... peace. To hide forever in the freeing darkness.
She started to slip away after that, the glow dimming and the pain lessening as she fell deeper into the nothingness. Before she could fade away entirely, something else broke through: not a light, but a presence. Familiar. Something that brought with it not a feeling of obligation, but a warmth and happiness that she found herself reluctant to leave behind.
The glow brightened again, bringing with it a wave of pain that nearly washed her back into the sea of darkness.
But that presence…
She couldn’t leave. Not quite yet.
Adora floated in the nameless darkness for some time, after that. Of course, time meant very little to her there; seconds could be hours and minutes could be days. Still, as it passed in fits and spurts, she drifted ever closer to the faint glow and the distant, unpleasant knowledge that the light would bring... pain.
Awareness came to her as oddly as anything else, washing over her body and then pulling away like ocean tides. She could feel her toes one moment, the scratchy sensation of sheets against skin the next. The light was bright now, pressing insistently against her eyelids. With supreme effort, she managed to crack one eye open before immediately clamping it shut with a quiet groan. Sensations cascaded into her as if unlocked by the light, each nerve screaming to her with its own unique message of agony. Another groan slipped from her throat. She was awake now, truly awake, and regretting it. Her body was a single, pulsing mass of pain.
“Adora?” a hushed voice came from her side. “Adora, are you awake?”
Adora just breathed for a moment, trying to gather the energy to speak.
“G—” she coughed, and for a moment everything hurt so much more. The pain subsided, eventually, and she felt a chip of ice slide between her chapped lips to give blessed comfort to her dry throat. A familiar haze of pink wavered above her.
“Gl’mr?” she croaked.
“Yes!” her friend’s voice was thick with tears. “Yes, it’s me. Bow was here too, but we’ve been watching in shifts—Adora, we were so worried—”
She broke off, resting her hand on Adora’s arm as if to reassure her of her presence, but even that light contact shot a fresh shock of pain through her limb. Adora flinched, then groaned again when the jostle reignited her body. Glimmer snatched her hand away as if burned.
“I’m so sorry!” Glimmer rushed out, hugging her arm to herself.
“Mgh—no… ‘m… I’m fine,” Adora managed.
Glimmer gave a relieved, watery laugh. Adora blinked. She looked fuzzy, and the lines of her face swirled in a disorienting manner.
“No, you’re not,” Glimmer said, and her voice sounded like it came from underwater. The edges of the room were starting to darken, but Adora could just make out the relieved smile on her friend’s face.
“But you will be.”
The world faded away again, but this time, Adora knew she wasn’t going far.
The next time Adora woke, she felt more... alive. Everything still felt like she’d been run over by a battalion of Horde tanks, but the pain had faded to a level where she could open her eyes, blink, and even move her arm a bit without wanting to scream. She took a deep breath, pulling short when the motion sent screams of pain through her abdomen. She’d expected the “old friend” of her side wound, but not the fresh, piercing ache in the center of her stomach.
Octavia had practically skewered her.
Oh, right. She’d nearly died.
As the memory returned, Adora marveled that she felt as (relatively) good as she did. The rune circle floating directly overhead had something to do with it, doubtless. She could feel a warm, comforting energy emanating from above as it gently pulsed, bathing her in golden light.
Something else was helping, too—an object near her side seemed to be reflecting and amplifying the energy. She managed to slide her hand a few inches until the edge of her hand hit cool metal. Familiar energy ran through her arm at the contact. The sword! She instinctively curled her fingers around the hilt, and a burst of both healing magic and She-Ra’s familiar energy surged through her body. She gasped, feeling more awake and aware as a few of the more minor aches faded away.
She turned her head to the voice, wincing at stiff neck muscles.
“Glimmer,” she managed with a small smile. Her voice was unnaturally gravelly, but at least she got the words out this time. Her friend was curled in an uncomfortable-looking chair, hair flattened on one side and blinking sleep from her eyes.
“Adora!” A second figure shot upright from another chair next to Glimmer, almost hidden from Adora’s view.
“Hey, Bow.” Her smile widened.
Bow’s eyes immediately filled, tears streaming down his face. Adora’s own eyes widened in alarm.
“I’m just so happy you’re awake!” he cried. “I wish I could hug you, but…” he paused, then practically pounced on Glimmer to envelop her in a hug that looked borderline bone-crushing. “You’ll get one of these as soon as you’re feeling better. I promise.”
Adora was still trying to figure out whether that was a promise or a threat when Glimmer teleported herself out of Bow’s embrace with a gasp for air, reappearing right next to Adora’s bedside.
“How are you feeling?”
Adora closed her eyes and exhaled, hating the twinges of pain that every breath shot through her body.
“Like shit. ”
Her candor drew a laugh from her friends, short and ending in expressions of sympathy.
“The healers said that you’d feel bad for a while after you woke up,” Glimmer explained. “She-Ra’s healing magic seems to be helping, but with the wound in your stomach… it’s like all the magic had to focus there just to keep you alive, and all the less serious wounds had to be left for your body to heal normally.”
Adora winced. “Yep. Sure feels like it.”
“It’s a miracle you’re alive at all,” Bow said. “What even happened in the ruins?”
“Octavia,” Adora ground out. Bow and Glimmer looked at her with confused expressions. “Oh. Right.” She stammered out a brief summary of their history with Octavia, ending abruptly when she came to a belated realization: half of her story was missing. Specifically, the Catra half.
“Wait, where’s—?” Adora tried to sit up, then fell back, groaning. Bow and Glimmer both jumped forward in alarm, hands outstretched to prevent her from rising again. Adora twisted her head back and forth on the pillow, looking for a familiar shape on a nearby bed but finding nothing.
“Catra,” she gasped. “Is she okay? Where is she? What happened after I—”
“She’s fine,” Glimmer said through clenched teeth. “She tried to kill you.”
Adora stared blankly for a half second, then laughed—immediately followed by a short cry of pain as she curled toward the resulting stabs of pain in her ribs and abdomen. She caught her breath.
Glimmer pulled back, throwing her hands in the air. “Why is that so difficult to comprehend? She’s been trying to kill you ever since you left the Horde!”
“No,” Adora said with certainty. “No, that’s not true. After everything that happened—everything she did for me—no.”
“Adora, she was standing over you with your own sword.”
Adora’s hand tightened on the hilt, the skin of her palm tickling at the responding slight increase in the energy surging through her. “That was to help me,” she said. “The sword is helping me heal.”
Glimmer’s eyes narrowed, but Bow glanced toward her apprehensively. “Wasn’t that what Catra said…?”
“We can’t trust her, Bow! Not after what she’s done to—”
“Then trust me.” Adora leveled them both with a confident stare. “After everything we’ve been through these last few days, I know she wasn’t trying to kill me.”
“That makes one of us,” Glimmer muttered.
Adora ignored the comment, glancing around the room again. “Where is she?” she asked again. “The healers helped her, right? She’d lost a lot of blood.” She winced. “And the beasts sliced her up pretty good. And Octavia almost drowned her…”
Bow’s eyebrows had nearly climbed into his hairline. “ Man , you guys went through a lot,” he muttered.
“She’s fine,” Glimmer repeated. “She’s… sleeping elsewhere. Until we can be sure she’s not a threat to you or anyone else.”
“You put her in prison? ”
“You know we don’t have any prisons,” Glimmer shot back. “She’s being held in one of the spare rooms. With a bed and about eight hundred pillows and visits from a healer. We’re not like the Horde, Adora.”
Adora barely noticed the barb. “Take me to her. I need to make sure she’s all right. And clear up this whole mess.”
“What?” Glimmer’s protest was practically a squeak. “No! You just woke up, you can barely move—”
“Fine, then.” Fueled by adrenaline, Adora rolled onto her side, ignoring her body’s screams of protest as she somehow managed to push to a mostly-sitting position, hunched over the support of one arm with the other curled protectively around the thick bandages covering her midsection. The golden rune dissipated as she moved through it, providing a last burst of warm, healing energy as it faded. Her hand trembled as it clenched around the hilt of the sword like a lifeline.
“If you won’t take me, I’ll go myself.”
“Adora, you can’t!” Bow and Glimmer both stood just in front of her, hands hovering above her shoulders and arms as through waiting to catch her. “You’ve barely healed; you could hurt yourself even worse!”
Adora clenched her jaw, then winced. Even her teeth hurt. “Then either bring Catra here, or make it so I don’t have to walk there.”
Her friends exchanged worried glances, then stated speaking in overlapping sentences.
“We can’t take Catra out of—”
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea—”
Adora sighed, ignoring the words as she swung her legs down from the bed and slid into an unsteady standing position, leaning heavily back against the bed. Her hand slipped from the sword’s hilt, leaving a cold void where the subtle warmth of its healing energy had been quietly pervading her being. Her vision grayed. As it faded back in, she was aware of her friends’ arms under her own, supporting her weight on each side. In the wake of the sword’s magic, everything suddenly hurt so much more.
Well. she’d felt worse.
…most likely. Everything was still a bit hazy.
“You’re insane,” Glimmer growled.
“Probably,” Adora gasped out. “So are we going, or am I walking?”
With a final worried glance and an aggravated sigh, Glimmer activated her powers, leaving the room empty except for a few lingering pink sparkles.
The last thing Catra was expecting to see that afternoon was the purple poof of Glimmer’s powers appearing inside her cell-slash-room.
The very last thing she expected to see was Adora, pale and drawn but alive and upright, even if she was leaning heavily on the supporting arms of Sparkles and Arrow boy. Simultaneous rushes of relief and concern flooded through her, almost closing off her throat.
“Hey, dummy,” she managed. Her voice was slightly hoarse.
“Catra.” The smile Adora gave her was small, a little tight and pained, but warm enough to drive away the lingering chill of the stone room.
Catra’s gaze flicked across Adora’s body, concern deepening.
“Where’s your sword?” she demanded. “It was helping you heal—”
“I know,” Adora interrupted, smile widening into something a little triumphant as she glanced toward the friends at her side. Glimmer scoffed quietly, gaze sliding to a corner of the room as she folded her arms. “It’s in the infirmary. We’ll go back in a minute. I just—” she closed her eyes for a moment, crease between her brows deepening as a wave of some unseen pain washed through her, “...had to make sure you were okay.”
“Make sure I was okay?” Catra laughed. Her eyes blurred, and she wiped at them in mild annoyance. “I’m fine. You’re the one who was trying to win a prize for ‘most brushes with death in 48 hours.’”
Adora rolled her eyes, but the look of contented amusement still hadn’t left her face.
“Glimmer, can you…” Adora made a motion toward the purple barrier of energy shimmering between them. Sparkles’ expression soured, but she reached out a hand to the barrier and closed her eyes in concentration. A second later, the barrier shattered, shards of purple energy scattering to the floor and then fading into nothingness.
Adora took a step forward, away from the support of her friends, swaying as her face turned a shade whiter. Acting on instinct, Catra leapt forward to steady her in an awkward clash of arms and elbows, her leg wound flaring in protest as they stumbled for a moment before balancing. As they steadied, Catra realized Adora’s arms were wrapped around her in a tight hug, face buried in Catra’s shoulder. She lowered her head as well, tightening her grasp just slightly and breathing deeply.
“Can’t even stay upright without me, huh?” She said, willing her voice not to shake. “How did you ever manage when I wasn’t around?”
What she meant was, you could have died. After all that, you could have died.
“Hey, I can do a lot without you,” Adora said, pushing weakly away from the hug. She wavered again, squeezing Catra’s arm as she regained her balance in a gesture that was as much reassurance as support. “I can just do a lot more when I have my friends. All of them.”
What she meant was, I’m sorry. And I’m so glad you’re here.
Catra stared in response, willing herself to be understood.
Just don’t do it again. Ever. Please.
“Mmhm,” Catra said, disbelievingly, to Adora’s last spoken remark. Sparkles was leveling her with a truly impressive glare from across the room. “Well, I don’t think ‘all your friends’ like me very much.”
Adora gave a quiet laugh. “We’ll, uh… we’ll work on it.” She swayed again. “I’m really… really glad you’re okay.”
There was a tired slur to Adora’s words, and Catra spared her a sharp, appraising glance. She was only slightly surprised when Adora tipped forward into another hug that left Catra supporting most of her body weight.
“Yeah,” Catra replied, quietly enough that she hoped the other two listeners in the room wouldn’t hear. “Likewise. Moron.”
They stood for a moment, arms loosely curled around each other, before Catra shot an awkward glance toward Bow and Glimmer and cleared her throat. She patted Adora’s shoulder. “You, uh. You good?”
“Mmf,” came the muffled response.
Catra fought the urge to look back over to Adora’s friends. As much as she might have enjoyed a good, long hug with her best friend, now wasn’t really the—
Her best friend.
She hadn’t let herself think those words in… a long time.
Adora was starting to lean against her even more heavily.
“Catra.” Adora’s voice was quiet, and the slur to her speech was becoming more pronounced.
“‘m gonna pass out now.”
Catra tensed at the words, feeling Adora’s body go slack in her grasp in the next moment. She stumbled for a moment under the shift in weight, Adora’s friends crying out in alarm as Catra’s half-healed wounds screamed in protest before the two of them steadied. She could feel the comforting beat of Adora’s heart against her own chest, steadier and stronger than it had been for days.
She was going to be okay.
They were going to be okay.
Almost against her will, Catra felt herself grinning.
Adora awoke slowly.
Senses returned to her one by one, filtering through a thick, comfortable haze. She felt sore, but in a sort of distant way she could ignore if she just.. didn’t move. Honestly, she wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. Whatever she was resting on was soft, but not too soft, and something radiated a pleasant warmth from her side. She hummed quietly, inhaling the fresh, familiar scents of Bright Moon’s magic, the wild tang of the Whispering Woods that drifted through the castle when the breeze was just right, and something else that reminded her, however faintly, of home.
Her eyes opened, squinting slightly against the golden light that bathed the cloth canopy above her, and her bearings slowly returned. Bright Moon. Her room. Safe. Finally, after so long… safe.
The mattress dipped as the warmth by her side shifted, pulling away slightly before resuming its former position. Adora suddenly realized her right arm was especially warm, and also that she couldn’t move it. She turned her head to the side—stiffly, because every single muscle in her body hurt—and smiled. Catra was curled against her side, nose almost pressed to Adora’s shoulder, her face relaxed in sleep.
“Took you long enough,” Catra mumbled, eyes still closed.
“Sorry,” Adora said, still smiling.
Catra opened one eye enough to glare. “Just don’t do it again.”
The glare intensified. “Almost die.”
Catra made an annoyed sound and rolled stiffly onto her back, holding her breath as she moved in that familiar, tense way that told Adora she was hurting.
There was that glare again. “I’m fine.” Adora raised an eyebrow, and Catra rolled her eyes. “Just sore. You’re the one who was skewered like a marshmallow.”
Adora’s other eyebrow ascended to join its companion. “Marshmallow?” She repeated. “How do you know about—”
“You’ve been asleep for like three days, Adora. Your friends have been here. A lot. And Arrow Boy likes to talk. A lot.”
Adora blinked, trying to catch up on this latest jump in time. “Wow.” She shifted, testing out aching muscles. Everything was still incredibly sore, but the fierce pain in her stomach and the twinges of damaged ribs were already beginning to dull. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the energy of the sword flowing toward her from where it sat on the shelf above her bed. Being She-Ra had its perks.
She opened her eyes again, letting them wander the familiar walls of her room. “I’m kind of surprised they let you be here with me.”
Catra snorted. “Yeah, well. I think I heard one of the healers say ‘If they’re going to keep passing out on each other, just stick them in the same room and make my life easier.’” She folded her hands across her stomach, closing her eyes contentedly as she somehow seemed to sink deeper into the warm blankets. “I wasn’t about to argue.”
Adora smiled, feeling only the slightest bit guilty for annoying the healers.
“How are you feeling?”
Adora glanced to the side in mild surprise to see Catra giving her an appraising stare.
“Fine,” she responded automatically. Catra’s eyes narrowed. “Sore,” Adora amended. “Tired. Maybe a little hungry.” The urge to yawn suddenly hit her, and the force of it made her eyes water. “ Really tired.”
A quiet laugh, more like a puff of air than anything, came from her side. “The healers will come in about an hour,” Catra said. “They’re disgustingly punctual. Might as well sleep until then.”
“Yeah,” Adora said quietly, eyelids already drooping as exhaustion pulled her deeper into the bedding.
“You already asked me that, genius. Do I need to have the healers check you for brain damage?”
“No, I meant—with…” Adora made a tired, floppy hand gesture that did nothing to clarify her meaning. “With being here. In Bright Moon.”
A pause. “I don’t think they’re going to burn me at the stake, if that’s what you mean.”
“I know, I just… I want you to be okay with it. Comfortable.”
Catra scoffed. “Comfortable kills you,” she rattled off automatically, quoting something Horde commanders drilled into the minds of young cadets. She sighed, and Adora felt her settling back into the blankets. “Gotta say, not a bad way to go.”
“I’m fine, Adora,” Catra said with a twinge of exasperation. “Even Sparkles is starting to hate my guts a little less. I think.”
“Not calling her ‘Sparkles’ might help with that,” Adora said, swallowing another yawn.
“Too bad we’ll never know. Now,” Adora felt movement next to her, then the gentle press of a finger against her forehead. “Sleep. Whatever happens next, we’ll deal with it together, right?”
Exhaustion was pulling her under, but a contented, happy warmth spread through her body. The feeling was unfamiliar, but safe. Like finally being... home.
“Promise?” she whispered.
That soft laugh came from above her again before the mattress shifted and the familiar, comforting warmth pressed against her arm.