It was three days to Bright Moon on foot.
Glimmer could have had them back in an instant, but why rush? No one objected when Catra suggested they take it slowly. It would be weird enough being in Bright Moon. At least this way she could get used to the idea. And if she couldn’t, they’d be on their way soon enough. Travel: that was the plan. Aimless travel. When was the last time Catra had done anything aimless? She couldn’t remember.
On the second day, they stopped in a clearing in the Whispering Woods. The Woods shone in a way they hadn’t before, warm and welcoming, banishing the sadness that had clung to them for a millennium. Like she had the first night, Catra helped Bow with the tents. Afterwards, he and Glimmer disappeared for a walk while Adora poked through their supplies in search of dinner.
An hour later, Catra was half asleep in Adora’s lap, watching the fuzzy glow of moonlight framing Bow and Glimmer as they emerged from the trees. Their hair was wet. It reminded Catra of the day they took her captive. A long time ago. Bow had been friendly even then, she remembered that.
‘There’s a hot spring a few minutes that way,’ Glimmer said, snapping Catra out of her reverie. ‘You would not believe how badly I needed a bath.’ She groaned in relief. ‘I feel like a new woman.’
‘What do you think?’ Catra said, glancing at Adora. ‘Bath time?’
The moment Catra saw the steam rising from the hot spring, her body began to itch.
‘It has been,’ Adora said, ‘way too long since I felt hot water.’
‘You and me both.’ Catra tested the water with one toe. The temperature was a hair below intolerable. All at once she was consumed by the desire to be clean, properly clean, and it took all of ten seconds to pull off her outer layer of clothing.
‘Catra?’ Adora’s voice had gone oddly high-pitched. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Uh.’ Catra looked around. Nothing seemed out of order. ‘Getting undressed?’
Adora was peeking at her through her splayed fingers. ‘Don’t you want some privacy?’
Catra glanced down at herself. She was wearing her usual grey underwear. ‘Adora, I sleep in this.’
‘Well, I know, but, that’s sleeping. It’s different.’
‘Huh.’ Catra grinned. ‘Just wait until you see me in, like, literally anything else.’
She’d expected a blush, but Adora surprised her. The embarrassment cleared from her expression, leaving the soft, faraway look she sometimes directed at Catra, the look that told her Adora was seeing her and remembering her at the same time. Catra knew the feeling. She found herself doing the same, sometimes: replaying every moment she’d ever shared with Adora, like she’d done a thousand times alone in the Horde, then looking up. Seeing Adora. Meeting her eyes. And knowing that every one of those moments had been real, that she hadn’t imagined a single part of what they’d meant.
‘I can’t wait.’
Catra startled. She had to stop being so inattentive. Magic or no, the wildlife could be unfriendly. Still. The pool was inviting. A little more inattention wouldn’t hurt. She swung her legs over the edge and slid into it, letting the warmth settle over her. Everyone thought she hated water. That wasn’t true. She hated the wrong kind of water.
‘You can look,’ Adora said softly from behind her. ‘I didn’t mean you couldn’t look. It’s just… new.’
Catra turned around. Adora was already in her underwear, folding her clothing and placing it carefully on a rock above Catra’s own scattered garments. Then she plunged into the pool, sending Catra spluttering as the waves of her entry splashed across her face.
‘Hey! You did that on purpose.’
Adora surfaced, water running through her hair and down her shoulders, grinning. ‘Aww, my kittycat doesn’t like water after all?’
‘Do not call me that.’
‘You are, though, aren’t you?’
Catra rolled her eyes skywards. ‘Don’t make me regret anything.’
‘This is all part of the Perfuma Twelve-Step Vulnerability and Openness Plan.’
‘The next intergalactic threat cannot come soon enough.’
‘You don’t mean that.’ Adora was still grinning. ‘There’s a thought, though. No one left to fight. Who knows when I’ll have to transform into She-Ra again? That’s weird. Why is everything weird now?’
‘Everything is always weird with you,’ Catra said automatically. ‘I’m sure you’ll find opportunities to show off. Whenever you want to make half the Princesses on Etheria insanely jealous of me, for starters.’
‘What? What does that mean?’
‘Oh, come on, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed the way they look at She-Ra.’
‘That’s just—she’s inspiring.’
‘You’re inspiring,’ Catra corrected.
Adora sank into the water up to her nose. It did nothing to hide her smile. ‘You’re one to talk,’ she said after she re-emerged. ‘I saw how you were looking at me.’
‘Yeah, well. It’s not hard to feel swept away when the love of your life rescues you from a brainwashed cult.’ Catra delivered this statement without the slightest hitch in her voice, only to ruin the effect a second later when she ducked her head to avoid Adora’s gaze. ‘Besides, I’m very selfish. I like that you look like me now.’
‘That I look like you?’
‘You know, with the—’ Catra frowned. ‘Wait. Have you even seen yourself yet? The new and improved She-Ra, I mean?’
‘Mirrors weren’t exactly high on my list of priorities,’ Adora said defensively.
‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ Catra gestured at the water’s surface, sending ripples through her reflection.
‘What—here? You want me to transform here?’
‘Come on, Adora, it’s only me here. I want you to see.’
Adora’s mouth opened and closed. ‘I’m not even sure if it’ll work,’ she said eventually.
‘If you need me to kiss you again…’
There it was. Catra could practically see the blush progressing across Adora’s face.
‘And what if I do?’
Catra pushed off her side of the pool, meeting Adora in the middle. She leaned in and delivered a chaste kiss to the side of Adora’s mouth. Adora made a tiny contented sound.
‘You get a proper one afterwards,’ Catra said, not quite winning the battle to stop herself laughing at the look of indignation on Adora’s face.
‘You just want to kiss She-Ra,’ Adora mumbled. Then she sighed, more dramatic than strictly necessary, and raised her hand out of the water. ‘This feels dumb.’
‘No different than usual, then.’
Adora glared at her a moment more. Then, in surely the quietest voice she’d ever spoken those particular words, she said, ‘For the honour of Grayskull!’
Somehow, the exclamation mark was still obvious. Catra would have rolled her eyes if she hadn’t closed them, the light of the transformation blinding when she was this close to Adora, and when she finished blinking it away, Adora had already turned to the side, where open water reflected her face back at her.
‘Oh,’ she breathed.
‘See?’ Catra couldn’t quite reach without wrapping her legs around Adora’s waist from behind, but eventually she managed to trace the heart motif between her collarbones. ‘Bow, too. And you’ve got Glimmer’s wings on your boots.’
‘Yeah,’ Adora said. ‘Yeah, I saw those, but I didn’t make the connection…’ She swallowed. ‘I’m sorry about your mask.’
‘It’s okay. It meant something to me once, but…’ Catra tightened her hold for a second, then relaxed and manoeuvred herself around to face Adora. ‘I don’t need to hide my face anymore.’ She smiled. ‘I’m glad it’s part of you now.’
‘I thought you didn’t like She-Ra.’
‘I don’t,’ Catra murmured. ‘I love Adora.’
Adora breath caught in a half-sob. ‘I don’t understand when you got this good at telling me exactly what I want to hear.’
Catra pressed her forehead against Adora’s. There were tears in her eyes, too, mingling with droplets from the pool.
‘When I started listening.’
Catra kissed her before Adora could reply. Properly. Adora made another of those cute noises, half surprise and half pleasure, then wrapped her arms more firmly around Catra’s back and deepened the kiss, and even the wind through her wet fur couldn’t stop the purr rising in Catra’s chest.
‘It’s weird kissing you when you purr,’ Adora whispered.
Catra smiled against her lips. Adora’s tongue darted out, testing the point of one of Catra’s fangs.
‘Everything’s always weird with me,’ she said, and breathed in the sound of Adora’s laughter.