“How do I look?”
“Perfect, Adora. You are seven feet tall, glowing, and your clothes,” Catra tucks a claw into the gold edging at Adora’s hips, tugging the fabric outward and letting it snap back, “are made of literal magic. You always look perfect.”
Adora grins down at her, enjoying the way Catra still reaches up (and up, and up) to straighten her shoulder guards, even though they aren’t crooked. She-Ra’s clothing never is.
Catra finishes brushing her shoulders off (they aren’t dirty; She-Ra’s clothing never is) and steps back, inspecting Adora despite her declaration of perfection. Her eyes are sharp as ever and her hair, chin-length now, bounces about her ears as she tilts her head to the side. It’s that tilt, paired with the cock of her hips and the way her thumb hooks into her belt, that has Adora saying, “you look nice.”
Catra rolls her eyes. “I look normal. It’s Sparkles you should be flattering. Speaking of which - ey!” Catra shouts, “Sparkles! Quick, the Delegation from Aquarii!”
Adora has just enough time to consider expressing confusion before “High Minister Shelldon!” Glimmer’s voice calls from the spaceship’s approximation of a hallway, “with Ministers Clamia, Ondine, and Moray!”
Catra doesn’t notice Adora’s inquiring look, preoccupied with scratching Melog on the head and thumbing through her bag. She shouts, “Tentacles, go!”
Glimmer teleports into the doorway, resplendent in lavender and glitter, “Ten-ta-cleez, Catra. They’re apparently sensitive about that.”
“I was testing you.”
“Liar. Anyway, Senator Thul and Delegate Asquid.”
“Nice. Okay, how about the folks from Anurida?”
Glimmer rattles off more word salad as Bow comes in from behind her, stopping at Adora’s side. Adora turns her confusion onto him, instead.
“They’ve been like this since we passed the Siderian Nebula,” he says, “you were napping.”
“Dreacorath!” Catra exclaims.
“Absquetuleth Dolores and Absquetulanth Layton” is the reply from Glimmer, who has moved on from fussing with her cape to her tiara.
Catra bends over something in her bag, eyebrows drawn together, “No, I’m pretty sure Layton’s the Absquetuleth.”
“Like...this?” Adora says slowly, watching the women bicker.
Bow adjusts his own lavender shirt, tugging it to sit right against his bare midriff as he sighs long-sufferingly, “Yup. There were flashcards. It was awful.”
“They do know they’re in the same room, right?” Adora asks, “They can stop shouting.”
“That’s part of the fun, I think. Maybe.”
Adora listens to a few more volleys, finally settling on: “I…’m still confused.”
Bow opens his mouth but Catra cuts him off, directing her next comment to Adora, “It’s who’s gonna be at the summit,” she says. Glimmer takes the reprieve to teleport out of the room, so Catra raises her voice when she adds, “Sparkles thinks she’s gonna, like, start an intergalactic diplomatic incident by mis-titling the First Queen of Eridani.”
“High Monarch of the Eridanian Court,” shouted from down the hall.
“You absolute liar!”
Catra rolls her eyes dramatically, zipping her bag closed and swinging it over her head so the wide strap crosses her body. She fiddles with it a bit, getting frustrated with its length until Adora leans her sword against the wall and uses the strap to gently tug Catra to her.
“Okay, so let me get this straight,” Adora says as her fingers work, “You and Glimmer will be in meetings all week pitching the Magic Restoration Project, Bow’s hooking up with the N.I.P.C. Makers’ Community, and...what’s my job, exactly?”
“You,” Catra says, pushing her newly adjusted bag so it rests behind her and gripping Adora’s top to pull herself closer, tail curling around Adora’s leg, “get to be pretty and strong and remind everyone that bringing magic back to the universe is a good change just by being your perfect self. And enjoy the parties.”
“I do like parties,” Adora notes, fitting her hands to Catra’s hips.
“Sure there’s nothing to hit? I make a mean battle plan.”
Catra laughs, which was the point. “Not if Sparkles and I do our job right, no. And I think your battle plans are very nice.”
“Says the woman who keeps poking holes in them.”
“Keeps you sharp.”
Adora leans down and Catra leans up in a move so coordinated it takes Adora’s breath away. She’s about to see if Catra can give it back when Glimmer, newly teleported in, shouts “ah-ah! Diplomatic Propriety!”
Adora makes an unhappy noise and Catra rocks back onto the flat of her feet, pushing her head into Adora’s bicep and groaning out, “I hate Diplomatic Propriety.”
“And yet,” Glimmer breezes through, putting in her earrings and possibly enjoying wrecking Adora’s (or, more likely, Catra’s) time in the name of politics, “if we want to make the most of this opportunity, it is vital we determine which factions are and are not amenable to the restoration of magic, and—“
“—and it’s a lot easier to suss out who doesn’t like magic when they’re not thinking magic’s your girlfriend. I know, I know.” Catra gripes, stepping away from Adora (Adora feels cold, now), “save the speech.”
“You wrote the speech,” Glimmer replies, and no, it’s clear - she’s having way too much fun. “Anyway—"
“Okay, guys!” Bow calls from the hatch, “they’re ready for us!”
Glimmer teleports away and when Catra moves to follow, Adora reaches out quick for her hand. It’s easy, oh-so-easy with She-Ra’s longer arms and strength to tug Catra close and onto her tip-toes and into a bright, brief kiss.
“Breaking rules, Adora?” Catra accuses in a distracted murmur when Adora finally lets her down, then laughs lightly when Adora can’t stop herself from checking for Glimmer in case she’s caught them (she hasn’t).
“Not at the summit yet, technically,” Adora notes, arm lingering around Catra’s waist. She likes how Catra feels when she’s in She-Ra form, small and clinging and fragile and barely balanced on tiptoe and fully capable, Adora thinks with a flush of heat, of ripping through metal with her bare claws. Adora can’t be bothered to let go so soon, not unless—
“Quit flirting!” Glimmer’s voice comes from the direction of the hatch. Then at a more reasonable volume, to Bow, “Shipside intros this time?”
“Looks like it. And guys?” Bow takes a deep breath as Adora and Catra join them, looks at his friends, and lets it out, “Best behavior. It’s gonna be a big one.”
There’s a process to this, Adora has learned.
To the pomp and the circumstance, from the way their hosts gather - at shipside, in a welcome hall, at a banquet - to the way her friends arrange themselves upon entrance. Glimmer, proud and glittering; Bow, all friendly enthusiasm; She-Ra, fully transformed and making a stir (Catra says this is a strategic choice, but Adora suspects from experience that her girlfriend just likes overdramatic entrances); and finally, Catra, who says she prefers the anonymity of She-Ra’s wake even though Adora knows what she really prefers is to watch their backs.
Bow calls it an excuse to dress up and fun. Glimmer snorts and calls it stupid nonsense we have to get through before we can get to the real conversations. Catra, vicious and gleeful, calls it a show.
Adora is...getting used to it.
She doesn’t feel used to it, this time. It’s bigger: fancier, more diverse, and more populated than any welcoming ceremony they’ve yet attended. There are spaceships upon spaceships and inexplicable alien smells and an enormous sign declaring them arrived at the Northern Intergalactic Planetary Coalition Summit. There are so many people, more people than Adora thinks she’s ever seen in one place. Hundreds. Multiple hundreds, maybe. There’s also an announcer, which is...unexpected. Weird.
“The Northern Intergalactic Planetary Coalition is most honored to welcome,” the announcer booms, his voice dissonant against his short, elephant-nosed form as he squints at Glimmer and then consults a glowing tablet, “Her Majesty, Queen Glimmer of Bright Moon, Leader of the Etherian Princess Alliance!”
Adora feels a swell of pride watching first Glimmer and then Bow (“Master Archer Bow of Bright Moon!”) parade down the rampway, Glimmer every inch a queen and Bow entirely unflustered. She finds herself thinking of a different gathering, years prior, of Glimmer’s poofy prom dress and Bow’s torn-off cummerbund and the way they had danced around each other, frustrated and uncommunicative. And now, here, standing at the end of the rampway before countless aliens on another world in matching colors and wordless support of each other, of her, of Etheria, she thinks— oh. How far we’ve come.
And then: “Adora, She-Ra of Etheria!”
She never knows if she likes this bit. Sometimes she gets loud applause, sometimes hushed silence, but she never fails to draw a reaction. Usually, it’s this one: a smattering of cheers from the left (she can’t help but wave as she catches sight of the Star Siblings) and otherwise a sea full of gasps and hushed murmurs. She is glad when she reaches the bottom, letting herself crowd next to Bow just enough for him to grip her hand and squeeze. It’s sufficiently reassuring.
Adora turns back to the rampway to find the announcer blinking down at his page. He looks up the ramp at Catra, then down, then up, and then - at Catra’s annoyed eyeroll - booms out, “Catra!” There’s a moment of silence as the onlookers wait for more and Catra remains at the hatch, glaring at the announcer, finally making a pointed look down to the cat-shaped creature next to her and a spinning get on with it finger gesture at the man. He does another blink-and-reference routine before adding, “And, uh. Melog, Last of the Krytisians.”
Adora catches Glimmer and Bow exchanging a look as Catra, unsmiling, strides down the rampway, Melog puffed up large by her side. She doesn’t look uncomfortable, but Adora knows bravado when she sees it. At least, on Catra she does, these days.
Adora’s still smiling and waving as she hisses, “Really?!”
Catra, made irritable by an entire summit’s worth of scrutiny, shrugs and glowers and says through grit teeth, “What? I left the Title field blank on the registration form. I didn’t know it would be a thing, okay?!”
“But you put one in for Melog.”
“Yeah! It’s important!”
“Shut up, Catra,” Glimmer says in a tense little sing-song, at odds with her hand mid-wave and composed smile, “they’re coming.”
“They” appear to be a middle-aged woman and a younger one breaking off from the front of the clustered attendees. Adora is used to being crowded at these things - She-Ra is, after all, an object of great curiosity - but the rest of the onlookers seem to be purposefully making way for the pair. They’re grey-skinned and dark-haired, the older woman in an opulent violet robe with a planet-shaped pin and the younger woman’s flowing gown highlighting the strength in her arms. Adora wonders, idly, how she’d be in a spar.
“Which one is this, again?” Bow asks from behind his own smile, edged in panic.
There’s no time to answer - as if Adora even knew the answer - because the aliens are already upon them.
“Your Majesty, Master Archer, She-Ra,” the older woman turns to each of them, ending on a simple nod for Catra and Melog, “it is our pleasure.”
“High Monarch of the Eridanian Court Rockspina,” Glimmer gives her own small bow; they all follow suit, “I’d say it’s ours. Truly, we’re so excited to be here.”
High Monarch of the Eridanian Court Rockspina chuckles, a gravelly sound that lacks no warmth for all its lowness, “The full title there, I see! You know,” she says conspiratorially, “you’d be amazed how often people get it wrong.”
Glimmer laughs, and Adora takes a moment to be proud of her friend again - a comment like that might have sent a past Glimmer spinning out in embarrassment, but this one takes it in stride. “Oh, I wouldn’t say full. I skipped the whole ‘Chair of the Northern Intergalactic Planetary Coalition’ bit.”
“Skipped? Spared me, you mean.” The younger woman nudges her, and Rockspina gives something that might on a less dignified personage have been an eyeroll, “ah, yes, and lest I forget - I’d like to introduce my daughter, High Lady of the Eridanian Court Geoda.”
Geoda smiles warmly and bows to them, murmuring her own words of welcome. She keeps her gaze mostly on Catra, which is strange - Adora wonders if Catra’s entrance was maybe even more awkward than she’d thought.
It’s Bow who saves her from the pleasantries, nodding politely at the Eridanian cohort as he tugs Adora away to greet the Star Siblings, with whom they fall into a round of enthusiastic hugs. It’s Jewelstar who Adora ends up asking “Northern?” and his reply starts with a chuckle.
“Oh, I asked this one too. Turns out one of the founders of the Northern Intergalactic Planetary Coalition was a sailor…”
Adora’s listening, she is, but she thinks she can’t be expected to pay full attention to anything else at all when Catra is laughing. Because she is - laughing. Not the low, controlled laugh Adora’s used to hearing in political circumstances, but a bright, high, peal, and when Adora catches sight of her her grin matches. Adora wonders how anyone in the room can keep their eyes off her, can concentrate on anything else. Adora can’t.
“...kept reading star charts like they’re maps and just decided this bit was north…”
It looks as though Chair of the Northern Intergalactic Planetary Coalition (and, apparently, High Eridanian blah blah, etc.) has shepherded Glimmer into further planetary leader introductions, leaving Catra standing with her daughter (Gedina? Geona, maybe?). They’re close together, and as Catra comes down from whatever made her laugh, Geota leans in closer still. Adora takes a bit more note of her, now; how she’s softened the toughness of her Eridanian-gray skin with winking copper jewelry, the blatant strength of the muscles in her arms in contrast to the soft chiffon of her violet gown, the way her dark hair flows thick and shiny down her back. Adora wonders, a little less idly than she had before, what a sparring match would be like with her; She-Ra, of course, would win. Would Adora?
“...had the heart to explain that space wasn’t exactly like an ocean…”
Why didn’t Catra dress up? Adora hadn’t really wondered at it before, but she does now. Glimmer and Bow had gone even finer than their usual Bright Moon finest for the summit, and Adora had the whole She-Ra getup, but Catra hadn’t changed a thing - just her typical red shirt and black jacket and utterly unnecessary belt. Adora mindlessly twists a bit of her own glowing ponytail around her hand, thinking that Catra should get to dress up with them, that she’d look lovely in gold. Keep the red, because she’d want it, but definitely gold. Gold and white, maybe.
“...and then it just kind of stuck.”
Bow says something to Jewelstar about Sea Hawk. Adora barely hears him.
“Hey, is Catra okay?” Adora asks, distracted.
“Uh...why wouldn’t she be?” Bow has his quizzical voice and maybe his quizzical face; Adora doesn’t know, because she’s watching the woman touch Catra’s arm. Catra doesn’t flinch - at her side, Melog doesn’t even register more than the barest shift - and Adora knows she should be proud of her because she’s been getting better with strangers and physicality lately, and she is , it’s just...
“I don’t know but - that girl she’s with. High Noble—“
“High Lady, I think?”
“Yeah, her. She’s just. Really close.”
Bow is silent for a moment, but Adora’s still not looking at him as he goes “uh…Adora…”
“I’m gonna go check on her. Just be a sec.”
Bow might say something else, she’s not sure, because she’s already moving towards the pair of women. Neither of them seem to notice Adora as she approaches just in time to see the grey-skinned woman lean even further into Catra, hand now slid to her elbow, and hear her say, “you know, there are a few nicer places by the convention hall, if you’d like to join me for dinner—”
“We’d love to!” Adora says quickly, stepping in close to Catra’s left. Her hand moves to slide home around Catra’s waist, but her head provides a Glimmer-like mental hiss of Diplomatic Propriety!, so she lets it fall to her sword’s hilt instead.
High Lady Geodude (or whatever) drops both her hand and her smile ever so slightly, and Adora feels a little bad for her abrupt entry. From this close, and from She-Ra’s height, the woman is incredibly small. Adora usually stands further back from strangers in this form. She doesn’t move.
“Uh…” the woman takes a second to gather herself (She-Ra has that effect, Adora knows, she’s used to it, she usually doesn’t love it but today it’s— fine), adds, “we would, uh, of course be honored to—” she casts a look Catra’s way.
Adora looks at Catra, as well, and finds her already looking back, some kind of surprise in her eyes. Adora doesn’t have time to decode it further before it slides into something much more sly. “Actually, I’m afraid we’re already engaged this evening,” Catra notes, and Adora can’t help but be both distracted and confused by the purr in it, “with the Siderian delegation. But certainly another time?”
Lady Geola looks a little dazed, pink-under-grey in her cheeks as she stammers out an “oh— uh— oh, of course— certainly— I’d love that.” She doesn’t look at Adora, which Adora doesn’t like. (It’s suspicious, is what it is. People always look at She-Ra. Maybe she’s hiding something.)
When she’s gone, Adora turns to Catra, “Did she seem a little off to you? She was, like, really weird about dinner for a person who just suggested it.”
Catra laughs and it’s all delight, “You know what, Adora?” she says when she’s done, “Don’t worry about it.”
Glimmer is giving them an odd look and a wave over, and Adora knows she has a moment to press, here, ask what’s going on in Catra’s ever-working mind before they join their friends. But, well - sometimes, she’s learning, she doesn’t need to know. Sometimes it’s enough to have Catra smiling, looking clever and happy and comfortable, looking at Adora like she could hang the stars.
(Which, Adora supposes, she kind of already has. In the last few years, Adora has fixed a reality and broken a superweapon, dragged a world to the stars and brought its heart alight. For her own and half a dozen planets besides, Adora’s blade has set glowing magic free; where her feet have tread, lands have burst forth with growing things and untold wonders. But with Catra looking at her like that and She-Ra’s power thrumming through her veins and the Sword of Protection’s truest form in her hand, she thinks she could do more still. When Catra looks at her like that, she thinks she could do anything at all.
She doesn’t think of High Lady Geoda again.
At least, not that day.)
Glimmer hefts the bundle (her burden, she thinks dramatically) onto her hip, using her now free hand to let herself into Catra’s room. The sight that greets her - or doesn’t greet her at all, actually, just keeps on as if she never entered - still surprises her with its familiarity: a desk cluttered with picked-over plates of snacks, a bed that’s more paperwork than blanket, and Catra, lounging against the headboard with Melog curled beside her, a folder in one hand and a pen in her teeth.
Glimmer stands there beside the bed, bracing herself for a moment. It’s been a rough day - for her and for Catra both, neither of whom particularly like long meetings in the first place, let alone ones punctuated with inexplicably irrational resistance to their cause. Everything today has been difficult, and she can only hope this at least will be easy. A deep breath in, then out, then: “You have to do something about Adora.”
Catra doesn’t even look up, just gives a breezy, “oh? What’s up with Adora?”
Okay, so not easy, then.
“You know what I’m talking about, Catra!”
“Don’t think I do,” Catra plucks the pen from her mouth, underlines something. The move is blithely theatrical, and Glimmer has a sudden and brilliant mental image of shaking the other woman. Upon Catra’s nonchalant, “Hey, could you pass me the folder on Aquariian agriculture?,” Glimmer upgrades shaking to strangling.
Instead of granting her request, Glimmer dumps the entire bundle she’d been carrying directly onto Catra. The resulting squawk and tail-puff is incredibly gratifying.
Catra examines her new lapful, “...tech pads?” Glimmer crosses her arms and glares. Catra keeps looking. “Sparkles, all of these are cracked.”
“Yup. Wanna know how that happened?”
“Your stupid girlfriend keeps breaking them.”
“And a plate, and a fork, and a pen, possibly Chancellor Galaxia’s hand, and no less than three of Bow’s arrows that I know of.” Catra gapes at her and Glimmer stomps over to the desk, "Three days of this, Catra...and, oddly, always when you happen to be making a whole show of ‘working with’,” the air quotes and wild gesticulations are, in Glimmer’s opinion, necessary to her point, “the delegation from Eridani, and - more specifically - a certain Eridanian High Lady,” she turns to select a cookie carefully, then uses her other hand to pick up the folder on the chair when she notices it’s the one Catra had asked for, “ugh, why aren’t we using digital files, again? This is so messy. ”
When she turns back, she’s expecting to find Catra either artificially blasé or insufferably smug. She’s not expecting Catra’s eyes to be riveted to one of the pads, expression wondering and vulnerable as she runs her fingers over the crack in it oh-so-gently. It’s a rare sight, Catra open and raw, and Glimmer knows she isn’t meant to see it now; isn’t sure she wants to. And so she pretends she hasn’t, for the both of them, turning back to the desk and thumbing through the file in her hands just for something to do.
It doesn’t take long for Catra to recover, and though she’d never admit it, Glimmer is relieved to hear her voice go sharp and supercilious again. “That’s a lot of assumptions, Sparkles; I’m not buying it. And because, we know first hand how easy it is to fuck with technology all at once. And hack it. And jam it. And corrupt it. And I don’t trust Entrapta to scan all this without looking at it. And if she looks at it she’s going to want things. Like the Siderian elevators Starla was on about or those weird nanobots Asquid mentioned and then if she wants them she’s going to tell Hordak and Wrong Hordak—“
“Hubert,” Glimmer says absently, her mind less on Catra’s words and more on the file she’s still flipping through.
“Wrong Hordak. He’s going by Hubert now. Named himself.”
“...you know what? Sure. Good for him, I guess. So Entrapta will tell him, too, and he cannot keep a secret for his life so you know…”
Catra’s still talking, but Glimmer isn’t listening. She is, instead, frozen, staring down at the papers in her hands. Her mouth works for a moment before she remembers how to make sound, “Catra.”
“...and then we’ll have one of those incidents you’re so afraid of because Hordak still hates me and Entrapta will think that it is entirely okay—”
“Catra! Catra - Catra.” Catra looks at her and Glimmer looks down at the page one more time before holding eye contact, “Catra, Aquarii’s barren.”
“What? No, Aquarii is literally under water.”
“Yeah, it is. But it’s also effectively barren. Has been since the First Ones stopped in. They can only manage any kind of agricultural success via a network of highly regulated greenhouses run by— Catra. Why did you want the folder on agriculture?”
Catra is staring at her with wide eyes, any pretense of indifference dropped. “Because Minister Moray—”
“—is the Minister in charge of agriculture—”
“—was so incredibly clearly for the whole meeting—”
“—which means his sole job—"
“—trying to discredit us over and over—”
“—is to run these greenhouses—”
“—and clearly hates our guts—”
“—which means if She-Ra releases Aquarii’s magic—”
“—Moray’s out of a job.” Catra finishes for Glimmer, and they stare at each other for a long moment before Glimmer lets out a noise of utter frustration.
“Ugh!” she throws herself onto the bed, “I had to be polite for five hours because one asshole doesn’t want his job to change?!”
“Looks like it,” Catra says from above her, plucking the file out of Glimmer’s hand.
“I hate politics! Why can’t we just fight something and be done with it .”
Catra chuckles, and Glimmer sees her rifle through the papers before putting the file to the side with inordinate delicacy. “Now you sound like Adora.”
Glimmer covers her face with her hands. “Yeah, well, maybe Adora’s right. I just wish one of them would do something evil so I could blast them with magic.”
“Well, you know, embezzlement of extraplanetary macro-municipal fundi—“
“Not that kind of evil, Catra!”
“Yeah, I know.” Glimmer feels a thump and then the rustle of papers as Catra flops down onto the bed herself, jostling at least one file onto the floor, “you know what I keep thinking about?”
“Clawing First Minister Shelldon in the throat. Like, when he’s in the middle of his report. He’d be talking in that voice of his and then it would just be like,” Catra makes an odd gurgling sound.
“...Catra, that’s dark as fuck.”
“Or setting the meeting table on fire,” the bed shifts with Catra’s horizontal shrug, “I’m not picky.”
“Darla has extensive fuel reserves. They’re very flammable.”
“And you know how the big table in room 23-A has, like, all those little grooves in it…”
“Catra, you can’t commit arson at an intergalactic summit.”
“Oh, like you’ve never thought of it.”
“I haven’t!” Glimmer shouts, then, after a moment, “...Shelldon’s hat.”
“I think about Shelldon’s hat. The stupid one with the little silver twirly bits?”
“And just...blasting it off his head.”
Catra laughs, which spurs Glimmer on, “or...or...you know when Empress Cometina starts droning?”
“Do I ever.” Catra says around a snort.
“I think about just...teleporting her out the window.”
“Like...right outside the window? On the 34th floor?”
“Exactly! And she’d just...hang there for a second, and then she would be gone and we could have an actual conversation.”
“She probably wouldn’t even notice!”
Glimmer can’t stop laughing, “No! No, she wouldn’t! She’d be falling and falling and still talking about last decade’s total thulite yield.”
They’re both laughing now, and as she gets a hold of herself Glimmer rolls onto her side, propping up on her elbow (and sending at least two more files into disarray, but that’s very much a problem for future-Glimmer and -Catra). Catra’s sprawled on her back, arm over her face to muffle giggles and tail whipping with a sort of lazy enthusiasm, and Glimmer has a strange moment where the sight is laid over a memory of another woman, same-and-distinct, with longer hair and meaner eyes. The woman who pulled the switch that killed her mother.
It’s not that simple, she knows. That’s not what the switch was designed to do - not that it was meant for anything better - and her mother isn’t exactly dead, though one fraught late-night conversation with Entrapta had made it very clear that when the portal’s particular reality disappeared into nothingness, so too did Queen Angella. Not suffering, but not retrievable, either. Gone.
She wonders - because she wonders, sometimes, about this - what her mother would think of this. About Glimmer laughingly recounting frustrated daydreams on an alien bed with this particular enemy. She thinks about the Battle of Bright Moon, about robots in the Whispering Woods, about the conquering of Salineas.
She thinks of Catra’s desperate determination under the lights of Horde Prime’s transporter room and of Catra’s foot kicking her ankle under the table this morning, stopping Glimmer from shouting down Minister Moray. About how this woman who had removed superiors one-by-one out of hatred and vitriol and anger until she sat at the head of an evil near-empire could use that same mix of calculated intimidation and vicious planning to command an entire room and then— and then, with a touch of Glimmer’s hand at her wrist, sit back in her chair all cool and collected to tell the assembled delegates of a peaceful coalition that she “will defer to Her Majesty, Queen Glimmer, on that point.”
Glimmer thinks of power and trust and respect, earned and offered. She thinks about Bow squealing over cat-eared hats and Adora not just agreeing to but insisting on a day off for a date and Catra’s awestruck-amazed expression days ago when Adora had loomed over High Lady of the Eridanian Court Geoda and then again today at a piece of broken tech, so clear before she papered it over with her particular brand of smug bravado. She thinks about the words ‘take care of each other’ uttered on a final breath and she thinks, wildly and with a sharp edge of sadness, that her mother might even approve.
“Hey,” she says, “about Adora—“
She’s interrupted by a knock at the door. Glimmer and Catra sit up in concert, share a surprised glance. A moment later, they’re both on their feet, Catra silently pulling a blanket off the room’s armchair to throw over scattered folders while Glimmer smooths her clothes and straightens her tiara. Melog slinks over to the window, eyes sharp on the door and posture deceptively relaxed. Another look exchanged - Catra is sitting in the armchair, now, the only file in sight casually open in her lap. She gives Glimmer a once-over, tapping her neck; Glimmer fixes where her own collar is folded under and Catra gives a thumbs up. Glimmer opens the door.
Standing behind it is High Monarch of the Eridanian Court and Chair of the Northern Intergalactic Planetary Coalition Rockspina, straight-backed and serene. If she is surprised to see Glimmer there, she does not show it.
“Your majesty,” High Monarch Rockspina says with an incline of her head.
Glimmer tries to squash a frisson of envy at Rockspina’s unflappable grace, tries to match it with her own acknowledgement-and-nod. She feels, uncomfortably, that she may not have succeeded.
“Apologies if I’ve interrupted,” Rockspina says, “but— Catra, might I speak with you a moment?”
“The absolute nerve of her! It’s rude is what it is, how dare she think she can just waltz in here and— and—“
Glimmer angry, Adora reflects, has always been a force of nature. She’s a hurricane Adora knows well, punctuated by whirling glitter and waving arms and short, wordless screams of frustration, though Adora doesn’t know what they’re being aimed at this time. Bow eases the door closed behind them, looking perplexed and concerned, and passes Adora the plate of odd rainbow muffin-fruits (“muffruits?” “Eh.”) they’d found at lunch. He tracks his girlfriend’s pacing for an appropriate opening, and Adora catches sight of Catra, folded up tight on the windowsill. She begins edging cautiously around the wall of the room to her.
“...what it is is disrespectful, and I won’t stand for it - you hear - I will not! It’s unacceptable to think that right here, under my very nose— ”
Adora is, for the billionth time, grateful for Bow. Leaving him to attempt to commune with a stomping Glimmer, Adora silently holds the plate out sideways to Catra in a loose offer.
“—right outside my rooms after we have deigned to consider joining her Coalition! She even for a second— ”
“Um, Glimmer, what’s happening? Was there an, uh. Incident?” Bow takes a tentative step towards his girlfriend, only for her to launch into another circuit of the room.
Adora doesn’t even realize she’s expecting anything in particular from Catra until it doesn’t come. No half-smile or little “Sparkles, am-I-right?” eyeroll or...anything, really. Catra just stares blankly into nothing, chin on her knees, and it isn’t until Adora shakes the muffin-fruit plate a little in front of her that she, unblinking, sort of mindlessly takes a blue one.
“—thinks that it could possibly be even a little okay to act all polite when really she was looking to—”
“Glimmer? Glimmer, we’re confused.”
Catra’s staring at the muffin, now, with the same vacancy, and Adora...Adora’s worried.
“—fucking...fucking...fucking poaching is what it is! After that all her talk about friendship and alliances and—”
“Glimmer! What. Happened.”
Glimmer spins around to face Bow, and Adora looks up to find her stopped - still a sparkling whirlwind, barely held in place, “Happened!? I’ll tell you what happened! What happened is—”
“I got offered a job.”
All three of them - Adora and Bow with surprise, Glimmer catching her breath - turn to look at Catra. She’s still staring at the muffin-fruit blank-eyed, and Adora would reach out to touch her if she wasn’t so stuck on processing her words. Because...what?
“...what?” Adora says.
“Rockspina offered me a job.” Catra replies, soft and matter-of-fact and a little too composed. “Working for the Coalition.”
A quiet moment, before Adora asks, “Can she...do that?”
Glimmer throws her hands up in the air, “No she cannot!”
Catra chews her lip a little. “I think, actually, she can? She pointed out that I am, uh,” she scratches her neck sheepishly, “technically unemployed? Like, I’m not formally affiliated. Anywhere.”
Adora can feel Glimmer brewing another storm beside her, but Catra keeps talking, voice slow and eyes fixated on her fingers where they start to pick at the muffin-fruit’s wrapper. “It’s...she says she noticed at the meeting. What I was, uh, doing. And she...she thought it was good?” Catra’s eyebrows furrow at the muffin-fruit as if it might have answers to questions she isn’t even articulating, “She says...she says I’d be good at it, you know, the way this place is put together. The people bit.”
Catra stands up, and now she’s the one pacing, Melog agitated beside her. She replaces Glimmer’s turbulent fury with a controlled tenseness that Adora finds, if anything, even more concerning. She continues: “And, like, I’m not a people person, right? I don’t...I don’t do the thing where...where people like me. I scare people, and, and sure they do what I want, but I don’t— I can’t—”
Glimmer is staring with a horrified expression and Bow keeps fidgeting and Adora can relate, because watching Catra - Catra who closes like an iron door half the time it’s even implied she has feelings, Catra who notices everything - speaking so freely, as if she’s unaware of anyone else in the room...it’s weird. Uncomfortable. Adora considers stopping her, considers being as quiet as possible so Catra can let it out. It bothers her that she isn’t sure which would be better.
“And she said...she said she thinks I can, though, because she saw the— I mean— the way people— and she said I’m organized, and I know I’m organized, I have to be, I ran a war, but I never thought that could— I could use that— to— I mean— for this—”
Catra growls at her own failure to get a sentence out, and Adora has a detached sort of knowledge that a pit has opened somewhere in the vicinity of her gut.
“And it’s like…” Catra takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, although when she opens them she still doesn’t look at anyone, just absently at the muffin-fruit still in her hands. Her calmness should calm Adora, but instead she feels her own pulse speeding up, “it’s like, sure, I know how to manipulate people, right? I’m not good at being nice but I can, like, do it sometimes when I need to and distract them and freak them out and stuff. But that’s...that’s not good. But it can be, maybe?”
Catra sounds far away, but that might be because Adora’s blood is rushing loud in her ears. Catra keeps on talking, voice building with something adjacent to but more frantic than excitement, “And, like, I know I say I hate these meetings, and I do, but there is something…thrilling, maybe? Fun? When it all comes together and—” no, it’s excitement, the frantic thing is the one that’s building in that pit in Adora’s gut, “Oh, and Gia told her what I said about—”
“—Oh, so this is about Gia?”
There is a moment of absolute and utter silence. Bow and Glimmer stare at her. Catra gapes. Adora has to come quickly to terms with the fact that those words had, in fact, come from her own mouth. She finds, wildly and uncontrollably, that she does not want to take them back.
Not that she’d have time to. Because suddenly Catra’s shock becomes a glare, a hard and complete shift from thoughtful to irritated, “No, Adora. This is about what Rockspina said about—”
Adora barely even hears her, because “like, first you’re all cozy with High Lady - oh, wait, sorry, we’re calling her Gia now - and then her mother just happens to offer you a job—”
“Of course I’m calling her Gia, that’s her name!” Catra’s mismatched gaze narrows and her voice is a snarl when she adds, “And that’s not what happened, Rockspina thinks I can—”
“Thinks you can what?” It is suddenly imperative that Catra understand how stupid this whole idea is - Adora can hear herself edging into a shout, “Organize folders for her?”
Catra’s ears pin back to her head, voice rising to match Adora - she’s always, always rising to match Adora, sharp and volatile and gorgeous and infuriating, “Look, just because some of us can do something other than hit things with a glowy sword?”
Glimmer starts forward, “Catra—“ but Adora’s voice is louder, faster.
“More?! You think I don’t do enough!?”
“That’s not what I said!”
They’re full-on shouting now. Bow pushes between them, holding out his hands and saying, “Guys, guys! This is not productive, you need to—“
Catra adds, “You’re just in a stupid jealous snit about—” and shoves past Bow.
She doesn’t shove him hard, not really, but it must be Bow’s slight stumble that fills the pit in Adora’s gut with sickly green fury (it certainly couldn’t be Catra’s words), “Jealous? Jealous? I’m not jealous, you’re the one swooning over some stupid administrative job and a stupid girl with stupid hair—”
“It’s not stupid! It’s not stupid, it’s a fucking intergalactic coalition! This is the biggest thing we’ve ever been a part of!” Catra’s right in her face, now, claws out and eyes narrow and Melog beside her so red and spiky and big and growling that for a moment Adora wonders if the creature is going to attack her (Melog never attacks her, never, no matter what), and that’s almost enough to stop her except no, no it’s not, because—
“Really? Really? Bigger than saving the universe? ”
“It’s different, Adora! It’s— it’s—”
Adora feels a shot of vicious triumph as Catra struggles to finish her sentence, pushes her argument home with, “Who cares, Catra, it’s not like you would ever actually do it!”
“And who says I wouldn’t!? ” Catra shouts, chest heaving, breath panting in the resulting silence.
And Adora. Adora stares, mouth working. And her pulse is in her ears and that pit in her gut turns out to be an open wound and she breathes in a quick gasp and Catra is storming past her towards the door.
“Fuck you, Adora,” she says, shoving the muffin-fruit into Adora’s chest hard enough for it to burst. Adora feels it and smells it, sticky on her shirt and in her hand where she’s clutched it reflexively.
And then Catra is gone.
There are three women coming towards them, and Bow is dreading them.
She-Ra hasn’t noticed, preoccupied as she is with angrily slamming hors d'oeuvres onto her plate and muttering sourly about how the table is unreasonably low, but Bow’s well attuned to this particular brand of giggles-and-whispers. He leans over, wondering if preemptive damage control is even possible right now, to hiss “Adora, get it together. She-Ra fans incoming.”
“I’m fine,” She-Ra snaps.
All Bow has time for is a skeptical “uh-huh” before the trio make it to them. The leader of the teal-skinned aliens is a cheery woman who Bow recognizes as a ministry official from somewhere-or-other (Glimmer would know), but she seems to have dropped any pretense of professionalism in her enthusiasm. All three girls have stars in their eyes; Bow tracks the leader’s hand as it reaches up to tap She-Ra on the shoulder and watches She-Ra turn, plastering on approximation of a smile.
It’s not great.
“Hi, She-Ra?” suddenly the girls were shy, “Hi, um, we just,” (a blush), “you’re amazing” (piped up from the back), “we were wondering if you, um…”
Bow has watched his best friend defeat robots, armies, and clones in this form. He has seen her somersault through the vacuum of space, using her sword as an energy conduit to slice spaceships in half, barely breaking a sweat. He cannot for the life of him believe those moments actually happened here in this hall as he watches her respond with blatant artificiality, “Hi! Yes! I’m She-Ra! That’s me! Everything is great!”
The girls look at each other, eagerness slightly dimmed.
Bow wonders if he’s met enough aliens yet to confirm for sure that Adora is indeed the worst liar in the universe. He prays for strength.
As he watches the painful process of the girls getting out their bashful words and She-Ra, stilted, leaning down so they can touch her tiara, Bow spends a moment imagining a different version of this evening.
He imagines She-Ra as her usual self at a party, on a good day - a strange and familiar blend of self-effacing and cocky, a little startled every time she’s swarmed with fans but always won over by their energy and interest and inevitable request to watch her pick up the heaviest thing in the room. Which, of course, she’d do, cheerful and proud - or maybe it would be arm wrestling again, this time, or someone would challenge her to try one of every hors d'oeuvres as fast as she can, or she’d challenge them. And she’d be glowing and gleeful and joyous and Bow would watch first the teal-skinned girls and then person after person after person fall to the well-tread path of starstruck awe at She-Ra, towering and golden and strong, and then starstruck awe all over again at Adora inside her, determined and genuine and even stronger.
And that’s when Glimmer and Catra’s meeting would break, and they’d come in, tired but - hopefully, and this is Bow’s daydream, so he decides - satisfied. Bow loves Glimmer all the time, but there’s something particularly compelling to her when she’s on the high of a success. She’d find Bow immediately and latch herself onto his arm, launching into a theatrical play-by-play of whatever triumph of negotiation she’d managed today, full of names and people and places he would absolutely not be able to keep up with. And she’d introduce him to them, too, pulling together her own hard-won combination of dignity and stubbornness and sincerity to impress planetary representatives from across the known universe, and Bow would get the familiar pleasure of being so, so, so proud of her.
Meanwhile, Catra would slink in with Melog at her side, pretending she wanted to fade into the background and then doing anything but. She’d find her way to She-Ra - because she always, always did - and heckle whatever competition the Princess of Power had found her way into, taking bets on winners and never, ever betting on her girlfriend, because the only thing that Catra likes more than winning is riling Adora up. She’d end up at the bar, probably, or a back table, surrounded by a haphazard cluster of attendees with no single defining characteristic, just whoever likes the way she smiles with teeth and makes jokes sharp enough to be exciting but not, these days, to cut. Bow would catch her distracted, sometimes, the way he always did at parties - looking over at She-Ra with a dazed wonder, looking at She-Ra’s many fans with an expression that would be proprietary if it wasn’t just so happy.
Bow himself would be - well, he isn’t sure. He does a little of everything at these, but at this one he thinks maybe he’d find his way to acquaintances of the Northern Intergalactic Makers’ Community, maybe the one who made high-tech throwing stars. They’d compare notes - he’d get to show off his new two-in-one arrow/pen and they’d spend half the night figuring out new ideas. And then they’d maybe find a deserted part of the garden outside and work on ways to combine the weapons, and when the rest of the Makers’ community got bored they’d grab plates and come out to the garden, too, and give tips on the demonstrations.
And eventually Glimmer would come find him and drag him back inside to join Adora and Catra on the dance floor, and he would let her dazzle him the way she always did while Adora and Catra failed miserably at Diplomatic Propriety because no one could look at them holding each other and not see how hard it is for them to ever let go. And they’d leave separately or together, but either way the night would end with the four of them sprawled about Glimmer’s room or maybe clustered on the floor of Adora’s, a pile of tired limbs and happy laughter.
But none of that is going to happen tonight, Bow knows. Instead, the teal-skinned girls thank She-Ra awkwardly and move away, and Bow watches as his friend deflates, Adora’s anger and upset spilling over into the tensest version of She-Ra Bow has seen yet.
It’s both love for his friend and longing for a happier night that has Bow asking bluntly, “have you tried to talk to her?”
She-Ra’s response comes faster than anything she’s said since they arrived, almost like she was waiting for the question, “Yes! Of course I have!”
“...and how’d it go?”
She-Ra growls her frustration, “She can turn invisible, Bow! I couldn’t find her.”
“Ah. Yeah, that would be a problem. Maybe you should—”
“Not that I could possibly expect her to show herself for me, ” She-Ra says, and oh, wow, yeah, apparently she was just waiting to get into this, “I’m not a big enough thing for her to spend her precious time on.”
Bow watches all seven feet of agitated She-Ra with caution, eyes the ceramic plate in her tightening hand, “Uh, Adora? Maybe we should, uh, talk about this later.”
“Of course, the real question is, if I can’t find her, where exactly is she?” She-Ra’s hand tightens and a hairline crack cuts into the edge of the plate. Bow plucks the it out of her hand nervously and regrets starting this conversation. “And, you know, I have a few guesses—”
“Adora,” Bow says seriously. If it was Adora he’d be grabbing her shoulders, but with She-Ra he has to settle on the sides of her arms, “you need to calm down. This is not the place.”
“I’m calm!” She-Ra hisses.
“You are really not.”
“Well maybe that’s because—”
“Look, look, Adora,” Bow starts, placating, eyes darting around the room to see if anyone has noticed their disturbed state, “We can talk about this later. We’ll find Catra, and you can tell her how you’re feeling—”
“I tell her how I’m feeling? She said she’s leaving, Bow! This is beyond a talk about your feelings thing!”
“Okay, so that’s not exactly what she said…”
“Yes! Yes it is!”
“She didn’t mean it.”
“But what if she did!?”
And Bow’s stomach drops, because suddenly, for half a second, his hands are on Adora’s shoulders and he’s looking into Adora’s eyes and her jacket is red and she looks so, so scared. It’s so fast, blink-and-you-miss-it; he almost thinks he imagined it, because She-Ra is standing in front of him again, her gold light steady if maybe a little dimmed.
Except: he didn’t imagine it.
He catches sight of more giggles-and-whispers moving towards them, and makes an executive call.
“Okay, this isn’t working,” he says, pulling She-Ra behind a pillar. Not the best cover, but it’ll do. “Look, we need to talk about this, but right now you— you need to calm down.”
“I am calm.” She-Ra says again, but it’s more uncertain this time. Sometimes, Bow reminds himself as he braces, you have to be firm with your friends. And honest.
“No, you’re not. You’re angry and you’re upset and you’re jumping to irrational conclusions and we are at a party, so you need to calm down before there is an incident.”
She-Ra looks mutinous, and Bow tries to decide which of his friends would be best equipped to handle this, because he - talk-about-your-feelings guy extraordinaire - is maybe out of his depth. He settles on Perfuma.
“Adora, close your eyes.”
“Adora,” Bow says, gritting his teeth, “you are not okay and you are losing She-Ra. So for fuck’s sake, close your eyes. ”
The curse word falls off his tongue awkwardly, but it does the trick. She-Ra stares down at him, eyes shocked and wide. Then she closes them.
Bow takes a deep breath.
“We just. Are going. To take. A moment,” he hisses, trying to build a bubble of calm the way Perfuma does, but worried he’s only managing a box of frustration, “Now. Take a deep breath in."
“Now. Let your mind. Wander.” He tries to make his voice gentle and soft, tries to let go of his own halting frustration. What did Perfuma usually say? Focus on sounds? “Listen. To the sound of the conversation. The murmur of voices. Just...let it wash over you.”
Seeing She-Ra appear to follow instructions, Bow closes his own eyes, tries to take his own advice. And, he finds after a moment, it does help.
“...I told you, the delegate from Sideria...”
“...try the canapés?”
“...no subtlety at all!”
The sounds of a party in full swing flow over him not individually, but as a wave.
“...and then it got in my hair and it was awful!”
“Who needs subtlety? She’s hot. Mom really thinks she’ll take the job, too.”
Bow feels his breathing even out, and he keeps up a steady murmur of “breathe out...breathe in…” as his ears idly and mindlessly drift.
“The purple ones are really good, but the yellow ones leave the ickiest aftertaste.”
He picks up little bits of chatter, things close to their hiding spot.
“Isn’t she with She-Ra though? I heard a rumor...”
“...your hair looks just fine now...”
“Pfft. No way. Trust me, we’d know.”
“You sure about that?”
“Oh yeah. If my girlfriend looked like Catra, I’d never take my hands off her. Hey! Maybe once she joins the coalition staff…”
Bow’s eyes snap open as the words click, followed by panic and the iron-clad knowledge that mid-event meditation was his absolute worst idea ever because She-Ra - She-Ra is not in front of him anymore. Bow skids out from behind the column, searching in the direction of the voices just in time to see She-Ra, in full Princess of Power glory, finish marching up behind a High Lady of the Eridanian Court.
Just in time to see She-Ra put her golden, glowing hand on Geoda’s shoulder.
Just in time to see She-Ra pull her other arm back.
Just in time to shout “Adora, NO— ”
Catra sits down next to her, leaving a few inches of space, back to the wall and legs flopped out in front. “We,” she says with a put-upon sigh and the air of one intoning her own doom, “are going to talk about feelings.”
She probably makes a face. Adora says nothing and does not raise her head from where it’s buried in her knees, so she doesn’t see it. She doesn’t want to talk about her feelings. She’s not the talk-about-it guy, she’s the punch-your-feelings-out guy. But then, she supposes that’s exactly what got her into this mess. This intergalactic diplomatic incident-level mess.
“Adora, you’re gonna have to give me something here.”
Mumbled, without moving: “I thought you were gonna talk about feelings.”
Another sigh, “No, I’m gonna make you talk about your feelings.”
“I don’t want to.”
This time a groan, drawn-out and long-suffering, and a thump as Catra’s head tilts back against the wall. Silence, for a few moments, and then shuffling as Catra scoots closer to her, squirms an arm around Adora’s back and uses it to tip her still-curled body into Catra’s shoulder. Adora doesn’t unfold, exactly, knees still pulled up tight, but she does let her forehead press into Catra’s neck. It’s fine, just as long as she doesn’t have to look at her.
They sit like that for a little, breath-against-breath, and Adora almost thinks that she might be able to skip this whole thing, fall asleep here breathing Catra in and wake up with the problem gone entirely. But then she can’t, because Catra pets her head a little and says, “you know I’m not gonna take the job, right?”
“Yeah,” Adora mumbles into her neck.
“Like, it’s not even a shred of a possibility.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Like, Sparkles’ annoying aunt is more likely to announce plans to destroy the universe in Prime’s memory than I am to ever, ever leave you. Any of you. It’s just nice to…”
“Yeah, Catra, I know.”
“I know, Adora.”
“Like, I think you’re really great.”
“Adora, you refused death itself just because I asked you to. I’m pretty sure I know.”
Another beat. Adora curls tighter, burrows a little further into Catra, thinks that maybe they can be done now.
“That’s not what’s bothering you.” Or not.
“So this is about punching Gia.”
Adora knows her silence is answer enough.
Catra huffs. “Look, if I had a meltdown every time I hit a princess—“
“High Lady of the Eridanian Court.”
“And it’s not— it’s— you don’t—“ Adora struggles with the thought. Catra waits, and Adora both loves and hates her for her selective patience, “you don’t do what I did. Not like— not because— you just don’t.”
“What, lose all reason and beat people up because they like my girlfriend too much?”
And there it is. Adora feels tears prick the back of eyelids as she says, so quiet she knows it’s barely audible, “yeah. Yeah, you don’t do that.”
She stops there, because Catra is shaking underneath her. For a moment she thinks something’s wrong, before she realizes Catra is laughing, chest heaving so hard she can’t even get the sound out.
“Oh no,” Catra says, breath not quite caught, gesticulating with the hand not occupied in Adora’s hair, “you’re right. I handle jealousy really well. I only blew up a fancy dress ball and kidnapped everyone I thought you might like more than me—”
“—infected you with an evil tech virus I thought would control you—”
“—I don’t mean--”
“—tied you up and stole your sword—“
“—nearly destroyed reality, tried to stop you from fixing reality—”
“—Catra, it wasn’t—”
“—very nearly took over the world—”
Adora’s entirely uncurled, now, and she’s giggling, lifting her head and hitting Catra on the shoulder with no force at all and tamping down on the awestruck realization that apparently this is something they can laugh about now. That’s new. It’s...good. “Stop! Stop, okay, okay. I get it.”
She wipes away her leaking eyes - tears of mirth, mostly - and settles more comfortably into Catra’s side, before she says, “You’re oversimplifying. A lot.”
Catra hums and looks down, her smile genuine but edged with - not bitterness, exactly, but regret. Adora privately amends her previous thought - it’s still fraught, a little, but maybe that’s okay too. The laughter’s there, but the weight is too, and she thinks that is maybe the best version of itself.
“Point is,” Catra says, “I have a bit more practice than you with being a jealous asshole. Once I got over punching the whole world in the face because you sometimes loved it more than me, it got pretty easy to stop myself from hitting all the random people in love with you. And anyway, at least with them I know you definitely like me better.”
“...All the—?” Adora asks, confused, “—what?”
Catra freezes, eyes going wide. “Oh. Oh, come on, you gotta know. Please tell me you know. Everyone is in love with you.”
“They are not—”
“Yes! Yes they are! Every time you turn into She-Ra the whole room has to recover! More people blush around you than I’ve ever seen blush in the rest of my life combined! Why are you looking at me like that!?”
Catra’s voice is high and flustered and a little frantic, and Adora knows her own face is dazed with surprise. Because. Because. Because: “You like it,” Adora says, slow with realization, sitting back to look Catra full in the face, “you like it when people like me,” she says, face budding into a grin.
Adora’s glee must somehow have stolen Catra’s cool, because it is gone. “No. No! Why would I like that? No! And we’re— we’re not talking about me! You punched an alien! There’s an incident! You punched the Lord Princess of Eridani or whatever because she likes me and now you’re trying to change the subject because—”
Adora sits up on her knees, practically bouncing as she lights with further realization. “You like that too, don’t you? That’s why you’ve been so—” she practically crows. Catra, bright red now, opens her mouth, but Adora cuts her off, “Oh no, don’t even try to deny it, I know that look. That’s the ‘where’s Melog I want to disappear now’ look and that means I’m right.”
“You are not right!” Catra half-shouts, “that’s it, I’m taking the job!” she moves to get up, but Adora, laughing, pulls her back down into a tangle of limbs. She doesn’t let go; but then, Catra doesn’t put up much resistance.
They’re still there, later, when Bow and Glimmer find them. The pair look tired but not panicked, so Adora figures the whole intergalactic diplomatic incident has probably been smoothed over.
“Okay,” Bow says, sliding down the wall to sit by Catra with a groan, “motion to ban Adora from diplomatic missions.”
“Hey! You need me!” Adora pushes her hand past Catra and into Bow’s shoulder.
Catra throws him a grin, “she’s right, you know.”
“No, no, I second Bow.” Glimmer says from where she’s now collapsed next to Adora, “he’s right. We’ll do it without She-Ra.”
Adora shoves an elbow into Glimmer’s side in retribution, “Ha! Good luck with that! Where do you expect to get the glowy gold magic, then, huh?”
Glimmer pushes Adora’s elbow away, leaning over to look at Catra, “Any chance that’s contagious? Think you could—” she tenses, cuts off, sobers, starts over, “Catra, I don’t think— Rockspina, she wouldn’t— I mean, you can still—”
A snort. “Chill out, Sparkles. She’s not my style.” Catra shifts a bit, makes a face, and Adora recognizes the stop-and-start dance of Catra fighting the urge not to show her hand. Then she adds, attempting and failing at wry nonchalance, “not enough...spark.”
Glimmer goes boneless against the wall, a sigh gusting out, while Catra looks studiously away. Adora suppresses a smile, and Bow - because he’s Bow and he’s wonderful - changes the subject.
“Uh...Glimmer,” he says, almost cautious, “...were you about to suggest...Catra as our nonviolent option?”
For a moment, all four of them blink. Then, all at once, they start to laugh. And laugh, and laugh, gasping breaths surrounding Bow’s weak “we’re doomed!”
Adora jostles Glimmer again around a giggle, “oh, come on, you know Catra’s way more likely to start a fight!”
“Hey!” Catra gasps, followed by, “...fair.”
Bow catches his breath, kicks at Adora, “Evidence to the contrary, your highness: the diplomat—“
“ Diplomat’s daughter.”
“—you hit today. Honestly, did we already forget this?”
Adora flushes, Glimmer grumbles “not likely” into her hand, and Catra chuckles a bit too smugly for Adora’s taste. Which is probably why she uses a hand braced on Catra’s knee to lean over to Bow and say in the cockiest of stage whispers, “Catra likes it.”
Catra’s laugh peters into a splutter, “I said, I do not!”
Adora grins, “Yeah, you do.”
Catra starts to snarl, but Glimmer just pokes her in the side, wrinkling her nose, “Yeah, you do.”
Bow rolls his eyes, exasperated, “Oh, and just because Catra likes it it’s worth causing an intergalactic diplomatic incident?”
Adora groans, petulant as she says, “No, I guess it’s not.”
And she means it, she does. She’ll even apologize to Gia, she knows, and she’ll mean that too. But between Bow’s dramatic sigh and Glimmer’s affectionate shove and the way Catra’s affronted glare melts into a laugh, high and beautiful and happy, Adora thinks: except, sometimes, maybe, it is.
Royal Counselor Catra of Bright Moon and the Etherian Princess Alliance (“fuck you, Rockspina, fucking— Catra, you’re my counselor now— try to poach my friends for fuck’s sake—" “She’s not even here, Sparkles.” “I fucking know that, Catra!” “Counselor Catra.” “I hate you.”) is having a bad day.
It’s more like a bad week, really, but this day is particularly rough. Usually Catra likes solo missions - not too often, because she does enjoy her friends (and isn’t that still a trip to think), but there’s something to be said for the odd quiet one with just her, Melog, and a new crowd to figure out how to play. Catra likes, she’s finding, the work of maneuvering with a team who supports her, both when she’s with them and when they trust her not to be.
Aquarii is normal, in most respects. Well, odd, but the normal brand of odd, once you’ve gotten used to the variances of alien planets: new food (seaweed? In like, everything?), new locations (a whole city, trapped in a bubble below a planet-wide sea), new people (teal-skinned, web-handed, polite). Even the beds on Aquarii are strange, swishing about with any amount of weight, tetherless, like the rocking of a boat on peaceful waves.
Catra hates it. So much. What possessed her to accept an underwater solo assignment - an underwater assignment at all - she does not know.
(Yes, she does. Glimmer had dared her. Or, more accurately, pointed out that Catra hates water and suggested ruling her out offhand. Which simply could not stand. Catra’s done a lot of self-destructive things, she thinks, but this one might just beat them all. She is filled with regret. Sparkles can never know.)
It’s the beds that get to her the most, actually. Her sleep’s been disjointed and light, and, in turn, her dreams disjointed and dark.
And so, the bad day begins the way bad days do: with a nightmare.
She’s usually fine, when this happens. Catra has no shortage of nightmares, and she’s mostly adept at handling them. Sometimes she dreams of standing above Entrapta’s crumpled body, taser in hand and Scorpia looking at her in wide-eyed shock; when she wakes, she tugs the folder on Bright Moon over from her side table, thumbs past the logistics and meeting notes and reminders-to-self to slide out a picture of the three of them just a month ago, smiling over miniature cups of hot chocolate. Sometimes she dreams of the Horde control room, trashed, her own claw-marks on every chair and machine and wall and Adora is gone and Shadow Weaver is gone and Scorpia is gone and everything is under control except it’s not it’s not it’s not; when she wakes, she breathes like Perfuma taught her: in-hold-out-hold-in. Sometimes she dreams of liquid green and screaming as both her body and mind drown into something else, something other, something capable of horrifying serenity; when she wakes, she pushes one hand into the scar at the back of her neck and the other into Melog’s mane, lets the play of her own emotions across the creature’s ever-shifting form remind her that they’re real and hers. Then, always, she goes back to sleep. She moves forward.
Except, sometimes there are nightmares against which she has no defense. This is one of those.
In the worst of Catra’s dreams, she’s back in the stark white corridor of Horde Prime’s ship, in a moment between moments, between actions. All she has in this place is knowledge, habitually gathered: the mechanism for a cell door, operations on a transporter, coordinates in a certain quadrant. And then, a plan: clear, simple, concise. And then, the gut-wrenching truth: it would work. Because the plan isn’t to rescue Sparkles, not exactly. The plan is to empty this ship - this trap - of anything (anyone) that might give Adora a reason to step into it. Anything that matters. And that? That, Catra could do.
I didn’t make you do anything, says a voice in the worst of her dreams, and the voice is Adora’s, you made your choice. And it means: you made your choice, and you’ve chosen to be someone not even Adora would come for, not anymore. And: that’s going to save her, and the world besides. And: but you? There’s nothing worthwhile left to save.
Usually, when she wakes from these - and they’ve been happening less, they have, really - the one thing Catra can do is roll over, touch Adora. Maybe wake up Adora, just to see her sleepy, warm look - maybe confused, or worried, or exasperated, or even annoyed, but real and present and here. Remind herself that Adora did come for her, that Adora loves her, that Adora wants her, in big, sweeping, magic-waking, world-saving ways and also here in bed even though Catra just woke her up at three in the morning for no reason at all (that she’s willing to give).
Catra could call her, she knows. But that’s a little different, isn’t it? They always try to sync ship time to their destination, so it’ll be nighttime for Adora, too - and Adora’s been on the restoring-magic beat for weeks and Catra knows she’s exhausted and knows she has to get up early . And it’s not that Adora wouldn’t pick up if she’s too tired. She would. Because that’s Adora: she’d pick up any call, forgo any sleep, drop whatever she’s doing, save any world, run herself ragged when someone needs her. It’s just, Catra doesn’t want her to have to. And anyway, Adora’s getting up early to come here. It’ll be less than a day before Catra sees her.
Catra doesn’t call.
She doesn’t go back to sleep, either.
So she’s tired and cranky when Melog wakes for the day and expresses concern, and she’s tired and cranky at the Aquariian Citadel’s breakfast bar, and she’s tired and very cranky when Ondine ignores her scowl and joins her at the table she’d claimed all for herself even though there are ten other tables in the room and half of them are empty.
Because that’s the other thing. Ondine.
Ondine is one of the more sympathetic Aquariian ministers; young for the role, intelligent, and very sweet. She’s tall, maybe as tall as Scorpia; her skin’s a bit bluer than it is green, her eyes a sparkling emerald, and in her piled coral-colored hair she likes to wear silver pins to match the silver sword that hangs at her belt, both a functional weapon and a symbol of her status as the newly-appointed Aquariian Ministry Liaison for Magic Restoration. She’s sharp in meetings and in the training room, a bit chatty and not the best with social cues, maybe, but quick to catch onto concepts and valuable in her feedback. She’s gregarious, optimistic, and has done everything she possibly can to make Catra feel at home, including either consciously ignoring or simply missing how off-put Catra is by everything Aquariian. She likes books and seashells and specialized weaponry. She’s a good person and a valuable ally.
Catra knows that Ondine can breathe in water. Catra still kind of wants to watch her drown.
“Oh my seastars, Catra, She-Ra is coming today!”
Unrelated: Ondine loves She-Ra.
“Do you think she’ll talk to me? Do you think she’ll like me? You know, I met her once - she let me touch her tiara at the Northern Intergalactic Summit and she seemed a little off, but then, you know, that was before that whole thing that nobody talks about but apparently she was sick? Which must have been awful for her and hopefully she’s not today because even if she wasn’t feeling well she was still really cool and super nice and I just can’t wait to meet her for real this time!”
Catra grunts into her coffee.
“Oh sorry, sorry, you must be so sick of hearing me talk about it because I guess it wouldn’t be so exciting to you - you get to see her all the time I’m sure!” A wistful sigh, an enthusiastic gasp, “Oh seastars, I’ve never asked! Do you know her!? I mean, I’m sure you know her how can the Royal Counselor not know her but I mean, like, are you friends?” A lean forward, beseeching, “could you put in a word for me?”
Catra usually loves this, she knows. Positively basks in all of it: the selfish pleasure of having what everyone wants, the satisfaction of knowing what others don’t, the blooming pride as everyone wonders at Adora (because she deserves, Catra knows with fierce certainty, to be wondered at). But today she’s tired and cranky and just wants to finish her stupid seaweed-muffin and seaweed-flavored coffee in peace and, instead, wonders if Aquariians have any kind of vulnerability to fire. She thinks she’d like to find out.
“From a professional standpoint,” she says, cold; beside her, Melog snaps their jaws, redder and spikier than usual, “I’d prefer not to answer that.”
“Oh, right. Of course. I don’t imagine the whole Etherian court knows her - she must be...very busy.” Catra grinds her teeth, even as she knows the misunderstanding is her own damn fault. Ondine, sweetly oblivious, carries on, “I’ll just have to introduce myself! I can do that! She just seems so nice— oh! Oh, I wonder if I can get the First Minister to let me greet her? That would be so cool.” She turns frantically in her seat, trying to find the First Minister. Catra slumps further into hers, trying to stop existing for a bit.
She could probably tell Ondine, honestly. About her and Adora. Sure, they’ll uphold Diplomatic Propriety when she arrives, but that never lasts for long with established allies. And Ondine, Catra knows by now, is trustworthy. Actually, Catra could say, I’m pretty close to her. Or, I know She-Ra really well. Or, she saved the universe for me, once. Or, we’re dating. She could watch with pleasure at the shock in Ondine’s eyes, then maybe smile at her - no teeth - and offer an introduction. Reassure her that She-Ra would like her - because Adora would, she knows. Ondine is earnest and warm and good, and Adora values shit like that. Catra does too, on days that aren’t this one. It wouldn’t even be entirely an act of kindness; she could use it to cement Ondine’s allegiance, pull her goodwill to a height that could only be helpful for Etheria. She knows this.
She tells herself that she’s not saying any of those things because she’s tired. Because Ondine would squeal and hug her and ask her question after question after question and she can’t handle it right now. Because Ondine is loud and gregarious and chatty, and once she’s shouting her enthusiasm there’s no way the whole ministry won’t know about Catra’s special relationship with She-Ra. Because that’s not something Catra wants to deal with, not right now, not without any backup but Melog (who’s great, really, but no good at helping her manage a crowd).
She tells herself it’s not because she refuses to share Adora, not any single bit of her, not stories or facts or even the fact that she loves me. That it’s not because even bragging about Adora means letting people look at her, letting people look at the way Catra loves her, and that that is unacceptable. It’s not that, because Catra doesn’t do that anymore. She doesn’t. Really.
Ondine rambles on. Catra doesn’t stop her.
Catra doesn’t stop her in the morning or during their noonday meeting with the rest of the Ministry, though she at least gets a reprieve from the gushing when she turns her attention to the work of winning the final few holdouts onto what Bow likes to call “Team Magic.” That, though, might be even worse - typically Catra revels in the process of it, the way a word here and a comment there can build the room to a fever pitch, a thrum of anticipation that, if it had a voice, would say yes, yes, of course - if She-Ra really is as amazing as you say.
Because She-Ra— no, Adora is exactly as amazing as Catra says. Every time.
But today Catra is tired, and cranky, and impatient, and every word out of her mouth feels like a secret she doesn’t want to give up, a card laid down unwillingly. The result, while technically successful, leaves her sour.
She resolves to take a moment to herself after the meeting, but first it runs long and then they get news that the Etherian party is running early. So Catra, grumbling, lets herself be shuffled along to join a group of Aquariian representatives (conspicuously absent a certain Minister of Agriculture Moray) and, terribly, what seems like the whole city’s worth of onlookers to the Aquariian landing grounds for a shipside introduction to the arriving guests. Featuring, most prominently, She-Ra, Princess of Power.
Catra stands, per protocol, at the front, next to Ondine and High Minister Shelldon in his stupid, stupid hat with the stupid, stupid twirly silver bits. She thinks of Sparkles wanting to blast it off his head; imagines, instead, the methodical satisfaction of yanking the twirls off one-by-one.
Finally, Darla flies down the massive hollow tube that gives spaceships access to the underwater city and lands. Finally, the hatch opens. Glimmer exits with her usual sparkle; Bow more or less bounces down the rampway. Catra does not smile at her friends, but then, that’s not so unusual - it’s not like cheerful is exactly her default. She-Ra exits the ship, stunning from winged boots to hair poof, and the crowd goes loud with murmurs and reverence. Catra feels a thrill and buries it and glowers. Adora’s done nothing wrong, she knows. Catra keeps glowering.
First Minister Shelldon welcomes the Queen and Master Archer, but it seems Ondine has indeed secured the final greeting. Considering her morning enthusiasm, Catra had expected discombobulated chatter. Instead, the woman is poised, practiced-yet-genuine as she steps forward, looks up to She-Ra’s towering form and says, “She-Ra of Etheria, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome you to Aquarii. I’m Minister Ondine, and I’ll be acting both as Liaison for the Magic Restoration Project and as your guide during your stay. I wanted to say on behalf of the people of Aquarii that we are honored to have such a truly legendary presence among us and - personally, I hope it won’t be overstepping to say that I myself think you are wonderful— I mean, the work you do. Is wonderful.” Ondine blushes, and somehow her slip makes the whole speech even more charming. Catra wants to kick her.
She-Ra - Adora - has a moment of that same sheepish, surprised pleasure she always does when someone points out how fantastic she is. (Catra hates it.) (No she doesn’t.) (Except she does.) Upon recovery, she thanks Ondine graciously, then quirks an eyebrow at Catra, as if to say ‘gonna do better than that? ’ Catra crosses her arms, scowling, and She-Ra says, glowing and golden and arch, “And you?”
It’s the kind of flirting they’d usually indulge in, but today Catra sneers upwards. “You’re too tall.”
She-Ra’s face starts to fall, confused, and Catra’s just about ready to take it back when Ondine cuts in gently with “apologies, She-Ra, she can’t mean— I mean— It’s not you— you’re absolutely not—“ And then She-Ra is looking at Ondine again and Catra holds onto her irritability with both hands and glares at them both.
And She-Ra glances back at her with Adora’s always-so-expressive face, confused and then surprised and then - glancing to Ondine again - all at once, so, so amused and Catra is mad. And then She-Ra puts her hands on her hips and looks down at Catra and asks, “Oh, am I?” and Catra is even madder.
“Yes.” Catra replies, clipped. “Can’t have a conversation with you like this.” She’s being an asshole. She knows it. She can’t stop.
She-Ra steps close to Catra and positively basks in their extreme height difference and Catra’s expecting a hard time, but instead She-Ra shrinks, golden glow fading into the more natural gold of Adora’s stupid pretty hair and stupid pretty eyes and stupid pretty face and knowing, cocky little smile. “So, what was it you wanted to say?”
The room explodes with murmurs once again; it’s not every day the Aquariians see magic in action. Bow and Sparkles are probably doing their confused-glancing routine. Ondine gives a little intake of delighted awe. Adora, now at something closer to eye-height and usually so easy to fluster, just keeps smiling like she’s winning. Catra, arms still crossed and so in love and so annoyed, snarls, “Guess.”
It’s a fighting word, a gauntlet thrown, a verbal unsheathing of claws. Catra watches Adora’s eyes flash and there’s that thrill again, and Catra hates it and loves it and feels more alive than she’s felt all day because Adora is looking at her, just her, and even if it’s a battle - maybe because it’s a battle - it’s still them and Adora steps closer and Catra braces for the return blow and—
—and Adora is kissing her. One hand on her jaw and one on her hip, tugging her in and close until all Catra can do is give in, let her hands fly to Adora’s stupid red jacket and clutch tight, hang on for the ride. She gives a fleeting thought to the fact that this is so, so far beyond Diplomatic Propriety, but then Adora’s hand is in her hair and tugs her head just so and— well. She stops thinking at all. And after a moment or maybe a year, Adora pulls back, just a little, smiles with the edge of a smirk, and says, utterly and disarmingly genuine, “missed you.”
The room is silent, but as far as Catra’s concerned, it might as well not exist. She blinks once, twice. Opens her mouth once, twice. On the third try, she gets out, weakly, “good guess.”
There’s a vestige of a desire to stay angry, a familiar resistance at what should (but doesn’t) feel like losing, a vague idea that she might care about this as a political move, but here in Adora’s arms they’re distant things. Even moreso when Adora slides her that much closer, lets Catra close her eyes and rest her forehead onto Adora’s broad shoulder, kisses her temple when she does. Catra doesn’t know if the message Adora is sending - to Ondine or the Aquariians or the whole wide universe - is she’s off limits she’s mine or don’t try it I’m hers, but all at once Catra remembers that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the universe knows, or what the Aquariians think, or if Ondine gets it. Because whether they do or not, it’s true.
She doesn’t remember that all the time. She’ll probably forget again, next week or tomorrow or in a moment when Adora lets go and makes nice with the Aquariians and turns that golden brilliance of hers onto anyone, anyone else. But then again, maybe she won’t forget, this time. She’s less likely to than she was a week, a year, a lifetime ago. And at some point, Catra thinks with shocking firmness, she’ll stop forgetting at all. And that certainty, the unshakeable knowledge that that day is coming sometime, maybe even soon - that’s new.
It’s not until they’re on their way to the Citadel, walking together with an entirely appropriate professional space between them, that Adora asks, quiet and gentle, “you okay?”
“Yeah,” Catra says, and finds that it’s mostly the truth. If her attention cuts a few paces away to Ondine, cataloging the way the other girl keeps glancing at Adora with awe-struck eyes, considering how claws would feel digging into soft teal skin...well. It’s only briefly and with minimal heat.
Adora catches it anyway, because she’s Adora and she’s oblivious about everything and anything except whatever Catra doesn’t want her to notice. She reaches out and tangles her hand loosely with Catra’s, voice wry when she asks, “there gonna be an incident?”
Yes, Catra thinks, and Fuck you, and I’m sorry for being an ass, and You want me you want me you want me, and How is it possible I get to have you?, and Sometimes when I don’t sleep I still want to burn everything but you to the ground, and Sometimes you, too, and Thank you, and I love you so much.
“Maybe,” she says, instead. Takes a deep breath, tries a smirk but she knows it comes out as a smile, “but first, do you think we could work in a nap?”