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claws and teeth

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The thing is, Catra could always beat Adora in a fight.




They are thirteen years old. 

Adora has always been stronger, but Catra is faster. She ducks, rolls, slides, jumps, teases, blocks. Adora is in the middle of a growth spurt and the inches she's gained have made her slower, less coordinated. Its cat and mouse and cat and Adora throws a punch, miss-steps when her right hook meets only air, and then Catra is landing two quick jabs into her stomach, rolling Adora over her shoulder. Adora's chest plate X's out as she hits the mat.

"Wasn't sure you had it in you." Adora is breathing heavily from the ground.

"I can't let you win all the time," Catra smirks. Adora reaches her hand straight up into the air and Catra grabs it without a second thought, bracing herself to pull Adora off the training room floor. "Have to keep you on your toes."

She lets out an undignified squeak when Adora yanks her down instead, rolling immediately to trap Catra beneath her. Adora has her forearm across Catra's windpipe as Catra's chest plate sounds off a dooming beep.

"You cheat," Catra says into the small space between them. Adora's breath is hot on her face. "I like it."

Adora grins. "I learned from the best."




She-Ra is another story.

Catra fights She-Ra like she's fighting Adora, and that's her first mistake. She's been training with Adora her entire life and she falls into the rhythm on instinct, and instincts are dangerous.

Thinking of She-Ra and Adora as the same person is dangerous. She-Ra is the eight foot tall monster that stole Adora from her. She-Ra is her enemy and Adora is her...something. She's not sure anymore. She's not sure if she wants to be sure.

She-Ra looks like Adora (except the eyes are too blue). She-Ra talks like Adora (except the way she says Catra's name is all wrong). She-Ra is slow like Adora (except she has a magic sword, so).

But She-Ra is not afraid to hit Catra.

Catra realizes quickly that Adora- who was always stronger, who was always the brute force to her quick thinking, who would get this crinkle between her eyebrows when she inspected Catra's bruises after training- has maybe been pulling her punches this whole time.

She-Ra's fist connects with Catra's ribs and Catra feels something crack. Deeper than bone, something in her chest that burns and aches and, okay, maybe also a rib or two. Her feet leave the ground and before she can twist herself to land, She-Ra has a hold of her leg and is tossing her across the clearing. As if Catra weighs nothing.

As if Catra is nothing.




Combat training starts at age six. Before then, they are only in self-defense classes and basic acrobatic lessons. They learn to tie their boots and say their A-B-C's and how to properly structure a battle plan.

When they are collected from the locker room after morning meal, a commanding officer they've never seen before herds them to a training room they've never been in. They line up in order (no one ever assigned them one, but it's natural by now for Adora to be first and Catra to be at her shoulder and for Kyle to be at the end) and the commander talks them through technique. How to curl your fist, how to set your hips and shoulders, how to pivot your back foot for power.

Catra swears she is listening, but she can feel Shadow Weaver watching them from...somewhere. Not in the room, but that cold, spidery feeling sticks to Catra's neck. She pokes Adora in the side but Adora is standing at rapt attention, drinking in every word.

Adora steps up to throw the first punch. Her first punch, their squads first punch. She's shaking out her arm when she turns back, grey eyes sparkling, and gives Catra the brightest smile. Adora is missing both of her front teeth and Catra thinks she looks a little crazy.

Catra takes her turn and she can practically sense Shadow Weaver's disappointment. She flexes her fingers, rubs her palm where her nails have left imprints in the skin.

"Isn't it awesome?" Adora whispers. They watch as Lonnie steps up, is given instruction to adjust her stance. Catra doesn't understand punching and fists and what good they will ever do her in a fight, but she nods anyway.

"You'll get better at it. We'll practice, okay?"

Adora takes Catra's hand and squeezes it once. That grin is back, open and happy and a little bit wild. Catra would give anything to see it again and again and again.





Catra pulls Adora up from the ground and they reset their positions, facing each other on opposite sides of the castle garden. Grass sticks to Adora's sweaty forehead.



And who is Catra to deny Adora what she wants? Adora charges, swinging her staff wildly. It's clumsy and it's messy. Catra dodges and weaves, dodges and weaves, lets Adora tire herself out with each swing that hits only air.

She can see Adora's focus slipping. Catra finally advances, a few quick hits that force Adora to retreat a few steps to catch her breath.

"Adora, enough," Catra tries again. They both know this isn't the healthiest outlet, Catra knows she is enabling, but some habits are hard to break. She blinks and they are fifteen again, training extra hours just to wear themselves and maybe the shadows won't find them in the dark.

Adora's eyebrows furrow and for a second Catra thinks she's going to lower her staff- that they can shake this off and just talk about whatever is bothering her, preferably back in bed. And maybe actually get an hour or to of rest before anyone needs them to be anywhere. Catra feels like she hasn't slept in weeks, knows Adora feel the same. Because they haven't.

Instead, Adora screams- something pained and animalistic tearing from her lungs as she charges. Catra barely has time to raise her staff and block the first strike, takes the second across her bicep. Adora's swings are furious and out of control, like she is done holding back.

Another swing knocks the staff from Catra's hands and a second later she is on the ground, Adora looming above her. Sweat pours from her face, eyes glowing that unearthly She-Ra blue. Nothing moves in all of Bright Moon, nothing but the sound of Adora's panicked breathing echoing around the midnight air.

"Adora," Catra whispers. She pushes the tip of the staff away from where it is aimed at her throat. The movement seems to jerk Adora back to reality.

She crumbles immediately, falling to her knees in the grass, and Catra catches her. Catra is faster; Catra will always catch her.

"I'm sorry," Adora chokes out. The tears come fast and she's shaking. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry I love you I'm sorry, I-"

"I've got you," Catra says, and pulls her closer. Adora sobs into her neck. "We're going to figure this out, okay? I promise, I've got you."

Even bone tired, even emotionally overwhelmed and overflowing with anxious energy, Adora is beautiful. Catra's heart aches with the want to destroy everything that has ever hurt her, even though that list includes herself. She settles for curling herself protectively around Adora, pressing a kiss against her hair.

The war is over. There is no one left to fight but themselves.




"Stop moving for like, two seconds," Adora says. Catra wiggles anyway.

Adora rolls her eyes and grabs Catra's upper arm to keep her from pulling further away. She presses the damp towel against the long slash on the back of Catra's shoulder.

"It hurts," Catra whines. "Adora, I'm dying."

"That's too bad, I'll miss you."

They are sitting in the back corner of the locker room, the corner where the lights sometimes flicker off and the walls hum with the sound of machines. Catra refuses to think of it as hiding, even though that is exactly what it is. If Shadow Weaver finds them...well, Catra is screwed. Adora dumps more antiseptic onto the cloth and dabs at Catra's back. Catra hisses, flinches, tries to get free, but Adora has only gotten stronger in the last few months and her grip holds.

Catra's still bleeding, and she can tell Adora is worried by the way she is biting at the inside of her cheek.

"I'm going to kill Rogelio,"Adora murmurs and Catra just groans. "No, I'm serious. I can't believe he did this to you."

"It was an accident." She and Rogelio had been paired together for combat drills today. Rogelio was growing again, another awkward phase where his arms and legs and tail weren't all in sync. His attempt to defend against Catra's advance had resulted in an unexpected tail swipe and them, here, decidedly not hiding while Catra basically bleeds out and Adora tries not to panic.

Catra knows all too well the struggles of learning control over sharp edges, knows Adora has the scars to remind her. Like the three thin lines across the bridge of her nose and the two on her shin and the countless nicks across her forearms. She also knows that bringing it up right now will not help anything.

She squeezes her eyes closed as Adora presses gauze pads onto her shoulder, tapes them down as best she can.

"We'll have to check that in a few hours. In case it bleeds through." The supplies Adora stole from the infirmary are limited, but it will have to be enough. She moves her fingers from Catra's back into her hair, scratching softly behind her ears. 

Catra's shoulder burns but underneath it she can feel a familiar pull in her chest. She is too drained not to give in so she turns a little and leans back, melts against Adora. They are hidden so it's okay. For now, it's okay. No one will come looking for them for at least another hour and they are safe. 

Catra could fall asleep right here. She thinks Adora might even feel bad enough to let her.

"Next time I'm paired with Rogelio, I'm gonna kick his ass." Adora whispers but Catra hears the protective tone in her voice, ringing in her ears.

Catra hums. Everything hurts but Adora is soft and warm. "You're such an idiot. Then I'm going to be wiping your blood off the floor."

"Hey! I could take him!"

Catra can feel Adora's laugh through her whole body. She tries not to wince as it shakes her shoulder but Adora is on high alert and her laugh dies off too quickly. Her free hand come up to brush loose strands of hair from Catra's face, back behind her headpiece.

"Maybe," Adora says, "we should just always fight each other from now on. Then neither of us will ever get hurt."




Catra scrubs frantically at her hands, trying to get Adora's blood out from under her nails. Adora's blood, She-Ra's blood. She's starting to understand it's all the same.

Her room in the Force Captain's wing is too quiet. Catra wishes she could hear the chaos of the Fright Zone- groaning metal, marching boots, maybe even the naive laughter of the younger cadets. The silence is unsettling. All she can listen to is the chaos in her own mind.

Her own mind, which can't stop replaying the battle in front of Bright Moon. Her failure in front of Bright Moon. The sound of tanks retreating through the broken woods.

Her own mind, which can't stop seeing the look on She-Ra's face (Adora's face), lost and hopeless and defeated. Catra is trying to find the anger but she just feels hollow. She's trying to find the rage but it hurts.

She just keeps hearing Adora scream.

She scrubs until the water runs clear. Inspects each claw until she can breathe again.

Catra stares at herself in the mirror, gripping the edges of the sink to stop her hands from shaking. She wants nothing more than to curl up on her big empty stupid bed and pretend the last few days were just another nightmare. There is work to do- she has new battle plans to draw up and a prisoner to decide how to deal with, but maybe she can take a second, a minute, however long she wants and see who tries to stop her. It won't be Shadow Weaver. It certainly won't be Adora.

It wasn't meant to be like this. Weren't they supposed to protect each other?

Every muscle in Catra's body is tense. She's coiled to explode.

"I hate you for making me fight you," Catra says to the empty room. The words scratch at her throat, acidic on her tongue. "If you had just stayed- you should've just-"

This is Adora's fault. The blame is with her, comfy in her stupid castle in stupid Bright Moon. Villain and victim. There is no other answer Catra will accept.

"I hate you," Catra growls. "I hate you I hate you I HATE YOU!"

Catra keeps going and her reflection screams back until she's not sure if she's talking to Adora or herself. She yanks the mirror from the wall and the glass scatters across the metal floor.




Bright Moon is so different from the Fright Zone that it gives Catra whiplash. It makes her insides squirm and her lungs constrict and, more often than not, it makes her feel like finding a dark corner and crying. Which is a problem.

What's also a problem: Bright Moon doesn't seem to have any dark corners.

Catra takes to wandering the castle at night. She knows the guards now, know the paths to take to avoid them. The hallways are always lit and from the windows she can see the Moon Stone, casting it's eerie pale glow across the castle grounds.

No dark corners but Catra is still jumping at shadows.

She falls asleep for an hour in the library and wakes up with a scream in her throat.

"Hey, it's okay."

Catra's first thought is Adora, until she remembers she's not in her room, that she climbed out of bed before Adora could wake up, run and keep running. Her vision swims into focus and there's Bow, sitting on the other end of the couch.

"Sorry, I didn't meant to startle you," Bow says. He closes whatever book he was reading and gives Catra his full attention. It's unsettling, her skin crawls, her throat feels tight, and- "I woke up early and found you in here. I didn't want you to be alone."

"I'm fine," Catra snaps. She uncurls from the couch, rolls out her neck.

"I know." Bow is so open and sincere and Catra hates it, doesn't deserve it. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"I- no, I don't. Do you know where Adora is?"

Bow checks the time, makes a face to prove he's thinking, stands up and peers out the closest window. "She's outside, destroying Glimmer's flower beds. Again."

He sits back down, careful to keep the space between them, and reopens his book. Catra eyes him warily. He's waiting for something, for her. The blood in her veins is screaming at her to go, leave now and don't look back, but there's something else there too. A warmth. A want to give, instead of just take. Catra holds onto it.

"I don't understand."

Bow looks up slowly. "What?"

"How there are people like you in this world," Catra says. "We all grew up fighters, we all grew up in the same war, but all it did was make me cold and terrible and a- and you and Glimmer, even after all you've been through, you aren't like that. Like me."


"No, I'm fine." Catra wipes at her eyes. She is so done with crying. "It's fine, I'm fine, I'm gonna go find Adora."

When she doesn't actually move to leave, Bow sets his book fully to the side. A declaration of his commitment to the conversation they are about to have. Catra ignores that urge to run even though it's eating at her insides.

"Glimmer and I grew up very differently from you and Adora," he starts.

"Obviously." Catra rolls her eyes but her heart's not in it.

"Hey, don't interrupt my speech. I'm working really hard on making it up as I go."

"Sorry, continue."

Bow clears his throat. "Look- you and Adora are two of the strongest people I know, but you both have this...this twisted idea that if you aren't actively being strong, then you are failing. Yourselves, each other, the whole world. All of the above, simultaneously."

Catra lets out a teary scoff. "Are you saying I have deep-rooted psychological issues related to my sense of self-worth?"

"Ah, you've been talking with Perfuma."

"More like Perfuma has been talking at me and, occasionally, I listen."

Bow's laugh fills the whole room and it's contagious. The Fright Zone always had the white noise of machinery and engines and groaning, straining metal. Bright Moon is bursting with sounds like this, sounds of life, and maybe Catra doesn't mind.

"Catra, emotions don't make you weak. Feeling doesn't make you weak," Bow says after a minute. "Loving doesn't make you weak."

If Catra listens hard enough, she can hear Adora in the garden. The thwack of a metal staff connecting with an innocent bush. She can imagine the exhausted yet focused look on her face as she pushes herself though old training drills on only a few hours of sleep. The way her eyes will light up when Catra comes around the corner, and how Catra's entire self will feel ready to break open.

Her ears twitch. Bow gives her a small smile, like he knows exactly what she is thinking about.

He reaches across the couch, rests a hand on her shoulder. "There is bravery is letting yourself be soft."




Adora finds her on the roof.

Catra doesn't want to see her, not really, and was hoping Adora wouldn't attempt the climb- Adora is a terrible climber. Maybe she should've gone higher. Maybe she should've just jumped the wall and run.

"Are you okay?" Adora sits next to her, dangling her legs off the edge, and rests a hand on Catra's thigh. Catra shrugs her off and scoots further away, pulling her knees into her chest. Her tail curls up around her shins. "Catra, what did she do?"

"I'm fine," Catra growls.

"Catra, just talk-"

"Shut up."

"Catra, please!"

"SHUT UP! LEAVE ME ALONE!" Catra jumps to her feet. "Stop pretending you care about me! We both know I'm just holding you back!"

Adora stands slowly, like she's dealing with a spooked animal. Catra feels a bit like a spooked animal, she feels wild and scared and a little unhinged. She can still feel Shadow Weaver in her head, poking around where Catra didn't want her. She can still feel the electricity coursing through her blood.

"Is that what she told you?" Adora looks like she might cry but that's wrong, Adora never cries.

"No. Yes. I don't- I can't-" Catra takes a step back, away from the hand Adora is reaching towards her. It would be so easy, to let Adora hold her hand and scratch her ears and tell her it would be okay. It would be so easy for Catra to believe her, but she can't.

Shadow Weaver's voice echoes in her soul:

She doesn't need you. She doesn't want you. You don't deserve her.

"Catra, it's not true. You know it's not true."

You don't deserve her and you are nothing.

"Just go away, leave me alone," Catra says. "Lonnie can be your new best friend and everything will be better for you and Shadow Weaver will...she'll-"

"I don't want Lonnie; I just want you, dummy." Adora keeps stepping forward, slowly, and Catra keeps backing away. Even at ten standard years old, Adora cuts an imposing figure against the stormy sky, hands fisted and muscles tense. 

"No." Catra wants to believe her but the shadows in her veins are screaming that it's all a lie.


"NO!" Catra reaches the far wall. Her ears flatten against her head, claws out. A wild animal indeed.

And because Adora never learned the 'flight' side of her 'fight-or-flight' instinct, her face shifts easily from worried to determined. She bring her fists up, drops one foot back. "Fine, I will fight you for it. You win, I'll leave you alone and Lonnie can be my new friend and we never have to speak ever again. Just like you want. But if I win, you have to tell me what happened."


"'We could always make it a push-up contest, but you know that will give me an unfair advantage."

Adora doesn't give her a chance to respond before she launches her attack. Catra blocks, blocks, blocks, looks for an opportunity to counter. Catra can always beat Adora in a fight.

When she gets her opening, she doesn't take it.




“What was it like, growing up in the Horde?”

Glimmer asks her questions quietly, from the other side of the door. They sit back to back and Catra isn't supposed to be here. The Princess of Bright Moon may have once been her enemy, but Catra's priorities are all mixed up and Glimmer is the only tether to Etheria she has left.

Does she even want to be tethered to Etheria?

Still, she stay.

"Curiosity killed the cat, you know."

"Good thing I'm not the one who is a cat," Glimmer shoots back. "No but really, what was it like? Adora NEVER talks about this stuff."

Catra pauses, tries not to think too hard about those words. About Adora. About why. A knot twists in her stomach, the same feeling she gets as when she stares down at the planet and tries not to think about all the things she should have said. Should have done.

Regret might kill the cat, too.

"I don't know," Catra sighs. She tries to sound nonchalant instead of...whatever this other feeling is. "It was a lot of following rules: wake up at this time, wear your uniform, be here, do that, eat, train, try to sleep, do it all again. Pretty standard. Most of the time it sucked but didn't. And it's not like we knew anything else."

Glimmer scoffs. "Yeah but like, what about the mischief? Me and Bow used to sneak into the kitchens and steal dessert, or play pranks on the guards. What kind of trouble did little Catra and little Adora get into, like before you were soldiers?"

Catra turns then, meets Glimmer's eyes for the first time in all their conversations. The joking look on Glimmer's face drops quickly and Catra swallows once, twice.

"We were always soldiers."




Catra doesn't remember life before the Fright Zone except in her nightmares.

Loud bangs and screaming and fire. Men in masks. The smell of singed fur. Everything burning, burning, burning until there is nothing left inside of Catra to catch flame.

There are four others they call her squad. They eat meals at the same table and share bunks in the same room and they listen to each other cry out at night. 

She is small- smaller than the others. Shadow Weaver tells her she is weak, worthless, and none of the other officers tell Shadow Weaver otherwise.

But small things can still be deadly. 

A small thing can still have claws and teeth and a wild heart- they haven't stolen it from her yet, and she holds onto it as tightly as she can. Tucks it away deep inside her chest. If it's the last thing she has of her home, her people, her family, she will protect it.

Catra fights. And fights and fights and fights.

And then-


Adora climbs down from her bunk one night, curls up next to Catra and promises to never leave.

And Catra is still fighting, but she's not alone anymore.





Adora, Adora, Adora.

Catra's heart beats her name in a silent plea.

Adora (you shouldn't be here).

Adora (I don't matter).

Adora (please save yourself).

Catra fights. She fights her own mind so her body will stop fighting Adora but it's not working. Catra is trapped, doomed to watch. Words she doesn't want to say pour out of the black, inky darkness where she thinks her heart used to be. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. She doesn't remember, did she ever have a heart? Was there ever anything before this, before Prime?


Her mouth tastes like ashes and death. She wants to scream. The Horde has taken everything and stripped it away and she is nothing in the aftermath. She was nothing before.

Nothing to nothing, dust to dust.


Fabric rips away under her claws. Blood under her nails. Ringing in her ears, a voice. Everything hurts but she keeps fighting. It's all she knows how to do. Destroying is all she was ever good for, right?


If she kills her now, it can be over. Gods, Catra just wants it to be over. Adora will be free of the pain and suffering of Catra, just like she always wanted. That's why she left, isn't it? To be free of Catra, and Catra can finally make it come true.


The pounding in her skull fades and for a second, Adora is there is front of her. Adora's hair is down and she is crying and that can't be right, can it? Catra is not worth crying over. Catra was always the one who was weak and Adora was strong, Adora was always stronger, Adora was built to save worlds, to save Catra, Adora was always saving Catra so maybe-

Beautiful, Catra thinks, and then she's gone again.

There's yelling, Adora's voice, and it's almost louder than Prime buzzing in her head. Almost. Not enough.


And the thing is, Catra could always beat Adora in a fight.

She thinks this is one she wants to lose.




She is three years old and Shadow Weaver has a cold, clammy hand on her cheek: what is it you want, child? To go home. This is your home. You fight for the Horde now.

She is seven and she is running from Octavia, again. Catra is always running, don't stop. Adora wipes the blood off her face before they go to dinner: why can't you at least pick a fight with someone your own size?

She's twelve and they're in trouble, big trouble, locked in the Black Garnet Chamber. Adora is unconscious on the floor and Catra can't move, watches Adora's chest rise and fall, rise and fall. Shadow Weaver looks between them, eyes narrowed: look what you have done, Catra. She fights for you and she suffers for it. I'm sorry, it was my idea, leave her alone. You are the one hurting her, not me. Don't you want what's best for her?

She is seventeen and she wants. She wants and she want and knows she will never have. They sit on the roof and look beyond the Fright Zone. Adora grins: one day, we're gonna get out of here. Yeah, finally see some real action. You and me, Catra. Together.

She's nineteen and she's alone.

You look out for me, and I look out for you.

She's twenty and she's alone.

I promise.

She's twenty-one and she's alone.

She thinks she was always alone, and she is so angry. She fights, claws and teeth and all-consuming rage, because if she doesn't, she will drown. She will combust. She will burn and burn and burn and take the whole of the universe down with her. She was never meant for anything else. She was never made to want, to have, to keep, to love:

You will be that not what you wanted?




Catra stares. She can't help it.

Her eyes count the dark lashes against Adora's pale skin, follow the curve of her jaw. Catra reaches out one hand, lightly traces the scars she knows so well, and some of the ones she doesn't. That Adora has new marks on her skin from the years they were apart- the years they were fighting- still brings a weird tightness to her chest. Guilt, regret, and Catra wonders how many of them were made by her.

Adora wrinkles her nose and Catra smiles. She can't help that either. Her thumb brushes across Adora's cheek, tucks her loose bangs behind her ear.

"Are you watching me sleep?"

"Maybe." Catra blushes as Adora blinks a few times before slowly opening her eyes.

"Weirdo," Adora says, but she's grinning sleepily. Her raspy morning voice is Catra's new favorite sound. "What time is it?"

"Early, I think." Catra is still getting used to the lack of the alarms. Pale morning light streams in through the windows and Catra can hear birds. "Who cares."

Adora laughs and rolls onto her back, yawning and stretching before settling back into the pillows. Catra takes the invitation to curl up against Adora's side, nuzzling in where Adora's neck and shoulder meet. Adora's arms fold around her, fingers drawing lazy circles on Catra's back.

"Did you wake up at all last night?" Catra is almost afraid to ask. "I didn't hear you."

"Only once."

"I would've stayed up with you."

"No, it was okay, I think. I didn't even get out of bed, I fell back asleep pretty quickly," Adora says the last part like a question, like she isn't sure she believes it. "I don't remember what I was dreaming about."

Catra hums in response.

There is a new scar on Adora's chest that Catra is still getting used to, and she follows the line where they peek out from Adora's tank top. First one's writing imprinted on her skin, the Heart of Etheria's permanent mark. Catra hates it and loves it all the same. Adora didn't need another symbol of her pain, but Catra is starting to think it means something else to her: a reminder that she is worthy- of life and happiness and love.

A lesson Catra is working on learning, too.

Adora's fingers move from Catra's back to playing with the ends of her hair. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking we should skip whatever torture Sparkles has planned for us today and just stay right here."

"So rebellious, I like it," Adora says. Catra closes her eyes so he doesn't have to look at the mark anymore. Adora is solid below her, radiating warmth. "What else?"

"I..." Catra hesitates, trying to get her thoughts in order.

There are so many things to say and she still can't wrap her head around the fact she actually has time to say them. Years and years and years to say them, even though it feels necessary to get them all out at once.

"Hey." Adora pulls herself out from under Catra, repositioning so they are facing each other. She presses her lips to Catra's nose, her eyebrow, the corner of her mouth. To Catra's lips, briefly, before she pulls away. Her hand stays on Catra's cheek. "What else?"

"I'm so tired of fighting," Catra whispers. "I'm so tired of only being good at destruction."

Adora smiles softly. Catra turns her head slightly, kisses Adora's palm.

"I want to learn how to build something new."