Actions

Work Header

No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender

Work Text:

It was early, earlier than Adora had planned on getting up. She’d tried to roll back over, to burrow into Catra’s side, shut out the world. It wasn’t even light out yet. She wanted to sleep. Sleeping was important, as Bow kept saying. Over and over. He was just trying to help, she knew, but it wasn’t like Adora didn’t get that. Sometimes sleep just wouldn’t happen. Sometimes the moment she opened her eyes, her brain would just start going and wouldn’t stop.

In about three and a half hours Adora was supposed to meet up with Swift Wind to take more scans for Entrapta’s project. That left maybe an hour to try to drift back off for the amount of sleep she’d get to be worth it. Then she’d need to get up, shower, get dressed, eat, and be on her way. So really more like forty-five minutes before going back to sleep would be pointless. Or there was the option to get a head start, get some exercise in, maybe go for a run.

But that would require leaving bed. And bed was warm and comfortable and full of Catra. Adora’s restless fingers had already started combing little patterns through the fur on her stomach. For a moment she could stop her racing thoughts, reset, enjoy the softness and the feeling of Catra’s breathing and the firm muscle under her fingertips. For a moment, maybe drifting back off was a possibility.

Then Catra stirred, ears twitching, shifting a little. Immediately, Adora stilled her hand, willing her girlfriend to settle again. For a long moment she was afraid she’d woken her up; Melog, down at the foot of the bed, had raised their head, looking a bit puzzled. Finally though, a little sigh escaped Catra’s parted lips, and the tiny bit of pre-awake tension in her muscles faded as her breathing evened out again.

Carefully, slowly, Adora scooted back. Once she was off the bed, she allowed herself to breathe again, quietly. Just because she was up didn’t mean Catra had to be. Catra needed sleep too.

Stealth showering was just about impossible, so Adora didn’t bother, just pulling on a clean shirt and pants. She’d be sweaty and gross when she got back anyway, since apparently that was just what happened when you spend all day on a horse. Even a magical, flying, talking horse. So. Evening shower. That would be a thing.

Stepping back into the room, Adora was pleased to find Catra still asleep. Melog had drifted back off as well, having scooted up to take over the warm spot she’d left behind. For just a moment, Adora stood back, watching, an expansive warmth filling her chest. This was the best view in the universe, her girlfriend soft and peaceful and happy enough that she was kneading the air with her hands. She wanted to cuddle back up with her, but that would definitely wake her up. Instead, quietly as she could, Adora snagged a piece of scrap paper and a pen from the desk, jotting a quick note for Catra. After signing with a little heart by her name, she left it on the night table, grabbed her jacket, and headed out.


Adora didn’t have a destination in mind when she wandered out of the castle. She’d swung by the gym to pick up the staff she used for training, but didn’t stay in there long. She needed to move, needed to go somewhere, do something. Not that Adora knew exactly what that something was, but hopefully she’d figure it out along the way.

After a while of aimless walking, it didn’t actually surprise Adora to find she’d ended up at the Crystal Castle. Since the war had ended, she’d returned there several times. It had felt weird to just leave it behind after all the time she’d spent there. The place seemed even lonelier than it had to begin with, now likely just an empty shell.

Not that Adora had ever gone inside. That was too much. Even now, so long after… everything. It was still too much.

Besides, it was easier to remember the good parts from the outside.

And there were some good parts. Adora shrugged off her jacket, adjusting her grip on the staff as she started into some warm ups. If she pushed the darker moments aside, there was something calming about the ruins. A something that settled on her shoulders, a grounding weight. A sense of purpose. Like she was working towards something. The whole place was tinted with the frustration of struggling with new powers or difficult fights, and the triumphs of mastering them. The pleasant warmth and swell of pride from being praised for a job well done.

Sure that purpose, probably that praise, and probably most of the happier moments had been a lie in the end. Just another instance of someone using her to further their own goals. But it didn’t matter. Adora forced a grin, shoving that thought aside and shifting into her first set of exercises, pantomiming counters, blocks, and dodges. Everything she’d learned had still been useful. She’d been able to be that perfect soldier, that legendary warrior, but for her own ends. It was a fitting sort of retribution, protecting the people and planet and magic the First Ones and the Horde had wanted to use her to destroy, and a fitting way to make up for not stopping it sooner.

And maybe whatever part of the Light Hope Mara had known, the one she saw at the end, was at peace now. She hoped so.

Flowing from one set to another and another, Adora lost track of time. She shifted her focus from her thoughts to her body, drawing comfort from the control she had there. These drills were muscle memory, had been for years, practiced to the point of near unconscious perfection. Even on the uneven ground of the forest, the little adjustments she had to make came naturally.

It was nice, just feeling good at something. Princess stuff, the paperwork, the deliberation, that wasn’t her strong suit. Plans were something she excelled in, sure, but battle plans, strategy. Not trade and commerce and infrastructure. Re-construction had played to her physical ability, but she didn’t know the first thing about architecture, so she mostly just moved things around. Helpful, probably, but not quite the same.

But this. Fighting, training, this was what she knew. What she’d been doing her whole life. Adora could just lose herself in it, did lose herself in it. In fact, she almost didn’t notice the buzzing feeling in her skull until she realized the forest around her had grown much brighter, light filtering in through the trees.

Dammit, what time was it? Whatever, didn’t matter. Adora snatched up her jacket, broadcasting her location to Swift Wind more clearly. It didn’t take him long to find her.

“Almost thought you forgot about our plans!”

Adora winced; despite his usual enthusiasm he looked sort of hurt.

“Sorry Swifty, I just lost track of time. I brought everything though, so we can head out from here!”

To her relief, that seemed to cheer him right back up, “Alright! Adora and Swift Wind, off on an adventure!”

Adora snorted at the admittedly spot on impression of Sea Hawk, clambering up onto his back as he continued, “Gonna take some scans, do some loops, and deliver some data. Let’s go!”


A little over an hour into said adventure, Adora was really regretting not just staying in bed until it was time to go. And regretting not grabbing food. Dizzy, tired, and lightheaded were not good feelings when she had to look down at the ground hundreds of feet below while her tracker pad took scans. And it really wasn’t helped by Swift Wind singing and humming to himself, practically dancing to his own unpredictable tuneless beat.

Just when Adora was about to suggest taking a break, Swift Wind came to a halt. Or as much of a halt as he could midair.

“What’s up?” she asked, grateful for a moment to get her bearings.

“The fort down there, is that one of ours?”

Adora steeled herself for another look down and peered around the other side of Swift Wind’s neck. Nestled against a cliff face on one of the mountains below was a tiny, dilapidated little thing with a single building, more of an outpost than a fort from what she could see. A section of the encircling wall had come down, and there was likely more damage they couldn’t see.

“I don’t think so, or if it was, it probably hasn’t been used in a while.”

“I’m gonna have to disagree on that last bit. I’m sure I saw something moving down there,” Swift Wind said, circling a little lower.

Well, that was interesting. And a good excuse to get on solid ground for a bit.

“Wanna check it out?” Despite the fact that she was feeling less than great, the idea of some real adventure, not just flying in circles for hours, sounded fantastic.

Apparently her steed was in agreement, “Oh, hell yes.”

Adora laughed, clinging to Swift Wind’s mane as he dove down, aiming for a large rock formation maybe half a mile from the outpost. Better safe than sorry; who knew if the inhabitants were friendly.

On ground, the approach was… interesting. It was one thing to hide one average sized person in the mostly barren, rocky canyon; it was another to hide a white horse with rainbow trim. Apparently they should have brought Melog—Adora wondered if they could teach her to do the cloaking thing with She-Ra. Probably not, but gods, would it be useful. Somehow though, they managed to get within a few hundred yards of the outpost without being spotted. They were close enough now to see the banners hanging from the walls.

Adora’s heart dropped into her stomach. She wanted to be wrong, but the stark black and white symbol didn’t leave room for argument. Nor did the figure pacing back and forth on the wall.

“Wait, this can’t be right. I thought Wrong Hordak was rehabilitating his, ‘brothers’,” Swift Wind’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet.

“I… I thought so too.” How had they missed this? They were barely an hour’s flight from Dryl—in a remote, uninhabited area, but still. Entrapta and everyone in Dryl could be in danger. Did they know? No, they would have said something. Wrong Hordak would have been crushed.

“Stay here,” Adora murmured, “I’m going to see what we’re dealing with.”

“Uh, not by yourself!”

She didn’t have time for this.

“Swift Wind, stay put,” Adora snapped, “They’ll see you the moment you come out of hiding, and I’m not putting anyone in any more danger until I know what’s happening.”

Not waiting for his stubborn counterargument, Adora took off. The guard was looking the other way and she had to take the chance that it gave to get closer. If she could get to the collapsed section, she could get a better idea of what was going on.

Thankfully, it seemed the clone guards—three thus far—were more interested in looking out than down. As long as she hugged the wall, she was okay. For now, anyway. Whatever. She’d deal with it when it changed.

Hiding herself in the rubble at the edge of the collapsed wall, Adora peered into the central courtyard of the outpost. It was full of crates and what she recognized as old Horde weapon racks—Hordak’s version of the Horde, anyway—mostly empty. Maybe this was once a Horde outpost, or maybe they were taking things from ones that had been abandoned when Prime showed up. Either way, they were armed.

The upside was there didn’t seem to be too many of them. From her position she could see a handful of other clones on the walls, seven or eight in total, it was difficult to tell which ones she’d already counted, and maybe a couple dozen in the yard, mostly sheltering themselves from the heat of the day under a couple makeshift, open sided tents.

That just left the building unaccounted for. From where Adora crouched, it looked like part of the roof might have collapsed, so it was possible the inside wasn’t usable or accessible, and this was everyone. Then a few under the closer of the shelters saluted in unison to the remaining few.

“To the glory of Horde Prime,” they intoned.

The remaining clones returned the salute, “He who will reign eternal.”

Adora was vaguely aware of a similar exchange as the group entered the building and another walked out to replace them. Trying to concentrate on scouting and not on her blood boiling, Adora craned her neck to try and see inside, but the angle of the door didn’t allow it. Fine. She knew there were more than the thirty or so in the yard. But how many?

Did it really matter? She was She-Ra. She’d fought space ships. Besides, this was her job, her responsibility; she had missed these Horde loyalists, they’d gathered near her friend’s home, and now she was going to take care of that. Just another thing she could do for Entrapta before meeting up. It could be a ‘thank you’ for the inevitable buffet of delicious tiny food. Or an apology for letting things get to this point.

Aside from that one collective action, the clones seemed sort of lost, like they hadn’t ever gotten used to being outside the hive mind. Good. That was what she was counting on. Difficulty making decisions on the fly, dealing with unpredictable opponents.

The building was her goal. If she was right about the hole in the roof, it wouldn’t be hard to drop in and start fighting her way outward. They looked prepared to deal with an outside attack, so hopefully it would throw them off, and provide some cover from the clones in the yard.

Once she skirted around to the rear of the building, she found only a couple more guards atop the wall between her and her target. Piece of cake. One hushed transformation and a massive leap later, the clones were on the ground and she was clambering up onto the roof.

It was there Adora realized her plan might have had a few issues. She’d been prepared for there to be maybe another fifteen, twenty clones? Which already was a lot, but nothing She-Ra couldn’t handle if she was smart about it.

Adora had not been prepared for rows upon rows of Prime’s bots. Bots had the unfortunate habit of not registering fear or pain. Bots just kind of kept going until they couldn’t anymore.

But that was what she saw through the damaged joists, along with a few more clones. All of them stood in perfect rows, all facing a wall with what looked to be a crudely drawn map of Etheria. No markings on it though, as far as Adora could tell, so no real plan? She looked back at the mini army assembled below. They all stood stock still, at attention, like they were waiting for orders. How long had they been like this? Just waiting around for someone to give them a purpose again? A pang of something unnervingly close to empathy made Adora flinch away from the hole in the roof.

Okay. Enemy count was definitely higher than she originally anticipated, and the behavior of her opponents would be different, but it hardly mattered. This needed to be dealt with.

Like a ringing in her ears, Adora could sense Swift Wind trying to contact her. He probably wanted to know what was happening; she could hardly blame him. She wondered briefly how much of her fear- no. Surprise. Shock. She could do this. But she wondered how much he’d felt. How long it would be before he did something stupid, got himself hurt trying to come after her.

Taking a few deep breaths, Adora pushed the unpleasant tightness in her chest down, away. Something to deal with later. It would be fine. She’d fought these things even without She-Ra. With her it would go much better. She just needed to focus.

Opening the connection between them more fully, broadcasting a forced confidence, Adora reached out to Swift Wind, “I’ve got it, Swifty. Just stay hidden. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Then she shut it down, adjusted her grip on her sword, and dropped through the roof.


Good morning, Catra!

Couldn’t sleep so I headed out early. Gonna take a walk or something, probably meet up with Swift Wind wherever I wind up to do the scans and stuff.

Scorpia was coming over today, right? Or was that tomorrow? If it was today, tell her I’ll be back before dinner, and that she still owes me that arm wrestling rematch, so she’s not allowed to leave ‘til we settle this.

Also, you’re doing the little kneading thing with your hands right now and it’s really cute. You’re really cute. But you know that already. Or you should.

This note is getting too long for this piece of paper

On the back, however, there were just a couple lines.

Anyway, I’ll see you later! I love you!

Adora

Though she’d been disappointed when she woke up to a sleepy space-cat instead of her girlfriend, Catra knew she was grinning like an idiot even now as she touched the folded up paper in her pocket. She did wish Adora would hurry up and get back though. Scorpia and Bow were both formidable opponents, but they lacked the competitive drive that made battle interesting.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Catra’s tail twitched, eyes narrowed at Scorpia.

“Yeah, definitely! This way we both get a monopoly! Plus, this one’s your favorite color.”

Catra exchanged a look with Bow, who just grinned and shrugged. In retrospect, maybe they should have chosen something else to do. It was less fun to win against people who didn’t seem to care about losing.

“If that’s what you want, sure. Thanks,” Catra mumbled, exchanging the cards. Cool. Three monopolies, all on the latter half of the board. If anyone else cared about that it would have been much more exciting. Not even Melog was there to celebrate, having wandered off not long after Scorpia arrived.

Enjoy big friend. I will run and hunt.”

Jerk. They probably knew board games were a bad idea from the get go.

“You haven’t heard from Sparkles, have you?” Catra asked, flopping onto her back. Glimmer could be fun if they chose the right game.

Bow glanced at his tracker pad, then shook his head. “Nah, and I wouldn’t expect to with Castaspella there. She kinda, uh-”

“Demands all focus be on her?”

“She’s not that bad, Catra.”

“Yeah!” Scorpia cut in, beaming, “She made me a hat!”

Catra recalled, it was painfully bright yellowish green color with a blue “S” on the band, sort of hard to forget.

“If you would just decide on a birthday, I bet she’d make something as a gift for you too.” Bow nudged her with a pointed look. Catra just stared back, face purposely neutral.

“I thought I told you already.”

“You threw one of my arrows at a calendar.”

“And I’m sticking with it.” If mostly to annoy him. Besides, normal people didn’t choose their birthdays, why should she?

Bow groaned, but started typing something into his memo sheet.

Catra grinned and stretched. One more prod couldn’t hurt, “What day was it again?”

Before he could answer, the tracker pad started beeping.

“Sorry, it’s Entrapta. Give me a second guys.”

“Tell her I say hi!” Scorpia whispered as he opened the call.

“Hey Entrapta! Wha-”

“No time for chit-chat!” Entrapta’s voice interrupted, along with what sounded like a lot of static. Curious, Catra scooted closer, peering over Bow’s shoulder. Scorpia had done the same on his other side.

Entrapta looked like she was… flying?

“Where ar-” Bow tried again, only to be cut off.

“No time! Adora is in trouble, she’s fighting an outpost full of Prime’s soldiers, and she needs help now. I’m sending you the coordinates based on what Swift Wind has told me and...”

Entrapta continued and Bow’s voice got louder, but Catra couldn’t understand what they were saying. The air had been sucked out of the room, and the only thing that she could hear clearly was her heart pounding in her ears. Her hand slipped into her pocket.

The note was still there. A tactile confirmation that this wasn’t a dream.

Catra lurched to her feet, nearly falling before Scorpia caught her.

“Whoa! Catra-”

“We need to get Glimmer.” Catra didn’t so much say the words as they seemed to tumble out on their own.

For fucking once, no one tried to argue. Flanked on either side and trying not to think about how Bow and Scorpia were worrying about her when they should be worrying about Adora, Catra raced down the hall, first yanking open Glimmer’s door on the off chance a family meeting could be conducted somewhere normal. Of course, that wasn’t the case.

Growling and nearly bowling Scorpia over in the process, Catra launched herself down the hall. They just needed to get to Glimmer, she could teleport them, it would be fine, they could get to her-

“Glimmer!” It was Scorpia who managed to find her voice first as the three of them crashed into the meeting room.

“Guys?”

“Kids?”

“Wh- are you three alright?”

Glimmer, Micah, and Castaspella all tried to talk at the same time as Catra stumbled to Glimmer, hand landing on her shoulder, leaning harder on her than she’d meant to. She tried to speak, but words wouldn’t fucking come when she actually needed them to. Catra could feel her claws digging in, desperate for something to hold on to.

To her credit, Glimmer didn’t flinch, just braced Catra and looked over her shoulder to the other two for some sort of explanation.

“It’s Adora, she-”

Bow cut Scorpia off, raising his tracker pad as he approached, “Entrapta sent coordinates, said Adora’s in trouble, fighting Prime’s clones and maybe some bots somewhere near Dryl. Swift Wind got her, said Adora needs all the backup she can get. As soon as possible.”

“Then we’ll go.” Catra glanced up, surprised to hear Micah’s voice. He had a hand on Glimmer’s other shoulder, and looked ready to fight.

“I can transport all of us.” Glimmer sounded oddly calm, confident even, for getting ready to teleport so many people that far. Catra pushed herself upright, nodding to her. She was right. Calm was what they needed if they were about to go back into battle.

“Wait,” Bow held up his hands, “Someone should stay, let the other princesses know in case we wind up needing back up.”

“Fine,” Glimmer snapped, “Dad, Aunt Casta, stay. If you don’t hear from us by the end of the day, send backup to the coordinates Bow’s giving you.”

Without waiting to hear complaints, Glimmer grabbed Bow’s hand, “Hang on.”

Suddenly, they were no longer in Bright Moon.


Before she’d hit the floor, Adora had thought—hoped that maybe the element of surprise would be enough, even against this many opponents. There were tons of soldiers on Prime’s ship and she took them down. This was nothing. It couldn’t be.

As she’d expected, they didn’t quite know what to do at first. They hesitated long enough that Adora was able to clear space around herself and back into a hallway she’d noticed. Thankfully, there didn’t appear to be a way to get in from that side. With a choke point to defend, victory seemed something in the realm of plausible. They had to come no more than two at a time to engage her, and fire sparingly to avoid hitting their allies.

The problem was they just. Kept. Coming.

A hit here or there was manageable. She-Ra could take harder blows than Adora could normally, and would heal more serious injuries enough to keep her fighting. So long as she had the energy, anyway. If she could ignore the pain and take care of things quickly, She-Ra made her feel nigh impenetrable. The perfect weapon. The perfect shield.

Over time, however, the shield began to crack, then splinter, falling away in chunks.

At this point, it was all Adora could do to keep her feet under her, to keep the sword in her hands. Her opponents had taken a little while to adapt with no clear leader, but once they did, they kept chipping away, little by little. The doors into the hall had long since been torn off their hinges, leaving her with precious little cover from the volleys of energy blasts and beams. Whenever she managed to get off a strike, send a beam of magic flying at them, it seemed to help, but finding a break to do that—to do anything— was getting more and more difficult. Adora wasn’t sure if they were closing in, or if she was just struggling to keep up. Or at least, she didn’t want to admit it.

Her whole whole body ached with every movement. Getting tossed around by bots and various other opponents never felt great, but this was something else. Cuts weren’t clotting, burns weren’t healing, bones and skin weren’t mending themselves anymore. She-Ra was getting worn down, and there was nothing she could do.

A tiny, shaking part of her took over. She was scared. She didn’t want to die. She wanted to walk out, tell Swift Wind she was okay. She wanted to give Entrapta her data and catch up. She wanted to go back to Bright Moon and hang out with Bow and Glimmer and Scorpia and Catra. She wanted to go to bed with a kiss goodnight, holding Catra and being held in return.

But again, green eyes were leering at her, telling her she couldn’t have that wish. Wasn’t strong enough, smart enough, good enough to get to it.

Lashing out desperately, tears in her eyes, clouding her vision, Adora sent wave after wave of magic force. If she could just drive them back, get a chance to breathe. There couldn’t be that many more. She had to be able to win. She had to be strong enough. She couldn’t fail like this.

Adora stumbled.

The clones and bots resumed fire. Her shoulder erupted in burning pain and then…

They’d stopped?

No, they were still fighting, still firing.

But not at her.

It could have been minutes or hours, Adora had no way of knowing, everything just kept coming in flashes. Beams of red lightning. Blurs of browns and pinks. The whizzing of projectiles.

Then voices.

“Adora?!”

“Over there!”

Her knees hit the ground. Then her hand. Then her torso, her arm collapsing under her own weight.

“Don’t move her yet.”

Her normal weight. She-Ra was gone.

“Can you hear us?”

“Adora?”

Forcing her eyes open, her exhausted mind tried to make sense of what had happened.

Blurry forms above her, beside her. For just a moment the world came into focus, long enough to give her a glimpse of… something. What, exactly, she wasn’t sure. Everything felt too dream like, too suspiciously similar to her desperate—last?— wish. They were all there. Swift Wind and Entrapta atop him, her hair wrapped around something. Bow, Glimmer and Catra on their knees beside her, Scorpia crouching down.

“Here, let me-” Scorpia’s soft voice, interrupted by a low growl.

“Be careful, we don’t know...” The voice trailed off. Glimmer? Adora wasn’t quite sure, the world had taken on a sort of echo-y quality. She felt almost numb, which would have been preferable to the searing pain had it not made her further question the reality of the moment.

A tendril of purple crossed her field of vision, “Is she okay? Adora, are you okay?”

“She will be. We just need to get her to a doctor.” Bow’s lips were moving, but they didn’t seem to sync to the words.

“I’m going to bring Entrapta and her… uh-”

“I would go with ‘captive’!”

“…Riiight. Captive, then. Back to Dryl.”

“At least he’ll never find his way out.” That one was Glimmer.

Closer, right by her ear, “Just stay relaxed, okay? I’m gonna lift you now.”

Something hard under her back and legs, then the world shifted.

A scream. Adora grit her teeth, realizing as her mouth clamped shut where the sound came from. Black spots popped in and out at the edge of her vision.

“Wait, stop!”

“I- we have to move her somehow!”

“Putting her back down won’t help anything. Glimmer, let’s go.”

“On it.”

After that point, Adora couldn’t quite make out words anymore. Exhaustion was taking hold in her mind.

She saw the scenery change as her head lolled to the side. Around Scorpia’s claw, there were people and a place she didn’t recognize, but scents she did. Antiseptics, alcohol—some medical ward then. Distantly, Adora felt hands on her body, moving her into a room, to a bed, cleaning her wounds. She wouldn’t dream this, right? It had to be real. They came for her. She was safe.

But for how long? How long until it was shattered or, worse, it went dark?

And how would they have known to come? How would they have gotten to her in time? Were the tired, angry, fearful looks on her friends’ faces real, or were they a product of her guilt?

Goddammit she’d been so stupid. Adora knew better than to rush in like that, she’d talked about it a million times, mainly with Bow. But here she was, injured again. And there they were. Or weren’t?

Adora had barely noticed the nurses’ hands on her, but the absence sent fear jolting through her body. There was a light sheet over her now, but she couldn’t feel it. What was happening? She tried to reach out, to move the sheet, to reach for someone, anyone, but her arms felt like lead. Her whole body did.

No. No no no no nononono. She had to stay awake. Adora tried to make a noise, a gesture, anything to get the attention of the others or the nurses at the other end of the room. But the nurses left, and Scorpia took up guard by the door.

But then, maybe it worked. Bow approached the end of the bed. He looked exhausted.

“Adora,” his voice cut through the haze, “You need to rest. They’re done.”

No no no. He didn’t get it. She couldn’t rest. It would all slip away then. If this had even the slightest chance of being real, she had to stay right there.

He sighed, hands curling at the edge of the cot, “Please. You need to sleep.”

Adora whimpered, trying desperately to speak, “I can’t.”

What if I can’t wake up?

Maybe her voice worked, maybe it didn’t. Either way, Catra locked eyes with her across the room. Her expression had softened with a pained sort of understanding, and she dragged a chair to the side of the bed. Once she was settled, Catra gently, carefully took her hand, fingers interlocking.

Adora could barely feel the pressure, but the warmth seemed to leech through. She clung to that feeling, even if she couldn’t quite make her hand close around hers like she wanted.

“It’s okay,” Catra murmured, meeting her gaze again, “You can rest. I won’t let you go.”

Adora swallowed hard, staring into her eyes. Catra wouldn’t lie to her, not about this.

“We’ll be here when you wake up,” Glimmer added, resting a hand on the bed.

“I- we promise,” Catra confirmed, Glimmer and Bow nodding behind her.

Adora didn’t so much allow herself to sleep as the pull became impossible to combat any longer. As she succumbed, one last thought crossed her mind.

I’m so sorry.


The following days were a vague blur. Certain moments stood out more clearly than others, but it all felt dreamlike, ephemeral. Voices bled into each other, people seemed to morph and change into someone else between blinks.

Scorpia—no, Castaspella, or both?—would come in with food, sit down, start knitting or talking. In the next moment Micah would be in their place, reading from some small, colorful book. Adora couldn’t quite make out the words, and the next thing she knew, the voice would change, or the room would be dark, silence filled only by soft breathing. At one point Melog appeared at the edge of the cot, smaller than normal, curled by her feet, brought in on the scent of flowers. Later she noticed the bouquet balanced on the window sill.

The only constants Adora could latch onto were Bow, Catra, and Glimmer. At least one of them always seemed to be in her field of vision or holding her hand or stroking her hair. Their voices, Catra’s purr, and Bow’s guitar made up the soundtrack for everything she remembered during that time.

When Adora finally, truly woke up, the room was quiet, but they were still there, like they’d promised. The three of them were asleep, slumped against each other on a couch they must have moved to the side of the bed to replace Catra’s chair. And like Catra had said, she hadn’t let Adora’s hand go—at least not for long. The position had changed, Catra’s hand resting over her own, fingers curled slightly around it, but she was still there.

Still a bit groggy, but with a soft sort of warmth in her heart, Adora turned her hand to grip Catra’s in return. She wished she could lean over, wrap all three of them in a hug, but even that small movement sent a sting of pain up her arm.

Catra’s eyes blinked open then, looking a little out of it herself for a moment, staring at their hands. Then she met Adora’s gaze, and that warmth she’d felt earlier died out. Confusion, hurt, the beginning of tears in her mismatched eyes. Adora couldn’t speak. What could she say? ‘I’m sorry,’ didn’t even begin to cover it.

Catra broke eye contact, rubbing at her face a moment before grabbing a cup of water, offering it silently. Adora took it, fingers brushing over hers in wordless thanks, pleased to find she could move her arm, even if it hurt. Something—anger, or frustration maybe—flashed in Catra’s eyes, but it passed as quickly as it came, seemingly channeled into gripping Adora’s hand tighter.

Their little movements seemed to set off a domino effect, Glimmer’s face slipping from Catra’s shoulder as she moved, causing Glimmer to jolt upright, smacking into Bow’s jaw.

“Ow-”

“Sorry!”

Despite everything, a tiny smile found its way to Adora’s face.

“Hey guys,” she tried to say. Even with the water Catra had given her, it still mostly came out as a hoarse croak.

Almost immediately, three more cups of water appeared in front of her. Apparently they’d just been stockpiling them. Adora finished the one she’d been holding, taking another and polishing it off as well. Sleeping for… what, days? Apparently made her really, really thirsty. Good to know.

“Thanks.” Adora’s voice was still weak, but more understandable as she reached out for another cup.

“How are you feeling?” Glimmer asked, appearing on Adora’s other side to set her empty cup aside.

“Better, I think.” Like she’d been run over by a tank if she was being honest, but that was her own fault.

“Good enough to explain what the hell happened?” Catra’s tone was sharp, edged with a growl. Her hand shook, grip tight around Adora’s.

Guilt washed over Adora in a wave, threatening to drag her under.

“I’m sorry,” was all she could think to offer.

Bow sighed, “Adora-”

“I know.” I hurt you all. I messed up. I failed. I didn’t mean for this to happen.

“Do you though?” He sat at the edge of the cot, eyes trained on his hands.

For a long, terrible moment, no one seemed to know what to say. Adora’s mind filled the silence, stuck in the riptide. She was hurting them, she couldn’t keep them safe, she wasn’t giving them enough, not for everything they gave her.

“We don’t have to do this right now,” Glimmer’s voice was soft, almost pleading, gripping Adora's other hand, “Swift Wind already-”

“I-” Catra cut herself off, voice dropping from a yell as she clamped her mouth shut. After a moment she took a deep breath.

“You’re… right,” she continued, much quieter, sounding defeated, tired, “Let’s just- let’s go home.”

“I’ll let the nurses know. Be back in a sec.” Bow was out the door before anyone could say anything more, not sparing a glance at anyone.

Helplessly, Adora looked between Glimmer and Catra on either side of her. Neither of them made eye contact, but neither let go of her hands either. What could she say? It wasn’t like either of them were in the wrong. They deserved to be angry. She’d been stupid, reckless. If she’d just gone back like she’d originally planned, it would have been fine.

Or if she’d been stronger. Or if she’d come up with a new plan. Or-

“They said we can go,” Bow’s voice cut in, jolting Adora from her thoughts, “Adora just is supposed to rest for the next few weeks. Nothing strenuous.”

Catra snorted. “I take it they don’t know who we’re working with then?” she asked bitterly.

Neither of the others responded. Bow grabbed his guitar and laid a hand on Glimmer, who had moved to Catra’s side of the bed.

Sighing, Catra stood, slipping an arm under Adora’s shoulders, another under her knees.

“Hang on, don’t want Sparkles dropping you.”

“I wouldn’t!”

Catra ignored her, waiting while Adora wrapped her arms around her neck, bracing herself against the pain when she was lifted. Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time. Everything after the fight was hazy, but that had stuck out.

As soon as she was secure in Catra’s arms, the room changed. They were back in her room, back home.

Once Adora had been deposited on the bed, the other three were a flurry of motion, making the bed more comfortable, grabbing snacks and water, piling books and games nearby. A weird mixture of shame, guilt, safety, and love settled over her. The others shouldn’t have to do this. She was the one that fucked up, and she didn’t even fuck up successfully.

“Guys, you don’t have to-” her protests were cut off by three glares, and Adora was pretty sure Glimmer hadn’t even been in the room when she started speaking, going by the armful of soda bottles.

“We are. Deal with it.” Catra’s tone allowed no argument, so Adora leaned back and did as she was told.

Soon enough, the room was stocked for a siege and Adora was as close to comfortable as her aching body would allow. It was weird, she hadn’t felt this bad for this long since she’d found the sword. Then again, she probably hadn’t been this badly injured since then, especially without the intercession of some outside burst of magic.

Across the room, Catra, Glimmer, and Bow were talking. Or rather, Catra was talking, and the other two looked like they were trying to say something, and getting steamrolled. Finally, Glimmer rolled her eyes, grabbed Bow’s hand, and appeared at her side.

“We’re being sent to bed, just wanted to tell you we’ll be back tomorrow, okay?” Glimmer reached out to touch Adora’s shoulder, only to think better of it, and instead just pat her head.

“Please try to sleep?” Bow still sounded off, quieter, more tired than usual.

“I will. Thank you, both of you, for staying.” It wasn’t nearly what they deserved, but it was what Adora could offer at that moment, and it brought a little smile to their faces, even Bow’s. Glimmer gave her a quick peck on the forehead, then they were gone.

“You are aware sleeping is non-negotiable, right?” Catra said a moment later, climbing into bed beside her.

“So I was told,” Adora replied, turning to look at her. Catra seemed a little more settled than before, but still tired.

After a moment of painful silence, Adora reached out, laying her hand over one of Catra’s. It was weird, laying in bed together without touching.

“Thank you for staying.”

Catra shrugged, voice soft, matter-of-fact, in a way that about broke Adora’s heart, “I told you I would.”

Adora almost winced. She’d said she would do things too. She said she wouldn’t rush into impossible battles. She said she’d work on leaning on people.

“Catra, I’m so-”

“Not right now.” Catra’s voice was firm, but it was the way her breath shook after that really made Adora quiet herself.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she continued, a barely-there snarl giving her words a hard edge, “We’ll definitely be talking about this. But later. You—we both need sleep.”

Adora wanted to say she’d only just woken up, but even the little effort it took to eat something, to try to clean herself off a little, to get settled in bed had all but exhausted her. Catra was right; Adora nodded, letting things lapse into silence.

If only for a moment.

“I missed this,” Catra murmured, not meeting Adora’s eyes, “Sleeping next to each other.” There was something small and fearful and sad in her tone, something she couldn’t quite say, like how Adora couldn’t quite explain why she couldn’t sleep. Adora shifted, opening her arms as much as she could. She couldn’t make this right, not right then, but she could at least offer comfort for the moment.

Catra scooted closer immediately, adjusting Adora’s position with little nudges, trying—Adora realized after a moment—to keep her from hurting herself further. Eventually they were pressed close, all but clinging to each other. So much better than just holding her hand.

An ‘I love you’ sat at the tip of her tongue, but Adora hesitated, worried. Would it sound hollow? Would it upset her? She did love Catra, with her whole heart, whole being, but she’d just broken her trust, hurt her. Adora didn’t want it to be a cop out, to seem like she was trying to get away with it, to distract.

But she also needed Catra to know that hadn’t changed. She hadn’t been an idiot because of a lack of love. The opposite really. She hadn’t wanted anyone else to get hurt, hadn’t thought things through.

In a sort of compromise, Adora pressed her forehead against Catra’s. It was a simple gesture, but the meaning was clear enough without demanding attention. Satisfied, Adora closed her eyes, hoping exhaustion would override the racing thoughts she tried to drown out in the quiet rumble of Catra’s purr as it started up. It only took a few minutes, wrapped up and warm like that to start to drift. Not even Catra moving, rubbing her cheek along her jaw was able to make her open her eyes again.

Not even her voice, barely a whisper, saying, “I love you too.”


It made sense that the other princesses would come; they needed to discuss the implications of the outpost, figure out if there was a further threat and how to handle it.

It made slightly less sense to Adora that they all piled into her room and seemed excited to see her. She’d been the one to tip off the enemy, potentially kick up the threat level. But no one seemed upset, just concerned. Even Catra, Bow, and Glimmer seemed to be in brighter spirits.

“Holy shit, you look awful,” Mermista droned.

“We do apologize we couldn’t come check on you sooner,” Sea Hawk added, “We- ah. Had. Things-”

Mermista rolled her eyes as she interrupted, “It’s entirely his fault, he destroyed his ship.”

Look, there was a spider the size of my foot. It was a lost cause.”

“I’m, like, ninety percent sure that was a crab.”

“It looks like you’re doing better,” Perfuma cut in, moving around the bickering pair to sit on the bed with her and Catra.

“I am, thanks. And thanks for the flowers,” Adora said, trying to keep up with everything happening. Netossa and Entrapta were setting up a projector, and Spinnerella and Glimmer were setting out snacks. Frosta and Scorpia were sorting through the pile of games, picking ones out, while Bow sat back, seeming to have final veto power.

After days of semi-consciousness and guilt, the noise and company and care she was getting was more than a little overwhelming.

“Adora?” Perfuma asked, pulling her back to the matter at hand. Which was. Uh. Something?

“Sorry, what were you saying?”

“What would you like to do?” she repeated, patient as usual, “We brought movies and music and games, or we could all just chat. Whatever you’d like.”

“Wow uh. Thanks. You guys practically set up a party; you didn’t have to, I’ll be okay,” Adora mumbled, sort of shrinking into herself. Her failure at the outpost and hurting everyone was hardly something to be excited about. She hadn’t even really had the chance to apologize properly.

But Perfuma was still smiling at her, a hand settling on her knee gently, “We just wanted to do something for you. You were hurt, so we wanted to do something to cheer you up. If it’s too much right now though, we could always do it another day.”

It was honestly. Adora still felt exhausted, and processing everything happening and the dissonance with how she thought everyone would react was a lot. But they’d already gone to the effort, and everyone seemed happy.

“No, I’m okay. Thank you, really.” Adora found she didn’t really have to force the soft smile on her face. Confusion and overstimulation aside, it really was a sweet thing to do, and they’d all bothered to do it for her. Not even for some job well done, just because she hadn’t managed to get herself killed. Apparently that was enough.

That idea alone had her eyes stinging, but Adora pushed that aside. She could be emotional about it later.

“A movie sounds great.”

It only took a few minutes of shuffling for everyone to find somewhere to sit or lay around the projector, everyone in easy reach of each other to pass food and drinks. It felt like the nights they’d spend hanging out when they had the chance, relaxed and warm and happy.

Soon enough, before the movie had ended, Adora felt her eyelids starting to droop again. She made a valiant effort to stay awake. Everyone had gone to so much trouble, it felt rude to just fall asleep in the middle of it. But Catra seemed to disagree with her unvoiced thoughts, stroking her hair—when had she laid her head in Catra’s lap?—gently, claws scratching lightly at her scalp.

The next thing she knew Adora was waking up, alone save for Melog, who’d curled up at her side. Almost immediately in front of her face—so much so she went a little cross-eyed looking at it—was a folded note.

Hey Adora,

Princesses had a meeting and apparently Bow, Seagull, and I count or something now. I don’t know. Point is we’re heading out for a bit. Hopefully we’ll be back before you wake up. If not, that’s what this is for, I guess.

Also, I wanted to say this here, because saying it aloud feels weird and dramatic and

Catra had scribbled out a section before continuing,

We’ll talk when you’re awake and we’re back.

Sleep well.

I

Take it easy.

Catra (duh)

The goofy grin was back, Adora could feel it as she read over the note a couple times. It was just so Catra, right down to the crossed out sections.

Briefly, Adora wondered if she could get to the meeting room. It wasn’t far really. Adora slid out of bed, gritting her teeth. Okay. Not. Not great. She could stand, she could probably make it to the restroom, but the other wing of the castle? Not so much. Not like this.

Adora paused then, allowing herself to sit back on the edge of the bed. She wasn’t going anywhere like this. But maybe as She-Ra? It was worth a shot. Even if she couldn’t get to the meeting, it would be nice to take a shower.

Calling the sword to her took more effort than Adora really wanted, but once her hand closed around it, she felt that familiar rush of power as her body shifted, grew with the magic.

Oh gods.

Adora felt ready to cry tears of joy. This felt so much better. She was still tired, moreso than before the transformation if she was totally honest, but the pain was gone. Pushing herself to her feet, Adora found she could get around with ease. The fatigue was nothing compared to that constant aching and burning and stinging.

Glancing at the door, Adora wondered if her energy would hold out. It was just a walk. And they had to be talking about the Horde loyalists. She could help there. The others had seen them fighting, so they didn’t need an extra witness for that, but strategy was her thing. She could be useful, make it up to them.

She’d try. She owed it to everyone to try.

And it wasn’t bad to start with; Adora was mainly still excited she wasn’t in pain. But by the time she got to the meeting room, Adora had to lean against the wall for a moment, mustering her energy. It was weird, feeling the overtired twitches in her limbs and jolts in her head as She-Ra, the same as her own body, but so vastly different. But it was fine. She could do this. After one last deep breath, Adora opened the door.

For a moment, Adora thought she’d be able to slip in without drawing attention—not an easy feat as She-Ra—but halfway through a sentence Entrapta stopped herself and waved.

“-Oh, hi Adora! Glad you could make it!”

For a second, all eyes were on her, with varying levels of surprise, confusion, and resignation. It didn’t last long though, as Entrapta just kept on talking.

“But yeah, to answer your question, I think we could classify the threat level as ‘manageable.’”

Entrapta kept taking questions, but Adora found herself more focused on the display behind her. Three Horde symbols on a map—Entrapta must have found out about other outposts. They all appeared to be in remote areas, so likely not prepared for something big just yet. They wanted to keep a low profile, not be found. If it hadn’t been for Swift Wind noticing movement in that first outpost, they may not have found them at all.

“Alright.”

Adora blinked, realizing she’d spaced out. The fatigue was worse than she’d realized.

Micah continued, standing, “Thank you Entrapta. With this information, we’ll reconvene tomorrow to come up with a strategy for scouting and ultimately reclaiming these outposts. Until then, everyone get some rest.”

Everyone stood, and Adora was vaguely aware of people greeting her. She smiled at them, hoping that was enough. Thankfully, everyone seemed ready to head back to their rooms after the meeting. Good. She didn’t really want anyone to see her shaking when she stood.

If she’d actually been able to stand. Despite her best efforts, every ounce of focus going into just standing up, pushing herself to her feet, Adora found herself slumped against the table, back in her own body, curling in on herself as the pain returned.

“Oh, fucking…” Catra’s growl trailed off somewhere behind her, followed by a shout, “Sparkles! I need a hand!”


In the next moment, Adora was back in her room, being guided back into her bed.

“Why do you always do this?” Catra snarled, her tone a sharp contrast to the gentle way she’d moved her, “Why can’t you just rest? I told you to rest, in the note, which I know you read because you came to the meeting.”

“I thought it would be okay, I felt fine when I left the room,” Adora protested, kicking herself for it as soon as the words left her mouth. She didn’t want an argument. She knew it was stupid. Apparently stupid was just the name of the game this week.

“Oh, if you’re feeling so great, maybe now’s a good time to explain what the fuck you were thinking, trying to take on that whole outpost on your own.”

“I- I wasn’t. I’m sorry, it was stupid-”

“Were we not good enough? Or maybe you wanted to just shake things up, get kidnapped, get chipped?” Catra was pacing, her tail lashing, in stark contrast to Melog, who was barely glowing at all, curled into themself at the edge of the bed.

“Catra…” Glimmer reached out, but Catra just shifted her path out of her reach, coming to a stop by the bed once more. Her face was twisted with pain and fury, tears falling in spite of the clear efforts she’d made to hold them back.

“You told me you’d stay. You promised. What happened to that?”

Adora might have been able to handle it if Catra had kept shouting, but not this. Not this fragile, broken, little plea. She wanted to reach out, to hold her, to fix it somehow. She’d never meant for this, never wanted to leave her.

“I’m sorry.” Adora wished she had something better to say, to do.

“For what, Adora?” Everyone jolted a little, surprised by the sharp tone. Surprised Bow was the one speaking, from the spot where he’d sat on the bed.

“We’ve had this talk… too many times,” he continued, resigned, “Every time I ask you to take care of yourself and ask for help and not throw yourself at impossible fights. And every time you tell me you’ll try to lean on people more and take on more reasonable risks. And you do, for a bit. And then it’s back to this. Then it’s taking the failsafe. Or going into the Heart by yourself. Or fighting an army of bots on your own.”

Bow didn’t raise his voice, didn’t raise his head, staring steadfastly at his hands once again. Glimmer appeared at his side, and even Catra reached out, her hand not quite touching his, but close.

“Would you have been sorry if everything went to plan? If you’d walked out of that outpost after fighting those impossible odds and somehow been okay, would you be sorry?” Bow asked.

Adora hesitated, considering it, guilt seeping in when she realized, no, she probably wouldn’t have. Wouldn’t have thought to be.

His voice a little gentler, Bow continued, “I’m not mad because you got hurt. None of us are. We’re not mad you couldn’t take on that many enemies on your own. We’re worried because of that. I’m mad because you didn’t ask for help, didn’t tell anyone what was happening. I’m mad that you put yourself in a situation, on purpose, where you were going to get hurt and could have died, knowing that was a possibility.”

Finally turning towards Adora, tears in his eyes, Bow continued, “I know you can be rash sometimes, but you’re not stupid. And I don’t know how to convince you that this isn’t what anyone wants from you. I don’t want you to gamble your life for my safety. For anyone’s safety. I don’t care if it’s the whole of Etheria, you can—and you should—share that burden with us.”

Adora didn’t know what to do. Or think. Or say. On the one hand, everything Bow said made sense. She didn’t want the people she loved getting hurt, wouldn’t want them to take the risks she did. At that level, it made sense that the people who loved her wouldn’t want her to do that either. It fit with everything they’d said, about caring about each other. Protecting each other. Everyone in the Rebellion chose to be there.

So why couldn’t she make it fit? It made logical sense that they would feel that way, that they would want her to be safe. But…

“Are you okay?” Glimmer asked softly, blinking from Bow’s side to hers.

“I… yeah. I just need to think.”

Bow nodded, actually looking a little happier, “Please do. I love you-”

“We both do,” Glimmer interjected.

Something close to a laugh escaped Bow, “Yeah. We both do. And I want you to hear what I’m saying, so uh, we’ll go, let you think.”

There was a part of Adora that wanted them to stay, to have some physical proof for her anxious mind that they meant it. But instead she just offered them a weak smile as they vanished from the room.

After taking a moment to compose herself, Adora looked back at Catra, who was still standing by the bed, seemingly lost in thought.

“Catra?” she prompted quietly, trying not to startle her.

Her ears flicked, and after a moment, Catra met her gaze. She was more subdued, but the pain from before was still palpable.

Aching for her, Adora asked, “I know I was an idiot, and Bow said… a lot there, but did you still want to talk?”

“What, my yelling at you earlier didn’t count?” Catra snorted, looking away again, “Do you even have the energy for that?”

Barely. Adora was tired in body and mind. Everything that had just been said was… a lot. More than she felt like she could process at once. But Catra had wanted the chance to talk, she’d said so the night before and in the note. It was important to her, and it was something Adora could do to at least start to properly apologize.

“Yeah. About the energy part, I mean.”

Catra hesitated a moment, then sat on the bed, letting her tail bridge the gap between them instead of scooting closer.

“I didn’t mean to say it like that, earlier,” Catra started, “But it was- is what I feel like. Like you don’t trust me. Or. I don’t know. Fuck.”

Catra raked her hands through her hair, tugging at it in frustration. Not wanting to interrupt, Adora rested her hand next to Catra’s tail, still draped over her leg, just letting it brush the fur there. Just enough to—hopefully—be supportive. It seemed to help some. Catra looped the end of her tail around Adora’s wrist before continuing.

“It hasn’t even been a year since you were dying in my arms in the Heart. When we found you at the outpost I was fucking terrified,” her voice shook, words tumbling out, “And then I found out you weren’t ambushed or some shit, you went in there willingly, you didn’t even tell your fucking horse what the situation was, he had to figure it out and go get help on his own, and if he didn’t we wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t be here.”

Catra’s breaths were coming in little gasps as she leaned back a little. Towards her. Adora reached out, fingertips just barely grazing her shoulder, hoping she got the signal right. Catra leaned into the touch, allowing her hand to rest there. What Adora really wanted was to pull her in and hold her, but Catra still hadn’t turned around, hadn’t pulled her feet up off the floor.

Catra’s voice was quieter when she spoke again, “And I know it’s not what you meant. I know you’re just a ridiculously kind, selfless, brave person that Sh- that she fucked up. But it felt like you were leaving me. Like the fact that I love you and want you in my life isn’t enough for you.”

For a moment Catra was silent. Then, before Adora could compose herself enough to say anything, she twitched her tail away from Adora’s wrist and turned. She was surprised to see mostly confusion, Catra’s eyes narrowed not in anger, but like she was searching for something.

“What the hell goes on up there?” she asked, poking a single claw into Adora’s forehead, “Couldn’t say it while he was here, but Bow’s right. You’re not dumb. A dumbass sometimes, sure, but this one seems pretty cut and dry. You want to keep people you care about from getting hurt, putting yourself in danger like this hurts us, so… stop. But you’re not. Why?”

That was the question, wasn’t it?

“I don’t know,” Adora answered after a moment, “It makes sense, you’re right, Bow was right, but I can’t make it fit with everything else.”

“Talk me through it.”

Adora hesitated, wasn’t this-

Catra interrupted her thoughts, “And before you start saying how this is my time to talk about my feelings and shit, I said what I wanted to already. And now what I want is to figure out yet another mystery of your weirdass brain.”

“How do you always do that?” Adora blurted out, not entirely purposely. Somehow, Catra always knew what was going on in her head, sometimes before she did.

In spite of the emotions of the moment, Catra grinned, “Same way you do, dipshit. You know my tells, I know yours.”

Fair enough. Still, it seemed to border on telepathy at times. But that wasn’t what her request was about.

“It feels like what I’m supposed to do. This felt like it was my responsibility, and if I had a chance of taking care of it without getting anyone else involved, it felt like I should,” Adora gripped the covers, frowning, “It makes more sense for one person to get hurt than ten. And when that person is me, I have a lot better chance of surviving than most people. So if I don’t take that risk, then what’s the point of having all that power? What’s the point of having m- of having She-Ra around at all?”

Catra arched an eyebrow, scooting a little closer to take her hands. She sounded almost incredulous, “The point is you’re Adora.”

The laugh that bubbled out of her felt almost manic, “I wouldn’t be here if I was just Adora. I’m only here because I found the sword and-”

“And like you keep telling me, that’s the past,” Catra interrupted, “Yeah. Maybe you only got here to begin with because you could be a giant magical warrior woman. But you were always Adora to me. Adora is good enough for me. And, surprise surprise, Adora is fucking awesome, and good enough for everyone else too.”

Catra gestured at the remnants of the party from before, “The princess brigade—our friends—did this because they were happy Adora didn’t fucking die. Glimmer, Bow, and I stayed in your hospital room for four days straight because we were scared to death about losing Adora. No one mentioned She-Ra. Even at the meeting, while you weren’t there, no one was upset. Glimmer’s dad and aunt asked about you, how you were doing, but no one was mad.”

Adora could feel herself crying even as her mind felt frozen. Like before, it was nigh impossible to process. It fit with what she’d seen, matched the evidence. But it was in such direct conflict with the part of herself she’d trusted to help her survive. She had to take responsibility for everything and everyone she cared about, or they’d be hurt or taken away, and it would be her fault. She had to be useful, she had to be obedient, she had to be the best, be special, be irreplaceable. Or she would be replaced.

But people she loved and trusted were directly addressing those fears, telling her the opposite. Kept telling her, even when she didn’t get it. Even when not getting it hurt them. Even when she couldn’t offer them anything.

Even when they didn’t need her, they still chose her.

Oh.

Shit.

“Catra, I,” Adora stopped, clearing her throat. Gods, how long had she been crying?

A breath, a beat. A moment to collect her thoughts. Of which she had about a million, but this moment was for Catra. That was her focus.

Then, less frantically, Adora continued, “ I- I’ve made this sort of apology a few times, like Bow said. But I think I get it now? More than I did, anyway. I hope. I’m sorry for jumping into the fight without telling anyone or calling for back up. It was stupid, and it was selfish. I was so scared about not being needed and about messing up and about you all potentially getting hurt fixing my mistake, I didn’t think about how you or anyone else would feel about me risking getting hurt.”

Gripping Catra’s hands a little tighter, meeting her eyes, Adora continued, “I never wanted to leave you. I trust you, I love you, and you… I’ve been willing to die for a lot of things and a lot of people, but you were the first person I realized I wanted to live for.”

Catra scooted closer, sinking into Adora’s arms when she opened them. Her body was aching but that hardly mattered at the moment.

“I want to prove that to you; I want to do better. I told you I was working on things and talking to people, and I am, but I need to and I’m going to actually talk, not wheel in circles for hours at a time, thinking I’m getting something done when I’m just passing time. And I want to do whatever else it takes to make this up to you.”

Catra was quiet for a moment, nuzzling her tear-stained face into Adora’s shirt.

“I already forgave you, but if you wanna do something for me, how about this,” slowly, she straightened up, cradling Adora’s cheek in her hand, a little smile on her face, “Stop hurting the woman I love.”

Adora wasn’t sure if the sound she made was a laugh or a sob, but either way, she was crying again, pressing into Catra’s touch.

“Stop lying to her. Stop telling her she doesn’t deserve to be loved,” she continued, leaning in to press their foreheads together, “Or that she has to earn it. She doesn’t.”

“I’ll try,” Adora whispered. She’d try with everything she had. Catra deserved that. Her friends deserved that.

“Promise?”

“I promise.” Maybe she even deserved that.


In the following weeks, Adora still found herself a little surprised how often the others checked in on her. After all, they were dealing with the largest threat they’d seen since the end of the war, even if Entrapta assured her it was well within their collective abilities to deal with. Someone was almost always around, usually one of the permanent Bright Moon residents, helping her get around, grabbing food and drinks, even taking walks with her to rebuild her stamina. Swift Wind mostly took over that last duty.

 

Even Castaspella dropped by a couple times, always with decadent candies and other sweets.

“You’ll have to visit the bakery next time you come to Mystacor,” she said with a pleased smile as Adora more or less inhaled the tiny cakes. She did set one aside—Entrapta said she’d be by later, and would love it.

“Oh, and I finally have this finished for you! I wanted to give it to you while you were staying at the hospital; it was frigid in there,” with a flourish, she pulled out a knitted blanket in white and red, “but I couldn’t get it done in time. Still, I hope you like it my dear.”

Adora took it with a look of shock. It was wonderfully soft and more than that-

“You made this for me?”

“Well yes, of course. I did tell you I was going to make you a sweater though, didn’t I? Things got so busy during the war it slipped my mind,” Castaspella frowned, then snapped her fingers, “I’ll tell you what, that can be a birthday gift.”

“No no! It’s not that, I just. I wasn’t expecting it. Thank you, it’s really nice.” Adora was reeling a bit. She hadn’t been totally convinced Castaspella even liked her, yet here she was, bringing her treats and making her a whole blanket. Adora didn’t have the first clue how much time or effort knitting took, but the fact she’d spent time at all doing this for her was. Baffling. And kind of wonderful.

 

All of it was. Frosta stopped by after almost every mission to regale her with tales of her epic deeds, often with help from Sea Hawk. Usually Mermista would fill her in on the more accurate details afterwards. Perfuma taught her some breathing exercises to help with the pain. Scorpia, on one occasion, dragged an entire punching bag into the room to let Adora get some of her restless energy out. This turned out to be a terrible decision, both because if they’d gotten Glimmer to help, Scorpia wouldn’t have had to carry it all the way from the gym and back, and because everything hurt after only a few swings, but the effort was appreciated.

And then there were Catra, Glimmer, and Bow. Her… her family, really. Catra made a point of making it back to Bright Moon each night, even if it was late or she’d been on a mission that day.

 

With Bow, Adora finally got a chance to talk to him, on his own, a few days after her talk with Catra.

“You know how I said I needed to think?” Adora started after they’d lapsed into a comfortable silence for a while, watching videos on Bow’s tracker pad.

“Yeah. You come up with anything?”

“I think so,” Adora took a breath as he paused the video, put it aside and looked at her. Bow was simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest people to talk to. He cared so much and he didn’t mind showing it. He was good at listening, good at talking. And that in and of itself made it kind of hard, because he had a way of turning things around, making moments that were supposed to be about him about others.

“You were right, the other day,” Adora started, trying to choose her words carefully, “If everything had gone right, I wouldn’t have thought to apologize. I didn’t get the real reason you guys were upset. But I think I do now? And Bow, I am sorry, for putting myself in danger like that and every other time I put you through this. I didn’t get it, but it still hurt you.”

It wasn’t terribly surprising when Bow wrapped her in a hug, and honestly, Adora didn’t want to push him away. It had been awful being so distant. But this was about him, so she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him back as tightly as she could without pain seeping into her voice.

“I’m working on talking to people about the shit in my head. I don’t think I’ll ever be great at asking for help, but I want to be better. Make that better normal we talked about. And I want to know what I can do to make it up to you.”

Bow squeezed her tighter, and Adora choked down a squeak of pain. If Bow needed this, she could deal.

Thankfully, Bow seemed to realize what he was doing and pulled away with a yelp like he’d been the one whose broken ribs were being strangled.

“Sorry!” he took her hands instead, smiling a little sheepishly, “I’m just really, really glad something I said got through. I don’t want you to feel like we expect you to be a sacrifice. That’s all I wanted, and the fact that you’re working on it is awesome.”

They’d settled back in for more videos after that. Adora wasn’t sure when she’d fallen asleep, but she woke with her head on Bow's shoulder, and Catra teasing him.

“Geez, I leave you guys alone and now you’re stealing my spot and my girlfriend.”

“‘M still gay, Catra,” Adora mumbled, yawning. Bow was a great pillow though.

Bow just laughed, gently disentangling himself and scooting off the bed, “Consider it fitting revenge.”

Catra brought a hand to her chest, looking deeply affronted. Or she would have had she not been grinning.

“What Sparkles and I have is special, you wouldn’t understand.”

“Riiiight. Good night guys.”

Bow started to walk away, then got the most devious look Adora had ever seen on his face, to the point where she wondered if Double Trouble had replaced him while she was sleeping.

But, no, this was definitely Bow. Because only Bow would be devious about turning back around and scooping Catra up in a bear hug. Catra screeched, squirming her way out of his arms, and shot him a look of utter betrayal.

Asshole! And to think I was starting to like you.”

Bow just looked proud of himself, “Aw, I like you too-”

“Fuck off before I message Sparkles not to let you into your room.”

That seemed to do it for him, laughing and waving as he left the room.

Adora sat there in stunned silence while Catra got ready for bed and slipped in beside her.

“You good there?” she asked, poking Adora’s cheek.

“What the hell have you done to Bow? Is being an asshole contagious? Have I exposed him to you for too long?” The pillow whipped into her face was well worth it.

“If it is he definitely caught it from you.”

“You’re patient zero.” Adora stuck out her tongue.

“You used to pull my hair to get my attention!”

“We were like six! Besides, you did it too.”

Catra grabbed a handful of Adora’s hair and tugged, lightly, “Because I learned it from you.”

Adora really hoped she successfully stifled the whimper that produced and cleared her throat, “Fine. We’re both assholes. And now apparently Bow is too.”

The look on Catra’s face told her she absolutely didn’t stifle it well enough, but she didn’t say anything, instead letting her hair go and smoothing it was a gentle stroke, “I was startled, but if his version of being an asshole is giving hugs, I think we may be okay.”

 

It was longer before Adora got a chance to talk to Glimmer alone. Between meetings and scouting and actual attacks, she was kept busy, only able to stop by for minutes at a time. Finally though, while Adora had been reading one of the mystery books Mermista left—it was clearly the widow, she was the only one who stood to benefit from the murder—Glimmer appeared and flopped on the bed, face first.

“Gli-”

“Shhhhh,” came the muffled response, “Gimme a couple minutes and then I will be a person again.”

Smothering a laugh, Adora went back to the book for a little while. After a few minutes, she felt the mattress shift as Glimmer pushed herself upright.

“Okay. Here again.”

Adora finally let the laugh loose, “Good to have you back.”

Glimmer grinned and scooted up beside her, “Whatcha reading?”

“One of Mermista’s books, Blood in the Water. It was definitely the widow.”

Adora set the book aside, taking a breath. Okay. These conversations weren’t easy, and Glimmer hadn’t really talked about her feelings on it yet but she could do this. For her.

“I wanted to talk, if it’s okay?”

Her expression, really her whole way of carrying herself softening, Glimmer scooted closer to lean on her a little.

“I know you’re sorry, Adora. And I forgave you. You don’t have to do this again,” she murmured.

“I want to. I mean, if you want me to?” Adora hesitated. If Glimmer didn’t want the apology, should she still? It was for her. And she definitely felt like she should, Glimmer had been hurt by her actions too. But was that just doing it for herself?

“I don’t have to say anything,” Adora offered, “If you just want to talk? I dunno if you want to say how you’re feeling? I don’t know. That’s what Bow and Catra did.”

Glimmer shrugged, “I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already probably been said. I was scared I was going to lose you. And honestly, I was scared stuff I said- I dunno. Not caused you to do it but. Didn’t help with whatever you were thinking.”

Adora wrapped an arm around her, confused but determined to comfort her, “I don’t know why you’d think that, but you haven’t said anything that would-”

“I meant back before everything. About my mom.”

Oh. That. Right.

It definitely hadn’t helped, or the subconscious remnants of it hadn’t anyway.

“It hurt, but I’m still in control of my actions,” Adora said quietly, hunting for the right words, for her composure, “A lot of things made me feel like that was the only way forward. Like I had to fight them on my own and it would be better for me to be hurt… or even die, if it meant you guys didn’t have to. But deep down, I knew it would hurt you guys if something happened, and I know now that just putting myself in that position hurts you too. But I still chose to do it. I don’t blame you, and I’m sorry.”

Glimmer blinked up at her, then smiled sadly, “That’s really wonderful and mature and sweet… but it’s okay if it’s not okay.”

Blinking hard against the tears, Adora shook her head, “You had every right to be upset. You lost your mom-”

“Because she made a choice too,” Glimmer countered, “You didn’t make her do it, no one did.”

Adora was shaking when she felt Glimmer wrap her arms around her, “I don’t blame you, Adora. It wasn’t your fault. It never was, even when I was too angry to realize that.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen like this. She was supposed to apologize, let Glimmer talk out her feelings, figure out what she could change. That was the plan. But instead she was crying in Glimmer’s arms, sobbing like she never really had during any of their earlier conversations. But somehow that dam broke. Maybe it was all the conversations over the past few days or maybe Glimmer said something different. Adora didn’t know, but for so long, she had tried to make things right. To make up for Angella’s death. But trying to avenge someone was hard when you felt like you were the murderer.

Something in Glimmer’s words or voice or hug, or maybe something in her own mind, something told her she’d been acquitted.


As it turned out, the princesses didn’t need her for every problem. The outposts were taken care of, along with thorough sweeps of the countryside. Things were safe again, for the moment.

They’d still chosen to come by though, before heading back to their homes. Adora was recovering her strength and stamina, able to get around the castle easily, starting back into training. That was where they found her, where she was squished by the most awkward group hug ever—really, they just didn’t work right with more than maybe five people—and plans were made for a game night at Spinnerella’s and Netossa’s home.

When the others had left, Adora found herself flanked by Glimmer and Catra, who were gently pulling her away from the weights.

“You were in here during the entire meeting.” It wasn’t even a question, not that it had to be. Catra knew her.

“I just want to catch up,” Adora argued, “And I wasn’t doing anything too hard.”

“Right, that’s why you’re all red in the face,” Glimmer said, poking her cheek.

“Plus, that was over two hours, you should rest,” Bow added, “We could go back to your room, watch a movie?”

Not that she would admit it, but Adora was pretty sore.

“Give me twenty minutes to shower?”

Glimmer grinned, “Meet you there.”

And then she and Bow were gone.

“Could have at least given us a ride,” Catra grumbled, taking Adora’s outstretched hand for the walk back to their room.

A quick shower—nearly made a not-so-quick shower before Adora shoved Catra out with a laugh—and change of clothes later, Adora found herself surrounded again, though much more comfortably this time. Bow and Glimmer arrived with the projector and a movie, and the four of them had settled on the bed. There had been a semblance of order at first, Catra in Adora’s lap, Glimmer leaning on her, and Bow settled beside Glimmer. That had taken all of ten minutes to dissolve.

By the time the movie—and the other two of the trilogy, which Bow insisted needed to be watched together—ended, Adora was squished under the combined weight of her friends. Bow’s head had found its way to her shoulder, and Glimmer was snuggled between them, partially on top of both of them. And Catra, because it was just the sort of thing she did, had found it imperative that she find a way to drape herself over everyone. Adora swore she’d extended her body somehow, her legs draped over Bow’s, most of her weight in Glimmer’s lap, with her head resting in the crook of Adora’s other shoulder.

Overall, it was stiflingly warm, she knew most of her limbs would be asleep soon if they weren’t already.

Adora had never fallen asleep easier.