It’s a good story.
It’s one that Adora tells, over and over again, in the weeks following the routing of the Horde from Etheria. One that Catra listens to, adds onto with the snark and the ribbing that’s become a part of that ritual. Their first kiss in the Heart chamber, where Adora saw Catra begging for her to come back, hand outstretched, in a void of stars and darkness; where Catra, in the real world, whispered a tearful confession to what felt like a lifeless corpse. Catra tells it funnier than that, of course. It’s a good time, right now. A time of relief and celebration, a time to rest and determine a course for the future. Catra wants to believe in it, in all of it.
It doesn’t really matter that it’s not true, does it?
It’s the end of a long, happy night in Plumeria. The story’s been told again at Perfuma’s feast table in the new Heart-Blossom Palace, stocked with the quickened crops borne of a magic that belongs truly to the people again. Their trip through Perfuma’s lands had Melog craning their neck at Catra’s side, wondering at all they saw. All that had once been occupied and suppressed by the Horde, withered and poisoned by their machines, now looking as pure and virginal as Adora’s tale of the war’s end; the new constructs of roots and trees form the most fantastical city Catra’s ever seen. In truth, Catra had been enjoying herself, had felt the relief that was meant to be the mood of all of Etheria in these days of regrowth.
But now it’s dark, and the feast is over, and Perfuma’s retired to her own chambers, Scorpia in tow. The party’s over, and though Adora lingers and laughs with Bow and Glimmer, she doesn’t object to Catra leaving to find their chambers for the night. Adora knows, by now, that Catra needs some time to herself after days like these.
She doesn’t know it’s because it hurts to look at her.
The thoughts that start swimming in Catra’s mind like leeches in a bog affect Melog as soon as they’re alone and wandering the halls together. Catra’s learned to somewhat control the connection between herself and the creature. Melog doesn’t suddenly catch on fire and start growling anymore — at least not where people can see.. But now that they’re alone, Melog’s body starts to seep, their halo of magic turning to a dull dishwater-gray, fog spilling off their shoulders and wafting along the floor as they and Catra make their way to their room.
There are times, now, when Catra wishes that Shadow Weaver was still alive.
She’s not sure how long she sits on the bed and rests a hand on the back of Melog’s weeping neck, feeling the fog roll through her fingers. Time seems so strange these days. But when Adora comes into the room, her cheeks still flushed from wine, good conversation, and also probably the big glittery purple lipstick mark on her cheek, she starts at seeing the two of them, like she hadn’t expected Catra to still be awake.
Catra’s eyes are drawn to that mark, Glimmer’s mark. Melog almost ignites before she clenches her first and forces them to assume their normal blue hue, only a hint of green flaring on their underside.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Adora asks, rubbing the back of her neck.
“I think Plumeria’s green crap doesn’t like me,” Catra says with a halfhearted smirk. “Are you sure that stuff’s really edible? Is everyone here in on some big lie?”
Adora chuckles, sitting beside Catra and nervously running her hand along Catra’s thigh. Melog flashes, pink and then the gray fog again, and then almost — almost — orange before Catra squeezes her eyes shut and forces them to be blue. To be normal.
“Woah,” Adora notes, frowning. “Catra, are you o—”
Catra’s heard that question enough for one lifetime.
She throws herself at Adora, taking her by the shoulders and mashing their lips together, breathing through her nose. Adora lets out a surprised ‘ mff!’ into Catra’s mouth, and something about that is perfect, just right. Catra scrambles on the bed, swinging her leg over Adora’s lap and pinning her to the covers. A memory bubbles beneath the surface of Catra’s mind, the room covered in a thick gray haze as she pulls back for a moment to start tugging on Adora’s suit jacket. Adora gulps, her eyes wide and dark, but then they narrow suddenly, and she looks around in alarm.
“Uh, Melog?” Adora asks.
Catra blinks. “Wait, you can see it too?” She tries to clear her vision.
“There’s fog all over the room, Catra!” Adora says, shifting to support herself on her elbows, looking around for Melog. “Where’s Melog?”
“I—I don’t…” Catra swallows, heart pounding in her ears. Shapes wisp into existence around them, vague outlines, and the inside of Catra’s skull feels like it’s shaking, electricity arcing from brain to spine. She knows where they are — or at least, where her mind’s gone. As the shapes start to solidify into the familiar sight of the Fright Zone armory, the last place she did this to Adora, Catra calls out, “Melog, stop!”
The fog stops swirling, and then violently funnels itself back into Melog’s standing form, filling out in the center of the room until they’re solid again. But the usual flare of magic around them, the mane that’s always been a part of them, is gone. There are no eyes on their head, as though they’re merely a clay statue of a panther.
Melog slumps to the floor, gray and lifeless. Catra’s frozen in place, still straddling Adora, her mouth dry.
“Catra!” Adora exclaims. “Come on, we have to help them!”
Catra’s lungs don’t work.
Catra takes in a sharp, hard breath, and lightning arcs across Melog’s body in a flash. Their mane flares back to life again, but it’s small and weak, like a dying fire, a feeble wisp of white energy. Catra crawls off of Adora at last, cradling Melog in her arms on the floor. She breathes, in and out, and her companion’s energy ebbs and flows until at last their eyes pop back into existence, and they nuzzle their head under Catra’s chin.
Catra looks over her shoulder at Adora, who’s staring, wide-eyed, her hair an awful mess, her face drained of color. Catra swallows, pinned under that gaze, but what is there to say?
Adora comes down to the floor, then. And in a flash, she’s She-Ra, and Catra almost wants to laugh at the absurdity of that. What, is she thinking she’ll use her powers to heal the two of them? Like it could fix this?
But Adora just approaches, on her knees, and wraps her long, strong arms around them both. Blue comes back into Melog’s mane, and Catra relaxes into Adora’s shoulder.
“Tell me what I did,” Adora asks, an all-too-familiar fear in her voice.
“Nothing,” Catra answers, because it’s true. It was always Catra, after all. Every time, it was her, just like Shadow Weaver said.
She has places to be. A role to fill. You are not so lucky.
“What?” Adora asks, blinking and looking around. “Sorry, I — I heard something, I couldn’t make it out, was that you?”
Catra blinks. Did Melog…? How much of her memory is bleeding out into the world, with this poor creature as its conduit? She shakes her head violently. She needs to get this under control. Adora doesn’t need to know. Shadow Weaver was right about that, too.
“I — I think something is going on. Between Melog and I. I’m not sure what, yet,” Catra manages at last, hoping the fact that it’s technically the truth will hide the lie in her voice.
“Should we go to Mystacor?” Adora asks, drawing back and stroking a hand down Melog’s back. They lick her face, and she smiles slightly. “Talk to Micah?”
“Do they even know anything about this kind of magic?” Catra leans into Melog’s body, and feels a slight rumble within them, like stones rubbing against each other. Their version of a purr. Comfort.
“Well...your connection, it’s emotional, right?” Adora bites her lip, the way she always does when she’s about to start trying to solve someone else’s problem for them. Catra feels a sudden surge through her body, and Melog lights up in pink. Adora chuckles nervously. “Does that mean I’m right?” she asks, scratching behind Melog’s ears.
“I’m not really sure, but I think so,” Catra admits. “All I really get from Melog is...impressions. Feelings. I think they get the same from me.”
“So are these their feelings...or yours?” Adora’s blue eyes pierce right through Catra, and she squeezes her own shut.
“I just...the connection is almost...too much.”
“Catra…” Adora shakes for a second, like she’s not sure what to do with her hands. “You can talk to me, you know. About...whatever this really is.”
Catra shakes her head. “It’s not your problem, Adora. It’s...it’s really not.”
“I want you to talk to me.”
“I know.” Catra’s voice cracks. “I...I know. But I can’t.”
Adora rests her head on Melog’s body. “I think you should see Perfuma tomorrow.”
Catra pulls back like she smelled something terrible. “What?”
“She deals with a lot of feelings she doesn’t say out loud, too!” Adora insists. “I know she does. She tries really hard to be the way that she is. I think you should talk to her, learn about what she does to keep stable. I have, before. It’s helped.”
Catra chuffs. “No offense, Adora, but if I can’t tell you something, how can I—”
“You don’t need to explain anything,” Adora assures her. “It’s techniques, and methods, and...and stuff like that. Just go and join her tomorrow for her morning meditation?”
Catra curls up her nose. Old instincts and lessons tell her that it’s stupid. A waste of time when you could be doing something productive. Things you learn in the Fright Zone.
“Please?” Adora pleads. “For me?”
“Okay,” Catra sighs, leaning her head into Adora’s broad chest. “I’ll try.”
“You know… you have more in common than you think,” Adora says softly. “You’ll see.”
“Like having a big, buff girlfriend?”
Adora laughs, and that sound lightens the load on Catra’s shoulders. “Yes, exactly that.”
Adora strokes her hair gently. “I love you.”
And despite the echoes of all the times Adora’s said that before, all the times Adora doesn’t and shouldn’t have to remember, those words are enough for tonight.
Catra only finds Scorpia’s sprawled body in Perfuma’s room the next morning, snoring heavily. She looks good in her Plumeria-styled nightgown, the long, colorful flowing fabric hanging off her spiked shoulders. Catra smirks at the sight, a slight warmth growing in her chest. It’s good to see her like that, comfortable and at peace.
She was never like that around Catra.
Melog bristles at Catra’s side. Willing herself to stop fouling her own mood, she steps forward and gently shakes Scorpia by the shoulder.
“Hmff? Hrmmrm,” is the only response Scorpia offers. With a sigh, Catra extends one claw and lightly pokes it against Scorpia’s forehead.
“Ack!” Scorpia exclaims, sitting up suddenly and slamming her forehead into Catra’s. Catra staggers back with an involuntary hiss. “Oh! Shoot, sorry, Catra—”
“No, I deserved that one,” Catra says, waving her hand in front of her with a grunt of pain.
“Are you okay? Do you need—hey, wait, what are you doing in here?” Scorpia says, looking around and blinking.
“I was trying to find Perfuma,” Catra explains, rubbing her forehead. “Ow. You’ve got a thick skull, you know that?”
Scorpia looks away with a half-hearted chuckle. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, people have said that.”
“I — sorry,” Catra offers meekly. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
Scorpia looks like she’s about to say something, but catches her first word before it quite leaves her mouth. She clears her throat. “Perfuma’s, uh, in the garden, I’d bet. She usually gets up before me for meditation.”
“You guys don’t do it together?” Catra asks.
“Nah. We tried a few times, but I can’t sit still that long,” Scorpia says with a soft laugh. “I usually just get her breakfast ready when I wake up. What did you need her for?”
“I was...going to try joining her, I guess; to see if it’d…help.” Catra mutters, and Scorpia beams.
“Aww!” she coos, leaping up and wrapping Catra in one of those bone-crushing hugs that she used to despise so much. Now it feels nice, even if Scorpia’s arms are a bit on the hard and pointy side. “Did Adora put you up to that?” Scorpia asks as she pulls back, a smirk on her face.
“Yeah, maybe,” Catra admits. Scorpia laughs.
“Well, tell you what. I’ll show you her meditation garden, and then I’ll see if I can go and find some of the ration bars we got from the Fright Zone ruins,” Scorpia says with a wink.
“Wait, you got some?!” Catra asks, a smile breaking through on her face for the first time since last night. “Why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve had that last night!”
“Perfuma doesn’t know I still have a couple,” Scorpia says with a laugh. “She really wants me to eat real food all the time. C’mon, this way.”
“Real food is overrated,” Catra grumbles as she and Melog start following Scorpia through the halls.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like the variety! Sometimes you just want something easy and familiar, though, you know?” Scorpia leads them to a door, and as she opens it the early dawn light floods into the hallway. Catra blinks, adjusting to the light, and notes that the staircase it leads to is winding all around the Heart-Blossom tree, growing out of it like it belongs there. Perfuma has done such amazing things with her kingdom, so much art with just a few weeks of time and a new love.
What has Catra done, with that time?
“Catra?” Scorpia asks, looking over her shoulder.
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Catra murmurs, looking down to check and see how Melog’s doing. They walk at her side, peering up at her, their eyes meeting. Nothing weird. Nothing given away. “Just...nothing.”
“Uh, all right,” Scorpia says, lightly shoving her with her shoulder. “You’re, like, super distracted this morning.”
“I am not,” Catra snaps back immediately. She’s surprised when Scorpia just raises a questioning eyebrow, no shrinking back, none of the fear she remembers from how they used to be in the Horde. Those days are gone.
“O-kay, wildcat,” Scorpia says with a soft smile, “I’ll quit prying. Pay attention, though, the garden up here really is her best work.”
Catra runs a hand through her hair, and feels...odd. It’s strange, not scaring people anymore. Like someone took away a tool she’d relied on for years. She almost misses the grand reveal.
They clear the main canopy, and she almost gasps aloud, Melog cooing at her side. Smaller, more delicate trees line the circular platform at the top of the Heart-Blossom, flowers in beautiful concentric circles surrounding Perfuma’s body as she sits in lotus repose, eyes closed and peaceful. As Catra’s eyes adjust to the unfiltered sun, the glint of water catches her eye, and she suddenly realizes there’s tiny little rivers running through the garden in runic patterns, running from springs coming directly from the ground, the soft sound of their burbling lending a completely surreal quality to the place. The soil here looks dark and wet, brimming with life.
“Step carefully, ” Scorpia advises, hovering at the last step before the garden path starts. “She gets annoyed if you mess up anything up here. She says it disrupts the spiritual energy.”
Catra laughs softly. “Got it, Scorpia. You coming?”
Scorpia bites her lip. “Nah, it’s okay, I’ll see her later. I always feel a little too big for this place, you know?”
“Bet you wish you could just shrink down like Adora,” Catra says, elbowing Scorpia.
“Oh, that’d be nice,” Scorpia sighs. “But, hey, being the muscle has its perks. Everyone loves a lady who can do some heavy lifting around here. Always feel useful.”
“You always were,” Catra says, and Scorpia blushes, looking away. That blush brings back a memory that sears at Catra’s insides, and it takes all her effort to keep Melog stable.
“Ahh, stop, go on, do whatever you were gonna do,” Scorpia stammers, a guilty smile on her face as she turns to go. As she starts to descend again, Catra watches her go with a pang in her chest. She was once so cruel to her. How can they talk like this, like old friends? Nothing feels real anymore.
She does step carefully, staying on the parts of the garden that aren’t covered in greenery, and finds herself sitting across from Perfuma in the center. She clears her throat awkwardly, and Perfuma opens one eye.
“I thought that was you!” she says with a broad smile. “And how’s little Melog doing today?” she asks, shifting her position and holding out a hand so Melog can rub their chin against it.
“That’s...actually why I’m here,” Catra admits, not sure if she should sit down. The wood under her feet feels odd and gnarled, yet warm at the same time.
“Oh?” Perfuma studies Melog. “They look fine to me.”
“It’s...our connection. Last night they disappeared and started casting an illusion, something from my memories. When I told them to stop, they did, but when they came back...they looked sick.”
“Oh, dear,” Perfuma mutters. “I don’t know much about what Melog is, but…”
“Adora said you might be able to help. If this is emotional, or whatever, that you had some techniques for calming yourself. I guess she figured...me and Melog could try that.”
“That’s a brilliant idea!” Perfuma declares. “Sit down, here, across from me. You too, Melog,” she adds, rubbing behind Melog’s ears before they obediently take a seat beside Catra. Catra folds her legs up, the way Perfuma did earlier. “You said it was something from your memories, right?” Perfuma asks. “Did you feel...stuck in the past, in your own head?”
“...sometimes,” Catra admits begrudgingly. “I think that’s getting to them, somehow.”
“I see. Close your eyes, Catra.” Perfuma takes in a deep breath. “Focus on your breath. In, and out.”
Catra does as she asks, though she’s biting her tongue. There’s always an urge to lash out when someone tells her what to do, when she can’t see the point. What will focusing on breathing accomplish? What’s the point of any of it?
But she breathes, in and out, focusing on the rise and fall of her own chest.
“Be here, with me, in this moment.” Perfuma’s voice has an odd quality, something Catra’s not sure she’s ever heard from her. It’s always been easy to ignore her, to be honest, but now there’s a gravity here. “Focus on the world around you, your senses. What do you hear, smell, and feel?”
Running water, early-morning birdsong. The rustle of wind in the leaves. And that...is all. The mechanical hum of the Fright Zone, of generators and vehicles, of Horde Prime’s command ship, conspicuously absent.
Suddenly, she can hear it again, that nondescript whirr of machinery invading the soundscape of Plumeria. “What is tha--Melog?” Perfuma asks, and Catra opens her eyes.
Melog isn’t there.
Catra looks around in a panic, but there’s no Melog to be seen in any direction, nothing but Perfuma’s garden. Her breath comes in spurts, and a thin fog starts to rise from the ground.
“Okay, okay!” Perfuma stammers. “Catra, I need you to focus. Listen to my voice, nothing else. I’m here with you, and I’m not going to leave. You’re here with me, right? Right here. Right now.”
But Catra’s not here. If you slip, if you say anything, she will be out of your reach for the rest of your miserable life. Whispers from behind a mask, promises not kept. Bile rises in her throat. This isn’t real. Nothing here is real. Catra squeezes her eyes shut.
“Catra!” Perfuma calls, and her voice shakes. “Catra, listen to me. Take in a breath. Just one.”
Catra’s chest is closed, tight, painful. Her hands shudder, fingers locked in place, numb.
“Come on,” Perfuma urges. “Just one.”
“Hold it. One, two, three. And out.”
“Okay. In. One, two, three. Out.”
The whirr fades, and Catra’s shakes start to subside.
“There you go,” Perfuma breathes softly. “There you go. Again.”
In. One, two, three. Out.
“Okay. Okay. Melog, honey, you can come back. You don’t need to hide.”
Catra opens her eyes again, and Melog fades into being in front of her, wreathed in thin white flame. Without even thinking, Catra embraces them. Over their shoulder, Perfuma worries at her lower lip.
There’s silence in the garden, real silence. Holding tight to Melog, Catra tries to focus her senses again. This time, no memories rise. With Melog’s strange, clay-like body in her arms, there’s a ground for her perception, something to hold onto.
“Open your eyes, Catra,” Perfuma says softly. Catra had barely registered that she’d closed them again. Melog’s purr rumbles against her chest.
“What were you remembering?” Perfuma asks.
“The-the Fright Zone,” Catra admits. “It’s weird here. Too quiet.”
“Not too quiet,” Perfuma corrects gently. “Just quiet. Not everything has a value attached.”
Catra growls involuntarily. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to sleep here?”
“You haven’t been sleeping?”
Catra bites her lip. Sometimes she sleeps. Often, she doesn’t. Another thing Adora doesn’t know. Another thing Catra hides.
And then, for the first time in weeks, she actually does feel something from Melog. The connection comes the other way, and she understands.
“We’ve both had to hide to survive before, huh?” she asks Melog quietly, running her hand down their back. She lets out a long sigh, swallows spit and panic.
Catra looks up and sees Perfuma, and a rush of... something runs through her. Gratitude, maybe, but there’s other sensations than warmth. There’s too many dimensions to everything.
“Are you...still hiding?” Perfuma asks.
“I’m sitting right here,” Catra grunts.
“You know that’s not—”
“Drop it, flower-girl.”
Perfuma’s brow furrows, but she holds up her hands in surrender. “Okay. Nobody can force you to talk. Your thoughts are yours.”
Catra laughs bitterly, remembering the crackle of red lightning on Adora’s flesh, the feeling of a control chip lodged in her spine. “You really believe that? After everything? After Scorpia got—”
Perfuma bristles. “Nobody will force you to talk. Not here. Not now.” She clears her throat, and her posture relaxes. “This isn’t the Horde, Catra. That’s gone. It’s over.”
Catra bites back a denial, because she’s right, isn’t she? And yet she’s not. Catra feels that in her bones. The idea of a world without the Horde is laughable. It’s all she’s ever known.
Isn’t it all any of them have ever known? Didn’t they all grow up with the Horde at their doorstep, war always on the periphery of their kingdoms? How can they believe this idea that things are fine? That something won’t come by and take it all away again? Since when do good things stay?
Melog growls in her arms, mane shifting to a spikey orange, and all it takes is a raised eyebrow from Perfuma for Catra to clench her hands on Melog’s back and demand normal, fine, like everyone else who’s accepted this reality. Melog vibrates under her.
Perfuma takes in a deep breath, re-centering her pose. “Are you ready to keep going?” she asks.
Thankfully, before Catra has to make a decision, Scorpia calls out “Breakfast!” from the edge of the garden. Perfuma smiles and gets to her feet, offering Catra a hand up. Catra takes it reluctantly, and as they leave the garden, Perfuma whispers, “Are you going to stay a while?”
Catra shakes her head. Even if there were plans to stay in Plumeria, she wouldn’t tell her, not now. She isn’t sure this helped anything at all.
“Well, if you ever want…” Perfuma bites her lip. “My door’s always open, Catra. Just have Glimmer send you over,” she adds with a cracked smile, and Catra grimaces, remembering the strange, sick feeling she had last night, seeing Glimmer’s affection so blatantly there on Adora’s face.
Nothing settles the way it’s supposed to, the way everyone’s acting like it has. She wonders if it ever will.
This place is dead.
Catra sits on a railing atop the Fright Zone’s largest tower. The sun shines bright down upon the landscape of her childhood, covered now in a blanket of green, vines and moss invading the cracks and crags of the familiar, jagged architecture. The light almost feels more wrong than the plant life; Catra can’t remember any time she was here that the sky wasn’t tinted orange and black with pollution.
But the war machine of the Horde has been still for months. No one lives here anymore. What few soldiers were left defected with the destruction of the Horde Armada. The figures moving among the buildings aren’t people, not really. Entrapta’s androids are dismantling everything in the hopes of one day having arable land for Scorpia’s people, the arachnida that once held the Black Garnet. Repurposed Horde cranes and gunships float among the ruins, sawing off large sections of watchtowers and smokestacks to be airlifted away to the recyclers and smelters of Dryl.
Someday soon, the rooftop that Catra sits on will be so much molten slag, too. The arachnida will move back in from the Crimson Wastes, at least those who want to return to their ancestral lands. There won’t be a place in this crater for Catra anymore, if there ever was to begin with.
Melog sleeps fitfully on the vines behind her, letting out strange chuffs and sniffs, as though they’re dreaming. Of what, Catra’s not sure — but she has a feeling. Perhaps they share another experience now, seeing a place that was once their home left empty and abandoned. The sudden surge of loneliness that hits Catra feels both foreign and familiar as Melog stirs, like she’s not sure which of them it’s coming from.
“There you are,” comes out of nowhere, and Catra spasms and nearly falls right off the roof, caught only by a hand grabbing her collar. “Woah! Sorry!”
Blinking and trying to get her breath back, Catra sees that it’s Glimmer, of course, who’s teleported up here and nearly killed her. She regains her footing and pushes her off with a grunt. “Can’t you give me a little warning, next time?” Catra grumbles, swinging over the railing and leaning against it. “What do you want?”
“Uh, you’re supposed to be down with Hordak taking inventory of the stuff we’re not trashing from this place?” Glimmer says, raising an eyebrow. “And then you sorta disappeared?”
“You don’t need me here for anything,” Catra says with a shrug. “I wasn’t really in charge for long, and Scorpia was the one doing the actual admin work. I was just a strategist. Hordak’s got it.”
“Isn’t there anything here you want to keep?” Glimmer asks, her voice softening. “Adora’s been looking around your old rooms, but...she said she hasn’t found much. She sounded sad.”
Catra looks down at her feet, remembering late-night rages and destructive impulses. Melog growls. “Woah,” Glimmer says, backing up against the railing as Melog rises, mane shimmering in red. “Melog, you okay?”
“They’re fine,” Catra says, shooting a look at them. They settle back on their haunches, the red fading to a duller shade, but they stay quiet. Catra feels fur rise across her body. She’s always been able to calm them before, but something about being here, looking at Glimmer, her lipstick sparkling faintly in the sunlight —
Damn it, this is stupid. She feels so stupid.
“Are you guys okay?” Glimmer asks softly. “Like, you and Adora, I mean.”
“Why, seeing if she’s back on the market? One partner not enough for you?” Catra snaps.
“What? I — no!” Glimmer blushes, but narrows her eyes. “You’re my friends! I just want to help!”
Catra feels weight crushing her chest, the heat of flames in the air all around her. “Hey,” Glimmer says softly, reaching out a hand, and suddenly she’s thrust out of that memory and into another, back-to-back with Glimmer on the Velvet Glove, each others’ only comfort in that cold, sterile place. She lets Glimmer’s hand light upon her shoulder, and relaxes slightly.
“Sorry,” Catra mutters. “Still...working on stuff.”
“I get it. Really, I do.” Glimmer turns and rests her elbows on the railing, looking out over the landscape. “Adora said I’d probably find you up here. I can see why. It’s a great view.”
“...why didn’t she come herself?” Catra asks, a pang in her chest.
“You could’ve just taken her with you. I’m not dumb. ”
Glimmer slumps down. “I don’t know. That’s why I was asking how you guys were doing. She’s...distant, lately. I’m sure being back here isn’t doing her any favors.”
Distant. That’s the right word. The last few days since their visit to Plumeria have been...off. Catra finds herself not wanting to be around her, or kiss her, or...do other things with her, and it’s not because anything is wrong with Adora. Maybe she could send Melog away, but would that stop the memories that she shouldn’t have from coming back and spoiling everything? How can she do this all again and not wait for the moment it’s stolen from her?
“It’s probably not,” Catra says after too long of a pause. “Not...not great for me, either. I used to dream about ruling this place, and when I did…”
“Yeah,” Glimmer sighs. “Authority’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
“You make a pretty tough queen. Beat me,” Catra says with a shrug.
“Also, almost ended the entire known universe!”
“Eh. We’ve got that in common.”
Catra and Glimmer share an awkward chuckle, their eyes meeting, flitting away from each other as though bashful. “She probably found our stuff,” Catra admits at last, looking away from Glimmer. Melog approaches again, rubbing their face against Catra’s thigh, and she absentmindedly strokes their head. “What little they let us have in the Horde, or the stuff I could steal. Drawings and letters and things like that. I...none of it really made it through intact, though.”
“What do you mean?” Glimmer asks, her voice so soft, and Catra feels that familiar mixture of emotions that she often has when it comes to Glimmer. It always twists her insides up, seeing how much she cares, how strong she is, and how much it still feels like a complete fluke that she didn’t end up with Adora at the end of all of that. She was sure that was how it was going to be, when Glimmer and Adora made it out of the Fright Zone after their rescue attempt. It’s easy to see how Glimmer was the one who lured Adora out of the Horde in the first place; hard to see how it wasn’t a straight-up seduction.
And yet, It’s simple to tell her things, like it was on the Glove. “I destroyed them,” Catra admits. “After Adora left me. Not all at once, I’d feel guilty every time, but eventually…” She holds up a hand, extending her claws. “There was just...nothing left. Nothing intact, anyway. I kept it all around, though. I could never really let her go.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she catches Glimmer leaning against the railing with her chin in her hand and a goofy smirk on her face. “What?” Catra asks.
“You’ve always been like this about her, huh?” Glimmer asks. “You had it bad.”
Catra growls. “I didn’t—”
“It’s cute!” Glimmer interrupts, and Catra’s shoulders slacken, annoyed at how that feels weirdly good to hear. “She should hear it from you, though.”
“No, she shouldn’t.” Catra feels like she’s biting the words off of her tongue. “She shouldn’t — she’s had enough to deal with. She doesn’t need to know every other messed-up thing that happened to us.”
“Us?” Glimmer cocks her head, and Catra wants to slash her across the face. Melog bursts into flames, and only Catra holding them back by their neck stops them from lunging. Glimmer steps back, shimmering slightly, fear in her eyes.
“Melog, down,” Catra hisses, shaking. Stop being so angry. Why are you so angry, all of the time? Everything is fine.
“Catra…” Glimmer swallows, her eyes wide, still glowing faintly, ready to use her magic to escape if she needs to. “What doesn’t Adora know?”
“Nothing. Forget it, Sparkles.” Catra looks away from her, gripping the railing with her hands as hard as she can, squeezing her eyes closed. It’s not even real. Everyone who knew about it is dead, or their memories are long-erased by the dead. You are never to mention it again, nor indulge in such unreasonable closeness. Adora is too important to be waylaid by your pathetic neediness. Catra was never great at following instructions, but that one still lives in her head, all these years later.
“What was that?” Glimmer asks, and Catra looks over to see her, hugging herself and shivering. “Was that...did Melog do that?”
“Nothing,” Catra repeats, her fangs biting into her own lower lip. “Go away.”
But Glimmer doesn’t. Of course she doesn’t. Instead, she takes a few steps back, leaning with her back against the railing, staring down at her shoes.
“When Adora came to rescue me,” she begins, kneading her hands together, “She got caught. You know that, I know, but...Shadow Weaver took us to the Black Garnet chamber. She told me she was going to erase all of her memories from after she left the Horde.”
Catra’s breath catches in her throat, and Melog starts to slouch, spewing gray-green fog, spilling over the edge of the rooftop. No. This can’t be the story. This can’t be it. She knew they escaped, she gave the damned sword back, she knew, but she didn’t know how, or when, but Glimmer can’t have—
“I got free. Punched her right in the face,” Glimmer says with a soft laugh. “But I was so scared. I really hurt myself to get that power, back when Mom and I were sharing the Moonstone. And Adora wasn’t...she didn’t wake up right away, and there was a minute I felt like everything was over, when I wasn’t sure she’d even know who I was.” Glimmer sniffs. “I still think about that, sometimes. How it felt when I almost lost her, so...completely.”
Catra can’t breathe. The Garnet chamber is hundreds of feet down from where she is but she can see it so clearly, and when Glimmer finally looks up, Catra knows that she can see it too, that Melog has started to conduct again, and this time there’s no stopping it. Catra can’t focus, can’t breathe.
“Catra,” Glimmer breathes, fear in her eyes. “Did that happen before?”
Catra’s body lights up in instinct, fight-or-flight. She’s always chosen fight before. Her claws spring from her hands and she leaps at Glimmer, all rage and primal instinct, to force her to get out, not to bear witness to this, this thing that’s been choking Catra for so many long, long years.
But Glimmer leaps back in turn, and in a flash, she’s flying. Her wings, so small and vestigial before, suddenly flare out of her back in a burst of magic, and she hovers just out of reach as the Garnet chamber continues to form around them. Catra drops to her knees, claps her hands over her ears like it’ll help anything, like she won’t have to hear Adora’s screams and remember all the times that Adora was stolen away from her.
Keep your eyes open, Catra. And you will learn your place.
Sobs tear their way out of Catra’s body as Adora’s pained voice, so young, fills the air around her. It’s not real. It was never real. No one knew. It was only in Catra’s head, and Catra’s alone, ever since Shadow Weaver threw herself into a battle to the death beneath the surface of Etheria. The poison that’s been eating away at her brain is forcing its way out into the world and she can’t contain it anymore.
Her throat hurts from crying, her stomach in knots, and she can’t stop. She can’t stop it at all. She’s not in control. She’s never really in control.
And then — something new.
Four warm limbs wrap around Catra’s body, Glimmer’s arms and wings enveloping her, holding her tight. Glimmer rests her head on Catra’s shoulder, and to her shock, tears fall there, too.
“Oh, Catra,” Glimmer chokes out, her voice a broken, squeaky thing. “Catra, I’m so sorry.”
Catra can’t do anything but cry. The sounds start to blur together, Adora’s voice changing and shifting, Shadow Weaver’s threats and lectures growing tired and repetitive. Through it all, Glimmer holds her, one hand on the back of her neck, the touch so intimate and familiar that it just makes everything hurt more, somehow.
Slowly, it all fades away. Catra realizes, after a moment, that quiet has returned to the Fright Zone, and Glimmer is still here, still holding her with tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Why you?” Catra gasps at last.
Glimmer squeezes her tighter.
“Why did you get to save her, and I never did?” Catra pleads.
“But you did!” Glimmer swallows. “You did, Catra. She was going to die down there in the Heart, and you didn’t let her. You did that. Just you.”
Catra shakes her head. “She’ll die. She has to. I don’t get to have her. I never do.”
“Yes, you do,” Glimmer insists, but Catra can’t hear or understand that. Not here, not now. Melog pushes their head up underneath Catra’s arm, and that breaks the spell, for a moment. Catra takes in a gasp of air, lets them nestle against her.
Is this Melog, trying to help? Or is this Catra, forcing the horrors of her own past on someone that has had enough of the Horde’s terrors for a dozen lifetimes? There aren’t any answers to be found from Melog’s nonverbal mind.
“She’s here,” Glimmer whispers. “You’re here. You made it.”
“I shouldn’t have.” Catra swallows bile. “I never should have made it out of the war. I’m, I’m just a leftover. I was supposed to die. I should’ve just died.”
Glimmer chuckles, and the sound is so odd and unwelcome that it jolts Catra out of her own head for a second.
“You know she’d never let you do that,” is what Glimmer says, and now Catra’s laughing too. Small, pathetic hiccups of laughter, but laughter nonetheless.
“Could never change her mind on anything,” Catra says, her voice wet and strained.
“Nope. Her skull’s got a bone plate in front, like a ram.”
“I love her.” It’s the one thing that has always been true, no matter how much Catra tried to hide from it.
“Me too,” Glimmer agrees and it should make Catra angry, jealous, but it doesn’t. Who wouldn’t? Who could help it? Catra tried to deny it for so long. It never worked. “And she loves you. So much. You know that.”
She doesn’t come to this on her own. You do it to her.
“That was a lie, ” Glimmer hisses, clutching tightly at Catra’s back. “That—that monster spent her whole life lying to you two. To the very end, right? She never told Adora what she did, did she?”
Catra shakes her head. “No. It was like it never happened.”
“But it did.” Glimmer pulls back, leaving a hand on Catra’s chin, her wings losing their volume and retracting back into the tiny things Catra’s used to seeing. “And you can’t pretend it didn’t. And you shouldn’t. Maybe…” Glimmer huffs. “Maybe if she knows, she can get something back. Or maybe we could talk to my dad — he knew Shadow Weaver, maybe he knows some kind of magic that can reverse it. But...she has to know, Catra.”
Catra swallows, and she can’t say it aloud, she can’t acknowledge that it was all reality with her broken, tired voice, but she can nod.
“You’ll be okay,” Glimmer promises. “Both of you.”
Catra still can’t make herself believe that. She’s still shaking.
“...do you want to come down, now?”
Catra shakes her head. “Not...not yet.” Melog pushes up against her again, and Catra leans against them, closing her eyes and trying to calm herself the way that Perfuma said. Focus on here, now. Acknowledge what is really happening around you, this moment in time. “But I will. Just...give me a few minutes.”
“I could teleport you right to her,” Glimmer points out with a tired smirk.
“I’d...I’d rather walk. I need the time.”
“Okay.” Glimmer hesitates for a moment, then presses a kiss to Catra’s forehead, tender and sweet. “...be safe up here, okay?”
Glimmer stands up, looking reluctant to go, but after a moment’s notice, she vanishes into the air. Catra breathes carefully, shallowly, and assumes the pose she saw Perfuma in, Melog sitting at her side, looking as tired as herself.
Perhaps if she stays here, and breathes for a while, she can work out a plan. That nod she gave to Glimmer was a promise, even if unsaid. She can't break a promise.
Catra finds Micah among the shelves in the grand library, after a tedious search of half of Mystacor. He’s absorbed in his reading, sitting at a table with the book open to a large runic circle. He’s completely oblivious to the world around him, and no matter how much work Catra’s trying to put into herself or the weight of what brought her here in the first place...he’s an extremely tempting target.
She walks lightly on her tiptoes, back claws retracted so they don’t clack on the marble flooring. Once she’s in range, she swoops down on him and grabs him by both shoulders, leaning down to talk in his ear.
“What’s up, Archmage?” she asks innocently, and is rewarded with Micah flailing in panic and nearly smashing his head on the table before recovering and casting a nasty glare over his shoulder.
“Catra,” he sighs with a roll of his eyes. “Adora must not be with you or she wouldn’t have let you pull that.”
Catra chuckles to herself, pulling back to lean against the shelves. “Sorry, couldn’t help it, you were totally exposed.”
“I guess that’s why you were the strategist,” Micah says with a chuckle, adjusting his seat to look at her. “I’m surprised you managed to get in here without my sister letting the whole kingdom know about it.”
“I left Adora with her,” Catra says with a shrug. “She knows her whole overbearing aunt thing doesn’t work on me, but Adora, well…”
Micah laughs. “That poor girl. So brave against the forces of evil, yet so helpless against her own friends.” He clears his throat, gathering his hands in his lap. “So, what brings you in here? Besides your need to bother people.”
Catra’s mouth goes dry. The banter, the back-and-forth, that’s easy. This part is going to be hard. Melog materializes at her side, looking plaintively at Micah.
“I was wondering where you went,” Micah says with a smile, looking down at them. “I really have to figure out how to talk to you properly, you know. You probably know more about magic than everyone who ever lived here.”
“That’s...what I’m here for,” Catra manages. “Magic...stuff.”
“What sort of magic stuff?”
“...Shadow Weaver kind of stuff.”
Micah’s face darkens. “What did she do now? Or, well, I suppose not now, but what did she do that’s coming up now?”
“I...it’s…” Catra’s throat feels tight, and she looks down at Melog, like they can help. And suddenly, she realizes, they can. The only way Catra was able to tell Glimmer what happened, without getting angry, without her body and brain preventing her, was through Melog.
Maybe Melog’s been trying to help, this whole time.
“Okay, hold on,” Catra says, sitting down with her back to the shelf. “This is gonna be weird.” She crosses her legs, closes her eyes, and breathes out, feeling out Melog’s presence in her mind. They’re always connected, they have been from the start, but actually feeling it, seeking out where they lay in her thoughts, isn’t something she’s tried to do often without using it to try and silence them. Maybe she should let them lead, this time.
She can feel Micah’s gaze on her, concerned and curious, but silent and respectful. He’s a good man. She wonders if he’s ever realized her role in the story of his return from Beast Island — perhaps if she’d never sent Entrapta there in the first place, he would have never been rescued. A strange thought, that one of the worst things Catra did to her friends could lead her here.
This time, she summons the memory herself, just the words. Just the first time, the time she hadn’t watched. If you hadn’t latched onto her like a lamprey eel when she was so young, this would be easier. I could just separate you and wipe both of your minds of each other. But you’re too entwined. So now, you’ve made me do something else. When Adora leaves that chamber, she will not remember the vent, or...whatever was going on between the two of you in there.
I’d hate to see what repeatedly deleting memories could do to her mind...I’m sure you’d hate it just as much. Am I clear, Catra?
She opens her eyes with a gasp, a thin layer of cold sweat covering her body. Melog pushes themself against her, nestling into her side. It takes her a moment to meet Micah’s eyes. He’s pale, eyes watering. He takes a moment to compose himself, wiping his forehead. “How many times?” he asks, quietly, and Catra’s grateful for that. She doesn’t need a hug right now. She needs answers.
“I lost count,” Catra answers, looking back to the ground. “I don’t know.”
Micah leans against the table, looking like someone stepped on his chest. “Every time I think I’ve heard the next worst thing about her,” he mutters. “I...Catra, I don’t know exactly what she did. She worked with powers that we have forbidden, on top of tapping the Black Garnet.”
Catra swallows. She expected something like that. “Can you look? Just...she learned it from here, somewhere. She didn’t come up with it all on her own, right?”
Micah nods. “This’ll be my top priority. I’ll see if I can get any archivists down here to help. But...I don’t want to give you false hope. It happened so long ago, and it hasn’t come back yet, even with the two of you together again... I don’t know if we can reverse it.”
Catra nods, her hands shaking. “But maybe?”
“Are you...sure you want that?” Micah asks gently.
“What — of course, I want that bitch out of her head—”
“Does she know?”
Catra shakes her head. “Not yet. I want...I don’t know. She knows something’s up. But I can’t...can’t say it to her. She has this version of how things went for us and it’s so much better, I don’t want to steal that from her like that. Not just...myself. Without the proof.”
“No matter what, it’s going to come out.” Micah clears his throat. “And if we do come up with a ritual to reverse it, to give her back what’s been taken — she’s going to have to know before we give it back. I’m not going to lie to her about what we’d do.”
“So what?” Catra asks. “What does that matter? We’ll get to it.”
“Do you really... want her to have those memories again?”
Cata squeezes her eyes shut. “I don’t know,” she mutters. “I…wish I didn’t have them. Could you—”
“I will not erase your mind, Catra,” Micah declares. “But what I’m saying is — no matter if we find a way back or not, she needs to hear this from you. She has to know, long before we do anything, exactly what she’s going to be getting back. It’s clear how awful having these memories is for you.” His voice softens. “I don’t need to know it all. That’s yours, both of yours. But she does, before you make her re-live it. It’s only right.”
Catra slumps forward. “You saw what happened to me when I showed you. I won’t get anywhere. I just — can’t you just — give it back, so I don’t have to...”
“There’s not an easy way out of this. I won’t let there be. I won’t cut corners like she did. You’ll have to get used to that if you want to call on Mystacor nowadays.” Micah folds his arms. “I want to help. I’ll do everything in my power. But the truth is… the power here is yours. This is really between the two of you.”
The two of them. That’s been the hardest part. They can settle into other rhythms around other people, can play the part of She-Ra and her snarky girlfriend, but the last few nights, trying to even find a way to sleep in the same bed has been hard. Adora always asking softly if she walks to talk, and Catra saying she can’t. A pained, stifled silence, Catra begging Melog to just stay quiet, just let her be here. It hurt. Tore at her chest and the back of her head, the base of her spine. Sleep couldn’t come while Catra’s mind was focused solely on keeping the past at bay.
She can’t remember the last time they kissed.
“She has no idea why she came here with you, does she?” Micah asks, pity falling over his words like a dark cloud.
Catra shakes her head. “I just told her I needed to see you. She knows that Melog and I are...working out our connection. But nothing else.”
“Melog is a gift,” Micah says, beckoning them forward. “You said you can’t talk to her about it. Like you couldn’t talk to me. But Catra — nobody else in the world has a way to communicate like you and Melog do.”
“Yeah, I love it when the worst moments of my life get broadcast in the room for everyone to see, whether I want them to or not!” Catra snaps, standing up, fur raising on her shoulders. “I bet Melog is loving it too, when my screwed-up brain forces them to do it! Pretty fucking fantastic for both of us!”
Micah stays calm, steady. He takes in a deep breath before he speaks again, enough time for Catra’s hackles to fall. “Everyone else in the world has to use their words,” he says, carefully. “Just words, to show someone else everything we’ve experienced. The two of you — whether you want to or not — can work together to show someone your entire memory, nothing left out by the imperfections of language. That’s a gift, Catra. You should think about using it.” He stands, cracking his back. “I’ll get to work. You should speak to Adora.”
Catra’s left standing alone, nerves shot, until Melog returns to her side and looks up at her. She meets their eyes, and lets out a long, steady breath.
And she comes up with a plan.
Catra comes to their room late that night, finding Adora sitting in the windowsill and staring out at the stars. It’s still a lot to get used to, seeing that vast galaxy each night, and Catra stops in her tracks as soon as she steps in. Adora turns her head, and she doesn’t even muster much of a smile. Catra supposes she can’t blame her.
Silently, she crosses the room and crawls up into Adora’s lap. Adora receives her graciously, wrapping her arms around Catra’s shoulders, letting out a deep sigh.
“Did Micah help?” Adora asks, heart pounding against Catra’s back. Catra glances over her shoulder and sees Melog standing sentinel at the door, aura thin and white. She lets them be.
“I’m not sure, yet,” Catra answers. “He’s...looking into stuff.”
“Oh.” Adora gulps. “Can I help? At...at all?”
Catra nestles herself into Adora’s body. “You are,” she murmurs, turning over, burying her head in Adora’s neck. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Adora strokes a hand down her back, and Catra shudders. Other times they’ve touched threaten to overwhelm her, and she casts a glance in Melog’s direction. She focuses on her breathing, again. Nothing right now.
“For...this. And...and I need to go back to Plumeria. Alone.” The word hurts, coming out of Catra’s throat. It hits Adora like a physical blow, her body shrinking beneath Catra.
She catches her breath, then clings tight to Catra’s back. “Don’t go,” is all she can manage.
“Please, let me fix this. Let me—”
“It’s not about you — or, well, it…” Catra growls at herself. “It’s not something you can fix. Adora, this is on me. I need to make it work.”
“I, I just got you back.”
“I know, I…” Catra sighs, thinking. “I know. There’s...some stuff you don’t know, about what I went through in the Horde. I haven’t had any time to like...get through it, without you here.” She nestles into Adora’s shoulder. “It won’t be like before, when we were separated. I need it, but...I’ll come back. And things will be better.”
Catra swallows, nodding into Adora’s body. “I promise.” She pauses, then adds, quietly, “I love you.”
Adora doesn’t respond in words, just clinging to Catra tighter, and it...feels oddly nice. To know that it matters, that Catra’s leaving this time. Adora still wants to stay at her side, even after these awful, cold months.
Holding onto that thought keeps the memories at bay. For what’ll be their last night together for some time, Catra sleeps well, and wakes refreshed, ready to seek her goal.
Perfuma smiles as she spots Catra at the edge of the meditation garden, waving her over. “When did you get back here?” she asks as Catra makes her way over, sitting across from her and mimicking her pose.
“Just this morning,” Catra answers. “I came for...for more lessons, I guess. Melog and I need to work on our connection.”
Perfuma looks like she might cry from joy. “That’s so wonderful! It’s great to hear you’re working on yourself. You know, I bet if we got Adora to join us, we could work on her anxiety —”
“Cool it, princess,” Catra warns with a raised eyebrow. “You’re gonna make me rethink this. And Adora’s...not here.”
“Oh,” Perfuma says, her face falling. “Is...are you two all right?”
“We’re gonna be. I think. But I gotta...do this first.” Catra takes in a deep breath. “The reason I’m here is that...Melog can show people my memories. Like, as literal as it can get. And I need to show her some things that I can’t tell her.”
Perfuma cocks her head, eyeing Melog up and down. “I noticed some of that in our last session...are you saying you can control that now?”
“...kind of. I’m working on it, and when I used your techniques, I...it was hard, but I could show someone exactly what happened to me.”
Perfuma nods solemnly. “I understand. Catra, I’ll do my absolute best to help you, all right?”
Catra bites her lip. “Some...some stuff might come up while I try this. I kind of want to practice with you, if that’s okay? But it’s gonna get weird, and probably like, bad. Real bad.”
Perfuma nods. “I might look soft, Catra, but I think you know I can handle a lot.”
Catra chuckles. “Yeah. Guess you can. So…?”
“Of course. Close your eyes, and let’s try going through some of my awareness exercises to focus your mind…”
Catra’s not sure how long she sits in that garden, listening to Perfuma’s voice and trying to follow her instructions, to consciously adjust her mindset this way. She can feel Melog better, as she starts to accept Plumeria’s early-morning quiet, its unique smells and feelings, the warm sun starting to rise over the garden. They’re calming too, and it startles Catra to suddenly realize how tense Melog has felt for longer than she can remember — it suddenly becomes clear that that feeling was never all her, that Melog’s moods and feelings have been a part of her own since they first met. The connection isn’t, and never was, just one-way.
It’s Scorpia who knocks them out of the lesson, calling out “Hon, you still up here?” from the edge of the garden.
Perfuma stands up and stretches, waving at Scorpia. “Come on in!” she calls. “Catra’s back!”
Catra’s momentary feeling of peace is shattered the second she looks over to see Scorpia carefully making her way through the garden paths. Perfuma and Scorpia have been so kind to her, everyone has, and she hasn’t deserved a second of it; the guilt and shame rush back into Catra’s mind the minute she sees Scorpia. Catra can feel Melog getting ready to fade, to try and hide, the sense of being overwhelmed by her own mind spreading like a virus. She squeezes her eyes shut. Counts her breaths. The panic in her chest subsides, and she realizes something.
There’s something she needs to show Perfuma, too.
For now, though, she can get up and greet Scorpia and be utterly consumed in one of the woman’s fantastic hugs. She can settle into life in Plumeria, living in the palace of possibly the most princessy princess of them all, and she can wait for herself to be ready.
The first few experiments go well. At Perfuma’s encouragement, Catra decides to start with memories that don’t carry much of an “emotional charge,” as Perfuma puts it — any moments of banality that she can recall clearly enough to summon, for whatever reason. Uneventful lunches in the mess hall, the boring work of tallying inventory in the former Fright Zone, directing troop movements during her time as the Horde’s strategist. When Catra comes out of the memories, she feels...normal, not drenched in sweat and shaking.
Today, though, when they sit down across from each other, Perfuma asks, “So...do you want to try something a little more intense? To see if you can keep your focus?”
Catra takes in a deep breath. Now’s the time. “Yeah,” she says softly, then turns to Melog. “You ready?”
Melog nods their head, letting out a strange, otherworldly sound, like a bell chiming. Well. That’s probably good.
“All right. Let’s begin.”
Catra closes her eyes, and calls back to a moment that’s been in the back of her mind since she returned to Plumeria. A moment in the Crimson Wastes, when she and Scorpia had been riding high on victory in Mara’s ship. A moment in a corner, as the sun set outside, Catra leaning against a wall with Scorpia hanging over her, laughing at some joke she’d made.
Scorpia looks down at Catra, and their eyes meet, and her smile shifts to something else, her face opening up. She leans down, and Catra loses her breath. There’s a part of her that wants this. A part of her she’s tried to bury, over and over again, but especially ever since Adora left. She’s not supposed to feel this way. No one is.
But Scorpia does, and has, and even if Scorpia has always been a loyal soldier, she’s a person, too. As their lips meet, Catra, for a moment, lets herself want. She wraps an arm around Scorpia’s shoulders and pulls her closer.
And then, like nice things always do, it stops. Something breaks the spell. Maybe it’s hearing the gang they took over whooping and hollering in the other room, maybe it’s a memory of Adora doing the same thing to Catra years ago, maybe it’s Shadow Weaver hissing in her ear, but Catra’s stomach suddenly drops.
She shoves Scorpia back, turning away. She wipes her mouth as she leaves.
Catra opens her eyes, finding Perfuma’s, open and watery. There’s a light shaking in Catra’s chest, but she feels surprisingly normal otherwise. Perfuma gulps. “Oh,” she murmurs, looking down at the ground.
“I’m sorry,” Catra mumbles. “I...I was never kind to her. I’m sure you know that.”
“No, it’s — it’s all right. We all have...histories. Maybe you more than others,” Perfuma says, stumbling over her words. “She told me about — the way she felt about you, before. But both of us know that you’re not that person anymore.” Perfuma clears her throat. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Catra asks, brow furrowing. “I — that was kind of crappy of me, wasn’t it?”
“No, not at all! You were being honest with me, really honest, emotionally honest. It’s a good thing! It’s what brings people together, what makes our friendships real.” Perfuma gives her a smile. “It’s so good to see you trying so hard, Catra. I hope you know that.”
Catra finds herself blushing, looking at the ground with an involuntary smile. Everything Perfuma just said feels important, feels like it means that what she’s doing here will actually help Adora. She wants to be close to her again, so badly it hurts, and if Perfuma’s advice is right...maybe they’ll be closer than ever before.
“Micah?” Catra asks the screen, laying back on her guest bed with the pad on her lap. “Any news so far?”
Micah runs a hand through his hair. “Well...unfortunately, I think I have to say it’s bad news.”
Catra closes her eyes. She sort of expected that. “What is it?” she asks. “Just tell me anyway. Promise I won’t do anything horrible. Today.”
Micah chuckles, then clears his throat. “We’ve scoured our archives, as well as Shadow Weaver’s own notes from her quarters in the Fright Zone. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of snags. The first thing is that she designed the rituals herself, and almost all of it was done inside her mind using the Black Garnet’s power to avoid needing to draw runes or circles — as I’m sure you saw. The unfortunate thing is that, since we’ve started dismantling Fright Zone and undone the work on the Black Garnet, we can’t tap it anymore like she used to.”
“Isn’t there...I don’t know, another source of power?” Catra asks, though she feels she knows the answer that’s coming at the end of this conversation already.
Micah nods. “Perhaps, but it would take quite a lot of resources. But that’s only half the story — if there’s a way to reverse the spell, Shadow Weaver certainly didn’t write it down. I doubt she ever designed such a ritual herself.”
“Can’t you design one?”
“That’s the problem.” Micah sighs. “In theory, we could. But I don’t want to subject someone with such a large amount of deleted memory to an experimental spell. If we fail, we could damage her mind even more. The alternative would be to use the existing spell on a smaller amount of memory on a volunteer, and then try to reverse that, before we attempt to do it to Adora.”
“But, let me guess. You don’t wanna do that,” Catra surmises.
“I don’t. It doesn’t feel right or ethical to me to be playing with someone’s mind like that, especially since this isn’t exactly a widespread problem that needs a solution. As far as we’re aware, only one person is severely affected by Shadow Weaver’s memory-erasure spell. If we make a mistake when we attempt our experiment, we could either cure her, or accidentally damage someone else just as severely. It doesn’t seem like a chance worth taking — especially when there’s another way to help Adora understand what she’s lost.”
Catra nods. “I...I understand that.”
“Oh, good!” MIcah says, a hand on the back of his neck. “Because I was afraid you might try and slash me up for that one.”
Catra laughs. “No, Micah, it’s — it’s fine. It really is. I kind of thought you might...you know. Not be able to do it. It was always kind of a long shot.” She sighs. “I’ve been working on the other solution, you know? And I think I’m ready to...try. To show her what really happened to us when we were growing up.”
“...I know it must be hard,” Micah says softly. “But you’ve never exactly struck me as a weak woman, Catra. Are you sure that’s what you’re going to do, or should I keep looking for another way?”
“I’m sure you’ve got more important stuff to do now that we’re trying to contact other Horde victims,” Catra says, waving her hand. “This really is...between me and her, you know? But...thank you. For trying, at least.”
“Anytime, Catra. Good luck.”
“Same to you, Mike.”
Micah visibly winces, and Catra laughs. “Sorry, couldn’t resist!”
“I’ll give you a bit of casual disrespect,” Micah says with a chuckle. “You live in the Horde as long as you did, you’ve got the right to it.”
“Oh, I was always like this, don’t worry. I’ll see you around, all right?”
“All right. Take care of yourself.”
As the connection closes, Catra leans her head back on the pillow. Perfuma has seen a few of the worse memories by now — none of the private moments between herself and Adora, but lectures and beatings from Shadow Weaver, being forced to watch the execution of the couple who taught her what love is. Catra has made it out of each session feeling stronger, more ready to face the memories. She hopes Adora will be able to handle them, too.
She wants her past to just be her past. Not this grim monstrosity sitting in the back of her psyche, but something she can acknowledge and move beyond. And so far, sharing it, not just letting it fester, seems to be doing that.
And she wants, so badly, just to see Adora again.
She keys in a few numbers on the pad, and waits. A few seconds later, Glimmer’s face appears on screen, her sparkling hair looking a bit frazzled.
“Hm? Catra?” She rubs at her eyes.
“Sleeping ‘till noon again, Sparkles?”
“Look, my bed is comfortable, my boyfriend is warm, and I’m not at war. I’m sleeping as long as I want to,” Glimmer says with a tired smile. “Besides, time zones are a thing, Catra. What’s up?”
“Could I ask a favor?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“I need a ride.”
Glimmer laughs. “Well, I did just wake up, I’ve got all the power in the world. I’m assuming you’re coming here to make Adora stop making so many sad faces?”
A pang hits Catra in the chest. “Is she really...that unhappy, without me?”
“She’s managing, Catra, but she misses you like crazy.”
“I miss her too,” Catra admits. “And, yeah. Whenever you’re ready. I can meet you in Perfuma’s garden.”
Glimmer yawns. “All right. Give me a few minutes, and I’ll get you lovebirds back together.”
“...thanks, Glimmer. For everything.”
“Of course,” Glimmer says, her voice softening. “I missed you too. It’ll be great to have you in Bright Moon.”
“Yeah. Maybe it will. See you soon.”
As soon as Catra cracks the door to Adora’s room, Adora rushes up and tackles her into a hug. Catra finds herself laughing, hugging her back, feeling more full and whole than she can remember. It’s so nice to touch her again.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming back!” Adora exclaims, holding her just at arm’s length.
“Nope,” Catra says, sticking out her tongue.
“You’re the worst,” Adora says affectionately, kissing the top of her head. “How did things go at Plumeria? Do you...do you feel any better?”
Catra nods solemnly. “I do. I really do, Adora.” She lays her head on Adora’s shoulder, resting there for a moment. “I have something to show you,” she says quietly, her heart pounding in her chest. “I gotta do it now before I lose my nerve, all right?”
“Uh…” Adora swallows. “Like…”
Catra pauses, then laughs. “Not that, you perv,” she teases, separating from Adora. “It’s...well...here, let’s sit on the bed.” She separates from Adora and sits cross-legged at the head of the bed, leaning her back against the wall. She beckons Melog to enter the room, and they jump up to join her, laying across her lap as Adora clambers up on the other end.
“You learned to meditate from Perfuma? Is that what helped you?” Adora asks.
“Something like that.” Catra takes in a breath. “You remember...you remember when Melog disappeared and started casting that illusion?”
Adora nods. “That was really...really scary.”
“Well, we’ve worked out how to make it happen on purpose. What they were showing was one of my memories,” Catra explains. “A...a bad one. I have a lot of those. They kept coming in when I didn’t want them to, and it was so strong it was getting to them.” She runs a hand down Melog’s back. “There’s things you...you don’t know about when we were growing up, Adora. I need you to see them.”
“Oh,” Adora breathes. “Should I do something, or…?”
“Just watch,” Catra says, smiling softly at the way Adora always wants to do something. They were so lucky to have her as She-Ra during the war.
And then she steadies herself, remembering what she’s come back to do. What she’s going to relive, on purpose, for the sake of both of them. She closes her eyes.
It makes the most sense to start from the beginning.
As Catra concentrates, the memory manifests around them, the mechanical hum of the Fright Zone filling the air, images of their much younger selves running through the halls to escape Octavia’s wrath. The scene shifts and flows around them as they duck into an air vent in the computer lab, laughing and giggling and hugging in triumph. They lay atop each other in that small, confined space, young and happy and starting to feel what they’d feel for each other for the rest of their lives.
“Catra…” Adora’s voice breaks through the illusion. “Catra, I don’t remember this.” She sounds frightened.
“I know,” Catra says, the words struggling to leave her throat as she tries to maintain her focus. “Just...just watch, okay?”
The sudden appearance of one of Shadow Weaver’s serpent-spies in the vent. A mad scramble out of the wall and straight into her clutches, her harsh voice filling the small room. They’re led up to the Black Garnet chamber, and Adora is sent in first, while Shadow Weaver whirls on Catra. And then those words, those that have echoed in Catra’s mind for more years than she cares to remember, fill the air.
You just can’t help making trouble, can you? What did you think you were doing, touching her like that? Fraternization like that cannot be allowed in the Horde. It introduces too many variables, too many skewed priorities. If you hadn’t latched onto her like a lamprey eel when she was so young, this would be easier. I could just separate you and wipe both of your minds of each other. But you’re too entwined. So now, you’ve made me do something else.
When Adora leaves that chamber, she will not remember the vent, or...whatever was going on between the two of you in there. You are never to mention it again, nor indulge in such unreasonable closeness. Adora is too important to be waylaid by your pathetic neediness.
But I will keep your memory of it all intact. So that if something starts to happen again — if she decides she wants to fraternize — you will stop her first. Because you know what happens if I catch you again. I’d hate to see what repeatedly deleting memories could do to her mind...I’m sure you’d hate it just as much.
Am I clear, Catra?
Catra gasps as she breaks her own concentration, tears spilling down her cheeks. It takes her a moment before she can see Adora again, her sight’s so blurry, and when she does it makes her chest feel like it’s cracking apart. She’s crying too, her chest rising and falling rapidly, and as the magic starts to wisp away into the air around them, Adora rushes forward and embraces her and Melog.
For a time, nothing is said between them. They just hold each other and shake, their breath slowing in each others’ arms. Finally, Adora speaks up.
“I can’t believe you’ve had to - to live with that.” Adora swallows. “All this time. I’m so sorry, Catra. I...she took so much from us, I just…”
“I know,” Catra chokes out, burying her face further into Adora’s shoulder. “I — I wish I hadn’t kept it from you, but—”
“How could you even start to explain?” Adora asks, and Catra relaxes in her arms. She understands. Of course she does. She’s Adora. The girl Catra has loved ever since she could remember, for exactly this reason.
Catra nods into her skin. “I...I asked Micah if he would take the memories from me too, but…”
“He wouldn’t do that.”
“I know how hard this has to be.” Adora separates from Catra, swallowing again, running a hand through her hair. “I...I can’t believe it. I knew she could do that, but, I guess...I just didn’t think...how much am I missing, Catra?”
The question hurts Catra’s chest, but she has to answer it honestly. “So much.”
Adora chokes, a fresh tear falling. “That’s so evil. How could she…” She sniffs. “Catra, I want it all. I want everything you can show me. I want that time back with you.”
“Stop it, you’re gonna make me cry too hard,” Catra manages, trying not to let her throat close up completely. “I — I wanna show you, too. I want you to know how long I’ve loved you. How...how I’ve always felt…”
Adora embraces her again, and they’re quiet for a while, just breathing.
“We were pretty cute kids, though, right?” Catra asks with a half-hearted smirk, and Adora chuckles.
“Y-yeah. Before she showed up, that was...it was nice.” Adora pauses. “Thank you, Catra. You try so hard. You’re so...you’re so special.”
Warmth surges in Catra, and she clings back. “You too,” she murmurs.“You know how special someone’s gotta be for me to try and make them love me over and over again? You’re a hell of a catch, Adora.”
Adora laughs gently. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Catra pulls back, taking in a deep breath. “Do you...want to see more?”
Adora nods, swallowing a lump in her throat. “If you can. Until you can’t anymore. And then, tomorrow…”
“And the day after,” Catra promises. “Everything.”
“Are you ready?” Adora asks. “We can...we can wait, if you need.”
Catra breathes, in and out. She looks to the future, what this will mean for them. No more secrets. Nothing else clawing inside of Catra’s head, tearing her apart, while Adora stands by and helplessly watches. They can, finally, know each other, know themselves, and find their path forward, through the rest of their lives — together.
“Yeah,” Catra says, closing her eyes with a smile even though she still tastes her tears on her lips. “I’m ready.”