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Lost before we're found

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When Catra wakes up she isn't in the Fright Zone anymore.

She groans as she tries to stretch, her body heavy and slow. She can't move her limbs. The cuffs bite into her skin when she moves her hands and feet. She's slumped down on the metal floor, the rumbling of an engine vibrating through her. Cargo boxes fill the familiar belly of the Horde airship.

No no no no no.

She bolts upright and pain flares through her wrists where they're handcuffed behind her back. She twists her head and sees the bright green energy cable connecting her cuffs looped through a bar on the wall. 

They couldn't even move her like a regular prisoner. No, they had to bring her there with the supplies, like she's someone's damn property. Like she's as important as a sack of fucking potatoes.

Her anger almost overwhelms her fear, but she still feels it. Deep and consuming, making her stomach churn. If her last meal hadn't been two days ago she would have thrown up.

They're taking her to Beast Island.

Catra always teased Adora for being scared of it. "It's just a stupid lie Shadow Weaver tells us to keep us in line, quit being such a dummy," she used to tell her. Not because she believed it, but because she needed it to be true. It had been just another lie, just another front Catra had put up so she didn't feel so weak. Beast Island had been Shadow Weaver's favourite weapon against her, the hidden dagger she'd pull out when Catra had been particularly troublesome.

"A useless little pet like you will fit right in at Beast Island," she'd snarl as she gripped Catra's arm hard enough to leave marks.

She slumps against the wall. Her arms hurt but she doesn't care. Guess that damn witch was right about something.

Her eyes burn with unshed tears and she grits her teeth, biting them back. She can hear all of Shadow Weaver’s taunts replaying in her head. Worthless, insolent, lazy, pathetic, failure.

Failure, failure, failure.

She screws her eyes shut, but it does nothing to stop the voice in her head. Her palms sting and she realizes she dug her claws in them hard enough to break the skin.

She wants to fight against the voices. She wants to scream, cry, tear something - anything - to shreds just so she can prove to them they are wrong.

But they aren’t, are they? Because Catra failed. She failed to defeat the princesses. She failed to gain Hordak’s trust or Shadow Weaver’s praise. She failed to keep Adora close to her.

She just wasn’t good enough.

And she tried to be. Time and time and time again, but it never did the trick. No matter what she did, she always fell, made a mistake. One mistake too many, apparently.

She almost laughs at the situation. Somewhere across Etheria, Adora is in a big shiny castle, with a magic sword and perfect new friends, and she's in a dirty cargo plane, being shipped off to a dingy little cell to die in. Who would have thought?

“Do you think she’s awake back there?” She hears a man say from the front of the plane.

“Nah,” another one answers. Two pilots, standard procedure. “The drug should keep her under until we reach Beast Island.”

The first pilot says something Catra can’t quite make out. The second one laughs. 

“You’re scared of her? Please, like she could even get out of those chains. She’s just a little girl who got way ahead of herself and then failed epically.” Catra bares her teeth unconsciously. Her chest rumbles, a growl waiting to come out. “And besides, even if she did manage to escape, we could beat her in like, five minutes tops.”

The pilot's tone is painfully familiar to Catra. Dismissive, almost bored. Like she's but a bug on his arm that he could flick away without even thinking about it.

She's heard that tone one too many times. It echoes, bounces off the crates full of supplies, amplified. You're as important as a damn ration bar.

And Catra is so tired of it. So royally, fucking tired of people constantly shoving her failures and weakness in her face. Saying you’re pathetic, you’re useless, you’ll never amount to anything.

She doesn't realize she's grinding her teeth until they start hurting. You know what? Screw them! 

She traces the handcuffs around her wrists with the pads of her fingers. The Horde's restraints work so well because it's impossible to find a weak spot on them and break them. Or it's impossible for normal humans. The pads of Catra's fingers have always been more sensitive, and it doesn't take her long before she finds the hairline seam along the metal. She unsheathes her claws and digs them in. This is the worst part. She's broken her claws plenty of times trying to get out of this kind of handcuffs whenever Shadow Weaver used them on her.

A faint click is Catra’s only indication that the handcuff is off. She pulls the cord free from the bar in the wall and breaks off the other cuff. She holds onto it as she approaches the pilots. Thankfully she’s always been light on her feet and the steady buzz of the plane’s engine hides any noise she does make.

She climbs on top of the crates and gets close enough to the front to see the controls. A map of the terrain underneath them glows green on the dashboard, their plane a blinking red dot on it. She recognises the patterns on the map from the ones back in the Force Captains' quarters. They are nearing the tallest mountain in the southern region of Etheria. She still has time.

A plan forming in her head, she jumps down from her perch. She grabs one of the emergency backpacks leaning against the wall, as per procedure. Maybe going through all that paperwork wasn’t such a bad thing after all. She cuts off a button from it and flicks at the opposite direction. A sharp and clear sound rings through the plane as metal hits metal. The pilots’ heads turn and Catra watches them from behind the crates. 

“What was that?” the pilot on the right asks. Catra recognises his voice as the first one who spoke before.

“Eh, something probably just fell off, I’m sure it’s nothing,” the one on the left says. 

“I’m gonna check just in case.” The right pilot gets up, moving towards the cargo hold. He’s not tall, barely an inch taller than Kyle, with light blue scales scattered over his cheeks. Judging from how he speaks he won’t be any harder to take down either. 

The moment he passes by her hiding place, Catra pounces. She catches the man by surprise and within seconds she has him in a chokehold. Four, five, six…

“Help…” His voice comes out a whisper due to Catra choking him, but it’s loud enough to be audible. Shit.

… seven, eight, nine.

The man goes limp in her arms and Catra lets him drop unconscious to the floor. “What’s going on back there?” She hears the other pilot’s steps as he comes closer. The plane is on autopilot, then.

“How did you-” the man starts to say when he sees her, but Catra reacts fast. She throws her handcuffs at him and the cord wraps around his legs. He comes crashing down and Catra would be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy the sound of his face hitting the floor. She takes his stunt baton from his belt and kicks him in the stomach. He skids across the ground, hitting the crates with a cry of pain, his dark hair flying everywhere.

Catra runs to the dashboard. Flying standard issue Horde planes like this one was part of their basic training, and while Catra is by no means an expert, she knows the important stuff. In this case, how to bring this plane down.

She buries her claws in the metal and rips part of the controls out. The raw edges hurt her fingers and she feels blood flowing from a cut, but she ignores it. The lights in the cockpit turn red as the warning siren shrieks. Catra is weightless for a moment, her stomach rising up all the way to her chest, and then they're falling.

“What the hell are you doing?” The pilot comes charging at her, arm raised to punch her. Catra almost wants to roll her eyes; this guy telegraphs his moves way too early on. She grabs him by the arm before he manages to hit her and flips him onto the ruined dashboard. He yells in pain as Catra grabs the emergency backpack from where she left it and runs to the back of the plane. 

Crates and sacks of supplies are moving all around her as the plane is rapidly losing altitude. Thankfully the parachutes are still by the door. With the emergency backpack strapped to her front and the parachute in one hand, she punches the button to open the door. It cricks as it opens and the wind whips at Catra’s face.

The sound of footsteps is her only warning before a kick connects with her side and sends her stumbling to the side. The left pilot is behind her, his dark hair falling in his face and an ugly cut across his cheek from where he hit the ruined dashboard.

"You're not escaping that easily," he says. If he's here, then that means the other pilot woke up and is trying to right the plane. But then again, Catra didn't stop his airflow enough to knock him out for long. The dark-haired man in front of her pulls a knife out of his boot. "Did you really think you could pull this off?"

“Yes, actually.” Catra pounces at him but he dodges. The door is almost fully open now and the wind is roaring around them, harsh and cold. It makes it hard to fight, but Catra avoids each one of the pilot’s attacks. He aims a punch to her head and she dodges, swiping her claws across his face. He moves blindly towards her Catra jumps out of the way with the grace of an acrobat. The second parachute flies out of the plane.

The pilot’s hand is covering the new scratches on his face, blood dripping between his fingers as he glares at her. Catra smirks. “What was that about beating me in less than five minutes?”

He roars as he attacks her. Catra jumps out of the way, but she’s not fast enough and his knife manages to tear at her parachute. She hisses under her breath. Have to wrap this up fast. 

“Ha! Guess you can’t escape with a torn parachute!” The pilot gloats, despite the many more wounds on him than on Catra. She doesn’t bother to reply to him. She lands a spinning kick to his ribs and he flies into one of the crates. Boxes fall on him and Catra runs to the open door, the parachute on her back. 

The plane has fallen enough for Catra to clearly make out the trees on the mountain below them. It's not a small fall by any means, but it won't be deadly. Probably.

With the emergency backpack on her front and the parachute on her back, Catra jumps.

The air is deafening as she falls, slashing at her like a sharp knife. It brings tears to her eyes and she fights to keep them open. The ground is coming closer and closer. Catra may have jumped off a cliff when Sparkles and Arrow took her hostage, but that was with the knowledge that the princess wouldn't let her plummet to her death. This is different. This is uncontrollable freefall, with nothing but a flimsy piece of cloth to save her life.

Catra grabs the parachute's string and pulls. It bursts open, yanking Catra back into the air hard enough to knock the wind out of her lungs. Her relief lasts all of ten seconds before she hears the dreadful sound of the fabric tearing. She looks above her and sees the hole the pilot cut widening under the unforgiving onslaught of wind. She can make out the individual branches in the trees as she's falling faster and faster towards the ground.

She barely gets her arms up to protect her face before she’s hit the treeline. It feels like she hits every single branch on her way down. Her clothes snug against the wood and she’s sure she heard something tearing. She desperately tries to right herself but it only results in a branch hitting her in the eye. How did people get the idea cats always land on their feet?

The parachute catches on a branch, the sudden stop leaving her breathless. The force of it rips the remaining parachute and Catra falls the last several dozen feet to the ground.

Pain flares through her. She cries out, startling the small animals around her. Shit. Her right leg lies broken beneath her. When she sits up to look at it better, something warm runs down her face. She pokes around her left eye and hisses in pain. Her fingers come away bloodied. 

Great. 

She takes off the emergency backpack and gets to work. These things are packed with enough supplies to help a soldier survive for several days in case of a crash, until the rescue team reaches them. She’ll have to make them last. 

She treats her eye first. She can't open it properly when she tries and she doesn't see clearly out of it, but at least most of the blood seems to be coming from the area around it. The disinfectant stings as it hits her wounds and Catra hisses. Once her eye is all bandaged up, she moves to her leg.

It seems to be what has suffered the most damage by the fall. It hurts like fucking shit, but at least she can't see bone, so she'll count that as a win. She breathes deeply and takes hold of her leg on either side of the break. She doesn't bother with a countdown and snaps the bone back in place.

She's surprised she didn't scream; it sure hurt enough to. She's doubled over, panting through the pain, when she realizes she's biting her lips enough to taste blood. Spitting it out, she looks around her for something to brace her leg with. Thankfully she broke quite a few tree branches while falling down and she ties a sturdy looking one to her leg.

Standing up is a pain. Catra puts all her weight on her good leg and a thick branch-turned-impromptu-crutch and even then she crashes into a tree. After a good few minutes of stumbling, more pain and swearing she manages to right herself.

Through the gaps in the trees and the branches she crushed in her wake, Catra watches the Horde plane fly away, continuing on it’s route to Beast Island.

Well, at least that part of the plan worked.

 


 

 

Catra sits on the ground, her broken leg spread out before her as she scoops up water from the stream and does her best to drink it without having an accidental shower. Turns out not being able to see out of one eye screws with your depth perception. Isn't that lovely?

It’s been a week since her escape. She’s managed to survive - well, not ‘fine’, but she’s survived. It definitely hasn’t been easy. Between her limited eyesight and broken leg, the last several days have been a challenge, to say the least. 

The Horde plane never came back. And why would it? She jumped off a plane with a torn parachute. It’s logical to assume she’s dead. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone being taken to Beast Island decided to off themselves before that, or try and take the soldiers in charge of them with them. Why waste time and resources looking for a corpse when Hordak would punish them for running late on their supply delivery? 

A fish swims down the stream, splashing in the water without a care in the world. The logical thing to do would be to catch it. The food inside her emergency backpack was meant to last for two or three days, four at most. It’s a miracle Catra managed to make them last until now, but they were always going to run out. Now she’ll have to find food on her own and with her leg as it is, hunting is out of the question. 

Fishing was her next best solution - in fact, that was partly why she made her camp in a cave near this stream - but nooo, that had to fail too! Only being able to see out of one eye makes it almost impossible to catch any fish and no matter how hard she has tried she hasn’t caught anything.

Catra slashes at the water, scaring the fish away, but it does nothing to calm her anger. “Stupid fish…”

She pulls her hair away from her face with a groan. Her mask is stored safely away in her backpack - she fell down a lot while getting used to walking without one of her legs and the mask was too important to her to let it be damaged by that. She gets up, her cloak swishing against her frame. Her leg doesn't hurt anymore when she moves it, but she still can't put any weight on it. Her makeshift crutch is the only reason why she has been able to get around.

The sky above her is growing dark. Washes of orange and pink still cling to the sky near the west, but it won’t be long before they too are swallowed by the night sky. Etheria’s three moons have already started their climb, all of them full, shining above the treeline. Catra pulls her hood over her head. She should get moving if she wants to make it before any nocturnal predators come out. 

She makes her way next to the river. Soon, the village comes into view. Or, well, it used to be a village. The buildings are all burnt down and ravaged. In some places, the only thing letting Catra know there used to be a house there is a knee-high pile of bricks. She knows, logically, that she should be creeped out by this. But everything here-  the charred skeletons of houses, the darker stains against the brick, the fact she's walking on the place someone died - nothing about it fazes her.

Places like this exist all around Etheria. They’re not special. Thaymor was well on its way of being just like this that day, and had Catra stayed in the Horde longer she would have surely created some as well. 

She crosses the stream on its narrower point and moves farther into the forest. The sky is fully black now and only Catra’s night vision and the light of the moons allows her to move through the trees. She finds the rabbit burrows soon enough. There’s so many around here Catra is sure it must have been a farm of sorts back when the village was still standing. The rabbits must have never moved their nest since then. The force of habit is a strong one, after all.

She slowly moves towards one of the nests. With the rabbits asleep, it won’t be hard for her to grab one and kill it quickly. It’s a good thing she found this place, otherwise who knows what she’d do for food. Her stomach is already screaming at her as it is and if she doesn’t eat something more filling than half a ration bar she thinks she’s going to pass out.

She’s holding a rabbit in her hands, about to snap its neck, when her ears twitch under her hood. Something is approaching behinds her. She freezes where she’s standing and focuses on her hearing. There’s a lot of footsteps, but they’re quite and much softer than a human’s would be. The footsteps quicken, like they’re running, and Catra barely has enough time to turn toward the sound before they reach her.

Two beasts emerge from the other side of the clearing. Catra recognises them as some kind of feline, but she can’t pinpoint an exact kind. They’re large enough to be cougars or leopards, but their coloration, from what Catra can make out in the dark, is completely random. She’s never heard about felines that look like these.

But the kind of predator before her is the last of her worries, especially when the two cats are glaring at her with glowing gold and green eyes, their lips pulled over their large teeth as they snarl. And, oh yeah, she can’t run.

She tries to anyway. She moves surprisingly fast for someone with a crutch and a rabbit in her hand - she’s not about to give up her food. Still, the beasts come after her, decidedly more agile than Catra, and even with her lead start and gap between them, they’re closing in on her.

Shit, shit. Catra's pulse beats frantically in her neck, so hard it's almost painful. She moves quicker, reaching farther away with her crutch, jumping more with her good leg. Fear courses through her body, raw and primitive. Being killed by two big cats, after everything she's gone through, would be almost funny if she wasn't terrified to her core of dying.

Her foot catches against a root. For a single moment, she's weightless, her heart skipping a beat and stopping inside her chest. An ice-cold certainty washes over her - I’m going to die here. 

She crashes onto the forest floor. The rabbit in her hand breaks free and rushes away. She hears the footsteps of the beasts behind her, slow and steady as they stalk towards her. Catra’s their prey, a sorry excuse of a person who can’t even run away. That rabbit would be harder to catch than she is.

Failure, failure, failure.

Anger flares up in Catra's chest, hot and all-consuming. She is not going to die. She is not going to prove Shadow Weaver, Hordak, anyone who ever called her weak right. She's going to survive this and relish in the look on their faces when she takes them down with her own two hands.

She rolls onto her back and growls at the two beasts in front of her. Her teeth are bared, her claws extended, ready to tear the beasts to shreds if she needs to. Distantly, she notes that her hood has fallen, exposing her folded back ears. She pays it no mind, keeping her eyes trained to her predators, waiting for them to either attack her or go away.

 But they do neither of those things. Instead, the beasts' eyes are glued on her head, blown wide in a look that almost resembles shock. Their eyes move down her body, from her ears to her eye, to her claws and tail. The golden-eyed animal is in front, its ears pinned back against its tan fur. It turns to the second one, its white coat covered in black and orange spots. If Catra didn't know any better she'd think they were holding a conversation.

Just as Catra is about to take a shot and attack, the beasts shift. Their backs arch and their fur recedes back into their body. Where there used to be fur, now there's clothes and a short layer of fuzz. They stand on two legs and their features rearrange from animalistic to human.

But their animal characteristics don’t disappear fully. Cat ears sprout from the sides of each of their heads, their pupils are black slits against their eyes and tails swish behind their backs.

They are like her.  

"How…" the golden-eyed one says, her voice wavering, trailing off in a question Catra doesn't know. Her light hair is pulled back, more a puff of hair than a ponytail, and in the moonlight, it creates a halo around her head. The girl takes a step towards her, hand out. Catra immediately tenses.

"Stay back!" She raises her clawed hand, which had relaxed in her surprise. Catra is so confused to see these people, with their cat ears and tails so like her own. There are a million questions swarming around in her head: who are these people, what are they doing here, why do they look like me? Her thoughts are so loud she doesn’t know what to do. Her training kicks in.

The girl freezes at the sound of Catra’s voice. Catra wanted her to be scared of her, intimidated, and while there’s horror in her eyes, there’s also sadness, like Catra is a wounded animal.

The girl turns to her companion, a boy shorter than her in loose clothes. He calms the shocked look in his eyes as he approaches Catra.

“Don’t come any closer!” She yells at him. He stops, but he doesn’t have the same despaired expression as the girl. For a moment, he reminds her of Adora’s gentle touch after Catra had a nightmare.

He raises his hands, empty palms towards her, his claws retracted. "I won't." He kneels down, sitting on his folded legs. It's a horrible position to be in front of a hostile enemy - if Catra chooses to attack he wouldn't be able to get away fast enough. He's making himself vulnerable. Maybe that's the point.

“I’m Nino,” he says, like this is the most normal situation he’s ever been in. “What’s your name?”

Catra ignores him. “Why do you look like me?”

“You’ve never seen another Magicat?” There’s something in his tone, halfway between hope and sorrow.

Catra frowns at the unfamiliar term.“If that means someone else with cat ears and a tail, then no. I was the only one in the Horde.”

The hope disappears from his face, and the girl standing a little ways behind him clenches her fists. At the mention of the Horde, both their eyes are pulled down to the force captain badge on her shirt. Why she never took it off, Catra doesn’t know, but the sight of it makes the golden-eyed girl growl.

She turns away from Catra and Nino and starts hacking at the first tree she sees, roaring like a beast. “Those bastards!” 

“Maya, calm down!” Nino hisses at his friend. Although he doesn’t say “you’re scaring her”, Catra still hears it.

She spins around to him, incredulous and furious. When she speaks her arms wave around in large gestures. She probably would have slapped someone by accident if they were standing too close. “How? They stole her away and then they made her one of their fucking soldiers! I swear I’m going to rip Hordak’s throat!”

Despite how bizarre this situation is, Catra barks out a laugh. “Take a number for that, there’s a line.”

Nino snickers at that and Maya grins in satisfaction. “And I take it you’re first in that line?”

Catra snarls. “Hordak is gonna get what he deserves.”

Nino and Maya exchange a look. Honestly, Catra is getting a bit creeped out by this whole ‘silent communication’ thing. “Do you want to come with us?” Nino asks.

Catra’s instinctive, training-influence answer is no. But this is the first time in her life she’s ever met someone like her and the pull, the curiosity to find out more is impossible to ignore. Plus, these two don’t look like they’ve been slipping in the dirt, so she’ll probably have better chances of survival with them than she would on her own.

Catra nods. Nino’s smile is so wide Catra can’t help but wonder how it even fits on his face. Soon, he and Maya have lifted her off the ground and with one arm wrapped around each of their shoulders, they make their way out of the forest. None of them speak, which seems to be awkward for them if the way Maya keeps stealing glances at her is anything to go by.

They’re walking through the burnt down village when Maya finally speaks up. “So, uh, we never got your name.”

Catra almost rolls her eyes. This really doesn’t seem like the time for pleasantries. “It’s Catra.”

Maya makes a weird sound, kind of like a huff and a snicker mixed together. “The Horde isn’t that creative with names, huh?”

Catra thinks back to Princess Prom and all of the princess' ridiculous names. "I think most of Etheria isn't." They've stopped at the end of the village, right where the mountain starts its steep rise. "Uh, there's nothing here."

Nino slips away from under her arm, but thankfully Maya seems strong enough to support her weight anyway. Damn, her muscles are almost as big as Scorpia’s or She-ra’s. 

Nino gives Catra a mischievous grin. Catra’s hair stands on edge. Maybe I shouldn’t have trusted the two strangers I found in the woods after all. But Nino doesn't attack her. Instead, he lays his hand against the rock, his fingers spread wide, and unsheathes his claws.

Warm light glows from within the rock, right under his fingertips. It grows bigger, extending more and more until the glow has taken the shape of a large arched doorway. Catra turns her head, shielding her eyes from the light. When it subsides, she looks back.

“What the hell?”

There's nothing there. That weird light is gone, and so is the rock Nino had touched. In its place is a gap, like the opening of a cave, yet its sides are too smooth to be natural. From beyond the opening, Catra sees a path winding its way deeper into the mountain, torches against the wall lighting up the way.

“Come on, let’s go,” Maya says, nudging Catra in the side and pulling her from her daze. She seems completely unfazed by what just happened. 

They walk into the tunnel and with one touch from Nino the rock is back in its place like it had never moved. He takes his place back at her side and they keep going.

“It’s enchanted,” Nino says, like he knew the question Catra hadn’t asked. “The Gate, I mean.”

“By who?”

“Our first queen. It’s made so only a Magicat can open it.”

Catra nods, silent. It’s weird to be given information so freely. In the Horde, you were always told only what you needed to know and nothing more. You learn not to ask useless questions.

They descend deeper into the mountain, accompanied only by the sound of their footsteps and the light of the torches. When Catra looks closer she realizes they don't have a flame. Instead, there's a clear, iridescent crystal at their tip, bathing the tunnel in soft shades of blue and purple.

They’ve passed twenty-two torches when Maya speaks up. 

“We’re almost there. Nino, go get the healers ready and get the queen.”

Nino nods and takes off running. Before Catra can even say anything, he’s out of sight.

They take a turn and Catra hits her foot on a rock. She stumbles, but Maya rashes to catch her and right her up again. Catra nods at her. She doesn't say thanks. Being carried around like this is humiliating. If she didn't know that this will be beneficial for her survival she would have pushed Maya away from her long ago.

This doesn’t make me weak, this doesn’t make me weak.

“So how did you break your leg, anyway?” Maya asks. Catra searches for it, but there’s nothing condescending in her tone. She sounds genuinely interested.

"I jumped off the plane transporting me to Beast Island."

Maya stumbles in her surprise. “Wait, you jumped off a plane?”

Catra nods. 

Maya's roaring laughter echos through the tunnel. "Damn, you're hardcore!"

Catra isn’t sure what to say to that. Whatever she might have been thinking flies out of her mind as the tunnel starts widening. Light streams in, much brighter than the torches. They exit the tunnel onto a landing overlooking the cavern. Catra gasps.

It's huge. She knows they're underground, yet this space is so large it feels open, like they're out under the sky and not underneath the largest mountain this side of Etheria. A town spreads out in front of her, dozens and dozens of houses, all clustered around a wide central road. The palace at the end of it looks like it wasn't built but rather carved out of the rock. Its towers rise up in the air, sharp and menacing like claws, touching the roof of the cavern.

Clear light washes over everything. Catra looks up. The entire ceiling is covered in the same shining crystals that lit up the tunnel. It's as if someone broke Etheria's moons in tiny pieces and hung them here.

It’s beautiful.

Maya smirks beside her. "Pretty cool, right?"

Catra closes her mouth - she didn’t realize she was gaping. “What is this place?”

“This,” Maya says, “is Halfmoon.”

They make their way down towards the central road. Catra’s brain is running, trying to comprehend that apparently there’s a town of cat-people under a mountain that she never knew about.

“I never heard about this place in the Horde,” she muses. All the windows are shut, the people inside sleeping peacefully.

Maya’s laugh is dry and humorless. “Huh, I would have thought they’d love to parade their atrocities.”

Maya’s gold eyes are hard. She looks like a soldier before battle. “What do you mean?”

Maya adjusts her hold on Catra. “You really never heard of Halfmoon?” There’s a sadness in her voice, the kind you hold for someone that never knew something you took for granted.

Catra shakes her head.

Maya breathes deeply and steeles her gaze on the path in front of them. "This is all that's left of Halfmoon now, but it used to be just the city's center. What we passed before making it here was the rest."

Catra startles. There’s a sick feeling in her stomach. “The ruins?”

They pass by what looks to be a bakery. Maya nods. “Yeah. And that’s only what’s left standing. Dad says that it used to be much larger.”

Maya’s words from the forest ring in Catra’s mind. She knows the answer already, but she still asks. “What happened?”

"The Horde attacked. Halfmoon was their first massacre in the war." With her arm around her shoulders, Catra feels Maya's growl vibrate in her chest. "They destroyed everything in their path. They burnt our city, they killed us like we were nothing but animals. They stole away our children," Maya says, looking at Catra. "They even took our princess and the crown."

Catra lived her whole life as an orphan. Shadow Weaver was the closest thing to a mother she ever knew, and she was horrible to her. Time and time again, when Shadow Weaver punished her, Catra wondered where she came from. Did she have parents? Who were they? Why did they leave her?

Guess they never left me.

“I never knew about this.” Her voice is only a whisper. If the town wasn’t so quiet, Maya wouldn’t have heard it. 

Catra finally got the answers to the questions she’s had all her life and they make her sick to her stomach. 

“The Horde killed my mother,” Maya snarls. “They killed Nino’s parents and his siblings. Everyone in Halfmoon has lost someone to the Horde. But I guess their lives aren’t worth remembering to Hordak.”

The palace doors are open when they reach them. Just inside the entrance is a group of Magicats, along with Nino. Most of them wear white - medical uniforms, Catra realizes. They stare at her like she's a ghost, and for them she might as well be. At the center is a plump woman a little taller than Catra, with warm tan fur. Her lips tremble as she looks at Catra.

She must be the queen.

The woman comes closer. Her steps are slow, hesitant, as if Catra will disappear if she’s not careful. Her eyes dart from Catra’s eye to her ears, the stripes on her arms to her tail. A sob rips out of her throat and she covers her mouth with shaking hands.

"Get her to the infirmary," the woman says. The Magicats in white nod and two take off down a hallway. When the woman turns back to Catra there are tears in her eyes.

“Welcome home.”

Chapter Text

The first thing Catra realizes when she wakes up is that she’s clean. After a week in the wilderness, Catra got accustomed to the feeling of grime constantly stuck in her fur, despite how many times she licked herself clean or sat on the stream’s edge to wash herself. Same with her hair, although her hair was always a tangled mess no matter what she did to it.

But now she’s clean in a way she didn’t know existed. It’s not the ‘you don’t stink so good enough’ kind of clean you get in your five minutes of allotted shower time in the Horde. It’s bone-deep in a way that makes her skin feel new. Even her hair, while still big and poofy, doesn’t feel like it could house a small family of birds anymore.

Catra sits up slowly in her bed. White curtains hang from the ceiling on either side of her, creating a secluded area around her bed. She knows this is an infirmary, but it looks so different than the Horde one she found herself in so many times during her childhood. Her mattress is actually comfortable, not the slabs of rock covered in fabric that were the Horde beds. Everything is white and clean, there are no suspicious stains to be seen. The curtains give a sense of peace and privacy, like this a place for healing and rehabilitation instead of somewhere to dump all the people crying in pain until they stop making noise. There's even a vase with flowers at her bedside table, as useless as that is.

Yet, even though all of these things should calm her down, they don’t. Instead, the fact she is somewhere unfamiliar hits her like a brick and her instincts scream at her to get up and surveil the area for potential exits.

Touching up her face, she realizes her left eye is still bandaged. My leg feels surprisingly good, though… Her crutch is nowhere near the bed, neither is anything she can use as one. Shit, this is gonna hurt. Steadying herself, she pulls her legs to the edge of the bed and stands up, careful to put all her weight on her left leg.

She takes a step, or rather a hop. Her leg slips against the smooth stone floor and she instinctively puts weight on her right leg. Oh, fuck!

… it doesn’t hurt.

Her leg doesn’t hurt. How?

She puts more weight on it, jumps in place on it and even kicks the bed with it, but nothing hurts. There's only an aching feeling, like she ran too many laps in training, but nothing to indicate she had broken a leg.

“Oh dear, you shouldn’t do that!”

Catra jumps. How did she sneak up on me?

One of the Magicats in white from last night rushes to Catra, guiding her to sit on the bed with gentle touches and fretting over her. She’s short and chubby, with black fur and ears. Catra stares at them. She knows she has ears just like that, but it’s so weird to see them on another person.

“Well, you shouldn’t have stood up so suddenly, but your leg seems alright,” the woman says, pulling Catra back to reality. “It healed surprisingly fast, though.”

Catra sputters. “You think? It was broken yesterday! How is it okay?”

The woman’s pleasant smile drops, replaced by that same look of grim realization Maya had last night. It’s only there for a minute before the woman smiles again, but Catra still catches it.

“Human medicine doesn’t work as well on Magicats,” the healer explains, sitting next to Catra on the bed. “I mean, they work for smaller things, but not anything more serious than a sprain. We are a different species, after all. You did well treating your leg, though. It could have been a lot worse.”

“So you used special cat-people medicine and now my leg is okay?” Catra asks, processing the fact that apparently she hasn’t been given the right medication for all her life.

The woman laughs. “Yes, pretty much. Your eye should be alright too, but we kept it bandaged because it’s more delicate, so please don’t take them off yet.”

“Does that mean I can leave the infirmary?”

“Yes, the queen actually-”

“Am I interrupting?”

Catra whirls around to the door. Why does everyone sneak up on me today?

The queen stands in the doorway, hand against the frame, and she looks so natural there it's jarring to Catra. Hordak and Shadow Weaver always felt like they didn't quite belong in their surroundings. They felt otherworldly in a way the Magicat Queen, with her pulled back shoulder-length hair and kind expression doesn't. Hordak and Shadow Weaver were intimidating; they gave orders and you followed them, or else. They were on a league of their own, not to be dealt with lightly and certainly not ones to ask if they were interrupting.

"Oh, of course not, Queen Imra!" The healer jumps on her feet, patting down her apron. "I was just checking on Catra. She healed remarkably well, her bones must be quite strong -" The woman stops suddenly, her tail freezing and fluffing up. "Ah, excuse, I started rambling again."

The queen giggles. “It’s alright, Sheri, don’t worry about it.”

Sheri nods frantically, her bun bobbing along with her head. “I’ll leave you alone then!” She rushes past the queen and out of the room.

“She’s very energetic, isn’t she?” The queen approaches Catra, her red dress following her movements gracefully. She sits down next to Catra, leaving plenty of room between them.

Catra shrugs. What’s with everyone being so talkative?

“I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Imra, current Queen of Halfmoon.” Despite the queen’s calm tone, Catra notices her dark tail standing still at an angle behind her. So she’s nervous about this.

“And you already know my name,” Catra says. Maybe a queen isn’t the same thing as a princess, but Catra can’t help feeling on edge.

“Yeah, I suppose I do,” Imra says. She keeps moving her hands; first making random gestures as she speaks, then fidgeting with her dress, then finally rubbing at the back of her neck. “How are you feeling?”

Catra huffs. “Oh, you mean about the fact that there’s a secret civilization of cat-people that I never knew about because the Horde stole me as a baby? Just peachy.” She pauses and then, “My leg is fine too.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” She smiles for a second, small but kind. Her ears twitch and she rushes to correct herself. “About your leg, I mean. I understand this must be a lot to take in, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask me.”

Oh, yeah, let me just get my list, it’s only as large as my childhood issues, Catra thinks. Instead, she simply nods.

The conversation stalls, and for a moment neither of them says anything. Catra’s eyes wander around the room, and despite that these people haven’t given her any reason to fear them, she runs through exit strategies unconsciously. When she looks back at the queen, Imra is gazing at her, her golden eyes distant, as if she’s somewhere far away. 

And the scary thing is, Catra recognizes that look. As if you’re here, but your heart is somewhere else. With someone else.

Now, Catra’s initial aversion to her seems absurd. Maybe the queen is in a place of power like Hordak and Shadow Weaver, maybe she has more in common with the princesses than with Catra. But those eyes don’t belong to a ruler or a conqueror. They belong to a person who knows loss.

These feelings of sympathy startle Catra. She was never the bleeding heart type, and to relate like this to a person she doesn’t know unnerves her. 

Well, that was enough emotions for today.

Catra waves her hand in the queen’s line of sight. “Hey, you alright?” 

Imra startles, her tail fluffing up. "Yeah, um - Yes. I apologize for that. Staring at you like that must have been unsettling."

That’s one way to put it. “Yeah, it was creepy. Why were you doing that?”

Imra averts her eyes, fists clenched in her lap. Even below her fur, Catra can tell her knuckles have turned white. “Your eyes,” she says, looking at Catra. “My husband had eyes like that. My daughter too. Blue like the waves. You reminded me of them.”

Nope, more emotions. Great. Because really, how is Catra supposed to react to the fact she reminded a woman of her murdered husband and kidnapped child? 

Imra takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry for being like this. I should be taking better care of you. Giving you a tour of Halfmoon, helping you settle in. I probably don’t seem very queen-like.”

The queen reaches out to Catra’s hand, looking her in the eyes. When Catra doesn’t move away, Imra holds her hand.   

“I don’t know what you’ve been through.” Imra’s grip is tight, like a lifeline. For which one of them, Catra doesn’t know. “And I don’t blame you if you feel uncomfortable around me, or anyone in Halfmoon. Asking you to accept and adapt to all of this in the blink of an eye would be too much.” Imra raises her hand, bringing it close to Catra’s face like she’s going to cup her cheek. “But I want Halfmoon to feel like home, eventually-”

Catra doesn’t hear her. The queen’s hand moves toward her slowly, like it’s cutting through water. Her padded, fur-covered hand sifts. It becomes corpse pale, with long fingers like talons, threatening punishment and pain. 

Catra slaps her hand away. “Don’t do that!” She backs away and hits the bedside table. She didn’t even realize she stood up.

Imra lowers her gaze. “I’m sorry.”

Catra walks to the door. She doesn’t want to look at her right now. Not after that. “Let’s just go on that tour.”

The queen guides her out of the castle. Catra doesn’t speak - she’s not much of a talker, and even if she was, she has no idea what to say in a situation like this. Imra wants to talk; her tail is swishing anxiously and she glances at Catra every five steps. At least this is weird for both of us. 

When they exit the castle, Catra’s first comment is the oh so eloquent, “It’s… very bright.”

Which, in her defense, it is! They're underground, for crying out loud, why is it so light?

Imra laughs. “It’s the mineral at the top of the cave. It’s called Crystal Star. There’s a lot of it around Halfmoon. It generates energy and acts as our light and energy source.”

Catra nods. Distantly, she thinks Entrapta would go crazy over something like that. But Catra isn't Entrapta. She keeps moving towards the main town.

Right outside the palace is a large square, maybe half the size of the main training arena back at the Horde. Strings connect the decorated pillars on each side of it. A group of Magicats is hanging paper lanterns from them, while another group is bringing in a large table.

"What's all this for?" Catra asks.

Imra smiles. "News spread fast. When everyone found out about you this morning they insisted we through a party for your return."

Catra almosts trips over her own feet. “What?” The Magicats turn to look at her. She must have shouted that.

Imra chuckles in a ‘these crazy kids’ kind of way. “I admit, I had my concerns about doing it so soon, but you can’t stop a Magicat when they’ve put their mind to something.”

The timing isn’t my problem here! “No, I mean, why would you even throw a party for me? You don’t know me.”

You wouldn’t be doing this if you knew me.

Imra’s expression turn solem for second before she smiles teasingly. “Maybe that’s true. But one of the stolen children we’ve long now thought had all died miraculously coming back seems like a good reason for celebration, doesn’t it?”

And it does. At least, her tone leads Catra to think that it’s supposed to sound logical. Maybe for one of the Magicats it’s a no-brainer. But if something similar happened in the Horde, if a big group of young soldiers disappeared and then one of them came back, that soldier’s friends or squadmates would be the only ones happy, not the entire Horde. The Horde simply didn’t celebrate individuals. And when it did, it was more a celebration of the Horde’s military power than the person themselves.

So Catra lets the queen guide her through the town. The houses here don't seem to be carved out of the ground itself, like the palace, but are instead made of a different, lighter material. Despite most things being made out of rock, the town is colorful. Bright curtains hang from the windows, pots of plants Catra has never seen before sit beside doorways or in balconies and the various stores have stands set outside to show off their products. Fruits and vegetables, spices, books, fabrics.

And it's not just the sight. There are so many smells here, and Catra can only recognize a handful of them. As they walk, Magicats come up to Catra and introduce themselves. Some shake her hand, others squeeze her shoulder and a few even hug her (she has to hold back her instincts to attack them). She lost count of how many people have talked to her after the fifteenth.

“Queen Imra!” A Magicat comes rushing out of the bakery Catra saw last night, her tawny fur covered in flour. She’s holding what must be a piece of bread on one hand, but it looks nothing like the bread Catra remembers from meals in the Horde.

“Sabine, how are you?” As they walked through the town, Catra noticed that Imra knew everyone’s names. Every Magicat that came to talk to them or waved at them she would greet by name. Meanwhile, Catra is surprised Shadow Weaver bothered to remember anyone’s name other than Adora’s.

“Good, good,” Sabine says, brushing aside Imra’s attempts at small talk to turn to Catra. Everyone here is so casual with her. Catra flinched the first time someone referred to the Magicat Queen by her first name, expecting some kind of punishment to be doled out for that kind of disrespect. But it seemed that kind of thing was normal here.

“I wanted to come welcome Catra,” Sabine continues, tucking back some flyaway pieces of her bob. Does everyone here already know my name? She thrusts what she was holding into Catra’s hands. It’s round and small, about the size of Catra’s palm, and it’s covered in a powdery white substance. “I brought you this. It’s not much, but I’m keeping my secret weapons saved for the feast tonight.”

Sabine winks as she says it, as if Catra is supposed to know what that means. She and Imra look at her, waiting to know what Catra things of this… round thing. Deciding that this lot doesn’t seem like the type to poison people out in the open, Catra takes a tentative bite.

The flavor explodes in her mouth. It’s sweet, and even though Catra has never had this before it reminds her of late summer afternoons lying on the highest point of the Fright Zone with Adora, talking and laughing until the early hours of the morning. The dough is soft and airy and inside the bread is a nice-smelling red gooey thing. 

Catra doesn’t realize she’s devoured the bun until she’s licking the white powder from her fingers.

“I take it you liked it?” Sabine is trying not to giggle as she speaks, but Catra doesn’t care to be embarrassed. She’s too high on the taste.

She nods viciously. “It’s so good!” I wonder if she has more of them...

Sabine glows. “I’ll make sure to make some for tonight then.” Yes! "Oh, wait here." Sabine runs back into her bakery. She comes back and drops a bowl with five more buns in Catra's hands. Catra feels her tail quivering behinds her. That otherwise embarrassing fact is forgotten in favor of shoving the buns in her face as fast as possible.

Between rapidly eating stuffed carbs, Catra notices Sabine and Imra smiling at her. “You’ve never had this before?” Sabine asks. “It’s quite a common recipe around Etheria.”

Catra shakes her head. She gulps a large bite before answering. “I’ve never eaten anything while on a mission and the closest thing to this the Horde had was a slightly sweeter ration bar. They discontinued it though.” She had hidden a stash of them inside her pillow when that happened. Adora liked those ration bars.

Sabine's tail is wagging side to side. "So you've never eaten any kind of dessert before? Just army rations?"

Catra nods through a mouthful of food. If this is ‘nothing much’ I wonder what food they’ll have tonight. 

Sabine's concerned expression disappears. Her pupils shrink and her tail puffs up. "I'm going to fucking destroy the Horde."

Catra raises an eyebrow through her munching. So maybe Sabine is the type to poison someone after all.

The baker leaves after that with promises of more delicious treats for the feast that night. Catra is starting to be on board for this party. 

Swallowing down the last of the sweet buns, Catra asks, “What time is it, by the way?”

“About two, I think,” Imra says.

Catra chokes. “In the afternoon?”

Imra snickers. “Yes, you were quite exhausted last night.”

Despite the absence of repercussions right now, Catra can’t shake the fear from her stomach. Shadow Weaver had punished her for sleeping half as long.

Imra continues with her tour and introductions. Catra pays attention - it’s always useful to know about your surroundings, after all - but her thoughts keep wandering. 

She keeps staring at everyone’s ears and tails when they talk to her. Maybe it comes across as weird to them, but she can’t help it. In the Horde, she was ‘that cat-girl’ to anyone who wasn’t interested in learning her name. Her cat-like features marked her as different, singled her out. Here, they are no more noteworthy than an arm or a leg. Seeing them everywhere is weird, but if fills her chest with something warm and safe.

It's only after an old multicolored Magicat woman asks to hug her that Catra recognizes the feeling. In that grandma's arms, she remembers nights in their shared bunk when she woke up trembling after a nightmare, Adora holding her close wordlessly.

Belonging.

Catra is talking with that old woman - Nino's grandma, Vera, apparently - when the hair on the back of her neck stands on edge. Turning around, she finds a large, burly man measuring her height.

Catra jumps away, holding her tail close to her. “What are you doing?”

“Taking your measurements,” the man states. Because that doesn’t sound creepy at all.

Vera rolls her eyes. “Really, Otto? You couldn’t even wait to say hello before being all up in the girl’s personal space?” For a hunched over little lady with a cane, Nino’s grandma feels like the kind of person you don’t want to mess with.

Otto tucks his measure into one of the many pockets of his apron and huffs. He’s built like a brick wall and his beard is so large Catra could nap in it. “Well, excuse me, but you really haven’t left me much time to work in. I’m all in for a party,” Vera mutters something that sounds like ‘of course you are’ and Otto glares at her, “but when am I supposed to make her present?”

Catra does a double-take. "Present?" The last time she ever gave anyone a present was when she left Adora a dead mouse in her shoe. What is he talking about?

Otto shrugs. “Yeah, it’s not like you can go around in that Horde uniform for the rest of your life.” He offers his hand to Catra. It’s as big as her face. “I’m Otto, by the way. Best seamster and tailor in Halfmoon.”

“You mean the only one in Halfmoon,” Vera says.

Otto points a threatening finger at her. "Watch it, old lady." Despite his tone, the mountain of a man is smiling. These kinds of mock arguments must be common for them.

The tailor turns back to Catra. “Anyway, you’ve already met my daughter, Maya. That girl is great in a fight, but she would have saved me so much time if she had been able to tell your size.”

Catra can’t say she doesn’t see the resemblance. Otto and Maya have the same bulky frame and puffy fur, even if Otto’s is much redder than Maya’s. And they both talk a lot.

Otto whips out a pad of paper and a pencil. There’s a glint in his eyes and Catra doesn’t know if she should be concerned about it. “So, what clothes do you like?”

“What I like?” She almost asks if there’s a uniform, but she ignores the question. From everything she’s seen in town, she knows there isn’t but the request for her opinion still takes her aback.

Otto is circling Catra like he's forming a battle plan. "Yeah, you know. Baggy, form-fitting, fancy. Pants or dresses? Are you opposed to a crop top? Any accessories in mind?"

Too much information. “Ummm.”

Suddenly, Maya is there, swatting her dad’s arm. “Dad! Go easy on her!”

Otto rubs at his arm, more for show than anything else. A playful slap like that must not even hurt for someone of big. "Well, I want to know what I'm working with. And aren't you supposed to be in school?"

“I don’t have to teach gym for another two hours,” Maya brushes him off. “You know, you don’t have to make her present right away. I’m sure they have spare clothes to give her at the castle, and you don’t want it to be rushed, right?”

Otto sighs and nods. His daughter’s arguments make sense, even though he doesn’t seem to want to agree with them. “I got excited.” He turns to Catra, his ears sloped back apologetically. “You alright with getting your present later?”

Catra nods, trying to act as casual as she can. “Yeah, yeah.”

Yet, even as they finish off the rest of the tour and meet even more Magicats, a question keeps echoing in Catra’s mind.

Why are they all so nice to me?


 

The castle’s square is filled with people. The crystals at the roof of the cave have dimmed, shining much less than they did during Catra’s tour - according to Imra, that’s how the Magicats tell the time. Lanterns hang over the open space, bathing the people of Halfmoon in warm light. There’s a buzz in the air, the Magicats voices and joyful laughter mixing together in excitement. Catra’s watching them through a crack in the door. 

They're loud and chaotic. A dozen different things are going on at once - children are playing, adults are talking with each other, someone climbed onto the far right pillar and is now singing at the tops of his lungs. Catra catches punchlines of jokes without the set-up, mundane anecdotes, and roaring laughs. They seem so alive. So different than anything Catra is used to. Hidden behind the door, she feels so distant from the crowd waiting for her.

From everything she never got to have.

A hand on her shoulder brings her back to the present. "Are you ready?" In her formal clothes, Imra is the stuff of legends. She's graceful and regal, the decorative armor pieces on her shoulders, forearms, and calves making her look like a goddess of the battlefield. Catra remembers the murals she has seen of She-ra. Imra wouldn't look out of place in one of them.

“Yes.”

Imra smiles, squeezing Catra's shoulder in encouragement. She pushes the castle gates open. Silence washes over the crowd as they all turn to look at their queen. Catra is once more fazed by their reaction to Imra, the love and happiness they show to her. Not because of fear or obligation but because they genuinely feel it.

Imra steps outside on the front steps of the palace and Catra follows her. Standing behind Imra like this, in her borrowed guard clothes and the bandages over her eye, Catra takes in the decorations, the food spread out on the long table, all the people that gathered here for her. Her stomach churns, so many emotions mixed together she can't begin to untangle them.

“People of Halfmoon.” The queen’s voice carries through the crowd, clear and commanding. “It has been seventeen years since the Massacre. That fateful day has left its marks on all of us. We lost our city, our sense of peace.” Imra puts her hand on her chest, clenching the fabric over her heart. “Our loved ones. I would say that I hate to bring up these painful memories, but we have to remember them. Remember the hurt and the pain. And then," Imra turns to Catra, offering her hand and pulling her forward, "appreciate the happiness even more."

Imra’s eyes light up as she smiles. She raises their joined hands in the air. “Today, one of our children is back. Today, we celebrate!”

The crowd cheers, their roar shaking the ground under Catra’s feet. People are clapping pumping their fists in the air, chanting her name like it’s the answer to their questions. 

Catra is swept along in the excitement. They smile at her, some give her her gifts and Nino and Maya ask her to dance with them. It's not so much dancing and more the two of them dragging her along, but Catra finds herself grinning and enjoying the wild energy around her. She notices Vera and Otto dancing together, all large, exaggerated movements as they fight over who's going to lead. Music fills the air, the laughter of the Magicats' its chorus.

Catra would have scoffed at this before. She would have thought that a party is something stupid princesses and their people do, something she was above. She dreaded assemblies in the Horde, even with Adora there beside her. She knew people didn't like her and they didn't bother hiding that. Surrounding herself with so many people seemed like torture to her.

Right now, surrounded by the Magicats' contagious energy, eating delicious food and hearing a dozen people's anecdotes and entertaining stories, Catra is having fun. The realization hits her like an uppercut to the jaw and she stops shoveling food into her mouth. She gazes at the Magicats eating with her, smiling and celebrating. No one is glaring at her, no one is throwing jabs at her, no one puts her down like she's not worth the ground she stands on. They welcome her like she was always meant to be here with them.

Catra wonders what would have happened if she had never been taken by the Horde. Maybe celebrations like this would be something she was used to. Maybe she would have eaten enough real food to have a favorite. Maybe she would have had real, loving parents.

Maybe she would have grown up without the pain.

Catra’s skin feels hot, and it’s not because of the booze. She spent her entire life being angry; because of the way Shadow Weaver treated her, because she never seemed to be good enough, because she felt weak. But never angry like this.

Angry because she was robbed of something she never got to have.

You stupid child. As if they actually care about you, a voice says in her head. Fear fills Catra like freezing water. She can feel the ghosts of Shadow Weaver’s fingers digging into her skin. You know they only treat you well because they want to use you. Is that not what it’s always like?

Catra’s breathing quickens. Her tail trashes behind her. Shut up, shut up, shut up.

You are a Horde soldier, are you not? The thoughts in her head continue. Would they still act like this if they knew the things you’ve done?

"Catra?" Nino asks. Catra snaps back to the present, realizing that several people, including Imra, are looking at her concerned. "Are you okay?"

The question comes out without Catra thinking about it. “Why are you nice to me?”

She hates the words the moment she says them. Her voice breaks halfway through. She sounds so small, like she’s about to cry. So weak.

“You’re family,” Imra says, like she doesn’t even have to think about it. Like it’s a given.

“I’m from the Horde.”

"You're still one of us." Imra's smile is kind, but Catra can see the sadness behind it. Nausea and disgust flare up in her stomach. She doesn't deserve pity. "Where you grew up doesn't change that."

“The Horde killed hundreds of you! You said so yourself. How do you know I’m not like that?” She’s almost yelling now. Anger is clawing inside her chest, like a beast in a cage, and she doesn’t know who it’s directed to. “I might have killed someone while serving the Horde for all you know!”

“The Horde must have some very good propaganda, and you were exposed to it since you were a kid,” Maya says. She shrugs, like Catra being a good person is not even a question. “You were just a soldier following orders.”

Catra slams her hands against the table and stands up. The beast has broken out. "I was a Force Captain. I lead a terrorist attack on Princess Prom and kidnapped the princess of Bright Moon and her friend as bait for She-ra. I lead the army during the Battle of Bright Moon against the Princess Alliance and brought the Horde closer to crashing the Rebellion than it ever was before. I was Hordak's second in command!"

The silence is deafening. All eyes are on her and Catra sees the horror in them. She sees their expression change as they realize she’s not the innocent lost kid they thought she was. She can’t bear to look at them.

“I’m not good.” She takes off running. Imra yells after her, but Catra doesn’t slow down.

You shouldn’t treat me like I am.


 

"How are things moving over there?" Adora calls out from Swift Wind's back.

Underneath her, Glimmer and Bow are working alongside Netossa and Spinnerella to build the watchtowers. This ravine will be crucial in providing the Rebellion with resources once they secure a way to oversee the activity in it. Unfortunately, the Horde knows this as well, so Adora, or rather She-ra, came along to keep an eye out and deflect then when they inevitably attacked.

“We’re almost done with the last tower, it won’t be long now,” Glimmer yells, brushing the sweat away from her brow. At this rate, they will be done with this mission without any interference from the Horde.

The rumble of war machines echoes through the ravine. Speak of the devil. Sure enough, a squad of tanks is approaching them. Adora scolds herself internally. She should have heard them coming sooner, but with Entrapta working for the Horde, their technology has progressed remarkably in very little time.

Of course she’d wait until the last moment to show up, Adora thinks as she lands in front of the tanks and raises her sword. Catra always loved to make an entrance.

The hatch of the first tank opens. Adora grips her sword tighter. She prepares herself for the characteristic drawl that always makes shivers run down her spine and the never-ending ache in her chest that gets louder every time she sees her old friend at the opposite side of the battlefield.

Except the person who comes out of the tank is not her. It’s Scorpia.

“What - You’re not Catra!”

Scorpia doesn’t smile, and that terrifies Adora. Instead, the Force Captain’s eyes darken at the mention of that name. “Gee, thanks for noticing.” Scorpia’s voice is level and filled with sarcasm. It wouldn’t be weird for Catra to sound like that, but coming out of Scorpia’s lips it sounds wrong.

The Force Captain attacks. Adora holds her back as her friends attack the foot soldiers. Despite her training with Light Hope, it takes all her attention to fight off Scorpia. The other woman is ridiculously strong and easily as big as She-ra, even without a magical sword.

Adora swings with her sword. Scorpia deflects it with her claws. “Where is she?”

Catra hasn’t shown up is the battlefield for the last week. She doesn’t show up in every little squabble between the Rebellion and the Horde, obviously. But some of the battles this week have been big, big enough to warrant Hordak’s second in command there. Yet Catra was nowhere to be seen.

“Why do you care?” Scorpia spits out. Her tail swipes Adora’s legs from under her and she comes crashing down. “You already left her once, didn’t you? Why do you care where they sent her?”

Scorpia raises her claws to attack her. Adora puts her sword up, bracing herself for the hit. It never comes.

Scorpia and the tanks fly backward. Wind blows viciously all around them. In this narrow space, Spinnerella's powers are unavoidable. Netossa's nets have trapped several of the soldiers and Bow's explosive arrows have destroyed three of the tanks.

Glimmer’s powers crackle as she shoves her hand in Scorpia’s face. “I believe my friend asked you a question.”

Scorpia glares up at Glimmer. Adora never knew her personally in the Horde, but the older woman always had a reputation of being a cheerful person. To see her eyes clouded like this, full of fury and hate, is daunting.

Finally, Scorpia swats Glimmer's hand away and stands up, walking back to her tank. She's lost too much of her equipment, some of her soldiers are unable to fight anymore and this isn't an important enough confrontation to warrant the loss of any more resources. Retreating is logical.

“Hey, I said -”

Scorpia looks at Adora over her shoulder. Her gaze is freezing cold, sharp like a blade. It cuts in deep, threatening to draw blood, and it pins Adora in place.

Her words leave a fatal wound.

“Catra has been banished to Beast Island.”


 

When Bow and Glimmer come into her room, Adora is buried under the clutter.

"Adora, we brought you food since you didn't come to dinner - what is all this?"

The room no longer looks like a bedroom. Every flat surface is covered in books, maps, and loose paper. Hanging from the curtains of Adora's bed is a map, routes marked in red, some scribbled over. The vanity table Adora never used is in the middle of the room and the Sword of Protection is acting as a paperweight for the map on top of it. The figures Bow made of the sit on it. The floor is filled with books Adora threw off the table in frustration.

Adora jumps when her friends walk in the room and she hurries to cover the map on the vanity table. "N-Nothing! It's nothing! I'm just, ah, doing some light reading! Yeah. So, just leave the food over there and I'll be fine, goodnight -" Adora stumbles, knocking off her sword. She struggles to catch it but it falls on the floor.

Bow helps Adora put her sword back on the table. He rests his hand on her shoulder and his brow is furrowed in worry. “Adora, what’s going on? You’ve been acting off since we got back from the ravine.”

Glimmer clears space on Adora's bed for them as Bow guides Adora to sit down between them. "Yeah, the last time I saw your room this messy was when you were making a battle plan for Princess Prom."

“No, I’m perfectly fine,” Adora insists, shaking her hands. Her voice is an octave higher. “I swear guys, don’t worry-”

“Is this about Catra?” Bow asks.

Adora immediately closes her mouth. It’s as if the simple mention of that name knocks the air out of her lungs. Scorpia’s words ring in her head and the fear wraps its fingers around her neck. She gulps and nods.

Glimmer and Bow look at each other over Adora’s hunched shoulders. “Adora,” Glimmer starts hesitantly, holding Adora’s hand tight, “what’s Beast Island?”

Adora's sigh sounds more like a sob. "It's where the Horde has their highest security prison. I used to hear stories about it when I was a child. They used them to scare us and keep us in line." She was always terrified of those stories. Catra wouldn't let her hear the end of it. "The island and the water around it are infested with monsters, and the prisoners are not given food. Every day, they are released into the wild to hunt for their survival without any tools. If they don't make it back to the prison by sundown they are locked outside, and the island is even more dangerous at night. But the guards won't let you die if they can help it. They relish in torturing the prisoners in any way they can. Most go insane long before they manage to kill themselves."

It's been hours since Adora last ate, but saying all this, describing the kind of hell Catra must be in right now, makes her stomach twist like it's about to empty what little it has inside it.

“Being sent to Beast Island is a fate worse than death.”

Silence hangs over the room, heavy and charged. Adora’s skin crawls as she thinks back on the last week, all the times she laughed while Catra must have been suffering.

You already left her once, didn’t you?

“You want to rescue her,” Glimmer finally says, a statement and not a question. She must have seen Beast Island circled in red on her map.

Adora nods. “I… I don’t regret defecting from the Horde, but I’ll always regret making her an enemy. Catra was my most important person for all my life and I’m not going to let her rot in a Horde prison.” Not when it’s my fault. “I know you have every reason to hate her, but I’ve already decided. I’m going to save her, so either help me or stay out of my way.”

Adora expects yells, arguing. She doesn’t expect Glimmer to sigh and rub at her temples.“There’s no helping it, is there?”

Bow shrugs. “Well, if it was you, you would already be halfway there without a plan, so...”

Glimmer glares at Bow, but she’s still smiling. “Shut it.”

Adora looks between them. She told them she’s going to rescue the person that kidnapped them and they’re laughing? “Wait, you’re really going to help me?”

“You did ask us to help you,” Bow says.

“Yeah, but I thought you wouldn’t accept and I’d have to do this behind your backs. Isn’t rescuing an enemy officer kind of treason?”

“Yes, but Bow and I talked after we came back from the ravine since you looked so shaken. I might not like Catra, but if Bow was her and I was in your situation I wouldn’t stop at anything to save him.” Glimmer pauses, and then adds, “Plus, Catra must have some important information on the Horde, so it’s not like we’re completely betraying the Rebellion.”

Adora’s throat tightens. Her eyes burn with tears. “So, you’re…”

Bow nods. “Let’s rescue Catra.”

Chapter Text

Catra isn't sure where she is. It's not that the palace is huge - the Fright Zone is much bigger - but they didn't cover it in the tour yesterday and she has no idea where anything is. And she sure as hell isn't about to find someone and ask for directions. Not after her blow-up yesterday.

Idiot. She adjusts her backpack more harshly than she should. She can't believe she did something that stupid. She finally finds answers about where she came from, the people here are all nice to her and actually seem to like her, and she goes and throws it all away! She's sure the only reason why they haven't already banished her is that she hid at the highest point of the palace and they couldn't find her.

Her stomach rumbles as she takes another turn. She would have run away already if she wasn’t hungry. As it is, she might as well steal some provisions before disappearing into the forest. 

The room Catra finds herself in isn’t so much a room but rather a long hallway. Curtains hang from the walls, pulled to the side, even though there are no windows. The hairs on the back of Catra’s neck stand up. She doesn’t know why, but this place feels important. She walks in, curious.

 Between the first set of curtains is a mural. It spreads from the ground all the way up to the high ceiling above Catra’s head. A baby with warm brown fur is painted at the bottom, its eyes closed peacefully as it sleeps inside its blanket. Higher up, that same baby is now a young girl, her long braid flying behind her as she fights with a wooden sword, a wide, gleeful smile on her face. Even in a painting, her blue and golden eyes shine like gems, daring her opponent to face her. Next, the girl is a woman, leading an army of Magicats in the heat of battle, a familiar mask on her face. At the very top of the mural, so high Catra has to crane her neck to see, there is no woman. In her place is a fearsome beast, roaring in front of the mountain that hides Halfmoon.

Catra stares at the woman’s mask. Or rather, her crown. A weight settles in Catra’s stomach. So I have been wearing the Magicats’ crown all this time. Her skin crawls. She feels like a traitor. The crown in her backpack suddenly weights her down. Hordak’s second in command shouldn’t have the crown.

I’ll leave it behind before I go.

Catra walks down the hall, looking at the murals. Each one shows a different Magicat Queen from when she was a baby up to when she was an adult. The murals all start the same, with them as babies, swathed in blankets, but they all progress differently. Some queens, like Katriska the First Queen - according to the sign next to her mural - are shown leading armies and defeating enemies. Azar the Kind is depicted reading a book to a group of Magicat children and Selima the Just is holding a scale in one hand and a sword in the other.

There are dozens of murals. With each one and each new queen, Catra watches in awe as Halfmoon grows and flourishes. This room is a representation of Halfmoon and its centuries of history, it’s growth through the years. 

Growth that the Horde destroyed. 

Catra wonders what all these queens would do if they saw her, an officer of the army that destroyed their home, walking through their palace. Katriska looks like the type to claw my eyes out, Catra thinks with a dry laugh.

“Catra?”

Catra jumps. Imra is standing behind her, concern written on her face. "Why can everyone sneak up on me so easily?"

Imra laughs. “I suppose you are used to heavier footsteps than those of a Magicat. What are you doing here?”

"I, uh, was looking for the kitchen." Catra adjusts the straps of her backpack, hyper-aware of its weight on her back. "What are you doing here?"

Imra’s eyes catch Catra’s movement. The smile falls from her lips. “I like coming here to think.” She moves to the wall, brushing her fingers over the mural of Felicia the Wise. “Sometimes I wish the old queens could talk to me. I’d love to hear their advice.” She turns to Catra, her eyes sad. “Walk with me.”

So Catra does. With each step, she feels the gaze of the old queens dig into her skin. Disgusting traitor. It’s about time they kick you out.

“Are you thinking of leaving Halfmoon, Catra?” Imra finally asks, her voice neutral. 

“Yes.”

Good, she expects Imra to say. Instead, what she gets is, “Why?”

Catra startles. What do you mean ‘why’? “I shouldn’t be here,” she says.

“And why do you think that?”

What is this, twenty questions? “I’m a Horde soldier.”

“Were.”

Catra looks at Imra like she grew a second head. “What?”

“You were a Horde soldier. They banished you, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, but -”

“Do you want to go back to the Horde?”

Catra doesn’t even have to think about the answer. “No. Only to rip Hordak’s head off his shoulders.” Her mind flashes back to Shadow Weaver and her punishments, the humiliation every time she went to Hordak’s Sanctum, the words of the soldiers that were transporting her to Beast Island. Failure, useless, disgrace.

“Then you’re not a Horde soldier.” Imra speaks those words so easily. She’s not lying, she’s not trying to trick Catra; she says it because she believes it. She searches the queen’s face for any trace of disgust or revulsion, any of the emotions she should be showing to a soldier of the army that destroyed her home. To someone who would have done the same to someone else’s kingdom. She finds nothing but kindness.

She doesn’t understand why.

Catras stops, swerving around to look at Imra. “But I was! I served the Horde and I stayed even though I knew they were bad!” 

“Did you believe in what the Horde was doing?” Even with Catra yelling at her, Imra remains calm. She’s not getting angry at Catra and she’s not punishing her. Why?

Come with me, she hears Adora say in her head, from that day back in Thaymor. You don’t have to go back there. We can fix this. “No,” she says. “I didn’t care what the Horde did. It… it was a place for me to survive. To prove I was actually worth something.”

“But you shouldn’t have had to prove it,” Imra says. There’s something broken in her eyes, something beyond simple sadness and regret, and it leaves Catra breathless. “You should have grown up here, among your people, and you shouldn’t have had to prove to anyone you’re worth being happy.”

Imra’s voice breaks. She clenches her fists, taking in a deep, trembling breath.

“You should have had a very different life, Catra, and it’s my fault you didn’t get to have it. You should have grown up play-fighting with the other kittens, and - and learning how to shift on the full moon of your thirteenth birthday.” Imra touches the palm of her left hand, her eyes glistening. Catra remembers her freak out in the infirmary. “You shouldn’t have been made to fear a simple touch.”

Imra looks at Catra; even through the unshed tears and the hurt, there's a fire in her eyes, the immovable determination of a Queen prepared to give up everything for her people. "If you are planning to leave because you think we don't want you, you are wrong. You're one of our own, Catra, and we want you here."

Catra wants to accept the queen’s word so much. “You don’t know me.”

Imra takes Catra’s hands in hers. She’s so gentle. “Then let me know you.”

“You won’t like me,” Catra says. Her lips quirk up in a smile, but it’s less self-deprecating and more teasing.

Imra smiles back. “Let me be the judge of that.”

Catra thinks about it. A part of her, one that sounds too much like Shadow Weaver, is telling her to leave, that Imra is lying to her and that everyone in Halfmoon hates her. But it’s hard to listen to that part when the woman in front of her is looking at her like she lights up the whole room just by being here, like she wants her here. 

And Catra wants that so much. She wants to be wanted.

She nods.

Imra’s smile widens, shining like the moons. Catra’s chest grows warm, and she understands why everyone likes Imra so much. She wouldn’t mind fighting an entire Horde battalion if she could have that proud smile again.

Imra squeezes her hands one last time before letting go. They continue walking down the hall, the atmosphere a lot calmer now. “So, what do you think of the murals?”

“They’re beautiful,” Catra says, because they are, but it still doesn’t feel like a complete truth. Catra never had any history to speak of; she was an orphan, generously taken in by the Horde, and nothing more. Seeing the lives of all these queens and their people unfold before her sends shivers down her spine. 

But she had too much emotional vulnerability for today, so instead she says, "How come they're all literal cats at the end of everyone?"

"Partially because of tradition, but it's also a symbol of their status as queens," Imra says. Then, because she realizes Catra has no clue what that means, she continues. "Queen Katriska was the one who taught the Magicats how to shift, but regularly Magicats can only shift during the night - it's easier on the full moon, so that's when we teach the children. The queen's - or princess' - connection to the runestones allows them to shift whenever they want. Artists have been using it as a way to emphasize their royalty since the age of Katriska."

And really, as interesting as the art history lesson was, Catra has always been a woman with priorities. “Wait, so you can turn into a giant cat right now?”

Imra smiles sadly. "I'm afraid not. I managed to save the runestones during the Massacre, but without the crown, I can't channel their power like I once could."

Catra freezes. She feels like a child again, snooping around where she’s not supposed to. “Oh, about that.” She fishes the crown out of her backpack and holds it to Imra.

The queen gasps. “H-How do you have this?” She reaches out for the crown hesitantly, hands shaking.

“I found it near Hordak’s Sanctum when I was playing around with A-” Catra’s voice breaks. She starts over. “I found it when I was a child.” She snorts, remembering how the witch had reacted when she saw her with the crown. It would be funny if she wasn’t such an asshole. “Shadow Weaver almost skinned me alive when she realized I had taken it. Hordak heard her yelling and said it was fine if I kept it because it was a ‘piece of junk’.”

Imra chuckles, but she doesn’t look away from the crown. She takes it in her hands gently, like it will break if she’s not careful. “Well, I’m glad to have it back. I thought it was one more thing I lost that day. Thank you, Catra.”

Maybe it’s the genuine gratefulness in Imra’s tone, but Catra’s cheeks feel warm under her fur. “Y-yeah, don’t mention it.”

Imra takes two small gems out of the pocket of her dress, one a dazzling blue, the other a golden yellow. They look like Katriska’s eyes. Imra pops them into the small groves at the points of the crown that Catra had always assumed were just dents. The runestones shine when they’re both in the crown.

Catra hears the small noise Imra makes, a sob and a sigh of relief both at once. When Imra places the crown on her head, her movements are certain, if slow, in a way that only muscle memory is. 

Catra always thought that her mask - or what she thought was a mask - was intimidating, maybe because everything in the Fright Zone was. Its sharp edges and crimson color made Catra feel powerful, like she couldn't be hurt when she wore it. Nothing in the Fright Zone made her feel safer than the weight of it around her face.

(Nothing but the creaking of their bunk and warm arms around her and fingers that knew just where to scratch behind her ears.)

Imra looks just like that feeling. Secure. Like Catra could fall into her arms and trust that no one would be allowed to hurt her. The crown atop her head may be a sign of power, but it is not a cruel one. 

Imra might be a ruler, but she is a protector, not a dictator.

As they continue their walk, Imra tells her about the past queens. How they lived, how they came to power, how they earned their titles. As Imra talks, the murals on the walls come to life, dozens of queens living out their glory. 

The reverence in Imra's voice fascinates Catra in that it's constant. For the queens who lead armies, expanded the kingdom and proved themselves in battle, Catra can understand her admiration. But some queens - the ones the insistent voice in her head calls disappointing, pathetic - are remembered because of their talent in diplomacy, their contribution to Halfmoon's education system or culture.

And yet Imra's voice never falters. She speaks of them with nothing but awe, tells their tales the way you would a hero's, even if everything Catra has learned of the world wants to call them weak.

Eventually, they pass the mural of Imra's mother. Catra's blood runs cold when she sees what comes next.

It starts normally enough. Imra is a chubby-cheeked, laughing baby, and then a young girl fighting back to back in training with a white, blue-eyed Magicat.

But Imra's mural, half-finished as it is, is nothing like the ones of the other queens. Theirs were bright, a celebration of their lives and rein.

Her's is fire.

The main part of her mural, the one Catra now knows depicts the most important moment of a queen's rule, is blood and carnage. Imra is in the middle, surrounded by scorching flames, the buildings of Halfmoon frozen in time as they burn to the ground. A group of Magicats looks on, protected behind the queen's back, terror on their faces as they flee inside the mountain.

But Imra's face is the most terrifying of all. Her mouth is open in a scream, fat tears falling down her cheeks, her hand hopelessly reaching out to something beyond the mural. If Catra ever had to define what despair was, it would be the look in the queen's eyes. A thousand pleas, a thousand prayers all rolled together in a single, wordless cry. Please, don't take them. 

Catra can't speak around the lump in her throat.

Imra walks closer to her mural, brushing her fingers against the painted flames. The fire dances in her eyes as the worst night of life replays in front of her.

She lays her palm against her painted figure as if it will somehow give her past self the strength to go on. "Losing my daughter and all the other children was the biggest failure of my life," she says, and Catra doesn't know if she said it for her to hear or to herself.

"Then why would you want to immortalize it?" It doesn't seem fair to Catra for Imra to go down in history for this. As the queen who lost more than half of Halfmoon under her watch.

She knows it's a stupid thought. Life isn't fair. You don't get good things just for being good. 

Still, she wanted Imra to be an exception.

"Because it's a part of my story," she says. "Of Halfmoon's story." Her fingers brush over the face of the blue-eyed Magicat. "Ignoring it would be a disgrace to the memory of everyone who fell that night."

Catra doesn't know what to say to that. She takes in Imra, the warm, sorrowful look in her eyes as she gazes at the white Magicat. She wonders if this is who her heart was with back at the infirmary.

"What's behind this?" She says instead. The curtains are soft between her fingers, spilling to the floor like blood. This is the only part in the entire hall that has the curtains drawn.

Imra laughs, dry and humorless. It sounds wrong coming from her lips. "I'm a hypocrite, aren't I? Even though I want to remember them, most days I can't bear to look at her."

Imra pulls the curtains to the side. Catra's breath catches in her throat.

She sees what Imra was reaching for in her mural now. Instead of a cute, smiling baby, there's flames and tears. Hordak's twisted mechanical arm drags the baby princess away. Her pudgy hands reach out for her mother to no avail, dark orange stripes on each of her arms. Her eyes are wide open in fright, glistening with tears.

Her golden yellow and blue eyes.

"She was my pride and joy," Imra says, even as Catra struggles to breathe. "So small yet so full of life. I hadn't even gotten the chance to name her when the Horde stole her away from me." Imra's voice breaks and she lets out a trembling breath. "Maybe she never got to be a queen, and maybe her mural will never get to be finished, but I didn't want people to forget my baby girl had lived."

Catra can’t speak. She can’t move. She can do nothing but stare at the mural, at those eyes. Her eyes.

Her breathing comes out shallow and fast.

“Catra? Are you alright?” Imra might be just a few steps away, but her voice reaches Catra’s ears muffled and distant. “Catra?”

Imra's hand comes closer. Catra flinched. She stumbles backward, her tail frantically thrashing behind her. Her heartbeat echoes in her ears as the queen looks at her in worry.

Her m - no no no no.

She runs. Her claws click against the stone, a rapidly quickening rhythm as she flees. She runs and runs and runs, out of the hall, out of the palace, into the town, but she doesn’t stop. Not when she knocks into someone, not when the Magicats call after her, not when her lungs burn and her eyes sting with tears. She dashes into the tunnel leading out of Halfmoon like a prey evading its predator.

She’s panting when she exits the Gate, the grass under her feet wet from the rain. Her legs give out beneath her and she falls to her knees on the banks of the stream. She tears the bandages from her face, scratching herself in the process, but she doesn’t care. All she can do is stare at her reflection.

Her face looks back at her haunted from the surface of the water. There’s a scar above her left eye from when she escaped the Horde plane. She reaches for it with trembling fingers. Her pupils are narrow slits against the blue and yellow of her eyes.

Yellow like her mother’s.

A growl builds up in her chest and she slashes at the water, destroying her reflection. She's heaving for air now. She can't stop the tears from welling up in her eyes, and with a guttural scream, she attacks the ground below her. She tears off chunks of earth and grass, leaves deep claw marks in the dirt. She lashes out with such abandon that her fingers start bleeding when she hits a rock and two of her claws break.

She doesn’t stop. She can’t see through the tears anymore, but that just fuels her anger. She attacks and attacks and attacks. Because that’s the only thing she knows how to do. Because maybe, if she does it enough, the pain in her chest will go away. 

“Catra?” a quiet voice says behind her. Catra hates the loud sob that tears its way out of her throat. She turns back to face Imra, glaring at her, her lip trembling. Imra gasps when she sees her eyes. 

"You-you're-"

Catra’s laugh is dry and halfway through it turns into a sob. "Yeah. Huh, what a good fucking joke. This is gold." She rubs at her eyes, but it does nothing to stop the tears from falling.

Imra steps toward her hesitantly, like Catra will disappear if she moves too fast. "Catra, it's okay-" 

"How is it fucking okay?” Catra screams. Her ears are folded back against her head and she can feel her tail bristled up behind her. She hasn’t felt this small since she was a child in the Horde. “I - growing up in the Horde was horrible. No wonder all the other kids died. But I didn’t have where else to go. I couldn’t leave.” Her whole body shakes with something that never makes it out of her throat. She doesn’t know if it’s a laugh or a sob. “But - Adora was there. And I thought it didn’t matter how they treated me as long we were together. We’d - we’d climb the ranks together and then no one would be able to hurt us again.”

Imra sits next to Catra, close enough to touch her if she wanted to. Through her tears, Catra sees her hand reach out for her. It stops mid-air and falls, instead resting by her thigh, an offer for her to take. “And just when it started to happen and I thought everything I went through was worth it, she - she left me.” Catra hates the new wave of tears that well up in her eyes. Why is it still so painful? 

“So I just - I did it on my own. If I became powerful enough, no one would hurt me, right?” Sobs rake through her body. She laughs, and even to her own ears, it sounds broken. “I was so stupid. I was never good enough, no matter what I accomplished. Hordak kicked me out with the first chance he got like I was a fucking stray.”

She hiccups, struggling to take a breath. “But it’s okay, apparently, cause there’s an entire kingdom of people like me, who treat me well, and I have a mother and-” Her voice breaks, and despite trying, she fails to talk. 

It’s too good to be true.

“What’s going to ruin this now?” Her voice comes out small, no louder than the rustling of the leaves above them.

Imra scouts closer. She can feel her warmth against her. "Catra, it's going to be alright." 

"How?” Catra sniff, rubbing the tears from her eyes. ‘It never stays like that. Every time things start looking up and I think maybe I can be happy, something bad happens. It'll happen again."

“It won’t.”

“You don’t know that!”

"Then I'll make sure of it. I won't let anything hurt you again, Catra." Imra never breaks eye contact between them. No matter how hard Catra searches, there's nothing but determination in the queen's eyes. Catra can't look away. You would soon move a mountain than make her give up. "I promise."

Catra’s heart gets stuck in her throat. “Don’t - don’t make promises. People break them.”

“I’ll try my best my best, then.” Imra’s fingers twitch besides  Catra’s hand. Despite clearly wanting to, she doesn’t hold her hand. “I - I couldn’t protect you that night, Catra. And I couldn’t do it every day since then. Let me do it now. You don’t have to fight everything on your own.”

Catra’s breath hitches. Her lips tremble. Everything she ever learned is telling her to run. Get as far away as she can so she doesn’t give anyone in Halfmoon the chance to hurt her.

But she wants to stay. Imra makes her feel safe and secure in a way she always yearned for growing up and never got. There’s a cacophony of objections in her mind, and maybe she’s making a bad decision, but Catra wants to trust the Magicat queens.

She’s tired of fighting.

Catra takes Imra’s hand. It’s warm against her skin. Imra smiles, small and intimate in a way that’s meant only for Catra to see. Thank you for trusting me, it seems to say.

Catra falls into her arms and cries.


 

With Glimmer and Bow's help, they managed to come up with a plan to break Catra out of Beast Island. Since the water around the island is infested, going there with Sea Hawk's ship was out of the question. Instead, their course of action was to fly on Swift Wind close enough to the supply plane for Glimmer to teleport them inside. After that, they would take out the pilots and Glimmer and Adora would pose as soldiers to find Catra, while Bow stayed behind with the plane as their escape route.

They found out the plane's schedule after taking over a Horde base close to the Rebellion's border's. The plane they decided to hijack was scheduled for delivery at dawn, so they would still have time to find Catra before the prisoners were sent out to the island.

And they managed to pull off the plan surprisingly well. Too well, Adora had thought after she and Glimmer managed to pass by the soldiers at check-in without a problem. Sure, it hadn't been a walk in the park, but making into the prison complex on Beast Island was easier than she expected it to be. She had buried those thoughts down at the time, chucking them up to her anxious nature, but she couldn't shake off the feeling that something bad was going to happen.

“Not here. Not here. Not here!” Ugh, where is she? The banished Horde officers are supposed to be in this block of the prison, yet Adora hasn’t been able to find Catra anywhere. She can’t have been locked outside, right?

“Adora, hurry up!” Glimmer hisses at her from where she’s keeping guard. Adora swears under her breath. She has to find Catra now or they’ll never make it off Beast Island.

"I can't find her!" she yells back, and her voice sounds panicked even to her ears. They can't leave without Catra. They knocked out a guard that saw Glimmer teleport, but word about them will get out eventually. Even if they escape on their own, security will surely be raised, and then they'll never be able to get Catra out.

Adora hears Glimmer curse behind her as she kicks another cell door open. When she doesn't see Catra in there, she shuts it hard enough to make it shake. "Adora, a guard is coming closer, we need to go!"

“I haven’t found Catra!” she screams back. She hates the way Glimmer flinches back at her voice, but she can’t apologize now. I have to find Catra!

Another cell. Nothing. Shit. 

Glimmer struggles behind her. Adora whirls around. Glimmer and a guard with blue scales over his cheeks are fighting. Glimmer has managed to disarm him of his stun-baton, but since she’s saving her magic to get them out, she can only rely on hand to hand combat.

Adora dashes forward. She kicks the guard and gets him away from Glimmer. His feet dangle off the ground as Adora holds him up against the wall by the collar of his uniform. He blanches the moment he sees her face, no wonder recognizing her from the Horde briefings.

“Catra,” she hisses at him. He gulps. “Where is she?”

“W-what?”

She jostles him against the wall. His head hits it with a thunk. “Cat-hybrid. Hordak’s second in command. Where is she?” Adora emphasizes each word. The guard trembles under her glare. Adora never thought she’d use her interrogation lessons from the Horde like this.

“S - she never made it to Beast Island.”

Adora holds him up with one hand and presses her free forearm against his throat. “You’re lying.” She’s close enough to feel the puffs of air leaving his mouth as he struggles to breathe.

“I-I’m not! I swear!” he manages to say. Glimmer is urging her to escape - the alarm has gone off, she realizes distantly - but Adora pays her no mind. I have to get Catra. “I was on the plane transporting her here. She knocked me out and jumped off.”

Adora’s hold relaxes. Dread sits heavy in her stomach. She remembers the stories from the Horde. How half the people sentenced to Beast Island never make it there.

If he’s saying the truth, then Catra -

She presses her arm further into his throat. He gasps in pain. “Liar!”

“Adora, we have to go!”

“I’m not! P-please! She’s - she’s dead.”

She lets the guard drop to the floor. He hurries away, and maybe Adora should be more concerned about him, but she can’t be bothered. Not when her heart has stopped beating in her chest and everything feels fake. Not when a part of her has died.

Catra is dead.

A dozen guards run into the corridor, shouting the moment they see them. Their steps thunder as they run to attack. Adora takes out her sword from the supply bag she stashed it in, even though Glimmer is yelling at her to leave.

She opens her mouth, ready to transform. Catra is dead  - it feels wrong to even think it - and Adora never wanted to fight more than this moment in her life.

Before she’s able to turn into She-ra and decimate the Horde guards, Glimmer grabs her arm and teleports her away.

Chapter Text

Surprising absolutely no one, Catra got lost again.

After everything that happened yesterday, Imra had let Catra relax and take some time to think after escorting her to a spare room. Catra had spent the entire day doing just that - if you counted contemplating her entire life just that - if you counted contemplating her entire life and coming up with ways to murder Hordak ‘relaxing and thinking’. In the end, she had run through the Horde’s standard exercise program enough times to exhaust herself into falling asleep -a.k.a passing out.

In the morning, she took off in search of food once again, having only eaten the plate of food that had been somehow delivered to her room the night before. Her wanderings led her through a series of winding hallways, a couple of staircases and some rooms she couldn’t see a use for, before finally ending up in the library.

Catra doesn’t know what made her stay. Libraries aren’t really her thing. If they have one in the Fright Zone she certainly doesn’t know about it. But even if it was simple curiosity, something pulled her in. 

So she wanders the halls created by the towering bookcases. There's light coming in from somewhere, but Catra can't see the windows through the mountains of books around her. She lets her fingers trail over the spines of the books as she walks, the leather binding smooth after years of use. ‘History', she reads on the sign at the top of the bookcase. Further in she sees ‘Physics’, ‘Chemistry’, ‘Engineering’, ‘Biographies’. There's an entire hall labeled ‘Fiction', and that was separated in smaller categories, like ‘Romance' and ‘Mystery'. She could see the logic behind reading up on practical subjects, and even history or biographies, but why someone would want to read about something that never happened she doesn't understand.

She finally makes it into a large, open sitting area. Series of tables take up the majority of the space, with plush-looking armchairs and couches sprinkled throughout. The scarlet carpet is soft under her feet, if flattened by the numerous feet that have walked on it. Far to the right is a set of double doors leading outside. For easier access to the citizens of Halfmoon, Catra guesses. 

The windows are the most striking feature by far. They’re almost as tall as the murals, starting from the height of Catra’s waist and arching up until they meet at a point far above her head. Bright morning light washes in through them, the dust dancing in the rays.

It’s a peaceful place, Catra decides. A good napping spot too, if that couch close to the windows is as comfortable as it looks.

As she walks through the room, looking for the most comfortable seat, her eyes wander up to the portrait between the windows. Catra recognizes the man as the blue-eyed Magicat from Imra’s mural. His hair is long, white as the snow of the Northern Reach, and tied in a low ponytail at his nape, puffy like a cloud. His eyes are clear and intelligent. He looks out from the painting with a smile, a mischievousness in the way it crooks to one side.

She remembers Imra words from the infirmary. The hairs on the back of her neck stand on edge, and she wonders if this is who she got her right eye from.

She turns around at the sound of the soft footfalls behind her. Imra is approaching her with a tray in her hands. She looks surprised when Catra sees her.

“You heard me this time. Good morning, Catra.”

“Morning.” She wonders briefly how she should address Imra now. That one syllable feels heavy and foreign on her tongue. “What’s that for?”

Imra smiles, moving to set down her tray on one of the tables. Catra’s stomach rumbles when she smells everything she brought with her. There’s too much for her to make out, but her mouth salivates at the scent. “I figured you’d be hungry and get lost again, so I was bringing you breakfast. Took me a while to find you.”

Catra groans. “Yeah, this place is almost as confusing as Crypto Castle! It’d be good in case of an attack, but right now it’s just annoying.”

Imra chuckles. “That’s actually why Halfmoon was made like this. When the town outside the mountain was attacked, we were able to escape inside. If the enemy managed to make it inside, we can escape to the palace and from here to the deeper layers of Halfmoon.”

“Wait, there’s more?”

“Yes, though no one lives down there right now. It’s a last resort escape plan. It’s never been used.”

Standing in front of the table, Imra’s eyes shift from Catra to anything around her. her fingers fumbling with the fabric of her clothes. “Do you,” she says, pronouncing every word carefully, “want to eat together?”

Catra, through sheer stubbornness, doesn’t break eye contact, but that doesn’t mean she can’t feel the awkwardness settle over them like a blanket. Who knew finding the long lost mother you were stolen from could be so awkward?

She nods. They settle down on one of the tables, sitting side by side so they both have a clear view of the windows. Imra silently takes out everything she brought, placing a plate in front of Catra and spreading out enough food for three.

Catra vaguely recognizes some of the stuff from the feast. When she notices a bowl of powdered, round pastries, she snatches them out too fast to be embarrassed about it.

Imra chuckles. She places a glass of some orange liquid by Catra’s plate and a small cup by hers. “I remembered you liked them, so I brought some.”

Catra swallow the lump of dough in her mouth. “Thanks.” There’s a buzzing energy under her skin, the fear in her belly urging her to be on guard. It never turned out good for you when I treated you well, did it? Catra takes another bite of food, wanting to bring the voice down along with it. Shut up, she thinks to it. Haven’t you done enough already?

“Why did you bring it yourself? I guessed you had servants for stuff like this.”

“Normally, yes. But I wanted to talk to you.” She takes a long sip of her cup, casting her eyes aside to a plate of fruit. Her words come out so fast Catra isn’t sure she heard right. “Plus, I’ve given all the servants the day off.”

Catra almost chokes. “Why?”

“We might have taken the long way around when we were coming back yesterday, but people still saw your eyes.” They know you’re a princess, Catra hears without Imra having to say it. “I told you, news spread fast. I thought you wouldn’t want to be bombarded with questions or stared at. Someone was bound to do it, despite what I told them.”

Now Catra’s even more confused. “What did you tell them?” Oh, this orange stuff is nice.

“To ignore you being a princess.” Because she doesn’t want you to be her daughter, the voice says. Shut up! “I thought all this,” she gestures to the general direction of Halfmoon, “would be a lot for you to deal with before yesterday’s events. I didn’t want them to make you feel uncomfortable or pressured into anything.”

Catra doesn’t know what to say. Adults being considerate of her feelings and treating her well isn’t something she’s used to - although that applies to most groups of people.

Still, Imra is right. If Catra went out and people started calling her ‘highness’ and ‘princess’ she would run to the highest point in Halfmoon and not come down, if she didn’t scratch them. The thought that she is a princess is still a new one, even if she spent all of yesterday thinking about it and then pushing it out of her mind.

She wants to laugh. First Adora turns out to be a princess and now her. Who’s next, Kyle?

“That’s…  that’s part of what I need to talk to you about,” Imra continues.

Catra nods for her to continue. Anticipation churns in her stomach. ‘I need to talk to you’ has never ended well.

Imra sets her cup down. “I don’t want to force you to be a princess,” she says. “It’s a big responsibility, even if you have prepared your whole life for it. I’m not going to just throw you into the deep. If you aren’t ready to be a princess yet, we can wait until you are.”

That… wasn’t what she expected. She’ll admit, she kind of freaked out last night over being made to wear sparkly, frilly clothes and do whatever Adora’s new princess friends did on their spare time.

A warm feeling spreads through her chest. It must be that white and orange thing she ate (eggs, Imra called them). They were hot. Yeah, that must be it.

“And if I never am?” she asks, smirking at Imra.

Imra smiles back with brave, reckless confidence. "Then we'll figure it out then."

Catra snorts. She grabs another one of the pastries - damn, they already run out - and bites into it in hopes it’ll hide the smile on her lips. Judging by the way Imra’s eyes soften, it didn’t work.

“What else did you wanna talk about?”

“Yes. Well.” Imra clears her throat. Her uncertainty is back. But that’s not it, Catra realizes when she looks closer. Imra looks afraid. “Forgive me if I’m wrong, but you didn’t have the best experience with your guardian in the Horde, right?”

Catra bursts out laughing, her head thrown back. Her barking laughter echoes through the library. “That’s the understatement of the century!”

Imra doesn’t seem to find it funny. Her knuckles have turned white as she grips the handle of her cup. “Where are they now?” She tries to keep her voice even, but Catra still picks up on the growl rumbling from her chest.

“Rotting in a cell in the Fright Zone.” 

“Good.” Imra's eyes are harsh as steel and when she speaks her fangs glint in the light. This is a woman Catra can imagine slashing someone's throat.

Imra shakes her head, snapping out of her anger. Her bristled hair flattens and she sheaths her claws. Catra realizes she hasn't seen Imra mad until know, and the fact that this kind woman looked ready to murder someone over her well-being sends a pleasing tingle through Catra's chest.

Imra smooths her hair down, more to calm herself than anything else. “What I wanted to say is that I understand if you don’t fully trust me yet, or if you can’t call me mum.”

"Don’t you want me to?” Catra asks. She doesn't know what she wants Imra to answer.

Imra chuckles wistfully. "Skies, I do. But I want you to be comfortable more. If that means we take this mother-daughter thing slowly, or you don't say a syllable, that's alright. The fact you're here is more than I ever hoped for."

Catra looks away. She… wow, she is not used to this. Imra's eyes are so soft, warm with an emotion Catra doesn't fully recognize. She means what she says, Catra knows that, but this affection is foreign to her.

She likes it, though.

The air between them is lighter after that. They're both still hesitant in their actions - that probably won't change for some time - but Catra doesn't want to run away. Imra tells Catra stories from Halfmoon - like the time Otto and Vera got into a drinking contest and had to be kicked out of the tavern after drinking half their supply - and Catra laughs along with her. Imra does most of the talking, but Catra lets her continue. She likes the sound of her voice. It makes the voices go quiet.

They've eaten all the food by now, but Catra doesn't bring attention to it. She doesn't want to leave, she realizes with a start. She's enjoying this.

She glances up as Imra talks and her eyes fall on the man's portrait. She's never been superstitious - you'd think otherwise, considering she was raised by a literal witch. Even so, when she looks up at the painting, she feels like there are three people in the room.

"Who is that?" she asks.

"Felix,” she says, and Catra already knows what she’ll say next. Imra says his name like it’s a gift. “My husband."

"My father." It feels strange to say it. Catra knew, logically, that she had a father. But that’s entirely different than knowing what he looked like and what his name was.

"Yeah, your father.” Imra looks up at the painting. She smiles. “He'd be so happy to see you all grown up."

"What was he like?" 

Thinking about her parents had been a shield when Catra was young and Shadow Weaver’s punishments had gotten too much, even for Adora’s comfort to fix. She’d hide in the vents to lick her wounds and she would imagine them coming to get her and Adora away from the Fright Zone, away from Shadow Weaver. In her childish imagination, they were kind to her and always proud of her. They let her and Adora sleep in the same bed and they didn’t make her feel bad.

That never happened. After a point, Catra stopped thinking about them or dreaming they would come for her. Life wasn't good to her like that. And why should she care about them when they let the Horde take her?

That version of her would scoff if she heard her ask something stupid like ‘What was my dad like?’. But Catra couldn’t help her curiosity. If Imra loved him, he couldn’t be bad.

She wanted to know.

"He was brilliant. Skies, he'd get so full of himself if he heard me say that.” Imra chuckled wistfully. “He was a great scientist, sure, best Halfmoon has seen in decades, but he was such a dork. He singed his fur once experimenting and he had google marks around his eyes for weeks. He'd joke it was because I was so beautiful that standing near me was too much for 'a mere mortal like himself'."

Catra snickers. "Seriously?" Okay, so apparently my father was a dufus.

Imra is still laughing at the memory. "Yeah. He loved spending time here - his father was the bookkeeper, so he had always been around books. I thought he'd like having his portrait here.”

Catra glances away. Imra is looking at Felix’s portrait again, and her lips don’t need to form the words ‘I love you’ for Catra to see them in her eyes. She feels like she’s interrupting, somehow.

“He loved learning new things, and he picked up things so easily,” Imra continues. She chuckles. “I hated that about him when I was younger."

Catra almost gets whiplash with how fast she turned to Imra. "What?" ‘Hate’ was not a word she expected to hear from Imra about her husband.

"We were friends since we were kids," she explains. "For a long time, I thought he was perfect, and I hated it. He could pick up new skills so much quicker than I did. He learned how to shift in half the time I needed!" Imra talks as much with her hands as with her mouth. She's gesturing wildly, a smile on her face despite what she is saying. Catra can't understand how she can bare her vulnerabilities with a smile.

“It frustrated me that no matter how hard I tried, he always seemed to be ahead of me.” Oh, wow, can’t relate to that, Catra thinks, her mind suddenly full with dirty blonde hair and eyes like a cloudy sky and crooked smirks during training. Oh, shit. “I was the princess too, so I had this impression in my head that I had to be better than him."

Imra sighs in a way that says ‘I was so stupid’. "I antagonized him for years. He was a proud person too, so he'd fall for it hook, line and sinker. Honestly, it was a mess,” Imra rolls her eyes, “and not fair to either of us. I was just an insecure teenager protecting my worries about my responsibilities onto him. He wasn't perfect by any stretch. Sure, he could pick up skills fast, but it still took him time to master them. After a point, I always beat him in a fight. He was great in academic subjects, but he struggled a lot with people and interacting with them."

"He was the love of my life," Imra laughs breathlessly. "My mother used to say we were like the sea and the moon. I was calm one minute, wild the next, and I drove her crazy more than once because I wanted to do everything my way. Felix was constantly changing and you couldn't look away from him, but sometimes he isolated himself from others. We grew together. We helped each other. We were good on our own, but better together."

Imra isn't present as she's speaking, not really. Her body is here, but her mind is reliving the memories and for a moment Catra hopes she could see them too.

Imra turns away to hide her melancholic eyes. Catra doesn't say anything. There are too many emotions swirling around inside her. The want to know about her parents is gone, partially, now replaced with anger and bitterness that she'll never get to know her father as anything other than a name in a story and a portrait in the library.

She knows things about him now, about Imra, they're no longer formless daydreams in her mind. They're real.  And that's worse. It hurts more.

"How," she starts, her voice a croak. She stops. It doesn't feel fair to Imra to ask.

It doesn't matter. Imra heard the question regardless if Catra spoke it. "I had left you with Felix that day," she says with a solemn expression. "I had some meetings to attend to that day so we had agreed to meet after I was done with them." Imra huffs. It's not a laugh, even if the corners of her mouth are tugged up. "Well, they weren't that important and I could have put them off if I wanted to, like Felix had suggested, but I hadn't listened to him."

Imra takes a deep breath and it comes out trembling and unsteady. Her eyes glisten in the light. "When the Massacre started I tried to get as many people in the mountain as possible. I had to hope - trust - you and Felix were - were alright. I -" A sob claws its way out of her throat, the sound of scabbed over wounds bleeding again.

Catra doesn't want to be the one to tear them open. "Stop -"

Imra shakes her head. She wipes the tears clinging to her lashes. "I need to. When - when I finally found Felix, he -" She covers her mouth to stop the sobs, but it doesn't work. Catra hopes Scorpia was here. She would know how to comfort Imra. 

"He was hurt. There was so much blood I'm still not sure what wound killed him. But - he was over you. You were tiny and you were crying so loudly, but he was curled around you with all his strength." Tears are now rolling down Imra's face, but she doesn't bother to wipe them. Catra’s eyes sting. "A Horde soldier was kicking him to get him off you, but he wouldn't move, and when the soldier managed to grab you, he held onto you like a crazed man, until they - they -"

“I tried to save him but I failed.”

Imra can't speak anymore. She's sobbing quietly, trying to breathe and calm herself.

Catra's head is too loud.

I don't need them! Young Catra yells, all undirected rage and hurt. Those assholes probably didn't even put up a fight for me!

Ungrateful child, Shadow Weaver sneers.

They must have been happy when they took me!

You don't deserve this.

They didn't care for me!

"Catra?"

Imra's voice is even and clear, and it drags Catra out of the cacophony in her mind. Her hand hovers in the space between them.

Tears are running down her face, Catra realizes, and she's not sitting up. She's bend over her chair, her head and hands between her knees. She's panting, her breath coming out ragged and uneven.

"Are you alright?" Imra asks. It's a pointless question because she's not, but not many people take the time to care.

"I thought I could handle knowing," Catra says. She sniffs and rubs at her eyes, but the tears keep coming.

Imra takes a napkin from the table. She holds it up between them, close to Catra's face, but she doesn't touch her. There's no expectation in her eyes, no threat, just patience. If Catra pulled away, she wouldn't try to touch her.

It's still hard to remind herself that the hand in front of her isn't gray and sharp. Her heart is beating in her ears, but she leans forward.

Imra's touch is feather-light as she wipes away Catra's tears, as if she's something precious. Her free hand is holding Catra's, rubbing circles into her skin.

When Catra's eyes are dry, she hugs her. "I'm sorry," Imra says. "I keep making you upset."

Catra's words come out choked. "No. Don't apologize." 

It's hard to hug Imra back. She has so much warmth, and Catra is afraid that if she soaks in it too long she'll break, or she'll make Imra go cold. But Imra offers it to her so freely, like she could never run out.

"Let's do something to cheer you up," Imra says when she pulls away. "Come on, I'll show you around the palace. I'll show you your room too."

She pulls Catra up along with her and guides her out of the library.

"My what?"


 

They have almost finished their tour when Imra takes Catra through a large doorway and into the palace's gardens.

They spread out in front of her, framed all around by the palace's towers and the rocky sides of the mountain. It feels secret, in a way, even though Imra tells her it's visible from all the towers. The trees and flowers grow wild, like they plucked up a part of the forest and planted it here.

"This is my favorite part of the palace," Imra says, pulling Catra down the twisting stone path. It's darker under the trees, the light filtering through the leaves and creating patterns against her skin.

"You could get lost in here," Catra says. They pass by a tree big enough for Catra to build a house on, its trunk covered by dazzling white flowers. She can find her way out, she's sure, but there's so much to look at that she finds herself getting distracted.

"Oh, you can," Imra says in a way that means she definitely has gotten lost before. "That's the fun part."

They pass by a pond with colorful fish inside it, more flowers than Catra knew existed and take several turns before the trees open up to something different. The ground isn't rock but rather loose dirt. White painted lines mark off a big square space, and a rack next to it holds a variety of wooden weapons. Off to the side is what Catra can only describe as a groove of branchless trees, small platforms build on them, connected by ropes, poles and rope ladders.

It looks like -

"There's a training arena and you waited till now to tell me?" Excitement is buzzing in her stomach. She really needs to spread her limbs. She bounds off to the weird poles and jumps on, using her claws to scale up to the first platform. She feels like a child swinging from the pipes in the Fright Zone.

"I thought I'd leave the best for last." Imra smiles up at her from the ground as Catra runs across a rope on all fours. Correction to her previous statement: this is better than the pipes in the Fright Zone.

Imra doesn't stop her from running wild on the obstacle course. She sits on a nearby bench and plays mindlessly with a wooden dagger as she watches Catra. Occasionally she yells out advise, like how a platform leans to one side if you're not careful. It's strange, considering how often she was scolded for this same behavior growing up, but she enjoys it.

Catra looks back at Imra after doing a particularly big jump and the queen smiles at her, yelling, "Good job!". Catra didn't know two words could knock the air out of her lungs like that.

Having gotten enough, she climbs down, flushed and grinning. "That was great," Imra says, and Catra blooms under the praise. Imra is holding two staffs and she offers one to Catra. "Do you want to spar?"

Catra takes the staff, cocking her head to the side. “You sure you’re up for this?” A part of her screams at her for taunting Imra like this (it never worked out for you, idiot!), but she’s too high on adrenaline and good job to care.

Imra’s laugh is high pitched. “Like you can beat me, kitty.”

Catra freezes halfway through her stretch. She almost falls over. “What?”

Imra glances away at the dirt. “I used to call you that when you were a baby.” Her tail lashes behind her. “It slipped out, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s…” Catra trails off. She doesn’t know how to respond to a motherly pet name, but she likes it. It feels like Imra’s hugs. “It’s okay.” 

Neither of them says anything. This is all so new and it feels like it could break any moment. Finally, Catra speaks, her voice higher than she wanted it to be. “A-Anyway, let’s do this!” 

Imra unties the belt-like fabric from around her waist, dropping it on the weapons’ rack. Her dress falls looser around her now and she pulls it off. She’s wearing leggings underneath and the black fabric Catra could see under her dress’ collar turns out to be a black tank-top. She looks far more suited to a sparring session now than she did before. She stretches, but Catra can’t pull her eyes away from the scar tissue spreading across her torso.

Pink warped skin unfolds over her fur, slithering under the collar and the sleeves of her top like fire, burning everything in its way and leaving nothing behind. The wound has long now healed, but Catra knows it must have been a nightmare.

I couldn’t protect you that night.

I tried to save him but I failed.

The guilt is back, gnawing away at her insides. You’re not worth this much pain.

“Catra?” Imra calls out. She’s standing inside the sparring ring, but Catra didn’t notice her moving. “Are you coming?”

“Y-yeah.”

They square off against each other, staffs ready. Imra's stance is good, Catra notes. She knows what she's doing. Catra doesn't attack first. Imra rashes at her, staff raised. Catra dodges, aiming a hit at Imra's side. It doesn't land, but it would have been boring if it did.

They dance around each other, a flurry of hits and dodges. Imra is smiling wide, and it must be infectious because Catra can’t stop grinning even if she tried. Her blood burns through her veins, and even when Imra manages to hit her, Catra can’t help laughing.

She has never fought without the expectations of failure on her. She didn’t know it was that fun!

Catra smirks. Imra’s staff connects with Catra’s stomach and she crumbles to the ground.

“Catra!” Imra throws her staff to the side and kneels next to Catra, worry lacing her voice. “Are you okay?”

“Ow…” Catra stays on the ground, her arms wrapped around her middle. When Imra goes to touch her, she pounces, pushing on her back and holding her staff against her neck.

“I win.”

Imra is staring up at Catra with wide eyes, her mouth gaping. Catra can't place the emotion in her eyes and suddenly her triumph shatters. Maybe she shouldn't have done that. Would Imra be upset with her? She took advantage of Imra's caring nature. Would Imra think she was making fun of her? Or that she was ungrateful of how nice she has been to her?

But Imra laughs. She throws her head back against the ground, her laughter hitching and coming out high-pitched. Catra gets off her. What just happened?

“Oh, you’re definitely my daughter,” Imra says as she stands up, still laughing. “Damn, that was good.”

“You’re not mad?” Catra doesn’t understand. She cheated and Imra is congratulating her?

“Why would I be? Skies know how often I used that move on Felix.” Imra dusts herself off. She shrugs. “Plus, where’s the fun if you don’t fight dirty from time to time?”

Imra steps over to the weapons’ rack and picks up her clothes. “I should show you your room. I have a meeting soon and I can’t go covered in dust.”

With a promise to spar again, Imra leads Catra out of the gardens and up the towers.

This place doesn’t make sense, Catra decides. But she likes it.

Chapter Text

Jab. Jab - jab. Hook. Jab. Jab - jab. Hook.

The punching bag flies as Adora hits it. Her breathing is ragged and fast, her chest heaving. Her shirt is stuck to her with sweat and her growing bangs are plastered against her face. With every punch, her body shouts its protests, but she doesn't stop. The burn in her muscles is so deep she can't remember when it wasn't there.

Jab. Jab. Hook. Uppercut.

The fabric of the punching bag is rough against her fingers. Her arms are unbandaged, and so are her legs. Without the extra protective layer every hit is harder, her skin flushed red and raw. The pain is a stab of electricity traveling through her body every time she makes contact with the punching bag, a sharp reminder that she is here. Adora allows herself to drown in it.

It’s better than the numbness threatening to break out from her chest.

She spins her hips and kicks. The punching bag connects with her ankle instead of her shin. Adora bites her lip at the pain.

Really, Adora? A voice says, smooth and deep. She can almost see her, arms crossed, leaning against the wall. Come on, I know you’re better than this. You’re not a junior cadet anymore.

Adora’s eyes sting. Her form is bad, her arm way too loose, her movements too rushed, and she knows it will hurt before she makes the hit. She can taste the blood in her mouth.

A tittering laugh rings out in her mind. What is that form? Are you brain damaged or something?

She punches again. Again. Again. Again. She's not thinking anymore. All that exists is her, the punching bag and the pain coursing through her limbs. She attacks like a wild beast, wild, uncoordinated, like her life is on the line.

Why, she thinks as her knuckles crack with yet another hit. Why won’t it go away?

She doesn't notice the punching bag swinging towards her. It hits her in the chest and she stumbles backward.

“Adora!”

Bow and Glimmer walk into the training arena. Their brows are furrowed in worry the moment they lay eyes on her. Adora fights to get her breathing under control. 

“Hey - hey guys.”

“Adora, are you okay?” Glimmer asks. 

“Of - of course.” She wipes the sweat from her forehead. Her arm comes away glistening and her hair remains stuck to her face. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Bow and Glimmer look at each other. They can talk without saying a word, everything they want to say communicated in a single glance Adora has no hope to understand. We had that once too, huh Adora?”

“You’ve been here for three hours,” Bow says, stretching the last two words. “Aren’t you tired?”

Adora waves them off. The movement makes her arm ache."No. I'm fine." Her legs scream at her to sit down. "I think I'll keep going for a while longer."

Glimmer grabs her wrist. “Adora. We’re worried about you. You’ve been… off, since Beast Island.” Dead dead dead.“If you -”

“I’m going to take a bath.”

She doesn’t wait for them to respond. She grabs her towel, long now soaked through with sweat, and marches out. The castle’s halls go by in a flash. Next thing she knows she’s slamming shut her bedroom door and then the bathroom door. 

She twists the tap and lets the tub fill up. The rush of the water is a welcome distraction, the sound echoing through the large room. Adora focuses on it, letting it fill her ears, her mind. She doesn’t want to think.

She tears her clothes off and her abused muscles wail at her sudden movements. Her clothes fall somewhere on the floor but she doesn't bother to see where. The water is way too hot when she puts her feet in. Every inch of her skin is alight and burning like it's going to melt off. She grits her teeth and lets herself drop in.

She sits there for a moment, feeling the scalding water bite into her skin. She dives underwater and stays there until her lungs beg for air. She comes out gasping.

She goes through the process of washing herself mechanically. Wet her hair, shampoo, rinse, repeat. Her fingers rake through her hair roughly, leaving her skull throbbing. She reaches out for soap and freezes.

The Horde had a single, all-purpose soap to shower with. Brightmoon has multiple choices to pick from depending on what you're washing, each one with a different smell, most of which Adora didn't recognize when she first defected. She got used to them through time, but now their number stands out to her again.

Catra would think it’s stupid to have this many, she thinks. ‘Why would anyone want to smell like a flower?’ she’d say.

She can almost see her, sitting beside her in the tub. Her bangs falling in her face without her headpiece, her eyes shining as she smirks. What Adora wouldn't give to sink into her side again, to hear her purr and feel her tail wrap around her waist despite her protest that ‘this is not because I like you’.

But that won’t ever happen again. 

She grabs a bottle from the tray without looking at it and washes her body like she’s trying to pull her skin off along with the grime. Her throat is tight, the hole in her chest growing bigger, threatening to consume her. She hasn’t felt whole in days. Her eyes sting with unshed tears. Keeping them back is harder than any battle she has ever fought.

Why couldn’t you protect her, my child? Shadow Weaver’s voice rings in her head. How could you fail?

She walks out of the bathroom, clean and prepared to work out until she collapses into a dreamless sleep, but instead finds Glimmer and Bow waiting for her on her bed.

Glimmer stands up. “Adora-”

“I really don’t want to do this right now, guys.” Adora strode toward the door without looking back at Glimmer and Bow. She doesn’t have an excuse to leave; she has taken care of every possible task she could and she is dressed for bed, but her stomach clenches at the idea of this conversation.

In a puff of sparkles, Glimmer teleports in front of Adora, blocking her exit. Adora doesn’t react fast enough - her limbs are too heavy - and Glimmer grabs her by the wrists, teleporting her to her bed. “Adora, you can talk to us.”

Adora turns her head away. "There's nothing to talk about," she says, even though there are so many thoughts swirling in her mind that she thinks her head is going to split in two.

“Yes, there is!” Glimmer throws her arms in the air, her face flushed. Adora looks down, ashamed. A pang goes through her chest at seeing her friend so frustrated. Why must you always hurt those you care about, my child?

Bow rests his hand on Adora’s. “Adora, we’re worried about you.” Bow’s hands are rough from years of archery, but his touch is gentle. Adora knows, logically, that if she was to let her walls down both him and Glimmer would be there to shield her from the debris. 

It still terrifies her.

"You just lost someone important to you and," his grip on her hand tightens like he's afraid she'll run away, "we're afraid you're not handling it well."

“Me? What - No, I’m just peachy!” Adora winces internally at how scratchy her voice sounds. “Really, there’s nothing to worry about. I’m perfectly fine.”

“That’s the problem,” Glimmer insists. “It’s been days and you haven’t cried once!”

“You’re constantly training or running drills or going over reports and battle plans,” Bow says. “We found you passed out from exhaustion more in the past few days than the entire time we have known you.”

“I just want to get stronger!” Why can’t they understand that? “We have a war to fight, people to protect-” The words get caught in her throat. A memory flashes in her mind - Catra throwing herself at Adora’s back and hanging on her while they both laugh.

“Lives to save.”

Her words, no louder than a whisper, hang in the air, so heavy Adora isn’t sure she can breathe through them.

It’s Glimmer who finally breaks the silence. “We do, but Adora…” She sighs, wrapping her arm around Adora’s shoulders. “Working yourself to death won’t bring Catra back.”

“You don’t have to punish yourself, Adora,” Bow says. “This isn’t your fault.”

Why would your friends lie to you like that, my child?

"Yes, it is!" Adora yells so loudly that Bow and Glimmer flinch. "I'm supposed to look after Catra! I have- had to." The past tense brings up bile in her throat. Referring to Catra like that makes her skin crawl. "If I had changed her mind, if I had gotten her to defect with me, if-if I had taken her with me when I went to find the sword she wouldn't have died!"

“Why?” Glimmer’s question is so matter of fact that it takes Adora by surprise. “Why do you think taking care of Catra is your responsibility?”

"I… I made a promise when we were children." A sound comes out of her mouth - she's not sure if it's a laugh or a sob. "You look out for me and I look out for you. Nothing really bad can happen as long as we have each other." The memory is fresh in her mind. All of her memories of Catra are. She has been thinking a lot about them. "I broke it."

Bow grips her hand tighter, but Glimmer doesn’t hold back any punches when she speaks. “And so did Catra. She attacked you, tried to kill you, used that weird disc to infect She-Ra.”

Adora pulls away from Glimmer’s hug. She can’t really be saying that? “And that means it’s okay that she died?”

“No! Of course not! But you’re not the only one who broke a promise. Catra made a choice and broke it too.”

That memory is fresh too. Adora holding onto the spiderweb, her feet dangling over the cliff. Catra, with her frazzled hair and hurt eyes, using the Sword of Protection to cut the spiderweb. Light Hope telling her to let go.

I could never let go of her, could I?

Adora shakes her head. “You don’t get it. Back at the Horde, Shadow Weaver was always harsher on Catra, even if we got in trouble for something I wanted to do. I had to keep her in line so Shadow Weaver wouldn’t hurt her.”

“And did that work out?”

“Glimmer!” Bow hisses at her. He tries to hide his glare over Adora’s shoulder, but Adora still sees him.

Glimmer ignores his protests. “I’m sorry for being blunt, but did that actually work? Did you manage to stop Shadow Weaver from hurting Catra?”

Adora casts her eyes down. She remembers Catra floating still in the air, the red glow of Shadow Weaver’s magic around her. How Shadow Weaver’s bad mood correlated with Catra being more closed off and avoiding Adora’s touch. 

“No.”

Glimmer's arms are firm around her as she hugs her. "Other people's actions aren't your responsibility. It wasn't your fault when Shadow Weaver hurt Catra, it wasn't your fault when Catra chose to stay with the Horde, and it's not your fault Catra died."

Adora buries her face in Glimmer’s shoulder, trying to ignore the burning in her eyes. “Shadow Weaver always acted like it was.”

“Shadow Weaver is a piece of shit.” Both Glimmer and Adora startle when Bow speaks. Adora has never heard him swear before.

Glimmer gives Adora one last squeeze before letting her go. “I get that you’re hurt, Adora, and that you wish Catra’s death could have been avoided, but Catra was her own person. Protecting her wasn’t your responsibility, and neither were her actions.” 

Adora rubs her eyes, struggling to get the tears out of them. They threaten to fall and she’s afraid that if they do she will too. She’s not sure if she could get back up.

Glimmer sighs and she leans into Adora’s side. “I didn’t know her as well as you did, but I don’t think Catra would have wanted you to blame yourself like this.”

Didn’t. Did. Wanted.

Adora’s body shakes. A sound echoes through her room, like a wounded animal. The sound rings out again and she realizes she’s the one who made it. “I miss her,” she says. Her voice is shaking. “It hurts so much.”

“And that’s okay,” Bow says. “It’s okay to hurt, and to let it out.”

Adora shakes her head. She opens her mouth to speak but the only thing that comes out is sobs. She covers her mouth with her hands, but it does nothing to stop them.

“And,” Glimmer says, pulling Adora’s hands away from her face, “it doesn’t make you weak to cry.”

So Adora does. Glimmer and Bow hug her and she crumbles into pieces.


 

Catra jumps out of the way as She-Ra’s sword comes down. The ground cracks when the sword connects, debris flying everywhere. Catra shudders at the thought of what it would be like if she was a second too late.

She-Ra charges at her. Her golden hair shines so brightly it hurts Catra's eyes, like looking into the sun. Her features  - once so familiar Catra could see them in her sleep - are contorted in rage as she roars. She swings her sword and even though Catra dodges, the sword scrapes her stomach. Her Horde uniform tears and she feels the warm spill of blood against her skin.

“Is that all you have?” She spits at the giant before her. “The legendary She-Ra and yet you can’t even land a hit!”

She-Ra attacks again. Just before her sword slices her in half, Catra jumps. The wound on her stomach is shallow, but pain runs through her. Even so, she lands on a tall boulder, her tail waving lazily behind her. 

“You have to save the world, don’t you?” Catra smirks down at She-Ra, who is trying to dislodge her sword from the boulder. Catra somehow knows her smirk sits wrong on her face, too wide, more like a snarl threatening to tear her in two. Catra doesn’t care.“How are you supposed to do that when you are so weak?”

She-Ra howls once more, ripping her sword free. Catra pounces at her, roaring back, her claws unsheathed. She clings onto She-Ra, attacking her with everything she has. She-Ra’s scream is blood-curdling and Catra’s claws are warm with blood, but she doesn’t stop. She’s drunk on this power. She won’t stop until she shreds She-Ra to pieces. 

“You took everything from me! Now I’m going to take everything from you!”

She-Ra crumbles to the ground and her transformation falls. Now it’s not She-Ra, Etheria’s Savior, who’s underneath her. It’s Adora, the girl who chased Catra through the halls of the Fright Zone and shared her ration bars with her when Shadow Weaver took Catra’s away. Horror fills her stomach, but her body moves without her.

No! Stop! Stop!

But no matter how hard Catra fights, she can't stop. Suddenly she's at the side, watching her body attack Adora like a wild animal. There are corpses all around them - Scorpia, Entrapta, the Princess Alliance and the Magicats - each of them clawed to death.

“Adora!” Catra tackles her body, trying to knock it off of Adora, but it’s as if she’s made of air. “Adora! Let her go! Stop!”

“Face it!” Her body screams, even as Catra hopelessly tries to hold her back. “All your friends are gonna die, everyone will suffer and it will be all your fault!” 

Finally - finally - Adora moves. She shoves Catra’s body off her and stands up tall despite her wounds. She turns to Catra - she’s back in her body now - and Catra recoils at the look in her eyes.

They’re cold like ice and they cut through Catra better than her sword ever could. There’s no sympathy in them, no sign that Catra was ever her friend. You’re an enemy, they say. Catra is shaking, her eyes burning with tears.

Before she can do anything - reach out to Adora, make that look go away, this isn’t what I wanted - Adora is gone. Shadow Weaver stands in her place, towering over Catra. Shadows swirl around the witch's feet, threatening to choke Catra.

“In the end, you were just like me, child.”

Catra bolts upright in her bed, awake.

She struggles for air, gulping down as much as she can like she's drowning. The blanket is shredded beneath her fingers, she realizes. The only light in her room comes from the open window. In the darkness, the light creates slender shadows across her walls and floor. Catra's fur stands on edge.

The image from her dream - her nightmare - is still vivid in front of her eyes. Everyone she has ever know, enemy or ally, lying dead by her hand. The way Adora looked at her.

Her throat is sore and tight. She’s trembling like a leaf and her chest aches, as if someone has reached inside and is squeezing her heart between their fingers until she bleeds out everything she has.

The door creaks open. “Catra?” Imra peaks out from behind the door, her hair down. Her brows furrow further after she sees the state Catra is in. “What happened? I heard you screaming.”

Catra turns away. She can feel the tears welling in her eyes and she doesn’t want Imra to see them. “I’m - I’m fine,” she says and she regrets the words as soon as they’re out of her mouth. The Magicat Queen has given Catra no reason to think she will hurt her, but it’s easy to fall back into old habits. To keep her walls up so high she can’t see the sky.

“No, you’re not,” Imra says, like she would need to be stupid to buy Catra’s half-assed lie. “Let me help you. I can run down to the kitchen, get you something warm to drink-”

“No!” Imra stops talking. Catra is surprised at how loud her voice was, but… she doesn’t want Imra to leave. She doesn’t want to stay in this room full of shadows on her own. “I… Can you stay here?”

Even in the little light there is, Catra can see Imra’s kind smile. “Of course.”

Imra pads over to the bed and sits down. There’s still space left between them - too much space. Catra opens her mouth, then closes it. She wraps her arms around herself instead of trying to close the gap.

"Did you have a nightmare?" Imra's voice is quiet when she speaks, but it seems to echo in the silence of the night.

Catra nods. Her cheeks burn with shame and she knows Imra can see it.

“That’s okay.” Imra scoots closer. Her fingers brush against Catra’s, the briefest taste of the contact she wants. As soon as it’s there it’s gone again. “Do you want me to do anything? Maybe turn on the light?”

“No.” Catra tries to ask again, but she can’t bring herself to form the words. She never had to ask back in the Fright Zone, when being caught cuddling Adora would get her punished. They had fallen into that wordless routine when they were young, had repeated it so often that crawling into each other’s arms after a nightmare had become muscle memory.

She wants that reassuring physical contact now too, but the words get caught in her throat. She thought it would be easier now. Why is she so scared to ask for a hug when Imra has already shown she’s more than willing to give them? But her walls don’t crumble that easily; it feels like Catra has to bring them down brick by brick.

She inches closer, slow and careful, until she’s a breath away from Imra. Before the Queen can say anything and before Catra can lose her courage, she lunges herself at Imra. One of her arms is pressed into the mattress and she’s in an awkward angle against Imra, but she doesn’t dare to move.

After a too-long second, Imra adjusts Catra against her with a quiet laugh and wraps her arms around her. It's more comfortable this way and Catra opens her eyes. She didn't realize she had them shut.

Imra’s hand moves gently against her back. The adrenaline she still felt from the nightmare fades away and Catra relaxes in Imra’s hug. It’s not like Adora’s hugs. Where Adora was all hard muscle, Imra is soft, at least on the outside. When she moves Catra feel the muscles that allowed her to fight like she did in the gardens. The way Imra holds her feels different too, even if Catra can’t put her finger on how. 

But in a way, it’s the same; it makes Catra feel safe.

“Do you want to talk about it?” 

Catra shakes her head. “Not - not now.” The way she’s lying she can feel Imra’s body rise and fall with her breathing. It’s a monotonous, soothing motion and it lulls Catra’s nerves.

“Alright.”

Imra continues petting Catra's back. Her movements are soft, alternating between petting the length of Catra's back and concentrating on smaller areas. She pushes her fur backward occasionally and runs her fingers through the longer tuffs along Catra’s spine. Catra has to keep herself from purring. She wants to close her eyes and let herself fully enjoy this, but even Imra’s careful petting can’t stop her from noticing the shadows lurking in the corners of the room.

“Can you talk?” Her voice is no louder than the breeze coming through the window. It feels dangerous, asking for things like this. Like she’s standing in the middle of a battlefield blindfolded and cuffed.

Imra's hand stills for a second then keeps going. "About what?"

“Something. Anything.” It calms me, she thinks, but she doesn't say it.

Imra hums, scratching between Catra's ears before she starts taking. "There once was a young princess who loved playing out in the fields. She would go out every day and spent hours exploring the countryside to the west of her kingdom."

Catra closes her eyes and focuses on Imra’s voice. Maybe it will push the images from her nightmare out of her mind.

Behind her closed eyelids, she imagines a small girl running through rolling fields of grass as tall as her. She remembers some of the older cadets back at the Horde talking about a place like that, with giants hunks of rock floating above their heads. 

“One day, she met another girl underneath the biggest tree in the forest. She didn’t look like anyone the princess had ever seen before, so she knew that the girl must have been from another kingdom. The girl had been playing with her ball, but it got stuck in the tree, so the princess helped her get it back.”

The scene continues playing in Catra’s mind. She sees the princess throw the ball down at a girl with a ponytail and a pout on her face. When they were little, Adora lost all sorts of things in the maze of the Fright Zone pipe system and she wasn’t able to climb well enough to get them. Catra always got them back from her. Every time she gave Adora whatever she had lost and Adora complimented her climbing and agility she felt like she had grown in size. 

But the pleasant memories disappear immediately. The warm smile Adora gave her as a child, her two front teeth missing, is replaced by the furious glare from her nightmare. 

Don’t think about it, don’t think about her.

“They played together that day, and the day after that, and the day after that,” Imra continues talking, and Catra tries to think only of these two unnamed girls.

And yet the princess in her imagination still sprouts cat ears and a tail, the girl beside her hair like firelight and a smile brighter than the sky.

“They became best friends and would always meet under that same tree. It was their special spot, somewhere for just the two of them.”

The tree morphs. The branches change, grow thick and cold. Catra remembers lying at the highest point of the Fright Zone with Adora, talking and laughing, holding each other's hands. Catra loved it when they did that. She loved the feeling of Adora's hand in hers, rough from training, but more gentle than everything she had ever know.

Her stomach churns like it's filled with poison. It stings, burning away the feeling of Adora's fingers interlocked with hers and replacing it with the warmth of blood. Bile rises up in her throat, and she shoves it down. She hates that she has felt that warmth outside of a nightmare.

“As they got older, their responsibilities grew and their meetings became less and less frequent. Eventually, they would go months without seeing each other, but they never stopped thinking of one another.”

At least those two were better off, Catra thought, biting the inside of her cheek.

“But,” Imra’s voice drops low, as if she’s preparing for a sudden hit in battle. Shivers run down Catra’s back. “A war broke out, and the princess was to lead her kingdom’s army into battle. Finally, after months, she saw her friend again. But this time, it was on the other side of the battlefield.”

Catra’s stomach tightens. She remembers seeing Adora, that day in Thaymor, shining like she was made of light. The resentment rises up from her core, gut-wrenching and terrifying, digging its claws in her like it had never left. It hadn’t, not really. As much as Catra wished they could go back to how they used to be, it didn’t change the fact that Adora left her. She turned her back on her and left, like their friendship meant nothing to her, like Catra meant nothing to her. 

Catra wants to hate her. She wants to forget about Adora. Adora betrayed her.

But...

“Neither of them knew what to do. They didn’t want to fight each other, but fate had other plans. That night, they ran to their tree and met under the moonlight. They cried in each other’s arms and swore to end the war as soon as possible, so nothing could stand between them or their people’s happiness. They met at their tree every night, making plans and orchestrating the smoothest possible end to the war.”

I hate her. I hate her. I hate her.

So then why does she feel like this? Why is she jealous of the two girls Imra is talking about? Why did the bed feel so empty when she went to sleep that night?

Why do I still miss her?

Imra is running her fingers through her hair, slow and careful, and yet Catra is still on edge. “Finally, the war ended, and their kingdoms joined into one. The two girls got married under the tree they met and lived happily ever after.”

Catra scoffs. “I doubt things would work out that well,” she says, but she’s not sure if she’s talking about the princess and the girl or Adora and herself.

Catra feels Imra’s shoulders move when she shrugs. “Maybe it would be more complicated if it really happened, but it’s just a story.”

“Why would anyone want to listen to something that never happened?” Her voice comes out harsher than she meant it to, but that stinging feeling in the pit of her stomach is still there. Why did that story have to rub everything in her face?

“We can learn through stories,” Imra says. She sounds a bit too cheerful, and Catra knows her sudden sour mood must have confused her, especially after she seemed so calm when Imra first hugged her. “And they’re fun.”

Catra doesn’t respond. She stays still, staring so hard at the stone wall that she might burn a hole through it. She tries to push the images of Adora out of her mind, but they don’t disappear. Adora smiling after a successful drill, Adora teasing her and wrestling with her, Adora laughing with her after they played a prank on the other cadets.

Why do I still care about you?

“Catra?” Imra’s hand is still on her back, her voice too hesitant. “Who’s… Who is Adora?”

Catra’s heart jumps up to her throat. She gulps. “Why are you asking?”

“You mentioned her that night at the stream,” Imra says. She’s speaking slowly, picking every word with caution. “And when I woke up you were screaming her name.”

Catra bites her lip. Her cheeks burn and her fur stands on edge in anticipation. She would have bruises for a week for a display like that in the Horde.

Imra's question rings in her head. How is she supposed to describe Adora? She's not sure there are enough words for that.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk,” Imra says, rubbing Catra’s back. “You don’t have to.”

Catra considers that. She could take the easy way out, the one that doesn’t hurt as much. But the scene from her nightmare still plays in her head. Her emotions are all tangled up and she doesn’t know where to begin with them.

"She was my best friend," she says slowly. But even though it's true, it doesn't seem enough. "My first friend. We… we grew up together in the Horde. We shared a bunk, but after a point, we would always sleep in her bed." She realizes too late that she's smiling at the memory and she forces the smile off her face. "I… I can't remember a time when we weren't together. She was just always there."

Until she wasn’t.

"Shadow Weaver was the one responsible for both of us, but Adora was always her favorite." Catra keeps talking. The words pour out of her mouth like a river and she can't stop them. She's not sure if she wants to, either. She has never talked about this, and it feels cathartic, in a way. "Everything Adora did was right and everything I did was wrong. Shadow Weaver treated me like Adora's pet. ‘Oh, Adora, you have to keep Catra in line, don't you know she'll just get in trouble without you? I'll have to punish her then, and you don't want that, do you?'"

Catra laughs, dry and bitter. It’s weird to laugh about something that has brought her so much frustration and pain, but somehow it feels safe. If she laughs at it, it can’t hurt her.

Imra is quiet as Catra speaks, but her arms are tight around her. She can’t protect Catra from her past, but the warmth against her is reassuring.

“Adora didn’t seem to think the witch was wrong, either,” Catra whispers. It hurts to admit. She has thought this so many times, but saying it out loud makes it more real. “She always acted like she had to take care of me.” She scoffs. “Not that she was ever able to stop Shadow Weaver. I hated her for that, a bit.”

She had felt ashamed for that for so long. Adora was her friend and she shouldn’t be having these ugly feelings about her. 

After everything that happened, those past worries seem trivial.

Imra rubs circles on her back. “For not stopping Shadow Weaver?”

Catra nods. “Yeah. And… for thinking she had to protect me. I wasn’t weak, I could take care of myself.” 

Imra doesn’t speak for a while. There’s a storm inside Catra’s mind, brought forward by her vulnerability, and she doesn’t think she can make it go away.

“You said she was your friend,” Imra finally says. “What happened?”

Catra’s claws dig into her arm. A growl rumbles in her throat. “She left me. She found a magic sword in the woods and shiny new friends and it’s all ‘Catra, the Horde is hurting people! We have to stop them!’ No shit, how is that a new thing? What have they been doing to me all this time?”

Her throat is tight like her heart is lodged there, and her eyes sting with tears. "But I wasn't enough for her." She hates these words. She hates that they're true "Not enough to leave the Horde for and not enough to stay for either."

I hate this. I hate this. I-

“I want to hate her,” she says. “I should. But…”

Her voice gets caught in her throat. She wipes at her eyes furiously, but the tears are still there.

“You can’t,” Imra says.

“No.”

Catra shuts her eyes tight. If she doesn’t let the tears fall they are not there, right?

Imra pulls Catra up and helps her sit beside her against the headboard. The sudden lack of physical contact makes Catra feel vulnerable and a fresh wave of tears comes forward. She hugs herself and turns her face away from Imra. 

“Catra,” Imra sighs. Catra looks at her from the corner of her eyes. Imra takes hold of Catra’s hand and squeezes. She leans forward and kisses her forehead. It’s light as a feather, but Catra is so hyper-aware of it and the exact place where Imra’s lips touch her skin that for a moment she forgets her tears.

“I’ve said this before,” Imra says, “but… what you were put through, what Adora was put through too, is something no child should ever experience.”

Catra snorts and a dry laugh comes out of her mouth. It’s an ugly sound, but she can’t take it back. “Please, Adora had it easy.”

“Being made to feel responsible for your best friend’s safety and then blamed for their pain doesn’t seem like having it easy.”

Catra can’t believe what she’s hearing. She sits up and whirls around to fully face Imra. “Oh, so being hit and punished constantly, even when you did nothing wrong, does?”

Imra’s ears lower.“No, Catra, that’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what is it?” Her voice is loud, and Catra hates the nervous sway of Imra’s tail. Scorpia has been nervous like this around her too. Why does she keep doing this?

Imra reaches out and tentatively holds Catra’s hand. “I’m not trying to invalidate what you went through, but you shouldn’t do the same to Adora,” she says. “Suffering is suffering no matter what form it takes.”

Catra opens her mouth to argue back, but then she closes it. How is she supposed to respond to Imra for that? To a woman who lost her family and so many of her people and still seems to blame herself?

"Adora was always on Shadow Weaver's good side," she says eventually. "She was affectionate toward her."

"Affection isn't always a good thing," Imra says, and Catra remembers the deep-seated fear she feels whenever Imra's hand comes close to her face. "It can be used to hurt others too."

She remembers other things too. Adora inching away from Shadow Weaver’s palm on her cheek when they were caught in her room as children. She remembers herself playing with Adora in Princess Prom, swinging her arm over Entrapta’s shoulders to make Adora jealous, dancing with her, pressing herself against Adora’s front, dipping her on the dancefloor. Caressing Adora’s cheek during the Battle of Brightmoon, an exact copy of Shadow Weaver’s movements.

Her stomach lurches. It’s as if she got kicked. Shadow Weaver’s words from her dream echo in her head. In the end, you were just like me, child.

She can’t stop the tears from spilling over. She rips her hand from Imra’s hold - it’s shaking, she realizes distantly - and she covers her mouth to stop the sounds she’s making. Acting like Shadow Weaver - isn’t that the best joke the universe could make against her? 

Wasn’t that what she was doing in her nightmare too? Hurting people, whether they treated her well or bad, just because she had the power to do it, because it made her not feel weak. 

Hurting Adora.

Imra takes her into her arms. She rubs her back and Catra cries.

Chapter Text

A few days later, Catra is in her room when someone knocks on her door.

It’s weird to think of this space as hers. There’s not much when it comes to personal possessions in the Horde. The crown was probably the most personal thing she ever had. Everything else, even her Force Captain room,  was ‘hers’ in the sense that she was the one using it at the time. 

To have a room that only she uses and that was meant only for her is strange. Especially when it’s so unlike any bedroom she has ever seen.

There’s a bed, obviously, and it’s by far the most comfortable thing Catra has ever lied on. And she thought the infirmary bed or the one in the spare room she stayed in were soft! This thing must be made out of clouds or something to be this fluffy. It’s bigger than any bed she has seen too - definitely bigger than the Horde bunks.

(She thinks, for a moment, how nice it would be to lie on it with Adora, pressed against her side, with her hand scratching behind her ear. She pushes the thought away as soon as it arrives.)

According to Imra, this had been Catra’s nursery when she was a baby. She managed to replace the crib with a bed before she gave the staff the day off, but the rest of Catra’s baby things are still there.

There’s so much. The wardrobe against one wall is filled with tiny clothes and diapers, another chest is packed with stuffed animals and some very nice smelling toys, and the rocking chair by her bed is covered by a fluffy blanket. There is even a mini version of the obstacle course from the gardens!

That longing ache is back in her chest. She wonders if it will ever go away. This could have been familiar.

The knock sounds again, more insistent this time. “Don’t be so loud, she could be sleeping!” She hears a voice say from the other side. “It’s noon -” the other one responds. Catra opens the door.

Maya and Nino are there, caught mid-argument. They straighten up immediately when they see her.

“Catra! Hi,” Nino says, waving awkwardly. Maya is slouching next to him in an attempt to look cool, but it’s way too staged.

“Hey.” Catra leans against the doorframe, effectively blocking them from moving further. “What are you doing here?”

"Dad still needs to get your measurements for your gift, so we thought we'd come to pick you up and," Maya shrugs, "hang out."

“Why?”

Nino seems uncomfortable by Catra’s curt responses, but Maya goes on rambling unfazed. “I mean, I tried to tell him to wait, but he has so many outfit concepts I’ll drown in them so-”

“No,” Catra interrupts her, “why do you wanna hang out with me?”

Nino and Maya glance at each other and Catra finally understands what the other cadets must have felt like when she and Adora the same thing. “Why wouldn’t we?”

Catra goes to respond, but when she opens her mouth she finds that she has no good answer. Because I was a Horde soldier, she thinks at first, but Imra already spoke to her about that, didn’t she? You only want to hang out with me because I’m your princess, she thinks next, and immediately feels guilty. Imra told people to ignore that until Catra was ready. Her distrust - something Catra told herself made her smarter - suddenly feels wrong. She remembers how Shadow Weaver always did everything important on her own, paranoid about being betrayed. Am I acting like her again? Her stomach turns at the thought.

“Nevermind,” she says eventually. Nino and Maya seem confused, but they don’t press her.

“We wanted to get to know you,” Nino says. “You’re the first new person in Halfmoon that doesn’t have to learn how to talk before interacting with us.”

“And you’re like the only other person our age here,” Maya adds. “Don’t get me wrong, this goof is great,” she points at the Nino, “but it gets boring when all but one person are either older or younger than you.”

“So,” Nino says, a nervous smile on his face, “do you want to or?”

Catra’s knee jerk reaction is to say no, to push them away. But then a thought crosses her mind, sounding weirdly like Scorpia. Wouldn’t Shadow Weaver do that too? It makes her skin crawl.

I’m not going to be like that wench, Catra decides.

“Sure, let’s go,” she says, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. She can still be cool about it, at least.

Nino perks up, smiling. Maya, on the other hand, launches herself at Catra's side and swings her arm over her shoulders. "Oh, this will be fun!"

They walk through the castle, towards the exit, Maya going on about fabrics and patterns and a bunch of stuff Catra doesn’t get. She’s not sure what she’s supposed to say. She’s not sure how to be friendly. Adora was her first friend, but that sort of just happened, and Scorpia was the one who was aggressively friendly with her. (She’s been thinking a lot about how she treated people ever since that horrible realization a few nights ago, and now she cringes whenever she thinks about Scorpia. She treated her just like Shadow Weaver would.)

Imra is at the front gate, talking with some old Magicats. She smiles when she sees Catra pass by with Maya and Nino and gives her a thumbs up. Catra’s cheeks warm up.

Otto's tailor shop is close to the bakery. When they walk in, a bell chimes from above the door. The shop takes up the entire bottom floor of a two-story building - Maya said she and her dad live on the house above. The room they are in is filled to the brim with clothes - hanging from clothing racks or hooks on the walls, displayed on mannequins, draped over furniture. On top of that, there are rolls of fabric against the far wall and a raised platform in the middle of the room. There are so many things in the shop that despite two big windows at either side and the glass window at the front filled with examples of Otto's work, there's not a lot of natural light in the room. Instead, most of the light is coming from the large ceiling lamp and the several mismatched floor lamps scattered throughout the room.

It’s certainly cramped, but it’s cozy. (Look at her, using the word ‘cozy’. Ugh.)

“Dad!” Maya calls out. “We’re here!”

"Hey!" Otto's head pops up from behind a rack of clothes. Catra is surprised she couldn't spot a man of his stature immediately. "Oh, you brought her! Great!" He carries a big roll of fabric over to where the rest is and puts it down. That thing is probably as big as Catra. "Get on the platform, I'll be there in a second."

Catra does as he said. She feels exposed like this, but she grits her teeth and forces herself to deal with it. Come on, you’ve been through worse than a little awkwardness. 

Maya perches on the back of an armchair and Nino lies across it, his legs hanging off the armrest. Otto weaves through the clothing racks and approaches her with a measuring tape. He gestures upwards.

“Arms up,” he says. When Catra does so, he wraps the tape around her waist and scribbles a number on a pad of paper. “So what kind of style of clothes do you want?”

Catra thinks back anything she has ever worn before, but it’s not a lot of help. Outside of Princess Prom, she has only ever worn the Horde issued uniforms. “Practical,” she says eventually. 

Otto laughs, a deep sound coming straight from his belly, and he notes something on his notepad. "Duh, I'm not going to make you something you can't move in. Be more precise, please."

“Something I could run in. Fight,” she says. She doesn’t want something she would be vulnerable in, and Otto probably has a different definition of ‘practical’ than she has with how unlike their lives are. After a second thought, she adds, “Nothing frilly.”

Otto’s smile is as wide as his face and full of teeth, but it’s not threatening. “Now we’re talking!” He measures the length of her arms and legs, before moving on to width. “What do you want people to think when they first see you?”

Catra balances on one leg as Otto measures the other. “Like what?” She thought he would only be measuring her. She didn’t expect so many questions.

“Like…” Otto trails off, scribbling down more numbers, “cute, graceful, serious.”

"Badass?" Maya suggests from her place on the armchair.

“She could beat me in a fight and I wouldn’t even mind?” Nino adds, raising his hand like they did in the Horde’s theoretical strategy classes. 

Catra can’t help but snort. “I like that one.” So much for remaining cool and in control. Still, everyone laughs and she finds that she doesn’t mind. 

“Alright.” Otto makes some last notes before moving to her arms. “Anything that you have worn that you particularly liked?”

"I wore a suit to Princess Prom," she says. Nino and Maya perk up where they're sitting. "That was nice. And it had these gloves with it." She really liked those gloves. They probably have a proper name, but Catra never learned it in the Horde and she struggles to describe something that must be mundane for everyone else. "They didn't have fingers."

Otto seems to get what she’s talking about at least. He smiles and his eyes glimmer like Adora’s before a sparring session. “Oh, yes. I think I got this.”

He runs to the back of the shop and with her extra height, Catra can see that there's a desk back there, covered with loose paper. Otto maniacally shovels through it until he finds a leather-bound notebook, bursting at the seams with added scraps of paper. He opens it and starts drawing, referencing other papers from time to time.

Catra hopped down from the platform. Not knowing what to do, she sat down on the stool next to Maya and Nino.

“Damn, I really wish I could have made your outfit for Princess Prom,” Otto mumbled from his desk, still bowed over his work. “It’s a big event, once every ten years and all. My parents were still in charge of the shop when Queen Imra went, and by the time I took over…” He trails off, and the mood in the room changes. The pleasant coziness becomes stifling. Nino looks away and Maya’s hand falls to the copper armband around her bicep. “Well, you know.”

She does, but that doesn’t make it easier. She wants to get out of this as quick as possible, but something stops ηερ. You want to be better, right? Comfort him, say something nice, her inner Scopia says. Apparently, that's what her conscience sounds like now.

“You could still make the next one,” she says. It sounds weak even to her own ears. Was this always so hard?

Otto laughs, but it’s not a happy laugh. “Yeah, I doubt that’s going to happen.” Before Catra can say anything else, he keeps talking. “Anyway, I have what I need, so don’t let me keep you waiting. I’ll have Maya get you when I have something ready for a fitting. Go have fun, do whatever the kids do these days.”

Maya and Nino don’t hesitate. They guide Catra out of the shop, yelling back their goodbyes. Catra is so surprised by the sudden retreat that she doesn’t manage to get a word in. Forget guiding, they practically dragged her out of there.

When Maya speaks up, they’re far away from the shop’s front window. If Otto was to look outside he wouldn’t be able to see them. “Phew. That was awkward.”

Nino nods. Catra doesn’t get it.

“Did I say something wrong?” She asks. Her voice comes out harsher than she wanted it to. She recognizes the edge in it, daring anyone to object to her. It’s her Force Captain voice.

Nino is quick to placate her. “No, don’t worry about-”

Maya shrugs. “Kinda.”

“Maya!” Nino hisses at her. Maya doesn’t look apologetic at all. She looks… angry? Disappointed? Catra isn’t sure which one.   

“What, she did,” she says. She sighs as they walk further into town. “Look, it’s -  not fine, but you didn’t know. You’re still new.”

That statement shouldn’t sting as much as it does. Maya is just saying the truth, and Catra knows that. She might as well be a stranger among these people with how little she knows about them and their world.

Yet it digs under her skin anyway.  

“What didn’t I know, then?” She winces internally at her voice. She sounds so defensive. Good job at being nice, idiot, she thinks. Why don’t you get the interrogation chamber ready while you’re at it?

“Dad always wanted to make clothes, especially for Princess Prom,” Maya says, her voice firm. She’s upset, but she’s keeping it in check. She would make a good soldier, Catra thinks, and she hates herself for it. “The shop might be a mess, but he has a system about it. I found a folder once filled with outfit ideas for Princess Prom. Some of those were super old, too. Like, drawn in crayons kind of old, you know?”

Catra doesn’t, but she doesn’t say anything.

Maya stares at the ground as she walks, kicking loose rocks. “He doesn’t talk about it, but I guess he had accepted that he would never get to do it. Even with you here, he won’t get to ever make any of those designs. Not for what they are intended, at least. You reminded him of that.”

"Why? Princess Prom will still happen eventually." I might be ready by then, she thinks but doesn’t say.

Maya glances at her from the corner of her eyes. “This isn’t about you being the princess.”

Before Catra can respond, Nino speaks up. “We can’t go outside,” he explains. “If we do, we can’t get too far away from the Gate. We can’t let the Horde find us.”

Catra should have realized it sooner. Because really, how would an entire kingdom - small as it is - remain hidden for almost two decades without living under a literal rock? So many things had happened lately that she never stopped to realize that the people of Halfmoon can’t go outside. It reminds her of the Fright Zone and how desperate she was to see what lay outside it when she was a child. But even then, she had the hope of deployment in the future, a moment when she knew she would be able to see beyond the giant pipes and the smog.

The Magicats don’t have even that.

And maybe it’s cruel of her to think this, but what is the point of surviving if they are going to be trapped like this?

Catra lets Maya and Nino talk after that. They wander aimlessly through Halfmoon and they tell her about things that happened to them. Maya is wheezing when she talks about how Nino burned all the fur on his tail once when they were working the kitchen at Eyepatch’s tavern. 

"That's his name?" Catra asks. She spots the Magicat in question sitting outside his tavern. He is short and stout, with graying fur and, of course, an eyepatch.

“Everybody calls him that,” Maya says. “And he never told us his real name.”

Nino takes his revenge, of course. Despite Maya’s protests, he goes into great detail about the crush she had on one of their teachers when they were younger. Maya had tried to impress her by climbing the side of the cavern, but she broke her leg.

“We agreed not to talk about that!” Maya yells, pulling on Nino’s tail. He shrieks and bats at her, but his claws are sheathed.

They find themselves at Halfmoon’s school, sitting on top of an obstacle course like the one from the gardens. The school sits at the edge of the town, nestled against the walls of the cavern. The building itself is three stories tall, built in the same carved out style as the palace. It's probably just as old. The walls look rough and Catra wonders if she could climb it.

The schoolyard is a large open space with toys like the obstacle course on one corner and benches littered throughout. On another corner, the ground is covered in soft-looking mats - at least softer than the stone floor.

“That’s where we do sparring lessons,” Nino says nodding over to the mats.

"How many jobs do you two have?" In the time they've been talking they have mentioned working in the school, Eyepatch's tavern, the butcher shop, the bakery, and the carpenter.

Maya shrugs. “Eh, I’ve lost count.”

"Technically, teaching gym class is supposed to be our main job," Nino says. "But we do odd jobs around town too. Mostly physical stuff. We've at least swept the floor at every shop in Halfmoon."

“And some houses,” Maya adds.

Catra will admit it, that's impressive. (Even if the reality of why they have to do the manual jobs is a painful one. There's an obvious age gap between Halfmoon's children and its adults, with Maya and Nino as the only ones filling it.)

“Anyway,” Nino says when Maya nudges him, “tells us about you.”

“Me?” She knows her tail is moving nervously behind her, but she can’t stop it. 

They won’t like what you have to say. Catra digs her claws in her palms. Why can’t she shake her off?

Nino and Maya glance at each other, but before either of them can say anything, Catra speaks. “What do you want to know?”  Why are you treating a simple conversation like they’re interrogating you?

“What places have you been to?” Maya asks. Her irises are blown wide and she looks ready to start sprinting at top speed from excitement. Nino is like that too, even if he’s trying to hide it.

“Are you sure you want to hear about that?” Won’t it be cruel for them to hear about places they might never see?

Maya punched her in the shoulder lightly. “Aw, look at you being considerate!”

Catra rubbed at the place Maya punched. It didn’t hurt - Catra had taken worse - but she’s nervous. She hadn’t realized how vulnerable wanting others to like you could make you. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. You just seemed like the attack now, ask questions later type of person,” Maya says. “I mean, we found you because you jumped out of a plane.” She leaned in closer and Catra could only describe her grin as shit-eating. “Are you secretly a sweetheart?”

Catra doesn’t respond to that. Partially because Nino says, “Maya, stop teasing her,” before she managed to say anything, and partially because she was conflicted. On any other day, she would scratch anyone who dared call her a sweetheart. She’s strong and can put someone six feet under with several different ways - she’s not a sweetheart, or anything involving the word “sweet”. 

But you also wouldn’t use that word to describe Shadow Weaver, so should she count this as a win?

“Oh, look at the time,” she says, standing up with exaggerated movements. When in doubt, use humor to hide your insecurities. “I should get going.”

Maya grabs her hand, keeping her from running off (even though Catra never planned to). “Ok, ok, I won’t tease you,” she says. “Will you tell us now?”

So Catra sits down and tells them about all the places in Etheria she has been to. The Whispering Woods, Salineas, the Kingdom of Snows, Bright Moon, the Northern Reach.  They hang from her every word as Catra describes the maze that is the Whispering Woods or how horrible it was to sail on a ship to Salineas. She describes the sheer ice cliffs in the Kingdom of snows and how they changed colors with the sunset. She talks about the castle of Bright Moon and the large lake in front of it, and the deep pits in the Northern Reach.

When she says everything she had to say, her mouth is dry. 

“Wow,” Maya says, lying back on the platform they’re on. She looks to the top of the cave, but her eyes are distant, as if she can see all the places Catra described.

“Yeah,” Nino says in the same dreamy tone. “I guess you saw the world and conquered it. Or not,” he adds, “ which is good cause you were with the Horde. But…”

He sighs. Maya nods like she understands what that means. “I wish I could see all that myself.”

Catra can’t talk. She can hardly breathe. A crushing weight falls on her, no lighter than it was a few nights ago. She had been so caught up in everything that happened since she and Adora stole that skiff that she hadn’t realized how many places she had had been to. 

Or what she was doing when she was there.

There’s hand on her shoulder. Catra jumps, whirling around. The hand is Nino’s and there’s a wrinkle between his eyebrows as he looks at her in concern. “Catra? Are you okay?”

She opens her mouth, but no words come out. Sitting here, in the yard of Halfmoon’s school, doesn’t feel real after the realization she just had. She nods at the two worried Magicats, not because she means it but because she let muscle memory take the lead. 

Why am I reacting like this? Objectively speaking, this isn’t as big as acting like the woman who made her life a nightmare. It’s just a thing Catra once told Adora. It shouldn’t be affecting her like this. Yet it’s as if she can feel the weight of the entire mountain on her shoulders.

One more way I fucked up.

Maya and Nino press themselves into her sides. She can feel their fur against her own, their tails wrapping around her as their body heat sips into her. She should be uncomfortable with this proximity, but their presence calms her down, if only a little. She had refused people’s touch - Scorpia’s especially - so much she hadn’t realized how touch starved she was.

"It's okay," Nino says. He was obviously trying to keep his voice cheery, and Catra appreciated the effort. "You can talk to us if you want."

“And if you don’t, we can do something to get your mind off whatever bothered you,” Maya adds. “I could throw Nino across the yard?”

“Hey!”

Catra didn’t laugh. It was too quiet to be a laugh, but it was something more than a heavy exhale. “That’s fine,” she says. She doesn’t push Nino and Maya away and she doesn’t try to change the subject. She finds that she wants to talk, and she doesn’t know what to do with that. She has talked with Imra, but every time she opened up it she was already so emotional. Maybe she had to nudge the dam open sometimes, but the words flowed out like a torrent she wouldn’t have been able to stop even if she wanted to. Right now, it’s as if she has to scoop them up herself with a spoon.

Yet she wants to do it.

“I just remembered something I told an old friend,” she finally says. It’s an oversimplification of everything Adora was and is to her, but it’s something. Even though her heart is beating so hard she can hear it her ears, the vulnerability making her want to flee, she feels warm in her chest, like she’s blowing up. Pride.

“Were they from the Horde?” Nino’s voice is gentle when he speaks, his tail rubbing her back to calm her. 

Catra nods. “Before she defected, I told her I wanted to see the world with her.” Though not in these exact words. “I guess I did, but…”

I was on the other side of the battlefield, not beside her.

Her unspoken words hang in the air; none of them say anything. 

Maya is the one to break the silence. “Shit.”

Shit indeed.

Catra can't help it; she bursts out laughing. Who would have thought you could summarize her life in one word like that? Nino and Maya don't laugh - they don't get the joke - but they look at her with hope in their eyes.

“Do you feel better now?” Nino asks. 

Catra nods. “Thanks.”

Maya wraps her arm around Catra's shoulder and leans into her. Catra doesn't tense up from the contact and the same warm feeling as before spreads through her. "Aw, don't sweat it," Maya says. "What are friends for?" She pauses and then, with an uncertainty that doesn't suit her, she asks, "We are friends, right?"

Catra wants that - she wants this warmth to continue. She hadn’t realized how cold she was until she found Halfmoon.

“Duh,” she says. Maybe she’s rethinking her outlook on life, but they don’t need to know that. 

Before any of them can say anything, a bell rings out rhythmically. Nino and Maya pale at once.

Maya jumps up. “Shit!” She and Nino take off, climbing down the obstacle course with the ease of someone who’s memorized the route. 

Catra leaps after them. “What’s going on?”

“We were supposed to have a gym lesson today,” Nino says as he frantically searches the folds of his clothes. Finally, he fishes out an old, rusted key and fights to unlock the door of a small shed. “But we lost track of time!”

He pulls the door open and Maya rushes inside, coming out with an armful of wooden staffs. She pushes them in Catra’s arm. “Put these in the basket over there.”

Catra does as she’s told. Maya and Nino barely manage to get everything into place before the first students start coming out of the school’s door. Catra expects there to be more, but the kids who come out are just enough for two cadet squads.

The kids cluster around the training mats. The tallest one reaches her shoulder - the seem to be around the age of the ice princess, give or take a year. Catra recognizes the expression on some of their faces - the kind you wear when you finally get to do something exciting instead of memorizing strategy formations.

Whatever they were talking about is immediately silenced when they see Catra standing off to the side. Their eyes train on her like they’re mice and she’s the rare ration bar left completely unattended. 

One of the kids - a short thing with fur the color of a young sapling - raises his hand. “What is the pri-” One of the other kids nudges him in the side with their elbow. “I mean, what is Catra doing here?”

“Is she going to join today’s lesson?” Another one adds without raising her hand. While all the other students stare at Catra with eyes as wide as moons, she refuses to look in her direction.

The conversation seems to erupt after that and Catra can only pick up bits and pieces of what they’re saying. Maya and Nino seem in over their heads -  they glance at each other in what Catra interprets as ‘what the hell are we supposed to do?’

“Sure,” Catra says and Maya and Nino relax at once. How hard could this be, anyway?

If she thought that agreeing to the lesson would calm down the little gremlins, she was wrong. They talk even more excitedly than before and Catra is impressed at how much noise they can make despite being only ten of them.

“Quiet!” Nino yells. The kids quieten and it’s only because of Maya’s side glance that Catra understands why her muscles are so stiff. She’s standing in attention, with her feet pressed together - toes looking forward - her arms by her sides - palms open - and her back painfully straight. She relaxes her stance at once and her cheeks burn. 

Had that always been a reflex?

“Give me five laps around the yard,” Nino says, his voice authoritative, yet nowhere near as harsh as Catra’s Horde instructors. “Then go stretch with Maya.”

The students start running, though not before groaning and complaining. Catra's legs ache, even though the pain is long gone now - she made the mistake to complain about the same number of laps when she was little and the instructor made her run ten times that as punishment. She learned not to complain about exercises after that, at least not where she could be heard.

But the number of laps doesn't rise. Instead, Maya claps as the students run past her, saying, "Come on, housecats! Do I need to bring out the cucumber?"

Catra turns to Nino. “What’s that?”

“You’ve never seen on?”

“No, what is it?”

Nino smiles. “Just a vegetable. We’ll show you one later.”

Catra doesn’t know why a vegetable would be used as a threat, but she lets it go. 

By the time the students finish their laps and their stretches with Maya, Catra has reassured Nino that she doesn’t mind sticking around for the lesson and they’ve come up with a game plan. Catra and Maya square off against each other, staffs in hand, and the students watch them from around the training mat. It’s not so much a spar as it is a presentation. They stick to the book through the whole thing, the kind of fighting that got Adora praise in the Fright Zone. Even so, Catra has fun and she knows Maya would be fun to spar with some time when they would be free to improvise.

After the match is over and Catra has Maya on the ground with her staff under her chin, they show the different techniques. Catra lets Maya do the talking - explaining footwork and stances and a dozen technical things she never cared for all that match. Once they're done, Maya tells the students to split into pairs and practice what she showed them. Catra, Nino, and Maya walk among the pairs, correcting slight mistakes when they see them and giving pointers.

Catra tries to keep her Force Captain voice at bay - she doesn’t want to slip up again. She follows Maya and Nino’s lead and tries to copy how they talk to the students; it’s gentler than the training Catra is familiar with, filled with jokes and patience. She likes it.

“Okay, time for sparring,” Nino says after clapping his hands. The students walk off the training mats and sit down cross-legged, the way they did when Catra and Maya sparred. “Aiden and Lexi, you’re first.”

The stout Magicat that raised his hand and a fair-haired girl stand up. They spar, incorporating the techniques they learned today. They smile and they joke and when one flinches from a hit the other stops and ask if the other is okay. Maya and Nino don’t tell them to stop screwing around.

The rest of the spars go about the same. They are at the last pair for the first set of spars now - a girl with black fur and white spots who must be the shortest of all the kids and another girl with gray fur who’s built like a wardrobe (or at least a filing cabinet).

“Sari and Jin, you’re up.”

The black-haired girl - Sari - attacks first, dashing head-on for Jin. Catra knows it'll end badly before their staffs even connect. Jin easily blocks and returns the attack. Jin stays on top of the game for the rest of the spar. It's not that Sari's technique is wrong - she's doing the moves better than any of the other students, and she's fast - but the way she attacks is off.

“This one goes to Jin,” Nino says when Sari’s back hits the ground. He calls for a new pair of students and Jin offers Sari a hand to stand up.

“You were great today!” Jin’s smile is wide and earnest. She doesn’t seem to catch Sari’s scowl, but Catra does. She expects Sari to push the hand away, but she takes it and pulls herself up.

“Just you wait until next time,” she says, nudging Jin’s side. “I’m gonna wipe the floor with you.”

They walk off the mats and Jin smirks. “I don’t know about that.” She pauses like she remembered something and her cocky expression is gone, replaced by concern. “You’re okay, right? You didn’t hit your back too hard?”

Something passes behind Sari’s eyes and despite how fast it’s gone, Catra recognizes it. She wonders if this is what the other members of her squad saw every time she and Adora sparred. “Pft, I’m fine. You wish you were strong enough to hurt me.”

Jin smiles, oblivious to what her friend really felt, and goes over to sit with some of the other kids. Sari is standing off to the side from her class, who are all engrossed in the spar. 

Catra approaches her, her skin crawling. Even though no one is forcing her to do this, she wants to run away. What does she know about positive validation? Still, she bites her cheek and makes herself say words she always chased after and never heard. “Good job, kid.”

Sari must not have expected her to talk and she turns to face Catra in surprise. For a second Catra thinks she might have done the right thing, but Sari frowns and avoids Catra’s eyes. “What are you talking about? I lost.”

Catra doesn't need to hear the word "stupid" to know Sari is thinking it. The young girl might think she hid it well, but she's transparent. Catra refuses to roll her eyes - even though she really wants to. "Yeah, cause you moved all wrong," she says. She tries to sound soft and kind like Imra, but her intent comes out muddled, like she's lost the ability to sound like that. "Your technique was great."

Sari side-eyes her and huffs. “Then why did Jin win again?” 

If looks could kill she wouldn’t hesitate to do me in, Catra thinks, and for some reason that makes her respect the girl. “You were copying Maya’s fighting, right? Attack head first, rely on strength?”

“Maya is our teacher.” You’re not, she doesn’t say, but Catra catches it anyway.

“And her style works for her or someone like Jin, but you’re half her size.” Did that sound mean? I hope not. Why is this so hard? “You should use your strong suits - you’re fast and you seemed to recognize openings easily. You don’t need to stick to rules that just slow you down.”

This time Sari doesn’t even bother to hide her glare. “What do you know?”

You are not going to fight with a twelve-year-old, Catra told herself. You haven’t fallen that low. “Enough not to die against opponents bigger and stronger than me,” she says, daring the girl to be a smartass with her again. “Anyway, I’m just making a suggestion. You don’t need to listen to me.”

“Good, cause I’m not going to.” Sari turns on her heel and leaves, going to the other side of the training mats, away from Catra.

Catra’s tail flicks behind her back. Was she right to approach this girl? She only wanted to help, but it feels like she made things worse.

She tries to get her mind off it as the students spar, but she can’t. She catches herself stealing glances at Sari, and when the girl stands up for her second spar Catra bites her cheek.

Her opponent is bigger than her again - a lanky boy with patchy white and grey fur - and she repeats everything she did in her last match. Catra sighs - Sari is way too small for that kind of attack pattern to work for her. The young girl gets several hits to her arms and sides, at one point almost falling to the ground. Catra is biting her cheek so much that there's a raised line of flesh there when she passes her tongue over it.

Sari’s eyes dart to Catra after yet another hit, conflicted, but they are gone so fast that Catra isn’t able to react. Sari runs toward her opponent. Catra prepares herself to see the girl blocked and attacked again, but it doesn’t come. 

The boy moves his staff before Sari even attacks, expecting her movements, but Sari dodges to the side, ducking underneath the arch of his staff. She hits him from below, quick jabs before she's gone, attacking from a different side. She sticks close to the ground and when the boy reacts to the pain, she takes advantage of the opening and attacks again. A well-placed hit to the back of the knees is all it takes for him to fall down.

“This one goes to Sari,” Nino announces as Sari pants. The boy gets up and congratulates her, patting her on the back, but Sari’s eyes are confused, like she can’t wrap her mind around the fact she won.

She turns to Catra, her black braid coming undone, looking at her like she expects Catra to have an answer. Catra doesn’t, but she knows that the warm feeling in her chest is pride and so she gives Sari two thumbs up, smiling. Sari’s mouth quirks up, not really a smile, but Catra will take it. Just as soon as it was there, Sari wipes it off and looks away, like she remembered that she’s not supposed to like Catra.

Catra doesn’t mind. She likes where she is.

Chapter Text

Catra pulls aside the curtain and steps out into the tailor shop. Otta gasps when he sees her, like he didn’t spend over a week making the clothes she’s wearing.

“You look great,” he says, almost bouncing up and down. Catra spins in place because she’s dramatic like that and Otto claps. She turns to look at herself in the mirror and Otto wipes an imaginary tear from his eye. “Ah, I keep outdoing myself.”

Catra can’t even make a sarcastic comment because he’s right. With each one of her visits to the shop and each different rendition of her new outfit, it got better and better. The finished product she sees in the mirror fits her like a glove and she feels like she would be thanked for kicking somebody’s butt in these clothes.

Magicats don’t do shoes, as it turns out, so the outfit doesn’t have any, thankfully. Instead, the leggins wrap around her feet the same way her Horde bottoms did. They are a dark crimson color, so deep Catra thought they were black at first, and they have cuts at her calves, like a large beast clawed her but she survived. Otto had described it as “I just fought with a monster, but it’s fashion”. Catra can’t say she doesn’t like it.

The top is a brighter red, standing out against the less saturated colors of the rest of the outfit. It’s form-fitting and cropped, showing off her midriff, and it has no sleeves. Two crescent moons start from her shoulder and meet at the middle of her neck, the fabric covering an inch of her neck in what Otto called a “turtleneck”(Catra still doesn’t get the name). At the point where the crescent moons meet is a teardrop cut-out that Catra asked for. Is it dangerous for stab attacks? Yes. Will it distract her opponents? Hell yes.

(After the session where Catra asked for the cut-out she couldn’t stop imagining what Adora would react like if she saw her in it. Would she get flustered? Would she act overconfident to cover up her embarrassment? Would she be too distracted to talk?)

Her hands were covered by a pair of black fingerless gloves (apparently that’s what they are called). They are tight on her hands and slightly padded at the knuckles to protect her in a fight. 

But Catra's favorite part is by far the jacket. It's leather, warm brown and soft to the touch yet sturdy. Along with a pair of pockets at the outside, there are also several hidden pockets and latches on the inside for weapons. Otto seemed to have assumed Catra would wear this to assassinate someone, and she doesn't mind that. The crest of Halfmoon is stitched in black on her back - an upside-down crescent moon with a blue and golden-eyed cat between its points.

“Do you like it?” Otto asks. The sincerity in his voice surprises Catra - he’s normally so bombastic and proud, always confident he’s the best at what he does. Yet right now he sounds like one of the younger schoolchildren when they show Maya and Nino their drawings, desperate for compliments. 

“I love it,” Catra says, smiling, stuffing her hands inside the jacket’s pockets to calm herself. Being so frank sends a spark of fear through her stomach, but Otto’s delighted expression is worth it.

"Woo hoo!" He pumps his fist in the air, smiling so widely that Catra can see his back teeth. He pats Catra on the back, making her buckle under the force of his big hands, but she laughs along with him. "Go show off my babies! And Vera said my fingers were too big for that embroidery! Ha!"

Catra ducks out from under Otto’s arm, grinning. “Okay, okay, big man. Don’t kill her while I’m gone!”

“No promises!” Otto calls out after her as she exits the shop.

Catra heads toward the school. Maya and Nino said they wanted to see the finished outfit when she got it and while she doesn't know if they are there or working some other odd job, it's the best place to start from.

She's gotten more familiar with Halfmoon by now. She still doesn't have the level of instinctual knowledge that Nino or Maya have, but she doesn't feel lost anymore. She knows the buildings now, the exact turns she needs to take to get where she wants, and she's learned the names of the shop owners who greet her when she passes by - not Eyepatch's real one, though.

The students are on break when Catra finally gets at the fence surrounding the school. She spots the class of twelve-year-olds, the older class in Halfmoon, on the obstacle course, but she doesn’t see Nino or Maya.

“Hey!” she calls out to the kids. They stop and turn at her, waving and saying her name with smiles on their faces. Catra has been helping with gym lessons after that first time since she has nothing better to do - and it’s fun - yet she still hasn’t gotten used to their reactions to her. “Are Nino and Maya here?”

“They don’t have lessons today,” Jin answers from one of the platforms. Sari is sitting next to her, looking Catra up and down like she’s a particularly shitty assignment she has to do. "Cool jacket!"

While the other kids warmed up to Catra very quickly, Sari seems to hate her. She has gone against Catra's instructions multiple times just to spite her and she acts as if Catra breathing personally offends her. Catra would be fine with being disliked for no good reason, she's used to that, but - sometimes Sari is nice.

Not often, sure, and it doesn't take long for the girl to realize that she's supposed to hate Catra, but it still happens. Sometimes Catra will praise her for doing a move right and her tail will stand up happily, sometimes she wins a spar and she turns to Catra for validation, sometimes Catra makes a joke and she giggles before she can stop herself.

And it confuses Catra. She doesn't know how she should treat this prickly twelve years old.

With a simple "Thanks" Catra turns her back to the school, mentally going through all the places Maya and Nino might be at. No sooner has she gotten out of earshot from the school than she hears Sari call after her.

“Wait!”

Catra does. She turns to Sari with her hands in her jacket's pockets. “Yeah?”

Sari freezes. She stands impossibly straight, her shoulders back and so tense you’d think someone has fed a pole through them. She bites her lip and looks to the side like a trapped animal, but before Catra can say anything, the girl yells, “Teach me how to fight!”

It’s so sudden and so unlike the girl she’s seen the last few days that Catra is sure she must have misheard. “What?”

Sari looks mortified at having to repeat herself. “I -  you’re a good fighter,” she says slowly, like it hurts to do so. This is probably the first nice thing she's said to me, Catra thinks. “I manage to win spars when I fight like you,” Sari continues. “Show me how.”

Catra looks the girl up and down. She’s really a tiny thing, just barely as tall as the ice princess, and she glares at Catra with more fury than someone her size could hold, as if having to ask Catra for something is one big joke on her by the universe.

But Catra would be lying if she said that there’s nothing interesting in the child. Familiar.

“Alright,” she says.

“Please - wait, you said yes?”Sari flounders at Catra’s quick agreement and the shocked expression on her face confirms to Catra that her hostile attitude isn’t just part of her personality but something she was aware of doing.

Catra cocks her head to the side and smirks. “Yeah. We’ll start after school today, so don’t leave.”

It takes a few seconds for the words to register in Sari’s head, but when they do she nods frantically. “Y-yeah!”

The bell rings and the girl runs back to school with one last glance at Catra, as if she’s scared Catra will yell ‘sike’. Catra doesn’t, and after she sees Sari catch up to her friends, she turns to find hers.


 

Sari is waiting for her after lessons are over, just like Catra told her. She's shifting her weight from foot to foot as if she's looking for the right moment to book it out of the school and this whole arrangement.

“Hey,” Catra greets as she strides up to Sari. The young girl perks up, surprised, like she didn’t really expect Catra to show up. Yet as soon as any excitement at Catra’s presence shows up, Sari immediately wipes it from her face.

“Where do we start?” Sari asks. Damn, straight to business, huh?

“Have you warmed up?”

“Yes,” Sari says with an eye roll, like Catra is stupid to even ask. Catra doesn’t take the bait.

“Good. I want to check some stuff before we start, so I want you to sprint across the yard and complete the obstacle course as fast as you can.”

Sari crosses her arms. “What does that have to do with fighting?”

This time, Catra’s eyes strain with the need to roll them, but she’s proud to admit she didn’t. “You’re not going to fight with your feet stuck to the ground, will you? I need to see how you move.”

Sari scoffs, but she does as she was told anyway. She’s quite fast, zipping across the schoolyard like one of those small brown rats in the forest (squirrels, Nino had called them). She’s just as good on the obstacle course, weaving through the ropes and ladders like she has no bones, even if her small size makes certain obstacles harder for her.

When she gets back to Catra she’s panting slightly, her fur ruffled. Fast and agile, Catra thinks. I can work with that.

Catra drags a punching bag out of the storage shed, a sack as tall as Sari, filled with rags and mounted on a pole. She instructs Sari to fight it and the girl scowls at her; her patience with Catra seems to be running out, though if it is there must not have been a lot of it. Sari punches and kicks the bag, all the while holding eye contact with Catra. 

"Okay, that's enough," Catra says after a while. Sari collapses backward, landing on her butt, now truly panting. Maybe Catra let her attack the punching bag for more than was strictly necessary. She offers her a hand and Sari stares at her like it would bite her before swatting it away and getting up on her own. A prickle of annoyance goes through Catra.

“Get in a fighting stance,” she instructs. Sari does and Catra clicks her tongue. “You’re too heavy on your feet,” she says before Sari can complain. She copies Sari’s stance and then shifts her weight forward. “Put your weight on your toes, and keep your heels off the ground.”

Sari frowns, but slowly she copies Catra. She struggles with the shift in her center of gravity at first, but she gets the hang of it and starts bouncing on the balls of her feet.

Catra grins. “Well done.”

Sari glares at her from the corner of her eyes. “Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not. That’s what I was gonna ask you to do, but you figured it out on your own.” She hesitates, unsure of herself, and claps Sari on the shoulder in what she hopes is a supporting way. “Good job.”

Sari preens under the praise, but before Catra can feel proud of herself for getting through to her, Sari whips her head away. “Will we do any fighting or what?”

Catra knows she should be patient. She knows that, and yet Sari is getting on her nerves. She's trying, damn it, she wants to be good at this, even if she doesn't have a reference point, and Sari is making her feel just as useless as she was always told she was.

Catra doesn’t answer her and heads into the shed. There’s a bundle of ribbons stashed in the back that Maya and Nino use for games with the younger students and she takes it with her. 

“Tie these on you,” she tells Sari, handing her half of the ribbons and tying the rest on herself.

From how Sari is looking at her Catra would assume she had grown an extra head. “Why?”

“Just do it.” 

Sari mumbles under her breath as she ties the ribbons around her wrists, ankles, and tail. Catra's skin crawls and for a moment she wonders why she's doing this. Why is she trying to help this child who seems to hate her? It's not like anyone ever helped her. It would be easier to ignore Sari.

Her stomach turns as soon as she thinks it. That’s the problem, isn’t it? No one helped her with this, no one picked apart her carefully put-together armor of indifference and ‘I’m fine’. They thought it was the truth, never paid her enough attention to see the cracks, or worse, saw them and didn’t care. She doesn’t want to be among those people.

"Are we going to a beauty contest or something?" Sari asks, managing to look like the poster child for teenage angst even covered in pink ribbons.

“Har har,” Catra says, shrugging off her jacket. “We’re going to play a training game. You try to steal my ribbons and I’ll steal yours. Whoever takes the other’s first wins.”

“Why?”

Catra puts a hand on her waist. “You love asking that, huh? It’ll help you get better at dodging. You’re quick on your feet, you shouldn’t bother trying to stand your ground like a mountain. You should use your speed and agility to your advantage.”

Sari makes no other comment and the two of them get in position on the training mats. It goes as well as Catra expected; meaning that Sari doesn’t get a single one of her ribbons and she’s holding all of hers within five minutes. Sari pants from all the running, bent over with her hands on her knees.

“How - how did you do that so quickly?”

“I played into my strengths,” Catra says, handing the ribbons to Sari, who ties them back. “Try to avoid me more. Whenever I came towards you, you’d try to attack me. Think of it like the obstacle course.”

Sari curses under her breath before getting back up. They try the game again, and again, and again. It somewhat works - Sari manages to get one of her ribbons, but Catra still wins that round. With every new attempt, Sari gets more and more frustrated, gritting her teeth and attacking Catra with more snappish movements.

They finish one more set, resulting in Sari sitting on the ground, a single of Catra's ribbons between her fingers, though she almost got a second one. "That was better -"

“Shut up!” Sari’s yell echoes through the schoolyard, her tail puffed up and straight, her pupils razor-thin and her unsheathed claws ripping through the ribbon. She looks like a wild animal scaring away potential predators so they don’t see her wounded side. 

It’s strange, Catra thinks, to be on the other side of that panic.

Sari whips away alarmed, as if Catra won’t notice her outburst if she doesn’t look at her. It doesn’t work. “Okay, what’s going on?” Catra crosses her arms over her chest, her voice firm as steel. “One minute you’re fine with me, the next it’s like I killed your mother. What’s your problem?”

“Nothing,” Sari hisses between her clenched teeth.

“Yeah, and I’m She-Ra’s secret lover.”

"I didn't know you were dating," Sari says in the kind of deadpan that only teenagers can muster. "Congrats."

Catra rolls her eyes, shifting her weight to her other hip. “Very funny. Tell me what’s going on.”

“No.”

This isn’t working. Still, Catra is nothing if not stubborn and if her hardheadedness won’t get her through this she can try a different approach. She plops down next to Sari, a sigh escaping her lips. “Look, if these lessons help you, I’m in, but-”

“Shut up!” Sari whirls around, and for a second Catra sees the light reflect off her canines. “Don’t tell me what to do, you’re not my sister.”

Realization flashes through Sari's eyes and she snaps her mouth closed, sucking on her lips like that will stop her from saying something she shouldn't. The silence between them is tense, the milliseconds between a cannon firing and the shot landing.

“Do you have one?” Catra whispers even though there’s no one around to hear them. It feels like the kind of thing that isn’t to be spoken aloud. “A sister, I mean.”

Sari nods, the movement so small that Catra would have missed it if she wasn’t looking at her. “She would have been your age now.”

“Oh,” Catra says, and then, when the meaning of that hits, “Oh, shit.”

“Yeah.” Sari hugs her knees to her chest, making herself even smaller. Catra can’t imagine what it must be like to know you have a sister and yet have never met her, have never been given the chance to meet her because of something you weren’t even alive for. The anger boils in her chest, so hot it threatens to burn her from the inside out. 

The childhood she was robbed of, the husband Imra won’t get to grow old with, the dream Otto won’t make a reality, the sister Sari didn’t get to bond with, the parents Nino never got to hug; so many things were lost to the Horde. Catra knows it then, with a certainty she never felt before in her life: Hordak will fall by her hand.

"Did you really not see any other Magicats in the Horde?" So engrossed is Catra in her fury that Sari's question, quiet as it is, startles her. "I heard the grown-ups talking about it."

Catra has lied a lot in her life but she never wanted to do it more than she does now, with Sari’s glimmering eyes begging her for something, anything to give her hope, give her back this piece that was wrenched from her so long ago that she doesn’t know herself without its absence. 

But she can’t do it. “I’m sorry, I didn’t.” Sari deflates and Catra is sure that if she pressed her knees closer to her chest she would disappear. It hits then how it must feel for Sari to see Catra return to Halfmoon and be welcomed back with open arms by everyone despite her past. “You wish she was the one who came back instead of me.”

Sari jumps so much at her words that Catra thinks she will run away. “I- yes.”

The girl's shoulders are tense and Catra thinks back to Imra's calming touch. She doesn't think she can lay a hand on Sari without losing a limb so instead she nudges her playfully with her elbow. "It's alright, I'd probably feel the same way if I were in your place. But talk to someone about it. It could help."

Sari snorts. “Yeah, because saying ‘I wish our princess had never come back’ would go over well. Definitely not selfish.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being selfish sometimes,” Catra says and she’s as surprised to hear the words come out of her mouth as Sari seems to be. “Or feeling hurt.”

“I didn’t think the Horde was this close to their emotions.”

Catra can’t help the loud guffaw that rips its way out of her throat. “Oh, they’re not. This is all new. The Horde only teaches you to respond to stuff with violence. I mean, I let her best friend hang from a cliff while monster spiders were chasing her.”

Sari laughs, and while it’s a small sound, Catra is proud of herself for making her feel better. Even if it’s at her expense. When Catra doesn’t laugh along with her, Sari freezes, her mouth hanging open. “Wait, you really did that?”

“Yep,” Catra says, popping the ‘p’. “Not my proudest moment.” Which is the understatement of the century considering how her skin crawls with so much shame she wants to tear it off, but it makes Sari laugh again.

“Not really.”

This is probably the longest Sari has gone without glaring at her and maybe Catra is overstepping, but she’s been worrying about this since that first gym lesson. “And while you talk about your sister, maybe touch on the whole ‘feeling inferior to your best friend but hiding it from her’ bit.”

“I don’t -” Sari starts but Catra fixes her with such a firm look that she ducks her head. “How did you guess?”

Catra shrugs, because this conversation isn’t for her and her own issues (and it seems there’s plenty), it’s for Sari. “Eh, been there, done that. It’s not fun, huh?”

"Nope." Sari appears to realize something and she turns to Catra, her brows furrowed together. "Is that why you left your friend to die?"

“She didn’t die, it was a simulation,” Catra says and Sari looks even more confused. “Long story. But yes, among other things.” Catra pauses, takes a deep breath and goes on. “Look, I… I did some very bad things to my friend and I regret them. We had a lot of baggage, and maybe everything that happened could have been avoided if we had been able to talk things out, but we never learned how to do that. I doubt you want to end up like me.”

“I really don’t.”

“I feel so loved.”

Sari snickers. “The jacket is cool though.”

“Thanks.” Catra smiles and this time she reaches out, ruffling Sari’s hair. She lets her. “So will you talk to someone?”

Sari nods slowly. “I’ll try.”

“That’s good.” Catra pulls herself up, dusting herself off. “Now, do you wanna go back to training? You were starting to get the hang of it.”

Sari jumps up, nodding. Maybe she doesn’t manage to get more than two ribbons by the time they have to call it off, but Catra is still proud.


 

It’s late at night and Adora can’t sleep.

It’s not unusual. Sleep has been harder for her lately and even Perfuma’s herbs and teas don’t work all the time. Every night, whether she’ll fall asleep or not is a gamble and Adora keeps loosing.

She throws her legs over the side of the bed, letting the cold seep in through her bare feet. The bite wakes her up farther and Adora doesn’t care. She knows from experience she won’t be able to close her eyes for the rest of the night. She doesn’t know whether she wants to, either.

She can still feel Catra's touch on her, even outside the dream. She has been seeing her in her sleep every time she manages to close her eyes lately. Sometimes it's memories, sometimes it's things Adora wished they could have lived together, but either way, they always leave her longing and hollow.

Her eyes fall to the bottom of her bed. There's a blanket there, bunched up in a ball and tied with rope. The empty space in Adora's bed had been a problem since she joined the Rebellion, but it's gotten worse since she learned of Catra's death. Before, the void at the end of the bed would taunt her, keep her awake at night with how wrong it felt. But she would fall asleep eventually, at least subconsciously secure in the knowledge it wouldn't be like that forever. Catra could change her mind, she could defect from the Horde, the Rebellion could win the war, and then Adora's bed wouldn't be so cold anymore.

But Catra was dead and Adora’s bed would never be warm like that again.

She gets up and walks out. She’s not sure where she’s going - if she’s even going anywhere - but she can’t stay in her room anymore, not with Catra’s absence mocking her from every surface. It’s strange how the gap someone leaves behind can be so suffocating.

She’s so absorbed in the phantom feeling of Catra’s hands on her that she notice Angella standing in the hallway and walks straight into her.

“Ow!” She manages to catch herself before toppling over. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

“It’s quite alright. Having trouble sleeping?” Angella’s smile is small, a barely-there raise of her lips, but it’s the look in her eyes that startles Adora. Solemn and understanding, like she already knew she was going to see Adora here.

That’s when Adora realizes where they are - King Micah’s mural, the same one she talked with Angella in front of her first night at Bright Moon. The moonlight paints the walls a pale blue and it’s difficult for Adora to remember what this hallway looks like in the light of day. Maybe it doesn’t exist then; maybe this place exists only in the dead of night, when you can let yourself break with only the moons as your witnesses.

“Yeah.” Adora gulps and raises her eyes from the ground, glancing at Angella. The words roll off her tongue before she can think about it. If there’s anyone who would understand, it’s Angella. “I’m - I’m having dreams about her.”

Angella’s eyes widen just for a fraction of a second, like she didn’t expect Adora to open up, but she nods. “Ah, yes. I still have dreams about Micah from time to time. That’s why I’m awake right now, actually.” She doesn’t quite laugh; it’s more of a bemused huff. “It’s quite a cruel joke, isn’t it?”

"Yeah." It should feel wrong, smiling - or even grinning - about a topic like this, but Angella grins back and Adora doesn't have to explain anything. "I… I see her there, and she seems so real, and for a little, things are simple and -" her voice breaks at the word, "perfect, but then…"

“You wake up,” Angella finishes. “And you have to return to a world without them.”

Adora nods. The bitterness is still fresh in her mouth, the disappointment of waking up and finding a half-assed replacement at the end of her bed. It’s been weeks, and yet the constant stabs at her heart haven’t let up.

“Does it…” she starts and then swallows the dryness in her mouth when her voice breaks. “Does it get easier? Remembering them. Thinking about them.” Her fingers tremble and she wraps her arms around her to hide them. “Does it stop hurting?”

Angella’s eyes soften - or maybe they break - and Adora recognizes her expression as the one she wears when Glimmer leaves on a mission she might not come back from. “No,” she says and she averts her eyes from Adora. “It doesn’t.”

Adora’s fingers dig into her biceps. “Then how…”

Angella looks back at her, the steel expression of a Queen who's had nothing left to do but stand her ground and survive. "You learn to live with it," she says. "You talk about them, you keep their memory alive. You celebrate them." She reaches out, unsure, and cups Adora's hands in both of her own. "And you let yourself feel the pain."

Adora shrugs and lets out an exhaling sound like she got punched in the stomach. “I thought I already did that. But it hurts more every day and I’m - I’m not sure I can take it.” With Angella holding her hand she can’t wipe her eyes and the tears well up. “I don’t think my heart was meant to feel so…” 

Empty. Incomplete. Numb.

“Oh, Adora.” Angella wraps her arms around her and, in the brief second before Adora’s face is pressed into the Queen’s shoulder, she sees her eyes glisten. “I’ve lost a lot of people in this war,” Angella whispers. “I’d love to tell you it gets easier, and I truly hope this will be the only person you have to mourn before the war is over, but never feel ashamed of the pain.” 

Angella pulls away enough to look Adora and wipes the tears from her eyes, her fingers feather-light against Adora’s skin. She used to flinch when a palm came too close to her cheek, but when Angella does it she knows this is what a mother’s touch is meant to feel like. “Few people come into our lives and make themselves an irreplaceable part of them. Be proud you loved her enough to miss her so.”

Adora nods, the weight in her chest lighter now that she has someone to help her carry it, someone who’s accustomed to it. “Thank you.”

Angella smiles and Adora wishes she could have seen this smile earlier in her life. “Anytime, Adora.”

Angella takes a step back, out of Adora’s personal space, yet she’s still standing closer to her than she was before. Adora doesn’t mind. There’s a certain air about Angella that Adora can’t fully put into words, but she could wrap Adora in her wings and Adora wouldn’t want to leave.

Angella sighs quietly, but Adora still hears it. The queen's shoulders are sloped down as if she'll collapse under the weight of everything piled on them. Adora bites her lip. She doesn't like seeing Angella like this. She thinks back to how Bow and Glimmer do this kind of thing and slowly reaches out to Angella, touching her palm on the queen's forearm.

“Are you okay?”

There’s surprise in Angella’s eyes, like there was in Catra’s sometimes when Adora was nice to her after Shadow Weaver very decidedly wasn’t. Eyes that seem to say “I wasn’t expecting to be taken care of”.

Angella’s shoulders relax, just a bit, and she tucks a strand of her hair back. “I’ve been thinking about young Catra lately,” she says. “I regret not having known her better.” She chuckles, bitter and small, and then says, “Imra and Felix would be so disappointed in me.”

“Who?”

"Two good friends of mine. They were the Queen and King of the Magicats." At Adora's obvious confusion, Angella adds, "Cat people like Catra. Their kingdom, Halfmoon, was one of the first attacked when the war started." Something dark passes over Angella's eyes and suddenly she's no longer present. Her eyes are distant, like the older, injured soldiers Adora once saw in the Horde infirmary, yelling about blood and broken bones and death. When Angella speaks again, her voice is quiet, as if she can't bring herself to utter anything above a whisper. "It was completely destroyed, all of the Magicats killed and their children stolen from them."

Adora hears the words just fine, but they don't make sense immediately, like they are reaching her ears through murky water. “So Catra was…”

Angella nods, her lips pulled tight. "One of the stolen children, yes. We held a rescue mission after the massacre happened, but we found none of the children alive. Somehow we must have missed Catra." Angella covers her eyes with her hand and tips her head backward, a pained sound coming out of her throat that might be a groan or a sob, but Adora isn't sure which one it is. "If I had been better maybe she wouldn't have to grow up in the Horde, and maybe this could have been avoided. But I wasn't, and now the last of my friend's people is dead."

Adora doesn't know what to say. She used to think the Horde's education was good, but in moments like this, she becomes keenly aware that she knows nothing else besides how to punch things. She doesn't know how to handle this, the closest thing she ever had to a real, proper mother blaming herself for the death of a girl she never truly knew.

She struggles to stop blaming herself too, so how is she supposed to help Angella?

She has no reassuring words to offer, not ones she knows will work, so instead she latches onto what Angella had said. You celebrate them. "Were you close to them?"

Angella snorts, and Adora startles. She hasn’t heard the Queen of Bright Moon make such an undignified sound since… ever. “Oh skies, yes. Imra and I were like sisters. I suppose that would make Felix my brother-in-law,” she hums.

“Can you,” Adora starts, but her words halt. She swallows, her throat dry. Will this really work? Will she help Angella, or will she just dig up painful memories? “Can you tell me about them?” 

Angella's eyes sparkle, like Entrapta's did when she got to talk about her theories. "Imra was one of my dearest friends since I was a child. Our kingdoms have always been allies so we visited each other constantly. She had her own room here, but whenever she was in Bright Moon when we were young we'd have sleepovers." Angella is smiling now, which Adora will count as a victory. The queen barely stops herself from laughing when she remembers something, a hand in front of her mouth, but even that can't hide the wistful glint in her eyes. "She was the bold one between us, the explosive one, although I wasn't far behind when we were together. Once, when my wings were still growing, I tried to fly us up to the top of Bright Moon."

Adora pales. She doesn’t want to think what it would be like if she fell from that high. “Did you make it?”

“Almost. I wasn’t strong enough to fly that high at the time.” Angella pulls her glove down like Adora is her conspirator in a crime, letting Adora see a scar spanning the width of her forearm. “We got matching scars from the fall.”

"Oh, wow." It's strange, trying to reconcile the poised, elegant queen she knows with the kind of girl who gets scars from falling from high places - the kind of girl she was too. It sparks something warm in her chest, light and bright, and Adora thinks she wouldn't mind growing up to be a woman like Angella.

“Yeah,” Angella chuckles. “Felix wasn’t any better than us. He and Micah got along like a house on fire, though they didn’t meet until he and I had started dating. Felix had called dibs on best man immediately.”

“Best man?”

“It’s the person who helps the groom get ready for the wedding. The equivalent for brides is the maid of honor,” Angella explains. “I was Imra’s maid of honor, and she was mine. We promised each other that before we even had our first kisses. We were pregnant together too. I with Glimmer, she with her little one. They would kick so much when we were together that we’d joke they had already become friends and that if they kept that up we might become in-laws.” 

Adora giggles along with Angella. She doesn’t know what Queen Imra’s child would have grown up like, but if they were anything like the only Magicat Adora ever knew she can’t imagine Glimmer would be very happy for a wedding. (For some reason, thinking about Catra marrying Glimmer makes Adora’s stomach lurch unpleasantly.)

“I never met her child, you know,” Angella says quietly, her voice somber. “I had just become queen and I was still getting used to my responsibilities when she was born, so we kept putting it off. We thought we had the time.”

“I’m sorry,” Adora says. Because what else can she say? She has so much she never told Catra - I’m sorry for making you feel second best, you’re amazing, you inspire me, you were the only good thing about the Horde, I love you - and she never said them. She never will either, and there’s nothing you can say to alleviate that pain.

“Yes,” Angella says. “Me too.”

Angella's movements are small, fleeting, as she wipes the tears from her eyes with her gloved hand. At that moment, with Angella hiding tears for friends long now dead, Adora remembers everyone else too. The destroyed skeleton of a village from when she was Glimmer and Bow’s prisoner, Glimmer’s longing stare at the mural of her father, Frosta ruling a kingdom at barely twelve, George's voice shaking in front of the fireplace.

Everyone has lost someone to the Horde, she remembers Bow saying. She thought she understood what he meant back then, but she didn’t, not really. She didn’t understand the pain of which Bow spoke, hadn’t had her heart broken so thoroughly it was a wonder how it beat anymore.

It’s still broken, Adora knows that, can feel the ache in her chest, but the pieces pull themselves together, if only by sheer force of will. She’ll end this war if it’s the last she ever does. 

She won’t let anyone else hurt like this.


 

By the time Catra and Imra step out of the Gate, the moons have risen in the sky, full and glowing, making the stream look like liquid silver. Anticipation buzzes under Catra’s skin as she follows Imra over the stream and into the trees. It’s hard not to remember the last time they were out here together, especially when the grass is still patchy at the spot Catra broke down, but Imra moves right past it, the bag hanging from her shoulder bouncing against her hip.

Catra doesn’t know what’s in the bag - Imra said it’s something they need for tonight, but that doesn’t really narrow it down. Catra has no idea what the necessary ingredients are for learning to transform into a giant cat. For all she knows it could be snacks. (She kinda hopes it’s snacks.)

Imra finally stops in a clearing, the moonlight filtering in through the canopy above them. She opens her bag and pulls out a blanket, spreading it on the forest floor beneath them. There are pictures woven onto it with such detail Catra can’t comprehend how they were made with thread. On Imra’s side, a large woman with differently colored eyes moves forward, crouching down and shifting into a beast. On the other side of the blanket, several smaller figures are shown doing the same, until the Queen and her people meet in the middle underneath three full moons.

Imra sits down and motions Catra to do the same, pulling small bowls and bottles from her bag. Catra plops down opposite her and watches the bottles clink together. She has no idea what any of them are other than that one bottle contains blue dust and the other yellow. When Imra suggested this a few days prior she had made a comment about there being a process to one's first shift, but Catra hadn't imagined this. The Horde never put this much emphasis on a coming-of-age celebration - Catra just recently learned what a birthday is!

(She is still bitter about the birthday thing; you get an entire day of presents and special food!)

“What’s all that for?”

Imra startles, too lost in her own thoughts. She puts down the cork from the blue-filled bottle and drops a few spoonfuls into one of the bowls. “For the symbolic part of this process, I suppose,” she says, pouring water into the bowl and mixing it with a rounded wooden stub. “It was Queen Katriska who first taught the Magicats how to shift, so traditionally it’s a mother who teaches her children how to as well and before she does she has to paint the colors of Katriska’s eyes onto the child’s eyelids.” Imra puts the bowl, now filled with a blue paste, on the blanket and starts repeating what she did with the yellow powder. “Though the mother thing has shifted to parents in general, since not every family will have a mother in it.”

Catra lowers her head. “Oh.” She imagines suddenly Nino and Vera in this clearing, a tiny thirteen-year-old learning how to shift with his grandmother who should have stopped participating in this tradition when her own children grew up. Or Maya and Otto, going through what should have been a celebration with the persistent feeling that someone is missing.

But then again, Catra herself should have been much younger when she did this.

“That’s not what I meant!” Imra is quick to correct, waving her hands. “Parents regardless of gender were teaching their children how to shift long before the Massacre! I was referring to non-binary parents or families with two dads or two mums.” The queen’s fingers trace over the lid of the bowls, stray yellow and blue paste collecting on her fingertips. “I didn’t want to bring up the Massacre tonight. This is supposed to be a happy occasion, I didn’t want to ruin it.”

Catra scoots closer, putting a tentative hand against Imra’s knee. “You didn’t ruin it.”

“I never thought I’d get to do this,” Imra chuckles, wringing her hands together. “It feels surreal.”

And really, Catra is still getting used to this ‘maternal love’ thing, so she doesn’t know how to respond to the swelling in her chest aside from shrugging and saying, “I never thought I could turn into a giant cat, so you’re not alone.”

Imra laughs, thankfully, and she straightens her back, taking in a deep breath. “Do you want to start?”

Catra nods.

Imra dips two fingers into one of the bowls and when she pulls them out her fingertips are bright blue, like she reached up to touch the sky and took a part of it with her. Her hand hovers in the space between them before Catra catches on and closes her eyes. She almost doesn’t realize Imra is touching her, her fingers light and cool as a breeze against Catra’s skin. They slide over her eyelid in a quick swoop before they’re gone, appearing again on her left eye and repeating the same movement.

“Open your eyes.”

Catra does. She doesn’t feel different - it’s just color on her face - but Imra chokes back on a whimper, holding a trembling hand over her mouth.

“So, uh,” Catra tucks her bangs back, “how do we do this?”

“Right! Okay, close your eyes and try to relax.”

Catra settles back into the blanket, resting her hands on her folded knees. With her eyes closed the sounds of the forest seem louder; she can hear the whispering of the leaves, the rusting of the grass as small animals rest for the night or hunt. The world feels louder in the darkness.

"Feel the moonlight on your skin," Imra continues, her voice smooth like rainwater. "Let it spread from the top of your ears to the tip of your tail. Imagine your body shifting and let it happen. You're  right here, right now."

Catra would have scoffed at instructions like this before; how is the moonlight supposed to help her shift? Yet her skin tingles where the light touches it, a buzzing sensation that wells up from her core and washes over her. It’s electrifying and calming at once, as if she finally woke up from a deep sleep and was exactly where she’s was supposed to be. It feels right.

She hears Imra gasp, but she’s too drunk on this feeling to care. 

Imagine what you could have done with power like this. At once, Catra is cold again. The strength rolling through her hitches and pricks her, no longer safe. The wounds you gave Adora in the Battle of Bright Moon would be nothing compared to what you could do with this, the voice whispers in her head and Catra shivers, stumbling after the energy that’s slipping from her reach. You could rip her to shreds. 

No! Get out of my head, I don’t want you!

Catra opens her eyes. She’s on her hands and knees over the blanket, heaving for breath. She’s very decidedly not a giant cat.

"Catra? Are you alright?" Imra's hand is rubbing circles on her back and in her frenzy, it takes Catra a few seconds to realize. She sits back, gripping her knees as though that will ground her.

“I’m -” She starts, but she bites her tongue. She’s not fine, not at all. “I just can’t get her out of my head.”

“Shadow Weaver?” Imra says the witch’s name like it’s a dirty word, a curse meant only for the worst of the worst.

Catra nods. Her claws dig into her skin. She hates feeling like this, hates that Shadow Weaver still has power over her. Isn’t everything that wench did enough? Does she have to carry her voice with her for the rest of her life?

Imra pries Catra’s hands away from her knees, holding them gently in her own. “She can’t hurt you.”

Catra lowers her gaze, feeling shame well up in her. “I know, she’s locked away -”

“That’s not what I mean,” Imra interrupts, her voice firm as steel. “She could be standing right here and the sky would catch fire before I let her lay a finger on you.” 

Imra’s fingers trail over her own, calming to Catra even if it’s not what Imra wants to do. Her eyes jump all over Catra, from her tense shoulders to the crescent moon indents left in her leggings from her claws, and Catra knows Imra wants to hug her, just as she knows that right now she would bolt from the kind touch. The fact that Imra put Catra’s needs first is even more comforting than the shapes traced on her skin.

“You don’t have to be okay, Catra,” Imra says. “That witch was horrible to you. Those kinds of wounds don’t close easily.”

Catra heaves, a broken sound coming out of her throat, half sob and half laugh. Because she really thought Shadow Weaver could fix this, could fill up the empty space in Catra that she carved out. Because she wasted so much of her life desperate to earn the acceptance and praise of the woman who raised her. Because she honestly thought Shadow Weaver was capable of giving her what Imra has.

Because, having realized that, she feels so much lighter. 

Catra wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. "Let's try again."

“Are you sure? We don’t have to if you’re not okay.” There’s no double meaning behind Imra’s words, no hidden insult to put Catra down. It’s simple, genuine concern. Catra grins. 

“I know. I want to do it.” I’m not letting that witch stop me.

Imra nods, apprehensive, but they go back to their previous positions, Catra’s eyes closed. When Imra doesn’t speak, Catra takes the first step.

"How do I get that buzzing feeling again?" She's not sure what it was exactly, but it felt significant.

“You felt that?”

Catra nods. “That’s good?”

“Yes, it means you were about to shift.”

Catra swells. Imra sounds so proud and she wants to hear that lift in her voice more.“So how do I do it again?”

“Right!” Imra’s voice wavers with the uncertainty of inexperience. Knowing how to do something and teaching another person how to do it are two different things. “Think about power,” she says finally. “Your ability to shift is your power as a Magicat and as the princess. What does it mean to you?”

Safety. Being able to hurt instead of being hurt. The answer comes to her instinctively, like she has been thinking of it her whole life. No, like she has been taught it. Shadow Weaver had power because everyone - including Catra - was afraid of her and did as she told them, and in turn, Hordak had more power because Shadow Weaver was afraid of him. Yet Catra's stomach turns at the thought of being listened to because of threats, not respected but feared.

She scrunches her eyes tighter, as if to push her first thought aside. What does it mean now? She thinks of Imra perseverance, protecting her people even when she was in pain. The strength of the past queens, even if it didn’t come from the things she knew. The people of Halfmoon welcoming a wounded girl they didn’t know into their home with open arms.

“What do you want to use it for?”

She wants to be safe, that much hasn’t changed. She wants to keep her place among the Magicats. She wants Sari to live without the resentment Catra held for the girl she used to call home. She wants Otto to make her outfit for the next Princess Prom and she wants to hear Maya and Nino talk about the faraway places they’ve been to. 

She wants to protect this tiny corner of the world she's been allowed to belong in.

The buzzing is back, a tidal wave washing over her and she lets the currents take her. Every bit of her skin is alight beneath the moons - she has never felt this alive. She grows and grows, filled with all the things that lend her strength, all the things she wants to be worthy of. She’s going to succeed, she’s going to win, and no one will stand in her way.

When she opens her eyes, the world is bright and sharp - maybe she had never properly seen before. Imra’s hands are clasped over her mouth, her eyes filled with tears, but she can’t hide the smile under them. Catra steps toward her slowly, her new paws gentle against the ground. Imra throws her arms around her neck, burying her fingers in her fur and holding her close. Catra nuzzles back, purring against her mother.

Imra doesn’t hide her smile when she pulls away. “Let’s run.” 

She shifts, a grand beast with graying fur, and leaps into the forest. Catra follows her, quick on her mother’s heels and full of joy.

Chapter Text

If you had told Catra that she would enjoy walking into a fenced-off yard full of running children screaming bloody murder, she would have thought you crazy for such a specific example (and also been glad her intimidating reputation was holding up). As it turns out, despite the twitching in her ears, she likes coming to the schoolyard when the students are having their recess. Something is satisfying in the chaos created by a couple dozen twerps going wild - plus Catra had never been allowed to do the same, so she relishes in the knowledge that her Horde instructors would blow a fuse if they saw this out of sheer spite.

They have a lesson with the oldest class after recess, but Nino and Maya must be late because she doesn't see them anywhere. She heads over to the shed to wait for them but stops in her tracks when she sees Sari and the rest of her class huddled together in a circle, arguing among themselves.

“What if-”

“That’s not going to work!”

“What about the closet one?”

“We did that last time.”

“Maybe we should-”

“What’s going on?” The students jumped in surprise, whipping around to find Catra watching them, her arms crossed and her hips cocked to the side.

“C-Catra!” Sari is the only one among the children who decides to talk. She tries to appear casual and relaxed, but her painfully straight back gives her away. “We didn’t see you there. We were just deciding what to play.”

Catra raises a brow and she swears she sees all the kids quacking in their spots. “I’m not that gullible. Try again.”

Sari sighs, turning her face away from Catra. “We wanted to play a prank on Maya and Nino,” she mumbles in defeat.

“Please don’t tell on us!” Jin adds, pressing her palms together and lowering her ears to seem cuter.

Catra scoffs. “Who do you take me for? Move aside.” She kneels on the ground along with the kids. There are plans scribbled on the dirt inside their circle, a branch discarded to the side. Catra has no idea what this mess of lines and dots was supposed to be. “What’s your plan?”

"That the problem," Lexi says, fidgeting with her blonde tail, "we can't decide on one."

Catra hums, taking in the children in front of her and their surroundings. The prank is to be played in the gym lesson and their time until that starts is running out, so they'll have to be quick. This will have to depend on what they have at their disposal.

Catra strides to the shed, unlocking it with her spare key and diving into the mess inside. She can hear the students cluster in the doorway, whispering to each other and trying to figure out what she's trying to do. Catra pays them no mind, digging through the piles of supplies shoved haphazardly into the tiny space. Thankfully for her, Maya and Nino have been procrastinating with cleaning it out and between the dust and deflated balls, Catra finds what she needs.

She lets her findings fall to the ground in front of the class, who are looking at the pile of random objects with confusion evident in their faces.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” she starts.

Less than ten minutes later, Catra is standing on her own by the shed, the students waiting in their positions for her signal. The bell has just rung and the schoolyard is empty when Maya and Nino walk in.

“Catra!” Nino calls out, running the rest of the distance to her. “Thank skies you’re here. We got caught up at Eyepatch’s.”

Maya pants, looking around. “Where are the kids?”

It's so hard not to smirk, but somehow Catra manages it. "Oh, they ran up to their classroom," she says offhandedly, stepping away from Maya and Nino. She doesn't want to get caught in the crossfire. "They said they had a surprise for you."

Maya perks up. “Really-”

The first hit lands on Maya’s back, the balloon breaking and dousing her in water. She shrieks and that’s all the little twerps need to let all hell break loose. Water balloons rain down from every direction as Maya and Nino scream, trying to avoid the volleys of watery death. It’s no use. Catra made sure all the kids have a clear view of their targets and those farthest away have makeshift slingshots.

Maya and Nino look more like wet piles of fur and fabric than Magicats. “Traitors!” Maya yells to the kids and a water balloon lands on her face. Catra is laughing her head off, clutching her stomach and swaying back and forth like she has gone insane.

The students come down from their posts, ready to charge at their teachers like the feral gremlins they are and - is Jin holding the water hose? That wasn’t in the plan but damn, is Catra into this! Someone tugs at her sleeve and Catra looks down to see Sari offering her a bucket of balloons with a smile that can only be described as shit-eating.

“Attack!” Catra yells, shooting Maya and Nino. The students follow her lead, unleashing their full might upon poor Nino and Maya, who are helpless under their barrage.

“You too, Catra?” Nino manages to say before a balloon hits him on the shoulder. 

Catra laughs, big and dramatic. “Who do you think came up with the plan?”

When the last balloon lands, Nino and Maya are sitting on the ground, wet to the bone and half of their normal size. “I regret introducing her to the kids,” Maya mumbles.

“Aw, come on, you know you love me.”

“That was awesome!” Jin yells, jumping up and down. Her classmates join in and suddenly Catra has ten twelve-year-olds huddled around her and talking at her. She catches bits and pieces, ‘amazing’ and ‘fun’ among them, and her heart swells.

“It was pretty cool,” Sari admits, her arms crossed and her face turned away but Catra still catches her smile. She ruffles her hair and the young girl huffs.

“Well,” Maya says, standing up and wringing the water from her clothes, “I’ll admit, it was well planned. We should go change into dry clothes, though.”

Nino's eyes glint as he gets up. Catra doesn't like it at all. “Yeah. Catra, you can make the announcement on your own, right?” Nino’s voice is sweet - overly so, in the ‘I will end you’ kind of way - and it sends shivers down her spine.

“Announcement? What announcement?” The kids are all talking together, looking at Catra with big shining eyes and bouncing in place.

Catra’s stomach ties itself into knots.“W-we could just wait until you come back.”

Maya shakes her head. “We have to go all the way back to our houses to change, we’ll take too long,” she says, the corners of her mouth twitching as she tries not to smile. Damn her.

As they walk past her, Nino puts a hand on Catra’s shoulder. “Good luck.” He smiles.

Well, shit.

The moment Maya and Nino are out of the schoolyard, the students decent upon her like starving animals. 

“What were they talking about?”

“Are we having a party?”

“Are we going outside?”

“Dummy, you know we can’t do that.”

“Actually,” Catra says and they all fall silent, “he’s right. We’re going on an overnight camping trip.”

She hoped that would calm them down. It doesn’t. They say so many things at once Catra can’t even begin to make sense of them. “Quiet down! I can’t explain like this and you’re giving me a headache.”

They stay silent for just a moment before Sari speaks up.

“Are we really going out?”

“Dad and Papa say it’s dangerous to go outside on our own,” Jin adds.

"Yeah, it is," Catra says, even though this was her idea. She doesn't want these kids to know nothing but stone walls for the rest of their lives and this trip will be a good start. "But Maya, Nino, and I will be with you. And," Catra falters, "Queen Imra agreed."

It's not a lie - her mom had approved of her idea quickly enough, provided that they stuck to the safety protocols she put in place. That's not what has Catra stumbling over her words - it's 'mom'. Ever since the full moon and her first shift she has had no problem thinking of Imra as her mother, but getting the word past her lips still sends panic through her core.

But the kids pay no mind to her internal struggles. They are too excited to pick up on her tense shoulders and flicking tail, running wild with the promise of stepping out of their home for the first time in their lives.

“This is gonna be awesome!”

“We’re going outside!”

“I want to see the moons!”

“Do you think we’ll see any animals?”

Catra relaxes as she watches them. She can worry about her complicated feelings about her mom later. Right now, she’s content to go through the day’s lesson, safe in the knowledge that these kids’ childhoods will be nothing like hers. Not if she has anything to say about it.


A loud ringing noise echoes through the fortress as Adora's sword clashes with one of the soldiers' guns, knocking it out of their hands and sending them scrambling after it. 

“How are you holding up?” she yells over the commotion. There’s a bang and a crash and Glimmer is next to her in a puff of sparkles. 

“We’re good. Go check the rest of the fort, Bow and I have this covered up.”

Adora nods and takes off running, jumping over a knocked out Horde soldier. They're taking back another one of the Rebellion bases the Horde claimed in the frenzy after the Battle of Bright Moon and so far things have been going well.

Adora rounds a corner, her sword raised to take on the guard that should be stationed there per standard procedure, but she finds no one. Too well. While they’ve met resistance, it’s been too weak, too disjointed. Every fiber in her body screams that it’s a trap, another one of Catra’s clever plans. But Catra isn’t here anymore and she can’t think of another Force Captain who operates like this.

She checks the rooms along the hallway as she passes, searching for hidden soldiers, but to no avail. The rooms are full of supplies, weapons or bunks, but nobody is around. The hairs at her nape stand on edge. A fortress of this size should have a lot more soldiers present than the ones fighting Bow and Glimmer. This is wrong.

But beyond the missing personnel, the state of the rooms is wrong too. Boxes of ration bars are crashed, the food inside destroyed, weapons are smashed, torn open with wires hanging out like the innards of a great monster. Even the bunkers are in disarray, with blankets shredded and beds with broken legs. The base looks like it’s been looted by a force much greater than the Best Friend Squad.

She hears it as she's nearing the headquarters, where the base's communications should be in - an ear-splitting tearing noise. She approaches with caution, light on her feet. But when she peeks through the open doorway, it's not a monster she sees wrecking havoc, but Scorpia.

Adora is frozen in her spot. Scorpia’s claws dig in a big slash along the control panels and she pulls. Adora grits her teeth, unable to cover her ears with the sword in her hands - so Scorpia was the one making that noise. She clenches her sword.

“Hey!”

Scorpia jumps and her expression immediately changes from surprise to annoyance. “Oh, great. It’s you.”

“What are you doing?” 

“Preparing a romantic dinner,” Scorpia says, a bad imitation of her old enthusiasm. “You know, some pasta, candles, maybe a few roses.”

Adora doesn't respond. She knows Scopia dislikes her for leaving Catra behind and she won't fall for her goading. The state of the base flashes in her mind, the destroyed rooms and the few oppositions they've faced, and she understands what's going on.

“You’re why this was so easy,” she says. “You’re sabotaging the Horde.”

Scorpia folds her arms. “And what if I am?”

“I thought you were loyal to Hordak.”

I am loyal to my friends,” Scorpia says, clearly an insult. “Because of him, Catra is…”

Scorpia bites her lips, avoiding Adora's eyes. She's huge and she's standing in front of heavy machinery she tore to shreds with her bare claws and yet, at that moment, no title or confidence can hide what she really is. A pained girl who lost her best friend and who is too young for the mess she is in, the war she has been made to fight. Catra's death hangs over both of them, suffocating.

“So you found out too,” Adora whispers, and if it wasn’t for the deathly silence between them Scorpia wouldn’t have heard her.

“Don’t try to comfort me,” she bites. “And how do you know? It’s classified information.”

“I tried to break her out of Beast Island.”

Scorpia huffed. “Good to know you draw the line at letting her rot in prison.”

Adora grits her teeth. “Catra was my friend too,” she snaps

“Sure didn’t seem like it when you left her behind. How did that work out?” Scorpia puts a claw against her chin and hums, making a big show of slapping her knee when she ‘figured it out’.“Oh, right, she’s dead.”

Adora doesn’t want to yell at Scorpia. She knows what she’s going through, she knows how much pain Scorpia is in, but she’s barely holding herself together and she can’t have her wounds torn open again. “Do you think I don’t know that? Do you think I haven’t been blaming myself day and night since I found out?”

“Wow, we should give you an award.” Scorpia’s glare melts away and she seems to shrink, wrapping her arms around herself. “Guilt doesn’t change anything.”

Adora lowers her sword - she hadn’t realized how tense she was, so sure Scorpia was going to attack her. “No, it doesn’t.” Her transformation falls away and she steps towards Scorpia, not as the warrior She-ra but as Adora. “Blaming anyone won’t bring Catra back.”

Scorpia laughs, small and broken and so wrong coming from her. “I kinda wish it did. It’d be simpler.” Her eyes glisten under the harsh lighting of the base, but she doesn’t wipe away the tears. “I miss her.”

“Me too.” Adora hesitates, unsure, then rashes forward, hugging Scorpia. The Force Captain tenses, just for a second, before she relaxes, burying her face in Adora’s shoulder.

“I’m not going to let Hordak win,” Scorpia whispers, her voice full of so much emotion it’s shaking. “Not after this.”

“So help us.” Adora pulls away, holding Scorpia’s claws in her hands like she’s her only lifeline. “Help us put an end to this. Let her be the last.”

Scorpia’s tears fall then, leaving glimmering rivers down her cheeks. She nods, and behind all the pain in her eyes there’s the determination of a hero. “I guess the Rebellion got itself a spy.”


Being a chaperone in what is essentially an overnight school field trip involves a lot of packing, as it turns out. The backpack Maya gave her is lying on her bed, hanging wide open, and medical supplies are scattered around it. Along with her own things, Catra is in charge of bringing the first aid kit - something that seemed simple until she started overthinking things.

Is this what Adora feels like, she wonders with her hands full of gauze, trying to figure out how many bandages are too many. It’s not like all ten children will lose a limb at the same time, right? She doesn’t need this much. She goes to put half the gauze down, but she stops, her stomach clenching. What if they get very wide wounds? Or head injuries, those bleed more. She imagines Sari clutching a wound on her side, scared and trying to stop the bleeding but unable to because Catra didn’t bring enough fucking bandages.

"Ugh, I should have taken snack duty," she mutters, pushing her overgrown bangs out of her face. She has half a thought to rip them off but she stops herself. Seeing the torn-up patch of grass from when she found out Imra is her mother made her remember all the other times she lashed out before. Destroying the drawings at the side of their bunk after Adora defected, leaving her dangling from a cliff, attacking her in battle. It felt right at the time, but the shame makes her skin feel too tight now. She doesn't want to react like that anymore - she doesn't want to freak out and scare the kids just because she got frustrated.

“Catra?” Imra calls out from the half-open door, poking her head inside. “Are you still packing?”

She groans, plopping down on her bed. There’s a bottle of painkillers under her back but she doesn’t care. “Yeah.”

Imra steps inside, looking at the room like it’s what was left standing after a hurricane. “Oh, these are… a lot of bandages. Are you sure you need this many?”

“I don’t know!” Catra throws her arms out toward the ceiling. The movement is too rough, rattling her bones, but it’s better than attacking anything, even if a part of her aches for it. “I keep almost making a decision but then I think ‘what if I’m underestimating how much we’ll need?’ and it just keeps going on and on.”

The mattress dips as Imra sits down beside her, laughing. It's muffled, Imra's hand held in front of her mouth when Catra turns to her, but it's too loud for that to hide it. "Why are you laughing?"

“It’s nothing, just…” Imra laughs again, light and airy and Catra finds herself being calmed by the sound, even if she was the one laughed at. “I acted exactly like this when I first became queen. Every small decision felt like a life-or-death situation.”

"Yeah, but this isn't ruling a kingdom, it's a damn camping trip that I suggested and I can't pack a fucking bag!" She flails on the bed again, trying to get rid of all her anxious energy, and when she lets her arms drop they smack her in the face.

"Maybe, but it's the same principle," Imra says. She's leaning on one arm so she's closer to Catra, playing with the ends of her hair where they're fanned out on the mattress. "A group of people you care about rely on you to keep them safe and happy. It can be overwhelming."

Catra doesn't say anything. She never thought of leadership like that, never had it presented to her that way. It's the complete opposite of the Horde's 'I call the shots so do as I say' approach and - as ridiculous as this whole packing process has been - she prefers Imra's definition.

Maybe learning everything she's been taught, everything she's been lead to think, is wrong should have have been more upsetting. She should be angry - and she is, angry for the lost time - but instead, she's relieved. The world according to the Horde is horrible, but this?

Catra wants to be a part of this.

“I," Imra starts and her hand stills in Catra's hair. She cranes her neck to look at her mom, but her face is turned away. "I wasn’t sure about this trip when you suggested it. I’m terrified that something will go wrong, that the Horde will find Halfmoon again and…” 

Catra sits up. Imra is wringing her fingers in her lap. “Why did you agree then?” She winces. She didn't mean to sound so harsh, but her words came out more like an accusation than a question. She needs to work on that.

“I trust you to keep the kids safe. I’m proud of you, Catra,” Imra says and Catra thinks that a simple word shouldn't make her eyes well up so quickly. “The kids like you so much already, and this whole trip…” Imra laughs, breathy, like she has so much inside her that it will burst out. “I know being a queen is a big responsibility, and I don’t want to push you, but… if you decided to do it, I think you’d make a great one.” 

There’s something about Imra’s smile - so happy and genuine, like loving her is a gift - that makes Catra crumble. She hugs her mom so suddenly that Imra tenses against her. “Thanks,” she mutters into her shoulder, even though it seems too weak to describe everything she’s feeling.

“No problem, kitty,” Imra whispers, her arms wrapped around Catra, her fingers combing through her hair.

They stay like that for longer than is probably needed, but Imra doesn’t tell her to move and Catra doesn’t want to.

“Your hair has gotten longer,” Imra notes offhandedly, twirling a strand between her fingers.

“Yeah, at this rate I’ll end up with a constant ponytail like Adora just to keep it out of my face.”

"I could cut it for you if you want."

Catra stiffens. She hopes Imra won’t notice, that she won’t need to explain why she has such an aversion to having her hair cut, but Imra’s hands still. “Catra? Is something wrong?”

“It’s nothing.”

Imra pries her out of her arms so she can look at her in the eyes. “It’s not nothing if it has upset you. What is it, kitty?”

Catra bites her lips. “I don’t like having my hair cut,” she finally says, pushing the words past her lips even though she wants to clam up and hide away any sign of weakness. “It hurt when they did it in the Horde.” It’s a barebones explanation, but it’s the most she can bring herself to say.

Imra smiles. “Thank you for telling me, kitty. We don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I can just show you how to cut it on your own if you prefer that.”

Catra should jump at this out, take it and lock one more of her bad experiences in a box so it never sees the light of day again. It would be the easier option. But she doesn’t want to be like this forever, unable to do normal things because Shadow Weaver ruined them for her.

“No, I - I want to try.”

Imra nods, a shaky smile on her face. 

They go into the bathroom and Imra instructs her to sit on a stool with her back to the tub. “If you want to stop at any point, tell me. Alright?”

“Ok.”

She hears the sound of water rushing behind her, but Imra doesn't tell her to lean her head back into the tub until a few seconds have passed. It's warm against her, far better than the ice-cold water the soldiers in charge would dunk them under when the time had come for their haircuts. There's the sound of a bottle pumping and Imra's hands are back in her hair with something creamy that must be shampoo. Catra tenses, bracing herself for the pain that always came at this part, for rough fingers to pull at her hair so hard it almost rips off and scrub around her ears like they want to tear them off her. She bites her cheeks, having learned long ago not to complain or cry no matter how much it hurts.

But it doesn’t. Imra’s fingers are gentle, working the product into her hair and scalp, so light around her ears that Catra barely feels them. She melts into the touch, closing her eyes and leaning against the bathtub. Imra is humming a song Catra doesn’t know, but it’s so soothing she could fall asleep to it.

She actually does, only realizing she had dozed off when her mom nudges her awake and has her sit in front of the mirror. She takes comb from one of the cabinets and gets to work untangling Catra's hair. At this point, she's convinced Imra is secretly a sorceress because there's no way she can pull the comb through the curly birdnest Catra has on her head without hurting her. If the soldiers washing her hair was bad, the untangling was what had made her hide in the vents every time they were supposed to have their hair cut when she was five, until her curls hit the back of her knees.

But this? This feels so nice Catra’s chest is rumbling, her purring a steady accompaniment for Imra’s quiet singing.

She doesn’t realize how much time has passed when Imra sets the comb on the counter. She blinks her eyes open - when had she closed them? - and sees her hair lying flat, reaching down to the middle of her back.

“Where do you want me to cut it?”

Catra stares at her hair in the mirror. She hasn’t seen it this long in years. After hiding from one too many haircuts, Shadow Weaver had found her in the vents and dragged her out, gripping her tightly, leaving bruises all along Catra’s arms. She washed and untangled her hair so roughly Catra was crying the whole time - and then she shaved it all off. After that, Catra wasn’t as careless and she kept her hair in check with scissors so she wouldn’t attract Shadow Weaver’s anger again. 

Her hair had been her shield - making her feel bigger, safer, when she wasn’t as tall or bulky as the other kids - and Shadow Weaver had ripped it away.

She holds up a hand at the length she wants. Imra seems surprised, but she hums and gets cutting. Tufts of hair fall to the floor like fall leaves. Catra watches it all go in the mirror and a strange satisfaction fills her. 

She doesn’t need a shield anymore.

Imra dries her hair before clapping, and Catra knows from her tone she’s smiling before she opens her eyes. “All done.”

Her hair reaches her chin. Her curls, much more defined now, bounce when she moves her head and at this length, the tufts at her ears are bigger and fluffier.

“Do you like it?”

Catra smiles at herself in the mirror. “I love it.”

Chapter Text

"And… time's up!"

Maya blows the whistle at Catra's cue and all the students slump on the ground. Their tents are in varying states of assembly, some nothing more than fabric haphazardly thrown over rope, while only one is upright. Jin and Lexi stand in front of it triumphantly with wide smiles on their faces.

“Jin and Lexi are the winners!” The girls high five, cheering for the extra candy they won for setting up their tent first. 

“Now,” Maya says, the whistle swinging from the cord around her neck, “let’s get the rest of the tents up so we can start dinner.”

Catra and Maya get to work alongside the children while Nino tends to the fire. As she puts up a tent, she sees Sari struggling to tie a rope from the corner of her eye. Before she can turn to help her, Jin is offering a hand and Sari gives her the rope without trouble, smiling at her friend while her tail swishes happily.

Once the tents are finished, the children clumber to Nino, eager to eat their weight in food after a day of running around in the forest. Jin and Sari stay behind and Catra can’t help but overhear their conversation as she checks to make sure all the knots are secure.

“Hey?” Jin nudges Sari with her elbow. “You’re okay, right? With the competition, I mean.” The stocky magicat is shifting from foot to foot and Catra notices the absence of ‘lose’ from her words.

Sari smiles to the ground, rubbing bashfully at her arm where Jin nudged her. “Yeah. Thanks for asking.” Jin smiles at her and Sari does too before her tail tenses in embarrassment and she looks away. “B-but I’m definitely beating you next time!”

Jin giggles and bumps into Sari before grabbing her hand and dragging her to the fire.

Catra smiles and follows after them.

Nino hands her a stick with meat on it when she sits next to him around the fire. The students are all holding sticks of their own, concentrating on not burning them to a crisp as they try to cook them. (It wouldn’t actually matter if they burnt them - they made sure to bring extra.)

One after another, the go through their snacks until their bellies are full and the moons hang high on the sky above them. Maya is telling a scary story, the fire casting unnerving shadows on her face and Catra pretends her voice doesn't send shivers down her spine. The children hang from her every word, and they don't notice Nino slipping away, not until he jumps off from behind them and they topple off the logs they were sitting on in fright. Catra clutches her stomach, laughing so hard her sides hurt.

Adora would have loved this, she thinks, startling herself out of her laugher. Nobody seems to notice, too busy catching their breaths and playfully slapping Nino for scaring them.

She knows this - this feeling in her chest that’s making her skin feel foreign, this dissatisfaction, this gap that she can’t seem to fill. But… she should be happy. She is, more than she’s probably ever been. She should be satisfied with this. She knows that.

But it doesn’t stop her heart from longing.

The students all go to sleep - not without a fuss, despite yawning and swaying on their feet - but they manage to get them into their tents. Once their breathing has evened out and they are sure they are asleep, Maya and Nino collapse onto their sleeping bags. Catra bids them goodnight before finding a good vantage point on the branch of a tree and getting comfortable for the quiet hours ahead of her.

Imra was very specific in the safety measures they had to follow in order to go on this camping trip, and one of them was that when they slept at least one person at a time had to keep watch. Catra had volunteered to go first, both because she had the most experience with these kinds of things and because the trip was her idea. It seemed fair.

From her perch high up in the foliage of the trees, Catra can see their camp clearly. The night breeze ruffles the fur at the back of her neck and she shudders. She's still not used to her hair being this short. Halfmoon's mountain rises from beyond the rustling leaves, a black fortress against the sky.

Phantom fingers intertwine through her own, squeezing her hand. Goosebumps rise in her nape, the ghost of her ponytail soft against Catra’s skin. She doesn’t realize her eyes are closed until another breeze blows and there’s no warm body against her side to shield her from the cold.

She shakes her head, as if it will get her out of her heart.

Get a grip, Catra! Stop thinking about her. She gulps around the knot in her throat and tells herself that her eyes don’t sting.

It’s not like she would take you back after everything.

The words appear in her mind uninvited, leaving her freezing. She can’t blame Shadow Weaver for them, not this time. They belong to her, as did the actions that pushed her far from Adora, turned her from her friend into her enemy.

Adora would be stupid to forgive her.

There’s a snap somewhere below her and Catra startles. Damn it, she got distracted! How is she supposed to make sure they are safe like this?

But it’s not an animal or a Horde soldier standing under her tree, it’s Sari. The girl stumbles when she notices Catra watching her, but she doesn’t run away. She climbs up the tree and settles down on the branch next to Catra.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Catra scouts away so there’s more space for Sari close to the trunk of the tree. “What are you doing up?”

“I couldn’t sle-” Sari starts, but she catches herself. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“Alright.”

Sari doesn’t talk immediately, swinging her legs from the branch and biting her lip. Catra doesn’t push her. Finally, Sari exhales and turns to face her.

“I… I talked to my parents. About - about what you said. And to Jin.” She rubs at the back of her neck, chuckling breathily. “It went over well. And Jin and I are better now.” Sari averts her gaze but Catra still sees the blush on her cheeks. “So, thank you.”

Catra bumps her shoulder - she’s smiling wide but she doesn’t care. “You’re welcome, twerp.” At least one of us still has her friend.

“And,” Sari gulps, “I wanted to ask you... What happened to that friend you had mentioned?”

Catra freezes and she knows her surprise must show in her face. She didn’t expect this question, not from Sari, and if she wasn’t feeling like such a wreck she’d laugh. Everything keeps reminding her of Adora.

“You don’t have to tell me!” Sari is shaking her hands so wildly Catra worries she’ll lose her balance and fall off. “But,” she continues, so much quieter than the stubborn girl Catra knows, “you seemed… off when we were eating, and you had the same look now when I mentioned Jin. I figured you were upset about your friend. I want to help you too.”

Catra might be good at suppressing her emotions until they come back to destroy her, she might be the best at it, but how is supposed to say no to Sari? How is she supposed to tell herself she helped this girl when she can't listen to her own fucking advice?

“Adora, my friend,” she starts, and her voice catches on ‘friend’, “we were raised together in the Horde, but she had bought into their propaganda. When she found out the truth, she defected.” It sounded so different like that. ‘Defected’ not ‘left me’. “She asked me to come with her, but I was bitter, and angry, and... a mess, really.” Catra chuckles, staring up at the moons through the leaves. “I’m still a mess. But I didn’t take her leaving well. I… I wanted to get her back at first, then to prove I was fine without her, that I didn’t need her.” She swallows, the words like lead in her mouth. “I guess I just wanted to hurt her for hurting me.”

She doesn’t realize how worked up she’s gotten until Sari puts her hand on her arm and Catra jumps. When she looks at Sari, her vision is blurry with tears. 

“She must hate me now.”

“Shit,” Sari says under her breath. She’s panicking, Catra sees that, and she does her best to calm down. She might want to help her but she’s still a twelve-year-old girl and she doesn’t deserve Catra breaking down on her.

“It’s ok, it’s fine,” she says, wiping the tears from her eyes. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, and I doubt she wants to see me. I just have to get over it.”

Sari doesn’t speak, and Catra doesn’t turn to look at her, so they sit in silence. She thinks this is it, that Sari will change the subject, but she doesn’t. “If you did see her,” Sari says instead, “would you want to be her friend again?”

“She’d probably run her sword through me if she saw me.” Catra laughs, but it sounds too put on.

“That’s not what I asked.” Sari’s voice is firm, unmoving, and she takes Catra’s hand in hers. There’s nowhere else for Catra to look, to run away, to avoid the question. “Do you still care about her? Do you still want her?”

There's no other answer Catra can give - there never was, not about Adora. "Yes."

Sari opens her mouth, but before she can speak, a deafening sound rips through the forest, as if the earth itself is tearing apart. The branch shakes, as does the tree and the ground, and Catra digs her claws in the bark so she doesn’t fall. When the sound ends, all is still.

“What was that?” Sari asks, her voice trembling. Whatever that was, it wasn’t a simple earthquake.

Catra doesn’t answer. She takes off toward the sound, jumping from tree to tree like her life depends on it. Whatever that was, it can’t be good and she has to make sure the kids are safe. She has to.

“Wait!” She hears behind and whips around to see Sari following her.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“I’m,” she pants, “coming with you.”

“Get back to camp.”

“No-”

There’s that sound again, much louder now. It’s close. Sari stumbles on the branch, almost falling over, and Catra grabs her by the hand. The leaves rustle as the ground shakes, a thousand tiny warnings to get away. When the sound stops Catra’s ears are ringing.

She can’t stay arguing with Sari, not if she wants to find out what’s going on. With a curt nod to follow her, she dashes off, Sari on her heels.

She sees the clearing up ahead through the foliage, too far away to make out clearly. Red flashes in her vision, so small she doesn’t recognize it immediately, not until she’s close enough to hear the soldiers talk. Her blood freezes and she pulls Sari back before she can be seen, pressing her against the tree trunk behind her. 

“What-” Sari starts, confused, but Catra slaps a hand over her mouth. She’s not sure if her heart is beating too fast or not at all, terror slamming into her like a kick to the guts. Sari’s eyes widen when she sees the clearing, reflecting Catra’s horror tenfold.

Below them, in the sheltered middle of the forest, is a Horde camp.

The sound starts up again, so loud now that Catra feels it rattling in her bones. A giant drill, maybe twice as big as a skiff, is in the middle of the clearing, splitting the ground below it in two like a sword does flesh. When the drilling stops, a soldier descends into the open wound and comes out with a wagon full of sparkling crystals. Catra’s heart stutters in recognition dread filling her like air.

Crystal Star.

"Damn, are you sure this isn't the main source of the stuff?" A soldier says below them, so close that if he were to look up he'd see them. Sari is trembling beneath her fingers.

“No, Hordak wanted samples from a smaller source before we moved on to the main excavation,” the other soldier says, clearly higher in rank, noting things in a tablet. “The big source is over there.” He points over his shoulder, right where Halfmoon’s peak rises up behind the trees.

The first soldier grabs a crystal shard from the wagon, tossing it in the air like it’s a ball. “I wonder how much there is. Wouldn’t be surprised if the whole mountain was like this inside.”

The soldiers wander off and Catra can’t hear them anymore. She grabs Sari and runs as fast as her legs can carry her, wishing against all odds that Nino, Maya or any of the children didn’t try to follow the sound. 

Her muscles burn when she reaches their camp. Everyone is awake, looking confused and scared. Nino runs to her when she sees her approaching, relief clear on his face.

“Catra, what-”

“We have to leave,” she cuts him off, taking down the nearest tent. Her fingers tremble as she undoes the knots.

“What?”

“We need to go!” The tent slumps down and she bunches it up before shoving it into one of their backpacks. Sari is shaking like a leaf behind her, silent. “Now!”

Maya tries to grab her hands and stop her but Catra jerks away from her and runs to the next tent. “Catra, calm down-”

"The Horde," Sari whispers. In the quiet of the night, her words echo like cannon shots. "The Horde is here."

No one argues with her again. They gather up their things as fast as they can and make sure there’s no trace of them left behind before rushing to Halfmoon. Catra stands by the Gate as the kids run inside, holding their friends’ hands tightly as if they’ll slip away any second, tears in their eyes. Nino and Maya are silent, trying so hard to look brave for their students even as Catra sees the terror in their eyes and the nervous way they glance over their shoulders. 

She’s the last to get in, her chest burning with fear and fury.

In Halfmoon's main street, people are awake, peeking out from windows and balconies in their nightclothes. The students run to their parents when they see them, burying their faces in their chests.

“Catra!” Imra emerges from the crowd, just as frazzled as everyone else. She runs to Catra and hugs her tight before saying, “Are you alright? What was that noise?”

Everyone is paying attention now, waiting for Catra to explain, to tell them it was just an earthquake, something mundane enough that could become a funny story down the line despite their current worry. But Catra can’t do that. Instead, what comes out of her mouth tastes like poison.

“There’s a Horde camp in the forest.” The crowd gasps and someone whimpers. Imra’s hands still on Catra’s shoulders. “They’re excavating Crystal Star. A soldier said they’re getting samples before moving to the,” her voice breaks, “main source.”

No one speaks. The erratic beating of Catra’s heart is the only sound echoing through the deathly silence that’s fallen over them.

“They’ll find Halfmoon,” Imra whispers. She’s looking right at Catra but she doesn’t seem to see her, her eyes distant. The crease of worry between her brows is so deep it may stay there forever and her fingers tremble on Catra’s skin. “We need to evacuate!" she calls out. “Get to the lower level!" 

Whispering breaks out among the crowd. Catra startles away from Imra’s touch. "What- You can't be serious."

Imra doesn’t look at her when she responds, her eyes darting around as she tries to come up with a plan. "We need to go now before they get too close - " 

"We should fight back,” Catra interrupts. Her heart is beating a mile a minute and she can taste the tell-tale bitterness of panic on her tongue. The lower level. Even deeper down belowground, so deep they’ll never come out again, until the sky is but a distant memory. “They're a small reckon squad, we can take them out now before they get reinforcements." 

Catra might as well have suggested destroying the world judging by the way Imra looks at her. "And make ourselves known? Hordak will send more-"

"So we fight them too!" 

"We need to evacuate until they get what they want and leave-" 

"You think Hordak will just leave when he gets what he wants?” She’s yelling, and she sees children hide behind their parents’ legs teary-eyed, but she doesn’t stop. She can’t. She can’t let this slip away from her like sand, can’t let Halfmoon be just another foolish childhood dream shattered below the Horde’s heel. “We can run away and hide and he'll wring the mountain dry for everything it has before he asks for more. He'll dig deeper and he'll find us, and what then? We'll be easy prey. We won't stand a chance!"

"We can't fight the Horde, Catra!" Imra grabs her by the hand, her grip so tight her fingertips are white. Her hair is flying loose, her eyes filled with a thousand desperate pleas her lips can't bear to speak. "We won't win, I-"

Imra’s voice breaks. I can't lose you again. The words seem to hang over them. Imra is looking at her, tears threatening to fall, but it’s not only Catra she sees. It’s Felix, and her old classmates, and all the babies she saw be born but not run. It’s everyone she could lose now.

Catra jerks her hand away. "So what then?” She snaps and Imra’s face crumbles. “We turn tail and run like rats? Let the rest of the world pass us by while we're buried alive? Just because you’re scared?" 

She sees it then, just for a moment. A future where Otto goes on doodling formal outfits in tear-stained paper, where Sari’s class is the last to see the night sky, where she describes the outside world again and again to Nino and Maya because her words are the only window they have to places they never got to see. All together and safe - dead to the rest of the world.

"If that's what it takes for nobody to die then yes! These are my people and I'm their queen-"

"And I'm their princess!” Catra is heaving, her labored breathing the only sound in the cave. They’ve been screaming all this while, their throats raw and their hearts bleeding, but her next words are whispers, quiet and sharp like blades. “If I have to get through you to keep the Horde away then I'll do it."

Something shifts in Imra then. She sees Catra for all that she is; the girl who cried in her best friend’s bed and craved affection so much it hurt, the girl who led armies and drew blood because she thought it’d put her broken heart back together. 

Imra looks away.

"Everyone, get ready to evacuate," she says, never once sparing a glance at Catra. "We're leaving as soon as possible."

Catra stumbles forward, grabbing a fistful of her mother’s nightgown. "You can't do this!" 

I can’t lose this. I can’t I can’t I can’t.

Imra pulls away. "I can and I will. This conversation is over, Catra. I'm keeping my people safe." 


“Sorry for being late,” Adora says, panting as she throws open the door of the war meeting. “Has Scorpia called in yet?”

“No, she must still be trying to get a secure signal.” Bow is fiddling with the tablet propped up in the middle of the table.

“I hope she has figured something out,” Glimmer huffs, her arms crossed and her feet up on the table. Thankfully Angella isn’t here. “The Horde has been weird lately. They must be planning something.”

According to their agreement, Scorpia sends them reports on the Horde once a week on this specific time, unless she has found out something urgent. She’s been doing well as a spy, which Glimmer definitely didn’t expect. But Adora has to admit, Scorpia is very friendly - if she knew someone was spying on her she wouldn’t suspect her.

The tablet lights up. They all jump in their chairs, crowding around the small screen. The fuzzy grayness subsides and Scorpia’s face greets them from the other side. She seems to be squeezed inside a small space.

"Hey, guys!"

“Hi, Scorpia,” Bow waves at the camera. Despite only talking once a week and only about Scorpia’s reports, the two of them have hit it off. Adora isn’t surprised.

Glimmer leans in closer. “So what have you found out?”

Scorpia fumbles around in  - is that a closet? - and she accidentally hits the tablet with her claw. "Oh, boy. Okay, so Hordak and Entrapta are working on some big project, I still haven't found out what, but apparently, they need a lot of energy for it. Hordak's sent me and a reckon squad near Mt. Selene to collect samples of this shiny crystal thing - it's very pretty - oh, I should have gotten some to show you -"

“Scorpia,” Adora says gently.

“Right, back to the point,” Scorpia clears her throat. “These crystals apparently generate a lot of power, so Hordak must want them for his project.”

Glimmer stands up so suddenly that her chair scratches the floor. “So if we stop him from getting the crystals we can slow down his experiments!” She’s buzzing with excitement - their last few weeks have been busy with diplomatic meetings, so this is going to be their first battle in a while. “This is great information, Scorpia!”

The other woman beams. “Thank you! I have to go now, they’re calling me for drills.” She waves at them and the tablet switches off.

“Where is Mt. Selene?” Adora asks.

"It's the tallest mountain on the south side of Etheria," Bow explains. That must be why Adora didn't recognize the name; it had a different one in the maps she studied in the Horde. "The Magicats' kingdom used to be at its base."

Adora’s smile falls from her face. The Magicats. Her mind goes back to that night with Angella in the hallway, the pain in the queen’s voice as she spoke of her dear friend.

Catra.

“We should get ready to leave,” Glimmer says, pacing up and down. “Mt. Selene is a day’s travel from here. We should get there as soon as we can.”

Adora nods. She doesn’t think she can speak; even now, just a simple reminder of Catra makes her throat shut, her heart ache. Can you be homesick for a person? 

I should bring something for her when we leave, she thinks as she does her nightly workout. She's been learning more about Bright Moon's funeral traditions lately - spurred on by her grief and her compulsive need to be in constant control. For as much as she's cried over Catra, she knows the rest of Bright Moon have only ever seen her as an enemy, and she doesn't want that to be the only trace of Catra left in the world. The ruins of Halfmoon seem a good place to lay her tribute - somewhere Catra could have been happy, had things been different. 

That night, she falls asleep on her desk trying to figure out what to curve on Catra’s tombstone. From between her fingers, four words stand out against the paper.

I miss your smile. 


The night is quiet when Catra sneaks out from the Gate. 

People have been preparing to evacuate all day; clothes, personal possessions, food, anything they can carry has been shoved into bags and sacks. At school, Catra had to calm down five different kids who were crying because they didn't want to leave. Yet as much as she brought it up to Imra, her mother didn't listen to her. At this rate, they would be ready to abandon Halfmoon in a day.

Not if Catra had anything to say about that. 

No one seems to be awake in the Horde camp when she reaches it, hiding among the trees. All the better for her. She circles the camp once, just to make sure, before slipping between the soldiers’ tents toward the hulking tank at the clearing’s edge. If she’s right, and she must be, they will be using it as headquarters for the duration of the mission. The equipment that controls the drill must be there, and if she destroys it then maybe…

She’s kneeling in front of the tank’s door, her claws unsheathed as she works on the lock, when the door hisses open. Her heart stops - she can’t get away fast enough from this position, and whoever the soldier is, they’ve seen her. Fuck, she came here to protect Halfmoon and she’ll be dooming them all.

But there’s no stunt baton aimed at her face - only a whimpering exhale, “Wildcat?”

And there, standing above Catra, illuminated by the harsh light of the tank, is Scorpia. Scorpia whose arms are shaking and who’s looking at Catra like she just saw a ghost.

“H-hey,” Catra says, wiggling her fingers at Scorpia. She really didn’t plan for this.

Scorpia staggers toward her, her mouth hanging open and she's stammering like she forgot how to speak. "I-I… y-you…" She raises her claws and Catra thinks she's coming in for a hug, but her arms drop to her sides, as if touching Catra will somehow make her disappear. "I thought you were dead."

I can’t have heard that right. “What?”

“That’s what…” A sob tears it’s way out of Scorpia’s throat like a firework,  loud and startling to the both of them. “The report said you jumped off the plain transporting you to Beast Island and killed yourself.”

Catra can’t move - it’s as if she got slapped. And really, isn’t this just like her! She escaped, she run away, and for all the soul-searching and introspection and trying-to-better-herself, she never once thought about the consequences her actions would have. What if her plan did work and the Horde thought she was dead? Who would that hurt?

Fucking no one, she thought, so deep in her self-loathing and destructive tendencies that she ignored the people who actually cared for her. Ignored poor Scorpia - kind, golden-hearted Scorpia - who was nothing but a good friend to her.

And she hurt her. She hurt her so much and she didn’t even realize it.

“B-But you’re alive!” Scorpia gasps, a wild, desperate smile on her lips. Pinch me so I know I’m not dreaming, it seemed to say. “H-how? You know what, it doesn’t matter! Oh, I’m so happy!”

“Scorpia, shh!” Catra’s eyes dart around. Thankfully no one seems to have woken up - thank the Horde drills for exhausting people to the bone.

“Oh! Right, sorry.” Scorpia covers her mouth with her pincers, but Catra sees her smiling behind them. “Where have you been all this time?”

Scorpia doesn’t mean it as an accusation, but it hits Catra as one. Where have you been? Why have you let Scorpia hurting, thinking you’re dead? 

She goes to answers, but she stops. Scorpia is still with the Horde, the same Horde the Magicats are hiding from. Should she really tell her?

It’s Scorpia. You can trust her.

“I… Ok, you can’t let anyone know about this,” she says. “No one. They don’t want the Horde to find them.”

Scorpia nods, if a little confused. “Of course, wildcat.”

Catra takes a deep breath. “The Magicats, the people who used to live at the foot of this mountain… they’re still alive. They took me in after I escaped.”

Scorpia’s eyes go comically wide. “You found-” Catra hisses at her to be quiet. “You found your family?” Scorpia whisper-shouts.

“Yeah.” Catra swallows around the lump in her throat. “And if the Horde tries to excavate Crystal Star from the mountain, they will find them.” Scorpia pales, white as a corpse, and the knowledge of what will befall them if that happens hangs heavy over them. “They’re planning to evacuate, but if they do… They’ll be living in fear for the rest of their lives. They’ll be trapped. I can’t let that happen!” She’s panicking, fuck, she has to stop panicking, but she’s all alone in this and her time is running out. 

So she takes Scorpia’s pincers in her hands, holding on so tight that her knuckles have gone white. “Scorpia, please help me!”

Scorpia’s mouth is hanging open. 

Then she giggles. “Oh, wow, this worked out very well.”

“What?”

The Force Captain leans in close, glancing left and right to make sure there's nobody around, and then she whispers, "I'm a double agent." She winks at Catra and pulls herself upright like she didn't just drop a bombshell. "After I thought you died, I started working as a spy for the Princess Alliance. Well, I was really mad at Adora first, but then I became a spy. They're coming to stop the excavation themselves. They should be getting here tomorrow."

Before Catra can process everything she heard, Scorpia gasps. “Oh, goodness! Adora will be so shocked when she sees you! This whole thing has not been easy for her. I told her to go to therapy, or maybe a support group, I think it would really help her, but she hasn’t listened to me yet-”

“Could you not tell her?”

“What?”

Catra bites her lip to stop it from trembling. “Can you not tell Adora about me?”

“I… Yes, but I’m sure she would be happy to see you,” Scorpia flounders. Her voice is so gentle, so kind, and Catra doesn't deserve it. Her claws dig into her clenched fists, shaking at her sides no matter how hard she tries to keep still. "I don't think she'd be mad at you, if that's what you're worried about."

She can’t look up, she can’t look at Scorpia, not with her eyes burning like this. “But I’m mad at myself.” Her whisper is almost lost in the rustling of the leaves, but Scorpia hears it. 

Scorpia may forgive her, Adora may forgive her, but Catra isn’t sure she can. How can she when the memories of her actions ignite a fire in her, shame and anger burning so bright it threatens to set her ablaze from the inside? 

Maybe then she’ll be good.

“Oh, wildcat,” Scorpia croons. “You haven’t done anything wrong-”

“I have,” she cuts her off. “Look, Scorpia… I’m sorry. I was hurt, and confused, and I just wanted to be angry and hate everything, but you were such a good friend to me. You were patient, and you tried to help me, and you cared about me, and I thought you were just a nuisance. You didn’t deserve the way I treated you. I was a bad friend. I’m sorry.” Catra pants. She wonders if this, apologizing for her wrongdoings, will always be so difficult, like climbing a mountain with boulders strapped to her back.

But I’d still do it. 

She breathes deeply and her eyes drop away from Scorpia’s gaze. She can’t see the rejection on her face. “If you… if you can forgive me and take me back, I want to be better.”

Her stupid, traitorous lips are trembling and she wants to bolt away, but then Scorpia cradles her hands with her pincers and says, “Of course, wildcat.”

And Catra can’t, she can’t handle this, so she throws herself at Scorpia and wraps her arms around her. “Thank you,” she says, her face buried in Scorpia’s shoulder. “For everything.”

Catra leaves soon after, her eyes still wet with tears but her heart lighter. This will work out, she thinks. And then, just as she closes the Gate behind her, she hears Maya speak.

“Out for a midnight stroll?”

Catra jumps, her hair standing on edge so she looks twice her normal size. “Shit” 

Of course, of course, she would get caught! Right after everything was going so well!

“I can explain,” she starts, because that isn’t the most guilty thing you can say, but Nino cuts her off.

“It’s okay, we know.” He smirks and honestly, how did she think he was the calm one? “And we want in.”

“W-what?”

“You didn’t think you were doing this alone, right?” Maya continues. “There’s no way we’re letting the Horde push us deeper underground.”

Nino nods, throwing an arm around Catra’s and Maya’s shoulders. “We’re in this together.”

Chapter Text

The evacuation was tonight. 

By tonight, the Magicats would abandon Halfmoon. By tonight, they would leave the place they had lived in for centuries behind. 

By tonight the Horde would win.

It's dark in the tunnel leading to the Gate, as it must be outside, too early in the day for any light to creep over the horizon. Catra hasn't slept at all, the adrenaline from last night and the anticipation for today not letting her rest.

She runs through the plan again with Maya and Nino; they would let She-Ra and her friends drive away the Horde and help from the shadows, unseen. 

"Understood?" she asks. 

"Yes," Maya and Nino answer together. 

And then, a much smaller, "Yeah!" 

Catra whips around. Sari is behind her, her black hair pulled back in a braid, wearing a traditional Magicat breastplate that's too big for her. 

"What are you doing here?" 

"I came to help," Sari says, like it's a given and Catra is stupid to ask. 

"No. You're going back right now." 

"I can help!" she protests, clenching her fists and standing as tall as she's able. "You taught me how to fight, I can do this!" Then, so quietly that she wouldn't ve heard if not for the silence of the early morning, "I don’t want to leave Halfmoon." 

Nino and Maya glance at each other nervously, then at Catra. What are we supposed to do?

Catra sighs, kneeling down so she and Sari are at eye level. "I know you can do this, Sari. But you're young-" 

"I'm almost thirteen!" 

"And you're still a child. I'm not putting you in the battlefield. One child soldier is enough for Halfmoon." 

Sari glares at her feet. "I still want to help somehow," she mumbles. 

"Then cover for us," Catra says. "Imra can't know where we are, and if she finds us before the Horde is defeated this will all be for nothing." She smirks and bumps Sari on the shoulder. "Think you can be our double agent?" 

Sari nods. "I won't let you down." 

She runs back to Halfmoon and Catra watches her go, until her tail disappears behind a corner. At least she’ll be safe. She sees the same thought in Maya’s and Nino’s eyes; sticking to the shadows doesn’t mean there’s no risk in what they’re about to do and they all know it.

They spent the next few hours sowing chaos in the Horde camp. Scorpia has already laid the groundwork for them and they make sure the soldiers don’t have an easy day. They set off alarms and creep in the barracks making noises so that, by the time the sky is bright, none of the soldiers have slept for more than five consecutive minutes. They destroy half of the day’s rations and break enough things that by midday the drill hasn’t been activated once, everybody too busy with repairs and locating equipment that went mysteriously missing. 

Everybody in the camp is tired, frustrated and unnerved. At one point, a young soldier worried that they were being haunted by the ghosts of the Magicats.

“I like this plan,” Nino says. They’re hidden in the trees, high enough that they can’t be heard, watching the mess they created. 

“Ruining things is fun, " Maya adds, giggling and Catra huffs. For once, things are going according to plan.

"It's a bummer we won't get to talk with the Princess Alliance," Maya continues. "I mean, I get why we can't, but like… She-Ra! You know? You don't get to meet a buff warrior goddess every day. I wanted to see if I'm taller." 

Nino chokes out a laugh. "Halfmoon's safety is on the line, and you're disappointed you won't get to arm-wrestle with She-Ra?" It really is ridiculous when you put it like that and Maya laughs. Catra is glad they're keeping their spirits up; this is a stressful situation regardless, and being this close to even just a portion of the army who killed their families can't be easy for them. 

Still, her mind wanders off. 

Soon, Adora will come. Adora who warmed her bed, Adora who seemed to make her feel every emotion at once, Adora… who thinks she's dead. 

The guilt strikes her like a venomous snake, slithering just out of sight and then suddenly striking, so powerful it could bring her to her knees. She can’t bear to think what she would do if she thought Adora was dead. What do you do when someone who meant so much is gone, forever, taking your heart along with them? She’d rather spend the rest of her life in a tiny cell with only Shadow Weaver for company than have to know.

If Adora even cares that much about you, that treacherous voice says. Maybe she’s only mourning the memory of your friendship and not who you became. Maybe she never loved you the same way.

And fucking hell, it hurts - a crushing weight pushing down on her heart, squeezing it until it has nothing more to give. It leaves her breathless, frightened to the bone - because she doesn't care. If Adora took her back, if she let her be her friend again, then she wouldn't care about the pain. She'd hold onto this helpless, hopeless love and live content as her friend.

It's more than you deserve anyway. Maybe she has finally realized it. Catra bites her lip to hold back her whimper. 

She's such a coward. Nothing but a spineless fool. Adora will come, she will fight off the Horde, and Catra will remain hidden, all because she's terrified. Terrified that she'll show herself to Adora, lay her heart out in front of her like a tribute, and Adora will turn it away. Any apologies Catra offers will be useless because she damaged their relationship beyond repair, broke it to a thousand razor-sharp pieces, and Adora doesn't want to cut herself on it anymore. 

She won't be able to stand rejection in those sky blue eyes, she knows it. It'll ruin her. 

So she hides like a rat. Isn't that ironic? 

Nino bumps her shoulder and she turns around, following his pointed finger to the Horde camp. The princess of Bright Moon teleports deeper into camp, the archer guy and Adora on her side as she leaves trails of sparkles behind her. Honestly, how is that power supposed to be good for stealth missions?

“Isn’t that blonde one wearing a Horde uniform?” Maya whispers.

Catra’s throat tightens and before she can answer, Nino says, “Wait, is she that friend you told us about? The one who defected?”

 She nods. “Adora,” she says, as if a simple word can explain a lifetime of experiences and feelings shared with this disaster of a girl. As if she can ever make them understand how much she longs to be the one beside her.

Below them, the archer guy - Bow is his name, now she remembers - trips on a box of equipment and the arrow he was holding shoots out. It hits right beside a soldier’s head with a thunk. Suddenly, the camp is in chaos. Soldiers pour forward and the sparkly princess - Glimmer? - slaps her forehead before punching a guy in the face.

Maya’s eyes dart around the clearing. “Where’s She-Ra?” 

As if on cue, Adora raises her sword above her head. “For the honor of Grayskull!” When the bright light of her transformation disappears, She-Ra is standing there, in all her ridiculously tall glory.

Maya and Nino are gapping like fish. Ok, She-Ra might be impressive, but this is too much- 

“Your friend is She-Ra?” Nino whisper-yells.

What? “Yeah?” Why are they so surprised? Hadn’t they gone over that?

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I hadn’t mentioned it?”

“No!” Maya hisses. “You definitely didn’t mention your childhood friend can turn into a legendary buff warrior goddess!”

Catra shrugs. She never really got why everyone was so obsessed with She-Ra. “She’s always just been Adora.”

Even now, despite her new height and tiara, she still grins the same way when she gets a hit in, she still moves in a way that Catra knows like her own name. Adora attacks, parries and dodges, and Catra’s body aches with the muscle memory of how she used to cover Adora’s openings in training. In those moments, they didn’t feel like two separate people.

The battle picks up in the clearing, things escalating quickly. The soldiers might be tired and on edge, but the Horde does its damndest to make fighting when you’re dead tired seem like a minor annoyance. Adora and Glimmer both get hit in the side and Catra regrets not having broken more of the soldiers’ weapons when she had the chance. 

Come on, Adora, she thinks as a soldier lands a hit on her with their stunt baton. They rush at her in droves, leaving her barely enough time to fight one off before another is attacking again. Glimmer and Bow are both busy with their own opponents, too far away to offer her any help. You’re better than this, Adora. Come on, you can’t lose to these extras!

But as good a fighter as Adora is, there’s too many soldiers coming at her, the frustration of a restless night fuelling their movements and making them reckless. Just as Adora fights one off, another kicks her legs out from under her. She crumbles to her knees, her sword slipping her grasp and cluttering to the ground.

A soldier stands behind her, his weapon aimed to shoot her in the back.

Catra can’t breathe. Nino gasps next to her and Glimmer calls out Adora’s name from the clearing, but they sound distant, as if Catra is deep underwater, drowning. All she sees is Adora on her knees, reaching out for her sword, too slow, as the soldier’s finger edges closer to the trigger.

It flashes before her eyes for a split second, the shot landing square on Adora’s back, red blooming from her wound as she collapses, never to move again.

No no no no.

Catra doesn’t know she’s moving until her feet hit the ground.


Shit shit shit. 

This is not going well. This was supposed to be a simple mission, yet they're in so much trouble. They're clearly outnumbered and the normal methodical fighting of Horde soldiers is replaced by a frenzy that leaves Adora facing too many enemies at once. 

Oh yeah, and she dropped her sword!

The buzzing of the weapon preparing to fire whistles over her shoulder and she scrambles for her sword. Come one, come on! You can't die here! 

She grabs the sword just as the whistling stops - the weapon is ready to shoot. She whirls around, shifting the sword into a shield and braces herself for impact. 

But it never comes. 

Air rushes over her head, rustling her hair, and the shot lands on a tree far behind her. Bright sparks light up the sky like fireworks as the tree collapses with an earth-shaking 'boom'.

Why didn't that hit me? 

Adora lowers her shield, peeking over it. All air leaves her lungs. 

No… 

Someone stands in front of her, protecting her from the Horde soldier. On the back of her leather jacket is a cat sitting between the points of a crescent moon. The embers from the blast reflect off her sharp claws, buried deep in the weapon like it's made of paper. 

It… it can't… 

The girl throws the weapon away and the soldier falls to the ground, scurrying away. There are sharp feline ears on the girl's head, folded back against her scalp. Her tail lashes from side to side like a whip... 

Her ears unfold as she turns to Adora. Yellow and blue eyes glint behind messy bangs, a star map of freckles on her cheeks. 

Adora’s heart isn’t beating. She's dead, she must have died and this is all a hallucination as her brain shuts down. There's no other logical explanation. It can't be… 

"Catra?" 

"Hey, Adora." Catra smiles, that crooked smile Adora sees in her dreams, and it steals her breath away.

Before Adora can say anything - you’re alive, how are you alive, where have you been, I’ve missed you so much - there are screams to her right as a soldier Glimmer was fighting falls to the ground. A girl with cat ears like Catra’s kicks off another soldier, stopping them from getting too close to Adora.

“So much for staying hidden,” she tells Catra, yet despite her tone she doesn’t seem mad about it.

“Oh, shut up,” Catra spits back, grinning as she fights off a soldier that the girl missed.

There’s a blur on Adora’s other side and suddenly there’s another cat-person there, with differently colored spots all over his body. “We’re gonna be in so much trouble,” he says, even as he dodges a soldier’s punch.

“Like we weren’t already in trouble.” A soldier comes rushing at Catra and she grabs him by the back of his uniform, sending him crashing into another one. Adora is still on the ground, unable to move, and Catra turns to her. “Are you going to stay there?”

And dammit, if this is a dream Adora doesn’t want to wake up. Not when Catra is in front of her, right there , her eyes clear of the hate Adora had gotten so used to seeing. “H-How-”

“I’ll explain everything later.” She holds a hand out to Adora, her claws sheathed. “I promise.”

Adora takes her hand. How many times time have they done this, helping each other up?  It seems so simple, her hand against Catra’s, just like this, yet it brings tear to her eyes. She spent so long away from her - at first fighting against her, then mourning her - that she forgot what Catra’s touch felt like.

It feels like home.

As soon as she’s back on her feet, someone attacks her. She blocks the hit and suddenly everything is pushed to the back of her mind. Maybe she doesn’t know what’s going on or why Catra is here, but she knows how to fight alongside her. She doesn’t have to think about anything - covering Catra’s openings comes to her as natural as breathing. They tear through the soldiers like a hurricane, unstoppable. 

They’re almost at the drill when the shrill noise of a Horde alarm tears through the air. Dozens of soldier pour into the clearing from behind the trees and Scorpia tries to hold them back, but she’s only a pebble inside a river. 

“Fuck, there wasn’t supposed to be this many,” Catra curses as she pushes back two soldiers. 

“So the kitty is alive, huh?”

They both whip around. Octavia marches through the mayhem like she’s already won, an ugly sneer on her lips.

“Octavia,” Catra hisses, glaring at the Force Captain like she wants to tear her tongue out for calling her ‘kitty’. “What are you doing here?”

“Lord Hordak suspected that your little friend over there was a traitor, and it looks like he was right.” Octavia cracks her knuckles. “I’m here to clean out the mess. Maybe I’ll bring him a cat fur as a souvenir.”

Catra lunges at her and her claws leave red marks on Octavia’s cheek. “You talk too much.”

Catra and Adora fight off Octavia together, but it quickly becomes clear this won’t be an easy win. With her tentacles, Octavia is like two people in one, and they’re both getting tired from fighting for this long. Adora’s arms are aching. They must be outnumbered ten to one.

I don’t know how long I can last like this.

Catra attacks, but one of Octavia’s tentacles lashes out, hitting her across the stomach and sending her flying like a ragdoll. Catra cries out as she hits the ground and Adora dashes in front of her, blocking Octavia’s attacks.

“Ready to give up?” The Force Captain snarls.

Adora’s sword strikes one of Octavia’s tentacles, cutting the tip off. “Fuck you,” she spits out, even as her heart beats frantically. They’re up against way too many people, and if it comes down to endurance they’re done for. She needs to end this quickly, somehow.

Maybe if Swift Wind was here…

A roar echoes through the clearing. It’s so loud the ground seems to shake and Adora’s eyes dart to the drill, afraid someone activated it, but it’s still. The roar comes again, closer this time, and Adora realizes that the ground is shaking. Nobody moves, weapons and fists raised like someone froze them in place. 

That’s when they come.

There must be a hundred of them, the light reflecting off their bronze armor like they’re a forest fire. “For Halfmoon!” a giant man shouts as he rushes into the fray, followed by a hunched over old woman using her walking stick as a staff. Adora sees swords and lances and claws flashing as they attack the Horde soldiers, pushing them back, but also frying pans and a rolling pin. 

And right in the middle of it all, standing atop a tall boulder, is a great beast with golden eyes.

The beast roars once more before jumping off the boulder. It leaps between the fighting Magicats and crashes headfirst into Octavia, flicking her off like she’s just a bug. The beast growls, a low rumbling sound that makes Adora’s bones shake. When it turns towards them - towards Catra, Adora realizes as the beast strides to her - it’s expression relaxes. It nuzzles into Catra, purring, and helps her stand.

“You came,” Catra says, breathless. The beast nods, nuzzling into her again, before turning to where Octavia is picking herself off the ground. It growls and Catra grins, flexing her claws. “Let’s do this.”

With the Magicats’ help, they push the Horde back farther and farther away from Mt. Selene. With the path cleared, Adora slices the drill in half and one of Bow’s explosive arrows destroys the Horde’s stash of Crystal Star. Only a few stubborn soldiers are left now, bruised and unsteady on their feet.Octavia stands in front of them, a hand clamped over the claw marks the beast left on her side. 

Catra and the beast attack, moving in tandem, and before long Octavia is trapped beneath the beast’s paws. She thrashes, trying to break free, but the beast pushes her down and she gasps.

Catra kneels next to her and drags her claws along the side of Octavia’s face, leaving raised red lines next to her good eye. “If you ever,” she snarls, “come back here, I’m going to make sure you never see the moons again.” 

The beast gets off Octavia and she drags herself away through the dirt. “R-retreat,” she wheezes. Then, louder, “Retreat!”

Silence falls over the forest as the last of the decimated Horde army runs away and for a moment nobody moves. Then the cheers erupt like fireworks.

“We did it!”

“I can’t believe it!”

“We really drove the Horde away!”

The beast shifts and in its place stands a woman with Catra’s mask around her face and warm golden eyes. The Magicats surge forward, gathering around Catra and the woman, pumping their fists in the air. Each and every one of them is smiling, some with tears glistening down their cheeks. Their joy is so overwhelming it knocks the air from Adora’s chest.

A chant rolls through the crowd of Magicats, quiet at first, then louder and louder, until it rings through the air like a heartbeat. “Princess Catra! Princess Catra! Princess Catra!”

“Okay,” Glimmer says, “what the fuck is going on?”

But Adora doesn’t listen to her, her eyes stuck on Catra as she ruffles the hair of a short, black-haired Magicat. Catra with her short fluffy hair, Catra who’s smiling, Catra who’s right there.

Catra is alive.


Catra feels so alive.

The people of Halfmoon are crowded around her, cheering her name amidst cries of victory. Their happiness is a tangible thing, buzzing in the air, warm around them like a hug. They’ve spent so many years terrified, carrying this weight on them even in their happiest moments, and now it’s finally gone. They did it,they protected their home, they won against the Horde.

Catra laughs. It bubbles out of her throat, light and airy. 

“You came,” she says again, turning to Imra. Among the excitement and the uproar of the crowd, her mother is quiet, taking everything in as if it’s a wish she never thought would come true. “Why?”

“Well,” Imra chuckles, gesturing to the side with her head, “it turns out one of your students gives a great inspirational speech.” Catra’s eyes fall on Sari, who’s hugging her parents. The girl’s ears twitch and, realizing they’re talking about her, she smiles sheepishly.

“Is that so?” Catra grins, ruffling Sari’s hair and she laughs. “Disrespecting orders, huh?”

“To my defense,” Sari says, “the order was crap and this worked out much better.”

Catra rolls her eyes, but it’s hard to stop smiling when she’s so happy. “Oh, shut up, twerp.”

Sari sticks her tongue out before running back to her parents. 

Despite the cheers and laughter around her, Imra is serious. She bites down on her lip and her hands clench and unclench at her sides. “I’m sorry, Catra,” she says. “We both wanted to protect Halfmoon, but I was a coward-”

Catra’s blood runs cold. She was so overwhelmed with the fact that they won that she forgot her fight with Imra. “You weren’t-” she starts, because she can’t blame her mother for being afraid, not after everything that happened to her and her people because of the Horde. 

But she did it anyway. She can still feel the fabric of Imra’s nightclothes slipping between her fingers, see her face as she pulled away from Catra. She can’t ruin this, she can’t.

Imra shakes her head. “I was. I lost so many people that I was terrified of losing anyone ever again. I thought I was doing what was best for us by hiding us away, but,” Imra wraps her arms around herself, smiling softly at the people of Halfmoon as they celebrate, “they look so happy now.” 

“I’m sorry too,” Catra rushes to say. She needs to apologize and clear things now, even if it still feels strange to do. She can’t ignore her feelings - or Imra’s - and let the resentment build until it explodes and destroys one more of her relationships. “I… I said some things I shouldn’t have, just to be hurtful, and I’m sorry.”

Catra averts her eyes, too nervous to look at her mother, but not before she catches Imra’s mouth form a small ‘o’, her eyes glistening with something Catra hopes is happiness.

“And,” Imra takes Catra’s hands in hers, making her look at her, “I’m sorry for not listening to you. You’re right. You are their  princess, and you’re a damn good one.” Imra combs a lock of Catra's hair back and cups her face. It takes Catra a moment to realize she didn’t flinch away. “I’m so proud of you.”

Catra’s heart is too big for her chest. Her eyes well up with tears and she nuzzles into her mother’s palm. “Thank you, mom.”

Imra freezes. A smile spreads over her lips like an explosion and she tugs Catra into her arms. She’s hugging her so close Catra feels her mother’s shoulders shake with her laughter. “I love you so much,” she whispers into Catra’s hair.

Catra opens her mouth to speak, her lips trembling, but the words get stuck in her throat. She’s so full - of love, of happiness, of relief - that she might rip at the seams, and she’s so, so warm. But she never wants it to stop. She nods against her mother’s shoulder and she feels a laugh hitch out of Imra’s chest.

When they pull away, Imra wipes the tears from Catra’s eyes.

“C-Catra…”

Her ears twitch and she turns around. Adora is there, her hand hovering in the air like she wants to reach out and touch her. The day is shifting into night and the soft light makes Adora’s wet eyes look like crystals.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra breathes out, like the words were punched out of her. They might as well have been when Adora is so close.

Something in Adora seems to break at those words and she rushes forward, tackling Catra so hard they fall in a heap on the ground.

“Woah, Adora-” Catra starts saying, but then Adora’s arms are around her and she forgets how to breathe.

“I-I thought you died,” she says through her sobs. Her whole body shakes with them, like a leaf in the wind, and she seems just as fragile.

“I’m sorry,” Catra whispers, and as she wraps her arms around Adora, light like air, her mind is filled with every other time her hands left bruises and cuts behind. “I swear I’ll explain everything.”

“G-good.” Adora tries to laugh but it turns into a sob. Her hands fist into the fabric of Catra’s clothes, as if she will disappear if she doesn’t hold on. “Please don’t ever do that again.”

Catra lets her eyes close as she buries her face into the crook of Adora’s neck. “I won’t,” she says, pulling Adora closer.

Once upon a time, hugging Adora was easy. It was a part of her, as instinctive as breathing. They worked together, their edges and curves fitting perfectly against each other. Being with Adora was easy.

But they’re different people now. They grew apart from each other, shattered without the other to put the pieces back together. The Adora in her arms isn’t the one from her childhood, or even that day they stole a skiff together. There’s curves where edges used to be, and sharp points Catra cuts herself against, but…

“I missed you,” Adora murmurs, so soft only Catra hears it, and her tears are warm where they fall on her skin.

Adora is hugging Catra tight, all of her, all of her cracks and sharp edges, like she doesn't mind the sting. Catra isn’t not sure she'll ever be able to let go. And she doesn’t want to. Maybe it will be hard, maybe it will hurt, but she wants to know this Adora.

She wants to be with her.

“I missed you too.”

Chapter Text

Catra has never seen Halfmoon this lively.

They spill out from the Gate’s tunnel like waves, wild and impossible to control. The children that had stayed back poke their heads out from behind windows and door frames, running into their families' arms when they see them coming.

Before Catra knows it, they are in the square in front of the palace. People are dragging out tables and chairs from their homes, arranging them in a haphazard circle around a still unlit bonfire. There’s cheers and songs as they bring out any food, meat or drink that they have. It’s pure chaos, a hundred things going on at once.

And Catra loves it.

Otto heaves a log as big as Catra’s torso onto the pile and it almost hit her on the head. “Watch where you’re throwing that thing!” Catra calls out, despite her own smile. Otto’s laugh is loud and booming as he goes to get more firewood.

Somebody, Catra doesn’t manage to see who, hands her a large bowl of salad and Catra carries it to the table all the rest of the food has been set on. She weaves through the children running and playing. When one crashes into her legs, she play-roars at him and he runs off squealing in delight.

“There’s enough food here to feed an army,” she says as she sets the bowl down. Maya and Nino are skewering pieces of meat and vegetables on sticks, pilling them in a wide round platter in front of them.

“And we’re going to eat it all!” Maya cheers, pumping her half-finished skewer in the air. Nino cheers as well, copying her, and they clink their sticks together like they’re fancy glasses.

Adora chuckles from beside them. Glimmer and Bow had to excuse themselves so they could contact the Rebellion through their tablet and inform them of everything that happened, so Adora stayed back to help with the impromptu party. She chops up the meat and vegetables in neat pieces before passing them to Nino and Maya.

Catra smiles softly at her. Adora’s eyes are still red from crying - no wonder her’s are too - and for once her hair is down from its ponytail, some of it pulled back from her face. Catra vaguely remembers some scientific mambo jumbo Entrampta told her once, about elements that are only activated in the presence of other elements. She wonders if this is what it feels like - her whole body buzzes when Adora is near and she becomes hyper-aware of every inch of her body.

Adora smiles back at her, her cheeks flushed and her eyes warm. They still haven’t talked about everything, but Adora’s smile gives her hope that maybe everything will be alright.

“Everybody!” Imra yells, stomping her feet on the ground to make some noise. In her hand is a lit torch, its flames dancing in joy. “Gather up!”

People stop what they were doing move closer to their Queen, forming a loose circle around the pile of firewood.

“I don’t need to say today is an important day,” Imra starts, her voice loud. “And it’s one I didn’t expect to come. When you’re scared, it easily becomes the only thing you know. It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable and put yourself at risk of being hurt again for a better future you’re too afraid to believe in.”

Imra gestures to Catra to come forward. She offers her the torch. “But it came.” Catra wraps her hand around the torch, right below Imra’s fingers. “Today is a new beginning for Halfmoon. It may be tough, but we’re taking the first step. We won’t hide anymore.”

Together they raise the torch. “For Halfmoon!” Catra bellows.

“For Halfmoon!”

“For Princess Catra!”

Catra smirks at her mom. “Is that all you have?" she yells at the crowd. They yell back at her, a stampede, clapping their hands and stumping their feet. "I've heard children louder than you!”

“For Halfmoon!”

“FOR HALFMOON!”

There's no stopping the feast then. They throw the torch onto the pile of wood and it catches fire at once. The flames climb higher and higher, like they want to touch the ceiling of the cave and break out into the night. They cast the whole square in bright amber light, making everyone's shadow long and flickering, ribbons trailing behind them as they dance. 

And dance they do, until Catra’s feet ache and her lungs burn. Scorpia twirls around the fire with young Magicats hanging from her exoskeleton, a ball of fabric wrapped around the tip of her tail so she doesn't sting anyone. "Are you trying to steal my job?" Catra asks as she scoops a child off her, laughing as Scorpia spins her. 

Her mom tries to teach her a dance that was popular when she was young, but Catra only succeeds in accidentally slapping Otto, who's doing a much better job. She dances with Nino and Maya as well, though it would be more adequately described as shaking. Adora, Glimmer, and Bow dance right beside them and the way Adora's hair catches the firelight makes her step on Nino three times. 

It’s only after she finishes her dance with Sari, passing her hand to Jin, that she finally gets to sit down. Adora and her friends are there, sharing a table with her mom. 

“Not that I’m not enjoying the party,” Glimmer says as Catra piles food onto her plate, “but are we sure it’s a good idea? Who knows when the Horde will come back?”

Catra is about to respond - she’s not about to let this sparkling gremlin ruin this for her people - when Scorpia pops up. “Oh, they won’t be back soon,” she says with a smile, shooing the children on her off and sitting down beside Catra. 

“You can’t be sure-”

“Let her talk, Sparkles,” Catra, resisting her urge to roll her eyes. The princess is practically fuming, but that’s what she gets for assuming Catra would leave her people open for an attack.

“Thanks, Catra! Yeah, so Entrapta and I talked. Catra’s “death”,” Scorpia says, making air quotes with her pincers, “affected her pretty hard. I mean, I gave her mini cupcakes to cheer her up so many times, and she kept refusing them! I swear, that girl throws herself into her work when she doesn’t know how to deal with something -”

“Scorpia,” Catra says.

“Right! The point. So Entrapta was not in a good place after Catra supposedly died. She had a whole argument with Hordak, and she said she can’t keep doing science with him if he values it more than people’s lives. She made this big graph about the statistically best ways she could oppose the Horde and - well, spying was number one. So she came to me and said she knows I’m a spy and that she wants to help. We messed with Hordak’s test results for Crystal Star together.”

Everyone is gaping at Scorpia and Catra crosses her arms, smiling like a smug bastard.

“So what does that mean?” Imra asks. She sounds so innocent, but Catra sees how her eyes glint. She only asked so Catra would have an excuse to keep going. This woman really is her mother.

Catra leans back, balancing her chair on two legs. She’s staring right at the sparkling princess, even if she’s supposed to be answering her mum. “It means that as far as Hordak is concerned, Crystal Star is useless to him. He won’t rush to attack; he’s too arrogant to think that Halfmoon is an issue that needs to be dealt with right away.”

If Glimmer was fuming before she looks about ready to erupt now. Seems like being a princess herself doesn’t make it easier for Catra to get along with her. Sparkles opens her mouth to talk back but the tablet on the table suddenly switches on.

“Glimmer, send someone to open the Gate,” the Queen of Bright Moon says, the sound of rushing air pouring out from the tablet.

“Mum, where are you? What are you doing?”

“I’m flying to Halfmoon. I’m almost there.”

“Mum, wait-”

“Glimmer, my best friend was apparently alive all these years, I can’t wait. Open the damn Gate!”

Imra’s chair scrapes against the floor and falls over with a bang. She tears through the crowd of celebrating Magicats like a woman possessed. Catra runs behind her, Adora and her friends struggling to keep up with them. Halfmoon and the tunnels go by in a flash. They burst out of the Gate, panting. 

Imra’s eyes scan the sky frantically, but there’s nothing beside the moons.

“Maybe she’s not here yet-” Adora starts, when a figure dives down from behind the clouds.

The Queen of Bright Moon flies right into Imra, picking her up as she flies higher and higher. Their laughter echoes into the night like they’re suddenly children again, hiding under their blanket after curfew. They twirl and loop around, Queen Angella throwing Imra upwards before catching her again as she falls.

They finally land, wide smiles on both their faces like crescent moons. Queen Angella’s lips tremble and tears spill down her cheeks. “Oh, First Ones, I can’t believe-” Her voice breaks and she pulls Imra into her arms, burying her face into her friend's hair. Imra’s hands clench around the fabric of Angella’s clothes as they hug, shaking with sobs and relieved laughter.

“I’m sorry I let you think I was dead all these years,” Imra says when they pull apart. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Angella shakes her head. “You had to protect your people, I understand.” She laughs and it bubbles out of her throat like she’s filled with so much joy she can’t hold it in. “But skies, am I glad you’re alive.”

They dissolve into laughter again, tears in their eyes. Catra stands back with the rest and watches as her mother gets to meet her best friend after almost two decades. She doesn’t need Imra to tell her to know that the Queen of Bright Moon is someone who’s shared her happiness before, who kept her secrets like they were her own.

“Is Felix here?” Angella asks. Imra’s face darkens, but she doesn’t manage to say anything. Angella gasps as the realization hits her and she covers her mouth with her hand. “Oh, Imra…”

Imra’s lips tighten into a thin line and she shakes her head. Angella hugs her again. “I’m sorry,” she says, and somehow the words feel heavier coming from her, more meaningful. “Micah too.”

Imra huffs and holds her friend close. “Guess we can start a support group, huh?”

Angella chuckles and that must have been unexpected because Sparkles looks surprised. “Yeah, for queens with dead husbands and reckless daughters.”

“I’m not-” Catra and Glimmer start protesting at the same time. They immediately close their mouths again.

Imra grins and takes Angella closer to the others. “I take it you’ve met Catra.”

“That’s one way to put it.”

Catra clenches her hands, shame rolling down her spine. “I’m sorry for kidnapping your daughter,” she blurts out. She doesn’t want to look the Queen in the eyes, but she forces herself to anyway. “And for attacking your kingdom.”

Queen Angella’s surprised face is the same as her daughter’s, as it seems. “I can’t say those things were okay, but thank you for your apology. And,” she pauses, averting her eyes from Catra, but she still sees the guilt in them. “I’m sorry for not keeping you out of the Horde.”

Imra lays her hand on her shoulder. “You couldn’t have known-”

Angella shakes her head. “I did. There was a rescue mission for the stolen Magicats, but we couldn’t find anyone, not even Catra. I’m sorry for letting you down-”

“You didn’t let anyone down,” Imra interrupts, her eyes burning. “You’re not responsible for what happened, and neither am I. Hordak is.”

Angella’s eyes well up again. “You’re right,” she says, her voice breaking. “Well, enough with the crying. We have to celebrate tonight!”

With that, the two queens lead them through the tunnels to Halfmoon.

“Why don’t we get an apology?” Glimmer says, glaring at Catra. “We’re the ones you kidnapped.”

Bow tries to calm her down before Angella or Imra notice, whisper-yelling. “Glimmer she’s obviously sorry-”

Catra crosses her arms. “I hadn’t gotten around to it,” she says, emphasizing every word.  “It’s been a busy day.”

Maybe she shouldn’t be picking fights with Glimmer, but the way her face turned red was worth it. “You-”

“I guess we won’t be in-laws, huh?” Angella asks from the front, loud enough that everyone heard. Adora’s cheeks are puffed out as she tries not to laugh. Sparkles looks horrified.

“Not unless you’ve adopted.” Angella whispers something that sounds like, "I have."

“In-laws?” Catra asks, not understanding why Glimmer looks so terrified, just as she yells, “I am not marrying her!”

Yeah, her expression makes sense now.

“At least there’s one thing we agree on,” Catra says, scrunching her face and sticking her tongue out. Adora has stopped holding back her laughter and has thrown her head back, snorting loudly. 

Glimmer is complaining to her mother about the joke, demanding to know more, but Catra doesn’t hear a thing. She’s too busy looking at Adora, her happy grin and flushed cheeks. Suddenly she’s forgotten about the implication of marrying Sparkles.

The rest of the party goes by in a flash. Imra and Angella are joined at the hip, catching up on seventeen years' worth of news. Maya and Nino eat so much they pass out in their chairs. Glimmer and Bow get drunk on a surprisingly small amount of Magicat booze and are currently telling each other how much they enjoy being friends. 

Catra sidesteps that whole mess just as Scorpia joins in - she’s not drunk, but Catra catches the words “balloon pit” and “pirate-themed party” as she walks by. Her eyes scan the square for Adora. She spots her against the wall of the palace, twisting her sword around for a group of excited children who should really be in bed at this hour.

The kids run off giggling when Catra comes over. Adora’s sword shines and turns into a golden bracelet, wrapping itself around her wrist. “Hey, Catra.”

“Hey, Adora,” she says, ignoring how her heart hiccups. “The sword is a big hit with the kids, huh?”

Adora snorts, plopping down on a bench against the wall. “Oh, yeah. They wanted to hold it, but, uh, that didn’t seem like a good idea.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t trust those gremlins with anything sharp.” Catra shifts her weight to her other leg, her eyes fleeting to the empty space next to Adora. It’s just a bench, don’t be so nervous! She pinches the flesh of her palm and forces herself to sit next to Adora. “Which is bad ‘cause they have claws .”

Adora giggles, just a little too high pitched to be completely natural. At least Catra isn’t the only one anxious. “So,” Adora says, stressing the ‘o’ in an attempt to seem casual about something she clearly wants to ask, “you’re a princess now?”

Catra nods. She tells Adora about everything that happened since the last time they saw each other across the battlefield; waking up in the belly of a Horde plane and jumping off it (Adora had some objections to that), spending a week in the woods with a broken leg and only one working eye, being found by Maya and Nino. She tells her how she found out she’s Imra’s daughter from the unfinished mural - with only a vague reference to her breakdown - how she started helping out with gym lessons and eventually found the Horde camp.

When she finishes, Adora leans back against the wall looking overwhelmed . “Wow,” she says. “That must have been a lot to adjust to.”

Catra huffs. “Oh, it was.” She pauses, unsure of how to ask without reopening wounds that haven’t yet closed, and says, “Was it the same for you too? When you went to Bright Moon?”

Did you miss me, she doesn’t ask, even when you didn’t think I was dead?

Adora takes a second to respond, taken aback, and Catra worries that she shouldn’t have asked, but Adora says, “Yeah. Everything was new and different and,” she fidgets with her bracelet, glancing at Catra, “you weren’t there. It was a lot” Adora snorts, like she didn’t just make hope burst in Catra’s heart. Maybe I still have a chance. 

“I couldn’t sleep the first few nights at Bright Moon,” Adora continues. “The room was too quiet and-”

“The bed was too empty?”

Adora is shocked, it's clear on her face, and Catra wishes so hard she wasn't. Wishes she hadn't made it so her affection was something that surprised Adora. But she can't undo her past actions. 

“Yeah,” Adora whispers, scooting closer to Catra. They're not touching, not quite, but Catra can feel the warmth emanating from her. Adora always ran warmer than her. “I’m happy you’re not with the Horde anymore." She leans forward, shoulders hunched up as if it will keep her words away from prying ears, only for the two of them to hear. "I don’t think I would be able to fight with you again.”

“I don’t want to fight either," Catra says. She stands up so quickly Adora jumps back and she holds out her hand to Adora like she did on the battlefield earlier today. "Come with me?" 

Adora takes her hand. 


 

The palace of Halfmoon is like a maze, full of interweaving corridors and twisting staircases. Adora isn’t sure she could find her way back on her own, but she doesn’t care. She’s only vaguely aware that they’re going higher, but she can’t tear her eyes away from the point where her and Catra’s hands meet, their fingers intertwined. Pressure builds behind her eyes, but she doesn’t cry this time.

It still seems fake, all this. Any moment now she’s going to wake up, cold and shivering in her bed, alone, because everything that happened the last few hours was a dream, a cruel trick played on her by her own mind. Catra isn’t alive and she doesn’t get a second chance to make things right; the world doesn’t work like that.

But maybe it does, because Catra is here, warm and alive, and she doesn’t want to fight anymore.

Finally, they seem to have reached their destination. Catra opens a door at the top of the staircase and they’re out into the night again. The balcony is small, wide enough for a bench, and a few steps deep. The tower stretches out above them, joining the stalactites on the ceiling of the cave like fingers reaching for each other. The shards of Crystal Star embedded in the rock are so close that they cast soft blue and purple light on them.

“Wow,” Adora whispers without realizing. When Catra turns to her, her eyes shine like stars and Adora barely manages not to repeat herself. 

She steps forward, as if in a trance, to the edge of the balcony, Catra’s hand never slipping from her grip. From up here, everything looks small - like she could fit all of Halfmoon in her cupped hands. It’s a serene sight, the whole kingdom laid out in front of her, the bonfire beneath them it’s beating heart.

Adora smiles. “It’s like our spot back in the Fright Zone.”

There’s a choked sound behind her. Catra’s ears flick the way they did when Adora teased her. “W-what?”

Shit, Adora thinks. I said that out loud! “I-I…” she starts, her voice way too loud and frantic. They’ll hear me from all the way down. “W-we always went there together and- and I didn’t ever go there with someone else, s-so… that’s what I always thought of it as.”

Am I panicking? Oh fuck, I’m panicking. Why did you have to embarrass yourself, Adora?

But she can’t help it. She doesn’t know how to act around this Catra - Catra who’s not her childhood friend, but not her enemy either. She doesn’t know what’s too much, what could push her away and make her want to cut Adora from her new life.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Catra says, squeezing her hand. Her eyes dart away, but her tail wraps around Adora’s hand. “I thought of it like that too.”

It’s such a simple thing to say, but it makes Adora’s heart feel too light, as if it will float out of her chest like a balloon. Catra was never forthright about her emotions; back in the Fright Zone, they were always expressed through jokes and lighthearted jabs, insults said so happily they had the opposite meaning. But after their paths split apart and Adora found herself at the point of Catra’s claws, she couldn’t help but doubt. Was all their innocent banter really innocent? Were Catra’s insults when they were playing truly meant to stab? 

Did Catra hate her all this time, but Adora was too blind and stupid to see it?

She squeezes Catra’s hand back and smiles at her, not trusting herself to talk. She’s so full with the hope that she meant as much to Catra as Catra meant to her that she thinks she could burst. She pulls her along to the bench and they sit down, their joined hands resting between them.

She waits for Catra to speak. She must have had a reason to bring her up here, so far above everything else that Adora almost forgets other people exist. 

But Catra says nothing. She avoids Adora’s eyes, glancing at her every few seconds as if to make sure she didn’t disappear. Her tail lashes behind her like a whip. She looks like she wants to bolt away, but her free hand is gripping the bench, keeping her anchored.

“Catra,” Adora starts. Worry is building up in her chest, like the insistently faster beat of a drum.

“I’m sorry!” Catra finally looks her in the eyes and it knocks the air out of Adora’s lungs. Catra’s ears are pinned back against her head, her tail wrapped around herself. She’s wide open and vulnerable, her walls in shambles around her. “I’m sorry for attacking you and your friends, I’m sorry for everything I did and said in the First Ones temple, and…” Her voice breaks. “And I’m sorry for blaming everything on you.”

Adora opens her mouth to speak, to tell Catra it’s alright as long as they’re here now. But Catra’s hold on her hand tightens and she shakes her head. Let me do this, she says and Adora listens to her silence, to the trembling sound of her breathing.

“Back in the Horde, Shadow Weaver always treated you differently than me.” She chuckles, bitter and dry. Adora rubs circles onto her hand, the only thing she can do as Catra tears herself open in front of her. “She wasn’t good to either of us, I know that now, but… it hurt, seeing you get everything I wanted.” Catra takes a shaking breath and a smile plays at the corner of her lips just for a second before it disappears. “And I thought it was fine, because you stayed with me no matter how many times she said I’m useless.”

“But then you defected, and-” Catra’s voice breaks. She closes her eyes and leans back against the wall. Adora sees the claws of her free hand dig into her palm. When she speaks again it’s a whisper. “It- it terrified me. I thought you’d make new, better friends and realize that Shadow Weaver was right all along and I was a good-for-nothing, that you’d abandon me like a pet you got bored of because that’s what she always said I was.”

You’re not, Adora thinks. And then, you’re so important to me, I can never replace you, and a hundred other things she wants to say, that she should have said long ago. But Catra keeps talking and the words stay hanging from her lips. 

“So I was angry, and I didn’t know how to not be angry. A-and I hurt you.” There are tears in Catra’s eyes, small like crystal shards and just as sharp. She tries to blink them away but they cling on persistently, digging into her skin and Adora’s heart. “Because I wanted to prove I wasn’t weak, that-that I was as strong as you - stronger even - and in all this mess I thought that would somehow bring you back.” Catra finally rips her hand from Adora’s hold, wiping her eyes furiously, but the tears refuse to stop. “And- and it’s all such nonsense because you’re the one person in the entire world I never wanted to hurt!”

Adora moves closer, but Catra won’t look up and meet her eyes. “I know none of that excuses what I did, but… I want to make it right. I want to be better - no, I’ll be better.” She hesitates, but reaches out for Adora’s hand. She doesn’t take it; their fingers barely touch, as if Catra is afraid Adora will pull away and it will hurt her less if she doesn’t properly hold her hand. “And… and I want to fix this. Us.”

Catra is still as a statue, only her tail twitching nervously. Adora’s eyes are burning; she wants to wipe that scared look from Catra’s face, like she thinks she ran out of second chances long ago and Adora won’t forgive her.

Adora throws herself at Catra so hard they almost fall off the bench. Catra gasps when Adora wraps her arms around her, but she ignores her, burying her face in the slope of Catra’s neck. First Ones, she’s missed this. She doesn’t think she could move away from Catra even if she wanted to. 

She’s been homesick for too long.

“I thought the whole ‘fix’ thing was my line,” she says softly, her voice hitching higher, but she doesn’t know if it’s from a laugh or a sob.

“Yeah, well, I stole it.” Catra’s hands circle her waist, tentative and light. Adora’s lips tremble. She knows she had missed Catra’s soft side, but she hadn’t realized how much. “So?”

Adora’s laugh is so loud it shakes both of them. She pulls back just enough to look at Catra’s face, her smile so big her cheeks hurt. “Catra, if you think I could ever let go of you’re a dumb-face.”

The moment her words hit is clear. Catra relaxes like a weight has been taken off her, and a fresh wave of tears wells up in her eyes.

“And,” Adora starts before she loses her courage, “since we’re apologizing... I’m sorry for always acting like you were my responsibility. I thought I was helping, that I was protecting you, but I only made you feel like Shadow Weaver was right.” Catra looks like she wants to say something, but Adora cuts her off.  “And she wasn’t right; I never thought she was, but I should have said it more. I shouldn’t have taken it for granted that you knew how amazing you are to me.”

Catra dives forward to hide her face in Adora’s shoulder, but Adora doesn’t miss the way her cheeks flush.

“Were you always this sappy or is it a princess thing?”

“Hey, you don’t get to say that anymore, Miss Long Lost Princess.”

Neither of them moves. In the silence of the night, it feels crazy how much they’ve gone through to be here right now, holding each other like they’re making up for the lost time.

Adora snorts, and it ruffles Catra’s fur. “We’re really messed up, aren’t we?”

“Yep. But at least we have company.”

“Yeah,” Adora nuzzles against Catra’s neck and she thinks her pulse skipped a beat but she’s too warm and happy to care. “And a new beginning.”

Adora doesn’t know how long they stay in the balcony, only that at some point she’s pushed away from Catra’s shoulder and shaken awake.

“Adora? Hey, come on, it’s time to go to bed.”

“Mm, but I was comfortable,” she slurs, half-awake.

Adora distantly thinks that she must be really sleepy because Catra’s face looks too red. “You’ll be more comfortable in your room, come on.”

Adora groans at having to get up but she lets Catra guide her down the stairs and through the hallways. She likes the feeling of Catra’s hand in hers.

They’re in a long corridor with doors Adora can’t tell apart when she stops walking, pulling Catra back with her.

“Can I sleep in your room tonight?” Adora asks before Catra can say anything. She’s still a bit drowsy, but she notices the way Catra’s ears twitch. They’re so cute.

“I- are you sure?”

“Yeah.” Adora knocks her side against Catra’s and tries to lay her head on her shoulder but it doesn’t work with their slight height difference. “Please?”

“Ok,” Catra says, and something about her tone makes Adora feel all fuzzy.

When they make it to Catra’s room, she gives Adora a change of clothes to sleep in before going to change in the bathroom. It’s a silly thing to be upset over, but Adora forgets about it when she slips Catra’s t-shirt over her head and realizes that it smells like her. The sterility of the Horde soap is gone, just like the constant smell of smoke, but even though it’s different it still smells like Catra. And maybe it’s weird to sniff someone’s clothes, but damn, Adora had missed this.

The bathroom door cracks open and Adora lets the t-shirt collar fall from her face, leaning back against the headboard. Catra moves to the bottom of the bed and goes to settle down there above the blanket when Adora speaks up.

“Come here,” she says, lifting the corner of the blanket next to her.

Catra is frozen. “I… We always did it like this-”

“This is a new beginning, right? So we’ll make new habits.” Catra still doesn’t move. Adora’s ears burn, but she manages to mumble, “And I really want to sleep next to you right now.”

Catra avoids her eyes as she crawls next to her and under the covers, but her tail brushes against her wrist. There’s only one pillow on the bed so they’re already close enough for their knees to knock together, but Catra keeps her hands close to her chest. We can’t have that, Adora thinks. Then, slowly like she could scare Catra away, she drapes her arm over her shoulders and finds that one spot at the base of Catra’s ears that always got her to insist she wasn’t purring.

Catra’s eyes flutter close and she nuzzles closer. Her small smile is the last thing Adora sees before her own eyes close and she falls asleep with Catra’s pulse as her lullaby.

Chapter Text

At first, Catra isn’t sure if she’s dreaming. Everything around her is a warm, hazy blur and her head is full with a sweet scent. Her blanket feels heavier than usual, holding her in place when she tries to twist around. But she doesn’t mind. Her pillow is nice and soft and there’s a calming thumping in her ear. 

She buries her head deeper in her pillow and a purr rumbles out of her throat. She could stay like this forever-

Then her pillow giggles.

“Did you just nuzzle into my boobs?”

Catra has never opened her eyes so quickly. She twists her head around and - yep, there’s Adora’s face, so, so close, and smiling down at her. She’s lying with half her body on Adora, her head on her chest and her arm thrown over her waist, their legs tangled together. They were not that close last night.

Shit.

But Catra doesn’t move. She’s comfortable and she doesn’t want to let Adora know she’s embarrassed by suddenly moving away. Her brain is also still slow with sleep, so it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to tighten her hold on Adora’s waist and say, “Mm, and what if I did?”

Adora’s cheeks are dusted pink and it makes a rush go through Catra. “Nothing,” Adora replies, a soft smile on her lips. She shifts a bit and then her hand is in Catra’s hair, scratching behind her ear.

Catra closes her eyes and relaxes into Adora’s touch. It feels so good to just exist like this with her, no worries in the way. Even in all her daydreams when she was still with the Horde and Adora with the Rebellion she couldn’t have imagined something like this. It didn’t feel like a possibility for them.

“Do you think we should get up soon?” Adora asks. Catra has to hold herself back from laughing. She knows this tone of voice from Adora - ‘I know this is what we’re supposed to do but I don’t wanna do it so please say no when I ask’. 

Catra eyes the way the light shines in through the window. “Nah, it’s still early for me. No one’s going to expect me to be awake for a couple more hours.”

“Sleeping in? Have you gone soft now?” Adora smirks.

“Sleeping is one of the greatest joys in life and I have always known that,” she says. She snuggles further into Adora’s side to make a point - and for no other reason, obviously. Adora’s body shakes with her laughter and it echoes through Catra like it’s part of her own heartbeat. “I could fall asleep again like this.”

“Me too,” Adora says and she has no right to sound so tender, to make Catra so happy just with two words. “Why didn’t we sleep like this in the Horde?”

Catra huffs. “We tried. The bunks were too narrow and you kick in your sleep so I fell off.”

“I don’t kick!” Adora pokes her in the side but Catra just laughs. “I move a normal amount, you just pick a position and stay like that the whole night.”

Catra shifts so she can look at Adora better, lying fully on top of her. “Yeah, cause I have good taste, princess.”

Catra doesn’t miss the way Adora’s breath hitches. “That nickname does not work anymore now that you’re a princess too,” Adora says, looking to the side so she can avoid Catra’s eyes.

Her ears are cute when they get all red like this, Catra thinks and grins. “Nah, it does.”

“Then should I have a nickname for you too?” Adora asks in a very obvious attempt to change the subject.  

And because Catra has always been good at making bad decisions she says, “Sure.”

Adora takes her time thinking, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth as she does, like this is a very important decision. Catra can’t seem to tear her eyes away. She knows she should, but she never said she’s a strong person. Her whole world seems to have shrunk down to this, a warm bed where she lies in Adora’s arms, and she never wants to leave this moment. She wonders if, maybe, she could fill the rest of her life with moments like this. 

Adora’s eyes light up as she finally seems to have made a decision and she says, “What about ‘kitten’?”

Catra almost chokes. This isn’t fair! Adora can’t just say stuff like that! Not when her body heat is making Catra feel like there’s an inferno under her skin and she’s looking at her so softly, her voice dropping lower. She’s trying to kill me.

And like a finishing blow, Adora giggles. “Aww, do you like it, kitten ?”

Any hope Catra had that her reaction was purely due to surprise is blown out the window. Fuck. “N-no!” she says, but her voice is too high to be convincing and her cheeks are burning. She’s never been more thankful to have fur.

Adora giggles again. “You do! Your ears are twitching.”

Catra’s hand flies up without a thought, covering one of her ears. “They’re not!” As if on cue, Catra feels her ears twitch again. Traitors. 

“They are, it’s cute,” Adora says, reaching out towards Catra’s ears. 

Catra turns her head away. As much as she loves Adora’s scratches she doesn’t think she can take it right now - it feels like she will combust any minute. They have been separated for so long she forgot how big of a mess she is around Adora.

Adora doesn’t seem discouraged. There’s a glint in her eyes and Catra is too distracted to notice her hands making their way to her sides. When she does, it’s too late. Adora starts tickling her.

“Wah! Adora! S-stop!” Catra is laughing too hard, shaking as she tries to get away from Adora. She rolls off her, barely getting out of her grasp when Adora strikes again.

“Never!” she yells as she dives onto Catra. 

Oh, no you don’t! She kicks on reflex and it lands on Adora’s hip, pushing her away. Catra takes her chance and pounces, tickling Adora like they’re children again, creating mayhem in the halls of the Fright Zone.

Everything is a mess of limbs as they roll around, kicking pillows and blankets off the bed in their frenzy. Catra’s laughing so hard her chest hurts, as if she has nothing but laughter left in her lungs and it’s rattling through her bones. There are tears in her eyes and she’s not sure who’s tickling who anymore. Adora is attacking again and Catra can't breathe. Adora is stealing her breath away and it's not because of the fingers at her sides. But still, Catra doesn’t care. 

She wants to give Adora everything. She wants to be someone worth standing by her side.

Then, all of a sudden, Adora stops tickling her. Catra doesn’t waste time. She kicks her legs to throw Adora off her and turns them around. Adora gasps as she loses balance. She tries to fight back, but Catra grabs both her wrists, immobilizing her. 

“Guess I won, princess," Catra says, panting as she tries to catch her breath. It's then that the reality of their position finally hits her. 

Catra is straddling Adora, a knee at either side of her hips. Her arms are stretched above her head and Catra is pinning them to the mattress by the wrists. The oversized shirt she lent Adora to sleep in has ridden up, exposing her lean muscles.

But it’s Adora’s face that makes Catra’s heart skip a beat and then a dozen more like it’s playing a song for them. Her golden hair is splayed around her in a halo, as if all the light in the sky couldn’t bear to be away from her. Her cheeks are flushed a pretty pink and her lips are parted. They look so soft, Catra thinks and fuck , she really wants to know what they taste like.

Yet she forces her eyes away - before she does something stupid, something that could shatter the fragile relationship they’ve started rebuilding. She’s prepared to look Adora in the eyes and laugh this off, lie like she doesn’t want to kiss the girl below her until she forgets where one of them begins and the other ends.

But Adora’s eyes are downcast, too low to meet Catra’s gaze. There’s something in the way she’s looking at her that makes Catra shiver - no, it’s not quite hunger, but it’s close, and the small part of her that dares hope wants to call it longing. She can feel Adora’s pulse from her wrists, beating in sync with Catra’s own frantic heart like it’s accompanying the song it’s playing.

Adora bites her bottom lip and even if she wanted to, Catra can’t tear her eyes away now.

Her grip around Adora’s wrist loosens. Some distant part of Catra’s brain registers that she’s leaning down - or maybe Adora is leaning up - but she can no longer think. All she knows is that Adora is so warm beneath her she could melt under her touch and she’s never wanted something as much as she wants this. She can feel Adora’s breath against her lips like a summer breeze, soothing and gentle.

Then the door creaks open and there’s a gasp like thunder. Catra whips around to see her mother, Angella, Scorpia, Bow, and Glimmer crowding in her doorway with varying expressions of surprise. She barely has time to curse internally that they were interrupted before Adora shoves her off. She tumbles off the bed and onto the floor with a bang, dragging half the blanket with her. Adora’s face is bright red, gapping like a fish as she tries and fails to come up with an explanation.

“We’re, um, going to wait for you in the dining room for breakfast,” Imra says, as calmly as anyone can when they find their daughter on top of someone like that, before closing the door again. There’s murmuring on the other side of the door and what seems to be Sparkles’ screech, growing more and more distant as the group leaves.

“Fuck,” Catra whispers, throwing her arms over her eyes where she lies on her back on the floor. Before she can even begin panicking, Adora shoots up from the bed, grabs her discarded clothes and practically sprints into the bathroom. She doesn’t look at Catra once.

“Fuck,” she repeats.


When they get to the dining room, the air is tense - to say the least.

It’s a grand room, with large windows lining one wall, their curtains swiped to the side to let the morning light in. A long table stretches across the middle of the room, dozens of chairs tucked in at either side of it like soldiers awaiting their commands. It’s too big for seven people - they barely take up half of it. The room is certainly beautiful, but Adora can’t imagine Catra and Imra eating here, just the two of them.

“I, um, good morning,” she says as she and Catra walk in. She’s not sure if she’s still blushing - her cheeks are burning like she is. She’s back in her own clothes, not Catra’s t-shirt and shorts, but her scent clings on her anyway. She spent almost 10 minutes in the bathroom trying to calm herself, yet it takes all her focus not to think about Catra’s hands around her wrists, the way her thighs caged her in, how much she wanted to bury her hands in her soft curls and pull her down to her lips.

So she plops down in the seat Glimmer saved for her and fills her plate as fast as she can, hoping than no one at the table has secret mind-reading abilities they didn’t tell her about.

"So," Imra says, too loud to be casual. The conversation had lulled the moment she and Catra walked in, everyone's gaze turning to them even though they tried to resist. "You were saying something about Bright Moon, Angella?" 

"Yes," says Angella with a nervous little cough, her eyes fleeting to Adora. "I'm afraid I must leave for Bright Moon by the afternoon at the latest. With the leader of the Princess Alliance, She-Ra, and myself here, we're an easy target for the Horde." She reaches out to Imra next to her, squeezing her hand atop the table. "I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer." 

"It's alright," Imra says, her smile melancholic. "We're not little girls anymore, you have a responsibility towards your kingdom. I understand. We'll still get to talk, or meet." 

Bow jumps in his chair, his eyes alight with an idea. "Oh, you can keep my tablet, your Majesty! It has a secure signal for communication with Bright Moon." 

"That's very kind of you, Bow." 

As Bow goes on explaining how the tablet works and how he made the encryption software, Adora buries herself in her food. She scruffs down everything within her reach, but it doesn’t work as a distraction the way she hoped it would. Her eyes keep darting across the table to Catra. She hasn’t looked up from her plate since they sat down, her head propped up on her palm. She hasn’t eaten anything either, only moving her food around with her fork. A pang goes through Adora’s heart.

Congratulations, stupid. You were reunited for barely a day and you already fucked things over.

Glimmer’s chair screeches against the floor as she stands up suddenly. She plants her hands on the table like this is a war meeting and turns to Imra. “As the leader of the Princess Alliance, I would like to formally ask Halfmoon to join the Alliance. We are stronger together and with your help we can defeat the Horde!”

Bows face has dropped in his hands, muttering under his breath something that sounds a lot like, “I told her to wait.” Angella simply chuckles, as if Glimmer springing strategic talks during breakfast is normal.

Imra lifts her cup to her lips. “I’m not the person you should be asking, now am I?”

“What?”

Imra shrugs. “It’s the Princess Alliance. I'm Halfmoon’s queen. It’s not my choice to make.”

Catra finally looks up from her food, shock clear in her eyes. “You want me to decide?”

“Of course.” Imra smiles and Adora recognizes the tilt of her lips, the warmth in her gaze. Angella smiles at Glimmer like that too. “You care about our people, Catra, and you know more about the war than I do. I know you’ll do what’s best for us. I trust you.”

Catra’s reaction isn’t a dramatic thing - Adora doubts anyone else even noticed. But she knows her mother’s words are important to Catra, she can see it in the way she seems to stand a bit taller, her eyes bright with an emotion Adora can’t describe. She wonders if happiness is a contagious thing because she feels it thrumming in her chest.

Catra nods at Imra, still shaken, and turns to Glimmer. “I want to think about it.”

Glimmer doesn’t look too happy about it, but she keeps her tone pleasant. “Of course.”

“Well,” Imra says cheerily, either ignoring or not picking up on the tension between the two princesses. “Now that all that is done, why don’t you show our guests around Halfmoon, Catra? They didn’t get to see it well yesterday.”

It’s a pretty obvious stand-in for “let me and my estranged friend catch up alone” but nobody brings it up. They follow Catra out of the palace, Scorpia bouncing by her side. Adora tells herself that she's fine walking behind her, but the empty space on Catra’s right taunts her.

Catra’s version of a tour is, apparently, walking them through the town and listing off shops and people’s names. Otto’s tailor shop, Sabine’s bakery, Vera’s butcher shop. Adora’s head spins from the sheer volume of information.

“Aye! There’s our hero!” Eyepatch calls out as they pass by his tavern - that’s what everybody calls him, according to Catra, because no one aside from Vera is old enough to know his real name and she refuses to tell anyone. He’s built like a tree stump, short and stocky, and his hair is completely white. “You on welcoming duty, lass?”

“Yeah, I gotta do everything around here,” Catra says, but she doesn’t look upset about it. There’s an ease in the way she walks among the Magicats and talks to them that Adora doesn’t think she’s seen in her before. 

She remembers little Catra, back when she still told Adora how she really felt, before the chasm Shadow Weaver dug between them grew deep enough to get lost in. They would be doing their first exercise with multiple squads the next day and Adora found Catra curled up in their bed, crying. She didn’t want to be around that many people, she told her. The other kids didn’t like her, they called her names and pulled on her tail and ears. So Adora told her she’d stay right next to her the entire day and hold her hand - that it didn’t matter if nobody else liked her because she did and they were all idiots anyway.

But Catra doesn’t need her hand held here. She’s relaxed around the Magicats in a way she never was around other people in the Horde. They hold nothing but respect for her, Adora sees it in the way they look at her. And in turn, Catra is unguarded. She laughs and jokes and calls all of them by name.

“Isn’t Aiden helping you out today?” Catra asks. 

“Nah, they don’t have school so he and the other rascals are going to play in the schoolyard." Eyepatch shrugs. "Thought I should let him run wild on a day like this," he says, and it sounds like "thank you". 

Catra must have heard it too, the meaning hidden in between Eyepatch's words, because her ears twitch and she averts her eyes. She doesn’t get to say anything before two small blurs burst out of the tavern's door, weaving between her and Eyepatch's feet before clinging on her. 

"Catra!" one of the blurs says, a young boy that's stocky like Eyepatch. "Are you coming to school too?" 

Catra ruffles his hair and the boy purrs, still holding on tightly. "I'm giving our guests a tour," she says instead of a no. Adora doesn't think she wants to say no. 

"They can come with us!" the girl says, her light hair in two pigtails. "We'll have more people to play! And maybe we could see She-Ra fight with someone!" 

" Please? " the boy adds. They look up at Catra with big, sparkling eyes, their bottom lips sticking out. Eyepatch snickers like he knows this is a lost fight. 

"Ugh, alright," Catra says, and the children let go of her to bounce with excitement. "Let's go, twerps." The two small Magicats drag her along, taking one arm each, and the rest of them follow. Despite her grumbly demeanor, Adora knows Catra doesn’t mind going along with the kids. There’s a small smile on her lips and her tail swishes lazily, wrapping itself around the children's wrists. 

"Since when is Catra good with children?" Glimmer whispers beside her, but Adora doesn't respond. 

The warm feeling blooming in her chest when she sees Catra around the Magicats finally makes sense. Adora recognizes it in the way Angella says her daughter's name, how Bow's brothers mess up his hair when they pull him close, how, for her, safety was never a place, but a person's smile. 

She wishes for a moment that the little girl crying in their bunk so long ago could be here right now, see the person she grew up to be. See herself happy, and loved. Adora's eyes burn. 

Catra has found a family in Halfmoon. 


The moment they get to the schoolyard, all the children rush at them. Catra has been through a lot, but seeing a few dozen tiny children with too much energy charging at her is its own special kind of terrifying. 

“And this is the school," Catra says because she's meant to be giving a tour. Nobody seems to care, swamped by excitable children trying to climb them like they're trees. (A few have climbed onto Scorpia, but she doesn't look at all bothered by it.)

"Are you going to play with us?" one of the children asks. She barely comes up to Catra’s thigh, but she's bouncing so energetically she could jump over her. 

"Can you fight with She-Ra?" another one asks. The children must like that idea because all of them start yelling at once, as if the louder they speak the more likely it is that Catra will cave in to their demands. 

She glances at Adora. She's as surrounded as the rest of them, maybe more so, and she looks completely lost. There’s a boy hanging off of her bracelet and another one that somehow climbed up her back. Sari is among the crowd as well, looking at Adora with appraising eyes, like there's a test she has to pass. 

Adora catches her eye and smiles at Catra, half “yeah, I'm cool with this", half "please help me, what are these?". Catra can't help her snicker. She gestures with her head at the kids, who are now trying to decide which one of them would win in a fight. Adora shrugs. She's struggling so much to stay on her feet and not be trampled by five-year-olds that hair is flying out of her half-up ponytail.

Catra’s throat is suddenly dry. She remembers Adora’s hair spread out on her bed like molten gold, her body warm like daylight beneath her. Catra’s lips tingle with the phantom feeling of what could have been. Adora’s eyes were gleaming in that moment, when Catra was leaning in, and she could swear it looked like relief . Like Adora wanted it just as much as Catra did.

But maybe she was only seeing her own eyes’ reflection. The sound of the bathroom door slamming shut was so loud it still echoes in Catra’s skull.

You went and did it again idiot, she thinks. You screwed up again. How long did it take you? A little more than a day? That must be a new record.

“How about Adora spars with Maya?” Catra says, spotting her friend trying to wrangle some kids back. 

Sari raises an eyebrow. “What, are you tired?”

“Yeah,” Catra snaps, because explaining all the complicated feelings she has about sparring with Adora again isn’t something she wants to get into. “I got thrown around by an octopus lady, I have a few bruises.”

“Heck yeah!” Maya exclaims, letting the girl she was holding back by her shirt loose. “I’m in!”

Thankfully, that seems enough for the children, who proceed to herd Adora towards the sparring area. Everybody gathers around to watch as she transforms into She-Ra, but Catra stays back, leaning against the fence.

The fight is fun. Adora is a bit awkward at first, fumbling more than she normally does and glancing at Catra even though she should be paying attention to Maya. She’s being watched by a lot of people, so it’s only natural - Adora was never good at winging it. Catra gives her a thumbs-up and - did Adora smile at her? She thinks she did, but it was so brief Catra isn’t sure if she saw right.

Maya and Adora are pulling out all the stops as it seems, being as dramatic as possible. Like, seriously, a spinning kick? But the children are loving it, rooting as the two girls exchange blows. 

Catra can’t help the smile on her lips. She didn’t think she’s the kind of person who would enjoy being around children, but there’s something so fulfilling in watching the youngest of Halfmoon… be children. Play and laugh and pull pranks on each other in a place that doesn’t stink of smog and fear. They have the kind of childhood Catra wishes she could have had, and once upon a time she would have been bitter about that. Instead, there’s a flicker in her chest, a flame that grows and grows.

She’ll make sure this lasts. She’ll make sure that all of these young Magicats - and everyone in Halfmoon - stays safe and happy.

There’s a crash from the sparring area as one of Maya’s kicks lands on Adora. She skids back against the soft mat, falling on one knee like she hasn’t gotten much worse and kept fighting. The children yell at her to get up, worry in their voices, and when Adora stands up and charges at Maya again they cheer.

It's odd to watch Adora fight from the sidelines. For so long it was Catra standing opposite her, teasing her with a smile on her lips. Then that teasing turned into poisonous insults, drawing as much blood as her claws did. Her stomach churns at the thought of sparring with Adora again, too many emotions swirling together - excitement, worry, anticipation, terror. 

Her ears twitch as the sound of footsteps pull her out of her thoughts. "Hey."

It's Sparkles - no, Glimmer, fuck . Her arms are crossed over her chest, her brows furrowed with such determination Catra would think they're in her kingdom. Bow is by her side and really, are these two joined at the hip? Are they a package deal? 

"Yeah?" Catra says, pushing herself off the fence. Being around Adora’s friends without her is strange. She doesn't want to see them as enemies, and she's working on it, but her feelings on the matter are still tucked away in her chest and it's obvious that the best friend duo is uncomfortable - if not wary - around her. 

"I'll get straight to the point," Glimmer says and her firm tone wouldn't be out of place in a negotiation room. "I know you say you've changed, and for Adora’s sake, I hope you have. But if you even think about hurting her again I will shatter your kneecaps into tiny pieces and use them in a collage."

"Glimmer!" Bow shrieks like a frightened bird. "You said you only wanted to talk!" 

"Is that a promise?" Catra asks. 

Glimmer’s cheeks puff out like she's a Magicat trying to make herself look bigger. "I'm serious."

Catra shrugs. "So am I. Hurting Adora is the last thing I ever want to do, but if I did, I’d help you break my knees.”

“Oh.” Glimmer glances at Bow. Her arms, still crossed over her chest, relax and she falters. “Well… good. That’s good.”

“And,” Catra starts, then stops. There’s a voice in the back of her mind calling her stupid for what she’s about to do, a voice that sounds too much like her own. She bites her cheek and doesn’t listen to it. “I joked about it yesterday, but I really am sorry for kidnapping both of you, and attacking your kingdom, and just - generally being a pain in the ass.”

If the Bright Moon pair could hide their surprise before, now it’s written across their foreheads in giant bold letters. “I did not expect that,” Glimmer says blankly, like she’s still processing whats she heard. “The apology bit, I mean. I’ve called you a pain in the ass multiple times.”

“Glimmer!”

“No, she has a point,” Catra says. "We were on different sides of a war, but I was unnecessarily bad to both of you. It was… personal.” The words feel heavy in her mouth, every defense mechanism she ever developed ringing like crazy, warning her not to be vulnerable around these people, don’t be weak don’t let them hurt you. “Adora was my only friend for so long and I guess I thought she couldn't have more than one friend cause if she did she'd see you were better and leave me."

There are crescent moons on Glimmer’s shoes, Catra realizes, her gaze stuck on the ground. She can’t bring herself to look them in the eyes - it feels too dangerous. "Fuck, that sounds so stupid," she mutters.

"No, it doesn't," Glimmer says, and suddenly she’s closer, so close Catra has no choice but to look at her. "I get it." 

And she does, there’s something in her eyes that makes Catra certain of it. She would have been upset at the idea of having something in common with the princess of Bright Moon before, but now it’s strangely comforting.

Bow pops up on her other side. Despite the emotional vomit Catra just threw on them, he looks happy. "So, are we friends?" 

Catra’s nod is slow and small. Bow throws himself at her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. He quickly pulls Glimmer into it too and it’s by far the most awkward hug Catra has ever gotten.

It’s nice, in its own way.

"But no friendship bracelets," she adds as an afterthought. The only reason why she’s not already covered in them is because Scorpia hasn’t figured out how to make them with her pincers. 

"No promises," Bow responds, so cheerily Catra wonders if he’s made out of sugar. 

“You’re definitely getting a friendship bracelet,” Glimmer says, in the deadpan of someone who has long now accepted her fate.

Catra is finally released from her touchy-feely prison. She carefully smooths down her fur, which is all messed up because of the duo’s snuggling.

“Does this mean you’re joining the Princess Alliance?” Bow asks.

The answer comes out of her lips without a second thought.

“Yes.” Smiles appear on both Glimmer and Bow’s faces, but before they manage to cheer she adds, “But I have some conditions.”

Chapter Text

Adora takes a deep breath. And then another. 

The dark wood of Catra’s bedroom door still stands before her - because that’s what doors do when you’ve been standing in front of one for five freaking minutes without actually knocking. It’s just knocking, Adora, it won’t kill you! 

Still, her hand hesitates, hovering inches away from the door. 

Right when Adora has finally mustered up the courage to knock, the door swings open. She just barely stops herself from hitting Catra on the nose. Catra who, she realizes with her heart doing a somersault, has the front portion of her hair pulled back in a tiny poofy ponytail at the top of her head.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra says, her voice lifting with confusion. Adora’s hand is so close to Catra’s face that she has gone cross-eyed trying to look at it. Adora can feel her breath against her knuckles.

She pulls her hand back immediately, holding it to her chest. “Hey, uh, fancy meeting you here,” she says in what she wanted to be a casual tone but came out more like she was having a stroke. Why are you doing a finger gun, Adora?

Catra raises an eyebrow. “This is my room?” The corner of her lips twitches like she’s trying not to smile. She fails. 

Catra’s smile is beautiful, Adora decides, and she wants to see it every day from now to forever, but First Ones, is it bad for her health. “Right, yes, of course.” She coughs into her fist and hopes that it hides the blush that’s surely on her cheeks. “Can we, ah, can we talk?”

Just for a second, the smile is gone from Catra’s lips, but it’s back so quickly that Adora wonders if her eyes are playing tricks on her. “Sure.”

Catra goes back into her room, plopping down on the bed. Adora follows her in and tries to ignore the itch at the back of her mind. It feels wrong, somehow, to walk into Catra’s room. To be in the same place, on the same side once more, and not share a room. She clenches her fist, trying to get the thought out of her mind. She didn’t come here to slip into Catra’s bed.

“So,” Catra says, her tail swatting the air behind her, “what did you want to talk about?” 

Adora settles down on the bed, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear mechanically. “About yesterday…” She trails off, wringing her fingers on her lap. Catra’s shoulders tense, as if Shadow Weaver ordered them to salute. And Adora wants to back down and say it’s nothing so badly, but maybe if she had reached out to Catra back then, if she had gotten them to talk things out earlier, maybe she wouldn’t have learned how much her claws hurt firsthand. 

So she takes a deep breath and asks, “Why didn’t you want to spar with me?”

The tension drops from Catra’s frame, her words coming out breathy. “What?”

“I mean,” Adora says, and she wonders if it’s possible to break her own fingers by fidgeting too much. “All the kids were asking you to spar with me, but you said no, and I didn’t think much of it at first, but you seemed off. And I kept looking at you to see if you were fine, and you gave me a thumbs up, but I had a bad feeling about it?”

When she stops, she’s out of breath, her arms hanging awkwardly in the air mid gesture. Catra looks at her in shock, a completely valid response to have when someone vomits twenty words a second on you. Panic crawls up Adora’s spine. What if she overreacted? “So, um, I wanted to see if you’re okay.”

Catra’s eyes have dropped to the bed, staring holes into the blanket. It’s a very interesting spot,now that Adora looks at it better. “I thought you kept looking at me cause you were nervous around the kids,” Catra mumbles.

“Well, yeah. They’re tiny and quick and won’t stop moving !” Her voice raises in pitch and Catra laughs, her eyes two bright crescent moons. Yet as much as Adora loves her laugh, she can’t let herself be distracted. “But don’t change the subject. What happened?”

“I… " Catra averts her eyes, her tail wrapping around her frame. Adora's heart thumps against her chest at the familiar gesture - how many times had she seen Catra like this growing up, with tears in her eyes and their blue blanket shielding her from the world? “I thought I'd start acting like before if I sparred with you.”

“What?“

“I just…” Catra pauses, her eyes fleeting from Adora to the wall behind her to the bedcovers, as if she will find the words she needs there. She groans, dragging her hands down her face. Hunched over like this, with her knees pulled to her chest, it’s hard to think this is the girl who almost conquered Bright Moon. “I told you how I wanted to prove I was better than you?"

Adora nods.

Catra’s sigh is a deep one, like her emotions are too many and they’re leaking out of her. “I kept thinking, what if I spar with you and lose and become bitter again? Start acting like an asshole and… and hurt you, and Scorpia, and everyone because I can't get Shadow Weaver's bullshit out of my head?" She hides her face behind her knees, hissing in frustration, "Fuck, this is stupid." 

"It's okay to have feelings, Catra," Adora says, scooting closer, their shoulders against each other. She knows the feeling in Catra’s eyes too well, has felt it too many times when everything she learned in the Horde becomes a deafening chorus in her ears. She wonders sometimes if she will ever truly leave that place behind. "And we don't have to spar if you don't want to."

Catra flops down against pillows, throwing her hands over her face. "Ugh, that's the problem! I want to spar with you! It was fun when we were kids, you know? Before I got inferiority issues the size of your forehead."

"Hey," Adora says, but there’s no bite behind it. She has missed these soft jabs between them. 

"I guess I'm just… scared," Catra whispers, so quietly that it could have been the wind 

Adora lies down beside her, hesitant and careful. "And that's fine,” she says. Catra peaks at her from behind her arms and doesn’t resist when she pries them away. If their hands stay clasped together, neither tries to change it. “We'll just work on it. Slowly."

Catra nods. Her smile is a sad one but Adora loves it nonetheless. " Fuck , I feel exhausted,” she mutters, resting her head against Adora’s shoulder. “Is talking it out always this tiring?" 

Adora chuckles and she feels Catra’s purr in her side. "To be fair, we don't have much experience. Maybe we'll get better with practice." 

"Yeah, run laps.” Catra’s breath is a warm puff against Adora’s skin when she snickers. “Cadets, I want fifty push-ups and after every repetition remind yourselves you are enough!" 

Adora’s laugh shakes its way out of her. She drops her voice to an appropriately low octave and wags her finger at the squad of imaginary soldiers. "I better see you loving yourselves or you're scrubbing the toilets tonight!" 

They hold eye contact for a moment, waiting to see which one of them will crack first, before dissolving into fits of laughter. They’re lying on a bed together, fingers intertwined, laughing till there are tears in their eyes, and it feels so much like before. Like they’re kids again, and nothing can break them apart.

But it’s better, somehow.

"Say," Adora starts, rubbing circles on Catra’s hand with her thumb, "between helping at the school and sleeping in, what do you do in your spare time?" She smiles nervously, hoping Catra will go along with her. If sparring is out of the picture for the foreseeable future, she wants to find something else they can do together.

Catra sits up so suddenly that she takes Adora’s hand with her before it slips from her hold. Adora almost panics, worried that what she sees in Catra’s eyes is fear and she somehow screwed up. But then she notices her ears twitch. She’s - embarrassed? 

"Catra?" 

She must have made a decision because the uncertainty falls from her face and she glares at Adora, holding a finger right below her nose. "Ok, I'll tell you but you can't laugh at me." 

Adora throws her hands up in surrender. "I won't, I won't!"

Satisfied with her answer, Catras grabs her by the hand and drags her out of the room. Adora should probably be paying more attention to where she's going so she doesn't stumble on the stone floor and break her nose, but the fluttering of her heart is too loud. She was so scared that after… the incident, they would be awkward around each other and it'd be that much harder to rebuild what they had. 

But Catra's fingers are locked with hers and her tail brushes against her wrist as they walk. And Adora wishes she never has to let go of her hand. 

Catra pushes open a set of doors and Adora is all at once assaulted by they smell old paper and ink. Tall bookcases fill the room and rays of soft light shine through between them. Catra’s grip on her hand is looser as she leads Adora through rows and rows of books, as if she’s having second thoughts about bringing her here. Adora squeezes her hand.

"The library?" She asks, her voice rising in something between confusion and amusement. They’re in a sitting area by the windows, with a plush couch and two armchairs forming a little circle.

Catra’s tail bristles up and she whips her face away. "You said you wouldn't laugh." 

"I'm not, I just didn't expect this,” she rushes to explain. Catra is so cute when she’s flustered, she thinks and has to remind herself not to say it out loud. “You always complained about reading the manuals in the Horde." 

Catra relaxes and she scoffs. "Yeah, it's different. Only you enjoyed reading those." 

Adora moves past that - the fact she’s a nerd is long-established. She sits down on the couch and Catra is pulled along with her; she almost forgot their hands are still joined together but she can't make herself let go. "So, you've been reading?" 

Catra nods and her tiny ponytail bobs on top of her hair. "I came here to nap, at first. It's a good spot. Then... I got curious, I guess.” She leans against the back of the couch, staring up at the ceiling, and doesn’t speak. Adora waits. Vulnerability is something they're both working on. "That's my dad up there,” she says eventually, pointing above them. Adora cranes her neck and sees a white Magicat smirking down at her like he knows exactly what her feelings towards his daughter are. “Mum said he liked spending time here and reading. I was already here often enough, so I might as well." 

"Catra," Adora says, hearing the dismissive drawl to Catra’s voice. It took too long, but she finally recognizes it. 

The look Catra gives her could almost be called a glare, but it’s too soft. "I wanted to know about him,” she relents. “And I've asked mum about him, but…" She groans, throwing her head against the couch so hard Adora is sure it must have hurt. "I dunno why I was so interested. I've never even met him." 

Adora scoots closer - their laced fingers rest on her thigh, their sides pressed together. She doesn’t know anything about her parents, but she knows the longing Catra is talking about. "If…if I could somehow find who my parents are and where I'm from, I think I'd gladly go to the ends of Etheria. And Glimmer has her dad's old staff - he was a sorcerer. She holds onto it when she's upset." She turns to Catra, to this girl who taught her what it is to have a home, and she smiles. "It's normal to want to know somebody like that." 

Catra smiles back and Adora’s heart sings. "Maybe," she says. "But what I know is that his taste in books must have been shit cause everything mum said he liked is so boring! I wanted to fall asleep after two pages!"

Adora giggles despite the exasperated expression Catra has, and when Catra pouts at her in mock betrayal she giggles even harder, snorting. “What have you been reading then, oh wise one?”

Catra’s pupils are blown wide, her ears droopy, like she's sleepy. The moment Adora turns to her she seems to snap back to reality and she disappears between the bookcases. Adora tries to ignore how cold her hand feels. 

She comes back soon enough, handing Adora a thick book. It's bound in soft leather the color of autumn berries, intricate gold designs drawn along its edges. Castles and winged horses, a girl in a dress made of roses, sprawling vines brimming with ripe fruit. At its center, in swirling calligraphy, is the title, "Tales from across Etheria”. 

“The cover is pretty," Adora notes, unsure of what to say. Bright Moon has a library, but she has only ever gone there for books on battle strategies. "What is it about?”

It seems that's all Catra needed to launch into an excited description of the books contents. It's a fairy tale book, she explains. Apparently that's what people call the kind of stories they would make up and tell each other under the blankets when they were kids. She goes on and on and Adora is lost after the third mention of a talking animal. But can you blame her? 

Catra’s smile is so wide the corners of her eyes crinkle with it. Her voice is too loud for a library and she talks so fast it's a wonder her lungs have enough air. She sweeps her arms out in big, dramatic gestures - a second more and she'll jump on the table to continue. 

Adora would let her. Adora would let her talk for as much as she wanted to, do whatever she wanted to, as long as she could watch a smile light up her eyes like the stars in her dreams. 

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

Catra’s voice pulls her back to the present. “What?”

“You were looking at me all dreamy,”

“Oh." Adora’s cheeks burn - she can feel it spread all the way to her neck. "I guess I never thought you’d have a hobby like reading fairy tales.” Catra’s ears twitch and Adora rushes to clarify what she meant. “But it’s good! I didn’t think we’d be anything other than soldiers growing up. We’d just fight one battle after the next. It’s still strange to think we won’t.”

Catra’s face softens and Adora knows she understands. Adora spent so long with only one path available to her, mapped out by somebody else. Of course she would follow it - it’s not like there were alternatives. But there were, and since the day she turned her back on the Horde, she has been trying to find her way among thousands of paths with no map in sight. It’s terrifying and so overwhelming it makes her knees buckle sometimes, but…she loves having the power to choose.

“Bow has been trying to teach me how to bake,” she says in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“You? Bake?” Catra sputters.

“Yeah, he said that ‘all I do is work’ and that ‘I need to take a break’ and ‘no, Adora, working out isn’t a hobby, it literally has work in the name’.” Catra giggles, falling against the back of the couch and Adora’s shoulder. She doesn’t think her impression was this funny, but she’s not complaining.

“Did you burn down the kitchen?”

“No!” Adora should be offended at Catra’s doubtful expression. “But the first time I didn’t realize I was supposed to break the eggs so I put them in whole,” she admits in a whisper. Catra giggles even louder, looking too pleased with herself. 

“It’s nice, though,” Adora continues when Catra has stopped laughing at her. She tries not to think about Catra’s hair tickling her neck. “There are clear instructions I have to follow, and that’s probably concerning paired with the child soldier stuff, but…” She shrugs with one shoulder. In times like this, she feels tiny. “It’s nice to turn off my brain for a while. Everybody expects so much of She-Ra. Defeat the Horde, bring balance to Etheria, save everybody. I just… I don’t know if I have what it takes.” 

Suddenly, her shoulder is cold. “Of course you do!” Catra yells, so loud it seems to echo. Her pupils are slits, her tail fluffed up. Adora hasn’t seen her this angry since they were exchanging blows. She opens her mouth, but Catra cuts her off. “No, I’m serious Adora! You helped start the Princess Alliance again, you’ve saved so many people, and we both know that the Horde had its biggest progress in years with me at the lead, and you still kicked my ass!” 

It's too much, being defended like this. Defended from herself. Her throat is tight like she's trying to breathe around a rock, and she lowers her gaze. 

Catra doesn’t let her. She grabs her by the shoulders, and when Adora still doesn't meet her eyes, her hands are at either side of her face, forcing her to look at her. "You can't be perfect, Adora. You won't be, no matter how hard you try." Catra should have slapped her. It would have stang the same. 

Catra’s thumb brushes over the curve of her cheek. “And that's okay. You're just a person, just like the rest of us. You don't have to do this alone." Catra’s hands slide off her face, wrapping around Adora’s neck and holding her close. Her eyes burn. "You have us with you."

Adora buries her face in Catra’s hair. "You too?" she whispers. 

"Of course," Catra says, and Adora feels her words against her neck. "You always had me." 

Adora hugs her tighter. I've always been yours, too, she thinks. 

When they part, they collapse on the armrest. Adora is half lying on Catra, but neither mentions it. She could touch her forever - she has been starved of it for too long. 

“Thank you," she says, too quiet even though they're alone. It didn't feel like something she should say loudly. Catra’s tail circles her waist. Adora giggles at the feeling of the soft fur. “Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t tease me about the ‘turn off my brain’ thing.”

“Eh, too easy," Catra says. Adora isn't looking at her but she can hear the smile in her voice. “But I want to try something you bake.”

“Deal if you read me a story from that.” Adora nods towards the book on the table. 

"Deal." Catra’s tail unrolls from around her to grab the book. She could have gotten it with her hand if Adora moved off her. Neither says anything. 

Adora loses herself to the sound of Catra’s voice. The story is about a young girl whose hometown is put under a terrible curse and she must travel the land in order to find the magical ingredients for the antidote, joined by a girl she’s constantly at odds with. The longer Catra reads, the more confident she gets, and at some point, she starts doing voices for the different characters. Adora listens, absentmindedly playing with the fur of Catra’s tail. 

In the end, the girl saves her hometown, learns to value herself more and her rivalry with the other girl blossoms into love. It’s a good end, a happy one, yet it makes Adora’s chest ache. Will I get that? Catra has moved onto another story and her voice vibrates through Adora’s back. She steals a glance at her from behind the book and smiles at the way Catra’s expressions change as she reads like she’s acting.

W ill we get that?


Catra is reading through their third story when her mum comes in.

Technically, Adora only ever asked that she reads her one story, but Catra sure as hell isn’t going to stop this sooner than she has too. Adora is lying against her, drawing patterns on Catra’s thigh and she thinks she’s going to burn. Her stomach clenches but it’s pleasant, the excitement before a fight. She doesn’t know if she wants to cuddle Adora until nightfall or push her against the couch and kiss her breathless.

She doesn’t do either because she’s a coward.

“Oh, there you are!” Imra says, peeking out from between the bookcases. She doesn’t seem surprised to find them sitting like - her eyes dart to Adora only for the briefest of seconds before she turns to Catra. 

"Glimmer has been looking for you," she says. "She wants to go over your conditions for joining the Alliance." 

Adora sits up immediately, whirling around to face Catra. "You agreed to join?"  Adora’s smile is wide when Catra nods. She jumps up and off the couch, dragging Catra behind her. "Let's go then!" 

Imra leads them to the meeting room. Catra hasn't been here before, not properly. She had popped her head through a crack in the door once when she was exploring the palace, but seeing only a round table and a shelve of scrolls, she had moved on. 

The room is the same now, if filled with more people. There are no windows, they only light coming from the large chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Glimmer and Bow are already there, a map of Halfmoon spread before them. Catra pulls back a chair and sits down wordlessly. 

“What are your conditions?” Glimmer asks, sitting opposite Catra. Straight to the point, then. Catra can respect that.

“The Rebellion will offer Halfmoon protection,” she says, slipping into her Force Captain voice like it’s a well-worn uniform. Maybe she’ll never be rid of it, of everything she did sounding like this, but at least she can do good now instead. “Hordak is aware we exist now, and while he might not attack immediately, someday he will. At our current state, I doubt we’ll be able to stop him if he’s serious.”

Imra sits by her side and from the corner of her eyes, Catra sees her jaw clench in discomfort. She's never sounded like this around her mother, she realizes. For all she told her about her time in the Horde, Imra has never seen what Catra was like then. If Catra has anything to say about it, no one will ever see her like that again. But still, her voice, cold and blunt like a rusted knife, gives her a taste of it. Catra’s stomach churns. 

Opposite her, Glimmer nods. “Of course. I will send word to Bright Moon for soldiers to come and aid in defense. What else?”

Catra pauses, taking a breath. “I want resources to rebuild Halfmoon.”

Imra turns to face her, a breathless, “Catra, ” falling from her lips. Catra doesn’t meet her eyes. She can't, not until she makes sure this condition is met. 

“That’s it?” In her surprise, Glimmer’s perfectly straight posture relaxes and her shoulders drop. She looks younger like this, the girl she should have been instead of the Commander the war made her be. 

Catra arches an eyebrow. “Were you expecting something more dramatic?”

Glimmer shrugs. “Kinda.” Then, as quickly as it disappeared, her Commander stance came back: shoulders squared, back straight, leaning slightly over the table as if to intimidate Catra. “What does ‘resources’ include?”

Catra matches her stance. No way is this sparkling princess going to push her around in her own home. Glimmer’s eyes narrow just barely at her actions and adrenaline rushes through Catra’s veins. “Building materials. People with the needed skills, architects and the like. Extra assistance with manual labor down the line, when we’re rebuilding larger areas. At present, I want to rebuild the area around the Gate. You’ve seen the ruins.”

It's not a question, but the princess of Bright Moon nods anyway. Adora's expression darkens as she no doubt remembers the charred remains of Halfmoon. 

“The people of Halfmoon have lost a lot. They need safety, and they need hope that the past won’t be repeated." Catra can't control the smirk that spreads on her lips. She won't get to take Hordak down for a while, to bring him to his knees and make him pay for everything he destroyed. Until then, she will insult him with the best way she knows how - surviving no matter how hard he tries to get rid of her. "So we’ll take back what the Horde destroyed. This is a new beginning, for all of us.”

Her eyes stray to Adora on their own as she says that. Adora grins back wide. 

“I don’t want to overstep,” Bow speaks up from Glimmer’s side, "but the population of Halfmoon is small. What are all these new buildings going to be used for?”

“That’s my last condition," Catra says, clasping her hands in front of her so her uncertainty doesn't show. This is the condition she was most concerned about, the one more likely to be met with opposition. 

"I want to open up Halfmoon for anyone who needs shelter because of the war.”

Glimmer’s eyes widen as she sits back. “Shelter?”

Catra nods. “I know first hand how many villages the Horde destroys. How many of them have hardly any people left to rebuild them?”

Nobody answers. Nobody can bring themselves to. The number is too high and it sits heavy on their shoulders, pressing them down. Catra lay waste to some of those villages herself and she can't even remember the people's faces. She couldn't even do that much for them. 

“They can come here," she says slowly. "Anyone who needs somewhere to go can come to Halfmoon.”

Bow's smile is impossibly bright and Catra hears her mother let out a trembling breath. But Glimmer isn't smiling, looking at Catra as if she can see through her. 

“Anyone?” Glimmer asks, even though she doesn't need to. She already knows what Catra meant. Bow's eyes dart between them in confusion. 

“Horde defectors too.”

No one gasps, but understanding spreads through them like a chill. Catra sees the wariness settle in her mother's eyes and she wills herself not to let it sting. She couldn't expect her to accept this immediately, she knew that. She only hopes she's right that this won't make them fight again. 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?" Glimmer folds her arms on the table. "You were just talking about how much the Magicats have lost to the Horde.”

“I didn’t say it would be easy.” It won't. She knows very well that she's different from any Horde soldier that might come to them seeking refuge - she's their princess, and even before that she was one of their own. Hopefully, the Magicats' kindness extends past blood. “But not everyone in the Horde is evil. Hordak rules through fear, and too many keep serving him because they think they have nowhere else to go.”

Adora is quiet, but when Catra glances at her, her eyes are shining and her bottom lip trembles the way it does when she's emotional. Her smile may be small, but Catra knows at that moment that she'll be content for the rest of her life if Adora can keep looking at her like this. Warm, and loving, and proud

Glimmer raises a brow. “So I am to assume Horde soldiers will just abandon everything they’ve ever known and rush here to turn over a new leaf?”

Adora’s warm smile breaks into an offended frown, but Catra cuts in before she can say anything. 

“If word gets to them? Within a month.” She smiles oh so sweetly at the other princess and watches the fire dance behind her eyes. It's not hate - they've moved to a tentative understanding in Sparkles' time in Halfmoon. But the princess of Bright Moon isn't scared to meet her head-on and fight. “If I’m wrong, you just keep fighting this war as you did before. But if I’m right, Hordak’s forces will start slipping from his grasp like sand.”

Catra expected Glimmer to keep her serious expression, maybe even seem appalled at the vindictive tone in her voice. Instead, a smirk breaks out on the princess' face, just as devious as Catra’s own. Maybe she can actually like this ball of sparkles. 

“Alright then," she says. pushing back her chair and standing up. "We got a deal.” Her hand hovers above the map of Halfmoon, open. Catra takes it. 

“Welcome to the Princess Alliance, Catra.”

Chapter Text

Rebuilding a destroyed city, as it turns out, demands more planning than Catra had assumed.

It takes three days for the architect to arrive at Halfmoon. In that time, Catra does research - which is to say, she talks to everyone old enough to remember what Halfmoon looked like before the Massacre and takes notes. Her mother is the easiest since she knows what’s happening, but she has to come up with excuses for everyone else. She doesn’t want rumors to spread before she makes the announcement.

In between talking to the citizens of Halfmoon and digging through the archives for paintings, she, Imra, and Glimmer go over the logistics. They have only a rough idea of the materials needed or how the rebuilding process will be like without the architect, so most of their time is dedicated to strengthening Halfmoon’s defense. Catra hates to admit it, but Sparkles isn’t half bad at this.

When the architect arrives, they are buzzing with excitement. They’re lanky, with long inky hair, dark skin, and a sharp nose, a bag bursting with blueprint paper slang over one shoulder. “Queen Imra, Princess Catra! I’m Skye! It is a pleasure to meet you, I’m so honored to be involved in this project!” They say while shaking her hand in a speed Catra didn’t think possible.

Skye's enthusiasm doesn't die down even after they've gotten settled. And Catra thought Scorpia was excitable. 

With Skye's help, they manage to sort out budgets and a basic plan of how they'll move forward. Skye locks themself in their room, working and drawing and sketching out a dozen different designs and layouts, paper covering every flat surface. 

Catra would call it a mess, but she doesn't have the right to talk, not when she's in a similar state. She spends almost all day in the library, leaving only for lessons at school in order to keep up the front that nothing is going on. The moment the bell rings and the students are back in class, she's back in her spot at the library desk, ironing out the details. 

This has to work. It has to be as close to perfect as possible. She owes it to the Magicats. She owes it to the young girl she was, the one who thought there was nothing for her outside the fog of the Fright Zone. 

She doesn't know when she fell asleep, only that there are strong, gentle fingers at her shoulder, shaking her awake. She jerks up, her fur fluffing out in alarm. 

"What-" she starts, her claws out before she even realizes. The fingers are still on her shoulder. 

"It's me, Catra," Adora whispers. She's in her sleeping clothes, her hair falling loose around her shoulders. The light of the lone lamp at the table casts her face in warm light, like she's a candle in a dark room. 

When did it get dark? 

"You fell asleep," Adora continues as if hearing Catra’s thoughts. "Come on, let's get you to bed." 

"No, I need to finish this," Catra says, even as her words slur with sleep. 

It may have been a trick of the light, but Catra thinks Adora rolled her eyes. "It will finish you if you don't get some rest," she says. Then her arm is slung behind Catra’s back and under her armpit, pulling her up. 

Catra tells herself she doesn't argue because going to sleep is logically the best move. It certainly isn't because she loves the way Adora's arm feels around her and wants to touch her as much as she can while she still has time. 

That winged, talking horse of Adora’s arrived earlier today. Catra has been trying her best to avoid the thought of what that meant. She knew Adora and her friends were never going to stay in Halfmoon forever, but the time for goodbyes still came sooner than she'd like. 

Catra does her best to stay awake, stubborn to prove that she could have kept working, but her head keeps lolling to Adora’s shoulder. 

When they get to her room. Adora lies her down on the bed carefully, tucking her in. Catra isn’t present enough to resist, balancing precociously between wakefulness and sleep. Adora's hands are near her face, making sure the blanket is pulled up to her chin properly. They're nice hands, Catra thinks distantly. Strong, scared, but soft with me.

No coherent thought urges her to push back the blanket and hold onto Adora’s hand, but she does. Adora stops just as she's about to leave. She waits to see what Catra wants. 

Catra didn't know she wanted something, but then  she opens her mouth and says, "Stay." 

Adora freezes. It's dark outside her window, and Catra wonders if time even exists in moments like this. How long do they stay like that, looking at each other, held together by their linked hands? She doesn't think she can tell the difference between a second and a year.

"Stay with me," she says again, tugging Adora to the bed. Don't leave Halfmoon. Don't go back to Bright Moon. I'll miss you. 

She doesn't voice any of those thoughts. She doesn’t have the right to keep Adora behind. She's not going to be that version of herself again, the one who lashed out when Adora left because she didn't know who she was without her. 

But fuck, she's going to miss her. 

Adora’s brows are furrowed. She's conflicted, Catra realizes, but before she can brush her request off as nothing, Adora melts in her hand. 

"Scoot over," she whispers. Catra does so with no argument and Adora slips under the covers beside her. The bed already feels warmer with her in it. Catra snuggles in closer, and to hell with her pride. Adora is leaving Halfmoon, if not tomorrow then soon, and she doesn't know when she'll get to do this again. 

Adora’s chest shakes with a laugh she tries to keep quiet and Catra feels it from where they're pressed up together. "Comfortable?" 

Catra hums in response. Adora wraps her arm around her and Catra thinks she might be purring, but she's too close to sleep to care. 


Catra is pacing the length of the palace gates, her tail lashing back and forth like it's keeping the rhythm of her steps. The gates are closed, but even behind their thick wood she can hear the confused chatter of the Magicats. What do their Queen and princess have to tell them to gather them here like this? 

"Relax, Catra,” Imra says, her hand on Catra’s shoulder, firmly enough to keep her still. “You can do this." 

Can she? She’ spoken in front of so many people before, but that was as a Force Captain. This isn’t the same. 

It’s too important for you to mess up-

Her tails bristles up. There’s anger boiling in her - it’s always there when it comes to Shadow Weaver. Catra thought that she had stopped carrying her with her, that her voice no longer echoed in her head like a broken radio. Apparently it hasn’t, and Catra can’t stand it. No, she won’t stand it. 

Shadow Weaver wasn’t right, she tells herself, eyes closed, breathing deeply. She never was. You won’t mess this up. You can be more than what she saw you as.

A hand slips into hers, giving it a squeeze - Adora. Catra knows what her hand feels like. Scorpia’s sturdy tail wraps around her waist and her pincer rests on her other shoulder. Catra focuses on their touch, grounding herself. 

She exhales, opening her eyes. Imra, Adora, and Scorpia seem to calm down along with her. It’s still too much, sometimes, to look at them or at the people of Halfmoon - Nino and Maya and Sari - and know they believe in her. That they see her as a good person, as someone who isn’t so fucked up. That girl feels like a different person sometimes.

She nods, gathering her strength like armor around her. “Ok. I’m ready.”

The gates open and Catra steps forward. You can be who they see you as.

The square is packed full. Every single Magicat must be here, even the children. Catra catches glimpses of Sari and Jin in the crowd - she had decided to make to the announcement at this hour so that the kids would be done with school. If she was going to do this, then she wanted everyone present. 

She catches a movement from the corner of her eyes. Maya is waving at her and Nino is giving her thumbs up. They're still as confused as everyone else, but their support makes her smile. 

"As you know," she starts, loud and clear, "General Glimmer, Princess of Bright Moon, has restarted the Princess Alliance to fight against the Horde. From now on, Halfmoon will fight alongside them."

The cheering is immediate. People pump their fists in the air and hoot. Catra lets them celebrate long enough for them to think that's all she had to say. 

"That's not all," she continues once the cheering has quieted down. The attention is back on her once more, everyone even more confused now. Wasn't that the big announcement? 

"When I first saw the ruins of Halfmoon, before Maya and Nino found me and brought me back, I didn't think much of them. I thought, there are many places in Etheria like this." She fights to keep her eyes steady. She wants to look away so badly, but she clenches her fists and wills herself to look at everyone straight on. "Too many. And I had my hand in some."

She feels the shame climb up her spine like a snake, ready to wrap around her throat and snuff the breath from her lungs. She won't let it. She focuses on Maya and Nino, on Otto's hulking figure behind them. Their eyes are heartbroken, but they smile at her encouragingly. 

"Yet you still took me in, even when I thought I didn't deserve your kindness. I can't thank you enough. I only wish I can be worthy of your trust." She takes a deep breath and it trembles past her lips. "We're opening up the Gate to anyone who needs a place to go because of the war," she says. "And I mean anyone - no matter which side they were aligned to before." 

This time whispers sweep over the crowd. Magicats lean to each other, trying to make sure if they heard right, glancing at her perplexed. No one is rioting - they look more apprehensive than outraged. Catra can work with that. 

"But you know," she continues, tapping her chin. "I think we might be a little cramped then." She pauses like she's waiting for suggestions, then smiles. "Thankfully, the Princess Alliance has agreed to help us with that. They even sent an architect." 

Right on their cue, Skye steps forward and waves cheerily at the crowd, a rolled-up blueprint clenched in their arms. Catra doesn’t know if it's for show or if they were dragged from their desk so suddenly they were left carrying their work around. 

A clank breaks the silence that had fallen over the square, followed by a gasp. Vera's cane lies on the floor by her feet, her hands covering her mouth like her heart will leap out of her chest if she doesn't stop it. The realization seems to ripple across the crowd. 

Catra raises her fist in the air. "We're rebuilding Halfmoon!" 

The reaction is instantaneous. All of Halfmoon cheers so loudly Catra swears the ground shakes under her. People are hugging their loved ones and crying, relief so palpable in the air you could taste it. 

The light touch on her shoulder is the only warning Catra gets before she's also pulled into a hug. "I told you you could do it," Imra whispers into her hair. Catra’s throat is too tight so she nods and hopes her mother understands the "thank you" she can't say. 

With one last squeeze, Imra lets go and takes Catra’s place in front of the ground, going over the practical aspects of construction and asking for volunteers. The moment Catra steps down from the palace entrance, Nino and Maya fly into her. It’s a wonder how they didn’t knock her over.

“What the hell was that?” Maya nearly yells after they’ve unstuck themselves from her.

“Is this why you’ve been tired and distant lately?” Nino ads and Catra winces. She thought she was hiding that better.

“Guilty.”

Maya lets out a sound somewhere between a furious growl and an excited squeal. “Oh, I’d be so mad at you for keeping this from us if I wasn’t so happy!”

“Can we help with the building?” Sari asks, seemingly sprouting from the ground. Jin is with her, holding her hand. 

“Aren’t you a little young for that?”

Sari huffs.“I’m almost thirteen!”

Catra hums, like she’s considering the merits of Sari’s argument, then declares, “Baby.”

Sari puffs her cheeks, which does nothing for her argument that she’s old enough to help, but before she can say anything, Jin speaks up. “Will people from the Horde really come?”

Catra wasn’t optimistic enough to think that nobody would bring that up, but her stomach still clenches. “When they find out they can, probably. Halfmoon is much nicer than the Horde.”

“Let them come, then,” Otto says. Somehow, despite his huge size, he had managed to approach without Catra noticing. Her surprise must be obvious because Otto shrugs and explains, “You, Adora, and Scorpia turned out to be good people. I’m willing to take those chances.”

Catra’s throat feels tight, but before she can say anything, someone taps her shoulder. Glimmer and Bow are here, their bags packed. Scorpia is standing a little ways behind them. The Magicats take their cue and leave them to talk.

“So you’re leaving?” Catra asks. She can’t spot Adora or her flying horse anywhere. Is she already waiting outside for them?

Will she not say goodbye to me?

Glimmer scoffs. “Try not to sound too happy.”

“Oh, I’m actually devastated,” Catra drawls. She and Glimmer agreed that they should try and get along for Adora’s shake, but Catra doesn’t want to admit how much she actually enjoys the girl’s company. She has more fight in her than Catra had thought and she likes their teasing, dull training blows now instead of the harsh jabs they were. “I just got the glitter out of my hair. How will I go on without it?”

Glimmer smirks. “I can give you some as a parting gift.”

“Anyway,” Bow steps between them, his voice cracking. “We left you a tablet in the palace so we can speak about Princess Alliance stuff and call you when we need your help with a mission.” He snaps his fingers, remembering something, and fishes a small object from his pocket.“Here!”

He drops it in her palm and Catra realizes in horror that it’s a small circle of woven dark red, pink, and yellow string. What’s worse, he has an identical one around his own wrist.

Friendship bracelets.

“I couldn’t stop him,” Glimmer sighs ins resignation, lifting her own wrist for proof. 

Catra doesn’t know how to feel about the small offending tangle of threads, but Bow is looking at her expectantly so she slips it on. She swears Bow and Scorpia must be made from the same material because it is impossible to deny either of them anything.

Bow lets out a happy squeal and throws his arms around her in a goodbye hug. Catra lets him. Glimmer nods instead and Catra is kinda thankful - she wasn’t kidding about the glitter being hard to get out. 

Even as Bow and Glimmer head towards the Gate, Adora is nowhere to be seen. A pang goes through Catra’s chest, unfortunately familiar. Her tail wraps around herself unconsciously and she takes a deep breath. Adora wouldn’t have left like this without a reason. You’ll just ask her when you see her again. It’s okay to be upset that she didn't say goodbye, but being angry and bitter won’t help anything.

"Hey, Wildcat," Scorpia says, calmer than her usual bubbling energy. 

"Hey." Catra’s eyes fall down to the bag dangling from Scorpia's shoulder. It's too big to be a fashion statement. "What's with the bag?" 

Scorpia's eyes fleet away and her pincers tighten around the strap of the bag. "I'm leaving too." 

"Oh."

She meant for it to sound like “Oh, I didn’t know that but I’m happy for you”. Instead, it comes out like someone kicked her in the stomach. She feels like she's on skiff ripping through the air, completely out of her control, and any second now she will crash into a tree. It leaves her breathless and nauseated and she hates how deep the word "leaving" digs its claws into her chest 

"I would have told you sooner!" Scorpia continues, gesturing widely. "But I was thinking a lot about it and I didn't decide until last night, and you were already nervous about today even though you refused it and I didn't want to make it worse-" 

"Scorpia. Scorpia," she says and reaches out to still Scorpia's pincers. "It's okay. You don't need to explain yourself to me. I don't control you, you can do what you want." 

She repeats that to herself too. You don't control her or Adora. They can do what they want. Just because they're not right next to you doesn't mean they're abandoning you. 

"So what made you decide?" Catra asks. 

Scorpia shrugs, and Catra recognizes the look in her eyes from her own mirror, from Adora that day in the library. "I want to help people, obviously, but I've thought of myself as a Horde soldier for so long and now I'm not, so… what does that leave me?" Scorpia nods, more to herself than Catra, and says, "I want to find out." 

It’s warm in her chest, all her pride for this amazing, kind girl who somehow wants to be her friend, and it makes her feel taller, somehow. "Whatever it is, it'll be great," she says. "And hey, if you're ever passing through here or you want a place to rest, you'll always be welcome in Halfmoon." 

"Thank you, Wildcat." 

Catra punches her shoulder lightly. "No problem,” she says, but it doesn’t feel enough. For a second, she’s filled with doubt, and then she throws her arms around Scorpia. "I will miss you, Stinger." 

A beat passes as Scorpia seems to be processing the words, and then she’s giving Catra a bone-crushing hug, lifting her off the ground like she weighs nothing. "You gave me a nickname!" 

Catra sputters, all the air leaving her lungs at once, and she’s never been more grateful to be on Scorpia’s good side. She could squash me like a grape.

With a final wave, Scorpia walks to the Gate. I should get back to work, Catra thinks when she can no longer see her.

“Hey, Catra,” comes a voice from behind her. She jumps, her fur standing up in alarm, and she whips around. Adora is standing behind her, half of her hair pulled back and looking way too pleased to have startled her.

Adora is here.

“What- Don’t do that!”

“I’m sorry,” Adora says laughing, not sounding sorry at all. “It’s funny when I surprise you.”

Catra huffs, doing her best to put a frown on her lips and pretend like Adora’s laugh doesn’t make her melt. “Why are you still doing here?” she says instead.

Adora’s brows knit together. “Why wouldn’t I be here?”

“Weren’t you leaving with Bow and Sparkles? Isn’t that why your horse friend is here?”

Adora looks even more confused now. “Swift Wind? He came so he could fly me out in case Bow and Glimmer needed me. I didn’t want to leave yet.” Her eyes widen in panic. “Unless - I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed- if you don’t want me to stay I can-”

“I want you!” A beat goes by, too long, and Catra’s words hang in the air. Adora’s frozen like a deer, and her cheeks might be flushed, but Catra can’t look at her, words tumbling out of her mouth desperately. “To stay. I want you to stay. It’s - it’s okay.”

“Oh,” Adora says simply, definitely blushing. Catra doesn’t know what to do with that.

She chuckles awkwardly and says, “Guess we should get you a more permanent room then, huh?”

“Actually,” Adora starts, then stops, her cheeks going redder. “I-I wanted to ask if I could stay in your room? Like we used to?”

The convoluted acrobatics Catra’s heart does are surely not healthy, but she doesn’t care. Any thought of work flies out of her mind and she wonders if she can get away with cuddling Adora for the rest of the day.

But she can’t say any of that without turning into a puddle on the floor, so instead she throws a hand around Adora’s shoulders. “Aww, you can’t bear to be without me. It’s cute.”

“Oh, shut up,” Adora says, but she puts her arm around Catra too. They laugh together as they head back to the palace and Catra quietly adds another goal in her list, right alongside rebuilding Halfmoon.

Make Adora laugh for the rest of my life.  


“Coming through!” Otto’s unmistakable booming voice comes out from below her. Adora glances down from her spot on the ladder and sees him sprinting through the chaos of construction with a cart full of building materials. He leaves an armful at the ground near his daughter’s ladder and goes to deliver the rest

The area outside the Gate is bustling. They have cleared it of the debris and weeds that littered it before, until it was good enough to start working in. With the pits where every building is going to be dug, the foundations set, and the streets planned out, they’ve moved onto above-ground construction. Adora is currently working on the skeleton of a house with Maya and Nino - Maya had decided she’s going to install more beams than Adora and she smirks at her as she finishes another one.

It’s not a competition, of course. They’re doing important work.

But if it was a competition, Adora is winning.

“Hey, Adora.”

Adora smiles almost on reflex. She remembers Bow telling her that the puppy he had as a kid would perk up the moment it heard cutlery clutter, or when they whistled in the way they did before a walk, and she wonders if you can do the same thing to a human.

“Hey, Catra,” she says, sliding down the ladder. Her shirt sleeves are rolled up to her biceps and she can feel the sweat on her skin. She should have worn a tank top - she feels sweaty and gross in front of Catra.

“Hey,” Catra says again, her eyes definitely lower than Adora’s face. She can feel her eyes on her arms and suddenly Adora doesn’t feel as self-conscious. Maybe I should do more heavy lifting around here, she thinks, a rush going through her.

Catra seems to snap out of it, her ears twitching. “Have you seen Skye? I can’t find them.”

“Oh, they’re with Swift Wind.” Adora sits at the bottom step of her ladder, grabbing her water bottle and gulping down half of it. It may be the evening but she can still feel the sun at her back. “They wanted to see the area from above. I think they just wanted an excuse to fly.”

As if on cue, Swift Winds whips down from above, using the long, wide street running down the construction area as a landing. He starts bragging the minute his hooves hit the ground. Skye slides off his back in a heap, stumbling on their feet, their hair all over the place. 

"That was… oh, First Ones, I'm gonna fall down," they say, and promptly does so. Catra catches them and helps them sit on the ground. 

"Flying doesn't agree with you?" Catra asks. 

Skye shakes their head. "Ironically." Adora fills the cap of her bottle with water and passes it to sky. They gulp it down, and it seems to ground them because their enthusiasm is back at once. "Oh, but you must see it from above," they say to Catra. "It's amazing!" 

"I can take you for a ride," Adora offers, even though there's no reason to. Skye flew on their own; Swift Wind knows how to handle inexperienced fliers on him. 

Still, she wants to. 

"I don’t know," Cayra mutters, glancing suspiciously at Swift Wind. Then back at Adora, and her ears twitch just the tiniest bit. "I got work to do." 

"We can handle ourselves," Nino calls out. 

"Yeah, go have fun!" Maya adds, a tilt to her voice Adora doesn't fully understand but knows is teasing. 

Catra glares at them for a second before looking back at Adora. She gives her the best pleading eyes she has, the ones she did in the Fright Zone when she wanted Catra to study attack patterns with her. 

"Okay," she finally sighs. Adora whoops. 

"Swiftie!" Adοra calls out as they walk up to him. Swift Wind is preening under the attention of a young reindeer girl who arrived in Halfmoon yesterday with her mother. "Ready for another flight?" She points to Catra with a thumb. 

"Sure thing! This will be the best flight ever for you two lov-" 

Adora elbows him in the side, disguised as a clumsy stumble. "If you say something like that again or try and play matchmaker I will make sure you get no good apples for a month," she whispers in his ear, turned away so Catra doesn't see her lips moving. 

"Ok, ok." With a flick of his main, Swift Wind straightens. "Hop on, then!" 

Adora climbs on with practiced precision and holds out a hand for Catra. It occurs to her then that there was a scene like this in one of the stories Catra read her - the knight offers a hand to his prince from atop his white horse. She wills herself not to blush. 

Catra tries to copy the way Adora got on, but she misses and slides off Swift Wind's flank with an undignified squeak. On the second attempt, she takes Adora’s hand and Swift Wind lowers. The curve of his spine makes Catra slide forward when she gets on and her chest hits Adora’s back. 

I didn't think of this, Adora realizes. But it's too late for that, so instead she says, "Hold on." 

That's all the warning Catra gets before Adora kicks Swift Wind's side and he takes off. 

They tear through the air, rising higher and higher, and someone screams. For a split second Adora thinks it’s her - she loves this sudden ascend every time, the wind whipping at her face, the thrill of it all. But the screaming is coming from Catra, clinging to Adora like her life depends on it.

All too soon, the wild climb is over. Swift Wind spreads his wings and they glide above Mt. Selene. Catra’s face is pressed into her back and Adora feels her nose dig in next to her spine. Her arms are a vice grip around her waist, hands tipped back at the wrists so her claws won’t accidentally hurt Adora - they must have come out by fright.

“Catra,” Adora says. “You can look now.”

Slowly, Adora feels Catra pull back. She glances down, then immediately clings to Adora again. It makes her laugh and she gets an elbow to the side.

“No person is supposed to be this high up,” Catra grumbles.

“You’ve been on a skiff before,” Adora says, looking at Catra over her shoulder.

“Skiffs fly closer to the ground! And I can’t feel them breathe !”

“I’ve been doing my cardio,” Swift Wind pipes in to say and Adora gives him a light kick. He whispers something under his breath that might be, “Yeah, I’ll be quiet for your date.”

“Come on, at least see what it looks like from up here.”

There’s no response at first, and then Catra pulls herself away from Adora.

It’s getting late, and the setting moons cast the earth in warm, golden light. Even at this height, Mt. Selene rises above them, clouds hugging it. At its feet, New Halfmoon spreads out from the Gate, skeleton houses and vein streets, a body building itself back. Construction is easing up for the night and the Magicats mingle with the new residents in the unfinished streets. People with deer ears, moth wings, horns, and skin in every color imaginable - a little bit of the whole of Etheria, gathered right here.

Catra lets out a small, shaking laugh - or maybe it’s a sob. “I did something good,” she whispers, unbelieving. Her eyes are wet and shining, and Adora is overflowing with pride. She covers Catra’s hand with her own. 

“You did,” she says, squeezing their intertwined fingers. “And this is just the start.”

Catra laughs again, and it bursts out of her like she has been waiting so long to do it. She lays her head on the slope of Adora’s shoulder. She can feel her smiling.

Now that Catra is more comfortable on Swift Wind, they fly around Mt. Selene. Catra leans over Adora’s shoulder and points down to the areas she’s planning to build on, tells her about how she and Skye have been trying to combine Halfmoon architecture with styles from around Etheria. She’s so close Adora could kiss her if she turned her face just so.

This high, the forest surrounding Halfmoon is a lush carpet below their feet. To the south, it thins out, giving its place to rolling hills, and to the north, it's broken up by the glimmering surface of the rivers and lakes. 

Adora loves this view, even more than the adrenaline of the ascend. Etheria is so vast, and she has seen so little of it. Up here, she's not She-Ra - she's just a girl. 

"Ok, I'll admit it," Catra says. She's still so, so close to Adora, even though there's no need to hold onto her anymore. Adora doesn't say anything. "This is pretty cool." 

"You should listen to me more." 

"Don't let it get to your head." 

Catra laughs and Adora feels the vibrations spread through her from her shoulder. Every bit of her that Catra touches is warm. It's not burning, scorching heat - Catra makes her feel like that too - but it's comfortable, safe. It's the feeling she got in her chest when they lay under the covers in their bunk after curfew talking, and Adora knew she wanted to feel it forever. 

"I freaked out over this, you know," Catra whispers. 

"Flying?" 

"No. This," she makes a grand sweeping gesture to everything below them. "The world. That we said we'd see it together, but we didn't." She pauses, then huffs. "Or I guess we did, but I was at the other end of your sword." 

"We can still do it," Adora says, her heart thumping. Can Catra feel it like this? 

Catra scoffs. "No thanks, I don't was to fight you again." 

"No, I mean-" Adora, racking her brain for the right words. This is why she's writing things down. "We can travel. After the war is over, we can see the world." She turns to look at Catra properly. Her hair is windswept, her eyes wide and full of something that takes Adora’s breath away. "Just the two of us." 

Catra smiles, wide and absolutely wonderful. "I'd love that." 

Adora swears she could scream right now. Or maybe cry. Or maybe kiss Catra until she forgets how to do anything else. It’s just so surreal to think about - her and Catra traveling Etheria one day. She hasn’t thought about what’s going to happen after the war - she runs laps and bakes cakes whenever it crosses her mind. It makes her spiral, think of everything she could do wrong, all the ways she could fail. And even if they win, if there’s no more war, Adora can’t imagine herself in that world. Was she even made to exist in it?

And even after all that, she didn’t want to think of a future for herself that didn’t involve Catra.

As they descend, Catra’s head is resting on Adora’s shoulder, her arms looped loosely around her waist. She looks so peaceful. For once, the thought of ‘after” doesn’t terrify Adora.

The moment they land, Sari is running towards them, calling out Catra’s name. The bag slung over her shoulder clunks with the empty water bottles she and some of the older kids passed around to help. 

“Catra! More people came!” She comes to a stop, kicking up dust and panting. When she catches her breath, she says, “They’re from the Horde.”

Adora and Catra glance at each other. These are the first Horde soldiers to arrive since the word about Halfmoon spread. 

“Where are they?” Catra asks

Sari points to the edge of the construction site. “They’re talking with Queen Imra.”

Catra nods and the two of them take off running, cutting through unfinished buildings. They find Imra with her back to them, whoever she’s talking to hidden behind a lone wall. A green, smooth tail flashes from behind it. 

“And we don’t have to fight for you, right?” they hear an accented voice saying as they get closer. “We didn’t leave the Horde to be somebody else’s soldiers.”

“No, of course not. You can help with construction if you want, but nobody will make you fight,” Imra says, then spots them heading her way. “Catra, Adora! We got new people from the Horde. You know them?”

Adora sees Catra’s mouth open, probably to say something sarcastic, but then they round the corner and it snaps shut. There, standing opposite Imra with dirty, tattered cloaks covering their Horde uniforms, are Lonnie, Rogelio, and Kyle. 

Kyle yells, “What?” the moment he sees them and Rogelio’s mouth is hanging open, his eyes snapping between Adora and Catra. Lonnie looks surprised for exactly one second before she gets her expression back under control. 

“Okay, wait a minute,” she says. “I can understand Adora being here, but aren’t you supposed to be in Beast Island?”

“Long story,” Catra replies.

“So you know them?” Imra asks. If she’s aware of the glare Lonnie is sending them, she doesn’t show it.

“We were in the same squad,” Adora says. She doesn’t feel like she can call them friends after all this time. Lonnie has made it perfectly clear that her leaving the Horde hurt them.

“Yeah, before you,” she points at Adora, “left us like we weren’t friends, and you,” she jabs a finger at Catra, “started acting all angsty and above us.”

“Lonnie!” Kyle screeches, pulling on her cloak. Rogelio steps into her line of sight and starts signing.

“Maybe don’t start a fight in front of their Queen. We can’t go back.”

“Oh, honey, I won’t send you back,” Imra says, her hands moving through the signs with the ease of someone used to them. They all stare at her, and she adds, shrugging, “My husband couldn't hear well.”

“W-we don’t have to go back?” Kyle asks, looking at Imra with wide eyes.

“Of course not. And even if I did, which I won’t, it wouldn’t be over an argument with Catra.” Imra chuckles like she thought of a joke, and says, “Though my daughter seems to have pissed off a lot of people.”

Catra bumps Imra with her tail, seemingly annoyed, and her ears twitch. Their old squad looks at her like she grew a second head.

“Daughter?” Rogelio signs as Kyle squeaks it. 

“You’re a princess too?” Lonnie asks, not bothering to keep her surprise in check. “Who’s next, Kyle?”

Adora can’t help chuckling, and Catra joins in. “Again, long story. But let’s show you where you’ll stay for now.”

Their old squadmates glance at each other, then nod. They follow Adora and Catra as they head back to the Gate. 

“Welcome to Halfmoon.”

Chapter Text

“So, you can do it?” 

“Can I?” Otto almost yells. His smile is so wide it lights up his whole face. “Oh, I’m going to blow your mind! Leave it to me!”

He sprints away before Catra can say anything, leaving her standing by the wall they had just finished building. All around her, Halfmoon is coming together. In the days since construction started, more and more people have arrived - parents and siblings and friends, all eager to make a new home for themselves. Former Horde soldiers too. 

Catra wipes the dust from her pants, though it doesn’t make much of a difference. Her arms ache after hours of building and moving heavy materials around, but there’s a distinct satisfaction buzzing through her. It’s been hard not to smile lately.

She walks through the construction site, checking on how everything is moving along. At this rate, they will be done with this first part in a little more than a week. The street has been paved and curtains have been put up in the middle of the round square at the center of New Halfmoon, hiding what’s behind it from view. Only Catra, Imra, and the sculptors working on it know what it is. She hasn’t even told Adora, even though she has tried multiple times to peek at Catra’s papers when she was working on it. 

She comes to the building Adora is working on without realizing it and her cheeks heat. Really, she could at least try to act like she’s not head over heels in love with her. If Maya and Nino give her one more knowing look she will barricade herself in a cave and never come out again. 

“Hey, Adora,” she says to the back of Adora’s head, the rest of her body hidden behind a pile of building materials. Her head perks up at Catra’s voice and the light glints off of her tiara. Catra freezes.

“Hey, Catra!” Adora stands, taller than she normally is, her hair loose and light around her. She’s She-Ra.

“What’s with the get-up?” Catra asks, crossing her arms and doing her best to seem calm and confident even as she freaks out inside. She has fought against She-Ra so much, has made so many jokes about how stupid she looks, she shouldn’t think she’s attractive. But in the end, it’s just Adora, and Catra can’t remember a time when she didn’t think Adora is beautiful. 

She-Ra is just Adora. Calm down, idiot, she tells herself. Just Adora. A taller, more muscular Adora. Why does She-Ra have to make her more buff? Adora is already buff!

This isn’t good for Catra’s health.

“Oh, I’m stronger as She-Ra, and we’re lifting a lot of heavy things today, so I thought it would help.” In demonstration, Adora takes hold of a cart filled with stones and lifts it up with one hand like it’s as light as a book. Catra’s heart skips a beat.

Damn.

“Please, show-off,” Catra says, stealing a glance at Adora’s flexing arm and hoping she won’t notice. “We both know I can kick your ass.”

Adora lets the cart drop, smirking. “I remember things differently. Didn’t we blast you off at the Battle of Bright Moon?”

Catra’s tail bristles. “You had a giant rainbow wave! That’s cheating!” She had been picking out glitter from her fur for a week after that.

Something familiar glints in Adora’s eyes and a shiver goes down Catra’s spine. “Mm, then what about this!”

Before Catra can react, she’s lifted off of the ground like she weighs nothing. Adora’s arms are strong and sturdy underneath her, one under her knees and one behind her back. 

“Adora! Put me down!” Catra squeaks, because she hasn’t embarrassed herself enough, and latches onto Adora’s front.

“No,” Adora says, smiling. She bounces Catra in her arms, laughing, and Catra can feel her muscles moving. “Wow, you’re so light.”

As if she’s not giving Catra enough heart attacks today, Adora throws her in the air. Catra screams, even though she wasn’t thrown that high. Adora catches her as she falls, her laugh high and melodic and absolutely the most beautiful thing Catra has heard.

How am I supposed to be upset at her like this?

“Adora!”

“Relax, I won’t let you fall,” Adora says, letting Catra settle into her arms and holding her more securely. Catra relaxes somewhat, as much as she can when she’s being bridal carried by Adora, her arms looped around the other’s neck.

“Comfortable?” Adora asks, smirking. This isn’t fucking fair.

Two can play this game.

Catra lets herself melt against Adora, intertwining her fingers behind Adora’s neck and making sure she can feel them against her skin. Her tail wraps around Adora’s bicep. “Yeah, actually. If you’re so big and strong, why don’t you carry me around? I’m exhausted!”

Catra throws her head against Adora’s shoulder dramatically. She swears Adora gasps, but she covers it up with a huff. “Drama queen.”

Catra grins up at her. “You love it.”

“I do,” Adora says, and it comes out so soft it makes Catra freeze.

You have dug your own grave, idiot, she tells herself. But she’s not about to back down from this before Adora does, so she grins back and points Adora to the next building. “Onwards!”

Adora complies. She carries Catra around the construction site from one building to the next as Catra checks up on how everyone is doing, completely nonchalant about being held like this by a legendary warrior. They get more than one questioning look, but nobody asks them about it. Really, Catra thought they would react more strongly and she doesn’t know what to think about it when they don’t. Maya and Nino probably react the most, sending Catra meaningful looks and high fiving each other when Adora turns her back.

So, where's that cave again?

The last building left is the one their old squadmates are working on. Well, more like Lonnie and Rogelio are - Kyle is passing the water bottles. Probably for the best.

It’s not like they haven’t talked since they arrived in Halfmoon, but things are still strained between them. The three of them always stuck together, the same way Catra and Adora did, and they’ve all changed a lot from the people they were when they got along in the Horde.

“How’s it going?” Catra calls out. 

“We’re almost done,” Lonnie starts, her back to Catra, but she stops talking the moment she turns around. She just stares at them, hitting Rogelion on the arm without looking so he’ll turn too. Even Kyle is staring at them, a dumb smile spreading over his face.

“Congratulations, guys!”

“Well, I guess you figured this out, at least,” Lonnie finally says.

“About time,” Rogelio adds. He’s smiling, maybe. Catra could never tell with him.

Adora has gone stiff behind her and Catra’s face burns so much she could singe all her fur off. She glares at them, shaking her head as minutely as she can without Adora noticing and hoping that they understand from her expression to shut the fuck up.

“Or I guess not.” Lonnie lets out a long-suffering sigh. “How has everything changed so much and yet you two are still complete idiots?”

“Some things are just constant truths.”

“I think this was the last building,” Catra says, a little too loud. It’s not a lie, technically. There really isn’t anything else she has to check on. If she also says it so she doesn’t die of embarrassment in front of Adora no one has to know.

“Oh. Um, yeah.” Adora lets her down gently, and Catra misses her arms around her immediately. “I’ll, uh, I’ll go finish on that building. I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah, see you,” Catra says, waving awkwardly. The moment Adora turns her back on her, she lets her hand fall on her face, groaning. 

“What was that?” Lonnie asks, her voice balancing somewhere between confusion and wanting to laugh her head off. 

Catra whips around to face her. “That’s what I should be asking! Why the fuck did you say that?”

Lonnie rolls her eyes. “I thought you and Adora had finally grown some brains and gotten together. Sorry for believing in your intelligence.”

“Well, we’re not. Adora doesn’t want me like that.” It stings to say out loud, but it's true. Her feelings might as well be written on a sign and hung around her neck. She almost kissed her their first morning together after reuniting! 

Lonnie groans so loudly people from the next house over turn to look. “Oh, you are both idiots. Why do we even have money riding on you two?”

“What- You’ve made bets on us?”

“What did you want us to do? There’s not much entertainment in the Fright Zone.” Lonnie has the nerve to look innocent. 

Maybe I could break my head if I hit it hard enough against the wall. “I can’t believe this.”

"And I can't believe you think Adora isn't in love you!" Lonnie throws her arms up. "She might as well have it written on that stupid tall forehead of hers. And you've been basically screaming it since we were kids. Fuck, I thought you had gotten together when you started sleeping in her bed!" 

Catra doesn’t bring up that they were 7 when she snuck into Adora’s bed after a nightmare and never moved back to her own bunk. The thought of Adora loving her since then, the way Catra always loved her, is too foreign to wrap her mind around. 

"If I'm so obvious then why hasn't Adora done anything yet?" There’s too much bite in her words, and she takes a breath to calm down. "She would have if she felt the same." 

She has accepted that her feelings aren't returned, damn it. Why did Lonnie have to bring it up? 

Lonnie curses under her breath, throwing her head back so hard she could break her neck. "Maybe because Adora is an idiot like you? She's probably thinking the same thing you are, and at this rate, you'll be stuck running circles around each other forever! Isn't talking honestly about your emotions part of healing or whatever?" 

Catra raises a brow. 

"Your mum has been talking with everybody from the Horde regularly since we arrived. Says it's important to address our issues so we can move on. Anyway, that's not the point!" Lonnie covers her eyes with her hand and takes a slow breath. "I can't believe I'm talking you through your disaster of a love life. Look, Rogelio, Kyle, and I came here for a new start. As fun as it is seeing you and Adora make eyes at each other, I'd rather not relieve all of our puberty." 

Catra opens her mouth, but Lonnie cuts her off. "No. Nah-ah, I'm not listening to a minute more of this. I got better things to do." Lonnie starts walking off, then stops and looks back at Catra. "Make a move, or so help me, I will lock you two in a supply closet again." 

She heads back to Rogelio and Kyle, leaving Catra reeling where she's standing. Her words are ringing in her head. 

Make a move. 

Then, "Wait, that was you?" 

Lonnie ignores her and Catra stalks off, trying to push everything she said out aside.

Vera is sitting on the front steps of a house, idly watching everyone work and munching on a bread roll. Catra plops down next to her. 

"Hey." 

"Well, hello there," Vera says, handing Catra a bread roll from the basket next to her feet. There aren't many left - Vera must have passed around the rest. 

Catra tears into the dough. It's still amazing to her how good food can taste. "So, what do you think? Does it," she hesitates, unsure of how to explain what she wants to know, "look right?" 

New Halfmoon has taken shape around them, and it makes Catra wonder more and more if this is what it looked like, before the Horde. If, to Vera and Eyepatch and her mother, it looks like the home they knew. 

She wants it to. She wants to give that back to them. 

Vera’s eyes soften. She looks on at the street in front of them, the almost-finished houses, the grinning Magicats hard at work. A group of children runs past them, some of them with cat ears and tails, others with small wings and just sprouting antlers. They pass water to the adults working and laugh, caught in some game.

"It's… it's like I somehow jumped back to the days before the Massacre,” she says. Something dances in her eyes and Catra wonders if she can still see it, all these years later. “But it’s also not. It's similar, but different and…” She sighs, long and heavy, like something finally settles in her. “It feels like home."

Vera’s hand covers her own, her fur soft with age. "I didn't think I'd live to see Halfmoon rebuilt. I thought Nino would never get to see it as it was, so bright and lively." Her grip tightens around Catra’s hand, shaking. "Thank you." 

Catra averts her gaze. Her eyes are burning. She feels too much suddenly, and she doesn’t know how to handle it. "It's nothing," she mumbles. 

Vera pulls on her arm, giving her no choice but to face her. "It's not," she says. “Thank you.” 

It’s still so hard for Catra to wrap her mind around, that she has done something good, that people can react to her actions with something besides disappointment or anger. It makes her feel so full she might burst. Her reflex reaction is to try and deflect the gratitude, but Vera’s tone is so firm it leaves no space for argument. 

"So, uh, how have you been getting along with the new residents?" It’s an obvious change in subject, but thankfully Vera goes along with it.

"Wonderfully. But if you want to ask me what I think about the ex-Horde soldiers, you can just ask." 

Catra squeaks, caught red-handed. She scratches the back of her neck awkwardly. "What do you think then?" 

"I was hesitant at first, I'll be honest. But everyone who came…” Her hands clench around the fabric of her skirt, her claws unsheathing and glinting in the light. “They're children. They hardly have two decades on them!" Her fury subsides as soon as it appeared. Her bottom lip trembles, just for a moment, before she clenches her jaw. Her voice is quiet when she continues. "It could have been my Nino in their place. And I can't imagine hating him, ever, for something he was forced into."

Catra remembers then that Nino had a sister, taken along with all the other children. Vera is looking at Lonnie and the rest of her old squadmates, a far off look in her eyes. It makes Catra wonder if Vera sees her lost granddaughter in them.

"Plus,” Vera adds teasingly, “it's hard to see that skinny blonde one as the threatening soldier type." 

Catra snorts so loudly she almost spits out her food. 

They fall into conversation naturally after that, until Catra has to go back to work. And even as her body groans and protests, the fatigue of days on end settling on her, she feels secure. 


 

Adora opens the door to Catra’s room, her heart tight in her chest. She knows she has to do this, knows she can't put it off for much longer, especially with New Halfmoon's construction coming to an end, but that doesn't stop her hands from sweating. 

"Hey, Catra?" 

Catra screams at the sound of her voice, her hair on end as she jumps in her chair. She scrambles around her desk, gathering the loose papers spread on it and hunching over them. Adora giggles at her surprised expression and ramrod straight tail. It only makes Catra pout at her more. She will surely deny it later, but for now Adora thinks she's adorable. 

"Fuck, you startled me," Catra hisses, catching her breath.

Adora shrugs, not at all guilty. "You said I don't have to knock." 

"You don't," Catra mutters, looking away. When Adora first started staying in Catra’s room, she kept knocking before coming in. She told herself it was because she was nervous to be regularly sharing a room and a bed with Catra after all this time, and it was, partly. But this room is also so much more private than their barracks in the Fright Zone were and every time Adora steps in she’s reminded that they’re alone, just the two of them. That just a little lower from where she rests her head at night is the spot where she lay on her back with Catra hovering above her, so close she could have kissed her.

And, if late at night, when Catra hugs her arm in her sleep, she allows herself to be honest, she’s scared. With Catra, she’s not just She-Ra. In the moments they touch, she forgets everything she has to be and do.

No, that’s not right. She remembers that she wants things. That she can want things.

And she wants this. She wants it so much it drowns her.

“What you working on?” she says with a teasing lilt to her voice, pushing all her thoughts back and locking them away from now. Catra flushes and shuffles more with her papers.

“J-just construction plans.” Adora glances at the drawer of Catra’s desk. It doesn’t look like it has been opened and she almost sighs in relief. She hasn’t figured out how to say it yet and she doesn’t want Catra to see all her rambling, embarrassing thoughts laid out on that page.

“Anyway,” Catra continues, her voice a bit too high, “we’re having a party to celebrate the end of construction for this first part next week. I’ve invited Bow and Sparkles.”

Adora snorts and Catra’s bottom lip sticks out a bit more in her pout. “That was a horrible subject change.” She freezes mid-laugh, her eyes falling on her pile of worn clothes peeking out from the closet. “Wait, is it supposed to be a fancy thing? Do I have to dress up? I have nothing without sweat stains on it!”

Catra takes her wrists in her hands right as Adora is about to start digging in the closet. “Calm down, I’ve taken care of that.”

Adora’s eyebrows rise.

Catra drops her wrists like it burns to touch her. “I asked Otto to make our outfits for the party,” she mutters, scratching her cheek. Cute. “We don’t really need fancy outfits for this, but he wants to design something for Princess Prom and well, that’s still far off, so I thought he’d like this. Plus, your fashion sense is horrible.” Catra moves her papers aside and pulls something from below them. It’s another piece of paper, brown against all the white of Catra’s notes, and on it are sketches of girls with different clothes. “He said to pick your favorite and tell him.”

A smile has broken out across Adora’s face halfway through Catra’s explanation and she throws her arms around her. “Catra, that’s so sweet! What you did for Otto, not the comment about my fashion sense. Though you’re right.”

“I’m not sweet!” Catra struggles against Adora’s hold, but her tail is wrapped around her forearm so it’s for show.

“Mm, no, you’re sweeter than candy,” Adora says, poking Catra’s soft cheek. Her smile widens and she throws Catra upwards, catching her in her arms and holding her up. She feels her weight more now that she’s not She-Ra but she can still lift her easily.

Catra screeches. Her fingers dig into Adora’s arm so she won’t fall - like Adora would let her - and her tail bats Adora in the face. “What’s with you and picking me up?”

Adora laughs despite the tail in her face. “It’s not my fault you’re adorable when I pick you up.”

“If that was a pun, it was horrible. And I’m not cute!” Her tail fluffs up as she says it, her cheeks a pretty pink Adora wants to kiss.

“No, you’re right,” she says apologetically, lowering her head in remorse. Catra’s head cocks slightly to the side and Adora would swear that she looks disappointed. “You’re the cutest,” Adora corrects herself with a grin.

“You-” 

Catra’s tail slaps her in the face again. Adora laughs. Aw, her ears are twitching.

“Come on, you know I’m right. Admit it!”

Catra glares at her and finally grumbles, “Fine.” Adora smiles in victory and Catra says, “But only if you say it. If Sparkles dares call me cute I’ll give her a buzz cut.”

Which just makes Adora smile more.

She spins around just to hear Catra squeak and hold onto her tighter. She stumbles on the bed, falling against the pillows, her arms falling to wrap around Catra’s waist. 

“Adora, I have work to do,” Catra says. It sounds more like she’s reminding herself.

“I thought I was the workaholic in this friendship?” Adora tightens her hold. Catra feels so good in her arms. Why didn’t they cuddle more in the Horde? “Come on, Catra. Relax for a little. I’ll scratch your ears?”

A second passes, too long. Then Catra whispers, “Ok.”

Adora’s smile is so embarrassingly wide she’s glad Catra can’t see it. She starts scratching around the base of Catra’s ear and despite how long it has been since the last time, the muscle memory comes back immediately. Catra relaxes against her, her head on Adora’s collarbones and Adora’s legs at either side of her.

Yet even as a low purr rambles out of her, her tail sways anxiously.

“Do you want to go?” Catra finally asks, the words bursting out of her like she was pushing herself to say them. Adora stops scratching to let her continue. “To the party.”

“I thought I was already invited?”

“With me, I mean.” Catra’s tail keeps swatting against Adora’s calf, in beat with her racing heart. “Do you want to go to the party with me? We could dance?”

Adora’s heart is beating so fast it might break out of her chest and into Catra’s. She would let her keep it. She has had it all along anyway.

“I’d love that.”

That’s all it takes for Catra’s tail to calm down. It wraps around Adora’s leg. Catra nods, just a little, and as Adora leans her head to the side she sees the smile on Catra’s lips.

“I wanted to ask you something too,” Adora says before she even realizes the words are coming out of her mouth. Catra hums, letting her go on.

“Do you want to come to Bright Moon with me?” She says it so fast the words all run together but she doesn’t bother repeating it, already rambling. “N-not permanently, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to, I get why you wouldn’t cause you have so much to do here, and most of the other princesses stay in their kingdoms the majority of the time, but you’re great at making plans and we kinda need a strategist and-”

“Adora,” Catra cuts her off. “Do you want me to come?”

Fuck, fuck, Adora knew this wasn’t a good idea, she knew she shouldn’t have asked, but Catra fits so well against her, and all she could think was how she never wanted to be apart from her again, how she wants to lie with her like this in her bedroom in Bright Moon.

“I-it would be nice to show you around, I mean-”

“Adora,” Catra says again, more firmly. She has turned around to look at her now. “Do you want me to come?”

Breathe in, breathe out, Adora thinks to herself, even as her heart chants I want you I want you I want you, drowning her.

“Yes,” she breathes, “I do.”

She only catches the briefest smile on Catra’s before she lies back down against Adora. “Okay then.”

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah. It would be nice for a little while.” Catra’s looking sideways, her cheeks flushed. Adora recognizes this downward slope to her lips from when she tries to play it cool. “Plus, I need to start my plan to choke Hordak anyway.”

Adora smiles and goes back to playing with Catra’s hair. 

All this wanting might be drowning her, but Adora thinks she could learn to breathe like this.

Chapter Text

“Where is it?” Catra mumbles to herself, digging through her closet. She swears she put it somewhere around here. She’s supposed to be heading down to New Halfmoon to unveil the statue and officially start the celebration and she can’t find the damn pin that Otto made for her outfit! 

This is so stupid, she can almost hear herself from a few months back say and it makes bile rise in her throat. Why do you even care?

A faint ‘crack’ drags her eyes downwards and she realizes her claws are digging into the wood of the closet. Anger spikes in her, but she manages to stop it before it overflows. She takes a deep breath, then another one, and slowly pulls her claws out of the wood. 

She hates that she still gets these thoughts - that there are times where it feels like all it will take is one wrong step and she’ll tumble down into her old habits.

You don’t think like that anymore, she reminds herself. This isn’t stupid. Otto put a lot of work into this and he will be happy to see you wear everything he made. Caring does not make you weak.

She exhales, feeling her muscles relax. She allows herself to simply breathe for one more moment before going back to searching. The only place left is her desk.

She opens the bottom drawer and rummages through it. The pin isn’t there. Drawer after drawer, she empties each one out. Finally, there's a light ‘ting’ and the pin falls on the floor. Catra pounces on it like it’s the last pastry left on the plate.

The pin is roughly the size of her thumb, carved into the shape of Halfmoon's crest and painted gold. With a sigh of relief, Catra puts it on. The dress shirt Otto made for her is short-sleeved and a deep red, tucked into slim black pants. 

She’s gathering up the mess she made and haphazardly shoving it back into the drawer when she spots a folded piece of paper. It’s light lavender and lined. Catra has never seen it in her life. She doesn’t think they even have paper like that in the palace - lavender seems more Bright Moon’s color scheme.

Maybe Sparkles forgot something here? 

But when she unfolds the paper, the first thing she sees, written in Adora’s tidy script, is her name.

Catra.
I miss your smile.
I miss the gleam in your eyes.
I miss your laugh.

You will always be my friend.

Catra’s throat tightens. The sentences are written one under another, like the poems Catra saw in the library, and the last two words are smudged, the paper dipping under them. Catra’s heart is lodged in her throat. She worked so long with her mother on the memorial statue and the inscription under it. She knows exactly what this looks like.

A line is drawn under the text, splitting the paper in two. Where the top half was neatly written and carefully thought out, the bottom half is a mess of scribbled and crossed out sentences that seem to have been thrown on the paper rather than written.

I like you no, too friendly.

I care about you .

I want to take you out you’re not trying to kill her!!

I want to smash your lips with my lips WHY DID I EVEN THINK OF THAT??

And then, standing alone at the end of the page, the only phrase not crossed out: 

I want you. 

The paper creases under her grip - if she's not careful she will rip it. She's not sure if her heart is still beating or if the phrase on the page was too much for it to bear. All Catra can do is stare at those three words and try to breathe. 

I want you. 

How many times was she the one thinking them? How many times did she daydream of Adora saying them, of Adora caring for her just as much as she did? She has carried these feelings with her for so long that she can’t imagine herself without them. Catra has grown up and changed and through it all -  through childhood games and teenage awkwardness and lashing out - Adora has always had a place in her heart.

And maybe, after so long convincing herself she doesn’t… maybe Catra has one in Adora’s heart too.

The door creaks open. "Catra? Are you ready to head down?" 

Adora walks in and for a moment Catra forgets about the paper. Adora’s hair is loose, falling softly around her shoulders, golden against the red of her dress. It ties behind her neck, exposing her collarbones. The fabric flares out at her waist, fluttering around her knees. Catra doesn’t need to stand next to her to know that the color of Adora’s dress matches her shirt exactly. 

“Yeah, I’m - you look amazing.” Adora’s cheeks flush and it takes Catra a second too long to realize what she said. Her ears twitch with embarrassment. “I, um, I’m ready.”

Adora smiles, no doubt about to call Catra cute, when her eyes fall on the paper in her hands. Her smile immediately falls. “Catra? Where did you find that?”

“I was looking for my pin," she says. For a moment she thinks about pretending she hasn't read it, but every single word on that page burns in her mind. "Adora, what is this?"

Adora bites her lip, wordlessly moving to the bed and sitting down. Catra sits next to her. The paper lays open on her lap.

“When I thought you had… died,” Adora says at last, her eyes trained to the floor, “I wanted… I wanted to do something to remember you. I knew you had made bad choices, but it didn’t feel fair that one day I would die too and people would remember nothing but your worst moments. That nobody would know the girl I- the girl that meant so much to me.”

Adora’s clenching her own fingers so hard her knuckles have turned white. Catra pulls them apart gently and holds onto one. It’s the least she can do to help Adora deal with this pain.

Adora takes a deep breath and it comes out trembling. “I was going to carve that onto a tombstone for you in Halfmoon, after I learned what it was. I thought it would be a place where you could have been happy if things were different.” She chuckles softly at that. “Guess I was kinda right about that last part.”

Catra tightens her grip on Adora’s hand. She doesn’t know what else to do, what she can say to all that, other than let Adora now she’s right here by her side. I'm not leaving you. 

Adora sighs in relief, slumping against Catra’s shoulder. “I’m happy I didn’t need to do it.”

“I’m sorry," Catra whispers, but it doesn't feel enough. 

Adora sits up and pins Catra in place with a look that lets her know that if her insecurities were tangible beings Adora would beat them up. “Hey, hey, we talked about that. It wasn’t your fault." 

It feels like it is, Catra thinks. Adora intertwines their fingers and squeezes. "I’m just happy you’re here with me now,” she says, a look in her eyes that makes Catra’s chest swell, makes her hope that after everything she might still be a person worth loving.

Catra gulps, trying to swallow down her nerves. Even though there is nobody around to hear her, she whispers, “And… what’s this part?”

Adora whips her face away, but Catra still sees the blush spreading across her cheeks and ears. “I’ve been meaning to say something important to someone,” she says, her voice just as quiet as Catra’s, wavering with uncertainty. “And I didn’t want to mess it up, so,” she gestures to the paper, stealing a quick glance at Catra.

Catra smiles, nudging Adora with her shoulder. “I’m surprised you didn’t make a battle plan and an obstacle course.”

Adora chuckles and Catra wants to kiss the sound from her lips. “I would have if I was in Bright Moon. More room,” she says. She averts her eyes and mumbles something that sounds too much like, “And you wouldn’t have seen it.”

Catra’s heart skips a beat. “Have you told her yet?”

Adora simply looks at Catra, her eyes searching. Catra holds her breath. Is she going to…?

But Adora looks away and mumbles, “I’m scared she won’t feel the same. What if I’m… too much?”

You’re all I’ve ever wanted, Catra thinks. The words balance at the edge of her tongue, but it’s too terrifying to let them fall. 

“Well, I think whoever she is, she’d be lucky to have you,” she says instead. Her eyes fall to Adora’s lips, her own tingling. She leans closer. 

You’re not too much. You’ll never be too much. Let me show you.

“Yeah?” Adora bites her lip. She’s so close Catra can smell the scent of her shampoo. She wants to drown in it.

The door creaks open, letting Imra’s voice through. “Catra, Adora? Are you ready?”

Immediately, Adora sits up straight, scooting away from Catra and Catra jumps on her feet.  “Yeah, we’re coming,” she says, her voice a bit too high. She needs to talk with her mum about knocking.

Adora is still sitting on the bed, her face as red as her dress, fiddling with her hair. 

“Hey, Adora?” Before she can second guess herself, she bends down and kisses Adora’s cheek. “Try that ‘smash your lips with my lips’ bit. I think she’d like that,” she says, mustering all the confidence she doesn’t feel and smirking. 

She walks out of the room, leaving Adora stunned behind her. 


 

New Halfmoon's main square is bursting when Catra and Adora arrive, people spilling out into the streets. The garlands the kids made weave between the buildings, spots of color swaying in the wind. A row of tables circles the square, some covered in blankets and sheets, some in pots, pans, and plates - gifts to Halfmoon's new residents. 

In the middle of the square, the curtains around the statue are gone. A deep red fabric has taken their place, hiding it from view until Imra unveils it. She’s already beside it, standing tall. The crowd gathers around her, thrumming with whispers, and Catra moves through them to join her mother. 

Imra smiles, wrapping her tail around Catra’s own. Catra nods encouragingly, standing behind her mother to let her take the stage.

"Thank you for being here today," she starts, her voice booming and certain. The crowd cheers for her. "I will be honest with you, this all feels like a dream. For a long time I didn't think I would ever see my home like this again, so full of life. I know a lot of you unfortunately understand that feeling and the pain of seeing your home torn apart. But I hope we can come together and help each other heal."

Imra takes hold of the fabric - Catra is already holding the other corner. She grins at the crowd. Together, as practiced, they pull the fabric away. It swooshes off, floating in the air for just a second before pooling at their feet.

Sitting on top of a raised pedestal is a proud cat, its kind eyes watching over the crowd. A Magicat’s peaceful face floats above it with magic, their arms open in an embrace like a crescent moon. Catra knows the words carved onto the plaque at the base without looking at them: “In memory of those who fell in the Massacre. We will carry your names in our hearts.”

"This is a monument in honor of everyone who died the night of Halfmoon's Massacre,” Imra says, her eyes glistening with tears. Her fingertips ghost over the cat’s body, tracing the names on its fur. “It is for Felix. And Kayla. Naomi. Milo. Jes. Zora. Raj. Li. Munro. Rennie. Emre. Owais. Florrie. Mariella. Asa. It is for all the people who will live in our hearts. We will remember you, we will fight for you, and we will live for you."

In the crowd, Catra sees Otto with his arms around Maya, tears streaming down their cheeks. Nino is holding his grandma’s hand, both of them shaking. Sari’s parents are holding her in their arms and Catra sees them all gasp when their firstborn daughter’s name is said.

Imra wipes her tears away and holds a hand out to Catra. She takes it, raises them high above their heads. "Let today be a day of joy and celebration, and let us have many, many more of them ahead of us!" 

The crowd’s cheers are deafening. Imra and Catra step back and the Magicats rush forward like a wave. Desperate fingers and glimmering eyes sweep over the statue, searching for the name of their loved ones. Catra is close enough to hear the soft, “Mum”, that falls from Maya’s lips when she finds it.

Her own mother is sniffling next to her. Before Catra can comfort her, Imra pulls Catra into her arms and hugs her fiercely. 

"I'm so proud of you," she says into the side of Catra’s neck, her voice cracking. It makes something in her tremble like it's overflowing, but at the same time it could never be filled. 

"I know I've said it before," Imra continues, "but I will say it again until you grow sick of it." 

Catra doesn’t think that will ever happen. 

When Imra pulls away, her hand goes to her crown, tracing across the point above her cheek. "I want you to take this." 

Catra’s eyes widen. She feels her tail bristle out. She's - she's not ready for that! She just got used to being a princess, she-

"Not like that,” Imra corrects herself before Catra can say anything. “I'm not done being queen. But I know you've talked with Adora about staying in Bright Moon for a bit, and you'll be leaving to go on missions for the Rebellion too…" 

Imra breathes deeply. Catra can see the lines of worry around her eyes. "I know you can take care of yourself, but I want you to take this with you when you leave.” Her hands reach out, soft around Catra’s own as she holds them. “Have a bit of Halfmoon with you to keep you safe while you fight for us." 

There’s a knot in Catra’s throat. She rushes forward and hugs her mother. "I'll come back," she whispers. "I promise." 

Imra squeezes her tightly. "I love you, kitty." 

"I love you too." Catra doesn’t realize the words have come out of her mouth until she hears them. 

They feel right.

When Imra lets her go, she stands on her tiptoes and kisses her forehead. “Go have fun now,” she says, her eyes fleeting over Catra’s shoulder. From the corner of her eye she sees Scorpia waving at them. “Oh, and I’m sorry for interrupting you again.”

Imra leaves before Catra can sputter out a response. Scorpia’s arms fly over her shoulders and suddenly her feet aren’t touching the ground. 

“Wildcat! Hi! Oh, I’ve missed you!”

“H-hey, Scorpia,” Catra says, her voice squeaking with all the air that’s pushed out of her lungs. “You made it.”

“Of course I did! I wouldn’t miss it.” Scorpia puts her down gently, still speaking a mile a minute. Catra missed her. “Oh, and that speech! I’m so glad I brought tissues with me.” Scorpia wipes her eyes, even though there are no tears there. “And look at this place! You’ve done so well.”

“Thanks,” Catra says, feeling her cheeks heat. It still feels weird to be praised for doing something good. “How’s the soul searching going? I see you’ve been to Plumeria.”

Scorpia’s dress looks like it would fit right in with the bright, flower-filled kingdom. It’s a deep, vibrant pink, the fabric crossing over her chest and tying in a bow at the side of her waist. The skirt reaches her ankles, ruffles all across the hem. She even has small flowers dangling from her ears.

Scorpia blushes up to the roots of her hair. Catra raises a brow. “I’ve been visiting the other kingdoms to help. Plumeria was… really nice.”

Catra is about to ask if she means the kingdom or its princess, but the somber look on Scorpia's face catches her off guard. 

“It’s weird, you know?" Scorpia's voice is quiet, even as people celebrate around her. "The Horde always told me I’m better off with them because the other princesses wouldn’t accept me, and I believed them. But all the princesses are such lovely people and none of them have treated me badly.”

Catra gasps, dramatic and way too loud. “The Horde? Lying about something? Preposterous!”

Scorpia laughs at her horrible posh accent and Catra doesn’t care to be embarrassed. “I met some of my people, too," Scorpia continues, lighter now. "They’re scattered all over Etheria! They told me what really happened to our kingdom…” 

Scorpia set her jaw, her eyes like steel. “I’m going to take it back. And when I do, I will find everyone who had to run away and invite them to come back.”

A grin spreads across Catra’s face. Watching Scorpia with such determination burning behind her eyes leaves her in awe of the amazing woman that is her friend. She's so damn proud. 

“You’ve got back up right here," she says, punching Scorpia's arm lightly. “And if any Scorpioni come by here, I will let them know they have an awesome princess.”

Scorpia's eyes twinkle and Catra is once again picked up in a bone-crushing hug. “Aww, Wildcat!” 

When Scorpia sets her down, Catra sees Adora approaching with Glimmer and Bow. 

"I have to say, your plan turned out pretty well, hairball," Glimmer says, smirking at Catra. 

Catra chokes. "Hairball?" 

Glimmer shrugs. "I figured 'Horde scum' wouldn't work anymore." Besides Glimmer, Adora is trying not to laugh. The traitor. 

"I can live with that, Sparkles ." 

“Aww, you guys are being friendly,” Scorpia coos, one of her claws over her heart.

“You could say that,” Bow trails off, though he’s smiling. He throws an arm over Catra’s shoulder. “Is that a new addition to the Best Friend Squad I sense?”

"Ew, no!" Catra ducks out of Bow's arm, her tail standing straight behind her. "Being a princess is enough, thank you." 

Glimmer puffs to her right, leaning against Catra as Bow does the same on her left. "Admit it, you like us!" 

"Quit kidding yourselves!" Catra hisses at them, but it doesn't deter them. They spin her around, singing some stupid made-up song. Catra’s cheeks burn with embarrassment and she's this close to cursing them out. 

But she doesn't, because Adora is looking at her with that soft smile of hers that makes Catra melt, like watching her be tormented by her friends is all she ever wanted. 

The music picks up into a cheery, lively tune and even more people rush into the square, moving to the beat. 

"We should dance!" Scorpia exclaims. 

Before she knows it, Catra is being pulled to the square along with Bow, Glimmer, and Adora. The five of them dance together, though it's nothing like the way people danced at Princess Prom. It's like everyone has too much energy in them, too much happiness, and they have to get it out somehow. Catra almost falls over when Maya and Nino jump onto her back, and they join their circle as well. 

She holds hands with Maya and Nino and spins to the music’s pulse. Scorpia grabs her around the waist and raises her up. Adora takes her hand and twirls her until all Catra can see are colors and Adora’s smile. And it’s somewhere then, with her hand against Adora’s and her heart beating in time with the music, that something settles in Catra. It’s like she can finally breathe deep enough, like she finally stopped being hungry after so long that she had grown used to the feeling.

She could burst.

She slips away from the square, the crowd hiding her movements, and slides into an alley. The stones are cool against her skin as she leans on the wall. She closes her eyes and wills herself to breathe, feeling the air travel through her body. Music and laughter reach her ears, filling her head. She’s hit with that same powerful, breath-stopping feeling from her flight with Adora over New Halfmoon, the realization that she has done something good.

She’s in a place where she belongs, where she’s safe. She has a family, a mother who loves her and is proud of her. She has friends and people who are genuinely happy to see her.

A hand touches her shoulder. Catra tenses. 

“Hey,” Adora says, smiling sheepishly. “You left pretty suddenly back there. Everything ok?”

“Yeah, I just got,” Catra gulps, searching for the right word, “overwhelmed.”

“Too many people?”

Catra shakes her head. “No, it’s not that.” She exhales, and it comes out shaky. “I never thought I’d get to have all of this. It’s almost like one of my childhood dreams came true, but even better than anything I imagined.”

Adora leans against the wall next to her and smiles, warm and kind and proud. Catra’s tail sways between them and wraps around Adora’s calf. 

“Almost?” Adora asks, a teasing tilt to her voice as she tries to cheer Catra up. “Pray tell, oh great Catra, what is missing from your perfect fantasy? What do you want? Is it a chocolate river?”

Catra laughs. Adora almost glows with satisfaction. There’s a light red sheen to her lips from the punch and Catra wants to kiss it off. 

“What if I wanted you?”

Adora’s eyes widen and it’s only then that Catra realizes she said that out loud.

Adora quickly averts her eyes, but Catra still sees her bright red cheeks. “I’ve always been your friend, dummy. I’ll always be.”

Catra could take this out. She could pretend that’s what she meant.

She doesn’t want to.

She reaches out and takes Adora’s hand in hers. It’s warm. She intertwines their fingers. “What if I wanted more?”

Adora’s words are no louder than a gasp. “More?”

Catra nods. She pushes herself off the wall to look at Adora better, their hands linking them together. “What if… if I wanted all of you?” She takes a step closer. Their toes touch. She can hear Adora’s breath hitch. “If I wanted you to feel the way I do?”

Adora’s gaze is on Catra’s lips. She drags her eyes higher, excruciatingly slow. They’re so bright behind her lashes. “Then I’d say you’ve always had me.”

Catra hears herself gasp. Her free hand, the one that’s not holding onto Adora like she’s her last lifeline, comes up to cup her cheek. Adora leans into her touch, a small smile on her lips like she has been waiting for this her whole life.

Catra has. She doesn’t want to wait anymore.

She leans forward and their lips touch.

Adora’s lips are soft, and they taste of punch. Catra feels her gasp against her skin, feels her smile as she raises her arms and wraps them around Catra’s neck. Their bodies are flush against each other, and it’s somehow still not enough. Catra doesn’t think she will ever get enough of her.

She’s so happy she’s purring, and she doesn’t care to stop.

Because she’s kissing Adora, and Adora is kissing her back.

They pull apart for air, both of them panting, their breaths twirling together in the space between them.

“Wow,” Adora breathes out. Her hair is slightly messy and her cheeks are flushed. She’s smiling wide. 

Because I kissed her.

I kissed Adora.

“Shut up you dork,” Catra says, but she’s smiling just as wide.

The music picks up from the square as a new song starts playing. Adora laughs, giddy and breathless. She squeezes Catra’s hand and pulls her into the square after her.

Catra would follow this girl anywhere.

Their hands are still clasped together tightly. All around them, people are dancing in pairs and with a start, Catra recognizes which dance it is. Maya and Nino had shown her the steps in preparation for today - they said it’s a Halfmoon classic. She puts her free hand on Adora’s shoulder and her tail wraps around her waist. Adora mirrors her movements, her palm resting just above Catra’s hip. It sends a spark through her.

Adora must have learned this dance too because her steps never falter. She looks Catra in the eyes, beaming, her hair bouncing around her shoulders with every move. Catra can feel Adora’s pulse beating in sync with her own against her wrist and she’s smiling so much her cheeks hurt.

Adora kissed me back.

Adora wants me.

They dance and dance and dance. Catra spins Adora out and pulls her back in - her laughter is even better than the music. Adora twirls her under her arm and Catra falls back into her, smiling. Then, right as the song ends, Catra is weightless.

Adora dips her, just like Catra did so many months ago. Adora’s strong arms are supporting all of her weight and Catra can’t tear her eyes away from this beautiful, wonderful girl. She feels her breath ghost against her lips.

“I love you,” Adora whispers, loud enough only for Catra to hear.

“I love you, too.” She buries her hands in Adora’s hair. After so many years, she can finally say it out loud. “I’ve always loved you.”

Adora’s lips are against hers again. Catra was right, she will never get bored of this. She wants to kiss Adora for the rest of her life.

They keep kissing even as Adora pulls her back on her feet. When they part, Adora has that same ecstatic look on her face like in the alley.

There’s silence, but only for a second before the square erupts in applause. It snaps Adora and Catra from their haze and they look around to see everyone clapping. Among all the chaos, Catra hears what sounds awfully like Lonnie demanding money.

Adora’s face is so red it can’t be healthy. “Oh, shit. We’re in the middle of the square.”

Despite her own embarrassment, Catra laughs, hiding her face in Adora’s shoulder. “You forgot?”

“You’re very distracting.” Adora pouts. She’s so cute Catra wants to kiss her.

I can kiss her, she realizes. So she does it. “Good thing I can keep distracting you until you built up a resistance.”

Adora laughs against her lips. “Please do.”

Catra kisses her again. And again, and again, and again.

I love her so much.

And she loves me too.