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“Let me say it plain: I loved someone and I failed at it. Let me say it another way: I like to call myself wound but I will answer to knife.” Nicole Homer

"He loves me, he loves me not, we are taught to say, as we tear the flower from its flowerness. To arrive at love, then, is to arrive through obliteration. Eviscerate me, we mean to say, and I'll tell you the truth.” Ocean Vuong

 


 

Adora can’t sleep. 

The constellation Herakles shines bright over Mount Pelion. It’s midsummer. While it could be a coincidence that the hero’s bright silhouette becomes clearest on Adora’s birthday, the architecture of the stars is a work of the gods—and the gods love to do nothing more than piss her off.  

Glimmer is snoring obnoxiously to her left, curled up in the fine purple cloak that her mother's messengers had delivered to Pelion for Adora’s birthday. Bow is sprawled out on Adora’s right side, mouth hanging open, fingers still clutching his lyre. After Mara had admonished them sleepily for their noisiness, they relocated to this small grove to continue their celebrations. Bow had spent the entire night prodding the strings while they’d gorged themselves on mountain berries. 

Adora rises onto her elbows, scanning their small camp. The bonfire is on its last embers, the woods filled with a chorus of crickets and owls.

Nothing is amiss. Yet there’s a curious tug behind Adora's eyes that leaves her feeling like there’s something that she’s forgotten.

The Herakles in the sky is outstretching a starlit hand in her direction. Adora shifts onto her belly and groans. 

Glimmer makes a noise. The rosy-haired demigoddess blinks awake, peeking out from the cloak with sleepy eyes. 

“What’s wrong?” she whispers. 

“Nothing,” Adora shakes her head. “I can’t sleep.”

Glimmer’s small frame is engulfed in the cloak that was made for Adora’s measurements. 

“Wanna talk about it?” 

Adora shrugs. “I just feel like I’m forgetting something. Like there’s something I’m supposed to do right now.” 

“Is there something else you usually do back on Phthia for your birthday?” Glimmer asks softly. 

Another girl’s smile ghosts up in Adora’s memory, unbidden and trailed with smoke. Stale remembrances of laughter. Streaks of sunlight, yellow-blue eyes. 

“No,” Adora says. She mentally snaps that tangent in half. “Today was amazing. You guys made everything perfect. Best birthday celebration ever.” 

“You only turn twenty-two once,” Glimmer teases. Then she looks at Adora solemnly. “It’s okay to miss your friends back home, you know.”

What Adora doesn't tell her: she doesn’t have any friends at home. Her mother had made sure of it. Before Bow and Glimmer, there was only one person in the world who could brave her mother’s wrath. And Adora hasn't spoken to her in years. 

“I guess I’m a little homesick,” Adora says. Feeling guilty about her own misery, she adds: “Mostly I miss bread.” 

“Gods, you’re always thinking about food,” Glimmer groans, retreating into the cocoon of Adora’s cloak. “I thought we were having a moment.” 

“Aw, Glimmer,” Adora squishes her face against Glimmer’s cloak-covered head. “We’re having a lovely moment. Thank you for checking on me.” 

“Well, that’s what friends do,” Glimmer snuggles closer. “Still feel like you’re forgetting something?” 

“Maybe,” Adora mutters. 

Glimmer huffs a laugh. “Well, whatever it is, we have lots of time to figure it out tomorrow.”

“You’re right,” Adora says, mostly to herself. “I’ll figure it out tomorrow.” 

When Adora finally falls asleep, the dreams come, dulled in the five years since she began as one of Mara’s pupils.

Back then, they’d cracked open her sleep like sharp, bright wounds; the familiar glow of Light Hope’s citadel, a girl staring at her from the other side of a pillow. Punctures of her mother’s immortal anger would rouse her gasping out of sleep, swearing that she could still see serpentine eyes flashing with disappointment. A voice like lightless depths, like eels, slithering invisible in the night. Mara would prepare tonics so that Adora could sleep, spending hours in the dark reassuring her that her mother wasn’t watching them from the forest. 

The threat of her mother’s eyes no longer reach Adora on Pelion.

At some point, Adora had stopped waiting to get punished for spending hours lounging in the grass. Bow and Glimmer, and Mara proved that the world could be something different from the one she knew at the palace. 

Tonight, though, the dream comes faded and curling around the edges. Dull is the wrong word to describe it—the visions are lived in, lovingly worn. 

Adora dreams that she’s running barefoot through the forest, chasing after a blur of woman clothed in white.

There’s a shock of dark hair, freckled shoulders, and that laugh

“Adora,” she calls. Her voice is distant like heavenly thunder. 

Catra turns, and her eyes twinkle blue and yellow, the hues constantly shifting in Adora’s unreliable memory. 

She reaches out her hand. 

“You coming?” 

 

 

Adora wakes to the cacophony of trumpets.

It’s a shock. A sheer drop into an old life.

Her soul, petal-soft, strikes like lightning into a foreign version of her body. She is arcing to her feet, thrumming for battle. She’s up before Glimmer and Bow have even opened their eyes, holding a spear out in the direction of the threat. 

Not a spear, Adora realizes a beat later. It’s her hiking stick. She’d made it out of a felled ash tree years ago, accumulating intricate drawings in the wood through Bow and Glimmer’s playful artistry.  

How easily it turns into a weapon in Adora’s hands. 

The trumpet sounds again. This time, a voice accompanies the shrill noise. 

“Princess Adora!”

Adora freezes.

“Princess Adora! I come as a messenger from the goddess queen of Phthia!” 

She’s locked in position. Poised to hurl her weapon through a soldier’s throat. 

“I’m here,” Adora finally says, in a voice that doesn’t sound like her own. 

A soldier ascends the hill, feet crunching through the foliage. Vaguely, Adora thinks that Mara would be upset by how inconsiderately the man moves through the mountainside. He sees Adora, and his eyes widen, before dropping sharply at the waist into a low bow. 

“Princess of Phthia,” he says. “Your goddess mother summons you home.” 

Fear slices into her.

Not a question, or request—a summon. 

Adora doesn’t lower her weapon. “Why?” 

“That is for your mother to tell,” the soldier says, ducking his head. “You must come now.”  

“Wait.” Adora realizes that her hands are trembling. She looks at Bow and Glimmer, who look back at her in concern, gathering to their feet. “I need to—I need—” 

“Adora needs to gather her belongings,” says a new voice. 

Mara.

The boughs of trees part for her as she strides noiselessly through the forest. The centaur appears before them, graceful and ancient, the wild ruler of her mountainside realm. Mara towers over them, russet skin gleaming in the morning light, leather armour wound around her chest. A bow is slung across her strong shoulders, its matching quiver resting at her hips where human flesh meets the hulking body of a stallion.

The soldier looks slightly sick. 

“Wait for us below,” Mara commands with a voice older than the mountain. The soldier stumbles away quickly. Adora turns to Mara, eyes wide. 

“My mother requests my presence,” she says simply. 

“I heard.” Mara nods to Adora, Glimmer and Bow. “Quickly, Adora. Let’s get you packed.” 

The ascent to Mara’s cave is not a path unfamiliar to Adora, but the mountainside seems to glow with extra power, as if it’s the first day of spring.

The leaves are greener than usual, the fruit hanging off the trees filling the morning air with sweetness. The nymphs whisper coyly from their perches. They’ve always doted on Adora, leaving little wreaths and wood carvings for her to find outside the cave, and on top of her clothes when she returns from bathing in the river. Adora can feel their immortal eyes on her, disappearing with nervous giggles when she cranes her neck up to look back at them. The breeze lifts the hair from her face, kissing her cheeks, a thousand summers rushing to bless her. 

Adora will remember this, later.

At the cave, Bow and Glimmer wait outside, heads ducked together in quiet conversation. Adora settles onto her knees above the pile of furs that have been her bed. Mara follows, standing at the cave entrance with her arms crossed. 

“It will be good to see everyone,” Adora says, mostly to herself. She fills a leather satchel with some tunics, a tin of salve, a figurine of her own likeness (a present from Bow for her eighteenth birthday). “I might stay a couple extra days,” Adora continues. “To catch up with Light Hope. I should be back in time for the fig harvest, though.” 

Mara says nothing. Adora watches the centaur move to the old oak table where she mixes herbs into medicines. She reaches for something behind her cluttered belongings, and pulls Adora’s sword from the mess.

It has been sitting right where Adora left it, five years ago. 

The silver blade is named Adamastus. Untamed. It's as wicked sharp as it had been the day that Light Hope brought it to her, a gift for the champion of the Olympians with metal forged by the blacksmith god. The sword glows despite its disuse, as if Mara has been keeping it oiled for her. The turquoise jewel glitters, embedded in the hilt. 

“You should take this with you,” Mara says, holding the weapon out to Adora. 

An infinite amount of time seems to pass before Adora manages to reach out and take the sword, both hands wrapping around the hilt, warm from Mara’s grasp. Her teacher pulls a leather scabbard from the wall, hanging alongside her extra bows. She tosses it to Adora before turning to leave. 

Adora follows, pausing at the curtain of vines separating the cave from the outside world, and glancing back.

The citrine cave walls glow warmly. Adora wants to stay forever. She spies Glimmer's and Bow’s fur pallets, unmade next to hers in the corner of the cave. Dried herbs hang on threads of twine, filling the space with the scent of hyssop. A dim fire flickers in the centre, a pot, breakfast perhaps, simmering merrily above the flame. 

Adora slides her sword into the scabbard, and turns away.

Outside, Glimmer and Bow wrap her tightly in a hug. 

“You sure you don’t want us to come with you?” Bow asks. 

“I’m sure,” Adora says. “I’ll be back in a couple days. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, in the meantime.” 

“I’ll miss you,” Glimmer says, slightly weepy. They haven’t been apart for more than a day in the past five years. She pulls the purple cloak off her body and drapes it over Adora’s shoulders, tying the threads securely at her throat. “I wish there was time for me to braid your hair. At least comb it, Adora, by the gods.” 

Adora is about to tell her to shove it when Mara steps forward. 

“Don’t be late for the fig harvest,” Mara warns. 

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Adora grins. 

Mara offers her a smile, tinged with a sadness that Adora can't quite understand. The centaur bows slightly, resting both hands on Adora’s shoulders. 

“Remember that we love you,” she says, voice quiet and urgent. 

Adora doesn’t remember how the rest of it goes.

She’s walking back down that hill to meet the soldier, where he waits with two saddled horses. Her mind goes somewhere far, watching herself from above like she’s already a constellation, sitting with Herakles up in the morning sky. 

Herakles had been a student of Mara’s once too.

Had slept on the same furs that Adora sleeps on. Played the same instruments hanging throughout Mara’s cave. Perhaps he too had descended down this very mountainside, the weight of a sword across his shoulders, ready to become a legend. 

Adora brushes the thought aside. 

She’ll be back by the end of the week. 

 

 

For hours they travel down the mountain in silence. Sitting saddleback is strange—disorientating after spending all that time with a centaur. 

“What’s your name?” Adora asks the soldier. He glances back at her.

“Haemon,” he replies. “You and I were kids together.” 

“Oh.” Adora shifts. “Sorry… it’s been a while.” 

Haemon offers her a timid smile. “Don’t apologize, Your Highness. There were almost fifty exiles in my batch—we start blurring together after a while.” 

Half the residents of her mother’s palace are cast out royalty.

Young misbehaved princesses and princes from neighbouring kingdoms, and children with blood not quite noble enough to warrant any real inheritances are sent to Phthia to be reared. Brought to maturity beneath the shadow of her mother’s watchful gaze, and the strict teachings of Octavia, the commander of her mother’s army and the headmistress of the exiles. Adora supposes that Octavia’s two roles could really just be a single one, since most exiles—indebted to her mother for taking them in, and still unwanted by their noble families—grew up to be soldiers. 

Sourness spreading through her mouth, Adora’s mind wanders to one woman in particular. 

She’s about to ask about her, lips forming the familiar syllables of her name when she hears something in the distance.

It rides the breeze. A murmuration, an indecipherable chorus of hundreds. The faraway pounding of drums, steady as the ocean’s heartbeat. 

“What is that?” The noise grows.  

They crest a hill and come to a halt. Adora grips the reins of her horse tighter.  

The steep rocks of the mountain have flattened out into tamer lands, her goddess mother’s kingdom spreading endlessly beneath them. The wind carries with it the scent of ocean salt and burning wood. There is the familiar sprawl of vineyards, more vast than Adora remembers, baking in the late afternoon sun. The palace is stark among the shifting grasses, all sharp lines and perfect angles. The work of an architect rather than a forest deity. 

People, hundreds of them, are gathered in the fields outside the palace, all turned to her like flowers in the sunlight. They fill the air with joyous chanting.

Their words are clear. It’s an invocation. 

Aristos Achaion! Aristos Achaion! 

Best of the Greeks. 

A gull releases a piercing shriek overhead. Adora lifts her eyes from the writhing crowd, following the silhouette of the bird, dive-bombing into the glittering sea.

Her gaze shifts to the beach, where she can make out several hulking shapes. 

Her eyes widen. 

Triremes. War ships. 

There are more than forty of them lined up in the sand, Phthia’s banners raised and blowing in the wind. 

A beat, waves collapsing against the sand.

The realization strikes her like a blow to the chest: Adora is going to war. 

 

 

(Far above the mortal world, in the light above the heavens, three goddesses work on a loom with impossible speed, weaving with a frayed, golden thread.)

 

 

Her mother, the nereid Shadow Weaver, is waiting for her at the steps of the palace, flanked by her court of nymphs and mortals.

She's as frightening as Adora remembers. 

Shadow Weaver stands taller than any woman that Adora has ever seen. She gilds skin as pale and radiant as moonlight. A shimmering grey veil covers her hair, revealing a face that is beautiful with immortality and slash-marked as a cliffside. Adora’s faded memories of her mother turn vivid, details locking into place like an arrow in a crossbow. Shadow Weaver glows like the moon’s reflection on a frigid sea, eyes a milky, swirling set of green.

How could Adora have ever forgotten her cold brightness? 

Philomela stands on Shadow Weaver’s left. A distant relative of the queen, and thus Adora, the brown-skinned nereid is her mother’s closest advisor. Octavia stands on her mother’s right, the years apparent on her mortal face. She’s dressed from head to toe in armour, her usual outfit, helmet beneath her arm. Finally, Light Hope. Her old teacher, the daughter of Apollo, standing off to the side, watching will immortal stillness as Adora dismounts her steed, taking slow steps forward.   

Her mother’s eyes meet hers. 

“My Adora,” Shadow Weaver says, with a voice of shipwrecks, drowned sailors, sea monsters in the deep. “Blood of my blood. Aristos Achaion. Be welcome home.” 

The people cheer. 

“Mother,” Adora says. The sun doesn't sit warmly upon her at this elevation. The mountain wind empties out of her lungs. "What happened?" 

Shadow Weaver smiles. When Adora was younger, that grin would have sent her running. 

"The lady Helen was stolen from her marriage bed by the Trojan prince, Paris," she says. "Menelaus calls Greece to war." 

"And you are leading the Myrmidons to Troy?" 

"No, Adora," she replies. "You are leading the Myrmidons."

 

 

Adora feels like a ghost.

The halls of the palace are clattering with noise. Servants rush past her, carrying baskets of fruit, armfuls of linens. They pass the courtyard, where a pair of soldiers spar amidst a small crowd, the metallic clang of swords echoing over their excited chatter. 

Everything is too bright, too angular, too smooth.

Had it only been last night that Adora was laying in the grass with Bow and Glimmer, listening to the howls of mountain lions?  

And Mara—Mara must have known Adora wouldn’t be returning.  

They sail in a week. 

Shadow Weaver announces that there will be a celebration this evening for Adora's homecoming, as if she could celebrate with the news hanging over her. 

Before she realizes what is happening, Adora finds herself being led to her old bedroom.

Old seashells hang from an oak branch above her window, chiming in the draft. Adora’s bed is in the corner of the white room, the sheets made. There’s a shut wooden chest with a vase of flowers resting on top of it. Adora turns and spots her vanity, the mirror polished to gleam.  

There aren’t any mirrors on Pelion. Her own reflection startles her. 

Adora is taller now, shoulders broader beneath the purple cloak. Beneath the rich fabric, she’s wearing a well-loved leather bodice, one that Mara had taught her how to stitch. Her legs are strong and bare, save for the pale skirt she’d made from a dress that her mother sent to Pelion for her nineteenth birthday. Adora’s blonde hair hangs, unruly, to her waist. She had not taken Glimmer’s advice to comb it. 

A rustle behind her. 

Adora whirls, unsheathing Adamastus from its scabbard. 

“Oh!” 

A honey-haired woman stands in the doorway, clutching a white dress close to her chest, brown eyes wide in shock. 

“Sorry!” Adora lowers her sword. The woman releases a breath. “I wasn’t expecting anybody.” 

"It's alright," the woman curtsies shakily, bright tresses falling in her face. “My name is Daphne, Your Highness. The queen sent me to help you get ready for tonight’s festivities.” 

“You look so familiar,” Adora murmurs, staring. Daphne turns pink beneath her gaze, something like shy desire blossoming in her eyes. 

“We were children together.” Daphne says, taking a few steps into the room. “I helped you prepare on the night of the Thesmophoria, years ago. I put flowers in your hair.” 

The memories flood back to Adora: this room glowing with sunset, back when she was not the only one living in it. Daphne standing behind Adora at the vanity, twining her hair on top of her head while Catra lounged at the edge of the bed. The memories glow like candlelight. Catra, laughing at the petals in Adora’s tresses. Catra, stealing pomegranates from the kitchen and hiding them in one of Adora’s drawers for an evening snack.

Catra on the night of the Thesmophoria, the last time Adora had seen her. 

“Are you going to put flowers in my hair again?” Adora asks. 

Daphne’s gaze idles at Adora’s shoulders, down her calves, to her feet. Then she glances at the white gown in her arms. It’s the shimmering dress of a maiden—of a softer girl who gathered flowers, who hummed while working at a loom. Adora has never been truly soft. 

“Beg pardon, Your Highness," Daphne says. "But I don’t think flowers will cut it anymore.” 

 

 

The throne room is sweltering.

Musicians stand on a dais, playing out a song that Adora could liken to the vivacious flight of bees.

Torches burn hot, throwing light on the revellers who jump in time to the rapid beat, winding in and out of embraces as they flow through the steps of a line dance that Adora loved as a child. 

Shadow Weaver sits on the throne. Sea dragons of burnished gold coil their long necks around the seat to form the throne’s arms, monstrous golden wings forming the throne’s back, making the goddess appear as if she’ll take flight. 

Courtiers, nymphs, and exiles greet Adora as she slips into the throne room. Their gazes fall on her, some eyes widening in surprise, some turning heavy with appreciation. Adora makes a note to leave a gift for Daphne, after the lady-in-waiting performed whatever impossible magic to turn Adora into this.   

The dress is of the deepest blue, flowing down to her feet like water over stone. The fabric is so delicate that Adora could almost swear that she’s not wearing anything, were it not for the solid weight of burnished metal against her skin. From her ribs upwards, metal curves around her like a breastplate carved into steely ribbons, pressed comfortingly around her neck and over her shoulders, leaving her arms bare. 

Adora feels beautiful and strong. Distantly, she feels Mara’s spirit near her. She’s like a centaur, warrior from the waist up. The thought makes her smile. 

Light Hope is there, in the corner of the room, staring impassively at the celebration. 

"Princess Adora," Light Hope says, when Adora joins her side. 

"It's been years," Adora greets. There is a hesitance between them now that hadn't existed when Adora was a child. "How are you, Light Hope? 

"Quite well," she replies. "I expect that your training with the centaur was successful?" 

"Mara taught me many things." Adora watches the goddess's expression flicker, her nostrils flaring delicately. "She told me that you were raised together." 

"Yes," Light Hope says stiffly. "And we have both grown into our power since then. And you, Adora—are you ready for war?" 

"I don't think I have the option not to be." 

"You don't." 

Adora feels infinitely older as she looks at her teacher.  

"You were chosen, Adora. " Light Hope says. "This is your destiny."

"I've heard that before. Mara always told me that I have a choice." 

"And yet you know in your heart that she's wrong." 

Adora presses her lips tightly together. "Excuse me." 

She steps away just as the music changes, the drums fading into silence. 

She wants to leave the room—leave this life, return to Pelion, live forever by Mara's fire with her friends. 

The exit is just a few steps away. 

The song changes. 

In the absence of percussion, the first notes from the lyre enthral—inquisitive, sensual, daring. A courtship dance. The line in the centre of the room reforms, moving into the two rows customary of a pairs set. 

She's almost out. She prays that nobody asks her to dance. 

And then a body steps into her path. 

Adora's decline is immediate. "No, thank you—"

(The gods have it out for her.)

“Hello Adora,” that voice says, familiar and yet so different from the one in her dreams. It's low and infinitely amused, dripping saccharine. “I heard you were back from hero training.” 

She looks up and falters. Adora meets Catra’s eyes for the first time in five years. 

 

Catra’s eyes are like honey and aquamarine. Ember and blue sky. Adora hadn’t realized how far off the path her memory had strayed when she’d dared to imagine the woman standing before her. They’d both been teenagers when Adora left for Mount Pelion. 

They’re not teenagers anymore.

The years they’ve lost is evident in Catra’s matured face, in the poise and cunning written all over her body.

There’s a comet trail of a scar that Adora can’t stop looking at, streaking down Catra’s bare shoulder and collar bones before disappearing behind the thick bands that hold her dress aloft. The bodice of her gown is plaited leather, drawing Adora’s gaze to the curve of her waist. Soft fabric the colour of sand flows down to her feet. Gone are Catra’s defiant brown curls. Her hair is short, boyish. Freckles shower the bridge of her nose, still. 

The grief hits Adora first. Then the guilt.  

Catra stares back, eyes glittering with wicked cruelty.  

“What, are you speechless?” Her lips tighten. “Or do heroes of your ilk not bother with mortals?” 

Her words scrape low.  

Adora doesn't know why she does it—she offers a hand out to Catra, nodding to the dance floor.  

“Join me,” Adora breathes. 

Surprise flickers in Catra’s eyes, a familiar softening of her brows. A sliver of the girl Adora once knew. But the expression is gone in a second, replaced by barely restrained ire. 

She takes Adora's hand.  

“Who am I to deny the Princess of Phthia a dance?” 

They join the procession in the centre of the room. Haemon is standing on Adora’s right, paired with a pretty girl standing across from him with a sweet smile. Next to the girl is Catra, decidedly unsmiling. 

Watching her, Adora realizes that she's just initiated a brawl.   

The lyre plays a single sustained note—a question, dangling in midair. 

Adora steps forward at the first sound of the kithara—

—And Catra meets her in perfect unison. 

Faces only inches apart, their eyes meet. Adora’s gaze drops to Catra’s mouth, and falls lower still to track the hypnotic tightening of her throat as she swallows. Catra moves away in the next beat, stealing the warmth with her. 

“You seem so melancholy, Adora,” Catra muses. “I thought you’d be happier about the news.” 

Adora bristles.

The kithara and lyre exchange strikes, like swords in a duel, and the pairs begin to dance. Catra and Adora circle each other, hands brushing as they spin in slow turns. 

“You think I’d celebrate a declaration of war?” Adora says bitterly. Catra’s smile grows. 

“You’re a warrior,” she says, surging into Adora’s arms.

Thoughts falling off their axis. Catra's skin is so warm against hers. She smells the way that she always has—like peach blossoms and cardamom. The realization cuts through her as the woman rests her hand on Adora’s shoulder. Adora's palm is pressed flat to her waist. 

“What are you without a war?” Catra tilts her head back challengingly, swaying in Adora’s embrace. “I thought you were embracing your fate now—isn't that what you told me before you left? All these years training to be a hero. And finally, when Troy and its people burn, the Olympians will reward you for all the blood on your hands. Isn’t that what you wanted?” 

The hurt catches flame. 

Catra spins out of her arms and pauses across from her, back to where they started. The drums kick in, pace rising, and Adora tugs her back roughly to run through the same set of motions, faster now. Their chests meet, several layers of leather and metal between them.

“Stop it,” Adora snarls. 

Catra knows Adora—her most wounded, honest selves. Insecurities, weaknesses, fears. 

And now she’s throwing it all back in her face. 

“You know I never asked for any of this,” Adora continues. She’s still keeping Catra tight against her chest, fingers spread on her hips. The other couples move apart, but Adora holds her there. “Are you still punishing me for leaving?” Catra breathes out sharply. “Do you think that will fix anything? You think being cruel will make you feel better?”  

Catra yanks herself away, falling back into the sharp beats of the dance.

“Oh, I get it,” Catra chuckles humourlessly. “You’re all high and mighty now. Did Moira give you a morality lesson?” 

Mara,” Adora snaps, “Taught me about love. I have friends who love me on Mount Pelion. Friends who know that I’m more than a prophecy. And I’m going to fight in this war to get back to them.” Adora leans down, and asks, “Who will you be fighting for?” 

“Fuck off,” Catra spits.

The indifferent mask splits open, outrage contorting across Catra’s face. Good, Adora thinks. She’s seething. She wants to grapple with her, wants to shake her until her old self comes springing loose.

“Fuck your philosophy lessons. I’m fighting in this war for glory, and no matter what you say, you know deep down that you are too.” 

“Glory?” Adora says incredulously. 

The word they use is kleos. Eternal renown gained through success on the battlefield. With kleos, a hero can live forever.

Catra had never desired such things before. 

They orbit each other like great, violent stars, charging towards collision. The music swells.

Catra presses a hand flat against hers, coming in close as Adora speaks again. 

“You told me if war ever came, you’d run.”  

Catra meets her eyes as the song ends. The other couples on the floor, the watching crowd, break into applause. 

She whispers just for her, breath hot in Adora’s mouth. 

“I’m not running now.”

 

-

 

Catra doesn’t know why she accepts Adora’s invitation to dance.

She thinks it’s because she likes the way Adora’s eyes darken when they find her. Maybe years ago, it would be because Catra felt safe in her arms. Now, Catra doesn't feel safe anywhere.

Now, the princess’s hands against hers, against her waist, her hips, their chests heaving together—make Catra feel like struck steel, Adora the flint cracking against her.

Maybe Catra is just asking to be set alight.  

 

 

It’s several hours later and Catra is sitting on the stone floor of the shadowy palace kitchens, hacking a pomegranate to death with a paring knife.

By now, the halls have mostly emptied, the very last of the revellers stumbling to their beds or to someone else’s.

She tears the pomegranate in half, tart spray erupting into the air. 

After her dance with Adora, Catra had spent the rest of the evening determinedly preoccupied with drilling her lieutenants in battle strategy. Only after two hours of it had Scorpia mustered up the courage to ask if Catra wanted to dance.

Catra didn’t, not really, but she’d been very close to caving into the urge of irritating Adora until the princess got pissed enough to try to hit her. And loathe as she is to admit it, Catra likely would not walk away from that fight. Not with Adora’s new height, or the generous spread of her shoulders, or the stupidly arousing size of her palms.

With that particular thought, Catra had dragged her lieutenant out to the dance floor.  

Even Scorpia had seemed shocked at what Catra became beneath the light of the torches. 

She dances like she fights—with everything and nothing to lose. As if stopping would kill her.

She’s a fire hunting for more worlds to burn through, the promise of destruction in the motion of one breath passing into the next. 

Catra digs pomegranate seeds out with her fingers, unconcerned with the nectar spilling everywhere, staining the fabric of her gown. It’s too late in the evening—too early in the morning—to give a shit about how she looks. 

She splits a seed between her teeth. 

I have friends who love me on Mount Pelion. 

Catra had never considered that there would be other heroes training on the mountain. 

She was loathe to admit it, when she'd first stood at the centre of Adora’s gaze after five long years—gods—it had been like getting fished out of the water. Finally able to breathe, despite the anger.

But then to find out that Adora hadn’t been alone all this time—Catra is plunged back below the surface. 

Not only has she been left behind—she’s also been replaced. 

Likely by friends with some divine ancestry, if Catra knows anything about the way her world chooses heroes. Perhaps they’ll all be gods together, one day after her finite years are over.  

The thought only makes the rage burn hotter in her belly. She shoves more seeds into her mouth, chewing angrily. She’s about to demolish the other half of the pomegranate when she hears it. 

The sound that comes out of the dark is so imperceptible that it almost goes unnoticed. The barest, soft swish of fabric, the hem of a dress against stone. Then, the distinct unsheathing of a blade. 

Catra doesn’t think. 

Gliding to her feet, she picks the paring knife up from the floor and hurls it. 

Moonlight, the only thing illuminating the space, does her no favours. 

Catra misses. 

She catches the sound of her blade bouncing off the kitchen’s marble walls, and manages to spit out a curse just as a body slams her into the ground. 

Catra’s tailbone sings with pain, lancing all the way up her spine. 

It’s a vicious tug of war.

Skin scrapes, the soft fabric of both their dresses billowing out around them. Catra’s skirt gets rucked halfway up her thighs in her attempts to kick her assailant in the chest, but the bitch sits solidly on top of her, knees on either sides of her hips. Catra writhes, trying to buck her off. She frees her right fist and swings, connecting satisfyingly to flesh. Her assailant gives a grunt of pain, and Catra is about to hit again when her wrists are grabbed and pinned to the floor above her head. 

Catra is about to crush the other woman's face with a head butt when the smell of sandalwood reaches her nostrils.  

Recognition barrels through her. Even here in the unseeing shade.  

She grinds her teeth together.

“Hey Princess,” Catra snarls. “Would you mind getting the fuck off me?” 

The shape on top of her freezes, grip loosening on her wrists. A face lowers down to hers, blue eyes bright in the gloom.

Catra scowls up at Adora’s confused expression.  

“Catra?” the princess says, appalled. “What are you doing?”

“If you couldn’t tell,” Catra says. “I'm having my lungs sat on by the esteemed princess of Phthia.” 

Adora exhales a sharp laugh, warm breath inching into Catra’s parted lips. 

Something in her stomach coils tight. 

She wants Adora’s hands back on her wrists, and her hatred from earlier. Catra wants Adora to give her something to fight against, wants her angry, striking back with a lust for blood. Instead, Adora pulls away, carefully extracting herself from Catra’s lap. She sits quietly on the stone floor as Catra pushes up onto her elbows, wincing at the tenderness in her back. 

“You still raid the kitchen?” Adora asks quietly. 

Catra tries not to think about the half-eaten pomegranate, probably rolling somewhere on the floor after their little scuffle. 

“Whatcha gonna do—tell on me?” Catra demands. “What are you even doing here, Adora?”

“Same as you, I guess,” Adora shrugs. “I’m hungry.” Her eyes narrow. “You threw a knife at me.” 

“I thought you were an assassin,” Catra snarls.  

“You threw a knife at me!” Adora exclaims.

“I missed, didn’t I?” 

“Barely!” Adora squawks. “You’re lucky I ducked.” 

“Would've been luckier if I caught you in your big forehead.” 

“You’re such a—” Adora cuts herself off. “Since when can you throw knives?” 

“Since you left me to go become a gods-damned maenad—” 

It happens suddenly.

Adora’s hand seals itself over Catra’s mouth, silencing her.

Catra is filled with the sudden, blinding urge to bite down. But Adora is pointedly watching the doorway. 

“Someone’s coming,” Adora whispers, low in Catra’s ear.

Before Catra even realizes what’s happening, Adora is taking her by the arm and hurtling towards the back of the kitchen. She stops at a storeroom, and urges Catra inside, shutting the wooden door behind them just as the dim glow of a torch fills the kitchen. 

“You are the Princess of Phthia,” Catra hisses. “Why are we hiding?”

Adora’s eyes flicker down to hers. She chuckles. “Old habits die hard?”

Her voice rumbles low in her chest, tangible even through the layers of leather and metal between them. Adora’s gaze is distant, glued somewhere over Catra’s head as she tries to listen to the footsteps on the other side of the door. 

Catra can barely shift her neck without fear of knocking something over.

The storeroom is miniscule. In the low light, flooding in from the tiny window, Catra can make out the glass jars filled with olive oil and wine on all sides, precariously stacked up to the ceiling. They are standing in the only unoccupied space in the room.

Adora’s sandalwood scent is thick in her nose, fogging up her thoughts.

She shifts slightly, thighs brushing against the princess's. The touch singes her, electric.  

Adora’s eyes return to hers as if Catra had called her name. It breaks Catra' heart just a little—they've never needed words.   

There’s no anger or hatred in her expression—only wonder. A body offering itself to the glinting blade. 

“You have…” 

Adora’s hand reaches out to her face. A sudden burst of heat catches in the stillness, a light inside Catra flickering to life. Adora’s thumb presses firm against the corner of her mouth—and pulls away. She stares down at the red splotch on her skin. 

“I don’t remember getting a punch in,” Adora whispers. 

“Because you didn’t,” Catra says defensively, licking away the sticky drops of the nectar from her lips. “It’s pomegranate.” 

“Pomegranate,” Adora says. Her gaze is fixed on Catra’s mouth. 

“You think I’m lying?”

She brandishes her lips as testimony. 

It's a stupid move. 

It’s a dare. A trap. A question. 

Adora takes Catra’s face between her hands, and crushes their lips together in answer.    

Catra shifts into the heat of Adora’s mouth.

The princess runs her tongue along the seam of Catra’s lips, coaxing them apart, tongue plunging in. They kiss slowly, trying to be quiet. Catra is all too aware of the person on the other side of the door, and the jars balanced precariously around them. Her hands slide up to grip Adora’s biceps. Her mouth tastes like wine. Strong fingers run through Catra’s short hair, tilt her head further back so that the column of her throat is fully exposed. The angle is perfect—Adora’s mouth slots deeper against hers, her grip sending a pulse of wet heat to the apex of Catra’s thighs. 

Adora’s fingers tighten around her hair. It drags a mortifying noise from Catra’s throat. 

They both freeze.  

The sound of irritated grumbles, and a torch snuffing out. Retreating footsteps. 

Adora pulls back to look at her, smirking. 

“Do not,” Catra hisses.  

Adora whispers, shit-eating grin, "I didn't say anything.” 

"Keep it that way," Catra snarls, seeking out her mouth once more. 

“Wait,” Adora says. What. The fuck. Their foreheads bump. Catra rises onto her toes to close the distance but Adora’s hand is firm alongside her jaw. Catra glares up at her. Adora frowns. “Can we talk?” 

“You want to talk? Now?”

“Yes,” Adora seethes.

They’re still standing in the storeroom, hairs mussed, snarling at each other like a bunch of idiots.

Adora sighs. “I didn't mean it—” 

Catra's body wants badly to flinch at that, so obviously, she chokes it down like a champ. She is not so young as to still be preoccupied with things like this meaning anything. Especially when Adora is involved. 

Because Catra knows where she stands. Where she will always stand.    

She’s cold all of a sudden, wetness still lingering between her legs. She throws open the storeroom door.

"The feeling is mutual, Princess," Catra says. 

Adora catches her wrist. 

“I’m talking about what I said in the throne room earlier,” Adora says quickly. “About how I have real friends on Mount Pelion. Friends who love me.” 

Oh, now Catra just feels like a moron.

They are not having this conversation right now. 

“You were my friend too,” Adora continues. “Long before Pelion. I’m sorry I said what I did back there.” 

“Don’t worry about it, Princess,” Catra says, slipping out of the storeroom. “I honestly forgot you’d said that.” 

“Right…” Adora replies, following warily. 

“It’s late,” Catra says, making to leave. 

“Catra.” She stills. Adora’s eyes are blazing, bright as moon fire. “Why did you kiss me?" 

Catra bares her teeth in what is meant to be a smug smile. Embarrassment, outrage, desire, hurt—all flooding up her throat.

“I'm pretty sure you kissed me." 

Adora’s face flushes. “But—” 

Catra is gone. 

 

 

In the morning, Catra is herself again.

She blinks awake suddenly, eyes finding the map of the Greek territories pinned to the ceiling above her bed. Her heart is beating hard, chasing after some dream that she’s already forgotten. 

Adora’s weight on Catra’s hips when she’d tackled her to the floor. Adora’s mouth. 

Not a dream. 

Catra slides out of bed, deliberately folding away another memory of strong arms as she washes her face. 

Catra pulls on a red chiton, burying the feeling of Adora’s hands beneath the worn fabric. 

She puts her breastplate on next. Any lingering heat vanishes as she slides into the armour, shutting herself within the safety of leather and bronze. Now Catra’s weapons belt, securing the web of harnesses around her thighs and waist until the sheaths for her blades rest comfortably at her hips. Leather tassets swing against Catra’s mid-thighs as she strides across the room to grab her cloak, fastening it at one shoulder.  

The cloak is easily the finest thing that she owns. The fabric is rich and soft, the colour a bright blazing red. A reluctant gift from Shadow Weaver, given to Catra by order of Phthia’s traditions. 

A knock on her door. 

Scorpia pokes her head in. Catra snags her kopis from the top of the dresser, sliding them into their sheaths. As she makes her way to the lieutenant, Catra steps over the gown from last night, which she’d left crumpled on the floor. 

“Hey, Captain,” Scorpia says. Scorpia is characteristically bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning, unlike Catra. But today is different.

Today Catra grins back at her, bright with feline wickedness.

Scorpia says, “Ready to become Commander of the Myrmidons?”   

“Born ready,” Catra says. 

 

Down the palace hallways they stride. 

Catra feels gazes prick against her skin, testing her cool indifference for flaws. She smirks at them. A flock of courtiers presses tighter to the marble walls as she passes by. Her red cloak, signifying her status as captain, sways against her shoulders. 

Scorpia flanks her, a sure presence at Catra’s side.

Her lieutenant alone could silence a room—Scorpia is impossibly broad beneath her leather armour, metallic pauldrons rising into threatening peaks above the shoulders. A wicked hatchet is sheathed across her back. 

A line of soldiers nod in greeting as they stride past. Exiles turn their gazes to the floor.  

Maybe Catra will never be loved in this place—but she will most definitely be feared. 

Her father’s cruel gaze comes to the forefront of her mind as Catra closes the distance to the war room.

His indifference the day she was exiled. Shadow Weaver’s wrath. Catra, caged within Adora’s shadow. Her first kiss on the night of Thesmophoria. 

Catra cuts through the memories like flesh. 

The day she’d left Phthia on her first trading mission. Her first wound. Her first kill. The first time a sword had felt right in her palm. Blades striking, tearing into skin, Shadow Weaver’s vicious insults. Catra’s mother, gossamer dress fluttering in the wind as she turned away from her—a symphony of violence, rising to a crescendo that Catra passes through, alive.

Powerful. Strong. 

She’s stronger than anyone ever expected her to be.  

Adora might be a hero, but today Catra will be declared her Commander. 

The youngest Myrmidon Commander to ever live. 

The murmuring in the war room goes silent when Catra steps into the doorway, golden doors open, awaiting her arrival. 

The room feels like it’s filled with lightning. 

Catra is accustomed to their jealousy, their hunger. But this—this is something new. 

The eyes on her are wide with fear. She’s vaguely aware of Scorpia stiffening next to her.

Catra’s lieutenants watch her with bated breath, like she’s Greek fire the instant before ignition. 

“So nice of you to join us, Captain,” Shadow Weaver greets.  

Catra glances over, shoulders straightening, eyes seeking out the queen. 

They find Adora instead.

Her blonde hair is pulled up high, the strands fixed into place beneath a golden crown. Metallic wings frame Adora’s temples, tracing down to the top of her perfect jaw. Adora’s breastplate is moonlight pale, fitted over her generous chest. Gold pauldrons slot atop broad shoulders, making her look impossibly, breathtakingly large. Vambraces, bright as the sun, are tight around Adora’s strong arms. 

But Adora’s blue eyes are blown wide. Not with desire—but fear. Worry. She's sitting at the head of the table, purple cloak fastened on one shoulder. 

A commander's cloak. 

Catra feels the blood rush out of her face.  

“Captain,” she echoes the goddess queen, the realization sweeping in. 

No. 

An awakening, the ground opening up beneath her.  

Adora is wearing a commander’s cloak. 

From the seat next to her, Shadow Weaver gives Catra a vicious smile. 

“Catra,” Adora whispers.

And it’s the princess’s voice that pushes Catra off the precarious edge. 

The monstrous thing inside her—firestorm, world-eater—shudders with burgeoning rage. And even now, Adora’s brows are furrowed with concern like she's some wounded deer. 

Everything she's become—everything she's ever worked for—worthless.   

Catra hates her. Hates her with everything she has. 

The anger is everywhere, engulfing her lungs.  

Greek fire, indeed. 

“You’re naming her Commander?” Catra snarls. 

Everyone in the room flinches. Shadow Weaver calmly watches her burn. 

“This is Adora’s birthright, her destiny." 

“Adora doesn’t even know how to be a commander!” Catra yells. “I have spent years studying war strategy. I’ve led battalions. The things I've done—" Catra chokes, shame caught in her throat. "I know every lieutenant among us, our strengths and weaknesses—she knows nothing! She’ll lead the Myrmidons to be slaughtered!” 

Shadow Weaver’s magic lashes through her, a burning whip around her neck. 

Catra’s mind catches. White with pain. 

A thousand blades, piercing through every nerve in her body, freezing her in place.

Shadow Weaver stares her down across the room, head tilting with predatory interest. 

“What gave you the idea that you could ever be a Commander?” Catra’s feet leave the ground, the nereid’s magic tightening her around the throat. Catra is vaguely aware of the motions around her. Scorpia’s gasp of surprise. A weapon clattering to the ground. “You? The exiled daughter of Menoetius?” Shadow Weaver laughs. “You are nothing. You have no power, no family, no destiny.” 

The burning is flooding past her lips, scorching her throat. Someone is shrieking. Is that—oh fuck, that's her. Catra is shrieking. 

Spots begin to colour her vision. 

“I should have killed you ages ago.”   

Somewhere, a chair topples over. Catra hears the thud. 

“Enough, mother.”

Catra lifts her head and sees Adora. She’s on her feet, a hand on her sword. 

Shadow Weaver looks at her daughter in surprise. 

Catra realizes everyone else in the room is still restrained within her magic. Scorpia is frozen to her spot by the door. Her lieutenants, Haemon, Entrapta, are trembling in their seats.  

The whole world seems to exhale.  

And then she’s falling—crashing to the floor, the air rushing back into her lungs. 

“Catra!”

Sensation returns to her in fragments. Adora is there, right next to her, gasping low in her ear, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Adora's hands are warm and gentle against Catra’s shoulders, gathering her into the harbour of her arms. Catra recoils. That tenderness—proof of her ruin.  

Catra hates it. Catra hates her

“Don’t touch me!" 

Catra can’t do this. Even with Shadow Weaver’s grip gone from her throat, she can barely breathe. 

The door is right behind her.

She pushes herself to her feet, and runs. 

 

 

And runs and runs and runs. 

The palace blurs past her. The fields and vineyards, green streaks. Catra runs past it all, legs burning as she begins ascending a familiar path through the forest. Only when her chest is heaving, when her feet stumble into the mountainside clearing, does she stop. 

Catra collapses to her knees as the first sobs tear out of her throat.

 

 

The rest of the week passes without incident, Catra having slipped into a lethal calm.  

Scorpia is concerned, of course. Particularly on that first evening when Catra returns from her fit of hysteria on the hillside, bursting into the lieutenant’s room past midnight to talk naval strategy like nothing had happened. The next morning, Entrapta asks Catra for her opinions on weaponry, and she spends hours in the training field, testing the inventor’s prototypes.

She feels like she’s already at war, an icy fog veiling over any thoughts not preoccupied with rations, and phalanx formations, and cartography. 

Shadow Weaver promotes her to general, which Catra quickly discovers entails doing most of the jobs of a commander, without getting any of the credit. Catra wonders if Adora sweet-talked the bitch queen into giving her the fake title as a consolation prize.  

In the brief moments that she crosses paths with Adora, Catra’s wrath remains below the surface.

On the fifth day, they’re all gathered in the war room to discuss their route to Troy, when Adora moves into the spot next to Catra to point to a figure on a map.

Her presence is gravitational, and Catra feels a minuscule ripple on the surface of her calm. 

“Lesbos should be a good place to make land for the last evening." Adora looks at her hopefully. "What do you think, Catra?”

“It’ll work,” Catra says, voice neutral. “We can leave Lesbos at dawn, and regroup with the others before reaching Troy.” 

She feels Adora watching her. Catra blinks at her briefly and turns away again. 

It’s a relief—this emptiness. 

“Are we done, then?” 

 

It's the evening of the seventh day. 

When Catra wakes, it is frustratingly not time to set sail. 

From the position of the moon, shining with completeness, it’s likely not even past midnight. 

So why is she awake? 

She stares at the map on her ceiling. She shuts her eyes and tells her body to relax. After several minutes, she gives up. 

Pulling on a chiton, Catra stalks out into the torch-lit hallway, grumbling beneath her breath as she goes. The last thing she wants is to be tired for tomorrow. Catra sweeps into the war room, fully intending to bore herself to sleep by going over itineraries. 

A single oil lamp glows from the head of the long oak table, illuminating the sprawl of maps and papyrus scrolls spread across the surface.

A bowl of figs sits among the mess.   

Adora is sitting in the commander’s seat, blonde hair coming loose around her shoulders, falling across the tired planes of her face. She’s dressed only in a wrinkled white chiton, her shining armour discarded on the opposite end of the table. Even that much-coveted purple cloak is hung carelessly on the back of one of the chairs.

Adora sighs quietly, fingers pressing to the bridge of her nose. 

Catra should leave. Catra should definitely not follow the fatal thread of her desire. 

Instead, Catra says, “Hey Adora." She shuts the golden doors behind her. 

The princess jumps to her feet. 

“Catra,” Adora realizes. Her shoulders tense. Then loosen. She collapses back into her chair. “What are you doing here?” 

“What are you doing here?” Catra replies, skimming her fingers over the table as she approaches. “Aren’t princesses supposed to be asleep by now?” 

“If that’s the case, you should be in bed.” Adora crosses her arms over her broad chest, watching her cautiously as she slinks closer. 

Catra huffs a laugh. “I’m not a princess.” (She should definitely not be tangling with such dangerous matters—not now, when it’s just the two of them in the room, when Adora is her commander, and they’re sailing for Troy in the morning—but Catra has always found it hard to resist the sharp edge of conflict.)  “I’m a fatherless daughter of nobody. What did Shadow Weaver say? No family, no destiny—something like that?”

The strong column of Adora’s throat shifts as she swallows. Catra is only steps away from her now, leaning her hip against the table. 

“Did you come here just to pick a fight?” Adora asks tiredly.

“No,” Catra says. “I came here to look over plans for tomorrow. Picking a fight with you is just a happy coincidence.” 

Adora simply looks up at her from her seat, fatigue and pain shadowing across her face. 

Catra can't stand that expression. “What?”

“I’m sorry," Adora says. "I’m sorry that she hurt you. I know...I know you're angry. I broke a promise.”

Catra blinks, disarmed. “What promise?”

“I promised you a long time ago that I would always protect you.” 

What. 

A laugh leaps from Catra’s throat. Adora’s eyes widen. 

She can’t help it—the wrath floods back into her, filling all that emptiness. 

“You think I’m angry because you let Shadow Weaver call me names?” Catra sneers. She gets right in Adora’s face, baring her teeth. With Adora seated, Catra feels quite menacing. “Do you think that’s the first time she’s done something like that?” Adora’s expression falls. “What do you think happened to me while you were gone, Adora? Who was protecting me then?” 

“I told her if she hurts you again, I won’t lead the Myrmidons.” 

“You shouldn’t be leading the Myrmidons!" Catra yells. "should be leading them! You think you can just flounce back here after five years, and take everything that I’ve worked for?”  

“How many times do I need to repeat this to you?” Adora’s breath is hot in Catra’s face. “I never wanted any of this! If I knew my mother was going to make me the commander of an army, I would’ve stayed on Mount Pelion!” 

“You should have!” Catra snarls. “It would have saved me a whole lot of trouble if you had just stayed gone.” 

“And here I thought you were angry at me for leaving you,” Adora snaps. “Now you’re angry that I came back?” 

“I missed you!" Catra yells. “I made you my whole world when we were kids. You were my whole fucking sun, Adora! And you loved it. You wanted me in your shadow, always, someone to comb your hair when you were bored with godhood, or some bullshit. But then you were gone, and I realized that for all those years, you had been holding me back.” 

Adora shoots to her feet, leaning forward with both hands flat on the table. She looks authoritarian, aggressive. A queen, sentencing someone to the whip. 

“Holding you back from what exactly?” Adora pushes away from the table, eyes blazing with wounded fury. Catra takes a reflexive step back to avoid the heat radiating off the girl’s body. “You think I'm the only one with blood on my hands? Look at yours, Catra. Are you proud of what you’ve become?" Catra's back hits the marble wall. "A mercenary? The mighty general of the Myrmidon army? This isn't the Catra I know.”

“You don't know me as well as you think you do,” Catra spits. 

Adora surges forward, hands whipping out to press against the wall on either side of Catra’s head. Catra clenches her fists at her sides. 

Their breaths mingle. 

Sandalwood and sweat. Adora’s mouth is red as a pomegranate.  

“I know everything about you,” Adora whispers. 

Catra’s restraint snaps. 

Catra tugs Adora forward, bringing their lips together with bruising force.

She nips at her mouth sharply and Adora snarls, crushing her harder into the wall. Her body envelopes Catra’s, hands dragging feverishly down her waist.

Adora is consuming her—prying her open, licking into her like she’s trying to find a way inside. The quietest noise of surprise escapes Catra’s throat at the sudden prick of pain against her mouth. 

Adora bit her, levelling out their tally of wounds. Aristos Achaion pulls back, blood on her teeth. 

“This is a terrible idea,” Adora murmurs, voice rough. 

She brushes her fingers against Catra’s mouth, staining them with blood. Catra leans forward, holding her gaze as she takes the digit between her lips, running her tongue over Adora’s calluses. Adora groans, fingers retreating from the wet heat of Catra's mouth.  

“Why don't you run off then? Go to your room like a good little girl," Catra suggests. 

Adora's eyes darken. 

“Seriously, Princess, I don't need you,” Catra replies, running her own hand down the fabric of her chiton, playing between her legs. “I can get myself off."  

Adora catches her around the wrist. "Do not." 

“Say you want it,” Catra commands.

“Catra,” Adora begins. Her voice is something that Catra can’t decipher. It’s a plea, an apology, a threat, all at once. Adora lowers her lips down to hers but Catra stops her with a glare. 

“Say you want it.” 

“I do.” 

“You do what?”

“I do want you, Catra,” Adora growls. “So. Come. Here.” 

She lets Adora tilt her head back, lips closing over hers, trying to find the angle they’d discovered the night in the storeroom. She laps her tongue over the split on Catra’s bottom lip. Kisses her, closed mouth, right on the wound. Once. Twice.

The gentleness of it twists Catra’s insides.

She pulls Adora’s hands from her face, guiding them down the length of her body to grip her ass. The princess doesn’t need any more prompting, squeezing the firm weight between her palms, pulling her tighter, their lower bodies aligning. Catra slips her thigh between Adora’s legs, the scales of power shifting again as Adora lets out a gasp. She grinds against her, face tipping up to the ceiling. 

“I can feel how wet you are.” Catra strokes her hands up Adora’s hips, pulling up the soft fabric of her chiton. Catra is good at this—destroying a person. She wants Adora cracked open, keening for her. She presses her lips to the princess’s ear. “Could you come just like this?” 

Adora’s legs are muscular and strong, her inner thighs damp with arousal. She grips Catra’s ass, pressing hard against her leg. Catra brushes her finger against Adora’s clit, stoking a slow friction.  

“Catra,” Adora whimpers, their mouths barely pressed together. 

“You have to tell me what you want,” Catra muses. 

“I already told you,” Adora says. She pulls Catra’s bottom lip into her mouth, and the other girl momentarily loses her train of thought. 

“I mean how do you want this.”  

Adora hesitates. 

“Wait,” Catra pauses, pulling away suddenly. “Have you ever done this before?” 

“Twice,” Adora says, blushing fiercely. “With our hands.” 

“Has anyone ever used their mouth on you?” 

Adora shakes her head.

“Do you want to try it?” 

“Yes,” Adora is gazing at her lips now. Breath quickening. “If that's what you want."  

“Lean against the wall, Adora.” 

They switch places. Adora hits the marble wall with a satisfying gasp, her hands riding on Catra’s hips.

“Tell me if I’m doing something you don’t like.”

Catra runs her lips down Adora’s neck, taking her time, tongue flicking out to taste her. She sucks a bruise diligently into the princess’s neck, pulling back after some time to survey her work. Adora is breathing hard, writhing against the wall. Catra grabs Adora’s hands, curling her larger fingers around the hem of her chiton and lifting it up, past her hips, to bunch the fabric up to her breasts. Catra runs her palms along the curves of Adora’s waist, trailing down to her ass, her thighs. 

“Still good?” Catra glances at her. 

“Yes,” Adora says shakily. 

“Good.” Catra drops to her knees. Adora lets out a noise, staring down at her in awe. Catra smiles back with feline wickedness, holding her gaze while leaning in to kiss the inner side of her knee. “You’re soaking wet.” She drags her lips northwards. “I can already taste you.” Catra licks up Adora’s thigh, her dripping arousal strong and heady against her tongue. She exhales against Adora’s cunt, and the girl trembles.  

“Catra,” Adora grinds out. “Play later." 

"Bold of you to assume that this isn't a one time thing." 

“Just—come on.”

“Hmm?” Catra bites and sucks against Adora’s skin, a dark bruise marked across her inner thigh. She strokes her hands up the back of Adora’s legs, revelling in their strength, the soft hair, the tender skin behind her knees. 

“Please,” Adora snarls.

“There are those princessly manners,” Catra laughs. “Very well.” 

Catra lifts Adora’s right leg up over her shoulder, revealing more of her glistening cunt.   

“Ready?” 

“Catra.” 

Catra runs the flat of her tongue over Adora’s folds, slowly, right up to her clit. 

“Oh,” Adora says. 

Adora’s eyes are wide, watching her.

Her breaths come out in soft gasps, grinding against Catra’s face, and Catra swears she’s had this dream before.

She laps at Adora’s clit, and the princess’s hand finds Catra’s hair.

There," Adora gasps. "Like that. Please.”

Catra keeps her tongue steady against the bundle of nerves, eyes lingering on Adora’s face. 

She looks destroyed. Hair mussed, skin gleaming with sweat. 

Catra did this. She’s the one making Adora tremble and writhe and cry out for her. The champion of the Olympians, ruined against a marble wall by a landless princess, a girl without a destiny. How would the Myrmidons react to seeing their Commander, breathless and dripping over Catra’s mouth? What if someone were to walk in on them right now, fucking like this in the candlelight? The idea of being caught sends a flood between Catra’s legs.

She moans, nose burying in blonde curls as she licks at Adora with a quickening pace. 

“Catra,” Adora gasps. “You’re so good.” 

Adora’s praise fills her, makes her wetter. She wants Adora’s taste permanently in her mouth. Her grip forever in her hair. Catra has touched women like this before—pretty blonde strangers that she’s just met on trade missions. Catra is drawn to the pleasure of it—of being good. Of being begged after. But there’s something about doing this with Adora that makes her glow from the inside, and Catra knows she's going to feel like shit when it's all over.  

What is it that people say?

Win the battle, lose the war.  

“Oh gods,” Adora says. Catra runs her finger down Adora’s folds, and Adora lets out a high pitched moan. “Yes. Yes.” 

“Quiet down, Princess,” Catra warns, before sinking a digit inside her, thrusting hard as her tongue works above. Adora’s grip tightens in her hair to the point of pain, wetness dripping down to Catra’s wrist.

Catra brings her other hand from Adora’s thigh, stroking her thumb over Adora’s clit before plunging her tongue alongside the finger inside her. Adora's noises are muffled around the hand she's brought to her mouth, the rocking of her cunt against Catra's mouth turning erratic, thighs trembling.

Adora is volcanic—a tragedy, an apocalypse, and Catra can't bear to look away, can't even be bothered to pull back for air. She touches her harder, faster, Catra's own name falling past her lips like a swan song, and then—

And then Adora gasps like she's been wounded, and her whole body shudders, coming apart. 

Catra laps at her softly through her orgasm. 

“Gods,” Adora finally sighs.

Catra pulls away, satisfied at the mess she's made.  

“Better run off to bed now, Princess,” Catra muses, pulling Adora’s leg off her shoulder. Adora steadies herself against the wall. Catra laughs. "Or limp. Whatever." 

Adora looks down at her, still kneeling at her feet. 

“No.” 

And then Catra is leaving the floor.

Adora’s arms wind beneath her ass while the world spins. Releasing a humiliating squawk, Catra grabs impulsively for the taller girl’s shoulders.

“Unhand me! Adora—” 

Adora carries her over to the war table, shoving the many scrolls of papyrus to the ground, and places Catra gently on the edge. Adora pauses, standing in the gap between her parted thighs. 

“I want to see you come.” 

Adora’s fingers toy at the hem of Catra’s chiton, looking so earnest that Catra feels the sudden urge to run. 

This isn't part of the plan. Not that Catra had much of one to begin with. 

This could end horribly. With her in pieces. An uncanny resemblance to the grieving thing she'd been the first time Adora had left. 

“Can I do that?” 

(And yet, Catra wants.)  

In her defence, her body has never learned how to hate Adora. 

After a long silence, Catra nods. 

Adora kisses her deeply before pulling away. Foreheads pressed together, Catra glances down, transfixed by the sight of Adora’s hands stroking up her legs, tugging the fabric of the chiton with her. Adora pulls the fabric up past Catra’s hips, allowing the linen to settle disheveled in her lap. 

“That night in the kitchens…” Adora murmurs, hands brushing Catra’s thighs. “You looked just like this. Dress up to your waist, all red like you are now. I was laying on top of you, and you were literally trying to kill me but—” Adora shakes her head. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterward.” 

“So you did dream of me that night,” Catra says, trying to sound smug. 

“I thought of you.”

Adora lifts the chiton over Catra’s head, discarding it somewhere on the floor. Adora simply stares at her, eyes tracing her bare form.

Catra bristles. “Old news, Adora. You’ve seen me naked before.” 

“Not like this,” Adora says. She reaches out, brushing her knuckle along the raised scar on Catra’s chest, from her right shoulder nearly to the nipple on her left breast. 

“This is brutal,” Adora says. “How’d you get it?”

She traces down the side of Catra’s breast. Catra fails to resist a shudder. 

“Sword fight with a pirate.”

The motion on her skin stops. “How’d you get into a fight with a pirate?”

“How did this turn into a discussion?” Catra snarls.  

“I’m just trying to make polite conversation,” Adora argues. 

“I’m going to fall asleep,” Catra hisses. 

“No, you’re not,” Adora says, tugging her closer to the edge of the table before pressing Catra’s shoulders down to lay her flat. Catra exhales when her bare back collides with the smooth oak.

Adora swallows, standing between Catra’s spread thighs, staring at her like a chump. 

“Well?” Catra says, trying to drown her sudden self-consciousness. 

Adora’s eyes narrow. “How can you still be so mean even when you’re dripping wet for me?” 

“It’s a talent.” 

Adora strokes a finger shallowly up Catra’s folds, pressure receding just as she reaches her clit. Then back down the length of her, lazy, just barely sinking in. A third stroke, and then a fourth. And then Catra’s can’t help shooting down for Adora’s hand, holding it to the bundle of nerves just as she’s about to pull away.

Adora laughs darkly, letting Catra guide her touch, showing her what she likes. 

Adora learns quick, Catra will give her that. In minutes, the princess is brushing her hand away, the muscles in her arm flexing as she rubs Catra until she’s writhing, refusing to sink her fingers inside.

“You’re so pretty,” Adora murmurs, eyes rising to Catra’s face. The hand that’s not playing between her legs comes up to brush the hair out of Catra’s eyes, slipping along her cheekbone. Catra tries not to gasp. 

Being called pretty shouldn’t make her aroused. Catra knows she’s beautiful—but somehow with Adora, it’s different.

“Adora.”

Catra means it to be a hiss, but it comes out smaller. A surrender tucked into Adora’s open palm against her cheek. Catra is losing. She started this game and now she’s losing badly. She can feel herself yielding, her restraint gone soft as ripe fruit, crushed beneath the pressure of Adora’s hands. 

Adora sinks a finger inside her, and Catra’s mouth falls open.  

Adora is an intoxicating motion between her legs, inside her, not deep enough. Catra reaches down to touch her own breasts, unable to keep from watching Adora watch her. Watching Adora fuck her with tenacious resolve. 

“More,” Catra whispers. Waves of flame rush over her head. 

A second finger joins, stretching, curling. Catra cries out, uncaring if anyone hears, shifting wildly on the table to pull Adora deeper.  

“Harder,” Catra hisses, as pressure returns to her clit. More. “Please."

The voice in her head laughs at her own failures.

Catra doesn’t beg. Catra takes what she wants. That’s how this works. 

And yet here she is, crying out for a girl who would never choose her. Not in any way that actually matters.  

Catra’s bare chest is pressed tight to the fabric of Adora’s chiton as the blonde leans over her. An arm wounds around Catra’s back, lifting her so she’s sitting up on the edge, keeping her steady. The angle changes, Adora’s strokes hitting deeper, rubbing feverishly against a spot that makes Catra tremble. Adora kisses her, open-mouthed and filthy, tongue copying the motions of her hands. Catra clings to her neck, nipples thrusting hard against Adora’s chiton. 

Catra thought she was the knife. 

But Catra is the wound. Catra is parting skin, is the soft give of flesh, and Adora is the blade. If Adora leaves her now, she’ll be left gaping, hollowed. 

“Come on, Catra.” Adora drips the whispers down her throat. “Come on, gorgeous.” 

Adora fills her with yet another finger, sparking a delicious, strenuous burn. Catra’s body takes her inside with wet, generous sounds.

Her calluses are rough, the strength of her hands, speeding up, coaxing Catra into bloom. 

“Adora,” Catra says again. 

Catra feels her centre of gravity shift as Adora dips her backwards forty-five degrees, keeping her from tumbling completely with only a hand pressed into her lower back.

For a brief instance, Catra just looks at her, their noses touching. The whole world pauses on the crest of a wave. 

Adora’s eyes are warm as she dips down, her face skimming Catra’s throat. Her fingers thrust in once more, landing deep, as Adora’s mouth closes over Catra’s left nipple. 

Catra comes so hard that she lifts off the table, crying out.

Wetness soaks down her thighs onto the wood as she clings to Adora, pressing her face to the crown of her head. The princess is still mouthing at her breast, fingers slowing, easing her through the tremors. 

Gods. 

Catra unhooks her arms from around Adora’s neck, the princess’s hand supporting her as she sits up on the table, trying to catch her breath. 

Adora says nothing, grabbing something from the end of the table. She drapes a cloak over Catra’s shoulders, the familiar scent of sandalwood settling around her. Adora’s hands are gentle as she adjusts it carefully so its covering her. 

“You okay?” Adora asks her. 

“Yeah,” Catra says, voice quiet. 

“We should rest,” Adora says, several minutes later. “Big day tomorrow.” 

“You’re right,” Catra sighs, sliding off the table. “Where is my chiton?” 

Adora picks it up from the floor and Catra unceremoniously uses it to clean the table’s surface. Adora watches her, silently, gaze heavy. 

“Let me walk you to your room,” Adora says, after Catra is done. 

“Seriously?” Catra says, without venom. 

“Humour me,” Adora says, straightening her chiton to the best of her ability. She takes an oil lamp in hand and gestures toward Catra. So Catra clutches Adora’s cloak closer around her body as they creep silently out of the war room and through the darkened halls. 

"I forgot how quiet these halls were," Adora muses. "On Pelion, there's always something making noise. The wolves used to scare the life out of me, but then I couldn't sleep if I didn't hear them in the distance." There's a hand on Catra's lower back. "The pack was raising pups when I'd left. They'll likely be big when I see them again." 

The closer they get to her room, the more that Catra fills with dread.

Adora talks quietly of wolves and glow worms and the gurgling stream by the cave where she slept. Catra pictures it—that far off life. Adora petting little wolf pups and learning the lute, while Catra fought and fucked and killed—

Adora, winning the war, becoming a benevolent god, living on Olympus.

Adora, with all her glorious eternities, forgetting Catra's name. 

“What now?” Adora asks.  

“We go to war,” Catra says. “Shadow Weaver will see us off tomorrow. We’ll join the rest of the Greek naval fleet at Lesbos, and then make for Troy.” 

“I meant with us.” 

Adora is looking at her so earnestly that Catra, for an instant and only an instant, doubts herself. “Us?"    

“We just—” Adora’s brows furrow. She makes a gesture with her hand. 

“Fucked?” Catra fills in. They arrive at her door. Adora stares down at her, something like disappointment written across her face. It pisses Catra right off.  

“Did that not mean anything to you, then?" Adora says—and, oh no. Catra's not playing that game again. 

“Fucking doesn't have to mean anything,” Catra says. "We got each other off. It was good." 

“I see,” Adora nods stiffly. “That’s all, then.” 

“It appears so,” Catra says, opening her bedroom door. 

She feels incomplete as she turns away from her, Catra’s empty room suddenly the last place she wants to be. 

“Catra, wait.” 

Catra turns back to her, too quickly.   

“Yes?” 

“I need my cloak back. For tomorrow.” 

Catra glances down at the purple fabric, suddenly realizing that she’s been wearing Adora’s commander cloak the whole time. 

“Of course,” Catra says, shrugging it off with more force than she’d intended and handing it back to Adora. She’s naked now, standing in her doorway, her chest littered with marks left by Adora’s mouth.

“Goodnight Commander.” 

Adora looks at her, expression undecipherable. “Goodnight Catra.” 

 

-

 

At dawn, all of Phthia gathers by the water, bearing witness to their departure. 

Adora stands at the stern of the flagship, purple cloak stirring in the ocean wind.

The voices of the crowd swell to the rhythm of the war drums, and of the hundreds of Myrmidon soldiers clanging their swords against their shields. 

In Phthia’s harbour, triremes surround the flagship on all sides. Forty-nine ships in total, loaded to the brim with soldiers and supplies. On the beach, the priestesses are performing the war rites, leading a hymn to the grey-eyed goddess. 

Prayers for victory. Prayers for glory. Their words rise up with incense smoke. 

“Commander.” 

Adora turns. 

Catra stands behind her, gaze burning where it touches. She’s wearing armour. The red captain's—now, general's, Adora supposes—cloak hangs off one shoulder.

Her expression is blank—any trace of emotion stifled delicately behind mismatched eyes. 

“All the ships are ready,” Catra says. “By your leave, we’ll set sail.”  

It doesn’t matter what it meant. 

Adora doesn’t know how they’ve become this: enemies, rivals, co-leaders in a war. 

“To Troy, then,” Adora says. 

“Sound the war horn,” Catra calls out to the crew behind them. 

The horn blows. Once, twice.

A gust rises from water, carrying the roars of assent from the Myrmidons on the ships, from the crowd on the beach. Adora’s name—her title —becomes a song on the breeze. 

Aristos Achaion. Aristos Achaion. 

Shadow Weaver stands on the shoreline, her feet dipping into the water. Simply watching.

It begins today, her mother had told her, on the way to the beach. Remember your destiny, Adora. And her last message before Adora had walked onto the trireme: beware the daughter of Menoetius. 

The oarsmen shift into position, their strokes keeping time to the drums. 

Catra is next to her now, leaning her back against the railing.

Adora speaks. “Of all the things I imagined going to war over, I never thought Helen getting kidnapped would be the cause.” 

Catra snorts, eyes coming back to life. “You really think that she was kidnapped?” 

Adora stares at her. “It’s what was said.” 

Catra raises a brow. “But you believe it?” 

“Of course I do,” Adora argues. “Why would she run? She had everything in Sparta—a husband, wealth, safety.” 

“Maybe she wasn’t happy with Menelaus,” Catra replies. “And then the Trojan Paris came along and—” 

“You think she ran away for love?”

“I’m not talking about love,” Catra snaps, glaring back at her. “I’m talking about desire. And not for Menelaus or Paris, or any man. Maybe Helen didn’t want to settle for being a pretty little wife. Maybe she wanted something else.” 

“To be the reason thousands of soldiers die in a war?” 

“To be the face that launched a thousand ships,” Catra says, voice rising like a bard's. “Glory. Immortality. Nobody can simply call her the pretty wife of Menelaus anymore.” 

“You didn't have that opinion of her when we were children.”  

Catra fixes her with a look. Her cloak, fluttering in the wind, brushes Adora's side. 

“Well, we’re not children anymore.” 

Adora shakes her head. “But Helen is good. She would never be so selfish.” 

“Of course you think that,” Catra says. “You have no idea what it’s like to want something that the world thinks you don't deserve." After a moment, she adds, voice low, "You get everything you want.” 

Adora gazes at Phthia, watching as it shrinks in the distance. Catra is facing the opposite way, staring resolutely past the ship’s bow, out towards the horizon.

Adora thinks of her childhood bedroom at the palace, uninhabited for so many years, and now empty once again. She thinks of the barley fields. The cliffs she used to dive from.

She thinks of Pelion, even further from view. Mara’s cave. The warmth of the fire. The comfort of a hot meal, of Glimmer and Bow’s laughter. The safe haven of the mountainside.

Quiet vision of a different life. 

She thinks of herself, thirteen years old, running through the palace with Catra in tow. 

The two of them, watching the moon rise from the old oak behind the barracks. 

I would go with you, if you wanted to run. 

Adora shakes her head. 

“Not everything.”