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Catra captures Adora within six months of becoming Horde Lord, which is a stupid title, and one she’s putting in a request to change with Horde Prime as soon as she feels a little more certain of her status.

The important thing is, Scorpia and Entrapta and Kyle all have to call her “Lord Catra,” which sounds much better than “Horde Lord”—maybe better than anything Catra’s ever heard.

The important thing is, she captures Adora. Lord Hordak had two years to take down She-Ra after she defected and couldn’t manage it. He tried to pin this on Catra as a new and unsupported Force Captain; on the soldiers he didn’t sufficiently train; on a rebellion that followed predictable patterns, but at the end of the ugly day, it was a leadership problem. And Catra made that case brilliantly to Horde Prime after Entrapta figured out how to hack into executive communications.

Horde Prime agreed.

Lord Hordak and his creepy baby were called back to the off-planet Horde, and Catra was promoted.

She rebuilt the Horde reporting structures from scratch, focusing on actual communication. In Catra’s Horde, everyone attends the monthly meetings to review evil processes and plans. Soldiers receive thorough training from the moment they are kidnapped or shipped planet-side. Even the lowest cadets get mentors, workplace goals, and plenty of opportunities to prove themselves. They’re all encouraged to bring ideas to their Force Captains, who bring them to Catra.

Most of the ideas suck, but she doesn’t tell them that. She wants the Horde to be a place where everyone feels valued—even if their only value is in their trigger finger or their body in front of hers.

Even the most inadequate and out-of-line soldiers aren’t executed, dismissed, or even demoted. Catra creates a special operations force, EMILY, for assorted loose ends—like she would have been, without Adora. They report to Scorpia, who could not get more obnoxiously thrilled about leading a unit of troublemakers, and mainly work with Entrapta on projects that Catra is assured do more good explosions than bad. Catra’s kind of proud of them.

She’s never needed Adora less.

A lot of her changes mean a lot of boring pretending-to-listen-to-people and being-polite-to-morons, but they work. Her soldiers fight harder for her than they ever did for Hordak because they aren’t pitted against each other or neglected. With better input, Catra gets rid of the procedures that just make everyone’s life a nightmare. Missions get strategically focused. Her soldiers get tougher and smarter.

And now, finally—finally—she gets Adora.

She captures Adora herself, which is kind of the icing on the cake. Not that it wouldn’t have been beautiful to have seen Adora captured by a no-name cadet, dragged into the Fright Zone in handcuffs, where Catra, cool and powerful on her throne, could have dismissed Adora to the dungeons with a wave of one hand.

But getting her in person? Feels fantastic.

And it’s easy—it’s so easy, honestly? It’s embarrassing. She’s is embarrassed for Adora.

Catra doesn’t go on many missions personally anymore; now that she’s Lord, she’s too important to risk. And with Entrapta’s long-distance communication devices perfected, Catra can easily direct battle from the security of home.

But Catra’s tired of She-Ra. She’s tired of how many good troops she wastes. Do you know how much money it takes to sufficiently train a soldier, just to get a block of twenty concussed or killed by one big girl with a sword? A sword? Catra has state-of-the-art weaponry. Her tanks are more advanced than ever. She has planes that can time-release heat explosives. And somehow, She-Ra and her goddamn sword keep getting in the way.

So Catra lets word get out that she’s planning something big, something she has to handle in person. She uses the channel they all know has been hacked (Really, how dumb does Adora think she is? Does Adora think she just tripped and fell into becoming the lord? That Catra’s still some useless crying nine-year-old in over her head?) to send coordinates just outside a small cave in the Whispering Wood.

The cave has a narrow corridor entrance and then a tiny bulb chamber; Catra sent in a team a week before to rig the entire thing with a sonic virus that Entrapta promised on detonation would either infect all First Ones tech in a five-foot radius or implode the cave, instantly killing both of them. Entrapta was 90% sure it would be the former, and Catra was 60% sure she wasn’t exaggerating them out of personal scientific investment in the experiment. Still good odds.

“I dunno if this is a good idea, boss,” Scorpia says that morning, looking obnoxiously concerned while Catra straps on her utility belt.

“First of all, I’m not the boss, I’m your lord,” says Catra, for the millionth time. “Second of all, what did I tell you?”

Scorpia scratches the back of her head. “Uh, I don’t mean any disrespect, but you sure do tell me a lot of things, my lord.”

Catra punches Scorpia’s arm in what she hopes is seen as a cheerful, but authoritative, gesture of camaraderie. “I’m her weakness, Scorpia. I’m our best chance at getting her quickly, with no casualties." 

“Right, right,” says Scorpia. She punches Catra’s arm back, and Catra nearly topples over. She dashes to the door before Scorpia can pick her up and pat her down for injuries. Then she’s on a skiff, soaring wonderfully alone to where her troops are already in formation. The cool night wind screams in celebration around her, and Adora is so close, Catra swears she can smell her.

Sometimes Catra misses being someone’s best friend, but it’s almost sweeter to be their weakness.

When Adora arrives, Catra is waiting. She has enough aerial weaponry and armed troops to keep She-Ra’s friends busy; Catra has only to lean against the mouth of the cave, half-shadowed by rock until She-Ra’s usual battle radiance lights her up.

The She-Ra stick is old by now. It must annoy everyone else as much as it does Catra. Isn’t Adora exhausted with being so bright all the time? Aren’t her new friends tired of the glare?

Catra’s doing them all a favor. 

Catra catches the exact moment Adora spots her. Mid-swing, huge sword suspended by her terrible strong arms, Adora glances in the cave’s direction and falters for just a moment, her huge shoulders tensing before she looks away again, slicing the wheels out from under an all-terrain Horde transporter.

Adora always falters when she sees Catra. It’s the stupidest thing about her.

Adora turns away from the transporter before it’s even started to fall to the ground, which is also stupid. She can’t possibly know for sure it’s been dispatched. There could be soldiers in it. She’s cocky, and it’s going to get her killed. She holds her sword before her with both hands and walks to Catra, steady as a tank.

“Hey, Adora,” Catra says. Adora’s eyes narrow. 

They always do.

Catra walks backwards into the cave, slowly, deliciously, and lets Adora follow her.

Adora should realize this is a trap. 

It’s—as someone who used to train with Adora, who tried to teach her better, it’s infuriating, how bad she is at protecting herself. She just walks after the Horde Lord into un-secured territory, by herself, so fucking certain that she’s stronger than Catra, that there’s no way Catra can hurt her.

Catra can hurt her.

Catra squats on a rocky shelf just above the cave entrance and hits the sonic detonator as soon as she sees the top of Adora’s head underneath. Adora’s sword burns red, the spark jittering backwards to Adora’s big hands, up her forearms, to her heart. She yells and throws the sword away from her, but it’s too late.

She collapses.

Catra could kill Adora right now. It would be easy.

She ties a gag over Adora’s mouth, binds Adora’s arms to her sides and her feet together, and heaves her up the cave wall, tying her onto the shelf so she won’t fall off and die when Catra’s not looking. Catra takes the infected sword, which is useless without Adora, and returns outside to the battle. She passes the sword to Lonnie; Lonnie stashes it under the seat of a transporter and zooms away, giving the sign for the rest of the Horde to follow her.

Catra scales a tree and waits.

“They’re retreating!” Glimmer cheers, hurling sparkles after the last lumbering tanks and the soldiers scrambling into them, even though the Horde is retreating, and the rebellion is supposed to be the honorable side. 

Bow makes a face. “That’s weird—they weren’t losing. We had barely started, and there’s only the three of—Glimmer. Where’s Adora?”

Glimmer jerks around, her hands still glowing purple. “She was just right here! Adora?”

They waste a good forty seconds scrambling around tree roots hollering Adora’s name. It’s been years and still, sometimes Catra cannot believe this is the team Adora abandoned her for. They don’t even find the cave. Catra could have just left Adora on the ground.

“Wait,” Glimmer says. “Bow, do you still have the scanner to locate First Ones’ tech? Maybe we can find her by finding her sword.”

“Great idea,” Bow says. He pulls the scanner out and presses a few buttons; his eyes go wide. “It’s only found one object—and it’s in the middle of the retreating Horde.”

“They took her—Bow, that’s why they’re retreating!” Glimmer’s voice is tight with fear, but Catra can’t see her face, which is the only flaw in this plan.

Bow is already running after the Horde; Glimmer hurls herself after him. In another minute, there’s no sign of either of them.

In another five, Catra descends. She slips back into the cave and fetches Adora back to the ground. She had been hoping Adora would change back from She-Ra when the sword left her vicinity so Catra could tighten the binds while she was still unconscious, but that’s a problem for future Catra now.

Catra sits against one wall, her tail curled lightly around her feet, and waits for Adora to wake up.

Twenty minutes later, Adora, for once, doesn’t disappoint. She stirs faintly, shifting against the dark grey ropes and then, unable to move her arms, opens her eyes. Her eyes are sharp, confused and, when she sees Catra lounging against the wall, ablaze.

“Mmmhmmhpmh!”

Catra smiles patiently. “I’m sorry, Adora. I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

Adora glares, shaking her head. Her endless She-Ra hair shakes around her shoulders, glowing and beautiful, even in the dirt. “Mmhpmhphmmmmf!”

Catra shrugs one shoulder. “Sure, I’ll take a guess. I’m gonna bet you’re happy to see me. It’s been a while.” Catra grins, and it hardly takes effort.

Adora breathes out heavily through her nose and struggles to sit up, but with her arms bound to her sides and her waist tight with ropes, she can’t quite manage it. It’s a little embarrassing to watch.

Catra’s embarrassed, really.

“Don’t worry,” Catra says. She waves her communicator. “In another hour or so I’ll call a team to come pick us up, and then we’ll get you nice and chained up in the Fright Zone, and you’ll be able to talk. Well, a little. Maybe.” Catra is so happy.

Adora glowers at Catra a little more and then goes back to fighting to sit. Catra’s not sure why; it will hardly afford her any more dignity. Adora twists, desperately levering her torso up and then falling back again. She’s breathing heavily against the gag. This can’t be good for her.

“Uh, Adora,” says Catra.

Adora keeps panting and struggling. Maybe she’s having a panic attack. “Adora, calm down!” Catra starts to stand up, wobbles, and realizes that her toenails have clawed deep into the earth. She doesn’t need this kind of stress. Adora curls onto her side; it sounds like she’s suffocating.  

“Adora, stop!” Catra is hurtling to Adora’s side before she’s made up her mind to risk it. She drops her communicator to the ground as she moves, yanking the gag out of Adora’s mouth with one hand and holding up Adora’s head at the base of her neck with the other. She’s too afraid to be gentle.

“Why do you always have to be so—”

Adora head-butts Catra hard. Her temples ring bright with pain as she staggers back. “You jerk!” Catra cries, and immediately hates herself for it. This is a war. There are no jerks in a war.

Catra looks up just in time to see Adora’s giant She-Ra feet jackhammer down hard onto the communicator, crunching it straight down the middle. Catra swears, her whole hellish head throbbing, and tackles Adora.

She hates tackling Adora: it’s too familiar, even against Adora’s giant She-Ra body, when the proportions are all wrong. She holds Adora down by the shoulders, Catra’s shins pressed to Adora’s thighs. She-Ra’s creepy blue eyes blink up at her. “I learned that trick from you,” Adora says.

Catra hates Adora.

She hates her even more when Adora transforms under her. Her grey eyes are less bright than She-Ra’s, her hair duller and thinner, but this Adora is always harder to look at. Catra realizes Adora’s ties are loose just as Adora throws Catra backwards over her head and shakes the ropes from her feet to sprint for the door.

“Adora, you—Adora!” Catra hollers, and takes off after her, only barely remembering to grab the rope on her way out.

***

She catches Adora.

It doesn’t matter how. It’s a long story, and no one comes off great. It doesn’t matter how many times Catra trips on the rope; Adora’s definitely not perfect either. She’s forgotten a lot of her training. Too busy courting princesses to keep up with her actual fighting skills—or maybe she assumes being She-Ra is enough now.

At the end of it, they’re at least two miles further into the woods, Catra has Adora pinned on her stomach, and she has to hold Adora’s face pressed into the ground with one foot while she sits on top of her, tying Adora’s hands behind her back and looping her feet close together so she can’t run again.

Catra wishes she didn’t have to step on Adora’s head like this. Really, from the bottom of her heart, she wishes they could all be civilized about it. But this is the way it is.

She finishes and backs away, leaving Adora sputtering into the dirt. She sits, glaring up at Catra, dirt streaked beautifully against one cheekbone. Of course. “Really, Catra?"

Spreading her hands, Catra smirks. “I can’t have you running away again.”

Adora grumbles, but surely she understands about war. You can’t not bind your captured enemies just because they once taught you how to make a bed in four efficient movements. 

Adora probably sleeps on a cloud now.

“Here,” Catra says generously. “I’ll leave your mouth ungagged this time.”

“Oh good. We can chat. Really catch up,” Adora says.

“Hm. I don’t think so,” says Catra. “We have a lot of walking to do, now that you’ve killed our chance at a ride.”

Adora stands with some difficulty and takes a few tiny steps. “It’s gonna take a looong time to get back to the Horde, if this is how fast I can go.”

Catra bites her mouth, thinking. She doesn’t have a communicator or a transport, and she doesn’t know if she can trust her Force Captains to operate without her for the days it would take to hike back. But she definitely can’t trust Adora not to run unbound—and Adora’s capture is worth Catra’s absence. If they’re worth anything, her Force Captains will figure out to come back and search the area when Catra stops communicating. In the meantime, they can begin making their slow way to the Fright Zone. Maybe the walk will mellow Adora out.

Adora looks behind her to where the end of the rope falls from her bound wrists to drag several feet in the dirt. “Did you give me a tail?”

Catra picks up the end of the rope and smirks. “I made you a leash.”

Adora rolls her eyes. “You know, if I just lie down, you’ll have a rough time dragging me all the way ho—to the Fright Zone. 

Catra tugs the rope. “I’m willing to try if you are.”  

Huffing, so Catra really knows she’s unhappy, Adora starts walking. “Maybe later,” she says.

“Alright,” says Catra agreeably, keeping pace. “Maybe later.”

They have several hours till sunset and spend all of them in silence, Catra loping a pace behind Adora, where she can keep a clear eye out. She wants to wrap the rope around her wrist or her waist so she doesn’t have to waste a hand holding it, but she doesn’t trust Adora. The second she relaxes, Adora will hurl herself to the ground or do something else obnoxious, just to make Catra’s life harder.

Adora, for all that she can only walk a tiny foot at a time and looks pathetic, doesn’t complain. She was never really a complainer. Even bound and hampered, she holds her chin and shoulders the same as she always has. Like she’s awaiting a challenge. Like she’s awaiting inspection.

Of course, her hands tied back, Adora can hardly help but have perfect posture. Catra hasn’t been in close quarters with Adora for years, but Adora feels the same. Obviously, she feels the same—but Catra resents it. She should feel more different.

Catra, slinking, her tail at high alert, watches her and follows. Just like she always did.

The silence isn’t precisely bad. It’s familiar. How many hours have they been on patrol together; how many hours have they walked, just like this, and nothing like this. Catra knows the rhythm of Adora’s breathing like she knows her own.

Adora breaks it first. “This is a lot of work just to kill me.”

Catra doesn’t react, lets Adora’s provocation sit in another heartbeat of silence. She’s gotten a lot of practice in the last few years at not burning too hot and showing everything on her face the way she used to when she was little. She’s not going to lose that composure for Adora.

 Does Catra look like someone who could kill Adora now? Does Adora think so highly of her? She hopes she does. Adora probably thinks she could never kill Catra. She probably thinks it makes her better.

 “I’m not going to kill you,” Catra says.

“So you going to, what. Chain me up in the Horde forever?”

Obviously. “No.”

Adora finally looks at her. “You know Horde Prime will never let you do that. They’ll want you to kill me.” She sounds like she might as well be predicting rain tomorrow. Catra hopes her own face looks equally unimpressed.

“They trust my decisions. And my plans are secret.” 

Adora walks slowly, still not looking where she’s going, although her balance must be shot. “How are you going to convince them to let me live?”

“My resolve to do so weakens every second,” says Catra.

“Are you going to use Shadow Weaver’s mind wipe on me?”

“No.”

Adora’s mouth twists, effortlessly disdainful. “What exactly is your plan?”

Capturing Adora was pretty much the full extent of the plan. Catra does not have a rest-of-the-plan. She scoffs. “Do you make a habit of telling enemy combatants your plans, Adora?”

Adora turns to show Catra the ropes. They spiral down around her arms, ending in a gnarled knot at her wrists. Catra knows they’re not too tight—she tested them herself, and Adora’s hands are relaxed and pink—but it still sparks in her stomach to see ropes pressing into Adora’s biceps and forearms like that. Wiggling her fingers, Adora says, “What am I going to do?”

Catra had lost the thread of the conversation. “I don’t care. I’m not telling you anything,” she says.

She honestly wasn’t expecting this to work. It will be fine. She has the whole walk to think of something, and then at least a week of keeping Adora in the dungeons before anyone will expect her to make a next step. Maybe by then Adora’s friends will all attack the Horde in pursuit of her and they’ll all die anyway.

Probably, if she tells Horde Prime she’s executed Adora, they’ll forget about her after a while. Probably, if she locks Adora away for long enough, Catra will forget about her, too. If Adora’s not always out there, ruining her maneuvers, getting in her way, making Catra look at her big face.

Adora keeps walking in small, resolute steps to her probable death.

Catra’s hands twitch at her sides; she crosses her arms to tuck them away.  

The Whispering Woods aren’t so terrifying, once you’re in them for a while. The light filters soft and scattered through the leaves overhead, and the ground is annoyingly uneven, littered with tiny rocks, roots, dirt, more dirt, and strange small plants that catch at her feet. It’s highly impractical.

It freaks Catra out a little bit thinking about how much life is the woods—life that could be anything, that could be watching them right now, squirming all around them. She keeps startling at every crack of a twig, every murmuring wind, and it keeps turning out to be nothing. But she knows it’s not nothing. The back of her neck hasn’t stopped pricking in hours.

As dusk comes over them faster, Adora turns again. “Are we going to eat?”

 “You got food?”

“The woods are full of food, Catra. Mice. Rabbits. Other rodents.” Adora smiles faintly.

Yeah, Catra’s been trying not to think about that. She also doesn’t appreciate Adora trying to joke with Catra. She gives Adora a flat stare.

Adora just looks back. “Aren’t you hungry?”

Catra looks away. “I’m much tougher than you.”

“You always have been, but I’m hungry.”

Catra flinches at the mockery. "I don't care."

“I’m going to grow weak.”

“That only helps me.”

“Not if I—” Adora staggers against a nearby tree. “—I can’t go on.”

Catra rolls her eyes. “I thought being a military commander would make you less annoying.”

Adora smiles at her, leaning against the tree. “If anything, being a military commander has made me more annoying.”

“Obviously,” says Catra. She triple-knots Adora’s leash to a thick branch higher than Adora’s reach and stomps out of her eyesight to catch dinner. She doesn’t need Adora watching her hunt.

“You go on,” Adora calls after her. “I’ll keep an eye out for danger! If there’s danger, I’ll just die!” Catra flexes her claws and keeps walking. Killing something will feel good.

When she comes back a few minutes later with some kind of woodchuck, Adora is still leaning there, her eyes closed. Catra takes the opportunity to look her over a little more closely. She’s covered in dirt—they both are, after the chase this afternoon—but Adora’s face is all scraped down one side. They must sting. She hasn’t said anything.

Of course, she also didn’t say anything when Catra clawed her face and back open, when Adora first left her. But that’s how war goes. Adora’s new friends are pretty worthless, to let her get beat up and kidnapped like this. Adora never got kidnapped when she was Catra’s friend.

Adora opens her eyes and doesn’t seem startled to meet Catra’s. “Hey .”

Catra waves the woodchuck at her. “Do you know how to make a fire?”

“Uh, I think you need sticks,” says Adora.

“Sticks,” Catra says. “Thanks.”

She clears a little patch of earth and puts some dry sticks on it. It looks stupid. She looks at Adora. Adora’s trying not to laugh. “Put them in a little tower,” she says. “Like on bonfire nights when we were kids, but smaller.”

That makes sense, so Catra’s pretty sure Adora’s not messing with her. She squats, stacking the sticks in a little tower, and then looks up at Adora expectantly.

Adora’s cheeks are faintly pink. “You need a spark.”

“Okay,” says Catra.

“I have a device in my left front pocket that makes sparks, for when we’re traveling and need to cook—I can’t get it out, but you can use it.”

Of course. “Thanks.” Catra stands, brushing her hands off on her thighs. She’s not sure why. Now it’s just her pants that are dirty, instead of Adora’s. She saunters up close to Adora and slides two fingers into her front pocket. Adora’s pocket is warm, and there’s a little metal thing in it. Catra scoops it out.

Catra looks up at Adora, who’s looking away at the ground. “I’m going to check your other pockets for weapons.”

“Sure,” says Adora.

Adora’s other front pocket has a little knife that unfolds from itself and a crumpled yellow flower head.

“I have to uh, check your back pockets,” Catra says. Adora turns around for her. Catra wants to die. She slides one finger fast around the inside of one pocket, then the other, for what turns out to be no reason because they are both empty.  

Because she has a prisoner to return and a Horde to run and cannot die of embarrassment, Catra instead sets a fire and starts peeling the woodchuck open with her claws. Adora, leaning against the tree again, watches quietly. She always liked watching Catra claw things apart. Creep.

Throwing the skin aside, Catra nods up at Adora’s face. “Does it hurt?”

“Huh?” Adora blinks twice before realizing. “Oh. No. I’m fine.”

“Huh,” says Catra. Adora’s a fucking liar. Catra once found her curled up behind the barracks probably half dead from fever, her hair damp at the forehead line, her hands trembling in fists. “You’re so stupid,” she said then, and says now.

“Catra, you literally did this to me,” Adora says.

Catra scowls. “Well, if you hadn’t probably given me a concussion, and ruined my expensive equipment, we wouldn’t have had to fight.”

“If you hadn’t—let’s just not, okay?”

Catra skewers the woodchuck on a long stick. “You started it.”

Adora says, “Yeah, okay.”

They both watch, silent, as the fire crackles around the woodchuck. There’s a funny little hoard of flies racing around in its light, and Catra wonders absently if she should be worried about the fire attracting predators. She might not be able to fight them off by herself, and it would be a shame if something else killed Adora. The fire is unexpectedly pleasing against the deep purple woods, but it’s a relief to stamp it out.

Adora coughs. “Are you going to untie me so I can eat?”

“I’m sorry, how dumb do you think I am?”

Adora smiles at her.

The nerve.

“Fucking, no, I’m not going to untie you so you can eat.”

“So you’re going to feed me?”

Catra looks at her. “Would you like that?”

“Yes. No,” says Adora. She makes an exasperated sound. “I mean, I’d like to not starve to death.”

“Nah, it’s okay, princess. You want to be hand-fed. I can do that for you.”

Doing that for her is easier said than done. Catra does not want to touch Adora’s mouth—or, God, the inside of her mouth. Adora, looking at her evenly, mouth open like it’s just waiting to snap closed, is not doing her any favors. Catra settles for slicing off long strips of meat and holding them over Adora, like she would for an animal, until Adora takes the other end in her mouth. Meat dangles out of Adora’s mouth as she chews unhappily.

It’s still a distinct pleasure to undermine Adora’s dignity, but Catra refrains from cackling. It’s beneath her.

When they’ve finished the edible parts of the woodchuck, Adora says, “Are we going to sleep, or just march until we collapse?” Adora seems to have taken being a war prisoner as a personal challenge; maybe she thinks if she needles Catra enough, Catra will let her go out of sheer irritation.

“Don’t worry,” Catra says, grinning heroically. “I remember how useless you get when you’re tired. I’ll even find a tree with low enough branches that you can lie down.”

Adora’s eyes follow Catra as she hunts. “We haven’t slept together in what, four years?”

“Three. And we never slept together.”

Adora flushes enough to be noticeable even in the darkness, from six feet away. Catra’s blood thrills to see it. “No, I didn’t mean—I meant in the barracks.”

“I know what you meant. I miss sharing a bed, too.”

“You slept on my bed!”

“Yeah,” says Catra. “Cuz you couldn’t sleep without me.”

 “I could sleep,” Adora says, frowning.

Catra circles a tree behind Adora, testing the dirt for prominent roots. “Don’t worry about it, Adora. It was a long time ago. We’re all sleeping with different people now.”

“I—you’re sleeping with different people?”

“That’s a nosy question.”

“Well.” Adora’s fingers are laced behind her back. “It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

Catra stops smiling. “We’ll sleep here.”

Adora looks at Catra, and looks at the tree, and looks at Catra again. “Alright,” she says. “But I have to go to the bathroom first.”

This is a bullshit mission and Catra should never have tried it. Adora is going to drive her to an early grave and then they’re going to get back to the Fright Zone and Catra is going to have to kill her.

“Go ahead,” says Catra.

Adora’s jaw drops. “Catra!”

“Adora!”

“Catra, you’re not seriously going to make me soil myself for the three full days it’ll take us to get back to the Fright Zone.”

“I’m entertaining the idea.”

Catra.”

“Alright, keep your shirt on.” Catra unties Adora’s leash and leads her over to a lush, waist-high bush with pale gold flowers. “How does this look?”

“The second I’m free, I’m going to kill you,” Adora says.

“Should I take your pants off?”

“Catra. I promise I’m not going to run away. My feet are still tied. Please.”

Adora’s always had these very horrible earnest eyes. Catra sighs and squats down to untie Adora’s hands. The knots are tight and took ages to tie in the first place; Catra thinks absently that it would be easier to keep Adora naked. Her face burns. “If you run away, I swear to God, when I catch you, I won’t be this nice again.”

“I already said I won’t. Don’t look.”

Catra shakes her head. “Adora, Adora, Adora. You’ve already proven I can’t trust you. I’m obviously going to look. But that’s what the plant is for.” Catra circles to the other side of the bush. “See? I can’t see a thing that matters.”

“You’re disgusting,” says Adora, but she goes, ducking so Catra can only see her ponytail. “If our positions were reversed, I would trust you to pee with dignity,” Adora says, probably just to cover up the sound. Catra almost feels bad; Adora’s always been private.

In twenty seconds Adora is back up, turning around with her hands crossed neatly behind her back. Catra comes back around the bush and reties her.

While Catra fumbles with the ropes, Adora says, “Thank you.”

Catra can’t believe Adora is thanking Catra for making Adora piss in front of her. But then, the funniest thing about Adora has always been her completely impractical sense of honor. Although, when it came down to it, Adora was practical, after all. Or maybe Catra just didn’t matter that much in Adora’s evaluation of right and wrong.

“Whatever,” Catra says. She circles Adora’s leash around the tree base and ties it tightly. “Go to sleep.”

Adora scooches down the base of the tree until her knees press against her chest; she lets herself fall softly onto one side and closes her eyes.

Catra waits until Adora’s doing her weird Adora-sleep-humming to go relieve herself. The woods are creepier when Catra’s the only one awake. She hurries back to their tree and curls up a decent three feet away from Adora’s farthest possible reach, so Adora can’t kick her, and can’t get away without Catra hearing.

The ground is cold. There are bugs absolutely losing their minds all around them, and Catra is afraid to fall asleep. What if something has just been waiting for her to relax her guard? She lies there, blinking at the black trees like knives against the glaring stars.

She had missed Adora’s little humming breaths. When she was little and afraid basically all the time, Catra used to match her breathing against Adora’s to calm down. Adora probably never knew, and has no way to know now.

It can’t hurt; it always hurts.

She falls asleep.

***

At dawn, Catra wakes up curled at Adora’s feet, her tail wrapped loosely around Adora’s ankle. Her heart punching in her throat, Catra throws herself back and out of kicking range. She glances over and, horrifyingly, make eye contact.

“Hey, Catra.” Adora’s still curled up on the ground, her dirty hair frazzled all around her face.

“Hey,” says Catra. “Why didn’t you kick me?" 

Adora’s eyes are sleepy-soft. “I missed sleeping with you, too.”

“I didn’t—ugh. You’re my prisoner, Adora.”

“It’s not like I could have gotten away. Not unless I like, kicked your brains in.”

Catra doesn’t understand why Adora, given the chance, wouldn’t want to hurt her, even just to hurt her. When Catra had the access and the means, hurting Adora was all she wanted to do. Maybe that’s why Adora is She-Ra and Catra lost her only friend.

Her only friend at the time. She has more friends now.

Catra staggers to her feet, rolling her shoulders back to shake off the aches from sleeping on the hard ground. She scrubs her face against her forearm and says, “Alright, let’s go.”

She bends down to haul Adora up by the elbows onto her feet, ignoring the squawk of “I can get up on my own!” and backing away again as soon as Adora gets her feet under her. Adora stands, monumental as ever; she rolls her head from side to side and starts stretching out her legs. And stretching out her back. And stretching—

“Adora, we have to go.”

Adora sniffs. “Don’t blame me when you get a cramp.” Another bathroom break—Adora, eyes darting up at Catra, seizes the chance to fix her hair as well—and they’re on their way. 

The woods curl with early morning mist, the ground soft under their feet and clouded before them. Adora slips a few times, and Catra is extra vigilant until the sun burns the damp away, at which point she is still obviously extra vigilant.

“I meant it, you know,” Adora says, hours later, like regular people haunt conversations for that long.

“You mean everything, Adora, but what this time.” says Catra.

Adora’s looking ahead, her profile sharp against the dappled leaves. “I missed you.”

Catra doesn’t want to go over this again. “I know you missed me, Adora.”

“I didn’t mean to leave you.”

“That doesn’t mean you didn’t leave. It just means you wanted me to follow. To be convenient for you.” Catra’s stomach is a knot inside her.

Adora turns, her brow furrowed. “No. I mean, I care about you.”

She looks so sincere, like maybe Catra just doesn’t know how much Adora cares, how much Adora wants to have everything. Catra wants to scream.  “I know you care about me, Adora. All of my best plans revolve around you caring about me, you moron.”

“What?”

Catra gestures wildly at nothing. “At the Princess Prom—at the first invasion of Bright Moon—when I captured you yesterday. All the times in between. The easiest way to beat you is to distract you with me. Because you care about me.”

A pause: Adora frowns. “You care about me, too.”

“I used to.”

“No.” Adora stops walking. “You care about me. I just don’t use it against you, because I don’t use tricks like you.”

Catra snorts. “You wouldn’t be able to use it against me, because a) I don’t care anymore, since you took me for granted and left me, and b) I’m smarter than you.”

Adora laughs. “Catra, you’re just as big a mess as I am. If I wanted, I could use it against you, too.”

“Sure,” Catra says, easy as anything, because she’s already won. Catra never once got caught in the snare of her own weaknesses, and Adora is her prisoner. “Sure you could.”

“And I respect you,” says Adora. “Or I used to, before you turned evil.”

“We don’t have to talk about this,” Catra says, but Adora hurtles on.

“You said yourself, it’s embarrassing how much I care about you. Why do you think I’d care that much about someone I don’t respect?” Adora starts walking again, faster than is safe in her bindings.

Catra keeps pace with her, scampering a little to walk side by side where she can watch Adora’s expression. “You don’t have to respect someone to want them, Adora.”

Adora almost snaps her own neck turning her head. “To want—I didn’t say I wanted you.”

Catra gives her a sharp little smile. “You didn’t have to.”

“I wanted you back with me, as my friend.”

“Sure, Adora.”

“No, you can’t tell me you were—seducing me out of battle, all this time. I wanted to reach you, morally.”

“Whatever you have to tell yourself.”

Adora’s gone red again. It’s delicious. “You’re the one who came and slept in my bed all the time. You’re the one who was always pouncing on me.”

And what the hell; she’s gone this far. Catra checks her courage and says, “I didn’t say I didn’t want you.”

Adora stops walking again. Catra’s going to get whiplash. “You—you want me?”

“Past tense.”

“But still.” Adora’s looking at Catra like she wants to bore a hole clean into Catra’s brain and lay the whole thing out. Her eyes are sharp and wondering, and they make Catra’s palms itch. It’s not too late to make a blindfold.    

“Adora, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s over. And I won.”

“You keep saying that, but it’s never been just me. None of this was just me. You cared about me. You wanted me.” Adora swallows. “If you could always seduce me, I could seduce you right back.” 

Catra laughs. “Adora, you’re forgetting I’ve met you. You don’t know the first thing about seduction.”

Adora scowls. “I’d figure it out.”

Catra misses Adora suddenly, wildly. She’s standing right there. “Okay, Adora,” she says, and keeps walking.  

“And it wasn’t just about wanting,” says Adora.

Catra swallows. “I know, dude.”

Adora doesn’t respond. When Catra looks over at her again, she has her cadet face back on; she’s marching her tiny steps, soldiering forward. She holds her head up, always.

Catra can’t stand any of it.

A little while later, Catra remembers that people need water. Her army now has stern regulations around bodily necessities: soldiers are required to sleep seven hours, to take regular meals and carry canteens. Their bodies are useless to the Horde if they’re not functioning properly—Catra can’t even count how many older cadets she saw drop just because someone (Hordak) pressed them to make a thirteen-hour march in eight. 

But Catra’s not a member of her own army. All Catra’s training still comes from Shadow Weaver, and sometimes Catra still forgets she needs to drink. Adora needs to drink.

There should be a stream nearby; Catra’s positive there’s something slightly south of here on the most recent map they’ve cobbled together. She can’t quite smell it.

“Adora, is there water nearby?”

Adora nods, stiff. “South-east, maybe a quarter mile. You can’t smell it?”

“Sometimes I think you forget I’m the lord now,” Catra says.

“I don’t forget,” says Adora.

Catra says, “You know I’ve re-ordered the entire Horde." 

“Is it no longer a violent invasion force?”

Catra doesn’t even twitch. “I take care of my troops, and I avoid civilian casualties. It’s different than it was when we were cadets.”

Adora is silent a long moment. Finally, she says, “I liked you better when we were cadets.”

It’s so dumb that this hurts. “I know,” Catra says. “You always liked me best when I was helpless.”

“I like you best when you care.”

Catra laughs, a sharp bark that stabs out of her. “Okay,” she says, and then they’re at the stream.

After a quick but frenzied debate over whether Catra will let Adora use her hands to drink or make her fall face-first into the stream and drown, Catra unties Adora’s hands again.

Adora, kneeling, uses two efficient hands to drink. Even unbound, her shoulders are set.

Catra hadn’t forgotten how Adora moved. She just hadn’t thought about it in so long; it’s startling to find the memory real again. Adora does everything like she’s being timed and will be fined for extravagance. Scooping water up to her mouth, she doesn’t spill any.

Catra crouches down next to Adora, carefully out of drowning distance, and drinks.

It’s embarrassing to lap at the stream in front of Adora. Catra keeps looking up sideways through her hair to see Adora stealing rough glances at her. Adora’s always known who Catra was. Adora used to think it was cute.

It shouldn’t be a big deal now.

Adora splashes water onto her face vigorously—too vigorously. Her hairline is soaked; water runs down her throat to her shirt. She tosses water up on her face again, sighing. She tilts her head back, oblivious to Catra watching her; her throat is exposed, her shirt soaked and clinging translucent to her collarbones, down the strong slope of her chest to the swell—

“Catra.”

Catra jerks her eyes away from the plunge of Adora’s red jacket. “Yeah.”

Adora is smirking, insufferably smug; she crosses her arms as water drips down her nose 

“What?”

“You said I couldn’t seduce you.”

The awful catch in Catra’s throat gives, and she starts laughing. Adora’s eyes narrow.

“Catra, you can’t try to tell me that didn’t work.”

Catra is howling. “I cannot believe—your one seduction move—dumping water on your shirt.”

“It worked.”

“Obviously—it worked—” Catra struggles for breath. “Where did you learn that one? The senior cadet smut stash?”

Adora crosses her arms tighter. “Yes, obviously!”

Catra might die laughing.

Her eyes pause on Adora’s face. A rough pink scrape still runs down her forehead over one eyebrow and across her cheek. The skin around looks swollen. Catra remembers shoving Adora’s face into the earth and feels a little twinge, even if it was completely out of necessity. What if Adora’s cuts are infected? She could die. That would be terrible public relations.

“I’m going to clean your face,” Catra says abruptly.

Adora blinks at her. “What?”

“Your face is cut—I want to make sure it heals okay.”

“Why?”

“So you don’t get an infection and die.”

“I’m not going to die from a scrape.”

Catra rolls her eyes. “So you don’t get an infection and become horribly scarred. What good is an ugly She-Ra?”

“You’re right,” says Adora. “Please, help me. My livelihood depends on it.”

Catra grinned. “You’re lucky I’m a merciful foe.”

“I’m lucky that you can appreciate how beautiful I am.”

“It’s the main reason I haven’t killed you yet. So easy on the eyes.”

Adora shrugs one shoulder, affable as anything. “I do what I can to comfort you in the stress of terrorizing a planet.”

“It turns out the main thing you can do is be very beautiful.”

“That’s what the rebellion said, too.”

“It really is a tragedy that the one thing that brings me relief also brings hope to my enemies.”

Adora nods somberly. “All the hope of the rebellion rests on this celestial nose.”

“You’ve broken that nose three times at least.”

“And yet, each time, it just heals handsomer.”

Catra cocks her head to one side. “You’re right, you’ve always had exactly one skill.”

“In that case, shouldn’t any devastating scars from this scrape just make me even more dashing?”

“You’re right. That’s why I have to clean it.”

Adora’s eyes are shining. “Ah.”

“Even if it brings me to despair, I can’t put more fuel on my enemy’s fire.”

“You can barely keep up as it is.”

Catra flicks her eyes down to the leash. “I think I’m doing alright.”

“You’re doing alright; I’m a bit of alright; let’s just leave it at that.”

“Sorry, but I’m your captor, and we’re going to do what I want.”

Adora’s arms tighten around her. “Honestly, I just thought it would take a little longer to get to the tongue-bath portion of the kidnapping.”

Catra doesn’t parrot Adora’s words back to her in a rude voice—it is unbecoming of a lord—but it’s a close call. “I’m not going to hurt you. Hold on, let me find a clean part of my uniform to use.”

Adora looks her up and down. “Use mine.” Untying her belt and folding it on the ground beside her, she crosses her arms over her head to pull off her red jacket. Her body twists, stretching, as she pulls it up and off. The water ran lower than Catra would have guessed. Catra doesn’t look away.

Finally, “Here,” says Adora.

Catra takes it. She dips it into the cool stream and edges closer to Adora, who closes her eyes. “No way,” Catra says. “Hold on.” She re-ties Adora’s hands behind her hips and secures Adora’s belt around Catra’s own waist.

Catra can’t believe she let Adora wear a belt that whole time. A belt is a weapon.

Adora allows all of this with an air of long-suffering patience and, when Catra re-approaches with the wet jacket, closes her eyes again.

Catra hesitates. Adora looks so—her arms tied behind her back, her face lifted towards Catra, her eyes closed, like she trusts Catra. Catra has hurt her so badly. Catra could hurt her now.

Catra folds the jacket a few times over her fingertips so she doesn’t claw Adora’s face open again. Adora is settled on her haunches, and Catra kneels up over her, taller for once. She lifts the jacket and starts carefully dabbing at Adora’s scrape.

Her other hand hovers lightly just an inch away from Adora’s chin. She doesn’t want to touch her. She needs to hold her still.

Adora doesn’t move. There’s dirt in the deepest red of the scrape just over her browbone; Catra plunges the jacket back into the cold water and presses the whole sodden heap onto the scrape, letting water stream down over Adora’s closed eye, down her face, beading into the seams of her closed mouth, and down her chin to her collarbones, to her already soaked neckline. Adora’s body—the most powerful thing Catra’s ever known, the worst weapon against the Horde—is only a body, wet, and cold. 

“Catra,” Adora says, her eyes closed.

“Sh.” This is called ‘flushing the wound.’ It is a real thing. Catra learned about it in Force Captain training.

Catra looks under the jacket; some dirt lingers. Catra wets the jacket again and tries to rub it out—lightly, and then harder.

Adora inhales sharply, her teeth pressed tight together. Catra keeps rubbing. She holds Adora’s head still with her other hand, clasped tight around Adora’s jaw and ear.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” she says. Adora makes an uncomfortable humming sound.

There’s just one persistent spot—Catra almost has it, just a little bit harder—

Adora opens her eyes.

Sometimes, when Adora looks at her, Catra feels it like a punch in the face. Like all the work she’s done, getting tougher, getting bigger, getting further away—like it’s all gone, and it’s just Catra, laid bare before Adora, and Adora, trying to be kind to her. 

Catra wishes she could blame it on Adora’s treachery, but sometimes, even before then, Adora looked at her and it was toomuchtooclose. And yet—somehow—Catra wanted it.

Adora looks at her now, still beneath Catra’s hands, her open face inches from Catra’s. Her eyes take up the whole world.

Catra doesn’t breathe.

Adora’s hands are tied behind her, all her vital organs exposed. She’s helpless. Catra is in control. Catra is in control.

Catra’s hands fall back.

Slowly, slowly, Adora rises up on her knees to meet Catra’s face, tilting forward so her wet, bleeding forehead presses against Catra’s. Like she just wants to be close. Like she’s saying hello. Like Catra could be easily scared away, and Adora wants to keep her. 

Adora breathes deep and even. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t press further. She just leans against Catra and breathes.

Catra lets her. Catra can feel her own body beating in time against Adora, swaying softly with Adora’s breaths.

Catra doesn’t know how to stop this, and she doesn’t dare do anything different, in case it does stop. It feels pathetically good to have Adora this close, to know Adora wants to be close. Catra is an empty space hungry with need, but she’s not the only one.

Adora’s eyes are intent on Catra’s face, as if Catra is all she needs to see.

Catra’s eyes drift down Adora’s face, following the water beading down Adora’s cheek to her wet mouth, so close.

Adora’s breath stutters. She makes a soft noise.

Catra flings herself back.

“Okay,” she says, dropping the jacket. “You’re clearly doing just fine, so that’s going to be good enough.”

Adora doesn’t answer. She just looks at Catra, her eyes relentless.

Sometimes Catra wants to claw her eyes out.

***

Adora seems to take the horrible stream interlude as an opportunity to be horrible, in general.

After walking in almost complete silence for almost twenty-four hours, she becomes chatty. Adora’s never been chatty.

It’s bad.

“What an interesting leaf shape!” she remarks as they pass under a tree that looks like all other trees. “Have you ever seen leaves like that?”

“No,” Catra says.

“I wonder what it’s called! I’ll have to ask Glimmer.”

“You’re a prisoner of war.”

“I’ll have to ask Perfuma after I’m rescued.”

“You’re not going to be rescued.”

“I’ll have to ask Perfuma in our next lives after we both die.”

“How long have you cared about leaves?” Catra asks.

Adora shrugs. “We didn’t see a lot of leaves in the Fright Zone.”

“We didn’t see a lot of anything in the Fright Zone.”

“You don’t think it’s interesting? All the stuff out here?”

Catra doesn’t want to say that it is actually very scary. “I’ve seen my share of leaves since we first left base. A tree’s a tree.”

“Sure,” Adora says. She’s almost trotting over the terrain, her tied hands bouncing a little behind her with every step. Catra, slouching behind her, kicks at the tall weeds as she walks through them. “But it’s also kind of cool—how many different trees there are. For no reason! I’ve been studying them a little lately.”

“Is our war not keeping you occupied?” Catra says drily.

“I’ve been learning about hobbies.”

“You’ve been learning about hobbies.”

“There’s a lot of stuff we missed out on. I don’t want to miss anymore. I’ve been asking people to tell me their non-battle interests.”

“And what did you do with those interests?”

“I made a chart,” says Adora seriously.

Catra’s mouth curls despite herself. Her chest feels tight, half affection and half sorrow. Adora is Adora is Adora. “Do you remember that one time you made that graph of everything that flattered and offended every superior officer in the Horde?”

“Catra, why on earth would you think that was a one-time graph? It was genius.”

 “Until Sergeant Whittle found it and you had latrine duty for two months.”

Adora lifts her chin higher still. “That was hardly a fault of the graph. That was a Horde personal space problem. No one goes through She-Ra’s stuff.”

“You know, I suspended random searches and seizures of troop personal items.”

Adora raises her eyebrows. “Really?”

Catra frowns. “Yes, really. You think I became Horde Lord just to bully people around?"

“Well,” says Adora, grinning, and shuffles stumbling to one side as Catra pretends to try to kick Adora’s legs out from under her.

Which is unbefitting of Horde lordship.

She won’t do it again.

“I do want to bully people around, but I also want things to be better for my army.”

“Mm,” Adora says. “What else is different?”

Catra never thought she’d be a person excited to describe bureaucracy, but she is now, she guesses. She wants Adora to recognize all the changes Catra made—Catra’s soldiers are reasonably okay! They’re taken care of! Catra did that!

She tells Adora all the things she can responsibly tell an enemy combatant: her actually functional communication structure, the restructured training systems, her protocols for basic soldier welfare.

She doesn’t tell Adora about her drop-out ops team EMILY; she doesn’t want Adora to look at Catra like she knows her.

Adora is being unexpectedly quiet. Maybe she doesn’t think any of this matters.

“I’m just getting started, and it’s not even like any of this was easy,” Catra says. “The Horde Lord didn’t see the purpose in most of my changes—they thought they were a waste of time. I was risking myself.”

“Yeah,” says Adora, biting her lower lip into her mouth. “I just didn’t—I didn’t realize you cared that much about the other soldiers.”

Catra balks at that. She cares about her soldiers, or she wants to. She cares in the hypothetical. She cares that her soldiers fight hard for her, because they like her. She cares that she, Catra, isn’t responsible for kids getting hurt like she and Adora were.

Or at least, not Horde kids. It’s still a war.

Catra doesn’t know how to explain this, and she doesn’t think Adora deserves to hear it. “I care,” she says. “About a lot of things.”

“But not trees.” Adora’s voice is lighter, which Catra takes as a mercy.

Relieved, she agrees. “But not trees.”

“Mainly Horde soldiers, and…”

“Regular mealtimes." 

There’s a laugh in Adora’s eyes. “Getting the better of your superior officers.”

“Becoming the superior officer.”

“Stealing other people’s beds.”

“Getting away with things.”

“Getting what you want.”

“Giving people what they deserve.”

Adora smirks. “Mice.”

Winning.”

“The storage closet on level three.”

Catra smiles. “I haven’t been there in years. I’m sure it’s still fine.”

“Taking in strays.”

Catra frowns. “Utilizing under-appreciated resources.”

“Loyalty.”

“Loyalty,” Catra agrees.

Adora just looks at her in the quiet that isn’t quiet, all the woods terrible and alive around them. “I really do miss you,” says Adora. Again.

How has she not had enough? Catra, personally, is splintering. It’s like she’s the only one who remembers what happened, and thinks it matters. Adora could have had Catra years ago, if she’d really wanted her. She can’t have it both ways—wearing her dumb heart on her sleeve after she pummeled Catra’s to dust.

“Yeah,” she says in the end.

She doesn’t want to say anything else, and she feels like she’s going to puke, from how badly she wants to say it.

She might not get another chance.

Her voice high, horrible, half-swallowed, she says, “Do you like them better than me?”

“What?” Adora swings too fast to look at her, forgetting that her arms are tied behind her. She throws herself off-balance, trips, and starts to topple sideways. If a princess falls in the woods, is it still Catra’s fault?

Catra rushes in and grabs Adora by the shoulders. Adora blinks, too close. Her shoulders are strong and warm. “Thanks,” says Adora.

Catra lets go and takes three fast steps back. “Stupid of you, not to have a tail.”

Adora smiles. “Stupid of me, to get captured.”

Catra nods, looking at a tree just beyond Adora’s left shoulder. Its bark is delicate and silvery. Adora might know what kind it is. Catra never will. 

“No,” says Adora.

Catra’s eyes snap back to her.

Adora is looking at Catra like she, Catra, is breaking Adora’s heart. Her eyes are bright and wretched. “No,” she says, again. “I don’t like them better than you.”

“But you—”

“I love them,” Adora says simply. “They’re kind, and brave, and they want me to be happy. I feel safe with them. I had never felt like that before—like I mattered, no matter what.”

“You mattered to me,” says Catra, her face hot, her chest choking her out.

“I know, just let me—you and I—” Adora hesitates, looking lost “—we were always in the fire. We were clinging to each other in the fire. We never had a chance to just breathe. And then it all fell apart.” Adora blinks rapidly. “So I can’t—I don’t know how to compare it. I want for you what I have now.”

“Big of you.” Adora blurs slightly in front of her, and she looks up at the sky, doesn’t blink, breathes deep and slow. She’s not going to cry.

“But you—you were my best friend.” Adora’s voice has gone funny. “I know you’re different now—I know you’re very important. I know it’s over. But you were my best friend.”

“Yeah. Well, you didn’t have a lot of options.”

Adora shakes her head, her eyes wet and fixed on Catra. “I never felt not nice enough, or not clever enough, or not fun enough, when I was with you. I felt like everything I was, you liked it. You were big enough to hold it.”

Catra’s breath shakes coming out of her. “Well. I guess in the end, I wasn’t,” she says. She stalks past Adora, grabbing her leash, and doesn’t pause, and doesn’t look back. She lets Adora scurry to keep up.

If Adora falls, she’ll drag her.

If Catra still had her communicator, she could be back in the Fright Zone by now. She could be running the Horde, she could have Adora safely locked away and never talk to her again. 

She doesn’t have her communicator. She just has herself. She lets the fury carry her forward.

It’s very satisfying to stomp through the woods, in a curiously different way to how satisfying sneaking usually is. Adora’s panting behind her: “Catra, I know you can be a lot quieter than this—” STOMP STOMP STOMP “—and we should be careful—the woods are really dangerous—” STOMP STOMP “—Catra, we don’t want anything to hear us.” STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP.

Obviously and stupidly, one of those giant weird forest bugs chooses that moment to show up, proving stupid Adora’s stupid point. Fine, Catra thinks, frenzied. Let it kill them. It thrashes through the trees to the west, looming terrible against the vivid sunset.

“Untie me,” Adora says urgently, pulling at the leash. “Catra.”

Catra can handle it. Ignoring Adora’s shouts, she ties Adora’s leash to a branch and grabs Adora’s face with both hands. “Stay out of the way.”

She stalks forward to meet the monster. 

“You untie me right fucking now, Catra,” Adora yells from behind her.  

Catra would rather them both be killed. “I think I can handle one weird—bug thing,” she shouts, measuring the distance between them.

“Have you ever fought one of these?”

Ignoring Adora, she launches herself against a tree and up onto the bug’s giant back. It’s covered in huge, interlocking purple scales. “How hard could it be?” Catra plunges her claws between the scales behind its eyes, where its brain should be. It makes a terrible jittering noise and keeps rampaging. She tries to tear the scales off, but they’re stuck fast. Her heart pounds in her ears. She can’t cram her claws in any deeper—but the scales make a good hold.

“Catra, they’re much tougher than they look,” Adora says, uselessly. “It took three of us to escape one the first time I tried.”

Panting hard, Catra says, “Three princesses? I’ll be fine.” Stabbing her claws between its scales, Catra climbs down around to side of the bug. It rears, almost throwing Catra off, and begins rushing Adora.

“If I die for your fucking pride—”

“Shut up!” Thank god, the underside isn’t scaled. Jamming the claws on one hand as low as possible on the side, Catra swings herself beneath the bug to claw open its belly in one deep gash—and another—and another. Iridescent guts spill out onto the forest ground. The beast gives another ear-splitting screech, trying to curl back in a tight circle to bite her off, but Catra has already eviscerated it.

It dies in a gross heap of meat. Catra jumps off, her blood screaming victory.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Adora says flatly. She should be more impressed. That was incredible. Three princesses, and they couldn’t even manage it!

“You never believe I can do anything.” Catra crouches and claws her hands through the dirt to rub the blood off.

“That’s not true.”

“That’s alright, I know you think everyone is second-rate, next to you.”

Adora’s mouth falls open. “Was this entire show because I used to beat you at training games?”

Now the dirt won’t come off. Catra scrubs her hands and forearms against her pants again, scowling. “Not everything is about you, Adora.”  

Adora won’t let up. “Did you want me to pretend to be worse than I am?”

“No! But you never let me try.”

Adora makes an exasperated noise. “Catra, half the time you didn’t even show up.”

“Yeah, I had to find other ways to win.”

“I wanted to take care of you,” says Adora, sounding on the brink of murder.  

Catra unties Adora’s leash with a sharp snap. “I can take care of myself.”

Catra catches a smaller, slightly squashier woodchuck for dinner that night. It has a funny kind of tail. It’s possible Catra doesn’t know what a woodchuck is. She thinks Adora would probably know; Adora probably has it in a chart somewhere, from when her hobby was rodents. But Catra doesn’t want to ask.

She burns the not-woodchuck. She couldn’t find the right length of stick to cook it on, and one side falls into the fire when she’s not paying attention. Catra pokes at it after putting out the fire; it’s not inedible, just unpleasantly crispy on one side. It’s fine.

She brings the woodchuck on its spit over to Adora, tied to her tree, and starts shaving strips off with her claws. They have to eat standing; Catra found the woodchuck before she found a sturdy-enough tree with a branch lower than five feet.

Catra eats the too-crispy bits. It’s her own fault she burned the not-woodchuck, and Adora doesn’t like burned meat.

Adora only takes a few seconds to catch on. “Are you eating all the bad parts?”

“They’re not bad,” says Catra. “I like the outside.”

“No,” Adora says. “I like the outside.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I always used to eat the outside.”

That’s true, but it’s not because she liked it, and they both know it. Cadets got scraps, and Adora used to always put aside the best bits for Catra. “You’re too skinny,” she would say loftily, dumping the good meat on Catra’s plate. “You need to build up your strength.” Adora would gnaw apart all the bad bits—any funny, too-skinny wings, the backs of the ribs, the messes of tiny bones, and anything burned.

Catra just looks at Adora.

Adora goes red. “You were littler than me. It was my job.”

“We were the same size.”

“You let me do it.”

That’s true, too. Catra used to flush with pride, that Adora wanted to protect her. That Catra got anything good. Everyone used to look at Catra like she was embarrassing, and Adora—Adora would politely grimace through burned food because she wanted Catra to have the nice parts. Catra loved that feeling, loved how Adora would beam at her when Catra ate enough.

Catra swallows now. “Yeah. And I shouldn’t have.”

“I really do like the burned parts,” Adora says stubbornly. “I want to eat them.”

 “So do I, and you’re tied to the tree.”

“Catra, don’t martyr yourself.”

Catra eats another one. “How does it feel?”

“Ughggghghghh,” says Adora. “I’m sorry. Please, just catch another squirrel.”

Squirrel. Catra makes a note of this. “I will tomorrow. I’m tired.”

“Well, I’m full. So the rest of the good meat is yours anyway.”

Catra rolls her eyes. “Okay. Thanks.”

Adora watches Catra eat in silence for approximately two minutes before she ruins it. “I wanted to take care of you,” she says, quietly, like it embarrasses her to admit. It embarrasses Catra for Adora to admit it.

 “You did,” Catra says. “It was just—it was always so messed up. Like you said, about the fire.”

Adora swallows. “When you gave me the good parts tonight. Was that because you wanted to take care of me?”

Catra wishes Adora, for even a second, would look somewhere else. The moonlight is soft against her face, like even the moon hardly dares to touch her.

“It’s because it was my own fault for burning it.”

“Oh.”

“And it’s what you deserved.”

Adora laughs. “A taste of my own bad kindness?”

Catra’s heart keeps leaping into her throat and strangling out the rest of her. “Someone making you let them take care of you instead, for once.”

“Someone,” says Adora, soft.

“Well, I’m the only one here,” Catra says. “And I wouldn’t want to do war crimes against you.”

“I don’t understand, how you can want to take care of me, and not care what the Horde does to all of us.”

“I told you, the Horde is—”

“The Horde is still invading a planet that doesn’t want them.” Adora’s voice hasn’t changed tone, even as her eyebrows draw together. “I know you understand that.”

Adora is the one who is never going to understand. “I made the Horde better. I would make everything better, with time. You left. You left me.”

“I thought you’d come with me!”

“You didn’t ask!” cries Catra. “You didn’t come back and say, oh, Catra, turns out all this shit they’ve been doing to us, and mostly you, for years, was bad, and it wasn’t just us. You just left me, and you assumed I’d follow you.”

“I’m not going to apologize for assuming you’d also want to defect from an evil empire!"

Catra’s voice tears out of her like it’s on fire. “I’d rather die than slink after you, begging to be taken in.”

Adora’s eyes are cold in her pale face. No matter how hard Catra tries, she is never going to be able to look as condescending as Adora, looking at her. “You’d rather be evil than admit that I was right to leave?” 

“You don’t get to judge me anymore. You left, and you didn’t tell me, and you didn’t care. Not enough to change anything at home. I’m doing what you never could.”

“You’re not stopping the invasion!”

Catra knows she’s lost Adora, knew she lost her years ago, felt drunk on bitterness at burning the bridge behind her, and it still feels like dying. She doesn’t think it will ever feel better. She says, “Oh, and you out there killing Horde cadets that you know were pressed into service and treated like shit, that does so much good?”

Something in Adora’s expression snaps, and her eyes blaze like her sword. Her arms draw out behind her, tied back to the tree, as she leans in towards Catra. “It’s a war, Catra. I’m protecting the peaceful civilians on this planet from armed soldiers.”

Catra presses the palms of her hands against her eyes. She can’t stand Adora looking at her that intently and still not hearing her. “So when I don’t care about them, I’m a piece of shit. When I do care, I’m a piece of shit. What do you want from me, Adora?”

Adora looks wild, and Catra is glad for it. “I want—I want you to stop being evil so I can love you again without feeling like I’m going to be sick over it.”

It’s like a slap. “I’m sorry it’s so revolting to care about me!”

Adora’s mouth twists. “It wouldn’t be if you could put anything before your own hurt feelings.”

“My feelings? My feelings?” Catra clenches her claws into her palms so she doesn’t claw Adora’s perfect face off. “Adora, everything’s always been you. The only time I could ever breathe was when you defected.”

“Then I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time! I’m sorry for thinking you ever wanted me there!” Adora’s eyes are dark and hot and she presses her full weight towards Catra, like she’s the prow of a judgmental ship. Like if she can just reach Catra, she can change her.

Catra’s blood rages against her bones. “You’re so stupid—you were it. You were the only one. You’re the only—”

Adora kisses her.

Catra’s body reacts like this is the only thing it knows how to do—like she’s been suffocating for years and finally, finally, she can breathe. She kisses Adora back.

This is a bad idea. She can’t not do it. She needs it. She clutches Adora by the back of the head, by the shoulder, by the hip, her hands moving fast and desperate. All of Adora’s body is familiar, and all of Adora’s body is strange. It used to be Catra’s, and it never was.

Adora’s kiss is as firm as Adora has always been; she’s so warm, and she presses against Catra like a bridge, like a pillar, like salvation. Catra devours her. Adora moves deliberately against her, unafraid. The kiss deepens until Catra is drowning in it. Catra bites Adora’s mouth, her chin, the turn of her jaw, and Adora turns her face into Catra’s hair and gives a soft, ragged gasp.

Catra wants that. Catra wants more of that. She wants Adora wrecked, begging against her. She wants to mark Adora, so Adora will know, Adora will always know—she was Catra’s, once. Catra kisses Adora’s face messy, open-mouthed to her hairline, to her ear, biting her earlobe and nuzzling the soft-hard curve of Adora’s small ear. She breathes light and hot against it, and Adora shudders deep against her, her shoulders shaking. Adora is still held back by ropes.

Catra puts one leg roughly between Adora’s to hold her up—just to be helpful. She doesn’t want Adora to lose balance. Adora’s thighs twitch around Catra’s; she rocks down against it, shallow first and then harder. Catra holds steady for her.

“Please,” says Adora, her voice low, and that is all. “Please.”

If Catra does this, she can’t take Adora back to the Fright Zone. But she can’t let Adora go.

More than anything else, she can’t not give Adora what she needs. She can’t not take Adora, while she has her.

“I’m going to take care of you. I’m going to take care of you like you deserve,” Catra says. Her voice is shaking. She kisses Adora again before she can say something stupid, and Adora meets her unflinching and hungry as the beach meets the tide. Adora kisses her, and like a wave Catra breaks. Adora kisses her mouth open, slowly, methodically. Like she has the time. Adora kisses her until Catra surrenders to Adora’s teeth, Adora’s tongue, Adora’s jagged breath. Adora kisses like she’s going to take Catra apart and burrow inside her.

Catra is helpless against her.

Catra’s hands scrabble against Adora’s shirt, hunting a way under it. She wants to press her palms against Adora’s skin and feel Adora’s heart. Adora’s white undershirt doesn’t have buttons; it’s tucked tight into her trousers. Catra wrenches it up, and Adora gasps at the cool night air against her exposed midriff before Catra is there, wrapping her arms around Adora and spreading both hands wide across her ribcage.  

Adora presses kisses over Catra’s face like it’s a duty she’s sworn herself to. She’s murmuring against Catra, senseless words that Catra can’t bear to hear. She catches only her own name, over and over.

Catra pulls back. “Adora,” she says urgently. “I want to, can I—” she pulls at the hem of Adora’s shirt.

“Where would it go?” Adora’s wet mouth quirks.

“Adora,” Catra says.

Adora says, “Yes.”

Catra pulls Adora’s shirt carefully up over her head, backwards down her arms, leaving it to hang from the rope at Adora’s hands. Adora still wears a military-issued breast guard, and Catra wants to take it from her. Catra keeps one arm wrapped tight around the small of Adora’s back to hold her still and places the other hand gentle on Adora’s chest, just below her clavicle—just to hold her there. Catra’s hand looks too sharp against Adora’s body. She wants so badly to be careful—she wants so badly to ruin her.

“Adora,” she says again, and Adora says, “Yes.”

Catra looks up at her; she knows her eyes are too wet. Her heart is raging out of her. “Adora,” she says, destroyed.

“I’m not afraid of you,” Adora says. “Don’t be afraid of me.”

“I’m not afraid,” says Catra, and she unclasps Adora’s guard and lets it fall to the earth. She presses close before she can look and embarrass herself and she kisses Adora again, both arms wrapped tight around her so Catra’s body shields her from the moonlight and from Catra. She gives Adora her thigh again and Adora, unabashed, rubs herself against it.

Adora kisses her hard, her whole body twisting to press even closer into Catra. Catra realizes too late that Adora can only kiss her when Catra gets close enough to kiss; Adora can’t touch her at all. She holds on helpless, her left hand coming up to pull Adora’s hair-tie out and throw it away. She pulls Adora’s head back by her hair at the nape of her neck, clutching her claws against Adora’s scalp. Adora groans. Catra can hear every breath panting out of her and into Catra as their open mouths slide together. She scratches her claws lightly down Adora’s head again, and Adora shakes and bites Catra’s tongue, grinding down hard on her leg.

“Please,” says Adora. Catra holds her firm and brings her right hand around between them, drawing her claws gentle, so gentle, up Adora’s twitching stomach. She rubs her knuckles against Adora’s sternum, pressing up and up the soft steel of her breastbone as Adora shudders and pants. All the meanwhile, Catra strokes her claws soothing, torturing through Adora’s hair against her scalp.

Catra grazes her palm against Adora’s left breast, skimming the shape of her in Catra’s hand. In the cool night, Adora’s nipple is hard against her palm. Catra presses her forehead to Adora’s again, painting hard, looking down at herself touching Adora. Adora shines in the moonlight, her exposed breast pale and furiously pink-tipped, rising and falling against to Catra’s clawed hand. Adora looks at her, and her eyes are shining, too.

Catra is going to have a heart attack and die right here in these stupid woods. She is going to be the first person ever to die from touching someone’s tit. She flexes her hand, softly drawing her claws in against the skin around Adora’s breast, rubbing her palm against her.

“Yes, please,” gasps Adora.

Still stroking the base of Adora’s head with her left claws, Catra runs the right claws, so light, so sharp, in towards Adora’s nipple; with her knuckles, she pinches it. Adora’s shoulders shake and strain against her binding. Catra pinches a little harder, pulling slightly, and watches Adora’s soft mouth shake open. Her heavy-lidded eyes unfocus. Catra strokes the claws of her left hand down Adora’s neck, down her spine, and pinches her again.

Adora shudders, her knees buckling; she’s trying to thrust harder against Catra and doesn’t quite have the leveragenow. “Catra, I need,” she says very seriously, “I need you to—”

“Yes?” says Catra, still lazily stroking and pulling at Adora.

Adora’s eyes are so dark. She gasps again, her words coming between pants. “I need you—Catra, I need you to help me.”

“Like this?” Catra unbuttons Adora’s trousers.

“Yes. But Catra, I need—”

“I know what you need.” Catra pushes Adora’s trousers and underclothes together to her knees.

“Yes,” says Adora, “But I need you to take off your clothes first.”

She says it like the world will end if Catra doesn’t.

Startled, Catra says, “My clothes?”

“Yes,” Adora groans, even though Catra isn’t even touching her anymore—Catra is just letting her sway like that, naked and tied back in the moonlight. Adora’s hair is messier than Catra has ever seen it in her life. Catra did that. “Catra, please.”

“Okay,” Catra says, “Okay,” scrabbling at the zip at the back of her jumpsuit. It comes off in one piece, peeled off her like another skin, and then she’s in her underclothes, and then those are off, too. It’s so cold; she trembles. Has Adora been cold this whole time? Adora’s eyes are dark grey and heavy on her. “Catra,” she says again. “Turn around.”

“What? No.” Catra crosses her arms over her breasts.

“At least take your hands down.”

“Well,” Catra flushes, “I’ll have to, to touch you.”

“Okay,” says Adora. “Okay, then come back.”

“I am,” says Catra, naked and self-conscious in the dark. She hops stupidly, pulling her jumpsuit off her feet, and then she’s stumbling back and kissing Adora again. It’s astonishing, to be able to just kiss Adora. To be kissed back.

“I want to touch you.” Adora is pressing kisses again all over Catra’s face, down her throat. Because of the rope, she can go no lower.

“You’re my prisoner.” Catra feels embarrassed pointing it out.

“You want me to touch you,” says Adora, presumptuously and correctly.

“I can’t, Adora, I can’t—” Catra kisses her fiercely, her whole body pressed tight to Adora’s, which is a terror and a revelation—Adora’s body is warm and real against hers, matched evenly against it. Adora’s legs are held together by the trousers bunched around her knees, but the soft hair of her pubic mound presses against Catra’s hip. Catra wants to consume her.

“Adora,” Catra says again, and drops to her knees, shoving Adora’s trousers further to her ankles. Adora picks up one foot and Catra holds her leg by the calf, soft with golden hair, pulling her foot carefully through the pant leg.

Catra’s heart is going to beat out of her skin and abandon them both here, silhouetted by the stars.

Her hands tremble, holding Adora’s other leg up, kneeling at Adora’s feet. She throws the pants aside and looks up at Adora, looking down at her. The dazzled sky beyond the dark leaves lights up above Adora’s head like she’s being blessed.

Catra adores her. It’s the stupidest, simplest truth in the world. It held Catra’s whole world up and tore it down again.

“Can I—” says Catra, and Adora, wrecked, says “Please.”

Catra kisses Adora’s hipbone softly, her hands coming up to hold onto Adora by her inner thighs, to ease her legs apart and hold her up. Adora’s legs are so strong, and they tremble. Catra’s tail curls around Adora’s ankle. It's allowed now. 

She kisses the crease where Adora’s thigh and mound meet, Adora’s hair tickling her face.

Catra can smell her.

She nuzzles through Adora’s hair, down between her legs. She nudges her legs apart once more and kisses just inside Adora’s thigh, where the skin is so delicate. She pulls Adora’s outer lips apart with her knuckles; Adora underneath is pink shading into mauve, gleaming wet and impossible.

“Adora,” says Catra, and puts her mouth on her. Adora’s thighs shake around her at the contact. Catra fits her mouth to the deep canyon of Adora’s cunt and licks. Above her, Adora gasps. Catra doesn’t want to miss a single part of Adora. She wants to chart her. She wants to keep this knowledge forever. Adora twitches around her.

She tastes bold and strange; her thighs are heavy and pin Catra’s ears against her head. There is an artery in her thigh throbbing fast against the side of Catra’s face, and Catra licks slow and deep. Her nose sometimes nudges the bright bud of Adora’s clit, making her tremble, but Catra doesn’t want to rush—she wants to remember this. She wants Adora to remember it. Adora is dragging in every breath as if from hooks.

The folds of Adora’s cunt are furled tight. Catra explores them all. She chases Adora’s sighs and gasps with her tongue, tracing every curve, and coming back again harder when Adora likes it. Adora rocks against Catra’s face, using it as she used her thigh. Catra doesn’t know if it’s intentional or involuntary, and she can’t tell which she prefers. 

She licks up along the sides of Adora’s clit, wishing she didn’t have claws, or wishing she could retract them. She can feel Adora’s cunt clutching and heaving above her, and she wants to put something inside it. Instead, she closes her mouth fast over Adora’s clit, and she strokes hard with her tongue, once. Adora cries out, once.

Her hips twist back from Catra’s mouth.  

Catra blinks up at her, her hands slipping down to Adora’s thighs. “What is it?”

“It’s too much,” Adora says, voice shaking.

Catra’s heart thunders inside of her. “Too much—you don’t like it? Do you want to stop?”

Adora shakes her head. “No. It’s good—I think it’s good. It just feels like too much.”

“It hurts? Do you want me to go back, like before?” Catra still doesn’t understand. Adora’s thighs are cool and strong under Catra’s hands. She rubs them in long, careful strokes.  

“No—yes—I don’t know.” Adora closes her eyes. “It freaked me out—I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

And just as suddenly, Catra isn’t surprised. She leans forward and gently bites the inside of Adora’s left thigh. “It’s just going to feel good,” she says.

Adora looks down at her, her brow knit together. “But I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t want anyone to see it.”

“I think you might like it,” Catra says. “I’ll definitely think it’s really hot.”

Adora laughs.

Catra just wants to make sure—“Have you really never—?”

Adora has on the face she makes when she’s working out a tricky battle maneuver. “Well, I have. But not—it never felt like that. And you weren’t here. I don’t know, I just. I couldn’t hear myself think anymore. I didn’t know what would happen.”

“Do you want me to untie you?” says Catra.

Adora pauses. “Not yet. I think it will help, if I’m. A little focused. Just for this part.”

Catra wants desperately to be adequate to this. She takes a deep breath. “How about this. I’ll try it again. And you don’t worry about what you might do. Just how it feels, and what you want. And I’ll be here, and I’ll take care of you.”

“And you’ll stop if I say it’s too much,” Adora says.

Catra kisses her thigh over the bite mark. “Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.” Catra kisses her once more. “You’re amazing,” she says. “You’re going to do amazing.”

“Is it possible to not do amazing at this??”

“Adora, please, shut up.” Catra puts her mouth soft on Adora again. Not over her clit again, not yet. She strokes her tongue up through the heart of Adora’s folds, deep and steady, finding the beat that slowly gets Adora sighing back down against her.

“Yes, this,” says Adora.

Catra keeps going. Her nose is just slightly resting against Adora’s clit, and she lets it rub gently against the side as she licks, in easy rhythm with her mouth. Adora starts rubbing down against her again, and Catra doesn’t pause, doesn’t shift.

“Catra, could you—Catra.”

Catra slowly, slowly starts working her mouth higher against Adora’s cunt. She lets her tongue swipe up alongside Adora’s clit, pressing on the nerves beside it, letting Adora feel just the edge as she keeps her rhythm.

Adora is shaking, trying to press back against Catra, but Catra doesn’t let her. She frames Adora’s clit with her tongue, licking just up along it, over and over, until she hears Adora groaning with frustration. Adora is flooding Catra’s mouth; Catra’s chin is soaked.

She’s going to smell like Adora, after this. The thought makes her own cunt clench. She can feel herself dripping onto her ankles as she kneels before Adora.

She becomes aware of Adora talking again: “Catra, Catra, Catra, you’ve got to, Catra, I need you to, I want, I need, Catra—”

Catra’s never heard her name like that. It might be the best thing she’s ever heard. She strokes harder, her tongue starting to ache. Her jaw aches; her knuckles ache; her arms ache. She’s going to hurt for the rest of her life, but she’s not going to stop.

“Catra, please, I need more—please—”

Finally, finally, Catra puts her mouth over Adora’s clit again. She sucks lightly, and Adora shudders, groaning deep. “Yes,” says Adora, her voice rough. “Yes, there.”

Catra sucks again, and again, firmer and faster. She’s pressed right up against Adora again, letting Adora ride her face, letting Adora set the pace. “Yes,” Adora breathes, and Catra goes harder still. Catra looks up and sees only Adora’s throat, her head flung back. It’s impossible that she should still be standing, but then, Catra hasn’t given her a choice.

Adora jolts hard against her—and then again, and again. Adora is groaning, her breathing harsh and shaking. “Don’t stop,” gasps Adora, and Catra would sooner die.

She keeps sucking, Adora’s heartbeat racing around her. Adora rocks against her, grinding down against Catra’s chin, and Catra lets her. Catra’s blood roars in her ears, and Catra doesn’t stop, even as Adora’s hips buck harder against her, suddenly erratic: Adora clutching wildly, Adora’s moans going high and wondrous in the night.

Adora’s entire body is thrumming around her. Catra feels like they’ve both been dragged out of the world. Like Adora is the world now and Catra is the one coming apart in her. Catra has never imagined that Adora could be like this, that she could make Adora like this.

Still quaking, her thighs trembling, Adora twitches back from Catra’s mouth. Catra buries her face against Adora’s inner thigh, wrapping her arms around Adora’s leg to anchor them both. Adora’s breathing runs rough, and she gulps down the night until it steadies.   

Adora says, “Catra, please, now.”

Catra startles. She looks up. Adora’s eyes are so, so bright. Catra says, “Didn’t you just—”

Adora, her hair a damp halo around her face, Adora, flushed through her whole body, somehow looks shy. “I—yes.”

“Did you like it? Was it okay?”

Adora huffs into a laugh. “Yes. Yes, it was okay. I mean. Please, untie me.”

“Adora—” Catra stands, gathering Adora close in her arms. Adora curls her face into Catra’s neck, scraping her teeth down Catra’s throat. Catra trembles. “Please,” says Adora. “Let me touch you.”

Catra wants her to. Catra’s body is crying for it.

“Please,” Adora begs. Her breath still stutters. She looks as wild as Catra feels, as Catra always feels. “Please,” she says again.

Catra cuts the rope with her claws.

Adora stands there, a column lit by stars, a leviathan. She rolls her shoulders back, stretching her hands above her head. She turns to Catra.

“Hey, Catra,” she says.

“Hey,” says Catra, anxiety curdling her stomach up to her throat. She’s so naked. They’re both so naked. And even without her sword, Adora has always been stronger.

Adora reaches out with one hand and takes hold of Catra by the wrist. She draws Catra in easy, until she can hold Catra’s other wrist, too. Just as Catra’s heart clutches at being caught, Adora is sliding her hands down to lace their fingers together at their sides. She kisses Catra, clear and steady as the stars above them, slow as the pulse of the earth. She kisses Catra’s chin and all around her mouth, licking her own wet from Catra’s face.

“Gross,” breathes Catra, and Adora bites her.

“What do you need, Catra?” she whispers against Catra’s face, kissing her again.

Catra didn’t expect she’d have to ask for anything, and she resents it. “Me? I’m fine,” she says.

“Yeah,” says Adora. She trails open kisses down Catra’s jawline and the underside of her chin. She presses her mouth wet against Catra’s throat and sucks hard, scraping her lower teeth against Catra’s skin. She lets go, shifts down, and does it again. Catra gasps, her head and shoulders falling back.

Adora sucks a hard trail down Catra’s exposed throat to her clavicle. She lets go of Catra’s hands to pull her in by the naked hips, and Catra clutches at Adora’s biceps as Adora kisses her shoulder. Adora lightly traces her fingers down past Catra’s hip to circle lightly around one buttock.

She can’t believe Adora is touching her butt.

Adora holds her by the ass, still biting relentlessly at Catra’s collarbones. Catra missed her so bad, and Catra wants the same thing she always wants, and finally, she lets herself have it. She pulls herself up with Adora’s shoulder, wrapping her legs around Adora’s waist to look down at Adora’s face, to finger-comb Adora’s hair back. Adora, easy as anything, wraps her arms up around Catra’s back to hold her there. She doesn’t buckle. She doesn’t flinch.

“Kiss me,” she says, and Catra kisses her. She feels like finally she’s come home. She’s allowed to stay here—just for a little while. Adora’s hands are big and steady on her ass and her back. Adora won’t drop her.

“What do you need?” Adora says again.

“Whatever you want,” says Catra, her voice breaking.

Adora fists her hand in Catra’s thick hair and pulls. Catra goes, her spine bending like a bow to offer herself to Adora’s mouth. Adora bites the swell of Catra’s breast, sucking hard. It almost hurts. Catra is going to be covered in bruises. Adora is bruising Catra on purpose.

Catra clenches again, heat pouring through her spine. Her skin shivers.

Adora takes Catra’s nipple in her mouth, flicking it hard with her tongue. A lightning bolt thrills down to Catra’s cunt. She gasps, and the noise quivers in the night. She hopes to hell there aren’t any predators nearby. Adora does it again and again, letting go only to press more wet, open kisses to Catra’s other breast. Her hands are tight on Catra’s hair and on her butt, drawing Catra tighter still against her.

Catra is dreadful with need, like an instrument strung too taut, waiting.

Adora comes back to Catra’s mouth, giving Catra an anchor to latch onto. She kisses Catra soft, like Catra is something that must be treated with care, but Catra is wound too tight to kiss her back. Her breath has abandoned her, and all she can do is receive Adora’s kisses, panting, her body crying to be let go.

“What do you need,” Adora asks, soft and cruel into Catra’s mouth.

“You,” Catra says. It will always be true.

“Yes?” says Adora.

Catra can hear her own heartbeat in her ears, can feel it pulsing between her legs. “I need to come,” she says; her voice gives out halfway through, shaming her.

Adora kisses her, pulling her hand from Catra’s hair to hold her face. “How do you want to come,” she asks, because Adora is the worst person Catra knows. She brings her hand down to cup Catra’s cunt. Catra knows she’s soaked, can feel it dripping down her thighs. Can see it in Adora’s eyes. If Adora would just press—

Catra says, “I don’t care.”

Adora gently runs her fingers through the hair around Catra’s throbbing cunt, over and over, barely light enough to be felt. Catra twitches against her.

“Please,” sobs Catra.

Adora says, “Please…”

“Fuck me, please,” Catra begs, her face hot, her chest flushed. Adora kisses her again, those awful caring kisses, and slides two fingers between Catra’s lips, up deep inside her, and Catra is so wet that they slip in easy as nothing else has ever been.

“Thank you,” says Adora, pressing the heel of her hand against Catra’s clit. Catra groans, grabbing onto Adora’s shoulders. She looks back at Adora and can’t stand to imagine what Adora must see. Adora is shining at her like Catra never pummeled her to the dirt, never clawed her open, never let her fall.

Adora says, “I’m going to lay you down,” and draws her fingers back out of Catra. Catra whimpers after them. Adora lays her down in the dirt—in the dirt!—and lies down beside her, propped up on one arm to look down into Catra’s face.

“Adora,” says Catra, and Adora smiles down at her. Awful. Catra flips them, climbing on top of Adora again to push her into the dirt with kisses. Adora lets her. Adora puts her fingers back inside Catra and begins almost leisurely fucking them in and out, the base of her hand anchored against Catra’s clit. Adora kisses the side of Catra’s face again. Catra’s been kissed tonight more than she can stand.

Catra pushes her hips down roughly against Adora’s fingers, trying to get them deeper, to make them hit harder. She puts one hand on Adora’s wrist to shove it against her, but Adora holds firm.

“I’m going to give you what you need, but you have to let me get there,” says Adora, like she’s laying out battle plans.

Catra wants to scream. She keeps thrusting up against Adora’s hand, and Adora lets her, lets her hold tight to Adora’s wrist as Adora fucks her, but Adora keeps her pace even.

Adora leans down and bites Catra’s nipple, sharp and fast. Catra cries out; her free hand seizes against the dirt, her claws driving in deep. “Adora,” she says.

Adora bites her own lip, her brow furrowing as she concentrates. She starts changing the angle of her hand, curling her fingers higher inside Catra over and over. Her pace stays steady. Catra squirms against her. Adora’s her fingers drive higher still and hit something that lights up Catra’s body like she’s Adora’s stupid sword. It pulls a strangled sob out of her. She presses back against Adora’s hand—“yes”—presses her hands against the earth to hold her body still—“yes.”

Adora grins. She drives mercilessly against the spot, not speeding up, not slowing down, her hand hitting Catra’s clit every time like it’s an accident, but Catra knows better. Catra knows Adora. Adora likes to learn what works best, and then she likes to show off.

Catra’s body curls up against her. “More,” she gasps.

Without pausing, Adora gives her another finger; Catra feels herself stretching full around her. She smiles, thrusting down against Adora’s hand. “Yes,” she says, and Adora, radiant, kisses her, and speeds up.

It’s almost like they’re sparring, like they’re running a drill: Catra fucking her hips against Adora’s hand in even time with Adora’s hand inside her, both of them sweating and breathing hard and finally, finally in sync again.

Adora’s still hitting that spot every time; Catra’s toes curl against the earth, her breath heaving out of her, waves of hot need driving through her, not letting her go. She doesn’t know what she needs to be different, but she needs it so badly she could cry. “I can’t—I need—” she gasps, her eyes hot. Of course she’s bad at this. Of course she can’t let go.

“Let me—” says Adora, and flips them again. She holds Catra down against the earth with her body. “It’s okay. I got you.”

“Adora,” Catra begs again, for something she can’t name.

“I’m here,” Adora says. “Don’t worry. I could do this forever.”

Adora goes faster, deeper. It’s sparking through Catra’s whole body, she almost feels herself lifting up out of her skin, clutching around Adora’s fingers, but she’s not quite—she’s not, she can’t get there—she clutches Adora’s wrist. “Adora,” she whimpers, desperate.

Adora’s eyes are kind and sharp. “I know,” she says, kissing Catra again. “I know.”

Adora kisses her once more and slides down her body, her hair drifting light over Catra and making her twitch. Adora presses her free arm flat down against Catra’s hips, holding her still, and buries her face between Catra’s legs. She sucks Catra’s clit into her mouth, hard, rubbing her tongue against the underside, still driving her fingers into her relentlessly.

Catra spasms against Adora’s hand. She’s almost there, she’s almost—“Adora,” she gasps, high, grabbing Adora’s hair too hard with her claws.

Adora looks up at her, eyes determined—Catra bucks hard against her face—and Adora keeps fucking her, her mouth latched over Catra’s clit, her tongue rubbing ruthless against it, even faster than her hand. She looks at Catra like no matter what Catra needs, she’s going to figure it out.  

It’s so Adora—it’s so Adora—Catra needs to look away, closing her eyes as the fire finally rips through her, consuming her. Her chest lifts to the sky, her head falling back. Her body shudders into starlight under Adora’s hands, under Adora’s mouth. She can hear herself crying out—Adora keeps giving everything to her, fast and fast and fast and Catra’s body keeps igniting. 

And then, just when Catra thinks she can’t take anymore, the scream of her own blood in her ears fades, and the world comes back, and Adora’s face looms over her, unbearably tender, breathing like she’s just run to the moon. She presses her face against Catra’s, pressing Catra back into her skin.

Catra nuzzles against her, helpless, sated.

“Catra,” Adora whispering against the side of Catra’s face. “Catra, Catra.”

“Hey Adora,” murmurs Catra. 

Adora slides off to lay on the ground; she pulls Catra sideways tight against her, gathering Catra into her like they’re still kids. She weaves the fingers of their top hands together and folds them up against Catra’s chest, pressed in a knot against her breastbone.

Catra’s heart still trembles inside her, but Adora’s arms hold her fast. Catra is warm, and safe, and adored. Her breathing finds Adora’s, steady and close behind her. She falls asleep easier than she ever knew she could.

When she wakes up in the soft glow of dawn, her jumpsuit has been draped gently over her, and Adora is gone.