A/N: This follows Adam's Strength & Discoveries. If you haven't read them, and you find this first chapter confusing, I'd recommend going back and reading them, because this is as close to a re-cap as I plan to do.
To those of you who have been complimentary about me keeping in tune with the old MOTU characters, themes, etc.: Thank you! You "get" it. I'll do my best with this, but just am not as familiar with Etheria, She-Ra, etc. Keep me straight! To all others: if you're looking for a more true-to-life approach to He-Man, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I hold as true as I can to the old cartoons--corniness and all!
Oh, and of course, He-Man, She-Ra, and all the characters and worlds that go with them are not owned by me. I make no money off of doing this, but have lots of fun!
Adam, Prince of Eternia, laughed heartily at Orko's antics. The court jester and magician was performing for the birthday celebration of Adam and his twin sister Adora. Unfortunately, the little jester had just dumped an entire cake on Man-at-Arms.
Hearing a stifled giggle behind him, he turned to find Teela, his lifelong friend, bodyguard, and Captain of the Royal Guard, coming alongside him. His heart lifted at the sight of her. Since she had learned his secret, they had grown closer than ever…although neither had said those three little words just yet.
"Orko's magic strikes again," Adam observed with a grin.
"And it strikes Father, as usual," Teela laughed.
An appreciative noise rose from the crowd; Adora had just opened her final gift to reveal a gorgeous silk emerald dress. Adam leaned in close to her.
"I'm sure Sea Hawk will love it. I can see you on his pirate ship now, sailing through the clouds with your green silk dress flowing around you as you brandish the Sword of Protection," he teased softly. She glared at him as he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.
"You never let up, do you?" she asked a little testily. She was normally a pleasant sister, but Adam had been teasing her mercilessly all day. It wasn't quite like him—not that he never teased her, but he always knew when to stop. She wondered if turning twenty-five had perhaps damaged his sensitivity.
"Nope," he answered lazily. Teela smirked, knowing what was coming. "In fact, I enjoy teasing you so much, I think I'll follow you back to Etheria so I can keep it up."
After an initial, split-second flash of irritation, the meaning of his words sank in. "You mean it?" Adora asked, excitement building in her voice. "You're coming for a visit?"
"Nope," he said again. Her face fell and anger flashed in her eyes. She thought he'd been teasing her again. Adam leaned in close again and lowered his voice. "I'm coming to help you fight the Horde."
"But Adam, we could be talking months, even years," Adora protested when she finally accepted Adam was going to Etheria to help her defeat the Horde once and for all.
"We'll have to take it one day at a time," he answered with a shrug. "It could be a lot shorter than you think."
"Are you sure it's safe to leave Eternia for so long?" Adora asked her brother, her brow furrowed.
"Adora, this isn't a decision I made yesterday. I decided this weeks ago," Adam told her patiently. "The Sorceress agreed that she and the masters can handle anything that comes up, or at least delay it long enough for her or Light Hope to get me back here if I am needed."
"He-Man has been telling the masters that he's going with Adam to fight the Horde," Teela added. "They know to keep it quiet, and He-Man plans to make a few surprise visits here and there to keep up appearances."
"Sometimes he'll actually have to come back, of course. The rest of the sightings will be courtesy of Man-at-Arms' robot," Adam grinned.
Adora shook her head. "I can't believe you're really coming to help. Not that you haven't before, but--"
"But it's always been in a dire situation, and I've always had to come back here pretty quickly to deal with Skeletor," he finished for his twin. "Speaking of which...excuse me."
"Where's he going?" Adora asked.
"Hmph," Teela grunted. "Skeletor heard he's leaving. He wanted to talk to Adam."
Adora quirked an eyebrow. "Why?"
"I wish I knew."
Skeletor was bored out of his mind. He still hadn't the faintest understanding of why He-Man had risked his life for him. Once in a while, he would send for Adam, and then alternately rage at the prince and question him as he struggled to understand He-Man's motives. He was tired of trying to figure it out. Being evil was much more fun than trying to understand this goodness stuff, Skeletor decided.
"You wanted to see me, Skeletor?" Adam stood outside the cell, arms folded.
Skeletor's head snapped up. His voice went sickeningly sweet. "I hear you're going to Etheria for an extended visit."
"That's right." Adam kept his voice neutral, but he was disappointed that the news had gotten to Skeletor, since the convicted villain now knew his secret. It wouldn't do for all the evil beings on Eternia to know He-Man wouldn't be around.
"I want to go with you."
Adam couldn't have been more surprised if Skeletor had professed undying love for the Sorceress.
Skeletor stood and strode to the cell door, which was enclosed by a forcefield.
"I'm tired of being in here. Let me come to Etheria with you. I can help you defeat Hordak."
"No way, Skeletor."
To his credit, Skeletor held onto his temper, possibly for the first time in years, though his tone did grow impatient. "I served under Hordak for years. I know things about him that even Adora doesn't know."
Adam shook his head and dropped his arms to his side as he took a step back, intending to leave.
"I'm afraid not, Skeletor."
"I thought you believed in second chances," the villain cried desperately. "I want to help!"
Adam paused. "You want to help, or you want revenge on Hordak?"
Skeletor didn't answer.
"I do believe in second chances, Skeletor. But you haven't changed. You would double-cross us the minute it served your purpose. I may have spared your life, but that doesn't make me a fool." Adam turned to leave.
"You'll be sorry you left me here!" Skeletor yelled after him.
"I doubt that," Adam muttered to himself as he walked away.
"You're sure about this," Adora tested Adam again for the umpteenth time.
"The rate you're going, I might change my mind just to hush you up," Adam retorted, his patience finally wearing thin. They were on their way to bid their parents farewell. Adora had asked him every hour if he was sure about going with her, especially about staying so long. Each time, she had a different reason for double-checking.
"Well, it's just that I thought of something else," Adora said, her voice hesitant.
Adam sighed. "Now what?"
"I'm not sure it's a good idea to bring Teela," Adora said in a low voice. "You're, um, really popular with some of my friends."
Adam waved his hand. "He-Man took care of Frosta when she came here to Eternia." I hope, he mentally added. She was a very determined woman.
"Actually, I was thinking more of Glimmer…and Castaspella."
Adam stopped dead, his face paling. "Oh."
"Yes, oh," Adora agreed. "I've tried to tell Castaspella about Teela, but it's like she tunes me out. If you and Teela are both coming, you better be prepared. There are bound to be some awkward moments."
Recovering, Adam swung an arm around her shoulders and led her on. "That, my dear sister, is a major understatement."
"So you're still coming?"
"Oh good, I get to watch the fireworks," she teased.
Adam raised an eyebrow to her. "And I finally get to meet this Sea Hawk."
Adora's eyes widened. "You better behave yourself," she warned.
Adam grinned. "Adora, I'm a prince. I always behave myself." He burst into laughter at her un-princess-like snort.
Adora, Adam, and Teela—and Cringer and Spirit, of course—said their good-byes to their families at the palace. As they made their way to Grayskull in the Attack Track, Adam reflected back on the scene. The tears and extended hugs from the women he had expected—Marlena seemed to hold on to him for at least five minutes, and Teela was just as bad with her father—but Randor had surprised him.
"I'm proud of you, son," Randor had said, both hands on Adam's shoulders. "Leaving all you know to help your sister fight that tyrant—I'm proud of you." He had grasped Adam's arm, pulled him closer, and whispered in his ear.
"I've worried over Adora for twenty-five years. It's a huge relief to know you'll be by her side for a while. Watch out for her, Adam."
Adam had looked into his father's eyes and understanding passed between them. "Don't worry Father," he said quietly, but with a smile. "I'll give him the third degree."
Randor slapped his son on the back, grinning. "I knew I could count on you."
Adam felt a small pang as he recalled the feeling of fellowship with his father. He and Randor had just gotten their footing in their relationship. He wished he'd had more time with him.
I'll be back, he reminded himself. This is only temporary.
Adora was lost in thought as well. In spite of Adam going with her, and in spite of the fact that she had grown up on Etheria, it grew harder to leave Eternia each time she visited. For the first time, she allowed herself to dwell slightly on the possibilities of life after the Horde was defeated.
Do I come back home to my family, or stay on Etheria with my friends—who have become like my family? And with Sea Hawk. Adora couldn't help the small sting of envy she suddenly felt towards her brother. He and Teela might not be engaged yet, but Teela knew his secret, and everyone knew the two of them would end up together…even if they were taking their sweet time about it. Sea Hawk loved her, but he had no idea she was She-Ra. And the Sorceress had cautioned them against telling people, saying it was best to allow them to figure it out on their own.
Still, it would be great to have Adam there for a while, she reflected. It could be a few weeks, or it could be even longer, but since most of his visits got cut short at about a week or less, the idea of having him there long-term was wonderful. Her smile grew. And maybe they'd defeat the Horde soon.
Teela was flat-out, and uncharacteristically, nervous. She had never visited Etheria, but she'd heard Adam and Adora talk about some of the rebels there. She knew most of the leaders were women, and from what Adora had said over the last two years, most of them seemed to have a crush on Adam or He-Man. Teela tried hard to hide it, but she wasn't particularly looking forward to this.
She didn't hide it from Adam, though. He reached over, took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, offering her a reassuring smile at the same time.
"Take it easy, Captain," he said for her ears alone. "It'll be fine."
Teela automatically straightened up and flashed him a bright smile. "Of course, Your Highness."
Adora's mouth scrunched as she half-listened. On second thought, maybe she didn't want to see all the fireworks headed their way.
Adam was greeted like a long-lost member of the family upon their arrival.
"Adam! Good to see you!" Bow said, pumping Adam's hand. "Adora didn't tell us you were coming!"
"She didn't know," Adam said with a grin. "I'm here to help you guys out for a while." Before the red-haired archer could express his excitement over that statement, another voice interrupted them.
"Adam!" Glimmer squealed, throwing her arms around him. "Adora has told us everything about the last couple of months. It's so good to see you safe and sound!"
Adam returned her hug enthusiastically, glaring at his sister at the same time. "She did, did she?" he asked. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, and he relaxed. Pulling back from Glimmer, he held her at arm's length and added, "You'll have to tell me what tall tales she's been weaving behind my back, Glimmer."
"Oh, I'd love to," Glimmer breathed. She tossed her pink hair.
Teela cleared her throat. Adam didn't miss a beat, but wrapped an arm around her immediately.
"Bow, Glimmer, you remember Teela, Captain of the Royal Guard…and my girlfriend." Teela glanced at him quickly, surprised by his use of the word and by the firmness in his voice. His gaze was still friendly, but a message passed between him and Bow as Glimmer's face fell. That gave Teela the empathy to step forward.
"It's good to see you again," she said, shaking Glimmer's hand and putting on the friendliest smile she could muster. The young girl smiled in return.
Suddenly Teela found her hand in Bow's.
"My lady, we are honored by your presence on Etheria. As always, your beauty is as blinding as the sun. When you come to your senses and drop this lazy prince, by all means let me know." Teela gasped and looked to Adam again, but he was grinning.
"In your dreams, Bow," Adam heckled him. Bow laughed with him as the two exchanged more barbs. Glimmer's giggles filled the air as well.
Teela studied Adam during the exchange. This was an Adam she had only seen in private moments with her and maybe her father and Orko. She'd never seen him quite like this around anyone else. It took her a moment to realize why. Adora caught her look and smiled.
"We're not a princess and prince here, Teela," Adora confirmed. "Others hold those titles. Here, Adam and I are just rebels like everyone else."
"That's a bit of an exaggeration," Kowl argued, landing on Adora's shoulder.
"Hello, Kowl," Adora said with a smile. "This is Teela-"
"Yes, yes, I know," he interrupted. "I'm afraid Adora's not telling the whole truth, however. She isn't just a rebel; she's the leader of the rebellion. And we're terribly glad to have her back."
"Is Hordak up to something?" Adora asked, coming to full attention.
"When isn't he?" the bird-like creature replied. "But no, nothing we know of right now. I just feel better when you're here."
"You're sweet." Adora patted his head. Raising her voice, she called, "Adam, if you're finished playing juvenile verbal war with Bow, I'd like to show you and Teela to your tents."
"Sure, sis," he replied with a grin. Teela watched him and realized that there was more to his sudden ease than even what Adora had said. Adam was respected for himself here. There was no irresponsible, clumsy act needed to hide his identity.
Except for fighting the Horde, she thought, this must be like a vacation for him!
"So Skeletor is defeated?" Glimmer asked. They were gathered around a campfire that evening, catching up on news.
Adam nodded. "He's safely locked away in an isolated prison; only the Heroic Warriors, the king, and the queen can get in and out."
"So you and He-Man decided to help us for a while. That's awfully brave and kind of you," Glimmer gushed, her huge eyes made liquid by the firelight.
"And Teela," Adam reminded her nonchalantly.
"Of course!" Glimmer threw the other woman a bright smile. "Well, I'm beat. I'll see you all in the morning."
"I think I shall retire as well," Bow said. He bowed low to Adam, Adora, and Teela. "Your Majesties, my lady, I bid you good night."
"Bow, don't start that," Adora said, with a twinkle in her eye and a warning in her voice. He grinned mischievously at her, winked, and left.
"That Bow is an…interesting fellow," Teela said, at a loss for how odd she found her behavior. Adam grinned.
"You get used to him after a while." His smile fading, he turned to Adora. "You had a question."
His sister nodded, her blue eyes confused. "You and I haven't had time to talk about what happened with Skeletor and the Obsidian Sphere. But Mother said it had all been some kind of test."
"That's right," Adam replied.
"That's twice Zodac has tested He-Man," Adora said, watchful of her word choice in case anyone was listening in from the surrounding tents. "Why hasn't he, or one of the other Cosmic Enforcers, tested She-Ra?"
Adam considered his next words carefully, also aware that others might be listening in. "He-Man wasn't tested with the Star Seed until he had held the power for nearly five years. She-Ra was given the power only about two-and-a-half years ago, right?" Adora nodded. Adam leaned forward, lowered his voice, and continued, "This last test was brought on by He-Man being…lost. He had lost his faith in the power of good for a short time. He also had very strong feelings for a certain woman. Zodac said they needed to be sure He-Man's faith was restored, and that he would still be faithful to his vows."
Adora nodded. "I see," she said softly. She knew how her brother had struggled after Skeletor had learned his secret. That wasn't the only reason he'd been lost. Killing Darren, and learning what Darren had once been, had taken a toll on him as well. She supposed Zodac was right to test Adam. She wondered if and when she might face a test of her own.
Teela listened in shock. Adam had offered them some explanations when the ordeal with Skeletor had ended, but he had obviously held some things back. He had never told her, for instance, that his feelings for her were part of the reason for his "test."
"Why didn't you tell me?" she whispered.
"What?" Adam's brow furrowed.
"Why didn't you tell me that your—that He-Man's feelings for this woman were part of the reason he was tested?"
Adam shrugged helplessly. "I didn't tell you that?"
"No," came the emphatic reply.
"I'm sorry Teela; it wasn't an intentional omission," he replied, hoping she wasn't going to get too upset about it. He really hadn't meant to keep it from her, but…he motioned her closer, so he could whisper in her ear.
Adora looked from one to the other, confused about why this was such a big deal. She had no way of knowing that even now, months after learning Adam's secret, Teela still struggled to trust him whole-heartedly. Adam had never shared that with his twin.
"You had asked me to take things slow. I wasn't sure you'd appreciate everyone there knowing how much I care for you," Adam explained, his breath tickling Teela's ear. She resisted the urge to tilt her head to invite his kiss on her neck. Instead, she decided to change the subject.
"You said there were things about your visits here you never told me," she reminded Adam. "I want to hear about it. I need to know what we're up against."
Adam nodded as he straightened up, knowing she was right. He had wanted to tell her more on Eternia, but with the rush of the last few weeks, it hadn't been possible to find five minutes to do so, much less an hour.
Teela listened in horror as Adam described his first visit, and how the Horde—with Adora's help—had managed to imprison He-Man twice, nearly destroying him with the Magnabeam. Adora described other attacks that left her in dire situations as well, and spoke of the Horde's cruelty. But it wasn't until she told Teela about the time He-Man had defended a group of villagers that her voice broke. Adam took up the story.
"He-Man was hit with a freeze ray, and the entrance to the cave collapsed," he said. "The villagers dug out the other side of the mountain, but the tunnel started to collapse. He-Man barely recovered enough to hold it up while they escaped."
"By the time She-Ra got there, the villagers were out, but He-Man had been buried," Adora said hoarsely. "She thought for sure he was dead." Then she smiled. "But he wasn't."
"And She-Ra got him out," Adam added, sensing Teela couldn't handle hearing how his strength had almost given out. For a second he could feel himself back in that mountain, sitting on the floor, arms locked overhead. The darkness had been so complete, and he'd begun to lose consciousness. By the time She-Ra had broken through, he thought, as he'd told her, that he'd been dreaming.
Teela wrapped her arms around Adam, bringing him back to the present, and he could feel slight tremors running through her. He gave her an encouraging squeeze. "Skeletor never would have thought to aim all the freeze rays at He-Man at once. Hordak is pretty resourceful, Teela. It's part of what makes him so dangerous. The other part is that his minions are powerful." He and Adora described Mantenna's ability to disrupt balance or stun people with his eyes; Shadow Weaver's incredible magical powers, Catra's dangerous ability to become a panther, Scorpia's poisonous tail, and Grizzlor's strength.
"Modulock is here as well," Adora concluded. "But you already know him." Teela nodded, recalling the three-legged being who had once been a scientist. He had been rejected by Skeletor and joined Hordak instead. Teela leaned her head on Adam's shoulder.
"You were right to come here," she said. She could sense his relief as he relaxed ever so slightly. Though she had never argued with him to begin with, his parents had been distraught over his decision at first, causing him some turmoil. Adam didn't want to hurt them, and the idea of both their children putting their lives in danger had been hard for them both. It hadn't taken long for Randor and Marlena to see he was right, though. Etheria had to be freed. Then Adora could come home to Eternia, where she belonged.