Chances are, if you’ve read any catradora fanfiction, you’ve heard of As Long As We Stay Together (If We Just Stay Together) by HeroTheHardWay. Hero’s unique fic took the fandom by storm with her creative spin on the characters and her beautiful worldbuilding. In this story, Catra and Adora are estranged college roommates, prior teammates on their collegiate hockey team, and ex-best friends. But after the pair suffer a falling out during their senior year of college, Catra and Adora never expect to see each other again.
Yet as fate—or HeroTheHardWay—would have it, these two astrophysicists majors just happen to be stationed at the Amundsen-Scott station in Antarctica, an extremely isolated research site at the southernmost place on Earth that only hosts about 50 people at a time. Oh, and they’re lab partners. Where could the story possibly go from here?
You’ll have to read it and find out! But first, here’s HeroTheHardWay to discuss her story, As Long As We Stay Together (If We Just Stay Together).
Jem (JM): You have such a unique concept behind your story! Hockey and astrophysics, clique wars, and it’s set in Antarctica! Can you tell me how you developed this idea?
HeroTheHardWay (HW): (laughs) Well, I read a [social media] post about how, during the Olympics, [while] all the athletes are hanging out doing nothing in the Olympic Village, all they have to do is hookup with each other. And someone else commented that the same thing happens in Antarctica at research stations. I thought that was funny and entertaining, and I texted a friend and said, “Oh my God, can you imagine a She-Ra AU of this?” She thought that sounded great, so together we just started spitballing from there.
In college, I majored in astrophysics, [so I applied that experience here]. And for the setting, [I chose] Scott Amundsen because after arriving, they can’t leave for 8 months. So they’re stuck there at the station, I think around 50 people.
From there, I just started thinking, what if it was a Mean Girls thing, where everyone is divided into cliques? I started writing after Season 1, so at that point, Shadow Weaver was the main threat. So [in As Long As We Stay Together] I had two cliques, one led by Shadow Weaver and one led by Angella, that are counter to each other. I originally conceived of it as a 10,000 word one-shot and then it just really got away from me!
JM: A lot of modern AU Catradora fics have Catra and Adora on sports teams, but this is the first time I’ve seen them play hockey. I think you write the gameplay scenes really well—they’re engaging and exciting, and there’s a lot of tension. Why did you pick hockey and what was it like writing those scenes?
HW: Such a big part of Catra and Adora’s canon relationship is that they grew up together and have a history that informs how they relate to each other in the present. It’s such an important part of their characters, so I couldn’t imagine an enemies to friends to lovers relationship in which they hadn’t already been friends. So I decided they were roommates in college and they played a sport, which seemed like the most translatable thing to the Horde. Not that athletics is the same as raising child soldiers, but [in this context] it has the same competitive atmosphere. I wanted them to play a sport where they directly interacted with each other that also emphasized physical strength. I was originally deciding between soccer and hockey. I don’t watch hockey, but I know a little bit more about it than soccer, or at least how you might approach writing a story around it.
I’m also a fan of Check Please, a webcomic about gay hockey players, [which inspired me].
JM: I can tell you put in the research. It reads like you’re on the ice, watching the players up close.
HW: I think when you write sports, it’s not actually about the sport itself. Obviously, you need some familiarity with the sport to make it feel realistic, and I have watched some hockey and read up on the rules. But at the end of the day, hockey is just a venue in the story. It’s not a story about playing hockey. It’s about Catra and Adora’s thoughts and emotions in the context of hockey. For Adora, hockey is a competitive space in which you can win or lose, it’s black or white and easy to understand. And in college, she had a lot of mental health struggles that weren’t addressed, so hockey became not as healthy for her. But in general, playing a sport fits with her personality and competitiveness. For Catra it’s similar, but slightly different because it’s something that you can leave on the ice and not bring into the rest of your life.
[Hero worked through the hockey scenes with Jo, on A03 as Johanna’s Motivational Insults (JMI), to tighten the gameplay and learn more about the sport. Jo is a common denominator in the world of catradora fanfiction. If you look at our previous author interviews with Morgan (SeasInkarnadine) and Mal (Malachi-Walker), linked here and here respectively, Jo has beta read for both.]
JM: Your story focuses primarily on Adora, who struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. I like how you incorporated Swift Wind as a service dog. Can you tell me about Adora’s characterization and her challenges with mental health?
HW: One of the reasons I started focusing on Adora’s mental health is because, in the show, a lot of Catra’s trauma is visible, but Adora’s is not. Adora has experienced a lot of traumatic things and she reacts to them in a different way than Catra. She doesn’t want to let her friends down, she wants to be perfect, she wants to be the person everyone expects her to be. I read a response from Noelle Stevenson on Reddit and she said something along the lines of, “Adora thinks that her only value is in her ability to help other people and to be good for other people”. And I think that’s a really interesting thing to explore.
I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want to focus as much on Catra’s story, because that’s been done in the show, and tons of people are writing really good fanfiction about that. I love reading about it, but in my writing I wanted to give her a break. I didn’t give her a traumatic backstory and she is, in general, a lot more well-adjusted than Adora. They couldn’t both be a mess in order for the story to work, in order for me to feel like I had enough space to really get into Adora’s character flaws and work her through them.
[Regarding Swift Wind], I didn’t want him to be a human, so I thought, what if I made him a dog? But dogs aren’t allowed at the South Pole. There are times where I wonder, do I really need this to be that realistic? Probably no one is going to care whether it’s realistic or not. But I wanted a good reason for Swift Wind to come to the South Pole. Things just came together. I wanted to talk about Adora and how her traumas in the show translate to this AU and that turned into talking about anxiety, and then I wanted Swift Wind to be there because he’s a character in the show of course. And him being her service dog, for her anxiety, brought everything together in a great way.
JM: I like how you portrayed the library scene, how you wrote Catra’s reaction to Adora’s panic attack. She asked questions, didn’t touch without asking. When you’re writing, are you intending to educate others about anxiety, or to get across a certain message?
HW: My goal wasn’t necessarily instructing people, like “this is what to do when you’re having a panic attack.” But I definitely wanted Catra to react in a good way that would be good for Adora. Adora was having a hard time, and needed someone to be there for her, someone who doesn’t necessarily know what to do but is trying her best.
The whole point of this story, or a point at least, is that Catra and Adora are capable of being competent humans by themselves, but they’re better together. I’m trying to avoid codependency, which is really easy to get to in romance, fanfiction especially. Catra can’t be the one to fix Adora’s problems. And that mirrors the show, where Adora can’t be the one to fix Catra’s problems. No one but Catra has the power to do that. Flipping that, Adora’s need to prove her own worth can’t be fixed by Catra’s validation, but Catra can certainly help and support Adora.
JM: What are your plans for the story? What else do you want to explore in your writing?
HW: The emotional goal of the story is to have Catra and Adora get together of course, but more so to have them be in a place where they’re emotionally capable of being in a relationship together. In college they were both giant messes and not really capable of having a healthy romantic relationship with each other, even if they’d tried to. But now, they are fumbling through some things, and a lot of what Adora struggles with externally are representations of things she’s dealing with internally. In order for her and Catra to have a good relationship, Adora has to be capable of handling those things in a healthy way, whether it’s her thesis or her perfectionism or both. Catra can certainly help her but it shouldn’t just be Catra fixing Adora or that their relationship is the only thing that’s making Adora be okay. The biggest goal is for them to be in a place where I can believe they will have a long and happy relationship and walk away from the story feeling good about that.
I have so many ideas for random things I want to write. It would be so fun to write a one-shot, Mermysteries story set at Amundsen-Scott. In real life, researchers at Amundsen-Scott legit start losing it there in the winter because of a lack of stimulation and the monotony. They actually start hallucinating and forgetting what they did that day. So I’d like to write a vaguely thriller-detective situation where Mermista and the others think there’s something supernatural going on, but it’s just in their head. And honestly I have more ideas than I know what to do with when it comes to She-Ra fanfic.
JM: What does She-Ra mean to you? Why did you connect with this universe and explore it in your writing?
HW: I love She-Ra because it’s honest and fun, and I love an epic fantasy story. I like that the characters are dealing with real things, but also doing it in a way that is approachable to kids. I think initially I was drawn in by Adora’s struggle to figure out who she is and how she fits into the world. Her and Catra’s relationship was especially compelling; that these two characters started in the same place, but due to events outside of their control and how they reacted to those events, they’re pushed apart, unwillingly but inescapably.
I read Nimona a few years ago and I really liked it. I love Noelle Stevenson. And when I started watching She-ra, I could tell in the beginning that it was that type of relationship, two characters starting in the same place and diverging. [That’s Noelle’s thing.] It’s different from Nimona of course, but Noelle said multiple times she’s interested in those types of characters and those types of stories, and I guess I’m also interested in those stories. It’s not every day that you find a story that you just can’t put down.
JM: If Noelle and the cast and crew-ra were to read your story, what would you want them to know or take away from it?
HW: Oh, I don’t know. I would want to thank them for making this story and creating these characters. Making characters that are so interesting that I want to think about all the time, that motivate me to write several dozen thousand words on an exploration of their characters. I’d thank them for tackling hard topics in a sympathetic way. And for bringing to life a world that is inescapably queer. It makes me really happy. I love that there’s a show where characters’ sexuality is not a big point, where not a single moment is spared to narratively question why Bow has two dads instead of a mom and dad. Or like, Spinnerella and Netossa are just people in a relationship. Some people really like to write about how being queer puts you outside of society and exploring that, because [ostracization] is something we struggle with and it can be hard, but I also love a world where that’s not a thing at all. Sexuality is just not an important aspect of peoples’ characters and that’s refreshing. I feel like cartoons and fantasy are a genre in which you can do that pretty easily. I love historical fiction and when you have that context, you can’t ignore homophobia. But in a fantasy world homophobia can just not be a thing.
It’s cool that the crew-ra are so visible to fans, and in a lot of ways they are fans of their own show. If I ever meet Noelle, maybe I’d ask her to sign one of my doodles or something.
Next week, I sit down with Savannah (@ceruleanstorm on A03), author of Upper West Side, another pinnacle of catradora fanfiction, wherein Catra is an Uber driver. A mastery of hurt/comfort, Upper West Side is a wonderful story you won’t want to miss. Read it here!