"Faith was all they had left?" Catra laughed so hard and violently that she could feel her wound start to reopen. "That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"Don't mock people who believe!"
"Oh come on Adora!" Catra shot a glance over her shoulder. Adora was applying balm to her back with extreme concentration. "Don't tell me you agree with that! Not you! The Horde didn't raise us that way."
"I don't agree, but that's not a reason to be mean."
"Did you have to pretend then?" She cleared her throat to make her voice go higher. "Oh Angella, don't beat yourself for that. I would have done the exact same thing! Everybody knows waiting passively for a hero is how you win a war!"
"Stop it!" Adora nudged her shoulder, trying to sound angry. However Catra knew that she was holding back a smile. Catra knew her. "You should have seen Angella's face. She was devastated."
"No kidding. I'd feel shitty, too, if I'd left that mess for my kids to fix. Actually scratch that, I would have fixed it myself."
"You sound like Katriska…" Adora smirked.
She didn't get the effect she had hoped for. Catra tensed and stopped talking. Adora bit her lip, wondering if Catra would let her talk about it. Since the first revelations about the Magicats, she had closed herself off on that subject, only listening intently when Adora came back with new information.
"I mean, she used to be a pro-action person like you…"
"I know what you mean."
"So… How do you feel about all this?"
"By all this, do you mean the fact that I'm a queen without a kingdom, or that my people has been decimated by the Horde, or that the reason Shadow Weaver made my life impossible for all those years is that the last queen banned her? Or do you mean the prospect of being judged by people who hated my predecessor?"
"I don't think they hated her. It sounded more like political disagreements…"
"Oh come on, you're doing it again, Adora."
Catra opened her mouth, but at that moment Adora's thumbs rolled on a particularly sensitive knot in her back. She arched it, and couldn't keep the moan and purrs in her throat.
"Somebody's enjoying herself…" Adora chuckled.
Red with embarrassment, Catra decided it was payback time. She spun herself around despite still being bare-chested. Now it was her turn to smirk when she saw Adora's cheeks flush in a second. The blonde snapped her neck, almost hurting it, to avert her gaze.
Catra grabbed her chin and made her look into her eyes.
"Read between the lines Adora. This isn't a one time argument. This is a thousand year-long argument. And from what you told me, Mystacor realized that the Magicats had been right all along after Katriska's death? I'd be very petty about it if I were them."
"But now it's irrelevant. The Magicats are dead, the mask is fixed, and what matters is defeating Hordak and restoring balance!"
"That's not how people work, Adora."
Adora fell silent. Catra put her shirt back on, then stared at the blonde's confused face. Her old companion hadn't changed in that way. Despite realizing that her whole life at the Horde had been a lie, she couldn't bring herself to distrust the new people she had chosen to fight for. It actually made sense, Catra thought. Adora was an idealistic person. She wanted to build a better world for everyone. To be the fucking hero of that new peaceful world...
To keep that state of mind, she needed to see the best in people, and trust the motivations of her allies. However, it would only hurt her badly in the end.
Catra cupped her face, bringing Adora's eyes to her again.
"The Horde might be evil, but they taught you some valuable lessons that you should remember. Keep your focus, observe your environment, don't let your guard down." Catra touched her forehead with her finger, like all those times during training when she had tried to distract Adora. "And most importantly..." her eyes glowed in the dark cell. "Don't expect a fair fight."
"You're saying this as if I'm fighting my own side."
"Didn't you say you would testify for me?"
Adora didn't at all like what Catra was implying. She frowned and stood up.
"I'm pleading the Court for mercy on your behalf, I'm not opposing them. If they wanted it, they could have just cut your head off, and it would all be over. Instead they're giving you a chance!"
Catra laughed again. "How merciful. That's exactly what I would do if I wanted to get rid of an enemy AND look irreproachable to my people."
"You're wrong," Adora snarled. "I'm not going to let you turn me against my own side. You're just like Shadow Weaver, playing with my mind!"
Catra jumped to her feet and closed the space between them.
"As you wish, Princess. Go believe everything they tell you. It worked fine for you in the Horde, didn't it?"
Adora pushed her. She called the guard to open the cell for her.
"Don't get fooled twice Adora, that's all I'm saying." Catra shouted as she watched Adora leave the prison.
This made no sense at all. Adora couldn't believe it.
She was their enemy of course. And she was a Magicat. The last of the Magicats. But her trial had nothing to do with the past between the Magicats and Mystacor. The trial was about her time commanding the Horde, destroying everyone's lives.
She started to regret ever telling her the truth. But Catra deserved to know it just as much as she did.
She groaned as loudly as she could in the ruins of the front part of the castle. Ironically, the prison in the back hadn't been touched during the battle. When she reached the Alliance camp outside, she took a minute to observe soldiers, civilians and princesses, busy repairing the holes.
Their faces carried joy and hope. They had won after all, and it seemed like the odds were in their favor now. How could Adora believe that their intentions were evil?
She shook her head. That wasn't exactly what Catra had said. It was more complicated than one good side versus one bad side.
Adora then looked to her left, where Angella was talking to Castaspella and her counsellors.
Alright, Catra… What wrong could it bring to be a little more… attentive?
"You found it!" Lonnie's face brightened as she snatched the game from Kyle's hands. "Thanks, you're the best!"
"If you cleaned your bunk regularly, I would have found it sooner."
"I don't like this new attitude you have…" Lonnie laughed. "When did you become so cocky?"
Kyle shrugged as he sat on the chair next to her bed. There was no use telling her now that he had gained his confidence from spying on Hordak for several months for Brightmoon.
"How are your wounds?"
"Better. I can walk by tomorrow, Doc said. But I'll need crutches."
Kyle smiled. At least this friend would be fine. He looked around the infirmary. Many soldiers were slowly recovering from the battle. Physically at least. A bunch of them had been traumatized by the experience, mostly young cadets who had never fought before. Pain crushed his heart as he saw a fourteen year old boy paralyzed in his bed, jolting every time his neighbor moved.
Who had decided such young kids could fight this war?!
The door of the infirmary burst open, revealing a tall blue woman with deadly tentacles flowing around her.
Octavia was back.
Lonnie and Kyle gulped when they saw her face. Octavia used to have a poisonous stare before, prompting people to avoid her when she glared. Now she had a helmet covering the top half of her head, down until the nose. She had no eyes anymore, just robotic lenses.
She was more of a machine than a woman now. And she was terrifying.
She started to inspect the wounded, one by one. How exactly she could see was a mystery, but she didn't have any problem ascertaining who would be able to leave the infirmary and when.
When she reached Lonnie's bed, the two cadets held their breath. Octavia crossed her arms beneath her chest, and stood still in front of the injured girl for a few seconds, as if she was scanning her.
"How long do you need to recover?" she asked.
"Doc said I can start training again in two weeks, if I go easy."
"Good. You're on teaching duty in the meantime."
"Me?" Lonnie raised her eyebrows in surprise. "You want me to train the kids?"
"Yes. You're not a cadet anymore, congratulations," she said in the most impassive voice they'd ever heard. "We need a new coach for the youngest recruits."
Recruits wasn't a fair word to use considering they were either kids captured in the villages the Horde had conquered, or children of the current soldiers, forced to join the ranks.
"But what happened to Mr. Smoothscales?"
Kyle's heart dropped in his chest. Not a week ago, their life-long coach was giving him advice for the battle, because he knew that Kyle didn't have the spirit of a soldier, and he didn't want him to get hurt.
He didn't even know that he had joined the fight. It must have been a last minute decision, to be sure there would be enough troopers against Brightmoon.
Another pointless loss…
"Okay…" Lonnie shook her head to anchor herself in reality. Octavia hadn't waited for an answer though. She was heading towards the intensive care unit.
Kyle frowned. "Um… I'll be right back, okay?"
"What are you going to do?" Lonnie asked suspiciously. She watched the boy rush towards the ICU, where Octavia had disappeared.
Kyle pushed open the door in silence and stood in a dark corner. There were three gravely injured people in the ICU. Rogelio was the most severe case. Despite the stability of his body and wounds, he was still in a coma and couldn't survive without the machines stimulating his vitals instead of his brain.
Octavia was talking with the doc, pointing to Rogelio. "How long is he going to stay like that?"
"I really can't tell, Commander. The coma is a result of blood loss and the severe trauma his body endured. As long as his brain doesn't adapt and recognize that there's no danger anymore, he won't wake."
"Yeah well, we can't afford that, Doc. If he's not awake by next week, take him off life support."
"I don't tolerate snooping, midget."
The doctor shot a confused look to Octavia, but the Second slowly turned around until she faced Kyle, paralyzed in his corner. How on Etheria did she know that he was there? She couldn't have heard him, he was as silent as Catra…
"Come forward," she said.
"I- I'm sorry, Commander," Kyle's voice trembled. "He's my training partner. I wanted to check on him, but you were there-"
"I don't care. If I catch you snooping around again, you'll be in trouble."
Her emotionless voice sent shivers down his spine. He apologized again, bowing as a way to avoid seeing her face rather than as a mark of respect. He stood like that until Octavia had left the unit, then he crouched on the ground, hugging his knees and burying his head in his arms.
"I'm so sorry…" doctor Ferrarius squeezed his shoulder. "All we can do now is hope that he wakes up this week," she sighed.
"There really is nothing else you can do?" Kyle asked her, his head still in his arms.
"Unfortunately, I've done everything in my power. I guess only Lord Hordak's tech would be able to break the coma."
Kyle looked up this time. "Can he really do that?"
Hope gave his watery eyes a desperate shade.
"Um, yes, definitely, but honestly…" the doctor said hesitantly. "I don't see him doing it for a mere cadet."
"Thanks!" Kyle stormed out of the ICU, leaving her puzzled. He hurried to Lonnie, and didn't give her the time to wonder what was happening as he blurted out what he had just seen.
"So, I thought that we could go together to see Hordak, and ask him to heal Rogelio, and you could say that you need him as your coaching assistant, you know, since you're wounded and new to this work-"
"Wow, Kyle, hold on a minute! There is no way Hordak will accept that! Have you ever talked to him? Like personally? He doesn't care about troopers like us."
"But you're not a trooper anymore, you're a coach!"
"Coaches report to their direct superior, the Force Captain, or the Commander, if necessary. Not Lord Hordak!"
"If we don't do anything, he'll be dead before next week like Mr Smoothscales," Kyle spat. Lonnie didn't answer right away. She understood what was at stake, but since she wasn't as close to Rogelio as Kyle was, she could see the flaws in his plan more clearly than he ever would.
"Listen, I'm not rejecting the idea, but," Lonnie started as she held his glare. "We need to find a very good reason to present ourselves to Hordak. We need to be useful to him, that's the only thing he cares about after all. Catra wasn't useful to him anymore, so he got rid of her. He functions that way."
Lonnie continued her outloud thinking, but Kyle stopped listening as he got lost in his own thoughts. Hordak wanted his soldiers to be useful. What did Kyle have that could serve Hordak well, in exchange for Rogelio's life?
The image of a brown skinned boy with a brilliant smile and a crop top flashed in his mind.
You're supposed to be the good guys right?
It's war Kyle…
Kyle frowned. It was war indeed.
Two onion bulbs, a drop of Heart-Blossom essence, an infusion of her own personal leaves… Mix it all slowly for a couple of minutes above the heater, and the potion was ready.
Perfuma dropped the tip of her finger in the cauldron to taste it. She nodded, satisfied.
"Why are you giving yourself so much trouble for that potion?"
Perfuma almost knocked the bowl over. She turned around and welcomed the newcomer with a pout. "Mermista you scared me!"
The sea princess rolled her eyes as she crashed on the couch. "Seriously though. You have to do this twice a day, plus the balm."
"It's no trouble at all. It's very fast to make."
"I'm not talking about the process. I'm talking about the motivation."
Perfuma raised an eyebrow as she poured the potion into a gourd, inviting Mermista to explain herself.
"She's the reason you don't have a kingdom anymore."
"Ah, so that's what you meant," Perfuma replied sadly.
It had been a few months since Catra had launched the raid against Plumeria. The Horde had taken them by surprise in the middle of the night, right after a battle in the dead Whispering Woods. The rebellion had not seen it coming. Plumeria wasn't a very big kingdom, but it still had a runestone, and was on the way between Salineas, the Snow Kingdom, and Brightmoon.
They should have protected it better.
"Nobody died though, we escaped in time, and…"
"Don't try to convince yourself you're not holding a grudge."
"I'm not! I mean, I am a little, of course, but… Well look at her now," Perfuma shrugged. "She got betrayed by her own side. She's more miserable than all of us now."
"That doesn't change the past."
"Yes, but as Adora said the other day, we should act as fair war victors on principle. I don't want to feel ashamed of my attitude in a few years when it's all over. I want to be able to tell future generations that we were the good guys till the end without feeling like I'm lying."
"You can tell them whatever you want if we're the victors."
Perfuma huffed. "Of course, but that's not the issue. The issue is what I feel is right."
"Yeah well," Mermista rolled her eyes again. "I can't forgive her for making me lose Salineas. That and all the other horrors she's done to us."
"You're going to vote against her, aren't you?" Perfuma asked.
"Well then, don't tell Adora. She'll be mortified."
"Don't tell me what?" Both princesses jolted. Perfuma stood up way too quickly to look natural, and Mermista blushed furiously.
"Um… Nothing, it's no big deal, it's just…" Perfuma asked for her friend's help in a silent stare.
"It's just that I feel a bit sick," Mermista pouted. "I keep throwing up, and I feel weak… It's weird."
"You're not pregnant, are you?" Perfuma raised an eyebrow.
"Whaaaaat? Nooo, definitely not, trust me."
Mermista scoffed and blushed even harder when she saw her two friends smirk. She left the room grumbling some profanities under her breath.
"I've come to fetch Catra's potion," Adora said when they were done giggling.
"I'm coming with you tonight. I need to check how the wound is healing," she said as she grabbed her first aid kit.
The two princesses walked the path from the camp towards the prison in silence. From the corner of her eye, Adora could see Perfuma was a little nervous at the prospect of facing their fearsome prisoner.
She couldn't blame her. Adora must have been the only princess who wasn't scared to stand close to the Horde Commander, and that was mostly because she had known her from before. It hadn't made the scratches she'd given her during the fights any less painful though.
When they stepped into the prison, with the guard by their side to open the cell, Catra immediately stared at Perfuma, following her with her eyes. The piercing gaze made the princess gulp. How could Adora stand this soul analysis twice a day?
"Hey, Catra. Princess Perfuma is here to see how your back is healing."
Catra nodded slightly. It was a good enough sign for Adora that she wouldn't try to claw her face. The guard opened the cell, and both princesses rushed in.
Catra stood up and stared again silently at Perfuma, probably waiting for her to talk.
"Um…" Perfuma's whole body was shaking. The cell was quite small. She had her plant magic, but Adora didn't have her sword. If the prisoner decided to attack…
The aid kit slipped from her hands. The box opened in front of Catra, whose face twitched and tail rose as she saw the needles.
"What are you going to do to me?" she hissed. Perfuma backed away, and Adora grabbed Catra's hands, blocking her way to the other princess.
"It's just in case Catra. She's not going to use them unless it's necessary."
"No, no, it's not necessary. I'm fine, and you are NOT using those on me!" she pointed to the needles then to Perfuma threateningly.
"Let's just sit, okay?" Adora slipped her hand onto Catra's waist and turned her around. The girl let her, but she didn't avert her gaze from Perfuma until her back was facing her. Adora made her sit, whispering comforting words that Catra listened to half-heartedly.
Perfuma gulped again, and sat down. She put the aid kit next to her and breathed out.
"Okay, I'm going to observe the wound for now, that's all. Can you take your shirt off, Catra?"
Catra didn't answer. Her tail just swished in discontent, but she obeyed nonetheless. Perfuma saw Adora blush at the sight of topless Catra. It made her laugh internally, and lightened her heart. She could do this.
"Alright, it looks much better than a few days ago! You did a good job applying the balm Adora!"
"Thanks…" Adora answered as she tried to avoid Catra's smirky face.
Her expression changed when she felt Perfuma touch her. She almost hissed but Adora squeezed her hands and gave her a warning glare.
"Does it hurt less than before?"
"...yes." Catra answered reluctantly.
"Good, good. Um, I'm gonna have to do something unpleasant."
"I said no needles!" Catra snapped her head.
"No, no, I promise, no needles!" Perfuma waved her hands. "But I need to...scrape the dead skin. There's not much of it, and it's not deep, but we can't leave it, or it's going to get infected."
"You're going to what now?"
"Catra, look at me," Adora cupped her face with both hands. She knew how much Catra hated medical care. "Once it's done, the only things your wound will need are the potion and the balm, that's all. It's just one unpleasant step, and then it's over."
"Yes, and I have another special regenerative balm to put on the zone I'm going to scrape, this way the skin will regrow faster."
Catra looked at Adora for a few silent seconds, until she did something that the princess didn't expect: she whined.
"Make it quick then."
She grabbed Adora's shirt and tugged. Adora understood. She scooted closer to Catra, so that she could lean her head against her chest. Adora nodded to Perfuma, signaling that they were ready.
"I'm going to apply a pain-killing lotion first, Catra. It'll sting a little at first, and then you won't feel pain anymore. You'll only feel that I'm touching you."
Catra's ear twitched. She just wanted it to be over.
Perfuma started working on the wound. The downside of their position was that Adora could see everything she did, and it gave her a little bit of nausea.
The first scraping made Catra's body jerk. She whimpered as she clutched Adora's sides, planting her claws in the fabric of her shirt. Her tail raised, slapping Perfuma's face.
"Can you control your tail?"
"No, I can't, you dumbface…" Catra hissed. "Your pain killing shit didn't work."
"Sorry, it's not as effective as the injectable one I have, but you said no needles."
Perfuma resumed her work. It took her fifteen long minutes to dispose of the little dead zones on Catra's skin. It would have taken less time had it not been for the tail swishing here and there in her face.
Catra was a shaking mess in Adora's arms. She tried to calm her by rubbing soothing circles on her nape, but she wasn't sure Catra could feel anything but the pain of her back.
Finally Perfuma pulled away to admire her work. Catra's back was shining because of all the balm she had put on it. If it wasn't mended in less than two weeks, she would call herself a bad healer. She gathered her instruments and closed her first aid kit.
"Don't forget to drink your potion, Catra. Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening."
She stood, waved at Adora and waited for the guard to open the cell.
"Thank you, Perfuma."
The two princesses widened their eyes in disbelief. Catra opened her blue eye to stare at Perfuma. The healer saw the prisoner's gratefulness beneath a heavy layer of pride.
She smiled, "You're welcome, Catra."
She left the prison, satisfied with herself.
Adora and Catra stayed in their position for a while, until Adora decided that Catra could catch a cold. She pushed her gently and handed her a sweater she had taken from her ruined room in the castle. It was larger, comfier, and warmer. There was a smiling unicorn knitted on the front.
"Am I allowed, as a prisoner, to wear something like that?"
"Perfuma approved. It's better for your wound." Adora raised her chin, as if she was provoking an invisible challenger.
"Alright Princess," she chuckled. As she tested the new clothes, Adora let her mind drift off to some old memories.
"Remember how scared you were of medical exams when we were kids?"
"Duh. Shadow Weaver made me endure those useless blood tests…"
"When she could catch you."
Catra grinned. It was a time when she was agile enough to jump from pipe to pipe with ease, and small enough to hide in the tiniest corners. Searching for her for blood tests had used to drive Shadow Weaver crazy. It only strengthened Catra's will to avoid anything related to doctors. Including needles.
"Good memory…" Catra whispered before her smile fell. She hugged her knees and averted her gaze. Adora wondered what had saddened her all of a sudden. Nostalgia? Or something darker?
"We had to make some in that place."
"Especially me," Catra muttered.
"Are you still mad at me?"
"For leaving? No, I already told you. It was a blessing. At least before Hordak betrayed me."
"No I meant…" Adora hesitated. Catra looked at her expectantly. "Are you still mad that I took so long to realize the Horde was evil despite what they did to you?"
Catra's ears flattened. Her hands shook.
Adora squirmed on her spot. She didn't know how to interpret this body language.
"You…" Catra gulped. "When did you finally understand that?"
"It happened progressively," Adora shrugged. "I've thought a lot about us this year. About how we lived in the Horde. About my attitude towards you, and Shadow Weaver's… I tried to understand what you saw that I didn't."
This is wrong Catra. They've been lying to us, manipulating us...
Duh! Did you just figure that out?
"I tried to understand what went wrong between us."
You never protected me! Not in any way that would put you on Shadow Weaver's bad side!
It doesn't matter what they do to us, as long we look out for each other.
"And? What did you think?" Catra raised an eyebrow.
You wanted me to think I needed you. You wanted me to feel weak. Every hero needs a sidekick. Right?
I never meant to make you feel like you were second best!
Adora sighed. "I really left you for a bunch of strangers that I had just met. For good reasons that I can't regret."
Catra frowned and opened her mouth, but Adora wasn't finished.
"But I never realized that the Horde treated you as badly as its enemies, even though I lived by your side for years."
Catra closed her mouth.
"I also think you really needed some time away from me to find yourself," Adora continued sadly. "And I needed to put my whole life and beliefs into perspective. I only wish it hadn't caused us to fight each other."
"We chose our paths."
There was a little sadness beneath her sharp tone. Adora nodded, then fell silent. A lot of things could have been said, but Catra couldn't bring herself to unpack it all now. The girls didn't say a word for half an hour, then Adora got up and left, promising to come back in the morning with a new potion.
Catra noted that it had been a long time since she had trusted one of Adora's promises.