"Message for Squadron 69 on cleaning duty this morning, start with section A395-"
Kyle groaned. Of course he had to fall on sewer cleaning day. It was earlier this month. It must have been clogged. Lucky day.
He put a shirt on his back, rearranged his bed, and slapped his cheeks twice. The shower hadn't been enough to wake him up. He was about to jump from his bunk, when he felt a slight buzz from under the pillow.
His face turned whiter than Lonnie would have thought was possible if she was here. He checked around him. There were too many cadets in the dorm, he couldn't answer the caller, whose identity was unmistakable. There was only one person who'd ever called him on the stolen tablet. A few days ago Kyle would have ignored it, but because of the Rogelio issue, he had to take it. He was actually glad Bow called him first.
He slipped the tablet under his shirt, jumped on the ground, and headed to the bathroom. Instead of going in, he quickly turned around, and found his favorite air vent. Thankfully, no one was around.
He breathed out five minutes later when he got safely in his usual calling spot, a narrow blind spot next to the laundry vent, where dirty clothes piled up in the morning. He raised the tablet in front of his face. The call had ended of course. He clicked on Bow's picture.
"Kyle! I'm so glad to see you! I didn't think you would call me back."
"I almost didn't…" he lied.
"I'm sorry I'm calling so early. Did I wake you?"
"No, it's 6AM," Kyle laughed. He learned that year that the rebels were not morning persons. "I'm supposed to be going to work now."
Bow almost suggested he called back later, but he saw the princesses glaring at him. He had to ask Kyle now.
"I'm sorry I'm disturbing you again… How is Rogelio?"
Kyle's eye twitched. He tried to remain calm.
"He's doing better. He's still in the ICU though. But there's hope."
Bow seemed genuinely happy for him, yet Kyle couldn't help but wonder whether Rogelio's improved state was actually helping the rebel to expose the reason of his call.
"I'm really happy to hear this! I hope he gets back on his feet soon! I mean-"
Bow gasped when he realized what he said.
"Don't worry about it. He has artificial legs now."
He would soon, if everything went according to plan.
"Oh good then… Um, listen Kyle… I know you said you wouldn't want to help us anymore but…"
Bow sighed. Kyle frowned, listening intently. Something told him his mission was going to get easier all of a sudden.
"I have a favor to ask you."
"Well um...here it is. We know you have the runestone of Salineas somewhere… Probably in Entrapta's lab. Did you see it?"
"I can't remember. Do you want me to check?"
"That would be great, thanks. But what would be greater would be for you to ask Entrapta to put it back to its original place."
"You want...the runestone back in Salineas?" Kyle raised a brow. Well that was going to be harder than he expected.
"Yes. I know it's a lot to ask from you, but it's really important for us."
Kyle took a moment to answer. "I'll go ask Entrapta. I can't promise she can fix this though, the runestone was brought here under Hordak's command."
"Thank you so much Kyle!"
"I have one condition."
Bow's smile fell. Kyle didn't like to see his face so anxious, but he had to do it.
"I want to know where Catra is."
Bow took a quick glance up. The other princesses must have been in the same room.
"Um… Why do you need that info?"
"That's my problem. But understand Bow, ever since the battle, the Horde has been more and more severe with us. I risk a lot if I get caught. Tell me where Catra is, and Entrapta will know about your request."
At Brightmoon, the princesses were silently arguing next to Bow, Glimmer and Adora waving their arms angrily. Queen Angella wrote something on a paper and handed it to the boy.
"Okay, I will tell you what I know, and you give me Entrapta's number so that I can contact her."
"I can't do that."
"She…" Kyle sweated, trying to find the good words. "She can't be reached in private, all the calls are traced. My tablet is the only one that's untraceable, because it's not registered."
That was another little but necessary lie. All the calls were traced for sure, but Entrapta was more than capable to make a private call if she wanted to. It was actually surprising she hadn't thought about it.
"Alright… Catra is our prisoner. She's locked in Brightmoon's prison at the moment. She's safe."
"And what's her fate?"
"That's not part of the deal. I told you where she is, now you need to do what I asked," Bow answered coldly.
Kyle felt sorry. He really liked his rebel friend. Maybe later…he could apologize for this behavior. When Rogelio would be safe.
He nodded, promised to call back at noon, and hung up. Now all he had to do was to tell Entrapta the rebellion wanted Salineas' runestone back where it belonged in exchange for the hair. Then he would tell Bow Entrapta wanted the hair in exchange for his favor.
What a convenient coincidence. Kyle was almost scared it was too good to be true.
The only problem would be for Entrapta to convince Hordak though…
Catra sniffed the food in the bowl. Unconsciously, she closed her eyes as she felt her stomach awaken with a loud rumble.
She couldn't get used to the rebellion's food habits. Such flavors were disturbing her senses.
It tasted good.
She wished she could deny it, but the rebellion knew how to eat. Food at the Horde was tasteless. It always had been, it was the norm for her. The purpose of food was to nourish, not please. So when she had gotten her first prisoner meal a few days earlier, she had legitimately thought they were trying to poison her.
She crossed her legs, put the bowl on her lap, and tried to grab her spoon in the least hastily way possible. She knew the guard was watching her. She had caught her smirking the day before when Catra had showed big enthusiasm for a salty sort of meat she learned was called tuna.
On the other hand, she had rejected all the 'desserts' they had proposed to her. Anything called sugary apparently. It didn't taste any different from the Horde's food to her. Maybe the Horde gave them sugary things actually. But it didn't look the same, shape wise. She would have to ask Adora how they tasted to her.
The meal was chicken today. The guard had told her it was only the soldiers' leftovers, but damn did Catra feel like a queen right now. It was warm and firm, but some softer parts melted in her skin was making a pleasant crunching noise under her teeth.
The first bite was already sending waves of pleasure through her body, and she hadn't even swallowed yet.
She couldn't help it. A heavy sigh left her throat.
"Wow, somebody's enjoying herself."
Catra snapped her eyes open.
When did Adora came in?! That was what Catra meant by disturbing her senses. Food was NOT supposed to weaken her that way.
"Take that smirk off your face…" Catra grumbled. She spun herself around, showing Adora her back so that she could eat in peace.
Adora giggled as the guard opened the cell door for her. She sat behind Catra, leaning on the wall, waiting for her to finish her breakfast. Catra thought she would tease her again, or just talk like she usually did, but Adora was unusually silent.
Once she finished her chicken, licking all her fingers one by one, she turned around.
Adora was pinching the bridge of her nose, eyebrows deeply furrowed.
She jolted. Catra's curious eyes were examining her, as she always did nowadays. Before Adora left the Horde, Catra wouldn't spend so much time looking at her like that. Maybe it was because they were together all the time, and...still best friends. There wasn't much to think of as they looked in each other's eyes back then.
"It's nothing, I just have a headache. I didn't sleep a lot tonight, with Mermista's problem…"
"Yeah, I bet it must be stressful," Catra answered softly. Adora's heart beamed. She hadn't heard this tone in a while.
Catra scooted closer to her, then suddenly straddled her thighs.
"What are you doing?"
"Soothing your headache," she simply answered as she brought her palms to Adora's temples. Right, Catra used to do that before…
Adora closed her eyes when the feline rubbed circles on her skin, massaging the muscles underneath. She leaned her head backwards and let out a sigh. Involuntarily, Catra's eyes were drawn to the parted lips. She had never paid much attention to them before. They were pink, a bit plump, but less than hers. Little white marks showed Adora had bitten them out of stress.
Stress must have been eating Adora out lately, and Catra was obviously one of the reasons. If she hadn't decided to plead for her at Court…
Catra's gaze moved up to Adora's closed eyes. Dark circles framed them, and a wrinkle of sorrow persisted on her forehead. Catra rubbed her thumbs on the eyebrows. She felt her face relax under the touch. Now she looked a lot more like the Adora she had always known before. Young, positive, energetic Adora. The Adora she had lost to the rebellion.
For a greater cause.
Pfft. Catra understood what Adora meant, and at the same time...she didn't. How was the cause of strangers better than hers?
Even if Adora had apologized, and acknowledged she had overlooked Shadow Weaver's treatment on Catra… She still wouldn't regret her decisions. Catra knew it. If Adora had to do it all over again, she would.
She would leave Catra behind again.
But Catra had already processed all that. She had moved on. She had found herself a goal of her own. So why was she thinking of Adora's betrayal again and again since she was here?
A sore pain came back in her chest when she remembered.
The feeling of losing her for good.
Losing her to death this time.
She couldn't go through that again. Never. Adora didn't have the right to die. Not before her at least.
A smile plastered on the blonde's face. Catra retracted her claws. She lowered her hands to cup her face, and run her thumbs beneath her eyes, as if to attempt to erase the marks of fatigue engraved there.
Adora opened her eyes.
"Yes. Thank you," she leaned in the touch. "Now it's my turn. Show me your back."
Catra reluctantly let go of her face. She turned around, not bothering reducing the space between them. She took her sweatshirt off while Adora adjusted her position behind her. Catra was now sitting between her legs, her back almost touching Adora's front.
"Lean a bit forward," Adora commanded. "And don't forget to drink your potion."
Catra rolled her eyes. Her ears flattened when she felt the first balming touch. It hurt less now, but it would remain sensitive for a long time.
How many times had Adora taken care of her this week? Ten times? Something like that.
She could have asked a soldier, or a nurse to do it for her.
But she hadn't. Every morning, and every evening, she had opened the door of the cell, sat down with Catra, and balmed her back. Despite the icy comments and rude behavior Catra had manifested at first, she came back every time.
Adora was one persistent opponent, that wasn't new. But what did she gain from this?
Adora believes in you.
Angella's words echoed in her mind. It made her feel uncomfortable. Guilt was nagging her at the idea of disappointing Adora. That was new. She hadn't felt guilty for a very long time.
Too many things had happened this week. It was emotionally exhausting.
"Your queen came to visit earlier."
"I know, she told us. Thank you...for the help," Adora squeezed her shoulder as she said that. Catra's heart skipped a beat. She shrugged nonchalantly.
"Whatever… She surprised me though. She's different from what I imagined."
"I don't know, she's just a weirdo. She ranted about her personal history…" Catra knew Angella probably did that to break the image of the jailer, the evil enemy. It did humanize her a bit in her eyes. And it succeeded in making her more curious about the rebels.
"She told you how she searched for her own kind?" Adora raised her brows in surprise.
"Yeah. She told me we're the same, in the way that we're the last ones of our species. She also told me she knew Katriska."
"Yes, she did. Their relationship sounded complicated…" Adora frowned. "Katriska didn't get along with Mystacor, which was Angella's surrogate family, and yet… If you listen to Angella, it looks as if she was good friends with Katriska."
"Oh by the way…" Catra scratched her head nervously. "I'm pretty sure Angella knows you babble all your rebel secrets when you're with me..."
"WHAT?! What did you do, Catra?"
"Nothing! Just a detail that slipped off my mouth and gave her a hint!"
Adora smacked her head. Not strong enough to hurt, but enough to mark her discontent.
"If I'm being put in jail for treason because of you…" she joked.
"Imprisoning the mighty She-Ra, what a great idea," Catra cackled. "Well at least, you won't be able to testify for me, maybe they'll consider it."
Catra grinned, but it didn't make Adora laugh. It reminded her that Catra didn't have a very positive picture of her captors.
"Castaspella offered to let me read Mystacor's archives," she changed the subject. "I can check what is true regarding the Magicats."
Catra hummed. "Who wrote them? The sorceresses?"
"...well yeah, it's their archives."
Catra turned her head. Underneath her raised eyebrow, her blue eye pierced through her. ...really Adora? It was saying.
"It's better than nothing!" Adora protested.
"Yeah, yeah… You don't have to do this."
"I want to."
Accept the help she's offering you.
Catra's ear twitched. She hugged her knees tighter. Fucking rebels.
"Your queen said she would forgive me if I joined."
Adora beamed. "Really?! She didn't tell me that. But we were so busy-"
"I don't understand her," Catra cut her off. "I mean I technically understand the advantage of having me by their side. But I really did some nasty things to them. I don't get it."
"It must have been a hard decision for her. But it's the wisest. Sometimes if you want to get out of a difficult situation… You have to bury the hatchet. It doesn't mean forgetting the harm that has been done. But it means...moving on, and trying to improve together, for the best of both parties."
Bury the hatchet…
"We didn't learn these wise goodie-two-shoes precepts in the Horde," Catra snorted.
"We didn't learn much over there…" Adora sighed. She rubbed Catra's sides. The wound here was healed. That was a good sign. She moved up to her neck and rolled her thumbs on the muscles. Technically she was done with the balm, but she...didn't want their session to end just yet.
Catra sighed under her touch. She had always liked massages. They used to give each other some back at the Fright Zone. But it had never born this level of contradictory feelings between them. The tension Adora was easing now was as harsh as the metal of the bars imprisoning her.
"They never taught us about birthdays for example."
"Ugh, Scorpia told me about these. What a bother. I don't see the appeal. I'm glad I don't know my birthday."
"Don't you want to know how old you are?"
"What for?" Catra asked as she leaned backwards, drawn to Adora's massaging hands.
"...I was wondering the same at first, but after seeing so many birthdays this year…I understood how big of a deal it can be. It makes their existence concrete in their timeline, as dignified individuals whose lives matter. The horde on the other hand doesn't care for us. Our own implication in this timeline is irrelevant, we were mere soldiers. We had no importance as individuals, we only had importance as a group. Why bother celebrating something as futile and personal as birthdays?"
"Well, talk about yourself. I, as Hordak's Second-in-Command, was important until now."
"But that's not how you were taught as a kid. Hence why you don't understand birthdays."
"I still care for some people. I don't consider them as trash and I don't need birthdays for that..." The image of Scorpia, Entrapta, Lonnie, and even Kyle popped in her mind. She wondered how they were doing… Scorpia must have obviously been devastated. Catra was sad she had let her down like that.
"I know. Just saying. The Horde molded our mindset. It's difficult to get out of the system. Even me, who have been gone for over a year, I still struggle."
"I bet you do. You weren't a regular soldier, you were the most stuck up of all," Catra smirked.
Adora smiled without answering. They stayed silent for a little while, Adora still massaging Catra, Catra closing her eyes, swaying her tail softly. Enjoying the moment.
But Adora had something to confess. Something that had been burning her soul since the battle.
"I don't know my birthday. But I have an idea of how old I am…" she finally whispered.
"Really?" Catra frowned.
Adora breathed in and out, and finally blurted out what had been nagging her mind for a few days. What Hordak had told her… If it was true, it meant…
"You're from outer space?!"
Catra yelled as she turned around. Adora had never seen her eyes so big. Catra was agape. She checked out every detail of Adora's face, as if she was making sure it was the real princess that was standing before her.
"If he's right then yeah… I'm over eighteen years old, and I come from Eternia, like the First Ones."
Catra had so many things to say. So many protests to enunciate. It could all be a frame to distract She-Ra during the battle. And yet, she remembered how it slipped from Shadow Weaver's mouth that Adora had had an importance in Hordak's eyes since she was a baby. It could also all be true. So many other questions popped in her mind…
But she closed her mouth when she saw the distress on her companion's face. Whatever she was about to say, Adora must have had the same thoughts already since she learned the truth. Catra wouldn't be helpful at all that way. That wasn't what Adora needed right now.
Adora looked up at Catra. The feline was smirking.
"Scorpia told me something about that age being the legal point for princesses to drink alcohol and have sex."
Adora's whole face flushed in a second. "I- I think you mean getting married, not...not the sex thing."
Catra's smirk grew wider when she saw the discomfort on her face. "Getting married implies sex if I understood correctly."
"Yeah, but you don't have to get married for that…" Adora rolled her eyes. Then she suddenly became aware that once again, Catra was being bare chested in front of her. She blushed, then handed her the sweater she gave her the other day, forcing it in Catra's arms.
"That would be a bummer, wouldn't it…" Catra grinned.
Adora laughed as she buried her face in her arms. She felt extremely hot right now, but lighter somehow.
Catra hadn't changed. She was still an expert at distracting her attention from something mind-eating...pointing instead to something very embarrassing.
Thank you Catra.
"They want the runestone back there? But why?"
Entrapta frowned. That was an odd request. She hadn't had the time to study the blue rock yet. She had just settled some rudimentary connection with the Black Garnet, to be sure it wouldn't drain out of energy.
"They wouldn't tell me."
Kyle twisted his fingers behind his back. He really hoped his plan would work. He also hoped they wouldn't realize how anxious he was.
He seemed safe though. Entrapta was busy typing on her computer, and Scorpia was jumping everywhere, ecstatic to know Catra was alive and well. She was captive of course, but at least they had her location now.
"I wonder if something happened over there…" Entrapta rubbed her chin. "Do you have the number? Maybe I should ask them directly."
"No! I'd rather not. That's not how we made the deal."
Entrapta raised a brow, "you know I can find and hack whatever device you're using to reach them if I want to, right?"
Dang it. Exactly what Kyle had dreaded.
"You… The deal was… I'm the one who proposed the deal, and you agreed, so we'll do as we said!"
Oh no… His voice was too shaky. Kyle could feel his control slip away from him. He had been managing so well until now.
"I'll be the only one contacting them, and I'll bring you the hair as promised, in exchange for Rogelio's life!"
Entrapta eyed the boy up and down. He was sweating. His pupils were pinpoints. According to her previous observations on human behavior, this looked like a panic response.
"Wouldn't it be easier for me to just contact the rebellion by myself thanks to your… I assume you're using something that has a camera, like a tablet, so your tablet history?"
How did she… Was she toying with him?! Kyle had no idea how to interpret her genuine expression. Scorpia was looking back and forth between them, wondering how to ease the situation.
"I… I gave you the information about Catra, so you need to start working on Rogelio now!" Kyle finally cried. "If you don't, I'll break my tablet, and none of us will have what they want!"
Scorpia gasped as she ran towards him. She hugged the trembling cadet.
Huh… Entrapta was puzzled. He was not as strong as he had let it appear after all. But he was an innocent teenager ready to do everything he could for his friend, even if it was out of his comfort zone.
A brilliant spy, but not very good at handling his knowledge.
He even forgot all he had to do to control Entrapta was threaten her to go tell Hordak the whole truth.
"Don't worry Kyle," she smiled. "I already started working on your friend, and it's not going to be as hard as I thought. Now give me the number, please. I have an old friend of my own to speak to."