Bow whimpered as he tripped on a root. A smack on his shoulder reminded him of his companion's nervosity.
"Glimmer stop hitting me!" he hissed.
"You're gonna get us caught!" the princess whispered back. She looked around them frantically, checking on the few guards pacing around the castle. They couldn't see them but if Bow kept on being his usual discreet self they might hear them. Glimmer didn't dare to teleport before being completely hidden by the Whispering Woods' obscurity. Her sparkle magic was quite visible.
A few minutes later, they breathed out in relief when they crossed the old war trench, that was now filled with trees, grass and moss. As if the war had happened a hundred years ago.
"Swift Wind! Where are you?" Glimmer called as silently as she could.
Adora and the flamboyant unicorn came from behind an oak tree, looking tense.
"Adora!" Bow and Glimmer exclaimed. "We told you you weren't coming."
"But guys, it's dangerous! What if it's a trap?"
"Adora, for the last time, I trust Kyle. We agreed to meet alone."
"And I trust Entrapta," Glimmer smiled. "Now that I know she didn't betray us at the Fright Zone, I know she's somehow on our side."
Catra's reaction a couple of days ago had convinced Glimmer. The ex-Commander had been so surprised and outraged to learn that Entrapta had hidden this little secret from her, that Glimmer had no second thoughts believing it was real, even if she didn't know Catra very well.
Entrapta had helped them escape, and as she promised to Glimmer, she hadn't told a soul. Except for Emily, probably.
"I don't think Entrapta is on any side really…" Adora pouted.
"At least she cares enough about us to help."
"She's still working for the enemy! She could have been found! Hordak could be waiting for Bow to take him as a hostage!"
"And that's why we don't need you to be captured as well. Again. Besides, I have Swift Wind with me. If there's a problem, we'll fly away from Kyle."
"Moreover, we'll meet at the entrance of the Whispering Woods! It's not like I'm going inside the Fright Zone!"
Adora groaned. She thought she was stubborn, but her friends could beat her to it sometimes.
"Don't you have a...healing session to attend anyway?" Swift Wind smirked as Bow wiggled his eyebrows. Glimmer rolled her eyes, huffing as she saw Adora's cheeks go red.
"I don't know… I'm late anyway, I thought I'd skip this one. Catra's wound looks much better now, she doesn't need as much care as before."
"Is everything alright?" Bow raised a brow. He didn't miss the quick exchange of gazes between Adora and Glimmer, and the palpable discomfort made Swift Wind neigh in consternation.
"Nothing important. Are you sure I can't come with you?"
"It's my mission Adora," Bow said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I can handle myself, don't worry. You don't have to protect me."
She looked in his brilliant hopeful eyes. He knew how hard it was for her. He knew how badly she wanted to make sure all of her friends were safe. It had driven her insane more than once this year. Failing Catra, then failing Entrapta, then realizing Entrapta was still alive but never wanted to come back…
It had tortured Adora's mind, and given her more than one sleepless nights. Her sense of responsibility over her friends, the rebellions and innocent civilians had only come stronger from her experience.
That was why Glimmer and Bow had made a pact with her, to make her loosen her obsessional protection grip. She had to let them perform solo missions. She had to learn to trust nothing bad- or worse- would happen if she wasn't there. It had been hard at first, but after a few months, she had made some progress. There was a lot of work left to untie the knot of that trauma pattern, but Adora was on the right track.
Unfortunately...in Glimmer's opinion at least, she had jumped on the opportunity to expand this side of her personality again by protecting Catra's life and future even if it meant losing her mind over it… But that was another debate.
"I'll give Glimmer's hair and come home safely."
Bow showed a little tube, containing a long pink glittering hair. It could easily be taken for Angella's. Glimmer's heart pounded in anxiety as she watched it glow in the dark. She truly hoped Entrapta wouldn't realize the trick… She felt a little bad at the idea of betraying her, whereas the genius had just gained her own trust back.
But she couldn't put her mother's life at risk. She'd rather put her own, for Mermista.
"I don't like this…" Adora shook her head, but she stepped aside to let Bow jump on Swift Wind's back. She knew her winged friend would protect him for her, if anything went wrong.
"Don't worry. You guys won't even have the time to snap your fingers that I'll already be by your side," Bow grinned as Swift Wind extended his wings, ready to take flight.
The two princesses waited for the flying pair to disappear in the night before they headed back to the castle. Glimmer's smile had fallen as soon as Bow couldn't see her. He should be home in a couple of hours. She already knew she would count the minutes until his return.
Maybe she could go check on Mermista. Despite Perfuma's care, the princess got worse pretty fast.
If only they could have met Kyle sooner… But the boy couldn't escape earlier. As for the runestone, he assured them it was at the moment on the road for Salineas. Glimmer could only hope he was telling the truth. Even if Entrapta hadn't betrayed them about Adora's secret… Who knew?
It was a leap of faith.
Glimmer looked at Adora from the corner of her eye. She remembered how annoyed Adora was when she learned about the rebellion's general attitude regarding this war. Growing up in the Horde had obviously molded her in a different way. Faith wasn't something she was used to following.
Glimmer could understand, she herself had never been fond of her mother's unbreakable belief that She-Ra would come save them someday. She had been angry at her passive retreats whenever the Horde got too close to beating them. She was used to seeing this attitude in the rebellion since she was very little, but she never accepted it. She also hadn't trusted She-Ra blindly the first time she met her as Adora, suspicion priming over faith for the prophecy. Objectively, Glimmer understood Adora's frustration and judgement.
And yet… When she saw how Adora cared for Catra, and vouched for her, insisting that she could join them, believing so hard in her redemption… Catra, their enemy, the girl who hurt them so many times, and who kept repeating she would rather die than ask for forgiveness?
Even if she knew part of it was due to Adora's long history of protecting her ex-best friend at all cost, Glimmer still thought she was a bit of hypocrite.
Once again, she's lost. In the middle of the fire. Smoke is suffocating her. She's weeping. Calling for help.
But who would help her? She doesn't recognize anything around her.
Then she feels it. The dark aura. It's coming closer.
She curls her small body up in a ball, trembling from head to tail.
The figure leans over her.
She opened her eyes, panting heavily. She blinked until her brain fazed out of the nightmare.
Catra was safe, in her cell.
There were no red eyes above her, threatening to kill her. Instead worried blue ones were examining her face.
"Are you okay?"
Catra breathed deeply, closing her eyes again. Her whole body was shaking. She tried to raise her hands to her face, but she realized Adora was pinning her down on the mattress.
"Sorry about that…" Adora pulled away nervously. "You kept wiggling and you punched me when I tried to wake you."
Catra sat up slowly, leaning on the wall. She looked over towards Adora. The princess was sitting almost on the other side of the cell, averting her gaze.
She looked really worried… But Catra could tell she was still mad about the Glimmer incident.
It'd been more than two days ago now. It'd been four sessions that Adora hadn't said a word, hadn't crossed her eyes. She had stayed ten minutes in the cell each time, just what she needed to balm the wound and leave. Catra got surprised, but she respected her silence. She knew better than anyone that forcing her to talk would only infuriate her more. Or at least, that's how she would react anyway.
"What were you dreaming of?"
"I don't really know to be honest…" Catra frowned. "It keeps coming back, but I can never remember what it's about."
Except for the red eyes that kept haunting her.
"It's really affecting you…" Adora met her gaze. Catra must have looked pretty terrified, for Adora to look at her that way. All she could feel was her heart still pounding against her ribcage, and the sweat that made her now shiver.
"It won't last."
Adora hummed, then threw the usual potion gourd to her. Catra chugged it, not even twitching at the saltiness of the beverage anymore.
"I didn't think you'd come tonight," she said hesitantly when she was done.
"Me neither," Adora scooted closer, the balm in her hand. But Catra wouldn't move just yet. She needed to have this conversation face to face.
"Tonight Bow's meeting Kyle for the deal we made with Entrapta."
"You made a deal with her?" Catra furrowed her brows. Hearing her ex-partner's name irritated her as she remembered Glimmer's revelations. She got time to process it, but still… It seemed Catra had been fooled by everybody lately. How humiliating.
"Yes, we did it for Mermista. Entrapta's going to put the runestone back to Salineas. It should fix her illness."
Adora waved a circle with her finger, asking Catra to turn around so that she could see her back.
"And you trust her?"
Adora looked in her eyes. What was she searching in them? Catra wondered...
"Entrapta is a complicated person, but she proved that she still cares about us, and she holds her promises."
Promises… The word lingered in the air between them. It sure carried a heavy meaning for the two ex-best friends. They still hadn't really talked about their argument in the temple last year, but after over a week of slow and heated conversations, it looked as if they could make progress in this direction.
Until Catra played with Adora's feelings to tease Glimmer.
"You're gonna show me your wound someday or you're just gonna stare at me the whole time?"
Catra blinked out of her daze. "Listen Adora…" she shifted on her spot. "I'm sorry. For what I did. The other day," she added, even if she knew Adora would have understood without the precision.
Adora looked in the blue then yellow eyes. Catra hoped she could see she was sincere. She wasn't a person who apologized a lot, so she wasn't sure if her tone and her body language matched the meaning.
"It took you two days."
"You wouldn't talk to me at all."
Sharp words that could cut through metal. Raging emotions lied beneath them, from both sides, for a little scene that could never compare to the amount of harm Catra had done in a year. However Catra had realized that this act she had put on for Glimmer had touched a sensitive string in Adora's heart. Not because she cared for Glimmer's jealousy, but because she had finally witnessed the possibility of change in Catra, only to be once again disappointed by her typical manipulative behavior…
And Adora had made it clear she wouldn't accept that anymore.
"Better late than never," she said bitterly. Catra didn't answer. She took her sweater off and offered her back to her care, as usual.
Only ten days ago, she wouldn't have cared if she hurt Adora's feelings. And she definitely would have done anything to deny Adora the hope to see her change.
However Catra had needed to apologize, because she couldn't stand the guilt growing in her chest whenever Adora came back in the cell, sulking and avoiding her gaze.
And she hated how badly she needed the new version of their...relationship.
"How's Glimmer?" She forced herself to ask. She didn't want them to fall back into silence. It was another thing she wouldn't put up with any longer between her and Adora.
"Stressed out. But good otherwise."
Her tone was still stiff. Catra didn't like it. It was her thing, usually.
"I guess I should apologize to her too, huh?"
"That would be appreciated."
A shiver ran down Catra's spine when Adora traced her column.
"She'll apologize to you too, for starting a fist fight with you."
"Well, I can't blame her for that. I wanted her to."
"It doesn't matter Catra," Adora's rigid voice made her gulp. Here surged Adora's typical determination to bring justice for all sides. Like the time she shamed the rebellion for treating Catra as terribly as the Horde would.
And maybe it also was...how did she call it, bury the hatchet? Something like that. Adora wanted all of them to start getting along, in case Catra would join... How beautiful and stupid of her to cling onto that… Forgetting about basic psychology like jealousy would lose her in the end.
"She looks like she cares a lot about you…"
Adora's hand froze for a second on her wound. Catra wondered what it meant. She wondered if there was more than it seemed between the two princesses.
"She's my best friend."
Catra pursed her lips and clenched her knees, not minding the claws tearing her skin. She used to be Adora's best friend. But it'd been over for more than year. So why did it matter now?
"I wish you two wouldn't hate on each other to that level, but I guess it was stupid of me to expect so much," Adora sighed.
"I don't hate her," Catra said in a thoughtful tone. Adora hummed in surprise, inviting her to elaborate. "I mean, I'm not fond of her, and she pisses me off every time she opens her big mouth, but at least she's honest. She's not a hypocrite. She doesn't like me, and isn't going to kiss my ass just because you decided to protect me. I thought she would be all worshipping you for being She-Ra, but she looks more attached and...attracted to Adora than She-Ra."
Catra smirked a bit. She was sure Adora was flustered. She was so easy to tease.
"None of the rebels only view me as She-Ra, you know. They care about me. They're not perfect, but they're all genuine people."
Catra hated to admit it, but Adora was right. She had been far better treated than anything she expected or thought she deserved. She thought at first it was because of Adora's outburst when she brought Catra to Brightmoon. But actually talking with them, princesses and guards... It had started to change her mind. A bit.
She had always known the rebels weren't bad people. The Horde was the one attacking them after all. But she never thought they could be good people. Catra's definition of good was certainly tainted by her years at the Fright Zone, but she couldn't ignore the respect in Angella's voice when she talked to her enemy, even if she held a big grudge against her, or Perfuma's kindness and determination to help with her wound in spite of Catra's murderous stance, or even Glimmer valuing her opinion somehow…
Even her guard looked fond of her. Especially when she was eating. A few days ago, she had given Catra a brush for her messy hair and other utensils for her personal hygiene that she didn't even know existed.
That wasn't something she observed in the Horde.
The rebels were naive and goodie-two-shoes valuing justice, kindness and generosity. But they were also impulsive, ready to defend their loved ones, and not so keen on forgiving harm easily. A bit like Catra herself. Except for the naive goodie part.
"...I saw that. With Perfuma and your queen…" She remembered how Angella had promised to forgive her wrong doing if she pledged to her. That demanded an immense courage, and forgetting about her ego… Catra would have never done that in her place.
After thinking about it, Catra appreciated the offer and had…actually started to wonder how it would be if she accepted. But no matter how much she put this into perspective, she didn't think she'd fit among them. And her project of conquering the Horde wouldn't leave her mind either.
"It'll hurt them someday," Catra concluded.
Adora smiled. She allowed herself to massage Catra's neck, now that she was done with the balming. Who knew that brooding for two days would bring Catra to open up, apologize and even admit she could be wrong? She must have been very lonely in her cell.
"A warlock from Mystacor is coming tomorrow, to talk with us about the trial. He'll be the one to defend you."
Catra's tail lashed, almost slapping her face. Adora knew it had to annoy her, but at least Catra was done complaining about her help.
"Is he gonna teach me how to cry in public to move the jury even if they probably all hate my guts?"
"I have no idea," Adora giggled. She wanted to talk more with Catra, now that she felt a bit better about her, but the feline yawned loudly. Right, it was very late. Plus the potion always made Catra sleepy.
Adora had to go back to the camp and wait for Bow with Glimmer anyway, who must have been eating her nails out of anxiety. She gathered the balm and empty gourd, then stood up.
Catra's face showed nervosity. That was unlike her.
"Can you…" she swallowed. "Can you wait for a bit with me? ...until I fall asleep?"
Adora smiled and sat down. Catra averted her gaze. She didn't want to show Adora how happy she was. That was sad, Adora thought. Maybe someday she would accept to show genuine emotions like this. Like before.
Adora called the guard.
"Please go tell Glimmer that I'll be here for a while. And can she come fetch me when she's...done with her work?"
The guard nodded and left.
"I forgot about the deal…" Catra's ears flattened. "Go wait for Bow with her, don't worry about me."
"I can wait here, silly. I have no idea when he'll be back anyway."
"No buts!" Adora was sick of people telling her what to do today. "Now go to sleep."
Catra huffed, a smile tucking the corner of her lips. She lay down on the mattress, holding the thin blanket up to make a spot for Adora. The princess joined her there, facing her. There wasn't much space, so she scooted closer, and instinctively put an arm around Catra's waist.
The feline's eyes were half lidded. Catra hummed and closed them for good, purring slightly because of Adora's warmth next to her. Adora pushed a rebel strand of hair from Catra's forehead, allowing her to see how peaceful she looked now. She stroke her cheek, brushing over the familiar freckles on her face.
A sore happiness remained in her chest as she remembered the apology, as if Catra had balmed her own wounded heart. She had never apologized once in a whole year. It was the very first time.
Of course it wasn't an apology for everything that happened before. The kidnapping, the destruction, the war in its globality… But it was a start. Adora had known, when she heard Catra's words, that she'd been right to believe in her.
Adora leaned forward, and kissed her forehead, still cupping her face. Her heart beat faster. Why did she feel so strongly for Catra? Why did it have to be her, her ex-best friend and supposed mortal enemy?
An unintelligible sleep word slipped from Catra's mouth as she moved closer to Adora, who put her hand back on the feline's waist and closed her eyes.
She would figure these feelings out later. After the trial.