She had never really seen before.
That had been the first thing Octavia told herself after Hordak's experiment on her.
After that bitch had ruined her last functioning eye- to go with the first one- Octavia thought her life was over. What good could she be in the Horde as a blind woman? Thankfully, she had the chance of having a merciful Lord, who didn't want her potential to go to waste.
She would remain faithful to him for that, forever.
When she woke up after the experiment, she first thought her head would explode because of all the informations she was receiving at the same time. A 360° peripheral vision and a shortened latency reaction-time were tricky to adapt herself to. But once she got the hang of it, she knew she had reached a new level of strength.
Catra had no idea how grateful Octavia was that she mutilated her.
No more sneak attacks could bring her down. She was invincible.
And it wasn't the only effect of Hordak's tech. Octavia was now more cold blooded...therefore more precise when she stroke. The disrespectful brat who tried to steal some ration bars the other night could only confirm.
She would be the most alert Second-in-Command Hordak would ever have. She would bring more order than the Horde ever knew in twenty years. She wouldn't tolerate any lack of discipline among soldiers, like Shadow Weaver and Catra allowed themselves to.
And she would start with the midget.
"You again? Didn't I tell you you'd get in trouble if I caught you snooping around?"
The boy looked like he was going to piss himself.
"Breaking curfew will cost you a one way trip to disciplinary detention, soldier…"
She tightened her fists. She had seen the Force Captain coming before she called her. She wanted to whip both their faces with her tentacles and suck life out of them.
"Kyle- um I gave this cadet the order to go fetch this robot from storage hangar B420. He got locked up by mistake after the curfew…"
"And it took the security bots two hours to release me!" the soldier exclaimed.
"What did you need that robot for, Force Captain Scorpia?"
"Entrapta asked for this specific model, for one of her experiments."
Octavia growled in frustration. If she was on top with no equals in the ranks of the military, Entrapta was her equal regarding Hordak's consideration. She was untouchable. For now.
"And why did you need this useless boy to do it?" she spat with obvious disdain for Kyle.
"...well I think I have better things to do than fetch things, don't you think Commander?" Scorpia grinned. Octavia had never figured this woman out, and with her new Hordak tech modifying her perception of people...it wouldn't go any better.
She didn't like it.
"What about our new coach?"
"What about her?" Scorpia asked, puzzled. Octavia smirked coldly.
"Coach Lonnie, did you think you could actually hide from me?"
A crutch sound resonated on the metallic floor. Kyle and Scorpia watched, agape, the injured girl coming out of her hiding spot. Lonnie stared at Octavia, determination in her eyes. She would not break out of fear in front of her superior.
This had to change.
"It seems you don't have any excuse for breaking curfew, Coach."
"I had some things to take care of for my first lesson tomorrow, Commander. Blame me all you want for giving myself too much for the job you assigned me to whereas I'm still in recovery."
Such fire. Oh, she would not let this go unpunished.
She was about to drag Lonnie's ass in jail, when Entrapta's face appeared on the wall, her hysterical laughter alerting all the security bots of the storey.
"Commander, if you don't mind, I need that bot and my new assistant right now, this is very important for my experiment! If you would let them all go away? Oh Lonnie, by the way, I think you should level up a bit the XTR797 training program, it seems a bit weak for 5th grade cadets."
Octavia was fuming. How dare she…
"...I'll let this pass for today. But be warned, all of you," she snarled. "I'll have my eyes on you, from now on."
She would get them back.
It went further than asserting her dominance. The midget cadet acted too suspicious to not look into that, and she didn't like how Catra's ex-team protected him… Unfortunately, she couldn't just go to Hordak without having more proof. He relied too much on Entrapta to give up on her, right after kicking Catra out.
"Commander Octavia, what news do you bring me today?"
Octavia bowed in front of her Lord, who was upgrading his demon spy's program.
"Lord Hordak, Force Captain Grizzlor just informed me that the runestone is back in Salineas."
That was the ultimate evidence of Entrapta's importance. Hordak had listened to her. There weren't a lot of people Hordak trusted enough to take their opinion into account and actually change his plans for them.
"Perfect. How is the connection?"
"As far as we know, it seems correct. The gate rose instantly when the runestone was back in the castle."
"Excellent. Tell Grizzlor to be extra careful and reinforce security over there."
She nodded, and proceeded to make her way back outside, but she had a moment of hesitation.
"What is it Commander?"
"I was just...finding Entrapta's request odd. A bit rushed."
Hordak put her eyes on her. She couldn't actually see the red eyes like before, but she felt his silent gaze analyzing her.
"You are my Second-in-Command, Octavia," he simply answered. "If you fear for my soldiers' loyalty, do something about it."
"Even if it's her?" If Octavia could have raised her eyebrow, she would have.
"As long as you don't compromise her work…"
The Second-in-Command smirked. Oh sure, she wouldn't bother Entrapta right away.
Her new cadet assistant would be a much more accessible target.
The sun was already up in the sky. It was way past dawn. Catra had to stop. The night guard had left his shift and the day guard was patrolling now. She would see her if she decided to look through the door's window. But Catra was so close.
Her claw had kept scraping and scraping the bars for three hours now. Soon there would be enough space for her head to slip through the hole. Soon, she would be able to escape that boring cell. She would be able to go back to the Horde, and fight Hordak. She had a plan…
First making her way to Entrapta's lab unnoticed, using the air vents. Then asking Scorpia to gather as much people as she could who appreciated her as Second-in-Command. The more people would help her overthrow the tyran, the better. Entrapta could then work on controlling the robots to make Hordak's followers outnumbered. And when they would be ready to take action, strike.
Simple, but efficient plan.
But for that she needed to work faster on those bars. The trial was too close. If she wanted to escape before their trip to Mystacor, she couldn't afford to lose time. ...like this very night, when she asked Adora to stay with her.
What a great idea really.
Adora left during her sleep, probably to greet Bow back from his deal. Catra would have to talk about this to Entrapta… This among other things.
She groaned, resisting the urge to make a pause. Her finger was in pain, but she had to finish this on time.
Adora would arrive soon with her morning potion and balm.
It was becoming harder every day to consider leaving her. She would be hurt. Very hurt. Catra knew it. The princess spent so much time defending her against the whole rebellion… The disappointment the blonde would feel would probably match Catra's own feeling of betrayal last year.
A part of her remembered the thrill of wanting to hurt Adora's feelings, but most of her felt only guilt at that idea now.
Disappointing Angella was also a thought that nagged Catra's mind. Weirdly. She did her best pushing it away in a corner of her mind.
She couldn't join… She had to leave. She had an agenda of her own to follow. She would take the Horde over, and then… Then it was too soon to anticipate.
Catra's ears perked up when she heard the footsteps.
She let herself fall down on the mattress, preparing her usual smug smile for Adora, but it fell when her visitor stepped in the prison.
A fancy young man with antlers on his head, wearing a long yellow-orange robe, came in. He locked eyes with her and nodded in a polite but weirdly excited manner. Catra was sure he was from Mystacor, judging by his horrible taste in clothes.
Adora was following behind. She looked as tired as a few hours ago, when she had lay down next to Catra, her blue eyes looking at her with emotions the feline did her best to ignore...
"Hey Catra," she greeted her with an off tone. "This is Vassilis, the warlock in charge of your defense for the trial."
"He's here to talk with you and hear your version of the story."
"My version?" Catra snickered. It sounded so ridiculous.
"It's essential that I know everything you've lived during this year, Commander Catra," protested the man. He sat and took a pen and a notepad from one of his robe pockets.
"Don't call me that. I'm not Second-in-Command anymore," she said bitterly.
"Well…" Adora looked uncomfortable. "For the Court, you are, that's how they'll refer to you."
"Whatever," Catra rolled her eyes. "We're not at Court here, Catra is enough."
"Alright. So, I've been studying your case Catra," Vassilis scrolled through his notes excitedly. "And I've come up with a strategy that I think might work. We clearly can't play the ignorance card, you were well aware of the Horde's evil doing."
He stared at Catra expectantly, waiting for her to confirm. There was no judgment in his tone. It was just an observation based on facts… What a weirdo.
"Right, so what we really need to do, is play the sentimental card. We need to move the jury. That's where Princess Adora will come in handy."
Adora nodded. "My testimony will mainly talk about our time together in the Horde, to show your true self, your true personality."
"And Adora will also talk about how your mentor tortured you all these years. What's her name again?"
Catra's tail stiffened. Her pupils narrowed into two slits.
"Excuse me?" Vassilis asked.
"You are not going to expose my whole life in front of strangers."
"Catra…" Adora started, acting like she was tired of Catra's child's games. Oh no, she wouldn't let her go this way.
"I said no. This is private. I don't want anybody, and especially not Mystacor, to know my true self, as you call it."
"But why? I don't see the problem, if it can save you from the death sentence!" Vassilis looked dumbfounded. What was wrong with this guy, did he live in a pit or something?
"I'd rather die than-"
"No," This time it was Adora who cut her off, a pissed tone in her voice. She gripped the bars of Catra's cell. "We are not having this debate again, Catra."
"You never said I had to show my weaknesses at Court," Catra hissed, closing space between them.
"You think it's a weakness? Your kindness? Your loyalty to your friends? Your strength against emotional and physical torture?"
"Anything they can use against me is, especially if it's Shadow Weaver's-" Catra cringed at that name, the rest of the sentence dying in her throat. "I said no."
"If you don't accept to open up, you're gonna end up dead."
"Oh please, I'm not the one who'll open up," Catra spat. "You are. You're the one who'll tell them my pitiful life, whereas you don't even know what I've gone through."
"I can't if you still refuse to talk to me!" Adora yelled. "I've tried my best to guess how you've felt all these years, Catra, but if you don't help me at all, I'm gonna fail this!"
Adora caught Catra's hands through the bars, squeezing them so hard her knuckles were certainly turning white. Her blue eyes were watery, both anxious and furious at Catra.
Once again, Angella's words echoed in her mind.
Accept the help she's offering you Catra. She's not doing it for herself.
A loud scritching noise broke the moment. Catra tilted her head, looking around Adora's shoulder. The warlock was taking notes, a greedy look in his eyes as he stared at them fighting. He grinned when he saw Catra glaring at him.
"Please don't stop, this is gold. Lots of material to work on here."
"Are you shitting me? Go away."
"Vassilis, please," Adora called him gently. "We'll pursue this later, okay? Catra and I need to talk."
"Of course! I'll be waiting in the camp."
Adora accompanied the warlock to the door. She took advantage of this to ask the guard to open the cell for her. Adora stepped in, standing stiff in front of Catra. The two girls glared at each other in silence, waiting for the guard to give them some privacy.
"Why do you always have to make a scene?!"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe it's because you keep pushing my buttons!"
"Catra, I thought we were done with this! you know everything I'm doing right now is for you!"
"Right, like revealing vital information about me to the people that hate my guts!"
"Hey, I don't think you understand there," Adora pointed at her. "You don't have a choice! This isn't Shadow Weaver's weekly pranks confession session, this is a trial about your war crimes."
"Believe me, I know, Princess," Catra invaded her personal space, and put a claw under her chin. "And I don't intend to let these people who don't know me, decide in a day if my whole life is worth saving or not."
This sentence could have passed for genuine for any other person than Catra. But this was Catra. Adora raised a brow, squinting her eyes at her.
"What is that supposed to mean? You don't intend to let them?" she repeated.
Catra pulled away and turned around, facing the wall to hide her facial expression.
"I don't want to tell them my past. I guess I can't stop you from babbling whatever you want…"
"You're damn right, you can't."
"You don't really care about my feelings, do you…" Catra pested.
"What about my feelings?!" Adora grabbed her shoulder and turned her around. "I'm sick of you whining all the time that I don't understand you. Blaming me for something you won't even tell! Make me understand! Talk to me!"
"You wanna talk?!" Catra pushed her. "Okay, let's talk then!"
For a split second Adora regretted her move, as she saw the anger in the feline's eyes. She sure could be scary. But Adora kept her stance, never averting her gaze from the feline. She needed that talk.
"You know…" Catra panted, searching for her words. There were too many things to say. She didn't know where to start. "You know what annoyed me the most about you leaving for the rebellion?"
Adora shook her head. Catra's resolution got stronger as she composed her thoughts.
"It's that you said you finally opened your eyes, you finally realized who were the evil people and who we should be fighting for. That's all that ever mattered to you after all… Being a hero."
"All that ever mattered?"
"Yeah. Fighting the evil princesses for the Horde was the most important thing to you, and when it finally hit you that the Horde wasn't all that perfect…"
"Well, what did you want me to do exactly?! Go back to the Horde and scold them for being evil?"
"That's not the point!"
"What is the point then?!"
"Point is I realized after thinking about it, that you don't really care about the people you want to protect! You just want to be the praised hero…"
"How dare you say that?! You don't know what's happening in my head!"
"I don't need to! Your actions talked for you! You left the evil Horde, you left me, your supposed best friend, for the better looking side."
"I realized that you never really cared for me…" Bitterness burnt her words. "I was perfect as the weak bullied friend you had to protect against everyone, Shadow Weaver, the other cadets… And you fed that image. You made me feel like I was weak, always in your shadow, always the troublemaker you had to keep on a leash…"
"I never EVER said or implied that! How dare you..."
"...what an idiot I've been! I was the only one who ever loved you for who you truly were, not just admiring your strength and brilliant mind, and yet you threw that away and jumped on the first occasion to play the hero for a greater cause."
"This is not how I thought at all Catra, you're interpreting everything. I truly cared about you, but I also cared about the injustice of the Horde's doing. You make it seem like it was an easy decision, but think about it, I left my whole life behind and even accepted to lose you in the end for that cause!"
"Yeah, exactly! You gave up on me!" Catra's voice broke. "And for what?!"
"Not for glory!"
Catra blinked to chase the tears away from her eyes. Adora wouldn't deny she abandoned her at least.
"Yeah, well it's what it felt like okay?! For all my life, I've been mistreated in the Horde… And you protected me all right, but you never thought I was a victim. Talk about caring about injustice..."
"How could you say that? I never accepted Shadow Weaver's bad treatments-"
"You made me believe, just like her, that I deserved my punishments because I was disrespectful! Don't try to deny it Adora, you were convinced it was a good enough reason for her to treat me like vermin!"
"No! It's not true…" Adora's eyes got blurry. Even if Catra was pushing the interpretation too far, she knew deep down that indeed, she had criticized Catra's attitude many times in the past, and accepted that it was part of the reason why Shadow Weaver never acknowledged Catra's talents.
"...then it magically hit your dumb nuthead that the Horde was evil...and you left," her voice faded. "You just let me deal with the mess you left behind, all alone."
"But I didn't want to leave you. I asked you to join-"
"Oh please, you didn't insist twice when I refused to follow you…"
"Answer me honestly. Did you think about me when you were on your little She-Ra quests with your new best friends?"
"Of course I did…" Adora shook her head in disbelief. "Did you think I forgot about you? I wanted you with me every day…"
"You didn't look so pleased to see me the next time we met."
"Because we were on opposite sides, Catra, and you wouldn't join me!"
"Of course I wouldn't join you." her voice rasped. "Joining wasn't what I needed from you at the time and you know it."
"I know, we covered that already. You would have wanted me to realize the Horde was evil sooner, and defect with you, and not for the rebellion," Adora emphasized this sentence. "Since that didn't happen, you decided to prove your worth to Hordak and to yourself. You wanted to be the best and win the war against us as a proof."
"...that's a way to sum it up."
Silence fell in the cell, but it seemed like Catra's wrath was still scattering around them. Adora could almost hear them. The reproaches.
I'm better on my own than in your shadow.
I won't ever be the weak sidekick you protected to feel better about yourself.
...you never loved me.
Adora was probably imagining too much. But she needed now to make Catra understand her side.
"I'm sorry for everything that happened Catra… I left, and I probably had my share of responsibility in your childhood trauma…"
Adora raised her chin then, ready to expose the inner thoughts and fears she had worked so hard on with her friends to analyze.
"But you know, you weren't the only one who lived terrible things at the Horde. Do you know what it felt like to be told I was nothing before Shadow Weaver took me in? Do you know how it feels to always have such big expectations thrown on me, as a cadet, then as She-Ra? Shadow Weaver pushed me to be on top-"
"Oh boohoo, cry me a river!"
"Don't interrupt me! I never wanted her to treat you that way! Maybe you thought that I wasn't trying hard enough to protect you, but I never did it to feel better about myself, or to feel like a hero or something! I did it because I loved you! And sorry if I tried not to make Shadow Weaver hate me as well-"
"Pfft, like that could happen…"
"You can blame me all you want for trying to live a little better too. I don't care, Catra, I was a kid, just like you! And she manipulated me too, just like you!"
Catra snorted. She turned away from Adora, not wanting to see her stupid face any longer, or she might end up punching her.
"Maybe unlike you, I was too stupid to realize all this. But you never told me what you saw! How was I supposed to guess, when the Horde was all I'd ever known in my life?"
"Yeah, we can agree on that. You're dumb," Catra spat. "You were blinded by the attention Shadow Weaver gave you."
"Yes, I'll admit it. I loved being admired. It is true," Adora replied angrily. "That's how we were raised at the Horde. Being the best soldier was all that mattered. And I'm pretty sure you would have acted just the same as me if you had been her favorite."
"Now we can never know that, how convenient," Catra snickered, glaring at her from the corner of her golden eye.
"Catra…" Adora hesitated. How could she end this well? She felt like she was walking on the edge of a cliff. "You're right."
Catra turned her head again to glance at her.
"I was blind, then I neglected you for the rebellion. I chose to be a hero rather than a friend. And you...you needed to stop feeling weak."
"You felt like I tried to make you feel weak, so...it means somehow that you really did, for a long time, whereas I personally never saw you as anything else but strong."
Catra huffed, rolling her eyes.
"You needed to stop feeling like the second best. You needed to find yourself alone. I wish you had done it differently, but what's done is done. We made our mistakes. And now look," Adora smiled. "We talked."
That was such an Adora thing, going straight to the essential, like the good soldier she was.
"And we changed Catra," Adora ignored her. "We changed a lot in a year, and even more in barely two weeks."
Catra's anger wavered at these words. The last two weeks had upset their world for sure.
"Maybe you won't believe that I never wanted to pull you down when we were kids. Maybe you won't believe that I regretted leaving you behind and that I thought about you every day… But I hope you'll believe that right now everything I'm doing for you is real."
Catra only shrugged at that.
"You said you didn't have to know what's inside my head, right?" Adora pursued. "Actions talk better than words sometimes, I absolutely agree with that. My efforts for the trial are only for your sake, Catra."
"Yeah, I noticed…" Catra's ears flattened. She furrowed her brows. "And I don't understand why all of a sudden you're ready to screw your position for me and it drives me crazy."
"it's not sudden. I told you, I've thought about all this for so long… And I wanted to show you. But you didn't give me the opportunity to do that."
"There, it's my fault again."
"Stop it!" Adora scoffed. "I don't blame you anymore. You needed to close yourself to me, I get it. But now...now that you're here, now that you're not working for the Horde anymore... I'm going to show you. So please, let me?"
"It's a bit late for that." Catra didn't believe in her own words.
Adora didn't answer. She wanted to see Catra's face, but the feline wouldn't turn around. So she decided to be bold. It was probably a bad idea… But she wrapped her arms around Catra's waist. The prisoner stiffened, but she didn't push her away. Adora took this as her cue to tighten the hug, embracing her friend and putting her nose in her hair.
"Please don't close the door to me again…"
In her arms, Catra felt like her heart was about to break. Too many feelings had flowed in once they had opened the gates. Pain, anger, but also gratitude. Gratitude for trying to understand, for acknowledging the past. Gratitude for apologizing. Gratitude for listening.
There was also incomprehension. Catra had heard Adora's side many times. It hadn't been the first time that the princess told her her reason to leave. Catra was familiar with her way of thinking. The hero persona, the expectations that fell on Adora's shoulders as Shadow Weaver's favorite, destined to be Force Captain, then the expectations she got as She-Ra, protector of Etheria.
Catra wasn't stupid, she knew Adora had been and still was under a lot of pressure. And the Horde teaching them to suck their feelings and weaknesses in didn't make it easier. Adora stifled her feelings to focus on making a better world and meeting everyone's expectations. Forgetting about how it would hurt people around her. People like Catra.
Catra couldn't understand that. She couldn't, because she had never lived something like that. Just like Adora had never seen how wrong the Horde was before, and how vicious Shadow Weaver acted towards Catra. Little Adora had never seen anything different at the time.
In the same spirit, Catra couldn't understand Adora's point of view. All she could do now, was deciding whether to accept it or not.
"I hated you for so long…" Catra whispered. "It took me six months after being promoted to Second to start feeling indifferent."
"...I hated you too."
Catra's heart skipped a beat. It was more unpleasant to hear than she thought it would.
"I was so mad at you for several months, because you chose this. I did my mistakes unconsciously, but you chose our situation, and it hurt."
Catra pursed her lips at these barely veiled reproaches, ready to push Adora away.
"But then I decided to…accept. And move on. I decided to start wondering what had gone wrong between us, and maybe...try to fix it."
...she hadn't given up on her.
"But I didn't listen to you," Catra admitted. "I didn't care about you or our past. Or at least, that's what I thought."
"What about now?" Adora's muffled voice was weak, uncertain. Fear was obvious in that shaky tone.
Catra leaned her head backwards on Adora's shoulder, sighing. She dropped her weight on her legs, indicating to Adora that she wanted to sit. The princess followed her movement, never loosening her grip on her. Catra made herself more comfortable in her arms, and closed her eyes.
Since the battle, their hugs had felt so much different than any other one they used to share in the Horde. Was it because they hadn't touched each other in a gentle way for so long, that now Catra felt such a desire coming from the Princess? She felt it too, that desire that was entirely new. That desire that was more powerful than physical attraction. And it scared her.
"Do you… Do you want to fix this?"
As much as Catra wanted to say no, she knew whatever had changed in her heart ever since she thought Hordak had killed Adora wouldn't let her hurt her feelings again. She craved for Adora's presence, Adora balming her back every day, Adora light talking to her, Adora arguing with her, Adora sleeping next to her…
She had missed her.
She knew the blonde was smiling in her hair.
Maybe wasn't a promise. Maybe was a hopeful color in a bland reality. And Catra was sure after her escaping tomorrow, that Adora would bleach that color, probably forever.
So Catra leaned in her embrace, squeezing her arms and offering better access to her neck. Adora nuzzled there, listening to Catra's soft purrs.
She didn't know the feline was savoring this moment like it was their last.