Catra didn’t sleep.
At least, not as far as Glimmer could tell.
Since they were first put in this cell—er, “guest room,” three days ago, Glimmer had slept twice; both times in short, fitful bursts filled with unpleasant dreams that faded to a worse reality. Each time she woke, her eyes found Catra’s outline in the dark: hunched on the small ledge by the room’s viewport, legs clutched to her chest and chin resting on her knees, her still form silhouetted by the innumerable stars that freckled the heavens. If it wasn’t for the end of her tail slowly curling every few moments, Glimmer might have thought she was asleep. But she wasn’t. The circles under Catra’s eyes betrayed her sleeplessness, too, and the way she nearly stumbled whenever she finally, stiffly, moved across the room.
A guest room, Horde Prime had called it. Glimmer scoffed silently, staring up at the smooth, white ceiling. It might have been true. The room was sparsely but pleasantly furnished; two relatively comfortable beds, a small table with chairs, a desk, a pillow near the viewport, and something that might have been a plant in a pot by the door.
A door that locked from the outside.
Glimmer knew what it looked like when a guest room was forced to serve as a prison. It wasn’t hard to tell when the opposite was true.
The sound of heavy boots resounded in the corridor outside, echoing louder and louder until they halted at the door. It swished open, and Glimmer stifled the instinctual urge to flinch back from Hordak’s towering form—no, not Hordak. Something like Hordak. One of Prime’s many, many clones, green-eyed and soulless.
The clone placed a tray on the table: two plates, two bowls, cups, cutlery. Apparently Prime was confident enough to risk giving his prisoners— guests —knives.
“Enjoy your meal.” The pleasantry was stilted and unnatural. The clone turned to leave.
“Wait,” Glimmer cried, jumping up. “As queen of Bright Moon, I request an audience with Horde Prime.” Did she really want to talk to him? She didn’t know. She wanted to do something, anything to get out of here. Something to at least figure out what was going on.
The clone paused. “In due time.”
The door swished shut again, and Glimmer sighed.
Catra made no move to get up, even after Glimmer finished her own portion of the food and left the table. Whatever she thought sharing a room with Catra would be like, she hadn’t expected… this. No sleeping. No talking. No eating, although at least Glimmer had at least seen her drink from the cup of water before a clone (The same clone? Did it matter?) returned for the dishes.
After three days, though, enough was enough. She heaved another sigh, lifting the tray and taking it to the viewport where Catra sat. She set it down and shoved it pointedly forward.
Catra glanced down, then back out to the stars.
“You can have mine,” Catra said, finally, voice quiet and rough from disuse.
“I don’t want it.”
“I don’t either.”
“Too bad,” Glimmer said, pushing the tray close enough that its edge touched Catra’s foot.
That, finally, elicited a response. Catra’s eyes snapped down, her lip curling in a half-hearted snarl. “I said, I don’t want it.”
“And I said too bad. If you want to starve yourself, do it in someone else’s room.”
Catra stared at her. “We can’t leave this room.”
“Well, I guess you’re stuck then.” She shoved the tray again. “Eat.”
Glimmer turned and stalked to the small desk in the corner, rifling through its drawers for the twentieth time as though she expected their meager contents to suddenly become more interesting. At least it gave her something to do while watching Catra from the corner of her eye.
Eventually, Catra sighed and lifted the bowl, giving it an experimental sniff before touching it to her lips, spoon untouched on the tray. Blue and gold eyes widened, and she took another, much larger drink. The soup was gone in seconds, followed in short order by the contents of the plate. Glimmer gaped despite herself. The food wasn’t that good—either bland or oversalted, and the gray lump of meat tasted like it had been grown in a vat. But, as Catra cast her gaze hungrily behind her toward the table and Glimmer’s empty dishes, she found an old memory surfacing: Adora, and her awed reaction to the food at the festival. At first she thought the Horde just never had special foods, but…
Catra’s eyes were on her. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing. You just… reminded me of someone else from the Horde.”
Catra’s body immediately went rigid with anger—and then, strangely, it faded away, leaving her looking… brittle. Oddly enough, Glimmer found herself not wanting to break that fragile shell. She cleared her throat.
“Scorpia, I mean.”
Catra’s eyes were on her again, piercing. “Scorpia? Scorpia’s with you now?”
Glimmer had expected anger, but instead, Catra seemed to relax. “Good. That’s… is she happy?”
Another unexpected reaction.
“Good.” The strange tint of relief was still in Catra’s tone, joined now by a hint of sadness. Her tail pulled closer, curling around her legs.
Glimmer pulled a pencil from the desk drawer, fidgeting idly with it. “What do they feed you in the Horde, anyway? Frosta told me Scorpia didn’t even know what a vegetable was.”
Catra pushed the tray away. “Ration bars.”
Catra just shrugged. “Not the worst thing about the Horde, princess.” She stiffened at her own words. “Er. Queen, I suppose.”
Glimmer’s hand clenched on the pencil, and it threatened to snap in her grasp.
They didn’t speak the rest of the day.
When the door swished open the following day, it revealed not one clone, but two—and both of them flanking the imposing figure of Horde Prime. The room had felt almost spacious before, but when he entered, it suddenly seemed claustrophobic.
“Ah, my honored guests. I was told you wish to speak with me. I trust your accommodations are satisfactory?”
“Yes—no,” Glimmer started. “Are we prisoners? Why can’t we leave this room?”
“Of course not,” Prime said, smoothly. “A mere safety precaution. My ship is quite expansive, I would hate for either of you to get… lost.” Lips pulled back from green teeth in an expression that was probably supposed to be a smile.
“I am certain you have more questions; as do I. For efficiency’s sake, I propose a linking of our minds.”
Glimmer swallowed, staring at the metallic tendrils that rested on his shoulders, remembering how they had lifted on their own and pierced through Hordak’s armor.
“A figure of speech. This will be happening regardless of your opinion, I’m afraid. Now, if you would accompany me.” Two clones stepped forward, grabbing Glimmer’s arms and forcing her forward.
“Wait!” Glimmer blinked, shocked to see Catra standing between her and Horde Prime.
“Take me instead.”
Glimmer blinked again, wondering briefly if stress had induced some sort of hallucination.
Prime turned, stepping closer to tower above Catra. To her credit, she returned his gaze without so much as a flinch backward.
“Interesting. And why should I do that?”
Catra folded her arms, regaining a hint of the cockiness Glimmer remembered. “You don’t know if this will work.”
Prime laughed. “What possible reason could you have to say that?”
“Maybe your mind-link thing works great on your clones, but I don’t think it works too well on other beings. Otherwise you would’ve done it as soon as you found out we had information that could help you.” Catra swept a hand to the room. “Why bother with this if you could just pull the information from our minds?”
He hummed. “You may be more intelligent than I initially thought. Not a high bar to clear, but still. However,” his gaze returned to her, “you still haven’t answered why I should take you.”
“You don’t know if this will work,” Catra repeated, “which means there’s a possibility you could cook her brain. You can’t use the weapon without her, she’s connected to one of the runestones that powers it.” Glimmer made an indignant noise at the information being so easily shared, but Catra ignored her. “Me, you need because I know how to make the weapon work… but if you cook me, you can still figure it out. It’ll just take you a lot longer. But that’s fine,” she added with an insincere smile, “I can tell you’re a patient man.”
Prime returned the smile; a cold, unpleasant thing. “Very well. You’ve made your case.” He nodded, and the clones released Glimmer’s arms, taking Catra’s instead. She swallowed visibly, then steeled herself. Prime noticed, his smile deepening into something more real and even less pleasant. A metal-tipped talon traced its way along her jaw, then closed on Catra’s headpiece. It clattered to the floor.
“Careful what you wish for.”
It was hard to judge the passage of time on a spaceship, but Catra was gone for… a long time. Long enough for the second meal of the day come and go. It had been brought to serve one, not two, and Glimmer’s stomach turned at the implication.
Finally, after what had been far too many hours, Catra returned.
“Returned” wasn’t quite the word for it; “was brought back” might have been more accurate. When the door opened, two clones entered with Catra held suspended between them, head hanging low and feet dragging behind her. Glimmer gasped involuntarily at the sight. They deposited her on the bed nearest the door—a perfunctory motion, neither gentle nor cruel—and left.
Glimmer cautiously made her way to the bed, almost afraid of what she might find. Catra lay where she fell, facing the wall, crumpled in what couldn’t have been a comfortable position. As she got closer, Glimmer could barely make out the slight rise and fall of her ribcage. An odd sense of relief washed over her.
Catra gave a soft groan, then, rolling over to lay on her back. She looked terrible—deep black circles standing out in stark contrast to her pale face, sweat glistening on her forehead, and… two circular wounds at her temples that still slowly oozed blood, trickling down to disappear into her hairline.
Her half-lidded gaze met Glimmer’s.
“Hey, Sparkles,” she rasped.
“Are… are you okay?” Dumb question. She obviously wasn’t.
Catra gave a quiet, pained huff that might have been a laugh. “’ve felt better.”
Before Glimmer could respond, Catra’s eyes slipped shut and her body went limp.
Despite Glimmer’s initial and unexpected shock of fear, Catra was only asleep. Well, unconscious. Sleep came later, and by all appearances, it was not pleasant.
A quiet groan drew Glimmer’s attention back to the bed. Catra’s face was tensed, coated in a fresh layer of sweat, and her head moved slightly from side to side. Another groan, followed by mumbled words she couldn’t make out. More words followed, this time clearer:
“No… n-no…” Catra’s motions were becoming increasingly erratic, her face twisted in something that looked a lot like fear.
Glimmer stepped forward, hesitating a moment before placing a hand on Catra’s shoulder. The girl flinched violently, and Glimmer snatched her hand away and took a few steps backward. Catra’s breathing slowed. Her eyes slid open, glowing in the dim light.
“Don’t…” Catra’s eyes slipped shut again for a moment, then reopened, her glare redoubled. “...touch me.”
Glimmer pushed down her indignation. “You were having a bad dream.”
“My dreams are none of your business.”
Ugh. “Fine, suffer next time.”
Catra didn’t respond, but she didn’t go back to sleep, either. She just… stared. Not at Glimmer, or anything in particular, just… into the uninteresting interior of the room. Eventually, Glimmer risked speaking again.
“When you were asleep, it sounded like you said ‘Shadow Weaver.’” Catra bristled instantly, but Glimmer was too curious to stop now. “Was your dream about her?”
“I said, it’s none of your business.”
“What did she do to you?”
Catra exhaled something that might have been a laugh. With some effort, she rolled in the bed so her back was to Glimmer.
“Ask me again when you’ve got a few days to spare.”
Glimmer forged stubbornly on. “It’s not like we have much else to do here.”
There was a heavy, if slightly shaky sigh from Catra’s form. “Part of the reason I took your place, Sparkles. Your mind is too soft. Me, I’ve had practice having to hide things from magical mind probes.” A hand made its way up to the wound on her temple, and Glimmer could see her fingers trembling. “Didn’t used to hurt quite that much, though.”
Glimmer was silent for a moment. “Shadow Weaver would mind probe you?”
Another scoff. “Surprised? You must have a w-worse memory than I thought.” The tremor in Catra’s fingers seemed to have spread to the rest of her body, worming its way into her voice. She rolled onto her back again, eyes tightly shut against some unseen pain.
Suddenly, Glimmer remembered herself in the Fright Zone, restrained by red energy. Adora manacled to a table, Shadow Weaver’s hands cradling Adora’s head and crackling with magic as she prepared to wipe her mind.
How could she have forgotten?
Catra was starting to drift off again. Crap, she needed to know—
Glimmer reached out and gently shook Catra’s shoulder. She groaned softly, cracking her eyes open with a glare.
“What did I s-say about touching?”
Glimmer ignored her. “What did you tell Prime?”
“Relax, Sparkles. He doesn’t know nearly as much as he thinks.” Her eyes closed again, another shiver running through her body. “And links go two ways. He d-doesn’t want us to know, but we’re landing on Etheria in a few days.”
A few days? That wasn’t any time at all. They needed to get out, warn the Rebellion, come up with a plan—
Glimmer raised her hand, concentrating as hard as she could. A few sparks fizzed disappointingly from her fingertips. She sighed.
“Don’t call me Sparkles.”
Catra’s eyes were still closed, and she seemed barely awake—but still, the corner of her mouth curled ever so slightly upward.
“Whatever you say, Glitter.”
It was hours again before Catra woke, well after the last meal of the day had been brought. Two sets of dishes, this time.
Glimmer saw Catra stir, moaning softly as she brought a hand to her head, and made her way over with the tray.
“Here.” She set the tray down nearby, taking the cup of water. “You need to drink this.”
Catra mumbled something incomprehensible and started to push herself upright with shaking arms. Glimmer reached out to help, but Catra batted her hand away with a quiet hiss. Glimmer rolled her eyes and waited until Catra had pulled herself up to lean against the bulkhead on her own power, breathing heavily, face even paler than before.
“Feel better?” Glimmer deadpanned.
The glare she received in response could have melted steel.
“Just give me the water.” She took it from Glimmer’s grasp, but her hands shook so badly that the liquid almost sloshed out of the cup. Glimmer reached out again to steady it, weathering Catra’s glare.
“I don’t n-need your help.”
“That depends,” Glimmer responded. “Do you want to drink the water or wear it?”
Catra huffed, but allowed Glimmer’s hand to steady the cup on its way to her mouth. She drained it and then let go, letting Glimmer take it from her hands. Her eyes were already starting to droop shut.
“Why are you helping me?”
It was a question Glimmer wasn’t entirely sure she could answer. She did know that however much she’d hated her, she didn’t want Catra to die—and she had a sinking feeling that between the two of them, she might be the only one.
She settled for a shrug. “I don’t know.”
Catra stared at her, eyes glittering in the dim light.
“I sent Entrapta to Beast Island.”
The words made Glimmer’s jaw clench involuntarily. “I know.”
“I opened the portal. You became queen right after, it’s not hard to guess what happened. It’s my fault.”
Glimmer felt like her teeth were going to crack from the pressure.
Catra stared, her eyes barely open. There was a… blankness to them. Like someone who knew their fate, and had accepted it.
“You could kill me, right now. I’m weak. It would be easy. N-none of your friends would have to know.”
The pressure in Glimmer’s jaw released.
Catra was shivering again, visible tremors running through her body, her eyelids slipping down and then twitching open as she struggled to remain conscious. Glimmer pulled up the blanket.
“Go to sleep, Catra.”
When Glimmer woke the next day, she found Catra already upright, leaning once more against the bulkhead wall with the blanket pooled in her lap. She still looked terrible, but also like she’d actually slept for the first time in days. Later, when food arrived and Catra didn’t rise to collect hers from the table, Glimmer brought it over. Catra didn’t thank her, but she didn’t glare, either, wordlessly taking the tray.
A question rolled around in Glimmer’s mind as she ate, but she busied herself with making up her bed and rummaging in the desk until Catra finished.
“Why did you do it?”
Catra stiffened, her gaze becoming distant.
Oh, crap. “No, not the portal—Prime,” Glimmer stumbled over her words to clarify. Why Catra opened the portal was a different question for a different time, hopefully asked by someone who had a lot more experience with mental health than Glimmer. “Why did you take my place with Horde Prime?”
A hint of the stiffness left Catra’s muscles. “I said why.”
“Yeah, you thought you might be able to get some information from him, and maybe your… experience with Shadow Weaver’s magic would make it easier for you,” Glimmer summarized. “Was that it?”
Silence. Glimmer narrowed her eyes.
Catra’s hand clenched on the blanket in her lap, her claws tearing five jagged holes through it. She stared at them.
“I’ve… made mistakes. A lot of them.”
She could say that again.
“So you’re going to try to make up for them?” Glimmer asked, icily. Good luck. You can start by bringing my mom back.
“Yes—no. I know I can’t ever make up for all of them.” The brokenness in Catra’s voice caught her off guard. “I just…” Catra’s hand clenched in the blanket again, widening the holes. “I have to try.”
Another silence. Something may have dripped from Catra’s eyes onto the blanket, but she pulled her knees up and buried her face in them before Glimmer could be sure.
She felt her anger melting away.
“Well. It’s hard to make up for mistakes when you’re dead. So let’s try to avoid that, hmm?”
The next day, to prevent herself from wearing a hole through the floor pacing (well, it’d be one way to escape) or banging her head against the door until either it opened or she gave herself brain damage, Glimmer pulled a stack of paper from the desk, slammed it on the table, and started to draw.
She missed the moonstone’s magic. It felt warm, calm, a steady and comforting presence inside her—like a hug from the inside out. It was a feeling she always associated with her mother, and being without it… well. It felt like losing her all over again.
But even without the moonstone’s magic, or the magic she’d learned as a sorceress, she could still practice. And so she did, drawing spell after spell, carefully tracing runes out onto the paper, silent except for the scratch of pencil on paper and an occasional sound of frustration when a line smudged or a circle came out lopsided.
Eventually, she felt Catra’s eyes on her. Glimmer looked up, and Catra’s gaze flitted away.
She drew more, and more, until finally she started to forget where she was and the trouble they were in, concentrating only on making each line intersect perfectly with the next. It was, probably, why she didn’t hear Catra walk up beside her.
“What are they?”
Glimmer nearly jumped out of her chair at the proximity of Catra’s voice, whirling to see her stifling a grin.
“Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Mm,” Glimmer said, suspicious. She returned her attention to the half-finished drawing. “Spells. Normally I could just trace them in the air, but this far from Etheria…” She lifted her hand, summoning another ineffective fizzle of sparks. “Nothing works .”
Catra raised a brow. “Does drawing them on paper make them work?”
“No,” Glimmer sighed. “It just makes me feel better.”
Silence again. Glimmer continued to work, and Catra continued to watch.
Finally, Glimmer sighed, splitting the stack of her remaining paper in half and sliding it across the table along with a second pencil.
Catra still didn’t move. Glimmer shuffled through the papers for some of the simpler spells and shoved them across the table as well, within easy reach of the second stack. Then, wordlessly, she continued to draw.
After several minutes, Catra walked to the chair, sitting down and tentatively lifting the pencil. She shifted one of Glimmer’s finished works closer, pressed pencil to paper, and started to draw.
Across the table, Glimmer smiled.
Catra was surprisingly good at drawing, as it turned out. She was rapidly able to copy more and more complex spells, even drawing some from memory.
“What’s that one?” She asked, pointing to a simple rune circle Glimmer had drawn with bold lines.
“It lets you shoot fire.”
Catra’s lips curled. “Nice.”
“It would be, if I could get it to work. It’s like Shadow Weaver doesn’t trust me to—”
Glimmer broke off, regretted the words immediately as Catra stiffened in her seat.
“Sorry. Shadow Weaver’s teaching me magic, but… I don’t trust her. If that makes a difference.”
There was a forced casualness to Catra’s shrug. “Whatever.” She pointed to another spell. “How about this one?”
“Truth spell. It was pretty difficult, but I got it eventually.” She craned her neck to see Catra’s current drawing a bit better. “And that one’s an immobilization spell.”
The lead of Catra’s pencil snapped against the paper, skittering across the table. She picked up the paper and tore it in half, then wadded it into a ball and threw it across the room.
Catra ignored her, shoved her chair back from the table and walked to the viewport, settling into her familiar position: knees pulled to her chest, tail curled protectively around her legs. Glimmer rose and followed her.
“Catra?” She laid a hand on her shoulder, then pulled it back when Catra flinched away and hissed. “What’s wrong?”
“You wanted to know about Shadow Weaver?” she asked, finally, a darkness to her tone.
Glimmer blinked, confused. “Yes?”
“That spell was one of your magic teacher’s favorite tricks.”
What? Why would that matter to Catra? Unless—
“It hurts, you know. That spell.”
“It’s… it’s not supposed to.”
Catra laughed, a bitter thing. “Guess she added something special just for me, then.”
The more she learned, the more Glimmer was beginning to deeply regret her decision to let Shadow Weaver roam free about the castle.
“I’m sorry,” Glimmer offered.
Catra curled farther in on herself. “I don’t want your pity.”
“It’s not pity, it’s—” Glimmer sighed. “Sympathy isn’t a bad thing, Catra. Acknowledging that something bad happened to you doesn’t mean you’re weak. If anything, it means you’re stronger for having lived through it.”
A noncommittal grunt.
Glimmer sighed again, then climbed onto the ledge next to Catra to sit beside her and stare out at the stars. Catra glanced at her, ears nearly flat against her skull, but didn’t push her away.
“Tell me about Shadow Weaver.”
Glimmer lay sprawled on her bed, staring at the blank white ceiling and wracking her brain for an escape plan when her thoughts were interrupted by a squeaky yelp of surprise. She shot upright.
Catra was holding the paper she’d been working on at arm’s length, looking at it like it was on fire. Was it? It was glowing—
Catra had drawn a spell, and it was glowing.
“Sparkles, what’s going on?”
Glimmer laughed in delight and sprang up from the bed, barely registering the fear and confusion in Catra’s voice. “Magic. Catra, you have magic ! You can make spells work!” Why hadn’t she realized the possibility sooner? Glimmer knew her species from old storybooks her mother used to read her—a kingdom of half-cat hybrids, all talented in sorcery. The Magicats. Magicats, ha! It was even in the name!
Catra was still staring at the paper, eyes wide. “I… I have magic?”
“Yes! And if you do—” anticipation and excitement bubbled in her chest as she stretched her hand out to draw a rune—and it worked, the lines of purple light persisting in the air. She laughed in relief, then reached inside for the returning warmth of moonstone’s magic and summoned a ball of sparkling energy so bright that Catra had to shield her eyes.
“Ha!” she exclaimed again. “I do too! We must be close enough to the planet, my magic is back! That means I can teleport!”
The glowing paper fell from Catra’s hands, light fading as it hit the floor. “Good,” she said, taking a step backward. “That’s good. You can get out of here.”
Glimmer finally looked at her, processing the expression on her face, the way she had stepped back almost into shadow.
She didn’t think she was coming.
After all the people that had left her, she thought it was going to happen again.
Catra’s back was to her now, staring at the floor with one arm crossed across her chest to hold the other. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Glimmer said, softer. “We might need it.” Catra’s ear twitched at the word “we,” and she turned to look over her shoulder. Glimmer stepped closer and extended her hand, a welcoming smile on her face.
“You ready to get out of here?”
Catra stared at the hand. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, joined by a new expression on her face. Something that might have been… hope.
“Yeah.” Catra stepped closer, hesitated, then settled her hand firmly in Glimmer’s. “I’m ready.”