Catra leaned her back against the stone, observing the stars only out of the corner of her eyes. She refused to be caught gazing again, and so disguised her activity so as to give herself a measure of plausible deniability. She could not help but wonder exactly these 'stars' were. What caused them to shine, how far away were they, and how long had they been there? Were they a consequence of some sorcerer's magic or had they always been here, present since the very birth of the world… or even before it? When exactly did the world begin?
There was so very much she did not know, Adora's healing had made that abundantly clear. On its surface that could easily be mistaken for the tiniest of things, but it was not some pithy phrase she now questioned, it was something she'd believed a fundamental truth of the universe. If that cornerstone was a lie, then everything built on it was like a house upon the sand, washed away by the tide to leave nothing in its place. She smiled at the aptness of that, Adora was nothing if not someone who made waves wherever she went. Again and again she'd crashed onto Catra's life and it had always stung… until now. It was an unfamiliar feeling, and the ex-Commander didn't know what to do with it. Her first instinct had been to reject it, as that was how she dealt with pain, but what confronted her wasn't painful, and to that she had no answer. So easily had she accepted that pain was the way of life, never being told there was any alternative and never imagining either.
The mark of a cunning strategist was to pursue all avenues, and if presented with more optimal means then only a fool would fail to seize the opportunity. Perhaps that was what was before her now; opportunity… but to do what exactly? What was her objective, what was her target, and what victory would she be chasing now? Not the war, she no longer cared about that. The Horde had turned its back and she could never imagine any place for herself in the Rebellion. Still, life needs goals, does it not? Just as it needed pain, it needed enemies to inflict it, and thus enemies to enact vengeance upon for said pain. She'd never entertained the thought, but that was quite the circular logic, wasn't it? Take away that pain though, and what then, where did that leave the tautology she'd based her life around? Was purpose itself an illusion? Her questions seemed numerous as the stars.
She was certain of nothing, and that included how she felt when the now-familiar tread of Adora's boots upon the cobbled floor rang out yet again. Greetings seemed superfluous at this point, and without any pleasantries Adora began the exchange.
"So, are we going to talk about the other night?"
Catra almost scoffed, but her heart wasn't in even that whisper-thin defiance.
"What's to talk about? It was a moment of weakness."
"Yours or mine?
"Both probably, if we're being honest."
"Then it's a weakness I'm not sorry for."
At first Catra's only response was a barely audible mumble.
"Come again?" asked Adora.
"If that's your attitude how do you keep winning? It doesn't matter how much you mess up, doesn't matter how much I get right, you keep winning. Over and over and over. Whether it's Shadoweaver's approval or the whole war, you get to run the victory lap. Every time I think maybe, just maybe I've finally got the upper hand it falls to pieces. I lose to you and I lose to the Rebellion, who practically worships weakness…"
"Well I suppose that leaves you with two options, doesn't it? Either strength isn't everything or what you define as 'weakness' isn't."
"Then what is it?"
"Maybe it's power."
"Power… end of the day that's all I have ever wanted, no, needed, down to my bones, except by some sick twist it's either not enough or denied to me entirely. But you, all you've ever known is power. You get lost in the woods and just stumble into an ancient magic sword?! What's that even like, how does that feel? How does it feel when all you have to do is wave a piece of scrap metal in the air, say some magic words and suddenly become a goddess?"
"Mainly I'd say 'weird,' especially the first time. As soon as I touched the handle my mind was just overwhelmed with insane amounts of knowledge all at once. It was like being drowned with flashes of lightning, that's the best way I can think to describe it."
"Well then, that settles it. You really are brain damaged."
They both let out a weak chuckle, a joke made long ago, but the wistfulness was stained by a twinge of bitter nostalgia. For many long minutes they sat silent before Catra spoke again.
"You ever wonder what would have happened if you never found that stupid thing? What you might have been? You had a pretty bright future ahead, you would have had power even if you stuck around."
"Except I don't think it's ever been power that I wanted, at most it was just means to an end. I wanted to set people free, from want, from fear, from oppression… I just figured if I had enough of it I could make everything right. Before I saw Thaymor I didn't realize just how severe it was, but I think there was always a tiny suspicion that things could be better, that something was wrong and needed to be fixed or at least improved. Maybe that's why leaving the Horde didn't take a lot of convincing."
"That was our plan, though, we were going to take over, become the leaders of the Horde and change things. Then you tossed that aside at the drop of a hat, and now thanks to you and your Rebellion even I can't follow through. You took my purpose from me, what gives you the right?"
"What do you think would have happened if you'd become in charge? You would have eventually had to face the same question as you are now. If your whole reason to be is to climb the ladder, what happens when you get to the top?"
"I would have been free to decide for myself! I would have been able to become who I wanted on my terms because I would finally not have to take orders from anyone, that was the whole bloody point!"
"Don't you see though? You can have that, you can have that level of agency right now! You don't need a promotion or anyone's permission to be happy, you can just… just have it! It's like you have the keys in your hand but won't open the door!"
Adora watched Catra's scowl slowly melt away to be replaced by dawning realization. Was this it, had she finally gotten through to her, finally said the right thing and shown Catra out of the dark at last?
"You know what…" Catra said, with an almost dumbfounded joy in her voice, "you're right. I should have left, I should have opened that door and run away. I can't believe it, but you actually helped out. You've given me new purpose and I know what I have to do. If freedom is something I can have right now, all I have to do is get out of here! I never thought I would say this again, but thank you. Oh, and since I'll probably escape before you get time to come down here again, goodbye. Goodbye for real this time, Adora."
Catra said all of this with a genuine smile, and that sincerity was somehow a dozen-fold more unnerving than any overtly hostile expression. Adora absolutely paled in fear.
"N-no… no no no, that's not what I meant Catra! I didn't mean that, I meant… I don't know exactly what I meant but I certainly didn't mean leave!"
"Who cares what you meant when what you said was right? Gods… all this time I resented you for leaving, but you were actually showing me the answer. All I have to do is go, just like you and I'll be free and I won't have to see Hordak, Shadoweaver, or She-Ra ever again! Oh Adora I could kiss you right now!"
Catra sighed happily, letting herself fall onto her bed and laughing bright and clear all the while. That laugh was something Adora had ached to hear, but not like this. In no time at all her hopes had shattered into a thousand, thousand pieces, replaced by a panic that permeated every muscle in her body. No words made their way to her mind, instead all she did was run, run as though a swarm of dæmons chased her… something she may well have preferred.
"So tell me again, why exactly you had to get that close?"
Aldin only sighed as he was teased by the senior guardsman. "You had to be there, Percival. She was screaming and babbling, shaking even… some kind of nightmare, I think."
"So? Let her have a nightmare. It's the least she deserves after what she and her forces have done to us. Hell, did you get a look at Princess Glimmer last time she squared off against that Hordeling? Her Highness came back looking like she'd tried to arm-wrestle a starving kroot hound!"
"I suppose but I-"
The junior knight never received a chance to even finish his sentence before he saw Lady Adora practically skid into the guardhouse with a terrified and manic look in her eyes. He dreaded whatever she needed this time, hoping to gods that it didn't involve the Horde Commander, but he nevertheless put on his best professional face and saluted.
"Lady Adora, what is it?"
Panting and somewhat out of breath she replied. "The prisoner…"
Just my luck… thought Aldin.
"The prisoner, she's… she will be attempting escape, and soon. I need, uh, let's double the guards, double… double everything!"
"Ma'am," he said, trying to calm her, "I can assure you that we're already taking every precaution, there's no need-"
Suddenly he found himself lifted into the air, face to face with a stern and deadly serious glare courtesy of Adora. Despite their moderate distance, he could hear Percival gulp in fear before speaking.
"I think, Aldin, Her Ladyship has made herself clear."