It’s not often that Queen Angella finds herself wandering the halls of her castle this late, long past any reasonable hour. It's an activity reserved for those nights where the familiar, gnawing fear has her tossing and turning in her bed for hours on end, reaching instinctively for a warmth she knows she won't find. A hundred lifetimes of trouble leaves a woman with more than her fair share of worries, but these days she most often finds herself in a familiar dream. A dream of a day before glorious battle, playing out the same words, the same actions, watching from behind her own eyes and unable to alter a single word of this same, terrible script, no matter how she tries.
Can she really be blamed for leaving her bed behind?
No doubt these little night time excursions would set a poor example for Glimmer, if she were ever to learn of them, but with any luck her daughter will never find out. The girl chafes enough at her authority as it is, no need to add a mother's hypocrisy to her long list of grievances.
Only her guards, loyal and ever-present in their vigil, will ever see her like this. It’s a secret they'll happily take to their graves.
So she takes to the quiet corridors, a quick stop in the kitchen rewarding her with a plate leftover from dinner. It's some sort of fruit she can't be bothered to name at this hour, a little stale and covered in a light sauce that's starting to congeal after sitting out so long. The cooks would likely throw a fit to see her eating something so sub-par, but the last thing she needs right now is to wake them and cause a fuss when all she wants is a snack.
Honestly. She's told them time and again that she's quite content with less lavish meals- But wresting control of even a single oven from the wizened old crone in charge of her kitchen is a task worthy of She-Ra herself.
Angella may not look it, but she is older than every last person in this castle.
One would think her capable of cooking her own food now and then.
(One would also think her capable of fending off a half-blind old woman armed with nothing but a spatula and a perpetual scowl, yet here she is: pilfering a snack in the dead of night like a rebellious teenager. Never let it be said that the Queen of Bright Moon’s immortality has in any way dulled her sense of self-preservation.)
Her footsteps echo through the silent corridors as she gives her pilfered dish an idle taste, the muted glow of her wings pushing back the shadows from her aimless path.
If only the darkness plaguing her thoughts was so easy to dispel.
The rebellion, if it can even be called that, is a source of constant worry. Every day brings a new threat from the Horde. New poisons and weapons of war, all aimed squarely at the target she’s painted on her back with her refusal to bow to the might of Hordak. Without the Whispering Woods to guard them she knows they would have long since come under siege, and while Glimmer may be fully confident in their ability to fight them off…
Oh, to be so young. To be so sure that truth and justice alone could win the day, that merely being good would stave off the blades and bullets of the Horde.
Micah had been good, too- Had been brave, even. Brave enough to go into battle at her command. And look what that had gotten them: A beautiful grave, tasteful and elegant. A mural on the wall.
And an empty throne to sit beside hers forevermore.
She knows Glimmer resents her for her weakness, for her refusal to take the fight to those who even now seek to navigate the Whispering Woods and destroy them once and for all. If Glimmer had her way all the armies of Bright Moon would march out with the dawn, a righteous sword to beat back the myriad forces arrayed against them.
Some days, when the list of atrocities perpetrated by the Evil Horde gets too long, Angella even considers it.
But then she has to but glance to her left, and any words of retribution turn to ash in her mouth.
If one day she has to bury her daughter as well-
Gods, the thought of another beautiful grave for another brave fool; It haunts her, has her stumbling to steady herself against the castle wall and fighting the sudden, oily sickness in the pit of her stomach.
If it comes to that they may as well bury her too.
A flash of movement breaks her from her musings, a glint of white fabric retreating from the light she casts. It takes less than a thought to brighten herself, unfurling her wings and throwing the entire length of hallway into stark relief- Only to illuminate the blood-red sign of the Horde not twenty feet away, decorating the back of their newest recruit.
Adora at least has the decency to look surprised to see her.
“And what, pray tell, do you think you're doing?”
For a former Horde cadet, Castle Brightmoon is ominously quiet- In the day as well, but especially so at night.
For Adora’s entire life in the Fright Zone she’s had to tune out the unceasing background noise of a dozen shifting recruits, a hundred robots marching endlessly through the halls, and a thousand nameless machines humming and clanking away through every hour of every day. It was never something she appreciated, per se, but it was something every soldier had to get used to.
Here though? She’s counted three sets of guards, their patrols taking them past her door every half-hour or so, and that’s it. No grinding gears from the depths of the complex, no snoring from Lonnie a few beds over, not even…
The waterfall helps, just a little. At first she’d thought it a baffling waste of water, but the sound of it crashing into the shallow basin is enough to drown out the deafening silence most nights. And at the very least she isn’t being smothered by her own bed sheets anymore, which means nine nights out of ten she can pretend she’s not missing the comforting sounds of a dozen bodies sleeping in close proximity.
Because she shouldn’t, right? The Horde is evil. Objectively so. By every possible metric they’re pretty much the worst.
And yet she'll still find herself shooting awake in the middle of the night, listening for a familiar breath she already knows won’t be there.
It’s enough to drive a girl mad, honestly. Or at least enough to drive her from the bed she knows she sorely needs. It’s not difficult to sneak around the guards when she creeps out of her room and down the halls- Probably not necessary either. She’s not exactly a prisoner here, she ought to be able to go where she pleases right? Even in the middle of the night.
It’s more instinct than anything to hide from them, sticking to the shadows as they pass her by, softening her steps and tamping down the giddy flush of rebellious pride. It’s all so achingly familiar that she has to stop herself from reaching back for Catra’s hand. She’d always been Adora’s partner in crime, the one person for whom she’d defy Shadow Weaver’s expectations and indulge in her wild side.
If she shuts her eyes she can almost hear her. She’d be pressed up to Adora’s side as usual, whispering in her ear about whatever slapdash plan she had to get past the next guard patrol unseen- And Adora wouldn’t catch a word of it, too distracted by the breath on her cheek and the tingly sensation of a hand wrapped tight around her waist.
When she opens her eyes there’s no Catra to be found, though. Just a corridor suddenly lit up bright as day and a bemused looking Queen Angella staring her down with a half-eaten plate of fruit.
“And what, pray tell, do you think you’re doing?”
‘Oh god.’ She thinks, in the long pause that follows. ‘I’m too young to die.’
When Angella speaks up Adora freezes, eyes wide for a long moment before she snaps around to attention in one obviously well-practiced motion. The girl doesn't go so far as to salute her, but it's a near thing. And every bit of sharp tension in her back as she comes to ramrod attention is another line in a tragic tale she’s not sure she wants to hear.
Often she wonders just what the Horde does to its children to turn them into such merciless destroyers.
“Ma'am-! I mean- Your Majesty! I was just uh- Well you see-”
Well then. At least she isn't trying to bow this time, maintaining her stiff posture even as she rambles on unabated.
“-And the waterfall- Not that the waterfall isn't lovely! I just don't-”
Angella takes her fork to sneak another bite from her plate, chewing thoughtfully as she listens with half an ear to the verbal trainwreck happening in front of her. It's almost tempting to see just how long it will take her to run out of steam, but she looks halfway to a breakdown already. And besides, she's the merciful Queen is she not? Best not to let the poor girl chatter herself into an anxious wreck.
“-and I promise I'm not sneaking away or anything I-”
The girl flinches. Actually, physically flinches at her interruption, the onslaught of nonsense cutting off so quickly it's a miracle she hasn't bitten her tongue. Would she even let it show if she had? Or is pain just another sign of weakness to be hidden at all costs.
Gods. She’s far too tired to deal with this right now.
With a slow grace that's as much about not spooking her terrified charge as it is about royal appearances, she makes her way to the edge of the corridor. And sue her if she takes some small pleasure in Adora’s wide-eyed bafflement when she tucks her skirts beneath her and slides down the wall to have a seat on the floor, plate still balanced in one hand.
She pats the ground beside her.
Angella remains quiet, calmly chipping away at her midnight meal with all the dignity she can muster while seated in the middle of an empty corridor. It's a calculated display of weakness, the kind of emotional disarmament she imagines must be crucial in the Fright Zone, though it’s probably saved only for one’s most trusted confidants. It's a tragedy all it's own that this is even necessary, but inch by inch she can see the tension start to bleed from the girl.
Now all that remains is to wait out the inevitable. Adora will talk eventually, and if not then at least Angella will be able to finish her snack in peace.
Adora starts to fidget. Angella is patient.
She opens her mouth. Closes it. Opens it once more. Angella takes another bite.
“I couldn't sleep.” The words escape Adora in a rush when she finally works up the courage to speak them. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“It's nothing to be sorry for.” Angella lets a wry smile pull at her lips, glancing towards the girl from the corner of her eye. “I'd have to be the first to apologize if it were, no?”
She takes another bite while Adora tries to come to terms with that. A supposed superior apologizing to their subordinate? It must be blowing her mind right now.
As a Queen she probably shouldn't be taking so much pleasure in shattering Adora's world-view over and over again, but she really does make it too easy.
“Now then, tell me what's bothering you. And before you say it-” She lifts a hand, fork and all, to cut off Adora’s immediate attempt to wriggle out of what's gearing up to be quite a Talk. “It is neither an inconvenience nor beneath my station to hear your troubles.”
Some people have such strange assumptions about what royalty can and cannot do, as if it’s any issue to lend an ear now and then. Her time is not so valuable that she can’t spend an hour or two of eternity to hear out a troubled heart.
Again it takes some time before Adora speaks, and again Angella is patient. A thousand years of life and more than a decade of motherhood have given her a knack for it.
“I just miss it sometimes.”
“The Horde. My squad.” She watches as some of the tension seeps back into the girl, filling up the spaces those words left behind. Perhaps she thinks Angella will judge her for it. An admission like that is tantamount to treason in these halls, after all. Especially in front of the Queen. She’d be well within her rights to toss the girl in a cell for that alone.
“Not- Not everything, obviously. Not Shadow Weaver or Hordak or all the lies- But some of it was okay, you know? They’re not all bad memories. There were people I- We cared about.” Her voice breaks, and Angella makes sure she’s not looking as Adora swipes a sleeve across her eyes. “We watched out for each other.”
What a queen that would make her, locking up a child for missing the only family she’s ever known. That it’s a thought Adora would even consider is enough to spark something terrible in her.
She reaches out, slowly enough not to startle the girl still staring anxiously at the floor, and runs her fingers gently, soothingly through Adora's hair.
“Tell me about them, these friends of yours.”
That’s how they spend their night, sitting huddled together in the warm glow of her wings as Adora pours out every last detail she can remember about her time in the Horde. How they trained, day in and day out, every squadron competing with the rest to see who could climb the ranks fastest. The rush of pride at Shadow Weaver's scant praise, the endless one-upmanship and exaggerated boasts tossed between cadets at mealtimes.
She learns about Lonnie, who threw insults and taunts like they were going out of style, but was always the quickest to defend her people in a pinch- Both with words, and on more than one occasion, her fists. She was the one you went to when you wanted to hide an injury, so used to patching up her own mistakes that she could keep you out of the infirmary in a pinch.
Then there was Kyle. Poor, sweet Kyle. Blessed with neither the brawn to stand up to his problems, nor the cleverness to think around them. No one expected him to make it so long, but despite the odds he was still kicking. They kept him safe. Maybe they babied him a little too much sometimes, but by now no one really wanted to see him go. He was one of theirs.
And Rogelio, who spoke so rarely half the Horde thought he couldn't talk at all. He stayed up late every night to practice his letters, scribbling on scraps of stolen paper and napkins- Whatever he could get his hands on. Catra snuck a few pages from his stash once, but she never said a word about what she found- Just proclaimed it ‘alright’ to Adora later, when it was just the two of them once more.
Catra. It’s a name Adora tries to avoid, though with little success. With each story she tells it sits there at the edge of every word, unspoken but implied, so intrinsically intertwined with Adora's life that there's no chance of shutting it away. Catra is the messy, tangled thread that holds everything together. And as the night grows long and Adora's eyes start to droop alongside her posture, until she's too tired to realize she's leaning against Angela's side, the details slowly come to light.
Catra. Her first, best, and most precious friend. Catra whose tongue was as sharp as her claws, who blew off training and dragged Adora into new mischief every day. Catra who spat at Shadow Weaver behind her back, who nearly clawed someone's eye out, who stole food from Kyle's plate and cackled with laughter whenever Lonnie screwed up even the slightest bit.
Catra, who patched her up and held her close when she burned herself on a faulty stun baton.
Who would purr so contently when Adora found that one perfect spot behind her ears.
Who started every night in her bunk above, but come morning would be curled up beside Adora without fail.
And that's how sleep eventually overcomes Adora, her eyes slipping peacefully closed as she whispers that name like a mantra. And if only Angella were strong enough she would fly herself straight into the heart of the Fright Zone to pluck this Catra away and bring her home.
But she cannot, so she settles on tucking her wing tighter around the girl leaning against her. It's the least she can do after her rebellion inadvertently stole her away from everything she ever loved.
The other wing she stretches outward, casting its glow down the hall and illuminating the figure standing there. Not close enough to hear much of their whispered conversation, but not so far that they couldn't intervene in the event of an… Incident.
“General.” It's as hard as ever to decipher the woman's thoughts as she steps forward, the light illuminating her dark skin and stone-faced expression, marred only by the bright slash of a scar across the bridge of her nose.
“Your Majesty.” Luckily her General is far too professional to so much as blink at the no-doubt strange sight before her.
“Please bring Adora back to her room. Gently, if you don't mind.” She spares a moment to brush a few stray locks of hair from the sleeping girl's face. “She's had a long night.”
A nod, before the woman is lifting Adora from beside the Queen as if she weighs nothing at all. It takes a little effort to shift the girl into a more comfortable position, prompting a few sleepy murmurs that have them both glancing at her face.
She doesn't wake though, unsurprising after a night like hers, and Angella sighs in relief as she settles herself more comfortably back on the ground.
The General clears her throat pointedly, and while her expression remains as politely blank as ever, she can almost feel the Look being shot her way.
“Will I need to return and carry her royal highness to her bed as well, once I've finished?”
It's a look born from years of service to the crown, and years of finding their immortal queen curled up and sleeping in all manner of places that most certainly weren't her bed.
It manages to startle an undignified laugh from her, quickly choked down and hidden behind one hand, alongside her smile.
“Worry not dear General, once I've returned this plate to the kitchen I'll be sure to get some rest.” She lets her hand fall, a hint of amusement still curling at the edge of her lip. “But if I'm still here on your return, you have my express permission to carry me to my quarters.”
“As you please.” And with one final bow, she starts off towards Adora's room, leaving the queen where she sits.
It's looking to be a lovely morning, the soft rays of sunrise just starting to peek through the window and warm her face. She leans her head back against the cool stone behind her, humming contently.
Surely she can rest her eyes, just for a moment.