The first time, Adora can't go through it.
She has Catra, or a simulated version of Catra, that is, pinned down on the ground, her transformed Sword of Protection mere inches away from her face. Catra tries to move but she can't. Adora won, but Light Hope doesn't seem to agree with it.
"I knew you couldn't do it." Simulated Catra says, before the world around Adora vanishes and she’s with Light Hope again.
Even though Adora technically beats Catra, her performance still wasn’t adequate, Light Hope makes it clear.
"You must learn by doing it.” Her robotic monotone voice echoes before the simulation starts again.
The same thing happens for maybe ten more times. It’s getting tiring. Doing the same thing over and over with Light Hope saying she's failing every time and with simulated Catra getting snarkier with each round. Adora is more irritable, throwing harder punches and swings, holding back less.
On the eleventh time she pins her again and Catra says something that really gets to her nerves, so she smashes her sword (currently transformed into a mace) against Catra's left temple with a loud crunching noise.
Catra groans and Adora panics when she sees blood. Catra quickly recovers and uses this opportunity to turn them around.
She grins as blood drips down her head to Adora’s face.
"Getting ballsy, finally?" She says to her face before clawing at her.
The simulation ends with a sharp pain that gets cut just before it gets worse.
"You were closer this time." Light Hope's voice echoes. "Let's try again."
Adora has lost count of how many times they do it over and over. She tries to argue that she'd take Catra as a prisoner, but Light Hope doesn't seem to care. With every end of a new simulation Adora feels like she's beaten Catra harder than before. She tries to keep in mind it’s not real, but she hears bones cracking sometimes, she feels bruises forming on her skin even if they are not really there, she sees and feels blood. Catra’s pain always feels very real too, and so does hers.
When Catra falls hard on the ground, unconscious, one time, Adora panics again, but relaxes when she feels her pulse. Weak, but it's there. She can't help but check if Catra is still alive.
Light Hope is still not satisfied.
"She was unconscious!" Adora shouts. "What do you want from me!?"
"You still need to let go."
What does it mean? She thinks, but says instead, "I think we did enough for today."
Adora comes back a day later. She needs to keep training. Her friends need her, Etheria needs She-Ra. Light Hope knows what's best.
The simulation repeats, again, for who knows how long. Why isn't Light Hope making her fight Hordak, instead? Maybe he will be next after she passes this test, or whatever it is supposed to be.
Adora pins Catra again, the sharp tip of her sword hovering over Catra's neck. If she doesn't do something already she'll fail again.
It's just a simulation, it's just a simulation, it's just a simulation. She repeats it in her mind, over and over. It's not real.
Catra's eyes look very real, however. Blue and gold burning through Adora. Rage, hate and betrayal all in there somewhere. It's not real, here and now, but it is in the real world.
Adora’s eyes mirrors the mismatched ones. Catra kidnapped her friends, Glimmer almost died, they lost Entrapta, not completely it turns out but in a way, because of what happened. Catra led the attack of Bright Moon. Queen Angella almost died and the whole planet almost entered a complete unbalanced state.
Adora touches the sword on her neck.
Catra grunts and tries to move. Adora pushes a bit more, breaking skin. Catra's expression switches to panic. Adora’s hands shake and her chest tightens.
"Adora!" Catra cries out, a struggled voice that rips Adora apart.
It's not real, it's not real, it's not real.
Catra wouldn't hesitate, she thinks.
Catra left Adora hanging off a cliff to die. To die so she could get rid of She-Ra and defeat the Rebellion. To die so she could get rid of her, Adora, too.
“I wonder what I could have been if I had gotten rid of you sooner.”
Adora turns her face to the side and closes her eyes. She’s tired of failing. Tired of all the ugly feelings that brew inside of her daily.
Catra didn’t hesitate.
Before her mind can focus on anything again, she pushes the sword down in a quick, brute movement.
She hears choking and feels something wet and warm sprinkling on her. She holds the sword tighter and transforms back from her She-Ra form as the noises stop. She still can’t open her eyes.
The simulation ends. Adora is still kneeling, she doesn't have the strength to get up.
"Good job, you're getting better." Light Hope says.
Adora looks up and realizes tears are streaming down her face. "Getting betterー!?” She takes a shaky, deep breath, “It's done! I did what you wanted!"
"You must learn to master your emotions, Adora. Let's try again."
Adora wants to jump on her holographic neck but the world quickly changes around her.
"Hey, Adora. Looking a bit down today." Catra, alive, but still not real, snickers and jumps on her back before she can even think of transforming into She-Ra.
Adora loses that round and leaves after that.
It takes a little longer than usual for her to come back.
It’s not that she has never trained to kill before. Learning the most efficient ways to defeat and kill your enemies was her life growing up, but her victims were usually robots with bad holograms in front of them, mimicking the so evil princesses. Fighting other cadets involved a lot of violence. Bruises, blood, sometimes broken bones, a concussion here and there, but never murder. Sometimes someone would be angry and lash out for losing but they would quickly get over it before the next training session started.
It’s also not that she hasn’t killed before. She knows those faceless Horde soldiers don’t always come out alive after their battles, especially when She-Ra is throwing tanks around and exploding things.
It’s just that fighting Catra feels…
Familiar, in a way, from all their sparring sessions from the past, from their recent, more violent encounters from past months.
Killing Catra, thoughー
Even if Adora is angry and hurt, even if Adora doesn’t know if she will ever be able to forgive her (if Catra ever asks for forgiveness, that is), even if they are on opposite sides of a war, even if they are enemies, destined to fight each other until one wins, it still just feels… wrong.
Killing Catra wouldn’t end the war. It wouldn’t stop the Horde, solve all of the Rebellion's problems or save Etheria. But maybe not killing Catra would guarantee that those things never happen, because she won’t stop until the Rebellion and She-Ra (and Adora) are defeated and gone. She has said it herself.
Does that mean a world without Catra is a world closer to peace?
Peace for who?
Adora tries to focus on her own anger, hurt and, above all, duty. That's the only way she can go through it, over and over and over again.
Eventually, it becomes mechanical.
Even if simulated Catra seems to be getting smarter and quicker, Adora usually manages to pin her against something by the end. Her sword is most of the times transformed into something sharp, so it ends fast. She still has to turn her face and close her eyes, though, and she hasn’t totally mastered not crying when it’s done.
This time she holds Catra with one arm pressing her shoulders against a rock wall. Her sword, as a dagger, by her neck with the other hand. She closes her eyes and turns her head to the side as she is getting too used to doing so, except Catra reaches for her face and turns it back.
"Look into my eyes, coward." Catra hisses, dragging her claws down Adora's face and making it sting.
Adora opens her eyes and meets split ones.
Those eyes used to be her world. A soft blue and gold glow that soothed her fear of the dark in the cold nights of the Fright Zone. Blue and gold that would light up whenever Adora made her laugh. Sharp thin pupils that would focus on Adora’s every movement when sparring, but that would also go so big as to almost completely eclipse the two colors around it when she would get excited about something. Intense burning mismatched eyes that made Adora burn with them. Not in the way they burn now, with hate, but with something else, something Adora never dared to put a name on, something she never dared to think about too much. It was like they searched Adora for something, something she knew was in her somewhere, but she also knew it would only add to the fire. That doesn’t matter anymore, though.
Adora tries to find any hint of something that shows that that’s not the real Catra, but she feels like her Catra stopped being real a long time ago anyway.
Would she do it if it wasn't just a simulation?
If Adora had to.
Would she do it if it was either kill or be killed? If her friends were in danger? If it was the only way to end it all?
Adora would have to.
Would she willingly lose the already tiny chance of ever reconciling with Catra? Of ever having her see the truth and decide to fight against the Horde? Of ever having Catra back?
Catra has made her choice and so did Adora.
Could they stop hating each other?
Could they ever forgive each other?
Could she ever have her Catra back?
Adora wonders if Mara had to do something like this but failed, or if maybe she actually succeeded but couldn’t deal with the outcome of her decision.
Maybe it would really end it all.
Adora makes her decision and the simulation ends. She has trained enough for today.