"That's perfect, Emily! Great job," Entrapta said, clapping two hair-hands together.
Emily beeped happily and bounced a little, mindful of the item still perched on the top of her dome.
"Come on over here so I can take that basket off your head," Entrapta continued.
Emily gave a couple of digital boops in acknowledgement before making her way around Entrapta's workbench in the Sanctum.
Entrapta took another quick look at the row of three beefed-up datapads she had propped up against the collapsible back of her workspace as Emily took the dozen or so thudding, metallic "steps" necessary to close the distance between them. Nodding to herself, Entrapta's lips tightened a moment at what she was seeing before she turned to Emily and pasted on a smile.
Emily stood perfectly still, allowing Entrapta to remove the four magnetic metal clips that had been fastened onto the circumference near the top of Emily's dome at intercardinal points with four hair pincers. Two hair hands formed to catch the woven, rectangular basket the brackets had been holding in place before shifting it around to the other side of Entrapta's stool.
Once the operation was complete, a hair tendril reached out to rub the top of Emily's dome. "Thanks so much for helping me today. I couldn't have done it all without your help!" Entrapta said.
Emily made a mechanical whining sound, somehow tilting her body to make her one "eye" droop pleadingly.
Entrapta's smile turned genuine as she chuckled. "Fine, fine," she said, one tendril from each ponytail reaching out to cup the side of Emily's body as if she were just one, big head. Silky hair slipped along the indented strip of black and pink material before rubbing gently but vigorously. "Who's a good girl? You are, that's who! Emily's the best bot on Etheria, no, the universe! Oh yes she is!"
Emily beeped happily, well pleased now. So pleased, in fact, that the moment Entrapta reclaimed her lengths of hair, Emily went rolling around the Sanctum in joy.
Entrapta continued to smile as she shook her head. The scientific part of her had been fascinated to learn that despite the amount of destruction Emily could cause on one of her "zooms", she never harmed a single thing in the Sanctum. Entrapta privately wondered if somehow Hordak had encoded awareness of his Sanctum into the bots, just in case someone tried to use them to cause deliberate, wanton destruction.
At the thought of Hordak, Entrapta sobered, turning back and taking in the screens she had programmed to follow Hordak's every move. Even though no one else could see it, she knew her lab partner was running on fumes. Oh he still ate and slept, but it seemed as though every cosmic force in existence had decided Hordak had been given enough time to putter around the Sanctum, so his presence kept being summoned all day for the past three days to keep the Fright Zone running.
Entrapta hadn't honestly realized up to this point how hands-on Hordak was as a leader when necessary. She had truly thought he was like her. She always made sure her people had everything they needed to function well, but Hordak went above and beyond in ways most rulers on Etheria didn't, but were also so subtle, no one apparently put alpha and beta together.
Today, for example, started during "office hours" when there was apparently a major malfunction at one of the plants responsible for manufacturing bots. Hordak had put on his "Imbeciles!" routine to clear out the room before stalking off to deal with the problem. Entrapta had watched, honestly enthralled, as the plant workers explained everything they had tried to fix the issue on their own and she could see Hordak's mind sorting everything out. Although he couched it in his "you fools" tone, he had pinpointed the cause in record time. Apparently two part machines and three conveyor belts ended up with various malfunctions at the same time, creating the chaos that had apparently ensued. Hordak had quickly and smoothly directed the workers to the needed repairs, and it wasn't long before the plant was humming along again.
The workers themselves had hustled back to work, but the plant manager had expressed his eternal gratitude. Which Hordak shrugged off with a "Now you know how to deal with this for next time. Which hopefully there won't be!," before taking his leave.
Hordak had nearly reached the barracks once more when another panicked Fright Zone resident approached. Entrapta's eyes widened as she watched the lizard-like being immediately started gesturing with its hands. Then her jaw dropped slightly as Hordak, without missing a beat, began to gesture back. Entrapta had heard of non-verbal communication before, but she had honestly never seen it in action herself. Oh she was more than familiar with pantomime, but this was different. Whatever it was had to be BIG, considering the split-second of panic that washed over her lab partner's face before both of them took off sprinting in the direction of one of the forges.
If the whole incident hadn't been caught on camera, Entrapta would never have believed it. The moment the security camera feed of the affected forge flickered onto one of her screens, she felt her heart stop. The massive pot in the center of the forge, a "ladle", she thought it was called, was tilted, one of the two massive metal arms that suspended the ladle from the ceiling had cracked and was giving way. Several workers had made makeshift levers out of stone pillars resting on the lip of the forge itself to try and keep it up, but the strain was showing on everyone's face.
Hordak once again immediately took charge, and Entrapta had another glimpse of the General he had once been. He ordered pairs of stone pillars be moved closer together on each side, and despite the uncertain looks on the workers' faces, they complied. It wasn't until that first task was complete that Hordak's plan became more clear. He quickly and calmly simply put his right foot down on the end of one of the pillars, freeing up all three workers who had originally been holding it down. Then he did the same with his left foot on the second pillar, relieving four more. Hordak simply stood there like a giant statue as he shouted more orders, the two workers with the lightest builds scrambling up ladders built into the walls of the forge to the beams above to work on repairing the crack. The five remaining workers went over to spell their comrades, switching out as they tired.
Entrapta had to remind herself to breathe, watching the workers, one humanoid male and one reptilian female, clamber up to such heights with molten metal in stone vessels to do the repair work. The humanoid male used stone tools on his side, while the snake-like female simply used her hands to spread the incredibly hot mixture as if it were putty. Then they both got to work shaping, molding, before packing more liquid metal into the weakened section.
On the ground, workers were relieving each other on the stone pillars resting on three sides, but Hordak literally stood alone, arms crossed over his chest as he watched the entire production.
He looked so incredibly regal, Entrapta knew she was going a bit starry-eyed. He reminded her a little of something the First Ones called a "superhero", standing there so calmly, his cape stirring slightly in the currents created as heat met cooler air.
Once the repairs were complete, the two workers on top climbed down, and one by one, the supporting pillars were removed. Each time, the ladle stayed in place, the repair to the suspension arm so seamless, one would never know there had been a crack.
Hordak's pillars were the last to be removed, the Lord of the Fright Zone moving only when absolutely necessary. The moment the final lever slipped from its position, there was a communal held breath. Several seconds passed, and the ladle stayed perfectly even, the molten metal inside safe from spilling out. Then a roar of relief and jubilation rose up, filling the forge with sound.
Hordak himself did not join in, keeping absolutely silent as he turned toward the door to go. He had nearly escaped when the lizard man who had first approached him came up and made a simple gesture. Hordak replied in kind, his face seeming neutral to most, but his ears were slightly down in what Entrapta had come to recognize as a signal he was feeling shy or bashful.
Entrapta had a feeling the lizard man had caught the change in Hordak's ears, too, because he flicked in his tail in response. This brought just the faintest hint of color to Hordak's cheeks before he swept out the door back into the early evening moonglow.
They had been working together for over two months now, and there was still so much for Entrapta to learn about her lab partner! Hopefully he wouldn't be too upset over the fact she was keeping track of him via the security system, but he had been almost to the point of collapsing the previous day when he finally returned. He was sorely lacking rest, and Entrapta wanted to make sure he remained safe throughout the day.
Then the scrap icing on the dross cake had come once Hordak was inside the barracks. Apparently a prankster had spiked the reservoir of what Hordak called a "coffee machine" with some sort of eye medication. Which resulted in practically everyone who had dinner in the mess hall that night running to, as Hordak called it, "the facilities".
Apparently Moocella, the head chef, was holding the person responsible. As the security feed flicked to the cameras in the main kitchen, Entrapta couldn't help but smile at the sight of the black-spotted Taurean holding the culprit with his arms behind his back. Lightly, but in a grip Entrapta knew he would never escape. Mannfera were a strong, beast-like species with super strength and impressive manes regardless of gender, but Moocella knew how to use her own strength and impressive height to keep her prisoner in custody despite her overall gentle disposition.
Hordak strode into the kitchen, using every inch of his impressive height to stare down at the culprit in displeasure. There he handed down the punishment: sole responsibility for latrine duty for a week. And any slacking would result in even worse punishment. The last three words being delivered, of course, with a snarl and an evil glint in Hordak's eye.
At first, Entrapta hadn't understood why Hordak tended to give so many vague threats, especially when he rarely followed through. But when she asked, her lab partner had explained that usually the person being threatened did a much better job of using their imagination to conjure worse punishments than he ever could. The few who had no imagination, he said, he did have to come up with more severe consequences on his own. The difference could be quickly spotted if you knew what to look for.
"So what are the 'dire consequences' for my 'flagrant breach of conduct'?" Entrapta asked, giving him a slightly cheeky grin.
Hordak had smiled back with a touch of wickedness. "Being forced to endure my presence for prolonged periods of time."
"Oooo, then I should see what other rules I can break! Maybe I can get to spend even more time with you!" had been her response.
Which made Hordak choke, then blush, before muttering something about getting back to work.
The sensation of Emily leaning up against Entrapta's right thigh brought Entrapta out of her reverie. A tendril of hair snaked out to "scritch" the top of Emily's dome. "Now remember the plan, Emily. When Hordak comes in, you'll need to keep yourself busy elsewhere for a while. Understood?"
Emily beeped in assent. She didn't quite understand why, despite Imp's attempts to explain. But it apparently came down to organic beings' needs for privacy. Which she also didn't understand. But that was okay. Her creators were happy when they had time together, and Emily was fully aware of Hordak's absence the last few days.
Entrapta watched as Hordak left the kitchen area. Even though he kept his strides firm and moved at a good clip, his cape billowing out behind him, Entrapta caught the slight tremor in his hands signaling the toll so many days without true rest had taken. Again, it was nothing his troops would catch, but Entrapta had officially included him in her small list of personal interests. Which meant paying, to be honest, obsessive attention to details when it came to her.. beloved.. lab partner.
Entrapta found herself blushing at the thought. She couldn't quite get the words out of her mouth yet, but at least she was allowing herself to say them in the privacy of her own mind. It wasn't a grand, dramatic thing as portrayed in various types of media, but thankfully she had seen the behavior of other organic beings to help her identify the feeling that could be warm and fuzzy, heated and pulse-racing, to infuriating and sometimes almost devastating.
There was one undeniable truth in Entrapta's mind: she loved, and was in love with, Hordak. It was simple as that. Which had led to her latest creation, among others. The only ingredient left to add was her aforementioned lab partner, and the project would be complete.
In fact, Entrapta couldn't help but note the way her heart lifted and sped up as Hordak entered the throne room. She shut off two of the three datapads, relinquishing her hold on the security system. The remaining one showed him striding through the area, even though he had locked the throne room doors behind him. That was enough to make Entrapta's brows furrow in concern. That meant Hordak himself was aware of how depleted his energy levels were, and seeing him make even that small a concession blared an emergency klaxon loud and clear for Entrapta.
The doors to the Sanctum slid open and Hordak began to stride through, only to obviously be hit with by a dizzy spell. He staggered slightly, leaning over to his right side which allowed him to use the doorframe for support against his shoulder.
Entrapta pressed her lips together tightly. Hordak's name was on the tip of her tongue, but she didn't want to break his concentration and send him crashing to the floor. So instead, she focused her energy on rising up, using her ponytails as legs directly since that would allow her to cross the room the fastest. In a matter of seconds, she was standing before him. She let herself down, and she was short enough she didn't have to bend down to peer at his face. "Hordak? Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked in a soft, gentle voice.
Hordak felt his knees grow almost weak enough to send him crashing to the floor. It took him a moment to realize the emotion that had raced through him in that moment was relief. Entrapta was there. He wasn't alone. Hordak knew full well he had pushed himself far beyond his physical capacity for too many days in a row, but it couldn't be helped. He was still Lord of the Fright Zone, and he refused to relinquish his iron-clad grip on the role. At least, in public. Nearly a week ago now, Entrapta had seen him in dire physical distress, and no matter how much he had hated it in that moment, he was grateful for it now.
She didn't try to force assistance on him. She waited with almost uncharacteristic patience for him to reply. That made it easier to accept her offer, as galling as it was.
Collapsing on the floor and being unable to get up would be much worse. Been there, done that, and yes, in front of Entrapta.
All Hordak could do was be honest. "I.. don't know," he said. If he were alone, he would have done everything in his power to make it to his quarters, but the thought of going there right now made his chest grow tight. He was too tired to think straight, but he didn't want to be alone just then.
That was when he realized that due to the copious demands on his time outside the Sanctum, he and Entrapta had barely spent any time together in the last few days. Her presence in his personal space was keeping him upright, focused. In all brutal honesty, he missed her.
Hordak saw Entrapta's brow furrow at his reply, so he did his best to clarify. "I require rest. However, I do not wish to be alone." His pride tried to rise up, choke him, but Hordak used the last bit of his strength to smack it back down, reminding himself of what had happened the last time when he listened to that impulse instead of trusting in his lab partner.
Entrapta could not help the flood of warmth both in her heart and in her cheeks, giving her face and chest a rich glow. She knew what a massive step forward it was for Hordak to not only admit to his physical need, but an emotional one as well. She wanted to grin and "twirl" in joy that he wasn't pushing her away this time, but presenting her with a problem to solve. While she would love to show him her newest project, he obviously needed to catch his breath first. Familiarity would help in the transition, or so her theory went.
"Why don't I help you to your 'backup throne'?" Entrapta asked. "That way you can sit down somewhere familiar until you're not feeling so dizzy. I'll stay right here in the Sanctum until you feel better. Okay?"
Hordak felt a slight wash of color coming into his cheeks. He had not sat in his massive green, leather-covered chair since he and Entrapta had.. experimented.. in it. But he knew it was the best course of action for now. He nodded in assent.
"How should I help?" Entrapta asked. "I would like to just carry you over, but you weren't happy with that last time."
Hordak slowly drew breath to try and expand his lungs as much as possible in his armor before letting it out at a measured pace. "That was my pride speaking," Hordak admitted. "The true 'problem' was, I liked it too much."
Entrapta blinked. She had heard of exhaustion sometimes affecting people like drinking too much alcohol, and there was even an Etherian idiom about finding truth in the bottom of a bottle. As relaxed as Hordak had become around her, he was rarely so candid about his true feelings. Entrapta was grateful for the insight, but she didn't want to push so Hordak would not regret trusting in her once he was feeling better. "So how would you like me to carry you?" she asked.
Hordak shook his head, once again at a loss. "I don't know," he said once more. "No one has ever been able to do so except you."
Entrapta's blush deepened. Hordak was very tall, and solidly built, at least in his armor. She thought a moment. "Well, I could either lift you up by your waist and shoulders so you'd still be standing, or I could carry you in a reclining position. Standing, I could hold you further away from me with my hair, but reclining, I would be holding you closer. Still with my hair, but it would be more.. intimate," she said.
Hordak's dignity tried to rise up, tell him to accept the standing-up offer. But, for lack of better terms, Hordak's heart firmly told his pride to sit down and shut up. He was dead tired, and his instincts were clamoring for more time with his.. lab partner. His cheeks and the tips of his ears turned red. "I would prefer to be.. closer to you."
Entrapta took a quick but deep breath before letting it out. Inwardly, she was positively giddy. She knew she was risking getting her hair caught in the joins in Hordak's armor, but it was a risk she was more than willing to take at that moment. Then she realized that if she were careful, she actually could avoid his armor! "Ready?" she asked.
Consciously slowing the movement of her hair down so it wouldn't startle Hordak, Entrapta slipped her left ponytail around Hordak's back, and the right one slithered down just above his knees, both of them remaining over his cape with a little leeway between so she wouldn't inadvertently snap his head back. Part of her was sorely tempted to slide her hair between Hordak's cape and his legs, but tonight was about taking care of him, not seduction.
Entrapta eased Hordak into her hair's embrace, carrying him as if he weighed nothing at all.
Hordak found himself blushing profusely, while his dignity promptly drowned itself in a pit of sludge to allow his weariness reign so he could savor the moment. He despised being weak, yet at the same time, knowing that Entrapta could handle him even if he were incapacitated made him feel.. safe. A sensation he had only ever felt in her presence. She held him with a slight hair buffer separating their bodies, but that was perfectly all right. He did not want to overwhelm her, though he did tightly cross his arms over his body so he wouldn't give in to the absurd urge to put his arms around her neck.
Entrapta seemed to understand, though, since she had only taken a few steps before smiling down at him. "Still okay with this?" she asked.
Hordak hummed before replying. "Never better." Then he fought down a snicker as that beautiful rich wash of color he adored came into Entrapta's cheeks. He really was overtired, thinking such flowery, sentimental things.
Entrapta couldn't help the way her heart beat powerfully, as if it wanted to escape her chest and join Hordak's. Or should she make that plural, as she would almost swear she could sometimes hear two distinct beats coming from Hordak's chest when they were close enough, usually during their now nightly snow kiss before leaving the Sanctum for the day. It filled her with warmth, seeing Hordak trust her so completely. Usually he was cranky when he was tired, but it seemed he was currently even too exhausted to fight against his instincts. Now that she knew what his instincts would be thanks to Imp's unofficial tutoring sessions.
All too soon, they reached the well-padded green leather chair. Entrapta carefully maneuvered Hordak with her hair, making sure he was firmly in place on the seat cushion before withdrawing her hair and going to sit on the arm of the chair farthest away from him to give him space to rest.
Hordak choked back a whimper at the sensation of Entrapta's hair letting him go, feeling the sensation even through the barrier of his cloak. Speaking of his cloak, he really didn't feel like eventually getting up just to take it off in Entrapta's presence, so he simply extended his claws and slipped them under the edges of his cloak, looking for the latches normally unfastened by the ADC machine.
Entrapta watched, originally uncertain what on Etheria Hordak was doing, but then his cape came loose. Hordak took the ends of the cloak and peeled them away from his armor, allowing the article of clothing to now slump off to the side and over the righthand arm of the chair, top-heavy due to the, in Entrapta's opinion, ridiculous headpiece. Entrapta understood why Hordak designed it that way, considering how wary he was of anything coming near the port on the back of his neck, and it did make him look more menacing. But Entrapta knew it was more a display, like creatures that puffed up when in danger of attack. She recognized it was important to Hordak, but she privately thought it just looked silly.
Hordak breathed a sigh of relief as he leaned back in the chair, letting his head rest against the smooth leather of the backrest behind him. Normally, this would be fine. However, his left side felt as if it were open to some gaping chasm. He looked to the side to see Entrapta perched on the far arm of the chair. Ever since the beginning of his degeneration, isolation during his weaker times had been his only chance of survival. He had convinced himself that would always be best, as he could not fathom ever allowing anyone to see how physically weak he really was. But now, he found himself yearning for closeness. For the touch of the one being in the universe besides Imp he could tolerate when he was this run down.
"If it would not make you uncomfortable," Hordak said, his voice low and gravelly with exhaustion, "you are welcome to sit beside me."