During her time in the Horde Catra had only known rows of shower stalls with ice cold water and rough bars of soap with a chemical smell that threatened to peel her skin off if she was not careful. Stepping into one of the castle’s elaborately furnished bathrooms felt like a dream. She walked through the steamy room across the cream tiles to a wall covered in shelves of little glass bottles. If Adora had not explained the purposes of the wide variety of perfumes, soaps, and hair products that Glimmer collected, Catra never would have known what she was looking at nor how to tell them apart.
“Are you coming in sometime soon, or what?”
Catra jumped and lost her grip on the glass bottle she was holding. She yelped and scrambled to catch it, then set it back down with the others. She turned and saw Mermista waiting for her in the large enamel bath which had already been filled with hot water. That explains the steam. The princess wore her regular attire, which Catra assumed was either waterproof or made from some magical wicking material that she did not understand. Her white sports bra and boxer style shorts made her feel very exposed by comparison.
“What are you doing here?” Catra’s voice cracked. Her claws instinctually came out, but she forced them to retract and curled her hands into fists at her sides instead. Over the course of her efforts to overcome her anger issues, she had learned an important lesson. Anger always existed to mask her less desirable emotions, namely fear. As she pushed down her instincts to lash out and fight her old enemy, all she was left with was terror.
“A favor was called in,” Mermista said dismissively. She examined her black nail polish. “Plus, Bow said you haven’t bathed properly in three weeks which is, like, totally disgusting.”
Catra stayed where she was. Mermista looked up, met her eyes, and softened for a moment. “I already picked out soap and stuff, so you don’t have to worry about sorting through all the junk Glimmer has.”
Catra swallowed. She had a choice to make. The exit was right behind her.
Mermista rolled her eyes. “You can go if you want, but then you’ll be stuck trying to figure out how everything in here works on your own. Or, I guess Adora would offer.”
Heat washed over Catra’s face at the idea. “Fine.” She crossed the room to where Mermista was waiting. The bath was more than big enough to fit two people. Catra imagined that if someone tried hard enough, half of the castle guard could fit. She shook her head to herself at the extravagance the rebels could afford.
No, no more talk of rebels anymore. She sat at the edge of the tub and hesitantly dipped her legs in. She bristled. The water was warm, but she never liked water to begin with. Plus, she was being forced to bathe with a princess who could drown her with ease on a whim. A princess who knows I was the brains behind the operation that took down her kingdom.
“So you’ve never taken a real bath before?” Mermista had returned to examining her nails. Whether it was to make Catra feel less insecure or because she was completely disinterested with the task at hand, Catra could not tell.
“At the Fright Zone we couldn’t afford the kind of luxuries you princesses are accustomed to. There were more important things to do than sit around a bowl of your own filth.” Shit. Her snark had taken hold of her tongue again. Now Mermista would leave and tell Adora and Bow would-
The princess of Salineas snorted and examined her, finally lowering her well-manicured hand. “Alright. Well, you should know that a bath involves getting your whole body into the water. So, chop-chop. I’m not wasting my powers to drag you in.”
Catra hesitated. “Fine.” She eased herself the rest of the way into the tub. The water went up to her neck. Catra’s heart rate picked up and she struggled to breathe through the steam.
Mermista leaned back against the rim of the bath. “Relax.”
Catra bristled at the ease with which Mermista gave the instruction. A sharp retort rose in her throat, but she forced herself to swallow it. Try, and they’ll meet you halfway. That’s what Bow said.
Catra took a slow, deep breath, and tried to focus on the warmth of the water. She closed her eyes. Water splashed over her head. Catra screeched and hurled herself away, claws popping out on reflex. Her heart battered against her ribs and for a few seconds Catra was fully prepared to battle for her life.
“Oops, I should have warned you.” Mermista did not look very sorry as she poured a strange lavender liquid from one of the many glass bottles into her palm. “Come back here. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Catra felt her patience grow thin. “This isn’t a game.”
“I know, but you can’t blame me for messing with you.”
Catra narrowed her eyes at her. No one here wants to hold a grudge, my ass.
“Okay, fine, I’ll behave from now on.” Mermista rubbed her hands together until they were sudsy. “Are you coming?”
Catra stayed where she was. “What is that, and what are you doing with it?”
“Lavender scented shampoo. It should help detangle your… fur.” Mermista continued before Catra could express her offense, “Seriously, I have never seen someone with hair as short as yours have so many knots. And all that filth- eugh.”
Catra wrinkled her nose. “You’re going to wash my hair? I don’t think so. This has been buckets of fun, but I’m gonna go.” She began to pull herself out of the bath.
“Hey, wait. I’m trying to help you out here.”
“Well I never asked for your help!” Catra stopped holding back her anger. “Does everyone here think I’m so incompetent that I can’t wash myself? Or is this about trust? I can’t be trusted to-”
“That’s not it,” Mermista said in a flat voice. “Look. It doesn’t seem that way, but I’m trying my best here. You don’t exactly make it easy for anyone.”
Catra sneered, showing sharp teeth.
“I know this isn’t exactly… pleasant for you, but this is how I am.” Mermista sighed. “I’ll be willing to tone it down a bit, though, if you do.”
Catra remembered Bow’s words and, acting against all her instincts, sank back into the tub. “Fine. But make it quick, and don’t pour water over my head again.”
“I needed to get your hair wet,” Mermista defended, but her tone implied she would respect those conditions.
Catra trudged over and turned so Mermista could wash her hair. She had not felt so tense since Adora had nearly died. The feeling of Mermista starting to massage her scalp was not bad, but she struggled to resist the urge to squirm away. Her heart rate picked up again.
“This is weird.” She had never felt this type of platonic intimacy before, other than with Adora back when they were children in the Fright Zone.
“Then distract yourself.”
Catra sensed Mermista shrug behind her. “Tell me a story.”
“What?” Catra started to turn to give Mermista the same ‘are-you-kidding-me?’ look she had given Bow before, but realized the water was holding her in place.
“Relax,” Mermista said, and her advice was equally as helpful the second time around. She elaborated, “Tell me a story. If you don’t have a murder mystery, then it could be, like, a good memory you have.”
“Uh…” For a moment Catra honestly worried she was going to have to tell Mermista that she had none, but then she remembered when she had taken over the Crimson Sands with Scorpia and for a short time felt content. Catra began the story slowly, expecting Mermista to tense and get angry over Catra essentially bragging about a string of victories and good luck, but the princess listened without hinting to any feelings of resentment. Catra slowly relaxed and talked without fear as Mermista worked on untangling her hair. When she finished that one she found herself telling a story about herself and Adora as kids in the Fright Zone next. She talked about lashing out at Lonnie during training accidentally-on-purpose and how Adora never turned her back on her. It was deeply personal and usually only brought Catra pain and guilt when she thought about it, but for some reason sharing the story lifted a weight off her chest. When Mermista gave her hair a careful final rinse, she barely noticed.
“Alright, all done.”
Mermista turned her around. “Your hair. It looks decent now.” Mermista smiled at her work as she examined Catra. It was a proud smile, but tinged with warmth.
“Oh.” Catra ran her fingers through it. It felt a lot softer now. Catra held Mermista’s neutral gaze and she swallowed her pride. “Thank you.”
“Don’t make a big deal out of it.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Your stories were better than Sea Hawk’s anyway. Unlike him, you tell them in a way that feels realistic. They were good, even if they were about when you were our enemy.”
Catra blinked and pushed a wet clump of hair behind her ear, looking away. “Cool.”
“So you can go now, if you want.” Mermista stretched and flexed her hands, no doubt aching from all the time she spent washing Catra’s hair.
Catra fidgeted and turned to pull herself out of the bath again. She paused and looked back. Mermista seemed deep in thought. Catra’s mind went to Salineas. Adora had told her that things were almost back to normal there, but Catra suspected grudges would die a lot harder than Bow had suggested. “Uh, Mermista?” Her mouth moved ahead of her brain. “I’m sorry for-”
“Apologies are pointless.” Mermista looked up from her nails, and where Catra had expected to see hatred she instead found a complex mixture of emotions that she could not pull apart. “Words rarely fix anything. We have to look for what we can do, not what we can say.”
Catra would have believed all the progress she thought she had made only existed in her head if not for Mermista’s usage of the word ‘we’. She swallowed. “I’ll try.”
“I’m trying, too.”
Catra did not understand at first, then she remembered how Mermista had almost drowned her while she was chipped. How she had almost drowned some of her allies, too. She had a sudden urge to tell Mermista that the difference between them was that Catra had chosen to commit unspeakably awful atcs, whereas Mermista had her free will taken away. The princess’s expression stopped her. In her mind it did not matter why she had tried to kill her friends, only that it had happened and now she was dealing with the consequences.
For the first time Catra wondered if she was not the only one who feared she would never be forgiven or trusted by the others.
“Thank you... for believing I can get better.” Catra pulled herself out of the tub and pulled on a fluffy blue robe that Adora must have picked out for her.
“A friend of Adora’s can’t be all bad,” Mermista admitted. “Plus, you did help her save the universe.”
Catra smiled and tied the robe. With one hand on the door, she said, “We both did.”
Behind her Mermista laughed softly.
For once Catra exited into the castle without fear or shame.