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Light from the great mycelial orb at the heart of the Imperial starship Charon leaks through the shutters of Emperor Georgiou's private residence in pale yellow streaks. In the dim empty rooms it lingers on blood-red velvet cushions and obsidian furnishings, casting warmer shadows than the recessed blue illumination the Emperor usually prefers. The gold and brass of the Imperial Starfleet insignia on the wall glints as though it has eyes.

The Emperor is not here, but in her inmost sanctum, her latest conquest awaits her lord's pleasure.

Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centaurius usually sleeps alone, but her bed is luxurious as her many titles, grand enough to fit as many partners as she pleases. It is impossible to earn one's way into the Emperor's bed. She takes who she desires, no more and no less, although she prefers the willing because they are less likely to attempt a bothersome assassination in a vulnerable moment. She is said to be a generous lover with her favourites, and it is whispered that she does not always demand that they keep themselves for her alone.

This, however, is a double-edged sword. To be a favourite of the Emperor and to fail her or betray her is to face the harshest retribution even a Terran Starfleet officer can imagine.

The woman at the foot of the Emperor's bed knows this more intimately than most. She ought to be dead. More plausibly, she ought to be screaming in an agonizer, the pain coursing through her nerves a respite from the cruel touch of the Emperor's knives. It's what she would have recommended herself had someone else shared both the Emperor's bed and that of the traitor who killed the Emperor's daughter.

But Emperor Georgiou takes whims. Eventually, she concluded that her chief interrogator was unlikely to have been party to Gabriel Lorca's schemes. The information the woman gave up—willingly, before the pain started—led to the capture of a number of his co-conspirators. And she had bowed to the Emperor's justice without a single word of complaint beyond a few involuntary screams. Katrina Cornwell will never again hold a position of trust, but she has her life and hardly any permanent scars.

She is passionately grateful.

At the foot of the beautiful bed, Katrina kneels with her arms bound behind her back. Once, she had the liberty to stretch languidly across the Emperor's bed and even touch herself as she waited to be of use, but now she has no rights but what the Emperor gives her from moment to moment. So she kneels, naked, on the floor, her breath coming in short gasps, her thoughts reduced to the strain in her parted thighs and the ache in her cunt and the endless seconds, minutes, hours since the Emperor last touched her.

In the weeks and months since her fall from grace, the Emperor has seemed to revel in inventing new ways to torment her, to take from Katrina every last thing she has willingly surrendered and then some. After the first two days, there was no torture. No real pain. No marks of those terrible hours are left on her skin, but the Emperor has only to run a fingernail across certain parts of her body to make Katrina flinch and feel it all over again.

But, like Katrina in her days of power, the Emperor has finer methods at her disposal than mere pain. The simplest is pleasure. When, and how, and how much it is given or denied can take even a hardened torturer and turn her into a desperate, wanton creature willing to do anything for one more brush of her lord's hands, one more bite from her teeth, one more moment of ecstasy at her feet. That Katrina understands what is happening to her and precisely how her body and mind are being manipulated makes it worse than any whip or dagger.

And the Emperor has other hands to work through. Other favourites who still have the right to murmur Pippa in a private moment, while Katrina risks punishment should she use anything but her lord's most formal titles. (She does it anyway, and grins up into the Emperor's face through bloody teeth when she strikes her, but she only does it once.) Others who are the Emperor's lovers, not her slaves, and the Emperor has made Katrina very clear about the difference.

Katrina rocks forward as much as her bonds will let her, almost toppling forward onto her face. The vibrator inside her changes its rhythm, and she cries out in frustration. It's been hours since the Emperor bound her and pushed the device up inside her and left her here, panting and naked and painfully turned on. She is desperate enough to drag herself up and rub against the furniture—if not her clit, then at least her breasts, which are so heavy and oversensitive she might come just from that—but the chain that runs from her ankles to the bed frame is too short. She made it quite a long time before she let herself moan, but now her throat is raw and she can't seem to stop her cries. Even the shift of the rug beneath her spread knees is erotic, making her clench tightly around the delicious hardness inside her, making her arch her back and push her breasts forward into a caress that isn't there.

The device inside her comes from one of those others in the Emperor's favour, a pretty thing half Katrina's age with wicked curves and a light laugh and a vicious streak the Emperor thoroughly enjoys. Captain Killy had never been dangerous to Katrina before, when their career paths had been so different. But now...when the Emperor lets her play with Katrina, it's never a pleasant night. Katrina's former power is catnip to her—which makes her a fool if Katrina ever gets any of it back. She's young and confident and likes to make Katrina beg to touch her gorgeous full breasts, and then force her down to her lick her boots instead. Once she called Katrina pet names while she made her get herself off against the arch of her foot and then lick the leather clean. She loves Katrina's desperation and she only lets her come when Katrina doesn't want to.

And this is one of Killy's toys. It's some ingenious mutant cross between a vibrator and a chastity belt. A hard, full shaft presses up inside Katrina's cunt like it was made for her, while a second smaller one fills her ass. Both vibrate, and she has no control over the speed or the rhythm. Worse, the front portion presses against her clit, soft enough to mold itself intimately to her most sensitive places, but never quite where she needs it when she hovers on the edge of release. The outside of the device is one smooth sweep of gold metal from front to back, and if the Emperor or her young protege is touching it Katrina can't feel anything at all, no matter how she pushes herself into their hands.

But with the lightest touch of the control nestled in the Emperor's palm, the device comes to life. Katrina can be brought to a screaming orgasm in under thirty seconds, and the last time she dared call the Emperor "Pippa" she made her come that way six or seven times in a row. She'd blacked out, and woken up back in a cell wearing nothing but a stained Starfleet undershirt and a pair of soaked underwear. As the guards exchanged knowing looks over her head, Katrina swore vengeance not on the Emperor (who has the right to her body) but on the woman who provided the device (who never will).

And then—the vibration changes again, a deep rolling thrum inside her and a complete cessation of pressure against her clit, and Katrina wants to scream—there's Senator Paris. Katrina has always been wary of Paris, who has been by Georgiou's side since before the Emperor took the throne. She had thought, before Gabriel Lorca doomed her to her fate, that it would be Afsaneh Paris who would someday whisper in the Emperor's ear that Katrina could not be trusted. Perhaps she did. She certainly does not seem to believe in Katrina's innocence now.

The first time the Emperor gave her to Paris, she'd simply made Katrina eat her out and then bound her to a chair to watch while the Emperor and her oldest lover had passionate sex in front of her. The second time...

Katrina shudders. She has learned by now to process sex and distress at the same time, but she still clenches her hands behind her back as the vibration against her clit starts up again. She sucks in air and thinks of Philippa's hands in her hair, Philippa's fingers inside her, back when she was allowed to use that name.

The second time, Paris left scars. A small series of painful marks down Katrina's ribcage that the Emperor did not remove when she claimed Katrina back, and more that she did wipe from the canvas of her skin. If survival allowed her to hate Philippa Georgiou, it would be for what she let Afsaneh Paris do to her in that one small room before a breathtaking view of the stars.

It doesn't, of course. Katrina will live only so long as the Emperor is convinced that she is entirely loyal. And because the Emperor is nearly as good as Katrina at reading people, this means Katrina must feel nothing but devotion and obedience. So here in the solitude of the Emperor's soundproofed quarters, with her head bowed behind the curtain of her hair, it is safe to invent exotic, painful fates for her rivals and revel in thoughts of crushing their every dream beneath her feet. It would probably amuse the Emperor to know she does it. But she doesn't dare allow even a hint of resentment to form against Philippa Georgiou.

Or maybe that is all another comforting lie. Her moments of lucidity have been scattered these last months, but they've added up. She's had time to think about Gabriel Lorca and his chances of a successful coup, and where Katrina Cornwell might have fit into his plans.

She does not think she would have gotten such lenient treatment from him as she has from Georgiou.

And he would have been right not to trust her. Every Terran citizen is trained to swear loyalty to the Emperor, to claim that she is the centre of their world and that they would die for her without a second thought. But Katrina isn't loyal to the Emperor. She rose to the top through ruthless ingenuity and a keen sense of her own worth, and if Lorca or Killy had the throne, she'd put a knife to their throat by their second day. No. Katrina has a fatal weakness for Philippa Georgiou herself. It's not love or altruism; those things don't exist. But even now, some part of her is bitterly glad that the Emperor has not thrown her away: that she has stripped her down to nothing, only to keep her more closely by her side than she ever did when Katrina was free and powerful. Even when she gives her away as a party favour, she always claims her back. Katrina is still the Emperor's left hand.

It's easier to tell herself that she is only surviving. That if she let herself feel rage and resentment, it would kill her devotion to the Emperor. Georgiou is heir to Sato and the leader the empire needs; that is all. But at the edges of her mind the truth mocks her. She cannot let the Emperor see how much her slave hates her—and she cannot let Philippa see how little that makes Katrina's allegiance waver in any way.

And she can't think any more, because the device is thrumming against her now in every place it reaches. She can only try to catch her breath, and fail, and throw her head back and arch her spine, sweat running down her arms and between her breasts, the cuffs at her wrists digging into her skin as every muscle contracts at once, and still—still—still it's not quite enough. She can't close her legs, not that it would help if she could, and spreading them wider than she's forced to does nothing but expose her more to the view of anyone who walks through the door.

That will only be the Emperor, and Katrina has no idea when, or if, she will return. It's possible she'll be left here for much longer than this. She thinks—probably—as best she can calculate—it's midafternoon. But there's no time here in this rich, dim room. Maybe it's only late morning. Maybe it's evening already and some affair of state is keeping the Emperor away. Maybe she's gone to someone else's bed and is bringing herself off at this very moment to the thought of the state Katrina is in. It sends another hot flush of arousal through her, imagining those slim strong hands sliding across soft skin, nails digging in, mouth parted in a gasp, pleasure turning her hard face beautiful—thinking of Katrina—

She turns her moan of Pippa into a broken please, because she knows she's being recorded. She set up the bugs herself long ago; like the cuffs on her wrists and the bar forcing her knees apart, they're locked to Philippa's bioprint. She makes herself think of the Emperor bringing up today's holo in front of Paris or Killy, but even the way her stomach twists at that thought can't keep her hips from rolling forward as the pleasure ratchets up another cruel notch. She is sore all over from repeated attempts to push herself over the edge of orgasm, but she can't stop moving. Her eyes fall shut and she just tries to breathe, in, out, and a shudder runs through her—oh god

When she opens her eyes, some endless time later, the Emperor is in front of her. The sight of her goes through Katrina like an electric shock, and the look on her face—amused, hungry, disdainful, aroused—makes her body arch without conscious thought. She clenches tight around the thing inside her, so close to coming that the humiliation of she made you come with just a glance is already rolling through her—and the device goes suddenly, terribly still.

Katrina screams, pure animal frustration and madness. Her arms jerk hard in her restraints as she tries to yank them free and claw at the Emperor's face.

The Emperor, crouched down at her level in her leather trousers, just watches her. Katrina can't catch her breath. The Emperor reaches out and cups her breasts, running her thumbs over her nipples, and Katrina cries out again. She can't even process it as pleasure—just sudden, shocking intensity after the hours of not being touched. The Emperor rolls her hot, tight nipples between her fingertips, and squeezes Katrina's small breasts harder, not so much for Katrina's pleasure (though each touch is a jolt of fire straight through to her core) but to stake her claim on Katrina's trembling body.

The Emperor smiles. She strokes the pad of her thumb across Katrina's nipple again and watches her twang like a wire. "I think you've missed me."

Katrina opens her mouth but no sound comes out. And then the Emperor is kissing her, deep and hard, and she can do nothing but kiss back with fierce, desperate desire, meeting the Emperor's teeth and the hand at the back of her neck with a snarl of her own. She launches herself at Georgiou, trying to press her naked, flushed body against the cool gold chestplate and the warm black leather, and the Emperor drags her closer, scraping her nails down Katrina's back and grabbing her ass as if she'll let her ride her thigh.

But the chain on Katrina's ankle pulls her up short, and the cruel device between her legs won't let her grind the way she wants to. And half a second later the Emperor is pulling back out of her reach and standing up. Katrina falls forward, gasping for air.

"You have missed me."

The self-satisfaction in the Emperor's voice is another humiliating caress. Katrina's thighs burn with the strain of not toppling over, and the Emperor forces her head up with two fingers under her chin. She feels raw and open, but she doesn't have the strength to jerk away. The current burning between them has stripped away all her many layers of irony and deflection, leaving her with nothing but I want you, you bastard.

The Emperor's eyes flash and she pushes her thumb into Katrina's mouth. The weight of it and the texture of her skin fill Katrina's senses, and she sucks like it's the Emperor's clit, running her tongue over every ridge and whorl and tasting power and the faint hint of leather gloves. Georgiou's smile widens and she forces her thumb further into Katrina's mouth, her fingers curling hard into the soft skin beneath her jaw.

She fucks her like that and she might as well have her whole hand inside Katrina's cunt instead of one delicate digit sliding past her lips and pressing into her tongue. For all the hours that Katrina's been left here to imagine what the Emperor would do to her next, the reality is still overwhelming. When the Emperor lets go of her and stands back, it's worse than when she turned the vibrator off, and the pitiful yearning sound Katrina can't quite choke back makes her burn with shame.

The Emperor leans down and finger-combs her tangled hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ears. The gentleness sends a shard of fear through Katrina's belly. She swallows, tries to steel herself against the slap or kick or insult that's coming next. Tenderness is never a good sign.

But the Emperor just steps back and looks at her. Katrina goes very still. Her lord's eyes roam from her dishevelled hair to her swollen lips to the pulse pounding in her throat, down over the hot flush in her chest and her exposed breasts. They linger there, tracing each curve, drinking in the way her tits are pushed forward by the position of her bound arms; when she glances back at Katrina's face, she looks hungry, like she's thinking of all the ways she's hurt her, like she wants to do it again. Then down, down over the straining muscles of her abdomen and her spread thighs, to the sheer flat gold device between her legs.

There is no way to hide how wet and desperate she is, and when the Emperor sees the slickness all down her thighs, her nostrils flare. Her own hand slides down over the unresponsive curves of her breastplate and then presses hard against the front of her leather trousers. Her fingers flex and her forearm tightens with the force of it, fucking into herself through the thin leather to the sight of Katrina at her feet.

Then she's parting the hidden zipper at the front of her trousers, somehow managing to make the complex motion look graceful. Katrina's mouth goes dry; the Emperor never wears anything beneath those trousers when she makes use of her slave. The damp leather parts cleanly from front to back and the Emperor slips her fingers through her own wetness. She looks down at Katrina with hooded eyes. "Come here, Cornwell," she says, settling herself on the edge of the bed with her boots planted wide. Her lip curls. "Or have you forgotten the one thing you do well, since this morning?"

Katrina grits her teeth and she's glad no answer is required. The soft pale skin on display at the apex of the Emperor's thighs should look vulnerable next to the leather and metal that cover the rest of her. Instead, it highlights her control. Katrina's legs are forced apart, her cunt shielded from her own touch by the smooth shell of the device inside her, and she has not been allowed her Starfleet uniform since the Emperor cut it from her in shreds weeks ago. But when the Emperor bares herself it is by her own choice, taunting Katrina with everything she cannot have.

With her thighs bound to her calves and her arms behind her, she shuffles forward on her spread knees. This is what her years of training in the Emperor's elite forces come down to: the ability to crawl to her master in a demeaning, inefficient pose and not topple onto her face.

The Emperor makes an impatient noise and Katrina's face flames. Georgiou taps something on the controls she wears at her wrist. With a click Katrina feels more than hears, the spreader bar falls away and rolls under the bed. She curses silently. Even this one small piece of freedom has been delivered as punishment for incompetence.

Then the Emperor's hands are on her, dragging her the last few inches forward by the roots of her hair. The pain hits at the same instant her face is forced between her master's thighs; she sucks in air and breathes in Georgiou: heat, power, silk and wet and the heady scent of her body. She does not have to be told what to do.

Philippa is wet enough that she must have been anticipating this all day. Katrina's tongue slides against her, and she hears herself making desperate, hungry sounds even before the vibrator turns back on. And when it does she can't tell if her moans are from the heavy throbbing in her own cunt, the bite of the hand in her hair, or the taste of Philippa on her tongue.

It would be faster if her hands were free, but she can already feel the tremors in the Emperor's muscles. She is very good at this, but more than that she thinks the Emperor could come just from the knowledge of how much Katrina burns for her. More than once she's denied Katrina's release entirely only to make her lick her majesty through several lavish orgasms. That possibility is unbearable today, and Katrina throws herself into her task, lapping at the Emperor's clit and fucking her with her tongue as if her very sanity depends on it.

She thinks she hears her name, a hoarse Katrina in the voice that's had nothing but contempt for her for so long. Then the fist in her hair pulls hard and sharp and she is grateful that her mind goes blank. She hasn't been Katrina since the Emperor was Pippa, and she knows her most imperial majesty can't mean it now.

Georgiou holds her in place while she shudders through the last of her climax. Her leather-clad thighs are tight on either side of Katrina's face; the vibrating device is outright fucking Katrina now, making her shudder and gasp against the Emperor's skin. And she can't thrust against the hard shaft or make it move with her in any way, only kneel in the dark with her master's scent all around her, feeling exactly how satisfied she's made her lord.

The Emperor grinds herself against Katrina's nose and mouth one last time, then drags her head back and shoves her back onto her heels. Katrina takes deep breaths of cool air, and the Emperor gives a lazy, catlike smile. She's still in full uniform, gold chestplate and blaster holster and all, sprawled across her huge bed and absolutely radiating sex. She sits up slowly and slides her zipper closed. When she stands up, she doesn't wobble even a little bit, though her muscles must still be loose from orgasm.

She towers over Katrina in those boots. They would be eye to eye if Katrina were allowed to stand, although Katrina has a few inches on her barefoot. Now, the Emperor bends down and strokes her face again, frighteningly gentle.

"What should I do with you?" the Emperor murmurs. The tips of her fingers skim Katrina's lips. Katrina gasps, and the device inside her slides into a slow rolling wave.

Then the Emperor steps away, and that is when Katrina sees the sword.

The Emperor's personal sword has been lying across her bed this whole time. Ice settles in Katrina's bones. The Emperor has never worn weapons in her presence since the last time she used a knife on Katrina's skin. Perhaps it has been a sign that she still thinks Katrina dangerous enough to wrest one away and turn it on her, or perhaps she goes unarmed to show her disdain for a mere slave.

But her sword is not just any weapon. When it sits at the Emperor's hip it is a constant reminder of the unbroken line of Terran military might stretching all the way back to ancient Rome. Katrina has seen it covered in blood. It thrilled her then, set her pulse afire and made her reckless enough to let her desire show when she knelt to kiss the imperial hand.

She looks into the Emperor's eyes now and does not try to hide her mortal terror. "Will you kill me?"

The Emperor's lips twist. "Do I have cause?"

Katrina says nothing. Her pulse pounds in her temples, a syncopated discord against the hot throbbing of her clit. There is no protest she can make that will convince the Emperor that she is loyal, if she has decided otherwise. My life in your hands, she thinks. Nothing has changed.

The Emperor reaches for the sword. Katrina's eyes fix on her hand as it wraps around the grip. So deadly; so terribly beautiful. The Emperor lays the flat of the blade, still sheathed, across her left hand, and she steps towards Katrina at the foot of the bed. Very slowly—eyes on Katrina's frozen face all the while—she lets the sword fall. The tip of the scabbard digs into Katrina's chest and the Emperor drags it across her skin, down between her breasts in a curve that follows the invisible track of one of her knives.

Georgiou's eyes are black and unreadable, and Katrina feels as though she will fly out of her own skin. There is no pain, but there is the memory of hopelessness and agony, nearly blotting out the terrible arousal. She couldn't lie to her lord now if she wanted to. The swordpoint scrapes across her ribs and she can't breathe.

I want to live. Please. Please.

The sword drops to sink point-first into the rug between her thighs. The Emperor leans on the hilt and draws a breath. "Not today, I think."

"My lord..." All Katrina's air seems to leave her at once. She cannot even thank her for her life, because that would imply some expectation of equality that Georgiou will not allow. So she leans forward and presses her lips to the cool metal of the sword, just below the great seal of the empire. She dares not look up.

Above her, the Emperor's hand trembles on the sword hilt. She says, very low, "You would make love to my sword?"

Dangerous, so dangerous to respond. The flat of the blade presses against Katrina's forehead. She says the only thing she can. "Your most imperial majesty," she breathes, "Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Regina Andor—" her breath hitches "—Philippa Georgiou—"

"Not lord of Kronos?" The Emperor's voice is smooth as glass, and Katrina almost believes she imagined the tiny lapse of control when she kissed the sword.

And she saw the error even as she made it; the answer comes without thought. "What is Kronos but ashes beneath your feet?"

The Emperor gives a scornful huff of breath, but Katrina has never known her not to enjoy flattery even when she sees through it. Katrina settles back on her heels, still not looking up. A heartbeat, and the sword moves. Quicker than the eye can follow, the Emperor flicks it forward and taps the tip of the scabbard against the smooth gold covering Katrina's clit.

That, she feels. Her whole body jolts with the suddenness, the symbolic intimacy. Her eyes fly to the Emperor's, even as a hot humiliating flush fills her face. She's riding the savage point of her lord's power, and it makes her ache

"Get up."

The sword pulls away. The vibrator stops. All at once Katrina's bonds slip from her wrists, and she can bend her knees again, close her thighs. She falls forward onto all fours and takes ragged, shuddering breaths. Slowly she levers herself up to stand, swaying. She's been so long in one position that for a moment her vision goes grey. It's strange to try to move her hands and find that she can, and she rubs at the bruises forming around her wrists.

But the Emperor is stepping forward, backing her up against the bed. One hand still holds the sword and the other pulls Katrina to her, crushing her naked breasts against the golden armour. Her knee comes up between Katrina's thighs, smooth muscle and butter-soft leather warm against her skin, sliding up against the blank hard space of the device. Katrina scrabbles at her shoulders, fingers clumsy and slipping on the edges of the armour, desperate to touch something now that she's unbound. She clings to the Emperor's arms as they go over onto the bed, fighting another wave of lightheadedness.

The Emperor lays her down as if she were still the Emperor's woman, not the one thing you're still good for. The sword leaves a valley in the bedclothes an arm's reach away, and the Emperor is bending over her and sinking her teeth into Katrina's neck. Katrina arches off the bed at the hot sharp pain, back bowing, head thrown back, fingers twisting in the covers. Her breath comes in harsh pants and Georgiou grabs one hand and the other and drags them over her head, fingers pressing against the bruises at her wrists, and sucks another bite into her skin. Katrina can feel the weight of the Emperor's knee between her thighs, a dull maddening pressure through the chastity belt, shifting the hard cock inside her the barest fraction of an inch, and each bite of Georgiou's teeth is a lightning bolt straight to the wet, throbbing cunt around it. The arousal is unbearable, and now Georgiou's mouth is at her breasts, driving the exquisite need cruelly higher. She needs—she needs—

She tries to beg, but the moan spilling from the back of her throat is a frustrated growl, nothing pretty or yielding, nothing to tempt her lord into granting her release. She can't even tell how Georgiou's body is responding under all that metal, if her skin is flushing and her nipples going hard and tight, if she wants Katrina's hands inside her, if—

The Emperor lifts her head and spears her with a dark look that tells her everything about the intensity of her desire and nothing about its details. It would frighten Katrina if the sword itself weren't still so close.

The hand around her wrists squeezes tightly once and then releases, an old signal that means move them and I'll leave you like this. Katrina gives a jerky nod, not entirely in control of her body, and Georgiou sits back. She runs her hands down Katrina's sides and over her hips, then parts Katrina's legs and slides her thumbs down to tease the slick soft skin to either side of the golden device. Katrina grabs one wrist with the other hand over her head to keep from reaching for her, hips arching a helpless inch or two off the bed.

"You're so terribly wet," the Emperor murmurs. "I could fuck you with—what do you think? This toy? My fist? Something else?" She brushes her fingertips across the front of the device, bare millimetres from Katrina's swollen, throbbing clit, where Katrina can't feel it at all through the metal.

Katrina moans, and now she can't think of anything else but the Emperor shoving something thick and hard and delicious up inside her and letting her ride it until she comes. Something better than this frustrating toy. Something...something of her lord's, that Georgiou's hands have touched. Something not meant for sex, but pushed up inside her because the Emperor can.

"Ask me," purrs the Emperor. She traces around the edges of Captain Killy's device, marking out exactly how trapped Katrina's clit and cunt are, how little control she has. It doesn't actually matter how much she begs: the Emperor will touch her or not when she pleases. But Killy learned to love Katrina's desperation from the most thorough of teachers. "Tell me what you want," the Emperor says, "and perhaps I'll be merciful."

But this is Georgiou's mercy: that Katrina is alive. Naked, stripped of power, forced to beg for what she once took for granted—but alive. Even, nearly, in her right mind. Alive, stripped bare and laid down beside the Emperor's sword, both of them tools in her hands.

Suddenly Katrina knows. Her mouth goes dry and her hips surge off the bed and she struggles for the breath to speak. "My lord," she whispers. "Please, my lord. Your—" She is shaking with desire, lightheaded with a fear that has wrapped right back around to desperate need. The words are bottled up in her throat and she forces them out lest she break apart around them. "Your sword," she grates out. "The hilt of your sword—you said—"

"That you wanted to make love to it." The Emperor's voice is cool and calm, but her fingers dig into Katrina's skin where they wrap around her thighs. She stares down at Katrina's flushed, panting body. "And you think that you deserve that?"

She thinks she might die without it. "No," she gasps, but she has to—she has to make the Emperor see. "But what am I, my lord, but another instrument of—" death, duty, destruction, at your command "—of your pleasure?"

She can't even be afraid anymore. She's gambled everything on the chance that the poetic irony will outweigh the incredible hubris of comparing herself to the Emperor's cherished weapon.

But Georgiou's hands are moving even before Katrina has stopped speaking. She touches the device between Katrina's legs—where Katrina has never found anything but featureless metal, even when her hands are free and she's been allowed to amuse her betters by failing to remove it—and something changes under the Emperor's fingertips. There's a tug against Katrina's clit as the device begins to peel away, and she closes her eyes and takes short shallow breaths.

Please.

The hard shaft inside her and the plug in her ass begin to slide free, and it takes everything she has left not to push her hips forward to follow them. She desperately wants the device gone, but she needs something inside her, now that she's said it out loud, now that she's begged to be fucked.

The Emperor shifts against her where she's straddling Katrina's leg, and Katrina opens her eyes.

And for the second time, Georgiou reaches for the sword.

Its two feet of deadly steel are safely sheathed in the long black scabbard, but Katrina can't take her eyes off the hilt: the wine-red grip wrapped in bands of bronze, the way Georgiou handles it like a living thing. Her eyes catch on the square metal pommel at the end and she swallows hard; in her arousal she had forgotten it was there. She wants to be fucked, not torn up, and the blunt corners of the pommel are too harsh and unyielding to feel good.

But Georgiou knows her sword. She gives the hilt a firm twist and the pommel comes free, leaving a smooth, rounded end that she caresses with her fingertips, eyes narrowing in concentration. That deep primal place inside Katrina lurches, the part of her that is devoted beyond reason, beyond torture and death. The Emperor is ruthless, arrogant, and cruel. But when she hurts Katrina it's always precisely as she means to. She threatened Katrina's life tonight; now she's checking the hilt of the same terrible weapon to make sure she can fuck her slave and give her nothing but pleasure.

Her hand wraps around the grip and makes Katrina's stomach go hollow. Katrina bends her knees to spread herself wider, aching to be touched, needing, please, please, and she doesn't even realize she's moaning aloud until Georgiou's gaze snaps back to her. It goes through her like a laser beam, and she shudders when Georgiou sets her free hand back on her inner thigh, palm heavy and hot, fingers digging into her soft skin and nudging her knees even further apart.

The Emperor's black hair falls forward, and her thumb brushes across Katrina's clit, the first time she's been touched by anything but the heartless toy all day. Katrina's cry is ragged and harsh, and her whole body convulses, shock waves jolting down her legs and through her core. Above her head, the fingers of one hand clench painfully tight around the other wrist, instinct and training keeping her from letting go even as her hips buck up and her eyes roll back in her head.

"Look at me when I touch you," Georgiou orders, in a low intense voice that steals Katrina's last coherent thought. Katrina gasps for breath and obeys, and the Emperor's dark gaze sears through her. And the Emperor brushes her clit again, again again, driving the air out of her, the delicious sudden friction almost too intense for pleasure. She wants to grab her lord's hands and make her stop, because she's going to come and she can't, not yet, not like this, not without the sword—

"No," she gasps out, twisting away from Georgiou's hands, and hears herself, begging not to come after all the hours she swore and panted and ached for release. "Ph—fuck—please!"

"Oh, Katrina," the Emperor purrs, the name a knife so sharp it cuts through her long before she feels the damage. "I thought you'd be grateful when I touched you." And her fingers push into Katrina's cunt, hard and perfect, but for the first time in Katrina's life they're not enough.

"Nnnnnh—" Katrina's teeth sink painfully into her bottom lip, trying to hold off her orgasm, but she can't stop pushing her hips against the Emperor's hand. She is soaking wet; the Emperor's fingers slip inside her with no friction at all. She needs more, harder, fuller, thicker, deeper. She's a hair's breadth from coming, and the thought of coming without the sword inside her leaves her utterly desolate even as she fucks herself helplessly on her Emperor's hand.

Georgiou smirks and twists her fingers, making Katrina writhe, and then she takes her hand away entirely. Katrina wants to watch her pick up the sword, wants to see it lying hard and pitiless between her own spread thighs, but she's been ordered not to look away from her lord's face. Something flickers across the Emperor's countenance as the sword slides into her hand, and that's all the warning Katrina has before the smooth round end of the imperial sword hilt is pressing into her cunt, shockingly cool against her hot, damp skin.

Katrina's mouth opens in a soundless moan. Any intention she might have had of taking this slowly disappears when the Emperor flicks her fingers across her clit. Her hips slam forward and the hilt of the sword drives into her. It's thick and ramrod straight, not built for her body, but the discomfort is nothing before the fire in the Emperor's eyes. Katrina's blood is lightning in her veins, every shift of the stiff length inside her setting off sparks all up and down her spine. She arches and whimpers, trying to fuck herself on it, until the Emperor takes pity on her and makes it move.

She can't see how Georgiou is holding the blade, but the sheath must be protecting her hand. She lets Katrina tremble around the full length of the hilt for a moment, and then she drags it slowly out and fucks it back into her. "Such ambition," she says as Katrina cries out. "The brazen traitor pleading to ride my sword."

If Katrina had anything left but pure molten desire for the Emperor's touch, traitor would make her bare her teeth in protest, but all she can do is dig her heels into the mattress and moan, clenching tight around each stroke of the Emperor's sword hilt with fervent desperation. Pleasure surges through her in violent waves, leaving her wrung out, shaking, frantic for more.

"The whole empire lusts after this sword," Georgiou says, "but you—" The sword hilt changes angles and Katrina has to fight to keep her eyes open, keep her legs parted. It's so thick and full and filthy, and she grits her teeth and digs her nails into the bruises at her wrist and spreads herself wider for the Emperor's use.

Georgiou leans over her and her hair brushes Katrina's sweat-slick breasts. "You won't be satisfied till I force you to come with it buried deep inside you. You look at my sword and you see a sex toy."

And she drags her thumb across Katrina's swollen clit again. The sound that tears its way out of Katrina's throat is barely human, and the sword hilt fucks into her before she can catch her breath. She arches off the bed, every muscle taut as a wire, so close soclose—

"But of course you do," the Emperor says, and her hands move faster, the thick hard length of the sword hilt filling Katrina's cunt as her lord's fingers send jolts of fire through her clit, spiralling down her nerves, building and building in her lower belly, her vision going hazy at the edges, oh god, so close—

"Of course you do, Katrina," Philippa says, and stars burst behind her eyes. What am I but an instrument of your pleasure? she thinks again, and she knows better than to believe she's back in the Emperor's graces, she knows, but Philippa says her name—Philippa touches her—and Katrina has always been desperately weak for Philippa Georgiou.

The orgasm sweeps over her in a soundless explosion, an endless plunge into the glowing orb outside. She is probably screaming, but she can't hear herself, and there is nothing left of her to care. The bed, the Emperor's rooms, the Charon, all melt away in a cataract of wrenching bliss.

The sword is gone when Katrina comes back to herself. She drags herself up from the undertow, almost too exhausted to remember who she is and where and why. Memory filters back and she cracks her eyes open with a grimace.

She is still in the Emperor's bed, and something warm and pleasantly heavy has been thrown over her legs. The Emperor is rarely so thoughtful of her slave. Warily, Katrina pushes herself up on her elbows. The room is a little brighter now; the Emperor has raised the shutters of the viewport across the room, and stands outlined in harsh golden light.

Georgiou hears Katrina moving and turns. The imperial sword rides at her hip again and she holds an empty brandy glass. She doesn't offer Katrina a drink. She eyes her up and down and the itch between Katrina's shoulders at all the Emperor's unaccustomed kindnesses turns into a trickle of ice down her spine.

"When did you know my daughter was still alive?"

Katrina blinks once, then levers herself up to a sitting position. Every muscle aches, though her head is clearing. She isn't even slightly surprised to be accused of some new plot, but she hadn't expected this one. As far as she knows, Michael Burnham is very dead.

"Is she?" Her voice rasps in her throat. She really has been screaming. Rusty wheels begin to turn in her mind: the news of Lorca's betrayal, Burnham's collusion—messages between the Shenzhou and the Buran, burned into Katrina's mind because of what came after. Georgiou hasn't discussed the state of the empire with her since her arrest.

The Emperor's lips curve in something not quite a smile. "I'm told the ISS Shenzhou has had a change in leadership. To her former captain."

Katrina frowns and crosses her arms over her chest—less to hide her still-bare breasts and more because it helps her think. Her back and shoulders protest: her hands were bound behind her much too long for comfort. "You saw the same scans I did. Captain Burnham's shuttle was obliterated."

"Did I?" Georgiou lets the question hang in the air.

"I'm proud that you think I'm capable of helping Michael fake her own death without access to comms, classified logs, or even clothing." Katrina bares her teeth. Maybe the afterglow is making her reckless. It's so easy to act like her old self when Georgiou invites it.

Georgiou stalks over to the side table and sets down her drinking glass. "Don't use my daughter's name, Cornwell."

Right. Not any more. Katrina drops her eyes, and finds herself watching the Emperor's hands. Knowing where the Emperor's hands are at any given moment has saved the life of more than one of her courtiers. But it's not a weapon the Emperor picks up; it's an Imperial Starfleet captain's badge, and she stares at it for a moment before closing her fist around it.

Katrina's lips twist as several things become clear. This isn't about the empire. It's not even about the succession. It's about the Emperor's daughter. Just as Philippa is Katrina's weakness, Burnham is Georgiou's. Discussing the fate of her traitorous daughter with a woman she's made her bed slave is laughably foolish. Then again, what was tonight but a way for the Emperor to assure herself that Katrina is still loyal?

She almost wishes she weren't. It would be so easy... She wonders idly what the Butcher of the Binaries would say to an offer of all Katrina's knowledge of her mother in exchange for Katrina's life.

"Yes, my lord," she murmurs. A thought strikes her and she looks up. "Is this news from the Shenzhou directly?"

"Discovery."

Killy. Fucking goddamned Killy. The thought must show on her face: the Emperor smirks. Katrina was right to think she enjoys a little rivalry between her lovers. If Katrina ever gets her hands on that platinum-haired bitch

"Confirmed by Detmer on the Shenzhou," Georgiou says, derailing Katrina's violent fantasies.

"Why are you telling me this?" To torment her with bits and pieces of information she can never use? To find out if she has partisans among the guards on her cell?

Georgiou stalks over to the bed. "To witness your reaction when I spoke of Captain Killy. I had to know if you'd been conspiring when I left the two of you alone together." She picks up something dark and soft from the tumbled bedclothes and throws it at Katrina.

Katrina's reflexes are off, but she catches it with only a little fumbling. It's underwear. For the first time she looks closely at the blanket thrown over her legs. It's not a blanket after all, but a set of clothing. Long dark trousers, a shirt—

"Get dressed. You're coming with me."

It's a nearly full set of Starfleet clothing. Leather uniform trousers, a short-sleeved undershirt...more clothing than Katrina's been allowed in months. No jacket, no insignia. I could steal some, she finds herself thinking.

But of course. This is all rope to hang herself with, if she's so inclined. The thought makes her smile as she pulls the shirt over her head. Since the coup she's had nothing to lose; now she does. And she's walked this knife-edge at Georgiou's side for many, many years. It's almost comforting.

She squares her shoulders and tucks her hands behind her back. Parade rest is not so different in its own way from the cuffs the Emperor just took off her wrists.

"Thank you, my lord," Katrina says. She's alive. She has a sliver of a chance to use her razor-edged skills again to find out the truth for her master. She can still feel the Emperor's hands on every inch of her body. It will have to be enough.

But then, it always has.