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Harder Than Steel and Thrice as Cruel

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She has Agravaine killed within a fortnight of taking Camelot.

It is hardly as though she had any further use of the man. He had served his purpose well, and even if he had harboured some degree of compassion and loyalty to her, she knew it had stemmed from a place of lust, having skimmed his thoughts often enough. She wondered what it was that he found more desirable, her body or her power. It is hard to tell with some men.

Helios, she keeps. He still has use for now, rooting out the rebellious and keeping order until she establishes her own court and council. He won't stay in Camelot, she knows. Even though the idea of crown and kingdom appeals to him, he isn't a tame beast, and soon enough, he'll want to be back in his own hunting grounds. But for now he is content with the blood to be spilled here.

The knights, she strings up and leaves hanging from the walls of the citadel for the ravens, stripped of their swords and maille and clothes save for their capes, tattered red fabric gone black-brown with gore. All the rest of those pretty red capes ended up piled in the middle of the courtyard along with every last flag and banner with the Pendragon crest on it for one final pyre.

She hangs the standard of the High Priestess in their place and throws the old parchment bearing Uther's original declaration of outlawing magic into the fire.

Blood still singing with power, Morgana steps forward, knowing there is no more danger for her here; reaching out, she pulls the sword from Arthur's slack grip, hefting it to test the weight of the blade. Its ambient magic hums against her skin. "This is fine work. Dragon-fired, kissed by the Old Religion. Did you know that?"

Arthur blinks at her twice, slow and bemused, but then he says, "No, I didn't." His voice is soft and ingenuous, almost childlike. It certainly doesn't match the figure he cuts, standing there in battle dress, all over blood and sweat.

She holds the blade flat across her palms, tilting her head to read the writing engraved up the runnel. "Take me up. Cast me away. Curious." Lowering the sword to her side, she looks him over. "Give me the scabbard, too." She'll keep this for herself, a trophy of her own.

Another dazed blink, and then he looks down at himself, as though he's forgotten he wears it, and unbuckles his sword-belt, handing it over.

Morgana slides the blade home to the scabbard, then puts it on, having to pull the belt much tighter to keep it about her waist. When she looks back up, some of that glassiness has gone out of his eyes. Good. He wouldn't make much of a thrall if all he did was stand there and stare. "As the elder child of Uther Pendragon, I claim the throne of Camelot, as is my birthright. Do you concede?"

"Sure, if you like." Arthur tilts his head and smiles. "I've missed you, Gana."

She almost has Guinevere hanged beside them, right next to her brother, but instead, she gives the usurping little viper to Helios instead as a reward for his services; let her know what it is to live in desolation, surrounded by enemies without an ally to be found.

She should have killed Arthur, too.

In all honesty, she still ought to. And yet, it seems that whenever she reaches for her athame, he will do something to stay her hand. Complement the colour of her gown or hand her a sprig of wildflower, giving her that sweet, guileless grin that flashes his crooked teeth, and she loves him too much to go through with it.

Betimes it is a close contest, who she resents more—herself, for still loving him, or Arthur, for loving her back. It had surprised her when she first delved into his mind, to find so much love within him, and so much of it for her, buried beneath layers of pain and regret and sorrow so deep they made her ache. When she had touched on those snarled knots and plucked their threads with disbelief, Arthur had sunk down to his knees and sobbed, clutching at her waist.

And when her vision had blurred and tears beaded on the top of Arthur's golden hair, that had surprised her, too.

"May I brush your hair?"

Morgana turns from examining the array of gowns in the wardrobe—it would seem her maidservant had paid attention to the fashions of the court—to look at Arthur. "What?"

He's wandered over by a small table that holds an array of cosmetics, perfumes, ribbons, combs, and pins, and he's holding an ivory-handled hairbrush in one hand, idly running the bristles over the palm of the other hand. It's a wonder he can even feel it, considering the thickness of his calluses. "You used to let me brush your hair for you," he says. "And I would put in your ribbons sometimes, too."

"Yes," she murmurs softly. "You'd always tie them unevenly."

"I remember." He wrinkles his nose in another lopsided grin. "I did it on purpose, I think, so I could take them out and do it again. So, may I?"

Morgana reaches up to touch her hair, matted tangles and braids half-unravelled, and nearly denies him. But there is a look of earnest hope in his eyes, and he may remember putting in her ribbons, but she cannot remember the last time she was handled so gently. "Yes," she answers instead. "Later, though."

He grins happily and tucks the handle of the brush through his belt so he shan't forget.

She wonders how much of him is left that is truly him, if there is anything of him left that hasn't been hollowed out and filled with her magic and will.

She knows there has to be at least some of him remaining. She sees glimpses of him sometimes, in how his jaw gets tight when he sees Guinevere limping about on a lead of braided silk tied to Helios's belt, hollow-eyed and ashen-faced, or in how he goes so very still and silent when he sees the figures dangling from the ramparts, staring until she orders him to move on. There are times she will catch him staring after Helios with a darkness in his gaze that is more befitting Uther, as though he would scour the man from existence and salt the earth he stood upon, and his hand will move against his belt, reaching for a blade that is no longer there.

It makes her wonder if those are also the parts of him that compel him to bring her flowers pulled up by the handful from the gardens, to sneak honeycomb from the kitchen stores as though they are children again, or to sit and run a brush through her hair until she can no longer recall what tangles feel like. When she brushes along his thoughts in those moments, the presence of desire isn't unexpected, but it is surprising in its honesty. That connection is older than her enthrallment, red silk thread that's been woven in and out between them since youth, betimes too delicate to be seen but too strong to ever be severed.

She wonders that if things hadn't fallen out as they did, if they would still be like this.

She likes to think so.

She's only halfway undressed, stays unlaced and sleeves slipping down her arms, skirts rucked up over her bare legs. She had wanted him too badly to bother getting the rest of it off, the tether that's existed between them for years drawn overtight, demanding that something give way. A memory slips in past the haze of pleasure:  a lifetime ago, she'd told Uther that she will not be sold like some prize sow, that she will lie beneath no man. It is still true now, but it makes little difference because Arthur likes it when he is beneath her.

"I love you, Gana," he says, his voice deep and rasping. He runs his hands up and down her flanks, reaching under her skirts to grasp her thighs, helping brace her.

It throws her from her rhythm a moment, and she pauses atop him, small movements of her hips keeping her from being entirely still, looking down at him. His hair is ruffled on end, damp with sweat and darker for it, and his expression is flushed up and smiling faintly, wondering and amazed and joyous. Morgana runs her hands down his arms, then leans forward over him to brace her hands on the headboard; his eyes close in pleasure as the ends of her hair brush his face.

Magic sings through her blood, beating out a bright, golden counterpoint to the white-hot pleasure coiling low in her body. Morgana inhales sharply and grips the headboard hard enough to push slivers beneath her nails as the future threads itself behind her eyes, the coupling of magic and sex on the edge of overwhelming. Arthur cries out beneath her, and she gasps with him, seeing her magic reflected in his eyes, vision fading beneath the white haze of completion. "I love you, too."

She had decided not to tell him for the first two months.

She couldn't precisely say why. It isn't a matter of certainty—she already knows it's begun. She has interpreted her visions wrong before, but what she has seen has come to pass, one way or another, and what she had seen had been a clear, shining thread of what-will-be, not what-could-be.

Her unease had seemed foolish after. When she had told him, he had laughed and knelt down to wrap arms around her hips, resting his head against her middle. He had told her afterwards, murmuring softly into her skirts, that he and Guinevere had been together for months even before their wedding, and he had feared they wouldn't be capable. It had made her feel a fierce, sharp sort of pride, being able to give him what Guinevere couldn't.

He had asked if they might name her Yvaine, for his mother.

Sometimes, when she's in that strange haze between waking and dreaming, curled up beside her brother in the bed that had belonged to their father with their hands resting on the gentle swell of her belly, she can hear the distant echo of Emrys's voice from where he's trapped in his crystalline prison beneath the earth, screaming and screaming and screaming, and all she can do is smile.