I may be troubled but I'm gracious in defeat


Her magic stumbled forward, like a child in its first steps – Alethea could barely follow its course, much less control it. But she felt the gentle redirection, her outstretched hands diverted softly, as if by a whispered command. If it had been a hard slap, maybe her curiosity would have been less piqued. There was something precious here. Forbidden. Her pupils dilated minutely.

“You’re far from useless,” he was saying, but Mordred’s voice sounded far away. The expression in his eyes, on the other hand…that was loud, and she could feel her magic like an anchor pulling her into it, drowning in it like a churning sea. Alethea found herself either unable or unwilling to fight it. Her thoughts were a blur. ”Are you...are you doing that?"

No…it can’t be… Surely, it was him. It was some trick, a trap laid expertly in the shape of her stupid feet, always wandering where they shouldn’t. It was exactly the right seduction, precisely the thing that she wanted more than anything else in the world – to tap into that well of power that some Fairies had, that Mordred had, and that Thea had always found beyond her reach. It was the song she wanted most to hear. But how did he know?

“I don’t know,” she whispered, and then he released her. Alethea drew a hard breath, practically a gasp, and took an instinctual step backwards. Her eyes snapped back into focus, and she felt like herself again, but it was empty; the quiet forest had resumed its chatter, and it was endless, and she was vulnerable and alone. Her ears rang with it – her throat felt tight. Her hand hung by her side, fingers flexing and stretching as if to release a cramped muscle. Her gaze was fixed on the floor. That…whatever that was…if it had been her, or partly her, it was an extreme violation. She’d brushed up against something elemental without invitation or permission. Would he punish her for it? She swallowed.

“Give me your hand again.”

Her eyes lifted, hesitant but also hungry, much as she tried to hide it. There was something in her that knew this was a dangerous game to play, and another part of her that felt reckless and greedy, and a third that asked, what choice do I have? When the King extends his hand to you, is it worth the risk to refuse? She took that step toward him, laid her hand in his palm as lightly as a breath. Even with this barest contact, the energy in her skin sang.

His instruction to concentrate was almost comical; Alethea could do nothing else. She could feel the fire as he drew it out of himself; every hair stood on end with the echo of its warmth. She could hear the command he gave it, its answering obedience, the communion of purpose so perfect it was like joy. The reflection of it danced across her eyes. As Mordred guided her to try it, she barely had to respond – it was as if his invitation was an open door between them, and the fire was there, exactly as he said, rising up through her and into her hand as she raised it, flame licking up her fingers and adhering together into a burning orb. It was not as perfect as his, lashing out too broadly at first and then settling into a shape that shifted and pulsed – even imitation of mastery is still imitation – but the fire felt compliant, eager to bend to this borrowed power. And Alethea felt whole.

It was intoxicating. Tears shimmered – no, glittered, unshed in her eyes, as pinpricks of light bloomed across her skin like constellations, flickering like stars. Her irises were luminous. She looked from the twin fires to their maker, her hand trembling a little in his hand. Their expressions were the same.

It would be a mistake to need him, she knew. It would be a mistake to trust him too much. Even as he revealed his childhood loneliness, and she ached for that child he had been, and felt his power singing through her, and a kinship with him that was real…she knew it would be a mistake to think he could save her from her isolation. He could teach her, shape her, and control her, but she did not think he could ever be her friend. It was something she knew without knowing how, bone-deep and ominous, in the same moment she mourned for him.

“I would like that,” she said anyway, and meant it.


ooc: clarifications all the time, but this is a partial unveiling of that repressible made-of-light action ;)

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