His lips are on mine again. I try to turn my head away, but he takes my chin in his hand, holds me still. His mouth opens on mine and I feel the wetness of his tongue. His breath tastes strange, huffing out and spilling down across my cheeks, my eyes, my throat.

"I'd only seen a glimpse of you, on that table." Soft, soothing. His hand moves down my chest and I would crawl away from it if I could, but the weight of the graying twilight creeping into the room is pinning me down. "I'd been told you were golden-haired, like me. Tall and slender, muscled around the thighs and calves." His kisses sting across my collarbone. "None of them were loyal enough to me, Lehona. None of them saw fit to tell me how beautiful you were, how perfect. Had I known, I would never had let them touch you. Never."

The darkness is changing, and I realize I have my eyes open and Merciful is smiling down at me. His gaze holds me firmly against the bed, helpless to the gentle invasion of his hands. My clothes are no barrier, my own weak, shaking hands a pitiful defense. "I had the torturer killed," he says, laying his head beside mine on the pillow and kissing my temple. "He had to die for what he'd done to you. But I watched them break his knees first. I wanted you to be there, my sweet, wanted you to witness it, but you weren't well enough yet. I have spoken with the healer; she says that with time you may walk again."

The blankets shift, bunching up around us. Merciful pulls them aside. His fingers are cool against my thigh, snaking into the warmth made there. "Don't weep," he says. "I know you must be so relieved. But I will wait to see how well her remedies work. I daren't hope until you are on your feet again. I've seen how much pain you endure from your injury. How few pleasures you allow yourself." He watches my abdomen clench with his touch, smiles at the quivering of my flesh. "You mustn't punish yourself, Lehona. You've done nothing wrong. Relax. It's all right. Relax."

And his mouth again, feeding me his soft exclamations of wonder at my body, devouring any protest I might have made. His tongue touches there, then moves to leave its damp trail across my skin. I am sweating, straining, trying to make my body heed me. He stays with me, murmuring in my ear, whispering encouragements and compliments until my flesh does what it must, and when it's over he praises me, calls me perfect, calls me his.

The bottle is put to my lips and I fight until I taste the familiar stickiness of the poppy milk. The darkness pulls me into it and I beg it to swallow me whole.