Author's Note: Despite the title, this is the last chapter I intend to write for Shadows. I would just like to say Thank You to all my readers, who have been very patient with the glacial pace of my updates, and left so much positive feedback! Raniel and Michel are two of my favorite characters, and I've had so much fun with this story. Though it started out as an excuse to write a lot of sex scenes, it started to grow a bit of a plot on its own... but I feel that I've exhausted the story's potential, and anything further would seem forced. I am sure I will write more Kushiel fanfiction in the future (about Damien, perhaps...?), but right now other projects are calling to me. Thank you again; it seems like everyone enjoyed reading Shadows as much as I enjoyed writing it! And thank you of course to Jacqueline Carey, for creating a world where my prince and his adept can exist :-)

Also, this chapter is dedicated to FrenchCaresse, who suggested an idea for it months ago! Enjoy!

The day of our fȇte had dawned as most others in midsummer: bright, cloudless, with just enough of a breeze to offset the heat. However, as I waited outside Naamah's Temple, I gazed up at the sky and wondered why it seemed so much more brilliant than usual. This was not any other day; was it my imagination, prompted by that knowledge, that made the colors seem richer, the air taste sweeter? Or did everyone else notice the beauty in the day, as well?

No matter, I told myself, leaning back against the temple wall to gaze at the sky above. It is fitting, either way.

Michel emerged from the temple, his eyes catching mine from across the inner courtyard. I went to meet him, holding out my arm. "All is well, love?" I asked, as he stepped into my embrace.

"Yes," he murmured, smiling up at me. With my arm about his waist, we headed to the outer courtyard, where our horses waited. "I am no longer a Servant of Naamah."

There was an odd note in his voice, as if he were unsure of how to feel about it. I pressed my hand against the small of his back, where the marque of his service was inked into his skin. "You've served her well, Michel," I reassured him.

He gave me a grateful look. "I had expected to feel... somewhat different. Lost, perhaps. My whole life, I have known no other calling than Naamah's service. But..."

I paused and turned to face him. "But...?"

The corners of his eyes crinkled as his smile widened. "But I don't," he murmured. "And I believe it to be a sign that I have made the right choice."

At his words, I felt the easing of a tension that I hadn't known I'd carried. I suppose, in the back of my mind, I had been worried that he had doubts. I hadn't realized it, though, until that worry was dispelled. "I'm glad," I said. "What do you feel, Michel?"

He looked up at me thoughtfully, and said after a moment, "I'll tell you, my lord... but not yet."

"Oh, indeed?" I chuckled, and kissed him lightly. "Keep your secrets, then, love. I'll wait."

We rode out from Naamah's temple, and made our way across the City of Elua to our second destination. As we rode, I had to conclude that it wasn't only my imagination that painted the day so beautifully. It seemed as if the City's white stone gleamed blindingly, the clothing of the passers-by was bright as jewels, and every street vendor's offering smelled like the most delicious foods I'd ever eaten. I dared to wonder if Blessed Elua was smiling on this day, and on Michel and I, as he had done before. Whether that was true or not, I was glad we had taken the horses rather than shut ourselves into the carriage on such a breathtaking day.

We stopped outside Elua's Temple and left our mounts in the care of a young acolyte. In the temple's dim, cool vestibule, we were met by a priestess of Elua. She was bare-headed and unshod, wrapped in the blue robes of her order. She gave us both the kiss of greeting, smiling all the while.

"Prince Raniel," she said, as kneeling acolytes helped Michel and I out of our boots. "What draws Your Highness to Elua's presence this day?"

From my seat on the stone bench, I looked up at her. She was older than I had first thought; faint lines edged her eyes, and traces of gray glinted in her russet hair. There was wisdom behind her gaze, and a knowing smile on her lips- she knew the answer to her own query.

I responded anyway. "Love, my lady priestess."

Her smiled widened, genuine happiness that made her look much younger than she was. "That bodes well for Terre D'Ange, my Prince," she said. She turned to include Michel in her smile, addressing the both of us. "There are some who will oppose the love you have for one another. It is the way of things, the nature of being the Dauphin; you will not be able to please everyone. But to them, you may say that Elua's priests have seen his hand on the two of you... And there is nothing Terre D'Ange's ruler needs beyond Elua's blessing."

I bowed my head, feeling a little shiver of awe raise gooseflesh on my skin. "Thank you, my lady priestess."

Wordlessly, still smiling, she stepped aside, holding one arm out to welcome us deeper into the temple. Michel, looking serious, handed me an armful of the anemones we had brought as an offering, and we stepped into the temple proper.

At midsummer, the Temple of Elua was a celebration of life; flowers and weeds alike grew with joyful abandon in the temple's inner sanctum, open to the sky. The ground was soft and warm under my feet, and a sweet scent of heather arose as we crossed the open space.

We stopped before the altar, gazing up at Elua's visage. The statue of Elua there is one of the oldest in Terre D'Ange. His image gazed down on us with a smile akin to that of his priestess, his hands held out in welcome. One palm was scarred with the wound from Cassiel's dagger, when he had proclaimed his mortality in response to the One God's summons. Under the shade of the oak trees that stood on either side, the statue was dappled with a fluid, shifting pattern of sunlight. The stone lines were weather-worn from centuries of exposure, yet powerful and beautiful still.

I stepped forward, knelt to spread my offering of anemone flowers at the base of the altar, and kissed the statue's bare foot. When I finished, Michel followed suit, then rose to stand beside me. For a few long moments we stood there in silence, while the sun warmed our shoulders and the breeze rustled the oak leaves.

Blessed Elua, I prayed silently, closing my eyes. We have come to honor your precept, to Love as Thou Wilt. Every day with Michel has been a gift that I cherish, and I will be forever grateful to you for bringing him into my life. Your priestess has only confirmed what I have already felt: that your blessing is on the two of us. I pray that you will grant us both the strength to remember it when it is needful.

Michel's fingers brushed my hand; I turned to face him. His eyes seemed to shine, reflecting the brilliance of the morning in deep cerulean, somber and joyful all at once. I took a deep breath, twining my fingers with his.

"I had planned the words I wished to say," I said ruefully. "But now I find that I cannot remember them."

His eyes crinkled at the edges, a near-smile. He didn't answer, giving me time to think. At last I reached up to lay my palm against his cheek. "We both know the reasons we are here, love... but they bear repeating. When I name you as my consort, the whole of Terre D'Ange will know of our love for each other, and that is as it should be. But this..." I glanced around us at the Temple, the living beauty that was spread at Elua's feet.

"This is for us alone," I said softly. "I love you, Michel. You have taught me how to love, to truly love, with every part of my being." I knelt before him, taking his hands in mine. I had thought over this for months; both of us knew that my position as the Dauphin would make things difficult for us. But I knew, with a certainty that went deeper than my soul, that those difficulties would matter not. "And I swear to you, in Elua's name, that I always will love you, no matter what the future may bring."

Michel closed his eyes; when he opened them, they glimmered with unshed tears. "You asked what I felt, at Naamah's temple," he whispered. He sank to his knees, bringing us eye-to-eye, his fingers squeezing mine. "It was joy, my lord. My service to Naamah brought us together, but... I am beginning anew, with you, and it feels more right and true than aught I have ever done. And no matter where the gods lead us, Raniel, I will love you always."

So there, under the brilliant blue sky, with Elua as our witness, we pledged our love for each other. We kissed when it was done, sweet and joyful, and the light of Elua's blessing filled me as we did, until I felt as if the very sun itself had settled blazing in my chest. Michel regarded me with sparkling eyes when we parted, and I knew without words that he felt the same.

We left the temple with the priestess' smile at our backs, and rode out into the City. We rode side-by-side, hardly needing to speak. A solemn, contemplative delight filled me, as I thought of the blessing that Elua had granted us. I exchanged wordless smiles with Michel like a lovestruck boy, and knew that any further words were unnecessary.

Back at the Palace, we returned to my chambers, where the servants had thrown open all the windows and the terrace doors, letting in the sunlight and the sweet summer air. Michel turned to me with a smile, and kissed me.

I pulled him close and kissed him in turn, long and thoroughly, until desire began to wear at my resolve. Reluctantly, I pulled back, leaning my forehead against his. "Later, love," I told him.

He let out a slow breath, and let go the handful of my shirt he had grasped. "Promise?"
"Oh, I do indeed," I said with a little smile, pressing my hips against him before I let him go. He swayed a little where he stood, regaining his composure.

"I...I should go, my lord. There are a few things to attend before our fȇte." It had been his idea to hold our celebration in the Palace gardens, to take full advantage of midsummer's glory, and I had left the arrangement of the fȇte in his hands. "I will see you this evening?"

"Of course," I said, and he left the room smiling.

The afternoon passed quickly; I spent it shut in my chambers with my steward Hubert, instructing him on a task I needed him to complete. When the sun began to sink below the treetops, he shooed me away to dress.

Michel had chosen my clothes for the evening: dark breeches, and the tall black boots that he liked me to wear. Over it was a silken shirt of midnight blue, that he'd said made me look even more a Shahrizai than usual. I eyed myself critically in the mirror as I did up the jet buttons, and had to agree. I inherited my father's pale skin and blue-black hair; the shirt brought both colors into a sharp intensity.

Hubert appeared in the door to my dressing-room. "Michel nó Valerian is here, Your Highness," he announced formally.

Michel was waiting for me in the sitting room, and his eyes lit up when he saw me. "Elua, my lord, you look..."

"Not nearly as lovely as you, my beautiful boy," I told him truthfully. He smiled sweetly, glancing down at himself. He wore soft brown breeches and a cream-colored cambric shirt, open just enough to bare the delicate lines of his throat and collarbone. His hair spilled around his face in loose, rich curls. The sight brought back a memory of the first time I had seen him, a memory of the immediate desire that had been like a seed, planted the moment I had seen him kneeling at my feet in Valerian House.

Now, that seed had grown and matured, becoming so much more than simple physical desire. Elua willing, it would continue to thrive for a long, long time.

"Are you ready?" I asked, taking his hand.

For answer, he squeezed my fingers and gave me a sparkling blue look that spoke silent volumes. We made for the door, and I glanced at Hubert.

"You'll take care of everything?" I confirmed.

My old steward bowed, no doubt annoyed by the foolish question. We had discussed nothing else all that day, and I knew I could trust the task to his capable hands... but I wanted it to be perfect. "Have no fear, Your Highness."

"What was that about?" Michel asked when I had shut the door.

"Ah, now it's my turn to keep a secret," I teased him. "You'll find out soon enough, love."

The sun was just beginning to set in a blaze of fiery orange behind the Palace walls as we entered the garden. I paused under the wrought-iron gate and gazed at the fȇte that Michel had arranged. Servants moved among the trees with candles, lighting the lanterns that had been hung throughout the garden; they shed pools of soft, glowing light in the deepening dusk. Along the western side of the garden, the banquet table had been set, already piled high with all manner of delicacies. Garlands of blossoms, moon-white and midnight blue, draped gracefully from the trees. Chairs and tables were arranged under the trees around the edges of the garden; low couches and Akkadian cushions had been set in half-hidden alcoves, deliberately left unlit. Even the spring-fed pond had been decorated, scattered with floating paper lanterns in the fashion of Bhodistani festivals. In one corner, musicians had already begun to play.

"This is marvelous, Michel," I murmured.

He surveyed the garden with pride. "It did come out quite well," he allowed, grinning. "The adepts know a well-done fȇte when they see one. I didn't wish to shame the Palace with too modest an affair."

I chuckled. "I think we needn't worry on that account."

In the center of all the finery was a level span of manicured lawn, meant for dancing. Most of the guests were already there, mingling in groups, glasses of wine in hand. Just then, someone took note of Michel and I standing in the garden gate, and let out a cheer. Others took it up, and the two of us entered our fȇte, hand in hand, to greet our guests.

Elua, there were so many! Family and friends, nobles and peers of the realm- those who approved of my relationship with Michel, and those who did not, for they needed to hear our announcement just as much as the others. My parents, fair glowing with quiet pride, for they knew the purpose of this night's celebration. My brother Julien, with his teasing grin and mischievous blue eyes. My grandparents, visiting from Alba for the summer, and my aunt Alais.

Dowaynes of the Night Court, here to celebrate- though they didn't know it- the naming of a former adept as the Royal Consort. Adepts, friends of Michel, young men and women who had been raised alongside him since childhood. They moved through the crowd with more grace than the others, fluid grace drawing the attention of all whom they passed.

Damien.

I saw his back first, but I knew him, knew that dark golden hair and the confident set of his shoulders. When I called his name, he turned and gave me a secretive smirk. He was the one person outside my family in whom we had confided our plans.

"My prince!" He exclaimed, raising his wine glass in salute. "I am honored to be your guest at such an important occasion!" He leaned forward to give me the kiss of greeting, lips brushing my cheek. "I don't imagine you'll forgive me for this," he added, and kissed my lips fiercely, his free hand sinking into my hair.

Desire, sudden and sharp, lanced through me. It had always been like waging war with him, and this was no different. Determined not to grant him any advantage, I seized a fistful of his shirt and jerked him closer, forcing my tongue past his lips.

He chuckled against my mouth, and let go of my hair. I shoved him laughingly away, while the nearby guests cheered and laughed, or murmured to each other. Damien took an easy step back, wine glass still held in his other hand, and gave me that knowing smile before turning his piercing green eyes on Michel.

"Damien," Michel said, a neutral greeting, though I could hear the faint desire in his voice.

The Mandrake adept could hear it, as well. He moved closer, raising a fingertip to glide across Michel's cheek. "For you, I need not resort to diversions, eh, little one?" Without waiting for an answer, he kissed him, slowly and thoroughly. I watched them, watched Michel clench his fists against the urge to embrace the other man, and my desire only grew more acute.

It only lasted a moment before Damien released him, leaving him flushed. "Until next time, little one," the Mandrake adept murmured. Raising his glass to me once more, he melted into the crowd with a last smirk cast over his shoulder.

Michel cleared his throat, his face still faintly red. I grinned and slipped an arm around his shoulders. "We may need to call upon Mandrake House soon, my love," I breathed in his ear.

He shivered against me. "I think so," he agreed.

There were many more guests, and it took the better part of an hour to greet them all. The musicians had just begun to play in earnest, and a few couples had begun to dance, when my mother appeared at my side. "There is someone I think you would like to see," she told me, nodding toward the gate.

I turned to look. Through the crowd, I saw a swirl of sangoire silk, a glimpse of a cruciform sword. "Is that-?" I caught Michel's wrist and pulled him through the gathering, a grin spreading over my face. They had been abroad for months, and had never yet met Michel, but now they were here...

"Phèdre!" I exclaimed, breaking through the crowd to enfold my father's foster-mother in a tight embrace. She laughed and hugged me back. "Elua! When did you arrive in the City?" I asked when we parted.

"Not more than an hour ago," she replied. "We weren't entirely certain we would make it in time, but the weather held fair for us." As well it should, when the Master of the Straits was her oldest friend.

I hadn't realized how much I'd missed her. She had often been gone for months at a time on one adventure or another, but finally seeing her again reminded me that I'd missed her calm strength. There were very few people who fully understood who I truly was... but Phèdre had held the Name of God on her tongue, and she understood me better than nearly anyone, perhaps even Michel. I'd confided in her often, sensing even in my childhood that she carried a quiet wisdom. She was older now, but I could see in her the beauty that the most fortunate of Naamah's servants possess- beauty that remains even when youth fades. Silver liberally graced her sable locks, and fine lines framed her eyes and lips, but she still carried her slender frame with grace, and her dart-stricken gaze was just as intelligent as ever. Like Elua's priestess, her smile made her look much younger than she was. Faintly, I could feel the draw of her anguissette's nature calling to my Shahrizai blood... the same pull I had always felt, so familiar that I wouldn't even have noticed it had she not been gone so long.

I turned to Joscelin, a tall shadow at Phèdre's side. "Raniel," he said, the corners of his pale blue eyes crinkling. He pulled me into a bone-creaking embrace, thumping me on the back. My foster-grandsire had his own strength, different from Phèdre's, and his had not diminished with age either. His hair was pulled into a club that gleamed with as much silver as gold, but he was still known as the most dangerous man in Terre D'Ange, and he carried himself with a quiet confidence in that fact. The only man permitted to be armed in the Royal Presence, he had been my first and best teacher in combat.

When he let me go, I drew Michel to my side and introduced him. He was flushed, awed and delighted at meeting them at last, but he maintained his adept's charm. Phèdre and Joscelin greeted him warmly, happy to finally meet the young man of whom I had written so many letters.

Duty to our other guests soon drew me away, though Phèdre promised to come back on the morrow to visit us. I saw her draw Michel aside, murmuring something that put a thoughtful look on his face, before a young Marquise claimed my attention.

The fête became more of a celebration as the evening wore on, though we had not yet made our announcement. Tiny glasses of joie were served alongside the wine as guests began to take to the dance floor. There was a steady flow of servants replenishing the food on the banquet table, for there was no time arranged for the meal; all were free to partake of the food at their leisure. Michel and I found each other again before too long, and shared a table with several Valerian adepts who had grown up with him.

After we'd eaten, Celeste nó Valerian begged a dance with Michel, and a young Comtesse claimed one of me, and I lost track of Michel through a few songs. Then the musicians struck up a lively Eiran tune, fast-paced and joyful. Eiran dance had been the height of fashion since the spring, and most of the dancers burst into motion right away. My cousin Leandre swept past me, laughing, and caught my arms, drawing me into the dance. I felt a grin spread across my face as my feet caught the rhythm and Leandre spun away. This particular dance sent all the participants whirling about, exchanging partners with abandon. The steps of the dance were less important than the simple joy of moving with the music. It was a dance seen more often in Night's Doorstep than the Palace, but that was hardly enough to stop us. I looked for Michel, but the dance floor had become little more than a dizzy blur of motion, whirling skirts and flashing boots. I let my feet follow the music, dancing with Adepts and Comtes, Dowaynes and even a Duchese, linking arms or holding waists as they came, reaching for the next when they went.

As the song was nearing an end, Damien appeared before me, clasping my forearm in a steely grip as we spun about. Our gazed locked, and his lip curled in a dangerous smile, mirroring my own. Four more steps, then the direction changed. We switched arms, and it was my turn to dig fingers into his flesh, searching for a wince that he would never show me. Two steps, four steps, and I released him, ready to catch my next partner. He did not let me go, catching my other arm once more, and drawing me back the other way as if we were starting again.

"What are you doing?" I said over the music, as the dancers around us whirled into a new rhythm, catching different partners.

Damien grinned as we switched arms once more. "I know this song, my Prince. You will be glad of the change in a moment." Before I could discern what he meant, it was time to let him go, and he allowed it this time, whirling away without another word. I caught my next partner around her waist, wheeling us both in circles, one way and then the next. Laughing delightedly, she passed to her next partner, and I found myself locking arms with Michel.

I grinned at him as we spun; the joy of the dance filled me, and I saw it reflected in his shining eyes. Moments later, I realized what Damien had been about. The song came to a triumphant end, and at last the dizzy motion ceased amid cheers and laughter. If Damien had not altered the pattern of our dance, Michel and I would have passed each other; but as it happened, we finished the dance still linked arm-in-arm.

Caught up in the excitement, I kissed him fiercely. And as I did so, it occurred to me that now was the perfect moment. When I lifted my head, I could tell that he had thought the same thing.

"Ready, my love?" I murmured. He nodded.

I turned to face the gathered crowd, and slid my arm around Michel's waist, holding him at my side. "My lords and ladies," I called out, as the musicians began another tune. I glimpsed Damien gesturing sharply at them, and their instruments fell silent. The guests turned their attention our way, all eyes on the two of us.

"My lords and ladies," I said again. "Honored guests, allow me to thank you for your presence here. Though you may not be aware, we have invited you here for more than a simple midsummer celebration." There were a few raised eyebrows at that; a few smiles, too, from those who could guess what was coming.

"You have all met my love, Michel nó Valerian," I continued. I smiled down at him; when I looked up, I could still feel his eyes on me, watching me as if I were the only man in the world. "Tonight, it is with great joy that... I name him my Consort." Simple words, but words I had longed to say for months.

The guests erupted into cheers, calling out their good wishes. I kissed Michel once more, savoring it. My heart felt full to bursting, so joyful that tears pricked my eyes as I let him go. He squeezed my hands, beaming up at me.

"Shall we retire for the evening, love?" I asked in a low voice.

He exhaled softly, desire making it something very near a moan. "Yes, my lord..."

Fueled by wine and joie, the guests' excitement only grew when Michel and I began to move toward the garden gate. There were a few faces around the edges of the crowd that looked less thrilled, and I had expected that. There would be members of the Court, and people of the realm, who did not approve... and we would face them, in time. Tonight, though, I refused to worry about it.

The more supportive guests- who, thankfully, seemed to be the majority- gathered about us, cheering and laughing. I realized that they intended to escort Michel and I to our chambers as if we were a newly-wedded couple. As we were swept through the gate, I glanced back at my family. They watched us go with indulgent smiles, Phèdre's dart-stricken gaze deep and dark, even from a distance. My father nodded once, approvingly, and I grinned as the press of bodies bore us out of the garden.

Our trip through the Palace was all boisterous chaos, ribald jests and laughter echoing through the halls around us. "Where are we going?" Michel asked over the din, when I guided him away from our normal route. The crowd shifted to follow us, too distracted to wonder why we were not going to my usual chambers.

"You'll see," I answered. I led them all to a different wing of the Palace, down a short hall to the new chambers that Hubert had readied during our fête. Someone had gotten hold of some flowers, and were tossing petals over us as I ushered Michel through the door. The noise only intensified as the lot of them, cheering uproariously, made as if to push inside with us. Breathless with laughter, I shoved at the door, then paused when I caught Damien's eye. He was the lone calm figure in the crowd, and his lips quirked as he watched Michel and I.

"Thank you," I told him simply, meaning it.

He raised one eyebrow. "You know how to thank me, my prince," he said.

I laughed and shut the door without replying, finally quieting the noise somewhat. Michel was looking around the room with wide eyes. "My lord, is this...?"

"Our new home, love," I answered. "I took the liberty of having your things moved from your old room." I nodded toward the desk in the corner of the sitting room; his books, notes and writing instruments had been carefully arranged in the same order he'd left them. Hubert had also moved his clothing and other belongings, of course, but I knew that the academic work would delight Michel the most.

I took him on a tour of our new quarters: the bedchamber and the dressing room, the terrace that wrapped around the edge of the whole suite. It opened over a smaller garden than we'd had before, but just as private, planted with a deliberate tangle of wildflowers that had reminded me of Elua's Temple. And then I led him back to the bedchamber, and opened the door that was set into one corner.

It led into our own little flagellary, a private version of the torture chambers at Mandrake and Valerian Houses. It held another bed, and a pommel horse, and a whipping cross... furnished with the help of Damien, who had happily suggested a craftsman who made such things. I had been planning the room for a long time, every detail from the hooks on the bedposts to the dark velvet coverlet, and Hubert had done a wonderful job readying it for us. A fire was already crackling in the hearth, and candles had been lit throughout the whole suite, lending a soft glow. Michel gasped when he saw the room. "Oh, my lord..."

He stepped away to make a circuit of the room, taking in everything with a quiet delight in his eyes. I stayed at the door, watching him. "Elua, it's... it's amazing," he said, pausing to open the flagellary cabinet and gaze at its contents. He traced the coils of the whip with his fingertips, and glanced over at me. "I had no idea you were planning this, my lord. "

I smiled. "I thought we should have facilities of our own," I told him. "Valerian House is always an option... but some nights are best enjoyed at home."

Michel shut the cabinet and returned to me. "Thank you," he murmured, taking the hand that I held out to him. "For this, and... for everything, my lord."

I plucked a flower petal from his hair, feeling the corner of my mouth twitch upward. "I must confess, it was not an entirely unselfish gesture."

His eyes crinkled at the edges. "Well, I forgive you," he teased, wrapping his arms around my waist.

I gazed down at him, feeling the early smolderings of my inevitable desire. "We needn't make use of it tonight, if you don't wish it," I told him. We had a lifetime to enjoy our new chambers, and it had been a long, if fulfilling, day. I didn't wish to end it poorly by pressuring him.

I should have known better, of course. Michel looked up at me with an expression that said he would not have it any other way. "This is how we began, my lord," he murmured. "I can think of no better way to begin our new life together."

Ah, gods! Holding his gaze, I pulled the door shut behind me and then kissed him, slowly. He tasted of joie and joy, and I drank it in. His arms tightened around my waist, fingers gripping my back as if he would never get enough. I turned, pushing him up against the wall, and in the span of a heartbeat the kiss turned fierce and hungry. His hands moved to my trousers, and we fumbled at each other's clothing for a moment, still kissing. He freed my erect phallus and closed a hand around it, stroking me until I caught his wrists and pinned them to the wall.

"Don't move, my love," I told him in a growl, and he nodded, flushed and breathless from the kiss. I let him go, began to undo the buttons down his shirt.

"You've never called me my love before," he breathed, watching my fingers work. "I rather like it, my lord."

"You are mine now, love," I told him in a low voice, as I freed the last button and let his shirt hang open, baring his chest. "Every bit of you." He closed his eyes, hands still held against the wall, a sweet smile of surrender lighting his face.

I sank both hands into his hair. "All these lovely curls are mine," I breathed, holding his head back against the wall. A little tremor ran through his body, and he caught his lower lip between his teeth. I moved closer, pushing my hips against him, trapping him between my arms. "This sweet mouth is mine," I continued, and kissed him until he was trembling against me. I moved down, across his neck and chest, claiming him for my own with kisses and murmured words as I freed him from his trousers.

"This is all mine," I said, trailing one fingertip down the center of his abdomen. "And this," I added with a slow smile, curling my fingers around his phallus. "Every inch, love."

"Oh," he gasped softly. "Rani..."

I kissed him once more, then let him go. "Down," I ordered in a rough whisper.

He sank obediently into a crouch, sliding down the wall with his hands held beside his head where I'd put them. With one hand in his hair, I guided my phallus to his lips with the other. He accepted eagerly, moaning softly as I eased my length between his lips.

"Good boy." The praise, or somewhat in my voice as I spoke it, made him shiver, his fists clenching restlessly against the wall. I rocked my hips forward, slowly, and tipped my head to the side to watch him. His rich brown curls hid most of his face, but I could see one eye, closed with the curve of his lashes stark against his cheek, and his lips, wrapped around my phallus... Elua, he was beautiful, and for a moment the very sight of him was so enthralling that I nearly forgot the pleasure.

Then he did something, some trick of Naamah's arts that made me gasp, and I had to pull away before I lost control. He remained where he was, against the wall as if bound there, gazing up at me. There was a look in his eyes that I loved to see, dark with desire and sparkling with joy at it, echoed by the tiniest smile curving his lips.

I pulled him to his feet and slid his shirt from his arms. "Lie down," I murmured, giving him a little push toward the bed. He went, settling himself on his stomach and resting his head on his hands, watching me.

I shrugged out of my own shirt, left my trousers on the floor and crossed the room. From the cabinet, I gathered the long strips of black cloth that we often used for restraints, and after a moment's pause, picked up the blindfold as well.

"What will you, my lord?" Michel asked softly, when I returned to the bed. I knelt on one knee beside him, gazing down at his back. The strong, graceful lines of his marque curved over his skin, lines sharp like knife-edges, and I traced one with my finger.

"Oh, I have somewhat in mind," I said, and swatted him lightly. "On your back, boy."

He obeyed, and paused, propped up on his elbows, when I held up the blindfold.

"Trust me, love," I reassured him with a smile, placing the cloth over his eyes.

"I do," he whispered, though his breath quickened as I tied it in place. When it was done, I bound his wrists and ankles to the bedposts, each with enough extra length to allow him a bit of movement. He made a lovely picture when I had finished: spread helpless and vulnerable, fair skin almost glowing against the dark silken bedclothes.

"Ah, my beautiful boy," I murmured, sliding slow fingers up his inner thigh. "I love to see you tied and helpless. With you bound like this, I imagine I can make you do anything I want." My voice turned more stern, and I dug my fingertips into his thigh, making him wince. "Can't I?"

"Yes, my lord," he breathed, then added, "...please..."

Elua! Such a small word, to set my blood to boiling! "Patience," I said, for the benefit of us both. I went back toward the flagellary cabinet and took up the candlestick that stood on the nearby table. The candle was white, and wide enough that the melted wax had pooled in a hollow beneath the wick. I carried it back to the bed, and sat down beside Michel. He looked almost at ease, no tension in his bound arms or legs... but his breathing was shallow, and I could see well enough that he was enjoying his predicament.

"Ah, my love," I said. My voice had gone low and rough. "Do you know what I am going to do to you?" I tested a bit of the melted wax on the back of my hand; it was hot, a lingering heat, but not unbearable.

Michel shook his head mutely. I leaned over him, letting him sense my presence. Then I lowered the candle and tipped it sideways, drizzling a bit of wax onto the tender skin of his stomach.

Whatever he'd been expecting of me, that was not it. He cried out in shock, and the muscles in his abdomen clenched reflexively, trying to pull away. I righted the candle and bent over him, blowing gently on the wax to cool it. It raised gooseflesh on his skin as I did so.

"Oh, gods," Michel moaned, shuddering. I grinned.

"Good, love. Again." I let a few more drops fall, closer to his side; slowly, the wax ran down the curve of his ribs until it cooled and hardened in place against his skin. He gasped, struggling in vain to squirm away from the heat at his side.

"Don't move, boy," I warned him. I let the next drizzle of wax pool into the hollow of his hip. He hissed through gritted teeth as a bit of it trickled down the crease of his thigh, beside his phallus. His body trembled, but he did not flinch.

"Very good," I breathed, and rewarded him by closing my mouth around his phallus. He cried out, startled again. "Oh, my lord, please-"

I toyed with him a while longer, alternating between the wax and the languisement while he writhed helplessly in his bonds. I took mercy on him when he began to beg, and set the candle back in its holder.

Elua, he looked lovely and despoiled, his chest and stomach spattered with white wax as if I had spilled my seed across his body. I untied his blindfold, and he blinked up at me, cerulean eyes unfocused with desire.

I kissed him, sliding my tongue past his lips. He moaned as I plundered his mouth, and I slid my hand down his chest until my fingertips caught on a hardened line of wax. It lifted away from his skin without much difficulty, leaving a reddened mark behind it. I shifted down and kissed it; the mark was a line of heat against the center of my tongue, hotter than the skin beside it. It was a novel sensation, and I explored it further, making Michel moan as I traced the line with my tongue.

I looked up to find him watching me with his lips parted. "More?" I asked him, already moving to another spill of wax.

"Ye—es," he replied shakily. He clenched his fists in his bonds while I continued. I went slowly, removing each bit of wax and soothing the reddened skin beneath with lips and tongue. By the time I'd finished, desire was throbbing through me, nearly unbearable.

Michel shifted restlessly, impatiently, as I untied his ankles. Once freed, he wrapped his legs around my hips. I settled on my knees and slid oil-slickened fingers between us, inside him. He urged me on, before I thought he was ready. "Please, my lord, I need you," he breathed, when I hesitated. It was all the persuasion I needed. I fit myself against his entrance, and braced myself over him.

Ah, gods! It was like a homecoming, when I pressed into him. I belonged there, in the haze of heat and passion and pleasure that encompassed our lovemaking. I filled him as deeply as I could, and Michel moaned, a long, low sound that sent a thrill down my spine. Suddenly desperate to feel his arms around me, I reached up and freed his wrists from their ties. He pulled me down for a kiss, a burning ardor lighting his gaze.

We made love for a long time, our bodies surging against each other. Both of us refrained from pushing each other quite to the brink, driven by an unspoken need to savor our passion. On the bed, bent over the pommel horse, against the wall, cross-legged on the floor... we took each other by turns, and we needed no words. Several of the candles had burnt themselves out, leaving the shadows long and dark, when at last we surrendered to each other. Straddling my hips, with one hand at the back of my neck and one entwined with mine around his phallus, Michel shuddered in my arms. "Raniel-" he gasped, tremors wracking his body. I gazed up at him, at the look of rapture on his face, and knew that I had never seen anything so beautiful. I felt the liquid heat of his seed spill against my chest, and let myself follow him. Ecstasy claimed me, filled my head with brilliant golden light, and I could do nothing but cling to him and cry out his name.

Gasping, I leaned my forehead against his collarbone, trying to catch my breath. He bent forward and kissed my hair. We stayed there for a long moment, until my pounding heart had subsided.

"I love you," Michel said softly. I leaned back against the bed so I could smile up at him. His hair was a tangled fall of curls, and I tucked it back so I could see those cerulean eyes I knew so well. They were dark with sated desire, and deep with the emotion that had once gone unspoken between us for so long.

"Ah, my beautiful boy," I breathed. "I love you, too."

His lips curved into a half-smile. "I turn nineteen next month, my lord. You won't always be able to call me a boy," he pointed out, teasing.

I raised my brows. "You're eight years younger than I, Michel. I shall be calling you boy until we are both old and frail."

That made him laugh outright. Still grinning, he shifted to sit beside me, leaning on my shoulder. "I will not always be beautiful, either," he murmured. "Will you still love me when I am old and frail and my beauty has faded?"

Startled, I looked down into his eyes, so close to mine. "You will always be you, Michel," I told him solemnly, and though I had never thought of it until that moment, the words I spoke were as true and honest as any I had ever spoken. "That is the beauty I love in you, that I will always love in you- the beauty of who you are, not what you look like."

Michel swallowed, hard, almost as if he were holding back tears. "I am who I am mostly because of you, Raniel," he whispered.

I could say the same thing of myself, and I told him so. "You have made me a better person, my love," I added.

His smile returned, and it was infectious. "Come, boy," I said, grinning down at him. I stood, pulling him to his feet, and then swept him into my arms. Surprised, he laughed breathlessly and wound his arms around my neck. I carried him out of the flagellary, and set him down next to the washbasin in the bedchamber. Quietly, we cleansed each other, washing away the sweat and seed of our shared passion. When we had finished, I opened the terrace doors to let in the summer night air, and put out the candles.

Michel was awaiting me when I returned to our bed, his skin gleaming and ethereal in the moonlight. I lay down beside him, intending to sleep... but I could not stop my hands from touching him. I traced invisible lines over his skin with my fingertips, watching his nipples harden, his phallus stiffen, his breathing grow unsteady. I leaned over him and kissed him, slowly and thoroughly, feeling my own desire returning. When at last I lifted my head, he caught a handful of my hair, unwilling to let me get farther away. I gazed down at him, filled again- still- with the overwhelming sense of joy and love that had permeated this perfect day.

I reached up and grasped his wrist, pulled it down and pinned it to the bed. Michel's lips curved in his sweet smile, surrendering. I smiled back, the dangerous smile that I knew would make his heart race. And then, in the moonlight and the shadows, we began again.