Just This Once

"You know, they say the use of an agiel increases the chances of conception," Darken Rahl (her husband!) says calmly. If Kahlan didn't know better, she'd think he was trying to reassure her.

"That's the only reason I'm doing this," she replies harshly, unconsciously pulling her red robe closer about her shoulders.

She never thought this day would come—that she would marry Darken Rahl to save Richard's life and bring him back to her at least makes a certain twisted kind of sense, nightmare though it is.

But that she would ever voluntarily let a Mord'Sith into her marriage bed—

She prays, whoever the woman is, she won't be like Denna. Kahlan doesn't think she could bear that.

Darken squeezes her thigh gently, and then there's a knock on the door.

It's been five months since the wedding and I'm still not pregnant, Kahlan thinks frantically. If Richard's going to get back he needs a Confessor and there's no way Darken'll let me live that long and who am I kidding? If I hadn't married him he'd have tortured me every day until I broke, until I didn't even remember Richard's name—

The Mord'Sith looks tall, but Kahlan deduces that's only because she's whipcord thin and wearing heeled boots, and that she's actually smaller than Kahlan. Her hair is an indiscriminate brown, her eyes cool blue, and her lips full and red. She's prettier, more delicate, than Denna—and Kahlan is grateful for that distinction.

"My Lord," the Mord'Sith says. "My Lady."

"Come in," Darken invites, but Kahlan isn't listening.

She tries to catch her breath, but it sounds like a sob in her ears. Without meaning to, she clutches Darken's hand so hard her knuckles turn white.

He, at least, she understands—she's miserable without Richard of course, and she's married to the same tyrant who tried to destroy everything she loves and caused so many deaths—but at this moment, he makes her feel safe. When he kills her, she thinks she'll even understand that, too.

If only she can give Richard a Confessor first.

The door closes, and Kahlan stares at the Mord'Sith—her image like Kahlan's worst nightmare made flesh. (Her Rada'Han has never felt so heavy, around her neck—she itches to Confess the Mord'Sith, as is surely her duty.)

She keeps picturing Richard and Denna, wondering if he felt as confused and terrified and angry and aroused as she does—

"Take off your leathers," she demands suddenly. "Take them off!" There's a hint of hysteria in her voice, and the Mord'Sith raises her eyebrows.

And Darken is there, unlacing expertly, and Kahlan forces herself to lie back on the pillows, biting her lip and trying not to think about pleasure or pain…

Once, long ago, Mother Confessor Serena sat Kahlan and her sister Confessors down for a truly excruciating talk about taking a mate—all about the importance of someone…physically pleasing, because Confessors can't conceive unless they experience that moment—that loss of control inextricably linked with the release of their power.

It's not so inextricable, it turns out—not now that Kahlan is bound by a Rada'Han.

And maybe the ironic thing is that Darken Rahl is precisely the sort of man Kahlan would have taken as a mate if she could have, because he's strong and powerful and he certainly meets that other qualification…no matter how much she hates her body's treachery.

(She's certainly lost control with him many times, more than she can count…she blushes, remembering—that is surely not their problem. Not why she still isn't pregnant after five long months…But supposing—horrible thought!—that she is barren? She can't stand the idea that she really is the very last Confessor.)

And maybe, she thinks as the Mord'Sith crawls predatorily toward her on the bed, naked skin gleaming palely in the candlelight, that's why she agreed to this. If she doesn't get pregnant soon, she may not be able to resist Darken's relentless wearing down of her defenses…

After the baby's born, he's already told her, he won't come back to their marriage bed, not "until you invite me" with a smoldering look and lingering breath on her neck…

She meets the Mord'Sith's eyes, aware of Darken with every fiber of her being, and shivers—with anticipation or dread, she's not sure.

The Mord'Sith smiles, and runs her agiel gently up Kahlan's arm, its touch almost tickling, it's so feather-light…

Kahlan almost screams. Only the pride of dozens of generations of Confessors, weathered down until there is only her, makes her clench her jaw and remain silent. She will not give the Mord'Sith that satisfaction.

"Kahlan," Darken says, one hand on the Mord'Sith's back and the other finding Kahlan's fingers again. She clings to him, not ashamed—there is no place for her vague imaginings of Richard here—"Relax."

And then he's kissing her, and Kahlan pulls him down to her, willing herself to let this happen—the Mord'Sith is like corrosive fire at her side, but Darken is her oasis—

It's funny, she thinks wonderingly, the difference consent makes—the agiel is still burning through her skin, calling forth her own power in wordless answer (were she free, the Mord'Sith would be dead already), but now it makes her feel a different sort of fire.

The pain makes everything seem sharper—she feels clean for the first time since Richard disappeared. And Kahlan doesn't think she'll forget this night as long as she lives.

"My Queen," Darken is murmuring, over and over…the Mord'Sith's agiel is pressed between her and Kahlan, while their tongues fight for dominance in something that is so far from being chaste it can hardly be called a kiss…

"Darken—" Kahlan gasps, arching her neck as her power tears through her, encounters her Rada'Han, and washes back into Kahlan's blood—

She's already cured herself of her foolish tendency to call out Richard's name at moments like this.

Afterwards, Darken pulls Kahlan close, inhaling the scent of her hair. Kahlan forces herself to stay alert.

It's scant minutes before the Mord'Sith is recovered and goes to pick her leathers up off the floor, shaking out her hair, unbraided and shining in the candlelight, impassive as always.

Kahlan would just let it go, but for all she knows, this woman has just helped her conceive the Confessor who will help Richard back to his own time, and that's a gift so great she can no longer hold a grudge.

Besides, that kiss…

"What's your name?" Kahlan asks abruptly.

The Mord'Sith pauses, raises an eyebrow…"Dahlia, my Lady," she says respectfully. "Mistress Dahlia."

Kahlan smiles, loving the way the Mord'Sith—Dahlia—looks completely unsettled at the sight. "I'm…delighted to make your acquaintance," she says.

"Oh, I know you are," Dahlia says slyly.

"That will be all, Mistress Dahlia," Darken says. His voice is polite, but, as so often with him, it holds a hidden menace.

For the first time, Kahlan wonders if he does that on purpose, or if he just doesn't remember how to shut it off.

Dahlia salutes, and goes, the door closing softly behind her.

With a sigh, Kahlan lets herself cuddle closer to Darken, a part of her screaming that every night she lies with a murderer (or two—the Mord'Sith are dangerous…), but that part temporarily silenced by the fact that she has no choice—she belongs here now.

In a world that shouldn't exist.

"What made you choose Dahlia?" she asks, after awhile. "Specifically?"

Darken doesn't answer for so long she thinks maybe he isn't going to. He's staring up at the featureless ceiling, idly pulling a lock of Kahlan's hair through his fingers, while she listens to his heart beating…

"Dahlia and I…" Darken says at last. "Both lost someone special to us. Half a year ago."

Kahlan gasps, this oblique reference to Richard hurting, as her thoughts of him always hurt. He is not with her—he has abandoned her. She must work for his return, but she can't help resenting the way he just left—even though she knows it wasn't his fault. And then, too, ever since she let Darken Rahl put a ring on her finger (and began praying nightly that she might carry his child), guilt weighs down on her heart, whenever she thinks of Richard.

But Darken can't mean he and Dahlia lost Richard—they would have no reason to care if he disappeared, or died, as everyone but Kahlan and Shota thinks occurred.

So whom does he mean?

"Oh," Kahlan murmurs, and then, with an effort, "I'm—sorry."

He kisses her hair. "Dahlia deserves this," he says. "She shouldn't have to be alone."

Kahlan ponders that as her eyes drift closed. Darken and Dahlia both lost someone—the Mord'Sith who disappeared with Richard, it must be. She tries to say it doesn't matter, that Mord'Sith are not human—but Darken's compassion for Dahlia touches her. And she guesses at the vulnerability he would die rather than show her.

"Maybe," she says sleepily, "we should name our daughter Dahlia…"

"Kahlan?" In contrast, Darken now sounds wide-awake. "Are you—you couldn't possibly know already—"

"A Confessor," she informs him firmly, "always knows."

And it's true—she feels the faint stirrings of a sort of gathering in her womb, like the way her power feels when she has her hand around someone's throat…

She is so grateful—a baby! Her daughter will save the world, she can feel it.

And to think it might not have happened without Dahlia—Kahlan is cured of her hatred for the Mord'Sith.

Right now, a happy glow surrounds her, and all she wants is to stay in Darken's warm embrace forever…

In her dreams, Richard screams, 'Traitor!' and she tries vainly to explain that she's doing it all for him—

While Kahlan sleeps in his arms, Darken stares up at the ceiling, feeling the way her hair tickles his chin, and remembers…

It's odd—Kahlan has just told him she's pregnant, and his mind should be filled with that, scheming for the little prince or princess about to enter their lives…

Instead, he finds himself dwelling uncomfortably on Cara, on the son she bore him, on his own nebulous fears of fatherhood—he misses her.

To distract himself, Darken thinks of Dahlia, hurrying away—he knows she's just outside the door, guarding his and Kahlan's rest. Mord'Sith don't cuddle, but Kahlan, Darken has discovered these past five months, needs to be held—needs to be touched.

It's a surprisingly endearing quality, all things considered.

And so Darken cuddles with his sleeping wife, and marvels at his good fortune.

It would be foolish to do otherwise, when his reign is at last uncontested, the Seeker who haunted his childhood dead—

But still he thinks of Cara, and it is long before he sleeps.

Outside the door, Dahlia also thinks of Cara—but the way of the Mord'Sith is to look forward, not back.

Her Sisters scoff at their new Confessor Queen, sure this is merely some whim of Lord Rahl's—but Dahlia, giving the matter her considered opinion, finds it likely Lady Rahl is here to stay.

And, after tonight, she isn't sorry, either. Lady Rahl has a surprisingly high pain threshold, for a Confessor.

It will be interesting to see how she adjusts to life in D'Hara.

And Dahlia means to watch her, every step of the way—she has to protect Lord Rahl's interests, after all.

(Lady Rahl used to be part of the Resistance, and she convinced Lord Rahl to grant the lot of them an amnesty no Mord'Sith would have countenanced—she is still dangerous, Rada'Han or not.)

All in all, she's very grateful Lord Rahl invited her to his marriage bed.