In Silence

She was too small to be the woman he'd loved, her hair too fine, her hips too slender. And he was too large to be the man she'd wanted, his skin too pale, his eyes too narrow and the color of sunset, not the sun itself. But they were not thinking of the ones they'd lost; the touches of each others' hands were too immediate, too unexpected, and he thought she cannot want me as she looked up with sorrowing, lusting eyes, Lior purple like strange flowers.

He did not protest. He was fallen, a sinner; he was bone deep in pain; she, naked in the dim lamplight in the little mud room at night, glowed in warm, soft stretches of deep russet gold as white cloth bloomed away from her body like the breath of a ghost. She pressed herself against him, unwrapped him in silence, in a wordless act of desperation. His scars were pale beneath her fingers.

His long green abayeh slid soft and sand-battered through her hands; she laid it out beneath them, sat both their trembling brown bodies down, his back against the wall. He was hard, shocking himself with how much he wanted her; she slid off his sandals, wrapped herself around him, hugged him close.

It would be cruel, he thought, to speak when she couldn't. No words, no reasoning, no hesitation.

She clung to him so tightly that his skin was white under her fingertips. She clung like a frightened animal, arms slipped under his shoulders with far more strength than he'd imagined she could have—the sort of strength women hide and use to carry children. She clung in silent pleading, keep me safe.

He was not a foolish man, nor blind. He knew what soldiers did to pretty girls who walked alone. He knew that by Lior law, rape did not happen, was to be glossed over, forgotten—by Lior law and wrenching irony, the baby sleeping a wall away was all but a virgin birth. But it would be cruel to forget such things.

And yet, after pains that only women could understand, she would still be close to him; he couldn't believe she would, touched her only on blind trust. He could balance her weight easily in his arms, brace her with a hand wrapped round the soft curve of her rear, and she did not complain; she only nuzzled closer to him, burrowing into warmth, twitched and shifting her hips until she found the right angle, lowered herself, enveloped him. And she must have wanted him so much, to slide round him so easily, deep secret muscles of her cunt clenching as she rocked, slow and trembling. An act of desperation, an act of validation; her face creased as if in pain.

Her baby cried in the next room, but the dark woman hushed him so they would not be disturbed, summoned milk that stank faintly of rot and alchemy, nursed him to silence.

Her lost voice barely showed even then, even as he bucked into her, loosing himself in lust for one, brief, endless moment. Her breath quickened; there were the softest hints of moans, as if an animal was whimpering from a distant hillside, and he thought her voice might have been beautiful once, but she didn't cry out. He did, low, straining, not quite able to bite it back.

After he came and slid out of her, she curled against him as he leaned back panting, sweat soaking dust-gray bangs thick to his temples. Time stretched; he ran fingers through her damp and tangled hair. When his strength returned, she wrapped both hands pleading round his wrist, guided his hand between her legs, led his fingers through strange landscapes, unknown continents and floodplains, until he found his way inside her, until he found his way to the little nub that made her flush, buck against him, almost, almost moan.

She had taken his right hand, fingers running yearning over the dark lines of the great array. Alchemy surged; he knew the taste of her life against his palm. It frightened him, but it would be cruel to her, he knew, to stop.

She was so wet that his fingers grew pale, puckered like grapes in the sun. Sweat ran down her thighs; she did not open her eyes, did not let go of him. She clutched around him, wept silently, came and came.

The next day, the abayeh was stiff with dried musk. Scar turned it in his hands, still silent, breathed it, and wondered. Lyla smiled that small, private, menacing smile, quietly brewed tea that stunk with strange herbs, parsley and sage, rosemary and thyme. Roze, sick baby whining on one hip, clay pitcher on the other, brought water back from the well, and they washed out the stains together, and he touched her shoulder gently with a broad hand as they hung it up to dry in the rising sun.