He'd been with women before her, but none of them stayed put so stubbornly in his mind. It was a quality he admired in her, he thought, but nonetheless it was an irritating one.
Why wasn't she so easily dismissed as the women from before?
(Before and after had somewhere become divided by a great canyon of her - there was life before her, and life after her.)
Besides, all that remained of her in his mind was a pig-headed will and dark, smoky eyes. The others were a mess of hot, tangled limbs and spicy breath on his mouth, his cheeks. But over time they had merged into one single generic entity - running their fingertips down the smooth slope of his bare chest, the slow scrape of the nails leaving a trail of goosebumps on his flesh, blondes, brunettes, red-heads, southern accents, and hoity-toity misses, they were all the same.
Only she, with her olive skin and swathe of curled hair stuck there - haunting the space behind his eyes so that he couldn't even sleep in peace.
Sometimes he'd feel an ache deep in his stomach when he thought of her, a bizarre tightening of his muscles, and he'd wonder if it could ever work. Him and her.
How could it?
A man ungoverned by society, far rider and his fine pony, a man with no rules and little respect for them, with the daughter of a Sheik?
The cultural boundaries were inescapable - they cast a tall, dark shadow over him and he shied away from it.
So when she came to him on the night before his departure, chewing at her swollen lips and wringing the soft skin of her hands into tatters, he was coolly impassive. She was fragile, vulnerable and he spoke to her as he would a nervous pony, the tone low and seductive, even if the words were not so satisfying.
"You would leave without saying goodbye?" she asks him, her voice trembling but her chin notched up towards him, her eyes smiling (proud and gallant to the last, it was more than he could say for himself).
"I thought'd be easier fer the both of us," he shrugged, turning his face away from her, the ache in his stomach moving up towards his throat, "considerin',".
"Ah," she doesn't understand – somewhere in the back of her mind she'd allowed herself a futile amount of glittering hope and his indifference stung like sand in an open wound – even if she sounds as if she does, she is gentle and naïve, even if she'd convinced herself otherwise.
The sound of her uncertainty and the slow poke of her tongue in her cheek (she's uncomfortable now, wondering whether she should leave or press her hand against his heart to see if there was something beating) and the way she tilts her face up towards his makes his throat contract. He swallows thickly and tucks his hands into his pockets (the temptation is there and his skin's burning for contact with hers), wanting so much to press a few inches further and close the gap between their mouths.
The moonlight makes her face looks pale and he thinks that there is no other way for it to be – they could meet like this, when the moon is silver in the sky and the sun with it's prying eyes cannot see the way their hearts beat and their fingers quiver, but what kind of life is that for her?
He would not have her be his dirty little secret.
(Besides, he doesn't think that a Colt would be enough to keep her father away from his 'pride' if he found his daughter missing – he could never run far enough, and sooner or later they would swarm over him like bees.)
"You should go home, Jazira," her face is uncovered and he watches helplessly as her mouth tightens into the straight line that he knows so well, after such little time, "yer father'll be wonderin' where you are."
He's purely earnest and she knows that he's worried that something will happen again, that he'll be tied to a post and she'll be dragged away screaming. The memory makes her wince – and she's suddenly aware of the thin line that fans down her back, arrogant and bold-faced because men have never been shy of their cruelty.
"I should," she says slowly, tasting the words in her mouth, "but I couldn't watch you leave and not say anything,".
And then there is no need for words; she raises a tentative, shaking hand to his mouth and traces the curve of his lips. He is stoic, with stiff shoulders and clenched fists, but his lips are parted and his eyes are dark, unreadable, wide. He thinks he can see the glimmer of tears in her eyes, and his stomach clenches.
Who would cry over him?
He's distant and cool with everyone, with women, and he never fails to push them away.
How could anyone love him, when he is incomplete?
Jazira has never said that she loves him; but it has been clear to him since she had cupped his hand with her own and shown him her face, streaked with bitter tears and aching with the injustice of the world.
Her fingers leave a trail of hot skin down the slope of his neck, down his chest, along his wrist. She pulls one of hands from it's pocket and he lets it slip away meekly, her boldness and apparent determination silencing him. She bends her head and presses her lips against his skin; it's cool and dry and her mouth leaves a fiery eruption of goose-flesh.
And without a word she leaves; the moonlight shining onto the empty dock as though she'd never been there at all, the only evidence of her presence the faint thrum of his pulse in his ears.
She was stubborn to the extreme.
That night he dreamt of dark hair and shining eyes and when he woke up he was sweating, his mouth twisted into a flicker of a grin, because this time the tangled limbs of his dreams had been clearly attached to a face.
And it was one that he knew quite well.