Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert.
- T.S. Eliot
When they get home late in the evening they leave the lights off and take wide routes around the furniture, staying as quiet as they can although there's no one to hear. Everything is stopped in place, as if a camera shutter had clicked closed with the door and pressed the empty rooms into film. In the hallway Roy leans in to unclip her hair and presses his lips against her neck, his breath vividly hot in the cold, unlived-in flat.
They undress each other in the dark. She knows the shapes of everything, how the buttons come loose at his waist, the sound of twill moving over cotton, the feeling of the first inch of bare skin she finds, soft and cool. He slides her jacket off each arm, hands returning to undo her cuffs, and his fingers curl around her wrists as he kisses her temple and ducks his head to kiss her mouth.
It's just another way of talking without having to say what they mean. A tiny spill of sand falls from her shirt collar and traces away down her back. Sitting on the edge of the bed they unlace their own boots, kicking them away, and Riza lifts her hips to shuck off her trousers; he reaches over to slide them down her legs. He traces the skin at the back of her knees, leaving little stammers of sensation behind.
The sheets are cold, a little dusty, and the mattress creaks under the weight of their bodies. She finds his mouth and works her way downwards, tracing detail across his chest with her tongue. His hands flutter against her shoulders and she closes her eyes to where it's darker still.
In Ishval the sun is as fierce and bright as always, the ruined buildings bleached even paler than she remembers. The first people returning are living in tents, colours all pale and clean amongst the rubble. Roy runs his fingers through her hair and she feels the raised scar on his palm against her jaw and under her mouth, under skin and folded muscle, his ribs curve away like long silences.
The wind smoothes down everything in the end. His hands on her shoulders become insistent and she lets him pull her back up, presses their bodies together as they kiss. After so many years she's learned to dull the feeling, tamp down the desire that sparks along her bones, and the fierce insistence of it now is almost more than she can bear. Sometimes they both find themselves staring at one another in the morning, shocked that this is really happening.
"You," he mumbles against the side of her nose, "wonderful, yes," his hands offering no punctuation as they stutter down her spine. He doesn't talk much in bed, which had surprised her, and when he does it's usually nonsense, but his mouth opens over hers and there's meaning enough.
The trains don't run there yet, but they will; long cuttings through the Riesembul hills and hard lines of wood and metal. They walked down roads rutted by wheels, bad memories pooling in the tyre tracks, and when they were out of sight he had slipped his gloved hand into hers.
She hooks one heel around his thigh and rolls onto her back, closing her eyes as his weight presses her into the mattress. His kisses are interspersed with tiny nips of his teeth, the rough edges of his nails scratching against her sides, and one day, perhaps, she will stop expecting this to all come crashing down around them.
In Ishval they have already rebuilt the sanctuary of the Great Temple, the twelve lamps burning through the night again and incense rising in the heat of the day. She didn't cross the threshold. If their God really does walk among the pillars there Riza isn't sure how interested it would be in her prayers.
Their hearts are beating at point and counterpoint. Roy's teeth dig into the skin of her neck, just a little, and she clenches a hand in his mussed hair.
"Please," she murmurs to him, the closest words she can lay hands on for what she really means, "please, come on-"
"Gladly," he replies, in a tone she's sure was not meant to sound so desperate and raw, and one hand slips down between her legs. He knows where she wants him, knows what she likes, and his fingers are sure but light- too light- and she huffs in frustration, feeling his grin pressed between her collarbones. She pulls his head back and although she can hardly see his face she knows the colour of his eyes by heart, how wide and how dark they must be.
"Oh, shut up," is the best she can manage. He presses his face against her skin again, the tremor of a laugh running through him, but he hitches her leg up around his waist and eases forward and there, oh there, and she rakes a hand through his hair again and kisses him hard as soon as she can reach.
For three, four, five seconds he's still, his eyelashes fluttering against her cheekbone. She thinks of the blood coursing through his body, the long muscles of his back; she thinks, strangely, of a single handful of sand. When he starts to move she's quite unable to think at all.
The moon drifts out from behind a cloud, cool light slipping through the gap in the curtains and wandering across the room, and when it finally crosses his face he's looking straight into her eyes. It's too much. Her mouth falls open and he kisses her hurriedly, messily, all sharp and sweet at once, saying her own name to her over and over like a blessing, the syllables all running together in his urgency. His hand is on her again, caught between their bodies, and he doesn't tease her now, doesn't-
Something stops, tenses, all caught up tight inside her and there's him, skin and mouth and hands and Roy, at last, at last, at last, her breath in a rush and her whole body trembling. When he follows her a minute later his fingers curl in the sheets and she presses her palms flat against the backs of his shoulders, her lips against the curve of his ear.
The clouds roll quietly on their way and darkness slides over them again, bodies still entangled, all boneless in the middle of the bed. The summer is starting to turn and in the autumn the rains blow up from the south, from Aerugo and the sea. The Ishvalans have marked out fields where soldiers' camps stood, years ago, bags of seeds sorted and stored for the planting.
"I can hear you thinking," Roy says lazily, his fingers drawing little spirals on her hip. Sometimes this is what she wants most of all, curling up with him afterwards all sated and warm, the gentle quiet between them at last.
"Mmhmm." Even now there's a little flicker of desire at his touch, but after hours on the trains and a week in a too-familiar tent she's too tired to want to kindle it.
"We should get some sleep," he says, leaning slowly across to kiss her forehead, "early start in the morning."
"Yes." She fidgets slightly on the mattress, trying not to think of the hard ground. His chest swells with breath under her hand.
"See you tomorrow." His hand at her hip stills and curves around her, the sheets falling gently over it. She will wake up to him in the morning, his hands and his sleepy eyes and that slow, satisfied smile.
"Yes," she says, "tomorrow," and closes her eyes.