With Roses In Her Hair
by Shu of the Wind
Bengal is hot and sticky. She feels like she's wandering through boiling water, only it's thicker than that, maybe some sort of paste, and sweat dampens the cloth under her arms and at the back of her neck. She fell into loathing with her dress the instant she put it on, with all of its ridiculous layers. But it's the only style she has, and it's actually the least troublesome out of the wardrobe she brought with her.
She still isn't quite sure why she came to Bengal. It might be a flight of fancy. She knows that's what her family thinks it is. But she's with Paula and she's eighteen, and there's nothing they can really do to stop her. (No, that's a lie – there's a great many things they can do to stop her, and she realizes at the dock in London how lucky she is when a girl older than she is gets dragged into a carriage by her mother, who is bellowing about darkies and rape and terrible, terrible things. But her parents aren't like that, and as much as her mother may not like her traveling across the world, she's not about to stop her.)
The ship was relatively quiet, about as much unlike theCampania as possible, and she spends a great deal of the voyage sitting on one of the observation decks and simply watching the sea go by. She does interact with most of the other guests in first class – it would be rude of her not to, obviously – but she tries to keep to herself, and eventually even the flirtatious army lieutenant realizes that maybe she just doesn't want to talk to him. Her engagement ring is tucked safe against the curve of her collarbone, hung on a chain under the collar of her dress. She should be wearing it, by all rights, but she doesn't want the other passengers to know who she is.
Once I get to Bengal, she thinks, I'll put it back on.
Somehow it slips her mind, though. She wakes up every morning and looks at herself in the mirror in the small but elegant Calcutta house that her father engaged years ago for business, and she sees the glint of silver and emerald at her throat and thinks, Today is the day.And then she goes to brush her hair and calls for Paula, and eventually the ring's new place becomes the hollow of her throat.
Lizzy likes Bengal. She likes the heat of it, and the smell, and the crowding and the insanity. She wishes she could spend more time around the temples, and in the market she traipses among the fabric stalls, running her fingers over the cloth, and every time she goes she comes back with an armful of silk or cotton or linen that feels delicious against her skin. Most of it ends up piled in the bottom of her trunk, because almost all of the pieces are already stitched, intended for a sari, and she's not entirely sure she can justify herself wearing one. Not yet. Her skin turns just a bit darker, enough for Paula to notice, but she doesn't particularly care about that, either. She looks better with a bit of a tan, she decides, and as far away from England as they are, who cares what the rest of society thinks?
In Calcutta she goes by the name Elizabeth Crawford. Even in Bengal, the Middleford name is infamous. So is Ciel's, and even though he knows exactly where she is – she's certain that her escapade is all over society within three days of her taking off – she doesn't want the shadow of the business following her.
Paula likes it here too, though, perhaps, not quite as much as Lizzy does. She fusses a little sometimes, especially when Lizzy insists on forgetting her hat, or stopping to talk to some of the stall tenders for no reason other than to talk. Then again, it's not that much different than when they were in London, only now Lizzy is the one that stands out in the crowd, rather than the other way around.
It's a very strange feeling, and she's not quite sure whether it not that makes her nervous.
Lizzy rarely attends any of the parties that the other Englishmen here hold. She doesn't like them; she came to Bengal to get away from the transparency of Society, and she's not about to go straight back to that here. But then there's the old Major-General, one of the only people on the ship that she liked, and when he finally tracks her down to send her an invitation to his grandson's birthday party, there's no way she can turn it down in good conscience.
She's set for more backstabbing gossip, but this is different. The party is small and the people are simple: self-deprecating, friendly, and most definitely not the kind of people she expected. They're not exactly English anymore, but they're not Anglo-Indian, either. The Major-General's son has an Indian wife, and their son is a beautiful boy of five with deep dark eyes and striking features. He hides behind his father for much of the party until Lizzy sits down on the floor with him and asks about his new toy, which turns out to be a little mechanical elephant.
She's still sitting there when Soma and Agni come in, and she can feel the blood drain out of her face when she sees Soma's brilliant smile.
It's a coincidence, she thinks. When the Major-General introduces her as Lizzy Crawford, Soma's eyebrows go up, but he makes no comment. It's only when he offers to escort both Lizzy and Paula back to their house a few blocks away – which is something they can't refuse, not with the Major-General watching – that Soma gives her a long look, and says, "Lizzy."
Lizzy scowls at him. "What?"
"Is there any particular reason you've changed your last name?"
She twists her handkerchief between her hands, and on her collarbone the ring feels cold against her skin. "Not really."
Soma looks confused.
"I don't want to be a Middleford." Lizzy says, and wonders if that sounds ridiculous. She knows it sounds ridiculous. It's why she doesn't want to say it. She says it anyway. "I don't want to be a Middleford, at least, not for a little while."
He looks at her for a little while, quieter than she's ever heard him before. He doesn't say a word for the longest time. Then he smiles, puts his hands behind his head, and sets his feet on the seat between Lizzy and Paula. "Right, then, Lizzy Crawford. Where haven't you been in Calcutta?"
Lizzy smiles, and waits until she's stepped down from the cart to pull him down a bit and kiss his cheek. She's not sure if it's her imagination, but when she pulls away and darts back into the house, she thinks she sees a touch of color in Soma's skin.
She writes her first letter home that night. The letter to Ciel waits blank on her desk.
She hadn't realized how well known Soma is around Calcutta until he volunteers to become her guide to the city. Agni is his ever-present shadow, smiling and friendly, redirecting Soma when Soma gets off-track (not nearly as often as Lizzy remembers; it's been four years and maybe a little more, and even though he's mostly the same, he's different too, in ways she can't quite explain). She spends more time with Major-General Matthews and his family as well, and the younger Mr. Matthews reminds her of Edward in some ways, but Soma appears at her doorstep pretty much every day now, and sometimes she wonders when exactly he became less of a guiding acquaintance and more of an actual friend.
She decides not to question it, but sometimes she lies in bed at night and holds the chain with her engagement ring up over her head, letting it spiral through the moonlight and shiver and reflect in the dark, and wonders.
Things feel cleaner here. The people here feel cleaner. She knows that Calcutta is just as bad as London in some ways, probably worse, but at the same time, she's not one of the Middlefords here. She's just Lizzy, and the fact that she keeps getting invitations to the Major-General's house – not because of her name, but because they actually like her – puts a bit of a spring into her step that hadn't been there before.
It's the end of the fourth week of her stay in Bengal when she finally gets the courage to write to Ciel. She leaves the ring dangling from a chain on her throat. She always loses rings, and there's no point in her losing this one. In fact, there's everything to lose.
It's unintentional at first. Soma shows up at breakfast, and draws her out of her chair, ignoring her protests, to tie a blindfold of ochre silk around her eyes. "It's a surprise," he whispers in her ear, and suddenly she realizes how close he's standing to her, and how highly improper it is. Still, it's been a long time since she's been blindfolded, and she doesn't know this house as well as she knows home. She takes his hand and lets her lead her out, wondering if it'll be possible to hit him once they've finally made it to wherever they're going.
They go down to the Hooghly. It reminds her a bit of the Thames, but the smell is different; the earth is richer here, and there's a different scent, something thick and musky and animal-like. She hears Paula take a gasping breath, and Soma hushes her maid as the door to the carriage opens again and someone slips by her, takes her hands, and leads her down into the mud. She's barefoot, she realizes, when her toes squish into the soil.
"You took me out barefoot?" Lizzy yelps, not quite sure if she should laugh or rage.
She can hear Soma's grin as he replies, "You'll thank me later. Hold still."
Then suddenly his hands have vanished, and Lizzy is standing half-unbalanced in the mud of the riverbank, listening to the movements around her, and she says, "Soma, if you're just planning to leave me here—"
Something brushes her cheek. Lizzy freezes. It's rough and soft at once, bristling, and she doesn't know what it is. There's a shadow cast over her; the sun isn't burning on her face any longer. Then Soma calls out "Take off your blindfold!" and she reaches up with hesitant fingers to peel the silk off of her eyes. The trunk of the elephant brushes over her cheek again, and her whole world is full of it, a massive grey figure with deep eyes and a delicate brush against her jaw, and she looks to the left where Soma is standing beside one of his own, grinning at her. For an instant she can't breathe; then she catches the elephant's trunk lightly between her bare palms. It's coiled and hairy, and she can't quite explain how it feels to be so close to this being, this animal so much larger, and stronger, andrealer than she is. It just is.
"Soma," she says, and for a moment that's all she can say. Then she coughs and puts a hand up to her throat, where the engagement ring rests bold and silvery on the collar of her dress. The trunk follows her hand, tentative and then bolder. "Who is this?"
"Her name is Fulmala." Soma puts a hand up to the elephant beside him for a moment before saying something to the tamer on the beast's shoulders and coming to join her. Lizzy follows him in spite of herself, around to the shoulder. "She's twelve. She's one of my father's elephants."
"I thought there weren't many anymore."
"There are more around than you'd think," said Soma, "and they're not exactly clean."
Lizzy only gets it when she sees the trainer tap the second elephant deep into the river, and for a moment she draws back. "I can't, that's just—"
"Improper?" he says, and he grins at her and his eyes are suddenly very dark in the sunlight. He seems to think about something; then he catches her hand and says, "Come on."
Lizzy can't help it. She smiles, and follows him down into the water. Only knee deep – she's not that young – but she stands with Fulmala and watches from the sidelines as Soma dunks himself, then goes to help with the bath. Paula comes down to stand beside her, wary of Fulmala, and says, "That'll be a story to tell the people back home, Miss Lizzy, don't you think?"
"Yes," says Lizzy, and wonders why that hurts.
She's not quite certain how it starts.
It might be the way she realizes suddenly, at a picnic they attend with the Matthews family, that Soma listens to her. Even if she's only talking about something silly, he sits there and listens, with his chin propped on his hand, and half a smile in his eyes, the way he used to be when she'd been fourteen and naïve. She talks a lot, a great deal more than she ever says in London, and he doesn't just sit there, either; he tilts his head, asks her questions, makes her laugh, brings up new points, and suddenly the sun is going down and the others are returning from their adventures at the edge of the jungle, and she flushes scarlet and gets up off the blanket to go rescue Priya from her suddenly wild five year old. William doesn't calm down, but she has a lot more energy than Mrs. Matthews, and when she goes back to the blanket Soma takes the boy from her and whips him around like a monkey on a vine, and suddenly William is cackling and Elizabeth can't stop smiling.
It might be the way that he laughs, because he laughs a great deal more than anyone should laugh, and somehow when he laughs everyone else laughs too. He's never going to be king, and they all know it, but somehow Lizzy can see him that way – the laughing king, like a character in a fairy story, and when he catches her by the wrists and spins her around like a top she laughs too.
It might be his kindness, but it also might be his flaws, because it's not like he doesn't have them. She can remember the one time they have a blazing row. It's about something stupid, something about Funtom Company, she can't quite remember, but it's vicious. Soma snarls at her and storms out of the room, slamming the door behind him, and Lizzy seizes a vase and flings it against the opposite wall to keep herself from stalking after him and ripping all his stupid hair out of his head. It takes a few days before he comes back, looking like a kicked puppy on her doorstep, and Lizzy gives him a black look for as long as she can before breaking down and letting him in. He's selfish, too, and there are still so many things about people that he doesn't understand.
Still, she thinks, and plays with the ring around her neck, he apologizes, and that means there's hope for him yet.
She realizes later that night that she doesn't miss Ciel as much as she thought she would. She doesn't miss him the way she should, and the thought makes her stomach clench. She puts the ring on her finger, looks at it. A reminder.
It might be because he's Soma, and she's Elizabeth. It might be because of the city. It might be because of the ring around her neck, or it might not be that at all, but something that should have always happened. It might have been anything. She's not quite certain how it starts. All she knows is that it has, and suddenly she's tripped into the middle of it, and there's nothing she can do.
She's not sure how to talk to him after she figures it out. Soma doesn't understand at first, can't understand, and his nervous question – "Lizzy, have I done something wrong?" – makes her eyes sting and her hands clench in her lap as she shakes her head no and changes the subject. Still, it's harder, and gradually he pulls away a little bit. Sometimes she catches him watching her with a sad, contemplative look, and other times she catches him with an unreadable expression on his face, his hands folded, head tilted to the side, and that makes her breath catch in her chest.
It's an accident when they get caught in the monsoon, and it's coming down too thick for anyone to be wandering the streets. She has to let Soma stay in her house for the night, and if that drives the old woman across the street into an aneurysm, well, then that's that. Dinner is silent, not at all like usual; they sit in silence, barely looking at each other, the air crackling from the static and the tension. Outside the monsoon is shouting, a steady dull roar just outside the window, and she can feel her guilt strangling her because heshouldn't be here, because this is more of a danger than anything else she's come across in her engagement to Ciel, and something inside her is screaming at the thought.
It would be that night, she thinks later, that she wouldn't be able to sleep. She lies in bed and twists the engagement ring, around and around and around her finger, and she realizes suddenly that she's been twisting and turning it, on and off, ever since the elephants on the banks of the Hooghly.
The engagement ring tightens around her finger like a noose. It's choking her. Her hands shake as she fumbles with it, wrenching it off, tossing it to the floor, and there's the slightest of clinks as it hits the stone and bounces off to land, glittering, in the light of the open window. Lizzy rolls onto her side, and looks at it for an eternity. She can feel the tears building in her throat. There's a paler patch on her finger where the ring rested, a hardening outline of skin, and she rubs her thumb over it so fiercely that she nearly bends her finger back into pain.
Her mind snaps back into sense again then, and Lizzy crawls out of bed, crouching on the floor in the moonlight and rolling the ring back into her palm. She doesn't push it back onto her finger, not quite yet; she just sits there, and looks at it until her eyes hurt from staring too hard, and she thinks.
No. She stands, and goes to the doors, stepping out into the rain. It's warm, and buries her for a breathless moment. There's so much of it, and the rich scent chokes her as it goes down, earth and water and mud and trees and vines and the world, and it's plastering her clothes to her skin. Even though it's drowning her, she tilts her head back and lets the monsoon soak her clean.
Soma's his friend, she thinks, and she squeezes her hand tight around the ring, driving it deep into her palm. Soma's my friend. "A friend," she repeats aloud, and wonders why that sounds hollow. "A friend, a friend, a friend," and that's all it can be, ever, and in her palm the ring feels white hot and burning against her skin. She opens her fist to look at it, silver and green and wet, and she wonders if she could throw it away and vanish into the jungle. Never come out.
"Lizzy." The voice comes from behind her, loud and strangely echoing over the rain, and Lizzy looks back at him for a single moment before shoving her ring back onto her finger, gathering her skirts in her hands, and slogging through the garden plants away from him. It's automatic, instinctual. She can't help it. For a moment there's nothing but the sound of the rain, and then she hears the splashes behind her that means he's following, and she whips around.
Soma stops and looks at her and she sees it. She sees it in his face, she can see the mixture there, and heknows. He knows why. The tears start then and she blinks furiously, barely able to see through the rain. "Don't," she says again, but her voice is much quieter this time, and Soma stops a few feet from her, his hair plastered against his jaw and the back of his neck, and he's beautiful. It's different than Ciel, but she can't help but wonder why she never realized it before. Why she's realizing now. She wants to reach out, brush her fingers over his jaw, the curve of his shoulder, but she fists her hands in her skirt and holds quite still. "Don't."
He looks at her for a moment. Then he takes two steps forward and he's right beside her. His hand comes up, brushes her cheek, and for a breathless instant she thinks he's going to ignore her, and even though she should be horrified, her heart tightens in her chest. Then he leans forward, and there's a touch of warmth against her forehead as he kisses her there, lightly, holding quite still for a moment. There's a sense of desperation to it, and finality, and if there's one thing she doesn't want, it's finality, but there's nothing else they can do. Not now. Not here. Not ever, really.
Soma pulls back, cups her cheek lightly with his hand, and smiles. Then he steps back, and walks away, and Lizzy stands there in the rain with the mud plastering the tops of her feet, her hair streaking down her back, and this time she lets the monsoon hide her away in the dark.
Dear Lizzy, the letter reads, and it's Ciel's handwriting and Ciel's news, and she curls into bed with a hot water bottle and a handkerchief and reads it through foggy eyes. She should be ecstatic. She rarely gets letters from Ciel. But there's nothing of substance here, not really. She can't remember the last time she actually spoke with Ciel and had him respond with the truth, even if it was just about his health. Lizzy looks at the letter again, and she blinks in surprise when she sees a teardrop fall and splotch the ink there. She folds the paper in two, sets it on her bedside table, and turns to look out the window.
"Paula," she says, and when Paula comes in, she looks at her maid in tears and says, "What's wrong with me?"
And then Paula sits on the bed and pulls her forward into a hug, and for the first time in a long time Lizzy sobs, and even if it doesn't level the guilt or the pain or the rest of it, she still feels a bit better afterwards.
Eventually, of course, she has to pretend like nothing's happened. They both have to. She dresses in one of her old skirts, one that's impractical and hot and perfect for the streets of London. Her ring is on her finger, and it tightens there like a handcuff as she smiles and laughs with the Matthews, talking animatedly with William despite the red rings around her eyes, and Mr. Matthews looks at his wife for a moment before standing and asking her to come back to the kitchen with him, to help bring out a few books for the Major-General. Lizzy looks at him for a long moment before getting to her feet, and finally, she follows him out the door.
"Is something wrong?" asks Mr. Matthews, as he goes through the library and loads two volumes of Gibbon'sHistory into her arms. Lizzy tucks the books against her side and shakes her head a bit.
Mr. Matthews says nothing for a few minutes, pulling out another book, and offering it to her. It's by Edgar Allen Poe, and for an instant her breath catches and she nearly drops her load. Then he says, "Do you mind if I tell you something, Miss Crawford?"
Lizzy doesn't say anything. She inclines her head, but only to look at the book. Mr. Matthews goes ahead anyway, speaking slowly and clearly, thoughtfully, as though he's considered this for a very long while. "I always wondered whether you were wearing that ring around your neck for someone you lost. Is that the case?"
"No," said Lizzy, and in spite of herself her hand goes to the ring and she twists twists twists it around her finger again. "No. I'm – I've a fiancé."
"Do you love him?" asks Mr. Matthews, blunt as a butter knife, and Lizzy nearly drops the books.
"Of course I do!" She says, and it's automatic and tastes just a bit sour in her mouth. "Of course I do," she says again, and this time she lets herself think, lets herself feel it, and she's not quite sure what she feels anymore. She loves Ciel. She's always loved Ciel. Always wanted to protect Ciel. To be near Ciel. But for some reason the ache she felt six months ago when she first came to Bengal is gone now. There's a different one there, in its place, crisscrossing the scars, and she's not quite sure how it came to be. Only that it is.
Mr. Matthews watches her out of the corner of his eye, and for a second he looks frighteningly like Edward. "How do you like it here in Bengal, Miss Crawford?"
"I like it very much," replies Lizzy neutrally, and she heaves the books into her arms again. "Do you think we have enough?"
"There's one more." He pulls the stepladder over and crawls up, reaching for the very top shelf. She's not quite sure why the Major-General wants all of these books, but he does, and there's no point in denying him his whims. "If you were to stay, would you miss England overly much?"
"I have to go back to England, Mr. Matthews." She only has a few weeks more. "I have to go back. I have my family there, and my fiancé. I have to go back."
Mr. Matthews puts the last book – Shakespeare's sonnets – on top of the pile in her arms. Then he takes half the books, and nods, and for some reason he looks almost disappointed. "Of course."
I have to go back.
It thrums in her head for the rest of the week, as the day to her ship back to London draws ever closer. She stays close to the house now, though sometimes she goes out to the fabric store run by the Frenchwoman and talks to her about different kinds of Anglo-Indian fashion. If Camille notices something wrong, she doesn't say a word, and Lizzy's grateful for that. The words pound in her head, in a tangle of desperation and agony. I have to go back.
Packing up takes faster than she anticipated. She'd purposefully left extra room in her trunks, and she stows away some of the more precious things that she's gathered here in Bengal. For her last day she finally dares to dress up in one of the saris, an emerald green beauty that shows off her skin in a scandalous, ludicrous, delicious way, and she pads about the house barefoot and bare-armed and corsetless and feels like she's been reborn. She goes up to the flat roof and she sits and she watches the sun set in a miracle of oranges and purples and reds, and when it's finally gone and the world has gone dark she takes a deep breath of the Bengal air and wraps her arms tight around her knees and stays up there until morning, because there's no way she's going to sleep tonight anyway.
When it comes time, Paula pins her hair up into the tight braids and under her traveling hat, and Lizzy looks in the mirror and sees a brown-skinned Anglo-Indian with a sad mouth and sadder eyes. She pinches her cheeks, makes herself smile, and wonders if she'll be able to hold it once she gets back to London.
I have to.
The trip down to the docks is long, and she wants to stop to say goodbye to the stallkeepers that she's spent so much time with over the past few months, but there's no time. She sits and looks out of the window and wishes for something she can't quite name. She thinks about what'll happen when her family collects her from the docks, and she can't help the smile prickling her mouth. When she thinks about Ciel it goes smaller, and she rubs the ring through her gloves and wonders why it feels like a little snake.
She doesn't hate Ciel. She loves Ciel. It's only now that she wonders if perhaps it wasn't quite the kind of love she thought it was.
They're passing the river when she sees the elephants, and Lizzy doesn't bother to check her watch. She taps the roof of the cab, and even as Paula tries to keep her inside, anxious about time, she pays the cabbie to stay there for a few minutes and ventures out into the mud, holding her skirts up higher than is proper, going out to see them. It is Fulmala; at least, she thinks it is, because the trunk comes up to smear dirt across her cheek in exactly the same way, and the tender smiles a bit and hails her in Bengali when he sees her. She knows just enough to ask how he is, but she's far more interested in the elephant, and without a word she takes the trunk and presses the tip of it to her cheek, lightly, trying very hard not to cry.
"Goodbye," she says.
The elephant turns and wades deep into the river, and Lizzy clambers back into the carriage and keeps her eyes on her lap as they rattle away.
They get on the boat, and it's only once Bengal is far out of sight that Lizzy realizes she hasn't stopped crying since Fulmala's trunk slipped out of her gloved hands.
"I have to go back," she says, only now she's not sure where back is anymore.
There's a memory that haunts her in the weeks she languishes in London. It's the picnic, with the sun setting behind the hills and the grass warm under her palms. William runs to her and she catches him, hoisting him up in her arms, and he's heavy and delightfully alive as she turns to give him to Soma. When she does, he hides his expression behind one of his general beaming smiles, but for an instant she sees the look on his face, and wonders if that's the reason behind it all.
She should have asked him, she thinks, what he was thinking as he looked at her and William in her arms with that smile on his face, one of the softest she'd ever seen.
The memory is so real she can taste it, and it tastes of sunlight and curry and smiles.
A friend, she thinks, and she scoffs at the lie.
It's a year and three months after Ciel's disappearance when he finally finds her again.
Lizzy sits in the garden, her hands folded in her lap, watching as the sun sets over the Phantomhive lawn. The ring is back around her neck now, a reminder and a memory. There was no wedding, and now, she thinks, there never will be. Sebastian is gone too, and even Finny, Bard, Snake, and Maylene are beginning to lose hope. She's been staying in the Phantomhive house as makeshift mistress, simply because she feels like she needs to. This place was going to be hers, and then he'd vanished. The Phantomhives are gone, she thinks.Aside from my mother and Edward and me, there are none left to remember them.
For an instant she thinks it's one of her dreams again, because he has that smile on his face again, the sad sweet one from the day with William in her arms. She wonders how old William must be now. Seven, maybe. Soma stands at the entrance to the garden, and for once Agni isn't there. He must be inside, with the others. Hiding.
She stands, and her book falls out of her lap to land on the wet grass. She doesn't notice. For an instant, she can't breathe. Then the iron around her chest loosens. "Soma."
He doesn't say anything for so long she wonders if she's forgotten how to breathe. Then he comes to stand beside her, close enough for her to feel his arm brush hers, and he's dressed in English clothes. A plain dark suit, his hair bound back. She gets a sudden image of that day on the riverbank, and Lizzy closes her eyes to savor the light and the warmth and the touch of an elephant's trunk on her cheek. After a second he crouches, picks up her book, and sets it on the table again. His eyes are dark in the sunset.
"Ciel's gone," he says, and her throat tightens. There are so many ways she can take that. Ciel's gone. Grief.Ciel's gone. Relief. Ciel's gone. Agony. My best friend.And she can see the pain in his eyes and in the new lines around his mouth, because there's a reason why it's taken a year for him to finally come find her. For her to finally have the courage to think about going back to Calcutta. She takes a breath and says the only thing she can say, and hopes against hope that it'll be enough.
"Are you a widow?" He asks, and his fingers tug at the end of her black sleeve, her gown of mourning. Lizzy takes a breath, and shakes her head.
"No. One has to have married to become a widow."
He steps a bit closer, and she feels dizzy. He's here. She doesn't question it. It simply is, and it doesn't matter who they are or where they are because it doesn't matter. The only thing that really matters is the sunset, and the guilt has left her now. All there is, is this.
"You're not a fiancée again, are you?" He asks, and Lizzy shakes her head so fiercely that she can feel her hair clip his fingers.
She's said something right for once. The backs of his hand brushes light against her cheek, and she lets her eyes close, savoring the touch, gentle as Fulmala. When she opens them again, lazily, Soma is watching her, carefully, longingly. After a moment, she feels a touch on her other cheek, and he's cupping her face in his hands, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. There's a quirk of a sad smile on his lips as he asks, "Is there any particular reason for that, Miss Crawford?"
"Middleford," she corrects. She can feel his heartbeat under her fingers. "And you know perfectly well."
He smiles. She smiles, and she can feel her face stretch and ache because she hasn't smiled like this since Calcutta. She isn't sure which of them leans forward first, but then they're pressed tight together, and she can taste him on her lips as his mouth slants down over hers, and Lizzy wraps her arms tight around his neck and tangles her fingers in his hair.
"Where do you want to go this time?" He says, once she finally pulls back for air, and for the first time in forever, she laughs, and goes on tiptoe to kiss him.
Edited to acceded to FFnet guidelines. :)
This turned out a lot longer than I thought it would. Also, much angstier. I hope y'all are happy.