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Back to the Desert

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Lawrence didn’t fight the smile that crept onto his young features at the sight of Feisal’s strong body bent in prayer. He let his eyes slide from the curve of his spine to the rounded shape of his backside and stared. The Prince was whispering his prayers solemnly, slowly, in a deep sighing voice, and the Arabic words flowed sinuously and soothingly to Lawrence’s tired ears. He held his breath and leaned against the wall, taking in the view with joyful nonchalance. From the little he could guess through the long robes, Lawrence noticed Feisal’s taut muscles and the way they stretched as he placed his hands on his knees while keeping his legs straight, the way his head was bent in profound reverence, eyes closed, mouth whispering. The younger man watched him get down on his knees and whisper more prayers, then he closed his eyes and listened to all the sighs and solemn incantations and Good Lord, time might as well have stopped, Lawrence was elsewhere, far from the bitter cold of the French capital city. He was under the burning sun in an endless sea of desert dunes and oh, I am home, home again…

“As-salam alaykom wa rahmatou Allah*,” Feisal said twice, turning right and left, finishing his prayer before getting up with a sigh.

Lawrence opened his eyes and pushed himself off the wall. The Emir picked up his sajjada**, folded it around his arm and walked towards his friend, trying to suppress a teasing half-smile.

“I could feel your eyes on me,” he said, his tone slightly accusatory but his gaze amused.

“You were flattered,” Lawrence grinned, and Feisal gave him a sharp look –although the smile never left his eyes.

“I was praying,” he declared, leaving the main suite to enter the bedroom.

Lawrence followed after him, sat on the giant bed and waited as Feisal placed his praying mat on a chair and walked into the adjacent bathroom to change, leaving the door ajar.

“For a moment, I was back in the desert…” Lawrence said dreamingly, leaning against the headboard and raising his voice so that the Emir could hear him; “I closed my eyes and I was there…”

For a few seconds there was silence, interrupted only by the sound of fabric sliding against skin and clothes landing on the bathroom floor. Then Feisal’s voice rose, soft and gentle.

“You miss it.”

It wasn’t a question, more of a statement, so Lawrence said nothing. They both knew he missed it. It was something he couldn’t express openly, although it felt obtusely futile to keep it to himself as if it were some sort of secret, when apparently it was as clear as if it were written on his forehead. But he couldn’t bring himself to admit that the desert felt more like home now than Europe ever did. Feisal had once told him that Arabs hate the desert, its emptiness, its cruelness; they love water and green and all that is fresh. To Lawrence the merciless burn of the sun on half-covered faces, the punishing sting of hot sand on tanned skin, the slow swaying movements of camels walking across the dunes… it was all glorious, and the Emir knew as well as he did how much he longed for it. What he does not know is that he takes me back there… he has that special power.

“Feisal,” he started then paused, letting out a deep breath.

Suddenly he felt a weight beside him on the bed and opened his eyes. The older man was sitting next to him, wearing nothing but a white sirwal. Lawrence hadn’t heard him coming, and the sudden closeness befuddled him slightly. Whatever confession he was about to make was swallowed back as he straightened up on the bed. Wide dark eyes were pouring themselves into his and Lawrence found himself mesmerized by the tender harshness of that piercing gaze. They were sitting so close to each other he could feel Feisal’s warm breath tickle his cheeks. Here there was no escape from himself, from his truth, he lay bare in front of his Prince and at first it chilled him to the bone. He knows me… and that is terrifying. Was it the vulnerability of his position that made him shiver? Or was it the fact that somewhere he craved it; that he wanted it to be this way, to give himself completely? He hated it, but he suspected he wouldn’t be able to resist it. Not with the comforting warmth and raw honesty he saw in Feisal’s face. Not with the way his hands crawled up the bed and touched Lawrence’s trembling fingers, folding over them, covering them, cradling them, coveting them. He knows me… but I am safe here. No, he couldn’t resist the terrifying safety of Feisal’s arms so he let himself fall into them. He wrapped himself around brown shoulders in a light embrace. Their cheeks touched, the Emir’s beard brushing against Lawrence’s skin, scratching it the way the desert sand did. As he held on tighter, he felt his friend’s hands slide up his back and bury themselves in his hair. Pulling away slightly, eyes still locked, they both took deep breaths, inhaling the sweet melancholy that the embrace brought, the memories of other nights in other places where they would keep each other warm until dawn crept up the shadowy dunes in the distance. Their lips met for the first time under a Western sky, and Lawrence screwed his eyes shut, willing his mind to take him back in time, back where it all began. He did not open them when Feisal shifted them to lie across the bed, nor when he pushed aside the younger man’s clothes, nor when he bent down to slide his tongue over exposed white skin. He let Feisal take him back to the desert.