The problem with wanting to see the world is that there's quite a lot of it.
They set out with the sunrise, wanting to cover ground before the sun gets too hot for travel. The woods around Vesuvia soon give way to open fields, and before long they find themselves on the same road they'd been on, the first time they made their promise.
"A big city, huh," Asra muses, stretching out on the driver's seat beside Rei. Faust lounges on his lap, soaking in the sun. He gives her a gentle scritch atop her head. "The biggest city I know of is the Prakran capital, but you've been there before."
She blinks, surprise flashing across her features. "I have?"
He immediately stills, biting his lip. He wonders if he'll ever really grow out of it—of the reflexive fear that strikes him whenever she asks about the past she doesn't remember. But this is her story, and she deserves to know, and he wants to be better at being honest now that he actually can.
(He's tired tired tired of keeping secrets, but old habits are hard to break.)
"Yeah," he says at last, looking anywhere but at her. Faust curls around his arm, sensing his distress. (Faust has old habits, too.) "You told me you used to go there with your father and your clanmates all the time to trade."
"Oh," she says, brows scrunched together. "I don't—"
"—remember, yeah. I know."
A stilted silence comes between them as the midmorning sun climbs steadily higher.
She never really got her memories back. That she's grown to love him again regardless is nothing short of a miracle. Some nights she used look out the shop window, listening to the stars, and she'd smile and tell him it must've been fate.
(When she'd fall asleep beside him, he'd be kept awake by the fear that it was nothing more than dumb luck, after all.)
"Asra," she says at last. "Asra, look at me." When he finally does, she smiles at him, sad but gentle all the same. She takes one of his hands and squeezes it, if only to remind him that she's here.
He can live with this, he decides. He already has been for the last three years. He squeezes back, and his smile is a perfect mirror to her own.
(She is here, and she loves him, and that will always be more than enough.)
"We'll make new memories," she assures him. "We have time."
He draws up their linked hands to his mouth, kissing each of her knuckles.
"And the entire world to make them in," he says, lips ghosting along her skin.
She turns back to the road, squinting at the upcoming crossroads. She tugs on the reins with one hand, slowing the horses down. Her other hand stays firmly in his.
"Have we ever been to Prakra together before?" she asks, slowing to a stop where the road diverges. The westward road leads to the desert, and then Nopal beyond that. To the east lies the coastal highway, skirting the ocean as it leads to Prakra.
"No," Asra says with a quirk of his mouth. "Never."
"Well," Rei says, "more than enough reason to go, I should think."
With a light snap of the reins, she turns them east, following the distant dream of the sea over the horizon.
They make new habits too, on the road.
She asks a lot of questions. She might never get her memories back, but there's a satisfying kind of freedom, too, in being able to at least tell her about it at last.
As he drives them past twisting rock formations and cracked, uneven basalt columns, she asks him when his birthday is, and he laughs because he realizes he's never told her in the three years she's forgotten it.
"June thirteenth," he says, and laughs again at the affronted gasp that sounds from the open window behind him, where she's inside sitting on their bed and leaning on the sill.
"You told me that was Faust's birthday!" she cries, indignant.
Twins! Faust chimes in, popping up beside Rei and slithering halfway out the window to give Asra a playful lick on the cheek.
"It is Faust's birthday," he clarifies. "But it's mine, too."
She huffs, tugging at his shirt, and wraps her arms around his shoulders when he leans back against the window. "We could've celebrated if you'd just told me," she grumbles, hooking her chin over his shoulder.
He turns his head and kisses her cheek, repentant. "It didn't seem important at the time. And—" he pauses, squinting at the lights shining off the sea. If he looks in just the right direction, he thinks he can see the familiar silhouettes of Vesuvia, there across the water. He imagines a flash of red, and he shudders. "—I was afraid it might—"
He doesn't finish. He doesn't have to. She knows what he means.
She sighs softly and presses a kiss to where his heartbeat pulses under the thin skin of his neck. "We don't have to be afraid anymore."
(There's freedom, too, in letting yourself be brave.)
As they follow a road that hugs towering chalk cliffs ending in a sheer drop, she sits perched on the roof, her bare feet lightly thumping the wall next to Asra's head. Her eyes track Tulin's flight as he skims low over the water, hunting.
"Asra," she says, fiddling with the falconer's glove on her left hand just as Tulin dives into the water, "if you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?"
Tulin circles overhead with a shrill warning cry. A wriggling fish caught in his talons shimmers silver in the sun, before he promptly drops it toward Rei, who catches it handily in a readied wicker basket. She turns to Asra, proud of their display of teamwork, but she catches the mischief shining in his eyes and scowls.
"I swear—" she says, just as Asra begins to answer.
"Well, obviously it'd be your—"
"—if you say 'your—"
She groans, frustrated, and digs her heels into his shoulder, but he only laughs and presses a kiss to her ankle as her mortified shrieks echo down the cliff and over the crashing waves.
When they come across a deserted beach, just before the road turns further north, they halt the wagon and take off their shoes to walk barefoot in the sand, pausing to watch the moonrise beneath a copse of trees.
"What was it like?" she asks quietly. "The first time you kissed me."
She is standing under a palm tree, fingers brushing the rough bark. He imagines she's thinking about the oasis in his gateway, when he'd brought her over and she'd brought the rains and he'd kissed her like a drowning man desperate for air.
"I thought I was dreaming," have answers, voice soft with the memory. "I couldn't even believe you were there, in the oasis, much less that you were kissing me—"
"No," she interrupts, turning to him and pinning him with the heat of her stare. "I mean the first time you kissed me."
Sometimes, he still has to pause and take a deep breath before he talks about their past.
(He's watched his love break her, over and over, and even once is already one time too many.)
"It . . . was during a Masquerade," he says, eyes tracking over her face—but no pain comes, and the tension that builds up inside him eases a bit at the sight.
She huffs a laugh. "Of course it was."
"It was the first Masquerade we actually went to together," he continues, a bit more forthcoming.
"Did we dance?" She sits, leaning against the trunk and patting the space beside her.
"No." He settles next to her. "We couldn't even get into the Palace—it was already full."
"So? Where did we go?"
"The big bridge, in the Temple District. You wanted to watch the fireworks display they always do at the end of the Masquerade, and the bridge had a great view." When he looks at her now, in the dappled moonlight, he can almost see her as she was then—wearing the first mask she ever brought from him, a smile playing on her lips as she moved steadily, tantalizingly close. "It was raining then, too," he says. "Not very heavy, but we had to hide under one of the alcoves while waiting."
She presses closer, breathless with anticipation. "And then?"
He grins. "And then I professed my undying love and caught you as you swooned, and drew you into a passionate kiss."
She snorts, shoving him lightly. "No you didn't."
He laughs. "No, I didn't. I can't even remember if I said anything; I was so tongue-tied."
"Please tell me you did actually kiss me at some point." The roll of her eyes says one thing, but the way her fingers tangle in his says another, and he knows exactly which one she really means.
He smiles. "We were huddling together to stay warm when the fireworks started. You looked so happy, watching them. You were so beautiful, and so close—I just had to kiss you."
He leans in to kiss her just the way he remembers—soft with hesitation and sweet with the heady rush of a first love. (First and only love—lost and found.) He pulls away just far enough to see the amused quirk of her mouth.
"So it was raining, huh?" she whispers, still close enough that he can feel her lashes brush his cheek. "Is that why you can't seem to stop yourself from kissing me whenever we get the slightest bit damp?"
He kisses the corner of her mouth, teasing. "We're perfectly dry right now, though."
"Not for long."
She wrenches herself suddenly away and runs, making a beeline for the water, her laughter mingling with the sound of the waves. Her skirt swishes behind her, as if beckoning him to follow, and he grins, chasing her into the ocean as a bright crescent moon sways gently in the indigo sky.