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'No,' she said. 'There isn't room for you. My life there has a certain shape to it, and I don't want you to be a part of it. And Nayiit's a grown man. It's too late to start raising him now. I love you. And Nayiit is better, I think, knowing you than he was before. But you can't come back with us. You aren't welcome.'

Maati looked down at his knees. His hand seemed to relax into her palm.

'Thank you,' he whispered.

She raised his hand and kissed the wide, soft knuckles. And then his mouth. He touched her neck gently, his hand warm against her skin.

'Put out the candles,' she said.

Time had made him a better lover than when they had been young. Time and experience - his and her own both. s.e.x had been so earnest then; so anxious, and so humorless. She had spent too much time as a girl worried about whether her b.r.e.a.s.t.s looked pleasing or if her hips were too thin. In the years she had kept a house with him, Maati had tried to hold in his belly whenever his robes came off. Youth and vanity, and now that they were doomed to sagging flesh and loose skin and short breath, all of it could be forgiven and left behind.

They laughed more now as they shrugged out of their robes and pulled each other down on the wide, soft bed. They paused in their pa.s.sions to let Maati rest. She knew better now what would bring her the greatest pleasure, and had none of her long-ago qualms about asking for it. And when they were spent, lying wrapped in a soft sheet, Maati's head on her breast, the netting pulled closed around them, the silence was deeper and more intimate than any words they had spoken.

She would miss this. She had known the dangers when she had taken his hand again, when she had kissed him again. She had known there would be a price to pay for it, if only the pain of having had something pleasant and precious and brief. For a moment, her mind s.h.i.+fted to Nayiit and his lovers, and she was touched by sorrow on his behalf. He was too much her son and not enough Otah's. But she didn't want Otah in this room, in this moment, so she put both of these other men out of her mind and concentrated instead on the warmth of her own flesh and Maati's, the slow, regular deepening of his breath and of hers.

Her thoughts wandered, slowing and losing their coherence; turning into something close kin to dream. She had almost slipped into the deep waters of sleep when Maati's sudden spasm brought her back. He was sitting up, panting like a man who'd run a mile. It was too dark to see his face.

She called his name, and a low groan escaped him. He stood and for a moment she was afraid that he would stagger and fall. But she made out his silhouette, a deeper darkness, and he did not sway. She called his name again.

'No,' he said, then a pause and, 'No no no no no. Oh G.o.ds. G.o.ds, no.'

Liat rose, but Maati was already walking. She heard him bark his s.h.i.+n against the table in the front room, heard the wine bottle cl

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