The wedding reception was ... busy. That was what Rick was calling it. There were other words, in his head, far more accurate words, but none that he could say aloud, not in this company. So busy it was. He didn't know any of these people. He didn't particularly want to, either. He'd never had to keep a fake grin pasted on for so long in his life. The only thing keeping him from out-and-out homicide was the fact that Ardeth was being surprisingly good company, for a man who'd tried to kill him more than once, and Jonathan appeared to be running interference for him. If it weren't for last night, he might be almost grateful.
Then he heard the man's distinctive laugh, following the word 'handcuffs', and he decided gratitude could go the way of the mummies.
"Jonathan!" he cried, grinning like mad at the old couple glaring at him, draping a restraining arm around the man's shoulders. "Could I have a word?"
"Er ..." Ma Carnahan's boy was no fool, but Rick was inexorable, guiding him irresistibly away from the bewildered guests and into a nice, empty alcove. Ardeth followed, looking vastly and quietly amused, especially when Rick grabbed Jonathan's lapels and pinned him up against the wall.
"Now, here's the thing," he said, mildly, cutting Jonathan off before the man could so much as open his mouth. "I thought we were going to handle last night like men, you and I. Be honourable about it, yeah? And the reason I thought so was that, while you made a very good argument for not harming Evey, which I had no intention of anyway ..." Jonathan opened his mouth again at that, and Rick leaned in close to cut him off, hissing the last words with malice aforethought ... "Nowhere in our agreement was there any mention of my not hurting you."
Jonathan gulped, and Rick grinned like a shark, enjoying the way the Englishman paled. Right up until a sweet voice behind him asked: "And what agreement was this?"
Rick froze, letting a suddenly meek Jonathan gently down before turning, slowly, to see Evey standing at Ardeth's side, looking beautiful and radiant and feminine, and more intimidating than a thousand mummies. Ardeth, for his part, seemed more amused than ever. Rick glared at him. Ardeth looked back impassively.
"Evelyn," he smiled, disarmingly. "I can explain."
"Right!" Jonathan agreed hastily behind him. "We can explain!"
Evey looked them both up and down, eyes narrowed a little in a way that should have looked adorable, but came across more terrifying. She let her eyes rest a little longer on Jonathan, who had somehow contrived to look like a choirboy out of nowhere, then looked back at Rick, and smiled.
"Let me guess. He did something horrible and humiliating and childish to you, didn't he?"
Rick blinked. "Well ..."
"And promised to do something even more horrible and humiliating and childish, if you hurt me?" she went on, still smiling. Rick opened his mouth. Shut it. Stared. She laughed, grinning warmly at her brother, then came over to stand in front of him, her hand soft against his chest, beaming bright and beautiful up at him. "Not that you'd ever hurt me, would you, Rick?" she murmured, looking up from beneath her lashes. He shook his head numbly, and she leaned in, slowly, sweetly, and pressed her lips gently to his. He kissed her back, hungrily.
Then she stepped back, her soft smile morphing into something bright and dangerous, and met Jonathan's eyes over his shoulder. "Good!" she said, brightly. "Because if you did, I'm afraid Jonathan would have to wait until I was finished before he did ... whatever it was." She tilted her head at her brother, grinning like they shared a secret. "You don't mind, do you?"
"Of course not, Evey," the man grinned, shaking his head and patting a stunned Rick gently on the shoulder. "I only offered in case you needed someone to keep him busy while you were plotting an appropriate revenge, that's all."
Evey laughed. "Oh, don't worry about that, Jonathan. I was thinking an old favourite, to start. Remember Rebecca Foster?" She grinned at her brother's suddenly pale, admiring expression, then had to tilt her head back towards the reception as someone called her. Frowning, she turned back to them, suddenly serious again, despite the twinkle in her eyes. "I'm needed. If I leave you two alone, will you behave? Rick, no bullying Jonathan? Jon, no annoying my husband?" Her voice softened on the last word, and they nodded mutely. She gave them one last, searching glare, then nodded to Ardeth, and left.
"Rebecca Foster?" Rick managed faintly, a few seconds later when he found his voice again. Jonathan shook his head, something like awe in his face.
"An old girlfriend," he said, with a small, rueful laugh. "The first and only girl to break my heart. Two weeks after she got me arrested, Evey made it look like she'd been with a certain Arab gentleman who couldn't afford bad publicity, and pretty much got Rebecca forcibly married off." He smiled nostalgically. "I can still remember her screams of outrage."
Rick stared at him for a long minute, then out to where Evey made her graceful, slightly nervous way among the guests, looking for all the world like a shy, happy librarian who'd never had an evil thought in her life. He remembered when he'd thought that was exactly what she was, when that was what everyone thought she was. Before Hamunaptra, and Medjai, and crazed undead mummies, and Jonathan Carnahan turning out to have a spine, and Evey Carnahan, now Evey O' Connell, taking everything that came her way and mastering it inside a breath. He began to think that they'd all been the victims of the biggest scam he'd ever witnessed.
"I have no idea what I'm getting into, do I?" he asked softly, and Jonathan turned to look at him, clapping him gently on the shoulder in commiseration.
"You haven't the foggiest," he agreed cheerfully. "But don't worry. She's worth it." He paused, softened, genuine feeling slipping into his voice. "She's more than worth it. You know?"
"I know," Rick said, quietly. Whatever he thought of Jonathan, maybe he did owe the man this one assurance. "I won't hurt her," he promised, seriously, holding out a hand. "I really won't."
For a second, Jonathan was equally serious as he accepted the hand, and the promise. "Good. Good." Then the mischief switched back on like it had never been gone, and the choirboy became a devil once more. "Then you won't have to end up married to some harridan widow who's gotten the inexplicable impression that you like to play with handcuffs. You see? There's always a bright side!" And he sauntered off before Rick could get his outrage back under him long enough to retort. Rick glared after him, and tried to convince himself that hauling off on him in the middle of the reception was a bad idea. He tried hard.
After a minute of wrestling with himself, he realised that Ardeth was still there, and still watching him. He turned to look at him, arms crossed, and glared. The Medjai shook his head, smiling faintly, and came forward just enough to hold out his own hand, waiting expectantly until Rick thawed enough to take it.
"Congratulations, my friend," Ardeth said softly, lips curling. "I believe you have made the perfect match." And Rick had no idea what to say to that. So he settled for thumping the man solidly in the shoulder, and ignoring the snort of laughter he got in response.
A perfect match. He smiled, a bit. Maybe so. Maybe so.