Here we go again.
For a man who swears so loudly about learning from his mistakes, Rick O'Connell seems to say that a lot. Here we go again. Here we go, again.
He thinks it over as the train finally fades into the distance in a billowing cloud of steam, and Evelyn turns to him and smiles, even as tears still stain her cheeks.
Here we go again.
"You're not thinking about chasing that train down, are you?" Rick asks, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm as they leave the platform.
"Only a little," she admits. "I don't miss England much — but I will certainly miss Jonathan." She blinks, her eyes bright again. "I wish he'd stayed."
Rick, secretly relieved that Jonathan hasn't stayed, simply squeezes her hand gently. It's not that he doesn't like Jonathan, exactly, it's just… three is a crowd.
Finally, Rick is alone with Evelyn for the first time since returning from Hamunaptra. And yet it doesn't appear to be shaping up as the quiet, intimate promise he had imagined — a vacation of sorts, relaxing in the sun, not being chased by the undead. Instead, Evelyn seems to be brimming with the hope of something new and exciting in order to distract herself from her brother's absence.
"Imagine being stuck on a train for ten days after all that," she says suddenly. "I don't think I could bear it, Rick, I really don't. Even Cairo is starting to feel too small again, after all that open desert."
"You were sick of the desert in the end," Rick reminds her.
"All those stars," she says dreamily, and damn it if she doesn't manage to conjure up memories of quiet campfires and bright moonlight in those three words — Rick's fingers sliding under the straps of her nightgown and through the wind-tangled curls of her hair. Kissing her neck and the palms of her hands as the sand cooled and shifted around their camp, the stars slowly crawling overhead.
"Don't tell me you'd rather have that bedroll than the bedlinen you've got now," he says.
Her cheeks flush a delicate pink. "A proper bed certainly has its advantages," she agrees, and he grins at her, feeling quite smug all of a sudden.
"But," she says, swiftly changing the subject before he can truly run with it, "I didn't choose to stay behind in Egypt for bedlinen, O'Connell. I've seen the true wonder of Hamunaptra — seen Imhotep in flesh and blood, and the beauty of —"
"Shh," Rick hushes, steering her sideways with a gentle arm around around her shoulders. "Do you really want to paint a fresh target on your back by letting everyone within earshot know about that?"
"I want to find something else," she says, looking up at him and tripping over her own feet, clutching his shirt to keep herself upright.
"More treasure?" Rick asks. One the one hand, he isn't sure they need more treasure, exactly, though a great deal of it had been sent back with Jonathan at Evelyn's insistence, so a little bank run mightn't be a bad idea…
"Adventure," Evelyn says breathlessly, her smile almost as bright as the morning sun. "And I was hoping you'd join me, unless your heart truly belongs to Cairo and you'd rather —"
"I wouldn't say that," Rick interrupts. "But I'm not sure I'm the kind of guy to actively hunt out immortal monsters, Evelyn."
"Not every adventure has monsters," she says, slipping her hand into his and taking the lead, angling herself through the morning crowd. "Some adventures are utter pleasure from beginning to end."
Despite Evelyn's eagerness to find trouble of some kind, they don't leave Cairo immediately.
They rent a room together, half-posing as husband and wife, which Rick tries to treat as a joke, only it gets less and less funny and more and more intoxicating as he learns the curves and planes and tastes of Evelyn's body each night.
"We could get married, you know," he says one night, Evelyn curled up against his side, her head on his shoulder. "If you wanted."
"That would be an adventure," she says tiredly, kissing a smile into his skin.
He doesn't say anything more about it, and neither does she, but he definitely thinks about it. A lifetime side-by-side, her hand in his.
Their eventual departure from Cairo comes by way of a series of impulsive decisions, which — Rick has come to learn — suit Evelyn down to the ground.
It's not that she won't stay still. Put a book in her hand and she can lose herself for hours, and museums and galleries seem to hold her to a much heavier gravity than any other place — but she's quick to make her decisions, and stubborn to her core. Once she's made her mind up, it's made up for the both of them. They argue sometimes, but not often, both of them knowing when to give way.
It's fiery and it's easy, and Rick is knocked breathless by it.
There's a market by the river, fish being hauled in off the boats, barrels and crates brimming with fruit, bolts of silk and linen piled upon one another. They wander through the narrow paths between the stalls, ducking hanging glass lanterns and fluttering bunting, to where it's quiet and there are people smoking, and drinking dark coffee in the sun.
The river is brown and shining, and Evelyn shields her eyes against the glare of it. "O'Connell," she says, in a tone of voice Rick is immediately wary of. "If we were to leave Cairo, would it be too repetitive to do so by boat?"
"Repetitive?" he asks mildly. "Only if we're followed by assassins and the first night goes up in gunfire and flames."
"Well that's hardly likely to happen twice," she says.
"I think I'd like to try again," she decides, watching one of the riverboats slowly pull away.
Rick has to credit Evelyn with being more careful in planning their second adventure together. She's got a stack of tourist magazines and dog-eared journals by their bed, and she keeps the lamp on well into the night, flicking through them and making notes and asking Rick questions he doesn't think she really requires the answer to.
She's ruthless when it comes to ruling out certain voyages, though Rick can't keep up with the criteria she's holding them to.
In an effort to finally put a stop to her uncharacteristic indecisiveness, he walks to the river slips by himself, watching the crew and the passengers alike as they come and go, trying to fit himself and Evelyn in amongst them, floating up the Nile together.
He finally realizes what's holding Evelyn back — he doesn't want to be stuck on a boat with a bunch of tourists or shady misfits looking for new horizons. He wants to do that alone, with her, no one else to bother them (or chase them or shoot them or try to curse them with ancient plagues).
One of the things Evelyn is best at is refusing to change her mind, so Rick stays true to her riverboat fascination, and does one of the things Evelyn is second-best at: he makes an impulsive decision.
He buys a boat.
The boat could use some love. It's structurally sound — Rick isn't an idiot — but the paint has all but washed or peeled away, the windows are missing their glass, and every scrap of fabric still clinging to its foundations is stained or torn.
He watches Evelyn explore it from bow to stern, a shining smile on her face, cobwebs catching in her dark curls.
It's not very big — it's arc-bottomed and shallow, but it has two comfortably-sized rooms surrounded by deck, a small washroom, and a low loft for sleeping, accessible only by a ladder missing most of its rungs.
"It's perfect," Evelyn says, running her fingertips along one of the dull brass railings. "Does she have a name?"
"The Librarian," Rick says immediately, remembering too much whiskey and firelight, and Evelyn's passionate description of herself.
She swats his arm. "That's a rotten name for a boat."
"There's no kitchen," he says, wanting to get ahead of her discovering that for herself, so she can't accuse him of not realizing it before he purchased it. (He hadn't realized at all.)
"We can carry a portable stove," she says, not sounding too concerned. "Or make camp, and cook on a fire."
"It needs a little… maintenance," Rick adds, scratching the peeling paint on the cabin door.
"Oh, that can wait," Evelyn says. Excitement is practically spilling out of her; she's brimming with energy and happiness. "Let's get going."
It's not immediately easy, of course. They have to buy supplies, and Rick refuses to spend a night on The Librarian (he says this with absolute glee, and Evelyn rolls her eyes) without a proper bed in place.
They spend a sunny morning gutting the loft — they pull the mattress out in lumps, the old fabric ripping under the weight of the stuffing, and Evelyn sweeps all the scraps into a dusty pile, her hair wound up in a blue cotton scarf Rick is sure once belonged to him.
There's a small, square window in the roof, and Rick spends almost an hour carefully sanding and chiseling and cursing before he can scrape it open. Fresh air pours in and sends the dust motes dancing, and Evelyn wraps her arms around his shoulders and kisses him fiercely.
They wrestle a new mattress into place, Rick pulling himself up into the loft and tugging it from the front, Evelyn pushing from the bottom.
"You're not out of earshot, you know," he pants, tugging the mattress up over the loft's low landing. "I can hear you swearing down there."
"Shut up," she says breathlessly, and he laughs and drags the mattress back enough to finally tip its weight down onto the floor.
It's wide and soft and already marked with dust. Evelyn hauls herself up the broken ladder with more cursing, and collapses down beside him, breathing heavily. They watch the clouds pass across the sky through their tiny rooftop window, listening to the water lap up against the sides of the boat.
They don't bother with any other repairs right away. The loft is bare, but it's clean and comfortable, and that's enough.
The boat isn't deep enough for a proper galley, but there are trap doors allowing access to storage, and they stock her with supplies — fuel for the engine, oil and wicks for the lanterns, kindling for campfires. They visit the market and buy canisters of spices, sacks of potatoes, rice, lentils and onions, fishing poles, swarths of mosquito netting.
Rick restocks his ammunition, too — guns and dynamite and blades, and Evelyn watches him and doesn't mock him once this time.
Likewise, when she packs her books and her tools, he only grins at her, and says nothing.
The engine coughs blue smoke when they finally start it, and then settles down to a steady rumble, and they pull out into the deeper water, Cairo slowly disappearing in a golden haze behind them.
They're moving south, against the current, but the boat is smooth and the motor steadies to a low chug that soon becomes easily ignored.
Evelyn suns herself on a blanket spread across the weathered deck, writing a letter to Jonathan, as Rick steers them easily up the river.
"Any idea where we're headed?" he asks at one point, wondering if he's suppose to cruise into one of the tributaries branching out into the greenery either side of them.
"You seem to have good instincts, O'Connell," she says in response, smiling at him. "I'll go where you go."
"Waiting for the adventure to find us, huh?" he asks.
"It will," she says confidently, probably at the same time she's penning a promise to Jonathan about staying out of trouble.
Rick moors the boat a short time later, letting it bump gently into the reeds and rushes by the riverbank where he can tie it off and keep them anchored.
"It's still early," Evelyn says in surprise, glancing up at the sun, which is high in the sky.
"Are we on a schedule?" Rick asks, reaching for her hand. He tugs her gently to her feet and kisses her palm.
"Oh," she says, understanding at once. "No, I suppose not."
The boat has a small washroom which Evelyn has scrubbed top to bottom. It still smells like mildew, so they've compensated by stocking the boat with an old laundry tub, leaning it up against one of the inside walls, out of the way, when it's not in use.
Evelyn sits it on the deck and fills it with buckets of water from the river. It's barely waist deep but she lounges in it with her bare legs hanging over the side, soaping her arms in the afternoon sun.
"Exhibitionist," Rick accuses her, leaning over from behind to kiss her nose, his hands braced either side of her.
She takes hold of his shirt, just below the collar, and kisses him. "Wash my back," she whispers, handing him the soap.
He kneels behind her and runs the bar of soap around her shoulders and down her spine, dropping it in the tub and following the movement with both hands to lather her skin.
When she leans back to try and kiss him again, he chases his hands around her ribs, making her squirm, and cups her breasts.
The sun is warm on his shoulders as he bites gentle kisses into the curve of her shoulder, her wet back pressed against his chest, one of his hands gently clasping her throat so he can hold her still and feel every gasp of her breath, the other working between her legs to make her shudder and moan, her knuckles turning white as she grips the edges of the tub.
The boat drifts into a sandbank, bumping to a gentle stop, and they both sit quietly and watch the current pass by them as they catch their breath, Evelyn's pulse still fluttering under Rick's fingers.
Evelyn's eagerness to travel on a bare-bones riverboat wears a little thin after a few days, and she soon suggests to Rick that they stop somewhere and buy more supplies to help carve a little more comfort into things.
"I'm getting splinters," she says, frowning down at her hands.
The boat is small enough and shallow enough to pass through the narrower streams, and so they've been avoiding the main trade and travel routes. It takes them another day or so to find a village big enough to supply them with what they need.
Rick has lost track of what day it is, but there's a small market filled with people trading goods and cooking food to sell. He and Evelyn buy warm bread dotted with olives, and wander through the stalls hand-in-hand.
Evelyn tugs his hand at one point, coming to a stop, the crowd swarming around her, paying no heed.
"Something wrong?" Rick asks, glancing around, his free hand reaching for his pistol.
"No," she says, a frown crinkling her nose. "I thought I saw…" She shakes her head. "Never mind."
It puts Rick on edge immediately. "Thought you saw what?"
She gives a small laugh and shrugs. "Ardeth. It wasn't. I'm sure."
Rick feels briefly disappointed that she was mistaken, but agrees she must be. "He'll be off surrounded by sand and soldiers somewhere," he says, and Evelyn gives him an amused smile in return.
Rick finds himself searching each face in the market, looking for one so familiar, but he finds nothing. His disappointment deepens, though he's not entirely sure why. Perhaps he's hoping Ardeth hasn't had to return to Hamunaptra after all; the vanquishing of Imhotep enough to let the desert truly sleep for once, unguarded by the Medjai.
The sun is setting as they make their way back to The Librarian (Evelyn shoots Rick an exasperated look whenever he uses the name), weighed down by rucksacks full of screws, nails, sandpaper and cans of paint. Rick is carrying a heavy bolt of fabric that Evelyn wants to use to reupholster the padded benches, and he hefts it in his arms, making conscious effort not to complain about how cumbersome it is.
A short, sharp whistle stops them in their tracks, and they both turn awkwardly on the narrow path, their heavy load slowing them down. Rick drops one end of the fabric and reaches for his gun.
"I knew it!" Evelyn cries. She shrugs out of her rucksack and lets it fall to the ground, and Rick can only thank their lucky stars that it doesn't knock any of the paint cans open.
Evelyn flings herself into Ardeth's arms with a familiar ease Rick can't remember the two of them sharing.
"It's good to see you," she says, beaming at him.
"And you, Evelyn," Ardeth says, squeezing her so her feet leave the ground.
Rick juggles the bolt of fabric and clasps Ardeth's extended hand, surprised when he's pulled in for a hug. He claps Ardeth on the back, unable to help the grin on his face.
"And your brother?" Ardeth asks Evelyn.
"Back in London," Evelyn says. "Putting some of that gold to good use, if he has any sense."
Ardeth exchanges a look with Rick, which makes Rick grin again.
"What are you doing here?" he asks. "You're a long way from where we left you. Well, you left us…"
Ardeth picks up Evelyn's rucksack and slings it onto his own shoulders, gesturing for her to go ahead of him. "The wind and the stars guided me here," he says, and Rick rolls his eyes. "Perhaps I was meant to find you again. There is usually good reason for paths to cross so often."
They've let the boat drift into a towering cluster of papyrus, hiding it and keeping it safely moored, and it's almost entirely worth the purchase just to see the look on Ardeth's face.
He walks around the boat with almost as much joy as Evelyn first did, measuring its length with careful paces and drumming his fingers over the railings.
"Mind the splinters," Evelyn calls, watching him as he knocks carefully against one of the walls. "Will you stay for dinner?"
"I do not wish to impose," Ardeth says, but it's clear nobody wants him to leave.
The three of them sit side-by-side at the front of the boat, watching the stars come out as they eat, listening to the birds call and the fish chop at the insects hovering over the water.
Ardeth talks in a low voice, telling the story of his journey across the desert in a pleasant and lulling sort of tone that takes the ache out of Rick's shoulders and leaves him feeling contented and warm.
They light the lanterns Evelyn picked out from a market back in Cairo, the pressed tin and stained glass throwing pretty patterns and colors over the deck and the dark water.
"And you, my friends?" Ardeth asks, his eyes looking black in the flickering light. "Did you marry?"
"Not yet," Evelyn says, before Rick gets a chance to say anything, and he can only grin up at the sky like an idiot as she indicates that one day she will.
"We're looking for adventure," Rick adds, raising his eyebrows a little.
Evelyn only beams at him in response. "I think our chances have increased now Ardeth is here."
Evelyn insists that Ardeth stay overnight, and Rick cements the offer by dragging out a hammock, which the three of them unroll and tangle in some confusion, all of them slightly fogged by too much wine and the late hour.
"Screw it," Rick says eventually, dropping it to the floor. "Come on." He ushers Evelyn up the ladder to the loft, tickling her ribs and the backs of her knees as she climbs ahead of him, and she giggles and half-heartedly kicks him.
Rick claps Ardeth on the shoulder and pushes him forward. "Mind your head," he says. "Don't sit up suddenly in the middle of the night, you'll have a bruise for a week."
Ardeth laughs and pulls himself up into the loft as Rick puts the last lanterns out, smoke drifting from the wicks.
The three of them settle on the wide mattress, the roof window cracked open to stop it getting too stuffy, mosquito netting draped over them and blurring the view of the stars.
"I am not sure what led me here," Ardeth murmurs tiredly, "but I am glad to have found you both."
"You said it was the wind and the stars," Evelyn says, rolling onto her side to face Ardeth, pulling Rick's arm over her waist. He burrows in beside her, even though it's too hot for such closeness. She'll kick him away soon, but he'll keep hold of her hand.
He closes his eyes and listens to Evelyn and Ardeth talking in low voices about Hamunaptra and the desert, the awe still evident in their whispers, the horror of Imhotep's powers not enough to drive it away.
At one point he feels a gentle stroke over the back of his wrist, tracing the dark print of his tattoo — a soft, curious touch lingering on his skin.
He falls asleep with his fingers laced with Evelyn's, Ardeth regaling her with tales of locked tombs and ancient promises.
"I do not wish to impose," Ardeth says again the following morning.
"You're not," Rick says, just as Evelyn says, "Many hands make light work."
They eat breakfast together quietly. Ardeth has caught two fish and Evelyn fries them in salt and spices and shares the portions out on tin plates. Rick makes the coffee too strong (again), but they sit and drink it slowly, watching the sun rise higher and burn the mist off the water.
"Where are you taking this boat?" Ardeth asks finally.
"We're not exactly sure," Evelyn says. "But we have everything we need, so when we finally get where we need to be, we'll be ready."
After breakfast, Ardeth and Rick tear strips of sandpaper and wrap them around small wood blocks, slowly sanding back the doorways and the glassless window frames.
"Why the boat?" Ardeth asks, standing beside Rick and crumpling a worn-down slip of sandpaper.
"It smells better than a camel," Rick says, and Ardeth laughs.
Rick glances through the windows at Evelyn — she's got her hair wound up in a scarf again and she's wearing a pair of trousers that sit snugly around her small waist and emphasize the rest of her in such a way it makes Rick's mouth go dry.
She's tugging at the torn fabric on the padded furniture, cussing up a storm.
"She appears to have picked up on some habits of yours," Ardeth says, looking slightly impressed at Evelyn's extended vocabulary.
Rick dusts his hands off on his shirt and shakes the cramps out of his fingers. "I think she's got me beat, these days."
Ardeth laughs, and when he claps Rick's shoulder he follows it with a gentle squeeze that sends a thread of deep affection right down to Rick's dusty boots.
"I'm glad you showed up," Rick says.
"I am glad our paths crossed again," Ardeth says. He looks at Rick for a moment, quiet and thoughtful. "I am a stranger traveling from the east," he says eventually, "searching for that which is lost."
Rick can't explain the electric stripe of warmth that races down his spine.
Ardeth watches him, waiting for the answer.
"I am a stranger traveling west," he says, almost reluctantly, though he can't explain why. "It is I whom you seek."
Ardeth glances at Rick's tattoo, visible on his arm, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Rick remembers the curious touch on his skin the evening before, and says nothing.
Silence falls between them as they turn back to the task at hand, but it feels charged and full of energy. Rick remembers the feeling he got when Evelyn turned to face him at the train station.
Here we go again.
They walk back into town for lunch, all three of them tired but content with the efforts of working on the boat. Rick and Ardeth have covered themselves in dust and white flecks of paint from sanding back the doors and a good third of one of the outer walls. Rick's muscles are burning from the effort, and he thinks longingly of the warm, solid massaging of Evelyn's hands over his back, wondering if he'll still get lucky even if Ardeth sticks around.
His brain keeps ticking over, wanting a logical reason for finding Ardeth in a small market in an out-of-the-way village far south of Cairo, with no signs of trouble whatsoever.
It doesn't matter, Rick eventually decides. It's not like logic has played a big hand in things recently, anyway.
Ardeth leads them somewhere where the air is rich with the scent of smoke and cooked meat, and they sit in the shade of a striped awning and eat warm stew with fresh bread and beer.
"If you hadn't found us," Evelyn says, her chin on her hand, "what would you have been doing here?"
"A little of this, I hope," Ardeth says, signaling for three more mugs of beer. "Four thousand years of waiting for the Creature to awaken does not mean I have had time to rest."
Rick tries to think about what it must be like to dedicate your life to fighting a supernatural force you're not sure will ever wake in your lifetime.
"So you're on — on a holiday?" Evelyn asks. She still has an inch of beer left in the bottom of her mug, but she's smiling and pink-cheeked, and she bumps her shoulder against Ardeth's in an affectionate way.
"I suppose so," Ardeth says, sounding a little surprised. "It was instinct which brought me here. I learned long ago not to question my instinct." He glances at Rick, looking thoughtful. "It is the only reason you are still alive."
Rick chokes on a warm mouthful of beer.
"What do you mean?" Evelyn asks, pressing for the story.
"He was the only man to leave Hamunaptra alive after the Tuareg soldiers attacked."
Rick clicks his fingers as he suddenly remembers the dark, shimmering shadows high on the cliffs in the desert, watching him stumble through the heat. "That was you."
"I knew if you could survive the desert, our paths would one day cross again."
"I wasn't the only man," Rick says, jittery about another conversation turning to crossed paths and riddles. "Beni made it out too."
Evelyn shudders a little and reaches for her fresh mug of beer. "I ask," she says to Ardeth, changing the subject again, "because I want to know where you're planning on going next."
"I have not planned where I am going at all," Ardeth says. "I feel I have reached my destination."
"So you're going back now?" Evelyn asks, sounding disappointed.
Ardeth glances at Rick, and Rick feels his stomach flutter in response. He doesn't want Ardeth to leave — but having him stick around makes him nervous as well. The air feels too charged, like an explosion of some kind is building.
"My purpose is to guard humanity against the creature beneath Hamunaptra," Ardeth says eventually. "There is no guarantee that vanquishing him once does so forever."
Evelyn sips from her fresh mug of beer. "We're the ones that woke him," she says. "You'd be better off watching us, and making sure we stay out of trouble."
Rick notices the way Ardeth's eyes shine at her, and he knows he can see the same things in Evelyn that Rick does.
"I am only one man," Ardeth says, and Evelyn tips her head back and laughs.
They leave the village behind that afternoon. Ardeth comes with them without much further discussion, sitting beside Rick as the boat chugs its way steadily up river, the water frothing in a gentle wake behind them.
Evelyn stands at the bow, leaning against the railings and letting the breeze blow her hair.
"I am glad to see the two of you together," Ardeth says quietly. "After we parted, I thought of the both of you often."
Rick grins, the sun warm on his back. "Fighting an undead mummy really bonds you, I guess."
"It is more than that," Ardeth says. "Some paths are meant to cross."
Rick doesn't miss the way Ardeth glances at his tattoo.
He hesitates for a moment before he says, "I got it slapped on me in the orphanage."
Ardeth's eyebrows raise slightly.
"I think," Rick clarifies. "I don't remember, but it must have been the orphanage."
"You are American," Ardeth says, looking out over the sparkling water. "What is your connection to this place? Why do you have such a tattoo?"
"I dunno," Rick says, feeling uncomfortable about the lack of answers for the first time in a long time.
"I am a stranger, traveling from —"
"I got it, I got it," Rick confirms. "East, west, riddles."
Ardeth looks amused at his discomfort. He rolls his own sleeve up to show a matching mark. "You have a Medjai tattoo, my friend. Your connection to this place runs deeper than the gold and trinkets you were seeking."
Rick doesn't say anything in response, but he turns Ardeth's words over in his head.
Some paths are meant to cross.
Evelyn has completely torn all the fabric and wadding off the benches inside, but her progress on replacing it with new upholstery is nonexistent, so they pile blankets and pillows into a heap and watch the sun setting through the boat's empty windows, eating dates, figs and honey, stickying themselves as Evelyn asks a Rick million questions he doesn't have a single answer to.
"Does this mean you're a Medjai?" she asks him finally.
"Not a very good one," Rick says.
"Agreed." Ardeth's voice carries a hint of admiration. "You did the opposite of what we have been trying to do for four thousand years."
"Well, I like a man who’s prepared to break the rules." Evelyn kisses his cheek.
Rick tucks her hair behind her ear and runs his thumb over her cheek. She bites at the ends of his fingers gently and he grins at her. "Watch it," he says. "I've scraped my hands raw today."
Ardeth's fingertips trace gently over the knuckles of Rick's other hand. Rick doesn't say anything, doesn't indicate that he's even felt it, but his heart jumps a little in response, that sudden awareness leaping up inside him again, charging the air and making his throat ache.
He thinks back to all those nights spent with Evelyn in Cairo, mapping her body with warm kisses, and wonders what it would be like to touch her when he feels so close to a precipice — poised on the edge of something greater, just waiting for the balance to tip over.
Ardeth's presence burns under his skin, and Rick thinks he can sense it within Evelyn too — restless and electric in his company, filled with affection and admiration and loyalty.
Maybe that's what happens when you fight for your lives together in the desert, Rick thinks, still trying to pin a definition on it. Maybe Hamunaptra leaves its mark on you, and you can feel it in each other.
He looks over at Ardeth as the sun slips past the horizon.
Or, he thinks, maybe it's just Ardeth.
They don't bother with the hammock — it's still tangled and wound around itself, stuffed back in the storage below deck.
When Ardeth pulls himself up the ladder ahead of them, Evelyn catches Rick and pushes him up against the wall, clutching at him with both hands and leaning up on her toes to kiss him with force.
"Don't," he groans, but he winds his hands into her hair and kisses her back just as forcefully, still feeling the ghost of Ardeth's fingertips grazing over his skin, over his knuckles and over his wrist.
Evelyn grins at him when he lets her go, looking smug.
She clambers up the ladder ahead of him, and he watches her go, trying to calm his heart. He can feel the same sort of tension in the air that permeated Hamunaptra — the gravity and draw of it, a mixture of excitement and wonder and fear all rolled up into one explosive bundle.
He can hear Evelyn ask Ardeth a question in a low voice, and when Rick finally climbs the ladder, Ardeth is tucking a lock of Evelyn's hair behind her ear, gentle and intimate and assured. Rick feels his stomach flip in anticipation.
Evelyn talks when she's nervous, so when she starts going on about the logistics of their space and how it's only natural for everything to suddenly feel more intimate, Rick shushes her by kissing her, crawling over her with his knees sinking into the mattress, and he feels Ardeth's fingers stroke through his hair, his hand cupping the back of his head and moving down over his shoulders and his back.
Rick kisses Evelyn and feels Ardeth's hands untucking his shirt, and he thinks about all the choices he's made in life to lead him here — all the choices he thought were wrong, all the choices to nearly get him killed, all the choices which ended with him in the center of this moment.
He thinks about fate, and Evelyn finding him in jail, and Ardeth finding them both in Hamunaptra. He thinks about his tattoo, and the sun over the desert, the weight of Egyptian dust on his skin. He thinks about how at home he is, and the comfort in the idea that both Evelyn and Ardeth are inexplicably tied to Egypt and to him; that their paths cross so often and are so entwined.
And then Evelyn drives all thinking out of his head, sitting back on his thighs, lifting her shirt off and arching back to kiss Ardeth, her hair spilling down her bare shoulders.
Rick sits up to drag her into his lap properly, and her skin feels so soft under his rough hands — he runs his palms over her waist and up her sides, and she rolls her hips slowly, gasping quietly into Ardeth's mouth.
When Evelyn breaks away to look down and unbuckle Rick's belt, Ardeth leans forward to kiss him, pushing him back onto the mattress with a firm hand against his chest, fingers spreading out over his ribs. Rick sighs a soft curse in response, his heart pounding in his chest. Ardeth's lips are soft and full, and he kisses slower than Evelyn does, with more pressure.
Ardeth's hands slide under his shirt and Rick lifts his shoulders off the mattress to help it off.
Evelyn has his pants undone and loose, and she's still whispering gentle things he can't quite hear. He reaches for and she takes his hand and sucks two of his fingers into her mouth as she lowers herself down on his cock, wet and warm and tight around him.
She leans forward, head ducked against the low roof, and Rick rises on his elbows to kiss her, rolling his hips under hers, sweat already warm on his skin. When Evelyn breaks away to kiss Ardeth, tugging at his clothes, Rick falls back onto the mattress and looks at the moonlight glowing through the window against the curve of her cheek and the delicate line of her collarbone.
Then Ardeth's hand is between them, touching Evelyn so she jumps and shivers. She lets out a low laugh, drunk with feeling, leaning forward again to trap his hand, biting a shallow mark into Rick's chest, and Ardeth's other hand twines with Rick's and guides it to stroke him slowly.
Rick fumbles for a moment, trying not to think too much about how it differs from when he touches himself — the angle of his hand and the direction he needs to move, and the length and shape of Ardeth's cock in his curled fingers, and he grins when Ardeth pauses his kiss to let a soft moan out against his jaw, his hips jerking forward.
Evelyn's breathing is louder, Rick can hear her voice in each breath, humming pleasure over his skin as she rocks down against him, Ardeth's fingers still trapped between them. Rick glides his thumb over her mouth and she sucks it in again, moaning and shivering, her fingers clenching into the crumpled bedsheets and pulling them tight under Rick's shoulders.
The air is warm and close and Rick can feel everything building again — his heart is pounding in his chest, his blood is burning in his veins.
Evelyn comes first, loud and breathless, grinding down on Ardeth's stroking fingers, clenching around Rick's cock and dragging him over the edge with her, sooner than he'd planned it, overwhelming and fast.
He swears, gasps a breath that sounds like a sob, and twitches under her helplessly, watching her bite her lip as she rides through it, eyes closed, her hair curling in the thick heat.
Ardeth runs his hand up Rick's stomach and over his chest to cup his jaw — he takes Rick's face in his hands and kisses him, thrusting his hips harder into Rick's touch, sighing and biting back words in a language Rick doesn't understand.
Rick closes his eyes again and kisses him back, rough and eager, wanting to drag Ardeth along with them. He twists his palm slowly against Ardeth's cock, squeezes him gently, and Ardeth groans and buries his face in Rick's shoulder, thrusting helplessly until Rick feels him spill, slick and warm, softening in his hand.
They roll apart, sweat cooling on their skin, the tiny window open to the stars and the moon, cool air slowly seeping in.
Evelyn curls between them both contentedly, blanket drawn up to her waist, and Rick kisses the top of her head and watches Ardeth spoon behind her, his arm reaching over her to rest his hand over Rick's chest.
The moon has passed above their window, but stars are still bright in the sky. The night air is cold, and the three of them are curled closely together beneath a blanket which scratches on Rick's bare skin.
"There are many tales of such unions," Ardeth says quietly. "When I was a young man, the Medjai would tell campfire stories of an oasis lost beneath the sands. Finding it and bathing in its waters would increase virility to the point where multiple partners became necessary."
"An oasis lost beneath the sands?" Evelyn asks dreamily.
"Evy, no," Rick pleads.
"Oh, what could happen?" Evelyn asks, lost to the romantic idea of undiscovered secrets.
"That's a loaded question," he reminds her, though he's already aware he's lost the argument.
"It is a fiction," Ardeth tries to say, but Evelyn stops him.
"All stories are based in fact," she says firmly. "It sounds a little like the old Fountain of Youth tales. An oasis to build strength and health and virility —"
"Sounds like trouble," Rick drawls.
Her eyes are sparkling. "How exciting."
"You cannot simply unleash hell for the sake of your own curiosity," Ardeth says. He looks at Rick as though expecting Rick to speak up again, but Rick only shrugs wearily.
"I go where she goes," he says.
"And you, apparently, go where we go," Evelyn adds, looking at Ardeth.
He looks back at them helplessly.
Evelyn grins up at the low ceiling. "It's settled, then," she says. "The three of us can unleash hell together."
Rick grins at Ardeth over the curve of Evelyn's shoulder.
Here we go again.