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the way it was meant to be

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“Look, I just think we should take a break from waking any world ending mummies this year.”

“We didn’t wake up the last two! And honestly, what harm ever came from--”

“Don’t say it. Don’t you say it.”

“Children,” came Ardeth’s smooth, sleepy voice from between them. They both looked down, about to argue their point and sway Ardeth to their side only to be distracted by the hickies trailing down his neck and chest and disappearing under the sheet. He turned over, hugged the pillow tighter, and buried his face deeper, stubbornly keeping his eyes closed even though he could feel their stares.

Evie slunk back down so if Ardeth ever emerged from the bedding they’d be face to face and traced light, idle circles on his shoulder.

“Ardeth,” she sing-songed. “Come out of there please?”

“Don’t try fighting dirty,” Rick teased, stroking a hand over Ardeth’s side just over his hip, and Evie shot him a look that conveyed just how she felt about his blatant hypocrisy.

“You are both children,” he said, redundantly in Rick’s and Evie’s opinions, but he sounded considerably more alert this time. When he rolled so he lay on his back between them, curls akimbo and deep brown eyes still blurry with sleep, they were both overwhelmed with the urge to kiss him.

“We’ll settle this another time,” Evie murmured, kissing down his cheek, jaw, neck, Ardeth tilting his head to give her room to work.

“We’re not going,” he mumbled back, kissing him on the temple as Ardeth sighed and rolled his eyes—a rare expression for him—at them both.

~

“Ardeth, I need your help with something,” Evie said distractedly, eyes on her book as she made her way to him, looking up only long enough to find him in the armchair and sit on his lap. He brought his arm up to support her back.

“Yes, Evelyn?”

Evie abruptly looked at him, the book tilting in her slackening hands. He smiled at her, his hand rubbing in gentle circles on her back.

“What is it?”

“Say my name again.”

“Evelyn,” he said, confused, and made a surprised noise when Evelyn darted forward to kiss him, sending the chair back to recline. He melted into it after a moment, crushing her close as she devoured him. Her hands dragged up from his face and into his hair, scratching lightly at his scalp. He arched into her with a groan. She pulled away only when she needed air and not a moment sooner, pressing shorter kisses all over his face in between breaths.

“Do you not hear your name often, Evelyn?” He stayed sprawled under her, running his hands up and down her sides. She stroked a finger over his lips and felt herself smile when he kissed her fingertips.

“It’s the way you say it.”

“How do I say it, Evelyn?” Evie didn’t know if her breath hitched from her name or the way he grabbed her hand and kissed her palm.

She kissed him again instead of answering.

~

Rick fidgeted next to him, unable to stand still in his excitement. Ardeth was only marginally better.

They could see Evie pacing behind the curtain, her shoes just barely visible from between the curtain and the stage. Ardeth squeezed Rick’s hand when it looked like he would start pacing as well and let go before anyone noticed. Rick pressed their shoulders together in acknowledgement and swayed away, the movement looking accidental to others.

“It’s about time they recognize her,” Rick muttered, only for Ardeth’s ears.

“Hopefully they’ll continue to do so. She’s easily better than most of their current scholars.” Ardeth scoffed when he remembered the last paper he read released by the Bembridge school. “Their translations are shameful and some of their conclusions are laughably incorrect.”

“I’m surprised Evie didn’t mail in corrections.”

“I asked her not to. Imhotep is hardly the only cursed creature hidden in the sands.”

“How did you get her to agree?” Rick asked, incredulous and impressed.

“I employed one of your methods,” he said with a mischievous grin. Rick was ready to question him further when the applause started and both he and Ardeth found their attention drawn to the stage.

Evie came around from behind the curtain to wait at the side, a professor neither Rick nor Ardeth could be bothered to remember the name of introducing her.

~

“Ardeth!” Evie cried, and jumped into his arms, her legs wrapping around his waist as his arms wrapped around her, holding her close. She let go of his shoulders to cup his face and bring him in for a kiss, even if it was difficult with the way they couldn’t stop smiling.

“Hey, stop hogging Ardeth!” Rick said, an irrepressible smile on his face as he walked into the room. “I haven’t seen him in a while either.”

She pulled back only long enough to say “You snooze you lose, darling,” and swallowed Ardeth’s laugh.

~

Rick had him pinned. He knew he had him pinned.

Then Ardeth twisted and Rick found his arm trapped in Ardeth’s hands and his head squeezed between his thighs.

“What a way to go,” Rick choked out, and even as Ardeth chuckled his grip didn’t loosen at all.

He struggled, a token effort, before tapping with his only free hand on Ardeth’s thigh. He let him go with a quirk of his brow when it turned into a casual stroke, laying back on the floor, legs falling open as Rick made himself comfortable on top of him. He rested his chin on his folded arms over Ardeth’s chest, basking in Ardeth’s relaxed smile.

“You still rely too much on brawn,” he scolded gently, running nimble fingers through his hair to soften the blow further.

“I know,” he agreed, but he figured he’d agree to anything Ardeth said right now. “In my defense, the man teaching me to grapple is very distracting.”

“Is he?”

“Yes.” Rick sagged even more into Ardeth’s caresses, eyes slipping closed. “I think he does it on purpose.”

“Maybe if he offered a reward for successful lessons.”

Rick’s eyes snapped back open at that, his whole body heating at the promise in Ardeth’s voice and the teasing squeeze of his thighs.

~

“Richard, may I borrow a tie?” Apparently, that was the one thing they forgot to get him in their shopping spree this morning.

“Sure, darling,” he said, turning to ask which one he wanted when all words dried up in his throat. Ardeth fiddled with his cufflinks as he walked in the room, his pants molding to the curve of his strong thighs and his shirt taut over broad shoulders, and Rick was abruptly very glad he and Evie had talked him into this outfit.

“Richard?”

“Oh, don’t use my full name right now, we have to make it to dinner.”

Ardeth huffed a laugh and closed the remaining distance between them, pulling him in with a hand on his shoulder to kiss him.

“Very well, Rick.”

Rick dropped his head on Ardeth’s shoulder with a groan.

“That’s not much better.

“Darling.”

“You’re doing this on purpose.”

“Beloved?” he tried, with a smile in his voice.

Rick kissed him again.

~

“I don’t think this is fair,” Evie teased as she contemplated how to get out of Ardeth’s hold.

“Oh?”

“Why does Rick get bribed and I don’t?” She spun and dislodged Ardeth’s arm, grabbing it and twisting it behind his back. Right away she could tell it wasn’t at the right angle.

Ardeth shook her off easily, but instead of pinning her again he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close. She laughed, going with the motion until they were breathing each other’s air, faces getting closer until their foreheads were pressed together. He kissed her once, twice, one more time, the last one longer than the others, but still not long since neither could stop smiling.

“You’re a better student than he is.”

“Don’t try to butter me up, sir,” she said, swatting him playfully on the shoulder. He laughed and kissed her cheek. “It won’t work.”

“Really?” he asked, nuzzling their noses together. “I should try harder, then.”

She cupped his face in her hands, stroking back until her hands could stroke through his hair.

“How do we always end up here?” she mused.

“You’re beautiful.” The reply was instant, matter of fact, as if commenting on the weather.

“Pot meet kettle,” she said, smiling helplessly when he pressed his grin into the palm of her hand.

~

“Ardeth!”

He turned in time for Rick to wrap around him, pulling him close and burying his face in Ardeth’s hair.

“There you are,” he said happily, the slight smell of alcohol wafting to Ardeth’s nose as Rick hugged him a little tighter than usual. “I missed you.”

“You were only gone for two hours,” Ardeth said with a soft laugh, hugging him back and kissing his temple.

“Doesn’t matter.” He kissed him on the cheek and breathed Ardeth in, swaying them back and forth.

“Darling? Are you back?”

“Evie!” Rick looked torn, but after a moment let Ardeth go to go hug Evie as well. He squeezed her close, kissing her hair, and closing his eyes to bask in her closeness.

“You’re so chipper,” she said, voice quivering with amusement and rubbing a hand up and down his back.

“I’m just so glad to see you guys.”

~

Ardeth slept on, which worked just fine for Evie as she added more light strokes to the paper. She added more details to the face, darkening the tattoos in her drawing, and took a moment to admire the play of light on his face. The sketch was mostly done, the only thing missing being the darkening of the shadows, some details over his body and the couch. She was touching those up when Ardeth shifted and groaned lightly, blinking awake and turning to star hazily at her.

“Evie?”

She felt a pleased thrill go through her at that sleep rough voice and smiled at him, melting just a little when he sleepily smiled back.

“I would have woken you, but you looked like you needed the nap.”

“I did,” he agreed. He stretched, his shirt riding up to reveal a flash of skin just above his waistband, and when Evie looked back at his face she found an indulgent smile. He held out his hand for her. “You’re too far away.”

Evie joined him on the couch, choosing to lie on top of him, smiling when he instantly wrapped his arms around her.

~

“I miss him too,” Rick murmured, and Evie reached for his hand in the dark.

“He’ll be back soon,” she reminded him—and herself. They lay in silence, Rick’s thumb rubbing soothing circles on Evie’s hand. “It’s only been a few days anyway.”

“Way too long.” Rick pulled her hand up to kiss over her fingers, something Ardeth had done to them both often. He seemed to realize it as well.

“I want him back now,” Evie mumbled, figuring it was he turn to say what they were both thinking.

“He’ll be back later today, right?”

“He’d better be,” she grumbled playfully. Rick chuckled and squeezed her hand.

“I get to kiss him first this time.”

“You’d better move fast then.”

~

Ardeth dropped his bag by the door and barely had time to straighten up before Rick was on him, crushing him close and spinning them both so Ardeth was facing Evie over Rick’s shoulder. He opened his mouth to ask what was happening, why Evie was laughing, when Rick pulled him into a kiss, his hand buried in Ardeth’s hair.

“Very mature, Rick,” Evie said, her voice still quaking with laughter.

He stopped kissing Ardeth long enough to say, “You snooze you lose, dear,” and then dove back in.