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The Path Not Taken

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"This doesn't have to happen."

Rameses' heart bled for his brother, for the boy who lashed out and ran away. Pharoah stared ahead, stony-faced, and refused to hear the words he could never heed.

"Rameses, are you listening? You can stop this."

Rameses is dead, Pharoah told Moses silently. Rameses was buried years ago when his father died and he had to bear the responsibility of Eygpt without you at his side. You just don't recognise it because no-one built a pyramid for him yet.

"Listen!" He flinched when Moses set a hand on his shoulder, and cursed himself for it. Better to give no reaction, to ignore the rantings and ravings of his brother, just as he had ignored every plague so far. Eventually Moses would give up and go away again. Silently, he wished he could stuff Moses back into the stupid basket he had arrived in and set him back to sailing off on the river. Let him find another family to bother, another brother too stupidly fond of him to do what should be done.

He waited for the threat, wondering what it would be this time. They'd had rivers of blood, biting insects, frogs. It seemed impossible that things could be worse.

"There's going to be a--" Moses stopped, licked dry lips and looked at him. Actually looked at him - not the glare of frustrated anger that he'd directed at the Pharoah so often over the last few weeks, but a look that examined him in minute detail. Pharoah was absurdly reminded of the way Moses used to study him when they were teenagers, the weeks when shadowing his father and the anxiety of getting things wrong had left him sleeping maybe three hours a night. Moses would look at him, just like that, and say not a word but in the morning some strangely coincidental catastrophe would leave the Pharoah too busy for his son to learn from him for a few days.

Do that, the last, lost vestiges of boyhood begged silently, do it as you used to do. Look at me like that, and then tomorrow arrange for the river to burst its banks or something. We'll both run to deal with it and then this whole silly business can be forgotten.

The Pharoah in him knew it to be impossible and stared back coldly. The boy in him wept silently, knowing what he was losing and yet unable to snatch it back.

"I don't want to do this any more."

For a moment Pharoah was startled at himself, horrified that he had spoken the thought words out loud. But no, it was Moses stepping back from him, Moses shaking his head, Moses' face crinkling as though he were five years old and trying not to cry in front of his big brother.

"I need to find another way." Moses' voice was pleading. "I don't - help me, Rameses. Help me find a way for this not to happen."

Insolent demands for the Jewish God, Pharoah would dare anything to deal with. Would close his ears to his own people even, ignoring the threats made against them. Pharoah had centuries to fall back on, centuries of knowing that Egypt could stand against such impudence. Stand like a stone statue on the pyramids themselves and let the threats fly by as unnoticed as grains of sand, ignoring that even grains of sand could do damage in their own tiny way.

But pleas from his baby brother, Rameses had never stood against. Not even once. He glared at Moses, and against his will, felt himself soften. Saw his brother - his own stupid, beloved baby brother - caught between two terrible choices. Well, of course Moses had got himself into some terrible situation. Moses always did.

Pharoah cracked - only a fraction, but maybe a fraction was enough. Perhaps Rameses wasn't quite dead, not today, not yet. Perhaps there was still a chance he might be woken. His sigh felt as though it lasted a thousand lifetimes.

"Sit down, Moses," he said tiredly, before his brother could turn on his heel and leave forever. "Perhaps we can find a way." As though all they were discussing was how to mollify priests who had been insulted - again - by their behaviour. But, he was Pharoah. He would speak it and it could be done. Would be done.

And he was Rameses, with a little brother who needed help. Perhaps today he could find a way to give it.