For a sun god, Ramses had spent most of his life in the dark. Love hidden by lust, lust hidden by hate. But he couldn't hide from this; a ragtag army that should have folded before him, instead walking away in all the light that Moses had shown them, his own army lost in the dark sea behind them.
He couldn't hide from their eyes, either; two sets, dark and light, neither happy. Moses' full of regret and love, anger and disappointment. Joshua's… well, Joshua's were harder to meet. Defiance on his face, the same sneer he'd once directed to his Pharaoh. The same fear in his eyes that he'd worn for weeks after that.
Ramses was reluctant to name for himself why he had taken the whip from the guard. Yes, the slave had spat at him and had to be punished, but the guard had had it well in hand. Deep inside, where the unnamed things lived, he knew why.
It was written somewhere on the face that shouldn't have been familiar to Ramses. Why should the human face of Ra know that of a lowly slave? Comely, with eyes and skin that spoke of northern blood sowing seeds in Hebrew soil. But as pretty as he was, the unnamed things whispered, it wasn't Ramses' attraction to the slave that drove him to grab the whip.
And whether Ramses named it or not, the memories played behind his eyes as he lashed out against that lovely skin, wanting to make the slave hurt as much as he had.
Moses, his brother, still closer to him than any other, even after their father had given Nefertari to Ramses. Moses, his friend, his other half, looking at the slave like he held an answer to a mystery Moses hadn't even known to seek.
In the distance a flash of movement that drew Ramses' eye. A slave on the ground, curled over to protect himself. A guard above him, the whip flashing down. Moses in front of him, staying the whip, taking the life of one of their own to save the skin of someone, something, that didn't matter.
Moses, walking away, exiled, with no glance back for Ramses, but one last touch for this slave.
This slave, who again curled over to protect himself from deserved wrath.
Who again was saved by the coming of Moses.
Moses looked between them, the former slave at his side, the former brother at his feet. There was confusion on his face, along with regret, but he nodded his head, agreeing to whatever dialog was playing in his head. He put one hand on Joshua's shoulder, the other pointing to the path the others were following. "Go on, Joshua. I'll catch up. And don't worry. I remember my promises."
Ramses almost laughed at the words, at Moses' confusion, and at how alike they still were, even after all these years, to both make promises over this one man. But then he remembered that his promise to Joshua, only the second one he'd fully intended to keep, was as useless as all the ones that had come before.
Moses had come back. But the man who'd lived for years as his brother, as his best friend, as… and here Ramses hesitated, still unwilling to name why the thought of Moses (looking at the slave, touching him, protecting him) had driven Ramses to fury, when no one else, Nefertari included, could do more than momentarily distract him. The same fury that filled him now, knowing Moses had returned, but not for him. Not for Ramses.
He let the fury fill him until he glowed with it, Ra's light incarnate. Moses' god couldn't touch it, would fall before it. Moses would never have anything of Ra's. Anything of Ramses'. That he promised.
Broken, his army gone, and lying at Moses' feet, Ramses finally did laugh at the memory of that first promise made, laughing harder as Moses' confusion deepened on his face. It had been the first promise he'd truly intended to keep, but it had been such a useless one, considering the might of Moses' god. Even more so since, if he'd only been willing to see it, Ramses would have known that Moses had taken far more than Ramses' slaves, and had done so years before they'd come to that point.
The fury still burned into him late into the night, fueled by the wine he'd been drinking now that water was so scarce. It flowed in his veins, wine replacing blood, until Ramses wondered if it was his blood that now flowed in the river outside his palace.
There were voices in his head, telling him what to do: the fury, the wine, Nefertari saying Moses' name with resignation in her voice, his magicians scoffing, Moses warning. But it was a memory that filled his sight -- Moses' hand pulling the slave up and away, protecting him from Ra, choosing him over Ramses -- that made him call for his guards.
The guards accepted his instructions without question, with all the reverence that Ra could want. And the voices in his head stilled when they brought him what he'd asked for, still struggling against the strength of the guards, against the ropes that restrained him. Ramses smiled as he looked down at his slave. What was Ramses' would never be Moses'.
Swollen lips reluctantly opened to his, bound hands reluctantly closed over his cock, and Ramses came as he felt Joshua shudder beneath him. The streets were filled with frogs, the rivers flowed with them, and his magicians quailed from a trick they couldn't reproduce. But Ramses smiled as he made his second promise of the day, the only one he intended to keep. "Even if your god is as strong as Moses says, even if he were to win in the end and lead all of my slaves away, I still wouldn't let you go. You will never be free of me."
Night followed day, promise followed promise, but none of them lasted, each passing into the next.
Even with the smoke pits his servants had set up, and the netting that blocked every door and window, there were still gnats circling Ramses. They drowned in the sweat that sheened his body, were trapped in the saliva and semen that coated his cock. The sweat that dripped down on Joshua, the saliva and semen that stained his chin, were free of gnats, though. As were the tears that broke past his control.
But as the days passed, so did the anger. Some days it waned, until he wondered at his own actions.
Ramses couldn't hear the frightened cries from the palace, but he knew they were there all the same. His people living, and dying, in fear. His magicians unable to truly counter Moses' god. Surely it wasn't worth this, so much pain and death, just to keep his pride?
He shook the thought off, knowing that Ra had more than pride. He had power; he could hear it in the frightened cry beneath him as he thrust in past the tight resistance. Ramses could feel it in the hand he used to press Joshua's face hard into the pillow beneath him, the one he dug into Joshua's hip, holding him in place as he drove in again, sharp slap of flesh on flesh. It felt so good, Joshua's body so tight around him, all that length of leg, those oddly attractive knobby knees, straining under Ramses' power as he laid himself along Joshua's back, needing to be deeper, and deeper still.
He wrapped Joshua's hair in his hand, pulled his head back up, his ear to Ramses' lips. "If Moses' god, if your god, is so powerful, let him stop me from doing this."
Ramses gave Joshua's god many chances as the night waned towards dawn, but in the end it was only the need to sleep that left Joshua free to return home. Free until Pharaoh summoned him again.
Some days the anger was like ashes, dry on his tongue.
The chain on Joshua's neck was tethered to the ground; too short to sit, too strong to break under Joshua's frantic tugging. He could only curl up tight to protect his body from the movement of the live cattle, the stench of the dead. Or when his body started to burn from the position, he could lay himself out, trying to stay close to the rotting corpse of the cow beside him to avoid the sharp, heavy hooves of the living.
Ramses, sitting on the bare stone wall above the pen much to the horror of his guards, could barely hear the slight crack of bone as a rib, pressed too close by the rock on one side, and the hard place on the other, bent against the pressure. But he could hear Joshua's groan, and that was enough.
Some days the anger lingered beneath his skin, hot and painful when it broke free.
Unusually pale skin, marked only by a dusting of freckles and the scars that years of hard service had placed on it, made a stark contrast to Ramses' darker skin. To the lesions, dark and painful, that stood out on Ramses hands as he pressed those pale thighs higher, wider. He watched Joshua's beautiful, unmarked face as he fucked him so hard they both cried out in pain.
And some days the anger roared through him, dark like the clouds that covered Ra's face.
The storm had been nothing from nature; fire and hail raining from the sky to strike on land and crop, cattle and human. All but Goshen. Ramses had bowed his head in defeat, crying out to Moses' god, "I have sinned."
And the storm had stopped.
It was all the proof Ramses needed, the damage more than his blighted land could stand. He'd looked out over the milling crowds, his slaves that were to be slaves no longer, seeing their cautious joy. They had learned to be wary of Pharaoh's promises.
But this time Ramses had no choice.
He saw Joshua among them. He alone had no smile on his face. Ramses heart twitched in his chest, remembering the promise he'd sworn he would keep. Seeing the way Joshua always kept Ramses in view, circling warily around the edges of the crowd to make sure there was a constant distance between them, and yet never meeting his eyes, a lesson Ramses had taken great delight in teaching… that made other parts of Ramses twitch. He dreamed, for a second, of taking Joshua there in front of the others, letting all of them, Moses included, know their true place.
But Ramses had no choice.
He told himself that, again and again, and almost believed it. Until Moses embraced Joshua, shared happiness on their faces. Ramses was too far away to hear what Moses said, too removed by years to read Moses' thoughts from his face anymore, but he was close enough to see the way Joshua curled his hand into Moses' robe, like a child seeking comfort. He also saw the way Moses drew Joshua to him again, and there was nothing of childhood in that.
Ramses had no choice. What was his would never go free.
Eventually the anger hardened in him. He held his promise to Joshua close to his heart, letting it steady him against the bleating cries of his officials.
The view out of the palace was stark; barren, not a hint of green as far as the eye could see.
But the view in the palace was verdant; green silks wound tight around flushed skin, blue eyes shading to moss against the color around them. Even the moss faded, drowned out by pupil in the low light, under the arousal that was being drawn unwilling from Joshua's body.
Ramses licked at semen almost as bitter as his heart, at the tears that Joshua struggled not to let escape. It had been a long time since he had been able to make Joshua cry, and he savored the taste. As he did the reluctant pleasure that Joshua hadn't wanted to feel, the last thing that Joshua could have called his own.
Nothing would escape him, not even under the darkness that covered them all.
He wavered for a moment when it fell, a darkness so heavy he could feel it on his skin, holding him like chains. He was Ra, light itself, and he should never have been bound.
But he was also Ramses, well familiar with chains, and he didn't need light to do what he wanted.
Under his hand, muscles quivered from the strain of being held in this position for so long. The chains clinked as Joshua tried to flinch away from his touch, but Ramses just dug his fingers in tighter.
His guards had strung the chains up by feel and familiarity, but they'd fastened them a little too short, so that Joshua, already tall, was on tiptoe. It made it difficult for Ramses, his own mass dwarfing Joshua's slighter frame, but his height couldn't quite match, and he was almost climbing Joshua as he slid his cock between the darkness-shrouded rounds of pale flesh he held in his hands.
Ramses had told Moses he would execute him if he ever saw him again, and Moses had promised that he wouldn't. Had promised that Ramses would never see him again. Darkness had fallen then, cutting Ramses off from the man he'd called brother. Cutting him off from the past he'd tried to live in.
But Ramses didn't need the light to do what he wanted. He didn't need the past to take what was his. His weight was pulling at Joshua's arms, making him scream even before Ramses slammed his way in, but Ramses didn't hear it. Never see him again, never see him again was ringing in his ears, twin stabs of grief and hate. It repeated with every thrust he made, long into a night that never brightened into day.
Too late to save anything, his pride, his power, died with his only son. When he told the Israelites to go, they did, not waiting for morning. Thieves stealing away in the night, having already taken everything of Ramses' that had value.
Moses didn't look back, the biggest thief of all. But Joshua did, holding Ramses' eyes with a mix of defiance and fear, for a second that lasted days. Until Moses draped his arm over Joshua's shoulders, leading him away, leaving Ramses alone with a dead son, a grieving wife, and a pit of regret and anger where his heart used to be.
The anger had died in Ramses. He looked up at Moses, seeing the brother he still loved. The friend that had been closer to his heart than any other. The lover he could never have.
Moses pulled him up, embraced him, offered back a piece of himself that Ramses had thought lost forever. He was grateful for it, a tiny sop to the sorrow that was only partly for his son. The better part of him, the part that had found its way to light, hoped he could help Nefertari in the same way.
Joshua was waiting for Moses along the trail, half hidden by a spill of rocks. Ramses could almost hear him debating on how close he should be; how far was safety against the monster, how close was protection in case Moses needed him? The better part of him, the part that had been led by Moses towards the light, was pleased that his brother had Joshua to watch over him.
They walked away together, leaving Ramses behind once more. Alone now with no army, a wife that had vengeance in her heart, and a need to rebuild a land that had been brought down by Ramses' failure to acknowledge what was in his own heart.
As they disappeared from sight, the better part of Ramses, the part that knew deep down that he wasn't really Ra, prayed that their god would protect them. But the part of him that still lived in darkness, the part where the darkness still lived, laughed, and wished he could be there when Moses finally saw his own light. When he finally tried to claim what should have been his all along, and found that, in his way, Ramses had kept his promise after all. Moses had led his people from Egypt, but Joshua… Joshua would never be free.