Disclaimer: I don't own anything!
Author's Note: This started off because someone requested a fic-that I am working on-but this was more of a warm-up to get used to these relationships again.
I also broke my foot about two months ago. I got the OK to walk without the medical boot. I can't run or jump or make heavy contact with anything for another month and a half, but I can swim, I can walk, so it's pretty wonderful. I weighed myself and I lost at least ten pounds of muscle from my leg and I say at least because I was sedentary for almost two months, zero exercise and I ate pretty unhealthy, so it's probably more than that. I have to build it all back up-yaaay-but I go back to karate tomorrow for some light work, so I can't complain.
The names of Rameses' wife and son I got from Wikipedia, as well as the descriptions of the Ten Plagues. Please let me know if there was something I got wrong.
For original work:
My brother and I have started a blog for our original alternate history/fantasy series, the Sanctum Files. Below is the link, with spaces. Give us a look.
e-p-pfister . tumblr .com
There exists, for everyone, a sentence, a series of words, that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you're lucky, you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first."
-Phillip K. Dick
He turned at the shouting. Why the guards weren't maintaining order, he had no idea. But he hadn't been prepared to see his brother stumbling down the sand—the sands that they'd been walking on since, well, they were learning to walk and since when did Moses stumble? But he kept running, would have run right past him had Rameses not yanked him around.
"Moses, what's going on?" His brother shoved him away and it left him mentally reeling. It took him a second to react. "Moses!"
But Moses kept running, running as though jackals were on his heels. Rameses couldn't keep up with him, he never could—of the two of them, Moses was always faster on foot. It took his chariot to catch up with him and even then, not until they were at the gates to the city. (This is scaring him. What can Moses have done for him to run away? Moses is never afraid; he is the one who speaks up against Father, even if he is quickly shut down. He is the one who finds the nerve to do his pranks. What can possibly have terrified him this much?)
One thing was for certain: Rameses was not letting him get away without an explanation, without something.
"Moses!" he cried, wheeling the chariot around to block his path.
His brother took an instinctive step back. "Let me go!" he said, not meeting Rameses' eyes as he stepped around the chariot, out of breath.
"You saw what happened! I just killed a man!"
Rameses stared at him. (Murder is beyond mischief, it is beyond what Moses has ever done before. It gives him pause for a moment, but the man he sees before him is no murderer. He can't be. This is his brother) "…We can take care of that," he told him in the same voice he used on panicky horses. He jogged to catch up with him, grabbing his shoulder because Moses still wouldn't look at him. "I will make it so it never happened."
Moses shook his hand off. "Nothing you say can change what I've done." And he kept walking. Away from Rameses, away from home and Rameses' heart was beating too fast, too nervous because this—this wasn't a joke, this wasn't something Moses could brush off and Rameses couldn't understand why.
"I am Egypt!" he reminded him. He had to speed up to get in front of him, walking backwards. "I am the morning and the evening star! If I say day is night, it will be written and you will be what I say you are." (Moses isn't looking at him. Won't meet his eyes and it's terrifying because Moses has never done this before. They are honest with each other, always have been) Rameses steeled himself, digging his heels in and grabbing hold of Moses' shoulders to stop him in his tracks. "I say, you are innocent."
There was fire and darker things in Moses' eyes because he finally looked at him, glanced at him, even as he pushed Rameses' hands away. "What you say does not matter!" How could it not? He was the firstborn, the heir to the throne, the older brother. Of course it mattered. (In that moment, Moses sees the complete lack of comprehension in his brother's eyes and he knows that it isn't Rameses' fault. It's this—this city, their, no, Rameses' father, all of it. He couldn't understand it) "You don't understand. I can't stay here any longer!"
Rameses stumbled as Moses shoved him aside. He recovered quickly, going to grab him because he wouldn't let his brother go. "Moses—"
"No!" Moses whirled around, backing out of his reach. His brothers' familiar hands grabbed his biceps, holding him still, eyes steady on his. (He needs Rameses to understand this, he needs to try to make him understand and he knows he can't. But he needs Rameses to listen to him, to really hear him) "All I've ever known to be true is a lie!" And he looked away again. "…I'm not who you think I am."
Rameses looked down at his little brother, terrified and so strange, right now, in this moment. He needed to be as stone, something steadfast that could anchor him here, but it was difficult when he felt something in his chest trembling, like fear. "What are you talking about?"
Moses took a breath, fingers tightening on Rameses' shoulders before he said quietly, "Go ask the man I once called 'Father'."
The sentence stuck in Rameses' head, repeating and echoing and he didn't know what to say to that. Once called? Why wouldn't Moses call him Father anymore? What had happened? But when he forced the thoughts back—he could deal with them once Moses was home, safe inside the alabaster walls—Moses was already walking away.
(He feels exhausted already and he doesn't know why. He feels ancient, standing at this gate and he doesn't want to fight anymore, doesn't want any mysteries. He just wants his brother as they had been just last night, laughing and drinking and teasing)
Rameses' voice was caught in his throat. "Moses?" he finally called out. Moses turned, anger still in his steps, in his shoulders, but it wilted a little, looking at his elder brother. Rameses could only force one word out because he didn't know what else to do. "Please."
For a moment, for a brief, wonderful moment, he thought Moses would do it. He was leaning forward on the balls of his feet, as though to step forward, to take flight, anything that would bring him back, away from the desert. But Moses grimaced a little. "…Goodbye, brother." He turned away, breaking into a run.
Rameses stood there, at the gates of his city, his birthright, calling his brother's name for what felt like an eternity. Stood there until he could no longer see Moses' form on the horizon, until his voice went hoarse.
Ask the man I once called Father.
Rameses removed the headdress of his office. He wasn't coming to the Pharaoh as the Prince Regent. He was going to his father as his only remaining son.
He found him looking over several scrolls of papyrus, reading the reports of how the harvests were coming and the progress of construction.
Seti looked up. "Rameses. Why are you returning so early? I understood that you planned to be with Moses to plan out your vision."
(Moses' name jabbed and hurt the still fresh wound. He hadn't come back. Rameses had called for him, for so long, and he hadn't come back…)
"Father…about Moses…" How to even begin this conversation? Best to just come out and say it, he supposed, but his voice got stuck again and he felt as though he'd swallowed a mouthful of sand. "He—he's gone."
"…Away. He left. Into—into the desert. I don't know why." The words that had been echoing in his mind since Moses said them made his voice steadier. "He told me to…to ask the man he once called Father."
Seti's brow furrowed, his lips a thin, grim line. It was an expression that Rameses had seen many times before, but suddenly—like everything else—it seemed alien. "Ask me about what?"
Rameses repeated Moses' words verbatim. He couldn't ever forget them, he knew that. (What he can't know is that they will reverberate in his mind for years. They will only go quiet the day that a Midian shepherd walks into the palace)
Seti sighed and set aside the scrolls as he stood. "…Your mother is a wise woman."
Blinking in confusion—of course she was. Everyone knew that—Rameses was a little surprised when Seti put his hands on his shoulders. "Father?"
"You were very young. I am not surprised that you don't remember."
"Remember what?" The fear was back, curling in his chest and around his ribs like a serpent.
"Moses was not born of your mother." Moses was a bastard? That didn't sound like his father. Seti could be cold, but he had nothing but respect for the woman he had made his queen. "Your mother found him floating in a basket in the river. The gods sent him to us."
The gods had sent Moses? (Rameses believes this with ease. Sometimes, in the quiet moments after a successful prank or exchanging grins behind their tutors' backs because of a silent joke, Rameses had wondered what kind of life it would have been without this younger brother of his. A lonely one, he always thinks and it isn't so far-fetched to believe that Moses had been sent by their gods)
"Rameses," Seti reprimanded and he fought an instinctive flinch at the tone. "You do not question the gods."
"…Of course not. I apologize, Father, but—" Rameses cut himself off. One weak link. He would not be thought of as weak. Not by his father, not by the Pharaoh. He was strong enough to do this without Moses (The thought hurts and he's afraid the sore spot will never go away)
Seti caught it. "What is it?"
He heard soft footsteps behind him; his mother, his mind registered. She sat beside him, smoothing her skirts as she did. "What troubles you?" (They are so alike, her sons. Sometimes, she thinks that finding Moses in that basket had been but a dream, that that last pregnancy had been a haze. Rameses and Moses are brothers, in all but blood and it is blood that matters the least. Her sons are always bright in her mind, always as warm as the dawning sun on her skin and she wishes that this had not happened, that they could stay happy and young forever)
"…Why did he leave?" This was the part that Rameses couldn't understand. Moses might have murdered a guard, but it had been an accident. And he was innocent, of course he was. It was Moses, for gods' sake. Had he thought that Rameses knowing that he was adopted would make any difference at all?
"I don't know," she said honestly. "Perhaps the gods have plans for him that we cannot understand."
The question rose in his throat again—why?—but he swallowed it down. You do not question the gods. Was questioning so bad, though? He just wanted some kind of answer to know that Moses was alright, that maybe he could home one day.
But, he considered, perhaps that was the comfort. Moses might have some mission out there to fulfill, but when it was completed, he would come back home. He wouldn't forget about them. He couldn't.
Both his mother and father are alive to see him wed and to see his son born. His wife was exhausted—and rightly so, he thought wryly. The sun had been high in the sky when her labor began and now, the sky was painted red and vibrant orange—and his mother came to sit with him.
"He is beautiful, Rameses," she said, taking her grandson in her arms. The babe quieted instantly, eyes looking up at her. It was strange to look at his mother and see the lined face, the crinkles by her eyes, how weathered her hands had become. But she was still lovely, he thought. His mother would forever be the most lovely woman in the world to him. "Have you thought of a name?"
Moses, was his first thought. To name his son after his brother made perfect sense. But, a voice in the back of his mind said, the name of a deserter was not a proper name for a future king. For that was what Moses had been branded: a deserter and a murderer. So he told her the one that he and Nefertari had spoken of, in the privacy of their bedroom. "Amun-her-khepeshef."
She hummed in satisfaction. "A good name."
"Yes, we thought so." Seti had already gone to bed. He was old now and always so tired. He had met his grandson and held him, but something in him had been drawing away for years.
"What are you thinking about, my son?" His mother's eyes glanced up to his, familiar as anything.
"…Will I be a good father, do you think?" Rameses asked. (He loves his father, he does. But he knows that he had grown up a little scared of him and he does not want his son to be afraid of him)
His mother's hand curled around the back of his neck, drawing him down so she could kiss his forehead. "I think you will be a wonderful father."
He smiled sideways at her. From anyone else, it would feel like empty platitude, but coming from his mother, it felt as though the gods themselves had spoken it. But he liked to disagree with her just for fun. (Moses had been the one to argue with all the time. The palace feels empty without the bickering and his mother tries to fill that emptiness, but she is no brother of his and things like that are irreplaceable) "Aren't you slightly biased?"
The playfully sharp, sideways look she gave him made him chuckle gently into the room.
(It's almost perfect, this moment. But he feels a phantom in the room and when his mother finally bids him good night and hands him his son, he sees it plop down beside him, a familiar grin on its lips. It doesn't speak, but it peers at the baby with interest and fascination and eventually, he closes his eyes and holds his son tightly to his chest so he can stop seeing his brother everywhere he looks in this room)
He taught his son to swim in the river. His wife sat on the steps, her ankles in the water as she watched them and she laughs when his son tugs at his ears with all the playfulness of a five year old. (He's like the uncle he will never meet, Rameses thinks quietly. A little mischief with a ready-for-trouble tug at his grins that Nefertari swore he got from his father)
Somewhere out of the corner of his eye, he swore he saw a basket floating among the reeds.
The crowd rippled with gasps and mutters as the two strangers walked. He noted the sounds distantly before the dances parted just far enough that he could see the strangers properly. Shepherds from one of the nomadic desert tribes, most likely. The man looked…vaguely familiar. The music and dancing stopped with a silent command. (He sees his phantom standing there, just beside the stranger and they're so similar, but yet different and he wonders if he's going mad)
But then the stranger stared at him and breathed out a name. "Rameses." The way he said it was as familiar as a half-remembered dream.
"Moses?" His feet were taking him down the steps before his mind commanded them to. "Is it really?" And the more he looked at him, he realized that yes, this was his brother. Unshaven in quite a while and his hair had grown out enough for it to curl, but beneath all that were the familiar lines of his face, the same voice. He breathed out a laugh as he grabbed him, hugging him tightly. "Moses!"
And if he needed more confirmation, the laughter in the other man's voice was an answer. "Rameses!"
"Where have you been? I took you for dead!" And he hadn't laughed or felt this light in more than a decade and this, this was almost too good to be true. (The gods have brought him back, Rameses thinks wonderfully. They brought him back home…)
Moses stared at him, hand running through the curly hair unconsciously. "Look at you! Pharaoh!"
Rameses understood the statement. During the first year of his regency, it was hard for even him to believe it. The crown hadn't felt right for a while because he wasn't used to seeing it on anyone's head except their father's. He grinned and plucked at the rough, red robe that Moses wore. "Well, look at you! I mean, what on earth are you dressed as?"
Moses smelled like the desert when he embraced him again. The desert and sheep and beneath it all, water. As though the Nile had never left his skin. "Oh Rameses, it's so good to see you."
The two high priests were as part of the palace as the alabaster stone and the graceful curves of the pillars. They didn't even seem to age, really. So when Hotep and Huy's voices came from behind him, he wasn't surprised in the least.
"We are compelled to remind you that this man committed a serious crime against the gods."
"We are loathe to bring it up, mind you," Huy added.
"Yet the law clearly states that the punishment for such a crime—"
Hotep glared at him quickly before continuing. "We…hesitate to say it."
His crown weighed on him again, as though reminding him that he couldn't simply forget what he was and enjoy his brother again after so long. "Be still. Pharaoh speaks. I am the morning and the evening star." Moses made a few attempts to interrupt him (Afraid of Pharaoh is not something that his brother can be, Rameses thinks amusedly) but the automatic silence at the raised hand—not as a threat, but as a command—was ingrained deep within him. "It shall be as I say. I pardon forever all crimes of which he stands accused and will have it known that he is our brother, Moses, the prince of Egypt."
It was the look on Moses' face—still unfamiliar with its new features—that thrummed that age-old fear that hadn't come up since he'd last seen his brother. "Rameses, in my heart, you are my brother, but things cannot be as they were."
"I see no reason why not." Moses was family and you couldn't simply stop being family.
He felt Moses draw in a deep breath beneath his hands. "…You know I am a Hebrew and the God of the Hebrews came to me."
"What?" This was some new kind of madness. Perhaps the heat from the desert had left his brother slightly delirious. The gods, plural, sent Moses to them in that basket. No Hebrew God could have done it.
"He commands that you let His people go."
Ramses took several steps backwards. (No one has commanded him since his father's death. He has no one to look down at him any longer) "Commands?"
Moses raised the crooked staff in his hand before setting it before him. "Behold…the power of God."
Before his eyes, the staff thickened and slipped to the floor, wood becoming scales and the end flaring out into a fanged mouth and beady eyes. But Rameses had seen Hotep and Huy do some pretty incredible things in his time, so this wasn't so much of a stretch. And it had been a long time since he could be frightened by a snake.
"Well, uh, impressive," Rameses said, not finding any more words. Where was his brother going with this? "Very well, Moses. I'll…play along. Hotep, Huy, give this…snake charmer…our answer."
Some of the disciples brought Hotep and Huy staffs of similar length and thickness. It didn't take much for the high priests to duplicate the trick themselves.
As they did the trick, Rameses watched Moses and had his attention caught by the woman who had come in with him. She seemed familiar as well, but he couldn't place where he knew that face from. As the staffs transformed into snakes, he remembered—More like a desert cobra—and she looked thoroughly unimpressed by the high priests. But, if memory served, she'd never been particularly impressed with any of them.
Rameses set his son down, absently running a hand through his knot of hair before gesturing to Moses to come with him. Behind the throne in the audience chamber was the true throne room, meant for private audiences. It was a room they both knew well, as it had been the room often used for their scoldings.
"All right, Moses," Rameses began, laughter still in the back of his voice because he still couldn't quite believe that his brother was here. "I know you. What's this really about?"
He set the crown down on the arm of the throne and his neck and shoulders welcomed the lack of weight. He turned back to see Moses standing beside the edge of the room, where the heat of the desert still scalded.
"Rameses, look." Moses gestured out at the construction of his brother's empire. "What do you see?"
Rameses considered answering with something sarcastic or teasing, but the look on Moses' face had him answering honestly. "A greater Egypt than that of my father."
"That is not what I see."
That made him chuckle as he sat in the throne, with its hard, uncomfortable edges. "Moses, I cannot change what you see. I have to maintain the ancient traditions." His hand went to the crown, welcoming the familiar texture. "I bear the weight of my father's crown."
(It's a deliberate thing. My father, not our father. Because Rameses still remembers standing at the gates of the city with his brother's hands on his shoulders. "Ask the man I once called 'Father'.")
"Do you still not understand what Seti was?"
Seti had been many things, Rameses knew, but none of them had been something to apologize for. "He was… a great leader."
"His hands bore the blood of thousands of children!" Moses insisted.
"Slaves," Rameses dismissed.
Temper flashed in Moses' eyes. "My people! And I can no longer hide in the desert while they suffer…at your hands." (Moses hadn't considered that Rameses had been crowned. Hadn't ever considered what Rameses thought of all this because Moses doesn't remember his brother being so cruel and so inhumanly cold)
"So…you have returned…only to free them." Moses hadn't even met his nephew, his sister-in-law. What gods had commanded Moses to do this? None of his gods certainly and Rameses was filled with a sudden rage at whatever lying Hebrew God had tricked Moses into doing this, had convinced him so thoroughly of this 'mission'.
Moses removed something from his hand and laid it beside Rameses' right hand, resting on the throne. "I'm sorry," he murmured.
At first, Rameses didn't recognize it as he examined it, but then—Royal Chief Architect!—he felt something inside him curl and twist because this was all wrong. "Yes…I had hoped that…" (He cannot be weak, will not allow himself to submit to his brother. So he shoves the Pharaoh to the forefront and will let Rameses deal with these issues later) "I do not know this God. Neither will I let your people go," he stated, striding up to Moses.
"Rameses—please, you must listen—"
Rameses whirled around. "I will not be the weak link!" The Pharaoh turned away and continued back towards the audience chamber. "Tell your people, as of today, their workload has been doubled, thanks to your God. Or is it thanks to you?"
Nefertari curled into his side that night. "…That was your brother?"
Rameses couldn't quite meet her eyes. In his mind, they were such separate worlds, the family he had now and the family of his childhood, that it was strange to think of them ever intersecting like this. "Yes."
"…He surprised me," she confessed quietly. "The man you sometimes tell me about wasn't the man in that audience chamber."
His wife had a talent for nailing topics perfectly and sometimes—like tonight—he really wished she didn't. So he closed his eyes and said, "No, he wasn't," before bidding her goodnight.
His son loved the river, loved the gentle rocking of the ship. Rameses watched him be amazed at the little parlor tricks that Hotep and Huy kept him amused with. His son's laughter was bright and loud and it echoed off the water. Rameses let himself sink into the throne a bit, the familiar heat of the dying day melting into his bones and skin.
"Rameses!" Instinctively, he was jolted from his relaxation, his spine straightening and his eyes seeking out the owner of the voice. Moses had always had that effect on him. "Let my people go!"
"Still gnawing away at that bone, are we?" His fists clenched without conscious thought. Whatever that Hebrew God had done, he'd changed his brother. And not for the better. "Carry on."
Moses jogged a little to keep up with the barge. "You cannot keep ignoring us!"
(It nags at something deep inside him that Moses is part of a very different us, that he considers himself part of those…Hebrews. He hadn't grown up with them, hadn't even cared about them until that day all those years ago. Why does he care now?)
Rameses raised his voice, not quite yelling, but projecting it outwards. It was a trick that had taken him a long time to learn and it had mostly been from listening to his father that he learned it at all. "Enough! I will hear no more of this…Hebrew nonsense. Bring him to me." If Moses wanted to be part of them so badly, let him see what it was like.
But Moses didn't run as his guards jumped into the water, as they neared him. Why wouldn't he run? Rameses glanced up as dark clouds neared, unsettled by the sudden change. Clouds, particularly ones that heavy and large, didn't belong in the wide, endless sky. Moses raised the staff again, stepping into the river (The same river that brought him to their mother, the same river that the gods had delivered him on, the same river that still lingered in his scent and skin) and dipped the end of the staff into the water.
Rameses stared as red spread out from the staff, darkening and filling the entire river. His son leaned forward over the edge, dipping a hand into it. "Father!" he cried, alarmed.
He stood as his guards panicked, swimming in the thick, red liquid. Blood. Moses had filled the river with blood. (…bore the blood of thousands of children…) Rameses shook off some blood that had splashed as the guards slipped and scrambled their way back onto the barge. "Hotep! Huy! Explain this to me!"
"Uh, yes," Hotep said, grabbing a bowl and decanter. Huy held the bowl as Hotep poured water into it. "We are going to demonstrate the superior might of our gods." He waved his hands over the bowl. "By the power of Ra!"
Rameses watched in satisfaction as the water become red, just as the Nile had. He dipped his hand into the water (It feels too thin to be blood, but there is no questioning the gods) and looked back at Moses, standing ankle deep in a small circle of clear water (Because of course the river protects him. He's part of it…), dozens of slaves on the hills and the desert woman who'd come with him standing just by the edge of the river. "Abandon this futile mission, Moses," he called. "I've indulged you long enough. This must now be finished."
The barge continued and Rameses refused to look back at how Moses looked like the Hebrews, his brown curls grown out and the beard thick. Had he not known, he would believe that Moses was simply a rebellious leader of theirs. But his life couldn't ever be that simple.
One of his wife's handmaids ran to the throne room. "Frogs, your Majesty," she panted. "In the river." Rameses and the priests all blinked at her. Where else would the frogs be? Understanding their confusion, she added, "Thousands of them."
They all followed her to the steps down to the Nile. They couldn't even make it to see the steps, so overrun were they by frogs already. And the frogs were only the beginning. Lice and flies swarmed the palace, devouring food and drink. Hotep had the misfortune to take a sip of wine only to spit out insects. They covered the palace walls and floors in black, writhing masses.
Reports came to Rameses of scores of livestock falling dead from some disease. And the next day, boils erupted from everyone's skin. There was no getting rid of them, despite all attempts by the high priests. (Sometimes, Rameses wonders if Moses is right and this Hebrew God is greater, but something will not let him concede defeat. He cannot be weak, cannot give in)
He glimpsed Moses little during the days of the plague, but when he did see him, his face was unfamiliar, jaw set and eyes hard. (He reminds Rameses of Seti, in those moments)
Nefertari was the one to alert him of the storm, of the black clouds on the horizon that loomed ever closer. He watched his people be struck down by ice and fire, lightning crashing and striking statues and making monuments fall.
Rameses stayed on his throne that day, the throne with its hard, uncomfortable edges and listened to his people scream and hide and his hands clenched on the arms of the throne. Did those Hebrews mean that much to Moses? That it was worth all of this destruction? People that he had never met until recently over people he had grown up with, had loved? His family?
But slaves weren't worth this much suffering of his people. He wanted to give in, wanted to go to Moses and tell him to end it. Even as Rameses went to rise from that throne, something rooted him to the spot and a knot formed in this throat so he couldn't speak. (Was this the Hebrew God, trying to punish him for all he has done? He has tried to surpass his father—is that not the purpose of every son?)
Moses came to him that evening, the only light from the fires still burning in the city and he looked tired, haggard. His eyes were as mirrors, empty and reflective. "There is worse coming, Rameses," he said. "Please, let my people go."
Rameses wanted to relent. He was Pharaoh, he was meant to protect this city. And what had he done? He'd helped it crumble. But the words that came out of his mouth weren't his. "The men may leave. The women, children and livestock stay."
Moses shook his head. "God demands that all of his people—men, women, children and their livestock—be freed."
Rameses' mouth was not his again, refusing to allow it.
Moses dipped his head and left without another word.
The next day, a swarm of locusts covered the sky in blackness, devouring everything they could. When Moses next came to him, Rameses asked, "What happened to you? What have I done to make you hate me enough that you would raze our home to the ground?"
(Moses doesn't deny that it's his home and for that, Rameses is strangely grateful. It brings him a bit of horrible comfort that this is hurting Moses every bit as much as it's hurting him)
But Moses didn't answer his question. "Darkness is coming. More than you can imagine. Rameses—just let my people go."
And Rameses' mouth refused. When he woke next, it was to darkness. A terrible, thick darkness like oil in the air. He scrambled for Nefertari beside him, thankful when he felt the warmth of her skin. He stumbled about the palace, as everyone did. There were no lights, no moon, no stars, no sun. Rameses heard the prayers and cries to Ra, to forgive them for whatever they'd done.
Rameses fell down the stairs as he wandered and lay there in the darkness, bruised and achy. But he knew the smell in the air, something deeper than the darkness around him, something he knew instinctively. Water. The river. Rolling onto his stomach, he carefully shimmied forward until his hand fell into the water. (This is the river that gave them Moses. The gods put Moses in that basket, protected him until he made it here, to Mother. Perhaps Ra is tired too, Rameses thinks as he passes his hand back and forth in the water, fingers playing with the reeds he finds. Perhaps everyone is simply tired of all this…)
Time fell away in that darkness, but it slowly began to fade. Rameses carefully crawled up the stairs so he didn't trip back down as it was still much darker even than midnight. After finding the top, he stood and let his hand follow along the wall, the grooves of the hieroglyphs his guide. He made it to that familiar room, the one he knew even in that darkness, the one where he remembered curling to hide away from the memory of his father's wrath.
He bumped into a table and the smell told him of the wine. Pouring a glass, he held it in one hand and climbed up the statue with the other, a trick he'd learned when he was thirteen, Moses watching him from the statue's feet, eyes dancing and waiting for him to fall.
(It hurts to think of times like those and he feels ancient, tucked into this statue now. He doesn't fit like he used to)
A voice cut through the darkness. "Rameses?"
Of course Moses would find him. "Oh, let me guess: you want me to…let your people go." The wine was too cool down his throat. Everything was cold without the sun. The stones, the statues, the air. Rameses wasn't used to the cold.
"…I hoped I would find you here." Moses' voice was careful, trying not to anger. But that only provoked Rameses more.
He threw the cup of wine in the direction of Moses' voice. It didn't hit, if the clatter was anything to go by, but the force of the action was relaxing, being able to release some of this anger.
"Rameses, we must bring this to an end." Moses took a step forward and Rameses felt some of the darkness lift even more. The gods—or God—were protecting him even from the dark. "…Rameses, please. Talk to me. We could always talk here."
But Rameses was tired of talking. Tired of it all. And he didn't want to speak to the rebellious leader of the Hebrews, their God's chosen messenger, the good little soldier who had followed instructions and allowed the destruction. If he would speak to anyone, it would be his brother and no one else.
Moses sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "…This place. So many memories." Moses had always been terrible with silences. Rameses could hear him beginning to smile and yes, this—this was something closer to his brother. "I remember the time when you, ah, switched the heads of the gods at the temple of Ra." He paused, as though waiting for a reaction. When he didn't get one, Rameses heard one step and then two.
"…If I recall correctly, you were there switching heads right along with me."
The moon was back. Somewhat. It's light was weak, but Rameses could see and he saw the stroking of the jaw and the familiar confused furrow of the brow that meant Moses was trying to remember something. "No…" Moses began slowly. "It was you. I didn't do that."
"Oh, yes, you did." Rameses threw one leg over the statue's arm, the other following, before letting himself fall to the ground. "You put the hippo on the crocodile and the crocodile—"
"On the falcon," Moses finished.
"Yes! The priests thought it was a horrible omen and fasted for two months! Father was furious! You were always getting me into trouble." Rameses felt a smile tug at his lips without his consent, an old reaction to Moses' mere presence. Moses was following after him—the brother, not the messenger—and it was a familiar thing, like another shadow. He fiddled with Moses' ring—for it would always be his, whether Moses had returned it or not; he'd taken to wearing it and it was a familiar weight on his hand. "But then, you were always there to…to get me out of trouble again."
Moses nodded a little (He is always going to be there to get him out of trouble. It's part of his job description) and underneath the tired soldier, Rameses saw his brother properly. He reached out to put his hand on his shoulder. "…Why can't things be the way they were before?"
Before his brother could give him an answer, his son's voice crawled out from the dark. "Father? It's so dark…" Rameses looked at his son, standing there with a torch, tiny and alone against the towering walls and pillars. "I'm frightened."
Rameses crossed the room to crouch beside him, curling his hand around his neck and the back of his head. He was growing so much, Rameses thought. When had that happened? His eyes—his mother's eyes, pale brown, unlike his darker color. But the shape was his, at least—went beyond Rameses' shoulder to where Moses stood. (It hits him then that this is his son's first real look at his uncle and vice versa. This shouldn't be this way. Moses should have bounced him on his knee, teased him and let him sit astride his shoulders. There shouldn't be suspicion and wariness when someone looks at their uncle)
"Why is he here?" Rameses stood, unable to quite look his son in the eye because he's right. Why had Moses come all this way? His son's hand on his wrist was a familiar touch, gently nudging him. "Isn't that the man who did all this?"
"Yes. But one must wonder…why."
Here, there would be no lies, no talk of gods. Moses wouldn't dare bring that into this room. "Because…no kingdom should be made on the backs of slaves," he answered. There was disgust in those last words. "Rameses, your stubbornness is bringing this misery upon Egypt." Ah yes, there was his brother. Forever unafraid to call him out on all his shortcomings. (But this isn't him. Rameses has wanted to give in, but there is a new hardness in his heart that won't allow him to do it) "It would cease if only you would let the Hebrews go."
Indignation rose up in him and Pharaoh was the one who replied. "I will not be dictated to, I will not be threatened. I am the morning and the evening star. I am Pharaoh."
"Something else is coming—something much worse than anything before." What could possibly be worse? "Please, let go of your contempt for life before it destroys everything you hold dear. Think of your son!"
Moses was not allowed to bring that here, was not allowed to accuse him of blindness in the face of his family, not when Moses himself had run away and left them more than a decade ago, not when he'd turned his back on his family in that desert. And Rameses would not allow threats against his son.
"I do. You Hebrews have been nothing but trouble." Rameses turned to Seti's likeness on the wall, the same wall where he had come to read about the purge of the Hebrews at about the same time that Moses had come to them. It was the Hebrew's God who had poisoned Moses, had turned him against him, it was because of the Hebrews that all of this had happened. "My father had the right idea about how to deal with your people."
"Rameses—" (He's terrified right now. It's not his brother that stands before him and it's not even Rameses the Pharaoh. This is something else entirely and Moses can almost see Seti glaring out from behind his brother's eyes and how could Moses have left Rameses to face Seti on his own?)
Rameses kept going as though he hadn't heard. "And I think it's time I finished the job."
"And there shall be a great cry in all of Egypt, such as never has been or ever will be again!"
He stayed with his son, holding him in the darkness. Rameses ran his fingers through the knot of hair, along the fine cheekbones, the too-large ears as his son slept against his chest. He matched his son's deep breaths, eyes seeing nothing of the room before him, mind replaying the conversation with Moses.
So when he saw the pale light thrown across the floor, he was jolted back to this time. A pale, formless specter floated into the room. Rameses clutched his son closer to him, shielding him with his body.
But the specter did not care. It passed around him, like liquid, and he felt his son give one last, long breath before he fell still. "Amun?" he called, the nickname falling easily from his lips. His son hated the length of his name.
Rameses did not see the specter leave the room. All he saw was his son lying in his arms, limp. "Amun!"
His wife ran into the room, clutching to the doorframe, eyes wide and her entire body trembling. "Rameses—I saw the light. What—"
Something worse than anything before.
He heard it when Nefertari's legs gave out, her knees hitting the floor and her sobs echoing in the too-still room. He wanted to cry, wanted the tears to come, but all he could feel was this terrible hollow inside, a hollow that shivered with the emptiness and the grief. There was no room in that hollow for tears.
He heard Moses step into the room, heard the clack of the staff on the stone. But Rameses didn't look at him, didn't want to even hear him, but he was too empty of anything to try to summon the rage of earlier. He slipped the shroud over his son's face (The face will never mature, those shoulders never broaden. His head will never be fully shaved for the crown and Rameses will not see him dance at his wedding or meet his grandson. All because of Moses. Or is it as Moses said, because of him? Because of his stubbornness, his pride?)
Moses didn't need to say the words. "…You…and your people have my permission to go." His voice was hoarse, raw with the tears he couldn't find. He allowed the touch of Moses' hand instinctively, but Moses was not his brother any more and he jerked away. "Leave me!"
There could be no forgiveness for this. Moses was nothing more than an enemy now.
What do you do when you're no longer the hero of your own story?