Give me your hand. I'm right here with you. There is another world waiting for us, Aida. I can feel it. The way I always knew there was a world beyond every bend in the Nile. Just waiting to be discovered.
You will find me in that world?
If I have to search for a hundred lifetimes, I will find you again, Aida.
--Aida (Scene 21), book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls & David Henry Hwang
She could feel his eyes on her.
She pretended not to notice, circling the exhibits and studying each one closely. She couldn't deny he looked familiar to her, like the face of a friend grown just slightly out of recognition. Shaking her head, she turned back to the stone square at the center of the room, bending to read the descriptive panel against the glass.
What she read there made her abruptly ill. This was the tomb? She'd heard the legend, of course, but she hadn't realized the crypt displayed in the museum would be authentic. Reluctantly, she raised her eyes to the display once more, peered into the dark interior.
The stone would have been faintly cool to the touch, she thought, and rough enough to come off as dust when you rubbed your fingers against it... There was just enough space inside for the lovers to sit crouched close together, hands clasped desperately, futilely, each breath echoing in the darkness until there was no air left to breathe...
She gasped and pulled away, straightening as the sensation faded. She took a reflexive step backwards, and walked around to the back of the tomb, shaking her head to dispel the images there. What an awful way to die.
But on the other side she found him, staring at the stone with a mixture of horror and fascination. Recoiling, she walked quickly away and waited for her breathing to calm. When she felt steady once more, she made a show of checking her watch. Turning slightly, she caught sight of him once more, studying a model of a hunter. She frowned a little, unconsciously, unsure why he seemed so familiar.
His eyes snapped up suddenly and locked with hers. She flushed, and then laughed a little even as he did the same, each embarrassed to be caught staring. Of their own volition her eyes flew back to the tomb behind him, and then they returned to his. She took a step toward him, still trying to place his face, to shake off the fog that seemed to have enveloped her thoughts.
"I'm sorry," he said at last, smiling quizzically. "Do I-- do I know you? If you live next door to me and I've forgotten your name..."
She laughed. "No, I don't think so."
His smile widened. "I'd like to think I'd remember a girl like you living next door," he admitted, and though there was appraisal and appreciation in his eyes, she found she didn't mind. In turn she let herself examine him. He was taller than she but not by much, muscular without being bulky, and dressed neatly in casual clothes. He wore a short beard, dark against his skin; she didn't usually care for facial hair on men, but somehow she thought it suited him.
"You do look familiar, though," he continued, jolting her out of her scrutiny. The light in his eyes told her he'd noticed, but he wasn't upset.
"So do you," she agreed, smiling back. "But we must be confused. I haven't been in the city very long; I don't know many people here."
"No?" he asked, surprised.
"No," she admitted. "I've only been in the city for a few weeks."
He frowned a little at that. "It must be hard being away from home."
She nodded. "Sometimes. Sometimes I think it was a mistake to come so far, all by myself." She shook her head. "But why am I telling you? A stranger I've just--" she stopped abruptly, frowning. "I mean, I don't know you, and I'm sure you don't really want to hear about how homesick I am."
"No," he said quickly. "I'd like to hear it. Do you... do you want to get a cup of coffee? There's a coffee shop less than a block from here." When she hesitated, he spread his hands disarmingly. "Hey, you're new to the city, the least I can do is show you a decent place for coffee."
She smiled at last. "I'd like that."
He wanted to touch her.
It was an unnerving sensation. He wasn't easily won by a pretty face or a willing smile. He kept his distance. He didn't meet strange women at museums and practically beg them to have coffee with him. He didn't have to consciously remember to keep his hands to himself. If only she weren't so darned familiar... He allowed his eyes to play over her once more. She wore a white cotton sundress, formfitting without being snug, and she moved with a simple grace. Her dark hair was intricately braided against her head, swept back away from her face. There was something independent in her eyes, her half-smile, but he suspected she'd be breathtaking if she smiled fully.
He shook the image from his head. As they exited the museum and headed out into the street, he allowed his hand to drop briefly to the small of her back, ushering her through the door. He found his senses all focused on that fleeting touch, mesmerized. The cotton was soft beneath his fingertips and warm from her skin. He wanted to leave his hand there, pressed firmly to her back, but he knew better. "I never asked your name," he said instead, pulling away once they were outside.
She smiled. "Aiden."
He extended a hand. "I'm Rob. It's nice to meet you, Aiden."
She echoed the sentiment and fell silent again. It was a short walk, as he'd promised, and when they were seated in the small café, he smiled nervously at her. "So, Aiden, what brings you to the big city?"
She shrugged shyly and stirred idly at her drink. "I'm sort of an explorer... I like to see new things. I have a degree in anthropology. I'm hoping I'll be able to get a position at the museum."
"So do you want to study Egypt?" Rob asked. "You seemed pretty interested in that tomb back there."
She raised her eyes, then lowered them again, quickly, as if she did not want to look at him. "So did you."
He nodded. "I can't explain it. I just... I couldn't look away. It was almost familiar. The same way I couldn't look away from--" he stopped, embarrassed. After a moment, he said, "What do you think it must have been like? Being buried alive?"
Aiden shuddered. "Awful," she said softly. "It would be awful. They would put you in that box, seal you in, and it would be dark, and you'd hear them shoveling the sand down over you... The darkness would close around you, and then you would just wait, as your oxygen melted away and the air got warmer and warmer... wait to die."
"And the walls closing in around you... no escape..."
She nodded solemnly. "Claustrophobic?"
He shrugged, embarrassed. "Yeah, a little. At least they were together. Nothing could come between them."
"What do you think that must feel like?" she asked after a moment. "Loving someone so much?"
Rob considered. "They say she tried to take the blame for everything. To spare him."
"But he wouldn't let her do it," she continued. "He couldn't turn his back on what was right."
"On her," he agreed.
"He must have loved her very much," she said quietly.
"And she him," he replied. He wanted to reach out to her, to lose himself in this sensation, familiar and foreign at once, in the hesitant wonder in her voice and the shy glow in her eyes. But there was still some shard of control left in him, and it stayed his hand.
She withdrew abruptly, as if she'd known what he was thinking. "But they still died. If they'd been stronger--"
"If they had been stronger, Radames would have become Pharaoh and laid waste to Nubia. Aida would have died in slavery. Her father the king would have died in slavery."
"No, at the end," she insisted. "They were captured as she was trying to escape. She waited to say goodbye. If she'd left-- if she'd turned her back and left him at the harbor--"
She was arguing her point coldly, calmly, but there was something pained in her voice. "She loved him," he interrupted gently. "She needed to say goodbye."
Aiden shrugged. "Maybe she should not have loved him in the first place."
"Sometimes, you don't get a choice," he countered.
"Sometimes," she agreed, speculatively, as if testing out the idea as she spoke, "you meet someone and you find in him a reflection of yourself, of what you want to be." He met her gaze steadily, and there was something passing between them, some message or meaning he didn't understand. All he could do was look at her, lose himself in the darkness of her eyes and the seductively familiar look on her face.
"And maybe you don't even like him at first," she continued, closing her eyes. "But the things in him, the things that touch you... you can't ignore them. And you'd cling to him no matter what... even in the dark, with your air running out and the walls closing in around you. Because he gives you the strength to be you, be who you want to be..."
She fell silent for a long moment, and this time he did reach out to touch her, still caught in her spell, his fingers gently brushing over hers where they curled around her coffee cup. "You talk as if you knew them." Or as if you'd felt that way.
Her eyes snapped open, as if she'd only just realized what she'd said, and the moment shattered. She gave a wry smile. "Sorry," she said. "I guess I was just over-empathizing. For a minute there I could almost feel what it might have been like... It was frightening."
"The tomb? Being buried?" Rob asked, confused by the sudden shift.
She blinked. "Yes. The tomb," she answered slowly, and then laughed a little. "Silly, isn't it?"
"No," he said, sitting back in his seat. What had happened to them a moment ago? Whatever enchantment that had been was fading now, the mood broken. "I imagine it must be pretty amazing," he blurted, trying to recapture the closeness they'd felt before. At her questioning look, he clarified. "To love someone that much."
Aiden raised an eyebrow. "No firsthand knowledge?"
He laughed. "No one I've dated would have been willing to die for me."
She laughed at that as well. "Me neither. And I wouldn't have wanted to be buried alive with any of them."
"I guess that sort of thing is pretty hard to come by," he said, wondering how she could speak so eloquently of an emotion she'd never felt.
"I guess... At least they were together," she said again. "I guess that'd be some comfort."
They were silent for a while longer. At last he laughed a little and said, "I still can't figure out why you're so familiar to me. I'm... I'm drawn to you."
She looked surprised at the admission, and he was surprised too. He hadn't intended to say that. But she smiled and said only, "Perhaps I remind you of someone you once knew. Someone you were drawn to."
He thought, I've never been drawn to anyone this way. But her explanation was logical, safe, and so he nodded. "Perhaps you do."
Aiden closed her eyes, unsure whether to be relieved or disappointed. Why had she dismissed what he'd said? She felt it too, that familiarity, that attraction and kinship. Why had he let her dismiss it? But then, perhaps he was disappointed and relieved as well.
It was frightening... He'd met her eyes and there had been such emotion in his, real and electric, that she'd had to look away. But something had flashed through her, a moment of pure, overwhelming sensation. He'd thought she meant the tomb, and in the museum that impression had been clear to her as well. But this time it had been something else.
What might it be like, to love someone that much? And for just a moment she'd known exactly what it was like. It filled her senses and instinctively she closed her eyes, losing herself.
A man had been kneeling before her, hands spreading slowly across her abdomen. He spoke softly, hesitantly, of his growing love for her, an emotion he could neither explain nor deny. She hesitated, and then her hands were in his hair, and she'd tipped her head back, closed her eyes, let the words and the caress wash through her. He'd come to her vulnerable, but she wanted what he was offering. She needed only to admit it to herself.
She'd pulled him up to stand before her, his hands skimming up her sides, and she had given herself over to him in that moment. His touch was warm on her back, and she'd laid her hands against his chest, easing his open jacket off his shoulders and exploring the smooth warmth of his skin. He pulled her close, and she went willingly, and then their hands were everywhere...
Every touch had been awed and affectionate, unhurried, as if they had all the time in the world to learn and explore. It was an emotion neither of them had ever expected to feel, especially in this time and place, and when his lips had met hers at last she'd wrapped her arms around him as if never to let go. She'd fallen back and he leaned over her, a wondering love in his eyes, and she had risen to meet him...
And then Rob had touched her hand, and the scene was gone, and she couldn't have said what it was or where it had come from. She'd laughed, made an excuse. And she'd tried not to realize, to remember, that it had been Rob in that momentary dream, Rob's hands sliding over her back and Rob's mouth on hers...
She shivered and tried to put that image out of her head. In as light a tone as she could manage, she said, "You never said what you were doing in the city."
Rob shrugged. "I'm a little of an explorer myself. I didn't grow up here, but I've moved around a lot... I'm a teacher, history and geography, at the high school on Broad Street." He smiled ruefully. "I love the museum. I go there a lot... And if you'll be working there, I'll have to come more often."
She stiffened a little, nervously, but after a moment she smiled and said, "I'd like that." She was surprised to find it was true.
He smiled back, and her heart did a little flip before she could quiet it. This was foolish. In fact, it was ridiculous. She took a sip of her coffee only to find the cup empty. Rob noticed and flashed her a rueful grin. "Do you want another cup, or do you have somewhere you need to be?"
"No," she said, and then clarified, "I don't have anywhere to be, but that's enough caffeine for me."
"Okay," he agreed. He was quiet for a minute, and then he said, "Are you on your way home, then?"
Aiden nodded. "Yes."
He hesitated. "Maybe I could walk you there?"
"I'll be fine," she said quickly, "you don't have to--"
"I want to," he insisted, his hand finding hers again. "Besides, what kind of gentleman would I be if I let the lady walk home alone through a strange neighborhood?"
It was foolish, she knew that, but his hand was warm and firm over hers, and she found herself nodding shyly. "Okay."
Rob rewarded her with another bright smile, and she found herself smiling back. She'd forgotten how much fun it could be simply to spend time with someone friendly and attractive and interesting. Maybe she'd never known.
Rob put his hand on her back once more as he escorted her out of the coffee shop, and this time he let it linger, carefully passive, just absorbing the warmth and wonder of her.
This was craziness, he knew that, but he couldn't ignore what he was feeling, the incredible pull of attraction, affection, intrigue... It was thrilling and terrifying and intoxicating all at once.
As it turned out, her apartment was far enough to warrant a ride on the subway. He pointed them in the direction of the nearest stop and they walked slowly, not in any hurry to reach their destination.
That's a good sign, isn't it? She isn't rushing to leave you behind. He supposed it was a good sign. But he wasn't even sure at the moment what it was he wanted to happen. He would walk her home. Once he got there, he wasn't sure what he would do. He didn't expect an invitation in-- he didn't want one, if it meant what some people implied it did. He might be very disappointed to get one, he realized slowly. He respected her. He expected something more of her.
What, then, did he want? A phone number... a last name, he thought, realizing in dismay that he didn't have even that. Or one look in her eyes-- just one-- a look for me. The kind of look she'd worn when she'd spoken of a love one would die for. His hand moved involuntarily on her back, gently, up and down in a light caress. She did not appear to notice, or, if she did, to mind. But he had noticed. Everything in him had noticed and he wanted to touch her more fully.
He didn't. He couldn't. But neither could he quiet the rising rush of emotion in him, and it was frighteningly familiar. He'd never felt this way. Why did he remember it all, the giddy, desperate moments of puppy love and the deeper, more solemn ones of a stronger affection? And why now, for her?
With an effort he stilled his hand on her back, drawing a deep breath. This had to stop. It wasn't right. It couldn't happen.
He frowned, considering, and then frowned more deeply when he realized he didn't have a particular reason. Certainly he was falling very quickly, more quickly than he was used to... but that in itself wasn't a reason.
Arriving at the subway station, he ushered her down the stairs into the tunnel. There was a scattered handful of people on the platform, waiting for the train. He leaned back against the wall of the platform and she stood in front of him, watching Rob looked at her sidelong, studying her profile in the dim light and the inexplicably familiar lines of her face. The apprehension was rising in him, the irrational panic at the way he felt, but the more he concentrated on it, the more he realized that it too was a familiar sensation. More remembered than actually felt in the present.
So what did that mean? That his affection for her-- he hesitated to call it love-- was somehow related to some experience in his past... and so was his fear? And that neither emotion was necessarily appropriate for her, in this time and place?
That didn't feel quite right either. Whatever it was he felt for her, love or something else, seemed very real. An emotion that was echoed but not eclipsed by the memory of another love. But the fear, the firm reminder that this couldn't be permitted to happen, felt more like a shadow, a ghost. It wasn't needed here.
At that unexpected revelation, his hand moved to curve of her shoulder and slid slowly down over her arm. He couldn't say where the gesture came from, where the courage to make it came from... except...
Except for a moment he'd seen another shape in front of him, the silhouette of a woman, and remembered laying a hand against her just so, slowly brushing the backs of his fingers over her skin... Remembered loving her, wanting her, and knowing she was fighting the same feeling. He'd tried to tell her, to ask her, and she'd resisted, but she shivered under his touch and he knew she couldn't resist forever.
And before he realized what he'd done, his hand had traced slowly, deliberately over Aiden's arm and back, replaying that dream, and she shivered, but she didn't stiffen or pull away. She stayed frozen in place, caught in the spell he'd cast, and he stepped forward helplessly, trapped himself. His free hand landed on her other shoulder, and he took another step, pressing closer but not quite touching. He closed his eyes and lowered his head...
A sudden wind through the tunnel heralded the coming of the train, and she sprang away from him as if burned.
And what had that been?
Aiden drew several deep breaths, struggling to calm her frantic heartbeat, pounding both in attraction and terror. She squeezed her eyes closed, hands fisted, body rigid, as she brought herself back under control. When she opened her eyes again, the train was slowing to a stop before them. She could not look at him; she was grateful when he took her by the elbow and pushed her gently onboard. They were the only two in this compartment, a rarity during the day.
When they were moving again, Rob spoke up. "I'm sorry. I don't even know--"
"Don't," she interrupted. "It wasn't you." She meant it; it hadn't been his actions that frightened her. She could deal with an unwanted advance. It was her reaction that upset her.
He drew a breath as if to say more, and then fell silent with a sigh. She relaxed a little, relieved that he wasn't going to pursue the issue. She couldn't look at him; she certainly couldn't talk about this with him. She closed her eyes and the sensation passed through her again, the touch of a lover, the echo of a memory she couldn't have. She wondered briefly if she were losing her mind. It had felt good. It had felt right. And it had been Rob, both in vision and in reality.
"I don't know you," she said softly, almost pleadingly. "I don't know you at all." She drew her arms tightly about herself, her back still to him. "I don't understand what's happening to us."
"I don't understand it either," he said quickly. "It's crazy, I know. But I feel it. I can't pretend I don't. Can you?"
She did not answer, and then his hands fell on her shoulders again, turning her to face him. "Look at me?" he asked, a question rather than a command.
She raised her eyes defiantly, summoning anger and contempt in defense. "I'm attracted to you. It doesn't mean anything. Lust isn't love," she spat harshly, and he stepped back.
"No," he said softly, his arms falling away from her. "No, it's not." He was silent for a moment, eyes downcast, and she was instantly sorry she'd been so sharp. "If that's all this is..."
"No," she replied at last, hating to admit it but unable to lie to him, to see him so disenchanted. "I don't know what this is. But it can't be real. You-- you are a stranger."
"I don't have to be," Rob replied quickly, offering a tentative smile. "I don't want to be."
He lifted a hand again, and she did not flinch, let him touch her chin and tilt her face up to look at him. "I know this is strange, and frightening... I'm scared of it, too. But I feel like... like I've found something I didn't know I'd been searching for. Something amazing. And if you're feeling even a fraction of that, there has to be a reason." He hesitated, and then continued, "I can see you in my mind... remember you. I remember holding you...I don't understand it. But I know you. I know you, and maybe I always have."
She swallowed hard. "How can we remember things that never happened?" Even now she could feel the insistent pull of that connection, flowing beneath their conversation like an undertow, drawing her to him.
"I don't know," he said honestly. "I don't understand it. But I feel it."
"It feels good," she admitted softly, and this time it was her turn to initiate contact, laying a hand tentatively on his chest. "They're pleasant memories."
"Yes," he agreed, his hand moving to cover hers but not pushing for further contact.
"And what you said about looking for something... about finding what you were looking for... that sounds familiar," she said, slowly, turning the words over in her mind. She raised her other hand to join the first and took a step toward him. His hand left hers to settle tentatively at her waist.
"Does it?" he asked softly, watching her.
Aiden couldn't explain what she was doing, what she wanted or why she wanted it. Reason said this was madness, that she should run from him. She should take a step back, look at things impartially, pursue this slowly if at all. She certainly shouldn't be standing here with him, her body a breath from his, their eyes locked, his hands warm at her waist... But it felt right, in a way she couldn't explain. She was attracted to him, surely, but it wasn't desire that drew her. It was something warmer, less urgent, something that spread gently through her from every point of contact between their bodies, tender and peaceful. It felt just as he'd described it, like finding something she hadn't realized she was looking for. And suddenly it seemed as if it would be very easy to give into that, to take it for what it was, even if it lasted only a day, an hour. She didn't know how to fight anymore. She swayed toward him, drawn by that sensation, stepping finally into his embrace and letting his arms close around her.
"Aiden?" His hands moved firmly, soothingly over her back, but there was uncertainty in his voice.
When she realized what she had done, she flushed and dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, unable to look up at him. "I'm not trying to send mixed signals. It's just... nice... to be near you. Is that okay?"
"Of course it's okay," he said with a grin, and his embrace tightened a little. "I like being near you, too." Rob shifted, drawing her closer, and his eyes were affectionate and tender. She hesitated for a moment, awkward and embarrassed, and then lay her head down against his shoulder, sliding her hands down around his waist. He hugged her tightly for a minute and then relaxed, and she sighed softly. How could that be something she'd always wanted? Simply to feel him solid under her, warm and breathing, holding her? How could it be something she remembered?
And again an image rose unbidden in her mind, a sensation, and she shuddered. He was lying facing her, his arm propped loosely over her body, his face calm. His gasping breath had stilled now, and even through the heavy haze in her mind she knew... She drew herself as close to him as she could through the pain in her body, unable even to cry now. She shut her eyes and her mind drew in on itself...
Aiden made a sound of horror and buried her face in his shoulder, fighting sudden and inexplicable tears. She squeezed her eyes shut, unwilling to explain that last image to him, to explore it in any depth at all. He sensed her distress and started to pull back, to ask her about it, but she held tight to him. "It's okay," she said softly, getting her teary eyes under control. "I'm okay. I was surprised, that's all. Just stay..."
Rob obliged. He let one of his hands slide upward, running soothing fingers along the back of her neck, and gradually she relaxed against him. She felt him turn his head, press his lips against her hair, and she couldn't help but smile at the gesture, at the happy warmth that bubbled inside her in response.
And with that warmth came the courage to speak up again. "I remember you, too," she said softly. "I started to remember in the coffee shop. I thought I was just making it up."
He laughed. "Maybe we are just making it up. What did you remember?" He pulled away enough to look her in the eye, his hands still clasped behind her waist.
"It was nighttime, I think," she said, embarrassed and unsure how to describe the sensation she'd felt. "I was standing, and a man was on his knees in front of me... He-- You-- He was someone I knew I couldn't have. Someone forbidden to me. But he said he loved me."
"You tried to resist him," Rob continued, closing his eyes as if trying to call up an image. "When he tried to touch you, at first, you flinched from him."
She wondered at his continued use of the vague pronoun, but was grateful for the illusion of distance it gave her. It was hard enough to speak of the memory abstractly; to admit it was Rob there in her thoughts would be infinitely harder. "I couldn't run. I should have run," she said, the images becoming clearer to her as she concentrated. "But I couldn't. And when he tried again, I let him."
"Because you were attracted to him?"
"Because I was beginning to love him," Aiden whispered, and there was surprise in her tone. "Because being with him was exciting, and terrifying, and wondrous...." She drew a breath. "And once I let him, I couldn't pull away again. I wanted what he wanted. He could make me feel..." she shook her head, unable to find the words she wanted. "Like we had all the time we needed. Like I fascinated him, every inch of me, and he wanted to touch... and I wanted to touch him, too." Aiden flushed at the explanation, suddenly aware of how intimate the words were, how close she was standing to him and how similar the emotions she'd described were to what she felt now.
"I remember trying to persuade her," he said, almost absently as his own mind replayed some vision. "I remember approaching her so slowly, so tentatively. She knew, better than I did, that it couldn't happen. But she... she captivated me. She was strong and proud and beautiful... I couldn't help myself. She was unlike anyone I'd ever known."
"And how did you succeed?"
Rob shrugged helplessly. "What could I do, except tell her the truth? And offer her everything I could?"
"Your heart," she prompted, her voice very small.
"I told her everything. How I felt about her, what I wanted, how nothing around us mattered.... I knew it was crazy, but I wanted everything she could give me, and it didn't matter what the cost was." He shook his head. "I didn't want a single night with her. But I think--" he broke off, frowning, as he struggled to remember. "I think that's all I got," he said at last, softly, and there was a deep sorrow in his voice.
Aiden shuddered again, leaning in to lay her head down once more on his shoulder. "I think I remember that, too," she whispered. "The cost."
He stiffened against her. "What?"
"I remember," she said again. "I think I was dying... I think you were already dead. I pulled myself as close to you as I could, and I closed my eyes... I knew it couldn't happen. And we paid for it."
"God, Aiden," he said, shocked and horrified, tightening his hold on her.
She realized she'd been more specific this time, identifying the man in her memory as him. Why was it easier to admit to a memory of death than a memory of love?
It was what you deserved. He was a weakness, and you paid for it. He paid for it.
"It's crazy, isn't it?" she said hastily, forestalling any further comment he might have made. "All of it is crazy. How can I remember dying? How can I remember any of this?" The motion of the train slowed, and she pulled quickly away from him. This was their stop. "It's not far from here," she continued. "You can catch a train back home if you like."
"I said I'd walk you home," he said, smiling a little, though she could see in his eyes a trace of disappointment or hurt at her sudden withdrawal. "I meant all the way."
She shrugged as indifferently as she could manage. "Okay," she said, turning from him toward the door.
"You know," he said as she started toward the door, "I'm a big boy. I was a big boy then. I made my own choices."
Aiden turned back, frowning at the non sequitur.
"You can't save me from them," he continued softly. "It's not your responsibility, even if you could." He hesitated, and then took a step forward and slipped his hand firmly into hers. "I'd have done it again. I would have done it all again. Somehow I know that."
She looked down at their entwined fingers, alternating dark and light, and tried to digest what he'd said. He was right, of course. He'd made his choices, then and now, and to him they'd been the right ones. How was it she'd never understood that?
Something in her, some long-held tension of shame or guilt, relaxed at last, and she found herself smiling a little in spite of herself.
Rob let her lead the way up to the street; this was her neighborhood, after all, and he didn't feel able to focus on finding his way through foreign streets. His mind was still reeling, elated and terrified at once. The front of his body still burned where she'd been pressed to him, warm and solid, and in his mind was a jumble of images and sensations. Kneeling before her, pleading; the latent, hesitant affection in her eyes; rising to take her unresisting into his arms; the silk of her skin beneath his calloused hands; the taste of her on his lips and the softness of her body beneath him...
And utter darkness around him as he gasped, desperate, her body tucked against his as she fought for breath.
He closed his eyes against that memory, appalled. He knew now what must have prompted her tears in the subway. What an awful thing to remember.
But it was only that, he told himself firmly. A memory. It wasn't real now. As awful as it had been then, it couldn't hurt them anymore.
He knew she was afraid. She didn't trust him or the inexplicable bond between them. But she'd let him hold her, had taken comfort in being close to him, in the pressure of his embrace and his gentle kiss in her hair. That was promising, wasn't it? And she'd confessed her memories to him, though it made her blush to admit what she remembered passing between them. With every picture she'd painted, his own memories became clearer, details unlocked as she described them, and now he recalled the scene she'd spoken of as clearly as if it had happened today. She was right; they were pleasant memories.
And it had felt so good to hold her, a mixture of relief and joy, disbelief and pleasure. He hadn't expected her to feel that way. He hadn't expected any of it. But he couldn't lose it now. Not again, he thought. If he were right, he'd had only one night the first time. He didn't want that now.
"Where do we go from here?" he asked softly.
Aiden looked up at him with dark, shadowed eyes. "What do you mean?" She was still withdrawing, and his heart sank at the realization.
"Well," he said slowly, "will I see you again? Can I call you? I don't even know your last name."
Aiden gave him a speculative look. "You want to see me again?"
He raised an eyebrow, unwilling to play games with her. "Do you want to see me again?"
She glanced down at their clasped hands. "Yes," she admitted softly. "I do. But I don't know what this is. I don't know how we'll feel about this tomorrow, or the day after that. It may all seem crazy then. It seems crazy now."
"It seems right now," he corrected. "And I think it will feel right tomorrow."
She stopped walking, pulled her hand away from his to step back and face him. "How can you be so sure? Why are you so confident about this?"
Rob shook his head. "I don't know. I only know that I've never felt this way before. And I want to feel this way forever." He laughed self-consciously. "That sounds stupid, I know."
"No," she interrupted softly. She took a step toward him, raising a hand to touch him but aborting the gesture before it could land. "I just can't submit to it so easily."
"Because you don't trust me?"
"That's not it," she said, turning away and resuming their walk. "But I don't know you at all."
"That's not true," he said in a low voice. "You know me, because you remember me. And I remember you. I remember what happened."
Something flickered in her eyes, and she opened her mouth to protest, but he continued, "I don't mean that I expect you to be... her. I don't expect our lives to follow that pattern. Frankly," he said, smiling a little, "all things considered, I'd rather they didn't." When she smiled reluctantly back, he continued, "I only remember you. I loved her, and I think I could love you. That's enough for me.
"But let's say I'm a stranger. That would mean you're a stranger to me, too. I'm not asking anything of you, Aiden. Just the chance not to be a stranger." He caught her hand and stopped her again, pulling her to face him. "I just want to try. If things don't work out tomorrow, then that's the way things go. But at least we'll know."
She looked up at him for a long moment, searching his eyes. Finally she smiled. "Yes," she said. "Yes, we will." She fell silent for a minute, and then added, "You can call me. Or I'll call you." She fished in her purse for a moment until she found a scrap of paper and scribbled a telephone number on it before turning again and leading him up the sidewalk.
He smiled, accepting the slip and putting it carefully in his pocket. "Will you have dinner with me? Friday?"
She smirked, slyly, her courage apparently growing. "You want to wait until Friday?"
Rob laughed. "Absolutely not."
"I'd like that," he replied. "I'll pick you up."
She came to a stop in front of an apartment building. "This is it," she said, releasing his hand so she could face him. "Thank you for walking me home," she continued uncertainly. "I'll be fine from here."
"Okay," he agreed, taking a reluctant step backward, but she didn't turn to leave. She remained there simply looking at him, an unreadable look in her eyes. "I'll see you tomorrow, then," he added tentatively.
"Tomorrow," she repeated, but she took a step towards him and laid a hand on his chest once more. Her eyes were warm and wide, affectionate but slightly challenging, and he fell into them before he could stop himself.
"Aiden," he said helplessly, raising his hand to her cheek and bending to kiss her. She fell against him without hesitation, her hands landing on his chest and then moving slowly up to curl around his neck. He thrilled at the sensation of her, warm under his hands and willing under his kiss. He hadn't expected this, neither the opportunity to kiss her nor the incredible rush of emotion it afforded him, faintly familiar, definitely real.
She deepened the kiss and he wrapped his arm around her, pulling her body close and tight, sliding his hand back over her hair. When the memories rose in his mind this time, they matched the reality of her, the touch of her hands in his hair and the curve of her body pressed to his, the taste of her... Every sensation was known, recognized on a level he didn't understand. But he knew her, had always known her, just as he'd said, and had always loved her.
She fell away with a gasp, managing his name before she met him again, and he found himself whispering against her lips. He didn't understand the words, didn't know where they'd come from, but she pulled away to smile at him when she heard them, pressing her cheek to his and hugging him tightly. Then she was kissing him again, and he closed his eyes and let remembered joy merge with reality.
Aiden spread her hands across his chest, warm and smooth beneath the fabric of his shirt, and surrendered to the thrill of pleasure rising in her.
She had to admit that part of her had been hoping to disprove this connection between them, to feel nothing in his kiss. It had been a foolish hope, she was forced to admit; the touch of his hands, his embrace, had evoked such an intense emotion, why would the touch of his mouth be less moving?
And it wasn't, couldn't be. She hadn't been prepared for the rush of elation and attraction that went through her, the knowledge that she'd remembered this so perfectly... She'd fallen into his arms and given herself over to it once again, as she had in the memory and as she would always do.
She pulled away to gasp for breath, and then reclaimed his lips again. He was talking now, whispering something over and over against her skin. She had to strain to hear him, but when she did, a thrill went through her. She couldn't explain what the words meant, why they were important, but the sound of them was enough to dispel the last shadows of doubt in her. This was right. There was no need to fear him, and there never had been. She remembered that now.
Aiden wrapped her arms more tightly around his neck, breaking the kiss and simply pressing herself as close to him as she could. His whisper was clear even over the pounding rhythm of her heart.
"Found you... found you..."
There'll be no ties of time and space to bind us
And no horizon we shall not pursue
RADAMES & AIDA
leave the world's misfortunes far behind us
And I will put my faith and trust in you...
--Aida (Scene 22)
Notes: I've allowed Aiden and Rob to recall scenes and small bits of dialogue from the script, as they begin to remember more and more of their past lives. I've also taken some lines from the early previews, Elaborate Lives and the Chicago version of Aida. Some of them aren't quite word-for-word quotes; sometimes they didn't fit the dialogue that way. I'm not going to attribute each and every reference individually, but I don't want to take credit for anything that's not mine.