Before you read this, please understand: I live in the US. I have not read Ptolemy's Gate. I'd really, really like to…but I haven't. I have no idea what Mr. Stroud's Ptolemy is really like. I don't have a clue as to how Bartimaeus' and Ptolemy's relationship worked. I merely wanted to make an attempt on it before I read the real version. If this is totally, completely, and entirely way off Mr. Stroud's writings, that's okay. Tell me if you like. Hate me for writing this if you really want. But just realize, I'm telling you right now: this is MY take on it, not having read Ptolemy's Gate, but having read The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, and an excerpt from the first chapter of Ptolemy's Gate on the Hyperion Books website, which this fic is mainly based around.
Drabbly one-shot, maybe you can find some slash in there if you squint and turn the story on its side. Set somewhere between The Golem's Eye and Ptolemy's Gate.
EDIT: Went though and fixed on or two things. Shouldn't make much of a difference, and I'm sure I didn't catch every typo, but still…
Not In a Million Years
Ptolemy shot upright in his bed, chest heaving, gasping in the cold night air. His eyes were wide, blank, blind to the bare walls surrounding him, the shadows of the night, the fact that he was awake at nearly two in the morning. After a few seconds he seemed to calm a little; his breathing slowed, he blinked once or twice. Throwing back his silk covers, he made a beeline for the table where all his papers lay and began to scribble something down feverishly.
A black cat glanced at the boy's actions, mildly interested. I might have commented, but the occurrence was becoming too consistent to be worth commentary.
Every night for the past week or so, Ptolemy would bolt upright in the middle of the night and suddenly find the inspiration to write something down. The first night I had been worried, even went so far as to ask him what was wrong. He'd merely shushed me, then berated me gently for breaking his train of thought. The second night I was still startled but remained silent, the third I was mildly interested in what was occupying his odd little mind. By the fourth night, I'd accepted it as a new routine for him.
The scratching of charcoal on paper stopped, and I glanced at my current master. He was staring at the paper before him hard, chewing his bottom lip as he did when he was thinking deeply. He crossed something out, tried to write something else, and ended up crossing that out too. He sighed heavily, and passed a hand through his dark, too-long bangs. The hand fell heavily on the paper, startling the map that lay next to it. He sighed again, shook his head, and headed back to bed.
I finally stirred from my perch on the window sill, and went to the table to see what great revelation had forced my master from his bed at this time of night. I glanced at him, to the paper, and back to my master's retreating back.
"Lost your train of thought again?"
He turned back to me; a disappointed half-smile playing over his lips. "Thought I had it this time," He said huskily. "Guess not." He turned away again, waving a hand lazily at me. "Don't worry about it."
My black, furry shoulders shrugged fluidly, carelessly. "Oh, I'm not worried. It's all your own problem if you're developing insomnia, of course. It's just you've 'thought you had it this time' nearly nine nights in a row."
He groaned. "Don't remind me, please." He sat on his silken bed and put his head in his hands. "Every single time I think I've got it…it…it just…disappears. I…why can't I ever remember it?"
I shrugged again. How could I know how the minds of humans worked, least of all Ptolemy's? "It'll come to you. Eventually."
"But why eventually? Why not now?" He was practically grinding his teeth in impatience. "How much longer is it going to take me to get it? It's so frustrating!"
I took a bounding leap and landed at his side. "Well, it's not going to come to you if you sit up all night worrying about it."
"Than go back to bed. You need sleep."
"No buts, kid!" The cat cocked its eyebrow. "Do you need me to tuck you in?"
Ptolemy scowled at that. "I don't need anyone to tuck me in. I'm not a child."
"Than stop acting like one. Come on, off to bed with you."
He smiled, grudgingly, at the imperious feline sitting beside him. "You're like a nattering old woman sometimes, you know that? Fine then, good night." He slid his legs under the sheet and lay back, pulling the silks up around his shoulders. "We have a lot to talk about tomorrow. We need to figure out a plan to keep off the assassins."
"Yes, yes, good night," I went back to my window perch, and stared out at the scenery below his room. A grand tree towered over a lake surrounded by the nodding buds of spring flowers and majestic sleeping birds. For some reason, Ptolemy loved to stare down at the little piece of scenery. Just sit there for hours on end, staring at practically nothing.
I liked the kid, but half the time I had absolutely no idea whether he was a prodigy or a maniac.
The next morning, Ptolemy got straight down to business with me. He was in his usual position, draped over the sill of his favorite window, staring down at the lake below. I sat on his table, my tail twitching from side to side. His fingers drummed the stone sill as he spoke.
"We need to find a new way to get rid of those assassins."
I nodded, unnecessarily. He continued.
"The guards aren't doing any good. And I don't know what those priests think they're doing to protect me, but they're completely useless." He glanced halfway over his shoulder at me, with an incredibly serious, solemn look on his face. I almost laughed, despite the mood he was setting. "The only one I can really depend on right now is you."
He took a deep breath, and turned all the way around to face me. "I think I have an idea."
I nodded again. Of course he did. He always did.
His chin jerked a little. "Change into me."
That certainly wasn't what I expected the kid to say. The cat's eyebrows shot up. "Into you? Why?"
Ptolemy grinned, unwillingly. "Just try it, okay? You'll see what I'm talking about soon."
I shook my head and sighed. My essence twisted, stretched, and molded itself into the new form. I kept a close eye on the kid, checking the details. His eyes slanted just so, his arms just barely had muscles, his hair fell through his eyes at that angle, his hands were a little out of proportion to the rest of his body…
The final product stared haughtily at the real boy from his perch on the table. All Ptolemy seemed to be capable of at the moment was staring. And staring. And---
"Finished ogling me yet?"
Ptolemy pushed himself to his feet, and began circling me like a hawk.
"It was your idea," I said huffily. "Your own ideas shouldn't be weird to you."
"Well, yes, but thinking it and saying it are both one thing, but actually seeing it…" He stopped pacing, and looked me hard in the face. "Is my nose really like that?"
I crossed my arms. "You mean long and pointed and obnoxious? Yes, it really is like that. Are you done staring?"
"No," He almost whispered. "It's like looking in a mirror…except the image isn't flat, it's…it's like…a double, a twin…or…" He drifted off in his own sentence, caught up in staring at me and searching for the words he needed to describe what was going through his head. Of course, he didn't find them. He never does.
I shifted uncomfortably. "Aren't you bored with this yet?" I was practically whining by then. "What did you want me to do this for? I thought we were talking about assassins."
That got his attention. "Huh? Oh, assassins. Yes…I was thinking. You could stand in for me. As me. Like my double. My look-a-like."
"But you have doubles already," I pointed out.
"Yes, but they keep getting killed. It's just a waste, don't you see? I don't like having a bunch of other boys my age dying because they look like me. They can't even protect themselves."
I tapped his fingers on the table I was sitting on, encouraging him to get to his point. Thankfully, he did.
"But if I had you standing in for me, it would be no problem, because you could take care of yourself against those assassins just fine. See? It's perfect."
I shrugged halfheartedly. "Alright then. I get it. But when would we do this?" I smiled maliciously. "We can't do it during public functions. I'd do nothing but embarrass you to death. By the time I was through, your reputation would be gone."
He scowled. "You're right, that wouldn't be safe. But they hardly ever attack during the day anyway. Only at night." Inspiration struck, and the scowl melted into a blissful, knowledgeable expression. "You could be in my bed---pretending to sleep, and I could be hiding---" He looked around his room, with charts, piles of silks, and over-large furniture, "Hiding…somewhere, anyway. We'll figure it out later."
Oh. That made sense. It could have made sense a lot faster if he'd just come out and said it, but that wasn't Ptolemy's way. He always had to take the long way around in an explanation, whether we were talking about battle plans or what he wanted to do that day. It always amazed me, how Ptolemy could make a simple conversation infuriating just by taking the time to find the perfect words to express himself. Of course, once he finally said what he meant, it made perfect sense, and you were glad you'd been patient enough for him to finish.
Infuriating. And yet, endearing at the same time.
One of the many endearing things about Ptolemy.
I grimaced, shifted a little. "Great. I get it. Can I change into something else now?"
He raised his eyebrows questioningly, innocently. "You don't like it? My form?"
"It's not comfortable. Human forms usually aren't. Animal is much better. Feline, to be exact." I eyed him uneasily. "So can I change or what?"
"What? Oh. Yes. Go ahead, then."
With something like a sigh of relief, I shifted back to my favorite form: a small, black cat with sleek, oil-slick smooth fur that made the female felines glare jealously.
Someone knocked, politely but sharply, on the door, making both Ptolemy and myself jump. Glancing at each other, he chuckled halfheartedly, and repositioned himself on his favorite sill, casting lazy eyes over the lake and the birds and the tree. I joined him just as the door opened, and one of the many priests let himself inside.
"Sire, if I may…"
Ptolemy acknowledged his presence with a nod over his shoulder. I stared down at the sparkling water as he droned on about armies and crops and other matters no doubt important to mortals but not to myself. The tree waved a little in the gentle breeze that tickled my whiskers, and the birds flapped at each other, trying to gain their personal space around the pool.
I still didn't understand what Ptolemy liked so much about the view.
Later that night, much later that night, Ptolemy was safe in bed after yet another assassination attempt. The assassins were gone, Ptolemy's doppelganger idea had been pulled off without a hitch (besides the discomfort on my part in having to take his form), the annoying priests had stopped fussing, and it was far too close to dawn for any more attacks on my charge to be attempted. I sighed exaggeratedly, altered my form back to its preferred feline proportions, jumped up on the table and glanced at Ptolemy.
You'd think he was in the safest, warmest, securest, loveliest environment in the world from the look on his face. Calm, smiling slightly, no furrows or frowns or signs of stress on his features. One arm was dangling over the silks of his bed. Mouth slightly agape, heavy breathing filtering throughout the room. Innocent. Vulnerable.
I flicked my tail over the tabletop's edge irritably. Of course he looked calm. He wasn't the one who had to worry when the assassins came to call. Well, he did, but not as much as me. He wasn't the one who had to sit up all night, fight off the would-be murderers, borrow somebody else's shape…
It was strange, really. I'd played at being some human or another plenty of times. The bald priests, the sneering viziers, the bow-and-scrape servants, the stony-faced guards, the whole nine yards. I'd been all of them. It was easy. I'd played those parts without a hitch, perfect to the last detail. Not meaning to sound conceited, of course, but really, I played them better than the real ones did themselves…
I looked at Ptolemy again. Ptolemy wasn't perfect. He was small; for all the great banquets he'd attended in his short lifetime he still somehow managed to maintain the physique of a twig. His hands and feet were too small in proportion to the rest of his body. His eyes were too big, his hair was too long, and he had a gap in his teeth. His attention span was short, he stuttered, he was lazy, he had brilliant ideas that he lost constantly, he stared at a dumb piece of water and a few squawking birds for hours on end…
…he was so complicated.
Too complicated for me?
"Nonsense!" I nearly shouted. Too complicated for Bartimaeus? Fah! A small boy, a small, dark, skinny little human brat be too complicated for the all-powerful, might Sakhr al-Jinni, N'Gorso the Mighty, the Serpent of the Silver Plumes? I could pull him off easy! Just to prove it to myself, I warped into his shape instantly. My---his---legs dangled over the edge of the table, his small hands were balled into fists, his chest heaved as the original's did during the climax of some great, intellectual epitome, soon to be lost in a complicated train of thought. He crossed his eyes and glared at the too-long bangs hanging through his eyes, and swiped at them irritably.
The hand that was not my hand stopped and I stared at it. Something was missing. I looked over to Ptolemy, asleep despite my frustration. I narrowed my eyes and searched the hand that was hanging over the bedside for the missing clue. His nails. That's right. Ptolemy bit his nails, no matter how much I nagged him about bad, uncouthly habits being the death of him. I looked back to my---his---own hand, and added the detail. One missed detail. No problem. Nothing to worry about.
I stood, checking my balance to his. Ptolemy had a funny way of standing, almost like a half-slouch. I curled and uncurled his spine, this was and that, until I finally found the vertebrae that bent just so when he stood. Posture? Easy. I took a few steps. Walking? Superfluous.
I mocked a yawn, and stretched the way he did. I was being ridiculous, really. What if Ptolemy woke up and saw all this? Besides, I didn't like it. It was uncomfortable, though not so much as before.
What was something else Ptolemy did constantly? I looked around the room, and my---his---eyes instantly fell on the window. Of course. Ptolemy did almost nothing but look out that silly window. But the way he looked out it…that would be the challenge. The test. If I could do that without a hitch…
I strode over to the window purposefully and knelt down, folding my arms over the sill. One arm dangled over the sill, and a cool breeze danced between my fingers. I set my chin in my arms and tilted my head to the side to stare at the lake from that angle, Ptolemy's favorite angle. My---his---eyelids fluttered as they did when he was tired or dreaming, his eyelashes flashing in and out of my sight. I'd always wondered, in a subconscious, inconspicuous way, how anyone could possibly find this position comfortable enough to stay in for almost a whole day, but now that I was trying it myself I could sort of see what Ptolemy liked about it.
Because that was what he'd always do, every day that he could. Ptolemy would set up there and sit and sit while the servants bowed and scraped, while the viziers sneered and gave him lofty, useless advice, while the priests apologized for some new mishap, or promised some great vow they wouldn't keep, while I kept him company. And when someone told him something that was a lie, or that didn't agree with him, or that just plain annoyed him, he'd tilt his head even further to look at them out of the corner of his sly brown eyes, and murmur, very softly, "Is that so?". The sun would reflect on his skin and highlight his coarse, dark hair, and for just a few seconds, he would look like a god.
I wondered if I could ever truly replicate that perfection.
So I tried. I put more effort into that one pose, that one look, than I'd ever put into anything else. I sat for nearly an hour like that, looking at the water, the birds, the tree, trying to remember the expression Ptolemy had had every time he'd looked down upon them. I tried to remember the indifferent shake of his head to the wars, the faint dismissal of the priests' excuses, the lips that smiled kindly at the nervous servants, the secret wink he'd pass me when the haughty viziers were looking the other way. I tried to imagine the ideas he'd thought of and lost almost instantly, the opinions he'd formed of the people, of the things, of me.
I couldn't do it.
No matter how much I tried, no matter how much time I spent on it, no matter how much I wanted this one thing, I could never, ever even begin to understand what I liked so much about one boy who was going to live and die in the time it took for a castle to be built or less.
But that didn't mean I was going to stop trying.
I nearly jumped out the window, I was so surprised, which is saying something. Ptolemy was half-sitting up in bed, blinking wearily.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," I said, unnecessarily defensive.
"You're in my form."
"Yes. It's nice to know that your eyesight is well intact."
"But the assassins are gone. And you're in my form." He wrinkled his nose, than smirked. "I thought you said you didn't like my form."
"You said it was uncomfortable."
"It certainly is!"
"But you're in it."
My essence flickered back into the form of a cat. "Yes, I was. I was practicing. I assumed that since the doppelganger trick was pulled off so well, you'd want to use it again."
He raised an eyebrow. "Practicing?"
I raised one right back at him. "Yes. Practicing." I turned away so I wouldn't have to deal with the knowing smile forming on his face. "Goodnight, then."
I heard him chuckle. "Yes. Goodnight." The silks rustled, and I listened to him slip off to sleep again.
I'd get it sooner or later. Even if it took a million years.
Whatever it was.
It was another drizzly London day. Nathaniel sat busy with his silly propaganda paperwork. I used to find watching him work, with his silly lacy sleeves and greasy long hair, slightly entertaining. Not anymore. I'd draped myself on the disgustingly clean white windowsill, in Ptolemy's form as usual. My chin was set in my arms, one lean wrist dangling over the sill's edge. Rain dripped from my fingertips onto the muddy streets, crowded with magicians, commoners, lamp posts, lurking imps, and pigeons. There was no lake that was free of litter, no quivering tree that hadn't been fenced off, no birds that didn't look rubbery and gray.
I have to confess, I rather missed the view from Ptolemy's window.
I turned my gaze from the depressing scene to Nathaniel and his paperwork. Him and his stupid, boring, unimaginative paperwork. Write the signature there, summarize the event here…boring. Poor boy. He needed some excitement. He needed some assassins.
Seriously. I wanted him to get some damn good, prestigious assassins.
I flicked the rain water on my fingertips at him, which splattered all over his precious papers. Poor Natty boy nearly careened off his chair in shock, lacy cuffs flapping like wings.
"Hey! Dammit, I was almost finished!" He rounded on me. "Can't you sit still for just a few seconds?"
"No," I faked a yawn. "This is boring. You've been futzing with those papers all day. Take a walk, grab a bite to eat, it'll do you good. You could use a change of pace." I frowned. "Matter of fact, so could I. Come on, move it! Out you go!"
He wrinkled his nose in a most fastidious fashion. "In that weather? Not likely. Just sit still! It won't kill you, you know." He settled back in his chair and began shuffling the sheets of boring business.
I turned back to the gloomy view, pushing my chin deep into my arms. Stupid gloomy London…stupid, gloomy streets…stupid, gloomy pigeons…stupid, gloomy master…
"Just sit still! It won't kill you, you know."
I gazed at Nathaniel out of the corners of my eyes. "Is that so?" I murmured.
"What?" He didn't even turn from his paper work.
"Nothing," I smiled into my---Ptolemy's---arms. "You wouldn't understand it in a million years."