Attraction Veiled in Convolution
Mornings such as the current one were Aida's favorite: the sun barely making its way into the sky, streaking it with a light pink and purple, the air slightly full with mist. She had to admit that Egypt's sunrises were beautiful; even more so than her native Nubia's. Because while she inherently despised its occupants, she didn't necessarily have to hate Nature's wonders.
She walked further through the ornately-decorated hallways of the palace, towards a specific terrace that overlooked the Nile. For some reason, from that vantage point, the river didn't look the normal brown color that Egypt seemed to dim it, but rather a bright blue-green akin to the one Aida knew back home. It was a spot she'd found once when she'd gotten lost finding her way back to Amneris's many abodes, and though lately she'd been busy, she had always given herself a mental note to come back.
It wasn't until she realized Amneris didn't awaken until at least nine, that she could be free to go wherever she pleased. That was one beneficial thing about being on an Egyptian princess's good side—Amneris trusted her. Which, even if Aida weren't supposed to go places other than her servants' quarters, was something she wouldn't take for granted. No matter how oblivious other palace members were, Aida could see Amneris's true personality so like her own; she was just glad Amneris recognized it, too.
As she finally reached her destination and walked out to welcome the tepid environment, however, she caught sight of someone in the spot she had just been planning to go. She quickly ducked behind a pillar, hiding herself in shadow. For while Amneris might not mind her wandering, she couldn't guarantee the same for others, let alone someone like—and at the thought, Aida flinched—Chief Minister Zoser.
Then, as if to quell her fears, the figure turned slightly, allowing the barely-rising sun to frame his face, and Aida at once recalled the profile, revealing it to be none other than the Captain that had captured her in the first place. Aida had full mind to leave the terrace in the thought that if he saw her it wouldn't bode well, but something about his appearance stopped her.
She had sensed from the very beginning that there was something more to Radames; something beneath his emotionless façade, but he'd never shown it, least of all to her. Until now, that is. As she studied his face, she saw not the hard commander of ruthless armies who had endured things beyond his years, but rather a young man with a boyish and genuine heart and personality, whose passion of exploration, adventure, and freedom was not unlike her own. A thought that, though not entirely unwelcome, was surprising to her.
"Oh God, I'm pathetic," he said suddenly, slightly startling Aida, who was still in her scrutiny mode. "What kind of damn Captain ponders his worthless life in this prison of a palace?"
Aida frowned at not so much his choice of words, but rather the way in which he said them, a tone that expressed heartfelt sorrow, regret, and desire for a different kind of life. She shifted to move her shoulder from a sharp point in the column, but her foot slipped on a dewy piece of marble that was protruding from the wall, and the resounding crash was more than enough to rouse Radames from his thoughts.
Aida winced as his head snapped towards her hiding place, and in less than a second, his sword was out of its sheath, glinting menacingly in the dawn light. "Who's there?" he called into the now still twilight. "Who are you?"
Feeling it was better to show herself than to be speared by him simply because he would suspect she was some enemy if she didn't respond, she stepped out from the pillar to face him. Recognition came after a brief bout of surprise, and he lowered the sword, throwing it aside as if he were too tired to bother with its covering.
"Captain Radames, I apologize," Aida said at once, wanting desperately to be scathing towards him like she had in the past, but being halted by both what she'd just viewed, and not wanting to create a scene to awaken others. "I didn't mean to intrude."
Radames turned around to face the river again, as he tried to subtly rub his hand over his face, though whether it was from exhaustion or something that looked eerily like painful misery, Aida wasn't completely sure. He sighed deeply, and the slight breeze filled the air between them.
"Forget it," Radames said finally, as he ran a hand through his hair. He then turned to look at her, his dark eyes shrouded in an unidentifiable emotion. "How—How much did you hear?"
From the way he formed the words, Aida got the impression what she'd overheard wasn't the only utterance he'd said to himself, and assuming his previous conversations were as melancholy as his most recent, Aida felt a small twang from somewhere near her heart. Why, however, she wasn't completely positive. She did know that it couldn't have been pity for him—because that would almost be treason in and of itself.
"Not much," she said quietly, choosing not to lie and say she'd heard nothing; she'd rather admit to the truth than have him find it out some other way and accuse her of some crime or another. "Just—just what you said last. About your life being, well, pathetic."
Radames scoffed, presumably at himself, and then let himself slip down the marble balcony, to where his knees were near his chest. And much as she wished she could simply leave and pretend not a thing had happened, Aida suddenly found herself walking towards him, if nothing else than because she knew nothing would be able to erase the overwhelming feeling of despair and dejection in his expression. An emotion so unlike what she would have ever expected to come from an Egyptian, let alone one militarily trained. But then again, Radames wasn't exactly the true-to-form Egyptian, either.
She walked over to the balcony as well, slowly coming to sit beside him; not close enough to suggest anything, but not so far as though she was utterly repulsed by him—a fact that, much as she wanted to deny it, she couldn't. She took a deep breath, quite astonished at herself for what she was doing. For the first time in her life, she was glad her father wasn't here to see her.
Tentatively, she touched his shoulder, her contact swift but significant in the moment. "Your life—it-it isn't worthless," she said softly, as though worried if she said it any louder it would lose its effect. Or wake someone.
His head rose slowly to look at her, his eyes—which she now noted were not only a dark sienna, but rimmed with bright green as well—met hers in a stare that made Aida start to look away but finding herself unable to. His eyes then darted to her hand which still rested lightly on his shoulder, and she started to withdraw it with a blush, rather embarrassed and worried that it was still there.
He, however, seemed to have different thoughts, as he reached out and grabbed it before she could start to get up from her sitting position, his grip forceful but strangely comforting. "Don't," he said. "Stay."
She sat back down, obliging to his wishes. "Yes, Captain?"
"Radames," he said firmly. "People seem to think it makes me sound more important or that it makes them less important and so they need to say it. No one, save maybe my father, ever calls me by my actual name regularly. While many would frown upon the fact I'm asking you this, I must request you address me strictly as Radames. Leave the 'Captain' epithet away, as if you don't know that's my occupation. Please."
Aida swallowed nervously. It would be one thing to call him Radames to his face, but if she addressed him in public, there was bound to be repercussions. "I'm sorry, Captain," she said, almost wincing at defying his orders. "I can't."
She started to get up again, hoping to not have this go any further. "Aida." He said, his voice a mere low whisper in the morning air. "Aida, wait…"
Aida started to speak, but then surrendered; it wasn't like she had much to do until Amneris awakened, and Radames didn't seem in too much of a malicious mood, so she figured she might as well remain next to him. That, and the fact that he could technically make her do whatever he wanted, and theoretically, the way for her to get the most benefit out of it was to obey as much as she could.
She, now leaning with the same weight as Radames against the balcony, waited for him to start speaking, but his eyes remained transfixed on an object ahead that apparently only he saw meaning in. Normally in a situation like this, no matter whom it was with, Aida would demand they dosomething, but in this instance, she was satisfied with just sitting there. In truth, she was glad that she didn't have to spend another morning alone. Because much as she adored those times, with the sun splashing its way into the sky as it awakened, she didn't necessarily like the isolation it made her feel.
And so simply sitting here with him, when she wasn't a Nubian slave in an Egyptian Captain's palace, but rather a woman with similar ideals to the man sitting next to her, she found an honest truth and simplicity that she realized she would treasure. People like Nehebka, Nenet (another Nubian whom she'd always enjoyed spending time with back in Ikaita), and even Mereb were fine to be around and everything, but when it came to taking risks and going on explorations—even just through the palace—they were too afraid. She didn't hesitate to note that Radames was the exact opposite.
"You remember when I told you that my father used to take me sailing on the Nile?" Aida said suddenly, breaking the silence that had fallen.
"Who could forget your yelling and insulting?" he asked back, and though his face was impassive, there was a smile playing about his lips.
Immediately, his eyes darkened, and she realized she probably should have worded it differently; after all, he was trained to detect liars and subtleties, and when someone—in this case Aida herself—was upfront about it, he was bound to jump to conclusions. He didn't respond, but Aida swore she noticed his hand move subconsciously in the direction of his sword a few inches from him.
She interjected to explain herself before he could do anything else, in intense interest of self-preservation. "We did sail farther north, once," she said, and his hand returned to its previous state as he kept his eyes respectfully on her. "We had moored for a few minutes while the rowers from the boat we'd borrowed got a rest for a bit, and I wandered off. I just kept following the Nile's bank, not realizing where I was going. I got to the Isle of Amenirdis. It was the most beautiful place I'd ever seen; I couldn't take my eyes off it. Unfortunately, it was—and, most likely still is—owned by your Egyptian people and I probably would've gotten abducted into your slave camps years earlier if my father hadn't found me." She looked down, slightly ashamed in her memory. "He was so mad at me. I've never seen him so angry…"
"So why did you lie, then?" Radames asked calmly. "Why not just say that from the beginning?"
"I don't know," she answered truthfully. "Instinct, I suppose. Can you blame me for not trusting you still?"
His eyebrow raised; it was obvious he did, in fact, blame her. Then, however, he sighed resignedly. "No, I can't," he replied, quite the opposite of what she'd expected.
He chuckled quietly. "No," he repeated. "If there's anyone in this confined palace who understands the need to protect something they hold dear—in your and my case, the want of adventure and the attached secrecy—it'll be me."
Aida simply stared at him, not altogether sure she kept her shock in check. It was a moment or two later before she finally got over it enough to speak. "What happened to the emotionless, bloodthirsty captain that captured me?" she questioned lightly, though she was, admittedly, curious. "Let me be the first to say you might as well be a completely different person."
He kept her gaze for a while, his vulnerability in that moment rather scaring her. "More like you were seeing someone else when you were taken," he scoffed. "This is me, Aida. I'm just someone who wants to go on scouts for the simple thrill of it, to learn and not to incite, to see distant lands but not attack them. This royal and military thing…it's just not who I am. Marrying, let alone to Princess Amneris, isn't who I am. To tell you the truth, Aida, there are some days I would rather be you. You may not be completely free, but at least you're in a position and under whom you are well-liked and so can say whatever you please and not be scorned at for it."
Aida was about to retort—much like she had after the feast announcing the soon-to-be wedding between Radames and Amneris—but something held her back. Whether it was his honest tone of voice again or the majesty of the sunrise, she wasn't sure, but she found herself agreeing with him. Wholeheartedly.
The words were out of her mouth before she had time to completely edit them. She hadn't meant to sound so commiserating and understanding, but she was afraid they turned out that way. She looked at him in a frightened humiliation, expecting to see mockery, maybe even cruel laughter, but instead she saw gratitude. Relief.
"You are?" he asked, and she had to concede that she felt a slight twinge of affront at how he questioned her sincerity. Apart from her not telling him she was a princess herself (and about sailing north), she'd never lied, especially not about something as serious as this. At seeing her face, he rectified with a relieved humor. "That is…I guess I hadn't expected you of all people to say that."
"Believe me, you're not the only one," she said truthfully, moving slightly so the marble of the terrace wasn't pressing into her back. She neglected to notice that that action inadvertently moved her closer to Radames's own position. It seemed he didn't notice either. She let out a coarse laugh, though it was devoid of humor. "If my father saw me talking civilly to you right now…he'd be so furious with me."
Radames allowed himself a smile, almost a laugh at her mental plight. "He doesn't let you make your own decisions?" he said inquisitively.
Aida let out a breath—she had to word her response carefully to avoid a downright lie, but she was unsure how to do even that. "No, he does, he just—" she paused, realizing she didn't know how to finish her sentence even if she could tell Radames the truth. "He's just uptight and overprotective of me," she settled. "He likes to make sure nothing ill happens to me, and that means containment and avoiding any contact between people that aren't overtly friendly with us."
"Like Egyptians, you mean," Radames stated brusquely.
"Yes. Like Egyptians," Aida sighed. She let the fact that Egyptians happened to be her father's brutal nemeses who wanted nothing more than to murder the both of them remain unmentioned to Radames. "He's not a bad person, Radames, really. He's just…well, my father."
Radames nodded, eyes focused on his nervous hands. "I'd give practically anything to have some sort of care from my father, Aida," Radames said, the desperation evident in his voice. "It's always pharaoh-this or watch-out-or-you'll-wreck-all-I've-done-for-"you"-that…never once, not even when I was a child, has he been a father to me. Only to his warped view of happiness. Which, in his world, means power. Not what I want."
"Are you trying to say you don't desire any of this?" Aida asked incredulously, gesturing to the general expanse of Egypt. "You don't want the throne? Amneris? War? Egypt? Nubia?"
At her last word, his head snapped towards her, a mixture of regret and hatred—at himself?—in his eyes. "Aida, I—" She turned away from him, not really wanting to hear any excuses or bended truths from him. A second later, however, Radames had gently put his hand underneath her chin and angled it towards him so she was looking at him. "Listen—I would never have captured anyone, never have sent inadvertently hurtful expeditions out there if I knew what were to befall you. I only did what Pharaoh ordered, and my father took over from what happened to the slaves, not I. Aida, I promise you that."
And she believed him.
For some stroke of…something…she believed him. Against everything, against her father, against her beliefs, she believed what he said. She, a Nubian—a princess no less—believed him, an Egyptian Captain. That in itself was an anomaly.
"Okay." She said finally, the one word breaking almost all barriers that had transpired between them. "But Radames…please…don't speak of this to anyone. If any of my people found out I said anything but hateful words towards you, I'd be disowned. No matter what I did to them, no matter how good I've been to them, if they figured it out, their pride alone is enough to want me to leave."
"Their pride? You don't share the same?"
"I won't say a word. I—I swear it," he agreed, and Aida relaxed. Far as she could tell, there would be nothing for him to gain by betraying his promise.
"Thank you," she said, those two words having about the same effect on her as her previous ones of apology. "For—For everything."
"Everything?" he repeated, astounded. "Why exactly are you thanking me?"
Good question, Aida thought. Why are you thanking him? "Because you saved my people from certain death in mining; because you gave me a life of relative luxury living with the princess; because you have been nothing but hospitable to me, or at least to a certain extent. Because you…you care." She replied carefully, and yet meaning every syllable.
"About you, maybe. But not about things I should," he replied, somewhat ashamedly. "Not about things that deserved my care."
Perhaps in feeling unintentional affront at his saying he shouldn't care about her and yet flattery that he did, she reached over and put her hand gently on his cheek, feeling the day's old stubble there, giving him a more rugged, adventuresome appearance. He spasmed a bit at her touch, but then relented into it, closing his eyes and leaning into it, Aida finding herself unable to take her hand away.
She began to put her other hand on him as well before coming abruptly to her senses. With the motion of being shocked, she stood up, astonished at herself. Radames came to, looking first at where she'd sat, then where she was standing. Not wanting a repeat of earlier, Aida started to walk quickly away, resenting the dew coating the imported marble which caused her to have to watch her step. Feeling an all-too familiar hand on her arm stopping her, she was stopped, but refused to turn around. In her mind, it was a semblance of her ego intimating "if I can't see you, you can't see me."
"Aida, please stop running away," Radames said quietly, his voice low and impulsively emotional. "I'm not here to hurt you. I'm not here to report you. I just want to talk to you. You don't have to hide or flinch every time I get near you."
"I know that," Aida snapped, annoyed he'd insinuate she was actually afraid of him. Because apart from an instance or two where he'd physically been intimidating when something incensed him, she'd never feared him. "But my mistress is going to awaken soon, and I have to—"
"Aida? No, you all stop touching me! I can brush my hair myself. Aida?" Amneris's voice, even from a hallway away was unmistakeable, as was her aggravated tone with her other handmaidens. Aida felt a bit of smug gratification that Amneris hadn't taken that tone with her, apart from their initial meeting. That feeling, however, was then replaced with a color-draining realization.
"I'm—I'm coming, Princess!" Aida said, loudly enough (she hoped) that Amneris heard her, though a bit surprised Amenris had awakened earlier than usual today. She just prayed Amneris didn't notice that Aida's voice was coming from somewhere very different than her assigned quarters. She turned to Radames finally, his face scarily passionate. "Captain, I have to go. She's summoning me."
"Aida!" Amneris's voice was more impatient now, as was it in the mornings, and Aida feared Amneris would go looking for her if she didn't appear soon.
"Captain, please," Aida persisted. "I have to—"
"Radames." Radames said, before taking a step closer. "My name is Radames."
And before Aida could say anything else, his lips were upon hers in an impassioned, unexpected kiss unlike anything Aida had ever felt. Granted, the only kiss she'd had before was from a prospective suitor back in Nubia that her father had wanted her to marry, but where that one was tentative and awkward, Radames's was full of confidence and fervency, as if each moment would be their last. And, Aida realized with a start, it probably was. She tried to pull away, but Radames's battle-strengthened hands pulled her still closer into his chest, and it took every fiber of her being not to completely loser herself into him. Before she could fully start returning his ardor, however, it was he who broke it off.
The want and passion was still blatantly evident on his expression, but Aida knew she had to ignore it for fear of succumbing to it. "R-Radames, I have to go…" she breathed, her body not letting her say anything with actual conviction.
"I know," he replied in the same tone, though this time his voice sending shivers towards her. "Maybe in a different lifetime, Aida."
Possessed again by an unseen being, Aida pressed her own lips against his chastely before running away from him down into the dark hallway, stopping at the end after turning a corner. She put a finger to her mouth where it was still slightly tingling, and she made every effort to get it out of her mind.
"Definitely a different lifetime, Radames," Aida whispered to the empty shadows. Despite everything, she made a last quiet remark before walking off to attend to Amneris. "One in which we could be together forever…"
Notes: I'm not sure exactly when I mean for this to take place, but it's sometime after the feast but before their kiss in "Elaborate Lives," I'm thinking. Where they're not too involved with each other yet but love subconsciously. I hope it was all right, as it's my first attempt at this category. If you haven't seen the play, you should do so, because it's excellent and very well done. There's some other fics that I think are well-written as well for this, which I'll list below (though there aren't nearly enough, hint hint):
whispers, by Miaka Neko
Elaborate Lives, also by Miaka Neko
With Her Touch, by Mongie
Second chances, by Wakebytheriver
A Pharaoh's Command, by Broadway Magic
Unfortunately, some of them haven't been updated in a long while, which is disappointing, but up until that point, they're quite good. Thanks for reading (both mine and possibly theirs)!