Disclaimer: I don't own Amelia Peabody, or any characters, places, things, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belongs to the talented Elizabeth Peters, not me. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain of any sort.
Summary: Set during "He Shall Thunder in the Sky." Nefret had been through some long nights in her time, but this promised to be the longest yet. Nefret/Ramses
Pairings: Ramses/Nefret, Amelia/Emerson
Author's Note: He Shall Thunder in the Sky has always been my favorite Amelia book for several reasons. I know we have the letters from collection M for Nefret's POV, but I wanted to do a little piece about when she left early on the night of the opera and came home. Title taken from Nefret's line from Falcon at the Portal, and the Ramses/Nefret fanmix on LiveJournal by diana-hawthorne. I hope you enjoy this fic, and thank you for reading it!
Like an Exile
I had lied, perhaps a little, when I had given the impression of looking forward to dining with "the set." In truth my motives were a little more specific, though perhaps dishonest in nature. I wanted to meet the mysterious Major Hamilton, whom had so rudely rejected my family's attempts to be friendly.
In truth, the so-called "high society" of the English in Egypt were really backstabbing gossipmongers, with not really an intelligent thought in their minds. I determined that if the major did not deign to appear, I would go straight back home. Undoubtedly it would worsen said gossiper's fodder, but I didn't really care.
The appearance of Major Hamilton came to my great relief, just as I had been considering fleeing for my life and sanity. I opened the conversation with him after a bit of flirting, which he seemed to take with a patient amusement that reminded me of a fond uncle. I almost expected him to pat me on the head and send me home with accusations that it was past my bedtime. Not to mention the fact that he was watching my champagne intake with a sharp gaze that made it more than clear that he thought I was overindulging.
Lord Cecil and Mrs. Tupper were snickering about something on their side of the table, making me doubly glad the major had put in an appearance. As long as I was talking with him, I didn't have to converse with other, distasteful, subjects.
"Your niece is a delight," I said - not entirely truthfully. I ruefully decided that all my time with Aunt Amelia had taught me to bend the truth a bit when it was convenient.
"I apologize for her imposition upon you the other day," Major Hamilton replied, somewhat severely. "I can assure you I have gone to great pains to make sure it does not happen again."
I waved my hand with a little more flourish than strictly necessary. "She was no bother at all," I said. Again, the words stung, particularly as I remembered how little Molly had so determinedly clung to Ramses. I couldn't help likening her, at least a bit, to a leech. "In fact, my family wanted to extend an invitation to you, your niece, and Miss Nordstrom to come for Christmas. It will be a quiet affair, I think, friends and family. I believe Mother has invited a few other officers, though."
Hamilton studied me hesitantly, though genuine flattery shone in his eyes. "Are you sure we won't be imposing?"
"Not in the least," I said firmly. Aunt Amelia wants to keep an eye on you. I could not and did not, of course, say the last aloud.
Leaning back in his chair and taking a sip of his own champagne, the major nodded. "Very well, then. Thank you very much for the invitation, Miss Forth. I think it shall be good for Molly, being around lots of people and festivities for Christmas."
It started as a pain in my lower stomach, one I was far too familiar with. Then it crept up into my chest and manifested itself as a pounding ache just behind my eyes as a growing sense of dread washed across me like palpable heat on my skin.
"Miss Forth!" Major Hamilton was leaning forward now, peering into my face with some concern. "Are you quite all right, my dear?"
I was, but I knew Ramses was not. The ability I'd had since we were both children to know the instant he had been placed - or had placed himself - in great danger was manifesting itself so strongly I was having a bit of trouble breathing. "I'm fine, thank you, Major," I said. "I do believe I have overeaten a bit, however. The food here is quite wonderful." Pulling the napkin off my lap, I placed it next to my empty plate and made my apologies. "I shall see you at Christmas, sir. Thank you for the conversation, and good evening." I only murmured the hastiest and barest of platitudes to my other dinner companions, and then I was off.
By some miracle, there was a cab waiting just outside the restaurant. The cool evening breeze lifted stray curls off my cheeks, cooling their flush a bit. I clambered into the back of the carriage, briefly wishing I had come on my horse despite my attire, as I snapped for the driver to take me home, and there would be extra baksheesh if he got me there quickly. I had to hang on to the edge of the seat, since the carriage took off with such great haste.
I rode most of the way practically doubled over with pain, one hand on my stomach, the other my head. There had been many times when my extra sense had been painful, but never like this. The closer I got to home, however, the better I started feeling, and I was finally able to sit up and let out my breath. But I knew there was still danger, and I wasn't willing to let it go until I found out what had happened.
Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a handful of coins and flung them at the driver as I got out of the carriage. Ignoring the driver's cries of praise for my beauty, my youthfulness, and mostly my generosity, I forced myself not to burst into the house the way I wanted to.
There was a light shining from beneath Ramses's door as I approached. I hurried my steps the last few feet, letting out my breath when the doorknob turned and the door opened without hindrance at my touch. It swung open silently, revealing to my eyes the scene on the other side.
Aunt Amelia was standing by the bed, eyebrows raised as she turned to face me. Ramses lay prone, blankets pulled up to his chin. One arm stuck out, however, his hand holding a half-full glass of what I could only assume was liquor. It looked like he'd spilled the other half of it on the bed, and I wondered what I had missed.
"How kind of you to drop in." His lip curled at me, and I saw the sharpness in his dark eyes. "You missed Mother's lecture on he evils of drink, but you're just in time to hold the basin while I throw up."
Ignoring his expression and the rudeness of his words - a rudeness he had not employed for quite some time, at least to me - I looked closer at him. I saw the set of his mouth, the way his brows drew together, and the way his skin was a few shades off its normal, healthy pallor. I had had time to memorize every plane of his face and line of his body on that horribly wonderful night from forever ago, and I saw the subtleties of the changes in him now, including the way his body was tensed and slightly twisted beneath the covers in pain.
For a moment I considered calling him on his words, snapping back at him in a way I'd been longing to for two eternal years. Instead I silently turned and walked away, hearing subtle sounds of relief from behind me. As I closed the door, I heard Ramses's close in perfect time with my own.
It was a long time before I moved from the doorway. Kicking off my slippers by the bed, I tore the bracelets from my arm and threw them atop my dressing table, yanking off my rings as well. I took more care with my earrings, not wanting to tear through my ear holes. I painfully yanked the pins out of my hair, taking perverse pleasure in biting my tongue to keep from screaming in pain that wasn't entirely physical. Snatching up my brush, I savagely attacked my curls, yanking through the tangles and uncaring that many strands came out of my head to become ensnared in the bristles. At last throwing my brush aside, too, I wadded up my evening gown and threw it carelessly across the room before pulling on my nightgown. Then I crawled into bed and curled up under the familiar comfort of my blankets, unsure if the stinging tears in my eyes were caused by anger, fear, anguish, or a combination of all three.
I had not cried myself to sleep since those horrible nights just after I'd lost my baby, and with it, the last remnants of Ramses to which I had been clinging so desperately. Then I had not even made an attempt to hide my pain; this time I muffled my tearing sobs into my pillow, hoping that was enough to hide it. I had told myself that I was the only one who would be in any danger, who was shouldering the danger so my family - selfishly, mostly Ramses - wouldn't have to. But I knew now that I'd been deceiving myself, for the feeling I'd had tonight was inescapable proof that he was in far more danger than even I, who was placing myself in the throat of the dragon himself.
In the morning I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I had overslept a bit because of the stress of the night, not the least of which was the nightmares that I suffered, proving that Ramses was not yet out of danger. I could do nothing for the dark circles under my eyes, though some of the puffiness had faded overnight and through the application of cool cloths. Aunt Amelia's hawk-like eyes would immediately spot the aftereffects of my horrible night. I would have to come up with a story of why I had returned home so early, and gone straight to Ramses's room.
The slightest falter in my step next to the door to Ramses's room, unintentional though it was, nearly broke my resolve. I wanted to fling open the door and tear inside, demanding he tell me immediately what he was up to, what had happened - what was happening - to him. Even if it meant I had to betray my own horrible secrets.
But he quite obviously had his own job to do, just as I had mine. I had already put him in enough danger with my own actions. I did not need to make things worse.
So with only the lightest brush of my fingertips against the closed door, along with a moment of mourning the closeness of what I used to have with Ramses, I went to breakfast and Aunt Amelia's coming inquisition, my resolve now stronger than ever.