The sun is setting over Cairo as they make their way in from the desert — each of them caked in dust and burnt from the hot wind. The gold from Hamunaptra clinks and jingles gently with each swaying step their camels take.
Rick has his gun across his lap, just in case, but the streets are eerily quiet.
The creature has been gone for days, but there are still signs he was here — the sand heaped up on rooftops and weighing upon canvas shades; broken shutters and doorways blown inward; toppled baskets and barrels left to roll and tumble across the marketplace. Empty locust shells rattle over the stone streets and gather in drifts against walls.
Ardeth is in the lead, his black robes still looking immaculate, though Rick can see a weary slope in his shoulders. He leads them through a street crowded with abandoned stalls of rotting fruit, flies buzzing angrily in the evening heat. There is something else under the sweeter smell of decaying citrus: blood and rotting meat.
Rick tries to breathe through his mouth. He tries not to think about all the people left here with what the monster cast upon them — plagues, injuries, death.
All he wants is clean water to drink and a deep bath to soak away the desert still clinging to his skin. Everything else can wait.
He glances back at Evelyn, who has her hand cupped over her nose and her mouth against the smell. Her face is pink with the heat from the wind and her hair is tangled and full of sand but she looks beautiful. Honestly, one look at her is enough to have him wishing for another night in the desert, where confines were close by necessity. Hastily-made camps and low-burning fires under a sky of endless stars, and Evelyn snuggling closer to him for warmth.
Rick grumpily thinks Ardeth could have at least had the courtesy to lead them in circles for a couple of days. With civilization comes the need for manners, which is a big damn shame.
Ardeth leads them to a low-set stone building and gestures for them to disembark.
"Well this looks a miserable sort of place," Jonathan says. "Why don't we use a little of this gold and find somewhere more comfortable, hm?"
Rick is inclined to agree with him.
"People fled this place in fear for their lives," Ardeth reminds him quietly. "Many of them saw our involvement with the creature. There may be mistrust, or anger." He glances up at the building. "I can trust this place. We will be safe here."
"Oh, fair point," Jonathan says, sounding disappointed.
"We'll need to find passage back to England," Evelyn says, sliding from her camel and staggering upon landing. "There are so many things I must do at the museum..." Her voice trails away tiredly.
Rick drops from his own camel and slips an arm around Evelyn's waist. She leans on him with no apparent self-consciousness; she is bone tired. He hopes that finding passage back to England can wait a few days — he doesn't want to have to think about what that might mean for him. Evelyn seems more within his reach when she's scrambling through dusty tombs, unearthing gold and ancient curses.
He figures once she gets back to England she'll remember she's too good for him.
"Wait here," Ardeth instructs, and he ducks below a low stone arch and disappears into the dim shadows of the building.
Evelyn presses her face into Rick's shirt — to filter the smell of rot, probably, but it's nice all the same. Honestly, he probably doesn't smell much better. He thinks again of the tiled baths and pools he knows are within mere miles — deep, steaming water, the scent of crushed flower petals and burning herbs heavy in the moist air.
"You're not in too big of a hurry to get back to England, are you?" he asks hesitantly. "I mean, I hear the weather over there is terrible."
She tips her head back and gives him a grin that crinkles the bridge of her pretty little sunburnt nose. She's cute as hell and will probably lead him straight there. "All this time wandering the desert, Mr. O'Connell — do you not now find the idea of rain quite appealing?"
"I guess I'm a blue sky kinda guy," he says. He lets his hand cup the back of her neck and she snuggles back into him.
"I suppose making travel plans will have to wait," she agrees. "There are other, more important things to do first."
"Like eat," Jonathan complains, rubbing his stomach. "I'm famished. I hope this place has a decent supply of food…" He looks back over his shoulder at all the empty market stalls. The canvas awnings flutter in the wind.
"I wouldn't count on it," Evelyn says. Her voice is muffled against Rick's chest. He circles his arms around her and she gives a soft hum and nestles closer, apparently contented, despite how filthy he is.
Ardeth appears again after a few minutes, trailed by an elderly man with sharp cheekbones and knuckles swollen with arthritis.
"This is Ammon," Ardeth says, gesturing. "He can provide us beds, and shelter for the camels."
"In return for what?" Rick asks, before he can help himself.
"Tomorrow he needs supplies — but many of the market holders are yet to return, and those who have stayed have increased their prices beyond what he can afford. I have told him we will assist."
Jonathan starts to make spluttering noises, but Evelyn hushes him.
"That seems more than fair," she says, pinning her brother with a glare.
Jonathan huffs, and reluctantly nods an agreement, but still volunteers to help Ammon stable the camels. Rick knows it has more to do with keeping an eye on their treasure than it does anything else. He almost wishes it'd get lost somehow. He's not sure what omens they might bring upon themselves with the treasure Beni smuggled out of the tombs before he met his fate, but knowing their luck so far, it's probably nothing good.
Ardeth watches Ammon and Jonathan disappear around the corner, towards the stables, before he motions for Rick and Evelyn to follow him.
The stone building is dark, and the air is warm and moist — a contrast to the dry heat outside. Rick breathes in and he can smell scented smoke and steam. He can see the shine of water on the walls, and his hopes are soon realized when Ardeth motions towards another low doorway.
"Ammon has offered his bathing pools to us. Evelyn, a pool for you, with privacy." He nods at her and turns again, motioning for Rick to follow him.
"See you soon?" Evelyn gazes up at him with wide dark eyes.
His stomach flips over and his blood runs hot. "Count on it," he says, and he presses a kiss to her mouth.
He follows Ardeth cautiously. It's dark, and Rick has found it doesn't pay to trust the dark. But everything remains still, and calm, and quiet, and soon he finds himself stripping out of his desert-crusted clothes and sinking into a deep stone pool. The water isn't as warm as he'd like, but it still feels wonderful on his skin. He can feel travel dust melting off him and fizzing in the water, a cloud of silt settling to the bottom.
Ardeth lathers something sweet-smelling and soapy into his hair, but Rick chooses just to dunk his head under the water and scrub his hands through his hair until he can no longer feel the grit of sand. He rubs his palm against the stubble on his jaw. It's long enough it's started to soften.
"Y'know," he says thoughtfully, "even when I was in prison they made me shave. Maybe it's time for a beard."
Ardeth gives a low chuckle and passes him a beaker of wine. "You should not hide a face as fine as yours behind a beard, my friend."
Rick swallows a mouthful, eager for something to wet his throat. It's tart and warm but damn it, he's thirsty. "I do have a fine face," he agrees.
Ardeth laughs and starts to soap his arms.
Rick ignores the soap for now and leans back against the smooth stone, letting his muscles relax slowly. It's been a long few weeks. He has bruises he's only just noticing; scrapes which are starting to soften in the water. He takes another long swallow of the wine.
He should have asked for cold water to drink. The wine, and herbs burning in the stones heaped over glowing coals are making him lightheaded.
He feels weightless and untethered in the water, like he's not really there in his own body. Like he's half dreaming. Which is why he doesn't react at first when he sees Evelyn come into the room, the steam swirling around her and making her hair curl.
Ardeth glances at her and cocks his head, but doesn't say anything.
"Hey," Rick says cautiously, still not quite convinced that what he's seeing is real. Maybe the heat really got to him and he's starting to hallucinate.
And if it's not a hallucination, well… he hopes she hasn't come in to tell him Imhotep is waiting just outside and now Rick has to fight him naked.
"I don't want to be alone," Evelyn declares. She slips the sleeves of her tattered black nightgown off her shoulders and it pools at her feet, revealing skin which seems to shine like pearl in the mist.
Rick's throat goes dry and he squeezes his eyes shut, but it's too late — the image is burned into his mind forever. Taut thighs and the slight, soft curve of her belly, dark pubic hair and small upturned breasts. He cracks his eyes open again to see her sinking into the water, her mouth falling open in a silent exclamation of delight and relief.
"Evelyn," Rick croaks, sure he should protest. He can't seem to say anything further.
"Would you pass the soap, please?" she asks Ardeth, and he hands it over carefully, suds running across his long fingers. He watches her quietly, looking a little amused.
She dunks herself under the water to wet her hair. When she emerges again, Rick seems to come to his senses. He claps his hands over his eyes and shrinks back into the wall as much as he can.
"Are you sure you wouldn't be better off in your own bath?" he asks. His voice sounds a little too high and it reverberates off the ceiling and gets lost in the damp air.
"If I had my own bath, who would do my back?" Evelyn asks. She turns, pulling her wet hair over one shoulder, and he's met with the sight of creamy skin, water running over the delicate curve of her neck.
Rick looks at Ardeth in terror, but he only raises his eyebrows.
Somehow, despite all the shooting and the stealing and the curses and the death, touching Evelyn's bare skin seems like the biggest sin yet.
"Well, get on with it," she says impatiently.
Rick swears he can see Ardeth grinning, but he's trying very hard not to get eye contact. That infuriating voice of reason rises to the fore again and he hears himself asking, "You don't mind that there's two of us here?"
"Many hands make light work," she says, and Rick watches five perfect little toes peek out of the water, pointing themselves in Ardeth's direction.
Ardeth takes the hint and wraps a gentle hand around her foot, another bar of soap in his hands. He glances up at Rick and grins, steam shining on his tanned skin, and Rick could swear that he uses his grip on Evelyn's foot to steer her through the water right to him.
She bumps up against his chest and leans her head back on his shoulder, beaming up at him. "Hi."
"You know," he says, his heart thudding in his chest, "you have a damn answer for everything."
"Not everything," she says. One of her hands grips his knee, so she can balance herself in the water, one leg still raised, foot cradled in Ardeth's hands. "You just ask easy questions."
Rick wants to argue with that, but finds he can't. Evelyn leans against him and his breath hitches in his throat. It's been so long since he was with a woman. Too long. And he's been traipsing around the desert with Evelyn for days, and she's been bossy and infuriating and brave and wonderful and a great, great many other things — but mostly she's been one giant temptation.
And Rick, who was never very good at being good, has been very good lately. So maybe he deserves a reward…
"Soap, Mr. O'Connell," she whispers, head turned so her face is pressed up against his neck. Her mouth is warm on his damp skin. "Please."
Just when he thought maybe he was starting to redeem himself a little.
She gives a soft giggle into his neck and squirms up against him, her hand sliding up his thigh. She's almost sitting in his lap, writhing in the water, breathless and smiling.
Ardeth is tickling her, stroking the arch of her foot with his thumbs. Soap is shining on her skin, sliding down her calf and meeting the lapping surface of the water. His hands chase down to her knee and she squeals and giggles, trying to retreat, but only pushing herself up against Rick in the process.
Rick has no chance of hiding his arousal — she's got her back pressed against him and every twitch and flutter of her body only makes it worse and worse.
He ignores her request for soap. All he'd do is drop it, and… well, he'd rather have both hands free. He splays his fingers carefully before he cups a tentative palm over her belly and moves it upwards. He circles his fingers just to feel her squirm again.
"Don't," she giggles, and he watches her try to tug her foot out of Ardeth's hands, but he only follows her with a grin, hands sliding further up her legs, seeking out more sensitive places. He presses his mouth to her ankle, dark eyes locked on hers, and Rick finds himself overcome with petty jealousy.
Two can play at this game, he thinks, and he cups Evelyn's breasts in his hands and plucks at her nipples. She gasps and arches against him, breath panting out in a hot gust against his neck. It sends a liquid heat right through each of his nerves. His temples are pounding in time with his heart; the wine is still a sweet taste on his tongue.
He closes his eyes and drops his head to bite a trail over Evelyn's shoulder. He pinches her nipples in his fingers, becoming rough when he remembers Ardeth's hands are sliding further and further up her legs and the distance between all three of their bodies is diminishing more and more.
He watches out of the corner of his eye as she raises her other leg and rests her foot against Ardeth's shoulder, opening herself to him. She's sitting in Rick's lap and if he beat the monster from Hamunaptra only to go to hell for this instead, it would still be worth it.
She gives a low moan and rolls her hips, hooking her leg over Ardeth's shoulder and drawing him closer. Rick can't see anything below the water, but he knows Ardeth's hand is nestled between her thighs, fingers stroking against sensitive flesh.
Rick marks more red bites on her skin, and suddenly the idea of trapping her between them is too great to resist. He leans forward and pushes Evelyn up against Ardeth's chest. Her leg slips from his shoulder and she's crammed between them; no amount of squirming will free her.
Rick has never been so hard in his life and all he wants to do is bend her over the side of the stone pool and fuck her… and it's not like he hasn't thought about doing something exactly like that over the past few days, but even in his fantasies it's all been a bit gentle, because it's easier to resolve himself of any guilt if he's tender with her in his dreams.
"God," she says, and her voice is a high whine, her fingers digging into his thigh as Ardeth's hand works between her legs.
Rick drops one hand to his cock and strokes it a couple of times. The warm water hasn't done anything to calm his arousal.
"Back," he whispers. He shoves one hand against Ardeth's shoulder and pins him against the side of the pool, pressing Evelyn up against his chest. She's straddling Ardeth's lap now, but her hips and her rear are still grinding against Rick in a way that makes his head spin.
"Can you…" She arches and gasps. "Do that more, please, more, oh god, oh god…"
Rick catches Ardeth's eye and he grins at him. Rick can feel his heart pumping in his chest and his blood pulsing in his fingertips… He clutches Evelyn's hand as she shudders and grinds against Ardeth's stroking fingers, one long cry reverberating off the stone walls around them.
Rick presses one hand against her back and she curls into Ardeth's chest, breathing hard, still shuddering through aftershocks, and Rick guides his cock between her legs, the heat of her body warmer than that of the water. She hums against Ardeth's shoulder and spreads her legs wider — Rick gains entrance to her with short thrusts, slowly deepening, everything heat and friction and softness.
He groans and bites down on Evelyn's other shoulder, breathless from the steaming coals at the edges of the room, breathless from how good it all feels… Ardeth's hand cups his cheek and slides around to the base of his neck and squeezes gently.
He sighs and starts thrusting into Evelyn, pushing her up against Ardeth with each movement of his hips.
"Keep going," she breathes, eyes closed, and Rick feels Ardeth's hand between them for a brief moment, fingers still playing between her legs.
He hasn't said anything, and nor has Rick, but Rick wonders if they're thinking the same thing. That after this — after she's come again, and after he's come, and after whatever has to happen for Ardeth to come, that he's going to find a bed somewhere and lock the door behind them and taste every inch of her skin, and then maybe when he's done he'll watch Ardeth take her, just so he can listen to those noises she's making over and over again…
"Rick," she gasps. "Oh my god…" He thinks if she were the sort of girl to curse, she would, very loudly and very breathlessly — but as things stand, all she does is release a broken cry that connects to him in a profoundly physical way, every sensation suddenly overwhelming.
He wants to last longer but he can't; it's been too long since he's done this, too long since he's even touched himself, and so he lets himself fall over the edge, eyes squeezed shut, fingers tightly laced with hers, and he does curse, growling it hard against the back of her neck: "Fuck!"
Ardeth cups her face in his hands and kisses her roughly, her gasping breath punctuated with little moans of desperation.
"I don't think I can," she whimpers.
"Yes you can," Ardeth whispers, and Rick circles his arm around her and pulls her back against him, tilting her so Ardeth can gain entry between her legs.
She laughs tiredly and lets Rick hold her in the water, shuddering as she's held further to the point of over-sensitivity. Rick cups his hand under her chin and kisses her, the wine becoming a forgotten taste. He squeezes her breasts in his hands.
Her cheeks are flushed and her dark hair is sticking to her face and her shoulders. Her eyes are wide and she twists for a moment between them, her body overwhelmed.
"God," she sobs, and then she's overcome and her breath is rushing out in a long exhalation, her legs twitching and jerking helplessly as Ardeth pushes her up against Rick's chest with each thrust of his hips.
Ardeth is silent as he comes, but Rick watches the way his muscles tense and his eyes close, head dropping to Evelyn's shoulder, the movement of his hips slowing gradually.
The air is heavy and hot, but Rick has never felt so good. He leans back against the wall of the pool again, finding the ledge to sit on, and pulls Evelyn with him to settle in his lap. She and Ardeth slowly untangle themselves, though the distance between all three of them never stretches far.
They sit in silence, listening to the water lapping against the stone.
"I shall never want to take a bath alone again," Evelyn says eventually.
Rick grins against the top of her head. "I always thought three was a crowd."
"There's nothing wrong with crowds," she says, her voice slightly lost against his skin as she nuzzles his neck. "Besides, after all we've been through lately, I think it's only sensible to stay close. Safety in numbers."
"Is that what it is?" he asks. He thinks again about the image he'd had of laying Evelyn out on a soft mattress, he and Ardeth both taking their time to set her writhing beneath their hands and their mouths. "In that case," he says to her, "I agree it'd be kind of foolish to part ways." He looks at Ardeth. "Safety in numbers."
Ardeth's eyes have a predatory glint to them. He raises one hand to stroke his thumb against the grain of Rick's short beard.
"Shall we find a room in which to take refuge, then?" Evelyn asks. "I suppose it would be ideal for it to have a bed, for it's been a rather long few days, hasn't it? Of course, it's still so early… barely dark yet…"
"Are you not tired?" Ardeth asks with a smile. Rick gets the impression it's only to be polite — rules of civilization and all that. He's pretty sure Ardeth has no intention of getting any sleep.
Evelyn rests her head on Ardeth's shoulder and squeezes Rick's hand. "I could stand to be a little more thoroughly exhausted," she says.
Ardeth glances at Rick. "I think we are capable of this mission."
"Yeah, I think so." Rick grins at him and rubs his thumb over the back of Evelyn's hand. "We're both very thorough kinda guys."