I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers… - Pablo Neruda
Sekhmet’s Downfall is one of those bars that are murky in the best possible way. The many-colored clouds of smoke drift through the air, carried by the opening and closing of the door, and every Friday night, the place is packed.
Hestia sits on a worn old bar stool, leaning her elbows on the counter, and she can feel the sand rubbing inside her clothes from her day out working in the desert. “Hey Omar,” she calls to the bartender, “Can I get another Osiris’ over here?”
The mustached man gives her the eye and sets another beer in front of her with a loud thunk. She’s been here far too often recently than is considered proper for a woman in these parts. Hestia sighs, noticing that the liquid’s deep ocher color seems to blend into the dark wood of the bar. She did a lot of things that weren’t considered proper for a woman. Being a regular at a foreign bar was probably the least of her worries.
“Stella, please,” a male voice says from somewhere above her right shoulder. After a moment a freckled arm reaches out to grab the green bottle from the counter and the same clear baritone rings out in her ear, “Hello! You’re not an Egyptian, are you?”
“No,” she replies flatly. Hestia doesn’t even bother turning to look at him. Some stupid tourist is the last thing she wants to deal with right now, “and neither are you.”
The man laughs. “What gave that away? The red hair?”
With a sort of disparaging expression, she looks him up and down for a few seconds. This man practically has ‘foreigner’ written across his forehead in hieroglyphics. “No.”
Turning back to her drink, Hestia notices he’s waiting for her to say more. She is silent, hoping he will get the hint and leave her alone.
He doesn’t. “Really? Because that’s usually the first thing people notice – ”
Hestia decides that it probably serves her right for going to a crowded pub when all she really wants is to be left alone. “Can you just go away?”
“Whoa.” The redhead puts his hands up in front of his chest in a gesture of surrender. “Okay. Wow. I wasn’t even trying to hit on you or anything. Not that it would matter if I was. I doubt a Yeti could break through all that ice you’ve got there.”
Hestia scoffs and takes another drink. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him flash a blindingly charming smile. “I’m just waiting for my brother. Would it kill you to humor me for a couple minutes?”
God, she had had enough of charming men to last her for the next hundred years.
“Well, there’s this whole bar.” Hestia casts an eye around, searching. “I see an empty stool that way. Why don’t you go wait over there?”
Moving to lean back against the bar, the man grins gallingly. “You should hurry up and drink that. Might help you thaw a little.” Hestia shoots him a fierce look, not appreciating his teasing, and he grins again. “No one likes an ice queen, sweetheart.”
Furious, she reaches a hand out to grab her beer and down the rest of it to prove a point when the annoying prick suddenly grabs her wrist. His hands are as rough as the sand chaffing inside her clothes, but his touch is feather light – as if he is trying to calm a flighty colt.
“That’s a jade scarab amulet, isn’t it? My brother was telling me about those today. They’re for good fortune and protection and stuff, yeah?” He turns Hestia’s arm lightly in his palms to get a better look at the bracelet. “I never thought they would be this big though. They’re supposed to be little charms or something, right?”
He is right. They usually were. This bracelet is something Ryan had given her once. This one is special.
The scarab itself had been carved out of brilliant green jade and is about three inches in length. It was made with a slight curve to fit her wrist and holding it around in place is a gold woven chain that attached at either end. He looks closely at the thin gold charm that hangs off the thick clasp and runs his thumb over it. “There are runes on here, aren’t they? What do they say?”
The runes. She had almost forgotten. Sekhmet’s seems to dim for a moment and Hestia can almost feel Ryan’s arms around her again, can almost smell the rain in the dirt of the park, can hear the words he had kissed into her hair that were such painfully pure poetry. I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you…
She slams up the image of Ryan at home with his wife and child, happy and whole, to shut out his words from the past. That is done. Over with.
Shooting the redhead the most withering glare she can manage, Hestia snatches her arm out of his loose grasp. “Look. I understand that this is probably your first trip to Cairo, but the first thing you should learn is not to strike up conversation with random people you see in bars.”
She ends the sentence with practically a snarl, furious at this stranger for making her remember something she is working so hard to forget, and he takes a cautious step back. She had never used to be this mean and that makes her angry too. When did she become like this? Glancing at the door behind him, Hestia continues, “And unless there are somehow two unfortunate gene pools that could produce such a nauseating hair color, your brother’s here at long last.”
The man still looks taken aback, but when Hestia makes the comment about his hair, he quirks a small smile as if he has heard it all before. Glancing down at the amulet and then back at her face again, his eyes narrow slightly. It’s as if he has seen something in the sad lines of her mouth, or how her eyes seem sort of flat in the dim light. Hestia quickly focuses again on the wood of the bar, afraid that if he looks at her for too long, then he will know. That he will be able to tell what she has done.
Sometimes Hestia wonders if other people can see the scarlet letter she so plainly feels searing into the skin over her heart.
Without looking at him, she says quietly, “Please just go away.”
“Alright then, Amulet Girl,” he says, and he hesitates for a moment, as if he wants to say something else when Hestia hears his brother calling his name out loudly from across the room. He sighs instead, “you have yourself a nice night.”
She is tempted to turn, to follow his back across the bar with her eyes, to catch a better look at his brother. She wants to walk over, to laugh and talk with them.
In which there is no I or you…
Instead, covering the scarab with the opposite hand, Hestia just closes her eyes and wishes it would all go away.
A/N: Can anyone guess who the redheaded stranger was? Anyone? Cookies to those of you that get it right. Thanks so much ot my beta Rachel (PanguinsWillReignSupreme) and to internet search engines, without whom I would be totally lost when it comes to Egyptian history!
Disclaimer: The Potterverse is the property of the wonderful J. K. Rowling. I own nothing you recognize.
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