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Posted February 22, 2007

Fan Fiction: Adventures in Rome

Adventures in Rome:
Chapter Three

Buffy knew the neighborhood she had tracked the bad guys to that morning would take awhile to return to on foot, but with the sun still above the horizon she wasn't in any particular hurry. The walk would allow her time to get to know the O'Connells a little bit better before they were thrown into a situation where relying on each other might be a matter of life or death. Besides, she knew an amazing little restaurant along the way that would be the perfect place to pick up some takeaway for their stakeout.

Before launching into the question-and-answer session, though, she dialed Giles' number to let him know that his "unofficial field agents" had arrived safely in Willow's company. She had a few questions for him, too, about the city's museums; she vaguely remembered that he'd had a job at the British Museum before he came to Sunnydale-- which, had that had something to do with the O'Connell's?-- and figured he'd know better than she would which museums might have an Egyptology section with enough of the right kind of artifacts to serve as a backdrop for Im-hottie's resurrection. These kinds of creeps were always obsessed with choosing the "perfect atmosphere" to stage their little rituals, and it would be nice to have a line on the location ahead of time.

As it happened, Giles was indeed a font of knowledge on the subject-- enough of one that she tuned him out after the first half minute or so and pulled the cell phone away from her ear, staring at it with a glazed expression. Then she blinked and turned the Resolve Face, Pleading Edition, on Mrs. O'Connell. The whole subject was pretty much Greek to her; she'd been forced to pick up a little Greek by osmosis, living with her increasingly polyglot sister, but not enough to speak it or understand a rapid-fire conversation. As far as she was concerned, mummy this and pharaoh that were pretty much the same thing-- she only knew enough about it to get herself in trouble.

The former librarian had obviously been listening to Buffy's side of the conversation, or lack thereof. She smiled at the Slayer and held her hand out for the phone, dark eyes dancing with laughter, then dove right into conversation with the Watcher, striking up what sounded like a lively argument over whether the number of mummies in this-and-such location outweighed the religious artifacts at another.

Buffy just shook her head at the one-sided, animated chatter. It was clear they'd lost Evy for the next several minutes, so she dropped back to walk next to Rick, eyeing the ex-legionnaire with almost as much curiosity as he was eyeing her back. "So," she said brightly, breaking the ice. "How'd you get involved in the world-saving business in the first place? All Giles told me was that Evy was a librarian, and you used to be a soldier."

Rick smiled wryly at that. "Depends who you ask," he replied, shrugging casually. "As far as I ever knew, the first time I ran into anything you might call supernatural was when my entire garrison decided to march half way across Libya into Egypt to find the legendary lost city of Hamunaptra, where a rich pharaoh had supposedly buried all his treasure. All we found when we got there, though, was sand and blood. Only two of us made it out of there alive, Beni because he was a gutless coward and me because the sand around me started moving on its own and scared off the guys attacking us."

He didn't say why the sand had been moving, but it was easy enough to guess. "Freaky," Buffy replied, wincing. "I'm guessing you didn't go back to being a soldier after that?" For all the horrifying situations she'd found herself in during her time as a Slayer, she didn't think she'd ever lost that many people all at once.

He shook his head. "Nope. I was one of the officers, and showing up in Libya again without any of my men after marching off without orders didn't sound like much fun. Besides, after what I'd seen-- well. Let's just say I went a little crazy for a while." He smiled at that, but it wasn't like the welcoming grin he'd flashed her when they were trading introductions-- there was a devil-may-care quality to it and a glint in his blue eyes that said, plain as an enchanted map, 'I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.'

Buffy's stomach flipped a little as he pushed yet another of her "attractive bad boy with tragic past turned immortal hero" buttons with that little speech. Of course all the good ones-- the actual good ones, as opposed to the vampires she kept falling for-- were already taken. She glanced over at Evy again, feeling just the teensiest bit jealous, and asked, "So tell me, how does a crazy man hook up with a librarian?"

"He gets lucky?" he replied, chuckling. "Actually, her brother Jonathan stole an artifact from me in a casbah a few years later. She figured out where it came from and tracked me down in jail, then promised the jailor a share in any treasure we found if he'd let me go. He took her up on it, and the rest just kind of happened along the way. By the time we left Hamunaptra, she'd already talked me into coming back to England with her, and the rest is history."

Literally, Buffy thought, adding numbers in her head. They'd been together for almost eighty years; the only other couple she'd ever known with that kind of longevity was the deadly ex-duo of Spike and Drusilla. "Do I want to know what you were doing in prison in the first place?" she asked, wryly.

"I had a good time?" he replied, flippantly, dodging the question. "Thus ended my criminal career."

"And began your supernatural-fighting one," Buffy replied, steering the conversation back toward its original topic. "At least it started out fun for you. With me it was all, here catch this knife, now take this stake and go kill vampires; I was pretty terrified."

"Yup," Rick nodded. "That trip to Hamunaptra might have been the last adventure for us, though, if Evy hadn't turned out to have a hell of a lot more history with Imhotep than we thought. When Hafez dug him up again in 1933, we got dragged right back into the whole mess."

Buffy wrinkled her brow a little at that. "So both of you had connections to the supernatural you didn't know about?" she asked, remembering all the unlikely "coincidences" that tended to happen to her and the people around her. "Did you ever find out if there was some kind of prophecy involved?"

He blinked at that, some of the good-natured spark fading out of his eyes. "What do you mean?" he asked, cautiously.

Prophecy, check, she thought. So it wasn't just the Slayers and those who traveled in their circles that got jerked around that way by the Powers. "You said, as far as you knew Hamunaptra was the first time you ran into anything supernatural," she replied, reasonably. "Which means someone else would say differently. But you just said Evy had connections she didn't know about. So it's both of you. And in our world? Coincidences like that usually aren't very coincidental."

He sighed, then reached for the ends of the cord that kept the leather bracer secured to his forearm. Underneath it was an elaborate, Egyptian looking tattoo that she didn't recognize; after he showed it to her, he immediately began lacing the bracer back on. "I've had that tattoo as far back as I can remember," he said. "I always thought it was slapped on me in the orphanage in Cairo, but the second time Imhotep woke up, our friend Ardeth-- he was the chief of the Medjai then-- saw it and told me it meant I was destined to be a warrior for God. Destined to protect Evy. I didn't believe him, of course, but some of the things we ran into after we got to Ahm Shere pretty much convinced me otherwise."

"The princess and her bodyguard," Evy said warmly, clicking Buffy's cell phone shut as she rejoined the conversation.

"Some bodyguard I was," he said softly, locking gazes with his wife. Some kind of meaning Buffy couldn't interpret passed between them; then he shook his head and nodded at the phone. "So. You and your cousin figure out where they'll be setting up?"

"More or less," she replied. "We've narrowed it down to two possible locations; discovering which it is shouldn't be much of a challenge. We'll have plenty of time to set up before they initiate the ceremony tomorrow night."

She nodded at Buffy as she said that-- but Buffy didn't reply; she'd frozen in place on the sidewalk, the word "challenge" echoing in her mind. "Oh my God," she said. "I am such an idiot."

Rick and Evy stopped a few paces ahead, turning to her with worried expressions. "What's wrong?" Evy asked.

"They're not going to wait," she said, aghast. "They don't have to. They might have done it already!"

They'd been pretty sure the bad guys would be using the scroll of Aberjian to bring the Mummy back; Angel had told her it would raise any dead person without the caster having to find what was left of the body first. Wolfram and Hart had used it before, to raise Darla, and since the firm got the scroll back when Angel took over the LA branch why would they re-invent the wheel? The key thing she'd overlooked, however, was that Darla had been brought back alive, as she was before she'd been turned. Angel had gone through a whole challenge-y trial thing trying to keep her that way.

"But the chest--" Rick said, perplexed.

"They won't need it," Buffy replied, urgently. "I bet you anything it's a distraction, to throw you guys off. Look, the ritual we think they're using? The one that doesn't need a body first? It brings people back alive. So he'll be like he was before he got mummified in the first place. All they have to do is put him through that Horn Dog thing again--"

"And voila, invincible mummy," Evy said, glumly. "But in that case, why go through all the trouble to bring him back? Why not curse one of their own personnel?"

"Anubis," Rick said, tersely, staring off into the distance. "It's got to have something to do with Anubis. The last time someone wanted to off one of his champions, they used Imhotep; raising him again has the benefit of symmetry, plus there's the fact that he's an actual priest of Osiris. Not only will he have an edge against me, from the whole hating my guts thing, he'll also have an edge against anyone that's ever had dealings with Osiris, and since Osiris is the whole reason Buffy's still around..."

Evy swallowed, staring at her husband with wide, worried eyes. "We need the Book of Amun Ra, Rick. There'll be no stopping him without it."

Buffy watched both of them, a sick feeling churning in her gut. She didn't like the idea that Wolfram and Hart might have picked this mummy guy specifically to hit both groups who might oppose them with the same stone. What if she hadn't overheard those guys at Paolo's, and the firm had been able to do the ritual before she even knew she was in danger? It would have been curtains for Buffy, and then they could have picked off the O'Connell's at their leisure.

"The book thing, that's how you stopped him the first time, right?" she asked. "What about the second time? The god you're the champion of, he interfered, didn't he? Won't he help us?"

Rick shook his head. "Anubis suppressed most of Imhotep's power to make sure the Scorpion guy had an equal chance of winning. That was as much as he could do without rousing Osiris' wrath-- but I doubt he'll even do that much this time. He doesn't want me as his champion; he never did. He'll probably be grateful I'm gone."

"But don't you have powers of your own?" Buffy prodded further. Her supernatural radar simply wasn't all that sensitive, not like some of the other Slayers; it had been a trade-off, Giles had speculated, for her comparatively strong gift of prophetic dreams. So if she could feel him radiating power just standing there, he had to be almost Caleb-level strong.

"No." Rick sighed. "It's all or nothing; if I open that door at all, I might as well sign my soul over to the other side right now. Anubis is a god of death; he's about as moral as a hurricane, and the last time I let him in, just after Alex died..." He trailed off, and for the first time Buffy could see his true age reflected in his eyes.

Evy put a hand on his arm. "That wasn't your fault, Rick."

He drew a deep breath, then let it out again, visibly casting off the shroud of past anguish as he glanced at his wife. "Anyway," he said continued firmly, "I can't go there again. It would be almost as bad as letting Imhotep win. We'll just have to find the Book."

"Then we'd better call Willow," Buffy said grimly. "We'll have to break into Wolfram and Hart. If they don't have it, they'll know who does."

Imhotep might be powerful, but she'd faced down Glory and the First Evil in her day; as bad as things seemed now, they could do this. They could.


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