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Posted October 11, 2010

Fan Fiction: Adventures in Rome

Adventures in Rome:
Chapter Six

The first few seconds of combat passed in a blur of sound and motion. Buffy knew she and the others were going to have to break free of their attackers on foot, luggage and all, if they hoped to make it to their refuge undetected-- and that meant taking down every last one of them. Someone on Ilona's team had been smart, though, and had sent the one type of being guaranteed to make it past a Slayer's spidey-sense and witchy demonic wards both: ordinary mortal humans.

Well... ordinary-ish. About as ordinary as Xander was, in the strictly 'nonmagical' understanding of the term. If they were actual norms they would never have been a threat in the first place. Even the front-row cannon fodder-- the handful of soldiers who made it first to the door-- were holding their own against Evy's and Imhotep's blades, filling the air with sparks and the sounds of metal clashing against metal. Rick's first few shots didn't do much good against the body armor they were apparently wearing under their shirts, either; when he paused to reload and adjust his aim for trickier head or limb shots, Buffy unsheathed her own sword and charged toward the damaged doorway.

A hail of automatic weapons fire drove her back. She ducked away from the splinter-framed opening as quickly as she could, swearing at the blaze of pain that carved a track across the outer skin of her shoulder. The other bullets struck the building like a swarm of angry supersonic bees; a few more buzzed by her ear, barely missing the entangled fighters to stitch abstract patterns across the far wall of the living room.

"Willow!" Buffy called, breathing deeply in an effort to suppress her instinctive fear. Some part of her hindbrain had never forgotten her near death experience at Warren's hand. It was hard enough to fake calm around a gun in the hands of an ally these days; facing down hostile weapons fire was an entirely unbalance-y situation, and it was something she would have to get over quick if she ended up facing more enemies like Ilona in the future.

"On it!" Willow sounded out of breath, though luckily not too tired to work witchy wonders: the next spate of bullets spanged backward, repelled by a curtain of violet energy. The ricocheted fire provoked some pretty foul language from their assailants; Buffy didn't speak much Italian, but the tone of voice was fairly universal.

"Perfect!" She clenched her empty fist and turned back toward the doorway.

Sometime in the last few seconds, Imhotep had dispatched his opponents and snuck up beside her. A faint sheen of sweat glistened on the smooth bronzed skin of his scalp, not to mention other parts, barely shielded by the haphazardly tied bathrobe. Buffy swallowed, then tracked her gaze back to his face, and tried to get a handle on his mood. He seemed... furious, but turned outward, not inward, she decided; it looked as though she'd made the right call with him.

...Unless, of course, he intended to kill them all and let Osiris sort them out. Buffy winced at the thought. They'd just have to take that risk, though. Imhotep had to realize he wouldn't be able to run free in the modern world without someone to run interference, and so far as he'd know she and the O'Connells were the only people with the right mix of magical and mundane knowledge to help him.

He glared out through the impromptu shield for a long moment, giving no further cues one way or the other. Then he turned his head toward Willow and made a quelling gesture, lifting a hand in the air and lowering it again palm downward. Willow blinked at him, brow furrowed, then glanced toward Buffy for confirmation; Buffy abruptly remembered what Evy had said about him knowing magic, and gave a cautious nod. Hopefully she'd guessed right about his meaning-- and his intentions.

Imhotep turned a smug, sardonic look toward her then. It wasn't quite grateful; more as though he were pleased she was rightfully acknowledging his superiority, with an undercurrent of bitterness that her approval had been required in the first place. Then the curtain fell, and he lifted a hand from his sword hilt to thrust imperiously toward the doorway. Stentorian Egyptian words poured from his throat, followed by a howl of wind outside; the intermittent popping sounds of gunfire testing the shield's endurance gave way to a cacophony of crashing noises and swearing.

"Don't tell me he just did the face-in-the-wind thing," Rick muttered from behind them. "I hate that trick. I thought he could only do it when he was a mummy!"

Evy sighed next to her husband as Buffy leaned over again to peer out at the damage. "He could do it much more easily when he was a mummy," the librarian said, "but he can evidently achieve the same effect with the magic still at his command."

And how. "I think he's cleared the street," Buffy told the others, trying to ignore the growing realization that she'd taken a heavyweight tiger by the tail. Giles and the O'Connells had tried to warn her, after all. She still didn't see how she could have chosen any other path, though; whatever consequences she might face for her decision to free him, she'd have to worry about them later. "Get moving! We'll make sure they stay down."

Imhotep lifted his hand again and made a brushing motion, long fingers sweeping fluidly from side to side. He was too intense, too large a presence to really call graceful, but there was an inherent sensuality to his every movement that made Buffy shift uncomfortably. In the street, a brief rallying volley of gunfire was quickly cut off by another series of heavy thuds, and she wrinkled up her nose.

The soft smack of flesh against stone was not among Buffy's favorite battle noises-- it always meant ew, gross and frequently heralded longer laundry sessions-- but in this case, it was music to her ears. More so than the distant-but-growing sound of sirens, anyway; that was a complication they seriously didn't need.

"We?" Dawn asked, crouched against the near wall with the suitcases.

She threw Dawn an ironic eyebrow. "We," she repeated firmly, gesturing toward her proof of concept.

"Point," Dawn sighed, eyeing the exposed expanse of Imhotep's thighs again.

"Go, go!" Buffy urged her, blushing irritably at her sister's speculative expression, then turned to the others. "Rick, Evy, you first; Willow behind them, and keep that curtain ready-- there might be some guns still out there. Dawn, follow Willow; we'll be right behind you."

She stood up and laid a hand on Imhotep's shoulder as she rattled out the orders, tugging him slightly back as the others went by. She could feel the fine tremor in the muscle under her palm, but the glance he shot her was as fiery as before: still thoroughly eager for battle. It was no wonder he creeped the O'Connell's out, if he managed that level of intensity even when he wasn't a mummy. What must he have been like back in his heyday? From what she'd heard so far-- the mental image raised the fine hairs on the backs of Buffy's arms.

Whatever he'd been before, though, he was her muscle for the time being. It wasn't as though he'd be the first ex-monster she'd ever had on her team, and he hadn't given her any reason to distrust him-- yet. Odds were high for personal pain as a result of taking on yet another super-powered work in progress; but also for world-saveage, and world-saveage was what mattered at the moment.

Dawn finally stepped over the splintery threshold, last duckling in the line, and Buffy gave one final glance around the room. She'd hate to lose the apartment, but everything in it was replaceable; all the important items were either in the suitcases, secured in her magical safe, or back in her room at Council Headquarters. Wolfram and Hart were sure to ransack it after this, but they'd need either her blood or Dawn's to crack the safe, and if things got that bad.... Well, that was enough of that depressing line of thought.

The street outside was narrow and unnaturally dim, but there was still enough light to see the sprawled forms of unconscious thugs everywhere. There weren't even any cars to hide behind; she didn't know if it was the hour or if the roads had been blocked somewhere, but there wasn't any traffic in the neighborhood, and the walls of the apartment building across from hers were practically close enough to jump the street from window to window, so there wasn't room for any parked vehicles, either. Not at all like the neighborhood she'd grown up in back home. There weren't even any alleys near her front door, the way the buildings were pressed all chock-a-block together, and Buffy felt strangely exposed as she followed the others up the street. Like an ant under a magnifying glass.

Not even the solid presence at her side could calm her nerves as her eyes skittered over the fallen forms of the enemy, watching for movement. It was a toss-up whether the tunnels would be any safer for them at night than staying in the apartment would have been, but maybe if they could get somewhere better lit-- without being cornered by the polizia-- they'd have a chance at making it across town.

Yeah, or maybe not. A bunch of obvious foreigners without guides or transportation, including one guy in a bathrobe? Buffy wasn't holding her breath. But there wasn't much chance they'd be able to call a taxi or get on the subway in the state they were in without attracting some kind of negative attention, Wolfram and Hart or otherwise. She bit her lip, and kept hurrying, turning fragmented plans over in her thoughts. Stupid Paolo. Why couldn't he have stayed just passively evil? It was just starting to sink in how very pampered she and her sister had been, these last few months in Rome.

"Willow--" she started to call out to the front of the group, to ask where the next tunnel entrance was.

A cry of dismay cut off the rest of her sentence, followed by an "Oh, dear" from Evy that ratcheted her nerves up another notch. Evy was definitely Giles' cousin; Buffy had never met anyone else who could make those words sound quite so much like asterisk-worthy foul language.

"They found us!" Dawn called, stumbling to a halt with the luggage. Evy and Rick took station on either side of her, Willow beside them, hands still raised to hold the shield.

"What did they do, call up every demon in the city?" Buffy asked, staring past the small group at the horde filling the street just beyond them. Some of the minions had guns, but others showed evidence of non-human features-- which she totally should have been expecting, now that they'd been forced to leave the apartment's wards behind them.

"Willow, teleport, now!" she screamed, resheathing her sword and jutting out a hand to summon the Scythe to her. She tried not to use the Slayer-specific weapon more than she had to-- it was scarily obvious to anyone with magical senses, like a sharp-edged beacon-- but this was really looking like a bigger-hammer situation.

Willow shot a glance back at Buffy, visibly upset. "Buffy, I can't! If I do that I won't be any good to you tomorrow!"

"I know, I know! We don't have a choice. Dawn, go with her; Rick and Evy, protect them!"

"Buffy--!!" Dawn objected, expression indignant; the O'Connell's didn't look any more pleased with the situation, but Buffy really, really needed them to not be there. Someone needed to be free and in one piece to greet the cavalry in the morning, and these guys had caught them seriously unprepared.

She clenched her hands around the haft of the Scythe. Beside her, taking his cue from her posture, Imhotep raised his hands, sword in one and a swirl of wind and dust gathering in the other. One of the enemy group let out a mocking laugh as swords were drawn and guns were readied-- and in that breath of a moment, Willow firmed her jaw, raised her hands, and blazed like a small, intensely white sun.

The light died out. Spots flickered in the field of Buffy's vision. There was a short, disbelieving pause as the combatants registered the sudden disappearance of the four who'd stood between them-- and then the foot-soldiers moved, and Buffy let go the rein on her instincts.

She barely noticed any details of the next few minutes on a conscious level. It was like the good days of fighting beside Spike, or the short stretches of time she and Faith had been on good terms; she hadn't been expecting it, but the Slayer in Buffy exhilarated in the companionship of another predator of equal strength, and she stopped registering anything but the sensations of the moment as she moved. Even with Giles' bathrobe fluttering ridiculously around him where the tie had given way, Imhotep was an effortlessly strong presence at her side, and together they dodged and danced through their opponents.

She whirled swiftly from attacker to attacker, taking them one at a time: flattening a human with the side of the axe-like blade, then whirling to stab the demon following him in the chest with the pointy end of the haft. Near her, other opponents went down in sprays of blood and choked-off moans, one after another, before she could even register them as threats. She was vaguely aware of more guns held in threatening postures, but Imhotep did something to yank them out of the shooters' hands and hurl them several dozen yards up the street before more than a handful of bullets were fired.

She moved on, and on, and on. At one point a burning sensation streaked across the muscle of her outer thigh, but in her single-minded state she barely registered more than damn, Slayed another pair of leather pants! as she separated a Fyarl's head from its shoulders. There'd be time to catalogue wounds later.

The sounds of sirens grew louder as they fought. Windows scraped somewhere above them; a door opened on one side of the street, then slammed again with an exclamation. People were noticing, but still the footsoldiers came, fighting more and more recklessly as the seconds passed-- and it was hard not to see that while they weren't shy about trying to kill Buffy, every attack aimed at Imhotep was designed to disable.

He'd certainly realized. Buffy caught a glimpse of his intent, frowning expression out of the corner of her eye after they'd downed the first dozen or so enemy, just before he backed off, putting a few feet of clear cobbles between him and the fighters. Buffy swung the Scythe wide, trying desperately to cut herself some room as her living shield disappeared, but before she had time to do more than gasp in dismay he thrust the fingers of his free hand toward the earth and spoke.

As engaged as the Slayer in her was, this time there was no fighting the overlap. Recent memories melted into old and swallowed her senses whole: for a brief, bright moment, as the High Priest behind her commanded, she could almost feel the sand under her bare feet as she lifted the gods' weapon to strike at the minions of Apep before her.

"Collect your bones!" the priest called, as she wheeled to kick one demon in the groin and parry the blade of another. "Gather your limbs! Shake the earth from your flesh! Your Master is here!"

The ground moved; the priest staggered as though winded, his tanned flesh graying slightly with the effort required to channel the gods' will. Four patches of cobblestone burst upward, and the nameless one immediately dropped to her knees, pressing her forehead to the street. An arid wind swept overhead, clogging her nostrils like the breath of the grave; and then-- and then--

Buffy gasped and sat up, shaking slightly as the mindset of the ancient Slayer lost traction, and opened her eyes on a scene of slaughter. Whatever it was Imhotep had called up, they'd taken out the rest of the Wolfram and Hart troops without hardly trying. And they were still there.

She turned to give her companion an alarmed glance. He raised an eyebrow at her and gestured sharply; at his command, the four war-clad mummies moved closer, forming around them like a squad of creepy bodyguards. Then he staggered, nearly crumpling with the effort.

Buffy hastily ducked her shoulder under his arm as her own wounds began to complain, then dragged him toward the far side of the street. The mummies moved with them; they made her skin crawl, though she had to admit they might be useful if they had to hole up in the tunnels 'til sunrise. There was no way to make it to the safehouse without undoing the diversion they'd just created. And after that--

"Buffy," Imhotep murmured, as though tasting her name on his tongue.

Buffy shivered. Worry about the morning later; first, they had to survive the night.


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