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Posted October 31, 2010

Fan Fiction: Adventures in Rome

Adventures in Rome:
Chapter Seven

Buffy leaned against the worn brick of a tall apartment building for several long breaths, trying to scrape together enough energy to figure out what to do next.

Well, she knew what she needed to do next: get somewhere out of sight. Willow had-- if all had gone well-- transported Dawn and the O'Connells to the safehouse, but she wouldn't be able to come back for Buffy, and without a few hours to rest and sunlight to keep off the worst of the nasties the odds weren't very good for Buffy to make it there on foot. Her backup was practically dead on his feet, his mummified backup way too conspicuous to take through the streets, and now that her adrenaline was fading she wasn't too happy about her own state of readiness, either. Between the bullet graze on her shoulder, the long sword slice along her thigh, and a collection of other small scrapes and bruises, she would need a few hours flat on her back to heal.

And what about Imhotep? He'd straightened enough to take all his weight on his own two feet again, but he still looked unnaturally worn and pale, braced against the wall at her side. She tilted her head back for a measuring look and met frustrated exhaustion in his dark eyes. Whatever he wanted to tell her, it was going to stay locked up in his head unless it was very simple or else he was really good at charades, and with three thousand years of cultural differences between them that was an iffy prospect. Stupid language barrier.

Unless.... No. She frowned and pushed away from the wall again, pointing toward one of the downed thugs who looked to be approximately Imhotep's size. There was no point even considering trying to actively use those past Slayer memories that kept popping up around him; the last thing she needed to do was risk losing herself to the past when the fate of the world might depend on what happened in the next couple of days.

Imhotep grunted, then nodded reluctantly and stalked over to the body. It was one of the humans Buffy had taken down, heavily bruised where she'd clobbered him with the flat of the Scythe but still breathing. The approaching sirens told her there wasn't enough time to strip him fully, or search the others for useful gear, but there was at least enough time to roughly remove his boots and dark jeans and hand them over to replace the useless bathrobe still dangling from Imhotep's shoulders.

He wrinkled his nose in a sneer at the snug fit of the jeans and the loose, probably completely unfamiliar feel of the boots, but put them on without complaint. When she made to remove the dark turtleneck as well, though, he pointed toward the approaching glint of headlights on the windows down a curve in the street, and she hastily dropped the discarded bathrobe over the groin of the guy they'd robbed. Imhotep took up his sword again, then placed a commanding hand on the back of her shoulder, and Buffy lurched into motion, pausing only to scoop up the tactical belt she'd removed with the thug's jeans. She didn't have a flashlight on her, so the enemy's would have to do.

She'd almost forgotten about their escort during their quick wardrobe upgrade, but Imhotep hadn't. As they hurried in the direction of the private catacomb entrance she remembered from earlier that day, he lifted an imperious hand. The four mummies turned as one, then immediately bounded up the side of the closest building as though they were filled with helium under those dusty old wrappings.

So much for conspicuous! As long as they stayed up the z-axis where most people didn't think to look and didn't make much noise, there was a chance they might go unnoticed. And now that the former High Priest wasn't flashing all and sundry either, Buffy and their boss might even have a chance at staying anonymously in the shadows. She gave a tired sigh of relief as she finished buckling on the belt, then grabbed Imhotep's hand without even thinking about it and hurried faster, pulling him along.

They were stumbling with exhaustion by the time they reached their destination, and had attracted more than their fair share of amused looks from the sparse foot traffic along the way. Buffy was pretty sure they'd managed to pull off 'drunken evening out', though, rather than some more sinister impression. A little breaking and entering later-- and one unfortunate homeowner knocked out before she could get a good look at her invaders-- and they were home free.

For certain values of 'home' and 'free', anyway. Buffy closed off the catacomb entrance again with shaking hands, and wondered just how long it would be before the Council ally woke up and reported the incident back to HQ. Long enough that Wolfram and Hart wouldn't be able to intercept and use the call to track them, Buffy hoped; but probably soon enough to soothe Giles' worry if they didn't manage to report in before dawn. She'd have used her cell phone to call from the street, but she'd had plenty of lectures from Andrew on how secure those things weren't, and without Willow there to actively obscure the call with a spell she'd decided the risk wasn't worth it.

Imhotep murmured a question to her in the dark, and she hastily fumbled the flashlight from the tactical belt. The rough walls, cobwebs, and visible trickles of dust from the low ceiling seemed somehow more ominous than they had with Rick and Evy at her side, laughing about past adventures. She aimed the beam toward an alcove she remembered a short distance down, and Imhotep sent two of the mummies a little past it to stand on guard. The other two waited until he and she had stepped into the tight niche-- a little smaller than the bathroom of her apartment-- then took up position facing the way they'd come. It was unnatural, the way they froze in place with weapons raised; but no more unnatural, she supposed, than they already were to begin with. She shuddered, then cautiously lowered herself to the ground and shifted her weight to her off hip to get a good look at her slashed thigh.

Her companion settled down next to her with a frown, then reached to cautiously frame the wound in the vee of one hand and gave her a questioning look. Buffy wasn't sure what exactly he was asking, but whatever he wanted to know, she figured her answer would be the same. She wouldn't accept healing from him, as tired as he was, and it wouldn't slow her down regardless-- not after she'd had a chance to rest. She shook her head at him, then pointed toward the ground and made the 'pillow' gesture with two palms pressed together and a sideways-tilted head.

He snorted, but gave her a grave nod again, and made the same series of gestures back to her. Without clean water and bandages there wasn't much she could do about her wounds that Slayer healing wouldn't take care of on its own, so Buffy reluctantly nodded, then stretched out, trying to find a position that wasn't inherently uncomfortable on the uneven floor. She was so gross already, a little more dirt in the hair surely wouldn't matter; but Slayer or not, she was used to soft mattresses and sweet-smelling sheets. It would be a miracle if--

She yawned, eyes drifting shut as shuffling sounds followed Imhotep's attempts to settle at her side.

The next sound to enter Buffy's awareness was hardly a sound at all: the low, rumbling susurrus of an incoming tide was more a feeling in her bones than something heard with the ears as she stood on a curve of California road overlooking the moonlit Pacific Ocean.

She could see a car parked nearby; not one she recognized, its lights on but no driver behind the wheel. It occurred to her vaguely as she studied it that her last conscious memories were of a place halfway around the world; but for some reason, she felt more worried about the car's owner than herself.

"Pretty, isn't it?" said a familiar voice at her ear.

Buffy nodded absently, turning her attention back to the dark sweep of calm sea. "I spent most of my teenage years wishing I was anywhere but here; but I do miss it sometimes, now that I'm gone."

"Mmmm," the other woman mused. "I never did get away, not after Mom and Dad abandoned me. But I don't regret it much. Not that part, at least."

Buffy pursed her lips at that. "What do you regret, then?"

Shoulders shrugged in the corner of her vision, long dark hair sweeping forward with the movement. "Not paying attention to the important things, mostly. Not taking the right chances when I should have, and taking the wrong chances without looking twice."

Buffy turned to look at her, then, meeting serious eyes in a softly glowing face. Cordelia looked more beautiful than Buffy remembered from high school, backlit by a faint white glow, but she otherwise looked the same as ever: no white robes, no ostentatious gold harp. "Why are you telling me this?" she asked, then hastened to add, "I mean, why you, not why tell. Not that I'm not glad to see you, but the last few times the Powers that Bother sent me a message, they used Tara."

Cordy gave her a wry smile. "Call it irony," she said. "A lot of people are about to be offered choices, like a bunch of dominoes, with the future of the world at stake. The first time I was given a choice, I took the power I was offered; and that ended up working out. But the second time-- I made the same choice, and the world nearly ended. Learn from me, okay? Don't stick to your rut. Think it through. I'd kinda like this view to stay just the way it is."

Buffy frowned. "Good memories?" she asked.

"Important memories," Cordelia replied, firmly.

Buffy's brows drew together. Cordelia nodded, an acknowledging smile at the corners of her mouth, as the penny dropped; then her face blurred, replaced by the mud-streaked visage of the original Slayer.

"You ask the others if they ready to be strong," the other woman said, harshly. "But what about you?"

Buffy flinched, opening her mouth to answer angrily-- then caught herself, wondering if this might be what Cordelia had meant. She had rejected the source of the Slayer's power when she'd encountered it in the time-out-of-place accessed by the Slayer Emergency Kit; first offer, and first answer. Was Sineya making her a second offer, now? Important memories, Cordelia had said. She'd been thinking about memories earlier that day-- and rejected the idea without much thought. Had she been wrong?

"Yes," Buffy replied, staring the angry young woman down. "I'm ready."

Sineya smiled fiercely. Then she faded away again, leaving no one else behind to replace her-- and the distant whisper of the waves faded into the moaning of a desert wind.

Buffy woke with a gasp, curling closer against her firm pillow, and shivered as a warm, resonant voice murmured to her in question.

"What do you dream of?"

"Blood. Victory, and death," she mumbled automatically in reply. Then she stiffened as she realized just who her pillow was-- and the fact that neither of them had spoken English.

Long-held instinct prodded at her to lurch away and abase herself in front of Pharoah's High Priest; but an equal lifetime of impertinence-- and the undertone of weariness still dragging at her mostly-renewed strength-- insisted she stay right where she was. For a moment, she wasn't sure which impulse to follow, paralyzed by the pulse of the heartbeat under her right ear.

"Mixed omens for the day to come," Imhotep said, betraying no surprise at her use of his language.

Neither, then. Buffy swallowed, then sat up slowly, clicking the flashlight back on and putting some distance between them as she looked down into his face. He looked better; his coloring wasn't as faded as she remembered, and his eyes were a lot more alert. "No duh," she said. "By now, they've probably done to someone else what they would have done to you. So you know what we'll face."

His expression darkened, hatred and old pain curdling in the downward curve of his mouth. Buffy-- as her other self-- only remembered meeting him up close once or twice in life, and she'd never seen an expression like that on his face; though seeing him now, it was easier to recognize the anger in him than to imagine him with a genuine smile. The slave she'd been had heard of him as a man ambitious in the service of his god, but fully loyal to his pharaoh, who was after all a living god himself; she'd died sometime before he'd apparently followed his heart into treason, and found the fact of him as deliberately unnamed dead all those years horrifying and disorienting.

Probably not more so than he had himself, though, judging by the bitterness in his voice as he sat up and spat the next word: "Hom'Dai."

"Yes," she said, carefully. "Which is why we need to go find my friends now, assuming it's light out. Including the O'Connells."

His gaze sharpened into a glare at her unspoken question, undercut with some uglier emotion that she couldn't quite name. "I gave my word to Nefertiri," he said. "I will honor it."

"And after the guys who brought you back again are gone?" Buffy pressed.

He snarled, eyes flashing. "Anck-su-namun ran from me, and failed the test of Ma'at. There is nothing left for me in this world, or any other."

Not an answer, in the strictest sense. But not exactly a declaration of enmity, either. Buffy sighed, then climbed stiffly to her feet, massaging the itch out of her sore but mostly-healed thigh. "You might be surprised," she said. "I felt that way once. Twice, even. And I'm still here."

Here, she meant, as in Earth; but also here, as in fighting the good fight. She pointed at the ground, then raised her eyebrows at Imhotep, still emoting in broad, communicative strokes despite the unexpected acquisition of a common language.

He snorted at the gesture. "Here again, perhaps; I sense the touch of Osiris on you, khat and ka alike."

The last two words jammed up in her brain a little, translating poorly between modern self and older. Something like body, both tangible and intangible? Her physical self, and the self that lived on, but not quite the thing associated with the word 'soul'? Which part-- presumably-- had been in whatever white, warm Heaven she'd mostly forgotten. Well, if she still needed any confirmation that the choice of Imhotep as avatar had been aimed at her as much as Rick and Evy, that would have covered it.

She looked away. "My friend petitioned him to let me cross back," she said. "As a warrior of the people. I promised not to let my second chance go to waste."

He was silent for a long moment; then she heard him shifting slowly to his feet and stepping closer to her. "Warrior of the people," he murmured thoughtfully, and she felt the touch of callused fingertips under her chin, coaxing her face back up. "I have heard that phrase before."

She cleared her throat, flushing a little at the touch, then let her eyes meet his again. He didn't remember her for her past self, she could tell; the rising curiosity in his gaze was too impersonal for that. She'd been unimportant in the hierarchy of the temple, after all, noticeable only for her exotic foreign looks, though her hair had been paler then and her skin several shades duskier with sun. And the beings she'd fought had been the domain of evil Apep or sometimes dark Anpu-- Apophis and Anubis-- not the King of the Underworld; not the High Priest's responsibility. But she didn't doubt he'd heard stories.

Everyone always heard stories. It was just that so few people believed the truth behind them.

"Warrior for my people," she said, stubbornly, "so we'd better get moving, if you're ready."

"My strength will return more fully with the setting sun," he replied, finally dropping his hand, though his gaze did not waver. "I have not spent my strength so recklessly in millennia; but I am well enough to move under the sun, if this disguise is-- sufficient."

Sufficient; that was one word for it, Buffy thought, caught off guard by the phrase. She eyed him again: sockless feet in slightly oversized boots, tight dark jeans crammed into their tops. No shirt. Slight smudges under intense eyes, and acres of smooth skin over firm muscle. Ancient awe and modern irreverence warred again; this time, Buffy firmly won. Hello, salty goodness.

She smirked at him. "Close enough."

Then she turned and walked out into the main tunnel, where the mummified guards were conspicuous by their absence, hopefully returned to earth with the dawn. "This way, I think," she said, aiming the beam down the tunnel.

Night survived, check; now, to rejoin the others.


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