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Posted December 10, 2015

Fan Fiction: Adventures in Rome

Adventures in Rome:
Chapter Nine

The gardens around the old house in Rome were a lot more formal than anything Buffy had played in growing up. No casually tended flowerbeds here; instead, there were aisles of weed-fringed brick between slightly tattered walls of topiary, ponds clogged with water plants ragged around the edges from the hungry mouths of bright koi, stone bridges arching there and back again from island to path, and lots of statuary stained from years of rain and migrating birds. Everything needed a good scrub and a haircut to be magazine-worthy, but it still had a kind of shabby dignity to it.

On a better day, Buffy wouldn't have minded spending a couple of hours out there, just soaking up the scents of green and sunshine. On a day when she hadn't even finished breakfast and the wards were announcing serious hostile intent on the property? It might as well have been the basement of the last Sunnydale High.

She sped down the stairs from the house, sandals slapping on the stone flags, then took the first row of low, boxy shrubs at a vault, heading for the source of the noise without paying much attention to the layout of the paths. Somewhere behind her, she could hear the O'Connells scrambling to follow; she hoped they'd grabbed some kind of weapon just in case, because she'd shed all of hers in the bathroom and hadn't even thought to snag a fork.

Dawn had better be staying put, though. And she'd better be leaving Buffy's omelet alone!

She lost a sandal on the next row of bushes, and cursed under her breath as she stubbed a toe sticking the landing. The roar had died down, though the wards were still clanging, and somewhere ahead of her she could hear people arguing. A big leafy archway and wall adorned with vines framed a little clearing cater-cornered in front of the house; it was normally a quiet little nook, decorated with statues of Roman gods, a couple of big stone vases, a bench, and a little burbling fountain. Its current occupants were a lot less peaceful. One of them, the voice that didn't sound familiar, was shouting in a language that sounded like Arabic; the other was quieter, too quiet to make out the words, but from the almost chant-like rhythm and the unmistakable malice it was pretty obvious who was being yelled at.

"Couldn't this have waited until after more coffee?" Buffy muttered as she sprinted through the arch, only to stumble as she plowed right into the back of a big guy wearing an embroidered linen tunic. "Oof! Um, sorry for the hands, but you're a little... in the way...."

The stranger felt like a wall of muscle under Buffy's accidentally questing fingers; he was at least as tall as Imhotep, but smelled a little like horse and heated steel, not the warm sand and subtle spices she'd been half-expecting. Which, when had she memorized what Imhotep smelled like, anyway? That was really getting to be a problem. She stepped back for a better view and got an eyeful of dark, wavy hair, an olive complexion, startlingly blue eyes-- and a really gorgeous, tattooed profile that could only belong to Rick and Evy's great-grandson, Asim. Who was totally ignoring her arrival, clutching at his throat and spitting unintelligible curses at the man standing on the other side of the garden alcove.

Imhotep's eyes were heavy-lidded with fury as he clutched his fist in the air, doing his best impersonation of Darth Vader. He was already nearly as gray with weariness as he'd been the night before, though, his hand shaking with the effort; she'd been right to worry about his batteries running down toward empty. A third guy, dressed in the same tunic and trousers outfit as Asim, held the point of a slightly curved sword to the hollow of Imhotep's throat.

"Hey!" she objected, shoving at Asim more deliberately this time. "Is this how your grandparents taught you to treat their guests? 'Cause so far, I am not impressed, Mr. 'We Who are the Descendants of Evelyn Carnahan O'Connell'."

Whether it was the shove or the distraction, whatever force had been holding Asim in place broke; he stumbled a few paces forward, turning to look at her with an incredulous expression. Beyond him, Imhotep slowly lowered his fist, the hatred that had carved his face into harsh lines fading into something less violent but no less dark as he glanced between her and the Medjai.

"And you," Buffy said, planting her fists on her hips as she met Imhotep's gaze, voice faltering a little as the truth of the words layered extra meaning into her attempt at a flippant remark. "I can't take you anywhere, can I?"

Someone must have shown him to the half-bath downstairs, she noticed belatedly; he was still bare-chested, but the borrowed boots and jeans were missing, probably destined for the same laundry basket as her cobwebby, blood-stained gear. A pair of Watcher-y slacks from the safe house's emergency wardrobe hugged his thighs in a shade of brown that matched her shirt; it made her wonder what else she'd missed while she'd been luxuriating under the hot water.

That must've been a fun conversation. Could you even ask 'boxers or briefs' in ancient Egyptian? Her mind stuttered over the thought.

"You cannot mean to imply that this creature is my grandmother's guest!" Asim spat in lightly accented English, one hand carefully massaging his throat. "He is...."

"Imhotep, yeah, I know," Buffy sighed. "And I guess he's more my guest since I'm the Slayer who asked for her help. But same diff, since your grandparents agreed it'd be easier to rescue him than let Wolfram and Hart turn him back into-- what was it-- a walking disease. So I'd appreciate if your buddy over there would drop his sword before I have to make him."

The 'Slayer' title caught both the Medjai's attention; Sword-guy stiffened at the word, then looked her up and down and said something rapid-fire in Arabic.

Asim held up a hand to shush him, then frowned at Buffy again, backing the hostility down just a little. He squared his stance like she was someone to watch as much as the guy across from him, which. Yeah, okay; she appreciated the respect that implied. She gave him half a point back for that. "You are Buffy Summers?"

"That's my name, don't wear it out," she chirped in reply, tilting up her chin. "And you're the guy who bounced my friend Xander in the desert a couple years back, when he stopped to say hello to your Slayer."

Asim raised his eyebrows at that, but that was the extent of his reaction; so much for Rick and Evy leaving the situation up to her to explain. "And you would welcome the presence of this... abomination... rather than drive a sword through its heart?" he continued.

Really, like he couldn't tell there had to be something else going on? It should have been 100% obvious that the Western trousers and bare feet and lack of ostentatious jewelry kind of, you know, meant something. Especially when she'd outright said that Imhotep was a guest.

"Maybe you don't know, because of the whole 'Bad Council, No Slayer' issue, but Slayers don't kill humans. Luckily for you, that covers all three of you right now," she said, layering the words with cloying sweetness. Then she shifted her gaze back to the minion. "Sword. Drop it. Now."

The other Medjai exchanged a long frowny-faced glance with Asim; then, at some subtle cue, he lowered the blade and took several swift steps back. That left Buffy the closest person to the former priest. She made to close that distance, to check whether he was bleeding and make a start on trying to straighten things out, but that was when Rick and Evy finally caught up. In all the bustle of them crowding in to make sure their great-grandson hadn't been turned into sandy paste, it took her several seconds to get around them.

"Asim! You're early! What's happened?" Evy fussed, checking Junior over in a very Momlike way.

Rick had picked up a gun on the way out of the house; he took in the situation in a quick glance, then sighed and lowered the weapon, holding it alongside his thigh. He didn't look pleased, but not particularly worried, either; Buffy had noticed he was a lot more pragmatic than his wife. After taking up station between Evy and Imhotep, he nodded at the second Medjai. "Hasam. The rest of your team back at the hotel?"

Buffy ignored them all, planting herself in front of Imhotep and flexing her stubbed toes against the brick. He was scowling mightily, but not projecting half the arrogance of the day before. She could see the way he braced himself against one of the massive vases, though, and guessed it was the bleak endurance of the worn-to-the-bone and just-dragged-from-the-afterlife rather than anything approaching actual patience. She hadn't forgotten what that felt like, or how it had left her utterly unable to handle anything approaching apology, platitude, or criticism.

Had it really been less than eighteen hours since she'd stood between him and her allies to protect them, not the other way around? What a difference a day made.

"I know, I know," she said, giving him a sympathetic grimace as she stretched up to brush her fingers over the scratch at the hollow of his throat. It was still a little wigsome, hearing foreign sounds come out of her mouth and actually understanding their meaning, but she was starting to get the hang of it. "We kind of have to put up with him though; he's an O'Connell. And he's here chasing the chest with the curse; someone stole it just before Wolfram and Hart called you up. If they didn't just take it as a distraction, will they have to make another one now?"

The corners of Imhotep's mouth curled downward in black humor. "There is one, the undead, who, if brought back to life, is bound by sacred law to consummate this curse," he intoned, as if reciting from memory. He reached up to capture her hand, glancing first at the faint smear of blood on her thumb, then back to her eyes, studying her as if searching for something. "The incantation was as nameless as my burial."

A faint tremor passed through the hand caught in his grasp, and Buffy swallowed, caught off guard yet again by the intensity of the tangled reactions bubbling up within her. Bald had never really been her thing before, but he radiated heat and spice like the desert sands he'd come from, and something about the combination of his presence and the ache of history in his eyes was hitting her right in the id. Part the ancient Slayer's awe, part her own appreciation and sympathy-- she didn't think she could pick the threads apart if she tried.

"So they could use it again, so long as the new guy's made nameless, too; check," she somehow managed to say.

He nodded slightly, narrowing his eyes at her speculatively; then his gaze flicked back to the knot of O'Connells. "You did not seek me out to ask that question. You came to defend me."

It was said as a statement, but his tone implied a question. Buffy frowned at him, not sure what he was getting at, and replied in kind. "Of course. You didn't ask to be brought back, any more than I did."

For some reason, that seemed to amuse him, rather than offend his pride. "Such contradictions abound in you, Paniwi. She who brings, is brought, and yet will bring many things."

Buffy was really not sure what to make of that. Fortunately, something about his phrasing caught Evy's attention, enough to distract her from her grandson before Buffy could stutter out a reply. She stared round-eyed at Imhotep for a brief moment, then cleared her throat and nudged her husband's arm.

"Yes, well, perhaps we had better take this conversation back to the house...?"

Buffy flushed and pulled her hand out of Imhotep's grip. Rick caught the motion as he glanced over to see what was up with his wife, then blinked and seemed to reassess something as well.

"Uh, right. Kind of in the open out here. Guys, have you eaten? We were in the middle of making breakfast...."

He pressed a wide, callused hand to the small of his wife's back, then made an after-you gesture to the guys. And just like that, all four of them were moving, though Asim's gaze lingered on her as he passed by. That had actually been pretty smooth; she might have to ask Rick for a few leadership tips, sometime.

Which, on the subject of tactics and strategy... the part of her brain that had been taking a back seat to emotion and instinct that morning suddenly sat up again and took notice.

Imhotep hadn't ended up with muscle like that by hunching over a shrine all day, and she'd seen him fight. "Why Asim, and why the throat thing? Why not grab one of their swords? You didn't actually need rescuing, no matter how tired you were, did you. Why let things happen that way?"

Amusement deepened into something more intent and evaluative in Imhotep's gaze. "You ask many questions to which you already know the answers, Paniwi. Shall I answer one you have not yet known to ask?"

Checking to see how close they were watching him, Buffy mused; yeah, she did have a pretty good idea of the answers. Seeing how they'd respond. Trying to keep from escalating the situation, to preserve as many options he could as long as possible. To deliberately reduce their evaluation of him as a threat, while accurately gauging their capabilities. Because he really was tired, and didn't want to bother. Or all of the above. She had to remember not to underestimate him.

"And what answer is that?" she said, suspiciously.

"One who has commanded the god's armies before," he replied.

Buffy blinked at him, then sucked in a sharp breath. "Who will they call up next?" she filled in the ask. Was he seriously implying that they'd summon someone like the Scorpion King? Wouldn't that be even more dangerous than calling up Imhotep?

"Only during the Year of the Scorpion may any mortal challenge Anubis' champion," Imhotep clarified. "To defeat him at any other time, a warrior blessed of the gods must be chosen."

Which-- huh. That reminded her: Osiris hadn't been the senior god of the Underworld when Ahm Shere was built. That role had belonged to Anubis; thank you, ancient Slayer memories. But that skewed oddly against the things they'd assumed about Imhotep and the O'Connells; she'd have to talk to Rick about the destiny thing again later.

"I'm guessing those are a little hard to come by these days?"

He lifted a brow in eloquent disdain.

Great, another thing to research. Along with, why was Wolfram and Hart making the attempt in the first place, if the timing wasn't right?

Or was it more Ilona's deal than Wolfram and Hart's in general? Angel had proven that individual CEOs could act on their own. And then there was the issue of Paolo. Exactly how old was the Immortal again? Ilona had mentioned him when they'd run into each other, yesterday.

"I'll tell the others," she frowned. "Unless...?"

"The answer is yours to do with what you will. I will remain in the garden to welcome the day."

The statement was made blandly, but out there among statues of gods she didn't recognize, Buffy was pretty sure what that meant. Priest; right. Had the Romans assimilated Osiris into their pantheon? Something else to ask, another time. "I'll just... leave you to that, then."

Imhotep inclined his head, eyes still on her as she turned to walk away.

Her lost sandal was waiting for her, halfway up the path; she picked it up with a sigh and followed the others back toward the kitchen.

...Where she found an empty plate, populated only by eggy crumbs.

Well, at least there were still two nonconfusing anchors in Buffy's universe: her life still wasn't a Disney princess story, and the plague of humanity that was her little sister was still doing what little sisters did.

"Dawn!" she yelled at the top of her lungs.

At the table, two Medjai exchanged a glance, and Rick chuckled, turning the stove back on.

"Everything okay, then?" he asked, eying her carefully.

"Ask again later," she sighed. "Omelet me, please? And then I guess we better start discussing what to do next."


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