Death is ...
Title: Death is Only the Beginning
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Summary: Rick ignored them all and vaulted over the railing toward the sand below. AU tag to Mummy Returns; 3200 words.
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Spoilers: "The Mummy" (1999); "The Mummy Returns" (2001)
Notes: Since next year's movie is going to drive my Mummy series AU anyway, I thought I'd take it a bit further and get into the darker truth behind the glossed-over details Giles and Evie gave Buffy of her and Rick's immortal status in "Adventures in Rome". Because nothing is ever as simple or painless as history makes it out to be.
The airship shot upward, buffeted by the maelstrom of sand and leaves displaced by the collapse of the oasis, then shot blessedly free into clear air. Rick collapsed to the deck, gasping for breath, and finally unclenched his fingers from Jonathan's ankle. Evie's brother was still curled around the gold-diamond thing he'd insisted on taking from the top of the temple; Rick still couldn't believe he'd risked his life for it, but maybe he'd figured what with all the other miraculous escapes they'd made that day, one more wouldn't be too much to ask for. Pretty damned optimistic of him, really.
Miracles there had been, though: they'd saved Alex and Evie; he'd defeated the Scorpion King; and Anubis and Anck-su-namun, ironically enough, had taken care of Imhotep for them. Rick hadn't seen the jackal-headed Army vanish, but he'd felt Anubis' anger and a flash-fire moment of searing pain as *something* vast and merciless rushed through him; he was pretty sure they'd been disbanded in time to save Ardeth's people. His people, too, if he believed the Medjai chieftain. Strange to think about, after all the encounters he'd had with them over the years.
A jubilant shout from the front of the airship snapped his focus back to the present, and Rick chuckled hoarsely, looking up at his old friend. Izzy had really come through for him this time; he'd have to make sure the guy got a generous compensation out of Jonathan's treasure. Especially since Rick had left the gold stick-spear he'd asked for somewhere under the dunes that now covered the oasis.
Hell, maybe he should give Jonathan a little more slack about his acquisitive tendencies in general. If they hadn't had the Spear of Osiris with them back there, he didn't like to think what might have happened. No one should have to face the end of the world twice in his own lifetime; Rick was going to have to put some serious effort into keeping his family out of Egypt after this.
Speaking of family. Where were they? Rick brushed palm fronds out of his hair and sat up, glancing around the leaf-strewn deck. He'd put Alex and Evie aboard first; he wanted to touch them again, wrap his arms around them both and never let them go. There was only so much one man could do to protect his family, especially against such powerful enemies; he'd failed them several times in the last several days, and it was only by the grace of the gods that they'd all made it out of the temple alive.
He spotted Alex first, kneeling on the deck with a mantle of fronds over his shoulders and back, staring down at something in front of him. That was his first clue that something was wrong; he'd seen that look on Alex's face once already that morning, and didn't want to think about what might put it there again. A sudden weight of dread settled into his stomach.
Above him, Izzy's hysterical laughter trickled to a halt. "Uh, O'Connell?" he asked. "Is something wrong with your wife?"
No, Rick thought. No, no, no; not again. He was hardly aware of stumbling to his feet, his full attention on the heap of leaves and sand in front of Alex and what it concealed.
"Wait, what?" he heard Jonathan say, off to his right; something thudded to the deck, and then there was a presence at Rick's elbow, stumbling forward with him. "Did something happen to Evie?"
Rick fell to his knees again across from Alex, mirroring his son's posture as he stared down at his wife. She looked-- She looked--
He refused to think the word. He brushed leaves from her face, then her chest and arms. His heart faltered as he saw the way she had her hands clasped over her abdomen, just like before, and he resolutely drew his gaze back to her face.
"Evie," he said, brokenly, cupping one rough hand against her too-pale face. "Evie, don't do this to me again. Please wake up."
She'd been so vital, so magnificent just minutes before. He remembered the way her blades had flashed as she'd fought Anck-su-namun, and the determined set of her jaw as she'd charged through the falling spears of rock to rescue him despite his efforts to dissuade her. How could she be-- how could she have-- how could this have happened? He hadn't seen any sign of a wound when he'd lifted her into the airship--
"Evie," he said again, dropping a hand to her black-clad shoulder and shaking, sharply. "Evie!"
She didn't stir.
Her eyes were closed; her lips pale as milk; her chest unmoving. She really was--
He moved shaking fingers to the pulse point in her throat, and left them there a moment, waiting, as the chaotic swirl of rage and grief and denial surging through him crystallized into ice in his veins. Finally, moving with a slow, deliberate calm, he reached down and nudged her hands aside.
"I thought you healed her," he growled at the man standing silently at his shoulder, staring at the dark mouth of the wound exposed in her stomach.
"I thought we had," Jonathan stammered behind him. "We brought her back; she seemed fine!"
"I read the right spell, Dad," Alex said, quietly but firmly. There was something distant in his voice; something that sounded a lot like the way Rick felt at the moment. As though he had to hold the whole world at arm's length just to be able to function. "I know I did."
Brought her back. Brought her back still wounded? The idea percolated slowly through Rick's frozen thoughts.
They'd brought Imhotep back with that book the first time, and he'd still been a mummy. Then, after they'd neutralized his powers with the Book of Ra and stabbed him, he'd stumbled back into a pool of dark liquid and decomposed back to the condition he'd been in before. What if it hadn't been the liquid, whatever it was, that did that to him? What if it had been the collapse of the power that kept him going?
Evie wasn't an inherently supernatural being, aside from her reincarnation, not like Imhotep had been. What if the collapse of the temple-- and her separation from the sacred books-- had been enough cut to off the spell that had brought her back to her body and given her the appearance of health?
My fault, he thought, numbly, deaf to the conversation Jonathan and Alex were carrying on over his head. If he'd done anything else-- if he'd given a different order when he'd stabbed the Scorpion King with the spear-- Anubis' tool might not have taken Rick's command so literally, sucking everything between his position and his warriors down into the desert. If the temple had still been standing-- if they'd been able to save the Books this time, and carry them away--
"No," he said, firmly. "No, this isn't right; this isn't how it's supposed to happen." A new resolve, a desperate hope, took root in his heart; he struggled back to his feet, sliding his arms under Evie as he stood and cradling her body against him.
"Rick--" Jonathan said, staring at him, eyes wide with grief and shock: Rick wondered briefly what his own face looked like.
"Dad--" Alex said, shakily, tears leaving dark streaks through the sand on his face.
"I love you," he said gently, managing a wobbly smile for his son's sake. "Don't give your uncle any trouble." Then he turned to his brother-in-law. "I don't want to see him back here before he finishes his schooling. Understand me? Evie will kill you if you let him come back unprepared."
Jonathan's eyes dropped briefly to the still form in Rick's arms. "Rick, I don't think--"
"Just do it," Rick growled, then turned and took two long strides across the deck. It was enough to bring him to the railing; he took a deep breath, then coughed through the sand still in his lungs, and raised a boot to brace against the wooden barrier.
"Dad, no!" a voice called behind him, followed by others.
"O'Connell, what do you think you are doing?"
"Rick, don't do this!"
Rick ignored them all and vaulted over the railing toward the sand below. It wasn't all that far. Okay, far enough to probably kill him if he was wrong, but if he wasn't-- well, he wouldn't care either way, whether he was wrong or not.
For a long, endless moment he hung suspended between sand and sky, his world narrowed down to the still form clasped in his arms. The wind of their passage whipped at his hair and tugged at her flowing black sleeves; his eyes stung, but he refused to look away. She smelled of heat, sweat, and dirt, like all the archaeological digs they'd ever been on, and a metallic tang where her lifeblood had soaked into her clothes; in that, as many things, they were a matched pair. And if he had anything to say about it, they'd go on being a matched pair for a whole lot longer.
In the distance, he vaguely heard the voices of horse and man raised in exclamation-- one of the Medjai must have stayed to see them off. He smiled absently at that, remembering Ardeth's complaints about them never keeping their feet on the ground, and wondered what he'd thought to see Rick jump.
Then the sand came up to meet him, and another of Rick O'Connell's lives came to an end.