"Buffy! You're here!" Delight suffused Dawn's face as she opened the door to the weary fighters.
Buffy knew she was a mess; Imhotep might have had some kind of magic dirt-repelling powers for all he looked like he'd spent a night under the city, but her hair felt tangled and matted, her jacket was wrinkled and dirty from substituting as a blanket, she had at least two bloody slashes in her clothes, and she didn't even want to think about the state of her day-old makeup. Raccoon eyes were probably the least of it. Dawn didn't seem to have noticed any of that, though; she just lunged as Buffy stepped through the door of the safe house and wrapped her arms around her as far as they would go.
She spoiled the welcome a moment later though, pulling back with a gagging noise and wrinkling her nose in exaggerated disgust. "Eugh, where did you sleep last night? The catacombs? You reek. And what's in your hair?" She reached up to pluck at Buffy's bangs, then gave a little shriek and shook her fingers violently, trying to dislodge whatever had transferred with the contact.
Buffy chuckled a little at her sister's comically alarmed expression, then stepped aside to let Imhotep enter behind her. Truthfully, she was pretty creeped herself to see what had been in her hair all night- but a warm shower would take care of the problem as soon as she could find a bathroom, and teasing Dawn almost made the ick factor worth it. "Did you know cobwebs look just like lace when they're thick enough? Weren't you just talking about doing some redecorating on the cheap?"
"Oooh, don't even," Dawn shuddered, slapping at her arm. Then her gaze shifted to the bare-chested man standing behind Buffy, and she seemed to lose all her brain cells once more.
"So, he's still with you, huh? Did he do more cool magic stuff?" she asked, all affected nonchalance as she practically drooled over the guy. Shades of Spike; if Buffy had ever needed any proof Dawn had been made from her, her reactions to each quasi-evil guy co-opted to their side would have sufficed. "And how come he's got new clothes and you're still all eau de fight before?"
A pang of hot, possessive something twitched in Buffy's chest at her sister's behavior, and she squelched it in a hurry. Before her nighttime conversation with Cordelia and the First Slayer- and the three thousand year old memories she'd accepted as a result- she'd probably have blown off Dawn's leering with a roll of her eyes and snarked right back. In the clear light of morning, though, she was suddenly clenching her hands to stop herself from putting the disrespectful, trespassing child in her place; it shook Buffy, and made her wonder just how far the Old Kingdom Slayer's personality had already integrated with her own. Something she probably ought to talk to Giles about later.
"It wasn't exactly your favorite negozio," she said, dryly. "Let's just say none of the things attacking us were women."
Dawn dragged her attention away from Imhotep with a sigh, eyeing the rent in the thigh of Buffy's pants again. "I don't think I want to know," she said, "though I'm pretty sure anything would have been an improvement. I hope you didn't attract any oogly-boogly attention on your way over. Willow's still out like a light, and you guys look like you need at least a shower and breakfast before you're ready to bust evil's chops again."
"Tell me about it," Buffy sighed, then narrowed her eyes at her. "Who's cooking? Not you, I hope."
"Ha, ha." Dawn rolled her eyes. "The O'Connells are; they went out at sunrise for more gear and food." She shrugged. "I guess their grandkid's supposed to be here in a couple of hours? Rick said he was going to fry something, and Evie's cutting fruit. Want I should put some coffee on?"
"Please," Buffy said. Then she reached out to lay a hand on Imhotep's arm, aware of the way his expression had grown sourer with every word he didn't understand. "I'm going to go clean myself up," she told him, or thought she had- she was translating from English to Ancient Egyptian and back in her head mostly by instinct, and if she thought about it too much the sense of the words slipped away from her. "I'll be back after that; and in the meantime, the O'Connell's are cooking. I know Dawn's a pest, but don't threaten her while I'm gone, okay? She's my little sister."
He snorted a little at that last, but nodded acknowledgement. "It has been millennia since I last tasted food; as long as there is no poison in the meal, I will keep my peace," he replied.
Buffy smiled at that, bemused. Not only did she have to translate from one language to another, but it seemed she was going to have to convert Formal Guy Speak to regular everyday verbage at the same time. What was that supposed to mean, 'I'm totally starving, so as long as they play nice, I will too?'
"Good," she decided. Then she raised an eyebrow at her suddenly-sputtering little sister and headed for the upstairs bath, dropping the Scythe in the hall's umbrella stand as she passed it.
She didn't think she was imagining the way his eyes lingered on her backside as she walked away. Buffy was aware she couldn't be much more to the ancient priest than a mystery at this point, despite the enforced intimacy of their introduction, but if that was going to keep him away from everyone else's throats for the time being? She was totally okay with it.
Besides, it had been a long time since she'd had more than a tepid date with Paolo, and as good as Italian food generally was it didn't make up for all the other H she'd been accumulating. It felt nice to have a powerful, dangerous man's eyes follow her with a little honest fascination. And... yeah, more than that too, though she was pretty sure the urge to genuflect was the ancient memories talking.
She sighed as she climbed the long, curving staircase, skimming a hand over the polished wooden banister to distract herself from dwelling on the latest ex-monster her hormones had fixated on. The villa wasn't huge, just two stories of reddish-brown stone, but it was unmistakably old, only a few minutes from the main part of the city, had what seemed like acres of lush green lawn and landscaping insulating it from the neighbors, and the furnishings were the kind even Cordelia would have ahh'ed over back in her family's IRS-dodging years. The paperwork was still in limbo on it since the previous owner's death, and apparently there were some issues with the wiring and the heating, but it had ancient ward anchors and a ley line on the property: a perfect temporary fallback position.
She shut the bathroom door behind her without even bothering to look for her luggage and started shucking clothes in a trail toward the walk-in shower. The jacket clattered as she dropped it; she'd have to remember to rescue her phone and camera later, as there were a few pix she wanted to email Giles from their undertown adventures. The rest she kicked aside in a grimy heap, then tipped her head back in the glass-walled cubicle and turned the hot water on full.
Heaven. Or, the next best thing. She smiled into the liquid warmth pouring down over her skin, and spent the next half hour reconfirming her identity to herself in the best way possible: by indulging in a little modern luxury.
By the time she was out of the shower, Dawn had come and gone already, leaving a steaming mug of caffeinated goodness and a stack of fresh clothes on the counter next to the sink. Buffy unfolded them to find a sand-colored pair of linen capris and a brown wrap shirt that showed a considerable swath of skin at both collarbones and midriff; matching practical undergarments, a pair of sturdy dark-colored sandals and a golden amulet that hummed with mild magical power completed the look. One of Willow's, probably; Buffy'd lay odds on it being dedicated to either tracking or threat detection.
She put it all on, and slipped the camera and phone into the cargo pockets on the capris. Then she stared at herself in the mirror for a long moment: stripped of makeup, mildly tanned, and dressed all in earth tones and gold. She fought down a sense of vertigo, then tied back her hair, picked up her now-empty mug and headed resolutely for the stairs. She could pretty herself up later. Food first.
The scents of cooking greeted her as she re-entered the main hall, and she followed her nose to the kitchen. Rick gave her a half-smile, then pointed at the table as he slid an omelet onto a plate. Buffy took the hint, seating herself across from a dirty plate and half-full glass of milk that told her Imhotep had already been and gone. Dawn, who'd been leaning against the counter having an animated discussion with Evie, tried to snag the new omelet as Rick walked by; he blocked her hand smoothly, then shook a finger as he crossed the tiled floor. "That's your sister's. You can wait five more minutes."
"Djal," Buffy greeted him with a nod and an appreciative smile as she accepted the offering: three eggs, cheese, tomato, and some kind of green thing- wild onions? Sliced melon decorated the side of the plate. "Thanks; it smells great."
Rick's expression went a little puzzled, but he didn't say anything to clue her in to what had confused him, just shot a strange glance at Nafretiri- oh. Right.
She grimaced. "Did you know there was a Slayer in Seti's court?" she asked, cutting into the omelet and spearing a piece with her fork. "I don't know if you noticed, but I got disoriented a few times yesterday after we left Wolfram and Hart... I kept seeing this other place, all sand and painted walls and braziers burning in the corridors."
Evie looked startled at that; it was her turn to give her husband a significant look. "That certainly sounds familiar," she said. "Do you believe you were reliving moments in this Slayer's life?"
Buffy nodded. She remembered Evie's slips of the tongue, and the way Imhotep had referred to her, not to mention Rick's cryptic references. She wouldn't be surprised if the other woman had been through something similar. "Pretty sure. And last night the Powers gave me the 'one girl in all the Ancient world' summary version in my sleep. I have some of her memories now, plus the whole language deal. Handy, but kind of bizarre, sometimes. I have no idea why she'd call Rick a 'twig'." She put the fork in her mouth, then closed her eyes in bliss, pausing to savor the taste. "Mmmm."
When she opened them again, Evie had slid into the chair between her and Imhotep's. "I think- I think it was a name, not a descriptor," she said eagerly. "And I believe- yes, I see it now." Dark eyes traveled avidly over Buffy's features before she continued.
"There was a northern woman among the servants in the temple of Sekhmet, though I never saw her at court. I was curious the first time I encountered her, and asked if she was related to..." Her eyes darted to Rick. "To one of my bodyguard, who was also of foreign blood. However, that wasn't the case. I was informed she was Paniwi, the bringer; and that her mysteries were not mine to know. This is fascinating; I haven't met anyone else whose past life crossed Nefertiri's since we lost Ardeth."
Buffy blinked at the name, glancing briefly at her sister with wide eyes. "The bringer? Seriously?"
Dawn snorted and clapped a hand over her mouth, though her eyes were dancing. "You just don't have any luck with names, do you?"
"Well, that's kind of wigsome and not at all portentous," Buffy said, swallowing. "But so not the reason I brought this up. I just wanted you to know, I can talk to him now, too, and if I say something weird- I keep having these flashbacks. Like catching skewed reflections in a mirror out of the corner of my eye."
"I know how that feels," Evie said, sympathetically, and laid a hand over her own. "Learning I was once Nefertiri wasn't an easy process." Then she shook herself and stood up again, visibly restraining her curiosity. "But I don't mean to keep you from your breakfast; we can talk about that later. Only- is there anything else we should know about last night? Imhotep said that you'd defeated all of your opponents and that nothing else of significance occurred, but I find it difficult to trust his concept of what's important."
Her expression went grim with long-banked grief and anger as she mentioned their guest, and Buffy bit her lip, wondering again just how bad things had been for her new friends at Imhotep's hands. She knew she had a tendency to block out anything but what was in front of her when it suited her interests to do so; if she'd learned nothing else from Robin and Giles that last, frustrating year in Sunnydale, it had been that other people's grievances weren't hers to erase. They didn't have the right to kill him, not if they wanted to maximize their odds of survival, but they did have every right to hate him.
"Look, I know what he's done," she said. "And I know he's dangerous; I won't pretend he was never evil. But he gave his word to you, and I believe he's good for it. He's on our side 'til this is over."
Rick appeared behind Evie, skillet abandoned to Dawn's care as he set his hands on his wife's shoulders. "I hope you understand that's kind of hard for us to believe. He kidnapped our son. He tried to sacrifice Evie the first time we met him, and Anck-su-namun did kill her the second time around. No- the first time I didn't even know what I was meeting, just that it scared the shit out of me and a whole lot of legionnaires died because of it. And the Twelve Tribes were decimated the last time he rose. Nearly two in ten of our warriors died at Ahm Shere."
Buffy shook her head, firmly. "Not gonna make excuses for him. Or bow to him; the memories aren't affecting me that much. Just- remember he's not undead anymore. He doesn't have his priests, or his sneaky consort, or his crazy ten-plagues powers, and he told me himself there's nothing left for him in this world. He has a perfect reason to hurt people other than us while he works out whether or not he wants to live without her."
Rick's mouth twisted at that, and he looked down at the top of his wife's head; she tilted her chin up to meet his gaze, and sighed. "Forgive me if I say I hope he doesn't. Neither of us will confront him directly- but if he confronts us, all bets are off," Evie replied for them.
"I'll try and make sure he doesn't," Buffy replied, then eyed the cooling remains of her lovely omelet. "And, back to your original question? Nothing did happen. We fought, I kicked butt, he raised these totally creepy gravity-defying mummies out of the street to help us, we won, the end."
Rick shuddered. "I know those things. They're gone now, right?" He glanced suspiciously toward the front hallway.
"Dusted at dawn, I think," Buffy assured him.
Her sister plunked down at the table then, something that looked a lot like a peanut butter and pickle omelet in front of her. "More like dusted at Buffy, judging from how you looked when you got here," she joked.
Buffy rolled her eyes, then finally took another bite of the cooling, yet still yummy breakfast. The taste was almost enough to block out the visual of Dawn's plate.
Her third bite, unfortunately, was interrupted by a roaring sound and the clanging of the wards. She swallowed, looking up at Rick and Evie in alarm. "That sounded like it came from out front."
Evie went pale. "Imhotep went for a walk in the gardens; if Asim arrived early..."
Crap. If the O'Connell's hadn't talked to the Medjai in the last couple of days... and Imhotep wasn't recharged yet...
Buffy dropped her fork and bolted, not sure which side would need her intervention more.