"The Mummy Returns" is probably my favorite sequel, ever. Then somebody threw this slashy little plot bunny in my lap, and when I went back and watched it again, there was subtext. I couldn't resist such an interesting pairing. So here we are. Mild slash and hurt-comfort ahead.

I own the DVD, not the rights. I'm not making a profit from this. Etcetera...

Flying Towards Destiny

"Why can't you people ever keep your feet on the ground?" grumbles Ardeth Bey. He understands the need for swift travel, but that doesn't mean he willingly boards the airship. He's a bit surprised, then, when Evie's brother Jonathan chuckles. Ardeth's kept his distance from the man during their journey from England; that insane stunt with the bus in London didn't endear Evie O'Connell's brother to him in the least.

"I'm with you there, old man," Jonathan confides to Ardeth as they climb aboard. "The dratted bus was bad enough, without going aloft like some cut-rate Icarus."

"May I remind you that you were driving the bus?" There's an edge to his voice; Ardeth hopes he will never have to endure such a conveyance again.

"Not because I had any choice in the matter! I can't help it that the key to my brother-in-law's motor car was so poorly made."

O'Connell overhears this as he helps Evelyn over the rail. "You broke it, Jonathan."

"Perhaps I didn't know my own strength," retorts the Englishman, and despite himself, Ardeth's gaze is drawn to Jonathan's hands, smooth hands, that have seldom, if ever, known an honest day's work. He wonders that Rick and Evie are willing to place their lives, and perhaps their son's life, in such helpless hands.

When Izzy cuts the mooring rope and they soar skyward, Ardeth clenches his teeth. Telling himself that this is part of his sworn duty as a Medjai is of little comfort. While his faith is dear to him, he knows that faith means nothing if Fate intervenes.

Below them, the desert is orange in the glow of the setting sun. Evie has gone to stand at the prow of the airship, and Rick O'Connell is inspecting his weapons. Jonathan has taken a seat just below the platform where their captain stands, and Ardeth joins him. He doesn't want to move about too much on this strange boat; it may become unbalanced and spill them out.

When the Medjai sits down beside him, Jonathan Carnahan feels his stomach knot up. The desert warrior isn't like anyone else he's ever known---the tattoos on his face are so primitive, barbaric, really---yet he speaks perfect, cultured English. Jonathan has watched him fight, seen him kill numerous beings, human and undead alike...and witnessed him sitting with Evie and Rick and offering words of comfort about the loss of Alex. When they first encountered him at Hamunaptra, Jonathan thought he was fierce and frightening. Now, Ardeth Bey no longer seems quite so frightening, but there is something about him, some inner passion that is unsettling to be around.

The man makes him distinctly uncomfortable, but they seem to share a dislike for this peculiar means of transport. Bey sits rigidly, as if he believes the slightest movement will upset their air-bourne applecart.

"Tell me more about this Ahm Shere place," Jonathan requests, thinking that telling a story will set Bey at ease and perhaps make the journey go faster.

"It is written that there is a vast green valley, surrounded on all sides by cliffs and desert," the other man begins, and Jonathan settles back to listen to the tale.

A golden pyramid housing a temple to the Scorpion King, a great diamond at its peak, great wealth and terrible danger...it's thrilling, like the best bedtime stories he's ever been told all rolled into one, and he gives Ardeth's voice his rapt attention. The flow of words is compelling; Jonathan sits motionless as the Medjai talks to him, lightly stroking the bird perched upon his arm---his hawk, Jonathan corrects himself. Horus is a bird of prey---much as his master is.

His focus shifts a bit when Bey begins talking about Rick's role in the unfolding events. "O'Connell does not want to believe. He flies like Horus towards his destiny."

Jonathan doesn't want to hear about Rick. Evie's husband is dull, Ardeth can't possibly find anything about Rick fascinting enough to use that intense tone of voice. He wants to hear more about the riches of Ahm Shere. "Yes, yes. Very interesting. Tell me some more about this gold pyramid."

"Well, it is written that since the time of the Scorpion King, no man has ever laid eyes on it and lived to tell the tale."

"Where is all this stuff written?" Jonathan asks, half in jest. Ardeth Bey does not give the impression of a man who spends a great deal of time locked away with books. He's much too physical for that. The thought brings with it such an unfamiliar wave of emotion that Jonathan flinches away from it, and in doing so, his hand encounters something he thought he'd packed safely away.

"Pretty nice, eh?" says Carnahan, holding up a golden scepter with the air of a man doing a conjuring trick. "This is all I have in the world. The rest of my fortune was lost---to some rather unscrupulous characters, actually."

Ardeth can well believe that. There's something curiously naive about the Englishman. He's a grown man, but his heart is boyish, decides the Medjai, as his hands lightly soothe Horus. Jonathan's attentiveness to Ardeth's account of the Scorpion King makes Bey feel quite the poet, although he knows his own gifts as such are modest. "If the curator reacted to it the way you say, it must be very important."

Jonathan seems to straighten up a little at that, proud of his possession. How sad if that is all the man has to base his life upon. Is there nothing else he can take pride in? "If I were you, I'd keep it close," Ardeth advises him. It can hardly go very far, unless someone drops it over the side.

"My friend, the gods couldn't take this away from me!" For a moment, Ardeth feels a mischievous urge to offer Jonathan his protection, chuckling as the captain snatches the scepter from Jonathan's hands and glares at him.

"You can look at it, but be careful," Jonathan admonishes Izzy. "It's very important."

Ardeth can feel himself smiling. He's watched the man play the buffoon time and again, but Jonathan still retains a curious dignity, as if the clown is merely a mask he shows the world. His blue eyes are guileless as he turns back towards Ardeth, who doesn't doubt that Jonathan will have regained his possession by the time they reach Ahm Shere.

They have reached the edge of the valley, and Ardeth offers thanks to God for their survival after the tumultuous end to their journey. Imhotep's magic brought their airship down with a great wave that pursued them, and the irony that he, a desert-dweller faced death from an abundence of water does not elude him.

Death still lurks. It comes with a sharp report that brings down Horus, and Ardeth Bey grieves silently for his feathered friend.

The green lushness of the jungle is foreign to him, and its stillness is disquieting, all the more so because he feels himself being watched. O'Connell and his wife are concerned for their son, which is understandable, and seem far more concerned with catching up to Alex and his captors than scouting the area.

Jonathan appears oblivious to the atmosphere, as usual. He's standing a few paces away from them, and suddenly exclaims, "My word! I say, chaps, look at this! Shrunken heads!" That catches everyone's attention. "I'd love to know how they do that."

O'Connell rolls his eyes, and Evie gives a little grimace of disgust, but Ardeth manages to keep the spontaneous grin from his face. "Just curious," Jonathan says, shrugging. It's another demonstration of that boyish quality he has, which Ardeth finds oddly endearing. He's a grown man, and yet, he has such enthusiasm for the mysteries and curiosities of the world. There is something about having such a light-hearted companion that makes such a journey less arduous.

Abandoning the grisly relics, Jonathan thrusts his torch into the sand and takes up one of the rifles from their portable armory. "Are you any good with that?" inquires Ardeth. The Englishman often seems ungainly, but he holds the rifle as if familiar with its use.

"Three times Fox and Hounds Grand Champion, I'll have you know!"

Ardeth manages a controlled smile and nods, forbearing to point out that neither foxes nor hounds are likely to shoot back.

"Are you any good with that?" Jonathan asks, gesturing to the sword Ardeth Bey wears. It's a perfectly reasonable question, he thinks, given that the man's just questioned his own competence.

"We'll know soon enough," says Bey casually---and with a movement so swift that Jonathan Carnahan can barely comprehend it, he's drawn the sword and its blade rests against Jonathan's throat. "Because the only way to kill an Anubis warrior is by taking off its head."

"I'll remember that," Jonathan gasps. His heart is pounding; the steel against the side of his neck makes the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. Ardeth stares at him, dark eyes intent. It's frightening, and at the same time, he feels intoxicated by the nearness of danger, and Jonathan isn't quite thinking clearly or he wouldn't stand a little straighter at that particular moment. He doesn't feel the sharp edge cut him, only the sudden warmth as blood trickles down his collarbone.

The Medjai hisses and lifts the sword away. Jonathan fishes a nearly clean handkerchief from his pocket, and the other man plucks it from his hand to staunch the flow. Ardeth daubs tentatively at the blood, then presses the square of linen to the wound, standing by Jonathan's side with scant inches between them. "It's just a scratch," he murmurs to Jonathan, who inhales the scent of sweat and horses and exotic spices as if it's a tonic. The fingers against his neck burn like a brand.

The confusion buffeting Jonathan has nothing to do with his slight wound. Ardeth radiates heat as if he holds the warmth of the desert itself. His eyes are dark embers in the torchlight, and Jonathan is mesmerized by the intensity of his gaze. He's aware of his own reaction to all this, a baffling, shocking reaction: his cock is hard, and he finds himself wanting to rub himself against Ardeth like a cat.

"When someone holds a blade to your throat, you would do well to remain quite still," Ardeth tells him quietly. The low rumble of his voice makes Jonathan's erection dance in response. On the surface, it's sound, sensible advice, but in Jonathan's unsettled state of mind, it conjures up turbulent images of being menaced and overpowered and Ardeth Bey is far too close, far too intimate.

"I'll remember that," Jonathan says, his voice gone hoarse with a desire he can't possibly confess. Before he can stop himself, his hand reaches up and covers Ardeth's as it holds the swatch of linen to his neck.

"Remember this," Ardeth replies, and brings his mouth down to cover Jonathan's for one breathless moment. There's scant time to react, to respond...only a few seconds that signal a change of heart, as if each beat was some immense jungle drum, pounding: Ar-deth, Ar-deth...

When Bey takes a step back, the warmth goes with him, and Jonathan feels a sense of loss, as if the sun has winked out. Rick and Evie are kissing, having completely missed this extraordinary event in their proximity. Ardeth rejoins the others, and Jonathan stands there, at a loss.

Remember it? It's unforgettable.

Rick and Ardeth have gone ahead, trying to rescue Alex from Imhotep's entourage. Jonathan watches from the rise above them as they converge on the other party at an oblique angle. The rifle in his hands is oily where his hands grip it. He is trying very hard to concentrate on the matter at hand; Jonathan knows that unless he puts that singular moment behind him for now, there may never be another.

"Jonathan...?" Evie's voice breaks into the melee of his thoughts. "That's my husband and my son down there." He glances over at her. That's not all that's down there. "Make me proud."

Jonathan Carnahan raises the walnut rifle-stock to his shoulder. "Today's that day, Evie."

Imhotep's forces are bearing torches; he soon learns to aim a couple feet below the flames, and not to look directly at bright flickering lest it interfere with his night vision. Ardeth is easy to track; the flashes from the Thompson's muzzle are distinctive, and Jonathan is keeping an eye out for him. Evie seems to be doing the same for Rick, and her brother is startled to realize that, rather than being merely the ones kept from harm's way, they're doing a good job of covering their infiltrators.

Alex's shouts of "Dad! Dad!" draw Rick and Ardeth in that direction. The dark-haired man stalks his prey in the verdant oasis; the Thompson's fire has ceased. As a hostile soldier drops without a sound, Jonathan sees the twinkle of a blade in the firelight. Ardeth doesn't seem to be having any difficulty doing what's necessary, and Jonathan picks off one of the red-robed figures almost absently, trying to see what's happening with his friend. There's a skirmish---Ardith is fighting a giant of a man---the ring of steel on steel is audible even from this distance, but Jonathan doesn't have a clear shot.

For one heart-stopping moment, he thinks Ardeth is down, but then there's a dark blur, and the giant is being driven back. He falls, but the Medjai clearly doesn't see the other man approaching from the rear with a gun. Jonathan lines up his shot---this is no time to get careless, he tells himself---squeezing the trigger and holding his breath for an anxious moment before the crimson figure crumples to the ground. For an instant, Ardeth's eyes meet his.

That answers that question, thinks Jonathan with a wild sense of triumph.

"Let's go!" Evie barks as Rick sprints into the clearing, Alex over his shoulder.

Ardeth has faded into the jungle, probably on the way to report to his chieftains. "Thank god for that!" Jonathan breathes. Now, if they can just both manage to survive the next day or so, perhaps they can...compare notes on this adventure of theirs.

Once he has kept his word and made sure that Alex O'Connell is safe, Ardeth Bey makes his way back to the Medjai's encampment. He details the situation, and guides his troops rapidly back toward Ahm Shere. The hours spent in the saddle give him time to think. Why did he kiss the Englishman? Ardeth chastises himself. His desire for the other man has caused him to shed his habitual prudence. Between nearly taking the man's head off and then kissing him, he'd be surprised if Jonathan Carnahan doesn't flee at the sight of him when next they meet. And yet, the fellow did save his life...

If they meet again, Bey reminds himself. There are no certainties in life, and as much as he would like to discuss his inexplicable attraction with its quarry, he accepts reluctantly that it may never happen.

Their forces beat back the first company of undead, but he fears in his heart that there is worse to come...and it is so. The creatures cover the dunes, out-numbering them by such a vast quantity that Ardeth Bey knows his final hour has come. How many will fall to his blade? A dozen? Twenty? Fifty---if he is truly under the protection of God---but there are far too many of them. If he had ten times the men he leads now, it would still not be enough.

As the torrent of fiends pour toward them, a carpet of darkness upon the sands, as far as he can see, he laments that his friends have surely entered the gates of Paradise. Soon, he will join them. His knuckles white on the handle of his sword, Ardeth faces the onrushing enemy with a defiant challenge: "Til death!" he shouts, and the Medjai around him echo the cry.

The vile warriors of Anubis are upon them, scarcely an arm's length away, when suddenly the air is thick with black dirt. A gust of putrid wind sweeps over them, and reflexively, Ardeth raises his left arm to shield his eyes against the foulness. When he lifts his face again, he beholds an empty plain.

The hordes of undead have vanished; they are saved. Lowering his sword, he gives a wordless cry, a prayer of thanks that his fellows take up, their joyful ululations soaring to the heavens.

The cloud of stinking evil disappears over the ridge into the Ahm Shere valley, and Bey does not know whether to rejoice or to worry anew. There is a shock-wave, making the ground tremble beneath them, and then the darkness rises, taking the shape of a face. Then it, too, disappears, and in the distance he hears a terrible sound, a rushing wind that seems to be tearing the world apart, yet the ground where they stand is undisturbed.

"I must see what's happening in the oasis," he says to his second in command. "Sanjay, you are in charge."

Swinging into the saddle, Ardeth spurs his mount toward the distant vantage point. Then, above the rift, a familiar shape appears, and he recognizes Izzy's airship. He reins in the stallion and waits, focusing on the gondola high above him. He sees Rick and Evie, side by side, the gilt shimmer of Alex's fair hair, and nearby, another figure who waves at him, exhaustion plainly visible even from this distance.

Lifting his hand to return their greeting, Ardeth wheels the stallion, who rears and prances beneath him. How long will it take him to return to Cairo? he wonders. There are no certainties in life, but sometimes there are second chances.

To be continued...