AN: So, I updated. And hey, character development AND plot. Who knew?

As always, many thanks to Irene (my wonderfully patient beta), Caelan (for
"gently" reminding me when I've been a slacker- which is no small job in itself),
and Marcher (who always leaves an encouraging word no matter how long between
updates). Reviews are more than welcome. I thank everyone who takes the time
to leave one.

****************** Akayla Bay: Chapter Thirteen ******************

Akayla Bay didn't dream, she lived. But Ardeth's death had broken something
within her, something that needed healing. Or maybe she had always been broken.
Maybe her father had only protected her from a weakness she never even suspected.
Maybe that was why she dreamt of him after years of unbroken slumber.

Even tempered steel had its flaws.

"Father," she whispered softly as she glided through the dreamscape of white mist.
It clung to her dark robes and trailed up her legs to lap at her waist. Her dark
curls floated behind her like an obsidian waterfall as she began to run slowly to
him, fighting the air and the mist that tried to hold her back.

Ardeth Bay stood an arm lengths away, hopelessly out of her reach, a sad, proud
smile curving the line of his full lips. His eyes, always warm in life, were
distant with mortality's lack. There was a sense of eternity that clung to the
remnants of his humanity, perhaps a gift of immortal gods and goddesses to those
they favored. And who would be more favored then the man who had helped to
banish the beast beneath the sands twice in a human lifetime?

He reached out to her, brushed tattooed cheeks with the rough tips of his
fingers as she sobbed, allowing herself tears in dreams she would never shed in
life. If dreams were a weakness, wasn't she allowed to be weak in them?

Gods, she hoped so. She was so tired of being strong all the time.

Ardeth wiped the tears away gently as he sang softly to her, his voice crescendoing
and falling in the lilt of the Medjai people as he crooned the lullaby he used to
sing when she was little and slept under the stars. Kayla closed
her eyes and strained to lean into the her father's ghost's touch, remembering
how big the world had seemed when she laid out beneath the night sky.
Remembering how so little had to matter when her father sang her to sleep.

So little was left to her. A mission and one bumbling Outsider couldn't replace
the one person she had ever loved.

"I miss you," Akayla said into the mist, voice strong velvet made to feel the
cold rush of pain.

"I love you Kayla," he repeated, voice a dwindling echo of her heart-felt
declaration, "but who else do you love?"

"Who else do you love?"


She jerked awake under a tuneless sky, held in Alex O'Connell's arms as the
Outsider tried to offer the mysterious Medjai woman what scant comfort he could.
Akayla gasped and reached up to touch tattooed cheeks.

They were dry, and she was once again in control, intact, showing the world the
steadfast strength of her spirit. And yet…

She was slowly grew aware of Alex's soft murmurings, the words a mixture of
English and the familiar whisperings of her people's desert flavored tongue.
One arm held her loosely, in a grip of corded muscle, and his free hand slowly
rubbed circles against her shaking shoulders.

She didn't understand him suddenly, and wanted to, wanted to so badly. How could
he be so weak? So English! How could he kneel in cool sands and clasp her to his
side, trying to give her what he knew she could never take? How could someone
so weak, so pale and blonde and wrong be strong still?

Alex O'Connell had stood by her father's side as they banished Imhotep one final
time. Had ridden by her side through a desert that forgave as little as it loved.
Dared to hold her in his arms now. His strength, undeniable as it was becoming,
was not an easy thing for Akayla Bay to accept.

It made her own unyielding strength brittle by comparison.

"Kayla, are you all right?"

The words were a rush of warmth in her ear and she shuddered in response. She
said nothing though, refused to give him an opening into herself, her heart or
mind. Why should she allow this Outsider into her soul? Why should she invite
him in?

'Who else do you love?'

"I dreamt… I dreamt of Ardeth." The words, unbidden, spilled from her lips and,
once spoken, Akayla knew she would never want to take them back.

She sensed his surprise in her response, but he, stubborn Englishman that he was,
was quick to press his advantage. "What happened?"

'Who else do you love?'

"I…" her tongue stumbled over her reply, tied with memories of her dream, her
nightmare, and by conversations that passed between herself and the man who held
her still. He had been here the last time she had dreamt. Had asked her these
same questions she had been so loathe to answer.

Akayla swallowed, feeling vulnerable as she looked up at Alex's tanned face, her
dark eyes tracing the jaw line obscured by stubble, the sharp cheekbones, the
pale unwavering eyes that held hers trapped. "Am… all I know is the sword," she
finished breathlessly, lamely, "but…" She tried to turn away from him, from the
intensity of this Outsider who would not GO away. Who would not leave her be.
Who would not let her save her fierce pride because he was always there to hold her
when she woke from dreams, nightmares, that she should not be able to have.

Akayla Bay turned towards the false promise of Alex's arms, buried her face in
the dip of his collarbone and muffled her tears, her forbidden, scorned tears
against the rough cotton of his borrowed robes. She could feel his hesitation
before the Englishman muttered a distant curse and gently held her closer, rough
hands running soothingly through the dark curls of her unbound hair.

She pounded ineffectively against the breadth of his chest with her curled yet
trembling fists. "I hate being weak, I hate it. I hate it…"

Alex shushed her by rocking her and holding her close enough to smell sweat,
camel, and sun baked skin. To smell the faint tease of English seas, of
saltwater in the bleached blonde of too long hair curling at his collar.

"You're the least weak woman I know…"

A single scorpion scuttled across the sand in front of them to burrow in Alex's
sleeping rolls, across the gutted campfire. He frowned as his words trailed off.

A second scorpion sprang from the sand a foot or two away as the horses snorted
uneasily and shifted. Thor squawked as the desert wind picked up.

A third scorpion joined the second, then a fourth.

Alex O'Connell swallowed. "Umm… Kayla?"

Her tears stopped as suddenly as they had come as she heard the warning in his
voice. Akayla jerked away from his embrace and turned in time to see five more
scorpions burrow out of the ashes of the campfire.

"So," Alex remarked casually as he stood slowly and pulled her to her feet in front
of him. "Something tells me this isn't a natural phenomenon."

Eight scorpions dropped from the leaves of a nearby palm tree and scuttled over
to join the enlarging menace.

"Obvious much?" Akayla snapped smartly as the humans edged their way
towards the horses.

About two dozen scorpions scrambled free of the sands in triumph as the Medjai
woman and Englishman turned tail and ran from Anubis's minions.