A/N: Wow, this is LONG. What started as a simple one-shot has evolved into one very long chapter of a multi-chapter story--very likely a two-shot (I hope), because I have an idea for a real multi-chapter "Night at the Museum" fanfic as well, and I really don't want this one to drag on...
I got this idea when I saw the second movie a few weeks ago. Jed, Larry, and Octavius are my favorite characters, in that order, and I had an idea for what was originally going to be a simple Jed/Octavius friendship fic (I don't really like Jed/Oc romantic slash. Sorry). But when I sat down to write, I realized the situation I was forming was too complex for a simple brotherly "you-know-I'm-always-here-for-you" talk. So I got angsty. And came up with this.
Warnings: Implied suicide (sort of), OOC Jedediah.
Disclaimer: I don't own it.
General Gaius Octavius was angry, concerned, and frustrated.
The cause of these troubling emotions was his best friend—of all things, a cowboy from the Wild West display that lay adjacent to the Roman diorama.
Two weeks earlier, the inhabitants of these two exhibits, as well those from several others, had experienced a whole new kind of adventure. They had been shipped to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., to the underground archives for storage, and had met many new historical figures—including some who were not very welcoming. In the chaos that followed, culminating in what was referred to by all involved as "the Battle of the Smithsonian," the former night guard of New York's Museum of Natural History, Larry Daley, tried his best to rescue his friends from the evil (and slightly psychotic) pharaoh Kahmunrah. He succeeded, but not before Octavius witnessed his best friend in the whole world captured by their enemies, threatened, and nearly suffocated in an hourglass.
Jedediah Smith had not been the same since. Though at first he had shown no visible damage from his ordeal, by the morning after the return to the museum, he had suddenly transformed into a sullen, angry individual who did not want to talk to anyone, or indeed see anyone.
The news of Jed's change in attitude spread throughout the museum in the following days. Everyone hoped it was temporary. They all missed their friendly, funny friend. But there were no signs of a reversal in temperament from the cowboy—he hid in his tent on the frontier and would not even consent to speak with Octavius or Larry (who had resumed his old museum position upon returning to New York).
Tonight, that was going to change. Octavius was determined. He didn't know what was wrong with his friend, but it had gone on long enough.
With firm, purposeful steps, he marched to the entrance of the hidden tunnel between the Roman and Western displays. The Wild West had a railroad that disappeared into the wall—a couple years ago, Larry had helped extend this tunnel to provide a secret path between the two exhibits.
When he emerged on the other side, Octavius had to blink in the sudden light, reflecting off the yellow desert to produce a blinding effect. The cowboys were used to his presence in their territory. Though there had never been any other real friendships formed between the Roman soldiers and the western settlers, the groups got along amiably enough and had learned to work together when the need arose.
Octavius started toward Jed's tent, but he was intercepted.
A young nurse, one of the only women in the Wild West display, stepped forward, wringing her hands anxiously. "He's asked that no one bother him..."
"I must speak with him," Octavius insisted. He continued to advance. Several cowboys stepped uncertainly into his path, but the girl met the general's eyes, and she nodded slowly.
"It's all right, William, Jonathan, Harry. Let him pass."
The men hesitated; Jed was, after all, their leader, and he had given them orders that he was not to be interrupted. But their concern for their boss' well being won out over their loyalty for his instructions, and they nodded and stepped aside.
"My lady," Octavius bowed to the woman, removing his helmet. She blushed and dipped into a curtsy. Then the Roman plunged into Jed's tent.
"I thought I told you not to-" Jedediah turned, annoyance flashing across his face. He froze. "Oh. It's you."
Octavius surveyed his friend. Jed was sitting, cross-legged, on his pallet, leaning against a sack of picks and shovels. His face was paler than his friend had ever seen it, and his blue eyes, glaring resentfully at the Roman, were tired.
"What?" he snapped.
Octavius was taken aback. He approached his friend, kneeling down so they were at eye-level, and laid his helmet on the ground beside him. He stared straight into Jed's eyes.
"Jedediah, I am concerned about you."
Jed laughed without mirth. "Why?"
"Because you are not yourself, and have not been ever since we returned from the Smithsonian. Everyone has seen it."
"Oh, really?" Jed turned away.
Octavius clenched his teeth. "Jedediah, look at me. Look at me!" When he received no response, he stood, slamming his helmet back onto his head. "Something is clearly wrong. I want to help you. But I cannot if you will not confide in me, as friends are meant to do." He turned and began to leave when a strange noise from behind made him freeze and spin around.
Jed's eyes were pooling with tears as he choked back a sob.
"Jedediah?" Octavius slowly retraced his steps, crouching by his friend's side. "What's wrong?"
Jed shook his head and wiped his face with the back of his hand. His miserable gaze met Octavius'.
"It's embarrassing," he mumbled.
Octavius frowned. "What is?"
The cowboy glanced around, biting his lip. He sighed and spoke in a hushed tone.
"Ever since we came back from that hoedown at the Smithsonian…I've been having nightmares."
Octavius sank to the ground. "What sort of nightmares?"
Jed folded his hands, staring at them. "It's always the same one. I'm in that dang hourglass again, and Gicantor's holdin' it. And then he drops it. And I roll away. The sand is everywhere, and I'm sinking into it and can't get out...and then I see you. You're running towards me, but then the sand runs into my eyes and I can't see for a second, and when I can again, you aren't there anymore. And then I sink into the sand…and it's everywhere, the sand is everywhere, and it hurts and I can't breathe…!" His voice rose and then fell away. He shivered and wrapped his arms tightly around himself, staring straight ahead at nothing. "And then I wake up. I wake up and I'm still surrounded by sand. Only this sand isn't trying to drown me, except sometimes when I fall into a stupor, and then the dream comes again, but this time I'm still here, on the frontier. A wave of sand sweeps me away…and I feel like I've died, but I haven't. I can't."
Octavius cautiously put a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"It is my fault," he whispered.
Jed jerked away, staring incredulously. "Why would you say that?"
"I should not have left you alone to be captured. If I had not, perhaps…"
"-we both would have been prisoners of Kahmunrah, and might both have died," Jed finished angrily. "You did nothing wrong. I told you to leave, even forced you to!"
"And I should not have abandoned you," Octavius said quietly. "A true friend would not have heartlessly lef-OW!"
For Jed had hit his friend with one of his guns.
"Would you shut up?" he asked harshly.
"What would you wish me to say?" Octavius asked hotly. "'I am sorry you are having these nightmares, there's nothing I can do?'"
Jed nodded curtly. "Sure. It's the truth."
Octavius stood. "Fine. I apologize for the way you are feeling. Get better soon."
And he turned sharply and left the tent.
An hour later, Octavius felt terrible. He hadn't meant to be so cold. Jedediah was his best friend, and Octavius knew his friend needed his support, whether or not he would willingly admit it. It was just that the cowboy was acting so…out-of-character.
He stalked to the secret tunnel, intending to confront Jed once again, when a familiar sound met his ears. Eyebrow furrowed in consternation, he hurried to the edge of the display.
Jed was inside the remote control jeep, revving the engine. He stared up at Octavius expectantly and attempted a grin.
Octavius needed no further urging. He retrieved a hidden coil of rope from under the fake rock it was tied to and let it slither over the edge. Then he climbed down carefully, stepping into the car. As soon as he was inside, Jed took off, skidding out of the Hall of Miniatures.
"Where are we going?"
For a moment there was no reply. Then Jed asked an unexpected question.
"Octavius, you know you're my best friend, right?"
Octavius frowned. Of course it was the truth—Jed was his as well—but they had never actually come right out and stated it.
"Yes…" he said slowly.
"And I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you?"
Octavius didn't know how to respond to that.
"Jedediah, please. Tell me what I can do to help you. I want to help."
"I know you do," Jed said softly.
There was something eerie in the cowboy's tone. Octavius didn't like it.
"If Kahmunrah was here now, I would order my men to attack him with all their might," he whispered, mostly to himself.
Jed heard. He smiled sadly. "I don't think that would do much good." He stopped the car near the Hun display. Down on the first level, a raging soccer game was taking place, which had made the rest of the museum virtually empty during their ride. Even Rexy hadn't bothered them.
"What are we doing?" Octavius asked.
Jed didn't look at him, instead gazing steadily ahead through the windshield.
"Gicantor wanted to talk to you. He said he'd be at the game."
Octavius saw Larry on the first level, acting as referee. He climbed out of the car.
"Are you coming as well?"
Jedediah shook his head. "Not tonight. I'm…just going for a drive."
"Until later, then."
"Goodbye, Toga Boy." And Jed drove off, leaving Octavius staring after him.
The general did not at all like the finality of Jed's tone with that farewell, but he shook his head and began to work his way downstairs. It took a few minutes for him to weave his way through the crowd to Larry, and a moment longer to get the night guard's attention.
"Octavius!" Larry greeted him, lifting him gently off the ground and placing him on the information desk. "What's up? Where's Jed?"
"He told me you wanted to speak with me."
Larry shook his head bemusedly. "No…I don't. I mean, not that I don't, but I wasn't looking for you, if that's what you mean."
Octavius' eyes widened. "Oh, my God…"
"What?" Larry asked.
"We need to find Jedediah! At once!" Octavius said quickly. "I think…I think he's going to do something terrible!"
Larry stood up immediately. "What's wrong?"
"He said some things…rather disturbing things…we've got to get there, now."
The night guard scooped Octavius off the desk and held the small man carefully in his palm as he wove his way through the crowd of exhibits to the stairs, which he took two at a time.
They met Teddy and Sacajawea as they raced through the halls.
"Good God, Lawrence, what's the matter?" Teddy asked, turning to match pace with his friend. Sacajawea hurried after them.
"It's Jed," was all Larry said as they skidded to a halt at the entrance to the Hall of Miniatures. The jeep waited in front of the Wild West diorama. It was empty.
"Jedediah?" Octavius called as Larry approached the display and let the Roman step gingerly off his hand onto the sand.
The western miniatures shook their heads.
"He's not here," one cowboy drawled. "Didn't come back from earlier."
"But the car's here!" Larry protested.
The cowboy shrugged. "We heard it, but Jedediah never came up."
"He's trying to confuse us," Octavius groaned.
"What is going on?" Sacajawea asked from the back of the group.
Octavius sighed. "You have noticed how Jedediah has not been himself during the past week, I suppose?" They all nodded. "Well…" and he sat on crate as he related the two conversations he'd had with his friend that evening.
"You think he…" Larry began.
"Ended his life?" Teddy paled.
Octavius shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know where to begin looking. If he goes outside…"
"The sun will take care of him," Larry finished.
"Well, it's not sunrise yet," Teddy said matter-of-factly. "We shall begin searching for young Jedediah at once!" He turned to Sacajawea. "Come, my dear. We must rally the museum." They left the hall.
"This is my fault," Larry sighed. "I could have…"
"No, you couldn't have," Octavius interrupted him. "I tried that once already."
Larry looked sadly down at the small car at his feet. "We should go look for him."
"I agree. I will-"
"Larry!" Ahkmenrah ran into the room, holding his crown on his head to keep it from falling off in his rush. Dexter was perched on his shoulder, chattering excitedly.
The king's voice was quiet and somber. "We heard about Jedediah. We…we found him."
Octavius did not at all like the slow way the young pharaoh was leading them to his Egyptian home—almost as if it was too late for Jed. But it couldn't be. It just couldn't. The general could not imagine life at the museum without his best friend.
When they reached the entrance to Ahkmenrah's tomb, his jackals snapped into a salute. Octavius, once again hitching a ride on Larry's palm, looked anxiously around, afraid of what he might see.
"Where is he?"
Ahkmenrah led them further into the room, all the way to his sarcophagus, and pointed, his mouth set in a grim line.
On top of the casket's lid stood Jed, staring up at the golden tablet.
"Jedediah!" Octavius called. There was no movement.
"Octavius…" Larry began slowly.
But Octavius had already seen. His friend was too still. Too…plastic. As Larry carried him closer to his cowboy friend, the terrible truth became clear—Jedediah was only a figurine.
Even though Octavius knew this must be what all the miniatures looked like during the day, he felt sick inside. It was like seeing death. It simply was not natural for Jed to be like this in the middle of the night, with the tablet so close.
"No…" he murmured, his voice breaking. Without thinking, he leapt off Larry's palm and ran to his friend. "Jedediah, please! Please come back!"
"Is he…dead?" Larry asked quietly, his eyes misting over.
Ahkmenrah bowed his head. "I can no longer feel his presence through the tablet, so I assume…he must be."
"Oh God…" Larry choked, putting a hand over his eyes and taking half a step back.
Octavius had fallen to his knees beside Jed. His head was bowed and his helmet had been removed. He was shaking, his tears silent. The grief was painful to behold, and Ahkmenrah looked away, unable to speak through the tears blocking his throat. Even Dexter was completely still for once, the twitch of his tail the only sign that he was still alive.
"Lawrence?" Teddy's questioning voice broke through the web of silence. He entered the room, followed by Sacajawea and Attila, and then stopped short as he took in the scene. "Oh, dear…"
"Magooga?" Attila asked, looking confused.
Ahkmenrah sighed heavily and took him aside, explaining quietly in Hun.
Teddy laid a hand on Larry's shoulder. "I-I'm sorry Lawrence. He was…he was a good…" But the former president was unable to continue. His eyes shone with emotion.
Larry looked up, his own eyes red. He bit his lip and shook his head slowly.
"I just…I don't understand. Why? How?"
Sacajawea stepped forward, reaching for the night guard. He accepted her embrace before stepping away, his eyes falling to the floor.
Teddy swallowed. "This tablet…what it gives us…it's a gift, Lawrence. A gift that, knowingly or not, we all accepted. We chose life. Jedediah did not die. He simply chose not to live – he rejected the tablet."
Larry could not fathom loud, friendly Jed ever deciding that coming to life was not worth it anymore. He shook his head.
"It was his nightmares, I suppose," Teddy mused. "Near-death experiences can scar people. Frighten them into doing the unthinkable. Even people like Jedediah."
The entire room jumped when Ahkmenrah suddenly slapped his hand on one of the stone pillars. His eyes were blazing, and his face was contorted with fury – an expression none of them had ever come close to seeing on the boy king's face before. Without a word, he whirled, cape whipping out behind him, and strode out of the room, sandals flapping on the marble floor.
"I'll go find him," Sacajawea said finally.
"Hold on," Larry told her. He turned to Octavius. "Oc…"
There was no reply from the general. Larry sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping. He looked at his watch.
"Sunrise is in less than an hour," he murmured. He turned to the others in the room. "I'll go find Ahkmenrah. Teddy, take Dexter, go tell everyone they can stop the search. You should…" he hesitated, passing a hand over his eyes wearily. "You should tell them what happened, and be prepared for the reactions of the cowboys from the Wild West display. Sacajawea, stay here and try talking to Octavius. No matter what, make sure everyone is back in place in time, okay?"
They all nodded and went their separate ways.
Larry started down the hallway, looking around frantically. The Egyptian was not in sight. He encountered the bronze statue of Columbus as he was about to go downstairs to the museum's main entrance.
"Hey, Columbus! Have you seen Ahkmenrah?"
The explorer frowned and asked something in Portuguese. Larry sighed.
"Ahkmenrah?" he tried again, trying to mime Ahk's crown.
Columbus' face cleared and he pointed down the hallway towards the Hall of African Mammals.
Larry thanked the metal man and continued on his way. When he entered the hall, he saw Ahkmenrah sitting on the stuffed lions' dais, stroking the mane of the male feline. His lips were pressed together in a thin, firm line. He looked up at Larry's footsteps.
"Hi," Larry said as he approached the dais. The female lion leapt up and snarled, prompting Larry to jump back a few feet, but Ahkmenrah said something to it and it settled, though its golden eyes watched the night guard warily. "You okay?"
"Bodily, I am fine," Ahk sighed. "It is Jedediah who is not."
"You aren't blaming yourself, too, are you?" Larry asked, sitting beside the pharaoh.
"Why shouldn't I? My tablet is what brings the museum to life. In a sense, it is my domain. I am responsible for everyone inside it."
"Actually, that's more my job," Larry reminded him.
"Perhaps in a literal sense, because it is your occupation. But on a more magical level, it is mine. I did not know there were exceptions to the tablet's power—that the exhibits could control some things about their existence here. I never expected this…"
"No one did," Larry said gently.
"And then the matter of the nightmares. If it were not for my brother, none of that ever would have happened to Jedediah, and he would have had no reason to be upset at all."
"You can't blame yourself for what your brother did," Larry countered him.
Ahkmenrah lowered his head. "I cannot help but feel responsible. I am angry with myself, and even angrier with Kahmunrah. He was always cunning and dishonest when we lived together in our parents' house, but this time he really went too far." The young king straightened and fixed Larry with a determined stare. "I promise, no matter what it takes, I am going to bring Jedediah back."
Larry smiled wistfully. "I wish that was possible. I really do."
"You don't believe me."
"I believe you'll try, Ahk."
They sat in silence for a few more minutes. Then the king stood.
"I believe it is almost dawn, and time to return to my tomb. There will be plenty of time to think about this during the day."
"Yeah," Larry agreed quietly.
"Good night, Larry."
Ahkmenrah left the room, striding confidently down the hall. Larry looked after him. He felt a great, swooping sadness suddenly fill him to the brim and, having had all he could take for one night, let a tear fall for Jedediah.
A/N: Love? Hate? Review?