Title: Only The Journey Is Written

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Summary: Ardeth has always known he would one day meet Rick O'Connell. He just hadn't known what face his brother would wear when he did. 1000 words.

Spoilers: Set during The Mummy Returns (2001)

Notes: For destina, as a treat for Yuletide 2011. There can't be enough Ardeth, can there? I've always wondered just who slapped that tattoo on Rick in the orphanage, and about that four-sided metaphorical pyramid.

"You are three sides of the pyramid," Ardeth tells his companions, willing them to believe.

He is not sure how much impact the statement makes; Evelyn is listening, surely, but none of them are used to guiding their lives as much by fate as by circumstance. Certainly, none of them think to ask about the fourth side: Nefertiri-who-was too caught up in her returning memories, her brother and the airship pilot distracted by their own concerns, and Rick himself determined to deny any possibility that destiny might impact his path. That is just as well. He still has not told Rick how he knew so quickly what the tattoo at his wrist signifies, and he is not sure how the other man would react when he was so quick to dismiss the thought of being Medjai at all.

Ardeth can still remember the day his father returned to the tribes from a visit to Cairo, his manner strangely exhilarated and worried at the same time. "I have found him, my son," he had told Ardeth; and Ardeth had known immediately what he meant.

Since his birth, since the signs had been revealed that he would be the next leader of the Twelve Tribes, that he was one of the Returned, they had known he would be present for the greatest threat the Medjai had faced since ancient times. But without the one who would wield the sacred weapon, their victory was in doubt: and though they had cast the auguries at the birth of every male child of the tribes thereafter, they still had not found Ardeth's destined companion.

"Tell me, father," he had exclaimed, gazing up into the tattooed, careworn face of his sire and commander. "Where is my brother?"

His father had smiled back at him, but there was a sadness in the curl of his mouth that Ardeth had not been expecting. "I found him in the orphanage."

Ardeth had leaned around him, trying to peer beyond the flaps of the tent to see if the other boy was waiting outside. "Did you bring him, then? Is he here?"

His father had crouched then, pressing one knee against the rugs carpeting their tent to meet Ardeth's eyes levelly. "He is an American, Ardeth. He will only be in Cairo until his father's brother arrives to claim him."

Ardeth's face had fallen, and he'd stared at his father, aghast. How could the boy be his brother if he lived an ocean away? How would they ever meet again? Would they even speak the same language when they did? "But father..."

Ardeth's father squeezed his shoulder, once, then stood again. "I have given him the tattoo; and he knows the words to say in response to the challenge. You will know him by these signs; we must trust the gods to return him to us when it is time."

Though the manner of that return had been... unexpected. Nine years he'd known the man, and Ardeth had not thought to challenge Rick; nor had he considered the possibility the first time he'd watched him from the clifftops above Hamunaptra. He'd always known Rick was strong, more knowledgeable than he should have been, and as surprisingly fluent in Ardeth's secondary language as Ardeth had made sure to be fluent in English. But he had not put the pieces together. Things might have been different, if he had.

The base of the pyramid is the most important side: the one from which the others rise. And it is not Nefertiri, though she had been commanded to protect the Bracelet of Anubis by Seti her father; though Ardeth has simplified the significance of their journey by telling Rick he is her protector. It is Rick: the one whose tattoo matches the shapes molded into the lid of the Bracelet's container, whose destiny is inscribed on the walls of the ancient holy places of Egypt. It has always been his fate to strike down the Scorpion King, or be stricken down in turn.

Ardeth will be there, as their fates have ever been tied; and Evelyn, for her past involvement with both the Bracelet and with Imhotep. But the last side might not necessarily have belonged to Alex, not if Ardeth had known to ask a certain question of Rick these many years ago. If Osiris' champion had come to the tribes then, after his first escape from Hamunaptra, or even his second...

Ardeth glances over at Evelyn's magpie brother, and has no difficulty believing that their path would still have led them to this place, regardless of whether or not Rick had been with them. The Bracelet could have clasped Jonathan's wrist as easily as it did Alex's; and they might have had a simpler time resolving the matter with an adult in its grip. As childish as Jonathan can sometimes be, there is a core of iron under that frivolous surface.

But he had not known; and thus it is that Rick O'Connell belongs to Evelyn Carnahan, and not to Ardeth. He will not live among the Medjai, as Ardeth had dreamed in his youth: one with whom to share his burden, an equal like no other he will find in this lifetime. Ardeth had lost his father far too early in a skirmish with Lock-Nah's people and been forced to spend more time on the ordering of the tribes than on the cultivation of his instincts thereafter. Had matters been otherwise; but they will never know.

It had been a miracle, finding the one he had sought all his life in the presence of a friend at very nearly the last of all possible moments. But that Ardeth must once again let him go afterward...

Well. If not in this life, then perhaps the next. This is not the first time either of them has walked these sands; it may very well not be the last. The gods do have their favorites.

Allah grant that this victory not be Imhotep's.