A/N: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I'm just borrowing them for a bit and will return them washed and neatly folded.
By Lissa Bryan
Edward ordered his jet fueled as soon as he got Jacob's message. He went upstairs and pulled one of the Hermès suitcases out of the closet and began tossing clothes into it at random while he dialed his mother's number. Esme Cullen answered, and her smooth, modulated, lady-like voice held a hint of surprise that her son would be calling. It was a Wednesday. He usually only called on Monday and Thursday. "Hello, darling."
"Hello, mother. I'm calling to tell you that I'm sorry, but I won't be able to make it to your luncheon tomorrow." It was for one of her numerous charity fundraisers; he couldn't remember what cause it supported, but Tanya had reminded him about it right before she left this afternoon to go shopping.
"Oh? I'm sorry to hear that." Esme did not need to ask. She simply waited for the explanation she knew would be forthcoming. She knew him too well.
"Jacob called. He's on a dig in South America and he's run into some trouble."
Esme's voice cooled, though almost imperceptibly, as it did whenever Jacob was the subject of conversation. "Not too serious, I hope."
"I don't know what it is. He sent me a text message asking for my help."
"When will you return?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure. A few days, I'd guess."
"Will Tanya still be coming to the luncheon?"
He flinched. Tanya would be furious. "I ... uh ... I can't say. I haven't spoken to her. She should be home soon and I -" He heard the sound of the front door opening. "She's home. I'll have her call you, all right?"
"All right. Be safe, darling."
"Sure. Love you." Edward disconnected and headed out into the hall. He could see Tanya down in the foyer, sliding her purse from her shoulder. Her little dog, Noodles, hopped out of it onto the marble floor. Noodles saw Edward at the top of the stairs and glared at him. Edward glared right back. He hated that dog. It was poorly trained, spoiled, and left messes on his antique Aubusson rugs. Behind them, the driver entered, staggering under a load of bulging shopping bags. "Upstairs, Miss?"
"Yes." Tanya said, without sparing him a glance, and he headed up the stairs, huffing under the heavy load, and through the door into to Tanya's dressing room, a guest bedroom they had converted to hold all of her clothes and shoes. Edward stepped aside as the driver passed and murmured the "Thank you" that Tanya should have given him. Tanya spotted Edward and smiled. "Hello, honey. Whew! What a day! I had to go all over town to find the new Christian Louboutins! And the sales clerk at Divas? She had the nerve to try to tell me that they're not out yet. I said -"
Edward interrupted because he could see Tanya was about to work herself up into a full-blown fit of pique and he couldn't wait until after she'd calmed to tell her his news. "Can you come up here for a moment? I need to speak with you."
She started up the stairs, with a faint frown. Her hand slid gracefully up the railing, her massive diamond engagement ring winking in the light. She followed him into the bedroom and froze when she saw the suitcase on the bed. "Where are you going?"
He tried to brace himself. "South America."
Her eyes narrowed. "Did he call you?" Edward was surprised she'd remembered where Jacob had gone.
"And so you go running to save him from whatever mess he's gotten himself into this time."
"Tanya, he's -"
"I know, I know," she spat. "He's been your best friend since you were six. I've heard it before, Edward. What about me? I'm your fiancee. You should care more about what I want."
"I do care about what you want."
"No you don't! I'll have to go to that luncheon tomorrow alone. Do you know how that will look? Everybody who's anybody will be there." Tanya came from a middle-class family and was deeply conscious of her social status as his fiancee, about being accepted by the realm of "high society." She was obsessed with having the "right" clothes, the "right" shoes, and the "right" house in the "right" neighborhood. Even her little dog, Noodles, had been chosen for bloodline and appearance rather than actual affection.
"You won't be alone. You'll be with my mother." Esme was a far better champion in the social sphere than he was.
"People will think you don't care enough about me to be with me!"
"That's not true," Edward protested. "Just tell them - "
"That you ditched me for Jacob again? I am not saying that!" Tanya's dark eyes flashed with anger. "The time has come, Edward, for you to choose which one of us means more to you. Me, or him."
Edward said nothing. He stuffed some socks into his bag. He hoped they matched, but he had no way of knowing.
"Me, or him?"
"You're serious? Jesus, Tanya."
Tears splashed down her cheeks. They had ceased to affect him since she'd demonstrated she could pull them up on cue. "Are you staying with me, or going to him?"
"I'm going. I have to."
She whipped off her engagement ring and threw it at him. It hit Edward's cheekbone with enough force to leave a cut. He felt a small trickle of blood run down his face and clapped a hand to it instinctively.
"Don't expect me to be here when you come back!" she snapped and whirled to run from the room. Wincing, Edward went into the bathroom and dabbed the blood from his cut away with a piece of tissue paper. He stared into the mirror and realized his heart should be breaking right now, but all he felt was a faint sense of relief that the argument was over for the time being. He cleaned the cut carefully and then applied a butterfly bandage.
He returned to the bedroom and saw the ring lying on the carpet. He picked it up and put it on the bedside table. It would serve her right if he left it there for that annoying little dog of hers to swallow. It had a magpie-like voracity for shiny things and had once swallowed a beer bottle cap when Edward carelessly let one fall to the floor while he was watching television, necessitating a midnight trip to the emergency veterinarian. Edward wished he'd kept the x-ray, because he'd found the image strangely hilarious, much to Tanya's fury, despite the fact that the emergency had been easily and painlessly resolved with an emetic.
He finished packing and put his laptop and Kindle and their respective chargers into a carry-on bag. He headed for the stairs. Tanya was nowhere in sight. His driver sat waiting on a chair by the door. He stood when he saw Edward and took the suitcase from his hand when Edward reached him. "Is this all, sir?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you." One of the things Esme had taught Edward was to be polite to everyone, whatever their social status. It was how a gentleman or lady should behave, and it was something he could not get Tanya to understand. She seemed to think wealth and highly-placed friends relieved her of the burden of courtesy to those "below" her.
Edward climbed into the back of the car while the driver put his bag into the trunk. He sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair. He was hoping that Tanya would come to the door and at least wave him off, if not offer him a goodbye kiss before he left.
The driver got into the car and they pulled out of the driveway. The door remained firmly shut and there was no crying Tanya who ran out to the car to kiss him one last time before he left, to sob that she loved him. Edward settled back, disquieted. Maybe she was really serious this time.
If it really was the end, Jacob would be delighted. He'd always disliked Tanya. Jacob kept insisting Edward could do better, that he should do better. Being with Tanya, he said, was ruining his chances of finding the girl that was really right for him, which had been the subject of the conversation - argument, rather- that they'd had nearly six weeks prior, right before Jacob left for Catalupa.
"Dude, she cheated on you!"
"She was lonely. I left her alone." Edward defended her automatically, using the excuses that she had given and he had accepted.
"Edward, you were gone for three days."
Edward didn't really want to articulate the real reason that he didn't want to lose her, though he was pretty sure Jake already knew. Tanya was comfortable. Tanya kept his mother from nagging him about "settling down". Tanya had pursued him, had pushed their relationship through all of its stages from initiating their first kiss to picking out an engagement ring. All right, so she wasn't all that bright, but Edward got enough intellectual stimulation at the university, right? And listening to Tanya babble about designer clothing or the subtle machinations of her climb up the social ladder allowed his mind to drift. It was almost Zen, actually.
They arrived at the airport and Edward took his bag from the driver with a word of thanks and a nice, fat tip pressed into the palm of his hand as Edward shook it. He always tipped heavily to try to make up for Tanya's rudeness. His jet sat on the tarmac and the pilot stood at the top of the rolling metal staircase. Edward knew the pilot, and so was able to greet him and chat for a moment while the co-pilot went through all of the safety checks. The flight attendant, however, was a stranger. He stammered and blushed through his "Pleases" and "Thank yous", the only conversation that he could manage. She was friendly, but the pushy type, and the pilot eventually had to call her off to rescue poor Edward, whose face was fire engine red and whose stammer was making his few words almost unintelligible.
Mercifully alone, he belted himself into one of the plush leather armchairs. He accepted the Coke the flight attendant brought him. She was subdued and merely smiled at his thanks, so the pilot must have talked to her. Edward vowed to give him a bonus on his next paycheck. He closed his eyes and clenched at the arms of the chair as the plane began to taxi to the runway. Statistically, he knew, most plane crashes occurred during take-off or landing and so he was always nervous during those times. He didn't lose that tension until the plane leveled off and the pilot used the intercom to say, "Mr. Cullen, you can use electronics now."
He fished out his laptop and turned it on and went straight to the internet browser where he typed in two words: "Catalupa archaeology". In just a few seconds, he had his answers.
Archaeologists Find Evidence of Ancient Advanced Culture in Catalupa
Archaeologists digging in the forests of Catalupa have found an elaborate temple complex, the first ever discovered in the area.
"We knew the ancient Catalupan people were advanced," says Lauren Mallory, head of the Austlyn University archaeology program, whose researchers uncovered the monument. "There was artistic evidence for temples such as these, but we had never located one, but now the ancient Catalupans can take their place among the Incans and Aztecs and Mayans as master builders."
Mallory says that locating the tomb was the work of a dedicated team of Austlyn University researchers who pored over satellite images and topographic maps until a likely site was located ...
Edward felt indignant on Jacob's behalf. Jacob had no support for his theory that Catalupan monuments existed, undiscovered. There was no "team" which worked on locating a possible building site; it had been Jacob alone who'd studied images and maps endlessly, late at night, after he'd finished teaching for the day.
The university had refused funding for the dig when Jacob had located a likely site, and so Edward had paid for it. Neither of them had expected the first dig to be a success. After all, field archaeology more often than not involved sifting massive piles of dirt to try to find tiny shards of pottery or flint chips. Jacob had hoped to find a start, to find some clues which might lead him to a more promising site in the future. What he had uncovered was a once-in-a-generation find, something that every archaeologist might dream of, but would never actually experience.
He'd called Edward to tell him the news, speaking so fast in his excitement that Edward could barely make out what he was saying over the crackling connection. The temple was small, pyramidal, and beautifully preserved by the jungle vegetation that had grown over it. He'd sent Edward reams of photographs to get his opinion on the texts and images carved on the steps as the diggers uncovered them one by one. It appeared to be a temple dedicated to the worship of the Dark Goddess, a religion about which little was known, but there was much speculation.
They'd spent the last six weeks clearing the site of the rubble and now were ready to enter the actual temple itself. Jacob was convinced that there was also a tomb located inside the building, but the archaeology department had dismissed that idea out of hand. If the preliminary findings were correct and the structure was a temple with living quarters for the priests, the Catalupan death taboos would have precluded a burial on site.
Jacob was undeterred. He'd proven the experts wrong once and he'd do it again. His translation of the carvings on the outer walls (a translation not universally accepted) was that this was the worship and burial site of the Dark Goddess. The problem lay in the fact that the world for "burial" in the Catalupan language was the same as "sleeping place." Everyone other than Jacob (including Edward himself, though he'd never hurt Jacob by telling him that) thought it meant that the Dark Goddess dwelt in the complex, though whether she had been an actual person worshiped as the incarnation of the Goddess, a statue, or a spirit, none of them knew as of yet.
And now, after her scathing denunciations of Jacob's search as a waste of time, Lauren had swooped in and taken the credit. Poor Jacob had to be livid. Edward didn't know what Jacob thought he could do. He could threaten to pull his funding, but now that Jacob had something interesting to show for his work, the university would gladly fund the rest of the excavations.
The next article was from a local Catalupan newspaper. Edward read it in its original Spanish and learned that Catalupan officials were now claiming that "the archaeologists" (that strange plural again) hadn't secured proper permission to dig. They'd been granted permission to dig in the soil, the article noted, not to excavate any buildings. Edward brightened slightly. Here, at least, was a problem he might be able to solve. He'd had experience with politicians before and bribes worked more often than not.
He would do whatever he could, pay whatever the price may be, because Jacob was his best friend. His only friend.
Jacob was in his hut, signing paperwork when Lauren tapped on the door and entered before he could give permission. That was just her personality, he seethed, barging in wherever she liked, whether she was wanted or not. Since the university officials, headed by Lauren, had descended on his find, he had been ordered to stop digging, both by the university - who wanted more conservationists on site - and by the government officials of Catalupa, who were alarmed at the media attention and the significance of the find itself.
Jacob was pretty pissed off by the implication of the university that he didn't know what he was doing. Despite his carefree and somewhat reckless personal life, he was very careful about his work. No one had ever had cause for complaints in that area, and many of the "conservationists" they were sending down were empty suits and people like Lauren, who had never grubbed in the dirt of an actual dig.
"Helloooo," Lauren cooed and leaned back against the door after she closed it. She'd been wearing a long-sleeved light cotton shirt over a tank-top today, but now the long-sleeved shirt had been removed and was tied around her waist. She wasn't wearing a bra.
"How are you, Jake?" she asked with a small smile.
"Since before, or after, you stole credit for my discovery?"
"I didn't steal anything," Lauren countered. "You're an employee of the university, Jacob. You used our resources for your research. As such, anything you discover is considered a 'work product' and belongs to the university."
"You fucking lied," Jacob said. "That's what gets me the most. There was no goddamn 'team'. It was just me and all of you fuckers said I was wasting my time and now that it turns out I was right, you're shoving me out of the way to preen in front of the cameras."
She stood up straight and strolled the few feet over to where he sat at his little table, her hips swaying. She leaned down, giving him a clear view down her tank top if he cared to look (which he didn't). "I suppose I could be … convinced … to mention your name in my next interview."
"That's not the point, and you know it." He shoved back his chair, away from her, and took a swallow from the bottle of beer he had on the table. "I should be the one to open that temple, but it seems now that you have bigger problems than just me. The Catalupans are now trying to revoke my dig permits, so you could lose the whole ball of wax."
She shrugged. "I'm sure the university will work out something with them. They're just afraid they're going to lose control of a major find." She traced a finger along his jaw and he jerked away.
"Knock it off, Lauren. It's over."
"It doesn't have to be."
"Yeah, it does. I told you from the outset, it was a one-time thing. You promised you wouldn't do this."
"I didn't realize how good we'd be together," she said. She dropped her voice into what she must have thought was a sexy tone. "God, Jake, you were the best I've ever had and I can't wait to have more." She tried to perch herself on his lap and he stood, nearly knocking her off her feet.
"I said no, Lauren."
Her expression turned from salacious to scalded. She glared at him. "What the fuck is your problem?"
"As of this moment, you," he said bluntly. "I don't like you, Lauren."
Trembling with fury, she whirled and slammed out of his trailer. He figured he hadn't done himself any favors there, but this was why he had the rule that he did, a rule which he made absolutely clear to all of his partners: He never slept with any woman more than once. It was supposed to cut down on the possibility of attachments being formed. He had known, even at the time, that fucking Lauren was a mistake, but he'd been drunk and she'd been persistent and all of his scruples had gone out the window when she unveiled those magnificent breasts of hers.
He drank more of the beer and rubbed his temples. God, he wished Edward was here. Edward always had excellent advice about these sort of situations, even though he was completely socially inept himself.
He remembered the first day they'd met. Both of them, six years old, starting first grade in a new school. Edward had spoken to no one his first week there, and Jake had felt an almost instant affinity with the lonely and silent red-haired boy. He recognized in Edward the same skittish traits as the feral cat that lived in their tool shed. His grandfather, who still lived back on the reservation, had taught him that if a creature was afraid of people, you had to get them used to humans by sitting near them quietly and slowly working up to interaction. Jacob's desk was beside Edward's and every day he chose a spot next to him at lunch as well. A week later, Edward had offered him a cookie from his lunch box, and after that, it was easy being his friend.
Jacob discovered quickly that Esme Cullen hated him, though she was far too polite and ladylike to ever overtly display it. Jacob, as sensitive as he was, picked up on subtle cues. He was in no way good enough to be friends with her precious son. Jacob was poor. His family lived in Section Eight housing. His clothes were ragged and often dirty and, as time passed, he grew out of them faster than they were replaced. His father was a habitual drunk who had lived on disability since a DWI accident had crippled him, and his mother was loud and crass. His older brother, Emmett, was constantly being arrested and spent more time in jail than out of it, and his sister, Alice, had two kids before she had dropped out of high school.
He knew that Esme had hoped that Edward would outgrow his friendship with Jacob and by high school, would begin to prefer the more affluent, popular kids. Sometimes, Esme Cullen could be very blind where her son was concerned. Esme's dismay and concern for her son had grown exponentially after her husband had died. She had focused all of her energy into trying to nudge him into being the Cullen prince he should be by setting him up on dates, and sending him to parties he didn't want to attend. She was convinced that his shyness was something he could get over if he just tried.
God knows, he succeeded at everything else he tried. As it turned out, Edward Cullen was brilliant. Not just a bright kid, but one of those rare geniuses that comes along to grace humanity once or twice a century. Part of his social ineptitude was that his mind was rarely on the present. He would be doing differential equations in his head and fail to notice that a girl was flirting with him.
He could have graduated much earlier, but he refused to be skipped ahead. And when it came time for college, he had his choice of Harvard, Yale, Stanford … and decided to go to the University of Austlyn where Jacob had been accepted. It was a good school, quite respectable in academic circles, but it was an odd a choice to those who knew his brilliance as deciding to go to community college.
He and Jake shared a little apartment near campus, paid for by Edward, who'd gained access to the trust fund set up by his grandfather at age eighteen. They were probably the only guys in school who had their own maid, but it was a requirement for them because Jake was a total slob and Edward rarely noticed his surroundings long enough to know if they were clean or not.
It was an arrangement which worked out well for the both of them. Edward needed Jake to remind him to eat, to go to class, to check to make sure his socks matched and his shirt didn't clash with his pants. (Edward was completely color-blind.) And he needed someone to smooth things over with the landlord when he did things like cover the walls with equations written in Sharpie because he couldn't find a piece of paper.
Jake needed Edward's patient tutoring to help him through some of his classes and to keep him grounded. Without Edward's help in the academic sphere, and later, his monetary assistance when Jake's loans didn't fully cover his costs, Jacob would have never realized his dream to become an archaeologist. He had no idea how much money he had borrowed from Edward over the years. Edward probably knew down to the last penny, because he had an incredible memory for numbers, even if he couldn't remember mundane things such as to buy groceries, but he refused to divulge it or even consider allowing Jake to repay him. Nor would he allow Jacob to pay for things like the on-a-whim roadtrip Jacob had dragged Edward on to Tijuana to see if the rumors about sex shows were true. To Edward, who had always had it, money was inconsequential. And Jake had sufficient grace to not allow his pride to get in the way.
Jacob did help pull Edward out of his shell on occasion. With Jacob he had gone to his first kegger, drank his first beer, kissed his first girl. Girls loved Edward. Despite his untameable thatch of rusty hair and his jaw that usually bore about three days' worth of scruff, they swooned. Edward rarely noticed, and when he did, his first instinct was to retreat, blushing, stammering. Girls found that charming as well, and he always had a flock of hopefuls circling around his periphery, even after he began to use his engagement to Tanya as a shield.
Tanya. Jacob's lip curled just thinking her name. That bitch had completely taken over Edward's life from the moment she set her sights on him. And Edward had let her. She didn't mind that he didn't talk much because she talked constantly. She didn't mind that he was shy, because she was bold and assertive. There was only one area of his life that Edward refused to allow her to rule, and that was his friendship with Jacob. She had won a significant victory (in her eyes) in getting Edward to buy a house just for the two of them, but she could not erase Jake entirely from her fiance's life, try though she may.
One small comfort was that Esme seemed to hate Tanya even more than she hated Jacob. Jacob had learned manners from his association with Edward, and thus had become marginally more acceptable in her eyes over the years. Tanya was of the strong opinion that people should accept her just as she was.
Jacob finished the beer and tossed the bottle into his recycling bin. Edward would be here, soon. He would know what to do about the permits and how to get his discovery back from Lauren's greedy clutches. It was his temple, and he'd be damned if anyone else would open it but himself after all of the hard work and persistence when everyone else said he was a fool. Everyone but Edward, that is.
Edward had never been to Catalupa, and he had imagined rather primitive conditions. Instead, his plane landed in the thriving capital city and he was driven in a limo down well-maintained highways. Only when they neared the site itself, which was in a rural farming region, was he transferred, along with a pair of waiting archaeologists, to an all-terrain vehicle and driven out across fields to a large wooded area, which had a new road cut through it, to the dig site itself.
Edward had escaped having to speak to his companions by simply pretending not to know Spanish. The Catalupan archaeologists spoke freely in front of him, believing themselves to be protected by the language barrier. They were resentful that the greatest archaeological find in Catalupan history had been uncovered by a foreigner. All of them said they would have found it themselves, had their respective universities given them the funds to do so. They seemed to be under the impression that Jacob had more or less stumbled onto the find.
It was late afternoon by the time they arrived in the camp. Edward was impressed with how neat and orderly it was, considering that Jacob was usually neither when it came to his living arrangements. There was a collection of pre-fab huts in a circle, with large tents forming a second ring around them and a row of open-air tents where workers sifted soil that had been removed from the dig site. Anything that didn't pass through the one centimeter squares of the wire mesh of the sifters was checked to see if it bore signs of having been worked or made by human hands.
"Edward!" Jake came out of one of the tents, where he had been helping with the sifting. Unlike some archaeologists in academia, he still enjoyed doing the "grunt work." He wore a filthy white "wifebeater" and khakis over combat boots. His heavily muscled, tanned and tattooed arms drew many an admiring female glance as he passed. Jacob grinned and hugged Edward. "How are you, man? How was the trip?"
Edward felt eyes from all over the campsite on them. "I'm fine. Trip was fine."
"Verbose as ever, buddy. Come on, we'll go to my hut. I have air conditioning." Edward followed him, shifting his bags to his other arm. Inside the hut, it was mercifully cool. He sat down in one of the chairs by the document-covered table and sighed in relief. He accepted the bottle of water that Jacob retrieved from the refrigerator and took a long drink. "Thank you."
"Welcome." Jacob had a beer and he twisted off the cap which he threw indifferently over his shoulder. "What happened to your cheek?"
"Mm. About five foot four and a hundred twenty pounds of 'nothing'?"
Edward ignored that. "I've been reading about your … difficulties and I'm going to be honest, Jake. I don't think that there's much I can do. The more attention this gets from the international media, the harder it gets."
Before Jacob could respond, a woman tapped on the door and simultaneously came through it. Her light colored eyes bulged like a pug's, which gave her a perpetually surprised look. Edward recognized her from the faculty catalog, and he may have seen her once or twice at those awful Christmas parties that Tanya dragged him to every year, but he had never spoken to her.
"Helloooo," she purred, stretching the word until she ran out of air. She eyed Edward from head to toe without even attempting to be subtle. "Dr. Edward Cullen. I've always wanted to meet you. Jake, aren't you going to introduce us?"
"Lauren, Edward. Edward, Lauren." Jake took another swig of his beer. "He doesn't use the 'doctor'."
Lauren flashed him an ugly look and then smiled at Edward. "Aren't you the one who finally translated the ancient Catalupan language?"
"Yes," Edward said.
She waited, but he didn't elaborate. "But I thought you were over in the physics department."
Edward shifted uncomfortably. He was listed in the faculty guide as a professor, but he had never taught a class, and everyone who worked for the university had to know by now the way he floated from department to department as the mood struck him. The university certainly didn't mind, because he always came up with something remarkable in each discipline he pursued until something else caught his attention.
Jake stepped in. "Yes, he's in the physics department. Technically."
Lauren didn't even acknowledge him. "How in the world did you do it?" she asked. "From physics to linguistics ... that has to be a very large leap."
Edward's face burned. He didn't say anything.
"Well, thanks for stopping by," Jacob said. "I'm sure you have lots to do now that you've taken over the dig. We won't keep you."
"Really, Edward," she pushed. "How did you figure it out?"
Jacob sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's like any other code, Lauren. Searching for patterns, determining the value of integers. He worked at it like it was a math problem."
"Ooh. That's soooo clever." Lauren giggled and peered up at Edward from under her lashes, but he wasn't looking at her.
"Yep, very clever. Thanks for stopping by, Lauren." Jacob got up and bulldozed her toward the door. "Bye-bye now."
"Please, Edward, do stop by and see me before you leave." Lauren cast him a smile over her shoulder and Jacob shut the door in her face. He sank back down into his chair and ran the bottom rim of his beer bottle around the table. "She told me this morning that they're sending me home."
"What? You're kidding!"
"I wish to fuck I were."
Jake picked at the label on his beer bottle. "Officially? They want me back home to teach a class this summer since one of the instructors is off on maternity leave. Unofficially, it's because Mallory wanted a second roll in the hay and I turned her down. And … well, you know me. I was pissed and so I wasn't exactly nice about it."
"Can you apologize?"
Edward sighed. He drank down the rest of his water and tossed the bottle into Jake's recycling bin. "I'm wracking my brain and I can't figure out a way to get your dig back, Jacob. I'm sorry."
"I know," Jacob said. "I know I'm not going to get it back now, but there's one thing they're not going to take from me."
Jacob met Edward's eyes. "I'm going to be the first one to go inside. Tonight, you and I are going in."
In the realm of bad ideas, Edward ranked this one up there with Napoleon going to the Battle of Waterloo and Edison's insistence on direct current. So, why was he here, following Jacob into the unknown? Because there was no talking Jake out of this idea and he couldn't let Jake go alone.
"I'll be Howard Carter and you can be Lord Canarvon," Jake had said. Lord Canarvon and Carter had entered King Tutankhamun's burial chamber before it had been "officially" opened, hiding the entrance hole behind a basket in the photos taken of the antechamber.
"This is crazy," Edward muttered.
Jake grinned up at him. "I know!"
They crept down the stone steps to the doors. A chain and padlock bound them shut. Jake had given Lauren the keys she'd demanded when she came to tell him that he was being sent back home. She didn't know that the padlock came from a set of two, meaning that Jacob had another set of keys that fit both locks.
"Think they'll send us to the same prison?" Edward asked, morose.
"Don't worry. We're not going to get caught."
"Do you realize that every single time you've ever said that to me, we've been caught?"
"Every time, huh? Well, there's bound to be an exception at some point." Jacob dug into his backpack and handed Edward a Maglite flashlight. "Besides, I'm not technically breaking any laws. The permits haven't been officially revoked, and Lauren hasn't even announced I'm leaving yet. I'm breaking a shit-load of ethical codes and they'll probably fire me if I get caught, but we won't go to prison." He glanced down at the illuminated face of his watch. Fifty-five minutes left. The guard he had bribed would return then and they had to be gone, and have removed any trace of their presence.
Edward shone his light around in the empty chamber beyond the door. "Jesus, Jake, look ..." There was a painting on the wall that represented the Dark Goddess, drinking the blood sacrifices of the worshipers who danced around her. The paint was as smooth as if it had been applied yesterday. Edward wished he could see the colors, but to him, it was in shades of gray, from light to dark. The Dark Goddess was represented by a pale-skinned woman with long dark hair. On the opposite wall, she held up her hands and rain fell. She stood on the broken bodies that represented enemies and plants grew all around her. The artistic stylization indicated a connection to the Incan -
"Come on, Edward," Jake urged. Edward swung his light away. He could have stood all night analyzing the various aspects of those two pieces of art. They walked down a narrow stone hall, their shoes crunching in grit on the floors. Plaster, maybe, from similar paintings which had once adorned these walls, crumbled to dust. They carefully walked down the center of the hall, trying to avoid pulverizing any more of it.
"Holy shit," Jake blurted.
"Look!" Jake shone his light into the corner and Edward saw a pile of skeletons there. Scraps of cloth, glints of metal, bits of jewelry.
"Priests?" Edward's voice was filled with awe. To find a sit undisturbed like this, as if the last people to visit had simply walked out and locked the door behind them, was unheard of. Even Tut's tomb had been looted a couple of times before it was found by Carter.
"Possibly." Jake swung his light around the room and they both gasped. The altar remained, the sacrifice bowl on the top. There were pieces of jewelry laid on top of it, covered in a soft gray film of dust. Offerings to the Goddess?
Edward spotted something and walked around to the back of the altar. One of the paving stones had been moved aside slightly and there was an empty, dark gap below. "Jacob, come over here."
"What the fuck?" Jacob breathed. He looked up at Edward in awe. "I was right. I was fucking right! There is a tomb here. Even if it's only ceremonial -"
Edward knelt down and pulled the stone aside, too eager and curious to care any more that they were disturbing the site. Another staircase, though steeper and narrower, lay below. They cleared enough blocks to squeeze through and hurried down into the tomb below. Cool air rushed up at them, carrying a scent of … spices? Something delicious.
"Smells like the spice aisle at the grocery store," Jacob commented. Edward couldn't remember if he'd ever been in a grocery store spice aisle, so he couldn't corroborate that statement.
"It smells …" Edward inhaled deeply. "... addicting." It was the kind of scent your nose craved, a scent that would cause you to linger, just so you could enjoy it a little longer.
At the bottom of the stairs, they entered a room covered in brilliant paintings. Jacob groaned with joy when he saw the chests and cushions and vases and bowls and all sorts of things scattered through the room, as though the occupant had just left. Offerings? Furnishings? Not enough was known about the lifestyle of the ancient Catalupans to say. Certainly, these were things that had never been seen before, things that would add immense wealth to their store of knowledge about the people and their culture.
In the center of the room, there was a carved stone … rectangle. Edward walked up to it slowly and examined it from all four sides. "Jake, what do you suppose this thing is?"
Jacob approached it and added his light to Edward's. "It's a sarcophagus," he whispered. "I know it is. I can't believe it. Fuck me, I can't believe it!" He traced his fingers over the carvings and a look of determination crossed his face as he swung his bag off his shoulder.
"Jake, what are you doing?"
"I'm opening it."
"No, no way." Edward extended a hand to grip the bag. "Jacob, stop and think for a moment. We don't know what's inside, what condition it's in. Exposing it to air - "
Jacob's jaw clenched. "I'm opening it. I have to. I can't leave without knowing if I was right."
"You can't use a crowbar on this, Jake, it's just wrong. You're an archaeologist, for Christ's sake, not Indiana Jones!"
Jacob whipped off his t-shirt and wrapped the end of the crowbar to avoid chipping or scratching the stone. He wedged the crowbar into the rim under the lid at the narrow end and shoved. The lid lifted slightly with a puff of air, scented luxuriantly with that rich, spicy smell. Edward filled his lungs and bent to help Jake slide the lid down safely. Like entering the temple itself, if he couldn't talk Jake out of it, he'd do all he could to lessen the consequences. They slid it down a few feet and then shone their lights inside.
"Holy fucking moley," Jacob said mildly.
"I .. can't … believe …" Edward gaped in shock.
A perfectly preserved woman's body lay within. She was pale as paper, but otherwise looked as though she were sleeping. A dark crown of dark feathers adorned her head and large, carved stone disks dangled from her ears. Her pale face was so incredibly perfect that neither of them could look away from it. Absolutely symmetrical, Edward noted. Her eyes were almond shaped and tilted up slightly at the corners. Her nose was perfectly straight with a narrow bridge that widened slightly over full, soft-looking lips. She wore a wrapped gown in a pale shade, fastened with ornamental carved stone pins at the side.
"So … beautiful …" Edward breathed. He reached out and touched her cheek.
The woman opened her eyes.
Edward dropped his flashlight and stumbled back in shock. He and Jacob both screamed but Jacob never got a chance to retreat. The woman was up and out of the sarcophagus in a flash and she had bent Jacob back like they were dancing and she had swung him down into a dip. Her face was buried in his neck.
Jacob let out a strangled cry and tried to push her away. Edward leapt up from the floor and grabbed his Maglite. Artifact or not, he was going to bash the fuck out of that woman if she didn't release his friend. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled, but it was like trying to pull a building. Wincing, for he had never hit a woman before, Edward brought the flashlight down on the back of her head. Her feather crown cracked and fell to the floor, releasing a cascade of dark hair.
She thrust out an arm and struck Edward in the center of the chest. He went sprawling back against the stone floor. She released Jacob and he crumpled to the ground, his eyes wide and staring as he gasped and floundered like a fish out of water.
The woman was on top of Edward in a flash. He felt a blinding pain in the side of his throat and then, incredibly, agonizing pleasure and he couldn't even scream as everything went black.
A/N: I probably won't be able to update every day like I used to. I'm also writing for publication and it doesn't seem like there are enough hours in the day. I'll have something up at least once a week, possibly twice.