Title: ...Is only the beginning
Author/pseudonym: Sandra Lee (Sandy)
Rating: PG
Pairings: Rick/Ardeth
Status: Finished
Date: 01/04/00
Archive: Just ask first
Series/Sequel: <groan> probably.
Other website: http://members.tripod.com/ssfdu

Disclaimers: Not mine! <despairing sob>
 

Notes: For Deanna who has encouraged me to write Mummy and as
always to Karen - My Best Friend and who without I doubt I'd ever
have started writing slash <g> Sarah and Kay also deserve thanks
for encouragement and general fun.

Summary: Back in the Egyptian Desert, Rick encounters someone he
never thought to see again.

Warnings: Is lack of smut a warning? <g>

******************************************************************
 
 

Rick O'Connell, proud American, fighter and lover of women and
treasure -- not necessarily in that order, raised the small finely
crafted silver flask to his lips once more and drank deeply. He
sighed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, body swaying
slightly in a manner that had nothing to do with the camel he was
precariously sitting one.

Staring up at the tall jagged ridge of mountain before him, he
cursed long and hard before taking another drink.

Maybe they should erect a signpost he thought bitterly. Here lies
Hamunaptra -- City of the Dead.

//Well they weren't kidding about the dead part, that's for
sure.//

All finding that legendary city had ever done was bring pain and
misery -- and not for the first time he wished he had never heard
of it.

//No amount of treasure was worth *that*.//

He snorted softly to himself and took another gulp of the fiery
alcohol, the trail of heat it left burning down his throat
reminding him that he was still alive.

"Never thought you'd be thinking that, hey Rick ol' buddy." He
stated, mocking himself out loud.

So many had died for a myth, a legend -- a place that should never
have been disturbed. The workers -- poor helpless men that needed
the money so much it overrode their fear and good sense. The
Americans -- okay so they were just after the treasure but they
didn't deserve what happened. Winston -- the harmless old pilot
that gave his life for the 'cause'. The Curator of the museum --
he too sacrificed himself for what he believed him.

Oh and Beni -- couldn't forget his good buddy Beni, who was
somewhere buried beneath that great tombstone.

"Well Beni - they say what goes around, comes around -- or
something stupid like that. But I think in your case it did.
Having fun with the scarabs you slimy little weasel?"

He was told that you shouldn't speak ill of the dead -- frankly at
this point he didn't give a damn.

Back to those others who had died -- all that noble sacrifice,
doing for the greater good, saving the world.

Was it worth it in the end? He'd love to just ask one of them if
it was all worth it.

Had he ever felt so much conviction for anything? Had he done
anything in the best interest of others that didn't also serve his
own self interest?

//Not until Evy.//

Lives weren't the only thing that had been lost -- even though he
thought he had gained something at the time.

Now all he was left with was a broken heart -- and money he felt
like he didn't deserve.

"You're going soft, O'Connell."

He was going soft, losing his edge -- and talking out loud even
though the only things that could be listening were his camel,
snakes and ghosts.

His camel was a great listener -- never interrupted him.

"Oh Evy! What the hell happened to us?"

No answer -- not that he expected any.

Everything had been going so well until she had gotten that job
offer. The Bembridge Scholars had finally recognised all of her
hard work and Rick couldn't have been happier for her -- until he
found out that she had to move to London for a while.

She wanted to go, He wanted her to go. He didn't want to go
anywhere near London. They fought and now here he was, sitting on
a mean spirited camel in the middle of a desert. Drunk as a skunk,
hiding in plain sight and licking his wounds as he sat gazing up
at the big hunk of rock that now rose from the sand where
Hamunaptra had once stood so proudly.

So intent on licking those wounds -- or was it drinking cheap
whisky to forget them, he didn't notice the dark speck on the
horizon -- or if he did, he ignored it, until his mount shifted
nervously.

The combination of the hot desert sun, and the sound of
approaching hoof beats added to the whisky made the American's
head pound furiously and his temper grow shorter.

The noise stopped and Rick refused to look up, enjoying the moment
of blessed silence, until that is a low voice that he never
dreamed he'd hear again spoke up.

"O'Connell. I never expected to see you again."

Sulking a little at what he thought was a disapproving tone Rick
looked up into a pair of almost too knowing dark eyes.

The Arab extended his arm in a warriors handshake, Rick quickly
decided that he didn't want to insult the man's honour and get
himself killed in the process, holding his own out, he managed to
grasp the offered arm on his second attempt.

But while his common sense may have still existed to some extent,
the liquor had loosened his tongue, "Well hello to you too. What?
Did you miss me?" Rick responded mockingly and smirked.

Hackles rising at the expression, the older man answered, "Hardly
-- after all the trouble you caused."

Leaning forward and almost un-seating himself Rick spluttered,
"Trouble I caused? I wasn't the only one here *tough guy*. I
wasn't the one that stole the Canopic jars or read from the book."

The warrior looked questioningly at him when he said 'tough guy',
then replied, "That is true -- but you are the one who led them
here."

"If I hadn't then Beni would have. And what happened to that
lovely speech you gave about offering the eternal respect of your
people and your humble thanks"

Ardeth looked contrite.

"I apologise -- I did say that and it still stands. Forgive me --
seeing you out here startled me."

"Sure -- fine, whatever." Rick shrugged and attempted to look
unconcerned.

"So Rick O'Connell, what are you doing out here in this accursed
place?"

"Taking in the scenery, pondering the meaning of life," his voice
dropped to a low mumble, "...drowning my sorrows"

Alcohol also had the effect of making him answer honestly.

The Egyptian raised one dark eyebrow and glanced up at the sky,
then at the flushed cheeks of the American.

"Come -- the sun is rising fast and I do not want your death of
exposure on my conscience."

"No. I'm not going anywhere with you."

Ardeth glared at the drunken expression on the once proud
fighter's face and swore.

"By the Gods! Are all American's as stubborn and mule headed as
you?"

"We try"

A low warning growl escaped Ardeth's lips.

Rick growled back, spoiling the effect by giggling.

Without warning, and barely giving Rick time to grab on to his
saddle -- the Med-jai warrior took his camel's reins and then
urged his horse onwards with a gentle nudge to the flank.

"What the... Hey!," O'Connell called out, only to be ignored.
"Where are you taking me?"

Furious, the American tried to get his camel to stop, but the evil
tempered animal refused and happily galloped after the Arab.

Eventually they came to a stop near a small shaded oasis, Rick's
voice scratchy from an almost constant stream of muttered curses
and obscenities.

The Egyptian dismounted first, offering his hand to help O'Connell
-- but was met with a sullen glare and a refusal.

Shrugging he moved away and leant casually against a tall palm.

Mustering as much dignity as he could, Rick swung his leg across
the saddle -- and fell, landing flat on his face.

Groggily he looked up to see two dark robed men trying not to
laugh but failing with a snicker -- before darkness overcame him.

***********

The leader of the Med-jai looked down on the snoring, unconscious
and *unwashed* heap lying sprawled where he fell, in the sand at
his feet and didn't know wether to sigh or yell.

He grabbed a small bucket, striding down to the nearby waterhole
and filled it -- wondering all the while what could have broken a
man like the American and left a gaping wound.

//A women probably -- nothing but trouble. A man can survive
something like He Who Shall Not Be Named, but when faced with a
broken heart he can be as helpless as a newborn//

Trying not to feel pity or let his emotions become too involved
again, the Arab dumped the bucket full of cool water on the
unsuspecting man.

"Urrgh!"

A genuinely amused smile tugged at the corners of Ardeth's mouth
as Rick came to -- and instantly began hissing and spitting like a
drenched kitten.

"Why you...I *will* get you for that." O'Connell gave him a
baleful look, flicking his dripping hair away from his eyes.

"I am sure you will O'Connell -- as soon as you are sober enough
to stand on two feet."

"Are you implying that I am drunk?" He asked with a glare.

"No -- I don't have to imply it. I can see it," He wrinkled his
nose disdainfully, "and smell it."

The American had the grace to blush slightly.

"Go -- wash, and then we will talk." The Arab bade him.

"I have nothing to say to you." Rick muttered.

"Then you can choose to stay silent -- but there is plenty to be
said."

Getting unsteadily to his feet, the American obeyed and headed to
the waterhole -- keeping up a steady stream of curses and theories
on the Arab's parentage as he stripped.

Ardeth watched him go bemused at his own actions -- a thoughtful
look on his face.

***********

"Damn that man! -- Who the hell does he think he is?" The American
grumbled to himself, stripping off without even thinking about it.
"Descendant of Pharaoh Seti the 1st's sacred bodyguards, Protector
of Hamunaptra , holier than thou warrior... *annoying* Arab -- and
he calls me stubborn??? Ordering me around like some undisciplined
brat..."

//Be honest with yourself O'Connell -- that's just how you've been
acting//

"Hell! -- I never used to be bothered by my conscience, I don't
need to start now."

Even as he said it, he knew it wasn't quite true -- but lying to
himself was something he was skilled at.

Rick leant over to hang the clothes he had already removed over a
low branch -- got one whiff of them and decided they needed to be
washed as much as he did.

Clad only in his trousers, the American half turned. "Any chance
of soap?" he asked, embarrassment at his childish behaviour and a
killer headache adding a strained note to his usually confident
voice.

Without comment Ardeth went to his horse and rummaged through his
saddle bag, returning with a small bar of soap and a pile of black
fabric.

Rick looked at the material quizzically.

"I think you will be feeling miserable enough soon that you do not
need the added discomfort of wet clothing."

"I...um... thanks."

The Arab nodded his head slightly in acknowledgment and walked
away to give Rick a small measure of privacy.

***********

Ardeth resumed his spot leaning against the palm and gave the
American an appraising look as he struggled with his boots and
removed the remainder of his clothing -- even though he planned to
ignore the American until he apologised for his childish behaviour
and was ready to explain himself.

//I am watching him only out of concern for his safety -- no other
reason// He told himself sternly.
He had lost weight, the warrior noted, his bones standing out in
relief against the lightly tanned skin. His movements were shaky -
- a far cry from the sureness, grace and confidence he had
exhibited in battle.
But he was still attractive.

He cursed loudly, the sound carrying as far as the other man, who
turned and gave him a questioning look. Ardeth ignored the look
and crossed his arms defensively across his chest -- missing the
flash of confusion that creased the American's forehead.

//By the Gods! I do not think that man is attractive. I cannot. I
respect him as a fellow warrior and that is all.//

But he knew those thoughts to be a lie.

//This is not a good idea -- I will not become concerned about
him. I never expected to see him again. And after tomorrow I will
probably never see him again. No, that is a lie. The first time I
saw him and let him live I had the feeling that our paths would
cross again. The second time I saw him and let him live, I was
almost certain we would see each other again. The third time I saw
him we ended up fighting side by side and I was not sure that
either of us would live. And now he is here, half the man I
briefly knew and just merely existing -- not living. What would it
take to help him live again and do I dare become involved?//

Of course he knew the answer. He *knew* somehow that this man was
destined for great things -- and maybe he was meant to help him.

Besides -- he had always secretly enjoyed a challenge.

A yelp brought him out of his swirling thoughts, terror rushed
through him at the thought of more harm coming to O'Connell.

A snake? scorpion? He rushed to the waters edge to find the
American sitting on the sand and cradling his left foot.

Cursing and hissing in pain Rick glared at his arrival.

Assuming by that look that the cause of his outcry was not as
serious as first thought, Ardeth breathed a sigh of relief and
relaxed a fraction.

"May I be of some assistance O'Connell?" He asked quietly in
deference to the headache he was sure the other man had.

"It's nothing," he said through clenched teeth. "I lost my balance
and twisted my ankle."

Ignoring his nakedness, the Med-jai knelt beside him. "May I see?"

"I *told* you, that it was just a twisted ankle." The American
growled.

"And I don't believe you are in any position to judge the extent
of the injury at this time."

"Go to Hell!"

"I have been as close to hell as I would ever like -- and I
believe you were there with me O'Connell."

That silenced the infuriating American -- but only momentarily.

"I am fine dammit!" And to prove his point, Rick tried to stand --
and unceremoniously landed on his rear again.

"I think you just proved otherwise, O'Connell." The Arab stated, a
touch smugly.

"Look -- I don't need your help, I don't need anybody's help. I
can manage just fine on my own."

"So you would say that sitting in the middle of the desert, in the
middle of the day and drinking is managing fine on your own?"
Ardeth said, his rising frustration evident in his low voice.

"Just who the hell do you think you are?" Rick yelled. "You aren't
my father and you sure as hell aren't my keeper. Just leave me the
hell alone!"

"I would if I could!" The warrior yelled back. "And as for a
keeper O'Connell. I believe you may just need one."

"Just go away -- please." Rick murmured, his anger suddenly spent
and now almost on the verge of tears.

His anger also defeated by the broken tone of the other man's
voice, Ardeth nodded.  "If I help you up, do you think you can
handle bathing on your own?"

"I think so -- yes." But his voice was uncertain.

For answering truthfully the warrior said no more on the matter
and stood up, offering his hand.

Rick reached up and grasped it firmly, and with a little help
levered himself up.

The Med-jai warrior hoped that the shocked shiver he felt at the
contact with the warm slightly rough skin wasn't noticeable and
put his other hand out to steady the American.

Once again he was aware the other man's state of undress --
between that and their angry words he decided that he had to
distance him from this infuriating and intriguing man and consider
a few things.

"I will go and make some tea while you wash. If you need any
assistance, call and I will hear you."

Rick bent his head in acceptance - then murmured, "I'd kill for
some coffee..." in an attempt to lighten the tension between them.

Pleased by the attempt at humour, the Arab shook his head, "Tea is
all that I have." He smiled at the mock horrified look that was
the response -- watching quietly as O'Connell smiled almost shyly
back and hopped into the water.

The American's sigh of relief at the coolness was easily heard and
prompted another half smile.

Satisfied that he would be fine for the moment, Ardeth turned with
a swirl of his robes and went back to his camp.

***********

Revelling in the coolness of the water against his heated skin,
Rick held his breath and ducked under -- staying down as long as
he could before surfacing with a gasp.

Shaking his head, droplets of water flying in all directions -- he
was happy to note that his mind was now a bit clearer. He had the
unmistakable feeling that he would need all his wits about him
with this particular man.

//Well -- Who'd have thought we'd wind up together once more. I
never expected to see him again -- but I guess I shouldn't be too
surprised. After all they are still guarding the area. If I'd
thought about it more, would I have still bothered to come out
here? Wallowing is best done alone after all -- and he somehow
always managed to make me feel at a disadvantage for some reason.
I wonder why? He's still as stoic and aggravating as I remember.
No that isn't true -- he yelled. Remind me not to really get him
angry, it could just get me killed.//

O'Connell snorted softly and mumbled to himself, "I don't plan to
be around long enough to get him angry. As soon as I can put some
pressure on this foot I'm out of here."

The American felt a small pang of -- guilt? relief? longing? at
the thought of leaving so soon. It had been so long since he had
someone to talk to, let alone someone who might understand like
the Med-jai warrior probably could.

"Question is -- is he just putting up with me out of some stupid
sense of honour or something else. And if so what?"

Rick began talking himself quietly through his confused thoughts
as he washed the grit and sand away from his skin.

He replayed the conversation -- or should he say *argument*
between them after he was sent off to bathe.

"After twisting my damned foot, I told him to go to hell -
forgetting that we had almost been there. Of course he reminded
me. I then said I was fine -- okay maybe he had a point about not
being fine if I was out in the middle of the day drinking in that
heat." He admitted to himself grudgingly.

Not only was the Arab infuriating -- he also appeared to be right
most of the time and Rick *really* hated that in a person.

//Come to think of it, Evy was a bit like that. Apparently I'm
drawn to that type//

"Woah! You did not just think, what I think you thought, did you
Rick ol' buddy?!?"

Looking rather stunned O'Connell considered it. "Yep I guess I did
think that -- Geez! Like I need *that* on top of everything."

//On top?//

"Oh hell -- no way. Not going there. Uh, uh - nope."

He had the childish impulse to stick his fingers in his ears and
hum.

//Denial -- ain't just a river in Egypt// The irony of that
thought struck him as wildly amusing and he giggled.

Rick O'Connell never giggled. Well almost never.

With a muttered oath, he began scrubbing at his skin harder until
parts of it were turning red.

"This is stupid! I must be drunker than I thought. Yeah that's it,
I'm still drunk."

Satisfied with that conclusion the American continued his musings,
fairly secure in the knowledge that if he came up with something
he didn't like he could blame it on the alcohol.

"Okay so where was I?" He muttered to himself, ignoring the
throbbing in his foot as he accidentally leaned on it to much.

"Told him to leave me alone, said he couldn't. Told him I he
wasn't my keeper, he said maybe I needed one. *What*? Okay -- Back
up! He said he couldn't leave me alone? What the hell does that
mean. As for the keeper remark -- him and what army?"

He was pondering the cryptic remarks when he heard his name called
out. Giving a startled yelp he lost his balance and fell backwards
into the water with a loud splash.

***********

Another cry, this one followed by a loud splash, had the Med-jai
warrior once more running towards the pool.

//This is becoming a habit// Ardeth thought wryly.

The American surfaced, coughing and spluttering as he dragged
himself part way out of the water and slumped in the sand on his
stomach.

"Are you alright O'Connell?"

"Fine, just lost my balance." He muttered.

"Is that so."

Ardeth looked down at him, slightly more amused than concerned,
his lips twitching suspiciously at the corners as O'Connell glared
up at him.

"Geez! Warn a guy next time. You startled me."

"And how would you like me to warn you O'Connell? By calling out?"

Another glare. "You're a real funny guy you know that?"

The Arab just bowed slightly.

"So O'Connell, how was it that I caught you so unawares that you
were startled?"

"I was thinking." Rick said hurriedly.

"Thinking? Indeed they must have been deep thoughts then. Did you
come to any conclusions?"

"Yeah -- you're one annoying man!" Rick snapped.

"Well you are an insufferable American, so it appears we are
even." The Arab growled back.

Instead of poking his tongue out childishly as he looked like he
wanted to, O'Connell changed the subject by asking, "So why did
you yell?"

To which Ardeth, now with his temper under control, calmly
replied. "I did not yell, and I called to inform you that the
water for the tea has boiled and to see if you wanted to join me
by the fire."

"Tea... right."

"Were you expecting something else?"

"No... um... er like I said I was just thinking."

For some reason the American was beginning to look quite
flustered. Curious, Ardeth paid more attention and noted that the
younger man would not meet his eyes.

"Are you sure there is nothing troubling you O'Connell?" He asked
softly.

"Yes... No. I mean... I'll be fine." A small shake of his head,
sent water flying. "Tea sounds good."

And that appeared to be the end of the discussion.

Offering his hand to help Rick up, even though it was almost
assured that it would be refused, the warrior was still upset when
it wasn't taken.

//Does he dislike me so much? Or is It something more?//

He turned and gruffly told the American that he would fetch his
robes for him, then not even daring to look, he stretched his arm
out until the weight of the material disappeared from his hold,
warm fingertips brushing his own and then grasping them.

Surprised Ardeth couldn't help but move slightly to look over his
shoulder and then sigh quietly as he realised that O'Connell was
just using him to keep his balance.

//What were you expecting? Too much no doubt. But then don't you
always?//

The pressure was removed finally and the Arab headed for the fire,
simply assuming that Rick would follow in his own time.

Rummaging through his saddlebags, Ardeth found the tea and cups
before sitting down, his legs crossed comfortably on the sand.

He looked up finally as he heard the younger man's approach and
almost gasped out loud.

Rick stood on one foot, surrounded by the glow of the slowly
setting sun, wearing the black dishdasha that he had given him,
the traditional robes of his people -- and there was something so
undeniably right about this picture, that Ardeth was almost
overwhelmed.

The hand of fate appeared to be once more meddling in his affairs
and he was as usual, helpless to resist it.

"Come, join me O'Connell." The warrior bade was a sweeping motion
of his hand.

Rick flopped down onto the soft sand, careful of his injured foot
and leant back with a sigh, hair mussed and still damp,
unprotected from the cooling breeze without the headdress.

"How is your ankle?" Ardeth asked, almost at a loss for something
to say.

"It's still there."

The Arab rolled his eyes.

"It's still pretty sore but I think the cool water helped. Don't
worry I'll be able to ride soon and you won't have to put up with
my *insufferable* company any more." Rick muttered.

"O'Connell you are welcome to share my fire for as long as
needed... or wanted." He replied patiently, as if explaining
something to a small child.

"Yeah right!" Barely audible.

"What was that?" The warrior inquired.

"Oh nothing -- just clearing my throat."

Ardeth gave him a clearly suspicious look to which the American
just grinned sunnily in reply.

But he noticed the smile didn't reach his eyes. Eyes that were a
troubled blue-grey, like the clouds before a storm.

An almost awkward silence descended as they sipped their tea, both
at different times appearing to be about to say something but then
changing their minds.

"Oh for crying out loud!" Rick finally exclaimed. "I swear if we
start discussing the weather I may just shot someone."

Ardeth raised an eyebrow at the outburst and asked. "If you are so
against discussing the weather O'Connell, then what shall we
discuss?"

"Where are the rest of your guard-dogs?"

Choosing not to take offence at the description -- apt as it may
be at times, the Arab replied steadily. "At our main camp or on
patrol. I do choose to be alone at times as obviously you do as
well O'Connell."
"That's another thing -- I'm sick of the whole damn smug O'Connell
thing. I do have a name you know. Oh and speaking of names. I
don't believe we were ever properly introduced and I can't
*always* refer to you as 'hey you' or that damn annoying Arab."The
American almost sounded like a petulant child.But what he said
brought the warrior up short. It was true. They never had been
properly introduced.//How had that happened?//Not realising he had
spoken out loud he was surprised to hear the question answered."Oh
let's see -- between watching me from afar, threatening to kill
me, ordering me to leave, possibly another threat or two, saving
the world and shooting Mummies I guess we just didn't have the
time." Rick's voice was sarcastic."Ah yes... That is unfortunate,
normally I would never be so disrespectful...""But there were more
important things going on?" O'Connell continued for him."It
certainly seemed so at the time, I, no... I mean yes there
was.""Well?""Well what?" Feeling terribly flustered the Arab
snapped.Rick laughed. "Yep - a real funny guy. So are you going to
introduce yourself?""My apologies O'Connell. I am Ardeth Bay,
current leader of the Med-Jai. Descendant of Pharaoh Seti 1st's
personal guard...""Etc etc. But then I knew all that.""Then
why...""Oh I just like seeing you squirm. Plus I thought you
*should* introduce yourself."Not sure if he was amused or annoyed
the Arab just ignored that comment."You also did not introduce
yourself O'Connell." Ardeth stated smugly after thinking a
moment."Oh -- well I guess you have me there. Oops." The American
tried to look contrite but failed.//I wish//The warrior groaned
softly. //For the love of Allah. Do not think like that//"Fine. Hi
the name's Rick O'Connell -- call me Richard and I'll shoot you.
I'm from America but you probably guessed that etc etc.""O'Connell
if you are always so charming and witty as at the moment it is no
wonder you are always getting into trouble." Ardeth murmured
dryly."I'm not *always* getting into trouble."A raised brow."Okay
maybe a lot of the time -- but not *always*""As you say O'Connell
-- not always."Both men grinned a little uncertainly, but grinned
nonetheless."I believe it is my turn to ask you a question now
O'Connell. What are you doing back here?"The smile slipped off the
American's face as quickly as it appeared."Long story." He
answered gruffly."Well as it is starting to get dark and I wasn't
intending to go anywhere I believe we have the time, that is if
you wish to tell me.""Sure -- why not. I tried telling my camel,
but he didn't have an opinion on the matter. Just...just let me
finish my tea first okay.""Certainly. Start as soon as you wish
O'Connell and I will listen."Puzzled and concerned by the sadness
on the younger man's face, Ardeth shifted slightly until he was
more comfortable and settled in to hear O'Connell's tale,
shivering slightly from the now cooling evening air and setting
sun.***********A moment or two of silence then the American began
looking around almost nervously, anywhere but at the other man."Oh
boy! For this I think I need a drink stronger then tea." Rick
stated, indicating his cup."Do you think that is wise O'Connell"
Ardeth asked quietly."Nope -- probably not, but then nobody has
ever accused me of being wise before.""Really?" The Arab asked,
with more than a hint of teasing."Strange huh." O'Connell grinned,
then sobered up again. "I really could do with a drink
though."Obviously not happy with the idea, the older man sighed.
"As you wish.""Just hang on while I get it and then I'll regale
you with the story of disaster that is my life." Rick openly
mocked himself."Stay there, I will get it O'Connell.""Why thank
you, kind Sir." The American said with a drawl, fluttering his
eyelashes.Ardeth growled softly as he stood and Rick
laughed.//Score another one for you Rick ol' buddy//

As just plain fun as it was provoking a growl from the other man,
it also made Rick feel strangely shivery and funny deep down in
his gut. Ignoring the confusion the feeling created he just
concentrated on the pleasure of it and getting under the Arab's
skin.

//Skin the colour of dark honey...//

Rick gulped audibly and almost choked on his last sip of tea.

//Dammit I thought I wasn't going *there*//

Obviously someone had other plans.

O'Connell rolled his eyes heavenward. //Look just give me a break
okay? I'm not asking *that* much am I? Just one night. Just help
me get through one lousy night and I won't have to see him
again.//

But the truth of the matter was that Rick liked the Warrior --
probably a lot more than what was good for him, and the thought of
never seeing the other man again really bothered him.

The American almost jumped when Ardeth returned, his movements
were so quiet. He was then surprised when the older man settled
down closer to him than before.

Touching distance.

Rick shivered, immediately blaming the cooling night air and
nothing more.

Ardeth silently offered him his flask.

"Thanks."

Manners are a virtue as Evy always said.

O'Connell groaned at the thought, loud enough that the Arab gave
him a worried look.

"Just reminded of something Evy said."

"Ah and how is Miss Carnahan?" The Med-jai inquired, with just
enough interest to sound sincere.

"Wouldn't know. She's in England."

"But I thought..."

Rick cut him off. "Yeah I thought so too but it didn't work out
that way."

//I really should have sworn off women when it landed me in jail.
That little incident should have warned me.//

"Is that the reason that I found you where I did, drinking?"
Ardeth asked him.

Deciding he may as well be honest with the other man, Rick
responded. "Yes, well partly anyway."

"You loved her that much?"

That simple question made him stop and think. Had he loved Evy? Is
that why he felt so... so incomplete now that she was gone. Or had
he still felt a need while he was with her, which ultimately made
the decision to let them go their separate ways easier.

"Yes -- I guess I loved her, in my own way, but in the end it
wasn't enough. Or maybe I loved her enough to let her follow her
dream. I just don't know anymore."Frustrated with his inability to
figure things out when he really wanted to, O'Connell ran his
fingers roughly through his hair and took a large gulp of his
whisky.He ignored the disapproving frown creasing the other man's
forehead and took another generous drink for good measure."Aww
hell! I don't even know why I'm spilling my guts to you -- maybe I
am drunker than I thought."The American closed his eyes and missed
the flash of hurt on the older man's face."Perhaps because you
needed to tell someone and I was here." For some reason Ardeth
sounded dispirited.Hearing something in is voice, Rick gave the
warrior an intense look and thought hard for a moment."Nope -- if
that's all it was I would have just told my camel - hell I did."
The American openly mocked himself again. "Maybe I knew I could
trust you to listen. I mean I know we didn't exactly get off to a
good start and everything but you never let me down when I needed
you. If nothing else Ardeth Bay of the Med-jai, ancestor of Seti
1st's blah blah blah, you are an honourable man and I know any
secret I told you, you'd keep."Ardeth looked suddenly relieved and
a small smile appeared on his lips."I thank you O'Connell, for
placing your trust in me. I am honoured."Strangely enough it
sounded like he meant every word of it, instead of it just said as
a meaningless platitude.Rick couldn't help smile in return -- and
if he looked a little goofy he just plain didn't care."So..." The
Arab began innocently and Rick was instantly on guard."Now that
you have admitted to trusting me -- in some matters. Why don't you
tell me fully what happened? After all you did say that once you
had a drink," Another small wrinkle of his brow. "That you would
regale me with a story."

"You caught me there." O'Connell said with a genuine snort of
amusement. "I guess I'll have to tell you all the gory details."

Both men shifted until they were more comfortable.

"Well after you left us, we headed back to Cairo -- and you
wouldn't believe what kind of state that was in. Ruined buildings,
confusion, general chaos. For a dead guy, oops I mean undead guy
he sure caused a lot of trouble.

I would happily have booked us on the first passage to America but
Evy had other ideas. She at the very least wanted to stay until
they got a new curator for the museum and I couldn't begrudge her
that. So we stayed.

A week turned into 3, then a month, 2 months. A new curator was
found but Evy still wanted to stay. She was having a great time
cataloguing that saddle bag of treasure we found on the back of my
camel. Jonathan and I soon talked her out of just donating them to
the museum." Rick grinned at the Med-jai's faintly reproving look.

"Oh don't worry -- we didn't make that much, really only got a
fraction of what it was all really worth but it was enough to keep
us comfortable for a while.

Anyway where was I? So Evy was working at the museum, I wasn't
really doing anything at all and Jonathan regained his interest in
archaeology much to his and our surprise.

Another couple of months passed and if I was honest I was bored
out of my skull when a letter arrived from England saying that the
Bembridge Scholars had finally accepted her application but she
would have to go to England for a year."

The American took another gulp of the fiery alcohol.

"Trouble was I had gotten used to living here and I really didn't
want to move to England but what could I do? So I told her to go
and that I wasn't going with her. You know -- she wasn't that
surprised, just gave me a sad smile and said she understood. She
didn't even try to change my mind. And you want to know what she
said?"

Another drink and a pause, waiting for Ardeth to nod or indicate
he wanted to hear it.

"She said and I quote 'I do love you Rick, but maybe you are
better off without me. There is something missing in you that I
just can't seem to help.' And kissed me.

Dammit! if she loved me why didn't she fight for me? is it too
much to ask that someone love me? just a little?"

By this time Rick was yelling and pounding his fist in frustration
against the sand.

"O'Connell! Calm yourself." Ardeth ordered in a surprisingly
gentle but powerful voice.

"I don't want to be calm" Rick retorted angrily. "I'm sick of
being calm and polite and doing what I should. Evy's happy,
Jonathan's happy. Is it too much to ask for me to be happy? What
about what I want? "

"What do *you* want Rick?"

The use of his first name shocked the American momentarily, and
realising what he could have replied with had him hastily and
unsteadily getting to his feet to escape, but forgetting again his
injured foot and again falling unceremoniously on his rear.

"Dammit!" He swore, clutching his ankle and glaring at the other
man, even though it was his own stupid fault.

"O'Connell - if you continue doing that, other parts of you will
be as bruised as your ankle. Now let me look and see if you have
injured it further."

"It's fine, dammit!" He hissed through clenched teeth.

"I'm beginning to understand when you say 'fine' you mean the
opposite." The Arab commented wryly.

"I told you I'm f..." His words were cut of when he winced in
pain.

At the Warriors 'I told you so' expression Rick gave him a
somewhat abashed grin.

"Oh all right -- look at it if it will make you happy." The
American muttered grudgingly.

"You have no idea how happy it will make me O'Connell" Ardeth
retorted drolly.

"And to think I never thought you had a sense of humour."

The Med-jai carefully lifted the foot in one hand as the other
slid across the now colourfully bruising area, prodding at in
places.

"If you ask me 'Does this hurt' I will shoot you without
hesitation." Rick forced out between grimaces of pain.

"Then in the interests of my health I will not ask that." The Arab
said dryly but with a sympathetic wince as he found a particularly
tender spot.

The touch soon turned from probing to soothing as the older man
attempted to massage some of the pain away.

Warm, slightly callused fingers brushed against the surprisingly
sensitive skin near his ankle, rubbing in ever widening circles up
his leg and down across his foot.

The pain faded a little to be replaced by a lovely tingling
feeling.

"How does that feel?"

O'Connell almost blurted out 'Wonderful' but managed a 'better'
instead.

"Good" Ardeth said with obvious satisfaction, "but perhaps a cool
compress might aid it further?"

Without waiting for Rick to respond, he stood up with his usual
grace  and headed for the water, grabbing something from his
saddlebag on the way.

The American let out a deep breath, finally alone with his
thoughts again only if for a few brief moments.

//What the hell is happening here? I'm acting like a young boy
with his first crush.//

"Oh no!" Rick groaned and cradled his head in his hands. Thinking
over his reactions he couldn't believe he hadn't figured it out
sooner.

"Well Rick ol' buddy add smart to the list of things you aren't,
because this definitely isn't smart."

"Did you say something O'Connell?" Ardeth said nearly standing
over him, his approach totally silent.

"Geez!" He cried out in surprise, "Don't to that to me."

"My apologies, I didn't mean to startle you... again."

"Sure, whatever."

"You appeared to be deep in thought my friend, is there anything I
can help with?" The warrior asked quietly.

//Did he just call you 'my friend'? Be still my beating heart. Oh
hell, that wasn't as much of a joke as it used to be.//
 
Rick sighed out loud.

"O'Connell?" The older man was looking down at him with a
concerned expression.

"Did you get the thing for my ankle?"

//Nothing like a change of subject to make life easier is there
O'Connell?//

"Yes. Here, let me help you with it." Ardeth still looked worried
but didn't question him further.

Rick liked that about the Arab -- he realised that there was only
so far he could push O'Connell before he snapped back.

Ardeth knelt down beside him, leaning over to carefully position
the damp cloth.

The American jumped slightly at the contact, the coolness a bit of
a shock after the warmth of the day and the fire.

Looking up from where he was kneeling, the Med-jai warrior raised
an eyebrow inquiringly.

"The um...cold startled me."

"O'Connell, you seem to be startled easily these days." What the
older man said could easily have been mocking, but wasn't.

"You may be right about that." Rick murmured.

"It does occasionally happen, being right that is." Ardeth
responded with a small smile.

The ex-Legionnaire smiled back.

The smile slipped as he realised just how close the other man was,
his face barely a hands distance from his own.

His breath caught his throat, making an audible noise that caused
the Arab the look up even further.

"O'Connell?"

For once in his life O'Connell had nothing to say, no witty
comeback or sarcastic comment.

"Rick?"

Trapped by a pair of warm brown, almost black eyes, that seemed to
be reflecting the flames from the small fire, O'Connell had the
feeling that it was now or never.

//So Rick Ol' buddy...what's it to be? Admit to yourself what you
really feel about him or forever be in denial and miss out on the
chance of something that could be better than you could possibly
imagine -- if he feels the same way. It's do or die time. Words or
actions.//

"Heck I was always better at actions."

Grinning at Ardeth's puzzled look and not giving him a chance to
ask, Rick leant forward and kissed him.

***********
'By the Gods!' was the only thought he managed before Ardeth's
mind went blank, shocked into immobility by the unexpected, but
definitely not unwanted feel of the American's lips against his
own.

Firm pressure and delightful heat made the warrior dizzy, even as
he gloried in the sensation of closeness and desire.

Things that he had craved for so long.

Tentatively then with more confidence he responded, leaning into
the kiss and raising his hand to gently caress a stubbled cheek,
then moving until his fingers could twine in the soft, slightly
longer hair at the nape of Rick's neck.

He didn't dare open his eyes until the need for air forced them
apart.

Ardeth sat back on his heels, dazed. A small smile playing on his
lips. Lips that tingled and felt incredibly sensitive. He raised a
finger and swept it across his mouth, shuddering a little and only
then daring to look up at the other man.

 O'Connell looked almost bemused, but as he watched a smile
appeared, one that quickly transformed into a grin until he
laughed, shattering the quiet.

"What?" The Med-jai asked, confused.

"You! The expression on your face. You look as surprised as Evy
did the first time I kissed her, or a virgin on a first date, both
are pretty much the same."

Rick continued to chuckle then stopped abruptly.

Hoping that his expression hadn't betrayed him somehow, Ardeth
gave him an inquiring look.

The American shook his head. "Nah, not possible. Even the idea is
ridiculous."

//Ridiculous?//

Indignant, the Arab drew in a deep breath and tried to calm
himself.

"And why would you say it is ridiculous O'Connell? Is waiting for
your heartmate so uncommon in America?"

"But...but look at you." Rick made a sweeping gesture with his
hands and blurted out. "You're gorgeous." Then blushed
delightfully.

"I mean surely you've had offers..."

"I never said I hadn't O'Connell, I've had many in fact. I *chose*
not to accept them." Ardeth responded softly.

That gave Rick something to think about.

"You see...my people are very traditional. We take all of our
bonds seriously, wether they be a family bond, a bond between
warriors or a bond between two hearts. I am in a harder position
than most, being the current leader. I must set the example by
which my people behave."

"Then why in God's name did you let me kiss you?" The American
looked confused and slightly guilty.

"Because that is what I wanted."

"What about your choice to remain alone until... Oh no!" Rick
groaned, and covered his face with his hands. "Nope! No way. I am
*not* soulmate or any kind of mate material, I'm not even long
term commitment material.

"I disagree."

"But why me?"

"Why not you?"

Rick looked ready to interrupt.

The warrior leant forward and placed a finger against his soft
recently kissed lips.

"Hush while I explain, then you may talk."

Reluctantly the American nodded his agreement.

"First of all you have courage worthy of the Med-jai, and that is
not often or easily spoken. You also have a great deal of
determination. I know that many of the things you did, you didn't
do for the right reasons at first - but always you made up for any
mistakes. It takes a great man to look at what he has done and his
motives and make something good out of them. You are honourable,
even though you try to hide it behind sarcasm and wit. And deep
down inside I believe you have a pure heart."

O'Connell looked stunned. "Is that really how you see me?"

Ardeth smiled at him, a smile of surprising sweetness. "Yes." Then
grinned. "You are still an insufferable American though."

To which Rick replied, "And you are still an annoying man -- but
if you can deal with it then so can I."

"I believe I can manage that."

O'Connell looked thoughtful.

"I can't really believe what you think of me," At Ardeth's
protesting look he smiled. "But you obviously believe it for some
reason. Geez you make me almost sound like a Saint or something."

"Not a Saint, Rick."

The American looked up further at the mention of his first name.

"Just a man, a man with insecurities and fears, but with a loving
nature that is usually kept hidden."

Rick ran his fingers through his hair, tousling it further.

"I don't know if I should have another drink or kiss you."

"May I suggest that you don't chose to drink." Ardeth said with a
tilt of his lips.

"Hmm I think your suggestion has merit." O'Connell retorted
playfully.

"C'mere!"

Rick pulled the unprotesting Arab closer, arranging his limbs so
that he ended up straddling his out-stretched legs.

"You do realise something will go wrong don't you?" O'Connell
murmured.

"Why do you say that...Rick?"

"Whenever anything good happens to me, something always spoils
it." The American looked so sad for a moment.

"Oh Rick -- if that is truly the case, do you not realise that
fate and chance has a way of balancing the scales. For every wrong
that is done to you, and for every wrong you do, justice will be
served. If not in this life, then the next."

"Do you really believe that?" O'Connell asked hopefully.

"I certainly do. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
I heard that somewhere and it is quite fitting."

The Warrior smiled. "Now that is enough of such serious talk for
the moment. Kiss me again...I wish to feel your lips against mine
once more.

O'Connell shuddered at the lowly spoken words, then his usual
humour reasserted itself.

"Yes Sir! Right away Sir!" Rick laughed with a small mocking
salute.

"What did I say about insufferable American's?" Ardeth said
sternly but with a twinkle in his eyes.

"That you were going to kiss them?" O'Connell replied slyly.

With a long suffering sigh and a roll of his eyes, Ardeth obliged
him.

He built the anticipation by leaning forward very slowly, then by
starting with a small peck on one cheek, then the other, before
following his jawline with a string of kisses until he reached the
corner of Rick's mouth.

O'Connell groaned in frustration, entreating him to kiss him
properly.

And who was Ardeth to deny such a sweetly offered plea.

The Warrior was many things - stupid wasn't one of them.

He increased the pressure, demanding access between those soft
inviting lips and was granted it eagerly.

What was meant as a short display of his intentions soon
overwhelmed them both, the embers of desire fanned until they
caught alight and burned brightly.

Rick tasted of cheap whisky and desert heat, the combination
working to incite Ardeth further.

On and on the kiss went until the Med-jai felt strong capable
hands on his shoulders drawing him closer for a moment the gently
pushing him away.

Ardeth gave the American a confused look.

"I can't believe I'm saying this but... we have to stop."
O'Connell answered his unspoken question.

"Why?"

"Cause if we went much further I'd be tempted to roll you over and
take you here in the sand." Rick growled huskily.

"But I thought that was the intention?"

"No -- well maybe at one point it was, but that was before I found
out how inexperienced you are..."

Ardeth moved to stand, unaccountably hurt by the low spoken words.

A firm hand at his waist prevented him from moving.

"Wait! I hadn't finished." Rick said in exasperation. "I was just
about to say that you deserved more than that."

"Truly?"

"Yeah can you believe it? Me having a conscience *and* listening
to it. Go figure." O'Connell mocked himself.

"You are, as always too hard on yourself my friend." Ardeth
responded softly, smiling a little.

"I don't think I'm hard enough." Rick murmured, almost too quiet
to hear.

The Warrior grinned wickedly and arched his lower body against the
American's. "I think you *are* hard enough."

Ardeth purred.

Rick moaned.

"Hey that's not fair!"

The Med-jai just raised an eyebrow.

"Tease!" O'Connell muttered.

"Just remember my friend, when the ache becomes almost unbearable
that it was you that wished to stop and not I."

"Hit a man while he's down why don't you!" The American pouted.

Ardeth cupped his face in his hands and gazed into the burning
blue eyes of the younger man.

"I do truly appreciate your consideration Rick, it shows that you
do care."

O'Connell tried ducking his head a little.

"Don't!" The Arab commanded gently.

"You don't have to say anything Rick, I can see it in your eyes.
We will do this at whatever pace that you set. I promise you."

Obviously the younger man was feeling overwhelmed, Ardeth decided
to lighten the atmosphere between them a little.

"Come, let us eat. It has been a long and unusual day and I
believe we both could do with some rest. Tomorrow is another day
and who knows what it may bring."

Rising gracefully, Ardeth offered his hand to help Rick up.

And this time it was accepted.

They worked together in a companionable silence, preparing a
simple meal with the rations they found in the Arab's saddle bag.

After completing the meal they sat together, side by side,
casually leaning against each other as they contemplated the stars
above and their thoughts.

The second time Rick stifled a yawn Ardeth grinned at him.

"Are you trying to tell me something O'Connell? I think it is time
that we slept, don't you agree?"

The American made a move to leave and take up his former position
on the other side of the fire.

"No wait!" Ardeth bade him, a hesitant look on his face. "I would
be honoured if you would share my blanket tonight..." And before
Rick could protest he added, "To sleep only I promise you."

The American looked indecisive.

"Please?"

Rick's expression softened. "Sure, if that's what you want?"

The warrior nodded.

Ardeth grabbed the rolled up blanket he had been leaning against
and spread it out, lying down and making himself comfortable
before motioning Rick to join him.

Stiffly O'Connell did so, unsure exactly how he should act, he lay
on his side facing the fire, tensing up when he felt the Arab curl
up behind him.

"Relax Rick, sleep -- that is all I ask of you this night." Ardeth
told him softly and kissed him gently on his cheek.

The quiet, sincere tone did much, the loosening of his limbs
obvious.

"Sleep now Rick, and let the stars above watch over us."

"Goodnight" Rick replied, his tone drowsy.

The Arab's breathing slowed as he began to drift off, wrapping his
arms around the man in front of him he managed a final whisper
before sleep claimed him.

"Benhibik, O'Connell."
 

***********
As tired as O'Connell was, he just couldn't sink into a deep
sleep.

After drifting for a while he just gave up.

He shifted a little, squirming to get comfortable, and the arms
around his waist tightened.

Reminding him of just who he was with and why he couldn't sleep.

//Geez Rick ol' buddy. Ever heard of having a *normal* life? You
know, stable yet boring job, wife, kids the whole bit. But noooooo
that just isn't good enough. You wanted excitement, danger. Well
you got it in spades.//

Rick gazed up at the stars in the hopes they offered some great
answer to the question running through his brain.

//What the hell am I doing?//

The American sighed.

Ardeth murmured something, then quietened and Rick occupied
himself with listening to the older man breathe for a few minutes
until his chaotic thoughts intruded once more.

//Listening to him breathe? Boy have you got it bad. Whatever
happened to love'm and leave'm O'Connell?//

Rick turned his head enough that he could see the sleeping man
behind him.

Ardeth's curls had fallen over his cheek, covering most of his
features but O'Connell could still see the small smile upon his
lips as he slept.

//What happened to him? He fell for an annoying Arab, who was too
noble for his own good and had the most glorious hair and kissable
lips//

Rick mentally rolled his eyes at himself, but couldn't deny those
thoughts because they were irritatingly true.

//Maybe I'm just on the rebound from Evy?//

He thought long and hard on that, knowing that if that was the
case it just wasn't fair to the man who offered him so much.

No. Deep in his heart he knew that this wasn't just some
substitute or rebound thing.

And that scared the hell out of him.

He could get hurt so easily if his feelings were going as deep as
he feared.

//Is it worth it? Take the plunge so to speak with the possibility
of getting hurt or leaving as soon as he could and thinking 'what
if' for the rest of my life//

O'Connell shuddered and was startled by a sleepy voice asking him
if he was alright.

"Yeah, fine." He replied, but his voice wavered.

"Rick?" The Arab sounded more alert now.

Suddenly needing space, O'Connell sat up.

"I'm fine, just thinking. You can go back to sleep." The American
whispered despondently.

"I cannot. There is obviously something bothering you. Are you
having regrets?"

Rick didn't even need to look at him to know there was a hurt
expression on his face. It was all in the tone of his voice.

"No...not regrets." He reassured, still facing away from his
would-be lover. "More like concerns."

Ardeth was quiet a moment before asking, "And those concerns would
be?"

"I don't know what the hell I'm doing! I feel like I no longer
have any control over my life and I *like* having control over it.
Why do things have to be so complicated?"

"I assume I am one of the complications you speak of."

"Yes, no...I don't know!" O'Connell growled in frustration.

The Med-jai slowly moved away from him, and Rick spun around in
shock.

"Where are you going?"

"I believed that you would be more comfortable without me so
close."

O'Connell felt suddenly bereft, like all the warmth had been
sucked out of his soul.

"No."

"No?"

"No I'm not more comfortable. Gee well I guess that answers one
question."

Ardeth's expression was clearly relieved, he then gave Rick an
inquiring look.

"Don't worry, it's hard to explain. I guess I just panicked a bit
there..."

"Panicked?" The Arab's tone was concerned.

"Yeah who'd have thought after all I'd been through I'd panic over
something like this?" Rick replied, mocking himself.

Ardeth shook his head in exasperation

"I have to admit that I'm not good at this emotional stuff. Give
me undead guys any day," Thoughtful look. "Or not. I guess you'll
just have to be patient with me if you still think I'm worth it."

O'Connell hoped he didn't sound as desperate for reassurance as he
thought he sounded.

Ardeth moved back within the American's personal space and raised
a strong callused hand to cup his chin.

"Yes Rick, I still think you are worth it. Possibly more now than
before."

Rick's forehead creased into a confused frown.

With a small smile the Med-jai leant forward and kissed the frown
from his face.

O'Connell sighed and shrugged, knowing there would always be some
things that he would never understand.

After kissing his way down his cheek and bestowing a brief kiss on
his lips, the Arab leant back once more and then laid down, this
time on his back with his arms open, patiently waiting.

"We should sleep, O'Connell. Perhaps you will find your thoughts
less confusing in the bright sun of a new day."

//Well I'm not sure they could get *more* confusing//

Knowing the Warrior was usually right, Rick awkwardly lay down on
his side, this time facing Ardeth. And when the older man gently
turned and brought his head down to rest against his chest he
didn't protest.

Another kiss to his forehead and the command to sleep left
O'Connell smiling.

Strangely happy for the moment, listening to the measured
heartbeat beneath his cheek as his hopefully soon-to-be lover
slipped into sleep, Rick thought back on the events that lead to
this point, where he could lie with a certain newfound contentment
and sense of anticipation within the arms of a man that had
previously tried to kill him.

The destruction, loss, heartache and death.

So much death.

But as always, new life and purpose -- meaning, had eventually
sprung from the proverbial ashes.

A new path to be travelled, only he would no longer travel it
alone.

Imhotep was right in the end, only not in the way he meant.

Death *is* only the beginning.
 
*~*~*
Finis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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