Actions

Work Header

Time, like an ever-rolling stream

Work Text:

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day

- Isaac Watts

1946 AD – Shanghai

 

Jonathan muses in the rickety old aircraft that he and his diamond boarded a few hours ago, that lying truly had become his second nature. Especially in recent years.

Somewhere away from mummies, his arse. Egypt is in his bones, one way or the other, and so are its dead.

 

1926 AD – The Desert

 

The ride out of the desert is as long and dusty as the first time. His camel does not smell any better and is actually walking pretty loop-sided, stumbling over every grain of sand it seems.

He's too tired to hit it with a whip, feeling a sort of kinship with the beast for he too would stumble, were he to walk after the recent ordeal.

 

Of course, his camel actually keels over at one point and of course he screams and ends up with a mouthful of sand, flailing wildly.

The beast next to him gives one of its strange hoots and scrambles up again, shucking the saddle in the process.

 

He screams again, albeit for different reasons - out of the saddle bags spills gold. So much gold and more and he dives his hands into it and lets it run through his fingers.

 

“O'Connell!“, he yells. And “Evy!“, he yells too. “We're bumbling rich!“

 

1927 AD – Cairo

 

The random blessing of gold ends up paying for the entirety of Evy's wedding, which is a much grander affair than they had intended, simply because Cairo's high society is thirsty for some amusement and much less hesitant to accept an American into their fold if he provides enough entertainment. And booze. Which is his cue to acquire just that in amounts he never dared to dream of.

 

Not that he can drink all of it and drink himself into a stupor like he'd like to forget that he's giving his baby sister away.

Away to some American they'd only known for about a year. But the swell of her belly is kind of noticeable at this point and he can't bear to make a scene.

After all, they had defeated an undead mummy together and that was truly something that forged friendship strong and true.

 

Speaking of - a familiar silhouette in dark fabrics sweeps past him, stops and bends down.

“Jonathan Carnahan“, a heavily accented voice says amused: “What are you doing on the floor?“

 

“Ahh, a riddle“, he answers lightly and waves his bottle: “It looks nicer from down here. Less crowded, ain't it?“

In truth, the milling and mingling mass of bodies in the foyer of the hotel had gotten too much to bear at one point or the other so he had retreated to the upper levels and slumped down, bottle pressed close.

That had been... a while ago. Quite a while, based on the distinct lack of content in the bottle, now that he was slushing it at Ardeth.

 

“Has Evy sent you?“, he dares asking but the other man shakes his head: “I fear she's much too busy with Rick at this moment“ and Jonathan grimaces at the thought of what this implies.

Even if he objectively knows that his sister and Rick have not been innocently in their interactions with each other, he still feels nauseous of thinking of her in this context.

 

“My apologies“, Ardeth says in response to his facial contortions and he waves it off. “Don't mind me. I'm just a blubbering drunk at this point. You should go mingle with the rest! We've had enough food ordered to feed a garrison!“

 

He gets no reply, just another body slumping next to him, sides touching. Ardeth runs as hot as the desert sand and it is kind of nice to press closer.

Tomorrow he'll regret, but today he's drunk and tired.

 

1928 AD – Cairo, still

 

As he waves the steamship goodbye, watching as it becomes just a small point on the horizon, he keenly feels his bad decisions catching up on him.
Namely, staying behind in Cairo, ostensibly to have an eye on any paranormal occurrences pertaining a certain undead. Evy had been hard pressed to leave, even with a swaddled infant suffering from the heat and he had promised her upon their parents' grave, that he'd keep watch and telegraph immediately.

 

However, underlying, there's something else.

 

Ever since that wedding and the unexpected kinship found drunk on a hotel floor, his and Ardeth's thing, whatever it was, had grown. Into something.

 

He's reluctant to admit anything, much less to himself, so he drifts through the crowd every which way until he ends up at the hotel again.

The gold has paid well for their stay up until now, but with Rick and Evy on their way back to England, he can just feel his share running through his fingers like sand.

 

He knows his own vices and yet the allure of forgetting is enough to lure him back, always back, to drinks and games and questionable fumbles in dark alleys.

Money is not an endless river and Lady Luck has always been fickle so he's not surprised to find himself downgrading his lodgings. Again. And again.

He's a bottomless pit, swallowing alcohol until it numbs the pain of being left behind, always being left behind and of losing. Losing to others and losing himself.

 

Nursing quite a hangover he awakes one day in his bed to Ardeth Bay sitting on his carpet. He supposes that this was the only option, the chairs long since pawned.

 

“Your sister worries for you“, the Medjai says. “She worries enough that she got a message to me, out in the desert, because she hasn't heard from you in months.“

There's no accusation in his words, strangely enough.

 

Jonathan grimaces anyway. Months? Had he really lost himself in his drunk stupor for months on end?

 

“Not only yourself“, Ardeth says, apparently determined to be his consciousness: “You've lost enough money and took out enough credits that I doubt your current rooms will be yours for much longer. The inn keep asked me quite urgently if I was here to slash your throat.“

“Are you?“, he replies. Ardeth shakes his head.

 

“Come with me. Out, into the desert. The heat should do you good.“

 

1929 AD – The Desert, again

 

The thing, their thing, the unacknowledged thing, lies heavy between them during their ride into the desert.

It lies between them when they make camp and when Ardeth kindles the fire and it snaps like a twig when Jonathan leans over the budding flames and presses his lips onto Ardeth's.

 

“Are you drunk?“, Ardeth asks and he shakes his head. He's not drunk on earthly beverages, but drunk on desert heat and Ardeth, Ardeth, Ardeth.

 

They do kiss under the stars like school boys, fumbling in the sand and rutting against each other like he and his first boyfriend did at Oxford.

And yet it's different, the stars off chart from any night sky he ever saw back in England and Ardeth a hard and unyielding anchor to the present.

 

Their travel to the Medjai encampment takes them longer than planned, Jonathan stalling by stealing kisses and moments and during their last night outside he closes his eyes and buries his head against Ardeth's shoulder.

“It doesn't have to be over when we arrive“, Ardeth tells him: “My people are much less prejudiced than yours and they hold you in high regard for helping to defeat the creature. If I were to share my tent with you, no one would bat an eye.“

 

 

“Is it only your tent, you want to share with me?“, Jonathan finds the strength to ask and Ardeth laughs his right laughter and says: “No, I'd quite like to share my life with you.“

 

1930 AD – The Desert, Medjai Encampment

 

Time passes differently in the desert. Instead of clumps and chunks falling away in irregular intervals, it runs smoothly, just like desert sand through the fingers.

There's a certain calmness to the orderly schedule of waking up, fetching breakfast, keeping an eye on raising evil, lunch, more careful explorations of cursed locations, dinner.

 

Not that Jonathan joins the Medjai warriors in their patrols. Ardeth had made it quite clear that despite his inclinations towards him, he'd much rather see him as far away from any potential mummies to raise than possible.

Even if Jonathan protests that it hadn't been him who had raised the mummy, but Evy. Carnahan is Carnahan in Ardeth's eyes and that does sting.

 

So he busies himself, trying to be useful and not annoying his hosts too much.

 

Especially not Ardeth's mother, who watches over the encampment with a firm and gentle hand.

She's scary, that one. She's older than he expected, deep lines etched into her face and her gray hair open and wavy like her son's, but much longer. Rarely does she speak and if she does, it's only the bare necessities.

Her two oldest daughters are her messengers, running the encampment from the hut their mother has claimed as hers, relaying her orders and bringing back every morsel of information they hear.

 

There is much reference to old Jamila Bay and so Jonathan does his best to stay in her good grace, to show that he's worthy of her only son and not some foreigner who only lusts after the desert's riches. Or at least, not solely.

 

So he takes up teaching the children English. His Arabic is despicable and his pronunciation off, but they enjoy him stumbling over the words and throwing his hands off in despair when they can't get to a point he's satisfied with.

 

Ardeth likes it too, if his enthusiastic kisses at night are any indication.

 

Jonathan wishes it would never end.

 

1931 AD – Cairo, once more

 

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

If turnips were watches, I'd wear one by my side.

If "if's" and "and's" were pots and pans,

There'd be no work for tinkers' hands.

 

There's an old nursery rhyme his mother would tell him every time he bemoaned that something he dreamed of did not came to pass and he hasn't thought of it in years, until he boards the same steamship Evy and Rick had years ago and looks back to the shore.

 

There's a single black spot in the crowd that raises his hand slowly in greeting and Jonathan commits this moment to memory, a silent promise to come back.

 

1932 AD – London

 

The ancestral home of the Carnahan family is huge an unyielding stone.

Jonathan loved it as a child, felt save and protected within its walls but after the year spent in the desert, so close to the stars, it just feels suffocating.

 

Evy and Rick shoot him glances full if pity whenever they assume he's not looking and he begins to drown himself in liquor once again, determined to pickle his liver like some of the specimen his father had displayed so proudly in the living room.

 

He gets erratic in his pursuits. Man or woman, he does not care, as long as there's food and drink to make him pliant and loose and enough money to throw on the dealer's table, as if he does not care about a single thing in the world.

 

But he does. He does care too deeply and it shames him how Evy fishes his head out of puddles of his own vomit once more and puts him to bed like a child.

 

1933 AD – London, still

 

They are too unsure of him to leave Alex in his care when they depart to their first longer trip after their son's birth so he stays alone back in a mansion he doesn't dare to call 'home' any longer.

 

Of course, that is when his sister brings back hell.

 

He can't even blame her, he'd not have left behind an artefact as priceless as the bracelet either but he is ashamed to see Ardeth again, in his current sorry state.

Ardeth might have seen him in a despicable state before, when he came to his aid in Cairo, but this, this is a different sort.

 

Yet, the Medjai speaks nothing, just carefully touches his arm as if he might break, checking him over for injuries and if it weren't for Alex and Rick, he'd slump into his arms and give into the urge to cry.

 

What happens after is a blur of first alcoholic residue and then withdrawal and he wants to vomit off the side of the dirigible when it lurches away from Imhotep's wrath. He holds it together, barely, and it's just muscle memory upon holding the rifle that he manages to shoot Ardeth's attacker and not the man himself.

 

Evy's death is...

Evy's death is startling and horrifying and he clings onto Alex as much as the boy clings to him

 

And then. And then, he raises the dead, reading the same book his sister read all those years ago, a twisted sort of déjà-vu.

He didn't expect it to work but he is glad that it did regardless, not relaying on his belief that which is feeble at the best of times.

 

As the dirigible escapes from the collapsing valley, he clutches to his diamond, plucked from the top of the pyramid and sees Ardeth, down in the sand, saluting them.

 

Evy, Rick and Alex are huddled together and Izzy ogles his 'gold stick' so no one sees how he loses his grip on himself and cries. He's never been a pretty crier so his swollen red eyes do betray him when Evy comes around to check on him.

 

“You idiot“, she says. “Stay with him“, she also says but he shakes his head like a petulant child and clings to his diamond like a life line.

 

Rick says much the same thing when they are back in Cairo, waiting on their travel arrangements back to London being made.

“What's there for you in London?“, he asks bewildered.

“Booze and woman and games and enough to forget“, he answers flippantly and ruffles Alex' hair. Even his nephew looks disappointed.

 

1934 AD – London

 

A new threat rises and this time it's not the undead. It begins, slowly, as all bad things do.

 

1935 AD – London

 

Jonathan tries to forget.

 

1936 AD – London

 

He's trying so hard and he's failing and he lies in his bed and hears Evy and Rick argue outside his rooms.

 

1937 AD – London

 

He can't forget so he tries a different approach.

 

1938 AD – London

 

It is not working.

 

1939 AD – London

 

Rick and Evy's ties to the British government keep him from getting prosecuted for gross indecency in public but it's his own decision to leave London, lest it ends up tarnishing his sister's and brother-in-law's reputation.

 

He sets for Cairo in August and here he hears of Hitler invading Poland and Great Britain's declaration of war and he sits with the other veterans of the war two decades ago and all the rumours floating around his person are forgotten as they drink down their memories with the best liquor the bars can offer.

 

1940 AD – Cairo

 

War reaches Egypt a year later and the Brits are in disarray. Women and children get packed by the boat load and shipped back to British mainland and the men stay behind, counting their weapons and sharing the grisly details of how they shot this soldier and that one back in World War I.

 

Jonathan, who has been living a much dreary life ever since he came back, skirting on the edges of the British society in Cairo, has no love for talks like this.

He does not remember the last war he fought in fondly and he can do without the flashbacks threatening on the fraying edges of his memories like blood thirsty hounds.

 

Drinking and whoring and living have kept them at bay in a way, but now it's closer and closer still and he can't stop his brain from replaying the dying screams of his comrades, of boys he'd known since his toddler years, breathing their last in muddy trenches.

 

He has a pistol under his pillow and a rifle on his night stand and he can't sleep.

 

1941 AD – Cairo

 

Erwin Rommel, the 'Wüstenfuchs', reaches Tobruk in April 1941 and Jonathan packs his meagre belongings once again and sets out into the desert.

 

He knows what drives him and it makes him scared but he needs, he needs... he dares not put it into words.

 

His camel still smells badly and it's bonier than any other of its breed than he rode before but it's sure footed and the only living creature to keep him company at night. Apart from the skittering of creatures on the sand that make him jerk upright in cold sweat.

 

How he manages not to encounter any soldier of either side may forever remain a mystery but he rides and rides and finally, the shimmering vision of Hamunaptra arises in front of him.

 

There's mostly rubble now, coated by a thin layer of sand, but he finds a fallen pillar he dusts of carelessly and then he sits. And waits.

 

It takes the Medjai longer to reach him than anticipated and by that time, the sun has reached its peak and his camel has retired to one of the secluded shadowed spots, lying there.

 

Jonathan still sits on the pillar and only raises his head when a soft muzzle connects with his cheek.

The rider is not Ardeth but Rahul, his second in command, but his eyes are just as dark and unreadable.

 

“It is good that you are back“, he says in halting English and Jonathan gulps down the offered water skin and tries to pray his camel from the cooler shadows.

 

They reunite with the other Medjai warriors and for the first time, Jonathan allows himself to fear, as he sees Ardeth's company, all these familiar faces, but not the one he came to see.

 

No one offers him an explanation and he does not dare to ask. He just rides silently admits them, towards the Medjai encampment.

 

1941 AD – The Desert, Medjai Encampment

 

Jamila yet lives and it's his first indication that something is profoundly wrong, when she is waiting to greet him.

She's gotten thinner and the lines etched deeper, her face looks like leather feels, weathered by the seasons, by her life, by war.

Only one of Ardeth's oldest sisters stands next to her now and ash is smeared on her face in mourning.

 

Back when he first had been at the encampment, he had only seen one funeral and mourning ceremony but it is enough to identify the fine layer of sadness covering everyone, from the houses to the people. Not even the children laugh and he nearly falls of his camel in his rush to get to Jamila.

 

She takes his head into her withered hands and Ardeth's sister wails next to her, a sharp thing that cuts through his heart in fear.

 

They take him to Jamila's hut and there is Ardet, lying still on the bedding, wrapped in a multitude of bandages and poultices, the smell of rotting flesh and spices penetrating the air.

It's so close, too close to what Jonathan saw in the hastily erected field hospitals that he gags with it. Jamila pets his hair and it's comforting, in a way.

 

Rahul speaks: “Three days ago, soldiers came to Hamunaptra. We don't think they meant any true harm but we had to chase them out, lest they accidentally set off whatever evil is left there. Ardeth, he got mortally wounded in the fight. He has not awaken since we brought him back. Now that you're here, maybe I know why he seemed to cling to life like a leech.“

 

Then he leaves and Jonathan falls down next to Ardeth, next to his lover and he can't shake the fear that he is too late. As always, too late in accepting the inevitable.

 

They, him and Jamila, sit at Ardeth's bedside like sentinels and in their shared pain; he learns what has passed in the years he was away.

 

Jamila has given up her leadership over the encampment to her two oldest daughters, one of them dying in childbirth just a year ago, the other one still in mourning over her other half.

Ardeth, Ardeth had refused any and all propositions of the other eleven tribes as to take on a suitable consort, be it make or female, but has led their watch diligently.

There is no accusation in Jamila's tale, just sadness and Jonathan buries his head in Ardeth's shoulder.

 

The healer who comes in the next day to change the bandages is as old as Jamila. But his hands are steady as he unwraps bandage after bandage, prodding and assessing.

 

Ardeth's right arm seems to be the worst, the flesh oozing and raw and Jonathan closes his eyes.

He's still sitting next to the bedding, has barely moved but to take a piss and accept a loaf of bread to keep him going.

He knows what the old man will suggest and it still makes his stomach lurch with dread.

 

A Medjai without his sword arm might not be leader any longer.

 

Despite his unconsciousness, it takes four grown men to hold Ardeth down as the healer's apprentice saws off the appendage and Jonathan leaves half-way through the sound of crunching bones to throw up noisily.

 

Then he sits, bleary eyed, blinking into the sun, until the healer comes out to let him know that he's over and Ardeth is now truly in Allah's hands.

 

The fever breaks, slowly, over the next days but yet Ardeth does not wake.

Jamila forces Jonathan outside at various points, making him interact with the other people, as much as he dreads it. He is reluctant to leave Ardeth's side, lest the man wake up.

 

He shouldn't have worried, it takes considerable more time than expected and yet not long enough, when he opens his eyes in the dark of the night and Jonathan feels his breath hitch.

 

“Now I know I died“, are Ardeth's first words upon seeing Jonathan's face and that it what makes the sob lodged in his chest ever since he arrived break free and has to bury his head in Ardeth's chest to hide his tears.

 

“Hey, hey“, the man says softly and his voice cracks and Jonathan forces himself to get up to help him sit up and drink, slowly, to wet his surely sore throat.

 

“Your arm-“, he tries to say and has to break of upon seeing Ardeth's face - there's acceptance there, and resolve.

“I much rather be missing an arm, than never seeing you again, Jonathan Carnahan“ and oh, there are the tears again.

 

1942 AD – Medjai Encampment

 

The new year sneaks up on them, soft-footed.

There is no raucous festivity to celebrate another year, just quiet resolve to survive.

 

Ardeth has adapted to his life without his sword arm surprisingly well and Jonathan is selfish enough to attribute it partially to him playing nurse maid.

Rahul had taken over leading of the twelfth tribe in his stead, even if Ardeth is still commander in name. A courtesy to his long service to the gods.

 

They sit under the stars most nights, Ardeth's left arm slung over Jonathan's waist and Jonathan's head on his shoulder.

 

The war seems so far and yet so close and some nights they see gun fire on the horizon.

 

How Evy manages to get a message to them is anyone's guess but she has her ways and so a letter finds its way into Jonathan's hands, who reads it over breakfast.

 

It's a request, a request to get Alex to safety, to ensure that he still gets to experience a childhood of sorts. She had arranged board and travel to the United States with a colleague, one Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr., a renowned archeologist.

 

Jonathan can faintly remember that name from the years spent in drunk stupor in London and he's sure that Alex had at one point bemoaned that he has never met the man so it seemed like a good idea.

 

He looks up, after finishing his read, and sees Ardeth looking at him, head cocked like his late falcon.

“What will you do?“, he asks and as Jonathan shrugs helplessly, he adds: “Wherever you go, I follow“, and that seals it.

 

1943 AD – London

 

They make it back to London first, after a tearful goodbye to Jamila and the others and the image of his bombed out home town is seared into his brain forever.

 

Alex has grown considerably since he last saw him but he still engulfs him in a bone crushing hug, treating Ardeth to the same. He's sitting on packed suitcases and boxes and strained nerves and as Evy and Rick are away on government business, they leave as fast as possible, boarding the next ship towards America.

 

1944 AD – New York

 

New York agrees with neither of them but they grit their teeth and bear it. At least Barnett College, greased by money and connections, accepts Alex with open arms so at least the boy is occupied.

 

That is, until he gets in trouble. Which he does, often and without care and Jonathan could soon find his way to Dr. Jones' office blindfolded and in his sleep.

He supposes he should be grateful that the man keeps an eye on the boy but it grates on him, that he is unable to do so himself.

 

“The boy is soon a man grown“, Ardeth says wisely one day over coffee and the newest letter by the college's principal, bemoaning the derogation of today's youth.

“And what if he takes after his parents footsteps?“, Jonathan sighs: “I am not ready for yet another mummy.“

 

Ardeth laughs and presses a kiss to his lips, one that Jonathan can't help but return.

This life of theirs was not what he had envisioned when he first came to fantasize about the enigmatic Medjai warrior all those years ago, but it is, at large, good.

 

They have each other and they have Alex, and that's worth a lot.

 

1945 AD – New York

 

For a brief moment, the world holds its collective breath, only to let it out in a joyous scream as on 8th May 1945, the World War II Allies formally accept the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and ring in the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

 

For an equally brief moment, it seems to mean respite and relocation and Jonathan is looking forward to dropping off the responsibility for Alex into his sister's hands.

 

That is, until he finds a letter of dismissal from Barnett College under Alex' bed, his nephew missing and a hastily scribbled notice of “Professor Wilson offered me a part in his dig in Shanghai. I'm gonna write my own history, Uncle Jonathan!

 

Their departure from America gets considerably more hectic after that and they leave behind a multitude of boxes ar Dr. Jones' house, never to be picked up again.

 

1945 AD – Shanghai

 

Shanghai is a city full of life, despite the war. They arrive shortly after Japan's surrender so the city is in a weird suspended state between forces and it makes it easy enough to acquire a rundown bar as their new home.

 

'Imhotep's', Jonathan names it and silences Ardeth's protest by dragging him upstairs to their rooms to celebrate.

 

Victory loosens the pockets of patrons, eagerly looking for diversion from the past dreary years and soon the bar takes off.

Jonathan finds himself with gainful employment for the first time in literal years and it's a heady feeling. Especially since Alex has the grace to drop by now and then and fill them in on his life so he takes that as liberty to write to Evy and Rick as if their Shanghai exploration was a planned excursion instead of a feverish pursuit.

 

1946 AD – Shanghai

 

Of course, there is no peace to be had for a Carnahan or O'Connell as long as there's a mummy close-by and Alex proves to be his parents’ son, square and true.

 

Ardeth finds s surprising kinship with Zi Yuan over the inevitability of fending off the resurrection of long dead tyrants.

It is surprisingly cathartic to fight once again side by side, in a different country and even the insane flight with 'Mad Dog' McGuire does little to stop it.

 

They win, as they always do. And Jonathan makes it out with a valuable artefact, as he always does.

 

In the taxi to the airport, admiring his diamond with Ardeth's head on his shoulder he asks: “What about going home?“ and his lovers smile is answer enough.

 

Egypt is in their bones, one way or the other, and so are its dead.