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Growing Up

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Alex O'Connell couldn't sleep. He sighed as he swung his legs over the edge of his bed and stood up. His windows were open, letting in the cool Egyptian night air. His parents hadn't been able to get passage back to England on the first boat, so they had to wait for the next one, which came in a week. Alex dressed quietly, knowing that the slightest noise would waken his parents, and given all that they had been through, he felt that they needed the sleep. He wandered down the hall, past Uncle Jonathon's room, and went out onto the balcony. He stared down at Cairo, now mostly sleeping. He sat down into one of the chairs still out there and wrapped his arms around his legs.

He looked down at his wrist, now free of the Bracelet of Anubis and shuddered. He didn't know what was scarier: being abducted by followers of a cursed High Priest, meeting the undead High Priest himself, almost dying from that stupid bracelet, or knowing that his uncle's and his mother's life depended on him being able to read from the Book of the Dead. He certainly didn't feel like an eight-year-old anymore. He sighed. He almost didn't want to go back to England, knowing that their house was still messy from the attack that had sent them on this journey. He also didn't want to face the headmaster of his school. The headmaster didn't like him at all, which was fortunate, because Alex didn't like the headmaster.

Alex had no trouble with any of his classes, even given the amount of time he spent with his parents on digs, and the headmaster clearly resented the fact that Alex often bested his own son in scholastic achievements. The night his mother told him that they were going back to Egypt, he was going to ask his parents to enroll him into another school. The older boys in the school taunted him endlessly about always reading anything he could about Egypt, and the headmaster wasn't doing anything to stop them.

He was so intent on his introspection that he didn't notice the black-clad figure join him on the balcony for a few minutes. He suddenly looked over and drew in a sharp breath, readying to scream. The figure shifted so that his robes were illuminated by the moonlight. Alex suddenly relaxed as he saw the black robes edged in silver trim.

"I hope I did not frighten you too much," Ardeth said quietly.

Alex shook his head. "Not too much. Why don't you have a seat?"

Ardeth inclined his head as he took a seat across from Alex. "Thank you. But I must ask, why are you out here alone?"

"Thinking about everything that's happened." Alex sighed again. "I mean, how many other kids can say that they've had an encounter with a walking, talking mummy, or almost had the life sucked out of them by a bracelet, or have brought their mothers back from the dead? I'm just feeling out of place."

Ardeth smiled gently. "You are growing up before most people need to do. In fact, how many other people would have been willing to risk the wrath of Lock-nah to leave a trail for us to follow? You are a very brave young man, Alex O'Connell. Your parents are quite proud of you, and the Med-jai owe you a debt of gratitude, because without you and your trail, we would have been poorly prepared for our battle with the Army of Anubis."

Alex shyly smiled. "Never thought of it that way," he quietly confessed.

"Thought I heard voices out here." Both Alex and Ardeth turned to see Rick standing behind them, dressed only in a pair of pants with a gun held easily in his hand. Alex was greatly surprised when his father merely sat down in a seat as well. "So Ardeth, what are you doing here in the middle of the night?"

"I was going to see you in the morning, but I saw your son out here and decided to give him some company other than his thoughts."

Rick looked over at Alex, and Alex saw the traces of guilt in his eyes.

"Why were you going to see us in the morning?" Alex asked.

"The elders of the Med-jai wish to see you and your parents."

"Any particular reason why?" Rick was intrigued.

"I do not know why, but I believe it is to thank you."

Rick scrunched up his face. "Tell them to send us a thank you card then."

Ardeth smiled. "My friend, the Elders have invited you into our city. That is an honor rarely accorded."

Rick sighed as he looked at Alex's excited face, knowing that he would get dragged along with his wife and son. "I've got to ask Evie."

"Ask Evie what?" Evelyn herself asked as she stepped out onto the balcony as well.

"The Elders of the Med-jai have invited us into their city," Alex excitedly told her. "And Dad said that he had to ask you if we could go."

Evie smiled at her husband, who had a reluctant smile on his face. Rick sighed. "How long are we going to be gone?"

Three weeks later, Alex quietly returned to school. As he walked through the hallways, he pondered all that he had seen and learned in the past month.

"Alex O'Connell!" Alex mentally cringed at the tone of the headmaster. He sighed when he saw several other boys stop and stare at him.

"Yes, Headmaster Williams?" Alex dutifully replied. Gregory Williams, the headmaster's son, smirked as he watched the confrontation he had been dreaming about ever since they got the word that Alex and his parents would be out of the country again.

"You have missed several weeks of schooling, young man."

"I know, Headmaster. I believe that my parents left word that they were taking me on a dig, and for my schoolwork to be collected so I could make it up." Alex kept his voice calm and kept his eyes level with Headmaster Williams's. The headmaster blinked, taken aback at the calm attitude, and at the eyes staring right back at him.

"I'm not sure if that is possible, Mr. O'Connell. Four weeks of schooling missed is more than enough to hold you back a year in your studies."

Alex's eyes narrowed. "You arrogant, conceited bastard," he quietly seethed, noticing that the hallways had gone dead silent. "Don't presume you can threaten holding me back just because I make higher marks than your son does." Alex slowly stepped forward and nearly smiled when the headmaster took a step back. "Besides abusing your power as headmaster, you're just making yourself look foolish," he ended with a small smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to be getting to class. I have after all, missed four weeks of my studies."

Alex stepped around the mute headmaster and his son, who was looking as shocked as his father, and walked down the hall. "Well-spoken, Alex O'Connell," a quiet voice said in Arabic. Alex whirled to see a figure clad in black detach itself from the shadows provided by a doorway and poor lighting.

Alex forced himself to relax as he saw the tattoos gracing each cheek of the shadow. "You scared a good year off of my life," Alex said jokingly back in the same language.

"I apologize for scaring you." The mysterious Med-jai said.

"It's all right. But who are you and what are you doing here?"

"I am Hafed al-Abiz. Our leader has ordered protection for the family he considers to be as close to him as his own until we are sure that none of the Creature's followers remain."

Alex was silent for a moment, digesting the news. He knew that his father and Ardeth shared a bond like brothers, but he never expected it to be so casually confirmed. He turned back to Hafed and bowed. "I thank you Hafed, for leaving your beautiful home to protect both I and my family."

Hafed bowed to Alex as well. "And we thank you Alex O'Connell. Our leader is dear to us, and to those he considers family, they are dear to us as well. You had best hurry if you are to make it to class."

Alex nodded, and then raised a hand in salute before moving it over his heart. Hafed repeated the gesture, and then melded back into the shadows. Alex walked back off to class, thinking about how growing up had hurt, but he was glad that he had done it.