I'm going to spend the rest of my life finishing WIPs started when I was in my early 20s, aren't I.
Anyway, this is it, guys. This is my Night At The Museum Larry/Ahkmenrah magnum opus. The longest fic I've ever written in which I seek to explain things that nobody ever asked to be explained. I figured I should probably finish and post the damn thing before it's thoroughly Jossed by December.
Rated G for nothing shocking happening, but I think the characters say some swear words. Also, all historical research was conducted on Wikipedia.
Title: New Sun Rising
Fandom: Night at the Museum
It's easy to see that Rexy the Tyrannosaurus recognizes something kindred in Ahkmenrah, and maybe that's why the dinosaur accepts him as a rider so easily. The pharaoh shares an affinity with Rexy that the others don't: they both used to be alive.
But Ahkmenrah is unique in another respect, he tells Larry one day. He is the only of them who remembers dying.
And he remembers being dead: waking up alone in his tomb every night.
Guarding the tablet.
Unbelievably bored out of his mind.
He finished the last glyph with a flourish of his fingers. He examined the text with a critical eye and made a few corrections here and there, until each stroke and symbol in the sand was neat and correct, as smoothly aligned as if written on a fresh wax slate.
A ruler who knows not the arts of literacy puts himself at the mercy of his scribes and monument-makers, Khnemu's cracked, papery voice said in his ear. The written word has power beyond its mere inscription.
He heard many voices these days, from individuals living and dead, old memories and recollections floating about in his brain in an attempt to cope with the mind-numbing, monotonous silence that was his main companion. They'd all heard the tales of holy hermits and madmen who had sequestered themselves in isolation, the better to achieve enlightenment or to escape the dirty masses of humanity; heard the stories and joked about them. Ahkmenrah now, as he had then, still failed to understand why anyone would ever voluntarily choose this.
A cold night breeze swept across the desert, blowing sand about and smudging his painstaking glyphs to imperfection. Ahkmenrah stared, disgusted, then wiped the whole design out himself with a sweep of his arm.
A ruler does not behave as a five-year-old child, else he gives up dignity not easily earned again, someone - probably Mother - reproved in the back of his mind, but he stormed back into the tomb anyway. Who was around to care?
An hour later, he returned to the surface, sat down by the low entrance, and began writing journal entries in the sand again. It was even more boring down in the burial chamber, and the air felt too still and stuffy for him to stay there. Anyway, even after a year of being dead, he couldn't get used to the thought of his own internal organs sitting around in the jars around the sarcophagus.
The stone guardian jackals never spoke; they only gestured and saluted and made bloody meat out of the thieves who came in the night. Not that there were many of those. Kahmunrah had taken great pains to ensure that the final resting place for Ahkmenrah, fourth king of the fourth king, little baby brother, was beyond reach except by many long, hard days of travel away from any oasis.
After the second year of his death, even his mother ceased to visit. Ahkmenrah could only guess at what had happened to her, what was happening to the kingdom. The kingdom did not extend to where he was, and the stars never provided any answers.
He lost count of how many times he scratched the story of his death out in the sands.
In the thirty-third year of the reign of Setmenkah, third king of the fourth kingdom, my father became displeased with his eldest son and set his iron will to shaping the succession to his personal wishes, rather than that which is bound by law and tradition. I was to be pharaoh, not Kahmunrah. My brother's faction ground their teeth even as my father cannily maneuvered a faction to form around me. But who would gainsay he who ruled by divine right? The eyes of my father grew bright with age, and the eyes of my brother grew dark with rage.
In the first year of the reign of Ahkmenrah, fourth king of the fourth kingdom, I was murdered.
In the first year of the reign of Kahmunrah, fifth king of the fourth kingdom, I was buried.
Death provided at least one consolation - the bone-sharp chill of the desert at night did not disturb him as it did in life. He had no need of furs or leathers, and contented himself with a single linen wrapping as he paced restlessly on the sands; he was the ghost of his own tomb. He wondered if his site had acquired a reputation already, as there had been no grave robbers for five hundred -- no, six hundred years now. The thought depressed him.
His capacity for patience had stretched with time, thank the gods. Sometimes he roused himself at a warning rumble from the guards, and realized that he had spent (again) an entire night contemplating, unblinking, the tablet.
The tablet. Endlessly versatile and powerful in unfathomable ways, but Setmenkah had persisted in treating it as an amusing, quaint family secret.
"It brings ghosts to life?" Ahkmenrah had asked, eyeing the unassuming gold squares dubiously.
"That could be...useful," Kahmunrah remarked, and Ahkmenrah glanced at his brother sharply.
"Of course, one must be possessed of the correct combination to put the tablet's unique properties in motion," Setmenkah continued. He had no doubt already noted the barbed exchange and filed it away under 'friendly sibling rivalry' (Ahkmenrah thought bitterly).
"And it is to be assumed that our honored father is in possession of the combination?" Kahmunrah's tone was poisonously sweet, just barely on the edge of shocking disrespect even for a former Crown Prince. His demotion still clearly stung.
Setmenkah's lips twitched. "Indeed," the Pharaoh said to the former heir to the throne, and the new heir to the throne: his loyal sons. "Now attend to me. It is time you learned its secrets as well."
Larry only notices the silence when the air conditioning switches off and the vents settle down with a hiss. Ahkmenrah's eyes are on him, amused, and he suddenly realizes he's been watching the pharaoh drink coffee for a solid two minutes.
"So, uh, how old are you?" Larry tries to cover up, nonchalantly. A bit too nonchalant, maybe? He kicks himself and watches Ahkmenrah drink his coffee. The sip goes on longer than necessary and he gets the sense that the other man is stalling for time.
Ahkmrenrah finally takes a breath and lets it out slowly. "A little over three thousand years, I believe."
Larry's jaw works for a moment, and he has to clench it shut before it actually drops. "Oh."
"I died when I was twenty-four," Ahkmenrah offers.
"Um, well, if you don't mind me asking..."
"Yes?" Ahkmenrah prods when Larry trails off.
"How, uh, how did you die?"
Ahkmenrah's face darkens. "That," he says, and Larry can hear his voice as bitter as the dregs in his cup, "is a very, very long story."
The sun shone that day. Thebes roared.
Kahmunrah smiled at him from below the dais - even grinned in a rictus of delight - while Ahkmenrah knelt and the priest settled the united royal crown of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms upon his bent head. The crowd roared, and the blood-red silks and glittering bronze of his arrayed royal guards were fit to dazzle the spectators’ eyes, and he was Pharaoh. He was the youngest son of Setmenkah, who was never meant to be a monarch, and yet his faction had won out over his brother’s.
He was a god, who walked on the earth.
How could he have known?
Naushtanar, his honored mother, most beloved of wives of the third king ("A Pharaoh must not become casual in his thinking, cannot risk over-familiarity with those whose lives he holds in his sway," but, Khnemu, I rule from a tomb in the desert, how can I help but long for the ones I love?) -- Naushtanar had been waiting on the first night, the night he woke up.
He bolted upright, gasping and drenched with sweat as one would from a nightmare, a nightmare of flashing knives and blooming pain in his chest and his heart. And blood. Blood all over. He was --
"Do not speak, my son," Naushtanar snapped quickly. She started up from her kneeling position. She was attired in white linen, mourning clothes, the pale purity of the cloth sullied by oily shadows of the torches around them. "Listen quickly. You are dead," and her voice cracked even as he gaped at her. "You are dead, but the tablet - do you remember the tablet? Good. I had it activated and sealed in the door without your usurping brother's knowledge, curse his eyes."
"You mean -- Kahmunrah -- he is...?"
"Yes, and we are left like rabbits to the hounds of his guards," Naushtanar snarled, furious. "I may be in his mercy now, but you will not be victim to his plotting." Her voice had a ring of desperate triumph.
"I'm not, I don't feel dead," Ahkmenrah started, staring down at what were unmistakably bandages and burial clothes. Gold rings on his hands, gold and silver belts, fine leather sandals adorned with turquoise. Gold statues and vases littered the floor around the sarcophagus, draped heavy with jewels. At least Kahmunrah had had the sense to bury his little brother - who had been, after all, the preceding Pharoah - in a fashion appropriate enough to appease the populace, though it looked like the barest minimum he could get away with.
"No, you are between," Naushtanar shook her head. "The tablet's enchantment halts your journey to the judgement of Anubis but cannot restore you entirely. I will give you the combinations, the spells. You must--" but Ahkmenrah gave up his calm, gave up the hard-won control of a Pharaoh of Egypt and reached out to his mother, and buried his face in her shoulder, shaking like a child having a bad dream. She held him, quietly, for a long time.
The office of the museum guard is calm and peaceful, and Ahkmenrah grimaces. Larry watches the other man’s throat work convulsively while he tries to drink the sludge that's left of his coffee. Larry sighs and gets up, goes to search for a clean mug in the back, and returns with the mug full of cool water. Ahkmenrah drinks it with a grateful smile. Larry leans against the desk, arms folded.
"So that's why you don't act like a pharaoh."
Ahkmenrah nods. "Of the millennia of my life, I ruled for only one year. Besides," he gestures at the dusty American flag stored in a corner, "the term 'pharaoh' no longer has any meaning in this world."
He would find footprints in the sand outside, sometimes. Centuries passed and rubble fell and sand blew and the carvings on his low tomb door faded until the painted eyes of Isis and Amun were all that were left, peering out from between branches of dry scrub. The jackal guardians had little to do - for no one would rob a grave that nobody knew existed. Ahkmenrah had no doubt that Kahmunrah had long ago defaced any monuments and carvings that bore Ahkmenrah's name, and the people would forget.
The thought that his brother must be centuries dead now, while he himself still walked on the sands of this world, brought little comfort. The nomads who camped around the odd hillock could not have known that they trod on the grave of a pharaoh.
He stood silently in the shadows, the dark gray of his robes blending perfectly with the earth and darkness. He murmured a few spell-words and the tablet’s enchantment gradually made this particular nomadic language intelligible to him, as uncouth and full of profanity as it was.
"A ghost story! Come, a tale from the mysterious bard," the man named Ahmad cackled. He wiped his mouth of wine, revealing cracked teeth in the firelight as he laughed, and he handed the wineskin to his brother. He bumped shoulders with the man named Abuddin, who joined in the chorus. "Come on! A story to pass the desert night, bard."
The man named Mish'al smiled grimly and drank sparingly of the skin when it was passed to him. Nevertheless, he clapped his hands together as the demands persisted, and the rowdy group of caravaners settled down to listen while the level in the wineskin dropped with the night's progression.
They were all unconscious and drunkenly snoring around the dull remains of the campfire by the time Ahkmenrah roused himself from thought. Even Mish'al was asleep, though he slept protectively curled, with his hand discreetly on a knife.
The story, a tale of a prince and his father's ghost and revenge, had stirred...emotions, memories. Ahkmenrah felt more awakened and alive than he'd been for centuries, and felt keenly the misfortune of it. The next few years would be more dull and grey as a result, for where could his awakened blood carry him? He turned regretfully away.
Something twinkled in the corner of his eye. It was some small creature scurrying across the silvery crest of a nearby dune...he gazed uncomprehendingly at it for one long moment, and then breathed deep in shock.
Beyond the dune, a grey pre-dawn sky studded with clouds loomed in a sight such as he had not seen in nearly three thousand years. Already it blended to soft orange as it touched the horizon and if he strained his eyes, perhaps he could see faint beginnings of light limning the dune's edge that signaled Ra's beginning ascent. He stood frozen, transfixed, every single particle of his body suddenly arrested by a fierce hunger to stay, to see the sun for the first time in millennia, aching to feel the warmth of morning on his face--
Something scraped softly behind him. Ahkmenrah shuddered violently. Perhaps it was a caravaner turning over in his sleep. Perhaps it was a pebble tumbling off a decayed carving. Perhaps it was a stone jackal guardian shifting uneasily, like a warning--
He found himself panting heavily, each breath tearing from his lungs like a sob. No final looks, no lingering gazes, he turned and fled into the welcoming darkness of the tomb just as the rays of the sun broke the edge of the dune.
There's something off about Ahkmenrah tonight, like how he says nothing more than absolutely necessary during warm-up, and there is a strained look around his eyes and mouth.
"I missed you last night," Larry says, looking for an opening and kicking himself at how awkwardly it comes out. Apparently, nursing a crush on a pharaoh turns him into a 14-year-old teenager. It’s not fun. "I looked in the sarcophagus and you weren't there," his mouth keeps running. "Uh. Not even Rexy knew."
He's met with ringing silence as Ahkmenrah brings out the jō staffs that they'll be using for this lesson. Their fingers brush when he hands a staff to Larry, and Ahkmenrah takes his hand away too soon so Larry has to catch the staff before it slips to the ground. "Hey..."
Something pained rises up in Ahkmenrah's face, but all he says is, "I am sorry. I was...remembering."
"Hey, it...it happens," Larry offers because it's clear he isn't getting anything else out of the other man.
Ahkmenrah shakes his head, his expression arranged in a way Larry can't interpret, and takes up an attack stance on the mat. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah," Larry frowns, but lets it go. Something's wrong, and it's throwing him off, but he really doesn't want to make friends with the mat more than he has to, so he makes himself focus. Tonight is a private lesson - they chased all the curious characters out of the room already, with strict instructions to behave. Tonight, the lesson is about fighting through anger. You have to stay calm. You can't let them get you angry. Larry is nervous already.
The usual adrenaline rush rises in Larry's head, so it's startling when Ahkmenrah suddenly speaks, breaking the uneasy tension.
"You will never rise above this job," Ahkmenrah says calmly as Larry circles around the mat. The other man's eyes are glittering above the jō staff he's holding in classic stance, and Larry can only guess at his thoughts.
"Night guarding is trivially mindless, and yet you are only adequate in your performance of it."
Larry swallows and grips his jō staff tighter. He doesn't mean it, Larry repeats to himself.
"In my day, a grown man like you would be considered a failure, doing a task like this at your age."
He doesn't mean it. Larry shifts nervously and circles, his muscles humming with anticipation. Ahkmenrah lunges, a simple side strike, and Larry gets his arms up in time for a quick block. The staffs connect with a solid thwock and Larry's staff slips a little. They break away, he adjusts his grip, wishes he had enough time to wipe his sweaty hands on his sweats.
Ahkmenrah is circling again and there's not a single smile playing anywhere on his face. "You failed to invent new things, as you wanted to." Strike; block; circle. "You failed to explore the world, as you wanted to." Strike; block; circle. "You failed to employ yourself, you failed to keep your house. You nearly failed to keep this job, simple as it is." He strikes and Larry blocks, and lightning-quick, there's another attack and Larry's muscles take over, getting his staff where it's supposed to go. He ducks under a sweep and backs away, his heart hammering and he wonders how the hell he survived that.
Ahkmenrah follows him and goes for Larry's sternum. The jō scrapes Larry's arm instead, a sharp poke as he jerks himself out of the way and dives for an opening, which Ahkmenrah blocks with a fluid movement. His jō slides along Larry's, polished wood gleaming under the harsh lights, and they're very close. "You failed to keep your wife. She lies with another man tonight, does she not?"
"Hey! The divorce was, it was mutual," Larry feels himself spit the response out, and surprises himself when he shoves Ahkmenrah, hard. "Don's a good guy, she's happy, it's none of my business. I don't care." Blood roars in his ears.
Ahkmenrah looks at him skeptically and Larry only just dodges the jō whooshing towards his head. He doesn't care, he whirls around for a whack at Ahkmenrah's torso that almost succeeds. "Don is wealthy," Ahkmenrah pants, and strikes, "the man your wife deserves," the staffs crack together and he comes back with a move that puts himself right next to Larry and Larry takes the blow to his back with a gasp. "The man your son looks up to."
"Fuck you." Larry's world has narrowed down to Ahkmenrah, Ahkmenrah's face, and he lunges with a furious series of attacks, and he misses more than he connects, and he has to stumble backwards when Ahkmenrah nearly sweeps his feet out. "Fuck you," he spits, and steadies himself. "You couldn't even stay pharaoh for a whole year."
Ahkmenrah's eyes narrow.
"You're just some kid in your twenties," Larry chokes out, and feints left, "you were in a fucking room for like thousands of years," he gives up on strategy and charges, "you fucking failed to--"
One, two, three--a flash of limbs, Larry's head snaps backwards from Ahkmenrah's jō and he goes down heavily. It's only daily practice that makes his body curl up in a half somersault. He skids hard on his knee and he rolls over, dazed while white pain explodes in his skull.
He's aware of someone kneeling over him. Ahkmenrah touches Larry's temples gently and he grits his teeth against the light pressure. "I'll be fine," he grinds out reflexively, hardly aware of what words his mouth is forming.
Ahkmenrah is saying something - something soft, maybe it’s important - Larry struggles out of the ringing in his head to blink and focus on the other man's face. He looks rueful, but his fingers are gentle in Larry's hair.
"...appears that you are not the only one who needs a lesson in anger," he's saying, and he sighs.
"S'all good," Larry manages, and Ahkmenrah looks down at him, focuses on Larry's eyes.
"I am sorry. I shouldn't have--"
"No, s'okay." Larry thinks he can maybe get up now, but he doesn't feel like it. His body feels heavy and it's like his spine is fused to the mat.
“I was never a very good teacher.” Ahkmenrah says and smooths a thumb over Larry’s cheek.
His eyes slip closed again with a sigh. “You’re better than Attila the Hun, that’s for sure.”
The other man huffs softly. “You have an unseemly talent for faint praise.”
“Let’s go for coffee,” Larry says. The soothing fingers go away, to his disappointment.
But when he opens his eyes, Ahkmenrah’s offering a hand up, and he’s smiling, and then they go for coffee.
Later on: “Geez, that’s disgusting. Don’t you know it’s bad for your teeth? You’ll get cavities,” Larry scolds while wondering at what point he turned into his dad. Probably when Nick was born.
“Sugar has always been a luxury,” Ahkmenrah says loftily, and stirs his disgustingly frothy, syrupy drink. The baristas even gave him extra whipped cream after he batted his stupidly long eyelashes at them. “You take it for granted. I wasn’t able to experience the privileges of easily accessible sugar until Cambridge. Three thousand years of sugarless existence until the janitor, of all people, gave me ice cream. Vanilla. It was delicious, if you must know.”
Larry snorts. “I’ll bet you were bouncing off the walls after that one.”
Ahkmenrah doesn’t answer right away, making no motion except to lick whipped cream off his upper lip. Larry shifts uncomfortably.
“It’s true,” Ahkmenrah says finally. “Cambridge was extremely strange. Culture shock doesn’t begin to cover it.”
The strange men came during the day, and so they had been digging and discovering treasure for some time by the time Ahkmenrah woke up. Thankfully, they hadn't gotten as far as the inner door. Ahkmenrah stepped carefully through the now cleared and swept corridor and reflected, as he hadn't had to in a while, on the glaring flaws of the spell that only allowed them to wake at night. Bloody priests, they'd always been too complacent at the expense of everyone else. And now Ahkmenrah had to decide what to do with...the oddest group he'd ever seen.
There were native guides in the camp, clad in the familiar robes and desert gear, but these other men wore heavy, tight-fitting clothes. Decidedly ill-suited to the desert. Pale-skinned, even paler than the Romans had been. Perhaps the descendants of one of those Celts he had overheard the Roman soldiers complaining about.
He noted with dull surprise that all the graves of the tomb thieves - from the first one that came on the first night to the last one his guards had killed only three hundred years ago - had also been dug open and disturbed. The thief who had been called Donkor (he had wonderingly gasped out his name with his dying breath to the ghost of the young pharaoh whose tomb he had come to plunder) stared up at Ahkmenrah with a long-dead, desiccated face.
Strange as these newest men were, they still had the sense to set a watch. Ahkmenrah settled himself near them and listened.
“What a beastly desert,” one of them grumbled. He held a long, strangely shaped device in his hands, with two attached tubes extending from it. No doubt the men of today were as inventive with their weaponry as they had always been, though Ahkmenrah could not imagine what the delicate-looking thing could do. Still, he took care not to make any more noise than a desert breeze.
“The guides say we’ve been having uncommonly good weather,” the other guard said. “No sandstorms, no flash floods, that sort of thing.”
The first one snorted. “The guides also seem to think this place is cursed. Wonder what they make of that, eh?”
They exchanged more words of this kind, from which Ahkmenrah gathered that they thought very much of themselves and this country called “England” and its place in the world.
They spoke of discovery. And auction houses. They spoke disparagingly about “poncy toffs” in museums, which the tablet’s translating enchantment informed him were large buildings housing items of interest for people to look at. (There was no explanation for “poncy toffs”).
They would die in an instant. If Ahkmenrah said the word. He could even see the low glint of a polished stone snout, a jackal guard peering through the tomb door. The interlopers deserved as much for defiling a pharaoh’s resting place.
"So they got you to Cambridge and nobody except the janitor happened to notice some guy wandering around the Egyptology department in the middle of the night?"
Ahkmenrah purses his mouth thoughtfully. "Magic."
"I'm getting really tired of that word," Larry groans.
"The original protection magic specified that I would be immune to guards and watchers. Apparently," Ahkmenrah smiles suddenly, a quick wry flash, "the wording was vague enough to extend to alarms and security cameras."
"Wait, you don't show up on security cameras?"
"I don't know for sure, but in all my wanderings, I've never raised suspicion, or caused an investigation."
"Hey," Larry says thoughtfully into the distance. "You'd make a pretty great museum thief."
Ahkmenrah raises his eyebrows. "Possibly?"
"Yeah." Larry brings his eyes down, with an impish grin. "Ahkmenrah, fourth king of the fourth king: badass Egyptian ninja. C'mon!" he says as Ahkmenrah bursts out laughing. "It would totally work. We'll get you some gold scarves, some ruby-crusted shurikens, pull out some of your fancy moves, you'll be completely set for Halloween." He karate-chops the air, drawing a few more chuckles.
"But with no one to appreciate me in my ninja-clad glory, the joke will probably be lost entirely." The pharaoh's smile turns a shade wistful.
"What're you talking about?"
Ahkmenrah tilts his head. "The museum is closed on October 31st. Won't you be out with your son that night?"
"Nah. Nick loves coming to the Museum after dark, you know that. We'll work something out," Larry dismisses his concerns, looking out towards greater New York and missing the lingering gaze that Ahkmenrah bestows on him before dropping his eyes to the dregs of his coffee.
The sounds of distant cars and wind and whispering snow settles over them. After a moment, Larry says with a sigh, "It's getting colder."
"We should get back. Make sure Dexter hasn't gotten into the dynamite in the Gold Rush gallery."
"It's been over fifty years, Larry. If it was fated for a monkey to blow up the Museum, it would've happened by now."
"That's what you think," Larry mutters darkly. Ahkmenrah laughs, though Larry can't think of what had made his remark so funny, and they both toss back the last of the coffee and rise from the bench as if by common agreement.
On the way back to the Museum, Ahkmenrah tilts his head back and walks with his eyes closed, letting tiny flakes of snow settle on his skin and hair. Larry watches him (to make sure no one trips, he says to himself) and watches faint, fleeting emotions pass over the pharaoh's face like the shadows of clouds on a sunny day.
"I've always missed this the most."
Ahkmenrah's whisper startles Larry out of the silence that had almost gotten comfortable between them. "What?"
"Being able to feel. Something besides linen bandages and the inside lid of a sarcophagus. No," he shakes his head. "More than that. I miss being outside, the living wind on my skin rather than the dead air of a building."
Larry asks, "Do you ever miss Egypt?"
"With every breath in my body."
"The desert is in my blood. Even on the lush banks of the Nile, the desert was always only a short ride away." He takes a deep breath and shudders a little. "I miss the sun."
There is nothing Larry could possibly respond with - I'm sorry you're trapped by a magical curse that only lets you come back to life at night doesn't really cut it - so he says nothing.
"I miss being free." Ahmenrah has drawn away and turns a half circle with hands out, palms up, as if to take in Central Park, New York, the whole world. "Since you opened the sarcophagus, I've thought more than once about taking the tablet and leaving the Museum. Yes, travelling only by night, and I would see the world myself, free, able to see and hear and touch people. Real people."
He swings back around and points at the Museum in front of them, his voice taking on a wild edge. "I know every inch of that damn building - I've even climbed through the ventilation ducts. I've paced the roof until I thought the moon herself was driving me mad."
"I guess that explains all the nights you weren't around," Larry says and wonders if this is what it feels like to talk someone down off a cliff.
"It's not enough," Ahkmenrah says, eyes glittering. "I should be grateful I'm out of the sarcophagus, I can never thank you enough for that, but now that I'm free of it I find that even the most cavernous museum in the world would not be enough. I want to be able to walk. Out."
He flings his arms open again.
"Maybe I'll get in an automobile and ride towards the horizon, until the dawn comes, and then I'll run until my legs won't carry me anymore. I want to stand on the ocean's edge and feel the wind in my hair. I want to climb the tallest mountain and offer my thanks to Ra as he rises to greet the morning. I want..."
Larry says, "The janitor at Cambridge wouldn't let you out because he knew you wouldn't come back."
Ahkmenrah turns on him and the anguish in his face is enough to make Larry take a step back. But all he says is, "Yes," and sits down on the steps with his fists clenched on his knees.
Now how, Larry wonders, how am I supposed to deal with a guy who's spent three thousand years waking up in a tomb and the last fifty waking up in a small box?
He sits down and cautiously puts his arm around Ahkmenrah's shoulders. They remain there, leaning into each other for warmth, until Teddy Roosevelt comes to fetch them inside, and Larry goes back to work with a sigh.
For a year, his sarcophagus hung on display in the Egyptology department of Cambridge. Ahkmenrah spent the nights wandering the locked confines of the department, which were fortunately extensive. Making use of the books and TV programs in the professors’ offices, he absorbed great swathes of English, science, and world history. Some events he had surmised from the travelers who passed by his tomb, but he took immense pleasure in slotting the scattered names and places mentioned by those travelers into their proper place in world events.
Matthew Barrowbridge, the janitor, brought him books from the university library. One night he gifted the pharaoh a handsomely bound volume of Shakespeare, and Ahkmenrah devoured Hamlet in a single night. The story of a wronged prince and his ghostly father, it seemed, had touched generations through the ages.
"Hmm?" Ahkmenrah hummed quietly, raising his head from where he’d been reading about the American War of Independence. Matthew approached soft-footed, his feet sinking into the plush carpet of the curator’s offices, his hands full of some brown, dusty cloth material.
“It’s time,” Matthew said.
“Time for what?”
“Transfer’s tomorrow morning.”
A glance at the clock told Ahkmenrah that it was close to dawn. A second glance told him that the soft whorls of material in Matthew’s hands were linen wrappings. His own, in fact.
“Ah. The transfer to the ‘American Museum of Natural History,’” Ahkmenrah tasted the names in his mouth, “in New York City, New York.” The language still felt strange, even with the tablet’s magic smoothing the way for him.
“Come on. We haven’t much time left.” Matthew held out a hand. Ahkmenrah took it and allowed himself to be led to the basement, docile as any child. What else could he do? He’d already been assured that the contents of his tomb (and more importantly, the tablet) were traveling with him. Besides, he was curious about the far-away land of New York City and the descendants of those rebellious colonists depicted in the book he’d been reading.
In the dimly lit basement, his sarcophagus had already been placed into a large wooden crate, stuffed with sawdust and in need only of its occupant before the lid would be closed and hammered tight. Matthew helped him in and began wrapping Ahkmenrah’s feet. “Seems a bit odd,” he said. “Got used to unwrapping you. Feels strange doing it in reverse.”
Ahkmenrah shrugged and wiggled his toes. “I’m just thankful they saw fit to leave me alone after the first week.”
Black-and-white photographs were affixed to the crate, presumably to identify the contents to the curators of the New York museum. The first night Ahkmenrah had awoken, he’d gotten a nasty shock indeed when he came across those photographs the Cambridge archaeologists had taken of his mummified body.
Shriveled, shrunken, grotesque. This was why his people had never made a habit of going around disturbing the dead, unlike these too-curious, conquering English. But after the initial cataloging and classifying, the professors had apparently lost interest in this little-known pharaoh with his relatively meager tomb offerings. They’d put him in a display and left him there, which allowed him and Matthew to forgo wrapping him back up in linens every night.
And now the forgotten pharaoh was going to America, as so many of the descendents of his people had already done. He lay back and slowed his breathing while Matthew kept wrapping the bandages. They were up to his hands now, wound ‘round and ‘round his fingers in loose mittens. “I never said thank you.”
Matthew avoided his gaze. “Don’t thank me. Never did let you out, like you wanted.”
“Nevertheless.” For all that he had refused to let Ahkmenrah and his tablet out of the building, the janitor had still sought to alleviate the worst of the pharaoh’s captivity.
Matthew grunted. “S’pose if you must, you can thank me for the Shakespeare.”
“Then I thank you. For the Shakespeare. And the food, though I still think your people should have improved your native cuisine much more than you did, after conquering so many lands with far superior fare.”
A corner of Matthew’s mouth curled up. “You liked the sweets well enough.”
“That I did.” The bandages were up to his neck now. “I hope they have ice cream in America.”
“They will,” Matthew said, and began covering his face.
"But the next night, I found the sarcophagus locked. And every night after that, no matter how much I pleaded."
"Hey, wait - how are you supposed to guard the tablet if you're only awake at night and you can't get out of your sarcophagus if it's locked?" Larry asks. They’re slumped over on the couch in the guard office in a warm glow of exhaustion. The museum is quiet for once, and they're seizing the opportunity to chill after a particularly intense fighting session with real knives.
"I asked Mother that on my last night, but she was rather vague on the specifics." Ahkmenrah shrugs. "Maybe the magic was rushed. Maybe my parents angered the wrong priestess. At any rate, I've been lucky."
Larry grows quiet. "Did anyone ever...has anyone apologized about keeping you in the sarcophagus for fifty years?"
"Teddy Roosevelt has," Ahkmenrah says, surprising Larry. "It was fairly gratifying for someone to finally acknowledge it."
Which is pretty much the understatement of the millennia, given what Larry knows about Ahkmenrah's past now. He puts his hand over Ahkmenrah's. (Funny how you spar with a guy every day, and buy him coffee, and find yourself having nightmares about arriving at work one night and being greeted with a nothing but a pile of ancient dust when you lift the sarcophagus lid - somehow it makes it so easy for Larry to touch him these days.) He says, "For what it's worth, I'm really sorry too."
"Don't be," Ahkmenrah shakes his head with a slight smile curving his mouth. "You freed me on the third day of your employment here. That puts your track record exponentially ahead of anyone else's."
Larry can't help it - there's a warm feeling in his chest, and he has to grin.
When the first storm of weeping had passed, Naushtanar wiped his nose on her pure linen robes, as she had done when he was small and suffering from a skinned knee in the palace gardens. Then she raised his head and looked into her grown son’s eyes.
“Listen to me. You live, but you do not live. You will lead this half-existence for eons. But not forever.”
“Not forever.” Oh gods, the thought of eons in a tomb stretched ahead of him. The shock of being killed was wearing off, and for the first time since he’d woken up not-dead, he felt fear.
“No. I dealt with the priests directly.” Naushtanar gently turned his head, and he saw it. The tablet, embedded in the door and glowing dimly in the torch-light.
“How did you get that out of the temple without Kahmunrah noticing?”
“Your traitorous brother has made few friends in the priesthood.” Vicious satisfaction colored his honored mother’s voice. “Menkheperre personally replaced it with a replica that will be of even less use to Kahmunrah than the sand that scours his sandals.”
Ahkmenrah looked back at her with horror. “He’ll have your head on a stake. And everyone who helped you.”
Naushtanar tossed her head back, every inch the queen she should have been. “I won’t be going back to Thebes. I’ve sent messages to my own people and they’ll gladly give back my old titles. Kahmunrah can’t touch me there.”
“He needs their gold too much,” Ahkmenrah conceded.
She gently touched his face. “I don’t have much time left. Learn the spells and keep the tablet safe, and you will find happiness. I made Menkheperre swear personally to that.”
Ahkmenrah stared at her. “Mother, I’m dead. How does a corpse find happiness?”
Naushtanar shook her head. “I don’t know, exactly. Just learn the spells. Keep the tablet safe.”
“And I’ll find happiness.”
It takes Larry a minute to realize his leg has been pressed to Ahkmenrah's for a while, that they're aligned thigh to thigh and shoulders slotted together while they're sitting on the Roman columns outside the museum, just shooting the breeze. The pharaoh is always warm, like he carries the heat of his beloved desert with him through the chill of New York. It's probably more magic. Larry doesn't mind.
In fact, he likes it. He’s liked it for a while. And he wants to...
He stops talking, and Ahkmenrah catches him looking, and he doesn't even...he just smiles, knowingly, and Larry has to distract himself with asking how the ancient Egyptians managed to get their teeth so white and even.
Ahkmenrah raises an eyebrow. "Have you been looking at my teeth lately?"
"No! I mean--no, I meant--that's, that’s, I haven’t been..." Larry can feel his face heat up and can't stop his mouth from fumbling out words.
The smile on Ahkmenrah's face is just knowing.. There’s a glint in the other man's eyes, and Larry feels like he can barely breathe. They hang on a tense moment, and then he says, "Come on, why do you always look at me like that? Oh, screw it."
Well, he is curious after all. He almost expects the pharaoh to taste Egyptian-y, or like sand, or desert wind, or gold or magic sparks or something. But he just tastes normal. His lips are soft. Then Ahkmenrah's hands come up to frame Larry's face, and he kisses back.
Behind them, perched somewhere in the rafters, Jed and Octavius high-five each other.
- New Sun Rising