Author's Note: This takes place during Tomb of the Golden Bird, just after Ramses and Sethos have tried to retrieve Margaret from the Winter Palace and failed (page 186 to 190). I love Emerson and Amelia together, but can't help but notice all the Sethos/Amelia opportunities in the novel just waiting to be pounced on.

۞

Beloved

By Dream Descends

۞

"…Do you ever think of anything except your bloody career?"

"Unlike you! You're the one who is responsible for putting your beloved Amelia in danger. You're responsible for this whole mess…!"

۞

Though his impulsive brother left something to be desired where tact was concerned, he could not help but admire, even envy, the man's particular, decidedly robust way of expressing himself. Of course, envying Radcliffe Emerson—the most distinguished archaeologist of this or any other age, Sethos silently quoted the man's wife with unusual bitterness—was not unfamiliar to him. And as he, Seth Emerson alias Sethos alias Anthony Bissinghurst, sat in that tiny boat, trying to maintain a civil attitude toward his probing nephew, he envied no one more than his half-brother who, in his position, would have leapt to his feet and shouted this furious writhing shame away.

When they reached the house, Amelia was waiting for them in the parlour—Nefret and Emerson were there as well, but he paid them little heed. "Where is she?" were, of course, the first words she flung at him as he stepped inside. Somehow it made Sethos even more resentful of Margaret, for humiliating him once again in front of Amelia, for his failure to bring his wife back. The worst part was that it should not have humiliated him. It was his wife's opinion that should cause him such distress, not Mrs. Radcliffe Emerson's.

"She refused to come," he said, trying to employ a polite tone of voice and failing. His ambiguous hazel eyes met her steely grey ones, and gazed on defiantly, daring her to ask more. When she fell silent, her lips settling into a thin, irritated line, he declared his intention of going straight to bed. The topic would quickly turn to his inadequacies as a husband, or the accusations Ramses had unfortunately overheard Margaret spit at him earlier. Both were subjects he did not care to touch on.

Instead of heading down the hall to his room, however, he quietly opened the door that led outside to the gardens and the path connecting the two sections of the house. Nothing was more stifling than his bland guest room, and he hungered fiercely for some dark solitude.

۞

Though my faith in my brother-in-law's good intentions had grown immeasurably over the past several years, my faith in his honesty had not. I confess I had been checking his rooms at night to make sure he was in fact asleep and where he said he was—with reasonable cause to do so, as any sensible reader will realize. After adorning my dressing gown and excusing myself from Emerson's soothing ministrations for a brief moment (tempting though they were, I am not one to shirk duty), I crept silently down the hall to his door and peered in. He had been particularly agitated upon returning that evening, and I had found it hard to believe he could go straight to bed and stay there.

Of course, my suspicions were proved correct. He was absent from his quarters. His covers had not been disturbed and there were no garments strewn across the floor to signify a change into bedclothes, as was the untidy man's usual routine.

I was not alarmed. I did not think he was foolish or upset enough to do something irrational as leave in the middle of the night. In all likelihood he was somewhere on the property, brooding melodramatically. I have found that is a characteristic trait among mysterious persons. They must do everything in isolation and far more spectacularly than other people to uphold what they consider is a veil of secrecy around themselves. In my opinion, acting mysterious to preserve a reputation when there is no one around to witness such acts is a ridiculous practise.

I eventually found him in the gardens, leaning against a squat palm tree and smoking fervently. He straightened as I approached and, as courtesy required, put the thing out by crushing it with his foot. I assumed he would clean it up afterwards.

"How kind of you to join me," he greeted me caustically, clearly still in a vile mood. I had prepared myself for this, so the sarcasm did not irritate me a great deal.

"I find solitude when a person is in considerable anguish to be unwise. It leads to acts of idiocy and thoughtlessness," I told him composedly. "I came to see if you required consolation."

Immediately his stiff, aggravated features, so like that of my spouse (who was, I thought worriedly, doubtlessly starting to get impatient), relaxed into a sheepish grin. "I have been somewhat loathsome these past few days, haven't I," he reflected apologetically. "I am sorry, my dear."

"Forgiven," I said agreeably. "Though I am not the person requiring an apology."

His amiable expression faded. "Margaret would not accept a simple 'sorry' from me now."

"I imagine you could come up with a more creative request for forgiveness than that," I said. "She still cares for you at least, which is always helpful."

"I haven't any idea why she does, quite frankly," he replied, laughing humourlessly. "I'm a rotten husband to her. Even if I were to quit intelligence, and return to England, I fear I would always be…distracted."

The hesitancy in his tone was something new. I felt I was on the verge of his confiding fully in me, but I went on cautiously. "How so?"

His wandering eyes finally settled on my face, and their intelligible grey-green depths were filled with a profound helplessness that left me speechless.

"Amelia," he began sadly, in the tone of one who is venturing out onto foreign grounds. A peculiar prickling sensation traveled down my spine. "My darling Amelia, I am too old for this."

"You are no older than I," I protested, though I knew not of what he spoke. I was beginning to regret accosting him under such delicate circumstances. My heart raced for inexplicable reasons, as it did when I was on the verge of discovering something important.

He provided me with no more words to reflect on, however—for in a second he had his arms around me and was pressing his lips against mine.

I believe at first I was too stunned to react, so unexpected was this development. I was thrown back to a time years ago when he had me locked up in his apartment after I had discovered yet another of his complex disguises—trapped in his territory with no means of escape, forced to submit to his wishes to preserve what was left of my dignity, when at any time he could have taken what he said he wanted…what I knew he wanted.

He was changed now—

But then this kiss said different.

Even after the initial surprise at worn off, I did not struggle. My brain told my body it was futile, and my body believed it. Though somewhere in the back of my head I was screaming for any sense to return to me, my reasonable consciousness was lost—and with it gone, I began to wonder…

If I had taken his hand, years, what now seemed like ages ago—if Emerson had not come in time, and I was taken away somewhere to Sethos' hidden fortress to eventually fall in love with a man who I had only known as an unscrupulous villain…If when it seemed my spouse could never learn to love me again I had turned to the friend in disguise who so desperately offered his attentions…If somewhere along the way I had forgotten my family and my duties, and abandoned everything I held dear…

But it was pointless speculation. That was the past, and as Sethos pulled away I recognized it to be as much. I gaped up at him with swollen lips and, for once, astonished—no, intimidated eyes. He returned the look with a frightening passion that I cannot begin to put into words.

"I would be distracted," he murmured fastidiously, "By the unrelenting problem of my beloved, and who she happens to be." His arms abruptly released me and I nearly toppled forward. I had not realized how much he had been supporting me. "A replacement is just that, no matter how long she manages to hold your fancy."

And with those powerful, meaning-ridden words, he walked briskly back to the house and then disappeared inside, leaving the door open for when I decided to follow his example.

With shaking hands, I scooped up the remains of his cigarette and went to throw them away before returning to my chambers, where my husband awaited me, no doubt aggravated at my long absence.

FIN

۞