I didn’t know how many days I had been riding through the desert when I happened upon that village. It was small, clearly only intended to be temporary, as all of the dwellings were tents of some kind. But nonetheless, there were the unmistakable signs of people. And not soon after entering, I heard yelling, and saw a man getting thrown out of a tent.
“Now, gentlemen, I’m sure we can work this out–“ The man was cut off by the sound of gunshots. “Alright, then, maybe not.”
I realized, then, that I recognized that man as none other than Jonathan Carnahan. The odd brother of Evelyn Carnahan-O’Connell, with brains much like his sister’s but not so much brawn. He had a tendency to use those brains to cheat at cards, or to sell fake artifacts to collectors. However, in a crisis, he could be more than helpful. He seemed to be in quite the crisis now.
I made what was probably the poor decision to try to help him. Galloping up to him on my horse, I grabbed him by his shirt and threw him into the saddle behind me.
“Oi! What do you think you’re doing?” He said, agitated, clearly not having recognized me in the dark.
“Nice to see you again too, Jonathan.” I replied. It then dawned on him just who I was.
“Ardeth! Old boy, it’s good to see you. Thank you for the daring rescue, but I had it all under control.”
“Sure. What were you doing in there, anyway?”
“Oh, some fellows weren’t exactly happy about my ability to cheat at cards. I actually wasn’t cheating, they were just awful at the game, so I wiped the floor with them. But they wanted their money back, which I did not give them. That was when one of them decided to pull out a gun, and I took that as my queue to leave.” He paused. “What about you? What brings you here?”
“Nothing all that important. I’ve been trekking through the desert for some time now on my own. Now that Imhotep’s dead and buried and the Scorpion King isn’t going to rise again, I fear I no longer have a purpose. Seems I have become a bit of a nomad.”
“Well, you were kind of one in the first place.”
“But I was a nomad with friends. I had my whole band of medjai.”
“Whatever happened to them?”
“I split up with them, for the time being. It just didn’t feel right at the moment.”
“So we’re both doing a bit of soul-searching here in the desert, it seems.”
“It does seem like that.” A spark of an idea formed at the back of my mind. It might have been a bad idea, but seeing Jonathan reminded me of just how nice it was to have a friend to travel with, to talk to. “Perhaps you might want to come with me? Travel the desert, see the sights, argue with the natives over the price of wine.”
“Hmm. Well, I have been rather busy with my card playing…” His heart wasn’t in his rebuttal, however. “Alright, fine. You’ve won me over. I’ll travel with you for a bit.”
I found myself beaming in a way I hadn’t expected. “Excellent. Our first act of travelling together should probably be to get as far and as fast away from those angry card players as we can.”
“Yes, that’s a very good idea. Let’s do that.”
I set my horse at a gallop, and soon we were speeding across the desert. Occasionally I found myself focusing on the fact that Jonathan’s arms were wrapped tightly around my torso, though I didn’t understand why. I should have had no reason to focus on the sensation, given the fact that I had ridden on horseback with others many times. But it felt different, somehow, with Jonathan. I would have to dedicate more time to pondering that later.
After we had passed a suitable distance, I decided to set up camp at a small ruin. There were a number of perks to it, one being that if our pursuers came after us, we could be hidden in the cover of the ancient stone walls. Jonathan was surprisingly skilled at pitching a tent, but then again, his parents were archaeologists, so he would have had an undoubted familiarity with tents.
I lit a small fire, and for some time, we sat quietly. The quiet crackle of the fire was the only sound penetrating the silence. I watched as Jonathan slipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out a flask. After taking a swig, he held it out to me. I declined, and he proceeded to chug the rest of whatever alcohol was within.
“Any reason why you’re drinking like that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Do I need a reason?”
I shrugged. “Maybe not. But most people have a reason.”
He sighed, laying back onto the sand. “I’ve had a bit of bad luck lately is all. I’ve tried to run straight, but the people who know me refuse to believe I’ve changed, and decide to take it out on me. No one would even realize if I died, and the ones who did would probably be glad.”
I was struck by his sudden frankness. “Now, that’s not true. I never knew you in your gambling days, so I don’t know if you’ve changed, but I know that you’re my friend, and I’m quite fond of you.”
“I’m not sure if I believe that, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
“Would I have saved you from those fools earlier if I had no regard for you?”
“Maybe not.” Suddenly, he sat up, looking straight into my eyes. The fire flickered across his features, making him look almost eerie. “Can I tell you something, Ardeth?”
“Is it something you’ll regret saying when you’re sober?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve really got nothing to lose, so what the hell.” He crawled around the fire, until he was seated directly in front of me. “I don’t know how or why, but I find myself incredibly attracted to you.”
I felt my face turn incredibly warm. “Well, I can honestly say I didn’t expect that.”
“I’m sure you didn’t. And I know I absolutely do not stand a chance with you, because you’re this weird stoic man who doesn’t show emotion. But you’re an attractive weird stoic man.”
Something was churning in my stomach. I swallowed, trying to push it down. “Just because I don’t show emotion doesn’t mean I don’t feel it.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it.” Jonathan stood, swooning. “Now, I’m going to go to bed before I continue tarnishing my glorious reputation.”
And with that, he collapsed to the ground.
I had to take a moment to simmer over exactly what had just happened. Jonathan had just drunkenly confessed that he was attracted to me. I had never even considered the possibility of his interest with me, much less that he would confess it to me in such a way.
I did like him, of course. Very much so. More than I liked almost anyone else I had ever met, which was a bit of a surprise. But against all odds, I was very fond of him.
Perhaps he was not the only one with an inclination in this situation.
That would explain quite a lot, actually. My sudden focus on our physical contact on the horse, my overall concern for him as a person… I didn’t expect it, but now it makes sense. I was, shall we say, romantically inclined towards him. I won’t say love. Not yet. Not until we’ve figured things out while we’re both sober.
It then occurred to me that he was still passed out in the sand. I couldn’t very well leave him there, so I picked him up, dragged him into the tent, and laid him on a blanket. However, I felt I was not exactly in the mood for sleeping, so I went back out to the fire.
I must’ve fallen asleep, because I woke up with the sun beaming overhead. It must’ve been about nine or ten o’clock. Quite the late start. I stood, rubbing my eyes.
Then, I heard the sound of someone groaning behind me. Jonathan poked his head out of the tent flap, eyes still closed.
“Can the sun go away for a bit? I’m a tad hungover.” He muttered, voice miserable.
“I don’t think it plans on disappearing anytime soon.”
“Damn. Why can’t the planets bend to my will?”
I smiled. Even dreadfully hungover, his sense of humor still remained. “We should probably get a move on. Find somewhere to pick up supplies, and maybe wait out until the sun subsides.”
“I think I’ll pass on that for now, maybe get another six to ten hours of sleep. Good night.”
“No.” I opened the flap of the tent. Jonathan, who was now on the ground, simply rolled over onto his face. “Jonathan, you cannot sleep through your problems.”
“I think I can probably sleep through this one. In fact, I’m quite good at sleeping through most of my problems.”
“Fine. Then I shall leave you in the sand.”
I began to disassemble the tent around him. Fortunately, that seemed to motivate him to get moving. “Alright, Alright. I’m coming.”
“Good. Now, help me with this tent.”
He began to assist me with it, though admittedly much slower than the night before. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
I raised an eyebrow. “If it’s something I can answer.”
“Man of riddles, you are.” He said, rolling his eyes. “But back to the point. Did I say anything embarrassing last night? Truth be told, by the time you picked me up, I was already pretty hammered, so I don’t remember much of what went on.”
I once again felt blood rushing to my cheeks. He had no memory of the dramatic confession he had made. Should I tell him? Or would he be better off not knowing? “I suppose it depends on what you think of as embarrassing.”
“So I did say something bad, didn’t I?”
“You were very truthful, I’ll give you that.”
He groaned. “I gave you my sob story, didn’t I? God, I am such a pity magnet. Listen, whatever I said, don’t take it at face value.”
“It wasn’t that.” I decided then that it would be best to skip over the finer details of our conversation. “But you did seem rather depressed.”
“I’m just a sad drunk is all. My life’s problems tend to come spewing out when I accidentally get a little too tipsy.”
“So you are genuinely having problems with your life?”
“I wouldn’t say problems. I’d say that just going it alone all these years has worn me down is all. I’ll get over it in no time.”
“Jonathan.” I stopped my focus on the tent and gave him my best steely glare. “You’re clearly not alright. Running from your problems or ignoring them isn’t going to help you any.”
“Well, I’m not going to kill myself, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Getting into trouble on purpose and getting yourself killed is no better.”
He sighed. “What do you care? You’ve never shown any interest in my general well-being, outside of trying to stop a Mummy from eating my face.”
I dropped the now rolled-up tent to the ground and grabbed Jonathan by the shoulders. “Jonathan, you are a good person, and I genuinely want to see you happy. Surprising though it may be to you, I actually care about you.”
A distressed laugh escaped his lips, before hanging his head down. “Right. Sure. After you just threatened to leave me in the sand.”
“Do you genuinely think I would be so mean?”
“No, I know you wouldn’t. And honestly, you don’t know how grateful I am for all that you’ve done for me, and my sister, and her absurd husband. I honestly don’t deserve to have you as a friend.”
Without really processing my actions, I cupped his cheek in my hand, gently turning his chin upwards until he was looking right at me. “Don’t say that.”
“Well, it’s the truth. You’re this fierce, noble warrior, and I’m just some wretched scum, dragging his way along through life.”
“Jonathan, you have saved the world, not once but twice! You stopped Imhotep and the Scorpion King, saving the lives of not just your friends, but the whole planet! Don’t say such awful things about yourself.” I pressed my forehead against his. I could feel his shallow breath upon my lips, and I found my heart to be racing. “There was something else you said when you were drunk. You said you found yourself attracted to me. Is that true?”
“Yes. God, yes. I didn’t mean for you to find out any of this.”
“I know, and I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I didn’t think it pertinent to this conversation. Because I want you to know that you don’t have to be alone, not anymore.”
He suddenly gripped the front of my shirt. “What are you saying, Ardeth?”
“Exactly what you think I’m saying. I’ve found myself to be quite in love with you.”
“This isn’t just some kind of rude joke? You’re genuinely telling the truth?”
“I would not joke about such a subject.”
“Oh, thank god.”
Before I could say another word, he had mashed his lips against mine, taking my breath away. It was a desperate kiss, fueled by years of pining, worrying, and wanting. I found myself pulling him closer, until the only distance between us was his arm still gripping my shirt.
I didn’t want to stop, but I had to break apart for air. When I did, Jonathan buried his nose in the crook of my neck, and I could feel his heavy breathing against me.
“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do that.” He muttered, still nearly gasping for breath. “You’re incredibly kissable.”
“I’m not sure I know what that means.”
“It means that you have a face that I just want to kiss. Amongst other things.”
I thought I couldn’t feel any warmer, but I discovered that I was wrong. I was blushing so badly I’m sure I looked like a tomato. It took me a moment to remember how to speak. “In that case, thank you.”
He looked up at me, a gentle smile gracing his features. “I do love you so. I thought I would never be able to tell you.”
“Well, alcohol has a tendency to loosen lips. Sometimes it’s for the better.”
“No matter how good the results are, it still doesn’t diminish the headache in the morning. Even passionately making out can’t fix that.”
“That’s why I try to avoid getting blind drunk. You don’t have to worry about the headache if you don’t drink.”
“In my heart I know you’re right, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop.”
I sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I see that I’m going to have to be the conscience in this relationship.”
Jonathan’s expression turned more serious. “So you do want a genuine relationship? Not just a kiss and run, one night stand, eternal heartbreak sort of thing?”
“I’m not leaving you. Not now, not ever. I think we both need a little continuity in our lives.”
“You had continuity, though. In your horse.”
“My horse does not talk back.”
He chuckled. “That would be weird. Does your horse have a name?”
“Not really. I’ve never needed to call it anything. And besides, riding through the desert on a horse with no name is much more enjoyable when you’re with someone you love.”