Hello! After one week off for my vacation, I am back with another Bauer’s Bytes!
This week, I listened to you guys asking for some Faisal and Adam. I know those two have been a puzzle, and I perhaps purposely wrote them that way. 🙂 We airdropped into the middle of their fractured relationship, and there is a minefield of past history between the two to navigate and uncover. Plus, Faisal’s family, his culture, his faith, and Adam’s military culture, his team, and the very real laws against developing an intimate relationship where he could be manipulated or blackmailed. A minefield, to be sure!
I bring you another piece of their puzzle, this time from Faisal’s perspective. Faisal’s view of their separation, and what is at risk for him as he pursues Adam’s love. And, what was behind Prince (Uncle) Abdul’s wrath toward Adam when they met in the hospital in Riyadh?
“Faisal, this is outrageous!”
“You know what is planned for you. You know where your life is heading—“
“I don’t want it!” Anger surged through Faisal’s words, his voice breaking against the clawing cage of his life. He had trained himself to keep a clenched-tight fist wrapped around his bitter frustration, but, steadily over the past year, that control had slipped away, day by day, and heartache by heartache. Never let it show, he’d always told himself. Never, ever let it show how you truly feel.
His uncle’s stunned expression slammed into his gut. Uncle Abdul’s jaw had dropped open, and he stayed speechless, staring at Faisal. A deep frown pulled at his forehead.
Well done, Faisal. Swallowing, he tried to draw himself together, plucking at the sleeve of one robe as he laced his long fingers beneath his white cuffs and squared his shoulders. “I don’t want that life, Uncle,” he repeated. He kept his voice firm, but deliberately banked his white-hot frustration, burying the deepest parts of himself once again. “I do not want to be heir to the kingdom.”
His uncle, heir to the Saudi throne, had started dropping subtle hints about his plans for Faisal’s future when Faisal was just sixteen. Those hints had become less subtle as the years went on, until it became obvious to anyone who blinked at the royal family that Faisal was being groomed as Prince Abdul’s favored heir. Never mind his seven biological sons—and six daughters—most of whom were older than Faisal. Between the drug busts in Europe, the murky connections to extremist groups across the Middle East, the outlandish spending in Asia and America, and the public sentiment that had soured against the monarchy, more than half of Abdul’s sons weren’t fit to accede to the inner circles of the monarchy. Of the nation’s power. And, of the children that were reasonably fit candidates, two didn’t want anything to do with the kingdom and had fled overseas, and the last—
Well. No one spoke of Abdul’s final son.
It was something indeed, Faisal often thought, with no small trace of irony, that the kingdom’s brightest hope for a future ruler rested on his slim shoulders. What would his relatives say if they knew the truth about him? Uncle Abdul had nearly gone apoplectic the first—and only—time the words had tumbled from Faisal’s lips. I’m gay, Uncle. He’d had to speak in English to tell; in Arabic, there was no word to describe who he was. A man who loved other men. There was a word for the act, and there was an academic word for the study of his behavior, but there was no word for who he was. Not according to his people. He didn’t exist.
Uncle Abdul, like Arabic linguists, seemed to believe that if they never spoke of it, it wouldn’t exist. Faisal’s admission was just a slip of the tongue, and after a time, and the scourge of a sandstorm, it would fall away, never to be mentioned again. And if it wasn’t mentioned then it did not exist. It couldn’t exist.
“It must be you,” Abdul growled. “There is no one else! Not anymore!”
“According to the family, I am less fit than any of the others! They just don’t know it yet!”
“There is nothing to know!” Abdul roared. “Nothing! You will marry one of these women—“
“I will not!”
“It is your duty!”
“A duty I do not want! I do not accept this, Uncle!” Faisal’s hands shook beneath his robes. In his chest, his heart hammered, almost vibrating against his bones. He could feel his soul shiver and quake, and the sands seemed to open up beneath his uncle’s palace. He felt the ravages on his heart even through the marble and the gold and the granite. A furious slashing, like fingernails shredding his insides. “I don’t want this, Uncle. And I can’t do it. I can’t.”
Uncle Abdul exhaled, ragged and harsh, and turned away from him. The eviscerations against his soul grew sharper, and for a moment, Faisal almost called him back. He bit his tongue and tried to breathe. Tried to still the wild dizziness threatening to unseat his world. If he took a step, any step, he’d fall to the ground, and Allah only knew what would be there when he got to his feet.
There was simply no greater sin in his world than turning away from his family and rejecting their path for him. And after everything his uncle had done for him—raising him, taking him in after his parent’s deaths, lavishing him with affection, and the best that Saudi money could buy in an education and a life—here he was, rejecting Uncle Abdul’s careful path. The life he’d laid out was in itself a sign of his uncle’s deep, deep love for him. He wanted to give Faisal everything. The world, even.
Refusing this was like refusing his uncle’s love. Taking everything he’d been given and throwing it back. It was a slap in the face, the greatest disrespect a son—or a nephew—could ever give to the father who loved him so dearly.
He waited, closing his eyes, and took a shaking breath. Whatever would happen next would happen. It was out of his control now. Everything he was he put into Allah’s hands. Praying, Faisal whispered the words he’d repeated to himself for ten years, ever since he’d figured out his desires ran counter to his entire world’s expectations. Allah made me this way, and He would not make a mistake. I am his, and I live at his desire. In shaa Allah. Show me the path you have laid for me. In shaa Allah.
His uncle’s words, when they came, weren’t what he was expecting.
“Why? Why, Faisal? Why can’t you?”
His eyes slipped open. He spoke softly, almost whispered. “You know why.”
Uncle Abdul turned, piercing Faisal with a harsh glare. “This is because of him?” Abdul spat out the word him as if it were poisoned, as if he hated the thought, and the person—the man—behind the word.
In shaa Allah. “I love him.”
Uncle Abdul exploded, fury twisting his wrinkled and tanned features to anguish. “Why do you care for that man?”
Were they truly going to discuss this? After so many years? Uncle Abdul hadn’t said a word about Adam, not once, not even after he found out about their love affair. Or had pulled Faisal back to Riyadh. And he hadn’t said a word either when Faisal had spent all of last spring with red rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks.
But there had been that moment, once, in the king’ office. When the king had summoned Uncle Abdul and himself to speak privately with President Spiers at the end of summer, when the American president had called after everything had come out, and the coup against the White House had been stopped, and after Adam had left… again.
Faisal had spoken for the kingdom during the call, sitting across from the king. His uncle stood behind him, and, near the end, the king had slid a piece of paper across his golden desk for him to read. He’d promised President Spiers the kingdom’s ongoing and steadfast friendship, no matter what was said or what happened in the world, or in the media, as the king watched him carefully.
No one said the words, but the news media was blaring to all corners of the world a picture of President Spiers and his secret male lover—the Secret Service agent, Reichenbach, who had laid in his palace’s spare bedroom—kissing in front of the White House, blown up on every front page.
After the call, there had been a moment in the king’s office when his uncle and the king, his uncle’s uncle, had looked at him, almost as if they wanted to say something. The air had been heavy, thick with unspoken words, their eyes blazing with the same fires of the Arabian sun burning at the sands of the empty desert in the south.
Nothing had been said that day, or any day since. Until now.
How could he even begin? How could he ever convey to his uncle how deeply he loved Adam? When Uncle Abdul refused to even accept that Faisal could love a man. “I love him for more reasons than I can count, Uncle. His spirit. His soul. His intelligence. His humor. His strength. We worked together; you know this. I got to know him inside and out. How he thinks. How he feels.” How he handled the dark world of black intelligence, of off the grid missions, of being a man apart in a world that moved too fast. How he kept his humanity through it all, and how they turned toward each other when the world seemed to collapse in on them. “Everything about me loves everything about him.”
“Him, Uncle,” Faisal repeated. “I love him.”
Uncle Abdul’s eyes narrowed. His lips pressed together. “But why this man? Surely there could be another person, another… man… that could satisfy these urges of yours. Someone else. These desires could be managed. Hidden. You can still live the life we’ve given you.”
Shaking his head, Faisal closed his eyes as his stomach dropped out from beneath him. His life and his dreams, all of his love, could hardly be dismissed as a series of urges. He’d known, someday, this confrontation would come, where he’d have to draw his line around his heart. He just hadn’t thought it would be today.
But, was that the barest hint of acceptance from his uncle? To even say that there could be another man in his life… Albeit, hidden and buried, a subterfuge beneath the veneer of his uncle’s dreams. Was that progress? If it was, why did it make him feel even worse? “Uncle, I don’t want another man. I want him. And I don’t want to hide. I don’t want a fake life. I want to live my life.”
“But he left you.”
Anguish hit his heart, striking with the backbreaking blow of a sledgehammer, and clanged throughout his body and his soul.
Adam had left him. Twice.
One spring day, almost a full year ago, when the honey bloom was building over Taif, and the roses were approaching their peak, and Europe’s perfumeries were descending to harvest the rose oil that came only from Taif’s mountainside, Adam’s eyes had skittered away from his, and his chapped lips had fumbled through a torrent of words. Apologies. Excuses. And a goodbye.
Watching Adam walk away had been like exhaling and not knowing if another breath would come. Like a shivering last note held on a violin string, quivering into an echo of stillness. It hadn’t felt real. After everything. After what they’d risked. How deeply they’d loved, for two years. And then, Adam had just up and walked away. It hadn’t made sense.
It still didn’t make sense.
He’d been a ghost all spring, and into summer. Second guessing himself over everything. Had Adam left because of this or that? What part of himself had driven his love away? What had he done? How had he not been enough? His confidence, once strong with Adam’s bolstering smile, folded in on itself like a crumpled love letter.
He was not at his best when Colonel Song had first approached him. Unraveling a deadly plot to overthrow the American president, run by a splinter faction of the American military under a false flag attack, was perhaps the biggest challenge of his life. The greatest threat against the kingdom, and the world, he’d ever seen. The devastation to the world order, to international stability and normality, should America fall, would be worse than almost anything else.
He’d desperately wanted Adam at his side through that. Even though Colonel Song had said they couldn’t trust anyone—not a single soul—in America, in shaa Allah, he could trust Adam.
But Adam didn’t want him.
Then, Nairobi. The nuclear attack. The world on edge, shaking with fear. Aid and assistance poured in. And the world came together, stitched so by President Spiers. Reconstruction and security talks were planned in Ethiopia.
Faisal had watched it all come apart from Riyadh, standing beside his uncle. Uncle Abdul had seemed to age ten years in the space of the news broadcast, and his knuckles had gone white where he clasped the back of a chair in the king’s palace as they watched the television reports of the attack on the American president.
President Spiers lived. The rescue team—Recon Marines—and two Secret Service agents did not. Recon Marines. What were the chances? Like a scab, he’d picked over the worry until it had bled out into every corner of his soul. Adam had transferred out of the Saudi operation the day after he’d broken their relationship off. He wasn’t in Iraq, but there were rumors that he was in North Africa. Across the Red Sea. Possibly in Djibouti.
The Recon Marine team had been from Camp Lemonnier. From Djibouti.
A scratchy cell phone connection to an ancient, desert-rotted pay phone in Jazan had answered his questions, breathless relief making him collapse to the floor. Adam’s voice hadn’t ever been that fast, or that frantic sounding, and Faisal had promised sixteen times to get to Adam, to help him, from when Faisal had picked himself off the floor and started running for his car and driver.
Water, food, rest, and a surgeon later, Adam’s team was snoring in the sun room of his Taif palace, the wounded Secret Service agent was resting in one of his spare bedrooms, his friend sleeping on the floor beside his bed, and—
And Adam had come up to his bedroom, trembling. He stank like the desert and the sea, like sweat and oil and salt, and the tang of gunpowder lingered on his skin, mixing with wet copper and smeared blood. It took nothing to guide him to the bath. Strip him down, and set him in the tub. Or follow him in, holding on to the soap and a cloth like they would uphold his good intentions in perpetuity.
Adam kissed him before Faisal had washed his hair. They kissed until the water ran cold, and then abandoned the tub, and the swirls of dirt and blood and sweat they left behind. Adam was still filthy, less than half washed, but Faisal hadn’t cared. He pushed Adam to the bed, and Adam pulled him down on top.
Adam was exhausted, and after the first time, he’d passed out with his face shoved against Faisal’s neck, arms wrapped so tightly around him. That should have been it, but every time Faisal stirred, Adam woke, and he reached for Faisal again. By the time the sun rose, they were working on their fourth time, gritting their teeth and kissing through the bite and the sting, but refusing to stop.
How happy he’d been then, watching the sunlight on Adam’s cheeks. How certain he’d been that it would all work out. That their love would be enough.
Adam had left again.
No promises to write. Or to call. Or to return. He’d avoided Faisal on that last night, and wouldn’t meet his gaze when they all headed out. Days later, after Faisal had scoured the news and knew they had been successful, and that Adam was alive, he had tried to reach out to him.
Adam’s persistent silence echoed through the gold gilt halls of his palace.
“He left you,” Uncle Abdul repeated. “Why do you cling to this man? After what he did to you?”
“I’m waiting for him, Uncle.” His voice shook, and he swallowed. Took a breath. “We love each other. I know he still loves me—“
Uncle Abdul’s eyes narrowed to slits.
“I will wait for him. I’ll wait for however long it takes. He’s worth it to me. He’s worth all of my prayers. All of my hope. All of my dreams.”
Uncle Abdul’s dark eyes squinted, and a new sheen covered his gaze. “Worth your life? Worth the hope of your family? Your kingdom?”
His eyes squeezed closed, and Faisal took another shaky inhale. “I cannot live a false life, Uncle. I won’t marry one of your brides.” Exhaling, he clenched his trembling fists. “I would marry Adam… if he would have me.”
Uncle Abdul’s breath exploded from him, a snort and a guffaw and a disbelieving gasp all rolled into one. His lips curled back as he shook his head. “Nephew…” Slumping, his shoulders wilted as his scowl dropped, and only sadness remained, hanging off his wrinkled face. “Putting aside everything else… Everything. This… man… He is not worth half of you. Leaving you so suddenly, and without explanation. With no answers. That is not how someone who loves you can behave!”
“How do you know…” Confusion strangled Faisal’s words, and he frowned as his lips moved soundlessly. “We’ve never talked about—”
“Do you think I haven’t been watching over you? Over you both, and what you were doing? I know what happened. And I saw how you were after, Faisal. What he did to you—” Uncle Abdul stopped, his lips pursed tight. “I’m your uncle. I will protect you, always.”
Faisal turned away fast, blinking back the sting at the corners of his eyes. How many years had he thought he’d been quietly abandoned. Left alone, as long as he didn’t make any noise about his desires. Uncle Abdul could pretend it wasn’t happening. What did it mean that his uncle was actually looking out for him? Had known all along?
“I love him, Uncle,” he breathed. “I’m not willing to give up yet.”
A long sigh, from across the room. “We will talk again. When more time has passed, and this wound has closed. We will… figure out what to do. This family needs you.” Uncle Abdul stepped closer, a scowl tugging down at the corners of his lips beneath dark and pleading eyes. “And I won’t have you throwing your heart away after an American Marine who used you when it suited him and then left when he didn’t want you any longer. I won’t allow that. I won’t see my nephew treated that way.”
Faisal stared back and tried not to flinch as his uncle’s words lodged deep in the center of his heart. “I—“
In his pocket, his cell phone rang. The shrill tones shattered the air, and he muttered an apology as he fumbled through his robes for the phone. On the display, an international number, registered in America, flashed.
His chest tightened. He bit the corner of his lip. Could it be?
“Faisal,” he heard, choked and breathless. Wind whipped over the line, and a furious pounding of what sounded like hooves. “I need your help. Again.”
His heart froze, and his lungs seized, and everything seemed to tunnel to the patch of gold woven into the carpet at his feet. Adam. Adam’s voice, on the other end of the line. Adam.
But, something was wrong. Adam was in trouble, and he was reaching out for help… again. Like the last time, after Ethiopia? Or something else? What was his love wrapped up in now?
Whatever it was, he would be there for Adam. For anything he needed. Always. “Of course. I am here,” he choked out. “Whatever you need. How can I help you?”
“We need an extraction from Sudan. Darfur. Al Fashir has a little airport. My team is headed there now. We could really use a lift out of here. Anywhere but here.”
Faisal’s eyes slipped closed. He felt the weight of his uncle’s stare boring into him. “I will make it happen. A plane will meet you there and bring you to Saudi.”
Wind crunched over the line. “Thank you,” Adam finally breathed. “You’re—“ A muffled curse. “You’re a life saver,” Adam finally said. His voice shook. “I’ll call you when we’re close to Al Fashir.”
The line cut out.
Faisal cupped the phone, keeping his eyes closed, and pressed it between his hands. Slowly, he opened his eyes, looking up at his uncle. “I must go.”
Uncle Abdul said nothing.
“Something may be happening in Sudan, in the Darfur. I will keep you and the king updated.” Bowing gently, Faisal dipped his head and pocketed his cell phone. “Please forgive me, Uncle,” he said softly. His words caught in his throat, and suddenly he was apologizing for so much more than just walking out on their meeting.
Silence filled the golden room, one of the many jewel and silk encrusted sitting rooms of the king’s palace. A rose twitched in a vase beneath an open window, the petal tickled by the wind. A sapphire inlaid in a mosaic along one wall flashed against a beam of sunlight. The words of the Prophet laced along one wall, black onyx inlay against pearl and bordered by carved wood from a millennia past.
“You are family, Faisal,” his uncle rumbled. “There is nothing to forgive.”
Timestamp: Enemy of My Enemy, end chapter 6, when Adam is escaping from the rebels and Madigan’s encampment in Darfur, Sudan. This is Faisal’s side of the story, just before he places that call.