This Byte is a day late (sorry!), but, it’s a pretty special one. We’re going back in time, again, and taking a look at Adam and Faisal’s developing relationship. When did Adam discover Faisal was royalty? When did Prince Abdul find out about Adam? How did Adam and Faisal keep making the decision to be together, over and over again, with so much stacked between them?
Let’s put the pieces of their past together… before March 28th 2017!
Scorched sand spread in every direction, as far as Adam could see from the plane’s cramped window. Riyadh glittered in the distance, south of King Khalid Airport, shimmering in heat waves rising from Saudi Arabia’s central plateau, the Najd. Farther south, he could pick out the rolling sands of the Rub’ al-Khali, the Empty Quarter. Endless waves of empty, burning sand, and the classic images of Saudi Arabia. Nothing could survive in that endless desert.
His blood quickened, thrumming through his veins. He gripped the curved seat handles, his sweat-slick fingers slipping on the plastic as the flight attendant called for all seatbacks to be put forward and seatback trays to be returned to their upright positions.
This was it. His first visit to Saudi Arabia… for him. Exclusively for him. For Faisal.
Eight months. It had been eight months since he’d first met Faisal, had first followed him back to his Baghdad flat and writhed beneath his hands, his lips, his touch, for hours. Never, not in a million years, not in his wildest, most crazed thoughts, had he ever thought he’d find a lover in Baghdad. Much less a Saudi lover.
Faisal’s nationality wasn’t the most scandalous aspect of their… relationship? Was it a relationship? What were eight months of intense, almost constant lovemaking called? Sneaking away every chance they got? Making love in Baghdad and Kuwait City, where Faisal had another flat. Whispering Arabic to each other all night long by the light of a dozen flickering candles.
Sharing intelligence. Adam, quietly passing along the names of his targets, individuals he was tracking. Faisal, sliding him information the Kingdom had on America’s targets and pointing him in new directions, toward the quieter, insidious threats. The hand that wagged the dog.
Realizing Faisal was, like him, an intelligence officer. Conspiracy, his mind whispered. Espionage. Revealing secrets.
But what they’d shared had been beneficial for both of them and their governments so far. At least, that’s how he rationalized it. Adam had been applauded for his intelligence efforts, his wins in identifying deep Caliphate assets that had eluded the US for so long. Faisal’s efforts were focused half on the Caliphate and half on Iran, and Adam slipped him a signals intercept on Iran that Faisal had hand-carried back to Riyadh.
What they were doing was wrong on so many, many levels. He was violating the Espionage Act. He was sleeping with a foreign national and not disclosing it. He was engaging in homosexual activity with a Muslim in a Muslim country. In multiple Muslim countries. He was violating laws and agency regulations right and left.
And now, flying to Riyadh to meet with Faisal.
Faisal had texted the day before, saying that his people in Riyadh were beyond pleased with the signals intercept and that he had some time to spend in the Kingdom before flying back to Kuwait and then Baghdad.
Would Adam like to come down? They could steal a day away. No one would ever know.
He paid cash for his ticket, flying out of Baghdad before dawn.
Finally, the jet’s tires squealed and skipped down the runway at King Khalid Airport and then taxied to the gate. Alhamdulliah as salaama echoed around the cabin, the passengers thanking God for the safe flight, as custom. The Saudi morning sun burned down on the terminal, scattering gleaming silver light in every direction. Bodies shuffled out of the plane, men in long white thobes and ghutras, a few women in hijabs, and a scattered businessman or three. He caught eyes sliding sidelong to him. Not in a suit, and not in a thobe. What was he doing in the Kingdom, the capital of conservatism in the world?
Inside, the airport glittered, white and cream marble seeming to stretch forever. Arches interlaced overhead, like the cornices of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain. Ferns crowded around fountains and indoor lagoons, and ivy crawled up the marble in carefully orchestrated patterns. Whisper-soft footfalls and hushed conversation made the airport seem larger than it was, colossal as opposed to cavernous. He hurried as fast as he could without standing out, slipping through slow-moving crowds of Saudi men holding hands and groups sharing coffee and tea.
And then, finally, he was outside. Heat slapped him in the face as he stepped from the ice-cold air conditioning of the airport to the sun-scorched heat of Riyadh. Cars and taxis cluttered the curb, dark-skinned Bengalis and Pakistanis loading the luggage of aloof Saudis into the back of their cabs.
He swallowed. Where was Faisal? He fumbled for his cell in his pocket. It buzzed as he pulled it out.
To your left.
Frowning, he turned.
A cherry-red Lamborghini convertible waited at the curb, all alone, set apart from the bustle of the main terminal. A man rose in the front seat, holding onto the windscreen as he stood in the foot well. He wore a cream linen suit, setting off his golden skin, and a deep blue button-down, the buttons around his neck open and showing off the hollow of his throat. He smiled at Adam and titled his head. Even though he wore mirrored sunglasses, Adam could imagine the sparks burning in his amber eyes.
He headed for the Lamborghini with a grin, as if pulled by a magnet. Torn, his gaze wandered over the car’s slick lines, the compact power of the sports car, and then flicked up to his lover, still standing in the driver’s foot well. Faisal held just as much unrestrained power as the Lamborghini, just as much thrust and passion. His sleek muscles, his lithe body, always made Adam think of a jaguar, always on the prowl, always ready to strike.
“Ahlan wa sahlan,” Faisal called, grinning.
“Marhaban.” Adam whistled as he stood by the Lamborghini’s passenger door. To anyone watching, he might be gazing at the sports car.
But his eyes were fixed on Faisal’s, and, slowly, he dragged his gaze down Faisal’s body, from his taut shoulders encased in cream linen to his narrow waist, and then farther down.
“Hurry up and get in,” Faisal breathed. “We have a long drive.”
“In this?” He hopped over the passenger door and dropped into the bucket seat, throwing his small bag behind him. “How could any drive last long in this car?”
“I am taking you to the Gulf.”
“The Gulf?” Three hours away, at least. But, the beaches were phenomenal, and, across the bridge in Bahrain, the nightlife was some of the best in the world. He wasn’t here for the nightlife, though, and he wasn’t here for the beaches. What he wanted was sitting right beside him.
“I have a place there. We won’t be disturbed.” Faisal threw him a sly smile and stepped on the accelerator. They jumped smoothly into the traffic lane winding away from the terminal and out of the airport.
“You have lots of places.”
Faisal said nothing. He shifted into second. Wind flicked through his dark hair, ruffling the cropped strands.
When they hit the highway, the 80M, the open, empty stretch of sunbaked asphalt leading from Riyadh to the Gulf coast, Adam leaned over in his seat, ducking down out of sight and lying across the central dash. He palmed Faisal’s crotch as he reached for his fly.
“Wallah, Adam…” Faisal stepped down hard on the accelerator as Adam slowly undid his zipper.
“I’ll bet you can get us there in half the time.” He winked up at Faisal as he buried his head in his crotch.
“Maa shaa Allah…” Faisal groaned. The Lamborghini zoomed forward, the speedometer needle rising and rising as the engine roared, covering Faisal’s soft moans and gasps.
Neither man noticed the blacked-out SUV trailing behind them, hiding in the shimmering heatwaves a mile behind.
* * *
Christ, he loved this. Maybe he was compromised, and maybe he was completely guilty of sharing intelligence secrets. But conspiracy tasted so sweet, so delicious. Like all victims trapped in honeypot plots throughout the decades, he supposed, he believed this was special. He believed this was different.
Faisal had worshipped his body, stripping him slowly, tasting every inch of his skin. Kisses pressed everywhere, to his shoulder blades, the curve of his spine. The backs of his knees, where Faisal’s soft breath made his leg hair shiver and his body tremble. He was a strung-out bundle of nerves, lit on fire from within, every muscle quivering, every piece and part of him tingling with anticipation. Every time he reached for Faisal, Faisal batted his hands away, smiling coyly as he kept up his seduction, his quest to melt Adam’s bones.
Finally, Faisal rolled him over and spread his legs, and then buried his face in Adam’s ass. He’d groaned, long and loud, and he felt Faisal’s grin against his ass cheeks.
What felt like hours later, after his spine had liquefied and every one of his muscles had gone taut, struck with lightning bursting from the center of his body, from the places Faisal’s hands and fingers touched and stroked, Faisal finally kissed his way up his back and nuzzled his hair. “Ride me,” he breathed. “Ride me, Adam.”
He mumbled something, some string of consonants and vowels, and managed to push himself up on shaking arms, enough for Faisal to slide beneath him and between his legs. Their hands laced together, Faisal helping support him as he sat back, as he scooted until he found what he needed.
Adam held Faisal’s gaze as he sank down, as the burning need Faisal had ignited inside him was satiated. Faisal stopped breathing as he moved, his mouth falling open, his eyes wide, staring at Adam like Adam was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. They rocked together, hands clasped.
In Faisal’s Gulf bedroom, one wall was made up entirely of glass, overlooking the rolling sand, and in the distance, the azure waves of the Gulf waters, gently lapping at a private beach.
Whoever Faisal was, he was loaded. Most Saudis were, but not to this level. A brand-new Lamborghini and a house on the Gulf with a private beach? He must be a top-performing intelligence officer, richly rewarded by the Kingdom. Of course he was a great intel officer. Adam was in his bed, wasn’t he? Adam was passing over American information to him, wasn’t he?
Faisal rolled deep into him, sighing. “When I sink my eye into yours,” he breathed. “I catch a glimpse of a deep dawn and I see ancient yesterday.”
“What?” Frowning, Adam squeezed Faisal’s hands, pressed his thumb into his palms. He could barely think. All he knew, all he could feel, was Faisal pressing in at the root of his spine, like a beacon shining into his soul. Christ, he was so hard. Faisal unlocked some kind of new pleasure within him, some kind of brand-new feeling, sensations he didn’t know he was capable of feeling.
“It’s a poem,” Faisal whispered. “By Gibran to his love.” Groaning, Faisal’s eyelids fluttered closed. “When I am with you, these poems make sense to me at last.”
What could he possibly say to that? What they had together… he’d purposely not thought about it, hadn’t tried to put it in a box or slap a label on it. If Adam sat down with himself in the middle of the night and squared himself with reality, then yes, he’d admit to the skeletons that rattled deep in his closet that he was far too close to Faisal. On every level. And… that he wanted to be closer. Much, much closer.
Close enough that Faisal whispering an Arabic love poem to him while they made love was almost enough to send him over the edge.
Faisal kept whispering, holding Adam’s gaze. “I see what I do not know, and I feel the universe flowing between my eye and yours.”
Shuddering, Adam tipped forward, capturing Faisal’s lips in a deep kiss. Faisal’s hands left his and traced up his sides, his ribs, over his shoulders, and buried in his hair. Came forward, and cupped his cheeks. “Adam, wallah,” Faisal breathed around their kiss. “I—”
Splintering wood broke through Faisal’s bedroom, the sound like a canon blast. Shards sliced Adam’s back, splinters bouncing off his bare skin.
He reared back, still on Faisal’s lap, twisting around as Faisal jolted upright, wrapping one hand around Adam’s waist and holding him close as if he could protect him.
Six men poured into the room, hulking men in dark suits with muscles straining beneath their jackets and deep scowls etched on their brutish faces. And, behind them, an older Saudi man with a gray beard, wearing a white thobe and a white ghutra and with a gold-braided dark cloak over his clothes.
Adam recognized the man immediately: Abdul al-Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
Faisal spoke first, panic lacing through his voice. “Uncle—“
Adam whipped around, staring down at Faisal. Uncle?
Fury crackled over Prince Abdul, twisting his expression, darkening his skin to a raging, wrathful deep maroon. “Ajlabh,” he growled. Get him.
The six men stormed the bed, reaching for Adam. He thrashed, kicking out, trying to punch. Faisal shouted, ordering them to stop, screaming for his uncle to order them to stop, but it was no use.
Hands grabbed Adam and ripped him from Faisal, tearing their bodies apart. Three men held his arms, another two his legs.
He felt the heft, the swing, and then he was flying, soaring across the bedroom. He heard Faisal’s scream, his bellow.
And then, he slammed into the wall of glass, shattering the bay window as he soared through it. Cuts opened on his shoulder, along his back, on one cheek. Glass peppered him, struck every inch of his bare skin. He curled, trying to protect himself, rounding into a ball as heat and noise slammed into him, the desert sun and the roar of the shattered glass, and the slap of waves against the coastline.
Adam landed in a skid, in a puff of loose, burning sand, facedown. He didn’t move.
* * *
Later, he sat in Faisal’s sitting room, wrapped in a bloodstained sheet, and listened to Prince Abdul holler at Faisal.
Holler at his nephew. At Prince Faisal al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Royal Family.
How could he have been so stupid? How did he not know? Christ, one of the heads of the Saudi Royal Family had just caught him having sex with one of their own. The punishment for a non-Muslim engaging in homosexual sex with a Muslim in Saudi Arabia was death by stoning. And he’d slept with a member of the Royal Family? God, they’d probably fast-track his death sentence. He’d be dead before dusk.
The six bodyguards hovered menacingly nearby. They hadn’t cared about his cuts. He bled all over the sheet one of them threw at his face after he was dragged off the sand and dropped back in Faisal’s house.
Prince Abdul was already shouting, already shaking the walls. He could hear his bellows vibrate off his bones, even from the other room.
“How could you let an American turn you, ya Faisal? How could you let an American breach Kingdom security?”
Silence, from Faisal.
“He is working you! Do you not understand? He is stealing secrets from you! He has compromised you! You have given up the Kingdom for this?”
Christ, Faisal didn’t deserve this. If anything, the reverse was true. He gave far more to Faisal than Faisal gave to him. Faisal wasn’t turned. He wasn’t working for the Americans. He wasn’t working for Adam.
“You have failed, ya Faisal. You have failed in your duties. How ashamed I am of you! The king, have you any idea what he will say? How he will handle this failure? You will be cut out! You will be forgotten! Alhamdulliah, you will be lucky to be banished!”
Adam bowed his head. He’d known they both risked so much, pursuing this, this white-hot connection, this fire in their souls. But to risk his family, his Kingdom?
“Speak, ya Faisal! Do you have nothing to say for yourself?”
Faisal murmured something, but Adam couldn’t parse it out.
“You believed you were—? Rahimullah, you were seduced and made a fool of, ya Faisal. That is not love—”
Fuck, he couldn’t just listen to this. Couldn’t just let Faisal be destroyed. Had Faisal truly loved him? What had he been about to say, cradling Adam’s face as they kissed, after he breathed poetry between their bodies? Adam’s heart lurched, twisting, wringing his own tender, fragile feelings of love out in droplets that bled down his ribs. He’d wanted, God, he’d wanted. He’d dreamed of one day, perhaps beyond all the intelligence games, all the subterfuge, to whisper the confession to Faisal’s lips.
Adam waited for the bodyguards to look away before he leaped. He hauled the sheet around his waist, trying not to trip, and ran for the bedroom.
Six pairs of feet thundered after him, an elephant stampeded, but he made the door and burst within.
Faisal sat slumped on the edge of his bed—the bed they’d made love in, just an hour ago—wrapped in a satin robe, his head in both hands. Prince Abdul paced before him, wearing a tread in the marble floor with his sandals.
“I wasn’t running Faisal,” he blurted out, right as the six bodyguards burst in behind him. Three grabbed his arms and one grabbed his head in an armlock, almost tackling him to the ground.
Faisal jumped up, reaching for him, but Prince Abdul barked something guttural, and Faisal stilled.
Everyone froze. The bodyguards’ hold loosened. They didn’t let go, though.
“Faisal ran me.” Adam swallowed, and his gaze flicked to Faisal’s. Honeyed sorrow poured from Faisal’s eyes, like a candle melting in the desert. Loss, aching loss. “Faisal was running me. I’ve turned. I’m compromised. I gave him intelligence. Information. Those Iranian intercepts? I gave them to him. I give him everything.”
Prince Abdul’s mouth dropped open. He peered at Adam, his eyes narrowing. Slowly, he turned back to Faisal. “Bismillah, is this true, ya Faisal?”
Adam held Faisal’s gaze. Say yes. Say yes. He’d compromise himself even further with this, but Faisal, at least, would be protected in his family. It might save his life. His freedom.
Faisal’s watery eyes closed. He lifted his chin. “Yes, Uncle. I turned him. He works for me.”
Silence, save for the wind whispering through the broken window and glass shards tinkling across the marble floor.
* * *
Adam sat slumped in the back seat of Prince Abdul’s SUV, behind two massive bodyguards. The SUV hummed up Route 95, screaming at one hundred and forty miles an hour toward the Kuwait border. Prince Abdul had ordered his banishment.
Better than his death.
He never got to say goodbye to Faisal.
What had their relationship been, in truth, though? Faisal had lied to him about his identity. Granted, if he’d known Faisal was royalty, he’d have run screaming in the opposite direction. In fact, if he’d woken up after that first night and realized he’d just slept with a prince of the Saudi Royal Family, he probably would have booked the next flight back to America. He’d have shoveled as much shit as needed to get his duty assignment changed. Anything to get him out of the Middle East.
And he’d never have shared what they had created between themselves. Experienced what Faisal gave him. What he made Adam feel.
Would never have fallen, even the littlest bit, in love.
Better to have loved and lost, as the old poets said. But that was crap. The emptiness, the blank way his emotions had smeared and gone flat, the hollowness in his heart. He’d rather have anything else than the aching desolation he felt deep within. This was the kind of feeling that called for tequila, and lots and lots of it. Enough to drown out the barren spaces, make sloshing waves in the hollows of his broken heart.
His cell buzzed, vibrating in his pocket.
Eyeing the bodyguards, Adam slid it out carefully. He’d been ignored so far, but he hadn’t moved once, other than to throw his head back and try and fight the snarl that wanted to rise, the fight that his blood begged for.
He swiped the screen on.
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams.
All these things shall love do unto you, that you may know the secrets of your heart.
Christ, Faisal. His eyes blurred, and his thumb hovered over the screen. How did he respond? What the hell did he say? They should just walk away, forget about each other, forget about ever knowing each other at all. He could bury this, salvage his career. Faisal could repair his reputation with his family.
Though, his uncle hadn’t seemed shocked by Adam being a man. Just that he was an American. Did he know—
His phone buzzed again.
It was never about the intel for me.
Adam swallowed. [me either]
I just wanted to keep seeing you.
How could he feel worse than he had before, when Prince Abdul had torn them apart? Was this it? Was this goodbye? Faisal, in his way, telling him he loved him and telling him goodbye? Over text, no less? Christ, he was a shit show, in every single way.
He pulled up the Internet, plugging in the lines of Faisal’s poem. The full poem’s text loaded on his screen. His eyes blurred again as he read, the poem a treatise on the aching cost of love, the tribulations of falling headfirst into the uncontrolled eddies of the heart.
There was one line he could send back.
[Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.]
Adam… yaghfir Allah, I want to keep seeing you.
Adam’s eyes slipped closed. He clenched his phone, hard enough that the case creaked, groaning in his hand. Allah forgive me, Faisal said.
He should say no. He should walk away. He shouldn’t let this become larger than it was already, a bigger mess, a bigger problem. The wise choice, the right choice, was to say no. No, they were through. He’d made a mistake, and he had to clean it up, and that started with deleting Faisal’s number. Ignoring his texts. Walking away, far away, and never looking back.
Instead, he typed back with shaking fingers [me too].
Timestamp: Almost two years before Enemies of the State.
The two poems referenced are “On Love” and “My Love” by Kaleel Gebran.