Faith (Part I)

 

This week, I’m giving you something a little different. I’ve strung two shorter Bytes together to form the first part of a multi-part series where we look into specific moments in the series, told from another character’s point of view. This week, two scenes from Enemy of My Enemy.

How did Scott handle the attack in Sochi? How does Uncle Abdul deal with Adam coming back into Faisal’s life?

Spoilers for Enemy of My Enemy! If you haven’t read Enemy of My Enemy, do not read ahead!

Next week, we’ll look at moments in Enemy Within.

Happy Reading!

 

 


 

Scott

 

It happened again. Jesus fuck, how can it happen again?

 

In training, at the Secret Service Academy, we’re all taught the numbers. The statistics, the probability. The likelihood that you’re going to take a bullet in the chest for your protectee. We get the street rep for being tough bullet-sponges, but in the history of the Secret Service, not many have had to face that. We’re too anal-fucking-retentive on the back end to get surprised on the front.

 

But we got spanked in Ethiopia. After, we realized we weren’t playing with a full deck, and Ethiopia was always going to happen, no matter how tight Ethan’s planning was, how secure his operation to protect Spiers had been. How can you win when you’re going up against traitors inside your own government?

 

But this… Jesus Christ. Sochi was supposed to be a retreat. You can’t call it a vacation when two world leaders are planning massive military operations and a rogue general is sinking Russian naval ships. But this wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. Russia, and Puchkov, are our allies now.

 

So why the fuck am I running with Ethan and Spiers and ducking bullets… again?

 

It can’t happen twice. I told myself that every fucking night, after Ethan moved back to DC and into the White House. It just can’t happen twice. There can’t be two attacks on a president. The numbers, the statistics, they don’t support it.

 

Still, I went apeshit with protections, once I had command of the detail full time. Triple the number of agents, closed ranks, tighter security cordons. I kept Spiers in, too. He didn’t travel. Not unless he absolutely had to.

 

What if it does happen again? What if they’re both attacked? I kept myself up at night, my brain like a hamster on crack, spinning its wheels until the screws in my head came loose. If what happened in Ethiopia happens again, who the fuck will I throw myself in front of? Who will I catch a bullet for? Spiers? The fucking president? Ethan’s love of his life?

 

Or Ethan? My best friend, my brother, my fucking knuckleheaded shitshow brother who went and fell for the Goddamn president of the United States. Fucking Ethan…

 

It can’t happen again, I said. Every night.

 

Now, Ethan is shadowing my moves, acting like he’s some kind of Secret Service agent again. God, I wish he was. I wish he was still Ethan, still the other half of me in these kinds of fucked-up situations. I wish I could predict what he’d do, how he’d move, where he’d go next. But everything is fucked now. His focus isn’t on the mission or on me, his battle buddy. His focus is on Spiers. Just like Ethiopia, and Saudi, and the fucking White House, all over again. He’ll give everything, sacrifice everything, to this man. Damn it, Ethan.

 

Olympic Stadium is in sight. I can see it. The chopper is coming in. We’re almost fucking out. I swear to fucking God, we’ll never leave the White House again. Spiers will be the first homebody president. House arrest. I can fucking do that, after all this shit. I can bench him. It’s a digital world now. Spiers doesn’t have to go anywhere. He can tele-fucking-commute.

 

Then, the hostage. The man in the street, taunting Spiers, seemingly summoned by Madigan’s voice over the comms.

 

Ethan was all out of fucks to give. He executed the man, a single shot to the center of the forehead, and dropped him. Ethan is terrifying, when he gets into this mode, this beastly protective warrior mode; he’s ruthless. That ruthlessness has saved my life more times than I want to count. We’ve never talked about it. It’s just something inside Ethan, some cliff edge that he can leap off of and do anything – fucking anything – to save the people he cares for. Some edge of his soul, and a yawning darkness, a pit inside of him, that waits.

 

I get agents to the hostage before the body hits the ground. What is this? What are we dealing with? Is this a bomb? A booby trap? A suicide bomber in disguise? My agents weren’t gentle. They rip off the hood and strip open the jumpsuit, roughly patting the hostage down as fast as they can. There’s no time. The chopper is coming in, and we have to go.

 

I need to get Ethan and Spiers out of there. Right fucking now.

 

And then Spiers is running, taking off like a bat out of hell for the hostage, screaming at the top of his lungs. Ethan, damn him, is chasing the man, and everyone looks like they just saw a fucking ghost.

 

“Les! Les! It’s me! It’s Jack!”

 

Leslie Fucking Spiers.

 

It’s a clusterfuck hurricane after that. Spiers is a prick and won’t listen to anything we say. He’s 200% focused on his dead wife, holding her in his arms, carrying her to the chopper, ignorant as fuck about the raging gun battle still going on around him. Or of Ethan, watching the love of his life gaze down at his dead wife with tears in his eyes.

 

Ethan was as still as a statue, creepily unmoving. Like if he moved, he’d shatter. He just watched Spiers with the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen on him. What the fuck is going through his head? I’ve known him for years, decades, and, for the first time, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking. What he’s feeling.

 

He and I are last in the chopper. I should be with Spiers. I should be with the president. I’m the fucking presidential detail lead.

 

But… I can’t pretend Ethan doesn’t mean more to me than Spiers does.

 

Spiers is a job. Ethan is my brother.

 

Jesus, I can’t even look at that asshole Spiers right now. He’s holding his dead wife and sobbing, and he hasn’t once fucking looked at Ethan. Does he even fucking care? Fuck him. Fuck Spiers.

 

“Are you with me?” I leaned into Ethan, trying to shout into his ear over the roar of the rotors.

 

Ethan said nothing. He grabbed a rifle and racked the slide, chambered a round, and then leaned out of the edge of the cargo hold, scanning. If only there was something to shoot. Goddamn, I’d have given anything for something to fucking destroy, for the two of us to shred with bullets, as Ethan screamed and raged into the night.

 

But there was nothing. I stayed at Ethan’s side the whole flight, our backs to Spiers, and as the roar of the battle faded, Spiers’s quiet sobs were the only sounds in the chopper. I felt Ethan stiffen beside me. Felt the pull of his energy, that dark, dangerous force that was Ethan’s soul, draw inward. I reached for him, grabbed his leg, and held on. He trembled beneath my touch.

 

Ethan was in freefall. He’d leaped off the fucking edge. He was gone, fucking gone.

 

And I didn’t know when – or if – he was going to hit bottom.

 


 

Uncle Abdul

 

You!” My blood boiled, hotter than the sands of the Rub’ al Khali. “What are you doing here?”

 

It was him. That man, the one who’d –

 

I shook my head. No. Don’t think it. Don’t bring it to life. Don’t give it power.

 

Before me, Adam Cooper hung weakly in my guard’s grasp, hefted up by his neck and pressed against the wall. His wide eyes pleaded with mine, and his fingers scratched at my guard’s hand, closing around his throat.

 

Yallah.” Drop him. This worthless man wasn’t worth the headache that would come from his untimely death in the hospital. “You… you pretended to be that journalist.”

 

How dare this man, this American! After everything, to come back here? Now? I wanted to murder him. I wanted to give into my rage, my frustration, give into my need for an outlet. A target. A reason.

 

And I wanted to pretend he was nothing. That he didn’t exist. That he never, ever had existed.

 

I watched him stand, slowly. Unsteadily. His eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, like he’d been crying. “Your Royal Highness, Governor of Riyadh, Prince Abdul al-Saud,” he grunted. “I’m here to see your nephew.”

 

“It is forbidden!” Never again. Never again would I allow these two men together. If I could, I’d forbid them from being in the same country together. This man should be refused entry to the Kingdom. He should be ejected, deported, packed onto the next flight, never to return. “Faisal told me it was finished! That you had left him!”

 

Adam cringed. “It was. It is. But he’s hurt—”

 

“And you think you have some kind of right to see my nephew? After what you did! Wallah! You should stay away from him!”

 

“I love him.” Adam breathed, the tough exterior he was trying to cling to shattering. His face twisted, and he gasped again. A sob strangled his voice. “I love him!” Tears built in his eyes.

 

No, no, this man did not love my nephew. If he loved him, if he truly loved Faisal, then he wouldn’t have left. I would not have had to watch Faisal turn to a shell, a wraith that stalked the halls of the palace with dulled, lifeless eyes. I would not have had to pretend not to notice his tearstained cheeks every morning. I wouldn’t have had to carefully rearrange everything so that I was constantly at Faisal’s side, never leaving him alone.

 

We said nothing, never spoke of it, these long months, as spring rolled to summer, and then autumn, through winter, and back to spring. A whole year of mourning. A year of Faisal’s broken heart, day in and day out.

 

Faisal tried to hide himself from me. He dried his eyes, made excuses for his lack of appetite. I watched, and I waited, and I stayed. I stayed.

 

That is love, caring for someone, even if you cannot say why. Even if you cannot speak the words, cannot break open the secret binding your souls. I love my nephew. I always, always will.

 

This man, this pretender, this infidel. He is nothing. He is less than nothing. He hurt my blood. And for that, he will never be anything, ever again. “That makes it worse!” I grabbed him and hauled him down the hallway. He followed like a broken toy. “Do you not understand? The mutawwa’in could kill him! He is not safe from their punishments, just because he is royal. Not anymore!”

 

I won’t let this man’s arrogance, his Americanism, his ignorance of everything, lead to the end of my nephew’s life.

 

“We were careful-”

“This is not careful! Storming into the hospital? How many saw you? How many will ask questions?”

 

I turned away from him, my hands clenching the gold-braided edges of my robes. My teeth clenched. I wanted to strangle this man. “When Faisal’s father and mother died, I promised my brother’s memory that I would raise his son and care for him. That he would be safe, and he would be loved. Faisal is my blood.” I turned back, my gaze hard enough to cut diamonds. I could feel my wrath pouring from me, outward, like swords stabbing Adam until there was nothing left, and his influence had vanished from our lives, and the hurt of his abandonment had fled from Faisal’s soul. “My blood. My family.”

 

“Please,” Adam whispered. “Please… Can you tell me if he’s all right?”

 

How dare this man! To keep pressing— I recited sūras in my mind, du’a for patience, for guidance.

 

What do I do? What do I do, faced with a man I pretended didn’t exist? When faced with a man who has hurt my blood so fiercely? How do I navigate this? What is the right path? Allah, guide me. I spoke carefully. “His liver was punctured. Almost all of it has been removed. He’ll need a new one cloned and another surgery. But…for now, he is resting. They say in time, he will recover completely.”

 

A sob burst from Adam’s chest. Tears built in his eyes, and he turned away as he buried his face in his hands. He heaved one shaking breath after another, seeming to sob out his soul into the palms of his hands.

 

Finally, after an age, he wiped his eyes and faced me again.

 

Misery. Dejection. Loss. Aching loneliness. Despair.

 

I have seen these emotions. I saw them every day in my nephew’s watery eyes. In the slump of his shoulders. In the quiet sigh of his anguished prayers.

 

What happened between these men? What happened that sent my nephew into a depression that has lasted for a year, has rooted an unshakeable gloom on his soul?

 

Why this man? Why this choice? Faisal has the Kingdom and the whole world in the palm of his hands, and yet he mopes for this one bedraggled American. Why?

 

Faisal claims he loves this man. He loves Adam. Loves him enough to tell me no, he will not agree to an arranged marriage. He will not marry any woman. Will not follow the path laid out for him, the one that led to the crown.

 

“I will marry him, if he’ll have me,” Faisal had breathed, once.

 

Why Adam? Why this man?

 

I frowned. “I thought that he was merely exhausting his lust. It’s not unheard of for young, virile men to seek out a willing body for their needs, provided they end up with a wife in the end.”

 

Adam looked away. “It was so much more.”

 

“It would be easier if it was just lust. Love makes it complicated.”

 

Faisal… Do you still love Adam? Do you still dream about this man? “Are you familiar with Abu Huraira?”

 

“A bit. Faisal used to speak of him. He was a scribe of Mohammed?”

 

′Alayhi as-salām. Yes. There is a hadith that speaks of Abu Huraira’s torment as a young man. His lack of desire for women and marriage, namely. He went to the prophet, begging for advice. Four times he asked for the prophet’s guidance, and on the fourth time, the prophet spoke.” I took a breath, and prayed. Faisal… May Allah guide my words and thoughts, my actions and deeds. Everything I do… I do for you. I only want your happiness. “‘The pen is dried to what you are experiencing,’ the prophet said.”

 

I held Adam’s stare. He wasn’t getting it. Of course. He was only an American. “What is fixed is fixed. A man’s fate is sealed when the pen’s ink over his life dries.” I rubbed my forehead. Chewed my lip. Faisal… Allah help me, I hope I am doing the right thing for you.Al-hamdu lillah, my nephew’s ink may be dried in this matter.” I swallowed. “Faisal has refused all talk of marriage. He’s refused all of the brides I have arranged for him.”

 

Adam flinched, and he hunched like he’d been punched in the gut. He closed his eyes, took a shuddering breath. I watched him, for a moment, reveling in the anguish rolling through him. Multiply that anguish by months, by sleepless nights and hollowed eyes, and he’d feel a portion of what Faisal had felt, after he’d left.

 

Inshallah, he says he is waiting for you.”

 

I only want my nephew to be happy. Happy, and loved. Is that this man’s purpose? Is he the one to love and cherish my Faisal? “We have been talking at great length.”

 

I scowled. This isn’t the life I imagined for Faisal. This isn’t the choice I wanted to make. This isn’t how I imagined anything would play out.

 

“He is my blood,” I snapped. “My family. And I will do anything for my family.” Another glare, fixed to Adam, as I looked him up and down, as if I could see into Adam’s soul and read his fault lines. Read the cracks and tears that had made him weak in the past, had made him walk away from Faisal. Never again. “You will never bring him harm. He will never hurt, ever. Not from the body, and not from the heart.”

 

“No,” Adam breathed. He licked his lips, his breaths coming fast, practically a frantic pant. “No, never. Never again. Your Royal Highness…”

 

“This is not concluded. We have much to discuss, Faisal and I. I do not condone this, or you. Especially not you. What you have done. What you left behind.”

 

I sighed, like my soul was being crushed. My blood, my family, my life. Faisal, my favorite of my children. His life has always been planned, and he never resisted that, my interference in his existence, my shaping and molding of his path. We’ve discussed him – his truth – exactly twice.

 

I’ve never seen Faisal look as alive as he did, those two times. Speaking his truth. No matter the consequences.

 

“He is my nephew. And he speaks only ever of you. Wallah.”

 

Adam pressed his trembling lips together. “Please, Your Highness. Can I see him?”

 

“You will find the men that did this to my nephew. You will make them suffer.” I stared at Adam.

 

I hope I am doing the right thing. I hope this is what Faisal wants. Allah, I place everything in your hands. Take care of my nephew… and this man he loves. Al-hamdu lillah.

 

“Faisal is down the hall. The recovery suite.”

 


Timestamp: Enemy of My Enemy, Sochi & post the assault on Faisal by Madigan’s forces.

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9 comments

  1. God I love you 😀 I cannot even tell you which of these two snippets I like better, because they both just tear my heart apart.

    Scott… damn, you know how much I love Scott, and this anguish… you write it so well. The tearing apart of his soul, this indecision, the fight between his heart and his head. In my opinion, it’s a wonder he got them all through everything that followed. He must have been so exhausted after months and months of having to worry about what *might* happen, and then having his worst nightmare come to life. Not only that, but being the one who (feeling like he has to) agrees to get Jack to Ethan. He is so incredible strong, I cannot help but admire him. His love for Ethan really is unbreakable. No matter what Ethan does, he would follow him to hell and back again (and well, kinda does), and in extension, the same goes for Jack. It’s incredible what is willing to do and I cannot help but love him for that. So yeah, is it a surprise he is my favorite side-character? 😉

    And Uncle Abdul… I think many people underestimate his dedication and love for Faisal. Having grown up in a culture as thus, even knowing that there are things going on that aren’t right… to be willing to go against everything, *everything* he ever learned to be right, everything he originally believed, to do what is right for his beloved nephew… he is right, *that* is love. I can *feel* his need to punish Adam, to get him away from Faisal, to want to do what is right and to keep Adam away from Faisal so he won’t be able to hurt him anymore. But even stronger than that is his wish for his nephew to be happy, to finally not be miserable anymore. And even though it goes against everything he thinks and wishes he should do, he does the right thing – out of love.

    You never fail to amaze me with these Bytes, and I really hope there will be many many more to come 🙂 Should you ever run out of ideas, just say something, I’m sure I’ll be able to think more ideas up 😉

    PS: On an unrelated note, something I wanted to ask the last time already and forgot: After Hush came out, I wrote you my response to it, but I got a lot of ‘mail couldn’t be delivered’ messages back. I just wanted to ask if it ever arrived 🙂

    1. This was one of your prompts! I split your email into two posts, this week and next weeks. 🙂

      Scott is my husband’s favorite side character. He loves Scott’s loyalty, and his friendship and devotion. In many ways, parts of Scott are parts of my husband, because my husband embodies those qualities of loyalty and fidelity. I also love writing about platonic male friendships, and how deep they can be. I’m so glad he’s your fav side character, too!

      Uncle Abdul is one of my favorite characters. The disparate pulls of family love and loyalty, and what is accepted and not accepted, and the push against and into culture and tradition vs openness. In the Middle East, family and blood loyalty are everything. He wants the best for Faisal, but what he thinks is best is so very different from what Faisal wants. Can they find common ground? How deep does love go? What will he do for his nephew?

      My email was all kerfuffled for a while, but I think it’s better now! Email me again. I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts!! 😀

      1. Hahaha I saw! And I love it whenever you actually use one of them 😀 I feel like I’m thinking up a lot of weird things, so I’m thrilled whenever you like some of them enough to actually turn them into something awesome like this 😉 (I’m totally keeping a doc file with all the prompts I gave you and counter-checking every time you post xD Yes, I’m a bit strange :P)
        You know, I really would like to meet your husband – he sounds awesome. You should encourage him to talk to us here – I would love to hear his opinion on all of this as well 😀
        I just resent you the e-mail I sent back when Hush first came out. It might be a bit crazed, but I thought it would be better to just leave it as I wrote it back then^^

  2. I love this piece and I saw your reply to another reader about how Faisal and Adam will get their own book made my day. I love the detail and thought process behind Uncle Abdul. The way he acts is similar to my own father but his acceptance and willingness to understand and try to accept Faisal and his choices makes me a little jealous. Being from that culture and growing up with a certain mindset being drilled in my head I can relate to Uncle Abdul and his struggle to understand and accept. Their story is so much more important to me becsuse I am from the same religion and culture. So with that in mind I absolutely love Faisal and Adam and can’t wait to see their story. Thank you for making such awesome characters.

    1. Thank you Farah!!!! <3 I can't tell you what it means to me to hear from you. Thank you so much.

      I will absolutely continue to write Faisal and Adam. In some small way, I hope it helps change minds, even if it's just one mind, one perspective, at a time. <3

  3. “Spiers is a job. Ethan is my brother.” ~ I’m bawling…it’s like I’ve never read the story, like I don’t know Scott, like I haven’t see the love he bears for Ethan. My Ethan. Everyone’s Ethan. It’s not like I didn’t love Scott because he loves Ethan, and shows he’s the same quality of man that Ethan is, shows that he’s worthy to be Ethan’s brother. I know this man, and I love who he is…and this breaks my heart!

    “Ethan was in freefall. He’d leaped off the fucking edge. He was gone, fucking gone. And I didn’t know when – or if – he was going to hit bottom.” ~ *sniff* I’m just bawling…

    Uncle Abdul is like all us parents who love our adult children and hate that they are hurting and rage against those who hurt them. I know…someone hurt my son that way a year ago and I haven’t forgiven her. I don’t think I ever will, because I can’t forget how he cried when she broke his heart. So I get Uncle Abdul. I really do. I get him wanting to shred Adam and scatter his parts to the winds…that’s how I felt about what happened with my son.

    “Faisal… May Allah guide my words and thoughts, my actions and deeds. Everything I do… I do for you. I only want your happiness. “ ~ This breaks my heart, too, because what if he’s doing the wrong thing? We know he isn’t, but I can well understand his fear.

    And yet…poor Adam. Poor, lost, frightened Adam. His pain breaks me, too.

    These are such poignant pieces, so touching and heartrending, and quite the sort of writing you’ve trained your readers to expect from you. When will you stop breaking my heart and making me cry, like these people are my family, Tal? When?

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