Secret Places in this Violent World

chapter 3

i hear a drum in my soul’s ear coming from the depths of the stars

It came out of the blue, when they least expected it.

He and Faisal had settled into a routine after almost two years. He’d moved out of his rattrap studio in the Green Zone and into a small home Faisal kept in Baghdad’s Old Town. There was no air conditioning and no glass in the windows, and they spent their days and nights in the flicker of candles, naked skin sliding against each other, sweat mingling with sweat.

Last month, they’d flown to Amman and spent the weekend there, falling into the anonymity of the city, letting themselves be just two people in an ocean of millions. No civil war, no intelligence, no royal family.

When they could, they slipped across the border to Kuwait, to Faisal’s apartment he kept in one of the high rises in the capital. Their lives slipped from modernity to ancient days, intelligence and anonymity, a swirl of days and nights spent entertwined in every way they could.

Time passed, but Adam couldn’t have said whether it was one year or two. Each day was a moment, a precious jewel stolen from the crown of life. He had no thought to the future, and his world didn’t extend beyond the borders of CENTCOM. Twice he’d turned down offers of reassignment. He would stay in the Middle East until the Marine Corps released their claws from him. He would stay in Faisal’s life until he could not.

There were nights he couldn’t sleep, and he chased nightmares like spiders in his sleepless mind. Terror built webs in his soul, and no matter how he tried to scare them away, his fears skittered back. Whie Faisal slept on his belly in Baghdad, Adam sat in the open window, watching the sodium light of the city bounce off the hazy sky. There were no stars above the cities, so he counted the streetlights or skyscrapers instead. Please, never let this end. 

He’d looked it up once: how many bachelor Saudi royal princes were there?

None. Every royal was required to wed.

Most princes wedded multiple wives, even in this millenium. The names blurred together, al-Saud princes growing the family tree, every one fulfilling his duty.

The last prince to wed most recently was in his early thirties. He was practically a weizend old man when he finally tied the knot. The Saudi newspapers whispered about how long he’d waited to take a wife.

Faisal was twenty-eight years old.

How much longer did they have left?

Maybe Faisal could be the one who was different. Hadn’t he said he was an outsider? He was an orphan. His uncle had raised him. His direct line to the royal family was, if not broken, bent. He insisted he was nobody in the Kingdom. He worked because he wanted to, but he could quit and disappear to the West before the next sun rose.

Even Adam knew the lie beneath those words. Sure, Faisal could disappear. But he worked in the intelligence directorate because he wanted to serve his Kingdom, his family. And if he had to walk away, the man left behind would no longer be the Faisal al-Saud he knew or cherished.

What would happen when the family found Faisal a bride? Most royals found their own spouses now, but Faisal had but zero effort into finding a wife. He would be given a bride, instead, surely.


And what would happen after?

Would Adam stay? Would he live in the shadows, cling to the outline of Faisal’s life? Be kept in an apartment, waiting for attention like a kenneled dog? Would he watch Faisal’s children be born? Would he spend his days waiting for Faisal’s attention, content with the crumbs of a leftover life?

Could he live with walking away?

How many more nights did they have?

Everytime his fears crept in, he tried to knock down the webs stringing across the caverns of his heart. He crawled back beside Faisal, burrowing into him, and let his heat soak through his soul. How could I ever walk away? Even if—

As dawn split the sky, and the first of the sun’s rays tickled through the wooden shutters, the muezzin’s voice rang across the city. Allahu akbar! Faisal kissed him as the azan continued, warm, sleepy kisses. His hands roamed over Adam’s body, stroking up his ribs and down his back.

And then he pulled away and padded across the bedroom. His whispers floated back to Adam as he rinsed, washing himself before his dawn prayers. A sheet hung on a hook, and he wrapped the cotton around his waist before he knelt and faced Mecca.

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim,” Faisal whispered. “Laqad dakhalna ywmana jdydana wamaeah klu alsiyadat lilah.” The Arabic poured into Adam, like the sun and the desert wind. We have entered a new day and with it all dominion is Allah’s. 

He sat up, watching Faisal like he did every morning, his gaze tracing the curve of Faisal’s spine as he bowed and pressed his forehead to the stone. “Allahu akbar.”

His wife will be Muslim. They will pray together. 

It was the one thing between them.

More than once, Faisal had asked him to consider joining him in prayer. The first time, Adam froze, and Faisal, always polite, had smoothed over the silence and the strain with a kiss to Adam’s cheek, and they hadn’t spoken of it again for months.

The first weekend they spent in Jordan, they’d shared Carakale beers, brewed from the region’s sole microbrewery, and Faisal, after his first beer, was halfway drunk. “My faith is one the most important parts of my life,” Faisal had bumbled. His eyes had glittered, wider than Adam ever remembered. “I want to share Islam with the man I love.”


“I am not demanding you convert. I don’t want that. I don’t want to force you into anything. That would ruin something so beautiful to me.”

“What are you saying then?” He’d feared, for a moment, that Faisal was breaking up with him.

“Will you examine Islam? Consider my faith? Maybe, perhaps, imagine it as your own?”

There had been so much raw hope in Faisala’s gaze it had almost broken Adam’s heart. “Does it ever bother you when you hear the fatwas against us? Islam isn’t great toward men like us, Faisal…”

“That is not Islam. I promise you, it’s not.”

“I’ll… take a look.” Was there anything he wouldn’t do for this love?

And, if Faisal looked that radiant, that joyous, that delighted at Adam’s simple words, well, that was enough to convince him. He would look harder, think deeper. Search his soul.

A year later, and here he was, still watching Faisal from the bed, no closer to joining him in prayer.

He heard his name fall from Faisal’s lips, whispers for Allah to bless him and watch over him, and a prayer that their love was pleasing to Allah. Adam’s stomach twisted. He fisted the sheet as he closed his eyes.

And then it was done, and Faisal rose, shed his sheet and hung it back on the hook, and crossed the bedroom to Adam. He grinned, naked, his burnished skin almost glowing in the morning light, his hungry gaze trailing over Adam’s legs and his hips. “Habibi…

Their lips had just touched, and Faisal had just folded himself into Adam’s arms, stretched his body on their bed and pressed their hips and chests together, when his phone rang.

It was on the floor next to the bed, plugged into the charger, and Faisal’s eyes drifted to the screen as he kissed Adam. He pulled back. “It’s my uncle.”

Adam frowned.

Family was the sun of the Arab world, always. Everyone spun around family, orbited obligation and blood for eternity. “I should see what he needs,” Faisal breathed.

Twenty-eight years old. No unwedded royal sons.

Salam alaikum, Uncle.” Faisal listened, and then his eyes flicked to Adam’s. “When?”

Faisal was on a flight to Riyadh before noon.

For two days and nights Adam waited, alone, his cell phone silent. Silence was good, he told himself. If it was the end, if things were truly over, Faisal would tell him. He wouldn’t just disappear, drive away from their life, as if what they shared never had existed at all. That wasn’t his way.

But how long would the silence last this time? A month had passed during the blackout two years before, Abdul’s attempt to force them apart forever. Faisal had said—had promised—that wouldn’t happen again. “We will leave if it comes to that,” he’d whispered once, Adam’s head pillowed on his chest.


How far was Faisal willing to go?

How far was Adam willing to go?

If only Abdul hadn’t called. If only Faisal hadn’t gone. If only they didn’t have to face these questions, and the inevitable, crushing end that they were rushing toward, speeding one hundred miles an hour in Faisal’s Lamborghini.

This will not end well. There was pain in their future, and blood, and shattered hearts bleeding out inside their broken bodies. Everyday, Adam lived in the flinch, the moment before impact.

The ringing of his cell phone was like a bullet slamming into his chest. He almost couldn’t breathe, turning it over, looking at the screen. A Saudi number, +966.

“I’m here,” he said, his voice almost rusty, catching. In two days, had he spoken to anyone, other than the salaams and shukrans and in sha Allahs he muttered to strangers? He swallowed, tried again. “I’m at the cafe.”

They had a hookah and coffee shop they went to in the city, downtown Baghdad, one of the dozen shops and restaurants on the streets spindling off Wathiq Square. From where he sat, he could see the palms rising above the square’s statue, a white globe held aloft by gentle arches. The street was filled with cars—Audi, Mercedes, BMW—and high end shops and international restaurants fought for space amid the glitzy lighting and hypermodern architecture. A food truck had pitched a tent and carved out a garden patio years back and had fought to keep their place on the immaculate, world-class street. Cowboy Shwarma, the food truck had been where Faisal took Adam on one of their first dates, when they finally managed to do something other than fuck each other’s brains out.

“Cowboy,” Faisal had said, winking behind his shades. Adam could still see his sly smile slowly spreading across his face. “Like you.”

“I’m a cowboy?”

“You’re American. And you certainly do know how to ride.”

He hadn’t been able to bury his flush, especially not when Faisal laughed at him with that sun-scorched look, the one that went all the way down Adam’s spine. Oh yes, he could ride Faisal all night long, in every position, every permutation—

They came back to the food truck and its garden, and the cafes, and the bustling street, smoking hookah and drinking tea on the patios as the sun set, nearly every week. If it weren’t for the calls to prayer crackling over the city five times a day—and the terror of being caught—Adam could have imagined they were in Berlin, or New York, or Long Beach.

Order me a coffee, please. You know the way I like it.”

Saudi style, with extra cardamom. Adam smiled. “Already done.” When will you be back? 

It was supposed to be what Faisal said next: I’m on the way, or, Pick me up in a few hours from the airport, or even, I’ll see you tomorrow. It was the answer to Adam’s question, the only good answer.

Instead, Faisal sighed. SIlence fell in the wake, and in the distant background, faint Arabic, Saudi-accented, washed over the line.

Adam pressed his phone to his ear. The cafe, 42nd street, the Iraqis around him—everything faded away. “You’re not coming back, are you?”

There’s something I need to do here,” Faisal said, his voice guarded, tight.

Marry. Knock up a princess. Carry on the royal line. You know. Standard stuff.

You knew this would happen. 

Adam gripped his phone, his knuckles suddenly aching. “Family stuff?”

They were limited in what they could say. Satellites vacuumed up cell signals over this third of the world from a dozen different countries, each intelligence service picking out words and phrases and parsing out meaning behind inflection and deflection. What did they mean when they said the cafe, and order me a coffee? Was it a signal?

Adam did not want to be the pet project of an intelligence analyst. Especially not from his own country.

Not exactly.”

The world lurched back into frame. Adam sat up. He frowned. “What’s going on?”

I can’t talk about it. Not like this.”

“Are you okay?”

I’m not not okay,” he said slowly. “But this is something I have to do for the Mabahith.”

The Mabahith, the Saudi secret police, the internal security forces. The General Intelligence Directorate, which Faisal was a part of. In a few years, he would become the royal head, not simply an intelligence officer. He was in Iraq, in fact, as part of the General Intelligence Directorate, working out of the Saudi Embassy.

Was this about Faisal? Or something else?

“Is everything… all right?”

Not really,” Faisal said softly.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” It was how they justified their connection. Intelligence. Swapping it, sharing it, leaking it. Helping each other to their nation’s secrets, and to each other’s bodies.

A pause. A hesitation. A short inhale.

Things Faisal never did. He was poised, polished, perfected in the halls of Oxford and Riyadh. He hid his nerves in a core of steel, never flinched, never so much as blinked out of time. And Adam knew him enough to read two sleepless nights and missed meals into that tiny pause.

Actually, yes,” Faisal said. A door closed behind him, across the line in Saudi Arabia. The sussurations of Arabic fell away. Faisal was alone now. “I convinced my uncle to let me call you. To ask for your help.”

“Ask for Uncle Sam’s help?” He had to be sure.

No. This would be more personal.”

Adam’s frown deepened. “What do you—”

My uncle has agreed to fly you down, if you’d like. I can explain in person. If you come. But not over the phone.”

“Of course I’ll come.”

There’s a plane on the way to Baghdad for you.” Not, there’s a ticket waiting for you. No, Faisal had sent one of the royal jets. “Can you come soon?”

Jesus, Faisal, what have you gotten into? “I’m on my way to the airport now.” He stood, throwing dinars on the table to pay for the coffee as he scanned the street for a cab.

I’ll pick you up at the airport.” Faisal sighed. “I need to get some air. Get out of here for a while.”

“Where are you?” Adam slid into the back of the taxi, muttering his destination as he moved the phone away from his mouth. “Al matar, in shaa Allah.”

Mabahith headquarters. Something terrible has happened.”

chapter 4

Secret Places in this Violent World

chapter 2

the moon says, “How long will I remain suspended without a sun?”

Twenty-six days.

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and thirty-seven minutes.

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and thirty-eight minutes, as the clock continued to move.

Faisal closed his eyes. Stillness enveloped him. The folds of his thobe, a whisper on his skin, burned like chains of fire restraining him in his uncle’s palace.

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and thirty-nine minutes since Adam had been taken from him. Since Uncle Abdul had followed him and Adam to his Gulf home and burst in on them in his bedroom.

Ya Allah, the day had been so perfect. Had he and Adam ever kissed so sweetly? Had Adam ever unfolded so completely beneath his touch? Had his own heart ever beat as hard as it had as he whispered the poetry he’d longed to confess to Adam’s soul?

He’d been so close. So very, very close to confessing it all. His love, and then after, when Adam was in his arms, he would have confessed the rest… like who he was. He’d prayed, endless du’a to Allah asking if this was the right course, the right choice. Was it right to try and go further with Adam, to try and make something lasting? Something deep? And real?

It had felt right in his soul. It had felt good, like the settling of some deep answer, a shift in his entire sense of self, his world, his everything – reaching out to Adam with his whole heart was right.

It was supposed to be then, that day. The words were on his lips. Adam was in his heart.

It was supposed to be beautiful.

Ya Allah, how had it all gone wrong?

Was it a sign? Was this divine intervention, a message he should not ignore? Was this Allah answering his prayers by guiding him away from Adam? Or was this a test, a challenge to his passions? What would he overcome to be with Adam?

Everything is decided by Allah.

But what was Allah’s decision?

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and forty minutes since he’d seen Adam’s face. Touched his skin. Looked into his eyes and had seen something that looked like love.

Abdul had banished Adam, barely letting him dress before his bodyguards shoved Adam into the SUV and roared off, heading for Kuwait. Never mind that Adam had a flight booked out of Riyadh. He was to be dumped in Kuwait, just one foot over the border, and that was to be the end of that.

“He is alive still because he is useful!” Abdul had roared. “Speak no more of this!”

Faisal had been hauled back to his uncle’s palace in Riyadh. They left him in his old rooms, the wing of the massive palace that had been his own, along with Abdul’s own children, so long ago. His uncle’s children – his cousins – were long gone. Long, long gone. For years, he’d been the only one to visit his uncle, the only child to return home. For an Arab family, the empty home, devoid of the children of the father, was a black hole of despair, and an unspeakable, unutterable tragedy.

He’d haunted the halls, nearly climbed the walls. The first few days, he’d kept quiet and out of sight. Kept his eyes down. Spent hours in the musalla, the prayer room within the palace.

Hidden eyes followed him everywhere.

A week passed, and still no word from his uncle. He asked to see him but was rebuffed. Spend more time in the musalla, the note from his uncle said.

Faisal’s days passed in silence and solitude, picturing Adam’s face, the taste of his lips. The way Adam’s eyes had looked as Faisal inhaled, about to whisper that he loved him.

After ten days, his thobe was a straightjacket on his soul and the silence of the palace was shattering his mind. He chased his uncle down, blocked his path out of his office one afternoon.

“Please, Uncle, allow me to return to Baghdad.”

“You will never go back, ya Faisal. Never.”

“I have done so much more than only meet Adam—”

“Do not speak his name!” Flushed, Abdul’s face had twisted, puffy and red with rage, eyes narrowed and streaked with pain. “That name will never cross your lips again. Promise me, Faisal.”

He’d stilled. Everything in him, his heart, his blood, his breath, had stopped.

“It is forbidden,” Abdul had hissed. “And until you are over this, you are not to leave this house, and you are to remain here, within these walls. You will pray, rahimullah, you will pray to Allah all day long.”

Maa shaa Allah, I am at peace with Allah. I do not need to search my soul.”

“You will remain here!” Abdul’s bellow had echoed, his roars bouncing off the walls and vibrating the rubies and sapphires in their mosaics. Curtains shivered. His uncle took a shaking breath, one meaty finger thrust toward Faisal. “You will not leave without my permission.”

The days rolled on, an endless smear of prayer and sun and sand. He lost the taste for almonds and dates, for mango juice and yogurt. The silence of the palace enslaved him, solitude not of relaxation, but of prison. Even his prayers were troubled, his du’a to Allah hollow, like echoes in an empty mosque.

He and Adam hadn’t spoken since a last furtive text he’d sent before Abdul spirited him back to Riyadh. A poem, one he’d wanted to whisper to Adam’s skin, a confession in his breath on Adam’s belly. He’d thought, if they never spoke again, he’d want Adam to know. In shaa Allah, he had to know that he was loved.

It was never about the intel for me, he’d confessed. I wanted to keep seeing you.

He’d craved Adam from that first night. Bismillah, from the first moment, and every moment after, his soul had been drawn to Adam like a comet captured in the orbit of a star.

Sharing intelligence between them was just a way to keep seeing Adam. An excuse, all he could come up at first, until his heart had galloped away from him and he spent the hours he wasn’t at Adam’s side counting down the minutes until he was again.

He’d thought he could survive this, at first. He’d thought he could text Adam, confess his love, and then quietly pick up the pieces of his shattered heart. He’d expected Adam’s rage, had built up his heart to survive the lashing out. But then Adam had texted back a line of poetry that wrapped around his broken heart, and had confessed he’d craved Faisal every bit as much as Faisal had craved him.

They were addicts of each other, it seemed. Like every addict, he couldn’t simply quit.

If he could, he’d text Adam again. Call just to listen to him breathe, or sleep. Stay up all night and count his gentle snores, so precious to his heart.

But his uncle had taken his phone, like he’d done when he was a child. He wasn’t a child any longer, he was a man, but he was still like a son to his uncle, and Abdul was the only father he had ever known. They shared the same blood, but more than that: he was of Abdul’s soul as much as he was of his flesh, and he could no more go against his blood and soul than he could turn against himself.

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, forty-nine minutes.

He was atomizing in the palace, turning to dust and sand. His soul was atrophying, decaying in the silence of the musalla, withering beneath the distance and despair of Abdul. The distance was soul-shattering, and so different than their past. He had years of memories of the two of them, the closeness they’d shared together. An orphan and an old man, his children having long since abandoned him, given a second chance to love again. Faisal had counted the years by how much he had to tilt his head up as he walked at Abdul’s side in the gardens, listening to his wisdom about the Kingdom and the world. One day, he’d realized he was eye to eye with his uncle, and he hadn’t been ready for that moment.

Now, the withdrawal of his uncle’s affection was like the sea pulling away from shore, a low tide that went on and on, the waters creeping further away, perhaps never to return.

…Should he stay?

He’d been touched by the West too much to even think the thought. Before university in London, and before spending time with Westerners, he’d never have thought, not ever, to go against Abdul. His uncle knew best. His uncle’s word was absolute. He was thankful for his uncle for everything in his life, most especially for his love and for the life he’d been raised in. How dare he now consider turning his back on that love.

But… In shaa Allah…

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and fifty-one minutes.

If he could just hear Adam’s voice again… perhaps see him. If he could just have a whisper of Adam’s world again.

If onlys sang in his blood. Fantasies played in the moments of his blinks, lives of wonder lived in Adam’s arms played out in seconds, before reality crashed down again.

Desperation sliced at his soul.

Earlier that day, Abdul had left for the king’s palace, disappearing with his contingent of bodyguards. The halls were empty, Faisal’s sandals echoing on the marble, soft footfalls like waterfalls in distant rooms.

It was too easy to slip into his uncle’s study.

He found his phone and then his charger thrown into the bottom of Abdul’s desk drawer. The phone was off, and he powered it up, waiting for the signal to connect as he chewed his lip, for his messages to come in. Had Adam texted? Had he reached out during these long, long twenty-six days?

Faisal’s gaze caught on his uncle’s computer screen.

A video was paused, the screen filled with an angry imam’s face. He glowered into the camera, his harsh eyes and a falcon’s gaze searing Faisal to the spot. His breath caught. Faisal knew that man. He was not a gentle man, not a kind man. The imam was a force of hate, a lightning rod of extremism in the Kingdom.

Why was Abdul listening to him? Was he a follower? No, impossible. There were fatwas from the imam that railed against the excesses of the powerful, a not-too-thinly veiled attack on the royal family. Faisal had been at family meetings where his distant uncles and cousins, fellow princes—all of whom were far higher up the royal food chain than himself—were calling for the imam to be arrested. Charged with corruption of the earth, even, which carried the death penalty. He was building a base of firebrand fundamentalism and riling up despairing Saudis with visions of retribution. He was anathema to the royal family.

So why was Abdul watching him?

Astaghfirullah,” Faisal whispered. I take refuge in Allah; forgive me. He clicked play.

The video must have been made after Friday prayers. Someone off screen was asking the imam a question during the lessons, after the prayer. “Imam, I must ask. What do we do if we find a homosexual among us? What do we do with them?”

Faisal’s blood chilled.

The imam’s expression darkened. He raised one hand, pointing to the sky. “I tell you, surely there is no place in this world for people like that. There is no place for people who sin, who go against Allah. If you find a homosexual in your midst, it is permissible to kill them. Better they be dead than live in sin.”

Frozen, he watched the video roll forward, listening without hearing to the cheering and the Arabic cries and chants. Distantly, he heard his phone chime and chime again.

Permissible to kill them. Better they be dead.

Abdul, his own uncle, had been watching this.

Was Abdul planning on killing him? Was he to be murdered, an honor killing to assuage the family’s honor, and erase the stain of his existence? Cleanse the world of his sin and rectify the guilt Abdul must be carrying? How had Abdul raised such a creature? Was it already being murmured among the family?

Was that where Abdul was now? Planning his death?

Was it being decided by the family?

Was he to be ripped from the world in a whisper?

Who would remember him if he died?


His phone chimed again. Messages were arriving, twenty-six days worth of them. He tried to read, but his eyes were blurring, tears building and falling in waterfalls every time he blinked. Oh, Allah, it was Adam.

[Faisal… Are you coming back? When can I see you again?]

[Are you in Baghdad?]

[Did… you change your mind? Do you want me to stop texting you?]

[Please. Just tell me you’re okay. I’ll stop. I’ll leave you alone. Just as long as you’re all right.]

[Faisal… please. Please. Be okay. Please.]

Faisal texted Adam back, finally, twenty-six days, twelve hours, fifty-nine minutes too late. His fingers trembled as he tried to type. Adam. I’m here. I’m sorry. I didn’t have my phone.

[Faisal??????????? OMG, where are you? Are you okay???]

No. I’m not okay.

[Where are you???? I’ll come get you. Are you in danger??]

In Saudi. But I’m leaving. It’s not safe here.

[Come to Baghdad. We’ll figure something out together.]

I’ll be on the next flight.

[I will be here when you land.]

He ran, racing across the palace back to his rooms. He changed, flinging his thobe and pulling on his suit, the one he’d worn when he last saw Adam. Two minutes later, he was ready. He had his Quran and a heartful of memories. Should he take anything with him?

No. Not after that video. He’d take nothing.

His phone chimed. [Faisal… I’ve been so fucking afraid.]

He ran for the garage and took a dark SUV, one that would blend into the thousands of other cars in Riyadh. He peeled out, zooming down the drive and almost scraping through the gate before it had opened fully. He nearly stripped the mirrors and bottomed out the SUV on the road, squealing the tires as he careened away.

He texted as he waited at a traffic light: I have yearned for you every moment we’ve been apart. My every thought has been of you. Dropping his phone in his lap, Faisal focused on racing to the airport, weaving in and out of cars. He felt his phone vibrate against his leg, but didn’t look until after he’d parked.

[‘The real beloved is that one who is unique,

who is your beginning and your end.

When you find that one,

you’ll no longer expect anything else:

that is both the manifest and the mystery.’]

His eyes blurred again, tears slipping down to his chin as he hiccuped. Adam had sent a love poem from Rumi.

You are my beginning and my end, Adam.

[Get here.]

He used his royal status to push onto the very next flight leaving, a cargo jet running up to Baghdad and back that afternoon. He sat in the unused third pilot’s seat on the jet, clinging to the seatbelt harness until they were in the air, praying the entire time. He watched the pilots like a falcon, every twitch of their eyes, every movement of their hands suspect. Had they been radioed and told to turn around? Had they been ordered to bring him back to Saudi?

He had never disobeyed his family. Not ever.

He’d never thought they would murder him. His secret wasn’t really a secret anymore, and hadn’t been, not since Oxford. He’d gotten used to the sidelong glares and whispers behind plastered smiles and fake kisses to his cheeks.

He wasn’t the first gay man in the royal family. He’d had two great uncles whose names were bitten off in hushed conversation.

One had been murdered. The other had been tried for murder. They both ended up banished from history.

Where did his story end? How thick did his family’s blood run?

Was this the last time he saw the sands of his home, passing beneath the cockpit windows?

Two hours later, the jet landed at Baghdad international Airport. He was texting before the wheels had skidded on the runway. I landed. I’m on the industrial side of the airport. Flew up on a cargo jet.

[I’m waiting on the American side.]

I’ll come to you.

It took some time for the pilots to taxi across the airport and past the passenger terminals. They pulled up to a hangar, finally, and Faisal followed the pilots down to the tarmac.


And there he was.

Twenty-six days, fifteen hours, and eight minutes vanished.

Adam raced toward him, leaving behind his black, US government-issue, not-undercover-at-all SUV, and headed for Faisal. Faisal ran for him as well, his throat clenching, his chest burning. Adam’s arms wrapped around him, a crushing hug, and he almost collapsed against Adam’s broad chest. He buried his face in Adam’s neck, inhaling the scent of diesel fuel, sand, sweat, and a tang that was all Adam. It was ambrosia for his soul, and Faisal breathed it in, held Adam in his lungs.

They were still in the Middle East, though, and in public. Faisal pulled back and laid his hand on Adam’s shoulder. Adam mirrored him, one hand on Faisal’s waist. Leaning in, Faisal placed a kiss on Adam’s cheek, as Adam did the same, twice. To anyone, it would look like they were saying hello, an Arabic hello. But their lips were touching skin, lingering on each other, and that was pushing all of the lines.

“Let me take you home,” Adam breathed.

Adam’s apartment was a studio in the renovated Green Zone, one in a dismal US-built complex that housed hundreds of American contractors, defense personnel, state department officials, and undercover intelligence officers like Adam. He had a couple bare lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, a thin, stained carpet, a lumpy couch, an electric plate and one tin pot. He had a coffeemaker, too, plugged into a bewildering array of plugs and electricity converters. One coffee cup.

He slept on a cot in the corner, military issue, on top of his sleeping bag and under a thin sheet. Usually. But when Faisal started slipping into his apartment and they stole night after night together, Adam spread his sleeping bag on the ground and bought a second pillow. Hidden out of sight, beneath his cot and his spare boots, was a bottle of lube Faisal had brought and left.

They barely made it into Adam’s apartment before their hands were on each other.

Faisal slammed Adam against the thin wall, shaking the lights. He tore Adam’s shirt off and pawed at his pants, sank down to his knees before Adam could respond. As he sucked, he stripped, shedding his own suit jacket and button-down as he moaned around the taste of Adam, the hardness in his mouth.

They made it to the sleeping bag, barely. Faisal slithered down Adam’s body. Adam shivered and trembled, trying to reach for every inch of Faisal he could reach. Fingers slid through his hair, slid down his back. Hands gripped his biceps. Adam’s thighs wrapped around his shoulders, then his head.

When he slid into Adam, Adam’s back bowed, and his mouth puckered, a silent, trembling O. Faisal ran his hands up and down Adam’s thighs. “Adam,” he whispered, drowning in the Acacia warmth of his lover’s irises, in the stars reflected in his pupils. “Adam…”

Ana bahibak trembled on the edge of his lips.

Adam’s hands threaded through his hair again and pulled him down. They kissed, their lips merging, becoming one.

My soul spills into yours and is blended / Because my soul has absorbed your fragrance,” Faisal breathed as he pressed his words into Adam’s cheek, his neck, his collarbone. Pulling back, he rocked his hips, rolled himself deeper within Adam’s body. Adam bucked, clinging to him. “This is love / To fly toward a secret sky.

Stars were falling from Adam’s eyes, glistening on his skin. Faisal kissed each one, taking Adam’s salt, the taste of him, into himself. They moved together, hands and lips and legs, bodies entwined. Adam began to tremble and never stopped.

Close, they both were close. Faisal could feel it in the way Adam moved, the way his breath hitched. The way he tried to climb Faisal’s body, pull Faisal deeper into himself. His fingers scraped up Faisal’s back, nails scratching over his skin like a brand. Wallah, he loved this, loved making love to Adam. Loved sending Adam to the delirious heights of passionate pleasure. Just a little more, and Adam would fly apart. He pulled Adam closer, tilted his hips up. Cradled his lover and cupped his face as he thrust. “I swear, since seeing your face / the whole world has become fraud and fantasy.

“Faisal!” Adam grasped his arms. Everything in him was clenching, his entire body, and even his soul seemed to strum, vibrating on Faisal’s life, on his soul. Adam gasped, sucking in breath after breath. “Ana bahibak! Ana bahibak, ya hayati!”

Faisal’s soul went supernova, exploding in a billion shards of light. His heart erupted, and he captured Adam’s lips as he surged, as they surged together, bursting apart in each other’s arms.

Much, much later, they talked.

Adam kept the lights off after dark. No one needed to be looking in with ease, spying on their silhouettes lounging on the floor or moving together in a very specific way. They burned one candle inside the tin pot, diffusing the glow across their faces as they laid together.

Faisal couldn’t stop touching Adam. He couldn’t keep his hands off Adam’s chest, his stomach, his elbow. He had to touch, feel his lover. Twenty-six days, fifteen hours and eight minutes was too long to be apart from Adam. Had they been apart even a fraction of that time since the first night Faisal had seduced Adam on the riverfront?

Adam was shy about his mid-orgasmic confession. He looked down, away from Faisal, a flush rising on his cheeks when Faisal tried to hold his gaze.

“Did you not mean it?” he asked. “Was it just the moment?”

“I meant it.” Adam played with the edge of a sheet, spinning the fabric in a spiral. “I mean it. I’ve fallen in love with you, Faisal.” He snorted and shook his head. “It’s dumb. Of me. It’s so dumb of me. I can’t fall in love with you, not really. You’re a prince. I’m nothing. It’s not like we can ever…” He sighed. “I used to think one day, when this was all over, we could try and be together. When we weren’t…” He waved his hand through the air and sighed again. “When it wasn’t about intel or about politics. But I guess it will always be about politics, huh?”

“It doesn’t have to be. I’m nothing in the royal family. My father is dead. My uncle raised me, but—” He shook his head. He wasn’t ready to talk about his uncle, or the video of the imam. “I’m nothing to them, and I never will be.”

“Not after what happened?”

“Not ever. There are two thousand princes. I have never been special.”

Adam stared at him, twisting the edge of the sheet. He swallowed. “So… maybe… we could…” He flushed again. “Only if you want. I mean, you never said—”

“I love you, ya hayati. Ya qalby.”

Adam hissed. His eyes went wide.

“I wanted to tell you that day. I was going to tell you everything: who I really was, and that I had fallen in love with you, habibi. That I wanted to have something real with you. I was going to tell you everything after the next kiss. I wanted it to be… special. I wanted you to feel special. I was afraid you’d think—”

Adam kissed him, shutting him up. They kissed slowly, and then not slowly at all, and it was hours before they spoke again.

In the middle of the night, Faisal told Adam about his uncle, the imam, and the video.

Fuck, Faisal. Jesus Christ.” Adam’s hands shook against his shoulders, his biceps. “Thank God you got out. Jesus…”

“Adam.” He pinched Adam’s arm. “Language.”

“Sorry. I just can’t…” Adam swallowed. “I can’t imagine a family doing that. How could your uncle plan that? When he raised you? I just can’t—” His voice cut off.

“I never, ever thought it was a possibility. We may be Saudi, but that’s never been the family’s way. I never thought… certainly never from Uncle Abdul. He’s my father.”

Adam breathed in his hair, pressed his lips to his scalp and held him close. “You’re free from all that, and you’ll never go back there. Ever. We’ll figure out something. I promise.”

You’ll never go back there.

The words scraped the inside of his skull, a spider building a web within his brain. You’ll never go back there.

Could he turn his back on his home? His family? His decision to flee had been impulsive, his reach for Adam instinctive. He’d needed Adam in that moment. Maybe he needed Adam for the rest of life, need him like the sun needed sand and the wind.

But before there was Adam, there was his family, and the same blood that ran through his veins ran through his uncle’s. When his world ended when he was six years old, Abdul had brought him back to life. He’d created Faisal’s new world, had given him a home, had given him more love than Faisal thought was possible in the universe.

Was Faisal the one to end that love, cleave them apart so finally?

Family – a word thrown around so casually in the modern world. It meant something to him, to all Arabs. It meant everything.

But he’d walked out on his family. He walked out on his uncle, the man who raised him, who loved him, who cherished him, who brought him from boy to man.

It is permissible to kill these people.

Or had Abdul walked out on Faisal first?

Where did the love end? Where did blood run out?

Their family was built on the shifting sands, millennia of history swirling beneath them. The family – his family – survived the eddies of history with their bonds forged in blood and fire.

This was no way to leave things. He’d walked out like he’d sliced through an artery, and he felt his soul waning as the days passed. An Arab without his family was a soulless man, missing part of his soul and his heart. Without his family, his blood was slowly dying, starved of the love that had made him.

He watched Adam sleep. Watched the sun rise and the call to prayer break over Baghdad. The cry of the muezzin wailed, It is better to pray than to sleep! He was a devoted man, a man who lived with the love of Allah in his heart, but, for the moment, it was better to lie in the orange glow of dawn and watch Adam breathe.

Instead, he whispered du’a as Adam slowly stirred, blinking awake and reaching for Faisal. Faisal kissed him, a sleepy, warm kiss of morning and happiness. Adam gazed at him, contentment and peace filling his eyes.

You don’t have to do this.

I cannot live with myself if I do not.

Habibi… I have to go back.”

Adam was furious.

“You can’t go! They’re planning an honor killing! They are going to murder you!”

“I have to go. Bismillah, I have to face my family.”

“You don’t! You don’t owe your family anything!”

“I’m Arab, Adam. Family is half of my soul. I cannot live without them in my life.”

“That’s not true. Everything you are comes from you, Faisal. You made yourself great. Your family is nothing by biology and genetics. Cells combining. That’s all!”


“Look, I know how this feels. I left my family. I walked out on them. They weren’t trying to murder me, but they weren’t awesome, and I knew I had to make life without them. So I left. Forever.”

Faisal blinked. He held Adam’s face in both of his hands. “Do you know why I approached you that night?” The night they met, the night under the lanterns, when he’d held Adam’s hand and asked to watch the sunrise together in the morning.

“I’ve wondered.”

“You looked like the most lonely person in the world that night.” He sighed, a gentle breath of air. “My heart called out to you.”

“You pitied me?” Adam scowled and tried to jerk away.

“No. I recognized that loneliness.” Faisal tugged him closer. “We are both orphans in our ways. I understand what you’re saying. But I cannot live a life without my family.”

Adam covered his hands. “Please, habibi, don’t do this. Don’t go back. We just—”

“We are alike in so many ways, ya hayati. But in this, we will always be different. My Arab soul cannot cut my family out of myself. I would die cutting them out. I am already withering.”

“So you’ll let them kill you instead?”

Ya Allah, one way or the other, my soul will die without my family.”

Adam’s expression cracked, and he pulled Faisal close, crushing their bodies together. Faisal felt his face burrow into his neck, felt the hot trails of Adam’s tears slide down his own skin. “Faisal, I could be—” Adam cut himself off, shaking his head and stepping back. He looked away. “Call me.” His chin wavered. “If you can. I’ll wait for you… as long as it takes.”

In shaa Allah, I will be back.”

In Riyadh, he took a taxi from the airport to his uncle’s palace. The Bengali driver had never been to the Governor of Riyadh’s palace gates, and he trembled as he drove up the long drive. Five guards raised their rifles, and only lowered their weapons when Faisal stepped out.

The taxi driver was sent away. Faisal was dragged inside.

He waited in the grand parlor, his uncle’s sitting room overlooking the gardens. His eyes traced the paths they had walked through the roses and the lilies, years and years of conversation—of life—flashing through his memories. Uncle Abdul  had always made time for him, had always given Faisal a smile and held out his hand. He could still feel Abdul’s lips on his forehead, the dry press of his kisses. His uncle, as long as he could remember, had always been the northern star in his sky.

All stars fell. Everything died in its time. If this was his time to die, then inna lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji’oon. To Allah he belonged and to Allah he would return.

His only regret would be that he had such little time with Adam.

Footsteps pounded down the main hall. He closed his eyes and turned away from the door. His uncle was a sharpshooter, a master hunter. He’d taught Faisal how to shoot when he was a boy and could barely hold the heavy, antique rifle.

Would it be a gun? Or would it be a knife? He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to see.

“Faisal!” Abdul’s bellow, sharp and lined with shock, shook the walls. “Ya Faisal! Subhanallah, Faisal!”

Hands grabbed his arms, spun him around. Abdul held him in a bruising grip. His eyes were wild, mad, darting over Faisal’s body, searching him from head to toe. “Where have you been? Where have you been?” Abdul shook him in time with his shouts.

Faisal’s voice fled. The words wouldn’t come. They jammed against the block in his throat, the memories that were trying to strangle him. Hands held between the roses, Abdul taking him to the desert, pointing out constellations and shooting stars and holding his hand to the side of a camel to feel her heartbeat beneath his little palm—

“Where have you been?” Uncle Abdul roared, shaking him again. “Speak!”

He couldn’t take it, not one single second more. His body froze as his soul burned. Death would be a relief from the torment. “If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with! Kill me and be done with it!”

Abdul stopped breathing.

Kill me!” Faisal roared. “La illahah illalah, I am ready to be one with Allah! Just do it so it’s over! I am sick of fearing you, Uncle! I am sick of the poison in our blood. So just do it!”

Uncle Abdul stepped back, one trembling step and then another. He shook his head as if shaking off a nightmare. Wild confusion had replaced the madness, utter incomprehension spilling from every pore of his body. “You think I want to kill you?”

“I saw the video you were watching, and what that imam said. You think it is permissible to kill me, that it is better to be dead than to be me.”

Ya Faisal,” he hissed. “That is my biggest fear! I kept you locked in here because I was afraid someone would follow that fool! And I have been calling every hospital and police station in the country since you left. I have been searching for your body!”

Abdul grabbed him, held his head in both of his hands and pulled him close, until their foreheads were pressed together. “Astaghfirullah, I had to know. I had to see it with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears. I had to know what those people want to do to my blood.” His voice dropped, turning to a growl. “In shaa Allah, they will never touch you. They will never harm my family.”

He grabbed his uncle, holding onto him in return. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think.

“How could you think I would ever harm you? Have I loved you so little that you think I could do such a thing? Where did I go wrong, where you believed that I would raise a hand to my own blood?”

“You were so angry.” He closed his eyes before the tears fell. “You pushed me away. I didn’t know what to think.”

Astaghfirullah, I am terrified.” Uncle Abdul’s voice dropped again, grinding over his words. “I don’t know what to do.”

“You’ve kept me here because of this?”

“I would do anything to keep you safe. Bismillah, now you are home, thank Allah. You will not leave again, no. You will stay with me where it is safe.”

“Uncle, I have been safe—”

“Not safe enough! I found you. If I found you and him together, then who else can? The filth, the people who took your father, my brother, from us? You saw yourself what they say they want to do.”


“I will not allow those people to take any more of my family.” Uncle Abdul’s voice shook. “They took my brother. They will not take you. But I cannot be everywhere to guard you. I cannot watch over you anymore like I did when you were a young boy.”


“You must hide more. You must hide everything. Even yourself.”

“I cannot live like that.”

“What other way is there? Do not ask me to bury you, ya Faisal. I cannot bury another of my beloved. I am not strong enough.” Abdul’s eyes were red and wet, hollow, and filled with agony.

“I promise you, Uncle, I have lived twenty-six years in this life, in this body. I know how to survive. I grew up in Saudi, after all.” He tried to smile. Abdul didn’t smile back. “Uncle, I will not give him up.”


“I will go back to Baghdad.”

“It is too dangerous! What if someone in Baghdad saw you with him?”

“I’m going back.”

“Will you risk your life for him? For this one man?

Astaghfirullah, I will. He is worth so much to me.”

“He is worth asking me to bury you?”

Faisal’s lips thinned. “He is the other half of my soul, Uncle. He is as dear to me as family.”

He watched his words impact his uncle, slam into him like bullets. “I would rather die than be caged. Or not be who I am.”

“This does not have to be who you are,” Abdul said carefully.

“Yes, Uncle, this is who I am.”

Abdul clutched his chest and grimaced. “Do not hurt me this way.”

“You are hurting me, too. Please don’t ask me to change. I won’t. I can’t. Not even for you.”

Misery flowed off Abdul like sand pouring from the dunes before a billowing wind. “Ya Faisal… What am I to do if I find a video of your death online? La hawla wala quwata illa billah, I am not strong enough to survive that. Not again.”

“You can pray for me and know that I loved my life. A life you gave to me.”

Uncle Abdul turned away, burying his head in his hands. “You would resent me if I forbid you to leave. Would you run away again? Would you shatter my heart with your disobedience?”

“You would shatter mine with your command to remain.” He took a breath, a deep inhale. “My heart is in Baghdad, where he is. Let me go back to it.”

Abdul shook his head, disgust and dejection rolled into one despairing groan.

“Please, Uncle.”

Abdul collapsed, falling to the marble floor as his knees buckled. He kept his face buried as his shoulders shook, sobs quietly rolling from him. Faisal dropped to his side and took his uncle into his arms, a mirror of that night when he was only a boy and his world had come undone.

Ya Faisal, my heart goes with you wherever you take it.” Uncle Abdul reached for him, cradling his face. “You must take care, abnay.”

My son, his uncle had said. Abnay: my son.

“I will. Wallah, I will.”

“And I will keep you safe, wallah, for all of my days.”

Adam waited in his apartment, pacing. He clenched his phone in his sweat-soaked fist, squeezing until the plastic groaned.

I should never have let him go. I shouldn’t have let him go back. How could he go back to them?

His thoughts curdled, turning against each other. I’m so stupid. So fucking stupid. I let him go off to die. You let the man you love be murdered, you dumb fuck!

He stopped, rubbing his hands over his face and his head and gripping the back of his neck. Groaning, he kicked the wall, over and over, grunting with every slam of his boot until the drywall cracked.

We’d just managed to say the words. God fucking damn it, we’d just managed to say it. His dream, his impossible dream – could Faisal truly love him? How many nights had he lain awake, his thoughts consumed by Faisal and those words of love?

But Faisal wasn’t just a man, he was a prince. No, he wasn’t just a prince, he was a Saudi royal prince, and his uncle was the next in line for the throne.

But Faisal still wanted him. Wanted to love him. Had said it, even. Ana bahibak, ya hayati.

Even the worst fairy tales hadn’t ended so cruelly. To find perfection and have it all undone.

Adam sank against the wall, sliding down until his ass hit the floor. He hung his head. How long would he wait for Faisal’s call?

Would he ever stop waiting?

His phone rang.

He jumped, and his phone slid out of his sweat-slick palm, clattering to the floor. He grabbed it, pawing for the buttons. “Hello?”

“Ya hayati.”

He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t make any sound at all. His eyes squeezed shut and he thunked his head back. Something burst from him, a gasp and a sob and a shriek all rolled into one.

“Ya hayati, I am all right. I am in no danger. Coming back was the right thing to do.”

Tears poured from his eyes, waterfalls that fell from his chin. He didn’t bother wiping them away. “Are you sure? Positive? This isn’t, like, some kind of hostage situation is it? If you’re in trouble, then say pickle or something.”

Faisal laughed. Adam gasped, a choking sob. “I’m in the gardens. My uncle is praying, and then we are going to eat. We have lots of talk about, him and I. But it is just talk. We’ve come to an understanding. I think this may be the truest he’s ever seen me, habibi.

“So… no honor killing?”

“No honor killing. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

He waited, but Faisal did not elaborate.

I’m coming back to you, habibi. I may split my time between the Kingdom and Baghdad in the future. My uncle wants to keep me close.”



The tears came again, cascades of tears. “Maa shaa Allah,” he choked out. “Maa shaa Allah, Faisal.”

I will see you soon, ya hayati. Ya qalby.”

“Soon.” He couldn’t speak more than a single syllable. “I love you,” he choked out.

And I you,” Faisal breathed. “More than you may ever know.

The line cut out. Adam dropped the phone. Pitching forward, he buried his face in his hands and let the sobs pour from his soul. His entire body was wracked by the force of his wails. His heart ached, agonizing pain radiating from his chest.

This was all going to end in disaster. Terrible, terrible disaster. He could feel it in his bones, in the depth of his soul.

There was too much against them, and equally too much love between them. They would burn their worlds down with this love. It would be safer, better, to walk away.

But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

chapter 3 – i hear a drum in my soul’s ear coming from the depths of the stars

Secret Places in this Violent World

chapter 1

apparently two, but one in soul, you and i

Two Years Before the Executive Office, Enemies of the State

Why hadn’t he gone the traditional route?

Everyone warned him he shouldn’t meet with those creeps from the Defense Intelligence Agency. They talked a good game, but all they did was sell empty promises and broken careers. Anyone who knew what they were doing would tell the DIA recruiters to fuck off.

But first, it was only talking over coffee. Then lunch off base. Dinner in DC.

Meeting the head of the Clandestine Program.

He was smart enough to know when he was being wooed.

Going from being smoked at OCS, doing push ups until his arms gave out, running until he puked, staying awake for three days straight on a training exercise, to being told how valuable, intelligent, and unique he was by the DIA recruiter was an intoxicating pull. Like a seduction, he followed the recruiters exactly where they wanted him to go.

You speak Arabic? Multiple dialects? We have so much need for you. You’ll be perfect. Rocket through our agency. Make a real difference in the world.

Eighteen months later, he was sweating his balls off in divided Iraq and frustrated up to his teeth. Iraq was a nation divided on fault lines. He could cross a street and go from a war zone to a suburb. Instead of playing James Bond, international super-spy, he spent his days hustling for information as he tried to develop human sources. Gimmie the good stuff, spill all your secrets.

The best intelligence he ever got was from kids. The younger the better, but if he went for too young, they thought it was a game, and lied to him.

His patience was not long enough to play ‘guess the intel’ with a five-year-old standing ankle-deep in sewage and trash.

What did you see? What men came by? Did they dress like this? Did you hear them talking about anything? Did they mention places? Buildings? Markets? Have you seen any weapons? How many?

A month ago, a seven-year-old intelligence source bragged about hearing their neighbors talking about the market off of Falestin Street. Two days later, security forces stopped a car bomber heading for the center of the market.

He got an ‘atta boy back slap via text and a reminder that his expense justification report was due.

Two thousand dollars on coloring books and candy was all he put in for. Payment to his sources came in comic books and crayons. These were the tools of liberation, surely.

He was a regular James Bond.

Fuck it all. His career was spiraling, sinking into the desert like a lost city, about to be covered by endless piles of sand. The guys from his OCS class were all pushing rank, rising fast. Attaché here, Company Commander there. Critical positions in the Pentagon.

He’d wanted to save lives, make a real difference. Change the course of everything. Put an end to the endless circle of death and slaughter.

Those were lofty goals. The goals of a young man.

Two years in, and he was already turning dejected. A dead-end career and a dead-end life could do that.

Adam leaned his head back on the sofa and exhaled into the velvet midnight. Music wailed around him, drums and tambourines and a pounding rhythm that offset the scratchy minor chords the Arabs loved so much. At first, the music had been like nails scratching down his bones. Now, he thought in the minor key and American rap seemed too slow.

Vibrant silk and cotton twirled in the breeze, strung between poles in wind-swept loops. Torches sent flames skyward, and lanterns perched on mounds of sand. Bonfires burned in bronze bowls on the riverfront promenade.

Ramadan Iftar celebrations abounded.

The crowd of celebrants broke their fast with dates and yogurt from long tables piled with food. The more devout rose to pray after three dates before returning to the feast: roasted chicken on red rice with a shaved boiled egg, slivered almonds, and raisins. Lamb stew and kubbat halab, rice dough stuffed with goat and chicken. Diamond flatbreads, sammoun, and sweet juice to drink—tamarind, apricot, mango, grape—and sweetened yogurt. Baklava and zlabya, desserts that made the molars ached.

Ramadan was the biggest party of the Islamic year. He could feel the pulse of the air in his blood, the thrum of happiness and of gratitude, and—for the moment—peace. Simple pleasures—connection, family, friends, safety—and delight. Praises to Allah filled the night. Smiles grew. Laughter bloomed. Dancing began. Men and men and women and women danced together, spinning each other in circles at arms lengths.

Adam had never felt more alone.

Why was he even here? He wasn’t a Muslim. There was no intel that anything was going to happen, that night or on the riverfront. There was absolutely zero reason for him to have joined in this celebration, plopping onto a couch someone dragged to the park and watching everyone else’s joy like a voyeur.

His thoughts turned on him, growing barbs and biting his soul.

He needed to leave. Now.

Taking a breath, Adam pulled himself up, moving like a doll with broken limbs. He was tired, so fucking tired. Tired of it all. He just—

A man by the river caught his gaze.

A circle of lanterns rested by his feet, tilted panes of red, yellow, and green glass throwing a rainbow glow over his burnished skin. A slim figure dressed in designer jeans, the kind that came from Dubai or Damman or Bahrain. A button down, light and fitted to his frame. Dark hair, cut neat. Honey eyes that stared right back at Adam. A gentle smile curved the man’s lips, and a flicker from one of the candles spread blue light over his cheek. The angle of his jaw could cut diamonds. The sun could set beneath the arch of his cheek.

Adam’s breath faltered.

A couple twirled in front of them, a man holding a woman’s hands at arm’s length as he spun her toward the river. A tambourine rattled as the drums beat on. Adam blinked.

The man was gone.

Good. He couldn’t do that here. Couldn’t do any of it. Couldn’t even look at men. And not just because of where he was; strictly speaking, it wasn’t illegal in the Marines any longer, but openly parading your personal life—any personal life—was career suicide.

Lusting after an Arab in Iraq? He’d only be more stupid if he tried to pick up a Saudi.

Time to go. His thoughts were jumbled, mixed up as a curl of desire bloomed in his belly. Fuck, he hadn’t been turned on in months. Had it almost been a year? Porn had lost its charm long ago. His hands weren’t interested, and he wasn’t interested in his hands, either. Had it gotten so bad that one smile, one striking man by candlelight, was all it took to upend his world?

He scrubbed his hands over his face. This had been a bad idea, the whole thing, and now he was paying for it. He stood—


He froze.

Behind him, a gentle, warm voice chuckled and spoke again. “I hope I’m not interrupting. I saw you from the riverbank and I wanted to come say hello.”

Adam turned slowly, like a screw fighting its last spin. The man, the man from the candlelight, smiled at him. Torchlight lit him perfectly. God, he was even more breathtaking than from afar.

His brain spun on opposite tracks. One side catalogued the man’s accent, his diction. He spoke carefully with a slight British accent. UK educated, which meant money. His jeans weren’t cheap. His coloring wasn’t quite Iraqi. Somewhere further south. Gulf countries, maybe. He also had the confidence to seek Adam out, approach him. Why?

The other side of Adam’s brain dribbled out his ears. Cardamom and coriander filled his nose, followed by cinnamon and orange, a hint of peach. Honey. He breathed in, trying to drag the scent closer. His heart hammered in time with the drums, a fast, crazed beat that never stopped.

“Hi,” he finally grunted. “Um—“


“Adam.” He held out his hand.

Shit. Greeting anyone in the Arab world was a trigonometry problem. Would this be a handshake? His whiteness put others off, often excluded him. Would Faisal pull him close for a kiss on the cheek? How many kisses? They’d just met, surely it was only going to be a hand hold.

Adam took Faisal’s hand, squeezing and starting to shake. Faisal drew him close. He pressed their cheeks together and kissed the air beside Adam’s ear twice, pulled back, and did the same to his other cheek.

Two kisses. Basic Arab greetings 101. Okay, Faisal was being polite.

Faisal pressed a third kiss to his cheek. He turned in, ghosting his lips over Adam’s cheekbone.

That was definitely not a normal hello. Why—What—

Faisal smiled as he pulled back. “May I join you?”

Thoughts of leaving vanished. He sat. “Sure.” What the hell was he doing? Run! Get away! You have no idea who he is or what he wants. It could be a trap!

Faisal reclined on the couch with effortless ease and style. “You don’t know anyone here, do you?” He kept smiling at Adam, a soft curve of his lips that teased his blood.


Faisal laced their fingers together and rested their joined hands between them on the couch. “Now you know me.”

Oh shit, he shouldn’t be rocketing off from a simple touch. Faisal was only doing what was normal. Holding hands, a sign of friendship in the Middle East, especially among men. Nothing more. Don’t stroke the back of his hand with your thumb.

His palm slicked with cold sweat. Faisal would feel that. God, what an idiot he was. “Shukraan.”

“What are you doing in Iraq?” Faisal seemed content to sit and hold his hand and chat the night away.

“I’m a reporter.” His lie tumbled from his lips. “The civil war, the terrorism.” He shrugged. “Same stuff, different decade.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if this could be every night here?” He gestured to the celebrations. The people, the happiness, the peace.

“It would.” Adam bit his lip. “In shaa Allah, it will someday.”

Faisal’s eyes brightened. “You are Muslim?”


“Respectful, then.” Faisal’s smile turned, from polite to something else. “Unusual in western men.”

“You spend a lot of time with western men?” Jesus, someone should ban him from talking. He clamped his lips shut and looked away. “Sorry, that was rude.”

“I do not,” Faisal said, ignoring his apology. “Most want nothing to do with me. And thus I want nothing to do with them.”

“Their loss.”

Faisal’s eyes locked onto him. Something simmered in the amber depths, something he didn’t want to stare too hard at.

Faisal’s thumb stroked over the back of his hand. “Has anyone shown you around the city? Taken you to the best place to have a coffee? Or eat halawat sha’riyya? Has anyone watched the sunrise with you?”

He couldn’t speak. He shook his head.

“Would you like to watch the sunrise with me?” Faisal’s head tilted, a coy little grin on his lips.

“Would we stay here?” His voice dropped. He squeezed Faisal’s hand. Was this for real? Was Faisal actually picking him up? Or was he reading too much into Arab friendliness and congeniality? Was he only seeing what he wanted to see?

Or worse. Was this a trap? Iraq wasn’t Saudi, but there were still gangs of religious police. Caliphate infiltrators that loved to expose hedonism and infidel corruption as proof that they were essential to protect their version of virtue.

The smart thing to do would be to walk away. Politely thank Faisal for the conversation and beg off back to his apartment and go to sleep. He’d jerk off for sure to this tonight, and probably for the next month or four, remembering Faisal’s smile, his eyes, the warmth of his skin.

“We could stay here if you want.” Faisal’s thumb brushed his hand again. “I would prefer to show you different sights tonight. But only if you wish. Only if you desire.”

He flushed all over, heat racing through him. No mistaking what it was now. But could he trust it? Was it true? Or was he about to be the star of his very own YouTube video and end up as a sad, tragic headline, the American who couldn’t keep it in his pants?

He wanted it to be true. God, he did. What would Faisal be like? Would he smile that way throughout the night? Keep it light and fun, playful even? He seemed the type. But there were depths in his eyes, in the way he held Adam’s hand. Pursued Adam.

How long had it been since someone had wanted him, picked him out of a crowd and wanted to take him home?

He stared into Faisal’s eyes. His confusion, his lust, his uncertainty had to be plain as day. What he wanted, he shouldn’t, couldn’t have.

“Come with me, Adam,” Faisal breathed. His eyes burned. “Keep me company tonight and let me show you the sunrise.”

How the hell was he going to walk out of here with a half-hard cock? Don’t be an idiot, Adam! This could ruin the rest of your life!

He squirmed. Licked his lips. Looked away.

And then he looked back, deep into Faisal’s gaze. He squeezed his hand. “Okay.”

Eight Months Later

Scorched sand spread in every direction, as far as Adam could see from the plane’s cramped window. Riyadh glittered south of King Khalid Airport, heat waves rising from the Najd. Endless waves of empty, burning sand, the Rub’ al-Khali, rolled into the horizon. Nothing could survive in that endless desert.

He gripped the 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. For Faisal.

Eight months. It had been eight months since they’d first me and he’d followed Faisal back to his Baghdad flat and writhed beneath his hands, his lips, his touch. 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… 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. Whispering Arabic to each other all night long by the light of a dozen flickering candles.

Sharing intelligence. Realizing Faisal was, like him, an intelligence officer. Conspiracy, his mind whispered. Espionage. Revealing secrets. Sharing secrets.

But what they’d shared had been beneficial for them both, and for their governments. At least, that’s how he rationalized it. He’d been applauded for his intelligence, his wins in identifying deep Caliphate assets that had eluded the US for so long. Faisal’s work was 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 on what was undeniably an international booty call. Had anyone flown into Saudi Arabia on a booty call before? Maybe there were princes who could fly in escorts, but those were royals. And, they were certainly all women, gorgeous women. What was he doing?

Faisal had texted the day before, saying his people in Riyadh were beyond delighted with the signals intercept Adam had slipped him and that he had some time to spend in the Kingdom before flying back to Iraq. 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 tires squealed and skipped down the runway at King Khalid Airport. Alhamdulliah as salaama echoed around the cabin, the passengers thanking God for the safe flight. The Saudi morning sun burned down on the silver terminal, and he had to squint to look out the window.

Men in long white thobes and ghutras, a few women in hijabs, and a scattered businessman or three, padded off the plane once the jetbridge was extended. 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 the world’s conservatism?

White and cream marble filled the terminal, so chilled with air conditioning that droplets of condensation clung to the tiles near the ceiling. Arches soared overhead, like the cornices of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Ferns crowded around fountains and indoor lagoons, and ivy crawled 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, slipping through slow-moving crowds of Saudi men and hawkers selling cardamom coffee and apple tea.

And then, finally, he was outside. Heat slapped him in the face, like opening an oven set on broil. Cars and taxis cluttered the curb, dark-skinned Bengalis and Pakistanis loading the luggage of aloof Saudis into the back of their cabs.

Where was Faisal? He fumbled for his cell in his pocket. It buzzed as he pulled it out.

To your left.

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 beneath the hollow of his throat. He smiled at Adam and titled his head, mirrored sunglasses slipping down his nose.

He headed for the Lamborghini with a grin, as if pulled by a magnet. 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 foot well. Faisal held just as much unrestrained power as the Lamborghini, just as much thrust and passion.

Ahlan wa sahlan,” Faisal called.

Marhaban.” Adam whistled as he stood by the Lamborghini’s passenger door. To anyone watching, he was gazing at the sports car.

But his eyes were fixed on Faisal, and he dragged his gaze down Faisal’s body, from his taut shoulders to his narrow waist.

“Hurry up and get in. 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 winding away from the airport.

“You have lots of places.”

Faisal said nothing. He shifted into second. Wind flicked through his dark hair.

When they hit the 80M, the open, empty stretch of sunbaked asphalt leading from Riyadh to the Gulf, Adam ducked down out of sight and lay across the central dash. He palmed Faisal’s crotch as he reached for his fly.

Wallah, Adam…” Faisal floored the accelerator as Adam 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.

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, he supposed, he believed this was special. This was different.

Whoever Faisal was, he was loaded. Most Saudis were, but not to this level. Faisal had a beachfront house set back from the road, in a neighborhood where privacy fences were ten feet tall, and lush ferns made permanent the empty spaces between the palatial villas. These were mansions, Saudi style. In Faisal’s bedroom, one wall was made up entirely of glass, overlooking the rolling sand, and the azure waves of the Gulf waters, lapping at his private beach. A brand-new Lamborghini and a villa on the Gulf with a private beach? Faisal must be one of the Kingdom’s best intel officers.

Well, of course he was. Adam was passing over American intelligence, wasn’t he?

Adam was in his bed, wasn’t he?

Faisal had worshipped his body, stripping him slowly, tasting every inch of his skin. 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 as he kept up his quest to melt Adam’s bones. Kisses pressed everywhere, from his chin and down, and then lingered in the taut skin of his belly, the planes between his hips.

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 skin.

What felt like hours later, after his spine had liquefied and every one of his muscles were struck with lightning bursting from the center of his body, Faisal finally kissed his way up his back and nuzzled his hair. “Ride me. 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 and 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, his mouth falling open, his eyes wide, staring at Adam like Adam was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

The minute I heard my first love story,” Faisal breathed. “I started looking for you.”

“What?” Adam squeezed Faisal’s hands, pressed his thumb into his palms. He couldn’t string his thoughts together, and Faisal’s voice rolled through him, like another thrust of his love into Adam’s soul. Christ, he was so hard. Faisal had 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. By Rumi to his love.” Groaning, Faisal’s eyelids fluttered closed. “When I am with you, these poems make sense to me at last.”

Fuck. Adam had purposely not thought about whatever this was between them, this collection of passionate nights and smile-filled days. He hadn’t tried to put it in a box or slap a label on it. If he sat down with himself in the middle of the night and squared with reality, then yes, he’d admit to the skeletons rattling deep in his closet that his heart was far, far too close to Faisal.

And, he wanted to be closer. Much, much closer.

Close enough that Faisal whispering Arabic love poetry to him was almost enough to send him over the teetering edge. How much more can I fall? How much more compromised can I become? 

You are the Essence of the Essence, the intoxication—”

Shuddering, Adam fell, tipping 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. “Adam, wallah,” Faisal breathed around their kiss. “I have something to tell you. I—”

Like a cannon blast going off, splintering wood broke through Faisal’s bedroom.

He twisted as Faisal jolted upright, staring at the door behind them. Faisal grabbed him around the waist as if he could protect him as six hulking men poured into the bedroom, huge and bull-faced and bulging with muscles stuffed in dark suits. Behind them, an older Saudi man followed into the bedroom. He had a gray beard, and wore a white thobe and a white ghutra and a gold-braided dark cloak.

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, his jaw dropping. Uncle?

Fury crackled over Prince Abdul. “Ajlabh.” Get him.

The six men stormed the bed. Adam thrashed as Faisal shouted, ordering them to stop, shouting for his uncle to order them to stop, and trying to hold onto Adam’s waist so tight Adam felt his fingers dig into his hipbones.

Hands grabbed Adam and tore him from Faisal’s hold.

Three men held his arms, another two his legs. He felt the heft, the swing, and then he was airborne, soaring across the bedroom. He heard Faisal’s scream, his bellow.

He slammed into the wall of glass, shattering the bay window. Cuts opened on his shoulder, along his back, on one cheek. He curled, 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 on the perfect, empty beach.

Adam landed in a skid, in a puff of loose, burning sand, facedown.

Later, he slumped on the edge of a couch 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 did he not realize? How could he have been so stupid? Why didn’t he Google a little bit harder, send a query back to DC to check out the man he let fuck him? There was not wanting to know, not wanting to look too deeply, and then there was this level of sheer fucking stupidity.

Christ, the Saudi Crown Prince had just caught him having sex with one of their own. The punishment for a gay non-Muslim caught fucking a Muslim in Saudi Arabia was death by stoning. And he’d slept with a member of the royal family? They’d probably fast-track his death sentence. He’d be dead before dusk.

The bodyguards hovered. They hadn’t cared about his cuts. He oozed blood all over the sheet one of them threw at his face. Together, they listened as Prince Abdul bellowed at Faisal. His voice shook the walls, made the chandelier tremble.

“How could you let an American use you? How could you let an American breach Kingdom security?”

Silence, from Faisal.

“He has compromised you! You have given up the Kingdom for an American! What have you told him? What damage have you done?”

Christ, Faisal didn’t deserve this.

“Have you any idea what the king will say? Alhamdulillah, you will be lucky to be banished! Speak! Do you have nothing to say for yourself?”

Faisal murmured something, but Adam couldn’t parse it out.

“You thought you were—? Rahimullah, ya Faisal… You are too young. That is not how the world works. You were targeted, seduced. Tricked, because—”

Adam waited for the bodyguards to look away before he leaped.

He hauled the sheet around his waist and ran for the bedroom. Six pairs of feet thundered after him but he made it to the closed door and shouldered through it, like a linebacker making a game-winning tackle. He ended up on his hands and knees on the marble, skidding on the bloody sheet.

Faisal sat on the edge of the bed—the bed they’d made love in, just an hour ago—a dejected, miserable slump of despair. His head was in his hands, and when he looked up, his startled, red-rimmed eyes lanced Adam’s heart. In front of the bed, Prince Abdul paced, wearing a tread in the marble.

“I didn’t seduce Faisal,” Adam blurted, right as the bodyguards caught up and pinned him to the floor. One stepped on his neck, the sole of his Italian leather dress shoe pressing down on his spine just enough to close his throat with a squawk.

Faisal jumped to his feet, shouting. Prince Abdul shouted louder, something in Arabic that Adam couldn’t catch, wheezing for air that wasn’t there.

He was hauled to his knees and held there, surrounded. He dragged in a breath, coughing, his throat on fire. Faisal fractured into a kaleidoscope as his eyes watered and overflowed. Crimson blood smeared beneath his palms and across the snow-white marble.

“You got it wrong,” he croaked. “Faisal is not a failure. He’s a fucking hero for you guys.” Coughing, he spat blood pooling inside his lip, flecking his skin and the floor with burgundy splatters. “Faisal has turned me. I’m the one who is compromised. I’m passing intel to him. I’ve told him everything, for months. I give him everything.”

Honeyed sorrow poured from Faisal’s gaze. Adam closed his eyes. He couldn’t bear it. “He seduced me, not the other way around. I’m the failure. I’m the one who’s the traitor to their country.”

Prince Abdul’s jaw dropped with a whispered prayer. “Bismillah, is this true, ya Faisal?”

Silence. “Yes, Uncle,” Faisal whispered. “It’s true.”

The Gulf wind whipped through the broken window, whistling through the shards of glass that skittered across the marble.

Instead of death, he’d been banished. Never return, Prince Abdul said. You will be arrested if you ever cross our borders again.

Prince Abdul’s SUV hummed up Route 95, screaming toward the Kuwait border. Adam slumped in the backseat, his open cuts still oozing slowly, bleeding through the clothes Faisal had stripped from him with kisses and caresses. Two of the bodyguards, who had forced him to the ground, sat up front.

He never got to say goodbye to Faisal.

What was their relationship, though? What, in all of that, was ever even true?

Fuck, Faisal lied to him… about everything. About who he even was.

If Adam had known Faisal was royalty, he’d have run screaming. If he’d woken up after that first night and realized he’d just slept with a prince of the Saudi royal family, he would have booked the next flight back to America. He’d have done whatever it took, said whatever he had to say. He’d have given up his career, taken a demotion. Anything to get him out of the Middle East.

But if he’d fled, he’d never have these past eight months.

He’d never have fallen, even the tiniest bit, in love.

Better to have loved and lost, as the old poets said. Fucking crap. The emptiness, the way his tender, tiny feelings had smeared and gone flat, the hollowness in his heart, was like an emptying of his soul. 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 caverns of his broken heart.

His cell buzzed.

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.

Adam’s eyes blurred, and his thumb hovered over the screen. How did he respond? What was Faisal saying? What the hell did it mean? Surely not—

His phone buzzed again.

It was never about the intel for me.

Adam swallowed. They should just walk away, forget about each other, forget about ever knowing each other. This was too dangerous, these feelings they sparked in each other.

I only wanted to keep seeing you.

How could he feel worse than he had before? Was this it? Was this goodbye? Faisal, in his way, telling him he’d cared for Adam? Was he saying goodbye? Over text, no less? Adam buried a sob, swallowing a hiccup as his chest collapsed.

He Googled Faisal’s poem, and the whole text loaded on his phone. He bit his lip so hard he tasted blood again as his eyes took in the ancient words, the warning about the aching cost of love, the tribulations of falling headfirst into the uncontrolled eddies of the heart.

He copied one line and sent it back to Faisal. [Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.]

Three dots bounced on his screen as the miles burned by. Adam… Allah forgive me, I don’t want to let you go. I don’t want this to end. 

Adam’s eyes slipped closed. 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 and never looking back. His heart would heal. Or maybe it wouldn’t. But they wouldn’t be dancing with the Devil, tempting disaster and ruination.

Instead, he typed back with shaking fingers [i don’t want this to end either].

chapter 2 – the moon says, “How long will I remain suspended without a sun?”