Welcome to this week’s Bauer’s Bytes!
Today, we’re diving back into Adam and Faisal, and where we left off after Enemy Within. How is Adam dealing with all of the massive changes in his life? How are Faisal’s family treating him? What’s on the horizon for them both? ***Spoiler Warning! If you have not read Enemy Within, this Byte is not for you!!***
The Island Kingdom of Bahrain, eighty-six islands governed by a king, connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia. Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.
Adam had been there before, when he was a Marine. He’d been in Juffair and strolled on the cornice, sweated it out under the Persian sun. Eyed the one or two men who made him ache for Faisal, with their slender bodies hidden in thawbs as their mirrored sunglasses reflected rainbows across the sand and sea.
Now, he was in Bahrain as the Saudi Arabian ambassador’s husband.
He felt adrift, like a hot air balloon that had lost its tether, and he was floating high into the sky. What world had he stumbled into? When would he wake up from this dream? Surely, he was still on the ice in the Arctic. Surely, he’d taken a bullet, maybe to the brain, and he was living a lifetime in the last gasping breaths of his real life, spinning a fantasy of his perfect dreams that could never, ever come true.
Sometimes he stayed up, watching Faisal sleep through the long hours of the night. He tracked the moon across the sky, watched the stars twirl in constellations. Don’t ever, ever end, he pleaded to the darkness. I don’t care if I’m mad. If I’m insane. This is the life I want.
Faisal would always stir and catch him, sleepily nuzzling closer and pulling him into his arms. “I’ve got you,” he would whisper. “It’s okay. I’m here, habibi.”
When he did sleep, there were nightmares. Endless stretches of ice, Arctic wilderness, and Cook’s dead eyes. Cook, rising from the ice like a zombie punching out of his grave, clawing his way back to the surface. Sneering, boasting about how he was going to kill Faisal and drink his blood, slobbering and snapping like a wild, feral beast. That moment in the RusFuel station, and this time he wasn’t fast enough, and Cook pulled the trigger. Faisal, dead on the deck, a growing pool of blood spreading around his lifeless body. Faisal’s eyes always stared up at him, pupils blown wide in death, and full of shock. Betrayal. How could you do this to me, habibi?
“I’m here, habibi.”
Sometimes his tears soaked the back of Faisal’s neck as Faisal slept. He kissed each one away, every tear and every kiss a promise of another lifetime at Faisal’s side. Forever and ever and ever. In shaa Allah.
The first week, they stayed at King Faisal’s massive palace in Riyadh. Adam walked like a cat in a room full of angry rocking chairs, rocking chairs with shark teeth that were waiting to eat him. Never before had a westerner been in the Saudi Arabian king’s residential palace. Spent the night, and dined with him in the morning on his private terrace, eating dates and nuts and drinking yogurt and fruit juice. Prayed at the king’s side, listening to his wizened voice whisper prayers for Faisal and himself amidst the salat, the daily prayers.
Never before had a western man made love to the Saudi crown princeling in the king’s palace.
Faisal kissed him on the terrace at breakfast one morning, and he was certain he’d lose his head by the afternoon. But King Faisal and Uncle Abdul just smiled and chuckled, clucking before they turned back to their dates and morning briefings on Kingdom security and global politics. Faisal squeezed his hand tight, relief and love and so much more bursting from his gaze.
If he really thought about it, he was probably in seventeen different kinds of shock. His soul was yoyoing, flinging between memories of the Arctic and the aching emptiness he’d felt, the way the whole universe had seemed empty at the thought of Faisal’s death. There was no point in the sun shining, in the earth spinning, if Faisal was gone from the world. No point at all.
From the Arctic to the desert, and being flung into the deep end of the Saudi Arabian monarchy. Whispered words and gentle footfalls on marble, servants that scurried always out of sight, gold everywhere he looked. He couldn’t quite bring himself to sit on the gold toilet, or the gold bidet. In his whole life, he’d never earn enough money to afford one gold toilet. There was one in every bathroom he saw.
Wealth that was impossible to imagine. A culture that, even for being with Faisal for years, was still alien to him. The slowness, the way the days bled together, the hours smearing. A conversation started over breakfast could wile away the day. As a Marine, he’d done a thousand different things before lunch. Here, he was lucky to be dressed.
A faith that was new in his heart, and prickly on his bones. He prayed whenever it got too quiet, whenever he started to hear himself think. Allah, I give everything in my life to you. My life is a top that is spinning and spinning and spinning. Let it spin forever.
Help me be a good husband.
Help me know what to do now.
He didn’t know what he thought would happen with Faisal’s family – with their family – but they welcomed him in warmly. He prayed beside King Faisal and Uncle Abdul, prostrating together with them, listening to whispered prayers, and felt his soul rise in time with theirs. Afterward, they held his hands, kissed his cheeks, and called him son.
His hot air balloon floated higher and higher, and the air he breathed seemed to get thinner.
Finally, and all too soon, he and Faisal were on their way to Bahrain. He didn’t want to leave the palace, at first. The king and Uncle Abdul had become more family to him, in just a week, than his own family had ever been. He saw the same twang of loss in Faisal’s eyes as they said their goodbyes, and, for the first time, he understood exactly how much Faisal was willing to give up to stay with him. He almost ran for the nearest gold toilet, the shame slamming into him like lightning. He swallowed down his bile, his rising vomit, his guilt. Allah, I’m not worth that much. I am not. Help him see that.
Help me be worthy of his love. Of his devotion. Because I am not now. Allah, guide me.
An hour-long flight on the king’s private jet took them to Bahrain. Manama’s skyline, shark teeth skyscrapers against the Arabian blue waters and the scorched sand, stood out in shimmering heat waves. Green grass, manicured and curated, gleamed alongside the mosaic walkways of the cornice and the promenades. Islands snaked around the capital, spits of sand that boasted a thousand homes each.
Faisal leaned in, pressing his cheek against Adam’s, and pointed out the window. “See that little island, shaped like a nine?”
Adam’s breath stuttered. He nodded. It was an island paradise in every sense of the word. Spacious villas that dotted the curly end of the island, front yards pointed to the private lagoon, back yards to the ocean. On the other side of the tiny island, promenades and cafes, shops and restaurants, and a marina filled with classic dhows and Gulf superyachts. A millionaire’s island, wreathed in luxury, drenched in sunshine, and resting in the diamond blue waters of the Persian Gulf.
“We live there.”
He squeezed Faisal’s hand until his knuckles went white.
Their driver took them from the airport to the island shaped like a nine, Reef Island. A private causeway separated their island from the mainland, and even in the road, mosaics had been laid with care. He expected diamonds in their driveway, more gold, maybe emeralds and rubies on their fenceposts.
His breath faltered again as they drove into the high-walled gated yard surrounding their villa. Almost a compound, but not quite. Sprawling would be putting it mildly. His and Faisal’s new home stretched around the bend of the island, facing the sea. Sailboats lazily drifted in the distance. Marble and gold filled the home, and Middle Eastern accents, relics of history from a dozen civilizations that museums the world over would pay millions for. Pottery from Sumer, art from the Assyrians. Tablets of the Babylonians. Swords from Arabia. Mesopotamian statues. Framed papyrus from ancient Egypt. Silk chairs and couches, linen and gauze curtains. Even the air he breathed felt expensive.
In the back, an infinity pool reached for the sea, tumbling down a short waterfall at the edge of the yard, as if he could swim from the pool to the ocean and back. Decks and gazebos were artfully hidden behind overflowing blooms of flowers, private niches where they could hide and be undisturbed.
“Our bedroom is here.” Faisal guided him down one hallway, off the three-story foyer and grand sitting room. A gold filigree map of Saudi Arabia hung on one wall. The sun glinted off the sea through massive windows, sparking the golden threads within the map. Sparkles followed them everywhere.
He’d never seen a more massive bed. He could live his whole life in the silk sheets, in the continent of the down mattress, and within the folds of Faisal’s arms.
Faisal squeezed his hand and led him back through the house, pointing out the kitchen – which they wouldn’t use – the dining room, and the prayer room. Mosaics covered the walls, and banners proclaiming the shadada hung in black and gold filigree. A niche in the wall pointed west, toward Mecca, and a plush rug had been laid out for their daily prayers.
“Do you like it?” Faisal still held his hand. “I wanted to get something nice for you.”
“Nice?” Adam chuckled, still struggling to breathe the expensive, ornate air. “This is more than nice. This is the kind of wealth I— No, I actually don’t think I ever imagined something this grand. I… I don’t belong here.”
Faisal frowned. “Of course you belong here.”
“This is far, far, far too good for me.”
“Every star in the sky is not enough for you. Every pearl in the ocean, or diamond from the earth is not enough for you, Adam.”
“Oh, God.” Adam turned away, covering his face with his hands. His thawb bunched at his elbows, and his keffiyeh tickled his neck. “Don’t say that, please. I’m not worth that much.” I almost got you killed. Loving me almost ripped you from your family. I’m nothing but a drain on you, and I always will be.
Faisal’s gentle hands pried his away. He smiled, his radiance shining on Adam, and one delicate hand ghosted down his face, over his lips. “Habibi. Ya rouhi. Enta habibi ya hayati.”
Adam flinched, gasping, and his eyes screwed shut. Faisal’s hand cupped his cheek. “That’s what you said to me on the ice. After we married. When I was—”
The memories played like an Imax film, perfect clarity, perfect sound, perfect emotions. Like he was back there, reliving every nanosecond, every heartbeat. Every one of Faisal’s tears. His decision to die, and the agony of saying goodbye to Faisal for this life. Goosebumps rose, the chill of the Arctic flooding his soul.
“I will say those words to you every day, every hour, until the nightmares fall away, habibi.” Leaning in, Faisal pressed his forehead to Adam’s, nuzzling close. “I’m here, with you. For you. Ya rouhi.”
“This really is too much,” Adam breathed, after a moment.
“Nothing is too much for you.”
“You don’t see it, do you? The wealth, the expense? You come from a completely different world than I do. It’s… overwhelming, habibi.”
Faisal smiled, and his hands rose again, cradling Adam’s cheeks. “I see it all.”
“I don’t know if I can get used to this.”
“Hani, I see it, but I never let it have power over me. These things, they don’t matter. I want to give you the best at all times, but that doesn’t mean the best of wealth. Or of trinkets. The best is us, together, wherever that may be. Here, in this ridiculous villa.” He smiled, and sneaked a kiss on Adam’s lips. “Or in a studio in Paris. A flat in London, over a pizza place or an Indian restaurant, where we always smell of curry. A farm in America, where we hide from the world. A tent in the desert. A cardboard box on a street corner.” Another kiss. “Nothing is too much for you, habibi, because everything of me is for you. Is yours. For all time.”
And that was the end of his control. Adam sagged into Faisal’s hold, the tears flowing freely, burying his face in Faisal’s neck as he clung to him. Faisal held him close, stroked his skin, and whispered words of love into his ear. Soft Arabic on warm wind, the feel of sun on his skin, Faisal in his arms. Perfection. Perfection in every single way.
When he pulled back, he finally took a deep breath. His throat didn’t close, didn’t reject the golden air, and as he took in the villa, the wealth, the majesty, he saw it with new eyes. It was a beautiful home, a stunning backdrop, but the true wealth, and where their lives truly centered, was in the space between them. The juncture of their hands. The meeting of their lips. The curves of their hearts, nestling together, and the way the folds of their souls merged and joined whenever their eyes caught and held.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “For everything.” Thank you for waiting for me.
Faisal beamed. He held out his hand. “What shall we do first? Swim? Eat? Make love? Run naked through the house and the gardens?”
Laughing, Adam kissed the back of his hand. “We’d swim naked at your old palace. That always led to good times.”
“Swimming it is, then.” Faisal stepped back and pulled off his keffiyeh, and then his thawb. He left both on the marble floor, piles of white cotton, and stood before Adam, completely nude. He winked. “Your turn.”
Timestamp: Adam and Faisal, post Enemy Within.