Part 31: The Paris Solution

Chapter 1

Spring 1996

“How did security let you in here with that?” Jahni glanced down at the swagger stick Madari carried.

“Kahil, I’m a loyal officer and a trusted advisor to his majesty. Palace security would have no reason to suspect me of any ill-intent.”

“You took the blade out, didn’t you?”

Madari smiled. “Yes. I didn’t want there to be any kind of dispute to mar the colonel’s ceremony.”

They both looked over at Rahama, standing talking to the King, a newly bestowed decoration gleaming on his chest.

“The Order of Murtaza,” Jahni said. He left a long pause then added, “Most often given on retirement.”

“Not always,” Madari said.

“Or close to.”

It was true. The order was a long service decoration given to those who had devoted their whole career to the service. Even Ahmed had received his just before he finally retired from the Army. Some people said it had been the only way to drop a heavy enough hint that it might be time for him to consider retirement.

Not that Rahama would really retire yet, Madari knew that. Retire from the command of the Royal Guard, perhaps. But even if he didn’t then take up a position at the Defence Ministry, or accept a Generalship, he would still be acting as an unofficial advisor to the King.

Looking around the palace reception room, thronged with senior officers from the Royal Guard, other regiments and the Defence Ministry, Madari suspected they were all discussing the same thing. When would Rahama retire? And who would replace him? Did they glance at Madari when they wondered that? It was his ambition, but so far stated only to Jahni. Rahama must know – he missed nothing. But so must everyone else. After the way Madari took charge when Rahama was injured, his ambition must be clear to all now.

But despite this ambition, he worried at the idea it might happen soon. Was he ready? And was Jahni ready to take on command of the Special Forces unit?

“So do you think he’ll…” Jahni began, but stopped as Rahama himself approached. He shared a long handshake with Madari, and then embraced him.

“Ah, Faris. It seems such a short time ago I watched Ahmed accept his Order. I hope to be around to see you collect yours.” Turning to Jahni, he smiled. “But, my young friend, I would be blessed indeed if I’m able to see you collect yours.”

“I hope you are, sir,” Jahni said, bowing his head, with a hand on his heart. “Congratulations, Colonel.”

“Thank you. Both of you. Now, you are going to come to my party on Saturday?”

“Yes of course,” Madari said.

“Your guests will be here by then, yes?”

“Yes,” Madari said, smiling at the thought of seeing Clive Drummond, Eshe Abasi and especially little Kibibi. They were heading to England and Clive had suggested they stop for a visit. Of course Madari had been delighted.

“Then, please, bring them along. It’s all quite informal, everyone is bringing their families, so feel free to bring the child. And please, no dress uniforms. The regimental dinner will be quite formal enough.” He looked serious for a moment. “You might think that strange, gentlemen, but this party is not to honour me and my service. It’s to honour my family who have supported me throughout that service.”

He smiled, breaking the solemn air that followed his speech.

“I will see you there.” He glanced around. “And now I’d better go and talk to someone else before people start to assume I’m handing you the key to my office.” He left with a wink that startled Madari.

Jahni stared after him. “Ah, that was quite a broad hint.”

“No,” Madari said. “He was only referring to the assumptions other people might make. He’s not saying that he will be giving me that key one day.”

“You seem determined to talk yourself out of that office.”

“Not at all. You know my ambitions. But it’s wrong to make assumptions. The security situation is serious and Rahama is one of the King’s right hand men. To retire now might be bad timing.”

“So I shouldn’t start picking out the colour I want to repaint your office quite yet?” His smile matched his teasing tone and Madari gave him a half-hearted frown, but he enjoyed the smile.


Madari’s guests arrived the following morning. He waited at Arrivals, thinking it was taking a long time for them to come through customs and baggage claim, when he saw them, at last. A porter followed the party, pushing a luggage trolley which towered with trunks and cases.

Drummond, Eshe and, clinging to Eshe’s hand, Kibibi, walked out of International Arrivals. Seeing Madari, Kibibi at once smiled with delight, let go of Eshe’s hand and ran to him. The intensity of the joy that surged over him at the sight of her surprised Madari. He bent to lift her up when she reached him and threw her arms around him.

“Oh, my dear, you’re getting so tall!” he said, noticing the extra effort it took to lift her now. So strong and healthy, obviously well-cared for. He’d never stop being grateful to Drummond and Eshe for taking her in. And he’d never stop wondering what it would have been like if he’d brought her home, the way Karen so teasingly suggested.

“Faris,” Drummond said, coming up with his hand out. Madari let Kibibi down and shook Drummond’s hand. “Good to see you old chap.” He spoke in English. “Looking better than you were before. Put a bit of weight back on. Good to see. Good to see.”

“And you have lost none,” Madari said to Drummond, who laughed. Bowing his head to Eshe, Madari spoke to her in French. “Madame Abasi, I am honoured to meet you again.” He looked at the trolley the porter stood waiting with. “Ah, you have a lot of luggage. You must be going to stay in England for a long time.”

“Ah, well, you know women,” Drummond said, but then leaned in closer. “Fact is, we’re not going back to Zaire. I’m heading home for good. Retiring. But I’ll fill you in later. Better get to the hotel. The little one’s pretty tired.”

Madari looked down at Kibibi, who was holding his hand. She smiled up at him, but he saw the tiredness in her face. Yes, she needed rest. It was a long journey for such a young child. He picked her up again and said, “Follow me. I have my car.” After another glance at their luggage he added, “Though I think we may need to hire a taxi as well.”


Almost two hours later he left them at the hotel, after helping them check in and have all that luggage taken up to their rooms. He told Drummond to explain later about not going back – for now, he would leave them to rest. They happily accepted the invitation to come to Rahama’s party on Saturday and as he drove away from the hotel, Madari pictured himself there, showing off Kibibi to his friends. Again he thought about how things would have been different if he’d already introduced her to them as his adopted daughter.

Of course, as a visitor, something of a novelty, she would be treated differently than the same child he was proposing to raise as his own. Some people still harboured prejudices. Kibibi might be healthy and well-looked after, and given the essentials of life and much more by Clive and Eshe, but the party would be attended by many wealthy, upper-class people. Apparently the King and his family might even attend. And of course the women and girls would be in their finery, even if it was their more informal finery.

Glancing at the clock on the dashboard, he saw that he had around an hour before he was expected back at barracks. He took the next left and headed for Sophia’s flat.

She had some other guests already. He recognised members of the charity committee and supposed they were having a meeting, so said he wouldn’t stay long. One man he didn’t recognise. A European in his thirties, quite handsome. Was he a new member of the committee? Madari looked at him narrowly, then followed Sophia into the kitchen where she was bringing more tea.

“I don’t really have time to stay,” he said. “I just wanted to ask you for your advice with a fashion problem.”

“I’ve told you that brown is not your colour,” she said, teasing gently. “Stick with dark blues and greens and you can’t go wrong.”

“Not for me,” he said, feeling he was being teased a lot these days, and that he rather liked it. “I told you that Clive Drummond is visiting, with Madame Abasi and little Kibibi? Well, I’ll be taking them with me to Sharif’s party on Saturday and I would like to buy a dress for Kibibi. Something… well, pretty. Whatever is the style at the moment.”

“Ah, and since you know less than nothing about dresses for small girls…”

“I appeal to your always impeccable fashion sense.”

She poured a small glass of tea, and handed it to him. “I think I’d enjoy that, Faris. Going shopping with your money.” She smiled. “In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t come. You’re not the most fun shopping companion.”

“You mean I will insist on looking at the price tags?”

“That’s part of it. I’ll tell you what. I will take Kibibi and Eshe and go shopping. You and Clive wait for us in a cafe or coffee house and we’ll come and join you once we’re done.”

“You really don’t have to go to all that trouble, but if you want to…”

“Of course I want to. I’ve been dying to meet Kibibi. We’ll have a lovely time. Call me later with arrangements.”

“You’re very kind.” He appreciated more than ever that they’d stayed friends. “I’ll let you get on. Is it a committee meeting?”

“Yes. My turn to host.”

“Um, who’s that new member?” He kept his voice carefully neutral. Just making conversation, even sipped his tea with forced nonchalance.

“Or, you mean Richard? He’s a doctor. He’s just joined us, yes. Would you like to be introduced?”

A doctor? Women liked doctors for some reason. Madari fought to keep the frown off his face. A handsome doctor, working closely with her on the charity committee. No doubt giving up his valuable time for the sake of the charity. Madari put his cup down.

“No, thank you. I need to get back to barracks.”

As he drove there he chided himself for those ridiculous feelings of jealousy. It was none of his business anymore. Sophia could see whoever she liked. He had no right to know who she was seeing. If she was.

But… the security situation… she was still a potential target. What if some plausible seeming man tried to get close to her for nefarious reasons? Of course, he could hardly start having all her friends investigated. She certainly wouldn’t be his friend much longer if she got wind of that. Something more informal though.


“Kahil,” Madari said, in what he hoped was a casual tone, as he and Jahni left a briefing later that afternoon, “are you still having those sparring sessions with Miss Black?”

“Yes,” Jahni said. “Every week. You don’t have to worry, Faris. She’s very good. She’ll keep Sophia safe.”

Ah, him bringing up Sophia’s name gave Madari an opening. “She must get to see a lot of Sophia’s social life.”

“Well, you’d know that better than me,” Jahni said, holding open a door for Madari as they arrived back at the unit’s offices.

Yes, he was part of that social life. Perhaps social wasn’t the word he wanted. Personal. Her personal life. The part that was none of his business.

“Come into my office a moment,” he said to Jahni.

He closed the door behind them. The room was dim with the blinds drawn over the windows to keep the sun out. “I was wondering,” he said, waving Jahni to a chair, “if Alex ever mentioned anything about anyone Sophia might be seeing.”

Jahni froze for a second. “Seeing?”

“A man for example,” Madari said, keeping his tone casual. He sat on the edge of his desk.

Jahni frowned and looked at Madari for a long time, his face unreadable in the dimness.

“A man?” he said at last.

“Which of course Sophia has every right to do,” Madari said, quickly. “She’s a free woman. I’m just thinking about her safety.”

“Her safety. Right,” Jahni said, slowly. “No. Alex hasn’t mentioned anyone. I don’t think she would mention it to me.”

“What about if you asked her?”

Jahni stood up and moved more into the light that came through the half-closed blind over the glass in the door. “Is there someone specific you’re worried about?”

“No. I just thought, if she was seeing anyone…”

“You’d like to know about it.”

Madari looked away, bit his lip, feeling a blush rising in his cheeks. He should take heed of that, he knew. If he was blushing with shame at asking this, then he shouldn’t be asking it. But despite that he went on.

“For her security,” he said, turning back, but unable to meet Jahni’s eyes. “It would do a lot for my peace of mind if you were to ask Alex -”


Now he did meet Jahni’s eyes and saw enough anger there to make him want to beg forgiveness. He didn’t, just waited. After a moment, Jahni took a breath. The colour that had drained from his face came back.

“I consider Alex a friend. I won’t trespass on that by asking her to violate her client’s privacy.” His voice was stiff and formal.

“Right. Of course, I quite understand.” Madari frowned, not at the refusal, or not only that, but at the words Jahni used. That he considered her a friend. How close had they become? Had Madari made a mistake allowing those sparring sessions? They were alone during those sessions. Did they still leave the door open?

Alex was European and more forward than most of the women Jahni met. Something he seemed to like, if his friendship with Karen Bennett was any indication. And those women he said he… met in hotels. Did he still do that? The thought sickened Madari.

Then a sense of his own idiocy swept over him. He’d come in here jealous about Sophia and what men she might be seeing. Now he was seething over the thought of Jahni and Alex Black. And most idiotic of all, he had no evidence that Jahni was seeing Alex, or that Sophia was seeing anyone at all.

“I’m sorry, Kahil. I shouldn’t have asked. I’m a fool.” He held out his hand for a shake. “Forgive me. Sometimes I get notions in my head and… well, forgive me, please.”

Jahni shook the offered hand and nodded his head. “It’s forgotten.”


Fearing Jahni was still offended and annoyed with him, Madari included him in the shopping expedition a couple of days later, since the men’s part in this was to be lounging in a coffee house for a couple of hours.

“You remember Major Jahni,” he said to Drummond, as the two of them rose to meet Jahni when he arrived in the coffee house.

“No,” Drummond said. “I remember a Captain Jahni. Congratulations on your promotion, young man. Knew you’d go far. Said that to Faris after I met you. That young fellow of yours will go far, I told him.”

They all sat and a waiter came to take Jahni’s order. The coffee house was also a shisha cafe and a water pipe gurgled on the table. Aromatic smoke drifted around the room. Other men, mostly elderly, lurked in the deep interior of the shop, smoking, playing chess or backgammon. Madari’s group sat by a window near the front of the shop, where the atmosphere wasn’t quite so thick, as the smoke was disturbed often by the opening door.

“Haven’t smoked one of these in years,” Drummond said of the shisha pipe. “Always enjoyed them though. Maybe I should buy one to take home.” When Madari gave him a questioning glance, he picked up the cue. “Ah, yes, haven’t really explained about that yet, have I?”

The waiter came back with Jahni’s coffee and they all settled comfortably into their armchairs. Outside the sun glared off the pavements and a heat haze shimmered above the tarmac of the roads. But with its stone walls and floor the cafe stayed cooler.

“War’s coming you see,” Drummond explained. “Trouble’s been spilling over from Rwanda for a while now. Some of my security lads have gone back into the Army. I’d been thinking for a few years about retiring and going home, so when I got an offer for the lodge, it seemed like the right time.”

“And you’re taking Eshe and Kibibi with you?” Madari said.

“Yes. Couldn’t leave those two at least. Obligation you know. Eshe will be my housekeeper, and she’s already officially adopted Bibi. If the buggers make any trouble about them staying I’ll marry Eshe.”

Madari stared at him for a second. Drummond had both a smile and a determined look in his eyes. He meant it.

“Wouldn’t be a sacrifice,” he added. “Fine lady.”

Madari didn’t answer, he turned to look at Jahni, settled very comfortably in his seat, and looking half-asleep. He’d been on late duty last night, Madari recalled. Yet he’d still come to join them, instead of staying home to sleep.

War was coming here, Madari knew. Though it was hard to imagine it, sitting here in such peaceful surroundings and pleasant company. But the reality lurked out there. There was fear on the streets, the city changing.

Could Madari do as Drummond had? Flee the oncoming war with those he loved? Could anyone blame him for doing that? Especially given the nature of the enemy. Who could condemn him for taking Jahni and finding a safe haven? Was his duty to Jahni stronger than his duty to the King and his country?

But there was a difference. Drummond was returning home. Madari and Jahni would be going into exile, leaving home behind, and perhaps never returning. Did either of them want that? Perhaps Kahil did, he’d asked to go and make a new home somewhere else. But Madari wasn’t ready. Not yet. This war would come and they would win or lose and the choice might be taken out of their hands. But right now, he was not ready to make that choice.

“It will be a big change for Kibibi,” Madari said.

“She’s still young enough to adapt,” Drummond said. “Couple of years time, she’ll be like any other English girl. Anyway, you should be able to see her more often now if you want to. And the postal service is better.”

“Yes, that will be nice,” Madari said. “We can fly over to London easily enough.”

We. He heard himself say it. Which was strange, since though Jahni was perfectly friendly with Kibibi, he had no particular attachment to her. Why should he want to fly to London to see her? But Jahni made no objection. Instead he nodded, looking more awake, looking at Madari.

“That would be great,” Jahni said. And Madari knew there was something unspoken there, behind his eyes. But he had no idea what.


“Faris, they’re here.”

Jahni’s voice brought Madari back from a pleasant doze, and he opened his eyes to see Sophia, Eshe, Alex and Kibibi taking a table outside, fussing with shopping bags. In a moment, Sophia came inside and over to Madari’s table. The men rose to meet her.

“I thought we should sit outside,” she said. “The atmosphere is a little thick for Bibi in here. And we don’t want to disturb the peace.”

“Good idea,” Madari said, rising with his coffee cup, but finding it empty. He waved a hand at a waiter to follow them outside and the men joined the shopping party at a table under a large parasol. The waiter took their order and went back inside.

“All of these bags for one little girl’s dress?” Madari said, in French, to Kibibi. She giggled.

“We bought a few other bits and pieces,” Sophia admitted.

“You’ll have even more to buy when you get to England,” he said to Kibibi. “It gets cold and rainy there.”

“Yes, you’ll need warm things,” Jahni said. “Hats, gloves, scarves.” He smiled at Madari, perhaps recalling their long ago shopping trip buying warm clothes for themselves to wear in Britain. That interesting time in London, his seeing snow for the first time, visiting Madari’s past even as they prepared for the consultations that would help them build their future.

“A coat,” Sophia said. “And woollen sweaters.”

“Wellington boots,” Madari supplied, remembering seeing child-sized rubber boots in shoe shops in London, in a rainbow of colours and patterns.

“An umbrella,” Jahni said.

“Oh, we are used to rain,” Eshe said.

“But not snow,” Jahni said. “You’ll love snow,” he said to Kibibi. “You can build a snowman and throw snowballs.”

She made him explain, and he laughed with her. What must it be like for her? Madari wondered, leaving her home for somewhere so different. But Clive was right, her youth would allow her to adapt. It would be very different if Madari were to abandon his home and go into exile.

He dismissed such thoughts, tried to enjoy their pleasant chatter. Jahni was leaning over to Alex now, speaking to her in Arabic, explaining what they’d been talking about. She was the only member of the group who didn’t speak French and he felt guilty for a moment for leaving her out of the conversation. But she was probably too busy watching the crowds and doing her job to worry about it. Though that made him think of something.

“Has Kibibi had English lessons, Clive?”

“Started them a few months ago,” Drummond said. “Bibi and Eshe.”

“She is learning faster than I am,” Eshe admitted.

“Give her a few months and she’ll be chattering away like a native,” Drummond said. The waiter appeared with their drinks and some cakes. He placed a glass of juice in front of Kibibi and she said “Merci” politely. Sophia leaned over and whispered to her. Kibibi spoke again, saying “Shukran”. The waiter smiled at her as he put down the rest of the order and left.

“You’ve been teaching her Arabic?” Madari said, leaning over to Sophia, who was sitting beside him.

“Only a few words,” Sophia said. “Which I’m sure she will forget in a couple of weeks, once she gets to London.”

“She’ll be saying ‘ta very much, mate’ instead,” Drummond said, in English, and those who understood chuckled at it. Actually, not all of those. Glancing at Jahni, Madari saw he appeared tense. He smiled at him to cheer him up, but that had no effect.

Madari spoke to Sophia again, dropping into Arabic this time. “If you’ll let me have the receipts for the dress and the rest, I’ll bring you over the money later.”

“The rest?”

“My dear, I may not know much about fashion, but I’ve been shopping with you enough times to know that a dress is never just a dress.”

“I can’t fool you, can I? There may have been a few other, shall we say, essentials.”


Jahni watched Madari and Sophia with their heads close, smiling and laughing. He watched the child looking around with big eyes, curious and laughing too. She gripped the glass of juice with both hands and Madame Abasi watched her carefully to see she didn’t spill any. The scene was one of such pleasant friendship and domesticity that he despised himself for his surge of jealousy when he looked at Madari and Sophia.

But this whole thing… He’d had to come along, because when he heard about it, his first thoughts had been suspicions. Again, he despised himself for it, but what else could he think? Madari asking Sophia to help him buy a dress for Kibibi? Something that she would surely find ‘sweet’. Thoughtful. Kind. Designed to show him in a good light.

He didn’t doubt that Madari wanted to do something kind for the little girl he was so fond of. The gesture was sincere, Jahni felt sure. But couldn’t he have simply taken her to a dress shop himself and asked the staff for advice? They would have taken care of it and given him all the help he needed. But he chose to go to Sophia.

Adding that to his request for Jahni to ask Alex if Sophia was seeing someone else, Jahni’s fear that Madari was working on persuading Sophia to take him back had turned into certainty. Now he wished he hadn’t come here. The cake and coffee he mechanically ate and drank might as well be ashes and vinegar, they turned so sour on his tongue.

Chapter 2

Drummond, Eshe and Kibibi came to Madari’s home before Rahama’s party and Madari finally saw the dress he’d paid for. It was yellow silk, with green embroidery, which matched the shoes and ribbons she wore. The broad, satin ribbons in Kibibi’s hair hadn’t appeared on any of the receipts Sophia gave Madari. She must be counting them as her personal gift. It was so kind of her to take such an interest in the child, he thought, relieved that Kibibi would be as finely dressed as anyone else at the party. Perhaps he would take Sophia to dinner to thank her for her help.

Eshe had a new dress too, long and flowing, in dark red that, with her height and statuesque figure, she carried off with great impact.

“Nice place this,” Drummond said, looking around the living room, as the men waited for Eshe and Kibibi, who had retired to the bathroom to make final adjustments.

“Thank you. But I’m not sure I’m going to stay. It’s a little too big for me,” he explained when Drummond looked at him questioningly. “Coming from my house in the desert into the city, I was worried about being too cramped, but I may have over-compensated.”

He liked the space and the high ceilings, but he had to have a housekeeper who came in every day to keep the place up to scratch, and he’d grown rather used to this privacy, ever since Youssef had retired. Having someone coming in so often felt like an intrusion.

“I have a six month rolling lease,” he said, “So I’m keeping an eye out for somewhere else.”

Drummond nodded. “See what you mean. It’s more the sort of place you need to fill with a family, or at least a wife. Too big for a bachelor to rattle around in.” He paused. Just barely. “Sophia’s a fine woman. Very nice of her to help out with the frock for Bibi.”

“Ah, yes,” Madari said, immediately nervous of the juxtaposition of topics there.

“Will she be at the party?”

“Yes, she’s coming.”

“Splendid. Is there dancing?”

“I, uh, don’t think so.”

“That’s a shame. Ah, here come the ladies.” Eshe and Kibibi reappeared, all ready to go. “Both looking lovely of course. My dear.” He offered his arm to Eshe.

Madari grimaced and felt bad, but leaned close. “Clive, we don’t do that here. Men and women don’t touch like that in public.” He smiled, joking to relieve his own tension. “It would be more usual for you and I to link arms or hold hands.”

“Oh, right, yes of course, I remember.”

He let go of Eshe’s arm, exchanging some words in French to her. She nodded and took Kibibi’s hand instead, and made for the door as Madari gestured for her to precede them.

“No offence, Faris,” Drummond said, smiling, as they fell into step behind the ladies, “you’re a fine fellow and a good friend, but if you try to hold my hand, I will be forced to knock you out.”

“I’ll remember that.”


“Kibibi looks very pretty,” Jahni said to Madari after they met up at the party. Drummond and Rahama were already deep into an anecdote war that might very well go on all afternoon. Rahama had a small boy on his lap, one of his many grandchildren or a great-nephew, Madari thought and the boy was staring with open curiosity at Drummond. Madame Rahama had taken Eshe and Kibibi to meet other ladies and children, leaving Madari and Jahni alone. Jahni had no objection to that. Any time he got to have Madari all to himself was precious.

“Yes. It’s a nice dress,” Madari said, looking pleased with himself. He glanced around at the women and girls all in bright colours and fine silks and linens. “I didn’t want her to be at a disadvantage here.”

“Of course not. It was generous of you.”

Perhaps he’d been unfair to Madari, assuming an ulterior motive for his asking Sophia for her help in buying the dress. Sophia understood not only about clothes, but the kind of company Kibibi would be wearing the dress to mingle with. That made her a better advisor than any dress shop assistant. Madari wasn’t asking Sophia for her help to make himself look good, but to make sure that Kibibi looked good.

“The King and his family are definitely coming,” Jahni said, after a moment’s silence, while Madari gazed around the room. “They’ll be here by four.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Shall we go outside? It’s warm in here.” They strolled out into the courtyard, decorated with streamers of flowers stretching across from the walls of the house to the fountain in the middle of the court. The afternoon sun turned the water of the fountain into diamonds, sparking in the air. Friendly talk and laughter and the high voices of children surrounded them on all sides.

“Have you seen Sophia arrive?” Madari asked and Jahni had to look up to see if a cloud had covered the sun. No, it hadn’t. Only his eyes.


“No, you haven’t seen her, or no she hasn’t arrived?”

“Well, I think I can only answer the first question, can’t I?” Jahni said, hearing the irritation in his voice and hating it, yet unable to stop it. “She might have arrived without me seeing her, there are a lot of people here.”

“Yes.” Madari watched him, not apparently angry at Jahni snapping at him. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked,” he said quietly.

His apology only made Jahni feel worse. Did it mean he had a reason to feel ashamed of asking Jahni, that he was interested in Sophia’s presence for reasons he wouldn’t admit to Jahni? Or was Jahni becoming entirely paranoid and losing his mind? At times he thought so, his mind ran so often into the same groove. And a groove like on a record, round and round, tighter and tighter. Faris, Sophia, himself, Faris, himself, Faris, Faris, Faris. Couldn’t stop. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t breathe.

A crash made him gasp and step back, Madari doing the same, as Jahni’s glass slipped from his hand and smashed on the ground. His hands felt boneless.

“Kahil, are you all right?” Madari said, taking Jahni’s arm, looking at him with clear concern. “You went so pale suddenly.”

“It’s the sun, I think.” It wasn’t. “Maybe we should go back inside.” One of the catering staff appeared and started to clear up the broken glass. Jahni nodded to him, muttering an apology, before he let Madari lead him back inside. They found a quieter room away from the main activity of the party, with a comfortable sofa to sit on. A cool breeze from the courtyard blew in through the open door.

“Are you sure you’re well?” Madari asked. “I can go and find a doctor if you like.”

“I’m fine. Just tired. I don’t sleep so well these days.” Damn, he shouldn’t have admitted that. But Madari understood that problem.


“No, not usually. Just can’t sleep.” Mind too busy, going around in those circles. He forced on a smile. “I’m fine, really.” He didn’t want to spoil the party for Madari. He had his guests here and Rahama was such a good friend to him, he should be out there enjoying himself. “I’ll just sit here for a while. You can go back out.”

“I’ll stay.”

“There are people out there you should be talking to,” Jahni said. “Ministers. Generals. And the King. You know that a party is never just a party.”

Madari smiled at that. “There’s plenty of time for that later. Why don’t we sit here until his majesty arrives?”

Jahni sighed and nodded. He rested his head on the back of the sofa and closed his eyes. A moment later, Madari’s hand touched his, and their fingers entwined. Jahni smiled, and again felt weak and boneless, but in a pleasant way this time. Paradise. Or at least a stolen moment of it. He didn’t believe in Paradise beyond this life, but perhaps, if he was lucky, he could catch a moment or two of it on earth.


Though Jahni seemed much recovered from his strange turn by the time the King arrived, Madari still fretted about him as they rejoined the party. Sensing something of what had upset him, Madari spoke only briefly to Sophia, thanking her again for her help, before leaving her to talk to her women friends.

Jahni had been drawn into talking to a group of Royal Guard officers, so Madari wandered around the party feeling somewhat at a loose end, until he found Kibibi sitting on a sofa, talking to another girl around her own age. With a slight shock, Madari recognised her as the King’s daughter, Princess Farah. A large man in civilian clothes, but who Madari had seen at the palace wearing the uniform of the Royal Bodyguard, stood by the sofa.

He nodded to the man, who nodded an acknowledgment back. The girls sat, kicking their feet, chattering in French about whatever small girls talked about. One of Madame Rahama’s cats, a white Persian, sat between them, patiently enduring them petting its head and stroking its long fur.

“Remarkable isn’t it?” King Atuallah’s voice close by startled Madari. He turned and bowed his head.


“My daughter and your young guest. How they have no notion of status.”

“Yes, Sir,” Madari said, diplomatically failing to mention a couple of times he’d seen Farah at the palace showing a very clear understanding of her status, usually when someone said ‘no’ to her.

“I hope Kibibi isn’t bothering her, Sir.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Fast friends already. Anyway, Farah’s mother will be pleased to know she’s getting to practice her French with a native speaker.”

“Hello, papa,” Farah said, noticing her father. Kibibi smiled broadly at Madari. “I’m telling Kibibi about England. She’s going to live there.”

“So I hear,” Atuallah said. “We went to England last year, didn’t we, Farah?”

“England has a queen,” Farah said. “She was a nice old lady. She gave me a cake and she had some funny dogs with short legs.”

The King chuckled and turned to Madari. “We attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace. The children found it very interesting.”

“I don’t think Kibibi will be going to many of those,” Madari said smiling.

“Perhaps I’ll send a note to our ambassador and see what he can do.”

Madari wasn’t sure if he was kidding, but didn’t have time to ask, because Atuallah took his arm, moving him away from Farah and Kibibi.

“Can you spare me a few minutes, Colonel? There’s something we need to discuss.”

The King’s bodyguards followed them, but when Atuallah and Madari reached a small sitting room, the guards remained outside. In the room they found Rahama and a woman servant, who was laying out tea things on a side table.

“We’ll serve ourselves, thank you,” Rahama said to the woman. She hurried out, casting awestruck looks at the King. One of the bodyguards closed the door.

“Please, sit,” Rahama said, waving Madari to a chair, then turning to pouring out the tea. Atuallah had already sat down.

Tense at allowing Rahama to wait on him, Madari sat. Rahama served the King first and then handed Madari a cup and saucer, two cubes of sugar on the saucer. Madari dropped them into his tea and stirred it, waiting for Rahama to fetch his own cup and sit down.

“Excellent tea, Sharif,” Atuallah said, as Rahama sat. “Now, would you care to start?”

“Thank you, Sir.” He turned to look at Madari. “Faris, I intend to retire in two years.”

The spoon Madari was putting down on his saucer at that point betrayed his agitation by rattling against the glass of his cup.

“You are my choice to take over command of the regiment.”

Madari had to put his cup down this time, fearing he’d send it flying across the room. “Thank you, sir. And am I your choice, Sir?” he asked the King.

“Yes, Colonel.” Atuallah wore an amused look, perhaps wondering if Madari had some doubts about that. “Your work running the anti-terror unit and when you took over temporary command while Sharif was injured have been exceptional. More than your record though, I believe you understand the challenges we are facing. You are the man I need in command of such an important regiment.”

“Thank you, Sir. Colonel.” He bowed his head to both of them and kept the serious expression on his face, but to do so was one of the most difficult tasks he’d faced in a long time. Part of him wanted to laugh, to grin, to weep with joy, to turn cartwheels around the room. All his dreams come true at last. All his ambitions that he’d taken from his grandfather, yes, but made his own. For a long time he’d thought they were lost forever. That the man he wanted to be had been destroyed. But he’d made it back. Father, Ahmed, can you see me? I made it back.

“Your confidence honours me more than I can say.” His voice trembled with emotion as he spoke.

“In fact I had to do some arguing with Sharif about it,” the King said. “I proposed making you a general officer, and bringing you into the defence ministry. But he convinced me you will do better work commanding the regiment. That you’re a man who works better close to the troops than issuing orders from an office.”

“I will do my duty wherever you choose to place me, Sir.”

“I know. I know, my friend. Sharif.” He waved a hand at Rahama, giving him the floor again.

“I’m making it two years, Faris, so you can work closely with me and prepare for the role and also because…” He glanced at the King and back to Madari. “I’m afraid we do have a concern, about the command of the anti-terrorism unit.”

Madari’s euphoria drained away like water swirling out of a sink. Jahni. They’re worried about Jahni. They’ve noticed.

“Major Jahni is the obvious successor as commander of the unit,” Rahama went on. “But we have some fears that he may not be able to cope with the extra stress of command.”

“He managed when I was away in Africa,” Madari pointed out.

“The unit was smaller then,” Rahama said, “and the work less demanding.”

“Major Jahni appears to be suffering from the effects of stress,” Atuallah said, leaning forward in his chair. “Would you agree?”

That was a test. Would he become defensive and insist Jahni was fine, or would he be honest, as Jahni’s commander, as his friend?

“I am doing my best to help him.” Was he? Really? Could he in fact do so, when it wasn’t just the work that was making Jahni so stressed? The work was possibly the lesser problem. Their personal situation was the real issue. But he couldn’t be honest with Rahama and the King about that. And there was nothing he could do about that situation, was there?

“Sirs, have you noticed any problem with his work?” Madari asked them both.

“No,” Rahama said, and Atuallah shook his head. “So far there is no sign that his work is suffering. But, Faris, he is suffering.” Rahama’s voice softened, became the voice not of a commander, but a friend.

Guilt scoured Madari’s mind at those words. Jahni was suffering and Madari wasn’t actively working every moment of the day to find a way to help him. The man he supposedly loved. The man he put into this position. What kind of friend was he? What kind of commander?

“I owe my life to Major Jahni,” the King said. “And I have great personal affection for him. Like the Colonel I don’t want to see him suffering. I agree that his work is still as good as ever. But if he becomes ill he won’t be able to work at all.”

That was a good point. Even if it wasn’t the work, but his personal issues that drove Jahni to break down, the result would be the same.

“We need to decide how to move forward on this,” Rahama said. “I don’t want to lose such a valuable man, and I don’t want to see my friend so unhappy.”

Had it become so serious? Madari thought. They sounded so grim, as if they expected Jahni to crack up at any moment. Could Madari be too close to see how bad it was? Certainly he’d been worried about Jahni, but had he been denying to himself how far things had gone? Too afraid to face up to it because he could see no way out of it. But Rahama and the King, more distant, could see the bigger picture.

Still, they didn’t have the whole picture. They didn’t know what was really driving Jahni out of his mind.

His love for you is killing him an inch at a time.

His mother’s voice in his mind whispered it. His mother? Or a part of him that she represented? His gentler side. The lover, not the warrior.


“You need to start by sending him for a full psychological assessment with one of the regiment’s psychiatrists.”

Madari looked up as Rahama’s voice broke into his thoughts. “We do have specialist counsellors working with the unit.”

“This has gone beyond their expertise.”

“Oh. Yes. Of course.”

It wouldn’t help. Jahni couldn’t admit to an Army doctor that he was in love with his commanding officer. Perhaps like Madari eventually had, he needed to see a civilian doctor. But even then, could it really help? Or was there only one person who could help him? Madari himself. He would do anything to help Jahni. Anything.

Did that include becoming his lover?

Chapter 3

“Thank you for taking us to the party,” Kibibi said to Madari as he gave her a goodbye hug at the airport before she, Clive and Eshe went to check in. They’d come quite early, because of their mountain of luggage. She sounded as if she’d been coached into saying it, but he knew she’d enjoyed herself – her excited chatter as Madari drove them back to the hotel had told him that. He smiled to think of the way she’d talked endlessly about the new friends she made, the nice food, the pretty dresses, the cats, the gifts the colonel’s wife gave to all the children.

“I’m happy you enjoyed it,” he said. “Will you write to me when you get to England? We can write more often now. It will only take a few days to receive the letters. And we can speak on the telephone.”

“I’ll have her write once a month at least,” Drummond said. “In English too. Help her learn.” He held out his hand to Madari. “Nice to see you again, old chap. Thanks for playing host.”

“I love to see you any time. I hope that can be more often now.” He leaned close to Drummond, spoke quietly. “Don’t hesitate to ask me if Kibibi needs anything. I’m happy to contribute. Any extras at school. Or music lessons perhaps. Or…” He thought of her petting that cat at Rahama’s party. “Or if she wanted a pet. A kitten perhaps? Anything.”

Drummond chuckled. “A kitten, eh? I don’t know how much kittens cost here, Faris, but I’m pretty sure they don’t cost too much in London. Grateful though, grateful for the offer.”

“Madame,” Madari said, turning to Eshe and shaking her hand. “Good luck to all of you in England. And you, Bibi, wrap up warm in the winter. Send me a picture of the first snowman you make.”

She promised she would and he helped them take their baggage to the check-in desk, before waving a final goodbye and heading for the car park. As he left the terminal he heard an announcement for a flight to Paris that was about to depart.

Paris. He was going there himself in a few months. He and Jahni were scheduled to attend a conference on anti-terror tactics. Funny how the organisers always chose such glamorous locations for conferences. Paris, Venice, London. One of the perks of his job he supposed, spending a week in the most romantic city in the world…

He stopped walking abruptly, making a man following behind dodge around him and glare. Madari ignored that. He repeated what he’d just said in his head. The most romantic city in the world.

And he was going there with Jahni.

To work of course. To learn and to share their military experience. But when the conference closed for the day – what then? In the past he might have been afraid of what that time would bring, especially in such a setting. But now it gave him an idea.

He started to walk again, coming into the car park, trying to recall where he’d parked. The new idea had pushed such mundane things from his mind. He walked along the line of cars, sure he’d parked on this level, so he’d find the car eventually.

It was an insane idea. Audacious, sinful. And yet, perhaps the only way they would ever get past this problem that drove them to distraction. Jahni in particular. He was so wound up, that if something didn’t happen to release that tension he would crack. Nobody could stay under such unbearable strain without breaking down eventually. Madari had been trying to think of ways to channel that tension elsewhere, relieve it with something else. But what if that was hopeless? What if nothing else could be a substitute? Jahni had tried too, picking up women in hotels. But if that didn’t work, then it left only one thing.

The one thing they were trying to find a substitute for. Perhaps it was time to stop trying to fool themselves. There was no substitute. Jahni wanted him. He wanted Jahni. The only way to get past the tension of denying themselves that was to stop denying themselves.

That could be where Paris came in. For one thing, it wasn’t against the law in France. There were many other obstacles of course, but again, that’s why Paris was the answer. Because it would be a week and no longer. That would be enough time to get this out of their systems.

After all this time, all the expectations, Madari felt sure that reality couldn’t possibly match their fantasies. There would be at least some sense of disappointment. After those few days he felt sure they could agree that they were glad they’d done it, but that when they went home, they’d be back to being only friends. The tension would be gone. Jahni would be well again. Madari could stop worrying about him. It would be over.

It would still be a sin. He couldn’t deny that. But at this point he had to believe it was the lesser of two evils. Once it was past they could stop thinking and wondering and fantasising about it twenty-four hours a day. Focus on other things. Actually committing the sin and putting it behind them and praying for forgiveness must be better than spending the rest of their lives contemplating that sin over and over.

He realised that he’d walked all the way round the car park and was back at the doors into the terminal. He must have walked right past his car. Perhaps he would go and have a coffee to calm himself. The thoughts flooding his mind were making him dizzy. He needed to sit down and let this idea sink in.

By the time he got his coffee and sat down the second thoughts had begun to arrive.

What if it was a disaster? While the sex – yes, he had to think of that word, be realistic – would almost certainly be at least a little disappointing, what if it were worse than that? What if when they actually went to bed they found out that it wasn’t what they wanted? Or one of them couldn’t go through with it? Or it was embarrassing, humiliating? After that they’d never be comfortable with one another again.

Worse – what if the opposite happened? What if it did live up to their fantasies and the thought of never having it again, trying to go back to being friends only, became even more horrible than it was now? Then their lives would be in even greater turmoil. And if one of them felt that way and the other didn’t, then that would be worst of all. If both of them did, then they would know it was worth making the choice to give up their careers and homes for. But if one of them wanted that and the other didn’t… they’d spend the rest of their lives causing each other unbearable pain.

No. This was insane. How could he have thought of such an idea? Just from hearing a flight announcement? He must be mad to think it could work.

Forget it.


Jahni opened his eyes as the door into the sauna opened. A man walked in and sat on one of the lower benches. Jahni closed his eyes again and sighed.

Why did he never come to a hotel spa with Madari anymore? That time he’d been stabbed in a sauna had rather put Madari off them, but they’d still come for a few relaxing sessions since then. Not for a while now though.

It was probably a good thing. Too much temptation. So Jahni came alone, because at least the heat and steam soothed away some of his stress. Not very much. It helped only the way a twenty minute nap helped a man who hadn’t slept for a week. But he at least felt better for a few hours afterwards.

Movement, a splash and a hiss made him open his eyes again to see the new arrival had tossed a ladleful of water onto the coals. He took his seat again and caught Jahni’s eye, gave him a small nod. Jahni nodded back. They were the only two men in here.

A sauna was a strange situation, he thought. Look at them here. Two strangers, never speaking yet made intimate by their near nakedness. Most of the time, they acted as if the other didn’t exist, but if they caught each other’s eyes, they seemed to have a kind of understanding.

Jahni glanced down at the other man, who was leaning against the middle bench, head back, eyes closed. He looked… he looked a lot like Madari actually. Not his face, but his body. They were the same physical type, tall, rangy, lean. There were differences. Madari was thinner and in better training than this man. The man was younger, perhaps only five years older than Jahni and he had paler skin than Madari, with no scars. His long legs stretched out in front of him and even his feet were like Madari’s, which made Jahni smile.

The man opened his eyes, and looked back at Jahni.

Shit! Jahni looked straight ahead instantly. What the hell was the matter with him? He was practically ogling a man in the sauna, just because he looked like Madari! Did he want a punch in the face?

The man cleared his throat and Jahni involuntarily glanced at him again, thinking he’d see a frown, or disgusted look. Instead the man wore a small smile. He shifted on the bench and the towel around his waist slipped a little, down his hips, exposing a dark trail of hair from his naval to under the towel.

No. God, no! Jahni stared ahead so hard he thought his eyeballs would pop out. He thinks… well why would he not? He caught Jahni looking at him, at his body. Looking at him and smiling. The scandal that hit the Mayor’s office not so long ago came back to Jahni. The newspaper headlines. The jokes. The insults. The shame that drove a man to hang himself.

A rustle of movement from the direction of the other man, and Jahni was up, off the bench, feet on the floor and out of the sauna. He’d left his plastic flip-flops behind… forget them. Should he go to the plunge pool? No. Too public. The showers. He found a cubicle, tossed his towel over the door and ran the water. He hid in there for almost twenty minutes, running the water hot and cold alternately several times while his heart pounded in his ears and his hand trembled on the shower controls.

He would never go to a public sauna again. Never! How could he have let that happen? That man thought he was interested. He was interested. He must have been, to have been looking at him like that. But he was seeing Madari when he looked at him. He wasn’t interested in other men.

Was he? Or did his obsession with Madari crowd out every other thought in his mind. That seemed all too likely. Perhaps… no! He barely dared to allow himself to think about it. Go with another man as a substitute for Madari? See if that helped in a way the times with the women didn’t? No. It was madness.

Again he thought of that scandal. How he’d felt quite untouched by it at first, because he wasn’t like that man. He didn’t pick up men in saunas. Yet Madari had been affected, had almost seemed ashamed, as if he did think of himself as that kind of man, even if he didn’t behave in the same way. Was Jahni kidding himself? Had he been kidding himself for a long time, that it was only Madari who he could ever be interested in touching in that way?

He stopped trying to wash his confusion away, turned off the shower and wrapped the towel around his waist. In the locker room, he collected his clothes and went into one of the private cubicles to dress. There was no sign of the man from the sauna. Jahni dried off, dressed and went back out to collect his possessions from his locker. He stood rummaging in it, arranging things in his bag.

“You left these.”

It was him. He stood behind Jahni, dressed, carrying Jahni’s plastic sandals. He had that same smile on when Jahni turned to him. God, he thinks I left them on purpose, to give him an excuse to talk to me.

“They aren’t mine.” The lie came from nowhere, but the man couldn’t know. Someone else might have left them earlier.

“Oh. I’ll just leave them here then.” He put them on a bench. There was some disappointment on his face. But he smiled again, as Jahni turned back to the locker and his bag. “Would you like to have a coffee upstairs? It’s not –” He froze, his face a mask of shock as Jahni spun around, pointing his pistol at the man’s face.

I could kill him and tell people why, Jahni thought. That he made advances to me and I killed him. The court would find him not guilty, say he was provoked, that any real man would do the same. And nobody would ever dare to start a rumour about him and Madari again. Madari found a woman to love to stop the rumours. Would Jahni find a man to kill? What did that say about who Madari was and what Jahni was?

“Do you know what I am?” Jahni said.

“I’m sorry,” the man whispered. “I made a mistake.”

I’m a monster. This man doesn’t deserve death, but I do.

He lowered the pistol slowly and the man sagged down to sit on the nearest bench.

“Go,” Jahni said, his voice a hoarse whisper, shame and disgust washing over him. He wanted to tear off his clothes and burn them, because they were touching his skin, so they could never be clean again. The man jumped up and ran, knocking the plastic sandals to the floor. Jahni didn’t even consider picking them up. Like his clothes they were contaminated.

I need… I need… Darkness. Oblivion.

He came back to himself leaning against the lockers as a party of young men came in, talking and laughing. They looked at him oddly and went quiet. They’d seen the pistol still in Jahni’s hand. Got to get out of here. He turned around and crammed the gun and everything else into his sports bag. A second to check he still had his clothes and shoes on, and hadn’t ripped them off in a frenzy, then he ran from the room.

Should he drive? What if he blacked out at the wheel? Went elsewhere the way he just had in the locker room before those men came in? Where had he been?

No, he didn’t have time to wait for a taxi. He threw his gym bag into the back seat and started the engine. Faris. He needed Faris. Talk to him.

What’s happening to me?


Madari ran to answer the pounding on his door. What the hell? It sounded as if someone was trying to break it down. He glanced through the peephole, gasped and unlocked the door quickly.

“Here,” Jahni said and handed Madari his Browning. “Take it. I can’t have it.”

Madari took the pistol and, to his alarm, found it was cocked and the safety catch off. He made that safe, then took Jahni’s arm and pulled him inside. Jahni looked awful. Face pale, eyes staring and wild, his hair damp and sticking up all over the place. The top buttons of his shirt were torn off.

“Kahil, what’s happened? You… you weren’t thinking of hurting yourself, were you?”

Jahni gave a terrifying laugh, bitterness, disgust and hysteria mixed in it. He didn’t explain why he was laughing. Madari didn’t press him, just took him into the living room and made him sit down. What could he do for him? Bring a doctor? Had it happened? The breakdown Rahama and the King seemed to think was imminent?

“Kahil, please.” He stroked Jahni’s back, trying to soothe him. It had some effect. The wildness went out of his eyes. “Please tell me what happened.”

“I did something terrible. I almost did something evil.”

Evil. Jahni didn’t use the word very much. It was too religious, he’d said. But he used it with total conviction now.

“Tell me.”

“No. No I can’t.”

Afraid to push him, seeing how close he was now to the edge, Madari took a breath, spoke quietly.

“Did you hurt someone? Do they… need help?”

Jahni stared at him and shook his head. “No. I didn’t. I almost… I didn’t. Nobody is hurt.”

Madari sighed with relief. He went on rubbing Jahni’s back gently. “Please tell me what happened.”

“No!” Jahni jumped to his feet and began to pace up and down, his distress turning to restless agitation. “It doesn’t matter. I mean, it matters, but not the details. What matters is I can’t do this any longer! I can’t think straight, I can’t sleep. I’m distracted all the time.” He looked at Madari, staring. “All the time, Faris. On missions. I can’t work. You have to take me off active duty, because I’m going to screw up and get men killed.”

Damn. Even Rahama had thought that Jahni’s work wasn’t suffering because of this stress. But perhaps so far he’d simply been lucky. If that luck ran out… But what could they do about it? Taking Jahni out of the field without fixing the reason for his stress could mean the end of his career. But he couldn’t put Jahni’s career ahead of the safety of the men under his command. Or Jahni’s safety. If he did make a mistake, he was as likely to get himself killed as anyone else. Madari stood up.

“What are you thinking about all of the time, Kahil?”

It was an absurd question. They both knew the answer. Jahni stared at him as if he’d asked Jahni’s name or something as obvious.

“What? You know what!”

He needed to hear Jahni say it. If he was going to go ahead and propose his insane, audacious, sinful plan, then he had to be certain they were all talking about the same thing. He moved closer, and Jahni backed off a couple of steps.

“Please, Faris. Don’t. Don’t hold me. I can’t stand it. I know you just want to help me, but I can’t stand it!”

“May I hold you if I kiss you as well?”

Jahni froze, staring. Madari felt bad, briefly. Was Jahni too distressed? Was this taking advantage?

“Tell me what you’re thinking about all of the time, Kahil.”

“You of course! Being with you. Loving you…” His voice choked off. Madari took a step forward, not quite closing the distance.

“Sex?” he said.

Jahni nodded, his head dropping, his face flushing.

“Don’t be ashamed, Kahil. I think of that, too. All of the time.” He took a last step and Jahni didn’t back off. They were close enough that Jahni had to look up slightly into Madari’s face. Still Madari didn’t put his arms around Jahni. “May I hold you?”

Jahni lifted a hand, let it hover for a moment, as if about to let it rest on Madari’s shoulder or chest. “You asked if you could kiss me.”

“Can I?”

“I’m not made of stone, Faris.”

“I know.” Stones don’t bleed and pain bled from Jahni’s eyes now. Madari leaned in and let his lips press softly against Jahni’s. No pressure, literally, letting him dictate what happened next. That hovering hand slid around Madari’s head, through his hair, pulling him closer and deepening the kiss.

After a moment, Jahni pulled back and let out a long sigh. A strange peace came into his face, all the hysteria draining away. His eyes grew hazy with an almost sleepy look glazing them.

“Come and sit down,” Madari said, leading Jahni to the sofa. Jahni didn’t sit, but rather collapsed onto the cushions lying on his front. His eyes closed. Madari frowned. “Kahil, can you hear me?”

“Yes,” Jahni said, his eyes half opening, voice soft, as if he was close to sleep. He still smiled with a contentment Madari hadn’t seen on his face for a long time.

Had the kiss really done that to him? Madari didn’t know whether to be flattered or worried. Was Jahni so wound up that a simple kiss had such a strong effect on him? Then what would spending the night together do?

Not tonight. For sure, not tonight. Later.

In Paris.

He sat on the edge of the sofa and rubbed one hand in small circles on Jahni’s back. Something Jahni had done for him so many times, to calm him in his distress. It felt right to do the same for Jahni, who had given Madari his strength back and now needed help in return.

“Kahil, do you know what the worst part of all this is for me? It’s not knowing. Not knowing what it would be like if we were together in that way.” Say it! If you’re going to propose it, say the word. “If we were to have sex.”

“It would be…” Jahni stopped. So he didn’t know either.

“Have you ever thought that it would be a good idea if we just went ahead and did it once to get it out of our systems?”

Jahni’s eyes opened and he frowned. Not considering the question, Madari guessed, but wondering if he’d heard the question correctly, or at all.


“I have an idea. Are you awake, Kahil? Can you hear me?”

Jahni sat up, making Madari move away, getting off the sofa. He needed to resist the temptation to follow through on the plan right now.

“I thought I was awake,” Jahni said. “I’m not so sure now.”

“You are awake. This isn’t a dream. Hear me out. You, both of us, have spent years dealing with this temptation. What we want to do is a sin, could cost us our careers and is against the law. And the worst part for me is that I don’t even know if it’s worth all of that risk and all of the pain we’ve gone through and continue to go through.”

“If it’s worth it? I would risk anything for you, Faris!”

“You misunderstand me. I don’t mean that I don’t know if you are worth the risk. Of course you are. I just don’t know if to be your lover would be better than to be your friend. I can’t deny that there’s a sexual attraction between us, but do we really want to build our lives around that? How long could that relationship last? I don’t know. That’s the problem. I don’t know and neither do you.”

He looked at Jahni who still sat on the sofa, watching him as if still unsure this was real and not a dream.

“We’ve tried everything else to deal with that problem. There’s only one thing left. The only way we’re going to know is if we do it.” He grimaced. That sounded crude. “If we have sex. It’s wrong, I know. But it’s the only solution left. I won’t watch you destroying yourself over me when I can help you.”

“Faris, this is… I don’t know what to say. This is my dream.”

“Don’t say anything now. I’m not talking about tonight. You have to think about it. Really think about it. And you have time to do that, because I think we should do this when we go to Paris.”

Jahni looked puzzled for a second, then nodded. “For the conference?”

“We’ll be under less scrutiny than we are here. And we wouldn’t be committing a crime, not in France. It can be like Zaire. A time and place outside of our normal lives. A time aside to resolve this problem and then it’s done, we’re past it and we can move forward.”

All his reservations about the idea vanished. Of course it was the only solution. They should have done it years ago. They could have moved on from all this ridiculous sexual tension and been happier. No use regretting those years now though. Look to the future.

Jahni stood up and Madari tensed a little, fearing his next words.

“Why wait? You know that my answer can only be yes.”

“Because you have to think about it. It’s a terrible step to take. It could destroy our lives. I want you to think about it right up until we go to Paris. Will you do that?”

“Are you thinking about it too? I mean, still thinking? So you might change your mind?”

“No. I have decided. For your sake as much as mine.”

“Faris, I could hardly force you to do it if you didn’t want to.”

“I know. But I promise you I won’t suddenly change my mind.”

Jahni nodded. “Then I will think about it.” He stepped closer suddenly and pulled Madari close to kiss him. The kiss was gentler than his swift and strong movement would have predicted. “But you know my answer will be ‘yes’, don’t you?”

“I hope so,” Madari said. “Now please, you should go.” He disengaged from Jahni’s arms, tried to pull himself together despite his pounding heart and weak knees. “I have to talk to you at barracks tomorrow. We have some problems to deal with, you know that, don’t you?”


“But I think Paris will help us to solve them.”


Madari frowned slightly. “Every time you say ‘yes’ to me from now on, you’re talking about Paris, aren’t you?”