Part 35: Three Weeks

Chapter 1

Summer 1997

“I fed the cat,” Jahni said, coming back into the living room, carrying two mugs of coffee.

“Oh, thank you,” Madari said, taking a coffee mug from him.

Jahni sat in an armchair, his face almost hidden by shadows, the lamp behind him. “Do you suppose he misses her?”

Madari had wondered the same thing. What did an animal think when a human they were used to simply vanished from their life the way Sophia had from Giotto’s? A month now. Gone a month.

“I think cats get more attached to places than people,” he said, looking around at the dark living room.

Sophia’s flat. Madari had bought it when he married her. After he moved in they’d turned one room into a study for him. He now owned everything in it. But despite all those things, it would always be Sophia’s flat. As Giotto would always be her cat. Madari would take care of the flat and Giotto, but he’d always be no more than a steward of both.

They sat in the near-darkness, drinking their coffee. Madari almost dozed on the sofa, feeling wrung out. The clock showed nearly four in the morning and he knew he ought to tell Jahni to go home. But he couldn’t. Not yet. Only in the last hour had he been calm and quiet like this. Earlier… he shivered. Earlier had been bad. But Jahni had been there. As he always had before all those years ago. As he had been so many times in the last month.

But Jahni needed rest.

“You can go home now if you want,” Madari said. “I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll finish my coffee first.” Jahni raised the mug again, his face still shaded, but his gaze on Madari. Madari could feel it.

“Alex is back from England,” Madari said. “She called me earlier.”

“Is she okay?” Jahni asked. After attending the funerals she’d gone to stay with her family for a while and they’d both worried about her.

“She says it’s helped her. They’re a military family of course, they understand what she’s going through.”

“Did she go to see Clive, too?”

“Yes. She has some pictures of Kibibi to give me. Kahil, I know it’s not very conventional to be friends with a woman, but she is a good friend. I don’t want to lose touch with her. And she’s welcome to continue coming to the barracks for your sparring sessions.”

“Thanks. I don’t want to lose touch, no. Her being a woman really doesn’t make any difference to me. Any more than with Karen.”

Madari tried to read his face in the dimness. Were Jahni and Alex involved? Had something started during those months when he and Jahni barely spoke to each other? Would Jahni tell him if it had? He’d seen no evidence of it so far, but nobody knew better than him how good Jahni was at keeping secrets.

Giotto prowled in from the kitchen and jumped onto the sofa to curl up beside Madari. He used to take the same position beside Sophia, while she read or wrote letters and she would stroke him as Madari did now. Having the cat around was a comfort when Jahni wasn’t there. Which wasn’t often.

And he really should let Jahni go home now. He stood up. “We both need some rest,” he said.

“It’s barely worth me going home now,” Jahni said, glancing at his watch. “I could sleep here.” He spoke the words quietly. He’d made the same suggestion on several nights now. Always at a slightly later time. As if he stayed longer and longer hoping one day Madari would agree to let him stay until dawn.

On the sofa, of course. He couldn’t have anything else in mind. But still, it wouldn’t be right. What if someone saw him leaving at dawn? Besides it felt too much like making Jahni not his friend or his confidant, but his keeper. It evoked the old days too much, when Jahni slept nearby to listen for Madari screaming in the night. He wasn’t so weak now. He’d spent several nights in the last month weeping with grief and guilt, but the nightmares had not come back. He could make it through the night alone.

“No, Kahil,” he said, stepping close to Jahni’s chair. “At least go and get a few hours in your own bed.” Jahni rose and they were standing close, too close. Madari stepped back, but only a small step. He rested a hand on Jahni’s shoulder.

“Thank you for staying with me again. For everything. I don’t deserve it.”

“Please stop saying that.” Jahni sighed and raised a hand that didn’t quite make it all the way to Madari’s shoulder, rested high on his arm instead. “You say it every night. I’ve told you to forget it all. We’re here now. Forget the rest.”

Madari couldn’t forget. For one thing, those months of coldness between them were the months of his marriage, and he couldn’t dismiss them from his mind. And for another he still couldn’t accept that he deserved Jahni’s forgiveness.

“I’m sorry,” Madari said. He glanced at the clock again. After four now. “Please, go. Rest.” He didn’t know if he should prevent what he knew would happen next, what happened every night now. Jahni pulled him close in an embrace that went beyond comfort and friendship, especially when he briefly brushed his lips against Madari’s temple.

Madari had told himself he should stop it—they had to re-establish the boundaries of their relationship. But it felt too good. It felt good now, as Jahni pressed close and the kiss brushed Madari’s skin. Nothing further. Madari might be worrying about nothing. It might be no more than tenderness. Affection. Nothing wrong with those things. Surely?

When Jahni found his jacket and headed for the door, Madari picked up Giotto and followed. The cat served as a living shield and Jahni frowned at it when he turned in the doorway to say goodbye and couldn’t repeat his embrace.

“See you at barracks,” Jahni said, with a nod and left.

Madari waited for him to turn the corner then closed the door. Giotto began to squirm and Madari let him jump down, then locked the door and activated the alarm, thinking while he did that he needed a better chaperone than the cat. Or he needed to stop allowing Jahni to stay over so late. So far he offered only comfort and consolation. But a widower had needs besides comfort.

Disgusted with himself for allowing the old temptations to resurface so soon, he marched off to the guest bedroom. For the last month only Giotto had slept in the master bedroom.

Did the cat miss her? Did he feel the same grief and desolation as Madari? No, he was only an animal, with simple emotions. Madari’s emotions… they were twisting themselves into more complicated knots all the time.


“I want in.”

Jahni stopped in surprise at the door of his office as Alex Black rose from sitting beside his desk.

“You already are in,” he said, coming into the office. “And I’d love to know how when none of my office staff are here yet.”

“I want in on the mission to go after Sophia’s killers.”

“Oh.” Jahni went to the windows and raised a couple of the blinds part way to allow in the morning sunshine. With more light he could see that Alex had lost weight, looked gaunt, just as Madari did. “First, let me say it’s nice to see you. Second, don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s nice to see you too and I’m not being ridiculous.”

He went over to her, touched her shoulder briefly. He was glad to see her. He’d missed her.

“You look tired,” he said.

“And you look like hell,” she snapped, scowling back at him, refusing to be distracted by his concern. “Look, I don’t expect to be in the thick of the raid. But I want to play some part. You know I’ve got the training.”

“You did Selection did you?”

She snorted. “Fuck Selection.”

“Alex, please, sit down. I’ll get us some coffee.”

He hurried out before she said ‘fuck coffee’ and found a clerk had arrived, sent him off to fetch coffee before returning to find Alex pacing.

“Alex, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but there isn’t even a raid planned yet. Military Intelligence are investigating and trying to find the cell that organised the bombing, but—”

“But they’re as much use as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking contest,” she finished for him, though he wouldn’t have put it quite that way himself. “The investigation is stalled,” she went on. “They’ve had nothing new for two weeks since they finally managed to trace where the car came from. You need to put a rocket up someone’s backside on this.”

He stared at her, alarmed, not at her vehemence or her threatening scowl, but at her words.

“How do you know that about the car? How do you know the investigation is stalled?”

“Never mind. I know. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to insist you tell me how you know.”

She slapped a hand on his desk. “Not that, dammit, Kahil! What are you going to do about the investigation?”

“I don’t have any influence over Military Intelligence! I’ll raise it with General Rahama again to see if he can do anything.”

She snorted and shook her head. “You’re about as much use as that one-legged man yourself. Maybe I should go and talk to the colonel.” She stopped as he put out an arm between her and the door, though not touching her.

“I’d strongly advise you against that.” His voice was calm, but cold. He understood her feelings, but he wouldn’t have Faris bothered.

She scowled at his implied threat and looked about to explode, but then dropped her furious gaze and shook her head. “You’re right. Sorry. How is he?”

Jahni lowered his arm. “He’s coping.”

“He seemed okay when I spoke to him on the phone yesterday.”

“He’s good at seeming to be okay.”

She nodded. “Appearances. Of course.”

Appearances. Madari didn’t have the leisure to take the time away to grieve. He had to work. He had to maintain a facade of strength and authority. Only off duty or alone with Jahni did that facade crack.

“He said you have some pictures of Kibibi. I’m sure they’ll cheer him up.”

“Right. Yes, it was nice to see her and the old Brig and Eshe again. Good people. I’ll bring the pictures around tomorrow, show him after the memorial service.”

“That sounds good.”

“I’ll see you then.” She stepped towards the door again and actually ran into his arm this time, raised her eyebrows at him. “What?”

“Who told you the details about the investigation?” Did she think he’d forgotten?

“Sorry, Major, I’m not subject to your orders.”

“It’s classified information. I could have you arrested.”

She stared at him. “You wouldn’t!”

“I’m a major now. Being a complete bastard goes with the rank.”


He sighed and lowered his arm. “Oh, get out,” he snapped.” You’ll tell me eventually, but I’m too tired to beat the truth out of you right now. See you tomorrow.”

Looking chastened by his impatient tone, she slipped out of the room. Jahni sighed again and rubbed his eyes. The clerk came in with the coffee then. Coffee for two might be just enough for Jahni. He sat at his desk and drank one cup, reading his overnight messages and reports, then took the second cup to the window to look out across the barracks.

Alex’s car stood just yards from the building in the visitor’s parking spaces. Was she still around? She’d had time to leave by now. Had she gone to Madari’s office after all? Was he even in yet?

Then he saw movement in her car and realised she was in it and a second later realised she wasn’t alone. Someone occupied the passenger seat, but at this angle, looking down from the second storey he couldn’t see a face. He waited, drinking his coffee and a few minutes later the passenger door opened and a man in uniform stepped out.

What the hell? Raian?

Raian closed the door and Alex’s car started up and drove away. He watched it go, then walked back to the building, vanishing from sight.

Damn. Had Raian told her about the investigation? But why would he? They barely knew each other, did they?

Jahni strode to the door and spoke to the nearest clerk, holding in his anger with some difficulty. He wanted to say, ‘Tell Raian to get his arse in here five seconds ago!’ Instead he spoke in a tone he’d heard Madari use many times.

“Would you please ask Captain Raian to report to me at his earliest convenience? Thank you.”

Anyone who didn’t know that those words meant exactly the same as the other version wouldn’t last long in the Army.

Raian appeared minutes later, face flushed, still smoothing down his uniform after running here. He’d better have run here. Jahni left him standing at attention and slammed the door. The blind rattled over it. He stalked over to Raian and stood in front of him, spoke in a level, calm voice he was quite proud of.

“Did you tell Alex Black details about the investigation into Sophia Giordano’s murder?”

“Sir, she shouldn’t have come in and—”

“Answer my question!”

To his credit, Raian didn’t flinch at the yell. “Yes, sir, I did.”

Once again Jahni spoke in the level, calm voice. “Why did you pass on classified information to an unauthorised person?”

“Alex was Sophia’s friend. She has a right to know.”

“No, Captain, she does not!”


“A court martial would not be interested in your moral judgements!” The look of horror would have made Jahni felt sorry for Raian if he wasn’t so angry. “Are you involved with her, Captain?”


“You know what I’m referring to. I can spell it out if you wish.”

Raian stared straight ahead. “That’s a private matter, sir.” His voice shook only on the last word.

“Captain, I am investigating a breach of security. Would you prefer it if someone from Military Intelligence asked you these questions?”

“No, sir. Yes, I’ve been involved with Miss Black for several months.”

Jahni sighed, growing tired of this, feeling he was playacting. He went and sat at his desk, though left Raian at attention.

“I understand Alex’s feelings and I understand yours, but they can’t excuse a security breach.”

“Alex can be trusted,” Raian said. “You know her well yourself, sir.”

“Not as well as I thought.”

“And she’s ex-Army. She’s one of us.”

“She was never a member of this Army. You don’t seriously think she should be allowed to go on a combat mission if we find the cell, do you?”

“No, sir. That was her idea, not mine. I couldn’t dissuade her.”

Jahni almost smiled. He could imagine. “She’s certainly very frustrated about the slow progress of the investigation.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We all are.” He picked up a notebook from the desk, turning it end over end for a moment, giving his hands something to do while he thought this over. He sighed. “I’m disappointed, Raian. I expected better judgement from you.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“I could have you arrested. You realise that, don’t you? You could both be in serious trouble.”

A bleak look appeared on Raian’s face. He swallowed a couple of times. “Yes, sir.”

“But I’m going to think about it for a couple of days.” He was too weary and agitated to give it proper consideration right now. Yes, he knew Alex could be trusted and didn’t think Raian’s motives were anything but what they appeared and, frankly, he sympathised with them. But he had a duty to uphold the regulations.

“I’ll call you back in later this week. Dismiss.”

Raian, looking grateful for at least a stay of execution saluted and marched out. Jahni rested his aching head on one hand and groaned. When he’d been a small boy he’d thought that command meant no more that being the one who shouted, “Charge!” He’d learnt otherwise, but even after all his years in the Army he still hadn’t realised just how tough it would be.

He could ask Madari for advice, but not only did he want to keep every extra burden off Madari, he didn’t want to ask for his own sake. Other senior officers still looked at Jahni as if they expected him to crack up again at any second. Many of them must think he wasn’t up to the job of commanding such an important and high profile unit. Asking Madari for help every time a tricky decision came up would not change their minds about that.

He would make this decision himself.

Chapter 2

As the choir sang the final hymn, their voices soaring to the high, vaulted ceiling, Madari cast his gaze down at the floor. Not only because he felt as out of place here as he had at Sophia’s funeral, but because he knew he was about to lose control. Tears were about to spill from his eyes, and he could no longer stop them.

Unfair that he should have to try. Couldn’t a man cry at a memorial service for his wife? But even here, he felt completely conscious of his position. There were senior officers here, even the three chiefs of staff. Madari might be able to show some weakness in front of Rahama, who wouldn’t think less of him for it. But Admiral Elmi and Air Marshal Kotekar would have every reason to do so.

There were journalists around too. The church was a public place and though the Army was providing some security, they couldn’t keep anyone out who didn’t have ill-intent. Did the journalists have ill-intent? That depended on your point of view, he supposed. But whether sympathetic or critical he couldn’t be seen to be weak in front of any of them.

The priest ended the service and the mourners, a mix of local people and Europeans, mostly Italian ex-patriots, began to leave. Madari listened to the noise of it, people rising, footsteps on the stone floor, voices mostly hushed, sometimes the more incautious voice of a child, quickly shushed . Someone touched his shoulder—Rahama sitting in the pew behind him with his wife.

“We’ll see you outside, Faris.”

Madari nodded without looking around at him and the sounds behind him gradually faded. After a few minutes, Jahni sitting beside him in the front pew laid a hand over his.

“Are you ready to leave?” he asked. Madari looked down at the hand and saw his own cufflink. The other half of the pair they’d worn one each of at the funeral. And that he wore today.

That did it. The tears broke from his eyes as the memory of that day came back. Of laying her in the earth and feeling plunged again into the sea of confusion he’d tried to escape by marrying her.

“Not yet,” he choked out, the tears beginning to roll down his cheeks. Jahni put an arm around him, but looked around behind him. There probably were other people still around, security staff, the choir maybe still up in their balcony.

“Come with me.” Jahni took his hand and led him from the pew and into a small alcove-like chapel, dominated by a statue of a female saint.

“We’ll just wait here a while,” Jahni said. “Until the crowd thins out a bit.”

“Thank you,” Madari said. The chapel was tiny and Jahni dominated the space, broad-shouldered, his black suit both incongruous and fitting here. No, the suit belonged here, he did not.

“I suppose this is just going to add more fuel to the rumour I’ve become a Catholic,” Madari said, drying his eyes with a handkerchief, trying to regain control.

“We’d be happy to have you.” A voice speaking Arabic with an accent not quite as good as Sophia’s had been came from the open end of the chapel. Father Fiera, who ran the charity Sophia had done voluntary work for, stood there.

“Hello, Father,” Madari said, offering his hand to the rather fragile looking old priest, fine-boned and birdlike. “Thank you for organising this. I know Sophia would have appreciated it.”

He frowned at his own words as Father Fiera shook his hand. They seemed foolish. Who would appreciate their own memorial service? But Fiera just smiled and patted Madari’s hand before letting go.

“It was an honour to know her, Colonel. Such a fine lady. She did so much good work for us, and everyone loved her too. She will be a miss for the whole Italian community here.”

It had only been after they married that Madari had appreciated how important that community was to her. And only after she died and the cards and messages began to come in that he appreciated what she’d meant to the community. No wonder she’d been so unhappy at the prospect of leaving. Unhappy enough to grab at the lifeline he offered her.

“You’ll come back to my home for some refreshments?” Madari said. “I’ll… be out in a few minutes,” he added.

“Take as long as you need,” Fiera said. “I’ll go and talk to people outside.”

He left, Madari grateful for that. He’d keep the people who might be waiting for Madari distracted for a few minutes.

“I thought he’d say something about you and Sophia being united again one day,” Jahni said when the priest’s footsteps faded. “Isn’t that what religious people usually say?”

“I doubt he thinks we will. He probably didn’t even consider us married, not in the eyes of God.”

“His God?”

“Any God probably,” Madari said. “Too polite to say any of it of course, but no, I don’t think he believes that I, a Muslim that she didn’t marry in a church, will be reunited with her in heaven.”

“I thought priests were supposed to offer comfort,” Jahni muttered. “What else are they good for?”

“Kahil, please. Not here. I know your views, but please show some respect.”

Jahni looked down, cheeks flushing. “I’m sorry.”

Madari sighed. The priest’s interruption has forced him to regain his control and his tears had dried. Yet his throat still felt tight, his hands tense, shaking. He needed a release, and the tears would have been that, but the moment had passed. Now he would have to hold onto that control for a couple of hours more to host a small gathering back at the flat.


Madari looked up from his seat as Jahni handed him a cup of tea.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?” Jahni asked, crouching down beside the chair.

“No, thank you,” Madari said, his voice sounding dulled in his own ears. As soon as they’d arrived back at the flat he’d felt a sudden weariness, as if all the bad nights of the last month had caught up with him. And pain too, in his heart. Because this was a gathering of friends, talking, eating, drinking and she was missing. For the first time he attended such a gathering here without her.

Not attended, he reminded himself, hosted. But he wasn’t much of a host, taking refuge in this chair and barely speaking to anyone. Jahni had stepped into the breach, and he’d also seen Alex circulating, topping up drinks, carrying food from the kitchen. Raian helped too…oh, he meant to ask Jahni about that.

He bent forward to speak quietly. “Kahil, Raian and Alex, are they here together?”

Jahni looked surprised. “You noticed that? Yes, they are. They’re together generally. I’ll tell you more later.”

“More?” What more could there be that wasn’t private business. “I’m glad. That they have each other.”

“Yes,” Jahni said, a surprised look again for a moment, but then a slow nod. “Yes. That’s good. Faris…”

A little boy ran up to them, not a local, but with hair as black as any Arab boy.

“I know you,” he said to Jahni. “You’re a soldier. Do you have a gun?”

Jahni smiled at the boy. “I’m off duty today.”

A woman hurried over and scooped the boy up. An Italian woman Madari recognised as a friend of Sophia’s.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Come away, Marco, don’t bother the gentlemen.”

She took the protesting boy away. Many of Sophia’s friends had children, some of them young like that one, others in their teens and she had always taken an interest in them, leaving Madari wondering if she’d ever wanted her own children. When he’d asked she’d only said that it had never happened and changed the subject quickly. But she had been so kind to Kibibi, she worked for a children’s charity and enjoyed the company of her friends’ children.

Perhaps circumstances had indeed stopped her from having her own, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t wanted them. And now he’d never know for sure. So much he didn’t know about her, and never would. The room blurred as tears filled his eyes again. He turned his face away and reached into his pockets, couldn’t find a damned handkerchief… Jahni handed him one.

“Thank you, and thank you for…” Madari gestured around the room. “Taking care of my guests. I’m afraid I can’t…” His voice choked off.

“It’s fine. If you’re okay, can I…?”

“Please, go,” Madari said, since if Jahni was taking his place as host he had better let him get on with it. Jahni briefly stroked his fingers across Madari’s hand, then picked up a sherry decanter and began to circulate and refill glasses.

Alex and Raian were standing at the buffet table, clearing away empty plates and bowls, tidying the others. They talked quietly as they worked. Madari frowned and wondered what ‘more’ Jahni had to tell him about those two. He hardly took a prurient interest in the private lives of other people, but Jahni had intrigued him. And Alex’s welfare remained close to his heart. If she could find happiness he could only be happy for her.

Paris. The image flashed into his mind suddenly. Alex and Raian had been in Paris with him and Sophia. Wrapped up in his own problems, Madari had been oblivious to what the two young people might have been doing. He almost wanted to laugh. First he’d planned to take Jahni to Paris, then had taken Sophia, wondering, expecting, hoping… and all the time two people he’d thought of as merely accompanying them were discovering each other. How self-centred had he been?

It lifted his mood, at least a little, though he still felt a ball of sick tension in his stomach, that waited for a release it could not get until he was able to slacken the grip on his self-control. For now, his guard fully in place, he rose and began to circulate among his guests, receiving their condolences and tributes to Sophia.


It ended at last—though ‘at last’ wasn’t very fair. Even the most persistent of the guests left before two hours had passed. The last to go were Raian and Alex, helping Jahni clear up in the kitchen. Once that was done, Jahni saw them out, and Madari thought he detected some small tension between the three of them, something unresolved. Were Jahni and Raian rivals for Alex? A twist of jealousy at that thought shocked Madari.

But he controlled it and busied himself closing curtains over the windows, even though it was still quite light outside. He wanted the darkness. A day of mourning should be dark. The room seemed to mourn too, many cards expressing sympathy standing on shelves and bookcases. One had come hand delivered from the queen herself, an old friend of Sophia’s. She’d have come to the service today, she said, but knew her presence would have increased the security required to the extent it would have been an intrusion. She invited Madari to attend her at the palace where she could offer her condolences in person.

Jahni came back into the living room, looking surprised to see the curtains closed. He moved a hand to the light switch.

“No, leave it,” Madari said.

“Do you have a headache?”

He did, only realising it now. He’d become used to having one for weeks now, from lack of sleep and too much coffee. He’d broken the vicious circle of coffee and insomnia and more coffee years ago, but how easy it was to fall into old habits.

“It’s not too bad. But leave the light off.” Enough sunlight still came through the curtains for them to see. Madari sat on a sofa. “Can we just talk for a while, Kahil. It’s been a long day and we’ve had no chance to talk really.”

“Of course.” Jahni took off his jacket and dropped it over the back of a chair, before coming to sit by Madari. “Father Fiera interrupted us before.”

“Yes. But, I felt inhibited there anyway.”

“Mm, yes, I suppose. A church. They’re so strange They make you want to whisper.”

Did Madari feel inhibited here? Sophia’s spirit clung to the flat. Haunted it. With thoughts of ghosts in mind a small sound and slight movement of the door to the hall made him start violently. But it was only Giotto, emerging from hiding now the guests had gone. He strolled past to the kitchen.

“I’ve put out a plate of things left over from the buffet for him,” Jahni said. “He made you jump there. Are you okay?”

“I was thinking I don’t know how long I can stay here.”

“You’re thinking of selling up?”

“This is her place. Whoever owns it, it’s hers. And I don’t know how I can stand to be here without her. Yet how can I stand to leave and have strangers here instead?”

“You don’t have to decide anything yet.”

“It’s as if she’s only gone on holiday. The flat, Giotto, all her things, they seem to be waiting for her to return.” He choked off.

Jahni sighed and took his hand. “It doesn’t seem real to you yet. I understand. It was so sudden. No time to say goodbye.”

“But it’s a month! I should be able to accept reality by now. I’m a practical man.” Jahni smiled, shook his head. “What?”

“Faris, you are so far from a practical man. You’ve learned to pretend to be one because you’ve had to. But it’s a facade. You’re a man of abstracts. Principles. Honour.”

“That’s an interesting analysis.”

Jahni smiled thinly. “I spend a lot of time with psychiatrists. But, don’t you remember, back in the old days, at the camp? How you and Javid worked so well together because you were the abstract thinker and he was the practical one?”

“Javid. My god, it’s so long ago.”

“I know. I still miss him too. But you know what I mean, don’t you?”

“Then what about now? Are you the practical mind to my abstract one?”

“Me? No!” Jahni gave a short laugh. “I’m the emotional one.”

“And what was Idris?”

That sobered Jahni. His smile vanished. “I can’t answer that in a way that my mother wouldn’t have called ‘speaking ill of the dead’.”

That he still felt that way shocked Madari. Personally, he’d long ago forgiven Faraj’s betrayal. He’d been led astray and manipulated by others—Raslan and Zahir. Yet Jahni sounded as bitter about it as he ever had. The emotional one indeed.

“Can’t you forgive him after all this time?” Madari asked. “He paid with his life.”


And encouraging no arguments about it. Pointless to argue. Jahni’s attitude had hardened and he was a man who knew how to hold a grudge. That was the other side of the determination that saw him through their guerrilla campaign, Selection, missions, and six days in the desert. Madari had once wondered if Jahni had learned stubbornness from him, but he didn’t need to. He had enough of his own.

“So long ago,” Madari said again. Those days at the camp, they’d had a kind of simplicity to them. No politics. No paperwork. Just being warriors. Of course, time coloured his view of it. Strange to feel nostalgic about a time when he’d been so weak and afraid. But he’d had Jahni as his strength. Jahni, so young and full of fire. So fiercely handsome, with his hair too long… as it was now.

“You need a haircut.” Madari smiled. “I’ve been telling you that since you were a lieutenant. I’d have hoped you’d start to get the message by now.”

“I just like to see how long I can grow it before you notice.”

Madari grimaced. “Then it should be down to your shoulders by now, with how blind I have been for the last couple of years.”

“Don’t. I meant what I said about forgetting all of that.”

“I know, but there are things I should say.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Kahil!” He took Jahni’s hand and raised it to show the cuff, the link in it that matched the one in Madari’s shirt when he raised his own hand. “I didn’t even see this at the funeral. Alex had to point it out to me. I don’t know what you were trying to say with it, but if she hadn’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t have even seen it!”

Jahni shook his head. “I don’t know if I even wanted you to see.” He sat forward, taking his hand out of Madari’s. “I’m ashamed of it now. It was her funeral! I had no right to lay claim to you like that.”

Madari sat forward too, rested an arm on Jahni’s back. “You never had to claim me. You never lost me.”

“Faris, we were strangers! Not only while you were married, but before that. We lost touch somehow. Lost our connection.”

“I know. And I’m sorry. You were the one hurt the most by it.”

“Stop apologising, please! I have as much to apologise for as you!”

“You? For what?”

“For when I went into the desert.”

“You were ill!” Madari protested.

“But you can’t deny that you were angry with me. I saw your anger when you came for me.”

“I had no right to be.”

“Of course you did! I wanted to hurt you. I wanted you to worry for days. I wanted you to have to think about how my body would look after the vultures got me. I’m sorry,” he said when Madari grimaced. “But that’s how I felt.”

He subsided, flopping back in the seat. Madari couldn’t deny that the words shocked him. He hadn’t realised just how deep and bitter Jahni’s anger at him had been. And he couldn’t deny that, yes, he had been angry too. Not only then, but for weeks and months afterwards, furious with Jahni’s refusal to reconcile himself to the marriage. He’d seen it as sulking on a monumental scale. But since Sophia died all that anger had vanished, swept away by his desperate need to Jahni’s comfort.

“I have more to apologise for,” Jahni said. “I mourn for her. Truly. But it hurts me more when I think that you could have been with her that day. Just the possibility of your death hurts me more than the fact of hers.”

“You can’t help what you feel, so you shouldn’t apologise for it.”

“I know. But you’d think I’d at least be used to that possibility now! It’s been part of our lives for a long time. Yet I can’t get used to it. I can’t brush it aside when something else happens and even for a second I think you’re dead. I’m not saying I can’t cope with it, because it’s not going to stop and I’m learning to deal with it. But it will never stop being a…a chip of ice in my heart, always afraid I could lose you and we’ve never…” A look of horror came over his face and he pulled away, further along the sofa. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m supposed to he here for you and I’m whining about myself. About that of all things!”

“Kahil,” Madari said. Nothing else. Just the one word to stop him babbling. He knew what Kahil meant that they had never done. It pained him too. If he died tomorrow he’d die with a life not quite complete. A step not taken. Through cowardice in the end. Fear of the consequences.

Consequences? What more could life do to him? His wife was dead in an act of revenge against him. He’d come so close to losing Jahni his chest still ached when he thought of it. What were prison, disgrace or exile in comparison to those things? Risks worth taking perhaps?

He reached for Jahni’s hand. This brought little reaction, He’d done the same so many times before. He spoke. “I don’t want to die without ever…knowing…”

Words were impossible. He couldn’t say what he felt, could only show it.

He closed the distance between them and kissed Jahni, who gave a small gasp of surprise, but then responded. His lips parted and their tongues touched in the so-rare intimacy. However close they’d been this last month, some part of their connection had been missing. Was this it? The final connection to bring them back to where they’d been a year ago before everything fell apart?

“Faris,” Jahni whispered after a moment, pushing him back, his breath catching in his throat. “You know that’s what I want, but I can’t stand to go through it again. Coming close and backing off over and over.”

So Jahni didn’t want to be where they were a year ago. Neither did Madari. But they couldn’t go backwards. Too much had happened.

“What if…” Madari swallowed hard, trying to control the fear rising inside him. Fear that warred with desire and need. “What if we didn’t back off this time?”

Jahni pulled back and stared, but then he grimaced. “Are you talking about ‘getting it out of our systems’? Like your idea about Paris?”

“No! My God no, not like that!” What a horrible idea that had been. “No, I don’t mean like that. I mean like this. Real.”

“No.” He touched Madari’s face, eyes full of compassion, even pity. “We can’t. You’re grieving. I would be taking advantage.”

Madari shook his head. “I am grieving, yes. Perhaps I am vulnerable. Perhaps you think I’m like I used to be when you first met me. But I’m not. I’m so much stronger. I’m in pain, but I’m not out of control. I’m making a choice.”

“It’s…” Jahni looked around at the room, at Sophia’s things. Madari followed his gaze.

So soon. Madari gulped, wavering suddenly. Should they go somewhere else? Without her ghost? But that would give them time to talk themselves out of it.

There were so many reasons they shouldn’t. Fewer reasons they should. But control—that made the difference. All the other times they’d come close at least one of them had been out of control and they’d have regretted it later. Now Madari felt frightened and guilty, yet in full control of himself.

Jahni turned back to him. “What you felt for her…”

“Is different from what I feel for you.”

Did that mean the short time since her death didn’t matter? It disgusted him for a second to allow himself to think that. But it was true in its own way. He’d felt this way for Jahni since long before his marriage, and he’d never stop feeling it. They could wait—six months, a year, perhaps? And every day risk dying and never knowing.

He said none of this to Jahni, but instead waited for him to make his own choice. Though his heart raced, he tried to appear calm. Just as he didn’t want this to be about him trying to heal Jahni, nor did he want Jahni to be motivated by pity, thinking he only distracted Madari from his grief.

This had to be about them. Their connection. It was their choice and their time. Though everything else told him the time was wrong, his heart told him it was right. He was ready.

Was Kahil?

Chapter 3


Jahni made the first move this time, taking Madari in his arms and pulling him into a kiss. The ‘yes’ released the passion in both of them and the kiss quickly deepened, grew demanding until there were both short of breath, faces flushed when they pulled back.

“Not here,” Jahni said.

No indeed. Not in a room filled with condolence cards for Sophia. A room where her cat had come back in unnoticed and curled on another chair to sleep.

“I’ve been sleeping in the guest room,” Madari said. Jahni nodded his understanding of why Madari was sleeping there and an acceptance of the invitation. They stood and Jahni let out a sudden half-hysterical laugh.

“Am I dreaming?”

“If you are, then so am I.”

Madari led the way after a small hesitation. How did a man take another man to his bedroom? As they left the living room he held out his hand and Jahni took it. It felt a little foolish, like leading a child by the hand and he blushed. But they reached the bedroom quickly enough that he didn’t have long enough to fret about such details.

The room was not a soldier’s room, he thought. Though the bed was neatly made, he’d allowed clothes, shoes and other belongings to clutter the room. Lack of space to put them away. Lack of will to bother. It had seemed trivial, but now it embarrassed him to be so undisciplined.

“Sorry about the mess,” he said as he turned on the bedside lamp and switched off the overhead.

“What?” Jahni looked around with a dazed expression as if he couldn’t see anything. His gaze fixed on the bed, splashed with a small pool of warm light from the bedside lamp. Still looking at it, he spoke.

“Have you…?”

“No. Not with a man.”

Should he have let it happen with Raslan, so he could have learned something from it? So he’d have something more to offer Jahni than awkward fumbling. No. Raslan would have been a lover for a night and a blackmailer forever.

“Me neither,” Jahni said. “There’ve been a couple of times I could have.” He looked down, blushing.

“Don’t be ashamed of that,” Madari said.

“That’s not what I’m ashamed of,” Jahni said softly. He reached behind his back with a small grimace as if embarrassed and unclipped a belt holster with a small pistol in it. “Sorry,” he said. Madari took it from him with a smile and put it on the night stand.

“I thought you told that boy you didn’t have a gun.”

“No. I just said I was off duty. Which means I only have one gun.”

“So I’m not going to find another one strapped to your ankle?”

“Not today.”

“Well, at least you can say you brought protection,” Madari said. Jahni laughed, the same near-hysterical giggle.

“Am I dreaming?” Jahni asked again. “Is this real?”

“Yes. Come here.” Jahni stepped closer and Madari reached out and began to undo Jahni’s tie. He wanted to do it slowly and sensually, but immediately made a mess of it. He wasn’t well-practiced with neckties—even less so from the ‘wrong’ side. The knot stuck and he gave a groan of annoyance.

“Tell you what,” Jahni suggested. “You do your tie, I’ll do mine.”

“Agreed. ” Madari carefully loosened his own tie while Jahni picked the knot of his free and slid it off, then undid the top button of the shirt. Madari started to reach for him to get the rest of the buttons, but Jahni blocked him, holding out his arm, a teasing smile on his face, his hand turned upwards.

“Would you get the cufflinks?” he said. Madari’s mouth went dry. He fumbled with them, but Jahni offered no help this time. He watched, eyes wide, and hectic spots of colour burning in his cheeks.

When Madari managed to pop the link out, Jahni moved to pull his hand away, but Madari held onto it, bent to kiss the smooth skin of the inside of the wrist, feeling the pounding pulse under his lips. Feeling bold, he teased the skin with his tongue, tasting soap. Jahni gasped and grabbed Madari roughly by the arms, kissing him hard, his body pressed close.

Madari pulled out of the kiss after a moment, panting. “I…I’ll have to make a note of that—sensitive wrists.”

“Enough time wasting,” Jahni growled, blindly fumbling with his own cuffs. Madari started on Jahni’s shirt buttons, bodies having to pull apart far enough to allow access, frustrating him, as the urgency in his groin seemed to pull him at Jahni. The crude desire to grind against him shocked Madari. Wanted to feel Jahni’s hardness through their clothes and then without the clothes. See it. Touch it.

“Aren’t I supposed to be afraid?” He said it almost to himself as he pushed Jahni’s shirt off his shoulders to fall on the floor. Jahni looked at him and then laughed.

“I think it’s too late for that.”

“But all I feel is desire. I want you and I’m not afraid of you or your body.”

“Why would you be afraid? You know I’d never hurt you.” Jahni got the last of Madari’s shirt buttons undone and slid his hands under it, stroked up from the flat planes of Madari’s belly and chest to his shoulders, pushing the white shirt away from them. It fell away, sliding down Madari’s back and arms, the sensual caress of the fabric on his skin making him shiver.

“Now,” Jahni said, with a mad grin on his face as the shirt fluttered to the floor. “We come to the main bout of the evening.” Madari felt his own hysteria rising as Jahni reached for his belt buckle.

“Wait. On the bed,” he said. After his clumsiness with the tie he feared if he had his trousers around his ankles he’d trip over trying to step out of them. Jahni didn’t object, and they sat and then lay on the bed, kicking off their shoes, then whipping away socks, sending them flying across the room.

“Enough time-wasting,” Madari said, echoing Jahni’s earlier words and managed to keep his hands steady enough to undo his belt, the button and the zip of his trousers.

Jahni did the same with his own, and then in a swift movement he pulled Madari’s down and off his legs, taking his underwear with them, making him gasp at being suddenly naked. By the time he’d stopped ridiculously trying to cover his erection with his hand out of pure instinct, Jahni had taken off his own trousers and they were both naked.

There was a moment of stillness then. They’d seen each other naked before. They’d stolen admiring looks at each other’s bodies. But they’d never been in this situation—lying naked together on a bed, bodies flushed and pulsing with desire for each other.

Jahni reached out first, breaking the moment. He touched Madari’s chest, swirling a finger around a nipple. Madari groaned and his hips moved, but he stilled them through an effort of will. He wanted to touch himself, but refrained from that too. He didn’t have to, not tonight. He didn’t have to touch himself and close his eyes to see Jahni. Tonight Jahni would touch him.

Jahni’s hand trailed on down Madari’s belly, fingertips tracing old scars, pale against the darker skin. He stroked the sparse hairs that started below the navel and grew thicker the further down he moved.

He touched it. Over a decade of longing compressed itself into this moment. Jahni’s fingers tentatively stroked the hot skin of Madari’s cock.

The touch didn’t last long, because Jahni could hold out no longer himself. He moved across Madari, turning him onto his back and lying on top of him. Heavy, but braced up on his hands, he stared down, eyes wide and still disbelieving of the reality of this moment. His hair flopped over his forehead. Never cut it, never.

“I don’t know enough,” Jahni groaned out, as he pressed against Madari and their erections slid against each other. “There are other things.”

“Later,” Madari gasped. “This will do.” Do? Oh yes, it would do! He glanced down, between their bodies, his own body dark against Jahni’s paler skin, a chaos of light and dark sliding and rubbing together.

As Jahni moved closer, lowering himself onto his elbows, Madari surged up to kiss him. So long they had waited for this and what fools they were to wait so long! Because it’s nothing. A simple sexual act. A few moments of mutual pleasure. It’s nothing. And it’s everything. The final connection. The one too long denied, the one that made them whole. Made them one, for these few moments and forever.

He feared he would cry for all the time they had wasted. But no, he told himself, he must not do that, in case Jahni thought he regretted it or felt ashamed. He’d never regret it. And how could he feel shame? They loved each other. Lovers gave each other this pleasure.

All too soon the heat in his belly became an inferno as he climaxed against Jahni, who cried out and shuddered with his own orgasm only seconds later. The climax wiped Madari’s mind clean of all the maddening thoughts that he defended himself against his emotions with. At last he felt. Complete satisfaction and a relief which came close to painful. Jahni, panting, pushed away and onto his side, to keep his weight off Madari, but he gathered Madari close as soon as he touched the bed.

Nothing in Madari’s fantasies and hopes had come close to this final moment before he slipped into deep sleep. He’d dreamt and thought so often of the sex and so rarely of Jahni holding him afterwards. And now he knew this might be better in its own way. If the sex was nothing, a mere pleasurable act to share, this was everything.



Jahni woke alone and feared, just for a moment, it had been a dream. But he recognised the room—not his own bedroom. He was naked beneath sheets which carried the scent of Madari.

But still, he was alone. He got up and found some pyjama trousers and a robe lying across the bed. Madari had become so practical lately—a most annoying quality. Jahni went first into the small bathroom and cleaned up, before putting on those practical garments and going into the living room where he found Madari sitting near a rain-streaked window.

“It’s raining?” Jahni said.


Jahni had loved rain ever since Zaire. He wished it could rain every night. Let it pour down outside while they made love inside. But did Madari regret what they’d done? Why else would he be sitting here brooding in the dark rather than waiting for Jahni to wake in his arms?

“What time is it?” Jahni asked.

“Just after midnight. Help yourself to a drink.” Madari waved at the tray that held several decanters. “I recommend the scotch.” He raised a tumbler and drank from it.

“You’re drinking alcohol?”

“Why not?” Madari said.

He didn’t look drunk, and only sipped the whisky, Jahni noticed. So he wasn’t looking to blot out what had happened. Then why?

“I can’t call myself a Muslim any more, can I?”

“Faris!” Jahni protested. “You don’t have to give up your faith because of this. You can still be a good Muslim.”

“I beg to differ.”

“You’re playing into the hands of our enemies to assume that you can’t be,” Jahni said. But truthfully, he didn’t want to argue the point. He’d like to hear Madari finally admit he’d lost his faith. One less barrier between them.

He walked to the drinks tray and did pour himself a scotch. Sophia had always kept the best for her guests. As he poured the scotch into a tumbler, he considered where to sit. Madari sat in an armchair, so Jahni couldn’t sit beside him, unless he sat on the arm of the chair, or on the floor at his feet. Neither felt right. Instead he took the sofa facing Madari.

“Are you regretting it?” Jahni asked. He had to know. If Madari genuinely regretted it—not due to guilt or fear, but because it hadn’t been what he’d dreamt of—then Jahni would never try to touch him again. But he had to know.

Madari looked at him and slowly shook his head. “No. I don’t regret it. I feel guilty, yes. It’s a sin. And it’s still so soon after losing her. But I can’t lie and say I wish we hadn’t done it. I love you.”

Jahni drank some of his scotch to keep from breaking into a ridiculous grin. But quickly sobered again when Madari threw the question right back at him.

“Do you regret it?”

“No. If I feel guilty, it’s only that I’m still worried that I’ve taken advantage of you.”

“You haven’t. I swear, Kahil. I made my choice and it wasn’t just to have someone to cling to, or to make me forget the pain. You have no reason to worry about that.”

Jahni sighed. He hoped so. He still feared it. Madari couldn’t be the best judge of his own vulnerability so the reassurance meant little. The shame he’d felt before, that he liked Madari better when he was weaker, made another stab at him. But he tried to ignore it.

“Then what now?” Jahni asked. “Where do we go from here?”

Madari put down his glass on the windowsill. He looked out at the rain for a long moment, then back to Jahni.

“If you ask me now to leave with you, go abroad where we can be together, I would say yes.”

Jahni gasped. He’d say yes. He wanted to go and…no, wait, that’s not exactly what he said.

“If I asked you, you’d go. But that doesn’t mean it’s what you want, does it?” He drank the rest of his whisky and put the glass down. “What do you want, Faris?”

“I want many things. I want to be with you. I want to serve my country. I want to avenge my wife.” His dark eyes glinted. “All are important. But I can’t do all of them.”

“You’re asking me to make the choice for you?”

“No. I’m saying I believe you want all of those things too. But that if one of them things is more important to you than the others, you have the casting vote, because I can’t choose between them.”

Should Jahni feel insulted by that? That being with him was no more important to Madari than duty? No. He should be flattered that to a man like Madari he could even be on the same level as duty and the moral obligation to take revenge on Sophia’s killers.

“If we leave,” Madari said, “I’d feel like a deserter. If we leave and start living together, the news of that will get back here and be used against the King. Also, it would… gall me to think of the people who organised Sophia’s murder walking around as if they had a right to be on this earth. I want them to die. I want to be able to tell Sophia’s brothers and Miss Holstein’s family that their murderers are dead.”

Jahni nodded. He understood every word of it. He felt the same way entirely.

“But despite that, you’d still agree to leave if I asked you to?” Was it emotional blackmail? Or simply the plain truth? A difficult truth, but one Jahni had to understand, so that he knew the stakes. Knew what he was asking Madari to give up. “But if we stay here we can’t continue like this, can we? We can’t be lovers. It’s too dangerous.”

“I’d risk my freedom and reputation for you, Kahil. But the risk isn’t only ours any more. A scandal would damage the King and strengthen the enemy.”

Jahni stood, swallowing a groan. To have experienced it at last and to have it taken away—how could he stand it? How could he make this choice to give it up voluntarily? But how could he ask Madari, or himself for that matter, to give up duty and the obligations of honour?

He walked to the wall which held many photographs of Sophia’s family and friends, himself and Madari in several of them.

“Do we have to decide tonight?” he said, turning back to Madari. “That is, do we have to decide about the rest of our lives tonight?”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re still tracking down the cell that organised Sophia’s murder. What if we find them and kill them and then we ask ourselves these questions again?”

Madari looked surprised, as if he hadn’t even considered that. Jahni smiled at that. Because that was more like the old Faris. The dramatic Faris, lover of tall tales and stories, not the man who came up with grotesquely practical solutions.

“Yes,” Madari said. “Good idea. I think it would allow me more perspective on the situation.”

Or it would allow him to be torn in only two directions rather than three, Jahni thought. He sighed though, knowing he had just talked himself into another period of horrible frustration. At least he had some memories to hold onto now though. The knowledge of what he could have back again. He could have it right now. They could be on a plane within hours. But he’d run away once before. He wouldn’t do it again. Not even with Madari at his side. The sweet memory of tonight would have to hold him. It had been wonderful. Not enough perhaps, but enough to hold onto until they could be together for good.

Madari nodded again, sat forward in his chair. “But after tonight, we have to stop. I know that will be difficult. But we have to go back to the way it was.”

“Then, I suppose I should go,” Jahni said.

“Kahil, I said ‘after tonight’.” He glanced outside at the darkness. “It’s still tonight.”

Jahni forgot to breathe for a moment, then sucked in air in a gasp. He didn’t speak. He walked to Madari’s chair and stood in front of him. Madari looked up, his face younger in the moonlight, the pain and cares gone from it. One of his hands stroked up Jahni’s arm, reaching up to his shoulder and then down again, touching skin, as it pushed aside the robe. He leaned forward and kissed Jahni’s stomach, chest and neck as he rose, until their lips met, bodies met, reacted to each other again.

“It’s still tonight,” Jahni whispered, echoing Madari’s words, accepting his invitation with the echo and wishing, wishing so hard that this night would never end.

Chapter 4

Jahni came into the kitchen wearing only the robe he’d worn the night before, eyes still half-closed, hair mussed. He carried the coffee cup Madari had taken into the bedroom for him a few minutes ago, waking him with a gentle shake of his shoulder.

“Sorry to wake you early,” Madari said, busy at the stove making breakfast, as Jahni almost fell into a chair at the small kitchen table. “I know you aren’t on duty today, but I am and you’ll have to be gone before the housekeeper comes in.”

“That’s okay,” Jahni said, yawning. He squinted at the plate of eggs and toast Madari put in front of him. “You know, I almost expected bacon.”

Madari winced. “I might have been, um, hasty about saying I’m no longer a Muslim.” He sat down with his own breakfast and poured himself a cup of coffee. Jahni pushed his cup across the table and Madari reached over to top it off. His shirt sleeve fell back as he reached out, revealing his watch and beside it, the amber wristband. Jahni smiled.

“Not part of regulation uniform,” he said.

“If anyone asks, I’ll say they’re prayer beads,” Madari said. “Anyway, I’m the commander of the regiment. I make the rules.”

Jahni smiled wider at that. Perhaps thinking there were a few rules he could change. If only! They ate in silence. What kind of small talk could they make in this situation? Nice day. Did you feed the cat? Have the newspapers arrived? We had sex last night.

Barely even ‘last night’. Only around four hours since they went to sleep. Both of them had fought to stay awake simply to enjoy the time holding each other. When Madari had woken to the dawn stealing into the room, they were no longer locked together. But he’d reached out and, even in his sleep, Jahni had rolled into Madari’s arms, fitting into place as easily and naturally as if he belonged there.

He did. They should have done this years ago, when they were not so important. When they had the freedom to choose to leave. But it made no sense to worry about the past. It couldn’t be changed. They had made the choice to delay their happiness for just a bit longer and Madari admired Jahni having the strength to choose for them. He couldn’t make the choice himself, it hurt too much.

“Is there a CCTV camera in the emergency stairs?” Jahni asked, looking more awake now, with food and coffee inside him.

“No. Definitely not.”

“And I can get into the car park from there without setting off any alarms?”

“Yes.” Madari sighed at this reminder of the reality of their situation. Jahni would sneak out of his home like a criminal escaping the scene of a crime. Which is exactly what he was. What both of them were. “I’m sorry that you have to do that.”

“I’ll consider it practice at being invisible,” Jahni said. “I’m going to have a shower and get out of here. You should probably go. It’s getting late.”

Any break in routine might arouse suspicion. Madari should arrive at the barracks no later than usual. He knew he looked tired, but nobody would question that. He still mourned his dead wife. People would assume grief kept him from sleeping. They wouldn’t guess the truth.

Tonight, he would sleep. Alone.

He stood up and put on his jacket. Jahni watched him, with an expectant look. What was he expecting? Madari knew what he himself wanted to do—kiss Jahni goodbye. But he feared weakening his resolve. He’d said ‘after’ last night. The sun was up. It was indisputably ‘after’ now. Or did it still count as part of last night until they left the house? They should have established some rules about allowed contact. They were not going to have sex again, but what of kissing? Touching in… affectionate ways.

A kiss. There could be no harm in a goodbye kiss this morning.

“I’ll see you later.” Madari stepped over to Jahni and leaned down to kiss him. Jahni was startled for only a second, and then he stood, his arms around Madari, mouth opening. When their tongues met, the thrill of the contact tore through Madari like an electric shock and he gasped. His hands instinctively grabbed Jahni’s arms to hold him in place. Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop. His head pounded and when he pulled back he had to grab the back of a chair to steady himself, his knees were so weak.

“I’ll see you later,” Jahni said, in a maddeningly nonchalant voice. He began to clear up the breakfast things.

Madari couldn’t speak. He left the room before he lost his mind and flung Jahni down on the breakfast table there and then.

No harm in a kiss?


Jahni woke on his own sofa with a start, the book he’d been reading earlier sliding to the floor. Four in the afternoon. He’d been sleeping for two hours and he needed more if he was to catch up on what he’d missed last night. The door buzzer had woken him and still blared, as if someone was leaning on it. Rubbing his eyes, he got up and hurried to answer the intercom.

“It’s Alex.”

Now whatever could she want? “Come on up.” He buzzed her in and went to boil the kettle for some tea. Might as well be a gracious host, even if she’d probably throw it in his face.

A short time later—short enough that he knew she must have almost run up here—he heard a knock at the door. A glance through the peephole showed him Alex’s scowling face and he let her in.

“It’s not Izzy’s fault,” she said as she walked in the door.

“Will that make more sense when you tell me who Izzy is?” Jahni said, closing the door behind her. He went back to the kitchen and she followed.

“Raian, for goodness sake. Isma’il.”

“Oh.” He grinned. “You call him Izzy?”

“I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that.” She sat at the kitchen table while he made the tea.

“Probably not. My lips are sealed though. I know how to keep a secret.” His voice had a certain bitterness. One she misread and frowned at him.

“You don’t have to be sarcastic about it. I made him tell me.”

“What? Oh.” He hadn’t meant it to be a dig at Raian. It applied though. “I appreciate your feelings, you know I do. But he had no right to tell you anything about the investigation.”

“Don’t blame him. I nagged it out of him.”

Jahni snorted. The kettle whistled on the stove and he took it off and poured the steaming water into the teapot. “Alex, Raian is trained to resist harsh interrogation and torture. A woman’s nagging shouldn’t break him.”

“You’ve never heard me nag.”

He hid his smile from her as he stirred the tea. It was hard to stay angry at her or Raian when he sympathised entirely with their anger and the desire to move the investigation along. My god, if anyone could sympathise with the need to find the cell behind Sophia’s death, he could!

And, yes, Raian had broken the rules because of his personal relationship with Alex, but how could Jahni condemn him for that after last night? All he could feel was a little envy that even if Alex and ‘Izzy’s’ relationship was unconventional at least they didn’t have to conceal it from the world or risk losing everything.

He poured the tea and brought it to the table, pushed the sugar bowl to her.

“You and Raian. Is it serious?”

She looked surprised at the question and he surprised himself a little. But he went on.

“Since you’ve been poking your nose where it doesn’t belong, I think perhaps I have some right to do the same.”

She smiled at that. “Fair enough. Yes, I’d call it serious.”

“Are you considering marriage?”

“Why? Does he need your permission?”


“Oh.” That took her aback.

“You’d have to be vetted.”


“Don’t worry about it. The colonel checked your background thoroughly when you became Sophia’s bodyguard.”

“Did he now?”

“I know you’re trustworthy. If you and Raian ever did marry—and you didn’t actually answer me by the way about if you’re considering it—you’d be very welcome as one of our regimental wives.”

She rolled her eyes at that, but laughed. “Well, I can’t say becoming a regimental wife would be a totally unexpected thing. Almost every man I’ve been involved with was a soldier.” She sipped her tea. “Yes,” she said. “We have considered it. That is, he’s asked me, but…”


“He asked me right after the murder.”


“So I don’t know if he only asked me because he was so shook up at the thought he could have lost me. And I couldn’t accept then, because I didn’t know if I was thinking straight either. I still need to figure so much out.” She sighed. “Like why I survived.”

“I was just luck, Alex. There’s no ‘why’ about it.”

“Random chance? Aren’t you supposed to say it was God’s will?”

“The colonel would probably say that, I wouldn’t.”

She stared at him, but he didn’t elaborate. He’d already told her more than he’d tell most people.

“So you don’t believe in fate?” she said. “You don’t think there’s some purpose I was spared to achieve?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know! Get the people who killed Sophia and Greta? Marry Izzy and have his babies? Or give everything up and go and do missionary work? I don’t know. What do people do when they didn’t die due to pure luck?”

Jahni shrugged. “Go back to work and try not to assume too much about why they survived. After all, evil dictators sometimes survive numerous assassination attempts by luck. Does that mean God is sparing them?”

“I should come and talk to you more often. There’s nothing like chatting to someone who’d more of a nihilist than yourself to cheer a girl up.” She sighed and rubbed her face. “Well Izzy apparently thinks it’s God’s will I was spared to be his wife. But I’ve made him wait. I know he’s serious about me, but he can be serious without a wedding ring for a while yet. He’s probably not entirely happy about that.”

“We Arabs aren’t used to women like you.”

“I know. If we do decide to go for it his family might be a bit tricky to convince.”

“What about yours?”

She shrugged. “They’ve expected me to marry an Arab fella since I first moved out to the region. It wouldn’t bother them. About the only thing that would bother my dad is if I married a Frenchman.”

“Well, obviously.”

“So, is he going to be in trouble?” Her tone was quieter than before. Some guilt on her face. Perhaps she should feel some guilt, but Raian had made his own choices, whatever she said about nagging.

“I’m still deciding what to do.” Which was almost a lie. He hadn’t thought of it for over a day now. “I’ll let him know tomorrow.”

Good. Give himself a deadline. Now he had to think about it, and not, for example, about Madari’s hands, touching him, stroking him until Jahni was begging him not to stop, begging for completion, begging for… no, he couldn’t think about that. Not until Alex left anyway.


He didn’t sleep again after Alex left, but he didn’t think about Raian either. He brooded on what happened next. Had he made the right choice last night? If he’d made a different one, would they be on a plane now?

Did he really have the strength to keep his hands off Madari now he knew what it was like to be with him? He’d been afraid of it for so long. What a fool! It was only a man, a man’s body. How could he call himself brave when he feared touching a man? And it was him. Faris. No part of him could be frightening or repellent.

Just after six the door buzzer rang again. Only a short burst this time, not like Alex’s demanding continuous blare.

“It’s Faris.”

Jahni took a breath before he said, “Come on up.” He buzzed open the door. Could this be a good idea so soon after last night? Just the voice had already produced a physical reaction in Jahni, his skin growing warm, his heartbeat quickening. What would the sight of Madari do to him?

He waited at the door, had it standing open, watching the stairwell until Madari appeared, still in uniform. He must have come straight from the barracks. He smiled as he approached the door.

The sight of him, tall and smart in his uniform, looking tired, yet still better than he had for weeks, produced the reaction Jahni had feared and he had reason to be glad he’d worn loose clothing today for relaxing. His wide-legged trousers and long loose shirt hid his own reaction and—he hoped—made it less likely Madari would have a similar one. Ignore it, he told himself. It will go away.

“Coffee?” Jahni said, stepping back, since letting Madari brush past him to come through the door would be a serious mistake. He hurried away, leaving Madari to close the door.

Madari followed him into the kitchen a moment later. He’d taken off his jacket and must have hung it up in the hall. So comfortable here he didn’t need to wait to be invited to do that. He started to gather sugar, spoons and cups for the coffee, familiar with where all those things were, welcome to help himself to them. As comfortable as if he belonged here.

He looked more at home here than in the kitchen back at Sophia’s flat, Jahni thought as he set up his coffee maker. He belongs here, with me. Or if not here, somewhere else, but in a kitchen we call ‘ours’. With me. He sighed, tried to derail those thoughts.

“How was work?” Jahni asked, thinking to keep the conversation impersonal and realising he sounded like a wife asking her husband about his day. “Anything I need to know about?” he added.

If Madari thought the question ‘wifely’ he didn’t show that. Instead he filled Jahni in on developments that day. Nothing too dramatic, but one needed to be in the loop. The politics of the regiment was as important as the politics of the country, Jahni had learnt once he became the commander of the Special Forces unit.

They sat at the table with their coffee. Sofas offered too much space to give in to temptation. Hard, straight-backed kitchen chair had fewer romantic possibilities.

“What have you been up to today?” Madari asked.

“Just catching up on sleep.” Damn, maybe shouldn’t have said that, a reminder of the reason he’d missed so much sleep last night. “Alex came round.” Damn again. He hadn’t intended to mention the situation with Raian to Madari unless he had to. But he’d have to say something in case Madari found it strange that she’d visit Jahni at home in the middle of the day. Madari was frowning. Yes, he found it odd. “Just for a chat,” he added.

“Right. You and Alex.” Madari looked down, blushed. “You aren’t…”

“What? No! I told you, she’s involved with Raian. I’m not interested in her that way.”

Madari sighed with relief. “Right. Though of course, since we aren’t… you could.”

“It’s serious with Raian. And I’m just not interested in her, I swear. She’s a friend. But nothing else.” The last thing he wanted was to end up in some weird echo of the triangular relationship Madari had had with him and with Sophia.

“Good. That’s good.” Madari grimaced. “I’m sorry. I sound like a jealous idiot.”

“No. I understand.”

“It’s as much her I’m thinking of. I’d hate to see her hurt.”

Jahni thought for a moment about Karen Bennett and Madari’s attempts at matchmaking. Another practical solution that would have gone horribly wrong. Luckily, Karen had more sense than the two of them added together.

“I know you’d never intend to hurt her,” Madari went on. “But I never intended to hurt Sophia.”

They drank their coffee in silence, the mention of Sophia’s name bringing up a barrier between them. It disappeared again quickly though. Jahni glanced at Madari in time to catch Madari looking away with a flush in his cheeks. He’d been sitting there looking at Jahni. Appreciatively? Or thinking about the night before? Now Jahni sat and looked at him in the same way. The face he thought he’d seen express every emotion possible had last night shown him something new. Not only the ecstasy, but afterwards. Lazy, warm happiness. Smiling even when he slept. He’d watched Madari sleep many times. He’d never seen him smile in his sleep.

“I was thinking about horses today,” Madari said.

“Regretting selling yours?”

“More metaphorical horses I suppose. I was thinking about how little use it is to lock a stable door after a horse has bolted.”

A thrill of anticipation and fear combined raced up Jahni’s spine. Madari couldn’t mean… but what else?

“That’s funny,” Jahni said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I’ve been thinking about cats. And how hard it is when a cat is out of a bag to get it back in.”

Madari nodded slowly, as if considering some sage wisdom. Jahni didn’t know how apposite it was. This cat had been out of its bag for a long time.

“I’m very fond of an old saying I learned in England,” Madari said. “One might as well hang for a sheep as a lamb.”

They’d done it once. They were criminals now. Even if they never touched each other again they’d committed a crime that they could go to prison for. And that Madari at least believed they’d go to hell for.

They could only go to hell once.

“Are we going to sit here all night quoting animal proverbs at each other?” Jahni asked. “Or are we going to bed?”

Madari gasped at the direct question, even though he’d started the hints.

“It’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Jahni said, with a challenge in his voice.

“Actually, I came here because I couldn’t stand to go home alone and I hoped you’d invite me to stay for dinner.”

“Would you like to stay for dinner, Faris?” Jahni put on a polite tone.

“Thank you, that would be very nice.”

“But it’s much too early for dinner now,” Jahni said, still in the overly polite tone. “Is there something you’d like to do first?”

“Perhaps we could go to bed?” Madari blushed, as if shocked with himself for daring to tease and make a joke of something so serious. “I know we said we wouldn’t but—”

“We said a lot of things. And yet not enough. Not yet.”

They hadn’t done enough yet either. Still shy of some things. Not of each other anymore, but perhaps fearing to get something wrong. But it was time to take a chance, Jahni decided.

In the bedroom he pulled only a thin curtain over the window instead of the blackout blind, and the evening sunlight still came into the room, casting a warm glow over them both, golden from the yellow fabric of the curtain.

It felt somehow more forbidden in this much light. Darkness hid them last night, but nothing did now. In the light their bodies seemed more real, the scars they’d both acquired stark, yet not repelling them, rather reminding them of what they’d lived through together. The events that had brought them here, now, lying naked together on Jahni’s bed, hands exploring, lips alternately kissing and whispering. Nonsense words. Words they’d held in for so long, given them outlet only rarely.

Madari pressed against Jahni and moved rhythmically, as if to begin the same rubbing together they’d done last night. But Jahni wanted to give him more this time. Gently, he pressed Madari back and moved on top of him, looking down into his face.

Nothing about Madari frightened or repelled him. He leaned in to kiss him, then moved, kisses trailing a path down his neck onto his chest, lower. Madari gasped as he realised what Jahni intended.

“Kahil, you don’t have to.”

“I want to.”

He wanted to. More than anything, he wanted to give Madari pleasure. To love him, worship him. Why be afraid? He faced bombs and bullets and grisly death. He’d seen more horror than a man should ever have to. He wasn’t afraid of a cock!

His mouth found it, his hands steadied it and he knew then, he knew this was it. The final reconnection. They were one again. Fused closer than ever before.


“Kahil? Are you asleep?”

“No.” He didn’t want to sleep. Waste even a minute of holding Madari? No. He wasn’t asleep. Madari had been lying facing away from him, spooned against him, but turned now into Jahni’s arms, pressed close. The shared warmth of their skin, the way he tangled his long legs with Jahni’s more sturdy ones… perfection. Had he ever held anyone like this before? Had either of them?

“I wanted to say sorry.”

Jahni couldn’t imagine what for. He’d returned the pleasure Jahni had given him and though inexperience had made him just as tentative it had been nothing to apologise for.


“For marrying Sophia.”

“Oh, Faris.” He stroked Madari’s hair. Hair so messy and disarranged. Delightfully so. “You don’t have to. I’m over all that.”

“I’m not. It was a mistake and it got her killed. I’ll have to live with that forever.”

Jahni sighed and pulled him closer, in the role of comforter once again, as well as lover.

“You married her because you didn’t want to lose her. You couldn’t have known what would happen.”

“Fear of losing her was an emotional problem, but I tried to fix it with a practical solution. The same as I did with you and Paris. You were right when you say I pretend to be practical. I do pretend. But because I’m not, I get it wrong. So both those solutions were doomed and they cost me our friendship and cost Sophia her life.”

Jahni was staring at him by the time he finished.

“And now I have to apologise for making long, ridiculous speeches while lying naked in your arms.”

Jahni laughed. “As long as I have you naked in my arms you can give any speeches you like.”

“What about the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry the fifth?”

“What worries me is that you probably could.”

“Of course I could. Ahmed used to recite it to me to send me to sleep as a boy.”

“You’re not joking are you?” He shook his head. “Of course not. See, you are wrong on one point. It didn’t cost you our friendship.” He moved a bit, adjusting his position to get more comfortable, felt Madari’s warm skin slide against his as he echoed the movement. “We’re still friends. More than friends.”

“But for months, we weren’t. I missed you, but worse—you were suffering and I wasn’t there for you. After all you’d done for me, bringing me back from the depths of insanity, when you needed me, I wasn’t there. I can never forgive myself for that. I’d understand if you couldn’t either.”

“I do forgive you for it.” He had no hesitation in saying it. “I’m here. If I hadn’t forgiven you, I wouldn’t be. And I’m as much to blame, acting so stubborn. I could have made the first move and tried for a reconciliation, but I didn’t. I chose to go on alone. Don’t blame yourself for all of it.”

He stroked Madari’s face, wishing he could soothe away the pain he saw there. Though the increasing dimness of the room hid some of the lines on his face, the years were showing on him again.

“You’re only human, Faris. You made mistakes. We all do. You have to learn to forgive yourself for them.”

“I don’t deserve you, do I?”

“Of course not,” he said, smiling, teasing gently. “But you’ve got me, so better start getting used to it.”

“I should thank you too, for not holding it against Sophia. You never said a word against her. I appreciate that.”

Would he appreciate it if he knew about Jahni checking out the story behind her losing her money? Never mind. He’d never know.

“I did have some resentment against her, I admit it. But only a very tiny amount I had left over from using on you.” He grinned. “After all, it wasn’t her fault you’re an idiot.”

“Idiot?” Madari made an abrupt move, shoving Jahni over onto his back, rolling on top of him and holding his wrists down. Jahni grinned up at him. “You’re referring to your commanding officer as an idiot?” Madari asked, with all the mock sternness he could manage.

“Put me on an insubordination charge then,” Jahni suggested. “I can’t wait to hear the details. ‘While naked in bed with Major Jahni…’” He stopped, seeing a shadow cross Madari’s face. Madari sighed and rolled off him, letting his arms go. He flopped down on his back.

“Sorry,” Jahni said, turning on his side. He rested his hand on Madari’s chest, only the fingers moving, sparse hairs and warm skin under them.

“It’s only a matter of time,” Madari said. “Our days are numbered now. Either we lose this or we lose everything else. Possibly both.”


“If we do go to jail—”

“Damn.” Jahni sat up and swept his hair back out off his forehead. He rested his elbows on his knees. “We need to make some contingency plans.”

Madari sat up too, stroked his hand down the length of Jahni’s back. “You mean escape plans?”

“Yes. I guess that’s what I mean. We should make sure our money is accessible from outside the country. We should carry our passports at all times in case we need to drop everything and make for the airport or the border. And cash. Enough for plane tickets. Credit cards can be frozen after all.”


“I’m going to send my sentimental things to someone out of the country. Murdock maybe. Have them put in storage. So if we have to leave with nothing more than the clothes on our backs –”

“Kahil, not now.” Madari said and pulled him close again, kissed him. Jahni let himself be pushed back down on the bed, Madari still kissing him. Okay. Not now. They would consider it all after they got out of bed.

“We have to make the most of this time we have,” Madari said, after breaking the kiss. “This is the only time we’ll have everything and it won’t last.”

The thought should have depressed Jahni, but it didn’t. They’d lose the rest, he felt sure. But they’d have this and this mattered most of all. Their future together had started.


“Good morning, sir,” one of Jahni’s clerks said. “You seem to have a spring in your step this morning, if you’ll pardon my saying so.”

Jahni laughed. Yes, he had. Madari hadn’t stayed all night, just until after they shared dinner. So Jahni had slept. But he suspected the spring in his step came from more than a good night’s sleep.

“Thank you, Corporal. Bring me some coffee, please. And send a message to Captain Raian. I want to see him at nine on the dot.”

“Yes, sir.”

He went into his office and raised all the blinds, flooding the room with the morning sunshine. He should feel bad for so many reasons this morning. He should feel guilty. With Raian on the way, expecting to be carpeted and busted down to Lieutenant, he should feel like a hypocrite. But since he’d been a hypocrite for years anyway, he’d decided not to start fretting about it now.

He sat at his desk and picked up the phone. He had some strings to pull.

By the time Raian showed up at nine—on the dot—Jahni had drunk more coffee, but didn’t need coffee to feel more clear headed than he had in years.

Raian marched in, came to attention in front of the desk and saluted. He wore the carefully neutral expression that any soldier cultivates for an interview in his commander’s office, but Jahni saw the worry in his eyes. He didn’t torture the man for too long, got straight down to it with the solution he’d woken up with fully formed this morning.

“I’m giving you a temporary secondment, Captain.”

He saw the devastated expression quickly controlled. Raian thought he was losing his squad. He was, but only for a while.

“Yes, sir.”

“To Military Intelligence. Specifically to the section working on finding the people responsible for the murder of the Colonel’s wife.”

Raian stared at him. “Sir?”

“You heard me correctly, Captain. I’ve asked favours of others who are frustrated by the slow progress and they’ve arranged to make it happen. You are to be seconded to help them with your specialist knowledge of urban terror cells.”

“Yes, sir.” His neutral expression looked as if it wanted to become a huge grin. Jahni stood and walked around the desk to stand close to Raian, speaking more quietly.

“You do understand that ‘help’ in this context mean ‘light a rocket under the arse of’?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m not expecting you to make many friends.”

“I promise to make every man I meet there an enemy for life, sir.”

Jahni hid a smile at that, trying to keep up his stern commander’s demeanour. He handed Raian a folder from the desk.

“The details are in here. This takes immediate effect. I want you out of here before ten o’clock.”

“Yes, sir. I won’t let you and the colonel down.”

“I know you won’t. One small point, Captain. Please remember that you report your progress back to me and not to Alex.”

Raian’s face flickered for a second, then he nodded. “I’ll remember that, sir.” She’d probably leave him alone now she knew he was down there speeding up the investigation.

“If she does start on you, remember, name, rank and serial number. If required, I can provide her with a copy of the Geneva Convention.”

Raian saluted and left, off to his new assignment with the air of a man who’d just got more than he ever dared hope for. Jahni fully understood the feeling.

Chapter 5

At close to ten o’clock at night, Madari parked his car in front of Rahama’s house and walked to the front door. He’d come straight from barracks, where he’d been working late when he received an urgent summons. Rahama himself, not a servant, answered the door, making Madari wonder about how serious this meeting must be, if Rahama had sent the staff out for the night. His wife’s car wasn’t outside either. He must be alone.

“Am I the first here?” Madari asked as Rahama led him through to the small dining room where he usually entertained intimate parties of close friends—or held off the record meetings. “There’re no other cars outside,” he said when Rahama looked at him.

“Nobody else is coming,” Rahama said, closing the door behind them. “I’m sorry if you misunderstood.”

Madari’s hands began to sweat, but he dismissed the reaction as the consequence of his generally stretched nerves over the last three weeks. Three delicious, terrifying weeks of sneaking around and stolen moments. Three weeks of alternate guilt and ecstasy.

“I considered inviting Major Jahni too,” Rahama said. “But decided I only need to speak to you.”

Madari’s mouth went dry. He couldn’t mean… he couldn’t know. He couldn’t.

“May I have some water?” Madari asked, looking at the pitcher of ice water on the table. Rahama frowned, perhaps seeing this as the delaying tactic it transparently was, but he nodded at Madari to get the water himself and went to take a seat at the table. Madari sat too, sipping his water.

“Better?” Rahama asked. He waved away an offer to pour him a glass too. “Do you think you are not watched, Faris?”

“Watched?” Madari’s voice came out as a squeak and he cleared his throat. “I don’t know—”

“By your enemies and your friends. I can only hope your enemies are less efficient. I won’t bother with hints any more. You and Jahni have been seen. You’ve spent the night at each other’s homes several times. Or left in the middle of the night, usually attempting not to be seen.”

“You’re spying on me?” Madari rose, summoning anger. He needed anger. Nothing but rage would smother the terror growing in his mind. Terror he hadn’t felt in many years, perhaps not since he first fell into the hands of the KGB. Terror of losing everything. Worse terror now perhaps, since he had so much more to lose. “How dare you spy on me!”

“Sit down!” Rahama snapped

Madari ignored the order. “My wife is dead!” Hold on to the anger. “Less than two months ago. You know Kahil is my friend. Can’t I seek some comfort in his company?”

“In his company, yes. Not in his bed.”

No. No. No. He can’t know. He can’t. “Just because he stays late or all night—”

“Don’t insult my intelligence, Faris. And sit down!”

The tone was so like Ahmed’s that Madari’s knees buckled almost involuntarily. He dropped back into his chair.

“Please,” Rahama said. “Have enough respect not to treat me like a fool.”

Madari couldn’t speak, either to deny or confess. His brain screamed at him to run. Run to Kahil, then run to the airport. It’s over. It’s all over.

“I ignored the rumours, all these years,” Rahama said. “Because I had faith in you. But I can’t ignore facts. The doors to your homes may be closed, but I’d be a fool not to face up to what is happening behind them.”

“What are you going to do?” Madari asked. If he was going to bring the military police here, did Madari have time to escape before they arrived? What if they’d already arrested Jahni? A few MPs arrest Jahni? Unlikely.

He wondered if he even had the will to try to escape. Shame paralysed him to have Rahama of all people confront him with this. Only Ahmed himself could have been worse.

“What do you think I’m going to do?” Rahama asked, sounding irritated. “I’m going to tell you it has to stop and I’m going to hope that nobody else has realised what is happening. If they have, you’re both finished. If it gets into the newspapers even the King won’t be able to protect you.”

Madari groaned and sat forward in his chair, head in his hands. Rahama was going to cover it up. Not something he hadn’t done before to protect Madari. But Madari never imagined he’d be prepared to do so over this!

“How can you even stand to look at me?” Madari whispered. All the guilt he’d felt over the last three weeks felt like mere pinpricks in comparison to this wave of shame and self-disgust.

“I’m not interested in passing moral judgement on you. I have too many other concerns to spare the time to worry about your soul. All I care about is that if we lose you and Jahni the war effort will be severely compromised. If we lose you in a scandal it will be even worse. The King will be damaged. It will be a gift to our enemies.”

Madari still couldn’t look up, but he hung on every word Rahama said. Looking for hope. Looking for some chance.

“You’re too important to lose. So it has to stop, so you can continue to fight.”

Madari sat up, pushing his hands through his hair, bitter rage displacing the shame. “Sometimes I wish we would lose this fight! Then we could be free of this burden of duty and just leave!”

“You’d be free, but our people would be slaves. Would you put your happiness ahead of that? Could you even be happy in those circumstances? Duty is not a burden for you, Faris. It never has been. You could never be happy if you failed to do your duty. And I’m sure Kahil feels the same way.”

Did he? Madari wasn’t so sure. Loyalty, not duty was Jahni’s primary motivation. Or had been. What motivated him now? What motivated Madari? Love? He’d let love motivate him before in a choice between love and principle and it had led him to allow a man to be tortured. Love could lead to destruction.

“Faris,” Rahama said, some of the coldness leaving his voice, sounding kinder, his old self again. “I know you’re suffering, and I’m starting to understand how much you’ve both been suffering for a long time. But you have to be strong, for a little longer. Once this is over then you and Kahil will be free to go and do whatever you want, if God wills it.”

“If we’re alive,” Madari said, voice low and bitter.

“A soldier always has to add that caveat to any plans he makes for the future.”

“How will we know when it’s over? Losing, I can see that. But how will we know if we’ve won?”

“When the enemy is dead.” Rahama smiled. “I believe they teach that during the first week of basic training, Faris. I know it’s been a long time.”

“When Saifullah is dead, we’ll have won?”

“I’m not sure it will be that simple, but that will be an important part of it.”

“It will be the most important part! The movement carries his name. Without him, there’s no movement.”

“Followers of Marxism might dispute that.”

Madari snorted. “We already beat them.” He looked down at his fingernails. And paid the price for defiance. He’d already paid heavily for defying this enemy. But he wouldn’t give up this time either.

“When Saifullah is dead, we will be free.”

“Faris,” Rahama said, voice hushed now. “I must have an answer from you. And your promise. Will you stop? If you don’t…”

He left the rest unsaid, making Madari look at sharply at a man he called a friend, but knew to be powerful and far more ruthless than his manner would imply.

“If we don’t?”

“My first loyalty is to the King. I’ll protect him first against any threat.”

“I understand.”

“I hope so. And I’m sorry that it’s come to this. Give me your answer. Give me your word.”

How could he do it without speaking to Jahni first? But Rahama wouldn’t let him do that, probably fearing Jahni would persuade him to leave. He would force the choice from Madari now and force him to give his word. Use Madari’s own principles against him, because once Madari gave his word, that would be it. To break it would bring more shame even than the sin he was guilty of now.

It would serve Rahama damn well right if Madari said no, they would not stop and they would leave. If he was going to force Madari’s hand then it would serve him right to get an answer he didn’t want. But Rahama would have a plan for that eventuality. He always had a plan. Would Madari leave this house alive?

He shook that thought away. He couldn’t believe that his old friend would actually kill him. But he might have some other solution planned which Madari would not be happy with.

But he couldn’t do it! He couldn’t give up Jahni. After all these years of waiting, to be together for less than a month and then have it taken away and go back to longing and loneliness and being careful every minute of every day. It had driven Jahni close to madness and it had driven Madari deep inside himself, hiding his emotions behind barrier after barrier. A kind of madness there too. A cold and barren madness.

Three weeks of happiness. Was that all they got in exchange for a decade of pain? It wasn’t fair. His throat tightened and a sob burst from his chest. He buried his face in his hands.

“No. I can’t. I’m not strong enough. We’ll leave. It’s the only way.”

He looked up, almost expecting Rahama to be pointing a gun at him. Instead he saw only a mix of pity and sadness.

Rahama raised a hand. “No. You have to think about it for longer. I will give you an hour. But you will not leave this house without giving me an answer.”

“I just gave you…”

Rahama stood, Madari rose too, automatically, but didn’t follow when Rahama went to the door. It closed and Madari gasped to hear the click of the lock. Locked in! Rahama meant what he said. Madari had to make a choice before he left his house. Rage consumed him for an instant and he flew at the door, slapped it with the flat of his hand a couple of times.

“Let me out! I gave you my answer!”

When no reaction came he gave a furious cry and spun back to the room. A red mist he hadn’t seen in many years filled his vision. So many years of making logical decisions, of guarding himself from his emotions. All for nothing! He snatched up the jug of water from the table and hurled it to smash against the wall, a scream of rage torn from him, scattering across the room like the glass, water and ice.

He dropped to his knees, wanting to howl and pound the tiled floor until his hands bled, but instead slumped down almost lying on the floor, the despair and grief rushing back like a black tide. A tsunami of pain.

Oh god, so much pain. A year of pain. The pain of seeing Kahil suffer without being able to help. The pain of their estrangement. The pain of those six unending days he thought Jahni was dead in the desert. Dead because of Madari. He choked most of all on the pain for Sophia, still never really expressed, despite his tears over the last two months. Shame for his failure to protect his wife. Shame for failing to love her the way she deserved. Shame for marrying her for his own benefit and seeing her pay the price for his actions.

A year of pain washed from him in a flood of tears, barely able to breathe though the sobs that accompanied them. He thought he could drown in so much pain. So long since he’d felt any emotion this deeply.

No, that wasn’t true. Love. The last three weeks, the revival of that love for Jahni. The consummation of that. Their connection… that he had to sever. It didn’t matter that he told himself they would be together eventually. That they just had to finish this war. It didn’t matter because they might never do so. They might fight on for years. Or they might die and never have the chance to be together again.

Three weeks. He already knew—had known for over a decade—that three weeks could change him into a different man. Had three weeks of love left him as damaged as three weeks of torture once had?

He had to choose. He couldn’t leave this house until he made the choice. His body grew limp as the tears began to stop. He slid right down onto the floor, welcoming the cool tiles on his burning cheek. Burning. Broken. Destroyed.

He had to choose.


Jahni answered the buzzer and heard Madari’s hoarse voice.

“It’s me.”

He buzzed the door open and again waited at the door of the flat until Madari appeared. When he did, Jahni stared. Madari didn’t smile as he usually did when arriving these days. His uniform was creased, his hair looked hastily straightened and his face was pale, his eyes red.

“Faris, what’s happened?”

“We have to talk.”

“Yes we do.” Jahni let him in, expected a kiss when the door closed, but Madari just went on into the living room. Jahni following him.

“Where have you been?” Jahni asked. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you.”

“I was at Rahama’s.”

“Oh. Anything important? It’s just I have to tell you Raian’s reported back about the investigation.”

“He has?” Madari looked torn, then waved his hand. “Tell me.”

“They’ve traced the assassin’s movements for the last few months. Faris, he wasn’t in a terrorist cell here in the city. He only came to the city a week before the murder.”

“Where did he come from?”

“Nobody knows. He disappeared from his home a year ago and none of his friends or family have seen him since. He was a radical, a Saifullah sympathiser according to them.”

“He… he went to join one of the training groups out in the desert,” Madari said.

Why was his voice shaking so much? Nervousness gnawed a pit in Jahni’s stomach, as he began to fear whatever Madari had come here to tell him. He rushed on with his own news.

“That’s what they think. And I think it means no minor cell came up with the plan to murder Sophia and then simply asked Saifullah for authorisation. I think Saifullah or his inner circle must have come up with the idea and then sent the killer on a mission.”

Madari stared. “He ordered it himself. He personally ordered the death of my wife.” His voice was quiet, making Jahni even more nervous than a yell.

“Well we can’t be absolutely sure of course. But that seems the most likely scenario with the facts we have. Raian is still at Milintel, but I’m not sure how much more good he can do for us now.”

Madari nodded. His voice lost the tremor, became crisper. “Pull him out. He’s more use back with his squad.”

“Right. Can you tell me about your meeting with Rahama, or is it need to know?”

Madari actually laughed at that, though a bitter and somewhat disturbing laugh.

“Need to know. Yes. But you need to know. He knows.”

Jahni looked at him blankly, unable to figure that out. “Ah, can you clarify?”

“He knows about us.”

Jahni stopped breathing, for what felt like an hour.

“Us,” he said in a flat voice when he started breathing again.

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes. It wasn’t a question. Then why are you here? I mean, why are we both here and not in the stockade?”

“He’s my friend, so he’s giving me a…” He stopped, looking confused for a moment. “A chance. He’s giving me a chance.”

“He’s protecting us?”

“Yes. But you must know what the condition is.”

No, oh no. He couldn’t take it. Not after they finally found each other again, here in their own secret paradise.

“No! I won’t give you up! That’s what he wants, isn’t it?”

“You know what the only alternative is.”

“Yes I do!” He marched to where his uniform jacket hung up in the hall, carried it back to the living room and took his passport out of the pocket. “I made this choice three weeks ago.”

Madari reached into his own pocket and took out his passport. “I know. So did I. But that was if our enemies found us out. Not someone who would keep it secret. We can stay. We can finish our work.”

“Work! Haven’t we worked hard enough? Haven’t we both lost enough? What more do we owe this country?”

“Our lives.”

Jahni snorted in disgust. “It’s had those! It’s sucked the lifeblood out of us both and given us nothing but pain in return. I’ve only stayed here for you, Faris. Not for the country, or the King.”

“That’s not what you said when you came back from Australia.”

“I was trying to hurt you.”


“We’re not the only people who can fight. We could die tomorrow and the fight would go on.” Murdock had been standing almost exactly where Madari was now when he talked about not believing yourself to be indispensible. But it didn’t apply. Murdock was a brilliant pilot, but he was in the end only one more pilot. Madari especially was too prominent now for the King to lose.

“I have to avenge Sophia,” Madari said. “I’m sorry. I know it sounds as if I’m choosing her over you again, but I have to, however much I want to be with you. What you’ve just told me, that Saifullah himself may have ordered her death, it makes a difference. I asked Sharif tonight what winning would mean. Because when he win, we can be free.”

“What did he say?”

“When our enemies are dead. That’s my condition, Kahil. I will never be free while that man lives. If you want to stay and help me kill him, then you stand at my side, and I’ll never stop loving you. But you can’t share my bed.”

Kill Saifullah and they are free. A simple equation, if difficult to achieve. But nobody was in a better position to achieve it than them. And all they had to do to be allowed to stay and have the chance to do it was not go to bed with each other.

He could do it. He’d spent eleven years not going to bed with Madari. He could do it for a little longer. How much crazier could he go anyway?

“Can I… kiss you once more?”

Madari smiled at the request. “I insist.”

They stepped close to each other, a strange awkwardness taking them for a moment, until their eyes closed and their lips touched. Then the new intimacy they’d formed these last weeks took over. The kiss was familiar and new every time now. Different from all those mad kisses torn from them in moments of desperation over the years. Different from the soft, chaste kisses in the dream-state in Zaire. The kiss of people who could truly call themselves lovers now, in all the senses they had longed for.

They had to stop as passions rose, breathing quickened, heat flushed their skin. Because they’d made that choice. They had to keep their word.

“I hope you’ll think of that sometimes,” Jahni said. “As a little motivator.”

“I hardly need that. But yes, I will think of it. Kahil, I swear, we will be free. We’ve waited so long, but we will be free, when he’s dead.”

Bring death to earn freedom. Not only for themselves of course, all the people who’d be oppressed by the dictatorship Saifullah would bring. He and Madari had the choice to escape. Most of the people didn’t. Jahni would be ashamed of himself if he left, whatever he said about the country.

“When he’s dead,” Jahni said. He could imagine saying it as a mantra. A prayer. “When he’s dead.”


Madari stopped in the small courtyard of Jahni’s apartment building. He called Rahama’s number on his mobile phone.

“It’s Faris,” he said when Rahama answered. His voice stayed quite calm, but he had to fight to keep it that way. “I called to say, thank you for the… head start. But I changed my mind. I’m staying. And I give you my word.”

“Faris, I need to—”

“I don’t wish to discuss it any further.” He ended the call.

Madari went home. Alone. As he drove the words circled in his mind.

When he’s dead.