Part 39: Delayed Dream

Chapter 1

“We have to go to Yemen.”

“Good morning to you too, Murdock.”

Murdock had been leaning on the bell for the last five minutes and Hannibal had groaned when he saw the time. 0510. Though Hannibal didn’t exactly sleep late, 0510 could be counted as a bit early even for him. He was supposed to be retired.

He rubbed his eyes. “Why do we have to go to…” Murdock’s words finally sank in and he became instantly more alert. “Is it Faris and Kahil? They’re in Yemen? They’re okay?” Probing his contacts in the intelligence business over the last few days hadn’t brought any definite news and Hannibal had begun to fear the worst.

“They’re alive.” A relieved grin broke out on Murdock’s face, before the serious look returned. “They’re in Sana’a in Yemen and they need our help. Faris was shot; he’s in surgery with a bad shoulder wound.” His hand moved to his own shoulder, maybe not even aware he was doing it, touching the place he’d been shot himself so long ago. “He’s expected to make it though.”

Hannibal’s mind raced ahead as he led Murdock to the kitchen and started setting up the coffee maker.


“He’s not hurt, but he’s exhausted. He…well he didn’t sound so good.”

“Are they safe?”

“No. Kahil says they’re only a few hours from the border and someone could easily come after them. He doesn’t have a weapon and he doesn’t think he can rely on the Yemeni police to protect them.”

“Then we have to get them out. As soon as Faris is fit to travel.”

“We’ll need visas.”

“Leave that to me. I’ll make some calls. I’ll call BA too. You call Face and have him get us a plane. Scam it if he has to. We sure don’t have the money to hire one.”

Murdock grinned. “Just like the old days, huh, Colonel?”

“Yeah.” Okay, he probably wouldn’t have to scam it. Face had friends with private jets; he’d persuade someone to loan them one. But he’d have to do some fast talking all the same. Just like the old days.

“Face is gonna love me calling him at this time of the morning.”

“He sleeps too late anyway.” Hannibal scooped ground coffee into the filter. “It’ll do him good to get up at a decent hour.”

“Yeah, I’m told he’s sometimes still in bed at six. What the hell is that about?”

Hannibal smiled grimly. “It’s called getting soft. Go sic him, Murdock. Remember we’ll be transporting a casualty. We might need space to lay him down.”

“Okay.” Murdock rose. “I’ll call you if I get any more news from Kahil.”

“See if he can give you an estimate of soon Faris will to be able to travel.”

“Wilco. Speaking of that; maybe it would be a good idea to take a doctor along.”

Hannibal froze in the act of pouring water into the coffee maker’s tank.

“I know you and Maggie have been kind of cooled off lately, but…”

She’d go; Hannibal knew that, for the sake of their friends. But did he want her to? Murdock was right; they’d had a bit of a cooling off. They didn’t have to take her—they knew other doctors. But none he’d trust in this situation the way he trusted her.

“I could call her if you like.”

Murdock’s words stung Hannibal. They implied he was scared of calling her. Ridiculous!

“I’ll call her.”


Madari could smell cigar smoke. No, not quite, more the smell of it lingering on clothes. It reminded him of his grandfather and for a moment, as he hovered between sleeping and waking, he was back there. Sitting on the old man’s knee his small fingers tracing buttons, braid and decorations. When he rested his head against Ahmed’s chest he smelled the smoke trapped in the uniform. It made him feel safe.

Then and now. He opened his eyes. Someone sat at his bedside in the dim room, but he wasn’t frightened.


A throaty chuckle and a voice, in English. “No. Are you awake? It’s me, Hannibal.”

Madari tried to shake away the mists of sleep, but the heavy doses of painkilling drugs in his system kept him from fully escaping the haze. Hannibal might be as imaginary as Ahmed. Not dead, but surely thousands of miles away. No wait, Jahni had said something during one of the earlier times Madari had been closer to waking than to sleeping. He’d said he’d called Murdock for help.

Madari reached out to Hannibal who took the hand. The reality of the warm rough hand in his own brought the world into focus.

“You’re really here?”

“We’re really here.”


“BA is just outside. Face and Murdock are at the airport with the place.”


“Nice little jet Face borrowed from some producer friend. We’re getting you out as soon as you’re fit to travel. It isn’t safe here and the sooner we get you and Kahil to LA, the better.”

“Where is Kahil?”

“Just outside. Face dragged him off earlier to get cleaned up and eat a proper meal. But he hasn’t left since.”

“He needs rest.”

“I know. He’s sleeping right now. BA’s on guard.”

“Good. Good.” He moved up on the pillows a bit and groaned, but his head was clearing every moment. Hannibal poured him some water and put the glass into his good hand.

“How’s the pain?”

“The drugs are quite effective.”

They’d been so effective when he first woke after surgery that the total lack of feeling in his right arm had brought him close to panic, terrified they’d cut it off. The pain eventually came back to convince him it was still there, though strapped against his body to stabilise his shoulder.

“I think Kahil exaggerates the danger,” he said. “The Yemeni police are taking care of us. And I’m in a hospital here. What can happen?”

“First off, I’ve seen no sign of anybody but us or Kahil on guard since we arrived. Second, do I have to remind you how Svidler snatched Face right out of a hospital full of armed guards?”

Madari went silent, bit his lip. Hannibal looked thoughtful himself. “Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?”

“Indeed. You came after us to help us then, I can only say thank you for doing the same again.”

“You’ve earned a couple of favours in the meantime. Now, the plane will be ready soon. You’ve both still got current visas for the US. The only question left is when will they let you out of here?”

“I’m a little weak, but I’m out of danger. The doctors said so.” Madari put on an expression made more of determination than real strength. “So I can leave.”

“If you were okay to leave you wouldn’t still be here,” Hannibal pointed out. “But, as it happens, I brought along a doctor to take care of you on the plane.”

“Doctor Sullivan?”

“Yeah. She’s the only one we could get to come along for free.”


The doctors objected of course. Hannibal sent Jahni to find a doctor and meanwhile he helped Madari into outdoor clothes. He was so weak Hannibal began to doubt the wisdom of this idea. Maybe they should wait until morning or call the plane to have Maggie come here and help them transport him.

But by the time Madari, Jahni and the doctor had finished arguing and the ticked-off looking doctor had handed Madari a paper to sign, Hannibal had talked himself back into it. It wouldn’t take long to get to the airport. They gathered up the few belongings Madari and Jahni had and found a wheelchair. Depositing Madari in that, they left the ward, stealing his medical notes from the nurses’ station as they passed.

Hannibal glanced at BA and Jahni and they spread out, BA taking point and Jahni rearguard, watching for anyone suspicious as they navigated the corridors. What the hell they would do if they met anyone suspicious Hannibal didn’t know, since none of them had guns. But something would come to him.

“How you doing?” Hannibal said, leaning over the handles of the wheelchair as he pushed it into the parking lot. Madari had been quiet for the last few minutes, responding to questions with little more than a grunt. He’d talked big while lying in bed, but Hannibal could tell moving around was proving difficult for him.

“Fine.” The monosyllable came out in a gasp, and Hannibal touched him briefly on his good shoulder.

“You’re doing great. Just hang on. Okay, here’s the car. Kahil, help me get him in the back. BA, you’re driving.”

A couple of minutes out of the parking lot Hannibal began to regret this again. Madari was grey-faced and shaking, sweat glistening on his forehead. Only having Jahni at his side seemed to be keeping him upright. Hannibal found the ride bumpy enough himself, Madari must be in agony.

“Be there soon,” he said. Repeated in fact, having said it every couple of minutes since they left the hospital. BA caught his eye, his dubious expression telling Hannibal what he thought of this dumb idea. Nobody answered. Hannibal thought he might only be talking to himself anyway.

A horrible forty-five minutes later he pushed the wheelchair they’d borrowed at the airport into the hanger where a good-sized private jet awaited them.

“Ahoy!” Hannibal shouted into the plane. “You guys paying attention?”

“Of course we are.”

Face’s voice came from above. He stood up there on a catwalk that gave access to the hanger’s lights and windows. He had a pistol and a smug look. “Always cover your escape route, you taught me.”

“Sure did. Come down, Face. We need to get out of here fast.”

“We’ve got a takeoff slot in fifteen minutes,” Murdock said appearing at the plane’s open door. Maggie hurried past him.

“Did you bring his medical notes?” she asked, bending over Madari.

“We’ve got the notes,” Hannibal said. “But they’re in Arabic.”

“I’ll translate,” Jahni said. Maggie didn’t look too happy, but she’d have to lump it. They’d brought the notes as she’d asked them to, she must have known they wouldn’t be in English.

“The sooner you get him on board the better,” Murdock said. “If we lose this slot we might not get another one for hours.”

“Let me check him first,” Maggie said. She had a stethoscope and, with a practiced hand, undid a couple of shirt buttons and pressed it to his chest. “His heartbeat’s elevated.”

“I’m alright,” Madari said, his weak, shaking voice belying his words.

“Can we move him?” Hannibal asked Maggie and she stepped back, nodding. “Face, get aboard, get the seat ready for him. Murdock, cockpit. Warm her up. BA, Kahil, let’s lift him.”

Madari cried out as they lifted him from the chair right at the foot of the steps. Hannibal’s own heart raced in reaction to the cry and he heard Jahni groan. There was wildness in the sound. Panic. BA had the most practical reaction. In one quick movement he scooped Madari up in his arms, took the steps fast and went in the door sideways. By the time Hannibal caught up BA had Madari sitting in the seat nearest to the door.

Hannibal bit his lip and started second guessing this decision again. Madari was panting. His eyes had terror in them which Hannibal recognised as the fear of death that comes when the pain is bad enough.

“Faris,” Maggie said, appearing at his side with an oxygen mask. “Breathe deep now.” She placed the mask over his face and it fogged up with his panting breaths. “He’s hyperventilating. Kahil, help me. Calm him down.”

Jahni knelt in the next seat and leaned close to Madari, speaking in his ear, stroking his hair. His voice became a soft, almost hypnotic drone.

“Breathe slowly,” Maggie said, kneeling by the seat and taking Madari’s hand. Their efforts had an effect. His breathing started to slow. The panic vanished from his eyes.

“Can we take off?” Face asked, securing the door.

“Maggie?” Hannibal said.

“He’s weaker than I expected. When you called to say they’d released him…” She stopped and turned a scowl on Hannibal. “Oh, don’t tell me you had him sign out against medical advice.”

“He insisted he’s okay.”

“Well of course he did. Damn men. You’re all the same.”

“Hannibal,” Face said. “Murdock wants to know if we’re taking off. He just got permission to taxi to the runway. If we lose the slot…” He stopped when Hannibal raised his hand.

“Bottom line, Maggie. Should we take him back to the hospital?”

“No!” Jahni cried. “It isn’t safe!”

“He’s right,” BA said. “Too many people around and we got no weapons.”

Hannibal nodded. “I agree. But it’s your call, Maggie. If we take off, could he die on the journey?”

She frowned, but shook her head. “No. He’s stable.”

“Then we’re going. Murdock! We’re going. Everybody strap in.”

Face went back to the cockpit. BA took a seat. Maggie gave Madari an injection before sitting beside Hannibal as the plane started to taxi.

“This won’t be a pleasant trip,” she said quietly as she fastened her seatbelt. “He’s in severe pain.”

Hannibal glanced over to where Madari sat with his head lolling. Jahni was strapped into the seat beside him holding his hand.

“Can’t you just keep him out the whole time?”

“No, I can’t risk trying to keep him unconscious for so long, not without monitors for his breathing and heartbeat.”

“Then it’s going to be an unpleasant trip. But he knew that and chose it over being murdered in his hospital bed. I know you’ll do your best for him. Sorry to put you on the spot and make it your call.”

She rolled her eyes. “John, I was just about to say thank you for making it my call.”

“Oh, well, you’re welcome.”

Hannibal decided he was too old to start trying to understand women now.


“Wake up, Faris. Brought you some breakfast.”

Madari blinked awake, with no idea where he was. It took him a second to recognise Hannibal standing by his bed. But a look around the room didn’t tell him much about the location of this bed. A bedroom. American looking.

“Where am I?”

Hannibal grinned. “It’s years since I heard anyone actually say that. You’re in my guest bedroom. Think you can sit up?”

After some painful manoeuvring with Hannibal’s help Madari was sitting up well enough to hold a glass of orange juice and drink it with minimal spillage onto his bare chest.

“Hannibal, I can’t remember how I got here.” Flashes started to come back, of a taxi ride and then a plane. Maggie Sullivan taking care of him. After that it became a pain-filled blur.

“You’ve been pretty out of it since we took off from Yemen. I’ve got some oatmeal here. Can you manage or do you need me to feed you?”

Madari’s pride rebelled at this idea. “If you hold the bowl and give me the spoon I can manage.”

“Okay. We landed at LAX and you and Kahil claimed political asylum.”

“We did?”

“Yeah. They asked a lot of questions, but your visas are good, and Maggie kept hassling them, so they processed you through eventually.”

“I can’t remember any of it. Where’s Kahil now?”

“Sleeping.” Hannibal jerked a thumb back over his shoulder. “In my bedroom. I spent the night on the couch.”

“I’m sorry. We are so much trouble.”

“Forget it. You’ve got a roof here as long as you need it. Though the kid’s getting the couch tonight! Now eat your oatmeal, it’s good for you.”

Madari managed about half a bowl of it before falling back exhausted.

“Tea.” Hannibal handed over a cup. “I know you prefer coffee, but invalids get tea.”

Madari winced at the characterisation. But while he had to do everything one handed, he was stuck with it.

“You were out cold by the time we got back here,” Hannibal said, resuming the story of the last day. “We had to carry you in. My doctor is coming over later to check you out and see if you can get that arm into a sling instead of being wrapped up like a mummy.”

“Your doctor? Maggie was there. I remember that.”

“Yeah, she had to go back to Bad Rock.”

“I didn’t have a chance to thank her for coming.”

“Kahil thanked her enough for five men.” Hannibal sipped a cup of what Madari could smell was coffee. He had to stick with his weak invalid’s tea.

“Is Kahil all right?”

“Just tired. I’ll let him sleep for a few hours yet. Meanwhile, I’m going to start making some calls. You’ll need an immigration lawyer.”

“Immigration…” The word hit him like cold water in the face. It had a certain permanence, unlike ‘asylum’. Of course he and Jahni had talked about leaving and Madari knew if they had done so they would probably never have been able to return home. But now he was in America and he couldn’t even remember leaving his homeland. Jahni’s story about Raslan flying them out sounded too outrageous to be true. The whole thing had an unreal flavour about it. Until he heard that word.


“It will all take months,” Hannibal said. “Even years. But you’ll be okay. I’ve got some friends in high places who…” He stopped and grinned. “Would probably like to never hear from me again actually.”

“Thank you, I…you’re a good friend, Hannibal.” He turned away as his voice choked off.

“You okay?” Hannibal’s voice went soft.

“I’m sorry. Too much to take in. Too much…everything.”

“Yeah.” Hannibal’s hand rested over his for a moment. “Just rest now. You don’t have to think about any of this for a while yet.”

A toilet flushed elsewhere in the house and Hannibal stood and collected the tray.

“Sounds like my other house guest is up. I’ll get some food and water into him then let him come in for a minute. That okay with you?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Madari appreciated the few minutes to compose himself. Jahni didn’t need to see him distressed as well as weak. He’d gone through enough distress himself the last few days.

He’d started to doze off when the door opened and he heard Jahni’s voice.


“I’m awake,” Madari said, opening his eyes and smiling. “Come in.”

Jahni came in, bare feet silent on the carpet. “Are you feeling better?”

“The pain isn’t so bad now.”

“Good. Hannibal said you don’t remember much about the journey here. Is there anything you need me to tell you?”

“Just the latest news from home.”

“Right.” Jahni sat by the bed and reached one hand out abruptly, almost as if for a shake.

Madari reached across with his good hand to res it in Jahni’s, the position somewhat awkward. He must feel inhibited, as Madari did, by being in Hannibal’s house. Their host would probably knock rather than barge in, but better to be discreet.

“Well, what news?” Madari prompted

“The so-called interim government has declared a curfew and the police are enforcing it, with backup from Army units. That can’t only be sympathisers and infiltrators. The police and Army must have seen the writing on the wall. Saifullah’s already started drawing up plans for the imposition of Sharia law.”

It was his worst fears come true. The country he grew up in would be gone. Saifullah’s plans went beyond Sharia law. Qumar’s cultural life would be decimated, anything deemed “un-Islamic” banned. The expressions of other religions would be attacked or even outlawed. Foreigners would no longer be welcome. He knew now he’d made the right choice when he took Sophia home to Italy to lay her to rest.

“What about the Royal Guard? Your unit? Our friends?”

“Phone lines are open again. I’m going to try to find out as much as I can about all of our men, and our friends. I…I don’t think there can be any good news about the Royal Guard though, and especially not my unit.” His voice choked off. Madari squeezed his hand.

“I’m sorry. You worked so hard. To have it all taken away like this…”

“I should have…” Jahni stopped. “Nothing. No. There’s nothing I could have done.”

He didn’t look at Madari, looked at the floor, perhaps ashamed to show the depth of his emotion. But Madari wouldn’t think less of him for any tears now.

“I, ah, I told you I already talked to Alex, didn’t I?” Jahni said, looking up, face still strained but composed again.

“Yes.” He’d done that a couple of days ago in Yemen. “I’ll have to talk to her too.”

“When you’re stronger.”

Madari didn’t argue. He should talk to her as soon as he could, it was his duty, but he knew it would be unpleasant.

“Raian’s family?”

“She said she’d call them. But I will too.”

There were too many families to speak to all of them. So many who might still not know their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers lay dead. But Raian died in Madari’s arms. Madari had to speak to his father and to Alex, to tell her how he called her name at the end.

He gasped slightly when Jahni leaned forward suddenly and brushed his thumb over Madari’s cheek, to catch a tear Madari hadn’t noticed escape him. He gave a weak smile as Jahni sat again. “I’m sorry. So weak still.”

“It’s okay. You really need a shave by the way.”

Madari rubbed his cheek, feeling several days’ worth of bristles. They itched now he thought of them.

“I’d better see if I can get an electric razor. I can’t use a blade with my left hand.”

“I could do it for you.”

He made the offer in a casual tone but Madari tensed at the words. Such an intimate act would be too intense for him to deal with now. It would force him to think about the future. About them.

Immigration. The word came back to him again with its permanence. Was this their life now? Could Saifullah hold on to the power he’d seized? If he didn’t, then America might be no more than a temporary refuge rather than a permanent exile. They might still go home.

“No,” he said, belatedly answering Jahni’s offer of a shave. “Thank you, but you still look exhausted yourself. If I need help I’m sure Hannibal will lend a hand.”

“Of course.” The tone was still casual, but Jahni sat back in the chair and his hand slipped out of Madari’s.


Two days later Madari got up for more than a bathroom visit for the first time. He supported his right arm in a sling now instead of strapped against his body. The doctor had authorised the sling “as long as you’re careful”.

He grumbled as he chased scrambled eggs around his plate at the breakfast table, finding it impossible to make the eggs stay on the fork working one handed.

“Scoop ‘em up,” Hannibal said. “Use it like a spoon.”

“Wouldn’t a spoon be better then?”

Hannibal chuckled at the irritated tone. “Good point. Hang on, I’ll get one.” He left the table before Madari could protest that he didn’t want to put him to any trouble.

As Hannibal left Jahni came in. He’d already finished his breakfast and gone off looking serious to make more phone calls. He’d spent a lot of the last couple of days on the phone, trying to track down news of their friends and the men under their command. The last report he’d brought had been good news—late the night before he’d spoken to Sijad, in Cyprus of all places. But Sijad could bring little good news about the fate of the rest of the men who’d been at the airport. They’d been scattered and forced to flee before they reached their secondary positions after Jahni ordered the retreat.

It explained how he and Jahni had ended up alone and fleeing for the border, Madari supposed. He’d have to ask Jahni for more details eventually. He seemed reluctant to talk about that night, perhaps ashamed of having to retreat, of failing to hold the airport as ordered.

But if Jahni had more news this morning his face told Madari it wasn’t good news.


“It’s bad. It’s Rahama.”

He didn’t have to say the rest. Madari knew. Not hearing anything about Rahama for almost a week had prepared him for the worst, but still it came as a shock to have his fears confirmed.


“I don’t know for sure,” Jahni said. “He was killed at the defence ministry. Admiral Elmi too.”

Madari scowled. “And yet not Kotekar.” They’d seen the Air Marshall on the news reports, standing with members of the new government. “I feel sure now that he has not merely switched sides in reaction to events. The man is a traitor! “

His voice rose with both anger and hysteria in it. Anger was a shield from the grief for Rahama. He couldn’t break down. He had to regain his strength, and not only his physical strength. But when Jahni came to sit by him and put an arm around him, the grief and shock were too strong. His throat tightened and he hid his eyes with a hand. Jahni was close, so close, spoke softly into his ear and his lips actually brushed Madari’s temple.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“I should have made up my quarrel with him. He died believing I was still angry with him.” But Madari had still been angry, he couldn’t deny that. Bitter at the choice Rahama had forced on him.

“Everything okay?” Hannibal’s voice from the doorway. Madari didn’t look up.

“We just found out Rahama is dead,” Jahni said.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He had genuine sympathy and regret in his voice. He and Rahama had got along well. “I’ll make another pot of coffee.” The door closed again, giving them their privacy.

“He never condemned me,” Madari said quietly, seeing some of the details of that night almost a year ago differently now. “He even seemed to sympathise with my—with our—suffering. He made us stop because of the cause, and the king. But he never told me I was a sinner and would go to hell.”

“He was always an unconventional thinker.”

“But that, of all things, I still can’t believe he didn’t despise me for it.”

“Not everyone follows what their religion says even if they are a believer. He probably thought there are worse sins.” Jahni’s hand still rested on Madari’s shoulder. His thumb stroked back and forth. “Faris.” He spoke quietly, though Hannibal couldn’t possibly hear them from the kitchen. “I know you’re still weak from your injury, and there are so many practical problems to work out. But what about us?”

“Us?” Madari echoed the word back, but only buying time. He knew what Jahni meant. He knew he had to face making a decision about ‘us’. But he feared it. The decision would be an irrevocable one. Take that step and even if Saifullah’s government fell within a month they would be exiles forever.

“You know what I mean.” Jahni’s voice went even softer.

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry. I just don’t feel ready to discuss, ah, us, yet. Not here, with other people around. I’m still coming to terms with it all.”

“Oh, of course.” Jahni’s gaze dropped to the floor. His thumb stopped its stroking motion and his hand moved away. He had come to terms, Madari knew. Perhaps at the very moment they crossed the border Jahni had known he’d never go home again. But Madari couldn’t make that leap. Not yet.

“In a few days we’ll talk,” Madari promised. “Make plans. In the meantime, there’s still a lot to be done, a lot to find out.”

“Yes. I have some more phone calls to make,” Jahni said, reviving, but more closed off and distant now. “I’m going to track down all the men from my unit even if it takes me a month!”

“Some of them might still be in the country,” Madari said. “Perhaps they’ll even do as we did all those years ago. Form a guerrilla unit,” he clarified when Jahni looked at him puzzled.

The puzzlement turned to alarm on Jahni’s face then. “Oh, no! That would…I don’t want to see that!”

“Why not? You could even—”

“It would be a waste! Such highly trained men shouldn’t be forced to fight in those terrible conditions with inadequate weapons and equipment. Enough of them have died needlessly already! I don’t want to see more of them…” He stopped, calming himself when his voice started to rise loud enough that Hannibal must have heard it. “I’m sorry; I just don’t think it’s a good idea. I’d rather see them all escape.”

“I understand, of course,” Madari said, though the depth of Jahni’s emotion did puzzle him. He’d struck a nerve somehow. Had Jahni’s own experiences as a guerrilla made him vow never to let men he commanded be forced to fight like that?

“Well, good luck with your phone calls. Tell me if you need my help.”

“I don’t. You just need to rest.”

Jahni and Hannibal had been strict about not allowing Madari to make many telephone calls, following the doctor’s orders about rest and no excitement. Though Madari had insisted on talking to Clive Drummond and Kibibi, that had been the only concession. Jahni didn’t even allow him to speak to Karen Bennett, though he’d called her himself to let her know they were safe. And he still wouldn’t let Madari talk to Alex Black. He said she wasn’t answering at her number in Dubai anyway and her agency had told him she’d taken some time off.

Madari would talk to her eventually. He owed it to her.

Chapter 2

After a week at Hannibal’s Madari decided to make a request of his host. He took the opportunity while attempting to help Hannibal prepare dinner for a small party—the rest of the team and Maggie Sullivan would arrive soon.

“Hannibal.” He glanced at the door, hearing the distant clink of silverware as Jahni laid the dining room table. “I wondered if you would ask Murdock if Kahil can stay with him for a while.”

Hannibal looked at him surprised. “You sure?”

“Yes. It’s not fair on you to have both of us here, since you only have the one guest room. And it can’t be doing him any good sleeping on the couch. I know I’ve needed help dressing and getting around, but I can manage better now, I don’t need him here all of the time. He’s good friends with Murdock and Murdock lives only a few miles away.”

It all sounded quite reasonable. It was reasonable. Hannibal shouldn’t have to have the two of them under his feet. Of course they could start looking for their own place to stay, but that would mean too many choices to make. Ones Madari wasn’t ready to deal with yet. This delayed those choices for a while.

“It is kind of close quarters here with the three of us,” Hannibal agreed. “Why do you want me to ask though?”

“I don’t know Murdock as well as I know you. I just thought it might be better coming from you.” He couldn’t say that Murdock knew too much and might ask some awkward questions.

“Okay. You want me to ask him tonight?”


And Madari would talk to Jahni. He hadn’t discussed this with him yet, but didn’t tell Hannibal that, knowing it might provoke questions.

Did he deliberately wait until the rest of the guests arrived before talking to Jahni? Until he saw Hannibal talking to Murdock and then giving Madari a small nod. Yes, perhaps he did, but for no ulterior motive. It wasn’t that he waited until there were other people around to keep Jahni from starting an argument about it. No, it was perfectly reasonable that he should wait until Murdock had made it clear he’d be happy for Jahni to stay.

Though going by the frown on his face ‘happy’ might not be the best word.

But he had to face it now, before Murdock said something to Jahni. Madari nodded to Jahni to beckon him over and suggested they go and chat on the stoop outside. Jahni looked pleased with that idea and led the way, turning back to make sure Madari didn’t stumble on the doorstep.

They stood by the rail and Jahni sipped the tall drink he carried. He smiled as the breeze ruffled his hair. Madari understood his pleasure. The Californian night had a much more delicious coolness than the chill of night in the deep desert. Cool and fragrant with the scent of night-blooming flowers.

“Kahil, we need to talk.”

“Yes.” Satisfaction in his voice. An invitation to go on. And Madari felt guilty suddenly, realising what Jahni expected or wanted to hear.

“I want you to go and stay with Murdock for a while.”

Jahni’s face went still. Like a freeze frame in a film. Madari hurried on.

“It isn’t fair to Hannibal to have both of us under his feet. Murdock has a spare room and you get on well with him.”

“You want me to leave.”

“No, not… exactly. I just think it’s best for now, until we sort out something more permanent. It’s only a few miles away.”

“More permanent.” Some hope came into his face then, but wariness too. “What permanent arrangements are you thinking about?”

“We have to wait for the lawyers to sort things out first. Then we can decide.” He couldn’t look Jahni in the eye then, knew he was prevaricating. So he leaned a hand on the rail of the stoop and watched the almost deserted street. A taxicab prowled along slowly.

“Faris, I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“I’m perfectly safe here. This house has excellent security.”

Jahni stared at him and turned away. “Of course. Security. That’s what I meant. What else could I possibly have—” His voice was starting to rise, but it cut off suddenly.

The taxicab had stopped at the end of Hannibal’s drive and a moment later a woman stepped out of it. Madari glanced over thinking it must be Maggie Sullivan arriving for dinner, though surprised she would arrive in a cab.

It wasn’t Maggie.



She was much changed, Madari thought. Her face thinner, her hair cropped shorter than usual, giving her a mannish appearance which her clothes—hardwearing denims, plain shirt and boots—did little to dispel. She wore no makeup or jewellery. Dark circles under her eyes made them deep and stark against her pale skin.

She accepted only coffee from Hannibal, no alcohol, when Madari and Jahni took her inside and introduced her to the team. They all treated her as if she were something half broken already, the first time Madari had seen anyone react that way to her. But he understood why. She might look masculine at the moment, but by no means tough. She looked…fragile.

“Stay for dinner, Miss Black?” Hannibal said. “We’ve got plenty.”

“He always makes too much,” Face said, giving her a smile very different from the one he used to charm women. A much gentler one Madari had only seen him give to children.

“Thanks,” she said. “I…maybe. I came straight from the airport.” She’d been carrying a backpack with her. It stood by the front door now.

“That settles it,” BA said. “You gotta stay. Airplane food ain’t real food.”

She nodded her acceptance. Madari understood their urge to feed her. She had to have lost ten pounds from her already lean frame since he last saw her. He could see it in her face and had felt it when he and Jahni had both embraced her outside on the stoop.

None of them had spoken as she walked up the path and climbed the steps onto the stoop. But Jahni stepped forward and embraced her tightly; reminding Madari of that day she walked into his office when they thought her dead with Sophia. This time they were the ones who ‘should’ have been dead, yet it was still Jahni who initiated the embrace.

The team left them alone to talk then, going through to the dining room. “Food will be ready in fifteen minutes,” Hannibal said as he left.

Fifteen minutes to talk to a woman about how her lover died. Not enough time, or too long?

“Alex,” Madari said when they were alone. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to come to see you. That was my duty. But as you see, I was injured.”

“I understand.”

“And we’re pretty much stuck the US right now,” Jahni said.

“Yes, until I’m recovered.”

Jahni frowned at him. “We can’t leave and come back I meant. Not while we’re waiting for the asylum claim to come through.”

“Yes, that too,” Madari said.

“It’s okay. I know you had a hard time just getting out yourself. But I…just wanted to see you both. Sir,” she said to Madari, then amended it, as he’d given her permission to when they said goodbye before. “Faris. Kahil said you were with Isma’il. I just had to hear about it from you.”

“Of course. I was with him after we were both shot.”

“By one of these infiltrators,” she said. “Traitors in your own ranks.”

Madari winced at the thought of it. “Yes. He opened fire on a group of officers, killing most of them outright.”

“I killed him.” They both turned to look at Jahni. “I, ah, didn’t mention that to you before, Alex. But I want you to know, the man who murdered Raian is dead.”

“How did you kill him?” she asked.

“I shot him in the head.”

For a second Madari thought she’d ask him to describe it. Her eyes gleamed when Jahni said it. But she just nodded.

“Thank you, Kahil. I appreciate that.”

Had he been thinking of Raian and the others when he shot the man, Madari wondered, or only that the traitor might have killed Madari too? No that was unfair. Jahni was loyal to his men, his fellow officers and his friends. They’d all have been in his mind when he executed that traitor.

“Isma’il spoke your name at the end,” Madari said, his voice softer, wanting to turn them away from the grisly subject of Jahni’s retaliation against the killer. “He called for you.”

“Was he in pain?”

He had to have been, Madari thought, but she didn’t need to hear that.

“I don’t think there was time for him to suffer, my dear. It was only a moment. His injuries were…almost instantly fatal.”

He wasn’t sure if he expected her to cry. He’d hold her and comfort her if she did. But she didn’t cry. Perhaps she’d already done all her crying or she wasn’t the crying kind. She nodded again.

“Thank you. I needed to hear it from you.”

“I hope it’s some comfort to you.”

“Yes. Thank you.” Her voice stayed quite calm and neutral and he had to admire her self-control—so unusual in a woman. Even more unusual in a woman who’d lost the man she’d hoped to marry.

The sound of the doorbell made them look up. It must be Maggie this time. Madari heard someone answering it, heard Maggie’s voice, and then turned back to Alex.

“You must call on me for help any time, Alex.”

She shook her head. “Thanks, but you have no obligation to me.”

“You’re my friend.”

“Our friend,” Jahni added quickly.

“Yes. Both of us. I don’t just mean-ah-practical help, but anything we can do for you.”

She probably didn’t need any practical help; she earned her own living and had a supportive family. If she’d already married Raian she’d have been able to call on his family for help too of course, but now they had no obligations to her.

“Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate it.”

“What are your plans now?” Jahni asked. “Are you staying in LA?”

She shrugged. “I planned to come here to see you two and then… Nothing really. Perhaps I’ll take a road trip.”

“You should stay in LA,” Jahni said, frowning about this ‘road trip’.

“Or maybe you should go and stay with your family for a while,” Madari said, worrying, as Jahni seemed to be, about the idea of her being alone when she seemed so fragile.

She shrugged. “Home is the one place that when you have to go there they have to let you in, eh?”

“Not our home,” Jahni said. “Not anymore.”

Alex looked chagrined. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Jahni said. “I guess this is home now.” He looked at Madari. “Isn’t that right?”

His eyes held a challenge that puzzled Madari.

“Yes,” Madari said. “This is home. For now.”

For now.

Jahni turned and walked out of the living room as Hannibal called to them that dinner was ready.


Madari rose the next morning to the scent of coffee and toast. Almost nine. He slept ridiculously late nowadays, especially when he’d gone to bed at barely ten o’clock the night before, almost straight after dinner. Not only to sleep, but to brood over Alex and worry for her future.

He would eat first he decided, since it smelled like Hannibal had breakfast ready. Then bathe, since that was still a tiresome job, trying to keep the dressing on his shoulder dry. He put on his bathrobe and walked into the dining room, covering a yawn.

“Good morning, Faris.”

It wasn’t Hannibal who greeted him, but Maggie Sullivan. Madari stopped dead.

“Ah, Doctor. Hello. I didn’t… You stayed over.” And then he blushed furiously at his own words. “Excuse me.”

The belt of his robe was quite secure already, but he tightened it all the same and backed out of the room, muttering apologies and seeing her face change from surprise to amusement. Her amusement was understandable, he supposed. She was a doctor. The sight of his naked calves would hardly make her swoon. But he certainly couldn’t sit at the breakfast table with a lady while wearing nothing but a bathrobe.

As quickly as he could manage, he put on some clothes. He could use his right arm more than he’d been able to before, though there were limits to the movement without pain. Once respectably dressed—as respectable as sweat pants and a shirt declaring him to be a fan the Lakers could be called—he went back out to the dining room. Hannibal had joined Maggie now.

“I apologise again,” Madari said to her, taking a seat. “I didn’t realise you were here, or I’d never have come out of my room in a state of undress.”

She actually giggled in response to this and Hannibal went wide-eyed.

“What the hell’s been going on while I was making breakfast?”

“Oh, Faris was just walking around with barely a stitch on.”

“Doctor Sullivan, please!” Madari protested. But she only laughed some more and passed him the toast.

Madari looked around the table as he buttered his toast. There were only three places set.

“Did Kahil already eat?”

Old habits were hard to break and he knew Jahni had resumed his early rising habits a few days after they arrived. He would eat, and then jog down to a local gym to lift weights, often returning before Madari even woke.

“He went home with Murdock last night after dinner,” Hannibal said. “Said there was no point in wasting time.”

He was gone already? Madari hadn’t intended that. Of course, they had few possessions here. It wouldn’t have taken him long to pack a bag. But he left without saying goodbye.

“You were asleep by then,” Hannibal said. “He didn’t want to wake you. Said he’ll come round later on today.”

“Right.” Had it been a mistake to ask him to go? Had he taken offence? Surely he could see that it was only practical? Madari reached for the coffee pot, lifted it and gave a cry of pain. Distracted by thoughts of Jahni, he’d used his right hand purely instinctively. The weakened arm couldn’t hold the weight of the full pot and it slipped from his hand and toppled over, flooding the table with hot coffee.

All three of them jumped up, Hannibal the fastest as the hot coffee was heading right at him.

Mortified, the embarrassment almost enough to distract from the pain that throbbed through his arm and shoulder, Madari backed away from the table.

“I’m sorry; I wasn’t thinking what I was doing. Please, let me clean it up.”

A token offer, almost absurd as he was now holding his right arm against his side, afraid to move it.

“Accidents happen,” Hannibal said, coming back to the table and bundling up the cloth, starting to move things off it. “Are you okay?”

Maggie came to Madari’s side, looking concerned. “Why don’t I check your shoulder out while Hannibal cleans up? Come on.”

With a hand on his good arm, she steered him back through to his room.

“Sit down,” she ordered, closing the door behind them. “Let’s check that out.”

He sat on the bed, tensing up when she sat beside him, but relaxed as she examined him, trusting her professionalism. She made him show her the range of movement he had in the arm, but stopped him when she saw him wince with pain.

“I said move it as far as you can. That means stop when it hurts.”

“Oh, I, ah, misunderstood.”

“No you didn’t,” she said, frowning and looking at him searchingly. “Why didn’t you have your sling on just now?”

“I forgot.” Another lie. She didn’t actually call him on it, but he saw the scepticism in her eyes.

“The sling is there to keep things like this from happening.” She found it lying on the dresser and helped him into it. “It isn’t only for support; it reminds you that you have to be careful. So wear it.”

“I will.” He adjusted it into as comfortable a position as he could find.

“You’re probably okay this time,” she said. “You overextended a muscle that’s still healing. But if you keep letting things like this happen you could do worse damage. Nerve damage for instance. Do you want to end up losing what feeling you still have in the arm?”

“No,” he said, putting some meekness into his voice. Her words were stern, but he needed the lecture. “I’m sorry, Doctor. Naturally I’m impatient to be back to normal.”

“Normal?” She looked at him oddly. “Faris, do you understand how serious your injury is?”

“I took a high velocity round to the shoulder, Doctor. I’m fully aware of the seriousness of it.”

“I’m not certain you are. I don’t think you’ve faced up to the fact that this is a disabling injury.”

“Disabling…” Another word with permanence. Like ‘immigration’.

“Your bones were not merely broken—they were shattered. You have several steel pins holding your shoulder and arm together.”

“I know that.”

“Your shoulder muscles were torn to shreds. There was extensive nerve damage.”


“Will be some help, yes. But nothing can repair the nerve damage. You’re lucky; you still have the use of your hand. But you have to face reality—you’ll never regain the full use of your arm.”

Never regain full use. Never. The doctors he’d seen so far hadn’t said those words. Had they hinted at it, softening the blow, and he’d refused to hear them?

“You’re very pessimistic, Maggie.”

“No. I just want you to be realistic. If you’re expecting your arm to eventually be normal again then you are only storing up disappointment for yourself.”

“I will not write myself off as a cripple!” He stopped and bit his lip. “I apologise for raising my voice.”

“You don’t have to be a cripple,” she said, unfazed by his near-shout. “I know you’re a determined man who doesn’t give up easily. Stubborn some might say.” She smiled at him and he returned it weakly. “If you work hard on your therapy, you’ll get a good range of movement back. But make no mistake—the effects of this are permanent.”

He leaned forward, left hand supporting his head on his knee, covering his eyes. It couldn’t be true. She was only one doctor. She could be wrong. But she’d been a military doctor.

“I suppose you saw a lot of these injuries in Vietnam.”

“Yes. And I saw a lot of men like you unable to accept the disabling nature of their injuries. Even men with amputations who talked about going back into battle.”

“That’s actually delusional, surely?”

“It’s…a stage they needed to go through. But they had to move on from it and so do you.”

“I had…” Plans. He’d had plans. That he could go back. That he could fight. Saifullah’s not dead yet. Madari had still not avenged Sophia. But he couldn’t fight with one hand.

Maggie sighed. “I’m sorry to be harsh with you, Faris, but you need to understand the reality of your situation. Now, will we go and see if Hannibal has made us some more coffee? We’ll let him pour.”

“I’ll join you in a moment.”

She rose and he thought of calling her to stop for a moment, to thank her for her words. She was right. But he didn’t in the end. Those who brought the truth were not always welcomed by those who have been trying not to hear it.

He sat on his bed for a few minutes, looking at his right arm. It had already become thin and wasted, the muscles atrophied. Physiotherapy would help with that, but would the arm ever look the same as before? The skin seemed shrunken and papery, like that of an old man. He was well on his way to becoming an old man. He would be fifty years old in only a few days. Old. Late middle age at best.

He must be deluded if he thought he could still fight. He couldn’t hold a pistol, never mind a rifle. Had his life as a soldier ended? He had a new life here, one he’d dreamed of. But now the worst fear of all came to haunt him.

If he accepted this new life, with everything that could come with it would he find out that Kahil didn’t want to share his life with a half-deluded old man with a crippled arm?

Chapter 3

Hannibal threw a party for Madari’s birthday. When Madari protested he wasn’t really in the mood for marking even a milestone birthday like this one, Hannibal said he was having a barbeque anyway. Madari could celebrate his birthday at it or not. Up to him.

He spent most of it in a lawn chair, chatting with people who came and sat with him for a while and then left again. Jahni brought him food and drinks, but didn’t stay long to talk. He’d been distant for a while now since he moved in with Murdock. Sometimes Madari noticed him and Murdock talking and glancing Madari’s way. Disconcerting.

But he didn’t have time to worry too much about it today. He had plenty of other people to talk to. Frankie was there, along with his family. Amy Allen, bursting with questions about what went on during the coup. Tawnia Baker, who he’d heard the team talk about often. Many of Hannibal’s neighbours from the street came too, perhaps curious about his houseguest of the last month.

And then a most unexpected guest arrived.

“Ah, Faris,” Hannibal said, looking somewhat taken aback, an almost unprecedented state of affairs. “There are some people here to see you and Kahil. They’re in the house. I thought it might be best to keep them in there.”

“Who is it?”

“Best come and see.”

Madari shrugged and followed Hannibal to the French doors into the living room. Jahni and Murdock joined them on the way. BA stood at the windows almost as if he was on guard and when they stepped inside Face was in there, taking care of the guests, offering them some cool drinks.

After coming in from the bright sunshine it took Madari a few seconds to be able to see who was in the room. Several large men stood around and two men sat in chairs, but rose when Madari and Jahni came in.

“Colonel. Major. I’m so glad to find you safe here with your friends.”

Madari gasped. The King and Prince Zahir.

“Sir!” Madari exclaimed. “I’m…I’m sorry.”

He didn’t know what he was apologising for. His inability to salute? His casual clothing? Or his shock at seeing his sovereign in Hannibal Smith’s living room? Yes, that last one could be the explanation.

“I didn’t know you were in America,” he said, bowing his head in lieu of the salute.

“For now,” Zahir said. “We came to find you and others who’ve taken refuge here. To, ah, ensure you are safe and see if you need any assistance.”

“Thank you,” Madari said. “We are well and our friends are taking good care of us.” He didn’t quite believe it though. The king could have sent aides to do that. There must be something else.

“Your injury.” Atuallah gestured at Madari’s arm in a sling. “Quite severe, I believe. Are you recovering well?”

“Yes, sir. I have excellent doctors.”

“Do you need money?” Zahir asked, with his customary bluntness.

“No. We have access to our bank accounts.” They’d ensured that long before the coup.

“We’re actually still being paid.”

“Excuse me, Major?” Zahir said as they all looked at Jahni. He grinned.

“I checked the accounts a few days ago. Our salary payments were credited to them on the usual day.” The grin became a smirk. “I suppose someone hasn’t stopped all the automatic payments yet.”

The King only stared, but Zahir burst into laughter.

“Oh, that’s rich,” Zahir said. “Very rich. Thank you, Major. You’ve quite made my day. Long may it continue.”

Yes, Madari thought. For the widows and families of my dead men, who will probably be denied the pensions they are entitled to now.

“Mr Peck told me it’s your birthday today, Colonel,” Atuallah said, turning to Madari. “I didn’t realise that. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I should say I did know and then claim credit for bringing you a gift. But since I have gift for the major, too, you would see through me.”

He beckoned over one of his bodyguards, who held out two green velvet-covered boxes. They were a few inches long and quite flat.

“You are two of the finest soldiers who ever fought for me,” Atuallah said. “And you have earned this reward. I’m sorry you can’t have all the ceremony that goes with it, as you deserve. But know that you have my gratitude. My family we will owe you a debt forever. Come forward please.”

Madari and Jahni glanced at each other, puzzled, but then both stepped closer to the King, standing at attention in Jahni’s case and as best he could manage of that in Madari’s, with his arm in its sling.

The King opened the first box and Madari gasped when he saw the medal that lay inside it.

The Order of Murtaza.

Atuallah lifted it out carefully. Madari should be in uniform for this, with a small bar ready to hook the decoration onto. But instead the King had to pin it to his chest, and on the wrong side because of the sling. All most irregular.

“Thank you for your loyal and brave service, Colonel Madari. It will never be forgotten.” Careful of Madari’s injured shoulder he kissed him on both cheeks and stepped back. When he opened the other box to reveal the same medal Madari stared. He’d expected something different for Jahni.

If Jahni was shocked he didn’t show it, just remained at attention while the King pinned the medal his chest, spearing the face of a cartoon duck of some kind—the T-shirt probably borrowed from Murdock. The King repeated the same words and actions and then adopted his familiar amused expression.

“The most unusual medal ceremony I’ve taken part in, I must say.”

There was an awkward silence, Madari still too dumbfounded and wondering if he’d fallen asleep in the sun and slipped into a dream. Hannibal rescued the situation, speaking with contrived and amused formality.

“If your majesty would care to come outside I believe I have a steak fit for a king out there.”

“Thank you, Colonel. Most kind.” Atuallah and his guards followed Hannibal and the rest of the team into the garden. Zahir stayed in the room and approached Madari and Jahni to shake their hands.

“Congratulations, gentlemen. Well deserved.” He handed Madari a small card. “This is a number where you can contact me. In case you need any help, or if you…well, have any ideas.”

“Ideas?” Jahni said.

“Indeed. You surely don’t think this fight is over.” He didn’t elaborate, just handed another of the cards to Jahni. “Feel free to call any time. Now, let’s see if Colonel Smith has a steak fit for a prince.” He followed his brother outside, his bodyguards going with him, leaving Madari and Jahni alone.

They stood facing each other and in a moment both realised they were staring at their identical medals.

“I feel distinctly underdressed for this occasion,” Jahni said.

“You held an excellent stance though.”

“I think we’re going to be mercilessly teased by the team about the cheek kisses.”

“No doubt.”

Jahni reached out and lifted Madari’s medal, contemplated it for a moment. “I never imagined I’d receive this myself. I thought long before I reached the usual time for it we’d have…” He stopped, shook his head. “Well, it doesn’t matter. We have to talk, Faris.”

The last sentence came out of nowhere and felt like a grenade dropped in Madari’s lap. He hedged.

“Yes, I know. But not now. Not with all these people here. We need to wait.”

Jahni let the medal go to rest against Madari’s shirt again, he stepped back, his face stormy. “And just how long do you except me to wait?”

He didn’t stay to hear the answer, but turned on his heel and marched back out into the garden.


“Stop the cab!”

“What?” Murdock turned to Jahni startled. “What’s wrong? You feel sick?”

“Stop, please! I need air!” The cabbie pulled over fast and Jahni opened the door and clambered out. They were half way to Murdock’s house after leaving Hannibal’s party and he’d felt suddenly…overwhelmed.


The screaming was back. Like just before the wedding. That frightened him more than anything.

He ran onto the grass verge at the side of the road, and dropped to his hands and knees, head spinning. Was he going to throw up? Was he just drunk? He’d had several beers at the party. But this felt different from being drunk. It felt like…pressure. Unbearable pressure. Like he’d burst.

“Kahil.” Murdock crouched beside him, touched his shoulder. “Are you okay? Did you get sick?”

“Not sick. Not drunk. Just feel like my head is going to fucking burst!”

“Hey, hey.” Murdock’s voice became soothing, but he was unable to hide the concern in it. “Hey, what’s going on, kiddo? Talk to me. You were okay a few minutes ago.”

He had been. They’d made their goodbyes and got into the cab and Murdock talked while Jahni brooded—pretty much the usual arrangement. Then it just came over him, suddenly, like a wave the way it used to and he had to get out.

The sound of the taxi leaving made him look around.

“I paid it off,” Murdock said. “We can walk from here—the air will do you good. Unless you’re feeling too ill, then I’ll call for another one.”

“No. I’m okay.” The pressure was lowering. Getting out into the cool night air helped. He adjusted his position to sit on the grass. It wasn’t exactly a picnic spot, but there were few cars at this time, close to midnight.

“Talk to me,” Murdock said again. “What freaked you out there?”

“I just…I wanted to stay.” Jahni rested his elbows on his raised knees. “I wanted to stay.”

“Do you mean, with Faris?”

He looked out, away from the road, where the ground fell away down a steep hill into a valley. Lights down there. Homes, where people lived with their spouses and lovers. Further away, not visible from here, the sea. The beach house he dreamed of.

“I thought coming here meant our dreams would come true at last. But now… I don’t know if he has that same dream anymore.”

“It’s only been a month. And he’s got his injury to come to terms with too. You have to give him time.”

“I think he wants to go back, Murdock. When he’s recovered. He thinks we can go back and fight, complete our mission.”

“Your mission?”

“Saifullah is still alive. We swore to kill him to avenge Sophia. While he’s still alive we’ll never really be free.”

Murdock sighed. “Okay, that’s a new wrinkle. Damn. And I thought I was getting you guys figured out.”

Jahni smiled at that. “Don’t be silly, Murdock. Nobody ever understands anybody else.”

“True. Face is still a mystery to me for one. Look, Kahil, you talk about him recovering, but that injury… he’s never going to fully recover from it. I peeked at the x-rays you guys brought from the hospital. His shoulder was burger.”

“I know. But he thinks it will eventually be okay. And as long as he thinks that and thinks he can go home then he isn’t going to…compromise himself.”

“So, what’s getting to you is that he’s choosing the country over you?”

“I…yes, I suppose that’s it.” How could he do that? After Jahni made the opposite choice and lost his honour to do it.

“So what you want him to do is accept reality.”

“Of course.”

“You want him to accept defeat.”

That stopped Jahni cold. Defeat. A horrible word. They’d been defeated in the past, but only temporarily. They always come back and fought harder. This would be a final, irrevocable defeat. Admitting their careers were over. Admitting they’d never go home. Admitting they’d never avenge Sophia and the others.

“But there’s hope in this defeat, Murdock. We can have the life we’ve wanted for so long. We always knew there’d be a high price for it.”

“Then I think all you can do is wait. He’s got to reach the point where he’s ready to accept it all and see the silver lining to this cloud.”

Jahni nodded. “Waiting is hard. It’s harder now we’re here when we should be able to…to do whatever we want. But I guess I’ve waited twelve years, I can wait a little longer.”

“Good man!” Murdock stood up, with a groan. “A man of my age should not be sitting on the damp grass.” He offered Jahni a hand up and they set off walking towards Murdock’s home. “Where’s your medal?”

“In my pocket.” He’d put it there as soon as the King left.

“Medals are for showing off, not hiding.”

“Only the ones you deserve.”


A police patrol car prowled down the street. It slowed to a crawl outside Hannibal’s house, but then moved on. Madari, sitting on the step down to the front yard, put down his cigar, balancing it carefully on the edge of the ash tray and picked up the mug of coffee.

Perhaps his sling made the police officers decide a man drinking coffee and smoking on the stoop at 0400 was probably harmless. Is that what he was now? Harmless? A spent force?

He’d given up trying to sleep an hour ago and come out here to smoke and think. After a while he’d gone back inside and made some coffee, trying to be quiet so as not to wake Hannibal and Maggie. He’d heard her voice after everyone else was gone. Her car stood on the driveway. He’d better to be careful to dress for breakfast later.

He supposed he could take a sleeping pill. The doctor had given him some in case pain kept him from sleeping. But that would just be more avoidance and denial. He put down the coffee cup and picked up the other item at his side.

“Nice medal.”

Hannibal. He stood at the door into the house, wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt.

“Did I wake you?” Madari said.

“I never sleep.” Hannibal came over and perched on the rail around the stoop. “You okay?”

“No. Not really. I finally realised something tonight.”

“What’s that?”

“That we’ve lost. He beat me—us. Saifullah. He’s won.”

Hannibal didn’t reply immediately. Madari understood why and appreciated it. No small thing for one colonel to admit defeat to another and Hannibal gave the admission a suitable pause for the dust to settle on the words. After a moment he spoke.

“What made this just occur to you tonight?”

“This.” Madari held the medal up, so it caught the moonlight and gleamed. “This isn’t a bravery medal. It’s for long service. For men who’ve devoted their whole career to the Army. It’s usually given on, or close to, retirement. I think the youngest man who ever received it before today was forty-five years old and he only got it so early because he was dying of cancer. Kahil is only thirty-five. For a man his age to receive it is unthinkable.”

He stopped and drank more coffee. Hannibal said nothing, leaned against a pillar and waited. No rush. There was plenty of darkness left to give Madari time to get to his point.

“This medal is given at the end of a career. I think that means the King is telling us our careers are over. That’s he’s…released us from his service to choose our own paths. Which can only mean one thing. He’s given up. He doesn’t expect to go home again.”

“Zahir seemed more optimistic.”

“Perhaps. But it’s the King I serve, not Zahir.” He rubbed his eyes, which felt gritty. “I think…I think I’ve been denying reality for the last month. And it’s led me to behave badly to someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

Hannibal didn’t comment on the last part, though he must know who Madari meant. Did he have suspicions about Madari and Jahni’s relationship? Suspicions that might soon be confirmed.

Madari stood, feeling decisive suddenly, the new mood reflected in his actions. He had an apology to make.

“I’m going for a walk.”

“A walk,” Hannibal looked startled. “It’s four in the morning.”

“I need to go to Murdock’s house. I need to talk to Kahil. It’s only a few miles.”

“And if you think I’m letting you walk there, you’re crazy; Maggie would have my guts for garters. I’ll drive you. Go and put on some proper shoes and a jacket and I’ll see you out here in ten minutes.”


“Kahil?” Murdock’s voice, speaking from the doorway into Jahni’s bedroom. Jahni looked up, rubbing his eyes. It was still dark outside so it couldn’t be time to get up yet.

“What’s it?” Jahni managed sleepily.

“Faris is here. He wants to talk to you.”

That woke Jahni up fast. He sat up in bed. “What? What time is it?”

“Nearly five. Kahil, you don’t have to see him if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s okay. Um, let him come in.”

He jumped out of bed, feeling at too much of a disadvantage in that position. Wearing only boxer shorts didn’t exactly leave him in a position of strength either. He grabbed some jeans and was zipping them up when Madari came into the room.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me.”

Did he think Jahni would to turn him away? The man could be such an idiot at times. Jahni glanced around for a shirt, feeling something of a chill on his bare chest and back. But the way Madari was looking at his chest…well, perhaps this would go better without the shirt.

“Is it really five in the morning?” Jahni picked up his watch and squinted at it in the light from the bedside lamp he’d put on.

“I’m sorry. I know it’s a ridiculous time. But I couldn’t wait any longer. I realised tonight how badly I’ve been treating you. I refused to even discuss our relationship. That makes me a coward.”

“No!” Jahni protested. Madari wasn’t the one who abandoned their men. “You are not a coward!”

“Then I am a fool. A fool who wouldn’t accept reality. A reality you grasped with no trouble. You’re obviously more clear sighted than me.”

He paused. Jahni held his breath, waiting for the next words.

“I realise now that our life back home is over. Our life here is just beginning. A life we can share. As we dreamt of. If…if you’ll have me.”

So much lost, Jahni thought. Career, position, status. But a price worth paying to gain so much more.

“You know, Faris, since we arrived here you’ve made me angry enough that part of me wants to tell you to take a hike. That you made me wait too long. But, I know this is harder on you than it is on me. Maybe I’ve been too impatient.”

“You’ve been more patient than I deserve. I’m sorry I left you hanging so long. I’m ready to give you everything I have now.” He gave a half-smile half-grimace. “Which is not much.”

“It’s you. That’s all I ever wanted.”

He stepped up to Madari, held his face gently and kissed him. Madari sighed, relaxing into it, one arm going around Jahni’s waist. They had to be careful of the injured arm, so couldn’t press too close, but it was enough, the kiss. More than enough.

When they broke, Jahni stepped back. The thin drapes over the window where lightening up now, the sun rising. A new dawn. A new hope.

He stepped back and got onto the bed, on top of the covers. Madari took the invitation. He shed his jacket then sat on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes.

“Kahil, I can’t…”

“Shh. I’m not asking for anything yet. Only you, here with me. Lie down.”

Madari did, on his left side, favouring the right. His back was to Jahni, who moved closer to rest against him. He knew he’d have to wait for Madari to regain his strength before they could do much more than kissing. But for now, this was enough.

“Like in Zaire,” Madari said softly.

“But this time it’s real and it counts.”

“Oh yes, very much.” He yawned suddenly. “I’m sorry. I haven’t slept. I need to close my eyes for a few minutes.”

“That’s okay. Go ahead and sleep.”

He fell asleep almost instantly, unusual for him, a sign of his still weakened state. Jahni would normally have got up in around an hour from now, but he turned off his alarm clock. He had Madari in his arms. He never wanted to leave this bed.

He didn’t fall asleep. He didn’t want to miss one moment of this. Besides, none of his dreams could compete with the wonder of reality.