Part 40: 99% Paradise

Chapter 1

August 1998

“Face, thank you again for this,” Madari said, as Face drew up outside a house. “If that really is the price you can get us…”

“It is! Believe me, guy wants the place off his hands fast, divorce settlement you know.”

They got out of the car and looked up at the wood framed house. Madari glanced at Jahni to see an almost awestruck expression on his face.

“It’s perfect,” Jahni said.

Face laughed. “At least look inside first.”

The door stuck slightly when he opened it. “Huh, might need to have that planed. Have to take good care of the wood, or the salt air will do it no good at all.”

“Perfect,” Jahni said again, in a whisper this time. Madari heard it, though Face didn’t seem to, already inside the hallway. Jahni gestured Madari to step in first and followed him, closing the door. The hallway ran to the back of the house, where a large window overlooked the beach.

“Okay, bedrooms and bathrooms on the left, kitchen and living rooms to the right,” Face said, waving at the doors on either side of the hallway. “Let’s take a look at those first.”

The rooms still had some furniture but with gaps here and there. The kitchen had large appliances, but no small ones and the cupboards were empty.

“The wife was a chef,” Face said. “Anything she didn’t throw at him, she took away, so you’ll have some shopping to do. I’ll get you wholesale price deals on everything. Living room.”

He led them through into a room dominated by the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. A pair of them were doors onto a deck, which held a small wooden table and a couple of chairs. Those were folded up against the rail, their wood bleached by the sun and the salt air.

“You’ll love having breakfast out there,” Face said. “But dinner when the sun is setting over the ocean, even better. No separate dining room, but this room takes an eight seat table.”

“Perfect,” Jahni said.

“Give him a nudge,” Face said, smiling. “He’s stuck in a groove.”

Jahni blushed, grinned. “Sorry. But I like it.”

“Pretend I am a real, um, real estate agent and practice being more critical. After all we still have to take you guys to buy a car yet, and if you keep saying ‘perfect’ like that we’ll never get a good deal. Okay, let’s take a look at the bedrooms.”

He led them back out to the hallway and opened a door on the opposite side. “Guest bedroom here. They didn’t use this room much, so you’ll need to do a bit of work on it.” It held minimal furniture, including a single bed, with a bare mattress. “Bathroom next door.”

That was rather bleak and cold-looking, with nothing in it except a half-empty bottle of shampoo somehow left behind. Even the shower curtain was missing. But the room was clean and free of mildew, Madari noted, checking the seal around the bath and the tile grouting.

“Now the master bedroom. I guess you two are going to have to fight over who gets it. Really is the best room in the house.”

Madari hoped Face didn’t catch the glance between him and Jahni. No, they wouldn’t have to fight. But could he say that to Face? Here? Now? They followed him into a room as large as the living room and with the same wall of windows and French doors.

Face glanced at Jahni and grinned. “Okay, this time you can say it.”

Jahni breathed the word. “Perfect.”

“It’s great isn’t it? Ah, no bed. The wife pushed it off the deck and some kids hauled it out to sea. It’s probably halfway to Japan by now. En suite through there. Fitted wardrobes.”

Madari followed him to look at the en-suite bathroom. Though just as empty as the other it had a warmer feel, sunlight coming in through high, frosted windows.

“Great shower,” Face said, opening the door of the large etched glass cubicle. “Good water pressure.”

Jahni hadn’t followed them into the bathroom, Madari realised and they went back out to find him at the windows, one hand on the handle of the glass doors.

“I’ve got the keys for those,” Face said. He unlocked the door and they stepped out onto the deck. Jahni had that awestruck look on his face again, as if he couldn’t believe he was here.

“And this is what you’re paying for,” Face said, sweeping his arm at the ocean view. The afternoon sun glinted on breakers and waves as they crashed into the sand. The soothing sound could help a man sleep at night.

The deck wasn’t very big, more like a wide balcony. At one end steps led down the eight feet or so onto the sand.

“It’s a private beach all along here,” Face said, waving left and right, at the houses that stretched along the shore, all of them different. “Residents only.”

“It’s beautiful,” Madari said. “Perfect in fact.”

“Okay but I have to ask,” Face said. “Are you guys sure you have to be on the beach? The house is nice and a good bargain but it’s small. I could get you someplace twice the size for this price, without the view. Maybe a big apartment or condo.”

Madari glanced at Jahni and his rapt look out at the ocean. “Can we have a moment alone to discuss it?”

“Sure,” Face said. “Take a look around without me breathing down your necks. I’ll see you outside. Lock up as you come out.” He handed the keys to Madari and left. Madari waited until he heard the front door close before he spoke.

“Kahil? Do I even need to ask? What Face just said…”

“No. I don’t want somewhere bigger. This is perfect. I’ve dreamt of this. A house on the beach. The sea outside our windows.”

“An apartment would be easier to make secure.”

“Yes, I…” Jahni bit his lip, looked down. “That’s a consideration.”

“But it wouldn’t be the same, would it?”

Jahni shook his head. “I’m tired of living in a flat. I stayed in that little flat all these years so I could have my money ready for somewhere like this. For us to live in together.”

Madari smiled. “I agree. Flats don’t really suit me. We’ll make this place secure.” That earned a smile from Jahni, who stepped closer, but didn’t touch him even though there wasn’t anyone around to see. Still cautious.

“When will we tell them?” Jahni said.

“What? Well, I suppose we tell Face now that we’ll take it and he’ll give us a date we can tell…” He trailed off. “You’re not talking about the house.”

“When will we tell them that we don’t need to argue over who gets the master bedroom?”

“I don’t think we have to rush into that.”

“We’ve been here nearly three months,” Jahni said, in a voice that suggested he’d been counting the days on a calendar.

“I’m sorry, Kahil. It’s not easy for me. I know you want to come clean, but I don’t feel ready.”

“Come clean? You make it sound like a confession to a crime.”

Wasn’t it? “I’m just worried about causing problems. Especially when we’re still guests in their homes. It’s probably best to wait until we move out.” They hadn’t taken the next step in their relationship yet, even though Madari felt stronger ever day. It didn’t seem right while still living under someone else’s roof.

“You think Hannibal would throw you out?”

“I don’t know. It’s not knowing that worries me.”

Jahni nodded. “That’s fair. It’s different for me, with Murdock knowing. But I understand. I don’t want to lose the team as friends either.”

“Not only them. This really will be the point of no return. Once it gets out… I suppose I should talk to some other people before then. Clive. Karen. Alex.”

“Karen already knows. About what we feel anyway.”

“Oh. When you went to Australia?”


“I thought she seemed a little ‘off’ with me sometimes since then. Does she not approve?”

“It’s not that. She’s fine about that. But your marriage…” He stopped and bit his lip. “Sorry. She thinks you’ve treated me badly.”

“I have.”

Jahni smiled. “Then maybe in her case you’ll make her a closer friend when we tell her.”

“I hope so. So, um, a few more days. Is that okay?”

Jahni nodded his agreement. Madari sighed.

“What’s wrong?” Jahni asked, sounding concerned. “Are you tired? Do you want to go back now?”

“No, just thinking about our friends. Our closest friends are all foreigners now. Even before the coup there we had so few people back home we were really close to anymore.”

Jahni echoed the sigh. “I know. A man with a secret has no friends.”

“I suppose we’ll soon find out who our friends really are.”

“Murdock and Karen I’m already certain of,” Jahni said. “The others…we’ll see.” He smiled, a tentative smile, a watery ray of sunshine through the gloom. “But we always have each other anyway.”

“You and me against the world, eh?”

“The world better look out.”

They went back inside and locked the doors. Jahni pulled the cord to draw the blinds across the window and close them. In the dimness he stepped close to Madari, kissed him on the lips and stepped back again, smiling.

“Just to keep you going until later,” he said. It was barely enough to keep Madari going for more than five minutes, rather than the many hours before they might be alone together again. But it had to be enough.

Outside they found Face sitting on a bench near to the car, talking on a cell phone. “Gotta go.” He rose, smiling and Madari felt a pang when he thought that he might never see that smile again if they lost Face’s friendship. But for now the smile broadened even more when Madari spoke.

“We’ll take it. It’s perfect.”


“Go on and get the door unlocked,” Jahni told Madari. “I’ll start bringing things in.”

“I can carry some,” Madari protested as he got out of Murdock’s car. They’d borrowed it for the day to start shopping for their house. “I have got one good arm.”

“Use it to unlock the door then.” Jahni popped open the trunk.

“I’m starting to miss being your commanding officer. You seem to take a perverse delight in bossing me around.”

His only answer was a smirk. Madari ignored it, grabbed a small bag from the many in the trunk before Jahni could stop him and went to unlock the door into the house. Leaving that wedged open he went on through to the kitchen, to put down the bag he carried, which held bags of coffee—naturally they had to start with the essentials.

“We have time to unpack a few things,” Jahni said a few minutes later, bringing in the last of the bags and closing the door behind him. “Though we’ll have to get Murdock’s car back to him soon. He needs it tonight.”

“How long would you say we have?” Madari asked. Jahni shrugged and glanced at his watch.

“Maybe an hour and a half.”

“And unpacking shopping bags is the most…entertaining activity you can think of to fill that time?”

Jahni’s eyes widened and with no further prompting he was suddenly in Madari’s arms, kissing him. He was trembling, Madari realised. Holding himself back, still afraid of Madari being too fragile. Such restraint, such long practice, and how much more difficult when they didn’t need to be so careful any more. They’d done no more than kiss at Hannibal and Murdock’s homes.

But this was their house.

“Kahil, have I mentioned how much stronger I’ve been feeling lately? I feel very good today.”

“You’re not tired after all that shopping?”

“Not at all. My feet hurt though. I’d like to get the weight off them.”

Jahni made a small growling sound, impatience and frustration. “Faris, sometimes you drive me mad.”

“What? Why?” He put on an expression of pure innocence. Oh such fun to tease his dear Kahil and see his eyes flash that way.

“Look, do you want to make love? Answer yes or no.”

“Yes, please. Oh, sorry, that wasn’t just a yes.”

“I’ll let it pass.” He touched Madari’s bad shoulder. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

“I’m ready. We have to be a little careful, that’s all.”

“Then…oh, damn the new bed isn’t here yet.”

“There’s a single bed in the guest room.”

“Great, sharing a single bed with a nearly six-foot tall man. That’s not going to be at all awkward.”

“If you’d rather wait for the double bed…” Teasing again.

“We’ll manage.”

Luckily sheets and pillows for the single bed had been included in today’s shopping expedition. Jahni made the bed while Madari drew the blinds and double checked the front door was locked.

“We aren’t expecting any deliveries today are we?” he asked, coming into the guest room and closing the door.

“No.” Jahni pulled his shirt off over his head. “I am glad to be out of that! I’m sweating from lugging all that shopping around.”

That sweating gave him a most appealing warm glow and Madari began to caress the heated skin, their bodies pressing closer as they undressed each other, both more demanding now, freeing their passion from the restraints they’d kept it in.

“Tell me if I hurt you,” Jahni said when they shed the last of their clothes and lay down. “Your shoulder. Don’t overextend it.”

“I won’t. It would be quite embarrassing to explain how I did so. Maggie wouldn’t be amused.”

Or perhaps she would. He didn’t know. But he had no time to think of Maggie now, as his body flushed with desire. His skin felt hotter than it had in over a year. Skin on skin, so good, a pleasure he’d finally had—only to give it up again. Such a fool, such a fool. His voice choked in his throat when he spoke again.

“Oh, Kahil. I’m so sorry I made you wait.”

“You’ve been too weak. Shh, it’s okay.”

“I meant wait for a year. We should have left then. You should have asked me to leave. I’d have come.”

“Shh,” Jahni said again. “It’s the past. We have our future together. We have our house. That’s what matters.”

The house meant everything to him, Madari realised. That’s why this had to happen here. He hadn’t only been restraining himself because of Madari’s weakened state, or because they were guests in other people’s homes. Jahni had been waiting for the house.

Their perfect house.


There was one fly in the ointment. Jahni went into the bathroom next door to the guest bedroom to turn on the shower while Madari searched for towels among their bags of shopping. He turned the dial. He turned it some more.

“Oh, hell.”

He tried the sink.


“What’s wrong?” Madari said, coming into the room, carrying the towels over his good shoulder, naked and streaked with sweat.

“The water is off. I never thought of that.”

“But we need to take a shower!”

Jahni tied a towel around his waist. “Let me find the stopcock.”

He found that under the kitchen sink. But turning it didn’t help.

“No. The water is turned off. Another job to add to the list. It probably wouldn’t have been hot anyway,” he said, flicking a light switch with no result. “No electricity either.”

Madari sighed. “They must have had the utilities shut off. So, what do we do? We can’t go out without bathing after sex.”

Jahni wanted to laugh at that. A religious rule of course, but you’d think the fact they’d just totally smashed their religious rules by making love to each other would make it seem trivial.

“Put your underwear on and put a towel around your waist. Bring some towels.” They went back to the bedroom, put on their underwear and then Jahni found the keys to unlock the door out onto the deck.

“Where are you going?” Madari said, hesitating at the door, one hand holding tight onto the towel around his waist. Jahni smiled back at him.

“The ocean!”

“But these aren’t swimming trunks we’re wearing.” Madari still hesitated at the door.

“So keep the towel around your waist until we’re nearly in the water. There’s nobody around anyway.” Most of their soon-to-be neighbours were probably still at work. “Come on!”

He bounded down the steps onto the sand, laughing suddenly with joy at the madness of it all, and ran towards the sea. A glance back told him Madari was following more slowly, carrying several towels.

Jahni tossed his towel aside a couple of metres away from where the sand was washed by the water and ran into the sea. How long since he did this? Probably not since he was a student, when he used to spend many weekend on beaches. He didn’t go too far out. He could swim, but it wasn’t his strongest suit. Still he went far enough out for the water to lift him off his feet when a wave came through, making him laugh.

Madari stopped at the edge of the water for a moment before he dropped his towel and the others he carried and walked into the water. Jahni threw his arms up in the air and gave a whoop of delight. Madari was so fine, so alive, his dark skin healthy and warm looking again after being so pale and greyish. His injured arm was still rather thin and wasted, but he had put some weight back on, losing the gaunt look he’d had for weeks. He was back!

He whooped again and Madari looked at him, slightly bemused. He’d stopped when he reached the depth of his waist and had a nervous expression, not very confident in the water.

“Come on, Faris. The water’s lovely. And so are you!”

“Kahil!” He looked around, but nobody was near enough to hear them. He ventured out further, up to his chest, and then ducked under the water and back up, scrubbing his hands through his hair. Joy surged through Jahni again at the picture of him, water glistening on his skin and hair. And behind him, their house. Their dream come true. He gave another whoop and let a wave help him tumble in the water, somersaulting underneath the surface to burst back up laughing, closer to Madari.

“We’re meant to be bathing, not playing.” Madari probably thought he sounded stern there, Jahni thought, but he failed, the smile on his face undermining his words even more. “We don’t have long before we have to return Murdock’s car.”

“Time we got a car.” He loved to say we.

“I’m sure Face will help there. He seems to rather enjoy getting us the best deals.”

“We’ll ask him about it when we meet him tomorrow. By the way, has he explained to you exactly what a personal shopper is?”


“Guys, this is Lowell Preston, my personal shopper. Lowell, Faris Madari, Kahil Jahni.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr Preston,” Madari said as they all shook hands.

“Oh, just Lowell is fine. I’ll have to ask you some quite personal questions, we should all be friends.”

“Er, yes, of course. Please, call us Faris and Kahil.” Madari expected Lowell would. He didn’t seem like the formal kind. Well groomed, though wearing rather bold, if not garish, clothing to Madari’s taste. Face had brought them to meet him in a room in a large department store, which had changing booths, a lot of mirrors, comfortable chairs and a couple of wheeled racks for clothes, empty at the moment. A small sideboard held a coffee maker and supplies. Clearly this was a time consuming business.

Lowell pulled a measuring tape from around his neck. “Templeton tells me you fellas need pretty much everything. Now that’s the kind of project I like. Creating a whole wardrobe from socks to tuxedos.”

“Tuxedos? I’m not sure we’ll need tuxedos.”

“Are you kidding?” Face said. “You’re friends of mine. That means you’ve got an ‘in’ to all the best parties in this town. With my contacts…”

“Oh, stop showing off, Templeton,” Lowell said, rolling his eyes. “Get some coffee while I take care of your friends here.” He walked around them, looking the two of them up and down.

“Faris, we get you into a tuxedo and you’re going to look like an ambassador! Kahil, those shoulders of yours! Goodness me, I’m quite faint. Now, let’s get your measurements.”

“I’m a little thinner than usual,” Madari said as Lowell took his waist measurement. “I’m convalescing from an injury and I’ve lost weight.”

“I’ve got plans to fatten him up again,” Jahni said. “Better get trousers that can be let out.” He grinned at Madari’s annoyed look.

Lowell chuckled and made a note. “I’ll take that into account. Is it your right arm? I noticed you’re favouring it.”

“Yes. My shoulder actually.”

“Have trouble pulling things on over your head?”


Lowell nodded. “We’ll stick with button through shirts for you.” He finished Madari’s measurements and turned to Kahil, smiling at him. “Now we’ll have to make sure to show off those arms and shoulders. Oh, my, yes, you’re what my mother would call a fine figure of a man.”

“I try to stay in shape,” Jahni said in a gruff voice.

Lowell made some appreciative exclamations as he took the measurements. Madari could relate to that—he’d made some appreciative sounds while running his hands over Jahni too. Madari glanced over at Face, drinking a coffee and reading a magazine. Face must be able to tell this man Lowell was gay—that was the word they used here—he hardly disguised it. But Face still employed him as his dresser. Encouraging.

“Let’s talk about colours.” Lowell grabbed a bundle of cloth swatches and spent some time fussing with them, holding them against Madari and Jahni’s faces and talking a lot about summer, autumn and winter, though what the season had to do with buying clothes of particular colours, Madari couldn’t say.

“No silk, by the way,” Face said, wandering back over. “Their religion doesn’t let men wear silk. That’s right, isn’t it, guys?”

“I don’t mind,” Jahni said and gave a defiant look back when Madari frowned at him. “Get me silk things if you like.”

“Er, right, fine.” Lowell made another note in his book. “Will you be wanting me to pick out some Arab clothing, too? I know some exciting designers. Not here in the store, but there are some boutiques.”

“No,” Jahni said.

“Actually, I’d quite like a few things,” Madari said. “Just for casual wear. I find western clothing rather restrictive to wear all day.”

“Ah, you like to get home and slip into something more comfortable, eh?” Lowell winked. “Don’t we all?”

“Um, Lowell,” Face said. “Can I have a quick word?”


Face took Lowell over to the sideboard, and glanced over to see they were out of earshot of Madari and Jahni, who began to glance through the colour swatches while they waited.

“Lowell, you might want to tone down the, um, fabulousness a little bit with these two. They could get offended.”

Lowell looked at Face like he’d gone quite mad. Damn, had Face offended him? He didn’t want to do that. The guy might be rather flamboyant, but he had a great eye, great taste.

“Ah, Templeton, you do realise that they’re a couple, right?”

Now Face had the “have you gone mad?” expression. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “They’re soldiers.”

Lowell made an amused snorting noise.

“Lowell,” Face said, shaking his head, trying to laugh it off. “I’m telling you, they’re from a Muslim country. They probably give guys a hundred lashes for it over there!”

He could have bitten his tongue then, because now he had given offence. Lowell flushed and spoke in a cold, flat voice.

“Yes, Templeton, they probably do.”

“Um, sorry. But I really think you’re wrong.” He looked over at Madari and Jahni, their heads bent over the fabric swatches, talking quietly. “If it’s your gaydar I think you’ve got it turned up too high. I…I see why you might think it. They’re standing kind of close together, but that’s a cultural thing. They have different ideas about personal space.” Jahni had his hand resting on Madari’s back. “And they touch more than Americans. Even hold hands, link arms. It doesn’t mean anything…sexual.”

“Maybe not for most of them.”

“You’re wrong,” Face insisted again. “I know these men. They’re not a couple.”

“Okay.” Lowell shrugged. He coughed into his hand as he moved away from Face. Was it really a cough? Face thought he heard a word in the sound.


Chapter 2

“Oh, I brought something along for you, Faris,” Hannibal said as the team and Madari and Jahni piled out of two cars after a long drive out of town to a property owned by a friend of the team’s.

Hannibal rummaged in the trunk of his car and came back out with a grin and holding a hat.

“My cowboy hat!” Madari said. “I’d forgotten about it.”

Jahni recognised the black, flat-brimmed hat from photographs of Madari’s vacation in Yellowstone with Hannibal.

“I figured you’d want something to shade your eyes on the range.”

Jahni had brought along a baseball cap from Murdock’s and as he donned it, he grimaced. “Now I feel like I’m wearing a lesser hat.”

His just couldn’t compete. When Madari put the hat on the breath caught in Jahni’s throat. In jeans and a denim shirt and wearing that hat he suddenly became a cowboy and for once Jahni wished there was a horse around.

“I got the food,” Murdock said, carrying a cooler in one hand and a picnic basket in the other. Jahni took the cooler from him, dragging his gaze from Madari who was adjusting his hat to the perfect angle.

“I’ve got the drinks,” Face said, also carrying a cooler.

“Right,” Hannibal said. “So BA and me will bring the weapons.”

Only the A-Team, Jahni thought, as they set up their food and drinks beside a shooting range. Only the A-Team would combine a picnic with firearms drill. They unpacked pistols and rifles, laying them out on a long trestle table and loading them.

“Let’s eat first and then get to it after lunch,” Hannibal said, sitting in a bashed up looking folding chair, its coloured plastic faded by the sun, the paint from the metal tubular structure pitted and even scraped away by the sand carried on the wind. The property was on scrubby, near-desert land, a long way from anywhere. Perfect for a shooting range.

They ate and chatted in the sun, laughing. Except Face, Jahni noticed. He kept catching Face looking at him, or at Madari. He’d been like that since a few days ago at the department store. When they’d gone back in a couple of days to try on the clothes Lowell had picked out he’d expected Face to have plenty to say, giving opinions. But mostly he’d just watched without a word. Should they be worried by that?

But the sight of Madari in that cowboy hat kept distracting him from worrying about Face. He’d thought it had looked good in the photographs and had complained about Madari leaving it with Hannibal. It would only have been crushed on the journey home, Madari had said, and anyway he had no occasion to wear it in Qumar. Hell, Jahni thought, who needs one? He could wear it any time he liked. He wondered if he could persuade Madari to wear it during—


Murdock’s voice startled Jahni out of contemplating a very interesting picture indeed.


“We’re starting. What do you want first? Rifle or pistol?”


They brought along a cooler full of bottles of water and soda and started selecting their weapons. Jahni had to wonder if he’d ever have permission to own a firearm in this country. Though their asylum claim had been granted it would be a long time before they could consider themselves safely settled here. He didn’t want to risk messing that up.

On the other hand, they were still potentially in danger. Saifullah might still send assassins after them and he might have to defend himself and protect Madari.

He knew he wasn’t the only one who’d been thinking about it. Madari picked up a Browning automatic, and gave it a rather sad look, perhaps missing his service pistol, left behind at the airport, the scene of their final defeat. It would be in the hands of the enemy now, which made Jahni glad to think of his own buried somewhere in the desert by now. Better to be lost forever than seized by the enemy.

Madari picked the gun up with his left hand. They’d both practiced with their weaker hands of course; a man had to assume he might not always be able to hold the gun in his dominant hand. But now Madari’s dominant hand was the weaker. He would get more strength back in it after the physiotherapy he’d be starting soon, but still not as much as before.

So he needed to bring up his skill level with his left, but he didn’t look very confident in his ability to do that as he weighed the gun in his hand and sighed.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Hannibal said. “It’s just a matter of practice.”

“Come on, fellas,” Murdock said. “We’ll sic Face on you. He’s the team’s star shot. He’ll get you both back into fighting shape.”

They went to work. Despite two months with no practice Jahni was soon scoring at his usual rating, but Madari was in trouble. They sat down for a rest and a drink after an hour, comparing their scores.

“Well, if I were attacked by a barn door I might have a chance,” he said, looking at his woeful score. “But otherwise…”

“It’s okay, I’ll protect you,” Jahni said. Madari flashed him an alarmed look and he had to regret the words. Murdock gave him a warning glance. Hannibal and BA appeared oblivious, but Face definitely frowned. Jahni cleared his throat.

“We were talking the other day about a security system for the house,” he said. “Face has been helping us look into it.”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve tried a few firms,” Face said. “But they’re mostly focused on protecting valuables, not so much personal security. The ones that do offer that, well the prices start high and go up from there.”

“Over to you, BA,” Hannibal said with a grin, making BA look up from comparing his score card with Murdock’s.

“I could do it,” BA said. “Ain’t my specialism, but all these years of getting into places we ain’t meant to be, gives me some ideas.”

“Good point.” Jahni smiled. “BA sets it up, and the rest of us will try to defeat it. Once we can’t get past it, we know it’s safe.”

“Then you can sleep peacefully in your beds,” Face said. Beds. Jahni studied his expression, which seemed expectant, waiting for something. Jahni stood up.

“Just going to stretch my legs,” he said. He strolled off, away from the table by the range, towards the cars. In a couple of minutes, Madari joined him.

“We’ll have to tell them soon,” Jahni said. He leaned against Hannibal’s car, but the metal was hot in the sun and he straightened up again. “They’ll need to know our sleeping arrangements if BA is going to design the perfect security system for us.”

Madari slipped on his sunglasses. “I know.”

“Face suspects something.”

“Yes. I agree.”

“Why don’t we tell them now?”

“And if they react badly? Do you want to have that two hour drive back home with them? Or maybe a very long walk.”

Yes, they could be awkward. “Okay. We’ll wait. But Faris, I think it’s better that we tell them before they work it out themselves. Or it looks as if we’ve been concealing it from them.”

“We have.”

“Murdock thinks they’ll be fine about it. We all owe each other so much they’re not going to end our friendship over this.”

Madari took off his sunglasses and looked at Jahni.

“Idris did.”


“Hannibal, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, Face.”

Face glanced around. Murdock and BA had gone off to the range again. Madari and Jahni were standing by the cars talking.


“Yeah, um, Faris and Kahil, have you noticed anything…strange?”

“Strange like what?” Hannibal asked, taking a can of soda out of the cooler. He popped the top and took a drink.


Hannibal sprayed the mouthful of soda he’d just taken. Away from Face, thankfully.

“Gay?” Hannibal said after he pulled himself together. He looked thoughtful. “I don’t know that I’d use that word exactly, but…yeah.”

“Really?” Face grabbed himself a soda and grimaced as his hand came out of the cooler wet, the ice almost melted now. “Why am I the last to know everything around here?”

“Murdock and BA know?”

“Murdock knows something, but he just gets all mysterious if I ask about it and says if I want to know anything I should ask them.”

“And BA?”

“He’s no damn good. He just says he minds his own business about other people’s private lives and I should do the same.”

“Maybe he’s right.”

“Aw, come on, Hannibal, you can’t say you wouldn’t want to know if…they are.”

“Well, it would cast a new light on some things I guess.”

“Like what?”

“Like why they sent us their personal stuff months before the coup. Photo albums, papers, books.”

“Swords. Kahil’s sash. His axe. Yeah. But they said that was because they knew a coup could happen.”

“Do they seem like guys who would anticipate defeat? Hell, nobody anticipated that defeat. So what if they had another reason to think they might have to suddenly leave the country without even having time to pack their stuff?”


“Exactly. And…Well, I hadn’t really thought much about it, but…”


“Night after Faris’s birthday, after the king was there. Faris and I had kind of a heart to heart chat. He said the king had given up and had freed them from his service. And then he asked me to take him to see Kahil. This was at five in the morning. I drove him round to Murdock’s and he went into Kahil’s room.”


“Well, nothing really. I had a cup of coffee with Murdock and then he said I might as well go. I wasn’t really thinking much about it. I was tired, Maggie was staying over, and I was happy enough to get back to my bed. But looking back at it now, I suppose it’s kind of…suspicious.”

“You don’t think they were…actually…you know…”

“I doubt it. Probably just talking.”

Face sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t know if I’m happy to hear you say it or not. I thought I was going mad.” He looked up at Hannibal. “Does it bother you?”

Hannibal paused, the can of soda halfway to his mouth, and then shook his head.

“Worked with plenty of gays in the movie business.”

“But they aren’t actors, they’re soldiers!”

“Worked with a few in the soldiering business, too.”

“What? Who?”

“Remember Penrose?”

“Penrose? Of course. First guy I ever saw knock BA down. People said he could lift a Huey over his head with one hand.”

“Ran into him a few years ago. Lives with a fella named Jack who used to be in the 82nd Airborne.”

Face stared and put his head in his hands and groaned. “I can’t wrap my head around this, Hannibal.”

“Face, they’re still the same guys who came to rescue us in Albania. They’re the same guys we’ve fought back to back with and counted on a bunch of times. None of that’s changed.”

“Faris was married! We went to his wedding!”

Hannibal paused for a moment, then took another drink and shrugged. “Life’s complicated. Maybe we’ll get the whole story one day, maybe not.”

“No, I’m not standing for ‘maybe not’, I want to know.”

“They’re probably just waiting for the right moment to tell us.”

“Then we are going to have to figure out the way to make that moment happen aren’t we?”

“We are?”

“Hey, I’m the Faceman.” He smiled, spread his hands. “People can’t wait to tell me things!”

“And what then? What if they tell us that yes, they’re sleeping together?”

Well, that was the question. What then? Hannibal was right that they were the same guys they’d always been—loyal, reliable friends. But Face couldn’t deny that it would change something.

Perhaps he was most bothered about being ‘the last to know’ as he’d complained about earlier. Shouldn’t he have picked up on it sooner? But it seemed even BA might have guessed before he had. What kept Face, normally so observant, so quick to understand people as soon as he met them, miss something so important in people he thought he knew fairly well? Every conversation with either or both of them had been replaying in his head for a couple of days now, subject to minute analysis for clues he’d missed at the time.

Had he really missed those clues? Had he read too little into their closeness, and been in denial, as Lowell said. Just dismissed any suspicions as being down to their different ways. Why would he do that?

Perhaps because he’d really have to deal with it. Lowell was just another person to pass by with a few words as Face walked the road of his life. A superficial relationship. Never looking under the surface. Face didn’t really know anything about him. He glanced over at Madari and Jahni, heading back their way now. These two were different. These two he had to deal with more deeply, more seriously.

And for once, the Faceman didn’t know how.


A familiar scent of sweet tobacco attracted Madari’s attention as he, Jahni, Face and Hannibal got out of Face’s car near to the car dealership. Time we had a car Jahni had said a few days ago and he was right.

Hannibal tagged along with the party for lack of anything better to do, but when he saw what Madari was looking at he apparently decided he did have something better to do than look at cars.

“An Arab coffee house!” Madari said sounding delighted. “I’ll have to make a note so we can come back here sometime. For a taste of home.”

“Tell you what,” Hannibal said. “Why don’t you and me go check it out now and leave the boys to pick out the car?” He jerked a thumb back at Face and Jahni. “Too many people there will only put Face off his stride.”

“But the car will be half mine, I really should…”

Hannibal snorted. “Kahil will be the one driving it most of the time, I’ll bet.”

“True,” Madari said. He leaned closer to Hannibal. “I’m just worried he’ll get something…sporty.”

Hannibal chuckled. “Live a little, Faris. Anyway, Face is there. He’ll make sure they get something suitable.”

“Didn’t Face used to drive a sports car?”

“He’s grown up since then.”

“I heard that,” Face said. “But he’s right; too many people running interference will put me off my game. Much better for just me and Kahil to go in there. He glanced at Jahni. “And if he keeps scowling like that the salesman will get very nervous.”

“Sorry,” Jahni said. He exchanged a glance with Madari, who gave a small shrug. Was there another agenda here? Splitting them up like this? But Madari was feeling quite tired today, after a poor night’s sleep and would rather relax in a cafe than look at cars.

“All right,” he said. “We’ll meet you back here when you’re done?”

Face and Jahni hurried off to the dealership and Hannibal and Madari strolled into the cafe. The scent of the tobacco was stronger in here, though there were only a couple of water pipes inside. Most were in a shady garden out the back. They took a seat there and a waiter came to take their order. When he greeted them in Arabic Madari gave their order in the same language and in a moment they had coffee and some small cakes.

“Nice here,” Hannibal said.

Between the taste of the coffee and cakes, the scent and soft gurgling from the shisha pipes and the sound of soft conversation in Arabic from the other customers around them, Madari had a strong surge of homesickness. He sighed.

There were a couple of other westerners, but most of the patrons were Arab men, some in Western clothes, some in Arab clothes—the older men especially. They sat with pipes and Arabic newspapers, or playing chess or backgammon. Some of them probably spent hours here every day, Madari thought. Might as well be back in their home countries.

He didn’t want that himself. It would be nice to visit cafes like this sometimes of course. But he was in America, not at home. He should embrace it. The customs, the freedoms. The freedom to be who he’d wanted to be for a long time.

And if he embraced that freedom a place like this might not even welcome him anymore.


“Think of the women you’d attract in that, huh?” Face said, with a smile at Jahni as they looked at this year’s Corvettes. Not that Face missed his old car…not really.

“Yes,” Jahni said. A non-committal sort of answer, Face thought. He cursed Hannibal and his bright ideas, taking Madari off to that cafe. They should have done this the other way around. Jahni was too closed off and cautious even for Face to extract anything from.

And for another thing Madari would have been better for dealing with the salesman. He looked more conservative and less likely to open his wallet too quick. Jahni on the other hand, younger, wearing all new clothes and designer sunglasses was a walking invitation to any salesman to ‘sell me a sports car with all the options.’ The salesman’s eyes had gleamed at the sight of him, probably thinking he was some oil-rich sheikh’s spoiled playboy son with a credit card you could buy a private jet with. But he’d soon lost the gleam when Face started to talk.

“Car like that, babe magnet. I speak from experience.”

Jahni flushed and looked away and Face felt like a fool suddenly. Could he be any more unsubtle? Now he’d just embarrassed them both. These guys didn’t talk about women that way in public. He knew that. So it didn’t even help him decide if his suspicions were true. Jahni could just be embarrassed by the crude banter.

“Sorry,” Face said. “Anyway, forget it. Faris will kill us both if we buy this.”


“I wonder if there’re any of your countrymen in here?” Hannibal said. “Fellow exiles.”

There might be, Madari thought, looking around. When he’d come in with Hannibal they’d attracted a few curious glances, but no signs of recognition.

“I’ve been thinking that once we’re settled into the house and have more time we should become more involved in the Arab community here. If there are any fellow exiles, as you put it, some might not be in as fortunate a position as us. They might need help.”

“You need to be careful about advertising your presence though.”

“I know. But I’m sure if the new government want to they’ll find us. They probably already know where we live.”

“Very likely.” Hannibal sipped his coffee and ate one of the small cakes in one bite. “So, have you and Kahil set a date yet?”

“A date?”

“To move in.”

“Oh. Well, everything should be ready for this weekend, so I think perhaps Saturday.”

“Sounds good. We’ll come and help you out with the last of it, and BA can start figuring out his special security measures.”

“That’s very kind.” The house had an alarm system already, but the thought of BA’s special security system was reassuring. And as Kahil said, it really meant they needed to tell the team what the sleeping arrangements would be… something he was still too afraid to say to Hannibal.

When had he become such a coward?


When had he become such a coward, Jahni wondered. Whether deliberately or not Face had given him several cues that would let him say something. He could have said the only person he was interested in picking up in the new car was Madari. He could have said several things. Okay, a car dealership might not be the best place to have such a sensitive conversation. But he felt as if Face was actually prompting him and he was ignoring the prompts.

This despite being the one who’d been nagging Madari that it was time for them to come clean! Which made him a hypocrite too, he supposed. But the reality of actually saying it suddenly felt very different from the abstract idea.

They were sitting in a waiting area now, drinking coffee. They’d chosen the car, Face had made the deal, negotiated options and a discount for cash up front and only the paperwork remained.

“You guys are almost all fixed up now,” Face said. “House, car, clothes. Just tell me when you need jobs.”

“We have to get our Green Cards first. But we’re okay for money for a while. Faris has old family money and he’s never been an extravagant spender. And I have money I came into a few years ago. But thanks for the way you’ve helped us get so many good deals.”

“That’s what I live for,” Face said with a grin. “You’re happy with it all? The house? Is it still perfect?”

“Oh yes. More perfect every day.”

“Yeah, you guys are going to be a hit in that neighbourhood I’ll bet. Especially with your all new wardrobes.” He glanced around, leaned closer. “Speaking of that, I just wanted to say sorry about Lowell, I hope he wasn’t too much. You know, that you guys weren’t offended by his, ah, ways.”

Had they been? Lowell’s manner had been odd, unfamiliar, but really more of a novelty to him than offensive. Did all homosexuals act that way in America? He dismissed the idea. Of course they didn’t, that was absurd.

“No, we weren’t offended.”

For his own part he could say he was actually envious. He envied Lowell the feeling of freedom and security he must have that he didn’t have to hide that part of himself. He knew there was still much prejudice and hatred, but that Lowell felt safe enough most of the time not to hide his true self—well, it gave Jahni hope. Did someone like Lowell have more guts than Jahni who didn’t have the nerve even to tell a good friend like Face?

Too late to think any more about it. The salesman returned, there was a round of handshakes and he handed the keys of the car to Jahni.

Faris. House. Clothes. Car.



“There’s a cat on the deck,” Jahni called from the bedroom. Madari, in the living room, looked at the windows and saw a tabby cat walk into view. It looked into the room for a moment, and then strolled on.

“Checking out the new neighbours?” Jahni said appearing in the door to the hall.

“Probably. Perhaps we should get a cat when we move in?”

“Do you miss Giotto?”

“A little,” Madari admitted. “I hope the housekeeper took him. I told her if I ever didn’t return home she should take him. She was very fond of him. I hope he’s all right.”

He’d feel he’d let Sophia down if he’d left her cat to scrounge for food in alleyways. Giotto was getting old and deserved to be comfortable in his last years.

“Yes, perhaps we’ll get a cat,” he said. Jahni smiled, surprising Madari, who didn’t realise he was so fond of them. The doorbell rang before he could ask about that.

Our doorbell, Madari thought, as he straightened up. It must be another delivery. Jahni, who’d still been standing in the doorway made it to the front door first.

“Oh, Lowell!” Madari heard him say. “Come on in.”

Lowell did, his arms full of garments on hangers and a couple of bags hanging from his arm.

“Hi, guys. Got those last few things. I called Templeton to see when I could drop them off and he said you guys were working here today.”

“Thank you,” Madari said. “So kind of you. Please, bring them through. May I offer you some coffee?”

“Only if you want my eternal gratitude in return.”

“Kahil, show him through to the bedroom while I make the coffee, please.”

The bedroom, he heard himself saying. As if there was only one.

By the time he brought the tray of coffee through from the kitchen to the living room Lowell and Jahni were standing out on the deck, chatting. Jahni must be giving him a tour, so proud of his house. Madari took the tray out there and they sat around the small table. Jahni leaned on the rail, since there were only two chairs.

“This house is gorgeous,” Lowell said. “You two are so lucky.”

“We got a good deal on the price,” Jahni said.


“Of course.”

Lowell chuckled. “That man is a miracle worker.”

“It’s a good house,” Madari said. “Not very large, I know. But it’s what we wanted.”

“The location, he means,” Jahni said. “On the beach.”

“You miss the sand between your toes, huh?”

“Indeed,” Madari said. “Now once we build a stable for the camel, we’ll be set.”

They sat with their coffee for a pleasant few minutes, until Lowell glanced at his watch and finished his coffee.

“I’d love to stay longer, but I have a client to meet.” They all rose. “Lovely to meet you guys. I hope I’ll get the chance to work with you again.” He handed over a small card folder from a zip up document case. “Here’s the last of the receipts, and contact details for the stores. And, oh, a few other bits and pieces you might find useful.”

“Thank you,” Madari took the folder and they walked with him to the door, where he exchanged handshakes with them both.

“Good luck to you both,” Lowell said, has voice more serious than usual. “I hope you’ll be happy here, in your house and in America.” He leaned closer just for a second and spoke quietly. “You’re safe here.”

Then he was smiling again, and bouncing out into the sunshine, climbing into his car, with a last wave to them and blowing a kiss goodbye making them laugh.

“Do you think he’s right?” Jahni said as he closed the door. “That we’re safe here?”

“I hope he’s right.”

“Come and help me hang the clothes up. They’re all on the bed at the moment.”

The big double bed that had been delivered yesterday and that they’d brought over some sheets and blankets for today.

“Yes. We really should get them off the bed and get it made up.”

“Yes. And then…mess it up?”

“I think you can read my mind, Kahil.”

“Faris, if I could read your mind we’d have been living in this house for about ten years now.”

Chapter 3

“Should a physiotherapist’s office be so high up?” Jahni asked, as they sat in the waiting room fifteen floors up. He nodded over at a young woman reading a magazine, a pair of crutches at her side. “What about people with bad legs?”

“There are lifts, Kahil.”

“Mr Madari?” A woman in a white tunic came out into the waiting room, carrying a chart. “Hello,” she said, shaking Madari’s hand when he rose to meet her. “I’m Phillipa Dryden.”

“Ms Dryden, hello.” He glanced at Jahni who was probably intending to sit here and read magazines. “Kahil, why don’t you take a walk and meet me in the lobby in an hour?”

“I can wait.”

“Don’t be silly, you’ll be bored.”

“Well, I’ll come back up to collect you anyway. You’ll be tired.”

“Oh it’s really just an assessment today,” Phillipa said. “We’ll start the real work next time.”

“See? I can manage the lift just fine.”

Clearly reluctant, but obeying, Jahni left the waiting room and Phillipa led Madari back into the treatment rooms.

“Sorry about Kahil,” he said, sitting in a chair by her desk. “He’s inclined to be overprotective.”

“You two seem very close,” she said, as she brought up information on a computer terminal. “Is he your brother?”

“Brother, oh no…” And what did he say then? He could just say ‘friend’, he was sure she wouldn’t pry. Or he could bite that bullet and say it. Say what exactly? What word should he use?

“No. We live together. That is, in a few days we will. We’re sorting out the house now.”

“Oh, right. Well don’t forget to give the receptionist your new address.”

“I have it here, actually.” He pulled out a card. Face had had a supply of them printed up. Phillipa took the card and glanced at the address.

“Nice location,” she said, clipping the card to his chart.

That was it. No ‘leave my office, you deviant, I don’t treat the likes of you.’

“Right,” she said. “Let’s go over your medical history and then I’ll do the assessment so we can see where we are.”

We’re in California, Madari thought. Though right now, I’m starting to wonder if we’re in Paradise. Perhaps this wouldn’t last—they’d meet someone who wouldn’t accept them—but he would enjoy it while it did.


An hour later Madari found Jahni in the lobby with his usual air of waiting for it to be attacked and they fell into step as they walked into the underground parking lot.

“How did it go?”

“Very well. She helped me a lot. Shall we get some lunch?” He wore a small smile that made Jahni look at him oddly. Should he tell him? Soon. Over lunch. He’d had somewhere in mind for lunch since this morning when he’d slipped another card into his pocket. One that came from the folder Lowell gave them. When they found their new car, he gave Jahni the address, only a couple of blocks away.

He had become a little nervous by the time they arrived, parking the car in a nearby lot and walking half a block to the cafe. The area might be called bohemian, with several bookshops, small art galleries and cafes. Madari was looking for one particular cafe, but he was prepared to turn around and go to another if there was anything…strange about it.

“The Rainbox?” Jahni said, when Madari stopped by it. “Funny name. Shouldn’t it be rainbow? They have a picture of a rainbow on the sign.”

“Who knows, Kahil? Maybe it was a misprint.”

It looked okay. There were some tables outside where a few people sat drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Nobody gave them a second look as they walked inside.

To Madari’s relief the place seemed quite sedate. The time was approaching two in the afternoon and the lunch rush must be over, but still most tables were occupied. They found a free one and in a moment a waitress, with startling purple hair, piercings and black clothes appeared. She had a friendly manner though and took their order with a smile.

Jahni looked around. Madari watched him as he caught the eyes of a couple of men and then turned back to Madari, frowning.

“What’s going on, Faris?”

“This place is apparently ‘gay friendly’. I’m not quite sure what that means. But it certainly seems friendly.”

“Given the way some of the men are looking at me it certainly seems gay, too.” He gave a wry smile. “I suppose I should get used to it.”

“The perils of being gorgeous, my dear Kahil.”

He didn’t whisper it, as he would normally have done and was gratified to see a blush tinge Jahni’s cheeks. He took out the card he’d been carrying.

“It was in that folder Lowell gave us.” There’d been a few cards and leaflets for cafes, bookshops, advice centres. Lowell was clearly a perceptive man.

Jahni took the card just as the waitress came back with their sandwiches, coffee and cakes.

“Oh, is that one of our advertising cards?” she said as she distributed the things from the tray.

“Yes. A friend gave it to us,” Jahni said, tucking it away in a pocket.

“Are you fellas new to LA? You have such nice accents.”

“We’re new to America not just LA,” Jahni told her. “Only visited before. Now we live here.”

“I hope we see you in here plenty. We’ve got more seating upstairs. Armchairs, if you want to stay for a while. It’s a nice, no pressure place to hang, you know?”

“Hang…hang out, yes it seems very nice.” Madari wondered what the ‘no pressure’ part meant.

“There are books, magazine, papers up there and sometimes in the evening we have live poetry readings.”

“Oh, we’ll definitely be back for one of those.” Madari flicked Jahni a glare to stop him rolling his eyes. Not a poetry lover.

“My warrior poet,” Jahni said with a smirk when the waitress left.

“Perhaps I’ll stand up and read some of my father’s poetry.”

“In Arabic? Oh yeah, that’ll go down a bomb. And that’s what they’ll probably think it’s about!”

“Kahil, please, don’t make assumptions. I would expect the people who come here are quite open minded.”

Jahni shrugged. “I suppose.” He bit his sandwich and had soon demolished half of it. Madari ate his more slowly.

“By the way,” Madari said, pausing to sip some coffee. “I told Ms Dryden about us.”

He probably should have waited until Jahni had finished eating. After Jahni finished trying to inhale steak and cheese, he drank some coffee, wiped his watering eyes and spoke in a voice weak and cracked from coughing.

“You what? About us us?”

Madari chuckled. “She asked if you were my brother—which is what you get for coming over as so protective. I’m surprised she didn’t ask if you were my mother. Anyway, I told her no, that we were moving in together.”

“Was she okay about it?”

“She never…I think the expression is ‘never batted an eyelash’.”

“Eyelid I think. But, I can’t believe it. After all my nagging, you’re the one who does it first.”

“I thought it could be a rehearsal, shall we say. If she reacted badly, well, no harm done.”

“It’s not the same as telling the team though.”

“I know. But I’m feeling better about that all the time. This Saturday, we’ll have to do it. We can’t put it off any longer.”

“What do we actually say?” Jahni asked. He had finished the sandwich, but didn’t start right in on the piece of cake, instead started to tear it into small pieces. “Living together is a bit ambiguous. They know we’re going to be living together.”

“We could just say we’re lovers.”

Jahni winced. “I don’t know if I can say that. That word. It’s too…sexual to say to other people.”

“Getting coy, Kahil?”

“Maybe. What about partner? I’ve seen that a lot.”

“Partner?” Madari grimaced at that. “I don’t know. That’s so…bloodless.”

“That’s why I like it. It’s kind of neutral, it doesn’t make people uncomfortable.”

Madari sighed. “You deserve more than ‘partner’.”

“Special friend?”

“Oh, please, no.”


Madari grimaced. “For a man my age?”

“Sugar daddy?” Jahni grinned.

“Now you’re being foolish.”

“Snuggle bunny?”

“I think we should go now.”

“Love muffin?”

“Check, please!”


Moving day couldn’t be called a spectacular affair. Most of the things they’d bought had gone straight to the house, so they had only a few personal belongings to fetch from Hannibal and Murdock’s houses.

When Madari and Hannibal arrived BA and Face were already standing outside beside their cars, BA carrying a measuring tape and a big notebook. As soon as they got inside he started measuring up for his security system.

The tooting of a horn a few minutes later told them Murdock and Jahni had arrived. Madari almost ran to the door to see Jahni walk up the steps to the front door grinning. He carried a large bag over one shoulder and in his free hand he had a long bundle, well wrapped up in oil cloth. Madari thought he knew what it was. They had already installed brackets on the wall, ready to hold the reminders of the careers they’d lost, here in the home that reminded them of everything they had gained.

“Welcome home,” Madari said to Jahni, and embraced him, wished he dared kiss him. But that would have to wait until they were alone.

“Welcome home,” Jahni echoed.

“So which room do we put your stuff in, Kahil?” Face asked. “Did you two decide who gets the master bedroom yet?”

Madari thought the world held its breath in that moment. Face had given him a cue. Jahni gave him a wide-eyed look as he stepped out of Madari’s arms and Murdock’s expression could only mean: ‘now or never’.

“We both do,” Madari said. As coming out speeches went it lacked drama. He watched Face closely, seeing an initially puzzled look turn to shock. Before he could say anything, Murdock picked up Jahni’s bag which he’d dropped to the floor.

“So let’s put this away before someone falls over it.”

Hannibal looked at them for a moment, then shrugged and went into the living room.

“You’re probably best off sealing the window in the guest bedroom shut,” BA said, making a note on his pad, “If there ain’t gonna be anyone sleeping in there.”

“Good idea,” Madari said. “Thank you, BA, I, ah appreciate it.” BA just grunted and went off into the guest bedroom to measure things.

“You’re both using the master bedroom,” Face said. “Together. You’re…”

“Together. Yes.” Madari tried not to put any kind of challenge in the words, dreading Face would turn around and walk out of the door.

“And in other shock news,” Murdock said, “The sky is blue and water is wet. We gonna stand here all day? Work to do.”

Face didn’t walk out of the door. But he still wore a look of shock. “I’m just gonna…I’ll sort the kitchen out.”

There wasn’t really anything to sort out in the kitchen, but Madari didn’t try to stop him as he headed in there. He turned a helpless look to Murdock.

“Give him some time,” Murdock said. “He just needs to work through it in his mind. He’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah…99% sure anyway.”


Late in the afternoon, Madari found Face sitting out on the deck, nursing a cup of coffee and smoking a cigar. Face had worked on jobs around the house like the rest of them all day, but had done so alone and stayed quiet. He’d barely spoken over lunch. It was time to talk to him, Madari decided. He unfolded the other chair and sat down.

“Face, I value your good opinion and your friendship. If I’ve lost those things, please tell me.”

Face blew some cigar smoke out. He was smoking one of Madari’s cigars. It had to be a good sign that he’d accepted one when Madari handed them out.

“I don’t like feeling I’ve been lied to,” Face said. “No man likes to feel that.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve tried not to actually lie. But I’ve certainly omitted telling you things.”

“I’m not saying I had some kind of right to know. It’s your business after all. I just…I’m disappointed you didn’t think you could trust me.”

Madari clasped his hands together, thinking of the times he might have told Face at least about what he felt for Kahil. Had he believed in those moments that he couldn’t trust this man? No. But…

“You must understand, it was hard to trust anyone. The stakes were so high the consequences so bad… I’m sorry. You’re right. I could have trusted you, but I was too afraid to.”

They sat in silence for a while, watching the ocean.

“How long?” Face asked quietly.

“We…. had feelings for each other for many years, since before we met you. But it was a long time before we could admit even that much. And as for…well, our relationship only became…physical last year.”

Face didn’t look at him, stared out at the ocean. Did he blush? Was he angry? Impossible to say, the setting sun giving his skin a pink tinge anyway.

“You were married. We came to your wedding. Was that some kind of sham? A cover up?”

“No!” Madari snapped. “It was a mistake, I know that now. I was using Sophia to try to escape my feelings. But my relationship with her was genuine. We were man and wife. I cared for her. I still…” His voice caught. “I still mourn her.”

Face turned to look at him at last, a long assessing look, his head tilted on the side, like a man studying a picture. Madari tried to hold his gaze, but had to look away.

“So, you guys went for years carrying this secret. Never knowing if you’d ever be free. Never knowing if one day you’d be dragged off to jail.”


“Yes,” Face echoed, expression thoughtful. He nodded and stood up suddenly. Madari rose too. He stopped Face with a hand on his arm as Face went to pass him to go inside.

“Please, I need to know if you are okay with this, or if when you leave my house tonight you plan to never return.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m ‘okay’ with it. I really don’t want to hear anything about it. But, I still owe my life to you guys. That hasn’t changed.” He rubbed his forehead, sighed tiredly. “I guess I just need some time to think it through.”

“Of course.”

Madari couldn’t even guess the outcome. Face might come around, he might not. But they wouldn’t know that for sure tonight. Face was a deeper thinker than he liked to let on.

“Hey!” Hannibal’s voice interrupted them, as he poked his head out of the French doors from the living room. “Come on in here, you two. Got a little ceremony going on.” He vanished back inside. Face nodded to Madari and passed him to go inside. Subject closed. For now.

In the living room Jahni and Murdock knelt by the coffee table, unwrapping the dress swords Madari and Jahni had sent to the team before the coup. Two sets of padded hooks waited on the wall.

“How’s Ahmed’s sword doing?” Madari asked Murdock. He’d never regretting making a gift of it to Murdock. Jahni had told him Murdock found it comforting.

“It’s fine. Hanging up in my living room. Got a great view of the TV. Loves the Mexican wrestling.”

BA grumbled something mostly unintelligible and Hannibal grinned. Murdock stood up and handed what Madari recognised as Jahni’s sword to him. He was about to protest it was the wrong one, but he caught Jahni’s eye and realised, no, he had the right one. Jahni stood carrying Madari’s.

The two of them stepped up to the hooks on the wall. Madari nodded at Jahni to go first and he did, placing the sabre carefully on the top set of hooks, then running his hand along the ebony scabbard’s shallow curve.

Madari lifted Jahni’s sword and placed it on the other set of hooks. They stepped back. The two swords were different in detail, but formed the same shape against the plain, painted wall. Echoed each other. Different, but the same at heart.

Jahni put his arm around Madari, smiling up at him. “Home,” he mouthed. Madari put an arm around his shoulders. Wherever he was with Jahni was home.

They turned back around as they heard glasses clinking, then the pop of a champagne cork. Hannibal and Murdock shoved foaming glasses into their hands. Face stepped forward to make the toast, surprising Madari. He raised his glass, his face serious.

“To happiness. Long delayed only makes it more precious.”

The glasses clinked together, as they all echoed the words. Murdock downed his champagne in one gulp and then grinned at Face.

“Good toast, Face. Good toast.”


Jahni stopped to buy a newspaper on the way back towards the house from his morning run. He’d have to work out a route, he thought. Or perhaps he’d jog along the beach, though he’d never much liked running on sand. Or perhaps he shouldn’t have a usual route. His old security habits were still ingrained. Just as back at home he’d varied his route from home to barracks, so here he should vary the route he took for his morning run. Just in case.

The thought they could still be in danger made him run faster, wanting to be back at the house with Madari. Wanting to get back and share their first breakfast there together. Madari had been awake when Jahni left and Jahni wondered if he’d find him out of bed, or if he’d have gone back to sleep. Either of those scenarios had attractive possibilities.

He fished the keys from his pocket as he approached the door and went inside. “Faris? You up?”


He found Madari cracking eggs into a bowl. He wore sweat pants and a baggy T-shirt and his hair was still wet from the shower. Quite deliciously casual and domestic.

“I bought a paper,” Jahni said, dropping it on the table, going to Madari’s side and kissing him on the cheek. He smelled good, all fresh and cool.

“We should see about having one delivered. I’m not sure how we do that here.”

“I’ll ask Murdock.”

“Okay. Go and take a shower. Breakfast on the deck in ten minutes.”

Perfect, Jahni thought, heading to the bathroom, shedding his clothes as he went. Could a man be any happier than this? Actually, yes, he thought. Madari still seemed a little preoccupied. Had been since the team left last night. Jahni hadn’t wanted to ask about it yet, trying to just enjoy their first night together in their house.

He turned on the shower, started to soap up with the same citrusy scented shower gel he’d smelled on Madari.

Perfect happiness couldn’t last, even if they achieved it for a while. Things would change as they slid into a domestic routine. They’d even have arguments. But meanwhile he had to find out what was bothering Madari. If there was even one flaw in their happiness, Jahni wanted it gone.

When Jahni came onto the deck a few minutes later, wearing boxer shorts and an untied bathrobe Madari looked up from the newspaper and stared at him. There were people around on the beach, enjoying the fine Sunday morning.

“Ah, Kahil, that’s a little immodest.”

“When you’re a hot as me, who needs to be modest?” He grinned. “Let them enjoy the view.”

“Really, Kahil! You’re becoming quite outrageous.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t love it.” He sipped a glass of orange juice.

Madari rolled his eyes and looked at the newspaper again.

“Usual news from home,” he said. “Less of it all the time too. The world is losing interest.” He sighed. “If we want to keep up with what’s happening we’ll probably have to get an Arabic language newspaper. I’ve seen them in other parts of the city.”

“Good idea.” Jahni buttered some toast and scooped scrambled eggs from a covered bowl onto his plate. Madari dropped the paper onto the deck and pulled his chair close to the table. He started filling his own plate.

“I’ve been thinking about the guest room,” Jahni said. “We should get rid of that bed and use the room for something else. I could get some gym equipment.”

“We could get a decent sized desk in there,” Madari said. “Make it a study. But I was hoping we’d be able to have guests too.”

We’ll think of something.” Jahni sipped his coffee. “What guests were you thinking of?”

“Karen perhaps. Alex. I know, back home it would be unacceptable for them to stay, but here…”

“Nobody would even blink,” Jahni said. He grinned. “And they’d be perfectly safe with us.”

“I’m hoping to bring Kibibi over for a visit too. Perhaps next summer, during the school holidays. It would be quite an adventure for her. And she still talks about the team—Face especially—in her letters. I’m sure she’d like to meet them again.”

Jahni saw a tiny grimace cross Madari’s face when he said ‘Face’ .

“Faris, did anything upset you last night? You’ve seemed a bit out of sorts since the team left. You were talking to Face out here, weren’t you? Was there a problem?”

“He isn’t finding it easy to accept what we told them. He feels we didn’t trust him. And he’s just not very comfortable with the whole situation. We’ll have to be careful around him, not to offend him.”

Jahni snorted. “If Face has a problem, that’s his problem.”

“Don’t be so defensive. Face has a right to his views. And remember he is a Catholic.”

Jahni sighed. “I’m sorry. You’re right of course. I’ll be discreet.” With all they owed each other, the two of them and the team, Face had earned some time to get used to the idea. They couldn’t demand acceptance from him. “The others were okay though. Well Murdock already knew of course. And BA just doesn’t pry anyway. I was surprised Hannibal didn’t say more though.” He poured himself more coffee from the pot, and topped up Madari’s cup.

“I think he might have suspected for a while, so maybe it’s no shock.”

Jahni sat back in his chair with his cup. “Is anything else bothering you?”

Madari looked at him and shook his head. “You’ve only been living in California a few months and you’re already well into the whole therapy idea.”

Jahni chuckled. “Faris, I’ve been your therapist for some time.”

“Really? In that case it’s not at all appropriate for us to be sleeping together.”

“I resign.”

Madari chuckled and shook his head. He looked out at the beach, one hand resting on the railing around the deck. Near the waves a group of young people ran around, playing, splashing in the water. Their laughter and the shrieks from the girls floated over on the breeze.

“I just feel we have unfinished business. We’re settling down here and making a new life. Comfortable. Happy. And yet the vow I made to avenge Sophia is unfulfilled. Saifullah’s still alive.”

“He’s beyond our reach now. Sophia would understand that. She wouldn’t expect you to go back into danger.”

“I suppose.” Madari sighed, sounding unconvinced.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will assassinate him?”

Madari stared, as if the thought had not occurred to him. Then he gave a grim smile. “That would be satisfactory.”

And if someone did, Jahni wondered, did that mean they’d go back home? Try to take up their old lives? No, surely they’d passed the point of no return yesterday when they moved in together. They could never go back now.

Assuming their enemies knew about that of course. Were they watched? Did the enemy already know they were lovers and not simply housemates? His best hope lay in persuading Madari to be as open as possible. Not easy, given his naturally discreet and private nature—not to mention the long years of practice in keeping this secret.

He fought an urge to lean over and kiss him. Too outrageous. But he did reach out and stroke a hand through Madari’s hair. Madari smiled at him.

“What was that for?”

“Just you. Just for you.”

There was a woman jogging along the beach, a dog running with her. Not the same woman or the same dog Jahni had seen in his desert vision of the possible life he could have with Madari. But the image was close enough. Jahni waved to her—one neighbour to another—and she waved back.

“You know her?” Madari asked.

“Not yet.”


Close enough. 99%. Madari’s misgivings about allowing Saifullah to go on breathing were the only small damper on their happiness.

Perhaps that was inevitable. Paradise didn’t exist. Not here, not after death. But a man could make his own Paradise and they had made this one. An imperfect Paradise but theirs.

“I found you,” he said to Madari, who looked at him questioningly. “At last I found you in Paradise.”

Madari smiled and sighed. “Yes. I’ve pictured us here so many times. It’s hard to say if reality matches up or not. It’s almost too intense to take in.”

“Would you like to go back inside now?”

“Why? It’s very pleasant out here.”

“I could make things even more pleasant back inside.” He winked and enjoyed the way Madari’s eyes widened and his cheeks burned.

“Ah, Kahil, I do believe you’ve hit on the perfect way to spend the morning.”

Yes, he had. What better than bliss and ecstasy to fill their days here in Paradise? What better way to make up for all those years they’d turned their backs on the happiness they could have had?

No better way.

They stood and he took Madari’s hand and, when they stepped over the threshold, pulled him close with an arm around his waist. Anyone watching them couldn’t fail to see the kind of relationship they had.

Jahni wouldn’t let anyone take this happiness away from him, not even Madari himself. They were past the point of no return. They would never return to Qumar. They were home now.

Saifullah lived and yet they were free and happy.

Surely there was still victory in that?