Too Close for Comfort
It was a few hours past sunset, and the desert night was still and quiet. Somewhere on the outer fringes of Istanbul, a solitary light was burning, illuminating the lone window of a small shotgun house that would have been, under any other circumstance, quite unremarkable. Indeed, to unknowing passers-by, the tiny house could have been just another residence in the poor district of Istanbul. Of course, that was the idea. Given the line of work the inhabitants of the house were in, it would have paid for them to not be inconspicuous.
Sitting at the small table in the makeshift kitchen, Abd Katib bin Mohammed sat, halfheartedly skimming the front page headlines of some local newspaper. One in particular caught his eye: “Car Explosion in Grand Bazaar,” it read. The subtitle, “Twelve killed, dozens injured.” Among the casualties, the story reported, was a group of prominent businessmen, visiting from Syria. There were no reports, God be praised, of the condition of any of the men involved. Nor, more importantly, on their identities. Thank you, merciful Allah. Katib breathed a sigh of relief despite himself. So long as the names of the men stayed under wraps, the mission would not be compromised, and the man that Katib guarded would remain safe--at least, for the time being.
In the bedroom adjoining the kitchen, Asad bin Taysr slept. The painkillers that the Egyptian doctor at the hospital had prescribed had seemed to do their job. Asad had been sleeping for the better part of the afternoon. Not once had he stirred, nor emerged from his bedroom. Katib had taken it upon himself to look in on him now and again. He slept, for lack of better comparison, like the dead. And perhaps, Katib thought, this was for the best. The explosion and resulting head injuries had left Asad dazed, disoriented--though Katib knew it could have been worse. Much worse. It was by the grace of God that Asad had escaped with his life.
The newspaper report had ruled the car explosion an “accident,” and stated that the police did not believe that terrorism was in any way involved. Katib had his suspicions. While Asad bin Taysr was al-Qaeda’s third in command, a man who was feared and respected in many circles, he was also a man who wielded great power--and there were always those who envied that sort of power. Katib didn’t rule out the notion of a traitor within the organization, one who would seek to gain influence by eliminating Asad and ascending to his position. A dull sense of rage instilled itself deep within Katib, rising dangerously to the surface. If there was a traitor, any man at all who would do Asad harm, Katib would hunt him down like the dog that he was. The end he would meet at Katib’s hand would be, by no means, quick nor painless.
Quickly, Katib shoved that thought aside. What was of the most importance now was Asad--and presently, it sounded as if he might be trying to stir. From the bedroom, there was the softest of rustlings, followed by a low groan. Katib arched an eyebrow, set the paper down on the table. Sheik, stay in bed…
No sooner than Katib was about to call in to Asad, ask if he needed anything, he looked up to see a rather disheveled Asad standing in the doorway. He looked unsteady on his own feet, clinging to the doorframe for support.
“Sir?” Katib regarded Asad questioningly. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“I--” Asad blinked, looking almost as if he weren’t quite sure himself. “I was just getting a glass of water. The last pill wore off. I need another.”
“How many of those have you taken? You’re not supposed to exceed six within a twenty-four hour period.”
“Then, this one is my sixth.” Asad attempted a step forward into the kitchen, and promptly faltered. In all of a moment’s time, Katib had jumped from his chair and halfway across the room to Asad’s side. He caught the diminutive man around the waist, supporting him with a strong arm.
“You shouldn’t be up,” Katib told him. “I’ll get your glass of water. You need to rest.”
“Please, Katib,” Asad said dismissively. “I’m fine. I can get it myself.”
“No, you aren’t. And no, you won’t.” Katib countered, matter-of-factly. “Come. Lie down.”
“Really, this isn’t necessary.” Asad protested, even as Katib turned him gently and ushered him back to bed. He plunked down on the mattress, the look on his face directed toward Katib nothing short of a dignified pout. Despite his obvious indignity, Katib was satisfied.
“Thank you, my prince,” he said gently. “I’ll be right back. Is there anything else I can get you?”
“No, Katib,” replied Asad. “Thank you.” Katib nodded and disappeared. He returned a moment later with a tall glass of water, handing it to Asad. He watched as Asad took a sip and downed the pills. “Thank you,” he said again, setting the glass on the nightstand.
“Are you comfortable?” asked Katib with concern. He reached behind Asad’s head, fluffing his pillows. “Anything at all you need, sheik, just name it.”
“Well--” With dark eyes clouded with sleep, Asad peered over his glasses at Katib. “I can think of one thing.” He smiled sheepishly. “Stay with me?”
“Of course.” He eased down on the mattress next to Asad, and his pulse quickened significantly as the other man shifted against him, falling into his embrace. He wrapped his arms around Asad’s slender waist as he pressed his body into him, his head finding the crook of his shoulder.
“Much better,” Asad murmured against the side of Katib’s neck. Katib exhaled shakily; he was suddenly acutely aware of Asad’s hand resting on his ribcage, the smaller man’s heart pounding against his own chest.
“How’s your head?” He took to stroking Asad’s back, running a hand soothingly up and down his spine.
“It hurts,” answered Asad, almost childishly. “But I thank God it was not worse--I am lucky to be alive.”
“I know,” admitted Katib. That thought had crossed his mind more than once over the course of that day. “There are few things,” continued Katib, “that I fear in this world. But when I saw them drag you out of that car, saw you lying on the pavement in a pool of blood, I--” He pulled Asad to him tighter, wanting--needing--to feel him close, as close as was humanly possible. “I was certain we’d lost you. And I’ve never been more terrified of anything in my life.” Katib felt Asad sigh softly, felt him shift his weight again and suddenly, the two were face to face, their noses practically touching.
“One of the things they say about me,” declared Asad, “is that I’m one of the most resourcefully resilient men in the organization.” He smirked. “Trust me, Katib. It would take a lot more than some ill-placed explosives to kill me. And that which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.”
“You know I would do anything to protect you,” Katib whispered fiercely. “I would fight to the death for you, just to know that you are kept from harm.”
“I know,” Asad smiled wanly. “And I thank you for it.”
His kiss was warm and tender, his lips lingering softly against Katib’s for a long moment. As Katib held tightly to Asad, as if he clung desperately to his own survival, he realized that Asad was his survival, his cause his very life. When they parted, Katib gazed deeply into the eyes of the man that was his only weakness--and yet, his greatest strength.
“Hmm?” Asad peered back at Katib with questioning eyes.
“I love you. More than anything.” Asad smiled sweetly, one hand coming to rest against Katib’s cheek.
“I know,” he said simply, with a little smile. Then, “Today has been difficult for both of us. You should rest .”
Conversation ceased. Asad settled into Katib’s strong arms once more, his head coming to rest against his broad chest. He was considerably more relaxed now; the painkillers were starting to take effect. Within minutes, Asad was asleep.
Katib stayed awake, watching him. His hand flitted over Asad’s dark head, his fingers lightly stroking his hair. In a split second, he felt a stab of emotion--adoration, terror and hate all wrapped into one. With God as his Holy witness, in the name of the Prophet Himself, he was going to find the bastards that did this. And by God, he was going to make them pay.
But first, he was going to sleep. Katib knew he wasn’t going to leave Asad’s side that night--or the next night, or the next, for that matter. With a sigh, he let his head fall back against the pillows, closing his eyes. Soon, Katib followed Asad into a deep and dreamless slumber.