Written by Nada Hemida

Previously: Long Live the King: Episode 13 – Not thy Enemy

“The house sounds oddly quiet and I register that Fadel might not be home…”

The way back to the city takes a toll on me. For the past 48 hours, I have spent almost 30 hours on the road. Knowing that all authorities must be discreetly hunting for Shehab, we went the extra mile to disguise him. If anyone were to find out about my trip, they were going to believe that I had gone to visit a friend and she had returned with me – for Shehab was dressed in a fine niqab, covering his face as well. Out of context, it would have been comical.

I have the vial. Or, to be more accurate, Shehab has it. While he did listen to my plan and agree to work with me, he still has some distrust. Good. That means he’s clever. All I asked was to see it. It’s small, the size of my palm, and it isn’t in a color I have seen before. It would have been fascinating if it had not felt so foul. It gave an air of darkness, but it also screamed for you to take it – which is another reason why Shehab has wrapped it up so carefully; to dull that compulsion.

I let Shehab take the secret passageway into my mansion while I take the front door, casually, as though I had gone grocery shopping for ten minutes and came back. The house sounds oddly quiet and I register that Fadel might not be home, but I wonder where Seif is.

“Seif,” I call, popping my head through the kitchen door. Empty. “Seif?” I call again, and climb the stairs up to Fadel’s wing, where Seif’s guestroom is.

“In here!” I hear, but it’s Fadel. I go to the balcony, where I find both of them sitting across each other, a game of cards between them.

“Are you serious?” I chide, but not too seriously.

Seif looks up at me, pushing his glasses up and smiling politely. Fadel’s eyes flick to mine, but he doesn’t turn his head as he puts down a card and takes another and says, “What? Seif was bored.”

I shake my head, and then I drop the bombshell. “Shehab is here,” I say, “We have the vial.”

Seif stares like he misheard me, and Fadel’s jaw drops. “You’re serious?” the latter says.

“Yes, now you better get your ass moving, because we start now,” I command. I survey Seif, making sure he’s alright. The man is quick to adapt, it seems. He’s still baffled though.

“It starts after you get some sleep, you mean, and maybe a change of clothes,” Fadel counters, scrunching his nose.

I smack his arm and turn to leave. Seif follows me, I sense, though I don’t turn.

“Hey,” he says softly. I mumble the same word back. So what happens now? I expect him to say, but he asks, genuinely, “How are you?”

I stifle an incredulous smile. “I’m good, and you? You and Fadel have gotten along well, I see.”

“Yeah, I just wanted to –” he says and then trails off. I stop in my tracks and turn to him.

“What is it?” I ask gently, “you can ask for anything; you don’t have to be shy.”

“No!” he says, and then continues bashfully, “I just wanted to thank you – since I didn’t earlier – for, you know, having Faris keep me safe from any danger, providing me with a place to stay, and being more than generous even though you don’t have to.”

I smile and say, “Seif, the day we look for reasons to be kind is the day humanity dies.” I start to turn away, but he stops me.

“I want to be with you,” he says. My eyebrows knit together before he adds, “In this war you’re waging. I want to help.”

I’m quick to shake my head. “I’m not dragging you into this. You’re already knee-deep,” I say and turn before he stops me again by standing in my way.

“I know I can’t fight, and I know I’m not good with weapons, but I know my way around tech – I can help,” he argues. “I want to help. I’m done sitting around doing nothing against all the wrongs that I know are happening.”

For a moment, I see myself in him. I see a young girl begging her brother to help, to be of any use or worth to the cause. The memory bursts into my mind like an intruder, my feeling of helplessness, and ultimate guilt that I hadn’t – but could have – done anything to help them.

“You –” I say and pause, realizing that the sudden memory made me forget how to use words for a second. “You might be of some help. Could you possibly hack into a security system that is probably the most warded in this country?”

He raises an eyebrow, and then smiles in relief, before saying, “I could try.”

I give him a confident smile then I leave him to rest before we make our next move.