Previously: Long Live the King: Episode 16 – An Exchange

“I’m the reason why they’re all putting their lives on the line. I’m not letting you take an even greater risk…”

It’s December 30th; one night before all hell breaks loose. For weeks, we’ve been churning, and tomorrow, we would strike, waging war against the King we’ve tolerated for far too long. It’s been a long day of training and mentally preparing ourselves for the day to come. Although exhaustion has plagued us, all four of us, Fadel, Seif, Shehab, and I, sit around the living room going over the plan step by step.

“Seif, you’re my eyes and ears in there. Anything happens, every change, you report it to me,” I say.

“Understood,” Seif says right away, nodding. He has toughened since I first met him. More than that, he has proven more helpful than I would have thought.

“Shehab, you and Amirah are going to be taking care of the guards within,” I say, and dive into the details, pulling out the blueprint of the Royal Palace again, and describing our entrance, escape routes, and attack techniques: to fight, to harm, but not to kill.

Finally, I turn to Fadel and pronounce, “You’re going to be leading the rebels to the Royal Palace, through the front gates and into the square –”

“No,” he says, in a casual yet final tone. “Faris and I talked it over. He would rather be the one to lead them, and I’ll be in his place, with you.”

It takes me a moment to register his refute, and I blink at him. “No,” I simply say.

“Nour, I’m going to be with you whether you like it or not.” Fadel is quick to respond, and it dawns on me that he had come to this decision from the beginning, and that he was resolute.

From the corner of my eye, I see Seif glancing at Shehab and nodding towards the door. Quietly, they both walk outside, leaving me and Fadel alone.

Once they’re out of earshot, I speak, “Fadel, I’m not letting you do this.”

“It’s not your decision to make, Nour,” he argues. Surprisingly, he looks more assertive than I have ever seen him.

“But it is!” I exclaim, louder than I had intended. “I’m the reason why thousands of men and women are marching towards the most dangerous thing they could face. I’m the reason why they’re all putting their lives on the line. I’m not letting you take an even greater risk.”

Fadel’s eyebrows come together, in anger or confusion, I don’t know. “Oh yeah? Then why are Shehab and Amirah coming with you? Why was Faris coming with you? You didn’t seem to disagree with their choices.” I find myself stuck, opening my mouth then closing it, trying to formulate words, an excuse, anything. “Nour, I’ve been training with you ever since I met you. No one knows you like I do. We work together better than we do alone. You’ve said this yourself. I’d be more useful with you in there than merely causing a distraction!”

Fadel’s eyes don’t stray from mine as he stares into them. Beyond them, I don’t see his cries to be more meaningful or to have a greater role. I don’t see his reasoning that we are in sync when we fight. I see fear – toxic fear, the one that drives you to do crazy things.

I shake my head slowly, for too long. “No, no, I can’t have you do that,” I say, finally looking away, unable to look him in the face anymore. He can’t make me think like this, not the night before all humanity will be shed.

Before he could argue again, I sit down as I continue speaking, not remembering when the heat of the argument had gotten us on our feet. “Fadel, this plan…it’s wild. We’re all suicidal, and otherwise, hopeless, for going through with it. Many lives might end tomorrow, and I’m not –” my voice hitches “– I’m not ready for yours to be one of them.”

Fadel’s face shatters as he slowly sinks into the couch next to me. He says and does nothing for a while, and when he speaks again, his voice is soft. “Nour, I can’t bear the thought of losing you either. You think I’m fine with this? You’re charging like a bull into this war zone and I can’t do anything to stop you or even slow you down; for heaven’s sake, every time you’ve spoken for the past week was to bark orders. You’ve built this wall around you against any emotion and I don’t think it’s making you think straight. You’re focused on nothing but destruction and I – I fear for your life, too.”

I don’t know if it’s because of our distress or enervation, but suddenly it’s hard to breathe. I don’t want to talk about this, but I’ve been keeping it stifled for far too long to hide it any longer.

 “I can’t stand it,” I say and my lip curls, “All the things he has done and continues to do. It’s never going to end. Never, unless we put an end to it. It’s the only way, Fadel. And I can’t be the one to propose this and go through with it until the end of the line only to falter in the end.”

“I don’t want you to turn away from it. I want you to fight, with all you got. But you’re not invincible, Nour. It pains me, because I’ve always seen you as this unshakable force, but…” he pauses, “That day you came back from the tunnels, seeing you like that it – it broke me. Ever since you took me in, you were my hero – and that day made me realize that you can be vulnerable sometimes.”

I turn to him, facing him again. His eyes are glistening, his hands trembling. No, no, we can’t speak like this. We’re not going to say goodbye; we won’t prepare for something that I won’t let happen.

I open my mouth to say so, but he cuts me off. “You’ve always been the one to face the danger, always been the one to protect me and everyone. This time, let me at least be with you. It will be berserk tomorrow and not knowing if you’re alright, not even having you within sight, would only drive me over the edge. Let me have your back, just this once.”

No reply leaves my mouth for what feels like ages. He won’t be thinking the same of me if he knew. He would hate me if he knew what I’m plotting. He wouldn’t have understood; no one would. That’s why he can’t know. I’m a cursed thing who doesn’t deserve this much love and care, but for now, I relish it. I know that this is the last time I’ll get to feel something like this. So I only stare at him, into him, through him.  

I’ve always seen Fadel as the young boy who couldn’t afford the trouble on his back. He’s almost the only one I know who doesn’t have clouds of horror, and burdens to carry everywhere he roams. I always wanted to keep it that way, to keep a bright light in the midst of all this darkness.

“Okay,” I say, “But promise me, you’ll choose yourself over me. If anything goes wrong, you get yourself and the rest out of there.”

He looks troubled, but he nods anyway. “I promise.”

I don’t believe him.