Author: C.J. Roberts

He was shocked to see Rafiq swimming in the pool when he approached, gun raised. His heart hammered wildly in his chest and he felt a little dizzy.

I can’t.

I can.

I can.

I can.

Rafiq emerged from the water and wiped his face. It took him a moment to see Caleb standing near the edge of the water. He smiled for a fraction of a second until he registered the gun in Caleb’s hand.

Rafiq glared and shook his head. “I wish I could say I’m surprised, Khoya.”

Caleb shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he returned Rafiq’s anger. “I am not your brother, Rafiq. I doubt you ever saw me as such.”

“You’re bleeding,” he said. His tone was casual and unafraid.

Caleb wiped at his forehead. “I had a talk with Felipe. It didn’t end well.”

Rafiq smiled. “Is that all? I don’t care if you’ve killed him, Caleb. Put the gun away,” he ordered. He was always giving orders. He’d always believed he had the right, especially when it came to Caleb.

“I didn’t kill him. I killed Jair,” Caleb said through a smile.

Anger swiftly came over Rafiq’s features. “And now you’re here to kill me?! You ungrateful little whore. I should have let you die in Tehran!”

Caleb felt heat race down his spine and he straightened. “Get out of the water, Rafiq. Slowly, or I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

“Do it! I don’t fear you, Caleb.” Despite his words, Rafiq stepped back toward the steps of the pool. Caleb followed him around the edge until Rafiq stood out of the water.

Without hesitation, Caleb shot Rafiq in his right knee. Rafiq yelled out into the night, his wet body thudding against the concrete.

Rafiq’s hands shook as he held his knee, fragments of bone lay around him along with copious amounts of blood. “I’ll kill you!” he screamed.

Adrenaline coursed through Caleb’s veins. “How do you know Vladek?!” Caleb yelled over Rafiq’s curses and wails.

“Fuck you! Give me a towel before I fucking bleed to death!”

Caleb reached for Rafiq’s towel on one of the lounge chairs and threw it in Rafiq’s direction. Rafiq shivered as he applied pressure to his destroyed knee. He was fighting shock.

Caleb felt sick to his stomach. When he was able to keep his nausea at bay and speak, his voice was broken. “Did you make me a whore, Rafiq? Did you take me from my mother?” It hurt to say the words. It hurt to look upon Rafiq and instantly know the answer.

It was in the way the anger disappeared on Rafiq’s face. There was a glimpse of shame, but only that – a glimpse. When it passed, Rafiq was once again filled with a self-righteous rage. “How dare you! How dare you ask me such a stupid question, Caleb! After all we’ve been through and all I’ve done for you. This,” he motioned to his bloody leg, “is how you repay me? You make me sick.” He spat on the ground.

Caleb broke.

He fell to his knees on the concrete and hung his head. His sobs shook his chest and robbed him of breath. His mind raced with images of his torment. He relived the rapes and beatings. He felt the loss of his friend upon learning he’d been burned alive. But the worst…were the memories of Rafiq and the life they had lived together – good and bad.

“It’s not too late, Khoya,” Rafiq said softly. His voice trembled. “Help me inside.”

Rafiq’s words brought the world back into focus for Caleb. He stared into his lap, saw the gun lying limply in his hand, and made a decision. He went into the guest house and found what he needed before coming back outside to Rafiq.

Rafiq wasn’t doing very well. He shook badly and the color was drained from his face. “What are you doing, Caleb?” he asked. For the first time, there was fear in his eyes.

Caleb ignored the question. He stretched the length of cord he’d brought out and gestured toward Rafiq’s hands. “Give them to me.”

Rafiq shook his head. “No. You’re not yourself, Caleb. Don’t do this!”

Caleb held the cord taut in his hands and reached around Rafiq’s head. He pulled back with both hands, dragging Rafiq into the house by his neck. A trail of blood followed them.

Rafiq didn’t thrash around the way Jair had. He was too well trained as a soldier to make such a mistake. He placed his hands around the cord, taking tension off of his throat.

Once inside, Rafiq reached back for Caleb’s arms, bracing the weight of his body and rolled toward Caleb. It was enough to throw Caleb off balance. Rafiq dragged himself on top of Caleb and punched him in the same spot Felipe had struck with the gun.

Caleb’s head snapped back and his vision blurred. He felt Rafiq’s hands wrap around his throat, his thumbs pressing along his windpipe. Caleb lifted his leg and kicked at Rafiq’s injured knee. It was enough to regain the advantage. As Rafiq instinctively recoiled and went for his knee, Caleb rolled on top of him. He kept punching Rafiq in the face until he went unconscious.


When Rafiq opened his eyes, Caleb could see he was instantly afraid. Caleb had tied him down on one of the lounge chairs that had been by the pool.

Caleb felt dead inside, but his thirst for vengeance had not abated. He had waited his entire life for this moment and it could not be denied.

He sat on the ground next to Rafiq. His knife sat delicately on his knee and still gory with Jair’s blood. “You’re going to die tonight, brother. I want you to know that,” Caleb whispered. “I can kill quickly if you tell me the truth,” he paused, “or I can use my knife and practice all the things you’ve taught me about torture.”

“Caleb…” Rafiq’s voice shook.

“That’s not my name, Rafiq. I don’t remember my name. It was taken from me,” Caleb said dully. “Do you know why?” Caleb looked up at Rafiq, his expression hard.

“You don’t want to do this, Caleb,” Rafiq said.

“No,” Caleb replied and shook his head, “I don’t want to do this.” He picked up the knife and poked at Rafiq’s knee.

“STOP!” Rafiq yelled. “Stop!”

Caleb returned the knife to his knee. “I never wanted to hurt you, Rafiq. Never! But you have to suffer for what you’ve done.”

Rafiq’s body shook violently. Sweat covered his body. “And what is it you think I’ve done?”

“I’ll ask the questions. I’ll start with the most important one: Did you give me to Narweh?”

Rafiq stared at him for a long time.

Caleb felt a tear race down his cheek and he wiped it away quickly with the back of his hand. He didn’t know he was crying. It had been so long since he’d cried and he suddenly seemed unable to stop. He cleared his throat, “Your silence betrays you, Rafiq. I had hoped you would deny it. I almost killed Felipe for even suggesting it.”

“It’s not true, Caleb. Felipe is a liar,” Rafiq whispered.

Caleb shut his eyes and wiped at his face again. He unexpectedly laughed. “You’re late. And unconvincing. But thank you, for trying.”

“I raised you,” Rafiq implored.

“You did,” Caleb nodded. “I think that’s what makes your betrayal so much worse. I worshipped you as a boy. You were my savior.”

“I treated you well, Caleb. I gave you everything your heart desired.” There was sincerity in Rafiq’s words.

“I always wondered why you came for me. At first, I thought you took pity because of what Narweh had done. I thought you rescued me because you were too late to save your sister. Felipe tells me you killed her…and your mother. Is that true?”

Rafiq turned his face away. “You don’t know about the things you’re saying,” he grated.

“Explain it to me, then. You’re about to die. Unburden your soul,” Caleb said numbly.

Rafiq took a deep breath and released it slowly. “And my wife and children? What’s to become of them?”

Caleb felt nothing. “Will your sons come after me?”

“They’re too young for that, Caleb.”

“I was about their age the first time I killed. Even younger when….” He couldn’t continue.

“They’re not like us. Swear to me you’ll leave them alone and I’ll tell you what you want to know.” Rafiq turned his head and looked at Caleb.

He nodded. “I swear it.”

Rafiq also nodded. Tears swam in his eyes. “Thank you, Caleb.” Rafiq turned his gaze toward the ceiling. “I know you won’t believe me, but I have always regretted what happened to you. I was in pain and I…. I tried to make it up to you.”

Caleb felt a rush of hot tears, but managed to scoff. “As if anything could make up for what was done to me! You know! You know what they put me through, the pretty American boy who everyone called Dog.” Caleb picked up the knife and stabbed it into Rafiq’s thigh and twisted the blade.

“Caleb!” Rafiq shouted. “Please!”

“Yes! Please! That’s how I begged, too. I said it so much, Narweh used to taunt me with the word.”

“I gave you vengeance!”

“Vengeance will never undo what was done! Your betrayal is worse than anything Narweh ever did. He never betrayed me. He raped my body, but you…. You, I loved.”

Rafiq was delirious with pain and blood loss. “Khoya,” he croaked, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s too late, Rafiq. Much, much, too late.”

Rafiq shook his head, “Vladek is a monster. He ruined my beloved A’noud. He turned her against me. My father had died and my sister was carrying Vladek’s bastard! I was sick with grief. We fought and my mother got in the middle. I never meant to hurt them. They were my life! Vladek took them from me!”

“You killed them! You are responsible!” Caleb pulled the knife from Rafiq’s thigh and listened to him weep. Caleb had never seen Rafiq cry and it did things to him he did not expect. He wanted to feel nothing but hatred, but he couldn’t.

Caleb had done things too. He had killed and tortured. He had sold women into the very life he condemned Rafiq for thrusting him into. Caleb was no better than Rafiq. He deserved no better. Caleb had told Livvie he was sorry for what he’d done. He had meant it, but his apology could no more erase his actions, than Rafiq could erase the past.

If Livvie could show forgiveness, Caleb could try.

Caleb got up on his knees and put his hands on Rafiq’s face and turned his head toward him. Rafiq met his gaze and Caleb saw sorrow and perhaps, remorse. Caleb leaned down and kissed Rafiq on both cheeks before he looked at him steadily in the eyes. “I forgive you,” he whispered.

Rafiq smiled weakly and shut his eyes.

Caleb slowly reached back for his gun and shot Rafiq in the heart.

Afterward, he washed Rafiq’s body. He removed errant blood and dressed his wounds with strips of cotton sheets. He wept as he wrapped the body tightly.

With great difficulty, he carried him out toward one of Felipe’s gardens and buried the only family he had ever known.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Day 11: 5am

“Are you hurt?” Caleb whispers. His blond brows are creased in concern. I’ve never seen him look like this. He’s so happy, at ease.

I reach up and caress his beautiful face. “I’m okay.”

He swipes at my eyes, “Then why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” I say and continue to run my hand across his face. “I think I’m just happy.”

He smiles, “Strange response to happiness, but okay.” He leans down and I feel him lick one of my tears.

I squirm, “What are you doing?” I laugh.

“I was curious,” he whispers very seriously.