ARABIAN NIGHTS

The Berbers still come here sometimes, looking for loot. The Touaregs stop at the well for water. Farouk and I, we like the view. From the outer ringwall of the fort you can see for miles and miles, as rocky reg turns into sand dunes and erg.

The fort holds no memories for either of us. We found it by chance and have returned a few times. It is quiet, peaceful, even if it gets cold at night. At Farouk's insistence, I wrap my cloak around me and tuck my hands into the sleeves. The razorblade is sewn into the lining. I finger it absently, to keep Farouk in line and remind him there is no deal to be cut.

==

Storm didnít lie to me. She didn't have to, I came with her willingly because I wanted to believe. But Charles was ready on the other end. He wanted Shadow King dead and the cost seemed small to him. So I whipped away into the shrinking pool of shadow and jumped and jumped, spreading my presence thinner and thinner. I think that maybe I jumped across time as well as space, because there are things unfamiliar to me here. And when I finally came to a standstill, one foot in the surf of the Mediterranean sea and the other on the Moroccan shore, Farouk was with me.

Oh, he was never the Shadow King. He was a sad, fat man, and scared, who dealt with things bigger than himself and who in utter foolishness >struck the final deal, that brought him back from death. A middle man with petty ambitions;. all he wanted to control the trafficking in North Africa. A global reign was far beyond him. He had neither imagination or inclination to create a nexus.

In the early days, I thought to send Charles a message to explain, but I realised quickly how useless it would be. No longer the gentle teacher, he is a war leader and he will not forgive Farouk, nor me. Farouk, more charitable, has forgiven Storm. No matter how she opposes him, she is still his little girl. Heís glad she switched sides before he died; his other enemies would have hurt her terribly before killing her. Why he made her live in a brothel has not really come up, but certainly everyone is entitled a few weaknesses.

I know, I ran from Charles because I didn't want to die. But lately I have come to believe I was right to run. Farouk died, David died and still the Shadow prevailed. As long as I live I can contain it within my seals, and afterwards there is another solution. Farouk agrees. He tried to get through to David before me, but David heard too many voices already and hated Charles too much and I'm infinitely better suited to do this than he was anyway.

==

We live as best we can. I left the credit cards behind long ago. Now I make money the way Farouk knows, dealing and pimping. The ultimate courier, I take the goods through every jump. A girl has to eat and I have come to trust, not him, but his instincts. His advice makes sense to me, in a way Kwannonís never did.

And there are fucks, yes. Those are transactions that leaves no electronic traces. Iíve fucked men and women for lobster. Iíve fucked them for a place to sleep and Iíve fucked them just to keep their minds occupied.

I was always good in bed. Farouk makes me better. Then I go home and he takes away the pain. He guards my sleep, more intimate than any lover, closer than a brother.

Fascinated by the body of woman, he sometimes asks me to run my fingers through my hair, even when itís a sweaty, tangled mass or over the planes and curves of my body. Runs my fingers along the insides of my thighs and I let him. I cannot find the strength in me to deny him this small pleasure. It costs me little and seems to mean a great deal to him.

Indeed, Faroukís needs tend to be moderate and carnal; he likes to eat and drink and fuck. Iím not as easy to satisfy. I want my family back, I want the X-Men. I want my mother to be alive and hold me. I feel dirty and foul.

Farouk, unable to understand any of this, hovers at the edge of my mind when I cry. He does not speak the language and his hands, used to the garrotte and the remote, know not how to touch. He despised his mother, backhanded his sisters to teach them proper respect, cut the throat of his oldest friend, but my distress distresses him. There is that.

And, yes, it does occur to me that I could be wrong to listen to Farouk The two of us flickering in and out of existence is the best dealing network he could have. It could be his elaborate revenge on me, turning me into what Iíve always despised. But he feels the pangs of degradation as much as I do, maybe more. He had all comforts in his Tangier penthouse, electronic wonders and priceless works of art. Heís told me about the Isfahan rugs, thick and soft and glowing as brightly as jewels. Our seedy life isnít anything heíd choose. As for listening to him, there is no one else, anymore.

==

The X-Men caught up with us once in Cairo. Unwise move, the city was Faroukís before it was Ororoís, but Charles didn't hesitate to throw his students at us in what seemed a neverending assault. At the last, Jean appeared out of thin air to freeze me in place. Her arms came around me, her mouth pressed down on mine as she smashed my shields to pieces.

I thought of strawberries and milk as blood beaded on her pale skin, then ran in twin streams from her nostrils, from her eyes. No holds barred, she hit me hard in the respiratory center, meaning to take me with her as she went. But I took her instead. Locked in her embrace, I told her yes, Jean, yes, and I jumped.

Scott was screaming and Warren. Her name, not mine. Then the darkness and chill of shadow and Jean was ripped out of my arms. I saw her spinning away from me, in a cloud of blood and red hair. Despite everything, I lunged for her, upsetting my own coordinate axis, but she was beyond my reach already.

When I came out of it, Farouk was squeezing and relaxing my diaphragm, to force air into my lungs. I had bitten through my lip, or she had, and Farouk cursed me bitterly for a fool.

==

I used to emerge refreshed and charged from each jump, gift of the Crimson Dawn, but I think I may have used up my share. My power has started to go, sometimes bringing us short of our target, sometimes making us a stutter of a presence in two places at once. I canít sleep, although Farouk sees I rest, and I have trouble keeping food down. I think this might be the beginning of the end and Iím glad. One day soon, weíll enter jump and fail to reach our destination.

But not yet and so I have to stay alive for a while longer until we have it all worked out. I must not get knifed in the back or collapse from hardships and malnutrition. Farouk uses my hand to draw in the sand, complex calculations full of symbols and figures, and mutters to himself. Sometimes he attempts to explain, but before he's halfway through, the sand blows away and I'll have to take his word for it.

He believes Jean is still out there, stuck between dimensions and barred from what we call reality. I point out that surely she would be dead by now, the way she was bleeding, and he shakes his head; time is just another dimension. One we must make sure Shadow King cannot access, when the time comes; the idea is to trap, not unleash him.

Farouk tells me it will work and soon. Farouk tells me Iím doing the best I can and that we'll make it yet. Give me one more night, he says. Just one more.

FIN