AN: This Sparrowhawk-fic is inspired by, and can be read as a prequel to, the wonderful fanfiction "Our Right Trusty and Right Well-Beloved Cousins" here on FFN.
Nearly dying made you see the world differently.
It had only been three hours, but Bashik was finding that out. He'd always looked inward, at himself. Now, he was looking out at the world, at others, seeing everything with preternatural clarity, faces, gestures, standing out sharply and speaking to him of their meaning. Nejmet's touch when he'd come back, as he'd held her, felt warmer than ever before, but he'd not focused on his enjoyment of it, only on her and her feelings. He was not a little humbled to see just how much she cared for him, and where he might have shaken her off before, he concentrated on calming her worry, soothing her fears. In the faces of his aides and assistants, he'd seen, really seen, whom among them was glad of his return and who would just as soon he had stayed lost in the desert. He couldn't even bring himself to resent the latter; he'd given them more than enough reason, with his behavior over the years.
It was a while before he could look upon the faces of the two men he had shared his ordeal—he thought of them as kinsmen, now; they brought to mind the old Arab saying, "You may have a brother not borne of your mother"—but when he had sought them out, he'd found that only Scotty was available, for Kelly had not regained consciousness since the last time he had spoken in the desert.
On the whole, although the three of them were pretty wasted, it didn't surprise Bashik that the whitest man among them was taking the longest to return to consciousness. He remembered how, in the helicopter, Kelly was the only one among them who hadn't spoken or moved at all under his own power. The doctor had declared his condition the most serious. An American doctor, of course, not Raafat, the royal physician, whom it had not been necessary to bring along on this whirlwind tour. However, Maher, a young guard who'd stepped in to fill the vacancy left by the traitorous Halouf, had done a bang-up job of finding a doctor who was happy to make a King a house call.
A King, and his guests. Bashik leaned in the doorframe, watching Scotty, whose proud nature he so admired – himself still weak – as he knelt, apparently without shame, upon the floor by Kelly's bed, his head level with the unconscious man's, administering cold compresses and murmuring words too low for anyone but Robinson to hear. For more than two hours, in the beautifully appointed guest room at the Nevada villa, the American agent had lain quite still on the low, modern bed, an intravenous drip pushing fluids into his arm. And here was the man who refused to take orders from a king, willingly kneeling on the floor, and in the past half-hour, Bashik had seen him perform shockingly menial tasks. It left him shocked… and mystified.
"Hi, Bashik." Noticing his presence, Scotty half-turned, half-smiled.
"Hi." Unaccountably embarrassed, he blurted, "I'm not intruding?"
"Oh, hey, no, the more the merrier." The voice was kind, welcoming even, and Bashik relaxed. "Come on in."
He nodded, stepping a little way into the room, impressed as always in Scott's presence. He had not really known his father, beyond the vague impression of one with no time for him. His uncle had left him mostly to the care of governesses and later, private tutors. And this man was neither, was not a blood relation, nor even an Arab, yet… It gave him the strangest feeling in his heart to have a man he respected speak to him like – not even like an equal – like – almost like a son. As though he believed in him, believed that there was a man in Bashik who could actually be a king, could make a difference.
Scott turned back to Kelly, removing the cloth from his brow, methodically dipping it in the bowl of ice water on the nightstand, patting the sunburned cheeks gently with it before laying it carefully across his forehead.
Bashik opened his mouth to speak, then, armed with his newfound ability to see what others were feeling, took it a step further and consciously did something Nejmet was always telling him to do: put himself in the other guy's shoes. He tried, imagining, putting himself in Scott's shoes, and realized he must be worried about his friend. What would the next step be? To try and make Scotty feel better. "He's going to be all right," he said, trying to sound confident.
"Oh, yeah," Scott muttered, "tough guy, gonna be just fine." He fumbled for an ice chip and passed it over the cracked lips until it melted. Why was Scott doing this, wondered Bashik? The nurse would be back in fifteen minutes. Why didn't he wait until she…
As Bashik watched, he repeated the shocking actions of earlier: dipping a towel in water, he carefully sponged Kelly's bare arms and hands, and then carefully passed an ice-cube over the reddened, burned soles of his bare feet. Still working, he glanced up at where Bashik stood. "Did pretty good back there, you know," he smiled. "Saved all of our lives." A wink. "You royal phony."
The approval was like a clear spring, like cool shade, and Bashik smiled with delight. "And you thought I was just a spoiled brat." He struggled to sound cool. "Had you fooled, didn't I?"
"Sure did. Never seen a more obnoxious brat." Scott worked for a beat in silence. "No, straight up, man, you did good – the sun did a number on you just like on us. You were hurting bad, but you didn't complain. Not a peep outa you all the way. And then, when they found us, you didn't have to do what you did; you coulda given up, no-one could ever blame you with how bad off you were, but no, you just went ahead and did what you had to, took control of the chopper, flew it back here…"
Bashik slumped heavily into a chair, unable to process the unexpected praise. It hadn't felt like anything special – just something that had to be done. And he wished it hadn't had to play out that way…
Scott seemed to see through him, the clear, understanding eyes acknowledging what he had been hiding. "You had to have been feeling lousy, being betrayed by the people you trusted the most. And what did you do? You didn't leave them out there to die, you took responsible action, sent the cops out to rescue them, and you didn't even wait for the doc to finish treating you before you were working on the extradition papers. That was real responsible, Bashik. Something a king would do…"
Head reeling, almost floating, Bashik watched the dark head bent over the pale feet for a moment, his euphoria resolving into confusion and incomprehension. Scott must have sensed his unease, for he replaced the towel, dried his hands, looked up and said, "What's on your mind, O Royal Farmer?"
He thrilled with pleasure at Scotty's casual acknowledgement of his dream, and it was a job to concentrate on the thing that puzzled him. But he truly wanted to understand. "May, uh, may I ask you something?"
"Mi noggin is su noggin." Bashik blinked at the unfamiliar reference, and Scott rephrased. "Yeah, sure. Lay it on me, man."
Bashik nodded. "I noticed…" He feared to inadvertently insult, and this was something new to him, too, because he had never cared about anyone's reaction before. This would take some getting used to. "I beg pardon in advance if I give offense. But I noticed that you are a man with pride, a man mindful of your dignity at all times. But not with Kelly Robinson. Why is that?"
Scotty's brow furrowed. "You mean, when we're, uh, joshing and kidding around?"
Bashik shook his head. "No, not that. You… just now, and after we returned from the desert," he hesitated, "I… witnessed you washing his feet." He felt his face heat.
To his relief, Scotty chuckled. "Well, for a start, Bashik, let me clue you in: it's not such a big deal in our culture as it is in yours. I know for you, feet and shoes are particularly unclean, so it might seem like the ultimate indignity…"
"I'm not so sure it's just in my culture," he responded quickly. "Christ showed his humility by washing beggars' feet."
Scotty arched an eyebrow. "Well read. Have to give you a medal."
"It's just common knowledge," Bashik smiled, ducking his head to hide his flush of pleasure. He'd always liked reading, and now he liked it even more. They were silent for a beat.
"I dig," Scotty finally said. Bashik raised his head to look at him again. "You're saying I'm doing stuff beneath my station."
"I don't mean it in a bad way," Bashik said, "I just want to understand. One's expected to remain on one's dignity all of the time, and it's not always easy to know the difference between a reprehensible lapse and a permissible one."
"Well, King-in-training, you go for yourself!" The words were difficult to understand, but Scotty looked at him approvingly, and again he felt refreshed as though by a cool stream on a hot day. "Lessee. For a start, it's no sacrifice—it's no…" Scott seemed to cast about for words. "There are some things which it's okay to do in context, even if it wouldn't normally be your job, or the rules of etiquette wouldn't allow it. Such as, hmm, if you're in a situation where someone is injured and can't do it for himself, there's no shame in washing his feet, or putting on his shoes for him, or if, say, someone's on crutches and he just needs you to pull back his chair or open a door for him, even if you are a King. Or if someone's sick, and they gotta, you know, if there's no nurses around and he needs a bedpan…"
"I get it." Bashik nodded hesitantly. But then his curiosity got the better of him; no-one had ever spoken to him about bedpans before. "…Bedpans? Really?"
He was grateful the smile was amused. "Sure."
"Did you really… ever…?" Just in case, he added, "No offense."
"None taken. Uh…" The American's face took on a slightly embarrassed cast, but he spoke as if it were his duty to tell Bashik this. "Yeah, one time we were holed up in this dirt-poor village in India, and our ride out of there was late by about an everlovin' week, and Kelly was flat on his back with a tropical fever. Out of it for days on end." The intelligent eyes grew somber as he stared down at his partner's still face, seeing, perhaps, another place and time. "No transportation for a hundred miles. No doctor. No way to get to one. Nobody in the place wanted to help us, dunno if they thought we were unclean or what." He shook himself. "So yeah, bedpans, and they didn't even have bedpans, and the whole nine yards. It wasn't an indignity, see? I'd have danced the rumba in my birthday suit in the village square if it meant I could keep him alive." Scotty looked up at him. "Talkin' about this isn't my bag – but you need to know, Bashik," he said seriously, "when you're dedicated to someone, or something, there's no such thing as indignity. Dedication is – you'll know it when you feel it, if you don't get too hung up on your own dumb pride and turn your back on it." He took a breath. "It's when it's not about you anymore. It's about doing anything and everything you possibly can to make sure that the one you're dedicated to is safe."
Bashik nodded. "Like me and…" There's only one person he can think of for whom he'd trample his pride into the ground, and he ventures, not wanting to give the wrong answer, "Nejmet?"
"Well, of course that's great, because she's your wife, and your responsibility. But it's different for you," Scotty said evenly. "You don't have the luxury of being dedicated to one person. That loyalty has got to go to your people. It's a big responsibility, son, and not nearly as rewarding, being loyal to a faceless crowd. And you know, there'll be days when it seems like the game ain't worth the candle." He took a deep breath. "But you do get a reward when you least expect it..."
"Yes?" Bashik was hanging on his every word.
"…You'll see someone smiling at you, maybe a little poor kid, and if you're doing somethin' right, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that it's what you do, your policies, that let her eat, that educate her, that keep her healthy. That let her live in a time of peace. It's all you're gonna get, but just maybe, it'll make it all worthwhile."
"You are wise, Alexander Scott."
"You're gonna… give him a swelled head," came the thready voice of Kelly Robinson.
"First thing out of your mouth is a put-down. Man, didn't I hear Mom telling you if you can't say anything nice, not to say anything at all?" Bashik watched as Scotty whirled, his lecture forgotten, his eyes softening with affection even as he made a quip, relief erasing the lines of worry that had never quite left his face since their return from the desert.
He watched, and saved up a disconcerting question to ask for later.
He asked it that evening, when Kelly was resting comfortably, and Scotty was out on the patio by the pool, Nejmet idly dangling her feet in the water some distance away. "Scotty, what you told me earlier…"
"I had a question." The man nodded. "If I should find myself in a situation where there was a conflict between my loyalties, what should I do?"
Scotty's face was still in the light of the evening. "Can you make that a little bit clearer, man?"
Bashik looked over to the dark-haired girl by the pool, his best pal, his steady girl, everything that meant anything to him. Especially now, with his false friends gone, and his new kinsmen leaving soon. "Well, I was wondering. If Nejmet was threatened… and the safety of the nation was at stake…" Bashik shrugged. It seemed insoluble to him. "I do not know what I should do. I am dedicated to her, loyal to her. But my duty is to my country. Maybe you have some idea…" He spread his hands. "It occurs to me that you're in the same position. You're loyal to Kelly Robinson, I see that. But you, as American agents, you have a loyalty to your government, to your country. What if that duty should conflict w…"
He trailed off in alarm, for the agent's expression had darkened, become thunderous. It was a moment before he spoke, and he swallowed before he did. "Your first duty is always to your government," he intoned, his voice as blistering as his expression.
"So it would be all right… if Nejmet was threatened… to ignore her well-being… to…"
Scott's shoulders slumped. "I didn't say that."
"I said it was your duty." Scotty took a deep breath. "There are difficult choices. And then there are impossible choices. All you can do is hope to God you'll never be put in that position, because, if you are, you'll discover just how little your oath, country and ideals mean to you."
"I shouldn't be telling you this," Scotty sighed. "I should be telling you that your duty comes first. And it does," he brought himself up short. "Of course it does. But…"
"Loyalty to another person's just as important as loyalty to your government," came Kelly's voice from behind them, "and don't let Miles Gloriosus over there tell you any different."
Bashik could see the truth of what Scotty said about dedication in the way he leapt up to aid his partner, still walking unsteadily on burned feet, even as he reflexively made a joke. "Got any more words of wisdom to impart, Colonel Buttinski, before I tell this impressionable young mind to ignore anything you say?"
"C'mon, Herman, you know my wisdom is out of sight." Kelly grinned as he leaned on Scotty's arm.
"Got that right, it's invisible—" his partner retorted as he guided him to the chaise-longue by the pool.
"Sure you're a king," Kelly flopped down in Scotty's chair, pulling his partner down next to him, eliciting a 'I'm not a seat cushion!' of amused annoyance, "but that doesn't mean you're made of stone. Don't be unjust, don't hurt others, and don't put yourself first. Beyond that, if God forbid you're ever in that kind of emergency, it's fly by the seat of your pants and hope for the best."
"'Fly by the seat of your pants?' Is that any kind of advice to give a budding royal—"
"Better than the gloom and doom predictions you keep giving him, Jack—"
"Gentlemen!" Bashik was laughing with genuine, warm amusement, and he could see out of the corner of his eye that Nejmet was smiling too. "I think I understand. Capsule summary: Loyalty or necessity trumps dignity. If I'm put in a position where I have to choose between love and duty, I must find a way to save both, because both are equally important. And just because I'm a king," he finished, looking slowly from one to the other, "doesn't mean I can't love."
The Americans squirmed a bit at the word 'love', but exchanged glances of appreciative surprise. Kelly raised his eyebrows. "By George, I think he's got it."
"Royal faker," Scotty shook his head.
"Farmer-faker," Kelly chimed in.
"Had us fooled."
"I was just saying that."
Bashik felt oddly pleased with himself. "Am I correct?"
Scotty grinned at that. "Have to give him an A, won't we, Homer?"
Kelly nodded. "We certainly will. We will, at that."
Bashik smiled at the two of them, an idea forming in his head.
"I think," he said slowly, "that in appreciation for your inestimable advice and invaluable assistance, there is something I would like to give you." He quelled his friends' curious glances with an enigmatic smile of his own. "Tomorrow."