Goddamn it, Ethan.
This was only going to end in disaster.
What the hell was his best friend thinking? Out of all the guys Ethan could have fallen for, he had to go and fall for the president of the United States.
When he’d first heard of Ethan’s crush, he’d mostly dismissed it. Daniels had brought him his concerns wrapped in a joke, a little teasing at Ethan’s expense. He’d gently prodded Ethan, and Ethan had laughed him away. Reassured him that everything was fine.
Like a sucker, he’d believed him.
And then Ethan had asked him, his voice almost shaking, about how straight people flirted, and everything came out. Every Goddamn thing—from how Ethan had fallen head over heels for the president to how twisted and confused he was, reading signs and signals into the president’s gregarious, effusive demeanor.
Spiers radiated friendliness. He was the most polite president they’d ever had served, both respectful and kind, and grounded in a way most politicians never were. Younger than most in the capital, Spiers was their first contemporary. A man from their generation. That in itself was rare. They could connect to him, to the president, in a way that was dangerous. Shared memories. Shared experiences.
Sure, there had been times when Scott had thought it would be nice to grab a beer and shoot the shit with Spiers. Ask about his thoughts on the Iraq War, the defining crux of their generation. Spiers was the one left behind when his wife had fought and died. He and Ethan had fought and lived. Different experiences. One war. Their generation, demarcated by desert winds, a grinding frustration, and a commitment to change everything.
So he could understand Ethan’s pull toward the guy, a bit. He seemed like a good man. Honest in a city of thieves. Friendly in a career of total assholes. Someone you’d want to spend time with. Pal around with.
Spiers was attractive, too, but most politicians who made it to the presidency were, in some way or another.
Scott got it. He got why Ethan would like the guy.
But Spiers was straight. Ethan knew it. He’d lamented about it in that car ride back from Camp David. He knew Spiers was straight, and he knew he wasn’t getting the signals he would if Spiers had been ready to jump Ethan’s bones and work on yet another sex scandal in the Oval Office.
The uncertainty of it all drove Ethan up the walls.
Spiers had seemed to be flirting. He’d seen it himself and had no idea what to make of the president’s actions. Quips to Ethan in the motorcade. The two of them side by side in the West Wing, chatting softly, heads together. He caught Jack winking at Ethan once, and Ethan stood stock still outside the Cabinet Room, gobsmacked and fidgeting and out of sorts for hours.
Hell, Spiers had even catered a private lunch for Ethan in his study.
Ethan had been disgusting after that, floating on cloud nine with a smile almost splitting his face in half. He’d been so freaking happy.
He kept an eagle watch on Ethan. Saw him checking his cell phone and trying to hide his smile. Saw Spiers’s eyes wandering, searching for Ethan. Saw Ethan in the tunnels under the Residence after hours, and his car still in the basement parking garage until almost midnight.
He wasn’t a stupid man. So he hadn’t been totally shocked when everything came out in Prague. Ethan’s hare-brained plan to take Spiers out to a bar. How Spiers’s eyes had watched Ethan when Ethan wasn’t looking. The way Ethan was drenched in misery, wafting off of him like a slowly breaking tidal wave, devastating everything in its path.
Spiers’s joke in that bar. His shitty, stupid joke.
It was like a bubble burst, and between Ethan’s outrage and Spiers’s crestfallen expression, Scott had put the pieces together. Rage tore through him, fury at the risks Ethan was taking with his career and his life. He would lose it all. Lose everything he’d worked for. As much as he wanted Ethan to find a good man and settle down from his bachelor ways, there were limits to what he was willing to see Ethan endure.
And that was way, way over the line.
But when they landed back in the States, something had changed. Ethan was happy. Exhausted, worn thin at the edges, but happy. Happier than he’d ever seen him.
Watching Ethan smile at Spiers—and Spiers smile back at him—confirmed his suspicions. He called Ethan out on it, growled and grumbled and bitched, but in the end, he’d offered to help.
Someone needed to watch Ethan’s back, Goddamn it. Ethan wasn’t watching his own, so whatever he could do to help salvage Ethan’s career, what he’d worked so damn hard for and was willing to put on the line for this one man. It was amazing, what Ethan was willing to risk. The highest position in the Secret Service detail. And he’d earned it, fair and square, through his hard work and professionalism. He’d proved all of the doubters, all of the homophobes, wrong. An openly gay man, proud, single, and living large, had taken the reins of the detail.
And had promptly fallen head over heels.
Eight weeks. He’d been watching Ethan and Spiers for eight weeks after Prague, and their terrible attempts at hiding what was between them. God, he could see right through their little charade.
The way Ethan would wait for Spiers after meetings, taking over from a junior agent just so he could walk with the president from one room to another in the West Wing.
The way Spiers’s eyes would light up when he saw Ethan, each and every time.
The way Ethan would rest his hand on Spiers’s lower back, escorting him through doorways and around corners and down hallways, when he didn’t need to at all.
The way Spiers sought Ethan out, and when he found him he beamed, everything in him turning toward Ethan.
The way Ethan’s car languished in the garage, day after day after day, never moving. Jesus, was the guy spending every night at the White House?
He’d growled for Ethan to give him his damn keys, and he moved Ethan’s car before the dust settled on his windows and anyone else noticed.
The way they smiled at each other. Held each other’s gazes, long, lingering looks before glancing away, almost flushed. The way Spiers sometimes bit his lip after those moments, and Ethan hovered just a little too close. The private conversations. Ethan spending unnecessary time in the Oval Office and Spiers’s study, and sneaking away on Air Force One into the conference room with the president when he spread out on the big table. Them just hanging out together, with no excuses, during the day. In the halls. In the West Colonnade, overlooking the Rose Garden. Drinking coffee in the Mess, taking their sweet time and laughing together.
And that was only what he saw. What happened up in the Residence, after Ethan pretended to leave and slipped off through the tunnels, he didn’t want to know.
* * *
Monday morning, two months after Ethan and Spiers had gotten together, he found Ethan sitting at his desk in Horsepower—supposedly reading shift reports and the squeal sheets, but instead, staring into the middle distance with a disgustingly sweet smile curving his lips.
Snorting, Scott collapsed in his swivel chair and rolled in front of Ethan’s desk. Their desks were arranged in rows, a neat grid facing the front screen and the displays and camera feeds of the White House grounds. It was early morning, and Horsepower was empty, the agents coming on grabbing coffee and chatting before the morning brief.
Ethan started, his smile vanishing, and he glared at Scott, clearing his throat and shuffling his papers, as if he was actually doing work.
That grin couldn’t be contained, though. It sneaked back onto his face a half minute later.
“Ah ha.” Scott chucked a wadded up ball of paper at Ethan’s face. “I knew it.”
Ethan batted the paper away, flushing. “Knew what?”
“You’re ridiculously happy this morning.”
There was that smile again. Ethan fought it, his lips twisting like a gymnastic routine. He gave up, leaning back in his chair with a sigh as he finally smiled and crossed his hands in his lap. “Had a good weekend.” His thumbs tapped against one another, self-satisfaction leaching from his every pore.
Scott rolled his eyes, almost hurting himself. “I don’t want to know, do I?”
Ethan shook his head, still grinning like a damn idiot.
“You two…” Scott snorted and laced his hands behind his head. Squinted at Ethan. “You good? I mean, you know. With…” He bobbed his head and shrugged his shoulders, trying to say it without words.
Swallowing, Ethan leaned forward, balancing his arms on the edge of his desk. The lighthearted banter fled, and the air in Horsepower turned heavy, filled with unspoken words and the weight of their secret.
“It scares me,” Ethan started, his voice low, looking up at Scott from under his eyelashes.
“What does?” Scott interrupted, frowning as his voice dropped to a growl. “What’s he doing to you?” If Spiers was hurting Ethan, president or not, he’d tear him limb from limb.
“No.” Ethan glared. “Not like that. He’s—” Ethan swallowed and pressed his lips together. His eyes softened, and his voice dropped again, almost to a whisper. “He’s perfect, Scott. Everything about him. I’m so fucking crazy about him.”
Scott’s eyes went wide, and he froze in his chair, no longer rocking. Damn. He’d never seen Ethan this far gone for anyone. At best, he’d hear of a guy Ethan had picked up one night, and when he remembered to ask about him again, Ethan would always smile and ask, “Who?”
“It scares me how good this is,” Ethan continued. “You know I don’t do this. Relationships. Never wanted one. But…with him…”
The door to Horsepower buzzed, and three of the younger agents badged their way in, laughing together and clutching their coffees. They nodded to Scott and Ethan and then headed to their desks, logging into their laptops and settling in for the morning brief.
Ethan leaned back, clearing his throat, and his stony mask descended, wiping away that boyish, stupidly-in-love grin he’d been sporting.
Shit. Realization slammed into Scott. Love. Fuck, he is in love.
“Ho-ly shit,” he whispered, almost singsonging.
Ethan arched an eyebrow at him, back to flipping through the squeal sheets.
“You’ve got it so bad.” Scott smiled wide. “You’re in love with the guy.”
He expected Ethan to deny it. To blow him off, or tell him that was way too soon. He did not expect Ethan to blush a furious crimson, staining his cheeks and his neck all the way past his starched white collar and beneath his tie.
“Shut up,” Ethan grumbled. That smile was back, trying to turn up the edges of Ethan’s mouth.
“Ho-ly shit.” Scott chuckled at Ethan and watched his blush darken.
And then, the reality of their situation landed in his lap as Ethan tossed over a squeal sheet with a report of “suspicious noises” in the subbasements and the tunnels beneath the Residence, late in the night.
“Check that out?” Ethan’s voice was strained, and he held Scott’s gaze for a moment too long.
And there it was. As awesome as it was that his best friend was in love and had finally found a guy that spun his wheels, no one could ignore reality forever. Ethan sneaking around in the Residence was bound to catch up to him, sooner or later.
“Checked.” Scott passed it back. “Nothing to report. Must have been a mistake.”
There were only so many times that they could cover like this.
He didn’t let go when Ethan reached for the report. Instead, he leaned in and dropped his voice. “How long do you think you guys can keep this up? Running around in shadows? Hiding from everybody? Which—” He shook the paper they both held. “You’re doing a shit job of it. And, I swear to God, something is going to come up that’s too big to hide. Something, somehow, and it won’t be able to be swept under the rug like this. When’s it gonna give?” He let the report go and sat back with a long sigh.
Ethan tucked the squeal sheet back into his pile, obsessively aligning the pages, making the stack straight. He wouldn’t look up, wouldn’t look at Scott. “I’ll keep this going forever, if I can,” he finally said, his voice grating, almost like a whisper. “And if one day, it all comes out…” Ethan paled, his lips tightening. “Then maybe we won’t have to hide anymore. Maybe we could just…be together.”
“Yeah.” Scott snorted loudly. “That will be the day. You and him, out in the open? Him in the White House?” He whistled, low, and stood. “I hate to say it, but I don’t see that happening, bubba. There are some things that I just don’t think the world can handle yet.”
Ethan’s eyes tightened. He swallowed, his Adam’s apple rising and falling slowly, above the knot of his tie.
More agents were badging into Horsepower, filling in the desks and standing in the back ready for Ethan’s morning brief. Ethan stood, spinning his laptop on the desk and calling up the briefing he’d put together. Short meeting for the day. With no trips planned and a quiet weekend behind them, they’d be in and out in twenty minutes.
Watching Ethan, Scott saw the tension settle back into his muscles. Saw the storm clouds darken in his eyes. His jaw clench and hold.
Now he felt like a jackass.
“Hey.” Crossing his arms, he bumped Ethan with his shoulder. “There’s always after his presidency.” He shrugged. “Get a little house… White picket fence… A dog with a diamond collar… Minivan…” He winked.
Ethan shoved him, but then he smiled, and some of the tension left his shoulders. “Sounds good to me, actually.”
Scott rolled his chair back to his desk, shaking his head. “You’re disgusting.” He added on a wink, though, just for Ethan.
The morning brief got started after that, Ethan rolling through the agenda and catching up on the intel reports and what his teams over the weekend had reported. As predicted, the rest of the agents were out of Horsepower within twenty minutes, heading for their posts and relieving the agents before them.
Scott watched Ethan pull out his phone and swipe the screen on. Smile and chew on his lip. Type something back.
“I’ve got things here.” Scott leaned back on the edge of his desk and crossed his arms. “If you want to go. You know. Grab coffee.”
Ethan’s eyes said thank you in all the ways he never could.
Smiling, Scott nodded, and as Ethan passed him, Ethan reached out and grabbed his shoulder, squeezing once. “Scott—”
“Just be careful, all right?”
Timestamp: Two months after Prague. The Monday before the nuclear attack in Nairobi.
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