Hello everyone! Welcome to another week of Bauer’s Bytes!
This week’s prompt comes from Stephanie, who asked for Sergey’s POV of the events at Volga Air Base in Enemy of My Enemy. This Bauer’s Byte contains spoilers from Enemy of My Enemy. Enjoy!
Sergey clenched the old map in his hands until it shook. Fuel calculations, scratched in pencil—erased, redone, erased, and redone—scrawled over the map, over the twisting contour lines of the Ural Mountains. His eyes blurred, going cross as he stared at the numbers. His molars scraped together, slowly grinding.
“I found these.” Sasha dumped two satellite phones on the burned table they were using in the wreckage of the hangar at the Volga Air Base. Soot puffed around the phones, smearing on the yellow plastic cases.
Sergey glared at the phones and then rolled his gaze up to Sasha. He couldn’t speak.
“No radio. We cannot use the Russian frequencies. But we can use satellite phones.”
“Flying and talking?” Sergey arched an eyebrow as he snorted. “This sounds terrible. Sounds even worse than driving and talking!”
“For reporting back what I find,” Sasha ground out.
Sergey fingered the sat phone’s plastic casing. “You will be blown out of the sky as soon as you take off. Moroshkin will track your jet. You will be dead in minutes.” How could Sasha even imagine that this would ever work?
Reaching into his jacket, Sasha pulled free a tangle of wires and a round metal canister. He tossed it in front of Sergey. Sergey glowered at the device, the cannibalized GPS beacon. “How will you navigate?”
“The old-fashioned way. With maps and a compass. I know what I am doing. Despite your lack of confidence in me.” Sasha glowered down at him for a moment, and then walked away, out of the hangar.
No. No, he wasn’t going to let this happen. Sasha was lying, and he would find out why. He followed Sasha, his expression twisting, hardening as he gripped Sasha’s map and his fake fuel calculations in a tight fist.
Outside, Sasha stood with his hands on his hips, gazing up at the slate sky. He’d found an old flight suit in the base, drab green and oil-stained on the knees and thighs. He’d rolled down the top and tied the arms around his waist, leaving his pale skin exposed. Red splotches stretched across his heaving chest, remnants of their earlier exertions hauling the MiG out to the flight line.
Sergey’s gaze traced Sasha’s form, the line of his shoulders, the gray chain dropping to the center of his chest and his dangling dog tags. His hardened muscles, so much more prominent than Sergey’s lanky, thin frame. Sasha had the fine blond hair and sharp facial features of a Nordic-Russian. He’d always been striking, turning more than one head in the Kremlin.
No one had ever seen him in a flight suit, though.
Any other time, Sergey would have cracked a joke about how he was trying to look like an American Top Gun, or showing off for the birds, or striking a pose like the haute couture models in St. Petersburg. Sasha would blush and stammer and shake his head, ignoring Sergey like he ignored him every time he pointed out that someone in Moscow was looking at him the way a dog looked at a perfect piece of steak.
Weren’t they friends? Teasing and jokes, and then being by each other’s side, day in and day out for months. They needed each other, he thought. He’d patched Sasha up, stitched closed his wounds from Sochi after plying Sasha with enough vodka to sedate a Cossack. Sasha had slept with his head pillowed on his thigh that night, hiding in a warehouse with the first members of their insurgency before they fled to the forest. And Sasha had been there when he’d heard about Jack’s death, and it had felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest. He’d held him through it, through the worst of the pain.
Why was Sasha intent on this? On flying away? Why was he insisting that this was the only way?
His temper took control of his tongue, his petulant, snapping rage swimming to the top of the sea of his turbulent emotions. “I am not a fool! You think I have not figured it out?”
Sasha walked away from him and said nothing.
Sergey saw red, saw the world narrow, his focus laser-sighted on Sasha’s back, his clenched shoulders. “Sasha! I am speaking to you!” He stormed after Sasha, ducking beneath the MiG’s wing and stalking around the tail. “You think this is some kind of joke? You can fool everyone else, but you cannot fool me!”
Sasha kept going, one hand trailing over the MiG’s plating, tracing the lines of the wing, the smooth surface.
Growling, Sergey snapped. Why was Sasha doing this? After everything, why was he ignoring Sergey? Why was he determined to fly off and die? He slapped the side of the MiG, bellowing at the back of Sasha’s head. “You are not a man! Not a Russian! You are a coward!”
Sasha whirled, glaring at Sergey. Fury poured from his gaze, and his hands clenched to shaking fists. Even his shoulders shook, trembling. “I am not a coward!” he snarled
Sergey stepped back, retreating, for a moment, in the face of Sasha’s wrath. Paper crinkled in his fist. No, he wasn’t going to back down, not about this. He shoved Sasha’s folded flight map in his face. Sasha’s route, sketched out in pencil, and his fuel calculations, redone and redone until they were lies. “I know what you are doing,” Sergey hissed. “Even with this jet fully fueled, you only have enough to get there. You do not have enough fuel to get back!” Anguish laced his words, underpinned his voice.
Sasha’s expression melted, his twisted, frustrated fury falling to shock, and then what looked like despair. His jaw fell open as he stared at Sergey. A split second later, he turned away, back to the MiG, tracing both hands over the metal, the long line of the wing. “It does not matter. We need this,” he growled. “We need to know for sure what is happening. It would not matter if everyone knew or not. They would still ask me to fly this mission. This way, their conscience is clear.”
He shook his head. “Why are you so determined to do this?” Sergey ducked under the wing, popping up right in Sasha’s face. His rage was banking against the hurt that clawed out of his chest. Why, Sasha, why?
“Let my life mean something! I was thrown out of the Air Force in disgrace! Let this be my real legacy!”
“Your legacy is already great. Your life means everything! You are everything to our fight! Our troops look up to you. They love you! They need you! I cannot do this without you!” Sasha was already a hero, so many times over.
Sasha shook his head and headed for the nose of the jet.
“Sasha…” Sergey growled, chasing him. He reached for Sasha’s arm. “This is not good. Don’t do this,” he pleaded. “Please.”
“We need to know what is going on.” Sasha stared at his hand.
“Send someone else!” Sergey hissed. He swallowed hard. “Send anyone else. Not you.”
“Send another to their death?” Sasha shook his head. “No.”
There it was, Sasha confirming what he already knew: Sasha intended to die. Fury warred with desperation as his heart tried to claw out of his chest, tried to shove aside his ribs and physically grab Sasha, reach out and shake him until he saw reason. Sasha couldn’t leave. Sasha couldn’t die. What would he do without Sasha? Everything about his life had been reordered, remade by Sasha’s presence. Sasha had become his North Star, his compass rose. His advisor in all things, his confidante, his best friend. Watching Sasha make his plans to die was like a hot knife stabbing in his chest, over and over again.
“Damn it, Sasha!” Sergey squeezed down on his elbow, almost bruisingly tight. Damn it all, they didn’t need the intelligence that badly. They could find another way. Any other way.
Sasha shook Sergey’s hand off and grabbed his shoulders, shoving him against the cockpit ladder. “Damn you, Sergey,” he growled. “Damn you.”
Sergey hit the steel ladder hard. It clattered behind him, and his skull rocketed back, snapping against one of the rungs.
Swooping in, pressing his body against Sergey’s, Sasha captured his lips, moaning as he nibbled, as he sucked on Sergey’s mouth. He swiped his tongue over Sergey’s lower lip, drawing it into his mouth. Bit down, and when Sergey hissed, he snaked his tongue between Sergey’s shocked lips. Sasha moaned, almost too soft to hear.
Sergey’s thoughts collided, crashing into one another like head-on trains. He couldn’t think, couldn’t string two thoughts, two words together.
Sasha’s hands trailed down his body, over his long sleeved shirt covering his thin chest, his loose combat fatigues hanging on sharp hips, and back up, curling his hands around Sergey’s neck. “So beautiful,” Sasha murmured, kissing him again. “Sergey.”
He couldn’t move. He must have hit his head harder than he thought. Reality had turned, twisting around on him into some crazed, wild delusion. This was where he woke up. This was where he woke up, face down on the soot-covered table. Where it was all a nightmare and Sasha wasn’t planning on flying off to his death. Maybe he’d wake up back at the bunker, before Sasha even came up with his wild plan. Anything. Anything to make this moment not real.
He stared at Sasha, frozen, his mouth open in shock, as Sasha slowly pulled back.
Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
Dread roared into Sasha’s gaze, a flood of it, a tsunami that made the blue of his eyes crack, shatter like broken ice.
He wasn’t waking up.
Sasha had kissed him.
Sergey stared. “You—” he tried.
Sasha stepped back, pulling away and dropping his hands, freeing Sergey. “It is nothing,” he snapped. “Do not worry yourself.” He looked away, his face back to its usual hard expression, shuttered and closed, an impenetrable iron curtain over his soul. As if the last ten seconds hadn’t actually happened.
Sergey said nothing. Did nothing. He still couldn’t think. Couldn’t process the new world where Sasha had pressed a kiss to his lips, had murmured that he was beautiful. Of all the possibilities, all the occurrences that could happen in the world, that had never, ever, occurred to him. Someone like Sasha… and someone like him…
Never. He’d never thought it before.
“Final preflight brief in thirty minutes.” Nodding once, Sasha strode back for the hangar, leaving Sergey frozen at the base of the MiG’s ladder.
His spine creaked as he turned his head and followed Sasha’s movements. He left? After that?
What had happened? Why had he kissed him, only to walk away like nothing had happened?
Maybe nothing had happened.
It had been a good way to shut him up. He still held Sasha’s crumpled flight map in his hands, the pencil marks smeared by his sweaty palms.
Every memory of the two of them together, from the first night he met Sasha—wide-eyed, bruised, and aching in his soul—to the evenings they spent with Ilya—laughing like children as they poked fun at each other—to the dirty bunker in the forest with their sleeping bags laying side by side. Sasha always slept facing him. Every time he woke, Sasha would always be on his side, facing him, as if he’d fallen asleep watching over Sergey.
The thought of Sasha caring for him was laughable. Dark Russian humor at its finest. There was nothing he could offer Sasha. A million-other people were more attractive, younger, more like Sasha. There was no world, no reality, where Sasha would ever feel for him. Ever desire him.
If Sasha felt anything for him, then why hadn’t he said so? Why would Sasha keep that from him? After everything, did he really think Sergey would react badly? Turn away in disgust?
It was nothing. It had to be nothing.
If it were something, would Sasha have walked away?
Sergey sank down, squatting in front of the ladder as he buried his head in his hands. Nothing had changed, and everything had changed.
Sasha was still leaving. Still flying to his death. And there was nothing he could do to stop him.
* * *
“My flight will take me through the Urals and north by northeast to the Kara Sea. I will stay beneath the radar deck, and out of sight of the air defenses. The peaks of the Urals will cover my flight from the North Fleet, based here, in the Barents Sea and around Murmansk.”
Sasha ran through his brief with military precision. He’d tightened himself, locking down even the slight and fractional slips of emotion that Sergey had always found. Always loved to tease him about. Sidelong looks. Barely-there grins. Glances between the two of them that spoke volumes. In a moment, he always used to be able to tell what Sasha thought, just based on the looks they shared. No more. “Much of the North Fleet went to Moroshkin,” Sergey grumbled.
“They are likely scattered, what with the invasion over the pole into Canada and whatever they are doing in the Arctic ice.” Sasha fingered the map, tracing the target zone he’d circled in red. To the west, the long, fingerlike Severny Island stretched into the Arctic. He tapped the ice-covered island. “This is my western boundary. I will fly over Novaya Zemlya—” He pointed to the archipelago of scattered ice islands in the Russian arctic. “—and into the Kara Sea. After, I will call my report in on the sat phone.”
Sergey clenched Sasha’s paired sat phone in one hand. He glowered over the table, ignoring Jack’s questioning looks.
“I will begin my return flight then.”
Sergey said nothing. He turned his head, staring at Sasha’s jet. Why was he the only one wanting Sasha to live? Why was everyone else supporting this damned mission?
Why wouldn’t Sasha look him in the eyes anymore?
“They’re going to fight back when they see you overflying.” Scott stood at Ethan’s side, wearing Sasha’s radio and carrying his old rifle. Sergey wanted to vomit whenever he saw him.
“I am expecting a few moments of confusion. After that, yes. They will open fire. Our training makes us fight each other. Air Force against Navy, Army against Army. I am used to their tactics. I know what to do.”
It was too much, dissecting the hows and whens of Sasha’s imminent death. He stormed out of the hangar. Maybe if he threw himself in front of Sasha’s jet. Would Sasha drive over him, launch over his body to finish this desperate mission of his? There had to be another way. Any other way, other than this.
The feel of Sasha’s lips on his ghosted over his skin, a memory he couldn’t shake.
Across the tarmac, Sasha slipped into his G-suit and shook Jack and Ethan’s hands. Scott nodded his goodbyes, and then Sergey saw him twist around, as if looking for someone.
Sergey turned away. He couldn’t look at Sasha, not as he climbed into his jet. Damn it, this wasn’t right. Maybe Sasha would find everything they needed to know about what Madigan was doing, and maybe he’d pinpoint Madigan’s location. Maybe they could use that intel to mount an offense, finally take the bastard out. But it wasn’t worth the cost. Wasn’t worth his life.
Sasha’s jet engines whined to life, and then he started the slow crawl down the tarmac, heading for the runway. Spray paint Sergey had placed himself warned Sasha away from cracks and potholes. He should have left a few unmarked. Small ones, just enough to disable the jet, make it so he couldn’t take off.
Save the world, or save Sasha?
He was a selfish old bastard, when it came down to it.
When Sasha passed Sergey, he glanced out the cockpit window.
One last look.
Their eyes met. Devastation slammed into Sergey’s chest as rage twisted through him. Anguish slid down his bones, hollowed out his soul. Why are you leaving me? I don’t want to do this without you!
Slowly, Sergey lifted one hand in a sharp salute. You’ve always been a hero.
Sasha saluted in return, staring at Sergey until he nearly passed him. You’ve become so much to me. I can’t imagine my life without you. Don’t, please, don’t take off.
At the last moment, Sasha dropped the salute, pressing his gloved hand to the canopy, reaching for Sergey. Damn it, Sasha! I—
A sob tore from his throat. He wanted to reach back, wanted to chase Sasha’s jet, run screaming down the runway as Sasha’s afterburners kicked in and he roared away, rocketing into the gloom.
Come back come back come back—
He stared after Sasha’s jet, at the afterburners and their heat haze, until they faded to twinkling stars in the distance, and then disappeared.
Why did you kiss me?
Why did you leave?
Timestamp: Sergey’s POV of the events of Volga Air Base, at the end of EOME.