Ever After, a Work in Progress – Sergey & Sasha post-Enemy Within

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!

This week, we’re taking a look at Sergey and Sasha… post Enemy Within.

***If haven’t read Enemy Within, this Byte is not for you! Major spoilers for Sergey & Sasha’s plotline in Enemy Within!!***

Warning for internalized homophobia.


 

“Come home?” Sergey whispered against Sasha’s lips.

 

Slowly, Sasha nodded.

 

* * *

 

They stood like that for what felt like an age, bodies pressed tightly, foreheads mashed together so hard their skulls started to ache. Noses slid, breaths ghosting across cheeks and lips as they traded slow kisses. Sergey tried to smile. Sasha chewed on his own lip, the corners of his mouth pulling downward.

 

“I have to go back to the Kremlin,” Sergey finally whispered. It was past time to go, and his driver was probably chain-smoking cigarettes as he waited, pacing outside the hotel. “Come with me. Please.”

 

He didn’t trust Sasha to follow behind him, or to come later. He’d said he would before, leaving the Arctic.

 

Never again. Sergey never wanted to feel that aching emptiness again, the bottom of his world falling away as he realized Sasha had left. Again. Part of him admonished his own foolish heart, called him an idiot fourteen different ways. Of course this would end with him alone. Of course Sasha would leave. He was only forestalling the inevitable. Sasha would always leave him.

 

Why start this agony again?

 

Sasha nuzzled his cheek, his hot breath brushing over his skin. “I need to pack,” he grunted. “Grab my things.”

 

I will follow you to your room and watch you, and then walk you to my limo. An irrational part of Sergey wanted to escort Sasha like a prisoner, capture him and keep him in the bonds of his love. Stay, stay, stay! Our love is enough!

 

“I will wait for you in the lobby,” he whispered.

 

Sasha nodded, his head jerking like he was a broken marionette. He took a shaking step backward, and then another, and another. He backed his way out of the ballroom, staring at Sergey the whole time, like he couldn’t bear to turn around, couldn’t bear to look away. Sergey stood frozen, watching him leave. Desperation clawed at his insides, screams and cries to chase him, to grab him, to not let him out of his sight. Panic sang just beneath his skin. Made his heart hammer.

 

He drifted to the lobby and perched on a velvet sofa, his fingers playing over the ruby folds, the gold painted arms. Sasha would return or he would not. And Sergey would have his answer. It would be easier if Sasha ran now, stabbed him in the heart (again) when he was still guarded and unsure. Hopeful, yes, but he hadn’t put all his chips on black just yet. Being with Sasha still felt like dream, a dream out of reach for forever.

 

The elevator doors dinged.

 

He inhaled, held his breath, and looked up.

 

Sasha stepped out, clutching a ratty duffel in one hand, his fist so white it looked like a ghost’s hand. All the blood had been squeezed out, and his arm trembled, his duffel shaking ever so slightly in his grasp. Over his other arm, he held his tux. His eyes were wide. Sergey could see a ring of white wrapping around his perfect blue irises.

 

He rose, joy, relief, and hope crashing inside him like waves breaking against cliffs. Sasha came back. This once, he came back. He smiled, his grin spreading wider and wider until he felt like his cheeks were going to fracture.

 

Sasha held out his tux awkwardly as he drew close. “I did not know what to do with this.”

 

“Keep it. You will need it again here, I am sure.”

 

Sasha nodded once, swallowed, and looked away.

 

Sergey held out his hand, beckoning Sasha with him to the front doors, and his waiting limo. His security team stood back, giving him and Sasha a bubble of privacy. Ilya had handpicked these men, replacing his former security agents, who had all died in Sochi, with the best of his men from the FSB. They bled the Russian flag and had fought for Sergey’s insurgency, or with Ilya. They had been willing to die for Sergey before.

 

Would their loyalty remain so steadfast if they discovered his love for Sasha?

 

Security agents saw all of the demons a president tried to hide. They knew where all the bodies were hidden, and exactly how many skeletons were in the closet. Would he have to hide his and Sasha’s love from his own shadows?

 

He shook his head, banishing his worries. Those were for another time. First, he and Sasha just had to get to the Kremlin together.

 

One thing, and then another.

 

Sasha walked behind him, slowly, his shoes scuffing against the marble foyer of the hotel. Sergey’s security agents pushed open the doors, and his driver stubbed out his cigarette before jogging around the side of the limo and holding open the door. Sergey stepped back, offering the first seat to Sasha. Would he slide in? Or would he freeze? Turn away?

 

Sasha’s jaw clenched, but he passed by Sergey, bundling his tux in his arms and hauling his duffel close. He clambered into the back of the limo and slid to the far side, pressing against the window. He held his tux in his lap, the fabric bunched and wrinkled, one jacket arm flopping onto the seat, a pant leg dragging in the footwell. He held it like a shield, like a protective cover, his arms wrapped over the fabric on his chest and stomach.

 

Hope, a treacherous thing, was building within Sergey, despite his admonitions. He got in the limo. That has to mean something.

 

Sergey slid in after Sasha and nodded to his driver. The door slammed shut.

 

Silence, save for the sound of their breathing. Sasha’s fast, heavy breaths through his nose. Sergey’s quiet, slow sigh.

 

The driver hopped into the front seat and mumbled into his radio. Bursts of Russian flew back as the car started, the engine rumbling.

 

Sergey settled his hands on the bench seat, gripping the edge. He reached halfway into the space between them, the no man’s land of darkness and smooth, black leather. His pinky stretched for Sasha, a few inches of skin that seemed to scream his desperation.

 

Nothing. Sasha stared out the window, clutching his tux.

 

Sergey looked away. Hope was like a roller coaster, or a fighter jet, screaming through the skies in a dogfight with reality. As high as he climbed, he rolled and started plummeting for the earth. He should gird himself now. Sasha was probably composing a stiff goodbye, an apology and an insistence that his way was the right way. Maybe, if he was lucky, Sasha would pretend he would keep in touch while he was training in Houston.

 

Something touched his pinky.

 

His eyes darted down. Sasha’s shaking hand grasped the bench seat, right beside his own. And Sasha’s pinky reached out, the tip just barely stroking down the side of Sergey’s little finger. The barest touch, a hidden touch.

 

He looked up. Sasha gazed at him, fear and agony twisting his expression apart. He was so afraid, so terrified. Was love such a horrible thing for him? I want what is best for you! Only what is best for you! Sasha had said. If you were attacked like I was… I could not live with that!

 

Sergey wrapped his fingers around Sasha’s pinky, an almost hand hold. Sasha gasped, a quick drag of breath through his nose. His eyes squeezed shut.

 

Sergey didn’t let go. Sasha didn’t pull away.

 

The limo bounced over the open gate to the Kremlin. Cobblestones hummed beneath the tires. The Kremlin Palace rose on the right, St. Basils far to the left. Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower rose above them, a harsh shadow slashing through the limo.

 

Sasha’s hand slipped from his and disappeared back into the wrinkled fabric of his tux.

 

They pulled to a stop at the private entrance. It was a slow day at the Kremlin. He’d planned the Heroes Ball for a Friday night and hoped that his people would enjoy the night, the celebration, and the weekend after. That they would let the pressures of the past month, the past year, even, bubble over and disperse.

 

No one was there to watch him and Sasha clamber out of the limo. His security agents stood back, and the limo driver looked away.

 

Still, they kept their distance from each other. Sasha walked behind him, ever deferential, even when Sergey insisted that he was equal in every way. But at least he was there, at least his footsteps shadowed Sergey’s all the way through the Kremlin Palace and up to Sergey’s apartment.

 

Their apartment, if he had his way. He’d start that argument later, though. No doubt Sasha would want to keep a separate apartment, keep up appearances that they weren’t together. Part of him knew that was smart. Another part of him was selfish and wanted Sasha by his side, constantly.

 

Sasha followed him into his apartment, silent and still. He still clutched his duffel and his tux, rumpled and wrinkled beyond salvation. His tailor would have a fit, and he’d get a snarky note back from the dry cleaner. Sergey smiled, imagining reading it to Sasha.

 

Would Sasha still be here in a week to hear it?

 

Enough. He had to be in this moment, not borrowing fears from the future.

 

Sergey guided Sasha through the apartment, past the dining room and the repaired gaudy golden dining table, and past the sitting room, where he and Ilya and Sasha had all spent so many nights together, drinking and laughing and arguing. He wanted those nights back, that warm happiness to return to his apartment. But Ilya said Sasha’s name like it was a curse, and Sasha hadn’t smiled for months.

 

Well. Except for that one time on the ice, after he’d tried to kill them both with his insanity in the plane and the ejection seat.

 

He saw Sasha’s gaze track the changes, the piles of destroyed paintings, the ripped-up carpet and hardwood, the patches of bare flooring. Broken glass panes in the curio cabinet. Broken crystals in the chandelier. New couches. “The Kremlin was mostly destroyed by Moroshkin’s men.” He stopped and pointed to the mantle over the fireplace. “That survived, though.”

 

The bust of Aleksander Pokryshkin, Sasha’s Air Force hero from World War II, sat in the center. He’d found it covered in dust and propping open a door, the heavy bronze worth no more to the invaders than as a doorstop. He still remembered Sasha’s quickly-stifled joy when he’d casually revealed it to him. Of course he’d brought it out of storage for Sasha. Even then, months and months ago, he’d been falling for this man.

 

Sasha gazed at the bust and then turned back to Sergey. His eyes burned, too many emotions tangling in his blue depths. His eyes were like the broken ice of the Arctic, the underbellies of icebergs that glinted turquoise and sapphire in the silent stillness of the waters. Places no one could ever see, not normally. Was he the only man alive who could see into Sasha’s soul?

 

“Come with me,” he muttered, holding out his hand. He touched Sasha’s elbow, guiding him to his bedroom.

 

Sasha had never been there before. He’d never taken him to the back of the apartment, to his private spaces. He’d never seen the old, ostentatious four-poster bed, a legacy from the days of old. Or the velvet curtains that had been shredded by Moroshkin’s men. Statelier, more refined furniture sat in place of all that had been destroyed. A simple king bed, and plain nightstands.

 

Sasha took it all in, his wide eyes moving around the room. His breath sped up.

 

Slowly, Sergey reached for his tux and his duffel. Sasha let go of both like he was a man condemned to die, and Sergey was taking away his last possession. Sighing, Sergey stepped back, dropping Sasha’s things on one of the only chairs to survive the carnage, a dark wingback wrapped in silk and satin.

 

“Do you need to go?” Sasha’s voice was low, his words clipped. His hands closed at his sides, making tight fists.

 

Sergey shook his head. “No. Today is a day that is just for you. I want to spend every moment with you, Sasha.” He swallowed. “What do you want?”

 

Sasha’s gaze met his, finally. “That,” he breathed. “You. I want you.” He looked away after he spoke, his jaw clenching and unclenching.

 

Finally, govno, finally, a sign, a signal, something from Sasha that said he wanted this, too. That he wasn’t meekly following Sergey because Sergey was his president. That he actually wanted this, wanted them, as well.

 

The burn started in his fingers, an ache to reach out to Sasha, touch him everywhere, hold him again. He’d brought him to his bedroom to talk, to sit and just be together, but… The thought of being with Sasha again, being close to him, was too strong. His nerves sang, his muscles clenched. His belly tightened, and heat spread from his balls, curling through his groin. His cock, which hadn’t stirred since Sasha had walked out, twitched.

 

“Sasha…” He reached for him, cupping his cheek. Sasha’s eyes closed, and he turned into Sergey’s touch.

 

His hands shook as he reached for Sasha’s sweater, and his fingers slid under the dark hemline. He didn’t wear a belt, and his pants hung low on his hips. His jutting hipbones fit perfectly into the hollows of Sergey’s palms. The skin on his back was cool, the blond hairs there rising to meet Sergey’s fingers as he grazed his touch along Sasha’s spine. Sasha shivered, and his head tipped back as he groaned.

 

His hands stayed fisted at his sides.

 

Slowly, Sergey peeled Sasha’s sweater off, his hands traveling up Sasha’s sides, over his ribs, pushing the dark fabric up. Sasha’s pale chest, his thick muscles, his freckled skin, already splotchy with a red flush, appeared.

 

It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Sergey’s heart lurched, and his cock leaped, and his soul ached. He grabbed Sasha, hauled him close, wrapped his hands around Sasha’s narrow hips. His palms slid up, traveling over all of Sasha’s skin, the hollows of his back, his heaving chest, his shoulders, the defined muscles cording around his neck. Sasha was beautiful, was perfect, was so deliriously gorgeous. He wanted him, so badly. His cock strained against his pants, almost painful.

 

And yet, still, Sasha didn’t touch him. His hands were locked at his sides, trembling.

 

“Sasha,” he murmured, pressing kisses to Sasha’s lips, his cheek, his chin. “Why do you not touch me?”

 

Sasha groaned, a moan of anguish falling from his lips as he screwed up his face. Beneath Sergey’s touch, his body tightened, as if bracing. “Because I do not know how.” Sasha’s voice shook.

 

“What?” Sergey pulled back, frowning.

 

“I only know how to fuck,” Sasha spat. He scowled, shaking his head. “That is not what I want with you. I want—” He swallowed hard. “You deserve so much better.”

 

He didn’t know what to say to that. Instead, he blinked, staring at Sasha. There was so much he didn’t know about Sasha, about his past. How had he come to know he was gay? What shaped his life to make him hate himself so deeply? Russian society’s messages were pervasive, but Sasha’s self-hate had a deeper, more personal touch. And, what he’d confessed beneath the ice. He’d never been with someone he cared about. Had he never cared for anyone? Or had he been ruthless with his affections?

 

What strength of love was this, that Sasha was going against everything in his life, in his soul, and trying to build something with Sergey? Again, the fighter pilot driving his heart looped, screaming for the highest altitude. They could make this work, they could. He just had to show Sasha that everything was okay. That Sasha, as he was, was good. Was who Sergey wanted, who he loved.

 

“You are perfect for me, Sasha.” Sergey, reluctantly, let go of Sasha and reached for his own clothes. He shed his pullover quickly and started on the buttons of his shirt. Sasha’s eyes tracked his every move, his pupils darkening as Sergey’s fingers slipped each button free. “You are everything that I want. You, just you. Just as you are.”

 

Sasha’s lips thinned. “I want to be better for you.”

 

Sergey shrugged out of his shirt, shaking free of the sleeves until the fabric fluttered to the floor. Chest bare, he stood before Sasha, watching as Sasha’s jaw dropped and his chest rose, his breath coming faster. How on earth was he desirable to Sasha? Looking down at himself, at his sparse chest hair speckled across his thin chest, he spotted a strand or four of gray tucked among the blond and light brown sprigs. “Govno,” he breathed, smoothing his palm over his chest hair. “I should have removed all the evidence of my antiquity.”

 

“No,” Sasha moaned. “You are perfect.” His hands, finally, rose, reaching for Sergey. Trembling, they rested on his chest, his heavy, rough palms each resting over his pecs. His fingers tightened as if digging into Sergey’s skin, hard enough to bruise. And then relaxed. And again, like he was kneading Sergey, or like he was holding back from grabbing him and going wild. He panted, his mouth hanging open, eyes glazed, staring at Sergey.

 

The feel of Sasha over him, around him, dominating him on Honolulu slammed back into Sergey, like a visceral memory that lived in his bones. He shuddered and leaned into Sasha’s rough touch. Another time like that would be fine. Anything, anything to have Sasha’s love again. Yes to the roughness, to Sasha’s unbridled lust, his desire for Sergey unchained into a passion that dominated Sergey completely. Yes, he craved it, and Sasha, again.

 

“I am yours,” he whispered. “Anything, Sasha. Anything you want. I am all yours.” Everything, he’d give everything to Sasha. He’d bend over right then and there and welcome Sasha into his body. His knees were practically weak at the thought, at the imagining. He struggled not to moan. Please, God, would Sasha take him? He could practically already feel—

 

He thought his breathless plea would embolden Sasha, encourage him to capture Sergey like he’d done before. He’d thought—he’d hoped—that the passion Sasha kept so carefully concealed and controlled would burst free, and they’d be swept up in a torrent of desire, and when the waves finally receded, he’d shower Sasha in love and affirmation, assure him that Sasha was perfect just the way he was.

 

He didn’t expect Sasha to cringe, to flinch and step back. Look down as his shoulders slumped.

 

Sergey’s jaw dropped. He reached for Sasha, but his hand froze in midair, suspended between them.

 

“What I want is not right.” Sasha’s voice was a fragile thing, so unlike the bold man who stood before him. He shook his head, back and forth, fast, like he was scolding himself. “It is disgusting.”

 

“Sasha… No, it is not. Whatever it is, whatever you want, it is not disgusting. You are not disgusting. We are not disgusting!” He grabbed Sasha’s hands, squeezing them tight. Sasha’s hands were limp in his hold. “Sasha…”

 

He still wouldn’t look at him. He still stared at the floor, his shoulder’s curled like he was about to fall forward. “I am khuyesos,” he whispered.

 

He used the slang word for cock sucker, the insult, the slur thrown at any man to enrage him, to disparage him of his masculinity, his identity. In Russia, there was nothing worse than being a khuyesos, nothing worse than being a man who sucked another man’s cock, or took another man’s cock. A man like that, Russia said, was not even a man.

 

All Sasha’s life, everywhere he’d been, he’d heard those, and other, insults and degradations. Sergey had heard them too, but he’d been—foolishly—immune to their pain, thinking he wasn’t one of those men. He could brush off the hate since it wasn’t targeted at him. It didn’t hurt him, not then.

 

What a fucking fool he’d been. Every insult he’d ever heard, every word he’d ever ignored, was carved indelibly into Sasha’s soul.

 

And the agony from realizing that was enough to crush his heart.

 

Sergey grabbed Sasha’s cheeks and turned his face up from the floor. He sought his gaze, ducking down until he forced Sasha to stare back into his own eyes. “You are Sasha Andreyev,” he growled. “Hero of Russia. The man I love.” He shook Sasha, gently. “The man I desire. The man I want to make love to.”

 

Sasha shuddered, his entire body flinching as if he’d been shot.

 

“Tell me what you want, Sasha. I swear to you, it is not disgusting. You are not disgusting. You never are, and never will be.” He smoothed back Sasha’s hair, pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I want to bring you everything you desire. Everything you want. I want you to know that you, everything that you are, is loved. That I love you. Do you hear me, Sasha? I love you.”

 

Sasha gasped and tried to turn away, but Sergey held him, forced him to keep their gazes fixed, their stares joined. He saw it all parade through Sasha’s eyes: anguish, terror, rage, self-hatred, disbelief. Sorrow. Pain. So much pain.

 

Sasha’s lips trembled. “I want…” He struggled, fighting his own words, his face twisting as tears brimmed against his eyelashes. “I want… to suck you,” he finally breathed. He squeezed his eyes closed, and tears rained down his cheeks. Gasping, he licked his lips. “And…” He mumbled, forcing out the darkest Russian insult, the slang for a half-man who sucked another man’s ass. The slang was for convicts and ‘others’, men who weren’t true Russian men. “I love it,” he finally whispered, his voice shaking, his words breaking.

 

How deeply did Sasha’s self-hate go? It twisted around and around, until he hated his own desires, couldn’t even name what he craved. His entire life, he’d taken the messages of hate thrown about by their country and patched over the holes in his soul with the worst of those.

 

Sergey dragged him close, holding Sasha as Sasha folded around him, clinging to him like a drowning sailor as he sobbed. Had he ever spoken those words aloud? Had he ever even acknowledged his desires to himself? Maybe Sergey had pushed too hard. Govno, he had no idea how entrenched Sasha’s hatred truly was, how deeply the fractures in his soul went.

 

Sasha would never be alone again. Never. He would never face the world, and Russia’s, hate alone again, without Sergey beside him to remind Sasha that he was perfect just as he was. Exactly as he was. Together they’d untangle this knot of self-hate. He’d spend the rest of his days shooting down Sasha’s fears, wrenching apart the lies he’d been told. Banishing the insults, the slurs, the terror from his mind.

 

Slowly, he backed them both up until his legs hit the bed. Sergey sank down and brought Sasha with him. He laid them both out, facing each other on their sides, their foreheads touching, noses together, lips brushing. Sasha’s sobs had quieted, but his eyes were still closed. Sergey laced their hands together and waited.

 

“This is when everything changes,” Sasha finally whispered. “This is when the way you look at me changes. When you realize I am disgusting. When your eyes fill with loathing.”

 

There was a story there, hidden in those words. Something from Sasha’s past. Something that had taught him this lesson. When he was a child? Or after? When he was in the Air Force? Dark stories of abuse had always followed the Russian military. How had Sasha learned this near-frantic isolation, this protectionism that shoved the world as far from his as it could go? To space, even? He was afraid to learn the truth. He wasn’t strong enough to survive learning Sasha’s past. The realization settled deep in his sour stomach.

 

Sasha was so, so much stronger than he ever could be.

 

“My eyes will only ever hold love for you, zvezda moya. An eternity of love. And pride. You are my hero, Sasha. And you always will be.” He nosed Sasha’s cheek, willing him to open his eyes, to see the truth for himself.

 

Sasha shuddered, and trembles settled over his body. He gripped Sergey’s hands, squeezing until their fingers went white, their knuckles painfully pressed together. But, his eyes slipped open, loosing fresh tears over his cheeks, across his nose. Warm trails landed on Sergey’s skin.

 

He stared into Sasha’s gaze, pouring his love, his admiration, every moment of every yearn he’d ever had for Sasha, into his eyes. Every micron of love he felt, every ounce of longing, all the nights he’d tossed and turned, wishing for Sasha to be back at his side. All the dreams he’d had of them together. Every moment he closed his eyes and saw Sasha’s smile burned into the backs of his eyelids. He wanted Sasha to see all the way to his heart, all the way to the center, where the essence of Sasha hung, suspended like a dream in amber, the sound of his laugh, the light in his eyes. Everything that was Sasha—the strength, the soul, the passion—everything about the man he loved, living in the center of his own soul.

 

Sasha stared back, not breathing. And then, he sighed, exhaling like he was releasing something that couldn’t be named, something that had lived inside him for too many years. Something dark. Something that made Sergey’s skin crawl, and his spine shudder.

 

Keep breathing out, my love. We will expel it all together. He ran his hand through Sasha’s hair again, wiping away his tears with his thumb.

 

Sasha kissed his wrist, his lips wet and warm. Slowly, he rose over Sergey, his lips traveling over Sergey’s skin, mapping up his arms, across his collarbone, up his neck. He dropped a lingering kiss to Sergey as Sergey rolled to his back and his hands rose to Sasha’s shoulders. They stayed like that for minutes, maybe hours, kissing softly as Sergey’s hands tangled in Sasha’s hair and ran down the back of his neck, over his shoulders. Beneath his hands, Sasha shook, tremors that quaked his body.

 

And then, Sasha started to move.

 

Kisses to Sergey’s neck, his collarbone, again. To his chest, and right in the center of his splotchy chest hair, and over his traitorous strands of gray. Down, Sasha’s nose pressed into his skin, until Sasha hovered over his belly button and kissed his belly. Snaked his tongue into Sergey’s naval, flicking at the edges before nibbling on his skin.

 

Sasha’s hands worked open his belt, his pants. Trembling, they pushed Sergey’s pants down, and Sergey kicked them free before spreading his thighs wide. His cock rose, hardening again as Sasha stared down at him.

 

And then, Sasha looked up, holding Sergey’s gaze. A final look, a final question in his eyes. Will you still love me if I do this? Will you not think I am disgusting?

 

He hated, for a moment, their country, their countrymen, that had programmed this terror into Sasha’s soul. That had fed, ruthlessly, his self-hate, until Sasha couldn’t even trust their own love.

 

“I love you,” he breathed. His hand cradled Sasha’s cheek, cupped his jaw. “Sasha, I love you.” I will always love you. And you will never be disgusting. They are wrong, Sasha. They are all wrong.

 

Every kiss, every touch, every loving caress Sasha gifted him with, he would pour back into Sasha’s soul. He would share it all with Sasha, a hundred, a thousand times. Anything Sasha wanted, he would give. Anything.

 

Slowly, Sasha smiled. It was tiny, and it was only a curl of his lips on one side of his mouth, but it was there. A sign of Sasha’s happiness. His smiles were only ever true, never faked. Only ever pulled from his heart. And finally, he was smiling again. Sergey’s joy seemed to burst his own heart, and he gasped, beaming down at Sasha suddenly like he was a delirious fool, crazy in love with this one man.

 

He was.

 

Sasha nuzzled his cheek against Sergey’s thigh. His lips kissed Sergey’s skin, and goosebumps rose, every sparse strand of hair on his legs standing straight up. Sasha’s breath tickled his hip, the fold of skin joining his thigh and his crotch. Tickled the curls surrounding the base of his cock. Take what you want, Sasha. Take what you desire. I’m yours, I’m all yours. I love you, and I will always love you.

 

And then—


Timestamp: Immediately following Sergey & Sasha’s final scene in Enemy Within.

 

 

Hey Jealousy… Jack comes face to face with an ex of Ethan’s

 

Hello! Welcome to this week’s Bauer’s Bytes! This week’s prompt comes from Tina, who wanted to see Ethan’s past coming back, and some jealously on Jack’s part. This was supposed to be more lighthearted and fun, as I think Tina wanted, but it ended up being a bit deep on Jack’s part! This is set in Enemy of My Enemy, between Chapters 13 & 14, and before the Vinogradov sinking and before Sochi.

 

Happy reading!

 


 

A small part of Ethan’s mind had fretted and worried over this very thing—exactly this very thing—for months.

 

He’d had too long a life to not be worried about the possibility. Too many one night stands. Too much time lived as if he wasn’t going to find the one man, the love of his life, the person he wanted to spend forever with. And, hell, even if—very, very occasionally—he sometimes thought about it, thought about settling down with someone and sharing coffee in the morning and blowjobs at night, he never thought that whoever-he’d-love would be the Goddamn president of the United States.

 

Or that his love—and him—would end up being so in the spotlight. So well known. So open for anyone to take a pot shot at.

 

“Mr. First Gentleman.” The reporter, a younger guy, early thirties—several years older than when Ethan had seen him last—stood slowly, a smirk stretching his lips. “Good to see you again.” He winked.

 

Ethan’s stomach clenched, a fist closing in his belly. Images flashed, grainy and out of focus. Legs, hands, an arched neck. The reporter, in a very different time, a very different place.

 

He didn’t hear the rest of the question. The reporter’s words—he couldn’t even remember his name!—washed out in a sea of static, like he was speaking underwater. The rest of the press pool stared at Ethan like he was an animal in a zoo, a curiosity for them to look at every Friday.

 

Jack stood beside him, his body’s warmth burning against Ethan’s side through his jeans and his sport coat. Their Friday press briefs, so casual, so lighthearted, their way to be seen and be known together in the world…

 

And someone from his past, a forgettable one night stand, had just strode into their perfect world.

 

* * *

 

Jack watched Ethan from the corner of his eye. His lover had gone whip-cord taut as the reporter stood, Ethan’s eyes blown wide. He hadn’t breathed since the reporter had spoken, the younger man’s smooth voice rolling over his words. “Nice to see you again.”

 

His gaze flicked back to the reporter. His question was innocuous. Something about how was Ethan making the transition from law enforcement and the Secret Service to being the first gentleman.

 

Jack let his eyes roam over the reporter, taking him in as he stood on the aisle end of the back row of the press pool. Someone new. Someone brand new to the White House press pool, and who had no pull to get a better seat. Someone who wanted to be there, though. Someone who wanted to send a message.

 

The reporter was tall and lithe, smooth and polished in an urbane and sophisticated way that Jack could never pull off. He tried—he’d always tried to look refined and presentable. But the smooth sophistication the reporter oozed, with his perfectly coifed hair and his shapely eyebrows, his curved, sleek jaw, and his pouty, crimson lips, was something that had always eluded Jack.

 

And the reporter was young. Early thirties, maybe. Fifteen years Jack’s junior.

 

He knew Ethan liked them young. Ever since that damn article, the evisceration of Ethan’s character, he’d been uncomfortably aware that he was the oldest man Ethan had ever slept with. That Ethan’s choice in partners was usually significantly younger. Significantly more elegant. Significantly more experienced, too.

 

Expectancy hung in the press briefing room. The reporter had asked his puff question, but Ethan hadn’t responded. He was silent, still as a statue, staring at the reporter like he’d seen a ghost. Jack saw the wheels turning in the eyes of the rest of the press pool, reporters starting to put two and two together and coming up with the correct square root.

 

He wrapped his arm around Ethan’s waist. “Ethan is an amazing first gentleman. The state dinner he and his staff planned for President Puchkov was the best I have ever attended. He’s tackling the job—a huge job—with the same determination and perfection that characterized his career as a Secret Service agent.” Jack smiled, turning to Ethan. His own smile felt forced, as if he were pulling back his cheeks with string. “I couldn’t be prouder of Ethan.”

 

Ethan’s gaze—finally—snapped back to him, his eyes leaving the young, handsome, knock-out reporter and traveling over Jack’s face.

 

Was Ethan looking at his gray? His crow’s feet around his eyes? The line between his eyebrows, his frown line? Was he comparing them? Jack, middle aged, and the reporter, his young and pretty features, and the life he’d once had?

 

Pete strode onto the platform, smiling at the reporters. “Thanks everyone. The president and the first gentleman are very busy people and they have a full afternoon. Same time, same place next week! Have a great weekend!”

 

So even Pete could tell something was wrong. He was coming in for a rescue, distracting the press, giving them time to get away, regroup behind closed doors.

 

Jack needed a door or seven. He needed space away from people, away from everyone. Worry pitted his stomach, like Pac-Man eating at his intestines, climbing up his insides until it ate away at the back of his tight throat. He hadn’t felt this bad when the article was published. But then again, he hadn’t come face to face with one of Ethan’s former lovers. Words on a page were easier to shove aside.

 

Seeing Ethan’s hot young ex-lover was something totally different.

 

He escaped the press room as cameras flashed, as chairs creaked and squealed, and the hum of reporters chatting and tossing out last questions they hoped Pete or Jack or Ethan would answer broke the silence after Pete’s final statement. Ethan followed, trailing behind Jack close enough to touch, close enough that if he stopped, Ethan would run right into him, his body fitting to Jack’s back like he was supposed to, like they curled around each other in bed.

 

Their bodies were made for each other. He’d thought it for a while, since the first time they’d made out, bare chests sliding and Ethan’s fur tickling his smooth skin. The way his body had fit perfectly into Ethan’s. The way Ethan’s hips and his seemed to naturally align. The way Ethan’s arms cradled him, held him, like he had always been made for that space.

 

How many other gorgeous young men had laid there?

 

Stop. He had to stop. It wasn’t right, poring through Ethan’s past. Digging up his own insecurities and propping them like scarecrows in Ethan’s history. That wasn’t fair.

 

But the reporter was so young, and so much more good looking than Jack was.

 

Jack wound through the West Wing, his staff falling away from him as if they could tell he needed space. Hell, had everyone seen what had happened? Had everyone figured it out? Ethan was a solid weight behind him, silent, but pulsing with some kind of dark emotion. Anger? Frustration?

 

Regret?

 

They slipped into the Oval Office together, and Ethan brushed past Jack, striding to the center of the Oval Office before he stopped and tilted his head back. Shoulders tight, his chest heaving, breathing fast. Jack watched Ethan squeeze his eyes closed as he carefully shut the door, taking too much time to settle the heavy wood into the old frame.

 

“Jesus,” Ethan finally muttered. “Fuck.”

 

Jack stopped behind the striped couch, his fingers digging into two pale blue stripes. He stared at Ethan’s profile. “Old flame?”

 

Ethan winced. “Flame out. Years ago. Maybe six… seven?”

 

Jack swallowed slowly. Ethan did like them young and beautiful. The reporter looked like he was aging gracefully, perfectly, and in his early twenties—six or seven years ago—he’d probably had runway model good looks.

 

“I don’t really remember him. Don’t remember his name.”

 

Jack looked down. He didn’t want to ask what Ethan did remember. The reporter looked flexible. And, just saucy enough to wink at Ethan, the first gentleman of the United States, in front of Jack, the president, and Ethan’s boyfriend. He was probably stunning in bed. Forward and aggressive and willing to do anything and everything Ethan wanted. Not like Jack, who was still fumbling and learning, still trying to figure out the best way to love Ethan physically the same way he loved him in his heart and soul.

 

“I’m sorry.” Ethan’s voice was soft, his words grunted, grating. “I’m so sorry. I wish I’d never been like that—”

 

“No.” Jack shook his head. He looked up, and met Ethan’s gaze. “No, Ethan. You have nothing to apologize for. You were living your life. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” He knew that, in his head.

 

Sighing, Ethan shoved his hands in his suit pants. “But now it’s coming back, and it’s hurting you.”

 

Hurting his presidency, like the article had, or hurting him personally? Both, he supposed. How many reporters would run with what had happened in the press room, a juicy article for the papers, another scandalous slice of Ethan’s former life? It would be just like before, when the papers screamed that they were on the rocks, about to call it quits. Ethan had nothing to apologize for. Nothing. No one had any right to judge him, or his past. He’d been living his life happily before Jack had crashed into him.

 

But what if Ethan wanted what he’d had again? What if Ethan really wanted someone younger, someone more confident in bed, someone who knew what they were doing? Someone who looked like a model, someone who had the confidence to wink across a packed room and conjure memories of a sweaty one night stand?

 

Ethan’s next breath shook. “I feel like I’ve waited my whole life for you,” he said softly.

 

Jack’s heart contracted and froze, as if he was stuck mid-heartbeat. He held Ethan’s gaze as Ethan came toward him, sliding beside him behind the couch.

 

“Everything that happened before you is like a fog. Like I was searching for you, and kept turning over all the wrong rocks. But you’re the sun, and you burned that all away.” One of Ethan’s fingers reached out, barely stroking down the side of Jack’s hand.

 

He could barely speak. “I’m… so different from your past lovers, Ethan. Am I—” He bit his lip. “Am I what you really want? I’m not young. I’m not a model.”

 

“You’re perfect,” Ethan said quickly, his voice too-deep. “You’re absolutely perfect, Jack. You’re everything I want. Everything that I love.”

 

Jack felt his cheeks warm. “Yeah?” Insecurity wasn’t something he was used to feeling. He was the president, for God’s sake. He was the most powerful man on the planet.

 

But the thought of Ethan perhaps not wanting him made his confidence quake and shiver. Made his stomach turn to knots and his spine weaken. He’d rather face down a hundred of America’s toughest enemies in the Situation Room than confront the thought that Ethan might want someone else. Might move on and find someone new.

 

“Yeah.” Ethan bit his lip as his eyes smoldered, his cheeks darkening. “There’s no comparison,” he breathed. “You are the best. The best thing that’s ever happened in my life. The best president. The best man I’ve ever known. The best lover I’ve ever had.”

 

Jack snorted, but he turned to Ethan, sliding their fingers together on the back of the couch. “Go on.” He winked.

 

Ethan chuckled, and his flush deepened. “I have to be careful thinking about you during the day. Otherwise…” His eyes flicked down Jack’s body, taking all of him in. “You are so beautiful, Jack. So perfect. So Goddamn hot. You have no idea what you do to me.”

 

Jack smiled, and he tugged Ethan closer, grabbing his jacket lapel. Rough tweed rubbed under his fingertips. He’d watched Ethan dress in the locker room at Rowley, smiling at him in the bathroom mirror. Ethan had winked at him, and they’d kissed long enough for Jack to seriously consider skipping the press conference and locking the locker room doors, slip back to the showers with Ethan for another hour or five.

 

Ethan cupped Jack’s cheek. “I love you, Jack. You are everything.”

 

Jack covered Ethan’s hand with his own and nuzzled his palm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t let that get to me.” He kissed Ethan’s wrist. “Jealousy isn’t attractive, I know.”

 

“I’m sorry I was stunned. I froze. I’ve forgotten there’s been anyone but you, really. It feels like we’ve been together forever.”

 

“That’s what prisoners say. That they’ve been there forever. That time goes slowly.”

 

Ethan laughed. “It’s like this, us, was meant to be.” His cheeks burst into maroon flares, dusky crimson darkening the tips of his ears. “At least for me,” he said quickly. “I mean—”

 

“Me too.” Jack tugged Ethan forward the last bit, closing the inches between them, and kissed him. Ethan’s hand rose, caressing his cheek, fingers sliding into his hair, palm cradling the back of his head. Their bodies pressed together, a perfect fit, and Jack grabbed Ethan’s hip, holding him close. The kiss stretched on and on and on, tongues and lips and breaths shared, their noses brushing against each other, cheeks rubbing. “Love you,” Jack whispered.

 

Ethan’s eyes burned, brilliant, glittering. “I love—”

 

Knocking on the Oval Office door made them freeze. Mrs. Martin, after walking in on Jack and Ethan the one time, had instituted a draconian knocking policy. Gone were the days when his top staffers could waltz into his office. Even Lawrence had to knock and wait for permission to enter.

 

Mr. President, the Joint Chiefs are here for the two o’clock brief.” The door muffled Mrs. Martin’s voice.

 

Stepping back from Ethan, Jack straightened, smoothing his hands over his button-down and adjusting himself. Ethan’s eyes were gleaming, his lips were kiss-red, and he had a softening erection stretching the front of his chinos. Jack brushed his fingers up the thick length, covered in khaki-colored fabric. Ethan shivered, curling against his touch. “Stay?” He wasn’t ready to be apart from Ethan. Not yet. He wanted to keep Ethan’s love near, ground himself in their love, their connectedness.

 

Ethan had sat in on enough meetings to be considered a regular. No one batted an eye anymore when he accompanied Jack into the Situation Room.

 

Ethan nodded and kissed Jack chastely before walking around and sitting in the corner of the couch. He adjusted himself, hiding away his body’s reaction to Jack and their kiss.

 

Jack called for the Joint Chiefs to enter, and the men all strode in, big and bold and full of vigor. He offered them seats at his couches and around his coffee table, and then sat beside Ethan. He rested one arm on the couch back behind Ethan and caught his lover’s gaze with a sidelong look.

 

Ethan rested his hand on Jack’s knee, the corner of his lip curling upward.

 

* * *

Later, Ethan finally slipped back to the East Wing to close down for the weekend, and Jack wandered through the Friday evening quiet of the West Wing.

 

He found Pete still in his office, hammering away at his keyboard, glaring at his computer monitor.

 

“Hey.”

 

Pete swiveled toward him, but his eyes stayed glued to the monitor until he had to whip his head around before his neck snapped. “Hey, Mr. President.” He stood, smiling tiredly and nodding at the same time. His shirt was loose, almost untucked, and his tie had been yanked away from his neck. Two buttons on his shirt were undone, gaping at his throat.

 

“About today—”

 

Pete interrupted him. They’d worked together long enough for Pete to have that privilege, though he rarely ever did. “You’ll never see him again, Mr. President. I revoked his White House press credentials.”

 

Jack stared down at the carpet. Would it matter if he ever saw the man, Ethan’s ex, again? He turned over the memory, called up the image of the reporter winking Ethan’s way again. Young, attractive, saucy.

 

Empty. Pretty, but touched with vanity. His memory was different now, overlaid with the confidence of his and Ethan’s love once again. That man didn’t deserve Ethan. He wasn’t the right guy for Ethan. Whatever had happened between them, it hadn’t meant anything. Ethan’s soul didn’t reach for that man, the reporter, like his soul reached for Jack.

 

And like Jack’s reached right back, tangling with Ethan’s in the spaces where they kissed and touched, where they smiled and held hands, where looks passed between them that said I love you a thousand times a million, and then another one.

 

Jack smiled at Pete. He shrugged, leaning one shoulder against the doorjamb as his hands went into his suit pants pockets. “He doesn’t mean anything. Ethan and I are stronger than that.”

 

Pete grinned back at him. He whistled low. “You guys are something else, you know that? I’d have lunged for the guy if he pulled that shit on a girl I loved.”

 

Laughing, Jack shook his head. “Then you’d have a whole new problem in the press!”

 

“It’d be defensible.” Pete shrugged.

 

“Lives are long. People live in them. Nothing from the past can shake us. Our future is what’s important, and that’s rock solid.”

 

Pete’s eyebrows rocketed up his forehead. “Should I be pulling together a press release about an engagement…” He winked, his lips spreading into a wide smile.

 

Jack laughed. He pushed off the doorframe. “Night, Pete. Get out of here. Go have some fun.”

 

“That wasn’t an answer!”

 

Jack winked back. He left, walking down the West Wing hallway as Pete’s laughter chased him all the way to the Cross Hall in the Residence.

 

A proposal. Marriage. Marrying Ethan.

 

His smile grew as he climbed the stairs, heading for the home he shared with Ethan. His boyfriend. One day, his husband? He’d loved being married, having that bond with Leslie, that till death do us part connection. Death had separated them, set him adrift. But he’d found love again.

 

He could marry again. He could be a husband again. United with Ethan for the rest of their days.

 

The thought filled him with something he couldn’t name, a feeling he couldn’t identify. Something warm and wonderful that felt like mornings waking in Ethan’s arms, and nights falling asleep in his hold. Of kisses shared over their coffee, and resting his head on Ethan’s shoulder when they sat on the couch together. Of their bodies moving as one.

 

Someday. Someday he’d bend his knee and ask Ethan. Someday when the world let them be, when Madigan was behind them, and when it was just the two of them, and together forever would become more than a promise.

 

It would become a vow.

 


Timestampe: EOME, between Chaps 13 & 14. Before Sochi.

Jack Trains at Rowley – Missing Scene from EOME

Welcome back to Bauer’s Bytes!

I hope everyone enjoyed Enemy Within’s release, and the wrap-up of The Executive Office series.

Today’s prompt has come from several readers. They have asked to see Jack and Ethan training together at Rowley, which was referenced in both Enemy of My Enemy and Enemy Within. This was originally going to be included in Enemy of My Enemy, but ended up being cut out.

Enjoy!


 

Ethan wiped the sweat from his face, and then grinned and swiped his towel down Jack’s face, too. Sputtering, Jack shoved at his shoulder, but he smiled.

 

Ethan finished packing their handguns into their cases and stowed both in the bottom of his duffel, and then threw that in the backseat of the presidential SUV. Scott had slipped another pistol to them for Jack when they were at Rowley.

 

Every Friday morning, he and Jack slipped out with Daniels and Scott to the Secret Service James J. Rowley Training Center. They got there early, when dew still clung to the grass and fog lingered around the edges of the firing range. He and Jack set themselves up at the private shooting range near the rear of the massive facility, practicing shooting for hours. Scott called out distance and groupings as he and Jack traded shots on the targets downrange.

 

Ethan had helped Jack with his posture, with his grip, and with his stance. Daniels watched and gave pointers as well, and over the past few weeks, Jack’s groupings had improved, becoming tighter. Jack beamed every time Ethan congratulated him on a well-placed shot.

 

“Put three in the center. Just like I showed you.” Ethan had breathed over Jack’s shoulder that morning, speaking softly into Jack’s ear. Jack’s blond hair had ruffled, shifting against his words. Ethan stared at the curve of the ballistic eyeshields wrapping around Jack’s face, and that tinted his cheek yellow.

 

Jack exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger. One, two, three.

 

Scott called it out, watching through binos down the line. “Perfect grouping, Mr. President. Bulls-eye.”

 

Ethan had kissed Jack’s cheek, sloppy lips sliding on his skin as Jack twisted and met him half way. Jack held his gun in one hand—pointed down—and his other slid up Ethan’s neck and into his hair. Like this, Jack was beautiful, stunningly beautiful, and it made Ethan’s heart stop when he caught the morning sunlight reflecting off the plastic of Jack’s ballistic glasses, or tasted gunpowder on his lips as he kissed Jack. Breathed in the wet spring morning and Jack’s perfect scent, all as one.

 

Or feeling Jack in his arms as they sparred, working out on the dusty sparring grounds in the middle of a shady ring of Loblolly and shortleaf pines. Jack was a wiggler, and he could slip out of most holds Ethan got him into. He liked to flirt while sparring, too, darting in to kiss Ethan’s cheek. The first five times, Ethan had been stunned almost to freezing, and Jack managed a one-two combination—gently—that would have sent him to the ground.

 

Now, when Jack tried to sneak kisses, he wrapped Jack up tighter, swept his legs out from beneath him, and took them down—carefully—to the dirt. Jack was just learning how to scissor kick his way to freedom, moving beyond flailing his legs like he was riding an invisible bicycle. They scrabbled in the dirt as Scott and Daniels watched, ready with towels and bottles of water, and keeping silent when Jack busted into giggles.

 

Though, Scott had leaned over to Daniels that morning and whispered, just loud enough for Ethan to hear, “Watch the mating rituals of the Reichenbach, a wild creature, lawless and untamed.”

 

Ethan had twisted around, shock making his jaw drop. Jack had laughed out loud, throwing his head back, and then executed a perfect scissor kick, sending Ethan flying back, off of Jack and onto his ass in the dust.

 

They’d run their first simulation through the tactical shooting course that morning, too. Memories rose within him, warm summer days and him, over a decade younger and side by side with Scott. Taking his first run through the simulator, an empty lane of houses and shops and office buildings, a fake neighborhood from Anywhere, USA. Targets set up to look like hostiles and friendlies, and the snap-second decision to pull the trigger.

 

He and Jack ran through the simulator together, practicing how to move, how to shoot, how to run. Standing side by side, bracing before ducking in to clear a room, they’d shared a quick smile, and the light in Jack’s eyes was enough to make Ethan’s heart burst.

 

It was fantastic being back in action. Running, stacking, breaching. Moving with Jack, clearing rooms. Responding to threats, even just pretend ones. Rowley smelled like dust and gunpowder and scrub pine, but it was a familiar smell, and comforting.

 

Now it smelled like Jack, too, and that made it even better.

 

They kept to themselves at Rowley, staying well away from the other agents. Scott had set up a cordon, forbidding anyone else to join them. When the morning was over, they changed together in Rowley’s locker rooms, cleared out for the two of them, and dressed in nice jeans and tucked-in button downs with sport coats. Before heading back to the White House, they stopped at the cafeteria, grabbing an early lunch with Scott and Daniels.

 

Some of the agents steered well clear of Ethan, staring him down through their sunglasses and walking away when Jack and Ethan strode into the cafeteria. Everyone was respectful to Jack, of course. But there was always a heavy stare that seemed to burn into the center of Ethan’s shoulder blades. It felt like Iowa all over again. Not everyone loved the choices he’d made. He would always bear this, the recriminations of his former agents, his former colleagues.

 

And then, it was time to head back to the White House for their other new weekly tradition.

 

The drive back took thirty minutes by motorcade with the police clearing a route through traffic, and they arrived at the West Wing just in time for Jack’s weekly briefing with the White House press corps.

 

Pete, Gus, and Brandt had all agreed that his and Jack’s first step in trying to open up to the public about him and Ethan, and show the world how proud he truly was about their relationship, was to obliterate the curtain of silence that Jack had thrown around his personal life.

 

“You gotta be more personable. The White House looks like a secret society right now, and everyone wonders what kind of crazy sex games are going on in there.  I mean, your staff is crazy loyal. Freakin’ insanely loyal. But that’s also a mystery, because you’re not human to anyone in the public. You’re this mysterious other thing, something weird, and no one likes weird.” Gus hadn’t held his punches.

 

“People should see you for how dedicated you are.” Brandt had become one of Ethan’s biggest supporters, and Ethan still wasn’t quite sure how that had happened.

 

Pete said it best, though, stunning both him and Jack into silence. “You just have to be you. Both of you. Anyone who really knows you both loves you guys.” He shrugged, pursed his lips, and played with his pen.

 

Jack started briefing the press personally the week after Gus’s first meeting. He’d been nervous the first time, but after that, he took to the weekly meetings like a fish to water.

 

Jack waved to the press pool as he bounded into the briefing room. The reporters all stood, and more than half were smiling. Some clapped. Ethan hung back with Pete and Irwin at the side of the platform while Jack took to the podium. Scott and his men bracketed the room.

 

“Good afternoon! How is everyone this week?” Jack flashed that million-dollar smile, the smile that had locked up so many votes and had first made Ethan weak at the knees. “All right, hit me.”

 

The reporters chuckled, and then the questions began, flowing like a smooth conversation. The first week, everything had been more pointed, more critical, but Jack had kept to his smooth, unaffected delivery, and that had won over many of the reporters. And they, in turn, had won over a portion of the public. Jack’s approval numbers were rising steadily.

 

“Mr. President, Senator Allen has continued to attack you in the media for your controversial business bailout deal with Russia. He claims that you are more interested in growing Russian business than you are in American interests. How do you respond to that?”

 

“My interests lie with keeping the world safe and secure, and that includes economic security. Russia is enduring a period of intense change, and as her friend, we support her completely in this time. When their economy struggles, the world struggles. Getting the Russian economy moving again, getting Russians back to work, and helping our ally was the right thing to do, both from a moral perspective and from an economic perspective. Capital is being injected into the world, and it’s helping our American people every day. Stability has returned. People don’t have to worry.” Jack smiled. “I’d call that a win for everyone.”

 

“You’re not concerned about Senator Allen’s continued attacks against your close friendship with Russian President Puchkov?”

 

Jack laughed. “He’s got a phrase he likes, doesn’t he? ‘Political Boyfriends?’ I’m sorry to disappoint him, but I already have a partner.” Jack smiled at Ethan, holding his gaze for a moment.

 

The press pool laughed. Scattered clapping sparked up briefly.

 

“Mr. President, there has been an increasing number of terror attacks inside Russia. Bombs have gone off in shopping malls and restaurants. A shooter opened fire at a park. Protests at a gay pride parade turned violent. Some inside Russia blame President Puchkov for making his country a target of these terrorists with his new policies. General Moroshkin has been speaking out against the Kremlin, and there are increasing demands for President Puchkov to step down. The legislature in Russia has openly discussed calling for a vote of no confidence. What’s your take?”

 

Jack’s smile dimmed. “Our friends in Russia are experiencing the struggles and tragedies that come about when the forces of hate clash with the forces of equality and freedom. The Russian people deserve the freedom to live their lives unhindered by hatred, by corruption, and by totalitarianism, and President Puchkov understands this. Unfortunately, he—and all of us—are locked in a battle against forces who would choose hatred over equality and acceptance.”

 

“Mr. President, you’ve publicly thrown White House support behind controversial Democratic legislation. The Republican party is calling you a traitor and, quote, ‘a man attacking the very foundations of the party he purports to represent.’ How do you respond to that?”

 

“Supporting the Democrat’s legislation isn’t just a political issue. It’s a human issue, and one I’m proud to support. I made it my mission to advocate for the people, not to toe my party’s line. I’m proud to reach across the aisle to get important work accomplished.”

 

The briefing continued for a little while before transitioning into easy-going, softball questions. Ethan pushed off the wall and joined Jack on the platform with a smile.

 

“So, what are your plans this weekend, Mr. President?”

 

“Try and relax a bit. Catch up on a few things.” Jack’s arm wound around Ethan’s waist. “Ethan?”

 

“If the weather stays this nice, I think I’ll take you out. Grilling on the Truman Balcony?” He winked at Jack, and cameras flashed, a crazed frenzy of strobing bulbs.

 

“I’ve got myself a date.” Jack beamed at the press pool, his eyebrows high on his forehead.

 

“How are you two doing?” one reporter near the front called out.

 

“Doing great.” Jack kept smiling.

 

“The negative press doesn’t bother you?”

 

“The strength of our partnership isn’t shaken by tabloid trash or predatory journalism.”

 

“Mr. First Gentleman.” Another reporter, halfway back in the press pool, stood and spoke. “We don’t get a chance to talk to you very often. The job of the first lady—or the first gentleman—is a huge role. What’s been the best part about your new job?”

 

A silly question, but Ethan rolled with it. There really was only one answer, anyway. He smiled, turned to Jack, and answered. “That’s easy. Sharing my life with this man. Being with him every day. That’s the best part.”

 

Jack’s eyes turned meltingly soft as he smiled back. The press pool sighed and claps rose, and then rose again when Jack tilted his head against Ethan, resting their foreheads together. Bulbs flashed, the click and snap of a hundred cameras firing in sequence. Ethan pressed a quick kiss to Jack’s cheek, and then they straightened up and waved to the press. “Have a good weekend,” Jack called, striding away.

 

They filed out, slipping back to the West Wing proper. Pete and Brandt were both waiting for them, wide smiles on their faces. Pete channeled an Italian chef, kissing the tips of his fingers before spreading them into the air. “Perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

 

Jack shrugged. “We’re just being ourselves.”

 

“I know. That’s all you ever needed to do.”

 


 

Timestamp: Enemy of My Enemy, between Chapter 13 & 14