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.
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