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.
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?
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.
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.
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.