Welcome to this week’s Bauer’s Bytes.
Due to the horrific shooting in DC yesterday, I did not post Bauer’s Bytes.
Today, we’re following up on Jack’s
demand request that Ethan take him to the beach to show off his sexy new muscles. Ethan has obliged Jack… and is taking him to Hawaii. Enjoy!
“You? Nervous?” Ethan snorted. He reached for Jack, though, and laced their hands together. Across the aisle, an older businessman peered over his newspaper at them for a half second.
“I don’t know what to do. Or what to say. I’ve never…” Jack sighed and threw himself back in the first-class plane seat. “I’ve never been anyone’s hero before,” he breathed.
“You’re my hero.” Ethan leaned in close. “You’re a hero to a lot of people, Jack.”
“Not like this, though.” Jack bit his lip. “He came out to his dad because of us.”
Ethan smiled and squeezed his hand.
A minute later, the pilot came on the speaker and announced they were making their final approach to Honolulu International Airport. Jack took a deep breath as he buckled his seatbelt. “Why are we doing this, again?” He rubbed his hands over his face.
“You said you wanted me to take you to a beach.” Ethan kissed Jack’s cheek. “So I am. And we’re going to meet Captain Anderson’s son.”
Jack said nothing. He just squeezed Ethan’s hand, holding it tightly as the plane descended through the fluffy clouds haloing Honolulu, landed, and then taxied to the gate.
* * *
They were staying at a hotel overlooking the beach, complete with a private cordon of pristine sand and crashing waves reserved for the hotel guests. It was a place where people went when they wanted privacy, and the other guests understood that. Even so, Jack and Ethan got more than one head turn when they walked into the lobby.
Beside Ethan, Jack was almost vibrating.
It was their first public outing since the congressional hearings and Jack’s very public resurrection and resignation as president. They’d stayed low all summer, focusing on themselves. Buying their house and making it a home. Being together, without the stress and strain of world politics and the eyes of the media. Enjoying themselves, as husband and husband.
Putting the past behind them, and ignoring the mixed cries from the public. Jack was a traitor and a fraud, according to some. To others, he was a sacrificial hero, willing to put everything before himself, before even his own life, to save the world.
This trip was the first they’d taken outside of their bubble, outside of their protected isolation that they’d hidden in. Eyes followed them everywhere – at the airport, in the plane, in Honolulu, and now in the hotel.
Ethan wrapped his arm around Jack’s waist. “I’m here,” he breathed into Jack’s ear. “We’re okay.”
Jack silently leaned into him.
They were driven out on a golf cart to their beach cabana, a private bungalow at the edge of the resort, resting on a spit of sand with a private, gentle cove of lapping waves. Palm trees ringed the cove, providing a partial screen of privacy.
They changed quickly, stripping out of their jeans and polos and donning khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts. Pineapples for Ethan on a white background, and sailboats on a blue background for Jack.
“Do we look appropriately touristy?” Jack held out his hands.
“You couldn’t look bad if you tried, Jack.” Ethan took his hand and spun him in a gentle circle, as if they were dancing, and then pulled him close. They swayed for a few minutes, their cheeks pressed together. “You’re going to be great. I’m proud of you.” He kissed Jack’s cheek. “My hero.”
Jack smiled, and he nuzzled Ethan back. “It’s time to head out.”
* * *
Captain Anderson had sent his address to Ethan a few days before, and given him a heads up that his son, Jonathan, was heading off to his homecoming dance that weekend. He and his boyfriend were going together, and Anderson had spent the past two weeks taking both boys to tux shops and florists for their fittings, matching cummerbunds, and coordinating boutonnieres. It was, apparently, a multi-trip excursion when the boys decided to change their color scheme halfway through the process.
Ethan and Jack were going to surprise Jonathan and his boyfriend, Gabe.
Jack fidgeted the whole drive. Anderson lived in Mililani in a house at the end of a private cul de sac on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor and Mamala Bay. Ethan drove, and halfway there, he reached over and tangled his fingers with Jack’s.
Anderson texted and said they should come straight around to the backyard. Jonathan and Gabe were taking photos, and they had no idea Jack and Ethan were on the way.
Jack looked at him with wide eyes, whites ringing his irises. “I’m not a hero.”
“You are, Jack. You are for so many reasons. For Jonathan, you’re a hero because you’re you.”
Jack squeezed his eyes closed. Took a deep breath. “Jesus. All right. Let’s go.”
Ethan had always marveled at the transformation politicians could undergo, transitioning from growling, furious, temperamental beasts behind closed doors to smiling, glad-handing, gregarious crowd pleasers in public, sometimes making the shift in a blink of an eye. Jack never had a sour side of himself to hide, and he’d always been known for his authenticity in the Senate.
But he still could transform himself, hiding his nerves, his stress, and his panic as if he gathered his strength into a shield that buried his fears. Ethan watched Jack breathe in again, straighten his spine, and then stride forward, leading the way into Anderson’s backyard.
Anderson, his wife Julie, Jonathan, and Gabe were all congregated beneath the covered patio, overlooking the hillside littered with tropical blooms and palm trees. In the distance, the bay beckoned, and the bustle of Pearl Harbor, Navy battleships and carriers, and the marina laid out in long, sprawling lines.
Jonathan and Gabe had their backs to Jack and Ethan. Anderson started smiling. Julie threaded one arm through her husband’s, and they both pretended to not notice Jack or Ethan as they crept up behind their son.
“I hear someone special has a homecoming tonight.” Jack spoke into Jonathan’s ear, and then jumped back, smiling. He stood beside Ethan and waited.
Jonathan whirled around, eyes wider than Ethan had ever seen on someone. He gasped, shrieking as his jaw dropped, and clapped his hands over his mouth. He looked them both up and down.
“Hi Jonathan,” Jack said. “It’s so great to meet you.”
Jonathan burst into tears.
Gabe and Anderson came to either side of Jonathan, both wrapping one arm around him. Jonathan was a slender teen, with sharp lines along his face and a dark, perfectly spiked head of hair. He curled into both his boyfriend and his dad, weeping as he stared at Jack.
Jack reached for Jonathan, holding out his hand.
Shaking, Jonathan reached back. Their hands met, and Jack gently tugged him forward. Jonathan stumbled, and then, as if he’d tipped over the edge of a cliff, he raced for Jack, burying his face in Jack’s neck as he continued to sob.
Gabe stared, his jaw hanging open, blinking slowly as his eyes flicked from Jack to Ethan. Ethan held out his hand. “Hi Gabe. Pleased to meet you.”
“Mr. First Gentleman…”
“Not anymore.” Ethan pumped Gabe’s hand. “Just Ethan Spiers-Reichenbach now.”
Gabe tried to say something, tried to find words, but his lips just moved soundlessly.
Beside Ethan, Jack murmured into Jonathan’s ear, soft whispers that Ethan couldn’t make out. Jonathan nodded slowly after Jack spoke, and his sobs subsided, quieting until he was just sniffling. Finally, he stepped back, but he held onto both of Jack’s hands.
“Mr. President.” Anderson stepped forward, and he wrapped his arm around his son’s shoulders. “I’m so glad you could make it. This is my son, Jonathan. He’s a real big fan of yours, Mr. President.”
“It is an honor to meet you, Jonathan. Your dad has said amazing things about you.”
Jonathan’s lips quivered. “Mr. President,” he choked out. “You… I… You have no idea—“ Tears welled in his eyes again. Gabe reached for him, wrapping one arm around his waist.
“And this—“ Anderson reached for Gabe, squeezing his shoulder. “Is my son’s boyfriend, Gabe.” Anderson had already texted their names, but the boys didn’t know that. “Gabe and Jonathan have been together for four months.” He grinned. “And, I think they’re going to be together for a while longer…”
Jonathan flushed and beamed, squirmed both into and out of his father’s hold. “Dad…”
“You two are good together! I like him. I approve!”
Gabe smiled wide. Jonathan squirmed again.
Jack squeezed Jonathan’s hands. Jonathan hadn’t let go. “Congratulations, you two. Tell me about this dance tonight.”
Jonathan started slowly, stumbling a bit as he tried to put words together into coherent sentences. Gabe chimed in, and then they both were on a roll, describing their homecoming dance on a cruise ship in the bay, and how they both couldn’t wait to dance the night away. Gabe edged closer, holding Jonathan, and the love in his eyes was blindingly obvious to everyone.
“Reminds me of our Christmas Ball.” Jack smiled at both boys. “It was the first time Ethan and I danced together. We almost didn’t. We were trying to be discreet, and trying to avoid the media. I hated hiding. I wanted to dance with him so badly.” Jack chuckled. “When we finally started dancing, I was the happiest man on the planet. My cheeks hurt, I was smiling so much.”
Jonathan’s arms shook as he squeezed Jack’s hands. “I cut out your guys’ picture from the paper,” he breathed. “I wanted that. What you guys have. But I was so scared. I thought—“ He shuddered, his eyes closing as he gulped.
Anderson gave his son a one-armed hug. His eyes flicked to Ethan, and then to Jack. He’d shared this story with them on Honolulu, his former submarine, on the way to the Arctic.
Ethan spoke up. “Your father loves you, and he always will. Always. No matter what.”
“I know.” Jonathan gave a shaky, brilliant smile. He inhaled slowly. “My dad is the best. Seriously. The absolute best. He helped us get ready for the dance.” He rested his head against his dad’s, and Ethan saw Anderson blink fast and sniff.
“I’m proud of you.” Jack lifted Jonathan’s hands to his chest. “I’m so very, very proud of you. Both of you.” He smiled at Gabe. “Being yourself, and being who you are, no matter what, is the most important thing. Don’t ever hide. Don’t ever let anyone else bully you into hiding who you are, or who you love. Surround yourself with people who love you, and who support you.”
Jonathan nodded fiercely.
“Let’s take some more pictures together.” Julie waved the camera, running her hand down the back of Jonathan’s hair.
Jonathan ducked away. “Oh my God, no way. I have to fix my face. No pictures, God, no pictures.”
“Get in there and freshen up.” Anderson swatted at his son. “Gabe, go help him.”
“Yes sir.” Both boys scampered into the house, sharing a wide smile and looking back over their shoulders at Jack and Ethan.
Anderson smiled at Jack, reaching for him and shaking his hand. Jack pulled Anderson into a quick hug. “Thank you for coming, Mr. President.”
“I’m not the president anymore.”
“You’ll always be the president to me.”
Jack’s chin quivered, but he turned to Julie, smiling wide and forcing himself forward. They shook hands, and Julie took a quick picture of Jack and Ethan together in their backyard. Small talk flowed, chit chat about the flowers in the garden and how Anderson was doing after smashing his sub into pieces against the Russian ice. He’d been reassigned to Pacific sub fleet command, and was waiting on a new boat.
Ethan moved to Anderson as Julie took Jack on a tour of their house. “Captain.”
“Mr. First Gentleman.”
Ethan breathed in slowly. “You… remind me of my father.”
Anderson stared at him.
“We never talked about… me. We never said the words. I never came out to him. But… I think he knew. Or, I hope he knew.” Ethan looked down. “I found some pictures he had kept from when I was young. I barely remember it, but I used to wrap a bed sheet around myself like it was a dress. Apparently my favorite game to play with him was modeling on a catwalk and dancing like a ballerina. Putting on fancy shows.”
Anderson chuckled. He looked Ethan up and down. “You? A ballerina?”
Ethan shrugged. “I don’t really remember it. I was little. But he had some old pictures of me pretending to strut down a walkway in our little trailer.” Him and his dad, living in a single-wide trailer on cinderblocks on the edge of the dairy farm his dad was a farm hand on. He’d been a scrappy kid, seeking freedom on the back of his single-speed bike, and he’d joined the Army to get out of the twenty square miles he’d lived his whole life in.
How had his life ended up like this? How had he become the man he’d become?
He’d tried to emulate his father, follow in his footsteps. Work hard, every single day, and believe in what he did. Be a good man, in all things. Dad… I wish I could have introduced you to Jack.
“I bet he loved every minute of it.”
Ethan’s throat clenched hard. “When I came back to visit, he kept telling me he just wanted me to be happy. He never, ever asked about a girlfriend. He’d only ever ask if I was happy.”
Ethan took a shaky breath. “I hope so.”
“He knew. I guarantee it. And he adored you, exactly as you were.” Anderson pulled out his wallet and flipped it open. Inside there were two pictures – one of his wife, and one of Jonathan and Gabe, a selfie they had taken, beaming as they laid on their bellies on the sand with their faces pushed together. “Speaking as a dad? We keep what we love close.”
Tears welled in his eyes, heat that blurred the world and stung his cheeks. Ethan turned away, covering his mouth with one hand as he tried to force his tears back, push down the pain. “He, uh.” Ethan cleared his throat. “He kept my picture with him. My official Secret Service picture. In his wallet. I found it after he passed.”
Anderson reached for Ethan. He squeezed Ethan’s shoulder hard. Slowly, Ethan turned into Anderson’s hold. For a moment, he wasn’t forty-one, the same age as Anderson. He was eleven, he was a little boy, and he needed a father’s love. Anderson wrapped him up, a tight bear hug, and said nothing.
I’m happy, Dad. I’m so happy. I wish you were here to see.
Footsteps thundered down the steps inside the house, loud enough that Ethan thought the walls were going to blow off the frame. Anderson shook his head, sighing, and they both pulled back. “Two skinny boys, and they sound like a damn herd of elephants.”
Julie and Jack appeared after Jonathan and Gabe, and she hustled everyone to the yard, lining up the boys and Jack and Ethan for photo after photo. Anderson joined in, and then Jack and Jonathan took a picture together. The sheer adoration, the hero worship pouring from Jonathan’s gaze, made Ethan’s heart burst.
And then it was time for Jonathan and Gabe to head out. Gabe was driving them both to the cruise ship in his bright little convertible. Anderson stood in front of Gabe and squared his shoulders. “You’ll both come straight home right after the dance. I expect to see both of you here promptly at eleven thirty.”
Anderson smiled. He hugged Gabe, holding him tightly. “I’ll wait up for you both. I want to hear about everything. We’ll sit in the back and light a fire, and I’ll pretend I don’t see you two cuddling on the chaise lounge.”
Gabe flushed, but he smiled back. “Yes sir.”
Anderson turned to his son. His expression softened.
“How do I look, Dad?”
“Fantastic. Emerald was a good color choice, when you finally made up your mind.” Anderson winked. He kissed his son’s forehead. “Have a great time. I’ll be here when you get home.”
Jonathan hugged his father, and Ethan caught the whispered, “Love you, Dad.”
All four adults walked Jonathan and Gabe to their car, and then waved and waved as Gabe peeled out. Anderson winced as the tires squealed, and Julie patted him on his arm. Anderson shook his head, but smiled.
“Where are Gabe’s parents?” Jack frowned.
Anderson’s smile turned sad. He said nothing. Jack’s face fell, and he reached for Ethan’s hand.
“Well, now that the boys are off, it’s time for our fun.” Julie beckoned Jack and Ethan into the house. “Are you both ready for dinner?”
Timestamp: Post “Strength Training” and post Enemy Within