Welcome back to Bauer’s Bytes! I took a hiatus to celebrate the release of Hush, and, for the first Byte back, we’re going to dive back into Hush! Here’s a short snippet from Kris, who turned into the runaway favorite side character! Enjoy!
The door shut.
Kris lounged against his pillows, blowing a thin stream of cigarette smoke through his lips. Another lovely evening.
Another man leaving.
He closed his eyes, tipping his head back. The passion of the night had faded, had cooled, and the pressure valve he’d kept screwed tight during the entire operation in Russia had been released and sated. God, he’d needed this. Needed the feel of another man, the heat and the drive, the way he came apart and back together again, his bones sizzling.
But, coming home was always hard. Especially after an operation.
Coming home… alone.
In the darkness behind his eyelids, Kris watched memories play in a stream of color and light. Laughter tinkled through the flickering images. His, light and bright, and David’s, throaty chuckles like he couldn’t hold them in any longer. Short barks, like he was embarrassed to be caught laughing. It had been Kris’s favorite sound in the whole world, right next to hearing his name breathed on David’s lips.
The memories kept playing, looping. Them, returning home together. Another mission, another operation. Meet with an informant in Beirut, in Cairo, in Rawalpindi. Observe the drop location in Kuala Lumpur. Carry intercepts home from Kandahar and Kabul in a diplomatic pouch. Through it all, David’s hand in his, hidden beneath a thin blanket on the airplane, fingers stroking his palm. Their eyes meeting in a crowd. Kris with his face pressed to David’s neck, inhaling his sweat and the dust of the city they were in as they tried to sleep beneath the rickety swirls of a creaking third world fan.
And then, coming home. Together. They’d had a house in Manassas Park, in Virginia, outside the bustle of the city. A postcard-perfect back yard, where they watched the sun set and the stars come out, and drank pitchers of iced tea and held hands as the butterflies frolicked between the flowers. David tended the garden by hand, lovingly plucking away the weeds every time they came home. Kris stayed back. He’d kill anything he touched.
Nights they wiled away in their bed, laughing and loving, watching the moon rise through their bedroom window, and sleeping through the sunrise the next day. Breakfast in bed, David’s lopsided smile coming out once more. When Kris closed his eyes, he could smell the coffee and cream, the cinnamon rolls. He could feel the starch in David’s uniform, the cool metal of the pins beneath his fingers as he straightened them on his husband’s chest. His husband. The love of his life.
Eight years dead. Eight years dead and gone and in the ground, and the memories were as vivid as an Imax movie.
He never went to the gravesite. Never stepped a toe into Arlington, after That Day, the day of the burial. David wasn’t in the ground, he was in his memories, and visiting his bones wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to anything.
He’d moved, fleeing their perfect little home as fast as he could. He lived in hotels, and then picked up his studio condo as soon as their home sold. He kept it cold, clinical, and lifeless. And he never ate cinnamon rolls. Ever.
And he never listened for news on Afghanistan, either. The country, the land, had ceased to exist for him, a black hole in his mind, and a blank space in the world. The edges of the map just blurred out over the country, a fuzzy patch of pain and loss that had swallowed David within a dark fog.
Ash tumbled from the end of his forgotten cigarette, spilling onto his naked thigh. He cursed and leaned for the nightstand, stubbing the cigarette out in an ashtray. Stretching, Kris headed for the bathroom and turned on the shower.
Under the spray, he imagined David’s fingers on him, running down his spine. Kneading his skin, until his lips pressed against his shoulder, the back of his neck. He kept his eyes closed, keeping the fantasy alive. “David…”
Sometimes, he thought he could hear a voice whisper back to him, “I’m here.”
He would never love another man like he loved David. Ever. Men had tried to woo him, in the years since. One night stands that turned into two nights, and then three. Dinners, here and there. But when the question came—“Do you think we could make this something a little more exclusive?”—He’d cut the men loose.
There would never be another.
His heart had been buried with David’s bones, and it would stay there, with him, for the rest of his days.
Timestamp: Post-Hush, Kris after a one-night stand.