My Soul Spills Into Yours – Faisal & Adam, pre-Enemies of the State

 

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes! This one is a LONG one! This week, we’re going back to Adam and Faisal, pre-Enemies of the State.  This is part of Adam & Faisal’s continuing prequel story set before The Executive Office series, and takes place after How To (not) Say Goodbye, also featuring Adam & Faisal. You should read that before reading this Byte.

This Byte delves into complicated issues of family and obligation in Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

 


 

 

Twenty-six days.

 

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and thirty-seven minutes.

 

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and thirty-eight minutes, as the clock continued to move.

 

Faisal closed his eyes, bowing his head. Stillness enveloped him. The folds of his thawb, a whisper on his skin, burned like fire, like chains of lead restraining him in his uncle’s golden palace.

 

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and thirty-nine minutes since Adam had been taken from him. Since Uncle Abdul had followed him and Adam to his Gulf house, and burst in on them in his bedroom. Ya Allah, the day had been so perfect. Had he and Adam ever kissed so sweetly? Had Adam ever unfolded so completely beneath his touch? Had his own heart ever beat as hard as it had as he whispered poetry he’d longed to confess to Adam’s soul?

 

He’d been so close. So very, very close to confessing it all. His love, and then after, when Adam was in his arms, he was going to confess the rest. Who he was, truly. He’d prayed, endless du’a to Allah asking if this was the right course, the right choice. Was it right to try and go further with Adam, to try and make something lasting. Something deep, and real. It had felt right in his soul. It had felt good, like the settling of some deep answer, a shift in his entire sense of self, his world, his everything – reaching out to Adam with his whole heart was right.

 

It was supposed to be then, that day. The words were on his lips. Adam was in his heart.

 

It was supposed to be beautiful.

 

Ya Allah, how had it all gone wrong?

 

Was it a sign? Was this divine intervention, a message he should not ignore? Was this Allah answering his prayers, guiding him away from Adam? Or was this a test, a challenge to his convictions, his passion? What would be overcome, to be with Adam?

 

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and forty minutes since he’d seen Adam’s face. Touched his skin. Looked into his eyes, and seen something that looked like love.

 

Uncle Abdul had banished Adam, barely letting him dress before his uncle’s bodyguards had shoved Adam into the SUV and roared off, heading for Kuwait. Never mind that Adam had a flight booked out of Riyadh. He was to be dumped in Kuwait, just one foot over the border, and that was to be the end of that.

 

He and his uncle had argued, bitterly so, for hours after. How unfair it was to Adam. How Uncle Abdul had been wrong about them, that it wasn’t Adam using Faisal. Uncle Abdul didn’t want to know, and he didn’t seem to care.

 

“He is alive still because he is useful, ya Faisal!” Uncle Abdul had roared. “Speak no more of this!”

 

Shaking, Faisal had made it back to Uncle Abdul’s palace in Riyadh, surrounded by bodyguards. They left him in his old rooms, the wing of his uncle’s massive palace that had been his own, along with Uncle Abdul’s natural children, so long ago. His uncle’s children – his cousins – were long gone. Long, long gone. For years, he’d been the only one to visit his uncle, the only child to return to his home. For an Arab family, the empty home, devoid of the children of the father, was a black hole of despair, and an unspeakable, unutterable tragedy.

 

He’d haunted Uncle Abdul’s palace. The first few days, he’d kept quiet, out of sight. Dressed in his thawb and his ghutra, and kept his eyes down. Spent hours in the musalla, the prayer room within the palace.

 

Eyes followed him everywhere.

 

A week passed, and still nothing from his uncle. He asked to see Uncle Abdul, but was rebuffed. Spend more time in the musalla, the note from his uncle said.

 

Faisal’s days passed in silence and solitude, picturing Adam’s face, the taste of his lips. The way his eyes had looked, just before Faisal had wanted to whisper that he loved him.

 

After ten days, the thawb was a straightjacket, scratching at his skin and his soul, and the silence of the palace was shattering his mind. He’d escaped the solitude of his childhood, he’d thought, but the cage was settling around him again. He had to escape. He had to get back to Baghdad. To Adam.

 

His uncle had forbidden him.

 

“You will not return to Baghdad.”

 

“But… uncle, my work. I have important work to do in Iraq. I’ve been collecting intelligence—”

 

His uncle’s sharp glare had cut off his words. “That was not the work you were sent to do, ya Faisal.”

 

“I have done more, much more, than just connect with Adam—”

 

“Do not speak his name!” Flushed, Uncle Abdul’s face had twisted, puffy and red with rage, his eyes narrowed and burning with wrath. “That name is never to be spoken again! It will never cross your lips!”

 

He’d stilled. Everything in him, his heart, his blood, his breath, had stopped. “Uncle… I—”

 

“It is forbidden!” Uncle Abdul had roared. “Forbidden! You are not to leave this house! You are to remain here, within these walls! You will pray, ya Faisal! Rahimullah, you will pray to Allah all day long!”

 

“Uncle, maa shaa Allah, I am at peace with Allah! You cannot keep me here!”

 

“I am your uncle! I am responsible for you, ya Faisal! You will remain here!” Uncle Abdul’s bellow had echoed, his roars bouncing off the gilded walls and vibrating the rubies and sapphires in their mosaics. Curtains shivered, and somewhere, glass tinkled, far off. His uncle took a shaking breath, one meaty finger thrust toward Faisal. “You will remain. You will not leave without my permission.”

 

The days rolled on, an endless smear of prayer and sun and sand. He lost the taste for almonds and dates, for mango juice and yogurt. The silence of the palace enslaved him, solitude not of relaxation, but of prison. Even his prayers were troubled, pleas in his du’a to Allah feeling hollow in the emptiness of his chest.

 

He and Adam hadn’t spoken since a last furtive text he’d sent while dressing, before Uncle Abdul spirited him back to Riyadh. A poem, one he’d wanted to whisper to Adam’s skin, a confession in his breath on Adam’s belly. If they never spoke again, he wanted Adam to know. In shaa Allah, he had to know that he was loved.

 

It was never about the intel for me, he’d confessed. I wanted to keep seeing you.

 

He’d craved Adam, from that first night on. Bismillah, from the first moment, and every moment after, his soul had been drawn to Adam, like a comet captured in the orbit of a star.

 

Shared intelligence was just a way to keep seeing him. An excuse, what he used before he was able to say that he just wanted to see Adam because he desired to.

 

If he could, he’d text him again. Call, and hear his voice. Listen to him breathe, and sleep. Wait up all night for his gentle snores, so precious to his heart.

 

But Uncle Abdul had taken his phone, like he’d done when he was a child. He wasn’t a child, he was a man, but he was still like a son to Uncle Abdul, and his uncle was the only father he’d known, after his own had died. He could not go against his uncle, like he could not go against his father.

 

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, forty-nine minutes.

 

He was atomizing in his uncle’s house, turning to dust and sand. His soul was atrophying, decaying in the silence of the musalla, withering beneath the distance and despair of his uncle. The distance was soul-shattering, so different than their past. They’d spent hours in the gardens, walking and talking, Faisal learning about the Kingdom and the world from his uncle’s stories and experience.

 

The withdrawal of his uncle’s affection, his attention, was like the sea pulling away from shore, a low tide that went on and on, the sea continuing to creep further and further away, never to return.

 

Should he stay?

 

He’d been touched by the West too much, to even think the thought. Before university in London, and before spending time with Westerners, he’d never have thought, not ever, to go against his family’s wishes. His uncle knew best. His uncle’s word was absolute. He was thankful for his uncle for everything in his life, most especially for his love, and the life he’d been raised in. How dare he now think to turn his back on that love.

 

But… In shaa Allah, he had to be free.

 

Twenty-six days, twelve hours, and fifty-one minutes. He made up his mind.

 

His uncle had left earlier, disappearing with his contingent of bodyguards. The house servants had been reduced since Faisal had returned, most of them gone, the halls empty.

 

It was easy to slip into his uncle’s study unseen.

 

He found his phone, and then his charger, thrown into the bottom of his uncle’s desk drawer. The phone was off. He powered it up, waiting anxiously for the signal to connect, for his messages to come in. Had Adam texted? Had he reached out during these long, long twenty-six days?

 

Faisal’s gaze caught on his uncle’s laptop, open on his desk.

 

A video had been playing. His uncle had paused the feed. Frozen, an Imam glowered out of the screen, harsh eyes and a falcon’s gaze searing Faisal’s spine across the internet. This was not a gentle man, not a kind man. The Imam was a divisive force of hate and fundamentalism, a lightning rod of extremism in the Kingdom. Why was his uncle listening to the man?

 

Was his uncle a follower of the Imam? His numbers, his followers, had grown. He was building a base of firebrand fundamentalism, charging up Muslims living in pain in the Kingdom with visions of retribution, pointing fingers to assign blame at anything he could.

 

Slowly, Faisal reached for the keyboard. “Astaghfirullah,” he whispered. I take refuge in Allah; forgive me. He clicked play.

 

The video must have been made after Friday prayers. Someone off screen was asking the Imam a question, and the Imam was answering anything his followers asked.

 

Faisal’s blood chilled as the words washed over him.

 

“Imam, I must ask. What do we do if we find a homosexual among us? What do we do with them?”

 

The Imam’s expression darkened. His scowl deepened. He raised one hand, pointing to the sky. “I tell you, surely there is no place in this world for people like that. There is no place for people who sin, who go against Allah. If you find a homosexual in your midst, it is permissible to kill them. Better they be dead than live in sin.”

 

He slammed the laptop closed. His phone chimed and chimed again. His mind swam, the Imam’s words echoing over and over, a gong ringing in his skull. Permissible to kill them. Better they be dead.

 

His uncle – his uncle! – had been watching this.

 

He had to get out. He had to escape. Was his uncle planning on killing him? Was he to be murdered, an honor killing to assuage the guilt of his uncle, that he’d nurtured such a sinner? Was he to be erased from the world, discarded and forgotten? Who would remember him if he died?

 

Adam.

 

His phone chimed again, a series of messages finally arriving. He tried to read them, but his eyes were blurring, tears building and falling down his cheeks every time he blinked.

 

[Faisal… Are you coming back? When can I see you again?]

 

[Are you in Baghdad?]

 

[Did… you change your mind? Do you want me to stop texting you?]

 

[I’m worried, Faisal. Please. Just tell me you’re okay. I’ll stop. I’ll leave you alone. Just as long as you’re all right.]

 

[Faisal… please. Please. Be okay. Please.]

 

He texted back, finally, twenty-six days, twelve hours, fifty-five minutes late. His fingers trembled as he tried to type. Adam. I’m here. I’m so sorry. I didn’t have my phone.

 

[Faisal???????????]

 

[OMG, where are you? Are you okay???]

 

No. No, I’m not okay. It’s not safe here.

 

[Where are you???? I’ll come get you. Are you in danger??]

 

In Saudi. But I’m leaving. Right now. I have to.

 

[Come here. Come to Baghdad. We’ll figure something out.]

 

Okay. Yes. Okay. I’m going to the airport. I’ll be on the next flight.

 

[I will pick you up.]

 

He ran, racing across the palace back to his rooms. He changed, flinging his thawb across the room and pulling on his suit, the one he’d worn to pick up Adam from the airport. He had a single bag, his Quran, and a roomful of memories. Did he take anything with him?

 

No. Not after that video. He’d take nothing.

 

His phone chimed. [Faisal… I’ve been so fucking afraid.]

 

He ran for the garage and took one of the cars. A dark SUV, one that would blend into the thousands of other cars in Riyadh. He peeled out, zooming down the drive and almost scraping through the gate before it had opened fully. He nearly stripped the mirrors off the doors, bottomed out the SUV on the road, squealed the tires as he turned down the road.

 

On the way to the airport, screaming down the highway, he texted back. I have yearned for you every moment we’ve been apart. My every thought has been of you.

 

He dropped his phone in his lap and focused on racing to the airport, weaving in and out of cars. He felt his phone vibrate against his leg, but didn’t look until after he’d parked.

 

[‘The real beloved is that one who is unique,

who is your beginning and your end.

When you find that one,

you’ll no longer expect anything else:

that is both the manifest and the mystery.’]

 

His eyes blurred again, tears slipping down to his chin in hot trails. Adam had sent a poem, a love poem of Rumi.

 

You are my beginning and my end, Adam.

 

[Get here. Please.]

 

He used his royal status to get onto the very next flight leaving, a delivery jet running up to Baghdad and back that afternoon. He sat in the unused third pilot’s seat on the jet, clinging to the seatbelt harness until they were in the air.

 

Two hours later, they landed at Baghdad international Airport.

 

I landed. I’m on the industrial side of the airport. Flew up on a delivery jet.

 

[I’m waiting in the American side. Let me get over there.]

 

It took some time for the pilots to taxi across the airport and past the passenger terminals. They pulled up to a hangar, finally, and Faisal followed the pilots down to the tarmac.

 

“Faisal!”

 

And there he was.

 

Twenty-six days, fifteen hours, and eight minutes vanished.

 

Adam jogged across the tarmac, leaving behind his black, US government-issue, not-undercover-at-all SUV, and headed for Faisal. Faisal jogged for him as well, his throat clenching, his chest burning. His eyes were blurring again.

 

Adam’s arms wrapped around him, a crushing hug, and he almost collapsed against Adam’s broad chest. He buried his face in Adam’s neck, inhaling the scent of diesel fuel, sand, sweat, and a tang that was all Adam. It was ambrosia for his soul, and Faisal breathed it in, held Adam in his lungs.

 

They were still in the Middle East, though, and in relative public. Faisal pulled back, his legs shaking, and laid his hand on Adam’s shoulder. Adam mirrored him, one hand on Faisal’s waist. Leaning in, Faisal placed a kiss on Adam’s cheek, as Adam did the same, twice. To an observer, it would look like they were saying a cultural hello, a Middle Eastern hello. But their lips were touching skin, lingering on each other’s cheeks, and that was pushing all of the lines.

 

“Let me take you home,” Adam breathed.

 

* * *

 

Adam’s apartment was a studio in the renovated Green Zone, one studio in a complex that housed hundreds of American contractors, defense personnel, State department officials, and undercover intelligence officers, like Adam. He had a couple bare lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, a thin, stained carpet, a lumpy couch, and an electric plate and one tin pot. He had a coffeemaker, too, plugged into a bewildering array of plug and electricity converters. One coffee cup.

 

He slept on a cot in the corner, military issue, on top of his sleeping bag and under a thin sheet. Usually. But when Faisal started slipping into his apartment, and they stole night after night together, Adam spread out blankets on the ground, enough to make a cozy nest for two. Two pillows nuzzled side by side, and, hidden out of sight, beneath his cot and his spare boots, there was a bottle of lube Faisal had brought and left.

 

They barely made it into Adam’s apartment before their hands were on each other.

 

Faisal slammed Adam against the thin wall, shaking the lights above. He tore Adam’s shirt off, pawed at his pants. Sank down to his knees before Adam could respond. As he sucked, he stripped, shedding his own suit jacket and button down as he moaned around the taste of Adam, the hardness in his mouth.

 

They made it to the blankets. Faisal slithered down Adam’s body, kept up his mouth’s lovemaking. Adam shivered and trembled, trying to reach for every inch of Faisal he could reach. Fingers slid through his hair, slid down his back. Hands gripped his biceps. Adam’s thighs wrapped around his shoulders, his head, as he dropped his tongue lower.

 

Faisal stared down into Adam’s eyes as he slid within his body. Adam’s back bowed, and his mouth puckered, a silent, trembling O formed by his lips. Faisal ran his hands up and down the back of Adam’s thighs, a gentle caress. “Adam,” he whispered, drowning in the pools of Adam’s gaze, the stars reflected in his pupils, in the Acacia warmth of his brown irises. “Adam…”

 

Ana bahibak trembled on the edge of his lips.

 

Adam’s hands threaded through his hair again, pulled him down. They kissed, their lips merging, becoming one.

 

“‘My soul spills into yours and is blended / Because my soul has absorbed your fragrance’.” Faisal moaned, a breathless whisper, as he pressed his words into Adam’s cheek, his neck, his collarbone with whispers and open-mouthed kisses. Pulling back, he rocked his hips, rolled himself deeper within Adam’s body. Adam bucked, clinging to him. “‘This is love’,” Faisal whispered. His words shook. He closed his eyes and buried his face in Adam’s neck. “‘To fly toward a secret sky’.”

 

Stars were falling from Adam’s eyes, glistening on his skin, his cheeks. Faisal kissed each one, taking Adam’s salt, the taste of him. They moved together, hands and lips and legs moving as one, bodies entwined. Adam began to tremble and never stopped.

 

Close, they both were close. Faisal could feel it, in the way Adam moved, the way his breath hitched. The way he tried to climb Faisal’s body, pull Faisal deeper into himself. His fingers scraped up Faisal’s back, nails scratching over his skin like a brand. Wallah, he loved this, loved making love to Adam. Loved sending Adam to the delirious heights of passionate pleasure. Just a little more, and Adam would fly apart. He pulled Adam closer, tilted his hips up. Cradled his lover, and cupped his face as he thrust. “‘I swear, since seeing your face / the whole world has become fraud and fantasy’.”

 

“Faisal!” Adam grasped his arms, squeezing tight, clenching. Everything in him was clenching, his entire body, and even his soul seemed to strum, vibrating on Faisal’s endless lovemaking. Adam gasped, sucking in breath after breath, and stared wide-eyed into Faisal’s gaze. “Faisal… Ana bahibak. Ana bahibak, ya hayati.”

 

Faisal’s soul went supernova, exploding in a billion shards of light. His heart erupted, and he captured Adam’s lips as he surged, as they surged together, bursting apart in each other’s arms.

 

* * *

 

Much, much later, they talked.

 

Adam kept the lights off after dark. No one needed to be looking in with ease, spying on their silhouettes lounging together on the floor, or moving together in a very specific way. They burned one candle inside the tin pot, diffusing the glow across their faces as they laid together.

 

Faisal couldn’t stop touching Adam. He couldn’t keep his hands off Adam’s chest, his stomach, his elbow. He had to touch, feel his lover. Twenty-six days, fifteen hours and eight minutes was too long to be apart from Adam. Had they been apart even a fraction of that time since the first night?

 

Adam was shy about his confession. He looked down, away from Faisal, a flush rising on his cheeks when Faisal tried to hold his gaze.

 

“Did you not mean it?” he asked. “Was it… just the moment?”

 

“I meant it.” Adam played with the edge of a sheet, spinning the fabric in a spiral. “I mean it. I’ve… fallen in love with you, Faisal.” He snorted and shook his head. “I mean, it’s dumb. Of me. It’s so dumb of me. I can’t fall in love with you. You’re a prince. I’m… nothing.” He sighed. “But I already have. I used to think one day, when this was all over, we could try and be together. When we weren’t…” He waved his hand through the air and sighed again. “When it wasn’t about intel or about politics. But I guess it will always be about politics, huh?”

 

“It doesn’t have to be. I’m nothing in the family. My father is dead. My uncle raised me, but—” He shook his head. He wasn’t ready to talk about his uncle, or the video of the Imam. “I’m nothing. And I never will be.”

 

“Not after what happened?”

 

“Not ever. I’ve never been part of the family’s future.”

 

Adam stared at him, twisting the edge of the sheet. He swallowed. “So… maybe… we could…” He flushed again. “Only if you want. I mean, you never said—”

 

“I love you, ya hayati. Ya qalby.”

 

Adam’s jaw dropped, his mouth hanging open.

 

“I wanted to tell you that day. I was going to tell you everything. Who I really was. That I had fallen in love with you, habibi. That I wanted to have something real with you.”

 

Adam smiled, and he reached for Faisal’s face, cupping his cheek. They kissed slowly, and then not slowly at all, and it was hours before they spoke again.

 

* * *

 

In the middle of the night, Faisal told Adam about his uncle, the Imam, and the video.

 

Adam grabbed both his arms and pulled him close, holding him against his chest. “Fuck, Faisal. Jesus Christ.” His hands shook against Faisal’s skin. “Thank God you got out. Jesus…”

 

“Adam.” He pinched Adam’s arm, gently. “Language.”

 

“Sorry. I just can’t…” Adam swallowed. “I can’t imagine a family doing that. How could he plan that? When he raised you? I just can’t—” His voice cut off, and he shook his head, scowling.

 

“I never thought it was a possibility. Certainly, never from Uncle Abdul.”

 

Adam breathed in his hair, pressed his lips to his scalp and held him close. “You’re away from him. And you’ll never go back there. Ever. You have to stay safe, habibi. We’ll figure out something. I promise.”

 

* * *

 

You’ll never go back there.

 

The words scraped the inside of his skull, a spider building a web within his brain. You’ll never go back there.

 

Never go back.

 

Could he turn his back on his home? His family? His decision to flee had been impulsive, his reach for Adam instinctive. He’d needed Adam, in that moment, and had found the safety and surety he’d needed.

 

What was he to think about Uncle Abdul? Uncle Abdul had given him life that night when he was six years old. Was he the one to take it all away? After all these years, after the life that his uncle had built for him, was it all going to end?

 

Family was built on the shifting sands, millennia of history swirling beneath their feet in the desert of his home. The family – his family – survived the desert, the eddies of history, due to the bonds forged in blood and fire. Family – a word thrown around so casually in the modern world. It meant something to him, to all Arabs. To all in the Middle East. It meant everything. Family – and the man who was as much his father as his own blood father had been – meant everything.

 

And he’d walked out. He walked out on his uncle, the man who raised him, who brought him from boy to man.

 

It is permissible to kill these people.

 

Somehow, someway, it was all going to end. Either he left, severed his ties with his family, cut a part of his soul out of his heart and watched it slowly die, starved of love and connection, or he returned and faced his uncle.

 

He watched Adam sleep for the last hours of the night. Watched the sun rise and the call to prayer break over Baghdad. The cry of the muezzin wailed. It is better to pray than to sleep!

 

He was a devoted man, a man who lived with the love of Allah in his heart. But, for the moment, it was better to lie in the orange glow of dawn and watch Adam breathe.

 

Faisal whispered du’a as Adam slowly stirred, blinking awake and reaching for Faisal. Faisal kissed him, a sleepy, warm kiss of morning and happiness. Adam gazed at him, contentment and peace filling his eyes.

 

You don’t have to do this.

 

Yes. I do. I cannot live with myself if I do not.

 

Habibi… I have to go back.”

 

* * *

 

Adam was furious.

 

“You can’t go! Faisal, they’re planning an honor killing! They are going to murder you!”

 

“I have to go. Bismillah, I have to face my family.”

 

“You don’t! You don’t owe your family anything! Especially if they’re planning on hurting you!”

 

“My uncle is the only real family I have left. I’m Arab, Adam. Family is part of my soul, and I’ve already lost nearly everyone. He is everything I have. Without my family, I am nothing, ya Allah.”

 

“That’s not true. Your family just got you to exist! It’s biology and genetics. Cells combining. That’s all!”

 

“Adam—”

 

“Look, I know how this feels. Kind of. I left my family. I left them, Faisal, and I never looked back. They weren’t trying to murder me, but they weren’t awesome, and I knew I had to find a better life without them. So I left. Forever.”

 

Faisal blinked. He held Adam’s face in both of his hands. “Do you know why I approached you that night?” The night they met, the night under the lanterns, when he’d held Adam’s hand and begged him to go home with him.

 

Slowly, Adam swallowed. He shook his head. “I’ve wondered,” he whispered.

 

“By the light of the lanterns, you looked like the most lonely person in the world, Adam.” He sighed, a gentle breath of air. “My heart called out to you.”

 

“Pity?” Adam scowled and tried to jerk away.

 

“No. Recognition.” Faisal tugged him closer. “We are both orphans, in our ways.”

 

Adam covered his hands, still cupping Adam’s cheeks. “Please… habibi, don’t do this. Don’t go back. We just—”

 

“We are alike in so many ways, ya hayati. But in this, we will always be different. My Arab soul cannot cut my family out of myself. No matter what. I would die, just cutting them out.”

 

“So you’ll let them kill you?”

 

Ya Allah, one way or the other, my soul will die without my family.”

 

Adam’s expression cracked, and he pulled Faisal close, crushing their bodies together. Faisal felt his face burrow into his neck, felt hot trails of Adam’s tears slide down his own skin. “Ana bahibak, Faisal,” Adam whispered, in between shaking breaths. “I could be—”

 

He cut himself off, shaking his head and rubbing his eyes and stepping back. He looked away. “Call me.” His chin wavered. “If you can.”

 

In shaa Allah.”

 

* * *

 

In Riyadh, He took a taxi from the airport to his uncle’s palace. The Bengali driver had never been to the gates of the palace of the Governor of Riyadh, and he trembled as he drove up the long drive to the gate. Five guards raised their rifles at his taxi on the drive up. They only lowered their weapons when Faisal stepped out of the back.

 

The taxi driver was sent away. Faisal was dragged back into the palace.

 

He waited in the grand parlor, his uncle’s sitting room overlooking the gardens. His eyes traced the paths he and his uncle had walked through the roses and the lilies, years and years of walks and conversation flitting through his memories. Uncle Abdul always had time for a walk, had always made time for him, then and now. His uncle had been steadfast in his life, his northern star in his sky.

 

Would his father have been as attentive, had he lived? What would his father do now, if he were here?

 

All stars fell. Everything died, in its time. If this was his time, then inna lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji’oon. To Allah he belonged, and to Allah he would return. His only regret would be that he had such little time with Adam.

 

Footsteps pounded down the palace’s main hall. He closed his eyes. Turned away from the door. His uncle was a sharpshooter, was a master hunter. He’d taught Faisal how to shoot when he was a boy and could barely hold the heavy, antique rifle.

 

Would it be a gun? Or would it be a knife?

 

“Faisal!” His uncle’s bellow, sharp, and lined with shock. “Ya Faisal! Subhanallah, Faisal!” Footsteps crossed the parlor, slamming on the marble—

 

Hands grabbed his arms, whirled him around. His uncle stood before him, holding him in a bruising grip. His eyes were wild, mad, darting over his body, up and down, searching him from head to toe. “Where have you been, ya Faisal? Where have you been?” Uncle Abdul shook him, in time with his shouts.

 

His voice fled. The words wouldn’t come. They jammed against the block in his throat, the memories of his life with Uncle Abdul that were trying to strangle him. His vision blurred. His eyes burned.

 

“Where have you been?” Uncle Abdul shouted, shaking him again. “Speak, ya Faisal!”

 

“Baghdad,” he choked out. “I flew to Baghdad.”

 

Uncle Abdul went pale, all color draining from his face. “No,” he breathed. “No, ya Faisal. How could you? Na uzo billah, ya Faisal…”

 

He couldn’t take it, not one single second more. His heart raced, and his palms were rivers of sweat. His body froze as his soul burned; death would be a relief from the torment. “If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with! Kill me and be done with it!”

 

Uncle Abdul froze.

 

Faisal breathed hard, panting. “Kill me!” he roared. “La illahah illalah, I am ready to be one with Allah! Just do it!”

 

Uncle Abdul stepped back, one shaking step, and then another. He shook his head, slowly, as if shaking off a nightmare. Wild confusion had replaced the madness, utter incomprehension spilling from every pore of his body. “Ya Faisal,” he breathed. “You think I want to kill you?”

 

“I saw the video you were watching. I saw it. The Imam, and what he said about me. It is permissible to kill me. It is better to be dead than to be me.” He watched his words hit his uncle, strike him like bullets.

 

Uncle Abdul staggered, all the air gusting out of him in one ragged breath. He grabbed Faisal’s hands, squeezing both until his bones shifted. “Ya Faisal,” he hissed. “That is my biggest fear! What that filth preaches! I have been up the entire night, calling every hospital and police station! Searching for your body!”

 

Faisal’s jaw dropped. Uncle Abdul grabbed him, held his head in both of his hands and pulled him forward, until their foreheads were pressed together. “Astaghfirullah, I had to know. I had to see it with my own eyes. What could happen to you. What those people want to do to my blood.” His voice dropped, turning to a growl. “In shaa Allah, ya Faisal. I will keep you safe. I will keep you safe.”

 

He grabbed his uncle, holding onto him in return. He couldn’t breathe; he couldn’t think. “Uncle…”

 

“How could you think I would ever harm you, ya Faisal? Ya Allah, ya faisal! Have I loved you so little that you think I could ever hurt you?”

 

“I didn’t know…” He closed his eyes, before the tears fell. “I didn’t know what to think. You pushed me away, Uncle.”

 

Astaghfirullah, ya Faisal. I am terrified.” Uncle Abdul’s voice dropped again, grinding over hi words. “I am terrified of what the world will do to you. To my Faisal.”

 

“You’ve kept me here because of this?”

 

“Yes! And bismillah, you will stay here! In this palace! Where it is safe!”

 

“Uncle, I have been safe. I have been careful—”

 

“Not safe enough! I found you, ya Faisal! If I found you, and him, then who else can? The religious police? They will put you on trial! You will go to jail for the rest of your life! Or, the dogs, the filth, the people who took your father, my brother, from us? Those terrorists will cut off your head!”

 

“Uncle—”

 

“I will not allow those people to take any more of my family!” Uncle Abdul’s voice shook, trembling. “They took my brother. They will not take you! They will not!”

 

“They won’t, uncle. I swear it. I swear. I am careful. I’ve always hidden… everything.”

 

“You must hide more, ya Faisal. You must hide everything.”

 

“I cannot live in hiding, uncle.”

 

“I will keep you safe. Bismillah, I will keep you safe. I swear it.”

 

Faisal stepped back. He held onto his uncle, grasping his shoulders, and looked into his gaze. Uncle Abdul stared back. His eyes were red and wet, hollow, and filled with agony. “Uncle, I must go back to Baghdad.”

 

Uncle Abdul’s lip curled, a dark sneer. “I know why you want to return.”

 

“Yes, you know one reason. But he is not all my reasons. Uncle, I have to do something with my life. Let me contribute to this family. I was good at what I did. I enjoyed it. Let me go back.”

 

“It is too dangerous. What if someone in Baghdad saw you yesterday? What if someone saw you and… that person… anytime?”

 

Astaghfirullah, uncle, I cannot live in a palace my whole life. I cannot be locked away. If that is your solution, then I would rather you kill me. I would rather die than cease to live any meaningful life.”

 

Uncle Abdul reared back, as if Faisal had slapped him. “There will never come a day when I will hurt you, ya Faisal. Ya Allah, how could you even consider the thought?”

 

“You are hurting me now, uncle. Locking me up.”

 

Turning away, Uncle Abdul paced the length of the parlor, one hand to his head. He gazed back at Faisal, misery flowing off him like sand pouring from a dune before the billowing wind. “Ya Faisal…”

 

Please, uncle. Let me go back.”

 

“What am I to do if I find a video of your death online? La hawla wala quwata illa billah, I am not strong enough to survive that, ya Faisal.”

 

“It will not happen. I promise. I swear it.”

 

Uncle Abdul turned away, burying his head in his hands. “You would resent me if I forbade you leave. Would you run away again? Would you shatter my heart with your disobedience?”

 

“You would shatter mine with your command to remain.” He took a breath, a deep inhale. “My heart is in Baghdad. Please. Let me go to it.”

 

Uncle Abdul shook his head, disgust and dejection rolled into one despairing groan.

 

“Please, uncle…”

 

Uncle Abdul collapsed, falling to a sofa as his knees buckled. He kept his face buried as his shoulders shook, sobs quietly rolling from him. Faisal crossed the parlor, dropping to his knees before his uncle.

 

Ya Faisal, my heart goes where you are.” Uncle Abdul reached for him, cradling his face. “You must take care, abnay.”

 

His uncle’s words flowed over him, warming his soul and filling his heart with light. My son, his uncle had said. Abnay; my son.

 

“I will. Wallah, I will.”

 

“And I will keep you safe, ya Faisal. Wallah, for all of my days.”

 

* * *

 

Adam waited in his apartment, pacing. He clenched his phone in his sweat-soaked fist, squeezing the phone until the plastic groaned.

 

I should never have let him go. I shouldn’t have let him go back. How could he go back to them?

 

His thoughts curdled, turning against each other. I’m so stupid. What could I have done? God, I could have saved him! What should I have done?

 

He stopped, rubbing his hands over his face and his head, gripping the back of his neck. Groaning, he kicked the wall, over and over, grunting with every slam of his foot against the thin, dusty drywall.

 

We’d just managed to say the words. God fucking damn it, we’d just managed to say it. His dream, his impossible dream – could he truly love Faisal? Could Faisal truly love him? He’d dreamed it countless nights in Baghdad, his thoughts consumed by Faisal.

 

And then, everything changed. Faisal wasn’t just a man, he was a prince. He wasn’t just a prince. He was a Saudi Royal Prince, and his uncle was the next in line for the throne.

 

But Faisal still wanted him. Wanted to love him. Had said it, even. Ana bahibak, ya hayati.

 

Even the worst fairy tales, the original grim ones, hadn’t ended so cruelly. To find perfection, and have it all undone.

 

Adam sank against the wall, sliding down until his ass hit the floor. He hung his head, letting it drop between his shoulders. How long should he wait for a call?

 

And then, his phone rang.

 

He jumped. His phone slid out of his sweat-slick palm, clattered to the floor. He grabbed it, pawing for the buttons. “Hello?”

 

“Ya hayati.”

 

He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t make any sound at all. His eyes squeezed shut and he thunked his head back, hitting the wall. Something burst from him, a gasp and a sob and a shriek, all rolled into one.

 

“Ya hayati, I am all right. We’ve talked. I am in no danger. Coming back was the right thing to do.”

 

Tears poured from his eyes, waterfalls that fell from his chin. He tried to wipe them away. “Are you sure?” he grunted. “Positive?”

 

Completely. And, something else.”

 

Adam waited, holding his breath.

 

“I am coming back to Baghdad. Officially.”

 

The tears came again, cascades of tears. “Maa shaa Allah,” he choked out. “Maa shaa Allah, Faisal.”

 

I will see you soon, ya hayati. Ya qalby.”

 

“Soon.” He couldn’t speak more than a single syllable. “Ana bahibak,” he choked out.

 

The line cut out. Adam dropped the phone. Pitching forward, he buried his face in his hands and let the sobs roll out of him, pour from his soul. His bones shook, his entire body wracked by the force of his wails. His heart ached, agonizing pain radiating from his chest.

 

This was all going to end in disaster. Terrible, terrible disaster. He could feel it in his bones, in the depth of his soul. There was too much against them. And, too much love between them. They would burn their worlds down, with this love. It would be safer, better, to walk away.

 

But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

 


Timestamp: Approximately two years prior to Enemies of the State, immediately following How (not) To Say Goodbye

Author’s Note: Poems used by Faisal and Adam are all of the great Persian poet Rumi.

 

First Impressions – Executive Office

 

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes! This week, I’m completing Charlotte’s prompt request. Charlotte asked for the first impressions of her favorite characters. We take a look at The Executive Office, and Jack and Ethan, today… as well as a surprise character at Charlotte’s request! 🙂


 

 

Ethan

 

“Agent Reichenbach.” Director Peter Stahl looked him in the eye and shook his hand. “Congratulations on your promotion.”

 

“Thank you, sir.” Ethan smiled wide. He couldn’t not. Finally, after months, the Director of the Secret Service had issued the orders: he was now in charge of the White House Presidential Detail. Him. He was the first openly gay Secret Service agent to climb the ranks. To earn the top spot. After this, it was almost guaranteed he’d head over to Headquarters and serve on the senior staff.

 

One day, maybe even be in line to be the Deputy Director. Or, even the Director.

 

But first things first. He had a president to serve, for four years, or perhaps eight.

 

“As part of your promotion, I’m sending you out to take the lead on Senator Spiers’s campaign detail. He’s predicted to win, even this far out. The margins aren’t even close. It will be good for you to get a feel for his style before he moves into the West Wing.”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“You have your senior team picked?”

 

“Yes sir. Agents Collard, Daniels, and Inada will be on my detail. Agent Welby will serve as my second in command.”

 

“Good choices. I expect you’ll run a tight ship. Secret Service Presidential Protections will be a brisk operation under your leadership.”

 

“Thank you, sir.” Again, Ethan smiled, so wide his cheeks started to ache.

 

“You’ll join Senator Spiers’s campaign Monday, July 11th. The Senator’s chief of staff will brief you, and then you’re in command.” Stahl shook his hand again. “Lead Agent Reichenbach.”

 

* * *

 

Monday, July 11th, Ethan wore his best suit. He picked out his best shoes and shined them to a mirror polish the night before at the hotel in Cincinnati, where Senator Spiers was stumping for the weekend. He got a haircut the Friday before he, Scott, and Daniels left DC. He put up with Scott’s good-natured ribbing about how he was trying to look too good, and was already there to work over the big boss.

 

“Let him win the election first,” Scott had snorted. “Then you can go all Rambo on his ass. These are his last months of freedom. Let him enjoy them, before the White House cage snaps shut.”

 

He took a dawn coffee briefing from Senator Spiers’s chief of staff, a thin, reticent man named Jeff Gottschalk. “The Senator knows you’re arriving today. He wants to meet you all.”

 

They waited in the campaign’s mobile command center, drinking coffee and trying to stay out of the way. Not easy, when they were each hulking blocks of muscle, strapped with guns on their hips and enough ammunition hidden on their bodies to take out a small army. Their trench coats, the Secret Service unofficial uniform, swept the floor.

 

“The Senator likes to keep us waiting?” Scott leaned into Ethan’s side, almost whispering, but not quite. “This should be good. Great start. Four years are going to go so fast.”

 

Daniels rolled his eyes. He went back to checking out some of the ladies working down the line.

 

Finally, the air in the room shifted. People moved faster, seemed to perk up. Heads turned toward the far door across the hotel’s conference room. The hotel’s plans flashed in Ethan’s mind. An inner staircase that Senator Spiers would be using to move around the hotel. He straightened. Elbowed Scott in the side.

 

The double doors opened, and Senator Jack Spiers strode in. He had two cell phones in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, and was listening to Gottschalk, walking beside him and talking quickly into his ear. Aides buzzed behind him, checking their phones, clutching newspapers under their arms, balancing tablets in front of them as they walked. Frenetic energy surrounded the Senator, all focused on him.

 

But in the center of it all, Senator Jack Spiers seemed as calm as ever.

 

Ethan appraised him like he would a military target, taking in everything from head to toe. Spiers’s blue suit, a shade lighter than was usual and customary in DC. It set off his skin, his blond hair, and made both seem brighter, more golden. His hands were quick, swiping through his phone and sipping his coffee. His eyes were bright and vibrant, peering intently at Gottschalk as he listened to his chief of staff, nodding along, softening at times.

 

This was a man in control. Confidently in control, content in his surroundings. He had power, but wielded it under a governed layer of calm surety.

 

No wonder he was ahead in the polls. Just watching him enter a room, Ethan was already willing to cast his vote. Of course, he never voted. It didn’t seem right, putting his finger on one side of the scale, when the president’s life was going to be in his hands. His job was to remain above politics, outside of politics. No matter the cost.

 

Scott whistled under his breath. “So that’s him.”

 

Ethan grunted.

 

Senator Spiers’s gaze swept the room, still listening to Gottschalk’s endless chatter. Had Gottschalk told him they were here? They needed to brief the Senator, explain the procedures for campaign security. The protections they were going to institute, starting that day, and when they traveled that afternoon to Detroit.

 

Spiers’s eyes landed on Ethan. Their gazes locked.

 

He’s got great eyes.

 

Spiers smiled, beaming. He reached for Gottschalk, politely extricating himself from his chief of staff’s briefing, and headed their way.

 

Spiers had been called the most attractive politician in memory. He had pretty boy good looks, the news said, and he was the kind of candidate Hollywood would drum up in a movie. Some accused him of being all style and no substance, lean on the parts of governance where it really mattered. Lean on experience, where it counted. Ethan hadn’t paid attention to the particulars. Politics wasn’t his job.

 

But, as Spiers walked toward them—

 

Wow. That smile…

 

He cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders. Squared himself, and clasped his hands behind his back.

 

“Gentleman.” Senator Spiers kept smiling the whole way across the room, kept smiling as he said hello. “Welcome to the campaign.”

 

“Sir.” Ethan held out his hand. “I’m Agent Reichenbach.” He introduced Scott, Daniels, and Inada.

 

Spiers took it, wrapping his free hand around Ethan’s as they shook. “I am incredibly grateful for your service. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for doing what you do.”

 

Clearing his throat, Ethan shook his head. “All part of the job, sir.”

 

“What can I do for you gentleman? What do you need from me, and from us?”

 

Scott, just faintly, snorted. Ethan could practically read his mind. Sir, we need your complete and total cooperation as we turn your life upside down, put you in a zoo, and throw away the key. Alright, into the straightjacket, there you go, be a good president…

 

“Sir, we have a briefing we’ll present to you later this morning. It will outline our needs. We will need dedicated office space, your schedules and access to your scheduling staff, and close coordination with your chief of staff to ensure that your protection is now our, and this campaign’s, number one priority.”

 

“I think winning the election is the number one priority for most everyone here. But, I’ll see to it that you get everything you need. If you’re not getting what you need, Agent Reichenbach, please address it with me personally.”

 

That tie really sets off his eyes. Have I ever seen a brighter blue?

 

“Thank you, sir. We’re very happy to be here working with you.”

 

He could feel Scott’s eyes bore into the back of his skull.

 

Spiers smiled, again, that beaming smile of his. Ethan couldn’t help it. He grinned back, just slightly. Oh, he’s definitely going to win the election. He’s a shoe-in. And no wonder.

 

“I look forward to getting to know you all. Please, make yourselves at home. This campaign is open to you in every way. We’ll talk more later today.” Spiers nodded once and moved off, heading back to his senior staff and Gottschalk, scrolling through his phone as he drank from an extra-large thermos of coffee.

 

“‘We’re very happy to be here’?” Scott leaned into his shoulder, snorting. “That’s not the line. ‘We’re here to do our job’ is what you’re supposed to say.”

 

“Whatever.” Ethan shook him off. “Let’s go get our gear and get set up. We’ve got five hours until we’re on the move to Detroit. Let’s get some work done.”

 

Danger, his mind whispered. Danger.

 

* * *

 

Jack

 

If someone had told him that the presidential campaign would be the single most exhausting endeavor he’d ever undertaken, he might have thought twice before deciding to make a run for the White House.

 

He was beyond tired. His exhaustion was exhausted. But, he never let it show. He just called it training. The presidency was going to be intense.

 

And, when he was tired, he knew his staff was even more so.

 

“This is what it will be like in the White House,” Pete Reyes, his campaign press manager, had said. Of course, he’d been grinning like a madman, bouncing a basketball on the hotel’s court at 2 AM as they both tried to exhaust their insomnia.

 

“Except, instead of speeches, it’s going to be world leaders and threats that will keep us up all night.”

 

“Think the White House has a basketball court?” Pete tried for a shot from the three-point line. He missed.

 

“They have a swimming pool. If you can’t find me, check there.”

 

“On the surface or at the bottom?” Pete winked.

 

Jack had chucked the ball at Pete, and they played for another forty-five minutes before turning in, finally physically exhausted enough to quiet their racing, raging minds.

 

There was always something to think about. Something to consider, or reconsider. Something to mull over, or obsess about. A speech to fine tune. Policy positions to examine. And, dreams to dream.

 

The White House. The presidency.

 

It was really going to happen.

 

He was finally starting to believe it. The poll numbers were there. The metrics were positive, and trending even more so. Hell, his Secret Service detachment had arrived that day.

 

“Four agents, Senator,” Jeff Gottschalk had said, briefing him in his hotel room over breakfast. “They sent the White House lead detail agent, Agent Reichenbach. They think you’re going to win this. They expect you to be in the White House.”

 

He’d needed a moment, after that.

 

The Secret Service agents were exactly what he’d expected, what he’d seen around DC so many, many times. Tall, hulking men, scowling at the world around them. Distrust wafted from them, a projection so strong they seemed to be holding signs that told the world to stay the fuck away from them. They were the linebackers of the political world, lions that lived in their protectee’s shadow.

 

He’d wanted to make them feel welcome. Wanted to make them feel at ease, especially if these were the men he was going to be seeing so much of for the next four years… in the White House. He’d tried, he really had.

 

But, Agent Reichenbach was as hard as they came. His handshake felt like granite. His jaw could have been chiseled from marble. If he smiled, it was a rare occurrence. Jack had teased a tiny grin out of him during their conversation, and that alone felt like he’d won the Texas primary, for a moment.

 

Was this his future? Being shielded and surrounded by a man who was built like Captain America, but had all the personality of the government distilled into a teaspoon? Concentrated lack of government humor?

 

No, there was more to Agent Reichenbach. That miniscule smile proved it.

 

And, what had happened later.

 

The campaign had been getting ready to break down and head out, make their way to Detroit. He’d needed another cup of coffee, stat, and he’d headed for the coffee bar the campaign kept in their command center at every stop.

 

Reichenbach was there, too, making his own cup of coffee.

 

“Senator.” Reichenbach nodded as he’d approached. He tried to step out of the way halfway through his pour.

 

“Please, finish. Don’t interrupt your coffee on my account.”

 

Reichenbach nodded. He took his coffee black, no cream, no sugar.

 

And then, he’d poured a fresh cup of coffee. “How do you take yours, Senator?”

 

“Oh, there’s no need for you to do—”

 

“It’s in my purview as a Secret Service agent, sir. I need to know everything, absolutely everything, about you. Your dark secrets. Your dirty laundry. And how you take your coffee.” He finished pouring and winked over his shoulder.

 

“When I was seven, I ran a stop sign on my bicycle.” Jack smiled. “I think I still have an unpaid parking ticket at my college. And, I take two sugars in my coffee.”

 

Reichenbach had chuckled softly as he stirred two sugar packets into the second cup. “I think the statute of limitations has passed for both. Though, I’ll have to check on the traffic violation on your bicycle. You are very young, Senator. You might still be on the hook for that crime.”

 

Was that the faintest hint of panic that flashed in Reichenbach’s eyes? For a moment, it had almost seemed like Reichenbach regretted what he’d said, the dry humor peeking out of the hard shell of the agent.

 

Jack had laughed as he accepted the coffee Reichenbach made for him. “If it helps reduce my sentence, I was very remorseful. I couldn’t even eat dinner that night.”

 

Reichenbach’s smile had reappeared. He’d looked down, as if he was trying to hide the evidence of his little grin. “Sir—”

 

“Is there coffee?” Gottschalk had appeared beside Jack, then, sighing and squeezing his eyes, more sleep deprived than even Jack was. “Please, God, say there’s still coffee.”

 

Reichenbach had stepped aside, freeing the coffee bar for Jeff. He’d started to leave.

 

“Agent Reichenbach?”

 

“Sir?”

 

“Maybe you can help settle something between Jeff and I.” What had he been thinking? Jack didn’t even know. But, he’d barreled on ahead anyway, the way he always did. “What do you think of my tie?” Jack smoothed his hand down his chest, over his sunny yellow tie, as Gottschalk groaned.

 

“God, for Christ’s sake, take that tie off. You look like a carnie.” Gottschalk had glowered at him, and then turned his ire toward Reichenbach. “Please, Agent Reichenbach, for all that’s good in the world. Tell him to take that hideous tie off.”

 

Jack had waited, grinning.

 

“I like the tie. It brings out your eyes, sir.”

 

Gottschalk almost inhaled his third swallow of coffee and hacked out a lung, coughing as he glared at Reichenbach.

 

Jack had beamed.

 

But, before Jack could say anything else, Reichenbach raised his cup of coffee, a kind of salute, and strode away, moving quickly. As if he wanted to escape.

 

Jack had turned his grin to Gottschalk, who rolled his eyes at him. “I don’t care what it does to your eyes, it’s still ugly.”

 

So what had that been? Hours later, and Jack was still mulling it over. Still trying to puzzle through the mystery that was his new Secret Service agent.

 

It wasn’t like he didn’t have a billion other things he could be thinking about. He was speaking in four different places in Detroit tomorrow and then flying down to Boulder, Colorado, after that. He had exactly no time to be ruminating on the odd behavior of Agent Reichenbach.

 

Jack flopped onto his side in the hotel’s king bed and dragged a pillow into his arms. Sometimes, he thought it would be nice to have someone there at night. Someone to hold on to. But he’d long ago decided he would remain single, remain a widower, for the rest of his days. There was just no one else in the world he wanted to get close to. No beautiful faces made him yearn. No laughing personality made his heart race. Pillows would be all he ever held close, ever again.

 

His thoughts drifted as he fell, finally, into his exhausted slumber. Agent Reichenbach, there’s more to you. I know there is.

 

Maybe one day, he’d get to find out.

 

* * *

 

Blake Becker

 

Oh God. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Oh, God, no. Anyone but him. Anyone, literally anyone.

 

Why the hell was Agent Ethan Reichenbach, the fucking boyfriend of the president of the United States, coming to the Des Moines, Iowa, field office?

 

Shepard, the agent in charge of their nine-man operation, looked like he’d lost a fight with a gorilla. He delivered the news in their weekly staff meeting with all the enthusiasm of a man condemned to die. “Agent Reichenbach will begin his assignment here in two weeks’ time.”

 

Stares and dropped jaws, all around the table.

 

“He’s still… in the Secret Service?”

 

“Shouldn’t he be fired? Totally fired?”

 

“Isn’t he, like, the worst-case example of what not to do as an agent?”

 

Shephard held up his hand. “Director Triplett has made the call. Reichenbach is coming here.”

 

“So, he and the president aren’t staying together, then? He’s just being quietly reassigned so everyone forgets about him?”

 

“God, I hope so.” Shephard scrubbed his hands over his face. “I hope he just keeps his head down and the press ignores him. If they’re not together, all the novelty of Reichenbach and where he stuck his dick will wear off. If we’re lucky, he’ll just fade away, like all the attention he’s been getting will, after they break up.”

 

* * *

 

Except, that wasn’t true at all.

 

Reichenbach and the president were staying together. In fact, they were keeping up a long-distance relationship. The president and his boyfriend… who now lived in Des Moines.

 

The media attention didn’t decrease. It increased, about a thousand-fold.

 

Shephard blew his top. He screamed on the phone, railed at the Director inside his office and behind closed doors. She talked him down, but it was a long three hours that they all spent waiting for the grenade to go off in Shephard’s office.

 

And then, the two weeks were up, and Reichenbach’s first day arrived.

 

Becker and the others all huddled outside of the breakroom, waiting for their first glimpse of the man. What did a man who had seduced the president of the United States look like? Did he exude some kind of raw animal magnetism? Was he a maverick? Did he think the rules didn’t apply to him anymore? Was he going to be a raging, apocalyptic asshole?

 

The door to their office clicked open. Someone walked in.

 

Everyone’s heads turned. Stared.

 

Ethan Reichenbach, boyfriend to the president, walked into the Des Moines office. His shoulders were hunched, and he looked left and right as if trying to find someone. He seemed lost, and even though he was a large man, well-built, and obviously stronger than a bull, he seemed small. Diminutive, in a way. As if he was trying not to take up any space, draw any attention to himself.

 

Finally, he saw everyone waiting outside the breakroom, clustered in a tight knot just to the right of Shephard’s office.

 

Becker stared. Reichenbach stared back.

 

It wasn’t an arrogant stare, though. The haughtiness, the rancid smugness, the air of superiority they all expected was missing. Reichenbach looked like a man who had come back from war. Like a man who had learned all his lessons the hard way. Like a man who had left something precious, something integral to himself, behind. Like a man that wanted to be anywhere but there.

 

No, not anywhere.

 

He wanted to be back in DC. Becker could see it, plain as day.

 

“Reichenbach!” Shephard yanked open his office door. “In here. I’ll brief you.” Shephard scowled at Becker and the rest of the agents. “Don’t you have cases to run?”

 

Becker and the others scattered, vanishing back into their cubicles. He stopped, though, outside of his. The cubicle next to him was empty. Was Reichenbach going to be working there? He was the only agent without a partner. He was the odd man out. Was he going to get Reichenbach as a partner? Was that even allowed? Was Reichenbach, really, even an agent anymore?

 

What could he learn from Reichenbach, though? The thought, the idea, that there was something he might be able to pull from Reichenbach, was tantalizing. What stories he might have. Of course, not the stories of seducing the president, or of being the worst agent in the history of the Secret Service. But, before that. He’d been the lead detail agent. He had to have been hot shit at one time. He had to know thing, real things.

 

Becker looked back toward Shephard’s office. The door was closed and the blinds were drawn. Who knew what was going on inside.

 

Once, Reichenbach had to have been something pretty special.

 

Now, he was just a man with a broken heart, forced into exile, and forced to wear his bad decisions, public humiliation, and his personal shame for everyone – literally everyone – to see, played out on the national and international media, day in and day out.

 

Becker almost felt sorry for him.


Timestamp: Before Enemies of the State, when Jack & Ethan first meet on the presidential campaign (referenced in Interlude); Blake Becker’s first impressions of Ethan at the end of Enemies of the State.

 

First Impressions – Hush

 

So sorry for the day delay on Bauer’s Bytes! I have been under the weather, and yesterday, I just couldn’t beat back this flu enough to get the Bytes up. So sorry!

This week, I tackled one of Charlotte’s prompts. Charlotte wanted to know what the first impressions of some of her favorite characters were upon meeting. This week, Mike and Tom from Hush. Next week, characters from the Executive Office series! 🙂 Thanks for a great prompt, Charlotte!


 

 

Mike

 

“Here’s another one.” Winters dropped a thick binder on Mike’s desk. It was bigger than the other binders Winters had dropped off over the years, much bigger. “Tom Brewer. Former AUSA. The Senate confirmed him as the newest DC federal judge. I don’t think you ever crossed his path when he was AUSA. Here’s his background investigation.”

 

Mike pulled Tom Brewer’s binder across the desk. It felt like a brick. “Why is his background so huge? Does he have a colorful past?”

 

A colorful past. A polite euphemism for a fucked-up history, a professional past littered with complaints, sexual harassment issues, covered-up affairs, and more. DUIs that had been wiped by the DC police. Former staffers that had quietly been moved across the country.

 

“Exactly the opposite. He’s squeaky clean. Too clean. Made people nervous.”

 

Mike flipped open the binder, flicking through pages and pages of cleared background forms, endless “no” answers to all the bad questions, explanation sheets that said “not applicable” over and over again. No experimentation with drugs. No run ins with the law. No DUIs. No affairs. No tricky finances. No secret babies. No proverbial dead bodies. “Huh. We don’t see this often.”

 

“Not from a male judge. It’s the women who are perfect.”

 

“Hopefully he’s as easy to manage as this was.” Mike shut Tom’s binder with a quick snap.

 

Winters snorted. “That was a shitshow to assemble, Lucciano. No one believes that’s all there is to Judge Brewer. You might be in for a surprise with this one. Keep your eyes open.”

 

“Will do.” Mike filed Tom’s binder on the shelf over his file cabinet. He turned back to his computer, to the recent threat briefing, and pushed Judge Tom Brewer from his mind.

 

* * *

 

“Your Honor?” Mike waited a polite ten and a half minutes after Tom Brewer, newest federal judge to the DC bench, began his first day. He stood in the doorway to Tom’s chambers, waiting.

 

Tom was circling his tiny office, running one hand over the polished Cherrywood desk. His eyes bounced over the empty bookcases behind the desk, the wood paneled walls, the bare floor. Was he mentally decorating? Planning to put his mark on the office? Preparing to order brand new everything? How difficult was Judge Tom Brewer going to be? Mike could foretell the entire future in the next minute.

 

Tom turned to Mike, smiling ear to ear. “Hi, sorry, I didn’t see you there. Please, come in.” He beckoned Mike into his office and waved him to one of the leather club chairs in front of the bare cherrywood desk. “This is amazing. Just amazing.” Tom leaned one hip against his desk and gazed at his office again.

 

He wasn’t redecorating. He was admiring. Taking in the tiny walls and the wood paneling with all of its nail holes, the scuffed floorboards, the cherrywood desk with the worn spots on the corners. Tom looked at his new office like he’d walked into a surprise party.

 

Mike almost didn’t want to interrupt Tom Brewer’s boyish adoration of his new space. “Your Honor, welcome to the DC federal bench.” 

 

Tom’s full-watt smile turned to Mike. He chuckled, almost giddy-like, under his breath. “I don’t think I’ll ever be used to this.”

 

Damn it, this was cute. Mike had never dealt with a judge who was adorable before. They were arrogant, uppity, entitled, or far, far too busy for the mere mortals around them. They never took the time to indulge in the moment, grin with excitement over their new office, or giggle, embarrassed and thrilled at the same time.

 

This was exactly the kind of guy that would have a completely boring background investigation. Maybe Tom Brewer had been too busy aw-shucksing his way through life to get into trouble.

 

Thought, it would have been easy for him to fall into a love affair. He probably had to fend off attractions and invites for dates from all the ladies. Tom Brewer was attractive, in that career-DC way. A politician’s patrician face, dark hair combed to the side, a body made for a slender suit. He had kind eyes, though, and that stood out. In the ocean of DC politics, the eyes said it all about the person. Hard eyes, cold eyed, lying eyes, dead eyes. They were a dime a dozen. But, kind eyes? Those were special.

 

He smiled back at Tom. So far, awesome. Judge Tom Brewer seemed like a decent guy. This should be an easy assignment, at least as far as personality went. There would be hard cases, and there would be threats – there always was, with everyone – but if Tom Brewer was as awesome professionally as he was personally, working with him would be a breeze.

 

“Your Honor, I am Inspector Mike Lucciano, Deputy US Marshal, and I am in charge of your security here at the courthouse. Are you ready for your first security briefing?”

 

* * *

 

Tom

 

“Are you ready for your first security briefing?”

 

Jesus, he was going to be spending more time with this man? Inspector Mike Lucciano, Deputy US Marshal?

 

His mouth was dry. His tongue was heavy. He glanced back to his bare bookshelves, trying to recapture the awe he’d felt striding into his very own judge’s chambers. Him, a judge! Unbelievable. Inconceivable. His heart had beat too fast, a pitter patter that left him breathless as he circled the desk.

 

And then a man had appeared at his doorway.

 

Tall. Almost six feet. Muscular. He filled out his suit in all the right ways. Thick shoulders. Trim hips.

 

Blue eyes, the color of a perfect September sky. Golden blond hair, combed into a swept and carefree pompadour, like waves of sand tumbling toward an ocean. Dimples in his cheeks when he smiled.

 

His suit was too stylish for DC. On the slender, form-fitting side, like the Europeans liked it, and a lighter blue than what crammed the halls of bureaucracy in the federal government. The fabric clung close to his legs, almost curving around the shape of his muscles.

 

His heart pitter-pattered for a whole different reason.

 

Damn it, stop. He’d put this away, long, long ago. He’d stopped seeing men who could take his breath away, had stopped looking for men who burned the blood in his veins. He’d built a safe world at the United States Attorney’s office, tunnel-visioned on his professional life. There was no one who made his heart go crazy, made his palms sweat until he thought beads would drip from his fingertips.

 

Tom folded his arms, clenching his sweaty palms in the bunched fabric at his elbows.

 

New job. New role. New people in his life. He’d done this before, built up his walls and shored up his barricades. He would do so again. Twenty-four years he’d kept his own secret, and look at the life he’d managed to build. If that wasn’t proof that he’d done the right thing, made the right choice, then he didn’t know what was.

 

He turned back to Mike, his polite smile pasted on his face. “Yes, Deputy Marshal— Inspector—Uh…”

 

“Inspector is the correct title, Your Honor. But, please. You’re more than welcome to call me Mike.”

 

There was that smile again. Tom’s bones turned to jelly, and a thousand fire ants seemed to be racing up the insides of his skin. He nodded, tried to smile, and scooted the chair beside the desk a little farther away from Mike. Tried to hide it as he pretended to turn the chair more to face him. Was this better or worse? He wasn’t next to Mike, but now he was looking right at him, looking right at a man that could have stepped out of his fantasies, out of his deepest, deepest dreams.

 

Maybe Mike would be an asshole. That would be perfect, actually. If Mike was an asshole, then he’d be cured of his fascination, lickety split.

 

God, he wanted to lick Mike’s chest—

 

Jesus. Stop. Stop.

 

Mike passed over a binder with another heart-melting smile. The front read: Security Procedures for Judges.

 

“This is your security manual. Please, Your Honor, take the time to read it. I know it’s dry, but the procedures in here are important. My job is to keep you and your courtroom safe and secure at all times. Mostly, this will be behind the scenes for you. I will be monitoring all threats made against the bench, and if any come specifically against you. I’ll investigate any and all threats made to ensure your complete safety. Also, for any high-risk trial that you preside over, I will be creating a security plan for both your protection and for the courtroom during the trial.”

 

“I used to see Villegas, and another guy before him, when I was an AUSA.”

 

Mike nodded. “Villegas is the other Inspector here. Before him, it was Edwards. We all have slightly different styles to our protections. I’m a little more hands-on than Villegas. I like to be thorough. Better safe than sorry.”

 

Shit.

 

“But, don’t worry, Your Honor. Your first year or two, you shouldn’t get very many high-risk trials. The other judges are figuring out which cases to offload to you to build your book. Unfortunately, you might be stuck with the boring ones.” Mike winked. “Which means you definitely won’t be seeing me at all.”

 

Shit, shit.

 

Tom chuckled, almost breathless. Mike wasn’t an asshole. He was funny, and kind, and seemed oh-so-competent. Tom had always had a weak spot for people who were deliciously smart. And who made him laugh.

 

If he got a load of boring cases, then he wouldn’t be seeing Mike, though.

 

That was good. He could build his walls higher, take time to re-center himself. Dig a deeper ditch around his heart and soul’s hideout.

 

Mike spoke some more, rehashing courthouse security procedures, which he already knew, and going over the special judges-only information he needed to know now. He listened, nodded along, and watched Mike’s Adam’s apple work up and down, watched the vein on the side of his neck slowly pulse.

 

“If you have any questions, Your Honor, my office is right down the hall. I’m here if you need anything. Please, read your manual. If you need something to put you to sleep, that’s the thing.” Mike grinned.

 

“I will read it. I promise.” Tom stood and held out his hand. It only trembled slightly.

 

Mike didn’t seem to notice. He clasped Tom in a firm handshake, pumped once, and then started for the door.

 

The zing from Mike’s touch went from the bottom of Tom’s feet to the tips of his hair. Handshakes were the only touches he allowed himself with another man. The only male contact he ever received. Fingers on the back of his hand, a warm palm resting in his own. He closed his eyes, exhaling softly. Mike’s touch, as brief as it had been, was like lightning.

 

“Your Honor?”

 

His eyes snapped open. Mike was waiting in the doorway, his perfect body cased in light from the hall. His golden hair gleamed, and his blue eyes sparkled, laughter and gentleness mixing in their glow.

 

“Welcome, again, to the DC federal bench. Congratulations. I think you’re going to do great here.” Mike smiled again and disappeared down the hallway.

 

Shit.

 

Tom turned away from the door and gripped the edge of his desk. He closed his eyes and breathed, in and out, slowly.

 

In his mind, he imagined himself putting bricks up, stacking them higher, building his wall taller, stronger. Building his wall against the man with the perfect smile and beautiful eyes.

 

Building his wall against Mike.

 


Timestamp: One year prior to Hush, when Mike and Tom first meet.

 

Through the Lens – White House Photographer in Enemies of the State

 

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!

I moved last week and took a hiatus from Bauer’s Bytes. This week, Randi sent in a prompt: “I thought of the Christmas present that Jack gave to Ethan. Those pictures that were taken by the White House Press Photographer, I was wondering if you could give us a scene of when he was taking those candid shots of Jack and Ethan since they did become his favorite subject. If the photographer ever suspected anything was more than what they were playing off for every one else.” What a great prompt!

Enjoy!


 

The job, on the surface, is simple. No different than any other photography job.

 

Capture the presence. Capture the personality. Capture the power, the magnitude of the moment. The history.

 

Most subjects, though, aren’t the President of the United States.

 

Photographing President Jack Spiers is a thrill. He’s vibrant, vivacious, and fun. Much more fun than the last few guys in the Oval Office. He’s got a sparkle, a flair for life. Even in meetings, you can feel his presence, the depth of his consideration behind those blue eyes. He might be just the pretty-boy candidate who became a pretty-boy president, but Spiers, so far, has taken over the Oval Office in a way that few presidents manage to do. Empty-headed, his detractors claimed, he is proving he is not.

 

He connects with people, too. He listens, more than any other president. He was criticized on the campaign for not having the experience for the job. He was just a Senator, and a junior senator at that. He was too young. He was just a pretty face. But I’ve seen him turn his entire focus on another and truly listen to what they have to say. Size up the person in front of him, take in their competence, their experience and expertise, their character, and even their heart, in a matter of seconds. He seems to be able to put his finger son the pulse of another person’s soul in moments, and those who are the best choices to guide him, help him, assist him in all the ways big and small that he needs are the ones who help him lead the nation.

 

His Cabinet adores him. The staff of the West Wing knows he listens to them. They know he wants their expertise, the best of the best that they can provide. They know he relies on each of them to be extraordinary, so that he can bring the combined force of their efforts to better the world. He’s created something special in this White House, without the infighting, the sniping, the stress fractures, and the panic that seized other administrations.  

 

And then there’s Reichenbach.

 

Secret Service detail lead, Special Agent Reichenbach. A cool cucumber if I’ve ever met one. The Iceman, a stone-cold monolith on the campaign and in the White House. If you saw a picture of any of the last few presidents, and you saw a tall, dark scowl somewhere in the frame, that would be Reichenbach. He can cut a man down with his frigid eyes, scatter crowds with his intimidating power. I’ve seen reporters flee his presence, leave a wide berth around the bubble of his ferocity.

 

If we were a thousand years in the past, he’d be the axe-wielding barbarian hulking behind the prince’s shoulder, beheading anyone who got too close to his ward without a second thought. There would be legends about him in the kingdom, something about a witch stealing his heart, or that he was actually a monster, or a boulder spelled to life, and that there was nothing inside him except a need to protect and a dark power that lived in his soul and shielded the throne.

 

He’s been a reliable fixture in the West Wing, like an armchair or a clock. There’s the George Washington oil painting above the fireplace, and beside that, the Reichenbach with his Tuesday scowl. All is normal in the world.

 

But now my camera is capturing fantastical images.

 

I feel like a man who has photographed aliens. A unicorn. Spotted the Yeti in the wilds. I’ve seen Reichenbach smile. Laugh, even. And I’ve captured it on film, saved for all time.

 

There’s something about President Spiers, we all knew. Something about the man that rocketed him from the Senate to the presidency. He worked his magic in the Senate, on his campaign, and now on the American people.

 

And, Reichenbach seems to have fallen under his spell.

 

Shared smiles in the hallways. Reichenbach quietly laughing with President Spiers as they move together through the West Wing. Shared conversations over cups of coffee, jokes shared back and forth. Reichenbach seems to have slotted into Spiers’s life as more than just a barbarian guard, a scowling Secret Service agent. He seems to be, almost, a kind of friend.

 

Reichenbach glows, every part and piece of him coming to life under the brilliance of President Spiers’s unfiltered attention. What must it be like to be the recipient of all of Spiers’s focus, his joy, his happiness? Reichenbach has blossomed, the hard shell cracking, and the man within appearing like spring bursting through a winter’s long night. The dark witch’s spell has broken; the young prince has saved the barbarian.

 

Is it just friendship, though?

 

I catch more than I try to, through my lens.

 

Reichenbach’s hand ghosting over the small of Spiers’s back as they slip down the West Wing hallway.

 

The both of them standing just a little too close, shoulders and arms brushing as they stand side by side.

 

The look in Reichenbach’s eyes when he gazes at President Spiers. Something that mixes adoration with pride, longing with conviction. More than just an agent protecting his man. Something deeper. Something fundamental. Something that lives in the center of Reichenbach, as a man.

 

The smiles President Spiers gives to Reichenbach, the smiles he gives to no one else. Smiles that are reserved for Reichenbach alone.

 

Reichenbach is openly gay. He’s not loud, but he’s proud, and he’s never hidden his orientation. His ascension through the ranks was watched with joy by gay rights advocates, and his promotion to the top spot was met with cheers from all. He’d earned the position and the honors, twelve years of perfect, dedicated service. He’s at the pinnacle of his career.

 

He’s never slipped. Not once. He’s never been tarnished by scandals that have hit the Secret Service. Never been a part of the wild sections of the agency. He’s always been a straight shooter, a reliable, steadfast, perfect professional.

 

But is President Spiers his kryptonite? Has the Iceman’s heart started to melt?

 

Has he fallen for his president?

 

Impossible. The thought is impossible. Reichenbach would never compromise his professionalism like that. And, President Spiers isn’t gay. He isn’t interested in men. There’s no possibility, no probability, no way at all that these two men would be together in any romantic way. A president and his Secret Service agent? Preposterous.

 

My camera turns to them over and over again. I can’t get enough of the electricity crackling between them, the raw power in their presence. The way their eyes meet and hold, and how so much happens between their gazes. Their smiles, and the way Reichenbach’s quiet joy could power Air Force One.

 

I tell myself there’s nothing going on. That Reichenbach would never violate his oath, his professionalism. That I’m not party, in some small way, to the biggest secret in the world.

 

But I look at these photos, the light in their eyes, and I can’t deny what I’m seeing any longer.

 

The barbarian has fallen in love with his prince.

 

Special Agent Reichenbach is in love with President Spiers.

 

And President Spiers is looking back at Reichenbach like he might be a little bit in love, too.


Timestamp: Enemies of the State, POV of the White House photographer.