Ever After, a Work in Progress – Sergey & Sasha post-Enemy Within

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!

This week, we’re taking a look at Sergey and Sasha… post Enemy Within.

***If haven’t read Enemy Within, this Byte is not for you! Major spoilers for Sergey & Sasha’s plotline in Enemy Within!!***

Warning for internalized homophobia.


 

“Come home?” Sergey whispered against Sasha’s lips.

 

Slowly, Sasha nodded.

 

* * *

 

They stood like that for what felt like an age, bodies pressed tightly, foreheads mashed together so hard their skulls started to ache. Noses slid, breaths ghosting across cheeks and lips as they traded slow kisses. Sergey tried to smile. Sasha chewed on his own lip, the corners of his mouth pulling downward.

 

“I have to go back to the Kremlin,” Sergey finally whispered. It was past time to go, and his driver was probably chain-smoking cigarettes as he waited, pacing outside the hotel. “Come with me. Please.”

 

He didn’t trust Sasha to follow behind him, or to come later. He’d said he would before, leaving the Arctic.

 

Never again. Sergey never wanted to feel that aching emptiness again, the bottom of his world falling away as he realized Sasha had left. Again. Part of him admonished his own foolish heart, called him an idiot fourteen different ways. Of course this would end with him alone. Of course Sasha would leave. He was only forestalling the inevitable. Sasha would always leave him.

 

Why start this agony again?

 

Sasha nuzzled his cheek, his hot breath brushing over his skin. “I need to pack,” he grunted. “Grab my things.”

 

I will follow you to your room and watch you, and then walk you to my limo. An irrational part of Sergey wanted to escort Sasha like a prisoner, capture him and keep him in the bonds of his love. Stay, stay, stay! Our love is enough!

 

“I will wait for you in the lobby,” he whispered.

 

Sasha nodded, his head jerking like he was a broken marionette. He took a shaking step backward, and then another, and another. He backed his way out of the ballroom, staring at Sergey the whole time, like he couldn’t bear to turn around, couldn’t bear to look away. Sergey stood frozen, watching him leave. Desperation clawed at his insides, screams and cries to chase him, to grab him, to not let him out of his sight. Panic sang just beneath his skin. Made his heart hammer.

 

He drifted to the lobby and perched on a velvet sofa, his fingers playing over the ruby folds, the gold painted arms. Sasha would return or he would not. And Sergey would have his answer. It would be easier if Sasha ran now, stabbed him in the heart (again) when he was still guarded and unsure. Hopeful, yes, but he hadn’t put all his chips on black just yet. Being with Sasha still felt like dream, a dream out of reach for forever.

 

The elevator doors dinged.

 

He inhaled, held his breath, and looked up.

 

Sasha stepped out, clutching a ratty duffel in one hand, his fist so white it looked like a ghost’s hand. All the blood had been squeezed out, and his arm trembled, his duffel shaking ever so slightly in his grasp. Over his other arm, he held his tux. His eyes were wide. Sergey could see a ring of white wrapping around his perfect blue irises.

 

He rose, joy, relief, and hope crashing inside him like waves breaking against cliffs. Sasha came back. This once, he came back. He smiled, his grin spreading wider and wider until he felt like his cheeks were going to fracture.

 

Sasha held out his tux awkwardly as he drew close. “I did not know what to do with this.”

 

“Keep it. You will need it again here, I am sure.”

 

Sasha nodded once, swallowed, and looked away.

 

Sergey held out his hand, beckoning Sasha with him to the front doors, and his waiting limo. His security team stood back, giving him and Sasha a bubble of privacy. Ilya had handpicked these men, replacing his former security agents, who had all died in Sochi, with the best of his men from the FSB. They bled the Russian flag and had fought for Sergey’s insurgency, or with Ilya. They had been willing to die for Sergey before.

 

Would their loyalty remain so steadfast if they discovered his love for Sasha?

 

Security agents saw all of the demons a president tried to hide. They knew where all the bodies were hidden, and exactly how many skeletons were in the closet. Would he have to hide his and Sasha’s love from his own shadows?

 

He shook his head, banishing his worries. Those were for another time. First, he and Sasha just had to get to the Kremlin together.

 

One thing, and then another.

 

Sasha walked behind him, slowly, his shoes scuffing against the marble foyer of the hotel. Sergey’s security agents pushed open the doors, and his driver stubbed out his cigarette before jogging around the side of the limo and holding open the door. Sergey stepped back, offering the first seat to Sasha. Would he slide in? Or would he freeze? Turn away?

 

Sasha’s jaw clenched, but he passed by Sergey, bundling his tux in his arms and hauling his duffel close. He clambered into the back of the limo and slid to the far side, pressing against the window. He held his tux in his lap, the fabric bunched and wrinkled, one jacket arm flopping onto the seat, a pant leg dragging in the footwell. He held it like a shield, like a protective cover, his arms wrapped over the fabric on his chest and stomach.

 

Hope, a treacherous thing, was building within Sergey, despite his admonitions. He got in the limo. That has to mean something.

 

Sergey slid in after Sasha and nodded to his driver. The door slammed shut.

 

Silence, save for the sound of their breathing. Sasha’s fast, heavy breaths through his nose. Sergey’s quiet, slow sigh.

 

The driver hopped into the front seat and mumbled into his radio. Bursts of Russian flew back as the car started, the engine rumbling.

 

Sergey settled his hands on the bench seat, gripping the edge. He reached halfway into the space between them, the no man’s land of darkness and smooth, black leather. His pinky stretched for Sasha, a few inches of skin that seemed to scream his desperation.

 

Nothing. Sasha stared out the window, clutching his tux.

 

Sergey looked away. Hope was like a roller coaster, or a fighter jet, screaming through the skies in a dogfight with reality. As high as he climbed, he rolled and started plummeting for the earth. He should gird himself now. Sasha was probably composing a stiff goodbye, an apology and an insistence that his way was the right way. Maybe, if he was lucky, Sasha would pretend he would keep in touch while he was training in Houston.

 

Something touched his pinky.

 

His eyes darted down. Sasha’s shaking hand grasped the bench seat, right beside his own. And Sasha’s pinky reached out, the tip just barely stroking down the side of Sergey’s little finger. The barest touch, a hidden touch.

 

He looked up. Sasha gazed at him, fear and agony twisting his expression apart. He was so afraid, so terrified. Was love such a horrible thing for him? I want what is best for you! Only what is best for you! Sasha had said. If you were attacked like I was… I could not live with that!

 

Sergey wrapped his fingers around Sasha’s pinky, an almost hand hold. Sasha gasped, a quick drag of breath through his nose. His eyes squeezed shut.

 

Sergey didn’t let go. Sasha didn’t pull away.

 

The limo bounced over the open gate to the Kremlin. Cobblestones hummed beneath the tires. The Kremlin Palace rose on the right, St. Basils far to the left. Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower rose above them, a harsh shadow slashing through the limo.

 

Sasha’s hand slipped from his and disappeared back into the wrinkled fabric of his tux.

 

They pulled to a stop at the private entrance. It was a slow day at the Kremlin. He’d planned the Heroes Ball for a Friday night and hoped that his people would enjoy the night, the celebration, and the weekend after. That they would let the pressures of the past month, the past year, even, bubble over and disperse.

 

No one was there to watch him and Sasha clamber out of the limo. His security agents stood back, and the limo driver looked away.

 

Still, they kept their distance from each other. Sasha walked behind him, ever deferential, even when Sergey insisted that he was equal in every way. But at least he was there, at least his footsteps shadowed Sergey’s all the way through the Kremlin Palace and up to Sergey’s apartment.

 

Their apartment, if he had his way. He’d start that argument later, though. No doubt Sasha would want to keep a separate apartment, keep up appearances that they weren’t together. Part of him knew that was smart. Another part of him was selfish and wanted Sasha by his side, constantly.

 

Sasha followed him into his apartment, silent and still. He still clutched his duffel and his tux, rumpled and wrinkled beyond salvation. His tailor would have a fit, and he’d get a snarky note back from the dry cleaner. Sergey smiled, imagining reading it to Sasha.

 

Would Sasha still be here in a week to hear it?

 

Enough. He had to be in this moment, not borrowing fears from the future.

 

Sergey guided Sasha through the apartment, past the dining room and the repaired gaudy golden dining table, and past the sitting room, where he and Ilya and Sasha had all spent so many nights together, drinking and laughing and arguing. He wanted those nights back, that warm happiness to return to his apartment. But Ilya said Sasha’s name like it was a curse, and Sasha hadn’t smiled for months.

 

Well. Except for that one time on the ice, after he’d tried to kill them both with his insanity in the plane and the ejection seat.

 

He saw Sasha’s gaze track the changes, the piles of destroyed paintings, the ripped-up carpet and hardwood, the patches of bare flooring. Broken glass panes in the curio cabinet. Broken crystals in the chandelier. New couches. “The Kremlin was mostly destroyed by Moroshkin’s men.” He stopped and pointed to the mantle over the fireplace. “That survived, though.”

 

The bust of Aleksander Pokryshkin, Sasha’s Air Force hero from World War II, sat in the center. He’d found it covered in dust and propping open a door, the heavy bronze worth no more to the invaders than as a doorstop. He still remembered Sasha’s quickly-stifled joy when he’d casually revealed it to him. Of course he’d brought it out of storage for Sasha. Even then, months and months ago, he’d been falling for this man.

 

Sasha gazed at the bust and then turned back to Sergey. His eyes burned, too many emotions tangling in his blue depths. His eyes were like the broken ice of the Arctic, the underbellies of icebergs that glinted turquoise and sapphire in the silent stillness of the waters. Places no one could ever see, not normally. Was he the only man alive who could see into Sasha’s soul?

 

“Come with me,” he muttered, holding out his hand. He touched Sasha’s elbow, guiding him to his bedroom.

 

Sasha had never been there before. He’d never taken him to the back of the apartment, to his private spaces. He’d never seen the old, ostentatious four-poster bed, a legacy from the days of old. Or the velvet curtains that had been shredded by Moroshkin’s men. Statelier, more refined furniture sat in place of all that had been destroyed. A simple king bed, and plain nightstands.

 

Sasha took it all in, his wide eyes moving around the room. His breath sped up.

 

Slowly, Sergey reached for his tux and his duffel. Sasha let go of both like he was a man condemned to die, and Sergey was taking away his last possession. Sighing, Sergey stepped back, dropping Sasha’s things on one of the only chairs to survive the carnage, a dark wingback wrapped in silk and satin.

 

“Do you need to go?” Sasha’s voice was low, his words clipped. His hands closed at his sides, making tight fists.

 

Sergey shook his head. “No. Today is a day that is just for you. I want to spend every moment with you, Sasha.” He swallowed. “What do you want?”

 

Sasha’s gaze met his, finally. “That,” he breathed. “You. I want you.” He looked away after he spoke, his jaw clenching and unclenching.

 

Finally, govno, finally, a sign, a signal, something from Sasha that said he wanted this, too. That he wasn’t meekly following Sergey because Sergey was his president. That he actually wanted this, wanted them, as well.

 

The burn started in his fingers, an ache to reach out to Sasha, touch him everywhere, hold him again. He’d brought him to his bedroom to talk, to sit and just be together, but… The thought of being with Sasha again, being close to him, was too strong. His nerves sang, his muscles clenched. His belly tightened, and heat spread from his balls, curling through his groin. His cock, which hadn’t stirred since Sasha had walked out, twitched.

 

“Sasha…” He reached for him, cupping his cheek. Sasha’s eyes closed, and he turned into Sergey’s touch.

 

His hands shook as he reached for Sasha’s sweater, and his fingers slid under the dark hemline. He didn’t wear a belt, and his pants hung low on his hips. His jutting hipbones fit perfectly into the hollows of Sergey’s palms. The skin on his back was cool, the blond hairs there rising to meet Sergey’s fingers as he grazed his touch along Sasha’s spine. Sasha shivered, and his head tipped back as he groaned.

 

His hands stayed fisted at his sides.

 

Slowly, Sergey peeled Sasha’s sweater off, his hands traveling up Sasha’s sides, over his ribs, pushing the dark fabric up. Sasha’s pale chest, his thick muscles, his freckled skin, already splotchy with a red flush, appeared.

 

It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Sergey’s heart lurched, and his cock leaped, and his soul ached. He grabbed Sasha, hauled him close, wrapped his hands around Sasha’s narrow hips. His palms slid up, traveling over all of Sasha’s skin, the hollows of his back, his heaving chest, his shoulders, the defined muscles cording around his neck. Sasha was beautiful, was perfect, was so deliriously gorgeous. He wanted him, so badly. His cock strained against his pants, almost painful.

 

And yet, still, Sasha didn’t touch him. His hands were locked at his sides, trembling.

 

“Sasha,” he murmured, pressing kisses to Sasha’s lips, his cheek, his chin. “Why do you not touch me?”

 

Sasha groaned, a moan of anguish falling from his lips as he screwed up his face. Beneath Sergey’s touch, his body tightened, as if bracing. “Because I do not know how.” Sasha’s voice shook.

 

“What?” Sergey pulled back, frowning.

 

“I only know how to fuck,” Sasha spat. He scowled, shaking his head. “That is not what I want with you. I want—” He swallowed hard. “You deserve so much better.”

 

He didn’t know what to say to that. Instead, he blinked, staring at Sasha. There was so much he didn’t know about Sasha, about his past. How had he come to know he was gay? What shaped his life to make him hate himself so deeply? Russian society’s messages were pervasive, but Sasha’s self-hate had a deeper, more personal touch. And, what he’d confessed beneath the ice. He’d never been with someone he cared about. Had he never cared for anyone? Or had he been ruthless with his affections?

 

What strength of love was this, that Sasha was going against everything in his life, in his soul, and trying to build something with Sergey? Again, the fighter pilot driving his heart looped, screaming for the highest altitude. They could make this work, they could. He just had to show Sasha that everything was okay. That Sasha, as he was, was good. Was who Sergey wanted, who he loved.

 

“You are perfect for me, Sasha.” Sergey, reluctantly, let go of Sasha and reached for his own clothes. He shed his pullover quickly and started on the buttons of his shirt. Sasha’s eyes tracked his every move, his pupils darkening as Sergey’s fingers slipped each button free. “You are everything that I want. You, just you. Just as you are.”

 

Sasha’s lips thinned. “I want to be better for you.”

 

Sergey shrugged out of his shirt, shaking free of the sleeves until the fabric fluttered to the floor. Chest bare, he stood before Sasha, watching as Sasha’s jaw dropped and his chest rose, his breath coming faster. How on earth was he desirable to Sasha? Looking down at himself, at his sparse chest hair speckled across his thin chest, he spotted a strand or four of gray tucked among the blond and light brown sprigs. “Govno,” he breathed, smoothing his palm over his chest hair. “I should have removed all the evidence of my antiquity.”

 

“No,” Sasha moaned. “You are perfect.” His hands, finally, rose, reaching for Sergey. Trembling, they rested on his chest, his heavy, rough palms each resting over his pecs. His fingers tightened as if digging into Sergey’s skin, hard enough to bruise. And then relaxed. And again, like he was kneading Sergey, or like he was holding back from grabbing him and going wild. He panted, his mouth hanging open, eyes glazed, staring at Sergey.

 

The feel of Sasha over him, around him, dominating him on Honolulu slammed back into Sergey, like a visceral memory that lived in his bones. He shuddered and leaned into Sasha’s rough touch. Another time like that would be fine. Anything, anything to have Sasha’s love again. Yes to the roughness, to Sasha’s unbridled lust, his desire for Sergey unchained into a passion that dominated Sergey completely. Yes, he craved it, and Sasha, again.

 

“I am yours,” he whispered. “Anything, Sasha. Anything you want. I am all yours.” Everything, he’d give everything to Sasha. He’d bend over right then and there and welcome Sasha into his body. His knees were practically weak at the thought, at the imagining. He struggled not to moan. Please, God, would Sasha take him? He could practically already feel—

 

He thought his breathless plea would embolden Sasha, encourage him to capture Sergey like he’d done before. He’d thought—he’d hoped—that the passion Sasha kept so carefully concealed and controlled would burst free, and they’d be swept up in a torrent of desire, and when the waves finally receded, he’d shower Sasha in love and affirmation, assure him that Sasha was perfect just the way he was.

 

He didn’t expect Sasha to cringe, to flinch and step back. Look down as his shoulders slumped.

 

Sergey’s jaw dropped. He reached for Sasha, but his hand froze in midair, suspended between them.

 

“What I want is not right.” Sasha’s voice was a fragile thing, so unlike the bold man who stood before him. He shook his head, back and forth, fast, like he was scolding himself. “It is disgusting.”

 

“Sasha… No, it is not. Whatever it is, whatever you want, it is not disgusting. You are not disgusting. We are not disgusting!” He grabbed Sasha’s hands, squeezing them tight. Sasha’s hands were limp in his hold. “Sasha…”

 

He still wouldn’t look at him. He still stared at the floor, his shoulder’s curled like he was about to fall forward. “I am khuyesos,” he whispered.

 

He used the slang word for cock sucker, the insult, the slur thrown at any man to enrage him, to disparage him of his masculinity, his identity. In Russia, there was nothing worse than being a khuyesos, nothing worse than being a man who sucked another man’s cock, or took another man’s cock. A man like that, Russia said, was not even a man.

 

All Sasha’s life, everywhere he’d been, he’d heard those, and other, insults and degradations. Sergey had heard them too, but he’d been—foolishly—immune to their pain, thinking he wasn’t one of those men. He could brush off the hate since it wasn’t targeted at him. It didn’t hurt him, not then.

 

What a fucking fool he’d been. Every insult he’d ever heard, every word he’d ever ignored, was carved indelibly into Sasha’s soul.

 

And the agony from realizing that was enough to crush his heart.

 

Sergey grabbed Sasha’s cheeks and turned his face up from the floor. He sought his gaze, ducking down until he forced Sasha to stare back into his own eyes. “You are Sasha Andreyev,” he growled. “Hero of Russia. The man I love.” He shook Sasha, gently. “The man I desire. The man I want to make love to.”

 

Sasha shuddered, his entire body flinching as if he’d been shot.

 

“Tell me what you want, Sasha. I swear to you, it is not disgusting. You are not disgusting. You never are, and never will be.” He smoothed back Sasha’s hair, pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I want to bring you everything you desire. Everything you want. I want you to know that you, everything that you are, is loved. That I love you. Do you hear me, Sasha? I love you.”

 

Sasha gasped and tried to turn away, but Sergey held him, forced him to keep their gazes fixed, their stares joined. He saw it all parade through Sasha’s eyes: anguish, terror, rage, self-hatred, disbelief. Sorrow. Pain. So much pain.

 

Sasha’s lips trembled. “I want…” He struggled, fighting his own words, his face twisting as tears brimmed against his eyelashes. “I want… to suck you,” he finally breathed. He squeezed his eyes closed, and tears rained down his cheeks. Gasping, he licked his lips. “And…” He mumbled, forcing out the darkest Russian insult, the slang for a half-man who sucked another man’s ass. The slang was for convicts and ‘others’, men who weren’t true Russian men. “I love it,” he finally whispered, his voice shaking, his words breaking.

 

How deeply did Sasha’s self-hate go? It twisted around and around, until he hated his own desires, couldn’t even name what he craved. His entire life, he’d taken the messages of hate thrown about by their country and patched over the holes in his soul with the worst of those.

 

Sergey dragged him close, holding Sasha as Sasha folded around him, clinging to him like a drowning sailor as he sobbed. Had he ever spoken those words aloud? Had he ever even acknowledged his desires to himself? Maybe Sergey had pushed too hard. Govno, he had no idea how entrenched Sasha’s hatred truly was, how deeply the fractures in his soul went.

 

Sasha would never be alone again. Never. He would never face the world, and Russia’s, hate alone again, without Sergey beside him to remind Sasha that he was perfect just as he was. Exactly as he was. Together they’d untangle this knot of self-hate. He’d spend the rest of his days shooting down Sasha’s fears, wrenching apart the lies he’d been told. Banishing the insults, the slurs, the terror from his mind.

 

Slowly, he backed them both up until his legs hit the bed. Sergey sank down and brought Sasha with him. He laid them both out, facing each other on their sides, their foreheads touching, noses together, lips brushing. Sasha’s sobs had quieted, but his eyes were still closed. Sergey laced their hands together and waited.

 

“This is when everything changes,” Sasha finally whispered. “This is when the way you look at me changes. When you realize I am disgusting. When your eyes fill with loathing.”

 

There was a story there, hidden in those words. Something from Sasha’s past. Something that had taught him this lesson. When he was a child? Or after? When he was in the Air Force? Dark stories of abuse had always followed the Russian military. How had Sasha learned this near-frantic isolation, this protectionism that shoved the world as far from his as it could go? To space, even? He was afraid to learn the truth. He wasn’t strong enough to survive learning Sasha’s past. The realization settled deep in his sour stomach.

 

Sasha was so, so much stronger than he ever could be.

 

“My eyes will only ever hold love for you, zvezda moya. An eternity of love. And pride. You are my hero, Sasha. And you always will be.” He nosed Sasha’s cheek, willing him to open his eyes, to see the truth for himself.

 

Sasha shuddered, and trembles settled over his body. He gripped Sergey’s hands, squeezing until their fingers went white, their knuckles painfully pressed together. But, his eyes slipped open, loosing fresh tears over his cheeks, across his nose. Warm trails landed on Sergey’s skin.

 

He stared into Sasha’s gaze, pouring his love, his admiration, every moment of every yearn he’d ever had for Sasha, into his eyes. Every micron of love he felt, every ounce of longing, all the nights he’d tossed and turned, wishing for Sasha to be back at his side. All the dreams he’d had of them together. Every moment he closed his eyes and saw Sasha’s smile burned into the backs of his eyelids. He wanted Sasha to see all the way to his heart, all the way to the center, where the essence of Sasha hung, suspended like a dream in amber, the sound of his laugh, the light in his eyes. Everything that was Sasha—the strength, the soul, the passion—everything about the man he loved, living in the center of his own soul.

 

Sasha stared back, not breathing. And then, he sighed, exhaling like he was releasing something that couldn’t be named, something that had lived inside him for too many years. Something dark. Something that made Sergey’s skin crawl, and his spine shudder.

 

Keep breathing out, my love. We will expel it all together. He ran his hand through Sasha’s hair again, wiping away his tears with his thumb.

 

Sasha kissed his wrist, his lips wet and warm. Slowly, he rose over Sergey, his lips traveling over Sergey’s skin, mapping up his arms, across his collarbone, up his neck. He dropped a lingering kiss to Sergey as Sergey rolled to his back and his hands rose to Sasha’s shoulders. They stayed like that for minutes, maybe hours, kissing softly as Sergey’s hands tangled in Sasha’s hair and ran down the back of his neck, over his shoulders. Beneath his hands, Sasha shook, tremors that quaked his body.

 

And then, Sasha started to move.

 

Kisses to Sergey’s neck, his collarbone, again. To his chest, and right in the center of his splotchy chest hair, and over his traitorous strands of gray. Down, Sasha’s nose pressed into his skin, until Sasha hovered over his belly button and kissed his belly. Snaked his tongue into Sergey’s naval, flicking at the edges before nibbling on his skin.

 

Sasha’s hands worked open his belt, his pants. Trembling, they pushed Sergey’s pants down, and Sergey kicked them free before spreading his thighs wide. His cock rose, hardening again as Sasha stared down at him.

 

And then, Sasha looked up, holding Sergey’s gaze. A final look, a final question in his eyes. Will you still love me if I do this? Will you not think I am disgusting?

 

He hated, for a moment, their country, their countrymen, that had programmed this terror into Sasha’s soul. That had fed, ruthlessly, his self-hate, until Sasha couldn’t even trust their own love.

 

“I love you,” he breathed. His hand cradled Sasha’s cheek, cupped his jaw. “Sasha, I love you.” I will always love you. And you will never be disgusting. They are wrong, Sasha. They are all wrong.

 

Every kiss, every touch, every loving caress Sasha gifted him with, he would pour back into Sasha’s soul. He would share it all with Sasha, a hundred, a thousand times. Anything Sasha wanted, he would give. Anything.

 

Slowly, Sasha smiled. It was tiny, and it was only a curl of his lips on one side of his mouth, but it was there. A sign of Sasha’s happiness. His smiles were only ever true, never faked. Only ever pulled from his heart. And finally, he was smiling again. Sergey’s joy seemed to burst his own heart, and he gasped, beaming down at Sasha suddenly like he was a delirious fool, crazy in love with this one man.

 

He was.

 

Sasha nuzzled his cheek against Sergey’s thigh. His lips kissed Sergey’s skin, and goosebumps rose, every sparse strand of hair on his legs standing straight up. Sasha’s breath tickled his hip, the fold of skin joining his thigh and his crotch. Tickled the curls surrounding the base of his cock. Take what you want, Sasha. Take what you desire. I’m yours, I’m all yours. I love you, and I will always love you.

 

And then—


Timestamp: Immediately following Sergey & Sasha’s final scene in Enemy Within.

 

 

Hey Jealousy… Jack comes face to face with an ex of Ethan’s

 

Hello! Welcome to this week’s Bauer’s Bytes! This week’s prompt comes from Tina, who wanted to see Ethan’s past coming back, and some jealously on Jack’s part. This was supposed to be more lighthearted and fun, as I think Tina wanted, but it ended up being a bit deep on Jack’s part! This is set in Enemy of My Enemy, between Chapters 13 & 14, and before the Vinogradov sinking and before Sochi.

 

Happy reading!

 


 

A small part of Ethan’s mind had fretted and worried over this very thing—exactly this very thing—for months.

 

He’d had too long a life to not be worried about the possibility. Too many one night stands. Too much time lived as if he wasn’t going to find the one man, the love of his life, the person he wanted to spend forever with. And, hell, even if—very, very occasionally—he sometimes thought about it, thought about settling down with someone and sharing coffee in the morning and blowjobs at night, he never thought that whoever-he’d-love would be the Goddamn president of the United States.

 

Or that his love—and him—would end up being so in the spotlight. So well known. So open for anyone to take a pot shot at.

 

“Mr. First Gentleman.” The reporter, a younger guy, early thirties—several years older than when Ethan had seen him last—stood slowly, a smirk stretching his lips. “Good to see you again.” He winked.

 

Ethan’s stomach clenched, a fist closing in his belly. Images flashed, grainy and out of focus. Legs, hands, an arched neck. The reporter, in a very different time, a very different place.

 

He didn’t hear the rest of the question. The reporter’s words—he couldn’t even remember his name!—washed out in a sea of static, like he was speaking underwater. The rest of the press pool stared at Ethan like he was an animal in a zoo, a curiosity for them to look at every Friday.

 

Jack stood beside him, his body’s warmth burning against Ethan’s side through his jeans and his sport coat. Their Friday press briefs, so casual, so lighthearted, their way to be seen and be known together in the world…

 

And someone from his past, a forgettable one night stand, had just strode into their perfect world.

 

* * *

 

Jack watched Ethan from the corner of his eye. His lover had gone whip-cord taut as the reporter stood, Ethan’s eyes blown wide. He hadn’t breathed since the reporter had spoken, the younger man’s smooth voice rolling over his words. “Nice to see you again.”

 

His gaze flicked back to the reporter. His question was innocuous. Something about how was Ethan making the transition from law enforcement and the Secret Service to being the first gentleman.

 

Jack let his eyes roam over the reporter, taking him in as he stood on the aisle end of the back row of the press pool. Someone new. Someone brand new to the White House press pool, and who had no pull to get a better seat. Someone who wanted to be there, though. Someone who wanted to send a message.

 

The reporter was tall and lithe, smooth and polished in an urbane and sophisticated way that Jack could never pull off. He tried—he’d always tried to look refined and presentable. But the smooth sophistication the reporter oozed, with his perfectly coifed hair and his shapely eyebrows, his curved, sleek jaw, and his pouty, crimson lips, was something that had always eluded Jack.

 

And the reporter was young. Early thirties, maybe. Fifteen years Jack’s junior.

 

He knew Ethan liked them young. Ever since that damn article, the evisceration of Ethan’s character, he’d been uncomfortably aware that he was the oldest man Ethan had ever slept with. That Ethan’s choice in partners was usually significantly younger. Significantly more elegant. Significantly more experienced, too.

 

Expectancy hung in the press briefing room. The reporter had asked his puff question, but Ethan hadn’t responded. He was silent, still as a statue, staring at the reporter like he’d seen a ghost. Jack saw the wheels turning in the eyes of the rest of the press pool, reporters starting to put two and two together and coming up with the correct square root.

 

He wrapped his arm around Ethan’s waist. “Ethan is an amazing first gentleman. The state dinner he and his staff planned for President Puchkov was the best I have ever attended. He’s tackling the job—a huge job—with the same determination and perfection that characterized his career as a Secret Service agent.” Jack smiled, turning to Ethan. His own smile felt forced, as if he were pulling back his cheeks with string. “I couldn’t be prouder of Ethan.”

 

Ethan’s gaze—finally—snapped back to him, his eyes leaving the young, handsome, knock-out reporter and traveling over Jack’s face.

 

Was Ethan looking at his gray? His crow’s feet around his eyes? The line between his eyebrows, his frown line? Was he comparing them? Jack, middle aged, and the reporter, his young and pretty features, and the life he’d once had?

 

Pete strode onto the platform, smiling at the reporters. “Thanks everyone. The president and the first gentleman are very busy people and they have a full afternoon. Same time, same place next week! Have a great weekend!”

 

So even Pete could tell something was wrong. He was coming in for a rescue, distracting the press, giving them time to get away, regroup behind closed doors.

 

Jack needed a door or seven. He needed space away from people, away from everyone. Worry pitted his stomach, like Pac-Man eating at his intestines, climbing up his insides until it ate away at the back of his tight throat. He hadn’t felt this bad when the article was published. But then again, he hadn’t come face to face with one of Ethan’s former lovers. Words on a page were easier to shove aside.

 

Seeing Ethan’s hot young ex-lover was something totally different.

 

He escaped the press room as cameras flashed, as chairs creaked and squealed, and the hum of reporters chatting and tossing out last questions they hoped Pete or Jack or Ethan would answer broke the silence after Pete’s final statement. Ethan followed, trailing behind Jack close enough to touch, close enough that if he stopped, Ethan would run right into him, his body fitting to Jack’s back like he was supposed to, like they curled around each other in bed.

 

Their bodies were made for each other. He’d thought it for a while, since the first time they’d made out, bare chests sliding and Ethan’s fur tickling his smooth skin. The way his body had fit perfectly into Ethan’s. The way Ethan’s hips and his seemed to naturally align. The way Ethan’s arms cradled him, held him, like he had always been made for that space.

 

How many other gorgeous young men had laid there?

 

Stop. He had to stop. It wasn’t right, poring through Ethan’s past. Digging up his own insecurities and propping them like scarecrows in Ethan’s history. That wasn’t fair.

 

But the reporter was so young, and so much more good looking than Jack was.

 

Jack wound through the West Wing, his staff falling away from him as if they could tell he needed space. Hell, had everyone seen what had happened? Had everyone figured it out? Ethan was a solid weight behind him, silent, but pulsing with some kind of dark emotion. Anger? Frustration?

 

Regret?

 

They slipped into the Oval Office together, and Ethan brushed past Jack, striding to the center of the Oval Office before he stopped and tilted his head back. Shoulders tight, his chest heaving, breathing fast. Jack watched Ethan squeeze his eyes closed as he carefully shut the door, taking too much time to settle the heavy wood into the old frame.

 

“Jesus,” Ethan finally muttered. “Fuck.”

 

Jack stopped behind the striped couch, his fingers digging into two pale blue stripes. He stared at Ethan’s profile. “Old flame?”

 

Ethan winced. “Flame out. Years ago. Maybe six… seven?”

 

Jack swallowed slowly. Ethan did like them young and beautiful. The reporter looked like he was aging gracefully, perfectly, and in his early twenties—six or seven years ago—he’d probably had runway model good looks.

 

“I don’t really remember him. Don’t remember his name.”

 

Jack looked down. He didn’t want to ask what Ethan did remember. The reporter looked flexible. And, just saucy enough to wink at Ethan, the first gentleman of the United States, in front of Jack, the president, and Ethan’s boyfriend. He was probably stunning in bed. Forward and aggressive and willing to do anything and everything Ethan wanted. Not like Jack, who was still fumbling and learning, still trying to figure out the best way to love Ethan physically the same way he loved him in his heart and soul.

 

“I’m sorry.” Ethan’s voice was soft, his words grunted, grating. “I’m so sorry. I wish I’d never been like that—”

 

“No.” Jack shook his head. He looked up, and met Ethan’s gaze. “No, Ethan. You have nothing to apologize for. You were living your life. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” He knew that, in his head.

 

Sighing, Ethan shoved his hands in his suit pants. “But now it’s coming back, and it’s hurting you.”

 

Hurting his presidency, like the article had, or hurting him personally? Both, he supposed. How many reporters would run with what had happened in the press room, a juicy article for the papers, another scandalous slice of Ethan’s former life? It would be just like before, when the papers screamed that they were on the rocks, about to call it quits. Ethan had nothing to apologize for. Nothing. No one had any right to judge him, or his past. He’d been living his life happily before Jack had crashed into him.

 

But what if Ethan wanted what he’d had again? What if Ethan really wanted someone younger, someone more confident in bed, someone who knew what they were doing? Someone who looked like a model, someone who had the confidence to wink across a packed room and conjure memories of a sweaty one night stand?

 

Ethan’s next breath shook. “I feel like I’ve waited my whole life for you,” he said softly.

 

Jack’s heart contracted and froze, as if he was stuck mid-heartbeat. He held Ethan’s gaze as Ethan came toward him, sliding beside him behind the couch.

 

“Everything that happened before you is like a fog. Like I was searching for you, and kept turning over all the wrong rocks. But you’re the sun, and you burned that all away.” One of Ethan’s fingers reached out, barely stroking down the side of Jack’s hand.

 

He could barely speak. “I’m… so different from your past lovers, Ethan. Am I—” He bit his lip. “Am I what you really want? I’m not young. I’m not a model.”

 

“You’re perfect,” Ethan said quickly, his voice too-deep. “You’re absolutely perfect, Jack. You’re everything I want. Everything that I love.”

 

Jack felt his cheeks warm. “Yeah?” Insecurity wasn’t something he was used to feeling. He was the president, for God’s sake. He was the most powerful man on the planet.

 

But the thought of Ethan perhaps not wanting him made his confidence quake and shiver. Made his stomach turn to knots and his spine weaken. He’d rather face down a hundred of America’s toughest enemies in the Situation Room than confront the thought that Ethan might want someone else. Might move on and find someone new.

 

“Yeah.” Ethan bit his lip as his eyes smoldered, his cheeks darkening. “There’s no comparison,” he breathed. “You are the best. The best thing that’s ever happened in my life. The best president. The best man I’ve ever known. The best lover I’ve ever had.”

 

Jack snorted, but he turned to Ethan, sliding their fingers together on the back of the couch. “Go on.” He winked.

 

Ethan chuckled, and his flush deepened. “I have to be careful thinking about you during the day. Otherwise…” His eyes flicked down Jack’s body, taking all of him in. “You are so beautiful, Jack. So perfect. So Goddamn hot. You have no idea what you do to me.”

 

Jack smiled, and he tugged Ethan closer, grabbing his jacket lapel. Rough tweed rubbed under his fingertips. He’d watched Ethan dress in the locker room at Rowley, smiling at him in the bathroom mirror. Ethan had winked at him, and they’d kissed long enough for Jack to seriously consider skipping the press conference and locking the locker room doors, slip back to the showers with Ethan for another hour or five.

 

Ethan cupped Jack’s cheek. “I love you, Jack. You are everything.”

 

Jack covered Ethan’s hand with his own and nuzzled his palm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t let that get to me.” He kissed Ethan’s wrist. “Jealousy isn’t attractive, I know.”

 

“I’m sorry I was stunned. I froze. I’ve forgotten there’s been anyone but you, really. It feels like we’ve been together forever.”

 

“That’s what prisoners say. That they’ve been there forever. That time goes slowly.”

 

Ethan laughed. “It’s like this, us, was meant to be.” His cheeks burst into maroon flares, dusky crimson darkening the tips of his ears. “At least for me,” he said quickly. “I mean—”

 

“Me too.” Jack tugged Ethan forward the last bit, closing the inches between them, and kissed him. Ethan’s hand rose, caressing his cheek, fingers sliding into his hair, palm cradling the back of his head. Their bodies pressed together, a perfect fit, and Jack grabbed Ethan’s hip, holding him close. The kiss stretched on and on and on, tongues and lips and breaths shared, their noses brushing against each other, cheeks rubbing. “Love you,” Jack whispered.

 

Ethan’s eyes burned, brilliant, glittering. “I love—”

 

Knocking on the Oval Office door made them freeze. Mrs. Martin, after walking in on Jack and Ethan the one time, had instituted a draconian knocking policy. Gone were the days when his top staffers could waltz into his office. Even Lawrence had to knock and wait for permission to enter.

 

Mr. President, the Joint Chiefs are here for the two o’clock brief.” The door muffled Mrs. Martin’s voice.

 

Stepping back from Ethan, Jack straightened, smoothing his hands over his button-down and adjusting himself. Ethan’s eyes were gleaming, his lips were kiss-red, and he had a softening erection stretching the front of his chinos. Jack brushed his fingers up the thick length, covered in khaki-colored fabric. Ethan shivered, curling against his touch. “Stay?” He wasn’t ready to be apart from Ethan. Not yet. He wanted to keep Ethan’s love near, ground himself in their love, their connectedness.

 

Ethan had sat in on enough meetings to be considered a regular. No one batted an eye anymore when he accompanied Jack into the Situation Room.

 

Ethan nodded and kissed Jack chastely before walking around and sitting in the corner of the couch. He adjusted himself, hiding away his body’s reaction to Jack and their kiss.

 

Jack called for the Joint Chiefs to enter, and the men all strode in, big and bold and full of vigor. He offered them seats at his couches and around his coffee table, and then sat beside Ethan. He rested one arm on the couch back behind Ethan and caught his lover’s gaze with a sidelong look.

 

Ethan rested his hand on Jack’s knee, the corner of his lip curling upward.

 

* * *

Later, Ethan finally slipped back to the East Wing to close down for the weekend, and Jack wandered through the Friday evening quiet of the West Wing.

 

He found Pete still in his office, hammering away at his keyboard, glaring at his computer monitor.

 

“Hey.”

 

Pete swiveled toward him, but his eyes stayed glued to the monitor until he had to whip his head around before his neck snapped. “Hey, Mr. President.” He stood, smiling tiredly and nodding at the same time. His shirt was loose, almost untucked, and his tie had been yanked away from his neck. Two buttons on his shirt were undone, gaping at his throat.

 

“About today—”

 

Pete interrupted him. They’d worked together long enough for Pete to have that privilege, though he rarely ever did. “You’ll never see him again, Mr. President. I revoked his White House press credentials.”

 

Jack stared down at the carpet. Would it matter if he ever saw the man, Ethan’s ex, again? He turned over the memory, called up the image of the reporter winking Ethan’s way again. Young, attractive, saucy.

 

Empty. Pretty, but touched with vanity. His memory was different now, overlaid with the confidence of his and Ethan’s love once again. That man didn’t deserve Ethan. He wasn’t the right guy for Ethan. Whatever had happened between them, it hadn’t meant anything. Ethan’s soul didn’t reach for that man, the reporter, like his soul reached for Jack.

 

And like Jack’s reached right back, tangling with Ethan’s in the spaces where they kissed and touched, where they smiled and held hands, where looks passed between them that said I love you a thousand times a million, and then another one.

 

Jack smiled at Pete. He shrugged, leaning one shoulder against the doorjamb as his hands went into his suit pants pockets. “He doesn’t mean anything. Ethan and I are stronger than that.”

 

Pete grinned back at him. He whistled low. “You guys are something else, you know that? I’d have lunged for the guy if he pulled that shit on a girl I loved.”

 

Laughing, Jack shook his head. “Then you’d have a whole new problem in the press!”

 

“It’d be defensible.” Pete shrugged.

 

“Lives are long. People live in them. Nothing from the past can shake us. Our future is what’s important, and that’s rock solid.”

 

Pete’s eyebrows rocketed up his forehead. “Should I be pulling together a press release about an engagement…” He winked, his lips spreading into a wide smile.

 

Jack laughed. He pushed off the doorframe. “Night, Pete. Get out of here. Go have some fun.”

 

“That wasn’t an answer!”

 

Jack winked back. He left, walking down the West Wing hallway as Pete’s laughter chased him all the way to the Cross Hall in the Residence.

 

A proposal. Marriage. Marrying Ethan.

 

His smile grew as he climbed the stairs, heading for the home he shared with Ethan. His boyfriend. One day, his husband? He’d loved being married, having that bond with Leslie, that till death do us part connection. Death had separated them, set him adrift. But he’d found love again.

 

He could marry again. He could be a husband again. United with Ethan for the rest of their days.

 

The thought filled him with something he couldn’t name, a feeling he couldn’t identify. Something warm and wonderful that felt like mornings waking in Ethan’s arms, and nights falling asleep in his hold. Of kisses shared over their coffee, and resting his head on Ethan’s shoulder when they sat on the couch together. Of their bodies moving as one.

 

Someday. Someday he’d bend his knee and ask Ethan. Someday when the world let them be, when Madigan was behind them, and when it was just the two of them, and together forever would become more than a promise.

 

It would become a vow.

 


Timestampe: EOME, between Chaps 13 & 14. Before Sochi.

Jack Trains at Rowley – Missing Scene from EOME

Welcome back to Bauer’s Bytes!

I hope everyone enjoyed Enemy Within’s release, and the wrap-up of The Executive Office series.

Today’s prompt has come from several readers. They have asked to see Jack and Ethan training together at Rowley, which was referenced in both Enemy of My Enemy and Enemy Within. This was originally going to be included in Enemy of My Enemy, but ended up being cut out.

Enjoy!


 

Ethan wiped the sweat from his face, and then grinned and swiped his towel down Jack’s face, too. Sputtering, Jack shoved at his shoulder, but he smiled.

 

Ethan finished packing their handguns into their cases and stowed both in the bottom of his duffel, and then threw that in the backseat of the presidential SUV. Scott had slipped another pistol to them for Jack when they were at Rowley.

 

Every Friday morning, he and Jack slipped out with Daniels and Scott to the Secret Service James J. Rowley Training Center. They got there early, when dew still clung to the grass and fog lingered around the edges of the firing range. He and Jack set themselves up at the private shooting range near the rear of the massive facility, practicing shooting for hours. Scott called out distance and groupings as he and Jack traded shots on the targets downrange.

 

Ethan had helped Jack with his posture, with his grip, and with his stance. Daniels watched and gave pointers as well, and over the past few weeks, Jack’s groupings had improved, becoming tighter. Jack beamed every time Ethan congratulated him on a well-placed shot.

 

“Put three in the center. Just like I showed you.” Ethan had breathed over Jack’s shoulder that morning, speaking softly into Jack’s ear. Jack’s blond hair had ruffled, shifting against his words. Ethan stared at the curve of the ballistic eyeshields wrapping around Jack’s face, and that tinted his cheek yellow.

 

Jack exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger. One, two, three.

 

Scott called it out, watching through binos down the line. “Perfect grouping, Mr. President. Bulls-eye.”

 

Ethan had kissed Jack’s cheek, sloppy lips sliding on his skin as Jack twisted and met him half way. Jack held his gun in one hand—pointed down—and his other slid up Ethan’s neck and into his hair. Like this, Jack was beautiful, stunningly beautiful, and it made Ethan’s heart stop when he caught the morning sunlight reflecting off the plastic of Jack’s ballistic glasses, or tasted gunpowder on his lips as he kissed Jack. Breathed in the wet spring morning and Jack’s perfect scent, all as one.

 

Or feeling Jack in his arms as they sparred, working out on the dusty sparring grounds in the middle of a shady ring of Loblolly and shortleaf pines. Jack was a wiggler, and he could slip out of most holds Ethan got him into. He liked to flirt while sparring, too, darting in to kiss Ethan’s cheek. The first five times, Ethan had been stunned almost to freezing, and Jack managed a one-two combination—gently—that would have sent him to the ground.

 

Now, when Jack tried to sneak kisses, he wrapped Jack up tighter, swept his legs out from beneath him, and took them down—carefully—to the dirt. Jack was just learning how to scissor kick his way to freedom, moving beyond flailing his legs like he was riding an invisible bicycle. They scrabbled in the dirt as Scott and Daniels watched, ready with towels and bottles of water, and keeping silent when Jack busted into giggles.

 

Though, Scott had leaned over to Daniels that morning and whispered, just loud enough for Ethan to hear, “Watch the mating rituals of the Reichenbach, a wild creature, lawless and untamed.”

 

Ethan had twisted around, shock making his jaw drop. Jack had laughed out loud, throwing his head back, and then executed a perfect scissor kick, sending Ethan flying back, off of Jack and onto his ass in the dust.

 

They’d run their first simulation through the tactical shooting course that morning, too. Memories rose within him, warm summer days and him, over a decade younger and side by side with Scott. Taking his first run through the simulator, an empty lane of houses and shops and office buildings, a fake neighborhood from Anywhere, USA. Targets set up to look like hostiles and friendlies, and the snap-second decision to pull the trigger.

 

He and Jack ran through the simulator together, practicing how to move, how to shoot, how to run. Standing side by side, bracing before ducking in to clear a room, they’d shared a quick smile, and the light in Jack’s eyes was enough to make Ethan’s heart burst.

 

It was fantastic being back in action. Running, stacking, breaching. Moving with Jack, clearing rooms. Responding to threats, even just pretend ones. Rowley smelled like dust and gunpowder and scrub pine, but it was a familiar smell, and comforting.

 

Now it smelled like Jack, too, and that made it even better.

 

They kept to themselves at Rowley, staying well away from the other agents. Scott had set up a cordon, forbidding anyone else to join them. When the morning was over, they changed together in Rowley’s locker rooms, cleared out for the two of them, and dressed in nice jeans and tucked-in button downs with sport coats. Before heading back to the White House, they stopped at the cafeteria, grabbing an early lunch with Scott and Daniels.

 

Some of the agents steered well clear of Ethan, staring him down through their sunglasses and walking away when Jack and Ethan strode into the cafeteria. Everyone was respectful to Jack, of course. But there was always a heavy stare that seemed to burn into the center of Ethan’s shoulder blades. It felt like Iowa all over again. Not everyone loved the choices he’d made. He would always bear this, the recriminations of his former agents, his former colleagues.

 

And then, it was time to head back to the White House for their other new weekly tradition.

 

The drive back took thirty minutes by motorcade with the police clearing a route through traffic, and they arrived at the West Wing just in time for Jack’s weekly briefing with the White House press corps.

 

Pete, Gus, and Brandt had all agreed that his and Jack’s first step in trying to open up to the public about him and Ethan, and show the world how proud he truly was about their relationship, was to obliterate the curtain of silence that Jack had thrown around his personal life.

 

“You gotta be more personable. The White House looks like a secret society right now, and everyone wonders what kind of crazy sex games are going on in there.  I mean, your staff is crazy loyal. Freakin’ insanely loyal. But that’s also a mystery, because you’re not human to anyone in the public. You’re this mysterious other thing, something weird, and no one likes weird.” Gus hadn’t held his punches.

 

“People should see you for how dedicated you are.” Brandt had become one of Ethan’s biggest supporters, and Ethan still wasn’t quite sure how that had happened.

 

Pete said it best, though, stunning both him and Jack into silence. “You just have to be you. Both of you. Anyone who really knows you both loves you guys.” He shrugged, pursed his lips, and played with his pen.

 

Jack started briefing the press personally the week after Gus’s first meeting. He’d been nervous the first time, but after that, he took to the weekly meetings like a fish to water.

 

Jack waved to the press pool as he bounded into the briefing room. The reporters all stood, and more than half were smiling. Some clapped. Ethan hung back with Pete and Irwin at the side of the platform while Jack took to the podium. Scott and his men bracketed the room.

 

“Good afternoon! How is everyone this week?” Jack flashed that million-dollar smile, the smile that had locked up so many votes and had first made Ethan weak at the knees. “All right, hit me.”

 

The reporters chuckled, and then the questions began, flowing like a smooth conversation. The first week, everything had been more pointed, more critical, but Jack had kept to his smooth, unaffected delivery, and that had won over many of the reporters. And they, in turn, had won over a portion of the public. Jack’s approval numbers were rising steadily.

 

“Mr. President, Senator Allen has continued to attack you in the media for your controversial business bailout deal with Russia. He claims that you are more interested in growing Russian business than you are in American interests. How do you respond to that?”

 

“My interests lie with keeping the world safe and secure, and that includes economic security. Russia is enduring a period of intense change, and as her friend, we support her completely in this time. When their economy struggles, the world struggles. Getting the Russian economy moving again, getting Russians back to work, and helping our ally was the right thing to do, both from a moral perspective and from an economic perspective. Capital is being injected into the world, and it’s helping our American people every day. Stability has returned. People don’t have to worry.” Jack smiled. “I’d call that a win for everyone.”

 

“You’re not concerned about Senator Allen’s continued attacks against your close friendship with Russian President Puchkov?”

 

Jack laughed. “He’s got a phrase he likes, doesn’t he? ‘Political Boyfriends?’ I’m sorry to disappoint him, but I already have a partner.” Jack smiled at Ethan, holding his gaze for a moment.

 

The press pool laughed. Scattered clapping sparked up briefly.

 

“Mr. President, there has been an increasing number of terror attacks inside Russia. Bombs have gone off in shopping malls and restaurants. A shooter opened fire at a park. Protests at a gay pride parade turned violent. Some inside Russia blame President Puchkov for making his country a target of these terrorists with his new policies. General Moroshkin has been speaking out against the Kremlin, and there are increasing demands for President Puchkov to step down. The legislature in Russia has openly discussed calling for a vote of no confidence. What’s your take?”

 

Jack’s smile dimmed. “Our friends in Russia are experiencing the struggles and tragedies that come about when the forces of hate clash with the forces of equality and freedom. The Russian people deserve the freedom to live their lives unhindered by hatred, by corruption, and by totalitarianism, and President Puchkov understands this. Unfortunately, he—and all of us—are locked in a battle against forces who would choose hatred over equality and acceptance.”

 

“Mr. President, you’ve publicly thrown White House support behind controversial Democratic legislation. The Republican party is calling you a traitor and, quote, ‘a man attacking the very foundations of the party he purports to represent.’ How do you respond to that?”

 

“Supporting the Democrat’s legislation isn’t just a political issue. It’s a human issue, and one I’m proud to support. I made it my mission to advocate for the people, not to toe my party’s line. I’m proud to reach across the aisle to get important work accomplished.”

 

The briefing continued for a little while before transitioning into easy-going, softball questions. Ethan pushed off the wall and joined Jack on the platform with a smile.

 

“So, what are your plans this weekend, Mr. President?”

 

“Try and relax a bit. Catch up on a few things.” Jack’s arm wound around Ethan’s waist. “Ethan?”

 

“If the weather stays this nice, I think I’ll take you out. Grilling on the Truman Balcony?” He winked at Jack, and cameras flashed, a crazed frenzy of strobing bulbs.

 

“I’ve got myself a date.” Jack beamed at the press pool, his eyebrows high on his forehead.

 

“How are you two doing?” one reporter near the front called out.

 

“Doing great.” Jack kept smiling.

 

“The negative press doesn’t bother you?”

 

“The strength of our partnership isn’t shaken by tabloid trash or predatory journalism.”

 

“Mr. First Gentleman.” Another reporter, halfway back in the press pool, stood and spoke. “We don’t get a chance to talk to you very often. The job of the first lady—or the first gentleman—is a huge role. What’s been the best part about your new job?”

 

A silly question, but Ethan rolled with it. There really was only one answer, anyway. He smiled, turned to Jack, and answered. “That’s easy. Sharing my life with this man. Being with him every day. That’s the best part.”

 

Jack’s eyes turned meltingly soft as he smiled back. The press pool sighed and claps rose, and then rose again when Jack tilted his head against Ethan, resting their foreheads together. Bulbs flashed, the click and snap of a hundred cameras firing in sequence. Ethan pressed a quick kiss to Jack’s cheek, and then they straightened up and waved to the press. “Have a good weekend,” Jack called, striding away.

 

They filed out, slipping back to the West Wing proper. Pete and Brandt were both waiting for them, wide smiles on their faces. Pete channeled an Italian chef, kissing the tips of his fingers before spreading them into the air. “Perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

 

Jack shrugged. “We’re just being ourselves.”

 

“I know. That’s all you ever needed to do.”

 


 

Timestamp: Enemy of My Enemy, between Chapter 13 & 14

Enemy Within Sneak Peek!

 

Today’s Bauer’s Bytes is a special sneak peek at Enemy Within.

Join Agent Welby as he starts to unravel the subterfuge and deceit surrounding him, and starts to put the pieces together, along with the help of Pete Reyes, Jack’s press secretary. What do Welby and Pete uncover?

Who can Welby really trust, when everything is on the table?

Join Welby on the hunt for answers!

Enemy Within releases March 28th, 2017 at major ebook & print retailers everywhere.

 


 

Washington DC

 

Levi and President Wall ducked out of the Oval Office and headed down to the Situation Room, their heads together as they talked fast and low, as if sharing national secrets.

Welby stared them down, watching every single step. What was going on? What were they hiding?

Time to find out.

He ducked into the Oval Office, waving to the president’s secretary as he entered. He waved a manila folder as he pushed open the door. “Got to drop off a new brief.”

The president’s secretary didn’t even bat an eyelash. “Have a good day, Agent Welby,” she said, as he entered the silent, empty Oval Office.

He took a few steps in and swallowed. The power of the office still stopped him in his tracks, even now, years after he’d become a Secret Service agent. The fate of the world had been shaped within these curved walls, so many times over. For good or for ill, decisions had been made by men and women in this office that had impacted the lives of billions. He took a shaky breath.

What he was about to do was treasonous.

His stomach had burned a hole through itself, and he’d tied himself in knots, agonizing through the long hours of the day and night. They needed answers.

But he’d never crossed this line before.

Damn it, he needed to move, and fast. He was already on borrowed time.

Welby headed for the Resolute desk and started pulling out drawers. Nothing worthwhile in the top two. Notepads and folders, pens and sticky notes. A candy bar. A card, from Ethan to Jack, something sappy and silly at the same time. He put it back, carefully.

His thumbprint opened both of the locked lower drawers, and he held his breath when he tugged them open. Dozens of file folders. The president’s laptop. Top Secret briefs.

And, another laptop, resting on top of a burned briefcase.

He hauled the briefcase out and set it on the desk. It was a wreck, soot-covered, torn on one side, and water-damaged. The handle had been ripped off. Both locks were broken.

Perfect.

Inside, most of the papers were damaged, burned on the edges, or blackened with smoke and soot. Debris filled the inside of the case, gravel and dust. Blood stained one corner. The briefcase had sat in a pool of blood and soaked up enough of it to make Welby look away from the rust-drenched corner.

Lawrence Irwin had carried his briefcase with him into Langley, before the blast. Welby remembered that night. He remembered every moment of what happened, a picture-perfect clarity set in Imax quality in his mind. Waiting in the SUV, equal parts bored and on edge, wondering what was happening within Langley. Why had they taken Leslie Spiers into custody? Was she working with Madigan? What would they find during the interrogation?

And then, the blast. He and his team racing into the still-burning, still-collapsing building. Tearing through concrete and debris, searching for the president as fires roared and smoke billowed around them.

Pulling back blocks of concrete, adrenaline tearing through him faster than a Formula One racecar. Finding Irwin’s broken, bloody body. And then the president lying beneath him in a spreading pool of blood.

President Spiers had seemed so light, so fragile, when he scraped him off the ground. Floppy like a doll in his arms. Limp, too limp. He carried him over the shattered remains of the CIA’s headquarters as helicopters and rescue workers and firetrucks arrived, sirens blaring, lights flashing. People shrieked, crying for help.

He carried the president’s broken body, staring down into his pale, empty face.

Assassinated.

The word hung like cobwebs in his mind, like a whirlpool that sucked down all other thoughts. It had been him on duty, him that night. He had let his president be attacked. Assassinated. He had let the nation down. He had let the president down. And, he had let Ethan down.

Or had he?

Desperation redoubled his efforts, and he clenched his jaw as he rifled through Irwin’s briefcase. Where would Irwin have sent Ethan to search for proof of Leslie Spiers’s betrayal? Out of the whole world, where would he have gone?

One folder caught his eye. Bright red Top Secret borders lined the edges, and a giant seal warned him away from the contents. “Operation: Vigilant Fury” was the codename.

He snorted. Vigilant was President Spiers’s Secret Service codename. What could be better for a Top Secret operation to hunt down Madigan? The government did not have the best sense of humor, but they excelled in irony.

He flipped the file open.

Photos, dozens of them, from prison breaks around the world. Satellite imagery over South America, the Maghrib, and Somalia. Dossiers from a dozen military officers, one from a man named Noah Williams, supposedly dead sixteen years prior. Welby’s eyes narrowed. Leslie Spiers was supposed to be dead, too. He knew how that had played out.

Intelligence reports. Memos and intelligence analysis and mission briefs from a Marine Corps strike team sent to Ethan. Pages and pages of reports, each one detailing more of the teams’ actions and missions.

Ethan must have run the strike team, secretly. In addition to being Jack’s first gentleman, he must have been running a black strike team, working hand in hand with Irwin. No wonder Irwin turned to him. They were already hunting Madigan together.

And, the Marines. Were they the missing piece he needed? They must be whom Ethan turned to when he needed to follow Leslie Spiers’s tracks.

Who were they?

Welby dug deeper. The mission briefs had been signed by an “AC, LT1”.

Not good enough. He needed a name.

Finally, at the bottom of the file, he struck gold. A sheet of paper, torn from a notepad, with scribbles of Irwin’s that he should have thrown away months ago. “LT Adam Cooper, SOCOM. General Bell, Commanding Officer. Possible team lead. Check background. Current disciplinary action? Investigate connection to F.”

He had a name. A place to start searching. Finally.

Welby put everything back into the briefcase, exactly as he found it, and slid it back into the bottom drawer.

He took the Operation Vigilant Fury folder with him, hidden inside the manila envelope. He clenched the paper with Lieutenant Adam Cooper’s name on it, tight enough that his hand shook.

One step closer to the truth.

 


 

Except, Lieutenant Adam Cooper was a ghost.

Welby slammed down the phone in Pete’s office and groaned. Across the desk, Pete stared at him, his wide eyes almost bulging from his skull. “Nothing? Again?”

“Not a damn thing,” Welby growled. “Irwin and the CIA must have scrubbed him from the system when they brought him on board. His record is a shell. I can’t get any working information for him. No current posting. No current duty assignment. Nothing.”

“What about this?” Pete spun the scrap of paper and jabbed his finger in the middle. “His commanding officer was General Bell at SOCOM. Can you get in touch with him?”

“I tried. The general is ‘unavailable’. And his secretary has no idea who any Lieutenant Adam Cooper is. Never heard of him. Which is bullshit, because if he was in disciplinary trouble, then his secretary would have run the paperwork. She has to have heard of him.”

Pete sighed and threw himself back in his chair. He ran his hands through his hair and laced his fingers behind his head. “You searched all the military databases, right?”

Welby nodded.

Pete gnawed on his lip, staring at Welby. “I’ve got a person,” he finally said slowly. “It’s not, you know, entirely legal. But I’ve used them in the past to track down sources. People I need to find when they’ve gone to ground. If I need them for a story, or if I need them to shut their mouth.”

Welby’s eyebrows skyrocketed.

“You think being press secretary is just throwing press junkets all the time?” Pete scoffed. “This is one of the dirtier offices in the West Wing. And I’ve never been afraid of getting into the mud.” He swallowed. “Not for Jack.”

“I don’t need to hear any more.” Standing, Welby smoothed his tie and headed for the door. “I’d hate to have to arrest you because of something I overhear.” Never mind the treason he just committed himself.

He turned the doorknob. “But, I expect you’ll let me know?”

 


 

His cellphone buzzed a few hours later. Welby glanced down at the screen. A text from Pete had popped up. Get here asap.

Welby pocketed his cell phone and turned back to the shift brief. Levi was talking through the elevated threat assessments, and what they all needed to watch out for. Tasking agents rotating off shift with intel work in Horsepower. Reassigning other agents, and moving their posts around. Changing the West Wing procedures. It was a big shake-up, and Welby couldn’t see the reason why. Why move agents? Why have them hunting for intelligence? That was H Street’s job, for the intel desk jockeys at Headquarters.

He escaped as soon as the brief ended, slipping out the back. On the way out, he saw the confusion on the other agents’ faces, too. What was up with Levi? Why these changes?

Unease slid down his spine, drumming along each one of his vertebrae with a deeper, darker worry.

He pushed his gnawing anxieties away as he slipped into Pete’s office. Pete stood at his desk, his back to the door, on the phone. As Welby entered, he waved him in, thanked whoever he was talking to, and hung up.

“What did you get?” Welby crossed his arms and hovered in front of Pete’s desk.

“A few things.” Pete pulled his keyboard close and started pounding at the keys. “Okay, first, my guy looked up Adam Cooper. Turns out, he’s been using his civilian ID to move around. Him and a bunch of other MAMs flying on the same route.”

“Military age males?” Welby frowned. “That’s not unusual. That’s anyone from fifteen to sixty-five. About half the population of airline travel is in that range.”

“Not on this route.” Pete spun his monitor toward Welby. A flight route lit up, one red line bouncing from Riyadh to London, London to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage, Anchorage to Nome, in the far reaches of western Alaska, and then to Sevoukuk, a tiny village on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. “Only eight men flew this itinerary, and all together, all on the same day. Adam Cooper, six other American men, all in the Marine Corps, and one Saudi national.”

“A Saudi?”

“Faisal al-Saud. His passport was flagged in Seattle. Someone came forward and said al-Saud and he were getting married in the States, and the immigration officer let them through.”

“Who the hell is Faisal al-Saud? Why is he connected to Lieutenant Cooper?” Welby’s brow furrowed, and he stared at the red lines on the monitor as if he could read the lieutenant’s intentions in each hop.

“Dunno.” Pete shrugged. “I looked up what I could. He’s an orphan. His parents were killed in those big bombings the Kingdom had twenty years ago. His uncle adopted him, raised him. He’s a quiet prince in the royal family. The only thing that stands out is that he’s reported to be the royal head of the Saudi Intelligence Directorate.”

“Shit…” Welby cursed, and he leaned forward, bracing his palms on the edge of Pete’s desk. “Is that good news or bad news for us? These flights originated from Riyadh. What the hell was Lieutenant Cooper doing in Saudi Arabia anyway?”

Pete shrugged again. “The only thing we know for sure is that Lieutenant Adam Cooper landed on St. Lawrence Island yesterday. And Ethan wasn’t with him.”

“Did you track Ethan’s passport? Find out where he was?”

“No.” Pete shook his head. “He must have been using a burner. Irwin could have gotten him one from the CIA. Ethan’s most recent passport scan was his last official trip with the Secret Service. Ethiopia.”

A shiver crawled up the back of Welby’s neck, ringing his throat until his scar burned. Ethiopia. He remembered gasping for breath as his throat filled with blood. Hands holding him down on the conference table in Air Force One as the surgeon leaned over him, shouting at him to keep still. He swore, one of those hands had belonged to Jeff Gottschalk. He’d held Jeff’s hand, clenched so hard he thought he broke it. He thought he was going to die on that table, bleed out at thirty thousand feet, all over the seal of the United States. 

He took a breath, but Pete jumped in, speaking first. “So. Lieutenant Cooper is in Alaska. Hanging out in the Bering Sea. Moroshkin is invading Canada. You think he’s making a move against Moroshkin?”

“He’s headed the wrong way for that. He’s thirty miles off the coast of Russia. Canada is a long way from Lieutenant Cooper right now. No, he’s pointed at Russia.”

A light went on in Pete’s eyes, an almost mad gleam. He spun his monitor back around as he pounded at his keyboard again. “Take a look at this.” He spun the monitor back.

A gaudy, flashing webpage blinked back at Welby, a mess of translation protocols converting Russian web text to broken English. “Looks like… a message board?”

“Yes. A Russian conspiracy theorists’ website. They run a message board and yak about all the same things our conspiracy nuts do. Aliens. Government cover-ups. Secret military installations. HAARP. Chemtrails. All of it.”

Welby stared at Pete. “Why do we care what Russian nuts are talking about on some badly managed website?”

Pete held up one finger and then pounded away at his keyboard again. A new page came up, a thread of messages. He scrolled to the second message. Pictures filled the thread, groups of hard-looking Russians swarming around a convoy of rugged jeeps that had seen far better days. Some of the men wore full-face black balaclavas. Everybody carried automatic rifles.

“This group of men was seen moving across Russia. First in the west by Volga, and then they reappeared on the east coast, north of Vladivostok. There are unconfirmed reports of sightings in Siberia.”

“Looks like a gang of Russian thugs.” Had Pete really lost it? Had he chased a rabbit down a crazy hole? Maybe Levi was right, and Pete really did need time off. Hell, maybe he did, too.

“Look closer.” Pete pushed the monitor across the desk and started slowly scrolling through the thread. Picture after picture came up and passed, scene after scene of dark-clad Russians clutching weapons and riding in jeeps.

And then—

“Wait!” Welby’s hand shot up.

There, striding alongside a balaclava-wearing man, his face turned to the side and cast in half shadows, was Ethan.

“You see it too?” Pete breathed. “Tell me I’m not crazy.”

Welby shook his head, back and forth. “It can’t be him.” The denial was automatic, a knee-jerk gut-check. “There are thousands of people who look alike. This must just be an uncanny double. It’s not him.”

Pete scrolled again. A new picture, Ethan turning toward the camera this time, and calling to someone behind him.

Welby hissed. He reached behind him and pulled one of Pete’s chairs close, collapsing to his ass when his knees buckled.

“I thought the same thing when I saw them,” Pete said softly. He sat on the side of his desk, one leg dangling. “It couldn’t be him, I thought. No way. Why would he be in Russia? With some kind of gang? But…” Pete swallowed. “If Lieutenant Cooper is in Alaska, hanging out on an island within spitting distance of Russia, and Ethan might be on the east coast of Russia… I mean, it can’t be a coincidence, right?” He trailed off. “C’mon, man. Tell me I’m not losing it.”

“It’s him.” Welby clasped his hands together and fisted them in front of his mouth, covering his lips. “It’s him,” he repeated. “And I know who the guy next to him is, too.”

Twelve years he’d served at Ethan’s side, from the day Ethan graduated the Secret Service Academy at Rowley until his transfer to Iowa. Welby had been an agent one year longer, but he’d still been a newbie when Ethan had joined the DC field office, and then the White House. Twelve years of operations together. Twelve years of moving with Ethan, watching him on the protective detail. Watching him with his protectees, how he moved with them.

And then, seeing how different he was with President Spiers. Ethan had always been a consummate professional, a man of clean lines and exacting standards. He’d rocketed up the ranks of the Secret Service because of his discipline, his no-nonsense behavior, his determination and dedication to the service. Professional at all times, even with the most difficult assignments, the most pain-in-the-ass protectees.

Until President Spiers. Until he and Jack came together like sparks catching flame.

With him, Ethan had made protections personal. Welby had seen it, even before the truth came out. Ethan had become compromised. He cared about Spiers. He stood too close. Kept the president in his body space, inside his shadow. Moved his own body in tandem with the president, like they were connected. Like they were a team, a unit, a pair. He’d protected Spiers like he was protecting the most precious thing in the world, and after, when everything came out, Welby realized that had been exactly what Ethan had been doing.

The man in the pictures, striding alongside the man in a black balaclava, moved the same way.

Twelve years he’d been at Ethan’s side, and he could pick out Ethan’s style of protection in an instant. He could see the way Ethan breathed and moved with the man in black, reacted to him almost before the man in black even made a move. A matched set, a unified team. A partnership closer than any he’d ever seen.

“It’s President Spiers,” Welby breathed. “The president is alive.”

 


Timestamp: An excerpt from Enemy Within, as Agent Welby attempts to put the pieces together…

How to (not) Say Goodbye – Adam learns Faisal’s secret

This Byte is a day late (sorry!), but, it’s a pretty special one. We’re going back in time, again, and taking a look at Adam and Faisal’s developing relationship. When did Adam discover Faisal was royalty? When did Prince Abdul find out about Adam? How did Adam and Faisal keep making the decision to be together, over and over again, with so much stacked between them?

 

Let’s put the pieces of their past together… before March 28th 2017! 

 


 

Scorched sand spread in every direction, as far as Adam could see from the plane’s cramped window. Riyadh glittered in the distance, south of King Khalid Airport, shimmering in heat waves rising from Saudi Arabia’s central plateau, the Najd. Farther south, he could pick out the rolling sands of the Rub’ al-Khali, the Empty Quarter. Waves and waves of empty, burning sand, and the classic images of Saudi Arabia. Nothing could survive in that endless desert.

 

His blood quickened, thrumming through his veins. He gripped the curved seat handles, his sweat-slick fingers slipping on the plastic as the flight attendant called for all seatbacks to be put forward and seatback trays to be returned to their upright positions.

 

This was it. His first visit to Saudi Arabia… for him. Exclusively for him. For Faisal.

 

Eight months. It had been eight months since he’d first met Faisal, had first followed him back to his Baghdad flat and writhed beneath his hands, his lips, his touch, for hours. Never, not in a million years, not in his wildest, most crazed thoughts, had he ever thought he’d find a lover in Baghdad. Much less a Saudi lover.

 

Faisal’s nationality wasn’t the most scandalous aspect of their… relationship? Was it a relationship? What were eight months of intense, almost constant lovemaking called? Sneaking away every chance they got? Making love in Baghdad and Kuwait City, where Faisal had another flat. Whispering Arabic to each other all night long by the light of a dozen flickering candles.

 

Sharing intelligence. Adam, quietly passing along the names of his targets, individuals he was tracking. Faisal, sliding him information the Kingdom had on his targets, and pointing him in new directions, toward the quieter, insidious threats. The hand that wagged the dog.

 

Realizing Faisal was, like him, an intelligence officer. Conspiracy, his mind whispered. Espionage. Revealing secrets.

 

But what they’d shared had been beneficial for both of them, and their governments, so far. At least, that’s how he rationalized it. Adam had been applauded for his intelligence efforts, his wins in identifying deep Caliphate assets that had eluded the US for so long. Faisal’s efforts were focused half on the Caliphate and half on Iran, and Adam slipped him a signals intercept on Iran that he’d hand-carried back to Riyadh.

 

What they were doing was wrong on so many, many levels. He was violating the Espionage Act. He was sleeping with a foreign national, and not disclosing it. He was engaging in homosexual activity with a Muslim in a Muslim country. In multiple Muslim countries. He was violating laws and agency regulations right and left.

 

And now, flying to Riyadh to meet with Faisal.

 

Faisal had texted, saying that his people in Riyadh were beyond pleased with the signals intercept, and that he had some time to spend in the Kingdom before flying back to Kuwait and then Baghdad. Would Adam like to come down? They could steal a day away. No one would ever know.

 

He paid cash for his ticket, flying out of Baghdad’s airport before dawn.

 

Finally, the jet’s tires squealed and skipped down the runway at King Khalid Airport, and then taxied to the gate. Alhamdulliah as salaama echoed around the cabin, the passengers thanking God for the safe flight, as custom. The Saudi morning sun burned down on the terminal, scattering gleaming silver light in every direction. Bodies shuffled out of the plane, men in long white thawbs and keffiyehs, a few women in hijab, and a scattered businessman or three. He caught eyes sliding sidelong to him. Not in a suit, and not in a thawb. What was he doing in the Kingdom, the capital of conservatism in the world?

 

Inside, the airport glittered, white and cream marble seeming to stretch forever. Arches interlaced overhead, like the cornices of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain. Ferns crowded around fountains and indoor lagoons, and ivy crawled up the marble in carefully orchestrated patterns. Whisper soft footfalls and hushed conversation made the airport seem larger than it was, colossal as opposed to cavernous. He hurried as fast as he could without standing out, slipping through slow-moving crowds of Saudi men holding hands and groups of in thawbs sharing coffee and tea.

 

And then, finally, he was outside. Heat slapped him in the face as he stepped from the ice-cold air conditioning of the airport to the sun-scorched heat of Riyadh. Cars and taxis cluttered the curb, dark-skinned Bengalis and Pakistanis loading the luggage of aloof Saudi’s into the back of their cabs.

 

He swallowed. Where was Faisal? He fumbled for his cell in his pocket. It buzzed as he pulled it out.

 

To your left.

 

Frowning, he turned.

 

A cherry red Lamborghini convertible waited at the curb, all alone, set apart from the bustle of the main terminal. A man rose in the front seat, holding onto the windscreen as he stood in the foot well. He wore a cream linen suit, setting off his golden skin, and a deep blue button down, the top buttons around his neck open showing off the hollow of his throat. He smiled at Adam and titled his head. Even though he wore mirrored sunglasses, Adam could imagine the sparks burning in his amber eyes.

 

He headed for the Lamborghini with a grin, as if pulled by a magnet. Torn, his gaze wandered over the car’s slick lines, the compact power of the sports car, and then flicked up to his lover, still standing in the driver’s foot well. Faisal held just as much unrestrained power as the Lamborghini, just as much thrust and passion. His sleek muscles, his lithe body, always made Adam think of a jaguar, always on the prowl, always ready to strike.

 

Ahlan wa sahlan,” Faisal called, grinning.

 

Marhhaban.” Adam whistled as he stood by the Lamborghini’s passenger door. To anyone watching, he might be gazing at the sports car.

 

But his eyes were fixed on Faisal’s, and, slowly, he dragged his gaze down Faisal’s body, from his taut shoulders encased in cream linen to his narrow waist, and then further down.

 

“Hurry up and get in,” Faisal breathed. “We have a long drive.”

 

“In this?” He hopped over the passenger door and dropped into the bucket seat, throwing his small bag behind him. “How could any drive last long in this car?”

 

“I am taking you to the Gulf.”

 

“The Gulf?” Three hours away, at least. But, the beaches were phenomenal, and, across the bridge in Bahrain, the nightlife was some of the best in the world. He wasn’t here for the nightlife, though, and he wasn’t here for the beaches. What he wanted was sitting right beside him.

 

“I have a place there. We won’t be disturbed.” Faisal threw him a sly smile, sidelong, and stepped on the accelerator. They jumped smoothly into the traffic lane winding away from the terminal and out of the airport.

 

“You have lots of places.”

 

Faisal said nothing. He shifted into second. Wind flicked through his dark hair, ruffling the cropped strands.

 

When they hit the highway, the 80M, the open, empty stretch of sun-backed asphalt leading from Riyadh to the Gulf coast, Adam leaned over in his seat, ducking down out of sight and lying across the central dash. He palmed Faisal’s crotch as he reached for his fly.

 

Wallah, Adam…” Faisal stepped down hard on the accelerator as Adam slowly undid his zipper.

 

“I’ll bet you can get us there in half the time.” He winked up at Faisal as he buried his head in his crotch.

 

Maa shaa Allah…” Faisal groaned. The Lamborghini zoomed forward, the speedometer needle rising and rising as the engine roared, covering Faisal’s soft moans and gasps.

 

Neither man noticed the blacked-out SUV trailing behind them, hiding in the shimmering heatwaves a mile behind.

 

* * *

 

Christ, he loved this. Maybe he was compromised, and maybe he was completely guilty of sharing intelligence secrets. But conspiracy tasted so sweet, so delicious. Like all victims trapped in honey pot plots throughout the decades, he supposed, he believed this was special. He believed this was different.

 

Faisal had worshiped his body, stripping him slowly, tasting every inch of his skin. Kisses pressed everywhere, to his shoulder blades, the curve of his spine. The backs of his knees, where Faisal’s soft breath made his leg hair shiver and his body tremble. He was a strung-out bundle of nerves, lit on fire from within, every muscle quivering, every piece and part of him tingling with anticipation. Every time he reached for Faisal, Faisal batted his hands away, smiling coyly as he kept up his seduction, his quest to melt Adam’s bones.

 

Finally, Faisal rolled him over and spread his legs, and then buried his face in Adam’s ass. He’d groaned, long and loud, and he felt Faisal’s grin against his ass cheeks.

 

What felt like hours later, and after his spine had liquefied and every one of his muscles had gone taut, struck with lightning bursting from the center of his body, from the places Faisal’s hands and fingers touched and stroked, Faisal finally kissed his way up his back and nuzzled his hair. “Ride me,” he breathed. “Ride me, Adam.”

 

He mumbled something, some string of consonants and vowels, and managed to push himself up on shaking arms, enough for Faisal to slide beneath him, between his legs. Their hands laced together, Faisal helping support him as he sat back, as he scooted until he found what he needed.

 

Smiling, Adam held Faisal’s gaze as he sank down, as the burning need Faisal had ignited was satiated. Faisal stopped breathing as he moved, his mouth falling open, his eyes wide, staring at Adam like Adam was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

 

Slowly, they rocked together, hands clasped. In Faisal’s Gulf bedroom, one wall was made up entirely of glass, overlooking the rolling sand, and in the distance, the azure waves of the Gulf waters, gently lapping at a private beach.

 

Whoever Faisal was, he was loaded. Most Saudi’s were, but not to this level. A brand-new Lamborghini, and a house on the Gulf with a private beach? He must be a top-performing intelligence officer, richly rewarded by the Kingdom. Of course he was a great intel officer. Adam was in his bed, wasn’t he? Adam was passing over American information to him, wasn’t he?

 

Faisal rolled deep into him, sighing. “When I sink my eye into yours,” he breathed. “I catch a glimpse of a deep dawn and I see ancient yesterday.”

 

“What?” Frowning, Adam squeezed Faisal’s hands, pressed his thumb into his palms. He could barely think. All he knew, all he could feel, was Faisal pressing in at the root of his spine, like a beacon shining into his soul. Christ, he was so hard. Faisal unlocked some kind of new pleasure within him, some kind of brand new feeling, sensations he didn’t know he was capable of feeling.

 

“It’s a poem,” Faisal whispered. “By Gebran to his love.” Groaning, Faisal’s eyelids fluttered closed. “When I am with you, these poems make sense to me at last.”

 

What could he possibly say to that? What they had together… he’d purposely not thought about it, hadn’t tried to put it in a box or slap a label on it. If Adam sat down with himself in the middle of the night and squared himself with reality, then yes, he’d admit to the skeletons that rattled deep, deep in his closet that he was far too close to Faisal. On every level. And… that he wanted to be closer. Much, much closer.

 

Close enough that Faisal whispering an Arabic love poem to him while they made love was almost enough to send him over the edge.

 

Faisal kept whispering, holding Adams’ gaze. “I see what I do not know, and I feel the universe flowing between my eye and yours.”

 

Shuddering, Adam tipped forward, capturing Faisal’s lips in a deep kiss. Faisal’s hands left his and traced up his sides, his ribs, over his shoulders, and buried in his hair. Came forward, and cupped his cheeks. “Adam, wallah,” Faisal breathed around their kiss. “I—“

 

Splintering wood broke through Faisal’s bedroom, the sound like a canon blast. Shards sliced Adam’s back, splinters bouncing off his bare skin.

 

He reared back, still on Faisal’s lap, twisting around as Faisal jolted upright, wrapping one hand around Adam’s waist, holding him close as if he could protect him.

 

Six men poured into the room, hulking men in dark suits with muscles straining beneath their jackets and deep scowls etched on their brutish faces. And, behind them, an older Saudi man with a gray beard, wearing a white thawb and a white keffiyeh and with a gold-braided dark cloak over his clothes. Adam recognized the man immediately: Abdul al-Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

 

Faisal spoke first, panic lacing through his voice. “Uncle—“

 

Adam whipped around, staring down at Faisal. Uncle?

 

Fury crackled over Prince Abdul, twisting his expression, darkening his skin to a raging, wrathful deep maroon. “Ajlabh,” he growled. Get him.

 

The six men stormed the bed, reaching for Adam. He thrashed, kicking out, trying to punch. Faisal shouted, ordering them to stop, screaming for his uncle to order them to stop, but it was no use. Hands grabbed Adam and ripped him from Faisal, tearing their bodies apart. Three men held his arms, another two his legs.

 

He felt the heft, the swing, and then he was flying, soaring across the bedroom. He heard Faisal’s scream, his bellow.

 

And then, he slammed into the wall of glass, shattering the bay window as he soared through it. Cuts opened on his shoulder, along his back, on one cheek. Glass peppered him, struck every inch of his bare skin. He curled, trying to protect himself, rounding into a ball as heat and noise slammed into him, the desert sun and the roar of the shattered window, and the slap of waves against the coastline.

 

Adam landed in a skid, in a puff of loose, burning sand, face down. He didn’t move.

 

* * *

 

Later, he sat in Faisal’s sitting room, wrapped in a bloodstained sheet, and listened to Prince Abdul holler at Faisal.

 

Holler at his nephew. At Prince Faisal al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Royal Family.

 

How could he have been so stupid? How did he not know? Christ, one of the heads of the Saudi Royal Family had just caught him having sex with one of their own. The punishment for a non-Muslim engaging in homosexual sex with a Muslim in Saudi Arabia was death by stoning. And if he slept with a member of the Royal Family? God, they’d probably fast-track his death sentence. He’d be dead before dusk.

 

The six bodyguards hovered menacingly nearby. They hadn’t cared about his cuts. He bled all over the sheet one of them threw at his face after he was dragged off the sand and dropped back in Faisal’s house. Prince Abdul was already shouting, already shaking the walls. He could hear his bellows vibrate off his bones, even from the other room.

 

“How could you let an American turn you, ya Faisal? How could you let an American breach Kingdom security?”

 

Silence, from Faisal.

 

“He is working you! Do you not understand? He is stealing secrets from you! He has compromised you! You have given up the Kingdom for this?”

 

Christ, Faisal didn’t deserve this. If anything, the reverse was true. He gave far more to Faisal than Faisal gave to him. Faisal wasn’t turned. He wasn’t working for the Americans. He wasn’t working for Adam.

 

“You have failed, ya Faisal. You have failed in your duties. How ashamed I am of you! The king, have you any idea what he will say? How he will handle this failure? You will be cut out! You will be forgotten! Alhamdulliah, you will be lucky to be banished!”

 

Adam bowed his head, squeezing his eyes shut. He’d known they both risked so much, pursuing this, this white-hot connection, this fire in their souls. But, to risk his family, his Kingdom?

 

“Speak, ya Faisal! Do you have nothing to say for yourself?”

 

Faisal murmured something, but Adam couldn’t parse it out.

 

“You believed you were—? Rahimullah, you were seduced and made a fool of, ya Faisal. That is not love—“

 

Fuck, he couldn’t just listen to this. Couldn’t just let Faisal be destroyed.

 

Had Faisal truly loved him? What had he been about to say, cradling Adam’s face as they kissed, after he breathed poetry between their bodies? Adam’s heart lurched, twisting, wringing his own tender, fragile feelings of love out in droplets that bled down his ribs. He’d wanted, God, he’d wanted. He’d dreamed of one day, perhaps beyond all the intelligence games, all the subterfuge, to whisper the confession to Faisal’s lips.

 

Adam waited for the bodyguards to look away before he leaped. He hauled the sheet around his waist, trying not to trip, and ran for the bedroom. Six pairs of feet thundered after him, an elephant stampede, but he made the door and burst within.

 

Faisal sat slumped on the edge of his bed—the bed they’d made love in, just an hour ago—wrapped in a satin robe, his head in both of his hands. Prince Abdul paced before him, wearing a tread in the marble floor with his sandals.

 

“I wasn’t running Faisal,” he blurted out, right as the six bodyguards burst in behind him. Three grabbed his arms, and one grabbed his head in an armlock, almost tackling him to the ground. Faisal jumped up, reaching for him, but Prince Abdul barked something guttural, and Faisal stilled.

 

Everyone froze. The bodyguards’ hold loosened. They didn’t let go, though.

 

“Faisal ran me.” Adam swallowed, and his gaze flicked to Faisal’s. Honeyed sorrow poured from Faisal’s eyes, like a candle melting in the desert. Loss, aching loss. “Faisal was running me. I gave him intelligence. Information. Those Iranian intercepts. I gave them to him. I give him everything.”

 

Prince Abdul’s mouth dropped open. He peered at Adam, his eyes narrowing. Slowly, he turned back to Faisal. “Bismillah, is this true, ya Faisal?”

 

Adam held Faisal’s gaze. Say yes. Say yes. He’d compromise himself even further with this, but Faisal, at least, would be protected in his family. It might save his life. His freedom.

 

Faisal’s watery eyes closed. He lifted his chin. “Yes, Uncle. I turned him. He works for me.”

 

Silence, save for the wind whispering through the broken window, and glass shards tinkling across the marble floor.

 

* * *

 

Adam sat slumped in the backseat of Prince Abdul’s SUV, behind two massive bodyguards. The SUV hummed up Route 95, screaming at one hundred and forty miles an hour toward the Kuwait border. Prince Abdul had ordered his banishment.

 

Better than his death.

 

He never got to say goodbye to Faisal.

 

What had their relationship been, in truth, though? Faisal had lied to him about his identity. Granted, if he’d known Faisal was royalty, he’d have run screaming in the opposite direction. In fact, if he’d woken up after that first night and realized he’d just slept with a prince of the Saudi Royal Family, he probably would have booked the next flight back to America. He’d have shoveled as much shit as needed to get his duty assignment changed. Anything to get him out of the Middle East.

 

And he’d never have shared what they had created between themselves. Experienced what Faisal gave him. What he made Adam feel.

 

Would never have fallen, even the littlest bit, in love.

 

Better to have loved and lost, as the old poets said. But that was crap. The emptiness, the blank way his emotions had smeared and gone flat, the hollowness in his heart. He’d rather have anything else than the aching desolation he felt deep within. This was the kind of feeling that called for tequila, and lots and lots of it. Enough to drown out the barren spaces, make sloshing waves in the hollows of his broken heart.

 

His cell buzzed, vibrating in his pocket.

 

Eyeing the bodyguards, Adam slid it out carefully. He’d been ignored so far, but he hadn’t moved once, other than to throw his head back and try and fight the snarl that wanted to rise, the fight that his blood begged for.

 

He swiped the screen on.

 

When love beckons to you, follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams.

All these things shall love do unto you, that you may know the secrets of your heart.

 

Christ, Faisal. His eyes blurred, and his thumb hovered over the screen. How did he respond? What they hell did he say? They should just walk away, forget about each other, forget about ever knowing each other at all. He could bury this, salvage his career. Faisal could repair his reputation with his family.

 

Though, his uncle hadn’t seemed shocked by Adam being a man. Just that he was an American. Did he know—

 

His phone buzzed again.

 

It was never about the intel for me.

 

Adam swallowed hard. [me either]

 

I just wanted to keep seeing you.

 

Shit, shit. How could he feel worse than he had before, when Prince Abdul had torn them apart? Was this it? Was this goodbye? Faisal, in his way, telling him he loved him and saying him goodbye? Over text, no less? Christ, he was a shitshow, in every single way.

 

He pulled up the internet, plugging in the lines of Faisal’s poem. The full poem’s text loaded on his screen, and his eyes blurred again as he read, the poem a treatise on the aching cost of love, the tribulations of falling headfirst into the uncontrolled eddies of the heart.

 

There was one line he could send back.

 

[Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.]

 

Adam… yaghfir Allah, I want to keep seeing you.

 

Adam’s eyes slipped closed. He clenched his phone, hard enough that the case creaked, groaning in his hand. Allah forgive me, Faisal said.

 

He should say no. He should walk away. He shouldn’t let this become larger than it was already, a bigger mess, a bigger problem. The wise choice, the right choice, was to say no. No, they were through. He’d made a mistake, and he had to clean it up, and that started with deleting Faisal’s number. Ignoring his texts. Walking away, far away, and never looking back.

 

Instead, he typed back, with shaking fingers [me too].

 


 

Timestamp: Almost two years before Enemies of the State.

The two poems referenced are “On Love” and “My Love” by Kaleel Gebran.

 

Stop. Please. Why. – Sergey’s POV of Volga Air Base

Hello everyone! Welcome to another week of Bauer’s Bytes!

This week’s prompt comes from Stephanie, who asked for Sergey’s POV of the events at Volga Air Base in Enemy of My Enemy. This Bauer’s Byte contains spoilers from Enemy of My Enemy. Enjoy!

 


Sergey clenched the old map in his hands until it shook. Fuel calculations, scratched in pencil—erased, redone, erased, and redone—scrawled over the map, over the twisting contour lines of the Ural Mountains. His eyes blurred, going cross as he stared at the numbers. His molars scraped together, slowly grinding.

 

“I found these.” Sasha dumped two satellite phones on the burned table they were using in the wreckage of the hangar at the Volga Air Base. Soot puffed around the phones, smearing on the yellow plastic cases.

 

Sergey glared at the phones and then rolled his gaze up to Sasha. He couldn’t speak.

 

“No radio. We cannot use the Russian frequencies. But we can use satellite phones.”

 

“Flying and talking?” Sergey arched an eyebrow as he snorted. “This sounds terrible. Sounds even worse than driving and talking!”

 

“For reporting back what I find,” Sasha ground out.

 

Sergey fingered the sat phone’s plastic casing. “You will be blown out of the sky as soon as you take off. Moroshkin will track your jet. You will be dead in minutes.” How could Sasha even imagine that this would ever work?

 

Reaching into his jacket, Sasha pulled free a tangle of wires and a round metal canister. He tossed it in front of Sergey. Sergey glowered at the device, the cannibalized GPS beacon. “How will you navigate?”

 

“The old-fashioned way. With maps and a compass. I know what I am doing. Despite your lack of confidence in me.” Sasha glowered down at him for a moment, and then walked away, out of the hangar.

 

No. No, he wasn’t going to let this happen. Sasha was lying, and he would find out why. He followed Sasha, his expression twisting, hardening as he gripped Sasha’s map and his fake fuel calculations in a tight fist.

 

Outside, Sasha stood with his hands on his hips, gazing up at the slate sky. He’d found an old flight suit in the base, drab green and oil-stained on the knees and thighs. He’d rolled down the top and tied the arms around his waist, leaving his pale skin exposed. Red splotches stretched across his heaving chest, remnants of their earlier exertions hauling the MiG out to the flight line.

 

Sergey’s gaze traced Sasha’s form, the line of his shoulders, the gray chain dropping to the center of his chest and his dangling dog tags. His hardened muscles, so much more prominent than Sergey’s lanky, thin frame. Sasha had the fine blond hair and sharp facial features of a Nordic-Russian. He’d always been striking, turning more than one head in the Kremlin.

 

No one had ever seen him in a flight suit, though.

 

Any other time, Sergey would have cracked a joke about how he was trying to look like an American Top Gun, or showing off for the birds, or striking a pose like the haute couture models in St. Petersburg. Sasha would blush and stammer and shake his head, ignoring Sergey like he ignored him every time he pointed out that someone in Moscow was looking at him the way a dog looked at a perfect piece of steak.

 

Weren’t they friends? Teasing and jokes, and then being by each other’s side, day in and day out for months. They needed each other, he thought. He’d patched Sasha up, stitched closed his wounds from Sochi after plying Sasha with enough vodka to sedate a Cossack. Sasha had slept with his head pillowed on his thigh that night, hiding in a warehouse with the first members of their insurgency before they fled to the forest. And Sasha had been there when he’d heard about Jack’s death, and it had felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest. He’d held him through it, through the worst of the pain.

 

Why was Sasha intent on this? On flying away? Why was he insisting that this was the only way?  

 

His temper took control of his tongue, his petulant, snapping rage swimming to the top of the sea of his turbulent emotions. “I am not a fool! You think I have not figured it out?”

 

Sasha walked away from him and said nothing.

 

Sergey saw red, saw the world narrow, his focus laser-sighted on Sasha’s back, his clenched shoulders.  “Sasha! I am speaking to you!” He stormed after Sasha, ducking beneath the MiG’s wing and stalking around the tail. “You think this is some kind of joke? You can fool everyone else, but you cannot fool me!”

 

Sasha kept going, one hand trailing over the MiG’s plating, tracing the lines of the wing, the smooth surface.

 

Growling, Sergey snapped. Why was Sasha doing this? After everything, why was he ignoring Sergey? Why was he determined to fly off and die? He slapped the side of the MiG, bellowing at the back of Sasha’s head. “You are not a man! Not a Russian! You are a coward!”

 

Sasha whirled, glaring at Sergey. Fury poured from his gaze, and his hands clenched to shaking fists. Even his shoulders shook, trembling.  “I am not a coward!” he snarled

 

Sergey stepped back, retreating, for a moment, in the face of Sasha’s wrath. Paper crinkled in his fist. No, he wasn’t going to back down, not about this. He shoved Sasha’s folded flight map in his face. Sasha’s route, sketched out in pencil, and his fuel calculations, redone and redone until they were lies. “I know what you are doing,” Sergey hissed. “Even with this jet fully fueled, you only have enough to get there. You do not have enough fuel to get back!” Anguish laced his words, underpinned his voice.

 

Sasha’s expression melted, his twisted, frustrated fury falling to shock, and then what looked like despair. His jaw fell open as he stared at Sergey. A split second later, he turned away, back to the MiG, tracing both hands over the metal, the long line of the wing. “It does not matter. We need this,” he growled. “We need to know for sure what is happening. It would not matter if everyone knew or not. They would still ask me to fly this mission. This way, their conscience is clear.”

 

He shook his head. “Why are you so determined to do this?” Sergey ducked under the wing, popping up right in Sasha’s face. His rage was banking against the hurt that clawed out of his chest. Why, Sasha, why?

 

“Let my life mean something! I was thrown out of the Air Force in disgrace! Let this be my real legacy!”

 

“Your legacy is already great. Your life means everything! You are everything to our fight! Our troops look up to you. They love you! They need you! I cannot do this without you!” Sasha was already a hero, so many times over.

 

Sasha shook his head and headed for the nose of the jet.

 

“Sasha…” Sergey growled, chasing him. He reached for Sasha’s arm. “This is not good. Don’t do this,” he pleaded. “Please.”

 

“We need to know what is going on.” Sasha stared at his hand.

 

“Send someone else!” Sergey hissed. He swallowed hard. “Send anyone else. Not you.”

 

“Send another to their death?” Sasha shook his head. “No.”

 

There it was, Sasha confirming what he already knew: Sasha intended to die. Fury warred with desperation as his heart tried to claw out of his chest, tried to shove aside his ribs and physically grab Sasha, reach out and shake him until he saw reason. Sasha couldn’t leave. Sasha couldn’t die. What would he do without Sasha? Everything about his life had been reordered, remade by Sasha’s presence. Sasha had become his North Star, his compass rose. His advisor in all things, his confidante, his best friend. Watching Sasha make his plans to die was like a hot knife stabbing in his chest, over and over again.

 

“Damn it, Sasha!” Sergey squeezed down on his elbow, almost bruisingly tight. Damn it all, they didn’t need the intelligence that badly. They could find another way. Any other way.

 

Sasha shook Sergey’s hand off and grabbed his shoulders, shoving him against the cockpit ladder. “Damn you, Sergey,” he growled. “Damn you.”

 

Sergey hit the steel ladder hard. It clattered behind him, and his skull rocketed back, snapping against one of the rungs.

 

Swooping in, pressing his body against Sergey’s, Sasha captured his lips, moaning as he nibbled, as he sucked on Sergey’s mouth. He swiped his tongue over Sergey’s lower lip, drawing it into his mouth. Bit down, and when Sergey hissed, he snaked his tongue between Sergey’s shocked lips. Sasha moaned, almost too soft to hear.

 

Sergey’s thoughts collided, crashing into one another like head-on trains. He couldn’t think, couldn’t string two thoughts, two words together.

 

Sasha’s hands trailed down his body, over his long sleeved shirt covering his thin chest, his loose combat fatigues hanging on sharp hips, and back up, curling his hands around Sergey’s neck. “So beautiful,” Sasha murmured, kissing him again. “Sergey.”

 

He couldn’t move. He must have hit his head harder than he thought. Reality had turned, twisting around on him into some crazed, wild delusion. This was where he woke up. This was where he woke up, face down on the soot-covered table. Where it was all a nightmare and Sasha wasn’t planning on flying off to his death. Maybe he’d wake up back at the bunker, before Sasha even came up with his wild plan. Anything. Anything to make this moment not real.

 

He stared at Sasha, frozen, his mouth open in shock, as Sasha slowly pulled back.

 

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

 

Dread roared into Sasha’s gaze, a flood of it, a tsunami that made the blue of his eyes crack, shatter like broken ice.

 

He wasn’t waking up.

 

Sasha had kissed him.

 

Why?

 

Sergey stared. “You—” he tried.

 

Sasha stepped back, pulling away and dropping his hands, freeing Sergey. “It is nothing,” he snapped. “Do not worry yourself.” He looked away, his face back to its usual hard expression, shuttered and closed, an impenetrable iron curtain over his soul. As if the last ten seconds hadn’t actually happened.

 

Sergey said nothing. Did nothing. He still couldn’t think. Couldn’t process the new world where Sasha had pressed a kiss to his lips, had murmured that he was beautiful. Of all the possibilities, all the occurrences that could happen in the world, that had never, ever, occurred to him. Someone like Sasha… and someone like him…

 

Never. He’d never thought it before.

 

“Final preflight brief in thirty minutes.” Nodding once, Sasha strode back for the hangar, leaving Sergey frozen at the base of the MiG’s ladder.

 

His spine creaked as he turned his head and followed Sasha’s movements. He left? After that?

 

What had happened? Why had he kissed him, only to walk away like nothing had happened?

 

Maybe nothing had happened.

 

It had been a good way to shut him up. He still held Sasha’s crumpled flight map in his hands, the pencil marks smeared by his sweaty palms.

 

Every memory of the two of them together, from the first night he met Sasha—wide-eyed, bruised, and aching in his soul—to the evenings they spent with Ilya—laughing like children as they poked fun at each other—to the dirty bunker in the forest with their sleeping bags laying side by side. Sasha always slept facing him. Every time he woke, Sasha would always be on his side, facing him, as if he’d fallen asleep watching over Sergey.

 

The thought of Sasha caring for him was laughable. Dark Russian humor at its finest. There was nothing he could offer Sasha. A million-other people were more attractive, younger, more like Sasha. There was no world, no reality, where Sasha would ever feel for him. Ever desire him.

 

If Sasha felt anything for him, then why hadn’t he said so? Why would Sasha keep that from him? After everything, did he really think Sergey would react badly? Turn away in disgust?

 

It was nothing. It had to be nothing.

 

If it were something, would Sasha have walked away?

 

Sergey sank down, squatting in front of the ladder as he buried his head in his hands. Nothing had changed, and everything had changed.

 

Sasha was still leaving. Still flying to his death. And there was nothing he could do to stop him.

* * *

“My flight will take me through the Urals and north by northeast to the Kara Sea. I will stay beneath the radar deck, and out of sight of the air defenses. The peaks of the Urals will cover my flight from the North Fleet, based here, in the Barents Sea and around Murmansk.”

 

Sasha ran through his brief with military precision. He’d tightened himself, locking down even the slight and fractional slips of emotion that Sergey had always found. Always loved to tease him about. Sidelong looks. Barely-there grins. Glances between the two of them that spoke volumes. In a moment, he always used to be able to tell what Sasha thought, just based on the looks they shared. No more. “Much of the North Fleet went to Moroshkin,” Sergey grumbled.

 

“They are likely scattered, what with the invasion over the pole into Canada and whatever they are doing in the Arctic ice.” Sasha fingered the map, tracing the target zone he’d circled in red. To the west, the long, fingerlike Severny Island stretched into the Arctic. He tapped the ice-covered island. “This is my western boundary. I will fly over Novaya Zemlya—” He pointed to the archipelago of scattered ice islands in the Russian arctic. “—and into the Kara Sea. After, I will call my report in on the sat phone.”

 

Sergey clenched Sasha’s paired sat phone in one hand. He glowered over the table, ignoring Jack’s questioning looks.

 

“I will begin my return flight then.”

 

Silence.

 

Sergey said nothing. He turned his head, staring at Sasha’s jet. Why was he the only one wanting Sasha to live? Why was everyone else supporting this damned mission?

 

Why wouldn’t Sasha look him in the eyes anymore?

 

“They’re going to fight back when they see you overflying.” Scott stood at Ethan’s side, wearing Sasha’s radio and carrying his old rifle. Sergey wanted to vomit whenever he saw him.

 

“I am expecting a few moments of confusion. After that, yes. They will open fire. Our training makes us fight each other. Air Force against Navy, Army against Army. I am used to their tactics. I know what to do.”

 

It was too much, dissecting the hows and whens of Sasha’s imminent death. He stormed out of the hangar. Maybe if he threw himself in front of Sasha’s jet. Would Sasha drive over him, launch over his body to finish this desperate mission of his? There had to be another way. Any other way, other than this.

 

The feel of Sasha’s lips on his ghosted over his skin, a memory he couldn’t shake.

 

Across the tarmac, Sasha slipped into his G-suit and shook Jack and Ethan’s hands. Scott nodded his goodbyes, and then Sergey saw him twist around, as if looking for someone.

 

Sergey turned away. He couldn’t look at Sasha, not as he climbed into his jet. Damn it, this wasn’t right. Maybe Sasha would find everything they needed to know about what Madigan was doing, and maybe he’d pinpoint Madigan’s location. Maybe they could use that intel to mount an offense, finally take the bastard out. But it wasn’t worth the cost. Wasn’t worth his life.

 

Sasha’s jet engines whined to life, and then he started the slow crawl down the tarmac, heading for the runway. Spray paint Sergey had placed himself warned Sasha away from cracks and potholes. He should have left a few unmarked. Small ones, just enough to disable the jet, make it so he couldn’t take off.

 

Save the world, or save Sasha?

 

He was a selfish old bastard, when it came down to it.

 

When Sasha passed Sergey, he glanced out the cockpit window.

 

One last look.

 

Their eyes met. Devastation slammed into Sergey’s chest as rage twisted through him.  Anguish slid down his bones, hollowed out his soul. Why are you leaving me? I don’t want to do this without you!

 

Slowly, Sergey lifted one hand in a sharp salute. You’ve always been a hero.

 

Sasha saluted in return, staring at Sergey until he nearly passed him. You’ve become so much to me. I can’t imagine my life without you. Don’t, please, don’t take off.

 

At the last moment, Sasha dropped the salute, pressing his gloved hand to the canopy, reaching for Sergey. Damn it, Sasha! I—

 

A sob tore from his throat. He wanted to reach back, wanted to chase Sasha’s jet, run screaming down the runway as Sasha’s afterburners kicked in and he roared away, rocketing into the gloom.

 

Come back come back come back—

 

He stared after Sasha’s jet, at the afterburners and their heat haze, until they faded to twinkling stars in the distance, and then disappeared.

 

Why did you kiss me?

 

Why did you leave?

 


Timestamp: Sergey’s POV of the events of Volga Air Base, at the end of EOME.