First Impressions – Executive Office

 

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


 

 

Ethan

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“You have your senior team picked?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

* * *

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Ethan grunted.

 

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

 

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

 

He’s got great eyes.

 

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

 

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

 

But, as Spiers walked toward them—

 

Wow. That smile…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Danger, his mind whispered. Danger.

 

* * *

 

Jack

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The White House. The presidency.

 

It was really going to happen.

 

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

 

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

 

He’d needed a moment, after that.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And, what had happened later.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Oh, there’s no need for you to do—”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Agent Reichenbach?”

 

“Sir?”

 

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

 

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

 

Jack had waited, grinning.

 

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

 

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

 

Jack had beamed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Maybe one day, he’d get to find out.

 

* * *

 

Blake Becker

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Stares and dropped jaws, all around the table.

 

“He’s still… in the Secret Service?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

* * *

 

Except, that wasn’t true at all.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Everyone’s heads turned. Stared.

 

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

 

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

 

Becker stared. Reichenbach stared back.

 

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

 

No, not anywhere.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Once, Reichenbach had to have been something pretty special.

 

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

 

Becker almost felt sorry for him.


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

 

First Impressions – Hush

 

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

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


 

 

Mike

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

* * *

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

* * *

 

Tom

 

“Are you ready for your first security briefing?”

 

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

 

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

 

And then a man had appeared at his doorway.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

His heart pitter-pattered for a whole different reason.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

God, he wanted to lick Mike’s chest—

 

Jesus. Stop. Stop.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Shit.

 

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

 

Shit, shit.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Your Honor?”

 

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

 

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

 

Shit.

 

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

 

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

 

Building his wall against Mike.

 


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

 

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

 

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!

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

Enjoy!


 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And then there’s Reichenbach.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But now my camera is capturing fantastical images.

 

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

 

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

 

And, Reichenbach seems to have fallen under his spell.

 

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

 

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

 

Is it just friendship, though?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Has he fallen for his president?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The barbarian has fallen in love with his prince.

 

Special Agent Reichenbach is in love with President Spiers.

 

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


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

 

Crave – Jack’s POV of “the bathroom scene” in Enemies of the State

 

Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!

This week, I’m writing a lovely prompt submitted by Vanessa, who wanted to see Jack’s POV from the “bathroom scene” in Enemies of the State.

***Warning! Explicit content ahead! If you are not of legal age in your location, please do not proceed.


 

Jack stared at the mirror, his eyes locking on his own gaze. His hands gripped the edge of the dresser.

 

The shower had turned off a minute ago. He’d heard Ethan step out, close the glass door. He’d heard the towel Ethan used get pulled off the hook, the folds of terrycloth start to ruffle over Ethan’s body.

 

He’d never gone in the bathroom while Ethan was showering. While Ethan was naked. It was Ethan’s private time, his private space. And, no matter what else they’d done, they’d still never seen each other completely nude.

 

The towel was probably moving all over Ethan’s body by now. Rubbing up his legs… over his chest… down

 

Jack’s fingernails dug into the wood. A month ago, if someone told him that he’d be fantasizing about his lead Secret Service detail agent’s naked body, he’d have laughed in their face. But, here he was. Fantasizing… and wanting.

 

Footsteps, from in the bathroom. Ethan, padding to the sink. Water being turned on. The sound of teeth being brushed.

 

Ethan would be wearing the towel now. He’d have it wrapped around his waist.

 

His chest would be bare. Maybe still damp, some of the hairs on his chest catching droplets of water that clung close to his skin. He’d be warm, warm like the shower, and smell like the evergreen soap and fresh mountain body wash Jack used in the shower.

 

Jack closed his eyes. Images paraded through his mind: Ethan smiling, laughing, winking. Blowing him a silent, tiny kiss across the Oval Office, or in the West Wing. Ethan, shirtless, lying with his head in Jack’s lap as they watched the ball game. Ethan, beneath him on the couch, their cocks straining against their suit pants as they made out like giddy, love-struck teenagers.

 

His gaze slid toward the closed bathroom door. Would it be alright if he just went in and said hello? Just was there, near Ethan? It was the only place he wanted to be anymore.

 

Ethan spat, and Jack heard the water turn on. He was done with his teeth brushing.

 

Now or never.

 

He headed in.

 

Ethan froze when he saw Jack enter the bathroom. Jack flinched. Bad idea. He shouldn’t have barged in. He should grab something and pretend like he forgot it, that he needed it in the bedroom. But, damn it, he was already dressed. Tie tied, slacks pressed, starched shirt buttoned, and cuffs on. Nothing to do but go full steam ahead, then.

 

Jack leaned back against the counter, by his own sink, and crossed his arms. His gaze strayed, dropping down from Ethan’s eyes, his lips, further down, wandering over his chest. Landed on Ethan’s towel, knotted around his waist.

 

“See something you like?” Ethan’s voice was rough, deeper, edged in an emotion he so rarely heard from Ethan. Nervousness, and a hint of fear. Caution. Trepidation. Ethan held on to the towel like it was a shield. Shoulders tensed, like he was ready to run.

 

God, what was he doing? What if Ethan didn’t want him in here, really didn’t want him in here?

 

Jack gaze flicked up, back to Ethan’s. He saw everything in Ethan’s eyes: fear… and expectancy.

 

Ethan was waiting for the end. For rejection. For dismissal.

 

Jack’s throat clenched. The words wouldn’t come, not to his own mind, and not to his brain. But his heart was racing, galloping across his ribs hard enough to shatter his own fears. He wanted Ethan in so many, many ways. As his friend, as his confidante, as his mentor. As his partner, and, yes, as his lover. He wanted Ethan in every way.

 

Slowly, Jack nodded. He stepped forward, reaching for Ethan’s towel. If Ethan stopped him, he’d back off. He’d apologize, retreat, and never make the first move again.

 

He held Ethan’s gaze, hoping his eyes were speaking for him. I want everything about you. Even this. Especially this.

 

It’s been so long since I’ve been wanted.

 

The thought slammed into him, a shotgun blast of realization, despair mixed with hope. It’s been so, so long, since anyone desired me. And it’s been just as long since I desired anyone at all. Since I burned up inside for someone’s touch, or their eyes on me. Ethan, you have no idea what you’re doing to me.

 

His eyes dropped to Ethan’s waist, to the towel, to where he was slowly tugging it loose from Ethan’s hips. Ethan’s breath sped up, his chest rising and falling faster, each breath shakier than the last.

 

And then –

 

The towel fell to the floor, and Ethan – all of glorious, gorgeous, amazing Ethan – was right there. Completely naked, right in front of him.

 

His eyes roamed over Ethan’s body. Down his legs, over his chest – dusted with droplets from the shower, tiny beads of water clinging to the ends of his dark chest hair – and down again… past his belly button, and past a trimmed thatch of hair… down to his cock.

 

As Jack watched, Ethan began to harden, swelling and rising under Jack’s gaze. Ethan shuddered, a husky gasp breezing past his lips.

 

Jack’s heart sped up, galloping faster, pounding out a wild drum beat. His mouth seemed to water and go dry all at once. This was Ethan, the man he adored, the man he chose. The man he craved. He was practically dizzy, reality spinning away as he faced the man he wanted to know as a lover.

 

He bit his lip. “Can I touch you?”

 

Please.” Ethan shuddered again, and his eyes squeezed shut. “But only if you’re sure,” he amended, the caution back in his voice and his eyes open again. He was giving Jack an out, an “oops, sorry, I didn’t mean it when I said I wanted to try this.” Or, “I don’t want to go this far.” Or even, “I don’t want to touch or see your body.”

 

None of that, God, none of that was true. He hungered for Ethan, in every single way.

 

Touching Ethan’s cock for the first time felt like stroking raw lightning. He felt their skin connect, felt the jolt, the sizzle, pure raw power twined with lust rocketing up the nerves in his arms, sprinting for his heart, and for his own cock. “What do I do?” I want to be good for you.

 

“Anything,” Ethan breathed. His knees wobbled, almost buckled. “It’s like touching yourself. Just do what you like.” Ethan bit his lip after he spoke.

 

I will make this good for you. Jack wrapped his hand around Ethan and stroked, firmly, his hand a constant pressure, up and down. He added a twist to his wrist and Ethan gasped. Sounded like he almost swallowed his tongue. Jack rubbed his thumb over Ethan’s cock head, swiping away a bead of pre-come and smearing it on Ethan’s skin. Ethan moaned again, loudly.

 

“Faster.”

 

Ethan was close. Jack could feel it. The way his body quivered, the way he bit his lip. The way he whimpered, just barely, with every breath and every stroke. He was doing this to Ethan, him, Jack. He was making Ethan come undone. Exhilaration shot through him, a mad mix of delight and wonder and frenetic energy. His own lust, his own desire, roared.

 

Ethan pitched forward and his hands rose, grabbing Jack’s shoulders. Buckling, Ethan seemed to try and crumple into Jack, fold himself into Jack’s reach and his hold. He hissed, clenching his teeth together, and held Jack’s gaze.

 

Warm come drenched Jack’s hand as Ethan trembled, as he bucked, as he exploded, coming apart beneath Jack’s touch.

 

Holy God. Jack stared at his hand, at Ethan, shattered and dragging in deep gasps of air, and at the come covering his fingers. He could smell Ethan, Jesus, he could smell his musk, his scent, the power of his soul

 

“Are you okay?” Ethan’s eyes were wide, fear firmly back in place even stronger than before. His face was red, flushed.

 

What could he ever say after that? He couldn’t even form words in his brain, couldn’t line up the letters of the alphabet to be coherent.

 

He, Jack, had brought Ethan to orgasm. This must be how Eve felt, tasting forbidden fruit. I can never get enough of you, Ethan.

 

He grabbed Ethan and pulled him close, dragging his naked body hard against his suit pants and dress shirt. Ethan’s hands landed on his hips, roamed up his sides, down his back, and squeezed his ass as Jack captured his lips. The kiss turned filthy fast, tongues dueling, lips battling, sucking. He wanted to crawl into Ethan’s arms. He wanted to be naked, all the way naked, now. He wanted to feel everything, absolutely everything, with Ethan.

 

His hands dropped to his fly, working the button, the zipper. The sound was too loud in the bathroom, a siren in between their kisses and sighs.

 

Ethan pulled back, enough to catch a breath between their lips. “Jack… Are you sure?”

 

“Yes! Touch me! Ethan, please!”

 

Ethan backed him up roughly against the counter and then batted his hands away from his zipper. In a moment, in between one kiss and the next, Jack’s pants were undone and his boxers were pulled down, his cock jutting free and arching to the sky. Ethan dropped to his knees, groaned, and nuzzled Jack’s crotch, his nose buried in the hairs above his cock, his cheek brushing over Jack’s shaft.

 

Jack fumbled on the counter, searching for a handhold before he collapsed. God, Ethan’s mouth, his lips, his breath

 

He knocked over his deodorant and toothpaste as his hands scrabbled over the tile, fingernails digging into grout. Ethan’s lips dusted up his shaft, and then—

 

Jesus, none of his dreams, nothing he’d imagined, none of the furtive, desperate strokes and gasps he’d buried facedown in his pillow could ever compare to this. Could ever compare to the feel of Ethan, Ethan on his knees in front of him, nuzzling, sucking, swallowing—

 

He moaned, some breathy kind of grunt mixed with a howl. A primal noise, something that came from somewhere deep, deep within him, something that hadn’t ever been touched. He looked down, and found Ethan looking back up at him. Jack reached for him, one come-wet thumb stroking over the hollow of Ethan’s cheek.

 

Ethan moaned and closed his eyes, and then swallowed him whole.

 

It had been two too many decades since he’d had a blow job, and Jack had exactly zero stamina for this kind of soul-shattering pleasure. Ethan’s moans, his tongue, that look in his eyes when he gazed up at Jack, like he’d been yearning for this, had been aching for Jack, like every part and piece of him was tuned into to making every atom in Jack’s body sing – everything came together in a heartbeat.

 

He came with a shout, his orgasm surprising him. Like a hurricane moving through him and being sucked out of his cock, his orgasm shredded him, ripped him to the four corners of the earth by Ethan’s lips and tongue.

 

Ethan moaned and his eyes rolled back, closing. Just barely, Jack caught sight of Ethan furiously stroking his own cock. Ethan shuddered and shook, gasping around Jack like he was coming again, too. But that was just too incredible to think on. Ethan, coming again because he’d blown Jack?

 

His thoughts wouldn’t add up. Jack floated, the universe and everything in it reduced to the feel of Ethan’s lips sliding off his shaft, the delicate kiss pressed to the side of his cock head. Ethan’s face, his cheek, resting against his thigh. Warm breath on skin no one had ever kissed.

 

Jack collapsed, falling to his knees and sliding down the bathroom cabinets right in front of Ethan. His pants were ruined, crumpled and wrinkled. His shirt was disheveled, and his tie was undone, askew. His cock was still hanging out, softening.

 

“I’m sorry.” Ethan’s voice was rough, gravely in a way Jack had never heard. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

 

That had been exactly what he’d wanted. Exactly what he’d craved without even knowing it.

 

Maybe he’d pushed the envelope. Maybe starting this in the middle of their morning routine wasn’t the most ideal time. Maybe they should have talked first. But, he wanted to be closer to Ethan, closer in every way.

 

He wanted to be Ethan’s lover. Wanted to make love to Ethan. Wanted Ethan to make love to him.

 

“Shut up.” He grinned. “And kiss me.”

 

Ethan surged forward, wrapping him up in both arms and kissed him deeply, tingles running all the way down to his toes, bursts like fireworks going off in his heart.

 

This is working, Ethan. This is so working.

 

We’re going to be lovers.

 

And I’m going to fall in love with you.

 

 


Timestamp: Enemies of the State, Chapter 27. While Jack and Ethan are secretly dating in the White House.

 

Shattered – Adam and Faisal move to Bahrain

 

Welcome to this week’s Bauer’s Bytes!

Today, we’re diving back into Adam and Faisal, and where we left off after Enemy Within. How is Adam dealing with all of the massive changes in his life? How are Faisal’s family treating him? What’s on the horizon for them both? ***Spoiler Warning! If you have not read Enemy Within, this Byte is not for you!!***

 


 

Bahrain.

 

The Island Kingdom of Bahrain, eighty-six islands governed by a king, connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia. Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.

 

Adam had been there before, when he was a Marine. He’d been in Juffair and strolled on the cornice, sweated it out under the Persian sun. Eyed the one or two men who made him ache for Faisal, with their slender bodies hidden in thawbs as their mirrored sunglasses reflected rainbows across the sand and sea.

 

Now, he was in Bahrain as the Saudi Arabian ambassador’s husband.

 

He felt adrift, like a hot air balloon that had lost its tether, and he was floating high into the sky. What world had he stumbled into? When would he wake up from this dream? Surely, he was still on the ice in the Arctic. Surely, he’d taken a bullet, maybe to the brain, and he was living a lifetime in the last gasping breaths of his real life, spinning a fantasy of his perfect dreams that could never, ever come true.

 

Sometimes he stayed up, watching Faisal sleep through the long hours of the night. He tracked the moon across the sky, watched the stars twirl in constellations. Don’t ever, ever end, he pleaded to the darkness. I don’t care if I’m mad. If I’m insane. This is the life I want.

 

Faisal would always stir and catch him, sleepily nuzzling closer and pulling him into his arms. “I’ve got you,” he would whisper. “It’s okay. I’m here, habibi.”

 

When he did sleep, there were nightmares. Endless stretches of ice, Arctic wilderness, and Cook’s dead eyes. Cook, rising from the ice like a zombie punching out of his grave, clawing his way back to the surface. Sneering, boasting about how he was going to kill Faisal and drink his blood, slobbering and snapping like a wild, feral beast. That moment in the RusFuel station, and this time he wasn’t fast enough, and Cook pulled the trigger. Faisal, dead on the deck, a growing pool of blood spreading around his lifeless body. Faisal’s eyes always stared up at him, pupils blown wide in death, and full of shock. Betrayal. How could you do this to me, habibi?

 

“I’m here, habibi.”

 

Sometimes his tears soaked the back of Faisal’s neck as Faisal slept. He kissed each one away, every tear and every kiss a promise of another lifetime at Faisal’s side. Forever and ever and ever. In shaa Allah.

 

The first week, they stayed at King Faisal’s massive palace in Riyadh. Adam walked like a cat in a room full of angry rocking chairs, rocking chairs with shark teeth that were waiting to eat him. Never before had a westerner been in the Saudi Arabian king’s residential palace. Spent the night, and dined with him in the morning on his private terrace, eating dates and nuts and drinking yogurt and fruit juice. Prayed at the king’s side, listening to his wizened voice whisper prayers for Faisal and himself amidst the salat, the daily prayers.

 

Never before had a western man made love to the Saudi crown princeling in the king’s palace.

 

Faisal kissed him on the terrace at breakfast one morning, and he was certain he’d lose his head by the afternoon. But King Faisal and Uncle Abdul just smiled and chuckled, clucking before they turned back to their dates and morning briefings on Kingdom security and global politics. Faisal squeezed his hand tight, relief and love and so much more bursting from his gaze.

 

If he really thought about it, he was probably in seventeen different kinds of shock. His soul was yoyoing, flinging between memories of the Arctic and the aching emptiness he’d felt, the way the whole universe had seemed empty at the thought of Faisal’s death. There was no point in the sun shining, in the earth spinning, if Faisal was gone from the world. No point at all.

 

From the Arctic to the desert, and being flung into the deep end of the Saudi Arabian monarchy. Whispered words and gentle footfalls on marble, servants that scurried always out of sight, gold everywhere he looked. He couldn’t quite bring himself to sit on the gold toilet, or the gold bidet. In his whole life, he’d never earn enough money to afford one gold toilet. There was one in every bathroom he saw.

 

Wealth that was impossible to imagine. A culture that, even for being with Faisal for years, was still alien to him. The slowness, the way the days bled together, the hours smearing. A conversation started over breakfast could wile away the day. As a Marine, he’d done a thousand different things before lunch. Here, he was lucky to be dressed.

 

A faith that was new in his heart, and prickly on his bones. He prayed whenever it got too quiet, whenever he started to hear himself think. Allah, I give everything in my life to you. My life is a top that is spinning and spinning and spinning. Let it spin forever.

 

Help me be a good husband.

 

Help me know what to do now.

 

He didn’t know what he thought would happen with Faisal’s family – with their family – but they welcomed him in warmly. He prayed beside King Faisal and Uncle Abdul, prostrating together with them, listening to whispered prayers, and felt his soul rise in time with theirs. Afterward, they held his hands, kissed his cheeks, and called him son.

 

His hot air balloon floated higher and higher, and the air he breathed seemed to get thinner.

 

Finally, and all too soon, he and Faisal were on their way to Bahrain. He didn’t want to leave the palace, at first. The king and Uncle Abdul had become more family to him, in just a week, than his own family had ever been. He saw the same twang of loss in Faisal’s eyes as they said their goodbyes, and, for the first time, he understood exactly how much Faisal was willing to give up to stay with him. He almost ran for the nearest gold toilet, the shame slamming into him like lightning. He swallowed down his bile, his rising vomit, his guilt. Allah, I’m not worth that much. I am not. Help him see that.

 

Help me be worthy of his love. Of his devotion. Because I am not now. Allah, guide me.

 

An hour-long flight on the king’s private jet took them to Bahrain. Manama’s skyline, shark teeth skyscrapers against the Arabian blue waters and the scorched sand, stood out in shimmering heat waves. Green grass, manicured and curated, gleamed alongside the mosaic walkways of the cornice and the promenades. Islands snaked around the capital, spits of sand that boasted a thousand homes each.

 

Faisal leaned in, pressing his cheek against Adam’s, and pointed out the window. “See that little island, shaped like a nine?”

 

Adam’s breath stuttered. He nodded. It was an island paradise in every sense of the word. Spacious villas that dotted the curly end of the island, front yards pointed to the private lagoon, back yards to the ocean. On the other side of the tiny island, promenades and cafes, shops and restaurants, and a marina filled with classic dhows and Gulf superyachts. A millionaire’s island, wreathed in luxury, drenched in sunshine, and resting in the diamond blue waters of the Persian Gulf.

 

“We live there.”

 

He squeezed Faisal’s hand until his knuckles went white.

 

Their driver took them from the airport to the island shaped like a nine, Reef Island. A private causeway separated their island from the mainland, and even in the road, mosaics had been laid with care. He expected diamonds in their driveway, more gold, maybe emeralds and rubies on their fenceposts.

 

His breath faltered again as they drove into the high-walled gated yard surrounding their villa. Almost a compound, but not quite. Sprawling would be putting it mildly. His and Faisal’s new home stretched around the bend of the island, facing the sea. Sailboats lazily drifted in the distance. Marble and gold filled the home, and Middle Eastern accents, relics of history from a dozen civilizations that museums the world over would pay millions for. Pottery from Sumer, art from the Assyrians. Tablets of the Babylonians. Swords from Arabia. Mesopotamian statues. Framed papyrus from ancient Egypt. Silk chairs and couches, linen and gauze curtains. Even the air he breathed felt expensive.

 

In the back, an infinity pool reached for the sea, tumbling down a short waterfall at the edge of the yard, as if he could swim from the pool to the ocean and back. Decks and gazebos were artfully hidden behind overflowing blooms of flowers, private niches where they could hide and be undisturbed.

 

“Our bedroom is here.” Faisal guided him down one hallway, off the three-story foyer and grand sitting room. A gold filigree map of Saudi Arabia hung on one wall. The sun glinted off the sea through massive windows, sparking the golden threads within the map. Sparkles followed them everywhere.

 

He’d never seen a more massive bed. He could live his whole life in the silk sheets, in the continent of the down mattress, and within the folds of Faisal’s arms.

 

Faisal squeezed his hand and led him back through the house, pointing out the kitchen – which they wouldn’t use – the dining room, and the prayer room. Mosaics covered the walls, and banners proclaiming the shadada hung in black and gold filigree. A niche in the wall pointed west, toward Mecca, and a plush rug had been laid out for their daily prayers.

 

“Do you like it?” Faisal still held his hand. “I wanted to get something nice for you.”

 

“Nice?” Adam chuckled, still struggling to breathe the expensive, ornate air. “This is more than nice. This is the kind of wealth I— No, I actually don’t think I ever imagined something this grand. I… I don’t belong here.”

 

Faisal frowned. “Of course you belong here.”

 

“This is far, far, far too good for me.”

 

“Every star in the sky is not enough for you. Every pearl in the ocean, or diamond from the earth is not enough for you, Adam.”

 

“Oh, God.” Adam turned away, covering his face with his hands. His thawb bunched at his elbows, and his keffiyeh tickled his neck. “Don’t say that, please. I’m not worth that much.” I almost got you killed. Loving me almost ripped you from your family. I’m nothing but a drain on you, and I always will be.

 

Faisal’s gentle hands pried his away. He smiled, his radiance shining on Adam, and one delicate hand ghosted down his face, over his lips. “Habibi. Ya rouhi. Enta habibi ya hayati.”

 

Adam flinched, gasping, and his eyes screwed shut. Faisal’s hand cupped his cheek. “That’s what you said to me on the ice. After we married. When I was—”

 

The memories played like an Imax film, perfect clarity, perfect sound, perfect emotions. Like he was back there, reliving every nanosecond, every heartbeat. Every one of Faisal’s tears. His decision to die, and the agony of saying goodbye to Faisal for this life. Goosebumps rose, the chill of the Arctic flooding his soul.

 

“I will say those words to you every day, every hour, until the nightmares fall away, habibi.” Leaning in, Faisal pressed his forehead to Adam’s, nuzzling close. “I’m here, with you. For you. Ya rouhi.”

 

“This really is too much,” Adam breathed, after a moment.

 

Nothing is too much for you.”

 

“You don’t see it, do you? The wealth, the expense? You come from a completely different world than I do. It’s… overwhelming, habibi.”

 

Faisal smiled, and his hands rose again, cradling Adam’s cheeks. “I see it all.”

 

“I don’t know if I can get used to this.”

 

Hani, I see it, but I never let it have power over me. These things, they don’t matter. I want to give you the best at all times, but that doesn’t mean the best of wealth. Or of trinkets. The best is us, together, wherever that may be. Here, in this ridiculous villa.” He smiled, and sneaked a kiss on Adam’s lips. “Or in a studio in Paris. A flat in London, over a pizza place or an Indian restaurant, where we always smell of curry. A farm in America, where we hide from the world. A tent in the desert. A cardboard box on a street corner.” Another kiss. “Nothing is too much for you, habibi, because everything of me is for you. Is yours. For all time.”

 

And that was the end of his control. Adam sagged into Faisal’s hold, the tears flowing freely, burying his face in Faisal’s neck as he clung to him. Faisal held him close, stroked his skin, and whispered words of love into his ear. Soft Arabic on warm wind, the feel of sun on his skin, Faisal in his arms. Perfection. Perfection in every single way.

 

When he pulled back, he finally took a deep breath. His throat didn’t close, didn’t reject the golden air, and as he took in the villa, the wealth, the majesty, he saw it with new eyes. It was a beautiful home, a stunning backdrop, but the true wealth, and where their lives truly centered, was in the space between them. The juncture of their hands. The meeting of their lips. The curves of their hearts, nestling together, and the way the folds of their souls merged and joined whenever their eyes caught and held.

 

“Thank you,” he whispered. “For everything.” Thank you for waiting for me.

 

Subhanallah.”

 

Ana bahibak.”

 

Faisal beamed. He held out his hand. “What shall we do first? Swim? Eat? Make love? Run naked through the house and the gardens?”

 

Laughing, Adam kissed the back of his hand. “We’d swim naked at your old palace. That always led to good times.”

 

“Swimming it is, then.” Faisal stepped back and pulled off his keffiyeh, and then his thawb. He left both on the marble floor, piles of white cotton, and stood before Adam, completely nude. He winked. “Your turn.”


Timestamp: Adam and Faisal, post Enemy Within.

Faith (Part II) – Scenes from Enemy Within

 

This week, we’re concluding the first person switcheroo scenes with three from Enemy Within. *** If you haven’t read Enemy Within, this Byte is not for you!***

How did Levi handle discovering Scott’s secret? What was Ilya thinking, keeping the faith in Siberia as he waited for Sergey? What went through Scott’s head as he made his final decision?

Happy reading!


 

Levi

Wondering, at the White House

 

It can’t be. It can’t be.

 

But of course it can. Madigan has shown us all, over and over again, that we cannot trust our own friends. Our own minds.

 

But Scott? No… it can’t be. Scott is Ethan’s best friend. They have more history together than a high school textbook. They’re salt and pepper shakers, a matched set, the dynamic duo, the wonder twins, the terrible twosome. There’s nothing those two haven’t done together. They’ll probably be in the same retirement home, the two of them together, still, bitching about the satellite and cracking jokes, and telling stories about the good ole days.

 

Scott would be the perfect man to turn, for Madigan. If Madigan can turn Scott, he can shred Ethan’s world. And Spiers’s world. The entire world, right from the center of the heart.

 

If Scott turns, that will be it. The world will be over. For Ethan, for sure. For Spiers. For everyone. Scott would be the key to Madigan’s victory. He could destroy everything. Everything.

 

Has he been a plant all along? How many years has this been in the making?

 

Jesus, the walls are fucking moving, shrinking in on me. I can’t fucking see right, can’t hear. There’s a Goddamn train approaching, coming up behind me, but I can’t see it. I can’t see anything. Not even the obvious.

 

Where the hell is Scott’s background investigation?

 

What is he hiding?

 

What the hell do I do?

 

If Scott has turned, then it’s over. The world is over. I can’t fucking stop it, not here, not now, when I’m in DC and Scott is a million miles away, right beside Ethan and Spiers, racing… to Madigan… at the top of the world.

 

How will Scott do it? How will he kill Spiers? Betray Ethan? Will he look Ethan in the eyes? Or will it be a knife in the back?

 

I puke before the images come, just the thoughts, the dread, enough to make me grab my trashcan and hurl.

 

Scott…

 

It can’t be. I don’t care what the evidence says. I cannot believe that Scott will stab Ethan in the back. There is no evidence, no calculus, no facts and figures or probabilities that can override what my heart is saying. Scott, Goddamn it, is Ethan’s best friend.

 

He has to be on our side.

 

I rest my forehead on the edge of the garbage bin. Black plastic digs into my skin. I can smell my sour vomit, see flecks of my cereal in the bile.

 

Fact. Scott has no background check.

 

Fact. Madigan has a traitor in Ethan and Spiers’s inner circle.

 

Fact. Scott is Ethan’s best friend.

 

Fact. Madigan has proven that we can trust no one.

 

Not even best friends.

 

I stack all the background check folders again, and I crumple the sticky note with Scott’s name on it. Toss it into the trash, on top of my vomit.

 

Accessory after the fact. Accomplice. I’m neither, but if Scott’s a traitor, and if civilization is around to try me after this, that’s what I’ll be tarred and feathered for. Covering up Scott’s tracks. Not turning in a traitor. Not saying something, when I damned well should have.

 

Please… please be on our side.

 

* * *

 

Ilya

Waiting for Sergey in Siberia, just before Sasha arrives with Kilaqqi.

 

Siberia is a cold, heartless place.

 

I’ve always known that Siberia is a tomb, a graveyard of hopes and dreams, built on bones and frozen tears. If I tried to calculate all the people who vanished into Siberia, all the prisoners, all the victims, my mind would shut down at the scale of the numbers.

 

Will it be my tomb, as well?

 

Is it already Sergey’s tomb?

 

Every day, I stand on the snow-covered track – only the most generous person would call it a road – and stare into Siberia. I smoke my cigarettes into the wind, clinging to the edge of town, as if the embers of my cigarette are a lighthouse for Sergey to follow home.

 

He’s out there. I know it. I’ve spent thirty years at the man’s side. I know him better than he knows himself. I know all his faults and foibles, his blind spots and his weaknesses. How he plays the jokester just a little too long. How quick he is to anger, a short fuse with a hot temper, but how that peters out in moments, leaving him like a sagging parachute.

 

How lonely he’s been, since Natalia. Probably since Irina, his first wife. Natalia was a political move, both into and out of his second marriage.

 

How he never knows what’s going on in his own heart.

 

Sergey has been wedded to Russia for years, ever since our wild-eyed fantasy of a better country slowly became a reality we could work for. Moving up the ranks, carefully. Positioning ourselves, in Putin’s crazed, criminal state. Ready to take advantage when the cards came tumbling down. Sergey was smart not to be the first president after Putin. Of course that one was going to be assassinated. No, he was the second president. The one who lived.

 

And he put all his hopes into our plan. Scheming, calculating, building up the evidence. Preparing for the final day when it was enough, when he could sign the arrest warrants and order the strike, and change Russia more in one day than any president had in almost a hundred years.

 

After the sweep, Sergey was different. How could he not be? Everything he had dedicated his life to had come to pass. The big moment, the event he’d worked toward for years had come and gone. He was left on the other side, a seasoned man with exactly one friend and an empty home.

 

Was it any wonder that he’s fixed his attentions on Sasha?

 

A new project, I thought. His and President Spiers’s friendship was breaking the airwaves. He is truly serious about equality, and care, and changing the country, I said.

 

Sasha was a difficult friend to make.

 

As gregarious as Sergey is, Sasha is silent. As joking as Sergey is, Sasha is withdrawn. Dour. But I watched that twinkle in Sergey’s eye, the one that came when he was trying to wheedle conversation out of Sasha, or a story, or even a smile.

 

He got that same twinkle in his eyes with both of his wives, early on.

 

But the idea was ludicrous, the thought preposterous. Sergey…? No. I would have known, if so.

 

Sasha is as obvious – to me – as a billboard erected on the Garden Ring, proclaiming his free fall for Sergey, his massively deepening crush, in screaming neon colors. Sidelong glances that flick away and back, like he can’t bear to look or look away. The way his whole body angles toward Sergey, as if his center of gravity is Sergey’s heart and soul. The way he tries to run from his feelings, stoic and ferocious in his silence and his nearly-invisible yearning.

 

Sergey is as blind as ever. Or, I  think, perhaps it’s his silent way of saying no.

 

Whatever is going on between them, Sergey is happy again. As happy as I’d seen him in years. I thought no further than that.

 

In Russia, I’ve learned to accept happiness when it comes, as it so very, very rarely does.

 

Wherever they are, they are still together. I know that in my bones, in my blood. As I smoke my cigarette, and watch the smoke mingle with the snow and the fog, the ever-present gloom of Siberia, I know at least this much. Sasha will never leave Sergey’s side. Not unless Sergey dies.

 

Or unless he goes to die for Sergey.

 

What would Sergey be after Sasha?

 

Two men, two unlikely men, who have now become entirely fused. At least, in my mind. What about in the world?

 

Sergey, damn you, where are you? The country needs you. Crawl out of the wasteland, the tomb of Siberia. Come back. I’m doing everything I can, putting the country back together piece by piece, for you. For you. There is no other man who I will give Russia back to. Come back.

 

Sasha, wherever you are, bring him back. I know you’re together, side by side. You’d never leave him, Sasha. Never.

 

Sergey wouldn’t know what to do if you did.

 

I stand in the snow, staring down the fog-covered track into Siberia, willing two men to appear from the dead, from the graveyard of Russia. My smoke swirls with the gloom, indistinguishable from the haunting, ever present malaise.

 

Come back, both of you. Together.

 

* * *

 

Scott

After Jack goes to Ethan on the Veduschiy.

 

Save yourself, Jack said. I promised I’d bring you back to your family.

 

Go. Flee. Escape. Save your life.

 

Let Jack and Ethan die.

 

Ethan’s screams had raked down my bones, clawed through my brain. Made me want to rip out my hair and gouge out my eardrums. Tears stream down my cheeks, every step taken away from Jack, Ethan and Madigan a knife in my back, in my spine. My tears freeze on my face, cracking as I try to breathe, my inhales quaking, my soul trembling.

 

Ethan is my best friend. And Jack is my president. Ethan’s husband.

 

I close my eyes. My wife, my daughter, flash in front of my eyes. I love you so much. So, so much. Remember me.

 

Turning around, I head back for Madigan’s base. For Jack. For Ethan.

 

Ethan is my best friend. I will never leave him behind.

 


Timestamp: Enemy Within

Faith (Part I) – Scenes from Enemy of My Enemy

 

This week, I’m giving you something a little different. I’ve strung two shorter Bytes together to form the first part of a multi-part series where we look into specific moments in the series, told from another character’s point of view. This week, two scenes from Enemy of My Enemy.

How did Scott handle the attack in Sochi? How does Uncle Abdul deal with Adam coming back into Faisal’s life?

Spoilers for Enemy of My Enemy! If you haven’t read Enemy of My Enemy, do not read ahead!

Next week, we’ll look at moments in Enemy Within.

Happy Reading!

 

 


 

Scott

 

It happened again. Jesus fuck, how can it happen again?

 

In training, at the Secret Service Academy, we’re all taught the numbers. The statistics, the probability. The likelihood that you’re going to take a bullet in the chest for your protectee. We get the street rep for being tough bullet-sponges, but in the history of the Secret Service, not many have had to face that. We’re too anal-fucking-retentive on the back end to get surprised on the front.

 

But we got spanked in Ethiopia. After, we realized we weren’t playing with a full deck, and Ethiopia was always going to happen, no matter how tight Ethan’s planning was, how secure his operation to protect Spiers had been. How can you win when you’re going up against traitors inside your own government?

 

But this… Jesus Christ. Sochi was supposed to be a retreat. You can’t call it a vacation when two world leaders are planning massive military operations and a rogue general is sinking Russian naval ships. But this wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. Russia, and Puchkov, are our allies now.

 

So why the fuck am I running with Ethan and Spiers and ducking bullets… again?

 

It can’t happen twice. I told myself that every fucking night, after Ethan moved back to DC and into the White House. It just can’t happen twice. There can’t be two attacks on a president. The numbers, the statistics, they don’t support it.

 

Still, I went apeshit with protections, once I had command of the detail full time. Triple the number of agents, closed ranks, tighter security cordons. I kept Spiers in, too. He didn’t travel. Not unless he absolutely had to.

 

What if it does happen again? What if they’re both attacked? I kept myself up at night, my brain like a hamster on crack, spinning its wheels until the screws in my head came loose. If what happened in Ethiopia happens again, who the fuck will I throw myself in front of? Who will I catch a bullet for? Spiers? The fucking president? Ethan’s love of his life?

 

Or Ethan? My best friend, my brother, my fucking knuckleheaded shitshow brother who went and fell for the Goddamn president of the United States. Fucking Ethan…

 

It can’t happen again, I said. Every night.

 

Now, Ethan is shadowing my moves, acting like he’s some kind of Secret Service agent again. God, I wish he was. I wish he was still Ethan, still the other half of me in these kinds of fucked-up situations. I wish I could predict what he’d do, how he’d move, where he’d go next. But everything is fucked now. His focus isn’t on the mission or on me, his battle buddy. His focus is on Spiers. Just like Ethiopia, and Saudi, and the fucking White House, all over again. He’ll give everything, sacrifice everything, to this man. Damn it, Ethan.

 

Olympic Stadium is in sight. I can see it. The chopper is coming in. We’re almost fucking out. I swear to fucking God, we’ll never leave the White House again. Spiers will be the first homebody president. House arrest. I can fucking do that, after all this shit. I can bench him. It’s a digital world now. Spiers doesn’t have to go anywhere. He can tele-fucking-commute.

 

Then, the hostage. The man in the street, taunting Spiers, seemingly summoned by Madigan’s voice over the comms.

 

Ethan was all out of fucks to give. He executed the man, a single shot to the center of the forehead, and dropped him. Ethan is terrifying, when he gets into this mode, this beastly protective warrior mode; he’s ruthless. That ruthlessness has saved my life more times than I want to count. We’ve never talked about it. It’s just something inside Ethan, some cliff edge that he can leap off of and do anything – fucking anything – to save the people he cares for. Some edge of his soul, and a yawning darkness, a pit inside of him, that waits.

 

I get agents to the hostage before the body hits the ground. What is this? What are we dealing with? Is this a bomb? A booby trap? A suicide bomber in disguise? My agents weren’t gentle. They rip off the hood and strip open the jumpsuit, roughly patting the hostage down as fast as they can. There’s no time. The chopper is coming in, and we have to go.

 

I need to get Ethan and Spiers out of there. Right fucking now.

 

And then Spiers is running, taking off like a bat out of hell for the hostage, screaming at the top of his lungs. Ethan, damn him, is chasing the man, and everyone looks like they just saw a fucking ghost.

 

“Les! Les! It’s me! It’s Jack!”

 

Leslie Fucking Spiers.

 

It’s a clusterfuck hurricane after that. Spiers is a prick and won’t listen to anything we say. He’s 200% focused on his dead wife, holding her in his arms, carrying her to the chopper, ignorant as fuck about the raging gun battle still going on around him. Or of Ethan, watching the love of his life gaze down at his dead wife with tears in his eyes.

 

Ethan was as still as a statue, creepily unmoving. Like if he moved, he’d shatter. He just watched Spiers with the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen on him. What the fuck is going through his head? I’ve known him for years, decades, and, for the first time, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking. What he’s feeling.

 

He and I are last in the chopper. I should be with Spiers. I should be with the president. I’m the fucking presidential detail lead.

 

But… I can’t pretend Ethan doesn’t mean more to me than Spiers does.

 

Spiers is a job. Ethan is my brother.

 

Jesus, I can’t even look at that asshole Spiers right now. He’s holding his dead wife and sobbing, and he hasn’t once fucking looked at Ethan. Does he even fucking care? Fuck him. Fuck Spiers.

 

“Are you with me?” I leaned into Ethan, trying to shout into his ear over the roar of the rotors.

 

Ethan said nothing. He grabbed a rifle and racked the slide, chambered a round, and then leaned out of the edge of the cargo hold, scanning. If only there was something to shoot. Goddamn, I’d have given anything for something to fucking destroy, for the two of us to shred with bullets, as Ethan screamed and raged into the night.

 

But there was nothing. I stayed at Ethan’s side the whole flight, our backs to Spiers, and as the roar of the battle faded, Spiers’s quiet sobs were the only sounds in the chopper. I felt Ethan stiffen beside me. Felt the pull of his energy, that dark, dangerous force that was Ethan’s soul, draw inward. I reached for him, grabbed his leg, and held on. He trembled beneath my touch.

 

Ethan was in freefall. He’d leaped off the fucking edge. He was gone, fucking gone.

 

And I didn’t know when – or if – he was going to hit bottom.

 


 

Uncle Abdul

 

You!” My blood boiled, hotter than the sands of the Rub’ al Khali. “What are you doing here?”

 

It was him. That man, the one who’d –

 

I shook my head. No. Don’t think it. Don’t bring it to life. Don’t give it power.

 

Before me, Adam Cooper hung weakly in my guard’s grasp, hefted up by his neck and pressed against the wall. His wide eyes pleaded with mine, and his fingers scratched at my guard’s hand, closing around his throat.

 

Yallah.” Drop him. This worthless man wasn’t worth the headache that would come from his untimely death in the hospital. “You… you pretended to be that journalist.”

 

How dare this man, this American! After everything, to come back here? Now? I wanted to murder him. I wanted to give into my rage, my frustration, give into my need for an outlet. A target. A reason.

 

And I wanted to pretend he was nothing. That he didn’t exist. That he never, ever had existed.

 

I watched him stand, slowly. Unsteadily. His eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, like he’d been crying. “Your Royal Highness, Governor of Riyadh, Prince Abdul al-Saud,” he grunted. “I’m here to see your nephew.”

 

“It is forbidden!” Never again. Never again would I allow these two men together. If I could, I’d forbid them from being in the same country together. This man should be refused entry to the Kingdom. He should be ejected, deported, packed onto the next flight, never to return. “Faisal told me it was finished! That you had left him!”

 

Adam cringed. “It was. It is. But he’s hurt—”

 

“And you think you have some kind of right to see my nephew? After what you did! Wallah! You should stay away from him!”

 

“I love him.” Adam breathed, the tough exterior he was trying to cling to shattering. His face twisted, and he gasped again. A sob strangled his voice. “I love him!” Tears built in his eyes.

 

No, no, this man did not love my nephew. If he loved him, if he truly loved Faisal, then he wouldn’t have left. I would not have had to watch Faisal turn to a shell, a wraith that stalked the halls of the palace with dulled, lifeless eyes. I would not have had to pretend not to notice his tearstained cheeks every morning. I wouldn’t have had to carefully rearrange everything so that I was constantly at Faisal’s side, never leaving him alone.

 

We said nothing, never spoke of it, these long months, as spring rolled to summer, and then autumn, through winter, and back to spring. A whole year of mourning. A year of Faisal’s broken heart, day in and day out.

 

Faisal tried to hide himself from me. He dried his eyes, made excuses for his lack of appetite. I watched, and I waited, and I stayed. I stayed.

 

That is love, caring for someone, even if you cannot say why. Even if you cannot speak the words, cannot break open the secret binding your souls. I love my nephew. I always, always will.

 

This man, this pretender, this infidel. He is nothing. He is less than nothing. He hurt my blood. And for that, he will never be anything, ever again. “That makes it worse!” I grabbed him and hauled him down the hallway. He followed like a broken toy. “Do you not understand? The mutawwa’in could kill him! He is not safe from their punishments, just because he is royal. Not anymore!”

 

I won’t let this man’s arrogance, his Americanism, his ignorance of everything, lead to the end of my nephew’s life.

 

“We were careful-”

“This is not careful! Storming into the hospital? How many saw you? How many will ask questions?”

 

I turned away from him, my hands clenching the gold-braided edges of my robes. My teeth clenched. I wanted to strangle this man. “When Faisal’s father and mother died, I promised my brother’s memory that I would raise his son and care for him. That he would be safe, and he would be loved. Faisal is my blood.” I turned back, my gaze hard enough to cut diamonds. I could feel my wrath pouring from me, outward, like swords stabbing Adam until there was nothing left, and his influence had vanished from our lives, and the hurt of his abandonment had fled from Faisal’s soul. “My blood. My family.”

 

“Please,” Adam whispered. “Please… Can you tell me if he’s all right?”

 

How dare this man! To keep pressing— I recited sūras in my mind, du’a for patience, for guidance.

 

What do I do? What do I do, faced with a man I pretended didn’t exist? When faced with a man who has hurt my blood so fiercely? How do I navigate this? What is the right path? Allah, guide me. I spoke carefully. “His liver was punctured. Almost all of it has been removed. He’ll need a new one cloned and another surgery. But…for now, he is resting. They say in time, he will recover completely.”

 

A sob burst from Adam’s chest. Tears built in his eyes, and he turned away as he buried his face in his hands. He heaved one shaking breath after another, seeming to sob out his soul into the palms of his hands.

 

Finally, after an age, he wiped his eyes and faced me again.

 

Misery. Dejection. Loss. Aching loneliness. Despair.

 

I have seen these emotions. I saw them every day in my nephew’s watery eyes. In the slump of his shoulders. In the quiet sigh of his anguished prayers.

 

What happened between these men? What happened that sent my nephew into a depression that has lasted for a year, has rooted an unshakeable gloom on his soul?

 

Why this man? Why this choice? Faisal has the Kingdom and the whole world in the palm of his hands, and yet he mopes for this one bedraggled American. Why?

 

Faisal claims he loves this man. He loves Adam. Loves him enough to tell me no, he will not agree to an arranged marriage. He will not marry any woman. Will not follow the path laid out for him, the one that led to the crown.

 

“I will marry him, if he’ll have me,” Faisal had breathed, once.

 

Why Adam? Why this man?

 

I frowned. “I thought that he was merely exhausting his lust. It’s not unheard of for young, virile men to seek out a willing body for their needs, provided they end up with a wife in the end.”

 

Adam looked away. “It was so much more.”

 

“It would be easier if it was just lust. Love makes it complicated.”

 

Faisal… Do you still love Adam? Do you still dream about this man? “Are you familiar with Abu Huraira?”

 

“A bit. Faisal used to speak of him. He was a scribe of Mohammed?”

 

′Alayhi as-salām. Yes. There is a hadith that speaks of Abu Huraira’s torment as a young man. His lack of desire for women and marriage, namely. He went to the prophet, begging for advice. Four times he asked for the prophet’s guidance, and on the fourth time, the prophet spoke.” I took a breath, and prayed. Faisal… May Allah guide my words and thoughts, my actions and deeds. Everything I do… I do for you. I only want your happiness. “‘The pen is dried to what you are experiencing,’ the prophet said.”

 

I held Adam’s stare. He wasn’t getting it. Of course. He was only an American. “What is fixed is fixed. A man’s fate is sealed when the pen’s ink over his life dries.” I rubbed my forehead. Chewed my lip. Faisal… Allah help me, I hope I am doing the right thing for you.Al-hamdu lillah, my nephew’s ink may be dried in this matter.” I swallowed. “Faisal has refused all talk of marriage. He’s refused all of the brides I have arranged for him.”

 

Adam flinched, and he hunched like he’d been punched in the gut. He closed his eyes, took a shuddering breath. I watched him, for a moment, reveling in the anguish rolling through him. Multiply that anguish by months, by sleepless nights and hollowed eyes, and he’d feel a portion of what Faisal had felt, after he’d left.

 

Inshallah, he says he is waiting for you.”

 

I only want my nephew to be happy. Happy, and loved. Is that this man’s purpose? Is he the one to love and cherish my Faisal? “We have been talking at great length.”

 

I scowled. This isn’t the life I imagined for Faisal. This isn’t the choice I wanted to make. This isn’t how I imagined anything would play out.

 

“He is my blood,” I snapped. “My family. And I will do anything for my family.” Another glare, fixed to Adam, as I looked him up and down, as if I could see into Adam’s soul and read his fault lines. Read the cracks and tears that had made him weak in the past, had made him walk away from Faisal. Never again. “You will never bring him harm. He will never hurt, ever. Not from the body, and not from the heart.”

 

“No,” Adam breathed. He licked his lips, his breaths coming fast, practically a frantic pant. “No, never. Never again. Your Royal Highness…”

 

“This is not concluded. We have much to discuss, Faisal and I. I do not condone this, or you. Especially not you. What you have done. What you left behind.”

 

I sighed, like my soul was being crushed. My blood, my family, my life. Faisal, my favorite of my children. His life has always been planned, and he never resisted that, my interference in his existence, my shaping and molding of his path. We’ve discussed him – his truth – exactly twice.

 

I’ve never seen Faisal look as alive as he did, those two times. Speaking his truth. No matter the consequences.

 

“He is my nephew. And he speaks only ever of you. Wallah.”

 

Adam pressed his trembling lips together. “Please, Your Highness. Can I see him?”

 

“You will find the men that did this to my nephew. You will make them suffer.” I stared at Adam.

 

I hope I am doing the right thing. I hope this is what Faisal wants. Allah, I place everything in your hands. Take care of my nephew… and this man he loves. Al-hamdu lillah.

 

“Faisal is down the hall. The recovery suite.”

 


Timestamp: Enemy of My Enemy, Sochi & post the assault on Faisal by Madigan’s forces.

Memories – Kris Reflects

 

Welcome back to Bauer’s Bytes! I took a hiatus to celebrate the release of Hush, and, for the first Byte back, we’re going to dive back into Hush! Here’s a short snippet from Kris, who turned into the runaway favorite side character! Enjoy!


 

The door shut.

 

Kris lounged against his pillows, blowing a thin stream of cigarette smoke through his lips. Another lovely evening.

 

Another man leaving.

 

He closed his eyes, tipping his head back. The passion of the night had faded, had cooled, and the pressure valve he’d kept screwed tight during the entire operation in Russia had been released and sated. God, he’d needed this. Needed the feel of another man, the heat and the drive, the way he came apart and back together again, his bones sizzling.

 

But, coming home was always hard. Especially after an operation.

 

Coming home… alone.

 

In the darkness behind his eyelids, Kris watched memories play in a stream of color and light. Laughter tinkled through the flickering images. His, light and bright, and David’s, throaty chuckles like he couldn’t hold them in any longer. Short barks, like he was embarrassed to be caught laughing. It had been Kris’s favorite sound in the whole world, right next to hearing his name breathed on David’s lips.

 

The memories kept playing, looping. Them, returning home together. Another mission, another operation. Meet with an informant in Beirut, in Cairo, in Rawalpindi. Observe the drop location in Kuala Lumpur. Carry intercepts home from Kandahar and Kabul in a diplomatic pouch. Through it all, David’s hand in his, hidden beneath a thin blanket on the airplane, fingers stroking his palm. Their eyes meeting in a crowd. Kris with his face pressed to David’s neck, inhaling his sweat and the dust of the city they were in as they tried to sleep beneath the rickety swirls of a creaking third world fan.

 

And then, coming home. Together. They’d had a house in Manassas Park, in Virginia, outside the bustle of the city. A postcard-perfect back yard, where they watched the sun set and the stars come out, and drank pitchers of iced tea and held hands as the butterflies frolicked between the flowers. David tended the garden by hand, lovingly plucking away the weeds every time they came home. Kris stayed back. He’d kill anything he touched.

 

Nights they wiled away in their bed, laughing and loving, watching the moon rise through their bedroom window, and sleeping through the sunrise the next day. Breakfast in bed, David’s lopsided smile coming out once more. When Kris closed his eyes, he could smell the coffee and cream, the cinnamon rolls. He could feel the starch in David’s uniform, the cool metal of the pins beneath his fingers as he straightened them on his husband’s chest. His husband. The love of his life.

 

Eight years dead. Eight years dead and gone and in the ground, and the memories were as vivid as an Imax movie.

 

He never went to the gravesite. Never stepped a toe into Arlington, after That Day, the day of the burial. David wasn’t in the ground, he was in his memories, and visiting his bones wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to anything.

 

He’d moved, fleeing their perfect little home as fast as he could. He lived in hotels, and then picked up his studio condo as soon as their home sold. He kept it cold, clinical, and lifeless. And he never ate cinnamon rolls. Ever.

 

And he never listened for news on Afghanistan, either. The country, the land, had ceased to exist for him, a black hole in his mind, and a blank space in the world. The edges of the map just blurred out over the country, a fuzzy patch of pain and loss that had swallowed David within a dark fog.

 

Ash tumbled from the end of his forgotten cigarette, spilling onto his naked thigh. He cursed and leaned for the nightstand, stubbing the cigarette out in an ashtray. Stretching, Kris headed for the bathroom and turned on the shower.

 

Under the spray, he imagined David’s fingers on him, running down his spine. Kneading his skin, until his lips pressed against his shoulder, the back of his neck. He kept his eyes closed, keeping the fantasy alive. “David…”

 

Sometimes, he thought he could hear a voice whisper back to him, “I’m here.”

 

He would never love another man like he loved David. Ever. Men had tried to woo him, in the years since. One night stands that turned into two nights, and then three. Dinners, here and there. But when the question came—“Do you think we could make this something a little more exclusive?”—He’d cut the men loose.

 

There would never be another.

 

His heart had been buried with David’s bones, and it would stay there, with him, for the rest of his days.

 


Timestamp: Post-Hush, Kris after a one-night stand.

Available Now – Hush

 


A federal judge running from the truth.
A U.S. marshal running from his past.
A trial that can plunge the world into war.
 
Federal Judge Tom Brewer is finally putting the pieces of his life back together. In the closet for twenty-five long years, he’s climbing out slowly, and, with the hope of finding a special relationship with the stunning Mike Lucciano, U.S. Marshal assigned to his DC courthouse. He wants to be out and proud, but he can’t erase his own past, and the lessons he learned long ago.
 
But a devastating terrorist attack in the heart of DC, and the subsequent capture and arrest of the terrorist, leads to a trial that threatens to expose the dark underbelly of America’s national security.
 
As Russia beats the drums of war, intent on seeking revenge, and the United States struggles to contain the storm before it races out of control, secrets and lies, past and present, collide in Judge Tom Brewer’s courtroom. With the world’s attention fixed on Tom and this case, he suddenly discovers he may be the only person who can put everything together in time to stop the spark of a new world war.


 

Available Now @ Amazon.com

A Sneak Peek at Hush!

 

Welcome to this week’s Bauer’s Bytes!

This week, we get a sneak peek at my new novel, Hush! Meet Deputy U.S. Marshal Mike Lucciano!


 

Simultaneous knocking—banging, like an invading horde was at his door—and a ceaseless rattle of his doorknob broke over his radio belting out Britney Spears on Saturday morning.

Mike threw open the door with a glare, leaning against the heavy wood.

Kris Caldera, his best friend, stood in the entrance, his perfect face curved into a pout, lips pushed out, long eyelashes batting slowly. He held up a key like it was an indictment. “My key doesn’t work.”

Mike held up another key. “I changed my locks. Here’s your new one.”

Kris snatched it out of his hand as he strutted into Mike’s townhome. He was dressed for Paris, for Milan, an haute couture fashion model gracing his apartment with color and style. Shining boots, polished to a high gloss, pointed at the toe and with a heel that was just on the wrong side of scandalous. Tight twill pants, a sunny button-down. A skinny tie, shades of blue competing for dominance. A long Gucci trench coat, and Gucci sunglasses perched on his perfectly spiked hair. Mike swore Kris accented the harsh angles of his face with makeup, dusted his cheekbones with bronzer until they looked like they could cut diamonds. He knew Kris wore eyeliner and mascara. Kris was two years older than Mike, a year away from forty, but he’d cut Mike if he ever said that aloud.

Kris was a walking stereotype. He knew every Tony-winning musical by heart and could belt out Bette Midler, Celine Dion, and Idina Menzel. He was sass on heels, deadly with his tongue, and went through men like a ravenous black widow. Mike had met him out on his first week in DC, after he’d transferred out of the hellhole he’d been working in before. They’d spent the whole evening at the bar trading barbs, verbal repartee that tried to draw blood. Mike wanted to take him home, wanted to unwrap him and devour him, wanted all that sass to shred him to pieces. He’d practically begged. Kris had refused. “You’re too young for me, sweetie.”

They were best friends from that moment on.

Kris stopped in Mike’s foyer, staring at his living room as his perfectly sculpted eyebrows slowly rose. He flicked a hand out to Mike, pushing one slim hip out. “Did you forget to tell me you’re moving?”

Everything from Mike’s kitchen was in the living room, stacked in boxes and bags and piled in haphazard stacks. Half his shelves in the living room were bare, emptied of Silvio’s crap. His hall closet looked like it had been ransacked, jackets and clothes heaped on the floor and spilling onto the hardwood.

“I moved Silvio out.”

Kris pulled his head back, just slightly. His lips pursed. He was being good, so far. Holding his tongue. Waiting.

Mike sighed. Kris would let him have it eventually. “I came home and found him banging some other dude in the kitchen.”

Kris’s manicured hand flew to his neck, his long fingers spread over his throat and across his collarbone. His eyes flared, Spanish fire blazing bright. He blinked, ridiculously long lashes fluttering over his creamy cheeks. “I never liked that bitch,” he finally snapped. “I told you he was no good.”

“I know.”

“I told you he was a fuckboy.”

“I know.”

“I told you you have the shittiest taste in men.”

Mike grinned. “I know.” He reached for a sledgehammer, leaning against the wall of his entranceway.

Kris gave him a flat glare. “What’s that for? Did you keep one of his shitty polyester shirts? Going to whack it to broken threads? I might actually help you with that. Let me grind it beneath my heel.”

Laughing, Mike headed for the kitchen. It was just empty cupboards and bare granite now. His eyes lingered on the spot Silvio had leaned, his elbows braced on the stone, getting drilled by Tall & Swarthy. “It’s time for a remodel.”

“Oh, honey, you know I don’t do manual labor. You called the wrong friend.”

“You’re keeping me company. And your seat is over there.” He pointed to his barstool and a mixing bowl filled with ice he’d set up beside it, perched on his end table. A bottle of vodka rested in the ice and a Martini glass sat beside the bowl.

“Lovely, darling.” Kris sashayed his way across the living room, picking through piles of crap and tossing his jacket over a stack of boxes. He poured a straight vodka Martini as Mike spun slowly in his kitchen, one last survey. It was all coming out. Every last scrap.

“You could at least take your shirt off while you’re being super masc.”

Mike laughed and peeled his t-shirt off. He flung it at Kris, who batted the sweaty fabric down, grimacing and glaring like Mike had spilled paint on his clothes. He brushed his pants, flicking imaginary dust from his perfect pleats.

“Ready?” Mike heaved the sledgehammer over his shoulder.

Mmm hmmm.” Kris lifted his glass and winked at Mike. “Let’s see it, big boy.”

 

 

 

The kitchen was rubble in under an hour.

Granite cracked and smashed, turning to dust. The cupboards splintered, breaking apart into shards. Wreckage and rubble built around his feet. Only his sink and his fridge remained, stainless steel islands in a sea of dust and ruin.

Kris clapped slowly as Mike stood in the center, breathing hard. “Great job, Fred Flintstone. What are you going to do with the mess you made?”

Kris deigned to help him with the rubble, picking through the wreckage and plucking all the medium sized pieces into bags and boxes that Mike hauled out to the dumpster. He went back to his Martini as Mike swept and vacuumed, and then made Mike wipe down his boots after everything. Only when he was satisfied with Mike’s cleaning was Mike allowed to collapse onto his couch.

“Did that feel good?” Kris poured another drink and brought it over to Mike. He perched on the armrest.

“Yeah.” Mike sipped the vodka. “Yeah, that did feel good.” Getting over Silvio was easy when Silvio acted like the biggest bitch inside DC. Anger had a way of speeding up the breakup process. Silvio was just a mistake. Another one. Another in a long line of mistaken boyfriends and bad decisions.

“I assume we’re going out tonight? You’re going to fuck your way through DC again, until you fall head over heels for another fuckboy?”

Mike scrubbed his face, stalling. Why was it always the same? Why did he always end up like this? Alone, pissed off for one reason or another, and left to wonder why he seemed like he was the only guy to want something real. Mike took another drink. “I… think I need to change how I date.”

Kris almost fell off the arm of the couch. He pressed his hand to his chest, feigning a heart attack as he blinked fast. “I hear the cries and wails of fuckboys from Virginia to Pennsylvania. Lamentations. Bottoms going unfilled.”

“Jesus, Kris. Am I that bad?”

“After a breakup? Honey, you put Madonna and Coco Chanel to shame. I think there’s a mass fuckboy alert when you go out. Some bottom booty call, making them all a’tizzy. They come flocking, holes already lubed. They’re hoping to catch you in their nectar—”

“Okay, okay. Look, I’m not doing that anymore.”

“Really?” Kris couldn’t fit another ounce of disbelief into that single word, he really couldn’t.

“It’s hasn’t fucking worked, has it? Here I am again… alone. The last thing that I want to be is alone.”

Kris sat back and crossed his legs, one foot bouncing delicately. Silence strained the living room. “You are a hot mess.”

He looked down.

Kris took pity on him, though. “You want the gay fairytale, Mike. You want Prince Charming and happy ever after. But… Prince Charming is not going to come wrapped up in the packaging of a fuckboy.”

Mike sagged into his couch cushions with a sigh.

“You’re a good guy. A really good guy. Why do you keep wasting time with twenty-four-year-old flight attendants and wannabe models? They’re not good enough for you, honey.” Kris smoothed his hair, tucking wayward strands off his forehead. “You need someone who thinks you are their Prince Charming. Not the pretty face and attached dick that comes with a credit card.”

He stayed quiet, twirling the glass back and forth, making ripples in the vodka. “I don’t know if that guy exists, Kris. I’ve been looking for him. Where is he?”

“He’s for damn sure not a fuckboy!” Kris sat back, pursing his lips. “I cannot believe these words are passing my perfect lips, but…” He sighed. “Why don’t you take a break from the scene? Focus on yourself for a while. I mean, do you have any idea what your Prince Charming is like? What do you really want? Cause you’re not happy with what you’ve had.”

“I do know what I want.” Mike could picture it, could imagine life with the man of his dreams. He wanted a partner, a real partner, an honest to God relationship. He wanted to find The One, the man he’d marry. He wanted someone to love.

Faces blurred together, his exes and his hook ups a haze of haughty smirks and sneers, flashing eyes and slit-eyed glares. Sarcasm, biting tongues, ferocity when provoked. He loved Kris like a brother, but Kris wasn’t who he dreamt about night after night.

“He’s kind,” he finally said. “I want someone kind. Gentle. Loving.” Nights spent alone, or watching his partner texting all night long. Distance, when all he wanted was closeness. He could count the good times with Silvio, the moments where they seemed to be really close and not trying to shred each other with sass and sarcasm that flayed too close to the bone. “Affectionate. He wants me. Really wants me.”

Days he wanted to talk about his work, the cases he saw. The law, politics, and the world they lived in. Being laughed off, or ignored, or talked over. Being told he was boring. “He’s smart. We talk about things. Maybe we’ll stay up all night talking sometimes.”

The truth was, he wanted someone so out of his league his mystery man might as well be a satellite orbiting the earth. And Mike was an ant. He wanted someone intelligent, grounded, and with a heart of gold. Someone who wanted to hold his hand and cuddle with him, watch movies on Friday nights and sleep in on Sundays. Someone gentle with his heart, with his dreams. Someone who wanted him to be their whole world, the way he would be Mike’s.

“Does that sound like a fuckboy?” Kris’s voice was gentle.

Mike shook his head.

“You’re looking in all the wrong, places. You want Prince Charming, but you’re looking in a swamp. Get away from the bars and the apps. I know God isn’t your thing, but there are gay mens groups at some of the churches, and the center has volunteer gigs you can join. There’s a lot for gay men to do, Mike, other than troll for a hook up or look for The One at the club.”

“I know.” He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing them with his fingers. “We already are doing that, though. I mean, we’re in the league. And we volunteer. That’s how we met Billy and Aaron.”

“Do more. This is our culture. It’s not just bars and clubs and hookup apps. If you want to find someone special, go look for him where you think he’s hiding.” Kris tilted his head. “And, be the kind of guy that you want to attract. You’re a good guy. Stop settling for less. Quality attracts quality.”

“That’s not true and you know it.”

“The flakes will stop hassling you when you stop feeding them your dick.” Kris stood, brushing off his pants. “Doctor Caldera prescribes a cleanse, Deputy Marshal Lucciano. A cleanse of the scourge of fuckboys.” He pointed at Mike, tapping the tip of Mike’s nose with every word. “No more fuckboys.”

“Yes, doctor.” Mike smiled.

“C’mon.” Kris snapped. “We’ve got to get you a new kitchen. And tonight, you’re taking me to the Kennedy Center. Madame Butterfly is playing. I’ll culture you, even if it kills me.”

“Yes, my queen.” He winked as he stood, and Kris tsked at him as he grabbed his trench coat.

He sighed, blowing air out of his hollowed cheeks. “We need to stop by the clinic, too.”

Kris whipped around, his eyebrows disappearing beneath his spiky fringe. True concern poured from his gaze.

“Silvio was banging the guy bare. I don’t know how long he was cheating, but if he was going bare, then I need to get checked.”

Kris turned away and shoved his arms through his trench coat sleeves, bunching the fabric and viciously tugging on the lapels. He took a long time straightening it, smoothing his shirt front, facing away from Mike. When he finally turned, his face was smoothed back to his haughty indifference, but Spanish fire still smoldered in his gaze. “I never liked that bitch.”

“I will listen to you from this day forward about any man.” Mike pressed his hands together and bowed, as if bowing to a master.

“You’re damn right you will. Now go shower and change. We’ve got a busy day.”


Hush releases July 2017!

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