Happy Birthday, Mr. President – A Glimpse of Jack & Ethan’s Birthdays


Today’s prompt comes to you from Karlijin, who wanted to know when Jack and Ethan’s birthdays were and what they would have done for each other. Enjoy!



Jack had a secret.

Ethan always knew when Jack was up to something. When he got mischievous, when his smiles lingered a little too long or spread a little too wide. When he had that light in his eyes, the ‘I’ve got a secret’ light that dared Ethan to get it out of him.

He could, if he tried. He’d gotten Jack to spill the name of his teddy bear when he was a child while they were flying to New York once. Interrogation by delirious pleasure, using nothing but his hands, his lips, and his tongue.

So, whatever Jack was up to, he wasn’t being terribly sneaky about it, and he wouldn’t mind if Ethan wheedled it out of him.

But Ethan didn’t want to. Not this time.

His birthday was this weekend, and if Jack wanted to surprise him, he was fine with that.

When he landed, Scott picked him up at the airport and whisked him away, leaving the hounding media in the dust. Jack texted him all the way to the White House, asking for updates on where he was, at what intersection, and when he’d be arriving. How many more minutes?

Scott looked like the fox that ate the hen when he dropped Ethan off, all bright eyes and a smothered smile. “See you Sunday,” he grunted, waving as he sped off.

Come on up.

Ethan couldn’t resist teasing. [You’re not coming down to meet me?]

I’m waiting upstairs for you. I’ve got a surprise. Come on! 🙂

At the elevator, Beech and Hanier didn’t even try to hide their grins. They stared at him, chuckling softly to themselves. Everyone knew something, it seemed. He felt his blush crawl up the back of his neck.

Just before the elevator doors closed to take him up to the Residence, Beech leaned in. “Happy birthday, sir.”


He sighed, but smiled and shook his head. Jack… Whatever it was he’d planned, it was big enough that at least the Secret Service knew about it. Who else? A sudden fear gripped him, and he groaned. God, please not a sky writer. Please, let Jack not have talked to Scott. He’d hired one for Scott’s fortieth, scrawling the skies over DC with “Happy Fortieth Scott Collard.” If there was ever a day that Scott would have killed him, it would have been then.

Jack wouldn’t do that, though. Right?

Of course he would.

The elevator doors dinged and slid open.

The lights were down and the hallway was dim. Ethan stepped out slowly, peering around.

A rose petal crushed beneath his shoe, into the carpet.

A trail of rose petals stretched down the hall, scattered over the carpet. Deep ruby red, pure white, butter yellow, sunset orange, kissed-lip pink. Almost the colors of the rainbow, leading him down the hall in a lush, fragrant trail to Jack’s bedroom. He plucked a petal from the floor, plump and flush with color, and inhaled the garnet bloom. Crisp and clear, like a summer’s day in the Rose Garden. Where Jack had gotten this many roses in November, he didn’t know.

Grinning, he pushed open Jack’s bedroom door.

Flickering candlelight caught his eyes first. He guessed fifty, eighty, no, a hundred or more candles, all spread across the bedroom. On Jack’s desk, his dresser, the coffee table. The mantle, the bedside tables. Scattered in groups on the carpet, balanced on mirrors that reflected the flame against the walls and the ceiling. A soft glow encased the room, warm and gentle. More rose petals lay on the floor, rich rubies and snow white blooms.


Slowly, his gaze lifted.

In the center of the bed, on his side, Jack lay in a sea of petals, completely naked save for a red silk ribbon tied in a bow around his hips.

He was obviously very glad to see Ethan.

“Happy birthday.” Jack beamed, almost vibrating with his own happiness. “Come open your present.”

* * *

The next morning, Jack searched on his phone for how to get melted candle wax off of cream carpet and American heirlooms, and Ethan plucked rose petals off almost every inch of his skin.

Jack insisted on making breakfast for Ethan, a reversal of their roles. Jack wasn’t incompetent when it came to the kitchen, but he’d never really mastered the art and science of cooking. Simple meals were his forte, with an easy default to ordering out. Ethan showed him a thing or two while they dated, mixing cooking and flirtation as he dropped kisses to Jack’s neck and he pressed his hips against Jack’s ass while trying to teach him how to sauté, how to flash fry, and how to grill to perfection.

More than one meal ended up burned, but Jack just reached for the takeout menu after.

Ethan tried to flirt with Jack while he made breakfast, a dish of peaches and cream stuffed French toast, something he’d seen online and wanted to try for Ethan. It was ambitious, and time consuming, and Ethan was hungry for something else. Jack cooked shirtless, and Ethan wanted more than to just watch the ply of his muscles along his back. He slid his hands around Jack’s waist and kissed his shoulders.

Jack beat his knuckles with the spatula. “Back! I’m not ruining this! This is for you.”

Laughing, Ethan tried to play with Jack’s nipples, tried to thumb over one of the hard nubs.

Jack almost wilted, melting back into Ethan’s arms.

A buzzer went off, and Jack straightened. He turned and waved the spatula in Ethan’s face, pretending to wallop him as he laughed. “I’m going to make this for you, even if I have to banish you to the corner.”

Ethan pouted. “Can I at least eat it off of you?” He tried for a consolation prize.

Jack looked thoughtful. “After it’s cooled.” He winked.

* * *

They drank champagne and lounged on the Truman Balcony that night, enjoying the last of DC’s autumn nights. The air was crisp, but not cold, just enough to encourage them to share one lounger and cuddle close.

Jack got tipsy off champagne faster than he did anything else. Ethan loved it, loved how Jack got handsy and giggled. How his eyes brightened and he wanted to be to oh-so-close to Ethan, kiss him and never let go. They laughed and made out like high schoolers until it got too cold to take any more clothes off outside.

* * *

Sunday morning, Jack gave Ethan his birthday present: Half of his closet and half of his dresser, cleared out for Ethan’s things. Some of his clothes had already appeared. Things he used to keep in Horsepower, suits from when he stayed the night with Jack, or stuff that Scott would have known to grab from his condo.

It had only been a month since Ethan had transferred to Iowa and they had publicly started dating. He only saw Jack on the weekends, but still. Having Jack clear out space for him in the White House, and seeing his things hanging side by side with Jack’s, made it feel like more, somehow. It wasn’t just the weekends, and just something they kept hidden, secreted away from the world. It was something real.

Forty-one years old, and he’d finally found love.

* * *


Like a curse, his birthday always fell on the crappiest day of the year. Snow, sleet, ice, or rain never failed to drown out the day, or in this years’ case, the weekend. February, the heart of winter. And, in DC, winter bit hard.

Earlier in the week, Jack had made an executive decision, and he brought it up with Ethan during their Skype call. “So, did you bring your bathing suit to Iowa?”

Ethan frowned. “I did…” he said slowly. He blushed. “Sometimes I tan with it.”

Jack grinned. Ethan, he’d learned, had a self-conscious streak, a shyness about his appearance that came out at the oddest times. “Good. Cause we’re going to Hawaii. This weekend.”

Ethan’s eyes went wide. “This weekend? For your birthday?”

“I don’t want to be stuck in DC, in the sleet, on my birthday. I want to be with you, rolling in the sand. Playing golf. Drinking Mai Tais and having crazy sex.” He laughed as Ethan’s blush deepened. “So, I booked a trip. Air Force One will pick you up in Des Moines on Friday. We’ll be on the beach before dinner. Back before Monday. Is that okay?”

Ethan nodded. “I can get on board with that.” A moment later, his smile faded, and he bit his lip. “I should probably buy a new suit,” he said. “I’m not sure the one I have is… presidential.”

“Oh?” Jack’s eyebrows climbed his forehead. “What makes you say this?”

“It’s… small. Very small.”

“Sounds hot.”

Ethan barked out a laugh and shook his head. “I’m glad you think so. But what will the press say?”

Jack shrugged, his devil-may-care smile plastered on his face. “They’ll probably be jealous. It will be great. You should definitely wear it. Don’t buy anything new.”

“I should at least try and match you, or be somewhat close to your style. What’s your suit like?”

“Boring.” Jack sighed. “Basic black nylon shorts and an elastic waistband.”

Ethan cringed.

“Why don’t you pick a new one out for me?” Jack winked at Ethan. “So we can match.”

Ethan looked torn. Half of him looked like he wanted to sigh and bury his head in his hands, and the other half seemed to want to sit up and dive right in. He was torn between a grin and a helpless grimace, shaking his head and laughing at Jack.

“Come on, it will be fun. And you know I need some fashion updating. I don’t want to look stupid next to you.”

“You never look stupid.”

“I want to look half as hot as you, then. Just half.”

“You’re way more than half. You’re, God, Jack, you’re—“ Ethan sputtered, his cheeks crimson. “You’re so much hotter than me.”

“No way.” Jack winked. “Let’s do this. It will be great.

“I… would need measurements,” Ethan finally said. “Stand up. Turn around. Let me see.”

Throwing his head back, Jack laughed hard, his whole body shaking. But, he played along, standing and turning in front of his laptop and pushing his clothed ass into the camera. “Like this?”

“Yeah. Now, grab hold. I need to see how big—“ Ethan’s voice cut out as Jack gripped his own ass cheeks and winked over his shoulder. “Just like that,” Ethan said, his voice strangled. “That’s good. You can sit down.”

“You sure?” Jacks hands roamed, squeezing and pressing and gripping over himself. “I mean, I can do more—“


* * *

Ethan jogged up the steps of Air Force One on the tarmac in Des Moines holding a small, flat box wrapped in birthday paper. He said his hellos to the Secret Service agents, to Scott, and to the few staffers that tagged along with Jack no matter where he went. This was personal time, though, so most of Jack’s staff had stayed behind.

Jack waited for him, leaning one shoulder against the wall outside his cabin. He’d already ditched his suit jacket and tie, and his button down was loose and undone at the neck. Beaming, Jack waited for Ethan to come close before drawing him in and kissing him on the lips.

“Happy Birthday Jack.” Ethan kissed his nose, his lips, and handed the box over.

The rest of the staff melted away, and it was just the two of them in the hallway as the plane’s engines spun up, readying for their taxi. Jack held Ethan’s gaze, watching as Ethan’s cheeks flushed while he tore open the wrapping paper.

Inside the box, a pair of baby blue swim squares lay. All told, the swim squares had less than half the fabric of his old swimsuit. Way less. It was a bold choice in swimwear. A choice for a man made of confidence. He was on the wrong side of forty, the wrong side of forty-five, even, and though he was in better shape now than he’d ever been in his life, it still was rather daring. His gaze flicked back to Ethan.

Ethan grinned wide. “You wanted them.”

“I did.” Jack chuckled. “I just thought they’d be larger than a tissue.”

Slowly, Ethan shook his head.

The pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker, instructing everyone to take their seats in preparation for takeoff. They headed into Jack’s cabin and went straight to his stateroom. Jack already had his hands on Ethan’s coat, peeling it off him.

“How many hours on this flight?” Ethan turned and kissed Jack’s neck.

“Six.” Jack’s hands slid up Ethan’s back, tugging his shirt from his pants. “I intend to use them.”

Ethan chuckled, kissing his way down Jack’s neck and across his collarbone.

“But first.” Jack pushed Ethan back, gently. “I want to see you in your little swim squares.”

* * *

When they got to the resort, they put on shorts and t-shirts and walked on the beach, watching the sun fall below the waves before turning in for a private dinner. Jack happily groaned his way through the rest of the evening, rubbing his belly in contentment as Ethan snorted at him. They fell asleep listening to the waves and watching the stars, and trading kisses until they fell asleep with their lips still pressed together.

* * *

A morning round of golf was first on the agenda. Scott offered to be their caddy driver, and he shuttled them around the private links as Jack and Ethan sipped mimosas and played a fair to terrible game of golf. Jack got progressively worse as the champagne hit him, and Ethan had never been good to begin with.

“Golf is a politician’s sport,” he grumbled, watching his shot slice hard to the right, deep into the rough. “I’m terrible.”

Jack grinned. “I could give you some pointers.” If Ethan was paying attention, he’d catch the way his voice lilted, the sway of his hips.

Ethan was still grumbling about his last shot. He didn’t pay attention to Jack’s mischief at all. “If you think you can help this train wreck, go for it.”

“Show me how you line up to shoot.”

Ethan planted his feet in front of the ball. Jack moved in behind him. He stood close, hips pressed against Ethan’s ass, and wrapped his arms around Ethan’s. Slowly, he pressed his whole body flush to Ethan, rocking into him from his thighs to his ass. His hands covered Ethan’s on the golf club, and squeezed. Beneath him, Ethan stiffened.

He knew he’d been had. Jack grinned, ducking his face into Ethan’s shoulder.

“It’s all about the hips, dear,” he purred into Ethan’s ear. “You need to swing with your hips. Sway.” He rocked his hips into Ethan’s, slowly. “Twist. From one side to the other. And then—“ He gasped, and rested his chin on Ethan’s shoulder. “You need to take your club, grip it firmly, and bring it down. Bring it home, right into the ball. A sweet slide, and a smooth glide.”

“Fuck…” Ethan hissed. His body vibrated beneath Jack’s. “What the hell are we talking about?”

“Your golf game,” Jack said brightly, stepping back. “Go on, give it another swing.”

Ethan glared at him. “If I swing right now, I’ll kill myself.”

“Well then, why don’t we practice putting?” Jack ditched his club and came back behind Ethan, sliding close and wrapping his arms around him again. His hands stroked over Ethan’s, down his club, and gripped the shaft. “It can be slower paced, but there’s a lot of finesse in those little strokes,” he purred into Ethan’s ear.

Somewhere, Jack heard Scott’s laughter, but it was so far away, and Ethan was right there, trembling and breathing fast.

“Why don’t I show you?”

* * *

After golf, they detoured back to the resort for an hour or three, and finally hit the beach in the afternoon. Jack wore his baby blue swim squares, and Ethan wore a matching pair of white ones. Scott averted his eyes when they slipped out of the resort and headed down the private sand, carrying their towels and deep blushes.

“You know this is already on the internet.”

Jack shrugged. He beamed at Ethan from behind his shades. “It’s worth it. And I was right, by the way.”

“About what?”

“You do look very hot in those.” He leaned in and kissed Ethan, a gentle peck, and started for the water.

He heard Ethan behind him, the slapping footfalls, the running in the sand. Turning, he tried to fend Ethan off, but Ethan grabbed him low and hefted him over his shoulder, and then ran pell-mell into the water. Jack shouted, laughing as he squirmed, until Ethan lost his footing and they went down together with a splash.

And then it was on, a game of wrestling and splashing mixed with kisses and groping until they ended up lying in the gentle surf, panting, laughing, and out of breath. As the waves tickled their shins, Jack rolled onto his side and draped himself over Ethan. “I love you, Ethan.”

Ethan reached for him, cradled his face, and kissed him, oh-so-slowly. Salt water dripped from their hair and sand clung to their bodies. Jack rolled his hips into Ethan’s thigh as their kiss deepened.

“We should take this inside,” Ethan breathed.

“I’m fine making out with you on the beach.”

“Yeah, but these swimsuits don’t leave anything to the imagination. We really don’t need headlines talking about ‘Eagle One’ and where it’s landing.”

And that was it for Jack. The sexiness, the sultry air vanished, popping like a balloon as he doubled over, howling into Ethan’s shoulder until his stomach cramped and he had to flop on his back on the sand, trying to catch his breath.

* * *

Later, Jack took his time with Ethan, making slow love to him through the night as the waves crashed beneath the resort and the stars winked overhead. In the morning, they stayed in bed, lazy and indolent, trading kisses and making love in the sunshine until the world forced them to rise.

* * *

Jack dropped Ethan off at Des Moines’s airport, back in the February gloom. They both came down off Air Force One, and Jack walked Ethan to his car, parked by the private military hanger on the airport.

“Happy Birthday, love.” Ethan kissed him, sweetly, and smiled. Kept back, away from the plane but close enough to have captured that kiss with a decent lens, were the press, eager for a glimpse of them both after the birthday weekend.

Jack grinned. Seemed Ethan didn’t care about the press seeing them, at least not then. He kissed Ethan back, and then again, and then a third time, just for good measure. Finally, he opened Ethan’s door for him, and then kissed him one last time before Ethan slid into the driver’s seat. “The best part about it was you being there. Thank you.”

Ethan got out of his car and leaned over the door, kissing him again. “Always, Jack. I’ll always be there.”

They kissed one last time, lingering in the moment, before Ethan finally got back into his car and drove away, and Jack clambered back up the steps of Air Force One.


Ethan: November, one month after transferring to Iowa and one month before Interlude.

Jack: February, Two months after Interlude and one month before Ethan moves back to the White House.

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean – Book 3 Exclusive Excerpt!

I have something special for everyone this week! This week’s Bauer’s Bytes will be an surprise excerpt from Book 3 in the Executive Office series!

Here is a scene for you from Doc’s perspective as the team works to sneak back into the United States and rally together with Ethan to continue fighting. They’re operating under the radar, and striving for stealth. Doc follows the rules about as well as can be expected!



Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean


The airplane hummed around Doc, the interflight rattle of a jumbo jet hurtling at thirty thousand feet in the air, screaming halfway around the world. It was the second, no third, flight for the team, a mind-numbing series of trips that had spanned almost three days already. From Jeddah they’d flown to Riyadh, and from Riyadh to London. Now, from London to Seattle. Back to America.


Scattered around the cabin, not sitting together, not even pretending to know or care about one another, were the rest of the team. Sergeants Coleman and Wright, each snoring in window seats. Park, Ruiz, and Kobayashi, the remaining junior members left after Fitz’s murder, were sitting through their third round of inflight movies and numbly chewing crackers and pretzels.


And Adam, the L-T, was several rows up and to the right. He sat hunched and glowering in his seat, desperately trying not to turn around.


Doc rolled his head, looking to his left. A fat, snoring Brit sat between him and the last member of their team: Faisal.


For the length of each flight, Faisal had sat silently in his cramped coach seat, staring out the window at a shifting landscape of desolation and nothingness. His face stayed impassive, a practiced coolness and seeming serenity. As fucked up as Adam appeared, Faisal seemed practically impervious to even feeling emotion.


Doc knew that was epic bullshit, of astronomical proportions.


Fuck, the argument over Faisal coming with the team had been massive. He hadn’t thought Adam could get that pissed. Granted, he’d seen a brand-new side of him over the past few weeks, but the shit-fit Adam threw had been beyond anything he’d imagined possible.


And Faisal. Shit, did looks deceive. He stared hard at Faisal’s profile, remembering the final climax of Adam and Faisal’s argument. It had happened right in front of him, for fuck’s sake.


He’d been working with Adam in Faisal’s space-age kitchen, their truly astounding array of weaponry spread out in front of them. They’d already decided they were sneaking back into the States under the radar, which meant traveling commercial and ditching their military IDs. Which also meant no weapons… at least, none that could be found. Faisal had scrounged up two false bottomed bags, and Doc had volunteered to help Adam disassemble their untraceable assault rifles into all their thousand little hardened plastic pieces and load everything up.


And then Faisal walked in.


The argument between Adam and Faisal was already days old, stale in the broken air of the Jeddah villa. The whole team tiptoed, as if walking on shattered glass, questions burning from their eyes. What was up with the L-T and Faisal?


Doc knew. But he kept his damn mouth shut.


“You’re not coming,” Adam had hissed. “Jesus, Faisal. How could you even ask?”


Faisal’s eyes had narrowed. “How could you imagine that I would be fine with you leaving? Without being by your side?”


“I swore to your uncle—“ Adam’s voice shook, his words quaking as his hands had balled to dark fists.


“You said you never wanted to leave.”


“I swore to keep you safe!”


“The only times I have ever been hurt are when you are gone.”


Fuck, that had been a low blow. Doc watched Faisal’s words slam into Adam’s chest like bullets, each one driving the air from his body and making him step back as he paled, blood draining from his face.


“There’s no place for you!”


“You are down a man. I can fill in for Fitz. Let me help, Adam—“


Adam’s fists hit the counter. A disassembled rifle part clattered to the floor. “Not you! You can’t—“


And then, Faisal had moved. Hands darting out, he’d picked and grabbed from the pieces of ten different weapons spread across the counter, assembling, before their eyes, a flawless AR-15 in under a minute. He pressed the rifle stock to his shoulder, turned to the living area and raised the bore. The patio door had been left open, the breeze from the Red Sea floating through the house. He sighted the rifle, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger.


A perfect hole appeared in the center of the middle pylon on his pier. If a bulls eye target had been fixed to the wood, he would have landed his shot in the dead center.


Doc’s mouth had dropped open. He stopped breathing.


Faisal turned back, disassembling the rifle as he moved until it was nothing by pieces scattered on the counter again. “You forget where I came from, habibi,” Faisal whispered. “Or our history together.”


Silence. Doc’s eyes had bounced from Adam to Faisal and back again, like he was watching an invisible game of tennis.


Adam had walked out, shoving away from the kitchen counter with a snarl.


Later that afternoon, the rest of their supplies arrived, and that evening, they were on their first flight to Riyadh, Faisal sitting squished next to Doc. Since the kitchen, not a word had been spoken between Adam and Faisal. That was part of the plan, though. They were supposed to act like strangers to one another. Not know each other until they rallied back in the States.


Except, Doc thought, glaring at the back of Adam’s head, he was doing a shit job of acting like there wasn’t everything in the world that he wanted to turn to sitting four rows behind him and to the left. As Doc stared, Adam leaned forward again, wrapping both hands around the back of his neck, and tried to surreptitiously glance beneath his bent arms to their row.


Doc met his dark, hooded eyes. Adam looked away, fisting one hand and holding it in front of his pursed lips.


“Excuse me.”


The fat Brit snorted and glared as Faisal squeezed his way through the seats and into the aisle of the jet. Doc tried to catch his gaze, but Faisal, far more so than Adam, was keeping to their ruse of not knowing each other at all.


He turned, watching Faisal head down the aisle toward the rear of the plane. Passengers watched, too, Brits and Europeans with narrowed eyes and suspicious glances turned Faisal’s way, watching him with a predatory intensity. One man unbuckled his seat belt as Faisal drew near, as if he was readying himself to lunge.


Fuck it. Doc rose, heading down the aisle after Faisal. He glared at the businessman prepared to leap, now relaxing back in his seat since the Arab had passed him by. Shit, out of anyone, Faisal was the least likely to ever start something. He was the tech nerd, the skinny guy with the computers and the awesome house. He called Adam habibi, and he’d put them all up multiple times, never asking for anything. And, with the tiny bit that he did know about Adam and Faisal, well—


Faisal had put a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and intelligence in their hands, over and over again, even though it meant having his ex, a man he still loved, in his face. Using his palace like a personal base. And ignoring him, and their history.


Faisal didn’t deserve to be side-eyed like he was some kind of dangerous terrorist. Without him, would their team have accomplished even half of what they had? It was Faisal that put the pieces together with the Yemeni tanker and found Noah in Ma’an. Hell, they were all just Faisal’s muscle, at this point.


A part of Doc twisted at the thought, his gut clenching against that mental sucker punch. His words, thrown at Adam days before, echoed in his ears. Serious foreign influence violations. They all trusted Faisal, Adam especially. But why? What did they have to go on, other than Faisal’s endless consideration and politeness, and his and Adam’s mercurial connection?


What kind of world was it where Saudi princes became frontline allies against a rogue American general?


Doc followed Faisal to the back of the plane, catching every sidelong glance and lingering glare sent Faisal’s way. Even the flight attendants slipped away when Faisal neared, their heels click-clacking against the corrugated cabin flooring as they fled.


Sighing, Faisal leaned against the plane’s bulkhead, next to the rear door, and ran his hands over his face. His lips moved as if whispering, but Doc couldn’t hear a thing over the drone and rattle of the plane.


“Hey.” He leaned back, his shoulder blades digging into the knobs and toggles and levers along the rear compartment wall, the stowage area of bins and trays and carts the flightcrew used.


Faisal’s eyes popped open. He spotted Doc and snorted. “Of course. You would ignore the rules about not interacting.”


Doc shrugged, one corner of his lip curling up in a smirk. “I’m sure people just think I’m trying to get into the Mile High Club.” Faisal shook his head. His smirk faded. “How you doing?”


Faisal stilled, and a shroud descended behind his gaze. “Fine.”


Lolling his head toward Faisal, Doc’s eyebrows shot high on his forehead. He said nothing.


Neither did Faisal.


Time for a different approach. “I didn’t know you were such a bad ass. Thought you were just a computer nerd.”


Faisal chuckled softly. His eyes sparkled. “There is quite a lot you don’t know about me. I am an al-Saud. My family fought for control of the entire Arabian Peninsula, and we won when no one else could. United the tribes and built a nation. We may look like fat, wealthy Arabs, but we carry the hearts of warriors.”


“Now I see why Adam took an interest in you.”


Faisal’s eyes darkened, and his expression went brittle, like holding his tiny smile in place was all that kept him from breaking apart. He shrugged. “I suppose that is one reason.” He looked away, staring at the bulkhead and the jump seat for the flight attendant as if it were a priceless artifact.


“You guys okay?” Doc crossed his arms and frowned.




Shifting made one of the knobs dig into the center of Doc’s shoulder blade. He leaned back, pressing into it. “I don’t really know the L-T all that well…” He trailed off. What the hell was he trying to say? He barely knew Adam at all. Adam had been their team leader for a little over a year, and he’d gone from being a stick-in-the-ass perfectionist, when they’d met him, to rough-edged brawler with the shadow of some huge weight dragging him down. Months ago, Adam had been thrown in the stockade by General Bell, and the team had gone out to drown their frustrations in liquor, anticipating their collective stand down and reassignment to a new team lead.


Color them all shocked—and hungover—when instead they were on a black ops White House mission to South America at midnight.


“I know he’s a private guy…” Doc shrugged. What he knew about Adam could fit in a paragraph. The most important of which was what he and Faisal were to each other. Not just, as Adam had claimed in the highland sands of Ethiopia, when they first ran to Faisal and his safety net, a source he’d worked with in the Middle East.


Adam seemed to unbend with Faisal, just slightly, around him and Reichenbach. Had at least acknowledged that Faisal was someone to him, someone special.


That all changed when the team arrived. Adam had locked up tighter than missile defense shield. Even Doc had felt the reverberations of his distance echoing painfully off Faisal’s confused hurt.


“Having the whole team here is probably hard for him,” Doc finished lamely, shrugging.


Looking down, Faisal nodded. “I appreciate what you are trying to do,” he said, meeting Doc’s gaze. “There are… larger problems, though.”


He shifted again, the knob grinding against his spine. “Like what?”


Faisal stayed quiet, his gaze seemingly turned inward, and Doc watched him pick and discard words as he licked his lips. “This is the third time he has walked away from us. Each has been difficult. The first…” Faisal’s voice faded away, and his eyes slipped closed. “I have never felt anything like that. And I never want to again. After the second, I tried to put us back together. I thought if I reached out, if we could just connect again—“ He shook his head.


Doc tried to add up what he knew in his head. He frowned. “When was this?”


“After Ethiopia.”


Doc thunked his head back against the cold metal. So, when they’d first ran to Faisal, when they were presumed dead, killed by their own government, Adam had found comfort in Faisal’s arms. And then left again. After Ethiopia, and after the White House, Adam had started his slow slide, his descent into gruff silence and barroom brawls, and a prickly hardness that had the whole team on edge. “And now?”


“This is the third time he has turned away from us. I thought, after the hospital, that things would be different. He seemed different. But it is all just the same.”


“He was fucking crazy at the hospital. I mean, just fucking desperate to get to you. I thought he was going to get himself killed. He wasn’t faking that.”


Faisal glared at him when he cursed, flat stares that broadcast his displeasure. He sighed. “Three times is significant in Islam. It is a number of Allah, a number special to Him. We do things that carry great meaning in threes. Al-wudu, the ablutions before prayers, done three times. In Salat, prayers are repeated three times. And—“ He inhaled, holding his breath. “Talaq, to divorce someone, must be done three times before it is final.”


Shit. Doc’s eyes flicked up the aisle of the plane, as if he could spot Adam in the rows and rows of passengers. “You think he’s trying to divorce you? You’re not married, right? I mean, I thought that couldn’t—“


“I think,” Faisal said, interrupting him gently, “that three times is three times too many. This hurt I feel is not right. This is not the way it is supposed to be. Pursuing this again would be wrong.”


“Then why did you insist on coming?”


Faisal’s expression softened, though his eyes shone with a cutting pain. “How could I not? I still love him, even if he does not feel the same. I will do everything I can to help him, shield him, uplift him. Always.”


Halfway up the plane, a man stood, stretched like he was a bad actor in a soap opera, and turned around, leaning against the front of his seat as if he wanted to stand for a while. He stared toward the rear of the plane, his eyes laser-like and seeking a target. He spotted Doc, and Doc stared right back.


He watched Adam look away, down at his seat cushion, as his fingers picked at each other, over and over.


“He doesn’t deserve that from you.”


“We have a long history.” Faisal smiled, almost wistful. “That is how I choose to remember us. What we were. Not this. Not what we have become.” Straightening he cleared his throat and rubbed his hands together. “It is time for prayer.”


“You’re going to pray on an airplane?” Doc’s eyebrows shot sky high again as his jaw dropped. “Do you want to get jumped? There are about twelve dudes out there right now who wouldn’t think twice.”


“Not my full prayers.” Regret laced through Faisal’s voice. “But the practice grounds me. I find peace in my prayers, when I seek al-nafs al-mutma’innah. My tranquil self. My peaceful self.”


“I think Adam could use some of that.”


Faisal sighed, a harassed, harried look crossing over his features as he stared at Doc. A moment later, he smoothed his expression back to his practiced neutrality.


“Sorry.” Both of Doc’s hands rose, and he shuffled sideways, trying to give Faisal space. “I’ll, uh. I’ll hang out here with you until you’re done. If that’s okay. Make sure no one bothers you.”


“More than okay.” Finally, Faisal truly smiled. “I have always hated being alone.”

Timestamp: Secret! Exclusive Excerpt from “Book Three of the Executive Office”.

Chipping At Walls – Sasha finds Sergey after the Langley blast

Bauer’s Bytes is searching for a new day! I’m looking at either Tuesday or Wednesday for the new posting. What do you think?


Today’s Bauer’s Bytes comes to us from Amelia. Amelia said, “One moment that struck me in EoME was after Scott, Sasha, and Sergey have rescued Ethan. As Sergey is talking to Jack, Sasha wets a rag with water and starts cleaning Sergey’s face and neck, and Sergey not only allows him to do so, he leans into Sasha! This seems to show an increased level of intimacy in their relationship, whether conscious or unconscious on both their parts. I would love to see any scene post coup with Sergey allowing such intimacy/closeness from Sasha or even craving it…”


A great prompt, and one I really enjoyed writing. 🙂  I hope you enjoy it as well!


Sasha trudged up the last slope, heading for their bunker at the top of the ridge. Loose black dirt and lingering remnants of trampled, muddy snow squelched beneath his boots. Finally, winter was dissipating in the mountains. It was just freezing, most days.


Living in the forest, deep in the Caucasus on the run from General Moroshkin, was not glamorous. It reminded Sasha of being back in training exercises from his Air Force days, when they were dropped in the Russian North with absolutely nothing and told to get back to base. Driving snow, ice storms, pounding rain. Bears and wolves. Sucking mud that was practically frozen coating his boots. The rub of hunger in his belly, an ache that wanted to be filled. And the stench. God, the stench.


As bad as those days were, this was worse. Those exercises had an end. He could look forward to sleeping in his bed again, a warm shower, and a hot meal, if he only endured.


What would be waiting for them all after this? Would there even be an ‘after’? How did a country put itself back together after two sides of the population tried their hardest to kill each other? History didn’t prophesy well. In the Caucasus, in the very mountains and the forest they were sheltering in, the endless, bloody Chechen wars had raged. There was no future to those wars, no happy ending, no settlement over a handshake and a brandy while people got on with their lives and learned to live in harmony.


When Sergey was back in Moscow, back in the Kremlin—he refused to think that anything else was possible other than Sergey’s return to power—how would he deal with Moroshkin? With the nearly half of the military that had joined his coup? Or the others that had simply melted away, vanishing from their oaths and posts into nothing?


The questions were too big for Sasha. He wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t in charge of a country, or was the man upon whose shoulders lay decisions that could shape the world, their nation, and millions and millions of lives. He could only do what he could do: fight. Fight, every single day, for Sergey. Give everything he had to Sergey.


Breathing hard, Sasha frowned as he reached the flat, empty patch of dirt they used as a parking area outside the bunker. It was empty.


“He went out.”


Leaning against the cold concrete wall of the bunker, Anton Aliyev casually smoked a cigarette, his cheeks hollowing as he sucked it down, the embers burning bright in the dim shadows. Sasha sighed, his hands on his hips. “Where?”


Anton jerked his head to the side. “Down the back track. He did not say much when he left.” Smoke slipped from his lips with every word.


Nodding, Sasha headed for the rear of the bunker.


He found the jeep, the one he and Sergey shared, halfway down the rear track, just as Anton had said. It was parked in the middle of the dirt path, thick branches scrapping the sides and roof. The track was just large enough to drive through, if the scrapes and scratches of the branches on the windows and the metal frame didn’t shred your eardrums.


Why had he just stopped? Was there something in the road? A fallen log, or a boulder dislodged from above, rolling into the track? Why was he just sitting there?


Picking his way through the branches, Sasha tugged open the passenger’s door and climbed inside.


And froze.


Sergey sat in the driver’s seat, hands clenched around the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white and the wheel was shaking, trembling in his grip. His jaw was tight, his muscles straining, and he sat ramrod straight, like he was struggling to hold himself that way.


Half hovering over the passenger seat, Sasha’s jaw dropped. Guilt swept through him, flooding his body with heat. Of course. What had he been thinking? The news of Jack’s condition after the explosion at CIA headquarters had come through that morning.


Jack was gone. Sergey’s friend was gone.


“Sorry,” Sasha grunted. He backed away, all hands and feet and uncoordinated, stepping on the doorframe instead of opening it before his fingers fumbled with the latch.




Freezing again, Sasha glanced at Sergey. Sergey had turned his way, staring at him with eyes that glimmered, red-rimmed and lost. Desperation leaked from his gaze, and something else. Anguish.


Sasha’s heart lurched. He ached to go to Sergey, offer himself up to ease the hurt. Open his arms, and welcome Sergey into his hold. Kiss away the tears that threatened to fall, rub his hands down his back when he cried, stroke his shaking muscles. Sooth his pain, his grief. Remind him that he was not alone, no, he was never alone.


He sat. Shut the door. Exhaled. “I am sorry,” he breathed. “Jack…” What could he say? He hadn’t known Jack like Sergey had. The connection Sergey and Jack had was strong enough to shake the world. They’d leaned into each other and built an alliance, a friendship, even. Made jokes in the press about the scandal of their closeness. Sergey had even risked the disgust of his nation to dance with Jack at his State Dinner. Friendships like that didn’t happen between world leaders, not anymore.


A sniffle, and then a shaky breath. Sergey gripped the steering wheel again, kneading the worn leather, and groaned, his teeth clenched. He sniffed again, exhaled hard. Tried to level out his breathing. Every breath quivered.


“Sergey…” Sasha laid his hand on Sergey’s trembling shoulder. What could he say? What could he do? His tongue sat heavy in his mouth, weighted down with uselessness.


And then Sergey cracked, fracturing down the center of his being. Curling forward, the first sob came, physically wrenched from his chest. And then another, an anguished moan. Tears followed, flowing down his cheeks as he shook, as he screamed through clenched teeth and shook the steering wheel like it was the cause of his agony.


Utter helplessness speared Sasha. Sergey’s pain was devastating, the grief of losing his friend and his country seeming to come out in one gut-tearing sob. It was awful, seeing a man come apart, consumed by soul-wracking pain.


Another night came back to Sasha, from months ago. Another night of grief and mourning, and a soul-shattering emptiness that had made him want to claw his own bones out. Escape his very skeleton. Be anyone, anywhere, other than who he was. Not have to face what had come of his life.


Sergey had held him through it. They were strangers then; he only knew of Sergey through the headlines and video clips he saw. Sergey knew of him only through his military record and Dr. Voronov’s retelling of his incident. But Sergey had cared for him, man to man, giving comfort freely when he saw Sasha’s aching emptiness.


His hand snaked up, rising from Sergey’s shoulder to grip the back of his neck. Tugging, he turned Sergey toward him, gently pulling and prodding until Sergey faced him on the bench seat.


Tears cascaded down Sergey’s cheeks, falling from his jaw like tiny diamonds. They splattered the leather between them, little splashes that Sasha swore he heard.


Sergey wouldn’t look at him. He kept his gaze downcast, his eyes closed.


Sasha wrapped both hands behind Sergey’s neck. “Look at me,” he whispered.


Sergey sniffed. He didn’t look up.


“Sergey. Look at me.”


Slowly, Sergey’s eyes opened, and from beneath his lashes, Sergey’s eyes met Sasha’s.


Pain. So much terrible pain. Anguish that stole Sasha’s breath away. Loneliness. Fear. Doubt.


He moved his hands, cupping Sergey’s wet cheeks, and held his face in a gentle hold. As if he was going to kiss Sergey. “I am here with you,” he breathed. “Always.” You’re not alone. You’re never alone.


Another sob wrenched free from Sergey, and he pitched forward, burying his face in Sasha’s chest. His tears fell into the scratchy wool of Sasha’s sweater, enough to soak through and dampen Sasha’s skin.


Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around Sergey, around his bony shoulders and his thin back. A part of him rejoiced—he was holding Sergey, cradling him close. Could feel the warmth of his skin, his breath. It was almost like his dreams.


Except not, because Sergey was sobbing, heartbroken, and lost, and devastation was the only thing they had to look forward to.


He shouldn’t be happy about having Sergey in his arms, not when the price was this many tears. This kind of hurt.


Sergey’s blond hair was mused and dirty—they were all dirty—but Sasha laid his cheek on top of Sergey’s head. His hands stroked over Sergey’s trembling back, mapping out his thin muscles. Counted the bones of his ribs, the knobs of his spine. Slowly, Sergey’s sobs subsided, quieting, until he was just sniffling against Sasha’s collarbone, one hand fisted in the loose fabric of Sasha’s jacket.


“M’sorry,” Sergey mumbled. His hot breath ghosted over Sasha’s skin.


Goosebumps erupted down Sasha’s arms, his legs, behind his knees. He fought not to shiver. Instead, he squeezed Sergey, wrapped his arms tighter around him. Drew him closer. “No sorrys. None of that. You cared for me once. I will do the same for you.”


Exhaling, Sergey lifted and dropped his fist against Sasha’s chest, once.


A moment later, Sergey tried to pull away. “We should—”


Sasha held tight, not letting him go. His arms encircled Sergey, keeping him pressed against his chest. “Not yet. Sergey, not yet.” He held his breath and closed his eyes. Had he just given himself away? Was he taking advantage? Where did him wanting to comfort Sergey end and his shameful desire begin?


He just didn’t want to let go yet. Not when Sergey’s back still trembled, and his eyes were still drenched and hollow. Looking down, he brushed one thumb over Sergey’s cheek, wiping away a tear that had slipped free from Sergey’s soaked eyelashes.


Their gazes met.


He fought for something to say, his lips fumbling through half-broken words as he tried to explain away what he knew was in his eyes. Never, ever, he hissed in his mind. You swore! Nothing can ever happen. Never ever!


Sergey’s eyes closed. His forehead rested against Sasha’s chin, and his body went boneless as he slumped into Sasha’s hold. “Maybe this is just a dream,” Sergey murmured. “Some terrible nightmare. Maybe I can wake up from this.”


Sasha’s terrible delight, and Sergey’s dark pain, all in one moment. A moment Sergey wished he could be rid of, wake from. Sasha’s lips twisted as he fought against himself, trying to hold back his own sudden grief. “Maybe,” he grunted. “You can try. Sleep, Sergey. Try to wake from this.” He kept his arms around Sergey, hoping his message was clear. Sergey could sleep in his arms, in his hold.


Sergey didn’t move. Didn’t say a word.


Finally, Sergey’s breathing leveled out. His jaw went slack and his head turned into a heavy, limp weight on Sasha’s shoulder. Since the coup, Sasha hadn’t seen him sleep more than a few hours at a time. Dark circles had grown beneath his eyes, paunchy bags that started growing their own bags.


This was his chance. Sergey was asleep in his arms, resting finally in his care. He could press his lips to Sergey’s skin, drop a kiss to his hair. Whisper everything he wanted to confess to Sergey’s palm before placing a kiss in the center. He could say, finally, what had grown in his heart. Paint his love all over Sergey’s skin with confessions and declarations, promises he’d swear to the stars.


No. He could not.


Leaning back, Sasha tried to get comfortable. The doorframe dug into his back, the handle gouged his spine, and the glass was cold enough to chill his blood. He didn’t move though. Didn’t readjust. Didn’t do anything that could wake Sergey.


As the hours crept on, Sasha stayed awake, stroking Sergey’s back as he held him close, sheltering him in his sleep. This was his terrible dream now: being, for a moment, the man who could love Sergey and could care for him. Be someone that could love him when his heart was broken.


When Sergey woke, his dream would end.


But, this moment, the closeness they shared. The comfort given and received. The warmth of skin on skin, and his promise to Sergey: I am here with you. For you.


The memory of that, at least, would remain.

Timestamp: Sasha and Sergey in the forest south of Sochi, in the Caucasus, post-coup and after reports of Jack’s “death” have hit the media.

In A Moment, Shame – Jack’s POV of Sochi


Happy New Year! Bauer’s Bytes is back!

After the holiday hiatus, and a break for the 12 Days of Gifting event on Facebook, I’m back with a brand new Bauer’s Bytes. This is a very special Byte, and one that has been requested more than a few times.

What was Jack thinking in Sochi? What went through his head? How did he “just forget Ethan like that?” If I had a penny for every time I heard these questions… 🙂

Today, Jack shares his thoughts. This story reveals what was going through Jack’s head during the Big Reveal at Sochi. As such, this story contains MAJOR SPOILERS for a critical plot point for Enemy of My Enemy, Book 2 in the Executive Office Series.

If you have not read Enemy of My Enemy yet, in its entirety, please do not read further.

Enjoy! And Happy New Year!


It can’t be.

No. It’s impossible.

But, right there, struggling against too many hands grabbing at her, holding her down, was Leslie.

His wife. His dead wife.

No. Not dead.


He took off, running full speed across the cracked asphalt, heading for her. Overhead, the Osprey was coming in, lowering itself down as her two giant arms rotated up, turning the plane into a heavy helicopter. Road grit blew hard, peppering his cheeks and chin and eyes with sharp slices that he should have felt. The roar of the rotors, also, should have quaked his bones, sent shockwaves through his eardrums.

Instead, it was like he was underwater, plunged beneath the sea, everything distorted and out of focus. Hazy black shapes, the agents beside Leslie, moving too fast and too slow all at once. Blocking his path, no matter where they were.

Cotton-stuffed ears, the drone of a trans-Atlantic flight, and the dullness right before falling to sleep. Nothing came through; he couldn’t hear, beyond the molasses-slow haze that had descended over him. Had the world fallen to pieces? Was this the calm before the blast? In a moment, would it all be gone?


That moment had already happened. The blast had already hit.

It had slammed square into his chest, into his heart, with Scott’s flick of his wrist, the removal of the hostage’s hood.

“Jack! Wait!”

Ethan. Ethan, Ethan. Where did Ethan fit into this suddenly-new world, a place where Leslie was alive? His brain wouldn’t process Ethan’s words, or Ethan’s voice, instead translating the sound into ravaging slashes against his heart, and bullet wounds digging into the muscles between his shoulder blades.

A few more steps, running through the thickened soup that seemed to separate him from her. As if the properties of the world had changed, in an instant, and what once was air, matter made light with buoyancy, was suddenly a viscous fluid, fighting against him with every step he took.

Had the world stopped spinning? Had the earth stopped moving beneath his feet? Without the planet’s spin, could he even take another step?

He slid the last foot, dropping to his knees on the loose asphalt. His pants tore, and grit dug into his skin, burning and stabbing all at once. Leslie kicked, screaming, and her arms flailed, a wild thing desperate for freedom. Fighting for her life, fighting against strange men who tried to hold her down. God, how many strangers had tried to hold her back, hold her down? What had turned his wife, the strongest woman he’d ever known, an Amazon warrior goddess, his own Wonder Woman, into this shrieking, flailing thing?

Sixteen years. How much freedom had she lost? How could the months, the day, the hours be quantified into moments? Into a life lost?

How many times had she struggled?

“Les! Les!” No more. She wouldn’t struggle again. Never again. He’d keep her safe, like he had sworn to do. Like he should have been doing, for sixteen years. “Les, it’s me. It’s Jack.”

She froze, as if she’d dropped dead. Had her heart gave out? He wouldn’t blame her. His was about to burst, tear itself to pieces, rend itself to shreds, bleed out inside of his chest. How did the heart handle the reappearance of someone they’d long given up as dead, as gone?

He got his first look at her, and wanted to vomit. Gone was his vibrant wife. Thick, dark hair, so long he could wrap her ponytail around his hand and make his palm and fingers disappear. He’d brushed her hair every night she was home, until the dark lengths had shone and she’d lean back against him, smiling that warm, honey-smile. A round face, her cheekbones made for hearts to fall from, and lips that could smile and tease and bark orders that made men’s spines stiffen from one moment to the next. Her strength, with muscles that seemed more impressive than his, so powerful on her frame, set against his softer lawyer’s body. She had been ferocity and suppleness, power and love, all wrapped in one body. She’d been his Venus, his Aphrodite. How could one body hold everything that she was, he’d often wondered. How did her bones and muscles contain all that she was?

They no longer did. Lank hair, stringy with oil and tangled with mud and dried blood, hung limp around her skeletally thin face. Sunken hollows lived beneath her cheekbones, and canyons had formed beneath her eyes. Years of scabbed and swollen lips had turned her mouth into a bruise, flaking with dried blood and peeling skin.

What had happened to her?

What had he abandoned her to?

“Jack,” she breathed. Her eyes, her beautiful eyes, that used to convey so much to him with just a single glance, darted over his face. That telepathy that couples had, were they could read each other in a moment, a single flick of the eyes, a breathless sound. He’d built that connection with Ethan; he couldn’t read her anymore. “Jack? How— What—“

“Mr. President.” Scott tugged on his arm. “We have to move, now!”

No. No, he couldn’t move past this moment. Things were going to happen when he stood again, and he couldn’t face those things. Not yet. Dammit, his heart already knew, though. Anguish crawled up his throat, clenching it shut. Fingers of grief, of rage, of agony clawed at his neck, and tears swam before of his eyes, obscuring her terrible face. Not yet. Not yet. He didn’t want to face this new world yet. He shook Scott off.

“How are you alive?” he whispered. “I thought you were dead.”

President?” she gasped, ignoring him. “Jack?”

“Mr. President!” Scott snapped at him, and tugged on his arm, not kindly. “We have to go! Now!”

The Osprey circled and then started its descent, only yards away. Bullets spattered against her massive metal frame, and in response, the doorgunner sent a never-ending volley back toward the shooters, bracing on a ridge overlooking the street. The hum of the bullets droned in Jack’s ears, like a mosquito buzzing too close, above the heavy whomp of the rotors, spinning too slowly in his mind. Like some terrible drum beat, the musical accompaniment to a the heart-rending scene of the movie. The sounds filled him, slithered through his veins all the way to his heart, where the thrumming tried to split apart the muscles and fibers, tried to dislodge the blood and spill it down his insides.  

“Go, now, now!” Scott, shouting for the crew to cover Jack. Preparing for his evac. Always a helicopter, always pulling him away.

It was all so unreal, so suddenly. This wasn’t right. This was a dream. A terrible dream. He’d wake up in a moment and grab Ethan and hold him tight. Ethan would wash his nightmare away with his hands, and then with his lips, and everything would be back to the way it was supposed to be. Not this. Not this terrible thing.


Ethan, again. Leaning in. Brushing against Jack, his warm weight pressed against his side. Jack’s knees ground into the asphalt, twisting in his own blood, and streaks of pain shot up through his thighs, grounding him.

Not a dream. Not a nightmare. He couldn’t wake, not from this.

Ethan’s hands reached for Leslie.

“I’ve got her!” he snapped, almost manic. “I’ve fucking got her!” Ethan couldn’t touch Leslie. They shouldn’t be together, shouldn’t even be near. Could the universe survive the meeting of the two, or would some cosmic hole open up, a rend in the universe that would swallow Jack whole? The mobius strip of his life would come undone, torn down the center of his soul.

Ethan stared at him, his jaw hanging open.

Don’t look. God, don’t look.

He gathered her close, her painfully light frame nearly weightless in his arms. Scott came alongside him, wrapping one hand around Jack’s waist, and hauled him to the Osprey. As they ran, her hands clenched around his arms, her thin fingers digging into the soaked fabric of his torn shirt. Her face turned into his chest, burying in the valley between his pecs.

His stomach twisted, and then twisted gain. That spot wasn’t hers. It wasn’t her place any longer. His body had been given to Ethan, had become a temple for Ethan’s worship, and it was Ethan’s place to nuzzle at the side of his pec, press his lips to Jack’s skin and breath out, making Jack shiver. It wasn’t right, having another in the places that were Ethan’s.

But before his body was Ethan’s, it had been Leslie’s.

The Osprey saved his sanity, and his heart, from going any further. He set her on the flight deck, passing her to the hands of the flight medic. Her eyes went wide – another pair of unknown hands grabbing at her body – and she reached back for him, terror blazing through her.

This close, the roar of the rotors was too loud for any words to be spoken. He did what he could. Brushed her hair, flapping in the wash of the Osprey, off her face and behind her ears. Smiled at her. Squeezed her hands, like he did on their wedding day, a promise in every inch of his skin.

He had to turn away from her, but he didn’t want to. He had to face what was behind him, but he wasn’t strong enough for that.

She squeezed his hands back, and smiled.

His heart cracked, a dark fault line splitting him in two.

He turned, and strode back to where Sergey and Sasha were kneeling on the asphalt, still holding a defensive line that had crumbled away, the agents disappearing into the Osprey one by one. All save Daniels, still standing sentinel at Ethan’s side.

Don’t look. God, don’t look at Ethan.

He dropped in front of Sergey. “We’re headed for Turkey. We can take you, too. Give you political asylum.” Police sirens wailed, mixing with the rata-tat-tat of bullets and explosions blooming into the night, only blocks away. Screeching tires, shouts in Russian and English. The sounds of the world ending.

“No.” Sergey shook his head. “No, Jack. I have to stay. I have to fight for Russia. I have to help my people.”

No, not Sergey too. He couldn’t lose everything in so few minutes. It couldn’t be possible. “Sergey, that’s suicide—“

“Yes, Jack. Maybe. But I will die the right way.” Sergey grabbed him, holding his shoulders, and for a moment, Jack thought he’d shatter beneath his friend’s’ grasp. Break into a billion pieces, and collapse to the Russian street. Blow away in the wind. Part of him yearned for the release. “Go. Get out of here. Save yourself.” Sergey kept speaking, even as Jack swayed beneath his hands. “Sasha, you should go. You should—“

“No.” Sasha scowled at Sergey. “I will say with you.”

Vomit choked his throat. Sasha’s steadfast love, his eternal devotion to Sergey, even in the midst of the world falling apart around them. I had that love, he thought, wailing from the corners of his soul. I had that love. Beside him, Ethan’s presence was like a black hole, pulling at every atom of his being. I had that love, he whimpered again, as the remains of his heart shivered and shriveled, drawing up like a wounded, anguished thing.

He reached for Sergey, his one friend through everything, the man one half of a friendship that had redefined the world, and remade his own world. Was this goodbye? It was too much, too fast. Too many goodbyes, too many closed doors. Too much change, happening between one breath and the next. He couldn’t keep up. How was everyone else keeping up? How were any of them still standing?

“I will do everything I can for you. Everything.”

Sergey nodded once, and then moved off to the darkness at the side of the road. Sasha, ever faithful, shadowed his movements. Jack watched them disappear into the darkness. Do svidanya.


Ethan. Ethan’s voice. God, if he turned, Ethan would be right there, ready to hold him, pull him into his arms, and shield him from this upside down world. He ached, God, he ached for that. Yearned. Ethan could make this right. Ethan was his shelter, his rock, his home. He’d carved a life between Ethan’s arms, laid his cornerstone beneath the shield of Ethan’s heart. They could get through this together.


They couldn’t.

How could he reconcile loving Ethan when his wife was suddenly alive? He’d mourned her, sobbed for her, cried himself to sleep for a year, and had used every wish he’d been granted for five straight years on begging for her return. Every fortune cookie, wishbone, and birthday candle, spent on this very wish. That she was truly alive, hidden somewhere, and would come home. Would come back to him.

He’d lost faith after the years had passed. Accepted what was written fact, etched on a piece of parchment and a marble headstone in Arlington. His wife was dead.

He’d never asked for Ethan’s love, never sought it out. Never went seeking for a new life, and a love that had remade everything about himself. His soul, purified with Ethan’s love. His body, remade down to his veins with Ethan’s kisses, the caress of his hands, the stroke of their bodies together. He was a man reborn, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of his former life, his soul more radiant than he’d ever been before.

God, he loved Ethan. Loved him in a gut-punch purity, a fire that circled his heart. Loved him to his marrow, and beyond.

But how could it go on? How could they go forward with this?

He’d vowed to love Leslie until death did they part. She wasn’t dead. He’d made that mistake already. How many years had she been tortured? How many times? How many nights had she cried out for him? Whispered his name in the darkness, like he had hers? How much hope had she spent, and had she ever given up on him? Like he’d given up on her? How could he ever make this right?

Penance. Eternal, everlasting penance. He had to make up for the years, the months, the days, hours, and minutes that he wasn’t there for her. How could he ever be happy again, knowing what he’d left her to? Knowing what he’d given up on?

She, half-dead, forgotten, anguished and alone, and him, in love, glorious, soul on fire love, and happy.

There was no way for those two realities to coexist. No way for him to keep Ethan, keep his love, and serve at her feet, whispering apology after apology to the ground she tread on.

He could never be happy again.

Don’t look.

Don’t look at Ethan. Never again.

You don’t deserve happiness. You don’t deserve him. You, vile creature that found love and laughter while Leslie was tortured.

Don’t you dare look at Ethan.

He was weak, oh so weak, and he’d fall into Ethan’s arms if he looked into the burnished bronze pools of his eyes. If he felt the warmth of his skin, the gentleness of his hold. He’d fall, as hard as he’d fallen in love, but that path wasn’t open to him any longer.

The world had stopped spinning. His world had stopped, and it would never start again. Ethan would have to spin on without him.

And his own heart, whatever was left of it after the cold concrete of Sochi, would spin on, tangled with Ethan’s memory for the rest of his days.

He jogged back to the Osprey, his eyes picking out Leslie’s emaciated face in the hold. She was biting her lip, desperately searching for him through the mass of Secret Service agents and military uniforms. Her shoulders were drawn, tense in a way that he hadn’t ever seen before. Like a caged animal, wounded prey searching for safety. That wasn’t his wife. God, what had happened to her? What had turned her into this? What had he abandoned her to?

He hauled himself up into the hold, ignoring the agents and soldiers all trying to help him. His hands, bloody, slipped on the metal grips, and he stumbled, then crawled toward Leslie. Pain flared in the ground meat of the skin over his knees, squelching blood with every forward crawl. She kept her eyes fixed to him, hope and terror mixing in equal parts. He could never make her whole again, bring back the vibrant woman that she once had been.

Instead, he had to make do with his failure, his complete failure as a man, and as a husband. He would scrape together the pieces that remained, help her reassemble the fragile shards of her life, build her back up into a beautiful mosaic. He’d give her everything, everything that he’d taken for himself, while she’d been hidden away from the world, beaten and brutalized. He would lay the world at her feet, completely devoted to healing her soul.

Tears flowed over his eyes as he crawled to her, reached out with both of his arms. A strangled sob caught in her throat as he poured herself into his arms, curling against his chest and burrowing her face in the hollow beneath his neck.

He shivered, his skin not used to a body that wasn’t Ethan’s. Ethan’s, that space on his body was Ethan’s. He was meant to hold Ethan in this way. Was meant to be held by Ethan in this way.

Behind him, Scott’s gruff murmur slipped through the shouts of the crewmen, the rotors, the bullets, and the Osprey’s creaking frame lifting off from Russian soil.

“Are you with me?” Scott grunted. “You with us?”


Don’t look. Don’t ever look. You don’t deserve to look.

He squeezed his eyes shut, but tears flowed from the corners, cascading down his cheeks in dirty waterfalls. Leslie clung to him, but in his mind, he held Ethan, and spoke to him as he whispered into her hair. “I’m so sorry. I’m so God damn sorry. How could this happen? How?”

There were no answers for him. There was nothing but the grasp of her frail fingers against his arms, and the sounds of Ethan chambering a round in his rifle and taking up position against the hold’s open door.

His wife was alive, and his love, his life with Ethan, was at an end. It could not be his any longer. There was no more happiness for him, not in this world of his broken assumptions, failed promises, and a guilt that swallowed his soul. He tasted ash and fire on his tongue, the ruins of his life; no the ruins of three lives. Three lives destroyed, because of him.

He was nothing. Less than nothing. Worthless. Beyond worthless.

As light as love had made him, guilt, followed by the ravaging snarls of shame, suffocating, clenching shame, dragged him down deep within himself, until all that he was lived in the dry and dusty canyons of his once-full heart.  

Timestamp: Jack, in Sochi, after the reveal of the hostage’s identity as his long-dead wife, Leslie.