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!
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.
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OH. MY. GOD! Thank you sooooo much!!! OMG I LOVE IT SOOO MUCH!!!! The artistic way the photographer voices his opinion is intrinsic with an artist’s voice. AND THE BARBARIAN FALLING FOR HIS PRINCE! HAH! It’s too perfect. Thank you so much for writing this prompt. It meant so much to me as a fan. Thank you for being so generous with your characters!
Jack & Ethan stories will always be my favorite – I love reading about them. You books come to life for me. Thank you, Tal. You are a most gifted author.
Ah, “…a picture paints a thousand words”, eh? Sweet! 🙂