Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!
This week, we’re exploring a scene in Enemy Within, this time from Sergey’s POV. If you have not read Enemy Within, this Byte is NOT for you! Come back and read it after you’re finished the series! You will enjoy the series so much more for having experienced it without spoilers! 🙂
For those of you who have read Enemy Within, this prompt comes from Alexi, who wanted to see the scene where Jack and Sergey wake up in Siberia together, after Jack falls into the river, and Sergey has his realization.
Jack is so peaceful when he sleeps.
Sergey’s gaze traced the lines of Jack’s face, the planes of his cheeks. The curve of his lips, relaxed and almost smiling. Asleep, the tension hidden in Jack’s expression had melted away, and he looked a decade younger, a man nearing the prime of his life. There was only a hint of crow’s feet at his eyes, echoes that looked that shadows on Jack’s smooth skin.
Color was coming back to Jack’s face, his body. He’d lost that deathly-pale sheen, the gray tinge to his skin, shortly after he started breathing again. Sergey had held him in his arms, pressed their naked bodies together. Rubbed his hands and his arms and even his legs over every part of Jack, trying to pour his own body’s meager warmth into his friend.
Slowly, Jack was coming back to life. Unfreezing, after the icy river. His heart was strong. And he had everything to live for.
But Sergey’s world, his heart and soul, was coming apart.
He traced Jack’s lips with his gaze again, his breath stuttering. They were centimeters apart, their bodies firmly pressed together. It would take nothing, nothing at all, to reach out and close his lips over Jack’s. Something gentle, something sweet, instead of the rough way he’d breathed into Jack hours ago.
If it weren’t for Ethan—
Govno, what was he thinking? Jack was his friend. His plucky, crazy American friend. He couldn’t kiss Jack! He wasn’t—
Sergey squeezed shut his eyes.
Jack transformed into Sasha, safe in the bleak darkness of his mind. Sasha’s body, hard and firm, smooth and sleek, in his arms. He was muscled where Jack was more trim, but they were both relatively hairless. It was easy to pretend, suddenly, that Sasha had slid into his arms in the bunker, had nuzzled his way into his sleeping bag. Was breathing softly against his neck.
He pulled Jack closer, keeping his eyes shut as he fought back the sob that strangled his chest.
Sasha, damn it. Why? Why had he flown off like that? If they had just a few more hours, they could have come up with another way. He didn’t have to sacrifice his life—
Why had Sasha left him?
Why had Sasha kissed him?
Blocks tumbled in his mind, a baby toppling a wall of wooden toys. Memories he’d hidden, buried, appeared like vapor, fog that threaded through his entire life. Noticing a man. Noticing his body, his shape. Wondering—
No. Those were normal thoughts. It was normal to recognize other people, their beauty. Man or woman.
How many people had he been close to in his whole life? Out of two marriages and his friendship with Ilya and Sasha, where did his heart prefer to be? What memories did he cherish? What inside jokes did he remember? If he could turn back time, where would he go?
He knew exactly where. He’d go back to the flight line, and the cold wind of Volga whipping beneath his jacket. The smell of burned metal and scorched asphalt. Old diesel fuel. Jet engines, and oil. And Sasha.
He’d go back to the moment Sasha reached for him. He’d reach back, holding on to Sasha as he kissed him. He wouldn’t let Sasha pull back. He’d pull him closer instead, wrap his arms around him, finally.
He wouldn’t let Sasha get into the jet.
He wouldn’t lose Sasha, just moments after he’d found himself.
Was that it? Was this the truth of his life? Had he deluded himself for years, for fifty-two years, and now, after losing Sasha, he was finally able to face the truth? That the only times he ever deeply connected with someone… that someone was a man?
That his wandering eye had less to do with aesthetics, with admiring suits and sweaters, and more to do with the person beneath the layers?
The sob in his chest swelled, cutting off his breath. He gasped, gripping Jack hard, tangling his fingers in Jack’s hair and squeezing his shoulders as he practically climbed his body.
How many times had he looked at Sasha? Teased him about his superhero good looks, the way he could pass for ‘Captain Russia’, a play on Captain America. How many times had he told him he was beautiful, as a joke or in playful banter?
How was he to know that his idle words were actually the secret of his soul?
It had been easy, so, so easy, to pretend his glances meant nothing. To ignore his thoughts as mindless fascination. To turn his gaze to women, and relax into the ease of normalcy.
But what woman had ever touched his soul the way Sasha had?
Thoughts of Sasha made his soul stir, his heart bleed tears down his ribs. Anguish made his spine curl, and he wrapped himself around Jack. Tears built in his eyelashes, burning droplets hovering on his frigid skin. Too late, he was too late. Sasha was gone.
What could they have had, though?
Thoughts tumbled like diamonds, like water slipping through his hands. Dreams like falling stars, or a jet fighter exploding in midair, and debris raining to the ground.
They could have had a true first kiss.
They could have had a moment over dinner, when their eyes locked. Maybe a moment when their hands, their fingers, laced together. He’d have spoken with his eyes, tried to tell Sasha everything he felt with the heat of his gaze.
Could he have danced with Sasha? Sasha was a block of stone, an ice giant, most days. Could he ever have folded into Sergey’s arms and swayed, a small smile on his face? Could they have twirled around a dance floor, chests brushing, hips aligned?
Perhaps, they could have had a moment like this. Naked body to naked body, wrapped so closely around each other. Sasha would be intense with him, like he was intense with everything in his life. They would kiss, really kiss, not like their fumble at the flight line. Sasha’s hands would be everywhere, govno, everywhere, in his hair, sliding down his side, cupping his thigh as their bodies aligned—
Sergey’s thoughts hardened, became real. His body, dreaming of Sasha and pressed against Jack, responded to his galloping desire. His cock, hard, pushed against Jack’s hip.
Fuck. His eyes snapped open, and he stared, panicked, into Jack’s sleeping face.
I wish you were Sasha.
The thought hit him like a train, like Sasha’s jet ripping apart over Siberia. I wish you were Sasha. Jack, I would give anything for you to be Sasha, right now. Jack was vibrant, gregarious, American as apple pie and the crack of the stars and stripes in the wind. Beautiful, in ways Sergey only cautiously admitted to himself. A part of him had been drawn to Jack from the first moment they met. A worthy adversary, or a friend and partner he could cherish. He hadn’t known which at the time.
He’d wanted a closer relationship with Jack. He’d wanted to get closer to the president and the man. He’d never asked himself why.
Until Sasha had stolen his soul.
“If you were Sasha,” he whispered, “I would kiss you. I would make love to you. Fuck, I would.” His sob hit him sideways, surprising him. Curling forward again, his lips landed on Jack’s forehead. “Sasha…” tears fell, streaking across his cheeks as he kissed Jack’s forehead.
Would there be another man who captured his heart so completely, like Sasha had? Perhaps Jack could have, if it weren’t for his heart already being wholly owned by Ethan. But had he missed his one last chance at true love in this life? Had his cowardice at facing himself condemned him to losing what he wanted most?
Sergey kissed Jack’s forehead again, inhaling the scent of Jack’s hair. He could pretend it was Sasha, for a moment. If he kept his eyes closed, this could be his stolen time. He could fantasize, for just this once, and imagine what it would have been like. He was a degenerate, using his half-frozen friend in this way, but…
If only he had been braver, he might have actually known what having Sasha in his arms was like.
Oh, this was torture. Jack shifted, moved. His body was responding to Sergey’s, his own cock hardening. Jack’s arms slipped around his waist, and his head pillowed on Sergey’s shoulder.
If he kept his eyes closed, it was still Sasha. Sasha’s touch. Sasha’s hardness, matching his own. Sasha desiring him, as laughable as that thought was. If only! He just had to roll his hips, align his body, and he and Sasha would finally be making love—
Jack stirred. Shifted. Sighed. His lips, still chilled, pressed against Sergey’s collarbone.
Jack’s hips rolled, his hard cock rubbing up Sergey’s thigh, toward his own cock, achingly hard and—
Jack froze. He didn’t breathe.
“Sergey, I’m sorry. I didn’t know where I was.” Jack tried to pull away, looking down, away, keeping his eyes closed.
No, he couldn’t let go. Not yet. Sasha and Jack were merging, mixing in his mind. His soul was a firework, blasting into shards that burned the sky, pieces of Sasha’s jet that had come apart around him, debris that rained down, the broken remnants of a life and a love that could have been. He needed something; comfort, affection, care, he didn’t know what. A balm to the heartache, to the loneliness. Something that could pretend to put a bandage over the crevasse in his heart, the void that had opened when he heard Sasha’s voice say, “Sergey, I—“, and then—
Jack kept pulling away, out of his arms. He’d die if Jack let go now, pulled away while his soul was bleeding in every direction. He’d die, he knew it.
Jack looked him dead in the eye. Faced him, and his naked body, their naked bodies, and the secret that pressed hot and hard between them. That was Jack, that was his friend. Facing head on what life gave him, no matter what. Sergey was unlike him in every way. Did it really take Sasha dying for him to face that he loved the man?
“Sergey?” A single word, a question.
A heartbeat, and he was back in Moscow, laughing with Ilya, watching and waiting for Sasha’s gentle smile to be teased out. He was ribbing Sasha, poking fun at his stories about flying, about training, about the mothballed way the Russian Army Air Force operated on shoestrings and duct tape. Sasha had chuckled, smiled at him. “Sergey—” he said.
A heartbeat, and he was in the forest outside Volga, clinging to the sat phone, desperately trying to hang on to his last connection to Sasha. Static, a high-pitched warble, Sasha’s gruff voice shouting information over a roar that sounded like an oncoming train. That was Sasha, flying at nearly the speed of sound, running away from missiles, running into certain death, all for the mission, for a shot at intelligence. Damn Madigan, he’d taken everything from Jack, and now he was taking everything from Sergey, too! Sasha’s voice choked off, and the roar came back. Was it over? Was that the—
“Sergey, I—” Sasha said.
He heard the missile’s impact. He heard Sasha’s jet come apart, metal tearing, sheering, screaming. He heard the fireball erupt. He heard everything, except what Sasha was going to say.
And now, he’d never hear Sasha say his name again.
Sergey pitched forward, crashing into Jack. There was a black hole in his chest, a void, aching with the memories of what he’d lost. Not lost. Never had to begin with. He’d never been able to admit what he wanted. Not to Sasha, and not to himself. Not ever. Tears raced down his cheeks, trails of fire that scalded his soul. He pressed his forehead to Jack’s, trying to escape himself. “I am not brave enough,” he whispered. “I am not brave enough.”
Jack was kind, compassionate, when he shouldn’t have been. Sergey had been cherishing him as if he were Sasha, had grown hard imagining Jack was another man. Jack had awoken to Sergey’s arousal. He should be furious. Instead, he cradled Sergey’s cheeks and turned his face up. Sergey closed his eyes. He couldn’t face Jack. “What are you talking about?” Jack whispered gently.
“I am not a brave enough man. I am not like you. Or—” A sob choked him, cutting out his voice. “Or Sasha.”
“Sergey… Are you saying you’re—”
“I do not know what I am!” Sergey ripped out of Jack’s careful hold, turning his face away. Shame licked up his bones, curled through his body like fire eating him alive. “When you were sleeping, I imagined you were Sasha.”
Sergey inhaled, waiting for the blow.
Jack sighed slowly as he cupped Sergey’s cheek. “Is this the first time you’ve thought about another man this way?”
Dare he confess? Dare he bare his soul? Dare he admit to the secret he’d kept from even himself? What was there to gain by keeping this all hidden anymore? If only he’d been more honest with himself, and with Sasha! Would it all have ended this badly?
Sergey dug his forehead into Jack’s, shaky inhales bouncing off Jack’s cheeks. “No.”
Jack was never shocked. Never stunned. Except for now.
“I noticed men. Noticed how they looked. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like. Two men together. But they were just thoughts! I thought everyone thought the way I did. Wondered, sometimes. But you said you never thought about it before you were with Ethan.”
“No. I never did.”
Memories of the Soviet Union, growing up in a world where being different, being not like everyone else, was a death sentence. His relief, palpable, as he grew that he found women attractive. That he was, and could be, normal. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder, every day and every night, live with the corrosion of a secret. He fumbled something to Jack, bitten off words and whispers.
“So you hid what you felt?”
“I never knew what I felt! It was never a possibility!” Being with a man, loving a man. Inconceivable. Utterly inconceivable, in the Soviet Union or in her successor, the Russian Federation. But wasn’t he the man who was trying to change Russia? Wasn’t he the president who championed equality, and freedom for all? Somewhere deep, deep inside his mangled heart, had there been a faint hope? When he’d met Sasha, had there been that flash, that spark, that crazy chemical signal that goes off between two people destined to be lovers? Had he felt the pull toward Sasha? Had everything started to align then, his heart and his head and his soul coming into focus on one man?
Sergey didn’t speak for a long moment. He shifted, pressing their foreheads together again. Swallowed. “If I could go back to any point in my life and have just ten seconds… I would have kissed him back. Held on, and never let go. Not have let him go on that mission. Damn the information. It wasn’t worth his life!” Tears slipped from the corners of his eyes, down his cheeks again, silently. “Or I would go further back. Tell myself to not be a fool. We could have had time together—” His voice cut off as his lips clamped shut, a shaky breath escaping from his nose.
I would take it all back, Sasha, every moment, every dream, every particle. Every compromise. To be with you, even for just one more moment. To kiss you. To let you know… I felt it too.
“Is it… just Sasha?”
“No, Jack.” Sergey finally looked back into Jack’s gaze. Sasha had captured his heart, his soul. But it was never just Sasha. He’d been teetering on the edge of his psyche for his whole life. “I have always thought you were a beautiful man. If things had been different, I may have fallen in love with you. You… captivate me. You always have.”
Maybe Jack would have pushed him over this edge. Maybe he would have flirted, under the guise of diplomacy. Maybe Jack would have flirted back.
But it wouldn’t have been the same.
He couldn’t breathe suddenly, seared by Jack’s warmth, no longer comforting. He was scalding, the heat of him so at odds with the man he loved. Sasha, chiseled from ice, a snegurochka snow maiden from olden times. He shifted, almost afraid to move. But he wasn’t hard anymore. Maybe he never would be again.
Sergey pulled away, sitting up and leaning against the wall next to the bunk. He covered himself with blankets, with the remains of the bed nest he’d created. Dried blood flaked off his chest and down his arm. Sasha would have thrown a fit if he’d seen the wound, would have scowled and insisted on cleaning it personally. He would have let him, too. When had he happily given over his soul to Sasha? If he had to point to a moment, could he? Could he say, ah, this, this was when I fell in love with him?
“We are straight out of classic Russian literature, Sasha and me. The man who loved the hero went away, and the hero learned, too late, that he did love him in return.” He shook his head. “So now I know. Now I must live with this.” He sighed, sniffed, and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Live with knowing how much of a coward I am.”
“No, no. Do not try and make me feel better. I do not want to. I need this. This feeling, my heart in a vise. Pulverized.” He made a fist, squeezing slowly.
Somewhere, he once heard that a person’s soul traveled for forty days after their death, revisiting their loved ones, their old life, before saying the final goodbye. Was it true? Was Sasha there? Was he just a breath away? Would Sasha even want to visit him, after Sergey had failed him so spectacularly in life? If the roles were reversed, he would have returned to Sasha’s side. Spent every hour next to him, greedy for every moment of those forty days, drinking in all that his soul could take.
If there was a chance, even the slightest chance, that Sasha could hear him, could sense him…
Sasha… I love you.
Timestamp: Enemy Within, Chapter 17. Sergey & Jack in Siberia, on the run, after Jack falls into the icy river while being pursued by Milos.
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OMG! Tal, you have a gift for words. I always look forward to your Bauer’s Bytes every week. Thank you. You are a talented writer.
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed! 🙂
“So now I know. Now I must live with this…I need this. This feeling, my heart in a vise. Pulverized.”
Oh my! Tears…dammit, this is not still supposed to be so hard to read! The way you engage the reader with the character is overwhelming. That’s what makes this so great.