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Rebuilding a Life

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The light from the hall fell across Pattie’s peacefully sleeping face as Tom opened the bedroom door. He slipped inside, leaving the door ajar. He pulled up the chair beside the bed and subsided tiredly into it, grateful to be home at last. He felt guilty that he’d been too late to read her a story, their bedtime ritual since she was a baby. It had become all the more important since the invasion, since their lives were turned upside down, since her mother’s death.

Tom was well aware that he was driving himself to exhaustion. It had been nearly two years since the aliens crashed to Earth, two years of humankind rebuilding its shattered cities. They were shaping a new world, united in their determination to be prepared for whatever the universe had in store for them.

When he wasn’t shaping the future of America’s place in the world with politicians and planners and generals, there were the scientists, gleeful as children with the new technology, and international committees supervising the development of open-source alien hybrid tech.

He pretended not to notice Connie’s worried looks, and brushed off David’s strongly worded suggestions that maybe he was working too hard. He was aware that he should delegate more, that he had good people working for him. Connie knew better than to push, though. She knew him better than anyone now.

Tom felt his eyes slipping closed and forced himself to get up. It wouldn’t do his back any good to fall asleep here, although at least he could be reasonably sure that he’d be left undisturbed for the night. He bent to press a kiss to Pattie’s forehead, then made his way down to the kitchen. He wasn’t surprised to find David there, plating the dinner the cook had left in the warmer before she’d gone home for the night. He slid on to a stool at the counter as David poured two glasses of Cooper’s Ale and pushed one in front of him. Tom took a long drink. He smiled gratefully as David put the lasagna in front of him. It smelt delicious and his stomach rumbled, reminding him just how long it had been since he’d eaten lunch. He felt almost too tired to eat, but picked up his fork and dug in, aware that David was carefully not watching him. If he didn’t at least make an effort, David would tell Connie, and that would be bad.

“Long day?” David asked, in his offhand way, an invitation to talk if Tom wished.

“Aren’t they all,” Tom said, sighing.

David smiled and tilted his glass towards him. “That they are.”

David worked long hours as well. The U.S. wasn’t the only country scrambling to update its military defense program. He was in high demand—the man who wrote the code that brought down the alien armada. So far the spirit of global cooperation and the open-source technology agreements were holding, so that David was able to work mostly from his office in Cheyenne Mountain.

“I hear the Secretary-General has requested your expertise at the U.N. Security Council in Paris next week,” Tom said. He helped himself to salad from the bowl David put in front of him.

“Yes, I’ll be gone at least three days.”

“You should take Connie, take a few days vacation after. You could both use the break.”

“We will if you will.”

“Come on.”

“You haven’t had a vacation in at least two years. Probably a lot longer than that, am I right?”

Not since before he was sworn in. Not for a long time before that, if he were honest. There was always more campaigning to do, one more fundraiser to go to, one more city to visit, one more speech to make. “I can’t just take off.”

“Sure you can. You’re the president.”

“David—”

“I’m serious. If not next week, then talk to Connie, have her organize a proper family vacation. Preferably somewhere we can escape the press, at least for a while.”

Family vacation, David had said. Somewhere we can go. Tom smiled to himself as he raised his glass, some of the weight of exhaustion lifted from his shoulders. “I’ll see what I can do.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

David was waving an alien gizmo at him. Tom resisted the urge to duck. He was nearly sure that David wouldn’t be waving it around like that if it were dangerous. On the other hand, Tom hadn’t forgotten the Coke can experiment.

“Why are you showing me this?”

“Because it’s cool! If we can reverse engineer this, we could create weapons that would enable to actually defend ourselves against another attack, worldwide.”

“If we don’t accidentally blow ourselves up first, right??”

“You’re joking, right? Right?” David jabbed at the schematics on the laptop screen. “You can see the potential applications of the software in the device right here!” And he was off, arms waving, technobabble that an average Joe didn’t have a hope of understanding. Tom looked helplessly over at Connie. She was helping Pattie set the table, ostensibly paying no attention to the conversation, but from the crinkles around her eyes, she was concealing a smile.

Tom shook his head as he lit the barbecue and laid out the steaks ready for seasoning. “David, who was it insisted we take a vacation?”

“This isn’t work!”

Connie kissed the top of his head, still bowed over the laptop as he typed frenetically away. “Honey, it kinda is.”

Pattie placed the last item of cutlery in its correct position on the table, and then, finished with her important task, skipped over to stand in front of David. “Uncle David, Uncle David, come for a swim with me!”

“Just a minute, kiddo,” David said, not looking up.

“You guys have time for a quick swim before lunch if you go now,” Tom said.

“Now, David,” Connie prompted.

David looked up, blinking as he shifted his focus from his current fascinating project to the child staring at him hopefully. “Yes, of course,” he said. “Let’s go, kiddo.’ He put away his laptop and stood up. He scooped Pattie over his shoulder in one move, heading over to the pool with long strides. Pattie whooped with laughter as she hung upside down over his back.

Connie handed Tom a local craft beer and stood at the barbecue, watching her husband and his daughter chasing each other around the pool.

“Thank you for arranging this,” Tom said.

“Yes, it is nice only working six hours a day instead of sixteen, isn’t it?” Connie smiled, tilting her bottle of beer towards him.

He touched it with his own and took a pull, then turned the sausages, half an ear on the happy childish squeals coming from the pool. This getaway to Martha’s Vineyard had been a blessing in more ways than one. The constant neck and shoulder tension—which regular massages barely put a dent in—was gone. More importantly, getting to spend quality and quantity time with his daughter had done them both a world of good. They’d never been closer. He’d tried to be there for her as much as possible after Marilyn’s death, but the reality was that as president, he’d had to make sacrifices, and by default, so had she.

“Sarah Ng’s single,” Connie said casually, picking at the label on the beer bottle as she watched the two frolic in the pool.

“The Energy Department advisor?” Tom threw the steaks on the grill. He frowned. “And you’re telling me this because?”

“She likes you.”

“Not you too, Connie?” he sighed. He’d really hoped that Connie, of all people, wouldn’t start this. He’d had enough of fielding queries from publicists and media and random well-wishers. Why couldn’t people see he wasn’t ready to be with someone again?

“I was just… we were just… we thought that it would good for you to get out again. Start seeing people.”

“I see you two have been thinking about this.”

“You know what I mean. It’s been nearly two years—”

Tom threw the tongs down on the side of the barbecue, his appetite, what there was of it, gone, the smell of the cooking meat suddenly a bit nauseating. The tongs clattered off the counter, knocking a spatula to the floor, splattering oil. “I know how long it’s been!”

Connie just looked at him. Then she bent down and picked up the fallen utensils and put them aside. She grabbed a cloth to wipe up the mess. That homely task suddenly was suddenly infuriating too, driving home how much the two of them took care of him. Took care of Pattie. How much he’d taken their caring for granted. He hadn’t once looked beyond that, to a future without them. Had they? Is that what this was about? Were they ready to move on to the next phase of their lives, a home of their own—a family of their own, maybe?

Tom’s stomach clenched. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d come to think of them as a family, the four of them. He hadn’t once thought about finding a place for him and Pattie. What had been a temporary arrangement after the invasion, when he was so lost and needed the support of his advisor and best friend had become, without his realizing, home.

He swallowed angry words with the lifetime of practice in politics, words that wanted to spill out his hurt and unexpected feelings of betrayal. “You’re probably right,” he said evenly. “It’s past time that we go our separate ways. You guys want your own space. That’s understandable, you’ve done more than enough—“

‘”Whoa,” David said, coming up to them. Pattie trailed behind, water from the both of them dripping all over the patio floor. David raised his hands expressively. “What just happened?”

“You’re dripping,” Tom said, cutting his eyes to Pattie briefly. David took the hint and grabbed two towels, dropping one on Pattie’s head and ruffling her hair so that she giggled.

Connie took Tom’s hand in her own. Her faint fragrance was familiar, comforting, and reminiscent of all their years together. She’d been by his side thorough all his best times and all his worst times. She’d smelled of the same fragrance when she hugged him in joy after his election win, in grief after the death of his wife, and again after the final death tally had been calculated, when the world had united in in its horror and pain. She was his closest friend, the person he loved most in the world after Pattie.

He clutched her hand like a lifeline, even though he knew he shouldn’t, that he should be stronger than that.

“Tom,” Connie said gently, “we’re not going anywhere.”

“Then what—”

“We want you to be happy.”

“Happy.”

“There’s more to life than work,” Connie said. Connie, who’d been a constant at his side on the road to the presidency, there for all the long hours, the sacrifices. Her marriage, even. He could understand why David had been jealous of the time she dedicated to Tom’s political career all those years ago. It was the fact that David hadn’t trusted Connie—his wife, and one of the finest people Tom knew—that Tom had found hard to forgive.

“I hate to interrupt,” David said, clearing his throat, “but, um, the steaks….”

Tom instinctively went to pull his hand away. Connie gave it a squeeze and then let him go. “I’ll get the salads,” she said, and disappeared inside to the kitchen.

Tom grabbed a new pair of tongs and turned the steaks. They were a little charred, but not ruined by any means.

David cleared his throat again. “She speaks for both of us, in case you weren’t sure.” He grabbed two beers from the cooler and opened the tops, placing a fresh one in front of Tom and tossing out the remnants of his abandoned one. He took a long pull on his own and stood, waiting till Tom finished placing the cooked steaks onto the waiting tray. Tom looked up and met his eyes. “We’re not going anywhere,” David said, echoing Connie’s words.

Tom swallowed against the tightness in his throat. “I appreciate that,” he said, smiling crookedly, and when David reached out with his long arms and drew him into a hug, Tom embraced him back.

He felt little arms come around him, and looked down to see Pattie hugging them both, smiling up at him. And then Connie was there too. “Can anyone join in?” she asked with a smile, hugging them all.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Tom bolted upright in his bed, his heart pounding, sweating profusely from the nightmare. If it could be called a nightmare. It was nothing like the dreams that had plagued his fitful sleep for more than a year after the invasion, a legacy of those paralyzing moments when the alien had invaded his mind. He’d mostly made his peace with that, with some intensive therapy. It had even been worth it for the knowledge the alien had inadvertently imparted to him in return. In case there had been any doubt of its race’s intentions after the destruction of Earth’s cities began.

No, this dream wasn’t anything like that, but Tom, shaking, and unwillingly aroused, couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t any less terrifying.

 

It's not long into his campaign. Tom’s at the office, burning the midnight oil again. Marilyn’s in Sydney for a conference. He looks up as his office door opens, assuming it’s Connie, only to find Connie’s husband David in the office door, staring intensely at him. Those were memories, not dreams. But that’s where it gets weird. Even in the midst of the dream Tom knew that. He’s expecting David to hit him. David had been jealous, unreasonable, throwing around wild accusations. Tom had laughed it off at first, but David had got up in his face and Tom had had enough. He’d made some comment about David examining his own conscience if he believed that his admirable wife could possibly be cheating on him. At that point David had hit him. Tom had struck back. By the time Connie had emerged from her own office to see what all the fuss was about they had been rolling around on the floor like schoolboys. Connie had been livid with David, mortified on both her own behalf and on Tom’s.

The dream reminded him of something he’d tried to forget, something that he’d never mentioned to a living soul: not his therapist, not Marilyn, not Connie. He’s assumed—hoped—that David hadn’t either. Connie had never so much as looked at Tom differently, so he assumed that David hadn’t told her the truth.

They’d been pressed closely together. David is taller than Tom, stronger, though Tom thought he could still take him. Their erections aligned through the suddenly flimsy barrier of their cotton pants. David was panting against his neck, his face pushed into Tom’s neck, and he was no longer trying to fight. They remained like that for a long, frozen moment, and then David’s hips gave a single thrust against his own. Tom gasped. David raised his head and they stared at each other.

Tom remembers seeing his own horror and unwilling arousal reflected back at him. And then David’s eyes had dropped to Tom’s mouth and Tom…. No. Tom had gathered his strength and flipped them over and this, this is what haunts him, that he will never know what his next action would have been. Connie, thankfully, had burst into the room. They’d instinctively rolled apart, Tom retreating immediately behind his desk, David standing with his hands clasped in front of him like a boy being chastised.

Guilty, both of them.

He’d thought about telling Marilyn about it, but nothing had happened after all. And nothing would ever happen. He’d put it behind him. Been civil to David when he’d attended events with Connie. He’d been secretly a bit relieved when they’d separated, and ashamed of his own pettiness.

In the dream Connie doesn’t burst in. In the dream, when David’s eyes drop to Tom’s mouth, Tom holds his gaze. Tom lets his mouth part. He slides his arms around David’s back, pulling him down, even as David is bending to kiss him.

In the dream, they are naked. David is stroking his cock and Tom’s pushing into his hand, fumbling to reciprocate, even though he’s never done this before, but it’s hard to concentrate. Then Connie is there. Connie is saying, “Here, let me show you how he likes it.” Her hand covers Tom’s as they jerk David’s dick together, finding a rhythm, even as Tom’s other hand slides along Connie’s bare back. Her naked body presses along the side of his own. He turns blindly from David’s mouth to find Connie’s. Then David groans and spills over their hands.

The two of them turn their attention to Tom, kissing his mouth, his collarbone, making their way down his chest. It’s when Connie’s mouth finally closes over him and he arches, trying not to thrust too hard, overwhelmed with sensation, that he wakes up.

Tom lay back down again, pushing the covers away, the cool air refreshing on his sweat-drenched skin. Arousal still pulsed through him, his dick harder than it had been in a long time. With only a twinge of guilt—he wasn’t hurting anyone, after all—he took himself in hand. When he came it was to the image of Connie and David, looking up at him with desire, and intent, and love.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

The explosion brought down half the building, they found out later. Tom clung to Connie, shaking nearly as hard as she was. “You’re okay,” he murmured. “We’re okay.”

Secret Service agents stood on either side of them, their guns drawn, awaiting instructions. Elsewhere other members of his security team were scoping the area, ensuring a clear exit for the president before they moved him to a safe location.

Tom looked around at the debris, at the paramedics tending to the wounded. He tore his eyes away from the blood seeping through the dressings on a woman with a shattered knee. It soaked the tourniquet Tom had tied around her thigh using the tie Connie had given him for Christmas. As he watched, she was lifted onto a gurney and wheeled out to a waiting ambulance. Other ambulances with still more severely wounded people had already screamed away.

“Connie, thank God!” David was picking his way through the rubble towards them, his face drawn with fear. “Thank God,” he said again, holding out his arms. Reluctantly, Tom started to release Connie, to step back, to make way for David to claim his wife. He was stunned when David enveloped both of them in his long arms, holding them both tightly to him, the three of them melded tightly together. “I thought I’d lost you both,” David said, his words caught on a sob.

There was a flash of a press camera and Tom stiffened, ready to step back, to draw his public face on, to be the president, but neither Tom nor Connie would let him. Their arms held him securely. After a moment Tom relaxed and closed his eyes and held on.

Tom held Pattie for a long time that night. He read her bedtime story after bedtime story until she finally nodded off, releasing her convulsive grip on his hand. He stroked her hair until he was sure was fast asleep, then leaned forward and kissed her forehead. He straightened, hissing at the strain of his muscles from the shock of the explosion and the unaccustomed exercise afterwards, hastily shifting rubble off the injured. He suspected he’d be feeling it a lot more tomorrow. Maybe they’d let him take the day off work, he thought, grimly amused.

He closed Pattie’s door behind him and just stood for a moment, his hand still on the door handle, feeling exhaustion wash over him. Then he straightened, drawing his shoulders back and turned to go to his own room.

David was standing in the hall, silently watching him.

“David,” Tom acknowledged, tiredly.

“Stay with us tonight.”

“What?”

David took a step closer and stopped. “Just to sleep, if you like.”

“That’s not—”

“You could have died.” David’s hands twitched as if he wanted to reach out. His voice sounded scratchy as he said again, “I could have lost you both.”

Tom had been so focused on comforting Pattie since he’d gotten home that he hadn’t had time to think about how Connie and David were feeling, let alone attempt to deal with his own emotions. God, they really could have died. To his mortification, he felt reaction finally start to set in, his eyes tearing up, his hands starting to shake.

David made an inarticulate sound and lurched forward, wrapping his arms around Tom before Tom could react. “That settles it,” David said gruffly. “You’re staying with us tonight.”

Before Tom could formulate a coherent objection, something sensible and responsible and, God, not what he wanted at all, he somehow found himself gently manhandled into Connie and David’s bedroom. Connie was sitting up in bed, typing on her laptop. At their entrance she looked up, her face lighting up in a welcoming smile, easing Tom’s discomfort with its familiarity. She closed the laptop immediately, placing it on the side table. She was wearing practical flannel pajamas not much different from his own, or David’s.

“We shouldn’t,” Tom said. “I shouldn’t.” If anyone found out…

“To hell with what we should or shouldn’t do,” David said defiantly, closing the bedroom door behind them, with an air of decision. “If it’s not aliens, it’s terrorists,” he said. “Life’s too short not to be happy.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“We love you, Tom,” Connie said. “All that matters right now is whether you want this. Us.”

Connie welcomed him into her arms as though this was the hundredth time they’d done this rather than the first, and David snuggled up behind him, wrapping him in his embrace. It should have felt weird, illicit even. Instead it felt familiar. Comfortable. Like coming home. Tom’s eyes drift closed. He felt the kiss Connie pressed to his cheek and the kiss David pressed to his neck, the faint rasp of stubble unfamiliar but not unwelcome, and then nothing more.

He was too hot under the covers and he couldn’t move, sandwiched between Connie and David. It was pitch dark still. They probably hadn’t been asleep more than a few hours. Reluctantly he lifted the heavy arm thrown across his stomach, planning to creep back to his own bed, but David mumbled something and turned over away from him, allowing cool air under the covers, giving him space to shift to a more comfortable position, and he couldn’t bring himself to be sensible, just this once, and fell asleep again to the sound of quiet breathing on either side of him.

Tom opened his eyes and blinked up at the ceiling in the early morning light. Something was different. It took a moment to realize what it was. He felt good. For the first time in longer than he could remember he felt rested. His mind was calm. His body relaxed and recharged. The warm, undemanding sense of arousal, his first morning erection in years, was just a bonus. It had been so long since he’d felt comfortable in his skin that it felt like a gift from the gods.

No, not the gods. He turned his head. Connie was asleep on her side, close beside him, her hand tucked under her cheek, her expression peaceful. He turned his head the other way. David was sprawled on his stomach; he’d lost his pajama top at some point. Apparently Tom wasn’t the only one who’d gotten too hot during the night. In the morning light, away from the world of cameras and eyes and crushing responsibility, anything seemed possible. He allowed his eyes to drift over the muscles in David’s back, his long stretch of limbs, his evenly tanned skin, and the curl of hair at the base of his nape that Tom had a sudden urge to stroke, to kiss.

“Morning,” David murmured, and Tom looked up guiltily to see David regarding him with an appreciation that probably mirrored his own expression.

“Good morning,” Tom murmured back.

They continued to regard each other. Tom wondered if David was waiting for him to make a move. Despite both Connie and David’s assurances, Tom had no idea what a way forward could look like for them. Was this about comfort or were they suggesting something else? And if they did want more, what did he want? Did he dare take the risk?

“I’m going to kiss you now,” David said, as if reading his thoughts. His confusion and uncertainty was probably readily apparent to the man breathing softly, barely a hands length separating them.

David didn’t move though. He was waiting for Tom. “Yeah,” Tom said, and the feeling of throwing himself off a cliff, of setting in chain of events that he couldn’t, that he didn’t want to stop. “Yeah, okay,” he said.

David smiled and, supporting himself on one elbow, leaned towards Tom. Tom closed his eyes as their lips touched, and when David deepened the kiss, Tom reached up and pulled his head down.

It was good. If Tom had entertained any doubts about whether that moment with David all those years ago had been an aberration, a product of anger and adrenaline, David’s kiss put them firmly to rest. The bare skin of David’s shoulders was hot against his restless hands, and when he stroked along his spine and found the small of his back, David’s hips jerked, and his erection pushed against Tom’s own. David broke the kiss and leaned his forehead against Tom’s, their harsh breaths mingling

“Good morning.” Connie’s voice broke through Tom’s haze of arousal. She was climbing back into the bed, bathrobe wrapped around her, her hair knotted into a casual bun, the trailing ends damp. He hadn’t even been aware of her leaving.

“Okay?” David asked.

“Mmm,” Connie said appreciatively. She leaned towards him and David moved over, making room for her to lean down and kiss Tom. She tasted of peppermint toothpaste, but that thought disappeared almost immediately as she stroked her fingers through his hair, over his ear. Involuntarily he leaned towards her hand. She pulled back to look into his eye, then smiling mischievously, bent down and gently bit his earlobe.

“Aha!” David crowed when Tom gasped and arched towards her.

“Connie,” Tom gasped, “what are we doing?”

Connie drew back, tucking back a swath of hair that had fallen forward. “Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

Tom looked over at David. “No harm, no foul,” he said, smiling, as though he wasn’t lying beside him with his erection tenting his pajama pants.

Connie cupped his cheek. “We’re your family, Tom. Yours and Pattie’s. No matter what you decide.”

It was hard to think with David looking at him with heavy-lidded eyes, smiling lazily, with Connie touching him so tenderly. They were both so sincere and earnest in their offer, in their willingness to welcome them into their most intimate lives. Hard to think of all the ways this could go wrong, personally and professionally—privately and publicly.

They must have realized he needed space, needed to consider everything with a clear head, because they both drew away and got out of bed. “Breakfast, I think,” David announced, and disappeared into the bathroom. Tom heard the shower go on.

By the time Tom had showered and dressed, Connie had his revised day organized. A press conference had been called for an hour’s time, and all but the most urgent of meetings were rescheduled. As he went down the stairs, the aches in his body from yesterday’s explosion were making themselves known. Tom was grateful for the reprieve.

He was in time to sit with Pattie as she finished her breakfast and practiced the presentation she was giving on “Taking Care of Our Planet.” Then she hugged him goodbye, only a little harder than usual, and left for school with her security escort. Tom was alone with Connie and David again. He finished the stack of pancakes David had placed in front of him, just in time for David to slide another one, fresh out of the pan, onto his plate.

“Are you trying to soften me up?” he joked.

“Is it working?” David sat down opposite him. He didn’t look at Tom as he folded pancake onto his fork.

Tom sighed and put down his cutlery. “I can’t just do what I want and damn the consequences,” he said. "What happens when the new White House is complete?“

David put down his own fork. “Ah.”

Tom looked from David to Connie, sitting beside him. “It'll be ready to move into within months. Our current living arrangement has been convenient because of the scale of the devastation, and frankly people have had more important things to think about than their president's love life. But things are getting back on track now, and that includes a return to the appearance of a normal family life. I have to set an example.”

“You won’t be president forever,” David pointed out. He’d made short work of his own pancake stack. Tom looked at the clock on the microwave. David had to leave for work shortly, his days nearly as busy as Tom’s own. “Even if you decide to run for a second term,” David went on, “that’s only five years total, then you can retire and we can all go live in obscurity somewhere.” He sat back in his chair, raising his coffee mug to take a sip.

Connie laughed as she sipped. “Maybe pre-invasion that was an option, David. Not now. Not for the man who led the world to victory against the aliens.”

David grinned. “And whose inspirational speech on the eve of battle is replayed during every new documentary about the invasion and is quoted during every school valedictorian speech.”

Tom thought about it, tried to imagine life after the presidency. “One thing an alien invasion does is clarify one’s priorities,” he said, slowly. “What we have now—it's great. And I really liked last night. I liked sleeping with you both, and enjoyed waking up with you. I think you could tell I liked what happened after we woke up."

Connie covered his hand with her own where it rested on the table. "We're glad."

Tom turned his hand over and laced their fingers together. "But I'm going to have to move into the White House. It's not just a symbol of leadership anymore, it's now a symbol of the resilience and the endurance of the American people as we rebuild our nation. But when I retire, Patty and I will be looking for a place to live...."

“So the day you retire, then?” David leaned towards him. "You'll be free?"

"I guess you could say that," Tom agreed.

“On that day then,” David said, grinning widely.

“David,” Connie warned, fighting a grin of her own.

“On that day,” David proclaimed. "We’ll celebrate our own Independence Day.”

Connie groaned. She sank her head into her hands.

Tom threw a napkin at him.