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03 June 2005 @ 10:47 pm
some brief meta and a J/V story  
I've been thinking on and off lately about how I write. I've developed what I think of as a sketchy style of writing. It's not just that I use less flowery, writerly prose than I did when I started posting stories online. It's also that I've honed a style of bursts of telling between bursts of showing, mixed with bursts of conversation. This breezy bursting has pros and cons. A pro is that I'm writing at all. Writing fast & loose keeps my fingers limber. I'd probably be lying on the couch otherwise, rather than laboring more diligently over longer stories. A con is that I'll often take subjects that demand more care and attention--more words--and treat them pretty cursorily.

I'm all about embracing the pros. Writing is fun when it gets itself out of my head and when it makes readers happy. But it's very easy just to let myself scribble and scribble without ever stopping and birthing something at a more natural pace that would turn out more well-formed.

I'd compare this to traditional versus agile styles of software development, but that would be geeky.

Anyway. This is kind of a preface to what's behind the cut-tag, because I'm not entirely happy with myself at giving it a sketchy treatment, it deserves better, but the truth is I'd probably never write it out as a long "real" story.

Tiny author note: It's late and I want to post this before I die sleep, so I am, but I didn't give this my fine-tooth-comb edit, just the basic spellcheck. If you see errors, please lob them at me. I'll catch them happily. I'll probably be giving it a real going-over tomorrow morning sometime and may make minor edits then, along with the edit of the one or two embarrassing, horrifying mistakes that always lurk in a story and make me facepalm myself into an early grave. If you see those, by the way, don't just comment--page me telepathically, even at 3:00 a.m., so that I can get up and fix them.



Between the Lines

1.

They trained you in the agency to prepare for interrogation, brainwashing, torture, humiliation. Everyone knew you couldn't really prepare. Everyone had secondhand horror stories; some had firsthand, but they rarely talked. Everyone remembered Enrique Camarena.

Once, Vaughn had read through archived intelligence reports from Pinochet's reign. Victims were beaten, burned, given electric shocks. They had their heads shoved into buckets of urine or excrement, were violated with hot pokers, were forced to watch their families tortured and killed. Vaughn had realized then how incredibly lucky he'd been. That was then.

He couldn't look at Jack. He wanted to be stoic and resigned to what had happened, but he was shaking and in pain and the cell was cold. The guards had shoved them back in with contempt. One had fondled Vaughn cruelly and said things in Spanish that he wished he hadn't understood. Any minute now Jack was going to say things he wished he didn't understand. He'd say stiff, uncomfortable things in an awkward attempt to get Vaughn through this, as if being raped was just another thing to get through, as if seeing him raped hadn't opened up a new and difficult tension between them.

"Don't," he said in a harsh voice, turning further toward the wall as he sensed Jack nearing. He leaned there with his palms pressed to the concrete and his eyes closed, knowing that the blood on his thighs had to be visible but preferring to hide his face instead of his injuries.

Jack pried him from the wall. He couldn't believe Jack was touching him. You didn't just touch rape victims without asking. Everyone knew that. Outrage him made him turn around if only for the chance to glare and strike out, and then Jack simply pulled him into his arms. It was shocking, mortifying, and then he just leaned his head against Jack's shoulder, wrapping his arms around him. He clenched his eyes shut tightly. He couldn't cry. Things were only going to get worse for them; rescue wouldn't come for at least another twenty-four hours. He couldn't break now.

It was impossible that Jack could be so gentle, or be stroking the back of his neck in a soothing way, or breathing with such a rough quiet that Vaughn knew he was torn up by what had happened, maybe even as much as him, even if his suffering was of a different kind. He'd heard the anger in the other man's voice when he lashed out at the guards--more than anger. Rage. Colder than Vaughn had ever heard. "Touch him and you will die," he'd said, a statement of fact. "And it will be more painful than you can imagine."

He could smell the dried sweat of Jack's body, but it comforted him just as strongly as the pungency of the guards had sickened him. He didn't want to let go. And Jack in a miracle of kindness didn't seem inclined to make him.

"I don't think I can do that again," Vaughn whispered into his neck.

"You can." Jack's voice was equally soft. "If you have to. You're stronger than them. Better." He was cupping the base of Vaughn's head and rubbing up from his hairline against the grain before smoothing it down again. The intimacy was almost unbearable, but at the same time he desperately wanted it.

The guards came again in an hour, Tasering them through the bars and then dragging them to the torture room. They weren't even being questioned yet. This was just the warm-up, to soften them up for interrogation. Vaughn tried to fight loose as they manhandled him over the table and into the manacles, but he was dazed and his muscles wouldn't respond. He fell limply across the metal, thinking how pointless this was as an actual tactic for questioning. Their captors would have effective drugs on hand for that. Torture was always for its own sake. And it was almost funny--this was exactly why he was in the agency, why his father had been. To change the world into a place where things like this never happened. He was supposed to be the law, not the victim.

His head was spinning and for a minute he didn't know what was happening. There was a scuffle to his right, but his head was facing left and he couldn't move it. He heard heavy breaths, the familiar sound of fists impacting flesh, and a few horrible cracks; and then hard hands touched him and he struggled again, instinctively.

"Easy," Jack said, making sure he stilled before releasing his wrists and helping him up.

Vaughn swayed and looked around. The guards lay on the floor. One had a bloody nose, the other a strangely bent arm. They were groaning and wheezing. He kicked at one and stumbled, still uncoordinated.

"Careful." Jack drew a hand back to hover just by his shoulder. "Can you stand?"

"Yeah."

Jack knelt and yanked the guards' boots off and then their army-issue trousers and jackets. They dressed. The boots didn't fit and Vaughn tossed them aside. He shifted as he fastened the pants and felt a sharp pain flash through him, inside him. Anger poured through him with a roaring intensity. He wanted to hurt and kill.

Bending over, Jack picked up a knife and offered it hilt-first. He didn't say anything. There were a lot of things he didn't need to say. I'll never tell anyone what you did here. You can do anything you want.

Slowly, Vaughn took the knife, stared at it, then stared down at the guards. One of them, eyes now open, focused on the weapon and made a panicky sound. It worked on Vaughn like a goad and he dropped inelegantly to his knees, covered the man's mouth, and stabbed him low in the gut. He'd meant to go for the dick, but his shaky grip sent the blade skidding into the soft flesh around his pubic bone. When Vaughn caught a breath, he twisted the knife. The man screamed against his hand.

It took all Vaughn's strength to do that, and he folded back onto his heels, then onto his ass, splaying a hand against the floor to keep from going all the way down.

After a moment, Jack asked in an obliging voice, "Do you want to do the other?" Just as if they had all the time in the world. Jack was making time for him to do this.

"I don't--I can't." He swallowed with shame at the admission. "I can't."

Jack knelt on one knee. "It's all right. You don't have to." He spoke with his eyes, and when Vaughn said nothing, made it clearer: "Let me."

Frozen for a moment, Vaughn looked at his grim face, then nodded.

Still kneeling, Jack matter-of-factly gutted the first guard then cut off his genitals and shoved them in his mouth, stopping the man's screams. Jack's hands and arms quickly grew wet with blood and his face was rigid, furious satisfaction boiling under the surface. He repeated his actions on the second man, then cut a finger from each man and pocketed them before leaving the knife embedded in the first guard's eye.

The smell of blood and viscera was almost overwhelming, making it hard to speak. Vaughn's voice came out in a dry rasp. "Why did you take the fingers?"

Jack hesitated, then said quietly, "Testing."

Done, he scooped up the guns and passed one to Vaughn, whose hand was shaking almost too much to hold it. And then they got out of there.

2.

"I shouldn't ask this," Vaughn said on the plane back, gazing out the window. He'd broken the silence out of the blue, preface to a question not yet voiced.

Across from him, Jack looked up from his laptop. "It isn't going in the report."

He made even the most difficult things simple. Vaughn turned his head and gave him a look of gratitude. He couldn't smile, but he said, "Thank you."

"I'll send you a copy when I'm done. You should find it useful when writing your own." Which was a violation of three different procedural policies. Small potatoes compared to murder though. Jack didn't seem fazed by either.

Vaughn looked out the window again, sinking back into a trance. Jack had gotten them seats on one of the diplomatic shuttles usually reserved for ambassadors and other high State Department officials. Outside in the thin air the sun was lowering, outlining the cloud banks with brilliant slices of light. Thoughts crowded his mind but he didn't want any of them. He closed his eyes and didn't think about anything at all.

3.

On his return, no one gave him more scrutiny than usual. Agents were expected to come back from botched missions in bad moods. He debriefed on events with Dixon, Jack, and the rest of the team, filed a report, and then tried to settle back into some kind of routine.

"You'll go to the doctor," Jack had said that first night back, his voice a cautious question. They'd been parting at the airport, each to a separate taxi.

Vaughn had shrugged in reflex, throat tightening, but he knew he couldn't really shrug it off. "Yeah."

"If you want, I'll go with you."

Given the chance, Vaughn would have interrupted before Jack could finish the offer, but he'd spoken without hesitation. "No," he said, muscles tensing. "I'm fine."

"I'll have the blood tested and let you know the results." He saw Jack's throat move with a swallow. "Michael--"

"Good night," he said, and got in his waiting taxi.

He went as promised to the doctor, though not an agency doctor and not his usual GP. He couldn't tell the truth, of course. Doctors were obliged to pass on that kind of information to authorities. He made up a story about having unprotected sex with two men whose names he didn't get. It took every effort of will to look the doctor in the eye. It didn't help that the guy was flustered; he hid his reaction almost at once, but Vaughn had been trained to read signs of unease in how someone's eyes shifted, in their body language. The guy apparently didn't get a lot of patients with tales like this.

After the exam the doctor said, "We'll run tests for gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV--it's good to do an initial screen, even though the incubation periods may be weeks or months."

"I have blood samples. From my...partners." The man swiveled on his stool to stare at him, obviously startled. "There was blood-play," Vaughn said simply, condemning himself in the man's eyes. It wasn't as if it mattered. "The samples are being tested by someone else."

"Well." The doctor seemed to be groping for a protocol for this type of situation and finding none. "Do let me know what they find out."

"Sure," he said, and then left and went to a bar and drank until he couldn't see.

4.

At the office, Jack was watching him. He'd only caught him at it once, but he didn't think it was an isolated incident. The expression on Jack's face took him off guard. Not dispassionate assessment or pity, but open concern, as if he weren't just another agent, but an actual friend. He didn't know what to make of it. He'd never considered himself to be Jack's friend. Jack had disliked his interest in Sydney, and had probably disliked him until Sydney's own interest turned elsewhere and Vaughn was no longer a threat. Since then, overt antagonism had mellowed, but until this last mission, he'd never gone beyond polite.

All he could do was try to ignore it. He wasn't sure if he wanted Jack's friendship, but he knew he didn't want it because of this.

"I need to talk to you," Jack said after they'd been back a few days. They went to a conference room and he closed the door. "The test results are back. I got them just now." He put emphasis on that. "They all came back negative."

Vaughn's knees weakened and he sank onto a chair. He hadn't realized how fucking terrified he'd been. His heart hammered as frantically in relief as it would have with panic. He put his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands. Tears were pushing up against his eyelids. He was about to lose it right here in the office.

Jack touched his shoulder, then the side of his head. He really needed to stop doing that, Vaughn thought absently, but it was hard to work up anger or even a mild case of offense. He welcomed it even though he shouldn't.

"You're going to be all right," Jack said. Vaughn had a feeling he'd said those same words to Sydney a thousand times, for skinned knees, broken bones, a broken heart. His palm rested in a flat fan against his hair, unmoving and easy. If Vaughn's father had lived, it might have been him standing here, helping him, steady as a rock.

The door to the conference room opened suddenly, shocking Vaughn upright in his chair. It was Kendall with Sydney on his heels, Weiss and Dixon behind them. Their movement stopped on entry, Kendall blocking progress by freezing with his hand on the door. Vaughn had never seen Kendall startled by anything until now. The director regarded them, nonplussed, as Jack unobtrusively drew his hand away.

"What's going on?" Sydney edged her way in, wild anxiety flashing across her face. "Michael--dad--what's happened?" She thought someone had died, Vaughn realized.

"Family news," Jack said smoothly, edged with a delicate touch of concern. If Vaughn hadn't known it was a lie, he probably would have bought it. "I'm sure Agent Vaughn would prefer to discuss this later, if at all."

Nice, Vaughn thought, and managed to offer Sydney a faint, reassuring smile. She was still staring at him, eyes wide and intent, lips held parted, everything about her focused like a searching prayer on his behalf.

"I'm okay," he said. He stood, retreating inside himself, leaving only the professional shell. "Thanks, Jack." He managed a subdued, gentleman's appreciation that wasn't likely to strike anyone as odd, then left before anyone could ask more questions, and went to a bar and drank until he couldn't see.

5.

A week turned into two, then six.

*You may want to see someone*, Jack had said. *To talk. I can give you names of trustworthy therapists, outside the agency.* And Vaughn had smiled in a reflex of insincerity and said sure. He'd taken the names and thrown them away.

He went to work, went home, stared at the TV, drank until he passed out, and then did it all over again the next day. Twice he pulled field duty. The missions weren't challenging. He chose not to recognize the faint relief in Jack's eyes each time he came back. Weiss picked up that something was wrong ("You've been so distracted lately"), but deception wasn't hard. Vaughn made excuses for his moods, accepted a few dinner invitations, and laughed at the right times. He had less luck with Sydney, who jerked him into panic mode whenever she trained her hyper-vigilance and kind eyes on him. He didn't want her digging too deep. After the episode in the office, he invented a story about his mother having a breast tumor, then passed on the "good news" that it was benign. This seemed to satisfy her. She stopped hovering as much and then got caught up again in her own issues, of which she always had plenty.

One night it all stopped working. It was a Saturday. He'd spent the day at the office, but he didn't have to be in Sunday. He wished he did. He thought he might go anyway, if only to get the fuck out of his own head. And it was then that it all started to spiral in on him, as if he were at the center of a whirlpool and going down. He paced through his apartment, examined the things he owned and tried to understand them, looked in the fridge, looked in his closets, then walked to the balcony and stared out at L.A. through the glass. He pressed his palm there, then smashed his fist against the door. It didn't break, it just hurt. So he got his gun and returned to the spot, and watched his ghost in the glass raise the gun to its head.

He kept it there for a while, watching himself until his eyes went out of focus and the impulse eased away. Everything still seemed pointless, but he had the habit of living and wasn't ready to let go of it yet. The gun lowered as if pulled down by gravity.

There had to be something else besides this, and when this occurred to him, he gave himself over to whatever it was. Clicking onto automatic pilot, he stripped, showered and dressed again. He felt empty and robotic, hands too large, head set unevenly on the looseness of his neck. I'm out of whack, he thought.

But he looked like his usual self, close enough to pass in the world anyway. Getting drunk helped his plans along, so he started the process at home, and had three more shots when he reached the club. A bass line pounded through his body like a beating and smells crowded together; cologne, booze, sweat, smoke. In the club's dark press of bodies he felt safe, an animal finding a cave. It was ridiculous that he'd waited this long and only dragged himself here because of what had happened to him.

He pushed through the crowd, just drunk enough that he didn't feel too old or out of place. It wasn't like he'd never been to clubs. He'd been to hundreds, even this kind. He'd just never been to this kind when it was personal.

"You," he said, finding what he wanted, pulling the guy away from his friends, who all laughed and made catcalls. Vaughn caught the man's neck and kissed him. Heat and want flared through his body, and their tongues connected in an arc. Moving to the backroom was a blur, but he didn't have to do much. The guy nudged Vaughn up to a wall and went down eagerly to his knees.

Vaughn wasn't used to sex like this, but he knew enough not to bother with niceness or conversation. He popped his fly and pulled the guy forward and arched on contact, letting his head fall back against the wall, eyes closing. "Oh, Jesus," he said. The guy sucked hungrily. Vaughn pushed his hips off the wall, pumping with rough strokes to see if the guy would take it. He did. It felt incredible.

He dragged his eyes open and saw Jack standing across the room like a leather-jacketed statue among writhing bodies, staring at him with a taut unreadable face. In the swelter of darkness he didn't seem real at first.

The shock of it went right through him, pushing into his dick. Gasping, he began to fuck the guy's mouth ruthlessly, grabbing at his head with frantic hands. He arched and cried out in release, still holding Jack's gaze, until his eyes were too heavy. The sounds he made as he finished were guttural and ecstatic, raising approving laughs from the shadows around him.

When he opened his eyes again, he expected Jack to be gone, but he was still there.

6.

"You *cannot* do this."

Vaughn had heard Jack use that same tone of voice on Sydney, when he was trying to dissuade her from some maverick, hair-raising scheme likely to get her killed.

"Yeah?" Replete with orgasm, Vaughn laughed and sagged against the brick wall in the alley behind the club. There were men out here too, tucked away in alcoves and behind dumpsters. "Jack, I so don't give a fuck what you think."

Jack's face was impassive, as if no response would have surprised him. "If you make yourself vulnerable, you will be exploited. The Covenant will target you and prey on any weakness they can find."

This shouldn't have been news, but Vaughn hadn't thought that far ahead yet. He looked away, then sharply back. He had his own line of attack. "What are you even doing here? Have you been watching me?"

"I went to your building to talk with you. I saw you leave and I followed."

"You're so full of shit. You've been watching me ever since Santa Marta."

"No."

Elaborate denials would have given Vaughn something to latch on to. A simple denial left him floundering. After a few moments he said, "I can take care of myself." It was like the lame bravado of a teenage addict, but that was exactly the problem. "I don't need your feigned paternalistic concern."

"Feigned," Jack repeated, brows drawing in tight. His eyes were piercing and hard and Vaughn began to remember why he rarely sought out Jack's company.

"The only reason you're here is because if I fuck up, it affects Sydney. I've heard your speech before."

"When?" Jack asked sharply. "Two years ago? Three? Michael, we've been working together since the day I set foot back in the CIA. Do you really believe that the only reason I'm concerned is for Sydney's sake?"

Caught off guard by the ferocity of Jack's reaction, Vaughn felt his throat tighten and his eyes sting. It wasn't fair being ambushed like that. "I don't--" But he couldn't find any words. He pressed a hand across his eyes like a shield. After a few seconds, Jack clasped a shoulder.

"Come on."

In the car, they rode in silence for a while. Halfway back to his apartment, Vaughn said, "You think I'm punishing myself, don't you."

"I assume nothing." His tone was quiet and not unkind.

"When I joined the agency, they still had homosexuality questions on the polygraph. I knew they'd be there. I never did anything...because I knew they'd be there."

In the quiet of the car, he heard Jack draw in a tiny breath of understanding.

"I figured, hey, I can go either way. I'll choose a way. And I thought it was the only way. And then things changed, and I didn't. Because I was chickenshit." He couldn't pull his eyes away from the road ahead, transfixed by the patterned movements of cars and lights and pedestrians. "There doesn't seem much point now. Keeping on the straight and narrow."

They sat through the entire cycle of a stoplight and were moving again before Jack said in his deliberate way, "You can be whoever you want to be. But the risks you were taking tonight--they're too high."

"What about the risks I'm already taking?" He looked at Jack, anger rising. "Join the CIA, see the world, get fucked in the ass. You think screwing around with some twink in an L.A. club compares to that?"

He saw Jack swallow once before speaking. "I don't have a simple answer to that. But it is risky." They pulled up to his building and Jack idled the car and looked over. "And you deserve better."

They stared at each other and then it got too difficult and Vaughn had to turn away again. "Why did you help me in Santa Marta?"

"I don't...understand."

"I know you. I know who you are, how you act. You *held* me. You comforted me. I don't know what to do with that."

Jack spoke with obvious care. "Why do you *need* to do something with that?"

"Because I don't know who else--I don't--" He pressed both hands to his eyes now, heels flush with the sockets, face hot with misery. When a painful minute passed and Jack didn't touch him, he lowered his hands. "I guess you were just being kind."

"I'm not kind." He made it a flat fact.

"Some people think you're just in deep cover. Marshall thinks you're a swell guy, under all that armor plating."

"Marshall thought *Sloane* was a swell guy."

"Yeah." Vaughn laughed a little, and then caught back up with the conversation. "So if you're not kind, what does that mean? Are we friends?"

"I'm disappointed you had to ask," Jack said. "But yes, I consider you a friend." A touch of acid had crept into his voice, but Vaughn could hear the steady truth of the words themselves.

"I'm sorry." He shook his head and stared at the front of his apartment building out the passenger side window. He felt lost.

"The work we do isn't easy. Things have happened to me that I will never get over. Maybe it's time for you to ask yourself if this is the job you want to be doing."

"So that's what this is all about." Bitterness welled up. "You want me out."

"Michael!" Frustration shot out of Jack's voice, sudden and startling. "You're not listening to me!"

Vaughn's head had snapped around at the outburst and he stared, trying to read Jack's face by the light of streetlamps. It looked heavy with anger.

"You're one of the best agents I've worked with. That doesn't make you indispensable. If you're staying in as a tribute to your father's memory, that is misguided. You need to do what's best for you." He let that sink in, and then said, "I'll walk you up."

"I don't--"

But Jack was already getting out of the car.

7.

He thought about what Jack had said, and about the bizarre revelation that they were friends. It took some getting used to, but they apparently weren't the type of friends who got together for drinks or a game of pool, and that made it easier.

He was still trying to figure out just what type of friends they *were* when Frank Richter rolled into the department like a tank. An ex-Special Forces hero who'd hot-rodded his way up through the FBI, he'd been tapped by Kendall to liaise with the agency while he was on special assignment.

"He's big, he's stupid, and he's mean," Sydney said after a week of him, her temper in the red after Weiss had been chewed out for a breach of protocol that had saved four lives. "He's not Eric's supervisor, he's not in the CIA, and he wasn't even on the mission. He has no right to go off on a tear, and Dixon shouldn't have let him."

"It's politics," Vaughn said.

She didn't lose steam, though, and over the next few weeks he could see her watching for chances to strike back. Cutting remarks didn't make much of a dent in Richter's hide, and being ignored just made her madder. The tension made Vaughn increasingly uneasy, like a brewing storm pressing down on them all from above, but it didn't break as expected. Actually it was more like the ground cracking under his feet when he'd been preparing for rain.

"Agent Vaughn, are you deliberately obstructing the FBI's mandate or are you just incompetent?"

They were standing in the middle of the ops center seconds after winding up a live, on-channel mission. He took his headset off, adrenaline still coursing through him. He'd been OIC, directing agents to destroy a chemical weapons lab in China that was using stolen U.S. technology. They'd been in countdown when sat-tracking picked up movement inside the blast range. He'd called a halt against Richter's angry protests and had the agents recon again. They'd collected seven non-hostiles, itinerant locals, before completing the op.

"Sir?" he said, reining in his temper.

"When the FBI shares its intelligence, we set certain requirements. Halting mid-bang because you're afraid of a little collateral damage is not acceptable."

Vaughn knew pretty well the depths to which human indifference could sink, but this was a new low. "Let me get this straight, you're unhappy because I made the call to delay detonation ten minutes to save seven lives?"

Richter got into his face. "I'm unhappy because you risked the lives of my people for what might have been *cows* for all you knew."

"Well, they weren't cows, and I stand behind my call." The absurdity of the exchange was starting to boggle his mind, but then again he'd been up twenty-eight hours and was pretty punchy. He was aware of Sydney, Weiss, and Jack holding themselves out of the fray, letting him field the punches. Around the room heads had begun to raise. Very few people made a pretense of not listening.

"You know, we live in a politically correct age, and that's a shame, because if we didn't I'd have words for you."

Ticked off, Vaughn said recklessly, "Yeah? Go for it."

Richter's smile was nasty. "Well, son, we had boys like you in the Army."

*Son?* Vaughn thought in amazement.

"We called them pussyboys. Like, I said, not too P.C. They were the ones with the hundred-thousand dollar diplomas and the shitcan attitudes. They could talk the talk, but when it came crunch time, they'd cry like a faggot on a fence about the injustice of it all."

Stunned, Vaughn felt his skin grow cold and his muscles lock him into place as stiffly as manacles. Richter's face was too close, too red and naked in its ugly emotions. He could smell the coffee on the man's breath. His vision began to grey at the edges.

"This is *not* acceptable," Sydney said, voice twisted to a high-wire pitch of danger, but before she could say any more, Jack stepped in close, angling his body between Richter's and Vaughn's.

"Step away," he said, and waited until Richter did. "Mr. Richter, your work is done here. Leave now."

"You can't--"

"Let me define 'now'," Jack broke in with a raised, carrying voice that shed all politeness. "Now means that you turn around and go, or I'll have security escort you out--in handcuffs--and deliver you all the way to the lobby of the Hoover Building. And if you say another word? I'll have them deliver you gagged."

Richter was four inches taller than Jack, but didn't look impressive glaring down at him, red with rage. Vaughn could see him struggle as he searched Jack's face, trying to decide how serious he was. After what felt like a lifetime, he turned and left.

Weiss and Sydney both breathed audibly again, Sydney almost gasping, her entire body rigid but shaken with the effort of self-control.

"It's late. Go home," Jack said to them as a group. "We'll wrap up tomorrow."

Somehow Vaughn managed to free himself without suffering a well-intentioned rehash of events from the others. He ended up sitting motionless in his car, arms and head resting across the steering wheel for an unknown time, until a knock came on the window. He looked up expecting to see Sydney. He never got over expecting it to be Sydney.

Jack stared in at him, waiting, face composed. Vaughn had to start the car to lower the window. "What?" he said, exhaustion draining him to terseness.

"You shouldn't drive home like this. Move over."

He thought about saying no, long enough that Jack opened the door with impatience. Vaughn sighed and shifted into the other seat. They were out of the garage before it occurred to him to ask, "How are you going to get home?"

"I'll take a taxi."

They rode in silence through the city. As they passed within a mile of Santa Monica Boulevard, Vaughn felt his awareness drawn in that direction. Music, anonymity, sex. Oblivion. He remembered how it felt to fuck the mouth of the guy he'd picked up, the hot silky tightness of it. And Jack watching. He tried never to think of that. It usually worked pretty well too, until about one a.m. every night when he ended up jerking off in the darkness of his bedroom.

One night. One fucking night squeezed out of the dry shell of his life. He could feel his gun in the small of his back when he shifted in his seat, a cold well-known shape. He carried a choice around with him every time he wore it.

"Thanks," he said, rousing himself when Jack drew the car into his parking space.

"I'll come up."

"I'd rather you didn't." Jack stared him down. Vaughn sighed and got out, and led the way to his door, where he turned and held out his hand. Jack dropped his keys in it. "Good night," Vaughn said pointedly.

"I could come in." The offer was hesitant. Not to mention just plain weird.

"Why?" Vaughn asked quizzically.

"I'm...thirsty," Jack hazarded with a tiny raise of eyebrows, pulling the excuse from thin air. There might have been a small popping sound as the air molecules rebelled.

"You're thirsty." With another tired sigh, he gave up and let Jack follow him inside, where he found a bottle of something wet and a glass that wasn't dirty and poured Jack his drink. Then he found a glass that was dirty and poured one for himself.

When he turned from the table, Jack was right there, startling him.

"This is what they call a zone violation," Vaughn said, fighting his discomfort. Jack's eyes had reached that level of intensity that preceded nuclear explosions, though he didn't look angry.

"Are you attracted to me?" Jack asked. His voice had smoothed and lowered to an indecent level. "I ask because if you're not, I can't kiss you." He paused. "It's a prerequisite," he added, as if this needed to be said.

"You're really asking me this?"

"Yes. Which could be...an enormous mistake." He was already starting to look like he regretted saying anything.

"Wait, now you're chickening out? You're asking for a kiss and you're already chickening out?"

Jack gave Vaughn a careful, searching look before acting, then drew him close and kissed him.

"Don't chicken out again," Vaughn said quietly when it finished.

"I won't."

They kissed again.















Warnings: Rape. Angst.
 
 
 
Moral Whiplashbkwyrm on June 4th, 2005 06:11 am (UTC)
The thing is that when you write Jack and Vaughn - with all you writing, really, but they're my example because they're what you're writing right now - I can see them doing this in my head. I can hear them talking, using the dialogue you give them, and it sounds absolutely right. Long stories are satisfying, but short sketches are marvelous when they're done right, and yours are done right.
Keep with the fast and loose, if you're enjoying it. I know I'm enjoying what you're producing.
Anna S.: jack-vaughneliade on June 4th, 2005 08:36 pm (UTC)
I can see them doing this in my head. I can hear them talking, using the dialogue you give them, and it sounds absolutely right.

I love this comment--that makes me feel like I've done what I meant do do and gives me a deep squee. Thank you! :D
gianna24gianna24 on June 4th, 2005 06:33 am (UTC)
I really, really enjoyed this, I thought it was all very in character up until the point where Jack asked if Vaughn was attracted to him and then I was like, nuh-uh, no way. But then I re-thought it. God knows Jack is one for the non-sequiters, in addition he's pretty good at reading people, just because he asked doesn't mean he doesn't know the answer.
Anna S.eliade on June 4th, 2005 08:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

in addition he's pretty good at reading people, just because he asked doesn't mean he doesn't know the answer.

Exactly! You nailed it. *g*
cija: saliericija on June 4th, 2005 06:34 am (UTC)
how pointless this was as an actual tactic for questioning. Their captors would have effective drugs on hand for that. Torture was always for its own sake.

I really, really like that you included this bit. The show glories in torture (by the heroes as well as of them) to a fairly nauseating extent, which didn't use to bother me much but increasingly does. I like seeing Jack be ruthless & violent as much as anyone, but, well.

Are you attracted to me?" Jack asked. His voice had smoothed and lowered to an almost indecent level. "I ask because if you're not, I can't kiss you."

This is cuter than anything in the whole world.

Anna S.: angeleliade on June 4th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC)
I like seeing Jack be ruthless & violent as much as anyone, but, well.

Yeah. That opening is something I'd have set up at greater length if the story had been more in-depth. So that Jack's own actions were more clearly that of a man driven to the edge, raging with vengeance. Because of what he'd seen.

This is cuter than anything in the whole world.

Thank you! *glee*

cindershadow on June 4th, 2005 06:56 am (UTC)
Having immersed myself in both your styles (the new J/V, the older Sentinel) this past week and your S/X over the past year, I'm going to be bold and comment at some length. I don't think the new style is cursory; there is a great deal behind the lean language, and the showing (both through dialog and actions) rather than telling is very powerful. While I really like the earlier work--enough to be rereading it quite compulsively, along with the newer--are the strengths I see in the recent writing: development of character and emotion through economical, realistic conversations and actions. The older work, though it happens infrequently, can be just a bit "writerly" at times--not enough to take me out of the story, or I wouldn't love it so much, but just enough that I occasionally hear a whisper in my mind, the internal literary critic noting the author's elegant use of language. Whereas, most of the time in the older works, and consistently in the newer, it is only after I've finished reading that I can sit down and deconstruct the artistry, seeing how much is actually going on and understanding why the work has had such an impact. And, in my not-so-humble and very long-winded opinion, that defines excellence in this craft. If the speed at which you can do this makes you devalue it, I'd just say that when one combines talent with skilled practice, that ease is not surprising. I've seen it in brilliant horse trainers, who can conduct casual conversations with owners while simultaneously communicating with great delicacy and specificity on several verbal and physical levels with a complicated and volatile member of another species; on rare, precious, beautiful moments, that perfect synergy has happened to me in the classroom. However uncomfortable it makes you, you may need to consider the possibility that you are just quite good at this.

(one typo: "Pinochet's rein" should be "reign"--so says the part-time horsewoman.)
cindershadow on June 4th, 2005 07:01 am (UTC)
Sorry . . . I cut a phrase, adding confusion to long-windedness! It should be " . . . along with the newer--what I like are the . . ."
(no subject) - eliade on June 4th, 2005 07:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
droneish on June 4th, 2005 07:31 am (UTC)
bittersweet demon
I am now incredibly glad that my mind is too weary to do any more coding tonight yet I have too much caffeine in my system to sleep. Just a moment ago I though this was a bad thing. But were I able to be "on-target" right now, I wouldn't have given myself permission to check my flist...

This is amazing.

He paced through his apartment, examined the things he owned and tried to understand them... and watched his ghost in the glass raise the gun to its head. gets inside Vaughn's head, inside depression and despair, so quickly and completely. I have a hard time thinking of this writing as "sketchy."

And Jack's declaration (and Vaughn's you're already chickening out?) was a restorative to this angst-chewed reader without being maudlin or the slightest bit unbelievable.

_drone

Oh, and here's the obligatory correction ;)
You didn't just touch rape victims with asking.
"with" should be "without", I warrant.
Anna S.eliade on June 4th, 2005 07:35 am (UTC)
Oh, and here's the obligatory correction ;)
You didn't just touch rape victims with asking.
"with" should be "without", I warrant.


::FACEPALM::

Well, that was second crushingly humiliating correction--let's hope that takes care of them all. *g*

Thank you so much for commenting! I will actually probably loop back and comment more tomorrow but if my brain dies in the meantime, please know how much I appreciate the correction!
(no subject) - eliade on June 4th, 2005 07:36 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - droneish on June 4th, 2005 07:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
Trepkos: pensivetrepkos on June 4th, 2005 08:51 am (UTC)
I'm glad you mentioned Pinochet - I was about 12 when Allende was killed, and I think the stories of the tortures inflicted on his supporters were among the worst I'd yet heard.

"He hadn't realized how fucking terrified he'd been. His heart hammered as frantically in relief as it would have with panic."
This is very real.

"Vaughn had a feeling he'd said those same words to Sydney a thousand times, for skinned knees, broken bones, a broken heart. His palm rested in a flat fan against his hair, unmoving and easy. If Vaughn's father had lived, it might have been him standing here, helping him, steady as a rock."

Even this parernalistic slant doesn't seem squicky when you write it.
And I usually find it squicky.

It's good the way Jack is completely genuine yet somehow, because of this idea Vaughn has of him, he manages to put the worst possible construction on anything Jack says or does.
Anna S.: jack-bristoweliade on June 4th, 2005 08:50 pm (UTC)
Even this parernalistic slant doesn't seem squicky when you write it.
And I usually find it squicky.


I was wondering if anyone would mention that--I think I usually find that squicky too, though I can't think of examples offhand.

It's good the way Jack is completely genuine yet somehow, because of this idea Vaughn has of him, he manages to put the worst possible construction on anything Jack says or does.

Yes! *g* You notice the good stuff.
Humairahumaira_k on June 4th, 2005 10:22 am (UTC)
The reason I lik your stories is because they're plausible. They could happen in cannon. You know the characters well enough to antiipate their reactions, their thoughts and the storylines are challenging and each one goes into a different direction then the one before it.

Loved this one.
Anna S.: weseliade on June 4th, 2005 08:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, great comments--thank you so much! I do the little chair-dance of delight. (Which really doesn't involve a lot of moving, but is still enthusiastic, I swear.)
kangeiko: tongue kink by iconic_moonkangeiko on June 4th, 2005 12:40 pm (UTC)
I... appear to be completely addicted to your J/V stories. Seriously. I wake up, I have my shower, I fix myself some breakfast, and then I log on to lj "just to see if eliade has written any more." But then, see, then I have to keep clicking on 'refresh', because you may have written some more since I started reading, and meanwhile my tea gets cold and I miss the train and look very silly explaining to my uni supervisor why I was late to yet another meeting with her. "Honest Clare, the trains were buggered, yeah, I wasn't running late or anything..." And then I have to nip into the library before heading home to see if you've written some more.

Oh God. *buries head in hands*

You have to keep writing. It's become imperative. My whole non-schedule now depends on it.
Trepkos: Cool by Becky Bootrepkos on June 4th, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC)
You're not the only one - she keeps making me late for work, too!
(no subject) - eliade on June 4th, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - kangeiko on June 5th, 2005 07:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
flaming museflaming_muse on June 4th, 2005 02:17 pm (UTC)
God. This isn't cursory; it's distilled. You get all of the punch of a fabulous long fic in a shorter amount of time with none of the boring bits. I love your style precisely because you focus on all the good stuff and hit all of the notes and can rip out our hearts and patch us back up and make us beam at the screen without it taking three years to get there.
Anna S.: sarkeliade on June 4th, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC)
Oh--"distilled". Great word, I like it--that makes me feel better. :)

without it taking three years to get there.

The flip side of course is that sometimes stories can go overlong. I don't know that I suffer that sin, at least not lately, but I know what you mean.
julia_herejulia_here on June 4th, 2005 03:10 pm (UTC)
Wow.

This is great.

I'm supposed to be revising right now, but I got this jolt instead.

Look: I'm working on a long piece; I write two chapters a week, mostly around 2500 words, I revise, it gets betaed, I revise again, and guess what? I've yet to post a chapter in which I don't later find a honking great error. You're as much better at that as you are at everything else and I do mean everything. Richter is probably the most complete OC I've ever read, like one of Picasso's charcoal sketches in five lines.

So there.

Julia, nothing like a dose of humility before revision
Anna S.: agent-coopereliade on June 4th, 2005 09:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!

Richter is probably the most complete OC I've ever read, like one of Picasso's charcoal sketches in five lines.

Oh good--I'm so glad he worked for you. I thought he might be OTT and I took so little time setting that scene up that I wasn't sure it would play the way I'd hoped. So, yay. :)
(no subject) - julia_here on June 5th, 2005 01:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
wyoluvrwyoluvr on June 4th, 2005 03:50 pm (UTC)
flirting with a subject is not a bad thing to do. not all topics that need in-depth treatment, *always* need it.

"Are you attracted to me?" Jack asked. His voice had smoothed and lowered to an indecent level. "I ask because if you're not, I can't kiss you." He paused. "It's a prerequisite," he added, as if this needed to be said.

this was darker j/v than i've seen before. i like.
Anna S.: vaughneliade on June 4th, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it. :)
tafkarfanfictafkarfanfic on June 4th, 2005 05:28 pm (UTC)
I liked this enormously. I"m sorry I'm not more articulate than that.
Anna S.: angeleliade on June 4th, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)
No worries--that is plenty articulate enough. And bonus points for using the word "enormously". *g*
(Deleted comment)
Herself_nyc: Will Tippet profile by twilightbadgirlherself_nyc on July 10th, 2005 06:38 am (UTC)
Oh my God. That was AMAZING. The ending--AMAZING.

I'm gobsmacked.