He was inexcusably curt to the agent who came to escort him to his transport back to the States, but the guy was unruffled. In the car, Vaughn thought he even caught him smirking, and scowled at him.
After the usual spartan, inconvenient, and interminable flight to McGuire via cargo carrier, he caught a nonstop domestic passenger flight back to L.A. and used the fly time to say blistering things to Jack in his mind and drink a lot of Famous Grouse. Just from spite, he flirted with the woman sitting next to him until she began to look seriously interested in hooking up, and then he smiled and buried himself in the in-flight magazines, ignoring her confusion and disappointment within a guilty hunch of shoulders.
He went straight to the agency from the airport. It was seven p.m., but Dixon or Devlin was still likely to be around. He found Dixon at his desk, tired gaze intent on his monitor screen. He looked up as Vaughn came in. "I'm glad to see you got in all right, Vaughn--"
"What the hell is going on here? I woke up in a Costa Verde hotel room, my team gone, with no explanation!" He'd been working up a head of steam on the drive over. "What kind of bullshit is that?"
Dixon could be almost as imperturbable as Jack sometimes. "Jack copied you on the e-mail--"
"The *e-mail*? All my tech was left with Donnelly. I haven't had laptop access for a week."
"I see." Dixon frowned, disturbed, as if he hadn't known or made that connection. "I'm sorry. I thought you'd been apprised. That's not like Jack."
"Oh, it's exactly like Jack," Vaughn said with bristling rancor. "Slippery, sneaking--" He groped for a more apt word and ended with frustration. "Son of a bitch. What did he tell Mislov?"
"That it was time to focus on business without any distractions, and that he'd had you escorted to one of his homes to await his return."
"Nice." Vaughn paced a few steps in front of Dixon's desk.
"Vaughn." Dixon compelled his gaze with seriousness. "He didn't think it necessary for you to be exposed to further risk."
"That's--" Valid, Vaughn admitted to himself with irritation. "Fine. Whatever."
"Now that you're back, you can work with Morgan to monitor the progress of the mission. I'm sure your report will be an important contribution. Not to mention very interesting reading," he added with a straight face.
At a loss for a comeback, Vaughn gave a sour grimace. "I'll have it for you by tomorrow morning."
He spent the evening at his dining room table with a bottle of Scotch and his laptop, giving most of his attention to the latter. The e-mail from Jack to Dixon he'd been copied on was unexpectedly thorough in its analysis and explanations, and brought him a measure of calm. It hadn't been an unreasonable move; the point was, Jack should have told him his decision instead of slipping out while Vaughn slept just to avoid a confrontation. He would have argued for staying, of course he would have, and he'd have had his own good justifications.
I wanted to keep fucking him, he thought, staring unseeingly across the room in a dark funk of regret. He could acknowledge that to himself, even if he never admitted to Jack that it would have been one of his reasons for wanting to stay. When Jack got back, sooner or later there'd be the talk, the one where he laid out in his steady voice all the inarguable reasons why they couldn't be together any more.
I'll call him 'sir' again, he thought bleakly. Sit across from him at the briefing table while he makes measured, down-to-business remarks to the others and avoids my eyes. That would be fun.
Between working on his report, Vaughn obsessively refreshed his tracking window and e-mail for updates on the mission, but nothing was coming in. Despite all the time they'd spent on frivolous pursuits, it was still a dangerous and critical op, and he hated not being there. I could at least have stayed on surveillance with Donnelly, he thought resentfully. But they'd already sent another agent out to replace him.
Before he went to bed, with his reported drafted, he sent Jack a one-line e-mail. *I need to know what you'll be including in your EOM report.*
By morning he had a reply. *Everything of relevance*. Vaughn didn't have any trouble reading between the lines. That was good news, anyway. He'd left personal details out of his own report, and could safely file it now, knowing that their accounts wouldn't contradict each other and that its incompleteness wouldn't come to light.
It was another three days before the team returned. The initial investment of time had paid off and they'd been able to accelerate and reach their goals soon after they reached the plant. They'd acquired the new weapons designs, blown the plant, and taken Mislov into custody on a number of charges--sex trafficking charges, as there were no weapons-related charges that could be easily prosecuted for, but they'd be more than enough to put him away.
He saw Jack across the central operations room the morning after they got back, meeting his eyes at a distance and nodding. Jack was still for a moment, then nodded back. They sat as far apart as humanly possible during the debrief, and managed to never directly speak to each other. Everyone was very professional, and tactful when talking about Vaughn's participation. He found himself appreciating that, and smiled a few times at Sydney and Weiss when trading looks. They smiled back, as if all the discord of the mission was forgotten. And it probably was. Mission focus would have changed after he left; they'd have needed to concentrate completely on their deliverables. An uncomfortable week could be left behind, and they could move on, returning to their usual professional relationships.
In most cases.
He stole a glance at Jack, then lowered his eyes, thoughts shying away from what he knew was coming.
Jack showed up at Vaughn's house that night, fully outfitted in suit and tie, looking uncomfortable. He nodded but didn't say hello, and Vaughn let him in, equally silent. Greetings didn't seem necessary.
"Congratulations," Vaughn said, when they were standing in his living room, a few awkward feet of carpet between them. "It was a good mission."
"Yes." Jack blinked. "Thank you." He took a breath and focused his discomfited gaze on Vaughn. "We need to talk."
"Of course," he said in a quiet voice. He kept his face as composed as he could. It was difficult, and his heart rate was picking up with the increase in tension, but he didn't have to make this easy for Jack.
"You're," Jack paused to search for a word, "an extraordinary man. And surprisingly good company."
Vaughn could see him swallow, a rare show of nerves. His mouth twisted. He'd known this was coming. "But?" he asked flatly. He was resigned now, but he hated these bland, civil rejections.
Jack frowned. "But what?"
"That's what--I'm asking what. There's always a 'but'."
"No there isn't."
"Yes, there is. Wait." He stared at Jack and tried to adjust to the swerve in script. "Are you saying you want to keep seeing me?"
"You're rather slow on the uptake," Jack noted critically.
Vaughn shook his head and felt a smile rise to his lips as his heart lightened. "You don't think this is going to make things difficult?"
Jack raised a brow. "I'm sure it will."
"Okay," he said mildly, cementing the agreement.
"Okay." And Jack smiled.