This is the second bit. (This is the first.)
2. The Cabin
"I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't--oh, god, oh Jesus." Vaughn drew his legs up tight toward his chest. His muscles felt stiff as if he'd been beaten. Rocking on the bed seemed to help; his legs jittered all on their own.
"Easy." Jack picked the washcloth up where it had fallen and moved it back to Vaughn's forehead, holding it there with the palm of one hand.
"Going off it all at once," Vaughn rattled on. "This is a bad idea. I'm no good to you like this. We can't travel. And what if it gets worse. You could go back, Jack. They're all dead. You could get more--wean me off, until we get home--"
"That's the addiction talking. The information on the disc confirms that withdrawal isn't fatal."
"You don't know that!" He breathed raggedly as pain spasmed through him, bringing a layer of heat to the surface under his cold sweat. "That data could be garbage!" He wanted to lash out at Jack but could barely move. All of a sudden he began to cry, in harsh angry sobs, a reflex he couldn't control. He didn't even care that Jack was there to see it. It was like reaching the absolute nadir of the worst flu in the world, when you just didn't give a shit anymore what you looked or sounded like and death seemed a perfectly viable option. He had to throw up, and began to drag in shallow gasps of air, trying to hold it down.
Jack brought the pan closer and he gave in and vomited what little was left in his stomach, water and thin bile. It took minutes before his stomach settled enough for him to slump back down.
"I hate you," he whispered to Jack. It wasn't really true, but he hated the entire world at that moment and Jack was part of the world, the part that refused to get him more drugs. Vaughn's eyes wouldn't stay open but his brain wouldn't sleep. It raced along in jagged counterpoint to his heart in a heavy chaos of thoughts and feelings, his life shredded to thousands of painful meaningless scraps. His father was talking, and Sydney was laughing, a beautiful open laugh, but not at him, and Dixon was briefing them on the mission, his face lined with old grief and his tired eyes darker than they should be, and Marshall was talking a mile a minute right up in his ear, buzzing buzzing, machines whirring, deepening the ultimate headache, and he was so fucking alone, except for two threadlike tethers to the world: one hand against his forehead, another a gentle stroking weight on his bicep.
After some period of time he couldn't measure, the hands went away and he dozed half awake and half asleep, a nightmarish blur.
He jerked awake in panic, muscles searing as he lurched to his feet. Jack snapped out of sleep from his own position in a nearby armchair, hand closing over the gun that had been resting on his thigh. "What is it?"
"Shots." Vaughn swayed and stumbled as he pulled one foot draggingly from the clutch of blankets. "Someone--"
Jack exhaled slowly, put his gun on the table beside him, and stood. "There were no shots. We're safe. We're in Vaschon's old cabin." He came to Vaughn and stood there in front of him, a solid presence that should have been comforting, but Vaughn felt a heightened sense of threat, all the things Jack had ever done in his career, every line in his face, every note in his file, every scar, coalescing into his presence. He was the front of a dangerous storm.
"Michael," Jack said and held him by one arm to steady him. "You're safe."
"I can't--" He tried to think, but his brain hurt. Light hurt, even a single low lamp's worth. He could feel his hands trembling, small muscles in his legs and back jerking. "I don't know--"
"It's all right. Do you want to lie back down?"
"No." Pain made him rude. He pulled away from Jack and made his way across the cabin in uneven steps to the bathroom, and pushed the door shut behind him. He stayed in there a long time, relieving himself and cleaning himself as a blind person would, in darkness with his eyes closed, then curling up on the cold floor and zoning out until he felt Jack's hands helping him up.
"I'm sorry," he said in a low voice, but the words got swallowed up as Jack tipped a glass of water to his mouth.
"You have nothing to apologize for." Jack's voice wasn't soothing but it was so calm that Vaughn didn't know why he'd thought the other man was like a storm. He was a sea. A quiet sea, grey and vast and deep, and cold, but not a terrible kind of cold. And his hands were on Vaughn again, keeping him from sinking back down to the floor. They felt strong, and good, as if they carried a hum of power inside. The places they rested were the only places on his body without pain. It helped him focus for a moment.
"They've got to be wondering where we are. You should--" He tried to think what Jack should do. It scared him. "You should go." He found Jack's gaze with his own. Strange, surfacing out of complete self-absorption and seeing another human being. And there was a shape of kindness to Jack's face and something gentle in his eyes, though it looked like it always did on the surface.
"The important thing right now is to make sure you get better." He was talking the way you might talk to a child, except without the condescension that adults usually have. Just reassurance. "I'm not leaving you."
Vaughn let his eyes close and Jack guided him back to bed and drew a blanket over him. The feverish feeling had left along with the chills and the blanket felt just right, the perfect thing he needed to enclose him. He felt around for a towel that eased its way into his hand, and pushed it to his face to blow his nose. He was a mess, and he didn't care. He fell asleep not caring. A wonderful feeling.
When he woke, the cabin was brighter, sunlight filtering through the curtains. Jack was at the table with a mug of coffee. Vaughn could smell it. He sat up and combed a hand through his hair and rubbed his jaw, feeling a rough growth of stubble. Time had passed leaving only a half-formed impression, fog broken only now and then by meaningless landmarks without any relative distance between them to measure by. He thought it had been four or five days, though.
Jack had been reading some old book that must have been left by Vaschon. It had a red worn cover. He put it down to study Vaughn. "You look better."
"Is that coffee?" he asked, hoping the question would prompt Jack to bring him some without him having to say more words. His voice didn't want to work very hard.
In a mundane blessing, Jack brought him a mug with creamer and sugar and no extraneous words of his own. A while later, after Vaughn had managed to eat some canned peaches without throwing up, Jack asked, "Do you think you can travel?"
He turned a drained look on Jack, but nodded. What could he say? He wasn't going to hold Jack back any more than he could avoid; any more than he already had. The agency probably thought they were dead. Sydney had to be freaking out--might even have tried a rescue mission, which would have led her to the remains of the burnt-out lab and a dead end.
Jack frowned at Vaughn, studying him searchingly and making his own evaluation. "We should wait another day," he said after a minute.
"I'm fine." But his voice was weak, barely audible. He didn't sound convincing and wasn't even sure he wanted to be. He noticed that he wasn't sitting up straight at the table, that his back was a heavy curve. That probably wasn't instilling confidence either.
"Be that as it may...it's my call. So." *So there*, his tone said. "You should get some rest. Though you may want to shower first."
God, the man could be irritating. But at the same time it was a relief to hear that dry, normal tone again, and a smile reached Vaughn's face briefly before tiredness washed it away.
His shower was a thing of beauty, but his rest was restless and unsatisfying. The weight of the world felt crushing, a pressure against his chest that would never let up. He lay on the bed and felt heaviness creep over him, gradually paralyzing him to a state of indifference where he couldn't even imagine crying, or speaking, or moving ever again. The world was bleak and he was remembering that he was alone.
"Depression is a common symptom of withdrawal," Jack said quietly, a suddenly realized presence by the side of the bed.
Vaughn opened his eyes to look at him. It took great effort. The other man was holding a glass of water and lifted it toward him in silent offer. When Vaughn didn't respond, he put it on the bedside table and turned away. He might have sighed, but probably not. He was Jack. And then it struck him how incredibly sad that was, that Jack couldn't even let himself sigh. He was that tightly reined, disciplining himself for Vaughn's sake, because the mission demanded it, because his whole life demanded it.
The sadness was so unbearable that Vaughn could only close his eyes and sink back into it.
It wasn't until a week after they got home that his mind began to really clear at last. Days and days had gone by, waves of details that required his attention and a host of people and things cluttering his senses. Computer screens that were far too busy, slices of light from desk lamps that hurt his eyes, the ruthless trill of phones in the operations center. People's voices, irritating beyond belief.
But the point came when the tide turned and he felt himself drawing out of it. He met people's eyes, no longer afraid that he might snap at them, even able to smile wanly now and then. When Medical Services and Personnel Assessment both issued him a clean bill of health, he felt almost completely back in control again, and then one morning he arrived at the office and walked into the coffee hutch and Jack was there, and the world spun backward for a moment to the scent of coffee reaching him as he woke, and he held on to the edge of the counter, fighting vertigo.
Jack looked concerned, professionally if not personally. "Are you all right?" he said. As Vaughn tried to gather his wits, Jack's frown deepened a notch and he touched Vaughn's arm as if he feared that Vaughn might suddenly come undone or fall, which is exactly what it felt like.
"No. I mean, I'm okay." He swallowed, feeling lost, unable to look away from Jack, who seemed to be a little put off at the focus. "I never said thank you."
"Saving my life. Taking care of me when I was kicking the drugs and being a complete asshole."
"Thanks aren't in order." Jack stirred Equal into his coffee, gaze safely redirected away from Vaughn.
"Because it's your job."
Jack glanced at him. "Yes."
"I'd like to buy you dinner anyway," Vaughn heard himself say.
Jack straightened an inch or so within his suit, body language conveying slight social alarm. He looked nonplussed. "That's...not necessary."
"There's this thing called 'eating' and this other thing called 'conversation'. You can put them together. Like peanut butter and jelly."
"I've heard that." Jack's eyes shifted away again and he seemed to be searching for an excuse to refuse. "All right," he said, apparently drawing a blank. "Dinner."
"Dinner. Tomorrow night. Seven?"
Jack nodded, looked about to say something else, then took his coffee and went away. Vaughn smiled and stirred his own coffee and went back to his desk to start the morning.