They'd been seeing each other for five weeks. No matter how many sanity checks Vaughn performed during this time, every time he was still seeing Jack Bristow. It wasn't like a dream, more like a series of engulfing, thrilling shocks, like being hit by a wave and electrified at the same time. He kept waiting to be unhappy, for there to be friction and an ugly fight. It didn't happen, and that made him nervous. When nervousness peaked one night, Jack caught his wrist during dinner prep and said, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he said automatically, but Jack stared him down. Vaughn gave a wry smile. "I bet you did that when Sydney was growing up. Give her the hairy eyeball when she lied about her homework."
"It usually worked. She got better at lying, but I had the advantage. I could always ask for proof. For parties and dates, she was more adept at covering her tracks. She developed an entire network of contacts ready to cover for her."
"By contacts you mean friends?" he guessed. The whole idea of Jack's parenting was incredibly funny, but only because he hadn't lived it firsthand. It had probably driven Syd up the wall.
Jack simply looked at him. "I'm not so easily distracted," he said gently.
"I know. I'm just...nervous, I guess. About us. I don't know where this is going, and...I try not to want too much."
He glanced at Jack as he finished speaking; Jack was frowning, head tilted a little. Big surprise. He watched Jack think. When you were face to face with the man, you couldn't help but notice he had a lot of face. And ears to go with it. It struck Vaughn again how nutty it was, getting nuts over Jack. But he was. The man could do sinful things with his mouth and deadly things with his hands. Deadly sexy things.
"What do you think would be too much?" Jack asked.
"I don't," he paused and allowed himself a deliberate moment to be sure, "I'm not ready to give you that list."
Jack nodded, almost to himself. "All right." He didn't seem hurt or surprised. "When you are ready, let me know." A hesitancy transmitted itself through his touch as he slid a hand up Vaughn's arm to his shoulder, then his neck, as if he were vulnerable beneath the rocky front he presented. "I'm open to discussion. I've grown used to closing myself off from people. I don't want to do that with you. I don't want to live the same mistakes over and over."
Open to discussion. The formal phrasing might have thrown someone else off, but it touched Vaughn. He kissed Jack lightly. These days he lit up inside when he was with Jack. Jack could field-strip and reassemble any gun with his eyes closed, out-stare an entire band of terrorists, cut a man's ear off without flinching--he could kill a man with a paper clip, and had. But he let himself be naked with Vaughn, figuratively, literally; and in bed, the more gentle Jack was, the harder Vaughn's dick got, until the feather stroke of a fingertip could make him buck off the bed and come in wet pulses, gasping. He liked the other man's dangerous hands.
So they'd had that talk, and others, and they kept figuring out more things to do that didn't involve a lot of talking. The first week, they saw each other three times; the second week, four times; the third week, seven times. To go home alone begged the question, why bother, and he ended up at Jack's most nights, bringing overnight bags and extra suits. They made dinner together or ordered delivery, or one of them would stop and pick up take-out. Sometimes they didn't eat until after they'd done it once, frantically up against a wall or in bed, tangled together, urgently bringing each other off.
Everything was good. The way Jack would come up behind him and let his hands rest on Vaughn's hips and kiss the back of his right ear. Learning the tidy, logical systems of his kitchen and bathroom and linen closet. Going through his books and CDs. The way they figured out how to coordinate in the shower. The first time Jack fucked him and the first time he fucked Jack. And when they wore each other out, they'd end up watching TV together or reading side by side. That was more than Vaughn had hoped for. It seemed an insult now, how little he'd expected from Jack. Sex, conversation if he was lucky, maybe an occasional dinner. But Jack figured out what kind of beer he liked, and bought it, and started hanging extra towels in the bathroom. He looked as if he couldn't care less about anything, but that was misdirection, part of a cultivated cover that might have started as self-defense but had grown around him like a shell. The shell was curling off him now in tatters.
One night when Vaughn showed up at Jack's around seven, the other man answered the door in a black leather jacket and black sweater. And blue jeans. "I thought we might go out to dinner tonight," he said.
Vaughn couldn't stop his gaze from roaming across Jack's body or his dick from getting hard. Roughly he pushed Jack back inside the house and went down on him in the foyer, fisting his own dick out of his pants and jerking off until the heavy ache of his jaw and balls combined in a one-two knock-out to do him in. He came in arcs against the wall, and cleaned it off after, embarrassed despite Jack's amusement. They went out to dinner. It broke the ice of being together in public and they started to go out more regularly. After a month or so, they even shopped together for groceries a few times.
In the office, they both practiced discretion. It wasn't a stretch. They were used to the straitjackets of professionalism, knew how to hide within habit and routine and behave as people expected them to behave. They knew how to turn invisible inside the very people they were. Except that you can never hide completely from people who know you, if they're observant and willing to see.
"So how goes the secret romance," Sydney asked one day as they were sitting down for a meeting, the rest of the room still empty.
"Sydney." It was freakier now that it was true. He didn't know what to say. It was her father. He hoped to defer a confession until things took clearer shape. So far he and Jack were on the same page about that. "I can't talk about it."
"Can't?" She was obviously surprised, and he winced inwardly. It had been the first thing that came out of his mouth, without forethought.
"I just mean--I'd rather not."
"Vaughn." Concern deepened the vee between her brows, and he voice lowered to a whisper as she scanned to make sure they weren't overheard: "Please tell me she's not married."
"I can't believe you'd think that." Then he realized in a micro-second of shock that Irina *was* still alive and Jack might still be married. Whatever showed on his face must have looked like offense, though.
"I'm sorry. You're right. It's none of my business." She dropped her head, took a sip of coffee, the picture of contriteness, then looked up and said, "She's really old, isn't she? Like, seventy, eighty--oh! She's in Congress! Married, eighty, in political office. Vaughn, I don't think this is going to end well."
"You're incorrigible. And heavily caffeinated."
Sydney was grinning, unrepentant and still so happy for him that it was hard to be angry. Jack came in. Sydney's face lit in welcome; Vaughn's stomach lurched. "Dad. I need help with an interrogation."
"Oh?" Jack looked confused.
"Vaughn's seeing someone. Possibly a married congresswoman."
Jack's lips parted just a fraction, for just a moment, as he gave her his wordless regard, then he recovered and looked at Vaughn. "That should make an interesting headline if you're not careful."
"I'm careful," he replied pointedly before turning back to Sydney. "And I'm not seeing an eighty-year-old married congresswoman." He managed to say this just as Dixon, Weiss, Marshall, and Kendall entered the room.
"And I think we're all very glad to hear that," Weiss said earnestly, taking a seat.
Vaughn tipped his head back, closed his eyes, and counted to five.
After the meeting, Jack came by his desk. Vaughn looked up. "Don't even start," he warned.
Jack raised a brow and did a smirky thing with his mouth. "I wasn't going to."
"Oh yes you were."
"Come have lunch with me."
Blinking in surprise, Vaughn glanced at his computer clock. "Now? It's just eleven."
"And we've been here since six." Early concall with Langley for them both. And a late night for them beforehand, too. Vaughn wouldn't have minded a nap or a run. Or--lunch.
"Okay." He stood, taking advantage of the movement for a slight stretch, and then wondering if he was too close to Jack for that to look normal. But hey, he was seeing a congresswoman. Who'd think twice about the way he stood next to Jack? "I don't remember the last time I left the building for lunch."
"I understand there's weather outside," Jack warned him lightly.
"Terrifying." He grinned. And then he turned his head and caught Weiss watching them, face so smooth of expression that he had to be thinking something intently. Vaughn swallowed once, then managed what he hoped was a casual smile. He left the operations center with Jack feeling self-conscious, but the more distance they put between them and the office, the less he cared about appearances.
"What would you do if people found out?" he asked Jack as they walked across the street to Abbey in the Square. He didn't have to add: *about us*. They'd more than once talked around the subject, but not squarely about it. It was one of the things that had been lurking in the back of Vaughn's mind, making him nervous.
"At this point in my career, it's hardly worth it to worry." Jack glanced sidelong at him. "For you, it's different."
Vaughn frowned. "It's not that different. It's not like I couldn't do other things. Consult, teach." He shrugged. "There's a whole world out there." The significance of his words only hit him after he spoke them. He didn't care about the agency the way his father had. When it came down to it, he wouldn't let it shape his life that far. It was a sudden insight.
"Hmmm." A thoughtful, cryptic sound from Jack. Or maybe a happy one. Who knew.
When Vaughn got back to the office there was a new meeting on his calendar, only fifteen minutes off. It conflicted with another meeting, but it was with Devlin. That unnerved him. It unnerved him more when he saw that Jack was also on the invite. They met outside Devlin's office and looked at each other.
"Do you know what this is about?" Vaughn asked. Jack just shook his head.
Devlin didn't get up when they came in. As they sat down he leaned forward at his desk, folding his arms across the blotter, looking serious.
"Director," Jack said by way of greeting.
"Gentlemen." Devlin looked from Jack to Vaughn assessingly. "Something has come to my attention that I need to ask you about. I don't make it a habit of prying into people's private lives, but we all know that sometimes circumstances require me, as an accountable representative of this agency, to do just that."
Jack was looking increasingly irritated with the circumlocution and Devlin seemed to sense it. "I'll get to the point. It's been reported that you two involved in an intimate relationship. Is this true?"
Vaughn sat silent, mind racing through the possible ways a rumor like this could have reached Devlin. He had no trouble coming up with a dozen different scenarios. Next to him, Jack seemed just as dumbstruck. Vaughn took a breath and opened his mouth.
"Frankly, that's none of your business," Jack said evenly. "Though if Mr. Vaughn wants to answer, that's his prerogative."
Was he supposed to follow Jack's lead? Apparently not caring about his career didn't mean that Jack was going to be forthcoming. Vaughn kept his face ironed flat with the skill of long practice as Devlin looked expectantly at him.
"That's not a question I'm prepared to answer, sir," he said after a few moments, not looking at Jack.
"Well, I don't think you need to." Devlin sat back abruptly, hands going to the arms of his chair. "That's as good an answer as any."
"You really shouldn't make assumptions," Jack said, enunciating his words with care and giving Devlin a hooded, warning look. "If you only have rumors to go by, that's hardly evidence."
"Jack..." Devlin was getting more flustered. "If the two of you are involved, you can't work together in the field. It's policy."
"Then perhaps you shouldn't ask questions that will give you inconvenient answers," Jack snapped coldly. After a stretching silence in which Devlin seemed to be trying to gather his thoughts, Jack asked, "Are we under investigation?"
"No. This information reached me through unofficial channels. But you're forcing me to consider formal options."
"Are we?" Jack said dryly. "Well. If you think that homosexual officers within the agency present a national security risk, you should certainly take action."
"Give me a break, Jack." Devlin gave him an irritated glare. "You know this kind of thing can come back to bite the agency in the ass."
"Yes, that would be unfortunate. I imagine that any publicity could have an adverse effect on, say, a cabinet appointment."
Devlin's eyes narrowed and then he straightened in his seat. "I'd like an updated report on the Sanchez case by end of day," he said, and opened a file, giving it his attention. A clear dismissal.
Vaughn drew Jack to one side in the hall. "What the hell was that? Did you see that coming?"
"Do you think it was the conference? Maybe Lydia Carr talked."
"Possibly. We'll need to look into it. It's important to know where information like this is coming from."
"Can we just stonewall Devlin like that?" Actually he wasn't thinking 'stonewall' so much as 'blackmail' but he didn't want to say the word.
"I've learned that it's best not to let the agency get a foothold into your private life. If we say nothing and give them no reason for concern, they'll turn a blind eye. It won't be the first time."
Vaughn nodded, calming a little under the voice of experience, but not completely. Anxiety lingered--it seemed the appropriate response. "This sucks."
"It doesn't have to. It's only as important as you make it, Michael."
Jack with his steady voice was always surprising him. Vaughn held his eyes for a long beat, searching for confirmation that this was right and true, and then nodded, relaxing into a real smile.