He sighed and pressed his head to the shower wall as Jack eased out of him, and then winced a little, glad his face hid the reaction. Ow. He could feel Jack shifting, knew he was pulling the condom off, getting ready to throw it away in the trash can just outside the door. Even over the spatter of the water he heard Jack draw a breath, and turned.
"What is it?"
Jack was looking down at the condom. Vaughn disliked that intensely. It was just a reflex of distaste he didn't know if he'd ever lose. He didn't need reminders about the gory details. Dick felt good, it felt great, fuck the rest. But since Jack was looking, he couldn't stop himself from glancing down too.
"You're bleeding." Jack's mouth tightened. The words were forced out.
"Just a little. It's no big deal."
Jack's gaze snapped up. His jaw was skewed slightly to one side, the way it got when he was holding his temper, and his eyes burned into Vaughn's with disbelief.
"Come on," Vaughn said, downplaying it. "It happens."
Jack slid open the shower door without a word. It banged in a way it usually didn't, and he stepped out, flushed the condom with a sharp blow to the toilet handle and began drying off. Vaughn was starting to realize that Jack was seriously pissed. He got out of the shower after him, dripping on the rug and reacting with his own spike of irritability. It had been an irritating day, in meetings, in traffic, in general.
"Why are you getting so worked up?" he said, tone sharpening.
Jack turned around and gave him a savage look, edged with something like disgust. "You're *bleeding*, Michael."
"This is not something to be macho about." Each word came out like the severe rap of a teacher's ruler.
Vaughn gaped a moment. "I'm sorry, did you just accuse me of being macho about getting fucked in the ass?"
"Don't deflect my concerns." His words might have been caring, but his voice was cold and measured. "We aren't doing this again. Not until you're healed."
Well, he could live with that, but that didn't change the fact that Jack was a control freak, overreacting and laying down the law, giving Vaughn no say in the matter. His sure, know-it-all tone made Vaughn just as unreasonably angry. "Fine." He grabbed a towel and brushed past Jack into the bedroom. They didn't speak much the rest of the night.
By the next morning, he wasn't bleeding at all. He didn't even think he'd been bleeding the night before. Finding a little blood in the wrong place wasn't *bleeding*. Jack made everything into such a big drama--at least that's how it seemed when Vaughn wasn't inclined to be generous.
Over breakfast they rattled newspapers at each other and ate cereal and toast in a tense silence until Vaughn reflected on all his fights with girlfriends and sighed and said, "Look, I'm sorry." This was when the woman always caved and apologized back.
Jack barely glanced up from the business section. "You have no reason to apologize."
"Oh?" Temper flared fresh at the other man's tone. How the hell did he nail that precise mix of bland indifference and in-your-face sniping? "Then why did you spend the last twelve hours being a passive-aggressive asshole to me?"
Now Jack glared. "Because you need to take better care of yourself."
"I didn't have my *own* dick up my ass, Jack."
"That's not what--" He broke off.
After a few long seconds of staring eye to eye Vaughn realized he'd actually argued Jack to an inarticulate standstill. It was a beautiful moment, almost worth it.
"Let's not talk about this any more," Jack said finally, face taut.
"Fine," Vaughn snapped. He tossed his section of the paper aside and grabbed his jacket. He always said a good-bye when leaving, often with a kiss. Today he just left. He took his own car as usual and had worked up a ferocious headache by the time he reached the office.
There was bad weather on the schedule that day: a triple-agency meeting of CIA, FBI, and NSC, all of them supposedly ready to carry out a multichannel operation to bring down Richard Ransom, a French businessman funding over thirty independent terrorist groups, some of them with completely diametrical goals. Ransom's own goal was simply to destabilize or control regions of the globe in any way that would further his business operations.
"This is going to be a circle jerk," Weiss muttered as they headed to the meeting, fortified with large coffees. Marshall caught up with them near the conference room.
"I don't think I need to be at this," he confided to them. "Do you think I need to be at this? I mean, I know they need a tech assessment, but--hey, I wrote one." A tiny laugh. "So I could just give them the folders--" He was carrying a stack, which chose that moment to begin sliding into disarray in his hands. "And they could, read--" He mimed flipping motions, then had to catch a folder before it fell. "Oh, and I put it on CD, in case not everyone's on the system here--" Anxiety was pulling his face in all directions.
"Relax," Weiss said, clapping him on the shoulder. "They probably won't let you say anything."
"Really?" Marshall brightened. "You think so? Because that'd be--I really don't want to talk. Oh, hey, Mr. Kendall, Assistant Director Kendall, how are--you today? That's a nice tie."
Kendall gave Marshall the briefest of smiles and swept ahead of them into the conference room.
"Nice guy," Marshall said, sounding as if he honestly meant it.
The conference room was crowded, with extra seats brought in. Even with only half the attendees already there, it felt stifling hot. Vaughn grimaced and took a chair by Sydney, figuring that lowered his odds of ending up with Jack on the other side. He lucked out when Weiss slid in beside him.
"Hey," Sydney said, glancing at Vaughn, voice rather subdued--the voice of someone else who didn't want to be at this meeting.
He knew immediately that her attention had been caught by something in his tone or the angle of his head or, hell, his pheromones for all he knew. It was incredible how attuned she could be to people's moods.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Sure." He twisted off a smile for her. Probably not a good one, but fuck it.
The room filled up, Jack arrived and took a distant seat, and the meeting eventually got started. Oh yeah, Vaughn thought, looking around at the constipated faces of the assembled directors. This was going to be fun.
It was one of those meetings where the biggest dogs did all the barking. Kendall, Devlin, and Lindsey had managed to find seats almost ideally equidistant from each other, like the points of a bureaucratic triangle. On either side of Vaughn, Weiss and Sydney were bored bookends, Weiss slouching in his chair, head almost level with its back, Sydney sitting rigidly with shoulders squared like a dutiful schoolgirl, probably trying to stay alert and awake by sheer backbone.
After a half hour of introductory rhetoric that gave way to increasingly heated cross-talk, you could almost hear the sudden crackle of lightning before a gathering storm. Weiss leaned over and murmured, "Here we go."
"--and just because you've developed your own paramilitary doesn't mean that the CIA owns the mandate to run this op," Kendall was saying with uncharacteristic heat to Devlin. "The FBI has just as much right, if not more, to run with this intel and take down Ransom."
"No one's arguing that you don't have a role in this mission," Devlin said, managing to sound both patronizing and antagonizing. "We welcome the support of the FBI in this endeavor." The way his face was wrinkling, he was starting to look like a cranky baby. Not a good look, Vaughn thought with critical dispassion.
"The *support*?" Kendall shot back sarcastically. "How very generous of you."
"The CIA has nominal control of this op."
"Do you even know what that word *means*?" Kendall said with a sharp laugh and a temperamental hand smack on the table.
"Gentleman," Lindsey said expansively, trying to edge a word in. The other two men swiveled their heads his way like beady-eyed hawks keen for a kill. Lindsey looked a bit unnerved, and overcompensated with bluster. "We're working toward the same end. Bickering just slows us down."
It was true, but not especially diplomatic, and Weiss covered his mouth with his hand and slid even lower in his chair as if preparing to duck friendly fire.
"What solution do you propose?" Jack asked. His level voice brought the temperature of the room down at least ten degrees. Everyone resettled themselves. Only Lindsey looked put out, as if he wanted to object to the lack of any formal address.
"I propose we identify the objectives and deliverables on each of our plates. This *is* what we're here for, isn't it, people?" Lindsey looked around the table with the air of a king bringing his subjects back into line and the temperature shot back up.
Kendall ducked his head, visibly trying to rein in his temper, while Devlin got a small, peevish expression. Lindsey had the ability to piss everyone off. Today, this included Vaughn. Did they have to listen to an NSC hack play referee? He hated meetings like this, where nothing got accomplished because an agenda was never even defined. It was a complete bullshit waste of time.
"Some of us know what's on our plate," he put in testily, drawing looks. "We just don't want anyone eating off it who isn't entitled."
Lindsey's face had gone momentarily slack with startlement, which seemed to render him dumb and dumber.
"You're out of line, Agent Vaughn." Jack's voice was calm and more regal than any director's could ever be. "I'm sure Mr. Lindsey will be able to set us back on course, given the chance." He looked expectantly at the NSC director, putting him neatly on the spot. Kendall leaned back in his chair and trained a waiting gaze on Lindsey a moment later, followed by a more suspicious-eyed Devlin. No one looked particularly put out by Jack's intervention.
Vaughn wanted to kill him. The rest of the meeting was a grey blur and babble that he could barely concentrate on. He seethed, not volunteering another word, speaking only when asked direct questions. As the meeting broke up, he left as fast as he could before he did anything truly stupid.
"Mike," Weiss called, and jogged fast enough to catch up with him. He grabbed Vaughn's shoulder to bring him to a stop.
"I really don't want to talk right now," he said. His headache had grown to the size of a malign tumor or mutant pumpkin in his head, threatening to force his brain out his ears. He held up a hand in warning, just as Sydney joined them.
"Hey," she said, with a very understanding and sympathetic look. "Are you okay?"
"Not really." Honesty came out in two chopped-off words. Down the hall behind her, he could see Dixon and Jack walking toward them. He started turning away, but Weiss, who wasn't usually so oblivious, held him in place with a hand on his arm.
"Hey. It was a sucky meeting. No one came out of there happy."
Vaughn stared at him, keeping his face in check and biting his tongue. Staring Weiss in the eye also helped him avoid looking at Jack, who loomed in his peripheral vision. And then of course Jack and Dixon both stopped. Sydney shifted to widen the circle.
"That could have gone better," Dixon said in a flat voice. He wasn't looking at Vaughn in particular.
Vaughn stared at Jack. Jack stared back. This was bad, very bad, and he should not go there, this was not the time or place to go there, and sleeping together had nothing to do with it, Vaughn knew that, but somehow the humiliation of being publicly fucked over was worse now that Jack had privately fucked him.
"Out of line?" he said in front of everyone, flat and sudden. Weiss drew in a breath, audible enough to be an anxious warning. So did Sydney, who actually looked ready to jump in.
"You're not cut out for politics," Jack said in an insufferable tone. "You should leave one-upmanship to the professionals."
"Yes." His tiny, self-satisfied smile just frosted the cake.
"Do you ever get tired of being the biggest dick in the room?"
It was the lowest kind of blow and it wiped the smile entirely off Jack's face. The sheer, personal venom of his tone froze everyone else in shock, while he and Jack stared at each other. The moment drew out painfully and then Vaughn walked away, hot with shame and sick at himself. He kept walking, out of the building entirely, in a random direction, not seeing his surroundings.
After maybe ten blocks his cell phone rang. He debated not answering it, but finally did. The agency's code-based caller ID told him who it was, and he said nothing in greeting, just waited.
"You were about to get into it with him," Jack said. His voice was quiet, stripped of all pretense. "You do not need that man as an enemy."
Vaughn stood holding his phone, staring ahead of him at a fountain where kids were tossing pennies in and begging their mom for more. Laughs rang out.
"It's all right."
"I'm so sorry."
"Don't--apologize." Unable to see Jack made it easy to ignore any distracting surface and hear what was beneath the words, which was his own apology. The slight pause between the words was an unspoken plea.
"I love you."
The silence on the other end of the phone made him anxious and then he heard a small ragged breath and that made him smile.
"You--I'm standing in the men's room." Jack sounded utterly at a loss.
Vaughn laughed out loud. "I didn't mean to spring it on you." He groped, found an echo of what Jack had once said to him. "This wasn't how I imagined the first time. Saying those words." He hesitated. "But I mean them."
"I--where are you?"
"I have no idea." He looked around. "In front of the Bank of China building."
"I'll be right there. Don't. Move."
The call ended and Vaughn wandered over to the fountain to wait. He flipped a penny in just for the hell of it.