Yes, I am a sad, lonely, obsessed person. And I need love. Corrections very welcome. Feedback pitifully hugged to my bosom. Bona Fides, part 3 Emory Dunstone was an elegant, mustached man in his fifties, who carried an air of intelligence experience supported by his file. The CIA had established an association with Dunstone Chemicals over a decade ago, and used the company as a front when injecting agents into the cocktail circuit of the agri-industry. "Philip and Anita" were an invented extension of Dunstone's family, fully backed with residence, offices, CVs, and company titles. Whenever the agents playing them changed, any existing photo documentation was updated to maintain currency. Frequency of use was low, and no real acquaintances were allowed to develop that might blow the cover. "We appreciate you letting us take your place at the benefit," Sydney said when Dunstone dropped by with the invitation. He waved a hand negligently. "You're saving me from hours of tedium. I should be thanking you. Besides, Arsenal's playing Chelsea this evening." When he'd left, Sydney returned to applying her make-up while Vaughn finished his black-tie assembly. The flat of the fictional Anita and Philip was swank and came with a tall standing mirror to get the full effect. He and Sydney maneuvered around each other as they got ready with the fluency that came from working together for years. The easy routines they'd built made Vaughn feel married, if only for an hour or two. But it was a purely professional marriage and would never be anything more. Kind of like what he had with Jack, come to think of it. He tried not to think of it. They swept into the benefit arm in arm, with attitudes of bored entitlement. Sydney had the clock tucked in her purse along an electronic lock-pick, and wore a necklace mic. Vaughn carried the equipment to hack into the building's computer system and loop the security camera feed for the floor she'd be infiltrating. "Now this," Marshall had said, holding up a plastic card, "you may recognize. It's a duplicate of your bank card, except not with your name, of course, and not with your actual account number--so it's not really a duplicate of *your* card, but--this baby will get you into the security mainframe. Just drop it on the terminal and it'll open a channel to Hackers 'R Us." He paused to check that Vaughn was on the same page. "That being me. I'll override and loop the video feed. You could do it, it's the kind of thing you do," he reassured Vaughn with an air of apology, "but I don't know what encryption they're using." "So I'm basically just a pair of hands," Vaughn had said blandly. "No, no--well, yes." Marshall had looked crushed on his behalf, but Vaughn was perfectly happy to take a walk in the park once in a while. "I hate this necklace," Sydney said now. Vaughn glanced at her neck. She was sliding the pearls through restless fingers. "Why? It looks good on you." "Marshall brought it with him from SD-6." "Oh." He felt a twinge of sympathy for her, the same he always felt when ghosts of that time were stirred. Almost as one, they smiled and nodded at a couple in passing as if they knew them. The couple nodded graciously in return. You could count on most people to err on the side of caution and manners, afraid that their memories might be faulty. "There's Frye," Vaughn murmured, directing Sydney's attention across the room. Frye was a tall, angular man with a hooked nose and close-cropped white hair that framed a polished bald spot. He looked arrogant, but then most people at the party did. He stood out more because of the deferential audience gathered loosely around him, listening as he declaimed something. Vaughn smoothly took two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter. "Have fun," he said, handing Sydney one. She flashed a smile, then headed purposefully toward her target. Left to his own devices, he wandered with casual movements toward the back of the building, where the service corridors were located. "You want to head to the southwest corridor," Weiss said in his ear. "Third door on your right." "Got it." "How's it going?" Weiss asked. It sounded like he was chewing something, probably a Snickers bar. "Fine," he said sotto voce, automatically scanning the area around him as he entered the corridor, and leaving his champagne on a table. "Hey, uh, by the way..." Weiss's own voice lowered for no good reason Vaughn could think of. "Jack wanted me to tell you to be careful." "Excuse me?" "I swear. That was verbatim." Vaughn glared at thin air, knowing Marshall was listening in on comm. "I'm always careful," he snapped back. "Right, right," Weiss said quickly, clearly having no idea what the hell else to say. "I'm at the door." Vaughn glanced up and down the hall, hacked the lock using an innocuous-looking scan card, and slipped inside. It was the office of a junior building manager, small and untidy, and he sat at the desk, pulled up an active screen, and set the false bank card on top of the drive. "Signal received," Marshall said right away. Vaughn imagined he could almost hear Marshall's fingers flying across his keyboard. "Okay...I'm in. Looping video, starting now." "Sydney." Vaughn pocketed the card. "You there?" "I've got Frye's voice print. Heading to the twenty-third floor." Vaughn exited the office, turned, and nearly bumped into a plainclothes guard with a radio clip in his ear. The guy had to be seven feet tall. "Guests don't have authorization to be in this area." "My friend gave me his key-card. I was supposed to meet him, but I don't think he could get away. His wife keeps him on a short leash." Vaughn let his gaze slide down the man's body in a considering way. "But now you're here." The guard grimaced and shifted back a step, raising one arm to gesture toward the main hall. "You'll have to return to the party, sir." Vaughn tipped him a light smile. "If you insist." "Work it, baby," Weiss said as he was walking away. "Mmm hmm." Bastard. He might have appreciated Weiss's blasé ragging if he'd been *actually* gay; it was the most indisputable sign of his friendship. As it was, he jabbed back with minor revenge. "You better hope Jack doesn't review audio logs." "Oh, shit," he muttered. Smiling, Vaughn returned to the party and snagged another glass of champagne. *** "Thanks to your work," Dixon said, "we now have access to all Frye's calls, along with video monitoring of his desktop and a remote tap on his personal computer." Vaughn and Sydney nodded in acknowledgment and the debriefing wrapped up with a request to turn in their reports by end of day. They were jet-lagged, having come to the agency straight from the airport, and the meeting was the first he'd seen of Jack since returning, which called for some kind of gesture, Vaughn supposed. He fell into step with Jack in the hallway, letting their shoulders brush, aware of Sydney behind them. "Hey." "It went well," Jack said, voice pitched to discomforting intimacy, even though his words were professionally neutral. "Will you write your report from home?" "I was thinking about it." They stopped outside Jack's office door, stepping to one side of the hall. Vaughn smiled absently at Sydney as she passed, her narrow-eyed glance sliding over the two of them. "Let me drive you. With what I have to do, I can work from home the rest of the day. We can stop at Chen's on the way." "Pork Siu Mye," he said in a tone of exaggerated hunger. He wondered if Jack would really stop. "Let me get my things. I'll meet you in the garage." Jack didn't stop, and Vaughn didn't mention it. He wasn't that hungry anyway. On the ride he spent more time than was probably healthy trying to think of things they might be able to talk about without irritating each other, but it didn't seem worth the effort to test the small handful of results he came up with. He was opening his laptop on the dining room table and already mentally drafting his report when Jack touched his arm and turned him around and kissed him. On the mouth. "Whoa!" Vaughn said, pulling away and resisting the impulse to wipe his mouth. He wished he could remember if this exact sort of thing was part of the package. "Okay, what was that for?" "Verisimilitude." "No one's watching!" "What's your point?" "You think someone's going to polygraph us on whether we kiss?" He felt he'd honed the perfect scoff, but Jack stared at him, unimpressed. "They might." "If you think that..." He took an instinctive step back, then his head cleared and he said, "You're fucking with me, aren't you?" One corner of Jack's mouth moved in a dry approximation of a smile, though his gaze stayed cool. "Not entirely. It's a good idea to maintain a comfort level with each other." "I am *so* not comfortable right now." "I know. That's a problem." Vaughn's shoulders slumped and he sighed. He was tired and had a report to write and Jack was a bastard. "Fine. Kiss me." Jack arched his brows slightly and did nothing but wait until Vaughn realized they were getting nowhere. After a few moments, he willed his temper to drain away and his muscles to relax, thinking ahead to the time when they'd be joining Demarkian's organization. He could get himself killed and Jack too, if he didn't rewire his reflexes. He stepped back into Jack's space and brushed his lips against the other man's jaw, then up to his mouth. Jack kissed him back with openness and no hesitation, sliding both arms around him. You had to turn off your brain to do this kind of thing. Not always easy. He pushed loosely against Jack's body with his hips, sinking into memories of women to further his own body's sham. It wasn't the same. He had to fine-tune his responses as if learning a new kind of dance. And his mind must have switched off, because at some point he realized they'd been kissing for a while. A *while* a while, with tongue. And he was half-hard and rubbing against Jack, who was half-hard and letting him. Vaughn gave a small groan of dismay that didn't come out sounding like dismay. Jack kept carving kisses into his mouth with a skillful tongue and pulled him closer, fingers locked into the groove of his spine, just under his belt, and Vaughn's hips hitched and picked up speed even while he was hating himself and knowing this couldn't end well. The heat and muscle of Jack against his body felt like a wall he was hitting at ninety miles an hour. His mind still wasn't in the game. He eased his mouth away, caught his breath, and said, "This needs to stop now." Jack let him go. His face was faintly flushed. At least it hadn't been entirely one-sided. Vaughn sketched Jack a brief, almost polite smile to show that he wasn't sulking, then retreated to the safety of the table and began writing up his field report. *** He couldn't figure Jack out. "Enigmatic" fell far short of describing the man. He'd been the one to start the whole kissing thing, and he kept it going, following his own strict schedule--mornings, evenings, nothing more, nothing spontaneous. After the first time, they were both more careful not to get caught up. Actually, Jack was so stone-faced during the business that he might have been suffering through a dental exam. Yet he kissed gently. Yet he was still a bastard in the office. It was impossible to fathom what was going on with him. He had a uniform and consistent personality if you didn't probe too closely, but if you did make the mistake of getting close, he was a thousand different contradictions stuffed into one impeccably tailored suit. It was a Thursday. They'd had an eight a.m. meeting with the entire team. Jack had been brisk. Vaughn had tried to catch his eye across the table for a smile and failed. He'd noticed Marshall noticing--*Marshall* of all people had given him a sympathetic look. But he'd also been frowning with puzzlement, as if something didn't quite add up. The man wasn't entirely without perceptivity. And if Marshall got suspicious, they might as well write the entire mission off, because it wouldn't hold up with anyone. It would be like dominoes falling. He headed to Jack's office after the meeting and walked in, closing the door behind him. "I think you should smile more." Jack looked up from his folders and frowned above a direct gaze as if Vaughn were speaking an alien tongue. "At me, around the office. Just lighten up a little--it's no wonder Syd didn't buy us. And this isn't going to work unless everyone else *does*." "Smile more." "If you were with me, don't you think you'd smile more?" Vaughn asked testily. Jack stared at him with unblinking gecko eyes for a long beat, then said, "I've been following mission protocol to the letter." "Right. Talking over dinner plans and dry-cleaning errands where people can hear us. Going to lunch together once in a while." "It's those details that will convince people far more than a few smiles. And I don't need half-baked tutorials from you on how to operate a cover." His voice was sharply edged, his jaw wire-tight. "The only convincing thing we do is *fight." He simmered another few moments, wishing he knew what to say, then lashed out again. "You know it, too. I don't think you're even convincing yourself." He could tell by how Jack looked down in sudden, unfocused thought that he'd scored a hit. He pushed it further. "Why did you agree to do this if you're not going to do it well?" "People see what they expect to see," Jack said after a pause, ignoring his jibe. "You're crediting them with far too much interest in our sex lives." "They're trained federal agents. They know to look for clues that something isn't right. And we're right under their noses day in, day out." "Precisely. We're in their blind spot." "You want to talk about blind spots?" He gave a sharp, exasperated laugh. "Don't get me started." "Too late, apparently." "See, this?" Vaughn waved a hand between the two of them. "Is a perfect example. We bicker like an old married couple, but you can't even pretend to be friendly when we're supposed to be sleeping together." "It sounds like most marriages to me," Jack said with an empty, caustic smile. "I guess I don't have your cynicism." Jack looked abruptly fed up and his eyes narrowed. "If you want me to be 'friendlier', you need to be prepared to follow through." Vaughn frowned and shook his head as if he could jolt the sense of that comment loose. "What does that mean?" "You need to stop pretending that you don't care what people think. You can't back out halfway." "Don't give me cadet-training lectures, Jack." "Fine. Then you can expect to see my happier side, sweetheart." His smile at that moment struck Vaughn as the deceptively mild and chilling kind you might see on an executioner before the blade falls. Vaughn swallowed and left in an unexpected fit of nerves, saying nothing further but wondering what the hell he'd just started.