Vaughn made his way to Jack's office thinking how much he hated the new agency ops center. He used to have his own office; now he just had a desk in the middle of an open floor. Not even a few cubicle walls to create the illusion of privacy. But Jack had an office.
As he got there, Jack was standing at his desk and packing up his laptop. He looked up. "Marshall is ready for the--what is it?" He was attuned to Vaughn's mood within moments, and Vaughn wondered what his face must look like to raise that reaction. Jack came around the desk, brow a crease of concern.
"Knows," Jack repeated.
"That we're sleeping together."
"Yes." Jack looked confused. He wasn't getting it, or didn't want to get it.
"Not the cover. Just now, she knew. She didn't believe it before. Now she does." He lowered his head, paced a few steps away, wound up tight. "I don't know if I can do this, Jack. Hurt her like this. It's sick."
Jack turned him around face to face with a painfully tight grip on his arm. His eyes were like laser sights before the bullets hit. "You said there was no chance that you and Sydney would ever get together." His tone was just short of menacing.
"There's not. But I had feelings for her. I still do--she's a friend."
Dropping his grip from Vaughn's arm, Jack said in a rigid voice, "Does she still have feelings for you? As more than a friend?"
"I don't know. But even if she didn't, you're her *father*."
"Yes." Jack glanced away, jaw working around a small, ragged breath, then squared his shoulders slightly and composed himself again to look back at Vaughn. "But she's made her choices."
Muscles locking him into place, Vaughn returned Jack's gaze. He couldn't believe he was hearing this. "That's cold even for you."
"No. It's simply the truth. Sydney will deal with her feelings."
Vaughn searched Jack's face, seeing the man who lied and killed for a living, who had allowed his daughter to be recruited into SD-6 by a ruthless criminal, who'd hid his real life from her for years. Jack loved his daughter. Vaughn could see that in his face too. He watched over her, protected her tooth and nail, and neutralized any threat to her as a matter of course. Her well-being was everything to him.
The confused churn of Vaughn's thoughts tired him, and brought no understanding of anything. "I don't know if I can deal with my feelings," he said quietly.
"You have to try."
He had to get out of there, away from Jack's overwhelming presence. His gaze was too intense, his personality too strong--and it pressured Vaughn more now, because it was no longer just overbearing intimidation. Jack had charisma, a frightening kind, like you might feel when staring at a tiger up close with no bars between you. A heat was rising in Vaughn's body, licking across his skin under his suit. It wasn't right to be feeling this. He'd come in full of concern for Sydney.
And it was awful: Jack knew what he was feeling. Knowledge was reflected in the slight dip of his gaze to Vaughn's mouth, a subtle shift in his features.
"I should," Vaughn began to say, and then Jack pulled him close and kissed him. In the fucking *office*, he thought in disbelief as his eyes closed and his mouth opened to take Jack's hunger. He stood there being kissed, brain idling, and his body ached all over with the memory of sex.
There was a sense of motion in the corner of his eye, the door to Jack's office being pushed open, and then Weiss was saying, "Hey guys, Marshall's ready--okay, leaving now, and I was never here." He was gone even as they were breaking the kiss.
Vaughn looked at Jack, who looked back. He seemed rather nonplussed by his own actions.
"This is getting weird," Vaughn muttered.
"You're just noticing that now?" Jack said, recovering a semblance of his usual dry detachment.
Gazes separating to maintain professional focus, they went to the op-tech briefing without further conversation.
The plane ride to Paris was awkward. Sydney sat on the opposite side of the aisle, not just ignoring them, but savagely ignoring them, her profile taut with fury, hands flipping at her magazines with repressed violence. It was hard to blame her. Vaughn put on headphones and closed his eyes for most of the trip, wanting to block out all the complications for a little while, but aware of Jack on his other side.
In Paris, they went straight to a downtown hotel that would home base during their stay. He and Jack had the suite across the hall from Sydney's. He was grateful not to be adjacent. As he was getting ready, he thought of the London mission and how he and Sydney had shared the flat. Never naked in front of one another, never sleeping in the same bed, of course, but there'd been an intimacy. He wondered if they'd ever have that again. At the moment, he felt pessimistic.
"Do we have a secondary agenda on this trip?" he asked Jack as they were getting dressed. They hadn't been alone long enough to talk since the briefing in L.A.
"We can't let the Authority know we're gathering intelligence on Drifter. However, if there's any opportunity to establish rapport with Demarkian, we should take it."
Vaughn raised a brow quizzically. "I'm having a hard time imagining a scenario."
"It would only arise if the mission were to go wrong," Jack acknowledged in a dark way. He didn't sound as if he were banking on that prospect.
Grimacing in understanding, Vaughn returned to putting the finishing touches on his outfit.
The club where Demarkian and Frye were to meet was located off a side street in a warehouse district that appeared to be undergoing gentrification. It advertised itself only by a flat hanging sign, black letters on a black background. "Secret." The jaded edge of trendy. A bass thump walloped them as they entered and ghosted past the bouncer along a chain-link fence serving as a dividing wall. There was a lot of black and a lot of wire. The lighting fixtures were made with iron plumbing pipe, as was a giant fountain in the middle of the first room.
Only he and Sydney were making an appearance in the club. Jack was monitoring from a van around the back.
"Tasteful," Vaughn said, eyeballing the giant plumber's fountain.
"Maybe you can get one for the living room," Sydney said brusquely.
He bit back the first response that rose to his tongue, said instead, "We're thinking of painting the living room. What do you think of aubergine?"
She snapped off a look at him, then let her gaze range the club. "That's eggplant. You don't want to paint your walls eggplant. I don't see Frye or Demarkian. They're probably in one of VIP lounges." Her comments were given equal weight, delivered in a flat tone.
They drifted there, picking up drinks along the way, both of them casually scouting for a sight of their targets. "There," Vaughn said, spotting Darien Frye a beat before Sydney's gaze hit the same spot. A glass-enclosed room supported by thick columns projected over the dance floor like an L.A. house perched on a bluff. Inside, couches held Frye and two women. Bodyguards stood like soldiers at ease. The only way up to the room was along a set of wide steps that curved out from the back wall.
"Are you going to be able to keep line-of-sight?" he asked Sydney. She had on a pair of sophisticated horn-rimmed glasses embedded with a laser-transmitter mic.
"Now this, you'll like," Marshall had told them. "This baby bounces a laser beam off any glass surface. See, conversation vibrates the glass, and the vibrations modulate the beam, and presto, it's like you're right there, listening to the naughty talk." He paused as if struck by his own words, smile turning uncomfortable. "Or of course, for you guys, business talk, probably not naughty. I've modified this to filter out random noise, including that, you know, thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of the bass you'll probably be getting."
"I think so," Sydney said now, touching the glasses. "Three-inch heels should be good for something." Like a soccer player cutting through the opposition, she parted the crowd to snag an emptying table that would give her an unobstructed view of the room above. He joined her, leaning against a column and aiming for an air of languid ennui.
"There's Demarkian," he said a minute later. Demarkian was fortyish and slim, with light brown skin, a sharp hair cut, and elegant taste in suits. A younger man with a boyish face accompanied him up into the lounge.
Vaughn stood by, vigilant for any unwanted attention, while Sydney monitored the talk. At the moment, he couldn't hear what the Authority directors were saying, but he'd catch up later through the recordings. Relaxed but alert and sipping at a gin, he let his gaze wander around the crowded club.
"I don't believe it," he said, freezing with his glass halfway to his mouth.
"What?" Sydney murmured, without taking her eyes from the room.
"Is he heading for the lounge?"
"I don't think so. He just got a table. He's not even facing the lounge. He's in view, though. He could make us."
"Michael," Jack said via comm. "We haven't gotten enough information about Drifter yet. You have to keep Sark from spotting Sydney. He could compromise the op."
"I'm on it."
Vaughn cut away from the table and kept his body between Sark and Sydney as he eased through the crowd. If Sark saw him, he'd suspect Sydney's presence. That was simple math. And just because he wasn't joining the meeting didn't mean he wasn't working for the Authority. He might work for Frye or Demarkian without the other's knowledge, on separate orders. Sark, from what they'd last heard, had severed ties with Sloane, possibly falling out of sympathy with Sloane's Rambaldi obsession. It wasn't known if he was freelancing or working for someone other than himself.
As he approached the table, he drew a blister from his pocket--an item resembling a pea pod that could be popped with a thumb and tossed at someone at close range to release whatever compressed aerosol toxin it had been filled with. This one carried a non-lethal fentanyl derivative that would knock Sark out in seconds.
That was the plan, until Sark unexpectedly swiveled around in his seat and saw him. And recognized him. In a half-second flash Vaughn knew his options: toss the blister anyway, try to get Sark out of the club with a friendly gun in the ribs, or...completely wing it.
He was still blocking any view of Sydney and keeping that up was the priority. He stopped at the table and smiled down at Sark, who looked taken aback by the CIA's appearance, though very little showed on his face.
"You lived," Sark said by way of greeting. The delicacy of his voice lent the words a faint tone of regret. "I thought surely my bullets had done their work."
"Of course." A pity, he could tell Sark was thinking. Vaughn watched the man's gaze twitch around, seeking signs of other agents. "I'd apologize, but as you know, it was merely business." He looked thoughtful, as if giving his actions honest consideration. "Misguided business, at that. Arvin Sloane's delusions will one day be his downfall."
"You were smart to get out."
Sark's smile was a thin coat over a deep chill. "What brings you to Paris, Agent Vaughn?"
A corner of his mouth curled up further and his brows rose. "I find that hard to believe. Your kind never takes a vacation."
"I like the night life." Vaughn smiled in return. "Do you want to dance?"
It was clear that he'd managed to go completely off whatever script Sark had been expecting. "You're asking me to dance?"
"Why not? I'm off the clock." It had occurred to him that this could be great cover support if Sark was working for the Authority. Not that Sark would buy his motives. But he could wonder.
"Well, it's a...priceless invitation. One that I shall cherish. But I'm afraid I don't dance with men."
Vaughn braced one hand on the table, the other on the back of the booth, and leaned in close. "I find that hard to believe."
Drawing back just a fraction, Sark swallowed momentarily as if unnerved, but said in a cool voice, "Nonetheless. I believe I'll pass."
"We have all we need," Jack said to him through comm. "Sydney's exiting."
"Too bad," Vaughn said to Sark. "Maybe another time." He turned his back, aware of Sark's cold gaze as he moved off, like a laser sight between his shoulder blades. He rendezvoused with the others in the van.
"I saw you make contact with Sark," Sydney said to him as they drove off. She didn't look pleased about the turn of events. Her tone was sharp with concern and maybe a hint of accusation.
"I had to. He saw me."
"What did you say to him?"
He gave a wry smile. "I asked him to dance."
"You didn't." Her eyes widened and her face blossomed with delight, the tension between them dropping away in an instant. "Oh god, I wish I'd seen his expression." She was toothy with happiness.
"He looked a bit thrown." Vaughn's smile widened to a grin. He was thrilled to have gotten this girlish reaction. "Apparently he's not as gay as he seems."
This got a helpless giggle from her, and she put a reflexive hand to her mouth to cover it. He was buoyed to a fleeting sense of joy by her goodwill. "Anything from the intel?" he asked, refocusing on business.
"From the references to Drifter, it might be a countersurveillance system, but they were vague. Demarkian mentioned a facility in China where a prototype is located. We should head there next to see what we can find out."
"Dixon will probably sign off."
She nodded across the van at him. He could see her energy waning along with her smile. The moment between them had passed, and unhappiness was settling in her face again, unhappiness he'd put there. He desperately wanted to say something to make things right, but he had no idea what.
Back at the hotel, Sydney went to her suite, he and Jack to theirs. Their good-nights had been brief, and the strain left Vaughn feeling restless. Jack looked edgy too.
"I'm going to take a shower," Vaughn said, and triggered in himself a memory of San Francisco, Jack pushing him up against the tiled wall. He hesitated, unfastening shirt buttons on automatic. "Want to join me?"
Their eyes met, but Jack broke the look almost at once. He seemed just as hesitant about the idea. "Not tonight." Not with my daughter across the hall, he might as well have said.
Vaughn nodded. He wasn't even sure he could get it up under the circumstances. It was fucking with his head. He undressed and got in the shower, turning the heat up high, and stood with his hands against the wall, eyes closed, letting the water pound against his back. After a minute he heard the shower door slide open along its track. His dick was already hardening by the time it closed. He shifted, widening his legs a fraction, offering himself.
Jack's hands stroked up his back, then down to his hips, and pulled him away from the wall, bringing their bodies tight together. It felt amazing, and the water steamed around them, and then Jack was holding him steadily in place and jerking him off in a lazy rhythm.
"What made your change your mind?" Vaughn asked, sliding his hand around Jack's and guiding it.
"Water conservation," Jack said against his ear, blending utter seriousness into a lighter tone. "It's a global issue."
Vaughn laughed a little and let his head drop back against Jack's shoulder. "You're right. We should all do our part."
"Hmm." Non-verbal agreement. Jack's hand kept doing its part.
With a spasm of pleasure, Vaughn let his hips pick up speed. He could feel Jack's erection pressing against him and rubbed back against it on every downstroke. In the middle of sex, it was difficult to care about anything else. Even his concern for Sydney began to feel irrelevant. She'd made her choices, as Jack said. She'd deal with her feelings. This was his life. He'd care about everyone else's life again in the morning, but for now, he just wanted to be here and let things happen.
"Jack," he said as he came, and heard Jack's indrawn breath. And for just that moment, their cover mission felt unreal and abstract to Vaughn. This was real. This was going on now.