I crave nachos. This is sherrold's fault. This is something of a non sequitur. Any corrections of typoish things that you see are welcome. Bona Fides 7. They had a private plane this time, and they could talk. "If Sark is working for the Authority," Sydney said, "he's told them by now that there's CIA surveillance. They might move the prototype before we can get to it." "They might beef up security," Vaughn added. "We might be walking into a trap." "It's too much of a coincidence, Sark being there in the same club on the same night." Sydney was shaking her head a little. "He has to be Authority." "Then why wasn't he at the meeting?" Vaughn wondered. "It doesn't make sense. Unless he's working covertly for Frye or Demarkian." "We have no way of knowing yet." Jack was tapping away on his laptop while he spoke. He'd been at it for the last hour. "But we have a tracer on Sark. The Paris team tagged him when he left the club. Right now he's in Munich." Sark was a slippery bastard. Vaughn hoped it wasn't the man's jacket traveling around Europe on some tourist's back. "What about the others?" "Frye is back in London. Demarkian is off the grid." "So he could be heading to China, for all we know," Sydney said. She glanced at Vaughn for a second, her expression neutral. He recognized that look. She wouldn't blame him for Sark making an ID--those were the breaks. The operation had gone off plan as soon as Sark appeared. But she could radiate repressed frustration. "We'll be in Tianjin in seven hours." Jack gave them an oblique once-over. "We'll know more then." A lot could happen in seven hours; a lot could have happened before they'd even left Paris. They spent the trip researching their target and outlining infiltration plans. In Tianjin they didn't bother checking in at a hotel, but hired a car and then had to take some elaborate countermeasures to ditch a tail from Chinese Intelligence. Entering a country under diplomatic cover was sometimes necessary, but the downside was that they might as well have worn tee-shirts that said "CIA." After that they had to detour to pick up supplies that wouldn't have passed customs. "We're three kilometers from the factory," Vaughn said several hours later, reading the map. They were on the distant outskirts of the city. "We'll go on foot from here." Jack found an isolated off-road spot for the car and they got out and geared up to make the hike. The terrain wasn't challenging even in the dark; sparse woods with residential areas visible in the distance through gaps in the trees. They reached the factory in less than an hour and dropped to the ground outside the perimeter fence to recon. "That doesn't look like an electronics plant," Sydney said slowly. "It's too big." "Not electronics. Satellites." Jack's conclusion was grim and succinct as he lowered the binoculars he'd been using. "Or antisatellites," Vaughn said, remembering a report he'd read a few months back. "The Chinese have been researching ASAT technology. If that's what they're building, it could be a weapon capable of bringing down our own satellites, or jamming their systems." "They wouldn't have any problem finding a buyer." Sydney took the binoculars from her father and scanned the facility. "More likely the Authority would retain ownership. They could perform contract jobs for a wide range of clients," Jack said. "A parasitical satellite could be programmed to interfere with commercial imaging systems, for instance." "Companies sabotaging their competitors...that could get lucrative." Vaughn accepted the binoculars Sydney was passing him and played them across the factory. Few windows, standard security elements, no visible guards. "There's no way we're getting a prototype out of there." Sydney had voiced what they were all thinking. "That thing's probably huge. And we didn't come ready for demolition." "I hate when we can't blow things up," Vaughn said, not entirely kidding. "On the plus side, they can't easily relocate." Jack packed his binoculars away. "We have time to strategize." When they relayed the information to Dixon, he floated the news up to the higher echelons, then came back in a few hours with a no-go and instructions for them to return home for the time being. It felt like a wasted trip, but Vaughn didn't have to justify it to the tax-payers, so he wasn't going to bitch about it. He slept almost the entire way from Beijing to Los Angeles, despite a baby behind him that made unhappy grizzling noises every three hours, like clockwork. After some wrap-up work at the agency, they headed home. It was mid-morning, which might have contributed to the surreality: he was heading to Jack Bristow's house. With Jack Bristow. He wasn't with Sydney or Alice, or any of the four women he'd been serially monogamous with in his twenties, any one of which he might have ended up with if things had turned out differently. He was with an older man who currently projected a tired, cranky air as if he were constipated or thinking about shooting the driver in front of them, who was going five miles under the speed limit. Vaughn didn't want Jack so much right then. He still didn't trust Jack a hundred percent, and at moments like this he remembered how likely it was that Jack would turn on him when this was all over. Turn cold, scathing, and dismissive. He wasn't sure he could take that, just on a professional level. "You're, what, fifty-three?" he said to Jack. The other man turned his head for a second to study him--for Jack, an almost unbridled reaction. "Yes." "I'm thirty-four." He paused. "You're nineteen years older than me." "Congratulations. You can do basic math." The words were mean, but his tone was mild. For Jack, almost a joke. "You think that's plausible? That an old guy like you could get a guy like me?" He wasn't sure what the hell he was doing. Trying to get under Jack's skin, maybe. A preemptive strike. "You tell me." But Vaughn couldn't muster the energy for an attack. Disturbing trains of thought kept rattling through his head. Memories of his father overlapped memories of Jack thrusting into him and made him feel vaguely sick and panicky. It occurred to him that his blood sugar might be low, but no way was that the entire problem. They were coming up on Jack's house when Vaughn said, "Why are you doing this?" Jack didn't pretend to misunderstand. "It's a job." "Your marriage was a sham. Is that why you're doing this? To prove you can dish it out instead of taking it?" "It's not the same thing, is it?" But Jack's hands were gripping the steering wheel with sudden white-knuckled force. Vaughn had gotten in a hit. "We *both* know it's a job." "Yeah." Jack pulled the car into the drive and shut it off before turning to him. "There's no longer a safety net," he said, safe behind a front of calm again. "That's what you're feeling." "Do me a favor. Don't tell me what I'm feeling." Vaughn was steamed, and he didn't need any reason for his mood other than that their cover was a fucked-up job that some idiotic strategist had thought up, probably as a joke. He could imagine it all too well: the strategist never expecting anyone to take it seriously, then getting rubber-stamped approvals all up the line. He dwelled morosely on this idea as he followed Jack to the house, flight bag in hand. He didn't talk to Jack and Jack didn't talk to him. They took showers and went to sleep. When he woke up, he was muzzily aware that the sun was low in the sky. The light in the bedroom had dimmed, filtering in from the west through the heavy trees that lined that side of the property. He was hard. It was the kind of full aching hardness he couldn't stand to ignore. He slid a hand into his briefs and stroked himself, aware of Jack sleeping next to him, but not caring. As he was getting seriously into it, using both hands, he felt Jack wake up. A jolt of pleasure hit his dick and his hands moved faster. He closed his eyes to shut Jack out. "I could suck you off," Jack said, voice indecently smooth and low. "Jesus!" He almost whimpered at the shockwave of lust that went through him. "I don't need your help," he managed to get out. He was riding the edge. "Or you could fuck me." That was it. His hips arched and he gripped his dick, feeling it spasm and jerk its release across his belly. His feet dug into the mattress and slid down without finding purchase, and the light brush of the sheet across his knees and thighs just amped up the sensations. "Son of a bitch," he murmured afterwards, one hand resting in the slick mess on his skin, lazily working it around. He pried his eyes open. His eyelashes felt like a ton of feathers. He looked at Jack, who was lying on his side, relaxed, faintly amused. "I'm having an identity crisis," Vaughn said, faltering. "I think." "I noticed." "You're not my type. You don't even make the cut on gender. But the headshrinkers hand-picked us. And we had sex and--one minute I can deal, then I'm freaking out. I look at you sometimes and I can't even imagine getting it up. Then I do." "There's nothing wrong with liking to be touched, Michael." But Vaughn couldn't stop talking. It had been building, wanting to come out. "I see you in your suits, dressed for the job. And then I see you like this, and you offer to blow me. During the day, you're Sydney's dad, and I couldn't stand you because you fucked with her head, you messed her up. And now you're fucking me and it makes me want to--" But his brain halted the thought in some instinct of self-preservation before it could even reach his throat. "Cognitive dissonance," Jack said. "It's to be expected." "Tell me why the fuck I agreed to this." He turned on his side and demanded Jack's gaze to get across his desperate earnestness. "Please." "You don't want me to tell you how you feel." "Fuck that. Tell me." Jack shifted in what might have been a shrug. "The truth is, I don't know. But...you were probably right about my own motives." He didn't flinch, acknowledging this now. "That I had something to prove." "What happens when this is over?" "I don't know." "As a mentor, you suck, Jack." "Maybe because I didn't know I was your mentor." Vaughn exhaled forcefully enough to rank it a sigh. The fight was deflating from him. "I can't let it get to me. I have to keep my head in the game. We need to seem--" He hesitated. "Amicable." "I was going to say intimate. But I suppose we've got that part covered." He reached out and ran his hand down Jack's arm. The other man had the kind of bedrock muscle that never turns to flab, and a bulldog stamina that could outlast men half his age. He had scars and calluses and more scars. He really wasn't much like Vaughn's father, who'd been a lean and industrious man with no apparent cynicism. Only the good die young, and his dad had died too young. Fleetingly Vaughn wondered when Sydney would die. It was a terrible thought, but it was inevitable. And Jack would survive her because Jack would survive everyone. Jack was like one of those Redwoods that couldn't be cut down. His hand moved down to Jack's chest. Unexpectedly, Jack caught it and massaged his fingers lightly. His face didn't wear its usual defenses, but it was still immobile, like soft marble. "I never know what you're feeling," Vaughn said. Jack raised his brows a millimeter. "Thank you." He smiled despite himself and then pushed up onto one arm and nudged the other man onto his back. He ran a hand over Jack's chest again, from side to side and then down. It was firm, solid flesh, and the scratchiness of hair under his hand was one of those details that emphasized how Jack was very much not a woman. They'd done a lot of things in San Francisco and since then. There wasn't any reason to be shy. He leaned down and caught one flat nipple between his teeth and bit it repeatedly until the skin tightened and Jack's hand tightened on the back of his neck. Vaughn knew by now how much he liked that. He ran his tongue up to Jack's collarbones and then along his neck. Lips, tongue, teeth. It wasn't that different. Men and women liked a lot of the same things. Jack made little gasping sounds whenever Vaughn hit a good spot. The sounds made Vaughn's face heat and his body prickle to life again. He moved until he was lying across Jack, in a good position to kiss. Their tongues did the awkward stuff tongues do, and then they found a wet, licking groove that blinded Vaughn from the inside out and made him groan and push his dick along the saddle of Jack's hip. They rubbed together until the kindling in Vaughn's balls became urgent. He drew his mouth away. "You want me to fuck you?" he asked. He'd done it once before but still had a difficult time believing it. Jack didn't say anything, just eased him off and then turned. Vaughn's dick jumped a little and he hastily found a condom and got it on, then remembered lube and spilled some on his hands and started working it in gently. The clench of Jack's body was so tight around Vaughn's fingers and the image of putting his dick there was so fucking exciting that he started to shake. His dick felt huge inside the condom, and suddenly he knew he wasn't going to last. He kept digging and twisting his fingers in, knowing how much he liked that himself, and aligned his dick against Jack's back and started to rub off. "Are you--" Jack asked a bit breathlessly. "I can't--I'm not--oh fuck--" He was coming, every muscle in his body seizing in a happy way. God, it was pathetic. He had all the staying power of a twelve-year-old seeing *Playboy* for the first time. "Sorry," he said afterwards, feeling like an idiot. Jack didn't act disappointed. He probably wasn't. Vaughn wasn't certain yet if Jack liked getting fucked. He hadn't come from it the last time, and when asked about it directly, his answer had of course been a cryptic non-answer. "Another time," was all he said now. Vaughn tossed the condom and pulled Jack back onto his side, this time facing him, then shifted down the bed. "How about--um." He smiled, possibly nervously, possibly foolishly. "Fine," Jack said, cupping the back of his head in one hand to draw him closer. When he said "fine" it was like someone else saying, "Yes, please, now, damn it!" Vaughn was getting used to this. It made him think of all the times he'd heard some guy call another guy a cocksucker, and all the times he'd said it himself, mostly while in college, when he was still rough around the edges and unaware of his boorishness. Unlike now, when he was at least aware of when he was being asshole. He was sucking a man's dick. He was very aware of that. And he didn't stop, and he eased his fingers back inside Jack and tried to take him in his mouth as deeply as he could, and his whole life rushed around him at the edges, thoughts of his job and of Sydney and of his father and people he'd hurt and killed and the few times he'd been tortured and the times he'd felt at the end of his rope and couldn't remember why he was trying so hard to save such an ugly world. He was just sucking cock. Was that so bad? Not when he could feel Jack's hand trembling against the back of his head as if trying not to grip him too roughly, and when he could feel Jack riding into him harder and faster, toward the edge of losing it, his gasps giving way to harsh cries. It took effort, giving someone pleasure. It wasn't entirely comfortable. It was kind of boring, kind of scary--because it was Jack--and his jaw was sore, and he had to piss, but Jack was groaning and then crying out and coming in his mouth, and it was over. He was glad it was over, he was glad he'd done it, he was glad to be lying next to someone in the afterglow. Jack's body radiated heat and pleasure. He smelled good. The bed felt sloppy and comfortable under Vaughn's body. "You know what I want," he said after a few minutes. "Curry. I haven't had a good curry in, like...I don't even know how long." "Dine out?" "Shop." Neither of them moved right away, though. Curry could wait.