ETA: I just rediscovered my story notes for the second half of this installment, which were, "Some personal scene between Jack and Vaughn." Hee.
As soon as they returned to L.A., they met with Dixon.
"We think Sark is working for either Frye or Demarkian." Vaughn took a seat in front of Dixon's desk. "He was there for the satellite, same as us."
"An internal power-play, a double-cross," Jack speculated. "Then again, it's possible he has his own agenda."
"His being there the same night, the same time--do you think that's coincidence?" Dixon was frowning.
Jack hesitated. Vaughn knew he couldn't speak with Weiss in the room. If Sark had received advance intelligence that they'd be at the facility, it pointed to a leak in the department, and the possibility of a mole was still classified.
"Unknown." Jack's terseness seemed to communicate what was unspoken to Dixon. A shadow passed across the other man's face, sharpening his features.
"We only have two hours until he contacts us." Vaughn's stomach was in knots. The adrenaline rush of a mission, a sleeper dart, a fifteen-hour flight, long airport lines at each end, and too much coffee had left him exhausted but wired. The suit he'd put on in Beijing had collapsed into a second skin; damp, warm, and unpleasantly clingy. "We need to have some idea before then of what Devlin will authorize."
"He's on his way now." Dixon turned his attention to Weiss. "Agent Weiss, will you prepare a written brief outlining the situation and our options?"
Weiss looked surprised but keen. "Yes, sir," he said. When Dixon's gaze remained fixed on him, he got the hint and left immediately, though not without a sharp-eyed glance at Jack and Vaughn on his way out.
As soon as the door closed behind him, Dixon said, "Let's be clear what you're asking for--you want to share legitimate, classified intelligence with a known terrorist?"
"Yes," Jack said.
Vaughn tried to soften the delivery. "It's Sydney's life on the line. And sharing intel that Sark can verify will help cement our cover later."
"You didn't tell him?" Dixon said to Jack, disapproval etching new lines in his face.
"He told me he'd called off our cover," Vaughn cut in before Jack could reply. "I told him he couldn't do that."
In what looked like a reflex of surprise, Dixon leaned back in his chair and laced his long fingers together. "I see."
Jack gave Vaughn an irritated look. "What he means is, we worked things out."
Dixon raised his eyebrows. "I see." His tone was lighter.
A flush rose in Vaughn's face, but what really got him was the uncomfortable look on Jack's, as if he'd decided there was something iffy about his own words.
"To return to the point," Jack said edgily. "Sharing information can work to our benefit."
"*If* Sark works for the Authority." Dixon leaned forward again to rest his arms on the desk, seriousness returning in full. "That's a big if."
"He has to be associated in some way," Vaughn said. "And even if he isn't, we can make sure word gets around." A thought struck him. "It could even be our reason for leaving--we get found out and flee to avoid prosecution."
"I understand the potential value." Dixon's hard expression didn't waver. "But it isn't enough to justify what you're talking about. Even for Sydney's sake it's going to be a tough sell to Devlin."
A brief, unsettled silence fell. Vaughn stole a sidelong look at Jack, who was putting on a good show of impassivity. He'd have expected this. "We don't know what Sark's going to ask for yet," Jack said after a moment. "It seems premature to rule out any options."
After his own pause for consideration, Dixon nodded. "Agreed. I hope you can make a convincing argument, Jack. Because I can't give you any guarantees."
As the deadline came two hours later, they were all gathered back in Dixon's office with Devlin, sitting tensely and waiting. Jack's cell phone rang the exact minute that Sark had promised.
"Hello," Jack said coldly, then listened. After about thirty seconds, he said "Where?" and then listened again. He hung up without a good-bye and looked at the rest of them. "Sark doesn't want classified data. He wants an item that the DSR has in its possession."
"Do not say the name 'Rambaldi' to me." Devlin's expression was pained and his voice fraught with warning.
"It's not a Rambaldi device."
"Thank Christ," Devlin said.
"It's a meteorite."
Weiss broke the roomful of dead air first. "I think I speak for everyone when I say, the hell?"
Jack shook his head like a shrug. "I have no idea what its value is. He identified it as Lot 27 and described it in basic terms."
"A rock," Devlin said, still bemused. "He wants a rock. I have no problem with that. The man can have as many rocks as he wants. I'll order them by the truckload." He got up to sign the authorization document on Dixon's desk, then tucked his pen back in his pocket. "Keep me apprised, gentlemen."
A wave of relief struck Vaughn as soon as Devlin's pen hit the paper and he closed his eyes, giving into tiredness for several heartbeats.
It seemed like a blink later that he was in the belly of a C-130 heading for Heidelberg, his restless thoughts drowned out by the roar of the engines. Another blink and he was heading up a cobbled path toward Heidelberg Castle with Jack and Weiss. It was dark and quiet, late enough to avoid sightseers. He wore a backpack, leather distended by the meteorite's weight.
"The passage to the Western Tower should be coming up," Weiss said, after checking their map with a penlight.
The stone underfoot was uneven in places and the modernizing safety lights had been shut off, probably by Sark, but moonlight reached some areas and flashlights lit the rest of the way. Inside the base of the tower they stopped and played their lights up across the ruined brickwork. Pieces of a staircase circling the interior were visible, but half the tower's structure had crumbled away.
"At least one of us is going to have to climb," Jack said.
"I'll do it." Vaughn pulled the straps of his pack tighter.
Weiss was circling in place and checking the area around them with his light, gun in hand. "We don't know what's up there."
"We don't know what's down here," Vaughn countered. "If he has back-up, it's going to be on the ground."
"Let me rephrase." Weiss flashed his light just below Vaughn's eyes. "We don't know if *he's* up there."
A large stone landed with a whump on the floor between them, sending chips flying and making them both jump back with arms raised.
One hand pressed to his chest, Weiss said, "I'm going to deal with my trust issues, right after I finish this heart attack."
With no further conversation, Vaughn left them and climbed the ruined edge of the tower, finding grips and toeholds on the rough rock and tooling the way with an adze whenever it got tricky. It took him the better part of an hour to reach the top, where he found Sark waiting. The other man stood there while Vaughn heaved himself over the edge, and then golf-clapped his success. Annoying little fucker.
"No civilities this time," Sark said as Vaughn straightened to his feet. He held a gun ready. "Toss the bag."
Vaughn glanced around the tower's top. There wasn't much to see, but a few broken arches remained, casting shadows deep enough to hide a person. "Where's Sydney?"
"Mr. Vaughn, I have a living, breathing woman that you hold very dear. Whereas you...have a rock. Unless it's of some sentimental value, I'd say the advantage lies with me."
He had a point. "It must be worth something, if you want it. Of all the things you could have asked for, you asked for this." He put a question into his tone.
"Yes. For all you know, I intend to load it into a slingshot and fire it at your President." He didn't smile. "Has it occurred to you that while we make small talk, Agent Bristow could be suffering? Though I suppose she's not the Agent Bristow you worry most about these days."
Fighting a suddenly renewed terror for Sydney, Vaughn slid out of the pack and swung it across the stones to land at Sark's feet. Sark motioned him back with the gun. Kneeling to examine the meteorite, he ran some kind of monitor over it, then packed it into a case of his own that he wore looped through his belt. He stood again and tossed something to Vaughn, who caught it automatically. As he was trying to make out the item, Sark turned and jumped off the tower.
"Shit!" Vaughn ran to the edge and saw Sark paragliding down the ridgeline toward the market below. He took careful aim and fired several shots, all of which bounced off the wing. "Sark is getting away," he radioed to the others. "He just took off from the roof heading toward the Marktplatz."
"Where's Sydney?" Jack shot back.
"Hold on." Vaughn clicked his penlight on to study the item Sark had tossed him. It was a key card shoved into an ID pocket to give it heft. "She's in the Crowne Plaza Hotel." Safe or hurt, alive or dead. His heart raced with urgency. "I'm going to throw the room key to you," he said into the comm. "I'll follow you as soon as I make it down."
He let the key drop into the center of the tower floor and watched Jack scoop it up and take off running with Weiss. Left alone with his anxiety, Vaughn rappelled down the tower, then headed after them. He flagged a cab, and paid the driver well not to ask questions about his gear. Halfway to the hotel, Jack reached him by comm with the news that Sydney was safe. Vaughn's remaining energy seeped away almost at once, and by the time he joined them he was running on fumes.
His late arrival was good timing, he learned later from Weiss. He missed the initial rounds of discussion and argument, Bristow a Bristow, getting there only as Sydney was winding down. He received a grateful hug from her, and matched her smile for smile. Nothing beat the feeling of success and a life saved. Plus, missions that ended in a five-star hotel had an upside.
"He even paid for the room," Sydney said, rolling her eyes.
Vaughn glanced darkly at the cuffs and ropes they'd freed her from. "Be sure to rack up the room service charges."
When you're CIA--or maybe when you're Jack Bristow--five-star hotels at the height of tourist season find a suite for you, even when you're dressed in light tactical gear and have no luggage. He trailed Jack through the door and headed right for the mini-bar and downed a few pricey little bottles that the taxpayers couldn't begrudge him. They weren't enough to take the edge off, but he didn't want more.
Jack had disappeared. Vaughn stripped off his boots and belt and sweater and sat on the edge of the bed, sweaty and tense and so tired that his muscles had picked up a light tremble. When he focused he could hear the shower. It became a white noise to his waiting. He'd shower, then sleep. His eyes fell shut. He heard the shower shut off but it seemed like too much effort to stand, so he continued to wait.
He must have heard the door to the bathroom open, the sounds of movement, but when Jack touched his shoulder, an icy shock jerked Vaughn alert. For a moment he thought they were still in the middle of their mission, that he'd nodded off and hadn't been paying attention at some critical moment.
"Get in bed," Jack said. His tone unmistakably said: get some sleep.
Stubbornly Vaughn made himself stand, thoughts of the shower in mind. His knees ached. God, he was getting old. Mid-thirties and his knees creaked. How the hell did Jack get through ops like this with nineteen extra years on the clock? He focused his gritty eyes on Jack, and found Jack's eyes already focused on him, and he felt need go through him in a gutting rush.
His hunger must have shown. Jack ran a thumb along his jaw and caressed his neck in a proprietary way, and that did it. He was gone. Vaughn grabbed Jack's shoulders and then the sides of his face and kissed him desperately. Jack's hands slid down his back to cup his ass and Vaughn rose on the balls of his feet and rocked in place with shameless, grinding desire, chest rubbing Jack's with a friction of tiny, scratching hairs. His body held a sheen of sweat and he worked against Jack in a loose ache of movement, as if he'd been dancing for hours. He groaned into Jack's mouth, the shudder passing between their tongues.
Wanting more, he turned Jack around and urged him onto his back on the bed, nudging him across it with his legs. It was a wide bed. He pulled open the towel around Jack's hips and straddled him and felt something inside him snap and go crazy. He was attacking Jack with kisses and tongue and teeth and Jack was letting him. Vaughn worked downward, mouth, jaw, neck, chest, sucked Jack's nipples until they grew hard, until Jack moved under him in a new, urgent way, and then went all the way down, taking Jack's dick in his mouth and sucking it with desperate, dirty sounds. He hadn't even undone his own pants yet, but he couldn't take that next step because he hadn't had enough. He lapped at Jack's balls and his inner thighs, and rubbed his own hair everywhere he knew it would feel good. By that time Jack was sawing the air with gasps, fingers digging into Vaughn's shoulders. He'd bruise. Just knowing that made Vaughn grind against the bed, but he didn't want to come that way.
He was so hard he couldn't think. He sat up and half rolled, half fell away from Jack, yanking his jeans down clumsily enough to hurt and then kicking them off.
"Condoms," he said. The word felt like the wrong shape in his mouth.
"I didn't bring any," Jack said.
"Fuck!" He shoved off the bed and went into the bathroom. There were lotions and he grabbed something and went back and slicked his hands up and stroked Jack.
"I want it," Vaughn said roughly. He was already climbing on. "I need it--oh god, oh fuck, Jack--" He pressed his body against the head of Jack's dick and worked himself against it relentlessly. Jack was helping him, holding his hips. When he'd settled fully in place, Vaughn made a blissed little noise and opened his eyes and leaned forward, bracing himself with both hands on either side of Jack's head. He wanted to be here. A thought of Sydney flickered through his mind like a ghost and was gone. It felt like a final exorcism. He used to imagine being with her, but he'd never learned what she tasted like or how she moved. But he knew what Jack tasted like. He wanted what he knew, because it was good.
He was riding Jack in a tight, fast rhythm, heat pouring off them both. The stifled resonance of Jack's throat made his own throat ache. Jack smelled of soap and of clean sweat, and his dick was big, and it was too late in life for Vaughn to be discovering that he liked that, but he did, he really fucking did. He loved the way it felt pushing up into him, the way his balls and the crease of his body brushed against Jack and flared with pleasure as if a thousand matches were going off under his skin.
He angled down further, pushing his own dick across Jack's abs and snapping his hips hard and fast. "Oh god," he said and gave his mouth to Jack's. Jack had a death clutch on his ass that was almost enough to hold him still, but sweat made his hands slip. Vaughn jerked his dick across hot skin, and was almost there, and almost there again, and then he was there, groaning into Jack's mouth, spilling across his belly.
When he caught his breath, he sat back up. "Don't come yet," he rasped out. He gripped Jack with his thighs and tried to achieve the fluid twist of muscle that women seemed to know by instinct, digging his knees into the bed to sink and lift until he found a wicked rhythm. Jack looked stunned.
Even though he'd come already, sparks and aftershocks hit Vaughn with every tight clench of his insides. There was the kind of dull pain deep in him that was like an itch needing to be scratched and he angled himself to take it further. Now his entire focus of pleasure was unnatural, outside in, incredible. New. It might have been a decade since he'd felt something new during sex.
"Don't come yet," he said again, the words barely husking from him. He rocked back and forth, corkscrewing himself on Jack's flesh at erratic intervals.
"No," Jack said. It was a gasp of self-denial. He was close, Vaughn could tell. His eyes had shut, his chin had lifted, and his hips were stuttering up to meet Vaughn's weight. Vaughn bore down harder and watched Jack's face. It had a flush. Jack's face never had a flush. He was never slick with sweat and breathing raggedly through his mouth and turning his head from side to side in small movements.
Vaughn lifted himself half off and shoved back down and kept doing it. He couldn't take his eyes from Jack. The other man's cheeks had reddened and his eyes were still closed. He'd reached that lost and drowning place, beyond any self-preserving instinct, but he still looked fierce. He looked amazing. And at some point during the past month, when Vaughn hadn't been paying attention, sex had become a completely different kind of power trip. Jack struggling underneath him was hot. Vaughn wanted to keep going until they were both weak and boneless. And everything was turning him on, everything--he was getting a man off, an older man, a scary and ruthless bastard.
A much older man. Just the thought was almost enough to make him hard again, as if some automated system in his psyche had finally wired all his buttons, hooking up new and primitive parts of his brain straight to his dick. He'd always liked women in the best possible way. He'd never thought there could be anything as good.
"Come," he said, knowing that Jack was at his limit.
Jack arched and his throat worked soundlessly. Vaughn felt something inside, like a silky little hiccup. Jesus, he thought, as the absence of a condom really struck him. It was disturbing, but not enough to make him regret it. He ran his fingers across the drying streaks he'd left on Jack's skin and waited while Jack throttled back, breaths steadying.
Satisfied and sleepy, Vaughn climbed off and cleaned up, and then came back and cleaned Jack up. Jack just lay there and let him, like a bear too tired to claw its prey. It took a lot of effort to get him under the covers and then himself. How goose down could weigh that much was a mystery.
"That was good," Vaughn murmured after he'd slapped the lamp off with an aimless gesture.
Only heavy, somnolent breathing answered him and he shifted closer, sliding an arm across Jack, hand to his chest. His own brain was shutting down, breaker by breaker, until everything was dark. So it was morning again and he was lying under the down in the room's warmth like a melted tiger before a scary afterthought struck him.
The condom hadn't been the only thing missing last night. Waking up, he realized that it had been the first time he'd ever had sex with Jack without thinking once of the job. He'd had sex because he wanted it. He'd wanted it specifically with Jack. No one else would have been enough. He'd needed to screw himself senseless on Jack's tightly leashed body. He wanted to do it again.
He rolled away from Jack to the far side of the bed and stared with unfocused panic at thin air.
I am so very fucked, he thought.