Sydney was worried about him. She was afraid he was going to lose himself.
That was sweet.
He kept telling himself it was sweet, as his hands went through the motions of making himself another drink- the fourth one
in half an hour, and maybe he ought to slow down, but it wasn’t like there was anybody around to scold him. Nobody
would know if he stopped being a boy scout.
Oh, but he’d already lost a merit badge or two today, after all. Pouring acid on Dr. Lee’s lap; that was naughty,
Michael, very very naughty. Somebody deserved a spanking.
Or maybe being hung from the ceiling and electrocuted. Definitely one of the two.
The alcohol was putting a nice padded cotton buffer between his brain and the ache that still ran through his whole body.
It was nice, to not feel anything at all for a few minutes. He could almost pretend he was still a man.
Sydney didn’t get it; she would never get it. Sure, she’d been tortured too; maybe more than he had, in those
missing years. But she still had the core of what she was, somewhere way down deep, through all of that. She hadn’t
had that taken away and turned inside out before the first blow ever met her skin.
She hadn’t failed as an agent, as a lover, as a husband, as a man, long before she was tied up and hurt in the dark.
She hadn’t been blindsided, tricked, made a fool of in front of everyone in the world who mattered.
The person who shared her bed hadn’t been quietly laughing at her for months while she was played like a violin.
Suddenly not being able to feel was more than he could stand. He set his glass on the sideboard and walked to the kitchen,
studying the bruises on his arms. He’d shrugged his work clothes away hours ago, because there was no reason to drink
in anything but an undershirt and track pants.
He pulled a knife from the rack and studied it, watching the way light ran down the blade. “You almost let Sydney get
killed today, Michael,” he said. “That was very bad.” He set the steel to his arm and drew it across,
quick and smooth, then watched the blood well up in its wake. Pretty.
He settled himself down on the counter and drew random patterns on his own skin, light skimming slashes that wouldn’t
leave permanent scars but bled nicely in the bright kitchen light. They stung and burned and swelled, and it made him smile.
The voice in his head, the one reciting his failures and flaws like a commencement address, was sometimes his own, sometimes
Sark’s, sometimes Lauren’s, sometimes his father’s. Once or twice it was Sydney’s. Jack slipped
in there a time or two as well, the clever bastard.
So sweet of Sydney to worry about his soul. He wished she was there, in the kitchen, so he could plunge the knife into her
flesh over and over and over. So he could make her scream.
The blood was starting to drip down onto the floor now. He’d have to clean that up before the maid service came and
saw it. He didn’t need any more questions about his life right now. He needed an anchor, something to make him stop
spinning through the whirlwind.
He pressed his fingers against the bruises on his chest, leaning into the dull ache. That was real. That was an anchor.
He closed his eyes and remembered Sark’s face down there in the basement. Sark’s ice blue eyes were another anchor.
At least down there he’d known his place in the world. He was being hurt, and Sark was doing the hurting. Clean-cut.
Crystalline. Easy to see.
In Cuba, the doctor was being hurt, and he was doing the hurting. Inverted, but still clear. He knew his place.
Here, back in the real world? He had to be the boy scout, had to follow rules and regulations, had to fit into a space that
left too much room around him. He wasn’t held steady. He wasn’t allowed to hurt anybody, and nobody seemed to
want to hurt him.
Hurting himself didn’t seem to be working out the same.
“I want to hurt you,” he growled, speaking to everyone and no one. “I want you to fucking bleed like I
did...” He blinked down at his arm and let the knife fall to the floor. “Like I am.”
“What the hell have you done to yourself?” He looked up. Jack Bristow was in his doorway. Brilliant secret
agent Vaughn who couldn’t remember to lock his apartment door.
Jack crossed the room in a few strides and was next to him, grabbing the towel from the oven handle and pressing it against
the bloody patchwork of his arm. “Jesus, Vaughn, what did you do?”
Suddenly his head was full of whiskey and stars and his arm was on fire and the ache of his body hit him threefold. He swayed
and leaned his head against the refrigerator. “I just wanted to go back,” he mumbled. “Something real.”
He knew, in a simple and wordless way, that Jack would understand. He felt a big stupid grin spreading across his face and
let it go right ahead. “You’ve been there, Jack?”
“Yeah.” Jack stared into his eyes for a moment. “Yeah, I’ve been there.”
“Y’think you could help me out?” he whispered, leaning forward in drunken conspiracy. “Sydney’s
worried I’m gonna lose myself or something...”
“I’ve already given you the help I can,” Jack said. Vaughn nodded eagerly.
“Oh, right, right, and I’m glad, Jack. I’ll use it. All of it. I’ll kill the bitch, don’t
worry. Or maybe I’ll make her wish she was dead. I dunno. But that’s not what I meant.” He closed his
eyes and let his chin fall to his chest. “Sydney’s so sweet...she’s worried...”
“Sydney’s got a point,” Jack muttered, slipping his arm around Vaughn’s shoulders and easing him off
the counter. Bonelessly agile, Vaughn veered to the side and slipped away from him, tumbling down to his knees on the tile
floor. He tilted his head back and looked up at Jack, at the way the kitchen light behind him framed him with an electric
“Help me, Jack,” he said, still smiling. “Be my father, for just a little bit, ‘cause he’s
dead. Or no...better, ‘s better.” He reached out and rested his palm on Jack’s leg. “Father confessor...bless
me, Father, for I have sinned...I think I was in eighth grade at my last confession...”
“You need to sleep this off.” Jack caught him under the arms and tried to pull him to his feet, but Vaughn slumped
against him, heavy and limp, burying his face against Jack’s thighs. He knew, in some dim and fuzzy part of his brain,
that in the sober light of day this scene would horrify both of them and never be spoken of again. He didn’t care.
“Help me, Jack,” he mumbled plaintively into the creased wool of Jack’s suit. “Tell me what to do.
Give me a place again. Make me some walls.”
Jack stood very still, holding him there. “You want me to give you orders.”
“You’ll do what I say.”
“Yes,” he whimpered, feeling tears trickle down his face. “Just don’t leave me here alone,
I don’t know what to do when I’m alone. There’s too much in my head and it hurts too much and I can’t
make it hurt enough by myself.”
“Go into the bedroom.” Jack’s hands fell away; it was an order, and he had to fulfill it himself. Slowly,
carefully, he pulled himself to the feet and staggered down the hallway. Jack followed two paces behind.
“Get on the bed,” he said quietly. Vaughn scrambled across the carpet, shaking a little with exhaustion and drunken
ecstasy at the relief from the pressures of choice. “Lie down. Be still.”
He obeyed, staring up at the blank white ceiling. “Tell me what to do,” he whispered. “I can’t think
anymore, I just want to-”
“Be quiet. Close your eyes.” He felt Jack move closer, the ancient instincts of the body telling him that the
older man was leaning over him, looming close. He didn’t move, even when he felt Jack’s breath brush across his
skin. He was still. He was quiet. He waited for orders.
“You said you’d do what I told you,” Jack said softly. “I’m telling you to rest, Michael.
I want you to go to sleep, and I want you to get up in the morning and go about your day, and I want you to take care of all
of this the way I told you. I want you to heal your mind and your body and put everything behind you. But first, I want
you to stop thinking, and I want you to rest, and I want you to go to sleep.”
He didn’t open his eyes, but he nodded slightly. After a moment and another shiver of breath across his face, he felt
Jack move away. He heard the soft footsteps on the carpet, moving towards the door.
His head ached and swam with alcohol, but suddenly parts of his mind were clear. “When this is over...after all this...you
won’t want me anywhere near Sydney, will you, Jack. Not the man I’m going to be.”
Even with his eyes closed, he knew that Jack paused and looked back at him lying there on the bed. He could picture the look
on his face, one eyebrow arched, the quirk of his lips.
“I told you to go to sleep, Michael,” Jack said quietly, closing the door behind him.
He let the words be his anchor, pulling him down into the dark.