Of all the things he didn’t want to believe had happened to him, the fact that he’d been plunked down in freaking Wisconsin was the easiest to focus his anger on.
Will loved Los Angeles. The ocean, the Valley and especially the Valley girls, long-legged, long-haired and tanned. A tan? He’d had one of those once. By the time he’d been released from the hospital, it was already autumn and his “transition package” included more sweaters and a heavier coat than he’d ever owned or needed.
Now it was January. The temperature outside rarely went above zero. Will looked as pale as the locals he saw on his weekly trip to the supermarket. Suburbanites with friendly smiles and broad accents that sounded exactly like an Angeleno’s imitation of a Midwesterner.
The food sucked, but he tried not to think about it because that led to every little bistro he’d ever eaten in and that would remind him of Francie’s restaurant and Francie and that was too painful, so he’d order another pizza from Marios where they’d probably never even heard of goat cheese and arugula.
There was a job with a building contractor waiting, but no one was making him go. It was easier to keep the heat cranked up, drink beer and watch movies. He’d finished the required physical therapy after the skin grafts, but barely moved a muscle since.
How could he go jogging when the first step out the front door was like being slammed into a brick wall of wind? How could he go jogging when just pulling on a pair of shorts made him think of Syd. Soon he’d be fat and pale. He’d blend in beautifully with every other fat, pale loser in this miserable place. Will Tippin, hot shit reporter, faux junkie, spy-wannabe, would never have existed.
He looked at the television set to find the credits rolling, while Celine Dion belted her annoying little heart out. The Titanic had just gone down again while he was brooding and he’d missed it. He could always hit the replay button. It wasn’t going anywhere and neither was he.
Before he could search for the remote amid the detritus of another of another day spent primarily on the couch, his phone went off with the pattern of buzzes that had been drilled into him by the witness protection handlers. He scrambled to make himself and his government assigned domicile look somewhat more presentable, not even sure why he cared. At the very least, he could get the bag of chips off the couch, brush away some crumbs and run into the bedroom to put on a pair of jeans with a long sleeved shirt. Whoever was coming to check up on him didn’t need to see his flannel robe and boxer shorts ensemble, what the well-dressed protected witness is wearing for winter and maybe beyond.
Shaving would have to wait because his doorbell went off with the same pre-assigned pattern. He hadn’t had an unscheduled visit since he arrived here. Why now? What if it wasn’t the good guys? They’d given him a gun, taught him to use it and now he found his hands shaking so badly he couldn’t manage a safety razor, much less a large caliber revolver.
Will tried to push down the fear. Nothing to worry about. Just the CIA taking care of him. Right. Like they’d taken care of Sydney.
If he didn’t get to the door by the third signal, they’d break it down, which would be embarrassing for everyone involved.
He looked through the modified, government-approved peephole. Of all the people he never would have expected to see in New Berlin, Wisconsin, much less standing at his door in a black coat over a dark grey suit carrying a briefcase, the one he was looking at topped the list.
“Mr. Bristow?” he said, opening the door. It made him sound like a teenager, but there was nothing else he could say or do.
This was the man who had led him down a very dangerous garden path to keep him from learning about SD6, but also saved his life by rescuing him from Sark. The father that Syd had virtually no relationship with when Will first met her, who had still risked his own safety on Will’s behalf just because Syd asked him to. And then there was that Project Christmas file. If that was true…But still. Taipei.
“Can I come in, Mr. Tippin?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure. Come in…can get you something? Beer? Cold pizza?”
His hurried attempts at cleaning didn’t seem to have merited the Jack Bristow seal of approval. Jack’s disdain for clutter was evident as he surveyed the living room, but he sat down on the couch and proceeded to make Will uncomfortable with his very presence until he couldn’t take it anymore.
“So, how are things at the CIA? Big ops going down in Milwaukee? Anything new with the old gang?”
Will knew he sounded like an idiot. There was no such thing as a casual discussion of the CIA. All conversational roads let to Syd, and there was no way Jack had come all this way to talk about that. Her.
What the hell are you doing here, Jack?” He blurted. Great, now he’d been rude to a man who could kill him with his bare hands without putting a wrinkle in his suit. How many more ways was he going to screw up in his life?
Jack completely ignored the outburst, as though they could, in fact, have a casual conversation about the good old days at the Agency. Will listened to a rundown on Marshall, Carrie , Weiss and Dixon. If there was anything scarier than Dr. Freakazoid pulling teeth out his mouth, it was Jack Bristow attempting small talk about Marshall Flinkman’s love life. Will noticed a name missing from the social register.
“So how’s Vaughn? It must be hard on…him.” Will slowed down, not sure how much Syd had told her father about her and Vaughn or how Jack might have felt about it. “He and Syd were…close.”
“Very close,” Jack replied in a bland, slightly disapproving voice. “He’s not with the Agency anymore.”
“What? Vaughn? Mr. gung-ho, rah-rah, save-the-world, all-American boy? “
“Is teaching high school French.”
Will shook his head trying to put that image together with what he learned about Michael Vaughn in the time they worked together. Actually it made sense.
“He couldn’t go back there after what happened to Syd.”
“Vaughn has reacted to the situation by making some poorly reasoned decisions. Leaving his position with the CIA is only the first. What happened to my daughter has severe repercussions for many people.”
Will did his best to translate “Jack-speak” back into human.
“Did you come out to the frozen tundra of nowheresville to make sure I don’t make bad decisions? Like you’re worried about me or something? Because, I honestly find that hard to believe.”
If he was getting warm, there was no hint of it on Jack’s face. He’d removed his overcoat and opened up the briefcase, giving Will a mild panic attack. Nothing more alarming a manila folder was produced.
“I’ve been looking at the transcripts from your therapy sessions.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you think there would be confidentiality? I hate to disillusion you.”
“I’m sure. You haven’t been looking at the transcripts because I haven’t been going.”
“Yes. I know that.”
Damn. Why did he even try to con a guy who was a master of game theory?
“Would you go? Let a government shrink go creeping around in your subconscious?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
For a second, Will thought he saw genuine concern flit over the impassive face. He remembered Taipei. Maybe Jack did care.
“Why should I? I’d just play them anyway. I learned about that during my “recovering druggie” days.”
Will felt a surge of empathy for young Sydney, growing up trying to find the vaguest hints of emotion in a face that was trained to give nothing away. Maybe learning to read through the Bristow mask had been yet another part of preparing her for a future in espionage, and was one reason he’d never been able to hide anything from her.
“Nonetheless, it’s crucial that you process what happened with Allison Doren. You were duped, betrayed and attacked by someone you loved.”
Jack turned to face him and Will found himself oddly mesmerized by the older man’s appearance, especially the eyes. Everything so steely, grey and dangerous. But he’d come here to give him…personal advice? There was a human being there as well, one who was suffering the loss of a daughter.
“I know something about that,” he finished softly.
Will absorbed the words and immediately rejected them. Too close. Too painful. He stood, banging his shin against the coffee table, so that he half limped while pacing the room. That pain he could handle.
“No. What happened to me is totally different. Francie was already gone. I was living with a total stranger; I just didn’t know it. And I thought she…Oh shit! OK…” he conceding sinking back onto the couch “I guess it is kind of the same. I’m sorry Jack.”
To cover pain and embarrassment, and not think of the times he’d made love to “Francie”, only to have her place god knows what treasonous ideas in his brain afterwards, he took a swig of flat beer. He had to fight to keep from retching as bile rose in his throat.
“I know it’s hard Tippin, and it’s only going to get worse.”
“That doesn’t mean I need to spill my guts to some bleeding heart with a PHD in bullshit.”
“You need to learn to trust again, or…”
“Or what, I’ll end up like you?” he replied, perhaps a bit too pointedly.
Jack’s pursed lips told the story. “That’s what you’re here to tell me. That I have to get over what happed or I’ll end up alone, with no friends and unable to love anyone because my heart was broken the way yours was?”
He was being glib in self-defense, but now that he’d been there, he could actually sympathize with Jack, with how much he must have suffered when he learned the truth about Syd’s mother.
“More or less.”
“Well thanks for delivering the message, but I’m fine here. Just fine. And you can leave any time you like. Right now would be great.”
Was he really telling off Jack Bristow? Holy Shit! But a lecture about facing his feelings was more than he could handle, especially from this particular source. It still didn’t make sense.
“What are you really doing here?”
“It’s what Syd would want. I’ll leave in the morning.”
“Fine. Help yourself to anything you find in the kitchen.”
Sleep? With Jack out there, no doubt cataloguing exactly how many fruits and vegetables had been left to rot in the so-called crisper? Besides he didn’t want to risk any dreams. Bristow had insisted on stirring up a load of crap. He’d probably be treated to a montage that culminated in “Francie” trying to kill him.
Why couldn’t Jack and everybody else leave him alone? Syd was dead. Gestures, his or Jack’s, weren’t going to help her.
It still didn’t add up.
He must have dozed off in spite of himself. No dreams, but he did have an odd sense of safety, somebody watching over him. Syd, maybe? Someone actually with him. In the room. Sitting on the bed. What the fuck?
He squinted in the darkness, wishing he had his glasses on. It looked like Jack had taken off his shoes and jacket. The rolled-up shirt sleeves made him looked as exposed as another man might have been naked. Will felt extremely self-conscious of his t-shirt and boxers. He still had the heat turned up and was sleeping under a down comforter so the shiver had to be fear or something else.
“This is not a good way to help me get my trust back.”
He wasn’t sure exactly what Jack was offering, but wanted to rule everything out.
“You trusted me in Taipei,” Jack said softly, almost plaintively, Will thought.
“I’d been through hell.” he protested.
“Which differs from the current situation in what way, exactly?”
“I’m not…I don’t…what do you…?”
Will couldn’t even form the words, but the longing to feel that safety again, the connection they had was nearly unbearable.
“I need you to trust me, Will.”
“I want to, but…”
“Do it for Sydney.”
He’d do anything for Sydney. She wouldn’t want him to die inside like this. Jack was right, he had to risk opening himself up again, even if it was something as ridiculous as hugging her father. Only it wasn’t ridiculous and this time it wasn’t awkward.
His arms went around Jack, grabbing on to the crisp fabric of his white shirt, feeling the strong back muscles, and it was exactly what he needed. Warm and comforting, as though he could stay there forever. The longer they stayed there, the more clearly Will sensed that Jack needed this as much as he did, maybe more.
Was Jack was using his daughter as an excuse to get something he wanted for himself? But why him? Because of the Sydney connection, or something else? Maybe Taipei had meant something to Jack too.
Without thinking, he shifted his head to brush Jack’s lips with his own. They were softer than he would have expected. He felt hesitation, but no rejection and soon there was no way to pretend it wasn’t happening. Kissing. Really kissing. Tongues and everything.
Will tried not to remember the one time he and Syd kissed, but the trying only made the image more vivid, probably better than it had actually been in reality, so he decided to go with it and worry about the weirdness factor later.
Maybe this wasn’t the weirdest thing that had happened since he met Syd, but it was right up there. He’d never kissed a man before, never done anything with a man before, never even thought about it. Was he thinking about it? His body definitely was. Could Jack tell?
They’d somehow ended up lying on the bed, pressed tightly together, legs scissored between each other. He could probably tell.
Will’s reporter instincts were trying to make sense of situation that made none. He barely knew what he was doing, much less why, only that he didn’t want it to stop, even though there were so many good reasons it should.
This was Syd’s father, for crying out loud, which meant he was old enough to be Will’s father. He seemed to know a lot about kissing that had eluded Will in his thirty odd years.
Syd had brought them together, but couldn’t have imagined them together like this. Will couldn’t have imagined it either, but now he couldn’t tear himself away. He didn’t want to give up Jack’s mouth for the seconds it took to try and stop what was rapidly becoming inevitable.
“Jack. I don’t know what’s happening here, but I’ve never done…this…with a man, I mean.”
Jack brought a hand up to Will’s face, tracing the line of his cheekbone with a thumb.
“That’s why this might work.”
Jack neatly put an end to the talking, and with his mouth otherwise engaged, Will gave his mind an ultimatum to either shut up or get out.
They kissed until his lips felt nearly numb, until he could feel Jack’s erection pressing back against him, erasing all doubts that Jack was here on more than some bizarre mission of mercy. Knowing that Jack wanted him, thought he was worth having, nearly made him come then and there. It had been so long. He hadn’t been able to touch himself, a fact he had to admit when Jack inquired about something to, as he so delicately put it, expedite the process.
Only Jack Bristow could talk about lubricant as though he were organizing a search and destroy mission. He shook his head in what Will hoped was only mock disappointment and produced something from the pocket of his pants. Maybe some super-awesome, special tingly stuff developed by Marshall…wait a minute, lubricant? As in…
Jack was removing his trousers and Will already had some idea what was lurking underneath. Was he ready for this? Did he have a choice, or want one for that matter? He was scared shitless and desperately horny at the same time.
“I’m sensing some apprehension, Mr. Tippin.”
An actual Jack Bristow smile? Small, but noticeable, even in the darkness.
“Do you trust me?” Jack asked, returning to the bed. He reached purposefully into Will’s boxers. The first hand to touch him in anyway other than medically in over six months was enough to drive away all coherent thoughts.
Jack’s voice was low as he continued fondling Will’s rigid cock and brought his mouth close to Jack’s ear.
“I can’t promise you this won’t hurt.”
He figured as much, but almost wished Jack would lie to him. If he wanted this, and god knows he did, he was going to have to…
“I trust you, Jack.”
Will woke up sore but smiling. His throat hurt from the scream he’d let out when Jack first entered him. Jack was, how else to put it, hung. In the name of trust, he’d insisted on Will facing him while it happened, and yeah it hurt like a son of a bitch.
If the Witness Protection people had him bugged, they were going to have shattered eardrums.
He thought about the screaming, the tears, and Jack’s face. Oh god, the expression. The passion and need. That’s when the pain started giving way to something better. All his trust was rewarded with sensations he never experienced before and a climax that made the raw throat and stiff legs well worth it. In replaying the whole night, he thought of all the times Jack had mentioned Sydney. He never once spoke of her in the past tense.
“You don’t believe she’s dead, do you?” He asked out loud, not sure if Jack sleeping or not.
“I don’t know.”
Apparently he wasn’t.
“If she’s alive. If there’s anything I can do…please let me help.”
“Tippin, calm down!”
“Jack, if she’s alive…”
“I said, I don’t know. I’m pursuing various channels to determine that.”
“What goddamn channels?”
“Nothing I can tell you about.”
“I had to trust you, but you don’t trust me to know about this?”
Will was surprised at how much it hurt.
“Listen to me,” Jack said urgently, fixing Will with his gaze. “If Syd is alive, she’s probably in more danger than she ever was working at SD6. When I go, you need to forget I was ever here.”
Will couldn’t resist an exaggerated wince to let Jack know the previous night wouldn’t be easily forgotten.
“You want me to stop trusting again?”
“I want you to trust me enough to do what I’m asking. Be the model citizen here. Blend in. Start working. Get this place cleaned up. And if anyone asks…”
“Jack Bristow? Never heard of him.”
He watched Jack getting dressed, all smoothness and efficiency. Will tried to think of something, anything to make him stay. It was Sunday; maybe they could watch a football game.
Probably not. Jack was off to do whatever it took to find Syd, if she was alive, no doubt taking some kind of insane risk along the way. But if he thought Syd was dead, he wouldn’t have bothered coming here in the first place, unless he managed to come up with a different excuse.
“Nothing is ever simple with you people.”
Jack shot him a very unaffectionate glare, before relaxing slightly as he rolled down his sleeves and buttoned a cuff.
“That is putting it mildly.”
Will got out of bed, despite the protest of various body parts, to follow Jack into the living room. It looked worse than he remembered.
Jack was right. He needed to get his shit together.
“Please find her Jack. No matter what it takes.”
Their eyes met. Will had no name for what he felt. Now his love for Syd was mixed up with what had happened with Jack, which he knew would never be mentioned by either one of them again.
Then he was gone, leaving Will with the daunting task of undoing the damage he’d inflicted on his dwelling over the last six months. He started by picking up the bottles. On Monday, he’d call the contractor and ask where he should show up to work.
He found the remote and turned on the set. The Packers were winning. That was an improvement over his one-time hometown Rams.
Maybe Wisconsin wasn’t so bad after all.