Part One: The French Connection

Chapter 1: The Rendezvous

2002

Los Angeles, California

Club Thrive

"I don't have sex in public restrooms" had been the last thing he thought would come out of his mouth today.

But, he had said it, and very loudly to be heard over the thumping bass music. If there was anything he hated more than his ex-wife, it was house music. Although, the reason why he'd chosen this particular club, Thrive, for this particular meeting was for three reasons: close proximity to multiple escape routes, no cameras in or around the building, and no one would recognize him.

This meeting hadn't been planned, neither was the entire day. He'd expected a quiet evening in his newly acquired apartment drinking alone while unpacking the small amount of boxes that contained all of his things. Clothes that consisted mostly of tailored suits and pressed dress shirts, ties, and a couple pairs of polished shoes. He owned a couple pairs of jeans, casual dress shirts and polos, a few sweaters, and a leather jacket and pair of black All-Weather boots that cost as much as his Armani suits.

He had stacks of books he had yet to arrange and organize on the bookshelves. His eclectic taste in music had led him to acquire an extensive collection of vinyl's ranging from Classical and Jazz to Rock & Roll and Blues to Folk, all of which were stacked in piles on his floor next to his record player. His collection of coffee cups from all over the world were the only items unpacked in his kitchen along with the coffee maker.

There was a painting he'd received from Arvin as a gift hanging on his wall and on a table was a framed photograph of his daughter Sydney. A photo of her when she was six years old.

She'd be 27 years old next month.

The photo been the last time he'd held her in his arms and the last time she'd called him dad. To say that the last twenty years has been complicated was an understatement. It was nothing new for nothing in his life was simple, except killing. Killing was very simple. He's been doing it for years. Even before he was old enough to buy alcohol. At the age of 18 he was recruited into the Central Intelligence Agency.

The year was 1968 and during the height of the Cold War as well as the Vietnam War's most deadliest stages, notably the Battle of Khe Sanh and several massacres including the Há My and My Lai. It was deadly on the American front as well with many innocent deaths due to the civil unrest. There were bombings, Police and National Guard shootings of civilians, and the horrible assassinations of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and then U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy. It seemed as if not only the country but the entire world had erupted into chaos with no end in sight.

When he was approached while at university by the C.I.A. to come work for his country, that he could make a difference, how could he possibly say no? During the early days, they put him on assignments turning KGB agents in East Berlin into double agents. That quickly changed once they realized how apt he was at killing. Next thing he knew-between assignments including Project Christmas-he'd been tasked with assassinating high priority targets like ministers, politicians, businessmen, soldiers, leaders, rebels, drug lords and anyone else deemed enemies of the US of A. He'd done it with a knife while being buried in snow on the side of a mountain range in Switzerland, with a sniper rifle on the rooftop of a crumbling building in Laos, and in a crowd in the middle of a Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival in Mexico City. He'd killed people inside their private offices, hotel rooms, penthouses or mansions, or on their luxury yachts out at sea.

If somebody needed to be killed, he could always find a way to do it. And he did it all for the greater good of his country. At least, that was how he'd justified it. He labeled them as traitors and enemies while making them faceless in order to unconscionably commit murder. It had worked for a while. Right up until it didn't. His hesitation on a mission outside of Tehran, Iran in 1980 had nearly been his last. As he laid bleeding and struggling for breath, the hot sun beating down on him and the desert sand burning under him, he realized it was his daughter's fifth birthday.

That had been his last thought before he'd lost consciousness. When he awoken in a hospital, oxygen tube down his throat and his wife by his side, he told himself that was the last time he would kill for his country. He would do anything else. Anything. Work a desk at Langley and push papers, he didn't care. All he wanted was to spend another day with his wife and daughter. They were all he cared about. The only people left in world who loved him.

Little did he know, he'd been wrong. He'd been wrong about everything. Within two years, he would be right back to killing again. It had been inevitable. Killing was his specialty.

But this time he would be doing it as a criminal. As it turned out, that had been what he'd been all along.

Director Derrick Xander of the C.I.A.'s Clandestine Services had ordered his release from Federal Prison and brought to Langley. He had a bag thrown over his head, his arms and legs chained during the transport as if he were an enemy to his country. He never believed himself to be an enemy to his country. He'd done everything he'd been told. He sacrificed everything, including being a present father and husband, for his country.

Yes, he told his wife he was C.I.A, which wasn't a crime or treasonous. She had been the one to betray him, and for that reason alone was why he was being treated like a criminal. Or so he had thought.

The bag was removed from over his face in the barely lit room and two men left. He'd been cuffed to the table and unable to move. Director Xander sat on the other side of it, staring across the table at him.

Xander did a lot of talking about his life and all the operations he'd been a part of over the years. The man practically went over his entire file. Jack listened in interest as he noticed that there were exclusions from his file. Most notably, all the times he'd been ordered to kill someone. He wondered if that was because Xander didn't have access to that information. But, that didn't make sense. Director Xander had Alpha Black clearance; he would know everything.

Jack sat still, remained silent, as Xander completed his retelling of his career in the C.I.A.. He closed the file and placed his hands on top of it, as he told him, "I know what you're thinking. It's incomplete. Isn't it, Agent Bristow?"

He let out a breath and gave a nod. He wouldn't offer anything as he wanted to know what Xander knew first. This was obviously for a reason. Xander wouldn't have gotten him out of prison just to reminisce.

"The C.I.A. has no knowledge of assignments you've been tasked with that include the assassinations of high-priority targets."

He considered that and quickly came to a conclusion. Either the missions had been so covert that the requirement of plausible deniability attributed to no record of them ever occurring, or, they were unsanctioned missions. Both were bad for him.

"You're not the first," Xander continued saying, "to have missions exempt from their file. We haven't been able to track these "mystery" missions back to a source within the C.I.A.. These "off the books" operations are what's troubling us. They have been in direct violation of our policy and some have even been counterproductive to our sanctioned operations at are on record."

Jack worked that over in his head and finally asked, "Are you saying that not only have I been involved in unsanctioned missions, but that they enacted against our very own agents? Or own interests?"

Xander was nodding as he said "That's exactly what I'm saying. We have wolves in our house, Agent Bristow-"

"Call me Jack," he said, lifting his handcuffed hands, "If I'm really a criminal, I don't deserve the title of Agent."

"Jack," Xander said in correction. "I have a proposition for you. A way to reclaim your freedom while serving your country. We need these wolves found. We need to know what they are planning, their operations-"

"And how do you expect me to do all this? I'm done at the C.I.A. and I doubt I'll be trusted-"

"You won't be C.I.A.," Xander told him. "Not officially. You're right, you can't be trusted anymore. You are a criminal. And that will be our in. We're talking about enemies to our country within our country, within our agency, and they are using our good agents on the inside and working with criminals on the outside. You'll have the reputation of being both. They will take you in. We won't know when, but it will happen. They will approach you."

Jack spent the next hour tossing around the specifics of the operation with Xander until he was satisfied that it could work, if given time. This wasn't something that could be done in a week, or month, or even a year. This would be extensive. It'd take years.

Before he agreed, he asked to see Arvin Sloane. He needed a favor.

Jack had learned that Derrick Xander had died in '89, and then been replaced with another Director. Harold Garrison lasted from '89 to '94 before being outed and replaced by Anthony McCarthy who was Director up until last year. His current boss was Director Hayden Chase. She had yet to make any contact with him at that concerned him. For all he knew, she knew nothing of his existence. It bothered him seeing how he was close to the end. He would have to finally be able to be free of this only for the operation specifics to have been lost or destroyed.

Tonight wasn't the time to think about all the "what if's". Tonight needed to be a success, and he wasn't going to let his wondering mind and growing worry derail him from the task at hand. It almost had be to aborted altogether due to the phone call from Arvin that had him at hospital for most of the day and well into the early evening. It had been exhausting, and stressful, and not something he would wish upon anyone, not even his worst enemy.

Lifting the beer to his lips, tried to block out the anger that had been growing for the better part of the day. It wasn't anger at Arvin, or Emily, but at himself. He'd been gone for the past month. Three decades of friendship only for his best friend to suffer the failing health, the chemo treatments and false hopes of the woman he loved without his assistance. Years of their help and guidance through his own darkness and when it came time for him to be there for them, he'd been halfway around the world on assignment. The worst part was that Arvin told him it was okay and that he understood.

In Arvin's eyes, he'd seen something else. Regret. Regret that he chose a man like him to be his best friend, perhaps? A man that simply felt, for the most part, cold and detached. Anger more than happiness. Duty over family.

That was what he'd done, wasn't? Place the mission, his job, over family. If those weren't his priorities than he would know his daughter. She would know him as her father and not simply as her father's best friend Jack. But that wasn't possible. Not yet. Once it was all over, then maybe he could tell her the truth.

It'd only been the three of them in the hospital room until there was a knock at the door. It was her. His daughter Sydney. She stopped in the doorway when she saw him. Her hesitation when he was around always unnerved him. He knew it was from fear due to the way he presented himself. Aloof. Standoffish. Unavailable and unemotional.

For her, he wasn't there to offer comfort, but protection. That was why when Sydney's adoptive mother Emily was dying he couldn't give her the comfort she needed in her grief. It wasn't his place. All he could do was watch.

But he didn't watch, did he? No. Instead, he excused himself after she arrived. He stood watch outside the hospital room, acting as a personal bodyguard, for hours as inside the room Sydney and Arvin collapsed into one another while Emily took her last breath. There was nothing on earth that could make him watch as his daughter hug another man she called dad, while in turn, watch that other man give her comfort in his place. Especially since that man was Arvin Sloane.

He would rather die all over again.

He stared across the hallway at the white painted cedar blocks that made up the hospital wall. Every nurse or doctor or visitor that passed by him he watched closely, and intently, making sure none of them interrupted. Also ensuring none of them were there to cause anyone he loved any harm. Anything could happen anywhere at anytime, and with the business they were in, that was a promise. It was solely a matter of when, where, and how.

Through the door he could hear them. Their cries, the anguish, and the heartbreak. Working his jaw, he fought hard to push it down. He couldn't allow himself to feel anything.

He heard the door open and Sydney stepped out. Her eyes were red, mascara streaked lines down her cheeks. He had the urge to reach out, touch her cheek and tell her that everything would be okay. Just as he did when she was a little girl. He couldn't, of course, but the urge was still there. It never left.

She leaned on the door once it was shut and took a deep breath. He didn't even know if she realized he was standing off to her left or not. Then she looked up and saw him. For a moment, she tensed and he felt that familiar sting in his heart once again. Trying for a smile, he only managed to slightly raise one side of his mouth ever so slightly.

A doctor walked by and he immediately zeroed in on her. Observing every detail. From her appearance to the shoes she wore, the way her eyes moved, her gait, the way her arms swayed and head moved. He watched the doctor until she was at the end of the hallway and turned the corner. Nothing out of the ordinary. They were still safe. Though, one of them was no longer with them.

"Thank you."

He turned to stare at Sydney when he heard those words. She'd been watching him. Completely baffled by her words given how she always reacted to him, he asked, "For what?"

She moved away from the door and crossed her arms. Her eyes were focused on his like never before. "Everything you've done for us over the years. For being here now for my dad."

As far a Sydney knew, he was not only Arvin's best friend but an employee with his private security firm. Sydney had no idea that they were not in the private security business. Looking back at the door, he told her, "That's what best friends are for. I'm doing my job."

"I know. Still, it means a lot."

He looked around and then asked, "How are you holding up?"

She gave him a soft smile as her eyes welled with tears. "I'll be okay."

"Are you heading home? Do you need me to drive you, or-"

"No, that's okay. I can manage." Of course she could. She was strong. He gave a nod. There was nothing else to do or say, at least he thought, but she kept staring at him. "Do you have any kids?"

He hesitated a moment then asked, "Why do you ask?"

She bit her lip and stared at the floor. "When I see you around," she finally said, "I can't explain it. I feel..." she trailed off and he held his breath. He didn't breathe again until she said, "Safe. Like the way my dad makes me feel safe. It's weird, I know. I thought-...Never mind." She gave him a smile as she started to walk away. Then she stopped, turned and told asked, "Tomorrow's your birthday, right?"

That surprised him. He didn't think she remembered, or cared. Swallowing hard, he told her, "Yes. That's right."

"How old? If you don't mind-"

"Fifty-two," he told her as he let out a breath. He would be fifty-two years old tomorrow, and the last time she'd known he was her dad he was thirty-two. She'd been seven when he left.

With a soft smile on her face, she told him, "Happy Birthday, Jack. Have a good night."

He watched her walk away and tried to feel nothing.

Killing was easier.

Bringing the beer up to his lips, he took a big gulp and emptied the bottle. Motioning for another, the bartender gave him a stern look as he grabbed a cold one out of the cooler and placed it in front of him.

Leaning on the bar, the bartender told him, "This is your last one."

Giving the man a hard look of his own, he asked, "You're cutting me off?"

"That's right, you're wasted. Give me your keys," the bartender told him as he held out his hand.

Staring at the man's empty dark palm that was expectantly waiting, Jack picked up the bottle as he said, "I didn't drive."

"Yeah you did; I saw you park when I was out on my smoke break."

Jack stared at the man; took in his brown eyes, the white button up shirt he wore that was open over the chest, the rings on his fingers and piercing of his left ear. He was trying too hard. It didn't feel, or look, natural. The bartender didn't belong there. But, he didn't take him as a threat. It could've been for any number of reasons; to fit in with the crowd to keep the job. Either way, at the moment, he didn't care what it was. He wasn't about to give that man anything.

"I don't think so, and if you ask again...it will be the last time you ask for anything." The way he said it, and the look in his eye, told the bartender exactly what he'd do to him if he even tried. It would've been too easy.

The man straightened, gulped down the dryness in this throat, and walked away. Smart man.

It wouldn't have mattered if he had been cut off or not, this would be his last beer. Whether his contact showed up or not, this would his last. He took the time to savor it before having to go home to an empty and quiet apartment. He was used to the quiet and emptiness. It used to be in his old house decades ago, when he returned home from a mission, it was filled with so much noise. Sydney practicing on the piano. Laura's laughter. Their talks about how the mission went and whispers of promises of things she'd do to him to help him forget. Amusing stories shared over take out or a home-cooked meal. Sydney reciting a poem or a paper she'd written that'd won her an A+ or ribbon in school.

Then, late at night, the sighs and moans that came from Laura's mouth helped to drown out the screams of the men he'd tortured and the pleas for life from those he'd killed. Some days, that was all he needed. Other days, he would be too far gone that no matter how loudly she screamed her voice never reached him.

Laura had been involved in a car crash 1981. The car had gone into a river and her body was gone. She went missing. He wanted to believe that she'd died, her body swept away. He also wanted to believe she was alive and that one day he could get sweet revenge. After her death was when he learnt her real name had been Irina Derevko. He learned the real reason why she stayed with him, and loved him, even after he told her he wasn't certain of his own sexuality. She'd been a KGB spy. For Irina, he'd only been an assignment. A target. In reality, he'd been her fool. Her confused lover and devoted confidant. Her fake husband and distant father to their child. Now, he was also a traitor thanks to her.

The Berlin Wall fell in '88 and the Soviet Union's collapsed in '91, and he wondered-had she survived-would she have been in Russia or Berlin to witness any of it? Had she been held a hero to Russia, or, had she been labeled a traitor herself and executed?

Oh, how he dreamed of her execution.

If there was one thing he still felt, it was hate. And that hate was aimed at his own chest, targeted there by his own hand. The promises he couldn't keep. The regrets that gnawed away at him during his sleepless nights. Missed opportunities.

He had to keep himself shut off for so long in order to do what he did for a living that being around so many people, and attempting a connection on a greater personal and emotional level, he thought, well, he thought it was stifling. He couldn't breathe. Then again, being alone and in the quiet would be even more painful, but it was a pain he knew. He lived in that pain. It had become a familiar companion.

After he left the hospital, he went to the apartment and thought it was over. The day was finally done. He'd been wrong. He got a call from one of his contacts, Antonio Lafayette, who wanted to meet. So, he changed out of the tailored suit, dress shirt and tie and into a grey button-down, jeans, and pulled on the leather jacket, boots, and grabbed a gun. He didn't think he would have to use it, but he wanted to be prepared.

That was also in his nature. Preparedness. It was also a hazard of his job. He couldn't trust anyone. Not even his contact who was an hour late. He didn't need to look at his watch to know the time. He could just tell. The crowd in the club had grown substantially since he arrived. The night was getting later; past the time when he should've already been gone.

While waiting for Lafayette to show, he tried not to observe the people around him too much as a longing settled in his stomach and an ache grew in his heart. It'd been so long since he felt a loving touch from another human being that there'd been times when he wasn't sure if he was still part of human race. Despite his attempt, even in the crowd he felt alone and isolated. He was still distant with others, but had become more comfortable with his specific needs and wants.

It'd taken years for him to welcome the thoughts and desires that had once troubled him so deeply that hate was all he felt regarding who he was. To reconcile that hate, he'd dug up his repressed sexual desires in order to finally figure out what it was he truly wanted in a partner. The first time he'd had sex with a man, he knew what had terrified him so deeply. He would want to do it again. He would want more. He would become weak and desperate. He would fall in love. It would be inevitable. His desperation for a man was nearly overwhelming.

Desperation to touch, and to kiss, and to give him everything, anything he wanted. Desperate to use him in every way possible to shut out the voices in his head. Tonight they weren't the voices of people he'd killed, but the voices of two people he loved grieving the death of the person they both loved; one as a wife and the other as a mother. Desperate to not go through the motions. His whole life consisted of going through the motions. Of false relationships and lies, betrayals, deceit, and indifference. He wanted to at least pretend it was real, if only for a little while. He wanted a draw of some sort, any kind, just as long as it existed.

There had been no draw to another human being tonight from all the offers he'd received while waiting. There was no spark of connection. Not a single one. It wasn't necessarily uncommon for him, he reasoned; it had been months since he last tried to connect with anyone on more personal level. He could remember the last time he tried for a purely sexual one.

It didn't take long before the beer bottle was empty. He pushed it away as someone sat down next to him at the bar. He expected it to be Lafayette, instead it was a young man with blond hair sticking up all over and who needed a shave.

Blue eyes sparkled behind a pair of glasses as he asked, "Anyone sitting here?"

"No," he said as he barely shook his head.

"But you were expecting someone, weren't you?"

Jack looked around, searching the crowd for Antonio as he wondered if maybe he sent this guy over to him instead of making a face-to-face. "I was."

"Got stood up, huh?" he held two fingers up to the bartender as he said, "Me too. I'll buy you a beer."

He looked the guy over and took in his rumpled shirt, corduroy pants, and worn sneakers. "How did you know that I've been waiting for someone?"

Looking over at him and smiling slightly, he told him, "I've been watching you. Not in a creepy stalker-ish way. I was over there, watching you, and thinking to myself "that's one hot guy passing up opportunity after opportunity". So, I got to thinking, "why would he do that?". That's when I got my answer...You were waiting. Just like me. And just like me, rejected. Story of my life. What'd you say, from one reject to another, have a beer with me?"

Jack laughed a little and shook his head as the bartender sat two bottles in front of them.

Taking one of the bottles, he told him, "My name's Will. Will Tippin."

He hesitated a moment, but then reached for the bottle as he told him, "Jack." Then the name registered in his head as he asked, "Will Tippin the journalist?"

Will's smile was so big and wide, it was hard to look away from, so, he didn't. "Yeah, that's me. You know my work?"

"I read the 'Los Angeles Register' every day," Jack told him. "Twice."

Will started talking, a lot. Jack didn't think he took a breath for ten minutes. The more he talked, he more he wanted to smile. The young man's enthusiasm for his job, for the stories he gets to share with the world, and the true delight that brought him, was infectious. He also told him how he loved old movies, hiking in the hills, surfing, and sports, specifically baseball. He was a die-hard fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"How 'bout you?" Will finally asked. "What'd you like?"

"I like the work I do."

Will smiled. "That's good. What-"

"I'm in private security."

"Private security...like, bodyguards?"

Jack huffed out a laugh and said, "Not exactly, but, yeah, like bodyguards."

Will gave a nod and looked away. He knew he was trying to relate to that, or come up with something to say. The look in his eyes when he told him that was one he'd seen before, Will was stupefied. He could've easily left right then and Will would've let him.

"I couldn't imagine," he heard Will say before looking over at him. "That takes a discipline that I could never master. Being responsible for another person's life while knowing that you might have to sacrifice your own to protect them. That must get lonely." He smiled and asked, "Why did you choose that profession?"

Jack stared at Will in astonishment. He'd never had anyone actually comment on the nature of the job before, yet alone ask him that question. "It chose me." He left it at that and took a drink of the beer.

"Okay, I understand. What else do you like besides your job?" Will asked as he leaned on his hand and stared at him.

Jack looked at the beer in his hand as he tried to ask himself those questions. Would he be honest with Will, or would he lie. He could create a fabrication. A delusion. A delusion wasn't what he wanted, not even if it was for a night. He told him the truth. "I read a lot." He stared at Will as he allowed himself the audacity to let someone else in, if ever so slightly; a nudge. "Non-fiction, mostly, but I have read the classics. Love Shakespeare. I'm a history buff. I love movies and music. I play, well, I used to play the piano. I too enjoy baseball."

"You have any family? Kids? A crazy ex?"

Will was fishing, he didn't bite. "There's no one."

"Good," he said with a nod. "I don't either. Well, I do have an ex-girlfriend. Jenny. She works with me, but it's not an issue. We're nowhere close to getting back together. That ended once she-she, uh, found out I was, y'know, bisexual. It was for the best. And I have a sister. Amy. She's younger than me. Our parents died several years ago. Car accident. We're uh-It's just us."

Jack looked over at Will and thought of Laura. He recalled how he felt when the police arrived at his door. It'd been raining that night. A horrible storm.

He knew at that moment-when he was being told that his wife was gone-that he would never marry again. He would most likely never commit to anyone ever again. Feeling that loss had shattered his heart and mind into pieces. Then the pain of having to look his daughter in the eyes and tell her that her mother was gone. His fear of losing Sydney, of not ever wanting to feel what it was like to lose a child, dominated his entire life. Every parent should die before their child. That's the way it should be, anyway. He knew better than most that that wasn't always the case.

"You know what movie inspired me to be a journalist?" Will suddenly asked.

Despite knowing it was a hypothetical question, Jack gave a guess anyway, "'All the President's Men'?"

"No, but that's a good one."

"'Sweet Smell of Success'?" he asked with a hint of anticipation about being correct.

He moved his right hand just behind Will's left knee. An experiment to see how Will would react, but also because he wanted to touch him as discreetly as possible. He also shot a quick glance around the room and toward the front door.

"Wrong again, but close. I loved that movie," Will said as he moved his leg so it rubbed against his hand. "I didn't think anyone else has ever seen it. Tony Curtis-"

"-those blue eyes," he said as he stared into Will's eyes. He wasn't talking about Tony Curtis.

"Beautiful man." The way Will said that, he didn't think he was talking about Tony Curtis either. Reaching down, Will intertwined his fingers with his.

Jack smiled. Will smiled.

"You wanna get out of here? That is, if you're done waiting."

Jack gave it a moments thought as he glanced back at saw Antonio Lafayette walking through the front door. Late, but there. He left his hand where it was, on the back of Will's left knee and intertwined with his fingers, as he said, "Depends."

"On what?"

"What was the movie?"

Will hesitated a moment before telling him, "It was uh, 'His Girl Friday'."

Jack smiled. "Cary Grant. I love Cary Grant. Good movie."

His life was meant for moments of normalcy. But, only moments. Brief flashes in time where he could believe that he was okay. That everything could be okay. Moments like this one. These moments, however, they were not meant to last. A day, a night, a weekend, but never longer. Never for the rest of his life.

"Yes, exactly! Thank you. Thank you," Will said as he finished his drink. "I think it's because of that movie, and particularly Cary Grant, that caused me to have a thing for elegant older men."

Jack nearly laughed as he looked over at Will.

"That came out wrong, didn't it?" Will said as he gave a shrug. "You don't look-...I mean, you're very good looking."

Jack shook his head as he stood. He was done waiting. "Let's go."

"Really?"

He gripped Will's hand tighter in he pulled him up. "Really."

Will kept his hand in his as he led him through groups of people, some dancing while others stood around talking, in order to get to the hallway. He thought Will was leading him out the back door but instead he opened the door to the restroom.

Jack stared after him a moment and shook his head, "I don't-"

"Oh, no," Will said as red crept up his neck, "I gotta use the head first before we leave."

He suddenly realized he had to do the same so he followed. It was oddly empty as he went over to the urinal. Will was right next to him and he caught the moment he glanced down at him after he unzipped. He caught Will's eyes, looked right at his face, glanced down, and then back up at his face again as he raised his eyebrows.

Will quickly looked away before he laughed. "I'm sorry. That was very juvenile," he said as that blush that started in his neck was now covering his entire face.

He also wanted to laugh at their immature behavior but instead he placed his right hand on the wall in front of him to steady himself. Leaning forward, he continued to relax until he was burying his face in the crook of his right arm. He realized, maybe, he was a little drunk.

Once done, he pushed off the wall and while zipping his pants he heard a loud and very recognizable pop. He jerked up straight as if he'd been shot as he looked toward the door. Then he heard it again, a quick pop that was muffled against the music in the background.

"What was that?" Will said beside him.

He ignored him as he hurried to finish zipping while instinctively reaching to his left hip and only feeling his belt and the fabric of his jeans. That was because when he wasn't working he carried the gun at the small of his back to make it less noticeable. He approached the door as he drew his gun to the ready as he heard a scuffle outside the door.

"You-You carry a gun? Of course you do, what am I saying? You're Kevin Costner in 'The Bodyguard'."

Jack looked back at Will and put a finger to his lips, silently telling him to be quiet. Then he heard a thump on the floor as he gripped the knob and turned it slowly until the door opened. He swung open the door as he swept the hallway. The back door was shutting behind a blond woman as she disappeared into the dark alley. His knee jerk reaction was to give chase but held back as he dropped to a knee instead and rolled the man over.

It was Antonio Lafayette. There was a gun clenched in his right hand. He reached down and checked for a pulse. He could barely feel it, but it was still beating.

"Oh shit! What-Jack, what'd we do?" Will asked as he stood over him, hands in his hair.

"Go call 9-1-1," Jack said as Will took off running to find a phone. Once Will turned his back, he hurriedly checked Lafayette's pockets and found a set of keys, wallet, and phone. He took the keys and phone and left the wallet once he search it for any vital information.

Antonio blinked, startling him. His mouth started to move as he was trying to speak through the blood. Leaning down lower, he heard his the soft French words. "Cherchez la femme."

Cherchez la femme? Look for the woman, he thought as he remembered the woman running from the scene.

He got up and headed out the back door, being careful not to touch anything with his hand as he went. He didn't think the woman he saw had stuck around, but he had to be certain. The alley was dark and quiet. All he could hear was his own rapid breathing and thumping heartbeat. The quietness was shattered by a taxi flying by out on the moist street and then a metro bus roared in front of him, splashing the sidewalk with gathered rain water.

Stepping out onto the sidewalk, he looked around the rain soaked street as the door to the bar burst open. A group of panicked and scared men and women gathered out onto the sidewalk. He put his gun away so not to cause further alarm before maneuvering back into the now deserted bar.

Checking Lafayette's vitals once more, he couldn't find a pulse. He was dead. All the shots had been to the chest cavity, hitting vital organs as the bullets ripped through the body. Triangle pattern. That didn't sit well with him at all.

He pushed through the crowd that had gathered and made sure he wasn't being watched as he reached out and grabbed Will by the arm, pulling him along. "We're leaving."

"Hey, wait, shouldn't we stick around to talk to the police?"

"Did you see or hear anything?" he asked as he looked over at Will.

Shaking his head, Will said, "No, but-"

"Exactly. Did you drive here?" he asked as he headed toward the entrance.

"No, no, I took public transportation just in case I drank too much, or left with someone."

Once they were out on the sidewalk, Jack heard sirens in the distance from the approaching police. He pulled out his keys and ducked into the parking lot next to the bar. "Get in," he said as he unlocked the car's doors and walked Will around to the passenger door.

"Wait, wait, wait," Will said as he caught is himself on the top of the roof as he opened the door for him. "Isn't this wrong? Can we just leave the scene-"

"Mr. Tippin," Jack said sternly as he stared at him, "unless we committed the crime, or if you have some pertinent information that would be beneficial to the police in their investigation, all we will be doing for the next two hours is wasting not only our time but theirs. There are about two hundred other patrons that can give them the same exact answers we can, which are "I didn't see anything" and "I don't know". Now, get in."

Will swallowed and got in the car. He shut t he door and walked around to the driver's seat. Looking over at him, he saw him inspecting the interior. "This is nice. It's a Lincoln Continental. How fast can it go?"

"Zero to sixty in seven seconds; tops out at 155 miles per hour," Jack said as he started the engine. He thought about it a moment. He didn't want to go back to his apartment. Honestly, he didn't want to go back to Will's place either. There was only one place he wanted to be right at that moment and that was Marina Del Rey. "I would buckle up if I were you."

They were out of the parking lot before Will could grab the seatbelt. As he drove, Jack thought about Lafayette and the implications of the hit being carried out by the C.I.A.. His mind was wondering, thinking, and contemplating over all the ways this could go right or wrong. Every contingency had to be accounted for and properly adjusted if needed due to unforeseen circumstances or players. Mr. Tippin had been an unforeseen complication. He had let his desperation take over and in doing so, invited an unwanted player into the mix.

He heard Will's voice and it broke him out of his thoughts. He was rambling. It was from the adrenaline and the shock. He couldn't keep his mouth shut. That's why he kept asking questions while talking too fast. His hands were also shaking. "Maybe we should go back. I mean, there were a lot of people but they weren't in the hallway. Where are we going anyway? Hey-hey, Jack, my hands won't stop shaking. Is-is that normal?"

"The adrenaline is wearing off. You might also start to feel sick."

"Yeah, well, I already emptied the contents of my stomach into the toilet at the club. There's not much left." Will looked out the window and shook his head. "I've never seen anyone die in front of me. There were bullet holes in his-...And the blood was-...How were you able to-"

Jack glanced over at him and felt a ping of sympathy. Letting out breath, he told him as he focused back on the road, "I was younger than you when I first saw a man get killed." He saw out of the corner of his eye Will looking at him. So, he continued, "Vietnam." He glanced over at Will and saw the widening of his eyes.

"You were in Vietnam?"

"I was over there." He remembered all the things he did in Southeast Asia. He didn't elaborate on the fact that he was with the C.I.A. in Vietnam and with the military. And because he had been in Saigon 27 years ago, he had missed the birth of this daughter.

Will didn't say anything for a few miles. It wasn't until he pulled into a convenience store that he heard him speak again. "What're we doing here?"

"I need a drink," Jack said as he turned the car off and looked over at Will. "Do you want anything?"

Will stared up at the store and gave a nod. He unbuckled his belt and they both got out at the same time.

Jack looked around at the palm trees and buildings, took in the taco truck in the corner of the lot and the sky that was void of stars due to the ambient lights and smog. Pulling his jacket off, he slung it into the backseat of the car before shutting the door. The air was thick, humid, and in it he felt a shift that he hadn't felt in a while. It was that feeling one got when they knew that something had changed. And it stuck to him like the shirt that clung his body from the humidity.

Staring over at Will, he saw him staring straight ahead but his eyes were far away, lost in the imagines that were undoubtedly flashing before his eyes. Will had seen too much. He couldn't help but think that if Will knew what kind-of man he really was he would be running away screaming right about now.

He didn't know if it was a very good or a very bad thing that Will did not know.


Marina Del Rey

It was a perfect night. No breeze and the water was slack tide making the top of the Pacific Ocean look like glass. Leading the way down the ramp, Jack spotted the '98 Malo 37 yacht. He'd spent the better part of two years fixing it up, updating the electronics, adding a GPS and new radar, and redoing the upholstery. It'd originally been a salmon color and he had it changed to a rich navy blue, same as the color of the hull. The deck was the original wooden boards and cream colored casings. It was one beautiful boat.

Jack looked back and watched at Will literally rinsed out his mouth with an entire bottle of mouth wash then spit it into the water. In his other hand was a fifth of whiskey. That had to taste horrible, but at least his mouth was clean, for whatever good that did him.

"Rendezvous? That's an interesting name for a boat, the Rendezvous," Will said as he followed him onto the deck of the boat.

Jack felt Will brush up against him as he stood mere inches apart on the deck. Will was looking at him, his mouth, before he leaned in. That's why the mouth wash. His lips brushed his own and he allowed him to kiss him. It was soft and hurried but the way Will looked when he leaned back made him think Will thought it was the best thing in the world.

He knew what adrenaline, the fight or flight response, did to the body. It caused many different physiological effects, one of which was heightened sexual arousal. It'd taken him years of training to get that particular impulsive reaction under control. Will, on the other hand, had no control. He was as uninhibited as a Bonobo, which was the most sex-crazed mammal on the planet.

Will's smile was lopsided and bright as he stepped away and held up the bag in his hand. He grabbed more than just a bottle of whiskey. In the bag were chips, crackers, jerky, donuts and all kinds of other snacks. He was certain Will bought out the entire store. "Where, um-"

"I'll take it," Jack said as he took the bag from him. "I have to go down below anyway. Stay up here and look around."

He watched as Will stepped around the deck as he opened the hatch to go below deck. He put the six-pack of beer and bag of food on the counter and then went through the process of powering up the yacht.

Will was standing on the bow, staring off into the distance as he sipped from the bottle, when he returned topside. Grabbing the line, he unwound it from the moor before going forward and doing the same with the line near the bow of the boat.

"Are we going out there?" Will asked in surprise.

"Do you have Thalassophobia?" Jack looked over his shoulder and saw Will staring at him in confusion. "Fear of the ocean."

"Oh, no. I surf, remember?"

Jack pointed to the deck and told him, "If you're staying up here, I suggest you sit down. I would hate for you to fall overboard." He walked away from him as he went to the cockpit and got behind the wheel.

He nearly laughed when the boat started moving and Will stumbled as he lost his balance. Shaking his head at Will for not doing as he was told, Jack pushed the throttles forward and got underway. Will finally sat down and grabbed onto a hand grip. The boat cut through the water with such ease it felt like they were flying. There was no resistance since the water was slack. He would have loved to have used the sails but due to the lack of wind that wasn't going to happen tonight.

Peering across the top of the deck, his eyes rested on Will Tippin. The young man was seated near the bow, his head twisting and turning the further they got out. Every so often he would bring the bottle of whiskey to his lips and take a sip in hopes it would make the images of blood and death go away.

They would soon enough, he thought as he cut the engine. Will barely moved, and even then it was only his head as he looked around. Jack allowed the yacht to drift forward as he made his way toward Will. As he walked by him, he knelt down and opened the hatch to the anchor bay.

"I can actually see the stars," Will said.

Jack glance back and saw the wonderment on Will's face as he stared up into the night sky. Looking away, he dropped the anchor and stood. Giving him a smile, he told him, "I'm going to grab a drink. You want anything?"

"Only for you to join me," Will said with a smile as he took another sip from the bottle. As Jack went to walk away, he said, "I've never been out this far on the ocean before. This whole time I've lived here, I've never been past the breakers. Never..." he trailed off as he looked around as he leaned back onto his forearms. "Thank you, Jack. This is," shaking his head, he looked up at him, saying, "peaceful."

Jack smiled. "It is, isn't it?"

"This is exactly what I needed after..." Will trailed off and that haunted look returned to his eyes.

Jack walked behind him, staring into the distance as the lights and high-rises that made up Los Angeles disappeared on the horizon. Gripping the gun at the small of his back, he pulled it out and turned to stare down at Will. He steadied himself as he listened to the calmness of the water and the occasional crack of the boat as it yawed around in the water.

He listened to Will's breathing as he brought the gun up and took aim. Will was an investigative reporter; his mind was an inquisitive one. He would not be able to let it go, not until he found out who killed Antonio Lafayette and why. During that investigation he would find himself in the crosshairs of SD-6. Will Tippin was a liability.

Staring down at the top of Will's head, at the angle and range, if he squeezed the trigger the bullet would shatter his skull and penetrate his brain, fracturing apart as it traveled downward until it exited out the bottom of his jaw. Instant kill.

Closing his eyes, he heard a voice. "I feel safe. Like the way my dad makes me feel safe."

Sydney's words echoed in his head. His daughter, who didn't know she was his daughter, felt safe when he was around. In his presence, he brought her that comfort. She knew he was there to protect her.

Will also felt safe in his presence. He also needed his protection. And it was that realization that saved Will Tippin's life.

Jack lowered the gun and walked away.

He sat down at the desk next to the wall of switches and the radar monitor and opened the secret compartment under it that he had installed. Punching in the code, the safe opened and he placed the gun inside.

What was he doing, he asked himself a moment later as he buried his head in his hand. A part of him still wanted to kill Will, if only to make things less complicated. The other part of him wanted something entirely different. The thing was, he couldn't tell which was the good part and which was the bad part.

His logic seemed to have left him; his moral compass no longer pointed north, to the just and what was right. It seemed to be spinning all over the place with no fixed location. Twenty years of playing a game that required him to be the bad guy while assisting the good guys had in many ways corrupted his sense of right and wrong. There was so much grey. The C.I.A. would never sanction the murder of an innocent civilian, but he would as an SD-6 operative. He'd conducted many rogue operations, had participated in many treasonous acts both for and against his country. It was hard to figure out the right move from the wrong move.

Some days he couldn't see the finish line. Some days the bigger picture blurred in front of him as he fought to regain control over the uncontrollable. Like today. It had been one big mess after another. Letting Will live could turn out to be a huge mistake, or he could turn out to be useful. And the only way he could see Will being useful was if he made Will useful by keeping him close. By making him an active player in a game he didn't even realize he was playing.

"Jack?"

Lifting his head, Jack saw Will coming down the steps. He stumbled slightly once his feet landed on the floor.

Will looked around, that goofy smile on his lips again as he took in the living space. "Wow, this is nice."

The starboard side was where he sat and directly behind him was the bathroom. Across from him on the port side was the kitchen area and behind that the aft cabin. To the front was the open living space with seating on both sides and a folding table in the middle. Beyond that was the forward cabin where he slept.

As Will walked around, his hand reached out to trail over the woodwork and upholstery. He stopped and turned to face him. "You doing okay?"

Jack smiled into his hand as he looked Will over. His awkwardness was equally as appealing as his innocence. In that moment, he truly regretted ever considering taking Will Tippin out of this world. "I was thinking..." he hesitated whether to give a truthful answer again or lie. In the end, he decided that if there was one person he could be honest with, it was Will. "Tonight my best friend lost his wife to cancer." Shaking his head, he looked away. "The reality of it, her loss and his pain, hit me all over again. Not to mention we saw a man die-"

There was a hand on his shoulder, gentle and coaxing in a way he hadn't allowed himself to feel in a long time. Looking up into Will's eyes, he saw a softness there along with understanding, and a hint of cloudiness from too much whiskey.

"And you feel guilty for being thankful that you're alive knowing someone else isn't. Yeah, me too." Will suddenly leaned down and kissed him hard. He was also desperate.

Jack felt that same need surge within him as he stood and wrapped Will in his arms and deepened the kiss. Maybe he hadn't beaten that heightened libido physiological response, after all. Will moaned into his mouth and he felt his desire grow. That moan could easily drown out all the other thoughts in his head if he let it. Pushing Will backwards, he maneuvered him toward the forward cabin where there was a bed.

This was the most dangerous game he could play. In order to gain Will's confidence, he would have to allow himself to give something back in return. Whether it was real or not, he had to make Will believe him, to trust him, and to confide in him. He really didn't think that would be a problem considering the way Will was opening himself up to him now. It wasn't only the fact that Will already had his own shirt off and was working on his belt as he continued to stumble backwards into the cabin, but that Will had been trusting enough to get into a stranger's car, to let that stranger take control, and to get on a stranger's boat even though he knew that stranger had a gun.

Will's legs hit the edge of the bed and he sat down and reached out for his belt. Jack stared down into eyes that were full of lust and anticipation as frantic hands worked to get his belt undone and pants undone. Will had the most amazingly blue eyes he'd seen. They were so open and trusting. He really couldn't stop staring at them. Didn't want to stop. From the way Will was also looking at him, he figured he felt the same way. Though, he wasn't sure what he saw in them. If the eyes were the windows into the soul, wouldn't Will see that he no longer had one?

Jack grabbed Will's hands to stop the frantic movements. Drawing Will's attention up to his face, he cupped his jaw as he rubbed his thumb over his stubbled chin and bottom lip. He leaned down and gave him a kiss to calm him down. "Just breathe," he told him before straightening back up.

Will let out a breath and gave a nod. This was the moment he knew would either set the game in motion or derail it completely. Will would either understand the level of trust he was offering him, and appreciate it, or he wouldn't and this would end with Will's dead body in the Pacific Ocean because he wouldn't have any other choice. Reaching down, Jack lifted his own shirt up over his body before letting it fall to the floor.

Will's eyes sobered as they flickered over his body. Jack didn't have to look to know what he saw. He remembered every time he'd been shot. He remembered every time he'd been stabbed or cut with a knife. All the times he had been tortured at the hands of his enemies. The melted flesh and shrapnel scars on his back from an explosion that was carried out by a terrorist group a few years ago in Lisbon. His body was a wreck, littered with painful reminders of the life he'd endured. He held his breath and waited.

Finally his hands reached out and touched his skin, causing him to close his eyes from the sensation. Lips, and a very talented tongue, kissed and licked over his skin as Will paid extra close attention to the scars. The kisses traveled up the length of his body until they reached his neck. Will sucked and bit at the spot that made him gasp as he wrapped his arms around him to pull him closer.

Pushing Will back onto the bed, Jack grabbed him behind his left knee and pulled it up and over his hip as he moved over Will's body. He felt Will's fingers in his hair and on the back of his neck. The moan that escaped Will's throat pushed him over the edge as he abandoned all his well-practiced control.

It felt good to finally let go; after all, it was his birthday.

TBC...