The bust was a bust, and Mike got his ass chewed by a horse-faced British girl. Utter failure aside, it was the most he'd laughed in months, at least when Mike was around. Mike wasn't exactly a big ball of sunshine these days.
Eric's worked missing persons cases before. Not very often, because that's more the FBI's gig, but he's done it; departmental resource loans, where the resources were a couple of guys in suits. Stuff like that. It's never pretty, especially for the people closest to the victim. It's dangerous to have family members participating in these cases, because they're loose cannons. X factors.
It's why Jack Bristow's in fucking prison, and why Mike would be there too if Eric hadn't pulled the stubborn sonofabitch back from the edge himself.
Not that he's done a fine, upstanding job of it. Mike still sucks all the joy out of any room he's in, even if it's not technically a room. Even if it's, just for example, a crowded subway car in Munich.
"Man, I know I'll never be a substitute for her, even if I do speak German. But won't you ever be okay without her?"
It's the question he's been dying to ask since two days after the funeral. Mike spent the first week in varying states of drunkenness, after which Eric convinced him not to quit the Agency entirely. Sometimes he thinks it might be better if he hadn't said a word.
The look Mike gives him is flat. Flatter than a pancake, flatter than Kansas, flatter than the long plane of his stomach that Eric should not be thinking about, like ever, but especially not at a time like this.
"I'm drowning," he says.
Eric knows, suddenly, that it's all the answer he's ever going to get.
"God dammit, Mike, get your ass back to LA! Or at least get it into the fucking country. You are in such deep shit, I'm gonna need a backhoe to get you out of it this time!"
The static on the line obscured part of Mike's answer. Yeah, well, there probably wasn't real good phone service in the middle of the Gobi Desert or wherever the fuck Mike was now. Eric was pretty sure he said, "Don't do me any fucking favors."
"Maybe I won't!" He hung up. He wished he'd been on a land line instead of his cell, because hanging up on someone was so much more satisfying that way.
Kendall had chewed him up and spit him back out this morning, after he'd found out that Eric was still in contact with Mike. Eric held his breath and prayed that no one, no one, knew that Mike had been in contact with Derevko. Eric himself didn't even know it, not for certain. But the creepy way that Mike had become convinced, between one bender and the next, that Sydney wasn't really dead -- that had to have come from somewhere. And judging from their continued animosity toward one another, it wasn't Jack Bristow.
Maybe the bitch thought she owed him something. Or, more likely, she just didn't care how many peoples' lives she ruined in the quest for whatever it was she wanted.
"This," he said distinctly, pulling a bottle of vodka from the freezer, "is fuckin' psycho."
"That's it," he mutters to himself as he struggles into a pair of pleather pants. "I have got to lose weight. For real this time."
He spares a moment of longing for the delicious carb-laden foods he's been enjoying since they arrived in Munich. The Germans really know how to eat. And drink. And do pretty much everything else.
The pants finally zip up, and he manages to stuff his piece down the back, where he can grab it quickly. A loose, short-sleeved button-up shirt hides that particular bulge.
He steps out of the bedroom and is suddenly face-to-face with Mike, coming out of the bathroom across the hall. Eric's stomach drops to his knees, and he wills his libido to stay in check, because Mike has put on fucking eyeliner, and the last thing he needs on this mission is an erection making his pants even tighter.
Later, he really, truly, almost kills Mike when the bastard flaunts his body, when he does this pretty-boy act that Eric knows, with a terrible certainty, he learned from Sydney. 'Cause he sure as hell never used to do that on missions before she came along.
The shock of Mike's lips on his, the full feeling of Mike's ass in his hand, distracts Eric momentarily from the mission. He struggles to roll with the proverbial punches. Thankfully, it distracts the bouncer just enough, too, and Eric snaps at Mike once they get inside. Because no matter how many secret fantasies begin that way, he won't be Mike's pipeline to further psychosis.
Besides which, Gerhard Schmidt is going down, and he's not about to let some misplaced, entirely inappropriate reactions to his best friend keep him from doing what needs to be done. Or so he keeps telling himself.
He makes a mental note to strike the phrase "going down" from his vocabulary.
Mike emerged from the review board office, looking nothing like he did when he went in. Going in, he looked tired and worn-down and strung out, like he'd finally given up hope, or at least acknowledged that the trail was colder than ice. He must have been in there for hours -- Eric thought he made four trips to the vending machines, but it could have been more.
When he came out, he still looked tired. His eyes were bruises. But there was a kind of spark there. Anger, or something subtler.
Eric had been studying the floor. He didn't know why he waited. Mike could have called him when he was done.
Mike shook his head. He ran a hand through his hair, making it even messier (and sexier) than usual.
Eric gritted his teeth and mentally cursed at his stupid subconscious. His not-nearly-sub-enough-conscious.
"Probation," Mike said as he exhaled.
Eric stood up. "What?" Okay, so he wasn't angry. He wasn't angry, right? That meant that he did good, right? "You go rogue for six months and you get probation?! I don't believe this."
"Hey, I thought you were on my side in this." Mike's eyes were. Yeah. Pretty sparkly with anger right now.
Jesus, he really had to stop this. Eric was angry, of course, and it was because he'd been hoping maybe Mike would get fired or demoted or something, and they could go drown their sorrows in a keg or so of beer. And Eric would make Mike come back to his place, and...
And Mike would never go for a guy even if he was drunk and depressed. The sick part of it was, Eric knew that even in his fantasies.
Yeah, all he wanted to do was watch him sleep. Jesus.
The anger left him, and he sighed. "No, yeah, you're right. I am on your side in this." He clutched Mike's shoulder briefly. It might have gotten away with being called a punch.
"Really," he said. "It's great."
"Yeah," Mike echoed, looking not at all like he thought it was great.
"So, I mean, you're back at work now. Right? Back with the Agency."
"Yeah." Mike looked down the hall. His forehead wrinkled furiously. "I guess I am."
He turned and walked away.
His limbs feel heavy when he wakes up. It's dark outside, and light from a streetlamp on the corner splashes against the far wall. His Indiglo watch tells him he's been asleep for a couple hours longer than his shift allowed.
Dammit, Mike needs to sleep whether he likes it or not, so Eric hauls his ass out of bed and stumbles into the main room, where the tech guys have networked their laptops and are playing a first-person shooter game.
Eric blinks. Mike's not around. "Hey," he says, "where's Agent Vaughn?"
The head tech guy -- he's named after a president, James Buchanon, or something -- tears himself away from the game long enough to shrug. "He went out."
James glances guiltily at his computer screen. "I totally don't know, man. Sorry." The look on his face clearly telegraphs that it's probably been hours.
"Shit." Eric turns and makes for the door; the immediate sound of computer keys clicking tells him that's all the more information he's going to get out of the tech guys. He mutters aspersions on Mike's character, mental health and parentage as he slams out of the flat.
Eric thunders down the tenement stairs. He doesn't bring a wallet or a jacket or even a set of keys. And he's a CIA agent for Christ's sake, and he damn well knows anything could happen, especially if Mike is out wandering around like a good little rogue, and Eric doesn't even have his gun.
He bursts out onto the street and stops short, not knowing which way to go. It's not like he's following a few seconds behind or anything, and he's not a damn hunting dog. But as Eric looks around wildly, the looming panic proves to be unnecessary. Mike's not two blocks away, wandering aimlessly down the street.
He calls out for him and then realizes that might be a really stupid thing to do, if Mike decides to run, so while Mike's still evidently processing the fact that someone knows his name, Eric has nearly caught up with him.
"Dammit, Mike, where've you been?" And wow, does he sound like a girl or what? He doesn't need to act like he's Mike's wife for Christ's sake.
Mike, predictably, explodes on him. Eric should have seen it coming. "None of your business, okay? Just stay the hell away from me. Maybe I've been selling all of our secrets to the fucking Germans!"
Which, actually, is kind of funny and he's probably going to get punched in the face, but he laughs and says, "Because the Germans totally want our secrets. Look, just come in and get some sleep, okay? You obviously need it." Carefully, like he does when he's herding a twitchy contact into just the right position, Eric starts leading Mike back toward the safe house. It occurs to him that Mike probably hasn't been wandering the two blocks around the tenement for the last five hours. "Jesus, you must have an infallible sense of direction to make it back. I'd need a GPS or something to find my way around here."
It seems to only now occur to Mike that he's come right back where he started from. He sighs heavily, and they stand there staring at one another for a couple minutes. Mike pinches the bridge of his nose, and he looks used up, burnt out. He's perpetually at the end of his rope these days, and Eric wishes he'd get some god damn therapy or something, but he's learned better than to bring it up.
Eric would be more than willing to help him, if only Mike would let him. But he can't get close enough, these days. Maybe once Mike would have let him offer some comfort, in a form that didn't come in a bottle. And Jesus, he's not even accepting booze these days. The thing is, even if Sydney is alive -- and the odds of that are, like, astronomical, what with the body and all -- if she were being held against her will, Mike surely would have found her by now. And if she's not, she's damn well good enough that nothing Mike does is going to root her out if she doesn't want to be found.
Eric's suddenly overcome with the urge to touch Mike. It's either an impulse to shake some sense into him, or to run his fingers along the line of his jaw. Either way, it's a really phenomenally bad impulse. He wonders, sometimes, if Mike ever notices that all of Eric's stories about girlfriends are in the past tense.
"I gotta stop drinking," Mike said, stumbling along with only Eric to hold him upright. The bar wasn't far from Mike's place, which was why Eric had chosen it.
The need to get really, amazingly drunk didn't come when Eric expected it; not right after Mike's meeting with the review board. But the fact that it didn't come when he was expecting it didn't mean that it wasn't looming on the horizon.
Mike had approached Eric's desk at the end of the day; it was Friday, the end of his first week back at work. He'd been working twelve hour days at least, because Mike can't do things by halves anymore, apparently. He quietly suggested they go get a beer. Something in his voice made Eric think he was looking for a lot more than just one beer.
They hadn't quite progressed to the "picking up chicks" stage of recovery, for which Eric had never been more grateful. For one, he figured Mike would just make an ass of himself. For another, Eric had more interest in actual game fowl than in picking up chicks.
So Mike had shot dirty glances at anything with breasts all night long. And then when it came time to put Mike to bed, Eric propped him up and hunted through his pants pockets for the keys. He felt like a pervert.
"Maybe you should just stop drinking so much," Eric suggested.
Eric hadn't had quite enough beer to say it out loud, but he longed to reply, "I didn't know you were into that sort of thing."
Then Mike turned to him, practically in his arms, for Christ's sake, and looked at him for so long that Eric thought maybe he had said that out loud after all. For a minute Mike looked like he might be considering doing something really stupid, like leaning in and kissing Eric with lots of tongue.
Then he snatched his keys and practically fell through the open door, slamming it behind him.
The door didn't quite hit Eric in the face when it shut, but it might as well have.
The whole fucking plane ride is an exercise in frustration. Even if they do have really fast planes, the flight from Los Angeles to Munich is not short. And Mike is doing his level best to act like the biggest bastard in the universe.
Eric offers to grab him a beer and he flatly refuses it. He's not even pretending to read a book, he's just sitting, deliberately facing away from Eric, staring into space. He practically has "Angsting over Sydney Bristow" written on his forehead.
Eric gets a beer himself to deal with the massive waves of impending psychosis radiating off of Mike.
Later, nothing's changed. Eric offers Mike a tiny bottle of gin, more out of desperation for a little conversation than anything else. Mike replies by dropping his head onto his tray table. When Eric teases him that the seats fully recline, Mike tells him to fuck off and die. Which isn't the conversation he was looking for, but he supposes it's better than nothing.
Nothing had changed, on the surface, but everything had, underneath. He could only keep this up for so long. Half of his job consisted of babysitting Mike, and all of his free time for the last six months was more of the same. Work, ironically, was better than ever. He'd seen more field time lately than in his previous five years combined, which considering two of their best agents were more or less indisposed, wasn't much of a surprise. It helped that he'd finally worked through some crap left over from getting shot in the neck by, oh yeah, his coworker's mother.
What didn't seem to penetrate Mike's thick skull was that he wasn't the only one who'd been pulled into the Bristow/Derevko maelstrom of death and irony. The difference was whether you let yourself be sucked down by it. Eric had barely come to terms with the fact that he was attracted to Mike when it became clear that if he knew what was good for him, he'd run like hell.
He'd never really known what was good for him.
Dixon called them in for a meeting, and as a photo of Gerhard Schmidt flashed on the screen, Eric spared a thought for his saving grace: unlike some people of his acquaintance, he just might know when to quit.