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15 December 2009 @ 07:28 am
Fic: Illusions, Alias Syd/Sark (Illusions part 1)  
Apparently all of the old Alias fic sites are gone, and so is my old fic site. Huh.

It's been requested I upload all of my old fic somewhere, and here seems to be my default place at the moment. If this is new to some of you, just realize I wrote it back in 2003, when S2 of Alias was being aired. :)

Fic: Illusions
Author: Rhien Elleth
Pairing: Syd/Sark
Rating: M
Words: 8831


Los Angeles, California

In her dreams, she always saw his face clearly, clean shaven and handsome, and whole, his blue eyes focused on her with that ever present, underlying intensity. But that was a lie. At the end, his features had been indistinct, his flesh mangled beyond recognition by the things inflicted upon it. Battered, torn, cut, burned. But it wasn't the horrific mask of his death that haunted her nights, even though that image was etched indelibly into her memory; instead, she dreamed of him vibrantly alive, and woke up weeping for what they'd lost.

She'd never told him how she felt. The words had always hung unspoken between them, recognized but never openly acknowledged. When this is over...he used to say, and she would nod and smile, and think about that nebulous time with heart pounding anticipation. When this over, we'll go somewhere, and just be together.

Except now, they never would.

* * *


In those first months after his death, she continued moving through her life like an automaton, mechanically, dutifully, silently. She graciously accepted the condolences of friends, colleagues, and her father, who, strangely, understood more than any of the others what she mourned. She continued her work with the CIA, with SD-6. She attended the mandatory grief counseling, but sat nearly silent through each of the sessions, unwilling and unable to talk about how she felt. They assigned her a new handler, of course, and business continued as usual, almost.

Sloane noticed the difference right away, but her father already had an excuse prepared. He was good at that, coming up with excuses for her. It’s been a stressful year, a stressful three years. Sydney hasn’t taken much time for herself, away from the job, away from the tragedies that have entered her life. First Danny, then Noah, then Emily, and Will -- we can’t forget Will.

Gradually, she realized that she had to do something. She needed to take control, to find some path out of the listless existence her life had become. She needed closure.

The vacation was actually Sloane’s suggestion. He called her into his office one afternoon, and assumed that concerned, paternal expression she so abhorred. He offered her a chair, and then sat on his desk right in front of her. He leaned down and took one of her hands in both of his. His touch repulsed her, but she hid it behind a small smile.

“Sydney,” he said quietly. “I think it’s time you took a vacation. No,” he held up a hand, “don’t argue with me. I know you don’t think you need one, but I disagree.” He smiled. “Everyone needs a break, including people like you and me, even though we don’t like to admit it. Take a break. Get away. Don’t think about work for a few weeks.”

“Weeks?” she asked, incredulous that he would be so generous; he’d always guarded her time jealously. Back when she’d attended school, he’d argued and reprimanded her for having a lack of priorities.

“I know it sounds like a long time, Sydney, but I want you gone for one month. Thirty days. I might be overcompensating, but I want you to come back rejuvenated and ready to work. Right now, your ability to handle stress is…deficient, and I hate to say it, but it’s beginning to affect your job performance.”

She stiffened, despite herself. She took pride in what she did. SD-6 didn’t know her missions for them were actually covert work for the CIA, and that was in part because she performed them so well. Sloane thought every move she made was at his behest, and in his eyes she was a top agent. At least, she had been.

He patted her hand, correctly interpreting her suddenly rigid back and tense jawline.

“Sydney, Sydney -- I don’t mean that as a criticism. You just need some time away, that’s all. I’m making this decision because you’re such a good field agent. I’ve already spoken to Jack, and he agrees with me. So does Dixon. Now, don’t worry. We’ll manage without you, somehow. Just try to relax and have a good time.”

And as easily as that, she’d been politely forced out of the office. She made one abortive attempt to argue the matter with her father. Who’s going to perform counter missions while I’m gone, Dad? But he’d anticipated her reaction. He, Jack Bristow, was going to partner Dixon in the field during her absence. He’d cleared it with both Sloane and the CIA, which meant he’d managed to get her a forced leave from that job, as well.

He smiled when he told her, “It was actually the psychiatrist’s recommendation, not mine.”

With nothing more to say, she left, went home, packed a bag, and sat in the darkness for a long time, staring at it. Where could she go? Where did she want to go? Everywhere she’d been, everywhere she could think of, were all places Vaughn had once suggested they revisit together when all of this was over…

But then, as if thinking of him had triggered it, she suddenly knew exactly where to go. She called the airport, reserved her ticket, and ordered a cab. She made only one stop on her way out of town, a quick meet with Weiss, who came only after she threatened to break into the files and get the information herself, whether or not she got caught and accused of treason. By the time she was on the plane to Italy, she felt almost alive again. Vital, filled with a purpose. It burned inside of her like a flame relit from long smoldering coals, and she stoked it by reading the files Weiss had reluctantly passed along.

By the time the plane landed, she was more than ready for her vacation.

Rome, Italy

January in Rome was chilly, and low on tourism. As a result, the usually popular Piazza Navona was sparsely populated. Sleepy shopkeepers shuffled about their post-Christmas business with an air of lethargy. Those with business in the piazza, or near it, walked briskly in the cool morning breeze, while the few tourists strolled lazily from one end to the other, stopping to snap photos of the various famous fountains, or to barter over trinkets.

The cell phone rang at precisely eleven o’clock, and was answered by a perfectly manicured hand, attached to an arm decorated with a Rolex and garbed in Armani.

“Yes?” he asked quietly, keeping two particular “tourists” in his field of vision at all times. He sat at one of the tables in front of a café, sipping a glass of seltzer water with a twist of lemon, because he had to be drinking or eating something to make his presence unremarkable, and it was rather too early in the day to enjoy a glass of wine. The two men he watched had paused before the piazza’s most famous fountain, la Fontana dei Fiumi. But they didn’t seem as awestruck by Bernini’s masterpiece as they ought to have been, for tourists.

“You are ready?” asked the voice on the other end of the line. Khasinau asked as a matter of form, not because he really doubted the answer.

“Of course,” said Sark easily. He spoke in Italian and took a sip of water, just to keep up the illusion of the young business man stopping for a midmorning break amidst the beauty of Rome. “I’ll be dealing with them directly.”

“Good. It is best to get our message across now, and clearly. It must be swift, and obvious. This is not a time for subtlety.” Khasinau only repeated everything Sark already knew, but the younger man listened patiently.

He would have liked to wait, and deal with this after nightfall, when the people strolling by were not so alert, and things were not so illuminated by the sun. But that would not do. Khasinau wanted boldness. He wanted their rivals to be properly shocked, properly chastised for their foolish interferences. Besides, he had another errand to accomplish tonight, after dark. Another message to send.

“Right,” he said, his tone clipped and professional. “I’ll call you when it’s done.”

His answer was the soft click of the phone hanging up, and he flipped the cell phone closed before sliding it back inside his jacket pocket. He waited a moment, watching the two men stand nervously by the fountain, trying to look as if they were tourists reading from A Visitor’s Walking Guide to Rome, which one of them held open. They weren’t very good at illusion. One of the two kept glancing around expectantly, while the other continually dropped his hand to finger the gun he obviously had holstered beneath his jacket. Stupid, thought Sark contemptuously. It was hard to believe that these two men had actually interfered with Khasinau’s business, that they’d mucked up not just the Man’s operations, but also the Alliance’s business, and the American CIA. Not alone, of course. They’d had help, and guidance far superior to their own meager capabilities. Their deaths would hardly make a ripple in the pool of players involved in this game, and yet would still send a message loud and clear to those who controlled them: get out while you can, before we come after you.

For just a moment, Sark considered holding off, waiting to see who they were expecting to meet. But his curiosity was short lived, buried by the irritation and impatience he felt at having to deal with them at all. He was bored with the morning, and more than ready to move on to other things. Besides, whoever they were meeting didn’t really matter. He took one last sip of water, and as he set the glass down, very deliberately reached up with his other hand and smoothed his fingers down the length of his silk tie.

Two shots rang out, so close together that the sound of the high caliber rounds being fired melded into one echoing report. Both men dropped, felled by the sniper who’d patiently awaited Sark’s signal for half the morning. Blood sprayed the famous fountain, droplets raining into the water pooled at its base, and turning it slightly pink. By the time the bodies had finished falling, Sark was already up and gone, his long strides carrying him quickly down the street, and past the shopkeepers and tourists just now beginning to realize that something was wrong. He kept his pace casual, his eyes on the financial papers he held before him, as if so engrossed as to be unaware of his surroundings.

Later, few witnesses remembered him, and those who did never connected him to the two murdered men.

Grand Hotel Plaza, Rome

Sydney never would have chosen the prestigious accommodations of the Grand Hotel Plaza on her own. She never could have afforded the room at summer rates, but January was slow, and even a five star hotel tried its best to lure tourism with special deals. She checked in using her usual travel alias, mostly out of habit, and a little out of paranoia. Even on “vacation”, she couldn’t bring herself to use her real name. It seemed too out in the open, too vulnerable. So Kate Jones checked into the Plaza at roughly three in the afternoon, after a long, but informative flight from L.A. She’d practically memorized the file taken from Weiss. She knew the names, at least, by heart. Five of them. One, the presumed orchestrator of the little group, was staying here, or had been two days ago.

She sat in the hotel’s restaurant briefly, acquainting herself with faces, and practicing her Italian on the wait staff. Since she was traveling as an American, they complimented her on her surprisingly flawless accent. Sydney smiled in return.

“Il ringrazia lei,” she said to the rather charmingly handsome young waiter. Thank-you. She asked him for a paper to read, and he obliged her with an evening edition. She was just taking a sip of the red wine her server had recommended – she’d justified the indulgence to herself by the simple reminder that she was on vacation – when the front page article, complete with color photos, caught her eye. She nearly choked.

Blood in the Streets of the Piazza Navona
Two men shot to death at la Fontana dei Fiumi


The names of the men matched two of the names in her file. Two of the men responsible for Vaughn’s death were now dead, murdered. And not by her. She wasn’t sure, for a moment, whether she was alarmed, or furious. She felt as though someone had stolen her right to vengeance.

She read the article twice, carefully, but the police seemed baffled. The men were not native, but tourists visiting the piazza that morning. They’d been killed by a sniper, with single shots each. Professional, Sydney thought. Quick, neat, probably untraceable. She folded the paper and stuffed it into her purse, suddenly filled with an urgency to be up, investigating the man presumably staying here. The hotel staff wouldn’t confirm his presence as a guest, but Sydney knew the room number from the file. If she could help it, she was damn well going to make sure that no one else beat her to him.

An hour later, she had dropped off most of her belongings in her room, changed from the tailored business suit and heels into a snug, dark gray body suit that would blend well with the hotel’s stone surface, and equipped herself with climbing cable and the compact Beretta 9mm acquired directly after landing, from one of the CIA’s local caches. They’d miss it, but she planned to dispose of the incriminating thing at sea as soon as she was finished with it.

She used the hotel’s famous terraces for her purpose. She’d requested her specific room for the simple reason that it was positioned two terraces away from Viktor Rastus. She didn’t allow herself to think much as she prepared. If she thought too much about what she was doing, she might break down, fail to accomplish her goal, and that could not be allowed. She needed to do this; needed so desperately to free herself from Vaughn’s ghost. She still saw his face nearly every time she closed her eyes, still woke up tasting the salt of tears. She needed absolution.

* * *

Sark knew Viktor Rastus was drunk, because he’d been watching him in the bar for the last two hours, drinking like the proverbial fish. For himself, Sark nursed two glasses of Bordeaux from a bottle priced at over seven hundred dollars, and considered his time well enjoyed, if not well spent. While he watched Rastus finally stumble away to his room, he asked his server to cork the bottle and keep it behind the counter to pick up later. No sense letting so fine a vintage go to waste.

Then he stood up, neatly adjusted his suit, and followed. He joined the weaving, drunken man on the same elevator, watching as he swayed dangerously on his feet. With a scowl, Sark hoped the man wasn’t going to vomit; the stench would be irritating, and the mess displeasing. He followed at a trailing distance as Rastus made his slow, ponderous way down the corridor to his room, waiting until the door clicked softly shut, and counting silently to ten before bending to pick the lock. This was really too easy; almost easier, in fact, than the shooting in the piazza. If he was fortuitous, the unfortunate man would be passed out on his bed by now. If not, well, the rooms of this pricey hotel were soundproofed for the convenience of the guests – even the windows, unless they were open. Sark made a mental note to check that upon entering.

But as he eased open the door, he got the shock of his life.

* * *

Sydney waited in the gray-on-gray shadows of the darkened room, her figure obscured by the fall of curtains beside the terrace doors. She’d already made a quick search of Rastus’ belongings, but gained little enough in the effort. Just the usual travel kit, clothes, and an unusually large roll of money in various currency. She wondered if he knew, yet, about his murdered colleagues.

She waited in the dark, and tried not to see Vaughn’s face, or hear his voice. She didn’t want to think about what he’d say to her at this moment. She thought maybe of everyone she knew, her father would understand. There was a coldness to Jack Bristow at times, that chilled her.

When she heard the muffled fumbling at the door latch, she took out her Beretta, and calmly waited. Viktor Rastus stumbled inside, barely managing not to trip on the plush entry rug, or his own feet, and almost leaving the door wide open to the hallway before suddenly remembering to shut it. He was muttering to himself in Italian. Apparently, he did know about the death of his friends, and he blamed someone named Mariknikauff for their deaths. Interesting. Sydney filed the name away for later use, and stepped out of hiding. She felt filled with a kind of empty resolve as she lifted the gun, sighted down the barrel. She wondered if, after this, she would start to feel again. If the bitter numbness would go away.

“Viktor Rastus,” she heard her voice say, with that cold flatness she assumed sometimes.

“Hunh…?” he managed to grunt, blinking at her through bleary eyes as he stood swaying in the center of the room. “Who – who are you? What are you doing in my room?” His eyes seemed to finally focus on the gun. “You’ve come to kill me?” A dry laugh escaped him, and he nearly fell, catching himself on the edge of the king size bed. “Please,” he said with a lopsided shrug, “just make it quick.”

Sydney’s vision seemed to narrow in focus, until all she could see was this pathetic, slightly overweight man, reeking of gin and sweat as he half stood, drunkenly indifferent, at the end of her gun. Her lips thinned. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He should have stood some kind of chance, had some flash of warning to attempt to defend himself. He shouldn’t, above all, have welcomed her presence, and the death she carried with her. But even realizing his helplessness, she couldn’t drench up an attack of conscience. She remembered too well the burns on Michael Vaughn’s face and body, and the notation in this man’s file for his skills in interrogation. Her hands remained steady.

“You should never have tortured and killed Michael Vaughn,” she said firmly. “He should never have died like that.”

Rastus laughed again, and this time it carried a cruel edge.

“All men die, Agent Bristow.” She flinched at his use of her name, and wondered suddenly how he’d recognized her, how he knew her, and when he’d realized who she was. She was reasonably sure she’d never seen him before in her life. “The means matter not at all, for in the end we are all the same,” he continued, sounding remarkably sober for a man who couldn’t properly stand.

He spread his hands in unspoken invitation. Her arms were beginning to tremble from holding the gun. It wasn’t the most natural position, and no matter how light the weapon, or how in shape she was, she wouldn’t be able to maintain it forever. Yet, she could almost hear Vaughn’s voice in her head. You do this, Syd, and you cross a line you can never back away from. You’re murdering an unarmed man.

She carefully tried to block the voice out, ignored it when she failed. She never blinked. When she spoke, her voice was a broken whisper. “I’m doing this for you.”

And she fired the gun. Once. Twice. Three times, into the body of Viktor Rastus.

* * *

What the hell is Sydney Bristow doing here?

That was Sark’s first thought as he moved soundlessly into the room, careful to keep his movements slow, and his body pressed to the wall, hoping not to catch her attention. He could have left, could have retreated as soon as he’d seen her lithe, gray clad figure standing in the room with a silenced Beretta pointed at Viktor Rastus. But she was staring at him with such an empty expression, such cold deliberation in her green eyes, that Sark was completely nonplussed.

What the hell is going on?

He listened to their conversation, heard the name ‘Michael Vaughn’, and thought ah-ha. He knew about the CIA agent’s death, of course, and he remembered quite clearly Sydney’s concern for the young man’s well being that night when she’d first met Irina, two years earlier. Of course, he thought, recognizing the look to her now. The numbness of loss, the emptiness that came after experiencing too much, more than the mind could bear. He remembered the feeling all too well. That was the trouble with forming emotional attachments. Sark had learned early on in his career to avoid them. Sydney should have kept things professional with her CIA handler, and if she’d really felt the need, she should have fucked him and moved on, instead of forming an emotional bond she couldn’t afford. Live and learn, he thought, and watched Sydney struggle with herself.

He recognized the moment, the flash of something in her eyes that told him she was finally there, on the edge of the precipice, looking over into the abyss. If she killed Viktor, she’d be forever changed by it, forever damaged in a way that could never be healed. Sark didn’t make a conscious decision to intervene. Later, he’d never be sure what made him do it. Some misguided attempt to protect the last vestiges of innocence in another human soul? He snorted. Hardly.

He drew his Sig Sauer and fired an instant before Sydney. His own bullet penetrated Viktor Rastus’ brain seconds before Sydney’s three rounds hit, but he wasn’t sure that mattered. In her own mind, she’d made the decision to kill an unarmed, helpless man.

A second later, she was swinging the barrel of her Beretta toward him, dropping down to one knee as she did so. He flung himself down to the floor on the other side of the bed just as she fired, the hollowpoint shells raising clouds of feathers into the air as they struck the plush, down comforter above him. Stupid fucking woman, he thought viciously. Didn’t she realize what he’d just done for her?

“Sark!” she yelled across the roomful of floating feathers. “Damn you, he was mine! What the hell are you doing here? This isn’t a Rambaldi thing; this isn’t even an SD-6 thing. This is my goddamn, first-time-in-three-fucking-years vacation!”

She’s here on bloody holiday? He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t imagine the young Ms. Bristow actually choosing to spend her free time cold bloodedly killing a man; it just didn’t seem to fit, or hadn’t until a few moments ago. Well, he damn well wasn’t going to let her shoot him. How many rounds had she fired already? Three into Viktor, another three into the bed, and the 9000S model had a ten, maybe twelve round capacity. Shit.

He knew, somehow, the moment she knelt down to fire under the bed. Maybe he heard something, glimpsed some movement beneath the trailing bed linens on the other side. Whatever it was, he flung himself up and over the mattress right before another three round burst struck where he’d been. Nine. She’s got somewhere from one to three rounds left. Enough to kill. He didn’t stop, but catapulted himself over the other side, rolling onto his feet just as Sydney rose up from the floor, swinging the Beretta up with her. He could have shot her, but he didn’t. Instead, he threw himself forward, colliding with her smaller frame with enough force to hurt, enough force to literally throw her off her feet and to the floor, her gun hand pinned by his stronger grip. The cold barrel of his Sig pressed warningly against her brow.

He was breathing heavily, both from the rush of adrenaline and the exertion of holding her struggling body pinned beneath him. It irritated him. He pressed the barrel more firmly into her skull, had the pleasure of watching her wince, and finally go still.

“Drop. The. Gun.” He made each word separate and distinct, to make sure she understood. His eyes held the same cold lack of emotion hers had possessed as she’d looked at Viktor Rastus. She recognized the look, he could see it in her eyes, and reluctantly, her fingers opened, relinquishing her weapon. He smiled, a brief flash of white teeth, there and then gone again. “Thank-you.”

He reached out and picked it up, went to slide it into a pocket of his suit, and realized at that moment that his Armani was likely ruined. Feathers and blood stains clung to his back, vestiges of his roll across the bed. He scowled. Damn it to hell.

“You tried to kill me.” Even to him, the words sounded almost petulantly accusing. “And after I did you a favor.”

“A favor?” Her eyes widened with incredulity. “Is that what you call it? I call it butting in where you’re not wanted.” She shrugged, a quick movement of her shoulders that abruptly, inexplicably, made him aware of every inch of the athletic, lithe body pressed beneath him. “Besides,” she continued coolly, “I recall several occasions when you’ve tried to kill me, Mr. Sark.”

He leaned forward deliberately, until he was close enough to feel her breath on his skin, to watch his tickle the hair at the nape of her neck as he bent over her ear. He whispered, his tone deliberately sensual, his lips close enough to brush the sensitive skin of her throat as he spoke, making her shiver. “If I’d ever really tried to kill you, Sydney,” he paused, listened to her breathing, pleased that it wasn’t quite regular, “you’d be dead.”

She was suddenly struggling to free herself again, pushing ineffectually at him with her hands. “Get off me, Sark!”

He did, but only because the feel of her wriggling against him was beginning to make him respond in an uncomfortably noticeable fashion. He’d never really considered the charming Ms. Bristow in that light before, and he couldn’t honestly say the idea displeased him. But he pointed both guns at her, all the same.

“I think perhaps we should leave the unfortunate Mr. Rastus alone, don’t you?” He raised an eyebrow. Sydney rose slowly, carefully, to her feet, keeping her hands visible and her posture non threatening as she watched him. “A bit morbid, wouldn’t you say, to keep sharing a room with a dead man?”

Her eyes flicked behind him, to the fallen, still form of Viktor Rastus, and Sark saw the first shudder ripple through her. She closed her eyes, lifting a hand to her suddenly pale face. Yes, the shock was definitely setting in. He frowned at her, making his tone deliberately menacing, heavily laden with contempt.

“You’re not going to be sick, are you? Come, come, Sydney. I’d expected better from you.” If she was sick here, it would be a bitch to clean up the mess. Police these days could find damning evidence with shockingly minuscule things. He gave his wrist a small flick, gesturing toward the door. “I think it best if we leave by the front, retire to somewhere a bit more private.” Before you vomit all over the body. But he didn’t add that. She nodded, her eyes still closed, and he could see her throat working as she swallowed. Don’t breath through your nose, sweetie, he thought, the smell will only make it worse.

Finally, she started toward the door, her legs a bit unsteady for the first step or so. He pocketed his own gun as she passed him, and hooked his arm around her, keeping her Beretta hidden by the fall of his wrinkled, thousand dollar jacket as it pressed against her side. She didn’t react to the move, but continued with him to the door, cracked it open, and then nodded slightly to indicate an empty hallway outside. They slipped out the door together, letting it fall quietly closed behind them. Sark stopped her. He pulled out a silk handkerchief and wiped down the door latch, the only thing he’d touched, then nudged Sydney forward again. He wasn’t the least bit surprised when she stopped in front of a room only two doors down. She went through the motions of unlocking it mechanically.

“Went in by the terrace, did you?” he asked, reasonably sure of that fact. She didn’t reply.

The moment her door was open, she bolted for the bathroom. Sark sighed. He gave the room a cursory sweep as he listened to her retch for a man who had, after all, deserved to die. He made sure she had no other guns hidden, then removed the clip from her Beretta and ejected the last round from the chamber. Ten rounds, then, he noted automatically. Good to know. He heard the water running in the bathroom, glimpsed her bent over the sink with a toothbrush, her back still to him, and deposited the empty gun on her night stand. He removed his stone gray jacket to look over the damage, and grimaced.

“Why are you still here, Sark?” she asked wearily from the bathroom doorway. She was holding onto the door jam like she might fall over if she let go, her face unnaturally pale. He frowned at her.

“You owe me a new suit,” he said simply, and folding the jacket over the back of a chair, crossed to the mini bar.

Sydney straightened, glaring at him. Good, he thought with a slight smile, nothing like a good row to get your strength back. It occurred to him, briefly, that Sydney was right; he should just leave, report the anomaly of her presence to Khasinau, and go back to his own job. But he didn’t want to quite yet, so he didn’t.

“You are not having a drink!” Sydney hissed, as if someone might overhear them. He popped the cap off a bottle of Scotch, poured some into a glass tumbler.

“It isn’t for me,” he said seriously, and thrust the glass toward her. “Drink it. You’ll feel better.”

She stared at his hand like he was holding a poisonous snake. He let out an exasperated breath.

“What was it I said to you?” he asked, reaching out with his other hand, and tugging hers forward, around the glass. She resisted, but only weakly. When he let go, she pulled the double shot of Scotch close to her chest, not yet drinking. “Ah, yes.” He looked at her, drilled her with his eyes. “If I’d wanted to kill you, you’d be dead, Ms. Bristow. So just drink the bloody Scotch.”

She returned his stare for a moment, then slowly raised the glass to her lips, and took a sip. She choked a bit on the fiery liquid as it went down, and he rolled his eyes.

“Don’t even know how to drink, do you? Word of advice: don’t sip it, swallow as much as you can in one go. This is medicinal more than anything, and the quicker you get it into your system, the steadier you’ll feel.”

She gave a short, humorless laugh.

“Isn’t that kind of paradoxal? Alcohol doesn’t make anyone feel steadier.”

He shrugged. “It does if you’ve just killed someone, and you’re feeling the after affects. Trust me.”

He turned his back to her, walking over to her terrace doors to stare out at the panoramic view of Rome by night. The Plaza had one of the best views in the city. He could just make out the statuesque presence of the Parthanon.

He was aware of her moving behind him, coming to sit gingerly on the edge of a chair just within his field of vision, but still far enough away for the illusion of safety. He wanted to smile. The glass, he noticed, was half empty.

“And do you feel unsteady, Mr. Sark, after killing someone?” she asked in a quiet voice. He could tell that the question had never occurred to her before. God forbid something should humanize him in her eyes. He shrugged.

“No. Not in a long, long time.” He cast a glance sideways toward her. “But I remember the feeling of the first time well enough.”

She bristled slightly. “I’ve killed before; this was hardly my first time.”

He turned and faced her, leaning against the wall with his arms folded before him. He arched a single brow. “First time killing an unarmed man, wasn’t it? First time committing out and out murder?”

She gave a jerk at his words, as if he’d struck her. The Scotch left in her glass sloshed against the sides. She stared for a long moment, then dropped her eyes, unable to meet his gaze. She didn’t answer right away, but Sark was patient. He waited.

“He killed Vaughn,” she said finally, as if that explained everything. “I can’t…I haven’t been able to sleep at night, since it happened. I close my eyes, and I see him…and I break a bit more inside, like cracks forming in glass, or ice, getting longer and wider each time. I’m afraid that one of these nights…I’ll just fly apart.” She brought a trembling hand up to her mouth – it was more than she’d told any of the counselors. She swallowed the rest of the Scotch quickly, setting the glass aside.

“Love’s a tricky business,” Sark said quietly. “It’s like death in a lot of ways.” Her eyes flew to his face, wide and startled, and he laughed. “What, you disagree? Or are you just shocked to think of me, in love?” He shook his head. “It happens to us all, Ms. Bristow. It’s a common mistake early on in the game, and one a lot of us don’t survive.” His eyes were far away, now, turned inward to something she couldn’t see. “It sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it, waits like some insidious poison, released into your system at the worst possible moment -- when everything you fight for is on the line, and you have to choose between what you love, and what is necessary.”

Sydney wanted to ask him what choice he’d made, but she was very much afraid she already knew the answer. That was the difference, she thought, between them. She would have chosen love over everything… Some of her thoughts must have shown on her face, for suddenly he was laughing at her derisively.

“Don’t give me that holier-than-thou line of bullshit, Bristow. If your precious Vaughn were still alive, and you had to make the choice between saving him, and saving the very foundation of your beloved country, if the future of every child in your United States hung in the balance, I know what choice you’d make.” He paused. “And so do you.”

She looked away, again unable to meet his gaze. “Damn you, Sark,” she whispered. “Just leave! Get out and leave me alone!” Before I humiliate myself and start crying in front of you. Tears were already leaking out of the corners of her eyes.

She was startled a few moments later, when she felt his hand brush lightly over her hair. “Sydney…” He hesitated. “…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” She didn’t look up, and he knelt beside her chair, searching her face with his eyes. “I remember well enough what it felt like to lose everything, or to think you have. I learned the lesson a lot younger than you. I shouldn’t be cruel just because you’re only learning it, now.”

She shook her head, knowing that if she tried to speak, she’d start crying in earnest. His hands closed over her arms, pulling her in for an awkward sort of embrace, and she went rigid. Sark was definitely not her first thought when it came to comfort. His arms went around her, ignoring the stiffness of her body, and his fingers started rubbing lightly up and down her back. He didn’t say anything. Sydney felt tears sliding silently down her cheeks. Her body trembled with controlled sobs. She felt as if the glass inside had finally shattered. She was too weak to stop it, to pull herself together and order him out again. And if felt good, if only for a moment, to have someone to cling to.

Sark remained silent as Sydney cried. He held her like he would a child, cradled against his chest, her tears ruining his silk shirt and tie. What’s another few hundred, he thought with a bit of irony, when the suit’s already a lost cause? He kept up the soothing stroke of fingers along her back, briefly considered getting her another drink. But he thought it might be too late for that, now. He stayed still and silent when her sobs finally eased, and at last stopped. She remained where she was, her head against his shoulder, one of her hands curled against his chest. Sark felt the sudden need to speak, to say something, anything, to break up the uncomfortable intimacy of the moment.

“Well,” he managed finally, “all done?” He felt her nod and lift her head, and his arms fell away from her. He stayed where he was, kneeling at eye level beside her chair. Her eyes flicked toward his face, and she wiped the vestiges of her tears away with the silk handkerchief he wordlessly handed her. She opened her mouth to speak, then stopped, biting her lip uncertainly.

“What?” he asked, curiosity piqued.

“I--I just wanted to know…does it ever go away? The numbness?” She looked down again, twisting the bit of cloth she held into a knot. “I haven’t…I can’t…seem to feel…anything, anymore.”

He frowned, gestured. “What about this? I’d call that some pretty intense feeling.”

She shook her head. “That’s different; that’s pain. I’ve been living with pain since he died. But I can’t feel…anything else. It isn’t like when Danny died.”

Who was Danny? But he didn’t ask.

“After Danny, I felt angry. Rage was the force that drove me, that kept me moving, kept me thinking. This is different…so empty. Numb, like something’s cushioning me from feeling anything. Every once in awhile, I get a glimpse of emotion, a glimmer of anger, or sorrow, or a hint of laughter at someone’s joke. But it’s not the same thing. It’s like a…a shadow of emotion, not real at all.”

She’d even had sex, once, with a guy she’d met in a bar, but that had been numb, too. Numb and mechanical, and meaningless. But she wasn’t going to tell Sark that. For just a moment, earlier, when he’d held her pinned to the floor, she’d felt something stir within her, something deep and shuddering, and it frightened her. She’d felt it again in the aftermath of her tears. It had uncurled in her gut, liquid and hot, with every brush of his fingers along her back.

Her hands were white knuckled around the handkerchief, now. “I just want to feel something again. I thought I would, after…”

She couldn’t finish, but Sark knew exactly what she meant. “After you killed Viktor?” he asked quietly. She nodded. He shook his head, sighing. “I don’t have any easy answers for you, Sydney. You’ve gone to a place now that only a few of us step across to, and stay sane.” He hesitated, then shrugged. “Maybe you should ask your father about it – he’s been where you are right now, and worse places.”

She looked up, not really surprised. She’d always sensed something cold within her father, something her mother had killed a long time back. She nodded, standing on slightly shaky legs. She hesitated, then offered him his mangled handkerchief.

“This has been…interesting,” she said with a twist of lips that might have been a smile. “I almost feel like I should thank you.”

He shrugged it off, slightly irritated with himself for taking it this far, for staying this long, and revealing so much of himself to a woman who was, after all, an enemy. He reached out and took the scrap of silk from her fingers, brushing them with his as he did so, and felt her tremble. He frowned. Was she really still afraid of him? Intrigued, he took a step toward her, and Sydney immediately stumbled back, her eyes widening.

“What’s wrong, Sydney?” he asked, cocking his head in puzzlement. “Haven’t I been a good boy? Haven’t threatened you at all, have I? Been a good ear, a strong shoulder. Why are you frightened?”

“It’s not that,” she said, attempting to cover her momentary lapse with a nonchalant shrug of shoulders. “I probably should be, but I’m not – exactly – afraid of you, Sark. I’m just…overwrought by everything.”

His eyes narrowed, and he took another deliberate step toward her. She had to visibly steel herself not to back away.

“No…” he said slowly, “I don’t think so. You were just saying how numb you feel, not how overwrought you are. And if you aren’t afraid of me, Sydney,” he took another step closer, almost touching, and he could see the trembling now, along her jaw, in her hands, “what – exactly – are you?”

“N-nothing. Just leave.” Her eyes stared up at him with a kind of plea in their depths. “Please.”

Instead, he lifted a hand and touched her cheek with his thumb, a barely felt brush of flesh that made her shudder and close her eyes, and he suddenly understood. It was a common human response to death, after all, even amongst those who didn’t deal in it for a living. He’d felt it himself, immediately after she’d nearly filled him full of bullets, but he’d become adept at suppressing his body’s responses when he wished to. He smiled, a touch cruelly, because he could well imagine what she was thinking. Of all the times, of all the men for her body to choose, why did it have to be him? Why, indeed?

It was wicked, but he couldn’t help himself. It was an interesting situation, an opportunity not likely to be repeated. He slid his hand along her cheek, threading his fingers through her hair, and she immediately tried to pull away. He tightened his grip, his other hand catching her arm and pulling her against him. He could feel her heart beating furiously beneath her breast. Her breathing came harder, faster than normal.

“No,” she said, trying to sound firm, but the word came out thin and breathy. He smiled.

“Yes,” he said simply, and kissed her.

He didn’t try to be gentle, but he wasn’t bruising, either. He took her mouth in a way that demanded a response, his tongue sliding over her lips, his teeth nipping at her lightly, until she was suddenly filling her hands with fistfuls of his shirt and returning the kiss with open mouthed abandon. Her whole body trembled as his tongue slid wetly over hers, the taste of Scotch mingling with the Bordeaux he’d drunk earlier. Maybe, he thought a bit foggily, it’s the alcohol. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had made desire a keen edged, painful thing inside of him, but Sydney somehow managed it in the space of a few seconds.

Her mouth pulled away from his, trailing wet heat over his jaw, down his neck, her fingers fumbling at the knot of his tie. He’d started this game, it was true, but he wasn’t all together sure he wanted to finish it. She finally loosened the tie and pulled it off, throwing it aside, and he knew he had to speak before she got her hands inside his shirt, flesh against flesh.

“Sydney…” he began, even as his own hands brushed down the curves of her body to settle possessively on her hips.

“No,” she whispered, straightening to look pleadingly into his eyes. “Please, don’t say anything. Don’t ruin this. I – I feel something right now, and I know you do, too.”

He could hardly argue against that, with the evidence roused and hard, and pressed firmly between their bodies. He didn’t say anything, but his fingers tightened on her hips, pulling her more snugly against him. He bent to kiss her again, enjoying the way her hands responded, threading into his hair and gripping at him convulsively with every electric touch of his tongue to hers. His hands found the zipper to her body suit, slid it down her back, so he could stroke the flesh beneath. She whimpered and trembled.

He didn’t remember moving to the bed, or losing half of their clothes. She moaned the first time he touched her breast with his thumb, rubbing lightly, back and forth, torturously. When he bent his mouth over the other, suckling, his tongue circling, she cried out, her back arching off the bed. The intensity of her response pleased him. He pressed his hips between hers, enveloping him in the heat of her body through the remainder of their clothing, and she moved instinctively against him, her hips pantomiming the rhythm of intercourse.

“Sark,” she gasped, “please…I want to feel…”

Her hands were hot against his skin, moving greedily over his chest, brushing his erect nipples, moving lower to the hard surface of his abdomen. When they would have dipped inside his slacks, wrapped around the hard length of his erection, he stopped her.

“This might be our only chance at this,” he said harshly into her ear, flicking the lobe with his tongue. “Let’s make it last.”

She rolled toward him, her hands still at his waistband. “Ok,” she breathed, “but the clothes come off. I want to feel you against me.” She pressed her breasts firmly against his chest, and the scrape of her hardened nipples on his skin had things tightening low in his gut. He gave an unintelligible grunt in response, and helped her strip the rest of their clothing away.

And then he helped her to feel. He brushed his fingers lightly across her inner thighs, felt her tremble as she realized his direction, his intent. Her hands closed over his wrists, tightly, stopping him.

He looked up at her, raised an eyebrow.

“It’s too…intimate, for us, don’t you think?” she said. He knew what she meant.

“You don’t want to share that with me, Sydney?” he asked, neatly twisting his hands over hers in a reversal of the grip she’d held them in. He turned his palms up, locking out her wrists so that she couldn’t fight him. “Don’t want to let me in that far? Just a quick fuck, that all you want?” He laughed. “It’s too late for that, I’m afraid.” He pulled her hands to the sides, pinned her wrists to the bed as he leaned forward. “You want me so bad, you can feel it quaking inside of you. It scares the shit out of you that I, the man you least expected, can make you feel so deeply. That’s ok, though. It scares me a little bit, too.” His voice abruptly hardened. “But I’m not going to let you pretend it isn’t happening.”

He didn’t say anything else. She struggled, tried to raise herself up off of the bed, but he was quicker than her, and stronger. He used his knees and shoulders to keep her legs apart, and he bent his head between them. The second he touched her with his tongue, the second his mouth closed over her clitoris, she was lost, and they both knew it. When he let her hands go, they didn’t try to shove him away. Her fingers tangled in the wispy blond of his hair, moved back to the bed to grasp handfuls of the down comforter. He used his now free hands to his advantage, inserting two fingers inside of her as his tongue and mouth continued to stroke and suck. He could hear her whimpers and moans with a certain satisfaction, he could feel the intensity building as his fingers thrust in a slow, inexorable rhythm. When she cried out, sobbing and shuddering as the pleasure took her, he moved back up her body, covering her completely with his, and kissed her again.

He didn’t think he could wait much longer. He wanted her so badly now, the throbbing need verged on painful. And then she took the choice away from him. Her hand closed around him, slid over the head, and stroked him twice before he could grind out an order to stop between clenched teeth.

“Damn it, Sydney,” he said harshly, and then groaned when she guided him inside, her wet depths closing around him like a tight, hot glove. “Oh. God.” He buried his head against her neck, and started moving as slowly as he was able to pace it. He wanted to draw it out, but wasn’t sure he could.

“No,” she said suddenly, and shifting her body weight, rolled them over on the bed. She straddled him, her legs on either side of his thighs, her body still wrapped around him. “I get the control this time.” Her eyes glittered, and he understood that this was her way of evening the score, of making sure he knew that she wasn’t the only one affected so strongly by this sudden, powerful pull between them.

She controlled the rhythm, moving above him so slowly he wanted to scream. He tried thrusting his hips up to quicken the pace, and she held herself up, suspended above him with only the first inch of him still inside of her. He forcibly relaxed back onto the bed, and she smiled as if praising him, and slid down over his length again. He almost came once, and she stopped, changing the rhythm on him to prolong it. It was at once the most excruciating, most intense experience he’d ever had, and for a brief second he wondered how they would ever walk away from each other, after. How could they go the rest of their lives without this? But then she began moving more quickly, and the thought vanished into the realm of increased sensation. Her inner muscles tightened around him as her own breathing became labored, her body striving for release as much as his. She came first, the pleasure rippling through her with shudders and cries that triggered his own orgasm. He cried out once, twice, might have said her name; he was never exactly sure, later.

They lay entangled together until their breathing slowed to normal. He enjoyed feeling their heartbeats pound in tandem as she sprawled above him, wondered if they could possibly do it again without killing each other. I sure as hell hope so, he thought.

They didn’t speak. Sydney moved after a time, nestling under the blankets beside him, both of them unwilling to talk about the experience, to shatter the fragile illusion of normalcy they shared, for a few hours, in a dark hotel room. Sark made it a rule never to sleep beside the women he fucked, but then, he didn’t actually think he could apply that term to what had just happened to them. Maybe, technically, but to him, the crude phrase didn’t even begin to cover it. When he felt himself drifting off, it was the strangest experience in his life to date. I suppose I trust her…he thought sleepily. It was an odd and utterly foreign feeling.

He woke in the night to the sound of muffled weeping, and wordlessly pulled Sydney closer. She didn’t resist. After a moment, she turned toward him, resting her fingers against his chest.

“Sark…” she whispered.

“What?”

Sydney shook her head. “Nothing. Just…thank-you.”

And she kissed him, a slow and tender kiss entirely unlike the others they’d shared. He could taste the salt of her tears. He didn’t answer her; he didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to step out of the illusion, yet. So he deepened the kiss until they were both a little breathless, and kept the words at bay.

::La fine::

On to the next in the series, Dreams.
 
 
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kill ’em with deliciousnesskismeteve on December 15th, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
Oh YAY! I was so bummed when I realized that Cover Me and all the other Alias fic sites disappeared because all of that great fic was gone. I can't wait to re-read this series.
rhienellethrhienelleth on December 15th, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
I know. I am so bummed that I don't have any way of rereading some of Rach's old fic, or cognacgirl's Darkness, Heat, and Cold. :(

I just never thought ALL the old archives would disappear, I guess.
Miss Crankypants: Alias Sarkney Hold Upaka_paloma on December 16th, 2009 03:04 am (UTC)
Must. Stifle. Urge. To. Reread. If I do, I'll go on a Sark/Sydney fic bender that'll probably last at least a month. God, I just love those two crazy kids. They are one of my eternal OTPs. I shall 'ship them 'til the day I die.
rhienelleth: sark killer - sheepy_hollowrhienelleth on December 16th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
I so totally know. Sark and Syd are like...old friends I could write about forever and ever. :) And I will ship them just as long.
baroque_tragedy: morinth - mass effect 2baroque_tragedy on February 21st, 2010 05:40 am (UTC)
Totally Brilliant
Easily one of the best fics I've read in the Alias fandom. :) Amazing work.

I saved this baby to my Sony Reader, so I'll have it forever. God knows, I can't seem to shake Sark/Syd. It's like some sort of virus; once you're infected, it never leaves you!
rhienelleth: sark spy -- midnightdream__rhienelleth on February 21st, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
Re: Totally Brilliant
Thank you so much! That's especially meaningful, considering I wrote this...gosh, back in 2002? I hope you enjoy the others in the series just as much. :)

Sark/Syd still hold a special place for me. :)

Ereaders sure have changed how we read fic, haven't they? I have a Kindle, and I love it to pieces.

Lovely Mass Effect 2 icon, btw. :-)