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15 December 2009 @ 10:53 am
Fic: Revelations, Alias Syd/Sark (Illusions part 4)  
Fic: Revelations (fourth in the Illusions series)
Author: Rhien Elleth
Pairing: Syd/Sark
Rating: M
Words: 9649




Montreal, Quebec


Her dreams were different, now.

They changed suddenly, and without warning, like an epiphany. It always began the same, the images mostly sensory – the feel of his body, warm and hard beneath her hands; the taste of him achingly familiar, with the residual tang of a fine red wine; the sound of his breath in her ear, his moans as they moved together, his fingers trailing lightly over her skin, making her shiver.

She wasn’t prepared for it to change. For the familiar ring of shots fired, or the hot rush of blood over her hands, startlingly bright and red. His blue eyes stared at her in shock and a dawning accusation, before he slumped away from her, ineffectually trying to staunch the pumping of blood from his chest. His mouth shaped words, but no sound emerged. Horrified, she shouted denial, tried to grab him and hold him upright, desperate for him to be all right. It was only when the gun fell into her lap, metallic and heavy, and smelling acridly of gunpowder, that she realized she had been the one to fire, that her hand had pulled the trigger and taken his life. She had betrayed him, betrayed them, shattered the crystal strands of the illusion woven so carefully around them these past months…

“No,” she breathed, a broken sound as she watched the life drain from his features, his blue eyes dimming and glazing with death. She lurched forward, the gun spilling from her lap, and grabbed his shoulders with blood-smeared hands. Tears filled her eyes, choked her voice. “Sark, no! No, no, no, no, no, no…please, God, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t mean to do it…please don’t leave me!” The words dissolved into sobs.

She woke to the sound of her name on his lips, spoken forcefully and laced with a concern he could not hide.

“Sydney.” His hands were on her shoulders, gently shaking her awake. “Sydney, wake up! You’re having a nightmare.”

She opened her eyes, felt the dampness of tears on her face, and found herself staring up at his intensely blue gaze, familiar, and thankfully alive. Relief flooded her limbs, left her trembling and weak. She buried her face against his chest, grabbing him forcefully enough to bruise flesh. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut as she tried to force away the vivid image of him, naked and splattered with blood. Dead.

Troubled, alarmed even, he held her gently and stroked her hair until the fine trembling in her body ceased. They’d been seeing each other for nearly a year now, stealing moments whenever they could find them, on missions, with clandestine meetings in foreign places, like this one, and nothing like this had ever happened before. He tried to think how he should proceed.

“Are you all right?” he asked softly. “You were shouting, and crying in your sleep.” He thought it best to omit, for now, that she’d screamed his name in a voice filled with fear and anguish. The sound still rang in his ears. It unnerved him, badly; in fact, he couldn’t remember the last time anything had unsettled him so much.

Her voice was muffled against his chest. “It’s nothing,” she said, “just a bad dream.” Her hands tightened slightly on his arms as she said it, and he frowned, sure there was more to this than a mere nightmare. But something told him not to press, so he didn’t.

“Must have been some nightmare,” he said, his tone intentionally bland and noncommittal.

She lifted her head, looked into his eyes, and brushed the hair from his forehead with light fingers. She was finally relaxing, her death grip on him easing, but he could see something lurking in the depths of her green eyes, something haunted and fearful. It was unlike Sydney to be afraid. He’d seen her face down men armed with submachine guns without blinking an eye, and yet something as simple as a nightmare had her shaken. He couldn’t decide whether he was more irritated or concerned, both by the emotion, and her lack of explanation for it.

Rather than say anything else – he knew, somehow, that more conversation would invite an argument, and he didn’t feel like arguing with Sydney in their last hour together – he leaned in and kissed her lightly. It was meant to be soft, and maybe even comforting. Her instant, intense response surprised him. She made the kiss something more, something hungry and passionate, and stirring, her mouth moving over his in a way that felt almost desperate. For a moment, he kept the feelings she roused at bay, hesitant to respond, and allow the events of a few moments ago to drift away. But Sydney was insistent, and she was leaving in an hour, and she obviously didn’t want to talk about it…her body pressed against him as her tongue entangled his, and after a brief second, Sark consciously let go of rational thought. He grabbed her waist, rolling her over beneath him as he returned the kiss, nipping at her mouth lightly.

He mentally filed away the strange incident for closer inspection later, gone for the moment, but by no means forgotten.

* * *

Her limbs were heavy, her mind and body tired as Sydney boarded the flight back to the States. Part of that was the pleasant languor of really good sex, but it was also the tension left by her disturbingly real dream. At least Sark hadn’t asked any more questions.

She smiled mechanically at the flight attendant she passed on the way to her seat, stored her small bag in the overhead compartment, and sat by the window. Going home made her feel…depressed. Back to the CIA and SD-6, back to the double life she led. Sometimes, now, she felt like it was actually a triple life. For almost a year, she’d lied to everyone about this development with Sark. Only Francie knew anything about it, and that was a version full of half truths and omissions. She kept telling herself it would end soon. He would stop calling, they would stop meeting each other, and their missions would go back to professional rivalry, instead of trying so hard to figure out how not to be at odds. Business was something they didn’t bring up, ever, in their private moments together. But she knew both of them made special effort in the field, not to confront one another. It made the game of winning and losing much more difficult to play, but Sydney didn’t mind. She preferred it this way. Her hands curled together in her lap. What else could they do?

She rested her head against her seat, closed her eyes. She wanted to sleep on the flight home, but feared the nightmare would return. She spent a restless seven hours until the plane finally touched down in L.A., sleeping only fitfully, not heavily enough to dream. She collected her bag, wondered briefly if Francie was home yet – her friend had attended a wine tasting weekend in Napa Valley, and as far as Sydney’s work and family knew, so had she. I’d better make sure I ask her some details, she thought as she smiled, again mechanically, at the flight attendant on her way out. So I can use a few in conversation with everyone. It was strange, how natural the lies had become.

Her mind was already on work when she exited the gate, thinking about what she’d say to Dixon, to Sloane, to Weiss, and her father. She stopped suddenly, so abruptly the man behind her cursed and bumped into her. She didn’t move, barely even heard him as he swept by with an irritated, surly comment. Her mind had gone blank, her hands so numb her carry-on slipped from her fingers.

He stood waiting for her, his hands in the pockets of his long gray trenchcoat, his expression as grim and serious as she’d ever seen it. Her heart began a painful pounding in her chest, and her stomach twisted, churning. He knows, she thought dully. Why else would he be here? She forced her lips, stiff and cold as they suddenly were, to move.

“…Dad.”

He took a step forward, his eyes never leaving hers as he bent down and picked up her dropped bag, straightened. He didn’t speak for a long moment, just stared into her eyes. She had to resist the urge to look away. She felt like she was ten years old again, and caught in the act of doing something horribly, terribly wrong.

“Sydney,” he said finally, with perfect calm. “We need to talk.”

Los Angeles, yesterday afternoon


He knew something was wrong, had been wrong, for months now. Call it a father's instinct, or maybe just so many years of training and constant suspicion of everyone and everything. Whatever it was, his daughter was hiding something from him. He'd caught her in lies on several occasions, but had yet to say anything about it. He'd wanted her to come to him, to trust him enough to tell him whatever it was, personally. But six months later, he was out of patience. She'd lied to him again, told him she was attending some wine tasting thing in Napa Valley with Francie over the weekend. She was trained to beat the most sophisticated lie detector, but she couldn't defeat him. He'd had the same damn training, and he was her father.

He had suspicions he wasn't yet ready to voice. Little inconsistencies in the tone of her reports that set alarms to ringing in his head. He only hoped no one else had noticed -- was reasonably sure they had not.

He made some calls, called in a few favors, did a lot of digging, and now even owed certain people; people previously indebted to him. He was almost sure, finally; just one thing left to do for complete confirmation.

He made sure Francie got the message right before her plane’s departure time, waited a day, and then went to see her. He rang the doorbell to his daughter's apartment with a heavy heart.

"Mr. Bristow," Francie greeted him, opening the door with a slightly puzzled expression. "Sydney's not here."

The leaden weight he felt around his heart grew heavier.

"Yes," he said slowly, "I know. Actually, I'd like to talk to you, if I may."

He could see her puzzlement increase as she nodded and shrugged, opening the door wider to allow him entry.

"Come on in." She closed the door, walked into the kitchen, gesturing for him to follow. "Did you want something to drink? Something to eat? I was just making myself a snack."

Always so courteous, he thought. Even back when he'd had no relationship with Sydney, Francie had always treated him with courtesy and respect.

"No, thank-you. I won't take up much of your time." He didn't even remove his coat. "I was wondering...weren't you supposed to be at wine tasting this weekend?" He felt, for a moment, like a disgruntled parent, trying to track down the recalcitrant teen who'd lied to him about her whereabouts. Weren't those the games children always played?

Francie shrugged, pouring herself a glass of milk. "Supposed to be, but the tasting was cancelled, due to a family emergency at the vineyard." She smiled. "I'm not too disappointed. This gives me a free weekend, and I haven't had many of those since opening the restaurant."

He nodded automatically, carefully phrasing his next question.

"Wasn't Sydney thinking of accompanying you?"

"To Napa?" Francie laughed. "I don't think so. She -- "

He saw the moment it occurred to her, the way the laughter died from her face, her eyes going dark and serious. She stared at him for a long moment, silent. Sydney, he thought, a brief, reflexive admonishment, always brief your cover before the fact, not after.

"Where is she, Francie?" he asked, and more importantly, "Who is she with?"

She shook her head, her eyes going from wide and alarmed, to narrow and guarded. "I don't know, Mr. Bristow. But I really don't think it's any of your business unless she wants to tell you."

He'd never been able to fault Sydney's friends on their loyalty. He shrugged, both impatient and a little sad. "It doesn't matter," he said quietly. "I'll talk to her when she gets back, but..." He looked at her, allowing his eyes to warm with concern, to fill with a wordless plea. "I know she talks to you, more than she does to me. Do you think she's making the right choice with this man?"

She hesitated before replying, but the look, and the worry in his tone, swayed her as he'd known it would. She relented, just a bit.

"She's happier than I've ever seen her," she allowed carefully, "since Danny, anyway."

He nodded, but instead of reassuring him, her words filled him with fear for his daughter. "Thank-you," he said, and left to track down Sydney's travel information. Sometimes, working for the CIA had its advantages.
Los Angeles, present day

Sydney didn't say anything for the longest time. She was fighting between dread and relief; dread because her father finding out about Sark had been one of her greatest fears for so long, and relief because someone finally knew the whole truth. Lies were wearing on the soul.

Her father didn't speak, either, his face set in grim lines that boded ill for their future conversation. Sydney chose to look out the car window, rather than at him. He waited until they reached their usual rendezvous point, out in the middle of the industrial area of the city. At least a private conversation meant it was unlikely he'd turned her in, yet. She was thankful for that. A confrontation with Weiss, or worse, the agency shrink, bore little appeal.

"How did you think this would end?" he asked finally, turning off the engine. Sydney winced at the sharp tone, looked down at her hands. She didn't say anything, and he continued, "How did it even begin?"

She looked up, frowning, involuntarily defensive. "It's complicated."

"Complicated!” His eyes had that narrow, irritated look she knew so well, and it made her back stiffen. “Sydney, no one knows more than I do about sleeping with the enemy. It's always complicated. But that doesn't excuse it, doesn't explain it, and sure as hell doesn't absolve you of guilt."

The tumble of words spilled out before she could stop herself, deliberately antagonistic. "Don't try to compare this to you and Mom. This isn't even close to the same thing. Sark isn't using me, Dad. He isn't stealing sensitive information from me, or lying his way…” she hesitated, darted a quick glance his direction, “…into my bed." If possible, his face shut down even more, his eyes going cold and hard, burying the hurt she'd just inflicted behind an impenetrable wall.

She paused, her voice going quiet and hesitant as the urge to lash out drained away, leaving regret in its wake. She didn't want to hurt her father; she just wanted him to understand.

"It's...it's hard to explain."

He looked away from her for a long moment, staring out the windshield of the car. When he spoke, his voice was even and measured.

"You think Sark hasn't been deceiving you?" he asked. "Everything about that man is a deception, Sydney." He looked at her, his eyes glinting. "I know the type."

"The type? Dad--"

"He's not what you think."

The words, spoken with such calm conviction, stilled her arguments, her defensiveness, and filled her with a dull, throbbing dread. Her father knew something, she was certain, and she was equally certain she wasn't going to like whatever it was. She cleared her throat, moistened her suddenly dry lips.

"What?" she asked, her voice sounding uncomfortably weak, to both of them. Her father answered slowly, reluctance in his eyes, his face, his voice.

"Sark is a sharp shooter, Sydney, the kind of natural shot with a rifle, or a pistol, found in nine, maybe ten people throughout the world. I called in a lot of favors to get the information I'm about to disclose to you." He looked away again, took a breath. "It's the sort of thing people die for, or kill to protect. Ten years ago, he was young, frightfully intelligent, quick to learn languages, and equally gifted in picking up physical training. He has a nearly photographic memory. He joined the British SAS three years after falsifying his age to get into the Navy a year early. He served in the Special Forces for three years, before someone in British Intelligence took notice of his talents, and recruited him as an agent. He was twenty-three at the time. He showed up on your mother's payroll less than six months later. Only three people in British Intel even know of his existence, and now, the two of us."

Sydney stared at him, open mouthed with shock. She tried to speak, found she couldn't, and shut her mouth, instead. Her lips trembled. Her father waited, letting the seconds tick by, but she still didn't speak.

"He's MI6, Sydney," he said finally, softly. "A deep cover operative that only the very top brass know about, and keep tabs on. He's been a mole in Irina's cartel for almost five years."

British Intelligence. She couldn't believe it, couldn't fucking believe it. A year she'd been with him, tossing aside her own loyalties, her family, her friends, to be with a man who was her enemy...only to find out, now, that he wasn't; that he never had been, really.

And he'd never told her.

The rush of anger was hot and sharp, piercing through her with the bitter, acidic taste of betrayal. A small, rational part of her mind whispered that he'd had no choice but to let her believe the worst of him. She thought back to all of the vile things he'd done, helping Khasinau, helping her mother, torturing innocent people, and killing others. It hadn't been difficult to believe; the truth was, she'd never even questioned it. She blinked back tears, held tight to the anger. I can't believe he never told me.

"He let it happen," she said bitterly. "Let me walk right into it without a fucking word."

Her father looked at her strangely, arched a brow. "I know he lied to you, Sydney, but think about the situation -- you would have done the same."

Unbelievable. Her father, defending Sark! She glared at him.

"It's inexcusable," she snapped, wounded by her father's apparent, inexplicable defection.

"You aren't...happy, to discover his affiliation?" he asked. "But all this time, you've been with him, meeting him in secret, thinking him a mortal enemy of the United States..." He didn't say the words betraying your country, even though he meant them. Sydney wrapped her arms around her body, digging her nails into flesh.

"Exactly!" she said. "He should have told me, before, given me a chance to get away before it was too late." She could feel a vile headache behind her eyes, and pressed fingers to her temples. She shook her head, trying hard not to cry. "Damn it, he should have told me! I never would have--"

She bit the words off, flung open the car door and threw herself out into the crisp autumn air. She started walking fast, ignored her father's voice calling after her. He wouldn't understand; no one would. She waved him off when he would have followed, managed to choke out a few words for the wind to carry back to him.

"Just leave me alone, Dad. I need...I need some time."
Paris, France

Sark knew something was wrong the moment he entered his flat in Paris. At first, it was an intangible knowing. The apartment appeared normal, exactly as he’d left it more than a week ago -- neat, clean, and with everything rigidly in its place. Yet, his spine prickled with an almost preternatural unease. It might have been paranoia, but Sark preferred to think of it as reasonable caution.

He was holding his Sig and clearing rooms before the first real evidence of wrongness presented itself. In his kitchen, one of the canisters on the counter sat just slightly off from the others, the latch for the lid not lined up precisely forward with military perfection. It was enough to tell him someone had been here, inside his apartment, looking for something. Enough to have him searching every nook and cranny, though he could feel the emptiness of the place, the distinct lack of another human presence. Nothing else was out of sync, nothing else appeared disturbed, but Sark wasn’t fooled. He searched meticulously, itemized everything, and what he discovered sent a surge of icy alarm through him.

Only one thing was missing. One, incongruous item was gone, pulled from its secret cache by unknown hands. By most estimations, it wasn’t valuable. Whoever had taken it had searched very carefully, and almost managed to avoid detection. It might have been weeks before anyone else would have noticed, but Sark’s memory was practically infallible, and his senses honed by the dangerous people he often worked with and for. And he couldn’t afford any mistakes.

Too late for that, he thought bitterly, replacing the Sig in its holster. Far too fucking late. Not that recriminations would help. Someone had been here, already suspicious enough to search for evidence of his duplicity, and that someone had found, and taken Sydney’s scarf. The one he’d sentimentally pocketed on his way out of her hotel room last April. He sat down on the edge of his bed, put his head in his hands. Only one person he could think of would be that obsessively concerned about his relationship with Sydney Bristow. Only one person would dare to search his belongings and only confiscate that scarf. Irina knows, he thought, and I’ve compromised myself. Bloody hell.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed as he sat utterly still, his eyes closed, berating himself for that solitary moment of weakness. I know better, I fucking know better than to let sentiment interfere with business. And yet, he’d wanted something of hers, something tangible he could hold in his hands when she was gone, something that carried her scent, her presence. He’d taken the scarf on impulse, and that impulse would cost him dearly.

His digital phone rang, shattering his reverie, sending a surge of carefully controlled adrenaline though his body. Only three people had this number. He was expecting Irina’s coolly mocking tones when he answered. He flipped the phone open, put it up to his ear.

“Yes?” he said without inflection.

“Mr. Sark.” To his shock, the voice was not Irina’s at all. It was familiar, male, and the person it belonged to should not have had his number.

“Mr. Bristow,” he responded, unconsciously raising an eyebrow. “What a surprise.”

“Is it?” asked the other man, his tone similarly calm and emotionless. “We need to talk, you and I. I’ll name a place and a time, you tell me if it’s acceptable.”

“All right.” At this point, Sark had nothing more to lose. He was reasonably sure that his first instinct was still correct, that Irina had the scarf, and Jack Bristow’s phone call was a disturbing and remarkable coincidence. Mostly because he knew Jack Bristow had remained in L.A. this past week; he was one of the agents Sark kept regular tabs on, for obvious reasons.

“I know of your fondness for good wine, and I’ve chosen accordingly. Vienna, the Schlumberger Winery, two days from now at ten o’clock in the evening.”

“I can accommodate that,” Sark agreed cautiously. “Though it seems to me you’re taking an incredible risk, trusting me, Mr. Bristow.” It was a probing statement, a quest for answers. Silence followed for perhaps five, six seconds, before Jack Bristow responded.

“For your sake, Mr. Sark, I certainly hope not.”

The line went dead immediately after, and Sark snapped the phone closed again. He stared off into space for a long moment, debated making the call that would change his life as he knew it now, utterly and irrevocably. He decided to wait for another few days, just to see how things played out, and told himself he wasn’t being foolhardy.

It was just possible something could be salvaged from this situation he’d so carelessly created.

Vienna, Austria


It was raining in Vienna. It pleased her, obscurely, for the weather matched her mood. She dashed from the airport to a waiting taxi, wished she’d thought to bring an umbrella, or at least a coat with a hood, instead of the three-quarter length cashmere blend she pulled tight around her, ducking inside the car. Her hair was drenched, her face cold and wet as droplets dripped down her neck, trickled inside her collar. She shivered.

Her father, she bet, had brought an umbrella. But then, he hadn’t decided on this trip at the last minute, impulsively following someone halfway around the world to spy on them. Instead, he’d gone behind her back, arranged a meeting with Sark without telling her. If she hadn’t mistakenly overheard the phone call, she wouldn’t have known about it at all.

He should have told me, she thought resentfully, wiping at her damp face and neck with a handkerchief not quite up to the task. This isn’t any of his damn business.

The city’s lights reflected through the unrelenting black of the night, off rain slicked roads, and the still-falling torrent. At least the rain would help to hide her better, though it would also make conversation more difficult to overhear. And it was cold.

Hier sind wir, Fräulein,” the driver said, stopping as she’d asked him to, a block down from the winery.

Dank,” she replied, handing him double his fee. “Bitte wartezeit hier.” In this weather, she doubted that he would actually wait for her, but she hoped he would. She didn’t relish a long walk, and she was hoping to remain undetected by both Sark and her father.

The driver smiled, and to her surprise, handed her a folded and well read newspaper. “Dies dürfte helfen,” he offered.

She thanked him profusely, smiling in relief. It might help, indeed. It was certainly better than nothing, and she held the folded paper over her head as she dashed from the cab and down the street. She approached the Schlumberger from the eastern side. From studying pictures, she had a relatively good idea where her father and Sark would meet, and she’d found the best direction to approach, and hopefully to hide herself to observe them. She grimaced as the rain quickly soaked her paper, completely drenched her coat, her hair, her legs, and trickled in tiny rivulets down her spine. Maybe, she thought with a wry smile, the weather is more of a hindrance than I thought.

* * *

Sark waited patiently by the front gates of the closed winery. He’d yet to hear from Irina, but expected to be contacted when she was finally ready to confront him with her conclusions, whatever they might be. He anticipated the worst. The last two days had given him time to think, time to organize and mentally prepare for every eventuality. As a result, he waited for Jack Bristow tranquilly, filled with a kind of empty calm. Emotion did not touch him. It was akin to the emptiness he felt when he killed, and he welcomed it.

Only one thing marred his mood, troubling him slightly. Rain helped to hide things, made perception more difficult. He would have liked it to taper off before this meeting, but looking into the haze of the downpour around him, resigned himself to its presence.

At least he’d thought to bring an umbrella. His coat was a trifle too short, hitting him at mid thigh, but the rain had yet to soak through the lambskin leather. It was, in his opinion, one of the advantages of leather.

He saw the other man’s figure form out of the haze, drops hitting the barrier of a black umbrella, breaking up the continuously vertical fall of water. Jack stopped about five feet away – just close enough for them to see and hear one another clearly.

“Mr. Bristow,” greeted Sark, pitching his voice above the rhythm of rain hitting asphalt.

“Sark,” said Jack, his face remote and seemingly carved of stone. He didn’t say anything else immediately, but appeared to be taking inventory of the other man as if he’d never seen him before. His eyes hesitated over the slight, barely perceptible bulge beneath the leather coat that was Sark’s Sig, his lips thinning slightly. Sark smiled.

“Surely you don’t disapprove, Jack,” he said, intentionally using the other man’s given name to irritate and unsettle. But Bristow didn’t even flinch. He looked Sark dead in the eye.

“Not of the gun,” Jack agreed. He, after all, carried two himself. “What I disapprove of, Andrew, is you, sleeping with my daughter.”

Sark went utterly still, felt the emptiness within him settle, widen, like the moment before he pulled the trigger. His relationship with Sydney was, to his mind, an off limits subject to everyone except himself and Sydney. He took a breath, his voice flat and dead.

“I don’t think, Jack, that its your decision to make.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “If Sydney wants to fuck me, she will.”

He saw the remark hit home, the way Bristow’s mouth twitched, his eyes narrowing. His hand moved slightly, a reflexive clenching that might have been a need to reach for a gun, or simply a quickly controlled impulse to connect his fist with Sark’s face. Finally, the hand relaxed, and he smiled. Confident. Superior.

“Whatever label you choose to give it is of little consequence, Andrew. The fact remains that for at least six months, now, you’ve been sleeping with my daughter on a fairly routine basis, and lying to her just as often. Sydney’s had enough lies in her life. A word of advice from someone who knows – the lies will catch up with you. And Sydney won’t like them.”

Sark frowned. Not the response he’d been expecting. It almost sounded like…Bristow was trying to warn him.

“What do you care if Sydney hates me? Why the concern?”

“My concern is for Sydney, and her happiness.” Jack gave him a contemptuous look. “For some reason -- which utterly escapes me -- you make her happy. If you truly were an enemy of the United States, I might have a problem with that.” He paused, inclined his head slightly. “But you aren’t.”

Sark stared. And then he cursed, softly. “Bloody fucking hell.”

Jack gave a sober nod. “Exactly how I feel. But the fact remains, you, at least, are not innocent of this kind of life, to die tragically and unknowing in the line of fire. Sydney’s life wouldn’t be a lie to you, and after Danny…that’s important.”

Sark didn’t have to ask who Danny was, anymore. He’d done some searching awhile back. He stared at the unyielding lines of Bristow’s face, frowned quizzically. “Is this your roundabout way of telling me I have Daddy’s approval?”

“Something like that. I don’t like you, Sark, but I admire your work, I respect your dedication and professionalism, and I think that might be more important than my personal feelings.”

Sark didn’t answer right away. He stood for a moment, thinking, staring out into the sheets of rain. Finally, he looked back at Bristow. Maybe this was an opportunity for him. It took a certain amount of internal wrestling with his ego, but he finally relented, admitting to himself that he could use whatever help Bristow had to offer.

“I think I’m in a bit of trouble,” he said reluctantly, “with Irina.” He watched the other man stiffen, go still. “Certain actions I’ve taken over the past year have been…ill advised. Irina will think…will know…that my loyalties are compromised. She doesn’t know everything yet, but enough to begin unraveling the threads. It’s only a matter of time before she deems me untrustworthy, and tries to have me killed.”

“I see.” Jack looked disappointed, not that Sark blamed him – he’d probably been hoping to glean information from him in the future. He cast a glance around them through the rain, obviously more ill at ease now that he knew someone might be gunning for Sark. “Have you called for extraction?”

He shook his head. “Not yet. I do that, no more cards to play. Weighing my options first.”

He watched as the other man turned the problem over in his mind. It felt strange, going to anyone for help. He’d been so self sufficient for so long, and yet, Jack knew the truth about him, and he was the only person other than Sark’s direct superiors who did. It was irony at its best.

“Do you still want to stop Irina? And the Alliance?” Jack asked finally.

Sark gave a small, darkly amused smile, a quick jerk of shoulders. “Naturally.”

“Then I have a suggestion.”

* * *

Teeth chattering, Sydney slid back into the cab, the remains of the disintegrated newspaper clutched in her hands. Her hair hung in wet strands, clung to her skin, dripped cold rain down her back. Water pooled on the seat and the floor around her shoes. Dazed, she didn’t notice. Her face was almost translucently pale, her eyes wide. The driver looked at her with concern, asked if she was all right. He repeated the question twice before she heard, blinked, and acknowledged him.

“Take me to the Villa Träume,” she said, ignoring his question. Her actions were mechanical, her words wooden as she tried to pull her sodden coat closer around her. The conversation had been difficult to overhear in the rain, but not entirely impossible. She’d heard enough. And she’d heard Sark, at the end, tell her father where he was staying. Still numb and cold, she felt the first stirrings of anger deep inside. The betrayal, the lies, cut more deeply hearing Sark admit to them himself. He has a lot to answer for.

* * *

It’s a good offer, thought Sark as he shrugged out of his jacket, hung it beside the fire he’d just finished lighting in the small villa’s fireplace. He knelt before the flames, held his hands out to warm them. Shadows danced on the walls of the main room, for he hadn’t bothered with more than a soft lamp and the fire for light. No need to illuminate the inside of this place for anyone who might be watching. Though he was fairly sure there wasn’t anyone about. He’d been checking carefully, routinely. Irina’s silence worried him. If he’d ever met anyone more cunning, more devious than himself, that woman fit the bill.

And Jack Bristow wasn’t half bad, either. The man had an amazing mind for subterfuge.

Sark stood and paced away from the fire, rolling up the sleeves of his cream colored silk shirt with quick, absent motions. It was a bad habit, and hard on the more expensive wardrobe pieces, but it gave his hands something to do while his mind scoured the possibilities. He preferred to be doing something meticulous and automatic, like cleaning his gun, for instance. But he wasn’t about to be caught with it in pieces and unloaded when he might need it at any moment. So he settled for rolling up his shirt sleeves, and pacing the room, careful to avoid walking in front of any windows.

It could work, he thought. Salvage something from this mess. And then there was the not unpleasant thought of keeping close to Sydney. Maybe even see her on a regular basis.

The soft knock on the front door, barely audible over the rain on the roof, stopped him dead. His gun was suddenly in his hand, and he moved to the wall beside the front window, managing a look at the front porch through the gauzy curtains hanging in front of the glass. A woman’s figure stood in the darkness, barely visible, but clearly wet and bedraggled. Not Irina, he thought instantly. He couldn’t see Derevko appearing anything less than comfortable and prepared. And he doubted she’d knock. Who else could it be? An innocent? Some lost traveler with a broken down vehicle? He’d chosen the Villa Träume in part for its remote location, and certainly had not expected visitors.

It never hurt to be cautious. He moved silently to the wall beside the door, gun held down at his side, hidden by his body. His fingers had just touched the door latch when the knock came again, accompanied by a muffled, familiar voice.

“Sark, its me…Sydney.”

Sydney! What the hell is she doing here? He flung the door open without another thought, kept the gun drawn and hidden, just in case. But it was Sydney, alone. She stood huddled inside a dripping coat, her hair plastered to her skin, shivering.

“Jesus!” He set the gun on a small table beside him. “What are you doing here? You’re wet and obviously freezing – come inside.”

He reached out a hand for her arm, but she pulled away from him, took a step back. He stopped, looked at her more carefully, and felt his heart beat a little harder, a little faster. Her green eyes were wide, dark, and accusing. Her jaw was set in that determined, flat expression he recognized from working in opposition to her; this wasn’t Sydney, his lover, but Sydney, the professional. He let his hand fall to his side, said nothing. He could feel the concern leech from his own face, his features going cool and blank.

“You deceitful bastard,” she said finally, her voice low, angry. “Did you ever feel even a little guilty?”

He studied her for a moment, shrugged. “About what, precisely? My work? Come, Sydney, you’ve hardly been up front with me regarding your own double agent status. You haven’t once mentioned your work with the CIA.”

He leaned in the doorway, taking a half step closer as he did so, and she stepped back again, apparently uneasy without a certain amount of space between them. Even if it did put her back out into the rain. Drops hit her cheeks, slid down her face like cold tears, and she shivered, grit her teeth to keep them from chattering. Sark had to resist the impulse to yank her inside. Stupid chit, he thought, irritated, going to catch her death. His eyes flicked from her and searched the rain, the shadows, but he sensed nothing, no other presence. Of all the times for this, she couldn’t have picked a worse one.

“Damn it, Sark! You let me think you were my enemy. Just blithely took me to bed, and never said a fucking word!”

Her voice quavered slightly, but whether from the cold, or emotion, he wasn’t sure. Some of the drops sliding down her face might have been real tears mixing with the rain. He couldn’t tell. But he was getting a bit angry himself. What’s she so bloody mad about, he wondered. Shouldn’t she be thrilled I’m not her enemy? Doesn’t this make everything easier?

“Sydney, I’m a deep cover operative – my orders are to tell no one. No exceptions. You should understand that.”

“I understand, all right. I understand that you’ve been lying to me for almost a year! When were you going to tell me, Sark? Or were you? You have orders not to tell anyone. Okay,” she laughed, a bitter sound, “believe me, I understand that. But you were already breaking orders, breaking rules to sleep with me, so what difference would one more have made?” She swept him with a cool, contemptuous glance. “Or should I say fucking me, since that’s your word for it?”

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, and shoved away from the door, propelling himself out into the rain with her. “You were there, weren’t you? Listening to our conversation tonight.”

Her chin lifted defiantly, her eyes glittering.

“You were talking about me, behind my back, deciding my future for me. I think I had a right to be there.”

“Sydney, damn it, do you really think I’d have taken such risks, compromised myself so badly, for nothing more than a good fuck?” He wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, resisted the urge only by clenching his hands into fists. Rain quickly soaked his hair, drenched his shirt to a thin second skin, sent icy fingers down his spine, but Sark cared for nothing but the frustrated anger burning through his gut.

“I don’t know,” she said, so calm the words twisted inside him like a knife. “Maybe you would. Maybe that’s all any of this was to you.” Her voice shook. “You should have told me, in the beginning. You shouldn’t have let me --” She broke off, raised a hand to her mouth. He could see the tears, now.

“Sydney…” He tried to reach for her again, but she pulled her arm away before he could touch it. She lowered her hand, and her face might have been carved from marble, so pale and translucent in the rain. He watched all emotion leave her expression, felt a gulf widening between them. She was walling herself away, a defense mechanism he was more than familiar with.

“That’s fine, Sark. You don’t have to explain. I get it. It was just sex, that’s all.” She shrugged, the movement uneven and jerky. “For both of us. Have a nice life.”

She started to turn away, and he cursed and dove after her, wrapping chilled and stiff fingers around her arm, yanking her back toward him. She raised an eyebrow, looked at him coldly.

“Goddamn it!” His teeth clenched. “You don’t really believe that. I know you don’t believe it. I said what I did to rattle your father, not because it was true.”

She didn’t say anything, didn’t bat so much as an eyelash. His fingers flexed; he shook her slightly.

“What is this, Sydney? What is this really about? You’re pissed because suddenly I’m not the enemy you thought? Because I lied to you in doing my job? I don’t buy it, anymore than I buy this line of yours so succinctly describing what’s between us.” He paused, saw something stir in her eyes just before she looked down, away from him. Something she didn’t want him to see. He let go, took a step back.

“You’re scared,” he said, in dawning understanding. “So frightened you’re hiding behind anger, trying to make me mad enough to walk away from this, from us.” Her body started to tremble, hard, and he didn’t think it was from the cold and the wet. He frowned, spread his hands. “What are you so fucking afraid of?”

She shook her head, bit her lip, refused to look at him.

“Sydney?” She said something, too soft for him to catch, and he leaned forward. “What?”

She flung her hands out suddenly and finally looked at him, her chest heaving with suppressed sobs as the invisible wall she’d built crumbled around her.

“You weren’t supposed to be safe,” she said accusingly. “If I’d known, I never would have let things get so far, go on so long.” She stopped, gulped for air. “You think I’m afraid? Well, you’re goddamn right. Why wouldn’t I be? Every man I’ve ever loved has died – because of me. Danny, Noah, Michael. Why would you be any different?”

Shocked, Sark just stood and stared at her. She appeared to have run out of words, or maybe her own had shocked her just as much as they had him, because she stood, still and silent, looking at him through the rain. Her eyes were luminous, and vulnerable. Emotions welled up within him, too many and too varied to describe. He sucked in a breath, lifted a hand to hesitantly touch her face.

“Did I just hear you correctly?” he asked carefully. “Did you just admit you love me?”

Her lips trembled, opened, “Maybe…” She seemed to hold her breath for a moment, then suddenly expelled it. “Yes.”

The simple admission hit him like a punch to the gut, stole his breath, his ability to think clearly. In all his life, no one person had affected him like she did, stirred such extremes within him. He’d known for some time now, but hadn’t admitted it, even to himself. The sudden confronting of his emotions, of hers, sent him reeling. He grabbed onto her to steady himself, clutching her shivering form to him like a lifeline.

“Sydney…” he began, a ragged breath as he pressed his lips to her forehead, her rain streaked cheek, and then her mouth. He kissed her slowly, trying to communicate through touch and feeling the words still lodged inside of him. He could taste her tears, the rain, feel her mouth tremble beneath his.

She sighed his name. “Andrew…”

It was the first time she’d ever used his given name. He cupped her face with his hands, deepening the kiss. He didn’t feel the cold, or the rain, or the anger anymore; he just felt the heat of her mouth, of her tongue sliding over his as her hands splayed across his chest, and this newfound emotion between them filling him so completely, he wondered how his body could possibly contain it.

Breathing heavily, he broke away, rested his forehead against hers. He was trembling, but so was she. It struck him, suddenly, that they were still standing out in the rain, that she was shivering, her lips quivering with cold just as equally as desire.

“We should go inside,” he said, rubbing his hands over her arms, and the completely ruined cashmere coat she wore. I’ll buy her a new one – real cashmere, not some cheap blend. He started to say something else, stopped. This had to be her decision, not his.

He stepped away -- two, three steps, resisting the way her hands reached for him. It cost him, but he schooled his face to careful blankness, ignored the bewildered look in her eyes. He took a deep breath, fought off the trickle of fear he felt, and stoically met her gaze. He opened his mouth, rain dripping from his lips.

“Sydney, I don’t want to sway your decision with the…physical…that exists between us. I’ve lied to you, yes. I know I’ve hurt you.” He paused, plunged ahead with his heart beating an erratic rhythm, forced the words out. “But I love you, and I want you to stay.”

She stood looking at him, not saying a word, not even moving. Slowly, he extended his hand toward her, pleased that he kept it steady.

“Will you stay?”

Her lips parted slightly in shock, her brows knit together to keep the sudden tears stinging her eyes at bay, she reached across the distance separating them and grasped his hand firmly in hers. She smiled, watery and radiant.

“Of course.”

Relief flooded him, and he could return her smile, curl his fingers around hers. He pulled her to him. She laughed, just a little, and kissed him lightly.

“We could both do with some heat, and some dry cloths,” she admitted. Her fingers played nimbly over his chest, tracing the wiry, hard muscles the transparently wet silk clung to. “Or maybe no clothes at all.”

Grinning, he turned and guided her into the villa, shutting the door behind them. The fire still lit the room, its heat making them tremble all the more with the promise of the warmth to come. He helped strip her of the heavy, cumbersome coat, and the lighter layers of her suit jacket and skirt, leaving the clothing in a soggy pile beside the door. Goosebumps covered her arms and shoulders as she reached up, and began unbuttoning his shirt. He let his hands fall to his sides, watching her with a kind of wonder. The thin material of her satin camisole clung to the shape of her breasts, outlined the areola of her nipples. She kept her eyes fixedly on his chest as her fingers worked, slow and deliberate, one button at a time.

Sark could feel a sudden stillness in the air, like a huge, collective breath held in anticipation. However many times they’d done this before, however electrifying, or passionate, or desperate for one another they’d been, none of it compared to this moment. He watched her, watched the tiny line of concentration on her brow, the flush of heat from the fire wash over her skin, and he wanted to freeze this instant forever, hold it captured in his memory.

She finished the last button, pulled the tails of the shirt from his slacks. Her fingers brushed, feather light, across his skin as she peeled the silk back, exposed his chest. His breathing was regular, but a little quick, his nipples erect with the cold. She glanced up then, seeming to sense the intensity of his gaze, and went still.

The shirt hung from his shoulders, water from his hair trickling down his neck, dripping on her hands. She didn’t seem to notice. Then she took a shuddering breath, her eyes locked onto his, and pushed the shirt down his arms, until he was free of it completely. She dropped her hands to her sides, waiting, and he smiled. His turn.

He lifted a hand, brushed her hair back from her face, trailed his fingers down her neck to the thin straps of her camisole, and lifted them. He arched a brow as she shivered, and slid the straps down her arms, enjoying the play of the firelight over her skin, the shadows of him it cast across her body. The satin slid from her breasts, dropped to the floor to join the rest of their clothing. He rested his hands back on her shoulders, traced them down her arms and around to her back, traveled lightly up her spine.

She reached for him, her hands finding his hips, shaking a bit as she fumbled with his belt, her mouth skimming his chest. Her breath brought warmth to his skin, traced patterns in the droplets of water still coating it. She finished with the belt, slid his slacks down his hips until he could step out of them, and followed them with the cotton briefs he wore. When her hands went to her own hips, presumably to rid herself of the dainty scrap of lace and satin that was the only clothing still adorning her, he reached out, stopped them with his own.

“Let me.”

He hooked a finger in the lace, pulled her against him, kissed her. It was slow and trembling, her tongue sliding over his, flicking against his lips, filling him with a slow burning heat. He walked her over to the fire, wanting her to tremble for him, not from the cold. His hand cupped her over the scrap of satin, rubbed lightly, and she moaned against his mouth, pressed against him. He yanked a chenille blanket off the divan, threw it beneath them before he lowered her to the floor. Heat from the flames quickly dried the last of the rain from their skin, but neither of them noticed. He cupped a breast with one hand, grazed over the nipple, still lightly rubbing with the other, and her hips arched against him.

“Andrew…” Eyes closed, her head thrown back, she pleaded with him.

It sent a jolt through him, hearing that name on her lips.

“I want to hear you say my name again,” he whispered, trailing his mouth down her throat. “I want to hear you whimper it, moan it, scream it in passion…” He suckled at her breast, swirled the nipple with his tongue, kept his stroking fingers too light for release, just touching enough to torture. Her hands clung to his back, tried to pull him closer, but he resisted.

“Andrew, please…”

He kissed his way down the flatness of her stomach, trailed his tongue over her abdomen. He stopped at the edge of lace, turned and breathed warmly across the sensitive flesh of her inner thigh. She was trembling now, and no longer from cold. He looked up at her.

“Should I use my teeth?” he asked, low, amused. It surprised a laugh out of her.

Just as she took a breath to answer, he nipped her lightly through the wet satin, stroked her with his tongue. She squirmed, breath caught in her throat, words forgotten. Her nails dug into his shoulders. He was careful to keep the pressure light, to make her wriggle and moan and beg, but never to give release. Not yet. Carefully, he inserted a finger inside the lace, touched her flesh to flesh.

Andrew…”

This time his name was a sob. He smiled, tore the flimsy lace aside, and plunged into her with his tongue. He stroked and suckled, nipped carefully with his teeth. Her body strained, arched until he had to hold her hips in place, using his mouth to elicit each shuddering, moaning response. By the end of it, by the time her body bowed off the floor, her nails drawing blood from his skin, she’d screamed his name twice.

Smug, satisfied, and thoroughly aroused, he glided up her body, covered her with his, and kissed her, plundered her mouth the way he had her body, until they were both weak and shaking. He lifted his head, and she looked up into his eyes, touched his face lightly with her hand.

“I love you…” she whispered, because she hadn’t said it yet, quite like that.

Her eyes locked with his, she lifted her hips for him, and he thrust into her, burying himself in one long stroke. He groaned, shaking with the need to take her hard and fast, keeping it leashed because he was a man who preferred control. Their rhythm built quickly, breath sighing, becoming irregular as flesh slid against flesh. His eyes never left hers. He watched as she bit her lip to keep from crying out this time, her head thrown back as she squeezed tight around him, triggering his orgasm. He stiffened, shuddered, raggedly whispered the same words back to her.

And he wondered, for the first time as his seed spilled inside of her, what it would be like to do this for the purpose of creating a child. What it would feel like to build a life, a family with her.

Even as it occurred to him, the idea scared him shitless. He rolled over beside her, pulled the edges of the blanket up and around them, and vowed not to mention it as she burrowed against his chest.

“That was…amazing,” she said drowsily. Her lips curved into a smile. “I’ll have to remember to say your name more often.”

“I like the sound of it from you,” he said seriously “I like hearing ‘Andrew’ instead of ‘Sark’.” He pressed a kiss to her brow, watched the flames flicker. “I should always be Andrew to you.”

They lay without speaking for a long time, and he thought she’d dropped off to sleep, until her lips suddenly moved against him.

“Montreal,” she said.

He frowned. “What?”

She stirred, lifted her head to look into his eyes. “In Montreal, I had a nightmare. Remember?”

How could he forget? The memory of it still plagued him. “Of course. What about it?”

“I just wanted to let you know…I doubt I’ll have anymore, now.”

He stroked a hand over her shoulder. “I’m glad. Want to tell me about it?”

“Well…” she hesitated, her voice reluctant, and he waited, calm and patient, for her to decide. “Do you remember that dinner we had at my place?”

He raised an eyebrow, smugly male. “The bathtub? How could I forget?”

“Hey!” Her fingers tickled his abdomen, but he held himself still, refusing to give her the satisfaction of a response. He also didn’t want the conversation to degenerate into something else.

After a moment, she continued. “Anyway, that was the first night that I knew…that I realized…how I really felt about you. And since then, I’ve had nightmares. Mostly dreams that start off nice, but end up with you dead, and me holding the smoking gun.”

“You kill me, in these dreams?” he asked, surprised. He remembered the way she’d screamed his name in Montreal, and his hands tightened protectively around her.

She nodded. “It was horrible. Once I realized I loved you, I couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen, with me on one side, and you on the other. As if the only way this could end would be with one of us dead.” She shuddered, and he stroked soothing fingers over her skin. She sighed. “But now, I don’t think that will be a problem anymore. Not with you being who and what you are.” She paused. “I just wanted you to know, despite everything, all the lies, I am happy about this. About us. About you.”

She reached up, turned his face toward her, and kissed him softly. The she pulled back, looking very serious. “If you decide to take my father’s offer…to join the Alliance as a double agent…I’m okay with that.”

He settled back, stared up at the ceiling. It was a long time before he said anything. The flames danced, crackled and snapped, the only sound in the room for some time. Finally, he spoke.

“That’s good. Because I think I’m going to take it.”



::La fine::

On the the last in the series, Shadows.
 
 
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