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15 December 2009 @ 12:21 pm
Fic: Shadows (Part 1), Alias Syd/Sark (Illusions part 5)  
Fic: Shadows (fifth in the Illusions series)
Author: Rhien Elleth
Pairing: Syd/Sark
Rating: M
Words: 15,891

Due to LJ's wordcount limits, this one has to be posted in two parts.



London, England


In the darkness, he held her.

His arms wrapped around her lean, firmly toned body, his fingers brushing lightly down the contrasting softness of feminine curves. It was always surprising, somehow, that hint of softness, of vulnerability in this woman. She had such strength.

He felt scars beneath his hands, a rough dimpling of skin that marred an otherwise perfect form. Grim, enduring reminders of past pain, past mistakes.

Some were old, vestiges of a youth spent in tomboy-hood; a girl raised in the shadow of her intimidating father, bereft of the gentler influence a mother’s touch could bring. Some were more recent, the scars of a woman leading a dangerous life – the faint line of a knife wound here, the puckered flesh of a bullet entry there. Some were new, even to him, the man who knew her body with intimate thoroughness.

And some, he had given her.

Even now -- listening to her slow breathing beside him, his body languid with the release of tension that only came from thoroughly satisfying sex -- he felt the scars beneath his fingertips, and grim reality intruded.

The reality of living a life without a future. God, he decided, has one twisted sense of humor.

He’d finally found a woman he loved. He’d never expected to, had deliberately and knowingly avoided any and all personal attachments over the years. But even he had not anticipated Sydney Bristow’s influence on his life. And the real bitch of it was, she loved him back. Even the dark, murkier shadows of his soul.

And somewhere, God was laughing His ass off. Because in the life they led, people didn’t have futures. They had the present, the now, and if they were really lucky, they lived to see tomorrow.

But you never looked beyond that. Not if you wanted to survive. Physically and emotionally.

The man who called himself Andrew Sark was royally fucked in both departments, unless this life of shadows and games ended very soon. Not that he regretted loving Sydney, exactly. But he knew that loving her had cost him something, a sacrifice of distance, of that cool edge that came from simply not giving a damn about anything but the job. He’d already made too many excuses for himself, run too many risks just to see her, be with her, and if something didn’t give soon, he was well on his way to making a mistake worth his life.

Or worse, hers. And he couldn’t, wouldn’t live with that.

He lay still beside her for another hour, stroking her skin with feather light touches, listening to her breathe in the darkness. Then he rose silently from the bed, shrugging into a terry cloth robe. He left the bedroom, pausing in the doorway to glance back at Sydney as light lanced in and lit up the tangle of bedcovers. Her hair lay spread over his pillow, her cheek nestled against her curled hands. Dark circles of weariness outlined her eyes, testament of the many sleepless nights before this one. Nights, he’d wager, spent worrying about him, about SD-6, about the Alliance, about Irina.

He closed the door gently so as not to wake her, his resolve firming.

“Not for much longer, Sydney,” he murmured aloud, and crossed to the hotel phone. “Because I’m going to end it, for all of us.”


One Week Later
Los Angeles, California



The ruins of Credit Dauphine lay all around them, evidence of the massive CIA raid scattered over the floor in shattered glass and strewn files, now largely redundant. The haze from the smoke grenades had finally cleared, and teams of agents garbed in black fatigues and body armor swept through the building, clearing each room.

Sydney could hear them over her ear piece, a buzz of voices back and forth, each one another nail in the coffin of SD-6 and the Alliance. Her father brushed past her, saying something crisp and stern into his own headset, cupping a hand over his ear. He caught her eye as he passed, paused long enough to give her a tiny nod before moving on.

It could have meant anything, but she knew what it was. She and Jack Bristow had long ago learned the art of silent communication. In the lives they’d chosen to lead, such skills were a matter of survival.

It could have meant “good job”, or “don’t worry, you’re friends will be all right”, referring to Dixon and Marshall, and other innocents who had unknowingly worked as traitors to their country. But it didn’t. That nod meant something else entirely, something personal and private, and from her father, unexpected.

He was right, that nod said. He did his job, got it done, came through for all of us. Deep down, that tiny acknowledgement wasn’t for her at all. It was for the man who’d given them what they needed to succeed today. The man who, half a world away, led teams of MI-6 and MI-5 agents against the remnants of the Alliance.

Well done, Sark. They were words her father couldn’t yet bring himself to say. But he would.

Sydney took a shuddering breath, feeling a knot somewhere in the vicinity of her heart loosen, and finally dissolve. A knot she’d carried within her for months, now. Maybe, she thought, smiling wryly after her father, there’s hope for us, after all.

“Hey, Syd.”

Weiss was suddenly beside her, beaming and practically bouncing with excitement. The black fatigues and Kevlar looked out of place on him, his warm features and soft frame far more comfortable in an ill fitting suit than in field gear. But he carried his MP5K in a casually one handed grip, and a realization hit her suddenly, hard in the gut.

She stared at him. Three years ago, even two, and Agent Eric Weiss would have been neither familiar nor comfortable with a submachine gun in his hand.

“Whoa!” Weiss staggered back a step when she suddenly threw her arms around him in a tight hug, careful not to entangle his gun hand. “Hey, Syd, it’s ok…” he said awkwardly, patting her shoulders with his left hand. “It’s finally over.”

“Yeah…” she said softly. To her shock, she felt the warmth of tears sliding down her face. “It’s over. I wish…I wish we hadn’t lost so many casualties along the way.”

And Weiss, who knew better than most all that Sydney had lost, pulled away and looked at her with eyes that glimmered suspiciously in the flickering overhead lights.

“Me, too,” he said simply, “me too, Syd.”

A crackling noise from her radio broke the suddenly maudlin mood for both of them. Jack Bristow’s sharp voice reeled off orders in her ear, and Sydney smiled reassuringly as she waved Weiss off.

“Sydney,” Jack said with his usual implacable calm, “we’ve had reports of stragglers attempting to escape via the parking garage. I’m experiencing some interference raising the two teams we left stationed there.”

She wiped away the vestiges of her tears surreptitiously, and started for the front of the building. “On my way,” she said, and stepped her pace up to an easy lope across the room and into the elevator. She gestured to two agents loitering in its vicinity. “You and you, with me.”

Weiss watched her go, watched her reclaim that stoic professionalism she seemed to don as easily as an article of clothing, and smiled in admiration. Michael would be proud of what we’ve accomplished here today, he thought, nearly growing misty eyed at the thought of his dead friend again. He’d be proud of Syd, of me.

He surveyed the damaged room one last time, thinking that tonight would be a good night for a six pack of Black Butte and a pizza from Cirello’s. His own private celebration feast.

He supervised the extraction of former SD-6 employees, all of them confused, frightened, angry. They still didn’t understand that the company they’d been working for was not the CIA at all. He sighed as the reality of the work yet to be done loomed ahead of him.

And he didn’t think of Sydney again until her father came looking.

“Have you seen Sydney?” Jack asked as Weiss checked off yet another name from his PDA list of SD-6 employees.

He looked up, and felt the first frisson of fear pass through him. Jack’s voice was even, his face its usual expressionless mask, and yet…something about his eyes was troubled. Weiss frowned.

“Not since you ordered her to the parking garage,” he said, shrugging.

“Not since…I…” Jack Bristow’s voice trailed away, and his face froze. He didn’t waste time with more words, but turned on his heel and ran for the elevator. Weiss was only three steps behind, but he barely made it in before Jack’s hand on the control panel slammed the doors shut.

“Come on, come on!” Bristow glared at the electronic numbers above the elevator doors, apparently willing them to move faster.

“I take it,” said Weiss with a sinking feeling in his gut, “you didn’t order Sydney to the parking garage.”

“No,” said Jack tersely, and Weiss felt the sinking feeling drop like a stone.

“But it was your voice on her headset,” he insisted numbly, willing it to be so.
“I could hear it.”

Bristow focused on him, and the ferocity of his gaze had Weiss stumbling back.

“Could you?” the other man asked bitterly, sardonically. “As if there is no one and no device in this world capable of imitating my voice, once a sufficient sample has been recorded?”

Weiss winced. It was true, of course. In the world of espionage and counter espionage, all manner of electronic mimicry was constantly being perfected.

Finally the elevator stopped, the doors sliding open, and the two men exited, following all of the textbook strategies for effectively clearing an area. Not that the effort was needed. Every member of the two teams left to guard the exit point were down, including the two agents Weiss had seen Sydney take with her into the elevator. A brief examination proved they were all still alive and breathing, but drugged.

Jack Bristow strode from body to body, cursing steadily louder as he went, an uncharacteristic display of emotion for him. Sydney was not among them. He came across the empty gas canister used to drug twelve agents, and kicked it so viciously, it ricocheted all the way across the garage. The metallic, echoing ping of its journey resounded into the silence for a long moment.

Jack stood with his head bowed, hand pressed to his eyes. He finally looked up at Weiss, his face bleak and empty. He said the words unnecessarily, but as if he needed the verbal validation of what their eyes had already told them.

“She’s gone.”

London, England


Something, a sound, reverberated through the blackness that shrouded his mind. It was insistent, repetitive, and forced him to struggle up through the layers of deep, exhausted slumber into reluctant wakefulness. Even then, it took him an uncharacteristically long time to identify the ringing of his phone. And even longer to fumble his hand over the receiver and pick it up.

“ ‘Lo?”

Even through the groggy haze that still slowed his thinking, it occurred to Sark that the phone must have been ringing for a very long time, and thus, the call must be important. A quick glance at his bedside clock told him he’d barely been asleep for an hour, and his mood darkened accordingly. It better be bloody important, he thought grimly. This was his first real sleep in nearly seventy-two hours.

“Sark. We have a problem.”

It was Bristow, and the tension in the other man’s voice had Sark sitting up in bed, grogginess fading beneath a surge of adrenaline. It spoke volumes that even that natural drug could only stir him to a sluggish awareness.

“Jack, what’s wrong? The operation?”

“Went as planned. Mostly. Sloane…escaped capture.”

“Damn!” Anger followed adrenaline, had him curling his hand into a fist and slamming it into his thigh. “Bugger-all, the bastard would slip through the cracks.”

Sark tossed back the covers, already slipping from the bed.

“Give me a minute here, Jack. Just let me get a swallow or two of coffee into my system, and you can fill me in.”

He still wore most of his clothing from the evening before, the black T-shirt rumpled now, despite the tight fit of the material. His matching fatigues had not made the most comfortable of sleeping attire, but he’d been too exhausted when he finally stumbled in to manage more than taking off his shoes.

He ignored the way his legs seemed to shake slightly as he crossed to the small kitchen his apartment boasted. Just a hit or three of caffeine, and he’d be fine…

“Andrew, Sloane isn’t why I’m calling,” Jack told him reluctantly, and Sark stopped with his hand halfway to the coffeepot. Bristow never, never called him by his first name. His heart began a painful pounding in his chest, and he wet suddenly dry lips with the tip of his tongue. He had to clear his throat before he could speak.

“Then…why?” he asked, already knowing, already fearing the answer.

“It’s Sydney. She’s gone. Vanished.” Sark could almost hear Jack’s mouth thin with displeasure as the words spilled across the connection. “Taken, we’re pretty sure.”

The silence stretched, and he carefully put his still empty coffee cup down on the counter; his hand was shaking badly enough to drop it if he didn’t.

“By…who?” he managed, the words barely recognizable. “Sloane?”

“We don’t know. At this point, we’re pretty sure she’s still alive. They’d have killed her and left her body for us to find if she wasn’t useful to them somehow.”

“Of course.”

It seemed as though everything he said came out sounding faint and far away. Sark took two steps to the kitchen table, sinking blindly into a chair. His left hand sat on the table top, clenched into a tight fist, the muscles of his arm taut from wrist to shoulder. He took a moment to master himself before speaking again. After all of this, everything we’ve survived, and now, at the end, when we should be rejoicing in our newfound freedom…

“I’ll be there as soon as I’m able, Jack. I’ll call you, but I imagine it’ll be roughly eight hours from now. You can meet me at the airport.”

“I’ve already checked. The earliest flight from London to L.A. doesn’t leave until noon today.”

“Yes, well, I won’t be traveling commercial air,” Sark answered, his tone just a touch acerbic. “Meet me at Los Angeles International. I’ll call you with the definitive time.”

He hung up before Bristow could reply, catapulting himself from his chair and back into the bedroom. He pulled open drawers, flung wide closet doors, grabbing articles of clothing more-or-less at random. He found his cell phone lying on the dresser and scooped it up into his hand, dialing a number from memory, and praying it hadn’t changed in the last ten years.

It rang, and rang, and on the sixth ring, a familiar voice answered.

“Collins?” asked Sark by reflex, even though he knew the man’s voice nearly as well as his own. “Yes, it’s Andrew…yes, I know I’ve been out of touch for some years…yes, I know…no! Don’t tell Mother. Please, Collins, you know how she’ll be, and I really don’t have time for this now.”

Sark waited, less than patiently, while the other man filled his ears with a lecture on duty to family, responsibility to title, all of the things he’d left behind by fudging his age and joining the military at fifteen. He practically bit through his tongue to keep from verbally flaying a man who’d always been kind to him.

“All right, Collins. I’ll call her as soon as I get back…look, I couldn’t have contacted anyone until this morning, in any case. I’ve been working…yes, deep cover, classified, the whole bollocks. You know the drill.”

And Nathaniel Collins certainly did. He had, after all, once entertained a young, impressionable Andrew with stories of his own colorful days as an agent.

“Look,” Sark interrupted, his patience finally snapping. “I’ve no time for this. A friend of mine – a colleague – is in danger. Her life is…very important to me. I need a favor.” And he explained exactly what he needed, and where.

He was out the door in under ten minutes, travel bag in hand, SIG fastened snugly in a shoulder holster beneath his trench coat. He still wore the same T-shirt and black fatigues, having foregone changing in favor of time. Time, after all, might be the only thing he had going for him. Every hour that passed was one less hour he had to reach Sydney while she still lived. He knew it, from training, from hard experience, from every damn class they’d ever made him sit through on kidnappings and hostage situations. The clock was ticking, had been ticking since the moment she’d been taken.

He no longer needed coffee to get him moving. All he could see in his mind were images of Sydney, and none of them were good. Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out his cell phone, and dialed a second number from memory.

Sometimes it was necessary to deal with the Devil.

***


Fire.

It flickered down every nerve ending in her body, flaring up into agony every time she dared move, seeming to radiate from her gut, her abdomen. She moaned. Dear God, what had they given her? A drug, yes. She was reasonably certain they hadn’t meant to kill her with it, whatever it was. But she thought she might die, anyway.

She tried to speak, tried to call out for help, to tell them that whatever drug they’d injected into her body was causing a violent reaction. But she couldn’t breath, could barely gasp as sweat dripped down her brow, matting her hair and covering her skin with a thin layer of damp. She didn’t know where she was. Couldn’t see. Could barely hear. All of her other senses seemed totally overridden by the pain receptors in her body. Everything was feel, and what she felt made her weep.

Even that small release caused more pain, and she found herself spiraling, falling back into the welcome dark of oblivion.


Los Angeles, California


Jack Bristow was waiting when the private jet landed at Los Angeles International Airport. Not calmly, not patiently, but with a low simmering rage that lurked just below the surface.

Ten hours since Sydney’s disappearance, and he didn’t have one fucking lead to go on. Not him, not the CIA. No one had a single, goddamn thing.

His daughter’s only hope, he thought fiercely, was in finding Sloane, if he’d been the one to take her. God, I hope so. Sloane had always had a soft spot for Sydney, and if she was now his prisoner, chances were she was still alive, and would be kept relatively unharmed for as long as possible.

Jack hoped.

He waited until the door to the plane swung open, then started across the tarmac. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, the single part of his brain that wasn’t obsessively occupied with his daughter’s disappearance, made a mental note to find out how, exactly, Sark had gotten his hands on the Talbot family jet.

The two men met halfway, and shared a brief handclasp, a squeeze of fingers that acknowledged to one another their status as allies. Face to face meetings between the two had never been precisely smooth.

“Sark,” Jack greeted neutrally.

Privately, he thought the other man looked like hell. His face was paler than it should have been, his eyes haggard and underscored by dark smudges of weariness. A fine stubble darkened his jaw and chin, the first time in memory that Jack had ever seen him less than perfectly groomed. And he wasn’t wearing one of his endless array of tasteful suits, but a rumpled set of military fatigues that looked as though he’d been wearing them for days.

“Jack,” Sark said, and gestured to the plane being refueled on the runway behind him. “We’ll be ready for take off in about fifteen minutes. I suggest you make any necessary calls, and we get onboard.”

“I thought I was meeting you here,” Jack said with undisguised surprise, “to take you back to our field office.”

“Why would we go there?” Sark frowned, and shook his head impatiently. “Your daughter’s not in L.A., Jack. We aren’t going to get her back by sitting around on our asses, waiting.”

Jack bristled at Sark’s tone. He had to remind himself, forcibly, that this man loved his daughter, and was obviously running on too little sleep.

“Fine,” he said, the word practically bitten off. But it was as polite as he could manage. He forced himself to begin walking toward the plane. “Then why don’t you tell me where we’re going?”

“When we’re onboard, I’ll be happy to explain everything,” Sark replied, and quickened his pace.

Jack swallowed back a disgruntled comment. More than anything, he hated not being in control of this situation. It was his daughter, damn it, and she’d disappeared on his watch. It was his responsibility to find her, and he’d worked ceaselessly, if fruitlessly, since her disappearance to do just that. It burned that Sark may have accomplished more in the short time since Jack had called him. Pride, he reminded himself firmly, is dangerous. It doesn’t matter who finds Sydney and gets her back, just so long as we do.

He followed Sark onboard the private jet, ignoring the smiling attendant who ushered them in and pulled shut the door behind them. He ground his teeth as Sark crossed to a bar carved from what looked like mahogany, and poured two tumblers of scotch. The seconds ticked by, and Jack managed to wait nearly thirty of them before losing his patience.

“So, we’re onboard, Sark.” He gestured to the leather covered seats, the bar, the opulent interior of the cabin. “Why don’t you fill me in on exactly how we’re going to find my daughter.”

Sark half turned, both glasses in hand, and opened his mouth to reply – but he wasn’t the one to answer Jack’s question.

“A tracking device,” said an all too familiar, all too sultry feminine voice from the direction of the pilot’s cabin. Shadows from the tiny walkway hid her face, while the softer lighting of the larger room outlined the slim lines of her form.

A form Jack knew very, very well.

He tried to speak, to ask what the fuck Irina Derevko was doing here, but the words wouldn’t come. Shock had robbed him of breath, of speech. She smiled, a sensuous curve of lips as she stepped into the light.

“Hello, Jack.”

Sark glanced from one of them to the other, sipping his scotch. As Jack watched, he held the other glass out to Irina, who crossed the cabin and took it from him with a smile of thanks. It seemed personal, somehow, that smile. Intimate, even. He wasn’t aware that he’d closed his hands into fists until his nails bit painfully into the flesh of his palms.

Irina looked directly into his eyes, and smiled. The bitch.

“Sark planted a tracking device on her some months back,” she explained, “fearing that something like this, or similar, might very well happen.”

Jack finally found his voice, and an outlet for some of his anger. He rounded on Sark.

“A tracking device?” he asked, low and furious. “Did Sydney know about this?”

The other man glanced down into his drink, having the grace to look at least a little shame faced.

“Not exactly,” he said.

“And how, exactly, did you manage to plant a tracking device without her knowledge, that you can guarantee will still be on her and functioning several months later?”

Sark looked up, met his eyes squarely, and didn’t answer. He took a very slow, very deliberate drink from his glass. Irina laughed, a low sound that grated along Jack’s nerves, even as it sent a frisson of memory through his body. It was the same laugh she’d used in the dark, with him, so many years ago.

“Come, come, Jack. You can hardly expect a man to discuss such things with his lover’s father…he planted the device using the same technique you might have used once…with me. Some activities can be quite…distracting, after all.” She arched a knowing brow at him, and Jack looked away.

“What the hell is she doing here?” he asked Sark finally, the words hissed between clenched teeth.

“She knows Sloane better than either of us, Jack – no, don’t argue. You might think you know him better. Fine. Believe that if you wish. It is my belief that Irina knows Sloane and his goals, and what he might want with Sydney, better than either one of us.”

“You can’t trust her! We’ve been working against her organization just as surely as we have against the Alliance these last months – make that years.”

Irina sat in one of the leather seats and placed her drink beside her. She didn’t appear concerned with the conversation, but Jack knew she was calculatedly memorizing every word.

True,” said Sark, “but I believe a mother’s love for her daughter outweighs all other considerations in this instance.”

“A mother’s love? Are you blind? Jesus, you worked for her for years. You should damn well know how devoid this woman is of love.”

“You think so? I did work for her, and I’ll tell you what I remember about Irina and her daughter. She never allowed Sydney to come to harm, even when it might have jeopardized her own plans. Standing orders were never to hurt Sydney more than superficially.” He paused, toying with his glass where it sat on the bar. “And she turned a blind eye when I started seeing her daughter, despite the ramifications it might have had.” He glanced in her direction. “Despite the compromised loyalty of a senior member of her organization.”

Irina shrugged, a delicate movement of shoulders, and sent him a coy glance. “You and I have already discussed your….changeable loyalties, Sark. And Sydney had nothing to do with them, did she?”

So, Jack thought, she knows, now at least, about Sark and British Intel.

“I observed you with Sydney,” she added, “for some time. I tested you, and your feelings for her. And concluded that my daughter’s happiness was more important to me than your potential usefulness.” She looked up at him. “You, after all, are replaceable to me. You clearly weren’t to her. If you hadn’t vanished when you did, I would have taken steps to remove you from my cartel.”

Jack snorted in sheer disbelief.

“You expect me to believe that you give a damn about Sydney’s happiness? You’d have cut loose one of your top operatives – and an agent you could have used to feed the British government misinformation -- simply so she could keep her lover?”

Irina cut her eyes to him, expression and voice going cold. She looked, for the first time since she’d entered the room, exactly like the Irina who’d betrayed her husband and daughter.

“No,” she said simply, “not so Sydney could keep her lover. Because being her lover meant I could no longer trust Sark, even in his predictable capacity as a double agent. Emotional attachments are too dangerous in our business, Jack. Smart people don’t have them, but for Sark, it was too late.” She glanced at the other man again. “I saw that clearly enough when you killed Mariknikauff.”

“Marikni…” Several things fell into place for Jack. He turned to Sark, frowning. “You killed the Russian? He died right after that mission Sydney did in Rome…the meeting she had with him, and you.”

“That’s right,” said Sark neutrally.

He picked up his glass again, took a drink. He didn’t look at either of them, but Jack recognized the expression on the other man’s face. He’d been known to wear it himself, when his daughter’s safety was threatened.

Irina smiled, and said conversationally, “Yes, he killed Mariknikauff. Moments after the man had insulted Sydney.”

Sark rounded on her, eyes bright with anger.

“He struck her! Hard enough to bruise. And threatened her life.” He paused, mastered himself, and looked away again. He played with his glass, turning it around in his hands. “He would have followed through, just to get back at you, Irina. He hated you.” He finished off his scotch in one long swallow, and turned his back to them. “Killing him was necessary,” he muttered.

Irina looked at Jack, arched a single brow. “There, you see? He was in love with her then, even if he didn’t yet know it. From that evening on, I knew that Sark had become a liability. He had to be used carefully and sparingly until I could safely remove him.” She smiled widely at him. A simple, pure, beautiful smile that tightened Jack’s chest like a fist around his heart. “But then, you did that for me, Jack. And Sark was no longer my problem.”

He opened his mouth to refute – yet again – that Irina Derevko was a lying bitch who could not, under any circumstances, be trusted, when the pilot’s voice suddenly came over the intercom.

“We’re prepared for take off, sir. If you and your guests could take a seat and fasten seat belts, we’ll be on our way.”

Sark hit a button on the wall beside him, and spoke into the speaker above it. “Thank-you, Isaac. Keep me informed of our estimated arrival time.”

He crossed and sat beside Irina, who had already fastened her own seatbelt. Jack was quite sure the choice of seats had not been accidental. Sark was telling him in no uncertain terms that he trusted Irina. At least for now.

Damn it to hell! Jack hesitated briefly, feeling the plane’s engines powering up as the cabin began to vibrate. He finally sat, disgruntled and angry, refusing to acknowledge Irina’s openly amused expression.

Whatever Sark might think, he wasn’t taking his eyes off the woman. She always, always worked her own agenda, and this time would be no different.

***


She woke feeling parched and weak, her body aching as though she’d suffered a thorough beating. From a crowbar.

She groaned, eyes fluttering open, and saw nothing to reassure her. The room was black. No light reflected anywhere to give her a sense of space, or to see herself by. She could feel restraints biting into wrists, ankles, biceps. Her hands were stretched above her head, her feet fastened securely to the foot of whatever hard slab they’d placed her on. She could hear her heart beat, her own breathing, but nothing else.

At least her nerves weren’t on fire any more. But the residual ache was bad enough. And she could barely lift her head. Once she took stock, the restraints seemed laughably redundant. And she still felt pain. She hurt as though someone had punched her, hard in the gut, a number of times. Followed by repeated kicking about the legs, back, and pelvis. She could well imagine the black and blue marks she must have.
I hope, she thought wearily, nothing’s broken.

Trying to swallow, but finding her throat too dry to manage, she wondered dully if she might die of dehydration. She had no idea how long she’d been without water, or when someone might come for her. A strange lethargy seemed to make her limbs heavy, made her wonder about death with a kind of detached numbness, as if her own life were only of mild interest to her. She thought briefly of Sark, her father, Francie…but couldn’t work up the will to fight for them.

She had no sense of time, and her mind wandered listlessly until a sudden sliver of light opened up in the dark, blinding her.


A door, she thought, feeling a surge of equal parts exhilaration and fear. A door meant freedom, but it also meant someone was coming for her. Perhaps to hurt her more.

She thought, with a feeling of dull dread, that she’d have preferred death.




Thessaly, Greece


Sark stood on the edge of the bluff, letting the wind buffet his face and whip through his hair. His eyes watered with the force of it, but he didn’t mind. He needed the stinging pain to keep him alert. The few, small hours of sleep he’d managed on the plane had been fitful, at best. His mind wouldn’t stop showing him images of Sydney, and all of the horrible things that she could be undergoing at Sloane’s hands.

“So this is it?” Jack asked, coming to stand beside him. “Sydney’s somewhere in this valley.” He sounded doubtful.

Sark didn’t bother turning to look at the other man, but pulled a PDA from his trench coat pocket and touched a button with his thumb.

“Yes,” he said a moment later, glancing up from the small screen. “She hasn’t moved in nearly six hours. She’s here. In fact…” He lifted a hand and turned his body slightly, so that the wind ruffled his hair sideways. He sighted down his arm like he was pointing a gun. “…there aren’t many roads here to make tracking easy, but my best guess is we’ll find her there.”

“There?” Jack squinted. “I don’t see anything but a damn tall cliff.”

“Tsk, Jack,” said Irina, from close by his elbow. She’d just come up to stand behind the two men, though Sark noted that Jack seemed to know precisely where she was at all times; he didn’t, for example, flinch away from her sudden presence beside him. Sark was sure he wanted to. “Don’t you know your geography? You’ve been to Greece many times, and yet you aren’t familiar with this part of Thessaly?”

Sark saw Jack’s jaw clench. It was something of an amusement to see the unflappable Jack Bristow actually flustered. Or as close as the man ever came to it.

“There’s something special about that cliff, I take it?” Bristow ground out.

“It isn’t just a cliff, Jack,” explained Irina with the patience of one lecturing a child. Sark bit the inside of his cheek, trapped between humor and irritation. “It’s one of the meteorisa monastiria, abandoned long ago as too difficult to maintain.” She stopped, looking at her ex-husband expectantly.

For a moment, Sark believed Jack might actually slap her. Instead, he tucked his hands into the pockets of his jacket – to restrain himself, Sark thought – and said in a carefully even tone, “Hanging monasteries?”

“Exactly!” She smiled like he’d won a prize. Jack looked like he wanted to strangle her, and Sark could empathize with the feeling. Except he wanted to strangle both of them. Honestly, their daughter’s life was hanging in the balance, while they bickered, and baited one another!

Irina started to lecture, like a professor teaching a class, and Sark’s mood grew darker with every word to pass her lips.

“They’re monasteries built on top of inaccessible rock cliffs by pious monks during the 14th and 15th centuries, though the tradition began much farther back. In the 9th century, monks began living out of caves in these cliffs, and as their population grew, so did their need for shelter. Hence, the meteorisa monastiria. They are masterpieces. Works of art built by the painstaking labor of simple men, most of the structures long abandoned, now, and accessible only by very difficult means.”

She shot a glance at Sark, but he ignored her. He wasn’t going to give anything away until he absolutely had to. He trusted her….to a point. He saw Jack open his mouth to say something to Irina, saw her turn back to say something to Jack, and lost his tenuous grasp on patience.

“Entertaining as this is,” he intervened, stepping decisively between them, “I believe we have work to do. Your daughter needs you.” He glared at them both. “I’ll place a call, get what we’re going to need. Irina, if you would be so kind as to gather the packs of gear I stowed on the plane. Jack.” He looked over Irina’s head, met the other man’s eyes. He tossed him a small pair of high powered binoculars he’d been planning on using himself. “Scout the area.”

Jack hesitated, clearly disgruntled at taking orders from Sark, but with a last glance at Irina’s retreating form, he nodded once and walked away. Sark breathed a sigh of relief. He needed to think, and he couldn’t do that very well with the two of them bickering back and forth like children. He’d be sure to tell Sydney that she hadn’t missed much by growing up without both of her parents.

“Like bloody teenagers, both of them,” he muttered, and turned back to study the structure he believed housed the woman he loved. At least four hundred feet up a sheer rock cliff on all sides, it was not one of the four hanging monasteries still open to tourists. Because you couldn’t get to it from the ground. In older times, the monks would have hoisted one another from the bottom of the cliff to the top with pulleys and baskets, but such a device would not do for them. He lifted his eyes to study the azure blue of the sky above the monastery, thinking.

There will be guards. Guns. Look outs watching for any kind of insertion attempt. He sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face, the rough feel of stubble reminding him that he hadn’t shaved in too long.

He hadn’t done a night drop in years. They weren’t fun at the best of times, but parachuting in to a small structure on a high cliff top, situated in the middle of a valley covered by very similar cliffs, made it more dicey than he liked. Especially while trying to evade the notice of men who were likely armed with high powered rifles and sub-machine guns.

“Bloody wonderful,” he muttered darkly. “If I so much as see Sloane, I’m going to fucking kill him.”


***


“I’m so sorry, Sydney,” he said. “I never intended for this.”

He even sounded like he meant it. Bile rose up in her throat, nausea roiling through her gut as he touched her, cupping her head gently with his hand, lifting her up so she could drink from the glass of water he’d brought with him.

“You’re important, you know. I would never cause you physical harm, if I could help it.” So kind. So sincere.

She swallowed the water because she had to, her body so starved from the drug that it took all her willpower not to gulp it down greedily. She savored it, instead. Cold and wet, it slid down her throat like the smoothest wine, soothing everywhere it touched. He held the glass for her carefully, allowing her to drink as much as she wanted. When she started to feel sick, when she knew if she drank anymore, she’d throw it all back up, she stopped, holding one last swallow inside her mouth. She pulled her head back, and he let her. His hand slid away, the glass following.

“You need to regain your strength, Sydney.” Now he sounded like an admonishing parent, as if her current condition was of her own making, and nothing of his. “The Prophecy waits for your part in it, a part you can’t possibly play as you are. I need you, and you will regain your strength. You will help me.”

He leaned down, smiling, just as if he wasn’t responsible for hundreds, thousands of deaths as one of the leaders of the Alliance. The bastard. He reached out to brush her hair back from her forehead, and she spit her last swallow of water into his face.

He jerked back, smile gone, fatherly demeanor vanished, for the moment. He took a clean white handkerchief from his pocket, and slowly wiped his face.

“You bastard,” she said, trying to shout it at him. It came out as a croak, a whisper, but loud enough that he heard. “You tried to kill me!”

Arvin Sloane folded up the handkerchief and replaced it into his pocket. He looked at her now with cold eyes. She knew that look very well.

“I’ve explained to you, Sydney, I would never wish you ill. So long as you do what I require, no more harm will be inflicted. The effect the drug had on your body could never have been anticipated, by neither me nor my men.”

“…don’t believe you,” she whispered. “Hurt me. Beat…tortured…”

The cold look softened with pity, and it infuriated her. The numbness, at least, was fading. She could feel angry now, and that was good.

“I didn’t have you beaten or tortured, Sydney. Is that what you think? God, you’re practically a daughter to me!”

“No…” she argued, but he didn’t listen. Sloane shook his head sadly.

“If we had known, ahead of time, we could have used something else, something less…potent, less dangerous. But I wanted you out for the duration of our journey, and the fact is, we didn’t know. Because you didn’t see fit to inform me, your superior. But then, I wasn’t really, was I?” He smiled bitterly. “You were working against me all the while, along with my friend, your father, the ever-loyal Jack Bristow. You betrayed me, Sydney, and now you reap the consequences.”

She was shaking her head, so angry she wanted to hit him, kick him, cut out his lying tongue. She wanted to kill the son of a bitch.

“You betrayed us!” she hissed, and Sloane laughed. “You’re responsible.” She gasped the words, feeling her brief moment of strength fading, fast. “You don’t like it, but you are. I nearly died!”

“I betrayed you?” he said incredulously. “Poor Sydney. I’m sure it comforts you to believe that. But the truth is, you have only yourself to blame for your current situation. If you and your father had not forced my hand, we would not be here now. If you had been honest with me, I would have administered you a different drug.”

He smiled down at her with that same pitying expression, while she struggled and strained against the ropes binding her, cutting into her limbs. Blood trickled down her arms, and still she fought and twisted.

“You have many reasons to hate me, Sydney,” he said softly, “but this is not one of them. You can’t blame me for the loss of your child.”

She went suddenly still, even the breath freezing in her lungs. His words slammed into her with more force than a physical blow. It reverberated through her, that word.
Child…

It couldn’t be true! She couldn’t be…couldn’t have been… She stared up at him, saw the realization dawn on him that she hadn’t known. Saw the lines of his face deepen with a shock that mirrored her own.

“You’re lying,” she gasped desperately.

Sloane shook his head. “I wish I were. I’m so sorry, Sydney. Sorry you didn’t know. The drug…it isn’t a medication that mixes well with pregnancy. You miscarried on the flight here, hemorrhaging badly. It’s why you’re so weak. You did nearly die.”

Tears she couldn’t afford to spill filled her eyes, despair clogging her throat. A baby! She thought frantically, counting back. She’d been late, missed a month. But that wasn’t unusual for her, not in the stressful life she led. But… she’d also been sick lately, run down, always tired. And emotional. She remembered crying on Weiss’s shoulder.

“Oh, my God,” she whispered.

It was true. Deep down, in her heart, she knew it. She could feel the ache -- the loss -- in her body. In her soul.

Dear Lord, she’d been carrying a child. Sark’s,/i> child. She closed her eyes, fighting back the tears. Sloane’s hand on her shoulder, squeezing in sympathy, brought a rush of rage to overpower despair. She opened her eyes, glared at him with every ounce of hatred she felt.

“I’m going to get free of here, Sloane,” she said clearly, “and I’m going to kill you.”

“Oh, Sydney.” He smiled, shook his head. He crossed back to the door, blocked the sliver of light with his body, enclosed her in bleak darkness again. “No, you won’t,” he said.

And he shut the door.

***


On to Part two: Endgame
 
 
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