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15 December 2009 @ 07:56 am
Fic: Dreams, Alias Syd/Sark (Illusions part 2)  
I don't have a lot of old fic. Mostly, we're just talking the Illusions series, and An Exercise in Control. So...six? Still, sorry to be spamming the f-list today.

Fic: Dreams (second in the Illusions series)
Author: Rhien Elleth
Pairing: Syd/Sark
Rating: M
Words: 8881

Los Angeles, California

She dreamt of him.

Wildly erotic dreams of his hands on her skin…his mouth, hot, wet, and mercilessly arousing…flesh sliding over flesh. She woke in a tangle of sheets, her heart pounding, reaching for a phantom lover who wasn’t there. Who never could be. It left her restless, and wanting, and aching for something too dangerous to have.

She slid her knees up to her chest, stared out her window at the beautiful fountain of pink blossoms from the cheery tree outside, and mourned the coming of spring. She wanted it to be winter, in Rome, on a night that had seemed endless.

“Hey,” said Francie as she wandered into the room with two steaming cups of coffee. “Morning, sleepy head.”

Sydney drudged up a smile for her friend, putting her normal facade back into place as she took the offered cup from Francie’s fingers. “Thanks,” she said. “It still feels a little chilly in here. Maybe winter’s trying to hang on.”

“Maybe,” said Francie doubtfully. She sat on the edge of the bed, glanced toward the window and the cherry tree. “Who’s Sark?”

Sydney froze, her blood turning to ice. When her heart resumed beating, it was a painful pounding in her chest. She barely managed to keep from spilling her coffee. She looked at Francie, searching for words, unable to find any. Her friend was looking at her with that secret smile girlfriends shared as she took a sip of coffee. Sydney tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. Oh, God, this can’t be happening.

“You were calling out to him in your sleep,” Francie continued, her eyes crinkling at the corners as her smile widened mischievously. “Sounded... pretty intense.”

Sydney wanted to die. God, she thought desperately, why, why, why?

“Sark isn’t a person,” she said finally, using her coffee as an excuse to look away from her friend, “it’s a place.” She smiled. “A tiny island off the coast of England.” It was true, actually; she knew, because she’d done a search on the name, in one of her more obsessive moments. “It’s kind of stupid, really,” she continued, sliding her legs over the side of the bed and setting her coffee on the nightstand. It was easier to lie to her friends when she had something to do, so she crossed to her closet and started getting dressed. “The bank just sent around this flier; they’re going to send Employee of the Year to this island for seven days in August. I must have been dreaming about winning.”

She pulled a shirt on over her head, so she wouldn’t have to look at Francie. When she was finished, she flipped her hair free of the collar and gave a small laugh. “You know how long it’s been since I’ve had a vacation.”

Francie didn’t know about Rome. No one knew about Rome, not even her father. Her friend stood up, rolling her eyes.

“Girl, I know how long it’s been since you’ve had a lot of things, and from the sound of that dream, you need a vacation, bad.”

Sydney’s smile faded; she tried to keep the flash of yearning from showing in her eyes. She looked out the window again, and longed for winter.

“I know,” she said softly.

* * *

It didn’t affect her work, or her professionalism. She wouldn’t allow it to. Usually, she could get through an entire day and only think of him a handful of times. She would force the thought away, go on with work, hold conversations, listen to briefings. And it would slowly return, sneaking into her consciousness, the moment she wasn’t alert and watching for it. Where was he, right now? What was he doing? Did he think of her at all? Did he dream of her? Did he wake in the night, trembling, heart racing, breath gasping, from the ghostly touch of memory?


The name jerked Sydney back into the here and now, back to the briefing room at SD-6. No, her obsession didn’t affect her work at all…most days. She hastily reviewed the conversation she’d only half been listening to, and felt a sudden rush of adrenaline hit her. Khasinau, in Italy. If Khasinau was there, odds were, Sark would be, too. Why had they returned to Italy? She’d never really asked Sark his reasons for being there the last time, and he hadn’t volunteered the information. She clenched her hands into fists underneath the table, noticed the small frown on her father’s face as he looked across at her. She gave him a tiny smile, a reassurance he acknowledged with a barely perceptible incline of his head. Sloane continued speaking, and Sidney focused completely, selfishly voracious now, on every word he said.

“We aren’t certain, yet, of its origin.” Sloane stood at the head of the table, the screen beside him showing an innocuous, though artistically carved wooden box, covered with what looked like gold filigree. “But the possibility strongly exists that it is one of Rambaldi’s. It’s being auctioned off from a private collection at the Casa d’Aste Babuino, three days from now. Obviously, Khasinau has only two options to obtain it – attempt to steal it from the highly guarded collection of which it is a part, or bid on it himself.” Sloane paused, looked around the table. “We are going to acquire it first.”

Sydney couldn’t deny the thrill she felt. Going back to Italy, to Rome…hadn’t she just dreamed of that exact thing this morning? And yet, underneath the anticipation, she felt the trickle of another, less welcome emotion: dread.

She listened half heartedly to Marshall’s halting explanation of the duplicate box he’d created, so that she and Dixon could switch it with the real one two nights before the auction. If the plan was successful, she had no reason to believe she would ever actually see Sark. And if it wasn’t, he was the last person she wanted to run into – what options did they have, either of them? Only one could end up with the box. Just one winner allowed, thanks. And neither one could give it up. Sydney’s throat tightened painfully as her fantasies crumbled to ashes around her. There was no future for her with Sark. Never was, never would be. That night in Rome had been an illusion, a one time, never to be repeated event, if not an out and out mistake. Best ignored, she thought with a hardening resolve. Best forgotten. And lest she forget, best gotten over. It would be a costly, mortal mistake to hesitate at the wrong moment.

Because she was certain he would not.

Rome, Italy

The plane touched down approximately ten minutes early. The tourist season was just gaining momentum, and the Leonardo da Vinci Airport was busy, filled not only with families and students on vacation or spring break, but also with those traveling routinely on business. Scholars of all ages flocked to Italy in the warmer months, eager to explore its statues and ruins, and other vestiges of a fallen empire.

Mr. Sark sat amongst the crowd of people milling outside the gate, watching as they waited anxiously to greet family, friends, guests, and co-workers. His Italian made, cream colored suit blended well with the rest of the business crowd, the expensive tailoring marking him as more successful than most. He read a copy of the Financial Times while he waited, and occasionally checked the time on his Rolex. When the plane taxied in, he put the newspaper away, and placed himself in the back of the crowd.

He made the call fifteen minutes later, dialing his cell phone outside of the airport as he slid inside the black leather interior of a Maserati Coupé. When he traveled, he preferred to do so in style, and the car fit the persona he currently maintained. His call was answered almost at once.


"They've arrived," he said, turning the key in the ignition. "I have people following them to their hotel now."

"And our invitation?" asked Khasinau.

"Extended and accepted. It will happen tonight, provided all of the other guests are on schedule?” Sark intentionally made the statement a question. Silence was his only response for a long moment. His employer knew exactly what he was asking; it was the one item they disagreed on regularly.

"I’m afraid Irina will not be coming,” Khasinau said finally, his reluctance obvious in his tone. Sark’s hand tightened on the cell phone, and he bit back a curse as the other man continued, voicing the same tired argument he always used. “It is too dangerous for her to reveal herself again at this juncture. The Americans did not take her escape well, and a year and a half has not softened their attitude.”

That was an understatement. Sark himself had seen the CIA’s standing orders regarding the political fugitive Irina Derevko: shoot to kill. But keeping her so well hidden that no one could verify her existence was not the answer, either. He took a breath, and tried one last time to reason with Khasinau.

“These people will stop being a thorn of contention if we just --”

“No.” The word was quiet, but spoken with force. “I will hear no more on this subject, Sark. Irina will not be there. You just make sure everyone else is.”

The line went dead before he could respond, and Sark threw the phone into the seat beside him with a furious fling of his hand. He cursed in several languages, shifting into a higher gear as he gave the high performance engine its head. He stuck to back roads, taking his frustration out by whipping around corners as tight and fast as he could push the car. They aren’t fucking stupid, either one of them. Why can’t they see it? He just didn’t understand. What appeared obvious to him, his employers seemed utterly blind to.

His systematic killing of Marik’s men in Rome four months ago had not had the desired effect. Far from quietly disappearing from the scene, Mariknikauff had, if anything, increased his activities. Even the Americans were beginning to scramble against him, and their bureaucracy was much slower moving than Irina’s cartel, or the Alliance, for that matter. Irina Derevko was a known name in Russia; a powerful entity. If she were to step in and tell Marik, point blank, to back off, Sark was confident he would. In fact, he suspected the Russian’s sudden interest in things Rambaldi had everything to do with Irina and Khasinau, and nothing whatsoever to do with Rambaldi’s Prophecy. The problem was, popular belief held Irina Derevko dead. She’d never resurfaced after escaping from the Americans, and they, of course, would never openly acknowledge such a disastrous fumble on their part. Only a handful of people knew she was still alive. And my bloody job would be a great deal easier if certain people did. But his employers would not budge on the matter.

It took nearly forty-five minutes for his temper to cool. When it finally did, Sark stopped lamenting Khasinau’s stubborn nature, and turned his mind toward doing his job, no matter how difficult it might be. He had a lot to accomplish before the informal meet with Mariknikauff and SD-6.

* * *

Sydney shifted uncomfortably in the back of the car. Dixon glanced at her, frowning, and their driver, one of their Italian contacts, asked for the third time if she needed anything. She’d never run across another agent so solicitous before, but then, his day job was that of a tour guide. Maybe it was just habit.

“Are you sure you’re feeling all right, Syd?” Dixon asked again. He’d been throwing concerned looks her direction ever since they’d touched down. She could hardly tell him why she was so fidgety and uneasy. She’d felt it the second she’d stepped outside the airport. The smells, sights, and sounds were all so strikingly familiar. She kept glancing over her shoulder, expecting to see him. She could practically feel him. The air was charged with a kind of electric intensity, dancing down her spine, singing through her nerve endings, making it literally impossible for her to stay calm and still. Sark was here, somewhere; she knew it.

“I’m fine,” she said with a quick smile. “Just a bit antsy, that’s all. Security’s really tight around this collection.”

“It is,” he agreed, and gave her arm a quick, reassuring squeeze, “but you’ll do fine.”

“Where are we staying again?” she asked, more to change the subject and deflect their driver’s curiosity than because she couldn’t remember.

“The Savoy,” said Dixon, turning back to his perusal of the city as they passed through it. “It’s conveniently close to the auction house, with a staff that’s discouraged from talking about the guests.” He smiled. “And in case we want to do any sight seeing, it’s centrally located for that, too.”

His comment, said half in jest, seemed to act as some kind of signal to their driver, who immediately launched into his tour guide spiel for them, pointing out historic landmarks and artistic treasures as they drove by them.

Sydney wasn’t really listening. She concentrated on calming her nerves, breathing slow and deep. Just another job, she told herself. We probably won’t even see Sark. Get in, switch the boxes – she had two switches to perform, one for SD-6, and another for the CIA – get out, go home. Simple.

Her cell phone rang, and she immediately picked it up, grateful for yet another distraction. Francie, she thought with a smile, venting about another fight with her chef. Her roommate couldn’t seem to get along with the man she’d put in charge of her restaurant’s kitchen; they fought about something every other night, and Sydney was accustomed to the calls by now.

“Francie? Don’t tell me,” she said by way of answering the phone, “you guys are arguing over the wine list again!”

There was a long pause, and then his voice came over the line, and Sydney felt something slippery and sharp curl through her gut.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Ms. Bristow, although I can recommend an extremely good Cabernet Sauvignon, if you like.”

It didn’t shock her; she’d been anticipating something, she realized, since arriving in Italy. She hid her other hand beside her leg, curling the fingers into a fist so Dixon wouldn’t see it. She had to keep the conversation simple, professional, and her behavior natural. She took a deep breath.

“Sark,” she said with a sharp glance at Dixon, pleased at how cool and even her voice was. “What do you want?” Her partner sat up straight in his seat, his eyes immediately alert, and not a little alarmed.

“Sydney, Sydney…you really shouldn’t me ask questions like that.” His voice was low and intimate, and sent a shudder down her spine. And then, as quickly as the flip of a light switch, he was suddenly the cold professional again. “This isn’t about what you or I want, Sydney; it’s about what our employers want. Mr. Khasinau would like a meet. Your Mr. Sloane will agree; contact him and you’ll find we’ve already been in touch. You have a note waiting for you at the desk of your hotel. Follow its direction exactly.” A pause. “And don’t be late.” The connection went dead before she could respond.

She slowly lowered the phone, flipped it closed. Dixon was staring at her, his face and eyes anxious.

“Well?” he asked. “What did he want?”

Sydney looked out the window. I’m not exactly sure. “Khasinau wants some kind of meet tonight, with us and Marik.” Sark would be there, of course, but at this moment, even that wasn’t Sydney’s primary concern. Mariknikauff, she thought. The man responsible for ordering Vaughn’s death. But she didn’t feel the burning anger she expected; she felt cold -- so very cold -- instead. She still remembered too well a hotel room in Rome, filled with blood and feathers. She didn’t ever want to kill like that again, not even for Vaughn.

“Mariknikauff…the Russian? What the hell is he doing here?” Dixon shook his head. “Sloane’s gonna be pissed if he mucks things up, again. We need that box, Syd. Let Khasinau and Marik have their meet; we’ll use the time to our advantage.”

She shook her head. “Sark said Sloane already knows about the meet, and approves.”

Muttering under his breath, Dixon pulled out his satellite linked mobile phone just as they pulled up to the hotel. Sydney let him make the call while she dealt with the reservations; she had no doubt as to the outcome. Sark hadn’t lied, not about that. He’d been far too sure, too confidently certain. She asked for any messages, and was handed a plain white envelope, sealed, with her alias written neatly on it. Ms. Jones. She traced the letters with her fingers, wondering if Sark had written them.

The driver helped carry their bags up to the rooms. Dixon didn’t want the hotel staff handling some of the equipment cases. He set everything up in his room, directly across the hall from Sydney’s, while she closed the door to hers and opened the envelope she hadn’t yet told him about. It contained a single slip of paper, written with only one line.

Le Intenzioni Buone, I’inferno Room, 9pm

She told herself she wasn’t disappointed, that of course Sark would send nothing, say nothing, because there was nothing that needed saying between them. Not doing a very good job, Syd, she told herself. Just get over him, already. She had just over four hours to do precisely that.

* * *

Her resolve to ignore anything but their professional association might have carried a bit more credibility if she’d chosen something different to wear. It’s practical, she told herself. It will blend in with the rest of the crowd at the club, and I can move around just as easily in this as I can in slacks, if things get out of hand. Right. Practical.

Never mind how Dixon’s eyebrows shot up when he saw her. Without a word, he handed her the bug to wear so that he could attempt to monitor the meeting. He waited, while she hooked it to the underside of the flirtatiously dipped neckline of her strappy, black silk dress. Several diaphanous layers made up the short little evening number, clingy over the curves of her figure, but with a charmingly feminine flare to the skirt, that seemed to float just above her knees when she walked. She’d fought for her life enough times while garbed in sexy, impractical evening wear that Sydney knew what worked, and what didn’t. This dress worked…on a number of different levels.

“You look nice, Syd,” Dixon said finally. His lips twitched, and Sydney had the impression that he wanted to say something more, but was doing his best to restrain himself. It was probably something sensible and fatherly, a mix of concerned friend and worried partner, like are you sure you can run in those heels? It was a valid question, but nothing else had looked right with the dress; besides, a good four-inch heel could make a handy weapon, under the right circumstances. She knew, because she’d done it before.

She smiled, both at the compliment and to reassure him.

“Thanks, Dixon.” She gave his arm a squeeze, an acknowledgement of what he wanted to say, but didn’t. “I’ll be fine, though.” She gave the bug one last adjustment.

“Now, remember,” Dixon warned, “odds are that Khasinau’s going to have that place wired for jamming – I may not get a signal from that thing. If I don’t, you’ve got exactly fifteen minutes before we come in to get you.” He didn’t even try to disguise his worry, now. Fifteen minutes was more than long enough for everyone to die, if that was what Khasinau or Mariknikauff wanted. But Sydney didn’t think that was going to be the case.

“I remember,” she said quietly. She wasn’t worried. Whatever other doubts she might have, she couldn’t imagine for a moment that Sark would invite her into a trap of that sort. If he ever tried to kill her, it would be personal, and private. She knew it as surely as she’d ever known anything in her life. She looked at Dixon, smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way.

“See you soon.”

* * *

It took Sark approximately ten seconds to decide he didn't much like Ivan Mariknikauff; in another fifteen, he knew he hated the man. Their brief conversation at the airport had left him suspecting as much, but now, Sark was certain.

Marik walked in to Le Intenzioni Buone flanked by two bodyguards, men intimidatingly tall and muscular, their holstered guns so obvious beneath their five hundred dollar suits, they screamed the words 'hired thug'. Marik himself was an older man, with a physique that must have matched his bodyguards' in his younger days, but was now beginning to go soft. Even the expensively tailored suit he wore could do little to disguise that. There was a cruel look to his intelligent green eyes, a look that Sark did not like in the least. He raked the trio with his own gaze, contemptuous. Marik walked through the chattering, drinking throng of the club with the air of a king lowering himself to walk among the masses. Sark had read the man's background file -- maybe in Russia he was a rich, important politician, but here he was not. It was a fact he intended to remind Marik of at every opportunity. Khasinau's instructions had been simple and quite explicit -- either get Marik to toe the line, or eliminate him. Irina's patience was at an end.

He shifted his position as they approached, blocking Marik's entrance into the club's back room, I’inferno, reserved for private business. He returned the man's disdainful appraisal with a cool look. And he smiled, coldly.

"I may not be as intimidating a figure as your hired help, Mr. Mariknikauff, but I do have other talents. I can, for instance, hold a conversation of more than two syllables, and I can count a great deal higher than my fingers and toes. Your instructions were very specific -- you are permitted one bodyguard, no more."

For a moment, the older man stared at him in what Sark took to be stunned disbelief, apparently unused to being addressed in so disrespectful a fashion. Then he stirred himself to respond, his tone contemptuous.

"I don't take orders from Irina's lapdog."

Sark shrugged, a careless, almost bored gesture.

“It is entirely up to you, of course," he said, "but be aware that if both of them accompany you into this room, only one will be leaving it." He raised an inquiring brow. "Perhaps you'd care to tell me which one you value the most now, before you enter?"

For a brief second, undisguised fury flashed over Marik's features, his fleshy face turning a brilliant shade of red. His breathing was heavy and ragged, making Sark wonder if he had an undiagnosed heart condition. There had been no mention of one in his file.

"You fucking pup!" he snarled. "You think Irina and her paramour can protect you? You think working for them gives you immunity from retribution? I was playing these games before you were done shitting diapers, you little pissant. I --"

Sark's smile vanished, and he was suddenly holding his Sig in his hand, faster than any of the three could blink, certainly faster than either thug could get to their own weapons. He rather hoped that Marik would give him an excuse to kill them.

"I protect myself," he said quietly. "Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that my employer, Mr. Khasinau, owns this little nightclub, and has several...friends...among the local polizia. I could kill all three of you right now, and barely raise any eyebrows. My employers would no doubt reward me for my initiative." He paused. "I think you should tell your friends to ease their fingers away from their weapons, and choose which one you would like to accompany you to the meeting.” He kept the Sig pointed directly at Marik’s considerable bulk. “Now, if you please."

Mariknikauff never took his eyes from Sark’s face. Slowly, the crimson of anger leeched from his features, replaced by a coldness that would have frightened most people; fortunately, Sark was not easily intimidated.

“Pyotr,” said Marik quietly. “Go and have a drink. Mihail, remove your hand from your weapon, until the good Mr. Sark here gives you a reason to use it.” He smiled unpleasantly. “Which, with any luck, will happen before the end of the meeting.”

Sark merely smiled, stepping out of Marik’s path as he gestured into the room behind him..

“Please,” he said with flawless courtesy, “make yourselves comfortable. Enjoy the refreshments Mr. Khasinau has provided. We await one other guest for the meeting to begin.”

Marik grunted, sweeping past Sark without another glance. The stony faced Mihail glared at him, following his employer inside.

I think I can predict the outcome of this venture, Sark thought, shaking his head, and I don’t believe Mariknikauff will be all that pleased with it. His gaze swept the crowd, automatically placing Pyotr hunched over at the bar, looking both uncomfortable and out of place. Sark gave a slight nod to one of the bouncers, gesturing with his head. Pyotr would be watched, and if things went badly, disposed of.

It was at that exact moment that he caught sight of Sydney, weaving her way expertly through the crowd. For a second, it stole his breath to see her. Of course, that might have had something to do with the sexy black dress she was wearing, the way it clung to her as she moved, the neckline giving the barest hint of flesh along the top of her breasts, and the hem skimming her thighs in a way that framed her legs admirably. A gauzy black scarf fluttered around her throat, down her back. She carried a glittering handbag just large enough for a gun, and he noticed that her hair was secured loosely with two silver sticks, easily sharp enough at the tips to stab through flesh. He smiled. Good girl, he thought approvingly. Marik had his bodyguard, Sydney could keep her weapons.

He hadn’t realized, until this moment, how much he’d looked forward to seeing her again. He hadn’t allowed himself the luxury of acknowledging just how often she’d invaded his thoughts in the last four months -- he refused to even think about the dangerously erotic dreams he occasionally had. By the time she was close enough to notice him, he had his breath back, and his expression under control. He greeted her with a polite smile.

“Ms. Bristow,” he said neutrally. “How fortunate that you could join us this evening.”
If she was disappointed by his professional demeanor, she didn’t show it.

“Mr. Sark,” she said evenly. She hesitated before entering the room beyond him, her hands tightening briefly on the handbag. “Mariknikauff…?” she asked.

“Already here.” He paused. “This is to be a non violent meeting, Ms. Bristow. Please save any issues you may have with the Russian for another time.” Her eyes glanced to his face, the intensity in them hitting him with startling impact.

“You have fifteen minutes of my time, Mr. Sark. Any longer, and my partner will be getting a trifle antsy.” She paused, swallowed, and asked a question that obviously troubled her. “Is Ms. Derevko here?”

He frowned, not sure he was pleased with being dismissed in so easy a fashion. “No,” he said, “I will be acting on my employer’s behalf. Sydney --” He reached out and touched the back of her hand lightly, saw her sudden, sharp intake of breath a second before she flinched away. He withdrew his hand, pleased with her response. She was not so indifferent to him as she appeared.

Her head held high, a slight flush to her cheeks, she swept past him without another word. Sark hid a smile, trailing lazily behind her. He took his time, enjoying the swing of her hips beneath that stunning dress. The Russian was already seated at the small table set up specifically for this meeting. Sark closed the door firmly, watching Marik glare at Sydney as she approached and sat down. Somehow, he didn’t doubt she could handle herself with him.

As he glided up to his own chair, he heard Marik’s blunt, initial comment to Sydney, and watched her shoulders, left bare by the dress, stiffen.

“You look a great deal like her,” said Marik, in a voice that could only be described as disapproving. “Your mother was very beautiful as well, and often used that beauty to manipulate. It appears you are like her in more than merely looks.”

It was a moment before Sydney replied. “Excuse me?” she said in a frigid voice.

Sark sat, quietly watching the interplay for the moment. He was interested to see how the conversation developed. It was, he assumed, part of the reason Irina had wanted this meeting to take place at all – gauging her daughter’s reactions to Marik, and vice versa. In that respect, Marik was absolutely correct; Irina was constantly manipulating those around her, testing them. The Russian shrugged his massive shoulders.

“Well, it is obvious in how you choose to comport yourself, wearing such a dress to a business meeting.” He paused, a cruel glitter lighting his eyes. “If I may compliment you, Ms. Bristow, your mother’s manipulation of men was one of her greatest assets in the field, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from your father. But I think even she would be impressed with your handling of Mr. Vaughn these past few years – my men reported that he appeared quite taken with you, and quite protective, under intense questioning. He did not divulge anything of use for several hours.”

Sydney went white, her hands clenching around the handbag in her lap. “You conceited son of a bitch.” Her voice was low and harsh, entirely at odds with her elegant appearance. “I don’t care what kind of twisted past you have with my mother; I am nothing like her. If you ever speak to me of either her or Agent Vaughn again, I promise, you will regret it.”

Watching her, watching the resolve fill her eyes as she stared down a man she obviously loathed, Sark had to disagree. She is more like her mother than she would ever admit, he thought. His preoccupation with Sydney cost him; he didn’t see Marik move until it was too late to do anything about it. The Russian was surprisingly quick for so large a man. He caught Sydney off guard, too, as his hand cracked across her face in an open palmed slap. He was standing before his chair, breathing heavily, his bodyguard tense beside him. But Sark did not move. His eyes flicked from Sydney, to Marik and Mihail, and stayed there. His sudden, absolute stillness should have been warning enough, but these were volatile men, and unfamiliar with Sark’s nature.

Sydney lifted her head slowly. The imprint of Marik’s hand was a white mark on her face that she didn’t touch. Her eyes were empty.

“When people make the unfortunate mistake of threatening me, Ms. Bristow, they die. In your case, I think I will make a small exception; I do not need to kill you myself. I have only to send a rather important recording from your Agent Vaughn to Arvin Sloane. That should deal with you nicely. I wonder how your mother will feel when she hears of your execution.”

Sydney stood. She didn’t take her eyes off of Marik, and neither did Sark, not even when she addressed him.

“Sark, does a box that may or may not be Rambaldi’s even exist, or was all of this some cheap thrill courtesy of my mother?”

“A box certainly does exist,” he said softly, “though it is not a Rambaldi.” He enjoyed watching the look of superiority vanish from Marik’s face. “And far from a ‘cheap thrill’, Irina wished to issue Mariknikauff one last chance. A test, if you will.”


Sydney overrode Marik’s blustering question. “And the inclusion of SD-6 in this little fiction?”

Sark shrugged. “Even I don’t know all of the reasons behind my employers’ actions, Ms. Bristow. Suffice it to say that Irina insisted. It was she who leaked the rumor of the box to both SD-6 and Mariknikauff.”

“That bitch.” The Russian’s comment was strangled with rage. Sydney smiled tightly.

“In that, at least, we are in accord, Mr. Mariknikauff. If you’ll excuse me, I believe my purpose for being here is over.” She leaned in, pinning the Russian with her gaze. “You seem very familiar with my mother, Marik; are you as knowledgeable when it comes to my father? I’ll be having a small chat with him regarding you; if anything, anything happens to me, you won’t have to worry about threats. Jack Bristow isn’t big on words.”

She left, throwing one last glance at Sark over her shoulder, an unreadable look that he caught but didn’t try to decipher, his attention still focused on the Russian. He didn’t have to hear Irina’s orders to know what her response to this evening would be. She’d expressed her opinion on more than one occasion, and truth be told, Sark could not have cared at this moment whether or not she would approve of his actions. He stood up slowly.

“I think the meeting is at an end, Mr. Mariknikauff,” he said, his tone calm, his words quietly spoken. He should not have threatened Sydney. “You may collect your man and leave.”

“That’s it? You waste my valuable time, invite me here for this farce, and expect me to quietly go about my business? Mihail --”

Marik never finished his statement. In a fluid motion, Sark drew his Sig and fired, two rounds into Mihail’s skull, and a third into his body, just in case. Marik was fast, but not faster than Sark. The Russian’s gun was drawn and only halfway pointed when the bullet hit his hand, sending the weapon spinning across the room with two of his fingers still attached. He cried out, clutching the injured appendage, and another bullet took his left knee, shattering it. He collapsed to the floor, tears of pain rolling down his face, and Sark knelt beside him, his gun held casually in one hand.

“Tsk, tsk, Ivan.” He leaned closer, his voice a whisper, as if sharing an intimate secret. “You might have walked out of here, you know; despite it all, despite your mistakes, and despite failing Irina’s test.”

He brought the barrel of his gun up to Marik’s temple, ignoring the formerly proud man’s mumbled pleas for his life.

“You should never have touched her.” And he pulled the trigger.

* * *

In a room above the club, Khasinau watched a series of surveillance monitors as blood splattered the small, private meeting room. They might have jammed everything from outside listeners, but he and Irina could hear every word. He took a puff on his Cuban cigar, not saying anything. Irina stood beside him, her arms folded, her eyes on Sark as he stood away from the dead man and holstered his gun. The room’s listening devices were acutely sensitive. She was frowning.

“Interesting,” she said finally.

“You disagree with the boy’s decision?” Khasinau asked, though he didn’t think her comment had anything to do with that. Sometimes getting Irina’s opinion took a roundabout path. As he’d expected, she shook her head.

“Not at all; Mariknikauff was a liability, and a threat to my plans. He needed removing. Sark simply took care of the matter sooner than anticipated.” She turned away from the monitors, picked up his glass of bourbon.

“So?” he prodded. She smiled at him, took a long drink from his glass, and Khasinau suppressed a flash of irritation as he realized she was intentionally dragging out her answer.

“Don’t you find it interesting,” she said finally, setting the glass aside and running her fingers through his hair, “that our Mr. Sark found Marik’s treatment of Sydney so objectionable, he not only killed the man, but toyed with him first?”

Khasinau frowned. “You were testing Sark, not Mariknikauff?”

She stood away from him, paced over to the monitor with her usual lithe grace. She stroked a finger over the screen, over the image of Sark as he pulled out his cell phone to dial. She smiled.

“Something like that.”

* * *

“So the entire mission is a wash?” Dixon asked, again. He couldn’t seem to believe it, not that Sydney blamed him. She sat in his room, on the end of his bed, with her legs curled beneath her. She’d come straight here upon returning to the hotel, and she and Dixon had hashed over the meeting – what she’d been able to tell him of it – for the past hour. She stared down at her fingers, laced together in her lap.

“Just another joke played on us by Irina Derevko,” she said quietly, fighting down the lump in her throat. “I’m sure Dad won’t be surprised.”

“Yes, but…why? Other than to get under your skin, Syd.”

Sydney shrugged, gave a short, humorless laugh. “Does she need another reason? The woman’s a lying, manipulative bitch, Dixon. Look, I’m…tired. Would you mind, terribly, reporting in?”

Dixon smiled, understanding. “Of course, Syd. Go on to bed. We’ve got a fairly early flight home, and you look like you could use some sleep.”

“Thanks.” She stood up, accepted his hug, and left him to explain the unexpected turn their mission had taken to Sloane. She didn’t really feel up to dealing with Arvin right now.

She paused outside in the hall, resting her head against Dixon’s door with her eyes closed for a moment. Of all the scenarios she’d played out in her mind, she’d never expected any of this. She wished now that she’d never worn this foolish dress. Sark must have been laughing at her the entire time. Except…she could still feel that first rush of eye contact, when she’d arrived at the club, the wash of heat over her skin as his eyes had traveled down her body. She’d been glad in that moment, that she’d chosen to wear it. But the moment was short lived, and the confrontation with Mariknikauff drained her of everything except loathing. God, I wanted to kill him. The thought terrified her. That she could desire, so much, to be the hand that removed human life, no matter how repugnant that life might be, frightened her to the core. I’m not like my mother, she thought. But she was no longer quite so sure.

She pushed away from the wall and crossed to her door, pulling her room key out of her handbag. It took her two tries to get the key card to work properly, a testimony to how distracted she felt. Maybe, she thought as she entered the darkened room, closing the door firmly behind her, I need a drink; maybe a few. I don’t want to dream tonight.

She’d tossed her handbag and scarf onto the table beside the door, and taken three steps before she realized she wasn’t alone. Moonlight slanting in through the curtains illuminated a thin thread of carpet, and outlined a shadowy figure just enough to be visible. His fair colored hair caught the light, briefly, and all at once Sydney forgot to breathe. Sark. She knew it. She could feel her heart pounding painfully in her chest. She parted her lips to say his name, and no sound emerged. He took a step forward, into the slant of moonlight, and she could see he still wore the same tailored suit he’d worn to the meeting, the jacket off and the sleeves of his shirt rolled up. She wondered how long he’d been here, waiting for her.

For a long moment they looked at one another across the room. When he spoke it was softly, unsure of his welcome.

“Do you want me to leave?”

Do I want him to leave? She almost laughed, but it would have carried a hysterical edge, so she didn’t. I’m not even sure this isn’t another dream. Wordlessly, she shook her head.

“Good.” He’d crossed the space between them before he finished speaking the word, his hands closing over her arms. “Because I’m not sure I could if you wanted me to.”

She parted her lips to speak, her breath sighing warmly across his skin an instant before he kissed her. It wasn’t anything like her dreams. One moment she was staring up into Sark’s eyes, about to tell him something -- just what she was never sure, with so many thoughts cascading through her mind…I need you to stay; I can’t believe you’re here; I’ve thought of you a million times; I’ve dreamed of this moment…and the next his mouth was on her, his tongue entangling hers in a desperate, trembling heat that made her ache and whimper, and forget everything but the hot, slippery need uncurling in her gut. Her hands shook and fumbled, shoving his shirt off his shoulders, and she felt something – the wall, she thought dimly -- come up hard against her back. His fingers thrust through her hair and it tumbled free, down around her shoulders as he pressed against her.

He tastes the same, she thought, the first coherent thing she could grasp on to. Like fine red wine. And like a drug, the taste of him was heady and powerful, making her legs weak and trembling so that the only things holding her up were the wall at her back, and the solid feel of warm flesh beneath her hands.

When his mouth moved down her throat, his tongue flicking over her rapidly beating pulse, Sydney shuddered, and whispered, “Are you real?” Her fingers slid over his back, into his hair, and her voice became a plea. “Please, God, I need you to be real.”

Sark lifted the thin straps of her dress, pulling them down her shoulders. He kissed her collarbone where they’d lain, and slid his fingers between the wall and her back to find the zipper to her dress. He pulled it down, tugging the garment with it, and she felt the sudden rush of cool air against her breasts.

“I’ve wanted to do this all evening,” he whispered, and stroked his tongue over one of her nipples, before closing his mouth over it. Sydney almost sobbed, her back arching away from wall, every tug of his mouth sending an echoing throb through her body. His hand closed over her other breast, his thumb stroking the nipple in a slow, deliberate rhythm. Her breath came faster, and she moaned his name, her hands clutching at his arms. She didn’t want to wait any longer; she wanted him inside of her now.

Sark pressed himself between her parted legs, burying his head against her shoulder as he rubbed his length against her. Even that small friction was torturous; it had been too long. In those first weeks following Rome, he’d tried to forget Sydney by fucking other women. Both of his attempts had proved disappointing; lackluster substitutes for the woman he could no longer excise from his thoughts. Being with her, now, the scent of her hair all around him -- lilies and freesia – the feel of her body against his, he wanted her with a violence that left him shaking.

“Sydney…” he said against her skin, “I’m sorry, I can’t wait…I need…” His hands settled on her hips. “I wanted this to be slower, but…”

Sydney touched his cheek lightly, turning his head to meet her eyes. “I know,” she whispered. “We can go…slower…next time.” She wrapped one of her legs around him, thrusting her hips against him as her breath hitched, her eyes closing. “I just need you, Sark, right now. You don’t have to be slow.”

Their fumbling hands seemed to take an eternity to rid each other of enough clothing, and then suddenly he was inside of her, buried by a single thrust that left both of them still and gasping, clinging together for a moment. Sydney wrapped both legs around him as he planted his hands on either side of her, against the wall. He kissed her, beginning to move inside of her, his tongue stroking hers in time with his thrusts. Her hands grasped his shoulders, her fingers digging into his skin as the tension began to build. His mouth trailed to her neck, her ear, his teeth nibbling at the lobe. She made little whimpering sounds in her throat.

It undid him, to know that she felt as intensely as he did, to feel her trembling against him, her heartbeat a frantic flutter beneath her breast. He held it off as long as he could, trying to keep the rhythm controlled for her. But she wouldn’t let him. She moved above him, grinding her hips down against his, speeding up the pace until he groaned. His eyes closed. And then her nails bit into his skin, her body shuddering as she came, his name a breath on her lips that he barely heard over the roaring in his ears. Her shudders sent the first spasm through him, her body tightening around him until he cried out, spilling himself inside of her.

They stayed like that for a long moment, wrapped together, breathing heavily, neither one willing to break the silence. Sark was the first to speak.


She stroked her fingers through his hair, brushed it off his sweat-dampened brow.

“I know,” she said softly. And she smiled, bittersweet. “We can’t pretend this time, can we? We can’t say, ‘it was just the alcohol’, or ‘the intensity of the situation’. I think…for whatever reason…this is just us, Sark. What we do to each other.” Her words were halting; she was afraid of what he would say.

He pulled away from the wall, helped her to slide off of him, down to her feet. She wobbled for a moment, still unsteady, and he caught her arms, pulled her to him, buried his face in her hair.

“I know,” he said, so softly she almost didn’t hear it. “I don’t know why, and I have no idea what the hell we’re going to do about it…but I do know, Sydney.” He kissed her brow, her cheeks, and then her lips, in a kiss that, even light and almost tender, stirred things in them both. He pulled back.

“I’m staying tonight.” It wasn’t a question, and Sydney smiled.

“My flight leaves at nine – Dixon will be knocking on my door at seven.” She paused, ran her fingers down his chest. “I can sleep on the flight home.”

They moved to the bed, neither one of them bringing up tomorrow, or the days after. Something would have to be done, but they left the problem for later, not wanting to cast a shadow over what time they had.

At least, Sydney thought as his hands stroked her skin, I’ll have something new to dream about. They slept in bits and pieces, wrapped together on the bed, always touching. Sydney tried to memorize every detail, tried to store it up to last however long it needed to; she didn’t know when they might have this opportunity again, or if they ever would. In the small hours of the night, Sark asleep beside her, she curled herself into a small, tight ball, and wished with everything inside of her for an end to all of this. An end to SD-6. An end to Irina Derevko. Why does it always have to be so complicated?

Morning brought no answers with it. She woke alone, and for one stabbing moment, feared it had all been another dream. But the bed still carried the imprint of his warmth, his scent still on the sheets. She hugged his pillow to her body in an attempt to hold on to his presence a while longer, but it was already ebbing away.

When Dixon knocked on her door a short time later, she was almost finished packing. The bed was made, all vestiges of the night removed as if it had never been.

“Coming,” she called, stuffing the last of her belongings into her carry on bag. She looked around, feeling as if she was forgetting something, and only then realized what was missing. The scarf, she thought, a bit bemused. I left it on the table last night, I’m sure of it. Right next to the handbag. It had taken her three months and more than a hundred dollars to find a black silk scarf to match that dress perfectly. And now it was gone.

But she was smiling anyway, when she left the room.

* * *

They didn’t get the news until they’d landed back in the states. Dixon’s phone rang as they left the airport, and something in his expression after he answered made Sydney pause before going to her own taxi.

“What is it?” she asked as soon as he hung up the phone. His expression was troubled, his brow wrinkled. He shrugged.

“I’m not sure if this is good news or bad, though it will mean less complications in the future for us. Mariknikauff was found dead this morning. Shot and killed in his hotel room, they think.”

Sydney didn’t hear the rest of what he said. A quiet roaring filled her ears. Sark killed him. She knew it, without a doubt, without question. She suddenly remembered a single moment amidst the tumult of the night before, something that hadn’t seemed important at the time. Sark’s fingers lightly brushing her bruised cheek, his voice murmuring softly, “I’m sorry he hit you; it shouldn’t have happened.”

“Oh, God.”

“What was that, Syd?” Dixon frowned at her, and she shook herself back to the present, gave him an empty smile.

“It’s nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She couldn’t seem to think straight. Sark had killed a lot of men, but this felt different, felt personal. Like he did it for me. She wouldn’t know, for sure, unless she asked him, and she couldn’t do that now. Even if she could, just call him up and ask, she didn’t think she would. Suspecting he’d killed for her and knowing it were two different things. And she didn’t want to know. Not now. Not ever.

She shut the door to the cab, gave the driver her address. Her jaw tightened defiantly. I’m keeping my dreams.

* * *

Francie waited until they’d finished dinner that night, brought two glasses of wine with her into the living room, and set one in front of Sydney. She settled herself down onto the couch beside her friend, and waited for Sydney to look up. When she finally did, she raised one dark brow, a knowing smile tugging at her mouth.

“What?” asked Sydney, half laughing already. Francie swatted her arm.

“Don’t give me that innocent look, girl! I know exactly what’s going on.” She jabbed an accusing finger at her friend. “You always come home from these ultra stressful, overseas bank trips tired and stressed, and wound so tight you can hardly breathe. Tonight, you’re all relaxed, staring off into space, smiling at nothing, and glowy.”

“Glowy?” Sydney couldn’t keep the laugh from bubbling up her throat. “That’s not even a word, Francie.”

“Don’t change the subject! You got yourself some sex while you were over there. I know it, you know it, and you have an obligation to your single, under sexed friend to share details…so spill.”

Sydney looked away, her smile fading. She picked up her glass of wine, took a sip, and thought instantly, Sark would disapprove. It was a cheap red, but it still reminded her of how he tasted. She set the glass carefully aside, and looked over at her friend. She couldn’t tell Francie everything, but for once, she had a secret she couldn’t share with anyone else. Sydney took a deep breath, and began.

“It’s complicated.”

::La fine::

On to the next in the series, Fantasies.
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