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Compline

Discussion in 'Creative Writing & Arts' started by Azhria Lilu, Jan 13, 2003.

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  1. Azhria Lilu

    Azhria Lilu Rocket Ranger

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2002
    Location:
    Derbyshire, UK
    NOTE: This fic is not by me. It was posted at the old forums by akatolstoy, and due to demand I am re-posting it here as akatolstoy has not done so yet

    To akatolstory: I took the liberty of posting it here, as you had it at the old forums. If you would like it removed, please email of PM me.


    This fic takes place post-ATY

    Title: Compline

    Author: akatolstoy, akatolstoy@hotmail.com

    Title: Compline

    Author: akatolstoy

    Rating: PG-13

    Genre: S/V Romance/Angst, WIP

    Distribution: please email me first.

    Disclaimer: I don’t own Alias, or any of its characters. It all belongs to JJ
    Abrams, Bad Robot Productions, ABC, Touchstone, etc.

    Spoilers: entire 1st season, slight spoiler for season 2, involving Willage

    Feedback: Please read and respond. I am eager for feedback!

    Summary: Post-ATY. Sydney, Jack, Dixon, Vaughn, and Will come to grips with the events that will alter all their lives.


    This fan-fic is a companion piece to “The Tricky Thing About Trust” and “One Small Year”archived at fanfiction.net. The title refers to a series of prayers meant to be said before sleep.

    “Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen”--The Common Book of Prayer


    Compline

    “Mom?” Sydney gasped, as the figure emerging from the shadows revealed itself.

    “Sydney, how lovely you’ve grown!” Irina whispered, crossing over to her daughter and touching her cheek softly. “I’ve watched you for so long. I’ve seen the agent you’ve become, but never in these long years have I had a chance to see you face to face!”

    Her mother’s touch felt cool, light, and familiar. Sydney began to search her face for signs of the woman she had known—the woman who had soothed her to sleep with lullabies, rocked her while reading story books, and clasped her in her arms when she returned home from school. There were faint lines around this woman’s eyes and mouth that Sydney had not associated with the woman who had been her mother, but the warm brown eyes, the expressive eyebrows, the straight, aquiline nose and full mouth were the same.

    “Mom?” Sydney repeated, her voice, even more tremulous.

    “Yes, Sydney. It is I,” Irina stated simply. “But, this was not how I imagined we’d meet. Fate has been very unkind to both of us. It has made us enemies, when my only wish was that we could be together, working side by side. But your father and Arvin Sloane have corrupted you. I should have foreseen that eventuality. I’m sorry.”

    “Corrupted me? Corrupted me?” Sydney, exclaimed, tears streaming down her face. “Look at me! You’ve had me bound, you’ve kidnapped and tortured my friend, and someone I love has most likely died because of what you’ve done!” Her voice rose with anger and gained strength with every word. “You were the one who left! You were the one who betrayed us! How could you? How could you be my mother and have killed all those men? How could you let your entire marriage to my father be a sham? I’d accuse you of betraying your country, but I don’t even know what country you truly work for!”

    Irina stepped back and sighed, in no way surprised by Sydney’s outburst, but still saddened by it.

    “I am not working on behalf of a single country, Sydney. Everything I have done—everything I will do—is for the safety and security of the entire world. Let me ask you something. Why do you think Arvin Sloane is so obsessed with Rambaldi and his inventions?”

    Sydney swallowed. “He believes all of Rambaldi’s devices combine to form a weapon of mass destruction. Once he—or rather, SD-6—possesses this weapon, he can keep it or sell it to the highest bidder.”

    Irina smiled. “Perfectly true. Now, tell me, do you think Russia’s or the United States’ desire for the Rambaldi device is any different than Sloane’s?”

    “Of course!” Sydney cried. “The point is to keep the weapon away from anyone who wishes to use it against them, not to use it themselves!”

    Irina gazed at her daughter and shook her head. “How can you have been a spy for so long and not have realized the truth?” she asked and shook her head. “You’ve played the game, but you’ve lost neither your naiveté nor your patriotism, I see. Like your father, you still believe governments exist to serve and protect the rights of their citizens,” she intoned bitterly.

    For the first time, Sydney detected a cold, cruel glint in her mother’s eye. Irina frowned, and Sydney could see that over the years this had become a habitual expression. She began to watch her mother even more warily.

    “Tell me something else,” Irina continued. “Which country has been the only nation to use a nuclear weapon against another country?”

    Sydney’s mouth went dry, and she felt as if she were being examined by a stern and exacting professor. “The United States dropped a series of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force the Japanese to surrender and thus end World War II,” she replied in a hoarse voice.

    “That in itself should prove my argument that the United States’ motives are not as pure as you would like them to be. It proves that even America will use weapons of mass destruction if provoked. Do you still feel that Rambaldi’s weapon would be safe in the hands of the American government?” Irina’s smile turned brittle. “Do you know how the arms race between America and Russia really started?”

    Sydney shook her head, her eyes expressing both horror and fascination as a result of her mother’s revelations.

    “American and Russian scientists working separately on developing nuclear capability for their countries, began secretly sharing information so that neither nation would be the sole possessor of a weapon of such destructive force. The scientists felt that although they would each be betraying their countries, they would be doing what was best for mankind. The saw themselves, not as citizens of a country, but as citizens of the world. One of those men, Yuri Alexseivich Suvin, was your grandfather, Sydney,” she said softly. “The Soviet government discovered he was trading secrets and sent him to Siberia, where he was later put to death without a trial. I consider myself a citizen of the world, just like my father, and I will do anything I have to do, so that my father’s sacrifice was not in vain.”

    Irina’s voice shook, and she looked pleadingly into the eyes of her daughter. “Now do you think I am a traitor? That I am in this for my own personal gain? Everything I have done has been done to keep you safe from political machinations of the world’s super powers, even though you and your father, Arvin Sloane, and countless others have tried to thwart me at every turn. I loved you, and I loved your father, even though I considered his loyalty and his patriotism destructive and misguided. Do you think I wanted to hurt you? Do you think I wanted to leave you? Do you think I have not regretted the things I have done? Yes, I killed those agents you spoke of: I seduced and killed every single one, but only because I had to. Because there was no other way. That is, I seduced every agent but one, but in the end, I killed him, too,” she added, almost as if to herself.

    Sydney froze in her seat. “Who was that agent?” she asked haltingly.

    Irina lifted an eyebrow and turned to her daughter in surprise. After all she had revealed, that was the last question she expected from her daughter. “His name was William Vaughn. Other than your father, he was the most upright, gentle, and honorable man I have ever known.”

    Sydney remained silent, her emotions clashing inside her. When she had dreamed of coming face to face with her mother, two very different scenarios had come to mind. In one, her mother was cruel and irredeemably evil---someone she could justifiably hate and fight to her dying breath. In the other, her mother was abject and repentant---someone she could pity and perhaps rehabilitate. She was not prepared for the combination of the two that was before her: this strong, tragic, unrepentant woman who recognized the evil she had done and justified it as serving a higher end.

    “All you’ve done is make a case for absolute power corrupting absolutely,” Sydney said after an extended silence. ”What makes your motives any different? Why should the world trust you with the Rambaldi device?”

    Irina’s eyes glowed, as she gazed at her daughter. “That’s my girl. That’s the question I was hoping you’d ask. What would you say if I told you I had a dream: a dream of a world united into a single democratic society with elected officials from every culture and indigenous people, and the world’s security vouchsafed by a weapon of untold power? A weapon with the ultimate failsafe: it can only be detonated if all 47 elected officials activate it simultaneously and thus would be used only if the world itself were endangered. That is the dream that both Milo Rambaldi and I share. That is the dream to which I have devoted my life.”

    “I would say that you have betrayed and killed countless people—people you respected, some that you loved—for an utopia you’ll never see realized in your life time and which may never be realized,” Sydney said in a low voice.

    “Perhaps,” Irina, replied, the light suddenly extinguished from her eyes. “But perhaps it’s my destiny to try,” she murmured with a strange tone in her voice.

    “You know about Rambaldi’s prophecy, don’t you?” Sydney asked suddenly. “You know what the CIA found when they exposed the blank page in Rambaldi’s manuscript. They found your picture. They thought it was me, but it was you! Rambaldi didn’t predict you’d save the world; he predicted you’d destroy it!”

    Irina gazed at her daughter. “Did it never occur to you that the CIA faked that prophecy to prevent you from taking my side and coming to work for me? If the CIA could fake Rambaldi documents expertly enough to fool SD-6, what makes you think they didn’t dupe you as well? I cannot tell you for sure what is written there. I have not seen the complete Rambaldi manuscript. You yourself must choose whom to believe. I won’t force you to make a decision now, Sydney, but you will have to make one soon. And I warn you that if you decide to remain my enemy--if you decide to continue to work against me--I will not spare your life or the lives of those close to you to realize my dream.”

    With that, Irina turned away from her daughter and exited the room after saying a few words to the guard at the door. The door swung shut, and Sydney was alone--and desperate… desperate for someone to contradict what she had just heard. Someone who would tell her that she was not engulfed in an endless series of lies and cover-ups. Someone who would deny the charge that working for the CIA was no better than working for SD-6. She wanted someone she trusted to tell her the truth, and she wanted that truth to be something she wanted to hear. She wanted her father, but most of all she wanted Michael Vaughn, and Michael Vaughn was dead.

    ***

    Hours passed, and no one came in to check on her. Since her mother’s visit, Sydney had worked relentlessly on loosening the twine with which they had bound her hands, and in the process, she had rubbed her wrists almost raw.

    Just as she succeeded in almost getting one hand free, she heard someone open the door. It was a guard carrying a tray of food, but he got no more than a few feet into the room when someone hit him over the head with a gun. The guard slumped to the ground, his head hitting the hard concrete floor, while the tray he had been carrying flew from his hands, skidded, and finally crashed against the wall.

    “Dixon!” Sydney gasped. “What are you doing here?”

    “There’s no time to explain. We’ll talk later.” Dixon stated, crouching down to seize a gun from the recumbent guard. He then came over to Sydney, and released her. “I’ve been in radio contact with your father. He’s secured the north entrance to the building, but there’s no telling how long he can hold out without back up. He told me there would be another agent with you. An Agent Vaughn. Is he being held in another room?”

    “He was trapped behind the security doors when the Mueller device exploded and flooded the lab. I tried to save him, but I couldn’t get the doors open once they sealed! Dixon, we can’t leave without him.”

    “Syd,” said Dixon looking grim. “If what you say is true, he’s probably dead. We can’t waste time searching the building for a man who’s beyond our help. We have to get out of here now!”

    “I don’t care!” Sydney exclaimed, grabbing him by the arm. “I need to know if Vaughn got out. I need to know if he survived. Dixon, please, please, help me find him. I can’t leave without him.”

    Her grip was like steel, but her eyes pleaded with him. Dixon gazed at his partner and sighed.

    “Okay,” he replied, conceding, against his better judgment. “We have to go through the main part of the building in order to get to the north entrance, anyway. Here, take this gun. We’ll search as we go along, but if we don’t find him before we reach the north entrance, we can’t go back inside. You understand?”

    Sydney nodded. She took the gun Dixon handed to her and cocked it. “Let’s go.

    ***

    Vaughn heard footsteps and pressed himself against the wall, with his gun extended, waiting for the inevitable. There were clearly two guards by the sound of it, and there was only one bullet left in his gun. He barely had enough energy to stand, much less the energy required for hand-to-hand combat or an extended gun fight. What a stupid way to die. Drowning would have made more sense then dying in this hallway, knowing Sydney was in danger somewhere in this building, and he had failed to reach her.

    Dixon rounded the corner first and immediately trained his gun at the figure he saw there.

    “Dixon, it’s Vaughn! Don’t shoot!” Sidney cried, running forward.

    Vaughn spotted Dixon first, and seeing him lower his gun, he shut his eyes, and slumped against the wall. It didn’t occur to him to wonder at Dixon’s sudden appearance or question why he would lower his gun. Instead, relief washed over him at not having to fight yet another guard in his weakened condition.
    However, his lids fluttered slightly at the sound of Sidney’s voice, and he glimpsed her briefly through the fringe of his eyelashes.

    That was all he needed. In an instant, a last surge of adrenaline coursed through his body, giving him enough energy to get up, drop the gun and take the remaining steps between them. She collided with him so forcefully, he almost fell backwards from the impact. Ignoring the pain in his ribs, he crushed her fiercely to his chest, then suddenly pushed her away, just far enough to see her face.

    “Sydney, Oh, my God, Sydney!” His voice was hoarse from all the water he had swallowed and husky with emotion. His hands clasped her face now, searching her eyes, trying to take in the fact that she really was standing before him. He watched as disbelief, then joy, and finally a ghostly, residual sense of panic played across her face, as she relived the horror of their parting.

    “Vaughn! Your face! Seeing your face through that window! I thought I’d lost you. I thought you were gone. It didn’t seem possible I could lose you. Not here. Not now. Not this way.” She couldn’t stop herself. She was sobbing now, and yet the words kept fighting their way out of her, despite her gasps for air.

    As one hand gripped his jacket, the other flew up to caress his cheek. She felt the stubble beneath her fingers, and looked up into Vaughn’s dark green eyes. The depth of emotion she found there took her breath away.

    Now it was she who was drowning. Gently, Vaughn drew her back into his arms, and she buried her head in his chest, completely overcome at the idea of just how close they had come to being parted forever.

    There wasn’t a single bone or muscle in Vaughn’s body that wasn’t aching or throbbing painfully. He had never felt so physically exhausted in his life or so blissfully happy. Sydney was in his arms and that was all that mattered. Vaughn closed his eyes and rested his cheek on her hair.

    “Shhh” he murmured, holding her close. “Ne pleurez pas. C'est bien maintenant. Nous sommes ensemble, chéri. Je suis ici. Ne pleurez pas. Je t'aime” he whispered, kissing her hair, as her sobs receded.

    He had slipped into French without thinking, only now realizing what he had said, but unwilling to take it back— life was too precarious, he thought, and every moment with Sydney was precious. He couldn’t afford to waste any more time thinking about protocol or what the CIA may deem “appropriate” interaction among agents.

    “Je t’aime,” he repeated softly, brushing a wisp of hair from her cheek. His heart skipped a beat as Sydney raised her head and gazed up at him, her eyes suffused with wonder...

    Dixon had purposely adverted his eyes from Sydney and Vaughn’s embrace, as he kept a look out for guards, but now he cleared his throat and approached the couple. He laid a hand on Sydney’s shoulder and said, “Syd, we gotta go. I don’t like how quiet this place seems. There should be more guards around. Something’s not right. Let’s find your father.”

    Sydney nodded. Dixon looked at Vaughn inquiringly, but formal introductions would have to wait. Vaughn let his arms fall, and Sydney stepped out of his embrace. Just as all three turned to go, they saw Jack and Will coming towards them.

    ****

    Jack had waited at the entrance, growing more and more impatient as the minutes ticked by. They should be here by now. Dixon’s unexpected appearance had been a godsend, but what if all three of them were now captured? There was little Jack could do without calling in backup, and he doubted the CIA would drop everything and send an extraction team to Taipei for a group of rogue agents who had deliberately gone against protocol. In fact, Jack knew that from Devlin’s point of view, they had stolen valuable intelligence data and handed it over to the other side. They’d be lucky if they weren’t accused of treason when they got back. That is, if they all made it back alive.

    Finally fed up, Jack felt he had no choice but to go in after them. He edged his way, slowly into the building, watching for guards, as well as any sign of the missing agents. At the sound of footsteps behind him, he whirled around.

    “Mr. Tippin, do you realize just how close I came to putting a bullet through your head?” he seethed, through clenched teeth, lowering his gun.

    Will blanched visibly, but took a step forward. “The sedative you gave me wore off. I saw you go inside the warehouse and thought maybe there was something I could do to help…” Will, swallowed, painfully. He looked at Jack and tried to keep his gaze steady. “If there is anything—anything—I can do to help Sydney…”

    “Go back to the van, Mr. Tippin,” Jack ordered sharply, cutting him off. “You’re of no use to me or to Sydney in your present condition. You’ll only endanger yourself further.”

    The truth was Will was almost as in much danger in the van, as he was inside the building with him. Will didn’t move, and Jack sighed. He reached inside his jacket and handed the battered and bruised reporter a gun. “Take this, but stay behind me.”

    They continued edging their way around corridors. Will followed Jack’s lead, but stayed at least three steps behind him. Jack peered around the next corner, and then swore under his breath. Will‘s sweaty fingers gripped the gun Jack had given him more tightly, but he was confused by the barely perceptible relaxation in the older man’s stance. When Jack did not advance, Will’s curiosity got the better of him, and he almost stumbled over him in his effort to get a glimpse of whatever Jack had seen.

    “Who the hell is that?” Will whispered, stunned.

    Just around the corner stood Sydney cradled in the arms of a stranger. Will watched as the man kissed the top of her head and brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. His heart constricted as he saw her lift her head and look up at the man with eyes full of wonder and something else…love?

    Jack didn’t give him time to analyze the significance of her gaze, though, and roughly hauled him back around the corner before Dixon could turn in their direction.

    However Jack, too, had gazed at Sydney and Vaughn meditatively for a moment, unaccountably loath to interrupt their embrace. Of all the times and places, he thought exasperatedly, but, he had to acknowledge that a small part of him was glad to see them together, despite the fact that they were ensconced in each other’s arms, protocol be damned.

    He attempted to trace the source of this inner weakness, but then noticed Will was still staring at him, expecting an answer.

    “That man is Sydney’s handler—“ Jack began, wondering just how much of Sydney’s covert activities he wanted to reveal to Tippin.

    “I can see that!” Will interrupted, conscious of the irritation and jealousy in his own voice, but unable to mask it, “Who the hell is he?”

    Jack glared at Will, his lips compressed, and his eyes steely. As much as he didn’t care for Sydney and Vaughn’s timing or choice of location, he liked Tippin’s tone of voice and his reaction to the situation even less.

    “Agent Michael Vaughn is Sydney’s contact at the CIA, and like you, her friend,” he stated coldly.

    Will slowly shook his head at Jack’s words.

    That’s where you’re wrong, buddy, he thought, the truth slowly taking on certainty in his mind. Sydney and I are friends, but she’s in love with him. Him. Michael Vaughn. That should be as frickin’ obvious to you as it is to me.

    Catching Jack’s eye again, he was startled by the man’s glare and was afraid he had spoken his thoughts aloud.

    “Listen, Mr. Tippin,” Jack said curtly, clearly out of patience. “There was much Sydney couldn’t—in fact, was forbidden—to share with you and Francie about her work. Agent Vaughn has been there for her, when neither you, nor I, nor Francie could be. He has risked both his career and his life on this mission, and he came simply because he knew you were a close friend of Sydney’s and that your life was in danger. Michael Vaughn has earned Sydney’s gratitude and my respect for that. I believe he deserves yours, as well.”

    Will swallowed and then nodded his head, utterly abashed and no longer able to meet Jack Bristow’s gaze.

    Jack gazed at the battered and bruised man in the bloodied sweatshirt beside him—a boy, really—and felt something like remorse. It was clear to him that Tippin had feelings for his daughter that she did not entirely requite. No doubt his dogged pursuit of Daniel Hecht’s killers was designed to win her love—the love Tippin had just now watched her bestow on Vaughn.

    For an instant, Jack wished he could take back his words and spare this boy additional pain. But only for an instant. There were bigger issues at stake at the present moment than matters of the heart, and it seemed he needed to remind both Sydney and Vaughn of that, as well.

    “Let’s go,” Jack said, stepping around the corner. Will followed, but with more hesitation.

    “Will!” Sydney cried as soon as she saw him. Leaving Vaughn’s side, she ran to him and hugged him. “Are you all right? Oh, my God, Will! What did they do to you?” she gasped, taking in all at once the rusty spots of dried blood on his sweatshirt and the livid bruises on his face. She fingered his swollen jaw, and Will winced.

    “It’s about time someone over here did an expose on unsafe dental practices. Heck, I’ll write the article myself. They don’t even have to use my byline. Who licenses these quacks, anyway? Godzilla?” Will grimaced, manfully trying to wave away Sydney’s attention. He was suddenly conscious that he struck a less than heroic figure amid the more seasoned agents—of which he included Vaughn, who was now approaching him.

    Now that he could see him up close, Will saw that Vaughn looked haggard. Clearly, this man had gone through high water and a good bit of hell in order to be standing here beside Sydney. They eyed each other for a moment, and unexpectedly Will held out his hand to him.

    “Jack told me everything you’ve done. What you risked to be here. Thanks. I just want to say—thanks,” he ended, rather lamely, trying not to think about Sydney or the embrace he had seen moments ago and focus solely on the fact that this man had helped save his life.

    Slightly taken aback, Vaughn nodded and grasped Will’s hand in return.

    Up until now, the mere mention of Will’s name had been enough to send him into a jealous snit. He remembered Sydney coming to the warehouse the night she took Will to the dinner party at Sloane’s. She had looked absolutely fabulous in that black tank dress. He couldn’t help but notice how it hugged every curve of her body, despite the fact that Jack had been standing right there watching him.

    Even though he knew it would have broken every rule in the book, he had wanted to accompany Sydney to that party. But he played the “Company” man, gave her the counter mission, and watched wistfully as she turned to go—except that a “Company” man would never have told her she looked pretty.

    Pretty! What a unbelievably absurd understatement!

    For the rest of night he had tortured himself with images of Sydney and Will together: Will helping her with her coat, pulling the chair out for her, sitting next to her at the table, his knee almost touching hers… it drove him absolutely crazy. The truth was that he was more jealous of Will than he had been of Noah Hicks. Noah had come and gone, but Will was a constant part of Sydney’s everyday life—the part of her life Vaughn was forbidden to share.

    For that reason and more, he had expected to hate Will on sight. He was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. He liked the reporter’s self-deprecating humor and had a grudging respect for his scruffy courage. He even felt a degree of camaraderie with him. After all, hadn’t they both broken the rules and risked everything in order to help Sydney? But now as he looked at the man he once considered a rival for Sydney’s affections, it occurred to him that Will might be as envious of the role he played in Sydney’s life as he was of the role Will himself played.

    Jack glared at Will and Vaughn with equal impatience, but Sydney glanced back and forth between the two men, a smile creeping over her face. However, any further exchange was cut off by a alarm, which suddenly began keening like an air raid siren.

    Dixon and Jack exchanged glances, sharing a sudden realization that explained why there were no guards on this side of the building: the warehouse was being evacuated, probably through a secret passageway or hidden exit. “The Man” was using the guards who would normally be stationed around the building to remove whatever could be salvaged. The siren was the last warning before they blew up what was left of the lab, so that there would be nothing the CIA could use to further their own knowledge of Rambaldi or his strange inventions.

    “Go!” Jack shouted, not bothering to explain to the others. “Get out of here. Now!”

    Sydney whipped around and grabbed Vaughn’s hand. There was no way she would leave him behind again. They started to run, with Sydney pulling Vaughn along. Will followed, then Dixon, while Jack brought up the rear. They reached the north entrance, just as the warehouse blew.

    The blast threw all of them several feet. Vaughn and Sydney stumbled and rolled to the ground, while both Jack and Dixon dove to cover Will. Debris flew everywhere, as flames burst from the warehouse, traveling several stories into the air. Sydney crouched down until the worst was over, and then turned around, feeling the heat of the blaze on her cheek. The red and gold inferno mesmerized her, until Jack finally grabbed her and pushed her toward the van.

    Where was her mother now, and what would be her next move?

    ***

    Once the plane Jack had commandeered took off, they began to take stock and attend to their wounds. Fatigue was apparent on all their faces, but, Will, having received another powerful sedative, was the only one who slept. Although his face still looked swollen and garish, the painkillers had made him comfortable, at least for the short term.

    Dixon and Jack were remarkably unscathed except for a few minor burns, as was Sydney—barring the puffy, bruised area of her cheek, where a guard had blindsided her with the butt of his gun and the abrasions around her wrists. Vaughn, however, had cracked three ribs which needed bandaging. Fortunately, the plane had often been used on medical runs and had an extremely well stocked first aid kit.

    Sydney blushed as she self-consciously helped Vaughn remove the tight black t-shirt he had worn to the club. Although she hadn’t wanted to draw attention to her perusal of his chest, she wasn’t able to suppress her gasp of dismay at seeing the purple, green, and yellow streaks the mottled the area around his ribs.

    Vaughn simply gritted his teeth and silently lifted his arms, so that she could wind the bandage around him. Sydney could tell from the way he averted his eyes, though, that he was embarrassed. This was clearly not the physical intimacy either of them had had in mind earlier.

    She tried to be as gentle as possible, but despite her attempts, he grunted several times in pain.

    “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she muttered, distractedly, working as fast and as efficiently as she could. “When did this happen? When we were thrown to the ground by the blast? ”

    Vaughn inhaled sharply, then shook his head. “I think I felt a couple crack when the wave threw me against the door.“ He gave her a lop-sided grin. “But, then again, it could have been the guard that was trying to kick the hell out of me before I grabbed his gun. Although, I don’t think that last sprint before the warehouse blew helped any. Remind me to renew my membership at the gym and brush up on my combat training when I get home.”

    Sydney knew he was making light of his injuries for her sake, but it clearly hurt him to breathe. She could hear the raspiness in his lungs and wondered just how much water he had inhaled after the Mueller device exploded. Cracked ribs might not be the worst of his woes.

    She gave him a rueful smile, as she lowered the t-shirt over his head, and smoothed the fabric down around him, careful not to press on the bandages. “I doubt you’ll be doing any sparring any time soon. This will take at least five or six weeks to heal—that is if you don’t catch pneumonia.”

    “Great!” he replied, the sarcasm evident in his voice. Then he noticed Sydney hadn’t removed her hands from his hips after smoothing out the last fold of the t-shirt.

    They stood only inches a part.

    It would be so easy to kiss her, Vaughn thought. All he had to do was lean in and he would finally feel her lips pressed against his. How long had he waited for precisely this opportunity? His brow furrowed as he gazed at her.

    He had told her he loved her, and he was all but certain now that she cared for him, but that didn’t change the circumstances they found themselves in. The fact that he was finding more and more creative justifications for breaking the rules didn’t make it any safer for them to do so. Could he really afford to put her life in any more jeopardy than it already was?

    The tension between them was palpable. She seemed to be waiting for his move, either unwilling or unable to break the spell that transfixed them on her own.

    “Syd—“ he said, his voice low and rough with emotion, seeing the sorrow in her eyes at his hesitation.

    “Vaughn, don’t. Don’t say it!” she pleaded, putting her fingers to his lips.

    She knew the risks. Would one kiss really make such a difference? She tried to deny it, but in her heart, she knew it would change everything. There could never be just one kiss, because one kiss would be followed by another and another and another. But, he had told her he loved her back in the warehouse in Tapei. Could anything ever be the same again?

    “Shh, don’t cry,” he had whispered in French. “Everything’s okay. We’re together now. I’m right here. Don’t cry. I love you.”

    At first she couldn’t believe her ears. Had she heard him correctly? Did he even realize what he’d said? But then he had repeated it with a new sense of resolve in his voice.

    I love you.

    At that moment, she had felt everything inside her melt and begin to glow. Dixon had interrupted them before she could reply, but she hoped Vaughn had read her answer in her eyes.

    Tears pricked at her eyelids now as she held her fingers to his lips. She looked at him and saw the same anguish she felt reflected in his eyes.

    “When?” she asked, brokenly, unable to meet his gaze any longer.

    “I don’t know,” he answered, kissing her fingers, before he lowered them from his lips. “Someday soon. I hope."

    ***

    She helped him to the back of the plane, where Dixon and Jack were already crouched over, deep in conversation. Although certain that Will was still asleep, they spoke softly even though very little could be heard over the drone of the engines. There was much that needed to be discussed, which Will could not be privy to—at least not yet.

    “Dixon, this is Agent Michael Vaughn, my handler at the CIA. Vaughn, this is Marcus Dixon.”

    Sydney glanced back and forth between the two men and blushed, suddenly recalling that Dixon had witnessed her emotional reunion with Vaughn. He had no doubt surmised that her relationship with Vaughn extended far beyond the normal agent-handler protocol. She hoped he wouldn’t say anything in front of her father—unaware that Jack and Will had witnessed the embrace themselves.

    Dixon’s smile, which had appeared on his face as she and Vaughn approached, widened further. “I believe Agent Vaughn and I already met in an alley in Denpasar. I still have the goose-egg-sized lump on my head to prove it,” he said massaging the back of his head, laughing.

    Vaughn looked sheepish. “Sorry about that. It wasn’t really a fair fight. I was lucky I came up to you from behind. You seem to be in great shape, even after Aconcagua.”

    Dixon smile faded momentarily at the mention of Aconcagua, but then resurfaced. “Of course,” he said, as a new piece in the puzzle shifted into place. “You must have put together the CIA team that extracted us. If Syd hadn’t contacted you, I probably wouldn’t have made it. I have both you and Syd to thank for that. ”

    “Dixon, how did you find out I was a double agent for the CIA? And who told you about our mission to Taipei?” Sydney asked.

    “After I left you at the pier, I drove to SD-6 and sat in my car for over an hour, trying to work up the nerve to go in there and denounce you to security section, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t,” he said, glancing up at Sydney, troubled.

    “I didn’t know what to think. All the evidence pointed to the fact that you were betraying SD-6—and for all I knew, the country, but your protestations were so—so vehement—I went over all the excuses and rationalizations I had made for you again in my mind. There was only one that seemed to make any sense. I reasoned that if the CIA had any suspicions about SD-6 or any of its activities, they might recruit an agent inside the agency to investigate,” Dixon said, glancing around the circle, “so I went to the L.A. field office instead and demanded to see someone in charge of covert ops. I told them that I suspected you were a double agent working against SD-6, and unless they confirmed that her activities were sanctioned by the CIA, I would turn you into security section at SD-6.”

    Dixon’s words were met with stunned silence. Sydney opened her mouth and then closed it once more. Without knowing that SD-6 was not a covert branch of the CIA, Dixon had come remarkably close to guessing the truth. It was at that point that Sydney and Vaughn exchanged glances.

    “Whom did you speak with at the CIA?” he asked, the question coming out more sharply than he intended.

    Dixon chuckled. “Well, there seemed to be some confusion at the office about that. I was told the agent assigned as Sydney’s handler had been suspended recently and taken off her case,” Dixon said, turning to Vaughn with one eyebrow raised.

    When Vaughn nodded in confirmation, Sydney turned to him in surprise and dismay. “Vaughn—what happened? Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “I was going to tell you after we got back from Taipei. I didn’t want to concern you. You had enough on your mind worrying about Will,” Vaughn said, shooting Sydney a guilty look, but then returning his focus to Dixon. “So, then what?”

    “Then, I was told I should speak to an Agent Haladki, but he did not respond to being paged,” Dixon replied, looking inquiringly around the group.

    Vaughn and Sydney both turned to Jack. “Haladki was the source you referred to earlier. Wasn’t he?” Sydney stated.

    Jack assented. “His knowledge of the circumference gave him away as the mole. I extracted the information I needed from him for this mission and then eliminated him,” he stated in a perfectly controlled voice.

    “Haladki’s body was found later at the warehouse, along with the tape you made of his confession,” Dixon stated. “Devlin wasn’t precisely thrilled with your methods of extracting information. Let’s just say you didn’t exactly follow CIA protocol. However, taping Haladki’s confession was a smart move, Jack. Not only did it exonerate you and provide the CIA with evidence of Haladki’s activities, it gave me the information I eventually needed to follow you to Taipei.”

    It took a minute for Sydney and Vaughn to absorb this information.

    “So, who told you about Sydney and the mission to Taipei ? Devlin?” Vaughn said, resuming his questioning of Dixon.

    Dixon shook his head. “They finally let me talk with an Agent Weiss who revealed that Sydney had been spying on SD-6 covertly for the past nine months at the CIA’s behest. He told me he couldn’t tell me any more without risking Sydney’s cover and placing me and my family in jeopardy, but later he relented.”

    “What precisely did Agent Weiss tell you?” Vaughn asked, his voice urgent. “ I have reason to believe he may have been feeding information to Haladki for months and may be just as dangerous.”

    “Weiss was helping Haladki?” Sydney asked incredulously.

    Dixon glanced at Sydney and then back at Vaughn. “Agent Weiss was aware that circumstances made it appear that he was the mole. He wanted you to know that in an effort to locate the source of the security breaches, the CIA did a sweep of all the offices and found bugs in both your office and Agent Weiss’s. Agent Weiss believed that as a result of the bugs, Sydney’s cover was compromised, as was all the intelligence you both had collected over the last several months. He told me he was all but certain that you had gone to help Jack and Sydney rescue Will, and he was very worried that you were all walking into a very dangerous and elaborate trap.”

    Sydney watched as a mixture of doubt, shame, and then a surge of anger flashed across Vaughn’s face.

    He had considered Weiss a traitor, had been certain of it, even though Eric was his best friend. Of course, it was reassuring to discover Weiss had not fed information to Haladki knowingly, but Vaughn still felt betrayed. It was Eric’s actions, after all, that had caused Devlin to remove him as Sydney’s handler. It was then that his thoughts turned to Dixon. He didn’t know what he would have done in Eric’s place if Dixon had walked into his office, but he sure as hell wouldn’t have sent him to Taipei. What was Eric thinking?

    He slammed his palm down on an upended crate. “So Eric told you not only about Sydney’s status as a double agent, he sent you to Taipei to extract us? Doesn’t he know he’s endangering your life, as well as risking any chance we have of keeping Sydney’s cover intact?”

    A sudden coughing fit forced him to suspend his diatribe. Sydney went to offer him her support, but he shook his head, indicating he didn’t need it.

    Dixon waited for Vaughn’s coughing fit to pass. When he resumed his story, his voice and expression remained dignified, but a thin undercurrent of anger hovered just below the surface. “Agent Weiss had every reason to believe that Sydney’s cover was blown whether I went to Taipei or not, and he felt responsible for putting you and Sydney in danger. However, he didn’t ask me to go—I volunteered. I told him that I had spent 21 years believing that I was serving my country by working for SD-6 and the last 7 of those I spent as Sydney’s partner. After I discovered the truth about SD-6, do you really think Agent Weiss could have stopped me from going to help Sydney? You of all people should understand that. Isn’t that precisely what you did yourself, even though they suspended you?”

    Vaughn rubbed his forehead and ran a hand through his spiky, disheveled hair.

    “Of course,” he said, sighing. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

    It was Dixon who had found Sydney and helped her escape. For all he knew, if Dixon hadn’t been there, none of them may have gotten out alive. What was wrong with him? The icy cabin felt stuffy to him, and he swayed on his feet, feeling a bit light-headed.

    Dixon’s gaze left Vaughn and moved to Sydney. Tears glistened in his eyes and his voice shook. “Syd, it was bad enough to think you were the traitor. Now I learn that it was I who was unwittingly betraying my country. I don’t know what upsets me more. That SD-6 lied to me for so many years, or that you knew for the last year and didn’t tell me.”

    Sydney covered her mouth with her hand, as tears silently slid down her cheeks. She had dreaded this moment. There were no words to express her regret, but still she tried.

    “Dixon, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I wanted to tell you! There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t agonize over not telling you,” she whispered. “Dixon, forgive me! I wanted to tell you so badly!”

    “Sydney’s not to blame,” Vaughn said sternly. “I am. I ordered her to keep the truth from you. In the beginning, I felt it was necessary because the CIA had no way of telling which agents knew of SD-6’s true agenda and which had been duped into believing they were working for the CIA. After you sent the request for support when McKenas Cole stormed SD-6, I knew you believed you were working for a covert branch of the CIA. However, I convinced Sydney that by telling you, she would be endangering you and your family. I’m sorry. I thought it was for the best—for you and for Sydney. Perhaps I was wrong,” he concluded, a note of bitterness in his voice.

    Vaughn knew by now that there were no simple answers in this line of business. Everyday he made decisions on which the lives of countless other agents depended. It was like a game of chess. The configuration of the entire board could change as the result of one move—except the casualties weren’t mere chess pieces. Lives of men and women—agents like his father with families and loved ones—were sacrificed simply to get the next vital piece of information the government needed to stay one step ahead of covert enemies like SD-6. The trouble was there was no endgame in sight. The game could go on forever and the casual victims and collateral damage on both sides would just continue to mount.

    Dixon shook his head back and forth slowly, following his own train of thought.

    “All those missions for SD-6! Syd, at any point I could have done something that might have exposed you and endangered your entire operation. Oh, God, Badenweiler…” Dixon’s voice faded, as realization suddenly dawned. “The second detonator… Syd, the way you reacted… you said it was because of Danny, but that wasn’t it, was it?.. there must have been a team in there…My God, Sydney, how many men did I kill?” he said, his voice hoarse, a look of horror contorting his face.

    “No, no, not you,” Sydney said fiercely, crouching down towards Dixon and grasping his hands. “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”

    “I take full responsibilities for the deaths at Badenweiler,” Vaughn interjected softly, but firmly. “All of us wish those deaths could have been prevented and the lives of those men spared, but as I told Sydney, everyone on that team knew the risks of performing specials ops. They died serving their country.”

    Vaughn didn’t add the words like my father. At that instant the memory of standing by his father’s coffin as an eight-year-old boy merged in his mind with the memory of comforting a boy, much like he himself had been, at the funeral of the agents who had died at Badenweiler. It made his head swim, and he reached out to an upturned crate. To Vaughn’s surprise, Jack reached up to steady him, a look of concern in his eyes. He was even more astonished when the usually taciturn man broke his silence to defend him.

    “Dixon, your ignorance was the best way to guarantee Sydney’s cover and her safety,” Jack said shortly. ”We simply couldn’t afford to bring in a third double agent prior to this, and as Sydney’s handler, Agent Vaughn acted in the best interests both of the CIA and the agent in his charge. Those deaths were the result of actions taken by SD-6. No one should take the blame except Arvin Sloane,” Jack affirmed. “However, now that you and Will both know the truth, and ‘The Man’ has compromised Sydney’s cover, something else must be worked out. But first, we need to find out exactly how much ‘The Man’ knows and how he intends to use it. What did the three of you discover at the warehouse?”

    Sydney glanced at Vaughn. His eyes had taken on a glazed, feverish look, and all the color had drained from his face. “We can talk about this later. Vaughn, I think you should rest.”

    Vaughn shook his head stubbornly. “I’m alright. Let me tell you what I know. It isn’t much.”

    With his lungs burning from the lack of oxygen, he had left the small window from which Sydney caught her last glimpse of him and found a small pocket of air near the ceiling of the sealed corridor. When he dived back down to check on Sydney, he saw her being dragged away by guards.

    By this time the wave which had slammed him into the door had begun to recede. It reminded him of the wave machine he had once spotted in Devlin’s office. If you tipped one side, the wave washed against the opposite end, ricocheted, and flowed back to the end at which it had started, repeating this process, until it dissipated and equilibrium was reached.

    He followed the wave to its source, taking advantage of the increasingly larger air pockets he found a long the way. Once he reached the lab, the water had leveled out, and he was able to find a foothold and climb up to the rickety catwalk that still hung down from the ceiling of the laboratory. He resolved to stay hidden there until he had recovered enough energy to move. Soon guards were swarming over what was left of the lab, but none of them even glanced at the catwalk.

    When he felt it was safe, he moved out of his hiding place, only to be ambushed by a guard who got in several kicks before Vaughn could trip him up and take his gun. Slightly more confident now that he was armed, Vaughn began searching the premises for Sydney, but it was slow going. His progress was hampered both by his injuries and his need to remain undetected. In the end, Dixon and Sydney had found him.

    It wasn’t a long story, but Vaughn was clearly fatigued by the telling of it. Sydney noticed that as he talked, he braced his ribs with one arm and increasingly stopped to catch his breath before going on.

    “The guards seemed to be searching the lab for something in particular,” he said, when suddenly he was seized with a coughing fit and couldn’t go on.

    Finally recovered, he pulled something out of his pocket. “After the guards left, I decided to look around myself and found this, wedged into the side of a crate.” He held out a small prism, shaped like a pyramid, no bigger than a gaming die. He rolled the pyramid in the palm of his hand, and variegated rays of light shot from its surface even in the dark cabin. A glyph was etched into the surface of each side of the prism, one of which Sydney recognized: the Rambaldi eye.

    “Marshall would have a field day with this. It must be a part of the Mueller device,” she breathed.

    “A very important part, if the guards’ concern is any indication,” Jack stated. “Excellent work, Agent Vaughn. Now I suggest you take Sydney’s advice and rest.”

    Jack’s voice was kind, and Vaughn looked into the older man’s eyes. Something had shifted in their relationship. Antagonism and antipathy had changed to respect. The two men gazed at each other, and Vaughn finally assented.

    ****

    Sydney checked on Will, saw to it that Vaughn was settled as comfortably as possible near the front of the plane, and returned to where Dixon and her father sat.

    “Dixon told me he found you bound, but unhurt in the warehouse with only a single guard at the door. Given enough time, you could have freed yourself,” Jack said. “What happened after the guards dragged you away?”

    “I woke up in a room, and Khasinau came in. He tried to feed me soup. He was gentle and somewhat sad,” Sydney mused. “He’s not the man you think he is.”

    Dixon and Jack exchanged incredulous glances.

    “Are you sure he didn’t drug you?” Dixon asked skeptically. “What was the point of luring you to Taipei, if he wasn’t going to interrogate you? That sounds nothing like the profile we have of ‘The Man.’ Just look at what Sark did to Will, presumably on orders from ‘The Man’ himself.”

    Sydney shuddered. It made her sick to think of what Will had suffered. “But that’s what I am trying to tell you. Khasinau isn’t ‘The Man.’”

    “Then who is?” Jack burst out impatiently.

    Sydney looked at her father uncertainly. “ ‘The Man’ isn’t a man at all,” she said, and her voice quivered. “ ‘The Man’ is a woman.”

    Jack looked at his daughter’s anguished eyes, and his own eyes grew wide.

    “Laura,” he breathed.

    Sydney nodded, swallowing back her tears.

    Now it was Jack’s turn to shake his head in disbelief. Slowly, his features hardened, taking on a stony mask of suppressed anger. “Did she hurt you in any way?”

    Sydney looked at her father helplessly. “Just seeing her…hurt me. I don’t know what I expected…one moment she seemed exactly like the woman I remembered, tender, loving; the next she turned into this impossibly cold, cruel stranger. Seeing that hurt worse than if she had shot me.”

    Tears slipped down her face, and before she could wipe them away, Jack grabbed her shoulders and forced her to look straight into his eyes. “What did she say to you?” he asked her agitatedly. “What did she tell you?”

    Jack did not interrupt once as Sydney recounted her entire conversation with her mother. He hung on every word she said, his face taking on a more and more haunted look with each revelation.

    Dixon tactfully withdrew, leaving Sydney alone with her father. Jack, however, had retreated into himself. Only his rapid breathing belied his almost eerie, outward calm. All she had wanted after her mother’s visit was to be comforted by someone who loved her. Someone strong enough to reassure her that everything she worked for hadn’t been a lie. Subsequent events—her reunion with Vaughn, the escape from the warehouse, and her concern for Will and Dixon—had made it impossible for her to dwell on her conversation with her mother. She could only guess what her father was thinking now.

    “Dad?” Sydney said tentatively. “Dad?” she said more loudly, when he continued to stare past her.

    Jack’s eyes slowly came back to focus on his daughter, and bit by bit his stony façade cracked. Loud, choked sobs came from deep within this seemingly stoic man, and Sydney threw her arms around his neck. Jack clung to her, and Sydney felt the sobs shudder through him.

    “I’m sorry…” he muttered brokenly. “I was a fool. Such a fool. I regret everything about my relationship with that woman… everything except you. If she had hurt you… God help me…”

    After a time—neither father or daughter could say how long—Jack wiped his eyes with the cuff of his shirt, and turned away from his daughter. Without another word, he moved to the back of the plane. Sydney gazed after him, looking at the father she was getting to know so much later in life than she would have liked. She didn’t know what sort of confrontations with Irina the future held, she only knew she and her father would face them together.

    ****

    Those who could sleep rested for the remainder of the trip, but Sydney remained awake with Vaughn’s feverish head cradled in her lap. She had tried to make him as comfortable as possible amid the boxes, but even in his sleep he winced whenever the plane hit the slightest turbulence.

    Due to the altitude at which the plane was flying, it was extremely chilly in the cabin. Sydney rearranged the blanket around him and watched, helplessly, as his temperature soared and his breathing grew more and more tortured. In no time his body was wracked by chills, and he shuddered, even as sweat beaded on his forehead. Intermittently, his eyelids would flutter, and he would mutter something she was unable to understand.

    She wiped the sweat from Vaughn’s brow and prayed, as his delirium deepened. She listened, as he argued with Eric, justified his actions to Devlin, confronted his father’s ghost, tried to warn her of the guards approaching from behind, and whispered endearments to her in both French and English. He was reliving the events of the last few days in his dreams, and Sydney was abashed by all that he revealed, knowing he was not in control of what he said. She felt as if she was seeing directly into his soul, and it humbled her and filled her with a fierce protectiveness. She tried to sooth him and encouraged him to sleep, but the torrent of words would subside only to pick up again a short time later. He fell asleep only when they were within an hour of L.A.

    It was at this point that Jack made his way over to his daughter. “How is he?” he queried, the concern evident in his eyes, even though his voice remained cool and detached. It was the first time they had spoken since she had told him about her mother.

    “He’s delirious and his lungs are congested. It’s already hard for him to breath because of his cracked ribs. We need to get him to a hospital as soon as we get to L.A.”

    “I’ve radioed ahead and arranged for Agent Weiss to meet us at the airport. He’ll take care of Agent Vaughn and make sure that he gets the medical attention he needs.”

    “What about Will?”

    “I gave him another sedative and a heavy painkiller. He should be fine until we get to L.A. We’ll have to take him to another safe house for the time being. The CIA can arrange for an oral surgeon to examine him there. Tippin’s going to have to decide soon whether he wants to go into the witness protection program or become an operative. There’s no indication that SD-6 is aware that you are a double agent. I’m convinced Irina is holding that information in reserve, to see if you will cooperate with her in the future. For the time being, I believe it’s safe for you to go back to your apartment, but I will be checking in with you frequently.”

    Sydney nodded. She thought that would be the extent of their conversation, but her father cleared his throat. There was still something he wanted to say.

    “Vaughn and Tippin are good men, Sydney. Both of them. It’s obvious they care about you very much. You should be proud—very proud—of the way they’ve handled themselves in Taipei. Try not to worry.” He put his hand on her shoulder briefly, and then turned to go.

    “Dad?”

    “Yes?” He turned back looking vaguely apprehensive that she would expect something else—some further proof of his emotional weakness.

    “Thank you.”

    Jack gazed at his daughter in silence, and slowly nodded his head.

    ****

    Both Sydney and Jack had to support Vaughn as they deplaned. Weiss got out of the car parked on the tarmac and jogged the remaining distance to the plane to meet them.

    “Mikey, let me tell you something confidentially. You look like felgercarb,” Weiss said as he swung Vaughn’s arm around his shoulder shifted more of Vaughn’s weight onto himself. “I haven’t seen you this messed up since Driscol wiped the ice with your ass back in the semifinals. Remember that game?” Weiss kept his tone jovial, but his eyes were heavy with concern.

    Vaughn was too far gone to react to his friend’s raillery. Sydney followed Weiss to the car and helped him get Vaughn into the backseat. He was barely conscious, and his breath came in shallow, wheezing, rasps.

    “What the hell happened to you guys in Taipei?” Weiss growled, once he shut the door. This was precisely what he had tried to warn Mike about after Denpasar. He’d give Syd one of the famous lectures on appropriate agent-handler protocol he gave Vaughn, if he didn’t think she’d kick his ass.

    Sydney knew Weiss was angry at her for having endangered Vaughn’s life. Maybe if she weren’t so exhausted, she would have taken umbrage, but too much had happened in the last 48 hours. And, frankly, there was nothing he could reproach her with that she hadn’t already chastised herself for during the long flight back to L.A.

    “It’s a long story,” she said, sighing. “Vaughn cracked a few ribs. He has a fever and became delirious on the trip back. I think he inhaled a good deal of water back in Tapei. He needs a doctor. Please take—take good care of him.”

    Her voice faltered. She bit her lip and wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold back the tears. She had cried in front of everyone else. She wouldn’t cry in front of Eric Weiss.

    Weiss glanced at her and knit his eyebrows. “Syd, hey, listen, don’t worry,” he said soothingly, shedding his tough-guy act. “He’s gonna be fine. Trust me. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d seen him messed up worse than this. Hockey’s not a pretty sport, and Mike’s no wuss.”

    Sydney sniffed, and wiped away the tears that stubbornly trickled down her cheeks, despite her best efforts at controlling them. She smiled briefly through her tears, which was precisely what Weiss had been hoping for.

    “Really, go home.” he continued. “Get some rest. I’ll take care of everything and call you on a secure line to update you on his status. Mike wouldn’t want you to worry about him.”

    “I love him,” she said suddenly, staring intently at the asphalt.

    She spoke so quietly Weiss barely heard her. He gazed at her over the roof of the car, speechless, all his worst fears confirmed. She lifted her head, and it nearly broke his heart just to look at her.

    “Jeez, Syd, it doesn’t surprise me,” he sighed. “You gotta know at this point that he loves you, too. But, there’s a reason why the CIA discourages this kind of thing,” he continued on, his voice taking on new urgency. ”Forget the fact that he’s your handler, and it’s clouding his judgment. You should just see the way he gets every time you go off on a mission. It scares the felgercarb out of him that you might not come back. Now that he’s taken it into his head to start accompanying you on jaunts like this one, it could get you both killed—that is if SD-6 doesn’t spot you canoodling somewhere and kill you first.”

    He realized too late that he was shouting at her. He stopped abruptly, and threw up his hands. “Syd, I’m sorry. You don’t need a lecture from me, especially right now. It’s just Mike’s my best friend. I don’t want to see him hurt anymore than you do.”

    “It’s okay,” Sydney said, wiping away her tears. “You should—you should get him to the hospital, though,” she told him, the strength and determination returning to her voice. “I heard everything you just said, and you’re right, but we’ll deal with it later, after Vaughn’s recovered.”

    Weiss nodded, for this first time seeing a little bit of Jack Bristow coming out in her. “I’ll tell you what. Mike’s gonna be laid up for a couple of weeks at least. Write a message on a paper bag anytime and leave it at one of the drop off-points. I’ll make sure he gets it. Just don’t make it mushy or someone in recon will see it and have a field day.”

    “Thanks, Eric,” she said. “For everything.”

    “Don’t mention it. Now, seriously, go home and get some sleep.”

    ***

    Sydney gingerly opened the door of her apartment, hoping against hope that Francie wouldn’t be home.

    It was just her luck. Francie was sitting with a mug of coffee at the kitchen counter, doing the crossword in the Sunday edition of the L.A. Times.

    “Syd!” Francie cried, as soon as she saw her. She threw down her ball point pen and ran to give her a hug. “How was Puerto Vallarte?”

    Sydney hugged her roommate. Puerto Vallarte? “It was great—really great!” she enthused, hoping Francie didn’t detect how clueless she was. Who told Francie she had gone to Puerto Vallarte?

    “I was so happy for you when I found out!” Francie said leading her over to the couch. “I told your Dad when he called that it was about time the bank did something to acknowledge all those extra hours you put in!”

    Then Francie took a good look at her roommate. “Hey, you sure don’t look like someone who just got back from all-expense-paid weekend in Puerto Vallarte. What happened?”

    Sydney sighed. “Well, actually, the weather was awful. And it really wasn’t much fun without you and Will.”

    “Didn’t anyone else go with you? That’s kind of lame. It sure was sudden, the way they whisked you off like that, but I wouldn’t have been able to go because of all the preparations for opening the restaurant, and I don’t know where Will’s gone off to, but you could have at least invited someone from work. What about the guy who gave you that picture frame at Christmas?”

    “Francie!”

    “I’m just saying, why go to Puerto Vallarte alone when there’s a cute guy at the office who was sweet enough to get you a Christmas present!”

    Sydney sighed. She wished with all her heart that she had been in Puerto Vallarte with Vaughn, instead of in Taipei extracting Will and confronting her mother. The image of them together, sunning themselves on the beach, contrasted jarringly with her memory of keeping watch through the night to see if a feverish and delirious Vaughn would survive the plane trip back to L.A.

    “Actually, I thought about it, but he’s been out sick the last week or so. Pneumonia, I think,” she replied, rather distantly.

    Francie frowned. “That reminds me.” She looked apprehensively at Sydney and took her hand. “I have some—some bad news for you. I don’t know how to tell you this, but Emily Sloane died over the weekend. I’m sorry, Syd. I really am.”

    Sydney was stunned. Emily had appeared so strong when she had last seen her. Sloane had even said that the cancer was in complete remission. Surely it wasn’t because of the security breach…My God, had someone at SD-6 terminated Emily, knowing full well she was Sloane’s wife? Or was Sloane himself so merciless, so without pity that he could take the life of the woman who had loved him for thirty-six years?

    “Oh, Syd, I know it’s a shock!” Francie said, dismayed. “I shouldn’t have told you right when you got in the door. I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

    “No, I’m all right.” Sydney, said, giving her friend a small smile. It was the same brave, everything’s-all-right-even-if-it’s-not-smile that her roommate had come to know well. “But, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll just go to my room and rest for awhile.”
     
  2. Azhria Lilu

    Azhria Lilu Rocket Ranger

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2002
    Location:
    Derbyshire, UK
    Part 2

    Title: Compline

    Author: akatolstoy, akatolstoy@hotmail.com

    Rating: PG

    Genre: S/V Romance/Angst, WIP

    Distribution: CD, otherwise please email me first.

    Disclaimer: I don’t own Alias, or any of its characters. It all belongs to JJ
    Abrams, Bad Robot Productions, ABC, Touchstone, etc.

    Spoilers: entire 1st season, slight spoiler for season 2, involving Willage

    Feedback: Please read and respond. I am eager for feedback!

    Summary: Post-ATY. Sydney, Jack, Dixon, Vaughn, and Will come to grips with the events that will alter all their lives.

    Note: When I posted the first half of Compline (Sections 1-8) in my previous email, it cut section 8 off half way through. This post starts exactly where the last post ended. Sorry about that! I will try to do better in the future!

    -------------

    This fan-fic is a companion piece to “The Tricky Thing About Trust” and “One Small Year” also archived on fanfic.net.

    The title refers to a series of prayers meant to be said before sleep.

    Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen--The Common Book of Prayer

    ---------------

    Francie nodded, and Sydney went to her room and shut the door. Her head was pounding, and she felt as if someone had stuck cotton underneath her eyelids. She was so unbelievably exhausted. She hadn’t slept for 48 hours--or was it more? She’d lost track having crossed the international dateline twice.

    She awoke to the sound of the phone. It had grown dark, and when she rolled over to check the digital clock at her bedside she discovered was 9:30 in the evening. She had been so tired, she didn’t even remember falling into bed.

    “Yes?” she said, picking up the receiver, her heart pounding. The last time she her bedroom phone rang it had been Sark detailing his demands for Will’s safe return.

    “It’s Weiss. The line’s secure. We have exactly two minutes.”

    “Weiss, Thank God! How’s Vaughn?”

    “He’s hospitalized. His fever’s gone down a little, but they’re still monitoring him. He’s on about a dozen antibiotics. Are you sure the stuff he took a dunk in was just water?”

    “I don’t know. Has he been lucid?”

    “In and out. The first coherent thing he said was ‘Where’s Sydney?’ “

    “What hospital is he at?”

    “C’mon Syd,” Weiss chided. “You know I can’t tell you that. And don’t pull any strings to try and find out. I said I’d keep you posted, and I will. Gotta go. Time’s up.”

    Sydney hung up the phone. She considered disregarding Weiss and combing every hospital in the greater L.A. area until she found Vaughn, but she needed Weiss’s goodwill and support to get through the subsequent weeks of Vaughn’s recovery—and an ally in the CIA to get him reinstated. The only thing she could do now was sit and wait for his next update.

    ****


    Weiss knocked on the door of Vaughn’s hospital room and glanced around the corner. It had been over a week since he had admitted Vaughn to the ICU. Although the doctors had attributed Vaughn’s quick recovery to the series of potent antibiotics they had administered to clear the infection in his lungs, Weiss theorized it had more to do with the daily communiqués he himself brought from Sydney.

    Despite his progress, Vaughn’s doctors refused to discharge him until they were certain the infection would not reoccur. Looking at his friend, Weiss surmised that the doctors were right to be cautious. Vaughn was well enough to become irritated by forced bed rest, but not strong enough to be back on his feet. Although his natural color was slowly returning, there were dark circles beneath his eyes, and he looked gaunt. Weiss guessed his friend had lost ten--maybe even fifteen pounds--since being admitted.

    “Hey, how ya holdin’ up?” he asked, walking into the room.

    Vaughn rubbed a hand across the stubble on his jaw and glared at Weiss. “As well as can be expected when they keep me cooped up in here. Get me out of here why don’t you, and then I’ll tell you how I’m doing.”

    Weiss shook his head. “No can do, Kemosabe. You’re still under observation. I brought you something that might cheer you up, though,” he said lifting the bag up so Vaughn could see it. “It’s from Syd.”

    Vaughn’s eyes lit up. “How is she?”

    “I just spoke to her. She just got back from Emily’s funeral. Sloane gave her the week off. He thinks she’s all broken up over Emily’s death, when in reality she’s worrying herself sick over you and Will. Hey, are you gonna open your present, or am I going to have to open it for you?” Weiss said, trying to steer the conversation away from work for the present.

    Vaughn gave him an enigmatic look.

    Weiss rolled his eyes and let out an overly dramatic sigh. “Okay, so I haven’t been exactly supportive of your relationship with Syd up until now. You’ll be happy to know that I have officially given up the view that it is possible to keep you apart, so that I can concentrate on keeping you both alive. Open your presents already. Let’s see what she got you.”

    Vaughn took the bag from Weiss. It was heavy. Glancing at Weiss out of the corner of his eye, he pulled out the first package and unwrapped it. It was a beautiful leather-bound book almost as thick as it was wide.

    Weiss whistled. “Whoa! Talk about a little light reading! You could use that thing as a doorstop!”

    Vaughn ignored him and started flipping through the gilt-edged pages.

    “War and Peace—and it’s in the original Russian,” he mused out loud. Weiss looked nonplused, so he explained. “I majored in world history back at UCLA with a concentration in Russian language and culture. You know at that time the CIA still wanted all the new recruits to be fluent in a Slavic language. No one was even thinking about Arabic back then. I took Russian so it would look good on my application, but I ended up falling in love with the literature. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov—it didn’t matter. I couldn’t get enough of it. I always told myself I ‘d go back and read everything again, especially Tolstoy. I wonder how she knew?”

    Then it came to him.

    “Does that mean I'm in?” Sydney had asked him, after giving him her statement about SD-6, which she had written out in long hand—going through two roller ball pens in the process.

    “No, not yet. They're reviewing your statement. You wrote a lot,” he remembered telling her. “I mean, it's like Tolstoy long. Devlin says it could take weeks to verify. But I know we could use another double agent in SD-6.”

    Vaughn grinned and shook his head. Clearly he wasn’t the only one with a long memory.

    “I’m going to grab some coffee,” Weiss said dryly, his vicarious pleasure in watching Vaughn open Syd’s presents, decidedly dampened. “I’ll be back in ten. Then we need to talk.”

    Vaughn nodded, barely acknowledging the fact that Weiss had left the room. While waiting to see if he had made it through the first round of interviews to join the CIA, he had toyed with idea of applying to grad school. An undergraduate professor who had told him he had a talent for languages and gift for literary analysis had given him an application for the Slavic program at Princeton. He’d gone so far as to fill out the application, but he never sent it. By strange coincidence, he had found it a few months ago in a box of assorted papers. It made him stop and wonder what might have happened if he had ignored the urge to follow in his father’s footsteps. Would he have met Sydney some other way? Bumped into her at a coffee shop or a used book store?

    Given his train of thought, he was truly startled by the next gift he unwrapped. It was a DVD collection of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Trois Couleurs” trilogy. He’d taken his mother to see “Bleu” in Paris the year it was released. He’d seen “Blanc” at the L.A film festival, and he had taken Alice to see “Rouge” on their first date. Much to his chagrin, Alice had found it “boring.” He’d attempted to explain the beauty and significance of the interweaving plots, telling her that Kieslowski had based his film trilogy of fate, chance, and love on the three colors of the French flag—blue for liberté, white for égalité, and red for solidarité—but then just gave up, concluding it was something you just “got” or you didn’t.

    At the time he’d convinced himself that Alice’s reaction wasn’t what it actually was: one of the many small indications of their ultimate incompatibility. Looking back, Vaughn realized doubts had plagued him throughout his relationship with Alice, but he had ignored them, to both their detriment. He had no such doubts about Sydney. Every fiber of his being told him that if SD-6 wasn’t an obstacle, they’d make a wonderful couple. He’d never felt so alive with anyone else or so naturally in tune. The question was would they ever have the chance?

    Vaughn reached in and pulled a third present out of the bag. It was a Brooks Brothers box. He half expected to open it up and find a shirt—all his shirts came from Brooks Brothers, and it no longer seemed surprising that Sydney might notice a detail like that. However, he was wrong. Inside were a pair of men’s striped linen pajamas with his initials embroidered on the pocket. He’d had a pair like these, but he hadn’t seen them since he’d broken up with Alice. She had had a habit of wearing the top half to bed and leaving him with the bottom half. However, it wasn’t Alice he was picturing sharing these pajamas with--it was Sydney.

    Looking surreptitiously at the door, Vaughn felt it would be wise to see what else might be in the bag before Weiss interrupted. At the very bottom of the bag he pulled out a white gift card that simply said “Je t’aime.”

    So, she had heard him. A boyish grin appeared on Vaughn’s face, and he was still staring at the card when Weiss walked in. Weiss stood there for several seconds, and when Vaughn failed to acknowledge his presence, he cleared his throat loudly.

    “I’m sorry to bring you down off Cloud Nine, Romeo, but there’s something we need to discuss.”

    Vaughn frowned. “Now listen, if you’re going to lecture me about the dangers of getting involved--“

    “I told you, I’m done lecturing you about Syd,” Weiss cut him off exasperatedly. “Besides, protocol is the least of our problems now. Something happened in Taipei—something you don’t know about.”

    That got Vaughn’s attention. “What are you talking about?” he asked sharply.

    “While you were practicing your breast stroke, Syd came face to face with ‘The Man,’ “ Weiss replied grimly, “and it wasn’t our buddy Khasinau--it was her mother.”

    Vaughn did a double-take. “Her mother? How is that possible?”

    Weiss shrugged. “Who knows? The point is Irina gave her an ultimatum—either Syd could come work for her or forfeit her own life and the lives of everyone close to her.” Weiss gave his friend a hard look. “Mike, the scary thing is I believe she has the means to back up her threat. With both our offices bugged, and Haladki reporting to her every other day for months, she has more than enough information to blow Syd’s cover. SD-6 is no longer our biggest threat—Irina is, and it looks like she’s in control. Neither you, nor Will, nor Francie are safe, as long as Irina knows she can use you to get to Syd.”

    “So what’s the plan?” Vaughn said, regaining his focus. “Have Jack and Devlin proposed anything?”

    Weiss glanced at Vaughn. “Yeah, but you’re not going to like it.”

    “Let me here it.”

    Weiss sighed. “They want to make Syd a triple agent. She’ll feed Irina information, while we work in the background to bring down both Irina and SD-6 simultaneously. Dixon will be in charge of keeping Syd’s cover intact at SD-6, while you’ll pose as the new CIA mole, so that you can back Sydney up without making Irina suspicious.”

    “Jesus Christ, Eric!”

    “I said you wouldn’t like it!”

    “Becoming a triple agent is tantamount to receiving a death sentence!” Vaughn said, shoving a hand through his hair and glaring at Weiss. “We can’t protect Sydney as it is. How the hell can we protect her as a triple agent? One false move, and they’ll be gunning for her from all sides! I can’t believe Jack would agree to such a thing!”

    Weiss threw up his hands in exasperation. “Mike, we don’t have much choice! If Syd refuses, Irina intends to blow her cover at SD-6. Syd’s life hangs in the balance either way. At least this way we have options.”

    “What have you told Syd up to this point?“ Vaughn asked warily. “Has Irina tried to make contact with her since she got back from Taipei?”

    Weiss shook his head in answer to both questions. “We wanted to talk with you first before approaching Syd. As far as we know, Irina hasn’t tried making contact, but we can’t be sure. You’re the only one Syd trusts completely, Mike, and Devlin knows it. The operation doesn’t stand a chance without your participation. He’s waiting for your okay before giving the go ahead.”

    Vaughn snorted. “For someone who’s still officially suspended, I certainly have a lot of clout.”

    “I didn’t come here today just to bring you Syd’s package,” Weiss said quietly. “Devlin wants your answer by tomorrow, so that we can be ready when Irina finally does contact Sydney.”

    “You tell Devlin I’m not prepared to make any sort of decision until I talk to Sydney myself,” Vaughn shot back, his eyes flashing with anger. “While you’re at it, you can tell him I want to make a few requests on Sydney’s behalf.”

    Vaughn outlined his demands, and Weiss shook his head. “You don’t expect much, do you?”

    “If Devlin can’t arrange what I just described, it gives me that much less confidence in our ability to protect Sydney as a triple agent,” he answered sharply.

    Weiss started heading towards the door, stopped, and turned around to look at his friend. “You know, you’re gaining a reputation at the office for being a renegade. Word about Taipei has gotten out,” he said, a strange expression on his face.

    Vaughn gave a short laugh. “What, no more jokes about Balls of Steel?”

    Weiss smiled. “They’re calling you ‘the young Jack Bristow,’ and I’m beginning to think maybe they’re right."

    ***


    Sydney sat on the couch in her living room trying to study. The Chai tea she had made herself earlier sat on the table next to her forgotten. After reading the same sentence over twenty times, she finally threw down the book in exasperation and watched dispassionately as it slid off the couch and fell to the floor with a thud, cracking its spine in the fall.

    It was over a week since their return from Taipei, and she was feeling stonewalled. No one was talking to her. Her father called frequently to check up on her as he had promised, but he was evasive and refused to answer any of her questions about Will. Weiss met with her at least once a day to update her on Vaughn’s status, but he too seemed unusually secretive, and she hadn’t seen Dixon since before Emily’s funeral.

    The funeral had been small. Sloane had asked her to say a few words at Emily’s grave, and she had done so, talking about Emily’s bravery in the face of her illness, her natural kindness, and her philanthropy. After placing an orchid on Emily’s coffin, she watched it slowly being lowered into the ground. It was only when Sloane put a hand on her elbow that Sydney had realized that one by one, the other guests had already filed away, and she and Sloane were the only ones who remained at the graveside.

    “You and I have both lost someone now, but we have to remain strong. We have to continue on,” he had said, his lips trembling slightly.

    It was everything she could do not to wrench her elbow from his grasp, revolted by the fact that he would dare to connect Emily’s death with Danny’s, knowing that she was aware of the role he had played in both.

    She had turned to look at him then, and was shocked by what she saw. She had never seen nor thought she would ever see Arvin Sloane look so old, bereft and friendless. There were circles beneath his eyes, and he looked as if were wearing another man’s suit, so awkwardly did he fill it. And despite everything, she pitied him.

    He had seemed discomfited by her gaze. “I will be taking some time off,” he had told her, clearing his throat nervously. “There are some things I need to attend to. Your father will be in charge during my absence. I suggest you take some time off yourself. I know how hard this is for you. You were the daughter Emily never had, and from what you’ve said, she became like a mother to you.”

    A mother, Sydney thought bitterly, her mind no longer on the funeral. She wasn’t sure she grasped what that meant anymore after coming face to face with Irina.

    Sydney’s reverie was interrupted by the sound of keys in the front door. After a moment Francie backed into the apartment, her hands full of fabric swatches, paint samples and floor plans for her new restaurant.

    “Hey, how are the plans shaping up?” Sydney said forgetting her own thoughts for the moment and rushing over to help. “It looks like things are really coming along!”

    Francie rolled her eyes. “There’s so many things to consider! I’m ready to pull my hair out! The previous owner is giving me a deal on the old light fixtures and table tops and chairs, but the whole place is screaming to be updated! That means new paint, new window treatments, maybe even new flooring! I won’t even talk about what kind of renovations we need to make in the kitchen! Speaking of kitchens, I’m famished. I’ve been working on this stuff so long, I totally forgot about lunch today.”

    “Let me fix something to eat, and you can tell me all about it!” Sydney said, as they dumped everything onto the coffee table in the living room.

    “Hey, I know!” Francie exclaimed. “Let’s call Will and order Chinese. He loves it when we order from YY Noodles, and we haven’t seen him in ages. It’s like he’s giving us the cold shoulder or something.”

    “I’m sure he’s just busy. You know, after being nominated for that prize, his editor probably switched him to a new beat or something,” Sydney replied as casually as she could.

    “Oh, my God, Syd! We’re like the worst friends ever,” Francie gasped. “We forgot all about the awards ceremony. No wonder he hasn’t come around! How can we make it up to him?”

    Sydney wasn’t as concerned about their absence at the awards ceremony as she was about Will’s. Surely Weiss or one of the other case officers had come up with a cover to explain his absence. She couldn’t help but worry, though. Should she call Weiss or try to make contact with her father? Sydney bit her lip, and gazed at Francie who was now perusing the Chinese takeout menu they had tacked to the bulletin board near the phone.

    Poor Francie. No matter what it was, she always seemed to be the one who got short-changed. Sydney couldn’t remember the last time she forgot everything else and put Francie first.

    “It’s been so long since we had time together just the two of us. Let’s make this a girls’ night. We can call Will and make it up to him tomorrow,” Sydney suggested, hoping she could find out something about Will’s status in the meantime. “What should we order?”

    “How about the Thursday night special: Kung-bao chicken, Shrimp Lo-mein, an order of dumplings, and wonton soup?”

    “That sounds great!” Sydney said, giving her roommate her widest smile in days. “How about an extra order of dumplings?”

    An hour later they were sitting cross-legged in the living room pouring over Francie’s plans and eating Chinese out of the paper containers with chopsticks.

    “So, I was thinking of this color yellow for the lunch area at the front of the restaurant, since it gets the most natural light, and a combination of burgundy, henna, and deep green for the formal dining room,” Francie said showing Sydney the paint chips. “My friend Kat—you remember, the one into graphic design?—has promised to do murals for the walls, so you’ll feel like you’re in a European street café. Oh, and she’s already designed the logo that will appear on the menus. What do you think?”

    Sydney picked up an dark green card with “Café 312” in a swirl of embossed gold lettering. “I think it’s lovely, Francie! I really do!” she breathed, her eyes shining. “This is all so amazing! You’ve been dreaming about starting your own restaurant ever since we met, and now your finally doing it!“

    Francie blushed. “I know. There’s still a lot to be done before the grand opening, though. It’s going to be September 29 before I know it, and I still haven’t finalized the menu or got all the financing in order. When I realized the restaurant would need so much renovating, I was really worried I wouldn’t find someone to back me, but then this investment group just contacted me—right out of the blue. I have a meeting with them over at the business school tomorrow.”

    “Francie, that’s terrific! I’m so proud of you!” Sydney said, giving her friend a hug.

    Francie deserved nothing but happiness after the way Charlie had treated her. Sydney recalled her mother’s ultimatum and shivered. Irina had told her that the only way she would be able to protect her friends is if she agreed to work with her and not against her. Now that Will had been dragged into her world of lies and betrayal, she wanted to do everything in her power to see that Francie remained safe.

    Just then the phone rang. “Don’t get up,” Sydney said. “I’ll get it.”

    When she returned, Francie closed her eyes, put her hands to the sides of her head and began rubbing her temples. “Let me guess, it’s Will. He’s coming over and bringing a quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream.”

    “Nope, it was a wrong number,” Sydney said, smiling, “but chocolate chip ice cream sounds really good right about now.”

    “It figures,” Francie groaned. “We haven’t had a wrong number for weeks! Don’t tell me it was for Joey’s Pizza!”

    Sydney laughed. “Not unless Joey changed his name to Frank and went into the adult video business.”

    “Eww! I swear, if we start getting calls like that, I am going to call the phone company and tell them to give us an unlisted number.”

    Sydney grabbed her purse. “Now that you got me thinking about it, I’m going to get us some ice cream. I’ll be back in a bit.”

    She would have to talk to Weiss about his choice of signals

    ****


    Weiss was already in the cage, leaning against a crate when she got to the warehouse.

    “Hi,” Sydney said, as she approached him.

    “Hi,” he said, scuffing the toe of his shoe against the dirty concrete floor.

    The first few moments of his meetings with Sydney were always awkward. It was as if the warehouse had absorbed the words and emotions from Sydney’s past meetings with Vaughn. Weiss felt like an intruder every time he came here, so he had made a habit of starting with an update on Vaughn’s status to dispel the tension his absence created.

    “I stopped by the hospital earlier today and gave Vaughn your package,” he told her, trying to break the ice.

    Sydney could feel herself start to blush. “Do you think--I mean did it seem to you like he liked the gifts?”

    Weiss grinned at her. “I think that would be an understatement. I had to reel him in. He was like--stratospheric.”

    “When can I see him?” Sydney asked. “Will they be releasing him soon?”

    “It’ll be a few days,” Weiss cautioned. “In the meantime, we have a mission for you. You’ll be leaving for France tomorrow afternoon to meet with a retired linguist named Jacques Vinneaux who might be able to give us more insight into the Rambaldi manuscript. He left the University of Paris because of an academic dispute and is now a bit of a recluse. He lives on a remote island off the coast of Brittany. You will pose as Marie Arnault, a graduate student at the Sorbonne, who has taken an interest in Rambaldi.”

    “If he’s such a recluse, why would Prof. Vinneaux agree to meet with me?” Sydney questioned.

    “He thinks you’re the niece of an old friend,” Weiss answered. “Your assignment is to show him the pictures of the Rambaldi page you used to secure Will’s release and bring back any intel Vinneaux gives you. It should be a fairly standard op. We have no reason to believe Vinneaux is a threat, but it’s always good to play it safe, especially since we don’t know Irina’s next move. A lot people--including your mother--would be interested in what Vinneaux has to say.”

    Weiss glanced at Sydney, suddenly anxious. ”Your mother hasn’t contacted you, has she?”

    Sydney shook her head. She didn’t want to think about her mother. The feelings their confrontation had aroused in her were still much too intense. She would have discussed Irina with Vaughn, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so with Weiss.

    Weiss sighed. “Syd, you can’t go on pretending it never happened,” he said earnestly. “You may not realize it yet, but you’re in a great deal of danger. Irina can blow your cover at SD-6 whenever she likes. You have to start preparing yourself to play the game on a whole new level. It’s not just SD-6 we have to watch out for anymore.”

    “I know, I just need a little more time,” Sydney said quietly, the fatigue and strain of the last few days evident in her face. “Is there anything else?”

    “Actually, there is something else,” Weiss said hesitantly, trying to anticipate her reaction. “Will’s made a decision. He’s going to become an operative.”

    Sydney simply nodded. She had never believed Will would choose the witness protection program, but the news still came as a shock, nonetheless. “Has he been assigned a cover yet?” she asked in a low voice.

    “Not exactly, but we’re working on it,” Weiss hedged. “Has Will ever done drugs that you know of?”

    Sydney frowned. “No! What kind of question is that? What are you implying?”

    “Well, according to the plan Devlin and your father are developing, he’s gonna be picked up for heroine use and go into rehab as a cover for his CIA training.”

    “What? Eric, they can’t do this!” Sydney cried. “It’ll ruin his reputation. He’ll lose his job, and no other paper in L.A. will hire him.”

    “That’s precisely what Devlin is hoping will happen,” Weiss said uncomfortably.

    “You’ve got to be kidding!” Sydney exclaimed, horrified.

    Weiss forged ahead. “Look, Syd. Thanks to Jack’s quick thinking, we caught Will’s story on SD-6 before it went to press, but we can’t erase people’s memories. His editor, his co-workers, his intern all know he was investigating SD-6 in connection with Danny’s death. We have to discredit him so completely that they’ll consider the story just a crazy, heroine-induced conspiracy. His personal safety depends on it. You’ve got to see that. The further he’s removed from any connection to SD-6 the better, especially if we’re going to use him as an operative.”

    Sydney knew her father had retrieved the article Will had put in Abby’s safekeeping in case he did not return from the rendezvous Jack had set up for him. What she did not know is that the mission to assassinate Will’s character had already been launched. While retrieving Will’s article, Jack had bugged the office so that the CIA could monitor the situation.

    At the appointed day and hour, Abby had opened the sealed envelope Will had given her and with trembling fingers removed the article inside, staring at in disbelief. In small, 12-point type the word “Gotcha!” was repeated continuously to fill up the margins of all 7 pages of text.

    “The bloody little bastard!” Abby had cried. “I bet he’s just on vacation!”

    Will’s editor who had been watching over Abby’s shoulder turned away in disgust.

    “I hope he’s having fun,” Litvak said sarcastically, “because it just might be permanent after that stunt.”

    Weiss outlined what had occurred, and Sydney’s eyes grew wide.

    “I can’t believe this!” she cried. “Did you tell any of this to Will before he made his decision?”

    “I told him, and it didn’t change his mind. He knows what he’s getting into, Syd,” Weiss replied, trying to keep his voice steady.

    Sydney turned away, and when she looked at him again he could see tears in her eyes. “Does anyone really know what they’re getting into when they become a operative?” she asked in a low voice.

    Weiss stared down at the floor, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his suit. “Probably not,” he admitted. “If they did, I doubt anyone would think the sacrifices were worth it. Things get complicated. You start losing your moral compass. You change, or it changes you.”

    Sydney knew Weiss was thinking of how he had unwittingly betrayed Vaughn, and she touched his shoulder.

    “You’ve been a good friend--to Vaughn and to me. Tapei hasn’t changed that.”

    Weiss glanced up at her and smiled briefly. “Well, I should get going,” he said, embarrassed. “Is there anything else you need before the mission?”

    “I want to see Will before I fly to France,” Sydney stated, “—before all this comes crashing down on him. Do you think you could arrange it?”

    “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll see what I can do.”

    Weiss turned to go, but Sydney stopped him. “Tell Vaughn—”

    “Wait until you can tell him yourself,” Weiss said, cutting her off with a grin. “Good luck in France.”

    ***

    Sydney didn’t know how he had arranged it, but Weiss got her in to see Will the next morning, a few hours before she caught her plane to France.

    The safe house where they were keeping Will appeared to be a nondescript bungalow on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs. The CIA, however, was not taking any chances this time. A total of five agents had been assigned around-the-clock duty to ensure his safety—three undercover agents were positioned along the street and two inside. After frisking her and confirming her identity with Weiss via radio, the agents finally allowed her to see Will.

    “Syd!” Will exclaimed, jumping up to hug her. “Oh, my God, you don’t know how glad I am to see you! It’s like I’m on the set of ‘Big Brother,’ except I’m the only one left in the house.”

    “They wouldn’t let me see you before now, or I would have come sooner. Francie’s been asking questions, and I’ve been so worried, but no one would tell me anything until yesterday,” Syd explained. “Are you alright?”

    He looked like the same old Will in so many ways. He had on a comfortable Stanford sweatshirt Sydney had often seen him wear, an old pair of jeans, and his ratty high top sneakers. His eyes were bloodshot, though, and his jaw was streaked with faded yellow bruises. It troubled her that she couldn’t quite define the expression which haunted his otherwise clear blue eyes.

    “I’m fine,” Will lied. “They brought me an X-box about three days ago. You should see my top score on ‘Halo.’“

    He could see Sydney wanted desperately to believe him, but was much too experienced an agent not to know better. But even if she suspected the truth, he simply couldn’t bring himself to tell her about the nights he woke up screaming, or the complicated system the agents guarding the safe house had worked out to let him know exactly who was on duty at all times.

    “Will, I am so sorry,” Sydney said brokenly, tears beginning to slip down her cheeks. “I never wanted to bring you into this. I never wanted you to get hurt. Weiss told me about the newspaper and the heroin. No matter what my father or anyone else has said, you don’t have to do this. You can still go into witness protection. Please don’t think you have to do this.”

    “Hey, no--Syd, ah, Jeez, don’t cry,” Will said in confusion, leading her to the couch and pulling her down beside him. ”If you think I blame you for what happened, I don’t,” he said, rubbing her back awkwardly. “Now listen to me. No one is forcing me to become an operative.“

    Sydney tried to interrupt, but Will wouldn’t let her, “Just wait. Listen.”

    “Do you know why I decided to become a journalist?” he asked. “It was because I wanted to make a difference. I thought maybe—just maybe—I could write something that would make people think. Something that might make them perceive themselves and the world a little differently—get them to care, get them to take action and maybe make the world a better place. It may sound corny, but that’s what I thought.”

    “You know what?” he said, taking her shoulders and gently turning her around to face him. “You do that—you make a difference. You make the world a better place. You don’t just expose the bad guys. You take them down,” he said earnestly, his eyes shining, as he looked at her. “If I can help you do that—then that’s what I want to do. I don’t care about my reputation at the newspaper or the trumped up drug charges, or anything else. I care about you, and if this is what I have to do to be a part of your life—so be it. I’ll take the risk.”

    “Will, you ARE a part of my life--the part of my life I work so hard to keep safe,” Sydney said, taking his hands and gripping them tightly.

    Will shook his head. She still didn’t understand.

    “Before all this happened I thought you were the warmest, smartest, most beautiful woman I have ever known, and now I realize that isn’t even half of what you are,” he said softly, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.

    Sydney gazed at him, and it physically hurt her to see the love in his eyes.

    “You’re brave, and you’re tough,” he continued, “and you go out every single day and save the world, while Francie and I lead these little humdrum lives and welcome you home without a clue that you’ve been disarming nukes in Eastern Europe, or stealing computer code from terrorists in Saudia Arabia…”

    “Will, stop it!“ she protested. “You talk like I’m a hero. I’m not: I lie to my friends, I lie to my co-workers, I kill people when I have to, and you will, too, if you become an operative!”

    “Syd, you’re not listening to what I am telling you. I saw how Michael Vaughn looked at you in Taipei,“ Will interrupted her, and she could see the pain in his eyes and understood the effort it took for him to talk about Vaughn. “He looked at you as if—as if the sun rose and set in your eyes! He thinks you’re amazing, and he should know, right? He’s seen you work; he assigns you the missions, and he’s fallen in love with you: the ‘you’ I never get to see; the ‘you’ you think is so awful,” he said, his voice beginning to crack.

    “I can’t go back to seeing you the old way, anymore than he can help loving the ‘you’ he sees, and if he thinks he loves you now, wait until he gets to know the ‘you’ I’ve known all these years.” Tears stung his eyes, and he continued haltingly. “I know you love me as a friend, and I don’t really expect any more than that. But I don’t want to lose you—and I’ll lose you for sure if I go into the witness protection program. So, Syd, don’t—don’t shut me out of your life,” he pleaded. “This is what I want.”

    Sydney threw her arms around him, her sobs muffled against his chest. Will rocked her silently, his tears falling into her hair.

    ****

    Weiss whistled for Donovan as he unlocked Vaughn’s apartment door. He had been staying there for the last week watching Donovan while Vaughn was recuperating. With the long hours Weiss worked, it made sense, since he would have had to come twice a day to feed and walk him anyway. Donovan seemed glad to have him around. However, every time he heard the key in the lock, he would race to the door, expecting it to be Vaughn, and then whine when it turned out only to be Weiss. Tonight was no exception. The small white bulldog skidded to a stop at his feet, wagged his tail uncertainly, and looked up at Weiss, making small, plaintive sounds.

    “Yeah, don’t give me those eyes,” Weiss said in mock sternness, reaching down to scratch Donovan behind the ears. “I’ve had it up to here with puppy-dog eyes. First Sydney, now you. You want Vaughn, I know. Sorry to disappoint you, bud, but you’re stuck with me for the time being, same as Syd.”

    Weiss set his briefcase down on the kitchen counter. It had been a long day. He stretched and then took off his holster, setting it beside the briefcase. He began rummaging around the kitchen, getting fresh water and putting half a can of dog food—per Mike’s instructions—in Donovan’s bowl. Afterwards, he grabbed a Sam Adams from the fridge, and sat down to chill a few minutes before he took Donovan for a walk.

    He had to admit, he’d liked staying in Mike’s apartment the last few days. Unlike Weiss, Vaughn had taken the trouble to furnish his apartment and was no longer subsisting on furniture from his college days. It had always seemed a little too GQ for Eric’s taste—what with the dark Mission-style furniture and earth tone color scheme—but it had been growing on him. He found himself once again studying the series of black and white photographs which lined the wall above the moss-green sofa. The first was of the Champs de Élysées, the second, a thatched-roof cottage set on the top of a hill with a view of the sea, and the third was of the Los Angeles skyline at night. He had known Mike for years before he discovered that he was an amateur photographer and had taken them himself. It occurred to Weiss that this was precisely the type of thing Sydney would want to know about Vaughn, and that he himself now took for granted.

    He constantly kidded Mike about how uptight he was, but Eric had to confess that envied him in every way—his apartment, his Gallic good looks, and his girl.
    He had to get his mind off Syd and Vaughn, though. It seemed like it was all he could think about lately. Finishing off his beer, Weiss, went to the kitchen to throw the bottle away and then returned to the living room to search for Donovan’s leash. He could never remember where he laid the damn thing down. He started shuffling through old newspapers and magazines, making a mental note to clean up before Vaughn got back.

    He heard Donovan whine behind him. “Just a sec, ol’ boy,” he said, “I think I found it.”

    Donovan started to growl, gave one sharp bark, and high-tailed it into the bedroom. “What the heck’s gotten into you, Donovan?” Weiss said, finally turning around.

    The front door was ajar, and Sark stood within a few feet of him, gun in hand.

    “Mr. Weiss, forgive me for the intrusion. I hope you don’t mind. I’ve come to discuss a little business matter with you. I think you know to what I am referring,” he said with a tight smile.

    “I don’t know what you are talking about,” Weiss replied, eyeing his handgun, which still lay on the kitchen counter at the far side of the room.

    Sark lifted an eyebrow. “Really? Before his rather untimely demise, Agent Haladki lead me to believe you two had reached an understanding. An agreement of sorts. Is that not so?”

    “There was no agreement. Haladki made a proposition; I listened. That was all,” Weiss stated hotly, perspiration starting to collect on his brow.

    It was the truth. All he had done was listen, but that in itself was enough to constitute betrayal. If he hadn’t violated Vaughn’s trust and told Haladki that Vaughn suspected Sydney would try to rescue Will on her own, he doubted Haladki would have had the guts to approach him later that same day about spying on Vaughn and Sydney for “The Man.”

    It was obvious to him now that Haladki had detected the growing rift between he and Vaughn and had tried to exploit it for his own purposes. Weiss knew he should have gone back to Devlin and reported Haladki then and there, but he’d been too afraid of how his actions would be interpreted. It didn’t matter that he had turned down Haladki’s proposition to spy on Vaughn and Sydney. The CIA would focus on the fact that Haladki had felt justified in approaching him in the first place. He’d be branded as a potential mole, and his career would be over--just like that.

    When he had learned only hours later that Jack had executed Haladki, he’d felt as if he’d been given a reprieve. As far as he could tell, there was no one else besides Haladki who knew what had occurred. He had felt safe from recrimination, but his guilt over the situation had only grown. Vaughn had almost died in Taipei, and he blamed himself.

    He could have chosen to follow Vaughn to Taipei to rescue Will. It wasn’t like he hadn’t taken risks on Vaughn and Sydney’s behalf before. After all, he had helped Jack and Vaughn kidnap Will in order to convince him to drop his investigation of SD-6, and he had even gone so far as to hold two federal agents at gunpoint while Jack and Vaughn freed Sydney from FBI custody. But, self-interest had made him draw a line beyond which his friendship for Vaughn would not extend, and that line had been at Taipei. He would give anything now to go back and erase it.

    Since Vaughn had returned from Taipei, he had done everything in his power to rectify the damage he had done to their friendship. He thought he had expiated his guilt in the process and had even fooled himself into believing he had been fortunate enough to escape the consequences of his momentary moral weakness—that is up until now.

    Weiss glanced at Sark, and he became aware of how much the other man was enjoying watching him squirm.

    “What makes you think I am so eager to betray my country?” Weiss said, straightening his back and meeting Sark’s gaze head on.

    “If you are implying our initial offer was not to your liking, perhaps something else can be arranged. My employer can be very generous, if it helps her get what she wants,” Sark said, running a finger along Vaughn’s bookcases, and casually picking up a photo of Vaughn as a young boy riding on his father’s shoulders.

    “You work for Irina Derevko, Sydney’s mother,” Weiss stated, stalling for time.

    “Yes, I thought that was already clear,” Sark replied. “Well, Mr. Weiss, may I convey your intentions to my employer?”

    “Tell her I gave it some thought, and I’m not interested in dying like Haladki at the hands of her husband,” Weiss replied, brazenly. “Why don’t you approach Agent Vaughn? I think he might give you a different answer.”

    It was a golden opportunity to establish Vaughn’s cover as the new mole, and Weiss seized it.

    Sark ceased perusing Vaughn’s possessions and replaced the family photo he had taken from the shelf, turning to face Weiss once more. “You’ve piqued my interest. I believe Agent Vaughn’s father was given the same opportunity many years ago and had the arrogance to turn it down. Most unfortunate, don’t you think, since it led to his demise. Incidentally, I would be very careful, before you think of doing the same,” Sark cautioned, giving Weiss a hard look. “However, I am curious as to why you think Agent Vaughn would accept an offer you yourself have refused with such vehemence.”

    “How about the fact that he’s in love with your employer’s daughter?” Weiss shot back.

    “With Sydney? I see. Yes, that would change things,” Sark remarked thoughtfully. “Sydney, however, has given no indication yet of wanting to work with her mother. In fact, I believe she has fled the country. You wouldn’t by any chance know where she has gone or why Agent Vaughn has been discharged from the hospital slightly sooner than was previously expected?”

    “Not a clue,” Weiss said, an edge creeping into his voice.

    “A pity—you could have saved us some time,” Sark replied. “Well, I must say I am disappointed that you have chosen not to accept our offer, but it was good of you to suggest a replacement. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

    Weiss swallowed as he saw Sark adjust the silencer on his handgun.

    “No?” Sark said, lifting one pale eyebrow. “In that case, do you have any last words, Mr. Weiss?”

    Weiss scowled. “F—“

    The word never left his mouth. He fell backwards, the bullet hitting him squarely chest.

    ****

    Sydney disembarked from the small fishing boat which had brought her to Île Mariette, feeling as if she had left more than the French mainland behind--in fact, it felt as if she had stepped back in time. Brightly colored fishing boats bobbed in the harbor, as seagulls glided and swooped to inspect the day’s catch. The skyline above the town of Kaertrez was broken only by a church steeple. Modest one and two-story white houses—some with blue shutters, others with green—nestled between the bluffs of the undulating coast. She could tell from the placement of the houses that the cobblestone streets would be narrow and winding.

    “It’s beautiful!” Sydney said, more to herself than to the captain, who stood beside her, making sure his small fishing vessel, the Bihan Gouelanig, “The Little Seagull,” was securely fastened to the dock.

    “Degemer mat,” the captain responded, in what Sydney now knew to be Breizh, a language still spoken by the people along the western coast of Brittany that had more in common with the Celtic languages of Great Britain than it did with French. “Welcome to Île Mariette. May I be of any more service to you, now that you are here?”

    Realizing that his only passenger for the day was unfamiliar with Brittany or its culture, the captain of the Bihan Gouelanig, who was fluent in both French and Breiz, had regaled her with stories of the region. Having been settled by Celtic tribes early in its history, the coast of Brittany had been alternately ruled by England and France, until it came under permanent French governance in 1532. Although the people in the villages along the coast had assimilated into French culture and gradually lost their Breton traditions, island natives still spoke Breiz and preserved many of the old ways. This, however, was changing as more and more tourists came to Île D’Ouessant and Île Molene, the larger islands to the east of Île Mariette, the captain explained. Île Mariette was too small and remote for most tourists to bother with, even though it was no less beautiful than the other islands, and that, the captain led her to believe, was quite to the liking of the inhabitants of Île Mariette.

    “Non, merci,” Sydney answered, smiling at the captain who had brought her over from the port at Le Conquet. “I can’t thank you enough!”

    With a hand clasping her wide brimmed straw hat to her head, Sydney left the pier and began to climb the steep grassy knoll that lead to Jacques Vinneaux’s cottage. The tall yellow grass danced in the wind around her, and in the distance she could spy the crashing waves cresting against the rough coast behind the cottage. Like the other houses she had seen in Kaertrez, it was a modest one-story white-washed building with a thatched roof. The front door and shutters were painted cerulean blue, and Sydney thought she had a rarely seen a more inviting retreat from civilization. No wonder Jacques Vinneaux had come to live on this beautiful island after he left the University of Paris.

    The captain of the Bihan Gouelanig had pointed out the cottage to her as they rounded the point. It stood by itself on a spit of land that jutted out into the sea. Sydney had gazed at it, leaning against the bow of the boat, clutching her hat, much like she was doing now. She had asked the captain whether he knew Jacques Vinneaux well, but he only chuckled.

    “I know him much better by another name,” he had answered cryptically. “He has not always lived on Île Mariette, but his people have. He is a true Kernevad—a true Breton—despite his long absences. There are many on the island who hope he will stay now, for good.”

    The old captain had glanced with grandfatherly affection at the slim, young woman in the simple red sundress who stood before him, taking her in from the tip of her straw hat to the tops of her sandals and enjoying the way the breeze played with the long strands of her dark hair.

    “I know he will be very happy to see you,” he had continued, with a twinkle in his eye, “and I believe I will leave it at that.”

    “Professor Vinneaux?” Sydney called, as she now approached the cottage.

    When there was no answer, she knocked on the door, waited a moment and called again. It was possible Vinneaux had stepped out, but surely he knew when the Bihan Gouelanig was getting in to port and when to expect her? Thinking perhaps that he was deaf, Sydney pulled the door latch, and finding the door unlocked, stepped inside.

    It took a second or two before her eyes adjusted to the dim interior. A man in a cable-knit fisherman’s sweater was bent over the fireplace, his back turned to her, stacking kindling.

    “Professor Vinneaux?” Sydney inquired. “Excusez-moi. Je suis Marie—“

    The man turned around, and Sydney gasped, the hat she held in her hand slipping unnoticed to the floor. The next moment, she was in Vaughn’s arms.

    “Vaughn! How—“

    He kissed her in answer, pressing her close to him with one hand on the small of her back and the other threaded through her hair. The kiss was long, slow, and sweetly sensual--one that encouraged rather than demanded her response.

    A dizzying sense of euphoria began to suffuse her from head to toe, and Sydney responded to his kiss with every fiber of her being, losing herself in it so completely she no longer knew where she ended and Vaughn began—there was simply the kiss which united them. Nothing else existed. She wound her arms around his neck, seeking to prolong and deepen it even more.

    They were both breathless at the end of the kiss, Vaughn even more so than Sydney, which made her original question seem all the more pressing.

    “Vaughn, I don’t understand! Weiss said you’d be in the hospital for several more days. He sent me here to meet with Jacques Vinneaux on a covert op for the CIA!”

    “I told him to tell you that, and I wish my only reason for doing so was to surprise you,” Vaughn replied wistfully, running a hand through his hair. “The fact is that you are on a covert op--just not the one you thought. In fact, we both are.”

    “Devlin knows you’re here?” Sydney exclaimed.

    Vaughn nodded grimly. “The CIA wants you to become a triple agent. They want you to feed your mother information, while we work in the background to bring down both her and SD-6 simultaneously. Dixon would be in charge of keeping your cover intact at SD-6, while I’d pose as the new CIA mole, so that I could back you up without making your mother suspicious.”

    It was all too much for her to take in. She understood her own potential role, but not Vaughn’s. “Vaughn--why you? Why would anyone believe you’d become a mole?”

    Pain and regret mingled together in Vaughn’s eyes. “Because the most persuasive lies are the ones closest to the truth,” he said slowly. “Devlin knows the real question is not what I would do to protect you, but what I wouldn’t do.”

    A look of anguish spread across Sydney’s face as the truth finally began to sink in. She had stolen documents from SD-6 and disobeyed CIA orders to save Will. She knew in her heart that she would have risked even more than that if it had been Vaughn, and not Will, whose life had been endangered. Would she have gone so far as to betray her country? Possibly, yes, but she would have tried to play all sides against each other first--which was precisely what the CIA was now asking them both to do.

    Suddenly, she was angry--angrier than she remembered being at any point in the last year. “The CIA’s toying with us! They’re toying with our emotions! They’re making a mockery of our relationship. They’re taking what’s between us--something beautiful and--and--pure--and using it for their own ends!” She broke away from Vaughn’s embrace and began to pace the worn floorboards of the small cottage.

    Vaughn simply stood and watched her, allowing her to progress through the same succession of emotions he himself had struggled with when Weiss had broken the news to him.

    “Does my father know?” she asked him, knitting her eyebrows.

    Vaughn nodded, his brow furrowed. “He helped Devlin formulate the plan.”

    Sydney shook her head slowly back and forth, her eyes wide with shock. “No, I can’t believe my father would do this. I know him now, better than I ever have. He wouldn’t sanction something like this.”

    However, she immediately recalled the disgrace that awaited Will, on account of the cover Jack had manufactured for him, and it made her not only doubt her father, but also wonder what else he had set in motion in the intervening weeks since they had returned from Taipei.

    “Syd, there’s another way to look at it,” Vaughn broke in, drawing her into his arms again. “Your father’s a game theorist--the best one I know. There‘s no way this op can work without our cooperation. Irina may have the advantage, but we’re the pivotal pieces on the board, which means we can leverage both sides. We’ve got more control than you think. Devlin didn’t arrange this trip; I did. I told him that if he even wanted me to consider approaching you with the plan, he needed to give us time to strategize. And if the operation hinged on the fact that I was in love with you enough to betray my country, he damn well better give us some time alone so I can start acting like it.”

    Sydney smiled at his vehemence, and Vaughn couldn’t help but laugh.

    “You didn’t really tell Devlin that, did you?” she asked, joining in his laughter.

    She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed. It felt so good, and little by little, the tension inside her began to ease.

    Vaughn looked sheepish. “That’s what I told Weiss to tell Devlin. Weiss’s actual phrasing was probably a little more diplomatic.”

    “I think your father knew exactly what he was doing when he formulated this op,” he continued in a more serious vein, once their laughter stopped. “It’s extremely dangerous. I won’t pretend it isn’t. We still have to keep both our relationship and your status as a triple agent from SD-6, but we have the full backing of the CIA. They’ll protect us as best they can. The rest we’ll have to do ourselves.”

    Sydney simply nodded. “How long do we have?”

    Vaughn smiled. “Two and a half days. Welcome to Île Mariette.”

    Sydney gazed around the one-room cottage. Opposite the door at the far end of the room was a stone fireplace with two faded, but comfortably upholstered, green chairs set before it. A wooden bench with an upright back stood on the eastern wall, while a squat cooking stove and a sink with a long-handled pump took up the wall to the west. A small wooden table with two chairs was placed in the center of the room, while an alcove, which disclosed an incredibly soft-looking bed behind a set of partially closed red curtains, was situated to the right of the entrance. To the left of the front door was a shelf, crowded with seashells, framed pictures, and dog-eared books, swollen to twice their normal size from the salty sea air.

    Vaughn watched her taking in the surroundings, enjoying the look of curiosity and wonder that played across her face.

    “This cottage--you own it, don’t you?” Sydney asked him, noticing the rather smug grin on his face. “The captain of the Bihan Gouelanig called you a Kernevad and told me your relatives have always been islanders. But you were born in Fleury. That’s in Normandy, isn’t it?”

    Vaughn nodded. “I inherited this cottage from my grandmother. She lived on Île Mariette her entire life. My mother grew up here, but left so that she could go to school in Paris.”

    “Is that where she met your father--in Paris?” Sydney asked curiously.

    Vaughn nodded once more. “He was posing as an official at the American embassy while on an extended covert op for the CIA. My parents lived in Fleury for the first few years of their marriage. I was born there, and I still think of it as my childhood home, even though we moved to the States when I was five. While we lived in Fleury, we would come to Île Mariette all the time to see my grandmother, and even after moving to America, we came back to spend our summers with her here on the island.”

    “I remember my grandmother trying to convince my mother to stay permanently after my father died,” he continued, “but my mother told her that my father had been an American, and that he had wanted me to grow up at least partially in the United States. I think my mother thought about moving back here when I went to college, but my grandmother died shortly after I entered UCLA, and by that time, my mother had already made a life for herself in the United States.”

    Besides their conversation in the train station, this was the most Vaughn had ever revealed about himself or his past. Sydney listened avidly. There was so much she wanted to learn about him. It seemed strange that she should feel so close to him and yet not know these basic facts.

    “Do you still vacation here every summer?” she asked.

    “Not nearly as often as I used to,“ Vaughn confessed. “In fact, it’s been years since I’ve been back here. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed it,” he said, a boyish grin spreading across his face. “Do you want to see the rest of the island?”

    “I thought you’d never ask!” she exclaimed, finding Vaughn’s buoyant spirits infectious.

    Sydney followed him out the door, and he grabbed her hand as they climbed further up the point on which the cottage rested.

    She gazed at him then, relishing the opportunity to do so out in the open, with no thought to who might be watching them or what danger might lie ahead. His high cheekbones appeared more sharply angled than usual and the weight he had lost as a result of his illness made him appear even taller. Although there were circles under his eyes, the lines that often furrowed his brow were completely gone, and she thought his green eyes had never appeared more vivid. He was more relaxed than she had ever seen him, and the way he carried himself bespoke a quiet confidence and ease. Only his breathing--slightly faster than normal, considering they had just started out on their walk--indicated that he had not yet gained back all his strength after Taipei.

    Though the setting and mood could not have been more different, Sydney couldn’t help but recall how they had held hands at the club in Taipei, threading their way through the crowded dance floor. Sexual tension had coursed and arced between them, and she blushed, thinking of how aggressively he had shoved aside the guy who had tried to pick her up. The feeling which bound her to Vaughn at this moment, if more placid, was no less strong. She felt as completely linked to him now as she had in Taipei.

    As they stopped at the pinnacle to watch the waves crash against rocks below, Sydney slipped her arm around his waist. Vaughn did the same, and it seemed to her like the most natural action in the world. For a brief moment, they were simply an ordinary couple come to enjoy the view.

    “How could you bear to leave Île Mariette at the end of those summers?” she asked softly. “I’ve been here for only a few hours, and I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. Two days doesn’t nearly seem enough, considering what lies ahead.”

    She paused and looked up at him, her eyes troubled. “I don’t know of any successful triple agents, Vaughn, do you? You only hear about the ones who fail.”

    Vaughn tightened his arm around her. “That’s because the successful ones complete their missions and then escape to remote islands under assumed names never to be heard from again.”

    “Islands like Île Mariette?” she suggested lightly.

    Vaughn glanced at her, and she gave him a wistful smile.

    For one brief moment she allowed herself to imagine the tranquility and peace of such a life. Days filled with conversation, books, and long walks around the island, evenings in front of the fireplace, then falling asleep at night wrapped in Vaughn’s arms. It filled her with such longing that she quickly pushed the thoughts away. She and Vaughn wouldn’t be here on Île Mariette if they hadn’t been assigned an extremely dangerous covert op, and dreams of the future were simply that: dreams and nothing more. Neither of them could afford to pin their hopes on a future that might never come to be.

    They gazed a few more moments at the churning sea below before turning to go.

    “Did Weiss come up with our aliases or did you?” she asked, as they started down the point again towards the village of Kaertrez, her thoughts returning once more to the mission.

    “Marie Arnault was my grandmother’s maiden name. I used it as a kind of codeword for the captain of the Bihan Gouelanig, so that he would know who you were. I gave him explicit instructions to approach no one but you, and if anyone asked about you once he got back to Kaertrez, he was to say simply that you were my guest, coming to spend the weekend, and he hadn’t quite caught your name.”

    “Do you trust him?” Sydney asked even though she knew that Vaughn would not fail to be anything but careful, especially now that both her mother and SD-6 would be suspicious of her whereabouts.

    Vaughn nodded. “A true Breton--a Kernevad--will keep a secret to his grave, and Jean-Paul Brochet is a Kernevad through and through. During World War II, all the islands off the coast of Brittany were occupied by the Germans, but only the inhabitants Île Mariette were successful in organizing any sort of underground resistance movement, perhaps because it was the smallest of the three islands and also the most close-knit. Brochet was one of leaders.”

    “He didn’t seem at all surprised when I referred to you as Jacques Vinneaux,” Sydney commented. “Is that another family name?”

    “No, I just made it up. It was simply the second part of the code that would confirm your identity. I thought it sounded dashing and romantic, like the name of a character from a Dumas novel,” he said giving her a lop-sided grin.

    Sydney laughed. “I thought Jacques Vinneaux sounded more like the name of a musketeer than a staid, old linguistics professor.”

    Vaughn stopped for a moment to contemplate their surroundings, and Sydney looked around, trying to discern what exactly had captured his attention on the grassy knoll.

    “When I was a kid, a group of us would come up here and whack the hell out of each other with sticks, pretending to be The Three Musketeers,” he explained, chuckling. “I remember one time someone caught me right here above my eye, and I bled like crazy. My mother almost fainted when she saw me and took me straight down to old Doc Giroux, and I had to have three stitches. If you look closely, you can still see the scar. I never really did grow out of the fascination, though. I think it was Dumas’ novels that actually inspired me to take up fencing in college. I wasn’t all that bad, either.”

    “There’s so much I want to show you,” he said turning to her, his eyes glowing with enthusiasm. “Tomorrow, if you want, I’ll take you to the lighthouse on the western end of the island. If the keeper is the same man I used to know, he’ll let us climb up to the top and look out. It’s really amazing. Seals sun themselves on the rocks over there, and I’ve even spotted dolphins once or twice off the shore. We could pack a lunch. Say, are you getting hungry?”

    “A little,” Sydney admitted, smiling at the sudden change in subject.

    “Good! I’ll finally get to take you to dinner. You won’t believe it, but I know this great little restaurant. It’s called the Yellow Moon--Melen Loar--”

    Sydney laughed, recalling how he had asked her out to dinner while they were breaking into the Vatican.

    “But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on taking you to Trattoria di Nardi someday,” he said with a grin.

    “The next time we’re in Italy,” she agreed.

    As they walked along the harbor, Sydney discovered Vaughn not only knew every part of Île Mariette, but everyone on it. Shouts of “Bonjour, Michel!” and “Demat, Michel!” came from all..
     
  3. Azhria Lilu

    Azhria Lilu Rocket Ranger

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2002
    Location:
    Derbyshire, UK
    sides as fishermen and boat captains

    Part 3:

    Title: Compline Part 3

    Author: akatolstoy, akatolstoy@hotmail.com

    Rating: PG

    Genre: S/V Romance/Angst, WIP

    Distribution: please email me first.

    Disclaimer: I don’t own Alias, or any of its characters. It all belongs to JJ
    Abrams, Bad Robot Productions, ABC, Touchstone, etc.

    Spoilers: entire 1st season, slight spoiler for season 2, involving Willage

    Feedback: Please read and respond. I am eager for feedback!

    Summary: Post-ATY. Sydney, Jack, Dixon, Vaughn, and Will come to grips with the events that will alter all their lives.


    ----------
    As they walked along the harbor, Sydney discovered Vaughn not only knew every part of Île Mariette, but everyone on it. Shouts of “Bonjour, Michel!” and “Demat, Michel!” came from all sides as fishermen and boat captains hailed them from the pier. Not everyone greeted Sydney with the same enthusiasm, however. She thought she caught more than one envious glance from the young women they met on the narrow, winding streets of Kaertrez. Sydney gripped Vaughn’s hand a bit more possessively, once again thinking of the dance club in Taipei and wondering what she would have done, if the tables had been turned and some woman had dared to approach Vaughn.

    “Did you ever spend time here with Alice?” she asked suddenly, trying to keep her voice neutral.

    Vaughn stared at her, much as he had that day at the carwash when she had asked him if he had had a fight with his wife. Over the last year, he had lost sleep worrying about her relationship first with Will, and then Noah. It had never occurred to him that Sydney could be jealous of Alice.

    Vaughn turned pensive. “No, I never brought her here,” he replied, falling silent.

    Sydney glanced at him. His silence did nothing to allay her sudden insecurity, but she decided not to press him.

    They were quiet for a time, and Vaughn thought back--was it really just last summer that he had considered bringing Alice to Île Mariette? He remembered thinking that perhaps if they spent a week together on the island he loved so much, it would help them to repair their relationship and close the ever-growing gulf between them. He had mentioned the idea to Alice, and she had seemed interested, but some instinct had kept him from pursuing the matter further. He had always thought he’d propose to his future wife on Île Mariette and, despite all his attempts to convince himself otherwise, he had known even then that Alice wasn’t the one he wanted to share the rest of his life with. They ended up putting off their visit to Île Mariette, and three weeks later, Sydney walked into his office, battered but defiant in her fire-engine-red, Run-Lola-Run hair. His life hadn’t been the same since.

    They turned down a few more cobblestone streets, and when they reached the Melen Loar, Vaughn ushered Sydney inside the quaint and homey restaurant, which served as a local gathering place for the people of Kaertrez. Like everywhere else on the island, he was welcomed as an old friend the moment he stepped inside. Someone went to tell Madame Saval, the owner, that Michel had returned and that he was accompanied by a pretty young woman. A few moments later, a short, rather rotund woman, dressed in black with rosy cheeks and silver hair tied back with a lace hairnet, rushed out to greet them, drying her hands hastily on her white apron as she made her way past the tables.

    Vaughn nearly slipped up and introduced Sydney by her real name, but Syd quickly interrupted him and introduced herself to Madame Saval as Marie Vinneaux--deducing correctly that Arnault would no longer work as an alias, since everyone on the island had known Vaughn’s grandmother and would be familiar with her maiden name.

    Madame Saval seemed not to notice the fumbled introduction. After clicking her tongue in dissatisfaction over Vaughn’s apparent weight loss and chastising him for staying away from the island for so long, she turned to Sydney and patted her cheek, saying something to Vaughn in Breizh, her blue eyes moist and kind. Vaughn smiled somewhat sadly, Sydney thought, as Madame Saval enfolded them both in a warm embrace.

    “What did she say?” Syd asked curiously, a few moments later, as Vaughn guided her to a table in the corner of the restaurant, which he hoped would afford them some privacy.

    He gazed at her uncertainly for a moment before he spoke, and then looked down at the table.

    “She assumed we were engaged,” he said finally, finding it difficult to keep the wistfulness out of his voice. “She told me what a beautiful bride you’ll make.”

    “Oh.”

    Vaughn glanced up at her, and the sadness and yearning he found in her eyes made him ache.

    He thought of Danny, and the engagement ring he had seen Sydney wear for so many months after her fiancé’s death. He knew he wasn’t the first man who’d dreamed of spending his life with her--hell, he wasn’t even the second or third, if you counted Will and Noah -- and if things had turned out differently -- if the world was just – she’d be Mrs. Daniel Hecht right now and he wouldn’t be sitting here mesmerized by the candlelight reflected in her eyes. What right had he even to hope for a happy ending? But, how could he not, when it was all he wanted in the world?

    The air was suddenly thick with things left unspoken between them: Hopes. Dreams. Desires. All of them made even more impossible by the increasingly complex web of lies and betrayal they found themselves caught in.

    “Syd--“ he said softly, taking her hand.

    “It’s okay,” she replied in a low voice, giving him a small smile, but Vaughn could see the tears shining in her eyes, and he sighed.

    When Eric had first outlined the operation to him, all he could think of was that it would place Syd in even greater physical danger than she had been in previously. He hadn’t stopped to consider the emotional cost of hiding their true feelings behind a cover they both wished so desperately to be true. He would have given anything to have walked into the Melen Loar and introduced Syd to Madame Saval simply as Sydney Bristow, the woman he loved, and not be forced to pretend she was Marie Vinneaux.

    “Syd, listen to me,” he said earnestly. “I don’t know what the future holds, but when you asked me to that Kings game, you said that you wanted something in your life to be real. This is real--my feelings for you are real--what’s between us is real. Never doubt that.”

    Sydney glanced up at him, and he held her gaze, hoping that she would realize that there was more emotion behind his words than he could readily express.

    Her heart skipped a beat, and she found it difficult to drag her gaze away as Madame Saval bustled over to their table, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. Their conversation ceased as a waiter set the table in front of them. Madame Saval had insisted on cooking her specialties for them, and soon, dish after steaming dish was brought to their table: sole, baked in a white wine sauce, with mushrooms, shrimp, and scallops; lamb basted with red wine and herbs, which had simmered for hours; salad and plenty of crusty bread; coffee and impossibly flaky pastries for dessert. They found they could not concentrate on anything but the meal before them.

    At the end of the evening, Madame Saval refused Vaughn’s attempt to pay. When Sydney and Vaughn rose to leave and go out into the cool night air, she asked them to wait, disappeared briefly, then came back with a lovely, intricately patterned wool shawl. Kissing Sydney on the cheek, Madame Saval draped the shawl around her shoulders, which were bared by the narrow straps of her sundress. Overcome by the old woman’s kindness, Sydney pressed her cheek to Madame Saval’s papery pink skin, and hugged her as they said their good-byes.

    Vaughn held the door of the Melen Loar for Sydney, and they stepped out into the evening. The night was clear, the full moon bright, and they could see the sweep of the Milky Way stretch across the dark expanse of the night sky. The melancholy sound of bells could be heard, pealing somewhere in the distance.

    “Are those church bells?” Sydney asked, drawing the shawl more tightly around her shoulders.

    Vaughn nodded. “There’s a small cloister here on the island, and the bells ring four times a day for matins, none, vespers and compline, calling the nuns to prayer. I forgot how much I loved hearing them.”

    “I used to attend services with my grandmother on the cloister grounds and this really profound, deep silence would fill the chapel sometimes,” he recalled. “I remember thinking that somehow God was present in the silence. I’d go there sometimes just to sit and listen to that silence, especially after my father died. I can’t tell you when I stopped going or why.”

    They were both quiet for a few moments, each lost in thought. Sydney was the first to break the silence.

    “Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, all for your love’s sake,” she recited softly to herself.

    Vaughn looked at her inquiringly, and Sydney blushed.

    “It’s one of the few prayers I know by heart. After my mom died--that is, after she--Irina--left,“ she said, stumbling in her efforts to articulate whatever connection Irina Derevko had to the woman she had once called her mother, “my father hired a nanny. She taught me that prayer, and we’d say it together each night before I went to bed. I thought I had forgotten it until that night in the plane when we were flying back from Taipei. Your lungs were congested and you were delirious. I didn’t know if you’d survive the trip back to L.A., so I held your head in my lap and prayed.”

    There was a tremor in her voice, and she looked up at him, tears in her eyes.

    “I thought after I lost Danny, I had nothing left to lose, and I was certain I’d never fall in love again,” she said, her voice catching, “but I met you, and you gave me a reason to go on with my life that had nothing to do with revenge. You were the one person I could trust completely; the one person I could count on to be there for me; the one person that made me feel whole. You were my guardian angel,” she said simply, smiling at him through her tears.

    She paused and took a deep breath before she continued, her voice still shaky.

    “I loved Danny, and that love was real, but when I thought I had been reunited with you in Taipei, only to face losing you on the trip home, I realized I truly would have lost everything if you died, because you’d become the one person I couldn’t imagine living without.”

    “But the thing that hurt most,” she said, hardly able to get the words out, “was the realization that you had always been there for me, and when you needed me, I wasn’t able to protect you. I was as helpless holding your head in my lap as I was when the security doors closed and trapped you on the other side. So I prayed and asked God to do what I couldn’t. To spare you. To spare your life. Not for my sake, but for yours.”

    Sydney stood before him, crying, her shoulders shaking from her sobs. Vaughn tenderly drew her into his arms, his own eyes stinging with tears. He held her tightly, kissing the top of her head, her forehead, her cheeks, her hair. Once her tears subsided, he drew her gently in the direction of his grandmother’s cottage--toward home.
     
  4. The Kate Vartan

    The Kate Vartan Rocket Ranger

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2002
    Location:
    California
    this was the first fic i read and i loved it. i still remembered it from when i read it like four months ago and now i have it saved on my computer! i hope to see another!
     
  5. Scarlet Crystal

    Scarlet Crystal Bibbity Rabbity

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2002
    Location:
    Narnia
    ummm
    pretty good
     
  6. shakila

    shakila Rocket Ranger

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2002
    Location:
    Quebec,Canada
    wow that was really well written good job
     

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