“Oh…Uncle Julian, you suck!” Caleb nearly threw down his controller in disgust.
Sydney laughed, then turned to Abby, her hand raised palm out. “High five partner! We girls just proved that we are the best!” The little girl slapped her palm excitedly, bouncing up and down on her knees.
“Yeah! Girls rule and boys drool!”
Sydney faced Sark with a smug smile on her face. “Come on; let’s hear it.” He just scowled at her.
After an impromptu pillow fight started by Anna smacking her husband in the face, the four adults had had a longer talk over coffee (and brownies). Spy talk wasn’t the primary topic, but things were mentioned, and Sydney finally realized that Anna and Steven really were okay with learning about Sark. They treated him and Sydney the same as they always had, friendly and loving. She marveled at the strength of forgiveness they had, that they could accept unflinchingly two people they had every right to shun.
Eventually two semi-grumpy kids had descended, wanting to know what was so funny. When Anna expressed a desire to take a nap herself, Sydney had offered to play with the kids so their parents could go have some alone time. Anna had thanked her profusely and hauled her husband up the stairs. Caleb had demanded they play his video game: he and Sark versus Sydney and Abby. After a small debate involving a lot of shouts of ‘not fair’, Sydney had agreed, but only one or two rounds, then they could switch. Satisfied, they had all settled in front of the TV.
Sydney had an inkling that Caleb wanted to play with Sark because the boy was sure that she had no clue about video games. She decided not to tell any of them the hours she and Weiss had spent with his own game system, having small challenges to determine who would make supper or buy the next round of beers. Sydney had gotten pretty good at ‘Mario Karts 64’ and low and behold, that was the game Caleb wanted to play. And about two minutes in, it was obvious that Sark had only played this about as much as Abby had, so the teams ended up evenly matched. By a stroke of bad luck in the last round, Sark’s character had been subjected to every trap the game had to offer and the girls had won the game. The term of their victory was that the boys now had to admit that indeed, ‘girls rule, and boys drool.’ Abby’s idea, but Sydney thought it would be hilarious to make Sark say that. Just one more piece to add to the blackmail box.
She leaned over and curled her hand around the back of Sark’s neck. “C’mon baby, let’s hear those words.”
He rolled his eyes. “All right, let’s just say it so they’ll shut up,” he said to Caleb. The boy crossed his arms over his chest and frowned, but the two intoned, “Girls rule and boys drool,” in a sing-songy sarcastic voice.
Sydney smiled. “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” she asked Sark. He just hauled her into his lap and kissed her neck.
“You’re never going to let me live that one down, are you?”
He just sighed and settled his chin on her shoulder. As cheesy as it sounded, she really was loving this domestic life with Sark. She didn’t harbour any notions that life was always going to be this way, but it was a good true vacation from real life. She leaned back and watched Caleb reset the game. “So are we switching partners now?” she teased.
“No,” Caleb said grumpily. “You’re too good, and Uncle Julian sucks.”
“Caleb,” Sark said with a touch of warning in his voice. “That’s not very nice to say.”
“Your girlfriend is better than you!”
“Only at Nintendo.”
“And at kicking your ass,” Sydney whispered in his ear. He drew back, cocked an eyebrow, then threw her down, pinning her shoulders with one arm and tickling her sides with his other hand. She shrieked, thrashing around and trying to kick him, but his body was too heavy over hers and she couldn’t move. He smirked over her, kept tickling her, sliding his hands under her shirt to sweep over her skin. She squirmed and begged, “Let me go!”
“Nope,” he said wickedly. “Not until you admit that boys are better than girls.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Sydney panted out between laughs. He just let his fingertips sweep over her stomach again and she jerked around, finding it harder to breath. Sark’s hand was traveling up her side gently again when Abby let out a wild scream and jumped on his back, latching her arms around his neck. He fell forward in surprise, enough to let Sydney roll out from under him and help the little girl pin him down. “C’mon Abby, mess his hair, he doesn’t like that.” As Sydney straddled him and pinned his arms by his side, Abby rubbed the blonde curls furiously. She felt arms around her own neck, choking her slightly. She fell backwards a little, enough for Sark to sit up, grab Abby around her waist, and somersault her over his shoulders. They all ended up in a furious panting huddle, until Sark shouted, “Okay!” and they stopped their playful wrestling. Sydney ended up lying on Caleb, with an upside down Abby on her lap and Sark towering over them. She joined the kids in giggling as she sat them all up, wrapping her arms around Abby.
“I think it’s safe to say the men won that round,” Sark said as he sat next to her, propping himself up as if she was a hitching post.
“Only ‘cause you cheated,” she grumbled. He gave her the eyebrow again, but instead of tackling her, he just leaned in and kissed her softly. She licked around his lips; there was still some brownie taste stuck there.
“How come you guys are always kissing?” Caleb asked disgustedly. “Kissing girls is gross.”
“Mmmm…you are so wrong, Caleb,” Sark murmured, nuzzling around Sydney’s neck. “Girls taste very yummy. Sydney especially tastes really good, so that’s why I’m always kissing her. It’s like a treat.”
“Really?” Now Caleb looked somewhere between intrigued and grossed out. “Do all girls taste different?”
“Yup.” As Sydney let Abby squirm out of her hold, Sark pulled her into his lap again. She lay back against his chest and curled her arms over his that were circling around her waist. “Some girls taste like peppermint, some taste like cinnamon, some have really boring tastes. See, that’s the fun part about kissing: you get to try all the different flavour until you find the one you love the most.”
“Huh,” Caleb cocked his eyebrow in a familiar manner. “So, what does Sydney taste like?”
“Let’s see,” Sark turned her face to meet his, so that they were inches away. Sydney felt a hot jolt go through her stomach. The first kiss was quick and chaste. “Like fresh strawberries.” The second kiss, he tugged gently on her lower lip with his teeth, his tongue slipping in to brush the inside of her lips. “Like warm chocolate chip cookies.” The third kiss, his tongue slid into her open mouth and stroked her own, drawing it out to play with his own. “Like a candy cane.” The fourth kiss was hard, brutal and demanding, leaving her breathless. “Like apple pie and vanilla ice cream.” The fifth kiss was so soft; his lips barely brushed over hers once, twice, three times. “Like cotton candy.” The sixth kiss was slow and sensual. “Like fine Swiss chocolate.”
When Sark finally drew away from her, Sydney was ready to drag him upstairs and pay him back for all that teasing. She settled for dropping her head into his neck, sucking in deep breaths and hoping the aroused flush of her face would go away soon. He rubbed her back gently and she whispered, “I love you,” in his ear, nipping her teeth against the lobe.
“Sydney,” Abby pulled at her hand and she looked up. “Does Uncle Julian taste good too?”
“Nah,” she smiled at the little girl. “All boys taste the same: really boring and bland.” She yelped when Sark pinched her skin and glared at him.
Caleb just rolled his eyes again and turned back to his game. “C’mon Abby, I’ll let you be the princess this time.” Abby shifted over and they began to play again, leaving the two adults alone. Sydney reached over to the coffee table and picked up the photo album again, flipping through the pages. Of course she didn’t recognize any of the people in them, but it was still interesting. Sark looked with her over her shoulder.
She flipped over a page, smiled again at the picture of Anna and Sark then focused on another picture underneath it. She recognized 5-year-old Sark sitting on the lap of a beautiful woman. Her hair was long and dark, spilling down her back. She had a pure open smile, white teeth flashing, and dark blue eyes. Even in the faded poor quality of colour in the picture, she was truly exotic and stunning. The way she held the child made Sydney ask “Is that your mother?”
“Yes.” The wistful tone of his voice made her turn and face him. Sark was looking down, his fingers tenderly stroking the face in the picture, his eyes sad. Sydney leaned into his shoulder again and whispered, “Tell me about her.”
Sark squeezed her tighter around the waist. “Sometimes I lay awake at night and I wonder, with all the things I’ve done, why I would have been blessed with such a strong, loving woman to have raised me. When I was a child in Russia, I clung to her so tightly, whenever Father would beat one of us. She would tell me stories about her childhood in the Ukraine and she always promised me she would be there to take care of me. I remember being scared when we ran away to Canada. I was worried that my father would hunt us down and kill her, and bring me back and hit me all the time.
“She did a great job taking care of me alone. We never had very much money and she had to work very hard to keep a home for us. It was her mother’s side of the family that paid for me to go to school, but they refused to help us out in anything else. I think they wanted to turn me away from her, but I couldn’t abandon her, because she never abandoned me at all. She could have left me in Russia and ran away, but she protected both of us. She worked so hard, doing many different jobs, trying to give me the best. I missed her every year I went to school, even when Irina recruited me and began my training. Coming back was the best times of my life as a child.”
Sydney frowned slightly against the tears building in her eyes. “What happened to her?”
“Cancer. When I was 17. It killed her for two years, but she stayed strong until the very end.” Sark held her tighter against him. “I still miss her.”
Sydney covered his hand with hers and traced the outline of the picture. “I think I would have liked meeting her. I don’t know if she would have liked me though.”
“She would have loved you,” Sark said firmly. “I think she would have been happy that I found someone special.”
“Do you ever wonder what life would have been like if…if you’d had a different childhood? If you’d been able to have a choice in life?” Sydney asked.
“No,” firmly again. She cocked her head, the question evident in her eyes. “I’ve learned that there’s no use in dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ of life. We can’t change the past and it only hurts to try to imagine the other paths we could have gone. I happen to believe that everything in life has a purpose, whether it causes joy or pain. We have to face unbearable hurt, yes, but we also get those bright moments that make us realize that life truly is worth living. So I look back at some things with regret, but I refuse to imagine where I would be had I chosen a different path. I’d rather find the happiness in the route I will inevitably walk.”
Sydney pondered this as he held her, rocking softly back and forth. Ever since Danny’s death set off this chain of events that led her to this moment in time, she had done the same thing: block the ‘what ifs’ from her mind. She knew there was no use in playing pretend because what was past was gone and she had no control over that part anymore. Besides, she was happy here, no doubt about it. Yes, it had taken a lot of painful moments to lead up to this one, but she was here, happy and satisfied in Sark’s arms.
She lay her head on his shoulder and picked at his t-shirt, rubbing the soft cotton between her fingers. “Tell me about Irina.”
She felt him tense under her. “What about her?” he asked guardedly.
She sighed. “You’ve known her a lot longer than I have. Tell me…what was she like back then? Tell me how you met her, what kind of…relationship you two had.”
“Probably not the kind that most people assumed we had,” his voice was visibly amused. She poked his chest and he brought his hand up, linking his fingers around hers. “Irina…yes, she recognized my talents in school and exploited me for them, but looking back at it, she was probably the best person to have done so.
“At the boarding school, I was picked on a lot because I was small and…”
“Fat,” she supplied teasingly.
“I hadn’t outgrown my baby fat,” he grumbled, squishing her fingers in his. She squeaked when her fingers crushed together and he let go, soothing her palm with a kiss. “And even though I could speak English, it was very poor and I had a strong Slavic accent. Mixture of Russian and Ukrainian. As well, I was one of the few whose parents didn’t come visit on Sundays and shower me with lots of presents all the time.
“I really can’t remember how I met Irina, at first. I do remember her being very…parental toward me, a mother by proxy, because mine couldn’t be there. That wasn’t for very long, just until I no longer needed that type of confidence.
“I think the best way to say it was that she was the one person that kept me human during my training. It wasn’t that she wasn’t harsh, or coddled me in anyway, but she did not teach me to destroy my emotions, just to keep them in check. She never encouraged me to break ties with my family…with my mother, but to distance that world from my other life. Eventually I saw her as a partner, someone whom I would always be loyal to. She had never lied to me, never betrayed me and I did the same for her. And damn it, I’ll always regret that for my entire life.”
“Why?” Sydney asked. “Wouldn’t it be better to have her on your side like that, instead of being your enemy?”
“It’s not that, Sydney,” he replied, his voice tinged with regret. “It was that fact that got her killed.”
Sydney felt like she was being pressed between two huge hands, the air being slowly crushed out of her. “What?” she choked out. “What…my…she’s…dead?” The last word had a tiny sob added to it and she bit her lip hard.
Sark pulled back so he could see her face. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know,” he said slowly. He stared at her fighting to keep from breaking apart. “Sydney, tell me that you know. You have to know. Please,” he begged.
“I never…” she whispered, her voice breaking again. She grabbed his shirt front and shook him. “Tell me,” she demanded in a shaky voice.
Sark rubbed his face, anger in his eyes. “Goddamned fucking CIA bastards,” he murmured.
“Tell. Me,” she demanded again. Her whole body was shaking violently.
He looked around, made sure that the kids weren’t watching them, then turned her around so she faced him, speaking in a low voice. “I should have told you why I turned on the Covenant when I did. Not just to get my money back; I could have waited much longer for that, been more thorough.
“That day, I was ordered to see San’ko. That ugly bastard wanted me to prove that I was only loyal to the Covenant. He went on and on about it, and I finally asked what the hell he was talking about. That’s when he brought Irina in. She had been beaten badly and he held a knife to her throat. He told me that I would either betray her and tell him everything he wanted to know about her organization or he would kill her. I did not speak, because I did not believe his threats. That hesitation cost me, because he slit her throat without another word.”
Sydney felt her throat constrict painfully around her sobs. Sark wasn’t looking at her; he was staring somewhere beyond her, his eyes cold and expressionless. “Are…are you sure she was…”
“Dead?” he finished coolly, still staring over her shoulder. “Yes. San’ko may have had the guts to do that, but he was stupid, thinking I would allow that. I ripped that knife from his hands and killed him. That’s when I made the call to the CIA. I led them straight to the bodies; there’s no way they could have missed it. That’s why I was sure you would have known. Sydney…god, I swear, I thought you knew…”
His words were cut off by her soft cry. Hot tears spilled out of her eyes and she clutched him tightly. “No…” she moaned quietly around her sobs. His arms came around her back and pulled her into him carefully, leaving her enough room to wiggle free if she wanted to. But she didn’t; she didn’t care that he was the one to tell her, she wanted him to hold her right now.
Dead. She couldn’t believe it. “No, no, no,” she cried, repeating the one word over and over again. She bit into her lip until it bled, running down her face like her tears. No. That one word resonated in her mind. It wasn’t true; it couldn’t be. Irina couldn’t be dead. Her mother…god, not again.
Bile rose up on her throat and she coughed. “I’m gonna be sick,” she mumbled. Sark picked her up, cradling her in his arms and she could feel him carrying her. When he stopped, he stood her up, pressing her between a counter and his body. He leaned her head over the sink, holding her hair back as she threw up violently. She shuddered, letting dry heaves overtake her until her stomach revolted again. She stayed bent over the silver sink, breathing hard until her stomach settled. She let her body sag against Sark’s and he let her fall to the floor, laying her head back against the counter. She closed her eyes, heard the sink running, some banging, then a cold cloth covered her forehead as gentle hands smoothed her face. She leaned into him and felt her body placed back into his lap, rocking her again. “How are you?”
“My throat hurts,” she whispered. “So does my stomach.” He pressed a glass into her hand and she sipped at it. Sprite. It felt good, the cold liquid running down her raw throat and settling her stomach. She had yet to open her eyes; they hurt like hell from the burning tears. She sighed softly and just let her body go limp in the comforting circle his arms made around her.
She didn’t know what she felt anymore. Hurt, sad, angry…those were all in there. But she just didn’t feel the intense pain she knew she should be feeling from losing her mother again. Her reaction had been more from the shock of finding out without being completely prepared. She hated the way she was feeling, but she had to be honest with herself: she hadn’t had any type of relationship with Irina for a very long time. The last time she had seen her mother was at the top of a skyscraper in Mexico, more than two years ago. She honestly wished she could have figured out what Irina was all about, but it looked like she would no longer have that chance.
She sighed again, the pain in her head receding a bit, then coughed, because the rough acid had ripped her throat to shreds and breathing hurt. She sipped again on the Sprite in her hands, then opened her eyes. The light was harsh and she blinked a bit, squinting. She dug her face into Sark’s shirt. His hands were rubbing her back in slow circles. Another pair of hands were patting her hair. Abby, she thought wearily.
“Sydney? Are you okay?” A kid’s voice, definitely male. Caleb?
“Shhh…Caleb, it’s all right. Sydney’s just not feeling good right now.” Sark’s voice, soothing in her ear. She raised her head and smiled wanly at the boy.
“I’m okay, Caleb.”
He cocked his head and ran his hand through his hair, “Okay. Hope you get better soon.” He ran off then, and Sydney could hear him yelling at his sister for playing his turn. She sat up and kissed Sark on the cheek before standing up shakily. He stood with her, hands still spanning her waist carefully. She finished off her Sprite and turned into him.
“Julian, really, I’m better now, okay,” she said wearily. He just brushed a strand of hair off her face, a small frown on his lips. She matched his expression with a frown of her own. “I’m. Okay. Don’t baby me.”
“I’m not babying you, darling, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t going to hurl again,” he said dryly. She couldn’t keep her frown at that. She smiled, laughed quietly, brought her hands up to stroke his face. He smiled back and leaned over to kiss the corner of her mouth. She sighed again and pulled him in for a hug, silently asking him to hold her.
“So,” she spoke into his shoulder. “She’s really…I mean…you’re sure that she’s…dead?” She felt his body tense again. God, how hard this must be for him.
He sighed. “Unless she’d been…doubled, that was her. I don’t know how…they managed to get to her. I really couldn’t believe it myself…god, it’s…” He bit his lip tightly, and she drew him down before he broke down. She felt the quiet sobs rising in her own chest and held him tighter to her.
Eventually he stepped back and took her hands. “I’m sorry, Sydney.”
She shook her head. “It’s not your fault. And you got the bastard that did it to her. I just can’t believe that no one would have told me. Especially my father…he wouldn’t have kept it from me.” She gasped suddenly. “What if he doesn’t know? Julian, I have to talk to him…I have to know if he hid this from me.”
Sark shook his head. “I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on your father, but I don’t see him hiding something like this from you. Eventually you would find out and he would have to answer to that. Would he want to ruin any kind of relationship that he has with you?”
“No,” she admitted. “But why wouldn’t he know? What reason would the CIA, or anyone else for that matter, have for keeping this a secret from me or my father? Dad especially; I don’t know what he’d do if he found out someone lied to him about this. No, he has to know…I have to call him.” She ran to her jacket and found her cell phone, speed dialing her father’s number. She clawed at her sleeves impatiently as the phone rang and nearly threw the little phone when the voicemail picked up. “Dad, it’s Sydney. Umm…just call me when you have the time, okay?” She hung up, pocketed the phone in her jeans and went back into the living room. Sark was sitting on the couch and she curled up next to him, sliding her fingers around his. “No answer,” she said shortly.
“Hmmm,” he murmured, bringing an arm around her shoulders and stroking her hair. “How are you?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” she frowned slightly. “I feel like I should be…really sad, or really hurt about this, but…I can’t, not the way I should be. I mean, I’m hurting, and I know that this isn’t going to go away, but…my mother died when I was a child. Irina…I never really got to know Irina, either as my mother or as anyone else. And I’m sorry for that, because…I think she loved me a lot and I wish I could have told her that I loved her too.” She threaded her fingers into the curls at the base of his skull. “What about you? I mean…you knew her better than I did. I’m sure seeing her killed wasn’t something you can just compartmentalize.”
He smirked humourously. “Honestly, I can’t really say myself how I feel. It was a shock that she died that way, so sudden and…not on her own terms. I guess I feel the same way you do; not quite sure how I should react to it.” He took her hand in his and brought it to his lips, kissing her fingers softly. “Sydney, I love you.”
“I love you too, Julian,” she said, a note of surprise in her voice. She waited for him to say something else, but he went back to watching the kids playing their game, so she shrugged it off and snuggled into him, enjoying the moment. She let her mind wander, remembering things about Irina that she could. The last image she saw before she drifted off in sleep was the sad smile Irina gave her that last time they were together.
“Wake up, Auntie Sydney.”
A hand, patting her cheek, then smacking her nose. “Oww!” she yelped, opening her eyes and bringing her hand up to rub her nose. She was staring into a pair of bright blue eyes and a wide toothless smile. Ian was stretched out on top of her and her head rested on Sark’s lap. The baby pulled himself up on her and latched his mouth onto her nose, baby drool dribbling on her face. “Gross!” she laughed.
“Aw, Sydney, that means he loves you,” Sark teased, running his fingers through her hair. He picked up the baby and pretended to toss him up in the air as she sat up, wiping her face clean.
“How long was I asleep?” she asked.
“Not long; an hour possibly. I wouldn’t have woke you, but you’ve proved to be irresistible to two members of this family. Of course, in two completely different ways.”
“Funny. And what’s with ‘Auntie Sydney’? That implies a lot about us.”
“It’s just a tease. Wow, you’re very cranky when you don’t get your beauty sleep. Not that you really need beauty sleep.”
“One compliment is not enough to get you back in good with me. I need more persuasion.”
“Oh,” Sark smirked, laying Ian down on the couch next to him. He pulled her into his embrace and let one hand drift up her sweater to cup her breast. His thumb brushed over her suddenly taut nipple. “This type of persuasion?”
She stifled a moan and gripped his hand through her shirt. “Julian. Not here.” He ignored her and let his fingers run under her bra, skimming over the sensitive skin. She bit her lip.
“No one’s watching,” he murmured in her ear, his tongue tracing over the lobe. She sighed, closing her eyes, then firmly gripped his hands and pushed them down. She placed her hands flat on his chest and put a modicum of space between them.
“No,” she frowned. He sighed and picked Ian up again.
“You’re no fun,” he grumbled.
“Please. I am tons of fun and I think we’ve proved that many times over. But not in front of the kids! Geez, and you claim that you’re such a great uncle.”
“What? Can I help it if I can’t keep my hands off of you?”
“That’s your problem, sweetie. At least I have self-control.”
“Only until I get you in private.”
She rolled her eyes, but blushed a little under his lustful stare. She brushed his hair a little, then leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “Love you.”
“Love you.” He kissed her back. She fell back in his arms and drew Ian into her lap, giggling when he grabbed her shirt and began to gnaw at it. Sark’s hands picked at her hair, running her fingers over the skin of her neck as they watched the endless game of Nintendo. She could feel herself drifting off again when he jerked her shoulder. “Sydney, wake up,” he said, voice tinged with annoyance.
“What?” she whined, rubbing her eyes. “I’m tired; let me sleep.”
Sark pulled her chin over and studied her face. “How are you feeling? Honestly, Sydney, you’ve been sleeping a lot since you’ve been here. Could you be sick perhaps?”
She rolled her head around, getting a small kink out of her neck. “Come on, Julian, it’s been my first vacation for a while. I haven’t slept this well in a long time. Plus even though I’m supposed to be relaxing, I’ve had to deal with a lot of emotional stuff too and that takes its toll on my body. Crying exhausts me.” He still looked unsure, so she kissed the tip of his nose. “I’m fine, brat. Don’t worry about me.”
“All right then, baby, I won’t.” He gave her a kiss of his own on her nose and she wrinkled it.
“You keep calling me ‘brat’ and I’ll keep calling you ‘baby’.”
“Because,” he picked Ian off her lap and raised the baby above his head, zooming him around like an airplane. Ian squealed and wriggled his entire body in ecstasy. “Because you act a lot like he does when I wake you up. Even worse I think, because you can speak and he can’t.”
“Ha ha, very funny,” she said sarcastically. She watched him pretend to toss the baby around before picking up a book from the coffee table and settling back to read. Sark stood up and carried Ian off to the kitchen. When they came back, the baby was happily chewing on a dill pickle. Sark put him in the playpen, ruffled Abby’s hair then came back to the couch and lay down, his head resting on Sydney’s lap. He pulled a blanket off the back of the couch and unfurled it over them, then grabbed his own novel off the table and started to read.
She figured it had been about an hour or so before she tore herself away from her book and glanced around. The kids were gone, the TV off; she vaguely remembered them saying they were going to go to their rooms. She didn’t hear any sounds from the playpen, so she figured Ian was asleep. Sark was sleeping himself, comfortably on her stomach, his soft snores the only sound in the room. She let a hand run through the soft curls before lifting up her book again. She had only read a couple more paragraphs before she heard a quiet beeping at her hip. She carefully dug out her phone and clicked it on. “Dad?” she answered quietly, not wanting to wake Sark up.
“Sorry kiddo, it’s just your friendly neighbourhood…uh…neighbour. Hey, look at that, I made a funny.”
“Eric,” Sydney smiled at the sound of her friend’s voice. “Hey, how are you? What’s up?”
“Well I figured I’d call and see how you’re settling into the Great White North. I’m glad to hear you alive; I’d figured you’d have frozen to death by now.”
“No, I’ve managed to find…uhh…oh sh*t.” Sydney buried her head in her free hand. Okay, now she had a dilemma on her hands. Tell Weiss about Sark or not tell him? She honestly didn’t want to lie to him anymore; he was her closest friend and he had understood before. Still, she was reluctant to let real life interfere with her nice little vacation world. Telling Weiss could have all sorts of bad consequences in the future. She sighed, then remembered that she was still on the phone. Oops. “Umm, Eric? You love me, right?”
Silence, and then, “I don’t think I like where this is heading, Bristow. What have you done now?”
“You’re so suspicious.”
“That’s because you’ve given me reason to be lately. Now spill, woman.”
“Just promise me that you love me unconditionally and you can forgive me for all indiscretions.”
“Bristow, you know I can’t say no to you. And now you’re making me nervous. Tell.”
“Okay, but you’re remembering the love. Huh. All right. Yeah. So, well…”
“Syd, I think you’ve used up all the openings you possibly can. Come on, whatever you have to say can’t be that bad. You’ve only been gone for two days; there’s no way you could get into that much trouble. Then again, you are Sydney Bristow…”
“Very not funny. It’s nothing to do with trouble. It’s just…well, the people that own the cabin up here happen to have some…very interesting relatives.”
“Should I start singing ‘It’s a Small World After All’?”
“You could do that.”
“Hmmm…so who is it? Have you stumbled into Arvin Sloane’s version of The Stepford Wives?”
“Sloane? You immediately think Sloane? Eric, ew! No, it’s a lot better than that…well, better in my estimation. It’s…Sark’s here,” she finished her sentence quickly.
“Sark. As in Sark. As in…our Sark?”
“Do we know another?”
“Jesus Sydney.” She heard his voice drop and she could picture him closing his eyes and shaking his head at her. “So, we’re going down that path again.”
“Don’t do this, Eric. I told you because I trust you and I want you to trust me again. I wasn’t going to go through all the lying again. I want to be honest with you about everything now. And it’s best we get this over with now.”
She heard him sigh. “Okay. So…what’s going on with you two? Haven’t killed each other yet? Oh god, I can’t believe I’m making small talk about this.”
“Eric, I don’t want this to be a problem for you. Believe me, I don’t want to hurt anybody. But you can’t help who you fall in love with. I think you could kind of understand that.”
“Heh. Syd, are you sure that it’s love? I mean, it’s not like we haven’t been through this before…”
“I know. That’s what I thought too. But I know that I’m…I’m truly in love with Julian. It’s hard to explain, but he really loves me for who I am. And I came to realize that I love him back.”
“Oh. Julian, hey? Nice name.”
“Don’t make fun just because you’re mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you Syd. I want you to be happy. It’s just that you seem to be setting yourself up for another round of ‘Kill the Boyfriend’ and I don’t want to see you get hurt like that again. I really think you’ve suffered enough.”
“You’re an ass, you know that, Eric? This isn’t funny. And neither was that.”
“I’m sorry, Syd. It’s just…really hard for me to understand, you know? It’s not like I have a camera in your brain to help me get what you’ve gone through, and sometimes I don’t know what to say about the stuff you tell me. I’ll be your friend the best I can, but I gotta deal the best way I know how. Sometimes with inappropriate humour.”
She sighed again. “It’s just not funny anymore, Eric. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to fight with you. Maybe I should just…maybe we should talk later.”
“No, don’t hang up, Bristow! You’re not getting away that easy. Look, just…tell me what’s going on and I’ll listen, okay? If that’s what you need, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Eric…” she trailed off, relaxing her tense shoulders. “Thank you,” she smiled, and then ran her fingers through Sark’s hair splayed out on her stomach. He stirred a bit, turned his head and nuzzled his nose into her stomach. She giggled quietly, not wanting to wake him. She kept playing with his hair absently; it was somewhat comforting to her.
“Oh geez Bristow, you guys aren’t like…in bed together, are you?”
“No! But he is taking a nap on my stomach right now.”
“Oy. Actually, that’s kinda sweet. Except that I’m having lots of trouble picturing that scene. Sark and ‘sweet’ do not go in the same sentence.”
“Look Eric, I’ve really got to know him and…he’s not the person we knew. That man is gone. Think…think about me being Julia. I was different as her, wasn’t I? Sark’s different as Julian. And he’s really helped me understand who I really am as a person now, with everything that I’ve experienced. I guess he’s the one person who can understand how I’ve changed and he still treats me like…Sydney. I like that and right now, I need that.”
There was a long silence at the other end. “Eric? I didn’t mean…it’s not like you guys have been doing something wrong. You and my father have been really great this entire time. It’s just so hard, because you see me as someone I’m not anymore. That’s what hurt so much, and that’s why I tried so hard to become Julia, because it was an escape for me. I didn’t have to be perfect Sydney all the time. I don’t want to. I’m more than that and I can’t hide the parts of me that people don’t like.”
She paused and took a deep breath. “I didn’t mean this to hurt you. You’ve been my best friend through this entire thing and…I hope we still can be close.”
“Of course, Syd.” His voice was reassuring, and she smiled again. “I wouldn’t just abandon you for anything. Like I said, I just want you to be happy. And really, you sound happy.”
“Whew! Of course, I’m feigning ignorance whenever I talk with your father. He already hates me because of that whole…uh, taping you thing. He’d probably kill me if I told him you and Sar-Julian are…friendly. And I have a high value on my life, thank you very much.”
“Don’t you dare tell him! If he asks you anything, which he probably won’t, just tell him to call me himself. My dad likes a person who can stand up to him. He’s not that bad.”
“Well, not to you, because you’re precious Sydney, and he does everything in the world to protect you. Including kill. And maim. And torture…by the way, have you informed your boyfriend of those facts yet? I think I’d like to see Daddy’s reaction to this bit of news…”
“If you even hint that, I’ll be the one torturing and maiming…you! Believe me, Eric, I will do this when the time is right.”
“Okay, cool. So, umm, do I get to play the protective big-brother type and throw the new meat up against the wall, telling him that if he hurts you in any way, I’ll kill him?”
“Umm, that’s not really a big threat this time around, Eric. I don’t think Julian would be…adequately afraid.”
“Hey, are you implying that I’m not all scary-like? I can be; I just do my best imitation of your dad when he’s on a Sydney-rampage and all potential suitors go running. Now, would a knife to the throat or a gun to the temple be more frightening?’
“Eric, just give it up…” Sydney’s words were cut off when a warm hand wrapped around hers and gently plucked the phone from her grasp. Sark rolled over until he lay on his stomach, resting his chin on her and brought the phone to his mouth.
“Agent Weiss.” His voice was silky, professional, complete Sark. “I assure you I have no intention of hurting Sydney in anyway and if I do so, I will turn myself over to you for subsequent torture and dismemberment. I’d rather you dispose of me than Jack Bristow.” He listened for a moment, then handed the phone back to Sydney. “He wants to speak to you.”
She grabbed the phone and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. “You’re such a tease, you know that?” she whispered. Sark merely smiled, pulled up her sweater a bit and laid a light kiss on her bare skin before rolling over and picking up the book he had been reading. Sydney raised the phone again. “Eric?”
“Whoa. I got chills, Bristow. Real, honest-to-goodness chills.”
“What did you say to him?”
“Possibly nothing; my brain shut down for a moment. I think some babbling sounds made it out before I asked for you again. Why do scary people love you so much, Bristow?”
“You love me, and I wouldn’t quite call you scary.”
“Oh ha ha. Umm, well, since we got all that out of the way…I guess I better let you go then. I got stuff, you got stuff, these lives of ours are really crazy. Uh, Syd?”
His voice became serious. “I’m glad that you’re okay. And that you’re happy. Take care of yourself, okay?”
“I will.” She got a little choked up and swallowed the big lump in her throat. “I love you, Eric.”
“Love ya Bristow. Later.”
She clicked the phone closed and slipped it back in her pocket. “Everything all right on the home front?” Sark leaned his head back to look at her.
She mussed his hair around. “You’re really going to get a kick out of bugging my friends, aren’t you?”
“Of course darling. It’s quite amusing to me to make people squirm with the idea of death and torture.” He laid his book down and rolled over again, this time crawling up so he lay body to body with her. “But I know much more useful ways to amuse myself. And they don’t involve hurting people.” He leaned over to rain kisses on her neck slowly. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and sighed happily.
“I was joking, Julian.”
“I know.” He kissed a trail up her chin, across her jaw line and over her forehead. He lay his forehead on hers and looked into her eyes. “I just didn’t find it particularly funny.” He kissed her deeply, almost harshly, his mouth demanding her response. She slid her tongue out to battle with his. His hand slid under her sweater and bra, cupping her bare breast and making her arch up into him. He pulled away and started sucking on her neck again, while his hands occupied themselves with pulling at her clothes.
She moaned sensuously. “Oh god…this is the type of torture I could get used to…” she purred. “I hope you only use it on me.” She ran her hands down his back and pressed his ass down into her.
He stopped kissing her, removed his hands from her shirt and heaved an annoyed curse. He pushed himself off of her and sat on the opposite end of the couch, picking up his book again. “You really know how to kill a mood, don’t you?” he mumbled.
“What? What the hell do you mean?” she said, adjusting her sweater as she sat up. He studiously ignored her, so she grabbed the book from his hands and threw it across the room. “Answer me!”
He turned suddenly on her, grabbing her shoulders tightly and shaking her a bit. “You think I like being the bad guy in all of this? Do you think it makes me feel good to know that everyone in your life will hate me on principle?” He let her go and stood, walking across the room.
“I was just teasing, Julian. It was a joke. Get over it.”
“You don’t even know how serious this is, do you? It’s all a big joke. Oh Daddy, Eric, guess what, I’m f*cking an international terrorist so I can be a bad girl. Isn’t that funny? And you better be nice to him or he’ll blow your head off, because he’s done it before and that’s all he’ll ever be,” he taunted her in a mocking voice. He picked up a pillow and began squeezing it in his hands. “Sometimes I wonder about how much you’ve ‘changed’. You’re still naïve little Sydney, categorizing the world into black and white.”
“What? WHAT? How in the hell did you get that out of what I said? You bastard,” she spat, standing as well. “Learn how to take a fucking joke, okay? And don’t put words in my mouth. And hey, if you ever have a problem with me, don’t you try fucking me to distract me again. There’s something people in relationships do when there’s a problem: it’s called talking about it. You don’t just fuck someone to shut them up. But I guess you wouldn’t know that; you just use sex as a tool.”
She never saw his hand, but she felt the slap. She cried out, touched her cheek gently and then punched him back, hitting him in the eye. He raised his head smirking. “Oh please. If I ever wanted lessons on using sex as a weapon, I’d just ask Julia. As I recall from a memorable meeting in Berlin, that was what she excelled at.”
“Fuck you, Sark.”
“You’ve done that, Sydney and you’ve been enjoying it too. So nice to know that you like being a whore.”
Her second punch hit him square in the jaw, and she kicked his knees so he fell heavily. “Don’t you ever talk to me again,” she hissed and turned her back, walking away.
“Classic Sydney Bristow behaviour. When life gets too hard, you turn your back and run away so you don’t have to face it.” He rose to his knees, his eyes flashing maliciously.
She turned back, tears full in her eyes and streaming down her face. She raised her arm to hit him again, but her feet tangled in the game cords and she fell, her ankle twisting at an odd angle. “Damn it!” she screamed, then buried her head in her knees and cried to herself, wrapping her arms around her body. Another set of lungs joined her wailing; she had fallen hard near the playpen and her curse had woken up Ian, who apparently wasn’t happy to leave his nap. She picked him out and tried to soothe him, calm him down by rubbing his back, but he kept crying, angry tears running down his red face. “I know how you feel,” she whispered, wiping at her own wet face. She sat rocking him in her arms, willing herself to stop her tears and trying to ignore Sark sitting some feet away, staring hard at her.
Finally Ian had quieted down a bit and was hiccoughing around his breaths. She patted his back and kissed his forehead gently. Without looking up, she spoke quietly. “Why can’t we get this right?” Her voice was pained, saddened.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him pass a hand over his face. Light from the window streamed down on him and lit his smooth features. She thought she could see tears shining in his eyes, but it was probably wishful thinking on her part. “Maybe there is no such thing as right for us, Sydney,” he said wearily.
“We can’t keep doing this, Julian. We’re just hurting each other more all the time. I can’t…I’m so tired already.” She bit her lip when her voice started to tremble. “We have to do something.”
“I know.” He got up and crawled over so he could wrap his arms around her. She leaned back into him, closing her eyes and breathing in his comforting scent. She brought one of her hands up to grasp his desperately, trying to convey with her body language how much she needed him. Not just for sex or companionship or to fill the loneliness in her life. She needed him; everything he was to her, everything he gave to her.
She smiled weakly when Ian began to chew her shirt again. “I’m so sorry, Julian. I-I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just…”
He pressed a finger to her lips softly, stopping her words. “Don’t. Just…don’t right now. I really didn’t mean any of the things I said; it was just a defense mechanism. I’m sorry I tried to hurt you like that, Sydney. I’m just sick of having to fight for a sense of normalcy. In a lot of ways, I’m tired of being Sark.”
“It’s never going to be easy, Julian. Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.”
She felt him laugh suddenly. “Where did you get that line? I know you didn’t come up with that one on your own.”
“Hey!” she laughed herself. He brought her hand up and kissed the inside of her wrist, cocking his eyebrow at her. “Got it from a song. Are you implying that I’m unoriginal?”
He just leaned in and kissed her. In lieu of their fight she would have been angry, but she knew it was his way of telling her he needed her too. She accepted his mouth willingly, nibbling on his lower lip lightly. He smiled against her and pulled her into him, threading a hand in her hair. Their kiss was tender, slow, asking the other for forgiveness and finding it. When he pulled away and laid a chaste kiss on her lips at last, she smiled lazily and laid her head on his chest. Her fingers played with the soft downy hair covering the head of the baby on her lap, who had snuggled into her and was happily eating her shirt. “She’s really dead, isn’t she?”
“Yeah,” he whispered into her hair. “Yeah. She really is. I’m sorry.”
“Oh,” she breathed. This time her sobs were controlled, just tears running down her cheeks. He rocked her as she cried, her need for closure satisfied but the fact still striking a large pain in her chest. Another person gone from her life hurt, even one who she hadn’t been close with for a long long time. “Don’t leave me, okay. Don’t you dare make me hurt again.”
“I won’t, Sydney. We’re going to make this work anyway we can. And I won’t hurt you, ever.”
It could feel like the beginning of the end sometimes, but she wouldn’t give up if he wouldn’t.