Months later, Sark still wondered.
It bothered him. He wanted to know why. All his carefully honed instincts screamed that it was important that he know why.
Experience told him Irina wouldn't tell him if even she knew and native caution whispered that it would be wiser to keep his questions to himself. So he watched and listened for anything that referred to Jack Bristow, just as he did for any news of Sydney, but with an interest that was, suddenly, more personal.
During nights spent surveilling locations where Sloane might have a lair, days spent dealing with arms merchants and information brokers, rebuilding and maintaining Irina's organization while hunting and being hunted in turn, Sark would contemplate the facts he had.
Alias Laura Bristow. Alias 'The Man'. Wife and mother. Exquisite manipulator in all her incarnations.
College student. CIA double agent. Daughter. Incarnation of Rambaldi's prophecy. Disappeared.
Ex-CIA renegade. Widower. Devious, Rambaldi obsessed, engineer of the Alliance's fall. Sometime enemy, sometime ally. Gone to ground.
His former captors. The opposition. They knew less than Sark did.
Agent Michael Vaughn.
No mysteries there. The orphaned son of one of Irina's victims was in the CIA because his father had been. Sydney's lover.
Sark smirked. Ally had said the surveillance tapes on those two were smokin'.
His LA asset. Allison. Thinking of her still left him breathless with pain. They'd trained together. Slept together. He should have ignored Irina and pulled her out. Instead, she'd bled out, lying on the floor, shot three times by Sydney, alone and wearing Francine Calfo's face.
Finally, Jack Bristow. The mystery. CIA agent. Irina's husband and enemy. Sydney's father. Arvin Sloane's nemesis.
Where in those facts was the reason Bristow had freed Sark from CIA custody?
He didn't feel like turning the lights on. He used the keycard and entered his hotel room with every intention of fishing something out of the mini-bar—screw the cost—taking a long drink and slumping down in the relative darkness. Stockholm was like every other big city, and its hotel rooms were never truly dark even at night, not that there was much of a night this time of year, this far north. Half past three in the morning and the sun had barely set below the horizon. He could use the remaining light to make his way around the room.
Another operation over, this one a near fiasco attended by a heart-stopping jolt of fear at one point, and he was so tired.…
"Don't do anything precipitous, Jack. I‘m aiming a gun right at you."
He hadn't registered the presence until Sloane spoke.
"What do you want, Arvin?" he asked, too tired to try drawing his service pistol before his former friend could shoot him.
"Actually, I'd like you to work for me, but I know you're not ready for that yet," Sloane said. Jack's eyes had adapted to the dim hint of light that made it past the drawn curtains and he could see that Sloane was sitting in the chair to the side of the window. A gleam of metal was the barrel of an automatic, resting along the arm of the chair.
"I'm never going to work with you, Arvin."
He walked farther into the room and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"The Agency is never going to find Sydney for you, Jack. They don't want to find her."
Jack fought the urge to slump. It had been so long. He'd begun to think the same things. Sloane had resources and connections that would make the search so much easier. Jack had worked with Arvin Sloane too many damned years; he knew exactly how good the man was. Together, they could find Sydney, he didn't doubt it. He just couldn't stomach the thought of putting her in Sloane's hands as a result.
Jack had chosen to forge a different, more uncertain alliance instead—one that the Agency had no knowledge of—an alliance with Sark. How long it would last, if it still stood after this night's events, was another question.
Sloane's thoughts had moved in the same direction, apparently.
"What would you do if I informed your superiors at the Agency that you were solely responsible for liberating Irina Derevko's favorite lieutenant?" Sloane wondered aloud. "What would they do?"
"Try, convict, and imprison me," Jack replied. He took a fatalistic view toward that possibility. He'd made the choice to get Sark out. He wouldn't regret it now. It hadn't been a bad gamble. Sark hadn't found Sydney for him, but he had fed information on Sloane and even Derevko's operations to the Agency through Jack, when it had profited him. "Or execute me."
"Arvin, I'm tired," Jack said, letting his voice reflect his weariness. "Could we get on with this—whatever?" He didn't believe Sloane would feed that information to the CIA.
"You lost Derevko and Sark tonight, didn't you?"
The operation had fallen apart. A simple snatch-and-grab had dissolved into a vicious firefight. Sark had shot two men Jack had personally picked for the operation, one fatally, and evaded pursuit, disappearing with his usual skill. Six of Derevko's people had died too.
The Swedish authorities had not been pleased by the bodies littering the pavement outside one of their more prestigious banking establishments.
Irina had eluded capture as well, of course, leaving more dead and wounded behind her. There had been one moment when Jack had her in his sight picture, though.
He hadn't pulled the trigger.
"Yes," he admitted.
"Don't be surprised if that young man contacts you soon, Jack," Arvin said, the sly sound of a smile in his tone, though Jack couldn't see it. "The package he extracted from the bank vault was put together by Alexander Khasinau."
Jack jerked his head up.
"You know what it is?"
Sloane stood up. "So do you, Jack. So does Irina. That's why she did her best to stop Sark from retrieving it."
"You're the one who tipped us she would be here in Stockholm," Jack said slowly.
"Of course. I wouldn't want anything to happen to that boy, Jack." He put away the pistol and moved forward a step. A slice of light fell over his shoulder and onto the side of Sloane's face, illuminating a smile and a glittering eye. "I feel almost…responsible for him, you know. If Emily and I had had children.…"
"Get out, Arvin," Jack snarled, surging to his feet in anger.
"I'm going to offer him a job," Sloane said, unperturbed. "After all, he can hardly work with you at the Agency."
Sloane walked out and Jack did nothing to stop him.
Sark had always been as curious as a cat. He liked to know things. Khasinau had taught him that knowledge conferred power in any situation. Irina personified that axiom. Yet now he found himself confronted by a mystery.
He might have dismissed it, were it not for the unwanted sense of obligation he'd been left with. It was uncomfortable. He hated feeling grateful to anyone.
He'd worked for years to erase whatever debts to Irina he'd incurred as a child. He wanted no new ones to Jack Bristow.
Irina had never explained why she had taken such an interest in him, arranging his training and later his schooling in England. Sark hadn't been in a position to ask for any explanations.
Once, Irina had said, "I knew your father."
He'd filed that away, along with a faded memory of his mother's face and life…before.
IV. Like a Blue Million Miles
His mother's eyes were bluer than the sky, he thought. Sometimes she went away for a few days, but she always came home to the apartment with the high white ceilings and tall windows. No matter when she came back, she would find him, even if he was asleep, and give him a kiss on his forehead. She would look straight at him and he would think there was nothing so blue as her eyes.
She would say, "I missed you, my Alexander. I missed you every minute." And because she never lied to him, he would know it was true, and smile.
She took him to the park every day, even when it was raining, bundling him into a coat and hat and boots, and laughing, teasing, telling him he wouldn't melt from a little rain, though he was as sweet as sugar. Those trips to the park, with the raindrops catching in his eyelashes, the pattering sound of the droplets hitting the leaves of the trees, stayed clear in his memory when everything else slipped away into the haze of a lost childhood.
His mother would hold his hand and almost dance along the wet-dark stones of the park path. Dim streetlights would light early, sparkling through diamond-like drops of water everywhere.
When he dreamed, Sark dreamed of those wet strolls, when the park was almost empty and the sky was dark gray and the shadows had no edges, when his mother's hand was warm around his.
In his nightmares, the sun shone mercilessly on grass with a yellow edge, the trees drooped in the heavy heat. A swathe of pale hair veiled her face and she lay half curled on her side. Her hands were bare and empty, because he had run ahead to splash in the fountain, not looking back when she called to him. He hadn't known what that sharp cough of sound behind him had been, only that she had called out, "No, no!" and the sound had stopped her voice, it seemed.
He ran back from the fountain, but she was already so still, he knew something was wrong. He knelt beside her, afraid to touch her, and stared at the line of brilliant crimson snaking down from the dark hole in her forehead.
"Mama," he whispered in the nightmare. He didn't remember if he'd spoken at all, that day. His clothes, wet from the fountain, slowly dried on him. He stayed there until Irina came and pulled him away. Irina was a stranger then, but he didn't care.
All that he could remember were his mother's eyes, eyes bluer than the summer sky.
Irina's greeting on his return to Cyprus had been terse. Sark merely raised an eyebrow as she directed him to take over most of her operations while she focused on the CIA's search for Sydney.
There were no apologies for the unpleasant weeks he'd suffered in CIA custody thanks to her decision to use him as an unwitting information conduit. Sark offered no excuses for the damaging revelations he'd provided on the Organization's operations. He had acted to safeguard himself and avoid more strenuous interrogations and Irina, his teacher, should have expected just that from him.
She knew him as well as anyone did, after all. He hadn't expected a rescue—not from Irina Derevko—and so had crafted his own strategy toward an eventual escape. Some of the things he meant to tell the CIA would have shocked them. He could have bartered the destruction of the Organization for his freedom in time.
Jack Bristow's intervention had blindsided him, instead.
Sark had taken the chance and gone along with Bristow, though, reasoning that whatever the man's true intentions, it would be easier to deal with them from outside a CIA cell.
He still didn't know why, though, and he wanted to know.
Needed to know.
He'd never fully understood Irina and accepted that. But he had enough mysteries in his life. He wouldn't tolerate another, not if he could uncover the answer to it.
VI. Child's Play
His mournful occasions subsided,
He steadied his altering mastery
He bit his lip as he squirmed through the ventilation duct. It had been deliberately designed with dimensions too tight for even a slight adult. He had to extend his arms overhead, turn his weight onto one hip and shoulder, and push himself through at a diagonal. Rough welded joins in the sheet metal cut into him. It hurt but Sark kept going.
Khasinau had arrived at the school two days before. Sark's teachers had delivered him to the gates and left him before an armored Zil limousine. The chauffeur had silently opened the rear door and gestured for Sark to climb in. Khasinau had been waiting, his hands steepled before him, seeming to measure Sark with his eyes.
Sark looked at him silently.
Sark blinked. Khasinau had taken him from the school once before. He'd called him Sascha then too. No one else did. No one called him anything but Sark. Sometimes he forgot he'd ever been anyone else. Sometimes he made himself forget, because it was the only way to survive in the Project School.
"Sir," he murmured, uncertain whether he was supposed to acknowledge that previous operation. His eyes flickered to the back of the chauffeur's head. The limousine was pulling away from the front of the school. The man could be listening or there might be audio equipment recording everything.
Khasinau smiled faintly and nodded, seemingly pleased by Sark's caution.
"Relax," Khasinau instructed him. "If you do not remember her, you are about to meet your…sponsor." He casually lit a foul smelling cigarette, watching Sark as he did so. Sark forced the tension from his limbs, but it was an act. He remained as wary as before. He was eager and interested. His sponsor was Irina Derevko; he knew this, only the weight of that name had saved him from some of the most vicious bullying and the murderous competition that reigned in the Project's dorms. He thought he even remembered her, a slim dark-haired figure.
He calculated swiftly. If Khasinau was delivering Sark to Derevko, then Khasinau was subordinate to her. Therefore whatever he did, it must please Derevko first and then Khasinau, preferably both. That was his only survival strategy until he had some form of power himself. Some way out of the hell that was the Project School.
"Yes, sir," he acknowledged.
Khasinau nodded. "You are eleven. —You're small for your age," he observed. "That is good."
Sark bit back a sneer. It never had been before. His slight size had forced him to pay closer attention in the unarmed combat classes and invent his own set of dirty tricks to protect himself. It was his brain that had kept him alive, so far.
Then Khasinau had explained what they wanted him to do for them.
He jack-knifed through a bend in the duct, pushing the small toolbox he'd need later ahead of him. One of the boys at the school had been claustrophobic. This blind odyssey through memorized twists and turns would have reduced Kyril to screams. Of course, Kyril wasn't at the school anymore, but Sark doubted he'd been taken out for the same reasons he had. Kyril had failed and there was no mercy for failures in the Project.
Another turn and he could see a square of light ahead, the air vent into the vault room. He scooted the toolbox forward carefully, glad for the felt Khasinau had glued to its bottom, that kept it from screeching along the metal.
A few feet further and he could peer down into the room. Sark didn't move his head, just his eyes, scanning the layout. There was the wood-panel door on the wall to the left. Presumably locked. Across the room from the duct opening, a massive black desk, everything cleared from its top and locked up as procedure demanded, with the maroon leather executive's chair carefully lined up close to it. A single, brushed-steel lamp stood on the desk next to the black phone, providing the only light in the room. Two chairs in front of the desk, leather and curved chrome. A couch of the same design against the wall under the duct opening. Directly across from the door was a set of bookcases.
According to Khasinau's briefing the bookcases opened on hinges and hid the door to a vault. Inside the vault were several valuable items, including a set of computer discs. Sark was to retrieve the discs. Nothing else. Concealing the theft wouldn't be necessary.
He scanned the room again, noting the two cameras set to watch the bookcases and the doorway. Neither covered the grill over the ventilation duct. That made matters easier. He checked the grill and pulled the right tool to release it from his box. Finally, nothing but his fingers hooked through it held the grill in place.
He turned his head toward his shoulder and the radio mic there. "Ready for entry. Please disable the surveillance now."
The mic in his ear whispered back with Khasinau's voice. "Distraction in place. Disabling the cameras now. Go." The Russian had hacked into the building's security system and could knock out the surveillance, but a hardwired alarm would show up at the main security desk. Derevko had gone in to provide a distraction for the necessary period.
Sark let the grill drop onto the couch. He closed the toolbox and pushed it out too. Then he followed, awkwardly dropping head first and narrowly missing the toolbox. He rolled off the couch and went straight to the lamp on the desk. Three buttons on the base. On, Off, and Low. Without hesitation, he hit On. The bookcases swung open, revealing a heavy steel vault door.
Other than a handle, the vault door was a blank. No keypad or card slot or even old fashioned dial. Sark grinned. Next step. He touched the Off button. A metal panel next to the door slid open, revealing the keycard slot and keypad.
He pulled a duplicate keycard provided by Derevko from his pocket and slotted it in. The keypad activated.
Sark whispered into his mic, "Entering access code now." He pressed each numeral in the sequence Khasinau had drilled into him. The read-out above the keypad went green and the vault door released with a pneumatic hiss. He pulled the door completely open, making certain it wouldn't fall closed behind him, surprised by its weight.
"The discs should be on the third shelf to the right," Khasinau replied. "You have two minutes before the security chief arrives to check the monitors."
Sark ducked into the vault. It probably had some sort of lighting, but he suspected activating it would trigger a notification somewhere in the building. Instead, he settled for the dim light from the desk lamp.
His gaze passed over several velvet cases he presumed held jewelry and dismissed them. Lock boxes. A glass tube with a rolled piece of parchment inside it. Other things he didn't even recognize. Canisters of film in a precarious pile. And there, on the shelf next to the film, the discs Derevko wanted.
Sark swiped them up, tucked them in his jumper, and got out of the vault. He didn't stop to close the door, worrying it might make too much noise. He went straight to the couch, scrambled up from it and back into the ducts, moving as fast as he could.
"Got it," he gasped. He was crawling forward, scraping elbows and knees and palms raw as he twisted and pushed through the turns.
"One minute, fifteen seconds," Khasinau advised through the speaker wired into Sark's ear.
He reached the air intake and shinnied out onto the roof. Onto his feet and sprinting for the edge where he'd left his grapple and rope in place. He gave it one jerk to make sure it was still secure and went over the side of the roof and down the building so fast the rope burned the skin from his hands.
Once on the ground he bolted for the fence and the narrow drainage culvert he'd come in through. The guards were all still facing outwards, not looking for an escapee. It was the night of the new moon. The sky was clear, but without moonlight most of the grounds were lost in the inky shadows of trees and shrubbery. The black knit watch cap on his head hid Sark's pale blond head, the only part of him that might have caught an eye.
Sark found the culvert and skinned through the corrugated tube, shoulders catching repeatedly in its small confines. Stagnant water and silty deposits soaked into his clothes and he grimaced but kept moving steadily. The culvert brought him outside the compound and into a ditch.
"I'm out," he whispered.
"Stay in place and wait for pickup."
He stayed in the ditch and out of sight as the alarms began going off in the compound behind him.
Brief moments later, a blue Mercedes exited the compound through the front gate, after the guards inspected its interior and radioed back for confirmation that its occupants were allowed out. When permission arrived, the locked gates swung open before the car and it rolled through slowly. It turned onto the road next the ditch Sark waited in. As it came parallel, the back passenger door opened and it slowed further.
Khasinau's voice came in his ear.
Sark clambered out of the ditch and threw himself into the Mercedes. His arm hit the moving door and he almost fell, white-hot pain spiking from his wrist as the closing door smashed into it and something cracked. A strong hand caught his shoulder then and he was pulled inside and onto the seat.
For a second all he could think of was not vomiting from the pain in his arm and wrist. Cold sweat oozed from his pores. His hands were burning and bloody. He wanted to whimper. He bit his lip until it bled and blinked at the woman in the Mercedes' back seat with him.
Irina was elegance personified in red silk, diamonds, and a sable coat. Her hand was still on Sark's shoulder.
"Have you got the discs?"
He nodded wordlessly and brought them out with his good hand. Irina accepted them with an approving smile.
"You did well, Sark."
Sark cradled his broken arm close to his chest and basked in the warmth of that smile. Irina placed the discs in a metal briefcase and locked it. She reached over and carefully took Sark's arm, studying the way the end of the broken bone jogged out beneath the flesh above his wrist. Her fingers were cool and sure and steady.
"This is broken," she said. "It will need to be set." Her eyes lifted from Sark to the mirror that reflected the driver. "Alexei, arrange for a medic to meet us at the airport."
"There's time to take him to a hospital, Irina," Khasinau said. Sark jolted a little, realizing the Russian was doubling as their driver. The voice had come from the speaker in his ear and the driver's seat.
"We'll take him to a doctor in Geneva," Irina said. "The medic can give him something for the pain during the flight." She smiled at Sark and slipped the cap off his hair and the speaker from his ear. "We can't afford to linger here too long," she told him gently. "Do you understand?"
He nodded again. "I am all right," he whispered hoarsely. He hurt, but he'd hurt before. Admitting it only made things worse, he'd learned. In the front seat, he could hear Khasinau using a mobile phone to make Irina's arrangements.
Irina stroked his hair. "Come here," she said, and pulled him close, ignoring the dirt and blood coating him, taking care not to jostle his arm. Sark had begun to shiver with exhaustion and pain and the effort to not cry. Irina pulled the sable coat around them both and held him in her arms.
No one had held him like that since his mother.
"I'm very pleased with you, Sark," she said softly. "You won't be going back to Kiev."
He would have done anything for her after that. And did, eventually.
VII. Ordinary People
He began with the obvious.
Jack Bristow, dedicated CIA agent, a man who was quite understandably driven to uncover his missing daughter's whereabouts, had broken Sark out of custody. It made no sense. Sark didn't believe Irina had extorted the man's aid—not that she wouldn't—but that she wouldn't for him. The only thing Bristow cared for was finding his daughter. Whatever he did must somehow further that endeavor.
Logically, Sark had been more valuable to Bristow as a prisoner, trading information on Sloane and Irina for whatever he could get to help himself.
It made no bloody sense! Sark found himself growling in frustration, his poised mask cracking in the security of his office solitude. He ran both hands up over his face and through his hair. The data on the laptop screen didn't change, offering no reason, and he slapped it shut.
He stalked out of his office and into the gym, intent on burning off some energy. Even while he worked out, his mind kept circling the problem. He wasn't about to ask Irina anything. Finally, muscles trembling and body running with sweat, he decided he needed to understand Bristow better. If Bristow's reasons weren't obvious in light of events, then perhaps they lay in the man's past.
He tried a different tactic, using assets in DC to obtain the CIA's own files on Bristow, collating that information with the profile Irina had provided before tasking him to infiltrate SD-6. Most of it was duplicate, the hard facts and dates, operations successful and failed—more of the former than the latter—the FBI investigation that followed. He read the psychological evaluations done before and after Bristow's ten year marriage to ‘Laura' and his case officer's notes over the years working as a double agent in SD-6.
It had changed the man, hardened him, burned away his idealism. Just as Sark had thought, Jack Bristow believed in doing his job to the very best of his ability, but only allowed himself to care for one person: his daughter. Bristow was so distant from the patriotic young man who joined the CIA that he might easily have sided with Arvin Sloane over the Agency, if Sloane hadn't recruited Sydney. That had made Bristow the man's deadly enemy. Only his professionalism, his need to protect Sydney from the Alliance and the CIA, had kept Bristow from simply killing Sloane.
Sark sighed. None of that was new.
He looked at file again.
Jack Bristow. DOB 16.3.50. POB London, Ontario, Canada. Mother was American and the family moved back to US while Bristow was a child. The father had a consultant's job in Silver Springs, Maryland. Recruited by the CIA in 1967. Sark raised his eyebrows. That was young. He checked the background and chuckled. Apparently, playing the Game ran in the Bristow family, and he had been recruited as an unobtrusive courier by his father's case officer. Bristow had already been hip deep in the shadows while his university confederates were draft dodging and protesting Vietnam.
Bristow had been busy at school, though. He'd earned a doctorate. He was a master of game theory, expert in engineering, aeronautics, and physics. CIA language school had taught him fluent Russian and Chinese—Cantonese and Mandarin. He had done his training at Camp Peary and honed those skills over more than thirty years; he was a nasty customer in the field.
All interesting, but not what Sark wanted to know. Absently, he flipped through the rest of the personnel file, glancing at the photos of Bristow's parents. The mother had been a pretty woman, almost Slavic looking at the cheekbones; Sydney's looks came from more than just Irina. Bristow's father had fair hair and a skeptical squint for the camera. Both were deceased. There had been a sister, but she died young. An uncle was mentioned, dead, flying for the RAF before Bristow had been born. No one else, no other relatives.
Useless. All useless.
But he stared at the photo of Bristow, Irina, and baby Sydney for a long time, frowning. Of course it was all a lie…But they looked so happy in it. He couldn't imagine Jack Bristow smiling like that now.
Sark closed the file and locked it into his safe. He had other work to do.
VIII. The Width of the Wide Abyss
Kendall stopped him the hallway.
"I'm not stupid, you know, Jack," he said.
Jack gave him the bland, silent look he'd perfected over the years. He'd first started using it while the FBI interrogated him about his wife's activities. Denying them any glimpse of his emotions had been the last and only privacy he had held onto. That apparent impassivity had become a reflex.
"I know what you did."
But he didn't. If Kendall had more than a suspicion, he wouldn't be fishing. Jack would be strapped down, pumped full of truth serum, babbling.
Kendall shook his head and grabbed Jack's shoulder before he could walk away. "I know, Jack. I just don't know why. The information Sark provided was damned valuable…I don't believe you threw that away without a good reason."
Jack opened his mouth and closed it. "We all have our reasons," he said at last.
"We all want to find Sydney, Jack."
But for once, it hadn't been about Sydney, Jack thought.
"I hope whatever gamble you're taking works out, Jack," Kendall said. "For all our sakes." He met Jack's gaze steadily.
"Thank you," Jack croaked.
Kendall shrugged uncomfortably and stalked off, his typical expression of impatient irritation in place again. He was a better friend than Jack had given him credit for being.
Blood stains marble. It seeps into the grain of the stone. The puddle on the pink-veined floor would leave its mark. The bodies would be gone, but an astute observer would mark that stain.
Sark sidestepped the glossy pool of scarlet spreading from the two dead guards. He wasn't bothered by blood, but you never knew what was in it these days and there was no reason to track it down the long, columned corridor.
Irina's heels clicked against the polished stone floor as she stepped over the two corpses. She had to lift the hem of her burgundy evening gown to keep it from trailing in the blood. Her other hand held the small, silenced Russian pistol she had just used to shoot the guards.
"Typical," Irina had remarked as the last one folded to the floor. The two men had been intent on Sark and dismissed any threat Irina posed. Fatal mistake.
The strains of a Strauss waltz floated from the Palazzo's ballroom a floor below. Ten minutes before, Sark had been dancing with a wine merchant's mistress to Der Rosenkavalier, absently aenjoying her skill and surprising conversational abilities. The wine merchant had good taste.
He'd parted from the lovely blonde at her patron's side with a smooth excuse, cutting his way through the crowd to join Irina on her way to the long gallery that displayed some of the Senchi's most precious artworks.
Their target was a private solarium, closed to most of the night's guests. Paolo Senchi was auctioning off his great-grandfather's collection of clocks, including a Rambaldi timepiece commissioned by a Senchi ancestor.
The guards had unfortunately been in the way.
Irina was unhappy with Paolo Senchi.
He'd struck a deal with her for an obscene amount of money, then reneged, choosing to offer the Rambaldi clock to the highest bidder.
Sark reached into a pocket of his tuxedo and withdrew a small case. He opened it as they approached the doorway into the solarium. Muffled voices came from inside, the words too soft to discern. With a slight smile he withdrew a set of filtering nose plugs and handed them to Irina, before donning his own. Next came the clear goggles, the rubber edges already wiped with a silicon gel that would seal them against skin.
"Remember to keep your mouth closed," he said once they were both equipped.
"Excellent advice," Irina said with a straight face and amusement in her voice.
He picked the third item from its bed in the case, a coppery capsule approximately an inch and a half long. It contained a mild neurotoxic gas developed in France that would disable those exposed to it for several hours. The gas was absorbed quickly through mucous membranes and destroyed all motor control until completely metabolized unless an antidote was administered. The gas itself was lighter than air and would dissipate without reaching the guests in the rest of the Palazzo.
"Ready?" he asked her as they paused in the doorway.
"Do it," she replied.
Sark shoved the door open, strode inside as he pinched the capsule hard enough to break it and lobbed it onto the desk where Paolo Senchi had the Rambaldi clock displayed. His gaze caught on the clock, a globe of glass supported by four carved wooden arms in the shape of wings. The base was in the shape of two griffins, crouching. The claws and wings were gilt. Inside the globe, the clockworks were made of crystal and appeared to float, still working after six centuries. There were seven men gathered around the desk, all in black tuxedos except Senchi in white. They had been intent on the clock and were too startled to do more than turn toward the interruption as Sark arrived.
The broken capsule rolled to a stop against one griffin's claw with a tiny tick.
Gas bloomed out in a rose-colored cloud, twisting into smoky streamers and engulfing the bidders. One man cried out and another tried to bolt for the door. Then the choking began and each of them fell, hitting the floor in graceless, helpless heaps.
Senchi was convulsing, obviously having a spectacularly bad reaction to the gas.
Sark ignored him and picked up the clock, carefully securing it in the case Senchi's great grandfather had kept it in. The gas was starting to thin, but he imagined he could feel it on his skin. His hands felt stiff and slightly numb. He fumbled, closing the latches.
Irina was waiting in the doorway.
Sark picked up the case and slowly joined her. A wave of vertigo hit as he reached the threshold. Irina caught up the clock's case and he slammed a shoulder against the wall. The damned gas had absorbed through his skin. The taste of watermelon and metal flooded his mouth and his eyes began to water profusely.
Irina had the case in one hand, the other held her gun. She gave Sark a considering look. He began to slide down the wall. He knew if she turned the gun on him he wouldn't be able to stop her. He wouldn't even be able to move.
He fumbled desperately for the other case in his pocket, the one with two pre-loaded syringes of the antidote, spilling it onto the floor beside him. It looked impossibly distant. He couldn't stop Irina, but he could go out trying.
His hearing hadn't suffered. He heard Irina's shoes and realized she was walking away. She had decided to leave him alive, but he had to get himself out. If he could.
With fingers that trembled and felt swollen and awkward, he got the case open. One syringe dropped onto the marble and rolled away. He clutched the second, pulled the cap off with his teeth and ruthlessly shoved the needle into his neck. The antidote felt like acid as he injected it and his hand fell away from the syringe while his whole body jerked.
When the spasm passed, most of his motor control had returned. Sark lurched to his feet and staggered down the gallery. He looked like a drunk, but that passed. Once he reached the stairs, he was under enough control to stop and check his appearance, stripping off and discarding the goggles and nose plugs before descending into the crowd and making his way to the exit.
Irina had already taken the limo, but a taxi was available. Sark instructed the driver to take him straight to the Sofitel Firenze and sat back.
He was shivery and cold and absolutely alone. Reaction. It would have taken perhaps sixty seconds to set the clock or the gun down and administer the antidote for him. Instead, Irina had walked away.
Sark closed his eyes but opened them quickly and stared at the passing streets, the pools of light and the inevitable darkness between. He bit his lip.
He wasn't going to go through this again, he decided. Loyalty couldn't be bought, but it could be broken. He'd had enough of being disposable. He would never trust Irina Derevko again.
It opened up a world of possibilities.
X. Bid My Blood To Run
Sark leaned his hip against the desk top, reading from the laptop's screen over Irina's shoulder. He didn't touch her, but his hand rested on the back of her chair, and he could smell the scent of her shampoo. If she lifted her head, her dark hair would brush against his fingers.
He tried to keep his mind on her briefing. These moments when she let him close were rare, if she thought he was distracted by the physical; she'd find some way to school him against it. He drew his brows together, listening as she outlined his new responsibilities in the Organization.
He'd been steadily rising within the Organization, but in the last months that had ramped up until he had effectively become third in command. He enjoyed the power, but didn't trust the reasons behind it. Irina‘s—his employer, he reminded himself—interests seemed to be spiraling inwards to a single point: Rambaldi. She and Khasinau were arguing more and more often. Sark didn't like it.
He had no idea which way he would go if Khasinau and Irina parted ways. His loyalty to them both had never been put to a test, never conflicted between them.
"The CIA and SD-6 will be hunting you," Irina said. "You'll have to handle these matters using your own judgment; I'll be incommunicado once I'm in CIA custody."
He nodded and bent closer.
"Are you sure this is necessary? You're taking a risk; they may execute you immediately."
Her voice was husky with amusement. "They won't. They will want what I know." She tipped her head toward Sark, smiling. "They're predictable, they have rules."
Sark smiled at that.
"You haven't said what Alexei Alexandrovich will be doing while I handle these matters," he said. Most of the instructions Irina was giving him involved dealing with Khasinau's end of the Organization's operations. Perhaps the dour Russian's health had deteriorated to the point that he had withdrawn from field operations completely. If so, Sark would miss him, he acknowledged. Khasinau was as much his mentor as Irina.
Irina's next words were as smooth and quiet as always. "Khasinau overestimated my forbearance." She gazed steadily into Sark's eyes. She'd killed Khasinau, he understood. Did she hesitate, looking for his reaction? "That was a mistake." She made the words a tender warning.
He assumed his most innocent, unconcerned mask and raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't aware you had any forbearance." He hid his shock and dismay with the ease of long practice. "Nor am I in the habit of making mistakes.'
Irina lifted her hand to his cheek in a light caress and Sark turned into it like a cat, but in his mind he thought she was a fool to treat him like a pet. It wasn‘t safe. She‘d made sure of that herself. He would give her what she wanted, because he wanted it too. Though he could have performed anyway; he had the training.
"Like your father," she murmured slowly, smiling at him. "Though he made one." The cruel amusement in her brown eyes told him she knew very well he wouldn't ask her anything about his past.
Irina slid her fingers up into the hair along his temple. Sark bent closer and let the hand on the chair find her shoulder. He could feel her heat, matching his own. He kept his breathing steady, though his pulse hammered, and his eyes locked onto hers.
"This will be the last time, I think," she murmured, spinning the desk chair and rising to press into his arms. The last time for her before she turned herself into the CIA or the last time between them? He didn't know or care. Her mouth opened to his, tasting of tea and cloves; his hands molded against lithe muscle and silk smooth over skin.
He pushed the thought of Khasinau back and let himself burn. Irina sank her teeth into his lower lip. Sark dug his fingers into her hips, knowing he'd leave marks, wanting to mark her. Sex with Irina was always like that; hard, harsh, and physical, a contest for dominance that left him scratched and bruised and hungry. It always felt dangerous, flooding him with adrenaline as well as pleasure. And he knew it meant absolutely nothing to her when he slid into her body, that he could be any man, because he wasn't the one she wanted.
He wasn't Jack Bristow.
He wondered if she would manage to seduce Bristow somehow while playing the repentant spy for her daughter and the CIA. Bitterly, he hoped not.
He pulled away from her and jerked off his jacket and shirt. Irina stripped out of her silk mock-turtleneck and skirt, revealing black lingerie. She bent gracefully and removed first one and then the other high heel. Without a hint of self-consciousness, she padded over to the leather covered couch and stood beside it, perfectly balanced, waiting.
"Now," she commanded.
"Not yet," he breathed, just looking at her. No lace for Irina, just stark black silk over pale, supple flesh, and even her stance was a challenge. She was, always, alluring and beautiful, he wanted her, but he wished he didn't.
He tasted blood and licked his lip.
Irina's hands went behind her back to open her bra. Sark toed off his shoes and shed his slacks and boxers, playing to her, making a production of it. He paced over to her and waited. It was part of the game. Who would give first.
This time it was Irina who moved first. She ran her nails down his chest, leaving reddened streaks behind them, until she reached his groin, then took his erection in one hand and squeezed just hard enough to remind him she could hurt him. Sark hissed. His muscles tensed and he held himself still with an effort, didn't touch, didn't speak, just let his head fall back, his eyelids fall half-closed. Let her work for it this time; he wasn't the one panting after her, this was what she wanted too.
"Fast, Sark," Irina murmured, stroking him just a shade too hard, trying to push him past his control. "Hard and fast." Like it was a promise.
No, not this time, he wasn't a toy. She couldn't throw him away when he stopped being convenient, kill him like she'd done Khasinau, forget him like she had every man after her husband. He wouldn't let her and he wanted her to know it. Easy to slow down when he thought of that, even when he was so hard he ached.
He stripped the black thong off her, still smiling, and used every trick he'd learned—from other women, from his trainers in Kiev, from her—to draw it out, to make her writhe, laid out on the leather and cursing him in Russian, before he satisfied himself.
He wouldn't kiss her lips, not again, but his fingers found her mouth, her breasts, the sleek hot center of her before he tasted her there. If this was the last time, he wanted her to remember it, just as he wanted to memorize her body: the long muscles of her thighs, the arch of her ribcage, the way she snarled and caught at his hair when he teased too long, just breathing in her musk.
Irina's nails were scourges against his shoulders, urging him on; she twisted and slid against his weight, fighting him, biting, punishing him, taunting him into giving more. He felt her shiver around him again and buck as he thrust into her finally. So hot, he made a harsh sound, a growl of hunger and urgency. Her eyes dilated black and she keened as he found the rhythm to drive them both mad. And then he was there. Sark sank his teeth into her shoulder, drowning in pleasure, forgetting who he was, who she was—forgetting everything—in the rush of it.
Sweat slick and breathless, after, he held himself on hands and knees above Irina, looking at her. Bruises and shadows painted her flesh. She'd closed her eyes at the last instant, even this time. Her face was an opaque mask, her lashes laying long shadows over perfect cheekbones, hair a loose tangled mess spread over the cushion under her, her mouth just parted as she too fought for breath. At least she'd never called him Jack.
He forced himself to get up, clean up, and dress with apparent indifference, knowing she was watching him with sphinx eyes. She did that, too, every time. He wouldn't let her see she'd left him hating her again. Let her think fucking her meant nothing; anything else she'd use against him.
Irina stretched lazily and sat up. "You're beautiful, Sark."
"It's useful," he commented.
She considered him thoughtfully, and said so softly Sark didn't know whether she'd meant him to hear or not, "You remind me of him."
As he shrugged on his shirt, he became aware of the stinging running down his back. As usual, she'd drawn blood.
"You'll ruin the shirt," Irina said, rising and beginning to dress herself too. He watched sidelong. If this had been a hit, she would make her move now, when the target was sated and relaxed.
A black puddle of underwear lay abandoned on the floor by the couch.
"I'll buy another one."
She laughed throatily at that, passing so close to him as she walked to the desk that he could smell the scent of sex still on her.
She opened the second drawer on the desk's left, taking out a small black case. Back to business, Sark thought. Or maybe the sex had been business too, a test for her subordinate, something to feed his addiction to her and prove Khasinau's death didn't matter to him. Irina opened the case, revealing a neat, miniaturized transmitter/receiver and a pair of diamond earrings. He recognized the earrings; she wore them often.
"If I can retain these while in custody," she said, holding up one the earrings, "You'll be able to use them to keep in contact."
"We'll need to set up a code," he said. "And memorize it, of course." He had a faultless memory, so did Irina, it wouldn't offer them much challenge.
Much later that night, after she'd left him to board a flight to Los Angeles, after he'd read a stolen copy of the CIA after-action report detailing Khasinau‘s death, Sark opened the most expensive bottle of wine in his small collection. Sitting in the dimly lit living room of his penthouse apartment in Paris, he toasted Alexei Alexandrovich Khasinau. No one else would.
Khasinau had taught him wines. Khasinau had been his handler on his first mission. The gaunt old man had been a part of Sark's life almost as long as he could remember; he'd even appeared at the Kiev school sometimes. Once, he'd taken him on a rattling train all the way to Moscow, feeding him black bread with butter and honeyed tea. After Sark had lured a Red Army colonel into a hotel room and enough incriminating photos were taken of the two of them to ensure the man's cooperation with the Organization, Khasinau had taken him to the Moscow Circus to see the performing bears, before returning him to the school.
Khasinau had called him Sascha sometimes, when Sark had pleased him. No one else had ever taken such a liberty with his name.
Another sip of wine, another memory of Khasinau. The man had had a dry, wicked sense of humor. He'd taught Sark to see the irony in everything they did. He'd taught him never to trust anyone completely, not Irina, not even Khasinau himself. Those lessons had kept Sark alive more than once already. He'd been there with Sark more times than he could count. More times than Irina knew or she wouldn't have admitted killing him to Sark so casually.
Sark sighed. Irina had neatly removed one difficulty: he needn't chose between her and Khasinau now the man was dead.
But he really would miss Khasinau.
He would remember him, too; remember how the man had died: shot by Irina Derevko because it had become expedient. Just as she'd found it expedient to leave her child behind when the KGB recalled her from her life as Laura Bristow, to shoot her daughter in Taipei, to order the head of K-Directorate eliminated, and all the other assassinations Sark himself had completed on her orders. Irina was the ultimate pragmatist. If Sark ever forgot that, he would end up as dead as his targets were.
Sark had kept the call short, though he doubted Bristow would trace it. He couldn't have anticipated Sark contacting him. The decision had been made only after Sark learned the man was in Copenhagen.
He called Bristow's encrypted, CIA issue phone. Just because he was paying off a debt didn't mean he couldn't extract some slight amusement from it. Flaunting how deeply the Organization had penetrated CIA security would entertain him while also providing Bristow with a backhanded warning.
Bristow answered after the third ring.
"Agent Bristow, I thought we might talk," Sark purred.
A fraction of a second pause, while Bristow processed who he was and what it meant to receive the call from him. Bristow didn't disappoint.
"Where and when, Sark?"
"Tivoli, tonight. I'll find you."
Bristow cut the connection. In his hotel room, Sark smiled.
"Derevko's pet," Allison spat. The dark, wiry girl was the closest thing he had to an ally at the school, but she'd been infuriated when Khasinau took Sark to Moscow. He'd refused to say what he did there. He'd put the memory of Col. Sergei Otsolokov's sausage fingers, vodka breath and the stench of garlic and sweat on him away. The bruises had already faded. "That's why you're here."
"So what?" he asked. "I'm here, just like you."
He wasn't, though. Derevko had never shown a personal interest in any of the other Project children. She hadn't pulled any of the others out to work directly for her, to go to school in England later. He had left Allison behind without a backward look when the opportunity came.
He'd left her behind in LA, too, taking the first flight for Stockholm, knowing how precarious her situation was. She wouldn't have thanked him for any concern, of course. She'd taken the assignment to double Francie Calfo just to show him up.
DNA restructuring, provacillium dependency, fevers, sleeping with Will Tippin, she did it all just to prove she was better than him, but it was useless. Allison was nothing to Irina but an asset. Sark had always been something more.
He shifted on the hard slab that served as a bed in the cell. Even his present circumstances proved that he had some value to Irina. She'd set up his capture by Sydney and the Boy Scout. She could have had him killed just as easily.
She certainly hadn't cared about what could happen to Allison.
He leaned his head back against the cold cinderblock wall and closed his eyes. He already knew he was going to get very tired of this place.
With his eyes closed, he could see Allison in his mind, Allison before Marcovic's treatment. Allison of the sullen silences and the clever mouth, Allison in a white bikini on a Rio beach, Allison purring against his chest while he ran his fingers through her short, butch-cut hair.
Sark snapped his eyes open. He didn't want to do that anymore. Jack Bristow had just walked away after telling him the news. Not that Bristow had a clue what it meant to Sark, he'd only wanted answers.
"Where is my daughter?"
"Ask Agent Vaughn," Sark suggested. "I believe they were together last time I encountered them."
Bristow glared at him through the glass and Sark experienced a sinking feeling. Something had spiraled out of control, he thought. He cocked his head. "Why would you think I know where she is?" he asked.
Bristow's eyes narrowed.
"Your asset may have played a part in Sydney's…disappearance."
So she hadn't been snatched. Or she had been, but the CIA didn't know. That was interesting. There were a lot of players who wanted control of Sydney Bristow. Rambaldi's work had assured that. Irina and Sloane were only foremost among them.
"A.G. Doren," Bristow clarified and Sark nodded; since they knew her name, there was little doubt they had identified Allison as Francie. "She nearly killed Will Tippin. It appears she engaged in a violent confrontation with Sydney afterward."
Sark waited, hoping to hear Allison had bolted. He knew she'd had an exit set up; she was too good an agent not to have one. He'd even told her to set something up outside the Organization's network. She could be anywhere by now—Atlanta, Cairo, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires—anywhere, running.
"Her body was found in the apartment," Bristow said, destroying his fantasy. Sark stared at him, schooling his expression into a blank. She was just an asset, not someone whose lips he'd kissed only days ago.
"Apparently, Sydney shot her."
What the hell had Allison done to make Sydney Bristow shoot someone with her best friend's face? How careless, how crazy had Ally become to make that kind of mistake? He didn't care about Tippin, but Allison had to know that the result of harming Sydney Bristow would be death at Irina Derevko‘s hands. She should have gotten out.
He said it.
"She should have pulled out as soon as Tippin began to suspect."
"Why didn't you pull her out, Sark?" Bristow asked flatly.
An expression of displeasure slipped past Sark's mask. "Derevko wanted to keep someone as close to your daughter as possible. And the take from Tippin was useful," he said. He had told her to stay. Made promises they both must have known were lies, the last time he saw her. Allison had been disposable, just like Khasinau. Just like Sark himself, eventually. Only Sydney, Jack Bristow, and Rambaldi were real to Irina.
He crossed his arms. The bloody cell was cold.
"My daughter's blood is all over that apartment, Sark. Doren's dead and Tippin's hospitalized and unconscious," Bristow said harshly. "Who took Sydney?"
"I'm afraid I can't help you, Agent Bristow," Sark said.
He walked away from the glass wall and sat Indian fashion on the bed-slab, turning his face away from Bristow, ignoring him until he left. The rattle and clanging echo of each gate and door locking behind the CIA agent eventually faded. The only sound was of a distant fan somewhere pushing air into the cell, and Sark's own breath and heartbeat.
He let no emotion show, knowing the cameras were watching him constantly. He stared at the opposite wall, concentrating on being still, counting the blocks that made it up.
He remembered her crowing in victory the day she beat his time breaking down and assembling an AK-47 rifle. He remembered chocolate-caramel skin. Dancing at a nightclub in Berlin, running the gauntlet-like obstacle course as children, catching a southern Senator with his pants down on film, and a dozen other missions they'd worked together; every memory hurt, now, but he couldn't push them away. Allison Doren, deceased, had no one else to remember who she had been.
It didn't matter, he told himself. He couldn't let it. Allison had known the price of making a mistake, of letting down her guard. He had to think about himself, how much he could reveal to buy time until he could figure a way out of his current predicament.
He'd sell out everything he knew about Sloane first. He'd enjoy that. He was still alive and he was going to stay that way.
XIII. Mute Mermaids
Sark joined Bristow in the amusement park gardens in the late twilight after making sure the agent hadn't been tailed. Bristow wouldn't risk even a passive bug; he couldn't predict what might be said and thus couldn't risk being overheard by the CIA. At least, Sark thought so. He didn't worry much about a pick-up team. He could lose himself in the crowds of tourists with ease.
"What do you want, Sark?" Bristow asked him. The CIA agent wore gray, always gray, smooth good suits, well tailored to him, but never too expensive, too striking. Even when he'd essentially drawn two paychecks—one obscenely generous from SD-6—Jack Bristow had been careful not to draw attention to himself. Tradecraft.
Sark knew how to fade into the background but had found that his youth required a distinct persona to garner respect. His elegant and expensive clothes were a message as well as an indulgence.
Sark cocked his head. "Oh, many things," he said lightly. Answers. The daytime crowds were thinning, discouraged by the threat of rain in the air.
Sark shrugged. "Very well, then. —Whatever your reasons for removing me from CIA custody, I'm now in a position to provide you with certain information."
Jack turned toward him with a look of disbelief. "Are you saying you're grateful?'
Sark was nonplused. Was he? Not particularly. He'd anticipated extracting himself from the situation. He had never asked Jack Bristow for anything—why would he? Why feel gratitude for something that had in all likelihood been done to benefit the CIA agent and not himself? That Sark had gained had probably been only a side effect.
No, what he felt was intrigued. He wanted to know what that benefit had been and how to turn it towards himself. Bristow had acted out of character. If he could find out why, he could use that.
"No," he answered honestly.
Jack nodded. "Good."
Sark bit his lip to keep from smiling. Bristow was so wonderfully terse. "Shall we walk?" he asked, with a gesture to the path nearby. A cold wind had come up; straight from Siberia it felt like, and moving would be warmer than standing still. Besides, agents' paranoia cautioned against staying in any one place too long.
Bristow eyed the path and nodded.
The impatient question was a victory for Sark. "You're here trying to follow Sloane."
"Hardly valuable information," Bristow commented.
"No, it isn't," Sark agreed. He lifted his face into the wind, feeling the first mist of the evening on it. He preferred cold climates to hot. He liked the Scandinavian countries. He blended well and sometimes a woman's accented voice would stir the faded memories of his real mother. "But he's not the one who has your daughter."
Sark checked his step and gave him an inquiring look.
Bristow glared at him, eyes narrowed with barely reined in anger. Sark gave him points for keeping his voice even, though.
"You know where Sydney is?"
Sark shook his head. "No." He hesitated, then said, "But I know Sloane doesn't have her, Agent Bristow. —He's hunting, too."
Bristow stared at him. "That isn't particularly useful information, Sark."
Sark shrugged. "I never said it was. "
"If I thought you were protecting Sloane for some reason—"
"You'd shoot me now," Sark interrupted. He held up his hand. "I'm not playing a game. I don't know where Sydney is. But my employer is preoccupied. She's blocked my access to certain information. Her obsession with Rambaldi is stronger than ever."
"Derevko kidnapped Sydney," Bristow said flatly.
"It's certainly possible."
"Why tell me?"
Sark searched for a reason Bristow would believe. "You'll figure it out sooner or later," he said. "I'd rather remain a neutral party when you turn your sights on your…former wife."
Lights were coming on all over the park, brilliant decorations on fantasy rides, spilling color that never quite filled the darkness. Sark frowned. The Tivoli Gardens were a tourist attraction, too expensive for most Danes, but he found himself wondering what it would have been like to have seen them as a child. His mother might have brought him to such a place, if she hadn't been killed. There'd been no outings after that, just survival and training; Irina was a harsh taskmaster and Khasinau no less demanding.
"Can you find out where she has Sydney?"
Sark blinked. He couldn't believe he'd let his attention wander like that. He'd been lost and even forgotten Bristow's presence.
"What would you pay?"
Bristow said stonily, "Whatever it took. I have access to CIA discretionary funds."
"Black budget millions," Sark murmured. He shook his head. "What if I wanted something else?"
"I would get it."
"Yes." Bristow looked tired and angry then. This was why operatives should avoid emotional involvement. It clouded priorities, turned good agents, dulled the edge of the knife. It was the dull knife that turned on its wielder, forced beyond its tolerances. Bristow would destroy himself for his child.
Sark hunched his shoulders against the steady, misting rain, suddenly feeling the cold. The rising wind and the rain guaranteed there would be no fireworks at the Tivoli tonight.
"Yes. —Quit playing games, Sark," Bristow said wearily.
"You'd do anything for her, wouldn't you?" Sark stated.
"Then why risk your status with the CIA by extracting me?" Sark asked swiftly.
Bristow gave him a stony look. "Maybe I thought you'd be more valuable to me where you are now."
Sark didn't believe it.
"Find Sydney for me and you can set your price," Bristow said. "You have my number."
I wish I did, Sark thought as Bristow walked away. He didn't believe he had any idea where he stood in Jack Bristow's agenda.
XIV. Phantom Limbs
The box was where he'd remembered, pushed to the back of a high shelf in the linen closet. It was just a simple brown cardboard box, sealed with yellowed and brittle strapping tape along the corners and with the top folded together. He had stuffed it there when he moved into the apartment and never touched it since.
He took it down and into the kitchen, where he set it down in the center of the table. He left it there while he fixed himself a cold sandwich and a glass of ice water. He ate over the sink, then rinsed the plate and glass absently, his mind turning back to the file Sloane had handed him.
Of course, he knew better than to trust anything Sloane told him, but he remembered the woman. He'd known what she was and what she was doing, but at the time he hadn't cared. She had merely been a body he could bury his frustration in.
He didn't know what he thought he would find in the box, but something in that one photo lifted from the security tapes that had been included had stirred an old memory.
It was the uniform.
He poured himself a glass of Scotch, sat down at the table, and opened the box. Its contents were newest toward the top. Loose photos of Sydney, mostly, some with her friends, mixed with formal school portraits. He had a copy of her high school yearbook.
He sipped the Scotch and deliberately tortured himself, looking at each picture. As he delved through the box, Sydney's face turned soft and round, growing younger as the pictures grew older.
He wasn't in the pictures, any more than he'd been any real part of her life during those years after Laura's ‘death.' Instead there were photographs of Sydney with Emily. And Sloane. —He'd made it so easy for the man.
Another sip of Scotch, no more than a sip, he wasn't trying to get drunk tonight, no matter how tempting that might be. It was such an ephemeral escape, even if he factored in the hangover.
Beyond the pictures of Sydney came the equally painful photos of his life with Laura. Laura with Sydney. Laura with him. Laura. Beautiful Laura. Laura, smiling.
Laura who never was.
Wedding pictures, the colors flat and distorted after over thirty-five years, the edges yellow. The paper curled at the corners because no one had ever bothered to fit them in an album.
The new Mrs. Laura Bristow shoving cake in his younger self's face, while Irina Derevko slid the knife in his back so skillfully he never felt it until years later. All he could feel now was disgust. Disgust for his own willful blindness, for Arvin Sloane playing best man beside him, for Emily who had attended the wedding on Arvin's arm, and disgust most of all for Irina.
Irina the whore, he'd called her during his bitterest, ugliest, drunken days after his release from prison, before Sloane appeared with his clever offer and patent sympathy and the blond woman. Never afterward. Not because he'd stopped drinking or thinking, but only to protect himself. And he'd thought she was dead, so he'd let some of the anger go, believing that.
He considered burning the damn pictures, but instead pushed them aside.
The next layer of photos were mostly of his family, taken during his childhood, bits and pieces of history shipped to him after his mother's death. There was the flop-earred hound he'd had—Farley—he'd forgotten the dog until seeing himself immortalized, kneeling with an arm around Farley's neck, grinning into the camera. There were pictures of him at various ages, others with his mother. These were all black and white Polaroids. His father would count out, and then peel away the paper so he could see the picture develop.
There were two studio portraits of the family, taken after his sister's birth. Black and white, stiffly posed, all of them dressed in their best clothes. He couldn't remember his sister well; she'd died of influenza before her tenth birthday. Both his parents were buried next to her sad little grave, in Canada, along with the rest of the Bristows.
He was more careful with those pictures, but set them aside as well.
It was the last, loose black and whites on the bottom of the box he wanted.
There was the picture of his father in an officer's uniform, taken before he left to serve in Korea. Below it was the picture of another young man in an RAF uniform, silent laughter in the eyes that regarded the camera, lips quirked into a lopsided smile. Captain Alan Bristow, RAF, dead before his brother made it home to marry and have two children, only one of which survived childhood.
Alan Bristow was a slim and forever youthful ghost caught by photo emulsion, with short cropped blond hair and pale eyes, his head tipped to the side as though he knew some droll secret.
He hadn't looked at that picture since he'd been a child himself, but the sight of another young man in a Russian military uniform had evoked the memory from dusty storage. He stared at the picture a long time. There was no denying the resemblance.
Alan Bristow and the young man currently locked up in CIA custody were dead ringers.
Sark was his son.
Irina was quietly giving instructions to her head of Cairo operations. Sark leaned against a wall, listening and watching, as always. They were in Rachid's office, four stories up, and if you stood in the right spot, you could see the pyramids of Giza through the wide bank of windows along one wall. Sark didn't bother.
He hid it, but he was bored. They weren't in Cairo for a mission, just showing the flag, proving to various ambitious and skeptical subordinates that Irina was still alive, at large, and in control. Sark's presence at her side was a reminder, a double reminder, of what would happen to anyone who crossed her. He was in Khasinau's place now, acting as her first lieutenant, and he was the one who would be dispatched to do any ‘troubleshooting' that arose.
And Khasinau was dead.
The only interesting aspect to the trip was the way Irina had steered him clear of the private clinic operating out of a restored villa in the Maadi suburbs. It was one of the Cairo operation's fronts, but had just had a security revamp, along with the installation of new medical equipment. Sark had been curious when he noticed the numbers in a budget report he'd skimmed during the flight from Athens. Irina had dismissed his suggestion they inspect it though, assuring him Rachid wouldn't pad any expenses.
Looking at Rachid leaning as close to Irina as he dared, Sark swallowed a derisive sound. He doubted there was anything the Egyptian wouldn't do. It was why Irina employed the man, after all.
No, Irina didn't want Sark to know what was going on at the Maadi villa. And since he'd become her de facto second in command, the only matters she'd withheld from him had concerned Sydney Bristow.
A quick, night time reconnaissance would satisfy his curiosity, but the security layout Rachid had had installed would require more prep time than Sark had. If he disappeared too long or triggered an alarm going in, Irina would know what he'd done.
He smiled to himself. There was another option, the one he'd explored in Copenhagen. He'd hadn't contacted Jack Bristow since then, hadn't learned anything that would further the man's search for his daughter. He could e-mail the address and security specifications to Bristow, see what Bristow did with it.
He lifted his gaze, feeling Irina's attention on him.
What did she see, looking at him? Neither son nor lover but no mere subordinate like Rachid, either. He'd been in her body—something Rachid might have sweaty dreams about but would never dare—but he knew the physical act had little meaning for people with the training they had. She didn't trust him—not completely—but she relied on him to be as good as her, to keep up with her, and that was an…intoxicating sort of knowledge.
She smiled now, reading his boredom, despite his lack of expression. She knew his body, knew his body language, had known him since his childhood, she knew how his eyes lost focus when his thoughts strayed. She'd held him and hurt him and fucked him and taught him and saved him and broken him and he belonged to her, Sark thought. That's what she saw: something that was hers.
He wasn't hers, though. He wasn't anyone's.
Contacting Bristow, giving him any information on the Cairo operation, would be betraying her. He sighed. He wasn't ready to do that yet. Not yet.
XVI. Between the Cracks
the device of his bones was accomplished,
his manner of walking, the fugitive gesture that echoed
Irina's shoulders hunched for one brief instant and Sark knew she was staring into the dark muzzle of the pistol, her ears still ringing with the echo of the two shots he'd fired into the Delta Force guards on either side of her.
Sark met her gaze.
"Step out of the car, please."
Let her wonder if his loyalties might have shifted over the months that had passed with him on the outside and Irina in her CIA cell.
He followed her out of the limousine, retaining the pistol. Let her wonder about that too.
"It's good to see you, Sark," she said.
"Did they tag you?" he asked, keeping it all business. She looked good. The CIA hadn't been stupid enough to send her into a meet with Sloane looking like she'd just shed a set of manacles. Jack Bristow's thinking, probably.
"Jack removed it . . . last night."
Sark narrowed his eyes. So she'd got to her former husband after all. He wasn't surprised. Irina had that power.
He gestured to the portable bug scanner on the passenger seat in the front of the limousine. "Perhaps we should make certain?"
Irina nodded and fished the scanner out, calmly running the sensor wand along her arms and legs, then down between her cleavage, to her navel and groin. The steady beep never wavered. Without fanfare, she handed Sark the scanner, turned and presented him with her back. He passed it down and then up, then paused. Irina swept her hair off her neck. Sark ran the sensor along the line of her spine to her bare nape, then waved it around her head, just to make sure nothing was hidden in her hair. Nothing.
"Satisfied?" she asked.
He tossed the scanner into the limo.
"Sloane will arrive in the next three minutes," he said indifferently. "He expects you to hand over the manuscript."
Some women would have leaned against the limo while they waited. Others would have stood at military attention. Irina did neither. She was completely at home in her skin, unworried by how she appeared to him or anyone. She stood, comfortably at ease, ignoring the stench of the polluted wind that stirred her hair.
Sark thought about touching her but didn't. She'd just had Jack Bristow again.
Her eyes were knowing and sharper than knives.
"I told you not to harm Sydney." Her voice never rose, but Sark heard the reprimand.
"I didn't," Sark replied calmly.
He raised an eyebrow. "I'm the one with a scar. Your daughter is quite competent to care for herself." Very beautiful too, perhaps even more so than Irina, but softer, Sark thought. Sydney Bristow lacked her mother's essential ruthlessness. He'd found himself wondering about Sydney sometimes. How did it feel to care about others so much?
Irina turned her head to the side, listening to the sound of an approaching vehicle. "We haven't much time."
"Quite obviously, Sloane accepted your proposal when I presented it to him in Tokyo," Sark warned. "I wouldn't rely on him honoring it once he has everything he wants, though."
That garnered fond laughter with a hint of bemusement. "You don't like him."
Sark stared at her expressionlessly. In fact, he almost loathed Sloane. After only a few short months in the man's company, his respect for Jack and Sydney Bristow's abilities in continuing as double agents within SD-6 had become profound. He'd found himself staring at Sydney more than once, astounded that she could go on playing to Sloane's egocentric attentions. She was a remarkable agent.
"Really, what does that matter?" he asked. He was a professional; his personal opinion of Sloane had no bearing. He had stayed with the job, earned the man's trust and done his dirty work—down to triggering a small neutron device and burning a church full of people to death. He was a mass murderer in the eyes of those who knew, even his own eyes when he let himself think of it; he'd forfeited any right to judge anyone else.
"I understand Sloane," Irina said. "I knew what would—" she paused and seemed to consider the word, ‘—persuade him." She tipped her head. "You did well."
Sark watched her through his eyelashes. "Of course," he murmured. Pleasing her shouldn't have meant so much to him. He knew he didn't matter that much to her.
The mini-van with the false police markings was toiling up the rough road to where they'd parked. He kept an eye on it out of natural caution. He wouldn't want to encounter any real members of the Panamanian police forces. There were two dead men in the back of the limo, after all.
The mini-van pulled to a stop. Sark walked past Irina and pulled open the slider. She stalked from the side of the limo to face Arvin Sloane, that slow, lethal smile forming on her lips again. Sark watched silently as the game began between the two of them.
Sloane was clever. Cleverer than Khasinau had been. His only vulnerability had been his wife and in a maneuver that would have done Irina herself proud, Sloane had turned his weakness into a ploy that let him destroy the Alliance. Sark had been impressed, but it hadn't lasted, because Sloane hadn't got out of the game.
Sloane thought he was the best. Sark knew Irina would win any game with Sloane, though.
He told himself that was why he would be by her side. Sentiment was irrelevant. He just much preferred to be on the winning side. It had nothing to do with affection.
XVII. Initial Offering
Sark didn't like ultimatums, but the message waiting when he returned to his suite certainly qualified as one. A very polite, elliptically worded demand that he meet with Sloane over drinks in the bar.
He found it disturbing that Sloane had located him, as well.
He'd wanted to toss himself onto the wide bed, sink back, and lose himself in a few hours of sleep. Irina was turning over more and more of her work to him, while he still had to fulfill his own responsibilities to the Organization. He was tired.
Dealing with the young, fanatical inheritors of the old Shining Path terrorist cells took all his considerable control. They looked at him with such contempt, all the while acting like spoiled children. It was a strange sort of reverse prejudice; that assumption that by birth a native of the Third World knew more than a European could about pain or deprivation. Suffering did not make them saints, nor would guns make them professionals.
Not that he would bother explaining that.
He'd been tempted to play the proto-Aryan Fascist just because they couldn't afford to hack him off. They needed the weapons he was selling. He could have done it, would have, once, since just his blond hair and blue eyes seemed to offend them, but had restrained the impulse.
Taunts were for amateurs. He never taunted anyone without a purpose behind the words. Irina was an artist at predicting and producing reactions and he'd learned from her. He'd concluded their business in as efficient a fashion as he could and got out.
He forced himself to keep moving. He would meet Sloane, but he wouldn't come running like a dog to a whistle. That little act had stopped being necessary as soon as Irina had been out of CIA custody. He shed his sweat rumpled clothes and padded into the opulent bathroom. Sloane could wait until he had showered off the sticky grime of the long day in the shantytown outskirts of the city.
The shower refreshed him enough that his mood improved. He considered ordering a small meal delivered to the room and dining before joining Sloane and judged it unwise. The advantage would be that food generally energized him, but Sloane would be growing impatient and thus even more unpredictable while waiting for him.
Instead, he chose a tropical weight suit in an eggshell brown with a custom tailored shirt the color of bitter chocolate and a tie like dark cream with a bronze sheen. Silk underwear, silk socks, and a carefully folded silk handkerchief the same shade as his tie were all part of the presentation. He took a cynical satisfaction from clothing himself in garments that cost thousands of dollars. He never forgot that once he'd had nothing but charity.
Sark despised charity, the pretense of generosity and the servile dance of gratitude expected in return.
He wondered what Sloane thought he owed him.
He strolled under the carved lintel and into the brightly lit, glass-walled Café Bar an hour after arriving back at the hotel. He spotted Sloane immediately. He also noted the two obvious bodyguards, along with four security types trying to blend in.
Sark shook his head. Did no one know how to keep a low profile these days? For that matter, he reflected, did any of them know how to watch out for their principal? He could have dressed as a student back-packer and breezed right by them if he wanted to take out Sloane. Sydney would have jammed on a wig, swished her hips and pouted those lips, and every man in the bar would have watched her without seeing what she was doing. Any good operative could get to Sloane if these were the best he had to guard him.
He shrugged. It wasn't his concern.
"May I join you, sir?" he asked Sloane on reaching his table.
"Sit," Sloane directed.
Sark suppressed a frown of irritation. He seated himself so that he could observe all the bar's entrances, either through line of sight or in some mirrored surface.
"We both make lovely targets here," he commented.
As usual, Sloane needed a shave. The grooves around his mouth and fanning out from his eyes were deeper than they'd been when Sark had seen him last, but the listless grief over his wife seemed a thing of the past. Energy sizzled from the small man. Guileful amusement shone in his eyes.
"Don't worry about it," Sloane said with a casual wave. "I have people throughout the hotel. No one's watching us."
Yet, Sark thought cynically. He would have to make arrangements to wipe all the security camera footage for the night. He didn't need the CIA coming after him for associating with Sloane. Nor did he want Irina receiving even a rumor of such a thing.
If she thought he'd sold her out to Sloane, he would be safer at Camp Harris. Not that there was any truly safe place to run if you crossed Irina.
A waiter arrived with a crystal goblet and a bottle of wine. Sloane waved him to present it to Sark. He studied the label absently—it was an acceptable vintage—and nodded his acceptance. He sipped the straw pale wine after the waiter left.
"You don't seem perturbed over my little slip to the CIA," Sark observed.
Sloane chuckled. "No, no, I should have—in fact, I did—know better than to trust your employer." His gaze sharpened, putting Sark on his guard. "As should you."
Sark shrugged. "And you would be better?" He set the wine goblet on the linen table cloth, admiring the way the yellowed ivory fabric reflected in the heavy crystal and the soft light shining through onto it.
"Of course I would, Sark," Sloane said sincerely. "I honored the agreement with Irina and we extracted her exactly as planned." He leaned forward over the table. "No matter how Jack Bristow has betrayed me—and Sydney—have I hurt them? Never."
"Sydney might argue that having both her fiancé and best friend murdered was rather painful," Sark said in a dry tone. He regretted mentioning Francine Calfo immediately, even in passing, she reminded him of Allison. Remembering Ally always hurt.
Sloane shrugged that off. "If you had agreed to Marcovic's procedure, we could have replaced her handler, Vaughn, and garnered a great deal more information instead. Ms. Calfo would still be doing her part for the food service industry. I wouldn‘t have had Agent Vaughn killed."
No, because Michael Vaughn, alive, could have told them a great deal about the CIA's operations and intentions. In the hands of the sort of interrogators Sloane or Sark could command, Vaughn would have, too. Francine Calfo had had no value beyond her proximity to Sydney, so she'd simply been removed.
"Considering the disaster that entire experiment ended in," Sark commented, "I am quite pleased I demurred. —You know Marcovic predicted that the changed DNA might ultimately affect brain chemistry and personality? It was happening. The asset in question had begun to behave…erratically."
He hadn't been willing to do it. He hadn't wanted her to do it, either. That once, he would have defied Irina's orders, because his own instincts had told him it would be a disastrous mistake. Ally had done it, though, despite his protests.
He remembered the feel of her lips on his that last time, the taste that wasn't Allison, her wounded eyes. She hadn't been the same woman he'd trained with in the Kiev facility. That woman would have slit Tippin's throat without blinking. A.G. Doren had died when she became the Calfo woman's double. It just took some time. He didn't blame Sydney for her death. That was the chance Ally had known she was taking—it was the doubling that had been her doom.
No comfort that he'd been right.
"Never mind," Sloane said. "Marcovic's work is unfortunately lost."
"Well, then, what does bring you to Lima, and myself, here?" Sark asked sardonically. He really wanted to be done with this game.
"Ever visited the Cathedral of San Francisco, Sark?"
Sark narrowed his eyes. Churches and Sloane were a lethal mixture and he wanted no part of it this time.
"It's truly a remarkable edifice," Sloane explained eagerly. "Mudejar architecture, hewn stone exterior, filled with great works of art, constructed in 1546—"
"Fascinating," Sark interrupted. "Could we fast forward the travelogue, though?"
"Besides the art, it houses a monastic library established in the fifteenth century, with rare books, chronicles, and manuscripts," Sloane explained.
Sark waited for the rest. He sipped his wine, savoring the bite of the tannins in it, the sharp taste of autumn on his tongue. His eyes moved over the other people in the Café, cataloging them: the foreign businessmen, Japanese and Germans and Spaniards, the bartender and the waiters, the two sleek prostitutes watching the businessmen as though they were prey. Sloane's security people remained in place, too static to provide much protection. Soft murmur of voices, the Café was comparatively empty, and no one was too interested in their table.
Sloane sipped from his water glass and cocked his head at Sark. Another sip and Sloane set the glass back down carefully.
"The Franciscan Order was very respectful of the texts they acquired. Any loss was severely punished. Recently, one of my researchers discovered a mention of a monk receiving just such punishment for the disappearance of a folio. The interesting factor is that nowhere else is there any mention of this folio—all references to it have been removed."
Sark kept his face as expressionless as possible. Fucking Rambaldi. It had to be. Nothing else lit up Sloane's eyes that way.
"So you think it is still in the library?" he asked.
"Not in the library, but beneath the church, in the catacombs," Sloane said.
"Good luck," Sark said, starting to rise. He wanted no part in another mad Rambaldi quest. The obsession shared by Sloane and Irina only left him uneasy and disgusted. When it came to Milo Rambaldi they were both like addicts, willing to sacrifice anyone and anything. Sark suspected the Catholic Church might have been right to want to suppress Rambaldi's works—though they might have been smarter to simply destroy them.
"There's more," Sloane said. He laid his hand on Sark's forearm, briefly. The contact startled Sark. He'd forgotten Sloane's penchant for touching. Blocked it out, since it was something he disliked intensely.
One of the prostitutes was watching them now. She was sloe-eyed and curious, her lips painted candy red and curving into a smile as she tried to interpret whether Sark or Sloane would be interested. A shift of her hips telegraphed an invitation that Sark noted and dismissed. She made a moue of disappointment and returned her attention to her companion, quick laughter floating across the room.
"Call Irina. Call the CIA or the NSA or any number of intelligence services," Sark said. "I'm not interested."
"I have part of the package Khasinau willed to you."
Sark stilled. He cocked is head. The package. Khasinau had left him directions to retrieve it, but the appearance of Agents Bristow and Vaughn in Stockholm had interrupted its acquisition. His subsequent inquiries after his return to Irina's organization had come up empty. Whatever Khasinau had meant him to have had no longer been available. Lars Sorenssen, his contact, had shown up dead, an apparent drowning, in one of the city's marinas, less than a week after their aborted meeting. Without Sorenssen, the rest of his inquires had hit a dead end.
So Sloane had acquired it—part of it—and was offering it to Sark. Not Irina. Curious. Khasinau hadn't meant whatever it was for Irina, either. Sark didn't know whether it had no value to her or Khasinau had intended it to be used against her. He'd dismissed it, finally, as moot, since he hadn't had it to use.
"Is that so?" he asked coolly. He was trying to calculate what this latest development meant.
"Irina arranged for the CIA to capture you to keep you from retrieving it," Sloane stated.
Sark opened his mouth to deny it and stopped. That would have been very like Irina. Everything she did had more than one layer. Since she needed the CIA to stop Sloane, she would have sent the CIA after Sark, confident that he would survive the set up and give up what she wanted them to know, and all the better if that prevented him from somehow acting against her interests. Getting beaten up, interrogated, and held in a glass cage for three months had been an excellent distraction.
Sloane nodded knowingly. "You know she could have fed them my location in Mexico City through any number of channels. —Irina wanted you out of the way, but still operational, and still attached to her."
"My employer's motivations aren't the point," Sark said icily. He hated that smarmy smile of Sloane's, the one that gloated over knowing something no one else did. It didn't matter that Sloane was mistaken half the time; it was the attitude that grated.
"Since you don't know Irina's motivation, that's a rash statement," Sloane contradicted.
This was the second time Sloane had warned him against Irina.
"It's your motivations that interest me," Sark said. "Why come to me? Why mention Khasinau's legacy? Why now?"
He did not like the way Sloane smiled at him.
"You and Sydney Bristow are the best at what you do. Unfortunately, Sydney is no longer available—"
"Not that she would do anything for you," Sark murmured.
Sloane paused. "She does seem to hold onto her grudges, much like her father. You, however, aren't so rigid."
Sark blinked. What was Sloane insinuating?
Sark made himself sound bored as he asked, "I presume you're proposing a trade of some sort: my services in return for this hypothetical package from Khasinau?"
"My employer doesn't encourage moonlighting," Sark said cautiously. Irina would not be happy if she found out he'd done anything for Sloane. He wasn't sure he wanted to do anything. He hadn't forgotten that little episode with the glass ball and the lecture on Khmer Rouge torture techniques.
Sydney Bristow wasn't the only one who could hold a grudge.
"Your employer is hiding things from you, Mr. Sark," Sloane said. He leaned forward. "Important things—for you." He sat back with a satisfied smile and added, "Why do you think Jack Bristow freed you?"
Sark raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying you know?"
Looking at the smile on Sloane's face, Sark realized the man did know or, at least, thought he knew. He was going to make Sark jump through more hoops before telling him, though. He resisted the urge to snap the stem of his wine glass and drive it into the man's throat just to wipe that smile away. It would be satisfying, but messy.
"The information in Khasinau's package may no longer have any value. It's been too long," Sark pointed out. None of his temper and irritation sounded in his voice. He kept his face a mask.
Sloane chuckled. "Not this. Some information only becomes more explosive over time."
"Like Rambaldi manuscripts."
"Do we have an agreement?'
Sark considered. "What's the mission?"
"Satellite imaging indicates there are a series of tunnels beneath the catacombs that haven't been opened," Sloane said. He withdrew a mini-disc from his white linen jacket and handed it to Sark. "All the information you need is on this. Retrieve the missing folio and I will provide you with Khasinau's little bombshell."
"I'll need a contact point."
"It's on the disc."
"Very well." Sark stood. "I have a limited window to act here in Lima before my employer begins questioning why I'm lingering."
"Then I won't waste any more of your time, Mr. Sark." Sloane's eyes gleamed. He raised his glass mockingly. "To our success."
XVIII. Nullius Filius
His voice didn't betray his need to wrap his hands around that skinny neck and wring it until the little monster told him where Sydney was. His fingers didn't even tighten around the glass of water.
Sloane slid into the chair opposite Jack, eyes hidden behind glasses with the iridescence of a puddle of oil, wearing an off-white jacket and a shirt with no tie. LA chic. Casual wealth. He looked like a successful producer or a good casting agent. He set a slim, tan leather briefcase on the table between them.
It was like a bad dream. Déjà vu. Sloane showing up at the same restaurant, acting like nothing had changed, the way he had once before. Jack was never coming back here again.
"Jack," Sloane greeted him. "You look tired. You should try to get some sleep."
"My daughter is missing, Arvin," Jack gritted out.
"Yes, Sydney . . . ." Sloane frowned and shrugged. "That is unfortunate."
Jack glared at him. "I suppose you're behind it and now you're here to tell me what you want." He took a deep breath. "Just say it."
"But I'm not, Jack," Sloane said gently. He shook his head. "Really, Jack, I wish you would believe that I'm your friend."
"You're a madman," Jack said shortly. He hated these sorts of games. The collapse of the Alliance and destruction of SD-6 had finally freed him of the pretence of sympathizing with Arvin Sloane's goals. He saw no point in prevaricating now. "I suppose you have your snipers in place again?"
"What do you think, Jack? I know you'd shoot me in a minute, otherwise."
"Fuck you, Arvin."
Sloane took off the sunglasses and set them beside the briefcase. He smiled a little, sadly. "I have a vision, a purpose to my actions beyond the preservation of the status quo. Come on, Jack, don't tell me you don't see what I see? The governments of this world are blind, crippled things stumbling toward destruction. —What's wrong with wanting to stop that?"
"Your methods, for one thing," Jack replied evenly.
"Do you really believe that the US government—or any government—is fit to control the sort of power Rambaldi discovered?" Sloane leaned forward over the linen covered table. "Jack, you know me."
"That would be the other thing."
A chuckle escaped Sloane and he leaned back.
"You never change, Jack. That's what I love about you." He tapped the briefcase.
"Get on with it, Arvin," Jack snapped impatiently.
"You have Mr. Sark in custody."
Jack sneered. "He burned your Mexico City location without a second thought."
"Of course, he did," Sloane agreed. "He's doing exactly as Irina wanted him to do. Maneuvering Sydney into capturing him, that was a master play in her little game." He opened the briefcase and withdrew a slim file in a plain manila jacket. He opened it and scanned the contents nonchalantly. It was an act. Sloane's attention was on Jack, the sly light in his eyes triggering a sinking sickness in Jack's gut.
Jack feigned nonchalance himself and returned to his meal, buttering a roll and taking a bite, though it tasted like cement dust in his mouth.
"An impressive young man, our Mr. Sark," Sloane commented. "A shame you and Sydney never bothered to get to know him better during your joint tenures with SD-6. You have so much in common."
"I hardly think so," Jack said.
Sloane chuckled again.
"But you don't know, Jack. That's Irina's joke, and a very nasty one it is."
Jack wiped his mouth and set his napkin aside.
"What are you talking about, Arvin?"
Sloane snapped the file shut and asked, "Remember Giselle?"
For an instant, Jack drew a blank, but the memory was there. Blond Giselle Sorenssen, an Alliance honeypot they'd used to check his loyalties and penchant for pillow talk shortly after Sloane ‘recruited' him from the CIA. Jack had still been burning with bitterness over the revelation of his wife's betrayals. Their liaison had been gracefully brought to a close about six months after it began, presumably after the Alliance was satisfied over his reliability on that front. He hadn't thought of her since.
"Yes," he said cautiously.
She'd been a classic Scandinavian beauty; hard to forget a blond, blue eyed Valkyrie with a throaty laugh and a clever wit. She'd been patient with his barely hidden anger and the boiling resentment Irina had left behind.
Sloane had introduced them. Of course, Jack had known she was a player, but he hadn't cared at the time. He'd wanted a body to bury himself in and Giselle had been willing. It had been her job. She'd done it damn well and left him a good deal saner than when they met.
Sloane's sharp eyes must have caught some minute softening in Jack's expression.
"No, it was about sixteen years ago," Sloane said.
"I thought you might be interested; it was Irina who killed her."
"Should I be shocked?" Jack asked. "I knew she was an Alliance agent. And Derevko kills the way she breathes."
Sloane pushed the file toward Jack. "Oh, I think this was a bit more personal, Jack. —I really should have kept better track of what happened to Giselle. It took me a while to make the connection."
"What does this have to do with now, Arvin? Even if Derevko did kill her because I'd…been with her?" It was a bitter reminder. Everything in his life had been tainted by Irina Derevko, even his relationship with Sydney. She'd tried to fool him again when she turned herself in to the CIA, but he'd known, he'd known it was lies. He hadn't been able to save Sydney from learning the same lessons he had almost thirty years before, though. Derevko was poison. Beautiful, addictive poison…If she didn't kill you, it still never stopped hurting.
"Mr. Sark, Jack," Sloane said. "Irina's protégé." His eyes gleamed with the pleasure of sharing the secret. "He's Giselle's son." He didn't have to tell Jack to do the math.
"Irina knows; it's why she took him. It's why she killed her."
"She left her daughter, Jack," Sloane said, "so she took your son."
It was a lie. It had to be. That blond assassin in the glass cell at the Ops Center might be Giselle's child, but he wasn't Jack's. No. No.
His appetite truly gone, Jack pushed his plate to the side and turned the manila jacketed file toward himself. It had no label. He opened it and began to read. When he'd done, he lifted his eyes to Sloane.
"Do you expect me to thank you?" he grated out. "I have no reason to believe this."
"I have no reason to lie about it. —Just thought you'd like to know," Sloane said casually. He stood. "Take a look at him." Donned his sunglasses again. "He hasn't any idea."
He picked up the smooth, expensive briefcase. "You could tell him. Turn him."
"I'll be in touch, Jack. We‘re not done yet."
Jack ignored him, staring down at the pictures of a blond woman and a small, blond boy. Surveillance photos, taken from a distance, by Alliance security, he assumed. Black and white. Sark had been a beautiful child. A son any man would have…wanted. Damn them all.
The rest of the file was sketchy. Derevko covered her tracks well and Sark had learned from her, but the story was there, everything that had shaped Sark into the man he was now. Kiev. The KGB's version of Project Christmas. Khasinau. The sort of training he'd never wanted Sydney to endure; conditioning that shaped a child into a conscienceless killer. Jack didn't need the details, he could fill them in himself.
He couldn't stop studying the pictures of Sark, looking for a resemblance. There was one of him in a Russian military uniform…A memory stirred.
He didn't want to believe it.
XIX. Hell Is In The Details
A sharp knock on his office door jerked Jack out of daze of exhaustion and disappointment. His office was dark, only a small reading lamp on the desk lit. He straightened up, closed the latest report on the search for Sydney—another dead end—and said, "Yes?"
Kendall opened the door and leaned in.
"Jack, why the hell don't you go home?" he asked.
"I need to write up what we found in Cairo."
"You need to get some rest. You already did the preliminary debrief."
Jack shook his head. What the hell did he have to go home to, anyway? Bad dreams and regrets. Sleep wouldn't come. He could lie in bed and stare at the ceiling until dawn overtook the streetlights, but he couldn't rest.
Kendall stepped inside and closed the door.
"Jack, if you don't cut back, I'm going to have you escorted out of the building. Do you understand?" Kendall made a frustrated gesture at Jack's desk and the files spread across it. "You won't find your daughter by driving yourself into the ground."
"No one else is going to find her," Jack growled.
Kendall wiped at his face wearily.
"I understand you feel the Agency has failed you and Sydney," he said. "But you know we can't afford to focus solely on one lost agent. "
Jack stared at him blankly. He knew it was true. If it hadn't been Sydney…He would have been one of those taking the pragmatic view. He would have said, ‘Sometimes you have to cut your losses.' He would have been a Grade A bastard and told himself it was the cost of doing business.
"I know that," he said flatly.
Sydney was the one who would never give up on a friend.
Kendall grimaced at him, not satisfied. "That doesn't mean we've given up, Jack."
"The day you do, I quit," Jack told him.
Kendall sighed gustily. "Yeah." He put his hand on the doorknob. "Look, take the damn weekend, pull yourself together, and maybe by then the analysts will have pulled something from what you got out of that clinic in Maadi."
"I want Tippin on it."
"Fine. —How did Weiss do?"
"He was a little rusty. "
"It was him or Vaughn."
Jack managed a small smile. "I'd rather take Marshall into the field."
A bark of laughter escaped Kendall at the thought. He started out and paused. "Jack, I mean it; you have to get some rest sometime."
"I will," Jack lied. He added, "Reed and Henstall are both good."
"No problems working with Reed? No personal problems?" Kendall prompted.
Jack shook his head. "None." Except she was Sydney's replacement.
Kendall saw through it but didn't respond. Instead, he said thoughtfully, "Cairo was a good op, Jack. We shut down Derevko's entire operation there. —You had a source inside, didn't you?"
Jack met Kendall's eyes. "I didn't have anyone in Cairo."
Kendall nodded. "I didn't say that, did I?" He glanced at his watch. "I have to get to Ops. Larsen's inserting with a Delta team once they set down in Caracas."
Jack waved a hand at him, opened another file and started reading again.
XX. Down Among the Dead Men
looked out of my face—
The satellite IDP on Sloane's disc indicated access to something more sophisticated than the Keyhole system Allison had accessed through Will Tippin. Sloane shouldn't have been able to obtain anything from that sort of black program IMINT anymore. That meant he had access to NIMA or the NRO, along with NPIC, probably through the NSA or the CIA. He'd penetrated those agencies before.
Sark dismissed that as fruitless speculation and set to work. A preliminary tour, using his student-on-vacation disguise, took him through the church's public areas and even into the open part of the catacombs.
He tapped his own network to verify the IMINT Sloane provided. Once he had, he formulated his plan, bearing in mind that several items he'd recovered for Irina had been protected by clever traps and tricks.
The cathedral had reasonably good security, on par with most museums, not surprising considering the value of the artwork inside. None of it was sophisticated enough to give Sark pause. He'd be doing this mission without back-up, not that he needed it. Just as well, he wanted to do this entry and exit covertly. Most back-up men weren't much better than thugs with guns anyway.
Not that many Marcus Dixons floating around the merc community. Greed and loyalty didn't often coexist, after all.
He hacked into the power grid for the city and inserted a program that would shut down the entire Plaza for ten minutes whenever he used his sat phone to enter the right code. Another code would erase the program from the system. The cathedral had emergency generators, of course, but they were seldom used and would take a brief, but calculable, period to start and restore power. That interval was all Sark would need.
He dressed in black from head to toe, with a small pack carrying whatever he thought he'd need, and wore a pair of night vision goggles. He moved fast, through the courtyard behind the cathedral, past the fountain and the shadowy trees, following the path he'd mapped in his head, down, down into the dark tunnels of the dead. Brick beneath his feet, then tile, then rough stone. Facilis descensus Averni, Sark mused, mouth quirking into a smile behind his balaclava.
The public portion of the catacombs included railed walkways alongside the displays of bones. Some half-mad anthropologist had sorted them into types and now they were displayed like wares at the market, bargain bins of femurs and tibias, ulnas and fibulas, curving ribs, spinal discs, and pelvic cradles. The skeletons of almost 70,000 people mixed and matched and arranged in patterns. Here was a medallion of long bones, fanning out from a pile of hollowed skulls and ringed by more. Sark passed by them, unconcerned. The bones were brown and dry; old brittle things without any menace to them, even through the eerie display of his night vision goggles.
He entered the closed-off portion of the tunnels and kept moving, following the path to a stone and masonry wall. According to Sloane's research and the satellite images, an alcove was hidden behind the masonry which could be accessed without demolishing the wall. The alcove hid a second doorway into the unexplored tunnels. Sark studied the wall through the goggles. The lack of color and depth perception frustrated him. He switched them off and pushed them up on his head.
For an instant, he stood surrounded by total blackness. So deep beneath the cathedral, the air was thick and still, musty with a mixture of scents: stone, damp, dust, bones; old, old death. Sark forced himself to stand still and breathe it in. Part of the Project Christmas training Irina had arranged for him to receive had included bouts of sensory deprivation and how to deal with it. Childish fears had not been tolerated; those who could not overcome them washed out. Sark had never wanted to be in the position of finding out what happened to the wash-outs. Even as a young child, he'd been cynical enough to recognize that it was likely death. Now, he stood deep under the earth, among the long-ago dead, and felt nothing.
He removed a miniaturized halogen spot light from the thigh pocket of his fatigues and switched it on. The light displayed a pattern of stones, gray and gray-white, set in pale grout. Sark studied it, trying to find the key.
There. A white stone, then to the right horizontally two more stones the same shade, one a level above the first, the other a level below. These two were in line with each other vertically. Then a gap and the pattern reversed. The stones were points. Trace a line from the highest to the next and the next and they formed brackets. Sark set his hand against the center stone, where there should have been a circle to complete Rambaldi's sign. The stone slid back under the pressure of his hand and a hidden lock released, opening the wall for him.
Sark trained the light on the floor, checking the dust for the tracks of anyone who had been there before him. Nothing. He stepped inside, felt a pressure sensitive stone shift under him, and the wall closed behind him with rough groan. Without his spotlight, it would have been darker than a grave.
The next door required him to find Rambaldi's sign carved in a stone set low in the corner and nearly invisible to the eye. It opened a trap door in the floor.
Sark knelt and peered down. Black. He withdrew a small chemical light, twisted it to activate it, and dropped the pale green light into the hole. The dim light fell about twenty feet and bounced out of sight. He sighed. At least it hadn't fallen into water down there.
He played his spotlight the over the stone side of the hole and finally spotted a series of hand and footholds. He bit back a soft curse. No stairs, no ladders, and no way would his boots fit in those toe niches.
Disgusted, Sark sat down and stripped off his gloves and then his boots and socks. Socks into boots, boot laces tied together and slung over his neck to dangle against his chest. "The things I do," he muttered to himself. He remembered to tuck his gloves in a pocket. He looped the lanyard to the spotlight around one wrist so he wouldn't lose it and slid over to the side of the hole with the niches, then started down.
At least the stone had appeared in good shape, not cracked or crumbling away and likely to turn to powder under his weight.
He descended smoothly until his bare feet touched the chilly rock floor. He paused then and stretched a little, loosening up muscles that had tightened, flexing his fingers so they wouldn't cramp. It took only a moment more to put the boots back on; time well spent if he found himself needing to run.
He followed the dull green chem light down the tunnel as it sloped down and down. He found the little light he'd dropped at the end of the tunnel, where it opened into a small chamber chiseled out of raw rock. Wall sconces still held ancient torches waiting to be lit. Grit from excavating the chamber crunched under Sark's boot soles.
In the center of the small room, a plinth carved from the same stone supported a dusty chest. It measured perhaps twelve inches by ten, the corners bound in elaborate brass, the lid faintly domed. Sark trained the light on it and ran a finger through the dust and grit of centuries, revealing lacquered rosewood. Despite time and the inevitable damp of the tunnels, it looked untouched.
Service with Derevko and Khasinau had impressed Sark with the eerie endurance Rambaldi objects exhibited. Nothing the man had fashioned seemed touched by time. He ran his hand over the small chest until his fingers, roughened by the climb down, caught against a hidden catch.
Swift work with a delicate lock pick set opened the chest. Nestled inside on a bed of brittle silk was the folio Sloane wanted. Sark worked off the string that held it closed and checked, finding the parchments loose inside. Some were blank; others were filled with writing in a hand Sark recognized as Rambaldi's own.
The edges of the pages were worn and faintly ragged, the ink blurred and dim in places. Sark had perforce become something of an expert and he could see that the Franciscan monks had been able to reveal the hidden portions of the manuscript in several instances. Several pages of translations had been tucked within the folio along with its original contents.
Sark paged through them curiously, and then checked the rest of the original Rambaldi pages, only to freeze as he saw the last one. Half the page had been torn away, leaving only a drawing of a face. It was a familiar face.
It was his face.
Sark stared at the drawing while his heart raced and a trickle of cold sweat ran down his temple. The sick feeling in his stomach was, he realized distantly, fear. With shaking fingers he pulled the picture loose from the rest of the folio, rolled it into a tight tube and shoved it ruthlessly under his shirt. He wasn't about to let Sloane or Irina or anyone see it.
He wrapped the folio again, tied it closed and slipped it into his pack. He left the chest open on the plinth, shouldered the pack and retreated back the way he'd come. At the final door, after climbing up to the alcove, he checked his watch.
He found the latch that opened the last door-wall, turned off the spotlight, and pulled his night vision goggles back on. Once back in the public tunnels, he moved from shadow to shadow confidently until he was in the church proper. Then he used his sat phone to input the code to knock out the power once more and completed his exfiltration without incident.
It would have been a satisfying mission if it hadn't been for that horrifying drawing of him in the folio.
Sark had a new and nauseating fellow feeling for Sydney Bristow. He wanted no part of Rambaldi's prophecies. He'd never wanted a part of it, anymore than she had.
And now he was neck deep in it all again.
XXI. Dividing Loyalties
Bristow had appeared outside his cell, opened it, and tossed him a tailored suit. Not one of his own, but very good—Bristow had good taste and an eye for sizes—Sark noted as he stripped off the prison jumpsuit.
"Two minute window," Bristow told him, "before security catches the camera loop."
He nodded and moved faster. The clothes felt good.
"Shoes," Bristow said and produced them from the briefcase that had held the suit. Sark put them on. Not quite as good a fit as the suit, but he didn't care for the moment.
Bristow handed him a laminated ID tag to clip to his lapel. The photo showed someone young, medium brown hair slicked back, eyes hidden behind a set of heavy, black framed glasses. Alexander Sorenssen. Sark went to the stainless steel sink to wet his fingers and then slicked his hair back to match the photo. Bristow handed him a set of glasses with a faint brown tint as he stepped out of the cell for the first time in three months.
Even in the corridor, the air felt different, and adrenaline began pulsing through his veins. He casually finished knotting the gray tie as he fell into step at Bristow's shoulder.
The two armed Federal Marshals that had stood guard outside his cell were on the floor. He didn't know if they were dead or drugged. He spotted the telltale head of a trank dart on one man‘s neck. Knocked out, then. They'd wake up with headaches, nausea, and no idea what had happened.
Considering that Sark would have shot them dead if he had been the one planning this extraction, he hoped they would be suitably grateful.
Bristow didn't look good. He'd lost weight, traded it for haggard lines and eyes full of regret since the day he'd demanded that Sark tell him where Sydney was. In the time that Sark had spent in a cell, no one had found any trace of what had happened to the man's daughter. Sark had figured out that much from the questions he was asked and the wild accusations Agent Vaughn shouted at him one day. Kendall was subtler—just—but every one of his interrogators had worn that tight, tired look of worry when they asked what Sloane's plans for Sydney were.
Sark had answered when it was expedient, kept most of what he knew to himself, and used that silence to hide what he didn't know. What he did pick up alarmed him.
Sloane had disappeared, along with the assembled Rambaldi device, Il Dire.
Irina had gone deep underground, though there were indications the Organization was once more at war with Sloane's minions.
And Sydney had vanished.
He actually quite liked Sydney Bristow. If Sloane had her—that wouldn't be good for her. He doubted it would serve Irina's plans either, what he knew of them, but for once he found himself considering someone before Irina's orders. If he could have supplied something helpful to Sydney, he would have. —As long as it didn't cost him personally.
The barred gates along the corridor gaped open in sequence. More guards were down. Tranked, too. The security monitors showed a scene of Sark simply sitting in the center of his cell. A tape loop, he assumed, recorded on another day. His routine of exercise, meditation, tai chi, and more meditation made the static scene unremarkable to any observer in another part of the Ops Center.
Bristow led him out of an elevator and into the underground parking garage. They walked fast to a black-painted SUV parked in a camera blind spot. Sark ducked inside while Jack sedately rolled them out of the parking garage. Two minutes later Bristow handed him the keys to a pre-situated vehicle, while he answered his cell phone.
Sark paused with the keys in his hand, looking inquiringly at the CIA agent.
"Right. I'm coming in," Bristow said, sounding clipped and angry. "Do you know how he got out?"
A wide smile of admiration lit Sark's face.
"I'm on my way. We need to lock down all the airports and airfields. The docks too."
Well, that told him where not to go, didn't it, Sark thought, laughing silently.
"He'll head south. Close the border."
Bristow pointed at the glove box in front of Sark. Sark obligingly opened it and withdrew a laminated map of the California coast. A meandering route up the valley had been highlighted, one that would take him all the way into Oregon. A private airfield was marked there. A credit card, also in the name Sorenssen, along with a set of ID, had been tucked into the maps folds. Sark pocketed all of it.
Bristow grunted into the cell phone, then said, "I'm surprised there were no casualties. Sloane and Derevko aren't usually so careful."
Sark bit his lip. Like his daughter, Bristow liked to skate as close to the edge as he could. He'd probably missed the rush of playing double agent and fooling Sloane and all of the Alliance. He'd taken Sark out right under everyone's nose and no one in the CIA had a clue. He wondered what leverage Irina had used to force the man into cooperating.
Bristow cut the call off and turned to Sark. "The ID is solid. The credit card and bank accounts are real. There's enough there to get you out of the country. What you do after you drive away from here is up to you. —I have to go."
"My thanks for expediting my exit, Agent Bristow," Sark said lightly. "I'll take care of myself. And if something goes wrong—"
Bristow waved his hand. "Just get out and go."
Sark left the SUV and got into the Mercedes sedan. It purred to life with a turn of the key. The gas tank was full. He kept the heavy glasses on, knowing they changed the shape of his face, along with his profile, and drove north. Behind him, Bristow returned to the Operations Center, to lead the hunt.
Sark thought of that and laughed out loud. Khasinau would have loved the irony.
XXII. The Mercenary
The picture had thrown his plans off track. Sark didn't want Sloane to see the Rambaldi folio before he made sure it contained nothing more to draw that madman's interest toward him. Under more normal circumstances, he would have availed himself of his own network's resources to provide a set of false papers for the man. But that would alert Derevko at the center of her web of Rambaldi interests, and he had even less desire to turn the pages over to her.
Sark checked into a businessman's hotel with a much lower profile than the Swissôtel, using one of his back-up identities.
The room smelt of industrial cleaners and old cigarette smoke. It held a bed, a dresser, a small table and one chair. Sark had pulled the curtains over the window and snapped on the yellow tinged over head lamp. Its light proved faintly uneven, distorted by shadows of insects drawn to it and left within the frosted glass shade.
He dropped his pack on the burnt-orange bedspread, pulled out his laptop and set it on the table. Next he took out the folio. He left it on the bed. Finally, he drew the piece of parchment from beneath his shirt and unrolled it.
"Bloody hell," he muttered.
He laid the torn piece on the table next to his laptop, just to stare at it. He'd had photographs taken of him that bore less resemblance. Lines of sepia ink showed a young, hard face, with a dissolute mouth and cold, determined eyes.
Now he could see a scrawled line of words that he'd missed in his first, shocked look while in the tunnels.
Sark stared at it, then opened the cipher program on his laptop and transcribed the coded words into it. While it worked, he checked through the other pages of the folio, growing more and more rattled. The sharp beep that signaled the completion of the program's efforts drew him back to the laptop to read what the words meant.
It was another bit of damning prophecy.
Il Condottiere may turn the key to all my works and loose the fury; unless reined to another's duty and bound by more than silver and glass, by my work he will burn all in the house of God.
"Bloody, bloody hell."
He considered his options carefully. The monks' translations were harmless, though they referenced the drawing, there were no descriptions. But the rest of the folio was exactly what Sloane wanted: directions to utilize Il Dire, even without—Sark shuddered—the Children. He had to assume that meant Sydney and, considering the new bit of prophecy, himself.
He had to wonder if Rambaldi wasn't the reason Derevko had taken such an interest in him after his mother's death. Did she know of Il Condottiere? At least it would be an explanation.
With a hand that wanted to shake until he disciplined himself into stillness, he took out his cell phone and tapped in Jack Bristow's number.
He hadn't even thought to consider the time; he was too disturbed. Bristow picked up on the third ring once more.
Noncommittal, as always, Sark noted. He was too off balance to care much. His voice wanted to shake just as his hand had. "This is—" He stopped and gathered himself.
Bristow's voice was sharp, intent. "What is it?" He'd recognized Sark just from those two words.
Sark almost choked on the words.
"I need your help."
Bristow was silent for so long, Sark began to wonder if he hadn't gone mad in that holy ossuary. The older man's words, when they did come, were cautious. A frown would be pulling his brows together. "What sort of help?"
Sark swallowed hard.
"The counter missions Sydney used to work," he said. "She would switch out items, turning over fakes provided by the CIA to SD-6. I need a false folio, something Sloane won't detect, and I can't use my contacts."
He looked at the papers spread over the table and the still made bed. "I just recovered the real thing—"
"Rambaldi," Bristow interrupted.
Sark nodded jerkily though Bristow couldn't see. "Sloane expects me to turn it over as soon as I have it." He recovered some of his composure and added, "I realize this doesn't materially aid your pursuit of Sydney, but from a casual perusal of the folio I am quite certain this is information the CIA does not want to fall into Sloane's hands. It references Il Dire and appears to be an operating manual."
"Why can't you use your own people?" Bristow asked shrewdly.
"Because Derevko would hear of it," Sark snapped. "Believe me; neither of us wants her to have this information."
"I'll need the real thing," Bristow said abruptly. "Marshall can use it as a template for the counterfeit. Bowman can rewrite the critical sections."
Sark looked at the papers again.
Bristow must have expected an argument. "Obviously, this is a time critical exercise. I'll dispatch a courier to pick up the folio."
Sark laughed sardonically. "What, you can't come yourself?"
"Sloane probably keeps tabs on my movements."
"Probably," Sark agreed wearily. "He appears to be doing to same to me—for what reasons I'm not sure. I thought his obsessions were strictly with Rambaldi and you Bristows."
Bristow drew in a harsh breath, the sound distinct even through the cell phone speaker.
"Your association with Derevko makes you a valuable piece on the chessboard," Bristow said.
A hiccupping laugh escaped Sark. Il Condottiere. Something more than a mere pawn, indeed. A key. Silver and glass.He felt sick and lightheaded and rattled. He hadn't been so unsettled since his first seduction, the one that ended in him killing the target in the kitchen instead of the bedroom. He hadn't started shaking until it was done and he was alone again, as he was now.
Bristow zeroed in on the uncharacteristic slip the way Sark would normally have pounced on the man's own odd reactions. "What's wrong with you?"
"I don't—" He squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm tired. I'm just tired."
If that had been some odd species of concern Sark had heard, Bristow shifted and hid it behind business. "Where and when?"
"If I leave Lima, Sloane or Derevko will know. Get your courier to the Pantanos de Villa, in the Chorillos District," Sark said, thinking quickly. "Tomorrow, four o'clock. —Who will you send? I‘ll be watching the entrance."
"Marcus Dixon," Bristow said. "I know he isn't doubling for Sloane or your employer."
"No, but he might shoot me on sight," Sark remarked. Dixon had never approved of Sark, even before he learned of Sloane's deceits when they were both putative members of SD-6, but Bristow did have a point. If any man was immune to being suborned, it was Marcus Dixon.
"Not as long as he believes this may lead us to Sydney."
"Keeping those papers out of Sloane's hands is a good enough reason," Bristow interrupted. "Dixon won't jeopardize that."
Bristow hesitated. "Get some rest or you'll begin making mistakes." He hung up.
Sark decided he would try to interpret Bristow's quick agreement to his request later. He was too tired to make sense of it. Instead, he took the man's advice and, after restoring the folio to its original order and tucking the drawing into a hidden compartment in his laptop's case, lay down on the scratchy bedspread. He set his pack next to him and hid his Glock beneath it, within easy reach. Then he went to sleep.
XXIII. Such Men Are Dangerous
"Have you lost your mind, Jack?" Dixon hissed.
Jack had been waiting for him in the parking garage when he arrived, drawing him aside to ask for the favor.
"You can't trust Sark."
"You can trust Sark to do exactly what it takes to survive," Jack said.
"Since when has that included working for you?" Dixon asked. His dark eyes widened as he put everything together. "Since you got him out of custody? Do you have any idea what sort of charges you'll face if that's discovered?"
"It was a calculated risk," Jack said indifferently. They were standing next to a concrete support pillar, hidden from anyone exiting the elevators. The distant sound of LA traffic echoed through the half empty reaches of the garage. More cars were arriving with the day shift. Dixon had pulled in early, as Jack himself usually did.
"I still don't like it."
"Liking doesn't matter."
Dixon threw up his hands in disgust. "Fine. Where am I going?"
"Kendall is going to have my balls."
"Not when you come back with a genuine Rambaldi folio and make sure Sloane gets a fake," Jack pointed out. No reason to tell Dixon that Kendall already unofficially knew what Jack had done.
"How do you know what Sark's turning over is the real thing?" Dixon asked suspiciously.
"I don't, but what he wants is to feed fakes to Sloane, so it doesn't matter what he's providing in exchange," Jack replied. He thought of how Sark had sounded on the phone in the middle of the night. Raspy. Exhausted. Shaken. Why had he called Jack? None of that had been an act and he didn't like contemplating what could have thrown Sark so completely that he saw a cold CIA agent as his best option.
Sark still didn't know the truth and Jack wasn't sure how he would react to it. He understood that Sark would find it out eventually. Sooner or later, Irina or Sloane would use that knowledge, either to lever something from Jack or from Sark. He'd almost said something when Sark's bright mind had turned to Sloane's fascination with ‘you Bristows.'
"Maybe," Dixon admitted, drawing Jack's thoughts away from the past and the possibilities.
Jack pulled a set of papers out of his coat and handed them to Dixon. "It's a chartered jet. You should be in Lima with sufficient time to rendezvous with Sark at four o'clock. Go to the Pantanos de Villa. He knows you, let him make the approach."
"You're asking a lot, Jack," Dixon said, taking the paper work and checking it. The passport and ID papers were the best available. The jet would wait at the airport, ready to return Dixon and the folio to LA. "I don't want to lose my job."
Dixon looked at him solemnly. "But it's for Sydney, isn't it?" he said. "Even this, working with Sark, is for Sydney."
"How far would you go for your children, Marcus?" Jack asked him.
Dixon nodded and said, "As far as I had to."
Jack scrubbed at his face wearily. He hadn't slept since Sark's phone call, putting together Dixon's travel plans and worrying what it meant that Sark was working with Sloane again.
"Thank you, Marcus," he said.
Dixon lifted the passport and papers in his hand in an aimless gesture, obviously slightly embarrassed. "I'd better go."
"Yes, he can‘t stall too long."
Dixon headed back for his car. Jack hesitated, then walked after him, speaking in a low voice. "Be careful, Marcus. Sark sounded like Sloane had him under pressure—"
"And even the best operatives get unpredictable under too much pressure," Dixon interrupted. "I'll watch my back."
Jack opened his mouth to tell him—what he didn't know—he couldn't tell Dixon to look out for Sark, couldn‘t tell him to watch Sark‘s back. In the end, he could only say, "I need what he can tell us about Sloane and Derevko's operations. One of them has Sydney. Sark can help me get her back."
"I've got it, Jack," Dixon assured him, got into his car, and drove away.
Jack stood in the hollow expanse of the parking structure, breathing in the scent of oil and exhaust, concrete, and the last phantom traces of the night's coolness still lingering in the deeper shadows. Where the ramp exited into the street, the morning sun turned the opening into a square of white light.
He watched Dixon's car disappear into the light, then turned back to his own duties. As he walked toward the elevators, he patted his pocket absently, checking that the cell phone Sark had called into was there.
Dixon didn't recognize him. That's how good Sark was. The college kid in the backwards Cubs baseball cap, a day's growth of golden stubble, baggy jeans, and black and green Triage T-shirt, slid right under Dixon's radar. The kid looked like he probably had something annoyingly raucous playing on his Discman and a couple of joints stashed somewhere on him.
He did not look like the lethal little bastard they'd tangled with repeatedly.
He was sitting on a rock in plain sight along the hiking trail, wrestling with a map. Dixon walked right past him, along with the rest of the group of tourists he was following.
A moment later, the kid from beside the trail was loping up beside him, calling out in a surfer accent, "Hey, man, you American?"
Dixon turned back, realized the boy was Sark, and schooled his features into curiosity and interest.
"Yes," he admitted.
Sark grinned. "Great. Maybe you can figure this map out for me. My Spanish sucks, no one gets what I'm asking half the time." Then he was next to Dixon, handing him the map—and something else folded within it—and stabbing a finger at something on the map. "So, like, can you make sense of this thing for me? "
Dixon paused and pretended to check the map. Sark smoothly moved forward a step, using his body to block anyone from seeing Dixon slide the folio into his pocket.
"What's the problem?" Dixon asked.
"Is that—" Sark pointed at something on the map still held in Dixon's hand, "—a train depot or a bus line?"
"Bus," Dixon said, straight faced. He'd almost laughed. One thing he'd noted during Sark's tenure at SD-6: the bastard was a polymath linguist just like Sydney. They hadn't once run across a language Sark didn't speak.
They had paused along the trail long enough that the other bird-watchers had drawn well ahead of them. No one paid attention to two tourists trying to make sense of a map. Only a Japanese with a Nikon could be any more invisible.
Sark took back the map and shoved it messily into the backpack he'd hooked over one shoulder. Reverting to his usual silky accent, he said quietly, "Tell Agent Bristow I need the counterfeits by the day after tomorrow at the latest. I can't stall Sloane or excuse my continued presence in Lima to my employer any longer than that."
"What's your agenda, Sark?" Dixon demanded in a low voice. "You're not helping the CIA for nothing."
Sark smirked. "I'm not helping the CIA, Agent Dixon," he said patiently. "You're helping me."
"And I want to know why."
Sark pulled off his sunglasses and looked straight at Dixon. Eyes like blue ice, Dixon had thought from the first, but today there were emotions shifting behind them; nothing he could identify but they were there. Looking at him closely, Dixon could see Sark was drawn too taut, with a pale, bruised look reminiscent of Sydney during her double agent missions. Dixon supposed double crossing Derevko and Sloane might push any man—even an arrogant SOB like Sark—to his limits.
"Sloane has something that belongs to me," Sark said in a clipped voice. "He expected me to act like a performing dog to get it. Since it has nothing to do with Derevko, I can't rely on her help, but I have no intention of giving Sloane what he wants."
"If you double cross—"
"Grow up, Agent Dixon," Sark snapped. "It's how the world goes round."
Dixon felt a flash of anger, a desire to punch the cynical brat, but it passed quickly. What did Sark know anyway? Only what he'd been taught, what he'd seen done and done himself. He just had to believe Jack wasn't playing frog to the blond's scorpion. Still, he couldn't resist a dig.
"I feel sorry for you."
Sark's eyes widened fractionally and Dixon knew the satisfaction of having scored on him. But Sark had paled too and backed away a fractional step, far more of a reaction than he'd ever betrayed before. Shot at, beaten to a pulp, barefoot and cuffed to a chair while at Sloane's nonexistent mercy, locked in a cell or bleeding in Siberia, Sark had always been annoyingly poised. Seeing the façade crack, even slightly, Dixon realized what Jack had meant. Much more was going on than a counter-mission against Sloane. Sark was on the edge.
The mask snapped back into place and with it, a vicious retort. "At least I can hit who I aim at."
Dixon's hand shot out and grabbed Sark's shoulder. He shook him and growled, "Shut the fuck up—"
The knife, its tip already through his shirt and pricking just under his ribcage, stopped Dixon.
"Hands off," Sark said, all ice again.
Dixon lifted his hand away, fingers spread ostentatiously. He kept his movement slow. The knife point still rested against his flesh, perfectly steady.
"I think it's time we went our separate ways, Agent Dixon. I'm sure you have a plane to catch," Sark finally remarked, withdrawing the stiletto and deftly making it disappear.
"How do we contact you?" Dixon asked, forcing himself back into professional mode.
Sark appeared unbothered by the sudden threat of violence. He recited a cell code and said, "Call me."
Then he slapped Dixon on the shoulder, said loudly, "Oh, hey man, muchas gracias, like. And take a look at the egrets, they're totally cool. See ya around." He slipped his sunglasses back on and strolled away, hands shoved in the deep pockets of those loose jeans, like he hadn't a care in the world beyond buying his next beer and getting laid sometime before he headed back to college.
Dixon finished his walking tour of the wetlands, admiring the various migratory birds in residence, and noting that the white plumed egrets were, indeed, cool.
XXV. Damn the Past
Dixon strode into the lab and handed the folio over to Marshall. The diminutive tech genius looked like Santa had brought just what he wanted, leafing through the brittle pages. He practically bounced as he studied the folio.
Rambaldi held no delight for Jack Bristow, Dixon noted. The older man looked worn. He'd picked Dixon up at the airport and driven him through the shattered-light spectacle of nighttime LA straight back to the Ops Center with little more than a grunt.
Now he stood upright as always, darkened eyes focused on Marshall, silhouetted against a bank of flickering blue-toned monitors. He inclined his head toward Marshall and the Rambaldi pages he was laying out over a light table. "Thank you."
Dixon shrugged uneasily. He could never read Jack. The man was too still. Jack never doffed his game face; emotions didn't run across his features the way they did Sydney's. Sometimes it was hard to grasp that she was Jack's daughter, not when she looked so much like Irina Derevko, not when she let herself smile. Jack never let anything slip.
Jack withdrew a fountain pen from his pocket, unscrewed it, and activated the bug jammer hidden within it. One of Marshall's toys, Dixon thought. Marshall looked up and shook his head. "Oh, hey, Mr. B, you don't need that in here. I run an anti-surveillance blitz every two hours, plus this whole lab is jammed," Marshall said, waving his hands around at the various pieces of equipment filling his electronic den. "Don't want the baddies getting hold of anything I put together here, you know?"
"Procedure, Marshall," Jack said grimly.
"Just get started. We need a false version made up before tomorrow."
Marshall blinked, glanced at Dixon, opened his mouth, then closed it. "Yeah, okay, I'm on it, Mr. B."
Jack turned back to Dixon. Dixon returned his look, exhaustedly.
"How did it go?"
"He got the drop on me from the first, threatened me with a knife, and gave a number to call when you want to make contact," he said.
Jack pursed his lips.
"How did he look?"
Dixon gave his head a tired shake. Why the hell would Jack Bristow sound concerned over Sark? It was there though, that note, Dixon recognized it from debriefing after some of Sydney's missions. Maybe Jack was cracking under the stress of Sydney's disappearance. Maybe Dixon was hearing something that wasn't there and he was the one doing the cracking.
"Strung too tight and pissed at Sloane, I'd say," he answered.
"He can take care of himself."
Jack nodded. "He has to, doesn't he?"
Marshall looked up from the parchments. "This stuff, this is just incredible, I mean, it's almost too good to be true. I don't know where you got it, but it's just, wow."
Jack said, "I was told it looked like an operating manual."
Marshall's head bobbed. "Exactly. It lays out how to make Il Dire work and the stuff it'll do without, um, something or someone Rambaldi calls the Children. There are references in the manuscript pages Carrie, that's Ms. Bowman, I mean the NSA, translated, that talk about the, um, the woman with the marks…" Marshall trailed off. No one felt comfortable mentioning Sydney and Rambaldi together in front of Jack. "So, um, anyway, the latest pages that have been decoded are talking about her and her brother, which you know, means that the woman on Page 47 can't be Sydney, because she, well, obviously you're her father, and she doesn't have any brother, because you'd know—ah, I'll just shut up."
Marshall was staring at Jack and looking frightened. Dixon swiveled to look at Jack and was shocked. The man was white, a grimace of pain on his face. His hands had curled into fists.
He ignored Dixon.
"Marshall, get me those counterfeits, and make sure there is nothing—nothing—in them about the Children or the woman on Page 47, much less anyone else," Jack commanded harshly. "No mention, no brother, understand?"
"I—Yeah, I got it, Mr. B," Marshall said.
"Good. —Notify me as soon as they're ready." Jack swung back to Dixon, his gaze like a gun barrel tracking to a new target. "Dixon. I need the number Sark gave you. I'll deliver the counterfeits, myself."
He walked out of the lab.
"I guess I said something that got him, ah, sort of upset," Marshall mumbled.
"I doubt it had much to do with you, Marshall," he said. "He's worried about Sydney."
"So'm I," Marshall muttered.
Dixon didn't know what to say then, because as the months passed, he'd begun to give up hope. He understood why Jack couldn't, but Marshall's blind faith was beyond him. "Just get this done as fast as you can, okay?" he said, heading for the lab's door.
He stepped into the corridor and stopped. Jack was leaning with his shoulders against the wall, his head dropped back and eyes squeezed closed. He looked like a man at the end of his rope. He was whispering under his breath.
"Damn you, Irina. Damn you, Arvin. Damn you."
Quietly as he could, Dixon turned and walked in the other direction, away from Jack, giving him that much privacy at least.
XXVI. Close Your Eyes
Marshall and Bowman had done an outstanding job, using period parchment and artificially aged inks, creating a set of fakes that would pass even a carbon dating test. The man really was a genius, one with a strangely good heart. He'd delivered the false folio to Jack's office himself, entering after a diffident knock.
"The only way anyone will ever know this isn't real is if they see the original, Mr. B," Marshall assured him, handing the counterfeit folio over.
Jack glanced at the parchments incuriously. He'd grown to hate the very name Rambaldi over the years. Today, that hate only burned hotter.
"Well, ah, I'll just, um, go now. Back to the lab," Marshall blurted. "Stuff to do, always stuff to do, not, not that I mean I have better stuff to do than—"
"Thank you, Marshall," Jack cut him off. Sometimes interrupting Marshall's blither seemed the kindest thing for both parties.
"Oh, ah, sure. No problem." Marshall backed toward the door and ran into it. He fumbled for the knob. "I'll just get out of your hair. Right." He managed to get the door open and started out, then paused. "You haven't got any news about Sydney, have you, sir?"
Jack grimaced. At least Marshall still thought she was alive. "It's all right, Marshall."
He let the door swing shut behind the technical agent and gathered up his suit coat, an overcoat, and the passport he would be traveling under. He'd spent the long night and morning making arrangements so that he could slip into Lima and out without alerting the Agency, Derevko's organization, or Sloane.
He placed the false folio in his briefcase, made sure his CIA issue cell was charged and in his pocket, added a ceramic knife that could pass any metal detector to an ankle sheathe, and started out.
He nodded at Agent Vaughn in the corridor, not bothering with a greeting. The younger man had given up hope for Sydney all too quickly, earning Jack's personal enmity. He still worked with the agent sometimes, but it took an effort to hide his contempt. He didn't speak with him if he didn't have to.
Dixon was at his desk. His dark eyes followed Jack. He knew Dixon would say nothing to interfere. Dixon's loyalties couldn't be shaken; he couldn't imagine Jack doing anything truly against the interests of the CIA or his country, either. He was uncomfortable bending the rules, but he'd done it for Sydney. He was too decent at heart to refuse. He was too decent a man for this business and Jack sometimes regretted recruiting him into SD-6, even before Sloane had had the man's wife murdered.
He felt other eyes on him as he made his way through the maze of desks to where Kendall stood over another agent seated at a computer. Craig. Weiss. Reed. Others who had worked under him on the ops they'd run trying to find Sydney or catch up with Derevko watched, too. Jack ignored them. "Kendall," he said quietly, coming to stop next to him. The plasma screen computer showed a satellite view of rough country, the infra-red hot spot of a vehicle moving along a road toward another set of hot spots. Venezuela. It looked like an ambush.
Kendall had on a headset and was obviously listening to a transmission from the ground. "Just hold," he commanded to team leader through the downlink. "Hold until you have a visual identification of the target. We only have one chance at this."
He turned sharp, pale eyes to Jack. "All right, I've got a minute before Larsen has to make a move. What is it, Jack?"
"I'm taking the weekend."
Kendall surveyed him, cataloging the lost weight, the shadows under his eyes, the gray color of exhaustion. "Good idea. You look like shit."
"I could use some rest." Not a lie, he just wasn‘t going to get it. Jack shrugged. "I'll be back Monday."
Kendall's eyes unfocused, listening to something from Agent Larsen. He waved a hand. "Yeah, yeah, get out of here." Then he brought the mic back to his lips. "—Not you, Wrangler. You stay in place, do you hear me?"
Jack gave him a brusque nod and walked away. He had forty-five minutes to make it to the charter jet waiting for him.
Sark was startled to receive the call from Jack. He sounded vaguely, ever so faintly relieved when Jack assured him he had the counterfeits. He mentioned a cantina off the Plaza Mayor as a meeting place. Jack agreed.
He had to have been watching it. He fell into step next to Jack several doors ahead of the cantina's entrance.
"I think we'll try some place else," Sark said.
"It's your play," Jack agreed and followed him.
Sark surprised him by leading him to a low-end business hotel. The room showed no signs of occupancy, but something told Jack Sark had been there for more than one day.
He turned to Jack in the middle of the room, head tipped back, eyes alive with adrenaline. "Well? I'd like to see it," he said.
Jack withdrew the folio from a pocket inside his suit coat and held it out. Sark's eyes narrowed as he had to take a step closer to grasp it. He took it over to the small table and pulled the curtains open so that a shaft of light fell across it. Deft, long fingers fanned through the folio; blue eyes studying Marshall's work in the unforgiving sunlight.
"This is excellent, really quite excellent." Sark looked up and flashed a brilliant, almost heartbreaking smile at Jack. "Mr. Flinkman's work, I assume? Do give him my compliments." He stopped and laughed. "Or perhaps not."
"I doubt he'd appreciate them," Jack said dryly. "You make him nervous."
"A shame. I have nothing but admiration for his skills and intellect." Sark grinned at him and gestured to the only chair. "Really. I would recruit him instantly, were he on the market."
Jack shook his head, wanting to smile. Sark could be quite charming when he exerted himself, but there was a frenetic edge to him this time. Had he read enough of the original folio to guess at what it meant? Had that rocked him off balance? He shrugged off his overcoat, draped it over the back of the chair and sat.
"He takes a little getting used to," he said.
Sark closed the folio and carefully retied the string around it. His gaze stayed on it and one fingertip moved nervously along the edge. He looked abstracted. Jack decided to take a chance.
"Something in the original spooked you."
The blue eyes jerked up to meet Jack's look and widened.
"The operating manual references a second person who can activate Il Dire, " Jack said. "You."
Sark shook his head. "That's mad. There was nothing in it that would lead you to—"
"Not without some prior knowledge," Jack said.
Sark stared at him, shocked. No, horrified, Jack decided. "The CIA knows it's me?" he said hoarsely.
"No. Only I do."
He could almost see Sark calculating whether his safest course wasn't to kill Jack right there and then. It surprised him a little, when Sark obviously decided against trying it. Instead, Sark paced around the room.
"I don't want this," Sark murmured, almost to himself. He shot another look toward Jack, a look full of suspicion and near panic. "No one could want this. Look what's happened to your daughter—"
"It's a lucky thing you didn't turn that folio over to Sloane," Jack said quietly. He wanted to get up, to put his hands on Sark's shoulders and make him sit down, and he knew better. It would be like trying to touch a trapped leopard. "He has the same information I have."
"Shit. —My employer? Does she, did she know this?" Sark asked. The self-possession had fallen away, leaving only a bright young man who knew exactly how dangerous his situation had become. He didn't trust Jack; he simply had no one else to turn to. And Jack had no idea how to answer that question.
All he could say was, "It's always wisest to assume Irina Derevko knows more than you do."
Sark laughed raggedly and sat down on the burnt-orange covered bed. He wrapped his arms around himself in a transparently vulnerable posture, bright ruffled head bowed. Jack waited patiently and as he had known he would, Sark's training reasserted itself. The cool control coalesced again.
"I've always been unconscionably lucky," he said, voice lilting.
He bent and fished a pack from beneath the bed, taking out a sleek laptop. Opening it, he triggered a small, hidden compartment and pulled out a single, torn sheet of parchment. With a wry smile, he extended it to Jack. "I pulled this from the folio when I recovered it. I thought without it, no one would read anything into the rest of what was written."
Jack looked at the pen and ink drawing and pulled in a harsh breath. Like the Page 47 portrait of Sydney, the eerie accuracy was disquieting out of all measure. No one could look at it and not know that it was Sark, only seen and drawn by a fifteenth century genius-prophet. He noted the words along the ragged bottom of the sheet, where it had been torn from the rest of the page.
"Do you know what it says?"
Sark told him.
Jack looked at the page a little longer, then decisively began ripping it into shreds. If Sloane or Irina were ever to see it, or even anyone else in the CIA, there would be no safe place for Sark to run. Jack couldn't protect him. He couldn't protect Sydney and Sark was in a far more vulnerable position. Sark just watched him, biting one side of his lip unconsciously. When the picture was no more than confetti, Jack cupped the pieces in his hand, took them into the bathroom and flushed them.
Sark followed him, whether watching for some sleight of hand or just amazed that anyone might destroy a Rambaldi artifact, Jack didn't know. The swirl of rusty water took the shredded paper's bits into the Lima sewers with a slow gurgle. A few pieces clung to the side of the bowl and Jack waited then flushed again, draining them away too.
"That," Sark said raspingly, "never occurred to me."
"You've been around Derevko too long."
Sark hovered in the door way, clearly unsure of Jack and himself. "You aren't going to say anything about that, are you?" he asked.
"I don't even know why I showed it to you."
Jack knew. Sark had been desperate to share the frightening burden with someone—anyone—reaching out to keep from drowning in the sudden, sucking vortex of the Rambaldi madness. Instinct and logic had brought him to Jack, because Jack alone hadn't succumbed to the obsession. Jack didn't want Rambaldi's power or his secrets, he just wanted to protect his child, and in doing so might provide the same for Sark. He had no way of knowing that the danger came from being Jack's child too.
He didn't know.
Jack couldn't tell him, either. He had to let Sark think he kept the secret to keep a leash on him.
Jack looked at him steadily. "Pull yourself together."
Sark straightened indignantly and glared at Jack. His eyes swept back to the false folio sitting on the little table. "I have to get that to Sloane."
"Why are you working for him?"
"Let's just say he has something I want."
"Then watch your back," Jack said, picking up his overcoat and preparing to leave.
Sark smiled again, though his eyes were shadowed. "I always do, Agent Bristow."
your hair and your memory:
you were never that other.
Sark was working at Irina's desk, in Irina's office, as he often had in the last few months. It had simply become more efficient to use her accesses. He had his own laptop plugged into the main system and had stripped off his suit coat and even folded back the sleeves of his dark blue dress shirt.
He was going over the security report from a private hospital he'd acquired in Singapore. It would require upgrading, but even with a significant investment, it promised to garner a satisfactory profit margin, once the correct interests became aware of the degree of discretion available there—for a price.
He felt Irina enter the room with that electric awareness that always alerted him to her. He lifted his head and watched her silently. She wore her typical travel gear: low heeled boots, black jeans, and a moss-green turtleneck that molded to her torso. She'd already shed her coat, if she'd had one. Her hair was pinned up carelessly. Two chunks of carved jade, dark green, adorned her ears, her only jewelry other than the gold wedding band.
He couldn't see her the way he had before, but Sark acknowledged she was still exotically, fascinatingly beautiful. The light from the glass-block wall behind him was kind to her, soft enough to erase years, and her bones were timeless. She was smiling the way Lilith might have smiled at Adam.
He thought he should hate her, but she hadn't changed, only his image of her had.
He lifted a brow.
"I wasn't aware you were returning from—" he paused, "—wherever, so soon."
"Some ventures," Irina murmured, looking pleased, "performed beyond my expectations." She ducked her head and walked over to the desk to stand behind him. "I was able to move my schedule forward."
Sark closed the program he'd been using. "And your schedule brings you back here," he said.
"Perhaps I missed you," she offered.
He wouldn't have believed that, even before. Never now. He couldn't believe she felt any affection for him at all. "Perhaps you have something you want me to do," he replied.
Irina ran her fingers over Sark's shoulder and murmured into his ear, "It's been too long."
He caught her hand and lifted it away.
Surprise, frustration, anger, calculation—he watched closely and saw all of them flicker in her eyes. Her expression turned cold. "You've never touched my daughter and Doren's dead. Aren't you feeling…lonely, Sark?" she said.
He shrugged. "No." He could go in to Larnaca and pick up a bed partner any time he wanted, if he wanted. Companionship would be harder to find, but Irina had never provided it in any case.
She ghosted her fingertips over his lips. "No?"
He didn't shiver at her touch, didn't incline his head or draw in a breath.
He still felt that pull toward her, desire, but no more than that. It was distant and merely physical. She didn't want him as more than a willing and well-trained body, not in any real way that would let him forgive her. That hungry ache to please, to make himself mean something to her, had gone.
It was a relief.
He'd been physically, violently sick, after reading the file Sloane had given him the first time. The clear pictures of his mother's body had brought every bad dream and nightmare back. Shot once in the head, in the middle of a park, in the middle of a summer day, the report said. She'd died instantly.
The report had been written by Alliance security, investigating the death of one of their agents. Something else he hadn't known. His mother had worked for the group he'd helped Derevko and Sloane sabotage and the CIA ultimately destroy.
He'd almost heard Khasinau's dry chuckle in his head. But that hadn't been what Khasinau had meant him to learn.
"No," he said indifferently and bent his attention to the work on his laptop again. "Business before pleasure."
"Join me for dinner on the terrace, then," she directed and left the office.
Sark acknowledged that with an absent nod, returning to his work.
The Alliance report speculated that the shooter had been a dark haired woman seen in the park earlier. A woman answering the description of a KGB assassin named Derevko.
The report was thorough, giving enough evidence to convince Sark. But then he knew Irina had been there, she'd been the one who took him away. Took him all the way to Kiev and the Project School, where the trainers molded him into a tool shaped just to her hand, and he forgot he'd been Alexander once and not Sark.
He had to work harder to keep the mask in place around her now. This was what she'd never meant him to know and if she suspected he did…She might decide he was too unpredictable to keep around.
He wanted the rest of Khasinau's files. He wanted to know how Jack Bristow had known to give him an ID for Alexander Sorenssen. With the codes Sloane had provided, he could access the bank where the files were stored, but he'd need to go to Stockholm himself. Once he did that, he wouldn't be returning to Derevko's side.
It meant making arrangements to strike out on his own, to watch his own back as he'd told Bristow. He'd begun working on it on the plane out of Lima. Portions of his exit strategy had been in place for some time, but the rest of the arrangement had to be moved forward. When he left, he needed to damage the Organization so deeply Irina couldn't afford to come after him; she needed to be occupied with damage control.
He didn't mind that it would hurt her, a little, to see her carefully crafted empire brought down or at least crippled. She had cost him things he hadn't even known he had once had to lose.
He understood Sydney Bristow and Michael Vaughn as he hadn't been able to before. Nothing could make restitution for the dead, but he couldn't bear knowing Irina wasn't ever going to pay something for what she'd taken away.
He had already decided to feed most of the information to the CIA through Jack Bristow. Sloane didn't need more power and Sark didn't want the man gaining any more Rambaldi artifacts or information. Only Bristow knew about Il Condottiere and Sark wanted it to stay that way.
He smiled to himself, knowing that he'd succeeded in puzzling Irina by refusing her. He hadn't before, even when he'd been involved with Allison. He had only returned to Cyprus a few days before, reporting the successful sale of a weapons package to the Peruvians and nothing else. Irina had left for Marseille immediately. Since then he'd been combing through the computer networks, hunting out weaknesses in the Organization. If she asked, he was doing a security review.
Irina didn't ask. She'd been distracted, intent on matters that she refused to let Sark access. He'd been able to construct a picture from the holes in the information he did have, though. Something—or someone—had been moved from Marseille to Glasgow.
He hadn't been able to figure out where in Glasgow yet, but once he had location, it would be time to set his own plans in motion. Stockholm was waiting; the rest of his answers were there. Irina would realize then that he'd slipped the leash for good, but by then it would be too late.
XXIX. Other Hands, Other Eyes
"Does everyone have the mission briefing?" Kendall asked. Heads nodded around the table, eyes scanned the short summary displayed on their monitor screens. Jack watched Kendall, then let himself survey the group. He'd picked most of them, except where Kendall had overruled him and insisted Vaughn play a part. Will Tippin, Marshall, Craig, Henstall, Reed, Taylor and Mackenzie.
"Agent Bristow will be in overall charge of this operation, so I'll let him go over the plan," Kendall said, nodding to Jack to take over and seating himself.
"We've received an anonymous tip that Irina Derevko will be running an operation in Stockholm five days from now."
Reed was frowning.
"How reliable is this information, sir?" she asked.
"We have independent confirmation from two other sources that Derevko is on her way to Stockholm," Jack said. He did his best to deal with Vaughn's wife fairly and dispassionately. Reed made it easier by never pushing. She was a good, smart agent. She seemed to have a good marriage with Vaughn. It was simply ironic that she'd been brought in to replace Sydney.
Reed nodded. The fluorescent light slid along her ice-pale hair, reminding Jack of another blond.
"No clue to what she's up to?" Will asked from the opposite side the conference table.
"None," Jack confirmed.
"What about Sark?" Vaughn questioned. His green eyes glittered.
"If he's there, take him down," Kendall said before Jack could answer. Jack glared and Kendall raised his eyebrows at him.
"Alive, if possible," Jack amended. He couldn't make it an order, he couldn't tell these people to take that chance when he knew Sark would kill them without blinking.
"Don't try too hard," Will muttered.
"I'm not afraid of Mr. Sark," Reed commented, smiling at Will. Her hand, graced with a gold band, reached over and squeezed Vaughn's. "He's just one man, no matter how good. We‘ve caught him before." She inclined her head toward Vaughn.
"In Stockholm," Jack said. "He'll be doubly alert in the circumstances."
Will made a grumbling sound.
"Will, I want you and Vaughn to go over the information we have and draw up an ops plan. Marshall, you're in charge of making sure we get whatever op tech we need to support the plan. Reed, Taylor, Mackenzie, I want you inside the building. Derevko may have photographs of you, but she's never actually seen you. Craig, Henstall, you two will be outside."
"We don't know if Sark will be there," Jack went on. "The mission is to capture Derevko. We've already rolled up her operation in Cairo. She's coming out into the open because she's low on resources. It's time to take advantage of that."
The thought of taking Derevko down, of forcing her to turn over Sydney if she had her, of finally—just once—beating her, made Jack's heart trip. He couldn't let himself worry that Sark might get in the way. If the boy stayed loyal to her, then he would pay the price.
He had no idea what Sark would do though or what loyalties held him to Derevko. His ties to her seemed to be eroding, yet he returned to her time and again. Sark had certainly been wary of her learning of his part in Rambaldi's prophecies, though.
Sark was the wildcard.
XXX. Because It Is Bitter
An old, imperial capital, is Stockholm, a city on an archipelago. Water is a constant presence, with its bridges, boats, ferries; the taste of it in the air, Lake Mälaren and the Baltic.
Cobbled streets twist unexpectedly in the Old Town, constricted between buildings that predate the Great War, benefits of neutrality. No bombs ever fell on Stockholm. In the Gamla Stan, five and six story buildings face into the church square, red brick, yellow, browns, grays, narrow faced, with symmetrical rows of dark, rectangular windows paced across the facades.
The surveillance van is in place as the day slips into early evening, monitors showing the Sveavägen barely a block from where someone with an old Mauser left Olaf Palme dead on the sidewalk. It's too dim now, but earlier Jack could have squinted and—just—seen the plaque set into place to mark the scene of the assassination.
Some people walk right over it. Others carefully step to the side. Few acknowledge it though. Interesting.
The cross street is the Tunnelgaten, renamed Olaf Palma Gata where it crosses Sveavägen and widens, offering quick, easy access to the main artery of the Torsgaten north out of the Norrmalm into Vasa Staden. Jack's placed cars ready to follow in either direction. He has people from the local CIA station in place at the Hötorget entrance to the underground. It's difficult putting watchers in place; the area is commercial and heavily trafficked, the people mostly solitary and single minded, on their way somewhere, not loitering. Standing still stands out.
Palme isn't the first Swede to be shot. King Gustavus III was killed by one of his own noblemen, coming out of the Opera. A while back, that, 1792, but the parallels bear noting. A learned man, patron of the arts, Gustavus III, who wrote plays and poetry, and defeated the Danes' alliance with Catherine the Great. Shot down in the street, perhaps because of his involvement in the French Revolution.
Sark would appreciate the irony, Gustavus III and Palme, both killed in this clean, polite, cultured city with a carelessness that would rival any Wild West legend. So would Irina.
The monitors showed everything in blue and gray, blurred and faintly jerky. The human eye is good at pattern recognition though, the reptile brain is drawn to movement, it knows the hunting predator from the sated one. Jack had no trouble identifying Sark among the other blonds on the street, as the assassin approached the gilt and glass doors of the bank branch sandwiched among the brindled concrete commercial buildings.
He followed Sark's progress from the monitor showing the exterior to the hacked feed from the bank's security system. Sark was in one of his dark, elegant suits, carrying a slim briefcase, casually checking the watch on his wrist and making his way straight to his destination.
A slim, spectacled woman rose from her desk and greeted him, then guided him toward the manager's office. Even at the extreme camera angle and in black and white, Jack could see her discreet appreciation of the young man's looks and carriage. Her body language softened into restrained friendliness and she moved a half step closer to Sark's personal space than she probably did with most clients.
Beside him, Vaughn leaned closer to one of the monitors. His voice echoed in the van and the radio ear piece Jack wore.
"Heads up, Insider. Target Two is in the bank. Over."
Sark had disappeared into the manager's office. The security system didn't extend to personal offices, so he was out of coverage. The woman appeared through the doorway and made her way back toward the vault.
Jack scanned the rest of the monitors, checking the street again.
"Everyone check in," he murmured into the mic by his mouth. "Miner? Over."
"Miner, status green, out, " replied the agent at Hötorget station.
Jack ran down the list, eyes shuttling between the exterior shots and the monitor focused on the bank manager's office door.
"Alpha car? Over."
"Alpha, green and ready. Out."
"Beta car? Over."
"Beta, good to go, out," the driver replied with a Texas twang.
"Outsider One? Over."
"Roger, Outsider team is in place, we're ready, over," Henstall radioed.
"Insider? Over." Jack asked.
Lauren Reed's voice replied immediately. "Insider has a visual on Target Two's last location. We are ready. Out."
"We should move, we should grab the little bastard," Vaughn said.
Jack swiveled in his seat and stared at Vaughn, giving him a look he'd been told was colder and less forgiving than the North Sea.
"May I remind you, Agent Vaughn, that we are here to apprehend Irina Derevko, not her lieutenant, no matter what personal antipathy you feel toward him," Jack stated flatly. Jack took a certain dark satisfaction in thwarting the agent since he had abandoned the search for Sydney almost a year before. Vaughn had taken Sark's escape as a personal affront. Losing him here would be a blow, one Jack wouldn‘t mind delivering. "Catching Sark is a secondary objective at best."
"Do you really think we're going to catch Irina Derevko this easily?" Vaughn asked, his voice filled with skepticism. Not unwarranted, either, Jack admitted. The anonymous tip bothered him, despite the confirmations. It hadn't come from Sark, he knew, the way the Maadi information had.
Vaughn was drumming his fingers against the console in front of him. Jack stifled the impulse to smack the man's hand.
"If he hurts Lauren . . ."
"Agent Reed is capable of watching out for herself," Jack said. Vaughn's wife was more than competent—not in Sydney's and Sark's realm—but as good as Marcus Dixon at least.
A burst of static in their ears preceded a transmission, snapping their attention back to the monitors.
"Outsider Two. I have a visual on four individuals in a black Mercedes moving north. Front passenger side is a match for Klaus-Peter Dietrich. The car appears to be moving into position on the bank entrance. Over."
Jack's gaze flicked from the monitor facing Sveavägen south and the Mercedes and back to the bank interior. The manager's assistant was returning to the office, carrying a flat black case. She disappeared into the office.
"Dietrich's ex-Stasi. He's worked for Derevko before," Jack said. "Be on the lookout for others. Out." He didn't like the way the Mercedes was waiting. Four people. It wasn't there to pick Sark up.
Vaughn's thoughts must have been running in the same direction. "There's something wrong here," he muttered.
Static crackled through the radio push.
"Outsider Three, I've got two, no, three hostiles triangulating on the bank. Over." The transmission was muffled, the man making it keeping his voice low, trying to keep from attracting attention to himself. "Fuck, if these guys were any more obvious they'd be wearing signs."
"Well, it's hard to get good help these days. Out," Vaughn replied. He was working the surveillance camera, trying to zoom in on Outsider Three's hostiles. "Gotcha." Jack glanced over. The men in their long, heavy winter coats and chunky suits did have that East European, hired-thug appearance. Big men, not young, not old, muscle with carefully blank faces and dark, cruel eyes that swiveled and tracked through the crowds like gun turrets. "Not like Sark."
Jack chuckled dryly. Vaughn was more right than he knew.
The manager's assistant had seated herself at her desk and picked up a phone. Jack watched her, noting the stiff, taut set to her shoulders. Something about her posture was furtive; it screamed that she was doing something questionable.
He didn't like the look of this.
"Check the rooflines," he ordered. "Over."
"You think this is a set-up?"
Jack was staring at the monitor as Sark exited the manager's office, stopping to shake hands with man, a small smile on his face. The manager's assistant fumbled the phone and put it down, moving with a jerky nervousness that set off all of Jack's alarms.
"Sniper on the east side," Outsider One's voice broke in excitedly.
"No…," Jack breathed. What had Sloane said? That Irina burned Sark to the Agency, to Sydney, to feed them information they'd believe, but something else too…Christ. To stop Sark from retrieving something Khasinau had left for him. Something in Stockholm.
Gustavus III. Palme. It was a fucking Swedish tradition. Step out onto the street and die.
Jack tore off his radio headset and tossed it on the console. On the monitor, Sark was still making small talk with the bank manager. "Vaughn. She's here somewhere. Maybe the sniper. Get someone up there and take whoever it is out," Jack snapped. He jerked open the back door of the van. "Now!"
"Where the hell are you going?!" Vaughn yelled as Jack jumped out. Jack ignored him, walking swiftly toward the bank.
Jack picked up speed, feeling that urgent sense of an op going bad that had saved him so many times. He cut across the traffic ruthlessly, ignoring the sudden squeal of brakes and the brush of a mirror that tore at his jacket.
He knew something was going wrong.
He knew what he was doing was drawing attention, probably making the situation worse. He was out of place, movement where there should be none, a dead giveaway to a knowing eye. He didn't care. He had to get into that bank and stop Sark stepping out onto that sidewalk killing ground.
He reached the opposite curb and broke into a sprint. Behind him, he heard a cry of protest, thudding feet, and didn't know if it came from one his team or the opposition. It didn't matter.
It was all a setup. It had Irina's fine hand written all over it. She wouldn't just take out a treasonous lieutenant, she had to make a production of it, show the world no one crossed her. Typically, she'd chosen to use Jack and his Agency as the medium for her message. Another way of demonstrating her power, manipulating her enemies into doing her work for her.
Oh, it was more than that too. It was showing him what she'd taken away from him. It was breaking her toy rather than letting anyone else play with it. It was a vicious slap at Jack himself and cold revenge on Sark for his very existence.
She was here. She was somewhere close. Irina liked to get in close for her kills, liked to see her victims' eyes. She'd want to see Jack's eyes, he knew. If she couldn't pull the trigger, she would still want to see it herself.…
Dear God, he should have told the boy, should have warned him, stopped him from returning to her. Jack cursed himself. He'd had the chance, in Peru, he could have done it, done what Sloane had suggested, and turned him. Sark had been open, he would have accepted it, would at least have known to never trust Irina Derevko.
Jack reached the glass doors; his hand was reaching for the gilt door handles. The roar of a big engine accelerating warned him. He jerked back against the wall and just dropped as the Mercedes roared onto the curb, swiping away two pedestrians. One of them was flung into a lamppost with a sickening crunch Jack heard through everything else; the other was caught under the big car's wheels.
Dietrich and two others were vaulting out of the Mercedes, black-knit balaclavas pulled over their faces, black leather gloves on the hands that held submachine guns that were pouring fire into the bank. The doors shattered into a razor-edged white cloud under the barrage; the glass settled over Jack like a thousand cutting particles of ice. Dietrich tossed something dark—grenade! the analytical part of Jack insisted—inside. Jack rolled his face to the wall and cringed as the concussion blew out the rest of the bank's glass in a shower of debris.
One of the Mercedes' back tires blew out. Jack rolled to his knees and pulled the SIG Sauer he carried from his shoulder holster. Instinctively, he used the two handed Weaver stance he'd learned thirty years ago at the Farm. He aimed at Klaus-Peter Dietrich's head. Jack favored hot hand-loaded bullets. He shot and the man was finished, the bullet entering the East German's temple and exiting in less than a nanosecond, taking most of the back Dietrich's skull with it.
Someone from Henstall's Outsider team was firing at the Mercedes, forcing the driver to keep his head down and cutting off the two others' line of retreat to it.
There was no cover. There was no cover on the sidewalk between Jack and the two killers. He saw them turning toward him and knew there were no options left. He brought the SIG up, lining up the sights on the closest man's head—the gunmen looked bulky enough they might be wearing body armor—and fired again.
No time to aim again, no time, he knew the third man would have a shot and take it before he could move again…Jack's lungs locked up, expecting the bullet. His eyes tracked to the black muzzle of the submachine gun.
How long does it take, to take up the slack on a trigger? Forever, if you're the man staring up the spout, waiting to see the muzzle flash before everything goes dark.
Jack was still waiting when time started again and the last gunman crumpled sideways to the accompaniment of two bullets firing from inside the bank. Nine-millimeter NATO standard some part of Jack's mind noted. All of his people were carrying standard CIA issue .45s.
The stutter of another submachine gun came through the air distantly. Outsider Three's hostiles exchanging fire with the rest of the team, somewhere up the Sveavägen toward the Adolf Fredrikskyrka park. The Mercedes was rolling forward aimlessly and drifting right, the glass on the driver's side punched out; the driver slumped over the steering wheel.
Jack staggered to his feet, ears ringing, fumbling the clip free of the SIG and slapping a full one into place.
He stepped through the blown-out doorway, scanning the lobby. Bodies on the floor, not moving, furniture torn, twisted, tossed around, broken glass scattered everywhere, raw white scars in the polished marble columns along the walls; take it all in, dismiss anything that isn't a threat. Jack kept moving. Someone was crouched under a turned over desk, sobbing and keening, cringing away as Jack stalked past. He kept his eyes moving, kept close to whatever cover he could find.
Where was his inside team, Taylor, MacKenzie and Reed? Where was Sark? He had to remember that Sark would see them and him as hostiles.
Nothing. No one.
Jack headed back toward the manager's office, the last place he'd seen Sark on the monitors.
He found the manager's assistant sprawled in the hallway. Her spectacles were just a foot away from her, one lens cracked in two. Jack knelt and tried to find a pulse at her neck, only to have his fingers sink into bloody, raw flesh and brush a chunk of shrapnel buried in her throat. Ruthlessly, he suppressed any reaction, wiped his hand on the carpet and rose. Nothing he could do for her, he told himself.
He ducked his head around a corner. Bodies on the floor, a blond head bent over one, a voice using English, intent rather than incoherent. Reed. The door opposite him was open and he could see the bank manager, whispering wildly into a cell phone. The man's eyes widened in fear as he saw Jack.
Jack nodded at him and kept moving.
Around the corner and it was Reed on the floor. He ignored the screaming and crying of the bank's customers and staff. All three of his inside people were down. One look told him Taylor would be going home in a body bag; Sark had gone for the headshot this time.
Reed was on her knees beside MacKenzie, drenched in blood. A dark stain was seeping through the blue carpet. She had the downed man's shirt ripped away and the blue plastic cover off a computer manual pressed over a wound in his chest. Trying to keep air from entering through the wound and collapsing the lung, Jack diagnosed. MacKenzie started to convulse, throwing Reed back.
Jack caught her shoulders and yelled in her ear. "Use your weight! Keep the wound sealed." Reed scrambled forward and set her knee onto MacKenzie's chest, holding the plastic in place. Blood bubbled from the wounded man's mouth as he fought to breathe.
She lifted her face to Jack.
"On the way," he assured her, not knowing, but certain Vaughn would have made the call. They might even get there in time to help MacKenzie.
The blood on her was Taylor's. Splatters of it marked her suit, but most of it had hit her face and hair. All that blond hair had tumbled out of its knot and was soaked in red on one side.
"Sark—Sark got away," Reed choked out. She pointed to the rear of the bank and an emergency fire door. "I—I couldn't, I had to help David—"
Jack eyed her. "Stay here."
Reed nodded jerkily and he left her. He pushed past several hysterical clerks and out the fire door, ready for anything. It exited into an empty alley.
An almost empty alley…there, a few steps before it opened onto Olofsgaten, were Irina and Sark. Irina had that little Russian PSM she favored. Sark still had his briefcase in one hand and a 9mm automatic aimed at Irina in the other.
Jack tightened his grip on the SIG Sauer he carried, suddenly aware of the slick sweat on his palm, the tightness in his chest. One breath, one word or sudden noise, and either or both of them would pull the trigger.
Sark's eyes were narrowed; he was breathing hard, riding an adrenaline rush Jack knew well. Irina's pose was as serene as ever, but the flat look in her eyes gave her away along with the flare of her nostrils. Both of them were steady as rocks, though, the guns never wavering.
"I should have shot you in Firenze," Irina breathed.
"Probably," Sark agreed. His voice was a touch hoarse.
Jack started down the alley as silently as possible.
"Shoot me now though and you won't walk away either," Sark stated.
"You won't shoot me," Irina purred.
Irina was watching the Sark's eyes; did she see the white knuckled grip he had on his pistol tightening? The boy was in operational mode, his well-honed instinct for survival telling him to pull the trigger and get away. Jack tensed, waiting for it.
Irina smiled that slow, lethal smile in response when Sark didn't shoot. Without taking her eyes off Sark for even an instant, she said, "Hello, Jack."
Sark didn't shift and the arm at full extension didn't waver. "Ah, Agent Bristow," he greeted Jack coolly. "I thought you might be around when I spotted the CIA people inside the bank."
"If he won't shoot you, I will," Jack said to Irina, somehow not surprised she'd known he was there. He had no words for Sark right then. Taylor was dead and MacKenzie was fighting for every breath and Sark had done that.
He aimed the SIG Sauer at her. "Put the gun down, Irina. —You too, Sark."
"So very ironic," Irina murmured, "you and I and Sark all here."
Jack narrowed his eyes. She was up to something, about to say something that would shift the balance of this confrontation. It would be aimed at Sark, because Irina had to know there was nothing she could do to sway Jack from his purpose.
Sark began stepping sideways, toward the mouth of the alley. Eyes locked on Irina. Irina turned her back on Jack, following Sark, raising her gun. There was a rip in Sark's coat, a loose flap of fabric held tight to his ribs by the elbow of the arm still retaining the briefcase. The cloth there steadily darkening into a bruised purple, the blue shaded by red: blood.
"You're just like your father, Sark," she said.
"Damn it," Jack breathed. She was in his sights. All he had to do was pull the trigger. Not even shoot to kill, wounding her would be enough and he could take her in. She was going to do it; she was going to shoot his son. He couldn't shoot her in the back, though. He couldn't.
"A shame you never got to know him," Irina added.
The ululation of approaching sirens echoed against the high concrete buildings; the medics Jack had promised Reed would be coming. The fire door behind him slammed open and Vaughn rushed through, shouting Jack didn't know what.
Irina fired, but the noise had thrown her off. Sark emptied the 9mm in her direction while sprinting for the street. Jack threw himself into the cover of a remarkably clean dumpster and Vaughn came skidding to a stop next him, ducking as bullets whined and ricocheted through the alleyway. Jack's shoulder was against the dumpster and he felt it shudder under several impacts.
"God damn it, Vaughn," Jack snarled.
"Derevko's the objective!" Jack shouted furiously. He ducked his head around the edge of the dumpster, low, as soon as the firing stopped.
The alley was empty. Irina was gone.
Sark was gone.
"God damn it."
Jack stood up and pulled Vaughn to his feet, then slammed him against the dumpster. "We just lost Derevko, thanks to you!" He was furious, furious with Vaughn, with Irina, with Sark for shooting his agents, and most of all with himself. "Why the hell aren't you in the van? You're oversight! You abandoned your post!"
"I thought he'd hurt Lauren!" Vaughn yelled back at him, batting at the hands Jack still had locked on his shoulders.
"Leaving your post is a damn good way of seeing she does get hurt!"
"You left," Vaughn argued.
Jack let go of Vaughn abruptly.
"You need to maintain your objectivity, Agent Vaughn, or get out of this job. Understand?"
"Like you're objective about Irina Derevko?" Vaughn demanded scornfully.
"Take my advice," Jack said, already turning away. God, this was going to be a mess to clean up. The Swedes were going to be incensed over the Agency's involvement. "Get out while you can." He headed back into the bank, wanting to see if MacKenzie was going to make it.
Irina and Sark were long gone.
Vaughn looked down the alley and frowned.
The whole operation had gone bad and they had nothing and no one to show for it. Vaughn sighed tiredly, then he pulled himself together and headed back into the bank. Lauren might need him. Maybe Bristow was right. Maybe it was time to get out. He'd never really wanted to be field agent, but he kept ending up on the sharp end, getting shot at. He didn't want to become an adrenaline junkie and end up dead. He sure as hell didn't want end up where Jack Bristow was, dead inside.
XXXI. Bad Voodoo
The Santa Anas were blowing. Blowing hot and dirty with gritty smoke from the fires in the hills, black flakes of ash riding down into the LA basin on the ceaseless wind. It burned against the skin, teased and moaned through the long, hot, endless nights, rattling at windows.
The Santa Anas were blowing, like a door into hell's furnace had opened up high in one of the canyons where the flames twisted and ran, malevolent and alive, and the stench of exhaust presaged the taste of brimstone.
Nerves rubbed raw and tempers snapped, on the freeways, at home, even in the frigidly air-conditioned office buildings. Domestic calls, assaults, rapes, murders —all were up. Dead-eyed homeless and scrawny junkies littered the streets and the hookers spat on the tourists that wanted to see the real LA.
Michael Vaughn arrived at work late in a foul mood, indiscriminately cursing the wind, his wife, and the bastard who had run down his dog the night before. Reed ignored him, called the vet to check on Donovan, and went about her work with her usual competence.
Marcus Dixon's kids told him they hated him and wanted to live with his wife's parents.
Judy Barnett had to clench her hands into fists to keep from throwing a heavy glass paperweight at Kendall's shiny head after he ordered her to field certify an unfit agent.
Will Tippin had a hellish hangover and snapped at everyone, eventually sending Carrie Bowman-Flinkman to the restroom in tears.
The encrypted burst transmitter Marshall had designed failed repeatedly during testing.
Jack Bristow got a call from an international terrorist in the middle of a conference with Dixon and Kendall.
"When?" Jack asked the caller.
Kendall turned his gaze to Dixon. "Perhaps we could have a little chat while Jack takes care of his personal business," Kendall said. "A lot of people are excited by the Rambaldi folio you acquired through your…contact."
Dixon shifted uncomfortably, his eyes flickering toward Jack involuntarily. "Thank you, sir."
"They‘d like to know where it came from."
"It didn't come with any provenance, sir," Dixon said.
"I'll be there."
Jack closed the cell and pocketed it, face set into a frown. Kendall glanced at him and raised a brow, adding to Dixon, "Why am I not surprised?"
"Can we get on with this?" Jack asked impatiently.
"Sure, Jack, sorry we've kept you waiting," Kendall sniped. "Why don't you tell us where the Derevko operation is?"
"Stalled," Jack replied. "We haven't had a lead on her since the aborted raid in Stockholm." He folded his hands on the desk before him and added, "Of course, if we'd moved faster then, we might have taken her before she pulled out."
"And we might have sent too many good people into a trap."
"The information I received was good," Jack pointed out.
"I don't trust anonymous informants," Kendall said.
"If you continue to refuse to act on information received, we will stay five steps behind Derevko," Jack said. His lip lifted faintly in distaste. "And Sloane."
"Offer me something to work with and I'll take that it into consideration, Jack." He turned back to Dixon. "What about Sloane?"
Dixon's expression hardened. "We have reports indicating he was in South America recently. It looks like he's starting to compete with Derevko's organization in the Third World. There are rumors he's marketing bio-weapons similar to the Circumference virus. SD-6 had access to samples taken from Klaus Richter before his death and Sloane took that data with him when he went underground."
"How close are we to taking him down?"
"We're not, sir," Dixon said regretfully.
"Any more good news, people?" Kendall snarled.
"No, sir," Dixon said.
"What about Sark?"
Dixon flinched and Jack raised an eyebrow at the Assistant Director. "What about him?"
Kendall frowned. "He was in Stockholm with Derevko. What's in Stockholm?"
Jack pushed his chair back and rose. "Nothing anymore, I'm sure," he said wearily. A hint of sardonic humor crept into his tone. "Certainly not Sark. He probably has a genuine distaste for the city by now." He gathered his files and straightened them, before saying, "If we could continue this tomorrow, I might have something new to offer."
"I could certainly use news of some sort of progress to give to my superiors," Kendall commented. He flapped his hand at Jack. "Get out of here."
Jack nodded and left the conference room.
Kendall turned his gimlet gaze on Dixon. "I'm sure Jack is still trying to find his daughter, Agent Dixon. I understand that. But I think he's stepping over the line to do it and I think you may know something about it."
"If he fucks up, he'll end up in prison and I don't want to see that," Kendall snapped. "Do you?"
Dixon looked at him blankly.
"Just make sure the sonuvabitch doesn't get caught."
Dixon stayed in the conference room after Kendall left, considering what had been said and what he knew about Jack's dealings with Sark. Whatever agreement those two had might fall apart at any time. Kendall was right. Jack needed back-up.
When Jack left an hour later, Dixon followed at a distance, using a tracker that Marshall had supplied without question.
XXXII. Everybody's Fool
He took a ferry to Talinn and arranged a charter flight to Gatwick. He switched identities while in London, retrieving the papers from a hiding place in a flat he kept there under a name Irina had never known about. He was still carrying the set of discs he'd put together, that held files, codes, cipher keys, security specs, names and aliases of assets, locations and bank accounts for all of Irina's operations. The discs were a complete overview of the Organization. He'd collated and downloaded the data before covertly making his way to Stockholm.
He'd known he wouldn't be going back to Cyprus.
The flat was stark. White walls, wood floors, the bare minimum of furniture: futon in the bedroom, sofa, chair, lamp, table, computer desk and various electronics. The windows looked out on a bleak stretch of industrial slums.
He took a fast shower and cleaned the knife wound thoroughly, pleased it was shallow, then re-bandaged it. Various bruises were aching, the worst of them a dark mottling of red and greenish purple on one hip and high along his side. Nothing to worry about. The ribs weren't even cracked; he was still breathing easily and without real pain.
The flat was cold. He'd only been in it twice before and the heat had been turned off for months. The emptiness added to the effect.
Sark dressed in faded jeans, a T-shirt with a slate blue sweater over it, and heavy socks.
His eyes strayed to the file folder he'd set on the table when he had entered and secured the flat. He hadn't opened it yet. The lengths Irina had gone to stop him told him it contained something important. It had waited this long though; he decided to let it wait a few minutes longer. He needed something to eat first.
A survey of the flat's kitchen didn't yield much, but he made do. Cleaned up after, knowing he was delaying. Wiping his hands, he finally walked over to the table. Laid the towel down and picked up the file. Weighed it in his hand. He'd broken with Irina to see what it held.
It should be heavier. It should look more impressive. It should be more than just a light brown manila folder. What could be more explosive than the information Sloane had given him: that Irina had killed his mother?
He bit his lip unconsciously.
What could be worse than discovering he was part of Rambaldi's damned prophecies?
He was afraid, he realized.
Decisively, he opened the file and read the first page. It was just a birth certificate. Sark blinked.
It was the name Bristow had used on the ID he provided.
Alexander Bristow Sorenssen.
He stumbled to the sofa and sank down on the chilly leather.
He looked at the birth certificate blankly. Mother: Giselle Sorenssen. Father: Jack Bristow. He'd been born in London. Seven pounds three ounces.
The date was wrong, he thought dazedly. He was a year older than that, wasn't he? According to the records at the Project School he was an entire year older than this piece of paper said. But, then, Irina was the one who had provided their information when she delivered him to the Kiev school and she‘d probably altered the date as well as his name.
Sark set the birth certificate aside and slowly read the rest of the file's contents. Khasinau had documented the Alliance operation that introduced Sorenssen to Bristow, corroborated that she had been pregnant and given birth, that Sark was that child. A DNA comparison run using illicitly obtained samples from Bristow and himself confirmed he was the man's child. The rest of file covered his mother's murder in Paris. A sheaf of graphic crime scene photographs showing his mother's dead body was included with the police reports on her death.
Sark closed the file and set it beside him. He moved carefully, slowly, as though a sudden movement might break something inside, though he wasn't physically uncomfortable. His mind was racing in circles. He didn't even know what he felt. It was too much.
Betrayal. Rage. Disillusion. Hurt. Hurt that cut so deep he wondered that he could still breathe. He'd been accused of being cold, of being unfeeling—a killing machine—but if this was what it meant to be human, this welter of pain and bitterness, he didn't want it. This was like walking on knives, every step forward cutting into him until he bled.
It all made a sick sort of sense if you thought like Irina Derevko, Sark reflected. If you can't have the man, take his son. Make them into enemies the way Bristow made Sydney into Irina's enemy. No need to tell Bristow, his ignorance would make the trick sweeter.
Sydney was his half-sister, the other Rambaldi child, another pawn in the Prophecy game.
Fuck that, he thought. He was no pawn.
He scrubbed at his face with one hand and began to laugh raggedly. Somewhere along the way, Irina had slipped. Bristow knew. He fucking knew. Why else had he helped—orchestrated—Sark's escape?
It was the name Bristow had used on the ID he provided all those months ago. He'd had the answers all along.
In the morning, he booked a flight to Los Angeles.
XXXIII. A World of Fragile Things
Acrid smoke caught at the back of Jack's throat as soon as he stepped out of his SUV onto the loose, dry dirt of the hilltop turn-out. Dust, reddish-brown and pale, roiled up and coated his shoes and pant legs. Six o'clock and the sun still reigned high, swollen red and malignant through the choking pollution. The smoke lent the light a sickly, gray-yellow tinge.
Even the winds couldn't relieve the heat that hung like a pall over the city, no matter how late the hour. The prickly feeling at the back of his neck was more than sweat, though. He felt uneasy and wondered if it wouldn't be better to blow off the rendezvous and drive away, even as he knew he wouldn't.
When he turned north, Jack could see hills burned bare and black, while others remained untouched, with straw-brittle grass and brown scrub waiting to flare into flame with a single ember's touch.
Beyond the edge of the turn-out was a scrub-choked gulch. The lank, shaggy form of a coyote slunk into the open briefly, moving steadily south, driven toward the urban sprawl by the massive wildfires. Jack followed it with his eyes until it disappeared into the shadows again. Clever, tough survivors, coyotes; that one would probably dine on someone's unfortunate cat come nightfall.
The hum of an approaching vehicle jerked Jack's attention back to the road. He waited patiently as an anonymous, sage-green Lexus slowed and pulled off the road to park next to his SUV. Sark, eyes hidden behind black sunglasses, stared at him through the tinted windshield, fingers drumming along the top of the steering wheel.
Jack started to wonder if Sark wouldn't decide to drive away without speaking to him. This wasn't some ploy. Finally, Sark opened the door and got out. He held a crumpled file in one hand and stopped with his free hand resting along the top of the open door, still facing Jack.
"Sark," Jack said cautiously.
Sark moved then, slamming the car door and stalking forward. Jack felt relieved he could see both of his hands.
"Bristow," Sark snapped. He shoved the file at Jack, pushing it into his hands jerkily.
Sark turned away, shoved his hands into the front pockets of his black jeans, and began pacing as Jack opened the file. Jack paged through it, keeping the edgy young man in the corner of his eye. The contents were mostly familiar, duplicates of the report Sloane had dropped on him, minus only the portion describing Sark's sojourn at the Project School. The police photographer's shots of Giselle's corpse in situ were new and the notation that Sark had been at the scene.
And the birth certificate for Alexander Bristow Sorenssen, a son born to Jack Bristow and Giselle Sorenssen.
Jack lifted his eyes.
Sark had turned away from him and was facing west, smoke-fouled light reflecting off his sunglasses. The sulfurous wind molded his loose, dark silk shirt to his back and shoulders, along the sharp line of a shoulder blade and the smooth delineation of his spine. He spun around restlessly to face Jack again. One side of his mouth turned down.
"You knew," Sark said flatly, folding his arms. "A year ago, when you extracted me, you knew. You used my bloody name on the ID you handed me."
He'd wanted to see if Sark would react to it.
"It was a test," Jack said quietly. He added, trying to explain, "I found it…difficult to believe that you weren't aware of our…connection. It was…hard to accept."
Sark laughed darkly.
Jack shoved the file under his SUV's windshield wiper and walked over to the edge of the gulch, stopping beside Sark. Sark didn't look at him.
"You didn't always know?" Sark asked.
"Arvin Sloane provided me with the proof a little over a year ago," Jack replied. He could see Sark was rigid with displeasure, the tension almost vibrating off him, but he relaxed minutely following Jack's words.
"Khasinau and Derevko always knew." He turned his head toward Jack. "—That file came from Stockholm. It was Khasinau's. The first time I tried to retrieve it, Irina burned me to the CIA to stop me." He faced away again. "This time she tried to kill me."
"Sloane tipped me she would be in Stockholm. We just missed her," Jack said, because there were no words to ease the pain in Sark's voice.
"Sloane knows. How delightful."
"Sark…" Jack stopped and tried again. "Alexander."
Sark winced and Jack wondered if using his name had been a mistake. He wanted to see Sark's eyes. Sark's long fingers were digging into his elbows. On impulse, he set one hand on a taut shoulder; with the other he lifted the sunglasses away.
Narrowed, furious blue eyes met his, then Sark knocked his hand away. Fast. Sark was so fast. And dangerous, maybe more dangerous than ever, with new knowledge and emotions pushing him to the edge of his control.
"No." No, don't touch me, no, don't call me Alexander; no, no more. Jack heard it all.
He handed the sunglasses back and nodded. "All right."
Sark lifted his chin and stared past Jack to the south. The wildness, the sharp edge of temper, still simmered in his voice, but the professional had it in check. "Someone tagged you," he said quietly. "We're under surveillance."
Jack twisted and followed Sark's nod to the flash of metal where the highway curved down through the hills. A plum colored car was half hidden by brush, parked along the edge of the road where a turn provided a direct line of sight. His thoughts flashed to Kendall's easy acceptance of his early exit at the conference.
"What did you see?"
"One man. Binocular reflection," Sark said. Then he shrugged, "Maybe a long lens camera."
Sark raised an eyebrow. "Not your idea?"
"If I'm lucky, it's Dixon."
Jack shook his head. "Then we're both in trouble."
Somehow, he'd said the right thing. Sark looked at him solemnly. "You could say you were bringing me in."
"You could tell them I got you out," Jack parried. That offer, if offer it had been, startled him. But he didn‘t know what to expect from a Sark who knew Jack Bristow was his father. Certainly filial devotion seemed unlikely. Anger, obviously, along with bitterness and resentment. The same emotions Sydney had thrown in his face so often.
That smirk, the one that infuriated everyone who met Sark, answered him. Jack was growing almost fond of it. He knew now it masked Sark's sense of humor and a surprising vulnerability.
"Sark—I wasn't a good parent."
"Are you telling me I didn't miss anything?"
"No, but—" Jack forced himself to go on. "Sydney." He swallowed. "Sydney told me . . . that I took away her choices. " He needed to say these things while he had the chance. Sark was listening attentively. He looked weary, bruised, with the quick fury drained away; Jack didn't know if it was the tainted air or how hard Sark had been running since Stockholm. "I deliberately distanced myself from her after her . . . mother's disappearance. I let her go on thinking Laura—Irina—was dead. I wanted to keep her safe. She felt I abandoned her."
Sark blinked slowly. The incessant wind tugged at his hair; otherwise, he was still. Behind them, metal popped and ticked, cooling under the Lexus' hood. A bone-deep drone marked a helicopter with CDF markings moving north, heading back to the creeping infernos there, light blinking dimly from its tail. More distantly, like a dream, Jack could hear the constant, seething din of the city.
"I can't…undo that," Jack went on. "It's too late. But she should have had those choices. You should have had those choices. Irina and I, we took that from you, both of you. I'm sorry for that."
A flicker of those blue eyes, darkening as the light slipped away, and a tipped head were Sark's response. He was still alert to any other signs of their watcher, but otherwise impassive. Training and instinct would have told him to abandon a compromised rendezvous immediately though, and he‘d stayed anyway. Jack took that as a good sign, though the agent in him decried the chances they were both taking.
"Our watcher's moving," Sark observed. He walked back to his car and retrieved a Glock .17, casually clipping the holstered pistol to his belt at the small of his back. He set the sunglasses on the dashboard and left the driver's door open. Jack watched. His son was graceful and lethal and perfectly collected.
He thought of the way Sydney handled a gun, of how she'd mourned killing a man the first time. He'd taught her that much, but it hadn't been enough. He'd still failed; failed to protect Sydney from Sloane, from the Agency, and from Irina. Failed Sydney, first, and Alexander, later, without even having an opportunity to do more or better than he had done with his first child.
Sark was the killer Irina had meant him to be, whether he answered to her any longer or not. Alexander was a boy Jack had never known.
Briefly, he felt a surge of anger at Giselle. Not for Alexander's existence, only for keeping it from him. She'd had five years. She'd kept the secret of his son from him for five years and given Irina the opportunity to take him, without Jack ever knowing.
Sark had placed himself where he could easily take cover behind either the Lexus or Jack's SUV. Jack walked over and took a place that would let him cover the boy's back. The SUV sported run-flat tires and had been modified by op-tech with light armor and bulletproof glass. He wanted Sark between him and it.
His cell rang as he checked the SIG Sauer he usually carried, popping the clip out and testing the resilience of the spring, before snapping it back into place. A weakened spring in a clip had jammed more than one automatic. He re-holstered the SIG and answered his phone.
Sark looked at him inquiringly.
"Jack, don't shoot me," Marcus Dixon said. "I'm coming up the road—"
"Is this official?" Jack interrupted harshly. He wanted Alexander to get out if the Agency had decided to pull him in. He pointed at the SUV and mouthed, "Get in." He'd trust the big vehicle's V8 to get through a chase or roadblock better than the rental Lexus.
"No. No, Jack," Dixon said hurriedly. "I guessed you were meeting with him. I thought you could use someone to watch your back, but you both made me, so I thought I'd better step up."
"If this is a setup, Dixon, I will shoot you," Jack said and cut the call off. He could hear and see Dixon's car approaching up the highway. Sark hadn't moved.
"I told you to get in, " Jack snapped. "Why didn't you? "
A hitch of one shoulder, not quite a shrug, was Sark's only response. "I assume that Agent Dixon is about to join us?"
"Perhaps luck runs in the family," Sark said.
"Stubbornness," Jack offered. He had a feeling Sark could be as obstinate and flat-out pigheaded as Sydney on her worst day.
Sark ducked his head and most of the tension between them sifted away as Dixon arrived and parked beyond their vehicles. The former SD-6 operative got out of his sedan slowly, clearly trying not to spook Jack or Sark. He looked unhappy, his dark eyes moving from Jack's set expression to Sark's soured smile.
"Jack," he said. "I'm sorry, but I don't trust him."
Sark cocked his head and taunted, "Your opinion wasn't solicited, Agent Dixon. And without Miss Bristow along, your field skills are looking a little rusty."
"Alexander!" Jack said harshly. Sark's eyes flashed back to him, startled by the commanding tone and the name Jack chose. "Stop it."
Sark went still and Jack wondered if he wouldn't find that Glock pointed at him in another instant; instead, Sark held up both empty hands and said, "I don't think calling me that will resurrect who I was."
No, it wouldn't, Jack acknowledged, but it had certainly brought him up short.
Dixon stood at a distance, clearly puzzled by their interaction.
"It's just a name," Jack said. "Better than the one Derevko gave you."
Sark shifted slightly. "So is Bristow."
Jack flinched this time. Sark noted it.
"It doesn't matter. Call me what you want to," he offered. He turned toward Dixon and added, "Are we confusing you?"
Dixon ignored him to appeal to Jack, "What the hell is going on?"
"Going to tell him, Agent Bristow?" Sark asked, a challenge in eyes gone indigo in the dusk. He considered Jack's stone face and laughed derisively. "I didn't think so."
Jack sighed soundlessly.
Sark was stalking Dixon and not so coincidentally moving away from Jack. "It's simple, Agent Dixon," Sark explained lightly. "My former employer, Irina Derevko, and I have come to a final parting of ways. She has terminated our association in a rather emphatic fashion, by trying to have me killed." He was close enough to Dixon to use a knife and exuding menace. "Now I have a small window of opportunity while what I know about her operations is still viable. I'm willing to give it to the CIA."
"Why would you do that?" Dixon asked cautiously.
Dixon thought about it, but obviously didn't buy it. "You're smarter than that—"
"Why, thank you, Agent Dixon."
"—and if it was spite, you'd sell your information to the highest bidder. Someone like Sloane."
Sark shrugged. "Perhaps."
He returned to the Lexus, confidently turning his back on Dixon. If there was any man on earth who wouldn't shoot you in the back, it was Marcus Dixon. Jack wanted to knock some sense into Sark for that little display, though.
Dixon caught Jack's eye and inclined his head toward the file stuffed under the windshield wiper on the SUV. Jack shook his head, but did nothing as the other agent approached and slid it free. He felt suspended by indecision.
Sark retrieved one more item from the Lexus, a flashdrive that barely long as a finger. He turned and froze, his eyes widening, as Dixon flipped through Khasinau's file. There was just enough light left to see its contents. His eyes flashed to Jack, filled with questions. His face was open, uncertain, and Jack knew he'd never believed he would be acknowledged.
"Holy Mary, mother of God," Dixon said. He looked from Sark to Jack and back.
"I would appreciate a certain amount of discretion in regards to that…file's contents," Sark said in the choked silence that followed. He closed the distance to Jack and handed him the flashdrive thoughtlessly. "It would only complicate an already fraught situation." He looked back at Dixon. "And bring Agent Bristow's loyalties into question again."
"Dixon—" Jack started.
"Jesus, Jack," Dixon blurted. "This—" he lifted the file, "—this is a fucking bombshell. You can kiss your security clearance good-bye, even with Kendall and Devlin behind you. You'll be lucky if you're just fired and not locked up."
"Is that going to happen?" Sark asked and the Glock was in his hand, aimed at Dixon. His head was tipped to the side while he considered the best place to shoot the agent. Dixon jerked back several steps, ready to dive for cover in another instant. Jack suppressed a smile, fairly sure Sark was bluffing, and wrapped his own hand around Sark's wrist, diverting his aim.
"Alexander," he said quietly. He'd been right. Sark wasn't fighting him.
Dixon was shaking his head. "I don't believe this."
"Your word, Agent Dixon," Sark demanded.
Dixon looked to Jack. He couldn't see much, Jack thought, in the last fading remnants of dusk, only the horizon holding a dim reddish glow, the sun sunk under the sea. The wind was rising, catching at them with pickpocket fingers. Dixon's face was little more than a chance gleam of skin over cheekbone, a silhouette, the striking whites of his eyes shining within it.
Stretched out to the south, LA was a plain of lights, highways like rivers of red running away, high-rises checkerboarded white on black, against a night sky with no stars.
"It doesn't make any difference," Jack assured him.
His hand, still on Sark's arm, gave the lie to his words. But Marcus Dixon had children of his own. He let it pass.
"All right," he said. "My word. I‘ll say nothing." Dixon snorted. "To anyone. —Who would believe it?"
Jack released Sark. Sark tossed his head, stepping away as though only then realizing he'd let Jack hold him back. A soft chuff of amusement—at himself or at Jack or just the situation?—escaped him. He casually holstered the Glock again. The safety hadn't even been disengaged.
Satisfied by Dixon's promise, Sark reverted to business. "That drive has everything on Derevko's operation. Consider it an updated bible."
Jack weighed it in his hand. So Sark had been thinking ahead, even while he set up this meeting. Confrontation. Clear eyed and resourceful, Sark would have already decided destroying Irina would be his nearest approach to safety and the CIA the best tool to turn toward that end. Jack was his conduit. Whatever Sark felt over what he'd discovered, he wouldn't allow it to interfere with his plans.
Coming to him had been a brutally pragmatic decision on Sark's part. He might never have seen the boy again, otherwise.
"You need to raid the Glasgow office block," Sark said. "Irina moved someone there through Marseille. She's pulled in several experts on genetics and sent them to Scotland lately, along with a physiotherapist specializing in maintaining comatose patients' health."
Dixon addressed Sark. "You think Derevko has Sydney there."
Jack couldn't get his breath. It had been almost two years now. The thought that he might be close was almost too much. That Alexander might provide him with the chance to find Sydney seemed too much to believe, too much to bear.
"Yes. But not for long."
"Sark. I still don't know if I trust you."
"Agent Dixon, you're holding the only guarantee you need in your hand."
Dixon nodded. "Kendall will want to know where the information came from, Jack. He won't authorize another operation so close after Stockholm without something more than your anonymous source."
"Then I'll hire mercenaries," Jack said in a grim tone. He'd taken a bad risk to get Alexander out of custody. Now he had an opportunity, a very narrow window thanks to his son, to retrieve his daughter. To hell with the Agency if Kendall refused. He had his own contacts and suspected—no, knew—Sark would provide others. He would go rogue and never regret it.
Sark spoke quickly. "Tell the Assistant Director I'm your source. The Glasgow facility's security includes retinal scanners, along with voice and facial recognition programs. You‘ll need me there to get into the secure portions of the building, anyway."
"He's going to go ballistic," Dixon predicted.
Jack had to agree, but he knew Kendall would go along.
Sark was a slender shadow, his face a dim blur, hair a pale and shifting gleam in the distant glow of night-time LA. He held out his hand to Dixon. "The file, please."
Dixon handed it over. It didn't matter anymore. He'd seen it, read it, and could uncover the same information again without much effort. The secrecy lay in making sure no one ever asked the right questions.
"I'll—" Sark stopped.
"Make arrangements to get us both to Glasgow," Jack directed. "Whatever happens, I'm going in there."
"If Sydney's there, we have to get her out," Dixon agreed.
Sark cocked his head, then laughed. "You're both mad. —I'll make some enquiries, there's a seven man team basing out of Malta that's reliable. For enough money, they could be in Scotland by the day after tomorrow. And I'll have a jet waiting on stand-by for you by morning."
"We'll need to stay in contact," Jack said.
"The number I gave him—" a tip of the head toward Dixon's silhouette, "—in Peru is still good."
"Sark. If we get Sydney back, I'm going to tell her," Jack said as Sark went to the driver's side of the Lexus. As he opened the door, the interior light let Jack see his expression. It was closed, a mask of indifference.
"If you get Sydney back, she'll have enough problems after two years in limbo, without a half-brother who's wanted throughout the Western world," Sark remarked. He hesitated though, obviously thinking about it.
"Derevko may have moved her again, to some place I don't know about."
"I'll take that chance."
Sark gave a jerky nod, slid into the Lexus, and started it. The headlights flicked on, their harsh brightness catching the haze in the air and cutting jagged black shadows. Jack fingered the flashdrive Sark had given him. Irina Derevko's operations bible. The Holy Grail of counterterrorism intelligence handed over as a gift. Happy belated Father's Day, Jack Bristow, he thought, and chuckled silently.
The passenger side window hummed down. One hand on the steering wheel, Sark leaned over and caught Jack's eye. He knew Dixon wouldn't be able to make out what they said. It wasn't much, but he wasn't surprised that Sark would think of a fallback option.
"After services, at St. Mary's Cathedral, in Glasgow. If something goes wrong…I'll rendezvous with you there."
Jack memorized it.
"Lulu's Diner, three blocks from my apartment," he replied. "If I don't get an orange juice there by six tomorrow morning, assume I'm under coercion, get out of LA and stay away from Glasgow."
Sark met his eyes.
"What about Sydney?'
"You wouldn't be able to help her if you walked into a trap," Jack told him roughly. "We don't even know if she's there."
"Understood," Sark said softly.
"Go," Jack prompted him.
"Good luck with your Assistant Director Kendall," Sark laughed and reversed out of the turn out and onto the highway. A brief flash of brake lights and his car disappeared down the road, heading into LA.
Jack watched the car disappear around a curve and finally turned back to Dixon. The other agent joined him, leaning against the big SUV and staring into the night silently for a time.
"I don't know what to say to you, Jack," he murmured after the silence had grown too heavy.
"We should get back to the Ops Center. Call Kendall. Let the analysts start work on the discs Alexander—Sark—handed over. We need to start making plans for Glasgow," Jack said tiredly.
"Jack…The Rambaldi manuscripts the NSA is working on, they've found more references to the woman on Page 47, references to a brother." Dixon paused. "They've stopped thinking that the woman in the prophecy is Sydney."
"And in consequence, no longer assign any priority to retrieving her," Jack replied roughly. "I'm well aware. But this operation will be about apprehending Derevko on the face of it."
Dixon was choosing his words with utmost care. "But it is Sydney, isn't it? Sydney…and Sark."
"The folio Sark gave you in Peru was missing a page." Jack pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn't like talking about this, but Dixon already knew too much. Better to trust him with the whole story. Otherwise, he might make a mistake that drew attention to just what Jack wanted to stay hidden. "A picture. I destroyed it."
"No wonder he was so on edge then. Do you think Derevko knows? Was that why she—"
"I want Irina Derevko dead," Jack stated.
He felt Dixon face him. Felt the silent disapproval along with the man's understanding and acceptance.
"I want her dead for what she's done to my children."
"You can't change what he is, Jack."
Jack straightened up and sighed. It was time to head back.
"I'm not fooling myself, Dixon, but that doesn't mean I won't protect him if I can," he added. He opened the driver's door on the SUV and got in. The conversation was over; there was nothing more to say. He thought Dixon understood.
XXXIV. You've Never Seen Everything
The River Kelvin and the Clyde were lapping at the tops of their banks, black and cold and fast, and the rain kept falling. Everything was black with it, soaked dark, glistening, streetlights glittering quicksilver through the glass.
Lauren Reed looked out the safehouse window at the night and thought all the lights in Glasgow couldn't touch the black hollow of the storm, couldn't reach into the miles of clouds, could never delve the opaque depths of the waters.
She was the only woman in the room. It didn't bother her, but she did wish her husband was with them. Michael had handed in his resignation, though, and Kendall had immediately confined him to desk work until he was completely debriefed and shown the door.
Eric Weiss was good. He was a friend. He would be running oversight from outside the building as they went in, and Lauren trusted him. Maybe Jack Bristow did too, she'd heard he had requested Weiss specifically.
Marcus Dixon joined her.
"Time to gear up," he said.
She paused on her way back to the empty bedroom she'd staked out as her own when they had arrived at the safehouse.
"Dixon," she asked carefully, "do you know what's going on with this op?"
Dark eyes regarded her steadily, secrets shuttered behind them. Sometimes she wondered about Dixon, about Marshall Flinkman and Jack Bristow, the agents that had come into the Agency from SD-6. What had they really known? She tried not to, because thinking about SD-6 inevitably led to thoughts on Sydney Bristow and her husband had been in love with the woman.
Some questions shouldn't be asked.
Dixon sighed. "Are you asking me if you can trust Jack Bristow?"
Maybe she was. Stockholm had been a disaster. She was lucky Sark had chosen to shoot the gunman still on the street rather than her. David MacKenzie was still in the hospital. Taylor's memorial would be held in a few days, but all field agents had been discouraged from attending. The orders were literally, 'don't show your face there.'
"No," she answered. That wasn't what she'd meant, at least, no matter what her doubts were. "It's just—we've gone over and over the ops plan for after the teams insert into the building. I've got that memorized. But no one's said how we're getting in and shutting down security."
She laughed and added, "Bristow acts like we're just going to stroll in the front door."
Dixon patted her on the shoulder. "We are. —Now, go get your vest and radio."
Twenty minutes later they were slowly infiltrating toward the modest six-story office block sandwiched in the Glasgow Harbour development's commercial district. Lauren was already wet to the skin. She felt sorry for the guys on the assault teams, carrying twice as much gear as her and forced to wait until the infiltration group had the security neutralized.
A crackle in her ear heralded a transmission from Weiss.
"This is Romany. All teams hold. We've got an unknown at the rendezvous. Over."
Jack Bristow's voice overrode Weiss. "That's our contact. Gypsy One, Gypsy Two, with me. Everyone else, take your places and wait. Reply and confirm. Gypsy Alpha, out. Over."
Lauren waited as Dixon acknowledged the order. "Gypsy One, roger." Then she checked in, subvocalizing, knowing the throat mike would pick it up. "Gypsy Two, roger."
The assault team leaders each radioed in and Lauren fell into step behind Bristow and Dixon as they crossed the landscaped frontage and headed for the building's side entrance. Weiss was in one of the nearby buildings, scanning his monitors, watching the rendezvous point, keeping track of everyone. Orange halogen lights haloed in moisture illuminated the blue-tinted glass walls, but Bristow's contact stood in the shadows of a small overhang and she couldn't make out anything more than his presence.
Bristow slowed a step and wrapped his arm around her elbow, effectively immobilizing her gun hand. "Don't react," he warned her in a low voice. She only had an instant to wonder what he meant and then their contact shifted into the light and she recognized Sark.
Bristow's hand tightened on her arm.
Lauren shot a look at Dixon and saw he wasn't alarmed. Sark's appearance wasn't a surprise. For one awful second Lauren wondered if the operation wasn't a twisted setup and the two older agents actually doubles for someone—Derevko, Sloane, the Triads—and about to kill her.
"Agent Bristow, Agent Dixon," Sark said smoothly. He nodded toward Lauren, smiling mockingly, reading the shock on her face. "And the lovely Agent Reed. A pleasure to see you again."
Memory took her back to Stockholm, frozen like a rabbit as Sark's ice-cold eyes locked onto her, knowing she had been made. Michael had been screaming something about Jack and hostiles on the radio. The whole disastrous scenario unfolded all over again. She had to close her eyes for a second.
He'd shot Taylor and MacKenzie before she could even reach her weapon. Blood had exploded into Lauren's face, hot, almost blinding her. Part of her mind had been registering the rale of automatic fire outside. Part of her had heard Michael begging her to get down, or get out, the grenade concussion had drowned out everything after that.
Lauren opened her eyes, pushing the memory back, but not completely.
Sark had spun, she remembered, pushed the bank manager into her way and raced down the hallway. She'd still been trying to draw her weapon. He‘d stopped where the hall opened into the lobby and fired at someone on the street, then turned back. MacKenzie had been choking, blood from the chest wound staining the hands he'd clamped over it.
Lauren had finally had her gun out, but Sark had moved too fast—had already been too close—he'd knocked her gun arm aside, slammed her elbow into the wall, pushed her back until her shoulders hit it too. His fingers had bitten ruthlessly into the nerve in her wrist. She'd dropped her weapon.
She locked eyes with him now, remembering how he'd stared straight at her in the bank hallway, pupils dilated, irises dark as slate. He hadn't even been breathing hard. He'd tilted his head slightly, studied her, and the only expression she had been able to identify had been…curiosity.
"You're one of Bristow's," he'd muttered then, which had confused her, and backhanded her brutally. She'd slid down the wall, trying to gather her wits as he'd stepped back, and heard him say, "One choice. Stay and save your fellow agent or follow me—and you both die."
The awful, frothing gasps from David had told her the agent needed her help. Bristow had told them over and over Sark wasn't the target. She'd nodded, her vision grayed at the edges, and staggered to her feet, heading for David. She'd been aware of Sark retrieving his briefcase and going, but all her concentration had been bent on staunching the blood bubbling from MacKenzie's chest wound.
Just the memory made her stomach roll. A pleasure to see you again. Bastard.
She looked from Sark to Bristow and then Dixon. Sark was smirking, enjoying the scene. Bristow was intent, focused, and impatient. Dixon gave her a sympathetic look and remained serene.
"Can't say the same," Lauren managed to mutter at Sark.
He laughed softly.
Jack looked at his watch. "You have five minutes, Agent Reed. Ask your questions."
She pointed at Sark. "He's getting us inside?"
"Exactly," Jack replied.
She glared at the blond. "Why?"
The amusement drained from Sark's features. His mouth pulled to the side, a small tell, an expression of displeasure. "Perhaps you will find it sufficient if I mention Derevko was trying to kill me in Stockholm," he commented.
"Perhaps I won't," Lauren snapped.
Sark shrugged. She really looked at him for the first time since their arrival. Sark was dressed in black, but managed to make combat gear look chic with the addition of a long leather coat. Damp curls clung to his temples. "I really don't care," he said. His lucent blue eyes and attention switched back to Jack Bristow. "Was her addition necessary?"
"Kendall insisted," Dixon interjected.
Slow blink as Sark processed that. His eyes never strayed from Bristow. "Just as long as she doesn't have her own agenda."
"Agent Reed's a professional," Jack said. Then he surprised Lauren and said, "No one is going to double-cross you tonight, Sark."
Sark nodded nonchalantly, but the corner of his mouth twitched up, and he said dryly, "What a relief." He checked his watch and raised an eyebrow. "It's exactly one hour and fourteen minutes until the end of the second guard shift. The floating patrol will be on the third floor. They should all be rather complacent by now. —Shall we go in?"
Jack said, "Yes."
Sark proceeded to the entrance flanked by Dixon and Bristow. Lauren followed. He used a keycard to access a panel with a keyboard, microphone and retinal scanner, typing in a series of phrases while reciting a different set. Then he leaned forward and stared into the scanner for a moment.
Lauren held her breath as they waited.
"What if Derevko's pulled your access?" Dixon asked Sark.
Sark sighed impatiently, sounding remarkably like Jack, then smiled as the door unlocked with soft chuff and opened. "I designed the security protocols for several of Irina's holdings. Not this one, but she used my design, so…She may have tried to block my access—" Sark stepped inside and waved them in with him, "—but Khasinau taught me always to have a back door. I expanded that to a front door, and made sure I could always get in, if I wanted to."
"Good work," Jack said. Lauren caught the satisfied grin on Sark's face before he carefully wiped away all expression. She rubbed the rain off her nose and shook her head. He'd looked like a pleased little boy for a second.
Jack radioed Weiss.
"Romany, we're in. Proceeding to the security control center. Over."
"Gypsy Four, Five, and Six are good to go. Waiting on your signal. Over."
"Hold in place, Romany. Over."
"Roger wilco, Gypsy Alpha. Romany, out."
Sark was already on his way, not waiting for them. Lauren had to hurry to keep up with the longer legs of the men. The heavy carpet on the floor absorbed the squelching sounds of their wet boots. Sark was almost loping, the long coat flaring behind him.
Twice they stopped while Sark entered a code into a keypad to release a door, fingers dancing. Dixon had his weapon out and was watching their backs. Lauren drew her own pistol and held it at ready. Bristow was braced for whatever lay on the other side of the door each time. She felt a little better that Sark hadn't drawn a weapon too, but knew exactly how quickly he could produce one.
Sark took them up one flight of stairs and stopped before a white-painted steel door. He nodded toward it. "We can shut down everything from in here. There should be two security people inside, a guard and a man on monitoring duty. He has a dead0man switch; the instant someone enters the room, he's supposed to trigger the alarms and lock the building down. We'll have approximately three seconds to secure the room." He looked into Bristow's eyes. "I'll take out the man at the monitors. You'll have to deal with the guard."
Bristow stared at him hard.
"I'll do it," Bristow declared.
Lauren swallowed hard. Bristow and Sark had just divided up the job of killing two men, without blinking. It made her a little sick, thinking about it. A quick look at Dixon told her nothing; the big agent had his game face on.
Sark's eyes flickered over her. "Ready, Agent Reed?"
She held her pistol up and pushed the safety off ostentatiously. "For everything."
Sark raised an eyebrow. He shrugged out of the coat, dropping it on the floor carelessly, and drew a Glock 17 with a matte black combat finish from the shoulder holster he wore over a heavy, ribbed black sweater. He popped the clip out, checked it and slapped it back in the receiver, with the unconscious smoothness of reflex, then disengaged the safety.
Without another word, he began entering the release code on the keypad next to the doorknob with his left hand.
The instant the lock clicked open, Sark side-kicked the door wide open. He took three steps in and his arm came up and he aimed and fired at the balding man spinning in his desk chair and gaping at him. He fired again. Double tap. The man fell across the desk in front of the monitor bank.
The security room was small and packed with equipment. The two reports echoed more loudly than normal. Jack was in through the door, tracking the second man, the guard. Lauren was close enough behind him to see the guard back along the wall, bringing a gun to bear on Sark's back.
Jack saw him too and tackled Sark, knocking him to the floor as the guard fired. A monitor exploded.
Lauren shot the guard. Two shots to the chest and he staggered back against the wall and slid down it, leaving a wide swathe of blood across the pale gray paint. The air reeked of spent powder and cordite; it burned the back of her sinuses.
Jack rolled off Sark, who gave the dead guard a dark look and moved immediately to the control console. He set the Glock on the desk, nudged the dead man out of the chair, sat down, and began typing in commands, shutting down building security.
Jack got to his feet and nodded at Lauren.
She swallowed bile and nodded. It had all been reflex. She had to look away from the man she'd shot. She looked at her hands instead. They were still perfectly steady. Training.
"Dixon, you've got the door," Jack directed. He keyed his mic. "Romany. We're in the control room. Prepare for go. Over."
"Way to go, Gypsy Alpha," Weiss replied. "All Gypsy elements are standing by, five by five. Out."
Jack walked over and leaned close to Sark, peering at the monitor screens intently. "Where's Derevko?"
Sark's fingers clattered over the keyboard. He was biting his lower lip. Lauren would have bet it was a habit whenever he concentrated. "There's an apartment attached to the executive offices on the fifth floor," he said. One of the dead screens flared on and displayed a comfortably furnished room. An indistinct figure moved in the upper left corner.
"Zoom in," Jack commanded.
Sark shook his head. "If I shift the camera angle, Derevko will know it's live."
"I'm going after her."
Sark's fingers stilled and he turned to look at Bristow. "No," he said in a low tone. "Wait. Just one minute. Let me get your damned assault teams inside first."
"I can't take the chance of losing her again, Sark," Jack said. He headed for the door and Sark began cursing and typing faster.
"Dixon, give the go order as soon as Sark okays it," Jack directed. "I want you and Reed with him at all times, so the teams don't mistake him for a hostile."
"Jack, don't go after her alone—"
"Dixon, I'm trusting you," Jack told him. "Do whatever he says, but keep him alive."
"Damn it, Jack, you don't make it easy," Dixon said, but he stepped out of Bristow's way. "Watch your six."
"Reed, you hear that?" Bristow called.
"I've got it," Lauren said. She looked to Dixon, feeling completely out of her depth.
"Good," Bristow said and went out the door. Sark's head whipped around.
"Sukin sin," Sark muttered and glared at Dixon. "Go with him."
Dixon looked at the blond levelly and said, "I've got my orders."
"Stupid, stubborn, bloody-minded—" Sark muttered, returning his attention to the keyboard and seeming to work twice as fast. Dixon shrugged at Lauren. "—serve him right if she blows his head off. Don't know why I'd care—" The lights on the status board flashed red then amber. Sark held his hands up. "That's got it. Send in the clowns."
"Romany," Dixon said into radio. "This is Gypsy One. The order is go, I say again, the order is go. Over."
"This is Romany, Gypsy One. Three, Four, Five, you have a green light. Weapons free. The order is go. I say again, the order is go. Out."
Downstairs, the three assault teams were boiling inside, overtaking anyone and everyone still present in the building, setting up a perimeter to keep anyone from escaping.
Lauren expected Sark to get up and go after Bristow, the way he'd acted, but the blond was hunched over the desk, surfing through the surveillance cameras, scanning for something. Abruptly, he stopped on one shot of an apparently empty medical laboratory on the second floor. An empty hospital bed stood in the center of the room, the sheets rumpled, and the surrounding machinery disconnected.
"Damn it," Sark breathed. He triggered the next camera in the series and it displayed a view of a hallway filled with figures, armed guards and a woman in a lab coat, surrounding and pushing a gurney with an anonymous figure strapped on it toward a freight elevator. "It has to be her. It has to be."
He scooped up the Glock from beside the keyboard and headed for the door. "Come on. We have to get to the roof," Sark yelled at Dixon. He grabbed Lauren's arm and tugged her with him. "Come on, we don't have any fucking time to waste here!"
"What about the elevator?" Lauren yelled as Sark sprinted for the emergency stairs. He was already tearing the door open and charging up two and three steps at a time.
Dixon was right behind her, catching her waistband in one big hand and lifting her as Lauren stumbled, trying to keep up with Sark.
"Elevators are out along with the security system," Sark snapped. "I locked them down when I cut it off."
Lauren had found her stride and was keeping pace with the two men. The metal stairs clanged under their feet, the echo catching and bouncing back to them in the concrete-lined hollow space they were ascending. The walls were strobing white and bloody red from the emergency lights; her heartbeat seemed to be keeping time with the flashes.
"Then why are we heading for roof? Whoever that was can't get there without an ele—"
"The freight elevator in the lab is running off a separate system with its own generator," Sark replied. "I couldn't get through the firewall and disable it in time. And we have to stop them."
"It's Sydney," Dixon rasped from beside her.
Sydney? Sydney Bristow? Oh, Jesus, Lauren thought. The figure on the gurney...
"I think so," Sark said hoarsely. Even he sounded slightly breathless as they passed the third floor landing and fire door.
"Irina's lab people have standing orders to evacuate if there's a security breach. There's a helicopter waiting on the roof landing pad."
A fire alarm began shrieking, adding to Lauren's disorientation, but she kept determinedly on. In the interval between one burning inhalation and the next, she caught the sound of the third floor door slamming open and recognized the danger.
"The floating patrol!" she yelled.
The guards began firing up the staircase, ricochets sparking off the white-painted railings, and screaming off the suspended metal risers. Sark slowed a step, grabbed Lauren's free hand off the railing and slammed her flat against the wall, taking her out of the line of fire.
"Thanks," she gasped in disbelief. She was going to have bruises, but that beat getting shot.
"I pay my debts."
Dixon dropped to his knees on the stairs, angled his gun between the railings and began firing downward blindly. "I've got it," he panted. "Just keep going. Don't lose her!"
Sydney had been Dixon's operational partner in the field when they both worked for SD-6, Lauren remembered. It seemed like everyone wanted her back—even Sark. But what an insane rescue this was, with the rescuers made up of the woman's revenge-obsessed father, her partner from a defunct terrorist organization, a—former?—enemy, and her old boyfriend's new wife. At least now, Lauren understood why Jack Bristow had taken the chance of trusting Sark; the man would do anything to get his daughter back. Dixon would go along for the same reasons.
And Sark? Lauren thought she would never understand Sark.
Sark gave Dixon a brusque nod and bolted upward.
"Go!" Dixon shouted at Lauren. "Watch his back or Jack will skin both of us!"
Shit, she'd never understand any of them. She raced after Sark, ignoring the gunfire behind her.
Jack knew Sark had taken down the security as promised when the main lighting went out. He was already outside the office that titularly belonged to the head of the firm that owned the building and in fact was occupied by Irina Derevko.
The electric locks were disabled. That meant he could kick the door in with ease and he did. He went in fast, as fast as Sark had gone into the control room, wishing he could have waited for the boy to back him up.
Irina was in the middle of the room, talking swiftly into a cell phone, heading toward the door Jack had just come through. "Is the helicopter ready? Evacuate now."
Her dark eyes widened at his appearance.
Jack aimed his gun at her and said, "Drop the phone and keep both hands where I can see them, Irina."
Irina ignored him long enough to say into the phone, "Send down a backup team to stop anyone coming after you."
Then she opened her fingers and let the cell drop to the deep red carpeting. "I wasn't expecting you, Jack. You've gotten better these last two years."
"And you've let playing games get in the way."
Her hair was loose. She slid several strands behind her ear. Still playing games. She was smiling, but it was a tight, hard smile, and joyless.
"Do you really think this is a game, Jack?" she asked. One hand curled into a fist. "My daughter will change the fate of the world. She‘s too important—"
"Is that how you justify it to yourself? Holding Sydney prisoner? And what you did to Sark—Alexander?" Jack demanded angrily. "What did that accomplish?"
"As long as Sloane has Il Dire it is vital he can't reach Sydney." Her eyes narrowed. "—I couldn't have you. I couldn't have Sydney. So I had Sark," she said. "I made him."
"And you‘d rather see him dead than let him know the truth."
"He went to you once he read Khasinau's file, I suppose," she said, tilting her head thoughtfully. "How did you feel, Jack, finding out he's your son?"
"He was working with me before that," Jack taunted. "It didn't make any difference."
"You're lying, Jack. I know Sark. All he's ever wanted was a connection and once he learned he had one to you…"
"He knows whatever warped relationship he had with you was a lie," Jack said. "I haven't lied to him."
"Oh, Jack, if you've let him think for an instant that you'll care for him as father, you've lied to him," Irina murmured. "You weren't even a good father to Sydney, and you love her." She moved toward him. "And when you disappoint him, he'll turn on you—"
"Enough. I'm taking you back into custody and this time there will be no immunity agreements, no Sydney to delude into believing you've reformed."
Irina was dressed in a black slacks and a silk tank top. She had on black flats. She looked like she'd been relaxing, perhaps reading one her old favorites. George Eliot. Laura had liked George Eliot. Jack didn't know what Irina liked to read. Intelligence reports, he supposed. Rambaldi manuscripts.
She looked harmless, standing before him empty-handed and still so damned beautiful despite the years and the deceptions, but Jack knew Irina Derevko stripped naked would be more dangerous than a Navy SEAL with a twenty-pound satchel of C4.
"If you do that, you'll sign Sydney's death warrant, Jack," Irina said. Her head jerked to the door as the fire alarm began blaring and a stutter of gunfire drifted from somewhere in the building. "Or perhaps you already have." She turned her gaze back to Jack. "Sark won't hesitate to kill her."
"You're wrong about him," Jack insisted, stifling the sick fear that Irina was right. He didn't know what Sark felt toward Sydney. Maybe even Sark didn't know.
"Then let's go, Jack," Irina said, approaching him with a slow swing to her hips, a deliberate invitation he hated himself for even noticing. She saw that he'd responded too. "No one ever compared to you, Jack, not even Sark."
"Christ," he muttered.
Irina laughed, that rich, sensual laugh he'd fallen in love with a lifetime ago.
He waved her past him to the door. "Down the hall to the stairs," he directed.
Irina nodded. "Sark shut down the security for you. I shouldn't have trusted any system he designed would be proof against him. I didn't anticipate that move," she admitted. She looked back over her shoulder at Jack. "Do you see yourself in him, Jack?"
"Just keep moving," he said wearily.
"No more questions, Jack?" Irina stopped with her back to him, her hand on the pushbar that opened the fire door onto the stairs. "Don't you want to know where Sydney is?"
"If she's here, we'll find her," Jack said grimly. He couldn‘t let Irina distract him this time. He couldn‘t pursue Sydney until Irina had been secured. He couldn‘t let her feed his doubts about Sark. Dixon and Reed were with him; if Sark had a hidden agenda, they would stop him. He believed that, if nothing else. And he didn‘t believe the boy meant Sydney any harm. "If she isn't, you'll tell me where she is. Understand that, Irina. You will tell me where Sydney is."
"Not if Sark gets to her first."
Irina pushed open the door and stepped onto the landing.
He'd lost his mind. What the hell was he getting out of this? Sark thought as he pounded up the stairs. Agent Reed kept pace just behind him. He would have preferred Sydney. Or Jack. Even Dixon, though he was relieved to have the man slowing down the security patrol in the stairwell below them. Dixon wasn't as good as Sark, but he was reliable.
Reliable counted for a lot in Sark's estimation.
Not that Reed wasn't good. She'd gotten past the hesitation at shooting a live target for the first time and taken down the guard in the control room. It was just…Sydney had been better, maybe even better than him. And Jack Bristow was…Jack. Looking back, Sark thought Derevko would have been taken in Stockholm, if Jack hadn't intervened early, triggering the ambush meant for him. That—sacrifice—wasn't something Sark had much experience with, not working for and learning from Derevko.
He hadn't decided yet how he felt about having a father, a name, and an identity that didn't stem from Derevko, but it didn't seem so bad when Jack tackled him in the control room. It wouldn't last of course…Bristow would remember just what Sark was soon enough and his paternal impulses would turn back toward Sydney.
He did know he meant to find Sydney. Turn her over to her father safely. Her father…his father. He couldn't let himself starting thinking like that, though. Find Sydney. After that, he had no idea.
Fourth floor landing and the door was opening, one of Irina's Ukrainian bodyguards—brown eyed Yevgeni—stepping through it. He had a Czech-made Skorpion submachine gun in his hand. Sark didn't know if Reed had on body armor, but he didn't, and one spray of automatic fire could take them both out.
Yevgeni recognized him. They'd seen each other often in Cyprus. His mouth opened in surprise and a single word, Nyet. Sark didn't know if Yevgeni simply didn't expect to see him or had been briefed that Sark was no longer part of the inner circle. It didn't matter. He used the moment and Yevgeni's hesitation and shot him before he could react.
"Jesus," he heard Reed gasp behind him. He dodged and cleared Yevgeni's body as it tumbled down the stairs. The Skorpion landed with a clatter on the landing. He ignored it, caught the door as it started to fall closed, and went through.
Yevgeni had been one of Irina's most trusted men and Sark had spotted him on the monitors among the group pulling Sydney out of the lab. He hoped the rest of them were on the fourth floor too.
He wanted to keep running, but knew it would be idiotic to blunder into the squad of armed guards accompanying the doctors.
Reed ran into him as he slowed and he barely stifled the trained reflex that would have had him turning on her. "Okay, Sark, what the hell are we doing now?" she breathed from just behind him.
He turned his head, checking an office number and comparing it to the fourth-floor blueprints. "Yevgeni was with the group we're after. They must have got off the freight elevator. We need to intercept them if they're heading for the stairwell," he explained in a low voice.
"Great," she muttered. "How many of them are there?"
"One less than before."
Reed glared at him in dislike. She was probably thinking of the two agents he'd shot in Stockholm.
"You knew him," she said. "Don't you feel anything?"
He almost ignored her. Almost, but adrenaline and the camaraderie of a shared mission and danger loosened his tongue. "I'd rather not," he said softly. He‘d felt more, hurt more, in the last few months than ever in his life. He didn‘t like it. "It only hurts in the end, Agent Reed."
Reed grimaced. "Don't make me think you're human, Sark."
He nodded. "That would be a mistake."
Hers and his.
They took opposite sides of the hallway, hugging the walls, without any more discussion, and began working their way forward. They had to check each office and clear it before proceeding. Sark started to grit his teeth, knowing this was taking too long. They should have seen some sign of the lab group if they were on this floor.
"This is wrong," Reed whispered.
He angled a look at her. "Agreed."
He started out of the latest empty office first. As he did, the door to the room opposite swung open and Yevgeni's regular partner and two others fanned out into the hall. All three were armed with Skorpions and Sark froze. Reed stayed in the room behind him. They wouldn't expect anyone to be with him, he hoped.
"Anatoly," Sark greeted him.
Anatoly was Ukrainian like Yevgeni but several years older. He grinned, showing a steel-capped tooth. "Sark," he replied. He handed the Skorpion to the man on his right then waved both of them back. "I've wanted to do this for a long time."
Sark waited while Anatoly cracked his knuckles, cataloging the man's strengths and weaknesses. He still had the Glock in his own hand, though Anatoly's two confederates were covering him. Reed was behind him in the office, armed with a hand gun and a full clip. He was one round down. Anatoly was almost six inches taller than him, with a weight-lifter's physique. He was slower than Sark, older, reliant on his size and strength rather than skill. In a fair fight, Sark would take him apart in seconds.
None of that meant anything when the other two men would shoot him full of holes afterward.
Sark allowed himself a cold smile.
"All right, Anatoly," he said and holstered the Glock.
"Come on, traitor," Anatoly rumbled.
Sark began circling, staying out of reach of those big hands, watching how the man moved, where his eyes focused, waiting for his own chance. He wanted the Ukrainian between him and the office where Reed waited. He needed to be within reach of the other two men.
Anatoly engaged before Sark had the grouping his plan required. A flurry of kicks and blows followed; fast, brutal moves meant to maim or kill. Sark didn't try to think as he fought, just to block and hit and dodge Anatoly's piledriver blows. Every time he missed Sark, every time Sark hit, Anatoly's rage and frustration ratcheted up a notch. That worked in Sark's favor.
The Ukrainian finally connected, sending Sark staggering back. It put him in the alignment he'd been waiting for. He shook his head as though dazed. Anatoly sneered. "Can't take it, pretty boy?"
Sark let himself sway. He stumbled two steps closer to the first man and into line with the second man and Anatoly. Now he was where he needed to be to make his plan work.
"Fuck you and your syphilitic mother," Sark said to him in the Ukrainian dialect he'd picked up in Kiev.
Anatoly roared and charged him. Sark dived into the legs of the man just to his left, knocking him into the wall. Anatoly couldn't stop his rush and bowled over his own confederate.
Sark tore the Skorpion from the guard's hand—breaking his finger in the process—and used it, emptying the clip at Anatoly and the third man. They dropped. He spun back and hammered the skeleton stock of the empty weapon into the last guard's face, shattering the man's nose and teeth.
The guard clutched at his ruined face with a gurgling scream. Sark dropped the Skorpion and levered himself away from him. For two long, deep breaths, he let himself stay there on the floor, on hands and knees, feeling the damage Anatoly had done. His heartbeat thundered in his ears. When he had the pain under control, he looked up at Lauren Reed, who stood beside him, waiting and watching for any new threats.
The last guard was curled into a fetal ball, hands over his face, keening in pain. Sark ignored him. He was no longer a threat.
"Need a hand?" Reed asked.
Sark got to his feet on his own. "No."
"Be that way."
Sark looked down the empty hall and frowned. "This was a delaying action."
Reed got it. "Shit. —So we head for the roof again."
He pulled the Glock from its holster and headed back for the fire stairs.
"What about that guy?" Reed said.
"Shoot him if you want to," Sark called back.
Reed didn't. She followed him up the stairs, past the fifth floor and up to the roof access. Sark never slowed, but he knew they were too late before they exited onto the rain slick landing pad.
The helicopter was gone, the heavy throp-throp-throp of its rotors fading into the night, its running lights blurred and distant through the sheets of rain pouring down. The empty gurney lay tumbled on its side, a twisted sheet spilling off it, the green color faint in the dim illumination of the city night. It was already soaked.
Sark walked out onto the empty landing pad and lifted his face, letting the rain hit him and run down over his nose and cheeks and chin. He'd failed. If it had been Derevko, he'd know what the reaction would be, but not Jack Bristow. He didn't know what Bristow would think or do.
Reed walked out and joined him. She stared at the helicopter's disappearing lights.
"We don't even know if it was really her."
That wasn't the point, he wanted to say. Instead, he tipped his head back and let the rain soak him.
The gunfire was louder in the stairwell, echoes ringing off metal, channeled upward.
Jack hesitated. "Irina. Stop." The firefight sounded like it was in the stairwell. Irina stopped compliantly, standing in profile to him. She was listening too. The dim crimson light lent her a disconcertingly bloody appearance and gleamed off the toned muscle of her bare arms.
He keyed his radio.
"Romany, this is Gypsy Alpha. Give me a status report, over."
Weiss' voice replied immediately, the transmission to Jack‘s earpiece tinny but clear. "Jesus, about time you checked in." He could hear the nerves in Weiss‘ voice, but the agent reverted to professionalism fast. "—Gypsies Four and Six have secured the building perimeter and are holding in place. Gypsy Five is engaged by fire from at least six hostiles in the north emergency stairwell, just below the third floor. Gypsy One is pinned down on the stairs above the hostiles. Gypsy Two and Rogue are somewhere above him and out of contact. What's your status? Over."
"Status green, Romany," Jack said. He kept his eyes on Irina. "I have the objective. Give me an alternative route from the fifth floor. Over."
"Give me your location, Gypsy Alpha. Over."
"Fifth floor landing, north emergency stair."
Irina shifted her weight, standing hipshot, interpolating the situation from Jack's side of the radio transmission, as she was unable to hear Weiss. She turned toward Jack, her eyes black.
"Problems, Jack?" Irina asked.
"No. Be quiet."
"Okay, you need to get down one floor to the fourth," Weiss said. "Rogue took down everything—the elevators are still out, along with anything else except the emergency lighting. Fourth floor has an entrance to a secondary set of stairs on the south side of the building. According to the blueprints I'm looking at, you can take a straight shot from the north stairs to the central elevator banks, jog around them and at the end of the hall find the south stair's doorway. Over."
"Anything from Gypsy Two?" Jack asked, gesturing Irina down the stairs with his gun. "Over."
"Nada, Gypsy Alpha. Romany, out."
Jack sighed, wondering where Sark had disappeared and if Reed had managed to stick with him. Not if the boy didn't want her with him.
Irina reached the fourth floor landing ahead of him and gasped, stumbling, "Yevgeni—?"
She fell, hitting her knees and stretching one hand toward the foot of the corpse stretched over the next section of stairs. Surprise at her reaction cost Jack. Irina wasn't reaching for Yevgeni. Her hand locked onto the fallen Skorpion lying on the landing.
Irina rolled onto her back and fired one handed at him. The shots were wild, but they forced Jack back up the stairs, and gave Irina the instant she needed to wrench open the door. He returned her fire, but she had the door—reinforced steel—open and between them. His shots ricocheted off with a painful whine, one chipping the concrete wall next to him.
He flinched and then did the only thing he could: he went after her.
"We need to get back to Dixon," Reed said. She touched Sark's arm. He moved away. They were both wet to the bone, warmth leaching from their bodies. He shivered. After action letdown, Sark told himself.
He had to start thinking again. No more reacting.
"No," he said. "We need to find Bristow and Derevko."
Reed stared at him until he snapped.
"You really wanted to find Sydney Bristow, didn't you?"
Sark didn't answer. He headed for the stairs again. Reed trailed him.
"Do something useful," Sark told her. "Contact Agent Weiss and find out where everyone is."
"Aye, aye, sir," Reed muttered. But she did comply. "Gypsy Two to Romany, come back, over."
Sark cocked his head, waiting. They were standing at the top of the stairs, out of the rain, two blond headed shadows bathed in red light, dripping onto the floor. He should have insisted someone supply him with a headset too. A few stutters of gunfire reached them, the frequency dying down even as Sark listened, stretches of silence lengthening between each burst.
"Give me a location on them, Romany, over," Reed said. She listened, eyes abstracted. "Okay, we'll proceed to rendezvous with Gypsy One then follow up on Gypsy Alpha and the target. Out."
He raised an eyebrow at her.
Reed lifted her chin. "Dixon's coming up. Agent Bristow radioed he had Derevko and is taking the fourth floor route to the south stairs. One of the assault teams is cleaning up the last resistance right now."
Sark didn't acknowledge her, just started down the stairs.
"You're welcome," Reed griped.
"Why should I thank you for doing your job?"
"Did you take lessons at the Jack Bristow school of ingratitude?"
"No, it must be genetic," Sark replied under his breath. The renewed and much closer burst of fire from a Skorpion wiped everything from his mind. He started running down the stairs, leaping three and four steps, outstripping Reed without a thought.
Sark spared one glance down the rest of the stairs as he reached fourth floor again. Yevgeni was still sprawled head down over the risers. The Skorpion he'd dropped was gone. Dixon was running up toward him.
He heard the agent call, "Sark, wait—"
He wasn't waiting for anyone.
He sprinted down the hallway, leaping the dead bodies of Anatoly and the other man. Around the shaft that housed the central elevators and slowing, moving silently now, listening, looking for Bristow and Derevko.
He saw them. Irina was running. Jack was pursuing.
Jack shouted. Sark didn't hear it. His world had narrowed to a tunnel that included only Irina Derevko as she spun and fired at Jack Bristow. No sound. Slow motion.
Bristow fell back.
Irina stalked back toward him.
Sark took in a long shuddering breath. Don't, he thought, don't, as Irina lifted the Skorpion. Just go. Go. Bristow had lost his gun. He couldn't stop her. No one would stop her. She could get away. All she had to do was turn around and keep going.
She was saying something to Bristow, not smiling, while he pressed a hand over his wound.
She was so intent on Jack Bristow she didn't see Sark at the end of the hallway. Had she ever seen him as more than a tool? He lifted the Glock and lined up the sights on her. Head shot. If he had to do it, he'd make it fast.
His hand wanted to shake. Cold. He was cold, from the rain, from the roof; he wasn't hesitating, he never hesitated to pull the trigger.
‘I should have shot you in Firenze.'
She should have.
He dragged in another breath.
Suddenly, he could hear again.
Sark pulled the trigger.
XXXV. Family Snapshot
"Irina!" Jack shouted. She didn't hesitate, didn't turn back, dark hair flying loose behind her as she sprinted toward the south stairway.
"Stop!" He knew it was useless.
He stopped running; trying to steady his hands despite his heaving breaths, raising his pistol, the motion learned so long ago it was as unconscious as his heartbeat. Even now, he was reluctant to fire, the knowledge of all that tied them together and forever held them apart slowing his decision.
Even as he pulled the trigger, he understood he'd again waited an instant too long. Irina threw herself to the side, spinning, the Skorpion in her hands, and his bullet went wide. She fired and the muzzle flash coincided with the blunt blow as he was hit. The pain was sharp and clear and almost familiar. Jack stumbled, falling back against a wall, his own pistol lost on the floor.
He stared up at her as Irina walked closer. She kept the Czech-made machine gun aimed at him. There was no smile, secret or otherwise, on her face.
"Sorry, Jack," she said casually.
He found the wound, low on his side, bleeding but shallow, with his hand. The hot, wet push of his blood through his fingers seemed more real than the pain. He didn't look down, instead kept his eyes locked with Irina's gelid gaze.
"No, you're not," he contradicted.
That smooth smile that he'd come to understand was just as empty as her heart curved her lips.
"Not really," she agreed. "—This is the end. Good-bye, Jack."
The crack of a 9mm round firing startled Jack. He jerked, pain jolting through him with the movement, but nothing more. Irina staggered back and collapsed. Her finger convulsed on the Skorpion's trigger, emptying the clip in a deafening roar, but the bullets stitched up the pale plastered wall and into the ceiling. It was just the last reflex of a body already dead, unaimed, unintended, unknown.
Her body folded to the floor with a heavy thud, in a sprawl of suddenly awkward limbs, bent and folded and utterly still as nothing living could ever be.
Jack stared at the dark and bloody mess left by a bullet fired at close range impacting with a human head. One dark eye remained open, opaque brown, blank and unseeing. Death hadn't startled Irina; it had come too fast.
He wanted to feel something, regret or relief, but his emotions had become glacial things, solid and slow to move. Sometime in the days to come he might mourn his memory of who he'd once thought she was. He would empty a bottle of Scotch again, sitting in a dark room, and shake with relief. But that would be later, when there was no one to see.
The soft scuff of a shoe heralded the shooter's arrival. A pair of wet, black combat boots stopped between Jack and Irina's corpse. Jack raised his gaze, first finding the dangling hand that still curled loosely around the grips of a matte black Glock, then moving up fatigue-clad legs and a damp black turtleneck sweater to the ruffled blond head and hollow blue eyes. Sark was staring down at Irina, not even blinking, as though waiting for her to stir and return to life.
He'd lost track of Sark and dismissed the matter in his own blind pursuit of Irina.
Sark sank to his knees gracefully.
His head hung, showing a slim slice of pale neck above his collar. He looked slight and disarmingly boyish, rather than lethal, despite everything.
Jack pulled himself up against the wall.
Sark turned his head slowly and looked at Jack. His eyes were looking for something, asking for something, but Jack didn't have it to give. Sark's shoulders slumped. He turned his face away, kept it turned away, even when Jack laid a hand on his tense shoulder.
"I wouldn't have done it if she'd just kept going," he said hoarsely.
Jack squeezed his shoulder. It was all the acknowledgement he could give to what Sark had just admitted to knowing. Feeling. He couldn't offer any comfort. He could never find any for himself, couldn't find it for Sydney, and now, there was none for Sark. Whatever pain and regrets his son felt, Sark would have to live and deal with himself.
He said only, "I know."
Sark nodded, dashed the heel of his free hand over one cheekbone, and twisted back to face Jack. If his lashes were still wet, there was nothing else to give away that he felt anything over what he‘d just done. He'd learned all of Irina's lessons well. He gestured to Jack's side. "How bad?"
The faintest trace of that half-smile Jack had grown almost familiar with quirked Sark's lips. He murmured dryly, "That was the idea."
"Help me up and then get out of here," Jack said.
Sark rose smoothly, holstered the Glock he still held, and drew Jack up with surprising ease. When Jack was leaning against the wall, Sark retrieved his dropped pistol and proffered it. Jack took it, a solemn pact forming between them. Both of them carefully kept their eyes away from the wreckage of what had been Irina Derevko.
Sark paused, looking uncertainly down the white walled hallway, clearly wondering how soon the rest of the CIA assault team would arrive and whether he needed to stay with Jack. It reminded Jack exactly how young he was. Years younger than Sydney, yet so much harder than she had been—was—and even more experienced. There had been something still innocent about him, though, until now.
Now his eyes were dark with the choices he'd made.
Jack made himself speak harshly.
"Go. Go while I'm still willing to let you go."
Sark jerked and stared at him. Then he left, using the same stairs Irina had been trying to reach. He didn't look back. Had he understood what Jack had meant?
He couldn't keep him.
Jack closed his eyes, breathing through the pain in his side, and the other pains, holding onto the picture of Sark nearly smiling at him. Alexander. But the image faded, disappearing the way everything he'd ever been foolish enough to love did. He opened his eyes to glare down at Irina's body, resisting the urge to kick it.
He was still there when Marcus Dixon and Reed arrived. When Dixon asked if he was all right, he could only say, "I've been worse."
It was the truth.
Dixon looked down at Irina's corpse.
XXXVI. El Niño Perdido
Or know, at least, we were he and now talk
With his tongue
Stone and stained glass, wood well polished by a hundred years of hands, and the stillness of the soft blue hour before dusk filling the nave. The windows were dim, the church half dark already, the scent of beeswax, incense, and candle flame mingled with damp and age.
Jack lit a candle for Sydney when he came in, the half forgotten ritual of his Ontario childhood guiding his steps. The past was always with him. He sat on an empty bench away from the softly lit altar and let his eyes almost close. The candles were a smear of unfocused, amber light, never still or steady. He was tired, still weak, and dispirited. He had hoped to find Sydney in Irina's last lair, but there hadn't been even a clue left to tell him where to search next.
It had been almost two years since he'd seen his daughter. In that time he'd realized that Sloane didn't have her and almost succumbed to the man's invitation to work with him again. A little more than a year and a half had passed since he'd learned who Sark was and calmly chosen him over his loyalty to the Agency—though no one knew that. Not quite three days had passed since his son had shot Irina to save him. The lines—of loyalty, of blood, of operational necessity, friendship and professionalism, even love—were all tangled and knotted within him.
He didn't know what he thought or felt anymore. There was no one left to guess that he did feel anything. All that really remained was the drive to find Sydney. If he could know she was safe and well...He would dismiss the rest.
There wasn't enough of him to extend that to Sark, no matter what the young man deserved from him.
He watched Sark glide into the church and light a candle himself. The combat and assault gear had been replaced with elegant, dark blue Italian tailoring. Idly, he wondered if the young operative was only performing the ritual to present the proper appearance or if he actually prayed for someone. He didn't know his son enough to guess. Did Sark mourn anyone? His mother? Khasinau? The Doren girl? Would he mourn Irina?
Sark seated himself at the bench beside Jack, head dutifully bowed. A sidelong glance revealed a lurking smile on his lips, though.
"Arvin Sloane sends his regards…And regrets," Sark murmured. A sly look conveyed Sark's skepticism over that.
Jack lifted a brow.
"Are you playing messenger boy for him now?"
Sark replied lightly, "Only with you."
Jack absorbed that.
"Sloane didn't get her, you know," Sark went on. "He doesn't know where she is."
"He wants me to use everything I know about...The Organization to figure out where Sydney is." Sark's voice hitched when he might have said Irina, but he remained otherwise poised. He faced Jack. "It won't be easy. She never told anyone everything." A duck of his head and he looked up through his eyelashes almost winsomely. His tone turned sardonic in contrast. "Certainly not me."
"And if you do find Sydney?" Jack asked, keeping his own voice level.
"I'll tell you first," Sark answered. His lips twisted in displeasure. "It's the best I can do."
Jack wondered if this wasn't something of a game to Sark.
Sark sighed as though he‘d read Jack‘s thought. "I'm never going to be one of the good guys, but I'm not utterly without feeling." Blue eyes flickered to Jack's face and away. "I would have liked...Something." He shrugged, unwilling or unable to articulate more. Jack understood it anyway.
All that they could have had was already gone. What was left was this. Stay alive. Stay out of my way.
"So would I."
They both fell silent, watching as parishioners came and went through the gloomy church. Sark didn't seem bothered by memories of what he'd done in Mexico City. Maybe he didn't see it as his guilt; he'd only pushed the button for Sloane and Kabir. He was like one of those Rambaldi devices, himself: a superb and strange creation, shaped by a genius into a weapon and a work of art. Almost human—enough so that he had turned on his creator.
Sark broke the silence.
"A good thing you didn't need a transfusion," he remarked. "I'd have made a donation and wouldn't that have raised a few eyebrows back at the CIA."
"There would be questions, certainly."
"They still don't know you helped me escape?"
"They can't imagine why."
Sark grinned. "So I have blackmail material too."
Jack shook his head. "I'm more useful to you where I am."
"As am I," Sark said, his mood suddenly dark. Jack remembered saying that to him in Copenhagen, implying that he'd freed him to use him. It hadn't been true. Clearly Sark was remembering the same conversation.
"I'm not Derevko," Jack said. "I wouldn't sacrifice you for expediency."
"But for Sydney…"
"I don't know."
Sark didn't flinch. He hadn't expected anything else. He simply got up and made his way to the aisle. "I rather wish I could hate her," he said. He met Jack's eyes. "I don't. —But don't expect anything more from me than that."
"None of this was Sydney's fault."
"Her saving grace."
"It wasn't yours, either—Alexander."
Sark looked as weary as Jack felt, then.
"Then who do I blame?' he asked plaintively and walked away.
Jack sat for a while longer, trying to absorb the peace others found in their religion, before walking out of the church. He couldn't find it.
Jack stopped at the top of the church steps. The rain sleeting down changed the sound of the car tires on the pavement. It sent the people on the sidewalks hurrying faster, ducked under colorful umbrellas, trying to get away from it as the day faded into twilight. It darkened stone and brick as it slid down the faces of buildings.
Jack ignored the cold, wet touch of the droplets hitting his face, pulling in the cool damp air and letting the last of the incense empty from his lungs. With an expert eye he catalogued his surroundings, as always, searching for anything out of place.
The figure standing still among the moving crowd caught his eye. The rain-damp, blond head was turned toward him. Jack locked gazes with the slim figure, wondering why Sark had lingered.
Sark just stood still, his hands jammed in the pockets of his long gray coat. Jack watched him just as steadily, fruitlessly wishing for a different past, a different present, a different future. Sark tipped his head to the side and the image of the black-and-white photograph, of Alan Bristow in his RAF uniform and lopsided smile, returned to Jack. He wished he could have shown it to Sark.
It was all so futile.
Jack nodded at his son.
Sark dipped his head, and then began to turn away. A woman with a green-and-white striped umbrella passed before him and when she'd gone, Sark had disappeared.
Jack waited another few minutes, then pulled his coat collar up against the rain that wanted to run down the back of his neck and walked away.
But there in the rubbish of hours
He looks at us, acknowledging nothing.
- Summary: Even Sark doesn't know who he really is.
- Fandom: Alias
- Rating: mature
- Warnings: violence, death
- Author Notes: post season two, written during the hiatus. Poetry by Pablo Neruda.
- Date: 9.9.03
- Length: 46996 words
- Genre: m/f
- Category: espionage, suspense, thriller, AU
- Cast: Julian Sark, Jack Bristow, Marcus Dixon, Michael Vaughn, Kendall, Khasinau, Arvin Sloane, Irina Derevko, Marshall Flinkmann, Judy Barnett, Allison Doren
- Betas: Rach, with consults by rez_lo and eretria
- Disclaimer: Not for profit. Transformative work written for private entertainment.