Sydney awoke with the feeling that she'd had the strangest dream. She even remembered incoherent bits of it-squids and splinters and Star Wars and Sark first half-naked and then in her bed-but none of it made any sense as a whole. At any rate, when she rolled over, she found proof that it was indeed a fiction of her, obviously, deeply fucked-up subconscious. The other side of the bed was empty, sheets unrumpled and just as smooth as any other morning after a night of sleeping alone.
It was only when she dragged herself out of bed and slumped lazily into the living room that her assumption was challenged. Sark was out there, tying the last of a series of giant black garbage bags, presumably full of the remnants of her ex-coffee table.
It all came rushing back.
"That's the last of it," he said, with his back to her, as though this was any old morning and that had been any old night. "Unfortunately, given that I am not supposed to be here, I'll have to trouble you to carry these downstairs yourself."
Sydney was still staring blearily at the neat row of trash bags set aside the wall of her impeccably tidy living room. Except for the presence of cleaning supplies on the counter and the bandages peeping out from underneath Sark's tee-shirt, there was no sign of the previous night's bloody struggle.
"How did you…?"
"You should know that I am adept enough at destroying evidence to be able to clean up my own mess. Quietly."
Sydney raised her eyebrows and shook her head. "Right."
He continued to clean, putting his bottles away and tossing some paper towels into the last trash bag.
"Eggs?" he asked, unusually chirpy.
"Um. Sure." Sydney was still recovering from too many unpleasant realizations at once to pay her rumbling stomach much attention. Not only had they slept together (in only the most technical sense), but today was also the first time they'd had a whole morning after. Before now, she'd always risen before him, dressed quietly, and slunk out of the apartment with a bagel between her teeth. There'd always been work or a flight to catch or something to keep them safely apart for most of the day.
But now she had an unacceptably chirpy Sark to deal with.
"Sleep well?" he asked.
Instead of responding, she asked, "How are all your cuts?"
"I'll live." And then he added, in a perfect mockery of her voice, "Pity."
She winced, mostly because that particular comeback hadn't even occurred to her, hadn't in a while, she realized. "I wasn't actually going to say that, you know."
His back had been to her as he scrambled the eggs, but now he craned his neck around to look at her. Oddly, the expected self-satisfied smirk was nowhere to be seen. Sydney felt more naked under that gaze than she ever had, but Sark said nothing, turned back to his task and simply added cheese.
There was a painful silence, similar to the one that had overtaken them the night before, as they acknowledged their ebbing hostility and struggled to navigate the space between an agreed-upon DMZ and something closer to actual peace.
Or, at least that was what Sydney was struggling with. For all she knew, she could be totally wrong about what was going on in his brain; perhaps all Sark was thinking about was how much salt to put on the damn eggs. Or maybe he was still plotting a way to betray her and have her killed as soon as his purpose had been achieved.
"Do you do this every morning when I'm not here? Eggs?" she asked as she moved to start making the coffee.
This train of thought led Sydney to another question, one that somehow hadn't occurred to her before. "Is this what you do at home, too?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean your own home. When you're not invading mine. You've got to live somewhere, right?"
"Everyone lives somewhere. Where do you go when you aren't out destroying lives?"
Sark dished the eggs onto plates and slid into his customary seat across from her. "I've spent the past four months in and out of various hotel rooms around the world as part of my work for the Covenant. Before that, I called my charming cell at the CIA home. So no, there have been no eggs."
"But before that. You must have had your own money. You must have had something."
"I slept wherever Irina told me to sleep. Thankfully, it was usually somewhere pleasantly expensive."
Quietly, they finished their eggs and washed up, all with a sense of dread at the prospect of a normal day hanging over them.
"Shall we go online and pick out some new furniture for you?" Sark asked, breaking the silence. "I'll pay for whatever I broke last night."
"You're going to help me decorate? Yeah right."
"I'll confess I have been itching to do so ever since I got here."
"My dad picked out this stuff."
"Sydney, your father has many admirable qualities, but a keen sense of interior design is not among them."
She pursed her lips and shut the laptop she'd been about to open as punishment for daring to say anything about her dad.
"You've never even had your own place. Why the hell do you think you can play home-maker in mine? Anyway, it's not like you'll be here for long. What do you care?"
Sark stretched himself in the doorway. "Do you anticipate being here for very long?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm asking you how long you intend to stay with the CIA. How long you intend to stay in a city where you have experienced so much pain. Wouldn't you like a fresh start somewhere new, doing something new?"
"Is this another one of your job propositions?"
Sark walked towards her, getting just a little too close into Sydney's personal space. She took a step back.
"Not a job proposition. More of a question from a concerned… party."
"I haven't thought that far out. Right now, I'm focused on getting rid of the Covenant, making sure nothing from my years of abduction can be used to hurt anyone else. After that… after that I'll deal with my own life."
Sark shrugged. "It might behoove you to start thinking about your own life a bit before allthat is accomplished."
He didn't have a chance to respond, because just then, Sydny's phone rang.
""Hey, Syd?" Vaughn's voice sounded nervous every single time he'd ever called her since her return. "There's been a break. We've been called in."
"Okay. I'll be there in an hour."
"Was that Agent Vaughn? I assume I'm being deprived of the pleasure of your company for the rest of the day."
"Since when has it been a pleasure?" she asked.
Sark had no reply.
So much for a free weekend.
Sydney spent the entire afternoon and evening holed up in the conference room. With just her and the guys (Lauren was, thankfully, engaged on another lead), it almost felt like the good old days when she'd loved this, lived for this. But only almost; the similarities between then and now only served to exacerbate the differences. Pieces of her life missing, Vaughn married, her mother come and now gone, revenge against Sloane no longer sanctioned, Diane dead… everyone dead.
God, she wanted out so badly she could almost smell it. As soon as this was over…
She knew she'd said that before, though.
As usual, she just so 'happened' to find the needle in the haystack of dead-end leads and potential time-wasters. Just so 'happened' to link two random pieces of information that, together, formed a clue.
And just in time, too. After six hours spent knee-deep in coffee and conspiracies, Weiss stretched and stood up. "Well, I'm beat. Time to get outta here."
"What about the case?" Sydney asked, gesturing at the pile of papers scattered between herself, Vaughn, Dixon, and Marshall. "We're only halfway done with the research."
Weiss shrugged. "I've stayed here until midnight for the last two cases. Plus, I've got a date."
Normally, Sydney would have congratulated him and peppered him with questions, but today, she was cranky. Her eyebrows moved into practically a tilde of disbelief. She'd stayed until midnight for the last five cases. What was she now, some kind of indentured servant just because she didn't have a life? Given how little she wanted to still be working for the CIA anyway, this rankled. "Well, maybe I should call it a night, too," she wondered aloud, feeling rebellious for the first time in months.
"You can't leave, Syd," Vaughn pleaded. "Come on, this is Weiss's first date in forever. And it isn't like you have anyth-"
He stopped himself and turned pale in what could have been either fear or embarrassment, but it was too late. Something had snapped in Sydney. She could feel the vein she'd inherited from her father beginning to pop out of her forehead. How dare he… How dare any of them. The room went silent as everyone watched her coil, waiting for her to strike.
But instead, surprising no one more than herself, she laughed, for the craziest idea had just popped into her head. She decided that she'd gone completely and utterly insane for even thinking such a thing. And given the way they were all looking at her, cackling to herself like a loon, they thought the same.
Instead of lashing out, Sydney daintily picked up her purse and left the room without a word. She could hear Vaughn's chair screeching and his voice sounding out a plaintive, "Syd…"
It struck her only when she reached the parking lot that she'd played out that scene in the kind of cold and detached way Sark would have done. Sydney was usually all fire and passion and fury, ready to hurl insults at short notice. However, revolting as was the idea that Sark was rubbing off on her in any way, Sydney had to admit that she'd gotten more of a rise out of all of them than her usual approach would have accomplished.
The idea that had caused her to laugh and leave returned to her. She paused for a moment, turning it over in her mind. Well, she'd already done the unthinkable and left work early. She might as well go whole hog.
Having something to look forward to made the commute go by faster. She'd had forgotten what that felt like. In the past few months of misery, she'd lost sight of the fact that having an after-work social engagement was normal and good and healthy, even if the so-called "healthiness" of the concept was undercut by the fact that said plan involved voluntarily spending quality time with Sark.
When she entered the apartment, it took longer than usual for him to emerge from his hiding place.
"What's wrong?" Sark's disembodied voice asked just before he appeared in the hallway, gun in hand.
"Nothing's wrong. Can't a girl skip out at seven on a Saturday night?" she asked, heading to the bedroom to change.
"Not when said girl is Sydney Bristow," he called after her.
When she returned to the living room, clad in almost the same outfit of black scrubs and black tee-shirt Sark was wearing, he was sitting on the couch, looking… happy? Sydney could hardly believe it was because she was home, but there was no other explanation.
Suddenly, the awkwardness of her plan hit her again.
"Did you rent a movie?" Sark asked, pointing to the Blockbuster bag she'd thrown on the counter. No wonder he was looking pleased; he knew what was going on. At least that meant she wouldn't have to talk about the fact that she'd planned a nice evening for the two of them. They could just watch and not have to acknowledge the implications.
"Yeah. And we have some ice cream."
"I hope you got coffee. I hated that rum raisin you bought last time."
"Shut up, Sark. We have a long night of viewing pleasure ahead of us."
"I wait with baited breath," he said, with a pronounced exhale, the purposeful contradiction of which was not lost on Sydney.
"Is it finally over?" Sark asked blearily.
Somehow, over the course of the trilogy and a bottle of wine, Sydney had ended up stretched out on her stomach, taking up the entire length of the couch. Sark had considerately slid down to the floor, his back against the couch and his neck propped up along the curve of the leather. His slowly re-growing curls had kept bouncing dangerously close to her nose every time he passed her a Dorito from the bowl beside him. There was a fresh stain from where she'd overshot when refilling his wine glass from above.
"What, you didn't like it?" she asked as the triumphant closing score played.
"Of all the terribly written, worse directed, abysmally paced, derivative trite I have ever been forced to waste…" Sark looked at the clock. "…Six hours of my life watching…"
"I've always said there's something wrong with you, and this just proves it. Everyone loves Star Wars."
"They introduced sodding teddy bears in the final act as a blatant merchandizing stunt. It was insulting."
"Aw, the Ewoks are cute. And anyway, consider this part of your education in normalcy while you're here. Along with reading Harry Potter."
Sark was still watching at the scrolling credits and shaking his head, giving Sydney a headful of hair in the nose. "If liking this is normal…" He trailed off, and then began again, more thoughtfully, "Now that I have the proper context, if I may return to your remark from last night… Given the developments in the film, I see that you were intimating that you think of me as a brother? While I appreciate the friendly sentiment, given what I know of your family, I'm not sure whether I should feel flattered or frightened."
Sydney stared at the back of his head, resolved to end the matter once and for all. "How old are you?"
Only three years younger. She'd known it was impossible, but still; it was a relief to have final confirmation. Her happy sigh told him everything that was running through her head. He swiveled his body around on the floor, knees curled into his chest and his nose a disconcerting six inches away from hers.
"You seriously thought you and I…?" He laughed in her face. "Sydney, I know my sense of humour runs a little black, but do you really think I am capable of making all the innuendoes I've made towards you over the years if there had been any possibility, any at all…?"
"I have no idea what you're capable of. And frankly, I'd be a little scared to find out."
"I assure you, no. It is perfectly logical of you to wonder, though. The thought occurred to me, as well, years ago. But I ran my own tests. A loose strand of hair Irina left on an airplane seat, a secret side project with Dr. Markovich to test our DNA. There was no match. You can rest assured. You are no more related to me than you are to Michael Vaughn."
"Well, you've got to see why I wondered. You already are kind of the insufferable little brother I've always wanted dead. It'd be just my luck to actually have you be my little brother."
But even while she bantered with him, Sydney wondered why he'd chosen Vaughn, of all people, for the comparison, why he'd mentioned the innuendoes (innuendoes she'd always taken as 100% professionally-oriented until this new explanation possibly suggested otherwise).
Sydney decided he was just trying to mess with her. She should put it out of her mind.
"Imagine the adorable childhood we could have shared," he continued. "You trying to poison me in the bath. Me convincing Jack to ground you for some imaginary offense."
"He would never have believed you over me."
"You underestimate the almost saccharine angelic quality of my looks as a child. The nuns let me get away with murder."
"I hope not literally."
Sark didn't pick up on Sydney's attempt to change the subject. He grew serious, almost quietly desperate, which was weird. "I wouldn't have this pick-axe scar on my leg. You probably wouldn't have that scar on your belly."
Sydney's hands went reflexively to her stomach. "You had nothing to do with that. You were locked up."
"No, but in this alternate universe, I probably would have been free, probably would have moved heaven and earth to save my big sister." His voice caught, a little too earnest for his own tastes, apparently. He shook his head, and the smirk was back. "Happily, all that is a fiction. We are at liberty to kill one another without remorse. That said, I will always maintain that we would have made an excellent team, you and I, if only we'd started out on the same side, shared the same training. Blood relations would be superfluous."
Not this again. "Sark. Stop."
It was the least obnoxious she'd ever been in refusing him. But the thing is, for the first time ever, she maybe, sort-of, kind of, saw what he was talking about. Sydney rationalized to herself that this new reaction on her part was a result of it not being a real offer, just a wistful resignation to what would never be.
"One day, you will see reason."
"It's after 1," Sydney said, changing the subject. They'd argued this too many times; now that they were actually working together, and given how exhausted she was in general, she feared she'd accidentally slip and say yes. "It's pretty late."
Relentless, Sark hugged himself closer, both to himself and to her, rocking on his skinny bottom, and refusing to break eye contact. "You have nowhere to be tomorrow. Neither do I."
It was an invitation, but for what, Sydney didn't know-didn't want to know. But he sounded sad. That worry she'd had the night before, about him getting dangerously stir-crazy, came back. She remembered something.
"Hey, how'd your stalking go? You know, the people across the street whose lives you decided to ruin today, just for shits and giggles."
Sark frowned at the reminder. "He never came. Nothing happened. Nothing at all." He drew invisible patterns in the rug. "It's so late that I'm sure if we went outside now no one would-"
"In your dreams. I am not letting you go outside. Who knows who might see you?"
"Are you worried I'll be assassinated?"
"No, I'm worried I'll get arrested," she snapped, but was aware that he was right; her first thought had been of him getting shot by invisible snipers. "And by the way, people like you don't get assassinated. They just get shot."
"You have such a wonderful talent for reminding one so reassuringly of his place in the world."
Sydney chuckled despite herself, and he smiled-the nice, little-boy-lost one, not the smug one-when he saw how well his little joke had gone over.
This was becoming a real problem. All of it. They… they were actually almost having some kind of moment. She could tell he was reading her mind, hearing all the things she refused to admit. She only wished she could read his just as easily, or rather, that she wasn't so scared of what she might find there.
"Unfortunately, I do have somewhere to be tomorrow," she said, putting the clamp on every dangerous path of conversation. "They're sending me to Moscow in the morning. So much for a weekend."
"How did you know?"
"Our previous missions have led us to a place that I expected would find him next on our list." Sark stood up.
"What do you know about him?"
"He's ruthless. Humourless. Likes only two things in this world: horse racing and Puccini. I once watched him kill a little girl with a glass bottle simply because she was begging on the same block he happened to be walking on. I knew we would come to this, but I hoped they'd send someone other than you."
"My intel can only get you so far with him. You'll be on your own. He's a madman. I don't have any advice to give other than to be careful."
"I can handle myself," Sydney asserted, for the millionth time.
"I know. It's just that I'd hate to lose my most valuable asset."
"You're so sweet."
"Oh, go on," he said, forcing a smirk. He'd never had to force it before. That's what made Sydney finally get it. Just like Sydney had a moment ago, Sark seemed to catch himself giving too much away, and had quickly tried to deflect.
This game was so exhausting.
"You're actually concerned, aren't you?" she asked.
"Of course not."
"Yes you are. You're worried something will happen to me."
"Never," he continued to protest, but Sydney pressed.
"You think this guy is worse than usual, that I'll actually end up dead this time."
"Or perhaps you'll kill one another. Two adversaries out with one shot," he said through gritted teeth, and Sydney knew she'd cornered him.
"You blackmailed me into working with you, remember? Or are you telling me you actually care what happens to me?"
He stared blankly at her, unreadable. "If you don't stop, I'll have no choice but to kiss you again."
"Not if you want to sleep in my bed tonight," she joked, and then winced, for she'd simultaneously eased and increased the tension she wished wasn't there.
"You do realize how strange that sounds. We're a funny pair, Sydney Bristow."
Looking into his eyes, Sydney felt the full weight of her exhaustion finally fall. Yes, yes we are, she found herself thinking. It was time to get up before… she didn't know what, but the universe was commanding her to get up, put more distance between their faces, right now, or else. Easing herself into a standing position, she reached out her arm.
"Come on. My flight's pretty early tomorrow morning. Time for bed."
"Yes, ma'am." Sark grabbed her arm and helped himself up.
Sydney rolled her eyes.
Within a few minutes, Sydney found herself looking up at Sark as he lifted the sheets and crawled in next to her, a few feet away.
Watching him, she asked, "Do you really think I'm in serious danger? I mean, more than usually?"
He looked at her, and then said, with perfect seriousness, "Come back you will. Always you do."
There was a pause as she processed what he was doing, and then Sydney burst out laughing, had to roll onto her back to accommodate her heaving peals. It was as genuine as he was capable of, she could tell. And it actually filled her with some sort of bizarre encouragement.
"I knew you liked it!"
"Mockery does not always indicate fondness, at least not in this case. Your wise mentor figure sounded suspiciously like a Muppet."
"You're actually right. I once heard the same guy does the voice for Miss Piggy," she said, just before switching off the lights.
"I'm always right," was his sleepy reply, muffled almost into inaudibility by his pillow.
Sydney could tell the exact moment when he conked out; Sark turned out to be one of those people who full-body twitch just as they switch over into sleep.
She spent the next two hours listening to him breathe, her mind running a thousand miles a minute the entire time.