Sydney nuzzled her face between her father's arm and his torso. Jack stiffened for a moment, and then relaxed and let her burrow in even further. They hadn't done this in longer than she could remember. Maybe not since she was a little girl, before her mother left. It wasn't an intimacy she (or he, really) generally allowed, but today, under today's circumstances, she thought both of them could make an exception. She needed to hide her eyes. Vaughn was looking at her from across the aisle, looking at her the same way he'd looked at her for three days across the dank cell where they'd been kept, bound and gagged in chairs facing one another. They couldn't talk, they couldn't touch. All they'd had to look at were one another's eyes, and she couldn't bear the sight of his anymore.
As soon as her face was hidden, Vaughn took the hint.
"I'm gonna go stretch out. Hopefully get some sleep," she heard his voice say. Jack's body moved around her head as he nodded in agreement. She heard Vaughn stand up and go, presumably, to some other part of the jet.
"How is your leg?" Jack asked, and she knew it was his way of asking her more generally about her well-being, about the non-physical things that hurt far worse than a leg that had been left dislocated for almost 48 hours.
"It's fine, dad. Don't worry about it."
She didn't mind her father asking her questions—in fact, at this moment, she loved him more than she'd ever loved anyone—but she wasn't in the mood to talk. More than anything, she wanted to see nothing, to hear nothing, to be alone in her own head. Vaughn's relentless and invasive eyes had sapped her more than the torture and the damp and the pain had sapped her.
Not-so-surprisingly, the first thing that came into her head now that she was free of Vaughn, was Sark. He'd told her this mission would be tough. He'd given her all the information he could to help her survive.
Or had he? She'd gotten out of there alive, but the niggling suspicion lingered. She'd been trained to expect double-crosses, to jump first to the conclusion that things were more complicated than they seemed. Could there have been some ulterior motive in sending her to that awful place? Could there have been some other benefit to him?
But then the disk she had hidden in her bra poked her and she decided, no, things were as they appeared. The disk she'd swiped even while Dixon and her father had been spearheading her escape. The disk Sark had told her in advance that they needed in order to be ready for the next mission, but which the CIA couldn't know about. "In their overly earnest, overly literal, process-driven enthusiasm, the CIA would do exactly the opposite use of what is needed," Sark had said.
And knowing the CIA, she'd known he was right.
But still, it was the first fully treasonous act she'd committed for him, for this partnership. Before, she'd been helping the CIA, just handing over information that Sark had fed her. Not a huge moral dilemma in that. But this was different. This was withholding information.
Just then, her father tightened his grip on her. But it was when he spoke that Sydney's guilt exploded.
"How did you know about the air ducts?" he asked.
"The air ducts we used in our escape. Dixon's intel said that the right passage would lead outside, but you insisted upon taking the left turn."
Sydney was glad he couldn't see her face. She hated lying to him, and then told herself that he'd lied to her a million times, for the same reasons: because he had a larger plan in play, because she wouldn't understand, blah blah blah. Remembering this didn't make it better, but it helped her choke the lie out.
"Just instinct, I guess."
It killed her to hear him chuckle in satisfaction. "I'm glad I listened to you."
"I'm sorry this happened. You were… Recently, I'd noticed that you were doing better."
At this, Sydney picked up her head out of curiosity. "What do you mean?"
"You've seemed more engaged, more alert, more focused. Less fixated on the past, less fixated on…" He lowered his voice, and Sydney glanced behind their seats. Vaughn was out of earshot, at the far end of the plane. She looked back at her father. He nodded, didn't need to finish the sentence.
"I know I've been traveling a lot recently, but in the few moments I've been able to see you, you've seemed happier than you've been since your return," he concluded. "I fear the past three days will prove to be a step backwards."
Sydney shook her head in disbelief. Her father was actually telling her that getting along with Sark was making her a happier person. That's what it had to be. It's the only thing that had changed. Plus, this was her father. He was the most observant person she knew, especially when it came to her. He was always right.
That's why she'd been so relieved that he'd been on the road so much in recent weeks. If anyone could figure out her secret, it was him. She hoped his traveling would continue until this project was done. Even though she knew she was doing this because she had to, and because it really was helping, should couldn't bear the idea that he'd ever look at her like a traitor, as her mother's daughter.
"I'll be okay," she said.
"I want you to be, Sydney. You know I'm willing to go to any lengths to ensure that."
She snuggled into him even more. They sat like that for another hour, and at some point, Sydney drifted off into sleep.
The debrief was a bitch. She was taken directly from the plane to a secret safehouse for questioning. They grilled her and Vaughn about Solheznin, about the facility, about the torture, about the guards, about Solheznin's obsession with finding Sark. They questioned them for hours, separately and together. Sydney told them everything she could.
Well, almost everything.
After hours of grueling interrogation, Sydney and Vaughn were finally released. All she wanted to do was to head home, to be behind the wheel of her car, to drive along the freeway like everyone else, to blend into the crowd. Then maybe do a real debrief with Sark in the morning. She tried to walk faster, to outstrip Vaughn, but he pulled her back by the elbow and into a window recess.
"Syd…" The eyes she simply couldn't handle staring into anymore were boring into her with exactly the kind of need that had confused and delighted and disgusted her for three days. He was about to translate his gaze into words and she couldn't listen to it. Not after having looked at it for so long. Not after hours of being interrogated by Lauren. It was like she had overdosed on pining and love triangle melodrama and now had an aversion to the feeling—to all feeling.
She just wanted this bullshit to be over, in a way she hadn't before this trip. She wanted to stop hoping, to stop wishing, to stop reading things in Vaughn's eyes. She wanted it to be done.
"Vaughn, I can't—"
"Please listen to me. There's so much we need to—"
She disengaged her arm. "I'm exhausted," she lied (she'd had more than enough sleep on the plane, and was currently all jet-lagged in the wrong way, completely awake). "Can this wait?"
He stepped back, obviously hurt.
"Yeah," he said automatically. "Yeah. Get some rest, okay? You deserve it."
They parted ways, and Sydney went to the wardrobe department (read: closet) to return the baubles she'd borrowed for the mission. It was empty, as usual. She put her ruined shoes on the rack and, as she rummaged through her purse for the earrings she had borrowed, her eyes fell on a pile of wigs. Sydney stared at it, thinking back to the last time she'd been home.
Sark had definitely been going stir-crazy, and it was certain to have worsened over the past few days. If it got out of control, he might do something dangerous. To be honest, she was feeling kind of stir-crazy, too. Even beyond the prisoner confines of her last mission, it was the secret that was stifling her. Not to mention the fact that having someone around her again on a regular basis was awakening a lot of old remembrances of what it was like to be normal. Now that the basic human need for company—no matter how questionable the individual involved—was being somewhat fulfilled, higher-level desires, such as wanting to go out, were beginning to tingle. Here was an opportunity that, in her line of work, she should have thought of before.
She knew it was wrong and dangerous and completely nuts, and therefore she decided to just do, without thinking. Standing with her back to where she knew the hidden camera was, Sydney snatched a man's wig from the pile while returning the red one she had just used, and slipped the goods into her purse.
As she walked to the parking lot, detail after detail of a plan blossomed in her mind.
Sydney and her doorman hauled the giant box of groceries upstairs from where it had been sitting for a couple of days, since 'no one' had been home to accept the package.
Once he'd gone back to the lobby, she closed the door behind her and scanned the seemingly empty apartment. She wondered where Sark was hiding today. "It's just me," she announced to the air. Sark popped out of the front closet. She chuckled. It was just like Where's Waldo. And just like those books from her childhood, finding him was oddly comforting.
"Glad to see you survived the trip," Sark said before sinking into the couch and picking his book up where he had presumably just left it. Like nothing had happened. Like she hadn't been away for days. But his nonchalant posturing was forced. Sydney caught him sneaking sidelong glances at her as she made her way through the apartment. The naked relief on his face was obvious.
"Lucky for me, my dad was there."
"What happened?" he asked, dropping his previous attempts to disguise his concern.
"I don't want to talk about it tonight. Anyway, I'm sure you can guess. But hey, I'm back. I'm fine. Thanks for the info about the ducts, by the way. Came in handy." She smiled at him, a genuine smile, and finally, the weight of the past three days fell from her shoulders. She was home. And Sark's eyes, full of teasing and everything that was happily the opposite of Vaughn's angsty intensity, greeted her.
"I always endeavor to assist."
He quirked a smile at her and went back to reading. Yep, they were back.
Sydney couldn't deny it: this was exactly what she needed. This, this had become comfortable, easy. This had somehow become easier than talking to Vaughn.
Her father was right, even though he didn't know the mechanics of it. This thing with Sark was making her feel better, but it wasn't in some awkward mushy way. It was the combination of friendliness and fighting, the combination between partnership and antagonism that was helping her. Right now, she was looking forward to relaxing just as much as she was looking forward to sticking it to him.
Sydney walked to where Sark was sitting and shoved a shopping bag against his torso. He caught it deftly, with a surprised glance, and stood up.
"Gifts? Sydney, I don't know what to say."
"How about nothing? We're going out."
His eyes almost bugged out of his head. "Going out? As in a date?"
She shuddered at the implication, although she now didn't know how else she had expected him to take it. "That's your disguise. And it isn't a gift. You owe me $108.47. You can add it to your tab."
As he peered into the bag, Sydney studied Sark's face and poised herself. The regret lessened as she prepped for her favorite part of the plan. As soon as he looked up again, she zoned in and clocked him, hard, right on the crooked part of his lower lip.
Sark staggered backwards, clenching his jaw and letting free a string of expletives. "Have you completely lost your mind, woman? What the bloody hell was that for?"
Sydney crossed her arms and smiled at him with feigned benevolence. "Do I really need to list all the reasons? Though technically, that was just to disguise your most recognizable feature. By the time you're finished changing, that should have swelled up nicely. Go on, now," she ordered, pushing him and the bag into the bathroom.
She was right. Only a couple of minutes after she'd finished changing into jeans and a tee-shirt, Sark emerged from the bathroom with a lip that had swelled to even out with the other side. Sydney gaped at his transformation and silently patted herself on the back for a job well-done.
Geek-chic black frame glasses obscured his giant blue eyes. A Hugh Grant-like mop of wavy brown locks rested atop a bottle-tanned face. The brown polo shirt fit loosely over Gap jeans that she was sure he had shuddered to put on.
And even though she'd picked them out herself, actually seeing him wear the black Converse sneakers she'd bought him cracked her up. That purchase had been the coup de grace, the most torturous element of the entire get-up.
"I look a fright."
"Really? I think it's a huge improvement," she lied. Not that the person in front of her wasn't cute. It was more that… Sydney realized that she'd never noticed exactly how good-looking Sark was until now when she could barely recognize him. Vaughn had used to tell her that she was more beautiful as herself than as any of her aliases; only now did she understand what he'd meant.
"This bronzer is going to give me skin irritation."
Sydney shrugged. "Who cares? It's not like anyone other than me is going to be looking at you for the next few days."
"I know," he replied softly.
"Hat on," she said, pointing at the Dodgers cap she'd bought.
"Do you want to go out or don't you?"
Sark sighed and arranged the cap lightly over his fake brown hair.
Sydney looked around the apartment. "How did you get in here? You know, originally?"
He pointed towards the bathroom. "Shaft. All the bathroom windows are frosted, so no one could have seen me as I scaled this side of the building."
"Well, that's the way you're going back out. I'll meet you at that corner in ten minutes? It'll look like we just bumped into one another and decided to go for drinks. Got it?" Sydney pointed towards northwest, indicating a destination through the walls.
Together, they went to the bathroom. Sydney opened the small window and helped Sark out. She watched him go and then went back to the living room. This was the first time she'd been alone in her apartment in weeks. It felt empty, quiet.
She timed his descent, and a few minutes later, just 'happened' to meet him crossing the street towards her.
"Hey, there!" she said, feigning surprise, even though there wasn't really anyone around. But you never knew.
"Fancy meeting you here," he replied.
"I'm not doing anything tonight. You want to grab a bite?"
Together they began walking down the street.
"So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this date?" he asked, hurrying at her heels. "I must have been a very good boy, indeed, to have earned such a treat."
"It's not a pleasure at all. Nor is it a date. I just didn't want you getting antsy and doing something stupid. This way, you can get it out of your system in a way that I control."
"I see," he replied. "And where are you taking me? Dressed like this, I can't imagine it's anywhere special."
"Just a place in the neighborhood. Walking distance."
Sydney watched as Sark tried to repress his exhilaration at feeling the low-hanging evening sun beat down on him.
"This way," she said, indicating a left turn around the block with her head, to keep him from crossing the street.
"The mission must have gone very badly, indeed, to have warranted all this," Sark said, and Sydney knew him well enough by now to hear the fishing behind the sarcasm. "Did they use the water mask?"
Well, yes, actually, they had, but not on her. On Vaughn. The sons of bitches had made her watch while they tortured him, the man she loved—or had loved, or maybe could still love… something—within an inch of his life. Only some information she'd shouted in deranged horror had stopped them. Something remembered at random from one of her late night strategy sessions with Sark. She wouldn't tell him that, though. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. Just like she wouldn't tell him how the only reason why she'd passed the lie detector test was because they'd framed the question as "Does the CIA know Sark's whereabouts?"
But regardless, she resolutely didn't want to talk about it. She'd lived through it for three days, and then spent the entire day being grilled on it. All she wanted right now was a glass of shitty American white wine and maybe a hamburger and cheese fries. All she wanted was to feel normal. Even if normal meant hanging out with a disguised Sark in some generic sports bar-restaurant.
He took the hint when she didn't answer his question. He didn't press her any further. As they walked, he chatted lightly about his activities during her absence. With his dry sense of humour and talent for narrative construction, he managed to turn a tale of absolute nothingness (watching people out the window, reading Dumas, following some sordid celebrity story on E! Network, a Charlie Rose interview, adventures with bathroom plumbing) into something relatively diverting. Sydney knew that he understood, knew that he was being jovial for her benefit.
She was still giggling by the time they reached the restaurant. Sark froze when he saw her opening the door.
"This? This is the place? Sydney, please." He looked at horror through the windows at the multiple television screens showing various sporting events.
He sighed and followed her inside. "The things I do for you."
They grabbed a booth in a dark corner, far from the windows and the eyes of most of the restaurant. The Dodgers were playing, just starting the second inning when the waitress came by with the menus. Sark studied it as though he'd never been presented with a choice of different kinds of quesadillas before.
Sydney had been here a bunch of times, years ago, with Will and Francie. She only needed to do a quick check to make sure her favorite burger and salad were still on the menu.
Sark peeked at her from over the top of his menu. "Why do you keep staring at me?"
"This is almost the first time I've ever seen you in a get-up like the ones I always wear. I was wondering if you have it in you."
"You doubt my skills?"
"No, I doubt your ability to suppress your egomania enough to play any role but yourself."
"My ego is no larger than appropriate." He winked at her, knowing full well that he was being an asshole. "At any rate, you are correct. Going as myself has been a perk, but also a danger, that comes with the advisory positions I often occupy."
"'Advisory positions'?" Sydney scoffed. "Hired help is more like it."
"I prefer 'trusted consultant'."
They glared at one another, neither one wanting to give way. The stalemate ended only because the waitress swung by to take their drink orders.
"I'll have whatever Pinot Grigio you're serving," Sydney said.
Sark wrinkled his nose. "Honestly?"
"I'm a simple girl with simple pleasures. Haven't you figured that out yet?"
"You are anything but simple."
The waitress looked back and forth between them, following their antagonism, her pencil hovering over her notepad.
"For you, sir?"
"I doubt you carry even a Chateauneuf-du-Pape in this establishment. I'll take a Maker's Mark, on the rocks. I doubt even your bartender could destroy that."
After taking their food orders, too, she departed. Sydney could tell that the waitress wanted to hate their table, but Sark had smiled so charmingly, even while insulting her and her colleagues, that the poor girl had flailed a bit, despite herself.
"And what do you consider yourself?" Sark asked, picking up a conversation Sydney had completely forgotten.
"If I am only a 'lackey', what do you consider yourself?"
"I'm an agent. It's pretty straightforward."
"A word with about the same meaning as the ones I have been employing. We're not so different, you and I."
"Yes, we are. We're very different. You're a jerk who works sells his soul to criminals, while I serve something better."
"The water. It must be something in the water."
Sydney looked at her water glass in panic, immediately fearful that they'd been poisoned, but Sark shook his head.
"An idiom, love, nothing literal. What I mean is that very few other country's agents are like this. The eternal hubris of your government has brainwashed you into believing that your employers are more righteous than mine. They aren't. I know you, Sydney Bristow. And I know that neither one of us derives any pleasure from what we do. Maybe once upon a time, but the haze of excitement has long since faded. The only difference between us is that in the end, all you will have to show for your scars, your broken relationships, and your lost youth, will be a small pension that will barely sustain you through an unglamorous old age, while I, on the other hand, will retire in a few weeks, possibly to live on a yacht like the one you stole from me the first time I glimpsed you."
Sydney knew he was right; he was a lackey, but so was she. And just like her, he hoped to one day be free of this bullshit. She was helping him do that. Soon, he'd be free, and she'd be… just where she'd always been.
If the past three days had solidified anything, it was the understanding that she had no desire to do this anymore. But she didn't see what she could do about it. She was stuck.
Trying to reintroduce some levity into the conversation (this was supposed to be her fun evening out, dammit), she asked, "What's to stop me from coming and stealing your yacht, just like I did with the first one?"
Where her question was playful, his answer wasn't.
"What's to stop you from coming and staying on it with me?"
"You mean to return the favor of staying at my place all this time?" she asked, still trying to will him back into teasing banter.
"No. Not to return the favor."
Thankfully, the return of the waitress with their drinks spared Sydney from having to reply. She downed glass of wine.
"Another round, please?"
If this is what Sark was going to be like, she was going to need a lot more booze.
"The Dodgers are winning," Sydney said, looking up at the TV screen and trying her best to change the subject, at the very least.
"Are they your… your team?" he asked, as though he'd never engaged in such a conversation and was unsure of the vocabulary.
"I guess so. I just root for whatever LA team is playing. You know, like rooting for your country in the Olympics." She stopped, remembering that he technically didn't have a country. "What country do you root for?"
"Whichever is winning at the moment in whatever sport I happen to be watching."
"Perhaps the next time you feel inclined to play dress-up with me, we could go to a game."
Sydney was surprised. "Really?"
He gestured around him. "It can't be any worse than here."
"This is a perfectly respectable place, I'll have you know."
"I'd hoped that a few weeks of my company would have improved your tastes, Sydney, but apparently I need to redouble my efforts."
She shook her head. "You really are the most giant pain in the ass."
But he caught her grin, and replied, "So are you."
He finished his scotch just in time for the next one to arrive.
And the next.
And the next.
The waitress kept removing the empties, so Sydney lost track of how many glasses of wine she'd had before switching over to scotch, to join him. And whose idea that had been escaped her, as well.
Much later, as they (well, she, with Sark's grumbling acquiescence) ordered some emergency nachos as a kind of dessert, Sydney realized she could somewhat count the drinks by thinking of them in terms of stories. One round had been taken up with the tale of how she'd once helped Will on some investigative reporting, using her skills unbeknownst to him. Relatively impersonal stuff, that. Then it was his turn, and she'd heard more about this mysterious boarding school for poshly Catholic little boys in Ireland, something about how he'd manipulated all the clocks and calendars in the establishment to trick the nuns into giving the entire school a holiday. Then Sydney told him about playing a turkey in the school play.
Laughing all the while, drinks continuing to come. Their hands accidentally brushed while aiming for the same cheese-encrusted chip ("cheese spelled with a Z, most likely," Sark had said). They froze. Electricity ran through her; she chalked it up to the alcohol. The room felt brighter, more alive. Why should physical contact be any different? But Sark didn't move his fingers, and neither did she.
With different hands, they reached for different chips.
Later, a little hazier, fingers now somehow entwined, nachos dwindling, conversation a little more on the side of things they'd normally never share with one another… Something about a mission Sark and Irina had run, playing a mother and son (jealousy flared in Sydney's chest). Something about Sydney sleeping with Will on that mission a couple of months ago and finding his punk outfits weirdly sexy (Sark's lip curled almost imperceptibly, but Sydney still caught it). Something about how a rookie Sark had bungled his first ever assignment just as badly as 18-year-old Sydney had bungled hers (no one started out as a pro). Something about how she'd actually respected his skills that one time they did that job in Paris. Something about how he'd been waiting to work with Irina Derevko's daughter for at least six years before he met her. Something about how she'd poisoned the toothpaste on his first evening in her apartment. Something about how he'd known she would, so he'd packed every conceivable brand before coming, throwing the ruined one into the trash without her knowledge.
"Is that what you want to do when this is over? Retire? Live on a yacht somewhere?" Sydney asked, suddenly returning to a much earlier topic.
"Perhaps not the yacht. But somewhere quiet. Highly secure. With minimal occasion for bullets to be aimed at my skull. I've enjoyed my time reading in your home. I think the lifestyle would suit me, provided I had the freedom to go out much more often."
He finished his drink, moved on to the next one. "Why are you so interested?"
"I need to know I'm not just helping you start the next evil organization. I need to know this is something I should be doing."
"I give you my word."
His thumb stroked her palm, who knows how long after that first brush of fingers. She should have known better, but between his words, the accompanying look, the physical contact, the way she felt that she knew him now… she believed him.
"And you?" he asked.
"My retirement isn't as imminent as yours."
"But if it were?"
"I don't know. Maybe teach."
"Like Michael Vaughn did while you were away?"
Sydney bristled. "No, like I wanted to do before I ever met him, when I was still with Danny."
"Right." Sark chewed lazily, contemplatively. Then, "Do you hate her?"
"I'd hate her even more if she were less of a bitch," Sydney admitted, for the first time ever aloud.
"Well, it's a good thing she is, isn't it?"
"Unfortunately, Michael Vaughn is perfectly likeable, so I hate him as fully as possible."
Sydney stared at him, wondered where this was coming from, and why with such intensity. Why now? Why at all? She knew how Sark was looking at her, how he was caressing her hand. It struck her in a way she hadn't let it before tonight.
She needed to keep ignoring it. For her own sanity.
"I gotta pee," she said.
Sark wrinkled his nose. "If you hadn't already made it crystal clear that this wasn't a date, I would certainly know now."
Sydney stumbled to the bathroom. It wasn't particularly clean. She sat on the toilet, her head slumping against the wall beside her, the room spinning around her. There was nothing like standing up to let you know exactly how drunk you are, and Sydney was very drunk indeed. She lost track of how long she sat there, and only an impatient knock on the door roused her. She bumped into Sark on her way back to the booth. Looked like he'd had to pee, too.
"I've already paid," he said.
"You didn't have to do that."
They left, arms around one another, holding on to each other for dear life, looking like so much more than they should have been, than a blackmailer and his mark. Even though he was mostly supporting her weight, Sydney could tell from Sark's uncharacteristically uneven gait that she wasn't the only one who'd had too much to drink. She wondered how much of what he'd told her he would regret in the morning.
They were a block away from Sydney's apartment building when she heard her name being called.
Oh fuck. It was Weiss, holding a bag from the burrito joint down the street. Sydney waved at him, hoping he'd go away, but, of course, he stopped to chat.
She was not sober enough to handle this.
"What's up?" Weiss asked conversationally, and Sydney could see him trying hard not to stare at Sark.
"Just out for dinner." She knew not introducing him would end up causing more suspicion than otherwise, so she said, "Hey, Weiss, this is a… a friend of mine…"
"Adam," Sark filled in for her.
"Sean," Weiss replied, and shook Sark's hand.
"It's nice to meet you, Sean. Syd, why did you just call him Weiss?" Sark asked in a perfect born-and-bred SoCal drawl that threw her off completely. He and his crazy new accent turned to look at her with a beautifully feigned expression of confusion.
Sydney wanted to giggle. She wanted to smack him. She wanted to die. Then her head started to pound, and most of all, she wanted to lay down.
"Yeah, it's… it's a work thing. We call each other by our last names," she answered lamely. What was wrong with her? This was her job. She was great at her job. Why couldn't she just pretend? It was the accent, she decided. It was too surreal to exist.
"So you work together and live in the same building? Sounds like an awesome carpooling opportunity," Sark said, and Sydney really did almost fall over this time. More than the accent and the vocabulary ('awesome'?), his entire posture was different. Despite the stellar disguise, the man she'd spent the past few hours with had walked and talked and frowned in exactly the same exasperatingly familiar manner Sark always had. However, the man standing next to her right now was a complete stranger. He was good. He was really, really good. Sydney could just imagine how much fun the little fucker was having.
"No, I live down the block." Weiss pointed at his building and gave Sydney a sidelong glance that pretty much said to expect major teasing the next day.
"Adam and I…" Sydney began. She was ready to concoct a beautiful fiction about how she and 'Adam' knew one another that was sure to humiliate Sark, but he cut her off.
"Syd and I went to high school together," he lied easily. Sydney cringed to hear him getting away with calling her 'Syd'. The blue eyes-the only recognizable part of him-looked down at her with a warm twinkle. Damn him. "I haven't seen her in years, but we ran into each other in the video store last week and made plans to hang out when she got back from her work trip."
"Wow. We only got back today. You didn't waste any time, did you?" Weiss was looking at her incredulously, and Sydney felt even more embarrassed.
"We had a lot to catch up on," Sark said.
He punched her lightly in the shoulder like they were old chums. Sark, who had shot at her and drowned her in flesh-eating acid, was now giving her friendly punches in front of Weiss, and she was letting him. They'd also been sharing a bed, but this was different.
"We had dinner and drinks at that sports bar around the corner," she added lamely.
"And I think someone had a few too many," Weiss said, commenting on her slumped posture, which was now more from discomfort than drunkenness. To Sydney's dismay, she watched as Sark made eye contact with Weiss and nodded vigorously in the affirmative. Weiss laughed.
"I'm just going to make sure she gets home safely. Nice to meet you, Sean."
"You, too. Take care of her."
"I've been trying to," Sark replied, with more meaning than the occasion called for, with a glance at her that was too fervent for this charade. Sydney looked up at him wonderingly, but the alcohol and her anger drove the query out of her mind. She couldn't believe Weiss. He got an F in people reading skills if he was actually going to leave her to the tender mercies of Sark.
As Weiss walked away, Sark whispered, in his regular, self-satisfied accent, thank goodness, "That went over quite well, didn't it?"
This had been the worst idea ever. Why couldn't she have let him drive himself crazy in the house? Why couldn't she have said no to this ridiculous arrangement in the first place? Jail would have been preferable to this humiliation. She'd been fine with everything when it had been within the confines of her apartment, a secret shame, a secret comfort that no one else needed to know about. But now Weiss, whether he knew it or not, had seen them together, and Sydney felt violated.
"You should go. You know, leave me publicly and then crawl in through the bathroom window again."
"I may not be quite as intoxicated as you are, but I am in no state to scale buildings. And I doubt you would be able to make it into the apartment without my assistance. Plus, I just promised Agent Weiss I would see you safely home. I wouldn't want to let him down, now, would I? No, I think 'Adam' should spend the night, and then leave through the front door tomorrow morning. I'll climb back in through the bathroom immediately afterward."
Sydney shivered as she took this in. It was a good plan. It was the only plan. But it meant that Sark was going to spend the night in her apartment. In a real, almost official kind of way.
"You're an evil SOB."
"You like it."
She was putty in her own skin, too floppy to slap him like he deserved. He was right; she was falling down and wouldn't even have made it this far if it hadn't been for his arm around her waist, warm and supportive.
"Fine," she said. "Let's get this over with."
Together, arm in arm, entwined around one another like real friends, or something more, her nose buried in his neck, they staggered into the lobby and took the elevator upstairs. Sark practically carried her to the bed, and then deposited her on it. She was barely conscious, and was only able to watch as he took off her sneakers and socks, one by one. The motion was not at all sensual, but there was something about the way his eyes were fixed on hers, and not on the task, that made her dizzy in a way not attributable to alcohol.
Sydney's fingers ghosted hesitantly over the button of her jeans. They were way too hot and way too itchy to sleep in and she wanted them off, now, but…
"I'll help you take them off. I'll keep my eyes shut. You have my word."
"Pass me those," she slurred, pointing inaccurately at a pair of gym shorts folded on the dresser. As he turned to get them, she unfastened the buttons and wriggled the jeans past her hips. "Don't look," she said. She watched him return, eyes closed. He threw the shorts at her, and stuck his hands out, blindly. Sydney placed her stretched ankles into them, and he pulled her pants off for her. Now free, she rolled haphazardly around, and somehow managed to get her shorts on and perform the trick of removing her bra while keeping her shirt on.
"Can I open my eyes now?"
He did, and pressed his lips together, repressing an obvious desire to laugh at her. They were even now, she thought. She'd encountered her fair share of sleepy, vulnerable Sark, and now he'd gotten a full blast of wasted, vulnerable Sydney. Some of the things she'd told him at the restaurant flitted through her head again. She couldn't believe she'd opened up like that.
Oh well. Too late now.
Standing beside the bed, he leaned over, placing one hand on either side of her head, his face a little too close to hers, regarding her with the same look he'd had after their Star Wars marathon. Like he was contemplating kissing her. Part of her might not have minded if he did. He smelled good. His eyes were beautiful. His freckles were cute.
God, she was drunk.
"I'll get you a glass of water," he said, struggling with something.
Then he surprised her, held her head and stroked her cheek with his thumb. Sydney pressed into the touch. But just as quickly as it had come on, the moment was over. Sark straightened himself and turned to leave the room.
"Sark," Sydney moaned, weirdly disappointed, watching his ass as he staggered out of the bedroom. "Before I forget, the disk is in my purse."
"Excellent. Let's go through it tomorrow."
She listened to his steps, to the sound of him washing the bronzer off his face, to his walk to the kitchen, to the running of the tap as he filled a glass for her, to the sound of his feet padding back into the bedroom. Sark, now blond, pale, and glasses-free, deposited the water by her nightstand and pulled off his shirt and pants until he was clad only in boxers. He turned out the lights and fell into bed beside her with a less-than-elegant grunt.
And then she was out cold.