Sark regained consciousness only to find himself very close to losing it again.
He’d often fantasized about Sydney Bristow straddling him, but this wasn’t quite how it had gone in his imagination.
“Where have you taken me, you son of a bitch!” Her fingers clenched tight and murderous around his neck, thumbs like anvils on his jugular.
The idea that they’d gone anywhere was news to him. It was too dark to see anything but her shadow; he’d simply assumed the power had gone out. However, underneath his scrabbling hands, he now felt tufts of grass and hard earth. They were no longer inside.
“Why did you abduct me?” she continued to rant. She usually made more sense than this.
He slowly dragged her fingers down his neck to an oozing wound on his collarbone, where she’d sliced him with her stiletto during their altercation in the corridor.
“You’re still bleeding,” she noted, understanding the silent point he was trying to make. The pressure on his vocal cords lessened, but only a bit.
“Which means that could only have happened a few minutes ago,” he was finally able to choke out. “And in case you hadn’t noticed, I have been unconscious for most of those minutes. Hardly in a position to abduct you. Someone must have drugged us and deposited us outside the villa. Probably as punishment for having caused such a disturbance.”
Unfortunately, that only set her off again. He could tell she was more frightened than angry, though. “Outside the villa? Look around you!”
“If you would kindly get off me.”
Which an undignified harrumph, she obliged, and Sark sat up. It didn’t help, though, as the weak sliver of moon allowed him to see little more than ominous shadows. But that, he quickly realized, was the point. There should have been the lights of the estate, of the road, of the town of Versailles.
“I see,” he said, and then added, “or rather, I don’t.”
Sydney knew him well enough to recognize the truth in his voice. Sark so rarely admitted to weakness or confusion that, when he did, people usually paid attention. He felt her slump next to him, defeated and exhausted.
“Were you unconscious as well?” he asked, massaging where she’d choked him.
“I woke up a minute before you. All my communications are dead. Phone, wire, everything.”
A long, tortured silence fell between them as they both, he assumed, meditated on their last moment of consciousness before waking up here. It wasn’t the sort of thing one liked to discuss in polite company (though he doubted Sydney considered Sark’s company polite), if one didn’t want one’s sanity questioned.
“I seem to recall…” he finally said, trying to breach the topic in the least ridiculous manner possible.
“…that the hat we were fighting over got really big and sucked us in?” Sydney finished for him.
“Something to that effect.” No matter how enamored of Rambaldi artifacts his employers had always been, Sark himself had always found the occult highly distasteful. Rambaldi as a scientific prodigy, he could get behind, but the belief that his work was in fact, supernatural, irked him. However, he was having a hard time coming up with a logical explanation for this.
“I’m sure this will all make sense in the morning, when we can determine our whereabouts,” he said, trying to convince himself just as much as her. “In the meanwhile, I suggest we stay here. It’s too dark to walk.”
“You want us to sleep out here? Together?”
“Have you a better idea? We have no communications, no flashlights.” Her silence was all the answer he needed. “Exactly. Therefore,” he continued, “I propose a truce, that will last as long as we need to find out where we are and contact the appropriate parties. After that, we can resume our previous allegiances.”
“Is this another one of your ‘comprehensive offers’? Because I’m never gonna work with you, Sark.”
“This is a survival pact, nothing more, Agent Bristow.”
“Fine. Truce. But only until we figure out what’s going on. Then it’s back on.”
They say lovers can always find one another’s lips to kiss in the darkness; Sydney and Sark found one another’s hands to shake.
She curled down near him, but not beside him. Despite the darkness and the space between them, he could sense her shivering.
“Sark?” she whispered after a few minutes of silence.
Her words slurred. “Where’s the Little Dipper?”
Sark studied the sky above them as well, and found that she was correct; none of these constellations looked correct. Thankfully, she didn’t seem awake enough to need an answer. The morning, he told himself. It will make sense then.
He waited until her breathing stilled with the rhythm of sleep. Then he slipped his tuxedo jacket off and covered her shoulders with it.
There was peace beyond the landscape, too: Sydney Bristow, asleep at his side, in an agreed-upon cease-fire, and wearing his jacket. He had no idea where they were or what was going on, but he almost hoped they wouldn’t find out too soon.
Still, he reclaimed the garment before she woke. (She had never reacted well to his more chivalrous gestures.)
Now safe, he stroked her shoulder. “Sydney… Sydney…”
She sat up and looked around her. He could almost see the same train of thought about the landscape run through her head.
“There’s a stream over there,” he said.
“We can follow it to the shoreline. I can smell the saltwater from here.” There was no need to mention what they both knew: that they’d been nowhere near the sea.
Sydney rubbed her arms as they walked. “It’s a miracle I didn’t freeze to death last night.”
Sark bit his lip to hide a smile. “Quite.”
“What were you doing at the banquet last night?” he asked after they’d drunk their fill and were picking their way through the brush. Best to start small, he decided, and slowly build to uncomfortable conversations about expanding hats and unfamiliar constellations.
“The CIA got an anonymous tip that you’d be after a Rambaldi piece,” she said. “My mission was to bring you and the artifact in.”
“How many failed attempts at the same plan will it take for the CIA to think of something new?”
She pursed her lips in annoyance. “So, who are you working for these days? Sloane? My mother?”
“Neither. I received a business proposal from an anonymous source. I don’t usually accept jobs from strangers, but the amount of gold bullion he or she forwarded me in advance was… impressive.”
“And then what?”
“There were no delivery instructions. I assumed my employer would find me to collect the hat. But now I wonder… You said it was an anonymous tip?”
She understood the implication. “We were set up. They knew the CIA would send me after you. The CIA always sends me after you. They knew we would end up reaching the artifact at the same time and fight over it, because we always do.”
He couldn’t help but smile at this. “Our little run-ins have become somewhat predictable, haven’t they?"
“At this point, kicking your ass is part of my workout schedule,” she joked, dimples flashing. But then she remembered herself, remembered that she despised him. “Don’t get too comfortable, Sark. This… us not trying to kill each other… it’s only temporary. As soon as we get to civilization, I am taking you into custody.”
“Your optimism is one of your most charming qualities.”
The forest ended abruptly, opening up to an eerily still shoreline. A narrow pathway through the surf led to an enormous ruined castle. Not like the ones Sark had seen throughout Europe, where moss and centuries had corroded long ago glory. No, this looked as if a bulldozer had come in from the sea and demolished the place relatively recently. Not to mention that what remained looked nothing like any style of architecture he had ever studied.
“Sark, someone’s coming.”
Four figures exited the castle and were making their way down the pathway. Sark’s first impulse was to hide, but it was too late. The strangers had spotted them.
A delightful creature, whose pink cardigan clashed with her vintage archery equipment, came sprinting towards him, calling something—perhaps a name—that he couldn’t make out. From either instinct or habit, Sark moved to draw his gun, but as soon as she came close enough to read her open, jubilant expression, he flexed his fingers away from the handle. Whoever this woman was, there was no danger here.
There was a bizarre moment in which she almost knocked him over—a result of her original, inexplicable intention to wrap her arms around him. But centimeters before collision, she stopped short, practically fell backwards from the change in trajectory, and the light in her eyes switched to something more formal, almost embarrassed. She stuck out a hand, but there was too little space between them for a shake to be feasible. After a millisecond’s awkward pause, she went for the hug after all.
At this point, Sark was too tired, too hungry, and too bewildered to kill her or even to push her away. He suffered her obviously misplaced affection, but his arms remained limp at his sides. As the woman breathed into his lapel, he looked over her head at Sydney, who threw her arms up in bafflement, and then at the woman’s three outlandishly dressed female companions: a drowsy-eyed beauty in a feathered bed sheet, a woman clad in expensive-looking antique armour and… a motorcycle enthusiast?
“What are you doing here?” the woman in his arms asked. “How did you get out of Storybrooke?”
Sark saw Sydney open her mouth, saw the lie forming in her eyes, almost reflexively. Donning costumes and adopting aliases was more her line of work than his (he found it much simpler to go as himself, ask direct questions and coerce answers out of people at gunpoint). While Sydney’s methods had their advantages in certain situations, what they needed here was simplicity.
“I think you have me confused with someone else,” he said quickly. Sydney gave him the dirtiest of looks.
The woman’s awkwardness was now replaced by worry. Sark was getting whiplash from all the rapid changes in her reactions to him. Turning to her friends she said, “Maybe he doesn’t remember. Is there a way he could have come back here and forgotten who he is?”
Adorable as she was, insanity was quickly becoming the most reasonable explanation.
Sydney finally exploded. “What are you talking about?”
“What’s your name?” the woman asked Sark in a gently mothering tone, as if he were the lunatic to be treated with kid gloves.
The motorcycle enthusiast suddenly dragged her friend away from Sark and drew a gun. “What if he’s Cora?”
At this idea, two of the women drew their swords (swords?!). Sark and Sydney answered by drawing their own handguns.
The drowsy, pretty one was the only one left unarmed. Oddly unperturbed, she said, “If he, or she, is Cora, wouldn’t they do a better job of playing along? Like Cora did with Lancelot?”
“Lancelot,” Sark repeated blankly. He raised an eyebrow at Sydney; she brightened with an idea.
“Is this some sort of Renaissance Faire? Is that where we are?”
The blank expressions on the faces of Wilting Beauty and Hardened Warrior confirmed the answer in the negative.
“She wouldn’t even know what that is unless…” the motorcycle enthusiast said. “And Cora wouldn’t have a gun.”
Sark was beginning to feel annoyed. “I couldn’t possibly be Cora, whoever she is, as I am quite clearly—at least, I hope it’s clear—a man. My name is Sark. And this is my…” Sark faltered, torn between calling Sydney something that would be sure to result in a slap, or telling the truth, which would hardly engender these people’s trust. Sydney groaned with impatience.
“I’m Sydney. You’re the first people we’ve seen since we woke up here last night. I swear. We’re just trying to figure out where we are.”
“How’d you get here?”
Sark could see her preparing to take a dangerous gamble: the truth. “We were swallowed by a hat.”
It seemed to do the trick, however, for the ladies nodded at one another. “Where was the hat?”
“In a vault in a country estate an hour outside Paris. Sark and I were… wrestling… The hat started spinning and… ”
“What’s Paris?” the warrior woman asked.
“They’re telling the truth,” the motorcycle enthusiast told her friends, though how or why she could say so with such confidence was beyond Sark. At this, the woman who’d embraced him put down her weapon, and nodded at the others to do the same.
“My name is Snow White,” she said calmly.
Sark looked at her again, checking off all the fabled attributes in her face, and chuckled at the poor, pretty lunatic. “Of course.”
She seemed to sense his sarcasm, but was distracted, as they all were, by the sound of a nearby howling.
“What’s that?” he asked.
From the trees emerged an enormous beast that, when Sark squinted one eye, looked a bit like something out of a silly swords and wizards film he’d once watched on a plane. He looked to see where the machinery or antennae lay, but the robot was amazingly lifelike. Another appeared behind it, and both proceeded to advance, looking none too friendly.
“How do we turn them off?” Sydney asked, clearly thinking along the same line.
“Turn them off? We have to kill them!” one of the women yelled.
Sark sighed, not really wanting to play, but there would be no further answers until this was taken care of. He and Sydney began shooting, to no avail.
“You have to hit them in the eye, apparently!” the one woman with a gun yelled. Sark adjusted his aim and brought one of the beasts down just as the others managed to lodge arrows in the other one’s eyes.
Sark put away his weapon and was about to make a pithy comment about the childishness of this game when he glanced over and saw what looked like real blood spurting from the beasts’ wounds.
Sydney saw it, too. “Is that… Wait. Was that thing…?”
The one calling herself Snow White pulled her arrow out of the bleeding corpse. “We have a story to tell you.”
“It’s called the Enchanted Forest,” the quiet one—Aurora, aka Sleeping sodding Beauty—said primly.
“You can’t expect us to buy that?” Sydney scoffed.
“I do,” Sark quietly interrupted, partly because it was true, and partly because he knew it would annoy Sydney. Hell, it annoyed him, too.
As expected, her head snapped towards him. “What? Why?”
“First of all, there’s that.” Sark gestured at the bleeding ogre corpses. “As well as the hat and the odd star formations last night. It fits in with everything we’ve seen but haven’t wanted to believe over the years. Prophecies, chosen ones, world-destroying curses. It’s typical Rambaldi.”
“But…” Sydney half-heartedly tried to interject.
“There’s also the matter of this town in Maine,” Sark concluded. “The universe has a notoriously appalling sense of humour. Precisely the kind of wit that would name such a town Storybrooke. I doubt these ladies could have invented something so trite on their own.”
At that, Snow White cracked a wry smile. “You know, the Troll Bridge is now the Toll Bridge.”
If anything, the discovery that this fabled paragon of virtue shared his idea of a joke only made her more delightful.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss…” The question of whether Snow White was a first name or a full name crossed his mind. “Miss White?”
“It’s Snow White. All one name. Like Mary Margaret. Though… most people just call me Snow.”
“This is really happening, isn’t it?” Sydney asked all of them.
“At least it isn’t a Renaissance Faire,” Sark said. “Think of how awful that would have been.”
The fact that Sark had sat down and actually carried on a serious conversation about such rot rankled. This—all of it—was insupportable. Even as they hiked, he hung back towards the rear of the group, trying to make his peace with it all.
Sydney, of course, fit in naturally with this roving band of princesses; as soon as she’d accepted the idea, she’d become their new best friend. They all intermittently turned around to look at him, each time more suspicious than the last. Sark could only imagine the warnings Sydney was giving them about him, the descriptions: “assassin”; “terrorist”; “twat”. He wasn’t sorry for who he was—never that. However, he would have appreciated a chance to introduce himself on his own terms, as a simple mercenary, with no personal investment in doing evil. If only ‘good’ paid half as well…
Regardless, even if he’d been allowed to make it, he doubted such an explanation would hold water here. This lot reeked of the most syrupy sort of morality.
Near dusk, they reached an abandoned cabin and made plans to spend the night. Sark watched on the sidelines while Mulan and Snow White skinned the bear they’d killed for supper. They did it with a deft confidence that belied their pretty faces and noble bearing. Sark was simultaneously disconcerted and impressed.
“Nothing says Fairyland like princesses gutting their prey,” he quipped.
Emma shot him an unreadable frown. Or perhaps that was just her default expression. “We should scout the house for supplies.”
Together, they lit a fire in a rusted-out, comically medieval stove, and then sourced boots, an old pair of men’s pants, and an itchy wool sweater to replace Sydney’s impractical eveningwear, as well as swords for both Sydney and himself.
After a repulsive dinner of roasted bear meat and berries, they drew straws to decide who would have to stay up on night watch. Sark and Snow White drew the short ones. He busied himself replenishing the woodpile downstairs while the others prepared to sleep in the hayloft above the other side of the cottage. When the space was quiet, Snow White, who’d been sharpening her arrows in a corner, finally came over to sit with him.
“How’re you holding up?” she asked, with tentative friendliness.
“I’ll survive. Once I’ve recalibrated my understanding of the universe. Or universes, as it turns out.”
She smiled at that, and her face warmed him more than the fire.
“So, we’ve got all night, don’t we? We should get to know each other. Tell me about your world. You and Sydney know all about us… or sort of, from the stories. But I know nothing about where you come from.”
“You’ve lived there. You don’t need me to tell you about it.”
“Sure I do. Storybrooke’s like a bubble. The curse gave us memories of having read about the outside world, just like you’ve read about ours, but no one’s ever been outside. You and Sydney have been everywhere. I want to know what that’s like. Rome and India and Marrakesh…”
No one had ever asked him about himself before, not like this, not when there was nothing at stake. Sark wasn’t much of a storyteller, but she was hard to refuse, so he tried. He told her about the orphanage in Ireland and training with Irina and the beaches of the Seychelles. She proved a gratifying listener.
When he ran out of steam, they sat quietly for a few minutes. He caught her looking wistfully up at Emma and Sydney’s feet hanging over the edge of the loft. They were sleeping side by side after a long day of conspiratorial bonding.
“They seem to have taken to one another,” Sark observed.
“Yes, they have. I should have realized… I’ve been trying so hard to connect with her. I didn’t realize that maybe what she needed was someone to talk to who isn’t part of all this. Someone she thinks of as regular. And now you two have shown up, and I think… I think that’s what she’s been looking for. She hasn’t interacted with anyone from your world since she got to Storybrooke months ago. Your world is her world. I need to stop assuming she should feel at home in ours. And I need to stop thinking I know anything about her life. Listening to her and Sydney talk today made me realize I don’t know the first thing about it.”
“Is that why you wanted to hear stories about the world outside Storybrooke?”
She nodded. “She and Sydney… They both had GI Joes and watched He-Man growing up. They don’t… They’ve always thought fairy tales and magic were stupid.”
Sark still thought those things were stupid, too, but he could understand how unsettling it might be for a mother to discover her worldview was so different from her daughter’s. He meant it kindly when he said, “Those aren’t luxuries they could afford. But that doesn’t mean they can’t believe and appreciate those things now.”
“Maybe. Thanks. For listening.” She smiled, even though her eyes were a bit misty. As if trying to reconcile two portraits of him, she said, somewhat questioningly, “So, Sydney says you’re an assassin.”
“She short-sold me, as usual. My skill set is much wider than that. I also specialize in kidnapping, extortion, larceny and illegal arms negotiations.”
She looked horrified. “Was that a joke? Because if so, it wasn’t funny.”
“Not all jokes are meant to be.”
“Why did you… What made you choose this field?”
It was as though she were asking why he’d gone into chartered accountancy. “It’s what I was trained for from a young age. No one’s ever asked me to do anything else.”
“Why do you need to be asked?”
“I enjoy being good at things. And I’m excellent at what I do. Change would mean no longer being the best.”
“And you and Sydney are… what? Mortal foes?”
He snorted. “Nothing so quaint. We’re more like… habitual sparring partners. Except for an unfortunate two-year pause, we have kept up an almost weekly habit of trying to kill one another.”
A cryptic smile played across Snow White’s lips. “Uh huh.”
“If the two of you are as good as you say you are, then why, after all those attempts, are you both still alive?”
“We’re equally matched.”
“Or maybe neither of you is trying very hard.”
This entire conversation had been a mistake; he’d let her go too far with her questions. Sark stood up, pretending to explore, even though he and Emma had gone over every inch of this cottage earlier. He opened a cabinet and pulled out a dusty bottle.
“What is this beverage?”
Sark took down two glasses from a shelf above his head. “Let me pour you a drink.”
Something about his offer seemed to fluster her. “I’m not flirting with you.”
“No one said you were. It’s only a drink. Would you like one or not?”
She struggled with something Sark couldn’t even begin to guess. Finally she shook her head. “No, thanks.”
She refused to speak to him after that except to suggest that they split the shift so that each could catch at least a few hours of sleep. It was just as well, given her recent insinuations about him and Sydney.
But when the silent treatment continued the next morning, Sark began to regret the loss of their nascent companionship. He was well accustomed to receiving the cold shoulder from people he had purposefully wounded. However, receiving it for having done nothing at all was new, and unpleasant. Not to mention that with Mulan and Aurora clearly having no use for him, and Sydney and Emma having formed a chummy little party of two, staying in Snow White’s good graces was his only way of remaining informed, part of the inner circle.
During their first break, he whispered into her ear, “If I have done something to cause offense…” That was as far as he would go. Broaching the issue was quite enough; apologizing was not in his nature.
They both happened to glance at Emma, who was watching them as though something scandalous were going on.
Snow White jerked away from him and smoothed down her sweater. “Of course not. Why would you think that?” He didn’t have a chance to answer before she scampered away again.
Later, Sydney sidled up to him for a private chat, for the first time since they’d joined up with the ladies.
“I am not sulking,” he snapped. “You appear to be in your element, though.”
She grinned, giddy in a way he’d only ever seen her in surveillance footage, never in his presence. “It’s kind of amazing, right? This whole thing. And they’re…” She pointed at the others. “…They’re great. Better than the stories, I think.”
“They’re fine. Though I fear for one of our companions’ sanity.”
“Really? Which one?”
Sark smirked. “The fairest.”
“That was terrible. Even for you.” But there was laughter behind her eyes. Then, more seriously, “What makes you say that?”
“It’s as though she’s multiple people. From minute to minute, I don’t know which one I’m talking to.”
“Oh, that’s just the curse. Everyone back in Storybrooke is the same. She’s got two personalities inside her, two sets of memories. She’s both the mousey schoolteacher she was there, and the warrior princess she is here. I think she’s still trying to figure it out. Don’t take it personally.”
And yet, it did feel personal. He’d been watching her, and she evinced no such confusion with anyone else. Still, he wasn’t about to let Sydney know he gave a damn. “With that kind of hard-wired duality, she’d make an excellent agent, don’t you think?”
“I call dibs on the CIA’s behalf.”
Even without a continuation of this oddly easy banter with Sydney, Sark didn’t have time to continue pondering the mystery of Snow White, because within a couple of hours, they found themselves in a ransacked camp full of mutilated corpses. There was no one left alive to tell that Lancelot was dead.
Well, there was one person. From under a pile of corpses, Emma pulled out a unkempt pretty boy with only one hand.
Sark disliked the man immediately. Not least for the lascivious way in which he was looking at all the ladies.
“Blacksmith, my arse,” he whispered in Sydney’s ear as soon the man started spinning his weak tale, doing a terrible job of playing the poor, overlooked victim of Cora’s psychotic, heart-stealing wrath.
“There was better acting in my fourth-grade drama class,” she whispered back.
“Is that the one in which you played a turkey?”
“You know creepily too much about me.”
“I’m just doing my job.”
Hearing their tittering, the ‘blacksmith’ turned his attention to Sydney and Sark with much greater interest than he’d taken in the others. “And you two? Are you from this Storybrooke, as well? Your costume, boy, certainly suggests you hail from distant lands.”
“And your rags suggest incompetence at your chosen trade.” Jibes at his youthful appearance were among Sark’s pet peeves.
Aurora was about to explain when Sydney cut her off sweetly, but firmly. “You’re right. Sark’s not from this world. But he’s not from Storybrooke, either,” she said off-handedly. Sark noticed her omission of her own status, which worked, given her new, Enchanted Forest-appropriate wardrobe.
As she undoubtedly intended, the man now looked at Sark with even more fascination. The others kept quiet; it was obvious Sydney had an idea that they should follow.
When, under pain of death, they finally forced the man to confess to being Captain Hook (of course he was) and to being Cora’s planted spy (of course again), neither Sark nor Sydney were surprised.
Hook promised to lead them to a beanstalk, at the top of which lived a giant in possession of a compass that, once an inter-dimensional portal was found, would allow them to find their own universe among the infinite possibilities that such a portal would open. It sounded a little too much like a quest for Sark’s taste, not to mention entirely too much in general, but the group was going along with it, mostly because they had no other plan.
It didn’t take many hours to discover Hook was everything Sark loathed, made even more loathsome by being a scruffy, brunette mirror of Sark himself. The same flexible loyalties, the same cocky charm, the same position as underling to a powerful older woman.
“He’s not really that much like you,” Sydney’s voice suddenly whispered in his ear while he brooded on this very topic. Sark hadn’t even noticed her coming to walk beside him. “I know that’s what you’re thinking, but it isn’t true.”
“Why Sydney, I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Getting to what she’d come to discuss, she continued, “It’s a mistake to rely on a guy known for terrorizing little kids to help us get home. And I definitely don’t think we should let him get to our world. No matter what he says, he’s still Cora’s man. He’ll sell us out first chance he gets.” Sydney kept her face happy and bright; anyone turning back to look at them would have assumed they were reminiscing about merry old times.
“I agree wholeheartedly. What’s your plan?”
“I don’t know yet, but I’m working on it. I’ve already let the others know not to tell him too much about us. Your cover is as a powerful figure from our world.”
Sark sighed. “How exhausting. Can’t we just torture him for whatever information we need?”
She ignored him. “The vaguer we keep this, the better it will work. All you have to do is be mysterious and aloof. Something tells me this’ll be a piece of cake for you.”
It was. Sark relished watching Hook do his best to weasel information about Sark from the others. To their credit, the ladies seemed to enjoy the game, too, dangling half-answers and expressing awed reverence at Sark’s otherworldly, but vague, influence. Whenever Hook attempted to pull Sark himself into conversation, Sark responded with the same kind of withering disdain he’d practiced earlier. Sydney, for her part, played the role of an ingénue from King George’s kingdom with ease.
That night, Sark volunteered for night duty again. He didn’t trust anyone but himself to keep an eye on Hook. To his surprise, Snow White, who was suddenly all smiles with him again, volunteered as well.
“I don’t need help,” he told her once everyone else had curled up under blankets.
“I know you don’t. But I do think you could use some company.” She sat down next to him, out of earshot from any of the sleeping figures, but close enough to keep their eyes on Hook.
“This time, I’m going to tell you stories,” she said. “Ones I don’t think you know.”
It was the kind of earnest proposition his carefully constructed persona usually ran from. But there was no one awake to tease him for how much he welcomed the idea, and, if the previous 24 hours were anything to go by, come morning Snow White would pretend they’d sat there and scowled at one another all night. So, with nothing to lose, he replied, “I’d like that.”
Emma, looming over them, was as close to flabbergasted as Sark could imagine her. She pulled Snow to her feet, leaving Sark sprawled on the dewy grass. “It’s time to get going,” Emma said, brusquely dragging her mother away.
As expected, Snow’s expression had already shifted; Sark braced himself for more of her bizarre coldness. However, he had even less reason to care today; it quickly became clear that the rest of the ladies had become more inclined to make nice with him. Perhaps having Hook around made Sark less of an undesirable by comparison.
“Sark, do you have any handcuffs?” Sydney asked around lunchtime, while Hook was off flirting unsuccessfully with Aurora.
“Naturally.” He refrained from making an almost too-easy joke as he handed them to Sydney, who passed them to Emma. “Have you sorted out a plan?”
“Emma, tomorrow, I want you to go up the beanstalk with Hook and linger there for as long as you can. And then leave him stranded up there. We need him out of the way for as long as possible. Because, in the meanwhile, Sark and I are going to find Cora.”
“Oh, are we?” This was news to Sark, but he was game. Following Hook’s lead suited him as little as it did Sydney. He just wished they had their usual arsenal of back-up: cell phones, snipers, dossiers.
“But that’s suicide!” Snow exclaimed.
“It’s the only way to move on our own terms and get info straight from the source. We all know we can’t trust Hook. Even if we find this compass he says we need, we still have no way of making a portal. We need Cora’s info for that. With Hook out of the way and having no idea where we are, we can pretend we don’t know you and are our own agents. We can weasel the info out of her, maybe even steal her own portal.”
“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” Snow continued to fret. “Cora’s as powerful as Rumplestiltskin himself, if not more. Neither of you have magic. You can’t possibly—”
“Perhaps that will be our advantage,” Sark interjected. “Cora is so accustomed to people using magic to take her on that she may be uninsured against more… pedestrian tactics.”
“How will you even find her?” Emma asked. “She could be anywhere.”
Sark had an idea. “Not anywhere. I’ve been in Hook’s position many times. And if I were him and his employer, our plan would be for me to sneak off with the compass and reunite with Cora as soon as I had it in my possession. Which means she must be reasonably close by. From everything you’ve said, she doesn’t sound like the kind of woman who likes to slum it. Is there a place within a day’s journey from here that’s comfortable, but hidden?”
“There’s the dwarf mine,” Snow said. “It’s underground, but I’ve stayed in the head dwarf’s suite. It’s as good as a palace. She’d be very comfortable there.”
To Sydney, he added, “I agree with the concept of the plan. But we know nothing about this woman except what Snow remembers from having spent a few weeks with her years ago. I prefer going into an assignment with more details.”
“Leave that to me.” Sydney loosened her hair from its tight bun and asked, “You got any more of that distilled mead?”
“Go to sleep, Sark,” Snow White, who was lying beside him, whispered. “It’ll be fine.”
“What will?” he whispered back, pretending not to understand.
In the darkness, her hand reached for his. He actually let her hold it.
Before he nodded off to sleep, Sark decided this odd dynamic they had might be entering dangerous territory. He, as a rule, didn’t hold hands. With anyone. For any reason.
Tomorrow he’d put a stop to this. Or, just as likely, she would.
He was glad he didn’t have to climb it.
Snow White sidled up to Sark while everyone else was distracted. “I know you don’t like magic, but take this.” She stuffed an old, bejeweled horn in his pack.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s from my father’s collection. I found it in the rubble of the castle just before we met you. Legend says it belonged to a great queen from another realm. When blown in a time of need, it is said that friends will come to your aid, no matter how great the distance.”
It sounded silly to Sark, though he appreciated the gesture.
“Borrow my sword.” Mulan had crept up behind him, too.
“It deflects Cora’s magic,” she said, taking it off and switching blades with Sark.
“Of course it does,” he said.
“I have nothing to help you,” Aurora said next. “But you can have this.” And she kissed him on the cheek. “Good luck.”
“Someone’s suddenly Mr. Popular,” Sydney teased a few minutes, after they’d said their goodbyes and were cutting a new path through the trees.
Sark was as close to embarrassed as he could be, so he changed the subject. “Have you any idea where we are going?”
She showed him a piece of parchment that she unrolled to reveal a map. There was a red circle marking a landmark.
“I got this off Hook last night, as well as a whole download while he was drunk. Snow was right; Cora’s waiting at the dwarf mines. This will lead us right to her.” Sydney gave Sark an entire briefing on what she’d learned about the woman and what she was thinking of doing once they found Cora.
“I fear to inquire what you had to do in order to procure this information.”
She grimaced. “I’ve dealt with worse. Hook’s gross, but at least he’s easy on the eyes.”
Sark decided to stop asking questions he had no interest hearing answered. He transitioned into planning out their mission, the roles they were to play, the information that was their objective, etc.
“So, there’s one thing I haven’t been entirely honest about,” Sydney said when they were a few minutes away from the mines.
“Only one? I’m disappointed, Sydney.”
She pulled out a small vial of blue liquid from her pocket. “I told you we got a tip you’d be after the hat. The thing is, our research showed there was another Rambaldi artifact in that collection. This. It was fuller when I stole it from the vault. Given what the girls have said about these portals, I think some of the liquid got on the hat, and that’s why we came here. So, if we need a bargaining chip…”
“Why are you telling me this now?”
She shrugged and looked away. “Because we’re in this together, no matter what. And because, for some reason, Snow trusts you. Plus, our world’s got enough problems; the last thing I need is a magic-wielding terrorist getting there. This shouldn’t be too hard. All we’ve got to do is get in, get some info, and get out.”
That was easier said than done, but Sark didn’t want to dampen this rare positive mood towards him.
They practically stumbled over the entrance to the mines. Befitting his role, Sark stood up even straighter than usual and pounded on the door with the ornate knocker. Within minutes, a woman who could only be Cora appeared. She reminded him of Sydney’s mother: beautiful, serene, dangerous.
“You aren’t Hook,” she said.
“Thankfully for all of us, no. I am Mr. Sark. And this is my associate, Sydney Bristow. I am here on behalf of my employer, who has a simple proposition for you.” Now that they’d started, this really was just like another day back home.
“And by here, you mean…” Cora asked.
“This world. I come from the world the populace of the Enchanted Forest currently inhabits.”
“Come in, and we can talk.” She led them inside the mines and through a labyrinth of tunnels to what appeared to be the central hall of the complex. It was a grand place, up to the standards of Baroque palaces, and dripping with jewels.
Cora took a seat on a throne that was too small to possibly be comfortable, but it did place her in an elevated position.
“So, tell me about this proposition of yours,” she said.
Sark didn’t like these sorts of games, but he found the lies coming a bit more easily than expected. “My employer has great power in our world, and has learned that you are trying to reach Storybrooke.”
“And how, exactly, did he… or she… discover that fact?”
“We have our means. My employer proposes an alliance of your considerable forces. Together, you could rule over multiple realms.”
“And what does this employer of yours have that I don’t?”
“It is said that ours is a world without magic, but that isn’t so. There are other forms of power, greater, more widespread forms. There are also techniques that, when combined with magic, could wield influence greater than either alone. It is this partnership, a melding of tools that I have come here to negotiate. Storybrooke is just one town, a town that barely exists on the fringe of our reality. Why focus on a village when you can conquer an entire world?”
Cora waved at Sydney. “And your associate? How do you fit in?”
“My job was to lead him to you. I’m a good tracker. I know these woods,” Sydney said. “I’m going over, too, as an ambassador.”
“And how do you propose we effect this partnership?” Cora asked.
“We travel together and I will introduce you to my employer. After that, we head to Storybrooke together and will help you wreak whatever vengeance you wish.”
“How do I know you aren’t simply trying to follow me because you lack a way to your world?”
“We’ve got our own,” Sydney lied smoothly, holding up the vial of magic. “But it’s programmed only for us. It won’t work for anyone else. That’s why you’ll need your own. You use your method and we’ll follow with ours.”
“Programmed?” Cora asked. “What does that mean?”
“It’s one of the many concepts of our world’s magic that you will learn,” Sark said.
“It’s two days journey to Lake Nostos,” Cora said. “And I am already waiting for someone.”
“If you mean Hook, I’m sorry to say, he’s currently indisposed,” Sark said smugly. “It will be some time before he joins you again.”
She seemed to take him more seriously now. “Excuse me?”
Sark just smiled. And anyway, he had what they came for. Snow had told him about this Lake Nostos when she’d told him about her friend Lancelot that night. Given what he knew, the water of this lake could possibly restore the portal properties of the ashes they knew Cora possessed. All they had to do was follow and take the portal home themselves.
“That lake’s dry,” he said, trying to fish for even more information while he (or Sydney) thought of an exit strategy.
“Yes, it is. But now that you’ve so kindly brought me this…” The vial flew from Sydney’s hands to Cora’s. “I should be able to restore the water. Thank you so much. I am not interested in negotiating. You see, I only want to see my daughter. For now. I can rule your world later. On my own.”
Out of nowhere, vines sprung from the ground and pinned Sydney to the ground. A scorpion appeared and began inching its way towards her.
“What are you doing?” Sark asked dispassionately, repressing any worry, even though every vein twitched in horror. This is why he didn’t have attachments; he couldn’t afford to let others use them as a weakness. “If you intend to threaten me through my associate, you’ll be sorely disappointed. We’ve only just met.”
Cora watched him. “So cold for someone so young. Who trained you?”
“My employer is a woman who doesn’t need magic to wield more terror than you’ll ever know.”
“I hope to meet her when I reach your world.”
The scorpion inched ever closer to Sydney. “Sark! Don’t give in to—”
Sark didn’t. Every nerve ending was crying, but he retained his dispassionate hauteur as he waved at Sydney and her predicament. “I doubt you’ll find her sympathetic when she learns you’ve killed her daughter.”
“Ah. I see.” Cora leaned even further forward, didn’t take her eyes off him. “You really don’t care if she dies?”
“Not in the slightest.”
Cora pursed her lips. “Well, I don’t see how this employer of yours can find out when you neither of you will be alive to tell her. Thank you for this vial. I’m sure I can find a way to reverse this ‘programming’, as you call it. Enjoy your tomb. I have an appointment to keep.”
Sark found himself thrown against a wall and pinned five feet above the ground as Cora strode out of the room. While she walked, Sark watched as the scorpion stung Sydney, who stared at him with brave eyes all the while. She collapsed, dead, just as Cora locked the door behind her, from the outside. Only then did the magical grasp on his neck release. He fell to the floor, and scrambled to where Sydney lay. She was already almost cold.
Sydney was dead, Sark was trapped, and Cora had escaped. He couldn’t think of a worse turn of events.
He pulled Sydney’s head into his lap and tried to collect his thoughts. But minutes passed and they refused to collect. This was far beyond his usual predicaments and resources.
He found himself doing the unthinkable, something illogical: he reached for the horn Snow had given him. Even if the silly legend were true, he had no reason to suspect it would work, if only for the fact that Sark had no friends to come to him in his time of need. His life had been set up this way, and he’d done his best to continue it: no attachments, no sentiment, no friends to potentially betray him.
He feebly blew into the mouthpiece, mostly as something to do to hopefully stimulate his brain to devising a practical solution. The sound it made was comforting, but, as expected, nothing at all happened.
Sark calmed down enough to draw upon the meditative techniques Sydney’s mother had taught him to keep his mind focused during crises. His eyes were closed and his neurons whirring, when he heard a noise outside the hall.
“Hello?” he heard Snow White’s voice ask.
“Snow?” he shouted, putting Sydney down and running to the locked door.
“Sark? Where are you?”
“In here. It’s locked from your side.”
Within moments, they collided in the corridor.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “Did you follow us?”
“I was sitting with Mulan and Aurora and felt this weird pulling at my leg. Then my arm. Then everything. Next thing I knew, I was here.”
For a moment, Sark was almost startled out of his grief. “It worked? Wait. Are we friends?”
“Oh, Sark. You idiot. Of course we’re friends…” She clasped his hands. “You blew the horn, didn’t you?”
He nodded, and she beamed at him. He suddenly understood why he’d given it to him alone. This was the most well-intentioned con anyone had ever tried to play on him. Leave it to Snow White to manage a contradiction like that.
The moment seemed to set off her damned awkwardness again, and she tried to take her hands back, but Sark wouldn’t let her go; he had no patience for her psychoses right now. He needed to tell her the news, to prepare her before they went into the next room in which the body lay. “Snow,” he said, trying to summon his usual calm disaffection, and failing utterly. “Sydney’s dead. Cora killed her.”
He explained everything, explained about their ruse and the information they’d gathered.
“Are you sure she’s dead?” Snow asked curiously, moving towards the corpse in the corner of the room. Sark could barely stand to look. Sydney, so full of vitality and nerve, now so boneless and complacent… and dead.
“She isn’t breathing. Her pulse has stopped. Cora called my bluff,” he choked. “This is why I don’t normally bluff.”
Snow wasn’t listening to him. She kept poking and prodding at Sydney, as though expecting a happy ending. Sark wasn’t surprised; this was a woman who conversed with bluebirds, after all.
“We can’t carry her out of here,” he said next. “Even with you here, we couldn’t...”
“No, we shouldn’t try to move her.” Snow stood and turned to face Sark; the look in her eyes was as strange as the tone of her voice. Sark assumed she this was her repressed way of grieving; her grieving face was too hopeful and excited for his liking, though. He’d met people who unconsciously giggled when they were distraught, and thought something like that must be going on here.
“Since, she’s dead… We should say our goodbyes, shouldn’t we? Nothing we could dig on the surface would be as worthy a tomb for her as this. She’d want us to go on. She’d want us to finish the mission.”
Sark felt too numb to finish much of anything, but she was right. Together, they tugged and pulled Sydney’s body into a peaceful resting position and then he sat by the body, watching as Snow smoothed Sydney’s clothes, and sang a sad, solemn song, all while holding Sark’s hand.
When she was done with her pointless little ritual, Snow kissed Sydney’s cheek.
“It’s your turn,” Snow whispered, with a bizarre expectancy that fit poorly with the tragedy of the occasion. He thought she must be putting on a brave face for his sake, since someone of Snow White’s inherent goodness couldn’t possibly be this flippant about the murder of a friend. Especially not when Sark was so broken up about it.
He took in one last time how lovely Sydney was, even now. It would have been so easy to finally kiss her, but he didn’t think it sporting to take what she would never have given him willingly, so he held her hand and leaned down to kiss her forehead instead.
As his lips pressed against her forehead, Sark felt a rush of energy course from the point of contact through his entire body. The air itself rippled, almost sparkled purple.
In his hands, Sydney’s fingers moved.
“I knew it!” Snow’s eyes shone with joy and pride that momentarily baffled Sark.
Then, with a sickening lurch in his stomach, he understood what was happening, and all the dreadful implications that went along with it.
Sydney sat up, unthinkingly squeezing Sark’s hand for support. He put his other arm under her shoulders and helped her into a seated position. There was an openness in her expression that she had never before allowed herself around him.
“You had an allergic reaction to the scorpion poison,” Sark lied quickly.
Snow gasped, and stepped forward as if to speak. While Sydney checked herself for hives that weren’t there, Sark pleaded with his eyes for her to keep silent.
“Really?” Sydney said. “And how…?”
“I always carry an epinephrine needle in my jacket pocket.” Sark’s accustomed mask of supercilious arrogance had never before served him so well. “You’re welcome.”
Sydney cocked her head to one side and studied him so intently and for so long that Sark began to fear she had guessed the truth. However, to his relief, she finally asked, “You have an allergy so bad that you keep an epi pen on you? I’ll remember that when we’re back in our world and this truce is over. What does it for you? Nuts? Strawberries? Bees?”
With his trademark smirk firmly in place he answered, “I’m allergic to Bristows, if you must know.”
Snow White watched the two of them with horror, as if her entire fairytale worldview had just been shattered by Sark’s denial and Sydney’s contempt.
“Do you always fight like this?”
“Only when we don’t have guns,” Sydney replied with a shrug, and Snow emitted a squeak of dismay.
“We should get out of here if we want to get back before Emma does. I’m sure Mulan and Aurora are wondering what happened to you.” Sark took off at a brisk stride, mostly so he wouldn’t have to meet Snow White’s gaze.
Sydney kept up perfectly, as though nothing had been wrong with her. Within a few hours, they reached the base of the beanstalk. Sark told the story while they waited for Emma, who appeared within an hour.
“If she was bitten, then how did you—” Aurora began to ask.
“Science,” Sark lied. “So much simpler than this awful magic you all rely upon. You should look into it.”
“I don’t enjoy being manipulated,” he said.
“And I don’t like lying. Especially not about this. Not about—”
He cut her off before she could say the words. “So why, did you?”
“Because I felt sorry for you. Sorry for someone so closed off that he denies true love when it happens to him, who needs a magical horn to figure out he has friends.” Snow looked up at him, with a steely expression that stated she knew exactly how degrading he found being the subject of anyone’s pity.
“I hope you intend to keep this between us.”
“I may not like it, but it isn’t my job to tell her. It’s yours.”
“Well, whatever your reasons, thank you. Some truths are too mortifying to be exposed.”
“True love is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“If you persist in using such language, I will be forced to hurt you.”
“Sydney’s smart. She’s going to figure it out.”
“I’m sure she will. But when that day comes, I hope to be back in our land and far away from her inevitable scorn.”
“Maybe she’ll surprise you.”
“She often does. It’s part of her appeal. But this will not be one of those times.”
“This is huge, though,” Snow said, the mothering timbre infusing her voice. She impulsively gripped his knee, then quickly drew her hand back, embarrassed as always. Sark wished she would stop it. All of it. “You can’t fake true love’s kiss.”
Sark gagged. “Please stop calling it that.”
“Whatever you want to call it, it’s real.” Then, with the romantic optimism of a bloody teenager: “I’m sure she feels the same way. I mean, it wouldn’t have worked otherwise.”
Sark couldn’t ignore the futile and almost unwanted hope that had been gnawing at his insides all day. He wasn’t sure which would be worse: to have it confirmed or refuted. “Is that a fact? Do you have conclusive proof that true…” He choked on the phrase, tried again. “…that this remedy only works if the feelings are requited?”
Snow stopped to think. “Well, no, not conclusive.” But quickly, hopefully, she added, “But in all the cases I’ve ever heard of, it was.”
“It takes only one exception to destroy a previously held theory. And I’ve always liked to consider myself exceptional.” He smirked at her, intending to appear playful, but the effort was half-hearted, and he was aware that it simply came across as sad.
“So, what are you going to do?” she asked.
“Sleep. I’ve endured quite enough humiliation for one day.” He shifted himself off the log and onto the cold ground. He knew she wasn’t fooled by his pretended slumber, but at least she stopped torturing him.
Everyone was in much better spirits, now that they were in possession of a real plan of their own.
Additionally, after the successful mission and revivification of Sydney, Aurora, Mulan and Emma, who’d started out a bit wary of him that first day (which now seemed so long ago), now sought him out, included him in their jokes. Sydney was just as high-spirited as the rest, but with more thoughtfulness.
“So, about yesterday…” she said late in the afternoon.
Sark repressed his panic. “Yes?”
“You could have left me there to die. But you didn’t. Why?”
He shrugged. “Cora didn’t deserve to win.”
“Right.” She seemed to struggle with something, most likely her disgust at possibly being in his debt.
They walked quietly for a second. He hoped that was it.
“It’s a good thing you have those allergies, huh?” she asked a minute later.
“I suppose they proved useful. You know, this is the second time you’ve turned out not to be dead. If I were you, I would steer clear of a third time, since, it would appear, there might actually be charms.”
“Yeah. Okay then.” After that, she took a deep breath and changed the subject to less uncomfortable matters: a new opera in Vienna, a new biography of Churchill she’d read… And thus the day passed, pleasantly enough, until they reached the lake and made camp in a hidden spot. From here, they had only to wait for Hook and Cora to arrive. Given their calculations, that should happen sometime the next day.
And so, Sark found himself with Snow one last time by the fireside. She was in a rare mood: not actively furious with him, not behaving like a lunatic, and not being soppy. The trifecta moved him to say things he never had to anyone else before.
“I want you to know…” It was a fairly simple thing he was trying to say; there was no reason why his tongue, which had so often rattled off complicated scientific terminology and foreign languages with no hesitation whatsoever, should stumble over this. “I like you, Snow White. I have never before admitted such a thing to anyone, but… I like you, and no matter what happens tomorrow, I will think fondly of the time we have spent together.”
She laughed in his face. “You’re stuttering over the fact that you like me? No wonder you’re having so much troub—”
“Shhhh,” he said, placing a finger to her red lips. She looked down at it in surprise. While she was thus distracted, he picked up her hand to deposit a vassal’s kiss on it. She trembled beneath his touch, in a way that did not result from fear or offense, or even arousal. It was something else. It was the usual hyper-charged awkwardness that overtook her every so often around him. At this point, he was over it.
To get back to his original point, he said, “That said, if you ever so much as breathe a word about what transpired with Sydney, or if you tell anyone about the mortifyingly maudlin conversations you’ve managed to engage me in, rest assured, I will kill you. No matter how fond of you I am.”
That, thankfully, snapped her out of it. She threw her head back and became a warrior princess again, no longer a trembling weirdo. “I’d like to see you try. Lots of other people have, and so far, they haven’t had much luck.”
“That was due to an overreliance on magic, I think. I would not make the same mistake.”
She smirked at him again, and he dropped the subject; he knew she bought it as little as he did.
“So,” he continued, changing the subject. “If all goes well, this will be our last night together.”
She was so pale that her blushes showed up even in firelight.
As he watched her avoid his gaze in that odd girlish manner that overtook her yet again, a puzzle he’d been picking at in the back of his mind for the past few days suddenly put itself together, and he burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“You slept with him.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Her failed dissembling merely confirmed what Sark had already guessed.
“The man I resemble so closely that you mistook me for him when we first met.” Sark pointed a finger right at the tip of her nose, somewhat playfully, somewhat flirtatiously, but also with the underlying threat that while she may have information on him, he now had some on her, as well. “You slept with him when you were cursed. This explains so much.”
The picture continued to put itself together even as the words spilled from his lips. “The schizophrenic way in which you treat me, sometimes pushing me away as an enemy, then suddenly trying too hard to be friends. Painfully awkward one minute, overly intimate the next. You mostly engage with me under the safety of darkness, when Emma is asleep. She knows, doesn’t she? She knows that you and he were lovers, but were neither together nor even close friends. You haven’t seen him since the curse was broken, and therefore you are projecting, working out your embarrassment on me, since I look the same, but have a completely different identity, just as he surely has now back in Maine. You don’t want me—you never truly did—but the memory of having had me that once… the knowledge that some part of you enjoyed it at the time… You don’t know how to process that.” He paused for breath. “And yet, it wasn’t even me. You aren’t sure whether that makes it better or worse.”
“It didn’t mean anything, though. We were cursed!” It was obvious she was finally voicing the internal monologue that must have been running through her head for days.
“Of course. No one who has listened to you talk about this Charming of yours could believe otherwise.”
This seemed to reassure her. Sark didn’t understand what all the fuss had been about in the first place. It should never have been an issue. Anyone in possession of the facts would have understood.
“I’m not very good at one night stands,” she admitted.
“This hardly comes as a surprise.” Sark leaned back and grinned at her. “I’m honored—tickled, really—that it was with me. In a sense.”
Ignoring his light-hearted reply, she continued to unburden herself with unsettling earnestness. “I was sad. And lonely. And I think he was, too. The same way you are underneath all that disaffection. I think we could have been friends, but...”
“But you got me instead.”
“Oh, are we friends?” she asked mockingly, reminding him of the previous day’s exchange.
She winked at him and relaxed again, and the awkwardness gone, for good this time, Sark thought. Now that it was out in the open, there was nothing left for her to fear. He wondered for a moment if that was the lesson she was trying to teach him.
“Is it really that uncanny of a resemblance?” he asked.
“It’s incredible. Identical. Though somehow… I think you’re better looking. Anyway, you told me you never knew your family, that you were a foundling. That this Lazaray guy came out of nowhere claiming to be your dad and how it all felt wrong. Like part of a plot. What if…?”
“…it is a lie? What if I was sent to my world as a baby, like Emma? What if I have a twin I never knew about?” he finished for her. “It’s ridiculous.”
“Not that ridiculous, given what you’ve already seen.”
Sark had watched Emma, watched her deal with everything she’d so recently learned; Sark wasn’t ready to follow in her footsteps, and had thus, he now realized, unconsciously blinded himself to what had been going on between himself and Snow. Part of him must have known that by getting to the bottom of her awkwardness, they would end up here, having the other conversation they’d been avoiding.
It was a lot to take in, and what with Cora and Sydney and everything, Sark hadn’t had the energy or the inclination. And he still didn’t. Not tonight.
So, instead, he jokingly asked, “Doesn’t your husband have a story like that? Twins separated at birth? It seems you have a type. I’ll bet he’s blonde, too.”
She just frowned at him, and he could tell he’d guessed correctly.
“So, who is this man? I mean, before the curse.”
“I have no idea,” she said. “We never met.”
“Pity. Well, perhaps, we can deduce it. Make it a game. Match the man with the tale. What’s he like?”
“Arrogant. Obnoxious. Emotionally stunted.” She spat out the words, making sure he didn’t miss a single parallel, but then paused, her natural charity winning out over her sarcasm. “A good listener… when he wants to be. Good at his job.”
“He sounds charming.” Sark winked.
Snow rolled her eyes. “And a terrible kisser.”
“Must have been the curse. I assure you, no such complaints have been made against me. I’d offer to let you see for yourself, but I don’t think either of us…”
“You’re both insufferable. On second thought, maybe you’re right. Maybe Sydney should never figure it out. For her own good.”
Sark patted her on the leg.
“I’m glad I’ve finally convinced you to see reason.”
“Wait, no! I didn’t actually mean that.”
“Too late. And with that, off to bed. Goodnight, Snow.”
He stood up to walk away from her, but then paused and looked back. “It’s Julian, by the way. As in, Sark is my surname. The one I have spent the past few years going by, at any rate. However, Julian is not an alias.”
She smiled, accepting the invitation as seriously as he had extended it. “Goodnight, Julian. Sleep well. I’ll wake you up when it’s time to switch.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Sydney asked.
“I think you’d enjoy the joys of modern plumbing and French wine,” Sark added.
“No, we have to stay and find a way to rescue Philip,” they said.
Aurora kissed Sark on the cheek and bid him well with surprising warmth. And if that was surprising, he was flabbergasted when Mulan took the time to knight him for acts of bravery and valor.
“My reputation will be shattered if word of this ever gets out,” he said as he rose, hoping that by making light of it he could hide the fact that he was… he didn’t know the appropriate word. Touched? Wistful?
“The first thing I’m going to do when we get back is spread it all around the CIA,” Sydney joked through her tears as she hugged Aurora.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Sark and Sydney didn’t bother to bid Snow and Emma farewell, as the plan was for them to continue helping them right whatever leftover problems the curse had wrought once they all arrived in Storybrooke. Sark had no desire to continue working for the Covenant, and what better place to hide from the organization than in a town that only tangentially existed? As for Sydney… she was disillusioned enough with her job, her now-married boyfriend, and her life in general, and was ready to try something new.
“Shh!” Emma pointed through the trees. “They’re here.”
They hid themselves and watched as Cora and Hook spoke to one another. Then Cora did something that caused the earth to disintegrate, and soon, a geyser of underground water burst through to the surface.
“Now!” Mulan said.
Snow made their presence known with a beautiful shot at Cora that only just missed. Emma immediately went after Hook, with help from Sydney, while Snow, Sark, and Mulan took on Cora.
“You escaped,” Cora noted upon seeing Sark.
It was a messy and confused fight, but in the end, Cora disappeared in a puff of smoke, as usual, while Mulan tied Hook up.
“Let’s go! Before the portal closes!” Emma called to Sydney and Sark. Bidding farewell to Aurora and Mulan, they ran to the water’s edge.
“Wait!” Snow stopped at the edge of the lake. “We didn’t come from the same place or the same time. What if Emma and I come out separately from you two? What if—”
Sark gripped Snow’s hand. “Sydney and I will find you. As soon as we can. Won’t we?” He looked over Snow’s head at Sydney, who nodded seriously. “I give you my word.”
Snow grinned. “Good. Because there’s someone I want you to meet.”
On Emma’s count of three, all four of them took a running jump into the lake.
Somewhere in the muddle and swirl, Snow’s hand was ripped from his; or rather, it simply stopped being there.
And then a public bus was barreling down on him.
Cars honked and passersby stared as he and Sydney ran for the sidewalk. It was lucky the street was so crowded, or else more people would have noticed them materializing out of thin air. As it was, a little boy, not quite old enough to speak, appeared to be the only one. His eyes were like saucers staring down at Sark as his mother led him away. Sark looked around him, cataloguing the stimuli to pinpoint the location of their return.
“Versailles,” Sydney said. She pointed far down the busy street. “We’re back in Versailles. Maybe a mile from where we started. You can see the train station down there.”
She began walking, as she had every day recently, with the full expectation that he’d follow. But this wasn’t the Enchanted Forest; this was their world, with the old rules and allegiances and grudges that now seemed so trivial. Still, now that they were back, his flight reflexes were kicking in. The adventure that had brought them together was over, and now, it was as though it had never happened.
“I should let my dad know I’m okay before I go off the grid again, but I don’t need to go to LA to do that,” she was saying. “You’ve got to have a safe deposit box or something in Paris you can access to get us passports and tickets, right?”
It was a lot, and too fast.
“To go where?”
“To Maine, obviously. What’s the matter with you?”
“I assumed this marked the end of our truce,” he said. “Isn’t this where we resume our little game? You trying to take me into custody? Me getting away…”
“This is bigger than all that. And anyway, we’re…” She stopped and started again. “They’re counting on us to help them.”
“And Michael Vaughn? Are you planning to recruit him to the cause, too?”
“Vaughn?” It took Sydney a moment to respond, as though she had to remind herself who Vaughn was. It was the most glorious hesitation Sark had ever waited through. “No, he’s got nothing to do with this. We can’t tell anyone else about this, about where we’re going. Imagine what would happen if the world found out about Storybrooke.”
Something struck Sark. “You actually trust me to keep this secret? You trust me enough to work with me, in our world?”
“You gave Snow your word. I guess I’ve learned that actually means something. Though…” She smiled. “Maybe this time you and I should stay up on night watch. Give poor Snow a break, don’t you think?”