She wears black again, as she has so often during the last weeks. Black, even in her house. He wonders if it's a defence mechanism, wonders if she thinks colour would be giving her away. Or maybe she just has enough of all the colours during missions. Maybe monochrome saves her sanity.
It's a simple ritual. Every night. Removing the make-up with a cleansing foam and water. Drying her face with a small towel. He enjoys the way she looks into the mirror after that small ritual, her face clear of the many masks hiding her true self. He loves looking at the real Sydney Bristow. The one with the haunted eyes and the dark rings under them. The one with a few droplets of water still clinging to her lashes, crystalline, like tears. The one who questions her mirror: Am I still myself? He knows. He can see it, even if she does not voice the question. So many times.
When he talks to her she never responds.
There is something in the way she sips her wine, here, in front of her open fireplace, that intrigues him, excites him even. He doesn't have to feel it on his tongue to know what it tastes like. Smooth, dry, with a light hint of vanilla and raspberries. His throat goes dry at the thought, quickly he takes a sip from his own glass. It trickles down his throat, leaving warmth in its wake. Pleasant warmth, not the heat a single-malt would create. He prefers red wine. He knows she does, too.
Yet if only because they have different ways of perceiving their environment, her wine will never taste the same as his. He’s saddened by the thought, but doesn't tell her. Not even that he would love to taste the wine on her tongue. He never does.
They both enjoy the silence and the crackling of the fire.
He has seen her sleep like a child. Curled in her bed, knees drawn to her chin, protecting herself from the world outside. The bed always seems too big for her.
That childlike sleep is gone tonight. She’s dreaming. He can see her eyes moving rapidly under closed lids. Her arms are flailing under the duvet, her eyebrows knit together in pain. She is murmuring things he can't make out, no matter how much he wishes to. He can't. He never does. He never has the heart to wake her, not even from a nightmare. Because even though her sleep is troubled, at least she is sleeping at all. It’s worth the price.
He wakes up only a short while after she leaves the bed. She gets ready for work early, he realises.
He hears her humming softly to herself in the bathroom.
She walks through her room in a bathrobe, brushing her teeth as she goes. It's an old fashioned toothbrush, not one of the electrical ones which have become so popular. She prefers it old-fashioned. A smile lifts the corners of his mouth as he watches her rummage through her chest of drawers for lingerie. Before, he had always imagined her wearing something dangerously sexy under those strict costumes she wears for work. Now he knows better, and prefers it that way. Her lingerie is plain, nowhere near stylish, just comfortable. Maybe this is the way she treats herself when she is not on a mission.
Back in the bathroom, he hears her shower, still humming a tune he vaguely remembers hearing on her stereo before.
Fifteen minutes later, she emerges, fumbling with her unresponsive hair. He enjoys the way she uses the bright wooden comb to brush her dark hair into shape.
She leaves after a quick breakfast of cereal and some of the strongest coffee he has ever seen. His insides squirm at the thought of what she is doing to her body, drinking that brew. Yet he keeps quiet, sips his tea. With a grimace, he realises that it must be almost as strong as her coffee.
He smiles again, watches her grab her bag and leave.
She doesn't say good-bye.
She doesn't have to. He sees her at the office, coming in only marginally later than she.
She is already on her second cup of coffee, trying to force her body into functioning after the exhausting dreams.
"Good morning." He shakes his head at the sight of her hand, clenched around the mug. "You look tired, Agent Bristow." Her eyebrows knit. Frustration, surprise and anger flicker in her eyes in quick succession. There is no greeting. She simply glowers at him as he sips from his mug of tea.
"What's it to you?" Her voice cool, her eyes blazing. She sets the mug down.
"I'm merely trying to engage in a conversation among colleagues." He smiles serenely, enjoying the way she bristles.
"Like hell you are." Her mouth is set, the full lips pressed together after that statement, as though trying to bite back more vile words.
"Sydney …" He thinks about the night, and his smile falters. He attempts to tell her, for once tell her something honest. Something she won't see as a lie or a taunt.
"Save it," she says, running a tired hand over her forehead, not noticing his lapse. "Whatever it is, save it. I'm not in the mood today, Sark."
She's not strong today. Part of him wants to keep their banter going, wants to see how far he can push her. Wants to see just how unstrung she is after a night like this. But he doesn't.
If only because he respects her too much.
He touches her arm fleetingly as he steps next to her. "I'm serious: You should try to sleep more, Sydney. This concoction you're drinking ..." he traces the rim of her mug, "won't keep you awake forever."
She turns and shoots him a dirty look, misinterpreting his concern for mockery and crumples the piece of paper she holds in her hand. Maybe, he thinks, it's better this way. "Get your little British ass away from my desk."
Low blow. He chuckles. She glowers. But she also shudders when his breath whispers over her ear.
He straightens. Smirks. "I live but to serve. Think about that coffee."
She actually throws the paper after him when she thinks he isn't looking.
He looks over his shoulder. Winks. Leaves before her eyes can kill him.
Leaves and wonders when she will notice. His fingers trail the remnants of her lipstick on her mug, now in his hands
He meets her again for dinner. Francie has sent delicious-looking spinach and ricotta agnolotti from the restaurant, knowing full well that she won't make it before midnight, but wanting to keep Sydney entertained. Entertained, she says on the phone. But Sark hears the concern in her voice, the growing worry about Sydney's well-being. So Francie must have noticed, too. It’s hard not see. Syndey Bristow is falling apart and is trying to cover the traces of it like a good agent should, but not quite succeeding.
Sark sees most of it when he is alone with her.
She opts for red wine again, a Syrah this time. Dinner is quiet, but he enjoys it. He isn't much of a conversationalist over food, thinks talk destroys the perfection of a good meal.
She uses at least three napkins over the course of the meal, one of her so ghastly typical American habits which amuse him and drive him mad at the same time. He prefers starched linen napkins. She only has tissue ones.
But he doesn't mind tonight. He is content just to watch her slowly enjoy her agnolotti and sip her wine.
The dessert is sinful, and he knows it without having to try it himself. White mousse au chocolat, one of Francie's best inventions. It’s sweet and creamy and wonderfully rich. He swallows when he sees her lick a bit of mousse from her lower lip. Heat coils in his stomach, but he quenches the feeling.
She flashes a small, grateful smile in his direction and, for a moment, their liaison seems almost normal.
She loves bubbles baths, he learned that quite a while ago.
The water is already filling the bathtub, a soft sloshing sound that indicates the presence of a lot of foam.
She sheds layers of clothes - black clothes. Silk blouse and knee-length skirt, stockings and camisole.
His throat is dry again, terribly dry. Something has changed tonight, he can feel it in the air, in the way she moves. In the way she doesn't think about donning a robe and walks around, just clad in her lingerie. She is at her lowest. Lower even than after Taipei. He can feel it. This could become dangerous for the both of them.
But he knows she will not appreciate his concerns, so he doesn't voice them.
She moves between the bathroom and her room a few times, bringing in candles, then coming back for matches. Matches, he notices, not a lighter. Old fashioned again, but pleasantly so.
She turns on her stereo, searches for a CD. Normally, she listens to something light when she takes a bath - light Jazz, R&B or something equally obnoxious to his ears - but apparently not tonight. Nothing is quite the same as during the other nights he has spent here.
He shivers when he hears the first notes glide through the room. Brahms. And not just any piece of Brahms's music.
Strings create an ominous calm. The choir adds an eerie touch.
It's a requiem.
Suddenly he can't breathe. He sees her walking past him, almost, but not quite brushing him.
"Sydney." His voice is barely above a whisper. His eyes are glued to the small package in her hand. The one saying: Razor blades.
The air rushes back into his lungs, painfully quick. She cannot. She will not.
His whole body becomes tense, making his dress shirt stretch uncomfortably over his back. He hears his heart hammer in his chest.
The music swells. Drums roll, a deep inauspicious pounding that sends shivers of trepidation down his spine.
Never before has the German language sounded so alien to his ears. Never before has he wished he couldn't understand a word of what he hears. It might help to push back the rising panic he feels.
She is on the way to the bathroom again, clutching the package of razor blades in her left hand and a glass of the ruby-red Syrah in the other. Her hips don't sway. Her body suddenly isn't a dangerous weapon anymore. Her face is set. Sad, tired and with something lurking in those dark eyes he knows far too well: Resignation.
He rises in a fluid motion.
Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras.
He has to stop her, immediately.
Und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie des Grases Blumen.
His hands reach out.
Das Gras ist verdorret, und die Blume abgefallen.
He touches the screen.
Energy sizzles into his fingertips, numbs them for a second. He feels as though he has run into a solid wall at full speed. His heart pounds painfully.
Then everything goes utterly dark.
He hears the blood pulsing through his veins. His breath is lodged in his throat, the need to breathe becomes painful.
A power cut. A bloody power cut.
His hands shake as they touch the diminishing imagine of Sydney Bristow on the surveillance monitor in his bedroom.
Crescendo, píu mosso
He doesn't know how many speed limits he breaks on the way to her apartment. The Mercedes screams in protest as he pushes it harder in a much too low gear. It doesn't matter. He has never cared much for the car.
He hates California in general and L.A. especially with a passion. What kind of a city cannot even afford to bring electricity to all of its inhabitants? His thoughts are racing, he barely manages to concentrate on the ill-lit streets flying past him. Deep in his mind he knows that he would not be able to stop should the situation call for it. Three red lights are already behind him, three close calls.
None of it matters.
She doesn't answer her landline, nor her mobile phone. He can't reach her father. And even if he could, what could he say without revealing his secret?
The last picture of her is burned into his retina.
She is at home, in her bathtub, trying to end her life. He mentally kicks himself for not seeing it earlier. For as much as he has watched her during all those weeks, he should have seen it. He is in tune with her daily rhythm, knows her quirks and habits, her way of moving, knows signs of elation and weariness.
Why hadn't he seen it before?
He shouldn't care. It had started out as a surveillance, out of curiosity. He was trying to find out all that he could about her, out of the interest one enemy has in another when he realises they're equals.
But something has changed. He knows it, knew it from the night he couldn't sleep without looking at her sleeping face. He never let on, never revealed to anyone what he was doing.
She has become his own private obsession. He doesn't allow himself to think further down this line, fears what he might reveal.
Yet here he is. Speeding all the way through Los Angeles to stop her from killing herself. He knows he should rejoice, for she still is an enemy.
But he can't.
He never could.
The black Mercedes convertible comes to a screeching halt in front of her apartment. The darkness indicates that her part of the city has fallen victim to the power cut as well.
He sprints over the street and races up the porch, only to come to a sudden standstill. He briefly considers kicking in the door, but decides against it. There has to be a more subtle way. A glance at his hands reveals that they're shaking.
What if he is too late?
He crouches in front of the door, his fingers tamper with the lock without a conscious effort. Irrationally, he thinks that it would be a perfect night for burglars.
His heart hammers against his ribcage in a frantic staccato, his face prickles from the wind that whipped across it during the drive. What if he is too late? What if he finds her in a pool of blood, her eyes empty ...
Breathing has become so hard. Something constricts his lungs, doesn't allow him to fill them with air.
He has to be in time. He must not be too late.
How long does it take for a person to bleed to death? An hour? Less? More? He knows he ought to know, but cannot remember. His thoughts are a swirling haze. His ears are hypersensitive to every sound issuing from the lock. He blocks out everything else.
The night is overcast, the air smells of rain. He almost thinks he can smell the coppery scent of blood, too.
Something clicks in the lock. Faintly. He straightens. Turns the doorknob.
A flash of light blinds him momentarily. "You will freeze right there." A menacing female voice states and presses something hard against his skull.
He goes utterly still.
Sark resists the urge to launch a quick and deadly attack. This woman behind him is Francie, Sydney's best friend, obviously coming home earlier than planned. He knows she doesn't have a gun. He knows more about this woman than anyone thinks.
"Turn around," she demands.
He turns slowly, carefully. Raises his hands in defence. "This is a misunderstanding, Miss Calfo."
"Is it now?"
As much as he enjoys sarcasm, this isn't the time. He needs to get into the house. Needs to check upon Sydney. His heartbeat is way beyond anything a doctor would call healthy.
"Indeed." The lie comes quickly, almost subconsciously. "Sydney and I were to go out tonight."
Francie raises a questioning eyebrow. He is glad that he hasn't changed out of his work-clothes yet. "Work-related dinner," he eases her doubts. "I just came in from a branch of Credit Dauphine in England and she graciously offered to help me feel more at home in this city." Time to go to the maximum and put on the smile.
Francie thinks for a while, then lowers the torch. Inwardly, Sark snorts. He wonders if she really thinks she could have stopped him with a torch.
But that is besides the point. The point is: He needs to get in the house. Right now.
"So you decided to break into the house?" She still seems suspicious. He wants to howl with frustration. He wants to knock her unconscious and race into the house to do what he has to do.
He does none of it. Wills his heart to beat normally and his hands to stop shaking. Time to act.
"The power cut took me by surprise. I meant to ask her whether I could come pick her up, but she didn't answer her phone. So I decided to come here and just - how do you American's say? - go for it." He opts for the timid smile this time. "I hope I haven't overstepped my boundaries?"
Francie stares at him for another ten seconds, then she returns the smile, placated. "It’s a strange country, isn't it?" she asks, conversationally. "Those power outages annoy the hell out of me. I even had to close the restaurant earlier today."
He is surprised that he has taken the act so far, that he hasn't simply throttled her. He nods, feigns interest.
He hears her laugh. "My, but you are nervous, aren't you?"
Thinks: If only you knew ...
He smiles, lets his boyish charm work for him. It has worked so many times before, and he is glad that it works on Sydney's best friend as well. It’s almost too easy. "Do you think you could tell her I'm here?"
Francie seems to snap out of a short reverie. "Oh, of course! Come in, please." She ushers him inside, torch pointing the way. "Make yourself comfortable, I'll see if she's ready."
And then he is inside her flat. And the smell of blood is unbearable.
She has the nerve to light candles first. A little light, she says, is necessary. Says she can’t leave him completely in the dark.
The unintended double meaning of her sentence makes his heart skip a beat.
"Syd? Sweetie?" Francie’s voice carries through the room, too loud for his sensitive ears.
He stands next to the couch, unable to sit down, unable to do anything but crush the desire to forcefully push Francie aside and run into the bathroom himself, to do what he can to remedy Sydney’s stupid, self-destructive choice. His whole body is tense as a bow-string. His hands clutch his biceps.
He is aware that he isn’t acting like himself and hasn’t been for a while, but it doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters. He cannot lose her. He has spent too much time watching her, getting to know her, to have her disappearing out of his life so suddenly. She cannot leave before he has made his move. He has waited too long.
"Syd, there’s someone here for you." Francie is in Sydney’s room now. "Where are you?"
She doesn’t answer. Of course she doesn’t answer. She cannot answer. Silly woman, move faster!
His fingers will have left marks on his arms within the hour.
He can’t help it, inches further into the flat, closer to her room. Everything that surrounds him is familiar. The couch, the counter, every chair, every ornament on the walls, even the book Sydney left here. From his monitor, he couldn’t see what it was, desired to know what she was reading. Now that he could find out, he isn’t interested anymore.
Even though it’s warm, he feels cold sweep past him. A cold breath of fate. Too late. All he has done is watch, and now he pays the price.
Soon, very soon, Francie will find her room-mate. He doesn’t know what the bathroom looks like; no camera there. He has pictured it many times before. Now those pictures are stained with blood, as ruby-red as the Syrah Sydney had been drinking.
Soon. His heart struggles, but his mind knows.
"Syd?" Francie’s voice is slightly muffled and more echoed now, as though she is standing in a tiled room. She suddenly sounds worried.
"Oh my god, Sydney!" A gasp. He hears her drop her purse. Something clatters onto the tiles. The echo is loud.
His reserve cracks. He darts forward, pushes the door open so it swings against the wall with a bang, making the pictures on the wall quiver in protest.
He is overcome by the smell of Sydney, filling her bedroom, that clear and heady scent that is entirely her – and blood.
He stares at the bathroom door, slightly ajar. In the flickering candle-light, he sees Francie kneeling next to the bathtub, disposing of a bloodied Kleenex, ignoring the bang.
His heart stops.
There’s not enough blood.
"You clumsy thing, what have you done?"
A chuckle. Why is Francie laughing?
There’s not enough blood.
His heart skips two more beats, then starts beating again, painfully strong. His breath is laboured. He reaches out for the doorknob, his hand shaking.
He hears the ripping of plaster, a light, insecure chuckle.
His nostrils flare. Smell of blood, mixed with the sweet scent of bath salts. The blood is stronger. And weaker.
Not enough blood.
Any second now, his heartbeat will kill him. His breath is too loud in his ears. It must be audible.
"Here, press this tightly on the cut."
She talks to her.
She talks to her as though she is all right.
Rustling as of paper. Small tearing sounds—a wrapper being opened?
But no answer.
Another plaster, taken out of the box.
"That stupid razor must have been chipped at one side."
The cold becomes intense when he hears Sydney’s voice, then turns into scorching heat. He pulls his hand away from the doorknob, moves backwards until his knees collide with the bed and he collapses into a sitting position.
"All those things we do for men, and do they ever notice?" Francie complains in a fake grumpy voice. " If nature had intended us to have perfectly smooth legs, wouldn’t we have the genes to prove it?”
"Or maybe it’s just an evil plot between the razor industry and the Band-Aid industry. Cut them and fix them," Sydney offers. Both women share a laugh.
"Seriously, though, sweetie. You should bring those razor-blades back and make an official complaint. That cut could have been a lot worse, and look what it already did to our towels."
The sound of a towel swinging, connecting with something. From to the offended "Ouch" from Francie, it’s her arm. "This is how you thank your rescue battalion?"
He feels light-headed. His hands are shaking worse than before.
She is all right.
He runs both hands through his hair, feels his scalp hot and slick with perspiration.
His thoughts race. Razor-blades? There was only one assumption he could have made, wasn’t there? Why else would she need Razor-blades? She is perfect, always perfect, flawless. Why would she need to shave? Perfection either comes complete or not at all.
Reality comes crashing down like a blow.
He is losing it. Not for the first time does he realise this, but the terror of actually having acted on it shakes him to the core.
He could have exposed himself. Thousands of things could have happened while he wasn't looking, while he was busy chasing after a phantom.
Years upon years of training, all down the bloody drain.
He is losing it.
She is making him lose it.
His eyes flash for a second, then icy calm floods his veins.
He retreats out of her room without a word.
Her smell lingers.
Rallentando; Ottava bassa
He drives. Drives. Drives.
One hour. Two hours. Maybe more.
He has lost track of time, deliberately.
He knows he shouldn’t have given into the urge to disappear, knows what will await him as soon as she sees him at the office tomorrow. Sydney Bristow is a lot of things, but stupid isn’t among them. The note he has left will not convince her.
The wind whips across his face, too warm, humid, rich with the promise of rain.
He needs his mind blank, needs to purge his thoughts of her image, needs to find himself again.
The streets have been smooth until now. Now there is gravel, tiny stones crunching when the heavy car rolls over them.
He doesn’t know where he is, only knows that the quality of the air has changed. The slightly fetid saturation of the city is gone, although the heat lingers. Dried perspiration itches on his face. His dress shirt clings to his back, most likely ruined.
The gravel crunches louder. He slows the car, takes in his surroundings for the first time.
The Mercedes’ xenon light cuts sharply through the darkness, carves the rocky surface of boulders out of the night.
He powers the engine down, listens. Waves are rocking forcefully against the shore, sure and strong, eternal rushing from behind the boulders. He turns off the light as well, steps out of the car.
He can’t remember how he came here, or, more precisely, why he came here, but it doesn’t matter anyway.
He is here now. And the sound of the surf is loud enough to drown his thoughts for a while.
No moonlight, no starlight. Clouds have gathered, thunder rolls already. The thunderstorm will be a relief, the city all but screams for it. Just like Bombay before the monsoon.
He has seen so many cities, but deep down, they’re all the same. Full of people, clueless, straight-laced, boring. Few spots of interest, loads of boredom.
He sometimes wonders if he could quit living the life he lives. Wonders if he would adapt or die of the regularity of so-called normal peoples’ lives.
It doesn’t matter. He’ll never need to make that choice. There’s nothing he wants that would ever bring him to that crossroad.
He is stronger than that.
A lone seagull squawks, a mocking sound.
Thunder rumbles. The reverberation is almost palpable, slithering over his skin.
The seagull squawks again, probably drifting toward sleep.
The wind freshens, ruffles his hair.
You bloody fool.
Lighting flashes across the dark sky, making it bright as daylight for a few seconds. He can see the electricity zigzagging over the ocean. Sees for the first time that the waves are high.
Gusts of wind
First drops of rain.
Stronger. What a laugh.
He has always believed in his strength, has known that he could rely on it, come what may.
Strong to the point of arrogance.
He gives away only what he wants to. He is pleasant, suave, detached, cool. The dangerous man beneath is concealed, just like everything else - everything that could make things personal.
It’s the only way to separate what he does from who he is.
There is a line that mustn’t be crossed.
The strong breeze drives huge, splattering drops of rain into his eyes.
He doesn’t move, feels the rain wash away perspiration and dust from his face.
His shirt is soaked within seconds under the onslaught of the elements. He takes it off, welcomes the lashing rain on his bare chest, welcomes the cleansing water.
Rain mingles with ocean spray.
He can taste the salt on his lips. Briefly wonders if tears taste the same. He can’t remember the last time he cried. He only knows that sometimes, in the deep, dark hours of the night, he wishes he could remember how it is like to feel so much.
Would Sydney’s tears taste like that? Ocean spray and rainwater and despair? She cries, often. At night, when she thinks no one is looking. He has tried hard to understand the concept of it all, of the swirling emotions, but hasn’t managed so far.
She is too much, with her stark beauty and the darkness in her eyes. When he sees her there’s too much feeling clawing its way into the part of him no one knows. Isn’t entirely sure he knows himself. He is a too infrequent visitor.
She weakens him.
Lighting flashes. The rain blinds him with its force.
It feels oddly as though it isn’t only washing away the dirt. Ocean spray and rain, wind and lightning and thunder ... Energy sizzles along his nerves.
He isn’t weak. He never was.
He made a mistake tonight, acted on a temporary madness. He will learn from that mistake, let it make him stronger than before.
The seagull is silent. Only the sounds of thunder and roaring surf remain.
He takes a deep breath. Releases it.
Forces back the need to scream.
Stronger. He is stronger.
He may have crossed the line, but he can go back.
He knows he can.
The restless energy burning in him can be ignored.
Desire is weakness. It’s what he was taught.
He knows it’s true.
Something inside him screams for release. He silences it brutally.
It has no place in his life.
He is washed clean when he gets into the car again. His mind clear of confusion.
He holds the delicate scarf he took from her bed to his face, breathes the scent of the wet silk deeply.
Soon, dear Sydney.
Mezza voce, con fuoco
The power still hasn’t come back. It’s dark when he opens the door to his flat. He doesn’t need the light, though, moves effortlessly in the pitch black to his chest of drawers to retrieve dry clothes. The way back has left him shivering, drained from plotting, tired beyond endurance and praying for a hot shower.
He steps into the tiled bathroom, sheds his wet clothes quickly and steps under the hot spray of water. A few hours ago the thought of more warmth would have revolted him, but right now he appreciates the hot water on his chilled skin.
Closes his eyes and lets the water run over his face. It’s a different darkness here. For a few moments, his mind is blissfully numb, and he is glad about the power-cut, if only because it keeps him away from the monitor, from watching her. The need is there, but he refuses to acknowledge it. Tells himself that it isn’t an obsession, an addiction. Not really. He can stop anytime he wishes. He is a professional, after all, isn’t he?
A quick nightcap will help him to a dreamless sleep. Everything will be in control again after a good night’s sleep.
He can stop. He will stop. Starting tonight.
Yet, when he lies down on his vast bed, he catches himself facing the dark monitor.
Focus, damn it.
He turns away from the monitor, squeezes his eyes shut. Recites Tagore silently. Sleep is a long time coming.
It’s still dark. She lies on the cushioned bench out on the patio, head propped up against the pillows, a thin blanket thrown over her, eyes closed. The breeze stirs the blanket slightly, causes it to ripple over her body.
She looks like some insane figment of his imagination - the smooth, perfect skin of her legs, barely veiled by the blanket, one slender arm next to her head, one on her stomach.
It’s hard to believe that those slim wrists and hands can cause so much pain. But he knows they can, having been on the receiving end a few times. He sometimes wonders if she enjoys the violent side of her work. Wonders if she loves as fiercely as she fights.
The air has cooled down considerably, the rain leaving a balmy, pleasant feel to it.
She is asleep. He can’t help but inch closer, over the wall and into the yard and next to her.
Closer, his body screams. He drinks in the sight of her, splayed out in front of him, completely vulnerable.
He could use his hands; put them around her neck and squeeze, just lightly. He wonders what he would see in her eyes. Fear? Rage? Resignation? Submission?
His hands reach out, then stop.
No. Not yet. Not tonight.
For the moment, it’s enough to see her chest rise and fall, the gentle slope of her body beneath the thin blanket.
But only for the moment. He sits down on the edge of the bench, leans closer.
Warmth is rolling off her in waves, pleasant, soft warmth. The smell of bath-salts and scented body-lotion clings to her skin. Her hair has only begun to dry. It looks soft. He wonders if it feels that way, too, and before he can stop himself, his fingers have found one of the damp tresses. It glides between his middle finger and thumb. Silky. Warm from her skin.
His hand slides higher, moves closer to her scalp. Combs the dark tresses, touches the soft skin with only the tips of his fingers. Itches to cup the back of her head and pull her closer to bask in the smell and feel of her.
He doesn’t follow his urge. Instead, he trails his fingers further through her hair and to her face. Traces her forehead, whispers over her eyelids, cheeks and lips.
She makes a small, sleepy, appreciative sound in the back of her throat.
Heat lances through him. She should be awake by now, beating him into pulp. Her senses should have told her to watch out by now. She should know that his are not familiar hands.
His heart beats harder against his ribs. Once again, breathing becomes difficult.
His hand is lower now, traces the line of her jaw, and glides lower still. Lower, until it’s cupped around her throat. No pressure. None at all.
It would be so easy. Wake her up and see the realisation in her eyes. Or maybe there would be something else?
No, he suddenly decides. This would be too blunt. He would much rather see how far he can go before she opens her eyes. How far, before she realises whose hands are touching her. How far, before he can’t let go.
The excitement of a teenager about to do something forbidden courses through him. It’s the thrill, he tells himself. He only wants to see how far he can go.
So he does.
Keeps the thumb of his right hand on her lips and uses the other hand to slowly slide the blanket off her body. Reveals the black camisole which hides so little. A straight line. Lower. To the waist-band of her satin shorts. Over and off her legs. He splays out his hand, lets it hover, feels the heat of her skin radiating though the thin satin.
His thumb moves over her perfectly shaped bottom lip. It would be a lie to say he has never thought about those lips. He has. Especially when she is furious, and on one of her righteous tirades which amuse him so much - he has thought about how it would be to just silence those lush lips with his own.
The breeze makes his face more sensitive than before, he can feel the blood rushing to his lips.
But no, no. Kissing those lips now would be succumbing, and he wants this game to last, wants to see her wake up and fully realise who was bringing her body to the boiling point.
He wants to see her hate herself and then give in. He is sure she will. He is good at what he does.
He allows the hand that has hovered until now to touch her flat abdomen. His fingers flex, then move under the thin fabric, palm flat, but barely connecting with her skin. She is warm. So very warm. Her skin is softer than petals and her smell envelops him, almost painfully intense. He feels his body reacting to hers, heat flooding him, making it hard to think.
His eyes dart away from her, taking in his surroundings in an attempt to regain his focus. There is a small plant with feathery leaves rustling in the breeze - papyrus. A smile flickers across over his features. Perfect.
He snaps one of the stems and holds it delicately, then lowers it to her mouth. The feathery head of the plant whispers over her softly parted lips.
Another low sound from her, causing heat to climb into his cheeks.
His other hand lifts the camisole, touches the stem to her stomach, circles her belly-button. Moves further. He brushes the undersides of her small, firm breasts. Swallows hard. Sees her shiver. Then moves lower, over the satin shorts down her bare legs and up again. Barely touching, barely there. But he sees the shivers dancing over her skin. Sees her nipples suddenly prominent through the thin camisole.
Feels a low growl start in the back of his own throat. She is too receptive, too careless. She should know by now.
Her eyes are still closed. He wants them open.
He tickles the stem over the exposed skin of her arms to her neck, then to her breasts again, fascinated by the small round nipples. hidden by the camisole. He circles the aureole teasingly, watches more shivers dart over her skin.
It’s not enough. He needs to feel this skin under his fingers, needs to see her reacting to him and not some plant. Needs to discover the forbidden territory before it kills him.
He splays a hand possessively over her breastbone, cupping one of her breasts, teasing a thumb over her nipple. This time, the moan is more of a whimper. He lowers his head and uses his teeth to scrape them over her ribs. Moistens little spots with his tongue and lets the breeze chill the skin. He quivers inside, finds it hard to push back the need. His blood rushes in his ears.
Something in her heartbeat changes suddenly and before he can process the information in his hazed mind, he is on his back and she is straddling him.
A resounding slap connects with his left cheek. Her thighs squeeze hard enough to cause pain. "You blue-eyed bastard."
He doesn’t even try to fight her, holds perfectly still. Covers his shock with a smirk.
Her next sentence wipes the smirk off his face effectively, though. "When you’re done playing, would you mind fucking me properly?"
It’s a taunt, and he is back on familiar ground again. And there really only is one way to respond, to show her her place.
Playing dirty? Fuck. He could certainly indulge her there. The grin almost splits his face.
He tugs sharply on her arms, causing her to lose her balance and slide forward, flush against his body and her face only inches away from his. Her smell envelops him completely, intoxicates him. Challenge glistens in her eyes; his arousal is obvious. She starts moving slowly, torturously. Control becomes painful. His grin starts to slip before he catches himself.
Cocky façade back, he replies "You wish." Pulls her into a hard kiss. Lets his hands roam freely, none too gently. Control. Flips her onto her back and takes the upper hand. This is all about control. He feels her struggle but immobilises her hands deftly. Control. His over her, hers over him.
The kiss is smouldering, he drags it out, nips and teases, demands and possesses. He can feel her skin hot, smooth and dry and painfully perfect against his. Too many clothes, he hates the barrier between them. Doesn’t bother with undressing her, just rips the camisole apart, exposing her skin to the night and his lips. Her hands are free again, but he doesn’t care. Her taste is rich yet sharper than he had imagined when he nips his way down to her breast. Persistent licks and bites. He can feel her resisting the moan that wants to rise, and loathes her for it, bites down on her nipple a little harder than necessary and immediately lets his tongue follow, not to soothe, but to tantalise the offended skin. It finally draws out the desired reaction, her voice a strangled moan, gliding along his nerves like hot liquid. Her fingers tangle in his hair, fist and pull - a sensation both painful and arousing. He feels his gut tighten, his hips jerk. Control soon won’t be an issue anymore.
But he has forgotten about her strength and her free arms and within the blink of an eye he is on his back again and she looms over him. She has beautiful hands. Clever, long fingered hands, tearing off his shirt, scraping well manicured nails over his chest and his nipples, travelling further down to the waistband of his trousers and along his thighs, coming close but never touching his erection, and he’s panting for her, for that touch, and his trousers are too restricting, making even the tiniest movement painful.
And she knows, oh she knows. And she enjoys every second of it. Her eyes are almost black and nothing short of sinister. She is not tender, and he doesn’t want her to be.
Her scent changes, and a short battle for control allows him to grasp her hands and immobilise them. He slips his other hand lower, over her flat abdomen and under her satin shorts down to where the curly dark hairline begins. She is more than ready for him. Her resistance weakens when his slender fingers touch her and another low sound leaves her throat, small and intoxicating, her breathing laboured and her body taut as a bowstring. He lets go of her hands. A rush of exhilaration runs through his body, increasing the pain inflicted by the damn trousers. She is helpless and he is panting and it feels good to see her out of control, so very good.
Her hands descend to finally touch him through the restraining material; a slow, sure caress that makes his skin crawl and his throat constrict.
He closes his eyes for a second, indulges in the slick warmth and the scent of her, in the feeling of her hot breath on his skin and her hands taking him somewhere between pain and pleasure.
But suddenly, her body goes completely still. Her hands stop their strokes, move away from him. He hears his heart pound loud in his ears, the sudden stop making his whole body scream for completion. His breath lodges in his throat. Is this her idea of showing him who is in control? Fuck, he is too far gone to accept delays and further games.
He opens his eyes, finds it hard to focus.
And when he does, he feels as though he has plunged into ice-water.
He can’t control his breath, can’t let go of the keen-edged desire for her.
Not even when she holds a knife in her right hand.
Alarm and desire clash violently. His hands, he should use his hands, take the knife away from her, move, do something, anything, but he can’t, he can’t ...
She bends close, breathes hot and moist along his jaw and ear. "It’s all about control, you son of a bitch," she murmurs silkily.
And cuts his throat with a smile.
His eyes snap open and his right hand flies to his throat, expecting to find it slippery with blood.
He is sweating and shivering at the same time, the cold sweat of exhaustion and fear.
His heart pounds painfully. He is tense to the point of snapping. The sheets are tangled around his naked body and he doesn’t need to feel it to know that there is a damp stain on one of them.
A chimera. Nothing but a dream.
It’s not reassuring. It doesn’t ease the humiliation he experiences.
In a brief flicker of indignation, he loathes her. Hates her for what she does to him, what she puts him through. It doesn’t matter that she isn’t even aware of it.
His brain should tell him otherwise, but his brain refuses to kick in, still trapped somewhere in Morpheus’ arms.
He is left with something that is unfamiliar and unpleasant. Feelings. Once again.
He cannot and will not allow this to continue.
All he wants is to rid his mind of those disconcerting images. They weaken him, threaten his composure in a time when he needs it the most.
There has to be a way to purge himself.
At whatever cost.
He knows he has to calm down before he does anything, knows he has to think.
A dream. Nothing but a dream.
Yet he swears he can smell the scent of sex in his room, and a deep, stabbing ache lances through him.
He tells himself to stop being so stupid, such an easy target for those images. Has this whole thing gone too far already? Is he trapped, beyond redemption?
He untangles the sheets from around him, slips into a pair of comfortable cotton boxers.
The steady, enervating blink of his clock tells him that the power is back but he doesn’t switch on the light. Walks into the kitchen, his feet quiet on the parquet. This flat is soothing, most of the time. Vast and cool and during the daytime flooded with sunlight. Not much furniture.
A ridiculously expensive stereo, top-notch equipment. He’s by no means a man to waste money, but a few luxuries make life sweeter.
He finds his way around the flat blindly. Takes water from the filter, pours it into the kettle and switches it on. He never takes water directly from the tap, knows that the chlorine would ruin the subtle taste of the tea. He breathes. Feels the cool parquet under his bare feet. Concentrates on the noises, the slight crackling of the metal warming up, the rushing when the water warms, the deep gurgling sound when it comes close to the boiling point. He knows the temperatures of every single one of these stages.
His supply of tea is small but choice. He hates the tea people buy in supermarkets, hates the concoctions served in restaurants. His teas come directly from small, private plantations.
Lapsang Souchong for special occasions, but he doesn’t want the smoky flavour now. No Darjeeling, either, even though the sweet, flowery smell of the Sungma Autumnal usually invigorates him. But he doesn’t want to be invigorated now. He wants calm. He wants his fucking mind back.
So, Yin Zhen. A white tea, horrendously expensive, but every single leaf worth the price. He even knows some of the women on the plantation, plucking the silver-coated buds. The water has reached 70°C, the sound somewhere between rushing and gurgling, and he switches the kettle off at just the right moment.
Making tea takes time. Time you have to give to it if you want a decent result. And he wants it, wants the small upsurge of calm on his tongue when he sips the wisdom of centuries.
He doesn’t need a clock to tell him how long it has to steep. There will be enough time for a shower.
He takes it in the dark as well. Direct light would be offensive at the moment. The water is hot, even though his body screams for cold. But he stands under the hot spray, scrubbing his body thoroughly and harshly; no mercy for weaknesses. A vigorous turn of the temperature control ends the shower with an icy cold douse.
His skin prickles when he steps out of the glass shower compartment. Drying off quickly, he walks back into the kitchen, perfectly timed to keep the tea in the right balance between bitter and sweet.
The delicate bone china cup all but burns his hands when he pours the hot tea, but he doesn’t pay attention. His thoughts are elsewhere.
A sliver of light falls from the living room into the kitchen, a street-lamp’s glow, perhaps the brighter for its few hours’ involuntary rest. It catches on the stainless steel refrigerator he is standing next to, and for a few moments, he can see his own reflection in the polished surface.
Watches himself sip the tea in the semi-darkness. Sees the blurry image of a tired man with confusion and unrest written all over his features, his posture not nearly as straight as he wants it to be.
It takes all his will-power not to punch the mocking image.
He finishes the tea without actually relishing in its exquisite taste. He doesn’t need to, has tasted it many times before. Which is possibly one of the reasons why it’s not working the way it usually does. Its cleansing qualities are missing tonight.
He isn’t clean.
But he needs to be.
He needs his mind to be blank, his thoughts to revolve around something other than her. It’s vital to find his focus again.
At whatever cost.
He tries to think about the last time he felt absolutely in focus. The last time in focus and not behind the barrel of a gun.
His mind makes the connection quickly. Maybe too quickly.
But it isn’t important now. It’s a way to purge himself. At whatever cost.
He slips into comfortable, nondescript work-out clothes, ties a pair of well-worn trainers and leaves his flat.
There is only one way available to him here in this city.
Hand over hand. Foot follows foot.
Find a ledge, a window-sill, a crack, a rough surface. Make sure your hands don’t slip.
Ignore the wind, ignore the darkness, ignore the cars down there and the sounds of the city. Focus.
Hand over hand. Pull. Foot follows foot.
Don’t slip, don’t slip.
He has been forced to climb multiple times in his line of work, but never like this. This is something else entirely. It's his own decision.
There’s no harness securing him, no bolts, no safety measures. There’s just him and the building. He doesn’t look down, doesn’t want to know how high up he is, only looks up, up, up.
In the beginning it had seemed endless. Now he has only one or two storeys ahead of him.
His muscles scream at the maltreatment, his breath is harsh and fast in his ears. His brain has shut down, he’s only working on instinct now.
Closing himself off, shutting down everything that isn’t necessary now. Pulling. Controlling aching muscles. Ignoring the perspiration trickling into his eyes.
The wind is cool up here, sings a deceptive lullaby. He is too tired to be doing this, but the adrenaline keeps his body awake, pushes him past endurance.
Keep going. Take in the environment, take everything as it comes, accept it, move on. Move.
Nothing else matters.
When he finally reaches the roof, it is with his last ounce of strength. He hauls himself over the outcropping and collapses on his back, trembling, panting, his lungs aching from the too deep breaths, sweat running freely down his body.
After a while he moves, crawling back to the outcropping, then kneeling, daring a look down.
A gust of wind meets him just as vertigo pulls at his mind, narrows his vision.
Fear jumps at him like a wild animal; painful, intense, glaring.
No harness, no safety. He could have died. Right that very second. Every single second of that climb.
He sits back on his heels, leans his forehead against the cold, unforgiving concrete. The shaking isn’t only from his exhausted muscles anymore. The fear is real, he can taste it on the tip of his tongue: Raw, fresh, stark.
His head is light, just like having had alcohol on an empty stomach. He claws his hands into the outcropping to stop the vertigo, to stop the nauseous feeling of floating.
And then, suddenly, without even knowing where it comes from, he gives a howling laugh.
It’s taken away by the wind, barely audible anymore once it has left his lips.
It doesn’t matter. It’s a victory. His victory, and this laugh is for everyone who ever thought him weak. Poor, miscalculating bastards.
The delayed reaction proves but one thing: He is still in control. He has climbed this building flawlessly, without slipping, without fear or anything else to distract him.
He is on top of this building.
He has managed it.
What can stop him now? Dreams and obsessions and international espionage and terrorism suddenly seem so very small and unimportant.
He wills his still trembling limbs into cooperation, rises slowly. Moves to stand at the edge of the building and forces himself to stare down. Down at the city with its thousands of lights. Down at all the buildings, hiding thousands of people who mean nothing to him.
Down. Down to where the wind moves the palm trees. Down.
A wind much different than up here.
And he looks up. Up, to where the sun slowly rises and casts its still innocent light on a new, unsoiled day.
A fresh start.
Let them come.
He is ready for everything.
He comes in later than she, again.
She sits with her back to him, bent over what is undoubtedly the intel for their upcoming mission.
And for once, he tries to slip by her unnoticed. A little more time for himself, he decided on the way here, would do him good. Anticipate her next move. Just a little more time.
She hasn’t looked up yet. Her hair shields her vision. It shines in the bluish light of the office.
Almost there, almost past her, almost out of reach …
“Mr. Sark.” Her voice has a cutting edge below the casual tone.
Damn. A deep breath. He braces himself, ready for everything.
She steps into his path, stopping him effectively.
“Ms. Bristow. Good morning.” Trying for just the right smile, somewhere between courtesy and mockery.
She reaches a hand, rests it on his arm. Her touch burns through his suit jacket right down to his skin. He doesn’t even blink, only allows his mouth to twitch in the way he knows she hates. He is ready. Prepared for the inevitable.
“Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee?”
Anything but that.
He raises a brow. “I don’t drink coffee.”
Her smile is sweet as she brings her face close to his, but her eyes stay deadly cold when she whispers: “Let me assure you, you’re not going to get any.”
Her breath against his collar is too warm, a stark contrast to her icy aura.
She motions for him to follow her.
She hurls him against the wall, violently, a cold gleam in her eyes. One hand holding his shoulder in place, her lower right arm pressed just below his throat, pinning him against the wall. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, yet he finds that he’s bracing himself, waiting for her next move with a certain curiosity.
Will she squeeze those strong hands around his neck? Will she backhand him? Use her knees, fists? It’s strange how even this violent display of emotions on her side excites him. Yet, after last night … He can’t squeeze his eyes shut lest she take it for a sign of weakness, but her face … it has the same calm it had in the dream. He can still feel the knife.
He takes a deep breath and remembers this morning’s climb. Wills the same calm to flood his veins, wills his blood to turn to ice, just as it had this morning. Everything had been clear up on the top of the Higgins. Now it seems as though the fog is rising again, surrounding him quickly.
Her face is close. Her angry breath comes in short, mint-toothpaste flavoured puffs which ruffle his hair.
He concentrates on the morning, on the city-lights, on the wind up on the roof. Lets it clear his mind. Produces his trademark smirk.
“Well, well, Agent Bristow.” His voice is silk over steel. “If I’d known you wanted to get physical, I would have suggested another meeting place. This office holds no appeal for me whatsoever. Or do you enjoy the thrill of getting caught?”
He raises his eyebrows suggestively and it works. Her face scrunches up in a mixture of disgust and horror and she gives his shoulders a hard shove before letting go.
Christ, he thinks. Thank you.
“What were you doing in my apartment?”
Barely controlled anger. Her voice shakes.
He’d known this would come from the moment he’d left, last night.
The room is too small; her anger is palpable and he can’t breathe. But he’ll be damned if he lets her see his discomposure.
“Didn’t you find my note?” Innocence stamped on his features. “As much as I would have loved to stay, something came up that couldn’t wait.”
She narrows her eyes and takes a menacing step towards him again, her reasons for retreating in the first place all but forgotten.
“Don’t you dare play with me.” Her hands clench and unclench at her sides, a promise of things to come. There is a slight twitch to her lower lip. Her eyes are blazing. “I want the truth.” A beat; then, quietly, dangerously: “Now.”
He studies her for a long time. Sees her discomfort at being under his scrutiny. Reads in her eyes that she would rather leave than stay but won’t, out of a righteous curiosity, out of justified anger, out of … more than he is comfortable thinking about.
The morning’s climb had purged his mind of those strange, unknown feelings, but she’s so close, and the longer he stays here the more he feels the fog rising again. He doesn’t like the thought of that. Wants only the resolve he had in the clear dawn. The distance he had created for himself in the morning, he realises now, will be a struggle to maintain as long as he’s working with her. But then again … It’s a game. Truth is that he is affected by her, in a way. The challenge, however, will be to find out how far he can push this without burning himself. A strange flutter of exhilaration settles in his chest as the thought matures. It’s a dangerous game to play, one that’ll take time and cunning, but he knows he can succeed. What exactly constitutes success in this game, well, isn’t that the question? He doesn’t yet have an answer, but he’s confident he’ll win in the end. Not straight away. But soon.
“Do you really want to know?”
Her gaze flickers; she seems to ponder.
He presses on. “Don’t you have your mind made up already? Don’t tell me you haven’t already condemned me, without even thinking about my motives.” Playing the ball into her court, pushing her away verbally.
“What do you really want, Agent Bristow? The truth, or for me to fit into your picture of the devil incarnate?”
Her posture changes. Score. He smiles at her as one would at a petulant child.
Her face gives him a brief warning before the slap is executed. He stops her hand with a gesture that exhibits tedium, hides his surprise at her impulsive reaction. Their eyes meet over their raised hands, her resentment is burning. He purses his lips and regards her furious brown eyes calmly. Holds her hand immobile a little longer than necessary, then lowers it against her leg. She is shaking with irritation. The smile on his face turns insolent, amusement sending sparkling firecrackers through his mind.
“I would have expected a left.”
A beat. Another. Her face contorts in fury.
“You son of a --“
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
Smug bastard. He can hear the smirk on Sloane’s face without even seeing it.
“Not at all.” She steps away from him immediately, brushing at a nonexistant wrinkle on her blouse, wrapping a smile around her face. He is once again astonished at how quickly Sydney can change from menacing to absolutely pleasant and almost coy.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to Mr. Sark in my office.”
She looks surprised, but gives a nod. Her lips curl upwards when she leaves the room before them, making him wonder if she knows something he doesn’t.
“Sir.” It galls him to be courteous to this man. Yet he does, smooth as Sydney herself. He feels his strength return completely now that she is out of the room. “Anything in particular you wanted to talk to me about?”
Sloane extends a hand, unnecessarily pointing the way. He doesn’t answer the question, which unnerves Sark ever so slightly.
Something in Sloane’s posture alerts him; something in the way he smiles at him sidelong, a warning.
The walk to Sloane’s office is short, barely any time to think about what the older man might want.
The door closes behind them, silently. Through the glass he catches Sydney watching the two of them intently, that trademark crease fixed between her brows. She isn’t smiling now.
Sloane closes the Venetian blinds.
“I take it you had a good night, Mr. Sark?”
The question catches him off guard, but he doesn’t let it show. “May I ask, what-“
“That was quite an impressive show this morning.”
His mind is calmly storing away the facts he is given. He decides to feign ignorance for a few more moments. “Sir?”
Of course Sloane looks right through him. But the older man seems to admire the smooth façade he has kept so far. Raises a large manila folder he has carried under his left arm ever since he interrupted Sydney’s private interrogation.
Pictures fall onto his desk when Sloane opens the folder. Pictures of Sark climbing the Higgins.
Sloane had people following him? Without him noticing? He allows himself a thin-lipped smile. Still the best way to show your teeth.
“Trust is good, control is better?”
Sloane returns the smile. “Who ever said I trusted you?”
Mock hurt flickers over his features. “You don’t, then?”
For a moment, the office is utterly silent. The challenge is in the air, palpable. Come on, Arvin. Say something. Try one of your little tricks.
“On the subject of Sydney Bristow? No.”
Not very impressive, Arvin.
“You are quite close to her, then?” Rhetorical question. Buying time. He needs to think.
Sloane inclines his head, the smile slipping from his features and something akin to sadness enters his eyes. “I like to think of her as the daughter I never had.”
Sark fights the urge to roll his eyes at the cliché.
“And you surely know that every father is worried about the people his daughter interacts with.”
The situation is absurd, even though he has the niggling suspicion that he knows where this is going. If Sloane had people following him to the Higgins, surely they must have been following him before …
But there is another problem. Sloane is overwrought; it’s obvious in his eyes, his posture. There’s something troubling the man and he has a premonition it’s nothing to do with international espionage.
“That said …” Sloane trails off and fixes Sark with a stare that is nothing short of a death-threat. “What were you doing in Agent Bristow’s apartment last night?”
It’s remarkable how well Sloane can hide what he’s thinking. There is no indication whatsoever that he’s just threatened Sark. Only the lingering coldness in his eyes tells Sark he’s not off the hook yet. Nor will he be in the near future. Sloane has made it very clear that there will be consequences, should he get closer to Sydney than their working relationship requires.
It’s been interesting, if a little unpleasant, to find out he’s been under constant surveillance since he joined SD-6. But in spite of Sloane’s obvious distrust, and his own earlier disquiet about the extent of the surveillance, he is now amused by how little the man actually knows. Now that he knows, it would be easy enough to evade the watchers, if he really wanted to. Time will tell if it’s necessary.
He follows Sloane as the man opens the door and heads to the briefing room, calling for Sydney and Marshall.
A molecular structure is slowly rotating on the small screen in front of him.
“What is this?” Sydney asks, trying hard to sound interested.
Sloane inclines his head towards the op-technician. “Marshall.”
The dark-haired man stands up and waves at the room awkwardly. “Hi, er, good morning everyone. I hope you slept well? Personally, I had some problems, what with the thunderstorm tonight. That, ah, always makes me feel strange and then I can’t …”
“Marshall.” Sloane’s voice is strained; there is no patience for the stocky man’s compulsive chatter today. "We need the information."
“Right.” The tech blushes. “Sorry.” Amazing, really, how Flinkman manages to move from being such an odd fellow to almost respectable within the blink of an eye.
“What you’re seeing on your screens is a composite sample one of-- “
—A nervous glance in his direction. He smiles slightly, inclining his head at Flinkman, while Sydney stares at him. Not today, Marshall, don’t worry.
“-- One of Mr. Sark’s acquaintances has managed to steal from a German laboratory a few weeks ago. We had some trouble finding out exactly what it does but apparently it’s some kind of an alloy that bonds with any other metal, on contact, and efficiently absorbs any kind of electromagnetic transmission to and from it. So, basically, very cool - Has anyone here seen Star Trek? Not the new stuff, I mean, the original series, when they still had Uhura in the cute little skirts and Captain Kirk would get to kiss the lady at the end of each episode … well, actually, I always thought that was kinda gross, but … “
Another thing that amazes him is that Sloane hasn’t shot Marshall Flinkman yet. No matter his value and his abilities, sometimes Sark wants to point a gun at the op-tech’s forehead, just to stop him from nattering. But Sark sees Sydney trying to hide a grin behind her hand and reconsiders his desire to shut the man up with a bullet.
“Anyway, do you remember the Klingons and their really cool cloaking devices?”
Flinkman looks around the room expectantly. Out of the corner of his eye, Sark sees understanding dawn on several faces around the table. Pop culture may have some value after all, it seems.
“Are we talking about real cloaking here?”
“Better than the stealth bomber, and ready in a spray can whenever you want to use it.”
“So it’s portable?” The question is directed at both Flinkman and himself, Sark.
Sloane cuts in, saving him the trouble of an explanation he can’t give just yet. “Intel indicates that it is. And I don’t need to tell you what selling this alloy on the international terrorist market would mean for national security.”
He doesn't have to look at Sydney to feel the waves of cynicism rolling off her.
“This is why we need you to go to the lab and retrieve it. It’s a top-secret project, but intel tells us that we’re not the only ones who have come by this information, and that there will be an attempt to steal the alloy. We have to be there first and ultimately destroy the research results once we have a sample and the information on how to handle and replicate it.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“The scientist in charge is a specialist in physical chemistry and chemical engineering, hired by the German intelligence. His name is Nikolás Kemnitz. There is very little known about him, the only pictures are over ten years old. It appears that our dear Mr. Kemnitz is a bit shy in front of the camera. The BND has made sure that he is surrounded by agents wherever he goes. So your job, Agent Bristow, will be to get close to him in a public place where the agents won’t suspect anything, get the code for the laboratory and relay it to Mr. Sark, who will acquire the sample and the information we need.”
Sloane looks around the room, assuming compliance. Sydney is frowning and distracted, her attention obviously diverted by the unwelcome news that she’ll be working with her least favourite colleague.
“Your flight to Berlin leaves tomorrow morning at 8:00,” Sloane finishes. “Marshall has your equipment and Mr. Sark will brief you on the remaining details. Good luck.”
“But—“ Sydney’s hurried objection is almost comical; she’s been caught napping, like a guilty student. “Public place?”
Sloane turns toward her. “Mr. Sark,” he repeats, “will brief you on the details.”
Her eyes are flash at the reprimand.
It’s only after Sloane has left the room that the crease between her brows comes back with all its might.
He can’t help the smile that lifts the corners of his mouth, can’t help the jibe. “Shall we, then?”
Poco a poco, con moto, cappricioso
The day ends only marginally better than it had started. He’s glad when he can close the door of his flat behind him, kicks off his shoes and socks. Enjoys the cool parquet under his bare feet.
His steps lead him into the bedroom almost automatically, no conscious effort involved. The day hasn’t been a good one, so he’s allowed something to divert his thoughts, isn’t he?
He turns the monitor on even before he sheds his suit jacket.
She’d looked thoroughly displeased when she had learned about their mission. And although it had been a pleasure seeing her feathers ruffled once again, and hearing her razor-sharp replies, he hadn’t been able to keep Sloane’s threat from his mind. It had been a stretch, not letting his thoughts wander.
The watchdogs Sloane sent after him were easily spotted and even easier lost. Of course, Sloane knows where he lives, but there’s an unspoken agreement between the two of them, or maybe it’s just the threat of Irina: his flat is taboo to Sloane’s people.
He decides he won’t spare another thought on Sloane’s plans tonight. He has a mission to prepare for. And he has Sydney. He’s looked forward to this all day.
He hears her angry voice before he sees her on the monitor.
“I can’t believe the nerve. I mean … how dare he even come up with something like that? Tango. Why the hell did it have to be Tango?”
Tango. The answer to everything the Argentinean heart desires away from home, so it seems. Seeing the look on Sydney’s face during the briefing had been worth every cent paid to his contacts.
“He sucks at the Pogo?” The smirk fades from his lips as he recognises the other voice. Tippin.
“We’re talking Dixon here, right, Syd? I’m sure you’ve danced with him before, it shouldn’t be too hard.”
They’re still out of the camera’s range, probably in the hall. He can’t see their faces.
Tippin. Bloody hell.
“Will …” she stops, takes a breath. Something clinks, glass, or porcelain. “Have a beer.”
She appears in the kitchen, the make-up gone, wearing a spaghetti-strap top and simple, faded jeans, her hair loose around her shoulders. Reaches into the refrigerator and retrieves two bottles of lager. Sark curls his lip in disgust. Beer in itself is bad enough, but this brand? He thinks about how, were he to get drunk with her, it’d be on something much smoother than cheap American lager. Sips his Cabernet, enjoying the nuanced flavour as a counterpoint to their ongoing atrocity against good taste.
She walks into the living room and drops onto the couch, Tippin taking the seat next to her. Too damn close. He snatches the bottle from her hand.
“Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to need a lot more of this, or maybe something stronger, for what you’re about to tell me?”
Valid assessment of the situation, Sark thinks, amused despite himself.
Come on, Sydney. He can take it.
Go on, Sydney.
Yes, Sydney. It’s me you’re going to go on this mission with. Not Dixon. Tell him.
The reaction on Tippin’s face will all but make up for the unpleasant day.
“Syd, come on. You know you can tell me everything.”
The puppy-dog look Tippin suddenly wears would be sickening if it weren’t so utterly sincere. Sark wonders for a brief moment how it feels to be this attached to a person.
“I can’t dance the Tango.”
Tippin chokes on his beer. Sark feels his eyes widen. She can’t possibly be serious.
“You what? Sydney Bristow, Spy-extraordinaire, and you can’t dance the Tango?”
She blushes, crossed her arms defensively. “Not very well, at least. It’s always just been either waltz or club dance during missions. I never had to --“
Laughter interrupts her. He can’t say who started first, himself or Tippin. It doesn’t really matter, anyway.
Sydney Bristow can’t dance the Tango. He never thought he’d live to see the day.
She throws a pillow at Tippin, deftly smacking him in the face without knocking over the beer-bottle and staining her couch.
“When you’re done laughing, can you help me? I need to learn a few good moves by tomorrow.”
“I still don’t believe it,” Tippin says; he places the bottle out of harm’s way, still chortling, “But, yeah. I can help.”
Three glasses of wine later, he has shed the tie and the dress shirt as well. There is a slight but pleasant buzz in his head, he’s not intoxicated, would still be able to fire a gun, but then again, he could do that even when completely drunk. Benefit of Irina’s thorough training. However, tonight’s buzz is necessary, or he wouldn’t be able to see the entertainment in the scene on the monitor at all.
If he’d drunk a shot of whisky every time Sydney had stepped on Tippin’s toes so far, he’d be in an alcohol-induced coma by now. If he’d fired his gun at Tippin’s face every time the urge arose, his monitor would be in smoking ruins.
He’s done neither. He fixes himself dinner and eats it in the kitchen, slowly, thinking about Sydney and the strangely constricting sensation in his chest — anger, maybe, or something else. He denies himself the pleasure of watching the entire time. The sound, however, travels well through his spacious flat.
Laughter. Exasperated sighs. Noises of pain, making him worry about his feet tomorrow. Encouragements. Soft words spoken too intimately for his taste.
The urge to go back and spend the whole evening in front of the monitor is almost unbearably strong, though. He catches himself wanting to rise from his chair, but forces himself to relax, to stay put, to occupy his mind with something else.
Nothing works. The sound is poisonous to his concentration. He should turn it off.
He’s standing in front of the walk-in wardrobe when they start talking again. His back is deliberately turned to the monitor.
“So, about your plan …”
She seems oblivious, her voice a little breathless. “What plan?”
Feet shuffle, and there’s a quiet: “Much better this time, Syd.” He doesn’t have to see her to know that’s made her smile.
From the surprised sound she suddenly makes, he gathers that Tippin’s spun her around, maybe, or led her into an unusual figure. “Your plan to ultimately destroy that Sark guy.”
Sark’s hands freeze on the wooden hanger and he turns slowly, stares at the screen, transfixed. Is that what you’re trying to do, Sydney?
“Will …” There’s a slowness to her voice that hasn’t been there before, as though she’s arguing with a child.
“No, Syd, I’m serious. You said you’d use all of your resources to bring the guy down.”
“Will, please --“
Tippin as though he’s ready to snap, his whole body tense. “I swear to god, if you don’t do something, I will.”
Will you, Mister Tippin?
It doesn’t matter that he’s watching after all now. This is too important to let it pass.
Sydney encircles Tippin with her arms, pulls him close, never faltering in her dance-steps.
“You must promise me something.” She strokes Tippin’s head with one hand and his tense shoulders with the other, the display of nearly maternal tenderness making something odd settle in Sark’s stomach.
She’s more like her mother than he’d thought.
Tippin seems to relax into the embrace, but stays quiet.
They planned to take him out. Sark’s not sure whether he should laugh or be impressed by their boldness or simply spitting mad at their cheek.
“Are you listening, Will?”
There’s a mumbled affirmation.
“You must promise me not to go after him yourself. This man is way out of your league. He could have killed you back then, and he won’t hesitate to kill you now, should you cross his path. I won’t lose you because you did something stupid.”
Her correct assessment should make him smile, but it doesn’t.
“Will?” She untangles herself from him, stops the dance. Looks Tippin straight in the eyes. “Do you promise me?”
Tippin doesn’t want to, obviously, but under her intense gaze, he gives in all too easily. “I promise.” She hugs him again, affectionately, tenderly, but freezes for precious, noticeable seconds when Tippin continues: “I know you’ll bring him down, eventually.”
Her face is turned to the camera, but for once, he can’t read her expression. “Eventually,” she mumbles into Tippin’s shoulder, hugging him closer still.
The look on her face stays with him long after she and Tippin have stopped dancing and retired.
Sark doesn’t get any sleep that night.
b-flat, Rosenthaler Strasse, Berlin Mitte.
Entredo. Her dress is a deep burgundy colour, hugging her narrow hips and flowing out at the waist, swishing against her long legs. As she takes his hand and pulls him onto the dance floor, he can see the fine straps crisscrossing her bare back. Abrazo. Her hand moves to his right shoulder, only touching there, whereas his hand settles in the small of her back. Salida. They move the beginning steps together, finding their rhythm with the music. Ocho. Simple steps in the beginning, trying to get used to the new partner while appearing to be experienced. She is tense, her moves strained. Caminada. Walking amidst the dancers to find more room, moving closer to the subject. Ocho cortado.
The club is small, the dark red dance floor crowded. Two huge windows line one side of the room, the light of cars driving past spot-lighting the dancers in the dimly lit club. Too open for sniper attacks, he thinks, but dismisses the thought quickly. They’re covered, too many people here. The club even has a disco-sphere and he thanks all higher entities that it’s not in use tonight. Founded in 1995, the b-flat has become one of Berlin’s best known jazz clubs. Sunday nights, a local DJ features the “Tangobar”. The music is live: Bandoneon, violin, bass and guitar. From time to time, a singer joins the band. Nicolás Kemnitz, half Argentinean and a passionate Tango dancer, is here every single Sunday. The tall, dark-haired man with the flamboyant steps and the too-close dance embrace is easily spotted.
The ocho cortado is necessary to avoid collision with other dancers, but he doesn’t mind, not at all. Apparently, Tippin has taught Sydney well. As soon as she relaxes into the music her moves become much more fluent, her style less noisy than before. She listens to his lead, allows him to steer her exactly the way he wants to. He shifts his weight subtly; he’s fairly sure she’s never danced these steps before but she follows them easily, though her gaze drills into him. It’s a shame this is only a mission. She’s a good partner, following but not simply accepting his lead. She challenges him on the dance floor just as she does in everything else.
They have danced an open abrazo until now and, thanks to another set of caminadas, are closer to Kemnitz. It’s time to start the game. The bass underlines his steps. He approaches her subtly, moving in for a close embrace. Feels her resist when he gradually pulls her to him, Milonguero style, their bodies touching. Their eyes meet and he sees the warning there, the fire that tells him not to push it. But she follows, intent on maintaining their cover, moves to mirror his actions. Closer. Her breasts pressed against him and he can feel her heart beating, her hips moving in perfect synch with his, delicious friction, her left arm coming up around him and her fingers against the back of his neck… Make sure the cover is flawless. They’re still the couple they came in as. Not much longer now, though. Through the thick cigarette smoke of the club, he picks up her scent. Clean sweat and unobtrusive perfume. Her hair is sleek and shiny, pulled into a tight knot, single strands curling and whispering over her bare shoulders. This is so much better than just watching her. It’s hard not to screw the mission and dip his head into the intoxicating hollow of her neck and breathe her scent deeply, fill his lungs with it.
He wishes — not for the first time tonight — that she weren’t such a good actress. If it weren’t for the slight resistance in her steps and the look in her eyes, if he weren’t who he is, he could almost believe all of this was real. A sense of déjà vu overwhelms him briefly, catching him unaware. The memory of his dream and the touch of her body come together suddenly, so that for a flash he can taste her as he did that night, in fantasy. For a moment it’s hard to breathe.
And bloody hell, if he lets this line of thinking go on it’ll shortly be very clear to Sydney that Kemnitz is not currently his chief interest nor even remotely on his radar. At that point he’s fairly sure she’ll bite his head off, alias or no alias.
Still, he’d be a fool not to enjoy the situation. He might as well play out the part while he can.
His hand starts to roam on her back, rapacious circles, brushing the straps of her dress, dipping his fingers under them, flexing, moving further to her side, almost grazing the swell of her breast. Moves back before her fingernails, digging painfully into his neck, can draw blood. Her skin is smooth over the ridges of her spine, stiff now with anger. Her eyes are blazing, the warning clear.
But he notices, with a shiver of delight he suppresses immediately, that the rhythm of her breathing has changed, and not from anger.
It’s becoming more difficult by the second to remember that they’re here for a purpose.
Get your head in the game, idiot. And leave the rest of your anatomy out of it.
He presses the tips of his fingers a little deeper into her skin.
The music changes and, accepting his hint, she takes the lead. He plays taken aback at first, then amused. More amused still when she leads him into a Cruzada, more aggressive than before. Even tries for a mordida, trapping his foot between her feet, her eyes meeting his in an obvious battle for control. The move connects them even more than before. Her breath is warm and fast against his neck. He feels a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. But before he can enjoy the position, she is moving again, more aggressive, still leading. She begins the act, makes it easy for him to show displeasure at her boldness. The dance becomes a fight rather than something sensual, couples around them making room when they feel the tension shift. It isn’t quite clear anymore where the antagonism toward his alias stops and the resentment of him begins. The dance doesn’t tell the difference, only the feeling.
The song ends and they break apart, Sydney throwing him a look of utter irritation and making her way through the crowd to the green-lit glass and steel bar. Her posture screams that she expects an apology. He ignores it, as planned. His eyes follow her for a few seconds, then find Kemnitz. The man has glanced over but has otherwise ignored them.
He finds another woman, blonde, shapely, blandly beautiful. Murmurs a "Salimos a bailar?" in a low, erotic tone of voice.
She doesn’t understand him, ignorant to foreign languages as many Germans are. But his extended hand and the inviting gaze aren’t to be mistaken. She blushes, accepts his hand.
She has a style that completely diverges from Sydney’s. She follows without thinking, even closes her eyes, gives herself completely into his lead. He moves into the close embrace and she doesn’t even fight him, is warm and yielding in his grip. He dislikes it immediately, finds her compliance unpleasant. But she keeps following, even when he dips her back.
It’s a taunt and one that works well, though it’s rehearsed. He makes eye-contact with Sydney over the woman’s arched torso, smiles mockingly.
He has Kemnitz’s attention now. He pulls the woman back up, leads her into a pivot. She is already dizzy when Sydney moves in, quietly but decidedly making sure that this dance is over. Game on.
“I wasn’t finished,” he snarls at her.
“Yes, you were.” Her face shows determination. Her English is tinged with a strong Argentinean accent.
He moves an intimidating step forward. The blonde retreats hastily. People around them stop dancing.
“I think you owe me the courtesy--“
“Baby, it was a few quick fucks,” he cuts in silkily, a derisive smirk on his face. Kemnitz is now watching them with interest. “You were good, but you didn’t really expect me to take you for more than the girls out on the Oranienburger --”
Oranienburger Strasse. Place for night-life and streetwalkers.
The slap is resounding. In point of fact, painful. From the gleam in her eyes he can see that she enjoyed it immensely. “Vete a infierno, you bastard.” Go to hell. Raised voice. Big, Latin-American gestures. Damn, he loves watching her perform.
Kemnitz drifts closer. He, too, has stopped dancing and has untangled from his partner.
With a swift movement, Sark is close to her, holds her chin with his right hand, hard enough to cause pain. “To hell?” He smirks nastily. “You’re a greedy little thing, aren’t you?” He pulls her closer with his other hand on her waist, grinds his hips against hers suggestively, feels her breath hitch in shock. Runs his thumb across her lower lip, smearing her lipstick.
Her eyes darken. Her mouth becomes a thin white line. She thinks he’s the worst thing ever to walk down the pike when he’s not putting on an act? This should teach her to appreciate his manners.
“You unbelievable cabron!” Shithead. How inventive. It’s hard not to laugh. He wonders if she’s taking this personally. People now stare openly, start to whisper and point. Someone from the band motions for the bouncer. She hits him again. Harder this time, and his exit is covered.
A pair of burly hands lands on his shoulders as the bouncer says in a cool voice: “Kommen Sie bitte mit. Sie stören die Gäste.”
Over his shoulder, before the bouncer escorts him icily to the door, he sees Sydney starting to cry, and Kemnitz abandoning his current partner to save the damsel in distress.
Phase one, complete.
The bouncer had been less than gentle, but not rude.
The sky is overcast, not a star visible, yet he looks up, letting his head drop back, just another kid coming from a party, struck by a sudden wave of romanticism. He feels a slight breeze on his face. It smells of rain.
Phase one had gone pleasantly well but the next move is the tricky one. There couldn’t be a worse time for the fatigue of weeks to kick in. His face feels stiff, his eyes dry, and the place where Sydney hit him still stings.
He’s already waited near the club for almost half an hour, Sydney’s comm producing more static than actual words, but enough to make him extremely edgy.
Still nothing. Kemnitz hasn’t given her a chance to do her spiel. The one time she'd gone to the bathroom she'd told Sark their little charade had attracted more attention than they'd planned. The BND agents were keeping a close eye on her. Wait, she said. Let her do things her way.
He’s been waiting ever since. He wants to move but wants to sleep more. He’s not fit for this mission but would never admit it, especially not to her.
This Kemnitz character is a despicable, paranoid, self-absorbed weakling. He’s tried chatting Sydney up with some of the worst lines Sark has heard in a long while. Her skill at playing along with someone she'd never normally waste a moment on is of course admirable. After all, she puts up with Sark himself. Pretending for Kemnitz would naturally be a breeze.
It’s professional, Sark knows it, but it doesn’t change the way his jaw locks tighter at every husky word. He can’t help but see Kemnitz’ hands on her waist, on the very spot where Sark’s hands had been before, touching the same patch of utterly soft, slightly damp skin above the hem of that silky dress, but not making her shiver, not the way his own hands had … He forces his teeth apart, hearing another vapid laugh through the earpiece, and concentrates on her progress.
Kemnitz has suggested a change of location, for fear of Sydney remembering the unpleasant start of the evening.
Well, it certainly hadn’t been unpleasant for him, Sark muses, suppressing a wry grin. His mind wanders back to the dance-floor, to the feel of her body close to his.
He flexes his fingers. Get a grip, for Christ’s sake.
He needs to focus, needs to stay alert.
They’re moving now, loudly chattering about the clubscene in Berlin and how it has changed over the years. About the loss of the Maria at Ostbahnhof, about the several moves of the Tempodrom, about Mitte and how it’s nowadays a place for tourists more than for actual Berliners and how real clubbers go for places in Kreuzberg these days. Obviously, it doesn’t bother Kemnitz at all that Sydney only agrees with him and doesn’t actually participate in the conversation.
Sark can hear her breathing in his ear, almost feels the impatience radiating off her as they walk away from the line of parked cars toward Hackescher Markt, where Kemnitz’ private limousine is to pick them up.
The more Kemnitz boasts about his luxuries, the edgier Sark gets. The man irritates him immensely; he’d like to shut him up with a bullet. Sydney isn’t helping, playing along. Here she comes, walking along Rosenthaler Strasse with Kemnitz now, her hips swaying, her arm linked with his, leaning in too much, not quite a lover’s embrace but close — and that low, husky laugh: he hates it. Wants them both out of there. Wants that man… dead.
He wonders if Sydney has picked up on his mood, or has simply had enough herself, but he’s glad when she stops Kemnitz’ endless talk with her own - meaningless, boring and downright stupid, but hearing her voice calms his frayed nerves.
He's not pleased by the change of venue, though. Their comm connection's been bad enough while he was close to her, and now they’ll be several kilometres apart.
Sydney and Kemnitz reach Hackescher Markt and from that point he can't follow them. The club - Watergate - is near the East Side Gallery. Kemnitz’ lab is in the belly of a huge sand-freighter, currently moving along a side arm of the Spree near Fischerinsel. Pursuing his part of the mission, he'll lose Sydney in a matter of seconds.
“I can’t follow you,” he tells her, quietly. “Moving toward the lab now.” She doesn’t answer; he can only hope that she’s heard him.
The freighter is constantly moving, tied only when Kemnitz and his staff leave the ship. It never moves far away from the city, though; Kemnitz’ eccentric love for Berlin’s night-life doesn’t allow it.
The disguise, Sark muses, is reasonably good. He walks toward the river, pre-mission adrenaline pushing back fatigue, warming his limbs. These sand-freighters are common on Berlin's waterways; they go everywhere and they all look alike. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, the ship - despite its size - is virtually invisible.
The blip on Marshall’s tiny handheld screen shows the freighter’s location at Fischerinsel, the oldest part of Berlin. It appears to have just passed the watergate - Kemnitz’ club choice seeming ironic - and is moving east with the slowness of a leviathan.
Sydney’s direction after all.
He walks faster, wide awake now. Fischerinsel isn’t too far from where he is now, but he hops on a late-night bus anyway. A taxi would be quicker, but less anonymous. The bus-driver waves Sark through the door with a bored gesture, not looking at him for longer than a second.
There’s a couple feverishly making out in the seats at the very back. The other late-night commuters are quiet, trying to ignore them. Sark suppresses a grin and turns to watch the illuminated city crawl past outside the window.
When he closes his eyes momentarily to alleviate the stinging of fatigue, his mind, now wide awake, rushes back to the club. To the texture of Sydney’s dress beneath his fingers, the smooth, slightly damp skin, long legs twining with his. To Kemnitz, now touching her.
Her voice still comes over his comm, but fainter now, interrupted by bursts of static. From time to time he can still hear her breathe or sigh quite clearly, or give that husky laugh. He wonders whether her performance is as much directed at him as at Kemnitz—whether she's toying with him for his earlier behaviour.
He's spent a long time watching her, listening. This time she knows. That shouldn't matter as much as it seems to.
The two in the back of the bus are kissing, touching, pulling at each other’s clothes. He stares at their reflection in the window. The man touches the woman, moving her shirt up, exposing a patch of pale unblemished skin. Sark’s sitting several seats away from them, but the urgency vibrates in the confines of the bus. The man moistens spots on her neck, then gently blows and lets the air chill her skin. She moans. Sark remembers. Remember too well.
Without a warning, his mind switches the protagonists. The couple doesn’t exist anymore. They’re not some strange lovebirds, they’re not just a young man and a young woman.
The woman is suddenly brunette; tall, lithe, sinewy, starkly beautiful. She morphs into Sydney, arching against the man who is neither Kemnitz nor any other man, but him, Sark. He can hear the woman’s moans and accepts them as Sydney’s. His breath quickens, his hands are itching to move, to rove, stroke, touch. His lips are hypersensitive, his skin electrified.
"Not at all, darling, I'd love to." He closes his eyes, hearing Sydney's voice, jolting him out of the sensation and yet pulling him deeper, her voice giving the picture his mind creates more substance, she’s actually talking to him. In that husky, meant-to-seduce voice.
He squeezes his eyes tighter shut, grapples for a modicum of sanity. Breathes against the sensations. There is no reason he should be reacting like this. They're on a mission, for Christ's sake.
What he's doing tonight has nothing to do with the private watch he keeps on her. Those moments are different; it's just her, in those times, with no part to play and no adversary to cheat or seduce. Just her and just him. It doesn't matter that she doesn't know.
The bus stops and the driver turns. “Ey, ick denke ihr Beede wolltet hier raus?” he yells at the couple.
The two of them flinch apart in shock. Sark is grateful for the diversion. It's his stop; he rises and slips out the rear door before they do and hears them scarpering out of the bus, giggling as they go. They don’t get far, he notices as he hears the sounds of their kisses and laboured breaths. There’s a little sting of regret as he watches them stumble awkwardly in the opposite direction. Regret that passes quickly when he reminds himself to focus. The comm is quiet at the moment, aiding his resolve.
“On the bridge now,” he murmurs.
Through the increasing static he hears Kemnitz droning on and on, sweet nothings interrupted by wet-sounding kisses, unpleasantly audible against the thumping bass of club-music.
“I’d be most grateful if you could make loverboy shut up for a minute or two,” Sark adds, against his better judgement.
Apparently Kemnitz is distracted for the time being, for the weary reply comes as an almost immediate whisper: “Wouldn’t we all?” Then, after a few seconds: “Next time, you can be the one getting your throat licked.”
He grins - at the exasperation in her voice, but even more so at her choice of words. ‘Next time.’ But he can’t quite ignore the rest of her sentence. Can’t help flashing back to the bus, to the couple, can’t help imagining himself in Kemnitz’ place, touching his tongue to that long neck, feeling her react to him and only him.
His hands start to tremble and he crushes the thought brutally, silences his mind in order to concentrate on the mission.
He scans the dark river and sees the freighter approaching at a snail’s pace.
“I have a visual. You’d better hurry, Sydney.”
She can’t respond. Kemnitz is back from the nightclub’s door. Sydney’s breathing, however, tells him enough. She’s dying to voice a scathing reply to his comment, frustrated that she can’t. Challenged by his words, too.
Sark reaches into his backpack, holsters his Sig and tucks another into the waistband of his trousers.
This part of the city is so quiet at night, it’s almost disconcerting. He checks his watch and leans against the railing to gaze toward the freighter and scan the area - inconspicuously, just someone pausing on the walk home from a club.
It’s then that he notices his tail. The man is standing in the shadows , ducked behind a big linden tree. Sark can see the light of a passing S-Bahn overhead reflected off the metal of a gun. Not someone coming home late from work, not a tourist, definitely, then. BND? Another agency? It’s too late to think about it now. Too late, too, to curse himself for being so careless.
He reaches for his Sig.
The freighter’s close.
His pursuer moves.
“Sydney, I’ve been made. Going in now.”
He hears only static before he steps up onto the railing of the bridge in the manner of someone about to commit suicide. He sways, hopes that she’s heard him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the man taking aim as he removes the safety from his own gun. The silencer glistens as his pursuer steps closer to a streetlamp, which illuminates his face. Still too far away for a clean shot. But close enough to acknowledge the male half of the couple from the bus.
The water sluicing lazily about eight metres below him is inky black. The freighter is almost under the bridge now. A few seconds left. If he jumps too soon, he’ll land on the hard metal of the bow, attracting attention immediately as well as breaking several bones. If he jumps too late, he'll miss the freighter entirely, hit the water and be sucked into the current produced by the ship's screw.
He can’t shoot, the noise’d attract the guards on the freighter and there’s no time to attach the silencer to his own gun. And if the man’s here, the girl can’t be far. He curses his mind for wandering, curses his fatigue.
“Sydney, I’ve been followed,” he says, urgently. “Going in sooner than expected. You might want to hurry and then get out of there.”
The man is walking faster now, getting closer - near enough for a precise shot.
A few more seconds. He can see the masses of sand below. A bullet whizzes, and another. From two directions. His back is turned away from the freighter now, trying to keep an eye on his pursuer. The first bullet misses him by mere millimetres but the second grazes his leg and his foots slips off the railing. He loses his balance and feels the sick rush in his stomach as he falls, uncontrolled, into the darkness below him. Over the brief harsh hiss of the wind in his ears, his comm crackles to life.
XII - Allegro Assai
“Sark?“ He holds on to her voice.
Christ, the impact had hurt. He is barely able to move. The bullet wound is a scalding thread of pain, but pales in comparison to the pain of the fall.
Once he has catalogued probable injuries, he’s grateful for the pain. This is something he’s accustomed to, something he can handle. Irina taught him to use it to his advantage, to let it clear his mind and focus.
So he does. Rises carefully, pushes the pain back. Over the comm, he hears Sydney making advances at Kemnitz. She sounds urgent, and he’s glad that she’s finally speeding things up. Sark looks back to the bridge and finds only the female half of the couple still standing there, speaking furiously into a mobile phone.
He moves away from the masses of sand on the freighter, closer to the hatch leading down into the ship’s belly. He can hear a siren, first one, then several. Looks up and freezes for a few seconds, cursing. There is the Chinese embassy, guarded by several policemen.
The girl will have notified the agents in the club, so Sydney won’t have much time. Neither will he. He sees the guard reach for his comm and tense. He readies his gun and once more draws strength from the pain and the urgency of the situation. It clears his mind in a way few things can, and finally, he’s in full mission mode, with nothing to distract him.
The guard must go. One part of his mind calculates that a gunshot is a certain kill, but the sound, even with the silencer on, will draw the guard from the other side of the door, warn him. He can't afford that. The knife is cold in his hand, almost weightless. It’s two steps to the guard, clamp a hand over his mouth, pull his head back, slice. Skin, tendon and cartilage resist then part under the blade, then a swift gush as the edge bites through the jugular. Blood runs over Sark’s fingers, the man stiffens, convulses, then drops, silent.
Sark opens the door. The guard behind it raises his gun - too late. One precise shotto the forehead and he drops as well. Sark steps over the body into the hallway. Pulling a keycard from the first man’s vest, he slips through the first hatch, pausing briefly for it to close behind him to make sure possible pursuers are locked out. He passes the second airlock on his way to the inner sanctum of the lab.
Sydney still doesn’t have the retina scan.
“Sydney, move,” he barks, sharp. The deeper he gets into the belly of the freighter, the more static he receives. By the time he gets to the the lab, he’ll have no way of getting the code from Sydney.
“Do you have your mobile phone?” he asks, overriding another airlock’s electronics.
There’s something he interprets as an affirmative noise, if an incredulous one.
“The comm’s about to become useless, I’m receiving mostly static.” He can’t hear her response, can only hope that she gets his message. With the comms down, the connection for transmitting the retina scan won’t work as well. He needs her here. Now. “I’m going to call you in five minutes. When you get the call, get out and get to the freighter. It will be under Warschauer Brücke by then. Get on and get me the scan.”
A rush of noises from the club bursts through the static and he tries again, hoping to get through to her. “Make your move. I’ve got SEK and several BND agents on my tail, and they have contacted the agents in the club.”
Before the connection to her breaks off completely, he can hear Kemnitz being called away.
Then he’s without her, cold and alone in the sterile surroundings of the freighter’s interior.
Two more airlocks, two different codes. He ignores his near success of entering the lab and gets back to the exit. The airlocks behind him are closed again, and they don’t have the time to let Sydney do all the overriding again. He’ll have to keep them open for her. The bodies he left behind prove their worth, keeping the airlocks far enough open for Syndey to slip through.
Back on deck, the next fifteen minutes are a blur. He takes out the agents near the exit: another one with the knife sliced across his throat, slippery warm blood turning sticky on Sark’s hands. He drops the knife, as he turns on a second man appearing in the airlock, bringing up his gun and firing twice, doubletap, to the head. Even silenced, the shots make the narrow room vibrate. Sark pivots. There are more coming, always more. Guards and black-dressed SEK men scrambling aboard from the policeboat next to the freighter.
The bridge comes up. Adrenaline pumps through his veins. He dials her number, not having to think about it. Shots ring through the night, sparking silver off the wheelhouse, ricocheting. The air smells of gunpowder and burnt metal. More shots. Glass splinters, showers onto him, cold, then hot where it slices his skin. He drops into a crouch, then to his knees, scrambles over the deck’s rough metal, scrapes his palms. His heart pounds when he presses the phone back to his ear.
The phone still rings, she doesn’t pick up. More bullets whine past his ears, impacting in the barrel behind him. Oil begins to ooze out of the holes, a cloying reek he can taste in the back of his throat. A few more shots and the whole damn thing will go up in flames. Damn, it, Sydney, pick up the phone!
“Si, mi amor?” she asks, her voice a little too tight to sound natural.
“Lassen Sie die Waffe fallen!” one of the SEK men shouts. “Geben Sie auf!”
“Move,” he tells Sydney.
“Oh, you’ve been waiting the entire time? Darling, I’m so sorry, I don’t know how I could forget.” She prattles on, nonsense about a forgotten birthday party and how she will be with her imaginary friend in a few minutes. He hangs up, cursing her.
They’re shooting strategically now, cornering him, bullets left and right, more oil trickling next to him. He needs to get away and behind a hatch, the place is too damn exposed. He’s running out of ammunitions. The graze over his lower back burns; blood is soaking his shirt, trickling down his back. He straightens enough to look over the barrels, fires over head and scrambles, in a crouch, to the open hatch he spotted. Part of him, the always professional part, is counting and marks that he only as two rounds left in his last clip. The odd bend of his spine and the sweat trickling down his back and into the wound makes the pain flare up like a wildfire. He gasps, curses.
It’s just a moment, a tiny moment in which he doesn’t pay attention and is distracted by the failures of his body. The SEK notice the sudden lapse and move in, brutal and quick. They’re fast, stronger than him and better armed. Where the hell is Sydney?
One shot, two. Impact of metal in flesh. One man drops off the side of the freighter, the other stumbles into another, bringing him to his knees. One more shot, sparking off the floor.
Click, click, click.
Sark drops the gun, reaches for the butterfly knife in his boot. The blade glints in the light of the police-boat’s headlights. Slash, feint, stab, double back, slash. The blade cuts through fabric and skin, meets bone and ligaments, fast. Three men, four men, five men. The first falls when the knife slices open his cheek, impacts with teeth. The other three are faster, and Sark’s reflexes are dragging now, muscles refusing the cooperate. In an onslaught of heavy bodies, they’re on him, smothering him with pure weight and the smell of sweat and gunpowder, overpowering him. They’re not using their guns. He’s pushed down and punched in the stomach, the face, the kidneys, hard, fast blows, again and again, clanging his head against the cold iron desk. His lip splits, his head rings. Pain explodes all over his body. Three men, working out all their aggression on him. This isn’t only about being capturing a criminal anymore, this is about retaliation. He knows that fighting back will only make it worse, so he goes limp. After a few kicks from heavy boots, he lands on his stomach. His left arm is pulled back with a brutal wrench and what the fall didn’t manage works all too well for the SEK now - his shoulder dislocates with a blinding pain. He stomach churns, bile rises in his throat as he floats, caught in the pain and the wet noise of the joint popping out of its socket.
Gunshots drive away the sickening noise and then the pressure is gone.
A hand swims into focus. "I'm sure mom will be very amused when I tell her I had to save your ass."
He isn’t in the mood for sarcasm now. Bile rises in his throat as he presses his arm against his body. The shoulder would have to be put back in the socket, but not now.
The boat that had been shadowing the harbour side of the freighter moves closer at a great speed now. Farther behind, police cruisers race up to them, blue light flickering over the night-dark city. It’s too close, all of it. They need to move. “Do you have the scan?”
Sydney nods, “The way to the lab?”
“The guards are down.” Pain still meanders through him in sickening waves. “We need an exit plan as soon as you have the alloy.”
“And a place to hole up until the heat dies down.”
Her gaze is accusing, and fuck, he doesn’t need this now. He knows he screwed up. “Go,” he says, giving her no more time to protest. “I’ll create a diversion.”
She turns, runs toward the lab.
Sark leans against the wheelhouse. His body sings with the pain, alive in the worst way possible. Just another breath, then he pushes off the cabin and struggles down to the engine room - too slow, he needs to be faster. On the way down the narrow iron stairs, he pulls the small explosive device from his trouser pocket.
The engine’s roar is deafening. The smell of diesel and motor oil is cloying, a bitter taste at the back of his throat.
Sark plants the charges on the engines, favouring the dislocated shoulder, considers activating the timer but decides against it. He doesn’t know how long Sydney will need, and if the charges blow the engines while she is still in the lab, then everything will be shot to hell. He activates the remote that allows his phone to act as a transmitter, instead.
Back up on the freighter’s deck he inches over to the oil drums that have been placed on the freight deck as cover and slaps two charges on them as well.
The police cruisers have almost reached them and the boat that had been shadowing them clanks against the freighter’s bow. Only seconds, and the deck will be crawling with agents.
Sark reaches for the phone, flips it open.
He hates that he hesitates. It would be so much easier if he just pressed the button now. He could escape, and she’d be –
“How many?” Sark barely manages to hide a flinch. He hadn’t heard her coming, and damn it, since when was he so unobserving? That could have been a BND agent.
“Too many,” he snaps, voice tight. “Let’s go.”
“Where?” she asks, irritation thick in her words.
Sark manages a smile before he presses the connect button.
The freighter, for something as big as it is, reacts fast. It shudders to a stop, metal screams, the entire ship groans, tilts, then begins to drift without direction, too fast.
There is a crash in the aftermath of the explosion in the engine room,. Sark hears the frantic shouts of the policemen, trying to get the BND agents away from the freighter’s murderous pull. The ship doesn’t lose speed, doubles it instead. The next bridge comes closer and closer. Sark tugs at Sydney’s wrist and they rush to the other side of the deck, away from the barrels.
A second press of the connect button and the oil drums explode into a blinding ball of fire, triggering ever more explosions as the fire licks at the next drums.
The shockwave hurls Sydney against him, pushing him to his knees. His ears ring. When he looks up, she is haloed by the fire, the reflection from the flames licking over her carefully neutral face.
“That means swimming now, doesn’t it?” she asks when they already move between the burning barrels.
He doesn’t answer. She doesn’t need for him to say it, has been in enough situations that called for a creative way out. Swimming to shore from a moving, burning freighter wasn’t one of the wilder ones.
“There is a warehouse on the other side of Stralau peninsula.” He doesn’t say the rest. She doesn’t need to know that he is in no shape to swim.
Another explosion behind them, voices on the freighter.
Sark stuffs the gun he’s taken from one of the SEK men before into the back of his trousers, then tucks his injured arm tight against his body. Jumps.
The impact on the surface makes him black out for a few seconds, and it’s only the water’s chill that makes him revive fast enough to avoid getting pulled in by the freighter’s screw.
He submerges, resurfaces. Struggles blind against the current, one-armed.
He doesn’t remember how he makes it to the shore.
The pain is overwhelming. He’s had bullet wounds that hurt less. He feels his strength waning but he can’t stop now, not before they’ve reached safety. Pushes his body to function and ignore the pain.
An old glass factory on the peninsula of Stralau is close, eastern part of the city, deserted, shut down . Glaswerk Stralau. Rusty letters on wobbly stakes, exhibiting the pride of former years. Nowadays it’s used for exhibitions, from time to time, and as a meeting place for the young and stylish who prefer extraordinary settings for their idle small talk.
The area surrounding it is vast and deserted, made up of a few old, decaying buildings, brick and concrete. No lights, just the trains, passing meticulously every twenty minutes now that it’s past midnight. They’ll become more frequent, only three minutes apart, by morning.
The factory is perfect. Inconspicuous. Far enough away from the helicopters which have started to circle the scene of the explosion yet close enough to take cover. A small volleyball court is nearby, and a foot-path, used by pedestrians and cyclists alike, but it's not close enough to the actual factory building to draw any attention to two soaked and slinking people.
People in Berlin are blissfully ignorant sometimes. You can send a celebrity down the street and earn not so much as an excited squeak from the odd teenage girl. People leave you alone if you leave them alone. It’s something Sark likes about the city.
It’s the same with the factory. People might look out of the train’s windows, but they never see. Even if anyone catches a glimpse of them, they might only see a couple on a night-stroll in the pouring rain, in search of a likely spot for a bit of adventurous lovemaking. Fine by him.
Getting out of the water and into the factory takes them a small eternity. The open areas around the factory offer a strategic advantage, but also have them ducking whenever the sound of rotors seems to come closer. Clouds hide the sky; the wind blows rain into their faces.
Sydney bumps into him at one point while they duck, losing her footing on an empty beer-bottle, and he almost doubles over. The pain is keen-edged, more pronounced with every step he takes. He has been through worse, and his brain knows this, but his body is weak from the constant lack of sleep and the way he has pushed himself during the last few weeks.
When they finally enter the factory, he tries to camouflage his weakness by telling her to cover the exits, makes sure she has her back turned to him before he drops to his knees. Bile rises, he can feel it in the back of his throat. Pain radiates from his shoulder, worse and worse. He shakes and feels like vomiting. Prays for something, anything, to dull the pain.
It’s with an incredible effort that he tells himself to snap out of it, pull himself together. Moves into a sitting position with clenched teeth.
Breathe through the pain. Accept it. Let it wash through you. Don’t fight it.
He doesn’t quite manage to smile, but hears Irina’s words in the back of his head anyway. With Irina here, he would know what to do, would even feel at ease. Not with Sydney. But then again, he wouldn’t be here at all, were Sydney Irina. The mission was successful to a point, but their exit was terrible. They have half of the Berlin police force chasing after them. And they are sitting in an old glass factory, wet, shivering, exhausted. Hunted. He can still hear the sirens far behind them. The rotors of the helicopters. Which means that he and Sydney can’t be extracted before the morning. If they can be extracted at all without taking initiative – he at least has lost his mobile phone during the swim and he’s certain the comm didn’t survive either.
Damn. That means another six hours without seeing a doctor.
Without dry clothing. Without so much as a plaster to put on the graze the bullet has left on his lower back. At least it stopped bleeding.
"We’re clear. No one followed us."
He merely nods. It’s too dark to see her very clearly. He knows there’s electricity available but switching on a light is out of the question. Anything might give them away here.
Only six hours. They can do without light.
Six hours. The pain makes his head spin. Vertigo keeps pulling at his mind.
The silence lasts hours, or maybe only seconds, he can’t tell. He hears her shedding some of her wet clothes, wringing out the dress and spreading it out over a railing.
This whole situation would be so much more interesting if his bloody shoulder weren’t dislocated. He knows he could try treating it himself, but decides against it. One false move and he could inflict lasting damage, nothing he can afford in his line of business.
The wet shirt chills his skin further. Taking it off is near impossible, but he tries to anyway. There’s no need to be entirely miserable.
The movement pulls a tendon in the wrong way, causing fresh pain to spark along his nerve-endings. He’s slow to suppress the hissing intake of breath, or maybe too tired.
Sydney's instantly aware that something is wrong, grabs her gun. "What is it?"
Breathe against the pain, breathe through it, accept it. Stop being so bloody stubborn and keep the fucking shirt on.
"Sark?" Demanding curiosity. "Have we been followed? Did you hear something?"
"It’s nothing. Just me, breathing."
"That was a hiss; there’s a difference."
"No, really?" Can’t help the sarcasm bubbling up.
He could swear he hears her gnashing her teeth. She reaches out to grasp the collar of his shirt and pull him closer in anger but meets only bare, chilled skin. The touch is unexpected, and slightly off centre. He can’t suppress the groan of pain this time, doesn’t even try to.
She lets go immediately. "What the hell is wrong?"
"Our charming friends of the SEK decided that my shoulder needed dislocating." State it, matter-of-factly. It’s only six hours. He can handle six hours.
"You stupid bastard." Her anger is right under the surface of her calm voice. It vibrates in the cool room. "Why didn’t you say anything?"
"Because that wouldn’t have solved the problem."
"So you just ignore it?" Incredulous voice. This is almost amusing.
"Should I have waited to be caught?"
"Why didn’t you tell me?" Deep, angry breath. "Basic rule of team-play, Sark: an injury is something you tell your partner about! Your heroics could get us killed!"
"I had things under control, Sydney." It's a lie. He almost drowned when he blacked out a couple of times, swimming to shore.
"Control?" She is fuming now. "With a fucking dislocated shoulder you have the nerve to tell me you had things under control? I assume men like you are above asking for help?"
Men like you. How many men like me do you know, Sydney?
"I’ve been through worse." It sounds convincing enough to stop her tirade for a few moments. Although she mutters something under her breath that sounds suspiciously like "fucking John Wayne".
"I wouldn’t mind some help now, though."
The simple statement goes a long way to ease the tension between them.
Anger seems to drain from her as the calm of professionalism slips back into place. Team play. Compartmentalise. That simple. She’s good. Even better than he would have thought.
"Which one is it?"
Her hands reach out and touch his chilled skin, gliding carefully to his shoulder. He bites the insides of his cheeks, but can’t keep from tensing. It’s not only the pain.
"I need some light. I can’t even see what I’m doing."
"No light. They’re still looking for us." Almost as if to underline his words, the deep, rumbling noise of rotor blades comes closer. It ebbs away again.
"Brilliant observation, Sherlock. But unless you want me to accidentally tear your tendon, I suggest we find a way to give me some light for as long as this will take."
He sighs in relief when her hands leave his chest and the immediate pain lessens slightly. "There should be a torch next to the main door."
A pause, then: "A flashlight," she corrects him, and he can hear her grin. "How do you know?" The mood has changed imperceptibly.
"Safety-regulations, Sydney. This is Germany."
"Point taken. Wait here."
As though he’s going anywhere in his condition.
Her bare feet are quiet on the dusty stone floor, but even so, the tiny noise echoes abnormally loud in the old building.
Twenty steps to the door. She has a special walking pattern, unlike any other woman he knows. Her steps are measured, yet slightly insecure in the dark, and he hears her dragging her feet to avoid stumbling over anything lying on the floor.
She needn’t worry. This place is gloriously empty.
Her hand trails the wall, fingernails scraping over stone, then hitting plastic and metal.
Twenty steps back. The soft patter of her feet comes closer. Ten steps. Five steps. She doesn’t switch on the torch yet. Good.
"Let’s move away from the windows."
Which is impossible; there are windows everywhere, no corner on the base level giving enough shelter.
So up the thin metal staircase it is. Without asking, she reaches out and supports him, an unthinking, professional gesture. He really should have asked her for help earlier. But it hadn’t been possible. Or had it?
The way up the stairs is excruciating. He’s panting by the time they reach the first storey.
She leads him to a corner where there are fewer windows, more shelter from inquisitive eyes.
Only when she’s satisfied with the place does she switch on the torch, places it on a ledge.
The light cuts sharply through the dusty darkness and he’s blinded for a few seconds.
As his eyes adjust, he sees her kneeling in the small pool of bright light in front of him, surveying the damage. She lifts her head and looks him in the face, pondering. He holds her gaze but wishes, for once, that she wasn’t so easy to read. Her game face has always been good but he can tell, at such close range, that she doubts her skill and the idea of inflicting more pain unsettles her. A shiver of apprehension goes up his spine.
Sydney averts her eyes suddenly. Clears her throat, aware that they have been staring at one another for too long.
Her hands move to his chest again, peeling the damp shirt off his skin. He grits his teeth, tries not to hiss again. Every touch, no matter how careful, brings new agony.
It’s ironic, really, that the one time she’s touching him willingly, he feels nothing but pain. Ironic that even though he knows that she’s kneeling in front of him, wearing nothing but a silken, knee-length slip, he can’t see past her face due to the pain. He wants to kick fate in the balls.
When Sydney reaches for his right hand, her fingers are warm, so much warmer than his. His fingers curl around hers for a fraction of a second. She makes sure to guide his hand to her shoulder quickly.
"I need you stable," she explains, unnecessarily.
He nods anyway, tries for a small, encouraging smile he wasn’t even aware he was capable of. Her skin is smoother than he had imagined.
"This will hurt. There’s nothing I can do about that." He must be delusional, because he could swear her voice has softened.
It can’t be. Can it? "What is this, Sydney? Sympathy for the devil?"
"Shut up." She clamps her hand a little tighter than necessary around his biceps and he breathes deeply against the urge to cry out. Sydney adjusts the small torch again and positions her hands for maximum leverage against the distended joint.
He can’t help but continue. Maybe it’s the pain. "I think--" Wheezing breath, almost a laugh. "-- it is."
Her eyes darken, half-thrown into shadow by the odd angle of the torch. He feels her muscles flex. She’s fast, no pretence. He’s had his warning.
The wrench is brutal and quick, a wet scrunching noise hanging sickly in the air.
He doesn’t scream. Squeezes his eyes shut, bites his lower lip and feels white-hot agony explode like a nova. Wave after wave of pain surges through him, rattling his mind, like an orgasm from hell.
The last things he hears before it all becomes too much and he blacks out is the torch clattering to the ground and a gentle, remorseful: "I’m sorry."
He hopes Sydney will soften his fall.