I. start tearing the old man down
A blow to the stomach knocks me back into the car behind me. Who picked a parking lot for this? There's no room to get any leverage. He misses a kick to my head, and staggers back from the punch I finally land. Of course, they were pretty much expecting to shoot me on sight. They didn't plan a fight either. Another kick doesn't work, and I'm facedown on a car with my arm behind my back. Shit! But five years of SD-6 training have to be good for something. Look, a radio antenna. It makes a funny noise as it slaps him right in the face and knocks him off me. Then it's a simple matter of kicking him through a car window. Is that another car? Shit. Shit. The gun, the gun, where's the damn-- The laser sight lands squarely between the driver's eyes. What the hell--? "Get in the car, Michael." "Dad?"
Another kick doesn't work, and I'm facedown on a car with my arm behind my back. Shit! But five years of SD-6 training have to be good for something. Look, a radio antenna. It makes a funny noise as it slaps him right in the face and knocks him off me.
Then it's a simple matter of kicking him through a car window.
Is that another car? Shit. Shit. The gun, the gun, where's the damn--
The laser sight lands squarely between the driver's eyes.
What the hell--?
"Get in the car, Michael."
"There is no time for you not to trust me! You don't know who you're dealing with!"
"I know exactly who I'm dealing with. A Security Section team. If I don't come back to work, Sloane's ordered me killed. But you'd know that if you were working for SD-6."
Jack's expression didn't change.
Mike swung the gun up. It felt entirely too comfortable to be pointing a gun at his father's face. "Then who the hell am I dealing with?"
"You've heard of the Alliance of Twelve."
"Of course. What do a bunch of mercenaries have to do with this? Sloane killed--" His voice choked on it. The trashed apartment, the blinking light on the machine, dark hair spilling over the edge of the bathtub--He took a breath. "Sloane had Francie killed. SD-6--"
"--is not a black ops division of the CIA. It's a branch of the Alliance."
"Bullshit." The laser wavered against Dad's--against Jack's chest. "I'm working for the enemy?"
"And you are the enemy."
The headlights of the pickup car flashed. "Yes. Michael, this is your last chance. You have to go."
Mike deliberately held his father's eyes until the lights behind him faded. "You can go to hell."
He watched Jack's car drive away. Instinct more than thought had him moving away from the open space of the parking lot. He found a shadowed spot and pulled out his cell phone.
Will answered on the second ring. "Bristow, is that you? I tried to call you back, but that ringer must be dead."
"Hey. Uh, I had phone trouble and then car trouble." He spared a moment's thought to his shiny new truck. "Can I bum a ride?"
Mike ignored the agent standing in the corner of the conference room, the throb of the missing tooth in the back of his mouth, and the cramp in his left hand. He kept writing.
A woman entered the room. She conferred quietly with Agent Weiss, then approached the table. "That's a lot of writing," she said in a too-cheerful tone.
He didn't bother to look up. "I've written longer papers in law school."
"Do you need a break? Can I get you coffee or anything?"
"A new pen. This one's dying."
There was a yelp behind him just as another pen landed on the table. "Dammit, Syd! That's my favorite pen!"
"Didn't they tell you about sacrificing for your country when they recruited you?" she asked him.
Mike shut his thoughts off fiercely and kept writing. "Thank you."
A hand on his shoulder made him look up. Agent Vaughn's eyes were kind. "Are you sure I can't get you anything?"
My life back. My fiancee. My illusions. "That coffee would be nice."
II. you're only going to walk all over me
"I'll let you know as soon as possible. Yes. Thank you, Alain." Arvin hung up the phone and willed his face into pleasant blankness.
"What did Alain want?" Emily looked up from her crossword puzzle.
"It was a job offer, actually." What had the cover been? "Some sort of executive banking work."
"Leave the CIA?"
"Yes." More than she knew. "I can hardly imagine it."
"Are you considering it?"
Something about her voice caught his attention. "Do you think I should?"
She looked down at the pen in her hands. "The CIA is very...demanding," she said carefully. "I don't have to know any top-secret details to see that you're tired and angry when you come home."
"I'm sorry, Emily. I should have tried harder to--"
She took his hand. "Don't be silly. I'm your wife. I'm supposed to worry about you."
Arvin smiled over at her. He was never quite sure what he'd done to deserve Emily in his life, but it must have been something very worthy. He sobered at the thought. "I'm not sure that this job will make things better. And I'm not--I think I'm not quite ready to cut my ties to the CIA yet."
"I can understand that."
"I should discuss it with Jack first, though. Alain is probably on the phone with him right now."
"Today? He wouldn't."
"Today?" Arvin echoed.
Emily gave him the long-suffering wife look. "You are so bad with dates."
It was true. He could remember cover stories, foreign languages, and access codes, but he'd been known to forget his own birthday. "What's today?"
He went cold. "My God."
"She would have been seventeen today."
"I have to go. I--" He was halfway out the door. "Jack will--"
He found Jack still sitting next to his phone. Sydney's favorite stuffed bunny was propped on the sofa next to him.
"Jack. Did Alain--"
"Son of a bitch. He had no right to call you today of all days."
"Ten years, Arvin." Jack picked up the bunny, which stared back at him solemnly. "Ten years. She wouldn't even want this any more. She probably got a gun instead of a car for her birthday."
"We'll find her." He'd lost count of the times he'd made that promise.
"You and I both know the CIA lost interest years ago. Alain has promised me all the resources I need to track Derevko down."
"If you betray your country."
"What's the greater betrayal? Selling your skills to the highest bidder or letting a man lose his child and telling the world she's dead? God, Arvin, what if Sydney finds out? She'll think I've given up."
They'd had this conversation countless times too. "She would never think that. You were the world's best father for the first seven years of her life. Nothing Derevko does can change that. Stop doing this to yourself, Jack." It sounded hollow even as he said it.
"I have to find her. This is the only way."
"I don't believe that."
Jack stood. "I do." His eyes dropped back to the bunny. "It's ironic. He wants to call it Section Disparu."
"The section that doesn't exist."
"Like everything else in my life. Help me do this, Arvin. Help me find my daughter."
Emily was right, the CIA was demanding, Arvin thought as he searched for a response. But it was nothing compared to friendship.
III. get right to the heart of matters
"And at the end of the first period, it's Detroit zero, your Los Angeles Kings one."
The scoreboard screens switched to crowd shots. Sydney leaned back in her seat and grinned over at Danny. "Great game so far."
"If you say so." He craned his neck to look around at everyone. "Hey, I can see the press box from here!"
"Cool." She followed his gaze, and they watched the people milling about inside.
"So which one is the announcer?"
She pointed. "Mike Vaughn. He played forward for Michigan a few years ago." She shrugged. "He was okay."
"Is there anything you don't know about hockey?"
"Probably not. Dad and I used to quiz each other at dinner every night."
Danny thought of the awkward call he'd made to Jennings Aerospace that morning. "He just doesn't seem like the hockey type."
"He's not, really. I never told you the story...?"
"I must have been, I don't know, twelve. Dad hadn't been around much right after Mom died. Business trips and stuff. And I got sick of it."
"And of course you didn't just blow him off and do your own thing."
"He's my dad," she said, as though it explained everything.
And you're Sydney, he thought, which does explain it all. "Right."
"I went looking for a bonding experience. I'm not actually sure how I settled on hockey. It seemed like a good manly sport."
"Was your father a hockey fan?" Danny checked the scoreboard surreptitiously. Just a couple minutes...
"Well, not exactly." Sydney looked charmingly sheepish. "And you should have seen his face when I gave him Kings season tickets for his birthday."
"But he went to the games."
"It took some...convincing at first." Sydney's gaze spoke volumes.
Danny laughed. "I'm impressed. Jack Bristow's not an easy man to 'convince.'"
"Tell me about it. After being his daughter, getting thirty preteens to shut up and diagram a sentence is nothing."
"Sydney?" When she met his eyes, Danny leaned forward and kissed her.
"What was that for?"
Mike Whatshisname's voice came over the PA system. "Miss Bristow. Miss Sydney Bristow. Please turn your attention to the scoreboard."
Sydney turned as the opening chords to "Build Me Up Buttercup" started to play. "Oh, my God," she said faintly.
The picture of the two of them kissing was on the screen. "Marry me, Sydney" flashed underneath it.
When she turned back to him, he had the ring ready. "Well?"
She threw her arms around his neck. "Yes. Yes!"
The entire arena burst into applause. As Danny tried to get the ring onto Sydney's finger--now his hands had to shake?--he could see the announcer in the press box, giving him a thumbs-up. He grinned back. Then she grabbed him and kissed him, and he forgot the rest of the world even existed.
IV. start turning the girl into the ground
"You don't have to do this," Vaughn said.
"Oh, I do." But she hesitated in front of the door. "Someone's with Francie?"
"Dixon. He won't leave her until you get back."
"Okay. Okay." She pushed the door open before her nerve could fail her.
"Syd! Oh, thank God." Will's familiar voice made her stomach churn.
She held up a hand. "Cut the crap, Sark."
"Sark? What? Sydney--"
"Stop it! We found Will's body today. Your secret's out, Mr. Sark."
He didn't morph back into his real self, of course, although she'd have nightmares about just that for a long time. But his body language changed. He lounged back against the wall, giving her that half-sleepy look that had irritated her coming from the old him. And when he spoke, it was Will's voice but Sark's cool accent. "Very well, then. What do you intend to do about it?"
"You killed a CIA agent."
"Tippin was a low-level analyst. And I didn't kill him."
"Neither of those small details matter to anyone here, least of all me." Meeting his eyes was easier when she was angry. "If you're lucky, you'll live until trial."
"Unless you tell us everything you know about Sloane's operation. His plans. The Rambaldi device, and what he intends to do with it."
"And what guarantee do I have that you won't kill me anyway?"
Sydney could see her reflection in the mirror at one end of the interrogation room. There was something familiar about the look on her face.
It was her father's.
She jerked her attention back to--to Sark. "None. But the first time I can prove you're lying, I'll shoot you myself. Just like you shot Will." She touched the center of her forehead. "One shot between the eyes, right? Nice and fast."
"Not as fast as you think. Or so they tell me. He sniveled a bit first. Begged for his life. Begged for yours, and then--" He lifted his hand and mimed a gunshot to his own head. "Boom."
It took Vaughn, Weiss, and Kendall to drag her off of Sark. She made a point of blacking both his eyes before she let them pull her away. With his face bruised and bleeding, he looked just like Will had in Taipei.
Vaughn sat with her on the floor of the observation room. She dry-heaved into his shoulder while they listened to Weiss and Sark yell at each other.
"I'm sorry," she said when she could breathe. "I blew it."
"I don't think so. You were pretty convincing. Violent, but convincing."
She struggled to her feet. "I need to get back to Francie."
"So she can yell at you some more?"
"I don't mind."
"Sydney." She could see his hand on hers, but she couldn't feel it. "This isn't your fault."
She raised her head. Sark was staring over Weiss's shoulder into the mirror. As she watched, he smiled. Will's smile.
"Yes. It is."
V. turn a new leaf over
"Hey, Syd, I'm home!" Eric shouldered the door open and began the long and laborious process of sorting out his stuff. Keys on table; jacket on coat rack; laptop on desk. Shoes in the middle of the floor. Well, he wasn't entirely domesticated yet.
"I'm in the gym!" He was halfway down the hall when he heard, "And you better pick your shoes up before I run over them!"
He sighed and went back to move them.
She was sitting on the weight bench, concentrating on bicep curls when he stuck his head in, so he leaned against the doorframe and watched her for a while. It was his favorite spectator sport, watching Sydney exercise. Her hair was bundled back into a braid, her face screwed up in concentration, and--hello, nursie--she was wearing his favorite sports bra. The black extra-skimpy one.
"This is the best part of my day."
"It's the bra, isn't it?"
"No, it's the free weights." He walked over and snuck a kiss in while she was switching arms. "You might hit me over the head with them. Mmm, violence."
"Wasn't that in a movie once?"
"Honey, everything was in a movie once."
"I sense a bad day." She pushed her wheelchair out so it faced the weight bench, locking the brakes. "Sit down and tell me about it."
He eased into it and propped his feet on the bench, avoiding the weights stacked behind her. It was a bit awkward, as the table was elevated to accomodate Syd's workout and not his aching feet, but he didn't much care.
"I hate my job."
"You love your job."
"I love television writing," Eric said. "I loathe and despise writing for this show."
"What happened today?"
"It was like Attack of the Stuffy Suits. Sloane from the studio, and Devlin from the network."
"At the same time?"
He shuddered. "At least Devlin is just ineffectual. Sloane's an ass."
"I know. I met him at the wrap party last year, remember? He wouldn't stop looking down my dress."
"Well, you were wearing that red sparkly--" Sydney smacked him on the leg. "--stylish dress that I would never be so crass as to leer about."
He cleared his throat. "Anyway, he hates my new script."
"What was it this time? Did you use a word with more than two syllables?"
Eric snickered. "My plot is too complex."
"Keep that expression on your face. You'll need it." He leaned forward. "So I'm showing him the part in Act One where I set the twist up, right, and saying see, here's how it all comes together in the last few minutes. He says, 'Mr. Weiss, if you want a gun to go off in Act Four, it needs to be in a holster in Act Three.'"
The weight thudded to the bench, narrowly missing Eric's foot. "That's just--just--wrong."
"I think this guy read Writing for Dummies once. In the dark. In a moving car."
She was giggling helplessly.
"And that wasn't even the best part of my day. No, that would be the part where Laura fell down a flight of stairs and demanded that her stunt double do the shot instead."
"Well, a flight of stairs!"
"It was two steps high."
"Syd, she's such a bad spy," he groaned.
"Poor baby." She leaned over and grabbed his arms; with one practiced move, he swung her into his lap, arranging her legs over one side of the chair as she snuggled against him. "Poor, poor Eric."
"And Jack backed her up, the shit." As always. "Dragged Irina all the way out there. She did a great job, of course."
"Laura has been the star of this show for three years and she can't talk and hit a mark at the same time. Irina would be a million times better as a secret agent."
"Honey, I'd be a better secret agent."
"You would. Man, I could write the best show around you."
"Secret Agent Sydney?"
"Yeah. No, Double Agent Sydney." He wasn't really sure who she'd be a double agent for, but who cared? "Grad student by day, spy by night."
She started laughing.
He hammed it up. "Agent Syd works for an agency so dangerous, so secret, that not even her closest friends know what she does. And then she tells her fiance, er," he cast about for a name, "Danny--"
"Danny? Why not--wait." She sat up straight. Doctor Hecht?"
"Shh. I'm brainstorming here. Anyway, she tells Danny, and you know how they say if I tell you, I'll have to kill you?"
"I'm a bold guy."
"Uh-huh. So what does she do after they kill Dr. Danny?"
"She turns on them. Offers herself up to the enemy to bring them down, and their evil leader Sloane, who killed her boyfriend and looked down her dress." She laughed, but his brain was already in overdrive. "But--but here's the twist, see. She finds out that the enemy really isn't the enemy. She finds out that her secret agency is really the bad guys, and they'd lied to her. So not only did they kill her guy, they've been lying to her about the fundamental nature of her job all along."
"Okay, kind of confusing, but really cool if you can pull it off."
"Yeah, so she ends up working for the good guys, spying on the bad guys, who still think she thinks they're the good guys..."
"You remember what I said about kind of confusing? I take the 'kind of' back. But don't stop!" she said when he halted. "You can make it work. So she goes to the good guys."
"Of course. She has a love interest there, right? Right? Is that where you come in?"
"That would be weird, don't you think?"
She rolled her eyes at him.
"No, her love interest is...let me think. He should be her agent on the inside, you know." He grinned. "Oh, it's perfect. Vaughn."
"Vaughn? Who? Oh, no no no. Intern Vaughn? Michael Vaughn?"
"Yes, he's perfect."
"He babbles every time I'm in the same building as him. He spilled punch down my dress at that same damn wrap party, and left me with Sloane trying to wipe it up."
"You didn't tell me that."
"I handled it." She grinned. "He wasn't using that hand for a while after I was done with him."
"You rock. But yes, Vaughn. Only he probably wouldn't look like Vaughn. He'd look like Noah or someone."
She actually growled, and he blinked down at her. "Really? Damn, where was I at this party while you were being harassed?"
"I think Jack had you cornered and was patting you on the shoulder repeatedly while talking about your future in Hollywood."
"Oh, God, I think I would have rather had Noah groping me."
"So the show has me--"
"Babe, you're the star!"
"--and Evil Sloane, and Dr. Danny, and, God help me, Vaughn. And probably Jack and Laura and Irina too."
"Of course." He smirked.
"Where are you?"
"In the story. What does Eric do? Is he my older, more experienced partner? My loving but clueless friend? A dangerous agent for the other side?"
"Eric..." He dropped his head back and looked up at the ceiling, which needed to be painted. "Eric is a company guy who does his job and doesn't cross the line. He's just in it for the money. Eric never does anything he shouldn't, even when he should."
"Eric." Sydney pulled his head upright and leaned her forehead against his. "Quit."
"I can't. You know I can't. You don't finish school for another year, and then we have baby plans. I need this job."
"Not that much. Come on. We can make it work. Or we can wait for the baby."
"No. Next year I'm Executive Story Editor and I get another raise."
"And you're still on a show you hate with people who won't listen to you." She huffed out an exasperated sigh. "Fine, but you can at least work on the pilot on the side. Running your own show would be a totally different experience."
"Well, ye--what pilot?"
"What do you mean, what pilot? The story you just told me." She smacked his arm. "Spy Sydney."
"That was just--"
"Oh, no. It was great. Funny and interesting and dramatic and sexy--"
"I get to wear all sorts of fancy costumes, right?"
"Of course. And wigs. I love wigs."
"See? Write me a show, Eric."
"Sloane will hate it."
"Sloane's is not the only studio in town."
"They all might hate it."
"They will not."
"Seriously, Syd, I could get shot down big time."
"Maybe." She kissed him. "Maybe not."
"All right. All right."
"Yes!" She kissed him again.
"Mm. I think I need to see some sexy costumes first. For, you know, inspiration. We could start with that red dress--don't hit me, Agent Sydney! Ow!"