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“Vows begin when hope dies.” – Leonardo da Vinci


Sark glanced down the deserted side street. His dark clothing blended into the night, but his pale hair and skin marked him as something more than shadow. Not even the night owls were making their presence known. With no full moon out, and the still air hanging in the night around him, tonight truly seemed like it belonged to the dead.

Dead promises, dead fathers, dead hopes, dead dreams.

Sometimes Sark was surprised that the sheer weight of all the ghosts around him didn’t just crush him physically. They never left him. They never gave him a real moment of peace. They just crowded closer and closer around him as if they could suck his life force if they could only get close enough. Their fevered whisperings and accusations; maddening in their own right, could almost be dismissed as the quiet hum that one hears when everything is perfectly still. Almost. If only they wouldn’t keep crying out his name.

But Sark understood why they haunted him and in a way, he gathered his strength from them. They were his mistakes made real. They were a very constant reminder that he had to be better. Ten years ago, he had allowed himself to be tricked by a woman. Since then, all that his life had become, and all that it hadn’t, could be laid at her feet. Now he wanted his life back. Every step forward that he took, had the potential to plunge him into the very depths of hell. After all, the ghosts were reminders of what happened when he strayed even just a little bit.

He took a deep breath and let the coldness on his skin permeate into his heart. The ghosts seemed to be out in force tonight. Always half a step behind him. Always standing at the very reach of his peripheral vision. As intangible as the air and yet exerting pressure as real as an ocean closing in around him.

He exhaled slowly and as he did, the voices seemed to know that now was the time to be silent as well. They receded back a little, just to the outskirts of his consciousness and allowed him to assume the cold, hard shell that he was looking for.

Double-checking over his shoulder for any late night dog walkers, he stealthy made his way across the street. He knew the house he was looking for, and it wasn’t very far.

~~


“Julian, come here for a moment. There’s something we need to discuss.”

Julian Sark lay the old English text down on the coffee table and got up with a swift, graceful movement. His leg tingled from how he’d crossed it, but he forced himself to put weight on it. When Katya called, one did not linger.

Following her into her elegant study, he was momentarily caught off guard to see another woman already there, sitting at ease in amongst the books, manuscripts and antiques. Even in the poverty and dark times of the post democratization of Russia, there were still pockets of wealth for those that had the right connections, but they were becoming fewer and fewer. Poverty and the political instability of the region ensured that even the powerful people had to be careful, because the next day, they too might find themselves begging for bread. But so far, Ekaterina Derevko seemed to be one of the few people immune to this fear. Since starting to handle some of her secretarial duties, Julian was beginning to appreciate the true extent of her influence which seemed to be centered on military intelligence. And every slow, agonizing piece of information he found out about her, only served to prove that she was a force to be reckoned with.

Therefore, it was with a bit of surprise that he noticed that this new visitor seemed to be equally blasé and unmoved by the decadence of the surroundings. Even the business men that Katya dealt with always showed a proper amount of awe and deference towards her.

Sark quietly studied the visitor out of the corner of his eye, as Katya had instructed him always to do. The woman idly leafed through the pages of an old book, gently blowing the dust away that had collected on the cover before leaning forward and placing it back on the end table. Her movements were graceful and relaxed. Even sitting down, he could tell that she was tall, probably a few inches taller than him. She wore her long, dark hair carefree and past her shoulders. It wasn’t until she casually glanced up at them, that he saw her eyes and figured it out though. He knew well that hard, calculating gaze.

“Julian, this is my sister, Irina.”

He grasped her hand and immediately knew that he should shake it firmly and not bring it to his lips in a mock kiss. She may be family, and she may be elegant, but he could see that she didn’t waste time in frivolous formalities. As her cold hands clasped around his and gripped him tightly, he was once again impressed. She had a presence around her that warned him that she was perhaps even more formidable than Katya. If that was possible.

Turing back to his guardian, he waited patiently for her to continue.

Katya motioned for him to pull up a chair and as he sank into the soft cushions, he watched the two sisters exchange a silent look. It was only after everyone was seated that the conversation started.

“How old is he?” Irina asked casually.

Sark answered for her without thinking. “Seventeen.”

Irina shook her head sadly and then turned back to her sister, ignoring him completely. “He is far too young.”

Katya shrugged and replied calmly. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”

“This is a big risk.” Irina pursed her lips together.

“We’ve discussed all the other options. If this one works, then your daughter will be safe from them forever.”

“Perhaps,” Irina conceded.

Irritated at the conversation that flowed around him, and not being able to understand it, Sark interrupted, impatiently. “What does this have to do with me?”

He immediately felt Irina’s cold gaze upon him, even before he actually turned his head and saw it. “Julian, there is a time for questions and a time for patience. I urge you err on the side of patience, if you’re ever in doubt.”

Sark pressed his lips together in anger but held his tongue.

Katya folded her hands together and propped her elbows up on the desk. “Irina? Time is running out, if we’re going to go through with this—”

“I know,” Irina answered abruptly finally turning back to Sark, and including him in the conversation. “You’ve been living here with my sister for eight years, correct?”

Sark nodded. “Since my mother died. My father quickly got tired of having me around. I am thankful that Katya was willing to take me in.”

“Yes, I knew Alina growing up as well; we were all close school friends at one time. She was a good woman.” Irina paused momentarily as if caught in thought. “We need your help with something Julian, and though what we’re about to ask may seem like a lot, in reality it won’t be. We have steps in place to make sure of that.”

Now Julian couldn’t help but raise his eyebrow in curiosity. “I owe Katya everything. She’s provided me with shelter, fed me, taught me. I will do whatever you need me to do.” In truth, he was also bored to death roaming her house and acting as her secretary. That she had furthered his education in unimaginable ways was true, but he craved more that books and theory. This whispered conversation, on the other hand, screamed of intrigue and piqued his interest.

Irina nodded slowly. “There are two parts to this and I think perhaps you should hear what I have to say first, before you agree.”


~~~

 

Sark approached the house quietly. He knew that they had a dog; he’d listened to Lauren bitch about it often enough, and he wasn’t eager to have it give him away. Fortunately, Sark thought as he pulled out the laced treat inside his pocket, he’d come prepared for that possibility as well.

But the house stood silent in the night, asleep and peaceful. It was untouched by the enormity of the deception that had rotted out its core. This was no house of a normal suburbanite couple, even if the cancer couldn’t be seen on the surface.

Sark knew that its sole occupant would be sitting alone in the bedroom, wallowing in his misery and contemplating his ability to be deceived. Sark felt the familiar disgust settle in his stomach as he thought about Michael Vaughn.

Making his way towards the backyard, Sark examined the outside layout of the house, and tried to match it to the blue prints he’d acquired a few days before. The second floor balcony stood fifteen feet above him and he knew that it attached directly to the master bedroom. Looking around once more for any signs of the dog or nosy neighbors, Sark removed the climbing hooks from his backpack. Quickly and without wasting anymore time, he started his climb up the wall.


~~~

 

“I know that you and your father are estranged,” Irina continued. “The first part of this plan requires you to contact him and become part of his life once again.”

Sark felt his shoulders stiffening and an immediate denial coming to his mouth. Anger filled his body as he thought of the man who had abandoned him long ago. What advantage could it serve to contact him again? But as the two women sat in silence, studying him, he took a deep breath and forced himself to remain calm. It was after all, the stillness that his father had demanded of him so long ago. Be seen and not heard. And if possible, don’t be seen either.

At his silence, Irina continued. “The reason for this is that your father is a member of a special order. Now this story may seem to belong in Fairytales rather than real life, but let me assure you that this is all very real. This group that your father belongs to is steeped in mysticism and rituals. But at its heart, it is merely a group of men dedicated to a very specific cause. Over five hundred years ago, there was a man named Milo Rambaldi. Katya can fill you in with more detail later but basically he was a prophet and seer. He predicted many things, mostly technological, several hundred years ahead of his time. He was quite powerful, even becoming the chief architect for a Pope, until eventually he acquired too much power and started to make the church nervous. They killed him on charges of heresy and tried to destroy all his works. But, as they discovered only too late, a large portion of them were hidden and carried away by his followers. The end result is that now, five hundred years after the fact, his followers are still trying to bring about his second coming.”

Sark tried to suppress a grin at the absurdness of the story. This was far different from the boring satellite photos and arms that Katya traded in. “Aside from me having to contact my father, you make this sound much more serious than the facts would imply so far.”

Irina nodded. “True enough. I know it sounds ridiculous, but let me assure you that these men hold a great deal of power. Rambaldi did more than prophesize obscure and general events that could be interpreted a thousand times over. He predicted very specific things. One of his papers, talked about the mechanics of cellular biology and how to exploit it for use in weapons and medicine, at a time when people still believed that in order to make bees, one had to bury the corpse of a young bull so that its horns projected out from the ground. Everything that he predicted has so far turned out to be true, though science has only been able to prove some of it in the last thirty years. A few of his ideas can’t even be tested yet. Can you see why his followers are so powerful now? There’s even the rumor that Rambaldi found the key for eternal life.”

Sark shook is head in amazement. “And what does this have to do with us?”

Irina let out a small sigh. “To make an already long story short, my family and I are involved in several prophecies that Rambaldi made. Prophecies that involve his second coming in good ways and bad. I have a daughter that I need to protect from them because they would destroy her to achieve their goals. You have to understand that their resources are limitless, and that they have members in high places in societies around the world. Katya and I have been discussing this for years. Once they learn of her existence there will be nowhere she can hide that will be safe.”

The silence settled for a moment and suddenly Sark found that he wasn’t eager to break it. Irina seemed reluctant to continue, so Katya picked up the thread. “By the virtue of you being your father’s son, you have the possibility of becoming a member of The Order of Rambaldi if you desire. Second only to their loyalty to Rambaldi’s cause, the members of The Order pledge absolute loyalty to each other.”

“You want me to spy on them to ensure that they don’t harm your daughter?” Sark asked his curiosity finally getting the better of him. Though the plan involved him having to talk to his father, the thrill of getting the chance to play spy was slowly overcoming his reluctance.

Irina twisted her lips together. “Not quite, Julian. After you’re accepted into The Order, I want you to marry my daughter, thus extending the protection you have, towards her.”


~~~

 

Sark perched on the edge of the balcony, holding onto the railing for support. The large plant in front of him successfully hid him from view while at the same time allowing him to look in through the window. He had guessed correctly. Michael Vaughn lay in bed, but from the amount of tossing and turning it was obvious that he was doing little sleeping.

Sark tried to shift to gain a better purchase on the ledge but there wasn’t enough room to stand properly. Settling in, and periodically shifting his feet so that they didn’t cramp up, he waited.

Regardless of everything that had happened, he knew she would come here tonight. Perhaps almost because of everything that had happened, she would come here. Because the truth was, like most women, she wasn’t as smart as she liked everyone to believe.

With one hand still holding onto the railing, Sark reached into his jacket and pulled out his Beretta. Clicking the safety off with one hand, he pocketed the gun.

His time was limited, but he had no choice but to wait. This first mistake had to be corrected before he could move on to the next.

 

~~~

 

“Julian,” his father called out to him, his voice echoing in the empty church. Sark watched as he stood and waited for him to come closer. The last eight years, hadn’t seem to touch him. His dark hair held the hint of grey but in every way, he still seemed the formidable man that he had never been able to please.

“Father,” Sark replied curtly. His father’s eyes bore into him as if evaluating and critiquing.

“I have to admit, I’m surprised at your sudden interest in your heritage. Since you stormed out of my house and took your mother’s name eight years ago, I was sure you wanted nothing to do with me.”

“I was foolish and young back then. Plus if we’re being honest, then I have to say that you never mentioned the power that the Order of Rambaldi holds.”

“Why am I not surprised that it’s ambition that brings you here now.” His father’s face curled in a sneer. “There is much more to being a Follower than wealth and power. There’s—”

“Spare me the sermon, Father. It doesn’t matter what you think in this case does it? I can’t be denied membership if I make a legal claim. Unless you really are able to prove that I’m not your son, as much as you may wish it.”

Adrian Lazarey shook his head sadly. “Fine. I will let The Order know. We are going to assemble exactly a month from now, and at that time, you will be initiated. Just come back to this church before sunset and I will show you the way in. I pray you know what you’re getting yourself into, son.”

Sark sneered. “If I don’t, then I will merely have another thing to blame you for.”


~~~

 

The darkness pooled around him and as the adrenaline started to get stale in his veins, Sark could feel the chill beginning to set in. There was still no movement inside the residence aside from Vaughn’s restlessness, so Sark shifted again, trying to keep the blood flowing to all of his extremities. He knew she was going to come here eventually tonight. He knew she couldn’t stay away.

As he shifted again, his ears picked up the sound of a car pulling up the street. Hiding himself further into the shadows, he strained his hearing to concentrate on the faint noise.

The car stopped close to the house, and he heard its quiet engine suddenly cut out. The sound of the car door opening and then slamming shut, echoed through the night and he smiled.

If there was one thing he had learned, it was to make sure he always knew his women.

Sark turned his attention back to the window of the bedroom and waited patiently until the silhouette of a woman presented itself in the door of the master bedroom. Knowing that now was the best chance to avoid detection; Sark reached out his hand and applied sideways pressure to the sliding door. Thankful that it was unlocked, so he slid it open half an inch, relatively noiselessly.

“What are you doing here?” he heard Vaughn’s voice crack as he sat up and looked towards the bedroom door.

 

~~~

 

He stared at the dim light inside the underground cathedral. Beside him, he could feel her shaking slightly. Whether it was from the damp, moldy air or from the solemn chanting that echoed around him, he wasn’t sure though. He tried to look at her out of the corner of his eye but all he could see was white tulle softly covering her face.

A part of him, still couldn’t believe that he was standing here. Two hundred faces looked up at them on the dais in front of the altar. The priest behind them was singing in Latin and though Katya had insisted that he study it, it was one thing to be able to read it, quite another thing altogether to be able to understand it in song.

…who speaks for this man?...

But he knew his cue. “I do,” he answered in English like he had been instructed. It sounded harsh and out of place. “I am Julian Sark, son of Adrian Lazarey and was accepted into The Order three months ago.”

The priest nodded at him and then continued his hymn.

…and who brings this woman to marry this man?...

This time, Sark watched as his father stood up and bowed in front of them.

“I do, your Holiness. My son loves her, so I will vouch for her worthiness.” Sark looked into his father’s tired eyes and tried to push back the knot that was twisting itself in his gut. It had seemed like such a simple plan when Katya and Irina went over it with him, but now he was starting to have his doubts. Tell his father that he wanted in The Order, go through with the initiation and then announce his plans to marry. That he was too young or too new to The Order didn’t matter. The members of The Order were known for their idiosyncrasies.

Sark glanced at the ageing man to his father’s right, and knew that they had been right on the last accord. Seniore Labruzzo had married and divorced the same woman five times and yet every time her link to The Order was severed or remade, the entire ceremony took place and no one dared to complain at the repetition. They just assembled from all over the globe without compliant, though when Sark was present a month ago during the fifth remarriage, he did notice several of the older members imbibing some whiskey beforehand.

The man just behind his father was so old that when Sark had first met him, he had thought he was a walking corpse. Then it had turned out that the old man was initiating his ten-year-old son into The Order. Sark cringed when he thought of what the dynamics had entailed. Marco Battista, who was standing further behind them, apparently still lived with his mother. It was rumored that he was well past middle age. Rumored, because of course, age was never talked about amongst the Followers.

Latin readings washed over his head as he thought back over the last few months. Certainly, Irina and Katya had been right about his decision to marry young being overlooked. What he thought that they had underestimated perhaps, was the true, raw power that these men exerted. It was the power that had always intimidated him against his father, and now there were two hundred such men, staring back at him. Two hundred men, who he was trying to trick into protecting a woman they would kill instantly, if they knew who she was.

None of this made him feel any better considering some of the important things he had learned since making his pledge to be initiated. Though all these men before him had intricate relationships with the women in their lives, none of the women were ever permitted into The Order; their only glimpse of the group occurred during their Ceremony of Bonding. If a man wanted to extend the protection of The Order to a wife or a lover or female family relation, then they were brought in for the Ceremony. In the cases of marriage, the marriage and Ceremony were often performed at the same time, though the bride would be the only female allowed in attendance. Women were never given any power within The Order except for its protection but now, in a sense he was tricking them into just that.

This was not to say though, that more than a few women hadn’t tried to gain entrance either by trying to convince susceptible members, or some even by sheer force. The bottom line though, was that they were all unsuccessful.

They were asked to kneel before the priest, so Sark was finally able to turn towards his bride and give her a hand so that she could kneel down without tripping over her dress. The gauzy veil hid the details of her face, but he could see a pair of dark brown eyes gazing at him.

With a start, Sark realized that though he was marrying a woman that he’d never met, this woman was daughter to Irina and niece to his guardian. And if her elder relations were any example, then his soon-to-be wife would be formidable in her own right. Perhaps she could indeed wield the power she needed to over The Order to stay alive. Sark anxiously shifted slightly on his knees.

…Do you vow to watch over each other in sickness and in health…

…Do you vow to be true to each other until death do you part…

…Do you vow to hold true to The Order above all else…

“I do,” Sark whispered at the appropriate time and heard the phrase being echoed beside him.


~~~

 

She smiled in semi-darkness, slowly stepping through the doorway. “Michael, I just couldn’t stay away. I know you probably hate me, but I needed to talk to you one last time.”

Sark watched as Vaughn bolted up from the bed. Using the movements around him to mask his own, he slid open the balcony door, cocked the gun and held it level at her pretty head. “Lauren,” he whispered.

She turned around slowly, finally distracted from her husband; her eyes widening as she focused on his face. “What are you doing here?” she asked. The fear in her voice coupled with the slight tremor of her hand that she had extend towards Vaughn, permeated the air.

But he wasn’t impressed. After all, having been conned by the best, he found her tricks amateurish and easy to see through. He twisted his lips and smiled. “I should ask you the same question, Lauren. Do you really think that he would forgive you for betraying him? Do you really think for a second, that he would take you back? Or are you delusional enough to think that you could use him to finally destroy Sydney and her sister, for good?”

He glanced out of the corner of his eyes and saw Vaughn rooted to the floor where he had gotten up off the bed, watching their exchange.

Lauren’s mask crumpled with a sneer. “So it’s true what my mother told me then? You’re just a puppet being played like you’ve always been.”

 

~~~


The High Chancellor led them through the century-old hallways, his wife’s arm tucked around his for the benefit of the ruse. Their footsteps echoed on the tiles as the dust was kicked up around them. The light from the lantern flickered across the frescoes painted on the walls framed by intricately-carved wainscots.

“Here you are Julian,” the High Chancellor said as he pulled up in front of a large wooden door.

Sark looked around curiously, not having been in this part of The Order’s large underground palace before. The long hallway seemed to be lined with other large wooden doors. “Your Excellency, would I be able to ask where we are?”

The High Chancellor inclined his head as he opened the door. “This is the old residence area of the Sanctuary. It doesn’t get used very often nowadays, as most of the Followers have dwellings of their own, but there was a time, and there are still occasions when Followers need protection, so they come here to live. We’re very happy to extend our hospitality to you for the first week of your honeymoon, as is tradition.”

Sark swallowed nervously and looked at the woman next to him; panic clearly written across her beautiful face. He smiled to her uncertainly and led her into the room. This certainly hadn’t been a part of the original plan.

The High Chancellor waved his arm, making a show of the luxurious surroundings. The canopied, four-poster bed stood in the center of the opulent room, atop a rich red carpet. Gold-trimmed curtains hung on the walls and sculptures and flowers decorated the corners. He started to light several of the oil lanterns that were placed around the room. “Please, enjoy yourselves here. When you are hungry or if you require warm water to bathe please, just ring the bell, and servants will be up here immediately.”

At their silence, the High Chancellor nodded to them both and then walked towards the exit, pulling the door shut as he left.

As the silence settled Sark watched as she turned around to him, her face alert and unhappy. “This wasn’t part of the plan.”

“Obviously,” Sark replied, taking in the room more fully. His senses seemed dulled for some reason and everything was slightly out of focus. He was starting to suspect they shouldn’t have drunk the wine offered to them during the ceremony. “Your mother will find my father and ask about us, when we don’t show up at the meeting point. I can assure you, that there will be hell to pay on his part for omitting this detail when he was briefing me.”

She leaned against a chair by the bed. “But if my mom goes to him, then he’ll know that this was staged.”

Sark shook his head and then immediately wished he hadn’t as the world started to spin a little. “Not necessarily. I gather that your mother can be discreet when she wants to be.”

She looked at him strangely, her brown eyes drinking him in. “Do you know her well?”

“Not really. I only met her for the first time four months ago. But I’ve been living with her sister for the last eight years.”

Her interest in him increased as she moved closer. “I have an aunt?”

“Of course,” Sark replied confused, though part of him wondered why the drink didn’t seem to be affecting her as well. Saying more than he thought he ought to, but then deciding that he didn’t care, he continued. “You have two, but no one really talks about Yelena. I don’t know why. How could you not know about your aunts?”


~~~

 

“Am I the puppet here, Lauren? Or is it possible that your mother’s jealousy and anger at her sisters could be manipulated for another end?”

Lauren’s face twisted into a rage. “It’s not fair that Sydney and her stupid sister control the key to the greatest power ever conceived. Why was Irina the chosen one? What makes her better than my mother? Nothing! What makes Sydney better than me? Absolutely nothing. She’s pathetic! And yet, she has everything that I never had.”

“Green is not a color that looks good on you dear,” Sark smiled and straightened his arm to prepare for the recoil.

Lauren blanched and fell to her knees. “Please love. You don’t want to do this, I swear. I thought we had something special. We can do this together.”

Sark lowered his arm so that the pistol stood an inch from her nose. “You’re just a pawn, Lauren. Just like me. But you’re working for your mother’s agenda which is a variable I don’t need. I’m not going to allow you to destroy the last thing I care about.”

“Come on, baby. You know I have certain talents that you’re fond of. I know how to make you scream with pleasure. You adore me, let’s just put this all behind us,” Lauren tilted her head up until the gun was gently pressing at her lips. Slowly, she opened her mouth and let her tongue slowly lick the tip of the pistol, suggestively.

Without another second of hesitation, Sark pulled the trigger.

After her body hit the ground and the bang from the shot finished reverberating around the room, Sark stooped over to pick up one of Vaughn’s dirty shirts from the floor, and started to wipe the blood spatter from the gun. When it was clean, he turned his gaze back to Vaughn who was still rooted to the same spot, with a look of horror twisting his face.

“Oh, come on Mr. Vaughn. Don’t tell me that you’re sorry I killed her.”

Vaughn reeled in shock from his voice and braced himself with one arm against the wall. He was staring fixedly at the dead body of his wife on the floor.

“What the hell was that all about?” Vaughn’s voice was haggard and unsteady.

Sark shrugged tiredly, the tension of the stakeout and completion of his mission, finally taking its toll. “It’s a long story, but ultimately her goal was to destroy Sydney and her entire family.”

Vaughn’s arm buckled and he collapsed against the wall, putting his face in his hands. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she betrayed me with you as well,” the bitterness tainting his voice and making it brittle.

Sark shook his head, not bothering to hide the pain and anger that warped his heart. “This is not the first time we’ve shared a wife, Mr. Vaughn.”

 

~~~

 

Sydney sat down in one of the silk-covered chairs, her wedding dress bunched up around her. “My…wow, my head is spinning,” she grinned at him.

Sark smiled. “Mine too. I think perhaps they spiked the wine with something?”

Sydney smiled shyly and then looked away. “I guess there’s a lot I don’t know about my family. Up until four months ago, I thought my mother had died in a car crash when I was six. Out of the blue, she showed up at the airport when I arrived in Paris; I was going to spend my summer backpacking around Europe. She told me this crazy story about having to fake her death thirteen years ago, how she was in hiding to protect me and my father…it still doesn’t all make sense. But I suppose neither does this Order of Rambaldi and prophecy business.”

Sark sat down in the chair next to her. “I suppose we’d might as well get comfortable since it looks like we’re going to be here for a week.”

Sydney looked around. “We could just leave; I don’t think he locked us in.”

“True,” Sark replied thinking about the situation. “But if we don’t want to raise suspicion just yet, then we should stay. I got the impression that the longer we could maintain this façade, the better. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can sneak around very well right now. I think we’re better off waiting until our heads clear.”


~~~

 

“What?” Vaughn shook his head, as if he didn’t understand what his ears were telling him.

Sark let the silence hang in the air, knowing that it was pointless to repeat himself.

“What do you mean we’ve shared wives before? That’s impossible.” Vaughn finally spat out in disgust, his body still shaking from dumping out its stomach’s contents into the corner of the room. “Are you talking about Sydney?” Vaughn’s voice increased in pitch as he strove forward and grabbed Sark by the collar. “Are you talking about Sydney?”

“Of course,” Sark answered quietly, cocking the gun again and aiming it at Vaughn’s torso. “Let me go, or I won’t hesitate to add your body to the count tonight.”

Vaughn eventually took a step back, but whether it was from fear of the threat or from shock, Sark was hard pressed to say. And though it always paid to understand people’s motivations, Sark had also learned along the way that sometimes in the end, it didn’t matter. As long as the person was inclined to do what you wanted them to.

Of course, that’s where he and Irina differed in their philosophies.

“You’re lying,” Vaughn accused him.

Sark laughed bitterly. “Many things in my life are a lie Mr. Vaughn. But that wasn’t one of them.”

 

~~~

 

Sydney fiddled with her hair, which Sark noticed was arranged intricately on top of her head. He watched as she tried to tug at something that was caught in it, but was unsuccessful with whatever she was trying to do.

“I don’t suppose you can give me hand?” she asked awkwardly. There was a mixture of shyness and yet determination in her face that he found intriguing.

“Of course,” he replied, standing up and moving beside her. “What do you need?”

She gestured to her hair. “The pins holding my hair up are killing me. Can you help me remove them? I think some of them are locked together and I can’t seem to get them out.”

Sark raised his eyebrow in amusement and then turned to look down at her hair. Sure enough, holding all the curls and strands in place, he could see a maze of hairpins. Gently moving some strands aside so he could get a better look, he realized why she was having so much trouble. Pins were arranged overtop of other pins interlocking them all together. “This is some kind of mind-teasing puzzle isn’t it?” he joked.

She laughed. “I suppose so. My mom put it up. I guess she wanted to make sure it was secure.”

He moved the lantern on the table so that the pins weren’t hidden in shadow. Eying the mess skeptically, and with a smile still on his face, he located the top most pin. While tugging at it to make it come free, she winced as her head moved along with it. Eventually he found the trick of holding down the other pins with his left hand and prying the pins loose individually with his fingers. They laughed and joked as every time he removed another one, he uncovered four more.

It was either the nearness and intimacy of this domestic nature or maybe the wine still buzzing around his head, that caused the heat rise to his face as he gently uncoiled a strand of hair and let it fall to her shoulders. He was suddenly glad that he was standing overtop of her and she couldn’t see his face.

At last, her hair was finally free and there was an amazingly large pile of hair pins on the table beside them. She laughed as he stepped away and they both looked at the pile.

“I counted them while you were taking them out. She put in one hundred and thirty-two pins.”

Sark smiled and shook his head. “Well, I got the sense that Irina liked to be absolutely sure of things.”

She turned to him quizzically. “Who?”

“Your mother,” he replied easily, not immediately understanding her confusion.

“But my mother’s name is Laura.”


~~~

 

“She would never marry you!” Vaughn replied indignantly.

Sark moved away from the wall that Vaughn had pinned him to. “It was ten years ago, before she was recruited to SD-6. Irina was finally free from KGB custody and anxious to protect her daughter against the Followers of Rambaldi. She had discovered information about the prophecy on page 47 and concocted this plan to protect her. As I’m sure you can imagine, if the Followers had discovered who she was, they would have spared nothing to hunt her down and kill her. By marrying her, I afforded her some protection. At least from them.”

Vaughn shook his head, disbelieving and snarling. “Sydney would never have agreed to it. Not if it meant marrying you.”

Sark’s face hardened in anger. “She would have had no reason to mistrust me then, and let me assure you, Irina played her like a fiddle. Showing up as her long lost mother that was actually still alive and trying to protect her. Of course she left out some key facts. But we were both relatively innocent back then and easy prey ...”

 

~~~

 

“I suppose I can understand why she would hide her real name. These people seem unnaturally powerful, considering.”

Sark nodded as he stood and started exploring their room. It seemed to have all the amenities they could possibly need, and a pair of silk robes were left on the bed so that they could change out of their formal clothing. “They do. I think they actually believe they might be able to bring this Rambaldi fellow back from the dead.”

Sydney smiled as she found a hairbrush on the dresser and started to brush out her hair. “So how did you come to live with my aunt?”

Sark loosened his tie and threw it on the bed. “I don’t get along with my father. After my mother died, I went back to my mother’s home town to see if I had any relatives. Katya was an old friend of my mother’s and she took me in.”

“I’m sorry about your mother.”

Sark shrugged. “It was a long time ago.”

Sydney stood up and moved beside him. “I know. But time doesn’t heal all wounds. I thought my mother was dead up until a short while ago so for most of my life, there’s been this hole in my heart for her. My father…well we don’t really talk much, either. He thinks that she’s still dead and he was just never the same after her death. He was always so distant from me after she died; I just started to avoid him so that I wouldn’t have to deal with him. Nothing I ever did has been good enough to make him bridge the gap between us. Your father was at the ceremony today. Does that mean the two of you have reconciled?”

He shook his head and looked at her. He fought the urge to reach out to her because he wasn’t sure how she would react. The feeling of intimacy swept through him again as he thought about her being his wife. He’d never pictured himself as tied to anyone, and though he hardly knew her, he suddenly found that he liked the idea. It was only through this connection between them that he realized exactly how lonely he’d been. And she seemed to understand the very things that had haunted him for so long. That they could be so similar and yet come from completely different worlds amazed him.

He smiled at her and took her hand in his. “The only reason I’ve spoken to my father recently was to get accepted into The Order so that this plan could work.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, watching their hands but making no move to pull away.

He looked back up at her. “Originally I did it because Katya asked me to, and I owe her. But I’m more than happy with that decision now, if it will keep you safe.”


~~~

 

Vaughn moved further away from him. “Why are you telling me all this? Are you going to kill me now?”

Sark sighed. “No. Eventually…probably, but not tonight unless you do something stupid. And if you manage to avoid being a complete cretin long enough to help protect Sydney, I may even make your future death quick and painless, when the time comes.”

Vaughn stared at him in the moonlight and sneered. “I can’t wait.”

Sark shrugged off the sarcasm. “Well, first I need to deal with someone. And since going up against Irina Derevko is never good for one’s life expectancy, I’d like to ensure that Sydney has as many allies as possible for whatever may come. As much as I hate you, you have a connection to the Followers as well. You can protect her.”

Vaughn shook his head in disbelief. “So, what? You’re turning over a new leaf?”

Sark glanced back at Lauren’s body lying on the floor and the blood seeping slowly into the carpet before looking back at Vaughn. “Not quite in the way you imagine, I’m sure.”

 

~~~

 

The light from the lantern flickered around them, but with her back to it, it had the effect of surrounding her in a warm glow. She gave him a smile and he was surprised at the slight tug of his heart. “This is probably not how you imagined your wedding taking place I’m sure,” he whispered, still holding her hand. It felt warm in his, and though there was no reason to keep holding it, he decided that he liked the weight of it.

She laughed to herself. “No, I’ll admit that. I pictured a wedding with all my friends there, and a big party.”

“Was there someone you had in mind?”

She shook her head ruefully. “No. Aside from the one guy I dated last year, I haven’t had quite the social life. That’s why I was on my way to tour Europe. Hopefully to meet people and get a little more comfortable in my skin before I head off to college in the fall. How about you? Are you with someone?” she laughed as the question escaped from her mouth. “We seem to be doing this all backwards.”

‘You’re right,” he laughed and then shook his head. “No, I’m not with anyone right now. Katya and I are pretty isolated much of the time…I can speak five languages though.”

She chuckled. “Well at least you’re keeping busy. I learned Spanish last year in high school and I really enjoyed it.”

He smiled and moved marginally closer to her. She didn’t back away, though her eyes widened as she looked up at his face. He leaned his face forward and gently kissed her on the mouth. His heart started hammering in his chest as her soft lips caressed his and then slowly opened, allowing him to deepen the kiss. After a moment, she moved away slightly breathless and smiled.

Gathering control over his own heartbeat, he led her away from the bed and back to the chairs letting her sit down and then moving his chair closer. “So tell me, what’s it like living in the United States?”


~~~

 

Vaughn eyed him wearily and then rubbed his eyes tiredly with his hands. Sark took the opportunity to pocket his gun and then turn towards the balcony.

“Why did Lauren do this?” Vaughn asked him quietly.

Sark wasn’t entirely sure if the question was directed at him but he was feeling slightly generous tonight now that there was one less thorn in his side. He turned back towards Vaughn who was now sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Everyone wants what they don’t have, Mister Vaughn. You should know that by now.”

Vaughn looked up at him, the moonlight glinting off of his dilated pupils “So what do you want, Sark?”

For a moment, Sark had to wrestle with the ghosts that suddenly perked up at the question and wanted to answer for him. They jumped around feverishly inside and around his head until he thought they were going to crush his skull.

…brown eyes looking up across from him on a luxurious bed, wide and warm and inviting…dark hair spread across a white silk pillow…a smile spreading across a pair of lips…

…Promise me Julian…

Sark clenched his hand so hard, he felt his nails dig into his palm. The voices finally receded back to their normal whispering, still more agitated than they’d been in a while, but at least no longer threatening to drive him mad instantaneously.

“I just want to live up to one promise that I made, a long time ago. I am a puppet in a play that needs to cut its strings and yet I realize that when I do, I stand a good chance falling limply to the floor. But that’s the only choice left to me now. Either cut the strings and be free or cut the strings and die, but I cannot continue to play the marionette.”

 

~~~

 

Sydney lay on her stomach, stretched out beside him on the bed, with her gown spread out around her.

“You know, you can change into one of the robes that they left here, if the dress is too cumbersome.”

She smiled and rolled onto her back, bringing her closer to him. “Actually I kind of like wearing it. I feel a bit like a princess…”

Sark’s face darkened slightly. “…and this is all just make believe anyways.”

She moved closer to him. “I didn’t mean…”

But he shook his head. “Neither did I, I’m sorry. You’re a remarkable woman Sydney. I just wish we’d met under different circumstances.”

She raised her hand and gently caressed his face. “But we are married…”

Sark felt his breath catch in his throat, his nervousness finally catching up with him. “Yes, but…”

She shushed him by placing a finger gently on his lips. “People used to have arranged marriages all the time, and I’m sure some of them actually found that they liked each other eventually.”

He smiled as her finger lingered on his mouth and a comfortable silence pooled between them. They had laughed and talked for the last few hours finding more in common than either of them had originally imagined. Looking into her warm eyes now, and how her dark hair fanned out around her, he brought up his hand and caressed the side of her face. She smiled in response and brought her own hand up into his hair and guided his face down to hers.

It was almost a relief to let himself be led and as his lips slid over hers, he was happy to give up any pretense of control. She opened her mouth underneath his and let his tongue inside, but never submitting completely. As he flicked his tongue against hers, she tightened the grip on his hair, pulling him in even further. When he broke the kiss to caress the side of her neck, she moaned softly in his ear.

He was almost surprised at her willingness to engage. It was so unlike what he was used to. In Katya’s household, he was always expected to be in complete control. And more often that not, that included learning how to manipulate people into doing what he or his guardian wanted. People were rarely willing to comply on their own.

This situation was so far removed from that, he almost wasn’t sure how to proceed. He wanted to touch her everywhere at all once and yet he was terrified of spoiling the mood when she would invariably pull back.

She broke apart from him, a little breathless and stared. “You ok?”

He nodded, unsure of how to respond. He just wanted to capture this moment in his mind forever.

Her face twisted in concern. “If you don’t like me, or don’t want to…nevermind.” She sat up and was about to move off the bed when he caught her wrist and stopped her.

“No. I swear, that’s not it. I’m just…I just really like you, Sydney. You’re incredible. You’re smart and beautiful and fearless…for the first time in a long time, you have me terrified of making a mistake with you. The situation between us is already so bizarre... does this make any sense?”

She smiled at him softly and moved back closer to him. “Of course,” she replied laying her hand on his arm. “Everything seems so surreal here. I was just worried that I was making a fool out of myself. I mean, I don’t really have that much experience with all this. Do you?”

“Of course,” Sark replied quickly not even thinking about his answer.

Sydney laughed. “You’re such a liar.”

He looked away trying to hide his face and the blush that was starting to rise. She reached out with her free hand and turned his face back towards her. “I don’t really know what I’m doing either. I mean, I did it with Dave last year, but to be honest it was over before I even really knew it began, if you know what I mean...”

“Well, I was trying to get in our maid’s pants before all this started, but then Katya caught us.”

“Oh no!” Sydney covered her mouth with her hand to hide her smile. “Was she angry?”

He nodded. “Yes, she fired the maid on the spot, but not because she was angry that we were half-undressed. She was angry with the maid for fooling around on the job. She called it the equivalent of stealing from her.”

This time, Sydney did laugh and Sark leaned over and gathered her in his arms and dragged her closer. “I’m glad I amuse you so,” he whispered into her ear.


~~~

 

Vaughn looked at him wearily. “Don’t expect me to feel any sympathy for you, Sark. You’ve gotten what you deserve and nothing more.”

Sark debated the pros and cons of a killing Vaughn tonight again, and found the list of pros increased by one. Still not enough to tip the balance, but almost enough for him to do it anyways.

“I still don’t believe you, though. Sydney would have told someone about this. She would have told me,” Vaughn continued, unaware of the tally growing increasingly against his favor.

Sark glared at him and snarled. “Because none of the women in your life have ever made a fool out of you before.” He tossed his head in Lauren’s direction.

Vaughn made a move forward again to attack him, but this time Sark was ready and had the pistol out before Vaughn could lay a hand on him.

“In Sydney’s defense, Mr. Vaughn, eight months ago wasn’t the first time her memory was altered. Irina couldn’t very well allow Sydney to return to the States with the knowledge that she was still alive, could she?” He watched as Vaughn’s expression darkened and couldn’t resist the extra taunt. “In case you missed my earlier reference to Lauren, you don’t even have any idea who she really is, do you? I suggest that if the CIA would like to arrest Yelena Derevko, that they head over to the mansion in Virginia, before I get there. She may or may not be willing to sell out Irina if she knows that she can’t destroy her sister herself.”

“Unlike you who are willing to sell everyone out tonight, right Sark?”

Sark would have pulled the trigger right then except for the ghost of the voice pointing out in his mind, that Vaughn was correct.

 

~~~

 

Her breath slowly tickled his ear and sent a shiver down his back. He continued following her throat down to her exposed collarbone with his lips, all the while with their fingers entwined together. Finally letting go of her hand, he ran his fingers across the beaded bodice of her gown, until he was gently cupping her breast. She moved slowly pressing herself further into his hand.

Wanting desperately to touch all of her as soon as possible, and frustrated with the non-elastic nature of the bodice, Sark moved his hand down her legs until he could slip it underneath her hem. The heat from her leg practically burned his hand. It felt alive, warm and very inviting. He let his hand travel up her leg, caressing her through her stockings. Looking back up to her face, he watched her close her eyes in enjoyment, only to open them again and beg him to kiss her. He could only comply, moving so that they both lay on their sides, facing each other. Bringing the hand up that he had been using to take his weight so he didn’t crush her; he cupped her breast again and then tried to claw at her dress.

“Help me out if it,” she whispered

She sat up and presented her back towards him and he was a little dismayed to see the long row of tiny buttons. “Your mother picked out this dress?”

She nodded and laughed. He forced himself to sit up and push his impatience aside for a moment so that he could concentrate on the task. The little loops holding the buttons were quite small, and he decided not designed very well for the night of a wedding. Finally after a few quiet moments, her dress opened revealing her long, smooth back. She shivered as he ran his fingers up and down her spine and then back up so that he could slide the shoulder straps off. She let the dress fall off her shoulders and then turned shyly towards him and let him look at her.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered to her in awe.

She twisted her lips in a coy smile. “And you’re still fully dressed.”

Sark quickly stood up and remedied that situation with little grace. His pants were discarded on the floor carelessly and it was only when he went to unbutton his shirt that he was forced to pause. Sydney was standing up as well, letting the gown fall to her feet. With a quiet elegance, she stepped out of the dress and walked over to him, reaching for his buttons to return the favor. Except with every button that she undid, she kissed the new, bare patch of skin that it exposed. Sark cursed himself for not thinking of that earlier.

When his shirt joined his pants on the floor, he took her hand and led her back towards the bed. Pausing to turn off all except one of the lanterns, Sark then crawled in next to her. Now, with only their underwear separating them, the tension started to quickly mount. He felt like he was becoming intoxicated just from the sheer heat of her body. His mouth was invariably drawn back to her breasts and taking one of her nipples in his mouth, he heard her groan through clenched teeth.

Though his experience with Olya had been cut short by her untimely termination, during that time, he was happy that he’d managed to learn a few tricks. He suckled Sydney’s nipple until she grabbed a hold of his hair and dragged him back up so that she could devour him with a kiss. He teased her other breast with his hand until she was shimmying her hips closer to his, begging him for more.

Trying desperately to control his lust that threatened to spiral widely out of control, he broke the kiss and lowered his lips to her belly. Working his way lower, and dragging her underwear and stockings down with him, he tossed them casually over his shoulder and then made his way back up between her legs.

And though he’d never been able to make Olya climax, he desperately wanted to be able to give this to Sydney. Gradually lowering his mouth to her, he started with gentle kisses, occasionally licking, tasting her and sucking until she widened her legs further and he was able to explore her with his hand as well. She trembled as he slowly put a finger at her opening and entered her while flicking her clitoris with his tongue. She wound her fingers through his hair again and couldn’t help moaning softly as he continued.

He could sense the tension in the muscles along her legs, so he inserted another finger inside of her. She felt so tight, and her smell and taste threatened to make him lose control once again, but he could feel the strain within her threatening to break free. He clamped down in his own need and started to suck a little stronger. She arched her back and as he moved his fingers in and out of her, her body finally shuddered around him and she threw her head back in a scream.

“Oh, my god…” she whispered quietly as he moved back up towards her. When she opened her eyes and saw him, she forcefully kissed him and brought him closer to her.

“Please Julian,” she murmured, pushing down his underwear as far as she could reach. “Please. Come here.”

He quickly removed his underwear and let himself be steered overtop of her so that he was lying between her legs. He could feel the heat and wetness from her and when she guided him into her, he could barely refrain from not making her second experience any longer than her first.

“Sydney…” he moaned incoherently as he felt the most incredible sensations that he’d ever felt. Her warmth seemed to envelop him and drug him until he couldn’t refrain from wanting to drive into her as hard as he could.

“It’s ok, Julian… please…”

He kissed her violently and finally gave into his lust, thrusting in and out of her, as her hips rose to meet him every time. Finally he lost all coherence as he bucked and exploded within her, convulsing and shuddering.

He collapsed on top of her, and for many minutes, they just lay there, panting against each other.

“I’m sorry love,” he whispered when was finally able to form a rational though. “I couldn’t…I wanted to last…you are so amazing.”

She shushed him with a delicious whisper against his ear. “We have all week.”

He rolled off of her and immediately wrapped her up in his arms and held her tightly, never wanting to let go again.


~~~


Sark moved closer to Vaughn so that they were only inches apart. “But that’s what tonight is all about Mr. Vaughn. Dealing with betrayal.”

“So I suppose that Sydney should feel some measure of debt towards you now, since you’re trying to honor some promise that you made to her ten years ago?”

Sark shook his head. “No. I broke every promise and vow that I ever made to her.” Vaughn tried to shove him away, but instead Sark pushed closer. “No, this promise is one I made to Irina.”

 

~~~

 

“Are you stupid? What possessed you to go looking for her?” Irina’s face contorted in anger.

Sark tried to control his anger enough to answer, but he could only form incomplete thoughts. “You didn’t have to take her away from me. I can protect her as well!”

This time, Irina’s anger dissolved as she started to laugh cruelly. “Do you hear that Katya? He thinks he can protect her as well. What did you do, Julian? Drink the wine they gave you at the ceremony?”

Sark froze, feeling the flush blaze across his cheeks.

Irina only started to laugh harder when she saw it, though there was a very bitter sound to it as well. “You did, didn’t you? And I thought Katya taught you better than that.”

He tried to formulate some kind of denial or response, but Irina just shrugged her shoulders. “No matter. So you think you love her? Then listen close to me. There are members of The Order that will still kill her on sight if they ever see her again.”

“Well if you had just let us finish out our week there, none of them would have known.”

Katya glared at him from across the room. “There are factors that you don’t understand, Julian. If you care about her, then you need to treat her like she’s nothing to you. ”

“I could have helped protect her!” Sark cried out in frustration.

Irina’s smile twisted brutally. “Promise me Julian, that you’ll always love her. Because then you’ll stay away from her and do what I say. She’s been recruited by Arvin Sloane now,” Irina stated matter-of-factly, turning back towards her sister.

Katya gasped in surprise. “Do you think Yelena is behind that?”

Irina shrugged bitterly. “She does have Christophe wrapped around her little finger. You should have let me kill her when they let me out. I still think she’s the reason he stole her from me.”

Snippets of conversation that didn’t make any sense to him, flowed around him, but he was too angry to pay them much attention.

Looking away, Katya finally broke the silence. “What are you going to do?”

Irina started pacing around the office. “There are contacts that I have, resources that I can use. Alexander Khasinau still works for K-Directorate, I can use him. Julian can garner intel from the Followers. At the end of it all, whoever can gather enough of Rambaldi’s artifacts can exert a certain amount of power over all these factions. I think it’s the only way.”

“He’s too young—” Katya started to say before she was interrupted by her sister.

“No, Katya. He will come with me. I’ll obviously need to train him a great deal more, but I will need people I can trust and I will need to know what the Followers are doing. He can help me. Besides, he is my son-in-law now, after all.”


~~~

 

“You have a connection to the Order, through you father. Use it.” Sark pulled out an envelope from his pocket and shoved it towards Vaughn. “Inside is a list of names, of other members of the Order than you can trust. My father gave it to me before I had him killed. He helped Sydney during the last two years. These people will help you, help her.”

“Why are you doing this?” Vaughn shook his head trying to understand.

“Part of the truth is that ten years ago, Irina wasn’t trying to protect Sydney, she was trying to use me. When the Followers discovered that they’d agreed to protect the woman that was supposed to destroy the Passenger, they fractured. Half wanted to kill her, the other half wanted to protect her. She intended for them to find out. It was through their splintering that Irina was able to get her hands on so many artifacts. She betrayed me. She made me betray my father…” Sark let his voice trail off. There was no room in him for regret, so it was pointless to dwell on what couldn’t be changed.

“The only thing that Irina, Sloane, The Covenant, and the Followers have in common is that they want to find Sydney’s sister. She’s the key to bringing Rambaldi back. Obviously each one of those groups wants to use The Passenger themselves. None of them, except for the list of people I gave you, want Sydney around, after she’s helped to locate her. The prophecy about Sydney says that she will destroy Rambaldi’s greatest work. I think that the real irony is that the all those people are going to be responsible for bringing about the Chosen One. I will be because of their actions that I think Sydney will eventually destroy them, especially when she discovers the truth.”

“She saw Mount Subasio…” Vaughn tried to offer.

Sark shook his head. “Does she remember? Will she remember? Never forget for a moment that since childhood she’s been brainwashed so that she can be controlled. Irina, Katya, Yelena, Sloane, The Covenant, half the Followers; everyone’s been trying to use her and yet they all, ultimately want her dead because she threatens the power that they want. If any of them catch her again, there’s no predicting what they’ll do. In their ignorance, they may erase her memory completely to stop her from fulfilling the prophecy. More than likely though, they’ll just try and kill her outright.”

Walking towards the balcony door, Sark opened it and let the cool early morning air wash over him. The neighborhood was still deserted but the light of early dawn was starting to streak across the sky.

“Where are you going?” Vaughn asked from behind him.

Sark turned back one last time. “Once Nadia is found, Sydney will be in danger. If I’m successful, then your list of enemies will be reduced by one. If I’m not, then all I can tell you to do is take her, and run.”

 

~~~

 

Walking down the street, with his collar upturned, hiding his face in shadows, Sark pondered the path ahead of him. At least the upturn of the last few events was that if he survived the next few days, he might someday find Sydney looking at him with something other than distain in her eyes. Either Vaughn would tell her the truth and she would hate the messenger, or Vaughn wouldn’t and she’d find out eventually and hate him even more.

And if he survived long enough, maybe Sydney would one day see in him again, everything that she saw when they first met. That was the last piece of hope that he clung to.

 

“I think I’m falling in--,” he said, lazily running his hand along her side until she stopped his words with a soft hand over his mouth.

“Don’t say it,” She just looked at him kindly, “You hardly know me.”

“Yes, but there’s just something about you, that makes me truly happy for probably the first time in my life.”

“Well, then promise me something,” she whispered looking into his face. “Promise me, we won’t let this become the façade that it was meant to be. Promise me, that not all of this is a lie.”

“I promise,” he replied.

 

He’d lied. He hadn’t been able to stop it from turning into just a faded dream that might or might not sometimes enter into her subconscious. He hadn’t been able to make it more than just a half glimpse of another life that could have been possible, if only he’d had the courage to go against Irina from the start.

He should have gone looking for her.

Instead, he had gone to work for Irina and she turned him into a killer. Took him under her wing and trained him. Taught him to believe that nothing else mattered except doing what had to be done.

As a result, instead of love, he found death. He killed hundreds of people for her. He killed his father for her. A man he had hated and used, but that in the end had tried to protect Sydney when he’d been unable to. Somehow, the reasons no longer seemed to justify the actions.

 

“Promise me, Julian…”

 

Irina, who had forced him to come to some kind of terms with his father in the first place just so she could use their connections to The Order.

Irina who had put him in a position to fall in love with Sydney, only so that she could then use that love to manipulate him. And then when Sydney was no longer useful, she would use him to kill her.

Irina. To whom everyone and everything was expendable as long as she achieved her goal.

 

“Promise me Julian, that you’ll always love her.” Irina’s mocking laugh, still echoed in his thoughts.

 

Sark once again made his silent promise to Irina. He loved Sydney and he was no longer going to allow her to mock that promise.

Shivering in the cool air, Sark realized that the ghosts in his head were silent for once.


The End.