Sydney jumped up as Vaughn came back into the room. "What did he say?"
Vaughn looked pensive. "You're cleared to tell them as much as necessary. You'll have to get them both to sign confidentiality agreements."
Sydney nodded, feeling suddenly apprehensive. She had clearance to tell Will and Francie the truth... but how could she possibly do that? How was she going to explain to them that she'd been lying to them all these years?
"Any word on the men who attacked my dad?" she asked.
"Marshall's following a lead." Vaughn hesitated with his hand on the doorknob. "You want me to come in with you?" he offered.
She shook her head. "No. I need to do this alone."
She entered the interview room where Will and Francie were both sitting. They jerked upright at the sound of the door, looking relieved to see her. She wasn't sure how long that was going to last.
"Syd... what's going on?" Will said plaintively.
Start simple. "Those men weren't federal agents," she said. "They were hired mercenaries, and their target was my dad."
"Your dad works for the CIA," Will said slowly, the words somewhere between a statement and a question.
Francie let out a snort of disbelief as Sydney nodded. Which meant this next part was really going to blow her mind. Sydney took a deep breath. "And so do I."
For a moment they were both babbling at her too frantically for her to even work out what they were saying. Francie's voice was the one that won out.
"You work for the CIA?" she said. She spread her hands, gesturing loosely. "As in... James Bond, international espionage and stuff?"
"And stuff," Sydney said with an awkward grin, and ducked her head as she tucked her hair behind her ear. "They recruited me in the fall of my freshman year."
Will stared at her. "You've been a spy the whole time that I've known you?"
"How could you not tell us?" Francie demanded.
"I couldn't tell anyone!" Sydney said, willing them both to understand. "It's the first rule that they taught us. You never tell anyone - not your family, not your friends, not your spouse... nobody. I didn't even know my dad worked for the same people until a year ago."
Will connected the dots that she didn't want him to join. "Danny," he said quietly. "The SD-6 story. That was CIA business?"
"What?" Francie turned to look at him.
"I told him something I shouldn't," Sydney said. "And he paid the price." Even now, tears threatened to squeeze from her eyes at the thought. Poor, sweet Danny. He'd deserved so much better. How could she ever have been so stupid?
Both her friends were sobered. "So all those business trips...?" Francie said, extending a hand.
"Business trips," Sydney confirmed, with a heavier emphasis.
"And the bank was never a bank," Will said flatly. Sydney couldn't read how he was taking this.
"You have no idea how much I've wanted to talk to you guys about my life sometimes," she said desperately. "But it's so dangerous... I couldn't make that choice for you."
"And yet... here we are," Will said.
There was a long, awkward pause, and then Francie took a deep breath. "Okay," she said. "I just... want to know one thing."
Sydney nodded earnestly.
And then Francie cracked a smile. "Did you guys really pull an alien out of the Roswell crash?"
They all started to laugh, and like the sun coming up, Sydney knew they were going to be okay.
"Believe me, with some of the things we've been asked to investigate?" she said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they'd looked." They would probably never know how true that was.
Then Sydney noticed something that had somehow escaped her attention until now. She cocked her head and studied her friends curiously. "Are you guys... holding hands?"
Dixon shifted aside to make room for Sydney around Marshall's computer. "Anything?" she asked. She exchanged an unreadable glance with her father where he stood off to one side before turning her attention back to the screen.
"The order Marshall intercepted was sent through an operative that Sark says he knows as Bishop," Dixon supplied. "We've identified him as Rodrigo Martinez. Marshall's checking his call record through Echelon now."
"I might have something," Marshall said a moment later. He highlighted a call with a timestamp that was minutes before Bishop had sent out the order and put it on speaker.
"Mr Martinez," a woman's voice said. It was accented: Russian; Dixon didn't recognise the speaker, but he thought he saw Jack stiffen subtly. "A delivery job for you. Your usual rate."
"The recipient?" Martinez asked.
"CIA Agent Jack Bristow," the woman articulated clearly. Dixon saw Sydney's jaw clench.
"Any special requirements?"
"This package requires extra careful handling." Code of some sort, probably referring to Jack's formidable field skills. "And Rodrigo?" The woman's voice changed from briskly businesslike to warmly flirtatious. "Be a good boy this time."
Martinez laughed. "Believe me," he said, "I know better than to cross a Derevko."
The woman laughed longer and more heartily, and hung up the phone. Marshall bit his thumbnail and looked up at them pensively.
Dixon folded his arm. "That's not Irina," he said, though most of the people in the room had no need to hear him inform them of that.
"She has sisters," Jack said darkly. "Elena and Yekaterina." He turned on his heel and strode out of the room.
"By checking Echelon logs of previous calls between Martinez and his contact, we were able to ID her as Yekaterina Derevko, now known to go by the nickname of Katya," Kendall said. Sydney was glad to be getting this briefing from him rather than Sloane - or her father. The confrontation she'd intended to have with him last night might have been delayed, but it was no means forgotten. She shot him a dark look across the table.
"We're operating under the current assumption that Irina and Katya Derevko are allies, if not part of the same organisation," Kendall continued.
"Just because they're family doesn't mean they're necessarily on the same side," Sydney butted in.
Kendall looked sour, but didn't contradict her. "Regardless of her current allegiances, we have confirmation from Sark that Katya and Irina have worked together in the past, and it's likely that she has valuable intel on her sister's operations. Additionally, the fact that she made a move against one of this task force's key operatives implies that she's a player on the Rambaldi market. She is also," he said pointedly, "another potential candidate for the woman on page forty-seven."
Sydney barely concealed the urge to roll her eyes. Not that again. How many more people were the CIA going to try and shoehorn into that ridiculous prophecy?
"What about the third sister?" Weiss sat forward. "Elena?"
"Sark claims never to have met her or heard Irina mention her." Kendall looked like he wasn't quite thrilled to be relying on Sark as a source. "It's possible the sisters are estranged, or that she's a silent partner in their cartel. She may even be dead. At this stage, we have no information."
"Did Sark give us a lead on Katya's location?" Dixon asked.
"He gave us two possible sites, one of which shows signs of activity on the satellite imaging," Kendall said. "It's too heavily guarded to take with a tactical assault team, so we intend to infiltrate by stealth and gain access to the computer system in order to confirm the presence of Katya Derevko and anticipate her next move."
Sydney straightened up, keen to be on that team. She had to admit, she was intrigued by the idea of meeting her aunt. Would Katya be just like her mother? If so, what kind of childhood must the Derevko sisters have had?
Perhaps not so different from the one that she'd had. Her face tightened. Her father had trained her to be a spy, programmed her to live this life as if she were just another test subject in his CIA project. Was that all she'd ever been to her parents? A cover story for her mom and an experiment for her dad? Had either of them ever actually given a damn about her as their child, or had she just been another piece for them to move about the chess board?
After the briefing she followed her father into his office and closed the door fiercely behind them.
"Sydney-" he began, tone halfway patronising, as if he was about to admonish her for her childish behaviour.
"No." Sydney pointed a warning finger at him. "You do not get to talk to me. You do not get to say anything to me. I know about Project Christmas."
"It was a CIA-approved project," he said, as if that proved something, as if that had any relation to why she was angry.
"Did they give you approval to test it on me?" she demanded.
No answer. And the apprehensive look on his face was as good as an admission of guilt.
"I trusted you!" she burst out, then interrupted herself with a sharp hand gesture. "No. I didn't need to trust you, that's not something you're supposed to have to think about with your parents, that's not something you should have to question. You were my father. You should have been looking after me. Why would it have occurred to me that you weren't looking after me?"
"Sydney..." her father said beseechingly. She didn't cut him off this time, and just as she suspected, his words trailed off. He had nothing to say.
"What, Dad?" she said flatly, folding her arms. "What can you possibly think you can say that would justify what you did to me?"
"It was for your own protection," he said. God. Still defending himself, as if he believed he'd been right. Any apology he could make would have been totally inadequate, but it still burned that it didn't even occur to him to try. Sydney shook her head in disgust.
"I've seen your idea of protection, Dad," she said. "And I don't want it anywhere near me. You're no better than Sloane, you know that? He lied to me, but you didn't even give me a choice."
She stormed out, and tried to pretend that the way she was shaking was pure rage.
"What's going on, Jack?" Dixon studied Jack's face, though looking for clues there was like trying to read Braille through an oven glove.
"Irina Derevko is apparently escalating her offensive against us," Jack said, deliberately missing the point of the enquiry.
Dixon ignored the attempt at deflection. "Sydney's upset," he said softly.
Jack looked him directly in the eye. "No doubt it's difficult for her to confront the evidence of her mother's murderous impulses," he said.
"With you," Dixon corrected.
Jack's jaw shifted a fraction. "Sydney is often upset with me." The words were matter-of-fact, but behind them was a very subtle undercurrent of pained despair.
No matter how strong his loyalties to Syd, as a father Dixon couldn't help but empathise with Jack when they fought. And this, he could tell, was much worse than their usual conflicts.
"Not like this." Dixon shook his head. "Jack... whatever this is, you need to fix this."
"I'll take that under advisement," Jack said flatly. He turned his attention back to his paperwork, a clear dismissal. Dixon debated saying more, but knew it would get him nowhere. He left with a silent sigh.
That hard-line Bristow stubbornness that worked miracles in the field was disastrous when they turned it on each other. Sydney, he knew, wouldn't start to unbend until Jack made some move to apologise; and Jack, seeing Sydney unbending, would conclude that there was no point making an approach.
This was going to be a long, hard frosty spell.
"Hey." Vaughn lurked in the doorway as Sydney geared up for her mission to Katya's compound. "You okay?" he asked softly.
She turned a smile on him that looked genuine, but he knew that it didn't prove anything. "I'm fine," she said, checking the straps on her bulletproof vest.
"You spoke to your dad?"
She whirled to face him, the words apparently dying to burst out. "He didn't even try to explain himself!" she said. "He has no justification. He just hid this, and hid this, and now that I've found out, he acts like it was for my own good!"
"Maybe he really thought that?" Vaughn said, with a weak shrug. He couldn't imagine teaching spy skills to a tiny child for any reason, but then again, he wasn't Jack Bristow.
Sydney closed her eyes and shook her head bitterly. "My dad can justify anything as being for my own good," she said. "It never even occurs to him that I have a right to make decisions about what's happening in my own life." She turned away from him. "I'm just sick of all the lies. My whole family is built on lies. Now I've even got an aunt I've never met before playing head games. I'm just another piece on the game board to all of them."
Vaughn was guiltily aware that he was one of the people lying to her. Not about anything important, not about the truth of who he was, but would she ever understand that, if she learned that he'd never even told her his real name?
"Syd," he said, not sure what he was going to say before he said it. But before he could find out, she finished with her task and spun around to face him.
"I'm ready," she said, jaw set. "Let's get this done."
The moment where he might have told his secret drained away, and he let it go. It would have been a terrible time to drop it on her, anyway, when she was still reeling from the news of her father's betrayal.
There would be other opportunities. He had all the time in the world to let her know the truth. There was no need to rush it.