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A Twist of the Knife

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Vaughn eventually traced Syd to the local train station. He remembered something she'd once said about liking to watch normal people going about their normal lives. She was sitting curled up with her knees pulled in tight to her chest, her eyes tracking people through the crowds until they disappeared from view.

There were things he could say, but none of them were adequate - I heard, I'm sorry, are you all right? - so he just sat down beside her and let his head tilt her way. "Hey," he said gently.

She gave him a small, tremulous smile that was maybe the most heartbreaking thing of all.

For a while, they both just watched the people. It was after a big blond bear of a man had hoisted his two giggling daughters up in the air and run off with them that Sydney finally spoke.

"Do you know how long it's been since I last hugged my father?" she said, still not looking at him.

Vaughn didn't answer.

She let out a weak laugh that was one breath away from being a sob and tucked back her hair. "Neither do I," she said. "I must have been about twelve or thirteen or something. Maybe he, he came home for my birthday, or bought me a new dress... I don't even know! All those years we didn't... we barely even talked, and then things were better, but there was always, there was always something..." She shook her head.

"You can't blame yourself," Vaughn said quietly. He laid his hand on her shoulder. Jack Bristow hadn't been an easy man to get close to. Even Jack would have agreed that.

It was still almost impossible to believe he could be gone. Vaughn had privately expected that Jack would outlast all of them. He was immortal, unchanging, part of the geology. More of a force of nature than a man.

But of course, that had been just an illusion. In the end, Jack had been just as fragile as any of them.

"Someone is to blame," Sydney said. She turned fierce eyes on him. "Someone brought that plane down. I will find out who did this, and I will hunt them to the ends of the Earth."

Vaughn was in no position to throw stones at that particular quest. He just gave her a sad smile. "You know I'll do whatever you need," he promised.

The lack of argument undid Sydney, and he saw her face crumple as she fought to hold back tears. He pulled her into a tight hug.

"I just thought we'd have more time," she said despairingly.

"I know," Vaughn said. He rested his chin on her shoulder. "I know."

Faces were sombre as they gathered in the Ops Centre for the briefing on the information that they'd learned about the plane crash. Dixon wasn't sure it was strictly truthful to say Jack had been well-liked at the CIA, but he'd certainly been well-respected, and his death had shaken everybody. It was a sobering reminder that even the most experienced agent could find their luck run dry at any moment.

And for some, of course, it was much more than that. His eyes sought out Sydney's, but she was intensely focused on the overhead screens, only her pale cheeks betraying the grief underlying her determination.

Even Kendall was more grim than usual, though it showed only in the depth of the frown lines etched into his forehead. "We now know that the plane's original pilot was sedated and replaced with a ringer shortly after Sloane and Bristow left for the bar," he said. "Since our only concern at the time was maintaining custody of Sloane, no procedures were in place for confirming the identity of the pilot before takeoff." From his grimace, Dixon could tell he was kicking himself for that fact, even though the hijacking was nothing they could have foreseen.

"Do we have an ID on the replacement pilot?" Weiss asked soberly. He and Vaughn both seemed years older as they flanked Sydney like silent guardians.

Kendall shook his head. "The body of the hijacker was too badly damaged to attempt ID by conventional means." Meaning no fingerprints, no intact dentalwork, and no face left to run through the database. "Based on analysis of the wreckage, there was an explosive placed directly under the pilot's chair, presumably detonated as a failsafe when the hijacking was discovered mid-flight."

"Bringing the flight down and conveniently destroying the evidence," Sydney said, with an uncomfortable degree of venom.

"How did Agent Bristow become aware of the hijacking in progress?" Dixon asked, mostly to fill the hanging silence.

"According to Sloane's testimony, they both noticed a deviation from the plane's original flight path, and attempted to approach the pilot, triggering an explosion when Jack kicked in the cabin door." There was a subtle ripple of discomfort around the table as Kendall slipped and broke the unspoken covenant of talking of Jack in as detached terms as possible. "The footage we received from the hidden camera - which Sloane is still unaware of the existence of - appears to corroborate his story."

Dixon glanced sideways at Sydney, wondering if she would challenge Sloane's word, but her mouth remained a thin, tight line. "Is Sloane a suspect?" he asked in her place.

"For the moment, he's low down on the list," Kendall said. "The substitution of the pilot took place shortly after the flight landed; Sloane had no input into the scheduling of the mission and no obvious opportunity to make contact with an outside partner before reaching the bar. Additionally, reanalysis of the footage shows no evidence that he knew to anticipate the explosion."

Dixon wondered if he was the only one who felt the silence where Sydney would ordinarily have leaped in to insist that Sloane could have arranged it but been double-crossed by his partner.

"Did we pull any images of the hijacker off the hidden camera?" Vaughn asked, sitting forward.

All attention shifted to a pasty-faced Marshall, who looked alarmingly close to bursting into tears. He managed to constrain himself to professionalism, bringing up pictures on the screen with none of his usual hyperactive excitement.

"Unfortunately, um, the hijacker kept his face away from the camera most of the time while he was walking towards the cockpit, so, er, this is the best shot we were able to retrieve." The image had captured only a tiny sliver of the man's profile, enough to show a clean-shaven jaw, dark hair and medium skin tone, but at a poor angle to give any real guide to the shape of his features. Marshall brought up a generic-looking computer model of a male face.

"We did some calculations on the angles to work out an approximated facial structure," he said, gesturing at it. "We're running it through the database now, but, um, we only have a small number of datapoints to work with, so it's going to be kind of an epic process of elimination." He gave a jerky shrug.

"However," he added in a blurt, "we did extract one other identifying detail from the video." He didn't look particularly triumphant as he brought up another shot where the man's head was completely turned away, zoomed in on the blurry left hand, and then showed a cleaned up, filtered version.

Where the mark tattooed on the flesh between forefinger and thumb was clearly visible. A deceptively simple little symbol, a circle in between two angle brackets.

The mark of Rambaldi.

Vaughn let out his breath in a disgusted huff. "They have to have been after Sloane," he said.

"And my father was just collateral damage," Sydney said coldly. She stood up.

Kendall gave her a warning eyebrow. "Agent Bristow, we don't know for sure who among the Rambaldi cultists set this up."

It was hard to tell if he was aiming for reassurance or rebuke, but neither one hit home. Sydney held herself with a stiff dignity Jack himself would have been proud to match. "But we know who's top of the suspect list, don't we?" she said, cocking her head. They all did, but she said it anyway. "My mother."

She turned around and stalked out of the room.

Nobody stopped her.

It was a by-the-numbers funeral, only nominally religious, largely impersonal. Sydney doubted her father would have wanted a big production, and in truth, she wouldn't have known what else to add anyway. She was painfully aware in talking to the minister how little she truly knew about her father.

She knew what he was like under fire, the quality of his marksmanship, how quickly he could defuse a bomb; she had no idea what kind of music he liked, what kind of books he read, if he even had any hobbies. There was a piano in his apartment, but she didn't know how long it had been since it had last been touched. It would have felt dishonest somehow to mention it, painting a picture of a Jack Bristow that no one at his funeral would even recognise.

She'd given the minister a collection of meaningless clichés. Harsh but fair. Devoted to his job. Drove himself hard. She'd had nothing to say herself, and who else could she ask to speak? Sloane? Her father had no other family or friends that she knew of. Dixon, bless him, had offered to do a reading, and so had Will, papering over the awkward gaps in the generic ceremony.

The church was filled out with her friends, coming together to support her. Maybe that was why she hadn't blocked Sloane's appeal to be allowed to attend the funeral. He and Emily were the only ones who were really there for her father's own sake, rather than just for Sydney's.

Emily approached her after the service, and pulled her into a tight hug. "Oh, Sydney," she said. "I'm so sorry." Sydney felt the tears that she'd kept in throughout the whole ceremony squeeze out against her soft shoulder.

They dried as she pulled back and saw Sloane watching her, his face a convincing mask of sorrow. She knew it meant nothing. She eyed him coldly, silently warning him not to even think about trying to enter her personal space. For a change, he didn't, perhaps as wary as she of making an awkward scene in front of Emily.

It seemed like she was always doomed to spend her life orbiting the same points as Arvin Sloane, unable to get away from him no matter what she did.

Though he didn't step closer, of course he wouldn't be Sloane if he could let the moment pass without saying something.

"Your father was never a very demonstrative man," he said. "He struggled to show his emotions even before the blow of losing your mother. But he loved you. Very deeply." He met her eyes. "And I know that in his final moments, he was thinking of you."

He intended the words to touch her heart.

As Sydney turned and stalked away, tears stinging her eyes, she couldn't help but hate herself a little for the fact that they did.

"I'm worried," Francie said, shaking her head.

"Me too," Will said, leaning back against the kitchen counter. There was no need for either of them to clarify what about.

It was no surprise that Sydney was taking her dad's death hard. Will knew that it would have devastated her even if the two of them hadn't made the steps towards reconciliation they had in the last year or two. Strained as their relationship had been at times, Syd had always been a daddy's girl at heart, and her father had been all the family she had in the world.

Or so Will and Francie had always thought. It had been mind-boggling to learn that Sydney's mother was still alive, that she'd never been Laura Bristow at all but a Russian spy sent to steal US secrets. Will's heart had ached at the thought of Sydney dealing with that revelation all alone for months. He couldn't imagine how Jack had lived with it for decades. No wonder he'd always been so closed off.

But it hurt to see Sydney going the same way.

"You know, I used to wonder how they could possibly be related," Francie said, nibbling nervously on the leftovers from the mountain of food she'd insisted on making for after the funeral. "Now I wonder how I could possibly have wondered."

Will nodded morosely. Ever since the news of Jack's death, Sydney seemed to have just shut herself down. Not in a breakdown, overwhelmed by grief, but rather into icy cold efficiency. She'd barely cried at the funeral, and had quickly ducked away from any attempts to comfort her. Throwing herself into work was nothing new with Sydney, but always before she'd been able to leave the job behind when she was at home, relax and unwind. Now she seemed to regard resting and refuelling as necessary evils to be gotten out of the way as swiftly as possible.

Even when Danny had been killed, she'd taken solace in the company of her friends. Now she seemed determined to go it alone.

And Will wasn't sure he liked the thought of where she was going.

"She's working like this to try and catch Jack's killer," he said. Though they knew the truth about Syd's job now, the details of operations were still classified - but it was pretty obvious that Jack's death hadn't been a simple accident. Sydney wouldn't be driving herself so hard if she didn't believe there was someone to blame.

And Will had a bad feeling about who that might be. Before, despite everything, Sydney had always had a wistful note when she talked about her mother; a poorly suppressed hope that someday, somehow, her mom's actions might turn out to be vindicated. That note was gone now. Since Jack's death, all he'd seen in her eyes when she talked about her mother was cold, hard hatred.

If Sydney's mother had killed her father, there was nothing that could happen when Sydney caught up to her that wouldn't leave Sydney utterly shattered. And Will was no longer as naïve as he'd been after Danny's death to assume he was in any way near qualified to help pick up the pieces.

"I just wish there was something we could do to help," Francie said softly.

Will slipped his arm around her waist. "Me too," he said, resting his chin on her shoulder and closing his eyes.

It felt strange to be giving a briefing to a room without Jack Bristow. The man had been a damn pain in the ass, but he'd also been the team's most senior agent and an excellent tactician. In his absence, Kendall found the burden of command weighed more heavily on his shoulders. Jack hadn't just been experienced, he'd had personal insight into both Sloane and Derevko, and the loss of that intel and perspective was a serious blow to their task force.

But they couldn't afford to be knocked reeling. If Derevko beat them to assembling the pieces of Il Dire, the results could be catastrophic on a global scale. The world couldn't stop for the loss of one agent, no matter how valued.

However, for some it was a greater blow than others, which was why he'd chosen to assign this mission to Vaughn and Dixon.

"According to Sloane, Pearce-Hamilton agreed to drop the information on the Rambaldi Keystone in a storage locker at a train station in Zurich," he told them. "Unfortunately, delivery of the locker key is contingent on Jack or Sloane being there personally." Kendall grimaced. "Of course, the arrangements for the drop were agreed in code, so we have no way of verifying whether Sloane is on the level."

"You think he's pulling a fast one?" Weiss asked, sitting forward.

This was exactly where Jack's personal insight would have come in handy. In lieu of that, he had to fall back on Jack's previous readings of Sloane's motivations - which, if he was honest, he'd never been one hundred percent convinced by.

"With Jack gone and Derevko apparently gunning for him, the playing field has changed," he said. "Sloane may feel that it's no longer in his interest to continue working with the CIA. However, if he runs now, he'll be forced to abandon both his wife and his access to our collection of Rambaldi artefacts." And no matter what Jack had said, Kendall was pretty sure the latter of those was the one that counted. "Our biggest concern, therefore, is that he'll attempt to use the occasion of the drop to make contact with an ally. To that end, I'm assigning Dixon-"

He broke off as Sydney Bristow swept into the room, her jaw set with determination. "You're sending Sloane to Zurich," she said, stalking to a halt in front of him.

Grieving daughter or not, he couldn't afford to indulge her temper tantrums about Sloane. "We need the location of the Keystone if we're going to get the jump on Derevko in assembling Il Dire," he said.

Her eyes flashed. "I want to be on that mission."

Technically, there was no reason why she shouldn't be. It was low risk surveillance, and no one had officially revoked her field status. And Kendall knew better than anyone that the smartest thing to do when Sydney Bristow had it in her head to do something was to step the hell out of the way.

He just hope she was pointed in a direction that would benefit them, and not about to go off half-cocked on some revenge mission of her own.

They'd already lost one Bristow. He didn't want to lose another.