Title: Interlude

Author: Robin

Rating: PG

Timeline: Immediately after "Trust Me" (Season 2 Episode 2)

Summary: Jack and Sydney pause for a moment.

Disclaimer: Are you kidding? JJ owns them and that makes me happy! Hearing all the actors talk about him on the Declassified DVD has made me all the happier to know that he's at the helm. I just want to play in his world and with his characters for a moment. I'll return them not much worse off for the wear. :)

Ship: A ship would drown in all the Jack Daniel's floating around in this fic.

CM, please feel free to archive. All others please ask first. Thank you.

A/N: Thank you to Nanda for her beta and for asking for more and for providing the plot bunny (Syd and Jack in a bar) in the first place.

Thank you to Diana and Thorne for their beta services. Oh, and I must thank Thorne--queen of titles--for her help in picking a title, too.

And thanks to Mai for catching me and telling me she liked it when I was having that pre-posting-worry moment.

***

The bar was crowded and full of smoke. It was hard to make out anyone in the dim light, but Sydney had grown used to searching for people in such places over the last few years. Fortunately, she wasn't wearing the outfits she usually wore during surveillance. As soon as she could, she gotten out of the skin-tight leather and black wig she'd had worn earlier and was now in a comfortable pair of jeans and a pony tail.

Sydney slid into a seat next to her quarry. "Jack Daniel's," she told the bartender whose name tag told her to drink responsibly and that his name was Chris. Her father glanced in her direction, and she shrugged. "I feel like drinking, too."

Jack said nothing. He sipped from his own glass of bourbon, and Sydney mimicked his actions after Chris set hers down.

Finishing his drink, Jack waved for another. Sydney gulped down what was left of hers and said, "Make that two, Chris." The liquor was starting to warm her insides some, but she wondered if anything would help get rid of the numbness that was her constant companion these days.

Her father looked over at her and then down at his glass. "You're suffering from jet lag."

His concern helped ease some of that numbness; he'd been trying lately, and she had to give him credit for trying to build a relationship with her. "I'm suffering from more than jet lag," she replied. "And I can handle the jet lag; I'm used to it." With a reserved smile, Chris set down two more glasses of dark amber liquid. Apparently he was worried that they weren't planning on drinking responsibly; he was right. She'd been as responsible as she wanted to be today.

"No," Jack told her before taking a drink. "You've gotten really good at lying to yourself, to the point you believe you're no longer affected by it."

She started to deny it, but then realized he was speaking from experience. Besides, she was tired of the game of "I'm fine." So she smiled and picked up her glass. "I know that you used to do what I'm doing now, but I always have a hard time picturing it."

To her surprise, she saw a flash of a grin. It made him look years younger. "Fortunately, as a male agent, I didn't usually have to wear the types of outfits that Wardrobe puts you in."

"So, no skin-tight leather," she said. The darted glance in her direction made her giggle. "You're kidding?"

Jack took another drink of Bourbon. "I was told that it looked very nice on me."

She laughed harder. It felt good. "I'm sorry." Gasping, she forced herself to sit up straight.

"I didn't complain; Arvin's outfit for that assignment was far worse," Jack mumbled into his glass.

Sometimes, he said Sloane's first name with an ease that contradicted his usual ice-cold tone when discussing their enemy. And the SD-6 Director also talked about her father with a familiarity that she envied. Shifting around in her seat, yearning to ask questions about the past that he would never answer, she asked instead, "Do you still want to know how I'm doing?"

He stared at her and then nodded. She took a gulp of her whiskey for courage, and then told her father what she was feeling. She couldn't remember talking to him about her emotions--not ever. During her teenage years, she'd made some effort, but Jack had either been either unwilling or unable to meet her halfway.

"I'm exhausted--physically, mentally, emotionally. I don't want to feel anything about Irina Derevko. I'm sick and tired of everyone referring her to her as my mother, and I walked in a few minutes ago and told the woman who happened to have given birth to me that my mother was Laura Bristow and she died in a car accident."

She watched as his shoulders relaxed. Of course, she had known about his concern; he'd been unable to hide it since she'd first told she wanted to look for her mother. Sighing, she reached up to push her hair behind her ear. With a shudder, she stopped and put her hand back down. "It's as much your mannerism as it is hers," Jack said. "It's a part of you."

Surprised by his observation, she turned to look at him. He motioned for two more from the bartender. "I'm sorry," he said.

"For--"

"Making bad decisions," he answered. "I'm sorry you are the one who has to pay for the choices I made years before you were even born."

Danny flashed through her mind, and she tried to imagine having his child before finding out that he was the enemy. How would she have handled that pain? How would she have explained it to their child? How would she apologize for marrying the wrong person, for trusting and loving someone who couldn't love her back?

She wanted to tell Jack that she understood, that it was okay, but it wasn't. Marrying Irina Derevko hadn't been his most harmful decision as far as she was concerned. Distancing himself from her had been; sitting here struggling to talk to her father, she felt herself paying the price for that decision.

She thought about all the years of coldness, about all the times he refused to speak about anything beyond the bland pleasantries. Then she thought about the last few days, making small talk with Francie, asking her about how she was doing. She wanted to trust those changes, but she was afraid. "Are you okay?"

He started to nod and then stopped. "I will be. When this is over."

Sydney tilted back the glass and swallowed the remainder of her drink. She reached for the new glass already provided because her fingers itched to push her hair behind her ear. "Dad, do you see her when you look at me?"

Jack opened his mouth to answer her and then shut it. After taking another drink, he finally answered, "I never see her. I see you, but you do look like her. Some of your mannerisms remind me of the past, but I always see you, Sydney."

Another sip. "You were so small when you were first born." Sydney bit her lip to keep from gasping, but Jack's next words were very different from Irina's. "And bald. You only wanted to sleep and eat, and you were perfect. You are my daughter, and that is what I see when I look at you."

Tears stung her eyes. "She said that I was like her."

"No," was the only response her father gave, but it was enough for now. She could hear the certainty in that one word.

"I'd like another one, please," she said with a voice that held a hint of tremble. Reaching for the black-labeled bottle, Chris nodded.

"Kretchmer told me about Helsinki," he said after a few minutes of silence.

She nodded. "Sloane was so close to me, I swear I could hear him breathing. But Mom's intel was correct; we got the camera."

Jack was still for a moment. Finally, he sighed and finished off his glass. He shook his head at the bartender's silent query. "Her intel may be correct for some time, Sydney, but you must also be aware that it will eventually be wrong."

"We don't know that."

"I do."

Sydney glanced over her shoulder, looking at the laughing couple that was walking in. "Dad, we have no way--"

"Her intel used to be very accurate," he interrupted.

Sydney tensed and looked back at him. "What?"

He stared at his glass. "I knew, Sydney."

Sydney stared down at her hands. "What?"

"I knew about your mother." He hesitated before sharing, "On your fourth birthday, you chose Kermit to be on your cake, and your mother decided to confess to me."

Shaking her head, she said, "I never read that anywhere in your file, and Sloane never mentioned--"

"No one else knows," he answered, looking at her. "If I had told the CIA what I knew, she would have been arrested."

Sydney's stomach rolled. "You didn't turn her in."

"I loved her, Sydney," Jack said. "And she told me that she wanted to help. Just as she's telling the Joint Task Force right now. The intel she provided me was amazing in its detail and accuracy. Until the very last time. Four agents died. I took a bullet in the shoulder, and returned home to find out that my wife was supposedly dead and that FBI agents were waiting to take me into custody."

Sydney struggled to understand. She knew so little about his past, but she thought he had been loyal to the CIA until they had tossed him into jail. Even Sloane, Sydney was sure, hadn't been aware of Jack's earliest betrayal to his oath.

Jack stared at her with the same intensity he usually showed when talking about her mother. "She will hurt you, Sydney. Just because she gave birth to you doesn't mean she won't cut you open and laugh while she does it."

He laid money down on the bar--enough to cover their drinks. "Remember, Sydney, that you must be careful of your mother. She can destroy you."

The familiar mask of disinterest fell into place before he turned and walked away from her without saying another word. Sydney thought she should go after him, ask some questions, not allow him to push her away again. But the jet lag, the alcohol, and the emotional confrontation with both her parents was starting to be felt. She couldn't take anymore. So she stayed and asked for another drink.