Jack walked into the warehouse. Expecting to hear voices, he stopped when he didn't. He pulled his gun and cautiously made his way into the area where his daughter usually met her handler. Sydney sat there alone, sitting on one of the boxes, looking down at her legs, which she was swinging.
"Sydney," he said as he re-holstered his gun.
"Dad," she said without even looking at him.
"I expected to find Vaughn here," he admitted, knowing how close Sydney was with her handler.
"He's having dinner with his mom and aunt tonight. They came to LA just to see him," she said in the same flat voice she'd greeted him with.
"Oh," he said as he walked around to stand in front of her.
He leaned back on one of the other boxes. "Will called me."
"He told you that I was upset."
"In a strange code that actually worked, yes," he admitted. "But he couldn't tell me why."
Sydney looked up at him and her fists were tightly clenched as they rested on her knees. "Francie knows. You told her."
"I'm sorry," he said. "If I could have done it without revealing your secret, I would've--"
"You told her."
Jack looked at Sydney, not exactly sure what she wanted him to say. "I know. I'm sorry. I never meant to interfere with your relationship with her, but I thought--"
Sydney shot to her feet. "You told her. I worked for SD-6 for seven damn years before you told me, and that was only when they were this close to killing me," she said, holding up her finger and thumb just millimeters apart. "And even then you only told me the entire story because I wouldn't get out of the car and go."
"You told Francie," Sydney whispered. "Just because you wanted her to know."
Jack stood and walked over to stand beside her. He sat down on the edge of her box and waited for her to join him. He didn't want to say what he was about to say. Whoever said confession was good for the soul had never seen how a confession could rip the soul out of someone the confessor loved.
"When your mother 'died,' Sydney, I was hurt. I felt numb and then I felt angry and then I felt--" Jack shook his head. Even the memory of that time could still disturb him. "Then they told me the truth about her, and they didn't do it kindly."
Sydney looked down at her feet again. "Sloane told me about the solitary confinement."
Jack's fingers dug into the wood of the crate. Forcing them to relax, he said, "When I got out, I was just angry. Angry at myself, life, her." He looked over at his daughter and admitted, "You."
Sydney turned her head and looked at him. "Me?"
"I won't pretend it was fair, Sydney, but when I looked at you I saw her. And I also saw the one reason I couldn't crawl into a hole and die. The only reason I stayed alive was for you."
He watched the tears travel down his daughter's face. "I started drinking to numb the pain, tried to hide the anger behind a bottle. It didn't work, but I kept trying. Then the CIA revealed that someone else had betrayed my trust."
"Sloane," she said.
"Yes. He was my friend once, Sydney. My mentor," he admitted. "I still remember how nervous I was, how out of place I felt until I met Arvin. He took me under his wing. Then he tossed away everything we believed in because the CIA didn't respond the way he thought they should after a mission had gone bad."
"I'm sorry," Sydney said.
"It was a long time ago." He reached over and took her hand in his. "If I had been a good father, if I had been thinking as I should've been, I would have resigned and taken you away from all of this. But I believed in what I was doing, Sydney. Still do, even though it's been years since I looked into a mirror comfortably."
Sydney shifted on the box, and he knew that she understood. He could imagine her looking in the mirror--only on some mornings--and not liking the person she was becoming. It had started slowly for him, too.
"I didn't know that you worked for SD-6 until the Hooper escapade."
"That was four years after I started, Dad."
"I know," he said, squeezing her hand. "But I was working hard to stay out of your life, and you were working hard to pretend I didn't exist. I remember your college graduation; you were so uncomfortable introducing me to Will and your other friends."
"I didn't know what to say," she admitted. "I was shocked that you were there."
He admitted, "I couldn't miss your graduation. I didn't mean for you to see me."
"Francie saw you first," she told him. "I couldn't believe it when she whispered in my ear that you were there."
"I didn't warn you about SD-6 at first because I didn't know you were working them at first, and then when I was informed that you'd been recruited, I debated telling you."
"Why didn't you?" she asked, her hand holding onto his with extreme pressure.
"What could I do, Sydney? I didn't have many options. I could tell you the truth and tell you to continue to work for SD-6, but I knew you wouldn't. Which would get you killed. Or I could try to tell you as I did, with a plan to get you out of harm's way, and we know what happened there. Even if you had gotten on that plane, we both know how it would've been. I didn't want you to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.
"And I didn't want you to look at me like you used to look at me right after I first revealed that I worked for SD-6, for the Alliance," he whispered.
He heard Sydney's gasp. Her voice was shaking when she explained, "I was so angry."
"With good reason."
"Why did you tell Francie the truth?"
"Because the last two years of getting closer to you has made it harder to pretend when I'm with someone I love," he admitted.
The tears were falling faster. "I should be happy that you care for her so much. I am happy. But I'm jealous, too."
"Jealous?" Jack was startled.
Sydney laughed and cried and nodded her head. "Jealous. When she started lecturing Will and me about how we were being reckless, I realized I was jealous as hell. She gets to know you so easily, and I still feel like I have to work so hard at it."
He put his arm around her. "You're my daughter, Sydney. What I feel for you is different than what I feel for her. I want to protect you, and I've failed you too many times."
She leaned her head on his shoulder. "You mean we have a lot of baggage between us."
"I want to unpack it," she said.
He ran his hand over her hair. "I do, too. You just have to realize it's going to take some time."
Sydney walked into the apartment. Spotting the dim light coming from the living room, she walked into it and found Francie carefully picking up some glass pieces from the floor. "You made it back," she said.
"Yeah, finally. I talked to Dad for a little while and then walked around the city some," Sydney said.
Francie stopped what she was doing
and looked over at Sydney. "You walked around the city at this time of
night? Alone?" She stopped talking. "Sorry. I forget. I guess
you can take care of yourself."
"At least I tell myself I can." Sydney walked into the kitchen and picked up the damp rag still lying across the split in the sink. Returning to the living room, she carefully reached around and wiped the red stain off the wall. She doubted it would disappear without it being painted over, but she tried to get out some of the mess.
Francie returned with their Dust Buster and vacuumed up the shards of glass remaining. "We have one less wine glass," she announced.
"I could tell," Sydney said with a smile.
"I'm sorry," Francie said, yanking the belt of her robe tighter. "I was just sitting there drinking a glass when I got really angry, and it sounded good crashing against the wall."
"It's okay. I understand."
Sydney saw the light reflect off of Francie's unshed tears. "I'm glad you understand because I have a feeling we'll have to buy a whole new set by the time I've worked all this out."
Sydney stood up and hugged her. "I'll toss them with you if you want, sweetheart."
"Surprise!" the entire roomful of people yelled as she walked through the door.
Sydney laughed after she recovered from her surprise. She started hugging everyone, beginning with her father and Francie. "Thank you," she whispered in Francie's ear. Francie grinned and hugged her tighter. Getting this party together had taken some work, but it was worth it.
Jack had come up with the idea. "It's the last time she gets to be twenty-nine--honestly--and it happens to fall on a Saturday," he'd said. Francie had thought it a great idea, and still thought so after all the work it had taken to get these people together.
After a lot of merriment and well-wishing, it became time to cut the cake. "Where's the cake server?" Francie asked, certain that she had laid it down by the cake earlier.
"Oh, I bought an engraved one," Jack told her. It's over by the punch bowl.
Resisting the urge to tell him that an engraved cake server for a birthday party was a little over the top, Francie glanced around the table. Spotting a white box just the right size for a server, she reached over and picked it up. Opening it, she reached down and almost handed it to Sydney before she noticed the diamond ring around the handle.
Looking back, she found Jack sitting on one knee and looking up at her. She glanced around the room and saw a few surprised faces, but Sydney and Will and Amanda's faces all said that they'd known this was about to happen. "Francie," Jack said, his voice a little strained. She couldn't believe he was making a public spectacle of himself for her. "This past year you've made me a very happy man. I hope that I've made you happy, too."
"Oh, yes," she said, tears filling her eyes.
"Will you do me the honor of being my wife?"
"Oh, yes," she said, sinking down to kiss him. "Yes, I will."
"You're smiling again," the woman who wore the face of his former wife said.
He looked up from the notes he'd been taking. "Um?"
"You're smiling again," she said. "It must be the fifth time in the last ten minutes."
"So you know nothing else about Lawrence's campaign?" he asked. When she said she didn't, he closed his notebook and stood up.
"Jack," she said. He turned to look at her, and she strolled over to stand before him. Before he could even think to react, she leaned forward and kissed him. He didn't respond for a second, and then realized what she was doing. He kissed her--kissed the past and what might have been--goodbye for just a moment. Then he pulled away.
"You deserve to be happy," she said with just a hint of tears in her eyes. "Let her make you happy."
"I am. I have been," he told her. Turning away, he left her alone in her cell.
He blew his breath out. Francie laughed as the air swirled around her nipples. "That's cold," she said.
Jack grinned. "I can make them warm again."
She ran her hand through his hair. "I don't think so," she said. "I want to get a little rest first."
"Youth is wasted on the young," he said and then stopped. Lifting his head off her chest, he looked up at her. "Does it bother you at all?"
"Your age?" she asked. She looked over at the fading sun which was making its patterns across the carpet. "It does some," she admitted. "It makes me angry. Seems unfair. If we live to the end of our expected natural lives, I'll be left without you."
"True," he said.
She looked back at him and ran her finger though the hair over his ear. "But we're not guaranteed to live until we're old," she said. "My grandfather--my mother's dad--died when she was a baby. My grandmother never remarried. She used to tell me that when I loved someone, I should love them strongly everyday." Francie leaned her head forward and kissed him. "So that's what I'm doing."
Jack laid his head back down on her chest. He used his thumb to trail across her breast. He enjoyed watching her flesh shiver beneath his touch. "Sloane's heard about our engagement."
"Dixon told him."
"Yes." Jack thought about the conversation this morning. It had gone just as he'd suspected it would. "Sloane told me congratulations. He wants an invitation to the wedding."
"I can't believe he just accepted after fighting for a year to keep us apart."
"You're going to be a wife now, and Arvin has interesting views on marriage. He believes you're loyal to me, just as he believes I'm loyal to him," Jack explained.
"He thinks you'll behave like him and kill me if ordered to," Francie said.
"Yes," Jack said, wishing Sydney had not told her so much. The less she knew, the safer she was.
"Jack," Francie said as dusk entered the room. "Are you opposed to having more children?"
He thought he knew the answer, but then he thought of a little girl with Francie's smile racing around the room, playing with her big sister Sydney. "Not opposed but uncertain."
"I'm not sure I want them, but I didn't know how you felt."
He looked up at her. "I love you," he said. The way her eyes widened told him that he'd never said the words to her before.
"I love you, too," she whispered before she kissed him.
Jack walked into his apartment, and the smell of lasagna danced through the air. Francie wearing an apron and nothing else walked out of the kitchen and leaned against the door. "Howdy, stranger," she said.
"I figured you'd be at the restaurant," he said as he tossed down his suitcase.
Francie laughed and walked into his arms. "Oh, I've worked very hard this last week, and everyone understood why I wanted tonight off."
"Oh?" he said as he leaned down and placed a light kiss on her lips.
"Yeah," she replied as she continued to kiss him. "I mean it's the first time I've gotten to welcome you back from a trip since we got married. Besides, it's also our one-month wedding anniversary."
"Did you have any certain plans to celebrate?"
She grinned and reached up to help him take off his overcoat. As she walked to put it in the hall closet, he noticed the new vase setting on the table. It was a brilliant purple color, and it fit in well with the hints of color that had been appearing in his apartment since Francie had moved in a month ago.
"I thought you could carry me into the living room, and we could make love on the couch. Then after we rest for a little bit, the timer can remind me to take out our lasagna. While it cools, we take a shower and then eat," she told him as she strolled back over to stand in front of him.
"Sounds like a plan to me," Jack said as he picked her up. He set her down on the couch and followed her there.
Francie started helping him undo his tie. "Well, I know how you like your plans."
He stopped and stared down at her. "I do, but I've learned that sometimes the best things in life happen without a plan."
Thanks for reading!