10. "Below the ocean, I got to live somewhere; maybe the graveyard, and maybe I don't care."

He was tempted to turn Miratomi's wonderful, horrible formula on himself, but what would have been the point? Instead, he tries to enjoy his freedom. It doesn't work. He finds employment, here and there, but it's all small-time. They all know who he is, his name and his reputation, and so they keep a safe distance, which suits him fine. Now and then he wanders to Barcelona, looking for her in bars and alleyways. She's disappeared, and he can't help but wonder what became of her. Did she perish, or prosper? There'll be no telling now, and he'll only have himself to blame. Blame for what? He doesn't care. Why should he? He's happy for her. Wherever she is, living the way she must be has to be easier than remembering everything.

He envies her.

But not enough to give up what he knows; what good is redemption if you can't remember why you ever needed it? Better to work toward it with full knowledge of what you've done, if you feel the need to be redeemed. He doesn't, yet.

And so he moves around, looking for guidance, old friends, new lovers, work, anything that might feel like home.

Nothing ever does. Nothing ever will.

* * *

Whoever she once was, that person was exceptionally talented at covering her tracks. Either that, or someone did the track-covering for her, which is not a possibility she's prepared to consider. All she remembers about her old life comes in flashes: little twinges of unidentifiable emotion when strangers say certain words, gone so quickly that she cannot ever tie the symbols to what they must once have meant to her.

Her mysterious benefactor neglected to think about one thing: it is impossible to define yourself without any sense of what came before this very moment. There are no footsteps to follow in, not even her own. She's drifting, wandering around the countryside, looking for familiar faces.

It is on the day that this realization finally hits her, some time after the bestowal of the supposed gift, that she makes up her mind to stop wandering and find the person who thought she would appreciate this mystery.

With that in mind, she packs up the possessions she's acquired since being set adrift, and heads back to Barcelona with the last of her money.

Her benefactor will be there; she can't explain how she knows, but she really thinks she does.

* * *

She has been there for five days. However, in her haste to return, she neglected to consider that it just might be very difficult to locate someone when you have no idea who they are or what they look like. How old is he? I don't know. How tall is he? Can't say. Hair color, eye color, weight? No clue. Are you sure it's even a male you're looking for? Well, no.

Frustrated, she sits on the curb, watching passerby. Maybe she'll know what she's looking for when she sees it. Maybe he (or she) will recognize her first.

A tap on her shoulder. She turns around, ready. "Can you tell me how to get to--"

"No," she says abruptly, turning back toward the street.

"Sydney," a voice calls.

She looks up. "Are you the one who--"

"No." The woman extends a hand, pulling Sydney to her feet. "I've been searching for you for so long." She looks vaguely familiar.

"You didn't do this--"

"No, of course not." She embraces Sydney warmly, then pulls back, examining her fondly.

"Who are you?" It is only then that she realizes: of course she looks familiar, she looks like me.

"I'm your mother," she says. "I'm so glad I've finally found you." She wraps Sydney into a tight hug once more, and Sydney is so relieved that all this is over that she actually starts crying. "Shh," her mother says, patting her on the back. "I have so much to tell you. I'll explain everything. I promise."

* * *

He can't believe his luck; later he will suppose he should have known that nothing is ever attributable simply to luck, not in his life. There she is, walking alone, with a sense of purpose. She is not lost. Therefore, he hesitates to approach her, but in the end, curiosity wins.

"Sydney," a voice says from behind her.

"Yes?"

"Do you remember me?"

"No," she says slowly. "Should I?"

"Probably. I'm the only link to your past you'll ever be able to find." He smiles, betraying his relief at finding her safe, after all this time.

"But my mother is here with me," she says, uncomprehending, and his heart would break if he had one; she doesn't sound like herself anymore. Maybe it's simply the sort of change that comes with the leavening of guilt and remorse.

"She can't be."

"But she is."

"You don't understand," he says urgently. "She's--"

"Explain to me why I should believe you and not my own mother. I mean, she is my mother, isn't she?"

"Well, I don't know--"

"She's my mother, and I've never met you before," Sydney hisses at him, reluctant but willing to cause a scene right here on the sidewalk.

"What has she told you?"

"Oh," Sydney says. "Oh," and it's clear that a realization of some sort is dawning. "You're Sark."

"Yes, and you're Sydney Bristow."

Her brow wrinkles. "Bristow? No, that's not right--"

"Of course not. I'm mistaken," he interrupts smoothly, as the genius of the plan dawns on him. "Derevko, then?"

She nods.

"Of course. You see, you and I didn't really know each other all that well, before."

"She'd probably like to see you. She's spoken fondly of you," she adds, and from the look on her face he can tell that Irina's account and the reality of him don't quite match up, or maybe he just isn't what she pictured from whatever she's been told.

"I don't think that would be such a good idea," he laughs.

"No," she says decisively. "You must. We've been here in Madrid for a week, and have encountered no one who could help me fill in the missing pieces. You say we didn't know each other well, and yet you look so familiar to me. You must come with me--I know she'd like to see you, and I'd like to talk more."

He is reluctant to comply, but this is unimportant; her will shall be done.

* * *

"Sark," Irina greets him, as if the circumstances are perfectly normal. Maybe they are, considering. He can't decide whether to be relieved or incensed.

"I must say," he says carefully, "I'm surprised. The last time I saw you--"

"I know," she replies, a hint of a warning creeping into her tone, as she throws a glance in Sydney's direction.

"So, I'm surprised."

"We have so much to talk about," Irina says, and whispers something to Sydney. She glances at the two of them, then smiles awkwardly, more like a 12-year-old than the Sydney he almost knew before. She leaves the room.

He moves closer, lowers his voice: "This was your plan from the beginning, wasn't it?"

"In essence, yes."

"But why that charade on the side of the road? Why did you let me--"

"It wasn't a charade. I honestly didn't plan for that." She shrugs. "And I was doing you a favor. I could never have gotten close enough to her to administer the--"

He doesn't believe for a second that the scene on the roadside was accidental, but he lets it slide for now. "What made you so sure she wouldn't react the same to me as she would have to you?"

She smiles. "The answer to that seems obvious."

"I killed her father."

She silences him with a look. "Not as far as she's concerned now."

"So you're starting over. No interference. No bad memories. Just her gratitude to you for restoring her memories. It's ingenious, really. I'm quite impressed."

"The only possible interference," she whispers, "is you."

"I won't tell her," he says. "Why bother?"

"Good."

He reaches out to trace the line of the scar (one of many from that particular occasion, he will discover) that stretches across the left side of her jaw; she does not protest. "I really thought you were dead."

"Things will never be exactly as they were," she says. "She must be protected."

"From the truth," he finishes. "Until your ends are achieved, anyway. I presume your objectives remain the same."

She withdraws, and a little thrill pulses through his veins, humming quietly. "If you object to this, please, don't feel obligated to stay."

"I don't object." And, surprisingly enough, it's the truth.

"Good," she repeats, smiling again.

With that, he's almost able to forget everything she's done to him, or why he should be bothered about what she must have in store for Sydney.

Almost.

She kisses him, lightly, and it's close enough.

In another dimension, somewhere, perhaps he's living happily ever after with Allison in a cottage by the sea; in yet another dimension, perhaps he and Sydney would have had a chance. The old Sydney wouldn't have wanted him. The new Sydney will never have a chance to want anything that isn't prescribed for her. He sympathizes. In this life, his fate would have played out exactly the same no matter what he'd stopped to do along the way.

This is the life he lives, and at least now he knows it's better than the alternative.

That was probably her plan all along, too.

* * *

the end