Timeline: Since this story was written before the finale aired it doesn't take the finale's events into consideration. Thus, it's a future AU story. "Double Agent"/"The Telling" events never happened. The CIA have been chasing Derevko & Sloane for months, maybe several years.
Everything was on fire.
The warehouse was a raging inferno. Smoke was billowing out through what was left of the roof. The vans parked next to the building had caught on fire as well, and the air reeked of burning tire rubber.
Soon the trees surrounding the block would burn, too, and then the forest.
But she didn't care.
She was sitting on the hood of a rented Dodge truck, the heels of her feet propped against the bumper, her body leaning forward, elbows resting against her lower thighs, her palms dry, fingers curling slightly inward.
Lazily, she watched it all burn.
Even from this distance she could feel the heat. She was out of the fire's reach, for now anyway, since the truck was parked on a small hill overlooking the clearing where the warehouse stood.
Actually, it no longer did. The walls had collapsed minutes ago, the remains of the roof now supported only by the metal construction, the steel hot, but not hot enough to start twisting.
She had a bizarre feeling of accomplishment, which was odd since she was not responsible for the bloody carnage.
She'd come here, the world's middle of nowhere, to finally put an end to it all, but fate had other ideas. It seemed to have taken mercy on her soul; a pity, really, since she had never thought what she'd set out to do would affect her consciousness any more than what she'd already done in the service of SD-6 or the CIA.
She knew some - her father and perhaps even Vaughn - might misconstrue her actions as that of a sacrifice, but she'd never thought of it as such. A price that had to be paid, maybe, but certainly not a sacrifice. She may be guilty of many things, but god-like self-righteousness was not one of them.
The truth was that she only cared for it to be over. Once and for all. Filed away in the bottomless archives of matters not to be dwelled upon.
Maybe days from this moment she would crumble, her knees buckling, and tears finally falling as she desperately gasped for air. Or maybe she'd sag over a toilet, disgust at what she had turned out to be capable of twisting her insides out.
For now she merely watched it all burn with complete indifference.
The skeleton of the warehouse was smoldering and she knew that buried within its broken bones were bodies: one of a woman who had never been her mother, one of the man who had claimed to have played a father-like role in her life, and those of the men who'd ambushed them all, and with them all the past, and the regrets, and the what ifs, and the would have beens.
As her gaze indolently focused on the dancing flames, an incredulous thought flashed through her mind. She wanted a cigarette. Not for the nicotine, for she did not smoke, never had, but for this eerie feeling of accomplishment that was filling her body. It mirrored the air of satisfaction one had after a good night's fuck. In movies that usually called for a smoke.
As it was, though, her fingers were empty, twitching ever so slightly.
They'd fired many bullets that day.
When she'd first decided that she'd had enough, she'd never imagined it would come to this. After she'd tracked down Derevko and Sloane in Ukraine and found out they had been bidding their time in an old warehouse almost overtaken by a forest, she'd formulated a very simple plan. Walk in there with enough C4 to blast her never-ending nightmare into oblivion; get out of it alive if possible.
She'd known the task would be difficult - if not damn well near impossible - to complete unscathed. But the one thing she'd never counted on was Derevko and Sloane's competitors choosing to interfere.
The warehouse sat at the far end of a long narrow clearing at the bottom of a shallow depression. Surrounded by a thick evergreen forest, it looked like an animal which had backed into a safe corner and from therein kept a watchful eye for any potential threat. From where she lay hidden it looked as if the building was giving her a menacing look, but she brusquely shrugged it off, determination overrulling instinct.
She entered the building mere minutes before the ambush occurred. She never managed to set up all the explosives she had on her when all hell broke lose.
How Sloane and Derevko had allowed themselves to be caught unawares she'd never know.
In an instant, she found herself fighting for her life with the least likely people. And, ironically, aiding Sloane and Derevko in the process.
Firing rounds of bullets out of her semi-automatic, she watched her mother - hidden behind a stack of wood - get shot in the chest and fall. Before she died, Irina crawled her way from behind her treacherous shelter and, propped on one arm, reached out to her. Sydney didn't move an inch towards her. This was not one of those fairytales.
Even if she silently sobbed inside.
She knew that she had to make sure Sloane was dead before listening to her survival instincts and getting the hell out of the building.
Amongst the hissing bullets, she started crouching towards the spot where she'd last seen him, to check if the old bastard had fallen or if she'd have to see to it herself.
She froze in her tracks as the sound of a gun being unlocked echoed in her ears, and turned around to see the barrel of a Berreta pointed at her face.
"Sydney," Sloane's face was twisted into a half-mocking, half-threatening smirk. "So good to see you join us."
Now that she thought of it, it seemed ridiculous, like a scene from a typical Hollywood movie, neatly wrapped into that annoying slow motion effect which made it look like the events took place so much slower when in fact she barely batted an eye. She heard a gunshot and blinked expecting pain and shadows, but instead she watched in morbid fascination as a stain of blood tainted the linen suit that Sloane was wearing. A movement on the periphery of her vision caught her attention, and when she swung her head to her right, she saw a man lowering the Sig Sauer P228 that was clasped between his hands.
In any other circumstance, she would have wondered what the hell had just happened - had Sark just saved her life? - but two black-clad men entered her field of vision, with their SMGs aimed at her and Sark, and she ducked behind a pile of wood, the young man taking cover behind a similar stack to her right, and she sent a spurt of gun fire towards their assailants, her other hand taking her back up rifle off her arm and tossing it towards Sark.
He stood no chance with only a Sig Sauer.
She estimated that twelve men had entered the building and interrupted her little errand, and, judging by their weapons and clothing and training and by the part of the world they found themselves in, Sloane & Co. had messed with the wrong kind of people.
One did not fuck with the Russian mafia.
Squatting, she leaned her back against the stack of wood that shielded her and ejected the empty cartridges. A quick glance at Sark as she reloaded her gun informed her that he was kneeling on one knee and sending a haphazard round of bullets in the direction of their attackers. In the midst of death and gore, he looked immaculate as always, not a speck of dirt on his clothes or skin.
Shrugging off the thought, she hoped that at least one of his bullets found its mark. She'd counted six men going down thus far, which meant that apart from the two trying to take down her and Sark, there could be another four somewhere in the building. Not to mention Sloane and Derevko's bullies, some of whom - judging by the distant sounds of gunshots - survived this far. She was under no illusions that they would spare her if they spotted her.
Which meant that if she wanted to survive she needed to get out of there. And fast.
She reemerged from behind her cover and squeezed the trigger aiming at the opposite corner of the room where the Russians were hiding. Ducking to avoid the complementary round they sent her way, she yelled Sark's name.
He shot her a quick look, frowning, his eyes as icy as she remembered, a silent question poised in them.
With her free hand, she opened her jacket letting him see the detonator fastened to her vest.
His eyes widened in understanding - and in quickly controlled astonishment.
She reckoned her eyes had looked the same when she'd realized he'd saved her life.
He nodded then and looked away, firing another random series into the opposite corner. Using that as her cover, she started crouching slowly back towards the nearest exit. She stopped only once to return the favor and cover for him. After that she didn't look back. She'd given him a fair warning and considered her life debt to him paid off. He had to worry about getting out of the building in time himself.
Once she made it out, she crawled her way up towards the road where she'd hidden the truck. She could hear the exchange of fire, which either meant that Sloane and Derevko's henchmen were still alive and trying to save their asses or that Sark was still inside.
She pulled out the detonator.
She hesitated only for a second before she pressed the button.
A ball of orange fire erupted from the building and rose in a mushroom of flames and smoke to the sky. The heat produced by the explosion felt like the heat of an oven, even from this distance. A wall of flames instantly enveloped what was left of the warehouse. Crackling flames leapt up consuming the stacks of commercial wood stored inside, and the bodies, and whatever Rambaldi artifacts had been brought in there.
And now she was sitting here, watching it all turn into dust.
A rustle of leaves made her tear her gaze away from the fiery hell. She looked in the direction of the sound and saw a man emerge from the forest.
His clothes were no longer immaculate.
There was a coat of ash covering him, head to toe, dimming his naturally fair hair to a color of dusted rye leaves. Even the intense blue of his eyes seemed overcast.
He paused at the sight of her, and braced one hand against a nearby tree, leaning into it for support, the other arm hanging loosely by his side. His breathing was slightly rushed and uneven, as if he'd been running, which probably wasn't that far from the truth.
She noted traces of blood on his hands, and she searched his body for a wound before noticing a tear in his jeans, crimson fluid seeping through the denim above his knee. It wasn't serious, and in her experience only minimally painful.
She wondered why his face was creased by a slight grimace, then.
He was eyeing her carefully from under furrowed brows, gauging her reaction, but as she studied his gaze in return, she found only a trace of caution, lingering there by the force of ingrained habit; he was no more wary of her than she was of him. Not on a professional level. Not now.
Perhaps never again.
She almost laughed at the absurdity of the revelation.
But only almost. There was something else in his darkened eyes, something awkwardly familiar. She'd seen it before in her own eyes staring back from her mirror reflection.
She knew why he'd saved her life earlier that evening.
He was tired.
He'd had enough.
As soon as that realization penetrated her conscious thought, she felt her palms curl into fists as a memory clicked in her mind. Of the last time she'd seen him.
The CIA had tracked Sloane and Derevko to Egypt; they had received intel that the unholy duo had planned on making a purchase of an unknown Rambaldi artifact, and that they would appear at the local street market in Haram, a small town on the west side of the Nile, located at the bottom of the Giza plateau, with a breathtaking view of the pyramids.
It was very telling, really, that haram stood not only for pyramids, but also unlawful.
The CIA had botched the job, of course. Sloane and Derevko had slipped through their fingers as easily as grains of sand slip from the tightest grip.
It truly astounded her how the agency whose primary goal was preventing international terrorism - and which had been known not to hesitate to resort to ruthless practices and illegal means in the pursuit of that goal - could not get its act together when it came to Sloane and Derevko.
Maneuvering her way between the stands and shops of the Haram street market, her Sig in her hands, the backup agents right behind her, she'd chased her mother into a narrow street, where Derevko had taken cover behind a large wicker basket. It obviously couldn't shield her from a bullet. Sydney hadn't hesitated as she'd taken her aim, hoping that the wound she'd inflict would only slow the older woman down, not kill. She'd had no guarantees, but she'd had no intention of playing this cat 'n' mouse game any longer, either.
Before she'd had a chance to squeeze the trigger, however, a van had screeched to a halt next to the basket, blocking her view of it.
Sark had been behind the wheel.
Swearing under her breath, she'd fired her gun repeatedly, sending bullet after bullet in the direction of the van. The bullets had ricocheted off the bulletproof metal, the sound alerting Sark to look in her direction.
That's when she'd first noticed the shadows overcasting the iciness of his gaze.
The same shadows clouded his eyes as she observed him now.
Sark had got Derevko into the van and out of her gun's reach. What she'd seen in his eyes, however, had stayed with her.
And as she now curled her fingers into tight fists, she realized that it had been right there and then, on a narrow, sun-scorched street in Haram, that she'd decided she'd had enough. And that she was going to do something about it.
In a way, he'd inspired her.
How's that for irony?
He was watching her now, somewhat questioningly, finding the turn of events as unexpected as she had. The one thing that was not missing from his look was subdued understanding. He knew exactly what had brought her here.
She straightened out, pushing her elbows away from her thighs, sitting upright. She studied him nonchalantly from under half-shut eyelids, her fingers itching for a cigarette once again, and thinking that she was glad he'd survived.
Sometime between the encounter in Haram and now, she realized that she didn't blame him for anything.
Not that he wasn't guilty of anything, not that she didn't care for the body count. She just didn't hold any of it against him.
If she had, then that meant she'd have to hold things against herself. And she was done with self-loathing and self-reprove.
It was laughable, really, how similar they were. In the hands of the same two people, their lives had been twisted and manipulated, pushed and prodded until they'd assumed the roles Sloane and Derevko had deemed appropriate.
Everything her mother had ever done to her - abandoning her when she'd needed her the most, returning when she'd needed her the least, and then playing a sophisticated game with her emotions - had initiated and dictated every choice she had made - was programmed to make - in life. It'd molded her body, her career, her personality; it had even affected her love life, including the degenerating relationship with Vaughn.
She didn't know much about Sark's background, but what she'd managed to dig up had confirmed her suspicions. Derevko must have plucked him from some orphanage, picked him out like fine wine, and then proceeded to model him after her own likeness, painstakingly shaping the contours and infusing them with skills and qualities that guaranteed a faithful and effective extension of her own ambitions.
Sloane had finished the job her mother started. On both of them.
Watching Sark now, she wondered when it'd snapped inside of him. Which of the atrocious acts of violence he'd committed on Sloane and Derevko's behalves - doing their dirty work - had filled the cup to the brim.
She had no false illusions when it came to Sark. He was no angel, and she knew a part of him enjoyed the power and control he derived from killing. She'd seen it in his eyes on too many occasions.
But she could not guarantee that had she lived his life she wouldn't have turned out the same.
In many ways, she had.
And, after all, his actions earlier that evening spoke louder than words, and so did hers. In fact, as far as the evening's events were concerned, she didn't stand comparison to him.
Letting go was a wonderful thing.
She saw by the unreserved expression in his eyes that he knew exactly what she was thinking. He always had an annoying ability to read her like an open book.
Watching him calmly now, and inhaling the smoke-scented air, she finally understood why.
He pushed himself away from the trunk of the tree he was leaning against, and, unhurriedly, started walking in her direction. He was limping slightly, and his brows were furrowed a little, but not out of pain, only acknowledged weariness.
She watched him approach her, cocking her head to her left and squinting her eyes, for the smoke was beginning to sting.
He stopped when he was an inch or two away from her, and held her gaze, somewhat in a challenge, somewhat in a question, and for the first time she noticed a net of fine lines around his eyes. He was too young to have those. She didn't remember seeing them when he'd worked at SD-6.
They remained like that for a moment or two, reserved acknowledgment in their eyes, and then he tilted his head down, his chin low, and leaned into her, resting the top of his head against her chest, his hands beside her thighs.
She wasn't even surprised. She looked down and saw the dusty blond curls covering the back of his head, and marveled for a second at the act of complete submission.
And then she raised her arms and wrapped them around his upper body, causing him to step closer in and lean against the front of the truck, his hips sandwiched between the legs she had propped up on the bumper. With her left arm around his shoulders, she brought her right hand to his hair and slid her fingers into the locks, combing them in lazy movements.
His skin was hot under her touch, the strands of his hair silky and slightly damp. She soothed her palm onto the smooth skin on his neck, and then brought it back up to interlace her fingers with his hair.
She looked up, her hand carrying out the lazy caress on its own accord while she watched the fire. She felt him relax against her. They both smelled of smoke and gunpowder, which puzzled her momentarily for they hadn't used shot guns, but then she waved the thought aside and inhaled the scent, oddly enjoying it.
She knew that they'd have to be moving soon; she could see the evergreens burning, and she had not made it out of that warehouse alive to die in a forest fire. But still, she was reluctant to do so, to disrupt this newly-found status quo.
He shifted slightly then, bringing his hands to her waist and giving it a slight squeeze.
He raised his head and, as she detected movement, she dropped her hands to her sides and watched him as he faced her again. The skin around his eyes had relaxed a bit, and as soon as she noticed it, his hair once again caught her eye, mussed up by her fingers. The corner of her mouth twitched up ever so slightly.
If he'd noticed he didn't let on, only blinked, slowly, and stepped away from her without breaking their gaze. She felt oddly empty for a second, and shivered against the cold of the evening. Without breaking the eye contact, she slid off the car. He paused then, and hesitated. She regarded him calmly for a moment, but eventually glanced away to once again look at the burning remains of the warehouse.
He followed her gaze, turning towards the clearing, noting the burning trees, but focusing on the shell of the building.
It wasn't only her past that had incinerated in it.
They watched the fiery spectacle for a moment, and then shared a last glance before he turned away and started walking towards the part of the forest untouched by the fire.
She didn't stop him, didn't call his name. If he hadn't asked for help, then that meant he had his own means of transport hidden somewhere in the woods. Somewhere not far from here and away from the fire.
Sark was many things, but he wasn't suicidal.
She watched him disappear in between the trees before walking over to the driver's side of the truck and sliding behind the wheel.
Without a second glance at the fire, she started the engine and drove away.
Author's Notes: As it is now it's a one parter, but I do not exclude the possibility of a continuation if inspiration strikes. The story never would have happened if it wasn't for Rez's enthusiastic encouragement and Karen's fabulous beta - thank you. The story was inspired by an image that flashed through my mind one evening two months ago and literally made me gasp out loud - I wonder if having read the story you will be able to tell me which image it was.