a/n : Thanks to sallene for her help! See the end of the chapter for a spoiler for the next story.

Part Thirteen

            Sydney was home. From across the street, he watched her. She was chatting on the phone, quite happily. Sark knew word had circulated around the intelligence community that he was dead.

            Sydney has to know already.

            And obviously, it didn't affect her.

            Why should it? She was right. He pushed her away. Sark leaned his head against the headrest of his car, thinking back to their encounter in the Galway cemetery.

            "Has it not dawned on you why I'm here?"

            "Yes," Sark had said. "You're here to save me. And I don't need you for that."

            He shuddered at himself for being so blind. She wasn't trying to save or change me.

            I've already changed.  Sydney saw that. And she wanted me to recognize that.

            Sark glanced back at Sydney's apartment. She was sitting on a couch, eating ice cream.

            Sark smiled at that. After a long last look at her, Sark started the car and drove off.

            His family's house was lit up in the night; all the lights seemed to be on. Sark got out of his car, and walked up to the door. His finger hovered over the door bell, but he finally pushed it.

            As he waited, it dawned on him that he'd done it. He left it behind—spying, stealing, killing. He smiled. No more torture, no more flying constantly, no more being hunted by overconfident governments and terrorists.

            The front door opened, and there stood his brother.

            "Uh," Calvin stammered, "Come in." Sark nodded. "Mom, Dad, it's, uh, Julian."

            Sark didn't miss the skepticism in his brother's voice.

            Brother. That sounded weird to him, but he followed Calvin in anyway. His parents quickly came to the foyer.

            "Hi," Sark said. His mom hugged him, and Sark saw that her eyes were starting to tear up. His father ushered them into the family room.

            The four of them sat, staring at the ground. Sark ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath.

            "Where's Ilene?" he asked. His father cleared his throat.

            "She's at work, but she'll be home soon. She's a nurse's assistant at the hospital."

            "Really?" Sark said. He had no idea what any of his family did anymore.

            "Yes, she studies at Oxford during the school year," his mom filled in proudly.

            The silence settled back on them again.

            His father broke out. "I have to know what happened to you," he blurted out. "We thought you were dead, for eight years. And then one day we just find you in our home."

            "Henry!" his mother said, scolding her husband. Sark had actually forgotten his father's name. He tried to remember his mother's . . . Barbara?

            "I'd like to know too," Calvin interjected with a raised hand. Sark smiled at that, but the smile disappeared when he realized they were all waiting for answers.

            "Um," Sark started, "well, obviously a lot has happened. Why don't you ask your questions, and I'll try to answer what I can."

            His father started.

            "When you came last time, you shocked us, and then left us astounded. But we've tried to figure out what we could," he said. "How were your teeth in that burning car?"

            Sark took a deep breath. "I had them extracted." The three people before him just stared at him. "Next question?"

            His mother spoke next. "So where have you been all this time?"

            "A variety of countries. All over, really," Sark sort of answered.

            Calvin went next. "Did you leave on purpose?"

            Sark opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. He was rescued by Ilene, who stumbled in the door.

            "I'm home! Who's here?" she yelled. She came in, and her face lit up when she saw Sark.

            "Julian!" She ran to him, and he stood to greet her. She practically leaped into his arms, and hugged him so tight that the pressure aggravated his shoulder. He suppressed a groan, and gingerly touched the gun shot wound after he was released.

            "Hello, Ilene," he said.

            "I'm so glad you're back!" Her smile was so bright and enthusiastic that it made Sark nervous.

            "We were just asking your brother some questions," his father said. Sark nodded, albeit less than enthusiastically.

            "Oh great! What have you been doing?" Ilene asked. Her cheeriness was astounding. It was almost annoying, but Sark knew she was really just glad to have him back.

            That lump in his throat threatened him. Sark cleared it away with a cough.

            "Well, I've been in the . . . international relations field," Sark said. His mother's eyes gleamed at that.

            "Really? Is that like diplomacy?"

            Sark sighed to himself, and looked at the floor. Of all the torture and interrogations he'd ever been through, this was the worse. He couldn't force himself to lie to them. Just looking at them threatened to make Sark spill all.

            But he knew he couldn't, to protect them.

            Suddenly he felt like Sydney. He shook that thought away.

            "Listen," he started. "I know you have a million questions. I know I've been gone for a long time, and there's no easy way to make up for that." Sark swallowed, pausing for a moment. "But there are certain things that I just cannot tell you."

            His father cleared his throat, effectively getting everyone's attention.

            "Julian," he said, "did you get mixed up in drugs?" Sark almost laughed at that, but the suspenseful silence that followed showed him how shocked his family would be if they ever knew the truth.

            Sark smiled at his father. "No, no drugs."

            The sighs of relief were instantaneous.

            "Julian, we know this will take some time," his mother said. "But we're just glad you're back."

            Sark smiled. "It's good to be home."

            Ilene stood abruptly. "Well, it's late, and we should get some rest." Sark stood, and started to head for the door.

            "Where are you going?" his mother asked. Sark was perplexed. "You're staying here."

            "Oh, I don't want to intrude," he said automatically. He mentally slapped himself. They're your parents! And you intruded last time, remember? His parents, graciously, didn't pick up on that.

            "Nonsense!" his mother said, taking his arm. "Your room is all ready."

            "I've got some things in my car," Sark replied. "I'll be right back."

            Once in his room, Sark shut the door and flopped on to the bed. He felt completely exhausted. The mixture of tension and happiness were just too much for him. I'm used to tense situations, but this is completely different. It was entirely foreign to him—the kindness, the concern . . . the love.

            Well, from his mother and sister, anyway. But he didn't blame his father and brother for being cautious.

            Maybe that caution was in his blood.

            Sark got up and started to get undressed. He kicked off his shoes, and tossed his jacket to the side. The blue button-down came next—he put it on top of the desk chair, and suddenly froze.

            He used to do that when he was a teen—the exact same place and way. Since then, he meticulously hung everything up.

            His bizarre memory was interrupted with a knock on the door. Before Sark could say anything, Calvin poked his head in.

            "Julian, Mom asked—" Calvin stopped mid-sentence when he saw Sark's bare chest. Sark scrambled to get a shirt on, but he stopped. It was useless now anyway—Calvin saw the scars and wound.

            Sark averted his eyes, while Calvin tried to figure out anything.

            "Come on in, Calvin," Sark finally said, waving the younger man in. Calvin came, with towels in his arms. He shut the door behind him.

            "Uh, Mom told me to bring you these," he said nervously. His eyes kept shifting over the scars. "Are you okay?"

            The question came softly, almost in a frightened manner. Sark only nodded.

            "Do you need something for that one?" Calvin asked, nodding to the gauzed gun shot wound. Sark shook his head.

            "I have what I need in my bag."

            Sark wondered what his brother thought of him. "Calvin, I never answered your question earlier, about if I left on purpose." Sark swallowed. "I did. I left for a different life. And I've had eight years of mistakes and pain since then."

            Calvin gulped and nodded, trying to understand. Sark knew he didn't, but appreciated the effort.

            "If you don't mind, keep this to yourself," Sark said. Calvin nodded quickly again.

            He stood up, and went for the door. "I'll let you, um, get some rest." He was half-way out the door when he turned back.

            "Julian." Sark looked to his brother. "I'm glad you're back."

            Every person had a routine. Whether you are a spy, a housewife, a nurse, an engineer, or even a circus performer, you have a routine.

            The routine of Sark's family was intriguing at first, but the normalcy and boredom of it was starting to freak him out. Family meals, pleasant talk, going to see a film . . .

            Sark didn't know what to do or how to react. He just smiled and nodded. Life was fueled by purpose, purpose that Sark couldn't find.

            He loved being back, but figuring out how to adjust to normalcy was probably the hardest thing he'd ever encountered.

            His mother constantly doted on him, a fact Sark was embarrassed to admit. Sark just tried to politely accept the affection his family bestowed.

            Despite his parents' protests, Sark moved to an apartment in the city. "I'm 24, and I've been on my own since I was 16," Sark told them. "I'll be fine."

            Even so, he was invited for dinner nearly every night. Poor Calvin was tired of eating in the formal dining room, a detail his mother insisted on despite Sark's promises of it not being necessary.

            Sark excused himself from dinner one night, saying he was going on a walk while dessert was prepared.

            He sighed and left the house. He often went on walks, to think and clear his head. This time he headed to a nearby park.

            It wasn't long before he heard the clicking of shoes behind him. He ignored it at first, until he realized the footsteps followed him.

            Sark turned abruptly, and his jaw dropped.

            "Sydney."

            She looked stunning, as always. Her long leather coat did amazing things to her already fit and intoxicating frame. Her hair floated in the Irish wind.

            "I hope you don't mind that I didn't believe you were dead," she said. Sark smiled, and quickly scanned the area for CIA.

            "What gave me away?"

            She closed the distance between them. "You're not sloppy enough to be killed. But don't worry," she said. "The CIA bought it."

            Sark grinned at that.

            They started walking, around the park as kids finished up games of soccer. Silence consumed the space between them, until one of them got up the nerve to talk.

            "How does it feel to be back home?" Sydney asked. Sark smirked at that.

            "Awkward, at best," Sark answered. "But I guess I'll adjust."

            Sydney didn't answer for a moment, and Sark glanced at her from the corner of his eye. She looked pensive, as if focusing on a specific memory.

            "My father was absent for most of my life. My mother lied to me and faked her death," she said. "But I have been able to endure some normal moments with them. It were hard at first—awkward. But now, I cherish those moments."

            Sark stopped his pace, thinking that over. "Thank you." As he thought about it, Sydney's family was the epitome of dysfunctionality. However, she was able to make the most of it. Despite how horrible her life must have been growing up and also when she knew the truth about her parents, she moved on. And she loves both of her parents, even if one of them is an international terrorist.

            Sydney started walking again, prompting Sark to keep up with her. He did, only to stop again.

            "Sydney, I feel I owe you an apology." He faced her. "I realize you were only trying to help before, at the cemetery."

            Sydney tucked her hair behind her ears.

            "In Burma," she started, "I never meant to make you feel . . . abhorred, for choosing your life. It was wrong for me to be so judgmental."

            "Sydney—"

            She placed a hand over his mouth, and finally looked him in the eyes. Her brown eyes held such softness, such . . . care.

            "Sark," she said softly, "despite how hard you tried to hide it, I could tell you were a good person."

            He nearly blushed at that. Sark and 'good' were rarely used in the same sentence. He allowed himself to give her a grateful nod before turning his nervous gaze to the park and evening sky.

            "You're not here to stay, are you?" Sark said after awhile. Sydney shook her head.

            "Just a visit, without the CIA's knowledge." She turned to face him, but kept her eyes on the ground.

            "I'm glad you came." His admission was quiet, and almost lost in the breeze, but she heard it. Sydney leaned toward him until her lips pressed against his.

            Sark encircled her with his arms, pulling her closer to him. The warmth between them only fueled the kiss.

            When Sydney pulled back, Sark just stared at her for a moment, dazed. He knew he must have looked puzzled, but also happier than he'd ever seemed.

            "Are you sure you can't stay?"

            Sydney laughed, and took his arm. They continued walking.

            "You know, this normal life thing calls for certain formalities," Sark said, his voice playful. He practically bounced at Sydney's side as they walked.

            "And what formality is that?" Sydney asked, chuckling at his demeanor.

            "Introducing the woman I care for to my parents," Sark declared proudly.

            Sydney just laughed and tightened her hold on his arm.

            "Anything I should keep in mind when I meet them, Sark?" Sydney asked, teasing him. Sark's lips curled upward, and he shot her an admiring gaze.

            "Just do me one favor: call me Julian."

The End

Coming soon: Ultimate Sacrifice (title subject to change)

The phone rang, and Calvin answered while Julian dried some dishes.

            "Hello?"

            "Put Sark on the phone," a muffled voice said. Calvin looked puzzled.

            "Sark?" Calvin repeated.

            Julian snapped his head up as the alarm bells rang in his head. "Who is it, Calvin?" Calvin just shrugged, and Julian crossed the kitchen to him. He took the phone.

            "Who is this?" he demanded.

            "Mr. Sark," the voice replied. "If you want to see Ilene again, be at the London Tower at midnight." The caller hung up, but Julian just hung on to the phone, his blue eyes freezing over.

            "Julian?" That was his mother. "Is everything okay?"

            "Julian?" Calvin tried to snap him out of his cold gaze. "Who is Sark?"