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Damage Control
by Tara O'Shea

"Oliver!" Sydney slid to a halt. Her voice bounced off the walls of the concrete hallway, too loud in her own ears. "Oliver," she said softly, a hand falling on Sampson's shoulder. She'd heard the gunshots, but his scream echoed only in her mind. Pushing her hair out of her face, she looked around, but there was no sign of a gunman. She knelt next to Oliver and shook his shoulder gently. "Oliver, we have to go."


"Oliver, it's not safe here," Sydney tried to drag him to his feet. "C'mon."

"I can't leave her." He looked up at Sydney with eyes bright with unshed tears, and she swallowed.

"You have to. C'mon." She tugged on his arm. He carefully laid Alex's body on the cement, closing her eyes with one hand, wiping away tears with the other. Oliver allowed Sydney to pull him to his feet, and he leaned heavily on her as they stumbled up the stairs to the platform.

"I think the aspirin's wearing off," he said softly, gritting his teeth as he could feel blood trickling down his side, pain fanning out from the wound like flames. "And the scotch. I really should have had the presence of mind to bring more scotch."

"Oh, God," Sydney's eyes were wide as she pulled her hand back from his side and saw the smears of blood. "You're bleeding again. We need to get you to a hospital."


"Oliver, you've been shot. You could die of infection, do you hear me?" She shook him, and then caught him as he started to fall. She leaned him up against her car while she fumbled for the keys.

Oliver looked at her dumbly, as if he couldn't quite understand why that should be worrying him. "Sydney?" he asked, as if seeing her for the first time.


"Just checking."

She got the door open, and steered him into the back seat. She climbed into the front, and wiped her hair off her brow, leaving a smear of blood against her temple. She winced, and looked over her shoulder to check on her passenger.


He was pale as milk, and unconscious. She half climbed over the seat and felt a pulse at his neck. His breathing was steady and even, if a bit ragged, and she realised that he had fallen asleep, leaning against the door, an old towel she kept in the back seat to wipe off condensation pressed against his side.

She put her foot on the gas and peeled out of the parking lot, thoughts whirling. She was halfway there before she realised where she was going. Oliver would have been furious, but seeing as how she'd like to see him live to rebuke her later, she saw no alternative. Heading up the coast, she caught sight of the lighthouse after several wrong turns, and one heart-wrenching moment where she was convinced she'd gone the complete wrong direction. The fog horn rang out. Muted by distance, it still raised goose-flesh along her arms.

Pulling into the eerily quiet parking lot, she killed the engine, and touched Oliver's shoulder. His eyes flickered open, and then closed again before she could tell if there was a spark of recognition in them. Dowling Hospital was lit only on the first floor, and she couldn't make out anyone behind the glass doors. She jumped out of the car, and ran inside to the nurse's station. A middle aged blond woman glanced up from a paperback novel, her glasses down on her nose.

"I need your help—" Sydney's work boots squeaked on the linoleum as she skidded to a halt, grabbing the edge of the Formica covered desk to steady herself.

"Miss, we're a private—"

"It's Oliver Sampson, he's been shot. Please!" Sydney grabbed the nurse's arm, and then let go as she remembered Duncan's tale of black-belt RNs. The nurse's eyes narrowed, but then she saw the blood on Sydney's hands, and called to two orderlies leaning against the wall, half hidden by shadow.

"Get Dr. Clarke. We have an incident." The nurse frowned at Sydney, but directed the orderlies to fetch a stretcher.

"An incident. That's a new one," Sydney muttered, and then went back to the car to watch as they loaded Oliver onto the stretcher. His eyes opened again this time, and she took his hand.

"It's going to be okay," she said softly, brushing the hair from his eyes.

"When did this happen?" Dr. Clarke caught her by the arm as she tried to follow the cart into the emergency room.

"About four hours ago. He said it wasn't serious. I shouldn't have believed him." She shivered, and rubbed her forearms through the flannel shirt. "Is he going to be okay?"

"We won't know until we can assess the extent of his injuries, Ms. Bloom. You can take a seat in the waiting area..." Clarke trailed off, and Sydney looked away.

"I didn't know where else to bring him. I don't know if we should be here. But I couldn't take him to a normal hospital, they would have reported it."

"I assure you, Ms. Bloom, we are a normal hospital. Simply private." He touched her shoulder reassuringly, and tried to smile for her benefit. "And safe."

Her eyes widened, and then narrowed again. Clarke dropped his hand, and went through the double doors. She tried to follow, but one of the three hundred pound orderlies stepped in front of her, and she stepped back hastily.

"Okaaaay," she muttered. Glancing around, she saw the ladies' room. The door was unlocked, so she went in.

Under the harsh fluorescents, she looked three days dead. She scrubbed the blood from her hands, and splashed cold water on her face. Gripping the porcelain sink, she closed her eyes, going over the events of the past hour in her mind.

In VR, her father and Samantha had been there.

In VR, before she was shot, Dr. Bloom had called Alex's name, in warning.

In VR, Alex died.

In reality, Sydney had arrived as the gun was fired.

No one called out Alex's name... No warning—

Her eyes snapped open. As she'd been rounding the corner, she'd heard her name... Over the sound of her breath in her throat, her heart in her ears, and Oliver's remembered scream, she'd heard...


Had she? Had someone called for her, seconds before the shots rang out? Not for Alex, but for her? Sweeping her hair back, she stared at her reflection and tried to separate VR from what had actually happened, and found she couldn't. Because it had ended just the same, with Oliver on his knees, hugging Alex's body to him, her eyes wide and unseeing.

"I don't know," she muttered to herself. She filled her hands with freezing water and splashed her face again, drying it with a handful of paper towels. "Dammit."

Sydney collapsed onto the faded blue upholstered couch in the waiting area, and jumped up again when she felt the outline of Oliver's flip phone in her back jeans pocket. Snapping it open, she dialled the loft.

"Bloom residence," Duncan's voice was full of false cheer.


"Syd! Where are you?"

"I'm at the hospital, with Oliver."

"He fell down, didn't he." She could almost see Duncan shake his head. "What about Alex?"

"She's dead, Dunc. Some guys shot her, right in front of Oliver. I saw it in VR, but I couldn't stop it—"

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"Yeah." Duncan sounded less than convinced, and Sydney dragged a hand through her hair, closing her eyes.

"I thought I could stop it, Dunc. It was in VR, but I got there and it was too late. I think maybe it was the same guys who shot at Oliver and me at the bar."

"But you're not sure?"

"I'm not sure of anything any more." She stared at her shoes. "Dunc, I've been thinking. What if they shot Alex because they thought she was me?"

"What if they shot at you before, þcause they thought you were her?" Duncan countered.

"I hadn't thought of that." Sydney chewed on a fingernail, and glanced up as Dr. Clarke emerged from the double doors. He spoke with the nurse, and then started over towards the pool of light illuminating the small waiting area.

"You can't blame yourself, Syd," Duncan said softly. "Syd?" he repeated when there was no answer.

"Yeah, I'm here."

"Did you hear what I said?"

"Yeah. Look, Dunc, I gotta go."

"Syd, I mean it."

Sydney closed the flip phone with a snap, and tucked it into the front pocket of the flannel shirt. Running a hand through her tangled hair, she got to her feet, somewhat unsteadily. She suddenly realised that except for a Shirley Temple at the bar some seven hours earlier, she hadn't eaten. Or slept.

"How is he?"

"Mr. Sampson was correct, the bullet did indeed miss vital organs. We've moved him to a private room. You can go home—"

"No," Sydney said, more forcefully than she'd intended. "No, I'll stay."

"I'll have the nurse send a rollaway up. You look as if you could use some sleep."


Sydney's eyes snapped open, and she glanced at her watch. Oliver—and she, apparently—had been out for about five hours. She could actually hear gulls outside, and the weak sunlight was already beginning to burn off the mist.

"Hi." She smiled as Oliver's eyes focused at last. He glanced down at the hospital gown, plastic ID bracelet around his left wrist, and frowned.

"This is an almost amusing about face." He tried to sit up, and winced.

"Yeah, kinda like deja vu in reverse." Sydney smiled at her shoes, and stuck her hands in her pockets.

"What time is it?"

"A little after seven."

"How long have I been here?"

"Since the train station."

He frowned, hands fretting with the edge of the coverlet. She reached out and laid her fingers over his. He glanced up sharply, as if he was afraid what he'd see in her face. But there was only concern there, not what he'd feared at all.

"Do you want some coffee?"

"I never did get the last cup," he chuckled.

"They've got to have a pot or vending or something around here."

"I take it black."

"I know," she called back over her shoulder. He smiled, but the second she was out the door, the smile faded. He rubbed his eyes wearily, and took a shuddering breath. His side hurt, but that was dulled by the drugs and a long time experience with physical discomfort that had taught him to ignore all but the most persistent of maladies. His heart ached, and for that, he knew neither treatment, nor cure. It was so rare it was a wonder he recognised it at all.

Five years ago, he thought his heart had been shattered beyond all repair. The events of the last twelve hours had proven that it was just as easy for him to love again, and just as easy for that love to be taken away. Again.

He hadn't lied to Alex when he'd said it was too late. He loved her, with all his heart he'd loved her, but the time when he had imagined life with her always at his side, not just as partner and lover, but wife, was long past. Now, he knew better.

People like him didn't have wives and families. They didn't live on tree lined streets with barking dogs and bicycles in the driveways. Because if they did, one day men in cheap suits would come knocking at the door, and there was no turning them away once they'd come. There was no denying them. And there was no hope of ever being free of them.

"Enough over-wrought melodrama, Sampson," he chided himself in a whisper. "Quite enough."

But his heart still ached.

Sydney balanced the cups carefully, and pushed open the door with her hip. "Well, it's only one step up from instant, I think this has been sitting on the burner since shift change—" She looked up to see Oliver carefully slipping on his jacket.

"What are you doing?" she asked, incredulous, and set the cups carefully down before reaching out to grab his shoulder.

"I'm fine." He pulled away from her touch, patting his pockets and frowning. "Where's my telephone?"

"You are not fine."

"Sydney, I've been shot before. I know what's fine and not fine."

"I'm going to call the doctor—" She started towards the white plastic telephone, but he caught her by the shoulders.

"He'll tell you the same thing."


"I want to go home, Sydney," he said softly, and her frown melted away.

"Home?" she repeated, and he released her shoulders.

"Yes." He twitched his shoulders to make the jacket fall the way it was supposed to, and fussed with the collar of his shirt. "If that's all right with you. Now, where's my cell phone?"

Sydney handed it to him, and picked up the coffee. "We can drink it on the way."

"What do you mean, 'we'?"

"I drove you, remember? Your car is back at my place. Besides, you're doped up to the gills, the last thing I need on my conscience is for you to wrap yourself around a tree. You're stuck with me."

"You just want to know where I live," he observed wryly.

"And why not? You're always breaking into my place. I should get the same opportunity, don't you think?"

"You're incorrigible." His mouth twitched into a smile, and he sipped the steaming coffee. "This is horrid."

"I warned you." She slurped her own.

Sydney wasn't sure what she was expecting. Some pristine condo in a tower of steel and glass perhaps, everything in walnut or mahogany, and leather. When Oliver directed her to pull into the driveway of a small house overlooking the ocean, she blinked in surprise. He fumbled with his keys, and stepped around a small pile of mail at the foot of the door. He started to bend down to pick it up, and Sydney heard his quick intake of breath and saw the sudden tightness of his shoulders.

"You'll pull your stitches," she muttered, scooping up the mail and handing it to him. She stepped in front of him, and peered into the living room.

The floors were pine, covered with area rugs, the expensive kind that you were almost afraid to walk on. All the furniture matched, but none of it was leather. The couch was overstuffed, and there was a coffee stain on the corner of one of the cushions, barely hidden by a strategically placed throw pillow. The coffee table held a variety of newspapers, and the magazines were neatly stacked in a willow basket off to the side. The morning sun peeked in through the drawn blinds, reflecting off the white plaster walls. There wasn't a single photograph anywhere. One entire wall was lined with bookshelves, and she tilted her head to read the names off the spines. Shakespeare and Joyce were jumbled in with Clancy and LeCarre, and she smiled.

"Do make yourself at home." Oliver couldn't keep a sardonic smile off his face as he slipped off his jacket and dropped the mail, most of it marked 'Occupant', onto the coffee table. Sydney landed on the couch with a bounce, and hid a yawn behind outstretched fingers.

"It's so..."


"Very not James Bond-like."

"I'm hardly James Bond." Oliver tried to look annoyed, and Sydney could only manage a strangled snort of laughter. Oliver actually contrived to look self- conscious for a second, before he flashed her a quick smile. "If you're hungry, you're welcome to poke around the kitchen. I'm sure there's something approaching edible in there, someplace." He glanced at the answering machine, which was blinking impatiently, and she took the hint.

The kitchen was another surprise, in that it actually looked like people occasionally prepared food in it. There was a glass in the sink, and a tea towel threaded through the handle of the refrigerator. She peeked in the cupboards, taking stock of about fourteen different kinds of pasta, none of which included mac and cheese, and then at the rack of wine bottles hanging on one wall. Most of the bottles were dusty, but two looked as if they had been recently purchased. The refrigerator yielded ham, mustard, and pickles. There was bread in the bread box, but she had to take two slices from the middle of the loaf to avoid the green mould that threatened to claim the heel. She could hear a muted beep from the living room, and forced herself not to eavesdrop, grabbing a glass out of the cupboard and filling it with ice water from the fridge door instead. The grinding sound the freezer made as ice dropped into the glass almost drowned out the tinny, recorded voice, but she could still make out the words "Ollie", "shot", and "worried".

She cut the sandwich in half, wrapped both halves in paper towel, and wandered back into the living room once she was sure Oliver was finished. He stood in front of the window, the shades pulled and sunlight pouring in. She could see the grey-blue-green sea beyond a beach that was mostly pebbles, and one or two sail boats like white hats floating among the swells.

She handed him half the sandwich and was rewarded by a disgusted look once he'd bitten in.


She shrugged, and licked mustard from her pinkie. "I should call Duncan, let him know we're okay."

"Yes, you probably should."

"Are you okay?" she asked impulsively, and then winced. "That was probably a really stupid question."

"I told you, I'm fine." He pulled the shade back down, and set the sandwich on the coffee table.

"Oliver—" she began, and then stopped, because she wasn't sure quite what she wanted to say. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault."

"If it weren't for my father—"

"If it was your father."

"I saw it in VR," Sydney said quietly.

"Subconscious projection."

"I don't know. I don't know! But Alex—The first time I took you in, I never got to the escape key. I saw her open her eyes, and then I was out. And then, then the second time... I don't know, it was even weirder, she turned around and I was supposed to follow her, but I got booted out. She did it somehow, I don't know how. My father said something about VR.8, trying to put Samantha in Alex's head—"

"That's impossible, that's—"

"But she knew things, things only Sam knew. Only Sam could have known, I didn't want to believe it, but Dunc..." Sydney started pacing across the rug, trying to remember that last trip. "I think my dad and sister are alive, or were in 1990, anyway. I saw them at the train station. They walked up to me, and said they were having trouble with the signs, like that was some kind of code—"

"It was. That was Alex's code for the contact." Oliver's gaze lost its focus as he remembered.

"And then he said he fractured her. I don't understand."

"We both know how unreliable VR can be. Perhaps you saw what you wanted to see—"

"I didn't want to see her dead."

"—What?" Oliver froze, and Sydney looked away.

"I saw it. I saw everything," she said quietly.

"Since when can VR predict the future?"

"I don't think... I don't think it can, that's what I don't understand. Oliver, I don't—Oliver?" He had gotten up and was crossing to the liquor cabinet. He removed a cut crystal decanter of something no doubt very old and very strong, and began pouring a double. "Oliver, I don't think you should—" Sydney laid a hand on his shoulder.

"I hardly care—"

"—I mean, antibiotics, pain killers and scotch? That's a recipe for suicide—"

"—what you think." He wrenched his arm from her grasp, and the amber liquid sloshed over the rim of the glass onto his shirt-cuff.

"Oliver!" Sydney knocked the glass from his hand, and distantly heard it smash on the wood floor. She could barely hear anything over the sound of her own heart pounding in her ears as Oliver suddenly grabbed her and shoved her against the bookshelf.

"And what business is it of yours?" His voice was low and menacing.

"Stop it, you're hurting me," she forced the words past her lips as his hands dug into her arms.

"I asked you, why do you care?"

"Dammit, Oliver, let go!" She could feel the shelves digging into her back, and struggled. His grip only tightened.

"Why, Sydney?"

"I'm tired of everyone I care about dying."

He let her go, and she pushed him away, shaking with anger. He stumbled across the slick floor, and she could hear glass crunching beneath his feet before he sank into one of the chairs. He slowly raised a hand of his face, and she could hear a breath like a sob catch in his throat. She could hear the gulls, and the sea in the silence stretched between them.

"Oliver, I..." she began, and he looked up at her with bloodshot grey-green eyes that froze the words in her throat.


"I mean, I know I was your assignment, after Dr. Morgan. And it was just a case of the Committee looking after its assets, or something—"

"Sydney—" Oliver sighed.

"—But I've gotten kinda used to having you around to push me out of the path of stray bullets, and stuff. That's not really Dunc's forte. Of course, no one would be shooting at me if I didn't know you guys in the first place—"

It took her a moment to realise Oliver was laughing. And then another long moment until he began to cry. Sydney put her arms around him clumsily, and he pressed his face into her shirt, shoulders shaking. "It's okay," she whispered, stroking his hair, her own hair falling forward to hide her tears. "It's okay."

"I just wanted to see her. " His voice was barely above a whisper. "I just wanted her to be all right. To find her again, after so long, and lose... lose her again..." He closed his eyes.

"I know." Sydney wiped at her eyes with the corner of her sleeve.

"I wanted her to know she was safe. She trusted me to make sure she was safe."

"She knew, Oliver. She knew, and she was. She went because she loved you."

"She died because she loved me."

"No." Sydney pulled back and knelt down to she could see his face. "Listen to me, because I'm only going to say this once. It wasn't your fault."

He nodded, and she let go of his hand. She didn't believe for a minute that he believed that, not yet. But he was starting to.

"You know, it's not particularly safe, having me for a friend."

"I'll take my chances." She got up, brushing off her knees. "Have you got a broom around here somewhere?"

"Call Duncan," was his non-sequitur reply.

"Call Duncan,"' she repeated, and took the phone from his outstretched fingers. He grabbed her wrist and looked up at her. "What?"

"Thank you."

She smiled, and then wandered back to the kitchen, dialling as she went.

Duncan picked it up midway through the second ring. "Where are you?"

"Jeez, Dunc. It could have been anybody!"

"I don't know anybody except you and Oliver," was Duncan's cross reply. "You scared me, Syd."

"Sorry. Listen, I'm at Oliver's—"


"—Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction. You gonna be okay there by yourself for a while? We're kinda wiped out."

"Yeah. Hey, can I grab your couch? The pup tent's leaking."

"Sure thing. We'll be back tonight. I'll explain it all then."

"Okay." She could almost see him nodding. "Oh, hey, Syd?"


"You're both okay, right?"

"Yeah," she peered around the corner to see Oliver stretched out on the couch, asleep. "Yeah, I think so."

Oliver opened his eyes slowly, and waited for them to focus. Rectangles of golden late afternoon made a chessboard of the living room floor, and the ache in his side told him it had been far longer than six hours since his last painkiller. Getting up gingerly, he retrieved the small bottle of pills from his jacket pocket, and washed them down with the glass of now tepid water Sydney had left to leave a ring on his coffee table.

Unbuttoning the wrinkled, bloodstained shirt as he headed up the stairs, he paused at the open door of the guest room. Sydney was curled up on her side. She hadn't even gotten under the comforter, though her shoes were at the foot of the bed. He resisted the urge to tuck her in, and continued on to his room. He dumped the clothes in a plastic bag. Inspecting the bandage carefully, he shrugged on a fresh shirt, catching sight of his reflection in the closet mirror. His eyes were bloodshot.

He pulled his eyes away from the glass and finished dressing.

Sydney had one dizzying moment of "Where am I?" when she opened her eyes on strange surroundings, before the events of the last day flooded back. Sitting up, she ran her fingers through her tangle of hair, and slipped on her shoes. She stood at the top of the stairs and saw the couch vacant, so she shrugged and headed towards the other two doors at the top of the stairs.

The first was open. "Oliver?" she stuck her head in, and saw it was his bedroom. As tempted as she was, she closed the door. It was then she heard Oliver's voice. It was too low for her to make out any words, and seemed to be coming from the door at the end of the hall, which was shut. She put her ear to the door.

"Alex is dead." It was the second time he'd delivered the same news, to the same ear. It was if, for a moment, the intervening five years had burned away like mist by the searing heat of the sun. There was silence at the other end of the line, punctuated by the distant sound of crickets.

"I'm sorry, Ollie," Abernathy said, to fill the silence. "I know how much you cared for her."

"I want to find out pulled the trigger."

"Are you sure that's wise?"

"They were Committee."

"You don't know that."

"I've done enough wetwork in my time to recognise it when I see it. They knew who they were looking for. They knew enough to go to the safe house, the supposedly secure Committee safe house. But she wasn't there."


"I need your help. Someone gave me her number, it wasn't pure chance. It couldn't have been. What did they expect Sydney to find?"

"I'll do what I can."

"Thank you," he said tersely, and hung up. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, and then leaned back in the chair. "You can come in now, Sydney."

She stepped inside, cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Are you okay?"

"I do wish you'd stop asking me that." he said, weary.

"Sorry." She closed the door behind her. "Wow. I didn't think you owned a pair of jeans."

"Just one. For gardening."

"You have a garden?"

"No." She laughed, and he actually smiled.

"Who were you talking to?"

"Just an old friend. I do have those, you know."

"Yeah, well, don't destroy all the mystery at once. I don't know if I can get used to Oliver Sampson, normal guy, after Oliver Sampson, Superspy."

"Really, Sydney." He sighed dramatically.

Sydney grinned, her eyes sliding across the bare walls finally to rest on a single framed photograph sitting on the shelf. She stepped over to pear at it, but didn't remove it from its resting place. A considerably younger Oliver, in cricket sweater and slacks beamed in pale sunlight, his arm around a man in a suit who looked as if he wasn't sure if he was smiling properly.

"That's my father," Oliver followed her gaze. "It was taken right before he died."

"I'm sorry."

"It was a long time ago."

Sydney pulled into the parking lot of her apartment, and killed the engine. Oliver sat in the passenger seat, still holding himself stiffly. Other than giving her directions when she forgot which turn she was to take, he'd been silent. She didn't ask what he was thinking about, since she had a feeling she already knew.

"Were you serious?" she asked as they pulled along side Oliver's car and got out.

"About what?"

"Wanting a nine to five job."

He paused to consider this. Two days ago, he thought that had been exactly what he'd wanted. After learning the truth about Flight 503, or at least what the lie had been, he had been tired. Not so much afraid, or betrayed, as just simply weary.

He'd thought about trying to get out. Thought about it, but hadn't really done anything about it. The Committee wasn't something one got out of. It just didn't happen, not that he knew of. You couldn't just hand in your resignation and walk away.

It had been just another assignment. Female agent, accident victim, see if Sydney could poke around in her head, find out what it was that the Committee needed to know, maybe even help her. They always couched it in those terms, of wanting to help. Only now was he really beginning to wonder if the Committee was out to help anyone other than themselves. Still, like a dutiful lapdog, he'd gone on, not knowing what to expect, and not really caring.

He'd perfected the art of not caring. First, after his father died, then Alex... It had been so easy simply not to care, so much safer. He hadn't felt empty, though he supposed he was. A job well done, that was all he really focused on. Getting the job done. Whatever job they asked him to.

Just another assignment. It had to have been coincidence, certainly. No one had known what had happened to him after Berlin. Well, Abernathy, but that was different. No, someone had gone to great pains to flush Alex out, and now he had to know why. And there was only one way to find out, and for that would need the Committee. There was no backing out now.

"Just a moment of weakness, I assure you." Oliver realised Sydney had been waiting for an answer, but he couldn't tell from her expression if that had been the one she was expecting.

"Do you want to come up?"

"I thought you be tired of my company by now."

Sydney wasn't sure what to say, so she didn't say anything. Oliver dug his car keys out of his pocket and got in, rolling down the window. "Go on. I'm sure Duncan's waiting for you."

"If you need anything..." she called after him as he backed out of the parking space, but he had rolled up the window and didn't hear her.

Sydney dropped her jacket on the couch, and was almost tackled by Duncan.

"You're back!" he grinned, and she elbowed him in the ribs. He plopped down on the couch. "How's Oliver?"

"Still a little shaky. But I think he'll be okay. I don't know; it's hard to tell."

"He's an enigma, our Mr. Sampson."

"Yeah," Sydney agreed, resting her chin in her hands. "I want to help, but I don't know how."

"I think this is something he needs to work out on his own." Duncan watched her expression.

"I just get the feeling that there's more going on here. Nothing makes sense."

"Well, nothing does. I mean, we try and impose order on our lives, deciding what makes sense, and what doesn't fit, but the universe really doesn't work that way. Things just are, no matter what we label them."

"I don't think the universe had anything to do with Alex's death, Dunc."

"You think it was the Committee?"

"I don't know. But I'm worried about him. The Committee is all he has left, and if they really are out to get us, I don't know where we can go, who we can turn to."

"He's knows he's got us."

"I'm not even sure he wants us." Sydney sighed. "It's too much. Too fast. Everything's suddenly going too fast."

"I've noticed that, actually. Too bad life isn't like a student driver car, you know, so you can put your foot on the brake even when you're not driving."

"I'm definitely not in the driver's seat."

"It would be really annoying to suggest you just hang on and enjoy the ride, wouldn't it." Duncan suggested, and she chuckled.

"Probably." She pushed away from the counter, rinsing out a mug. Dumping a few tablespoons of instant into it, she filled it halfway, and then added about a half a cup of cream. Duncan made a face as she sipped it, but she only raised her eyebrows.

The platform was deserted, not so much as a chalk outline marring the concrete to show a human life had come to an end there.

Oliver didn't know why he thought there would be anything; whomever had killed Alex would have made sure there would be no interference from the local authorities. As for clues, the intervening three days would have stripped away anything that could have been considered a clue.

He'd been going stir crazy at the house, resisting the desire to haunt Abernathy until he came up with something. He couldn't go back to Sydney's loft, not without some suitable excuse to mask the fact that he had no real reason for coming other than not to be alone. She probably would have considered that some kind of triumph, even more reason not to give in and just show up.

Recuperating, he'd told her the night before when she'd called to check on him like some demented mother hen. Just resting and reading and getting better. The lies had slipped off his tongue so easily as to surprise even him.

He didn't linger. The was no logical reason for him to have come, but he had to. If there had been some sign, then perhaps he would be able to shake the feeling that the last two days had been nothing more than a bad dream. A nightmare he had already lived through once before.

Sydney opened her eyes slowly, morning sunshine streaming in through the loft windows. Pulling on cut-off sweatpants, she crawled out the window and found Duncan welding. As he cut off the torch, she could hear the whine of a telephone left off the hook, and stepped over to the phone booth.

"Don't hang it up," Dunc said more sharply than he'd intended, pulling off the face mask. Then he grinned sheepishly. "Lots of wrong numbers lately,"

"Oh, okay." Sydney, nodded, and then sat Indian style on the sun-warmed roof.

"So, what's the plan?"

"No plan. Oliver's still recuperating."

"Have you called him?"

"I figure he'll call me if we get a new assignment." she shrugged.

"That's a healthy attitude," Duncan observed.

"I don't have much choice," Sydney admitted, and stretched.

If Abernathy was surprised to see him, he displayed no signs. He continued to putter about his shop, waiting for Oliver to stop circling like some bird of prey and settle into one of the wicker chairs. Only when he did, did the old man look at him, and his expression was one of concern.

"Have you learnt anything?" Oliver asked, resting his forearms on his thighs, looking decidedly rumpled. Abernathy couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Oliver in anything other than a suit and tie.

"I tried to call the house, but there was no answer."

"I went to the station," Oliver said tersely. "Did you find out who sent me the phone number?"

"There's no record, you know that."

"Someone must know."

"Obviously. But who, I cannot say. Are you sure it came from inside the Committee?"

"It was a Committee safehouse. Besides, no one else knows about what Sydney can do."

"How do we know the girl did not tell anyone?"

"She hasn't. Morgan made sure she understood. No, I'm certain this came from inside. And they must have wanted something from her." Oliver stood, and began to pace. "It had something to do with her father and sister."

"You told me Dr. Bloom died, fifteen years ago."

"Yes, well, it appears I was mistaken. Alex picked up the Blooms in Berlin."

Abernathy remained silent, his hands steepled as he digested this new information. "So, you think the secret someone was trying to wrest from Ms. Miller was their location?"

"She was the lamplighter. She got them out of the country, and it would seem she might have been the only one to know where they were deposited. Someone seemed to think that information as worth killing for."

"And you?"

"I don't think any information is worth dying for. Not any more."

"We don't kill for information, Ollie."

"Unless we think we have to."

"This troubles you a great deal."

"Of course it troubles me! I was shot, Abernathy. Sydney was almost killed. Alex was killed, and I need to know why." Oliver knew he had the pieces right in front of him. A number of them, in any case, not enough to give him the entire picture, but surely enough to give him an idea of what kind of game he was a pawn in.

"What if there is no 'why'?" Abernathy looked up sharply. "What if it was simply an extreme form of damage control?"

"Like Flight 503?" Oliver said bitterly, and Abernathy looked up sharply. "Someone seemed to think killing two hundred innocent civilians was perfectly reasonable, just so long as I was among them."

"That was years ago."

"Precisely five years ago. And the Committee wanted to make very sure no one ever found out I was to have been on that plane. Perhaps someone thought I knew more than I did."

"You weren't with the Committee then."

"Oh please, I was always with the Committee, I hardly had a choice. It was a family affair, after all. It just took Alex's death to make it official. Or for me to believe she was dead. Lies, and games, and labyrinths. I'm sick of it."

"You could leave." Abernathy said, in complete seriousness.

"Do you really think they'd let me go?"

"The Committee are not the monsters you make them out to be."

"I don't know what to believe, any longer. I don't know what's real, and who I can trust." he sank back down into the chair. "And there is Sydney."

"What about her?" Abernathy looked down at his old friend's son with an unreadable expression.

"For starters, I don't think she'd be able to trust another one of us, after Morgan's death. She has only barely begun to trust me."

"Why do you care?"

"She can do something no one else can. She has the potential..." Oliver trailed off. He'd fed her that line once, to guilt trip her into an assignment. He hadn't believed it then, and he didn't believe it now. "I don't want her to become what I have become. I want her to stay human."

Abernathy recognise that he'd crossed some kind of line, and drew back. Oliver couldn't tell if the old man was jealous of the fact that he had shared more with his assignment than his Keeper, or if he merely was disturbed by the ridiculous attachment he had developed to the girl.

"Let it go, Ollie. Let it go before you get hurt."

"I can't do that."

Abernathy sighed heavily, and then handed him a piece of paper. There was a name, and an address copied in Abernathy's careful hand.

"His name is Johnson. The safehouse was his."

"Thank you," Oliver tucked the paper into his jacket pocket, and checked his gun before starting for the door.

"Oliver, promise me you'll be careful!" Abernathy called after him, but Oliver didn't make any promises.

The house was dark when Oliver pulled up behind the grey van parked at the kerb. He got out of the car, scanning the street as he approached the front door. The quiet residential street was deserted, and he rang the bell.

A young man came to the door, and eyed Oliver suspiciously.

"Mr. Johnson?" Oliver asked pleasantly, and the man seemed surprised. Oliver smiled disarmingly, and then pushed the door the rest of the way in, grabbing Johnson by the arm and slamming him into the door-frame.

"What the hell are you doing?" Johnson barked as Oliver stepped inside, twisting Johnson's arm behind his back until he could almost hear the bones creak. Johnson's breath hissed between his teeth, and Oliver pressed his gun beneath the other man's ear.

"You're going to answer some questions, Mr. Johnson." He removed the safety. "You're going to tell me what I need to know, and then you're going to forget you ever saw me."

"This isn't the way the game is played," Johnson growled.

"Perhaps these are rules you simply weren't aware of." Oliver released him, and he slowly lowered his arms to his side, the cold steel of the muzzle most persuasive. He patted him down with his free hand, dropping a pistol from his shoulder holster to the floor. It landed with a metallic thud, and Oliver threw the bolt on the door, and kicked the gun across the room. "The woman in the safehouse."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I have it on very good authority that it was your house, your sector, as it were."

"Who sent you?" Johnson asked quietly.

"Have you forgotten the rules already? I told you, you're going to answer my questions. Who was the woman?"

"I don't know. She didn't know."

"Where did she come from?"

"They didn't tell me."

"Who is they?"

"You know we don't deal in names. My assignment came down, I didn't ask questions."

"Why do I think you're lying?" Oliver asked, and then slammed the butt on his pistol down on Johnson's neck. He fell to his knees, clutching the back of his skull. "Who did they tell you she was?"

"An operative. She'd been in an accident, head trauma, amnesia. I told you, I don't know." Johnson looked annoyed, and a trickle of blood ran down his neck to stain the white of his shirt collar a deep crimson. Oliver's eyes narrowed, and he stepped back, gun still trained on Johnson's head.

"Who killed the housekeeper and the dog?"

"She did!" Johnson snapped.

His finger flexed on the trigger, frustration welling up inside him, when there was a crash, and the tinkling sound of breaking glass from the living room, coupled with the scream of tires outside. He whipped around in time to see an object roll across the carpet. Johnson struggled to his feet, and slammed into Oliver, who went down under the younger man's weight.

Oliver gasped as Johnson's elbow impacted with his bandaged side, and his eyes focused on the bundle as it came to a stop at the foot of the couch. "Stop! You fool, there's a—"

Johnson looked up, eyes widening just as the object beeped. His grip relaxed, and Oliver threw him aside, lunging for the window.

The force of the explosion threw him across the dew covered lawn, and scrambled across the sidewalk into the street, his hands scraped raw from the asphalt. He raised his arms to protect his head from falling debris, barely registering the fact that his side throbbed and small bits of glass had embedded themselves in his neck and shoulder.

No one came out of the inferno that had been a single story model home seconds earlier. The sleepy residential street woke, and neighbours stumbled out onto their lawns with cries of surprise and horror. Oliver peeled away from the kerb, leaving tracks of rubber on the pavement, and swore softly, under his breath, over and over until he reached the highway.

Gun drawn, Oliver opened the door to his home slowly, prepared for any kind of warning that whomever had decided Johnson was a risk considered him one as well, but the house was empty. No gunmen, no bombs, no sign that anyone had been there except for the mailman, who had left yet another scattering of bills and advertisements on his hallway floor.

His side ached, and when he wiped the sweat from his brow, his fingers came away smudged with grime and blood. It was a wonder the LAPD hadn't pulled him over on the way home.

It was a wonder he had made it home.

Retrieving the painkillers from his jacket pocket, Oliver fumbled with the childproof cap, swearing under his breath. His hands shook as he wrenched the cap off, swallowing two pills dry before he landed on the sofa, the bottle dropping from his fingers to roll across the hardwood floor.

There was no trail to follow. The sensible thing would be to give up, give in, let go.

Oliver inspected his reflection critically. You'd never know he'd spent the night before at Dowling having most of a four pane glass window dug out of him, much to Dr. Clarke's dismay. You'd never know anything was amiss at all. The suit was pressed, the part was straight, the face was a stranger's.

The telephone rang.

"Sampson," he answered on the third ring.

"You have a new assignment," the voice at the other end of the line said, and Oliver rubbed the bridge of his nose, grimacing.

"Yes, what is it?"

"Sydney Bloom has become expendable. See to it that she is taken care of," the voice instructed dispassionately, and then the line went dead. Oliver replaced the receiver in the cradle, numb.

Abernathy looked up as Oliver came though the door. He seemed his old self again, and he had regained his cool manner. Very cool, as a matter of fact.

"Did you learn anything?" Abernathy tried not to sound too curious.

"Only that someone wanted Johnson very dead, and their wish came true." Oliver stood rather than sat, his eyes focused on the curios lining the shelves rather than on his mentor and friend. "I want out."

Abernathy was taken aback, despite his urgings the day before.

"Will you help me?" Oliver regarded him with curiously blank eyes, and Abernathy's mouth twitched into a fragile smile.

"While I hate to see you go, I am glad you are finally putting this behind you. Of course I will help you."

"Hong Kong this time, I think," Oliver mused. "It's always lovely this time of year."

"Will you need a passport?"

"I don't think so. But I will need something for Sydney and Duncan."

Abernathy froze. Oliver looked up, and explained patiently, as if to a child.

"I'm taking Sydney with me. She's in danger, and she won't leave without Duncan, I'm sure. Besides, it won't be safe for him here; he knows too much."

Abernathy became flustered, "What about Alex?"

Oliver looked past him. "I'll just have to let her go."

Abernathy touched his shoulder. "It's time, Oliver." but the ice in the other man's eyes froze the rest of the rest of the old man's words in his throat.

"The time is long past," was his reply.