Sydney walked into the conference room to find everyone already assembled: Dixon, Marshall, her father, Vaughn, and Vaughn's cow of a wife.
Her father coughed. "There you are. We'd been paging you."
"Sorry," she replied as she sat down. "I was… on the phone. I came as soon as I saw the message."
She'd actually been in the building's café, getting a cookie. She'd needed it after having watched Vaughn and Lauren coming back from lunch, all cutesy and sickening.
Apparently, she was turning into a stress eater.
"So, what's going on?"
"It's the Covenant," Dixon announced. "Our moles have all reported some kind of chaos in the upper ranks in the past few days. No one yet knows what happened, but it has to be something huge to have warranted the kinds of erratic behavior we've been hearing about."
"What kinds of behavior?" Vaughn asked.
"Communications to people and organizations the Covenant almost never does business with. Appointments with dirty banks. All we've discovered is that one name is being whispered."
"Let me guess," Sydney sighed. "Sark."
"Yes," Jack confirmed. "He's gone missing, probably rogue, and for some reason, the Covenant has made searching for him one of their top priorities. I would guess that his loyalties have changed once again, and he's willing to sell Covenant secrets to the highest bidder."
"Shocker." In a way, Sydney was glad to hear it. In the topsy-turvy world she'd returned to, it was strangely comforting to hear that at least something was constant, even if it was just Sark's inconstancy.
"Our mission is twofold. We find Sark before they do and use him to learn everything he knows about the Covenant. Simultaneously, we capitalize on this current chaos as a weakness. You're tasked with finding out everything you can about why Sark left, why the Covenant wants him back, and what their next move might be. That's it, people." Dixon adjourned the meeting.
Sydney went to the ladies room. Her mood was oddly improved, until she ran into Lauren by the sinks.
"Hey," she said, trying to get out of there as quickly as possible.
"Sydney," Lauren called, stopping her. "Next time Dixon calls an emergency meeting, do try to be on time. Your tardiness reflects poorly on the department."
"Yes, Agent Reed. It won't happen again."
Sydney headed back to the café for another cookie.
On her drive home, Sydney wondered if one of the signs of depression was not wanting to be anywhere. She used to be happy to come home; awaiting her were friends and food and laughter, and sometimes a boyfriend. These days, all that awaited her after work were reminders that everything good had been stripped away.
It was late (she'd been staying later and later at the office she increasingly hated, just to avoid going home) and all she'd eaten for hours had been cookies, so she was cranky and ready to turn in. She opened the door to the usual dark silence and hung her purse on the rack. She was about to turn on the lights when she heard the click of a gun chamber. She froze, and immediately conducted a mental run-through of the locations of her emergency call buttons.
"I've disabled that little device beside the counter, as well as the ones behind your bed and next to the sink. You'll find that you are quite at my mercy, Agent Bristow."
Sydney groaned. She'd know that snotty voice anywhere. A second later, light illuminated the room and there stood Sark, dressed in a white Oxford and grey slacks. His gun was trained directly at her head.
"What do you want, Sark?"
"Oddly enough, for you to allow me to put myself under your mercy."
She was too tired to fight, and definitely too tired for his usual bullshit. If the one thing Sydney hadn't needed tonight was the world's most dangerous assassin in her living room, cryptic half-explanations were right out. "What does that even mean?"
"To put it more plainly, I desire the use of your apartment as a temporary retreat."
Well, that was rich, even for Sark.
"And what in hell makes you think I'd let you stay here?"
He smiled that bland, condescending smile she'd always wanted to smack away. "Well, the gun ensures that you remain still long enough to hear my proposal. Then, hopefully, my arguments will elicit a more amicable cooperation and cohabitation."
Damn him and his many-syllable words when she was starving. "Your proposal? How many times do we have to go through this? I'm never going to work for you."
"That was not my suggestion. I'm here today to offer you a trade. As I'm sure you already know, I currently occupy the number one slot on the Covenant's most wanted list."
"Yeah, I know, and I hope they torch your skinny ass," she snapped. But then curiosity got the better of her. "What did you do to them?"
"I emptied their bank accounts."
That was impressive, even for Sark, but she wasn't about to say as much and let him gloat. "You mean you stole from them."
"I reclaimed what was rightfully mine."
"What does that have to do with my apartment?"
"I fled to the last place anyone would ever expect to find me. Our long-standing antagonism and your unfortunate dislike of me are well-known. My proposal is that you shelter me here in this apartment for a few weeks—"
"Weeks?" He'd gone off his rocker. Seriously.
Without missing a beat, he continued, "And in return I will provide you with what you want most."
Sydney snorted, and suddenly felt too tired to stand. He clearly wasn't going to shoot her before getting an answer out of her, so she might as well sit down. She slumped onto one of her kitchen island stools. He didn't seem to mind; the gun simply followed the movement of her head. "What do you know about what I want?"
"You want the Covenant destroyed. You want an end to Rambaldi. You want to reclaim some semblance of a normal life."
On the whole… yes, those were most of the things she wanted. On most days, Vaughn would appear on that list, but she doubted even Sark had the balls to offer something that impossible. However, it wasn't that clever of a list. Anyone could have guessed that she yearned for those things. Still, she might as well hear him out. He clearly wasn't planning on leaving anytime soon, and she might as well keep him talking until she found a way to get rid of him.
"That's a hefty offer. How do you expect to give me all that?"
"I have intelligence that will help you lead the CIA in destroying the organization. With the money I have reclaimed, they are already weakened. Together, we can stop them for good, destroy Rambaldi's work, and free ourselves from his fanatics. With that final task completed, we can both move on with our lives, do whatever we want."
"If the plan is to have me give information to the CIA, why not just turn yourself in and work with them directly?"
"After two years in one of those less-than-charming cells, I think you'll understand my reluctance to return. And with this arrangement, I gain the added bonus of your company." He bowed. Sydney could never tell if he was always so annoyingly formal because people expected that kind of shit from him, or if he really meant it.
"Goody for me. Anyway, we've been down this road before. Why should I trust you? For all I know, your plan is to get all of us killed."
"Check your records at the agency. Do your research. You will see that no new organization has contracted my services. I am on my own now. Despite appearances to the contrary, Sydney, I have been on my own since your disappearance."
Sydney didn't know why he was linking their separate misfortunes, but whatever. He was still right. She thought back to Sark in the cell and her mother's betrayal of him when he'd needed her most. Sydney may have had no memories of the past two years, but Sark had nothing to remember in the first place. Not that she pitied him. Never that. But as she pondered his offer, she noticed a red spot on the side of his shirt. He'd been holding the gun strangely. Sark was hurt, probably shot while getting away. He really was on his own.
Not letting on that she had noticed anything, she asked, "What's your guarantee?"
"I have none. I could pay you handsomely for your cooperation, of course, but our previous interactions have made it clear that your principles would prevent you from accepting money from me."
"Damn right they would."
"So all I can give you is my word, for however much that is worth to you. And these flowers." Sark gestured, with the slightest hint of pain, to the coffee table, upon which was a beautiful arrangement of white lilies.
"You brought me flowers?" Of all the surprises of the evening, this was the biggest. She would have preferred a turkey sub, but hey.
"A housewarming gift," Sark clarified.
She looked at him, at the smartly dressed but bleeding young man with a gun trained on her in her own home. Despite the ridiculousness of the entire situation, this man, a maniac she'd spent years trying to kill, was the first guy who'd brought her flowers in longer than she, quite literally, could remember. "You are unbelievable."
"I aim to please."
"And," Sydney continued, "you know that your 'proposal' is completely out of the question. You'd better get out of here right this minute, or else I'm going to kill you."
"I'd hoped it wouldn't come to this but…" He sighed dramatically. "I have information. Information proving that Sydney Bristow, aka Julia Thorne, was a traitor to her country. That she was a triple agent, selling American secrets back to the Covenant."
Sydney felt a coldness creeping up her back. With measured tone, she asked, "What are you talking about?"
"Proof that the Covenant found a way to break the brainwashing block taught by Project Christmas and was able to turn you into a dangerous assassin. That they implanted you with mental triggers. That you could be turned on at any moment and do anything."
Sydney blanched. Sark had never been above playing dirty, but he'd sunk to levels even Sydney hadn't thought possible. "No one would believe you," she whispered.
"Oh, but they would. There is video, there are documents. And how could you defend yourself? You erased your memories so they would never learn of your betrayal. Too bad your own self-mutilation was for nothing." Without taking the gun off target, Sark walked to the couch where he picked up a folder that Sydney hadn't noticed before. He tossed it over to her. "See for yourself."
Inside were documents so beautifully forged that Sydney doubted even her father would have questioned their legitimacy. Documents on Covenant letterhead signed by real psychiatrists, Covenant officials, and handlers, all saying that Julia Thorne was a perfect example of a brainwashed agent. It was the kind of file the CIA had on its own agents, with perfectly doctored pictures of Sydney doing unimaginable things, of transcripts of conversations she was sure she never had.
"This is sick."
He shrugged, his face expressionless.
"These are copies," she noted, when he didn't reply.
"I would hardly leave the originals in your reach. They are in a safe place, and at my command, they can and will be sent, through roads the CIA will trust, to Langley, where I imagine you will face trial and a certain life sentence."
It was true. The documents were too good. Sydney wondered how long Sark had spent getting them made, and how much he'd laughed while coming up with all the diabolical little details she was skimming over.
"As you can see," he continued, "the choice is clear. Refuse my offer and attempt to have me captured, and you will both fail to bring down the Covenant and also seal your own downfall. On the other hand, let me stay here, work with me, and you'll both keep your good name and achieve the end of your mission."
"If I agree, what happens to these papers?"
"The originals and all copies of them documents disappear. As soon as you agree to work with me, you will have my word and we need not ever speak of this again. This is all a distasteful but necessary measure to secure your cooperation. I stand to gain nothing from discrediting you."
Well, that was one thing she could always count on Sark for: not to bother with things that wouldn't gain him anything. Sydney trusted Sark only as far as logic allowed her to; she believed he would keep his word, on this point, at least.
She didn't want to immediately show that she had made up her mind, hateful though the other options were. With her hands up, Sydney began to walk slowly towards the kitchen. "How about you put that thing down? I don't see how I could ever agree to this if I'm going to live my life with a gun to my head."
"I simply want to ensure that you don't shoot me. That would be to neither of our best interests."
"I don't know about you, but that would suit my interests just fine," she snapped. But underneath the words was resignation. She knew she was going to go through with it. "I'm going to make a sandwich and think, okay?"
"Take your time."
As she cut bread under his watchful eye, counting the minutes until he had to give in to the pain of his wound and lower the gun, Sydney decided that she believed him. It was typical Sark: use the enemy of my enemy to bring someone else down. She knew all about that mentality. In this, they were the same.
Life really did suck when Sydney had to admit that she and Sark had anything at all in common.
"Are you really going to eat that?" he asked, shocked as she opened the jar of peanut butter on the counter.
"Yeah, I am. Got a problem with that?"
Sark perched himself on the back of the couch and rested the gun on his lap, but it was still trained at her skull. "None, except that it's revolting."
Okay. Maybe not that much in common.
"If you're going to stay here, you'd better get used to the contents of my kitchen."
"Do you mean we have an agreement?" he asked while she assembled her sandwich.
Sydney turned around slowly and took a bit of her sandwich. "You don't leave me much of a choice."
"Do I have your word?" he insisted.
"Yes." It unnerved Sydney how much emphasis and faith he seemed to put on either of their 'words of honour'. She certainly took his with a giant boulder of salt; why didn't he do the same with hers?
Sark didn't even have the decency to look relieved as he lowered his gun. Sydney decided when all this was done and the Covenant destroyed, she'd throttle the insolence out of him.
"We have to set some ground rules, first, though," Sydney continued.
"I expected no less."
"First, I don't cook for you. I don't clean for you. You keep the place neat and fend for yourself."
"Second, stay the hell out of my bedroom and keep your grubby hands off my stuff." Sydney told him this, not believing for a second that he would.
Sark looked at his hands. "Grubby? I had no idea. I'll have to add Purell to the list of things I'll need."
"I sure as hell am not shopping for you. You make do with what I have."
His eyes wandered disparagingly towards where the peanut butter jar sat. "I will endeavor to sink to your level."
Sydney rolled her eyes. "That brings me to number three: try not to talk so damn much. You give me a headache. Also, stay out of sight while I'm at work. The last thing either of us need is for the CIA to find out I'm harboring a known fugitive. You're number one on their most wanted list, too, you know."
"It's always so gratifying to be reminded of one's popularity," he replied, and then winced.
"So, what's that?" she asked, pointing at the red spot in his shirt that was obviously finally taking its toll.
He craned his neck to inspect the sartorial damage. "I had an unfortunate encounter this morning. Someone saw me and took a shot, but I got away. I bandaged it up as soon as I got here, though. No need to worry."
"Trust me, I wasn't."
They were silent for a moment, sizing one another up as they had so many times before, but this time was going to be different, prolonged. Sydney already felt tired just thinking about it, but she had no choice. It was either get thrown into jail for crimes she hadn't committed or else possibly bring down the Covenant.
"Where will I sleep?" he asked next, visibly relaxing his body for the first time. They both knew that their silent stare-off had heralded a new era in Sark-Bristow relations. He poked at the couch cushions beneath him. "Is this a pull-out?" He made a moue of resigned discontent.
"Nope, it's just a regular couch. You'll have to put a sheet down and curl up. It should be long enough, though. You aren't that tall."
"So generous, as always."
Sydney went to the linen closet and took out some sheets and a blanket. She almost automatically went to fetch the extra pillow from her room but then reminded himself that this was Sark, who didn't deserve pillows. On her way back to the living room, she spotted a big black duffel on the floor of the bathroom, where he must have left it after bandaging himself.
"Get that bag out of the bathroom," she snapped upon her return to the living room. She chucked the sheets at him. "I've got to get ready for bed."
"My apologies. Where would you like me to keep it going forward?" His voice betrayed that he was just as exhausted as she was, and glad that they had finally sorted it out.
"You can keep it in the hall closet. And you can use the bathroom after I'm done."
She stormed into the bathroom and tossed the bag out before shutting the door. By the time she'd finished brushing her teeth, Sark had 'made the couch' and was obsessively tucking the fitted sheet under the cushions as though it were a real mattress. She pretended not to notice and went right into her bedroom.
"Good-night, Sydney," she heard him call just before shutting the door. She leaned her back against it and sighed.
Well, at least she wouldn't dread going to work anymore.