Sydney could see them talking about her before she actually heard them.

From the other end of the hallway and through the glass, she watched their backs, ranged around the conference table. Dixon's shoulders hunched with the tension of someone who is trying and failing not to laugh. Weiss's wide-armed gesticulations imitated Sydney's own drunken awkwardness of the night before. Marshall's outstretched neck ensured he didn't miss a beat.

"Sydney!"

She turned around to see her father raising a hand to stop her. She glanced over her shoulder as she waited for him to catch up to her. She watched Vaughn and Lauren walk into the conference room and Marshall was asked to babble out the source of their mirth. Vaughn's face drained of color, and Lauren locked eyes with Sydney through the glass with a small but triumphant smile on her face.

Sydney's father was watching them, too.

"Word is you had a late night."

"Word travels fast," she absently replied.

"It's a small office."

"Don't we have a meeting now?"

She regretted her harshness the minute the words had come out of her mouth, but it couldn't have come as a surprise. They'd never chatted about her dating habits, not even back when she'd actually had some. Even without it being about Sark, there was no reason for them to start now.

He didn't blink. "I'll be there in a moment. You can start without me."

Great. Not only had she just been subjected to a father's judgment, but now she'd have to go in there without his nonsense-quashing presence.

Sydney took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the conference room.

"Sydney," Lauren cooed, "Weiss has just been telling us about your charming evening out last night."

"Weiss said he seemed to really care about you," Vaughn choked out. "That he seemed like a good guy."

Sydney repressed a snort.

"It was nothing, okay guys?" Sydney said distractedly, looking out the window. "Let's get to work."

"That mark on your neck doesn't look like nothing," Marshall said. Weiss and Dixon snickered. Vaughn simply looked sick.

Sydney's hands flew to her collar.

That son of a bitch.

Trying to will the redness from her face, she sputtered, "At least I don't spend my mornings sitting in parking lots, watching people make out, like a creeper."

"What are you talking about?" Weiss looked genuinely confused. "What parking lot?"

"Outside the… the Starbucks…" Sydney stopped herself. It was clear he had no idea what she was talking about.

That's when she got it. And bit her lip in mortification.

This whole thing with Sark had officially spiraled far beyond 'professionally disastrous and personally problematic'. This had become a full-scale nuclear crisis.

Something had to be done.

2 HOURS EARLIER

Sydney woke up with her face pressed against something that wasn't her pillow. Something warm.

Sark's shoulder. She'd basically been slobbering on it. She was all the way over on his side of the bed, so she couldn't even yell at him for encroaching on his space; she'd unconsciously come over there and snuggled him of her own accord. She made a motion to move away, but he grunted and wrapped his arm around her. She wasn't sure which was more disturbing: the idea that this was a natural reaction of his when asleep, or the possibility that he was awake.

From the sound of his breathing, though, he was definitely asleep.

There wasn't time to deal with this, though, because she could tell she only had seconds to make it to the bathroom. She quickly unraveled herself from his arms, and didn't have time to close the bedroom door behind her like she wanted, because the copious amount of alcohol in her stomach was already on its way up.

Sark staggered in a minute later to find her curled up on the cold tile floor, as unglamorous as he'd probably ever seen her.

She felt him reach out to pull her hair back, but she'd shrugged him off. She had never liked people coming in to comfort her while she vomited. She had never understood anyone who did.

"Go away, Sark."

"Have it your own way."

By the time she reemerged, ready for work, Sark was back in his disguise from the previous evening, bottle tan and all. He stood by the sink, downing orange juice like medicine.

"Better?" he asked.

"Not really."

"I feel about the same, to tell you the truth. At any rate, I propose you drop me off at a nearby public place on your way to the office. I'll then work my way back inside the building unseen."

This was new for them… driving around like some normal LA couple, her letting him out of her sight in broad daylight. Sydney didn't like it. She liked her routines, even when they were routines with him, and therefore didn't enjoy this new twist to the pattern. The entire situation made her nervous.

She'd had fun the night before. Really, she'd been having fun with him for weeks. It was silly to try to pretend otherwise anymore. The truth was, if he ran off, she'd be back to where she'd been before: horribly lonely. She'd miss him. She hated herself for it, but there it was.

But what if this was it? What if he had no intention of climbing back into her apartment? What if the time they'd shared was nothing but an elaborate set of lies and games on his side? What if he had all along intended to make a fool of her? What if her unwanted and uncomfortable feelings of semi-friendship were one-sided?

Even worse was the terrible, crippling fear that while she found herself growing close with Sark, perhaps he was still playing a game, that maybe those late nights and comradely conversations were an elaborate ruse, and she was the fool in the middle of it.

If his goal had been to humiliate her, then the previous night had successfully upped the stakes on how deeply his inevitable betrayal (this was Sark, after all) would devastate and humiliate her. It was Irina all over again, except this time she didn't have the 'long lost mommy' excuse to explain away her stupidity. And this time there was more inexplicable shoulder drooling.

The nearest Starbucks was only a couple of minutes away, but the horrible knot of nervous tension in Sydney's stomach made the drive seem longer.

While she churned through all this, Sark, for his part, wore the same mask of derisive nonchalance he always did.

"I'll buy you breakfast," he said as they pulled into the driveway.

"I'm all right."

"It's the least I can do to express my appreciation for our night of passion."

"Stop it," she said distractedly, but followed him out of the car anyway.

He watched her as they walked. "'Stop it?' Sydney, you can do better than that."

She could, but she was feeling too off her game for their usual banter.

He tried baiting again as they waited in line for their cappucinos. "I suppose this is where I thank you for a charming evening, and hope you share my desire to do it again."

"Er, sure. Whatever."

He seemed confused and disappointed when she yet again failed to respond with her usual smackdown. "Sydney? Is everything all right? Do you need to vomit again?"

"No, I'm fine." Except that she wasn't. He knew it, too, and kept glancing quizzically at her while they waited for their coffee.

"For the sake of the charade," Sark said when they exited, she to head back to her vehicle and he to go wherever, "please don't slap me."

Before Sydney could ask 'slap you for what', he'd leaned in and clenched his lips on her earlobe. She stiffened, but before she could make up her mind how to react, he whispered, a little too seductively for the words, "Agent Weiss is in the parking lot, watching us."

Sark put his arms around her and, despite the warm morning sunshine, Sydney knew he could feel her shivering in his arms, too paralyzed by the sensation of being held to stop him, even though every sane neuron in her brain was shrieking in dismay. He let his lips traipse their way, playfully yet purposefully, down along the artery in her neck until they reached what was apparently a juicy enough spot.

And then he stopped. And sucked, with a slight partition that allowed his tongue to wet her skin. Involuntarily, Sydney's eyes closed and her lips parted slightly in a silent pant. She couldn't help it, but she could at least try to keep him from noticing. Her brain was too fuzzy from the hangover and from this almost-forgotten sensation to even look for Weiss.

"You'll excuse me for not bidding you farewell properly," he said smugly, "but spearmint can only do so much to mask the taste of vomit. Also, if I remember correctly, you threatened to 'end me' if I ever kissed you."

He straightened up and regarded her with a self-satisfied smirk. Now that he wasn't touching her anymore, her senses returned. If she hadn't been able to smack him for daring to touch her, she definitely wanted to smack him for the smile.

"Damn straight. You're lucky I'm not bludgeoning you to death right now."

He smiled, pleased that he'd finally been able to shake her out of her numb non-reactions. "There she is. I'll see you tonight, darling."

He meant it playfully, but Sydney had learned by now that Sark was at his most sincere when he was being playful.

Which meant he'd be home by the time she got there that evening.

The knot of worry in her stomach loosened.

And then tightened again. Oh god, what a mess.

All day, Sydney sat through her meetings in a blushing daze that she was sure the rest of them were attributing to afterglow.

She barely paid attention to the discussion. She was too busy thinking. And remembering.

She remembered how Sark had told Weiss his name was Adam and that he knew Sydney from high school. She remembered that there actually was a guy from high school named Adam. Adam Silverman, who had moppy black hair and brown eyes and who wore glasses—just like the disguise she'd given Sark.

Whereas Sydney had simply grabbed the first costume elements at hand, with no particular person in mind, the name Sark had associated with the cobbled-together look couldn't have been a coincidence; with Sark there were no coincidences. He must have done his research, probably looked up a copy of her yearbook before this entire drama had started (she knew there weren't any lying around the house), and memorized the names and faces of everyone in her graduating class.

Creepy little fucker.

But somehow, it wasn't creepy. Not really. It was thorough. It was professional. It was kinda brilliant. It was the sort of thing her dad probably would have suggested as a 'best practice'.

Sydney remembered more things, too. She remembered how she'd lain in bed, drunkenly staring into those giant blue eyes, wondering if he'd kiss her, almost hoping he would. She remembered the way she had actually let him help her out of her pants, and the way she'd found the little smirk he'd given her while his eyes were shut cute. She remembered the way his lips felt as they nipped her skin and how she'd been almost (fine, not almost—full on) aroused by it.

This was out of control. Things had been spinning quietly but unstoppably out of control since the moment he stepped into her apartment that first day. Alcohol didn't explain it away, because she knew deep down this had nothing to do with how many glasses of scotch or wine she'd had. And that's what scared her; it's what had been bothering her at the Starbucks.

If she didn't do something to change the status quo, there was no telling what insanity might follow.

She needed to regain some modicum of control, to add that tension and antagonism back. Hiding secrets and double-crossing a possible double-cross: this was how she and Sark should be, not this bizarrely easy domestic bliss they'd somehow fallen into.

There was only one thing to do. She wondered why she hadn't thought of it before.

She flagged her father down in the hallway late in the afternoon.

"Dad!"

"Yes, Sydney?"

"There's something I need to tell you."

She didn't tell him everything. Just enough to feel more empowered, less alone in her head.

She told him how on her recent mission, she'd been taunted with the knowledge that files were out there with her name on them. Bogus files that incriminated her in the eyes of the American government and which spun well-crafted lies about how she'd been a triple agent during her two years as Julia Thorne. She told him that someone connected with the Covenant had them somewhere, and that one day these files may be used to blackmail her.

The fact that the papers were currently being used to blackmail her, that the person doing the blackmail was Sark and that he was currently curled up on her couch… These were details she left out.

As always, her father promised to devote himself to the case. He'd never failed in any work-oriented development before, so she felt sure that it would only be a matter of days before he tracked down the originals Sark had threatened her with that first night.

It was enough to level the playing field, but not so much that the arrangement would be compromised. The end goal—taking down the Covenant—had to be protected at all costs.

Or at least, that's what she told herself.

But more honestly, all this—the files, the blackmail, the Covenant—had little to do with why she'd decided to tell him.

At any rate, Sydney felt more in control as she drove home. From now on, the weird thing that was going on between them would be easier to handle, because she could just write it off as just another assignment: getting close to the mark, getting past his defenses, scouring for information. Whether or not she enjoyed it would now be irrelevant. This was work.

Right.

But one thing remained the same: the sight of him popping out of a closet as soon as she'd shut the front door. She wanted to smile, but knew she was supposed to be yelling at him, making up for her inability to be 'normal' with him earlier.

He moved to help her drag in the heavy box of groceries that had been delivered that day, but she stopped him with an imperious gesture.

"Sark."

"Where shall we go tonight?" he asked cheerfully, ignoring her best efforts at seething rage. "Shall I don last night's costume or—"

"Sark, you gave me a hickey." Now that she'd started, it wasn't too hard to continue. It was a nice release after a stressful day. He seemed extra pleased by her return to form.

"Ah, that. I'd been wondering how you might discover it. Tell me. Did you see it in the mirror or did someone have to point—"

"You gave me a goddamn hickey and Weiss wasn't even there!"

"Ah. You discovered that, too, did you? I've always said your skills were second to—"

"Sark! What the fuck!"

"Well—"

She was really warmed up now. Genuinely pissed off, and with good reason. Yep, telling her dad had been one of her best ideas ever.

"I have never been so embarrassed or made to feel so unprofessional in my whole life. Not even when I was literally, actually sleeping with my handler! I had to endure my own father giving me the eyebrow."

"Yes, I know that infamous Jack Bristow look. Your mother gives the same one, you know, only using the other eyebrow. I wonder which of them began doing it first." He looked at her, testing her mood. "Angry as you undoubtedly are, you seem to be taking it all rather better than I expected."

That made her stop. She wondered if he was onto her. Which, messed up as it sounds, made her happy. Ah yes, games. This was all so much better.

She half-playfully, half-seriously reached out to slap him, but he parried the blow. She tried again, and was blocked once more. She kept going and soon they were locked together wrestling on the floor.

"I've had all day to think about how to make you pay," she said as she pinned his arms to the floor. God, he looked good from this angle.

"And?"

"And…" The unmistakably hopeful look in his eyes sapped away her steam. She finished awkwardly, "I'm still working on it. It's going to have to be something really good."

"I look forward to it."

They stared at one another for another minute, each waiting for the next barb. After awhile, though, they couldn't sustain the tension any longer, so they dissolved into laughter. And happily, Sydney didn't mind. It didn't have to be real. Even if it was, she could tell herself it wasn't.

"Weiss said you seemed like 'a good guy'," Sydney said, giving in and flopping down next to him. "I mean… I almost couldn't keep a straight face. And you know how good I am at keeping a straight face."

"I'll be sure to thank Agent Weiss for the kind, if misguided, compliment if ever this arrangement of ours is found out."

"Like it's in either of our best interests to let that happen."

"It would not be the ideal scenario, I grant you. But perhaps we could be roommates in a CIA cell. It would be like old times."

Sydney was confused. "We've never shared a cell before. Do you mean it would be like now times?"

"Yes. I've been quite enjoying myself, Sydney. I realized today that I've neglected to tell you so. Now that you've managed to stop acting like a harpy, you've been excellent company these past few weeks. Thank you."

Sydney looked away to hide her smile. She knew he was every bit as good of an actor as she was, so she shouldn't be falling for this crap but… "You're just trying to butter me up after your crimes against my person this morning."

He didn't deny it. "The context doesn't negate the veracity of the statement."

"The context of blackmail kind of does," Sydney said, all while thinking Hopefully not for long.

"Simply an inducement, Sydney. There is nothing malicious behind my actions; I assure you that once this is over, I'll have the documents destroyed. I have no wish to see you discredited."

"Only you could find blackmail something other than malicious."

Sark got up to grab a bottle of wine and two glasses. He waited expectantly for her to join him.

"If I may return to my original question: what shall we do tonight?" he asked.

"Well—"

The doorbell rang.

Sark and Sydney glanced at one another, frozen. Sydney shrugged, silently signaling to him that she hadn't been expecting anyone.

She went to the door and looked through the peephole.

"Vaughn," she mouthed to Sark.

Sark took his gun out from underneath the couch cushions and slinked off into the bedroom.

Once Sark was out of sight (and damn him for not shutting the door behind him), Sydney let Vaughn in. He entered sheepishly. It was his first time at her house since her return from the dead.

"Is everything okay?" she asked.

Vaughn took a quick look around. "Is this a bad time?" He pointed nervously at the wine glasses and meat plate. "It looks like you're expecting company."

"No, I'm just… cleaning up after yesterday. What's going on?"

Vaughn gestured at the sofa. "Can I?"

"Sure."

They sat stiffly together, the awkwardness rolling off them in waves.

"I was going to invite myself over yesterday," he began. "But you said you were too tired to talk."

Yikes. Sydney had forgotten all about that. "I—"

"It's okay. You had plans."

"It wasn't a plan. It was all really impromptu. I just kind of ran into—"

"It's not a big deal. I just wish… I guess I just wish you'd told me."

Sydney went from apologetic to angry in a minute. Now she almost wished she had had plans and lied about it.

"I'm not obligated to keep you abreast of my whereabouts, Vaughn. Especially not anymore."

"I didn't mean it like that."

"Then what did you mean?"

He stared at the floor, rightfully too ashamed to look her in the face. "I miss you. Can't you tell? Wasn't it obvious all those days we were locked up together this week? Don't you miss me, too?"

Sydney opened her mouth to agree, but then shut it again before any words fell out. What she'd been about to say would have been automatic. And wholly untrue, she suddenly knew. She didn't miss him.

Ever since coming back, she been wanting so many things—her friends, her life, him—that she'd somehow pinpointed all of the wanting on just him, since friends and a life no longer appeared to be open to her. It had been awhile since she'd stopped to think, and see that her longing had much less to do with him than she'd been telling herself.

It was clear now. The reason these scenes exhausted her wasn't because she missed him so much; it was because she didn't even care anymore.

Whereas a few months ago when her heart would have leapt to see Vaughn distraught and jealous, these days, his obvious emotional turmoil simply left her exhausted. What with harboring criminals in her home, secretly taking down the Covenant, and being forced every day by Sark's presence to take a good, hard look at her life and what she wanted out of it… well, Sydney had somehow, slowly, gotten to a point where this star-crossed bullshit wasn't doing it for her anymore.

It was all a pretty monumental realization. The weight of it squeezed her. She wanted to cry. She could feel the tears starting to brim over. But the thing was… she wasn't sad. Not about him. She was feeling a heady and confusing combination of relief and emptiness. She'd put him aside, without even realizing it, and she knew that was healthy. But at the same time, not wanting left her feeling adrift.

Vaughn misinterpreted her misty eyes as a reconciliation waiting to happen. Sydney was too busy reeling from her own internal eurekas to stop him from reaching out and grabbing her hand. She numbly let him drag it over to his lap.

"Syd," he breathed. She let him rub her hand. "I love you, Syd. I never stopped. You know that."

She was done with this, but she needed to know one thing. Carefully, she asked, "If I did… miss you… Then what would we do about it?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? It isn't rocket science, Vaughn." She didn't care, but she also wasn't going to let him get away with this.

"Lauren—"

"Lauren?" Sydney snatched her hand back. "You come here and tell me you love me, but you haven't even squared things away with your wife? What were you looking for, Vaughn? To keep her and also have me on the side?"

Vaughn sputtered and blanched. Sydney was on a roll, as she had been with Sark earlier… was it just a few minutes ago? It felt like a lifetime. Sark… she remembered something, and felt even angrier.

"What are you even doing here?" she continued. "Why now? Why today? Is it because it looked like I was finally moving on? You heard that I had some sort of date last night, and you came over here to see how serious it was. That's it, isn't it? You don't want to break it off with Lauren to be with me, but you don't want anyone else to be with me either?"

"Syd, it isn't like that."

"Don't call me Syd." She was hysterical now, from relief and anger and freedom. "You know what? Just go. I don't miss you. I don't miss what we had, not when it was clearly so weak. I don't want you back. I don't want anything back. I want to move forward. Without you."

"You don't mean that. You can't. Look at you, you're crying. Syd, please."

"If I'm crying, it's because I'm realizing how much time I've wasted crying over you before now. Sitting here night after night, drowning my sorrows in cheap wine." She thought, and then smiled, thinking of Sark in the back room. "But you know what? I haven't done that in weeks. And anyway, I drink more expensive wine these days."

The tears were really rolling down now, though she wished they would stop. She wasn't crying over Vaughn. She was crying for herself, for the shambles her life had become. God, she wanted out. She wanted out so badly. She deserved better than this. She laughed like a crazy person. Vaughn tried to hold her hand again, but she scrambled back to the far end of the couch.

"Please. Sydney."

"I think you should let yourself out, Agent Vaughn."

There was fury in her eyes, mixed in with a little lunacy. Vaughn may have been an idiot, but he knew what was good for him.

"I just want you to be happy," he said just before heading out.

"Me, too." Now that she'd actually done it, the impetus behind the tears turned into something else, something horrifically sad. All the emptiness washed over her anew. It hurt. She didn't know what it was. Maybe closure? If it was, then closure hurt like a bitch.

The door shut and Sydney was left, for one awful moment, alone and crumpled on the couch, barely breathing.

Then Sark was suddenly there, hovering hesitantly beside her. Sydney could hear him opening his mouth and inhaling in preparation to speak, but each time, the words failed to come out. This wasn't the time for quips or sarcasm—even though she was sure the ripeness of the situation left him bursting with ideas for commentary.

Just as his lungs kept preparing for comforting words he was ill-equipped to say, his arms kept twitching open for hugs he was equally unaccustomed to giving. Sydney made it easy for him by letting herself fall into his lap. Sark's arms came to rest awkwardly over her as she cried.

Sydney was forced to accept once and for all that the days of disdaining him were over. They were friends. Or at least were doing an excellent job playing at it. Sometimes that amounted to the same thing.

"I don't know what to do," he confessed into her hair.

His admission of uncertainty was a bigger signal of intimacy than any personal tidbit he had ever told her or any hickey he could ever give her.

"I… I just want to go somewhere. Away."

It wasn't exactly what she meant, but she hoped he would understand. This wasn't about leaving the country. This was about leaving herself.

Sark stood up, and, without the support of his body, Sydney curled downwards into the couch.

She looked up and brushed the stray hairs from in front of her eyes. Sark's hand was outstretched, and he gazed at her with a calm and determined expression.

"Come."

"Where?"

"Away. Just for the evening. Trust me." He saw her confusion, interpreted it as hesitation, and stepped back with a sigh. "I'm sorry. I should know better than to ask that of you. In lieu of trust, I will appeal to your belief in the strength of my self-preservation skills. This will bring us to no harm. I promise you that."

But the correction was unnecessary. The question of trusting him hadn't even crossed her mind. Sometimes, with people like him, or like her father, a simple acknowledgement of a person's devotion to logic overrode any need for trust. It was more reliable than trust, she'd come to realize, especially when back-dropped against what she'd gone through with Vaughn.

"Okay."

She seemed surprised that she was agreeing so readily. "I just need a moment to verify the address."

"You don't know where we're going?"

"I do. But it's a place I've never been before."

A few minutes later, they descended into building's underground parking lot disguised as Sydney's middle-aged upstairs neighbors, her in a blond wig and him in preppy khakis and a blazer she had never seen before. He opened a Mercedes door with some sort of skeleton key and hot-wired it to start.

"We'll return the car in the morning, and they will be none the wiser," he reassured her.

"Are we staying in town?" It was already after eight. Sydney looked at the mysterious bag he had quickly packed while she'd been grabbing her wallet and keys. She couldn't imagine where they were going.

"Yes. And that is all I will say."

They drove in a calming silence. Sydney couldn't remember the last time she'd been a passenger, riding shotgun. It was nice. She rested her arm on the window ledge and let the wind blow by her elbow. She fiddled with the radio and settled on a classic rock station.

She didn't know where they were going, but the fresh air was helping. Sark glanced at her once or twice and smirked with approval.

It wasn't long before they pulled into a driveway of a small but cozy beachfront house in Santa Monica. Sark jimmy-rigged the garage door open and parked inside.

Sydney wasn't sure what she'd expected, but it wasn't this: a completely ordinary and well-lived-in bachelor pad. There was travel memorabilia on the walls, a beat-up futon in the corner, and an unvarnished Ikea media center. There was a beautiful view of the sea from the living room, which opened up through glass doors to a sizeable deck.

This couldn't be one of Sark's hideouts. It was a nice enough house, but even in a temporary haunt, Sark would never be caught dead with unvarnished Ikea. Or Ikea in general.

"What is this place?" she asked as she walked around.

"I'll let you figure it out for yourself."

And that's when she spotted it: in a corner of the living room almost hidden behind an overgrown plant was a poster board covered in photos. Most of them included a familiar-looking guy who was older in some of the pictures than in Sydney's memory. A guy with moppy black hair and glasses, whose lanky frame barely filled out his tee-shirts and jeans.

Sydney's gasped when she recognized Francie in one of the pictures. And then herself. A younger version of herself, with a happy, open, uncomplicated smile. Pigtails and an LL Bean backpack. This was high school. This was before spies and intrigue and memory wipes. This was the person Sydney used to be, before her life had branched into a seemingly inescapable swirl of nightmares.

She turned towards Sark, who was watching her from the other side of the room, with his hands in his pockets. His expression was unreadable, possibly sad.

"This is Adam Silverman's apartment," she said.

"He is, luckily for us, on a business trip this week. I don't know how well you've kept in touch over the years, but he has become a moderately successful civil engineer."

"How…?"

"After being forced to quickly decide upon that alias last night, I spent the morning following up on the man's whereabouts, in case a situation arose in which—"

Sydney shook her head. She didn't want to hear the logistical steps involved; she wanted to understand why.

Sark understood her gesture and stopped himself. He sat down on the couch and stared into his folded hands. "As her handler, Allison kept me updated on her preparations for the Francie Calfo mission. Her job was to collect as many facts about Francie's life as she could. We'd never done research on anyone like that before, on people like her. Usually we had only to worry about memorizing bank codes or names of chiefs of staff… the important details of important people. But with Francie…"

"Francie was normal," Sydney whispered. She untacked the photo from the board and came to sit next to Sark on the couch. They sat with their knees almost touching, both staring at the picture.

"She procured a copy of your high school's yearbook," Sark continued after a minute. "We studied it together a couple of times when I was in LA. We both have—had—photographic memories. I could still rattle off all names in there, if I needed to. I would quiz her, pretend to be people from high school or university, to see what she would say and how Francie-like her reactions were. It was almost enjoyable, those preparations. Pretending, just for an hour, that we had these lives."

He smiled sadly and finally looked up at Sydney. The detached sarcasm that almost always lurked behind his eyes had completely disappeared. Sydney almost flinched from the intensity of his stare, almost wished the mask were still there to keep him from being so naked.

"It wasn't my idea to have Allison take Francie's place. And it wasn't our idea to kill your friend. I want you to know that. We thought it would be most prudent to simply abduct her so she would be on hand in case we needed her for information. She could have one day been returned to you. But the orders came from above. You lost your friend, Sydney, and so did I, in more ways than one. In the end, Allison was on her way to choosing that life over me. I could see it in her eyes—they were Francie's eyes, but they were just as dear to me. She came to fancy Tippin and all the things being with Tippin meant, all the things being Francie meant. A life that included people like Adam Silverman. After spending these past few weeks living with you, I can't say that I blame her. Although the objects of my desire are not precisely the same."

There it was again: an ambiguous, almost declaration of… something. Always phrased to give her a choice: to let her either politely ignore his meaning or else to take the plunge. He always worded it to avoid the possibility of getting rejected, because it was so hard to prove that's what he meant. He'd done it last night, and once or twice before that. Who knew how many more times he'd done it without her catching on.

Sydney wondered what it said about her that she was now catching on so often.

Even putting that aside, Sydney didn't know what to say. She couldn't say she was sorry, not when the hurt had been done to her, too. She felt simultaneously glad she had armed herself against this by telling her father as well as a pang for having betrayed Sark further if indeed this was all as real as it seemed.

She didn't know if he'd done it on purpose (probably, though; everything Sark did was intentional), but the best way to get Sydney to put aside her problems had always been to get her to focus on someone else's problems. Sark sounded like he needed as much cheering up as she did. Or, at least, deciding to cheer him up might take her mind off things.

She slapped him on the thigh and swung herself up. "Come on. Let's sit outside."

He smiled. "I'll see what your friend has in the bar cabinet."

Sydney frowned as she watched him amble over to the kitchen. "We can't drink his stuff. That's stealing."

"I doubt he'll notice. And even if he does, this isn't stealing. I think of it more as… gaslighting."

Sydney chuckled, and relented, despite herself. "I'll see what's outside."

Adam Silverman had locked all the patio furniture up before leaving for his trip, but it took only a moment for Sydney to pick the lock and release chairs, low tables, and a gigantic hammock. Sark came outside a minute later with a bottle of wine, some San Pellegrino, four glasses, and a bag of cheese and crackers.

The night was warm enough to be comfortable, but a cool breeze blew down the beach. While Sark finished putting up the hammock, Sydney went to the bedroom to grab some blankets. She found them in the first place she looked, on the top shelf of the closet. It disconcerted her how much she felt at home here. A normal, kind of fratty guy's room. It reminded her of freshman year of college, before any of this started. From a logistical point of view, it wasn't that different from her own apartment, but there was a freedom here, a lack of complication that her life had been suffused with for years.

And not even being here with Sark reintroduced that sense of complication. She wondered if that was the point he was trying to make: that he could be Adam and she could be his friend Sydney Bristow who came over all the time for wine and cheese on the deck. Or was he maybe trying to tell her that life with Vaughn could never have been this, and that she therefore shouldn't feel sorry for having lost him?

As usual, Sark was leaving all interpretations up to her.

On her way back, she peeked into the bag he'd brought. Inside were their pajamas and toothbrushes and a suit for her to wear to work tomorrow. Nothing at all sinister. She smiled to herself.

When she returned to the deck, she found him stretched out on the hammock, but having left plenty of space beside him. He'd already poured out two glasses of wine and arranged the snacks for easy access. Sydney unfolded the blankets over him and then gingerly got on without tipping Sark or the hammock over.

They lay quietly, staring out at the ocean, and leaning over every few seconds to take a sip of wine without spilling it on themselves. Sydney felt the warmth flowing from her side into his. Despite having been sleeping in the same bed for awhile, this was the closest and longest physical proximity they'd ever maintained while awake.

"I truly believe that simplicity is a virtue in managing any situation," Sark said languidly as they rocked back and forth. "Mr. Vaughn's great failing is that he managed to make a simple thing very complicated. Disappearances and marriages…"

The words came surprisingly easily. "…It shouldn't have mattered. And now it doesn't anymore. It's as simple as that."

That was all they had ever or would ever say about it.

After a few minutes, Sark asked, "You said you wanted to get 'away'. Did my plan… did coming here help at all?"

"Like you said, it's only for a night. But for a temporary fix… this is perfect. Thank you."

She squeezed his hand and felt him shudder. But by the time she turned to look at him, he'd recomposed his face (or maybe it had never reacted).

"Does this pay my debt for the love mark on your neck?"

"Not even close."

He poured more wine for both of them. "You do realize that you've just thanked me for making you an accomplice to breaking and entering."

Sydney shrugged. "I thought we were just gaslighting."

"I am a deplorable influence."

"Don't give yourself compliments. It's completely transparent. Anyway, it's not like I'm such a goody-two-shoes."

"Yes, you are."

Sydney remembered something. "Oh no."

"What?" he asked.

"The disk. From the mission. We forgot to look at it last night. And now..."

"Hush. We can do it tomorrow, Miss Goody Two Shoes."

"Those don't sound like the words of a man who's desperate to get his fortune back and start his retirement."

"As I said, Sydney, I've been enjoying myself. You could try to do so as well. I promise you, a little enjoyment is less likely to kill you than your usual pursuits."

He squeezed her hand, and this time it was her turn to shudder. And realize that, yet again, they'd been holding hands for the past couple of minutes, and had no intention of letting go.

"I'm enjoying myself just fine," she said, not caring how he might take it.

"You wouldn't mind if I poured myself a victory glass of wine, would you? For that might be the sweetest accomplishment on my already extensive CV."

Sydney smacked him playfully. "Only if you pour one for me, too."