Jack stared out into the night sky and wished he could find peace. Not that he had really felt any in over twenty years. Laura had stolen that from him.

He did not deserve any peace. Sydney. He closed his eyes again and reached over for his glass. The Scotch had failed to erase the horrible images that had been playing in his mind since last night. It had not even muted the continuous play of Mark Harris's voice, laughing as he brought Jack's world to a standstill.

His fingers tightened on the glass. He wished it were Harris's throat. He wished he had moved faster, had managed to put his gun to that bastard's head, and pulled the trigger. Harris did not deserve an easy death, but at least he would have paid for what he had done. At least he would not have been able to laugh about it anymore, or brag to his friends about what he had done to Sydney.

For what Jack had done to Sydney. He drained the glass as he thought about the little girl who had adored her father, who had been confused when he suddenly pulled away from her after her mother's death. He thought of a teenager who had watched him with haunted eyes the few times he'd come home for dinner. And of a young woman who hesitatingly told him that she wanted to go to UCLA and become a teacher. Like her mother.

Like her mother. Jack stood up as his glass sailed across the room, smashing into the wall. Her mother. Jack could not hate the man who had fallen in love with the pretty young teacher who would become his wife. He could not even blame his younger, idealistic self for not realizing that Laura was only using him and Sydney.

But he absolutely hated the man he became after Laura's death. The one who decided that ridding the world of that kind of evil was more important than anything, even Sydney. She could survive without him. Be happier without being touched by his world anymore, he had told himself. He had been wrong. Horribly wrong.

He stared down at the broken remains of his glass and thought about how he felt after Laura's death. Broken. And if he had been smart, he would have run. He would have grabbed Sydney up in his arms and ran as far as he could take them from the CIA or any other intelligence agency.

He could have taken a nice normal job. Maybe exported airplane parts for real. Fed Sydney an unhealthy amount of Macaroni and Cheese while he learned how to cook. Read her bedtime stories and kissed her scrapes and bruises better. Helped her to be more confident, secure in love. The kind of woman that SD-6 would have never approached, the kind of woman who would have turned them down if they had.

Instead, he had decided to protect her in a different way, and he had failed her. Because of him, she had been ripe for SD-6's seduction. For their lies. She had run towards the very world he had tried to keep her from, no matter what the cost to himself.

Cost. In the end, he had not been the one to pay the cost. She had. She had been paying for almost eight years, and this last years' payment had been enormous. Now she lived with knowledge. Knowledge that she helped evil. Knowledge that her job, her actions, had led to the death of the man she loved, the man she had wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Now, not only did she have to lie to her friends, those in the "real" world, but she also had to lie to those in her SD-6 life. And in Cairo, she had paid again. Paid for him, for his life. Literally. With her own body.

For once, he wished he could scream, let go of his emotions. He envied those that could cry at the drop of a hat. At the same time he held them in contempt for their lack of control. Control was what mattered. Control kept him alive. But sometimes, just sometimes, he wanted to let go of that control, but he never did. Because of fear. Fear that he could never regain that control, could never stop screaming, if he let go.

A knock on the door startled him. He stared at the gleaming black entrance into his apartment like it was personally responsible for the horrors of the last twenty-four hours. Well, whoever was on the other side could forget it; not tonight. He would deal with what happened in Vegas, in Cairo, before he opened that door again. Tomorrow, they would both be at work. He would see her, and he had to be strong enough to be able to maintain the lie.

Then the one person who could get him to open that door spoke from the other side. "Daddy?"

She needed him. Her voice told him that with that one spoken word. He opened the door before he had the time to realize it was not a good idea. Everything was too raw. His emotions were too close to the surface. He needed to be in total control, or he would fall apart. "Sydney."

She tried to smile at him, reminding him of the little girl she had been. She looked around the hallway and then back at him. "C-can I come in?"

He stepped back, knowing he should refuse but unable to do so. "Of course."

"You've redecorated," she mumbled.

"Yes, three years ago."

"Oh," was all she said. It had been almost a decade since she last visited this apartment. He had her room redecorated the day she moved into the dorm; he had wanted her to stay away. Away from him and the world he inhabited.

Another mistake. If they had been closer, maybe she would have came to talk to him about the job offer from SD-6. Maybe he could have told her the truth, told her to run away and never look back. Maybe . . ..

She took a few hesitant steps into the den and stopped. Jack realized that she was staring at the shattered glass lying on the carpet. The light mist of Scotch staining the wall told her more than he wanted her to know. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, to get her away from here. To keep her from asking questions that he did not want to answer.

She spoke before he could. "Vaughn called for a meet. I just left him," she said. She spoke softly, hesitantly. Each word tripped over the next one.

"Oh," was all he could say. He stuck his hands into his pockets. They balled up into fists, and he wished again that he had killed Mark Harris. And wished that he had forced Vaughn to make the same promise that Dixon had made earlier. Never mention it to Sydney. Ever.

"He told me that you already knew, and that he confirmed it." She looked down at her feet, and Jack's heart ached at the sight. In her big overcoat, with her slumped shoulders, she looked very much like she had on the day of her mother's funeral.

"Yes," he whispered through dry lips.

It took her three steps to turn and look at him. Tears trembled on the edge of her lashes. "I'm sorry."

Jack stared at her. "What?"

"I'm sorry," she said again. She waved her hand. "I know that I should have been able to figure out another way. I should have already extracted you long before that deadline. I don't know why I hadn't found another way. I let you down by--"

It only took him one step to get close to her. He grabbed her shoulders. "Listen to me, Sydney. You have nothing to apologize for. Nothing. You don't have to apologize to me as an agent. And, most especially, you do not have to apologize to me as my daughter. You did what you had to do, Sydney. I know that. As a senior agent." A lump formed in his throat, refusing to let out the rest of that statement. As an agent he could understand and accept sleeping with the enemy for information. As a father, he never would.

Then, his arms performed an action they had not done in twenty years. They hugged his daughter to him. Something that used to come so naturally was now awkward, but he could not let her go. Could not let her carry the burden alone. He wanted to tell her that she should not have done it, but he feared that she would misunderstand, take that as a criticism of her job instead of the words of a father who would have rather died.

After she stopped shaking, he pulled away. He walked into the kitchen and grabbed up a dustbin and broom as if today had been a normal day. Sydney said nothing as he walked past her and started cleaning up the glass.

The glass glistened against the yellow dustbin. It made the drab plastic look almost pretty. Some things, some people, had the ability to take the ugly and make it beautiful. His talent was that he could take the beautiful and make it ugly.

He listened to the glass tinkle as he poured it into the garbage can. It almost sounded like it was protesting its fate, and he wondered if he would have the courage to speak out, to tell her what he needed to tell her. He had to. For himself. But more importantly, for her.

Swallowing, he looked at her, standing so still in his den, looking back at him. The window behind her and its view of Los Angeles made her look small, tiny, but he knew that she was strong. Stronger than him.

"I'm the one who is sorry, Sydney. Sorry for not being what you needed me to be. For not being there as you grew up. For not running from it all when I had the chance--"

This time she walked up to him and put her hands on his shoulders. Tears stood on her lashes, ready to fall, but again she did not let them. "You did what you had to do. What you believed was right. And it took me a long time, even after I knew what you were, to understand and accept that, but I do. Accept it, I mean."

Jack put his hand over hers and squeezed. He let go, and cleared his throat. "Would you like something to drink? I could make us some coffee. Or maybe a glass of water? Or milk?"

The corners of Sydney's mouth turned up. "Milk?"

Jack felt his own lips twitch. "Sorry. Sometimes I forget--"

"That I'm a big girl now." Sydney grinned.

Jack paled as he remembered what happened in Cairo. "No, no, I don't ever forget that." Sydney's face fell, and he wished that he had been able to keep smiling, keep her smiling. "I just remember that you used to go through a lot of milk when you lived here. I just forget how long ago that was."

"You knew that I used to drink a lot of milk?" she asked.

She spoke so softly that Jack barely heard her. She doubted his love, but he had no one to blame but himself. "I always paid attention, Sydney."

She stared at him for a minute. Her eyes burned holes into his soul. "You just made sure I never noticed."

"Yes," he admitted. Silence filled the room again, and Sydney shifted from foot to foot. He wanted to send her away, to handle the problem on his own. He wanted to be there for her. "Uh, why don't I pour us a glass of wine? I'm sure that something is on television that we could watch."

She grinned at him, and her shoulders relaxed. "I'd like that. I was planning on watching 'Harvey' tonight."

"I used to worry about how many times you watched that movie when you were a kid. I wondered if you had a rabbit fixation," he yelled to her from the kitchen. He poured the wine and headed back into the den. He asked himself a million questions. The loudest one was "What are you doing?" But he ignored the alarm bells. He wanted--no, he needed--to spend time with Sydney, and tonight she needed him.

He noticed that she had already turned on the TV and had thrown her coat across a chair. "It was never the rabbit," she told him as she changed the channel and turned up the volume.

He put the wine down on the coffee table, and sat on the couch. "I know," he said. As a young girl, after she lost her mother, she yearned to believe that the beautiful, loving life she imagined could really be true.

She sat down next to him, a small, sad, smile on her lips. Jack studied her as she watched the movie. During the first commercial break, she turned to look at him. "What?"

Taking a sip of his wine, Jack prepared himself for a fight. "I want you to see Doctor Barnett."

To his surprise, Sydney did not even protest. She took a drink herself and then studied the wine in her glass. She studied it as if it could give her answers. "Vaughn tried to get me to talk to her when I told him."

"You need to talk to someone, Sydney. An uninvolved ear."

She stared back at him. "So do you."

He opened his mouth to argue, but the stubborn set of her jaw warned him that it was a fight he would lose. "Maybe I do," he said, probably surprising himself more than her.

Sydney did not say anything else until the movie started again. "So, do you want me to ask Vaughn to set it up for us? Or do you want to go through Devlin?"

He thought about using Devlin, but something warned him that Sydney would know. Would know that he did not set an appointment for himself. He could not afford to take the chance. "Vaughn."

Sydney nodded as if she understood that he would never tell Devlin that he needed to talk to a shrink. Her hand reached across the distance between them and rested on his. "We're going to be okay."

Jack stared down at their crossed hands. "When you were little, and you were hurt, all I had to was hug you and kiss it better."

He looked up at his daughter. Her bottom lip trembled as she spoke. "A hug won't make it go away, but it would make me feel a whole lot better."

He hesitated for only a second and then held open his arms. Sydney slid into them as if she were used to hugging him. He held her as the movie played. He could think of nothing else to say, and Sydney seemed content to just be held.

When the credits began to run, he expected Sydney to pull away. The commercials started as he realized that she was asleep. He reached up to shake her shoulder, and then thought about her leaving. She was tired. It was late. And he wanted her to stay; he wanted to look out for her.

Gently, he kept one arm behind her and used the other one to reach under her knees and picked her up. He carried her down the hallway into the room that he still thought of as hers. He laid her down on the bed and pulled off her shoes. Then, he got a blanket from the hall closet to cover her. And, as he had done so many times when she was a child, he leaned down and kissed her forehead.

Sighing, he sank down into the chair sitting next to the wall. He would spend the rest of the night in the chair watching her, but he would make sure to be gone before she woke up. It was the pattern he was most familiar with, and the one he best knew.

Killing was also a pattern he was familiar with. One more person's blood would not be noticed on his hands. He would wait a couple of months so that Sydney did not realize that she was reason that Mark Harris died. Small arms dealers, especially those growing in the business, taking over others' territory were often killed. It would be easy for Jack to make it look like a competitor had assassinated him.

Jack flinched as Harris's words echoed in his head again. They would always be with him, but he was used to living with ghosts. Harris's ghost, and his devastating words, could join countless others. He would live with them.

And the screams he could not set free.


The End!

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