A/N: So all of the updates so far have been pretty quick because I've got all the chapters banked. I've started chapter four, but I don't have the whole thing written, so the updates won't be nearly as quick as they have been.
Also, HUGE thanks to the three people who alerted this! It means a lot to know that people are reading it. Reviews are appreciated too!
Los Angeles, California
Nadia stepped out into the Los Angeles sunshine and tried very hard not to relax. Yes, appearing calm was key, especially if The Covenant was watching her, but completely letting her guard down would be unwise. Still, it was hard not to feel safe. Not only was she in Los Angeles, she was alive and on her way to finding her family, something she'd dreamed of doing.
She could feel the piece of paper containing Sydney's address burning a hole in her pocket. Katya had given it to her before she left St Petersburg, telling her to be safe, and not to make contact again unless she knew there was no way of it being traced.
"Going anywhere, miss?"
Nadia looked up, startled, to see a taxicab driver watching her expectantly. Immediately, her guard went up, but she relaxed when she realized that, even if he was working for The Covenant, there was no way he'd be able to recognize her. With her casual attire and minimal baggage, she could have easily been dropping someone off at the airport, rather than arriving herself. Shaking her head slightly she said, "Nowhere special, thanks," and walked away.
If The Covenant really was after her, then public transport was the quickest and safest way to get to Sydney's. Cabs were not an option, they were too easy to commandeer. Walking wasn't really risky so much as it was time consuming. Renting a car left an unwanted paper trail. The bus or the subway was the best option.
Nadia took a bus from the airport to downtown, where she caught the subway to the nearest stop, a block away from Sydney's apartment. The neighbourhood wasn't particularly nice; some trees and the bland, brick apartment complexes, but it was by no means ugly. Nadia had seen many more ugly street blocks than the one where her sister lived.
Number 87 was an ordinary brick building, identical to all the others. Nadia made her way through the front door, relishing in the cool of the air-conditioned foyer. She glanced at the bronze plaque by the door scanning for her sister's apartment. She found it quickly: 4C, only the name beside it didn't read Sydney Bristow, but said instead: M. VAUGHN.
Nadia stared at the nameplate, perplexed. Unconsciously, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the well-worn piece of paper Katya had given her. Sydney Bristow, Apartment 4C, 87 Acacia Drive, Los Angeles, CA, USA. Perhaps Sydney had a boyfriend? Yes, Nadia said to herself, this is the logical solution. Sydney must be living with her boyfriend…unless he was her fiancée, or worse, her husband? Nadia tried to quell the horror at her sister being married. Instead, she tried to think about this logically. If Sydney were married, wouldn't the apartment be listed under both names?
Whatever the situation was, Nadia decided that she wasn't going to be dissuaded, not after having come this far. Trying to ignore the disappointment that she and Sydney wouldn't be sharing an apartment, Nadia began climbing the stairs. Taking the elevator would have been faster, but she wanted to take advantage of the extra time to think of what she was going to say when her sister opened the door. She decided that it wouldn't be wise to mention that they were sisters right off the bat, but would Sydney be willing to invite a complete stranger into her apartment? Would she even be willing to talk in the doorway or maybe discuss things over a cup of coffee? Nadia realised she was at a great disadvantage no knowing anything about her sister, but perhaps it was better since Sydney didn't know anything about her, either.
The door to 4C loomed ahead, seeming scarier than anything Nadia had ever dealt with as a spy. It seemed silly that when faced with a deadly assassin or a life-or-death situation she was able to remain calm, but was terrified by the thought of meeting her sister for the first time. In truth, she was more afraid of meeting the boyfriend, and having to explain everything in front of him. Deciding that postponing the inevitable any longer would only make her nervousness worse, Nadia raised her fist, hesitated in a last moment of uncertainty, steeled herself, and knocked once on the door.
There was a moment of silence—which seemed to stretch on for years—before the door opened, revealing a tall, slightly heavyset man in his early thirties. Sydney's boyfriend, Nadia thought. Mr—what was his name? Oh yes, Vaughn. W. Vaughn. Strange, he doesn't seem like her type. Actually he's kind of cute.
Nadia took a deep breath. "Hi. Is Sydney home?"
The man looked perplexed for a fraction of a second, before saying, "Sydney doesn't live here."
Nadia had never felt so embarrassed in her life. Of course. It all made sense now. The apartment was in another name because Sydney had moved out. Katya's intell must have been old; Sydney had obviously moved since then. "Oh. I'm sorry to have bothered you. I'll be on my way."
She started to turn away, when the man called out, "Wait!"
She turned, surprised.
"What I meant to say was that Sydney doesn't live here anymore. She used to, but that wouldn't really have helped you even if you were looking for her earlier, because the apartment was never registered in her name, and, technically it wasn't even hers, so—" He paused and took a breath. "I'm sorry to go on and on. Look, why don't you come in and I'll get Sydney's address for you?"
Nadia was surprised, but at the same time, pleased. "Okay. Thank you."
"I'm Eric, by the way," the man said as he held open the door for Nadia to step into the apartment. "Eric Weiss. I'm Michael's roommate. Or maybe housemate would be a better word." He smiled apologetically at her. "I'm not usually like this. I'm just not used to having beautiful women in my house."
Nadia blushed. She could tell that this was a genuine compliment and not just some dumb line that guys used to try and pick up women.
The apartment was larger than Nadia had expected it to be. It was a two bedroom with a kitchen, living and dining areas, and a bathroom. The living room was obviously masculine boasting a large television surrounded by sofa, and a battered-looking recliner. There was a coffee table in front of the couch, and a large, fuzzy object that looked suspiciously like a dog bed in one corner.
No sooner had Nadia closed the door behind her, she was assaulted buy a large, golden object, which barrelled into her at a velocity that almost knocker her flat.
"Sergeant! Down!" Weiss yelled. Turning towards Nadia, he added, "Sorry about him. He's Michael's dog, but since he's away on business, I'm stuck looking after him. He tends to het a little overexcited when he meets new people."
Nadia just smiled as he dragged Sergeant away. "It's really not a problem," she said reassuringly. "I like dogs."
Weiss looked relieved. "Oh, well that's great then. Just be careful with him. I've told Michael that he should get him properly trained, but he never seems to have the time. Which I guess is understandable. Work keeps us pretty busy."
"What do you do for a living?" Nadia was curious to find out what Weiss did. She wondered if they had anything in common, and if he had a girlfriend. A guy like him probably did; he was very cute: even though he was stocky, his height balanced it out, so he looked more muscular than fat. Nadia found his short dark hair and blue eyes incredibly appealing. He looked the kind of guy who would be fun to spend time with: he was funny and nice—or at least that was the way it seemed, and Nadia, having a reputation for being an extremely good judge of character, was pretty sure that her first impression was correct.
"Me?" He looked genuinely surprised at her question. Was it too forward of her to ask what he did for a living, or was the surprise because there was more to his job than most people believed, much like hers? She half hoped that would be the case: they would have an excuse to spend more time together. "I'm an insurance broker. Michael and I both are, actually. We used to work for the State Department, but we quit a couple of years ago. We had a bad overseas posting. The desk job isn't as exciting, but it pays well."
"Oh." Nadia didn't know whether she was more surprised or disappointed at this news. Weiss didn't strike her as the insurance type at all, unless it was a cover. She was pretty sure that State Department was a part of the American intelligence community. So that meant they had both quit the CIA—or whatever other organisation they had been working for; America had so many— and actually become insurance brokers, or they were using another cover, unless they were on assignment?
"So how do you know Sydney?" Weiss asked conversationally, as he fished around in a drawer in the kitchen, obviously looking for a pen. "You don't sound like you're from around here."
He must have noticed my accent, Nadia thought. Should I tell him the truth, or tell him that I'm a Hispanic from the US? The only hiccup that could occur with that is that my accent isn't Hispanic, it's Argentinean with a bit of Russian mixed in. "I'm from Argentina," she said, hoping that the Argentinean one was the one that he had noticed, and that the slight Russian lilt was camouflaged. "This is my first time in the States." Which was technically not true, since she'd done some freelance work here in the past, but most of it was in South America, with SIDE, and in Europe.
"Well, welcome to Los Angeles, then. Are you staying long?"
"I don't know at this point. I'll probably figure that out after I've met with Sydney."
Weiss finally found a pen and began scrawling what Nadia assumed was Sydney's current address on a piece of paper. "So it will be safe to assume at this point that your visit is purely for pleasure?"
Nadia mulled this over. It was a difficult question, one that she wasn't even sure she had the answer to. "I suppose," she said carefully. "Actually, Sydney doesn't know I'm coming. I'm her sister."
Weiss looked at her for a long moment with an unreadable expression on his face. "I didn't know Sydney had a sister."
Nadia sighed. "Neither does she. And neither did I until very recently. That's why I'm here, actually. Things have gotten a little complicated, and I was hoping that I'd be able to get in touch with her; maybe stay here until this blows over."
"Oh," said Weiss sympathetically. "Well I know she has a roommate, but I'm sure you'll be able to work something out."
Nadia's heart sank. Sydney had a roommate. Where was she going to stay now? "Do you know when she'll be back?"
"From her business trip? Tomorrow, probably. If not, then I'd say the day after at the latest." He paused, as if unsure of whether he should continue. "You know, if you're looking for a place to stay, you can always crash here for a few days. Michael's away, so you can use his bedroom. I don't mind."
"That's very kind of you," replied Nadia, "but are you sure your roommate won't mind?"
Weiss nodded. "Of course not." There was a moment of awkward silence, as it became apparent that neither of them had anything else to say to each other. Weiss's eyes casually slid to his watch, and he started as he noticed the time. "Shit! Sorry," he added hastily, glancing at Nadia. Swearing in the presence of a lady obviously made him uncomfortable. She just smiled. "It's fine. I've used that word before."
Weiss still looked apologetic, an expression which made him look a little bit like a puppy. Nadia thought it was cute. "I have to head out to work," he explained. "In fact, I probably should have been there an hour ago. If you get hungry or anything, there's food in the fridge, and there are some takeout menus on the counter. And here's my cell number if you need anything." He scrawled a number on the paper containing Sydney's new address.
Nadia was overwhelmed by his kindness. After all, she was a virtual stranger. "Thank you ever so much," she said. "I don't know how to repay you."
"Don't mention it." Weiss grinned. "Like I said, it's not every day a beautiful woman knocks on my door looking for a place to stay. I'll probably be back sometime between six and eight, depending on how busy things are at the office." He grabbed his briefcase and headed to the door. "What did you say your name was?"
Nadia blushed. "I didn't. I'm Nadia."
"Well it's nice to meet you Nadia." Weiss smiled and let himself out the door.
Nadia smiled as he left, wondering how much trouble she had just gotten her self into.
Sydney wrapped herself in a towel and opened the bathroom door, trying not to shiver as the cloud of steam filling the bathroom door dispersed. She surveyed the large, luxurious hotel suite, and failed to suppress a small smile as she noticed Vaughn sprawled on the lush, leather sofa, watching something that looked suspiciously like a French soap opera, and nursing a bottle of champagne.
"You know, drinking on the job is not condoned," she teased. "You'd be in a lot of trouble if I reported this."
Vaughn shook his head, smiling. "And a good morning to you, too." He must have noticed the way she was glancing at the bottle with raised eyebrows because he said, "The way I see it, if drinking is necessary while on the job, say if you were at a bar, then there's no reason why it can't be condoned. Besides, that rule was more of a precaution to prevent the CIA from having to deal with agents drunk on the job. And, I figure that if I offer you a drink as well, than you can't report me without reporting yourself as well." He smiled and held out the bottle.
Sydney shook her head, accepting the bottle and taking a swig of champagne. "You're hopeless, you really are." She glanced at the TV. A large blonde woman with a bad, seventies-era perm was yelling at another woman who looked suspiciously like a serving maid. "Is that what I think it is?"
Vaughn smiled. "It's a French soap opera my mom used to watch when we were kids. We got French cable too, so Mom wouldn't miss her shows. It's actually pretty good."
"What's going on?" she asked, amused.
"The blonde woman just realised that her husband has been having an affair with the serving maid, who is actually her sister, and the maid is pregnant with the husband's baby."
"And you consider this stuff to be good?" Sydney raised her eyebrows in disbelief.
He shrugged. "As far as soap operas go. You should have seen the things my mom used to watch."
Sydney sighed and took another sip of champagne. "Did you call about Interpol?"
Vaughn nodded. "I took care of it." He took the champagne bottle, turned off the television and stood up. "Are you going to get in touch with Leibovski before we order breakfast?"
Sydney glanced at the large, ornate clock hanging on the wall. "Is this hour of the morning still considered breakfast time?"
"In France, anytime is breakfast time." Vaughn paused to consider his words. "Well, technically, that's not true. But we'll be able to find croissants—which are considered to be breakfast food—at just about every café in the country at just about any time. Therefore, you can technically find breakfast anywhere in France at any given time."
Sydney laughed. "All right. Well, I'll trust your superior French taste and let you order breakfast, while I get on the horn to Leibovski."
Vaughn shook his head, smiling.
"It's just such a military expression. Get on the horn." He shook his head again. "I thought only men in the military said that."
"Dixon said it once, I think," she said, frowning in concentration as she tried to remember where exactly she had heard the saying before. Was it Dixon who had said that, or was it someone else? Now that she thought about it, she was quite sure it wasn't Dixon who had said it at all. "Actually, that's not true. It was shortly after I started freelancing. I did a job in Madrid with a BlackOps group. There were a couple Delta Force guys, a female ex-cop from Philly, and a couple Army guys. One of them—the guy in charge, who was a lieutenant colonel—used that expression. If I remember correctly, he said he needed to get on the horn to Langley, or the White House or something."
Vaughn stared at her like she just sprouted an extra head. "You did freelancing for the U.S. government? With some guys from Delta Force?"
Sydney nodded, vaguely. "I wasn't too keen on getting into anything like what I had done with SD-6 for the first little while. I talked to my dad a little while after you left, when I wanted to come back into the freelancing business, and he said that I could probably do some covert stuff for Langley and as long as I reported things of interest back to them, I could do whatever jobs I wanted for whoever I wanted without having to worry about getting charged with espionage. He also told me that if I did that, Langley would be able to guarantee that, if I wanted to, I had a ticket back into the CIA, because I wouldn't officially be an agent in their employ doing the freelancing stuff. I thought it was a pretty good deal. They loaned me out to the BlackOps group for a while…I think we were doing something for the President. Anyway, that's where the expression comes from."
Vaughn was still clearly unable to get past the fact that Sydney had done work with people from Delta Force. As he headed towards the door towards the telephone, she could hear him muttering under his breath, "Delta Force. Amazing."
Sydney shook her head and smiled to herself. It was a nice feeling, to be able to amaze people with one's accomplishments.
To Vaughn, Sydney's conversation with Vladimir Leibovski, and his associate sounded something like this:
"Bonjour. I'd like to speak to M. Cousteau, please."
"Well no, I don't have an appointment. I have some very urgent business that cannot wait."
"I'm not going to speak to you about the nature of my business–"
"Yes, I'm aware that M. Cousteau is a busy man–" Vaughn could tell Sydney was getting more and more frustrated. If there was one thing she really hated other people doing, it was cutting her off—both mid-sentence and when she was driving.
"Well, in that case, I'm sorry to interrupt his meeting, but it's urgent that I speak to him. Tell him that his wife is going to be very upset if he doesn't answer the phone right now."
Vaughn raised his eyebrows at this, but Sydney shook her head, and mouthed "Protocol".
"Well you didn't ask. I assumed by now that you would recognize my voice, but I suppose I should have known that would be too much for Bernard's staff to handle." Here her voice became icy.
"You'd better be sorry. And next time I call, you get him on the phone right away. I don't care if he's in a meeting, or trying to blow up the White House, you put him on the line."
Vaughn chuckled. Sydney cocked her head curiously. "As if you'd be calling him if he was trying to blow up the White House," he explained.
"As if he'd be able to blow up the White House is more like it," she countered. "He doesn't have the balls for that stuff."
There was a pause, as whoever it was on the other end went to fetch Vladimir Leibovski from his meeting. Vaughn could tell when he came on the line, because Sydney no longer spoke in French, but instead switched to Russian.
"Vladimir. You really need to get some more competent staff."
"Well, I wasn't too offended. He seemed to think that whatever you were doing was very important."
"Hmm. Well, in that case, I almost feel bad for interrupting you. If you want, I can call back." Vaughn hastily turned a snort of laughter into a cough. He didn't think he'd ever found a mission to be so amusing. In fact, he almost wished that Weiss was here, or that he could record the conversation. His best friend would piss himself laughing.
"He is? Interesting. Well if you're sure."
"I'm in town with my associate, Matthew Englis. You spoke to him once, remember?"
"Well a little bird whispered in my ear that you used to do business with The Covenant."
"Have you ever heard the saying 'know thy enemy'? Well, let's just say that it's in your best interests to help me get to know them."
"Well, that's unfortunate. Did you know that the CIA is onto you? They know all about your operation in Paris. In fact, they'll probably be raiding you in a few days if you're not too careful. So if I were you, I'd tell me all I wanted to know about The Covenant, otherwise you may find out that the CIA knows a lot more about you than they ever wanted to."
"This evening? Sounds great. Our regular spot. I'm glad you could be so accommodating."
Sydney hung up the phone, a triumphant look on her face. Vaughn raised his eyebrows.
"What?" The look on Sydney's face was one of the most innocent Vaughn had ever seen.
"You never struck me as the type to use blackmail, that's all."
And, just like that, the moment was broken, all the camaraderie lost. Sydney looked away, her face closing off. "You've been away for four years, Vaughn," she whispered, avoiding his gaze. "There are a lot of things you don't know about me." There was a long silence, and then she said, "I have to go work on my paper," and walked away.
The day seemed to last for a million years. Sydney spent the rest of the morning in the room finishing her paper, while Vaughn read the paper, made numerous pots of coffee and disappeared every now and then to the bedroom to make long phone calls to God only knew who. Breakfast was forgotten, and lunch wasn't even mentioned. The paper was finished by noon, and by the time she had emailed it off to her professor Vaughn had holed himself up in the bedroom again, on the phone to someone or other. Sydney took the liberty of making herself a tea and checking her email; by the time that was finished, the bedroom was free and Sydney made use of the bed to have a nap.
She was sleeping peacefully when Vaughn came in at six o'clock to wake her. At first, he hesitated, knowing that sleep was something Sydney didn't get a lot of, but then he steeled himself, remembering that they were supposed to be meeting Leibovski somewhere in an hour, and Sydney was the only person who knew where that somewhere was. He reached out and shook Sydney's shoulder gently. No response. Sighing, he sat down on the bed beside her and poked his index finger gently between her ribs. With a squeak, she sat up, and, upon noticing him, frowned.
"That wasn't very nice."
Vaughn smothered a smile. "For a CIA agent, you're a very deep sleeper." He stood up. "Come on. It's six o'clock. We'd better get going."
Sydney sighed and swung her legs out of bed. "Showtime," she muttered to herself before plodding off to the bathroom.
Vaughn waited for the sound of the shower to start before he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and punched an autodial button. It was answered on the second ring.
"I got your message. Sydney's in the shower. Now would you mind telling me what the hell is going on?"
There was a chuckle on the other end of the line. "Ah, Michael. I thought I recognized your dulcet tones. You do realize it's nine in the morning here and I'm currently stuck in traffic. Driving while talking on a cell phone is highly dangerous, you know."
Vaughn sighed. "Look, Eric, I have about thirty seconds before Syd gets out of the shower. Start talking."
The silence on the other end of the line was deafening for five seconds, before Weiss replied, "She knocked on my door yesterday morning, looking for Sydney. She had an address—our address—on a slip of paper in her pocket. She looked a little bit like Sydney, but you wouldn't necessarily think they were related unless you knew beforehand."
"Wait, related?" Vaughn started.
"You didn't hear? She says she's Sydney's sister."
"What? Sydney doesn't have a sister!"
"I know," Weiss replied evenly. "That's what I said, only it was phrased much nicer than that. I said I wasn't aware that Sydney had a sister. She said that neither was she until recently. Her name's Nadia Santos."
Vaughn—who had been pacing the length of the bedroom like a caged tiger—stopped, wondering if he had misheard. Sydney's sister hadn't known she had a sister either? What was going on? "You mean the so called sister had no idea she had a sister either?"
"I know, weird, huh? Apparently she didn't know she had any siblings until three or four days ago. She's been moved to a safe house; apparently, our apartment wasn't considered safe enough. Kendall has Jack debriefing her; he wants to make sure she's not a terrorist. Just thought I should let you know."
Vaughn contemplated this for a moment. It all seemed impossible to believe; especially considering Sydney's mother had died when Sydney was seven, and hadn't been pregnant before the accident, or—to anyone's knowledge—after. However, if a DNA test was done proving that this Nadia Santos was indeed Sydney's sister, and she turned out to be related to them, then it would simply have to remain a mystery. "Okay," he said finally. "Thanks for letting me know."
"No problem. Are you going to tell Sydney?"
There was another dilemma. If Vaughn told Sydney, she'd be shocked, yes, and probably distracted for the remainder of the mission, which wouldn't be good for either of them. He could wait until they were on the plane, but if Nadia weren't finished interrogations, then it would just be another unneeded stress on her life. Besides, they had no way of knowing if she was even Sydney's sister.
"I'm not going to tell her yet. Not until we know she's actually Sydney's sister."
Weiss made a doubtful noise on the other end of the line. "Are you sure about that? Because, you know, if she finds out that you knew and didn't say anything, she'll be pretty pissed."
"Well what am I supposed to do?" Vaughn retorted indignantly. "We're in the middle of a mission, and I can't afford to have her distracted. And if she's not Sydney's sister, than it's just another stress she doesn't need to worry about now."
"Okay, okay, calm down. I'm just saying that I don't know if she'd want you to make those decisions for her, okay? That's all. But I completely agree when you say now is not a good time tell her, if you do. Wait 'til we get back."
Vaughn sighed. "Fine. Sorry I snapped at you. I'll talk to you when we get back, okay?"
"Keep me posted."
"Will do. Oh, and good luck."
Vaughn smiled nervously, even thought he knew Weiss couldn't see. "Thanks. I think we're going to need it." He snapped the phone shut, tucked it back into his pocket, sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. He knew, logically, that there was no need to be worried about the success of the mission this evening. Sydney knew Leibovski well, and as long as he played the part, they were good to go. It was playing the part that had him worried. That, and the obvious tensions between him and Sydney, made only worse by the news that Weiss had just relayed to him. He knew that, as a CIA agent, he was expected to keep his private and personal lives separate, to not let personal problems interfere with work and vice versa, but compartmentalizing was much easier to do on paper than it was in real life. Especially when the stuff he was supposed to be compartmentalizing was related to Sydney. The line between their personal and private lives had been very thin, in fact, quite often there was no line at all, which made it that much harder to forget about things. He wasn't used to having to compartmentalize things when he was working with her; as far as he could remember, this was the first job they'd done where they hadn't been in a relationship. However, if this was going to work, he was going to have to compartmentalize. They weren't in a relationship anymore. They were business partners, nothing more. All he had to do was remember that and he was fine.
Vaughn whirled around to see Sydney standing behind him. She looked stunning: her straight, mid-length layers replaced with long, wavy extensions in a rich shade of coffee. Her brown eyes had lined with kohl and smoky eye shadow, giving them a darker, sensuous look. She wore a pair of black jeans, black knee-high boots and a black sleeveless leather top with a low, plunging V-neck that showed off an impressive bit of cleavage, more likely than not caused by a push-up bra. The overall effect was, well, stunning.
He hastily glanced away and flipped his cell phone out, as if to check the time. "Yeah. Let's go." He started towards the door, thinking to himself, So much for compartmentalization.