This was inspired by a fantastic ficlet (whose prompt doubles as this story's title) I read on the alias500 LJ community, by thedaytheystop, who graciously allowed me to take her work and run with it. I hope I've done it justice!
(Also, there are a few parts where a different language is spoken. I'm solid with the French, and am pretty sure the others are correct, but if there are errors, please let me know and I will amend them.)
I. Washington, D.C.
It's late when Weiss gets the strangest call of his life.
He's not asleep exactly, just in that lazy state of delirium that happens between Jeopardy reruns and infomercials. Two empty beer bottles and half a bag of chips lie on the coffee table in front of him as he decompresses; he still hasn't quite gotten used to his new occupation. For the last ten minutes or so he's warred between getting up and going to bed or just staying on the couch for the night and hoping he'd remembered to set the alarm on his cell phone, neither option yet winning out.
The call saves him from having to make such a decision.
He jolts at the unexpected shrill of the telephone, and blearily looks at the clock as he stumbles to the kitchen—2:04 A.M. His half-conscious brain can't come up with any reasonable scenarios, so he opts for the simplest course of action.
His yawn is halted by the sheer urgency that answers him. "Weiss, listen very carefully to me." The tone is imbibed with a worry Weiss has never before heard, but the sharpness is inimitable.
"Jack?" Weiss asks in confusion, Jack's voice swiftly erasing fogginess from Weiss's head. "What—What is it? What's wrong?"
Jack rattles off an address Weiss apologetically makes him repeat twice, demanding an immediate arrival. Seemingly as an afterthought, he adds, "Bring a change of clothes."
Weiss stares at the handheld in his palm, wondering if he's in the middle of some bizarre dream. But the blue glow of the television is too bright, the slightly crumby carpet beneath his feet is too rough, and the distant car alarm is too vivid for this to be his imagination. Which means the phone call was also very real.
Weiss shakes his head to clear it then sends his body into action. He's vaguely aware of his hands shaking as he scoops up whatever clothes are on the floor as well as a toothbrush and shoves them into a duffel bag. After two minutes of searching and much cursing, he finds and grabs his keys, stumbling out of his apartment.
The address isn't that far, twenty minutes by car (Weiss makes it in thirteen), but the way Weiss's mind races as he drives makes it seem like it's trans-Atlantic. He parks in front of what appears to be some sort of private hangar, not for the first time wondering what the hell is going on. He gets out of his car and walks towards it, debating whether it'd be safe to call out Jack's name or not.
He's spared further vacillation when Jack comes rushing out a moment later. He's not what raises Weiss's eyebrows, though—Sydney, one arm over Jack's shoulders to support her and the other carrying something wrapped in a blanket in the other, is what gets his attention.
He meets them halfway, speechless. "What—I—Sydney?"
There are tears running unchecked down her cheeks, her chest convulsing with sobs. He hears it then, a quiet snuffling of sorts, and looks down at the bundle. A baby. It's then he notices that Sydney's visibly un-pregnant, the bottom of her dress stained, and Weiss's eyes widen further.
"You should be in a hospital!" he exclaims. "Why are you—where did you—will someone tell me what the hell's happening?"
Sydney clearly of no help, he directs his question to Jack. Who shuts his eyes for one brief moment before answering. "There are people who will be after this baby, Agent Weiss," he says. "After Sydney. People we may or may not be able to take down. We can protect ourselves, but the baby—"
"Isabelle," Sydney rasps.
Jack's face softens as he continues, "But Isabelle will be at exceptional risk, just like Vaughn."
"She—wait," Weiss interrupts himself, Jack's tenses catching up with him. "Hang on, Vaughn's not—"
Jack's violent hushing both silences and affirms Weiss's guess. He allows himself a few seconds to absorb the fact that his best friend is not buried six feet under, but alive and sort-of-kicking.
"Eric," Jack intones, which yanks Weiss violently back to the present. He can count the number of times Jack's called him by his first name before, none of them encouraging occasions. "I think—we think—the best way to protect Isabelle is to make sure she's not found. Make sure no one knows of her existence."
Dread begins to sweep over Weiss's body. Surely Jack doesn't mean…
"We need someone who knows the game but who's out of direct line of fire," says Jack. "We can't risk any of Sydney's outside friends" Will, Weiss fills in, "but none of us at 'the office' are low-risk enough either."
"Y-You want me to take Isabelle?" Weiss squeaks. "Me?"
"You're our only chance, Eric. Isabelle's only chance," says Sydney softly. Her glossy eyes move from her daughter's to Weiss's, and beneath the sorrow there's conviction. "Please. You've always been the obvious choice for her godfather. I know this is way beyond that job description, but…I need you."
He really should have taken that vacation time the NSC had offered him. Or at least some aspirin before he left the house—his head is spinning.
Jack removes a thick packet from his jacket pocket and holds it out to Weiss, who takes it numbly. "Inside are two sets of identification: one for you, one for Isabelle. Passports, papers, money, everything. Leave your car at Dulles—there will be a man waiting for you when you reach Brussels."
Weiss nervously opens the envelope and pulls out what looks to be a birth certificate first. Michelle Laura Jamison, he reads. Father: Kyle Thomas Jamison, Mother: Hannah Elaine Yates. Date of birth: 19 April 2006. His confusion rising, he next pulls out a death certificate. Decedent's Name: Hannah Elaine Jamison. Primary cause of death: Hemorrhage. Date of death: 19 April 2006. Confusion gives way to trepidation as he pulls out a passport. His photo stares back at him and he warily looks to the right. Name: Kyle Thomas Jamison.
"There's a ring in there, too," Sydney whispers.
"You want me to say Isabelle is…that…that I'm her father?" Weiss asks helplessly. He'd always wanted to have kids, do the whole marriage and picket fence thing, but not now, and certainly not like this.
A new sob catches in Sydney's throat. Weiss can't even begin to imagine how she's feeling. "Weiss," persists Jack, "we would not be…asking if this weren't imperative."
"You really trust me that much?" Weiss can't help but inquire. "To take care of your daughter?"
Sydney doesn't speak—more accurately, she can't—but her nod is answer enough.
Weiss gulps. Part of him wants to say he can't do this, that they'd have to find somebody else, but another part of him knows from the minute he got Jack's phone call he'd do whatever was required. Despite the monumental task with which he's suddenly saddled, this is something he has to do. He loves Sydney and Vaughn too much to do anything less.
"Okay," he says. "Okay, I'll look after her."
"Promise me," Sydney chokes out. "Promise me, Weiss."
"I promise," he says, never more sincere of something in his life.
Jack gently pries Isabelle away from Sydney and places her in Weiss's arms. He's only held a baby a few times, and he's sure he's holding Isabelle wrong, but she continues to sleep nevertheless. Jack transfers Sydney's arm to Weiss's shoulders as he runs back into the hangar. He returns carrying a diaper bag and a baby carrier.
"This is all we had time to get," says Jack regretfully.
"I'll, uh, looks like I'll be using Google a lot," Weiss replies, staring at the items. Growing up, parents had never trusted him with babysitting. He's clueless.
"Sydney…" Jack prompts carefully, taking her balance back from Weiss. "Sydney, we have to go."
Weiss's heart breaks as he watches Sydney press kisses to Isabelle's forehead, murmuring her love, that she and Grandpa and Daddy would come for her soon, that she has to be good for Uncle Eric. She starts to take Isabelle again—Weiss would let her—but Jack pulls her away. Sydney's tears increase.
"Wait," Weiss calls to the retreating couple. "What am I supposed to do once I get to Brussels?"
"There's a safe house there," Jack answers. Weiss nods slowly—he knows the one. "Information will be supplied to you."
"Run," Sydney tells him with pleading eyes. "Keep her safe."
Weiss can do nothing but watch as Jack struggles to drag Sydney to the van and finally peels away in a squeal of rubber. The acrid scent of burnt tire hangs in the air as Weiss stares after them, Weiss still half-hoping this is just a very realistic dream.
Until his rational side wins out and he realizes the gravity of what's transpired. He swallows, Isabelle and their new identities clutched tightly in his right arm. Carefully, he places the diaper bag in the carrier and picks them up, slowly making his way back to the car. He tosses the diaper bag next to his duffel in the back seat and fumbles his way through securing the carrier to the passenger seat, delicately placing Isabelle in the straps. He lays his head on the steering wheel for a moment, hoping the adrenaline doesn't wear off for a long while.
Then, before he can let his thoughts catch up to him, he puts the car in drive and speeds off towards Washington-Dulles airport, armed with a few pieces of documentation, one change of clothes, a baby that isn't his, and an overwhelming responsibility.
But at least Isabelle hasn't started crying. Yet.
He's done this a million times before, this presenting false passports to an airline, but never has he felt this nervous. He fumbles both "Kyle's" and "Michelle's" as well as their plane tickets, hoping he looks like an anxious, perhaps grieving, parent. Isabelle's been remarkably timid since Sydney handed her over, for which Weiss is immensely grateful—he has no idea how to soothe an infant.
Luckily, the ticket attendant he gets is a middle-aged man, who has sympathy written all over his face. "New father?" he asks as he checks the passports.
Weiss gives something of a stuttered laugh that he supposes could pass as affirmation. "My w-wife, she died when Is—Michelle was born," he stumbles, cursing himself for lying so terribly but hoping the man doesn't see through it. "We have family in Brussels."
Weiss must look appropriately frazzled, because the man's face contorts into pity. "That's awful," he says, typing away at the keyboard. "Just be patient. Remember she's your priority now."
Yeah, no kidding.
The man abruptly straightens, coughing to clear his throat. "Well, anyway," he says, back to business, "here are your passports and your tickets. Your flight will leave out of Gate C2. Have a safe flight, and good luck, Mr. Jamison. And you too, little one."
"Thanks," says Weiss, resituating Isabelle so he can take the proffered documents. He picks up the diaper bag and his duffel, making his way to security. The line isn't long, given the time of day, but Weiss stares at it warily. He knows how to zip through in record time by himself, but not with a baby. Is he supposed to take her tiny shoes off, too? Does her blanket count as outerwear? Does he hold her while he goes through the metal detector? Does he place her on the X-ray belt? He's never paid attention before to people with infants.
Airport employees must be sympathetic when they're bored and tired, though—an oxymoron, Weiss would have thought—because the X-ray attendant gives him a small smile and tells him Isabelle is fine as-is, he just needs to do his part. There's a woman behind him who offers to hold Isabelle while he removes his shoes, belt, and jacket, but even though she looks normal and it's not as if she'd just go running off with the baby, Weiss hesitates. Instead, he puts Isabelle temporarily in one of the gray bins and rids himself of the requisite apparel. He's sure he looks like a moron, but is also fairly sure he could be construed as a new father, just as the ticket attendant had presumed.
Which, Weiss realizes with a jolt, he kind of is.
Eventually he coordinates everything—and is very glad he hadn't thought to bring his gun; that'd have been awkward—and steps through the detector with Isabelle in his arms. The machine doesn't beep, nor do the carry-ons raise any flags, and with another warm smile the attendant motions for him to collect his belongings and continue on to his gate.
He's late, as usual, the plane already on the C group, but when the attendant sees he has Isabelle, she quickly waves him over. She looks at their tickets and says, "First class is right up front, sir. Let any of the attendants know if you or your child need anything at all."
Weiss nods and hurries down the walkway, a little stunned. First class? He has no idea how Jack wrangled that on such short notice, but he's incredibly glad. If he were prepared maybe he could have dealt with coach, but he's not. And while he's never been much for caring what people think of him, he'd hate for Isabelle to decide to start screaming her head off and have people glare at him. Especially since he has no idea what to do if that were to happen.
He's in the second row and places Isabelle on the seat next to the window, putting the diaper bag on the ground and tossing his duffel and baby carrier into the overhead compartment. He takes a few more moments to stretch out his limbs and breathe deep before buckling his seatbelt, reclining his seat, and settling Isabelle on his chest. He knows the whole reclining thing is frowned upon before the plane gets to altitude, but right now he really couldn't care less.
In fact, his body chooses right then and there that adrenaline is no longer necessary, at least not for the next eight hours, and the strain of the last ninety minutes comes crashing over him at once. Before the last of the passengers even settle into their seats, Weiss is sound asleep, arms secure around Isabelle's tiny body.
Somewhere Over the Atlantic
Weiss is awakened what seems like ten minutes later by a shriek, and he jumps into consciousness, automatically reaching for a gun that isn't there. He glances around and doesn't see any carnage, and then his surroundings catch up with him. He looks down and sees Isabelle…crying. Well, right now Weiss thinks she's more akin to a banshee than a baby.
"Oh God," he sighs helplessly. He tries bouncing her, murmuring nothingness. Humming impossibly seems to make it worse. "You're just like your parents," he mutters. "They never appreciated my singing either."
At this there's a small hiccup in Isabelle's crying, and Weiss appraises her shrewdly. He's not sure he should do this—any number of the either irate or pitying stares on him could be threats—but he doesn't know any other way.
He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out his wallet, making a mental note to shred his driver's license, insurance, and credit cards as he looks for his intended item. Finally he finds it, and shifts Isabelle to the side so he can show her.
It's a picture he took last November when, miraculously, almost everyone had congregated in the same place for Thanksgiving dinner. Isabelle still cries, but, unless Weiss is imagining it, they seem to have dropped a decibel.
"See this guy right here?" Weiss asks rhetorically, pointing to Dixon. He remembers to change the names at the last second. "This is your Uncle David. His house was biggest so we had to use his. His kids—those two right there, Rachel and Scott—they're the sullen ones. Had to sit at the 'kid's table' with your Uncle…Kyle. And this, this beautiful lady is your—your Aunt Natasha" Weiss swallows heavily, "who I know would have loved to meet you. This is your Uncle Matthew—he's a riot—and Aunt Candace, and their son Miles. They're all great people. This is your grandpa, who's a little too dedicated to his work, but he's a good guy, and I'm pretty sure you're the only person he's ever shown affection for. You're spoiled like that. And these two…these are your parents."
Weiss pauses, glancing at Isabelle and seeing in her Sydney's stubborn pout and dark hair, and Vaughn's deep green eyes and pointed nose (which Weiss is sure will be broken somewhere down the line when she inevitably plays hockey). He clenches his jaw and perseveres.
"They loved you so much," he says. "Victor and Sarah. Pretty, aren't they? Too pretty, I think. Where are my good genes, huh? I mean, I got the wit, of course, but I'd like some looks too, y'know? Anyway." He says the next part in a whisper so quiet even a wire wouldn't pick it up. "They'll come for you, Isabelle. I promise. But right now you've just got to work with me, okay? I'll do my best, but I need you to give me some leeway or else I can't protect you."
Intellectually Weiss knows there's no way Isabelle can understand him, but the way she gazes up at him with clear eyes and a dwindling cry makes him wonder. (And really, if there's any kid in the world who could understand speech when she's a day old, it's a Bristow-Vaughn.)
Isabelle turns her attention back to the photograph, clumsily brushing her fingers over Sydney and Vaughn's faces. He looks at the photograph with her, his heart heavy. It's almost unbearable to think that there's a chance Isabelle would never see Sydney, let alone Vaughn, ever again. For Weiss, it almost hurts more to know that his oldest and best friend is alive but that he might never get to have another beer with him, or go to a Kings game with him, or anything, and that Sydney, his sister for all intents and purposes, would never give him relationship advice or buy him unwanted vegetables ever again.
He sighs and checks his watch. Four hours to go. After that, he has no idea. Maybe they—
"You're a natural with her."
Weiss starts, not expecting the voice. He turns around to see a woman, early- to mid-thirties if he had to guess, leaning over with a gentle smile. She's pretty, he can't help but notice, and finds himself smiling back. Most of it's fake—managing any sort of legitimate grin right now is unthinkable—but some of it's real.
"That makes one of us who thinks so," he says idly.
She chuckles and says, "I'm Whitney. And you're great with her, really."
"Kyle," says Weiss. "I honestly don't really know what I'm doing."
"Well you figured something out," says Whitney, gesturing towards the photo. "That's all that really matters."
Weiss shrugs and looks down at Isabelle, who continues to gaze at the picture. "Day one of many."
Whitney's expression changes to one of alarm. "She's a day old? You took a newborn on a plane?"
Weiss feels himself getting indignant. "It was an emergency," he says. As an afterthought, he fiddles with the supposed wedding ring he'd remembered to put on.
A gesture Whitney notices, and immediately her face falls. "Oh no," she gasps, hands coming up to her mouth and apparently coming to the conclusion. "Oh gosh, I'm sorry, I didn't think—"
"You didn't know," Weiss dismisses.
Whitney clears her throat and says, "Well. I guess I should let you get back to, uh…right."
A blush tingeing her cheeks, Whitney turns away from Weiss, burying her nose in a book. Under other circumstances, Weiss is damn positive he'd flirt with her, probably come away with a date, but romance isn't really an option or focus right now. He looks up at the movie screens, vaguely watching the film and making up his own audio, trying his best to keep his mind off the present situation.
Another look down at Isabelle—he has a feeling he'll be doing a lot of that—tells him she'd fallen asleep, the photo crinkled in her pudgy hand.