Title: Blood Ties: Mirror Image

Author: Robin (icyfire)

Distribution: FF.Net. All others please ask.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never have been. And I'm smart enough NOT to try to make money with something I don't own.

Summary: Post ATY, Will struggles with a changing world. This is a companion piece to Waterdancer's "Blood Ties". You can find it at http://fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=963016.

Rating: PG

A/N: Thanks, Jenai, for allowing me to play in your universe. I guess now I can say "Tag, you're it!". :)

Thanks to Celli, Diana, and Thorne for their beta services.

And thanks to Thorne for asking for more conflict.

***

"Hey, I'm fine, Amy. Really," you say with a smile on your face. Not because she can see you over the phone, but because you read that a smile can be heard in the voice. You glance over at the mirror and wince. You can only hope that the grimace pretending to be a smile didn't make its way across the phone lines.

Hesitation is a loud silence in your ear. Finally, Amy sighs and tells you, "You know I'm here for you if you need me."

Sitting down on Syd's couch, you shift around, trying to find a comfortable spot. You aren't used to having serious conversations with Amy, not open, loving, I'm-worried-about-you conversations. "You know that Mom and Dad love me more, right?"

Amy's laugh is sad. "In your dreams."

You lean back in the chair and lay your right ankle over your left knee. "No, Mom was just telling me the other day that I'm the favorite."

This time Amy's laughter is free. You smile and feel the sting of tears in your eyes. You keep thinking about Jack's words, spoken as a stranger. That distorted voice threatening your parents and sister is haunting you more now that you know the truth than it did when Jack had been a faceless man hidden behind a mask.

"I love you, Will."

You swallow the lump in your throat. "I love you, too," you whisper before hanging up. You stare down at your cell phone and struggle to breathe. Why had you confronted Jack? Why hadn't you listened to common sense? Why had you ever thought that knowing answers was important?

Now the questions you ask scare you. Do you really want to know the truth? Can you face it? What kind of person are you? You used to know. There used to be a day when you could get up and look in the mirror and be comfortable with the man looking back at you.

Basically, you are honest. Or you were. Lying wasn't something you did easily. You shift around as you think about the call from Francie yesterday. The lies flowed off your tongue with more ease than you liked. And Sydney grinned and nodded like she'd done you a favor by teaching you how to answer questions vaguely and with twisted half-truths.

You hear the shower being turned off, and you think about how life has changed. Four weeks ago, sitting here while Sydney took a shower would've been a lesson in torture. Your thoughts would've been focused on how the water was running down her breasts to the apex between her thighs. Pacing, you would've been wishing you could have been that bar of soap caressing her skin. The pressure in your pants would've told you to walk into her bedroom, kiss her senseless until the towel fell to the floor and you both fell onto the bed.

Now, your thoughts about her shower are of a different nature. You wonder how she moves, knowing first hand how it feels to be in a fight, knowing that her muscles are sore. Sitting down on her couch, your eyes closed, you wonder how badly the dark purple of her bruises clashes with the paleness of her skin. You think about Danny and wonder how such an observant man failed to notice all the bruises and cuts and clues that Sydney was lying.

Sydney lied. To you. To Danny. To Francie. Everyone. She's a liar, and life is never going to be the same again for you because of it.

You tell yourself that you can't blame her totally. And you don't. You're the one who raced after the story without a care in the world. Oh, you didn't want to hurt her, but you thought after you got the answers that she would be thankful. There had been no way for you to know that Sydney already had answers.

Sitting on her couch, knowing that Sydney was drying off and getting dressed, you think about Danny's sister. You think about Danny's nephew, born on the day his uncle was placed in the ground. You think about visiting the new mother in the hospital with Sydney and the rage in that woman's voice as she talked about the bastard who had stolen away not only her brother but the unfettered joy she deserved to feel on the day of her son's birth.

She will never have her answers. She will never know that Danny died because Sydney thought he deserved to know the truth, that he died not because of anything he had done but because of who he loved.

You think about Amy, and wonder what will happen to her if you die. Will she try to find answers? Will she struggle to find happiness in a world that suddenly makes no sense to her? Will she let her rage take away her joy on a day that is supposed to be remembered with awe?

Feeling sick to your stomach, you stand up and walk into the kitchen. It's strange, but Amy seems to be your main concern these days. Maybe it's because she's the first face you saw when you opened your eyes in that hospital. Maybe it's because of the look on her face, the terror in her eyes and the sickening paleness of her skin.

You don't know why you're so worried about her, but you remember all the fights you two had growing up, all the times you'd picked on her, and how you'd never let anyone else treat her the way you did. Bobby Alexander found that out the hard way when he'd called her a name and made her cry.

And now you wonder if by becoming a part of Sydney's world, you're opening up the possibility of Amy being hurt. You shudder as you remember Jack's altered, mechanical voice reciting her name and address, hinting at a threat without ever saying it.

You aren't afraid of Jack. In fact, you trust him more than anyone else in this game. Even Sydney. However, you know that there are men out there who might hurt your family, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. Not now.

You had a chance to protect them. You only had to give them up, but you were too weak. Lying there in that hospital bed, full of painkillers that couldn't numb the memories, you had listened to Sydney's friend explain your options. You think those green eyes flashed at you in anger when you asked to hear the options again, but you're not really sure because you think you saw sympathy there, too.

"Mr. Tippin, you really only have two options now. The first one--the one I recommend--is witness protection," his smooth, clipped voice said to you.

You'd nodded, even though your cheek had throbbed from the movement. "Witness protection? You mean a whole new life, new identity, never speak to my family again?" Amy had been down the hall, sleeping from a mild sedative that Sydney had slipped into her coffee. The anger you felt when Sydney told you what she'd done amazed you; you knew she wouldn't hurt Amy, but you can't believe she drugged her, either.

"And my other option?" you'd croaked through swollen lips and bruised gums.

Mr. Green Eyes--you think he said his name was Vaughn--had glanced over at Sydney before answering you. You'd wondered for a moment if he had been dragged into Sydney's web, too. "You could let us teach you how to protect yourself."

If it had been physically possible to laugh, you would've. "The CIA teaches self-defense classes to civilians?"

Another glance at Sydney and a shake of his head let you know that you were missing the point. "You wouldn't be a civilian anymore, Mr. Tippin."

You wanted to explain that you can't fight like you're an extra in the Matrix movies, that Sydney's spinning kicks look amazing but you'll never be able to do them. That smiling as you lie to the people you love isn't something you can do, and that you'll never be able to pull off that "I'm so sorry" look and lie again when you get caught like Sydney had with the plane ticket. But then you think of Amy crying on your shoulder and telling you how scared she was, how she almost lost her mind not knowing where you were. You think about her and your mom and dad spending a lifetime not knowing, and you answer before you can think anymore. "I chose option number two then. Now can I get back to sleep?"

The door to the apartment opens, bringing you back to the present. Francie struggles her way into the apartment. You rush over and take one of her bags from her; it's amazingly heavy. "Wow, you really pack for a trip!"

Francie smiles, but you notice her tired eyes more than the smile. She looks worn, like the weight of the world now rests on her shoulders. There are lines around her eyes that you've never noticed before, and her shoulders are slumped. She shuffles her way past you instead of using her usual quick stride. Her eyes, however, continue to scan around the apartment. "Yeah, well, I was gone for a few weeks. And I picked up some souvenirs while I was there."

"Oh, did you get anything for me?" You feel the first real smile you've had in weeks touch your lips. Maybe with Francie around, you can start to feel normal again. Like the person you used to be instead of this lying, deceitful agent.

Francie smiles back, and you see some of the tension leave her shoulders. "Maybe," she jokes, "but you'll have to help me carry my luggage into the bedroom if you want it."

Setting down your beer, you laugh. "Blackmail does not suit you, Ms. Calfo."

"Oh, I don't know about that," she answers as she hands you another bag. You notice the tight smile on her lips doesn't meet her eyes.

You follow her into her bedroom. It's funny, but you've seldom walked into her sanctuary. That's how you think of it. Sydney's space is always open to you, but Francie is the more private of the two. Or at least that is how you'd always thought before finding out that Sydney had an entirely different life that she hides from those who love her.

The first thing that strikes you about Francie's bedroom is the colors. Vibrant is the only word you can think to describe it. Warm greens and blues fill the air. They mix with reds and browns and hints of other colors. Artwork covers the walls, but somehow it doesn't feel overwhelming. She balanced it all, so that it worked. One painting shows the calm sea, offering comfort. On the opposite wall, she has a glass etching of a storm over the sea that lets you know the calm could be broken at any time.

You set the bags down on Francie's bed and walk over to examine a three- dimensional metal piece of artwork that hangs on the wall. It shows fish and plants in pastel colors that you shouldn't like but do.

"Will, are you all right?" she asks, standing right behind you.

You turn and look at her. "I'm fine, Francie. I just wish people would quit asking."

Francie stares at you, and you think that maybe she was seeing the truth in your eyes. But that's crazy. She can't know the truth or even suspect it. Like Amy, she'll always believe the lies you're telling. Sydney's made you a liar, too.

"I can't believe that Nicky's dad has ties to the mob," she whispers as she examines your face.

"Yeah, I can't either," you answer, unable to meet her eyes.

Nick had been your friend since your freshman year in college. You weren't best of friends, but you hung out occasionally. Even Sydney and Francie had met him. When they CIA told you they planned to use his father as the man mentioned in your article, you'd yelled that it wasn't fair. Then, they'd shared the truth with you, and then shared that truth with the world.

The FBI hadn't been thrilled with the CIA for busting open a case they weren't done investigating yet. Using Nick's father--a man you never suspected of being anything but good--as the fall guy had been their decision, but you were the one who had to tell the lies to the police, to your family, and to your friends. Nick had also been brought in on charges, and he called you a liar as he was escorted to the cruiser. More lies, more deceit.

Fortunately, you hadn't mentioned "SD-6" in the story you'd given to Abby. But now some were starting to think that maybe Danny's death had been a mob hit. You're struggling to figure out a way to keep Danny's name in the clear. Maybe--

Francie's voice reminds you to focus on the moment. "I read your article-- the Register had it on the internet, and--"

You want to wince. "And AP picked it up. I know."

"I read your editorial today, too. The one talking about friends and lies and never knowing the truth about those you know," Francie whispered.

Nick had been the name you used; Sydney had been the friend thought about as the words had flowed out onto your keyboard. "Yeah, well, you can't know everything about somebody, no matter how much you care about them."

Francie's eyes fill with tears, but then she smiles and wipes them away. "I wish you still believed in your friends' honesty. You're too good to hurt, Will."

"Hey," you say with a grin. "I still in believe in you."

She hesitates only a second before replying, "You'd better." She swats at you and then rushes past to stuff her underwear into a drawer.

You rub your forehead. Life's gotten way too complicated lately. "I've missed you," you tell her. An honest friend who's always willing to listen. Maybe if she had been nearby, if she could've sat by your side in the hospital, maybe you could've figured out another way to handle the CIA.

Her smile is weak but sincere. "I've missed you, too," she says as she gives you a hug. She winces when you hug her back. You try to apologize for squeezing too hard, but she tells you that she bruised her back on a door handle. It isn't your fault.

"I'm sorry I didn't get back while you were in the hospital," she starts.

You shake your head. "Don't. I got tired of seeing everybody, and everybody seeing me in a gown was more than I ever wanted to face." Francie grins. Her phone calls had cheered you up, listening to her talk about her day. "Besides, I'm thrilled that you managed to make it a working vacation. That cooking class you stumbled into sounded wonderful."

"Oh, it was," she answers as she turns and begins unpacking her case. Your eyebrows rise when you notice the heavy-duty coat she pulls out of one bag. You figure Atlanta would still be warm at this time of year. "I learned so much, and I couldn't beat the price here in LA."

"Francie," Sydney's voice stops your reply. She rushes past you and hugs her friend, talking the entire time. You think Francie's hug is a little stiff, but then her back is probably still hurting. You've accidentally stumbled back into a door knob before, and it hurts far more than you think it should've.

Of course, after being beaten and tortured, you aren't sure how you'd judge the pain now. Maybe a two or three on a scale of ten. Maybe even one. Or less than one. "Oh, I would love to," Francie exclaims, bringing your focus back on what they are saying. "I haven't seen Amy in ages."

You haven't been paying attention but realize that Sydney must've just invited Francie to join you for your night out on the town. Dinner and a movie and some dancing. You shake your head. "Well, I've been seeing too much of her lately, but she's been worried about me. And I think she wants me to meet her new boyfriend."

"Oh," Francie says, pulling more clothes from her bag. "Is it serious?"

"I'm afraid it might be," you reply. You cross your arms. "The jerk better be good to her."

Sydney and Francie both laugh, but you're serious. No one is going to hurt your kid sister. Not even a man she thinks she might love. Sydney grins as she says, "We missed out, Francie. No older siblings to look out for us."

Francie's smile is tight. "Yeah, we missed out on it all. We missed a lot." She turns away from you both and rubs at her eyes. "So, what movie are we going to see?"

You wince. "I told Amy that she could pick." Four eyes turn and accuse you. "I know. I'm not looking forward to it either." Amy's taste in movies is--different than most.

"I'm going to have a good time anyway," Sydney says with a grin. "My two best friends are going to be with me for the first time in a long time."

Francie sits down on the bed and looks up at Sydney. "Well, you really haven't been around much lately."

"I know," Sydney replies and slides down next to Francie. "I've wanted to be here, but--"

"Life happens," Francie says. "And people change, become different than what you remember."

You and Sydney both look at her in surprise. Francie's comments make you uncomfortable, even though you realize she's not talking to you. She gives a lopsided grin and then lays a hand over Sydney's. "Sorry, I've been thinking about Nick, which led me to thinking about Charlie."

"Oh, honey," Sydney says. "You know I'm here for you if you want to talk."

"Oh, I know," Francie answers. "You've always been a big part of my life." She smiles and looks down at her hands, which are picking at her bedspread. "Sometimes more than I ever believed possible."

You want to shiver at that thought; Sydney is now a bigger part of your life than you even wanted, and you thought you wanted her to be damn important. You force yourself to groan. "Oh, come on. No sap before I see Amy. I get enough girly stuff from her."

Francie tosses her pillow at you, and you all laugh. Sydney stands up and holds out her hand to you, ready to lead you. You take it, even as you tell yourself that you want to stay in this bedroom and talk to Francie, talk to the normal one. "Come on, Will, let's let Francie unpack and get ready."

As you begin to follow her out, anger flows through your veins. She's always led and you've always followed, and you don't like where she's taken you. Then, you get angry at yourself for being angry with her. It's not her fault. It's not, you tell yourself. She was just doing her job, and you got caught up in it. She didn't mean to erase you.

You force a smile on your face and hope it looks natural. As you pass the full-length mirror, you relax. You can see yourself and Francie both in it, and your smile matches hers exactly. Which you know is genuine. Francie still thinks you and Sydney are real.

***

End Part 1/1