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Airs, Waters, Places

by Vanzetti

[Story Headers]

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2003 9:38 AM


...Airs, waters, places, round our sex and reasons,

     Are what we feed on as we make our choice. 
     We bring them back with promises to free them, 
     But as ourselves continually betray them:

     They hear their deaths lamented in our voice...
     (W. H. Auden, In Time of War IX, 1938)

Part 1: America

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just don't remember..."

The frustration in Will Tippin's voice made it clear that he too heard the echo of his earlier, drug induced amnesia.

"We fought, Francie and I. I mean, Allison Doren. I remember the blood, and then nothing. Darkness."

"You were found in a pool of your own blood, without a scratch on you..." Weiss took over the debriefing while Vaughn paced back and forth in the interrogation room, four long paces from one wall to the other, then back four paces more.

Jack turned away from the observation window. Will didn't know anything, and he had better uses for his time. Sloane's spy dead and Sydney missing: it might have been Derevko, trying to protect their daughter in her own twisted way, but that didn't quite fit. It was Sloane: Jack would stake his career on the belief that Sloane had his daughter. In fact, he was doing precisely that.


Next stop, Marshall. No one was saying no to Jack right now, not with Sydney missing, but Marshall's forehead was wrinkled. "You know, Agent Bristow--I mean, you do know this, I'm pretty sure you know this, but this was an SD-6 code, and you asked me to send it on an old SD-6 channel, and I was wondering--I mean, not really, it only occurred to me, but--"

Jack cut him off. "Was there any response?"

"Um... no. Not yet. I can keep sending it, but I don't think that--"

"Keep trying it."

Marshall followed him when he walked off; when he turned back to glare, the other man stopped. "I tried some other channels too," he blurted out. "Just in case. I mean, you don't have to answer this, because I know it isn't any of my business--"

"Exactly."

"--and see, I knew you were going to say that. OK, OK, Agent Bristow," Marshall held his hands up in front of himself. "But no one is responding."

"I see." Marshall wouldn't meet his eyes. If this conversation went on any longer one or the other of them might have to acknowledge that Bristow had asked Marshall to get a message to Arvin Sloane, and that Arvin wasn't answering. "Thank you," he said.

On to the next one.


Sark lay flat on his back on the cell bunk, showing no reaction as Jack approached. All right, he thought. If that was how Sark wanted to play it...

He stopped a foot away from the glass. "Where is she?"

He waited a full thirty seconds, letting the silence stretch out. There was no response.

"You're wasting my time, Sark."

At that, Sark sat up, leaning back against the wall. "Agent Bristow," he acknowledged. "I have no control over how you choose to spend your time."

"Don't toy with me. Where is she?"

"How can I help you when you insist on imprecision?"

"You know who I'm talking about." He watched Sark carefully: he needed something he could use against the younger man. Sark's posture remained relaxed, his hands loose in his lap and his head tilted up toward Jack.

"Humor me."

"We can always continue this conversation elsewhere. I'm sure you're familiar with the effects of sodium penthotal."

Sark smiled at him. "Drugs? How vulgar. But if it will satisfy you, I have no idea where Irina Derevko is."

"What makes you think I was asking about Derevko?" He felt a moment of satisfaction: the threat had worked. He knew that Sark was hiding something.

"Really?" His voice seemed faintly mocking. "Have you lost track of Sydney, then?"

His daughter's name on this man's lips caught him off-guard, wiping away the small satisfaction. Jack forced himself to relax: letting Sark see the violence in him would be counter-productive. He concentrated on keeping his hands loose at his sides and his posture unchanged, so engrossed that he very nearly missed Sark's next comment.

"Unless there's someone else you've misplaced?" Just the slightest edge to the mockery, now: Jack's long silence had disturbed Sark for some reason. It was, Jack suddenly guessed, costing Sark nearly as much to maintain his facade as it was costing him. What was Sark hiding? Whatever it was, it was important.

He ran through a list of possibilities, followed an instinct. "We found your spy."

Now, that was interesting. Only for a fraction of a second, all expression left Sark's face. He recovered quickly, saying, "An unavoidable risk with undercover agents, as I'm sure you know." But there was a change, something new in his eyes. If Jack had to give it a name, he would have called it fear.

That was it: Sark's weakness. Jack pushed harder. "She's dead." He knew what it took for a man to will his emotions off his face, to stifle any human response; he conceded within himself a flicker of admiration for Sark's effort, but pressed on while the other man would still be vulnerable. "Where is my daughter?"

"I don't know," Sark answered. "But I know how to find out." He paused. "Sloane assembled Il Dire in Mexico City, didn't he? Now he has activated it." The smile was back on his face, his mask perfect again. "Who would have thought that Arvin Sloane's madness would bear fruit? The CIA will never find him, you know."

"But you can?"

"You would have to release me first." Sark sounded almost apologetic as he stated his terms.

"Did you learn that tactic from Derevko?"

"There is a limit to what I can accomplish from a cell. But if you'd prefer to leave Sydney in Sloane's care..." he let his voice trail off and gave a little shrug.

"I would prefer," Jack said, "not to be taken for a fool." He turned on his heel and left the room. When he checked the monitors in the guardroom he saw that Sark had lain down and was staring at nothing.


Kendall's sympathy was going to drive Jack to violence. He clenched his teeth and hoped that the other man was not going to slap him on the back in some gesture of solidarity. "I can't imagine how you must be feeling, Jack,"

"No," Jack answered, biting off every word. "You can't. I need Sark's information."

"If I say no, are you going to go ahead and do this one your own?"

Jack stared at him.

"What about Michael Vaughn? He's going to want to know what you're planning."

"I'll handle Vaughn," Jack told him.


Somewhere in the course of his insalubrious career, Jack reflected an hour later, Sark had developed an impressive ability to resist interrogation. He allowed Vaughn another fifteen minutes with the prisoner, then called him out of the room and went in himself.

"Oh, look," Sark said. His voice was thick. "It's the good cop." He ran his tongue over his teeth as if to check that they were all still there.

"Tell me where Sloane is, and all this will end."

"But I'm only starting to enjoy myself."

"The bones in your hand should be set immediately, to avoid the risk of permanent damage."

"Thank you for your advice."

"Michael Vaughn is an impatient man."

Sark grimaced. "Don't insult my intelligence, Agent Bristow. Vaughn is doing exactly what you instructed him to do." He swallowed. "Did you learn that tactic from Derevko?"

"Who was Allison Doren?

It took Sark a little longer to control his face, this time. "No one."

Jack leaned over him, inches away from the other man. "You must have known what would happen to her. Did you really believe you could get her out alive?" The words echoed unpleasantly in Jack's head, but he pushed on: Sark's weakness was clear in the anger in his eyes and the firm set of his chin. "You must have known that Derevko and Sloane would give you up, would sacrifice her. Are you really still loyal to them?"

"One learns to tolerate betrayal, if one is to remain in Irina Derevko's company."

"And Arvin Sloane?"

Had Sark not been strapped down, Jack suspected he would have shrugged. That anger wasn't directed at Sloane, then, or Derevko or even Jack. He watched Sark's eyes revert to clear, cold blue, let the other man believe that the worst was over. Then he leaned in and whispered in Sark's ear.

"If you tell me how to find Sloane, I'll let Vaughn come back in here." That was satisfying. Jack had become a connoisseur of self-loathing; it was a pleasure to be able to recognize the same emotion on Sark's young face. "You'd prefer that. Something to distract you from the real pain, isn't that right?"

If nothing else, it was good to know that someone else was suffering. He watched Sark get himself back under control. Not that it mattered: he must have known what Jack had seen. Just a second before he thought Sark would be able to speak, he stepped back. "No answer, Sark?" he asked. "Then I'll just have to leave you here to think about it."

As he closed the door behind him he checked his watch. 4:03 AM. Good. Vaughn was waiting in the observation room. "Do you want me to..."

"No," he said. The relief on Vaughn's face was almost amusing. "But could you..." he hesitated. "Would you go back to Sydney's apartment, Michael? Our teams might have missed a clue, a sign, something."

Vaughn straightened. "Of course," he said. He reached the far end of the corridor before turning back. "We'll find her, Jack. We will."

Jack nodded. Well. Someone would.

Kendall's voice disturbed him. "You shouldn't shut him out."

Jack wondered how much Kendall had heard, then decided it didn't matter. "I don't want to argue with him."

"Or with me. I'm only letting you do this because I can't figure out how to stop you."

To Jack's practiced eye, the assistant director looked worried. "Do you have the paperwork ready?"

"I want to put a tracer on you."

"I'll just take it out."

"What if you need backup, Jack? Sark is a very dangerous man. What makes you think that he's not going to betray you or try to kill you, first chance he gets?

"I expect him to."

"Then why go ahead with this?"

"Because Sark is our best link to Sloane and Derevko."

Kendall looked like he was swallowing some kind of reply. Jack guessed that it had something to do with Sydney, and held out his hand for the paperwork. "It's all in order," Kendall said. "Prisoner transfer to Camp Harris, in your custody. I expect you to make sure that Sark makes it there in the end."

Jack didn't bother answering.


Silence from Marshall was even more disconcerting than the constant babbling, Jack discovered. "You can double-check this with Kendall."

"That's OK, Agent Bristow. Just remember that you need to release the antidote every eight hours. Um, unless you want him to die. I guess."

Thanking Marshall twice in the same night would be ridiculous. Jack picked up the transmitter and the implants, hearing Marshall's whispered "Good luck," following him out the door.


Jack paused at the observation window: Sark lay still in the chair, apparently asleep. A doctor had been in to splint his hand and clean up the other obvious injuries, but Jack was on his own when it came to inserting the implants. Poison and an antidote, a simple enough means of controlling the other man.

The events of the night were beginning to tell on Sark: despite his relaxed posture his mouth was a thin, tense line. It was all too tempting, Jack knew, to consider anyone of his age a boy, to ignore the ruthless self-control, the kills confirmed and suspected, the lifetime's experience in betrayal and deception. But Sark's youth was just one more lie. He would not be taken in by it.

Sark's eyes opened as soon as Jack entered the room. He kept his eyes on Jack's face while Jack inserted the implant with the poison and then the antidote into his arm. If he was afraid, he was covering it well. He raised an eyebrow as Jack began to unstrap him from the chair and nodded at Jack's impatient, "Can you stand? Good," Jack said. "Get up." He offered no explanations and Sark asked no questions, although he did wince when Jack cuffed his hands behind his back. The right cuff barely fit over the splint: Jack would have to figure out a better way to keep Sark in line.

It was 5:38 AM. The night shift workers were starting to think about going home, and even Dixon and Vaughn wouldn't be in before 6. Jack kept his attention on his prisoner as they walked through the building. He did not permit himself to focus on the familiar offices and corridors and faces or to wonder when he might be back. He handed the paperwork to one more guard and added his signature to one more document. "Transfer to Camp Harris," he explained. There were no questions.

He put Sark into the passenger seat of his car and then it was just one more checkpoint at the entrance to the garage. Sark was leaning forward against the seatbelt to keep the weight off his broken hand. It looked uncomfortable.

Out on the road, his cellphone rang. Keeping one eye on Sark and another on the traffic, he flipped it open. "Bristow," he said.

"Jack." It was Vaughn, and Jack could tell from his voice that he hadn't slept. "I'm in Sydney's apartment. I think I've found something."

"Tell me."

"I found traces of packing material in the bathroom. I think it will match the packing material we found left behind in Mexico City."

"And it isn't from Sydney?"

"Neither of us went into the room where the Rambaldi device was assembled."

"You think Sloane was there."

Vaughn was quiet for a moment. "Or Irina Derevko."

"I'm in my car. I'll be right over." He should have done something about Arvin Sloane years ago, and to hell with the CIA and SD-6 and Rambaldi and his crazy devices. Sloane and his promises and his false concern and...

"This isn't the way to Sydney's apartment," Sark observed. Jack didn't respond; he could have lived without the reminder that Sark knew his daughter's address. About a minute later, Sark continued, "It isn't the road to Camp Harris, either." He could feel the younger man's eyes on him, but didn't allow himself to react. "What exactly was on those papers, Agent Bristow?"

"Let me explain how this will work," Jack said, keeping his voice toneless. "You will do what I tell you. You will put me in contact with Sloane, and you will help me find my daughter. If you do not do what I tell you, I will kill you. If Sloane does not know where Sydney is, I will kill you. Is that clear?"

"Is there any point at all to my asking what I'm supposed to get out of this relationship?"

"Don't test me, Sark. Where is Sloane?"

When he glanced over, he could see Sark calculating something: his odds of survival, perhaps. He leaned forward and slightly away. "These will have to come off."

"No."

"Agent Bristow, we wouldn't be here if you didn't need my information. I agree. I will help you find Sloane, you have my word. Now take the handcuffs off."

"I'm a desperate man, Sark, not a stupid one."

Sark produced a dramatic sigh. "You've told me again and again not to toy with you, Agent Bristow. And I won't. But if you tie my hands," Sark's mouth twitched at his own joke, "you do limit my ability to help you."

"We've identified three planes which took off from Mexico City on Sloane's orders: one to Lima, one to Hong Kong and one to Athens. He wasn't on any of them. Why?"

In reply, Sark rattled his handcuffs.

"What does Sloane want, Sark?"

Jack didn't expect Sark to answer. "For a madman, Sloane is relatively easy to predict. Why does he do anything?"

"Rambaldi." The word was like a curse. "Do you believe that Sloane is insane?"

Sark was staring absently at the road ahead of them, his eyebrows raised. "I certainly hope so, Agent Bristow. Because the alternative--that Sloane knows exactly what he's doing--is extremely disturbing."

Slightly surprised to find himself in agreement with his prisoner, Jack began to drive a little faster.


Sark shook his head when they arrived at the airfield. "No. Don't you understand? Sloane will never let the CIA get close to him."

"You aren't in a position to make decisions, Sark."

"If you aren't going to accept my advice, you might as well have left me in custody."

"Three planes. Which one do we follow?"

"Will you believe what I tell you?"

"You told us how to find him in Mexico City."

"Under duress, as I'm sure you recall." Jack raised an eyebrow just a fraction and saw what might have been amusement on Sark's face. "Point taken," Sark said.

"It's possible that you enjoyed working for Sloane," Jack said. He watched Sark watch him as he reached into the back seat of the car and brought out a manila folder. "Turn around," Jack told him, and Sark twisted in his seat so that Jack could undo the handcuffs. When Sark turned back, flexing his uninjured hand carefully to get the blood flowing again, Jack handed him the folder. "This is the preliminary report on Allison Doren's death. You will see that none of her wounds were fatal: she bled to death. If Agent Vaughn is correct and Sloane was in Sydney's apartment, Allison was probably still alive when he left."

Sark flipped the pages awkwardly with his left hand. Medical reports could be forged, as Jack knew all too well. Sark would know that too, would consider how convenient this report was for Jack. But the utter lack of expression on his face told Jack everything he needed to know. Sark closed the file, clutching it and then forcing his fingers to relax. "Athens. He's going to Athens." His voice was almost normal.


Part 2: Europe

If Sark was feigning sleep, Jack decided, he was doing a good job of it. Jack himself managed to doze off once or twice in the course of the flight; each time, a vision of his daughter's frightened eyes made him jerk himself awake. He reminded himself that she wasn't a little girl any more. She was stronger than he was. She could look after herself and defeat Sloane too, if she had to. She wasn't the child he had failed over and over again after Laura's--after Derevko's--disappearance.

He refused to consider the possibility that he might fail her again.

Sark twitched and grumbled something under his breath. A glance at his watch reminded Jack that it was time to release a dose of the antidote: he dug out the transmitter and keyed in the code Marshall had given him. Another eight hours of life for Sark. Another nine before they landed in Athens. He'd send the CIA plane back after that, use Sark's contacts and a few of his own resources.

He looked up and into Sark's alert blue eyes. "Care to explain what you've done to me?"

"The first implant is slowly releasing a poison into your bloodstream. To keep you alive, I release a dose of the antidote every eight hours."

"How charmingly ingenious. And let me guess: if I try to remove the implants, it will release a fatal dose of the poison."

"You'd have ninety seconds to consider your stupidity."

"Generous."

"More than you deserve," Jack told him.


They left the CIA behind along with the plane at the Athens airport. Jack understood Sloane's game well enough: so long as he used CIA resources, the other man would never reply. Sark, he thought, would consider it a victory. In Jack's opinion, it was likely that Sark would attempt to steal the controller and escape after his next dose. It would do him no good without the codes, but Sark was probably trying to figure out a way around that problem as they drove into the city.

He let Sark direct a taxi through the stop-and-go of early morning Athens traffic to a nondescript concrete apartment block with a travel agency and a computer store on the ground floor. The apartment was on the eighth floor, equally nondescript: Jack stepped inside and found himself in the living room: tile floors and two bare couches arranged around a coffee table. The kitchen was in an alcove to the left and a closed door across from him probably led to a bedroom.

"Make yourself at home," Sark said. He locked the apartment door behind them and headed for the bedroom.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Sark raised an eyebrow. "To take a shower. Do you need to verify that sort of thing personally?"

"You're wasting time."

"I'm maintaining our cover. If I turn up to meet a contact looking and smelling like this, they'll know immediately that all is not well." He waited patiently as Jack checked the bedroom and bathroom: they were as deserted as the rest of the apartment, aside from a few clothes hanging in the closet. Sark's, probably.

"Who else has a key to this apartment?" he asked.

"Aside from the old woman on the first floor? No one."

"Hiding your profits in real estate?"

"I'll have sold it and dissolved the holding company before you can get back to the CIA and use the address to track me."

Jack looked around at the simple furniture, the walls badly in need of a paint job: no place to hide a bug or a camera. "You won't get the real value. How do you intend to find Arvin Sloane?"

"Quietly," Sark answered. "And after a shower."


Another taxi took him and Sark--clean, shaved and dressed in another of his expensive suits--to the yacht harbor down at the Piraeus. He followed Sark through a series of yacht-leasing agencies, examining one catalogue after another full of pictures of big white boats; Sark was looking for something specific, and Jack kept quiet and let him look.

Yet another large, sunny office. He watched Sark charm the receptionist until she put down the telephone and stopped examining her fingernails and went off, hips swinging, to find the office manager. In a minute she was back, leading a short, thin man behind her. She'd fixed her lipstick, as well. The manager introduced himself--Mr. Petridis--in passable English as he ushered them back into his office. "I'm confident that we have something that will suit you and your father," he said.

Sark turned to look at Jack, his face bright with malicious amusement. With Petridis there, there was nothing Jack could say, but he hoped Sark caught the warning in his eyes. "I'm sure you do," Sark said mildly.

The same routine: they sat, drank coffee, looked at pictures. While Jack paged through a binder, Sark glanced around the office at the pictures on the wall, and stood. "What about this one?" he asked. To Jack's eye, the yachts were starting to blur together, but this one was, he supposed, aesthetically pleasing.

"That? I'm sorry, that one isn't for rent."

"Too bad. I don't suppose we could go see it anyway?"

"The owner came and took it out a few days ago. In any case, he's a very private man." There was just a flicker of suspicion in the manager's eyes as he put them off: Sark would have seen it too. They chatted a little while longer, and then Petridis led them down to the pier to a launch that would take them to the motor yacht Sark was feigning interest in. Out on the water, a cool breeze was blowing the oil and brine smell of the Piraeus away. Sark kept up an effortless conversation with Petridis, pausing only once to watch a ketch tack its way out of the harbor; a private memory of some kind, Jack decided, and filed it away for later.

The yacht was small, compared to most of the ones they'd seen: forty-two feet, an open plan living area and three staterooms. They were in the second stateroom when Sark whirled around without warning and hit the manager in the face.

Petridis fell back onto the bed. Sark, Jack noted, seemed just as capable hitting people with his left arm. "Where did Sloane go?" he asked.

"I don't know what you're talking about," the man protested.

"Arvin Sloane. He took a yacht out yesterday, loaded it up with equipment, probably in the middle of the night."

"You've made a mistake!"

Sark leaned down to pull the man back up onto his feet. When he was standing, he let him go and hit him again. "He owns your company, Mr. Petridis. He owns the yacht I asked about. He came and took it yesterday."

"I don't know--"

Sark turned to Jack. "Would you like to..." Jack shook his head. Petridis took advantage of Sark's apparent distraction by grabbing the lamp on the bedside table and trying to smash it over the young man's head. Sark stepped to the side and the blow glanced off his right shoulder. He winced and ducked another blow: in the tiny room he didn't have much space to maneuver.

Jack stayed pressed against the wall, letting Sark handle things, until the manager drew a gun. He was having trouble keeping his eye on both of them, and Jack didn't care for the way he was swinging the gun around. Time to step in, but before he could find an opening Sark had ducked and kicked at Petridis, knocking the gun out of his hand. It dropped to the floor and Sark dove for it, his head colliding with Petridis' chest as he did the same--Petridis staggered back against Jack's body and Sark stood up, the gun in his left hand, just a little too confident for Jack's comfort. But by then Jack had one arm around the manager's neck and the other holding his own gun to the man's ribs.

He met Sark's eyes. "In case you're getting any ideas, Marshall programmed the transmitter. You won't break his codes in time."

"I wouldn't expect anything less from you," Sark answered, slightly breathless. "Now," he turned his attention back to the manager, "shall we try this again? Where was Sloane heading?"

"I'm telling you, he didn't say!" At least the man wasn't claiming never to have heard of Sloane.

In the end, the manager talked. But it was more evidence for Jack's private theory that the relationship between the difficulty in getting a man to talk and the importance of his information wasn't quantifiable. Sloane really hadn't told the man where he was heading, although he had food and water for at least a week. They got the registration and the radio signature and the news that the boat had left around 2 am, and that was all.

At the end, they looked at each other across the man's body. Then Sark shrugged and shot the man in the head. No hint of awkwardness, Jack noted, although it wasn't a difficult shot. Best to work on the assumption that Sark was as proficient with his left as with his right.

They'd moved into the galley for the interrogation itself, but the noise echoed through the yacht and the sharp gunpowder smell drifted over them. Blood splattered the veneer of the cabinets and pooled on the floor, running first one way then the other as the boat swayed back and forth.

Sark had one eyebrow raised: a challenge.

He stared back. Did Sark honestly expect him to be appalled by the murder? Jack knew that he was perfectly capable of killing every man in the city of Athens if it would lead him to Sydney: he was hardly going to lose sleep over another of Sloane's lackeys. There was only one point he wanted to be perfectly clear. "We will not pose as father and son."

Another malicious smile from Sark. "If I'm not your son, people will assume I'm your lover."

Jack looked him up and down. "I don't care." He started to go up to the upper deck, pausing at the stairs; Sark was still standing over the body. "Find his keys and clean up the mess. We're leaving."


They motored out of Piraeus at an easy pace, heading south to the Cyclades, nothing to attract attention. An hour out, Jack set the autopilot and looked downstairs to check on Sark; the other man had found a length of chain and was wrapping it around the manager's dead body. An awkward task, with only one working hand.

"You don't usually have to tie people up after you kill them, Sark."

The young man looked up at him. "I'm not sharing a cabin with the body, and I'd rather it didn't wash up on the beach in the very near future." He stood and grabbed a stack of laminated pages from the counter, walking over to the steps and holding them up to Jack. "Here. More charts. We'll stop in Serifos first, I think."

"Why?"

"Unlike Sloane, we left Athens in something of a hurry. The water is full, but we will need other supplies."

Jack nodded. "How did you know he came through Athens? And that he's use a yacht?"

A shrug. "Irina was scouting for a base in the eastern Mediterranean. She went to Cyprus, but she and Sloane never told each other the truth about what they were doing. So it won't be Cyprus, but it will be somewhere accessible from Cyprus. And the yacht was something he'd mentioned once."

"When you planned his disappearance."

"And the destruction of the Alliance," Sark reminded him, as if he expected credit for it. "We might start with Thira. A cataclysmic eruption destroys an entire civilization, the origin of Plato's myth of Atlantis. It's the sort of thing that interested Rambaldi."

"Maybe," Jack agreed.

But it wasn't Thira, or Naxos, or any of the other islands they passed, making their way west to east and back east to west. The pace and isolation imposed an odd intimacy on the two men. It was a familiar risk, Jack thought: opposing agents on the ground often developed more sympathy for their opposites than for their superiors.

He watched Sark, trying to detect Derevko's hand in him. It occupied the mind and distracted him from his constant thoughts of Sydney, somewhere nearby, out on the water or perhaps just one island away. Now that Sark was out of custody, his vulnerabilities were well-hidden: a casual reference to Allison Doren, couched in sympathy, was rewarded with a wistful, "Do we ever really know where the appearances end and the real woman begins, though?"

After that, they stayed away from personal topics. Except once, when Sark found him sitting in the dark before dawn on the upper deck and said, "Arvin Sloane is very fond of Sydney. He is unlikely to harm her." Jack didn't answer, and after a minute or so he heard the rustle of movement and the other man's steps back down to the saloon.

He filed away the unlikely reassurance with the rest of the data he was collecting: Sark knew how to use the fishing equipment they found stored in a chest, disliked resinated wine, preferred sailboats to powerboats. Was not quite as capable of concealing his irritation at their lack of progress as he probably believed. He suspected that Sark was doing the same: it was the best explanation for the odd moments when he looked up to find Sark's eyes on him and an unreadable expression on his face. Gathering data, storing it all away until it would become useful: when he decided to try to escape.

Jack was beginning to wish that Sark would make the attempt. At least it would provide a break in their routine, the careful questions in one port after another, the constant monitoring of the radio channels. It was as if Sloane had vanished after sailing out of the Piraeus. Or as if Sark were leading him on a wild goose chase, Jack supposed. But Sark was banking on two things: that he could figure out the transmitter, given enough time, and that once Jack found Sloane he'd have more important things to worry about than Sark's whereabouts. The second was true, and Jack didn't really care about the first.


He came up to the upper deck at dawn to find Sark already awake, staring at the charts. "Crete or the Dodecanese?" he said at the sound of Jack's step. "What do you think, flip a coin?"

"Don't pretend to be stupid," Jack said.

"Rhodes is a possibility. Sacred to the Greek god Helios. There might be a tie-in with Rambaldi's fascination with fusion energy."

"Maybe," Jack said. Sark stood and went down to the galley, and came up a few minutes later with coffee. Jack took the cup and sipped absently, already lost in the maps. Where are you hiding, Arvin, he wondered. His calculations indicated the Dodecanese, the string of islands running up the coast of Turkey. Sloane might even be on the Turkish mainland somewhere, or over in Lebanon: either would be easier than Greece to operate in, with its jealous officials suspicious of foreign meddling even--maybe especially--by its NATO allies. The departure from Athens might have been a blind: there was plenty of time for Sloane to make his way all the way across the Mediterranean.

"Crete," he decided.

Sark nodded. "Crete it is, then."

They were two hours out of Iraklion when their radio chirped to life. Sloane's call sign and a single word: Sitia. Arvin was ready to be found.


Sitia was a large town on the eastern side of the island, a pile of concrete buildings rising up the hillside from the harbor. They saw Sloane's yacht tied up at the end of the pier, and they were spotted as well: a launch shadowing them as they coasted into a slip.

Jack glanced over at Sark, expressionless behind his sunglasses. He didn't delude himself about the likelihood of Sark continuing to assist him, now that they had found Sloane. But the young man had served his purpose and his ability to interfere with Jack's goals was limited: what could he do, tell Sloane that Jack intended to free Sydney and escape? Sloane wasn't so mad that he didn't know that.

The men waiting at the pier kept their guns pointed at Jack, not at Sark. They walked Jack to the black Mercedes waiting at the far end of the pier, leaving Sark to follow them, and put him into the back seat, one guard on either side of him. Sark sat in front, next to the driver. As they pulled out, he twisted in the seat to meet Jack's eyes, but if there was a message in the gesture, Jack couldn't decipher it.


Sloane was waiting for them.

They drove uphill past the concrete houses of Sitia and inland on a twisting mountain road, the hillsides covered in rocks and rough green-brown scrub, every now and then allowing a glimpse of row after row of olive terraces growing out of the pale soil. The traffic on the main road was heavy: speeding trucks and mopeds and jeeps all passing each other on the hairpin curves. Then they turned onto a dirt road and were alone, jostling past the olive trees and grape-vines of small farms, dust everywhere, until they climbed up another barren hillside, observed only by a solemn herd of goats.

The car stopped outside a modest house of white-painted stucco. Jack knew he should have been paying attention to the layout and the surroundings--information that would be valuable when he planned his escape--but his eyes were drawn to Arvin, standing in the doorway. He had the same energy crackling around him as at their last meeting; just for a moment, the memory of Sloane's confident prediction that they would be working together again made Jack hesitate. Arvin was not a sane man, he reminded himself. That was the source of his strange intensity. It made him dangerously unpredictable, but it gave him no special insight into the future.

He felt less certain when they were standing face to face and Arvin's smile was making the hair prickle on his arms. Arvin dismissed the guards; Sark disappeared with them, somewhere into the house. "I'm glad that you're here, Jack," Arvin said. "You deserve to be." He gestured to Jack to follow him and they walked around the side of the house to look out at the valley below them. "Beautiful, isn't it?" He took a deep breath.

"Where is my daughter, Arvin?"

"All in good time, Jack. Sydney is a very special young woman. More special than you can guess."

"She's my daughter. I want to see her."

"And you will. I promise you that. Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

"All I want is to see Sydney."

Sloane smiled at him. "Now, Jack. You must have something else to say."

"Not really."

Sloane was still smiling as he looked out over the terraces. "You know," he said, "the culture here in Eastern Crete is particularly interesting. This is the last place on earth that the Minoan language was spoken and understood. It's one of the great undeciphered languages of the ancient world."

"I suppose Rambaldi deciphered it?" Jack asked sourly. He was going to have to play Sloane's game, but he didn't have to enjoy it.

"He may have. Crete is a land of mysteries, and Rambaldi enjoyed mysteries. Under Mount Ida you can visit the cave where Zeus was hidden during his childhood, until he could defeat his father Kronos. This is a good land for hiding things."

"Is that what you're doing here, Arvin? Hiding?"

Arvin ignored the question. "I know what you intend, Jack. You believe that I've stolen Sydney from you and am holding her against her will, and that you need to rescue her. But I also know that when you understand what we've done here, you won't believe that any more. You have so much to learn, Jack. So do we all. Did you know that the Minoans worshipped a supreme goddess? They understood the power a woman could hold. So many have forgotten that, since then, even in our own times. But Rambaldi knew it as well." Sloane turned his head to stare directly at Jack. "You will know it too, when we're finished here."

In the bright sunlight, Jack should not have felt this cold. "What are you doing to my daughter, Arvin?"

"There's nothing I could do to hurt Sydney. She's far beyond that. When I found her in her apartment..." He trailed off and turned away to look at the view. "She healed that young man. Mr. Tippin. He was on the verge of death--he may have been dead--and she healed him." Then he took of his sunglasses and met Jack's eyes. "This is her destiny. In the end, you'll understand that."


Sloane may have had the confidence of his insanity, but he wasn't stupid. He put Jack in a secure room: more of a store-room, actually, no windows and just room for a man to lie down in it. It was completely bare. Jack paced its length, checked walls, floor and ceiling inch by inch and settled down to wait. He could hear people passing back and forth outside the door, and thought he heard Sark's voice once or twice, but couldn't make out the words.

Sark, Sloane, the three men in the car. He ought to assume that the two he'd seen in the boat as they came into Sitia were here as well. At least one against seven, then, and there might be others. And of course, they were armed and Jack wasn't, not any more. Perhaps he should have taken up Kendall's offer of a means of communicating with the CIA.

The next time he heard steps--just one man, good--he knocked on the door. The other man opened it and asked what he wanted.

"Something to drink," Jack said. "And I'd like to see Arvin again." And there it was, the split second when the man glanced down the hall, looking for backup, someone else to make this decision for him. That was all the time Jack needed to slam into the man, pushing him back across the hall and into the wall, ignoring the pain in his leg where the man recovered from his stumble to kick him, because he was going to have to do this quickly. He drew a breath, and shoved his hand into the other man's face, no time for anything fancy, pushing the cartilage in his nose up into his brain. He slumped to the floor, dead.

Jack bent to search him and--was it possible that the man wasn't carrying a gun? It was the one eventuality that he had failed to consider. Nothing. He raised his head at a noise--someone would be here soon. There was a marble-topped table by the store-room door, the incongruously domestic touch of a bowl of fruit, and next to the bowl, the transmitter he was using to control Sark. He grabbed it and turned as two men appeared at the far end of the corridor. They had guns, of course. He overturned the table and used it as cover, not that it would last. Something at the other end of the hall caught his attention--he spared a glance, saw Sark standing there as well, a gun in his left hand, and typed in the code to release the poison. One less enemy to worry about, and maybe he could get to Sark's gun.

Three shots rang out in that time, then two more. Oh.

The two men at the end of the hall were dead. Sark, surprise replacing amusement on his face, sank against the wall to the ground.

Jack heard him say, quite distinctly, "See if I ever try to help the Bristow family again," as his gun came sliding across the floor to Jack. Jack grabbed it, but the time he'd spent watching Sark's collapse had let another man sneak up on him: this was the fourth, Jack thought, there was at least one more, as chunks of marble went flying under the fire from the automatic weapon. He fired blindly, just to give himself some maneuvering room, then aimed more carefully.

He felt the bullet that hit him as momentum, pushing him back against the floor. He forced himself to concentrate on the man walking down the hall toward him, and not on the way his leg hurt, the burning pain and the trickle of blood inside and out on his thigh. The bullet had missed the artery, he thought. One more step, and... He saw the man's head, saw that the other man knew it, and shot him.

Jack pushed himself into a sitting position. Still one more man unaccounted for, and Sark slumped against the wall. How much time had passed? He scrabbled around in the shards or marble--where the hell was the transmitter? As he picked it up Sark coughed something; Jack turned, saw the last man, and fired. He fell to the ground with a satisfying noise.

He typed in the code that would release the full dose of the antidote. It might not be sufficient to reverse the damage: he hadn't planned for the need to save Sark's life.

His thigh wasn't as bad as he'd feared: more scraped by the bullet than actually hit, and already bleeding less badly. Next, he dragged himself over to Sark, who was curled on his side, his body shaking in dry heaves. At Jack's approach he pushed himself up. "That was particularly unpleasant."

A word of apology was on the tip of Jack's tongue; he swallowed it. In the silence, he heard a regular beating noise. A helicopter. No, two. "Who is that?"

"The seventh cavalry, I hope," Sark answered. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a large white handkerchief. "You're bleeding."

"I noticed," Jack answered. He bandaged his leg and stood. Shaky, but not too bad. "Come on."

"No, thank you," Sark said. The smile on his face was familiar, even against his yellow-tinged pallor. "But if you go down the hall to Sloane's office, you'll find a passage in the wall behind the desk. Check behind the icon."

Jack nodded and set off.


An explosion at the far end of the house shook the wall he was leaning on. Who did Sark mean by the seventh cavalry? Not the CIA, certainly. No time to worry about that, though. Jack found the office, the icon, felt himself sigh in relief as a doorway appeared behind the desk and went through it.

A staircase led down into the ground. He limped down the stone steps, his hand on the stone walls for support. Both were solid, carved into the side of the mountain. They curved down, leaving him in near darkness; after another curve he could see light coming from the bottom and began to hurry.

He came out into a rock-cut room. There was a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, but most of the light was coming from the device in the center of the room. He blinked once, trying to understand it, but saw only Sydney, lying still on her back at its heart.

"I knew you would come," Sloane said. "Look at her. Isn't she beautiful?" He was standing at the far side of the room, the machinery between them.

Jack's mouth was dry. "What... what are you doing to her? What is that?"

"Il Dire," Sloane answered, the awe clear in his voice. "Rambaldi's masterpiece." It was made of two parts, Jack saw. Sydney was lying on top of a glass case: inside the case were models of the organs of the human body, brain, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, all held in a mesh of silver metal. Above her was a network of glass tubes in an irregular pattern--Jack couldn't quite make it out--glowing as energy of some kind passed through them. "Isn't it glorious?"

"No. Stop it, Arvin, or I swear, I'll--"

"You don't understand. The process is almost complete."

"I won't let you do this to her. I won't let you use Sydney."

"I'm not using her. I'm setting her free. When she is released from Il Dire, she'll have all Rambaldi's knowledge. She'll know all his secrets, she'll have his power. Your daughter is no pawn, Jack. She's greater than you know." As he spoke, Sloane walked around the machine until he was between Jack and it.

"She is my daughter," Jack grated out. He hurled himself off the last step and onto Sloane, but Arvin was stronger than he looked and Jack was rocked back. Arvin caught him by the shoulders, saying, "Wait!" Jack broke away, nearly fell, and had to catch at Arvin to keep himself standing. They reeled across the room, Jack trying to reach his daughter and Sloane holding him back, until a final blow sent Arvin smashing across the wall. Jack rushed to the machine, grabbed the network of glass covering Sydney's body, and pulled.

"No!" Sloane shouted and rushed to the machine. The glass was hot in Jack's hands, too hot to hold on to, and as it slipped from his hands to crash on the floor, there was a burst of white light. Sloane shouted again, and Jack blinked his eyes furiously to clear his vision.

The dim light of the bulb showed him the glass case lying empty. Sydney was gone.

He turned to Sloane, a hundred questions on his lips. Sloane, too, had disappeared.

"Jack," said another voice. Irina Derevko stood in the doorway, Sark leaning on the wall a few steps above her, still shaky looking. Jack kept his eyes on his ex-wife's face. "Jack, what have you done to our daughter?"


Part 3: Africa

The sweet, deceptive voice was all the warning he needed. Derevko was staring at him, but she didn't see him. Jack remained perfectly still, willing his leg not to collapse. It was like facing a predatory animal: the slightest movement would set her off, so he forced his mind to be as still as his body. He understood, maybe better than she did, how close she was to violence.

"We're leaving," was what she finally said. She turned and brushed past Sark on her way up the stairs. Sark remained where he was.

He could go back to the CIA. He could rely on Vaughn, Dixon and Marshall. He could hope that Kendall would continue to back him. They would sift through the room he was standing in; he could imagine Marshall and that woman, Agent Bowman, piecing together Rambaldi's machine from its fragments. They might figure out what had happened to Sydney.

Or he could walk up the stairs after Irina Derevko, who had used him as bait to catch Sloane. Had she planned to reel Jack in along with her daughter and her enemy--their daughter, their enemy? If so, that plan had evaporated along with them. She had, just now, spoken to him without artifice, possibly for the first time.

Sark trailed after him as he walked up the stairs.


It was a quick trip back to Iraklion by helicopter, and then onto a private plane that clearly belonged to Irina. Jack tried not to limp on his way up the stairway; Sark, he noticed, was already walking steadily.

Derevko remained silent, aside from a brief command to the pilot. She sat in her leather chair and watched the island disappear below them. Jack sat opposite her, and Sark on the other side of the plane, where he could see them both.

They landed in Tunis, where a waiting limousine drove them north. There was, as yet, no sign of compulsion: Jack wondered what would have happened had he simply walked away from Sark and Derevko at the airport. The answer, he suspected, became clear when they reached Derevko's compound, past the northern suburbs and Lac Bizerte to a large house on a cliff-edge overlooking the sea. Sark followed him into the house and showed him to a bedroom. Jack waited for him to leave, but Sark remained standing just outside the door. At Jack's continued stare he said, with a trace of apology, "At some point Irina will remember that you're here. I'd rather not have lost you in the meantime."

"Do you ever do anything aside from follow her orders?" Jack asked. It was easier to focus his anger on Sark.

A shadow of concern passed over Sark's face. "Not if I can avoid it." He took a step backward, conceded, "My room is next door. I'll send a doctor in to see to your leg and hands."

Sark had the knack of knowing when to leave Jack alone. It was a strange thing to have cultivated, a puzzle, but nothing that Jack, the light of Sydney's disappearance still burning in his eyes, could consider. But there was Sark, still hovering in the doorway as if he expected something. What had he just said? Jack's leg, the doctor... "The implants are harmless now," Jack offered.

"Yes," Sark said. "I expect so."

He had saved Sark's life that day: a strange idea. On some other day he would have thought about it, but only one thing had happened tonight: the flash of light, his hands burning and Sydney, Sydney, Sydney. He made himself turn, hung up his jacket, washed his face in water from a basin. When he turned back, the doorway was empty.


Derevko came to see him in the middle of the night, as he lay awake, fully clothed, on his bed. The door closed noiselessly behind her.

"Thank you," she said.

"For what?" It was too easy to speak to her in the darkness; he sat up and turned on the bedside light.

"For coming with me."

"Let me be clear, Derevko. I'm doing this for my daughter." He gave the possessive pronoun a slight emphasis.

"She's my daughter as well, Jack."

"You gave up the right to call Sydney your daughter when she was six years old."

"Everything I've done has been for Sydney." She sounded pained; he wondered why she was bothering to convey emotions he wouldn't believe were real.

"It may have been about Sydney, but it wasn't for her. It was for you, for your purposes, your obsession with Rambaldi."

She sighed. "Jack, we can continue this argument forever. I understand that you can never trust me again. But the most important thing--the only important thing--is Sydney." The tremulous smile was, he thought, particularly well-judged, as was the slight hitch in her voice. She took a step forward, and for a terrible moment he thought that she was going to come sit by him on the bed. But she only said, "I know we agree on that, Jack," and left him alone.

After a few minutes, he turned the light off and lay back down.


The next day set the routine. They met in the morning in Derevko's office to discuss whatever intelligence they had gleaned--pitifully little, usually. It was as if Sloane and Sydney had disappeared from the face of the earth. Sark was present at these sessions, but said little. The rest of Jack's time was consumed by the analysis of the raw information Derevko and Sark provided. It was a stretch: these days, he was rarely called on to do this kind of analysis at the CIA. Now he was unsettled by the extent of Derevko's intelligence network: satellite feeds, bank transfers, taped telephone conversations. She was taking a risk, letting him see what he was seeing.

Two weeks in, he decided to test her resolve. It wasn't difficult: there was still no overt sign that he was a prisoner. He walked out of the house one morning and into the garage, picked out a car and drove it to the main gate. When the guard came out to question him, Jack shot him with the tranquilizer gun he'd stolen two days before, dragged the body back into the gatehouse and opened the gate himself. He drove east on the road toward Cap Serrat, then doubled back south toward Tunis. At a louage stand in Sejnane he stopped to stand in a telephone booth for a long moment, until an impatient woman asked whether he was ever going to place a call. He got in the car and drove back to Irina's compound.

Sark met him at the gate. "Had you picked up the telephone, the house would be empty by now."

So that was the agreement: he could leave at any time, but once he left there was no returning. He considered Sark. "You don't approve," he said. "But of what? My involvement? Or her focus on Sydney?"

"My opinion is irrelevant."

"Of course it is,. You don't have opinions that Derevko doesn't approve of," Jack said. "Do you even exist, Mr. Sark? What did she create you out of, mud and willpower?"

He felt Sark's eyes following him all the way back into the house. I could break him, he thought. Living in Derevko's house left him with excess energy, and Sark made a tempting target. There were guards and servants, but they didn't matter, and Derevko herself was too dangerous an opponent. Destroying Sark would require a certain amount of effort, but was certainly feasible... but what would be the point? He needed to focus on Sydney, not set special projects for himself.

He avoided the young man for the next two days, tried to lose himself on the trail of Sloane's money. But something nagged at him until he decided that it was only logical--if he wasn't going to kill him--to avoid making an enemy of Sark. Or more of an enemy, he supposed. And it would be interesting to see how Sark responded to the gesture.

Jack found him in the library: Sark sat there at night, reading, when he wasn't working. He paused in the doorway until Sark looked up from the book in his hands. "If you've thought of another insult, could you just spit it out and go?" Sark asked.

He hadn't expected Sark to welcome his presence. Jack walked to the nearest bookshelf, picked something out with barely a glance at the spine and settled into a chair. The book was by Balzac, he saw as he opened it, and in French.

Sark, his eyebrows raised, watched him go through the motions. The words on the page failed to resolve themselves into anything Jack could find interesting; he wished abruptly for something with equations and snapped the book shut.

"I don't approve either," he said.

"I see," Sark's voice was neutral.

"But that opinion doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is finding Sydney."

"I see," Sark said again, and turned back to his book.


It was easy to say, 'Sydney is all that matters,' in the library, in meetings in Derevko's office, as he studied the information she provided. But sometimes when he walked into a room the shock of recognition overwhelmed him: once, the woman who looked up from the flowers she was arranging seemed so familiar that he felt the air in the room like a wall. He turned, blindly, and walked until he reached the cliff edge and found himself staring out at the blurred place where water and sky ought to meet.


She and Sark shared meals: he came across the evidence on his own trips to the kitchen. He kept his distance from them. This was a job, a mission, not a home. Eating together, casual conversation... he didn't want the illusions of familial life.

He held to his purpose until Sark left.

Jack hesitated at the door to the library that evening. It had become a habit, without Jack realizing it, but the empty room held little appeal. He shifted the papers he was working on under his arm--he had given up on novels--and suppressed a jump at the voice behind him.

"Mr. Sark has interests of his own. He'll be back."

Jack nodded, without turning to look at her.

"I was planning to go out to the garden," she said. "Come with me."

He could have refused--should have refused, he thought. Instead he followed her out of the house and into the heavy perfume of the garden air. Jasmine, roses, other plants he didn't have names for. She took out a pair of clippers and started to cut away the dead and dying flowers. He could trace her by hearing more easily than by sight. Hearing and smell, because every plant she moved seemed to let out another gust of scent. She kept up a steady, low-voiced monologue, nonsense about gardening.

The hum of her voice, the singing night insects, the waves of perfume, all were meant to lull him, to leave him vulnerable to her. He sat on a bench and waited for a break in her monologue. Sloane's money was moving constantly, but he had yet to find the pattern. Which transfers were significant, which just camouflage? The problem was that the balances changed minute by minute: what he thought was a payment would be equalized by a second transfer hours or days later.

He was trying to decide whether the accounts in Belize needed further investigation when a movement made him look up. She was standing directly in front of him, the same secretive smile on her face. He had once believed that he knew what it meant. "What are you thinking about, Jack?"

This time, the truth would do. "Sloane's accounts. I'm beginning to wonder whether there's anything at all to be gained from the analysis."

"Really?" Her smile deepened.

"What did you expect?" His mouth was slightly dry: he resisted the urge to swallow.

"I don't know what to expect from you, Jack." She tilted her head to one side as she stared down at him.

He stood. She didn't step back. He could feel a pulse beating in his throat: his body knew that there were only inches of air between them. "I have work," he said, and turned away.


The next morning's intel included a stack of reports on the CIA. Familiar names on the pages, familiar faces on the photographs. A familiar lack of useful information: their analysis of Il Dire seemed to be going nowhere. Was this Derevko's way of making a point? The intensity of his reaction to a photograph of Vaughn, forehead wrinkled as he listened to Marshall's excited explanation of something-or-other, took him by surprise.

He was not lonely.

He tried to stay out of her way and was largely successful. She caught him once, in the kitchen, and poured him a glass of wine. "I think you'll like this."

He left the glass untouched on the counter. "My tastes have changed."


Sark returned. The splint was gone, and he spent hours in the garden, exercising to strengthen his hand. With him in the house, Jack found that he hardly needed to speak to Derevko: comments addressed to him could be counted on to reach her. He ignored the weight of Sark's gaze on him.

After a week, Sark left again.


The data on Sloane began to fall into a pattern. He checked his calculations and checked them again, asked Irina a few questions about her interests in Laos and in Indonesia, interpreted her disinformation and reread the transcript of a telephone conversation the CIA had picked up in New Guinea the week before.

Sark came back that night. Jack, working late in his room, heard the other man's footsteps in the hall, heard his door open and the thunk of something--a suitcase or briefcase--hitting the bed. He grabbed his papers and went to knock on the Sark's door.

Sark met him in the hallway--had he been coming to do the same thing? There was a certain energy to him, something in his eyes or the way he was walking. "Agent Bristow," he said. "I believe I have information you'll find interesting."

Never one word when five would do. Sark was already on his way down the hall to Derevko's office.

She greeted Sark with a smile and a light touch on his arm; Sark smiled back at her. The cat that's swallowed cream, Jack thought, and remembered that Sydney had found him smug. He barely waited for Jack to enter the room before announcing, "I have a lead on Sloane. He's in--"

"East Malaysia," Jack broke in. Yes, it was petty, the satisfaction he got from the moment of pure surprise he saw on Sark's face.

Sark recovered quickly. "East Malaysia. How did you know?" He appeared to be honestly curious.

"The money trail. You?"

"A rare book dealer in Paris. Sloane doesn't like to be out of touch with the experts."

"How long have you known, Jack?" Derevko looked rather less amused than Sark.

"Only a few hours."

"I see." She seemed somewhat mollified. "I'll go in."

"Is that the best idea?" Jack asked. "Sloane knows your methods."

Sark settled into a chair. "Sloane is familiar enough with both of you--indeed, with all of us--for that to be a problem."

"He's convinced that he and I will work together again," Jack said. "We might be able to exploit that."

"I'm not sure that Sloane will fall for the same trick twice," Derevko answered. "Particularly after your spectacular intervention in Crete."

It was the first time she had referred to Jack's role in Sydney's disappearance. The air hung still in the room, and Jack's voice was icy. "What exactly do you mean by that?"

"Well, Jack," she enunciated each word precisely, "it was careless of you to lose Sydney twice."

"Irina," Sark murmured, "There was no way to know..."

Jack spoke over him. "You should have considered that before you helped Sloane assemble the device."

"I don't expect you to understand the importance of Rambaldi's vision."

"What I understand is that you value Rambaldi and his machines above your daughter's life."

"Don't stand there," she said, "and play the innocent. You've used Sydney as ruthlessly as anyone."

"I think you underestimate the scale of the destruction you've caused. Only Sloane comes close to it."

"She is my daughter, Jack. I would never harm her."

"You've left no one in her life untouched! Irina, you had her best friend murdered."

Sark stood. "That's enough." He had been so still during their exchange that he seemed to appear out of nowhere. "When the two of you have finished this pointless discussion, do come find me."

"Sit back down," Irina snapped.

Sark remained standing. "There was no way to know that Sydney would disappear if the device was disturbed." He turned to face Jack. "And Ms. Calfo's death was my idea. As Sydney has killed Allison, perhaps we should call it even. I will see you both in the morning."

Jack guessed that Derevko wasn't used to people walking out on her. She refrained from calling after Sark, but her lips were pressed tight together.

"Who is Sark?" he asked.

She looked at him as if she had forgotten that he was there. "No one," she answered. "No one at all."

He felt the anger in him shifting into something less comfortable: not fear, and certainly not sorrow, but some other unsettled feeling in his gut. "You taught him that, didn't you? To use the people nearest to him. To exploit their..." love, his mind suggested. "Their emotions, as well as his own."

"I sometimes forget, Jack," she said, "that you never knew me at all."


Part Four: Asia

With the morning came cool efficiency. They planned a three-pronged attack, if only, Jack suspected, because none of them trusted the others. The flight to Malaysia passed in silence.

At the airport near Sandakan, their reception was disturbing: three fat generals in official limousines drove them to a military airbase and handed over two Puma helicopters. "Did you sell them these?" he asked Sark. Sark didn't bother to answer.

Derevko's team was already assembled: four pilots and a dozen mercenaries. Sark would lead them in the front in what was, essentially, a diversion; Jack and Derevko would come in from either side.

They flew in low over the trees. The element of surprise only applied to Jack and Derevko, so he had to make the drop quickly. Sark listened to something on the intercom--the signal from Derevko--and then the helicopter hovered just long enough for Jack to rappel off the side. He unhitched himself as soon as he got to the ground and flashed a light in his belt; he thought he saw a face peering down at him, but before he could be sure, the helicopter moved on. The searchlights were already swinging, trying to catch it.

He crept forward to the edge of the clearing that surrounded Sloane's compound. "Red in position," Derevko's voice sounded over the comm in his ear.

"Copy that," Sark answered. "Blue?"

Jack found a place to hide and crouched down. "Blue in position," he answered.

"Acknowledged." There was a brief silence, then Sark's voice came again. "Main team beginning assault in five, four, three, two... go!" An instant later Jack heard gunfire breaking out on the far side of the compound. He used the confusion of the attack to close the distance to the compound wall and begin the climb up it; he threw himself over the top, shot a man as he hit the ground. The shouting and gunfire were almost constant. He ran for the house.

Instinct pushed him to the ground as something flew past his ear: the second and third bolts pierced the air where he had been. What the hell? He twisted, fired blind, couldn't find a target. As he crawled forward, the pavement shifting under his knees provided the explanation: a trap of some sort. He proceeded more cautiously, noting the primed crossbows as he passed them..

A trapdoor in the door to the house nearly sent him crashing into a pit. The snake in the second bedroom he checked might have been an interloper as well, but the hook under the doorknob to the next room was another booby trap. Probably coated with poison. Jack felt relief when three living men came at him out of an adjoining room: when they shot at him, he could shoot back.

Still no Arvin, although he found a room with Emily's picture by the bed. He picked up the first in a stack of notebooks, but a noise in the hall made him drop it and fire at something in the doorway.

"Really, Bristow," Sark's voice came floating into the room. "Must you keep trying to kill me?"

Jack stood up from his shelter behind the bed. "Found anything?"

Sark was bright-eyed against the dark paint on his face. "About twenty guards. And I had no idea that Sloane had such a primitive sense of humor."

They stared at each other. "The whole house is a trap," Jack said.

Sark's eyebrows lifted. "Possibly." He turned to the three men following him. "Go secure the roof. If Sloane is here, I don't want him to escape."

As they left, the comm in Jack's ear crackled to life. "The library!" Derevko sounded excited. "There's something here."

"Where is the library?"

"The south-west... Second floor..." then static.

"Irina?" Sark sounded worried. "Irina, you're breaking up."

"...manuscript... ...going in..."

"Irina?" Sark said again. "Fuck. Let's go."

Jack thought it was the first time he'd heard Sark swear.


The library was in flames. Jack's eyes were still sorting out fire from shadow when he heard the crack of Sark's gun, one, two, three times. At the third shot Sark pushed him out of the doorway as their fire was returned: he had a brief glimpse of Derevko, now free from the gunmen who'd had her pinned down, turning and running for the far wall of the library. Then Sark fired again, and went after her.

Now it was Jack who had to pull him back when a shelf collapsed, sending fragments of wood and paper raining down on them: inside the room, he could see that the fire was largely confined to the shelves themselves, although the flames were already licking the roof. Neither of them spared a glance for the bodies of the three men Sark had shot dead.

Sark shook himself free. "I'm going after her."

It was only a matter of time before it would become impossible to breathe, and sooner than that, their escape would be cut off: the fire had started to spread from the shelves to the ceiling and the furniture. He saw Derevko slip behind one of the bookcases--another room, he guessed, with more books, and he muttered a curse of his own under his breath.

Sark was already halfway to the bookcase Irina had disappeared behind. Jack hesitated--that woman and her obsession were going to get them all killed--before wrapping a cloth around his nose and mouth and following,

The bookcase collapsed as Sark approached it, but the other man hardly paused, just dodged the falling books and kept going to Irina. She was standing in front of another bookcase, this one also on fire, reaching up to pull a book down from the upper shelves. Sark grabbed for her, and she twisted away "I need to see that," she protested.

"It's a trap, Irina," he said. "There's nothing here."

"Of course it's a trap." Her tone was dismissive. "This is the bait."

"We need to get out of here." He tried to take her arm again.

"I need to see that manuscript." She stepped back to the bookshelf and pulled out a volume; the whole bookcase swayed forward and Sark leaped forward to hold it back.

Derevko took an awkward step away and fell through the floor.

Jack could see her white hand, smeared with ash, holding onto a beam: Sark was still holding the bookcase back, so Jack edged to the side of the hole, careful of the fire eating away at the floor.

"Give Jack your free hand," Sark told her.

"The floor is unstable. I can't get close," Jack said. Irina tried to swing herself up on top of the beam; it creaked as she fell back, and Jack could see a shiny patch against her black shirt. "You were shot?"

She looked up. "It's not important. Take the manuscript."

"Forget the fucking manuscript," Sark's voice was tense. "If you stretch out you can grab her arm."

Jack edged forward carefully. The air was better down here near the floor; it reminded him that they had very little time. She was nearer to Sark, but her left arm, the one with the manuscript, was turned toward Jack. Sark was watching him, but he kept his eyes on Derevko. If he stretched out flat he wouldn't have enough leverage to raise her up, but he could at least hold onto her arm.

"It has what we need," Derevko said. "The information about Sydney." She met his eyes.

Another six inches along the beam. She closed her eyes a moment to gather her strength, then swung herself up to him. He grabbed the book as it slipped from her fingers and crawled back to safety. There was a flash of satisfaction on the woman's face: she knew him, he thought.

He only realized that he had expected an outcry from Sark when the other man's complete silence surprised him. As Derevko swung back her fingers loosened their hold on the beam: he could see, millimeter by millimeter, how she would slip. Sark saw it too, and at the last moment, as she was about to fall, he let go of the bookcase, letting it topple forward. By the time it hit the floor he had already followed her down through the hole.

Jack had to crawl the whole way out of the library, the manuscript tucked into his shirt for safekeeping.


He found Sark waiting for him at the front of the compound. Derevko was unconscious; he could see now that she'd been shot twice, and he guessed there were other injuries from the fall. He waited while Sark organized a stretcher for her and set two of the mercenaries to carry her back to the helicopter. "We're going now," was all he said to Jack. Then he turned and followed the stretcher.

It was too noisy in the helicopters to converse, and when they arrived back in Sandakan, Sark busied himself paying off the mercenaries and arranging medical care for Derevko. He stayed in the room while the doctor worked; Jack, looking through the doorway, saw him reach out to touch the back of her hand.

Jack was still waiting when Sark stepped out of the building, flipped open a cellphone and began to issue instructions in Cantonese. When he was finished with the call he stared at Jack for a long moment before turning back to re-enter the clinic.

"Sark." Jack's voice made him stop and turn back at the door.

"She sustained two bullet wounds, broken ribs, a sprained ankle and a concussion. She should recover well." Sark's voice was cool. "We will be leaving for a private clinic in Thailand as soon as she can be moved. I would prefer that you did not accompany us."

"She would have made the same choice."

"I know."

"I'm taking the manuscript with me."

Sark shrugged.

"She'll be angry if you lose it." It sounded to his own ears as if he was bargaining to stay.

"I suppose so," Sark agreed. His voice was mild and his face expressionless.

Hiding something, Jack thought, and felt a strong desire to see the emotions Sark was concealing. "With Allison Doren dead, she's all you have, isn't she?" Just a moment of incredulous fury on Sark's face, an unspoken "how dare you?" Jack pressed harder. "Is she your mother?"

"Don't you recognize me?" Sark shot back. "I could be your son."

"You aren't ruthless enough to be mine."

This time the anger stayed in Sark's eyes. "Don't tempt me."

"Killing your father and fucking your mother? How predictable."

Sark's lips were a thin line. He didn't answer.

Nausea settled into Jack's stomach. "You haven't?"

"Jealous?" Sark managed a twisted smile.

It was a bluff, Jack told himself. It had to be. Derevko was not entirely without morals. He started to put the pieces together aloud, letting the slight changes in color on Sark's face guide him. "You haven't, but you've wanted to. And... You aren't certain. You've never asked her whether she's your mother. Why not?" He kept his voice neutral, for the last question. Perhaps Sark would see the man he'd known in Greece and Tunisia, and would answer.

"What would it change?"

Everything and nothing, Jack thought. There was something familiar in the shape of Sark's face and the set of his mouth. It might be nothing more than the effects of a lifetime's exposure to Irina Derevko. "You should ask her."

Sark nodded. He never would. Jack supposed that they all needed to keep a few illusions. "I still want you gone," Sark said.

"I'll go." Sark looked slightly surprised at the ease with which Jack had agreed. Jack shrugged. "I can't stay." He needed to find Sydney, and he couldn't do that with Derevko and Sark--he couldn't allow himself to be distracted. "But if there's anything valuable in the manuscript, I'll let you know." He hoped Sark would take it as a form of apology.

It seemed so, from the younger man's reply. "Send a message to the house in Tunisia. We'll receive it."

Had it been the kind of relationship in which formal goodbyes were necessary? Jack had no idea, and had never liked that kind of thing. He gave a brief nod, told Sark, "Find me if you need me," and walked away. There were regular flights from the small airport here to Kuala Lumpur, and from there he could go anywhere. Even back to the CIA, if that was what he wanted: they would probably forgive him for losing his prisoner.

He knew that Sark stood and watched him go, long after he turned a corner and disappeared.

End

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Fandom:  Alias
Title:  Airs, Waters, Places
Author:  Vanzetti   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  72k  |  02/10/04
Summary:  No one was saying "no" to Jack that night. Someone probably should have.
Notes:  Many, many thanks to Rez, for beta-reading, poking with a pointy stick, and reassuring me when Jack got too scary.
Category: "Missing Time" fic.
Disclaimer: JJ, Bad Robot, ABC.


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