WHAT YOU NEVER KNEW YOU WANTED
by R.J. Anderson
It's the same apartment you walked out of this morning, in exactly the same state you left it. That, at least, is reassuring. It disturbs you, however, to realize that when you got up this morning one of Weiss's black dress socks was lying in plain view on the floor beside the bed, and you never even noticed that it wasn't yours.
You also didn't notice the shaving cream in the bathroom cabinet, or the suits hanging on the other side of your closet, or a hundred other little things that should have told you a man was living there. Nor did it occur to you that the reason your bed was twice as messy as usual was because two people had been sleeping in it (but I didn't sleep, your mind protests, I'm sure I didn't), since Weiss had already left for work.
There's no excuse for you not noticing at least some of those things -- in fact, under ordinary circumstances you'd have spotted every one of them. But this morning, despite all your training and experience, you saw only what you expected to see.
What did the Covenant do to you?
Weiss is in the kitchen, making coffee. You splash your face in the bathroom sink, dry your eyes on the still-damp towel you used this morning, and change out of your work clothes into a tank top and yoga pants. And all the while you're thinking, how long can I keep this up before he notices something's wrong?
You are not in love with Weiss (and right now you don't know how you ever could have been, especially with Michael around and -- you still can't believe it -- unmarried). Still, he's a great guy, loyal and funny and unselfish, and with Will and Francie gone he's the closest thing to a best friend you've got. Hurting him is the last thing you want to do.
But if you're going to try not to hurt him...
Taking a deep breath, you walk out of the bathroom, toss your suit jacket and skirt over the end of the still-unmade bed, and follow the smell of the coffee to where Weiss sits at the kitchen counter, pouring you a cup. He doesn't need to ask how you like it, and you find that fresh confirmation of just how well he knows you unsettling. Still, when he passes the coffee across to you, you take it with a smile, determined to betray nothing of the turmoil you feel. "Thanks."
"Uh-huh," he says, looking skeptical. "Nice try, Syd. Come on, out with it."
Your heart sinks. He knows you that well? "With what?"
"I know that look. It says, 'Hi, I'm shiny happy Sydney and I've got a brick on my conscience but you're not supposed to notice.' Well, too bad, I do notice. So--" He makes a gambler's "hit me" gesture.
Part of you wants to give up right then and there, forget the whole mad scheme and just confess that not only do you not remember marrying him, you don't even remember why you wanted to, and until your memory comes back, would he mind sleeping on the couch? But you can't do that, not until you know for sure that you can't lie to him and make him believe you.
You cover your dismay by taking a sip of coffee, then set the mug down and say quietly, "I scared you back there, I know, reacting the way I did. I'm sorry. I thought -- for a moment, I thought you were -- somebody I didn't want -- kissing me."
It's not quite the truth, but it's close enough to pass. He sits back, and you see the relief in his eyes. "It's okay. The psychiatrist said you'd probably have some flashbacks, memory lapses, maybe even a few panic attacks before your mind adjusted to reality. At least this one wasn't as bad as the first, right after we pulled you out -- that one was a doozy." He stirs his coffee slowly. "The last two years of your life, poof, gone -- for a while you didn't even remember marrying me."
If there were any doubt left in your mind that you can't tell him the truth, that settles it. He speaks simply, without obvious emotion -- he's even smiling a little, as though to reassure you that the incident was more funny than anything else. And yet there's tension in the line of his shoulders, and behind the humor in his eyes is a silent plea, Don't ever scare me like that again.
You don't dare ask him, now, all the questions that have been torturing you. For his sake, you can't let him guess how little you remember. There's only one thing you can do to make this right, and you do it without hesitation: you push your coffee cup aside, lean over the counter, and kiss him.
It's a desperate sort of kiss, full of shame and apologies and the dregs of the loneliness you've been carrying around ever since you found out Vaughn was married (but he's not married, that was just a bad dream -- or is this the dream?). Weiss kisses you back with equal urgency, holding your face between his hands as though afraid you'll vanish if he lets you go, and you realize with a shiver of apprehension where this is leading, but it's too late to pull away now.
"I missed you so much," he whispers huskily, and you close your eyes in pain because the words are the ones you've longed to hear but the voice saying them is wrong, so wrong. He brushes his lips down your neck, kisses the hollow of your throat, and you are just wondering hysterically whether he plans to flip you over onto the counter and make love to you right then and there, when the phone rings and startles you both apart.
"I'll get it," you say breathlessly, picking up the receiver and turning away so that he won't notice your relief. "Hello?"
"It's my Dad," you mouth to Weiss, who nods, picks up his coffee mug, and heads off to the living room to give you some privacy. "Hi," you say to the other end of the phone. "Is everything okay?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing. Dixon told me Eric took you home: are you feeling all right?"
Under the circumstances it shouldn't surprise you that Weiss and your father would be on a first-name basis, but somehow it does. After all, even when he knew you and Michael were lovers, he still called him Vaughn... but then, so did you. "I had another memory lapse. Just a short one, I'm all right now. Where do you want to meet?"
He hasn't asked you to meet him anywhere, of course; but he understands, and responds without hesitation. "The hot dog stand in the park. Half an hour."
You don't need to ask which hot dog stand, or which park. "I'll be there." You turn off the receiver, resisting the urge to hug it, and put the phone down. "Dad wants to meet me for lunch."
Weiss looks back at you over the top of the sofa. "Want me to take you? I've got to pick up a couple of things anyway."
You're about to say no, when you realize that you might have another memory lapse, and it's probably safer if you let him drive. Plus, it'll lend at least some credence to the illusion that you have nothing to hide. "Sure. Thanks."
"Okay," he says, and bounces up to get his coat.
* * *
Twenty-five minutes later, you wave a hurried goodbye to Weiss, cross the sidewalk, dodge a crowd of teenagers wielding loaded hot dogs, and sit down on the wooden bench beside your father. His hands are empty, and he shows no sign of wanting to join the lineup at the stand, but you weren't hungry anyway. "Thanks for coming," you say.
"Any time." He turns and looks at you intently, eyes scanning your face for clues. Once, you found his analytical approach to life infuriating; now you've come to depend on it. "What do you need?"
This is hard. But there's no one else you can turn to. "Dad... I don't remember what the Covenant did to me. I don't remember who found me, or when, or where."
He nods, his expression unchanging, as though he had expected it. "You experienced some very intense mental conditioning by the Covenant. You're well trained to resist brainwashing, and they didn't manage to break you, but it's not surprising that there would still be some residual effects."
"I know. But it's worse than that. Much worse. I don't remember anything from the time I fought Francie's double in my old apartment, to when I got up this morning. Well, I do remember some things, but -- they're all wrong."
His face goes very still, his eyes narrowing as he registers what you've just said, sifts through all the possible layers of meaning, and considers the implications. At last he says, "Tell me what you think you remember."
Slowly, haltingly, you tell him everything: about your two lost years, Vaughn's marriage and Sloane's pardon, the exchange that put Sark into the hands of the Covenant, the Lazarey case with all its terrifying implications... and any minute you're sure he's going to stop you and tell you it's all nonsense, but he doesn't. He simply listens.
"Interesting," he says, when the story is finished, gazing off into the distance while he digests the information you've given him. "Obviously the Covenant believed they had something to gain by mixing fiction with reality and implanting you with a false set of memories, but what was their objective? The whole scheme seems unnecessarily complicated."
"Maybe it wasn't their idea," you say. "Maybe it was a nightmare I had while they were conditioning me. Maybe it was my brain's way of resisting whatever ideas they were trying to plant in my mind, coming up with an alternate reality of its own. I don't know. But Dad--"
The desperation in your tone snaps him out of his reverie, and he looks back at you, a question in his eyes.
"I need you to tell me -- everything I missed. Help me remember what's real."
Jack Bristow isn't usually demonstrative, but he puts his hand over yours and squeezes it. Then, in the crisp dispassionate voice he uses for official briefings, the one guaranteed to ensure that you hear and remember every detail, he begins to tell you about the last two years of your life.
In this reality, the true one, you were never missing. The CIA found you in the wreckage of your old apartment, and you spent three days in hospital. As before, Will survived, and went into witness protection as soon as he was well enough to relocate. But no trace of Francie's double, dead or alive, was ever found.
Arvin Sloane is still in CIA custody, and has not yet received a pardon, though the amount of valuable intelligence he's provided makes it more and more likely that he will be granted freedom in time. Your mother is still a fugitive, but she's been keeping a low profile and the CIA has been concentrating on other matters of more immediate concern. Sark was extracted while en route to high-security prison eighteen months ago; most believe that to have been the work of the Covenant, though Jack suspects your mother.
And Vaughn, as you guessed already, was never married.
"After your apartment was destroyed," says your father, "you moved in with Vaughn. Three months later, you told me you were engaged."
Your breath stops, and you feel the blood hammering through your heart. Michael asked you to marry him? And you said yes? (Of course you said yes, you'd say yes if he asked you right now, you know that. Except for that little complication of already being married to the wrong man.) "Then-- why aren't we--?"
"Because six weeks after that, you gave him back his ring and moved out."
You feel as though you've just had your guts ripped out with a hook. "No. That can't-- I wouldn't ever--"
"Sydney." His voice is level, his eyes equally steady, willing you to be strong. "You never told me why you broke your engagement to Vaughn, and I don't have enough information to hypothesize. All I know is that it happened, and that you believed it was for the best."
"Was I..." You still can't imagine it. "Was I unhappy? When it ended?"
"For a time, yes. As was Vaughn. You both tried not to let it interfere with your professional duties, but in the end Vaughn decided it wasn't working and took a six-month transfer to Langley. Eric was reassigned as your partner, temporarily at first, but you worked so well together that Dixon decided to make it permanent."
"So when did we... when did I start dating Weiss?"
"I don't know. After he helped you find your new apartment -- which, understandably, caused some tension between him and Vaughn -- it seemed as though every time I called you, he was there. Nevertheless, at that time you obviously regarded him only as a friend. Once Vaughn left and the two of you were partnered, however, the relationship progressed quite rapidly. It was only a few weeks after Vaughn returned from Langley that you told me you and Eric were planning to be married... and three months later, I walked you down the aisle." The corners of his mouth curl a little, reminiscently. "You had a surprise guest at the wedding, by the way... although I didn't tell you that until afterward."
Your jaw drops. "Mom?"
"Oh, yes. It was an excellent disguise, managed quite cleverly. No one recognized her except me... and even I might not have known to take a second look, if she hadn't been crying."
With happiness? you wonder. Or regret? She'd seemed to like Vaughn very much, in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- the dark history between them; you find it hard to believe she'd have felt the same way about ordinary, uncomplicated Weiss.
"Eric Weiss is a good man, Sydney." Your father speaks quietly, but there's no mistaking the emphasis in his tone. "When you chose him, I believed -- and I still believe -- that it was one of the best decisions you've ever made."
A good man. Not just a man, but a good one, in your father's eyes. You can't help but contrast those words with something else your father told you, even if only in a dream: "Michael Vaughn is just a boy who was never good enough for you."
But you never understood Vaughn, Daddy, your mind protests. You never really gave him a chance. You never knew him like I do...
Still, you know better than to voice your objections. You're a married woman, and regardless of what tricks your mind and your memory might be playing at the moment, Vaughn is no longer a legitimate part of your life.
"Thanks," you say at last, looking down at your hands. The ring finger on your left hand is smooth and unmarked, just as it ought to be -- in your line of work, with all its deception and disguise, the illusion of availability is too important an advantage to lose.
But it is, you remind yourself, only an illusion.
"Eric will be here in a minute," you say, getting up from the bench, blinking back the tears that threaten to fill your eyes. "I'd better go."
"Yes. Call me when you need more information. And when you come back to work I'll stay close, and do what I can to keep you from making any false steps. But Sydney--"
You don't dare look at your father. "Uh-huh?" you say distractedly, shielding your eyes with your hand as you peer into the distance, back toward the street.
"Give Weiss a chance," he says. "Give yourself a chance. What you and Vaughn felt... I know how dangerously compelling that kind of passion can be. But it doesn't last, Sydney. And even if it did, it's no substitute for things like honesty. And loyalty. And trust."
The lump in your throat chokes you; you can't speak. All you can do is nod, and smile as though you believe him, before you turn and walk away.
* * *
[end of Part Two]
Part Three is being beta'd right now and should be up in the next couple of days. Thanks for reading... double thanks for your comments on Part One... and please feel free to make any more comments and criticisms that come to mind!