Credit where it's due: the initial idea for Syd and Weiss's mission in this fic was the brainchild of ms_pie, who along with lydaclunas is doing a phenomenal job of betaing this fic, and for whose input I am profoundly grateful.
And corngirl_jo, I think you might like the second scene... for some odd reason, not really sure why... :)
WHAT YOU NEVER KNEW YOU WANTED
by R. J. Anderson
Funny how in Geneva things seemed so much clearer, the possibility of loving Weiss so much easier to understand. When you get home, and he falls into a dead sleep on the sofa before you're even finished unpacking, your relief feels curiously like disappointment.
When you return to the Ops Center the next day, however, it's different. All it takes is meeting Vaughn's gaze across the conference room, seeing his eyes crease in a smile, and your heart spins toward him like a compass needle. You'd like to despise yourself for being so fickle, except you know that's not really the problem: the truth is you aren't fickle enough, or you'd be able to let Vaughn go.
Still, as the days pass, you realize you can't keep living this way indefinitely. You're watching Vaughn far too much, for far too long, and the blood rises to your skin every time he returns your gaze -- which he also does more often than he should. And while Weiss still smiles at you with the same warmth and kisses you with the same ardor as before, he's been keeping his distance in bed, as though he senses your reluctance. This can't go on. Something has to give.
And it does, even sooner than you expected. Two days later, you're walking down the corridor toward Dixon's office when Vaughn's arm appears out of nowhere and yanks you back into the filing room. He shuts the door behind you with more than usual force, turns to you with a set jaw and fiercely intent eyes, and says, "All right, Syd, enough. Do you want to tell me what's going on? Ever since you escaped from the Covenant, you've been looking at me like--"
All at once he stops, and his face becomes very still, as though he's just received a revelation. You open your mouth to forestall him, but he holds up a hand: Wait. I'm thinking. "The Covenant," he says slowly. "They took your memories..."
Oh, no. No, Vaughn, please don't...
But the pieces of the puzzle are already there, just waiting to be put together, and Vaughn is an intelligent man. If he didn't know how to spot clues, analyze evidence and draw quick and accurate conclusions, he wouldn't be in this job.
"...all your memories of the past two years... including our breakup, and your marriage to Weiss..."
This shouldn't be happening. You don't want it to be happening. And yet, you have only yourself to blame. You shouldn't have allowed him to see what you were feeling. You shouldn't have allowed yourself to feel it in the first place.
Stop now, you beg him silently. Leave it unsaid. Let me walk out of this room, and I swear I'll never look at you that way again...
"...and you never got them back."
There's no anger in his eyes now, only an agonized comprehension. "It's true, isn't it? That's why you've been watching me. Because in your mind... we're still together."
The sound of the truth, so simply and so plainly spoken, is more than you can bear. You can't bring yourself to answer, either to confirm or to deny: all you can do is bow your head and turn your face away.
"Oh, Syd." His voice softens, and he takes a step toward you. For a moment you stand motionless, struggling against the yearning inside, but then his hands close on your shoulders and it's suddenly too much: you fall into his arms, bury your face in his chest and burst into desperate, guilty, hopeless tears.
A moment later he says, his mouth muffled against your hair, "Does Weiss know?"
You're still too choked up to speak; you can only shake your head. Vaughn's embrace tightens, and he murmurs, "It's okay. Don't blame yourself. You haven't done anything wrong."
More than anything, you want those words -- all of them -- to be true. But deep down, you know better. You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't have given yourself away. But then, you shouldn't have to choose between your conscience and your heart, and yet that's exactly what this intolerable situation is forcing you to do.
If only you knew how to do it.
"I can help you," says Vaughn in a low voice. "Let me help you." He takes your face between his hands, looking deeply into your eyes. "There's got to be a way out of this -- not just for you and me, but for Weiss too. It's not fair to him, Syd--"
"You can't tell him," you whisper. "Promise you won't tell him. If -- when -- he has to hear it, he deserves to hear it from me."
Vaughn nods soberly, his gaze full of understanding. "I promise."
He's so near to you now, so tantalizingly near. You can smell his cologne, see the light stubble along his jawline, recognize every familiar curve and crease of his lips. And at this moment it's an agonizing effort of your will, every bit as hard as it was for you to step through the door of your apartment a few days ago, to keep from kissing him.
Instead you take a step back, your hands sliding from his shoulders, and say hoarsely, "Thanks."
"Let's meet somewhere," he urges. "After hours, so we can talk this out, come up with a plan. What about Tito's Diner?"
It's a prudent choice, you have to admit: a brightly lit, window-lined restaurant facing onto a busy street, with an atmosphere that's hardly likely to encourage thoughts of romance. Not that either of you needs any encouragement. "Okay," you tell him, feeling your stomach tighten with mingled apprehension and anticipation. "But it'll have to be next week."
He grimaces. "Right. Jakarta. I forgot. Then let's say Tuesday... nine o'clock?"
A long pause, while you look at each other. "I'd better go," you say at last, brush the tears from your cheeks, and turn to leave.
You know that soft, broken tone: it means he's about to say something he shouldn't. "Don't --" you begin, but it's too late.
"I've never stopped loving you," he says.
You don't dare look back. And your throat's too tight to speak, even if you had the words. So in the end you simply bow your head in a gesture of -- acceptance? Defeat? Sorrow? Shame? Maybe all of them together, but your heart's too sore and your mind too battered by confusion to tell.
Then you open the door and walk away.
* * *
The Tanamur nightclub, like the rest of Jakarta, is hot, steamy and hazy with smoke. Dancers of both sexes, and some of indeterminate gender, undulate on raised platforms to the exotic sounds of Asian dance music. After midnight the place will be packed, but right now it's just starting to fill up, and you're able to move freely through the crowd as you look around for your target.
"Figures you'd be ahead of me already," says a familiar, wry voice in your ear, just audible above the pounding bass and drums. "In spite of being interrupted by... how many propositions so far?"
You pause and glance over at the far side of the room, your gaze passing over Weiss with apparent indifference, and lay three fingers against your chin.
"Oh, well, if it's only three, then no wonder. I've had five, and I have no idea what language half of them were in."
Your eyebrows shoot up. Five?
"Hey, when you're hot, you're hot," he says, and you can hear his grin. "Nah, only one actually, and I think she just wanted to know if I needed a drink. Though there's this gorgeous brunette in a red sarong who keeps eyeing me across the room... think she likes me?"
Oh, she likes you all right, you can't help thinking, with a twinge of guilt. She just happens to be in love with somebody else.
"I bet she'd like me if she got to know me," Weiss continues, oblivious. "Not only do I know a lot of great yo-yo tricks, I make an awesome brisket."
All this while you've been scanning the crowd, looking for a man with a wide nose, thick mustache and heavy jowls -- a Mr. Hamdani, according to the microchip you picked up in Geneva. Wherever he may be, you and Weiss have five minutes to find him before this deal goes down.
Fortunately, it only takes you two minutes. "Found him," you murmur through your wire to Weiss, who's still working his way along the other side of the room. "Ten o'clock."
"Got it," he says tersely, all humor banished, and a moment later he's navigating his way across the dance floor toward Hamdani's table, with a hardness in his eyes you've never seen before. Pretending interest in the dancers, you watch him covertly as he pulls out a chair opposite the Jemaah Islamiyah man and sits down, looking every inch the cool, ruthless Covenant agent.
"Good evening, Mr. Hamdani," he says. "I know we haven't met, but I believe we have some... mutual friends."
The voice in which he delivers those words is lower and more clipped-sounding than usual: not quite a European accent, but a Europeanized American one. It's also, you can't help noticing, quite unfairly sexy.
Hamdani responds to Weiss's introduction with what sounds like a cautious welcome, though you can't make out the exact words. No matter: you don't need to. Your job right now is to find the real Covenant agent, whoever he is. If all goes well, Weiss will take Hamdani out the back door with him in a minute or two, and you'll be free to take Hamdani's place at the table. Your deep-cover CIA ally within the Covenant should have laid the groundwork for everything that comes next.
Then you spot him: a slim, blond figure emerging from the haze near the front of the club. He's dressed in a dark green shirt under a cream linen suit, and at first glance he looks like just one of a hundred other foreign businessman out for a night on the town, but there's no mistaking the line of those shoulders, or that lithe, arrogant stride.
"We're in trouble," you breathe to Weiss. "It's Sark."
Casually, Weiss reaches up and touches his earlobe. I hear you. "Mr. Hamdani," he says, "May I suggest we take our conversation outside?"
As far as you can tell, Sark hasn't even spotted you yet, let alone Hamdani. Nevertheless, you can't afford to take chances before Weiss and the Jemaah Islamiyah man are safely out the door, so you turn and begin sidling your way back through the sweaty, gyrating crowd.
By the time you're twenty feet away, he's noticed you. His eyebrows rise, his mouth quirks, and he moves with sudden purpose in your direction. Moving as quickly as the thickening crowd allows, you lead him across the dance floor, the music pounding through your bones, then along the far wall to the bar, where you order the first drink that comes to mind. You're just taking your first sip of vodka when he catches up to you.
"An unexpected pleasure," he says, raising his voice above the din. "And since it is now past eleven o'clock, allow me to congratulate you on reaching Mr. Hamdani before I did. However, I think you may find that particular victory rather hollow. I am not working for the Covenant, any more than you are."
You raise a skeptical eyebrow, and take another sip.
"In fact," Sark continues, unfazed, "you will doubtless be pleased to learn that the man who was sent here in that capacity has been... incapacitated."
Whether that's true or not, it hardly matters. With Weiss and the Jemaah Islamiyah man out of the building, any Covenant agent who comes looking for Hamdani is sure to be disappointed. And your backup team, parked at the end of the alley behind the nightclub, will give Weiss all the help and protection he needs.
All you have to do, therefore, is keep Sark distracted until the deal is done. And given his present mood, that shouldn't be difficult. You pause a moment, as though considering his last remark, then put your drink down and turn to face him. "How thoughtful of you. So what brings you here?"
He smiles. "What would you say if I told you it was you?"
"I'd say you're a liar."
He makes a small, amused sound, but doesn't argue the point. Instead, with casual insolence, he reaches for your vodka. You grab his wrist and pin it, then say tightly, "Enough games, Sark. Why are you here?"
"The same reason you are, of course," he says, his voice still untroubled. "To trade a worthless counterfeit of a bio-weapon for a very genuine five million dollars. You needn't be so hostile, Sydney. I have no quarrel with you... this time."
His blue eyes open wide as he speaks, with an innocence you know is feigned; but at the same time, there's no good reason to believe what he's telling you is anything less than the truth. Slowly, grudgingly, you release his hand.
"Thank you," he says, then picks up your vodka and drinks. You're still regarding him with a mixture of loathing and disgust when he puts it back down and continues in the same conversational tone, "I heard you married your partner, a few months ago. Weiss, I believe, was his name?"
You say nothing.
"I have to admit, I was surprised. It didn't seem like you."
Against your better judgment, you look sideways at him. He folds his arms across the bar and leans closer, lowering his voice as he confides:
"I mean, think of it, Sydney. You could have had red wine and chocolate, or champagne and caviar... and you chose beer and pretzels."
The words are lightly spoken, but they hit you like a backhanded slap. Until now you've repressed the worst of your misgivings, too ashamed to admit to yourself what you were really thinking. But Sark... it's like he reached straight into your heart, ripped out the truth and showed it to you, pulsing and bleeding, on the palm of his hand. And you hate him for it.
No. You hate yourself for it.
You try to speak coldly, but you can't keep the shake of anger out of your voice. "Maybe I did. Or maybe you're not as good a judge of character as you think." You take a step back, away from him. "This conversation is over. But by all means, keep the vodka. You might as well get something out of this trip."
You turn to leave then, but his voice floats back to you, light and confident: "Oh, don't worry. I expect the results of tonight's work to be... quite satisfactory."
It takes you a second to register the meaning of his words; then ice drops into the pit of your stomach, and your eyes go wide. Of course Sark wouldn't plan an operation like this without backup, any more than you and Weiss did. Which means...
With sudden, desperate urgency you start to shove your way through the crowd toward the back of the nightclub, heading for the door. Ripping it open, you fling yourself through it and sprint down the fetid, garbage-clotted alleyway toward the road, ears ringing with the absence of sound, all the while looking wildly for a familiar black van...
It's there, lying on its side in the middle of the street, flames licking the edges of the yawning hole in its belly where your communications center and backup unit used to be. There's no sign of any survivors.
Sick with grief and dread, you rip out your useless earpiece and stand there a moment, staring blindly at the wreckage. Then you turn around and run the other way down the alley, shouting "Weiss? Weiss!"
You almost trip over his body before you see it, lying face-down in a puddle of some dark, sticky stuff, the smashed and empty briefcase a few feet away. Half-sobbing, you drop to your knees beside him and fumble for a pulse.
It's there, beating steadily beneath the warm skin of his neck. You run your hands over his scalp and find an impressive lump, but the skull beneath is intact. The blood on the ground, if it's blood at all, isn't his.
Relief, painful in its intensity, rushes over you, sorrow and shame following closely in its wake. You slide your arms under Eric's limp body and cradle his head against your breast, silently crying out, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...
* * *
[end of Part Five]
I've got a day off tomorrow, and I hope to get a whole bunch of writing done -- so it shouldn't be long before the next update.