WHAT YOU NEVER KNEW YOU WANTED
by R. J. Anderson
"The rum," says Weiss mournfully, upending the bottle, "is gone."
He delivers the line like it's the beginning of an in-joke, and if so, you've missed your cue. But right now you're too numb to care.
When you sat down on the floor half an hour ago and opened the only bottle of liquor the Jakarta safe house had to offer, it was to offer a toast to fallen comrades. Weiss and his ice pack joined you, and at some point within the next few minutes you'd reached an unspoken agreement to get very, very drunk.
Well, at least that goal has been achieved.
You look up blearily at Weiss, thinking how sad it is, how unfair, that he's not as pretty as Vaughn. Or Sark, for that matter. But then again, if he were, would it make your decision any easier?
Probably not. You wriggle a little closer to him, moving your head into a more comfortable position against his thigh. "Beer and pretzels," you mumble to yourself. "Now that's just mean."
"I like beer and pretzels," says Weiss, sounding faintly affronted. "Whatsa matter with beer n' pretzels?"
You let out a snort of a giggle. "You're drunk."
"Oh, yeah, like you're not. In fact, I bet you're drunker."
He's probably right, at that. You look down at your hands, fascinated by the way the fingers wobble and blur together. "Well," you muse aloud, "even if Sark's associate blew your cover with Hamdani and took your place, it's still a fake bio-weapon that got traded in the end, right? That's something."
"Sure it is. I mean, what's a paltry five million between good enemies?"
"Million, schmillion," you say, and giggle again.
Weiss regards you with owlish gravity. "Not just drunk, but goofy. Time you went to bed."
"Mmm..." You turn over, propping yourself up on your elbows and smiling at him through the haze. "Come with me."
"Now I know you're drunk. Sorry, Syd, not tonight. I have a headache this big --" He gestures with his ice pack -- "and it's got Sark written all over it."
"Me, too," you say sadly, and let him pull you up to your feet.
Headache or not, he still falls asleep before you do. And as sobriety sneaks back into your awareness, bringing with it the unwelcome recollection of the choice you must make (have already made, really -- it's just a matter of finding the courage to tell him so), you find yourself crawling, childlike, into the warmth of Weiss's embrace and laying your cheek against his heart. It feels good to be in his arms, you can admit that much to yourself now; you feel comfortable there, protected and safe. Almost -- despite the turmoil within you and the fact that he's snoring in your ear -- at peace.
Forgive me, you whisper to him silently. Please don't hate me.
But once you've told him the truth, you know that may be too much to ask.
* * *
At first it seems as though Tuesday night will never arrive, and yet when it comes, it's too soon. You've sleepwalked through the past two days of debriefings and paperwork, mentally detached from your world and everyone in it -- not just your co-workers, but Vaughn, Weiss, even your father. After all, this is your life, your decision, and you're going to have to deal with the consequences. No one else, no matter how much they may love you, can change that.
When Weiss stops by your desk at the end of the day, you explain with forced casualness that you're planning to meet your father for a late dinner, to discuss the possibility that your mother was behind Sark's appearance in Jakarta. No need to wait up for you; you'll see him tomorrow.
And that is, you pray, the last lie you'll ever have to tell him.
One by one your co-workers leave, and the next shift filters in. When you glance at the clock and see that it's half past six, your stomach contracts painfully: there's so little time left, and you've barely scraped your thoughts together. But it's too noisy in the rotunda to concentrate.
Gathering up your laptop and notes, you look around for an empty office. Fortunately, not everyone you work with is paranoid, and it only takes you a couple of minutes to find one that isn't locked. Shutting the door and drawing the blinds for added privacy, you slide your laptop onto the desk and flip it open.
You planned to tell him the truth in person, and you still do: after the way you've misled him, you owe him at least that much. But at the same time, you don't trust yourself to be logical, or even coherent, in the midst of shared emotional pain. So in case your explanation ends up making no sense, you'd like to have something to give him that does make sense.
One click of the mouse button and the familiar word processor layout appears, the blank screen awaiting your input. Taking a deep breath, you poise your fingers over the keys, and begin to type a farewell letter to the man you can't help caring for, but know you must leave behind.
* * *
Two hours later, you read back over your handiwork, make a few last-minute changes, then tell yourself that you might as well stop tinkering with it, because it's not going to get any better. Rubbing absently at your dry, reddened eyes, you select one of your lesser-used subdirectories (the one you use for recipes, so no one's likely to look there), type in the first filename that comes to mind, and click Save.
Except it won't let you save, because there's already a document by that name.
That's strange: it's not that common a filename. In fact, you could have sworn you'd never used it before, and you can't imagine assigning it to anything except...
Heart pounding, you rename your existing file, save it to a different directory for good measure, and open up the other document. There's not much time left, so you scroll through the text quickly, praying that nothing in it is going to affect your judgment.
There are a few things in it you didn't know before, or at least, didn't remember. But by the time you've got to the end, you realize that none of those things really matter. The decision you've made, and your reasons for making it, remain the same.
With renewed determination you snap your laptop closed and shove it into your briefcase. Then, with a last glance at the clock, you hurry out of the building and jump into your car.
Normally you'd turn on the radio as soon as you made it to the road, but tonight your troubled thoughts are distraction enough. Your greatest fear has always been of hurting the people you care about; now you're in a situation where that kind of hurt is inevitable. You love two very different men, and they love you in very different ways: now you're forced to say which of those two loves you value most. You've always tried to be unselfish, but now you feel horribly self-centered. And you can't help wondering if you'll come to regret the decision you've made.
If your life were a soap opera, this would be the perfect time for a dramatic plot twist to help you along. Your cell phone would ring, and on the other end would be Carrie, tearfully confessing that she married Weiss in a secret ceremony two years ago, and that he's the real father of her child. Or perhaps it would be Jack on the other end of the line, warning that he's just learned Vaughn is involved in a plot to murder your mother. And suddenly your decision would become -- well, no less painful, but easier.
But the scriptwriter of your life is not so easily swayed. And there is no villain in this story.
Unless it's you.
The parking lot at Tito's is nearly full, even at this hour: it's a popular local hangout, and their home-made fries are legendary. Light streams through the windows, and in your usual booth at the back corner you can see Vaughn, head bent and forehead furrowed, hands folded around his coffee mug as though hoping its warmth will bring him comfort. He's worried, and beautiful, and he loves you, and the sight of him makes your heart bounce off the top off your stomach like a trampoline, only to lodge halfway up your throat.
For a moment you stand motionless beside your car, keys still in hand, gazing silently at the man you love. What you have to say to him will have a profound effect on both your lives, and Weiss's too; this is your last chance to reconsider, to ask yourself if there might yet be another, better way.
But deep down, in the innermost and most fundamental part of yourself, you know the answer already. And it only takes you a few more seconds before you've mustered enough determination to head up the path to the diner, push the door open and walk in.
Vaughn looks up as you enter, his eyes kindling with relief. He smiles, and you smile back. Then you slide into the booth opposite him, look into his eyes and say before he can even speak:
"I've been doing some thinking. And I've realized -- there's really nothing to discuss. I know what I want, I know what I need, and I know what I have to do about it. And Vaughn..."
He looks across at you, his handsome face blank, uncomprehending. Then he sees the tears brimming in your eyes, the trembling of your lips as you smile, and his expression begins to shift from bemusement to incredulous wonder just before you speak those final, life-changing words:
* * *
[end of Part Six]
Part Seven, unless I'm very much mistaken, should be the end. Thanks to everyone who's shown an interest in the story, and do please feel free to make whatever comments and criticisms come to mind!
Oh, and the in-joke referenced in the first few lines is fairly obvious, I think, but I'll still give House Points to the first one who guesses right. :)