Renegade Heart (eirena) wrote in alias_fiction,
Renegade Heart

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Auf Wiedersehen, I: Quid Pro Quo

Title: Auf Wiedersehen, I: Quid Pro Quo
Authors: selenak & eirena

Pairing: Arvin Sloane/Sydney Bristow -- if you squint.
Rating: PG-13
Length: 9124 words

Summary: Set during the season 3 episode "Hourglass"; while Sloane awaits execution, Sydney visits him in prison and he convinces her to try to save his life.

Authors' Notes: The first of a series that's both AU and also not quite AU, filling in the gaps in canon (so far) via missing scenes rife with the original badwrong pairing. :)


By the time Sydney shows up, he's desperate enough to decide dignity doesn't matter anymore. It's not so much the mere fact of dying, as the fact of dying now, and for such a reason. Jack shooting him in his office back when Katya and Irina pulled that stunt that caused him to retaliate through Dr. Barnett would have been one thing. But this was just galling beyond belief.

Besides which, he refuses to accept he'll die without having found his daughter. This would make a mockery out of everything.

"Sydney," he says when she comes in, focused as ever, "thank God. You have to help me."

Predictably, burning with the fervor of righteousness, she replies: "Your execution cannot come fast enough."

She probably believes that. But he knows Sydney. Righteousness cuts both ways. Her sense of justice will not allow her to let him die for anything but for the crimes he actually committed. It is a quality she shares with neither of her parents or himself, and he will exploit it to the limit. He has no other choice.

"I'm innocent, Sydney. I have not violated my pardon agreement. It was based on my cooperation with an organization known as the Trust. Senator Reed was my contact. If he was the mole, I did not know," he says, and then adds the crucial thing: "Ask your father; he knows that."

Her eyes narrow, and she takes one step closer to his cell. The hate she radiates has taken a new intensity.

"If you were innocent, he'd find a way to stay your execution even though you had an affair with his wife."

Ah. That confirmed it. Jack's sudden change of heart could have no other cause, he had guessed as much, but now she had confirmed it. The irony was that he had wanted Jack to find out. That was why he had told it to Judy Barnett to begin with, after keeping his silence for twenty five years. It was Katya's voice in his ear that had made him change his mind, Katya's voice and Jack coming in his office, looking curiously blank. Irina, he had thought, if that's how you want it, fine. Two can play that game.

He just had not counted on the fact he would be in a prison by the time Jack found out, and utterly at Jack's mercy. So much for retaliation.

"I have 72 hours to live," he says to Sydney, and only after he has finished his sentence, he realizes he has used the chiding tone once upon a time reserved for agents-in-training making their first reports. "I want you to focus on that, not on some affair I had 25 years ago."

Sydney glowers. "I'm not focusing on the affair. I'm focusing on the child that resulted from it, a sister I never knew I had."

Now that was unexpected. He had been very careful not to mention his daughter to any one, least of all Judy. Partly because of caution; she was the Passenger, and the Covenant would want her. Partly because of what was admittedly selfishness. Jack and Sydney had each other. His daughter would be his first and foremost, but not if they kept her from him. Partly because she was the Passenger. He had tried to use the formula on himself earlier this year, but the connection with Rambaldi had not been there. Which meant he would have no other choice but to use her, or give up his quest.

He doesn't say anything of this to Sydney. What he does say is equally true, though.

"Must have come as a shock to you. It did to me when I found out."

"Are you telling me you didn't know?"

"No," he says, "not until two years ago, while I was in a monastery in Nepal run by followers of Rambaldi."

Emily's death had left him empty, and the act of vengeance, killing Dixon's wife, had not changed that. His entirely life had felt utterly pointless. So he had left Irina and Sark with all the collection of Rambaldi artifacts they had as well as Neil Caplan and had gone to the place where everything had started, where he had once come, after Jacquelyn's death, a manuscript in hand, to talk with some of the few known experts on Milo Rambaldi. He didn't know what answer he had expected when he asked his "why" of Conrad, but it had not been the one he had received.

It had changed everything and brought it together. Emily and his faith had been mutually exclusive, but his daughter, his daughter was a part of his faith. The Passenger. She would reconcile the passions guiding his life, and he would have the chance to share his beliefs with her in a way he could not with anyone else.

He tells the story of his search to Sydney, and sees her face subtly changing. Justice is just one of Sydney's passions. The other is family. Sydney had been so full of hunger for a father, all those years. No matter how much she hated him, she would never deny her sister the chance to know him. And she would do anything to protect her sister.

"You know she is the Passenger," she says.

He doesn't have to feign. He really is desperate. He's not lying to her; he is just withholding truths that would do no good in this situation.

"I know. I know. I also know the Covenant is after her. Sydney, I want to protect my child."

She doesn't look away, and he knows he's in. He has her. She believes him, no matter what Jack might have told her to the contrary.

"So please talk to your father. If he is concealing information that would exonerate me because I had an affair with Irina, convince him to give it to you, if not for my sake, then for your sister's."

Sydney rests her hands on the cold bars that separate her from Sloane. It's ironic, she thinks, that she's spent years wanting to see him like this, and now that he is, he has cast doubt into her mind so easily. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, staring at him for signs of deception, for the trace of smugness that would surely be there if he believed he had played her so easily... but she doesn't see either. Just the traces of the tears that had almost been shed moments before.

Her jaw sets and she half-turns to the guard. "Let me in there," she instructs. If they're going to have this conversation, they're going to have it properly (even though it is, on a perverse level, amusing to watch him press to the bars in urgency.)

The guard looks as if he's going to protest, and Sydney cuts him off with a glare. He turns the lock and Sydney walks into the small cell and sits down at the table. "We need another chair," she says simply and the guard locks her into the cell to go and fetch it. She says nothing while he does, merely following the man with her eyes, and waits until they are both seated across from one another to speak again.

It feels wrong to be essentially conspiring against her father like this, but if Sloane really is innocent of the crimes he stands accused for (this time) it would be a miscarriage of justice to let him die for them. She wishes she could let it go -- he does deserve the state execution that awaits him... but not for sleeping with her mother. She thinks of her sister and wonders if she ever wonders about her own family, or if she's happily adopted and living a peaceful life. If it is the latter, Sydney will do whatever she must to preserve that peace from the machinations of those who would use her as The Passenger -- and from her Machiavellian father, if need be.

But that concern is for later. There's too much going on to not take things one step at a time. She knows now that Lauren is the traitor, which casts doubt on the idea of Senator Reed as the mole (at least a little.) So she'll hear Sloane out, at least.

"If I'm going to help you, I need to know the whole story, Sloane," she tells him.

"I first was contacted by Senator Reed eleven months ago," he says, then sighs. He knows she didn't mean his story with the Trust. There is an irony here which he, who is fond of ironies and elegance, can't help but appreciate. After Sydney had returned from Taipei, he had offered her the chance to talk about her mother, but she had not taken it. Now she wants answers, and he's not exactly in a position to refuse. Enlisting Sydney against her father was always going to be a high risk strategy, but Sydney is the only person who could exert any kind of pressure on Jack. On the other hand, Sydney isn't the young girl he recruited anymore, easy to play and mold. And as much as he usually thrives on manipulation, he has hardly felt less like it. But he needs to find his daughter, and he needs to live.

"Would you believe me if I told you that I did not mean for you or anyone else to find out? It is not exactly something I am proud of."

He's not just stalling for time with this statement which is accurate up to the point where he did tell Dr. Barnett, which had been very deliberate indeed. Sydney would not believe him if he told her the truth directly, at her first demand, without attempts to avoid it. She was too good an agent for that. Besides, he needs to make up his mind as to which truth to tell her.

"It was... complicated."

He wonders whether her sister will resemble her, and thus her mother. There had been no doubt in his heart that the child referred to in the document Conrad handed him was a daughter, rather than a son, even before he had time to refine the translation. It had to be. Jacquelyn, Sydney and the girl whose name he did not know yet. One daughter life took from him. One he took from Jack, at least in parts, and though he has felt guilty about that at times, he does not at the moment; on the contrary, in the middle of anger, despair and frustrated urgency, there is a tiny flicker of satisfaction that he is still able to get a hold on Sydney, that he can make her believe him over her father.

(The fact that he happens to be telling the truth and Jack evidently was not is immaterial.)

One daughter promised but not found, and in danger of being taken away as well. Of course it was a daughter.

Suddenly, thinking about Irina and her two sisters, he wonders whether Irina ever doubted the child would be girl. Probably not. And whether Irina had known from the start that her daughter would be the Passenger. It would explain why Irina had carried the pregnancy to full term. Irina had loved her first child, but she is not a sentimental woman, and abortion of the second one would have been a sensible option to her, given the circumstances.

None of these deliberations are fit to be shared with Sydney. To Sydney, he says, leaning forward, concern and regret in his voice which are quite real because he has never been above using emotions he actually felt, and regret and concern were never far away these days when it came to Sydney and her unknown sister:

"She is your sister, Sydney. Is it truly important to you how she came to be? It is not a story that will give you peace."

"You've never given a damn about giving me peace," Sydney retorts and it's all that she can do not to sneer, get up and leave him to his fate. "Don't even try that tactic." She looks away from him, and wishes fervently that this hadn't suddenly become her problem. She has enough on her plate with Vaughn and Lauren and apparently now a sister she hadn't known existed... why does Sloane always, inevitably become her problem? It's maddening.

"I'm not looking for prurient details," she curls her lip in disgust. "I just won't be in the dark on this if I'm going to do this for you. You deserve to die," she meets his eyes levelly. "But not for sleeping with my mother."

If this was another situation, without his life at stake, he would have challenged her assumption and would have brought up certain details of their past, but getting slammed against a desk wasn't what he was after this time.

"Your mother and I," he says instead, in a neutral voice, "knew each other for years without being anything but guardedly friendly with each other. I think we probably distrusted each other from the start."

There had also been some jealousy involved regarding Jack, but he has no intention of telling this to anyone. At all.

"It changed at some point; I don't know why."

Not being blind, he had always been aware of the fact that Laura was a strikingly beautiful woman, but he had not considered her as sexually available. She was Jack's wife, he was married to Emily. He does remember the evening when something between them changed, meeting her eyes across a lighted cigarette, smelling her perfume. A few days later, he had called her and asked her for lunch, and he had known then he didn't just intend to share a meal and conversation. But those aren't details Sydney would care for. Sydney is invested in the romance of her parents; she needs to believe that she wasn't just the product of an assignment but the result of love across the borders. This kind of romanticism had landed her father in prison for six months, but all manipulation aside, Sloane has no intention of taking that dream away from her. Besides, it wouldn't do. Her hate for him does not need additional material.

"I can only assume that Irina received new instructions from her handler, that he wanted her to access a secondary source. She might have become reluctant to use what your father told her."

It's picture designed for Sydney he paints, Irina as the woman forced to sleep with her husband's friend out of professional duty, but loyal in her heart. Trying to get out of her betrayal. A tragic heroine. It's the Irina she wants. Of course, he actually does believe Irina must have been told to get additional material, but it is just a part of the truth. It's an explanation that does not cover the sheer number of their trysts, or the abandonment, the fervor and need he's sure she did not just fake. She had been another Laura during those stolen afternoons, not the perfect wife and mother he had known for years, and she had released something in him that was entirely unfit to be Emily's husband, something usually kept for those kind of missions the CIA did not officially acknowledge.

I see through you, Irina had said, not in the distant past, but only two years ago. You must know that.

This is who I am,he had replied, and their eyes had met in a silent challenge. It was disconcerting to realize that he was still attracted to her.

You may need to think of yourself as an honorable husband, a father figure. But I don't. I will never see that man in you, which, frankly, is why we have this agreement, Irina had said, and for a moment, he had been tempted to ask "what agreement is that?"

"As for myself... it is the one betrayal I shall never forgive myself for."

Emily had known, eventually. Oh, not that it was Laura; that would have been unthinkable for her. But she had known there was someone, and when he had confessed to her there had been, after Laura's death, without naming anyone, she had told him that she had known. It had been one reason why they had moved to Italy for a while. To make a new start.

"So perhaps the idea that I should die for it is not completely unfitting," he continues, moving from truth to strategy again, and decides on another risky move. It could make her walk out of here right away. Or it could be additional insurance she would talk to Jack, would save his life. "Given my other... crimes... you might consider it not that relevant, but I do believe a husband should be faithful to his wife, in body and mind alike. He should not use every opportunity to be with another woman. Should he, Sydney?"

That is how blatant he dares to make the allusion to the very married Michael Vaughn. Knowing Sydney, he is sure she has not slept with Vaughn since her return. But he's equally sure at least a few kisses were exchanged, and Sydney judges herself with the same merciless purity she applies to others. Triggering the guilt that must be hidden in her regarding the Vaughn situation could help to further make it impossible for her to see him die for his liaison with her mother. Or it could make her leave, right now, and tell Jack the execution should be moved forward so she could attend as well.

The clock is ticking, whether he can hear it out loud or not. He has made his move.

The allusion to her own situation does not escape her at all, the reminder of her own sins -- both the ones she has committed in a few stolen kisses, the desire she has for another woman's husband (a traitor, her mind supplies -- an enemy agent who was using him... just like Mom used Dad) and the sins she has not committed but has yearned for. She misses Vaughn desperately and has taken a dark joy in the revelation of Lauren's true loyalties that she hates herself a little for.

It's an impossible situation to be in, and she wonders then just what things had been like for her mother... if her devotion to her family had been fabricated and if Sloane had actually been the one person she had genuine regard for.

My love for you, for your father, was not a contrivance.

(She has to believe that.)

Sydney meets Sloane's eyes and narrows her own. "Yes," she tells him tersely. "I believe in marital fidelity. But I don't believe you should die because of a lack of self-control." She knows that assessment will chafe and rankle him, but, well, two can play at this game of button-pushing.

"I will talk to my father; see what I can find out."

He is rankled, because her assessment is true in more than one sense. Jack at least has the excuse of having fallen for Laura because of love. He had been a free man. Sloane, on the other hand, had no such excuse for the original affair, and as for the revelation to Dr. Barnett... it was obvious to him now that there had been too much petty vengefulness and too little forethought involved. And as a result, he was scheduled for execution and utterly at Jack's mercy.

Well. It is the price one pays for lack of impulse control, and justly so.

"Thank you, Sydney," he says as humbly as he can manage, taking comfort in the fact hat at least his insight into Sydney still works the way it is supposed to, and then offers her something more, in gratitude and challenge alike.

"Would you do something else for me? If Jack does not change his mind. I know you don't want anything from me, but this is for your sister, once you find her. Emily had some photo albums she could not take with her when she... left the country, and nor could I when I left later. I can only assume they were confiscated with the rest of the belongings that were still in my house when SD-6 fell, which means they must be in the CIA archives. The one dated 1975 has a lot of pictures of the four of us in them, of Irina's pregnancy and of you as a baby."

He looks at her, aware that Jack, after finding out the truth about Laura, had destroyed most of his own pictures, and that Sydney reacted in a similar way once the same revelation was given to her. Ah, Jack and his daughter with their fierceness and propensity for autodafés.

"It was a more innocent time. Your sister might want to have a memento of her family in this way, yes?"

Sydney feels a pang in her chest at the thought of her family as they had been when she was a child and at the memory of Emily. It's funny, she's been thinking about Emily a lot recently, ever since she found out that The Passenger was her sister and Sloane's daughter. It seems that they are bound to love the same women, over and over. (She wonders if her mother is included in that select number.)

She will look at the pictures, he knows she will. And they will soothe her and hurt her in equal measure: her parents, together, with their daughter. A younger Emily, and Sydney had loved Emily. And himself, the bane her existence, as she has once called him.

As with most of what he has given her, there is kindness and cruelty both involved. Which seems fitting. After all, she would never expect less of him.

She will do as he asks with regard to the albums, and she'll make some copies for herself. Her own mementos are gone, after all, in the fire that had destroyed her home after her fight with Allison Doren...

"She might." It's all she intends to say, but more words come anyway, "It's comforting to know that there were happier, more innocent times, especially when caught up in this mess."

Sydney tucks her hair behind her ears and studies Sloane's face for a long, silent moment. She's not really looked at him in years; she's been too angry to. Once upon a time, she'd thought he looked kind and fairly distinguished, and she had delighted in the smiles he had given her freely... Now, she's sitting across from him in his cell, hours away from his execution... and instead of the sense of vindication she always thought she'd feel in this situation, she's honestly not sure how she feels.

There's so much hanging in the air, and she has so many questions. It's on the tip of her tongue to ask him 'why'. So many whys... why did he recruit her, why was he so kind to her over the years at SD-6, why take her back after Danny? When did he know she was a double? Why help her father rescue her from NSC custody? Why did he betray her father with her mother?

So many questions... but she knows he won't give her a satisfactory answer to any of them.

Now that she has agreed to help him, it occurs to Sloane that it still might not be enough. Jack could still let him die, if he feels vindictive enough. And if he dies, then this will be the last time he'll ever see or talk to Sydney Bristow. She won't be present during his execution; if Jack does go through with it, he will ensure his daughter is not there as a witness, not if she has asked him for Sloane's life before. Whatever words are spoken now, they could be the last.

It's strange; he did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to someone he loved before. During Emily's long sickness, he had deliberately avoided anything could sound like a farewell, had refused to go there even when she had attempted to talk about her last will, and later, when she did die, it had been without warning.

"There were," he says, and it is not a lie. (It is, however, one of his edited truths. Various Chileans and other people currently missing several of their fingers would dispute the classification of the Seventies as "innocent" in reference to Arvin Sloane and Jack Bristow.) "The past is another country, but it nourishes us. Sydney, sometimes I think none of us was ever happier than in that year."

Before Jacquelyn, before Rambaldi, before betrayals of various kinds. But he doesn't feel like quoting The Ballad of Reading Gaol now. Too apropos. When standing in a hospital room with Sydney, watching Emily, he had told her that he regretted what had been done to her fiancé, which she might or might not have believed. It would be pointless to repeat it now, and besides, he cannot wish it undone, for it has made Sydney into the woman she became. There is something he can say, however, studying her face with Jack's jaw and Irina's eyes and that serious, intent expression which is entirely her own. A form which she will find acceptable. And it will fill banish the ticking clock for a while longer.

"There were other moments, of course. When I received that envelope with your handwriting and found out you were alive. Sydney, you never told me what that key unlocked. What you found about those years you were lost to us. Would you care for a final debriefing... an exchange of information?"

There is tenderness in the smile he gives her, as well as irony directed at both of them. "You are still my handler, after all."

"I suppose I am," she answers, and it is still an odd thing to her. Sydney was never sure why he had wanted her as his handler; the only reason she could think of was that he could predict her better than a stranger and that having her father in her place would shift the ongoing balance of power between the two men too much. Sloane knew her well enough to know she'd be fair and do her job in spite of her distrust and hatred for him.

Still, being his handler is never something she really thought about, it was never something she adopted into her identity and their relationship the way she had always identified Vaughn as being her handler and that dynamic had inevitably adopted into their personal relationship. In this scenario, he's still just Sloane, her former boss, erstwhile mentor and the bane of her life.

(And yet she's just agreed to try to save his life. How strange.)

"The key was for Julia Thorne's apartment in Rome," she tells him simply, answering the direct question only. "It's a nice place." She pauses for only a second and, aware that the question she wants to ask most will betray a shocking level of vulnerability, wrestles with herself for a moment.

However, this could be the last time she ever has to see him... and if things go too far, she could always renege on her word. He'd never know. (And she'd never do that, she knows herself too well, but it's comforting to think about.)

"Why did you recruit me into SD-6?"

"Your father," Sloane replies while considering her question and how to answer it, "seems to think it was to have insurance against an eventual double crossing on his part. At least that is what he told Ariana Kane when she asked."

His had never talked with Jack about this, though his own question after the end of SD-6 had led them to Sydney's recruitment as well.

"I'm curious, Jack. When did our friendship end?"

"The moment you recruited Sydney over my objections."

"If that had been the case, it would have been a very ineffectual strategy on my part. But then again, anything you tell a woman who holds your life in her hands should be suspicious, so who knows whether this is what he actually believes."

It is a warning and insurance on his part, because he's going to tell her the truth, but he is not sure whether he wants her to know if he survives this, as he must, so he sows the seeds of doubt even while he confesses.

"I knew you were suitable for our line of work because your father used you as the prototype for Project Christmas, Sydney," Sloane says, "and ever since you were a child, I wanted you to be my daughter as well. This was the only way I could ensure you would be."

And it had to be before Jack got around to recruiting her, as was only the logical consequence of Jack's use of Project Christmas. (Jack might fool himself into assuming he would have let Sydney live her life of academia, but Sloane refuse to believe that.) This kind of competitiveness, however, gets edited out in the account.

"I also thought you needed a father and a mother," he adds, which is true as well and the reason why he introduced her to Emily very soon after recruiting her, but he is aware his own need had been the primary motive, not hers. He doesn't ask Sydney whether or not his impression of her situation back then had been true. After SD-6, she had never hesitated to call him on anything she perceived as a lie, and she had not called him a liar when he had brought up the fact that there had been times she looked at him as if he was, indeed, her father.

She had not said what had happened to her in her lost years, but he knows better than to press. She might get around to telling him if he later brought up the issue again in another way. So he asks instead:

"Now let me ask you something. What would you have done if SD-6 had indeed been a part of the government? If there had been no CIA proper which you could deliver it to, because it was the CIA?"

If, in short, the order to assassinate her fiancé had indeed been sanctioned by the country she believed in, or at least this country's government. He does not believe it would have made a difference as to how Sydney felt about himself. It would have been his order in either scenario, after all. But Sydney's sense of duty was so strong, and she never stopped believing in the essential integrity of the CIA, in the fact her cause was righteous, and that the side of righteousness would not stoop to certain methods. Most of the times, this idealism is something he treasures in her, because it makes her Sydney. But sometimes, he is curious as to what she would have become if the cause to believe in was taken away. Who she would have become. In its way, this happened to both of her parents and himself, and he is the only one of the three who found a different faith instead. Most of all...

"Would you still have come back?"

Sydney is silent for a long, long moment as she ponders this question. What if it had been the CIA that killed Danny? She's not naive enough anymore to believe that the Agency would be above that sort of action anymore, not after everything she's learned about her missing years, her time as Julia Thorne... (She tries not to dwell on thoughts of Julia too much -- it leads to too many questions about what she herself may be capable of, if pushed or if she had nothing to lose and her life at stake.)

How different would her life and motivations be or have been if Sloane had been backed by the powers of a legitimate government? (If he were an entirely different man, she thinks.) She's fairly disillusioned at the moment about the Agency over everything that has transpired, but she stays because she's still disoriented from the rest of the world, still trying to find out where she fits, and what she wants. It's still different, though, than if they had killed Danny...

She remembers Security Section coming after her and her father rescuing her from the underground parking garage -- how he had exposed his ties to espionage to her, finally, and telling her the truth. She considers the memory and bites her lip: an agency that would kill her fiancé for learning the truth (rather than sending him into WitSec) and that would try to kill her for taking her time to get over that betrayal, would surely not hesitate to use her father or her friends as leverage.

After considering all of that, she finally meets Sloane's eyes as an answer crystallizes.

"Yes," Sydney says quietly. "Yes, I would, because it would have been too dangerous not to -- for me, and for everyone I love." Her lip quirks in a very wry smile, "However, I would likely have taken Sark's attempts to recruit me for my mother's organization a little more seriously."

The image of Sydney as a rogue agent has its own charm. And yet, being truly honest with himself, he is glad she did not go there. That Jack told her the truth, and thus enabled her to retain her conviction she could fight the good fight. Take her sense of duty away from Sydney, and you destroy something elusive in her, which cannot be given back.

In their individual ways, Irina, Jack, and himself had lost that something a long time ago.

She regards him closely, considering her next question. It's her turn, after all. There are lots of questions she could ask, and he seems to be being honest with her at this point -- as much as he is capable of. There is one question that does nag at her, and, maybe if she can get an understandable answer to it she might be able to fathom Arvin Sloane.

"Why Rambaldi? I don't understand the allure, or the consuming belief in everything connected to him. The obsession... explain it to me?"

She references that elusive something, that faith and belief he and her parents have lost… and then she asks him about Rambaldi. For a moment, he wonders, then decides that it probably was a mixture of intuition and coincidence on Sydney's part. He looks at her face and remembers the image of it, drawn by a man centuries before her birth.

"I used to work with the army corps of engineers," he says, "when I came across the first manuscript. It was a curiosity, nothing more. But then there were... circumstances..."

He can't tell her about Jacquelyn. Even now. Especially now. There will be no more lost daughters. She will be found. Rambaldi owes him this.

Besides, that might have been how it started, but the reasons why it became so much more were manifold, and yet one, and he can tell Sydney about that. Perhaps, he thinks, it might even make a difference. Not now, not immediately, but later. She is chosen, after all. One day, she will fulfill her destiny.

"...that caused me to look closer. And I realized something."

So far, they have been sitting opposite each other. Now he stands up, and starts to pace, circling while he speaks, until he comes to stand behind Sydney's chair.

"What we do, Sydney. Well, did, in my case. What you do. It is pointless, in the grand scheme of things. Here a dead weapon's dealer, there a government overthrown or confirmed, no matter the scale, humanity remains the same. And thus we die without having made a difference. Whether the dead bodies we leave behind are those of angels or murderers, it doesn't matter. The whole game starts all over again. We're trapped in our cycles. But not he. Not Milo Rambaldi. He transcended his own time. He could see the pattern, and while I'll be the first to admit that some of his efforts were futile as well, he did try to change it, permanently. Because our limitations were not his. He gave us the tools, and one day, when we have truly understood his intentions and how to apply them, we will be able to change the world. Forever."

He had tried to replicate the formula. But so far, all the studies OmniFam had delivered of the regions it was put into the water supplies did not indicate the genetic alteration had started to take place. Perhaps he was too impatient, though. Of course, more time is needed, but even if he were not scheduled to die within the next 72 hours, his would be so very finite. Another limitation. To be able to oversee permanent change, to not abandon the project once it had begun, one would have to be...

"Faith, Sydney," he says, and puts both of his hands on her shoulders. "Faith in a better world. That is what Rambaldi gives me. And you, of all people, should be able to understand this."

"I was looking for an answer to a question," she retorts, fairly caustic. "Not the recruitment speech."

She didn't bother to turn around or look at him when she spoke. They'd played this little game so many times over the years that it didn't seem to matter now. She'd never bothered before to look at him when he hovered over her shoulders and put his hands on her. And really, in this situation, it had only been a matter of time before he'd found a way to touch her. Sydney had known that since walking into the cell. Sloane liked human contact, and he was due for execution in a short period of time... it was only human to reach out. To try and touch someone before the next human touch you felt were restraints and the IV needle going into your skin that would kill you.

It was a sobering thought, and the sense of compassion she felt warred with her basic, age-old anger and hatred of the man. However, it does stay her from shrugging away his hands, as was her first impulse. She'll let his touch linger, this time.

Perhaps it was ironic, given her status as a field agent and the number of people she's shot and killed over the 10 years she's been an agent (which doesn't even factor in her time as Julia), but Sydney was, on the whole, opposed to the death penalty. Oh, she made exceptions when she was angry enough -- she remembers telling someone (her father, maybe?) that her mother should die for her crimes against the United States government -- but she's seen enough death and certainly plenty of cycles of violence initiated by murders that she believes the government should be above that sort of thing. Shooting someone in combat, or even a more subtle assassination were different things to Syd -- which was, perhaps, hypocritical -- because they were sudden and, therefore to her mind, less cruel. Maybe even a more historical means of execution would appall her less -- sentencing and then the execution within a few days. The years and years people spent on death row chasing appeals just seem cruel; a lot of times, defense lawyers didn't even seem to build a full case until at least the first appeal, and that didn't even get into the sorry situation about overrepresentation of minorities on death row...

She pushed aside abstract thoughts about the justice system and closed her eyes.

For love of the sister she had yet to meet, she would find a way to save Sloane's life, god help her.

She pondered his words again, and wondered if it mattered even a little that this mad obsession -- at least on his part -- was -- if she could trust his answer to be honest -- motivated by a desire for a 'better world'. The hubris of it was staggering, though: who gave Milo Rambaldi or Arvin Sloane the right to determine what a 'better world' would look like?

"The 'tools'?" she asked. "And what do you mean 'permanent change'?" A glance over her shoulder. "And who determines what 'a better world' would entail? Isn't it incredibly hubristic to think you know or that you have the right to decide for, it sounds like, everyone?"

Routine check-ups by security personnel aside, he hasn't touched anyone since being arrested, and it only feels right that she will be the last one before either execution or freedom. Unfortunately, explaining to Sydney just how he has tried to use a Rambaldi invention to better the world is out of the question if he doesn't want to make the later impossible. Contaminating the world's water supply isn't the kind of thing you confess without being free and in possession of a getaway, if it all. And certainly not in a cell which could be bugged. Not when most of his arguments to persuade Sydney to help him hinged on the fact that he was innocent of the particular crime he was being accused of, and was dying for something which her own code forbade her to see as a crime.

"It might be hubris," he concedes, "but then again, I must confess I see lethargy as the worse sin. It is one of the seven cardinal sins, Sydney. Acedia. Did you know that?"

He sighs. "To speak in more practical terms, and leaving aside the fact universal peace is hardly an objectionable aim for the human condition - we all decide for others. I simply stopped being coy about it. Sydney, when I had the pleasure of dancing with you a few months ago, your task was to steal a newly designed Chinese weapon. You didn't question this for a moment, no more than you questioned any of the missions I sent you on when you still believed SD-6 was CIA. What gives us the right to decide the Chinese should not have a weapon, and that we should? Or to pick and choose which of the many petty dictators we supply with arms, and which ones we depose? I hardly think the sixty or so percent American voters who still bother to elect officials count as qualifications in the eyes of the rest of the world. We do it because we have the power to do so, and hopefully the intelligence. Now I might be a monster, I do not deny this. But I do have the intelligence, and I... hoped to have all the tools. The point is redundant, now, of course. For me."

He lets her go. Something of her warmth still lingers on his fingertips. It is quite cold in this cell, or maybe it just seems so to him, given that he has not much room to move and has not seen the sun since he was transported here from Switzerland. Coming full circle, he stands in front of her again, then kneels and takes her hands. Strong, capable, and absently, he wonders how anyone who ever touched her could have believed the bank cover story.

"You could have killed me at any time after you found out the truth, Sydney," he says, and anyone not knowing the two of them would be struck by the fact that divorced from the content, the element of persuasion in his soft voice sounds like wooing, "yet you did not. You wanted more. You wanted to destroy the Alliance in its entirety. I can understand that. I always did. You do not kill a Hydra by just taking one of its heads. Now tell me, if you would have had the chance to ensure that there would be no more Hydras in any form or shape, would you not have taken it? Would you have questioned your right to take it?"

Suddenly, unexpectedly, the earnest intensity of his expression is disrupted by a crooked smile.

"Or even if it was just one person's life at stake that you could have saved. I seem to recall Mr. Sark had a rather unorthodox method of applying for a position at SD-6 a few years ago."

He had demanded to know just who had delivered him into Sark's hands before agreeing to the arrangement, and though he suspected Sark would not admit this to Sydney, it hadn't taken Irina's protégé long to deliver the name.

"Not that I was surprised that you were willing to trade my life for medical intelligence, but I always wondered... when you thought I was dead, Sydney, how did that make you feel?"

The sight of Arvin Sloane on his knees before her, clutching her hands in his own, is as unsettling as the odd little smile he offers, and as unsettling as the question he poses her. So, Sark had told him the truth -- she had always suspected it, had always found Sark's comment that revealing her part in the plot would necessitate revealing his part singularly not comforting, given Sark's ulterior motive in the situation.

She can remember feeling too tall and ungainly to pose as a geisha, feeling ridiculous and quite unattractive in the white-face -- her bone structure was all wrong for the look. She can remember focusing on that brand of discomfort to avoid contemplating the situation she had found herself in, the devil's bargain she had made. Killing Sloane then herself would have been one thing, but trading his life for Vaughn's was another situation entirely. That wasn't being an agent, that was playing God -- choosing who should live and who should die. Giving up her once mentor, the man she hated, for intelligence to save her handler, the man she was learning to love. Broken down to just those factors, the equation was simple. The scenario, though, was anything but. She'd not been put in that position before and it had felt wrong and unjust and more treasonous than the year and some change that she had been betraying him on a daily basis as a double agent. Like her feelings regarding capital punishment, it was hard to quantify just why she felt the way she did, but similarly to the death penalty, she had felt the wrongness of the situation Sark had put her in to the very marrow of her bones.

Yes, she had wanted Sloane dead then, too, but...

But what? She'd never been able to figure out what precisely had rankled so much, and had chosen to simply put it out of her head. Until now.

She looks down at their joined hands, taking in the small scar on his right index finger and the slight indent of flesh and paler skin on his left ring finger where the triple wedding bands he has worn since Emily's death have sat until his arresting officers had it removed. (If she cannot save his life, she thinks, she will try to see if she can at least have the ring restored to him for the execution as a small measure of comfort.)

"How did I feel?" she echoes. For reasons she doesn't fully understand, her voice is pitched as softly and intimately as his. Whispers in the dark. "I wondered who the Alliance would send to take your place at SD-6... I wondered if it would make my task of taking down the Alliance easier or harder -- questions I got answered when Geiger was in charge. Did you know that he nearly killed Dad?" She suspects Sloane hadn't known -- he was gone and Jack certainly wouldn't mention it to him, nor would anyone else out of respect for the elder Agent Bristow. And Sloane wouldn't have had access to the CIA reports of the fall of SD-6.

His eyes still bore into her own and she knows damn well that she's not answering the question he's asking. "I did what I had to do to save Vaughn," she tells him, a proud tilt to her chin (but still she doesn't pull her hands away). "The cost-benefit evaluation made it clear what I had to do." She's not the game theorist, her father is, but she can fall back on her basic knowledge of the subject.

Still he stares at her, those penetrating eyes burning away her pretense and semi-relevant bullshit. "Fine," she hisses, eyes narrowing to slits. "I hated being put in the position of choosing one life over another. Even when it was the man I love versus you."

Her jaw is set and she glowers at him: satisfied? her eyes demand.

Jack and his daughter: both so very hard on themselves, though for different reasons. He had not been thrilled in either case to discover his life had been traded away by them, but he had understood. (And found his own method of payback, one of which had landed him in this cell.)

(Jack, being willing to kill him to save Sydney; absolutely understandable. Jack being willing to kill him because of sex with Irina was absolutely infuriating.)

Sydney with her compassion and her sense of justice is a beautiful thing to behold, especially in situations where she found that the world put her in a position where the unjust claimed her compassion. It was a good sight to keep with him for the next seventy hours, until Sydney or death set him free.

"Sydney," he says, answering the silent question in her eyes as much as anything else, "you make me happy. You always have done. I'm sure you know that."

Then he kisses one of her hands, releases both of them and gets up. With his most benign expression, a father confessor handing out absolution, he adds:

"I forgive you."

(Jack's expression when he had told him this during their first encounter after SD-6 had fallen had been priceless. In either case, he means it, and yet saying it is also part of the ever ongoing game between him and either Bristow. Arvin Sloane never understood why loving someone and pushing every button they have should be mutually exclusive.)

Sydney stares at him for a long, furious moment processing his words. The sheer audacity of the man galls her -- he is dependant upon her help to save his worthless life, and he's baiting her like this? She clenches her teeth together hard, rising from the chair in a sudden, violent motion that scrapes its legs against the floor. The sound is grating, nails on a chalkboard.

"Fuck you," Sydney tells him, because, really, there's no other response to his unsought, unwanted forgiveness.

Different generations, different vocabulary, same response. No, he can't die, not just because of his unknown daughter and because of Rambaldi, but because that would mean conceding the two of them to Irina. Which he refuses to do, now more than ever. They're his as much as hers.

His smile deepens, and he gives Sydney a long moment to wonder whether his reply will be the obvious, used in a thousand contemporary films between a man and a woman. To him, who has always preferred ambivalence, it seems too obvious. But he'll give her room for interpretation.

His smile in that long silence that stretches out between her vulgarity and his response contains a thousand possibilities. It is a glance through the looking glass that offers a vision of what could have been between a different Arvin Sloane and a different Sydney Bristow. Her words and his smile intertwine in a moment when words run dry.

She studies his familiar, aging face and realizes that he still possesses the charisma she had once found appealing and compelling in him and his smile taunts her.

That moment stretches out between them bringing to her an unwanted, uncomfortable awareness, and Sydney is almost relieved when he speaks again, because she's not sure she knows how to respond to that smile.

"As I said," he says, full of affection and courtesy, "you always made me happy, and you always will." Pause, as he sees the fury blazing in her eyes. "No matter what you decide to do. Go now, my dear. Goodbye."

And with that, stepping back, he has dismissed her as surely as if she had just completed a debriefing in his office.

He does her the courtesy of angering her again. She knows how to be angry with him, knows it intimately. He speaks to her as a proud, loving father, extending to her the same unconditional approval and warmth that had once felt like sunshine to her lonely, needy younger self and she hates him a little more for the part of herself that still turns like a flower to his light.

And then she's dismissed, and again, this conversation could have been any number of briefings that took place over her time as his subordinate at SD-6. He can still manipulate her emotions and her reactions like some demented puppet master, and she hates that more than anything -- hates it more that she even hates the man himself.

If she succeeds in the task she has agreed to do, she will be saving his life. He will leave this place and go free, thanks to her. If she fails, or chooses not to do it, he will die at the cold hand of the state -- and not for the crimes he should have been executed for. The United States government may have forgiven him his prior sins, but she has not. She does not know if she ever will...

... but it is not her place to play Judge, jury and executioner. She has not the right to decide that he should die for angering her, and her father does not have the right to have the state execute Sloane for sleeping with her mother.

(What sort of cosmic joke is this, Sydney thinks, that I find myself his advocate?)

But Sydney has been dismissed and so she shall leave, but she cannot shake the feeling that she should say something important. Something profound. Something that would bring closure between them in case she fails.

(She's not ready to forgive him, she realizes, and wonders if that makes her less of a person than he is.)

"Goodbye, Sloane." She looks him in the eye, her anger sobered by the weight of this moment. "I'll... do what I can."
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