Bristow did not, as a rule, find it necessary to reconsider his initial
impressions of people, and he resented the number of times Michael
Vaughn had forced him to do precisely that. His scorn had, over the
first years, changed to a grudging respect; then Vaughn's entanglement
with Lauren Reed had allowed him to revert to disdain. Over the last
year, he had begun to tolerate the young man again, even, at times, to
like him. The possibility that Jack had never known him was...
disturbing. In Vaughn's absence, his irritation was focused on the
woman sitting across from him; indeed, he was using the weight of his
stare to keep her from getting up and disappearing.
"Where is Sydney?" she demanded. They were alone in the train compartment, the door locked, the northern Italian countryside rushing by. The noise of the wheels on the rails was a counterpoint to her words, to her quick breathing.
"Sydney couldn't make this meeting," he said. Not entirely untrue, as she had no idea that it was occurring. There was a distinct limit to the degree of freedom Jack was prepared to allow his daughter at the moment, and unsupervised meetings with unapproved contacts were well beyond that limit. "You can deal with me."
"I don't know you."
"You know who I am."
She met his gaze, a lean brown woman, all sinew and nervous tension, but not, for all that, unattractive. "Michael trusted you," she finally said. His lips twisted at the reminder that he'd been deceived, and she smiled at the sight. "What do you need?"
He hesitated: there were too many potential answers. To see Renée Rienne with his own eyes, for one thing, to get a sense of the woman Sydney was dealing with. To see, through her, what Michael Vaughn -- André Michaux -- had been. To find out, if he could, why a certain man, who had assumed the name Michael Vaughn, had been killed. He mentioned none of these. "We heard a report of a man matching your father's description in Madras."
"That thing is not my father." She couldn't mask her anger.
"Can you think of any reason Prophet Five would be interested in that region?" Jack had already identified three potential reasons for Goursaud's visit; he was interested in what Rienne would suggest.
She shrugged one shoulder; it hadn't taken her long to control her emotions. He waited a little longer, listening to the regular thump of the train. She sighed. "There is a laboratory near Pondicherry," she said. "Pharmaceuticals. And three researchers at the University in Madras who are working on things which might be of interest to him."
"Perumal and Reddy. Who else?"
"Dr. Sundaram, in microbiology." She looked satisfied; the belief that she had the advantage would make her less guarded, he thought. The ploy usually had that effect. They exchanged a few more snippets of information; nothing Jack considered vital. Instead he watched her watch him: her initial guardedness appeared to have returned, and at moments he caught her staring at him. A brief silence fell, and she shifted her weight as if about to rise. "I will make inquiries in Madras. Is that all you have?"
It was time. "Did you consider the Yelagiri hills?"
He'd kept his tone as innocent as possible, but she froze. "Ah."
"Might he have gone to Yelagiri?" he asked.
He had never been there himself: there were no memories of a shady English house or a tea plantation to haunt him. There was, in all probability, no old house, no plantation: nothing but a cluster of utilitarian concrete buildings, perhaps a few warehouses not far from a train line. For all he knew, Irina had stopped using the site long ago, even before Khasinau's death. But Rienne knew the site, and she knew it from her pursuit of Prophet Five, just as he knew it from his study of his wife.
He should not have been surprised.
Renée Rienne, he saw, had made the connection some time ago. Years, possibly, and not for the first time he wished that Michael Vaughn was alive and well and in his presence, just so that Jack could kill him again. If he found that Vaughn had been using his daughter, that their closeness had been a ploy to get to Irina Derevko, he would... well. There was not much more that he could do.
The woman was watching him, still seated. "There was no sighting," she said. "Goursaud has not been in India."
"No," he admitted.
Her eyes shifted, along with the muscles in her shoulder. He hurled himself to the side as his eyes registered the motion; the bullet hit the back of the bench he'd just vacated. When he got to his feet, his gun was already in his hand; in the compartment there was no cover, no place for either of them to run. He did not want to stake his life on his reflexes.
"Michael judged that you were innocent in his father's death." Rienne herself looked less convinced. "This is why you are still alive."
It was not, Jack felt, the right time to express his disbelief. "Derevko had ample opportunity to kill him, as did I." If he did have to kill Rienne, he would need a plausible story for Sydney; he guessed that she was thinking something similar.
"She has blinded you," she said.
"You have no evidence that Irina Derevko is linked to Prophet Five." He stated it as a fact. It had to be a fact: if not, either Vaughn would have moved against Irina or she would have arranged... He kept the doubt from his face, and pushed aside the thought that Rienne, not being an analyst, might care less for evidence than he was used to.
"You suspect it too," she said.
"If it becomes necessary," he said, "I will deal with her."
Her eyes were fixed on him; he leaned against the compartment door and tried to keep his gun arm steady as the train swayed around a bend in the tracks. The rap on the door came as a shock, to her as well, he guessed. They remained still a second longer before putting away their guns. Jack turned to slide the door open; the conductor examined their tickets and punched them, nodded a greeting and left. The opportunity for violence had passed.
He inclined his head slightly as he backed out the door. There was no need to remain: he had learned what he'd come to learn and said what he'd come to say. The train was already slowing, seven minutes out of Bologna. He would, he had no doubt, see Renée Rienne again.
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Written for Viola, for the Alias Spy Santa ficathon. Alias is owned by JJ Abrams, Bad Robot Production, and ABC. No copyright infringement intended, and no profit made. Original story elements my own.