past catches up with him in Madrid. Three in the morning, he's done
with his meetings and can relax at a small table, an empty plate beside
him and a glass of twenty year old Rioja in his left hand. As relaxed
as he's willing to get, at any rate; one can never be too cautious.
Even so, for all his caution and after so many false alarms, it's a
shock when he first glimpses Irina Derevko.
"Rumors of your death..." he offers as she settles next to him.
Her smile is cool. "And you?"
It's safe to assume that she's bribed his bankers and researched all his recent contracts. "I manage."
"Does the work interest you?"
"It keeps me busy." His voice reveals nothing: not the hairs standing up on his arms, not the twist in his gut, not the sudden pain like a blow where his heart should be. Of course she wants something; why else would she be here? Why else would she track him down? He has no illusions about the place he holds in her life.
"Selling toys to petty warlords and minor dictators? You're wasting your talents."
"It's the trade you taught me," he reminds her.
"I taught you to do whatever was necessary. I taught you to remain focused on the larger picture."
Rambaldi, of course. "I've lost interest in your larger picture." He doubts that she'll believe him, but she should; he's lost two women to the obsession with Rambaldi. Three if one counts Irina herself, if one thinks he ever had her.
"I didn't realize that you were such an idiot," she says.
Sark raises his glass in a mock toast; let her think whatever she likes, he tells himself. It's nothing to him.
"Still," she continues, "it's a pleasant thought, isn't it? To leave all that behind, to live a simple life, to grow old and die? You're still young, you don't believe that death will come to you." She isn't looking at him as she speaks. "It's we who must look like fools to you, I suppose, chasing Rambaldi's formulas, looking to his knowledge of the future, hoping to escape death as well. It's true, of course. Look at Arvin Sloane, obsessed with his own mortality. But I think you know better than to think that of me." He bows his head when she turns to look at him.
"I had every intention of walking away, you know. Taking Nadia and turning my back on everything, even Sydney. I was planting the records we'd need, setting money aside, practicing my legend -- I was ready for the final step, the feigned death, the disappearance. We would have lived in Odessa, at least at first; I might have taught in a school there, and not as a cover, this time." Another patchwork family, Sark thinks, substitute for the one she lost. He's familiar with the concept.
"I think of that life still: how she would have slept on the sofa in our little apartment, how I would have braided her hair every morning and ironed her blouses. I could have made it work. I could have kept us hidden." She doesn't smile at the thought of this other, motherly Irina, a woman who might have forgotten the weight of a gun in her hand or the trick of slipping a key-card from an unsuspecting pocket. Neither is he. "You know what happened."
"Yes," he says.
"Michaux stole my daughter from me. It's only right that I have a grandchild from his son." He wonders for a moment whether she expects him to comment on that, but she's still speaking. "I have not devoted my life to Rambaldi." He's never heard her speak the name with such loathing.
"I do realize that," he says. He could say more: he could point out that she can't escape from Rambaldi, that she and her daughters are caught in that web of prophecies and madness. That devoting her life to preventing Rambaldi's prophecies is little different from devoting her life to promoting them. Irina won't hear him. "You had no choice."
"Any mother would have done the same."
Mine didn't, he thinks. Something else he will not say.
She sighs and places her hand near his on the table. "You have no reason to believe this, but I have missed you." She has a wistful smile on her face. "But you know that isn't why I'm here."
"You want my help."
"No one is more qualified than you to research Nadia's condition."
"I understood that Arvin Sloane was dedicating himself to that project," he says.
He mouth twitches: she's never really trusted Sloane. "I believe that a fresh pair of eyes would be helpful. Sloane may allow his emotions to cloud his judgment. But you, Sark -- you've spent your life studying Rambaldi's work. If anyone can find a cure for my daughter..."
He knows that the emotion she's showing isn't feigned. "Your confidence in me is flattering," he says, and watches for the small signs of triumph around her eyes. "But I must refuse." It's sweet, to see that triumph turn to shock. He'll regret this, he knows, but oh, it's sweet to see now.
"Refuse," she says. Her voice is flat.
"You need not approve of my business, but it is my own, and it requires my attention."
"You're concerned about money?"
He wonders what she'd do if he asked for the eight hundred million her sister took from him. "The one thing I will say for my years in the care of American intelligence is that I had a great deal of time to think. I worked with the Covenant because I had no choice, but other than that, what's Rambaldi to me? A family tradition? You must know what that's worth."
"And you'll leave it all behind? All your training, all the years you devoted to it?"
"I can leave it all behind," he says. "You've said it yourself -- I know Rambaldi's work. I know his prophecies. And I know that I have no place in them. No role to play, no promised destiny. I can walk away, and so I will." He stands, and it's on the tip of his tongue to say goodbye. His heart is racing.
"Are you certain of that?" Her voice is quiet. "You know a great deal, Sark, but you don't know everything."
"No. But I am quite certain that there is nothing here for me."
He'll need to be careful, he thinks as he walks out. Irina is unlikely to accept his decision -- well, that's an understatement -- and he'll need to be prepared for whatever her next move is. It won't be his life, not yet, not until she's come to believe him, come to believe that there's nothing he wants from her. He barely believes it himself.
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For Elise, in
the Alias Spy Santa ficathon. Thanks to Elise for the
prompts, and Rez for beta-reading.
Alias is owned by JJ Abrams, Bad Robot Production, and ABC. No copyright infringement intended, and no profit made. Original story elements my own.