Title: "Angels & Ropes"
Author: monimala
Fandom: "Alias"
Rating/Classification: Sark/Other, angst, language, mild violence, sexual situations.
Disclaimer: Bad Robot!
Summary: What does Sark do when he's not being Sark? What if he had a whole other life? *Several* other lives? Runs through S2's "Endgame" and then veers.
Dedication: To saff, of course, for World Tomination and the ultimate Sarkgasm. This story, its concepts, and Farah could not exist without you. And neither would I. :-).

"What I want is that which I never had."
--Mister Sark.

"Between angels and ropes babe what would you choose?
As you kick the dust from your perfect shoes.
Your wolf suit is wearing thin and your real skin looks like it never bleeds."
--Tom McRae.

The boy...no...*man*...reflected against the two way glass is blank-eyed, feverish, bent over paper as he writes longhand with a golden pen clutched between his fingers.

"He's been like that for sixteen hours," she says, softly, almost a whisper...even though she knows he can't hear their voices. "He refused any kind of claim of diplomatic immunity. No water. Not even a break."

He hasn't even changed his bloodstained shirt.

"Barnett wants to do a psych eval. She didn't like the nature of the walk-in. Neither did Kendall." There is just a hint, a stressed syllable here and there, that tells her Vaughn feels the same way.

She can't necessarily disagree. But for different reasons. Because she met the man behind the glass walking across the seal of the Los Angeles CIA headquarters and caught his arm as he stumbled. He looked up at her and mumbled something about concert tickets and red wine. There was no recognition in his eyes. Not for a whole minute...not until she gently prodded him with, "Anton?" and he blinked and asked her who the Devil that was.

Mister Sark is without a loyalty, without a country, without a name. Without anything to live for.

She knows that feeling all too well.

"Syd, *you've* been like this for sixteen hours. Are you sure you don't want to go home...? I can draw you a bath. We can relax, forget this whole thing for a while...?"

She flinches, knowing he means well. Vaughn always means well. But now is the wrong time to mention bathtubs and forgetfulness. She reaches for his hand, squeezes it, and watches the lost being continue to write. As if all his misery can spill from that pen to the page like the tears he won't shed.

After a few moments, Vaughn just nods. "Danny," he says, with that understanding she values so much.

"Yeah," she says, quietly, leaning her head on his shoulder. "Danny."

***

She smells like light, flowery, sesame oil...fresh from the bath...and you taste the hollow of her throat where the essence has pooled while she sleeps. It simmers on your tongue for days and you carry it with you like a memento, a token...your lady's favor.

Even though you've done nothing to earn it.

The blanket is scratchy beneath you, but you don't care...sprawled out, touching grass with your fingertips as she lays her head on your exposed stomach and tells you which clouds look like cows and which ones look like castles. She could do the same with your scars...castles, cows, a map of the world in stitches...but she chooses not to see anything under your clothes but smooth, newborn skin.

Wine stains her mouth red and your palms, too, as she spills the bottle and chases Merlot down the open collar of your shirt. When you wrap your fingers in her hair and beg "mercy!", you try not to think of blood...but when you leave her in the park, dreaming by the calm waters of the lake, you wash your hands for hours, like Pontius Pilate, wondering who it is exactly that you've consigned to death today.

***

The Embassy was crowded...a regular crush of people swiping champagne from trays held up by tactfully invisible waiters in tails...and you'd gone there to kill someone. It was the only reason you went anywhere, wasn't it? To watch, to wait, to take, to steal. As the song goes...it was an enchanted evening, and you saw a dark-haired stranger in a white debutante's gown. Who wasn't a stranger. Not really. You knew her. Not her name or her face, but everything else about her. The way she tasted. The arch of her foot. The fact that she liked almonds but hated dates and thought Wagner was mood music for sex.

You peeled off the gloves dusted with gunpowder residue, untwisted the silencer, and were charming and young and utterly sincere when you found yourself in front of her and asked her to dance. She asked your name...and that was the first time Sark died. That was when Anton was born.

Oh, how you envy him.

How you hate him.

How you wish you could be him all of the time.

Sometimes, while you're practicing your defensive driving...wrenching the wheel sharply to the left and kicking up sand and dirt to the music of tires screeching, you'll catch a line of a song on the radio and you'll think..."Farah would love this, I should buy her the c.d.". Because you flew her to see Pearl Jam once in Zurich and it was so cold...so bizarrely cold...that she stuck her hands in your back pockets to keep them warm and sang along against the curve of your spine that she couldn't find a better man.

When you get back to this week's base, you shake your head clear of the notes, of the sound of her voice, as you remember that you're not supposed to know anyone named Farah.

***

Her father is a cultural attache with the American embassy in Cairo. "Big head, big wig," she said once, smothering a giggle. You make it your business to know everything about everyone you associate with, so you were all ready aware of the full extent of Sharif Ismail's duties...as well as the fact that he plays golf with the President whenever he's in the States and has a house in Tuscany just up the hill from Sloane.

Her pulse leaps under your mouth when you kiss her wrist and you marvel at how someone like her can be so very alive... when you are so very dead.

You told her your father was British, your mother German. That you spoke four languages--not eight--fluently, had Honors in Political Science and World Literature, and were planning on being a useless dilettante for the rest of your life.

And you told her that you grew up in a real life castle near the Black Forest. The stuff of fairy tales, of dreams.

You never told her that there were rats in the dormitory at your so-called exclusive boarding school that used to chew at your toes in the dark. Or that you learned Russian from the only woman you could remotely call a mother...because you wanted to know what she was saying when she hit you. And you learned Thai from a brothel owner who kept you in servitude for seven months after he caught you stealing money from the safe. You were sixteen and you knew every sexual position known to man and woman alike and the thick taste of opium was your bread and water. You cried with relief when Irina finally got you out and you tested clean. You didn't say a word when she put the gun in your hand and told you to go back and take care of the mess you'd made. You simply did it.

As you've been doing ever since.

***

You know Alia Ghizabi is alive. You didn't do anything so foolish as to get her out of the church, of course. You didn't have to....Agents Bristow and Vaughn, with their damnable heroic crusade, took care of matters with admirable efficiency. Although, you'd have to take issue with them coming back to gawk at the black ash on the floor like tourists at the shark tank in an aquarium.

Most of the time, you can't remember why you let her live. Why you lied to Kabir about her death. You just remember the niggling sense of pause that made you question Sloane's orders.

Because you can't afford to recall that Farah has a maternal aunt named Alia who got away from a bad marriage with a Taliban sympathizer to do diplomatic work in Mexico City.

And when she holds you tight, whispers, flushed with horror, about her beloved aunt's near-brush with death, you kiss her hair, murmuring all the appropriate sympathetic things. You don't answer when she asks, haunted, "What kind of monster would DO such a thing? Would burn people alive?"

Sark's ghost has no place in your bedroom.

You just wish he would stop following you to the threshold.

***

Eighteen hours. And he is still writing. Speaking, too, although he doesn't seem to notice that the psychologist is taking careful notes as she attempts to crawl inside his bright blond head. She wonders if he knows he's admitted to setting off the Rambaldi device in Mexico City. That and a host of other murders committed in the name of international espionage.

She wonders if he even cares.

She watches him smile that cold, killer's smile at Barnett...wonders if, any second, he'll launch across the table and bury the pen in her jugular. But no...he's clutching that simple instrument like a lifeline. It was the only thing the MPs found on him when they patted him down. And he refused to part with it.

He cares. He cares too much.

She knows that feeling, too.

***

You write her long, poetic, love letters, filled with inane chatter about the blue of the Caribbean and how much you miss her, with an engraved gold-plated ink pen she bought you on your first shared birthday celebration. You transcribe poems out of sepia-toned books in dusty old libraries ...sometimes rip pages out if you're in a hurry...and tell her that "love looks not with the eyes but with the mind" and ask her, "come live with me and be my love."

One night in Kandahar, you're being followed by one of Kabir's men who doesn't find you quite trustworthy...thinks you're the very Angel of Death...and when your eyes are closed in repose, your back to his knife, he strikes...

It takes less than an instant to grab the slender golden implement, with its sharp nib, that is always on your night table no matter what country you're sleeping in. You turn, deflecting his blow just in time, and shove it right through the soft, pulpy, white tissue of his eye.

After he's dead, you wipe the blood and viscous fluid from the beloved gift, but you never use it again.

It goes without saying that you aren't trustworthy.

And that you're no angel.

***

Her hair is hennaed and kinky, curling against your fingers and when you lift it to your nose, you inhale incense and think of a legion of maids fanning the smoke into her hair.

"I'm not really a princess," she reminds you, when you share those images while lining up Cadbury pieces on her slightly rounded belly and deciding which you'll eat now and which later. "If I were a princess, I'd have to sleep with my brother, wouldn't I?" she asks, teasingly.

"Lucky you're an only child," you tease back, popping a morsel of Fruit&Nut into her mouth and then kissing the melted chocolate from her lips.

"What about you, Anton? Are you an only child? Do you have a sister? You're so charming, you had to have had a sister...pulled her pigtails growing up."

You don't answer, of course...never do...because parents are easily fabricated but siblings aren't...and the only answer that ever comes to mind is Sydney Bristow...whom Sark would probably sleep with and definitely kill. No, she's not an answer you can give to Farah...who would never understand that delicate balance of blood and bloodshed that binds you to a woman you can never acknowledge as anything but an adversary. So Sark keeps the secret and Anton diverts her with sticky sweet lovemaking that leaves trails of Cadbury's all over her skin.

And the man that you are between them gets one more reprieve.

Until the morning you wake up in a bed that shouldn't be unfamiliar but is, covered in her sesame scent. She is watching you, her gentle head propped on her palm, and she murmurs, "You're a spy, aren't you? A secret agent?"

"Wh-what?" you gasp, half-sleeping and half-waking.

"Oh come on." Her laugh is playful, but her eyes liquid, serious. "We've been together for two years but you're never here for more than three days at a time. You're mysterious and quiet and you never wear the same outfit twice. And the company you told Papa you were working for when we met...? He said it was a known cover for the Mussad."

"You think I'm working for Israeli intelligence?" Absurd...completely absurd. Enough to ease your mind for just an hour or two. All the time you have left before you have to fly to Spain. Your laughter is relieved.

But no more so than the innocent cadence of her giggle against your mouth. "No...I think you're James Bond."

You're nothing so glamorous. Nothing so heroic. Nothing so appallingly fictitious. And you make love to her one more time before the beginning of the end. You. Sark. Anton. Every fiber of your being.

Even the ones that don't deserve her.

***

"Kendall doesn't think he deserves brownie points for what he did in Zurich. Or for this." Vaughn waves, emphatically, at the interrogation room but she doesn't need to follow his hand to know what he means. "He's suggesting full prosecution for espionage and terrorism. Of the 'public hanging' kind."

"And my father?" she prods, crossing her arms over her chest and trying not to smile at what she knows was one of Eric's inappropriate jokes. She's not in the mood for smiles. Not in the midst of so much uncertainty. "What does he think?"

"Jack has strategically removed himself as Director of Operations now that Derevko and Sark are both in custody."

Sometimes, she doesn't know if her father is the bravest man on earth...or the cowardliest.

But, then again, he still has the people he loves.

She only has to look to the chamber on the other side of the obs. room to see his hand cupping the curve of his wife's face as their foreheads touch and he thanks her for her cooperation. For her sacrifice. For the loyalty they had all, stupidly, questioned.

There is no one to thank Mister Sark, to comfort him. To believe in him. Not now. Never again.

***

You should have known.

Blood blooms on the fields in Tuscany, not flowers.

You go back days later, after Emily falls, and see the crimson drops bending each blade of grass like a chalk outline. By then, the CIA have secured the grounds, the house, but nobody questions the presence of a young man in jeans and a t-shirt wheeling his bike past on the way back from university.

Stupid people. They don't realize that the infamous Mister Sark has many forms.

But, then again, you didn't realize it either, did you?

So, they rescue Neil Caplan and you flee after you see Anton reflected in his glassy eyes, his raspy words. You go back to where you've been and you flip open your phone and call just to hear her voice. "What are you doing?" you ask, as you drive with one hand, watching the rearview mirror for tails.

"Writing a paper on Machiavelli and attempting to make pasta," she says, over the clattering sound of dishes. "When are you coming?"

"I'll be there in an hour," you tell her. You are already inhaling her scent combined with the marinara you know she has simmering on the stainless steel range in the villa's state-of-the-art kitchen, already feeling the softness of her skin against your cheek.

Spring Break and she wanted to spend it with you, making love and reading poetry and watching Fellini films until the break of dawn.

But she won't.

When you arrive, the sauce she so painstakingly put on for your planned dinner of angel hair pasta paints the walls in words...and the accompanying wine stains the floor tiles with your utter stupidity. Your arrogance. Your weakness.

You should have known.

Blood blooms on the fields in Tuscany, not flowers.

***

You know exactly why Sloane picks Zurich. To tell you that he's known all along. To tell you that there were shadow hands in your back pockets with hers as you flicked open your Zippo for Eddie Vedder.

He was simply waiting, biding his time.

And now that he's lost the only good thing in his life, his one oasis away from the bloodshed and fucking Rambaldi, why should he let you keep yours? It's an insult. An abomination. And now you must pay the price.

You, too, were simply waiting, biding your time.

Sark has a huge cache of weapons. A nice array of automatic and semi-automatic firearms. Grenades. A rocket launcher Kabir said was a simple gift but was really more an apology for the whole "assassin in the tent" incident. All you take with you is one 9mm Glock, but you slip the pen into your shirt pocket just in case.

Irina meets you at the airfield and although she pats you down, she removes neither object from your person. You do not speak, just stare at the back of her head...the sun catching the highlights in her dark hair, and marvel at how, in such a short time, the tables and the worm have turned.

You cannot drive into a tunnel and switch cars this time, even if someone is following... because someone is always following. Sark and Anton, ghostriders on your life.

Before you go into the nondescript warehouse--because it's always a nondescript warehouse, isn't it?--she stops you, perfectly manicured nails digging into the skin of your wrist. "Where is the disc?" she asks, business-like to a fault. No "be careful", no warnings of traps. She simply wants the disc you appropriated from Caplan's computer. The precious DNA database. It should amuse you that it is the DNA of others that she values, not yours...but now is not the time to smile.

You'll smile when Sloane is dead.

"Safe," you tell her with dispassion that equals hers as you pull away. "You'll get it when this is over. No matter the outcome."

"I know the outcome." Her voice follows you and you don't turn around to see if her eyes match it. You can't. "You'll hand it to me."

But no one truly knows outcomes. Had you known it would come to this, would you have introduced yourself to the stunning creature in the white gown? The stunning creature who, at this very moment, could be being fitted for a shroud in the same shade?

It is like a scene out of a movie when you reach her. Sloane's arm is slung, companionably, around her throat as they sit atop a metal table...the way you sometimes do when you're mock-wrestling with her on the couch. He looks like a harmless old man. Cheerful Uncle Arvin, regaling her with stories of your naughty childhood antics, save for the gun he has jammed into her side.

"Throw it down," he says of your own, eyes hard and cold like dead black beetles. "I trust you don't need me to list the reasons why."

"Of course not." You pull the Glock out of it's holster, holding it upside down by the barrel, and then slide it across the concrete with one well-placed kick.

You do not acknowledge the panic bleeding her face pale. You do not tell her it's all going to be all right. You can't tell her this largest of lies. You owe her far more than that "Must we do this at all, Arvin?" you ask, instead, as if you want recommendations on a good sushi bar in Tokyo. "The girl isn't a part of things. She knows nothing."

"True," Sloane acknowledges, and Farah whimpers as the mouth of the gun hits her ribs once more. "She's a winning creature, Mister Sark. I cannot fault your taste. But I can and *will* fault your lack of loyalty."

"You sorely need to prioritize."

There is a glimmer of something in one of the dusty windows. Perhaps a soft scrape of cloth or leather against cinderblock. But you dive just seconds later, rolling for the Glock that is, damnably, inches away from the tips of your fingers. He shoves her forward and she stumbles, skids, ankle turning, and you have a choice...a tangible choice...grab her or the gun.

"Anton...!" Your hand closes around her wrist and then she is falling against your chest. You have the barest moment to feel her safe, warm, sobbing with relief into your neck, before there is a horrific echo like thunder and she stiffens and slumps.

No. No. No. "You made the wrong choice," Sloane chides, tapping the just-fired gun. "Again." Your own gun. And now she's truly bleeding pale, against your palms...heavy and gasping...and you aren't sure, but you might be the one screaming as you bear her to the ground...or it could be the noise of Agency boots as they burst in and surround you.

No. No. No.

"Farah...Farah, stay with me," you urge against the futility.

"Can't..." she says with bloodied lips and a shadow of her wit. "Love...you..."

Her slender fingers curl into your shirt for just an instant before they slip away. Her gorgeous eyes meet yours for just an instant before they flutter closed.

And you know, from that instant, that you will always remember her whispered words as "Can't love you." A curse. A promise. A summary of all of this. When you look up at Sloane, holding your gun and his own against the ever-so-effective Agents Bristow and Vaughn, you are not her Anton. Not even Sark.

Merely the Angel of Death.

Irina shouts from the doorway, "Take care of it." And like she did all those years ago, she furnishes you with the weapon you'll need. It falls into your hands more surely than the woman you love did. Here is what you know. What you'll always know. The inevitable. The kill.

You ignore the cries of "freeze", of "stop." You simply say one word: "Prioritize." And then you empty the entire clip into Arvin Sloane's chest. You decimate his heart, his life, the way he and Sark have decimated yours.

And in the ensuing chaos, you leave it all behind.

***

"He shot and killed Arvin Sloane. He should get a medal," she says, rubbing her neck with both hands as she waits against the wall. "The CIA has wanted Sloane for years and he did it. Instead of a parade, he gets twenty-six hours of interrogation."

"Sydney," Vaughn's voice fills with mild reproach. "No one is saying killing Sloane isn't big. But he's killed a lot of other people. Innocent people. And he didn't exactly rid the world of one of it's premier terrorists out of the goodness of his heart," he points out. "He did it because he had no other choice. Because one life that mattered to him was on the line. One life." He sighs and the furrows crinkle his brow as he watches her parents move up the hall towards them. Jack and Irina are composed, sober, but once glance downwards reveals that their hands are linked. "You think one life balances out the hundreds he didn't care about?"

It is a loaded question. Layered, she knows, with the death of William Vaughn, the telltale scar on her arm, Weiss's time in the hospital, and Vaughn's own bloodied fingernails.

And she reaches for him, linking their hands as Jack and Irina approach. "Sometimes... sometimes one life is all it takes."

"We just came from a three hour briefing with Kendall and the Director." Her father's usually stern features almost twist into a grimace. Almost. "It seems the President was not too happy to hear that the daughter of his favorite golfing partner became embroiled in international espionage."

Irina's hand on his arm stills his badly-timed humor and Sydney is, once again, amazed at how effortlessly the forgiveness has been between them after more than two decades of enmity. They flow now... like two halves of a whole.

Her mother's beautiful face is a careful mask of somber sorrow. "We...we have something to discuss," she reminds. "Something that may destroy the trust you have put in me...but it may also answer some questions about my actions, about why things had to be done this way."

"I'll leave," Vaughn assures, abruptly, detaching from her side. "I have some reports to file anyway."

"No." And the same way she stayed her husband, Irina reaches out and stills him. "This concerns you as well, Michael. Please...please stay."

He is shocked, probably more at the gentle touch than the request and the use of his given name...but he remains, without further protest, as her parents, haltingly, say what they have to say. They take turns, each picking up the thread when the other pauses. When the crucial information is shared, it isn't her own faith, her own trust, that is shaken.

Because, somehow, she'd already known some degree of what they were going to say. Already guessed. Already felt it.

But understanding doesn't come so easily to Vaughn...and he slides down the wall as his legs give out. As Irina concludes, "Don't you see...?" with her palms spread wide in supplication, "Sark had to be extracted along with me. There was no other way. I...I could not leave him trapped in that cycle, that life."

She sinks with him, holding him close. He clings to her, burying his face in her shoulder and she can't help it...she can't help but whisper, "See...? One life is all it takes."

***

Four days after you walk into the Los Angeles office of the CIA, you are given diplomatic immunity in exchange for the DNA database and access to all of Sloane's remaining Rambaldi resources. And, then, they take you to where she is resting. The clicks of their shined shoes are like seconds ticking away on a giant clock, like echoes of bullets.

Even now, she is beautiful to you. Even now, she is everything true in your life. Pristine and eternal. Untouched.

"I'm sorry," you choke out, covering your face with one hand, uncaring of all those who are finally seeing your tears, your misery, your hard-won humanity. "I'm sorry I did this to you."

"You're an idiot." She slurs the words, sleepily, and they are beautiful. Alive. "Some crazy man with gray hair did this."

She is the brightest thing in the sterile hospital room. Golden despite the tubes and the bandages and the steadily beeping heart monitor. And she still looks like a princess. You laugh, helplessly, and when they nod, you drop into the chair by the side of the bed and scoot it up so you can take her hand.

"So...you're sure you're not James Bond...?" She laughs with you, weak but so strong...uncaring of the fact that, now, she will have her own map of scars...of cows and castles.

"No..." You bite your lip, still chuckling despite yourself...relieved and absurdly young. "I...I'm afraid I was one of the Bond villains."

"No way, Anton!" she interrupts, stridently, and the sheer force of her disbelief makes them all start and jump a little. Even Jack Bristow, who is rarely startled by anything, including the circus of the last several days.

You gently shake your head. "Uh-uh, not Anton," you correct, glancing behind you. And for the first time in a very long time, you say your name. *Your* name. "Adam."

Your mother's eyes are glistening like they were the day she rescued you from Tak's clutches and handed you the gun, taught you who you were and what you were made of. "Adam Derevko..."

But then there is the man with dry eyes and a tight frown and a bullet wound with your signature on it. Your brother. "Adam Derevko Vaughn," you finish, getting a perverse kick out of his flinch.

"Adam," Farah repeats, as if she's tasting it, tasting you, for the first time. And she is. You are a blend of sesame oil and red wine and your very own apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

"Mhmmm." Sydney's hand curls around your shoulder and you are grateful for it. For your worthiest adversary, for your sister, whose pigtails you never pulled. "And this..." you add, giving the four people with you a rueful once-over--including the one who still, justifiably, loathes you, "This is my family."

*Family*. Such as it is. You, them, and Farah.

The stuff of fairy tales, of dreams.

 

--end--

April 18, 2003.

e-mail mala.