Chapter 1: The Retelling
See Prologue for Disclaimers/Warnings
Power. I have it. They don't. This bothers them.
….BuffyPerhaps you finally understand the moral compromises you’ll make when someone you love is in danger.
…. Jack BristowMaybe Allison’s a werewolf.
….Agent WeissChapter 1: The Retelling
72 (or Thereabout) HOURS EARLIERROME
Sydney Bristow walked past the apartment building a second time. She touched the key nestled in her pocket for about the four-hundredth time. At times the neighborhood seemed totally familiar, the caffe’
on the corner and the pasticcerie
next door, the trattoria
on the next block, the narrow street and tiny cars, the Vespas parked on the thin sidewalks, it all seemed like home.
And at other moments she told herself she was just projecting, she’d been to Rome many times, narrow streets and ancient rock buildings with shiny modern fittings, it was an old European city, of course it felt familiar. So would Seville, Barcelona, Naples, different and yet the same.
She walked on. She told herself she was just being extra cautious, watching to see if she was being followed, looking for any signs that the apartment was a trap. And so she was, being cautious, and wisely so, given that she was a fugitive… at least from the NSC, if not the entire US government, though who knew how far Lindsey’s influence reached.
But she knew she was also delaying, putting off the moment. Afraid of what she would find. Of what she wouldn’t.
There were two years missing from her life. She had a few vague images from dreams, a scar on her abdomen, a scrap of video showing her killing a man.
She had a name, Julia Thorne
, that she’d learned from a vicious, if charming, career criminal. A criminal who had been Julia Thorne’s partner, at least briefly. And her lover.
She had an address and an apartment key she’d obtained from Arvin Sloane, a man of true malevolence, a consummate liar and manipulator who had moved Sydney about like a pawn in a 3D chess game all her adult life, perhaps even as a child. Sure, the address on the envelope with the key in it had been written in her own handwriting, but Sloane would have had no difficulty faking that. No matter what she found in the apartment, how could she trust it not to be some setup planted by Sloane or his allies?
She also had a burning need to know. Something. Anything.
Whatever was in the apartment, even if it was just bait, had to lead her somewhere. It was the possibility of finding nothing that really scared her, that made her hesitate.
She heard laughter and a small engine and a young couple came flying around the corner on a pink Vespa, just for a moment Syd felt the machine’s headlight brush across her face, she heard the girl who was driving call out,
“Hey, Julia!” as they whizzed by.
Syd backtracked quickly, faded into a dark entryway she had just passed and hid in the shadows. Part of her wanted to run after the couple, shouting, waving, yelling, “How do you know Julia?”
but she knew she wasn’t ready. She needed to see the apartment first, then maybe she’d go looking…
She heard the voices again, the quiet put-putting as the scooter came back past the entryway and stopped, she could hear the couple talking in Italian, the girl with a bit of an American accent, the boy a native as far as Syd was able to judge.
“It was her, I’m sure of it, her hair was all different, and her clothes too but…” the girl said.
“So she was all different, and didn’t know you….”
“It was her. I’m sure of it.”
“I think you’re seeing things. If it was her, where is she… does she owe you money?”
“What? No. But she’s always a little…. I dunno, secretive. Oh well,” the girl’s voice rose just a little, like she was calling out to Syd, “If she needs help she knows where to find us.” Then her voice went back to normal, she said,
“So, you want to stay for dinner?”
“I don’t know, is your sister home?”
“Probably. Why? She’s not that bad.”
“How would you know, you’ve never been alone with her. I mean, alone with her after you’ve been making out with her little sister. She’s … scary.”
“You big wuss.”
“Easy for you to say…”
And then the scooter had revved again and turned and buzzed away and Syd eased forward and watched as they parked right in front of her building, the one she was circling. The couple talked a moment, kissed, and then the girl went inside and the boy went ambling down the sidewalk. Well, Syd thought, at least she won’t be hard to find.
Syd went around again. She stopped and had an espresso she really didn’t need at the café. If someone was watching her they were staying well back. Or they were already inside, waiting.
She stood and strode quickly across the street, up the two steps to the building’s entrance door and the first test. The key fit, and she went inside.
She by-passed the tiny elevator and went quickly up the stairs, listening to the sounds of life, music, televisions, peoples voices, laughter here, an argument there, all muffled by thick walls and wooden doors but still there, normality emanating from the apartments she passed.
She reached the sixth and final floor and paused before the door, Julia’s door. Her door. She put the key in. It fit.
The door opened on a spacious apartment, sparsely but richly furnished with a heavy emphasis on beige as a color scheme.
She stopped, stood still. Did it feel like home? … No. Not really. Not familiar. But not wrong, either, if she’d taken this apartment furnished she would have felt no burning need to change things. She didn’t think her taste was quite this…. subdued, but if this had been… Julia’s quiet place, a retreat, then Syd could see how she would have decorated this way. The same with the artwork on the walls, a small piece of statuary, not familiar, but, pleasant. Nothing she would have been passionate about, nothing she would have hesitated to leave. But homey.
She went into the bedroom, saw the skylight, saw the image from her dreams, the statue of an angel visible against the night sky. So that much was true at least. She’d been here at least once before.
She stripped off her coat and lay down on the bed so the statue of the angel in the sky matched the angle in her dreams, and willed more memories to come. Instead, her exhaustion overtook her excitement and, against her better judgement, she slept.
She woke with a vague sense of wrongness, she listened and heard nothing, looked around, the lights were still on, nothing specific drew her attention, above her the pigeons still shuffled about cooing softly. She went into the bathroom, washed her face and, on a sudden thought, checked the medicine cabinet, found a prescription pill bottle in the name of Julia Thorne. But before she could read the name of the medication she heard a noise behind her, she shut the cabinet and turned back, tried to fight, but they were on her, men in military garb, shouting in Italian that she was being arrested on behalf of the United States government. She struggled, but there were too many, too strong, and they forced her down on the bed and handcuffed her.
They were marching her down the stairs when the door on the fifth floor landing opened, a blonde woman in silk pajamas stepped out and looked around, eyes widening as she saw them coming down the steps.
Gruffly polite, one of the men in the lead waved the blonde woman back, ordering, “Stay inside, miss,” and she raised her hands in a girly “ooh, don’t mind me” gesture.
And then the lights went out.
In the sudden darkness Syd heard the familiar sounds of fists hitting flesh and bodies falling, heard grunts, gurgles, moans, a couple brief, stifled shouts and then she was free, or at least the men holding her seemed to fade away… And then she was being lifted over someone’s shoulder, carried through a doorway, down a short hallway, through what felt like an open room, another doorway, a room, then she was set down in what felt like a crowded closet, and she was rolled over on her belly. Her feet were quickly tied, tight, then pulled up and tied to her handcuffs. A gag that felt rather too much like someone’s rolled up sock was shoved in her mouth. Something was tied around her head to hold the gag in place. A voice whispered rather unnecessarily, “Now just be still,” in English. She heard a door slide shut, heard the voice mutter something else in what sounded like Latin, and she was alone in the dark, hogtied.
As rescues go, Syd thought, she’d had better.
Alone in the dark she had time to think. She was almost sure the NSC hadn’t been able to follow her so whoever ordered her arrest must have known about the apartment. So had Sloane sold her out? But why? Just to ingratiate himself with Lindsey? Not that Sloane couldn’t come up with some subtle and labyrinthine plans, but sending her off to Rome just to be arrested before she learned anything seemed pointless. Or maybe it wasn’t the NSC at all. She tried to remember if the men had shouted a name when they were arresting her, maybe she had triggered some sort of trap/alarm and they had come not for Sydney but for Julia.
And, more to the immediate point, who the hell had “rescued” her and how did they fit in the grand scheme? Were they Sloane’s people? Lindsey’s? A third player?
She heard a voice call, “Okay, Dawnie, go ahead,” and the lights came on, Syd could see a thin line of illumination at the bottom of the sliding closet door.
She heard sirens coming to a stop not far away, probably just outside the building. Then voices, the clumping footsteps of men in boots, heard a woman’s voice, the tone set to very ingratiating,
“No, thank you,
officers, please look everywhere. So were they terrorists? Or a drug gang or …. Oh, no, I understand, yes, right through there.”
Syd heard the footsteps coming closer, heard the door slide open, light flooded in, she twisted her head and saw the man looking down at her, then looking right, left, right at her, then shaking his head, turning away, crossing the room to open and inspect another closet, then yell out an all clear and clump away.
Whatthehell? Syd thought. He couldn’t possibly have missed her, but if he was in on some scheme he sure was one hell of an actor. He had left the door open, the light still on so Syd twisted and managed to turn herself sideways so she could look around and see she was in a closet full of… swords? And crossbows. And long wooden staffs with sharpened ends. And a whole rack full of … shoes?
A door shut, silence settled, in the distance she heard engines starting, moving away. A woman’s voice said,
“I think we’re clear,” and two women came into the room, the blonde woman from the stairs and… the girl from the Vespa.
The blonde muttered in Latin, Syd recognized the voice now, she had been the one who tied her… but surely not the person who’d carried her, she couldn’t have near the strength to…
The blonde leaned over, slipped a hand under Syd’s torso and lifted, carried her over and set her on the bed and began untying her feet while the other girl undid the gag and pulled out what did indeed turn out to be a sock. Syd spat cotton.
“Hey,” Vespa girl said, “it could have been worse, it could have been Buffy’s,” and the girl turned away, spoke to the blonde, “and hey, it’s your closet, how come you used my sock?”
“Well, I needed something really big…. No offense, Julia,” the blonde answered.
Syd sighed with relief as she straightened her legs and hopefully held up her handcuffed wrists, the brunette reached up and pulled a hairpin, said,
“Okay Buffy, time me.”
“Or,” the blonde said, “we could use the key I borrowed from the nice men with guns.”
“That’s no fun.”
“It’s late. Tomorrow I’ll put the cuffs on you and see how many days it takes you to get out….”
“Seconds, how many seconds,” the brunette insisted.
“Tomorrow, Dawnie, right now,” Buffy unlocked Syd’s cuffs…and suddenly rolled her over on her back and cuffed her again with her hands in front, “we need to have a little chat with Julia.”
At last count Syd had about one million four hundred and fifty two thousand six hundred and twenty-four questions to ask, but since the first one was “Who the hell are you two?”
she held off.
The two young women, Buffy and Dawnie, (surely that couldn’t be their real names?) apparently knew her as Julia, and she had to take advantage of that…
Unless this was some sort of double-bluff, the whole capture and rescue a ruse to gain her trust. But to what end? Did someone believe she was faking the amnesia? Or did they think she knew something, without knowing she knew it, but somehow she would let it slip to sympathetic ears?
And two less likely spies she’d never met.
But that would be the genius of it, wouldn’t it?
Which ruled out Lindsey, but Sloane was capable of such subtlety.
The two women, clearly sisters despite the lack of physical resemblance, did work together with, bickering aside, an efficiency that spoke of training. And even though Buffy was clearly stronger than she looked, someone else had to be in on taking out the men who’d arrested Syd. So even if they were genuine there was more here than met the eye.
And if they were real, what happened when they realized she wasn’t Julia, or not exactly.
Round and round. Syd’s head hurt.
She sat in the breakfast nook just off their all too cheery kitchen sipping from the bottle of mineral water Buffy had given her, watching Dawnie manufacture what Syd’s father would call a Dagwood sandwich on a baguette….
“No anchovies this time, I mean it,” Buffy said.
The aromas of olive oil and sausage and cheese hit Syd’s nose and she tried to remember the last time she’d eaten.
“Look, Julia,” Buffy said. “or whatever your name is…”What?!
“…we never bought that art student story, I mean, for one thing you’re way too good at the martial arts stuff, even gave me a decent workout sometimes when you were into it…”
What?! thought Syd. I
a decent workout?
“…so we figured you for a spy or something…”
What?! thought Syd.
“International jewel thief,” Dawnie said. She finished making the sandwich and cut it in three parts and passed Buffy and Syd their shares on thick cloth napkins.
“Or something,” Buffy continued,” but we checked an’ you didn’t seem to be spying on us and you didn’t show up on the evil meter…”
What?! thought Syd. Evil meter?
“…and we pretty much have a sailor vee policy on humans…”
“Mmphlastmspfar!” Dawnie said, emitting a fine spray of choice Italian cheese and sausage particles. She chewed and swallowed. “Laissez-faire
“What’d I say?”“C'est la vie,”
“What’s the difference?” “C'est la vie,”
said Dawnie, with exaggerated patience, “is what you say when you have to dump another cute boy ‘cause he’s too chicken too have dinner with your sister. Laissez-faire
is when you don’t
sneak in and cut up all your sister’s D & G
‘cause she’s always scaring off your boyfriends.”
“Well, you don’t want to date someone who’s too chicken to even face me.”
“Well, yeah, but you could at least let me have little fun before you expose their hidden chickeness…, chickenosity…, chickenalia, eww, that just sounds wrong, … chickenism… whatever.”
“It’s not like I beat them up or anything….”
Syd eyed the doorway and began to calculate the odds of escaping if she just ran for it.
Buffy turned back to Syd, “Where was I, oh, yeah, the whole lazy friar thing, and you were always fun to go shopping or hit a club with, so don’t ask, don’t tell right? But then we heard all those commando types sneaking up to your apartment, and I kind of have a kick ass first and ask questions later policy with commando types….”
What?! thought Syd.
“…But those were actually those hairy carbine guys…”
“… which I guess are actual cops and everything. I think we convinced them we were just weak and helpless little girls, but if they’re going to be hanging around I think we need to know why, so I guess we gotta ask and you gotta tell.”
Syd took a big bite of her sandwich to stall for time. She noticed Dawnie was staring at her.
“Buffy,” Dawnie said. “I don’t think that’s Julia.”
Oh shit, thought Syd.
“What do you mean. Sure it is. Just with really bad hair…”
“Yeah, I know, she looks just like her, but I don’t think she knows us. She has that look on her face people get when they meet you for the first time.”
look. Like someone just whacked them with a marshmallow sledgehammer. Look,” Dawnie said, staring levelly at Syd. “What’s my name?”
“Dawmmmphy,” Syd mumbled with her cheeks full. Dawn smiled, and shook her head, waited. Syd swallowed, said, “Dawnie,” and realized, just a little too late that she’d made a mistake, but tried to soldier on, “Dawn.”
“And her name?”
“And her last name?”
Syd sagged. “I don’t remember,” she said, fighting back the tears she felt welling.
“See?” Dawn said, “Not Julia. Julia never forgot anything.”
Buffy stood then, leaned in toward Syd who felt a sudden sympathy for Dawni… Dawn
’s erstwhile boyfriends. The short blonde’s eyes were ice cold, and there was something else, a sense of power that shouldn’t have come from such a small body but nevertheless seemed to press down on Syd’s weary frame like a second atmosphere,
“So who the hell are you, then?” Buffy said.
“My name is Ellen Ferguson,” she said, giving them the name off the passport Vaughn had arranged to have left for her. “But I think I’m also Julia Thorne. I just don’t remember.”
She saw the two sisters share a look, a shrug, seemingly more ready to accept her story as plausible than she could have possibly hoped.
“Tell us,” Dawn said.
So she told them the truth.
For a certain value of “truth.”
She told them she worked as an analyst for the State Department, she told them her best friend turned out to be a double agent, leaving out the whole “doubled” agent part. She told them about the big fight, saw Buffy nodding like the story sounded familiar to her somehow.
She told them about waking up in Hong Kong. And because suddenly she couldn’t help herself, because she’d never had a chance to tell someone who didn’t already know the story, who didn’t have their own agenda, who would just listen with genuine sympathy… Evil dentists torturing her for intel she could resist but Dawn’s wide blue eyes were something else. She told them about Vaughn, feeling the tears flowing down her cheeks though she was able to fight back the urge to completely breakdown and sob.
“So like,” Dawn said, “one day you’re planning wild monkey sex in Santa Barbera and the next day he’s married to someone else? That sucks.”
Syd laughed despite her tears, nodded. “For me it was one day. For him, two years.”
“Still sucks,” Dawn said, and actually came over and gave her a hug.
“So,” Buffy said, “you have no actual memory of being Julia Thorne?” She’d eased back a little, not big with the sympathy like Dawn, but the overt hostility was gone.
“None. But you seemed to recognize me as her. And you’re not the only ones.” She told them about meeting Simon. She left out the Simon-being-a-criminal parts, the stealing necklaces, stealing bioweapons and knifing Vaughn parts… It was kind of a short story, told that way.
“You know who would know for sure,” Dawn said. “Doctor Ziti.”
“In the morning,” Buffy said.
Syd found Mr. Spock in all his cardboard cutout life-size glory waiting to greet her when she was ushered into the room at the end of the hall. There was a bed with a Spiderman counterpane. One corner of the room was taken up with computers, one wall with a collection of “action figures” and comic books, Michelangelo’s “Deathstar Under Attack”
covered the ceiling, the cantina scene covered another wall.
“Sorry about this,” Buffy said as she waved her hand near an alien imbiber’s nose and the wall containing the cantina scene slid back to reveal a steel cage big and strong enough to contain a grizzly bear. “But I don’t think I trust you enough to let you run free and I suspect if I just handcuffed you to the bed you’d be loose in minutes, so….”
Syd turned, tensed, readying for the right moment to kick out and make a run for it when Buffy’s hand tightened on her arm, her fingers like steel claws in plush velvet. Syd jerked her arm and…. Nothing. Buffy tightened a little more, Syd could feel the bone start, ever so slightly, to give. Buffy, she suddenly realized, could crumple her arm like Syd could crumple an aluminum can.
“You wouldn’t stand a chance, Jul…. Ellen. Please don’t make me prove it.”
Dawn came in then with a thin mattress, pillows and sleeping bag, she blocked Syd’s view and punched a code into the lock, opened the cage and went in and made up a bed on the floor.
“Don’t worry, Ellen,” Dawn said once she was out and Syd was locked inside the cage, “It’s not as a sinister as it seems, really. You’re safe here. Hold out your hands.” Syd did and Dawn unlocked the handcuffs. “No promises, but we have some friends who might be able to help with the memory loss, depending on what caused it. I’ll see you in the morning, you want the wall shut or can you stand the wonder of Andrew’s décor?”
“Leave it open, please,” Syd asked.
She could hear their voices as the sisters went back down the hall.
“Where is Andrew, anyway?”
“At Timothy’s. He doesn’t dump his boyfriends just because they’re scared of me.”
“Andrew has different standards.”
“Yes, well, you may have to give up on this ‘Brave as Xander,’ standard. Maybe settle for ‘Better dancer than Xander,’ or ‘Has more eyes than Xander.’ “
“Yeah, but then I’d be dating your boyfriends.”
Syd waited for what she estimated was long enough for the girls to go to sleep, then got up and, using her belt buckle, went to work on the lock. Because she had little light and she was trying very, very carefully to be absolutely quiet it took her nearly three minutes to work the cover off the keypad and cross the wires and let herself out. It was a solid but very simple lock, clearly not meant to contain anyone with any real training. She wondered briefly who, or what, it was meant to contain. She moved silently across the room and opened a window and peered carefully out. She could go this way, there was a narrow ledge and a balcony just a few feet further on, and a balcony above that, she could make the roof and be gone. Come back in a few days with equipment to sense any electronic traps waiting in Julia Thorne’s apartment.
She hesitated. She could go… where? Contacting her father now would only put him in danger. She’d found what she’d come for, more than she’d hoped for, really. People who knew her as Julia, people who seemed willing to help because… Because that’s what they did. Tiny kung fu masters who kicked commando ass on principle, had mysterious closets full of weapons that police couldn’t see into and giant steel cages, and bickered over boyfriends and whether or not to put anchovies on sandwiches.
Syd had nothing left to lose, really. Her life, but if they’d wanted to kill her they could have done that by now. She knew she should lock herself back in the cage, hide the fact that she could escape it, just in case that came in handy later, but she’d been pushed around all day, one way or another and she needed to assert at least a little independence. She stripped down to her underwear, hung her clothes on the 3d model of Darth Vader and his fully erect light saber, crawled into bed with Spiderman and was almost instantly asleep, dreaming of kindly Doctor Ziti who would come in the morning and tell her who she was.-30-
Next: Chapter 2: There's a delegation a-coming