by Siryn

Indian Summer

She tried not to hyperventilate when she saw him in the back seat of her car, gun cocked against her head. Memories were flashing through her mind, pieces of another place and time. He didn't look as different in person as she thought he might.

"I've jammed the feed of the CCTV cameras, so let us speak freely. You know who I am?" he asked, his voice steady. His accent was different, the Galway lilt almost completely gone.

"Yes," she answered as she watched him in the rearview mirror. Her thumb ran over her wedding band unconsciously.

A slight smirk crossed his face. "I understand your investigation into the Lazarey murder has hit a dead end. What a pity."

"How do you know about that?" she stammered. God, she wanted to slap that look right off his smug face. He was still one step ahead of her.

"I know because I framed Javier Perez, assuming he'd be extradited to the United States, and that once he was in custody, he'd be forced to confess what he knows, namely the identity of Andrian Lazarey's murderer," Sark replied. The gun was pressing closer to the base of her skull and she wondered if he was actually as cold blooded as she'd made herself believe. Some reckless impulse flared in her in response.

"This is the second time I've had a gun put to my head; I don't particularly like it. Now, I'm going to assume that if you wanted me dead I would be, so if you have something to tell me, do it," she said, her eyes holding his in the reflection. She wasn't going to let him win this time. She was different now, they were different. The corner of his mouth quirked up again and she wanted to ask a million questions, but she held herself in check. The portfolio slid over the seat and as she took it, she thought she could feel the warmth from where he had held it. She arched her eyebrow at him in silent inquiry.

"A wedding present. A touch informal, I know, but everything else on your registry was taken," he said with what she thought might be a trace of regret. She ran her fingers over it, tracing the edge. "Open it."

There are black and white photos. She not surprised he knew about this, but she wondered how he got access to the feed to get them.

"Where did you get these," she asked, her tone mild. They were a sharper quality than the ones Marshall made for her. The Covenant did have excellent resources, one of which was sitting right behind her.

"Where is not important. What is important is who," he answered, the impatience clear in his tone. The gun eased up a bit and she flipped through the pictures, noting some were at a different angle than the ones she had.

"Her name is Julia Thorne, merely an alias. She goes by another name, a name you're quite familiar with," he trailed of as she came to a photo of a very blonde Sydney Bristow. A chill ran down her spine.

"Oh my God."



It was the first truly cool day when she saw him for the first time. She was leaving the train station, back from a trip to London with her classmates. Slouched against the trunk of a car was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen.

The sun was gone, leaving the sky a streaky pinkish orange. His honey colored hair was longer than most would think acceptable and wind blown. He took a long drag of his cigarette and exhaled a perfect ring of smoke. Leaning back, his black sweater rode up and gave her the slightest glimpse his stomach above the waistband of his jeans. Suddenly, he looked right at her and she held his gaze for a split second before she turned away, not wanting him to see the blush that was blooming on her cheeks. By the time she worked up the courage to look back, she was jostled onto to the bus by her chaperone. She sat down in the only open seat and stared ahead, wondering if she would ever see him again.


The mug was warm in her hand, the smell of peppermint wafting around her. She had a paper to write, it was due tomorrow, but she couldn't stop thinking about him. It was almost as if Fate had put him right in her path. She'd seen him around town after the day at the train station, but didn't have the nerve to speak to him. Every time she tried, she talked herself out of it.

It was embarrassing really, how much she'd been thinking about him. She'd even gotten caught in Ms. Madison's class staring out the window, wondering if he was funny or shy and if he could make those smoke rings, did that mean he was a good kisser? If only there was someone she could ask, that she trusted enough to talk about him.

He was perfect, she thought, and would take one look at her and laugh. Worse yet, he'd be incredibly nice to her in that insincere way all English boys had and then slice her ribbons later. That was the way it was here, lovely and idyllic on the surface, teeming with viciousness and scorn underneath. A low voice interrupted her thoughts.

"Is that seat taken?"

Without looking up, she reached over to pull her bag and school pea coat off the chair across from her. Turning, she began to speak.

"No, sorry. I didn't hear anyone..." she trailed off. It was him, the boy from the station. Blue, she thought, he has blue eyes. Abruptly, she pulled herself together. "No, it's not," she said again, hoping her voice sounded steadier to him then it had in her mind. He smiled, a row of perfect white teeth showing.

"Thanks," he said, dropping a black backpack on the floor. She tried to not to stare as she sipped her tea, hoping he couldn't hear her heart thundering in her chest. He shrugged out of his coat and walked back to the counter, taking a cup from Mrs. Davenport. Sinking down into the chair, he sighed.

"I hate this town," he said, staring out the window. It was a typical late Sunday afternoon. People were walking around, in and out of the shops, doing whatever needed to be done before dinner. She didn't think he had directed the comment to her, so she didn't answer and reached for her book instead.

"I'm James," he said, holding a hand out to her. Panic washed over her, but she remembered herself, shaking the proffered hand.

"I'm Lauren, Lauren Reed," she answered, smiling tightly.

He smiled again, and settled back in the chair again. "You go to Porter, yeah?"

"Yes," she answered, "I'm in my last year there." She ran her fingers along the spine of her book nervously. She was never good at small talk, something her father hated about her. "And you? St. Michael's?" St. Michael's was the all boys' Catholic school on the other side of town from The Porter School for Girls.

He nodded. "Yeah, just started this term." His accent was different, not like the other boys at the school and the question tumbled from her mouth before she could stop it.

"You aren't from around here, are you?" She felt her face flush as he quirked his eyebrow at her. "I'm sorry. That was terribly rude of me," she apologized.

"Not at all, it's just the accent is so faint now, sometimes I don't even here it. You're right, I'm from Ireland, actually. I was born in Galway, but I've been in England since I was eight," he said wistfully. He was looking out the window again and she studied his profile, trying to memorize it while she had the chance.

"What about you?" he asked, turning back to her.

"I'm American, but I've been living here and going to Porter's since I was seven. My aunt lives in London, so I spend holidays there," she replied quietly. It didn't hurt to say that anymore, at least not much. The bell over the door jangled as a group of students came in. She heard the voices and knew who it was without turning to look. She grimaced and started to put her books away.

"Friends of yours?" he asked amusedly.

She rolled her eyes. "Hardly. I should go. It was nice to meet you, James. Good luck at school," Lauren said, slipping out the door.


The next time she came in he was already there, a cup of her peppermint tea waiting on the table.

"Hello again," he said, the slightest hint of his Irish accent creeping into his voice. She saw a dog-eared copy of The Great Gatsby in his lap. "Was wondering if you were going to show. Your mates from school were here earlier. I had a hard time keeping your seat," he said as she sat down.

"They aren't my friends," she replied quietly. God only knows what those girls told him about her. She felt an odd clench in her stomach, almost as if she'd been punched. She started when she felt his hand on her cheek.

"You alright?" he asked, his eyes soft with concern. He was so close to her, she could smell his aftershave, something cool and clean colored with the smell of his cigarettes. The clench in her stomach changed to something altogether different. She looked away, the blush creeping across her cheeks.

"Yes, I'm fine now," she said with a small smile.


It happened slowly, almost too slowly for her. Each time they met, they revealed more and more about each other. It was like carefully unwrapping a gift you've been wanting since before you could remember. She replayed their conversations over and over in her mind at night, staring at the ceiling. His parents had died when he was very young and he'd been sent to live with his bachelor uncle in Blackpool. He had been going to school in London, but had transferred to St. Michael's for this last year, wanting to get out of the city. There was something else behind it, she could tell, but she didn't want to risk him getting angry with her if she pressed him. After all, she hadn't been entirely truthful about her background either.

Her father had warned her to be careful about what she told people about his job. A US Senator on the Intelligence committee was a target and she knew that. He had given the speech so many times; she could recite it word for word, with accents and inflections. It was those times she felt the resentment seep into her mind. It wasn't as if she had been given a choice in going away to school, it was just expected of her. It was exhausting to think about and so she just told him he worked for the government, and he didn't ask for details.

That afternoon, they'd met at the café and spent some time debating the merits of the Rolling Stones versus The Beatles. When she glanced at her watch, she stood up so fast she almost knocked the table over.

"Is that the time? I have to be back at school," she said, tossing books into her bag. He picked up their cups and brought them to the counter. Snagging his jacket from the back of the chair, he held open the door for her.

"Thanks. I have a tutoring session tonight. It completely slipped my mind," she said as they crossed the street.

"I can't possible think what you need to be tutored in," he said with a wink. She punched him lightly on the arm.

"Shut up. I'm helping one of the sixth years with her Calculus. She's quite dreadful, but I couldn't say no," she replied. It wasn't until that moment that she realized he was holding her hand. In public. Her heart almost skipped a beat and she grinned at how cliché she always thought that saying was. Until now.

They walked to the school in a comfortable silence. It was nice, not having to say anything. She never, not for one minute, imagined she'd be walking up to the front gates with him. If she could crystallize this feeling and sell it, she'd be a millionaire. He cleared his throat and she looked up, not realizing the walk had gone by so fast.

"Well, you're here," he stated, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

She smiled. "Yeah, I guess I am. Thanks for walking me. You didn't have to."

"It was nothing, I wanted to," he replied, squeezing her hand slightly. She cursed herself for promising to help Beth on a Sunday.

"I should go," she said unconvincingly. Slowly, she slipped her hand out of his, immediately missing it's heat. "I'll see you later."

"Yeah, same place, same time. I'll bring you that tape of Sticky Fingers. You'll see what I mean about Mick Jagger," he said with a grin.

"We'll see about that," she laughed and began to open the gate. She was about to let it shut behind her when she felt his hand on her arm.

"Lauren." Turning back, she was about to say something when she felt his lips press against hers. He was kissing her. Suddenly, everything froze and her world narrowed to nothing else but the warmth of his mouth on her. Her heart was beating a mile a minute and she felt his hand on her neck, fingers tangling in her hair. Then, as swiftly as it started, he pulled away, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

"Until then." And with that he slipped away into the twilight.



The sky outside the large front window was gray and cloudy. Her aunt Regina had left early that morning to go to Bath. Every other year she'd gone on the annual Boxing Day visit, but this year she'd begged off, citing too much homework for the end of term. But, there really wasn't any homework.

The phone call from her parents had been brief. Her mother came on the line first. This was the part of the call she didn't entirely hate. Her mother had always been her advocate, but ultimately abided by the decision her father made. And she at least pretended to be interested in what she had to say and the things that were going on in her life. But when she asked if she'd met any boys yet, she didn't tell her about James. He was something special and she didn't really feel like sharing him yet.

Her father was a different matter entirely. There were no greetings, it was straight to business. Had she finished her college applications, did she send them all out to the right places with the letters of recommendations he'd gotten for her, and on and on until she wanted to scream. She didn't mention that she'd applied to Berkley and the Sorbonne anyway, despite his opinion on the matter. Her answers were short and to the point, just the way he liked them. There was a bit of an awkward moment, when she thought he was trying to wish her a Merry Christmas, but she saved him the trouble and said it first.

She went back out to dinner with a fake smile plastered on her face for Regina's guests, but the sense of melancholy stuck with her for the rest of the night. It was always like that after a call home. It seemed like their lives would have been exactly the same whether she'd been there or not.

And she missed James. She hadn't seen him in almost two weeks. He was spending the break in Blackpool with his uncle. He had just moved, so she didn't even have a phone number to call him. It was strange, this feeling. The feeling that she did matter to someone, not because they were her family and were obligated, but because they wanted to.

He made her laugh and he seemed to understand her dry, sarcastic humor. It was freeing to be able to talk to someone who wasn't going to turn around and stab you in the back when you weren't looking. He also wasn't intimidated by her intelligence, since he was as smart as she was, maybe more. All the boys her mother had forced on her while she was home, mostly sons of her friends, had seemed a little taken aback by her attempts at anything beyond small talk and soon she just quit trying.

Of course, how he made her mind feel was nothing compared to the way she felt when he touched her. It was like her body was humming under the skin. He was, in fact, an excellent kisser; although she had to admit her experience in that area was severely limited. She'd read things in books, but she never really understood it until then. The night before they left for the holidays she had to sneak back into the dorm after she'd stayed too long with him, kissing and touching until she thought she would lose her mind from it. It had made her so giddy, she couldn't sleep at all. On the ride to the train station, her hallmates kept looking at her and whispering behind their hands, wondering what had made the usually stoic and quiet Lauren Reed so happy. Even Regina made an offhand remark about it when she met her at the station.

Her good mood had carried her until that phone call last night. It still amazed her how angry her father could make her with such little effort. If this was how they got along when she was on the other side of an ocean, she could only imagine how much worse it would be if she lived at home.

With a sigh, she pulled herself off the couch. Boxing Day or not, she was in London, for God's sake. There must be something she could do to take her mind off things.


She was still standing in the upstairs bathroom when she heard the buzzer. It was too early for Regina to be back and beside that she had keys, why would she ring the bell? Shutting off the blow dryer, she went downstairs and peeked through the curtain. Any bad mood that was left completely evaporated as she swung open the door.

"James, what are you doing here?" she asked, grinning madly. He leaned in and kissed her, just enough to make her want more, but they were still standing on the front stoop. Opening her eyes, she saw he was smiling at her, that lazy half-smile that made her heart beat just a little faster.

"My uncle had to meet someone in the city, so I came down with him. I thought you might have gone to Bath, but I was bored to tears and needed an excuse to get out of there," he answered as he wrapped his arms around her and held her against him. "Well, aren't you going to invite me in?" Extracting herself, she grabbed his hand and led him inside.

"I was just getting ready to go out actually," she said, shutting the door.

"Plans with your other boyfriend today?" he asked with a smile.

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, you caught me. Leading this double life has been so very difficult. It'll be much easier to sneak around now that you know," she said wryly.

"I have something for you," he said, dragging her toward the couch.

"I thought we agreed, no presents," she argued as he pulled a flat package from inside his coat. It was wrapped in shiny red paper and a silver bow.

"Well, we did, but I saw this and it made me think of you," he said with a shy smile at her. Shaking her head, she tore open the paper and unrolled a light blue scarf. She ran her hands over it, feeling the soft cashmere under her fingers. It must have cost a small fortune.

"James, I...I don't know what to say. This is too much," she stammered as he took it out of her hands and looped it around her neck twice, grazing her cheek with his lips. All the blood was rushing to her head and she barely stopped herself from telling him how she really felt.

"Nothing's too much for my girl," he said softly. The air was suddenly crackling with tension and the little devil in her mind sent her an image of him lying back on the couch and her wearing the scarf and very little else. The idea sent her body racing and it took a moment to realize he was talking to her.

"I'm sorry, what?" she asked, blinking rapidly to clear her mind.

He laughed, his eyes practically twinkling with amusement. "Something distracting you, love?"

She tried to give him a hard look, but it clearly wasn't working, since he was still sitting there with that smug grin on his face. "Yes, you, as a matter of fact. I had a lovely day of eating ice cream, watching old movies, and moping planned but you have thrown a wrench into the works," she answered breezily. "Now since you're here, I suppose I should spend time with you instead."

"Well then," he said, standing, "don't let me interfere. I'll just wander around London, cold and lonely until my train leaves." He sounded completely serious, but she could see the laughter in his eyes. Grabbing his hand, she pulled him back down next to her.

"I couldn't bear to have that on my conscience. You'll just have to go out with me, I suppose," she said with an exaggerated sigh. She tilted her head and brushed her lips over his, feeling that tingle spread through her body again. Using the scarf, he tugged her forward and deepened the kiss, his other hand on her hip. It didn't take much encouragement before she was straddling his lap, her hands running through his hair. She could feel his fingers dancing up her spine and the warm tingle was spreading across her skin again. Letting go of his mouth, she kissed her way along his jaw, until she found the spot just below his ear that always made him moan. His hands had slid around and were now softly teasing her nipples through the cotton of her bra. The sensations shot straight down and she bucked her hips, feeling the bulge in his jeans very distinctly against her thigh. A rational voice broke through the haze in her mind, reminding her that they were on her aunt's couch in the middle of the day, with the curtains wide open. Dragging herself away, she stood up. He dropped his head onto the back of the couch and took a deep breath.

"I think we should go out. Now," she said, grabbing her jacket from the rack near the door. With a sigh, he nodded and followed her out the door.


By the time they got back to the house it was after midnight.

"James, what time were you supposed to get the train?" she asked, shrugging off her coat. The smell of his cigarettes and Guinness clung to it and she almost didn't want to take it off. That meant the night was over and he was going to leave.

"The last train was at 11:30, I think," he said, looking at his watch. "It's fine. The first train in the morning is early. I'll just wander about for a bit until I have to go." She didn't like the idea of him out by himself. Something bad might happen and it would be all her fault. The obviousness of the answer smacked her in the face.

"You could stay here," Lauren said quietly. He turned to face her, an odd expression on his face. Thinking she had read him wrong, she backtracked quickly. "I mean, you don't have to. It's only that my Aunt won't be back until tomorrow night and there's a spare room. It's up to you."

Turning away, she went into the kitchen and turned on the tap. What was she thinking? He probably thought this was her lame way of seducing him. He'd gone to school here, he must have another friend he could stay with, that's probably where he was going, but was too polite to say so. She tried to think back over her behavior that night. Had she been too forward, too opinionated? She thought he had liked it when she spoke her mind and argued with him. The water was freezing her wrist now, and she automatically stuck her glass underneath and gulped the cold water.

"Lauren," he began, but she cut him off. "It's fine really. It was just an idea. I don't want you to feel obligated or anything," she said brusquely. Before she could say anything else, he clapped his hand over her mouth.

"I want to stay. I was just thinking I didn't want to sleep in the guest room," he said, that half-smile on his face again, but instead of making her heart beat; it sent a wave of heat through her. His hand slid off of her mouth and into her hair. Bending forward, he leaned his forehead against hers. "When are you going to realize that I really do like you? Actually, I think I more than just like you. I think I'm falling in love with you."

For a second, she thought she might have gone spontaneously deaf. Had she heard that right? He was falling in love with her?

"I don't think I'm ready to have sex yet," she blurted out before she could stop herself. "I mean I want to, with you, but just not, you know, yet," she finished awkwardly. She closed her eyes, the familiar sense of embarrassment washing over her. She really needed to turn on the filter between her brain and her mouth. To her deepest surprise, he laughed.

"Well, that's good to know. But when I said sleep, I meant actual sleeping," he said with a grin. "But it is a relief to know you're not going to try and have your wicked way with me."

She smacked at his shoulder. "You are such a jerk," she exclaimed. Slipping out of his grasp, she headed for the door.

"But you love me, jerk or not," he teased. She stopped and turned back to him with a smile.

"Yeah, I do," she answered, kissing him softly on the lips and leading him up the stairs.


He stepped into the phone booth in Paddington Station and picked up the phone. He dialed the numbers he had long since memorized and waited for the voice to pick up.

"Moscow Florist," the voice said in clipped Russian.

He answered back in flawless imitation. "I'd like to place on order."

"Where to?"

"They're to be sent overseas, to England," he answered carefully. It was silent for a moment.

"Hold on for international deliveries." There was a series of clicks before a familiar voice came over the line.

"Hello Julian," Irina said.



She chewed on the pen cap, looking over the paper in front of her critically. It looked perfect to her, but she needed to be absolutely sure. She slid the other letter out from underneath and laid them side-by-side to compare.


To Whom It May Concern:

I give my niece permission to leave school grounds on this coming Friday evening and return the following afternoon. She will be traveling to London to attend a family event. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Regina Westland


It was identical to the one Regina had sent to the school last year when her mother had been in town for a fund raising event. Lauren hadn't wanted to go, but her aunt had insisted she come and see her mother. This time, there was no visit and she wasn't necessarily going to London at all. James was taking her out for her birthday, and he wasn't bringing her back until the next day.

It was an idea she'd had in the back of her mind since the holidays. Waking up next to him was about the best thing that had ever happen to her. She felt warm and safe, but most of all, she felt loved.

Love was such a funny word. It could mean so many different things in so many different ways. But with him, it was everything. She could barely imagine a day without him in it now. Her acceptances to schools had begun to come in and the amount was staggering. He still didn't know where he wanted to go, but she knew that wherever he decided, she'd be going close by. It didn't really matter, as long as they were together.

She drew the pen out slowly over the page to finish the signature. Regina's writing was much wider and loopier than her own small, neat style. Crossing the last `T', she took one last look at it and folded it in thirds and left to bring it to the headmaster's office.


It was unusually sunny and almost warm enough for her to leave her sweater back at the dorm. She still had no idea where they were going. James had been tight-lipped about it all week and it was driving her crazy. The only thing he would tell her was that meeting her at the train station instead of the cafe was not a problem.

She stepped off the bus and saw he was already there, leaning against a black convertible, looking almost exactly the way he had the first day she'd seen him. For a second, she just stopped to look at him, wondering if maybe this was all a dream. If it was, she really hoped she wasn't going to wake up anytime soon.

"Happy Birthday," he said as she walked up. He kissed her on the cheek and took the bag from her hand and tossed into the back of the car he was leaning against.

"I thought we were taking the train into London," she said with a significant look at the car. Shaking his head, he opened the door and gestured for her to get in.

"Well, I'm full of surprises today," he answered as he slid into the driver's seat and started the engine. She smiled as they pulled out of the lot with Mick Jagger's voice pouring out of the speakers and James' fingers wrapped around hers.


If she hadn't been paying attention, she would have missed the turnout. It was unmarked and practically hidden from view. James maneuvered the wide car easily on the narrow road down toward the small patch of beach. The sky was clear and the cliffs on one side buffeted them from any wind. It was lovely and very private. Neither one of them spoke as he parked the car and turned off the engine.

"Are you ready for your present?" he asked, leaning into the backseat.

She looked at him quizzically. "There's more?" They had already gone to dinner at a beachfront restaurant in Brighton before driving out here. It had been expensive and she had been concerned, but he told her not to worry. He handed her a small, flat package.

"It's not another scarf, is it?" she teased.

He just smiled enigmatically and shook his head. The package was hard this time, and she had a good idea what it was from the shape. The leather cover was well worn, but in good condition and the gold leaf lettering on the spine stood out clearly -- Jane Eyre.

"It's not a first edition. My uncle's contacts didn't extend quite that far," he said. "But I think it's a very good second edition."

She turned it over in her hand, still not quite believing it. "How did you know this was my favorite book?"

"You mentioned that you'd gone through three copies of it. It didn't take much deduction on my part," he answered. She set the book on the dashboard and slid across the front seat until she was right next to him. Leaning up, she brushed her lips over his.

"Thank you," she said, the words tickling his mouth. She kissed him again, harder this time and she felt him respond as he pulled her into his lap. His hands settled on her waist and she could feel her skin begin to tingle. This was right, she could feel it. Slowly, she sat up. A look of confusion crossed his face as she began to gather her shirt in her hands.

"Lauren, you don't....."

"You're right, I don't. But I want to," she said, tossing the shirt to the side. The breeze had picked up slightly and she felt goose bumps break out over her exposed skin. She let her eyes slide shut as he ran his hands up her spine and over her arms. His touch was feather light as his fingers skimmed her shoulders, his lips following his path. Her body was on fire as he pressed open-mouthed kisses on her collarbone and her fingers dug into the leather seat to keep her balance. One hand snaked behind her and she felt him open the clasp of her bra with two fingers and a giggle escaped her.

"Something funny?" he asked, looking up at her.

"It's not your first time doing that, hmm?" she said, hoping she sounded brave and flippant. Something changed in his eyes, and he looked serious.

"No, it's not. But I know it is for you. Are you positive about this?" With a shimmy of her shoulders, the bra slipped off and she dropped it on the floor near her shirt. Her nipples fully hardened in the cool air and she was pleased to see his eyes widen with surprise. Bending forward, she let her chest graze against the soft cotton of his shirt.

"Does that answer your question?" she asked, her hot breath on his ear. She reached out experimentally and bit down lightly on his earlobe and was rewarded with a strangled moan. Hands slithered up her torso and she felt his fingers close over her nipples, rolling and pinching them and she felt the corresponding pull from between her thighs.

She heard the clunk of her shoes on the floorboard as she kicked them off, and pulled his shirt off at the same time. All rational thought was wiped from her mind when she felt his tongue circle her already over sensitized nipple. It felt like all the blood was rushing downward and the throb was almost too much to bear. When she felt his teeth biting down, walking the fine line between pleasure and pain, she bit on her lip to keep from crying out.

He let go, licking and nipping his way back up her throat, and he waited for her eyes to refocus before he spoke.

"Don't hold back. If you want to scream, scream. I want to hear you," he whispered into the hollow of her neck. His hands were under her skirt now, and she rolled her hips unconsciously. When she tried to shift to a better position, her ankle hit the gearshift.

"Damn," she cursed as she leaned down to rub it. She felt his smile against her skin and she felt surprisingly unembarrassed. With a tug, she pulled his face away from her neck. That smirk was back on his face and she put on a pout.

"That really hurt, you know," she said.

He nodded sympathetically. "I'm sure it did. You poor, poor thing."

She smiled down innocently at him. "Maybe you could kiss it better?" He raised an eyebrow at her, the smirk widening by the moment.

"Do you think?" he replied and before she could agree, he lifted her up and tossed her on the backseat. With a giggle, she braced herself against the door, legs splayed over the wide seat. The metal of the door handle was pressed against the small of her back, but the predatory gleam in James' eyes as he slid over the seat made her forget the pain. He settled himself across from her and gingerly took her ankle in his hand, rubbing his thumb over the bone that she had hit. The joking mood of the past few moments was replaced by something infinitely more charged.

Bringing her foot up, he kissed her ankle lightly, the other hand, running up and down her calf. His touch was sending tiny shockwaves up her body and she watched the muscles in his back shift under the skin as his mouth and hands moved higher and higher.

She giggled when he found the sensitive spot behind her knee and gasped as he traced patterns over the sensitive skin over her inner thighs. One foot was braced on the floor and he was half sitting, half-lying on the seat between her legs. He moved forward and she couldn't look away as he pulled down the waistband of her skirt, taking her underwear with it. Automatically, she went to close her legs and cover herself.

"Don't," he said roughly. She closed her eyes as she felt his warm breath ghosting over the crest of her hipbone, leaving kisses in its wake. Not to be outdone, his hands had moved and she felt a calloused finger press against her clit, setting off an explosion of heat in her body. A voice she didn't recognized as her own moaned his name as he slipped one finger inside her, moving in and out with the rhythm of her hips. He increased the pressure and added another finger, stretching her and she could feel the tension in her body spiraling higher and higher.

Dragging his face towards hers, their mouths crashed together in a desperate kiss. She reached between them, her shaking hand fumbling with the buttons on his fly. On the second try, she got them undone and pushed them down, never breaking their kiss. When she opened her eyes, she saw his were open too, dark with lust. The heat of his half-freed erection was burning into her and she took the initiative, her hand wrapping around the base as he worked them off. She was surprised to feel how alive it felt in her hand, the blood pulsing in time with his heartbeat. Carefully, she moved her hand down and back, hoping she wasn't hurting him.

"Is this..." she said quietly, not knowing how to ask.

"Good, very good," he growled in her ear and slowly moved her so her back was flat on the seat. Letting go of him, she threw one arm up over her head, braced against the door. Her heart was thundering in her ears as her earlier self-confidence began to trickle away.

"James, I'm scared," she whispered softly. He ran the backs of his fingers over her cheekbone tenderly.

"I know you are, love. It'll hurt, but only for a second," he answered, rubbing himself against her clit, mixing the butterflies with delicious heat. "You trust me, yeah?"

She smiled up at him. "You know I do." Lowering his head, he caught her lips, nipping at her as he pushed into her. Instinctively, her muscles tightened, but she willed herself to relax. His strokes were shallow at first as she got used to the feeling of him inside of her. Soon, he'd gone as far as he could. She swallowed hard and nodded her silent permission. He plunged in hard and fast and the pain tore through her for only a second. Blinking, she felt tears run down her face.

"I love you," he assured her, kissing the tears away. Adjusting herself, she found an angle where the pain was less and answered him back.

"I love you too. More than anything."

Slowing his movements again, he moved carefully until she began to move against him. The feeling of fullness was amazing and her senses seemed to be flooded with him. She could hear his voice, humming her name softly in her ear. As the pace picked up, she felt her body beginning to coil tighter, like she might fly apart with the right touch. That's when she felt his hands between them, fingers straying to torture her as he slammed into her faster and faster.

Without warning, her entire body tensed and held. She was hyperaware of everything and with one small stroke, she came apart at the seams, shouting his name. It felt like the most dangerous pleasure ever. Her eyes fluttered back open to watch him. He was holding back, she knew, so he wouldn't hurt her. Running her free hand over the contours of his face, she felt his body go rigid and pulse inside her. His normally cool veneer was blown, since above her, he was shaking like a leaf. He lowered himself so they were skin to skin and kissed her lightly.

"Good?" he asked.

She brushed the hair off his forehead and grinned, an open, happy grin. For the first time, she was truly content.

"Amazing," she answered.


The sun reflecting off the water woke her up. They were in the backseat, cuddled together under an old blanket James had found in the trunk. Carefully, she tried to extract herself without waking him up, but the moment she began to move, he opened his eyes.

"Morning," he said groggily. He rolled his neck experimentally, trying to work out the kinks from sleeping with his head propped up against the car window. Stretching her legs as far as she could, she saw him staring at her feet.


He shook his head. "Green?" he asked, the humor evident in his voice,

"I happen to like my green nail polish, thank you," she answered with a wiggle of her toes. "You didn't seem to mind it last night." She couldn't help but smile when she said that. He caught the neck of the shirt she was wearing, his shirt and pulled her toward him.

"Your appalling choice of nail color was the furthest thing from my mind, I assure you," he said, kissing her soundly. His hand was running up her leg when her stomach rudely interrupted with a large growl.

They broke apart and she couldn't stop herself from laughing.

"Hungry, Lauren?"


A half an hour later they were sitting on the hood of the car, eating apples and staring out at the ocean. She wasn't nearly as sore as she thought she would be, but she was glad she'd had the foresight to pack her most comfortable jeans in her bag. James had changed his shirt, but was still wearing the pants he'd slept in and he'd lent her his favorite black sweater. The silence was comfortable, so she didn't understand where the question had come from.

"Do you miss your parents?"

He cocked his head, looking at her carefully. "Why do you ask?"

She shrugged. "I guess it's because you don't really talk about them much. I know you were young when they died, but you must remember something about them."

Finished with his apple, he tossed the core out onto the sand. "I do and I don't. My father traveled quite a bit, so it was mostly my mother and I. I mostly remember little things. A snatch of a lullaby she used to sing, the smell of her perfume, the freckle she had on her arm. After the accident, I was shuffled between relatives for a while before my Uncle Alex took me in." She scooted over so they were sitting hip-to-hip.

"I'm sorry they died," she said, taking his hand. When he turned to look at her, the sun lit him up like a golden angel.

"Me too," he said almost inaudibly. "What about you? Do you miss yours?"

"I, I don't know. Yes and no, I suppose. My mother and I get along fine, but my father and I, we're a bit like oil and water," she said, looking away. When he didn't say anything, she went on. "We were fine when I was younger. I was Daddy's little girl, but as I got older, we just couldn't seem to find any common ground. That's why I stopped going home except for during the summer. We fight constantly and he's always trying to shove me into this mold of who he thinks I should be, without really giving any consideration to what I want."

He put his arm around her shoulder and she leaned into him. "And your mother? What does she think about all this?"

Lauren sighed deeply. "She does what she can, but he's so stubborn that it's useless. My father and I fight, she tries to play peacemaker, and I spend most of my summer vacation sitting in my old tree house reading and counting the days until I go back to school. Not that I'm that much happier there, but at least I don't have to walk on eggshells everywhere I go."

"What if you had the chance to go away and do whatever you wanted, but you were never able to see them again. Would you do it?" he asked.

She turned the thought over in her head for a few moments before answering. "It would be tempting, but they are the only family I have. I really do love my mother and I know that in his way, my father loves me too. And I'm going to do what I want, regardless of what he says. I just hope that he'll come around to my way of thinking," she answered, looking at her watch. "We should head back. I have to check in at school in a few hours." Climbing off the hood of the car, she took another look around. She wanted to be able to remember everything about this place. He was standing behind her and when she turned around, he cupped her face in his hands.

"I love you, don't forget that," he said softly and she thought something in his tone was strange, but she dismissed it and kissed him, letting her arms slip around him.

"I love you too."

When they pulled back onto the main road, she looked back one more time at the sun lighting up the ocean, thinking this was best morning of her life.



Three weeks had passed since the term had ended and she still hadn't seen James. The night before graduation, he sneaked into her dorm room and they made love all night long. Creeping out at dawn, he kissed her and told her he'd see her later that day.

But he never showed up at the ceremony, making her look like a total fool in front of her parents. The situation was tense enough, since her father found out about her choice to go to Oxford as opposed to Georgetown or UVA, which were the places he had been pushing the hardest for. The screaming match in her dorm room had been embarrassing, but the dinner after had been the last straw. God knows what might have happened had Regina not stepped in and asked Lauren if she might be up to house sitting for her while she was in France. The month apart would give all parties a chance to cool down before she went home to Virginia for the summer.

She wouldn't even be going back if it hadn't been for her mother. Her original plan had been to search for a flat with James so they would be settled by the time university started in August. But her mother had insisted she come home and without him to back her up, she had no choice but to agree.

He called a week ago. Their conversation had been short and tense. Something had come up unexpectedly and he had no choice but to take care of it. His reasoning didn't sit quite right with her, but she didn't have time to ask him anything else before he abruptly ended the conversation.

It was agony, not seeing him. What could be so important that he would leave without any clue as to where he was and what he was doing? They had become so close and for him to start keeping secrets now was bothering her more than she'd like to admit. Racking her brain, she tried to remember if there had been some indication that he was upset with her for something, anything, but she came up empty.

The knock at the door had come at nearly midnight. She was awake and crept slowly to the window. When she saw him silhouetted in the porch light, her heart leapt into her throat. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.

For a moment, neither one of them moved. Although it had only been a few weeks, it felt like an eternity since she'd last seen him. His hair was shorter now, but other than that, he was her James.

"May I come in?" he asked, his tone strangely formal. Stepping back, she let him walk past her and she couldn't help but inhale deeply, feeling the curl of cigarette smoke that would forever remind her of him. The bolt locked, she turned to look at him.

"Where have you been?" she asked, suddenly not trusting herself not to cry. There was something wrong, she could feel it coming off him in waves. It made her sick to her stomach. "James, is everything all right?"

He shifted back and forth and wouldn't look her in the eye, which was completely unlike him. Approaching him, she put her hand on his arm and he jerked back from her touch, as if she had burned him.

"Lauren, this isn't working," he said, taking another step away from her. "I think we need to end this."

Her mind was reeling. "What are you talking about? You can't be serious, James." Finally she caught his eyes. They were different, harder somehow.

"While I've been away, I've had some time to think. This isn't what I want. You aren't what I want," he replied, his spine stiffening. "It was nice, but all things must come to an end."

It was like someone had punched her. She felt like she couldn't breathe. "Have you gone completely mad? Not a month ago you told me loved me, that you wanted us to move in together. Was that all a lie?" she asked in disbelief.

"I told you what you wanted to hear," he said coldly. "Did you really think it was going to work out? Life isn't a fairy tale, you know."

She blinked slowly, hoping that this was all a horrible dream and she was going to wake up staring at the ceiling. But he was still standing there, looking at her like she was a total stranger.

"James, please don't do this. You can't just throw this away. What can I do to convince you?" she pleaded, hating the ache that was building in her chest. "I love you, you're my best friend."

His face was neutral, as if she was some girl who'd asked him for the time. "Well, it's unfortunate that you put so much hope in me. I'm afraid you're going to be very disappointed."

Without thinking, she stepped into his space. Their bodies were almost touching and she was surprised to see that her hands were shaking. His body tensed as she cupped his face, her thumb running over his cheekbone. "What can I do to make you change your mind?"

His mouth, the mouth that had brought her so much pleasure, twisted into a cruel smirk. "I think I've already had the best you have to offer." She recoiled from him as if he had slapped her. Stumbling back, she tried to put as much distance between them as the room allowed before she spoke again.


"Because you made it so very easy," he replied with a shrug. "You're smart and determined, but your social skills are severely lacking. You practically cried out for me to play on your weaknesses. It was amusing, though. Our little tryst gave me something to help pass the time."

The walls seemed to be closing on her. It had all been a lie. Every word, every gesture was steeped sugar-coated poison.

It took a moment before she found her voice. "Get out."

"What, no more teary declarations of love thrown at my feet?" he sneered. "Too bad. I was rather looking forward to that." Opening the door, he threw one last smile over his shoulder. "Thank you for a most...enthusiastic year, Ms. Reed."

Taking the stairs two at a time, she retched until her stomach felt as hollow as her heart. She had been so stupid to think that he might love her. Her mind could not reconcile her James to the person who had been downstairs. The tissues were within reach, but she didn't bother. Nothing would ever be the same and she felt like her heart was split in half. Laying her face against the cool, white tile, she cried herself to sleep.


He was standing on the balcony, staring out at nothing. The weather had been dismally hot, even for Madrid. When she came out behind him, he didn't turn around.

"I know how you feel," Irina said softly from the doorway.

"That's not much of a comfort right now," he replied.

"You said it yourself; she wasn't ready to train as an asset. Maybe now she will be, someday."

He shook his head. "I wouldn't be so sure about that." In his peripheral vision, he saw her move to the table and run her fingers over the book there.

"Reading Jane Eyre, Julian? I never pegged you for the sentimental type," she remarked wryly.

Leaning over, he snatched the book. "I'm not."

Irina caught his eye and he knew that look. "She's not the first sacrifice you've made and she won't be the last," she said harshly. She laid the folder she was carrying out on the table. They were medical records of some kind, probably his next mission. He started at the name at the top.

"Besides, you're not old enough to be a father anyway."


Indian Summer

It all made sense. The botched job on the video, Jack Bristow's seemingly innocent interference in her investigation. His perfect daughter was a murderer.

"Now you should understand why I'd risk coming to you like this. I recently learned that Sydney Bristow murdered a father I never had a chance to know," Sark said roughly. She was still in shock, tracing the contours of Sydney's face with her fingernails, but the mention of his father made her remember of the morning at the beach. It was the first time she'd thought about in years. She never told Michael about it, or about him.

Sark swallowed and her eyes followed the line of his throat. She noticed he didn't smell like cigarettes any more. "I suspect you have your own reasons for disliking her; therefore I'm confident...that you'll relay this information to the appropriate parties."

She wanted to stop him as he reached for the door handle, to ask him if he really is who she thinks he is, or if her mind is playing tricks on her.

Their eyes met in the rearview mirror and for a moment, she recalled the look in his eyes on that last day, icy and callous. "By the way... I've rigged a weight sensitive charge to the underside of this vehicle. Once I leave you, I'll activate it. If you attempt to get out of the car before thirty minutes has elapsed, the charge will detonate. It has been a pleasure, Ms. Reed."

With a slight nod, he activated the charge and she watched him move with a grace she didn't remember him having before. The pictures were heavy in her hands and when she got to the end, she saw the disk tucked into the portfolio flap. Suspiciously, she slid it into the stereo and hit play.

With Mick Taylor's guitar in the background, she rummaged in her purse for her cell phone.

"Director Lindsey, this is Lauren Reed."


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