Smart Boy
by zara hemla

"Her memory still lingers
cause I burned all my fingers"
--Tom Petty

It's not a dark alley they meet in, but a vast, brightly lit ballroom in Los Angeles. The Radisson Hotel, shiny and tall in the midst of many other shiny buildings, is virtually deserted at one in the afternoon. Sark feels uncomfortable standing in the middle of the blank hardwood floor, holding nothing in his hands, a tenet dictated by his contact, Lilah Morgan.

He's already gone over the strange requirements of his meeting with Ms. Morgan, found nothing odd enough to object to, and so here he is, even if he feels like jumping every time a door slams. He'd known that Lilah Morgan was strange -- Irina had already warned him. Actually, she'd used the word "eccentric," twisting it in her lovely voice and smiling so he could see exactly what she meant. She'd said, "Lilah Morgan works for a law firm in Los Angeles that claims to represent demons. Ironic, isn't it?"

He'd deadpanned back to her: "City of Angels?" and she'd nodded.

"Smart boy," she'd whispered, and her smile had lit him from the inside. She'd gone on to tell him about the virus that Ms. Morgan was willing to broker to the Derevko organization, provided she got some information on the Rambaldi documents. Irina had that information, but only because of moles in the CIA. That damned Bristow girl was so quick, they were hard- pressed to get anything about Rambaldi before she did.

When Sark had complained about Agent Bristow, Irina had hushed him quickly. "And let her be," she'd said, "let her be." Sark didn't know why, but he had an inkling. Irina'd spent ten years in the United States, after all. It wasn't impossible. But in spite of the intrepid Agent Bristow, Irina still got the information. Bristow didn't know everything, though she thought she did.

Sark smiles, really smiles, at that. The girl is cocksure, but she has holes in her education a mile wide. Jack Bristow gives her info on a need-to-know basis, and though the basis is usually there, sometimes it isn't. To see her face someday when she finds out! Never trust a double agent, girl, even if he is your father.

"Something funny?" The silky voice comes from the dim edges of the dance floor, and Sark stands still, not turning, not acknowledging that someone has the drop on him.

The woman continues, "Something you want to share with the class?" and steps into the sharp light of the ballroom. She walks toward him, holding his eyes, like a stalking cat. He watches her face but sees the other things, the things that a man can't help noticing. She's built like the personification of LA: tall, solid, curvy. She wears a blue skirt that shimmers, a white blouse, and four inch black heels. And sheer silk stockings in the lovely, most aptly named color: nude.

Sark loves real American women. In Russia, women are fat. Most are slovenly, many don't even bathe. It's the same way in Europe (though that situation is improving). And even here, some women are stick-thin and look like you could break them over your knee. Bristow is like that, all points and edges. Ick. This woman, whom Sark decides is Lilah Morgan, looks like she could outeat any man at the IHOP. Sark doesn't grin in appreciation, because she's still his adversary, but a light in his head switches on, illuminating his reptilian brain in red. If he'd known the slang term he'd have used it silently: hello, nurse.

She strides up and offers her hand. "Lilah Morgan." Irina was right: she's eccentric. She stares him down; she doesn't ask him who he is. He can only assume that he's been photographed by Wolfram and Hart. Sark wishes that Irina had given him a photo of her. He could've pinned it up on his wall at home. Maybe he'll ask when he gets back.

"Hello," he says. He shakes her hand. On her wrist he sees a gold watch and a thick, black leather bracelet with two silver rings sewn onto it. The skin around the bracelet is red, as if it's been chafing her very recently. He arches an eyebrow and looks up into her amused eyes.

"Did I take you away from something important?" he asks her. He has sworn to keep his mind clear, but it's very difficult to think about anything but how she would look stretched out, spread-eagled, submissive. And she knows it too. In the intelligence business, any little thing can give one person the edge. Sark fights the images and wins the battle, if not the war.

"No," she says. "All my appointments are for later." Her white blouse, up close, is moderately transparent -- she is wearing something red beneath it. Sark can feel the heat rise and desperately says femme fatale to himself over and over. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly.

"Do you have the item?" he asks. He'd meant to make small talk, find out about the demonic law firm, but she's unsettling in more than one way. He tells himself he can be on a plane by four o'clock for certain. Be back in Moscow in eighteen hours. Be done with this. He begins to reach into his pocket, but her touch on his wrist stops him.

"What are you doing with that, smart boy?" she asks. "I said nothing in the hands."

"Getting your disc," he says, barely restraining himself from speaking further, saying something foolish like, you stupid bitch.

"I'll get it," she says, and slides her hand inside his jacket. Stunned into immobility for the first time in maybe ten years, he lets her do it. She acquaints herself briefly with the space between his coat and chest before he finds the voice to say, "Inside pocket. Jacket." By the time she finds the disc and palms it, he can feel his hands shaking. He wants her so badly that he can barely stand. What an advantage she has, sharp as a bottle's edge.

Does she have something in her blood? he wonders hazily. Is it the smell? He can't smell anything, but he's read articles about pheremones. She seems to have them sewn into her skin. It's disconcerting and it makes him angry. Why did Irina send him? Why didn't she come herself? Was this planned between them?

She pockets the tiny silver disc and then, seemingly out of nowhere, produces a small box. It seems to be made of crystal or heavy glass and has black-inked etchings in the side of it. She shows him which side is right side up, places it in his palm carefully.

"Don't open it until you have some space -- a space as big as this one. It's contained right now, but if you let it out, it's gonna be huge. A huge red ball, kind of. Ms. Derevko has the details. Do you get it? Don't open it. It won't break -- it can't -- but don't mess with it."

"I'm not stupid," he manages to say. "That's the last thing I'll do."

She looks at him and smiles, and something brighter than both of them takes hold. "I knew you were a smart boy," she says, and she lays her hand on him, under his collar, right where his neck and shoulder meet. It's like being struck by lightning, is the last thing he thinks before he steps forward and kisses her, trying to transmit the fury and the blood pounding through him like his own personal virus.

He's rarely kissed anyone in the light -- it's always been half-shadowed, like a crime. But she has no flaws to hide, and she kisses like a woman who needs the contact. He tangles his fingers around her wrist, hooks into the black bracelet and tugs. He feels her breathe once, twice, and then surge up against him. He drops to his knees on the hardwood, taking her down with him. They meet bite for bite, and time stops for him. All that's left is her neck, long and white, and her hair, tracing tiny lines across his skin as he tries to absorb the smell of her.

Finally he speeds back into real time as she pushes him away roughly. He sprawls back onto the parquet and stares up at her. She's on her knees with her shirt untucked and half- unbuttoned. Two pink patches burn on her neck. And she looks like she isn't finished with him, like she's going to show him heaven in LA, right here with anyone walking by. But she pushes herself up instead, tossing her hair back and fumbling with her buttons.

"Lilah," he says. She doesn't answer. When she notices a run in her silk hose, she frowns and curses quietly, but she doesn't answer him. He tries again. "Lilah -- "

She looks up at him flatly, everything but danger gone from her eyes. It seems genuine, and he wonders if maybe he was supposed to have been the edge that Irina had over Lilah. If so, it hadn't worked. "Give the box to Irina. And I don't want to meet with you again. Tell her to send someone else for the next phase." She turns smartly on her heel and strides again toward the ballroom exit. At the door, she half-turns again, giving him a lovely profile view of the small red bite under her jaw.

"Get up, Sark," she says. "Anyone could see you there." And she is gone, the click of her heels dulling on the hotel's carpeted hall.

Unsteadily, he gets to his feet. Questions buzz him like fighter planes: Why hadn't Irina sent someone else? How did Lilah do that? How did she make me do that? What do I do now?

He grins at himself as he exits the ballroom, walking back into shadow, burning under his skin. It isn't often that he doesn't get what he wants, and it's intriguing. He decides not to tell Irina about Lilah's last instructions. If it's that important, Lilah can relay the message herself. He half-hopes that she doesn't.

His flight leaves in two hours and the lead crystal box weighs down his pocket. A giant red ball, she'd said. Ball of what? Irina would know. He leaves the hotel, humming Tschaikovsky, and hails a cab. Nowhere to go but home.


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