Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight
Convergence

Full Name: Isabelle Esperanza Flannery
Birth Name: Isabelle Esperanza Garza de Fuentes
Date of Birth: January 10, 1969
Place of Birth: New York City, New York
Place(s) of Residence: Valladolid, Spain; Gracia, California; New York City, New York
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Green
Height: 5’5”
Occupation: Actress, musician, teacher
Education: Bachelor of the Arts in Drama from New York University; Master of the Sciences in Education from the University of Valladolid
Parents: Maria Celina Fuentes (Mother, deceased), Alejandro Estaban Garza (Father, deceased), Jason Isaac Flannery (Stepfather), Delia Maureen Tomas (Stepmother)
Siblings: Jonathan Lamar Flannery (Brother, deceased), James Lisandro Flannery (Stepbrother), Darcy Aileen Flannery (Stepsister), Graciela Rosaura Garza de Tomas (Stepsister)
Other Relatives: Sophia Amelie Flannery (Daughter)
Criminal Record: None
Filmography: The Summer House (1979), Wicked (1981), Vice and Virtue (1982), The Moonlight Junction (1984), Sweet Oblivion (1986), The Year of the Tiger (1987), Legacy (1989), Meltdown (1990), The Devil You Know (1991), The Upside to Goodbye (1992), Clash (1993), Reverse and Reckoning (1994), Comin’ Out (1995), Whirlwind (1997), The Love-Me-Nots (1998)
Discography: “Shackles”, “Live and Let Die” (from Wicked); “You Better Get It” (from Comin’ Out); “Isolde’s Lullaby”, “The Queen’s Serenity”, “The Time Has Come” (from Whirlwind); “Sweetheart” (from The Love-Me-Nots)
Stage: Verve: The Musical (1977), Fortune’s Fools (1978) Our Town (1985), A Doll’s House (1990)

Scanning Isabelle Flannery’s stats gave Jack a bit of insight on what he had already known. The woman he had met just mere hours before seemed the careful type, the kind that would live within her means and avoid breaking the law. Even though she’d inherited half of her genes with Alejandro Garza, she had taken Jason Flannery’s name upon his marriage to her late mother. Isabelle had no criminal record, no whiffs of anything circumspect that indicated any criminal activity that escaped prying eyes. She had lived a quiet life, sliding into stage work shortly after she had become Isabelle Flannery, continuing with supporting roles in movies until taking lead roles in a string of films until her brother had died and Sophie had been born. Her venture into music in Europe lasted a couple of years; subsequently she became a teacher and disappeared from the limelight, adjusting easily back into normalcy.

He heard the sound of Nicole instructing Sophie on her math, and on that vein decided that he wanted to know more about the young woman who seemed to be attached to Isabelle’s hip. Much to his puzzlement, there was much unknown about the blunt young woman.

Full Name: Nicole Smith
Date of Birth: Unknown
Place of Birth: Unknown
Place(s) of Residence: Valladolid, Spain
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Height: 5’3”
Occupation: Administrative Assistant
Education: B.A. in English from New York University—

“If you wanna know anything, all you gotta do is ask, Jack.”

A man like Jack Bristow didn’t jump when he was startled or whirl around when he was suddenly surprised by a young woman like Nicole Smith. He didn’t even look away from the screen as he scanned the information shown to him. He didn’t even flinch. He was so stone cold that he simply said, “I prefer my way of doing things, Ms. Smith.”

Nicole crossed her arms over her chest. On top of being displaced from her home, being chased, shot at, and irritated by the aforementioned State Department Barbie, the fact that her CIA-appointed baby sitter (so to speak) was looking up her stats was deeply disconcerting. “Mm-hmm. Coward.”

Jack’s brows merely furrowed in a slight sign of astonishment. “Are you calling me a coward, Ms. Smith?”

He had intimidated others in the past, but it seemed there would no easily shaking Nicole Smith. “As I told you before, I call it like I see it.”

“Due to your age and experience, Ms. Smith, I doubt you can see past your nose.”

“Age ain’t nothing but a number. And additionally”—the adverb spewed from her mouth in five clipped syllables—“you have no clue what I have experienced without asking me first.” She shifted to her other foot. “So what you wanna know?”

Before Jack could open his mouth and speak, Sophia Flannery came bounding into the room, her dark brown curls bouncing around her cherubic face. He felt rather than saw the change in Nicole. Her stance relaxed and tension ebbed out of her young face. When she faced the little girl, her expression was patient, her tone light.

“Nicole, Nicole!” Sophie exclaimed. When she was sure she had Nicole’s attention, her expression changed, her mouth falling into a familiar pout.

“What’s the matter, Fee-Fee?” Nicole inquired the pouting girl in her midst. Jack noted that her voice was devoid of any strains of displeasure. It lifted his estimation of her a few notches. Just a few.

“I can’t do my math homework,” Sophie responded sullenly.

“Is it too hard?” Nicole queried. Sophie shook her head and Nicole’s right eyebrow arched. “Or is it that you don’t wanna do it?”

“Fractions are dumb,” Sophie commented. “I don’t know why we need them. You don’t need them to watch cartoons or play kickball.” She crossed her arms over her diminutive chest and pointed out with emphasis, “Mami doesn’t need fractions. So why should I?”

Jack, noting her defiant stance and her surly tone, figured the problem was probably not with the deplorable fractions themselves (as annoying as they could be at times) but with the fact that Isabelle was not there at the moment. While he would have been slightly annoyed at Sophie’s attitude any other time, Jack found himself feeling a small measure of understanding. Before Nicole could speak, the agent broke in.

“Everyone needs fractions, Miss Flannery.” Sophie shifted her green-eyed gaze to him, those eyes wide with shock. There was something about them that was familiar but Jack could not put his finger on what it was so he inwardly shook it off. “Even my daughter had math homework when she was little.”

“I bet she doesn’t use fractions,” Sophie pouted, not desisting in finding a way to get out of her math homework.

“Perhaps you can ask her the next you see her.” At Sophie’s inquisitive frown, Jack added, “Agent Bristow is my daughter.”

Sophie blinked in confusion. “I thought you were Agent Bristow.” Suddenly, as comprehension dawned, her eyes went huge with awe. “You are Agent Sydney’s daddy?”

“Yes I am,” Jack replied, a little amused at her childish amazement. But then again, he figured that someone as shrewd and physically dexterous as his daughter in the eyes of a seven-year-old would seem like a superheroine. So then, by association, that would make him almost godlike.

Fractions forgotten, Sophie bounded up next to Jack. Nicole took a step back and merely watched, enthralled by the scene before her. “Is her mommy an agent, too?” Sophie paused to consider this, infantile brow furrowed thoughtfully. “Maybe she uses a gun on the bad guys…”

Jack thought of Irina then, and when he did, something flitted in his brown eyes that had Nicole reassessing him. It was a strange moment, something she had no experience in her twenty and some odd years to describe. When he did speak again, Nicole was perceptive enough to notice the strained thought slightly nostalgic tone of his voice. He didn’t want to talk about this—or did he?

“Sydney’s mother was not an agent,” Jack told Sophie and watched as she lost some of her awe. As young as she was, there was some perceptiveness in her that was beyond her seven years. Her next statement proved it as she tilted her head at him with those large green eyes taking in his every move.

“But she’s not here is she? She went up to Heaven like Uncle John.”

Imagining Irina crossing the pearly gates of Heaven made Jack chuckle. Sophie frowned at him again, not understanding his sudden show of mirth. “Oh no—Sydney’s mother is definitely not with us, but she’s not in Heaven either.”

Sophie’s clapped her hands over her mouth as if she had made a major blunder. “Oh no!” she cried passionately. “Was she bad?”

Nicole stole a peek at Jack’s face and found that he was trying to keep his face schooled to stern lines. She pursed her own lips to keep from snickering. They locked eyes and Nicole summarily dismissed Sophie to finish her math, feeling that the loss of her composure was imminent.

Sophie grumbled at the sentence but bounded out energetically, tossing out a bright see you later! to Mr. Agent Bristow.

When they were alone, Nicole bowed her head and cleared her throat. When she lifted her head, her expression was carefully bland. It had to be, or the whole dynamic would implode—and who then would clean up the mess?

“I didn’t think she’d give you the third degree about Sydney’s mama and all that,” Nicole admitted with a smidgen of sheepishness. She shrugged and added, “Sorry.”

Jack placed his entwined hands on the tabletop and addressed her rather diplomatically. “I am curious as to how you found out about Sydney’s mother. How much do you know?”

“I just know that y’all thought she was dead and she wasn’t,” Nicole told him, casually lacing her thumbs in her beltloops. “If there’s more to it, I don’t know it.” She raised an eyebrow again as she read his expression. “There’s more to it. But I don’t wanna know. I know enough, thank you.”

Jack’s face went carefully blank as hers did earlier. “I don’t have to respond to that.”

“You already did.” She glanced at the laptop in front of Jack, considered a new tack. “But if it bothers you, I can tell you everything I know. No strings attached.”

It was Jack’s turn to consider the young woman in his midst. Facts and figures only gave an incomplete picture of a whole person, and for Nicole Smith there was not much of either to be had. So he was forced to go right to the source. He wondered what the catch was and didn’t bother hiding that train of thought.

“Will you answer any question I have? On any subject?”

“As long as you don’t ask me silly teenybopper shit like what my favorite color is or something.”

She obviously didn’t have anything to hide, but still Jack wondered what her motivations were. “Agreed. Ms. Smith,” Jack began as she turned to walk away, “why are you doing this?”

The answer didn’t require much thought, which told him that she meant it. Either that or she was good at lying on a dime. “Despite your overwhelming and not-so-subtle suspicion of me and Izzy and Sophie, I kinda wanna help.” Nicole shrugged again. “Call me crazy, I guess.”

“For lack of a better word,” Jack murmured, turning back to the computer screen. Getting that he was trying for some dry humor, Nicole said nothing but rolled her eyes and left the room to check on Sophie.

[—-]

Lauren Reed was a woman of many facets.

One moment, she could be vulnerable and needy, and in the next she could be cool and calculating. Her persona as loving wife to Michael Vaughn could be accessed as easily as flicking on a light switch, and right now, as she walked idly down the aisle at the neighborhood grocery store, the dimmer knob was turned to medium. Her husband was on an assignment in New York City, so she didn’t have to be ever-so-wifely. She could appear like a wife while not having to overly act like one.

Lauren savored these moments. Because, while being Michael Vaughn’s wife had some advantages, at the end of the day, it was just a job. An assignment.

She worked for the bad guys.

No, you wouldn’t have guessed that the attractive blonde in jeans and a green top was a spy, that she was gathering and passing along intelligence for a terrorist organization. Of course, that didn’t make her any less of what she was. It just made her good at what she did.

It just so happened that she was thinking about the man known as her husband. And, because of her job, wondered if he was hurt—or dead.

She had passed along the intelligence on the Globe to her handler but gleaned no new information from him when she had noticed his visible shock. In the absence of her handler’s explanation, Lauren wondered what was so important about the Globe. But, then again, every Rambaldi artifact was like a puzzle piece, and every fragment was an important part of a whole. That was what the rational part of her figured; however, her gut told her that there was another reason behind it entirely.

If I be so inclined to climb up beside you,
Would you tell me that the time just isn’t right?

She mused upon this as she fingered a jar of spaghetti sauce. No way in hell that Isabelle Flannery could really be connected to the Globe. It was bad enough everyone thought of Sydney Bristow as the Chosen One, but to have Isabelle linked to this as well?

“I prefer to have someone make it for me myself,” said a familiar male voice over her shoulder.

And if I ever find the key you hide so well,
Will you tell me that I can spend the night?

No amount of composure could hide Lauren’s shock when she turned to find Julian Sark, alive and well despite his injuries, behind her. Mundanely casual—or even smug, Sark was clad in jeans, a dark blue collared shirt and a dark blazer. She could see the faintest outline of the bandage on his chest and the one that covered the stitches on his neck was visible just above his collar.

Leavin’ your smell on my coat, leavin’ your taste on my shoulder.
I still fail to understand what it is about this woman.

When she didn’t say anything, he continued. “I was quite surprised to find, after our little encounter in the parking garage, that you were our organization’s mole within the CIA.” She lifted her chin, saying nothing, and waited for him to get to the point. “I have to admit, Ms. Reed, your talents are extraordinary. I took the liberty of doing some research before I came across you here. I have to say, your work is quite impressive.”

“While you were detained?” Lauren asked in a slightly ironic tone, stepping away to look at the boxed pasta. She was slightly wary of him and flattered at the same time, and wariness was so far battling flattery to the dirt. “I heard about your unfortunate encounter with my husband and his former lover.”

“It seems Alejandro Garza passed on his gifts of marksmanship to his offspring,” Sark remarked from behind her, “but you have my firm assurance that Isabelle Flannery will regret causing me physical harm. In the meantime, this meeting deals with bigger issues.”

Lauren paused by the angel hair pasta. “Oh? What issues could you possibly mean? And how do they involve me?”

“Quite frankly, Ms. Reed, I’m tired of taking orders when I should be the one making them. I know you were ordered to kill my father,” he admitted, slightly gratified to see her back tense. “However, I understand that, like me, you were dispatched to do a job. The circumstances that led me to Isabelle Flannery’s home were set in motion by the Covenant—an organization into which I have put considerable financial backing. It is because of the Covenant that I had to have a bullet hole taken out of my chest over a day ago.” He lowered his voice, but it wasn’t like anyone was paying attention to them anyway. “I think it’s time you and I joined forces, Ms. Reed. I think you dislike being a puppet as well as I do.”

If I could bottle up the chills that you give me
I would keep them in a jar next to my bed.

Sark looked deadly serious when she turned to him. She watched him carefully for any signs of subterfuge, as she was well-trained in seeking them out. But she saw nothing; either he was adept at hiding his true intentions or he really meant every word he’d said.

And If I should ever draw a picture of a woman
It is you that would come flowing from my pen.

“So you would like to join forces with me and stage a coup?” Lauren asked. She trailed a finger idly down a box of penne pasta as she considered the move. After all, her usefulness as Michael Vaughn’s wife was questionable with Isabelle Flannery now in the picture. Lauren’d had to contend with Sydney Bristow as a potential roadblock in the beginning, and another had been thrown in her path in the form of the ethereal Isabelle. She wasn’t a simpleton; Lauren had sensed the history that the other woman shared with her husband from the instant she’d come into Lauren’s sight. She needed insurance. She needed a stronger ally. As much as she hated to admit it, she needed Julian Sark.

Leavin’ your smell on my coat, leavin’ your taste on my shoulder.
I still fail to understand what it is about this woman.

She’d no sooner come to this conclusion when Sark stepped forward, so close to her that she could feel the heat pumping off of him. The sensation was mildly erotic, and she relished it like a cat being scratched on its belly after deprived of touch. After all, it had been a long time since she had been this close to any other man than Vaughn. It was new. It was distinctive. It was forbidden.

“So what do you think?” Sark asked, his breath warm on her ear. “You and I, working together?”

Helplessly melting as I stand next to the sun.
As she burns me, I am screaming out for more
Drink every drop of liquid, heap that I’ve become.
Pop me open, spoon me out on to the floor.

Clutching the box of penne in her hand, Lauren turned to face Sark. If she even so much as sneezed or hiccupped, their lips would touch. The thought made the close proximity even more stimulating.

Leavin’ your smell on my coat, leavin’ your taste on my shoulder.
I still fail to understand, fail to understand
Leavin’ your smell on my coat, leavin’ your taste on my shoulder.
I still fail to understand what it is about this woman.

“It sounds like a plan.” Lauren shifted away and their bodies touched for an instant. It was like a sample of perfume, intriguing and alluring. She’d already made her mind up to try it someday. It was just a question of when and where.

[—-]

After Sophie had been bathed, read to, and tucked into bed, Jack and Nicole sat at Sydney’s dining room table with a bottle of single-malt scotch between them. Nicole had claimed that she could hold her liquor like a man, so Jack was putting her to the test. He also figured it would act like a truth serum, to an extent, and allow for Nicole to lower her defenses. Whatever they were.

When Jack slid the bottle across the tabletop to Nicole, she frowned and stopped it with her hand. His mouth quirked in what looked like a smile—well, at least for Jack Bristow. “Oh, ladies first, Ms. Smith. I would be remiss if I took the first drink.”

Nicole chuckled and shook her head. “How cute of you.” She stared at him a moment longer then poured herself a couple of fingers of scotch in her glass. Without hesitating, she downed the contents of her glass without a flinch. She stared at him, her expression saying, Whatcha got to say now?

Jack nodded slightly. “I see that you’re a bit more resilient than you look. Let’s see how long that lasts.”

“Yes. Let’s.” She slid the bottle in his direction. “And the name’s Nicole. It makes me feel like I’m in trouble when you call me Ms. Smith in that high-school-principal voice of yours.”

“Fair enough.” Jack poured himself some liquor, downed it. “Then you can start by telling me why it is that most of the dossier that the CIA has on you has been carefully edited, Nicole.”

There was a long pause as this sunk in. Nicole’s eyebrows knitted together in a show of genuine shock. “Edited how?” He merely stared her down without speaking and she rolled her eyes to the sky. “Look, if there’s something you want to know about me, just ask.” She lifted a shoulder in a dismissive gesture. “A lot of crazy things have happened when…I was a child, and I don’t know why my dossier has been edited. Maybe somebody don’t want everybody to know about me. I can’t tell you. I ain’t a psychic and don’t claim to be.”

“So what about your family?” Jack inquired.

“You know about my family,” Nicole shot back sharply. Jack’s eyebrows rose at the firmness of her tone, and he nudged the bottle back in Nicole’s direction. She hastily poured herself another scotch then swallowed it furiously. “Isabelle and Sophie are my only family. I…” She pursed her full lips together as her nostrils flared and her jaw moved. When she had reached some semblance of calm, she spoke again. “I don’t remember that much before Isabelle found me.”

“Isabelle found you?” Jack asked, incredulous. “How did she find you? Did she just stumble across you in the street like an errant pebble? What do you mean by she ‘found’ you?”

“I don’t know what happened exactly. All I know is, one day I’m with her and her big brother John. And she’s been in my life ever since.” Nicole scratched her upper arm, an absent gesture. “I don’t remember much about what happened after that. John wasn’t exactly that forthcoming with the details, and by what he did say, I figured I didn’t want to know.”

“So you don’t know where you were born.”

“No.”

“Or who your parents are.”

“Nope. I mean, at this rate, you could probably uncover more than I could. You’ve got the damn CIA clearance at your fingertips. All I’ve got is a blank memory of the first decade of my life and a dead cop who probably knew more than he was saying.”

Nicole had a point. Jack had the connections and his standing as a senior officer with the CIA. The more she told him, the more he wondered where she came from—and the tugging need (something he could not explain or will away) to find out almost distracted him from evaluating her testimony. “The whole scenario looks circumspect, Nicole. I’m a bit shocked you didn’t question your origins or the circumstances which led you to Isabelle and Jonathan Flannery.”

“Living with Isabelle seemed a better deal than whatever I’d come from—according to John. I didn’t see any reason to think he was lying, though now I have a few questions for him that neither Isabelle nor I can answer.” Nicole slid the bottle across the table top in his direction and she lifted her own glass to her lips and took a sip. It seemed prudence was becoming paramount. “If you’re worried about Isabelle, I wouldn’t be. I mean, I know you’re supposed to, you know, wonder what people’s motives are and whatever.”

Jack picked up the bottle and poured a couple of fingers of the amber-colored liquid into his glass. “And what are Isabelle’s motives?”

“Honestly, Jack?” Jack said nothing, just stared at her in interest. “To make sure the ones she loves are happy and safe. That’s it.” Nicole gulped down more liquor then sighed. “Whether we like it or not, Michael Vaughn is one of them.”

“Do you have a problem with Agent Vaughn, Nicole?”

Nicole leaned back in her chair and tilted her head as she considered the question. Watching her, taking her in, Jack realized that she was shrewder than he took her for. Underneath the attitude and inability for tact was an intelligent young woman with heart and guts. She was capable of subterfuge—what smart woman wouldn’t be?—but Nicole knew that the truth was better most of the time.

“Do I have a problem with Agent Vaughn?” Nicole repeated. “Yes…and no. I was there when they found out John had died, and the man treated her the way she needed to be treated, like they were in it together. So then, no.” She paused to sigh then. “They slept together for the first time not too long after that. I could wish it didn’t happen but it did, so we’ll deal with that.

“Now, however, is another story. My biggest problem with him is that he didn’t tell his wife about Isabelle and that tears her up inside because she doesn’t want to cause any discord in his marriage. And it shouldn’t be her problem but his.”

“What’s the big secret? I’m just wondering, because if Isabelle and Vaughn were in some kind of romantic relationship, that part is extraordinarily apparent.” Jack slid the bottle back in her direction as he laid that question upon her. Your turn, he challenged without speaking.

Nicole stopped the bottle with her hand so abruptly that the liquid sloshed around in the bottle. She sent him a mirthless smile. “You mean, you didn’t see it?” Jack remained silent, so Nicole accepted that as an answer in the negative. “You mean, you didn’t notice it once when you were in their presence. Not once?” She leaned forward then as her brown eyes filled with a small measure of urgency. “Go in there and look at that little girl sleeping and tell me that you don’t see it.”

It didn’t take long for Jack to put it together. It had been hovering in the back of his mind like a bird, ready to swoop down at the right moment. “Sophie Flannery is Vaughn’s daughter.”

Nicole chuckled sardonically. “What does he win, Bob?”

“And Vaughn has known all along.”

Nicole raised a hand. She could hear the implied condemnation in his tone. “Now that is not true. He hasn’t known from the beginning.” As she recalled things from her memory, her face blanked, her eyes unfocused. “Isabelle didn’t tell him until after Garza threatened to kill him.”

Jack’s brow furrowed. “Alejandro Garza threatened to kill Michael Vaughn? Why?”

“First of all,” Nicole started, “Izzy’s daddy thought that he had something to do with John’s death. If you don’t know the story surrounding it, then you can probably look up all the sealed stuff; Isabelle didn’t tell me too much because she simply didn’t want me to know. Or maybe she wasn’t told everything. Not to mention, he’d knocked his daughter up and wouldn’t claim the child. That, actually, was Isabelle’s fault, but when she’d tried to tell her father, he blew up and threatened to kill him. This was not long after Vaughn married Bar—I mean, well, you know.

“Anyway, Isabelle, because she knew that her father knew that she was still in contact with Vaughn, told him the truth about Sophie. But she also told him that she was limiting their contact and he should leave her the hell alone. Even though they had their falling out, Isabelle didn’t want to take the chance that her daddy would kill him.”

Jack imagined the stubborn Vaughn and his reaction to Isabelle’s restrictions. “That must have gone over well.”

“You ain’t never lyin’.” Nicole exhaled slowly. “Vaughn had known Sophie existed all along, he just didn’t know who her father was. When…” Nicole appeared worried then, so Jack figured she was about to tell him something she didn’t want to hear. “After he’d thought your daughter was dead, he came to see Isabelle. Probably the last time they saw each other before the other day. Isabelle had trusted me to take care of Sophie while she visited with him.” Nicole fingered the rim of the glass but didn’t lift it to drink its contents. “When she came home, she spent two hours crying, with her head in my lap. She said she could see the desolation in his eyes mirrored in his soul. She held his hand and it felt cold like the life was being sucked out of him. And I’d asked her why she didn’t tell him. She’d said—and this is what she’d told him—she didn’t want him to feel he was supposed to be tied down to her. She also didn’t want to give him that shock of finding out he was a father on top of his grief for Sydney. She didn’t tell him that. But I didn’t understand, but she knew him better than I did.

“When a single woman has a baby, everyone’s always on the guy to marry her and stuff, and yeah, I understand it, but does it have to be that way? Honestly? And she knew Vaughn would be after doing the right thing. Just think if Sydney had come back and he was married to Isabelle.” Nicole shook her head. “I mean, damn. That would be worse than anything with Sophie involved.”

“A child in the midst of any of this is an invitation for trouble,” Jack remarked.

Nicole gave a firm, decisive nod. “Truer words.”

The front door opened then, and voices filled the entryway. There were more than a few bumps and curses, Jack and Nicole shared a look. What had happened?

* “Woman” originally performed by Maroon 5. Written by Jesse Carmichael, Ryan Dusick, Adam Levine, Michael Madden, and James Valentine.

 

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