Chapter One

Chapter One
Tuesday

What was it exactly about Tuesday that made it absolutely unbearable?

Sydney Bristow pondered this as she made her way through the security checkpoints at the JTF Building Tuesday morning. Tuesday was the odd day of the week that could claim no thrill; it was the day after Monday, the beginning of the work week. It was right before Wednesday, the middle of the week where some of it was behind you and but the rest of it was in front of you, however you looked at it. Thursday was the last quiet day before the stimulating weekend, and Friday was the end of the work week. Saturday was devoted to the extracurriculars you wouldn’t dare partake in during the week, and Sunday was a day of relaxation before it all began anew. Tuesday was the oddball day of the week, and for some unforeseen reason, she felt it more than usual today.

Sydney walked through the pen of desks housing her fellow CIA agents, passing a smile here, volleying a hello there. All the while, her eyes scanned the room looking for that one person she wanted to see and yet wanted to avoid all at the same time.

And because it was Tuesday (if it had been Monday or Wednesday, she’d have found him without incident and avoided him, and if it had been Friday or Thursday, she’d have realized that looking for him was stupid and went to her own desk instead), she’d looked up at the exact moment he looked up and their eyes met.

Dammit!

Sydney was not sure what had happened between her and Michael Vaughn over the past couple of weeks, but the dynamic between them had transformed. Now they could barely swap pleasantries with one another without Sydney catching the undercurrent of unease emanating from him. It was almost as if he had begun regarding her as an enemy, and a simple stare from her eyes made him uncomfortable.

The skin-bristling gaze held for a few humming moments before the voice of Eric Weiss broke through the invisible link between the former lovers.

“So are you going to just stare at him all day or are any actual words going to pass between you two?”

Sydney snapped out of it (and quite smoothly if she said so herself). She turned to Weiss with a wry smile. “Well, good morning to you, too.” As she spied Lauren Reed walking toward her husband, Sydney turned to Weiss, a question on her lips. “So how did the date with the redhead go last night? Any luck?”

“Oh, Cordelia?” Weiss sighed then, a breath laden with pleasure. It seemed he had forgotten about her and Vaughn—momentarily. “Sydney, she was a pure delight. Smart, funny, gorgeous…”

“Yeah, but did you have any luck with her or not?” Sydney asked with a touch of impatience.

Weiss laughed heartily. Only Sydney would ask him such a question. Of course, such was the nature of their friendship that they could have total and utter frankness without awkwardness or anxiety. “We had a rather chaste goodnight kiss on her doorstep before exchanging farewells.” Sydney’s eyebrows arched. “She invited me in for a nightcap, but I refused. Well, this time.”

Sydney dimpled. “And what if she asks next time? Will you take her up on it?”

Weiss did not get to answer because the happy couple walked their way. Weiss greeted his friend and his wife warmly. Sydney, meanwhile, only offered a curve of the lips as a gesture of salutation. Vaughn greeted Weiss…and Sydney as if it were an afterthought.

When they left the duo in their wake, Weiss turned to Sydney. “Oh-kay. So what’s going on between you two?”

Sydney threw up her hands in a gesture of utter bafflement. “I don’t know! I wish I knew. He doesn’t talk to you? Because he certainly doesn’t care to mince words with me these days.”

“He hasn’t said anything to me.” Weiss shrugged then. “Maybe it’s that time of the month.”

Sydney couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurd notion. “That time of the month, Weiss?”

“Maybe he and Lauren share a box of Tampax,” Weiss suggested, making Sydney laugh. “There’s that smile.” Sydney’s dimple deepened as Weiss placed his hand on her shoulder. “We’d better get to the briefing before we’re late.”

Sydney agreed, and together they walked into the briefing room. Lauren and Vaughn were already there, along with Marshall Flinkman, the resident mechanical genius, Marcus Dixon, their superior and the director of their division. Also in attendance was Sydney’s father Jack Bristow.

Sydney sent her father a smile from across the room in a gesture of salutation. He faintly smiled back, then took his seat. Things were currently uniform for the father and daughter; the biggest upset they’d had over the past few weeks was the discovery of what had happened during the two years Sydney had been missing, and Sydney felt, for the most part, that she was recovering quite well from the shock of it all.

She sat up straight and paid attention as Dixon began the briefing.

“We’ve just received intel about a man named Alejandro Garza,” Dixon informed his team. “Garza was suspected of having Covenant ties, but the details were never confirmed. He was also an avid follower of Rambaldi. The information we received also reveals that he is in possession of an artifact called the Globe that he has housed in a massive collection at his home in Spain. He was in negotiations to auction off the artifact when he was killed during a trip to Russia three months ago. The information we collected indicates it was an arms deal gone wrong. His body wasn’t found until two weeks ago.”

“Do we know what the Globe is or what it does?” This came from Lauren.

“Not as of yet. But I am pretty sure that, now that Garza is dead, that the Covenant will try to move in and confiscate the Globe.” Dixon slid two file folders in Sydney and Vaughn’s direction. Dread snaked up Sydney’s spine as she realized that she would be accompanied by Michael Vaughn on the trip to…where were they going again?

“Sydney, Vaughn—you two are to go to Valladolid to pose as two lawyers from the firm Garza employed at his youngest daughter’s birthday party,” Dixon continued, as if hearing her question. “Information about your identities is in the folder along with specs for Garza’s mansion.” Dixon gestured to Marshall, who sat off to his right. “And now Marshall will go over the Op Tech for this mission.”

While Marshall gave a rundown on the devices he’d constructed to open the vault-like quarters of Alejandro Garza’s collection, including something that resembled a hanky, Sydney slid her eyes in Vaughn’s direction.

Vaughn gave Marshall his attention as he went through his Op Tech briefing but something lurked in his eyes. As if he sensed her staring at him, his eyes shifted to her. His eyes flicked over her briefly, then he looked back to Marshall. When the briefing ended, Vaughn calmly rose and left the room without a backward glance.

“This is ridiculous,” Sydney muttered under her breath. She stalked out of the briefing room, intending to seek out Vaughn so they could straighten this out once and for all.

Sydney strode through the agents’ pen, focused only on one point: Michael Vaughn’s back. With her mouth set and her brown eyes determined, the other agents merely stayed out her of her path. She’d have mowed them down otherwise.

She paused behind Vaughn, intending to spew her grievances about his none-too-subtle behavior. He was on his computer typing furiously and did not hear her approach. She fell into a faintly combative stance, feet apart, hands on hips. Her lips parted, the words she had in her head on the tip of her tongue.

They froze and died when her eyes focused on Vaughn’s computer screen.

An e-mail window was up, confined to about half his screen. The message was addressed to a mamaesperanza at some domain she didn’t recognize. Her sharp eyes spied the words on the screen as her stunned brain tried to pick them apart and find some meaning behind them.

This arrangement is unfair… Keeping me from what I obviously deserve is not only hurting me, but her…

“What are you doing?” Sydney inquired before she could stop herself.

Vaughn minimized the window and spun around in surprise. Now, on another day, Michael Vaughn would have been able to think fast on his feet and come up with a dynamite excuse for composing a personal e-mail of this nature to someone…who wasn’t Lauren. Or at least he would have been able to come up with some compelling indignation.

But it was Tuesday. So of course his reasoning skills were shot.

“I…” He tried to cover speechlessness but his heart was thumping in his throat and his mouth was dry. Sydney just stared at him warily. “This is not the best time…”

At that moment, Lauren came onto the scene, the clicking of her high heels filling Sydney with a bit of exasperation. And of all the moments… she thought.

“Hello, darling,” Lauren greeted her husband. Some of Vaughn’s wariness abated—only fractionally because, after greeting him, his wife focused on his former girlfriend with something resembling…camaraderie? It was disconcerting. “You know, I was thinking, Sydney, perhaps you and I could get together one of these evenings for some dinner.”

“Um, sure,” Sydney agreed a bit absently. “We’ll have to set a time and place.” She glanced down at her watch. An out. A trite and transparent one, but quite effective. She smiled apologetically at the duo, looking pointedly at Vaughn. “If you would excuse me, I have to go and pack for the trip.”

With that, Sydney walked away smoothly as Vaughn inwardly kicked himself. Damn Tuesday.

[—-]

After Sydney left, Vaughn raised irritated eyes to Lauren. Since Sydney had walked away and left him with his emotions swirling dangerously, Vaughn found himself taking out on Lauren before he could stop himself. “And what was that all about?”

Lauren looked at him with innocence edged with confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Suggesting a dinner date with Sydney.” When Lauren pursed her lips together, he continued. “We see her all the time at work; I think that’s enough.”

“I just want to make things better between us, after all,” Lauren explained, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Remember when she first came back and we were at each other’s throats? Would you rather have it that way, Michael?”

Vaughn sighed. Lauren was right. Not to mention, her heart was in the right place. She was just attempting to make a strange situation better. Who could blame her?

“You have a point,” Vaughn told her. “I…I’m being silly.” He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “You have my blessing to be friends with Sydney if you want.” He glanced at his watch. “I have to go home and pack for the trip. I’ll see you later, okay?”

Lauren exchanged goodbyes with her husband and watched him walk away. Anyone paying cursory attention to her expression would have seen a faint smile that indicated that she thought her husband was silly sometimes, but she would miss him while he was away. She was the typical loving wife.

But something else lurked in the depths of her light eyes that would have been noticed at a closer look. Something dangerous.

 

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