The drive through Valladolid was uneventful, even anticlimactic after the skirmish an hour before. Sydney, mouth set in a line, refused to talk to Vaughn as much as he refused to talk to her. Sydney watched Vaughn sidelong as they pulled up to the pretty little house. His face was unreadable, hard as stone as he parked the car in the driveway behind a well-kept gray sedan.
Vaughn cut the engine but made no move to get out. The bruise he’d gotten from that night’s scuffle stood out in stark contrast on his pale skin, and in noticing that, Sydney’s worry grew despite her irritation with him. She, in all of her memories of when she and Vaughn fought in tandem to take down SD-6 and Arvin Sloane, could not remember a moment when she had recalled him this visibly anxious.
“Vaughn,” she began, “what are we doing here?”
His grip tightened on the steering wheel until his knuckles were nearly bone-white, then, without warning, he forced himself to release it.
“You will understand soon, Sydney,” Vaughn said, but didn’t look at her. “Just trust me.”
A lot of bridges
I shouldn’t be so scared to burn
“How?” Sydney asked. “How can I trust you when you hold me at arm’s length?” The emotion in her voice reverberated through the car before she could rein it in. “You’ve been treating me like I don’t exist, Vaughn. We barely talk to each other—”
A lot of lessons
I shouldn’t be so scared to learn
“Just do as I say,” Vaughn said forcefully. With that, he got out of the car and slammed the door behind him.
If I could lose the worst of me
Sydney sat in the passenger seat for a few moments before getting out. She inhaled, trying to gain some composure. She didn’t know what sort of entanglement she was getting herself twisted up into, but she found herself pulling the handle to the door and getting out of the car.
Hold on to what remains
And all I need to know is you change with me
And help me be the most that I can be
And turn into the one last missing piece
When it all comes down
The door opened when they were halfway across the yard. The woman that stepped out was about five-five. Dark, curly hair was tamed into a French braid that trailed her spine and contrasted with a champagne-colored sweater. Her feet were bare, peeking out from under the hem of a pair of comfortably worn jeans. Her eyes were filled with shock as she stared at Vaughn, mouth slightly parted as if she wanted to speak. Sydney, a few steps behind Vaughn, caught onto the overwhelming vibes immediately; they knew each other.
When it all comes down
“How did you find me?” the woman asked, her voice thick with emotion.
Vaughn took a step closer as the sound of cartoons floated out to them. The woman’s mouth flattened out into a grim line, and the astonishment that had dulled her seemed to be fading. She was sharper now, and her edges were honed with anger. Sydney also sensed protectiveness but couldn’t pinpoint a reason why such would be present.
“I know I made a promise, but this is very important,” Vaughn told her in his own defense. He didn’t want to incite her rarely unleashed wrath by making this sound like a trivial visit.
“A matter of life and death?” she asked with a bit of sarcasm in her voice. She crossed her arms over her chest. “For you to have broken your promise to me, it better be.”
He stared at her unflinchingly. “It’s about your father.”
She blanched then, and her eyes went wide. Her arms fell limply at her sides as Vaughn did not take the words back. Anger was pushed aside by that overwhelming shock that had consumed her when she’d heard the car pull up. But she recovered quickly, nodding as if she were trying to put things together in her head.
“Come inside,” she said simply. “I think we’d better talk in there.”
They followed the woman into the house, and the smell of sugar and roasted meat, along with the sound of cartoons, intensified as they moved into the heart of the home. There were touches of color and eclectity in throw rugs and knickknacks, and the presence of toys hinted at a child somewhere, unless you thought the woman was into cartoons. She stopped in a room that resembled a study except for the memorabilia that covered a wall.
Sydney wandered over to the wall, trying to find some clues to the woman’s identity. There were numerous acting awards, along with trophies given for her talent of song. A poster announced an epic performance from La Bella Cantante that was dated some years ago. On the poster was a younger version of the woman, different than the live version only in a slight fullness of the cheeks and the application of makeup.
Silence ensued as Vaughn sat down in a chair and she stood leaning up against the desk. She watched Sydney with a bit of amusement before turning to Vaughn.
“She’s as beautiful as you said she was,” the woman remarked.
Sydney whirled around, frowning. She stared at Vaughn, who looked slightly uncomfortable. And quite honestly she wasn’t too broken up about that aspect.
Vaughn cleared his throat then. “Actually, this is Sydney Bristow, one of my co-workers. She’s not…my wife.”
The woman gave Vaughn a startled look and he nodded imperceptibly. “I see,” she merely said. She turned to Sydney then. “I’m Isabelle Flannery, by the way. As if you couldn’t tell from the wall.” She saw Sydney’s eyes flicker toward the poster. “They called me La Bella Cantante and it caught on everywhere. They used such a trite phrase, I suppose, since I had a large Italian following. Even though singer is pretty much the same in Spanish and in Italian…” She waved a hand then as if to dismiss that train of thought. “I suppose we should change the subject.”
“When was the last time you came into contact with your father, Ms. Flannery?” Sydney wanted to know. She felt that Vaughn was going to take a little longer than she liked to get to the bottom of things.
“Call me Isabelle. No need to be so formal.” She paused then, considered the question. She responded, “The last time I had physical contact with my father was six years ago. However, I came into possession of some items from his collection after his death three months ago. Since I had no need for it, I donated most of it to a museum my friend owns in California. I didn’t feel the need to keep things I had no desire for.”
Vaughn and Sydney shared a glance before she turned her attention back to Isabelle. “Did you and your father have a falling out, Isabelle?”
A mirthless smile transformed her mouth. “It was quite a falling out,” Isabelle replied, having no trouble answering the question. “We disagreed on a very”—she slid her eyes in Vaughn’s direction—“important aspect of my life. He disowned me, and when Alejandro Esteban Garza does something, he never does it halfway. Luckily, as I had been working all of my adult life at that moment, it didn’t really matter. I was independent enough to support myself.”
What does this have to do with Vaughn? Sydney wanted to ask, as she caught Isabelle’s eyes cutting in his direction, but she felt that it wasn’t completely essential to know at the moment.
“Do you know anything about a man named Milo Rambaldi?”
“Yes,” Isabelle and Vaughn said in unison. Sydney’s brow quirked at their accord and, to this, Isabelle added, “Unfortunately. My father had been obsessed over the name and everything that went along with it for some years. Michael knows because, before I limited our contact—”
“Limited our contact?” Vaughn repeated ironically. “You call telling me to stay the hell away from you after you drop a bombshell on me merely limiting our contact?”
“This is not the time to argue about this,” Isabelle shot back in a soft, firm voice that, despite its pitch, was filled with jagged teeth. “You obviously need my help locating something that my father possibly gave to me when he died or otherwise you would not be here. I am not obtuse enough to think that this is a nice social visit where we can toss out false pleasantries and reminisce about my dear late papa.” Anger and resentment flashed in Vaughn’s eyes and he said nothing. Since he was obviously stung by Isabelle’s comment for the moment, Isabelle turned to Sydney. “Tell me what I can do.”
Sydney was relieved by her candor and complied with her request. “We are looking for a Rambaldi artifact called the Globe. We received intel that your father had it and that others were seeking to take it into their possession. Unfortunately, when we went to retrieve it ourselves, we found that your father must have moved it, perhaps hid it before he died.”
“And you think it might be among the things he bequeathed me.”
Sydney nodded, relieved that she understood so quickly. “Yes.”
A few humming moments passed as Isabelle hesitated to think. “Unfortunately, I don’t recall ever seeing a globe—”
A crash came from the kitchen at that moment, breaking into Isabelle’s statement. There was a soft cry, some exchange in Spanish, then rapid footsteps in their direction, getting louder as they neared. Sydney distinguished two sets of footsteps, one belonging to an adult and one belonging to a child. Isabelle excused herself to see what the clamor had been about, but the duo had entered the room before she could handle the situation without Sydney and Vaughn as witnesses.
“¿Qué pasó?” Isabelle asked the petite dark-skinned young woman that had strode into the room.
“Nada,” said the woman. “She got a little excited with the green beans, spilled a couple.” She waved a hand in dismissal. “It’s fine. The paella’s done, though.” She took a long look around the room, noticing Vaughn and Sydney with a suspicious frown. She leaned and spoke softly so that only Isabelle could hear her. “Everything all right?”
“It’s a long story,” Isabelle admitted. She looked down at the small figure she could see hiding behind Nicole’s legs. She smiled and said in a melodious sing-song voice, “Fee-Fee, qué estás haciendo?”
“No estoy haciendo nada, Mami,” was the muffled reply.
Wordlessly, Isabelle crouched down so that she was on eye-level with the child and held her hand out. Cautiously, the child peeked out from around the legs. She stared at her mother for a long moment before coming out. Isabelle snaked her outstretched hand around her daughter’s waist and brought her to her chest. She looked up at the woman meaningfully. The woman nodded and left the room.
Isabelle stood after a moment, her daughter on her hip. The little girl had her head buried in her mother’s shoulder, and hair as curly and rich as Isabelle’s veiled her face. Vaughn rose to his feet then. Something was different in the room, and Sydney felt it; volumes of history had filled the space between Isabelle and Vaughn and it had not any space to include her.
“Can I?” Vaughn inquired, seeming humbler in the presence of the little girl. Sydney felt that she knew why, but the reason had not quite dawned…
Isabelle did not respond, instead turning to the little girl. It seemed the right thing to do, after all. It was the girl’s choice. “Fee-Fee? Mírame, por favor.” A couple of beats later, the girl raised her head. “Hay alguien que yo quiero que tú conozcas.” She gestured to Vaughn. “Se llama Michael Vaughn y él es hombre muy simpático. Es una persona muy importante para mí también. Pues, no tanto como tú.” She tweaked the girl’s little nose and turned to Vaughn. As the girl’s grip loosened on her mother, Isabelle passed her to Vaughn. Vaughn placed her expertly on his hip. They stared at each other, and Sydney came closer, trying to get a better look at the little girl.
“Cómo te llamas?” Vaughn asked the little girl in his arms.
“Sophie,” said the little girl. “My name is Sophie.”
Isabelle smiled gently and pushed a lock of Sophie’s hair away from her ear. “Her name is Sophia, but Sophie sounds softer and we like it better. Verdad, Fee-Fee?”
“Sí, Mami.” She turned a charming smile onto Vaughn that would have buckled a Covenant cell leader. “But Mami and Tía Nicole call me Fee-Fee. They’re silly.”
Isabelle tickled Sophie and made her laugh. Sydney smiled faintly at the huge grin on Vaughn’s face. He stared at Sophie as if he were fascinated with every move she made, from the involuntary brush of hair behind her ear to the cute little smile that brightened her features. Sydney noticed that she looked the splitting image of Isabelle; she had inherited her mother’s nose and mouth along with the light dusting of freckles on her nose. But there was one thing that took Sydney’s breath away when she noticed.
She had Vaughn’s eyes.
* “All I Need to Know” performed by Emma Bunton.