Christmas Reunions: Sydney *PG* 1/1
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Situations not mine. Interpretation mine. Deal.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
CATEGORY: Angst, romance, Diana/Jeffrey, Christmas fic.
SUMMARY: For Diana, Christmas in Sydney is a time of reflection, growth, and renewal.
DEDICATION: For everyone who has to spend this Christmas away from those they love.
RELATED STORIES: Christmas Reunions is a loose collection of stories for Christmas 2001, celebrating XF supporting women and the unique celebrations of Christmas around the world. See also St Petersburg (Marita), Vancouver (Kim) (coming soon), and Tucson (Reyes) (coming soon).
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org.
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2002 Eligible.
Her feet hurt.
Breathing out her relief in a sigh, Diana worked her stilettos off her feet. She cast an envious look at a gaggle of teenaged girls on a blanket to her left. They were wearing brightly-coloured flip-flops (thongs, she corrected, thongs), and little tank tops and shorts. She thought they were probably far more comfortable than she was.
She wasn't sure what she was doing here. She hadn't observed Christmas for years now. The last couple of years she'd been in Jordan, and she had observed Islam as a courtesy to her host. Amjhad Rabin was an oil tycoon she'd known in her anti-terrorism days who owed her a favour or two, and he'd repaid her in full, and then some, when she landed on his doorstep with nowhere to go. After her terrified flight from Washington, he'd been her refuge, and she would have given anything in return - physical favours, intelligence, anything - but he'd been decent to her, and he'd never asked for a thing.
So the last two Christmases had passed without commemoration, lost in the strictures of Ramadan. The year before that, she'd been in Washington, and frankly, she hadn't felt like celebrating. But the Herald had declared Carols By Candlelight a "must-attend", and everyone from the boy who delivered her newspaper to the weary girl at the bank had asked if she would attend, and finally she had started saying yes just to shut them up. Just how that had led her to actually turn up in the Domain, she wasn't quite sure; but in the Domain she was, sitting on the grass with about twenty thousand other people, clutching a little candle and singing off-key. She had never been prone to excessive sentimentality, but twenty thousand candles looked pretty impressive, even to her.
She felt out of place.
She wasn't the only person alone, but she was in the minority. She was also the only one in visual range in a business suit. She had only been here a few months, and while life in Jordan had prepared her for the climate, it had not prepared her for the dress code. Casual wear was tolerated at all but the very best restaurants, it seemed. What she considered beachwear was perfectly acceptable in a cafe or a mall. It was mildly confronting after the social conservatism of the last couple of years.
She had left Jordan in September. She had seen the writing on the wall about the Afghan war, and she had no desire to be trapped in the region. Jordan was pretty stable as Middle Eastern countries went, but funny things happened in even the most stable of countries in close proximity to war. And the Gaza Strip wasn't renown for stability - nor for its tolerance for women on their own. If Amjhad had been killed, the shit would have hit the fan, and it would have hit hard.
So she had left, just before the American troops landed in Pakistan, with Amjhad's blessing. She left Jordan by car and drove to Cairo. From there, she flew to Singapore, and she had arrived in Sydney a few days after that. She had profited from a good exchange rate, and before long she was the owner of what seemed to her a very reasonably priced home in the city. She learned quickly that her location was considered a sign of wealth, and that the locals viewed wealth with suspicion, not esteem. Now she usually told people that the house came with her job.
Her candle flickered and blew out. Time to go.
The carols were still going, but people had been slipping away for a while. Fathers with children in their arms; teenaged couples (of all configurations) holding hands. Amid the gaggle of teenagers, two girls were cuddling, and no one seemed to notice, or care. Diana was floored. They were half on the grass, half on the blanket, and she looked down at her own.
"Excuse me," she said in a low voice, leaning over a little, "would you like my blanket?"
The girls turned to look at her as a unit. Just for a moment, Diana felt irrationally self-conscious. Cuddling Girl One lifted her head from Cuddling Girl Two's shoulder. "What?"
"It's just an old one from the car," she fibbed. "I don't want to carry it. It's yours, if you want it."
The cuddling girls looked at each other, visibly stunned. Diana wondered if they had expected her to launch into a homophobic diatribe. It occurred to her fleetingly that with her hair drawn back and her tailored skirt cut below the knee, she probably looked like the type - a thirtysomething professional with a long list of things not good enough for her, with teenagers topping the list and lesbians not far behind. Diana had built a very effective public persona around just that mentality, but she took no joy in it, and she saw no reason to call on it here.
At last, Cuddling Girl One broke into a smile. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
She felt lighter walking away, and not only because she didn't have the blanket to worry about. For the life of her, she wasn't sure why she'd done it. Maybe because she didn't have anyone to give anything to this year. She grimaced. That was a pathetic thought - the thought of a victim. And Diana was no victim.
She made her way up the hill. She could see the lights of Hyde Park ahead, and she considered cutting through it, but she decided against it. She turned instead in the direction of the Barracks and found herself face-to-face with Jeffrey Spender.
He stared at her, frozen with horror. His face was pasty-white, and Diana thought with sudden hilarity that he looked like a scared rabbit caught in the headlights. He backed away for two steps, and she reached out and grabbed his arm just as he started to turn to run.
"It's all right, Jeffrey," she said dryly, "I'm supposed to be dead too."
He stared at her, his Adam's apple bobbing compulsively. He still looked caught in the headlights, but he stopped trying to pull away. Cautious hope filtered through his voice. "You are?"
"Yeah. About six months after you." She looked him up and down. He was the antithesis of her, casual jeans and a tight black t-shirt. It looked better on him than she would have expected. "You look good."
"For a corpse," he rejoined. "So do you."
"Thanks," she said. "I have a house in the Rocks," she said, nodding in the general direction of the Quay. "Do you want to have dinner with me? We can catch up."
He looked nervous again. "Diana, I don't know..."
"I'm out of the game, Jeffrey," she said quietly. "Here I'm Diana Salinas, a freelance security consultant. I advise corporations about the safety of their assets and personnel. My clients are mostly Arab firms afraid of reprisals after September 11. I have a life here. I wouldn't compromise that just to sell you out."
Jeffrey nodded, thinking it over. "There aren't that many people you could tell these days, anyway, really. Pretty much everyone's dead."
"They are?" It was news to Diana.
"Where on earth have you been?" he wondered.
"Jordan," she said. "Who's dead?"
"My father. Alex Krycek. There's no-one left of the old guard."
"Alex is dead?"
"Yeah - back in June. My source says Skinner shot him."
"I saw him in September in Egypt," she said. "He had a toddler with him."
"Really? Should've known. He's a wily old bastard."
"Don't speak ill of the dead," she said humourlessly. He conceded a small grin. "So are you coming home with me, or not?"
"Why not?" he said. "You only live once. Or twice, if you're in our business."
She started down Elizabeth, and he walked beside her. His strides were long and languid - nothing like the short, stiff movements she remembered from the halls of the Hoover. "Death becomes you, Jeffrey," she quipped. "So how did you get out?"
"Mulder got me out, of all people."
That surprised her. "Fox?"
"He found me after dear old Dad shot me. He found a pulse. He and those friends of his helped me get out of the country after I told them what I knew. He falsified the crime scene report, and Skinner signed off on it."
"Good to see Skinner using his powers for good rather than evil," she snorted.
"Skinner's all right."
"Yeah, he's okay, I guess. How did you get Scully to co-operate?"
"We didn't. Scully had already left for the day, so she wasn't an issue." He nodded to her shoes, still dangling by the straps from her hand. "Let me take those."
She handed them over, surprised. This was definitely not the Jeffrey she remembered. "Thanks," she said, a little nonplussed.
"No problem," he said easily. "So how did you get out?"
"Krycek was supposed to kill me," she said. "He didn't."
"I'm sure that wasn't out of the goodness of his heart."
"No, it wasn't. He said that your father had something of his and that he meant to get it back. He said he might need to call in some favours later."
Jeffrey frowned, clearly rifling through fragments of information in his mind. "Marita, maybe."
"Marita Covarrubias. One-time UN operative, and then a human guinea pig for the vaccine. She and Krycek had some kind of history. We found her at Fort Marlene the night of El Rico. He left us there, but I caught up with him later. He was muttering in Russian on his cellphone all night. Said her name a lot. Trying to find out what they'd done to her, maybe."
Diana stopped, turning to look at him. "I didn't realise you knew that much, Jeffrey."
Jeffrey stopped too, sitting down on the Parliament steps. She leaned against a sandstone pillar, looking down at him. "I didn't. Not until the end. That's why I gave Skinner what he needed to get Mulder and Scully back on the X Files. That's why my father tried to kill me." His voice was matter-of-fact, and Diana wondered whether he'd really made peace with it the way he seemed. She wasn't sure, but maybe he had. The Jeffrey she remembered was restrained...old. This one was young and vital. Maybe Jeffrey really had come through the fire.
Maybe she could, too.
"That stinks, Jeffrey," she said at last. "It probably doesn't matter much now, but for what it's worth, your father lost a lot of friends over that. It was low, even by Consortium standards."
"It doesn't really matter anymore, but thanks. It's good to know." A new thought occurred to him. "Diana, if you've been that out of things, you probably didn't hear about Mulder."
"What about him?" she demanded, her heart suddenly tight and painful in her chest. "Was he-" killed, she thought, but she didn't say it.
"He died, but he's alive," he said. "Don't ask - it's weird, even by Mulder's standards. The short version is, he's fine, but he was kicked out of the FBI."
"Like you couldn't see that coming."
"Tell me about it. Anyway, he's been receiving threats. He's on the run - had to leave Scully and William behind."
"Who's William?" Diana queried.
"Their son. Anyway, I got a coded email from him not too long ago. We haven't exactly kept in touch, but with this new interest in the X Files, he wanted me to watch my back. That was why I was so nervous about running into you."
"Oh," she said faintly. "I see."
She was quiet as they walked down the hill to the Quay, and finally, Jeffrey called her on it. "Diana, you're not still hung up on Mulder, are you?"
She turned to stare at him. "You've been here a while, haven't you?"
"In Sydney. You've picked up that horrible frankness from the locals."
"I suppose I have," he said, clearly amused. "What's so horrible about it?"
"It's freeing," he countered.
She rolled her eyes. "You would think that, Jeffrey. You always were an idealist."
"And what were you?"
"A pragmatist," she sniffed, but there was merriment in her voice.
"Bullshit. If you were really a pragmatist you'd favour the direct approach. It's more efficient."
They rounded the corner onto the waterfront. "You're so smart, what am I, then?" she demanded, side-stepping a busker. Jeffrey jingled the loose change in his pocket and threw him a dollar coin.
"I think you were whatever anyone wanted you to be," he said. "A believer for Mulder. An ally for my father. An investigator for me and for Skinner. That's why Scully hated you, you know. She wanted to know who you really were, and she couldn't get it out of you, because you didn't know yourself."
She stared at him, gaping, as though he'd thrown water over her. "You've got some nerve."
"Hey, you asked." He shrugged. "I'm not criticising you, Diana. It's probably why you're still alive. You survived in the group a lot longer than I did." There was warmth in his voice. Diana realised with surprise that Jeffrey genuinely admired her.
"I never thought you liked me, Jeffrey," she said. "When we worked together, I mean."
"I didn't," he said simply. "But I didn't know what you knew then. What you lived with. I think maybe I understand you now...at least a little."
She looked at him with interest. "You've come a long way, Jeffrey."
"Yes, I have." They walked up the steps onto George Street. It felt strange to do that without hearing the clatter of her heels, but the sandstone was warm against her feet. Comforting. Her stockings were in tatters. They were Diors, but somehow she didn't care. "You know, you didn't answer my question, Diana."
"Which question was that?"
"About being hung up on Mulder."
She flushed. "I'm not hung up on Fox. It's just-"
She looked at him, her body tense with indecision; but finally, she spoke. "I just thought he and I had a chance. You know, before it all went to hell. I knew, when I had to run, that it was never going to happen, but somehow I never really thought of him going on with his own life." She shrugged. "Somehow it makes it all seem real. Everything I had to give up when I walked away."
"Yeah. I was lucky that way. I didn't really have anything to give up."
It was a strange way of thinking of it - that he was lucky to have nothing - but Diana thought it made an odd kind of sense. She took his hand. "I heard about your mom, Jeffrey. I'm sorry. I didn't get to say so before you left."
He squeezed it. "Thanks." He let go.
She nodded to a heavy carved door, set into a sandstone frame. "This is us."
"Thanks," she said, unlocking the door. She stood aside to let him pass through into the living room.
"Must have cost you a pretty penny," he said, dropping onto the lounge. "Thank God for the crappy Aussie dollar." Diana made a noncommittal sound, frowning, and he noticed. "Oh, come on. You're not going to take offence to that, too, are you?"
"I just wasn't raised to talk about money," she muttered. She could feel the warmth rising in her face. Jeffrey looked frankly amused, and that pissed her off. She lifted her head, jaw very straight, and she said, "No, really, Jeffrey. People here will say they can't afford something. Straight out. No shuffling the shoes or looking awkward. I don't get it. That's private. You don't talk about that."
"It's only private if it's shameful," he said. "Same with sex. That isn't shameful here, so they talk about it."
"Tell me about it," she said fervently, uncorking a bottle of wine. Some of the discussions she'd overheard between the secretaries at her clients' offices - God, they made her blush from head to toe. And Diana wasn't a wilting flower when it came to the bedroom. But talking about it - that was another matter completely.
"This country was built on the disenfranchised," he said. "They exalt the poor."
Diana rolled her eyes. "Please. If I hear one more eulogy for the Aussie battler-"
"Why does that bother you?" he wondered.
"What are you, my shrink?" she demanded, setting down a glass of cabernet in front of him with more force than was really necessary.
He shrugged. "I just wondered."
"You're irritating, you know that?"
"So I'm told," he said with a roguish grin. "So why does it bother you?"
She dropped down on the lounge beside him, staring at him. "I - I don't know," she stammered. "Envy, maybe." She regretted it as soon as she said it.
"You know. That they can just be whoever they are, and that's okay."
"And you couldn't?"
"Now you really do sound like a shrink. Or like Fox," she added evilly.
Jeffrey clasped his chest with both hands. "Oh, that's harsh. I'm wounded." He did a surprisingly good imitation of yanking an arrow from his heart, and threw the non-existent weapon across the room. Diana laughed. "So?"
"You're not going to let up on this, are you?"
"Nope," he said, and his grin was endearing.
"Okay," she said finally. "I grew up poor. I went to good schools on scholarships. We lived in a succession of trailer parks, and I left home an hour early every morning to go across town and walk to school from the good neighbourhoods with my classmates, as though I lived there. God, if anyone had found out what I was-" she stopped short. "I can't believe I told you that. I've never told anyone that. Not even Fox."
"You don't have anyone in Sydney, do you, Diana?"
It was hopelessly out of context, but she didn't question it. Her respect for Jeffrey had skyrocketed in the space of an hour, and she was willing to follow him wherever he was going with this. "No," she said. "I don't."
"No friends?" he said. "No family?"
"No. Business contacts, that's all." Even they were mostly Amjhad's contacts, not her own.
"How are you finding it?"
"Hard," she admitted. "I feel...restless. Without direction. I'm going through the motions of rebuilding, but I don't really know what I'm meant to be doing."
"Maybe that's because you don't have anyone to pretend for anymore. No-one to prove anything to."
She felt a surge of anger. Mostly because she thought he was right. How the hell did he do it? He was reading her like a goddamn book!
"I think you should go, Jeffrey."
He looked startled. "I didn't mean to offend you, Diana."
"It's fine," she said colourlessly. "I just want to get some sleep."
He rose, looking at her with uncertainty. "You know, Diana, I'm going to Orphan's Christmas on Tuesday. I wish you'd come."
"Orphan's Christmas?" she echoed.
"At Bondi Beach. A communal picnic and party for people who don't have anywhere else to go for the day. Lots of tourists and backpackers, and locals, too. It gets a bit rowdy sometimes, but it's a good day."
There was a kindness in his voice that touched her - touched her a lot. She felt her anger melt away. He wasn't being a wiseass. He was just reaching out to her in any way he knew how. And wasn't that kind of strange? They'd never been on friendly terms in the life they'd left behind. They'd just barely tolerated one another, actually - and often with bad grace. So why this? Why now?
Could it be that he'd been there, too?
She thought about the old Jeffrey - the one so desperate to prove himself at the Bureau, to shake off the legacy of his past; then, later, the one who saw his father's work and decided to prove himself better. And suddenly she understood that this new, improved Jeffrey - this relaxed, peaceful Jeffrey - had been waiting there in the wings all along.
And she envied him. She wanted to be like him.
He was waiting for an answer.
"I'd like that," she said at last. She took his hand. "I'd like that a lot."
His mouth was on hers before the words finished passing between her lips.
Jeffrey and Diana spent the next two days in bed. And on the kitchen bench. And on the dining table. And on the living room floor. He was above her and beneath her, behind her and beside her. It was an outpouring that had only a little to do with sex, and a lot to do with connection and belonging. In Jeffrey, Diana found a surprisingly caring lover, and more importantly, the kind of unqualified friendship she had known only in Amjhad before him.
She had no idea what he saw in her; what prompted him to stay after the first orgasm had been and gone. The truth was, he'd been right, that first night: without someone to define her with their expectations, she had nothing to show...nothing to give. She was a chameleon without anything to model herself on. It was a horrible, demeaning thought, but she was a truthful person, and so she faced that truth head-on. And Jeffrey was maddening in his refusal to give her any expectations of his own.
"I didn't say what I said that night so you could do it better," he said when she pushed him to tell her what he wanted, what he liked, what he wished for. "I said it so you'd find another way."
She was humiliated by the way he saw through her. "What other way?" she demanded. "There is no other way! I don't know how to do what you do!"
He put his hand over her left breast, just where the flesh began to swell. "What's in here, Diana?" It grieved her that she didn't know the answer.
"Nothing," she choked out. "There's nothing. There's always been nothing."
"You're wrong, Diana. So wrong." He gathered up her body against his, and he felt so warm and so strong there, but it went deeper than that. He held her like something precious that he was afraid was going to slip away.
"But how do you know?" she whispered. "How, Jeffrey? What do you see?"
"You did the work and you kept your soul. Do you know how rare that is? I don't know what's in there, Diana, but I know there's something, and damn it, I want to be there when you find out what it is."
It was a humbling thing to hear, and she realised, looking at him, looking at the strange mix of warmth and worry in his expression, that it was a humbling thing for him to say, as well. She wondered why that was. Could it be that this new, improved Jeffrey didn't have it all together either? That he was still finding his own way, farther along than her but still on the road? Somehow it helped to think so.
"I want that, too," she said at last.
"Will you come with me tomorrow? To Orphan's Christmas?"
It was another non-sequiter, but this time she barely noticed. She was becoming used to following his intuitive leaps - ones that made sense to him at the time and to her only later. In a way, it was not unlike living with Fox - except Fox could never have brought about the changes in her that Jeffrey had.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, Jeffrey, I'll come."
"Why?" she said. "Why is it good? Why do you want me to come?"
He gave another of those roguish smiles. "You'll see."
It was a maddening answer, but then he was touching her, and she knew he was evading the question, but he felt so good in her arms that she didn't care. He was with her, he was beside her when he wasn't inside her, and for that alone she would have gone anywhere he asked.
She thought it might very well be love.
"Whinge, whinge, whinge. I thought you lived in Jordan."
Diana didn't dignify this with an answer, but she sniffed, looking away with a toss of her hair. Her performance lasted exactly four seconds, which was how long it took Jeffrey to lean over and plant his lips squarely on her neck. She turned to face him, laughing, and she kissed him, long and lingering.
"You taste like watermelon," she said.
"And you taste like Midori, so we're even."
"How does that work? You get alcohol and I get second-hand fruit!"
Jeffrey's none-too-convincing response to this was to try to untie her bikini. She yelped and tied it again with a theatrical glare. He just shrugged, laughing, and she laughed too.
"So are you glad you came along?" he said when their laughter had subsided.
She looked around her. "Yeah. It's been a good day."
Better than good, actually, she reflected, looking up and down the beach. It was less crowded now that the light was fading, but it was still well populated, and the general mood was festive. In time, the good mood might turn maudlin, as the people dwindled and the alcohol continued to flow; but they would be gone by then, in her bed or his, entwined together in love or sleep. It had been a long time since she'd had that to look forward to.
"Have you worked out yet why I wanted you to come?"
"No," she said. "I haven't."
He just nodded, smiling that goddamn enigmatic smile of his, and lay back down on the blanket at her side. She didn't bother to press him. He'd tell her. She'd half-decided he was just yanking her chain, anyway. She'd call him on it, and he'd admit it - sooner or later.
She looked out onto the ocean. There were a few surfers, all keeping strictly between the signs. Sharks in Sydney were serious business. Most people were content to stay on the sand, soaking up what remained of the fading sunlight. Nearby, a group of backpackers were singing. One played a guitar. They had started out on bawdy pub songs; now they had graduated to ballads. It was one of those stolen moments where everyone seemed to be at rest, where people had nothing to do
(nothing to prove)
but to be at peace.
And then she got it. What Jeffrey had wanted her to see. What she'd seen in the girls in the Domain, what she'd envied in the people she met in this strange new land. What she saw in him.
What she loved in him.
It was what she wanted for herself; suddenly believed could be found in herself - because if she could find that peace, that self-acceptance in others, then she could find it within, as well.
Maybe this land would help her find it. This land, and this man.
She leaned over him, her hair brushing his face, her breath on his cheek. "I got it, Jeffrey," she whispered. "I got it."
He opened his eyes, and he smiled, and his hands came up to cradle her, drawing her down to meet him. He kissed her, fiercely tender, and she loved him with her eyes and with her lips and with her heart.
She still didn't know what she had to offer him, but she knew now that whatever it was, it was enough.
HERALD: The Sydney Morning Herald is one of the two leading Sydney daily newspapers. It is considered the more highbrow of the two. The other, the Telegraph, is considered proletarian, and its politics are conservative.
CAROLS BY CANDLELIGHT: The practice of singing Christmas carols for the evening in a park or other open area while holding candles. It occurs in the week before Christmas in many local parks, and the biggest celebration in Sydney is in the Domain. This is sometimes televised, features local celebrities, and is attended by around 20,000 people.
DOMAIN: The Domain is a very large park area in the city of Sydney itself. It is analogous to Central Park in New York. It is the scene for all kinds of large public events, including outdoor movies in summer and World AIDS Day memorial services.
HYDE PARK BARRACKS: A colonial building once used to accommodate soldiers and prisoners, right near the Domain. Sandstone, lots of iron bars. Hyde Park, a formal park area with a war memorial, is just across the road (hence the name).
ELIZABETH STREET, CIRCULAR QUAY, GEORGE STREET: One path from the Domain to The Rocks. Elizabeth Street continues downhill from Hyde Park on the east side, passing the law courts and State Parliament to the waterfront. At the waterfront is Circular Quay, a large terminal for ferries, jetcats, rivercats, water taxis and other water transport. There is also an overhead train station that services the city. You can go either east, for the Sydney Opera House and the far end of the Domain, or west, for the Museum Of Contemporary Art, Cadman's Cottage, cruise ship terminals, and The Rocks. Jeffrey and Diana walked past Cadman's, up old sandstone steps dating from colonial days onto George Street and continued through to The Rocks.
THE ROCKS: A suburb within Sydney city, right on the water, about five minutes' walk from the ferry terminal and Sydney Opera House. One of the earliest settlement areas in Sydney's colonial history. Mostly exclusive shops, restaurants, and art galleries, but expensive residences can be found there too, especially corporate ones. Lots of sandstone buildings; some of the roads are still cobblestone. There are very elite handcraft and artisan markets on the streets on weekends. This version of Diana, very concerned with convenience and promoting a well-to-do perception of herself, would probably live somewhere like this, but locals would normally only live here if they inherited a property in the area, were given one as a fringe benefit of one's job (eg, company directors), or were able to combine home with work (eg fashion designers or artistes). The associated council rates and land taxes are very high.
ORPHAN'S CHRISTMAS: One of Sydney's biggest beaches, Bondi, is the scene for Christmas festivities for those who don't have a place to go for the day. The suburb has a lot of backpacker hostels, and the tradition began with poor travellers, but is now attended by young families and by people without families close by, as well. This sort of group celebration for those without a place to go is known as an Orphan's Christmas, and this biggest one is called Orphan's Christmas at Bondi Beach. Christmas falls in high summer in Sydney, so the location is ideal to the weather.