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Below are the 7 most recent journal entries recorded in One-shot Alias fiction's LiveJournal:

Friday, November 11th, 2005
1:33 pm
[rocknvaughn]
Axis and Allies
Axis and Allies
By RocknVaughn

Spoilers: Post-Succession
Rating: PG


If angst gets to you, you may need tissues...

~ ~ ~

You sit and listen to the rain drum on the roof of your borrowed government sedan. The curtain of sound still does not drown out your troubled thoughts.

You swore to yourself you wouldn’t do this. Every minute of every day that has gone by since your return, you’ve told yourself that; drummed it into your head until its steady pounding echoed like the rain now does.

He’s not yours anymore…logically, you know it’s true. Just by her presence, having to work side by side with her day in and day out, the human incarnation of Lindsay’s parting shot never lets you forget. It’s not her fault; you know that, too. But sometimes the pain and the memories refuse to stay packaged in their neat little mental boxes, and you feel. In those moments, reason leaves you and you wallow in the maelstrom of your own passions.

It was a moment of weakness—a moment of uncompartmentalized emotion—that made you do it: hack into the CIA’s personnel files to find his address. And now, here you are, sitting here across the street from his house, two doors down, staring wistfully at what your future should have been.

He was your rock, the rudder that helped you sail through troubled waters. He was the axis on which your world spun, and now, without him, your world spins out of control, and you don’t know if it will ever be right again.

You’re drowning…and you know it. Something has to give. You can’t go on the way you are; the not-knowingness is killing you in slivers, slicing into your very soul. And as much as you know there is no way you should get out of this car, you also know there is no turning back.

Before the rational part of your mind can object, you wrench open the door handle and step out into the downpour, not caring that it instantly soaks you, because it hides the tears you’ve been longing to cry and have feared to let loose, in case they never stop falling.

You cross the street, stepping squarely into the puddle at the curb, feeling your toes squish inside your sneakers. It doesn’t matter (does anything matter anymore?). You walk and you tremble; you shake and you gasp, and none of it is from the cold.

And there you are, standing outside his front door. A light reflects from a front window, a shadow moves behind the shade. A shiver of fear, of sanity, soaks through you (What if she’s home? What if she answers?), but now is not a time of thought; it is a moment of action.

Stepping forward, you press your finger to the doorbell, hearing it echo inside his sanctuary, inside the life he made without you. You step back off the stairs, back into the rain. You need its cover, its protection, in order to do what you need to.

The door opens and he appears behind the screen, his green eyes shocked at the sight of you, shivering and drenched. “S..Sydney… what are you doing here?”

You wrap your arms around yourself, trying to lend yourself some strength. “I…I’m sorry to disturb you at home, Vaughn. I just…needed to see you.”

His eyes turn unreadable, a reaction you’re not used to getting from him, and it hurts. He sighs, a long, deep, troubled sigh. “Sydney…” he begins. You don’t want to hear the rest.

“I’m not here to cause any trouble, I swear. I just needed to t…talk,” you explain, trembling, cold from the inside out.

The familiarity of the moment echoes inside you, and you know he feels it, too. The invisible barrier he’d erected when he first saw you starts to slip, giving way to the history between you.

“Is..is she here?” you whisper, ashamed; ashamed that you asked…ashamed that you can’t even bring yourself to say her name aloud. “I don’t…”

“She’s still at work,” he replies, then says, “Will be for a while. Don’t worry; you’re safe…” answering the unspoken question you had yet to ask.

You feel some of the tension leave your body with his words. It’s not as if you are planning anything you shouldn’t; you just wanted this moment to be about the two of you, undisturbed by anyone.

He opens the screen door, holds it ajar. “Why don’t you come in? Get out of the rain?” he asks, accompanied by a gentle smile.

You look past him at the polished hardwood floor, the wall behind him papered in muted pink stripes, the floral watercolor scene hung over the umbrella stand, and shake your head vehemently. He had no way of knowing his polite offer would only add another dagger to your heart, another sucker punch to your gut. Your hoarse voice gives away your anguish as you gasp, “I…can’t.”

He studies your face for a long moment and you know he is reading you; he always could. “All right,” he says finally, “Then I’ll come out.” He allows the screen door to close behind him as he stands on the top step, still under the cover of the porch roof, sheltering him from the deluge you stand in.

Physically, you are only a few feet apart, but it feels to you as though a chasm too wide to cross gapes between you. Tears mix with the rivulets of raindrops as they skim down your face. He stares into your eyes, hands stuffed in his jean pockets, waiting.

You break the eye contact, staring down at your sopping sneakers, thinking idly that they’re ruined…just like the rest of you. Finally, it slips out, almost too low for anyone to hear, “I don’t know how to do this…I don’t know how to do this without you.”


But even over the torrent, he heard every word. He waits; waits until you look up again, and then he spears you with that heart-stopping green gaze. “Yes, you do, Sydney. You’re an incredibly strong woman; always have been, always will be. You’ll find a way.”

You swipe at your eyes, not realizing in that moment how futile the motion is. “It’s like a nightmare I can’t wake up from…everything’s just wrong now…” You sniff at the irony and add, “God, even Marshall has moved on, has carved out a niche with someone, and I… I have nothing recognizable left in my life.”

Vaughn shakes his head and takes a step closer to you. You watch as the rain splashes just past the edges of his shoes. His dulcet voice pulls your eyes back to his. “It might feel that way right now, but you know that’s not true…”

You can’t keep the accusation out of your voice. “How the hell would you know what’s true about me anymore!? My apartment no longer exists, all my belongings…destroyed. My dad was in prison, my boyfriend got married, Francie’s dead, I’ll never see Will again. All my friends are gone…except for my dad, I’m utterly and completely alone.”

The intensity of his gaze darkens his brow as the worry lines blossom across his forehead. Oh, how you loved to rub them away as he slept! You wince, feeling yet another jab to your already broken heart. “Not all your friends are gone, Sydney…” he says slowly, and you know he’s not talking about Marshall or Weiss; he’s talking about himself.

You shake your head, denying what you know he’s saying…because you know he can’t mean it. He has his life with her now…why would he need you?

“Yes,” he insists, and steps down onto the concrete walkway, down into the rain, to emphasize his point. “A lot might have changed while you were gone, Sydney, but not everything has…” He reaches inside his front pocket, extracting something that he now holds out for you to see.

You recognize the item at once: it is his father’s watch; the one that stopped the day that he met you. Sobs start to shake you; you can’t hide them anymore.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he steps forward again, closing the gap between you as he folds you into his arms, holding you close, silently, allowing you to assuage your grief onto his shoulder as he rubs small, soothing circles on your back.

When the tears finally subside, you realize how this must look, the two of you, soaked to the bone, embracing on his front lawn. You take a step backward, breaking the connection. Looking down in shame, you croak, “I’m sorry… I just…”

The touch of his finger on your chin stops you as he gently forces your eyes to meet his. “Don’t be,” he says, and you know in your heart that he means it. Then he reaches down and cups your hand in his, turning it palm-upward. He places his father’s watch in your hand, curls your fingers around it, covering it with his other hand.

“Why don’t you hold on to this for a while?” he says, his hands still cradling yours.

The gravity of the moment does not escape you: he’s giving you his father’s watch, his most prized possession. You want to say ‘No, I can’t…it means too much to you…’ but instead you ask, “Why?”

“For those times when you’re at your lowest…When you need to be reminded that not everything changes…”

And that’s when you notice…he’s crying, too.

But he says with a smile, “Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m still your ally, Sydney. I always will be. Never forget that.”

As a bolt of lightning illuminates his glorious, windswept face, a weight is lifted from your shoulders and you smile; your first real smile…and you’ve shared it with him. And then, suddenly, you laugh.

“What?” he grins, dropping his hands from yours at last.

“Nothing…” you gasp between giggles. “Look at you; you’re soaked!”

“So are you,” he replies, the smile lighting his eyes as he slicks his wet hair back from his forehead.

You look down and realize you’re one step away from winning the local Miss Drowned Rat competition and laugh even more. “Yeah, I am, aren’t I? Don’t you like my new ‘wet look’?”

He chuckles. “I like you in any look,” he banters playfully.

You know instinctively what he does and doesn’t mean by his comment. You know he loves her. Vaughn loves his wife; he’d never settle for less. But suddenly, you realize that’s okay. It’s okay because now you know you still have the part of him you need the most.

You squeeze your hand tighter around his gift, feeling the metal band of the watch cut into your palm. Sobering, you tell him earnestly, “Thank you, Vaughn.”

He reaches out his left hand, tenderly pushing a wet tendril of your hair back around the curve of your ear before stuffing both hands in his pockets again. “You’re welcome.”

You stare at each other for a long moment, communicating so much to each other in the silence. Finally, you say awkwardly, “I…guess I should go.”

He nods, but doesn’t answer.

You turn and walk down the path and out to the street. Instinctively you know that, even though he could easily have turned and climbed beneath the shelter of the porch or went inside the house, he didn’t. A glimpse back in his direction as you open your car door confirms your suspicion. Instead, he stands out in the rain and watches over you, once and again your guardian angel.

He lifts a hand in farewell and you do the same, before getting in your car and driving away, your burden much lighter than it had been moments before. A ghost of his voice echoes in your head, “Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same…”

And in that blazing moment of epiphany, you know he’s right: You are strong; you will make it through this. In his own way, you know he’ll still be there for you. Unchanged by the weather of time, he’s still is and always will be…your rock, your rudder, your axis, and your ally.

~ ~ ~
Thursday, November 10th, 2005
11:22 am
[rocknvaughn]
At All Costs
At All Costs
By RocknVaughn (1/1)
Season 3, post-Repercussions
Rated: G
This takes place directly after the final scene. Vaughn POV.

~ ~ ~

She was there; I felt her.

I can’t explain how I knew, but I did. Lauren was touching my face, kissing me, and I was completely aware of her, of our love. And then, there was a prickling at the back of my neck, and I knew. Sydney.

I did not break my embrace with my wife, but a part of me wanted, no, needed to make eye contact with Sydney. But by the time the kiss was over and I glanced at the window, she was gone. Or maybe I had seen just a trace of her brown hair bounce out of sight as I turned?

God, Vaughn…you need to get a grip… I told myself with a sigh. She wasn’t really there. You are still shaky over the hallucination you had…that’s all…

“I’m going to go and let you rest, sweetheart,” Lauren was saying to me sweetly, and I forced myself to smile in return.

“Okay,” I say softly as she trails tender kisses across my forehead. I close my eyes wearily; my visitors tired me more than I wanted to admit.

The door to my room whispers shut behind Lauren as she leaves. I think back again to that moment…when I thought I’d felt Sydney there. It felt so…so real…so like the countless times in the past when that same feeling encompassed me in her presence.

I open my eyes again, not focusing on anything in particular, letting my eyes roam as my mind continues to churn in its uncertainty.

And that’s when I see it. Sydney’s coat.

It was still draped along the back of the couch, partially obscured by the bag Weiss had concealed the beer in. There is no doubt in my mind now. She was there. And she saw us.

My heart contracts with pain. She saw us… she saw Lauren and I kissing and that’s why she left without collecting what she came for.

A wave of guilt washes over me and I feel a sharp pain in my chest, although higher than my real wound. This one was in the vicinity of my heart.

A sudden thought pops into my head. What does it say if I feel guilty about what Sydney saw when Lauren is my wife? You’d think I’d feel more guilty about dreaming about Sydney while my wife waited at my bedside…and I do feel guilty about that, but not anywhere near the magnitude of guilt that I feel now.

I never wanted to hurt Sydney…never in my life did I think I’d be the one constant source of pain for her, when all I ever wanted to do was take her pain away.

She believes she hides her pain well enough when I’m around for me not to notice. I don’t dissuade her of that belief, mostly because I want to allow her that pride. But I notice. I always notice.

And that’s what my dream was about, I realize suddenly. My subconscious was trying to drive the point home (no pun intended) that I’m hurting her. I’m constantly hurting her.

Why? Because I betrayed her; I betrayed us. It doesn’t matter that she was dead and I was half-dead with grief. I still betrayed her and the incredible love we shared. No…share…in the present tense. That’s what the rest of the dream was not so subtly telling me. That incredible once-in-a-lifetime connection still exists between her and I. Didn’t I just prove that, knowing she was there whilst kissing my wife?

Lauren. I shake my head sadly. She’s such a lovely woman: so good and kind, and so obviously worried for me. Yet, when I opened my eyes after my hallucination about Sydney and saw her sitting there? Nothing. I felt nothing. I had so completely expected to see Sydney, that seeing Lauren there temporarily stupefied my brain. The only thing that came to mind was, What is she doing here?

I look down at my left hand, at the plain gold band that suddenly feels three sizes too tight. Or maybe that’s just the lump in my throat that I’m feeling; I don’t know. Whatever it is, I’m feeling constrained…restricted.

Impatiently, I yank the offending circle off and place it on the bedside table, staring at the ghostly strip of skin it reveals. It’s all right, I tell myself; I’m getting used to ghosts…

I close my eyes, imagining once again the moment in my dream when my lips touched Sydney’s. That’s how it should feel when I kiss someone, and with Lauren…it doesn’t. Her kisses touch my heart, my love swells for her…but they do not invade my soul, take possession of all my senses the way Sydney's did.

The question that echoed inside my head could no longer be denied: What am I doing here? Not in the hospital…but in my life.

Sydney risked everything to save my life in Spain: her cover, the mission…her sanity. Because I knew, instinctively I knew how hard that was for her…having to stab me. It was all in her eyes, laid bare for me to see. Knowing she had to hurt me…it was killing her to do it. I tried to give her strength; I tried to let her see I understood, that I knew what she was doing…and why. I don’t know if she saw it, but somehow she found the strength to do what she must...and that was the sole reason I was still on this earth. She knew what she had to do, and, whatever the cost, she did it.

And now I know what I must do. I need to stop the pain, the pain I keep causing her. I need to stop it at all costs. She was, and always has been, willing to give up everything for me. Now…it’s my turn to do what I must, no matter the cost. I need to prove that I’m still her ally; more than she knows; more than I knew before this moment.

It’ll take time, effort, and a lot of sacrifice, I know. But now that I am aware, consciously aware of what I’m doing to Sydney, I know that I have no choice. I cannot allow one more hurt, one more pain to her that I am the cause of.

She risked everything to save me…I owe her nothing less…

I owe her a lot more.

~ fin ~
11:15 am
[rocknvaughn]
In A Heartbeat
In A Heartbeat
by RocknVaughn
1/1
Spoilers: Post 3x07 ~ Prelude

~ ~

I stand in the drizzle and watch, a silent sentinel as she boards the plane that will hopefully take her to nowhere. My heart aches as I watch her go, winging from my life, possibly forever. But it’s a good ache; a hopeful ache.

When she looked at me with tears in her eyes, asking me why I would willingly ruin my life for her, I couldn’t believe that she didn’t understand…understand that my life could never be ruined so long as I knew she was still in it, somehow, some way. And while I hadn’t meant to make such a revealing confession, I am not sorry I did. I can no longer deny to anyone that I love Sydney…least of all to her. It was what she needed to hear; it was what I needed to say. Even though it changed nothing, it changed everything. Now there were no walls, no games…nothing between us except the truth.

She stepped into my arms as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if it were where she belonged. And in that moment, it was where she belonged, just as I belonged in her arms. The relief, the release…it felt so good, so right. For just one moment in time, we belonged to the other, if only in spirit. It felt like a homecoming… It was home…the only place I’d ever felt so completely exposed yet so completely safe. Holding her, burying my face in her hair, stroking her back was almost a divine moment. I closed my eyes and savored each fleeting second, knowing it would soon end and I’d have only the memories to sustain me.

And then, we pulled apart, wistfully, longingly, wishing for things we could not have. She leaned toward me and I did the same, my soul begging for just one last touch of her lips to mine…one last burning connection. But it was not to be. Sydney, her sense of honor intact, gave me yet another gift…the gift of my honor. She knew, as no other would know so well, that the guilt of that moment would eat at me…that it would tarnish the purity of us. And I am grateful, for I don’t think, were it up to me alone, I could have stopped myself.

It was so hard to say goodbye. At least this time, I was ready. I was prepared…I knew she was leaving. This time, I had a chance to say goodbye, to hold her, to tell her how I felt. Even if I never actually said the words to her; she knew. She always knows.

Fate is such a fickle thing. Her life was stolen from her; life stole me from her…and her from me. Now, I’d been given the unique chance of redemption—to give her life back to her—and I took it, unflinchingly, and without hesitation…her once-and-again protector.

But now, her guardian angel must come back to earth; he has to face the consequences of his fall from grace. I sigh heavily as I get back into my car, and sigh again as I start the engine.

~ ~

I know I have no choice; there is only one place for me to go tonight: I have to go home. I have to face the dilemma I’ve created by my crusade to save Sydney head on.

As I pull my car into the driveway, it’s obvious that Lauren is already home. While her car was not there, most likely impounded for the disarming process and subsequent investigation, the porch light was on, as was a lone light shining from the living room window.

I put my key in the lock and turned. I expected Lauren to be waiting up for me, and I was not disappointed. As the door creaked open, she sprang from the armchair like a cat attacking its prey and turned to face me, her face full of her pain, anger, betrayal.

Well, I was feeling plenty of pain and betrayal, too, and right now it all had her name on it.

Her voice tight, straining against her need to yell at me, Lauren asked, “Michael, where have you been? What have you done?”

My face an unchanging mask, I didn’t answer her. It’s not as if she didn’t already know. The look she’s giving me tells me she that knows exactly what I’ve done, where I ran to—and to whom—when I left her standing in the parking garage several hours ago.

She walked toward me, her lips a thin line. She tilted her head to the side, realization flashing in her eyes. “You’ve helped her escape, haven’t you!?”

I lifted my chin slightly and clenched my jaw; the epitome of irritation and defiance.

“You have,” she said flatly, accusing. “I know you have. You have just aided and abetted a fugitive of the US Government, Michael.”

It wasn’t the first time… I thought to myself. And I’d do it again if I had to… And I realized suddenly that it was true; I would do it again if it meant keeping Sydney safe.

My silence getting to her at last, Lauren gets even closer, unleashing her fury. “Talk to me, Michael! Answer me!”

I glare at her, but comply at last in icy tones. “What do you want me to say?”

“Why? Why did you do it, Michael?”

“I wasn’t going to stand idly by and let Robert Lindsay lobotomize an innocent woman for the sake of national security…” I spit at her fiercely.

“Innocent!?” Lauren responded just as fiercely. She snorted and then said, “Are you really that blind when it comes to her, or are you just that naïve!? She’s got you and everyone else in that office under some sort of delusion, because she’s not innocent. She just knows how to play people…namely you!”

Instantly, I knew what she was saying, what she was implying. “You couldn’t be more wrong,” I answered firmly.

But Lauren wasn’t finished. “I would think that you of all people, would have been more careful, more vigilant when it came to that woman, considering…”

I felt my face flush with irrational anger. “Considering what, Lauren!? Considering her heritage!? Is that what you’re trying to say? Sydney Bristow is not Irina Derevko…not by a long shot!”

“Really? Are you so sure!?” Lauren shot back. She marched over to the dining room table, grabbed a portfolio and slapped it into my hands. She waited while I opened it and studied its contents, staring at the unmistakable face of Sydney Bristow under a blond wig.

I looked up at Lauren as she stood, her arms crossed in front of her, daggers in her eyes. “There’s your perfect Sydney…seconds after she murdered Andrian Lazarey in cold blood! Funny, but I’d say she’s uncannily like Irina Derevko!”

I thrust the folder back at her. What I’ve seen changed nothing in my mind, in my heart. “She would not have done this of her own accord. She was forced, somehow.”

Lauren shakes her head as if she cannot believe I could be so dense. “I don’t see anyone there holding a gun to her head, Michael.”

Sighing impatiently, I try to explain. “Lauren, anyone who knows Sydney would know she wouldn’t do it. If you had known her back when she was a double agent inside SD-6 you would understand. The things that she went through, the pain and suffering she had, the things that she lost…all for the good of her country and to right a wrong… If you’d known that person, Lauren; you’d know she couldn’t have done this…”

We stare at each other, fuming in silence. Finally, she says, “You must know that the NSC will find her, Michael. Everything you’ve done tonight will be for naught.”

Not if I can help it, I thought.

“What do you mean?” I asked suspiciously, afraid that I knew the answer.

“When Lindsay found out that you and the rest of the office knew about Sydney, he put a trace on all your phones,” she answered. “She’s bound to contact one of you…It’s only a matter of time now.”

My mouth gaped open like a fish out of water. I can’t believe what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing. I prayed silently that the trace order hadn’t gone through before my call setting up Sydney’s dead drop in Rome.

Finally, I found my voice. “How can you be this cruel, Lauren!? You’ve spent time with Sydney. You’ve worked with her…seen how good a job she does. She’s the best agent I’ve ever worked with, hands down. She’s a good person… You can’t honestly think that she deserves what you know Lindsay will do to her.”

Lauren threw the portfolio back onto the table, watching as the photographs slid out, a trail of guilt spread across the surface. “You want to know what I think!? I think that you don’t know her as well as you think you do! She murdered an innocent, defenseless man, Michael! I think that the NSC has every right to know what else she may have done!”

Impossible, I thought defiantly. I know Sydney down to her very soul, as she knows mine. Our hearts beat as one. I know instinctively that Sydney would never do what Lauren’s accusing her of. Never.

“At the expense of her sanity!? Of her life!?” My voice turned acidic, bitter. “You know, Lauren? I think the person I don’t know as well as I thought is you!”

I turned and stomped up the stairs while my wife follows in my wake. She stood in silence as I grabbed a bag from under the bed and started throwing things inside of it.

“Wait! What are you doing!?” she demanded.

I didn’t answer, since the answer was quite obvious. I crossed the room and grabbed a three-piece suit from the closet, wrapping a matching tie around the hanger. I tossed my toiletries into the bag and zipped it up furiously, my silent anger reverberating in the whizz of its closing jaws.

Without looking at her, I stalked from the room and down the stairs, bag in one hand, hanger draped from the other across my shoulder.

From the top of the stairs, Lauren demanded softly, “Michael! Where are you going!?”

I opened the front door, paused, and looked back at her. The pain of her betrayal: betrayal of Sydney, betrayal of my trust and love for her…glowed brightly in my eyes. “Out,” I said simply before closing the door behind me with a silent click…the sound of finality.

I waited for a moment in the growing darkness and silence of the night, trying to give her a chance; a chance to say something, do something…anything to convince me to stay.

She doesn’t come after me. She doesn’t ask me to stay. She doesn’t even try to understand. She doesn’t want to make amends. The reason for this—the cruel truth—wafted in the breeze and all around me: When push came to shove, her duty, her blind dedication to the job and to that Satan of a boss came before friendship, before trust, before me, before us.

It’s then that I realized there will be no turning back from this moment. No matter what else we say, what else we do; this day will forever be the chink in our armor, the beginning of the ever-growing wedge between us. It’s only a matter of time before our life self-destructs.

And knowing this, I replayed the evening in my head. Would I have saved Sydney if I’d known then it would cost me my marriage, as I’m now certain it will eventually do?

I opened the car door, put my suit across the seat, my bag on the floor, and climbed inside.

A wry smile touches my lips. I know the answer to my question. Its truth echoes inside my soul. I know without a doubt that, if faced with the same decision, knowing the consequences, I would have made the same choice. For Sydney, I would have done it again…in a heartbeat.


~fin~
11:09 am
[rocknvaughn]
The Inevitable Fall From Grace
The Inevitable Fall From Grace
by RocknVaughn (1/1)
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Post-3x03


A fire crackled merrily in the grate, yet it sparked no warmth for its lone spectator. Michael Vaughn, dressed in only a pair of blue jeans, the neck of a bottle of Heineken dangling from his fingers, sat staring at the fire, unseeing; his mind was elsewhere.

If truth be told, at the moment, he’d rather be holding a bottle of Jack Daniels, but he was afraid he might not put it down if he got started… He’d been there before and wasn’t going back. But since he refused to use alcohol as a crutch to escape his problems, he chose the beer, which he’d barely had a sip of.

Michael lifted his hand and put the bottle to his lips to rectify that error, allowing the swig of cool liquid to slide down his throat untasted and largely unnoticed before dropping his hand back to hang over the edge of the overstuffed armchair he’d slouched into.

This can’t be happening… Michael told himself, but deep inside, he knew that it was; the truth refused to stay hidden for long: A part of him, a part of him he thought he’d buried when he scattered her ashes at sea off the pier in Santa Barbara, still loved Sydney Bristow. No, was still in love with Sydney Bristow. The love would not be denied…and it was quickly engulfing him.

From the first moment she’d been in trouble, in the club in Frankfurt, he’d slipped his worry on like a favorite pair of slippers. The same heart-pounding, adrenaline rushing need to help her resurfaced like it had never been gone, as if not a moment had passed.

If he’d needed further proof that he was not as stoic as he’d believed, it came in form of an intense wave of love and desire that broadsided him at the Science Ministry in Moscow. She looked so incredibly beautiful, like a goddess…too good to be true. Such an innocent moment…just a look across the room, a smile…and he was trapped; trapped in her gaze, trapped in his emotions, trapped in the past. He couldn’t remove his eyes from hers; indeed, he couldn’t breathe. She was his breath in that moment. And while he had come to his senses and looked away, the epiphany he’d had then could not be denied.

Yes, now that she was back, it was as if that part of him had merely been asleep, waiting for her return. And, try as he might, he couldn’t seem to completely compartmentalize that emotion. God knows he tried. He tried all the time. He looked at his beautiful, intelligent wife over and over again and thought of all the reasons he fell for her. He did so now, trying to bring a sense of balance back to his psyche, but this time, one more reason crept into his consciousness: he’d been attracted to Lauren because of her similarity to Sydney. Sure, they looked nothing alike, Sydney, a tall, lithe brunette with hazel eyes, and Lauren, a petite, curvy blonde with blue eyes, but their personalities were so similar it was almost eerie.

He wondered idly why he’d never seen it before, perhaps because he’d never seen them side-by-side before…or perhaps because he hadn’t been ready to admit it before. Both were extremely bright and quick-witted. Both could be supremely rational or completely irrational, depending on the moment. Neither one liked to be bossed around, neither liked to be wrong…and usually weren’t. They had strength of character and dignity of demeanor that was rare, indeed. And in his lifetime, he’d found two such women.

Indeed, the true difference between the two was a single fact…that he had always been Sydney’s savior, the one to right her world when everything went wrong; while Lauren had been his savior, pulling him from the depths of his despair and madness to bring him back to the land of the living.

A part of him acknowledged that he’d rather be the savior than the saved.

But yet, it had been Lauren’s saving quality that he’d turned to this evening. After returning from the Russia mission, amazingly alive and in one piece, all he could think about once he’d seen her was getting home and being with her…to release the pent-up emotional high of his narrow escape.

Once they’d gotten in the door of their house, he’d not wasted a moment. The haphazard path of discarded clothes that led to their bedroom was proof enough of that. Lauren had been startled, yet pleased, with his sudden fervor. Normally their lovemaking was more controlled, subtler, and more sedate. She’d never seen the ‘post-mission’ Michael before, never experienced his aching need to celebrate his survival in the most deeply human way possible, but she hadn’t shrunk from the challenge, either. Indeed, Lauren had appeared to revel in the moment, matching him kiss for kiss and touch for touch. He’d never felt such a sense of urgency since…well, since Sydney.

By the time they reached the bed, they were both panting and lustful; attacking one another with the ferocity of need that adrenaline leaves in its wake. The mask of tenderness that normally covered their lovemaking had slipped away and only desire remained…a bright, burning ache that needed to be assuaged as quickly as possible. He could feel the tension rising and needed to feel that fireball burst inside him and out of him at all costs. And Lauren matched him thrust for thrust, urging him ever closer to his release. But even as he finally pushed her over the edge, her nails lightly scratching his back as her guttural, nonsensical cries echoed around him, his blood rushing in his ears, he could not find his release. Try as he might, relief would not come.

As Lauren’s movements slowed below him, he felt the beginnings of frustration set in; there might be no relief for him tonight after all…and tonight, of all nights, he needed it so badly. He’d closed his eyes, willing his body to free him, whatever the cost. He needed to feel the tension pour out of him, he needed to feel again. And that’s when it happened…

A vision swam before his eyes: a vision of a Grecian goddess swathed in red silk that hugged every delicious curve, swirling tendrils of brunette hair brushing her neck like a lover’s caress…her eyes burning with love and desire, and all of it for him.

Gasping with the force of his violent release, he’d come more powerfully than he’d ever come in his life. It seemed to go on forever, shaking his body, shaking his soul. Tears rolled unnoticed down his cheeks as he gasped for air and collapsed upon the warm, comforting body of his wife, boneless and unmoving.

He lay, speechless and spent, for several minutes while Lauren soothingly stroked his back and the hair at the base of his neck, waiting for him to recover. She’d laughed huskily and teased him, saying she hoped all his welcome home parties would be this exciting. All he could do was nod, his head buried in her neck, his face burning with shame.

Never had he envisioned Sydney when he’d made love to Lauren…until now. Guilt ate at him greedily; stealing the sleep that normally followed their coupling. When he’d recovered enough to move, he’d rolled off Lauren, pulling her into a warm embrace at his side. She rested her head easily in the crook of his shoulder; her arm lay across his chest in a possessive yet careless manner, as she’d done so many nights before. He held her silently and listened to her breathing as she fell into a blissful, peaceful slumber, unaware of her husband’s inner turmoil. He’d waited until she was sleeping soundly and then dragged his restless self out of bed, into his jeans, and down the stairs to the chilled living room. He’d busied himself with making a fire and then grabbed a cold one out of the fridge, collapsing in this chair to make sense out of his twisted, messed up life.

He loved both of them. There…he’d said it…or at least he’d allowed himself to think it. It was an undeniable fact that haunted him…and it was tearing him apart.

Michael brought his shaking hand to his mouth and drained the remainder of his beer, resisting the urge to hurl the empty bottle into the fireplace. It would solve nothing, and the last thing he wanted was Lauren, his caring and wonderful partner, asking questions that he was not yet ready to answer.

He placed the empty bottle on the side table, instead grabbing the gilded frame there and staring at it for a long moment. Two ecstatically happy faces smiled at him from beneath the glass. He didn’t make promises lightly, and that day he’d promised to forsake all others and love Lauren forever.

But how the hell was I to know that Sydney was still out there? he asked himself desperately. People don’t normally come back from the dead…

But then, nothing about Sydney Bristow could ever be categorized as “normal”.

In the light of all that had transpired, it now sounded like a hollow excuse. Even death could not seem to conquer the Bristow women. Irina Derevko had proven she could cheat death…several times, in fact; why had it been so hard to believe that her daughter could as well?

You should have known… he cursed himself. You should have known she was alive… You should have felt it in your bones… he scolded himself fiercely.

But, maybe he had felt it…maybe that was why he’d fallen into madness…a madness that wasn’t so mad. His soul had refused to acknowledge what all reason said he must; that she was dead, gone, unreachable. His soul had known differently. Why hadn’t he listened? Why hadn’t he believed?

Those questions had easy, yet difficult answers. Everyone had told him that Sydney wasn’t coming back. Everyone had told him he needed to move on. He fought that notion tooth and nail, preferring instead to speak to her phantom, rather than believe she was gone. But eventually, he’d convinced himself that they must be right; that through his grief he could not see clearly.

He’d moved on, found a new love, and married her, believing he’d started over…until a fateful night in Hong Kong, when his new world began crumbling beneath his feet.

Restlessness setting in again, Michael placed the frame back on the side table and stood, grabbing the empty beer container. He padded barefoot to the kitchen and disposed of the bottle, then wearily climbed the stairs to enter his bedroom.

Looking down on the form of his beautiful and trusting wife, her arm wrapped around his pillow as if it were his chest instead of down feathers, his heart contracted with pain.

God! This isn’t happening… Michael tried to tell himself, wetting his lips, tasting the beer on his tongue, but he knew he was lying. It was happening…his life was quickly becoming a train wreck, his two worlds colliding head on, and he hadn’t a clue how to stop it.

He knew that he loved Lauren dearly, but now he feared in the depths of his soul that, perhaps, his love for Lauren may have been rooted in the very fact that she reminded him so much of Sydney.

Damn it, he didn’t want to love Sydney! He didn’t want to feel this magnetic attraction to her; he wanted that with his wife…with his wonderful, sweet wife, who was blissfully ignorant of the tidal wave about to engulf her.

He could not deny that he truly cherished the time he’d spent with Lauren. She’d been a godsend; his own guardian angel at a time when he’d truly needed one. But his love for Lauren, though very real and very deep, was, in truth, only an extension of the love that welled within him for Sydney; he could see that now. His love for Lauren stood on the building blocks that Sydney had laid. And in the end, when the inevitable tempest had taken its toll and the dust had cleared, that foundation—his love for Sydney—would be all that remained.

Like a moth to a flame, he could not resist the inexorable pull that was Sydney Bristow. The very depths of his soul knew her, recognized her as his one true soul mate. Their relationship had been rocky, strewn with the impossible obstacles of her mother killing his father, the threat of death and dismemberment at the hands of SD-6, yet it had been effortlessly easy to love her. It came to him as naturally as breathing, its rhythm as steady and unyielding as the ocean waves. Its undertow would sweep him under again, he knew now with a certainty he could not explain. There was no denying the inevitable. He would love her again…he did love her still.

Standing there, watching over the woman who had so often watched over him, he’d never felt more like a character in a Shakespearean tragedy in his life than at that moment. This was a story that appeared to have no happy ending, no happily ever after. No matter where he went or whom he chose; someone would end up heartbroken…perhaps all of them would…because if he allowed himself to admit it, there really was only one choice he could make, one choice that his soul would accept.

This world, this life that he’d created—the one that didn’t include Sydney—was a lie: A lie created by the myth that he could move on, that he could love another. But death did not sever his bond to Sydney; it only made it stronger. He would always be Sydney’s; she would always be his…the rest was just details.

It was only a matter of time before Lauren recognized the changes in him, changes he’d only just acknowledged himself. He knew he needed to do something soon; before it got any worse. He couldn’t stand the idea of hurting her, but couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t set her free, giving her the chance to find the love she really deserved.

Lauren deserved a man who loved her with his whole heart and his whole soul…something that he could never give to her. She’d known he was broken when she’d met him, when she’d fallen in love with him. And yes, she’d chosen the broken man he was rather than a whole someone else. But that was before. That was before Sydney came back. Now her husband was once again whole, but not whole because of her…and never would be, through no fault of her own.

Soon, he would tell her. Somehow, he would find the words to make her understand that he has no choice in the matter, and never had. His soul has been branded; it belongs to another, and no amount of denial would ever change that fact. He would explain to her that he could no more stop his love for Sydney than will his heart to stop beating. He would make her understand that she deserved better than he could give her and that he wanted her to have that happiness with another rather than suffer the pain of ‘second best’ beside him.

But tonight…tonight he would hold on to the lie for just a moment longer. As selfish as it seemed, he wanted to commit this moment in time to memory, he wanted to remember this love they had before its inevitable fall from grace. He stripped off his jeans and slid between the covers, pulling Lauren to him, feeling her sigh against his chest as she embraced him once more. He was once again holding a woman he loved in his arms…a woman that he knew would soon no longer be his.

~ fin ~
10:36 am
[rocknvaughn]
Turn Around, Bright Eyes
Turn Around, Bright Eyes
By RocknVaughn

Companion piece to “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Sydney POV, Post “Unveiled”, Angst
Rated PG-13 (some mildly descriptive sexual content)


~ ~

Turn around,
Every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you're never coming round
Turn around,
Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears
Turn around,
Every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by
Turn around,
Every now and then I get a little bit terrified and then I see the look in your eyes
Turn around bright eyes,
Every now and then I fall apart…
~ Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

~ ~

With a sniff of disinterest, Sydney Bristow shoved what remained of her tepid frozen dinner away, instead looking around at the wide expanse of silence that threatened to smother her.

Another night alone in my empty apartment with only a TV dinner and the remote…, she thought morbidly, shaking her head at what her life had become. Grabbing the remote, she flicked the power button and then tossed it aside. It didn’t matter what channel it was on, because she never watched it anyway. The television’s sole purpose was to shatter the suffocating quiet, to make her feel just that much less alone. But sometimes, instead of helping, it brought back painful memories that flooded her brain along with the sound:

Sydney padded barefoot out into the living room, sheathed only in a long, white terrycloth robe and a matching towel turbaned around her head. A smile touched the side of her mouth as she got closer to Vaughn, who was slouched into the sofa with his feet propped up comfortably on the coffee table. His mind was obviously engrossed in the baseball game he was watching, as he didn’t hear her approach.

Leaning down, she loosely wrapped her arms around Vaughn’s neck from behind and laid her cheek against his and then smiled as his hands slid up her arms to tighten her embrace around him.

“Hi, honey…” he said, turning his head slightly to whisper a kiss across Sydney’s cheek while his eyes never moved a millimeter from the TV screen.

In turn, Sydney nuzzled her nose into the crook of his neck and chuckled, which brought a grin to Vaughn’s face. “What?” he asked with amusement, still watching the game.

“You,” she replied simply. “If there’s baseball on the tube, forget it, I’ve lost you.”

“I like baseball,” Vaughn defended mulishly.

“I know you do…” Sydney countered. “But seriously, Vaughn…the Mets!?”

“What’s wrong with the Mets?” he demanded, still watching the television.

“They lose, Vaughn...over and over again. That’s what’s wrong with the Mets.”

“The season’s only half over; they could still go all the way,” Vaughn countered.

Sydney snorted with disbelief. “Yeah, and what are the odds of that happening?”

“It’s not about odds, Sydney. It’s about belief.” Vaughn teased, his voice full of amusement once more.

Suspension of disbelief, you mean…They’re a lost caus….!”

Sydney’s statement ended in a squeak as suddenly, Vaughn’s hands tightened on her upper arms and tugged sharply, flipping Sydney over the back of the couch to land with a very unladylike thump in his lap. Laying her body back against the couch, he shifted his weight and leaned over her, half-pinning her beneath him. She certainly had all of his attention now…

Vaughn’s deep green eyes scorched her. “There’s something to be said for believing in lost causes…don’t you agree?” His voice was deep and suggestive.

Sydney shivered as one of his hands slid under the slit in her robe to burn a trail of awareness up her side before settling just below her right breast. “They have their…” Sydney’s breath escaped in a rush as Vaughn’s thumb brushed lightly against the tip of her damp nipple, “…merits…I suppose.”

Vaughn grinned evilly as he leaned even closer to her, so that their lips were only a whisper apart. His thumb continued its leisurely assault on her sensitive skin as he watched Sydney’s eyelids flutter and her breath hitch in response. “That’s what I thought you said…” he joked before lowering his lips to hers.

Between Vaughn’s heady kiss and his flickering touch against her breast, Sydney felt herself melting right into the cushions beneath her. Ah, it was such bliss, such…

Sydney’s eyes blinked open at the sudden loss of sensation.

“Yeah! All right!” Vaughn, now half sitting up, cheered, pumping one fist toward the television screen as the announcer cried, “It’s a three run homer for Mike Piazza…and in the bottom of the ninth the Mets win it, four to two…”

With exasperation, Sydney grabbed a fistful of pillow from behind her head. Whap! “Vaughn!” she complained with a whine as she smacked him on the side of the head with the pillow.

Chuckling, Vaughn immediately wrapped a hand around each of her wrists and pinned them against the couch above her head, moving to straddle her body and lie on top of it. “All right, Bristow…” he mock-warned, “now you’re in trouble…” He nuzzled against the soft skin of her neck and nudged his hips against hers to suggest exactly what kind of trouble he meant.

In response, Sydney lifted her hips slightly and wiggled; the additional pressure against Vaughn’s hips elicited a deep groan from his throat. Leaning down to circle his earlobe with her tongue, she breathed, “You think so? Bring it on…”


Tears completely obscured Sydney’s vision. She angrily wiped them away, reaching blindly for the television remote to switch off the baseball game that flickered against the screen. Damn it, damn it, damn it!

Everything and nothing reminded her of Vaughn: of their time together…of what they once had…of what she now could not have. And in light of the latest development, and Vaughn’s complete dismissal of her suspicions, their predicament seemed more hopeless than ever.

The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that it had been Lauren she’d seen in Berlin. And despite Vaughn’s objection and Weiss’ caution about wanting to see it for her own reasons, she knew it wasn’t about that. She had an instinct; and right now her instinct was screaming that Lauren was the mole.

How convenient had it been that she just showed up at the safe house? And Sydney swore she’d seen Lauren surreptitiously touch that big, ugly ring she’d supposedly gotten from her mother to the USB drive as she set down Vaughn’s coffee mug. Finding out that the drive had been erased only cemented it in her mind. That’s not even taking into account how the Covenant could have found Dr. Viadro before them when the CIA had shut their worm down…

And still Vaughn refused to believe.

Frustration and anger blazed within Sydney. How could he be so stupid!? she seethed, even though she knew her thought was unfair. If she was right about Lauren, Vaughn wouldn’t be the first agent to fall victim to a female enemy agent.

“Sydney, you have to understand…” Jack had told her before the trip to Milan. “Denial is a very powerful emotion. No one wants to believe their own wife duped them…that their entire life together is one big lie.”

Sydney didn’t have to ask how he knew this; it came from personal experience. “But, Sydney…” Jack placed a soothing hand on her shoulder, “you did the right thing by telling Vaughn of your suspicions. You’ve planted a seed of doubt in his mind, whether he likes it or not. He can try to push it away, to say that you were just being spiteful, but deep down, Vaughn knows better. He knows you would never do that. Even if he won’t admit it out loud.”

“But Dad…” Sydney protested, “he wouldn’t even listen to you…and you went through it!”

“Oh, he listened…he just didn’t agree. Nor did I expect him to. His reaction was completely normal, considering what I was asking him to believe. I only wanted him to be open to the possibility and aware of the warning signs. And while Vaughn indicated otherwise, it is my belief that, like your doubts, my suggestion will not go unheeded. Once he sees something suspicious, he will be unable to help himself. Vaughn will have no choice but to follow up on it, if only to prove us wrong, you see?”

A shadow of doubt and concern flickered across Sydney’s face.

“Despite his current state of denial, Vaughn is a good agent. If we’re right about our suspicions, he’ll figure it out.”

Sydney looked down at her shoes and nodded glumly.

Jack let out a long sigh. “Sydney…I know how much it hurts you to watch Vaughn with Lauren. I know how much you miss him.”

Sydney looked up at her father suddenly, shocked, even as tears began to gather in her eyes. She wasn’t sure why his perception of her feelings surprised her, but it did.

“Perhaps…” Jack began hesitantly, “you should let it go…”

He was right; she should. Except that she couldn’t. She could no longer deny that her heart and soul belonged only to Michael Vaughn…and that knowledge tortured her every minute of every day they were apart.

“You can’t force it, Sydney. And hoping won’t make it so. If you cannot move on, then at least stop waiting…If it’s meant to happen, eventually it will.” And with a tiny pained smile, Jack walked away.


Her father was right. Not only was she waiting, she was pining. Pining after a married man. Granted, that married man was Vaughn…but that didn’t excuse the behavior. She needed to take control of her life…starting right now.

“Well, no more pining tonight…” Sydney exclaimed defiantly to the silence. “I’m going to bed.”

Moments later, Sydney huddled in the dark beneath her blankets, her knees pulled up against her chest. Her hand drifted automatically to the scar at her waist, exposed as her nightshirt rode up. Touching it brought back with a crash all that she had lost: everything she had lost. She was now a stranger in her own life; a life that no longer made any sense.

Wrenching her hand away as if the scar had burned her fingers, she turned onto her stomach and buried her face into the pillow. The soft down muffled the sound as Sydney cried herself to sleep.

~ ~

The harsh sound of the telephone jolted her from the black emptiness of sleep. Groping blindly for the phone on the bedside table, she glanced blearily at her alarm clock. Only 9:53!? she thought with disgust as she pushed the “talk” button on the cordless receiver.

“Hello?” she answered, her voice still thick with sleep.

Silence was the only reply. Actually, that wasn’t exactly true. She heard a swift intake of breath on the other end of the line.

Sitting up and pushing her hair out of her eyes, she said again, “Hello?” What the heck was this, a prank call?

She was about to hang up when his beloved voice rumbled in her ear. “Sydney?”

His voice sounded so small, so frail, she almost couldn’t believe it was him. “Vaughn!?

Instantly, she felt herself melting, her soul leaning toward him like a plant toward the sun, and she couldn’t allow that to happen. She wasn’t going to set herself up for yet another fall at the hands of Michael Vaughn. She flipped on the light next to her and blinked rapidly, relishing its harshness. She sat up straighter and steeled herself against her own traitorous emotions. “What do you want?” she asked, silently pleased with how abrupt and harsh she sounded.

“I…I need to talk,” came Vaughn’s hesitant reply. God, how broken his voice sounded! No, Sydney… she scolded herself, you’re not getting your hopes up this time… He’s not going to play this game with your heart any more. Time to shut him down…

“Then talk to your wife, Vaughn. You made your choice.” Well, that was right to the point… she thought with satisfaction.

“But…” Vaughn immediately tried to protest. That sorrowful tone of his would be her undoing if she let him continue, and tonight, she was not going to crack.

“It’s late, Vaughn. I’m going back to bed.” Her voice was steely, final. That should get her point across. It’s all or nothing, Vaughn. Either me or her.

She was about to hang up the phone when she heard two simple words: “Sydney…please…” In those two words were a myriad of emotions she hadn’t heard from Vaughn in…well, she didn’t know how long. He sounded…devastated.

Despite herself, she paused. What could possibly have happened to put him in such a state?

His voice was little more than a croak as he rushed forward. “Sydney, you were right…about Lauren…”

Sydney’s eyes widened as a shiver of foreboding shook her. “What!?”

Vaughn’s excruciatingly painful voice continued, “You were right…about everything. She’s…”

His voice cut off suddenly and then Sydney heard a loud scraping noise as his hand covered the receiver. Still, in the background she could hear the muffled sound of Vaughn vomiting.

Oh my God…

When she heard his hand move away again, she asked, truly frightened for the first time in this conversation, “Vaughn, are you all right?”

He didn’t answer for a long moment, which only made Sydney panic further. Something was terribly, terribly wrong…and she had a sick feeling she knew what it was.

Finally, she heard his awful whisper: “She’s the mole…”

Sydney whipped off the bedcovers and stood, already stepping out of her pajama bottoms to change. There was no thought process involved. It was pure instinct. Vaughn was in danger. There was no way she wasn’t going.

“Where are you?” she demanded, praying he was safe, at least for the moment.

“Grant Circle Play Park, about a mile from my house,” Vaughn answered hoarsely, sounding as if he were about to be sick again.

“Stay where you are,” Sydney insisted. “I’ll be right over.” She hung up the phone, haphazardly tossing the receiver onto the bed before grabbing an oversized sweater and pulling it over her head and shoving her arms into the sleeves.

In that moment, it didn’t matter that he’d chosen Lauren over her less than a week ago. It didn’t matter that he’d gotten her hopes up and smashed them because of his overdeveloped sense of duty. It didn’t matter that she’d sworn just hours before that she wouldn’t do this to herself again.

All that mattered was that Vaughn’s life was in shambles, collapsing all around him. He had awoken from a long dream to find himself in hell…and out of everyone he could have gone to for help, he’d called her. After years of needing him, of being supported by him…the tables had finally turned. Now, he needed her: maybe more desperately than he’d needed anyone else in his entire life.

He was falling into the darkness he had always struggled to protect her from. And regardless of the cost or what the future might bring because of it, Sydney was determined to catch him, to pull him back from the brink…before it was too late.


~ ~

Turn around,
Every now and then I know you'll never be the boy you always you wanted to be
Turn around,
Every now and then I know you'll always be the only boy who wanted me the way that I am
Turn around,
Every now and then I know there's no one in the universe as magical and wondrous as you
Turn around,
Every now and then I know there's nothing any better and there's nothing I just wouldn't do
Turn around, bright eyes…



~ fin ~
10:28 am
[rocknvaughn]
Total Eclipse of the Heart
Total Eclipse of the Heart
By RocknVaughn
1/1, although there may be a companion piece
Spoilers: post-“Unveiled”

ETA: Yeah, it's sort of, kind of a song fic. The title comes from a song by Bonnie Tyler. I heard it on the radio during the day while I was writing this and went, "Yes!"

~ ~

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart
There's nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart


~ ~

For a long, heart-stopping, heartbreaking moment Vaughn stared at the items he’d found under the false bottom of Lauren’s suitcase—the suitcase she’d used on her “trip to Dover to bury her father”. A wave of icy recognition splashed down his spine: the wig was identical to the one worn by the waitresses at the Goth club in Berlin.

Sydney. A reflexive pain flashed through him. Sydney was right; she had seen Lauren. She’d tried to tell him, to warn him of her suspicions. He'd just refused to listen, not wanting to believe that such a horror could be true, choosing instead to believe that Sydney’s suspicions were based in spite or malice. That he could have fooled himself into believing that of Sydney—even for a moment—made his stomach turn sour.

And Jack. Jack had been right, too. It had happened just as Jack predicted: the kiss, the evasion of the question. No matter how vehement he’d been about Lauren's innocence after Jack’s admission, the similarity between the two events could not be denied. And, despite his denial at that time, now, his instinct and training had kicked in, and he chose…chose…not to ignore the signs the way Jack had. And now here he was, staring at the proof of his wife’s deceit. What had once been so carefully hidden was now plainly obvious: Lauren was the Covenant mole.

And he? He’d been more than wrong: he’d been used in the worst possible way. He’d been blinded by emotion and love and trust. He’d been made a fool of; he’d made himself a fool over her…

“Sweetheart?”

Vaughn startled at the honeyed sound of Lauren’s voice, slightly muffled as it filtered through the bathroom door. Placing one steadying hand on the floor beside him, and the other over his pounding heart, he croaked hoarsely, trying to keep his tone even and light, “Yes?” He prayed that the door would not open, lest Lauren catch him red-handed, kneeling before her opened suitcase.

“Could you bring me my robe? I seem to have forgotten to bring it in with me…” Lauren’s tone was light, flirtatious, almost teasing.

Vaughn breathed a silent sigh of relief, realizing he was safe—at least for the moment. Clearing his throat, he replied innocently, “Sure. I’ll be right in.” Looking anxiously at the suitcase, he debated taking the extra time to stow it away, but instantly decided against it, not wanting to appear hesitant in complying with her request, thereby making her suspicious. Stepping carefully over the suitcase, he nudged it behind her side of the bed with his foot so that it was hidden from view of the bathroom doorway. Then he grabbed a light cotton robe from a hook inside Lauren’s closet and walked over to the door, rapping on it lightly with his knuckles.

“Come in,” Lauren called.

Steeling his features into a bemused smile, Vaughn forced himself to open the door and step inside. Lauren was already in the tub, water lapping around her as she leaned her head back against the side wearily, her golden hair pinned up in an untidy bun, tendrils slipping out to frame her face prettily.

All designed for effect… Vaughn surmised as he felt his stomach lurch dangerously once more. He wondered whether Lauren actually liked baths at all, or if it, too, was a ruse created to remind him of the woman he really loved—Sydney. Suddenly, Vaughn was inundated with memories of small, seemingly meaningless snapshot moments, all of which were obviously crafted by Lauren to garner a specific response. Actions, gestures, turns of phrase, all designed to dredge up wisps of his love for Sydney and twist them around for her own use.

Turning away from Lauren under the guise of hanging her robe on the hook on the back of the bathroom door, Vaughn’s Adam’s Apple bobbed noticeably as he swallowed the taste of bile in his mouth. Reaffixing his smile, he turned to face the traitorous b*tch he called his wife.

On the outside, he looked the part of the doting husband; on the inside, he felt positively murderous. He wanted to cross the room, reach out his bare hands and choke the life right out of her, then perhaps chop her body up into little pieces and feed them down the garbage disposal. But no…not yet, he told himself. There would be time for that later. Right now, he needed to get out, tell someone what he’d discovered, and find out what to do next.

“Thank you, Michael. That was sweet of you,” Lauren smiled and sighed blissfully as she sunk deeper into the steaming water.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. The slight huskiness in his voice caused by the pain of hindsight could easily be mistaken for latent passion.

It was. A seductive smile played at the corners of Lauren’s mouth as she speared Vaughn with the wide-eyed mock-innocent gaze inherent of the virgin/temptress in foreplay. “Come here, darling…” she breathed.

Vaughn, forcing the nausea down once again, complied with her request.

Once Vaughn was next to the tub, Lauren reached out to tug on his hand lightly. Vaughn knelt beside her and she threaded her other hand into his hair to pull Vaughn into a long, seductive kiss.

Everything rides on selling this moment, Vaughn thought desperately as he forced himself to respond in kind to Lauren’s ministrations. The hand that had clasped his freed itself to slide slowly down the front of his shirt, leaving a wet streak as it slid ever lower.

Moments before her fingers could prove that his “attraction” had not reached his lower half, he pulled back from her embrace, grasped the wandering hand in his and brought it to his mouth to scatter whisper soft kisses on the sensitive skin between thumb and forefinger.

“Lauren,” Vaughn began, trying to sound hesitant and unsure, “I wanted to tell you…that I’ve been doing some thinking.”

“Yes?” Lauren’s voice was still light, but interest sparked instantly in her eyes: her cold, hard ice blue eyes. How could he ever have found them beautiful?

“I…I think…that perhaps I was too hasty in wanting to end our marriage.” Vaughn put up a hand to stop her just as Lauren was about to interrupt. “I…I know you’re probably thinking that I’m just saying this because of what happened with your father, but I’m not. I know things have been…strained between us lately…I know I’ve hurt you." But not as much as I’d like to…, he thought before continuing, "But I’m hoping you can find it in your heart to forgive me.” Vaughn paused for effect, lowering his eyes humbly. “I’m hoping you want to give our marriage another try, too…”

Wet arms snaked around his neck as Lauren’s soapy breasts pushed against his chest. She buried her face in his neck, feigning joy. “Oh, Michael…” she sighed as he slid his arms around her naked torso, reluctantly returning the embrace. “Thank you for not giving up on me; on us. I swear this time…” Lauren pulled back to look Vaughn in the eye, “I will be more attentive to your needs. I promise.”

Vaughn nodded back, as if satisfied, and then smiled. “Thank you.” Pulling gently out of Lauren’s arms, he reached out and tenderly stroked the side of her face. “Hey, listen… I’m still a bit keyed up from my trip to Milan. Do you mind if I go out for a run for an hour or so?” Not wanting her to protest, he added, “Maybe when I get back, we can snuggle up on the couch and watch one of those old black and white movies you love so much…”

“Of course, darling,” Lauren replied with a smile. “Take your time. I’ll see you when you get back.”

Vaughn nodded once and pushed himself to a stand. “I’ll take my cell phone. Call me if you need me.”

“All right.”

Vaughn opened the door little more than a crack and slid through the opening. Just as he was about to close the door behind him, he heard Lauren say, “I love you…”

Closing his eyes in disgust, Vaughn forced out the words without looking back. “Love you, too. Be back soon.”

The latch of the door clicked shut behind Vaughn with an air of finality. Padding across the room, he quickly placed the wig back over the silenced pistol and fake passport, and then reaffixed the false bottom of the suitcase before stowing it safely away in the top of Lauren’s closet once more. Sliding the closet doors shut, he rapidly changed into sweatpants, T-shirt and sneakers.

Sliding his keys and cell phone into his pocket, he trotted down the stairs, out the front door, and onto the darkened lawn. Casting one last look over his shoulder at the bathroom window, Vaughn turned and sprinted down the street at breakneck speed, not slowing his pace until his house—their house was completely out of sight.

Tears pricked at Vaughn’s eyes as he ran, knowing it had nothing to do with the biting nip in the air and everything to do with his utter and complete failure as a man. He’d let Sydney down, gave up on her, and then fell in love with the enemy, defending her over and over when in reality; she was one of the people responsible for Sydney’s kidnapping. While she probably wasn’t personally responsible for that particular mission, Lauren Reed and her employers had effectively stolen two years of Sydney Bristow’s life…no, of their life together.

Vaughn screeched to a halt beside a refuse can, ripping off the lid and tossing it aside as his silent sobs became violent retches. Again and again, his stomach contracted, forcing more bile, more guilt up and out of his mouth. He thought of his first kiss with Lauren…retch…the day he’d proposed… retch…their beautiful wedding on her father’s farm…retch…the father that she’d had killed, or else killed herself, and framed for her misdeeds…retch…of every tender memory of their time together, now contaminated with deception.

Finally, Vaughn collapsed in a heap next to the trash bin, leaning his weight heavily against it. He felt drained, as if every good thing he’d ever known was forever tainted by the twisted darkness blotting out his sun: a total eclipse of the heart.

Forcing the darkness consuming him back into the shadows, he checked his watch. he heaved a heavy sigh when he realized he’d only been gone 15 or 20 minutes. Glancing across the street, he saw an abandoned playground. Moonlight glinted off the chain links that supported the sling-type swings.

Pushing himself to a stand, he dragged his weary body across the street, settling himself into a low swing. Then he pulled out his cell phone and stared at the little metal contraption in his hands. He needed to call someone…but who?

Dixon? No. He knew he’d be required to go in for an immediate briefing, and he hadn’t bought himself that much time. Besides, telling Director Dixon would make it too real too soon. He needed to ease himself into the knowledge of Lauren’s betrayal or else it would eat him alive.

Weiss? No. He needed someone that would truly understand, someone who would feel his pain, and for all his best friend’s traits, empathetic listening wasn’t his strongest suit. Besides, Eric Weiss had never felt the sting of soul-deep betrayal. He needed to find someone who had.

Jack? Vaughn pondered this choice for several seconds before finally shaking his head. Jack would understand, because it had happened to him, but yet… Vaughn had spoken to Jack harshly--too harshly--to ask for his assistance. In light of the truth, Vaughn felt ashamed of his lashing out at Sydney's father, who was obviously trying to help him by opening up about a very difficult time in his own life. If Vaughn's own father had been alive, it would have disappointed him to witness his son display such stubborn ingratitude. Frankly, Vaughn was too ashamed by his behavior to admit his guilt to Jack tonight.

No, there was only one person to call, only one person with which he could trust his shattered, fragile soul now: Sydney. Vaughn dialed her number without even looking at the keypad, as if it were instinct.

After everything he’d done to Sydney since her return, and especially in light of his crude accusation that she might have been making up seeing Lauren in Berlin for her own benefit, Vaughn knew he didn’t deserve her attention, her response. If she hung up on him, it would be no more than he deserved...but he prayed that she wouldn’t.

After several rings, Sydney’s sleep-tinged voice answered. “Hello?”

Vaughn held his breath, unable to speak, fearful of how she would react to his call.

“Hello?” she said again, confusion evident in her tone now.

“Sydney?” Vaughn finally uttered, barely above a whisper.

Vaughn!?” Sydney gasped in surprised shock. As she took a steadying breath, Vaughn could actually feel the walls going up, see the ramrod-straight coldness infusing her posture. “What do you want?” she demanded.

“I…I need to talk,” Vaughn stammered hesitantly.

“Then talk to your wife, Vaughn. You made your choice.”

“But…”

“It’s late, Vaughn. I’m going back to bed.” Sydney’s voice was steely, final.

A fresh wave of nausea tickled the back of Vaughn’s throat. He forced it back down with a gulp. He knew Sydney was on the verge of hanging up.

Every emotion he was currently feeling--pain, guilt, anger, self-loathing, betrayal—tumbled into two simple words, “Sydney…please…

He felt her pause rather than heard it; felt her warring with herself over whether she should respond or just hang up.

Hurriedly, not wanting to miss this small window of opportunity, he croaked, “Sydney, you were right…about Lauren…”

“What!?” Sydney gasped, aghast at what she thought he was admitting.

“You were right…about everything. She’s…” Vaughn choked and dry heaved for a moment, placing his hand over the mouthpiece to drown out the sound from Sydney.

But she’d heard. “Vaughn, are you all right?” Sydney asked immediately, her voice full of concern.

He nodded absently, as if not even realizing she couldn’t see him. He finished in a whisper, needing to say it aloud, but also afraid to hear it, “She’s the mole…”

“Where are you?” Sydney’s voice was suddenly strong and demanding.

“Grant Circle Play Park, about a mile from my house,” he gasped, swallowing against another urge to vomit.

“Stay where you are,” Sydney insisted. “I’ll be right over.”

Vaughn listened to the comforting hum of the dial tone for several seconds before realizing she’d gone. He absently clicked off his cell phone and stowed it back in his pocket. Then, he hunched over, propping his elbows on his knees and digging his fingers into his hair to support his drooping head. Closing his eyes, he sighed.

Before Sydney “died”, he had always been the one to save her. But in the blink of an eye, his life had turned upside down two years ago. Maybe, finally, two years later, it had righted itself again.

They had come full circle from that night on the pier, when he had saved her from the darkness consuming her. He’d been a guiding hand in the darkness, a steady beacon to bring her back to the light. And now, he was the one in the dark.

She was coming…and, he knew, she would bring the light with her. And maybe, just maybe, he could survive this darkness—his eclipse—after all.

~ ~

And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you'll only hold me tight
We'll be holding on forever


~ fin ~
9:11 am
[rocknvaughn]
Trust Is A Tricky Thing
Trust Is A Tricky Thing
by RocknVaughn
1/1

Rating: PG-13 (for a little language)
Genre: Mostly angst, S/V, Vaughn POV


~ * ~


Michael Vaughn slowly drifted toward consciousness. He felt dizzy and disconnected, and none of the sounds filtering into his fuzzy brain seemed to make sense. The last thing he remembered was excruciating pain, labored breathing…and Sydney.

Yes… he thought in his barely-awake state, Sydney. Sydney was there. She held my hand; we joked about baby names. She gave me a sip of water and then… Vaughn strained to remember more, but could not.

But now, other than the steady beeping of a heart monitor, nothing else around him sounded like a hospital. There were no pages for doctors, no filtered air venting into the room, no crinkling of plastic mattress covers under starched white sheets. His fingers twitched against the cool, soft cotton beneath him. Nope, too soft to be institutional bedding…

He tried to swallow, but found his mouth and throat almost unbearably dry. He felt ridiculously weak, to the point where just the tiny motion of his fingers combined with his breathing was almost enough to tire him out. Yet, curiosity regarding his situation won out over exhaustion and he forced his eyelids to open.

His vision was blurry, but he could make out a woman seated at his bedside, watching him with expectation and fascination. She had beautiful long brown hair with eyes to match. “Sydney…” he whispered, his lips barely moving, his voice barely audible. He started to reach his hand out toward her, but something stopped him. No, something’s not right…something’s not…

Vaughn blinked, and then blinked again, trying to clear his vision, trying to focus his eyes on his Sydney…but she wasn’t there. He sucked in an astonished breath as his vision cleared.

“Welcome back, Agent Vaughn.” The melodious voice flowed over him. It was a voice he usually only heard in his nightmares. “It has been a long time.”

“Irina…” Vaughn gasped, yet he was still able to inflect some sarcasm into his tone. “What the…!? Where’s Sydney?” he demanded.

“Sydney is fine. She is in L.A. and is safe…at least for the time being,” Irina answered, leaning forward slightly in her chair and resting her forearms on her thighs, her hands clasped.

“Where…” Vaughn had to pause for breath, “Where am I?”

“You’re safe, and that’s all you need to know right now.”

“The hell it is,” Vaughn protested, his voice growing slightly stronger as his anger rose. “For starters, what the hell am I doing here…with you!?”

Irina sat back, crossing her legs, her arms across her chest. It was hard to tell if she were amused or affronted by his question. “Jack contacted me and informed me of your dire situation. I agreed to hide you while you regained your health.”

I’m gonna kill Jack when I get back… floated through Vaughn’s thoughts even as his mouth asked, “Why you?”

Now Irina’s lips did curl up into a catlike smile. “Because, as I’m sure you’re aware Agent Vaughn, I am one of the few people Jack knows who can and has been able to successfully disappear off of anyone’s radar. Besides, with your ambush being the result of an “inside job”, Jack wasn’t sure whom within the organization he could trust.”

“How do I know you’re actually helping me? How do I know you aren’t actually working for them? After all, you made allusions to what I was doing months ago…”

“I simply wanted to warn you that you were not being discreet enough. If I could find out, then so could they…and they did. And second…” Irina leaned forward once more, her eyes locking with Vaughn’s, “regardless of what may have happened in the past, I have nothing to gain by killing you, and everything to gain by saving you.”

“Why? Because you think I might forgive what you did to my father if you save me!?” Vaughn spit acidly at her.

Irina lifted her chin haughtily, but did not look away; instead, her eyes bored painfully into Vaughn’s. “I wouldn’t presume.” She let that sink in for a moment before adding, “No. I have everything to gain because you’re the father of my grandchild. Sydney didn’t have the benefit of two parents helping her growing up; I think her child should.”

Vaughn’s heart leapt at the thought of his child growing inside of Sydney even as his stomach dropped because of Irina’s knowledge of it. Vaughn swallowed past the lump in his throat and asked, “How is Sydney?”

Irina nodded once in acceptance of the change of subject and leaned back in her chair once more. “Doing well, and finally past her morning sickness. She has started to show,” she explained, a gentle smile softening her features.

Past morning sickness? Beginning to show!? This didn’t make sense. It was only a few days ago she’d found out she was pregnant…wasn’t it?

“Wait…wait…” Vaughn protested, “How long have I been gone?”

“A little over four months,” Irina confirmed.

Four months!?!” Vaughn just couldn’t wrap his mind around those two words. It didn’t feel possible.

“Agent Vaughn…” Irina drawled with the kind of scolding tone one would use with a child, “you received twenty-seven gunshot wounds. Twenty-seven,” she confirmed when Vaughn raised a skeptical eyebrow at her, “and most of them in the chest. You’ve been through nine surgeries to repair the damage. The rest of the time, you’ve been kept in a medically induced coma to give you the best chance of survival. It’s a miracle you’re even alive.”

Vaughn pressed his weight back into the pillows, letting it bear all his weight as he let this new shock sink in.

“It had been my intention to give you one more month to recuperate before bringing you back…but that’s not possible now.”

Vaughn turned his head slightly to look at Irina, the question in his eyes.

“Jack has informed me that, despite his best intentions to keep her safely out of harm’s way, he discovered that Sydney has been conducting an investigation into the organization that attempted to kill you. Last week, she finally located and contacted Renee Rienne.”

“No!” Vaughn’s body shot upright, or attempted to before excruciating pain in his chest sapped his strength, dropping him back onto the pillows unceremoniously. “She can't!” Vaughn gasped through his grunts of pain. “She has no idea how dangerous…she can’t…”

“Unfortunately, she can and she has. You know how stubborn Sydney can be.” Irina’s expression held both admiration for and chagrin of this particular trait.

“But…but…” Vaughn sputtered, his mind thinking faster than he could speak. “She needs to be stopped!”

“You and I both know that once Sydney sets her mind to do something, she won’t stop until she does it. No amount of reason will sway her.”

Vaughn grimaced, his lips turning into a frown as he nodded. It was one of the qualities that drove him insane about her…and that he loved and admired so much.

“The only way to continue to protect them is to find Gordon Dean, find out who he’s working for, and destroy them,” Irina concluded. “And for that, we needed you.”

A thought screamed through Vaughn’s brain. “Wait…Does Sydney even know I’m alive? I mean, if she thought I’d died, then I could see her wanting revenge, but…”

“She knows,” Irina cut in. “It’s the only thing that’s kept her idle until now. But you know Sydney…She won’t rest until it’s safe for you to come home to her.”

“Well, then, I need to get back to her,” Vaughn concluded. “I might be able to talk some sense into her if I could just be with her.”

“You’re being naïve if you think that,” Irina retorted. “You should know better. Besides, you’d only be putting her and the baby into more danger by resurfacing. The only way this is going to work is if you remain under the radar, behind the scenes.”

“But wouldn’t it make more sense if at least I had access to APO? At least then, I could…”

“Agent Vaughn…other than, Jack, Sydney and myself, no one else is aware you are alive.”

“No one!?” Vaughn breathed incredulously. “Not Weiss, or even my mother!?” No, no, no… He thought of his mother weeping over an empty casket, believing he was inside…Mourning him as she had his father almost thirty years before. No, this was not acceptable, this was not…

Irina stood abruptly and grabbed Vaughn’s jaw, turning his head and forcing him to meet her steely eyes. “Think, Agent Vaughn! Think!” In his shock, Vaughn’s internal monologue died. “If you are dead, then they are safe. Do not jeopardize your loved ones for your own selfish need. If we are successful in exposing this rogue organization and you safely return to them, do you not think they will understand?”

Irina released her grip on his chin. “Of course they would. They will understand that you kept away from them out of love.”

“Is that what you did!?” Vaughn demanded. “Stay out of Sydney’s life out of love? Is that what you tell yourself so you can sleep at night!?”

“I would not expect you to understand,” Irina replied, crossing her arms across her chest, “because you have never had to live that way.” Looking away, her eyes unfocused as if in thought, she continued, “Sydney was better off believing her mother had perished than knowing the truth.”

“If you asked her, Sydney might not agree with that.”

Irina turned back to Vaughn; her eyes sharp and clear once more. “Perhaps not.” Changing the subject, she said, “You must be hungry. I’ll fetch something for you to eat and drink. We need to get you healthy as soon as possible so we can get started.”

We?” Vaughn asked, eyes brows furrowing. “We!?” he repeated, agog at the implication. “We, as in you and I?”

“Yes, of course.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

“No. There is no way I am working with you,” Vaughn vowed.

Irina’s eyes narrowed. Her voice became suddenly cold and hard. “Stop it. Just stop it. Stop playing the wounded f---ing martyr and get over yourself. This not about you and me, or even me and your father; it is about Sydney and your child and their safety. I don’t give a damn what your issues are, Agent Vaughn. There is one way and one way only that you, Sydney, and that baby will ever be free, and that is if we work together! Right now, you need to trust me!”

Remembering something Eric had said to him once long ago, he responded, “Trust is a tricky thing.”

Irina shook her head in disgust, turned, and walked away…but at the doorway she stopped. After another moment of what appeared to be indecision, she turned back toward him, slipping her hand inside her coat. Extracting a white envelope, she deposited it into his lap. “Think about it,” she said, and then strode from the room.

Vaughn stared at the closed door to his room for a long moment, and then his eyes dropped to the blank envelope. Gingerly, he grasped it between two fingers on each hand and lifted it to his face. Closing his eyes, Vaughn took a deep breath, sighing contently when he detected what he hoped he would on its surface. Sydney.

Lifting up the tucked-in flap, Vaughn clumsily removed a short letter, not immediately noticing something flutter back to his lap; he was too enthralled at even the sight of Sydney’s distinctive handwriting.


Vaughn,

It’s been four months since I last saw you. I cannot begin to tell you just how much I think about you each and every day, just how much I miss you, and how much I love you.

Dad won’t tell me where you’re hidden, or whom you’re with, but he has assured me that you’re safe and are slowly recovering. I wish I could be with you when you finally wake, as I promised, but that’s not possible right now…not while the people who tried to kill you are still walking free.

Dad assures me that APO and the CIA is doing all they can to find Gordon Dean and the rest of the group that conspired to ambush you in that train yard, but in truth, they’ve found almost nothing…and I can’t wait any longer. I don’t want our child to grow up in fear of her life. I don’t want her to grow up without you. We need to be together, Vaughn, and I will do anything to make that happen.

That’s why I’ve arranged to make contact with Renee. I know how you’d feel about this, Vaughn. I know you’d tell me it’s too dangerous…that I shouldn’t put our baby or myself in danger because of you. But I have to do this. I need to do whatever I can to bring you home to me, to us.

Last month, I went to the doctor for a checkup. I listened to our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It made me cry; it was so beautiful and perfect. But all I could think about was how wrong it was that you weren’t here. All I could think of was that yet another evil man had taken away something he had no right to; the moment where my baby and her father first met.

So, at this month’s appointment, I made sure I brought a tape recorder, so that you could hear it, too. I hope to be able to smuggle that to you soon. For now, though…this will have to do.

Vaughn…I would like you to meet our daughter Isabelle.

All my love,
Sydney



It was then that Vaughn realized something was missing. Looking down, he saw a folded strip of paper lying in his lap next to the discarded envelope.

With shaking hands, he set Sydney’s letter down and picked up the paper, carefully unfolding it to reveal three black and white ultrasound photos: One that clearly showed lack of certain male body parts, one that showed the baby from head to toe, and the last one…of her head, her delicate features, her eyes closed, sucking her thumb. On white space at the bottom of this last one, in Sydney’s handwriting, it read: Isabelle Bristow-Vaughn.

Tears welled in Vaughn’s eyes as he reached up with one finger to brush against the cheek of his daughter’s first picture.

It was then that the full meaning of Irina’s words hit him. He literally had nothing to lose and everything to gain by believing Irina Derevko. And while she may not care about him personally, Vaughn could not deny that, in her own way, she loved her daughter and would do anything for her.

And he felt the truth in Sydney’s words, too. What he would have to do and go through in the coming months would be dangerous…but there was no other way. Vaughn needed to be with Sydney, just like Sydney needed to be with him. They belonged together…and nothing, and no one, was going to stop them.

For the love of Sydney and their child, he would do anything…anything. Even work with his father’s murderer. Even trust Irina Derevko.

Vaughn carefully folded up the pictures and letter and tucked them safely back into their envelope before clasping it to his chest over his heart.

Shaking his head in disbelief at what he now knew he would do, Vaughn mused at how prophetic—even if only accidentally so—his best friend had turned out to be. Trust is, indeed, a tricky thing.

~fin~
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