Disclaimer: Most of the characters mentioned in this story belong to J. J. Abrams.  Minor appearances made by those of my own creation.

Distribution: Ask me first and tell me where so I can visit.

Feedback: Yes, please, it really makes my day.

Spoilers: AU, so none. 

Summary: Set five years into the future. SD-6 has been obliterated. So why aren't Sydney and Vaughn together?

Author's Note: Hi everyone, I'm back!  Maybe some of you remember me or maybe you don't, but in any case, I hope you check out my new story.  I thought I'd put the first chapter out today in lieu of there being no new episode tonight.  Grrr!  If you let me know what you think, the second chapter might be ready in time for Thanksgiving Day.

P.S. I also wanted to say thanks to everyone who read and reviewed my last fic.  I couldn't believe it when I was still getting reviews more than two weeks after the last chapter was posted.  And although I'm still working on this one right now, you may be getting a follow-up to "A Second Chance" if I can get my brain to come up with a plot.

See ya later and please review!

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As Sydney Bristow neared her house, her early-morning jog slowed down to a walk. The beach was deserted at six-thirty in the morning, her favorite time to run. The sun was just starting to come up over the horizon and the air was still cool and a bit heavy from a late-night fog. In the year that had passed since her move from L.A. to Santa Barbara, she had come to love this time of the morning and she took advantage of it by running everyday, rain or shine.

She was barely out of breath as she trudged her way across the soft sand, stopping for a moment to pick up an empty soda can that had been carelessly tossed aside. Even though it was no longer required of her, Sydney still hit the gym regularly in addition to keeping up with her running program. She was pleased that she was still in fighting shape, even a year after leaving the CIA.

When her house came into view, Sydney's face broke out into a smile. She loved her little beach cottage, the exterior paint weathered to a dusty blue with spiffy white trim. When she wasn't working, she was fixing up her place, either painting the walls or re-tiling the kitchen floor or making throw pillows. She fancied herself as quite the little seamstress these days, albeit with some wry amusement. She did great as long as everything she sewed had four corners and was in the shape of a square.

As Sydney walked up the three steps to her front door, she removed her house key from her jacket pocket and let herself in. Whenever she walked into her house, a calming sort of peace came over her as if she had finally found a place where she belonged and could call her own.

The first thing on her agenda was a much-needed shower, so she headed upstairs, peeling off her running clothes and leaving them in a pile on the floor of her pretty, feminine-looking bedroom painted the color of a cool sage green. She walked into the bathroom, the cold tile feeling chilly against her bare feet. Sydney gave a little shiver as she pulled the scrunchie out of her hair and gave her head a little shake before stepping into the shower. Moments later, the jet spray from the showerhead was streaming down on her head as hot as she could stand it.

Later on, as she stood in front of the mirror in her fluffy white bathrobe while blow-drying her hair, Sydney's mind couldn't help but wander. It was coming up soon. The first anniversary of the dissolution of SD-6 and the destruction of Arvin Sloane.

That morning had started out like any other. She had gone into work as usual and they were all in the conference room where Sloane was detailing the latest mission. Everyone had been there: Dixon, Marshall, her father. One minute Sloane was regaling them with miscellaneous facts about Ralf Kleinschmidt, a noted arms dealer based in Colombia. The next minute CIA agents were pouring into the room, yelling and barking out orders, their weapons drawn. Sydney hadn't been informed by the CIA that a takedown operation had even been in the works, so her reactions to the armed enforcers had been genuine. She could only stand there mutely, her head down, as she was handcuffed and taken into federal custody along with everyone else.

Sydney hadn't been arrested, of course, but thus began weeks of interviews and interrogations and investigations. The entire world was reeling at finding out about SD-6's existence, a secret organization posing as a black ops division of the CIA. To ensure her own safety, Sydney was not allowed to leave her bland utilitarian holding cell until it was decreed that her life was no longer in any danger by retaliatory forces and so she was kept as a virtual prisoner herself, although admittedly, her living conditions were not as dismal as Sloane's.

While in seclusion, Sydney had been allowed to receive visitors, but only if they were involved with the case against SD-6. Since that little stipulation immediately cut her friends out of the picture, it wasn't such a surprise to her that her drop-in guests were few and far between. Her father checked on her as much as he could when he wasn't being put the wringer himself, but she knew he was going through the same thing she was and consequently, she couldn't expect too much from him.

Her only other visitor during her weeks of captivity had been Vaughn. The first time he showed up, she had been overjoyed to see him. She had almost greeted him by throwing her arms around his neck when she suddenly stopped herself, not liking the vibes he was giving off. He appeared to be stiff and ill-at-ease in her company. He also looked tired. Sydney noticed the circles under his eyes and the drawn look of his face. It was obvious that she wasn't the only one having to deal with the fallout from the takedown of SD-6.

Their time together had been brief. He asked how she was doing and she gave him the standard answer that she was fine. He apologized for not being able to see her sooner, but the countless meetings he was being forced to endure was a seemingly never-ending process. She told him she understood and that his first priority should have been to take care of himself. The rest of their stilted conversation was more of the same, polite and aloof and infinitely unsatisfying.

The second time he came to visit was also the last time she ever saw him. It happened three days before her eventual release from federal custody.

After finishing her evening meal, Sydney had just settled onto her bed with a book when there was a knock on her door. She heard the lock turn (yes, they locked her in at night) and was surprised to see Vaughn step into the room.

"Vaughn!" Sydney blurted out. Her room was windowless and had no air conditioning, so she had to make do with a portable fan and skimpy clothing. Her cheeks flushed as she realized her tank top and cut-offs left nothing to the imagination. It was obvious to her that he had noticed as well as his eyes appreciatively swept up and down her lithe figure.

"Hello, Sydney." Vaughn's green eyes still looked tired but the smile on his face as he greeted her warmed her heart. His attitude definitely seemed to be more upbeat than the last time he had visited her. Vaughn's glance cut away from her to the surveillance camera that was mounted in the corner of her room. "Do you have something we could use to cover that?" He inquired of her.

Her eyebrows arched upwards but she went into the bathroom and came back out with a large bath towel. She watched as Vaughn hopped up onto her desk chair and wrapped the towel completely around the camera lens, effectively blocking out the prying eyes of whoever had been watching her.

"Why--" Sydney began to say, but Vaughn held a finger to his lips to silence her. He walked over to the bedside lamp and turned it over. After running his hand along the base of the lamp, he found what he was looking for. He removed the tiny listening device, showed it to Sydney and then ground it under his shoe.

"What are you doing?" She asked incredulously, more than a little amused that he was tampering with government property.

"There's no way we can have a private conversation if everybody and their brother is listening in." Vaughn said matter-of-factly. "What do you think we should do about the door?"

"I think the old chair-under-the-doorknob should do the trick." Sydney replied, moving around him in order to put her idea to the test. "Well, that'll hold for a little while at least." She said after pushing the chair snugly into place.

Vaughn looked thoughtful. "Hmmm, I always see people do that in movies, but I never thought it actually worked."

"Where do you think I got the idea from?" She said with a grin, dazzling him with her dimples. "So, um, do you want to sit down?" It was at that point they both realized that the only chair in the room was otherwise engaged, which meant they had to choose either the floor or the bed.

Vaughn gulped nervously and Sydney noticed. "Oh, come on, Vaughn, I won't bite!" She grabbed his arm and led him over to the bed. She flopped down against her woefully flat pillow and he took a tentative seat on the scratchy gray woolen blanket near the foot of the bed.

"So you wanted to have a private conversation." Sydney prompted him after a few moments of silence.

"Yeah." He finally spoke. "We haven't really had a chance to talk since everything went down."

"That's true." She nodded.

"I'm sorry that we couldn't tell you it was going to happen, Sydney." Vaughn gave her an apologetic look. "We weren't even sure ourselves until that very morning and I didn't want to get your hopes up."

"It's okay." She waved her hand. "It's probably better that you didn't tell me. We both know I've been disappointed before at all the times we tried and failed in the past."

He gave her a brief smile. "Well, we finally got one to stick and Sloane is going to go away for a very long time, Syd." He promised her.

"It's been a long time coming." Sydney remarked in a sober voice. They both took a moment to contemplate just how long it had been.

"So how are you holding up?" His voice was full of concern for her. Even after all these years, she was still able to take his breath away, but he thought he might have detected a bit of weariness in those big brown eyes.

"I'm hanging in." Sydney gave him a haggard little smile.

"I know this isn't exactly The Ritz, but it'll be over soon. Everyone just wants to be sure all their t's are crossed and their i's dotted." Vaughn said consolingly. "They also want to make sure that you won't be in any danger once they let you out."

"Yeah, well, I kind of expected the solitary confinement." She admitted. "It took us five excruciatingly long years to bring down SD-6 and it'll probably take twice as long to figure out the ramifications of it all." She shot him a wry glance. "Of course, that being said, I hope I won't be kept here for all that time."

"No, of course not." Vaughn gave her a grin. "You're an amazing woman, Sydney." He murmured appreciatively. "You know, what you've managed to accomplish? That's something major." He said quietly.

"Don't sit there and say that it was all me." Sydney gave him a mild scolding, feeling her face flush under the scrutiny of his gaze. "You were…I mean, I couldn't have done any of this without you, Vaughn." Their eyes met and held. "You were my rock…and my guardian angel…and…" She suddenly became choked up and couldn't continue.

"Syd…" Vaughn reached out and took hold of her hand. "I may have helped, but it was mostly you. Everyone here knows that."

"Well, then, they're giving me too much credit." She wiped hastily at her eyes, which were tearing up. "I know the truth. It was all of us, Vaughn. You, me, my father."

"And now it's finally over." Sydney shook her head in disbelief. "What happens now, Vaughn?" She was gazing at him in such a way that it nearly melted his heart.

"You're free, Sydney." He replied softly. "You've done what you set out to do. You've destroyed SD-6 and now you have the rest of your life ahead of you."

The rest of her life…now that was a scary and daunting prospect. Sydney had always said that she would get out of the spy life as soon as SD-6 was extinguished. Ever since she had learned the truth about Sloane and exposed all of the lies he had told her, her main focus in life had been to bring down the man who was responsible for Danny's murder. After many years of blood, sweat and tears, she had finally achieved that goal.

But now that SD-6 gone, Sydney found herself face to face with a number of uncertainties surrounding her future. When they finally let her walk out the door, where would she go? What would she do? And perhaps most importantly of all, who would be the person waiting for her on the other side?

For the past three years, Sydney had had to live with the fact that she was in love with a man she couldn't have. She had thought losing Danny was the hardest thing she'd ever have to go through, but she had no idea how wrong she was. The death of a loved one was always a difficult thing to absorb, but at least it had a sense of finality to it. Yes, it had hurt like hell that he had been taken from her needlessly and before his time. But as the months passed, the pain had slowly lessened and her heart began to heal. She would always love Danny and would remember him fondly, but at the same time, she realized that it was pointless to want for something that would never happen. The dream she'd had about becoming Danny's wife would never be realized, so she had to find something else to inspire her, to give her hope that her future might someday be a place where she could live happily ever after, just like the fairy tales she used to read always promised her.

Sydney hadn't expected that falling in love again would be her salvation. It wasn't that she thought she couldn't love anyone again after Danny; she knew that kind of lonely existence wasn't for her. What startled her was the intensity of her feelings and the depth of her longing, especially for a man she might never have met had circumstances been drastically different.

Michael Vaughn had started out as her case handler, nothing more than a business colleague. He had gradually transformed into her friend, confidante and most trusted ally. And then their relationship evolved again.

The attraction had been there for awhile, as early as their first year working together. For a long time, she had tried to fight it while at the same time acknowledging how his smile made her knees go weak or how her heart fluttered when he told her she looked pretty. But her delight at being admired by someone she admired herself was always tempered by the knowledge that any involvement with Vaughn could end tragically for the both of them. Mild flirtation was relatively harmless, but at that point in their lives, they both knew it could never go any further than that. Not if they wanted to stay alive.

However, knowing this didn't stop their feelings from growing. Sometimes Sydney would catch Vaughn looking at her with a sad expression in his eyes and it didn't take much to guess what he was thinking. If only they were just two ordinary people… She had often wondered as well what it could be like for them after SD-6 was gone and there were no more obstacles between them.

Sydney had known of Vaughn's love for her long before she was able to admit to herself that she felt the same way about him. When she first became aware of his feelings, a part of her pitied him. It was an act of futility to be in love with Sydney Bristow, a woman with a scarred past and a future that held nothing more than promises of certain heartache and disappointment. Vaughn deserved so much more than the little she had to offer him. So dismayed at the thought of him wasting his life pining away for her, she had actually toyed with the idea of requesting another handler, in the hopes that she could still save him from a lifetime of pain and unhappiness.

But when push came to shove, Sydney knew she could never go through with it. She had come to depend on him so much, not just professionally, but emotionally as well. She was selfish enough that she didn't want to give him up, although at the time she told herself it was because they had come too far together for her to have to deal with breaking in another handler at this late date. To do so might set them back another year or two and that was a delay she would not tolerate.

Then something happened that forced her to admit she'd been lying to herself for months. It wasn't for purely business reasons that she wanted Vaughn to remain a part of her life. Without even realizing it, Sydney Bristow had let herself fall in love.

And all it had taken was a simple little kiss to prove it. Okay, so maybe it hadn't been simple or little. Maybe it had actually been the most amazingly soul-searching kiss she had ever received. She would never forget that night in Cairo, that one moment in time when everything had suddenly become crystal-clear to her.

That had been three years ago. Three long agonizing years with seemingly no end in sight.

Her father once told her that her mother had had the ability to make him happy and miserable at the same time. When Sydney first heard that statement, she couldn't comprehend how it could be true. If it made you happy to be around someone, then how could you be miserable?

But after realizing she was in love with a man she had no business wanting, her father's words made perfect sense to her. From that point on, every time Sydney met with Vaughn, it felt as if a knife was being twisted in her gut. She reveled at the chance to be near him, but at the same time it made her hurt all the more that she could never tell him how she felt about him. She wanted him desperately--sometimes to the point of a physical ache in the pit of her stomach--but she knew it simply could not happen while SD-6 was still alive and breathing.

Now SD-6 was gone. Were the feelings he had for her still there after all these years? And if they were, would they be able to make it work? Sydney was terrified at the thought that it could all fall apart now that they no longer had a common foe against which to fight. What if it had just been their work that had kept them together these last five years? 

"Syd?" Vaughn's voice brought her out of her reverie at the same time there was a pounding on her door. Startled, they both jumped off the bed.

"I guess they finally got clued in to my little disappearing act." Sydney cracked.

"Yeah, it looks as if they're going to bust down the door pretty soon, so we don't have much time." Vaughn grabbed her hands in his and forced her to face him. The shouting and banging outside continued.

"Sydney, when they finally release you, we need to get together." He said urgently. "We need…to talk…about so many things." The look in his eyes said everything she had hoped for was still true.

"I think that would be an excellent idea." She raised her voice over the noise, her relief evident.

Vaughn smiled at her with a tender look in his eyes. In one swift move, he bent his head to kiss her, his arms sliding around her body to hold her close to him. Sydney responded ardently, her fingers rifling the hair at the back of his neck as she sought to make up for so many years of pent-up desire.

The door crashed open just then and they broke apart. Sydney could only grin goofily as Vaughn was ordered to leave and she was told to gather her things so that she could be moved to another room while her door was being fixed.

If only she had known that would be last time she would ever get to see him. If she had known, she would have never let him go.

To be continued