Title: The Lightkeeper

Author: UConn Fan (Michele)

E-Mail: LoveUConnBasketball@yahoo.com

Story Summary: Sydney's been gone for two years, and Vaughn is married to Alice. What happens when Sydney returns and is forced to accept the new changes that await her in Los Angeles.

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Work blazed by Monday, keeping him busy as it generally did. Will and Francie had left him a message on the voice mail of his cell phone, thanking him for everything and assuring him that they were having a great time. The newlyweds still had some time left before they returned to Los Angeles and were enjoying every moment they could. At the end of the day, briefly wondering if Sydney had struck gold while looking for a job and pleased that his friends were enjoying the accommodations he'd helped to facilitate, he left work heading towards the apartment he called home.



Stepping into the apartment, he was surprised to see it so dim. After allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he finally spotted Alice. Shrouded by the dark, she was seemingly staring at the stuffed animal in her hands. Vaughn's stomach dropped as he recognized the plush toy. A tan monkey wearing a red and white dotted fabric diaper and holding a binky, Alice's mother had sent it to her when they were in India. As a baby, his wife had the exact same stuffed animal, only larger, and still kept it visible. When she'd unpacked the animal, the joy in her eyes at the eagerness of sharing the toy with their upcoming child had been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise difficult pregnancy.



Careful to remain quiet, he dropped his briefcase and rested his jacket over the back of the sofa. "Allie?" he called softly, banging his knee against the end table as he struggled to navigate through the darkness. "Alice?" he repeated, sinking into the aged sofa next to her. The concern that had rested in his heart since Henry's death only grew, as she remained unresponsive. Again he repeated her name, this time reaching over to place his hand over hers, causing her to jump.



"Michael," she sighed his name, her eyes shutting.



"Allie, what are you doing?" he spoke gently, his voice low. Even through the darkness, she barked at him to stop when she detected he was about to turn on the lamp. "Why are you sitting in the dark?"



"I was just thinking..." she trailed off. One time during her pregnancy, Michael's mother and sister had commented that Alice was the type of woman whom they suspected would be susceptible to post-partum depression, but even he suspected that this was extreme.



"Alice." He gently took the stuffed monkey and set it down on the coffee table. "I'm worried about you."



While he could barely see five inches in front of him, he was startled at how blank her gaze was when she shifted to meet his. "Why?"



"Why?" His eyes grew, having fully adjusted to the lack of light. "Allie, it's been months. I'm not saying that makes it better, but... I'm worried about you, you don't go out, you don't talk to your friends, or even your family. You barely talk to me," he gently pushed his point.



"I'm going to call Doctor Barnett. She works for the agency; she's very good at what she does. I'm going to see if she'll see you or recommend someone for you. We'll even go together if it's easier for you."



"I don't need to see your company shrink," Alice retorted, her voice unusually strong in its conviction. "What does she know anyway?"



"You can't live your life like this. You can't possibly want this anymore Allie. I don't want it for you, and I know Henry wouldn't-" he started as his wife glared at him.



"Don't you dare assume what our son would or wouldn't want for me. What about you? You're worried about *me*?" she snapped and stood, pacing in the darkness. "I think you should look in the mirror Michael! Look at you, out with your friends, acting like nothing happened -"



"It's been six months -"



"He was still our son!" she boomed. "Our son! Don't you care?"



"Damnit, of course I care!" he hissed. "The world doesn't stop though. There were days I wished it would too, but it doesn't. This has been going on for *months* now and it needs to stop," he demanded. Cautiously he stood and approached his wife, starting again in a far less harsh manner. "One session. We'll go together. We can work out things. We can talk about Henry, about everything... I just want you to be happy again."



"I don't want to see the fucking company shrink," she repeated.



"One time," he gently coaxed. "One time, if it doesn't work we'll try something else."



"It's not going to work Michael, one visit with some damn psychiatrist isn't going to make this better! Our son is *dead*, there's nothing that can fix that!"



"I'm not trying to fix it," he quickly retorted with an edge to his voice. "I *know* nothing can fix it Alice, I'm just trying to *help* you."



"I don't think you're trying to help me, you're just trying to make yourself feel better," she snorted.



Sucking in a gasp of air, he studied the woman who had been in his life on and off for years. "You don't mean that Allie."



"When was the last time you really *looked* at me Michael? Really looked at our marriage?! Instead, you're out the door, with your friends, spending fucking twelve-hour days at the damn office! Newsflash - you aren't the only government employee! Make someone else do it!"



"I enjoy my job," he reminded her, struggling to remain calm.



"You've used it to avoid me!"



"I've used it to avoid *you*?" Vaughn's eyes widened as a single eyebrow rose. "What about India Alice? You were distant and uncooperative before you even *got* pregnant!"



"It's your fault I was in that hellhole! What the hell possessed you to take a job in the middle of one of the most dangerous places in the world? Were you *trying* to get us killed?" she hissed.



The air in the room barrelled out as his voice dropped. "It was a *good* opportunity. You didn't have any problems with it at the time, and I asked you repeatedly it if would be okay. For a while I even thought you were looking forward to it."



"Yeah, I was looking forward to moving thousands of miles from anyone I know into a country where both of us could potentially be killed at any moment," she snorted.



"Damnit Allie, I'm not a fucking mind reader. If you were miserable then, why wait so long to tell me?"



"Because you had been in this god forsaken slump for fucking months!" Alice shouted. "You'd been depressed and moody and when you proposed I *thought* you were getting over it. I thought the move would help *you* get on with life!"



"What about you?" his voice dipped. "That's exactly what you're doing now Alice. You're in a slump, and god I'm hurting too but we can't stop living."



"You haven't even grieved!"



"Just because I haven't done it *your* way, doesn't mean I haven't done it," he snapped. "Damnit Allie," he sighed and sunk down onto the sofa. "This..." he waved his hand into the air around them. "We're a fucking mess," he muttered, running his fingers through his hair.



Slowly Alice sat down a few inches from him, burying her face in her hands. "Michael," she sighed, her voice barely audible. When she finally glanced back at him, the unshed moisture had pooled in front of her eyes. "I never wanted things to get this way."



"I know," Michael's voice cracked as he cautiously draped an arm around her. "I know Allie," he murmured into her hair. "We can give Barnett a try... If it doesn't work, we'll try something else."



"What if she can't fix this?" her voice was hoarse as it ran over the dreaded words. "What if no one can?"



"Don't say that. We can fix this," he insisted, despite the bitter taste of doubt that lingered on his tongue. "We can fix this," he repeated, unable to do anything but wonder if this was even something either of them wanted to fix.



An air of raw pain seemed to shroud the apartment throughout the remainder of the night, corresponding with the dim lights. Walking on eggshells, he prepared his wife come tea and then sat next to her on their massive bed, lightly massaging her temples as he listened to her breathing. Sleep was the only escape Alice had, the only place that he'd seen her wear a mask of comfort since the disastrous October. Long after the sun disappeared for the day, he tiptoed around the apartment, allowing the hot water to numb him during his shower before he crawled into bed next to her. Resting on his side a few inches from his wife, he struggled to memorize the _expression of relief on Alice's face, rolling over and wondering when, if ever, he'd see her wear the look while awake.









While counselling family members of CIA employees was a part of her job, it was not a high priority in Doctor Barnett's office. After Vaughn spent nearly an hour the following morning all but arguing with Barnett's secretary, he finally arranged a Thursday appointment. The doctor had been kind enough to agree to see them during his lunch break, giving him the opportunity to sit in with his wife without missing any work.



The minutes to their Thursday lunch time appointment ticked by as Vaughn sat fitfully in his office. In between his fingers he expertly twirled his coin, wondering about the disastrous meeting ahead of him. Alice had said little to him since their Monday night conversation, although he hadn't again come home to a dark house. Dinner was made at night, although it had been small, simple meals, and the day before he'd noticed she'd gone out and even worn make up. Although she made no attempt to tell him where she'd gone or with who, but it was enough for him to know she'd done something.



"Hey," Eric Weiss smiled as he stuck his head into his friend's office. "I thought you'd tossed that thing."



"No, I just had it in my desk," he sighed and placed it back in the appropriate drawer.



"You doing anything? We're going out to lunch, Dixon won't tell us what we're celebrating."



"No, I'm supposed to meet with Alice," he explained.



"Oh," he sighed, a bitter _expression briefly on his face. "Can't you reschedule?"



"No Eric," Vaughn sighed in aggravation. As tempting as it was, this was a last-ditch effort to save his fledgling marriage. "I can't."



"If you change your mind, just beep me, I'll let you know where we end up."



"Have fun," he called as his friend disappeared.



In his compact office he ate the tiny lunch he had packed himself before he left for Barnett's office. After Henry's death it had been required for him to see a psychiatrist for six months. Having just finished the agency's requirements a few short months ago, he had not been eager to suggest it to Alice. Alice would no go alone however, and it was the only option he felt they had. Straightening his suit jacket, Vaughn was more than aware that Barnett would be scrutinizing his appearance from the moment he walked in the door. Taking one last breath to brace himself, he grabbed the doorknob and walked into the waiting area.



The secretary, an aging, pleasant woman who he had spent months making small talk with, directed him to go right in. Pasting on a smile, he stepped in and caught sight of his wife. Dressed simply, her make up was once again done and her hair neatly styled. If all else failed, he could console himself that at least this had forced her out of the house.



"Hey," he smiled as Dr. Barnett silently urged him to sit.



"Michael," Alice smiled as he sank onto the sofa next to her.



"Agent Vaughn, thank you for coming," Judy Barnett smiled pleasantly and took a look at the file in her lap. "It's been a few months since we've spoken, how are you?"



"Fine." He quickly dismissed her concerns with a shake of his head. "I've been fine."



"That's good," she commented. "I've been taking a moment to catch up with Mrs. Vaughn. You two have been married for just over a year now."



"Right," Alice gave a small smile and agreed. For a moment he studied his wife, struggling to remember the last time he'd seen her look so positive.



"You've only been back for a few weeks, but I see that Agent Vaughn underwent six months of counselling with a agency therapist while you were stationed in India."



"Yes, I did." He rearranged his body and nodded tensely.



"At the time Mrs. Vaughn, you turned down the CIA's offer of therapy."



"That's right," she confirmed.



Judy Barnett was a patient woman, and carefully studied the young blonde woman. "But now you'd like to discuss it."



Uncomfortably, the woman looked at her husband before she glanced back at the doctor. "Yes."



Nodding, the doctor took a moment to study the file. "I see here that your son, Henry, would have been seven months, if he had survived."



"Yes." Alice folded her hands and looked down at her lap. "He would have been," she confirmed. Out of the corner of his eye, Michael steadily watched her with a small, but still gaping hole in his own heart.



"When a couple comes to me to talk, I don't like to assume anything. Would either of you like to discuss your reasons for being here?"



"I don't think it's one thing exactly..." he cautiously began.



Next to him his wife quickly corrected, "It's mostly about Henry."



"It's not *just* about Henry," he retorted, the edge obvious in his voice.



"No, it's about Henry and how you act like this damn job is going to fix everything," she hissed in his direction.



"I think," Judy briefly raised her voice, "I think that we'll eventually be able to address everything. What in particular is each of you hoping to get from this?"



Vaughn silently looked at his wife, gallantly allowing her to speak first. Crossing her legs, Alice folded her hands and hesitated.



"Please, feel free to speak your mind here. That's what I'm here for. I'd expect each of you to listen to the other without attacking while you're here, and to build upon what progress we make. So please, don't be afraid to tell us what you expect."



"I don't want to feel alone anymore," she sighed.



"Alice - " he started.



"Please, Agent Vaughn," Judy cut him off. "Yes, Mrs. Vaughn?"



"I feel all alone in this... Michael's always working..." she sighed and looked up at them. "I want to see where there is to go, instead of feeling like we're stuck in this place where we don't even like each other all that much."



"I appreciate your honesty, I understand how difficult this must be for you." She smiled kindly at the blonde woman. "Agent Vaughn?"



"I want this to work again."



"What, exactly?"



"This!" he motioned helplessly to the space that separated him from his wife. A few scant inches that spread an endless emotional distance. "Alice and I have been together for... years." He shook his head. "I look at my own wife and I barely know her, and I know she feels the same way," he sighed.



"When did you start feeling this way?"



"I don't remember." He shook his head. Between moving to India,

Alice's unplanned, difficult pregnancy... Henry... Moving back to L.A... Then Sydney's reappearance, the last two years of his life were a sudden blur of pain and loneliness, mixed with a new fervor to shoot up the CIA ladder in what he was sure Barnett would call a misguided attempt to ignore his problems.



"Do you share your husband's view Mrs. Vaughn?"



"Sometimes," she agreed in a voice so tiny she was barely heard. "Sometimes I don't think Michael even wants to know me anymore..." She looked hesitantly at him out of the corner of her eye. Then she sighed and looked the doctor directly in the eye. "I know there are days when I don't want to know him anymore."



"You *do* want to work through this though, don't you?" Judy asked cautiously. If Alice Vaughn entered this without any desire of a successful reconciliation, any work she could hope to do would ultimately be fruitless.



"Of course... Who doesn't want their marriage to work?"



"Good," Judy smiled encouragingly. "With all that's happened...

Agent Vaughn's line of work... I don't imagine that's easy for you to deal with."



"I knew what Michael did when I married him," she soberly reminded the doctor.



"Sometimes, even when we know what someone does, it's different when we marry them," she gently pointed out.



"I support Michael's career. If it's what he wants, then it's what I want," Alice replied. The mechanical way in which the words sprang from her mouth left the doctor wondering if it was something she had read somewhere and was forcing herself to believe it.



"Are you working?"



"No. Since Henry... I've been taking some time off."



"Are you interested in getting back to work?"



"Some days. There are still days when I don't want to get out of bed," Alice apologetically confessed. The doctor made a note and nodded slowly as a loud beeping could be heard throughout the office.



Sheepishly Vaughn's eyes were drawn to the ringing beeper at his side. The look his wife sent him would have cut through his soul if he were a lesser man, while Judy Barnett looked slightly amused at the interruption. As an agency psychologist, she had to be used to sudden interruptions. Snapping the offensive item off his belt, he smiled apologetically in his wife's direction and read the message.



Taking Syd to ER. Cover for me. Thanks. - Weiss



Swallowing hard, he looked up and prayed the fear wasn't obvious in his eyes. Eric was absolutely insane if he thought he'd simply cover for him after leaving that message. Thoughts zoomed through his mind, the least of which being what Sydney was doing with Weiss in the first place. In autopilot Vaughn reattached his beeper to his belt and stood to his feet. "I'm sorry. There's an emergency. I have to go."



"Now?" Alice's eyes widened, her voice enough to break glass. Luckily, the good doctor had none in her office.



"Is it essential that you leave now Agent Vaughn?"



"Yes." He adjusted his coat, hoping Barnett wouldn't press the issue. "I'm sorry Allie." His eyes turned to his infuriated wife. "Reschedule an appointment. I swear I'll make it, no complications," he forced a smile and disappeared out the door.









There was only one hospital that they'd take Sydney Bristow to, and the hospital the CIA primarily used was a thankfully short drive from the CIA headquarters. Stuck at a traffic light, he made an absent phone call to his secretary, nearly begging her to cover not only for him, but Agent Weiss as well. In the end it was an easy task. His secretary, a marmish but sweet woman who was arguably old enough to be *his* grandmother, adored him. Plus, no one made his coffee quite as well as she did.



The government issued car came to a stop with a loud screech as he cut it off in the parking lot marked for the hospitals emergency room. The keys were barely out of the ignition by the time he was at the sliding doors. Stepping one foot inside the emergency room, the knowledge that he had no cause to get information slightly deflated him before a familiar voice called him.



"Mike?"



Turning around he was assured to see Marcus Dixon and Eric Weiss standing alone in the hospital waiting room. The two men were looking at him in confusion. "I thought you'd cover for me."



Stepping closer to his friends, his voice dipped, his eyebrows nearly as high up as his eyes were wide. "You tell me you're taking Sydney to the emergency room and you actually expected me to cover for you?!" he struggled not to shout. Glancing around quickly at the half empty vending machine, the coffee machine promising gritty, cold liquid and the soap operas on the mounted television, he looked back at them. "Where the hell is she?"



"The doctor's seeing her now," Dixon calmly informed him.



"What the hell happened?"



"We were coming out of the restaurant and she got hit by a car-"



"What?"



"She's fine, thank god," Dixon continued his story. "She landed on the grass, no concussion."



Weiss spoke up, "I still thought it would be good to have her checked out. She wasn't walking well, and I wanted to be sure there was no internal bleeding."



"Who knows she's back in town? How did the Alliance -"



"No," Weiss quickly shook his head. "Nothing like that. We've already checked him out. Some eighteen year old kid who played hooky from school and had too many beers. Absolutely no connection to anyone who has an agenda against Sydney."



"How can you be positive - " Vaughn started, the panic obvious in his eyes.



"Jack Bristow's taking care of that himself. He just called us to tell us," Weiss promised.



Shaking his head, he briefly massaged his temples. "What the hell were you doing anyway?"



"Celebrating," Weiss shrugged. At Vaughn's confusion, he clarified. "Syd got a job."



"She's okay?"



Before the men could once again assure him, all conversation was cut off. "Vaughn?"



To his relief, Sydney Bristow stood before him. A slight gash was visible along her hairline, and she stood on crutches, but she was no less worse for wear. Closing his eyes for a moment, he cherished what he was certain was the most beautiful sight on earth. "You're okay."



"What are you doing here?" she questioned, wobbling over on her crutches.



"Weiss... He paged me. Told me he'd taken you to the ER."



"I'm fine," she smiled softly. "Shouldn't you be at work?"



"I had someone cover for me," he assured her. Cocking his head to Weiss, his eyes never leaving hers, he spoke. "Weiss said you got a job."



"Yeah." Her smile grew. "I'm going to be teaching English in

Claremont."



"That's great," he smiled in agreement. "That's great Syd."



"I just can't wait to tell Will and Francie."



"They should be coming back soon, right?"



Sydney nodded, neither letting her smile disappear or her eyes leave his. "Saturday," she answered. When her eyes tore from his, confusion briefly danced over her pretty features as she looked imploringly at the two other men. "Where's Marshall?"



"Kendall threatened to come down here and kill him if he didn't finish whatever gadget he's supposed to present to the director tomorrow," Weiss shrugged. He had more than enough experience with the fear that meeting with the director brought.



She chuckled and shook her head. "Poor Marshall."



"Do you need a ride?" he offered.



"Dixon's going to take me back," she explained. Their eyes locked again as they each nodded, neither quick to break the spell.



"I'm glad you're okay."



"It was just an accident," she managed to shrug despite her crutches. "It could have happened to anyone," she calmly reasoned.



Vaughn nodded, unable to speak. It *could* happen to anyone. But it hadn't. It had happened to his Sydney, and his world had all but stopped. "I should get back to work," he regretfully remembered.



Breaking the bubble, Weiss couldn't help but ask the obvious question. "What's with the crutches?"



When the two looked at Dixon and Weiss, a look of momentary surprise spread across both of their faces. With a nearly imperceptible shake her head, she smiled at her former co-workers. "I broke my ankle."



"That sucks," he muttered as she shrugged.



"Do you need to pick up anything from the pharmacy?" Dixon patiently asked.



"No. Tylenol's fine," she assured them. After all she had endured during her time as a spy, Vaughn suspected the pain of breaking an ankle was similar in magnitude to a hangnail. "I should go though. The doctor gave me strict orders to keep this elevated," she smiled back at Vaughn.



"We should get back to work, before someone notices we're gone and takes away our corner offices," Weiss teased, slapping his friend good-naturedly on the back.



"I'll be back in a little while," Dixon informed the two men. Nodding, Weiss watched Vaughn as his eyes stayed focused on Sydney as she wobbled out the door, her former partner faithfully by her side.



"So, how's Alice?" he questioned. Vaughn blinked rapidly before he turned to his friend.



"Excuse me?"



"When I asked if you wanted to come to lunch, you said you had a meeting with Alice."



"Yeah," he sighed, running his finger along the underside of his nose. "We were meeting with Barnett."



"You walked out on a meeting with Barnett?"

"It was an emergency! I had no idea why you of all people would be bringing Sydney to the emergency room."



"And Alice?"



"I told her to reschedule," he shrugged. Looking back on his actions he realized that leaving in the middle of the session was probably not the right choice, but as soon as he had read his page, his first and only instinct had been to get to Sydney.



"The shit's going to hit the fan," he mumbled.



Irritated, he shot his friend a glare. "Let's just go, before they hang our asses," he decided, silently leading his friend out of the emergency room.









Walking into his apartment early that evening, Michael was temporarily reassured to see all the lights on. Most amazingly of all, his wife was still fully dressed, her make up still detectable as she sat on the sofa reading. "Michael," she softly greeted him, raising her eyes from her book.



"Allie, I'm so sorry -"



"I don't want to hear it." She shook her head. Marking her page, she stood and walked over to him. "Tuesday, Michael. During your lunch break. Do you think you could take time out of your busy social schedule to be there the *entire* appointment?"



"Yeah, of course," he quickly promised. "I'm sorry, I just -"



"I told you," she stopped him, her voice sharp enough to cut down to his bones. "I don't want to hear your excuses. I've listened to over a year of them, first in India and now here... So just drop it. I'm sick of it, and half the time I don't even think you believe them," she snapped. Shaking her head, she turned away from him, pacing an invisible circle in front of him. Abruptly Alice stopped and looked at him. "This job *has* to stop being your first priority."



"Allie, it's not -"



"It *is* Michael! Whatever emergency the CIA came up with was obviously more important than this or else you could have had another agent do it!"



"I couldn't do that," he whispered, the confidence oozing from his voice.



"Then we have a problem," she sighed, her head shaking. "Be there on Tuesday, Michael. I don't care if all of Los Angeles is on fire. Put me first for once," she demanded, retreating to the kitchen. Alone in his living room, he sighed and sank onto the aged sofa, wondering how he allowed this to get so complicated.









Saturday night, as Will and Francie were being greeted at LAX by a slightly wobbly Sydney, Alice suggested they go to a movie. Months had literally passed since the last time his wife had suggested they go out, and the offer was one he could not turn down with a clean conscience. The two sat in an air-conditioned theatre for nearly two and half hours, sharing burnt, buttery popcorn and a massive soda. Then they drove back to the apartment, the rain getting heavier as Billy Joel played on the radio, and once that evening he even heard her laugh.



The rest of the weekend was uneventful. He made them dinner and they watched an old Clark Gable movie on cable. Meanwhile, halfway across town, Sydney was catching up with her friends. The three sat together, going through the pictures taken at the reception and some of the snapshots from the honeymoon. Francie and Will were both alarmed to see her greet them with crutches, and Will was obviously concerned when he heard of how she acquired her injury, but she pulled him aside later in the evening to assure him it was random. Francie was thrilled to hear of Sydney's new job, and badgered her for every little detail, down to whether or not there were any cute men there. At her husband's playful retort, she promised that she was just thinking of Sydney. As the evening progressed they ate Chinese and played cards for a while before Will brought Sydney back to her mother's.



Determined to make up for his earlier failure, Vaughn found himself leaning against the wall outside Barnett's office nearly half an hour before his wife was due. For a few short days she had shown such progress, leading him to believe that perhaps there was more hope than he'd allowed himself to expect. There had been delicate moments, a few times when he had been certain she was about to sob or scream at him, but Alice had held herself together. Whatever Dr. Barnett had or hadn't said to her had made some impact, and Vaughn was starting to consider altering his blanket opinion of company shrinks.



Alice arrived on time. The session ran the traditional forty-five minutes. Vaughn and Barnett listened as Alice recounted the weekend with a new optimism in her voice. If he looked closely, he thought he even saw a twinkle in her eye. Maybe this was the fix. For a moment, as he walked her out of the office and into the CIA hallways, he dared to imagine that it could be this simple. A weekly session with Barnett and maybe, just maybe, his marriage could piece itself together again.



"Hey Mike," Weiss called as they stepped out into the hallway. Looking up, Vaughn's eyes were drawn not to his best friend and partner, but to the woman by his side. While she still relied heavily on her crutches, she looked beautiful. The cut on her forehead had begun to heal, and her ankle looked less swollen in the mesh jogging pants.



"Hey."



"Eric," Alice sighed as the two approached.



"How's it going Alice." He forced a smile and a polite nod in the blonde's direction.



When she looked over at her husband, understandably expecting an explanation, she felt her stomach drop. Instead of being mindful of the necessary introductions, his eyes were locked with that of the mystery brunette, and the two of them were sharing a similar _expression. A look that wasn't exactly a smile, but wasn't too far from a one either.



Clearing her voice loudly, her aggravation growing at her husband's flustered behavior, she spoke. "Michael?"



"Sorry." He shook his head and tossed her a quick smile. "Alice, this is Sydney Bristow. Syd, this is Alice."



For a moment, Alice watched in crude amusement as the brunette struggled not to grow uncomfortable in her presence. A range of emotions blew over her features, the last of which was her lips piercing together before they unfolded in a bittersweet smile.



"It's nice to meet you," she spoke. Something about this woman rang familiar, but she supposed it was because she reminded her of the thousands of other similar brunette women she passed on the street everyday.



"What happened to your foot?" Alice inquired politely.



"Oh!" Sydney's cheeked burned as she glanced down at her injury. "Car accident. Nothing serious, thankfully."



"I'm sorry to hear that," she returned. "When?"



"Thursday afternoon," she replied.



At her answer, Alice turned to momentarily look at her husband, his eyes already downcast to the tiled floor of the CIA's less-used hallways. Michael's avoidance of her face was all the answer she needed, adding to the silent, sinking feeling in her stomach. She turned back to Sydney and asked, "Do you work here?"



"No," she shook her head.



Unwilling to watch Alice tear apart Sydney, Weiss stepped forward, slightly in front of the injured woman. "Sydney used to work with us. She was just here having lunch with me."



"Oh," Alice sighed. "I should go," she realized. "I'll see you at home," she tossed at her husband and walked away from the group.



The three stood in silence, neither able to look at the other. Around them, agents and analysts passed, too consumed in their own work to give much attention to three people standing off to the side. More experienced with composing herself after a similar experience, it was Sydney who finally broke the silence. "I have to go. I really should have this up." She forced a smile, knowing neither man believed its validity.



Instinctively, Weiss placed a friendly hand on Sydney's elbow, a gesture that didn't go unnoticed by Vaughn. "Yeah. I'll help you to the car," he agreed. "I'll talk to you later?" he glanced at his nervous friend.



"Yeah," Vaughn quickly nodded. "Of course," he complied. Turning, his eyes watched the two of them slowly walk down the hall, Weiss' hand slowly guiding her. "Syd," he called out, his voice barely heard by his own ears. Miraculously, she stopped, much to her friend's confusion, and turned to look at him. "If you need anything... You have my number."



A slow, satisfied smile spread across her face. "I know," she promised. Then her voice grew quiet, her eyes no longer on his as she added, "It goes both ways."



Finally, she was unable to resist his green orbs any longer, a sigh releasing the tension from her body as she saw his smile, so large that it closely rivalled her own.



"Thanks Syd," he softly replied. With a slight tilt of her head, she turned back to Weiss and moments later, disappeared around the corner of the CIA building.