Title: Decay

Author: Karen T (poohmusings@yahoo.com)

Rating: PG

Disclaimers: Alias and its characters belong to a bunch of people who have no idea I exist.

Spoilers: "Phase One"

Classification: Angst, post-"Phase One"

Archive: Cover Me and Remember Me, if they want it. Anyone else, please ask first. Thanks.

Feedback: Absolutely adored and appreciated.

Notes: This was originally supposed to be a response to CM's January challenge, but then, while chatting with the lovely Diana, it dawned on me that I'd broken bulletproof's rule of challengefics not containing any spoilers past "The Counteragent" (d'oh!). But since it'd been so difficult to work the challenge requirements into the fic, I've decided to leave them in and just call this my invalid submission for the CM Jan challenge. :) Lastly, my love and thanks to Mai and Robin for their wonderful beta work.

The taller of the two agents slides a thin stack of papers – ten sheets, white, lined on both sides – across the table to him. "Write your name and social security number at the top, and then tell us everything," he orders, the edges of his words trimmed with annoyance and impatience.

Dixon doesn't blame this man for his brusque behavior; he knows he would behave the same way if their roles were reversed.

Bowing his head in submission, Dixon accepts the pencil the agent holds out to him, and begins to scrawl his name at the top right hand corner on the first sheet of paper. Marcus Raymond Dixon. He feels as if the formality of his full name is mocking him.

"Who is Marcus Raymond Dixon?" it seems to be asking him with a derisive tone.

He's a failure, he thinks as he pauses to stare at his name, and then painstakingly slows his handwriting down to a crawl to ensure its readability. He's a fool, a nobody.

What he actually writes is I was recruited by SD-6 in 1981.

***

Sydney comes to a stop in front of the full-length mirror hanging on the back of her bedroom door and scrutinizes the reflection that stares back at her. The bruise she had received across her left cheekbone, courtesy of Nacor's bodyguard, has almost faded entirely from view. This pleases her.

Reaching over to her dresser, she picks up her sharpener and black eyeliner pencil, sharpens the tip of the pencil with a few quick clockwise twists of her wrist, and then leans closer towards her reflected image.

I'm glad that fucking plane crashed, she thinks as she begins outlining the curved edges of her eyelids.

***

"For the record, please state your full name."

The taller agent who had given him the pencil and paper and the shorter agent who had guarded the door have now been replaced by another agent, one with disheveled blond hair, bloodshot green eyes, and rumpled clothes. He had strolled into the room with an air of proficiency, extended his hand with confidence, and introduced himself as Michael Vaughn. But now his body is slouched, almost apologetic, and Dixon immediately senses that this man's weakness lies in his eagerness to please. Dixon knows he could break him if he chose to.

"All my information is spelled out on those sheets of paper," he flatly responds, nodding his head in the direction of the documents piled in the center of the table next to the tape recorder.

"I know, but it's protocol. I need you to state your name out loud." Vaughn doesn't add the word "please" to the end of his sentence, but it's practically audible in his subsequent sigh. He uncomfortably shifts his weight from one foot to the other. The movement is slow and heavy.

"My name is Marcus Raymond Dixon."

"Thank you." Vaughn retrieves the pages Dixon has filled and quickly peruses their content. "Sydney Bristow has already vouched for your character and that you weren't aware SD-6 had no affiliation with the CIA, so this is more a technicality than anything else. Please, don't feel threatened by this debriefing. It's a formality, but I am required to conduct it."

"That's fine."

Vaughn momentarily glances at Dixon's stoic face when the older man continues to speak in a clipped monotone. Dismissing it, he asks, "So, you were recruited by SD-6 in October, 1981?"

"Yes."

"By Arvin Sloane?"

"No, by a man who approached me during my lunch break at my previous job. I never saw him again after our initial contact."

"Mm-hmm…and did you ever— Wait, you're an alcoholic?" Vaughn looks up in surprise.

"Recovering." Dixon fixes Vaughn with a glare. "I have an addiction to alcohol, but I've undergone treatment and have been sober for almost twenty years now. Would you like the phone number of my sponsor? Proof that I've attended meetings at least twice a month for the past twelve years?"

The threatening undercurrents that course through Dixon's offers of full disclosure unnerve what little calm Vaughn has accumulated. "No, no, that…that won't be necessary," he stammers, his cheeks flushing to a fiery red. "I'm sorry. I hadn't meant to pry. It's just that Sydney's never mentioned your addiction."

"That's because she doesn't know. I think you're going to find there are a lot of things Sydney doesn't know."

Obviously annoyed by the way in which Dixon spat out Sydney's name as if it left a bitter taste in his mouth, Vaughn presses down on the tape recorder's 'Stop' button and narrows his eyes in anger. "Perhaps you didn't hear me when I said Sydney's vouched for your character. She's come to your defense, insisted time after time that you're an honorable man who didn't know a thing about SD-6's true identity. You could show her a little appreciation for that, you know."

Dixon snorts and looks off into the distance. His lips are chapped and they painfully chafe against each other when he rubs them together. "You can ask me all the questions you like. You can pry into my personal life if that's your desire. But do not tell me how I should or should not treat Sydney Bristow."

"Fine." Slapping back down the 'Record' button, Vaughn straightens his back and crosses his arms, his apologetic nature gone. "Then let's talk about your first mission with SD-6. Who exactly was Ian Von Straussman, and why did you kill him?"

***

Sydney retrieves her tube of blood red lipstick and sweeps the color onto her mouth with two horizontal strokes for each lip. Smoothing out the back of her still damp hair, she cocks her head to a side and examines her carefully made up face. Eyes are lined in black, skin is a golden brown hue from her foundation, cheeks are tinged with a shade of dusty rose, lashes are curled back and separated with mascara, and lips are painted and ready to go.

The pale and timid reflection that had greeted her upon her exit from the shower has now been completely hidden away.

"Not bad, Bristow, not bad at all," she mutters to herself as she straightens her suit jacket and reaches for the purse on her bed.

Only the slight tremor in her outstretched hand betrays the worry that is clenching her heart.

***

"And even though Jack Bristow warned you against contacting the CIA during the McKenas Cole takeover, you never once questioned why his reaction was so strong?"

"I'd simply assumed he was afraid I'd get caught, thereby undermining Sydney's attempts to neutralize Cole and his men."

Vaughn nods and makes a mark along the side margin of the paper in his hand. It has been forty-five minutes since their question and answer session began, and both men have fallen into a pattern of Dixon staring at the tabletop as he mumbled his curt responses and Vaughn scribbling nonsensical addenda to Dixon's 'personal history'. "When you followed Sydney out to—"

Dixon raises his head at the sound of a short knock. Vaughn crosses to the door, cracks it open an inch, and engages in a whispered conference before stepping back to allow another person entry into the room. It's Sydney, and she's carrying a cobalt blue mug in her right hand.

"Hi, Dixon," she says to her ex-SD-6 partner. He ignores her.

His interest becomes piqued, however, when he sees Vaughn hesitate in the doorway to lay a hand on Sydney's right forearm. He imagines that the words "I don't think this is a good idea" are on the tip of the young agent's tongue, and then he watches as Sydney catches his eyes with hers and uses them to ask him once again to leave. The nonverbal communication is startlingly familiar to Dixon since Sydney had executed that exact move on him numerous times in the past. And he is dismayed to realize that he always relented to her demands just as Vaughn now does.

She waits until Vaughn is gone before speaking again. "Are they treating you well?" she asks as she places the mug of water in front of Dixon's prone figure. "Vaughn's a nice guy; totally respectable. Did he tell you this is merely procedure? I've informed all the appropriate people that you had no idea what SD-6 really was."

"The 'appropriate people'?" He can't stop himself from scoffing. He takes in her image – all scrubbed and polished, not a hair out of place, her appearance and demeanor entirely void of any evidence that the past twenty-four hours had occurred – and feels a swell of hatred surge up from his belly. "You're unbelievable."

She cringes and whips her face to the side as if he'd just slapped her. "Dixon, please," she pleads. "Try to understand. I—"

"What? Try to understand how you've lied to me? For months? Oh, I understand that completely."

"I wanted to tell you, Dixon! But it wasn't my place. It wasn't my decision to—"

"No, it wasn't your decision, Sydney. It was mine, and you denied me the opportunity to make it. You duped me day in and day out. You looked me in the face and—"

"I didn't have a choice!" Tears prick at the corners of her eyes and her lower lip quivers in distress. "I wanted to tell you, but—"

"Then you should have told me!" One of his hands comes crashing down upon the tabletop, the bang reverberating off the walls. "There is no 'but' here. You made your choice, and your choice was to lie to me. I've trusted you with my life, Sydney. I've trusted you with my children's lives. Why couldn't you have the done the same with me?"

"I did trust you! I still do! You have no idea how hard it was for me to—"

"Markson's dead." Dixon's quiet words leave Sydney's mouth hanging partially open. "Do you even care?"

"Of course I do," she whispers as her eyes fall to the floor and she attempts to swallow despite the large lump in her throat. "He is— He was a good man."

"He was killed last night. Didn't even have a chance to take out his gun and defend himself. Marnie was killed, too. And she was an administrative specialist who was a month away from retiring with a full pension. She didn't have any idea what SD-6 really did. Neither did Markson. But you've had all that information at your fingertips for over a year, and you could have saved their lives by sharing."

"It wasn't that simple." A tear trails down her left cheek. It is soon followed by a second one, and then another down her right cheek. "I couldn't just—"

"You betrayed us, Sydney. We placed our trust in you and you betrayed us by bartering that trust away like it was a piece of garbage. But I understand," he sneers, his facial expression locked into one of contempt. "It was a gamble you had to take, right? Who cares if our feelings were hurt as long as you got to play hero and save the day."

"It was never about being a hero. I never wanted—"

"Don't say anything else. I have nothing more to say to you, and I think we both know you've said more than enough already."

She nods as she rapidly tries to blink away the tears in her eyes. In desperation, she makes one final attempt at contrition. "Would you like me to call Diane? She's probably worried sick. I could tell her you got called into an important meeting at the last second and are now stuck there. That'd buy you some time."

He shakes his head and levels her with a stare of indifference. "My family is no longer any concern of yours, Miss Bristow."

She cannot recall when he'd last referred to her as 'Miss Bristow'. She's not sure he ever has.

"Now, if you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you'd tell Mr. Vaughn that I'd like to resume my debriefing."

She accepts his dismissal and flees from the room, stopping only after she hears the door slam shut behind her. Pressing her back against the cool metal partition, she covers her mouth with her hands and chokes back a sob.

Vaughn appears by her side to give her shoulder a squeeze of encouragement. "He's angry, Syd. I'm sure he doesn't mean anything he's just said."

"No, he does," she croaks. "And he's right. About everything. I did lie to him. It was my decision not to say anything to him or anyone else."

"I was the one who told you not to tell him. If you have to blame someone for what's happened, then you should blame me. I was—"

"No." She vehemently shakes her head. "You said what you had to say, but I was the one who chose to follow your advice. Dixon hates me now, and I deserve every ounce of it."

"Syd, c'mon, shhh." He wraps his arms around her shoulders and draws her into his chest, not caring who may see them in such an intimate embrace. "Think about what you've accomplished. The Alliance? It's gone now. And you're the one who's mainly responsible for its downfall. What's happened with Dixon is unfortunate, and my sympathies are with him. But what's done is done. You can't change any of that. All you can… I think the trick to all this is to keep breathing. Sometimes that's all we can do."

An expression of grim realization flickers over his face when she stiffens in his arms. "Keep breathing?" she gasps in dismay as she wedges her hands in between their bodies. "One of my closest friends now hates me, but breathing will fix all that?"

"I— I—" he stutters, visibly bewildered by her reaction. "What I'd meant was—"

"No. Don't." She has pushed herself away from him and is adding distance between them with each passing second. She knows she is being unreasonably hard on him – after all, what man alive can always know the right things to say at the right moments? – but she suddenly feels as if she is seeing him for the first time. And perhaps she is. "I just— I need to be alone. I'm sorry, I— I need to be alone."

She sprints out of the building without a look behind her. By the time she reaches her car and catches a glimpse of herself off one of its windows, the weight of her tears has begun to dissolve the make-up she had so meticulously applied. And as she stares, aghast, at her ruined reflection, she finally concedes she can no longer hide from her reality.

Regardless of how well she conceals her scars, she is not indestructible. Regardless of how often she tells herself that what she does is 'right', she is not worthy of praise.

She is frightened and ashamed and alone. She is very much alone.

—the end—

Thanks for reading! :)