Title: Endlessness (1/1)
Summary: Holding on, letting go, and the long and difficult process of falling apart. S/V
Rating: PG-13 for violence and language
Spoilers: Not much, really. This could sort of fit anywhere in an AU kind of way.
Author's note: I'm sorry about this. Seriously, I am. Also, I apologize for its un-beta'ed state. Apparently when I'm writing for Alias I don't bother to beta at all. It's a bad habit, I admit.

His favorite pastime is watching her sleep. She doesn't know he does it -- or at least, she doesn't know that he does it so frequently. He thinks that if she did, she'd probably blush deliciously and he'd be helpless to fight the urge to kiss her silly. He likes to observe the gentle rise and fall of her chest, the wild motion of her eyes behind the lids when she dreams. He can sit for hours, wondering what she's dreaming about, smiling at the words that sometimes tumble from her lips when she's sleeping. His favorite is still "don't frost the pie," but "nooo, the hedgehogs are flying away!" comes in a close second.

He remembers long, lazy Saturdays where they'd stay in bed well past noon; when she finally woke up, she'd tell him about her dreams, and he'd do his best impression of a stereotypical German Freudian and interpret them. His conclusions usually ended up being deep revelations along the lines of, "your dream of the purple caribou means that you love me deeply and want to have sex with me right this moment," and "the pastry you dreamt of symbolizes a lack of laughter in your life; the only cure is a thorough tickling."

He doesn't know when it's Saturday anymore. Not that it matters.

Her face doesn't look quite as peaceful now as it did then. He likes to think that her sleep is restless because he isn't holding her, and not because the concrete floor is hard and it's freezing in the cell.

She catches him staring when she wakes up, and she returns his guilty smile with a sleepy grin. She stretches in a way that's not really a stretch, just a stiffening of the muscles and shifting of joints, and then she uncoils herself from the ball she's been curled up in, and she sits up to stare back at him with her arms wrapped around her legs and her chin resting on her knee.

"Hey," she says, and her voice is low and scuffed by sleep.

"Hey," he answers. He's been awake for some time, but his voice is a rasping whisper. In his case, it's because of all the screaming the day before. "What were you dreaming about?"

He knows she can't remember -- she never actually remembers her dreams, here, which is probably a mercy -- but she makes something up, because this is the game they play in the mornings, when the sun starts coming up and the heat from outside begins to bring the temperature in the freezing cell up to a slightly more tolerable level.

"We were in LA," she says. "We were standing in line at one of those mobile catering trucks, waiting to buy tacos, but they were only selling borscht and tropical fish. So when you ordered a taco they gave you a couple raw beets and a bagful of guppies."

He chuckles, and he wants to laugh but his stomach hurts too much. "And then we went home, and I was so disappointed about the taco that you modeled all your lingerie for me?"

She smiles at him fondly, and her head tilts to the side, nestled sleepily against her arm. "Yeah," she says. "That's exactly how it went."

He watches her watching him, and the silence between them is comfortable. Eventually she sighs, unfolds herself and slips gracefully to her feet. She's still wearing her tactical BDU's, but they hang a little looser on her frame now; she's lost weight, and she looks more breakable than he's ever seen her. But when she reaches down for his hand, her grip is as strong as it's ever been.

She helps him up slowly, gingerly, wincing in sympathy for his every hiss of discomfort. His back pulls away from the wall with the audible crackle of re-opening wounds, as the thick dried blood that seeped from his back during the night breaks away from the wall, and the scabs pull from his skin. He stands gingerly, and the pain from the soles of his feet races from the ground up, straight to his head, and make him dizzy. Sydney catches him as he begins to sway, but the arm she slings around his waist just comes into contact with more scrapes, bruises, and tender bones. He tries not to whimper, but it just slips out.

"Sorry," she murmurs. He can only grunt a response as she leads him slowly, step by excruciating step, around the room. This is part of their morning routine, too: exercise, such as it is, because letting his muscles atrophy, as appealing as that might sound, will only hurt him more, and make escape more difficult.

He goes along with it mostly because it seems to make her feel better, thinking they're keeping up their readiness. But he doesn't think readiness will go a long way, because it seems like they've already been here forever, and he has trouble thinking that he'll leave here alive. He does have hope that she will, but he moves too slow now, even when he can't really feel the pain; if she leaves, she isn't leaving with him.

But he doesn't say any of that, and he manages to bite back most of the pained noises that rise into his throat as they shuffle together around their small prison.

"Whose turn is it?" he wheezes, winded by their short journey. She stops and lets him lean more heavily against her, supporting his weight while he catches his breath.

"It's yours," she answers. "And you'd better come up with something good this time because your last one was just weak."

He grins at her, and he hardly notices the pain now when his dried and burning lips crack all over again. "Worst date," he says.

She hums in the back of her throat, and urges him forward another two shuffling steps before she answers. "I went out with this guy, in my freshman year at UCLA. He was in my American Literature class; we sat next to each other. He seemed pretty sweet at the time, but..." she shrugs. "We went out for coffee and he spent an hour and a half talking about how much he loved Meryl Streep. Like, he was completely obsessed. An 'I'd shoot the President just to get your attention, then boil your bunny for dinner' kind of obsessed."

He laughs, and it does hurt as much as he expects it to, but it's just another pain among many and he pushes it aside. "How did you get rid of him?"

"I just told him I hated Sophie's Choice and then he was the one making excuses to get away from me."

He says, "I can't imagine anyone wanting to do that," he mutters, and he stops their slow-motion walking long enough to press his lips lightly to hers. Then he rests his forehead against hers and says, "But you do like Sophie's Choice, right?"

Her breath puffs hot against his cheek as she laughs, and she replies, "Yeah, I do. It makes me cry, though."

"Me, too," he confesses. But the pain is making him nauseous now, and he reaches out for the nearest wall, leans up against it and then slides down to sit on the floor.

"Okay?" she asks. She crouches in front of him and rests one hand, feather-light, on his knee.

"Yeah," he answers. "I just need a minute." He leans his head back against the concrete wall and lets the coolness of the surface against his head slowly calm his stomach.

"Alright," she agrees. She sits down next to him, close enough to touch but not actually touching, huddling against the wall and turning to watch his pale face, admire the bob of his adam's apple as he swallows down the bile in his throat. "Now you. Worst date."

He smiles, and lets his head loll to the right to look at her. "Well, there was this time I took out this really terrific girl, but just as we were about to give in to our crazy animal lust, we were interrupted by an assassination squad--"

She finds his hand with hers and laughs, tracing the lines of his palm with her fingertip. "You used to say that that was one of your best dates ever," she reminds him.

"Oh yeah, I guess I did. Okay, for real. Once when we'd just been assigned to the office in LA, Weiss set me up with this girl he met in a restaurant. He really wanted to go out with her friend, so he convinced me to double with them. As it turned out, my date was really sweet, intelligent, thoughtful, beautiful... her name was Cynthia."

Sydney frowns, running her finger up and down his lifeline with a look of fierce concentration on her face. "So what was the problem?"

"Well, she also went by the name 'Lady Cinnamon' and was a fixture at a local S&M club. When I kissed her goodnight, she asked me to come up for coffee and punishment."

Sydney stared at him. "You're making that up."

"I'm not, I swear," he answered, with a laugh. "I'm not sure what she wanted to punish me for, but bondage was never my scene." He glances around the familiar little cell and sighs the put-upon sigh of a man growing accustomed to incarceration.

"Hey." She squeezes his hand a little, and then brings it to her mouth, pressing her lips into his palm. "This'll all be over soon. You just have to hang on for a little bit longer."

He thinks, Don't lie to me, Syd, we'll never get out and we're both going to die here and I'd want to make love to you one more time before I go but it hurts too much just to breathe. Out loud, he says, "Your turn."

She can tell he's holding back his thoughts, but she doesn't seem to blame him; she lets it go with her usual grace and subtlety, and puts on a show of seriously pondering her choices. Finally she says, "Favorite LA moment."

He doesn't hesitate before he answers, "Waking up with you the first time."

"I meant more LA moment," she elaborates. "Like watching some network executive try to drink a frappucino, smoke a cigarette and talk on a cell phone simultaneously."


"But we'll just go in your direction instead. Mine would have to be falling asleep with you the first time." She smiles at him and this time she delicately kisses his wrist, avoiding the ring of rope burn and blisters.

"What about the part just before that?" he says, in a mock-outraged tone. "You know, where we were makin' sweet, sweet love."

"That was good, too."

"Just good?"

"Well, great, really. Earth-moving. But I didn't want to inflate your ego too much. I wouldn't want you to get lazy in the sack."

He leans over to kiss her, and there's a witty retort just on the tip of his tongue, but the guards choose to exercise their usual terrible timing, so that's the exact instant when they throw the door open.

"No," Sydney says, jumping to her feet. "No, it's too soon, he hasn't had any time to recover from yesterday! You can't take him again already!"

They ignore her, but their weapons are trained meaningfully on Vaughn, and two of them move in to haul him to his feet. He loses sight of Sydney for a moment as they drag him out the door, but then she's there beside him, walking one step ahead of the guard who's dragging him along with a death-grip under his left armpit. She looks tensed for a fight, but there's too many of them; there's always too many of them. The two of them had tried to escape, once, when they'd first arrived and were still both in fairly battle-ready shape. They hadn't even made it beyond the first of what appeared to be a series of internal security gates before they'd been caught. They'd been separated, and he'd been terrified for hours that she'd been killed, but when he'd woken up from his third intensive round of torture, she'd been in the cell with him, staring pensively at the wall but seeming none the worse for wear.

He snaps back to the present as he half-walks and is half-dragged into the familiar interrogation room. Today, they tie his hands behind his back and then attach the rope to one of the hooks dangling from the ceiling; he has to strain to stand on the balls of his feet to keep his shoulders from being dislocated.

The interrogator -- Vaughn and Sydney have named him "The Cruise Director", since he seems to be the planner and leader for each session's activities -- speaks only Korean, and he never seems to address questions to Vaughn, which is fine since Vaughn doesn't speak Korean anyway. He doesn't even enter the room until the real pain has started, and when he does, he only stares at Vaughn, watching him suffer, then turns slowly to the opposite wall, where Sydney stands silent between two gun-toting guards. The Cruise Director addresses his questions to her in Korean, and she understands every word he says, but she only stands and shakes her head. In the beginning, she would answer every question he asked with a repeated phrase that, Vaughn decided, meant "I don't know."

He's never asked her what the Cruise Director wants. Whatever his questions are, Vaughn believes that Sydney is truly flabbergasted by them, that he's asking for knowledge they couldn't possibly possess. Sometimes, he thinks, she's asking to take Vaughn's place, but he's glad that they don't grant her request. Vaughn, they must believe, knows nothing. Sydney knows everything. And the Cruise Director saw early on that he'd never have to harm a hair on Sydney's head to make her suffer. He uses Vaughn as her whipping boy.

Vaughn's glad, and he wonders if that makes him a masochist. Maybe he would've gotten along with Cynthia after all.

It takes only moments on the ropes to make Vaughn's arms and legs burn. They've used a lot of awkward positions on him; he's hung from his ankles while they beat his feet, knelt on the floor for hours with a hood over his head, dangled from a noose with just enough slack to keep from strangling if he stands on his toes. Then there's the beatings, and the lights, the lack of sleep and the bare minimum of food and water. He's lost track of days, but for some reason he can't fathom, they haven't taken Sydney from him, so he has yet to lay down and die.

The Cruise Director turns today and, as usual, his voice booms around the room in rapid-fire Korean. He has questions, but they have no answers. Sydney stands with her jaw clenched, every muscle in her body tensed, but Vaughn isn't equipped today to show the defiance that she does. His fingers tingle, and numbness runs up his arms into his shoulders. Blackness creeps in around the edges of his vision, then swiftly pounces on his consciousness, and as he sinks into it, he takes some satisfaction in knowing that torture won't work well on an unconscious man. He hopes that means they'll cut today's session short, but he isn't niave enough to think that he won't have brand new injuries when he wakes up.

* * *

This time he catches her staring; she's sitting next to him, cross-legged on the floor, regarding him with a familiar intensity. She has the kind of look on her face that usually means someone is in for a serious ass-kicking. He is pleased to think that this time, it isn't him.

She smiles at him when she sees that he's awake, but it's a pained expression, the kind that can turn to tears in an instant. "Hey, baby," she says. "How you feeling?"

He can feel her hand in his, so he squeezes it, but he's dismayed to find that he can hardly summon any strength for the movement. "Not so great," he whispers. His head is pounding and every inch of his body is burning.

"I need you to hold on for me," she says. She leans in to kiss him, runs her fingers delicately across one cheek. "This'll be over sooner than you think."

He tries to shake his head, but he's too tired to move it, really, so he settles for saying, "Look, Syd, if you have some kind of plan, I want you to try it without me. We both know I can't walk out of here. You can get out, assemble a team, and come back--"

"I'm not going anywhere," she interrupts. "I don't have an escape plan and I wouldn't leave without you, anyway. But Eric will come through. He'll be here with a team before you know it."

He realizes quite abruptly that he's dying. He thinks maybe she knows it, too, but he really doesn't want to talk about it. Instead, he says, "It's my turn. Favorite Michael and Sydney moment."

She sobs and holds a hand up to her mouth as if she can push the sound back into her throat. "I have to choose just one? You go first."

He smiles and says, "All of them. Every last one."

She kisses him again, and again, and her hand lays over his heart as if she can keep it beating through sheer force of will. "You're not going to die," she whispers to him. "And when you wish you had, I want you to remember those moments, all of them. You're never alone. I love you, Michael. I love you, never forget that."

"Love you," he whispers back, and he wants to say something else, but the thoughts are jumbled in his head, and somehow he ends up muttering, "I remember purple caribou and... flying hedgehogs."

She laughs, her face close to his, and her hair flutters over his cheeks like wings, and that's when the door crashes open again, and he knows that this is the end.

* * *

His first thought when he wakes up is that the ceiling looks strangely familiar. The walls do, too, and what he can see of the view from the windows, and he recognizes this as the hospital where he spent untold hours of abject boredom while recovering from the virus he picked up in Taipei. Last time he woke up here, Sydney was lurking in the corner, watching over him. For a moment he thinks that she's here now, too, but the figure slumped in the chair next to his bed resolves into Eric Weiss.

His friend is asleep, but he can't wait for Eric to wake up; he reaches out a hand that's weaker than he'd like it to be, and squeezes Weiss' forearm. The other man wakes up with a start, and there's momentary confusion, but he smiles widely when he sees Vaughn looking back at him.

"You asshole," Eric says. "I forbid you to ever scare the shit out of me like that again."

He shakes his head and tries to squeeze harder. He's never been happier to see Weiss' face, but there's another face he needs to see more. "Sydney," he rasps out.

"Hey, man, don't worry about Sydney. We'll talk about her later. You just rest up and get your strength back." Weiss had never had the best poker face.

"Where's Sydney?" Vaughn insists. "Eric..."

Eric frowns, and glances at the door as if he expects a doctor to come by at any moment and lecture him about upsetting patients. "We recovered her body, if that's what you want to know," he finally says. "They had her downstairs in their own little morgue deep freeze. God knows why, but at least she didn't get the shallow grave treatment. We brought her home. Jack's holding off as long as he can on the funeral... he thought you'd want to be there."

"What?" He can't seem to make his brain work fast enough to keep up. "Her body? No. She was there with me. She isn't dead, it's a mistake."

Eric clutches his hand, frowning. "Mike, don't you remember? I mean, you were there. We've been interrogating the facility commander, and he said she died weeks ago. The body'd been down there for awhile. Fuck, they didn't tell me you could have amnesia. Why didn't anybody tell me about the amnesia?" He moves to leave the room, to call doctors, but Vaughn's hand on his arm stays the motion, keeps him in his seat.

"She was with me," he insists. "She isn't dead. Where is she, Eric?"

"I'm sorry, Mike. She's gone. We've seen the security tapes. The two of you tried to escape, and things just went wrong. She was shot. Remember? In the back. It took them ten minutes and a swift blow to the head just to get you to let her body go."

There's blood everywhere all over his hands and spreading out on the floor so much blood is it his too they should die together if they're going to go and she's not allowed to leave him like this it can't end like this he'll kill them every one of them with his bare hands but first he'll kill everyone they love and they'll suffer like he's suffering and he can't breathe there's so much blood Sydney please Sydney please sydneypleasesydneypleasepleasepleaseplease justwakeup...

"Listen, they pumped you pretty full of some pretty wild drugs, it's probably making you forget and I'm probably not helping," Eric is saying. Vaughn can hardly hear him over the roaring of blood in his ears. "I'm gonna go get the doctor. Be right back."

But Vaughn doesn't last long, between the morphine drip and the shock, and he remembers her breath on his neck and her hair brushing his cheek, and it was all so real. When he falls asleep, he dreams they're standing in line for tacos, but the guys in the catering truck are only selling borscht and tropical fish.