Title: Pietas

Author: Karen T

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimers: Moretti is mine, but all else belongs to JJ Abrams et al. Song lyric is from The Sheila Divine's "Opportune Moment."

Classification: Angst, drama, UPT, futurefic, CM March challengefic.

Archive: CM, always. Anyone else, please ask first.

Spoilers/Timeline: General Season 2 knowledge up through "Double Agent." Story takes place at some unspecified time in the future. It could be weeks, months, or years after the conclusion of Season 2.

Feedback: Always appreciated. Please send to poohmusings@yahoo.com.

Notes: Thanks to Mai for being the bestest beta fairy godmother, nanda for the soundtrack to this fic, and Rhysenn for cheering my writer's block breakthrough. Also, big thanks to the blogland crew for keeping me (questionably) sane. :)

Summary: When a mission goes awry, Sydney takes stock of her life.

At the opportune moment, I remind her faith what she has lost.

"Mountaineer, I have visual confirmation of the target at eleven o'clock. Do you copy?"

Without moving her head, Sydney shifted her gaze to the left and scanned the crowd that filled the sidewalk. Her eyes flitted from one face to another until she caught sight of a man with a baseball cap pulled down low over his forehead and an oversized pair of reflective sunglasses perched on a very fake prosthetic nose. Shaking her head in disbelief, Sydney turned a page of the magazine in her hands.

"Copy that, Boy Scout. I have Moretti in sight and am ready to move in." She rose to her feet and chuckled. "You know, for a man who has billions of dollars, you'd think he'd invest in a decent disguise for once."

"He probably thinks it'd be a waste of money," Vaughn replied with a laugh.

"Yeah, but still. Anyone with half a brain could've picked him out."

"Now you're selling yourself short." The comline crackled then cleared enough for her to hear Vaughn ask, "Team One, are you in position for Moretti's extraction?"

"That's an affirmative, Boy Scout."

Although she knew it bordered on an extreme lack of professionalism, Sydney allowed the giggle forming in her throat to bubble up into a husky laugh. "Boy Scout," she repeated, a teasing lilt entering her voice. "We really need to come up with a new code name for you."

"Hey, you have a problem with my code name?" Vaughn challenged, but it was obvious that he was enjoying the playful conversation. "I happen to like it, thank you very much."

"Oh, there's nothing wrong with your code name per se, but 'Boy Scout' makes you sound so...inexperienced. But if that's what you're going for—"

"You did not just—"

"Guys, this is Base Ops, and you're both making me sick with your twisted version of sweet talk. Can we get this show on the road?" Weiss's annoyed voice boomed in Sydney and Vaughn's ears and made them blush, but they knew he wasn't as upset as he sounded.

"Sorry," Sydney apologized. One last glance in the direction of the sidewalk informed her that Moretti had traveled a couple of feet, but was still within easy access. "All right, Mountaineer is moving in to apprehend."

"Roger that, Mountaineer. Good luck."

Flipping her hair over her shoulders, Sydney strode towards the controlled chaos of the lunchtime crowd scurrying back to their offices within the city's Financial District. Dressed in one of her own business suits, she knew she fit in seamlessly with the workers as she squeezed her way into the pack and began to trail after Moretti.

It didn't take long to close the gap between them, and once behind him, Sydney wrapped a hand around his forearm and whispered into his ear, "Going somewhere, Vincenzo? Haven't you learned by now that you can't continue to break laws and then expect to get away that easily?" When he tried to pull away, she tightened her grip and hissed, "Stop being so difficult. Just come quietly with me and—"

"Please don't hurt me!" a voice, too American to be Moretti's, screeched. "I only did what I was paid to do! He never said anything about breaking laws. I swear! If I'd known, I never—"

She pulled up beside him, her fingers bruising his forearm, and stared into the poorly cloaked face. "What the hell...?"

His excuses were running together now, but Sydney tuned them out as she pulled down the high collar of his jacket and saw her worst nightmare: excess surgical adhesive all along the perimeter of his face. The man in her possession with the "poor disguise" was actually a man with a very good disguise.

She cursed as she released her hold of his arm and began moving off the sidewalk. "Base Ops, the man we believed to be Moretti is actually a decoy. I repeat, he is a decoy."

There was a moment of static-filled silence before a perplexed Weiss asked, "Decoy? You mean—"

"Moretti paid someone with the same body type to wear a mask of his face so we'd believe we had him," she cut in, inspecting the people passing by her.

"Fantastic. Do you see him in the area, Mountaineer?"

"Negative, and seriously, what are the odds of Moretti being here after—"

"Looking for me, ragazza giovane?"

The menacing voice came from nowhere, and before Sydney had a chance to react, she felt herself being spun around. A slicing pain shot through her belly as her eyes focused on her attacker's sneer, a sneer that was undoubtedly Moretti's – the real one.

"Tell your bosses that Vincenzo Moretti will not be taken easily," the voice growled as another pain tore through her torso.

The hands that had been supporting her weight disappeared and she found herself staggering into the crowd, bumping into alarmed pedestrians.

"Mountaineer, what—"

"Agent down!"

"Team One, move—"

The directives flooded through her earpiece, but Sydney was oblivious to them as she felt her warmth seep from her. Her hands were wet, very wet, and as she looked down – time slowing to a crawl – she noticed that the front of her black suit jacket was darker than it'd been when she'd put it on.

Blood.

The word formed in her head just as her knees buckled and she--

--stared at her father, his vacant gaze scaring her, making her wonder if he saw her at all.

"Daddy?" she asked. The weight of the gun she was holding forced her six-year-old arm down to her side.

When he continued to stare at her in silence, she dropped the weapon to the floor despite how she'd been taught never to do that, and scurried over to the couch. A lone tear rolled down his right cheek as she struggled up onto the couch beside him.

"Daddy?" she repeated, tugging on his sleeve.

He remained frozen in place, his eyes locked onto the ice cubes that lay melting at the bottom of the glass in his hand, but automatically lifted his arm when he felt Sydney nuzzle against it. She slipped underneath and rested her head against his chest, finding a sense of peace in the way his arm closed around her back and his rhythmic heartbeat filled her ear.

"Don't cry, Daddy," she reassured him in a tone of voice she hoped mirrored her mother's. "We'll be okay."

His sour breath tickled her nose, but she only snuggled closer to him and--

--winced, an unanticipated ache shooting down her arm.

Grimacing, Sydney shrugged on her sweatshirt as her shoulder continued to burn.

"Are you okay?"

She leapt to her feet, adrenaline helping her to forget the pain, and prepared herself for a fight before she recognized the worried creases of her father's face.

"Hey, Dad," she muttered as she took a seat on her bed.

"Your front door was unlocked," he informed her, even though she hadn't asked how he'd gotten in. "You should keep it locked at all times."

"I know," she sighed, uncertain as to whether she was annoyed or pleased by the interest he was showing in her well being. "I...just forgot." The truth was she'd been in so much pain that locking her door had been the last thing on her mind.

He nodded and looked down at his feet.

"You can come in if you want," she finally invited when he made no move to enter her room.

"Oh, right." He shuffled a few steps forward.

She knew how frightening she probably looked. Anna had been particularly unapologetic about her desire to pummel her when Sydney had beaten her to liberating Dr. Jacoby's Rambaldi artifact.

She felt her father's eyes rake over the bruises along her face and legs, and murmured, "I'm not as bad as I look. Really."

He nodded again and eyed her for another second before joining her on the bed. "I'm sorry if I'm staring. This is just the first time I've— we've—"

"The first time you've seen me after one of my missions," she completed for him, smiling warily. "Yeah, I know. But I swear, I don't usually look this bad."

"I," his voice wavered slightly, "I never wanted this for you, Sydney."

"I know."

"All these years, I thought staying away, pushing you away... I thought that'd be enough to ensure you'd never end up—"

"I know," she snapped. When she saw him look at her in alarm, she softened her tone, "But...things happened."

"Yes, they...certainly did."

They fell silent then, neither knowing what to say or how to say it. And as Sydney gazed at the lines that crisscrossed the corners of her father's downcast eyes – lines she'd scrutinized as a child when she'd sat in his lap – she reached out for his hand, linking her fingers through his. When his face turned towards her in surprise, she smiled. "I know things between us haven't been...good…for awhile, but maybe it's time we relearned how to trust each other."

He looked at her, his eyes damp and thankful. "I'd like that. You--

--need to open that envelope."

Sydney consulted her father's somber face one last time before she reached into the envelope and retrieved an 8x10 photo. The composition's lines were blurred, informing her that the picture had been taken in haste, perhaps by someone doing so illegally. The main image was that of a body lying atop shards of glass from a nearby broken window. Hair that was too familiar clung to fingers that were also too familiar as a puddle of blood turned them the color of rust.

Mom?

The photo slipped from her fingers and Sydney pressed a hand to her month. "Did you do this?" she asked her father, who just continued to stare at her impassively.

"The CIA has been tracking Irina Derevko for years. It was only a matter of—"

"Did you do this?" she demanded once more, her throat constricting as the picture's subject matter flashed in her mind.

He raised an eyebrow at her question, but revealed no additional emotion. "Your mother died when you were six, Sydney. The woman who returned in her place was not your mother. I—"

"Did you do this?" she asked yet again, even though she already knew the answer.

"It was what needed to be done to protect you. If she ever came back—"

"Protect me?" She staggered back a step and stared into his vacant eyes. She could no longer remember a time when they didn't appear vacant to her. "No, Dad, it's never been about me, has it? It's always been about you. Protecting you."

"Honey," he began, his voice patient, as he reached out for her, "you're in shock. You don't know what—"

"No." She pulled away from his touch. "I know exactly what I'm saying. Something happened to you, Dad. I don't know when and I don't— But you need help, lots of it."

"Sydney, please, this is—"

"No." She narrowed her eyes. "You need help, Dad. And until you get it, I...I don't think I should see you anymore."

"What?" For the first time in what seemed like forever, his eyes filled with something, and his mouth fell open.

"I'm sorry, but if you don't get help, I..." Her eyes drifted over to the photograph of Irina's corpse and she shook her head.

He stared at her, speechless, as she whispered, "I'm sorry. Good-bye."

Without waiting for a response, she hurried out of the room and pulled the door shut behind her, sad but also grateful – relieved, really – to be away from her father, away from--

Sydney's eyes flew open, a raspy gasp falling from her lips. She was on her back and she could hear Vaughn's panicked voice barking out orders: "Get me medical assistance now! No, I can't wait! She's dying, do you understand? Send an ambulance—"

"Sydney? Can you hear me?"

The voice belonged to a field agent she'd taken under her wing two months earlier. Sydney could just make out the young agent's concerned face.

"Kate," she mumbled, surprised at how difficult it was to move her tongue.

"Shh, don't talk. An ambulance is coming and you're going to be fine."

"T-tell him I..." Sydney frowned as a spasm ripped through her body. "I...lo-ove him."

Kate leaned down in attempt to hear the words coming from Sydney's lips. "Who? Agent Vaughn?"

"N-no." She grabbed Kate's hands with her own and squeezed with all her strength to convey the importance of her message. "My...dad. Tell him...that..."

--Pressing her Crayon-speckled fingers to her father's body to remind him she was there, six-year-old Sydney leaned against his side and reveled in how safe she felt with his arm around her. "I'll never leave you," she declared as she felt his hand settle on top of her head. "Never, ever," she promised, a smile stretching out her lips as she closed her eyes.

- the end-