Title: It Goes On

Author: UConnFan (Michele)

E-Mail: LoveUConnBasketball@yahoo.com

Story Summary: In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It goes on." - Robert Frost Twenty years post "The Telling"; Surviving the worse case scenario.

Authors Note: This is, by far, my most personal fanfic. You think you're living in De-Nile after the finale? I've been in De-Nile since I was six about my parents divorce (I've been there so long that I'm the largest property holder in the area; thanks to JJ taxes are now going through the roof!). Wednesday would have been their twenty fifth anniversary (they seperated/divorced when I was six - I'll be eighteen in October). Now it's becoming obvious that after many valiant attempts and years of dating on and off, my parents will never remarry and in fact my father *likes* the man my mother intends to marry (let's not talk about those gray hairs). The point is that if I can't get my Mom and Daddy back together again, I can at least get Vaughn and Sydney back together again. Thus, this is my therapy.

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She never minded being alone, never disliked the solitude, but she had never thought it would turn out that way.



Claire would be coming home in a few weeks. Thanksgiving break was just a handful of days away; then her daughter's aged Jeep would blare into the driveway, and for a while, her nest wouldn't feel so empty. Sydney would hear about college boys, college classes and how much she missed her mother's cooking. Then together they'd make plans to make the nearly seven hundred mile trek south to Los Angeles, to spend Christmas with Will, to stop by the Dixon's and to visit with the Flinkman's. After Christmas they'd plan on going even further north, to visit a tiny, well-surveillanced home on Puget Sound.



Over the Christmas break her daughter would turn eighteen, and the college freshman would predictably tease her mother about the far too few months that separated Sydney from her fifty first birthday. Not that she minded the banter. One of the best discoveries over the past nearly two decades had been learning that while she'd always loved her child, as time progressed, Sydney had begun to legitimately enjoy the person that Claire had become. From there, it had only been a natural progression from daughter to friend, a transformation Sydney had never been able to successfully master with her own parents.



Jack and Irina lived near Seattle, in a CIA watched home. Whether Jack lived there for convenience - in Seattle he was far closer to his daughter & granddaughter than he would have been in Los Angeles - or by choice, she never dared to ask. Both were in their mid-seventies. Jack had relocated to the Washington area just a handful of years earlier.



Although they had physically aged well, time had not been easy on any of them. Over twenty years had passed since she had reappeared in an alley in Hong Kong, having lost two years. Nearly a year passed from the time she returned, until she discovered that not only had her father been under the guise of working for Sloane, but was also working with her mother. Perhaps her father's heart had been in the right place, along with her mother, but she had despised being left in the dark. The CIA hadn't even been aware that Jack had been working with Irina; instead he'd been walking a tightrope for nearly three years, spending two of those years desperately searching for his daughter, while trying to take down the most evil man he'd ever encounter.



Their efforts though, had not been in vain. Thirteen months after Sydney reappeared, Arvin Sloane and all of his Rambaldi artifacts and other tools of his evil trade, were apprehended and confiscated by the U.S. Government. Three months later in September, just as Michael and Kate Vaughn were welcoming their first child into the world, Sydney left the CIA for good. Consequently, she left Los Angeles, unable to find a job she wanted and to escape the constant memories that haunted her there.



To his credit, Vaughn had worked his ass off after her return. Admittedly, it had taken him nearly eight months, or so it seemed to her, before he could look her in the eye again. Still, he did everything he could to help her with the CIA, and to make her transition easier. But by then it was too late, the damage was done. Will and Dixon had been the ones she found herself turning to, even Marshall, Carrie and Eric. Life had to go on; that was one thing that she had picked up along the way. He had his wife, and he was an honorable man. Sydney never suspected that he would give his marriage anything less than his full devotion and attention, just as it deserved. When it came down to it, she just couldn't be around to watch, especially as their daughter was born.



Luckily, Humboldt State University had offered her a job as an English professor. Located in the tiny seaside village of Trinidad, just north of Eureka and not terribly far from the California/Oregon border, it was a lovely place to relocate. The neighbors were friendly and welcoming. They talked over their fences about their children and their lives, the weather and sports. They looked out for one another in a way that she had never encountered before. Initially, it caught her off guard, but eventually she adjusted to the kind people and their sincere ways. Most people never left Trinidad, making their lives there permanently - her neighbor to her right had lived there for thirty years, while to her left, the elderly couple with seven children and fourteen grandchildren had been in the house for fifty one years. The finishing touch was that it put seven hundred miles between herself and the life she had chosen to walk away from in Los Angeles.



Will visited often, and now in his fifties, he even spoke of retiring there one day. If he couldn't get that far north, Sydney would go down to Los Angeles or they'd meet in the middle. Over time, she'd developed a similar relationship with the Flinkman's and Marcus Dixon. Nowadays, she had to make the effort to see Dixon, who had recently suffered two difficult bouts with a vigorous cancer that left travel a precarious effort at best. The last time she'd seen her former partner, he was still bright and his warm personality was unchanged by the difficult health he'd recently suffered. Still, he had the best doctors in Los Angeles and they were constantly making breakthroughs.



Sydney had only lived in Trinidad for fourteen months when Claire was born. David had been friends with her neighbors from across the street, and she had met him at a Halloween party there just weeks after she arrived. Tall, with puppy dog eyes and dark, curly hair, he was the first man to catch her eye in nearly two years. The first man she felt an interest in since Vaughn. And while the relationship didn't have the chemistry or deep feelings of love that only Vaughn had been able to stir in her, it worked. At thirty-one, rebuilding her life in a new place, it had been enough. He was a fisherman, crabs mostly, and was originally from Trinidad. In retrospect, the relationship had progressed far too quickly, and by the time Claire was born, David had moved in with her and they were engaged.



It was at Claire's baptism, when she was four months old, that Will gently pulled her aside. As her best friend and as Claire's godfather, he had softly explained his concerns. Finally, Will was the one to point out to her what she had been desperate to avoid: That David had a severe drinking problem. Days later, when Sydney cautiously brought it to his attention, he spun out of control in a fit of anger that she had never seen before and never wished to again. Still, the next day he promised to start getting help, for their future and for their daughter.



Of course his meager attempts repeatedly failed, and every time he fell even harder into the bottle. The money was there for him to drink away whatever he wanted, and working alone on the boat gave him the opportunity to spend the entire day drinking. Sydney grew more and more frustrated with his lackluster attempts, and concerned with his disposition to go off of the handle without any warning. All of that cumulated in the spring of 2009, and she spent the last two weeks of the spring semester wearing nearly a pound of cover up a day to hide the bruises, and making excuses about carpel tunnel syndrome to make up for her inability to use her left hand.



Claire was nearly a year and a half when David finally left. One day she had walked home to find his things gone, and no one in Trinidad ever heard from him again. At first it had been a blessing in disguise. Only a few months later did Eric let it slip that Jack and Michael Vaughn had taken three days off, including the day before and after David disappeared, to head north. There was no doubt in her mind then that her father was involved in David leaving, and wondered why after nearly three years of no contact, Vaughn would have any interest in her life whatsoever.



Still, she never saw or spoke to him. Michael and Kate Vaughn were not on her list of people to send her new address to when she relocated, and certainly weren't people she sent an announcement of Claire's birth to. Cutting him out had been painful, but necessary. Moving on was the only option she had. Only to herself did she admit the tears she had shed, the countless 'what if's' that floated through her mind. Putting aside her pain and hurt, she could only fault him so much for moving on - she had done the same thing when Danny died, and it had led her to him. There would never be another man for her like Michael Vaughn, and she long ago stopped trying to find one.



Sydney considered herself a relatively happy person. Raising a daughter on her own, financially and emotionally, was difficult, but worth it. There was always the catch-22, the thorn in the side of every single parent she'd ever met: When there was the time, there was never the money; when there was the money, there was never the time. Claire was, by nature, happy with what she had. She had grown up playing field hockey, babysitting for the neighbors, playing with the dog and taking care of her mother, just as vigorously as Sydney cared for her. During the morning's low tide, Claire would run around the craggy shores of Trinidad Beach, walking under the sea arch. Mother and daughter would walk the pier, looking for sea otters and harbor seals after they ate dinner. Their routine was predictable and mundane, but neither had any complaints.



Three months earlier Claire had left home for Palo Alto. No one had been prouder than her mother when she was recruited to play field hockey at Stanford University, and as a freshman she was planning on an economics major. Sometimes at night her mother wondered if her daughter's fascination with numbers went back to the child's calculator Marshall had given Claire for her third birthday. Initially, being alone in the house was lonely. She'd jump everytime one of their three cats pounced upstairs at night, the steps creaking underneath them. There was no one to watch Jeopardy! or the Kings' games with. No one to greet her with a smile when she arrived home and ask how her day went.



Of all the things Sydney Bristow had adjusted to during her life, a home without her daughter was among the most difficult. By that day in early November, things were improving. No longer did she mind the quiet; the home that was now hers alone. Instead, she went about her regular day, sitting in the back of her house at night and watching the dog pounce eagerly around the big yard, eating her dinner, all while anticipating the evening phone calls from Claire that came faithfully three times a week. No matter how much she enjoyed the quiet, the time to herself, the calls were still the highlight of her week.



With her classes and her meetings over for the day, Sydney closed her office around four thirty on that November day. Slinging her coat over her shoulder, she smiled and waved at teachers and students she passed on her way out. Once in the car, she flipped on the radio and made the short drive home. As her car came to a stop in her driveway, she made small talk with one of her neighbors as she heard Gehrig eagerly barking from inside the house. Just as loyal as any dog could imagine being, Gehrig was a nearly fourteen year old Yorkshire Terrier who was generally well behaved. Opening the latch of the white picket fence that encompassed the backyard, she searched for her keys and let herself in through the back. Gehrig eagerly greeted her, his tiny tail wagging frantically to keep up with his excited _expression. While it wasn't her daughter, Sydney still enjoyed having *someone* to come home to.



Slipping off her shoes, she pressed the answering machine as she breezed past. Three messages: two from solicitors and one from Carrie Flinkman interested in knowing about her Christmas plans. Making sure that Gehrig had fresh water and food, Sydney entered the bathroom and stripped off her soiled clothing. Hours of lectures, meetings on dissertations and deconstructing literature could be suicide on your feet, as she had learned over the years. In the end, after nearly two decades, she still enjoyed her job. Now a full-fledged professor, there were rumors that one day she'd be chair of the English department, an honor that exceeded anything she ever dreamed of.



The jeans were aged and well worn, nearly older than her daughter, but still among her favorites. They were good for evenings alone at home, and the t-shirt fit comfortably with it. Although it was nearing the end of fall, the weather in Trinidad was never extreme in either direction. In the winter it would occasionally get into the fifties, but generally, it stayed in the sixties year-round, thanks to the fog off of the water. Mindful of the cool breeze, Sydney grabbed what was once a pure white cardigan. Raising a daughter and caring for a dog and three cats, along with the passage of time, had aged it to ivory, not that anyone else would have detected the change.



Reasonably warm, she stepped into the kitchen to leash a slightly sedated Gehrig. At the sight of his mistress and his leash, the dog instantly perked up. Once their walk was concluded, Gehrig knew Sydney would let him pounce around the locked yard for a while before going in for dinner. The dog knew the routine just as well as she did, and sometimes she wondered if he was still missing Claire as badly as she was. Together they kept each other company, and he was good for keeping the bed warm at night.



Mere blocks separated her from the Trinidad beach. As idyllic as a beachfront home had been, it would have been impossible for her to purchase one when she first moved to Trinidad. Once Claire was born and her bond deepened with her neighbors, moving seemed impossible, even though she knew she could now manage to afford a waterfront house. Time had taught her to be happy with what she had. Having dreams and goals, wanting things in life was something all people should strive for, but Sydney Bristow had learned the hard way that most times when you ask for too much, you end up with nothing.



Barring rain, Gehrig expected his evening walks to bring him by the beach. Once in a while Sydney would let him off the leash, confident that he'd always come back when she called. They'd walk around the shore, usually devoid of any other company. Sometimes she'd recap her day to him, sharing humorous anecdotes from her classes and colleagues. Other days they'd just walk in silence, enjoying the slowly disappearing sun and the cool sand underfoot. Eventually they'd leave the beach, keeping a calm pace as they walked back to the house.



Approaching the house now, she noticed a black sedan in front and wondered if the neighbors were having guests. The woman across the street from her had two teenage sons and always had friends in and out throughout the day. She'd often find cars parked in front of her house. Early in her years in Trinidad, she'd decided that parked in front of her house was far better than parked in her driveway. Slowing down as her house grew progressively larger, she smiled at Georgia, the woman who lived to the right of her. Georgia had been the one to help her plant the flowers that bordered her backyard, and the woman was watering her plants as Sydney approached.



"Hey Sydney." Georgia smiled as she set down her watering can.



"Hi," she greeted as she and Gehrig slowed down.



"Getting ready for Claire to come back?"



"I honestly can't wait," she confessed. "I know it's only been three months, but it feels like so much longer."



"The first three months are the hardest," the older woman advised. Growing serious, she stood up from where she'd been patting Gehrig. "Were you expecting Will?"



"Will Tippin?" Her brow furrowed as her friend nodded. After nearly two decades of being neighbors and friends, Georgia knew all of her family and friends relatively well, having spoken to them at countless parties and get-togethers.



"I think it's him. I was coming out of the house and I thought I saw him. Someone opened the gate and went into your backyard. I just assumed it was Will. I thought you'd said just Claire was coming for Thanksgiving, but I wasn't sure."



Pushing hair behind her ear, Sydney grew concerned. "I wasn't expecting anyone."



"Do you want me to call the police?" she whispered.



Shaking her head she answered, "No, but if you hear me scream, call," she requested.



"Only if you're sure. I could go get Tom, he could go -"



"I can handle it," Sydney smiled. Admittedly, she hadn't had the opportunity to beat up someone in over a decade, but she still used the athletic facilities at the school, working out and until recently, she'd played nearly weekly games of tennis with Claire. Still, so much of it still felt as though it was instinct to her, and she reassuringly smiled at her friend as she slowly approached the back gate.



The white picket fence was aged but had managed to keep its charm. One of Claire's friends had repainted it just that summer, and she swore she could still smell the paint fumes as she reached over to unlatch the gate. From where she stood, she saw nothing, the back steps and whole right side of the yard, her shed included, were out of her range of sight. Gripping tighter at Gehrig's leash, she slowly opened the door and willed her heart to stop beating. Most likely it was just Will, frustrated with his job and taking a road trip north. As a divorced man with no children, it was not out of the question.



Stepping slowly into her yard, the dog quietly trailed her. Taking a few steps, she froze in her place. Frankly, she hadn't given his appearance much thought until that moment, seeing that his hair was now more gray than blonde, the forehead wrinkles now a near-permanent fixture on his face. Judging by his dark t-shirt and jeans, he hadn't been prepared for the more mild weather that was found north of Los Angeles.



Of the many men that had passed through her mind in the few seconds from talking to Georgia to entering her backyard, he was not on the list of people she had expected to see sitting on the top step of her back stoop. Swallowing hard, she instinctively pulled another flagrant strand of hair back into place before she found her voice.



"Vaughn."