I am tremendously indebted to Amy a.k.a. pie, Teri K. and Liz B., my wonderful betas - without them this fic would have been much the poorer.
PG-13 for mature situations and some sexuality. Spoilers for S3 of Alias up to "The Nemesis".
WHAT YOU NEVER KNEW YOU WANTED
by R. J. Anderson
They warned you about the dreams, but that was right at the beginning, when you were still reeling with the shock of your two lost years and everything else you'd lost along with them. Nobody would have blamed you if you'd forgotten.
Still, you were trained - even before you knew you were being trained - to remember whatever they told you. So you remember, and night after night you steel yourself, knowing that even if the dreams haven't come yet, they will.
What you don't realize is that soon you won't be able to sleep at all.
All the while your work for the CIA carries on at its usual frenetic, adrenaline-driven pace: Mexico City. Moscow. Seville. Pamplona. You've never suffered much from jet-lag, but after a succession of fitful nights both home and away, you're beginning to feel like you have a permanent case of it.
Having to stab the man you love and watch his limp body roll down the hill at your feet doesn't exactly help the insomnia. Even when you find out - to your intense relief - that Vaughn will pull through, even when you finally get the chance to visit him and see for yourself he's okay, it's only to be bitterly reminded that his life, his love, belong not to you but to the woman he married a few months ago. He's Lauren's now, not yours. And you had better learn to deal with it.
That night you lie awake for what seems like forever, staring first at the ceiling, now at the wall, then at the moonlight filtering through the curtains, until the darkness and the silence blur together and time ceases to have any meaning. When at last the alarm clock in your head goes off, you sit up glassy-eyed and exhausted, wondering how on earth you're going to get through the day.
Your eyes in the mirror have blue circles under them. You take a quick shower, smear concealer over the worst of the damage, then wriggle your way into a suit, grab your jewelry off the nightstand and head for the door, pausing only to frown at your unmade bed, which is even more of a mess than usual. Still, no time to tidy up, you're going to be late, so move, Sydney, move.
But you're so tired, it's like you're trapped in slow motion. Even the chain around your neck feels heavy.
The CIA Ops Center, when you get there, looks much the same as always: same layout, same offices, same faces in the corridor. Except for Kendall's absence and Carrie's conspicuously pregnant figure, it could almost be two years ago, and it's all too tempting to wish that it were.
Then in the window you catch a reflected glimpse of your father's smile, and it reminds you that some things, at least, change for the better. You turn, and smile back at him.
"I thought you might not make it this morning," he says, brows raised in mild surprise. "We were just about to have the meeting without you."
There's no reproach in his voice: if anything, he sounds impressed. "I'm fine," you tell him. It's been a rough few days, but not that rough. You wonder why he's being so indulgent, but he's already opening the door to the conference room, and there's no more time to think about it.
All the usual people are there, seated and waiting: Dixon, Marshall, Weiss, Vaughn (but not, you notice with relief, Lauren - it must be an internal meeting). Weiss gives you a sidelong glance as you sit down, a smile crinkling his eyes. Marshall wiggles his fingers shyly and grins hello. Vaughn doesn't look at you at all.
As it turns out, this is a debriefing - but not the one you were expecting, about the trip you and Marshall took to Osaka last week. Instead, it's Vaughn who pushes back his chair and stands, his expression bleak and his eyes still avoiding yours. You wonder what he's going to say - what could he possibly have to tell, when he just got out of hospital? But then he starts talking about Montserrat, and a contact he made when he was there, and you realize he must be referring to events that happened months ago, maybe even years. Still, it's important background for something, probably your next assignment, so you sit up and take notice.
"Thank you, Agent Vaughn," says Dixon when it's over, and Vaughn gives him a curt nod and sits down. You try to catch Vaughn's eye, to reassure him with a smile, but he keeps his gaze fixed on the screen in front of him.
Maybe he had a fight with Lauren, you think. Or maybe she's been called away on NSC business and he's missing her. After all, you remind yourself (ignoring how much the reminder hurts), they're still practically newlyweds.
Dixon appears satisfied with Vaughn's report. He asks Marshall to write some new tracking software, tells Weiss to follow up on a couple of leads, and nods assent to some suggestions made by your father. When at last he turns to you, you straighten up expectantly, but all he says is, "You all right, Syd?"
"I'm fine," you say, surprised.
The concern in his dark eyes remains, but he doesn't argue the point. "Very well. This meeting is dismissed."
No assignment for you, then - it really was just a debriefing. But you feel oddly left out of the loop. None of the names or incidents Vaughn mentioned were familiar, and all the ops discussed seem to have been ones you had no part in. It's an unwelcome reminder of just how much time you lost, how many things happened while you were away.
As you follow your father out the door you are acutely aware of the warmth of Vaughn's lean body close behind you. You are just about to turn and speak to him, but he brushes past you and breaks away from the group in a series of brisk strides, heading purposefully for his desk.
Something is wrong. It isn't like Michael to be rude, not without provocation. And as far as you know, you haven't done anything to offend him. When you visited him in hospital, he left no doubt in your mind that he understood, that he forgave you - in fact, that he was grateful to you for saving his life. So it can't be the stabbing, agonizing as that experience was for both of you. It's got to be something else... but what?
Setting your jaw determinedly, you quicken your stride, catching up to him just as he reaches his workstation. There's no question he knows you're there, but even now he doesn't acknowledge you, only pulls out his chair and sits down, reaching for the keyboard.
"Vaughn, what's the-" you start to say, but the sight of his hands stops you short, steals your breath, freezes the words on your tongue. Every bone of those hands is familiar to you, every crease, every callus, every scar: you remember with acute clarity the feeling of those palms caressing your skin, the long slow strokes of those fingers through your hair, before time and Lauren drove you apart. Nothing about those hands has changed since you saw them last... except for one, vital thing.
"Where is..." Your voice is barely a whisper, and it cracks on the last word; you take a deep breath and try again. "Vaughn... where's your wedding ring?"
He slams both hands down on the desk and spins around to face you. His eyes blaze with cold fury, and you can tell that the only thing keeping him from jumping to his feet and shouting at you is his determination not to make a scene. Instead he grips the arms of the chair and grates the words out between his teeth: "Look, Syd. I know you've just been through a tough time. But that - was low. Even for you."
And before you can even begin to process what he's just said, let alone reconcile yourself to the bitter contempt in his tone, he shoves his chair back and stalks away.
For a long time you stand there staring into space, battered by conflicting emotions. The revelation that he'd just left Lauren, or she him, filled you for a moment with a sudden, wild hope; but now it also fills you with shame, because their marriage never even had a chance, and Vaughn obviously thinks it's your fault...
"Psst. Hey, Syd."
It's Weiss, beckoning you from across the room. The sight of his familiar, ordinary face is a relief, and without hesitation you start toward him. He's been Michael's best friend for twenty years, after all: if anybody knows what's going on, or what you should do about it, he will.
As soon as you reach Weiss he takes your arm and steers you back into a familiar, secluded alcove - the "flirting corner," he used to call it, when you and Vaughn held your murmured conferences there. Since you came back, and noticed that the only ones using it were Vaughn and Lauren, you've done your best to avoid it.
"Look," Weiss says as soon as the door has shut, turning to look at you with his dark, earnest eyes. "I love you for trying. But just... let it go, okay? If Mike can't get over this, that's his problem. Not yours. Or mine."
"I know. But you've got enough on your plate right now, without trying to fix everybody else's problems too. C'mere-" and he gathers you into his arms, in an embrace so warm and comforting that you nearly burst into tears. He's been so good to you, since you came back. It can't have been easy for him trying to be Mike's friend and yours at the same time without taking sides, but somehow he's managed it, and you're desperately grateful for his support.
You cling to him for a long moment, eyes closed and cheek pressed to the smooth gabardine of his lapel. Then the circle of his arms loosens and you take the cue to step back, looking up into his face.
"How did it happen?" you ask softly.
It's not a rhetorical question, but he surprises you by taking it as one. "Oh, Syd. Don't let him get to you. It's going to be okay." He reaches out, tracing the curve of your cheek with his fingers in an oddly intimate gesture, and then he brings his other hand up to frame your face and before you can even react, let alone pull away, Eric Weiss kisses you.
It's not just a friendly peck, either. It's a lover's kiss, strong and passionate. He kisses you like it's not the first time, or even the second; in fact, he kisses you like a man who knows exactly how you like to be kissed, and who's had enough practice to be very, very good at it.
No. This is crazy. You're friends, that's all you've ever been, and whatever insanity has taken over the Ops Center this morning, you're not going to be part of it. You break away, panting, ready to give Weiss a piece of your mind -
- and as his left hand falls away from your face, something on the third finger flashes gold -
Married? He's not married -
But that's a wedding band, so he obviously is -
But then why would he -
That's not like him -
- and looking down at the strangely heavy necklace you grabbed off the night table, you see the twin of that ring threaded on its chain, with an elegant diamond solitaire beside it -
No. It can't -
I'm not -
- and your stomach lurches and your knees start to buckle -
- and your husband (but when? How? And for the love of heaven, why?) says, "Dammit, I knew you weren't really okay!" He thumbs your eyelids up, staring into your eyes. "Pupils dilated. Breathe, Syd. Nice and slow."
"I don't understand," you say weakly. You can't possibly be married to Weiss; you don't remember doing anything of the kind. Besides, he's your friend, the best friend you've got these days but still, nothing more than a friend; plus, you're still in love with Vaughn to the point that you can't even imagine wanting anyone else, which makes the idea doubly ridiculous.
And yet... if it's true, it makes sense of everything that's happened today: Vaughn's resentment, Weiss's familiarity, the rings...
"I told you it was too soon to come back," he says, chafing your hands in his. "You're like ice, Syd. Look at me."
Somehow you tear your eyes away from the floor, and force yourself to meet his gaze. "That's right," he encourages. "Now, where are you?"
You sigh. "The Ops Centre. Eric-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know, you're okay. You said that the last time, too. Right before you started talking about being dead for two years and coming back to find Vaughn married to some girl named Lauren." The last words are edged with pain, but he keeps his voice low, reassuring. "Syd, the Covenant messed with your head. Whatever you're afraid of, whatever you think is happening, it's not real."
The Covenant. That name, at least, you remember. But if what Weiss is saying is true, if you've just escaped from some kind of Covenant brainwashing scheme (which would certainly explain Dixon's concern, and your father's surprise at seeing you here) then...
Some girl named Lauren.
If Weiss hasn't heard of her, and he's Vaughn's best friend, then -
Vaughn didn't break up with his wife. He didn't need to. Because he's never even met her in the first place, let alone worn her ring.
He isn't married!
your heart sings out. Michael isn't married!
says your mind coldly, but you are.
"Look," says Weiss, putting an arm around your shoulders. "They worked on you for two solid weeks before we found you: it's going to take more than a couple of days for you to get your head together. Let me take you home."
The word leaves a cold lump in your stomach. "I can't. I have to know- I have to find out-"
"Whatever you want to know, I'll tell you." His voice is gentle, but not in the least patronizing. "We'll talk this through. Just - not here, okay?"
As usual, what Weiss says makes good practical sense. And if you really are his wife (are you? Really?), there's no reason you shouldn't want to take him up on the offer. Especially since you're not likely to get a better one.
"All right," you say at last, swallowing back your misgivings. "Take me home."