Roundabout

Season-4 Futurefic, AU

A/N: This is a fic that I actually started to outline about a year ago. I ended up abandoning the idea because I was swamped with schoolwork, but I rediscovered it while cleaning the hard drive of my old laptop. Anyway, I know that I should be working on TEIP...but I've hit a terrible dry spell and decided to really work at this to get the inspiration flowing once again. Basically I've re-worked this idea to fit into the current status of our beloved Alias characters. It's not a long fic...about 5 or 6 parts...but I hope you enjoy.

Part 1--Defeat

It started with a kiss.

Like most kisses, it had seemed like the beginning of something wonderful. Lauren was gone and in what should have been a bittersweet moment, they savored only the sweetness of their reunion. In the midst of the veritable battlefield, he took her battered form into his arms and kissed her with an earnestness that promised a world of good. She was unaware of the biting cold and she didn't feel the scratch of his stubble against her cheek, but she did feel a hurried pound beneath her hand as she rested a palm against his chest. With every beat of his heart, she could see a flash of what used to be...a promise of what could and would be once again.

It was a tumultuous time for them both. While Vaughn dealt with Lauren's obvious betrayal, Sydney was forced to face her father's own particular brand of deception. The people they had loved were responsible for their respective years of grief. So it wasn't difficult for them to commiserate, to help each other cope. Coffee turned into dinner. Dinner led to drinks. And those drinks led them towards a passion that they both craved and feared. It wasn't more than three weeks before Vaughn reclaimed his drawer. And it wasn't four months later that he surprised her with a simple diamond ring and a plea for her hand.

"Most people say that they can't imagine their lives without the one they love. I've lived it. I've lived my life without you, Sydney. That's not living. It's an endless cycle of going through life's motions and it's a part I can't play any longer. I need you with me, Syd. For good. Will you marry me?"

Truth be told, it had seemed rushed...even at the time. But Sydney felt that she was merely taking the steps she would have taken years before had she not fallen victim to the Covenant's ploy. She was in love and afraid of hesitation. Hesitation was misfortune's window of opportunity and she'd be damned if misfortune struck again. So she held her breath, offered an exhilarated yes, and hoped with all her might that the good would only get better.

Oh, behold the naiveté of you.

This is the thought running through Sydney Bristow's head as she presses on the accelerator and shifts against the worn, leather seat. A dull ache has settled in her lower back after so many hours at the wheel and the sensitive skin on her neck is an angry red due to the unapologetic rubbing of her seatbelt strap. Urging her six-cylinders along, she lifts a paper cup from the cupholder and slurps thirstily through the straw despite the fact that the cola has been flat for more than 200 miles. She doesn't even notice. Defeat has long since left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Blue skies and mild temperatures had motivated them to barbecue. Vaughn was poking and prodding at the sizzling meat while Sydney looked over his shoulder. The ring felt heavy on her left hand as she casually began rubbing his back, and she couldn't help but smile with some sense of relief at the sight of the diamond. Things were finally falling into place.

The phone rang three times before he reached it and a smile played at the corners of his when he greeted the caller. Keeping an eye on their dinner, Sydney waited impatiently for him to return. But she knew in an instant, from his slackened posture and his desperate frown, that their outdoor dinner was going to be put on hold.

She can recall just three words from the remainder of that evening.

"Lauren's alive."

"How?"

The rest is a haze.

Squinting against the bright headlights of an oncoming vehicle, she finds herself mourning the fact that she wasn't strong enough to rescue Vaughn from his world of spite and revenge. She stayed with him for more than six months after that fateful phone call. For the first few months, she was a partner in his quest. She accompanied him on operations, followed-up on leads, and met with contacts. She was almost as invested in the search as him. But as time went on, the leads dwindled and their efforts were proving to be fruitless. She was a helpless onlooker of the slow and destructive transformation as it took place. Smiles and kisses and talk of the wedding took the back-burner to late-night phone calls, unscheduled trips, and silence at the dinner table. Sydney, of all people, understood Vaughn's need for justice, but she also knew that she couldn't afford to settle for such a life.

The sound of chirping crickets and a sudden gust of cool air managed to stir Sydney from a fairly sound slumber. A sleepy glance toward her bedroom window found Vaughn's defeated silhouette gazing out the window and Sydney slipped silently out of bed to join him in the moonlight.

"Vaughn?"

"Not now, Sydney

"Vaughn, are you okay?"

"I said..." His voice is harsh for a moment until he seems to realize the abrasiveness of his tone. His rigidity wavers just the tiniest bit as he continues. "Just go back to bed, Sydney

The narrow, northbound freeway is dark and empty, but a quick glance toward the digital display tells her why. Two in the morning. Has she really been on the road for that long? Her sudden sigh betrays her exhaustion as she fiddles with a knob and adjusts the volume of a fuzzy Rolling Stones tune. An uncomfortable pressure in her abdomen tells her that her earlier thirst has come back to kick her in the rear, so she turns an eye to the side of the road in search of a restroom.

With a bag of groceries in each arm and one precariously perched somewhere in the middle, Sydney knew that there was no way she would be unlocking and opening her apartment door. Hoping to avoid a disastrous spill, she tapped lightly on the door with her foot and called out, "Vaughn! Vaughn, can you come help me with these groceries? Vaughn?"

Assuming he must have been kept late at work, Sydney somehow managed to put down her grocery bags without a problem and she let herself into the apartment. She wasn't prepared, however, to see Vaughn sitting sullenly on the couch in front of a muted television where he had obviously heard her struggling outside.

Setting the first bag on the counter, Sydney tried to get his attention again. "Vaughn?" But it wasn't until she placed herself directly in his eye-line that he actually acknowledged her.

"What?"

"Didn't you hear me calling you?"

His shrug caused Sydney to drill him with a questioning gaze.

He responded sullenly. "The latest lead was a dead-end. She's gone."

The toilet-seat is chipped and the constant drip of the faucet is nauseating, but the small Texaco station offers the only facilities for the next sixty miles. After relieving herself of the forty-something ounce soda, Sydney unzips a nylon duffle and unloads a vast inventory of drugstore products. A quick glance towards the falsified birth certificate tells her that Megan Andrews will be the one to leave this restroom. She's down a bottle of Classic Auburn hair-dye, a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, and has gained a fringe of bangs by the time she has finished her handiwork. Disappearing is something that she's good at and metamorphosis is a process she has perfected. Streaky remnants of industrial glass cleaner blur her reflection and she is suddenly saddened as she realizes her efforts are probably for nothing.

Nobody is coming after her.

For the first time in her life she is running without being chased. And this realization causes her to sob pathetically, her cheek pressed against the coolness of the dirty, tiled wall.


She's probably at the grocery store.

This is his first thought upon arriving to a silent apartment. She's been quiet lately and she was upset earlier that morning. Maybe she wants to be alone. He wonders if she still likes the pier or the observatory or the train station. And he sits on the couch and waits. But six hours, three bad movies and a six-pack later, it dawns on him that she might not be at the grocery store or at the pier.

She couldn't have been serious…could she?

He's quiet as he moves through her apartment and enters the room they've shared for the past six months. The large bed is neatly draped in chenille and the pillows are arranged in the just-so fashion that Sydney prefers. Brass fixtures clatter rudely as Vaughn pulls and pushes on her fully-stocked dresser drawers. He nearly chuckles at his own paranoia when he surveys the completely normal state of affairs, but his amusement sticks in his throat when a tiny object catches his attention from across the room. Moving swiftly to her nightstand, his eyes widen as he retrieves the misplaced item and a conversation from that morning runs rampant in his head.

"How'd the meeting with your contact go?"

He was sitting on the middle cushion of the couch and feigning interest in a sports magazine when Sydney's voice startled the brooding frown from his face. He turned back to answer her with a shake of his head. "Dead end."

She nodded slowly as though she was weighing his response. "I see."

He watched as she moved slowly around the front of the couch and he noted that she seemed to do everything more slowly these days. She settled into the overstuffed embrace of the armchair and eyed him with a pained expression, opening and closing her mouth as she prepared to speak the terrible thoughts in her head. But Vaughn was momentarily oblivious to Sydney's obvious internal battle as he found himself wondering when he and Sydney had started sitting on opposite ends of the room.

"I need more." Her words were loud and firm and abrupt. And they succeeded in yanking Vaughn's head roughly from the clouds.

"I'm sorry…what?"

Her feet were planted firmly on the ground and her clenched fists were pressing into her knees. She lifted the heel of her hand and rubbed at the pain that resided just behind her eyes. She looked tired and scared and…regretful?

A ragged sigh passed her lips and she fixed her eyes on a point near his feet as she continued. "I've been through a lot, Vaughn. We've both been through a lot. But there always seems to come a moment when you count your losses and move on. You don't forget, but you start living for what's ahead instead of what's behind." Her uneven voice cracked and he could hear her sadness in the soft sobs she was trying to cover up. Still, she continued. "I had that moment…after Danny. The moment I decided to take off my engagement ring.. It didn't seem so important at the time, but I know now that it was at that moment that I stopped letting my need for revenge control my life. That was when I chose you."

Vaughn tensed visibly at her admission. "You think I don't love you?" He gaped at her in genuine disbelief and she dabbed at her moist eyes as she shook her head.

"I believe that you love me. But I think you hate Lauren more. You're living for her, Vaughn. You're consumed by your desire to find her. I can't condemn you for that and I can't force you to move on. But if you won't, I might have to."

And in a slow but fluid motion, she stood up, crossed the room, and pressed a tear-moistened kiss to his forehead before leaving the room.

Now, hours later, one particular line echoes ceaselessly in his head.

The moment I decided to take off my engagement ring.

The diamond ring glitters tauntingly from between his fingers and Michael Vaughn is completely numb.


The first thing she notices about the motel room is the filthy scent of cigarette smoke clinging tightly to the coarse fibers that adorn the space. Apparently it's not the type of establishment to get concerned over California smoking laws. She guesses that it's probably not the type of establishment to concern itself with any kinds of laws. She sets her duffle atop the dresser and notices that much of the finish has been rubbed away to leave the wood looking raw and exposed. The towels are thin and so are the walls, but the staleness of the room seems appropriate given her own sense of lifelessness. She has given up her home, her job, her friends, and her fiancé. But for what? Most people make such sacrifices to embrace a better life, but for Sydney Bristow, the road ahead looks just as bleak as the one she's traveled.

What has she done? Is she a horrible person for leaving him? Where does one draw the line between self-sacrifice and self-preservation?

This sudden and rather intense moment of regret has Sydney perched on the edge of the bed with a cellphone in hand. Her father's telephone number glows in the display and she lets her thumb hover over the 'Send' button before she tosses the phone away with a frustrated groan. She hasn't spoken to her father in months, his most recent betrayal having proven to be the final rift to tear them apart, and she's not about to yell for help now. She glances back toward the phone as it rests against the loud pattern of the bedspread and rubs a hand against her tired eyes. The small Nokia will likely live in the glove compartment of her car and, with just one important number stored in its phonebook, will serve as her last remaining tie to her Los Angeles life. It's a number she'll never have to use and a voice she'll never hear if all goes as planned.

Another moment passes before the road-grim becomes too much for her to handle. She can't wash her hair since the dye is still so fresh, but with the help of a courtesy shower-cap she relaxes under the shower's rather overzealous spray. The scent of detergent is strong as Sydney sits between stiff, white sheets and she finds herself wishing that she could turn her thoughts off for the night. She's grown used to sleeping alone since Vaughn's searches for Lauren have kept him away more often than not, but her racing mind keeps her from much-needed rest. Her sweats and t-shirt are soft and familiar, and for an instant she imagines that things are the way they were. Before the phone call. She lowers her head to the pillow and can't help but eye her naked ring finger. She thinks of the beautiful ring and wonders if he's found it yet. More than that, she wonders if he cares.

"Vaughn? Where are you going?" Dressed and ready for a rare evening out, Sydney was surprised to see Vaughn come charging down the hall with a small suitcase in tow.

"I just spoke with a contact in Zurich. We've got another lead. We have to move now."

"I thought we had plans. We haven't spent an evening together in… Can't they send someone else?"

"I'm going, Sydney. I have to go. I'll be back in a few days." His eyes narrowed slightly as he looked her in the eye. "I'll see you soon." The slam of the front door punctuated his words.

Sydney nodded to no one in particular and scolded herself for getting her hopes up. "Happy Birthday to me." And with one tug at her hair, her careful up-do came tumbling down in a tangled mess.

For the thousandth time since leaving, she wonders if she's made a huge mistake. After all, she still loves him and she knows that he loves her. Love is supposed to be enough. Love is supposed to overcome. But love has never been a problem in their relationship.

It's the overwhelming presence of hate that has Sydney Bristow running.

TBC...