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Here To Stay
With as much force as possible, Sydney lunged herself at Lauren, just as she heard a familiar voice yell 'Freeze!' from the doorway.
Lauren moved quick, grabbing Sydney, locking an arm around her neck and pressing the gun to her temple. With Sydney shielding her body, she turned to the door.
"Let her go, Lauren," Vaughn demanded, his own gun aimed at her.
"Or what? You'll shoot and risk hitting your little precious here?"
"Let her go."
"No!" Lauren snapped. "You either drop your gun or your girlfriend gets introduced to some lead. The decision is yours, Michael, and I am giving you to the count to three. One."
Vaughn's eyes connected with Sydney's. His shot was good, he knew that. But there was not a chance that he would risk Sydney, not even the slightest.
Sydney knew why he was hesitating. "Vaughn, just shoot—" she cut off abruptly as Lauren tightened the grip around her neck.
Lauren let out a harsh laugh. "Time's up," she said, cocking her gun.
"Stop!" Vaughn yelled.
"Put down your gun and I will!" she yelled back. She paused, a cruel grin forming on her face. "If you love her, you'll put the gun down."
Sydney could see Vaughn faltering. "No!" she managed to get out. "Don't fall for it, Vaughn."
But he had already lowered his weapon. As he did this Sydney could feel Lauren's grip on her neck lessen slightly.
"Always knew that you were big romantic," Lauren sneered. "You al—" She cut off abruptly. In her moment of slight distraction Vaughn had quickly raised his gun and fired. The bullet hit Lauren in the shoulder, causing her grip on Sydney to loosen entirely. Instantly, Sydney threw herself onto the ground as Vaughn fired a second and third time, both shots piercing Lauren in the chest.
Before her body had even hit the ground, Vaughn was by Sydney's side, helping her up.
"Vaughn?" Sydney murmured, finding that she was still pretty unsteady on her feet.
Vaughn brushed her hair away from her forehead, wincing at the nasty gashes that were on her temple. "Yeah, it's me," he said. "Syd, where is Allison?"
"She's dead, Lauren shot her." Sydney replied, bringing a hand to the side of her head. "How did you find…"
"You'll be told everything when we get home, but I think that right now, we need to get you to a hospital."
Sydney gave a short nod. "My head hurts."
Vaughn let out a soft chuckle, as she slumped against him. "I wonder why." Supporting her with his arms the two of them headed towards the door- just as Weiss and the rest of Vaughn's back up came bursting through.
"Vaughn," Weiss sounded breathless. "You ok?"
"I'm fine, Syd needs medical attention though."
"Right…" Weiss trailed off, as he looked over Vaughn's shoulder. "Is that…"
Vaughn nodded curtly. "Allison's body is around here somewhere too. We'll need to organize a removal."
"I'll take care of that," Weiss replied. "You just get Syd out of here."
The smell hit Sydney's nose before she even opened her eyes. That awful sterile scent that was associated with all hospitals. But even though she had some idea of where she was, there was still those few disorientating seconds when she finally did open her eyes.
"Hey,' a soft voice said. "Welcome back."
Looking to her left, Sydney saw Vaughn sitting up in a chair. "Welcome back? How long have I been out?"
"A while. You passed out in the chopper over here. But," Vaughn paused, a cheeky smile forming on his face. "That has to be expected when one receives two blunt trauma to the head."
Sydney brought a hand up to her temple, the image of Lauren's gun connecting with her head crashing into her mind. Inhaling sharply, she looked at Vaughn. "Lauren? Is she…"
His expression remained pokerfaced. "She's dead," he replied quietly.
"Are you…" Sydney paused. "Are you ok?"
Vaughn gave a short nod. "Yeah, I think I am…at least I will be." He reached over for Sydney's hand. "What about you? What did they do to you?"
Sydney remained silent for a few seconds. "I was mostly left alone- you witnessed the worst of the physical stuff. But…"
"Allison told me things…about Julia. The things that I did…" she trailed. "They were horrible…"
"Hey," Vaughn rubbed soothing circles on the back of Sydney's hand with his thumb. "That wasn't you, ok. You cannot think of Julia as you."
A ghost of a smile crossed Sydney's face. "And how many times have you told yourself that, Vaughn?"
"We all had to remind ourselves a few times while Julia was in our custody…but we don't have to worry about that anymore. She is gone. Dead."
The smile suddenly dropped from Sydney's expression. "I saw my funeral, Vaughn."
He blinked. "What?"
"You remember when you took me to the beach and I said that I felt as if I had been there before?" He nodded. "Well, I had. When I was captured they took me there. Forced me to watch."
Vaughn's complexion had paled considerably. "Do…" he cleared his throat. "Do you remember it?"
She shook her head. "Just another of the delights that Allison informed me of."
"Oh Syd," Vaughn placed a hand on her cheek. "This is over now. I promise you."
"I wish I could believe that," Sydney replied. "But I just don't see how this Julia business can ever really be over."
After gingerly pulling the top over her head, Sydney looked in the small mirror and cringed. Every time she caught sight of the wound on her temple, it looked nastier and nastier. And while, with her chosen profession, Sydney was accustomed to many injuries and maladies, the fact of who had given her this on made it seem all the more worse.
Sighing, she opened the door to the tiny bathroom and stepped back into the hospital suite. Standing by the foot of the bed, and looking somewhat awkward, was her father.
"Hi," Sydney smiled, approaching him.
"Hello," Jack replied. "How are you feeling?"
"Better. The doctor just gave me the all clear. I'm just getting ready to leave."
"Do you need a lift?"
Sydney shook her head. "Thanks, but Vaughn's already giving me one."
"Oh," Jack's expression hardened slightly and Sydney could not help but let the feeling of frustration creep up on her.
"Dad, please don't start raising your suspicions about Vaughn again, because there is absolutely no reason to do so."
Jack's face was a picture of innocence. "I was going to do nothing of the sort."
"Dad," Sydney raised her eyebrows. "Think about who you are talking to here."
"Then why don't you do the same thing, Sydney? I am your father. My concerns for you will always exist, no matter how much you try and reassure me."
"Concerns are one thing," Sydney replied. "But downright disapproval is another."
Jack blinked. "I don't…I never…"
"The what is it?"
"Maybe…maybe it's that I just don't see him as good enough for my daughter."
Sydney couldn't help but smile. "How about you let your daughter decide whether he is good enough for her?" She paused. "Look dad, I know that you find it…difficult to be able to have faith in people and I understand that. But, how about, just this one time, you find it in yourself to trust my instincts. I am your daughter, after all. There's no denying that they're going to be spot on."
"Now, how can I argue with that?"
"Knowing you dad, I'm sure that you will find a way."
A noise by the door caused both Sydney and Jack to look over, to see Vaughn standing there, keys in hand.
"Hello Jack," she said. Jack simply gave him a short nod and so he turned to Sydney. "Are you ready?"
She nodded and Jack made to head to the door. "Hey dad."
"Let's have dinner sometime this week. When suits you?"
Jack thought for a second. "Thursday?"
"Sounds good to me," Sydney replied. "So, I'll just book us a table at—"
"How about Michelli's?" Jack interjected.
Sydney's smile widened and Vaughn couldn't help but wonder why. "I haven't eaten there since I was eight."
"It's been awhile," Jack said. "Book for 8.30 and I'll meet you there." With that he turned and headed out the door, pausing only for a second to shoot Vaughn one of his famous glares. Vaughn got the message loud and clear- hurt my daughter and I'll snap your neck. He gave Jack a quick nod of understanding and the older man continued on his way.
"Come on," Sydney's voice snapped Vaughn away from the terrifying images of Jack that had conjured up in his mind. "Let's get me out of this place."
"So," Vaughn said as they made their way to the elevator. "Michelli's?"
Sydney looked at him. "What about it?"
"Well, you practically started to glow when your dad mentioned it."
She let out a tinkling of soft laughter. "Did I?"
"Yeah, you did."
"It was my favourite restaurant when I was kid," she explained. "I couldn't believe that dad remembered."
"And the world suddenly makes sense again…or does it?" Vaughn asked jokingly as he wrapped an arm around Sydney's shoulders. "Because I don't know about you, but Jack in sensitive daddy mode is kinda confusing me."
Sydney grinned. "Confusing or not, I'll be milking this for all it's worth."
"You know what," Vaughn pressed his lips onto the top of her head. "I kinda figured you would."
The light-hearted banter between the two stopped when Vaughn had driven out of the hospital car park. Sydney, who was staring intently out her passenger window, had fallen into a pensive silence. One that Vaughn knew better than to try and talk her out of. She would let him in on what was bothering her soon enough.
Soon enough was a couple of minutes later. "Could you take a left at the next light, please," she asked quietly.
"But your place is right," Vaughn said, his brow furrowed.
"I know, but just take a left. I'll explain when we get there."
"Ok…" Vaughn shrugged, as he hit the indicator to move across the lanes.
As Sydney continued to give instructions, Vaughn suddenly realized where she wanted to go. And as they approached the destination, Sydney must have been aware of this as she fell into her silence once again.
Pulling over onto the side of the road, Vaughn turned, looking out of Sydney's window at the rows and rows of tombstones before them.
"Syd," he said quietly, reaching out a hand and placing it on her shoulder.
She turned to face him. "Yeah?"
"Do you want some company?"
"Yeah…but I think I should spend some time alone with her."
"Well, I'll be right here."
"I know." Sydney gave him a small smile, leaning across and brushing her lips against his. "And thank you."
Sydney's stomach churned as she stopped in front of the tombstone. She had refused to come here, because before she had been under the impression that it was Allison's body and not that of her best friend.
Francine (Francie) Calfo
01/03/1975 to 26/01/2003
Her life taken years too soon, but
may her spirit live on till eternity
"Oh Francie," Sydney sighed, crouching down as her throat constricted threateningly. "This wasn't supposed to happen. Not to you…especially not you." She drew in a deep breath. "I'm sorry that I didn't come earlier. I thought…I thought…"
Sydney brought a hand up to her mouth. The thought of Allison was making her feel physically ill. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Vaughn, within eyesight, sitting in his car.
"That's Michael, from the bank…though you probably know the truth about the 'bank' now. I'm sorry that you never got to meet him…I would have really liked for the two of you…it's my fault. It was my job that did this to you, and that landed Will in Witness Protection. I am…" Sydney wiped furiously at the tears that had been forming in her eyes. Feeling her legs give away from underneath her, she collapsed to her knees.
"I am so sorry, Fran. I know that nothing I say can make up for what happened to you, but you have to know that you were on of the most important people in my life. You kept me sane, made me laugh…and now you're gone. Without even being given the chance to say good-bye. I miss you so much. I am so sorry…" Sydney trailed off, unable to control the tears that were now streaming down her face. Burying her face in her hands, she let the racking sobs come. There was no point in attempting to stop them. Her best friend was gone and she was the cause of it.
She jumped slightly when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up she saw Vaughn standing there, silhouetted by the sun.
"I know you wanted to be alone," he said, crouching down beside her. "But I saw you from the car…are you ok?"
Sydney's face crumpled even more. "She must hate me…I hate me…"
"Hey," Vaughn said soothingly, pulling Sydney into his arms. "What happened to Francie was not your fault. You had no control whatsoever over the situation."
"No," Vaughn's tone was gentle but firm. "You lost your best friend and you have every right to feel devastated about that. But I don't ever want to hear you blaming yourself again."
"I…I just miss her so much. And Will." She drew in a deep breath as she sagged against Vaughn. "You would have really liked her."
"She was…she was just so…Francie. In your face and straight to the point. She was like a fresh dose of reality whenever you spoke to her…unless of course, she was fantasizing about Kobe Bryant," Sydney finished with a small smile.
"Kobe, hey?" Vaughn said, running a hand over Sydney's hair.
She could only nod, as she brought her hands up to wipe her eyes.
"Well," Vaughn started. "The way you and Will used to sing Francie's praises, I wish that I had met her as well."
Sydney looked up at him. "Can you take me home?" she asked quietly.
"Of course," Vaughn stood and then held out a hand, helping her up.
"Could you…I need a just a minute."
Vaughn nodded, understanding completely. "I'll meet you at the car."
As he walked off, Sydney turned back to the gravesite and placed a hand on the cool grey stone. "Good bye Fran," she said softly. "I'll be back for a chat another day."
"Here you go," Vaughn said, walking out onto the small patio and handing Sydney a glass of soft drink.
"Thanks." Sydney took the glass as he sat down beside her. "Though I wish that this was wine…or vodka. Maybe teqiula. After the past few days I could really do with any of that."
Vaughn let out a small chuckle. "Yeah, I can see that going down really well with those pain killers you're on."
Sydney just gave a small smile, closing her eyes as a light breeze crossed her face. It was a perfect balmy evening, one that Sydney wished could last forever. There was something about the feel and smell of the air that made her feel…hopeful. Like that everything was going to be ok eventually.
"How are you doing?" Vaughn asked, raising his own glass to his lips.
Sydney looked at him, distracted by her own thoughts. "Hmm?"
"I asked how you were," Vaughn repeated. "Today was pretty full on."
Her face clouded slightly. "Just a bit…" she murmured. "But I think that I am going to be ok."
"Pretty amazing what saying good bye can do," Vaughn commented quietly.
"Yeah, Sydney nodded. "Yeah, it is."
Several hours later Sydney and Vaughn had migrated inside to the kitchen, where she was rinsing out their glasses.
"Vaughn!" Sydney swatted his hand away. "I am perfectly capable of doing this."
"Well, I wasn't sure how much that head injury of yours had altered your motor skills," he teased.
Giving him a slight push, Sydney turned off the tap. "See? All done. Now, would you care to stop treating me like a child?"
"I would never even think of treating you like a child," Vaughn deadpanned.
He nodded, leaning in. "Yes. Because if you were a child, I could get into a lot of trouble for doing this." Pressing his lips against hers, he snaked his arms around her body, pulling the two of them tighter together.
"Well," Sydney said when they had broken apart. "I think you have certainly make your point clear, Vaughn."
Vaughn chuckled, kissing her briefly once again. "I should probably go. It's getting late and I've got work tomorrow. And you," he tucked a strand of hair behind Sydney's ear, "probably need to get some rest."
"Wait," Sydney grabbed his arm.
"I don't want you to go," she said. "Stay."
Feeling something brush against her forehead, Sydney languidly stretched about her legs and opened her eyes. Vaughn was leaning over the bed, fully dressed in a suit.
"Hey," she said, a slow smile forming on her face.
"Hey yourself," Vaughn replied, as his face turned apologetic. "I've got to go."
"How about you just stay home today?"
"I wish," Vaughn replied. "But unfortunately not all of us are lucky enough to have a head trauma to get us a day off work."
"Well, if that's all you need, then it can be easily arranged," Sydney quipped cheerfully.
"Yeah, too easily. And that is what scares me about you," Vaughn laughed, bending over and kissing her. "I'll come by over my break. We can have lunch."
Sydney smiled. "See you then."
"Oh, by the way," Vaughn paused at the door. "I grabbed your mail. It's sitting on the bench."
A couple of hours later, Sydney stepped out of the bathroom, having spent considerable time soaking in a bath. Walking to the bench, she picked up the small pile of mail that Vaughn had placed there before. Most of it was uninteresting, but there was one plain envelope that caught her eye.
There was no stamp or address, just her name. Intrigued, she sat at the bench, tore the envelope open and pulled out a single sheet of paper. When Sydney saw who has signed the letter, she felt her heart leap to her throat.
I wrote this while I was back in L.A and asked Vaughn to give it to you when he felt that the time was right. So, I guess that this is the right time.
I don't know what is worse- you being 'dead' and out of my life completely or you being back and not being able to see and speak to you everyday…well, actually it's not all that difficult to differentiate between the two. Having you back, alive and safe, there is nothing more that I could ask for (except of course, having you around every day).
The fact that we are now separated- I don't want you to blame yourself. I know you Syd, probably better than I know myself. What happened to me, and what happened to Francie, it is not your fault. You were doing all that you could to protect us, and to protect the world. And I am only thankful for that. Regardless of what has happened, you have made the world a safer place. Fran, and me, that was out of your control. I blame you in no way, and I can vouch for Fran, because I am pretty sure that she would feel the same way.
There is another thing, Syd. Julia. I know that she is not the world's nicest person (perhaps a slight understatement) and that she has done her fair share of terrible things, but Syd, please do me a favour. Don't hate her.
I know, I know- what am I thinking…well, I am thinking that I don't want to have you consumed by this woman. After all, who knows where you would be if it weren't for her. Would you even be alive? She brought you back home to us, Syd. She knew exactly where to go and for that, I am forever grateful and consider myself entirely in Julia Thorne's debt (though, perhaps the bruises I am sporting has paid a little of that off…)
I know that having no memory of your time as Julia will be driving you crazy. And I know that, you being you, there is the chance that you will let your need to discover exactly what went on during this past months completely take over.
Please don't Sydney. Julia, whatever she did, she kept you safe. And now that you're back, I want you to enjoy that- with no traces of guilt whatsoever.
I love you; Syd, and I promise that we'll be seeing each other another day.
Silently, Sydney read through the letter several times, running her fingers over the pen's indents, as if trying to determine whether the letter was real. Standing, she made her way back to her bedroom, folded the letter and placed it in the top drawer of her dresser. The letter had made her feel lighter, somehow. An effect she was sure that Will was hoping for.
Smiling, she closed the drawer.
When Vaughn arrived at Sydney's at lunch, he asked nothing about the letter and nor did she offer any information.
However, when Sydney embraced him, Vaughn would had to have been completely oblivious not to notice that the tension she's been carrying since her return had all but dissipated.
"Come on," Sydney said, grabbing her bag. "Let's go somewhere for lunch. It's too nice a day to spend it inside."
Vaughn chuckled as he followed her to the door. "You're certainly chipper."
Sydney paused, unlocking the door and looked at him over her shoulder. "Thank you," she said, her face widening in a smile.
"You could not have got the timing more right."
Vaughn took a step towards her, pressing his lips softly to hers. "It's about time that I got something right."
Sydney shrugged, pushing open the door. "Oh, I don't know. I reckon that you've done some other things right."
"Are you going to elaborate?"
Sydney looked at him, a cheeky grin on her face. "You got me back, didn't you?" she said playfully.
"Yeah, I did," Vaughn's expression suddenly sobered. "And don't think for a second that I am going to risk letting you go again."
"I am going to hold you to that," she answered. "Because I am here to stay."
"That's what I was hoping," Vaughn said and then held out his hand. "Lunch?"
"Let's go," Sydney replied, placing her hand in his.
Once again, I want to take the time to thank everybody for their support during this fic. To those who read, and especially to those who took the time to review- the motivation to keep writing definitely comes from all of you, after all I do not write these stories for myself.
That being said, I hope that this final chapter was to your satisfaction. I struggled a little writing it, with the scenes at the cemetary and Will's letter. The scene at Francie's grave was something that I have wanted to write for a long time. Originally it had been my plan to write as a one shot, but I could never find the right way to go about it and then this story gave me the chance to write it in a different way. I can only hope that it was written in a satisfactory manner (the same for the letter from Will).
So once again, a great big huge thank you (I am sending all of you a big hug right now!) and you will be hearing from me soon :)