Title: A Day's Grace
Author: jaina47
Challenger: lishesque
Fandom & Pairing: Alias, Sydney/Rachel
Prompt: Some sweet Sydney/Rachel moments. Or bittersweet. Either will
do. :)
Rating: R, for a smidge of nudity
Spoilers: A few for the series finale.

Written for the Fragments of Sappho Challenge. My fragment was "When all night long, it pulls them down". I don't lay any claim to Sappho's writing as I also don't claim to own Alias, or any of it's characters or situations. That belongs to JJ Abrams and Bad Robot, I believe. Also...I'm making no money of any kind off of this story.


Dixon has a penchant for sending her on missions where Rachel is somehow involved. Since she takes on only one or two missions a year now that she's officially retired and hiding out, it's really only noticeable to her.

Vaughn stays home – the two of them vowed long ago to never leave little Isabelle without parents and Sydney knows how many missions that Rachel undertakes now – as many as she had in her prime – and Rachel has no way of knowing what other mission Sydney goes on.

But Sydney knows, and Dixon as well. She's not really sure if she hates her former partner or loves him for his mission assignments. It gives them moments together that they could never have otherwise; but every time that she hears that Rachel's in trouble – kidnapped, hurt, tortured, in need of rescue – her heart leaps into her throat and for a moment she can't breathe because what if…what if she'll never see Rachel again, never have a chance to tell her how she feels or never hold her again.

Her comm. crackles in her ear, and Sydney forces herself to push away everything else but the moment at hand. Carelessness can get her killed and even with all of the confusing, contradictory thoughts whirling through her mind, she has far too much to live for now.

"On my mark," the accented voice says in her ear. After so many years, Sark's voice is familiar and instantly recognizable to her. His only saving grace, as far as Sydney is concerned, is his apparently genuine fondness for Rachel.

As much as Sark is capable of it, at least, he tries to keep Rachel safe – even if his definition of safety is sometimes quite twisted. He hadn't prevented the organization that he was currently working for from kidnapping and torturing Rachel for information, but his first move after their partnership had ended had been to immediately contact Dixon and give him Rachel's location.

That had led her to her current situation.

"Now!" Sark's voice speaks sharply in her ear.

Sydney doesn't hesitate; she runs. An instant before she reaches it, the bunker door slides open. Sydney lunges inside and throws it shut behind her.

"Halt!"

Sydney raises her hands obediently, and laces them together on top of her head cooperatively. Slowly she pivots on one heel to face the two approaching guards.

Both hold machine guns pointed at her, but they hold the guns like amateurs. Sydney feels another jolt of adrenaline hit her and she forces herself to breathe calmly and evenly.

"Search her," the first guard orders his companion. The second guard gives him a disgruntled look, but complies nonetheless.

Sydney tenses and watches as he walks forwards into the first guards line of fire. She lunges forwards and kicks him hard enough to spin him around. The other guard opens fire and hits his companion. Sydney snatches his weapon from him as he falls and returns a staccato burst of gun fire that drops the other guard. She's barely breathing any harder as she turns and races down a long hallway.

"Which way," she demands as she runs.

"Up the stairs. The second right at the end of the hall." Sark pauses. "What took you so long, Bristow? Slowing down with old age, Sydney?"

She rolls her eyes, but refuses to respond. She can't remember when taunting banter became comfortingly familiar.

She's grateful not to encounter any more guards as she races down the hallway, but she is still wary of a trap. She hasn't been out of the business long enough to underestimate her opponents or to forget that some people might still value the information that is in her mind. She reaches the door that Sark indicated quickly. A simple coded keypad is all that locks it.

She could decode it easily enough, with a few moments to spare, but she knows that her gunfire has already alerted the others in the building to her presence.

"How long before I have company," she asks Sark quickly.

"Three minutes," Sark replies instantly.

Sydney pulls out a lipstick tube from her pocket and smiles. Marshall's Christmas presents were always very hand, and, often, very dangerous. She rolls out the tube and smears an outline of the stuff around the keypad. Sydney presses herself back against the opposite wall, throws her left arm over her eyes and counts to five.

The explosion was small and muffled, but Sydney still feels jagged pieces of metal bite into her exposed skin. She ignores the pain and runs forwards. Alarms are already screaming. She kicks the door open and runs inside. A quick search proves the room is empty of guards just as Sark had said it would be.

It doesn't take her long to find Rachel at the back of the room. She's bound roughly to a chair and her head lolls at an angle Sydney knows to be highly uncomfortable.

"Rachel!"

The blonde woman groans and stirs, but doesn't open her eyes. Sydney feels fear clench around her heart. She pulls a switchblade out of her back pocket and quickly starts cutting away the plastic ties that are fastened around Rachel's wrists and ankles.

"Come on, Rachel," she says urgently, "Wake up." As she cuts the last tie, Rachel slumps forward onto her.

Sydney catches her before they both fall and eases her back into the chair. She only has a moment to look at Rachel's injuries. Bruises stand out vividly on her skin and there are several burn marks on her arm, but nothing looks broken. Letting out a breath that she hadn't realized that she'd been holding, Sydney reaches up to caress her mostly unbruised cheek.

"Wake up, Rachel," she repeats softly.

This time Rachel's eyelids flutter open. She manages a weak smile. "The alarm hasn't gone off yet, Syd."

Sydney laughs in relief. "You slept through it," she teases her back as she catches one of Rachel's arms and pulls her up. With the ease of having done it many, many times, Sydney tucks her head under Rachel's arm, wraps an arm around her waist and hesitates to let Rachel catch her balance.

"Can you walk?"

Rachel bites her lip and nods. "The faster the better."

They hobble towards the doorway as fast as they can. Sydney sticks her head out the door and checks both ways for guards before she pulls Rachel out into the hallway with her.

As she half drags Rachel down the hall, guards appear at the opposite end and instantly begin shooting. Sydney pushes them both into the next doorway. It's locked, but comes open with sufficient force.

"Sark," Sydney calls sharply over comms.

"On my way," he responds sharply. An instant later he gives further direction. "The window."

Sydney nods, even though he can't see it. "We need to get to the window," she repeats for Rachel's benefit.

It doesn't take them long to break the glass out of the window. At the same time, Sydney sees a large dump truck come careening around the side of the building. She catches a glimpse of blonde hair in the truck cab, just before it comes to an abrupt stop below them.

From a second story window, it's a short jump. Sydney has fallen and been pushed from worse heights. She glances at Rachel and, tightening her grip around the blonde woman's waist, Sydney jumps.

The landing knocks the air out of Sydney's lungs even as Sark quickly takes off again. Bullets thud into the metal walls of the truck and she makes sure that she stays out of sight as she rolls over towards Rachel.

"Okay?" She wheezes the word out as she slowly catches her wind.

Rachel grunts and holds her hand gingerly over her ribs. "I've been better."

She holds out another hand. Sydney quickly gasps it and helps her roll over into a sitting position. Together they quickly position themselves against the rear of the truck. Sydney passes Rachel her spare pistol and they begin to pick off their attackers methodically. In moments their pursuit has been eliminated, and they finally have a chance to relax.

For once, Sark is true to his word. Hours later he drops them off at a safe house. Rachel glares at him as he leaves and promises that circumstances will be reversed the next time that they see one another. His response is a taunting challenge that reminds Sydney all of the reasons that she loathes Sark.

It's only after Sark leaves that Sydney finally contacts Dixon. She slips an untraceable cell phone out of her pocket to make the call as Rachel disappears into the other rooms of the small house.

Sydney paces the small living room as her call goes straight through to Dixon. She is not a resource available for official use.

"Dixon," he answers after only one ring.

"It's me," Sydney says smiling, even though he can't see her face. "We got her out."

"What's her condition" Dixon asks immediately. "Do either of you need medical attention?"

"No, she's got a few injuries, but nothing requiring immediate attention, and I'm fine."

"Good," Dixon's voice is brisk. "Vaughn would never forgive me if you were injured."

"I haven't gotten that out of practice."

"I'm sure." He changes the subject. "Tell me where you are and we can have an exaction team there for you in eighteen hours."

Sydney gives him the coordinates and accepts his remonstration to lie low until they're retrieved, even though it's a needless reminder. The phone weighs heavily in her hand as she hangs up and she considers calling Vaughn to let him know that she's safe. Even after all of these years, she still half expects to hear his voice calmly walking her through missions.

Instead she pockets the phone and walks into the other room. The bathroom door is halfway open.

"Dixon's team will be here in eighteen hours," she calls to Rachel through the door.

No response greets her. Sydney hesitates. "Rachel?" Unbidden, her hand slips to the gun tucked into her pants at the small of her back. She slowly eases the door open with her other hand.

Rachel is sprawled limply in the tub, submerged in the water up to her chin. Sydney has a moment of heart stopping panic, thinking that Rachel's injuries were worse than she had thought, before she sees the slow rise and fall of her chest. Then she can breathe again.

She remembers well the exhaustion of constant awareness and the relief at finally being able to relax and truly sleep. She also knows however, that sleeping in a hard cramped tub will not do any wonders for an already bruised and aching body.

Closing the door behind her, Sydney picks up the towel off the sink and moves to kneel beside the tub.

"Rachel." She runs her hand lightly across the younger woman's forehead, and brushes a piece of blonde hair behind her ear. Rachel stiffens; her breathing catches and her eyes flash open. She stares at Sydney with wild eyes until she slowly lets out the breath that she had been holding.

Her eyes flutter closed briefly and her less injured arm reaches up across her body to close around Sydney's wrist. Her thumbs make slow, idle circles over smooth skin.

Sydney can't meet her eyes. "I didn't want you to fall asleep in the tub."

Rachel smiles tiredly. "You're still trying to save me – even from cold water and cramped muscles."

Sydney forced herself to smile and to meet Rachel's even stare. "We ex-spies have to fill our time somehow."

"I'm sure," Rachel says dryly. "Any chance that you're back?"

Sydney shakes her head. "You know I can't do that to Isabelle."

"And Vaughn."

"And Vaughn," Sydney echoes her words softly, pulling back from her a little. She changes the subject. "Do you want out?"

Rachel doesn't fight the change of subject and lets go of Sydney's wrist. She puts one hand on the edge of the tub and holds the other out to Sydney.

Sydney grasps it firmly and helps her to stand, holding out the towel as Rachel stands. Rachel carefully wraps the towel around herself, trying not to put too much pressure on bruises and aching muscles, but doesn't move after she's stepped out of the tub.

"And how is Isabelle?" She's smiling, but the smile doesn't quite reach her eyes.

The question immediately draws a big grin from Sydney. "She's getting so big. She's walking really well now and she's starting to talk a little bit. It's amazing to see her grow everyday."

It's impossible for Rachel to not smile at the wonderment on Sydney's face as she talks about her daughter. She keeps the sadness from her eyes carefully. Time has taught her well. She has grown jaded by what she's seen and what she's done.

"You should come visit us sometime."

Rachel looks up at her sharply. "I don't want to put her in any danger."

"It's no more dangerous than when I go back." Sydney shrugs. "I could make the arrangements if you'd like to come and visit someday."

Rachel smiles. "I would like that…someday."

Sydney nods, suddenly fidgeting and unsure what to do or say. Moments of silence between them used to be easy, not fraught with tension and uncertainty. It's not something that she's used to anymore. She needs to say something, anything, so she starts with the familiar.

"What happened? I know Dixon didn't send you out without a partner."

Rachel sighs. Slowly she reaches for a set of clean clothes that she's found in the closet, and pulls them carefully over her bruises. "It was a combination of bad luck and…Sark." She slowly shakes her head. "Marshall and I set up all of the op-tech for the mission. It should have been a simple in and out retrieval, but we needed another person to monitor the situation. The agent was a competent enough field agent. All he needed to do was watch the cameras and pass along a few codes at the right moment." Rachel shook her head. "He panicked when he saw Sark come into play. He assumed that Sark was there because he already knew that I was there. He entered the codes early and blew the alarm while I was still inside. It all went downhill from there." Rachel smirks. "Despite all of that I was almost out. Did you notice that Sark was limping?" She nods, proudly taking credit for her actions. "But he had several other guards with him. I did buy the other agent enough time to get out though."

"You need a good partner."

"They can be hard to find." Rachel lets her off of the hook gracefully. "Dixon's working on it."

"You could retire you know." It's a subject that Sydney feels honor bound to bring up occasionally. "Your family's not in danger anymore."

Rachel smiles grimly. "I know, but thousands of other people are. You woke me up to the dangers of the world and I haven't had a chance to make up for the damage that I helped to inflict."

"You didn't know," Sydney says softly, her voice low with empathy.

Rachel shakes her head. "That's no excuse. Better me than someone else. I have the skills for it."

"Do you think I should have stayed?"

"No," Rachel replies quickly. "No one blames you for getting out. You paid far more than anyone should have to."

Sydney hugs her arms tight around her waist. "I wanted more."

"So did I," her words are not quite an accusation, too resigned to be more than a statement of fact.

She holds a hand out to Sydney and Sydney steps forward to take it. They stand frozen, hand in hand for a moment, waiting to see where this moment will take them.

"I-"

"Ssshh," Rachel puts a finger to her lips to silence her. "I know."

When she's certain that Sydney is silent, that she will not say things that Rachel doesn't want to hear, and certain that she will not turn away, she moves forward and embraces her. It's awkward, filled with things said and unsaid, but it feels like safety and comfort.

Sydney holds her until the awkwardness is gone, until she can remember how right this always felt.

Sydney's hand strokes down her back, grazing the soft skin of her shoulder bared by the tank top that she'd put on. I'm sorry. She presses a soft kiss to Rachel's neck. I missed you. Rachel pulls back enough to lean in and kiss her. Forgive me.

When all night long it pulls them down into a thousand silences, this is the moment that they will remember. Words spoken with a touch of a hand, questions asked and answered with a gentle caress or a fleeting kiss. It is the simplicity in the midst of insanity.

It is much later when they finally talk. Rachel lazily draws an infinite pattern across Sydney's abdomen.

"When will you leave?" Her voice is empty of accusations.

Sydney shifts her weight slightly to face her. "I won't be here when Dixon's people arrive."

"Ah, so I made the great escape myself."

"Of course. Isn't that what all good spies do?"

"You always did."

Sydney presses a quick kiss to her lips. "I had lots of help."

"A guardian angel."

"And good op-tech."

"Well, yes, that is essential," Rachel says with a hint of a teasing smile. She pinches Sydney's stomach lightly. "And don't you forget it."

Sydney gasps and catches the offending hand. "Never." She gently tugs Rachel towards her and pulls her into a kiss.

Rachel's knees settle on either side of her hips and she holds her as close as she can. "Never."

As she loses herself in the moment, Sydney realizes that it is a promise not to be broken, as it holds the jagged edge of hope.