Title: Inappropriate (1/5)
Author: Kate Andrews
E-Mail: idontwannawait@hotmail.com
Rating: PG-13 for strong language and a little strong imagery later on.
Summary: After the events of "The Confession", Sydney needs to be sure of something.
Spoilers: Up through "The Confession," with a tiny, AU bit of "The Box" (becomes clearer later)
Disclaimer: Don't own them, can't buy them, but I won't break 'em, I promise. I'll put them back where I found them.
Authors Note: Thanks to my betas, especially Bella, who made me think about more than a few things. And this is my first Alias fic, so please be kind.

_________________________________

Inappropriate (1/5)
by Kate Andrews



The first raindrops hit Sydney's cheek right before she reached the van.

At dusk, she had left her house to find the whole sky pregnant with rain. Half an hour later, as she strode towards her meeting with her handler, the air crackled with energy. The empty lot behind the boarded up Dairy Queen sparkled. There were broken bottles mixed with the the gravel and knee high, wheat-colored weeds. It created a jagged, rustling, crunching carpet.

She could feel the rain coming, but she didn't run. She wanted to cross the field with a sprint, slap her palms against the side like a child playing tag. She wanted to be in there already. She wanted this conversation to be over with.

She wanted not to need to have this conversation at all.

She listened to the rumbling in the distance, to the growing rush of wind through trees. A cold breeze to cut this sticky heat, that would be nice.

Then it came, the chill air flipping the leaves on their backs. "When they turn silver," her mother used to say, "When you see their bellies, they're telling you a storm is coming."

The rain hit, and still she waited in back of the van for a few moments, enjoying that metallic, stony scent of rain on hot pavement.

"You're early," Vaughn said when she pulled open the doors.

"And you're," she took a step back. "You're naked."

He wasn't, really. He just was topless, and buttoning his khakis. A grey t-shirt lay balled in the back corner of the van, near a small lamp. A dark green sweater sat on the chair behind him and next to him, there were two worn running shoes.

The plane of his stomach was marred only by a deep, jagged scar. It started at his navel and slashed across to his waist. A soft clank pulled her gaze to his unbuckled belt, but she quickly reestablished eye contact. In her shock, she couldn't decide if he was embarrassed, amused, angry, or all three.

Even without shock she had difficulty reading him. Though, on the plus side, she had an answer to the boxers or briefs question.

Sydney didn't blush. That wasn't something that she did, but she could feel heat rising in her cheeks despite the rain. Vaughn's body was unexpected, both the fact that she was seeing it and for what she saw. He was hard with muscle. Not the type one gets in a gym after sets and reps, but the type earned from hard, regular use. Not chisled, but defined. And covered with a light mat of hair, more than she usually liked. Goosebumps prickled up her arms.

"I wasn't expecting your call," he said finally, breaking their gaze. He didn't offer to help her in.

As he turned away from her to pull on a fresh white t-shirt, she noticed that his scar continued its arc across his back and finished just short of his spine. It was fully healed, but still had the tender, purple-red color of a recent wound. There were freckles and patches of peeling, sunburnt skin sprinkled across his shoulders. Surfing, maybe? Freak shark attack? She smiled at the thought of Vaughn in baggy, Hawaiian print board shorts.

He buckled his belt then reached for his sweater. Barely looking at her, he beckoned. "Get in here, you're getting wet."

He was right. A neatly folded towel sat on his duffel bag. It wasn't until she'd dried her hair and started wiping the rain from her face that she smelled it. The white terrycloth was already damp with his fresh sweat. Hastily, she refolded it.

"I was out running when you contacted me." he said. "I didn't have much time." The inside of the van was stripped, except for the two folding chairs and industrial carpet remnants scattered over the floor. Although there was nearly enough room to stand, she crouched, sitting on her heels instead of half-bending over.

"No, I apologize." Was he avoiding looking at her? Or was he just getting dressed. Was he uncomfortable, and if so, why? She was perversely happy to have her thoughts spinning about someone other than herself or her mother. "I should have knocked."

The rain was coming down in sheets now. It drummed against the roof, punctuated by the occasional cymbal crash and rolling bass of thunder.

"Hand me my shoes?"

"You didn't have to come. I should have waited for the next..." her voice trailed off as she unknotted his laces. "Here." She tossed them one at a time.

His smile was lopsided. "Thank you. But if you need to talk," he sank to the floor and tugged on the well-shined, leather shoes. "If you need me, you call. I come. I call, you come. You know that. That's our job."

"Our job," she echoed. Our life. Only he never called her, he called Joey's Pizza. Abruptly, she said, "Tell me, how many lies do you think you tell a day?"

"To who?"

"Total."

"Do white lies count?" He sat with his legs bent, feet flat against the scraps of carpet. Hands on knees, he waited for her response.

"No."

"And what about lying to myself?"

"You're in a weird mood."

"Forget it. Tell me what this is about."

She realized with a start that she wasn't sure. Yesterday, her world had turned inside out. Again. It tended to do that every month or so. She should be getting used to it.

But that meeting, the revelation about her mother, her father's horrible words, all of it had squeezed her carefully hardened mental defenses. She felt like a blister inside her mind had popped, oozing guilt, shame, and violation. And even then, even then she thought that maybe she could handle it. Of course, that was the shock talking. She knew it, but she didn't care. Whatever worked.

Then she turned and saw the look on Vaughn's face. Something else inside of her tore, something she hadn't known was there. He wouldn't even look at her. She felt pink and raw and everything, everything stung.

She didn't even try to speak to him after the meeting. And last night had been a numb blur, helped along by four glasses of wine. Then, today, a nutcase who looked vaguely like some director had tried to take over SD-6. Marshall, of all people, managed to stop it almost before it started with something that that looked like a graphing Texas Instruments calculator.

Of course it wasn't a calculator. But she hadn't been listening to his eager explanation. Most of the staff, including herself, had been let off early to let a cleanup crew sweep for bugs and bombs.

And so she went home. She did real life things. Scrubbed the shower, tossed the furry stuff in the fridge, rubbed Icy-Hot into her abused muscles.

But there had just come a point this afternoon when she was putting away her groceries that she felt like crying. And she couldn't tell anyone around her why. She counted the reasons her mother must have loved her (four) and almost had herself convinced that she wasn't a prop. Later, on the news she saw footage of policeman's funeral with a little boy saluting. Then, that god damned Post Office commercial with the Carly Simon song came on and she just started bawling.

On the phone, Francie wanted to know what was wrong. PMS, Sydney had said, then she made a mental note not to complain this month when her period actually did come.

That's when she made the decision.

The whole world might lie to her. And she might have to lie to her friends. But if she was going to stay sane, she had to trust herself and her emotions. And trust started honesty. And these days, the potential for complete honesty began and ended with the man currently sitting in front of her and avoiding her gaze.

So, she found herself calling his private line, offering him a coded request for a rendezvous. She tried to let him know it wasn't urgent, but really, how could she when the request itself was a code. A lie.

Then she'd thought better of it, only it was too late. And she finally told herself some of the truth, that she only wanted to be near someone who she didn't have to lie to. Someone who she needed so badly to trust, even after he secretly taped her. She acknowledged how screwed up it was, but the only thing she could make ok right now was this thing with him.

She needed to know where they were. She needed the truth from him.

"Lying to yourself definitely counts," she said.

He flinched. It was almost imperceptible, but almost was good enough for someone trained at perceiving.

He said, "It shouldn't."

Still, he didn't look at her, so she picked at her chipping nail polish, a remnant from a recent trip. She couldn't think of a response, and she realized she didn't mind. She just wished they could share silence somewhere with upholstry, central heating, and maybe some windows that weren't boarded up. And she wished she had a better idea of what was going on inside of his head. Hate, indifference, contempt, sympathy, his own private brand of pain?

Yesterday in that conference room she'd given up the twisted sprout of hope that he might feel something more than a handler feels for an agent. Now, she just wanted to make sure he didn't hate her. Or at the very least, that he could be trusted.

"They made me see a shrink," he said, finally.

"About what?"

"Guess."

She looked up to catch him staring at her. Involuntarily, her gaze jumped to his waist. To that scar and his tight stomach and his body. She kept thinking about it.

"I'm sorry. How was he?"

"She was--," the end of his sentence was drowned out by thunder.

"I didn't hear that."

"You are all the way across the van."

"That's true." Neither of them moved. She didn't think she could bear it if she moved towards him and he moved away. This was silly, though. They were professionals. "How was the shrink?"

"What?" But his voice was nearly drowned out by a new wave of water on metal.

She glanced at the ceiling. "What is this, monsoon season?"

He turned his head away quickly when she caught him looking at her again. She tried staring, challenging, waiting.

"She was what I expected."

"Which was?"

"The usual."

"What's the usual?" She refused to take her eyes off his face.

* * * * *

Part 2 coming soon. Reviews/feedback appreciated.