One week later, Vaughn was driving Sydney back to her house from the airport.
"Tell me again, Michael, what happened at SD-6."
He smiled. She had been bouncing up and down like a five-year-old on Christmas morning ever since they had gotten off the plane. Reality must have hit her when she had actually gotten into his car, and knew she would soon be going to his place.
"I've told you ten times already."
"I know, but I want to hear it again."
Her eyes were sparkling. She knew just as well as he did, that he would tell her again. It had been a week since she had woken up, and he had yet to refuse her anything. He was definitely going to have to work on that in the future, but for now…
"Once upon a time…" he began.
"Stop it Michael," she grinned and swatted him playfully, but suddenly became serious. "It's not a fairytale, you know."
He knew. He knew better than anyone.
"It has a happy ending…For us anyway."
Sydney nodded in agreement, and Vaughn began his story.
"Well, we were able to break into SD-6 sooner than anticipated. We discovered that a group of electricians was scheduled to come in and make some repairs, and this presented the perfect cover for our infiltration. We made a deal with them so our agents could gain access to their equipment, and we infiltrated the building disguised as the electric company…"
Sydney nodded. "Kind of like Cole did when he broke into SD-6 a few years ago."
"Right…Have you heard this story before, Syd?"
She laughed. God, that was such a beautiful sound; one that he had been hearing a lot more lately.
"Go on. I like the way you tell it."
"That group of agents took care of SD-6 security, allowing more of our agents into the building. We blocked off the entrances and exits, and arrested the senior officers. Your father came over the PA system and informed all lower level operatives of what SD-6 really was. We made Sloane give a statement, just for good measure, and then we brought him and his officers down to headquarters for questioning. I believe Sloane is now resting comfortably behind bars, that is if he hasn't become someone's after dinner mint yet…"
Sydney smiled again, showing her dimples. "That's my favorite part…Take a left here."
He followed her directions, turning down the street and stopping at a stoplight.
"And now, a certain double agent and her handler are free to live happily ever after."
She sighed happily. "Okay, I changed my mind. That's my favorite part."
He glanced over at her. The stitches had been removed, and what were once deep gashes, were now only scars. Her bruises were much fainter, almost gone completely.
The engagement ring they had picked out after she had been released from the hospital sparkled on her finger, matching the dazzling smile that had yet to vanish from her face. He couldn't remember ever having seen her so happy.
Sensing his eyes on her, she turned to meet his gaze. He could have stayed there forever, just looking at her, gazing into her eyes. But LA drivers are impatient, and horns started blaring.
"Green," she said simply, the smile still playing on her lips.
"Thanks." God, he wanted to kiss that smile from her lips…But there would be plenty of time for that later.
They drove to her house in contented silence, broken only by Sydney's voice softly giving him directions. He finally pulled into her driveway, and they got out of the car and went inside.
"Francie's not here," Sydney remarked, more to herself than to him, as she opened the door.
She took him by the hand and enthusiastically gave him a tour of her house. He smiled at the delight she took in showing him everything, from where she kept her CD collection, to the food that was in the refrigerator.
"And I believe you've already seen the bathroom," Sydney said with a laugh, concluding her tour. "I want to take a quick shower before I pack my things for your place. Is that okay?"
"Of course. Take all the time you need."
"Thanks. Make yourself at home."
He nodded, and kissed her forehead. "Call me if you need anything."
Yesterday, she had been almost incapacitated by a blinding headache. The doctor had told him that it was normal, and if she was lucky, those headaches would be the only problem that would remain from her injury. But it still worried him to leave her alone. Ever since she had been hurt, he hadn't let her out of his sight for more than a few minutes at a time.
Sydney only grinned and raised her eyebrows. "Oh, don't worry, Mr. Vaughn. I will."
Eyes glued on him, she took a few steps backward into the bathroom and slowly started to unbutton her shirt, teasing him. He jumped forward and brought his lips to hers. She kissed him, lightly at first, but as it began to get heated, she laughed and playfully pushed him out the door.
He tried to reach for her, but she was shutting the door, and he quickly removed his hand.
"Later, Michael," she called out, laughing.
Vaughn shook his head. He listened to her movements for a few minutes and when he heard her turn on the shower, he nodded, satisfied that she would be all right if he left her alone. He headed toward the kitchen, deciding that he would surprise her with a late lunch.
He had found everything he needed and had started making the sandwiches, when he heard the front door open.
"…whose car is parked in the driveway," said a voice that Vaughn quickly recognized as Will's.
"Yeah, I don't know," a female voice answered. Vaughn concluded that it could only be Francie.
"Syd?" Will called, as Vaughn made his way from the kitchen.
"We were so worried, we couldn't get a hold of…" Francie began, but trailed off as Vaughn stepped into the room. "Hi."
"Hi. Syd's in the shower," Vaughn said.
"Who're you?" Will asked, getting straight to the point. Vaughn could tell that he didn't trust him and definitely did not like the fact that he was here.
"Michael Vaughn," he answered, offering his hand.
Will kept his hands in his pockets. Francie rolled her eyes, and stepped forward to shake Vaughn's hand.
"I'm Francie Calfo, and this," she said, jerking a thumb towards Will, "is Will Tippin."
Vaughn nodded. "Syd's told me all about you."
"I'm afraid she's never mentioned you."
Vaughn smiled. God, did they have one hell of a surprise coming.
"I'll go see if Syd's out of the shower."
Francie nodded, and Vaughn left. The shower water was no longer running and Vaughn knocked softly on the door. "Syd?"
"Come in," she answered.
He opened the door and stuck his head in. She was wrapped in a towel and Vaughn quickly turned his eyes away from her and kept them trained on the floor. Later, Michael, later…
"Francie and Will are here."
She took a deep breath. "Okay. I'll be right out."
He waited outside the door for her, not wanting to return to Will and Francie alone.
A few minutes later, Sydney stepped out of the bathroom dressed comfortably in jeans and a T-shirt, and smelling like vanilla.
"You look great." God, did she ever…
"Thanks," she answered, flashing him another smile and taking his hand. "Ready?"
He nodded and squeezed her hand. "Let's go."
Sydney led him into the other room and let go of his hand. "Hey guys!"
"Syd, oh thank God!" Francie was on her at once, wrapping her in a huge hug.
"Careful," Syd laughed as she hugged her back.
"Syd," Will offered, giving her a small hug. He was much less enthusiastic than Francie, but from the look he shot Vaughn before he hugged Sydney, Vaughn figured that it wasn't her he was unhappy to see.
"We were so worried! What happened?" Francie asked, running a finger over the nearly healed cut on Sydney's forehead. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine now. I'll explain what happened in a minute."
"Who's he?" Will asked, jerking his head in Vaughn's direction.
Sydney stepped back to Vaughn and took his hand.
"Guys," she began. "Meet Michael…"
"He told us that, but…"
"Whoa…" Francie's eyes grew wide, but then she smiled. "Congratulations!"
"Oh my God." Will's jaw dropped; if he had been a cartoon character, it would have stretched and hit the floor.
"All those business trips for the bank, were they for…?" Francie trailed off and gestured toward Vaughn.
"No, the bank trips, well, the bank actually, those were a cover for something else, something bigger…"
"Joey's Pizza," Francie interrupted her. "Was that your secret code?"
"Yes, well, no. It's not what you think…Listen, these scars," Sydney put a hand to her head and then pointed to her arm, "and this one," she lifted her shirt slightly, running a finger along the cut in her side. Vaughn still shivered every time he saw it. It had taken almost 100 stitches.
"A year ago," Sydney continued, "I would have told you that these were from falling down the stairs, or tripping over something, or running into someone on the plane, but that would have been…a lie…I got these in a sword fight in Cairo. I'm not a banker…I'm…I'm a spy."
"What?" Will looked at her blankly, disbelieving. Francie didn't speak at all.
"Sit down, I'll explain." Sydney led them to the couch and sat down.
"When I was a freshman in college, I was recruited by a secret branch of the CIA called SD-6…"
The four of them sat that way for hours. It was dark by the time Francie and Will had finished asking questions. Sydney had told them about everything, except the rape. There were just some things that were best left unsaid, that were supposed to be kept secret.
Vaughn sat beside her the entire time, holding her hand, and comforting her when the story became too much for her to tell.
Sydney rested her head on his shoulder when she finally finished and he kissed the top of her head. She sighed with contentment. Francie watched them, smiling at the interaction between the two; Will fidgeted impatiently.
Sydney took her head off his shoulder, brushing her lips with his as she stood up. "I'm going to get a few things together for tonight. I'll only be a couple minutes."
"Take your time," he nodded.
"I'll help you," Francie offered as she followed Sydney out of the room.
Vaughn and Will sat in an uncomfortable silence. Vaughn occupied himself as best he could with staring at everything around the room, first the pictures on the walls, then his own shoes, and finally the ceiling. He could feel Will's eyes on him, boring into him, studying him, testing him.
Will was a reporter; Vaughn remembered that much. Should he ask him some questions about his job? What else could he talk about? Sydney seemed to be a touchy subject where Will was concerned, so he decided to steer clear of that one. He would have mentioned the weather, but he hadn't been in LA for a week and didn't know how it had been.
"Hey," Will finally mumbled, breaking the silence.
Thank God. Vaughn didn't think he would have been able to stand it much longer.
"You love her?"
Vaughn started, taken aback. He hadn't expected that.
But it was an easy question to answer. "Of course. More than anything."
Will nodded and stood up. He approached Vaughn, and for a second Vaughn thought that he was going to smack him. He would fight for Sydney if he had to, had already, as a matter of fact, but her own friend…
But Will stopped as he stood before him, and held out his hand. Vaughn took it and shook it, smiling. At that moment, Sydney and Francie returned.
"Ready, Michael?" Sydney asked, smiling, and he was suddenly struck by her beauty.
Was he ever.
Sydney lay her head on his shoulder as he drove home.
"That wasn't so bad, was it?" she asked with a sigh.
"No, it was perfect. You did a great job."
"Thanks," she whispered, nuzzling closer to him. He couldn't wait to get home.
Sydney stood outside the door as Vaughn fumbled for his keys.
"Having some trouble?" she asked him softly, coming up behind him and standing on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear.
Inside, her mind was reeling. In a few moments, she was actually going to be in his house.
"Nope, none at all," Vaughn answered, as she heard the key finally turn in the lock. He opened the door and moved aside to let her in.
Sydney stood back. This couldn't be real. It was too good to be true. She was going to spend the night in his arms and wake up with him. And not just tonight, but every night for the rest of her life. She pinched herself, just to make sure it wasn't a dream. But she felt the prick of her fingers; it was real…
"Michael!…What are you doing?"
She was no longer standing. Vaughn had crept around behind her and lifted her off her feet.
"Put me down…" she protested weakly, more for appearance than anything else, snuggling closer to him at the same time.
He laughed as he kissed the top of her head and carried her into his apartment, the moon peeking in through the window providing the only light in the room.
He placed her gently in the middle of the room. "There. Welcome home, Syd."
She laughed, "We're not even married…yet."
"I don't care."
He flicked on the lights and Sydney glanced around as she continued.
"But that's the way you're supposed to do it. You get married, and then your husband carries you across the threshold…"
"Face it, Syd," Vaughn interrupted her. "We don't follow the rules. You said so yourself."
He leaned down and kissed her sweetly. She could almost taste the honey and sugar on his lips.
"Mmmm…" she murmured as he pulled away. "Okay."
"So, do you want to see the place?"
Sydney nodded happily, and Vaughn put her arm around her and led her around his apartment.
They ended their tour in the kitchen. "You want something to eat?" Vaughn asked as he opened the refrigerator. "We have, um…" He continued, wrinkling his nose as he closed the refrigerator door and began opening cabinets. "Spaghetti." He took a box from the cabinet and held it triumphantly before her.
Sydney shook her head. "No thanks. I'm not hungry."
Those adorable wrinkles returned to his forehead and he gazed at her with concern. "You sure?" She hadn't been eating a lot lately and she knew that it worried him, but she just wasn't hungry.
"Uh huh," she answered, nodding and stifling a yawn. "I think I'm ready for bed."
"You're not too tired, I hope…" Vaughn began, but was cut off as Sydney crashed her lips against his, finally releasing all the passion and frustration that had built up during the past year.
His hands were everywhere on her; her hair, her face, her back, her neck…
Sydney pulled away, breathless. "Nope," she managed to whisper, flashing him a dimpled smile.
His eyes were burning with love and desire, as he took her hand and led her to the bedroom.
A few hours later, Vaughn lay in bed, fighting to keep his eyes open. Sydney had fallen asleep half an hour ago, curled up against him, clinging to him tightly. She was still so afraid that he would leave her, but now he had all the time in the world to show her otherwise.
Sydney whimpered and snuggled closer against him. Vaughn planted a gentle kiss on the top of her head, praying that tonight, she wouldn't awaken sweating and weeping; that the nightmares that had been plaguing her for the past week would leave her alone. He could protect her from almost anything, but not from the nightmares, not from the pain that had already wrenched itself in her heart.
He was able to keep his eyes open for awhile longer, standing guard over his Sleeping Beauty, before sleep gently overtook him…
They were all a blur, all except her.
Little Sammy, with his shoes shining brightly and the concentration clearly evident on his face, as he not only held the pillow steady in his chubby hands, but also attempted to stay as far away from the little girl walking next to him as his mother would allow.
Kerri; the sweet little girl that was causing half of Sammy's troubles. She marched solemnly down the aisle, carefully scattering the rose petals after her, her fair curls pinned carefully on top of her head.
He had seen them before the procession started; Sammy had offered him a rosy smile, and Kerri, a shy kiss on the cheek. But as they slowly made their way toward him, he barely noticed.
He saw his mother, with Will leading her to her seat. She was smiling, but he could see the tears streaming down her cheeks.
Then there was Eric, with Francie holding onto his arm. Were they smiling or crying? He didn't notice. They both looked very nice, he could tell you that much; but if you asked him the color of Francie's dress, he wouldn't be able say.
It took him a minute to recognize who stood in the door next. It was Jack, and he was smiling. Then he held out his arm…and she took it.
It seemed to him that an angel had flown down from heaven to join him there, his angel. She was beautiful beyond comprehension, beyond words. Now, he understood why his mother was crying, for the tears were sliding down his cheeks, too.
His angel smiled at him as she came closer, her dimples making her even more picture perfect, adding to her sweetness and charm.
His breath caught in his throat, and he felt himself sway, felt Eric's hand on his back, heard him whispering something in his ear. But he caught his balance, and didn't understand what was said. He couldn't concentrate on anything else, couldn't take his eyes off her, couldn't believe that she was his.
Then, she was next to him and the ceremony began. He took her hand and held it, not ever wanting to let her go.
Everything seemed mumbled; a jumble of simple words, songs, and confusion. He didn't hear any words but hers.
Said with a smile and without any hesitation after the murmuring of the priest.
Then it was his turn. He didn't hear the question, but he knew what had been asked and what the answer was.
He was surprised that he managed to say it in a normal voice.
Her eyes were deep and sparkling, her cheeks were flushed. God, he wanted to kiss her.
And he could.
"…you may kiss the bride."
He tilted her chin upward and leaned down to her, tasting her sweet lips. It was sugar and chocolate and strawberries and heaven all mixed into one. It was even better. It was her.
He was out of breath, and finally pulled away from her, gasping for air.
He opened his eyes, and there was Sydney, smiling up at him, tears sliding down her cheeks. He gently wiped them away.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Michael Vaughn."
"I love you," he whispered, his voice almost lost among the applause and cheering.
"I love you, too," she murmured, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him close for another kiss…
And it wasn't a dream.
It was real.
So, what did you think? I hope you enjoyed reading this. Be on the lookout for the sequel, it's called "Shattered Paradise." Thanks for reading, and thanks for all the great reviews.