TITLE: Who'll Stop the Rain

AUTHOR: Karen T

RATING: PG-13

DISCLAIMERS: Are the characters mine? Nope. The title? Nope. The computer I'm using to write this? Nope. Damn.

SPOILERS: 'Snowman' and a teensy bit of 'Truth Be Told'

ARCHIVE: I'd be honored. Just let me know where so I can visit.

FEEDBACK: Always appreciated. Please send to poohmusings@yahoo.com.

NOTES: Even though I'm an avid 'Alias' watcher, I'd never planned on writing any fanfics for it b/c I'm one of those crazy 'West Wing' girls at heart and most of my time is eaten up writing pieces for that show. Nonetheless, this idea burrowed itself into my brain and pestered me for a week. And then when I saw how JJ and the rest of the Alias folks dismissed Noah's presence so easily in this week's episode, my muse kicked into high gear. So, anyway, here it is, my first 'Alias' story. Parts of it kind of contradict a few things mentioned in 'The Solution,' but I hope you still enjoy it.

His left hand was entangled in her hair, his fingers massaging the base of her head. "Be on that plane and give me one week," he begged. "Just one week." She didn't respond.

____________________

She was dead. Well, not quite yet, but soon. He had her pinned onto the countertop and she knew all her chances to escape were dwindling away. His right forearm was crushing her esophagus and cutting off her air supply. His left hand was raised above his head, ready to embed into her heart the butcher knife he was holding. Their eyes met. Only for a second, but it was a second longer than necessary.

____________________

"I tried to keep you from this. I want you to know that," he gasped, the knife sticking out of his chest at an awkward angle. She was kneeling beside his body and her hand floated back and forth from his face to his wound, appearing conflicted in where it should land. He wasn't Danny, she told herself. Blood was oozing out of his chest, not his head. He was lying on a tiled kitchen floor, not in a porcelain bathtub. He was Noah, not Danny. Noah, not Danny. The refrain was thunderous in her head as she tried to scurry away from his body but only succeeded in knocking herself onto her butt.

Dixon rushed into the room, repeatedly calling out her name. He saw Noah first, stretched out on the floor, his eyes still open. Then he saw Sydney, her arms wrapped around her bent legs, which were pressed tight against her chest. She looked up at him and he was startled by how her eyes appeared more vacant than Noah's did. "What happened?" Dixon asked. She didn't respond.

*~*

She and Dixon were back in L.A., and the events of Mackey were quickly fading away to distant memory. The ability to forget – or at least to try to forget – was a defense mechanism Sydney had acquired soon after her first field assignment with SD-6. People died, that was the nature and reality of her work. Sometimes the deceased were good people; more often they were bad. Of course, this distinction between good and bad had been a lot more rigid in the beginning. Now it always seemed to her like everyone she battled was good – maybe not every part of them, but enough to make them worth saving.

None of that really mattered, however. She knew it wasn't healthy for her to dwell on the what-could-have-beens, so she tried to force Mackey out of her mind. The problem, though, was that she couldn't. It was that second – that fleeting second in which Noah had stared into her eyes and spared her life. It was only a second, but she knew it would haunt her forever.

She didn't know if, up to that moment, Noah had truly realized that she was one he was fighting. She liked to believe that he hadn't, that he'd merely been following his fight-or-flight instinct. But in that split second after he'd tossed her onto the countertop and had held her life in the palm of his hand, he'd looked at her – perhaps really seeing her for the first time ever – and had hesitated.

They'd both received the same training; they'd both been taught that to hesitate was to surrender to your opponent any advantage you had had. He'd known that, and yet he had still paused as he stared into her eyes.

Sydney hadn't known that Noah was the one hidden under the mask. That was her solace, her excuse for her actions. She wasn't to blame for his death, she told herself repeatedly. But blaming herself for Noah's death wasn't what was preventing her from letting go of the mission. What continued to plague her now – hours after the incident – was that, if she had known that Noah was the Snowman, would she have spared his life like he had spared hers? She liked to believe – needed to believe – that she would have, but the truth was that she wasn't sure. And even more disturbing than her uncertainty was that, deep down inside, she was fairly confident she wouldn't have. What did that make her then? An inherently good person who just happened to have a rather disconcerting flaw, or an inherently bad person who may – or may not – have enough good in her to make her worthy of being saved?

"Syd, we're here."

Sydney blinked her eyes several times before turning her head to her left and seeing Dixon staring at her expectantly. It was evident from the worried expression on his face that he'd been trying to get her attention for some time. Looking out of the window on his side of the car, she could see the gate to her apartment building and, beyond it, the windows of her neighbors, all aglow and inviting, promising her sanctuary and respite. She forced a smile onto her lips and tried to keep her voice even as she unbuckled her seatbelt and said, "Thanks for the ride, Dixon. I'll see you at work tomorrow."

She had hoped he wouldn't follow her, that he'd just let her grab her suitcase out of the trunk and then disappear into her apartment without making any attempts at conversation. But, as she exited the car and began making her way to the trunk, she saw Dixon headed in the same direction.

"Dixon," she sighed as she popped the hood of the trunk open and reached inside for her suitcase. "You don't have to—"

"Are you okay?" She had her back to him, so he placed a hand on her shoulder and felt every muscle in her body tighten.

"I already told you, I'm fine," she insisted without turning around.

"Look, I know that when we became partners, we agreed that we'd never discuss an assignment after it was over, but I really think—"

"I'm fine. How many times am I going to have to say that before you start to believe me?"

"But Noah—"

"Is dead," she interjected flatly. "End of story."

"Syd…"

"Could we not do this now? Please? It's been a long day and I'd really just like to go home and get some sleep."

Dixon examined the back of her head and resisted the urge to pull her into a comforting embrace. The only other time he'd felt so compelled to hug her had been when he'd learned of Danny's death. But this time, as he felt the need to place an arm around her shoulders and tell her that everything would turn out all right, he could already sense her emotionally pulling herself away from him. "Okay," he relented. "I'll see you tomorrow. Good night."

She breathed a sigh of relief as she yanked the handle of her suitcase upwards. With a quick wave good-bye to her partner, she pushed the case onto its wheels and started making her way across the street.

"Hey, Syd," Dixon beckoned from the side of his car, where he stood leaning against the driver's door. "You know that if you ever want to talk to someone about…anything, you can call me, right?"

Sydney stopped in the middle of the street and looked over her shoulder to flash Dixon the first sincere smile he'd seen on her face in hours. "I know. Thanks." As an afterthought, she added, "Say hi to Diane for me. We should have dinner sometime soon. Just the three of us."

It was with reluctance that he climbed back into his car. He knew she'd meant it when she'd thanked him, but not when she'd invited him and his wife to dinner. Sydney Bristow was resilient; everyone at SD-6 was aware of that. But cracks were beginning to show in her protective shell, and he knew they'd only grow larger if something – or someone – didn't shore them up soon.

*~*

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Sydney rolled her eyes at the inane motivational quote as it ran through her head. Yeah, whatever, she silently scoffed. What doesn't kill you just doesn't kill you. The stronger part is merely something you make yourself believe to get over the not getting killed part.

She inserted her key into the lock on her front door and prayed for an empty apartment. But when she twisted her key and pushed open the door, the sound of a TV turned up too loudly assaulted her eardrums. She cringed and took a second to compose herself before taking another step into the apartment. She saw Francie and Will lounging on the couch in front of the TV: Francie on the right side with a blanket draped over her body and tucked underneath her chin, and Will on the left side with his out-stretched arms resting on the top of the couch and his feet propped up on the coffee table. A see-through plastic bowl containing a few unpopped kernels of corn lay in between them.

Upon hearing her entrance into the room, Will reached for the remote and froze the image of birds swooping across the TV screen. "Hey," he greeted as he twisted his neck around to see her.

"Hey," she returned, keeping her face hidden from view as she pretended to be occupied with pushing her suitcase against the wall adjacent to the front door.

Francie pulled her left arm out from underneath her blanket and glanced at her watch. "You're home early. I thought you said you'd be stuck in Denver until tomorrow afternoon."

"Yeah, there was a, uh, change in plans. What are you guys up to?"

"We're watching 'The Birds,'" Will informed her, covering up his smirk with a hand.

Sydney's eyes grew large as she shot a look of surprise at her roommate. "But you hate 'The Birds.'"

"I don't hate 'The Birds.' I love 'The Birds,'" Francie corrected vehemently.

"But you freak out every time you watch it."

"I know. That's why I love it. This is, like, true terror, you guys. Birds going crazy and attacking humans for no apparent reason? That could totally happen. I mean, you two watched that Fox special, 'When Good Animals Go Bad,' with me. You know I'm telling the truth."

Sydney felt the corners of her lips push upwards on their own accord. God, it felt so good – so normal – to be with her friends. Will was now openly laughing at Francie, who, in turn, was trying to silence him by slapping the side of his head with a cushion. She honestly didn't know what she'd do without them.

"Okay, okay," Will gasped between laughs as he held his hands up to signal his surrender, "you win." He straightened his glasses and looked back at Sydney. "Your roommate's crazy, Syd. You've got to join us so you can save me from her." A flying cushion struck the side of his face, knocking his glasses half-off. "Ow! Damn, Francie, you could've taken out an eye."

Sydney pressed her lips together and tried to blink back a sudden onslaught of tears. The dichotomy of her two lives had never stung her as acutely as it did right then. "Actually, I, uh…I'm gonna pass. I— It's— It's been a long day. I'll see guys tomorrow. 'Night," she stammered before fleeing to her room, the first tear sliding down her cheek just as she closed her bedroom door.

Will raised an eyebrow at Sydney's abrupt exit and then turned to look at Francie, the bewildered expression on her face identical to the one on his. "Is it me, or does it seem like she's a lot more miserable than usual?"

Francie shook her head and glanced in the direction of Sydney's bedroom. "That's definitely not a happy Sydney."

"You think one of us should check to make sure she's okay?"

"I don't know. I don't want to bother her if all she needs is a good night's sleep."

Will moaned loudly as he sank back into the couch. "I'm telling you, it's that damn job of hers," he groused. "I don't care how many promotions she's gotten or how well they pay her, she really needs to get another job."

"So you think work's what has her so upset?"

"C'mon, Francie," Will sneered as he refrained from adding 'get a clue.' "That story she told us last week about how her job at the bank's changed? The ten million non-disclosure agreements she had to sign and her acting as a human carrier pigeon? I wanted to say something about it then, but didn't want to upset her. God, I wish I knew exactly what they're having her do."

"But she said everything's legal."

"International companies need her to fly out to them to deliver stuff because they don't want a paper trail? Oh, yeah, that sounds totally legal to me."

"I don't know. I don't think Syd would agree to do anything she knew was illegal."

"Look, I do this sort of reading-between-the-lines thing for a living. I know what I'm talking about."

Francie studied Will for a moment before rolling off the couch onto her feet. Grabbing his hands, she pulled him upwards. "Okay, it's time for you to go."

"What?" He maniacally shook his hands in an attempt to free himself from her grip.

"The night's festivities are over, Tippin. You're going home."

"I disagree with you once and you decide to kick me out?" he complained.

"Yeah," she replied gleefully as she steered him in the direction of the front door.

"But I can't go home yet. The reason I was here in the first place is because Amy's cooking her boyfriend dinner and I promised she could have the apartment to herself until midnight."

"Well, then, go to your office. Or go hang out at some café. As a matter of fact," she grabbed her purse, which had been hanging on the doorknob to the hall closet, extracted a couple of dollars from it, and placed them into Will's right hand, "have a coffee on me."

Will looked out into the darkness and spun around to face Francie, who was holding the front door open. "You're a mean friend," he stated mournfully.

"I can live with that," she chirped. "Good night."

"Mean, mean, mean," he muttered under his breath as he began walking to his car. But Francie could tell he wasn't as upset as he pretended to be by the way in which he glanced back in the direction of the door and waved when he reached the gate. "Bye," he called out.

"Bye," she responded with a laugh. "Drive safe."

She watched and waited for Will to drive away before closing and locking the front door. It was now time for a little girl talk.

*~*

Sydney swiped at the tear running down her cheek with the back of her right hand. Even as she grew hateful of herself for wallowing in her self-pity, the quantity of tears accumulating in her eyes multiplied. What right did she have to cry? She had brought upon herself everything that had happened, was happening, and would happen in her life.

Pushing her hair away from her flushed face, she crossed to the opposite end of her room and rifled through her CD collection, all the while sniffling and cursing herself simultaneously. She picked a CD, placed it into her stereo's CD player, pushed the 'Play' button, and turned up the volume. Soon, familiar strains of music filled the room and her mind.

You have no idea how much I've missed you.

Sydney squeezed her eyes shut as she turned the volume up even higher. She didn't want to be able to hear Noah's voice anymore. She wanted him gone. But she could still feel the warmth of his breath on her neck as he'd whispered to her how much he'd missed her. They'd been lying on the floor of the safe house in Arkhangelsk. His arms had been wrapped around her; she'd been stroking one of them with her fingertips. She'd leaned back into his chest and sighed, and that had been when he'd pushed her hair away from her left ear and murmured, "You have no idea how much I've missed you." She recalled now how happy those words had made her.

Build me up, buttercup baby. Then you bring me down, and mess me around…

"Oh my God," Sydney moaned as she collapsed onto the edge of her bed. Now it was Danny who was haunting her.

She could see him looking up at her. He was beaming as he offered her a small black box, and she could tell he was trying to keep his hand from shaking. "Sydney, I can't tell you how much I hope you'll marry me. Despite what I just did."

"Oh, God, please stop," she whimpered as she covered her face with her hands. Various images of Danny flashed through her mind: Danny with a serious case of bed-head as he stretched and started making his way to the bathroom for a shower; Danny staring at her adoringly from across the candle-lit table on their first-year anniversary; Danny slumped in the bathtub, covered in his own blood.

Then there was a knock on her bedroom door, followed by Francie's voice. "Syd? Can I come in?" When no response came, Francie pushed the door open a crack and peeked into the room. The first thing she noticed was the music blaring from the stereo. The second thing was Sydney sitting on her bed, her hair shielding her face, which was looking downwards.

Pushing the door wide-open, Francie walked to the stereo, lowered the volume, and announced with a playful tone, "God, it's a lot worse than I'd thought. You're still in your work clothes and you're listening to Creedence Clearwater." When Sydney still didn't respond, she plopped down beside her on the bed and gave her a small nudge with her shoulder. "Wanna tell Dr. Francie what's going on?"

"I'm fine," Sydney muttered in a small voice. "I'm just—"

"Tired? Because it's been a long day?" Francie suggested. "Yeah, I didn't believe that the first time I heard it, and now I believe it even less."

When Sydney allowed the comment to slide and instead continued to stare numbly at the floor, Francie decided to try another approach. "You know, Will's convinced the bank has you involved in some sort of Enron-y, Arthur Anderson-like shredding activities, and that's why you're so down."

The scenes stop running through her mind and the voices of dead boyfriends ceased ringing in her ears as Sydney furrowed her eyebrows and turned to look at her roommate in confusion. "What?"

"It's Will," Francie replied with a roll of her eyes, as if that explained everything. "He's the guy who sees conspiracy theories around every corner, remember?"

"We've really got to get him to stop reading so many Elmore Leonard novels."

"Yeah." Francie chuckled and then glanced quickly at Sydney. Her face was splotchy and her eyes were red. "Look, the reason I told you that thing about Will is because, that may be what he thinks is going on, but I have my own hypothesis."

"And?"

"I know you, Syd. I know your likes, your dislikes, and the fact that the only thing that can make you as miserable as you are right now is a guy. Or guys."

"I'm not having an affair," Sydney sighed.

"And I believe you. But I think you need to believe me when I say how well I know you. So, stop stalling and just tell me what's going on. Who knows? Maybe it'll even make you feel better."

"I…" Sydney hesitated as she bit her lower lip. She needed to construct a believable lie to tell Francie. She should construct a believable lie to tell Francie. But she was so tired of lying. "I've been thinking about Danny."

Francie felt a sudden pang of guilt course through her as she began to wonder if she knew what she was doing. "Wh-what about Danny?"

"What if…what if Danny was it for me?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You hear it all the time, people saying that everyone has one person – and one person only – who's meant for them. What if Danny was my one person? What if there's no one else left for me out there?"

"Sydney, you're not making any—"

"I know, but… I don't have the greatest track record with guys. I mean, Danny was my first real boyfriend. All the guys I'd met and were interested in fell into two categories. They either didn't realize I existed or they liked me back but would then…leave. And, it's just that the more I think about it, the more I…" Sydney's hand trembled as she wiped away a tear that had been on the brink of falling down her left cheek. She only had a vague understanding of what she was saying for the words tumbling from her mouth seemed to have a mind of their own. "When I was recru— When I applied for the job at the bank, I knew that it'd mean long hours and a lot of responsibilities and, well, I was fine with all that because…I didn't have anything else. You know what I was like back then. All I wanted was some purpose, some reason for me to be here. But then I…"

"Ms. Bristow?" Sydney looked up from the computer screen she'd been staring at to see a man in his late-twenties standing beside her. He wore the same regulation dark suit as all the other agents, but there was something about him, something a little less serious that caught her attention. "I'm Noah, or Agent Hicks, as I'm sure Sloane'll want you to call me. Carlyle got called away on an assignment, so I'll be taking over your training until he gets back." He took a seat next to her, rummaged through his briefcase, and then turned to face her again, this time with a CD in his right hand and a seductive smile on his lips. "So, tell me, what are your thoughts on Creedence Clearwater?"

"I met Danny," Sydney said to complete the sentence. "And things changed. They rearranged themselves. What had seemed important before no longer felt that way. But I didn't appreciate that enough or I didn't grasp what it meant because he's suddenly not here anymore and all I've got is this damn job and I don't want to be fifty and alone and putting on these suits every day and wondering if—"

"Sydney!" Francie cried, hoping to snap her roommate out of her reverie. "Are you listening to yourself? Do you have any idea what you're saying? You 'didn't appreciate' things enough? You 'didn't grasp' what having him meant? You make it sound as if you're to blame for his death and you're not. You're not, Syd. It's not like you were careless with your belongings and misplaced him and that's why he's dead. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That's it. There's nothing you could have done to prevent what happened."

Sydney nodded her head obediently, but the voices in her head had returned and they were beginning to be all she heard.

"And as far as Danny being the only one for you? Well…I don't know if that's true. I don't know if you're going to meet someone as great as he was. I certainly hope you do, but I can't guarantee it. What I can guarantee, though, is that, even if you don't end up meeting someone else, you're not going to grow old alone and miserable and thinking that the only thing that makes you you is your job. You are not your job. You are not the suits you put on for work. You're…" Francie wracked her brain for the adjectives she wanted to use when she started to laugh. "You're the girl who listens to Creedence Clearwater when she's depressed about guys. You're the girl who cries every time she watches Maverick throw Goose's dogtags into the ocean. You're the girl who…who can outrun any guy on a track but doesn't rub it in. That's the girl me and Will and your dad and that guy Dixon from the bank know and love. Don't give up on her; we haven't."

They sat side-by-side on the bed, neither saying a word, until Francie could no longer stand the silence. "Did that help? Please tell me that helped because that's seriously, like, some of my best stuff."

Sydney started to laugh despite her melancholy. "Yes, that helped. Thank you. I guess I just felt like having a pity party."

"Hey, we're all allowed a little self-pity every few months or so. Wanna go drown your sorrows in some ice cream? I bought a quart of Häagen-Dazs strawberry today."

"Thanks, but I think I'll take a rain check. I really am tired, so I should go get some sleep."

"Okay. Don't forget I'm just next door if you want to talk some more."

"I won't. Thanks, Francie. Really."

"Sure. No problem."

As Sydney heard her bedroom door close behind Francie, her eyes settled upon the cordless phone resting on the nightstand next to her bed. While she appreciated everything her roommate had said to cheer her up, she knew that Francie was only privy to half of the whole story and she wasn't allowed to tell her the other half. A part of her still felt empty, was still seeking absolution. She could call her father, but she knew he'd say he felt bad about Noah all the while rejoicing inwardly over his death. She could also call Vaughn and ask for a secret meeting, but she knew his reaction would be similar to that of her father's. She needed more than Francie could provide and a lot more than her father or Vaughn were capable of offering.

Picking up the phone, she punched in a familiar number and then huddled herself into a ball on her bed and pulled an afghan over her body. When she heard someone answer the rings on the other end of the line, she said, "Hi, it's me. Is it too late to be calling?"

Dixon, dressed in a royal blue pajama set and matching terry cloth robe, was glad he was alone in his kitchen, for there was no way he could have hidden the expression of surprise that overtook his face. "Of course not. You know you can call at any time."

"I don't want to bother you, so if this isn't a good—"

"What's wrong?"

Sydney tried to stop the tears that were coming to her eyes, but ultimately decided to give up the fight as she pulled her knees closer to her chin. "I was so stupid, Dixon. I don't know why I—"

The sound of her sobs covered her subsequent words. "Shh," Dixon murmured. He walked to his den and closed the door behind him. He had a feeling his role in the phone conversation would be more of the comforting sort than anything else, and that was fine with him because he was just glad she was finally reaching out to someone. "It's going to be okay, Syd. It's going to be okay."

*~*

The end.

*~*

Wow, this story was 1) a totally different story when I started and 2) a lot shorter when I envisioned it in my head. Oh, well. I just go where my muse takes me. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Hope you enjoyed it. -Karen