Title: Watch It Burn

Author: Karen T

Rating: PG-13 / R

Disclaimers: Same old, same old. Except for the time I spend writing this, nothing belongs to me.

Spoilers: Everything through "Rendezvous," just to be safe. And for the sake of this story (which you should read as, "Because Karen didn't want to deal with it"), we're going to pretend that Will never went to Paris and never found out about Sydney's spyage. Will never talked to Jack, either. He's just still debating whether or not to publish his story about SD-6.

Classification: Angst, Drama, AU.

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

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

Notes: This story stems from a little idea that popped into my head a week before the season finale when all the spoilers I read kept mentioning how there'd be 2 deaths. So this is my take on who I, at the time, thought would die. And a big ol' gooey thanks to Kat for encouraging me to tackle this idea.

***************

Watch It Burn

As with any story, there is a beginning and there is an end. But where the beginning ends and the end begins, that is to be seen.

*~*

"God, will you stop? You're not my father or my boyfriend or… You know what? I'm not even sure if I consider you a friend, so just stop it. Stop acting like you can save me, Vaughn, because the truth is you can't, and even if you could, I'm not sure I'd want you to."

Days after they were said, her admonitions continue to ring loudly in his ears.

He and Sydney had been meeting inside the warehouse, sitting across a table from each other, when she'd suddenly lashed out at him. It had been a routine meeting with nothing substantial to cover since it'd been almost two weeks since SD-6 had recovered anything new regarding Rambaldi or Khasinau. (And it'd be another week before Marshall would stumble upon information relating to an unknown Rambaldi artifact possibly hidden in a fictitious water well in Caracas.)

Vaughn had asked for the meeting because he'd wanted to check up on her, to see if her determination to destroy herself mentally and emotionally had ceased. At first, it appeared as if it had. She'd walked into the warehouse with a light step and an unencumbered smile – two things he hadn't seen on her in awhile. She'd been wearing what looked like a new outfit: a tank-style sweater in a deep rose color and a gauzy skirt with matching rose-colored flowers on a black background that flirtatiously fluttered around her legs as she'd made her way to him. When he'd complimented her clothes, she'd ducked her head in embarrassment and admitted that she'd spent the day shopping and gossiping with Francie. Her demeanor had been friendly and pleasant and, he was ashamed to admit now, he'd reveled in it. He'd missed how easy it once used to be to speak to Sydney, how she hadn't always been prepared to wage war on every word that came out of his mouth. So it was under this assumption of reconciliation that he'd suggested – without thinking twice – that it would be good for her to continue doing 'normal' things with her friends rather than keeping to herself as she'd done in preceding weeks. That was when her smile had fallen into a straight line, her eyes had grown cold, and she'd hurled one insult at him after another.

In his office, Vaughn shifts uncomfortably in his chair, partly because of how much he dislikes reflecting back to the stinging words that were said that day, but also because of the cold draft currently swirling around his head. Jotting down a short message on a Post-It note, he reminds himself that he needs to place a call to Maintenance and inform them that the air conditioning is on the fritz again and that his office could masquerade as a meat locker in the afternoons.

For the past couple of months, Sydney's behavior has been erratic, at best, so he wasn't particularly surprised when she'd gone off on him during their second-to-last meeting. He agrees now with some of the things she'd said then. For example, maybe he is too soft to be a CIA agent. But he vehemently contests two points she'd made: he is her friend and he is going to save her, whether she wants him to or not.

"Hey, man. Can I borrow your computer for a sec? The IT guys are still working on mine."

Enraptured in his thoughts, it takes Vaughn a couple of hard blinks and one more twirl of the pen in his fingers before becoming fully aware of Weiss's request. "Uh, yeah, sure," he stammers as he pushes back his chair and rises to his feet. "You got a report you need to print out or something?"

"Not exactly." He settles into Vaughn's vacant seat and reluctantly admits, "I heard there's an autographed, mint condition, Barry Bonds rookie baseball card being auctioned on eBay right now, and I wanna see if I can afford to bid on it. Is it still okay for me to use your computer?"

"Yeah, it's fine. Go ahead."

Weiss spins the chair back around to face the computer and is in the process of connecting onto the Internet when his curiosity over his friend's flushed cheeks gets the better of him. "So, you looked pretty, um, determined when I walked in here. Was that you pumping yourself up to speak to Barnett, or a sign that you've already met with her and things went well?"

"What?" Caught thinking once again about Sydney, Vaughn's crimson face deepens an additional shade of red. "Oh, I…yeah, we…we spoke and things went well. Really well, actually."

"And? Did she agree to see Sydney?"

"Yeah. She didn't want to at first because she felt there'd be a conflict of interest since she already sees Jack on a semi-regular basis, but after a little wheeling and dealing—"

"Which is also known as whining and begging, right?" Weiss interjects with a smirk.

"Yes, thank you," Vaughn replies as he fails at holding back a smile. "Anyway, she eventually agreed to one meeting with the possibility of additional ones if she feels they're needed."

"That's great, buddy. I'm happy for you. And Sydney, too, of course. I mean, the girl's cracking and is in obvious need of some professional help."

"She's not cracking," Vaughn stiffly declares, his tone brusque.

"Look, I'm not trying to be mean and I know you feel the need to protect her or whatever, but, c'mon, Mike, the signs have been there. She's been this close to going off the deep end for weeks now, and I didn't want to say anything to you, but Devlin's been seriously considering pulling you as her handler. He was willing to overlook Haladki's whole 'inappropriate relationship' thing in the beginning, but taking into account your and Sydney's behavior lately, Haladki's starting to look like, well, like Rambaldi, ironically enough."

"I don't care what the hell Haladki's been saying. Sydney's done damn good work for us since she came onboard even though it's been anything but easy for her, and if the agency isn't willing to appreciate everything that she's—"

Vaughn's thought is interrupted when another agent, Philip Cantor, enters the room. "Latest delivery, Vaughn," Philip announces, dropping a file folder onto the desk.

"Wait, what's this?" Vaughn demands as he reaches out and grabs hold of the departing man's left arm.

"The latest drop from Bristow."

"Bristow? Sydney Bristow? Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Philip mutters with minor annoyance. "We got the call thirty minutes ago from her phone and extracted it from Bin Three ten minutes ago."

"But that's impossible. Sydney's in Caracas right now. In the middle of a mission, to be exact. There's no way she would've contacted us about a drop."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you then, but the call definitely came from her phone. You know we verify that before we send anyone out for a retrieval."

"But that doesn't—"

Standing up behind his partner, Weiss softly prods, "Maybe we should just find out what the drop says."

A feeling of dread courses through his body as Vaughn swallows some non-existent saliva in a vain attempt to dislodge the lump that has appeared in his throat. This doesn't feel right, he insists to himself. Philip must be confused because Syd wouldn't have contacted us thirty minutes ago. But despite how certain his voice sounds in his head, Vaughn's stomach continues to churn as he flips the folder open to reveal a crumpled, brown paper bag that's been smoothed out. The message isn't detailed and doesn't fill up the outer sides of the bag like most of Sydney's past dead-drops have: Vaughn, Thanks for everything. Sydney

Weiss is immediately perturbed by the finality he finds in those five words. "What the hell?" he cries. "That sounds like a—"

But Vaughn is already one step ahead of him. He shoves Weiss out of his way as he lunges for his phone. "Get me Jack Bristow! NOW!"