Part One: Preparations

Sydney walked slowly down the aisle, eyeing the numerous cans. A small wrinkle had formed between her brows and her lips thinned as she searched. She gave this task the same concentration she usually gave a bomb or a new Rambaldi artifact.

This one small fact made Michael Vaughn smile. He hadn't expected anything else from her, knowing how careful she was with everything else she did. It was just more comical when her seriousness was aimed at something as mundane as grocery shopping. He had been watching Sydney make her way up the aisle for the past five minutes, amused that a skilled spy such as herself had not noticed him at all.

"What's so funny, Vaughn," Sydney said suddenly, not looking in his direction.

The smile was immediately wiped off his face.

"I could smell your aftershave," she told him, taking his breath away with a sunny smile. "Come to watch the show? As you can tell, I'm not very good at this." She eyed his shopping cart, a lonely box of cereal the sole product in it. "I hope that that box means you just got here and haven't been wandering around aimlessly like me."

"I did just get here. I'm a frequent customer to this particular store, though, so if you'd like, I can act as your tour guide."

Sydney regarded him thoughtfully and he silently cursed himself for breaching their unspoken agreement; they were not to involve themselves in each other's private lives. It was too much of a temptation for both to make their relationship more. Yet, he could not help himself and when she smiled, he knew that she could not either.

He smiled and held out his hand. "Let's see your list."

She handed him a crumpled piece of paper. His eyes ran down the list and he spotted what she had been looking for. He looked around and with a snap of his fingers, reached out to the shelf next to him, pulling out a single can. Holding it out to her, he smiled smugly.

"Could this be what you were looking for?"

Sydney crossed her arms, arching her eyebrow. "You scare me sometimes."

"Come on," he said, pushing his cart. "We've got our work cut out for us."

An hour and a half later, they were pushing two full carts to the cash register.

"Thanks for the help, " Sydney said. "It would have taken me three hours to get through this place without you. Kinda makes investment banking look easy."

He laughed, appreciating the true meaning of her words. "Yeah, it kinda does. So, how did you make your way here anyway? Isn't it a little far from your neck of the woods?"

"I was in the neighborhood," she answered, moving her attention from him to placing her groceries on the conveyor belt. "So how about dinner? I may not be much of a shopper, but I'm a pretty good cook."

They exchanged a look.

"Do you think it'll be alright?" she murmured.

"Why not, Honey? Come on, man. Don't let this pretty girl eat dinner alone," the cashier said boisterously.

Vaughn laughed despite himself and saw Sydney throw him a smile out of the corner of his eye.

"You know, you're right," he said conversationally. "What kind of gentleman would I be if I let her eat alone? I am at your mercy, Syd. How about we do this at my place though since it is closer?"

"You're on." Sydney grinned at the cashier, glancing at his nametag. "Thanks, Ray. You're very persuasive."

"Tell that to my wife," Ray said with a wink.

Vaughn watched Sydney joke with Ray, a small nugget of worry forming in his mind. He could only imagine the ramifications of what their simple dinner if anyone of importance found out. They were both skilled enough to avoid detection, but it would be foolish not to worry. Still, they both needed a touch of normalcy in order to survive in the world they lived in. With that thought, he forced himself not to worry and turned his attention to convincing Sydney that going back to get more food was not a good idea.

* * *

Sydney entered Vaughn's apartment, her curious eyes darting around. It was sparsely furnished, but the soft, comfortable-looking deep blue couch and oak coffee table was what she expected of him. So, was the big screen tv and state of the art entertainment system. The hardwood floors were a nice touch, giving the place a nice open feeling. The persian rug sitting underneath the coffee table particularly caught her attention. She walked further in and stood at the large windows which opened out into a balcony teeming with plants.

"You have a green thumb," she said wonderingly.

"It's just a hobby," he muttered. "You like the place?"

She smiled at him, touched by the slightly nervous look on his face. "Yes, I do. It's"

He returned her smile, relief evident on his countenance. He took off his suit jacket and tossed it on the couch. "Come on, let's drop these off in the kitchen and you can start making that dinner you promised. What are you making anyway?"

She smiled, slightly embarrassed. "I might have exagerrated a little bit by saying I was a better cook than shopper. How does lasagna sound?"

"Better than you think," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Let's get this lasagna started then."

The kitchen was off the living room and led into a small dining room. Sydney peeked in the room and saw that it was simple, but elegant. A glass- topped table, surrounded by four cushioned, cream-colored chairs. Two candles sat in the middle of the table, waiting to be lit. It was a very romantic looking room, and Sydney wondered what inspired Vaughn to decorate it the way it was. There were no windows in this room, giving it a sense of intimacy, and Sydney felt a flutter of nervousness in her stomach. However, a fine layer of dust on the table caught her attention, telling her that it hadn't been used for quite some time. She took a step back and face Vaughn who was putting his groceries in his refridgerator.

"Want something to drink?" he asked her. "I've got pretty much everything."

"A can of Tsing-Tao?" she inquired, naming her favorite brand of Chinese beer.

He threw her a dry look. "Almost everything. Would you settle for a Heineken?"

"I suppose so. How about a tour of the kitchen so I can get this dinner started?"

He opened up a bottle for her and put it on the counter. The kitchen was just as airy as the living room, with skylights instead of windows. He opened up almost all the cupboards and drawers, showing her what she would need. Sydney rolled up her sleeves and tied on the apron he handed to her.

"Okay, I'm ready," she said. "Go watch TV or something."

"No way." He took his tie off and placed it on top of the fridge. "I'm helping. Just give me something to chop."

Sydney's eyes followed his hands as he unbuttoned the two top buttons of his shirt and rolled up his sleeves. She had always thought Vaughn to be very attractive, but never more so at that moment.

"Don't think I'm doing this because I want to lighten your workload. I'm just really hungry," he joked, seemingly unaware of her eyes upon him.

Sydney picked out a large pot and filled it with water. "Well, what else could I expect from my handler?"

The second the words passed her lips, Sydney wished she could take them back. Vaughn had just begun to relax and he tensed up all over again, his hands stilling on the onion he had begun to chop. She turned quickly to put the pot on the stove, spilling some water over the top of it.

"Uh...a w-whip maybe," he tried weakly.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"No. I guess we were stupid in thinking we could pretend we were a normal couple."

Sydney felt her heart skip a beat. "You think of us as a couple?"

A momentary feeling of panic made Vaughn wince, but he regained his footing. "You know the smell of my aftershave?"

They looked at each other and burst out laughing. Before she could lose her nerve, Sydney kissed his cheek, but she didn't move away when he expected.

"How about we pretend a little while longer?" she whispered in his ear.

He turned his head slightly and he could feel her lips brush his cheek again. "Okay," he answered, swallowing hard. "No one followed you here, right?"

"No one. There are no hidden cameras here, right?"


"You're sure?"

"About as sure as you are about no one following you here."

Sydney threw him an exasperated look. "Alright."

Vaughn turned back to his onion. "All I have to say is that this may be our last meal so you better make it good."

Sydney gaped at him.

He smiled slightly and shrugged. "Bad joke?"

She then laughed so hard, that she hung on to the edge of the counter to keep her balance. Vaughn laughed, more so because of her laughter than his own joke.

"That was horrible," she managed to say minutes later. "I should put extra pepper on your half of the lasagna for that one."

"I like pepper," he said, sniffing.

"You like it so much it makes you cry?" she teased, elbowing him out of the way.

"Yes," he replied. "Are there any safe vegetables I can cut?"

"No, but you can put the pasta in the pot."

Still sniffing, Vaughn opened up a box of pasta and slid its contents into the pot. Sydney watched him, a warmth settling over her. This was what she had been missing. This intimacy, this closeness with another human being. With Vaughn, she had no secrets...except the ones she kept in her heart.

Vaughn felt her eyes on him and he turned to meet her gaze.

"This is fun," he said.

"Yes. It is," she agreed wholeheartedly.

* * *