Underneath A Smoggy Gray Sky

Sydney Bristow stood on the edge of a cliff, her eyes on the beautifully smoggy city that she had called her home for so long. She took a deep breath of semi-fresh air, certainly cleaner than the air she'd been breathing all day, but didn't feel any different. If anything else, she felt worse. Exhaustion made her posture wilt and even her hair hung limply about her face. The weight that had been on her shoulders was finally gone, but instead of standing straight and proud, she stood as if she had her entire life behind her instead of ahead. Looking at her, one would not have realized that today had been the happiest day of her life.

Her clothes still smelled like smoke, and her face was covered with blood, and sweat, but she did not seem to notice. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, wincing slightly at the discomfort that caused her. By the feel of it, she had a good sized bruise on her upper arm from being thrown up against a wall.

The last time that'll ever happen, she reminded herself.

Unbidden, she began to shake. Images of her life, of the double life she had led for the past decade, flew through her mind and she could not control them. Danny lying in the bathtub. Her father saving her that first time. Meeting Vaughn countless times in the warehouse. So many memories and they came at her with a vengeance. She had cried, she had dealt with her pain, but she always controlled it somehow. She never let it all out, was afraid of what would happen if she did. Now she knew. Like a tidalwave, she succumed to all the emotions she had tried to bury.




She had lived in fear and refused to acknowledge it. Fear that she would be discovered. Fear that her father would be discovered. Fear that her friends would die because of her. She didn't realize how much fear she had tucked away until she no longer felt it, and she laughed without humor, wondering how she had lived like that for so long.

Did you think that knot in your gut was permanent? she asked herself sarcastically.

Her face twisted as she could not stop shaking. She wrapped her arms around herself, looking as vulnerable as she felt. She looked back out into the city. It looked so different now.

SD-6 was gone. Just that day, the CIA had infiltrated their final headquarters in the Credit Dauphine building. Dixon had died in Sydney's arms and she finally told him the truth. He told her how proud he was of her and Sydney had held back her tears until they cleared the building. She stood in the middle of the parking lot, one hand to her mouth. An overwhelming sense of panic had come over her and without thinking, she'd run to her car, and drove off. She found herself on this cliff an hour of driving later. Her cell phone had started ringing the second she arrived. It was Vaughn, but she didn't pick up. She had turned it off and stood at the cliff, looking out.

Footsteps behind her made old instincts return and just like that she stopped shaking. Gun in hand, she turned to face her unwelcome visitor.

"It's just me," Vaughn said, his expression sheepish as he raised his hands in the air. "I've been looking for you all day. Even tried the train station."

Sydney tried to smile but could not quite manage it. She holstered her gun and turned back around.

"How did you find me?" she inquired as he moved to stand next to her.

"Tracking bug in your car that your father so kindly informed me of," he answered.

"Ah. Nice view, isn't it?"

"Better than most. The gray cloud of smog is a little distracting though." When she didn't even so much as chuckle, Vaughn turned to look at her. "Are you alright, Sydney?"

"I was better before all this, if you can imagine that."

She sensed his frown rather than saw it. "What do you mean? I thought you'd be jumping for joy, throwing parties, that sort of thing."

"So did I. But Vaughn..."

She paused and pressed her lips tightly together as she felt a flood of tears threaten to spill over. As he was watching her, he saw the difficulty she was having. It wasn't the first time he'd seen it. With a gentle finger to her chin, he turned her head to face him. Her brown eyes never looked bigger and he felt himself getting lost in her gaze, but the sadness he saw in it made his heart break.

"What is it, Syd. You can tell me anything."

Her lip quivered and without a second thought, he pulled her into his arms. She let out a loud sob and buried her face in his chest. He held her tightly, wanting to take away whatever it was that was making her breakdown. She wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling him closer still. Closing his eyes, he listened to her cry, touching his lips on the top of her head.

"Shh...Syd....shhh..." he murmured over and over..

"Vaughn...I don't know what to do...." she managed to gasp.

"What's wrong, Syd. Tell me."

She pulled away from him and turned back to the cityscape. He came up behind her, but didn't touch her, his brow furrowed.

"When I got out of the building, I stood in the parking lot and felt the most horrible sense of fear, of panic. I thought I was going to throw up or pass out...and I knew I just had to go."

"I saw you," he said. "I started to come towards you, but you drove off before I could. I'm sorry about Dixon. I know you cared about him."

Sydney nodded, wiping at her cheeks. "I'm just glad he knew the truth in the end, but his death wasn't the reason that I...that I broke down."

"Why then? Do you think you're useless now? What's going through your head?"

The words came out in a flood she couldn't control, finally knowing that she could lay it all out...not just for herself, but for Vaughn, too.

"When Danny died, I threw myself in my work. Every time I learned something new about SD-6 or about my mother, I buried myself in missions. Sure, I felt like shit all those times and it's not like I've been walking around like a robot, but...it's different now. It's really over and...it's like all the emotions I put away have come screaming out. My brain is frozen, I'm frozen. I don't know what to do. I can't even go home because Francie's gonna wonder why the hell I'm acting like this. I don't think I can even see my dad right now. You're the only person I can really talk to."

She took a deep shuddering breath and covered her face with her hands. Silently, Vaughn put his arms around her from behind and she leaned against his strength. His lips brushed against her neck. She tensed slightly at the touch and Vaughn was afraid she would break free from his embrace, but then she relaxed again. Slowly, her hands came to rest on his and he twined their fingers together.

"I'm sorry you feel the way you do," Vaughn said sincerely. "But it's over now. You can live your life the way you want to. You're free of SD-6, and the CIA. You're free of all the secrets that separated you from the rest of the world. Cry for all that you lost, Syd, but don't cry for the rest of your life. You've got a lot ahead of you now to make up for all that's behind you."

"You always know what to say to make me feel better," Sydney sighed, resting her head against his shoulder, and she did sound better, the edge to her voice gone. "You know, the last time I came close to feeling like this was when I thought you'd drowned."

"Yeah?" he said hoarsely, his heart beating a little faster.

"Yeah," she affirmed quietly, shyly, not raising her head. "You are my rock, Vaughn...Michael. You...you keep me strong."

"I didn't want to make your job harder than it already was, Syd. I-I wanted to be a good friend."

"You were...you are. Thank you for all those times you held me up...like now."

She turned her head and pressed a kiss to his cheek. He smiled.

"You're welcome. You know I care about you. You're more than an assignment to me, Syd."

"That's the most romantic thing anyone's ever said to me," she said, raising her head to smile at him, though it was wobbly.

He cupped her face in his hands and wiped the tears from her cheeks with him thumb. The expression on his face was one of careful neutrality, but the unsteadiness of his touch told her his emotions were far from that.

"I try," he said. "Are you alright now?"

The panic had faded to a dull ache, and she hoped that by the next day she would ready to live her new life.

"Yes, thanks to you. As usual," she answered.

Sydney sighed and reluctantly let go of him, a move not lost on the sharp- eyed CIA agent. He shoved his hands in his pockets and regarded her patiently. She looked like she had something to say to him, but couldn't quite get it out.

"Dinner," she said firmly, then she blushed. "I mean, do you want to go to dinner?"

"You're not tired?" he asked, an eyebrow arched.

"I don't think I'll be going to bed for a while."

Her eyes widened at the implication of her statement, made more apparent since it was preceded by an invitation to dinner, but Vaughn pretended he didn't notice it.

"I'd be more than happy to go to dinner with you," he said with a small smile that was made more significant by the brightness in his eyes. "More than happy."

He started to offer her his arm, but then changed his mind and held out his hand. Sydney looked at it, knew what he was offering, and smiled as if she knew a secret. Then, she reached out and took it. Just like that, she found herself looking forward to her future...their future...and the past was behind her.

*~*THE END*~*