Disclaimer: Ben's my own creation but everyone else isn't. Don't sue me!

Blind Date

Sydney grumbed as she washed her hair, continued grumbling as she got ready to go out, and was still grumbling when she led Francie out to her car. She didn't know how she let her best friend talk her into going out on a blind date, even knowing that Francie didn't even know the guy. She was simply going on the word of her own date. Francie kept on reassuring her friend that this guy was definitely her type and definitely hot, but Sydney couldn't help but feel like she was walking into a trap. She trusted Francie's opinion on the man's looks, but his personality was what Sydney worried about.

"Stop complaining," Francie said airily as they were stopped at a red light. "You never go out anymore. When was the last time you went on a date?"

"Dunno," Sydney mumbled.

"See? Even if you don't like what's in his head, you can at least use his body. You look like you need it, Syd."

Despite herself, Sydney burst out laughing. "Thanks a lot, Francie. What is that supposed to mean?"

Francie grinned cheekily. "You just looked tired and wrung out, that's all. Nothing a little roll in the hay can't fix, even for a little while. Besides, Ben showed me a picture of him. He looks like he can do the job."

Both women laughed and Sydney felt her spirits lift. Deep down, she did know she needed this, and if she really hadn't want to go, she would have been able to get out of it. Even if the date was bad, she wanted to spend more time with Francie. Her missions seemed to be coming with more frequency and she didn't feel like she even went home anymore. For one night, she would pretend to be like any normal twenty-something going on a blind double date with her best friend. Not many people would relish it, but she did, just because it had nothing to do with guns or bombs or Rimbaldi.

Besides that, she thought meeting someone new would give her a chance to start something she could finish. Her lips twisted bitterly as she thought of her handler, Michael Vaughn. Handsome, smart, and sensitive, he was everything she wanted--but she couldn't have him. At least not yet. It was an unspoken promise between them that they wouldn't do or say anything too personal until after SD-6 was taken down, but when would that be? Heartache was a part of Sydney's life now and some days she could handle it, but other days, like today, she wanted nothing more than to tear out her heart and give herself some relief.

"So tell me about this unnamed person," she asked. "Why don't I know his name again?"

"I told you that already, but I guess you weren't listening since you were too busy whining," Francie said dryly. "We just think it'll add to the shock value. Anyway, he's Ben's cousin and they pretty much grew up together. He went to Georgetown University, got his major in English and now he's an editor in a small publishing house here." She leaned over and smiled slyly at Sydney. "Lemme tell you though, he doesn't look like an editor. More like a...a..."

"A hot guy?" Sydney supplied, with a laugh.

"Exactly! Hey, turn here. They should have a table by now. We're fashionably late."

* * *

Vaughn racked his brain for a way to get out of the date, then to get out of the car, then to get out of the restaurant. A sense of desperation and a feeling of being boxed in made him twitch in his seat. Ben yammered on about something or other and Vaughn made the appropriate noises, but was not listening. His eyes were pasted on the doorway and every time the door opened, his heart skipped a beat. To say he was nervous was an understatement. He didn't know why he was nervous because unfortunately, it wasn't as if he hadn't been on a blind date before, but he just couldn't get a hold of himself.

"Wow...you're really worried," Ben said to his cousin, an eyebrow raised. "She's cute, really, and Francie's a great girl so I don't think she'd have some freaky friends."

"I'm sure she's fine," Vaughn muttered, not looking away from the door. "And I'm not worried."

"Yeah, right. You're breathing like you just went on a three mile run and you're all...red."

Vaughn's green eyes widened as he finally turned to look at his dark-haired cousin. "I am?"

"Like a tomato," Ben said, enjoying himself. "Damn, Mike, when was the last time you went on a date?"

"Uh..."

"Alice really did you in."

"It wasn't her."

"Then what? You pining away for some Barbie doll?"

"No."

"Are you gonna be a priest?"

"No."

"What then? Listen, you work like an animal, and I never see you anymore. Your mom's worried and so's the rest of the family really. What the hell are they doing to you at that book factory? There can't be that many books to read."

"We're trying to get it off the ground..."

"Yeah, but come on. I've known you all your life and I've never seen you like this. You're practically a recluse! What happened to that crazy, laughing guy that tore Washington, DC up?"

"He grew up," Vaughn said simply.

Then, Ben stood up and Vaughn turned to look at the doorway...

...and his felt like the world had opened up underneath him..

* * *

Sydney's sharp intake of breath was not lost on Francie. Amused, she glanced at her friend, a smile dancing around her lips.

"Nice, huh? I told you so."

Managing a short laugh, Sydney struggled to get control of her racing pulse and frozen brain. Vaughn seemed to be on the same boat because he merely stood there, his green eyes wide as he stared at her. Sydney's feet felt like they were encased in cement blocks, but she forced herself to walk to the table.

"You're Sydney, right?" said the man with Vaughn before Sydney could say anything.

"Yes," she said, tearing her eyes from Vaughn and smiling, somewhat shakily, at Ben. "And you're Ben. It's nice to finally meet you."

"Likewise. This is my cousin, Mike. Mike, Sydney."

Sydney held out her hand, her tongue flicking out to lick her suddenly dry lips. She couldn't believe it was really him standing there and she could feel the heat on her face as she tried to recover from the shock.

"Mike," she said, the name unfamiliar to her.

"Syd..ney," Vaughn said, his grip strong. To get his thoughts under control, he turned a charming smile to Francie. "And you must be Francie. Ben's been raving about you."

"Has he? Well, he's been raving about you, too."

"So has she," Sydney muttered, and Vaughn glanced at her.

Francie exchanged an excited look with Ben, mistaking Sydney's reaction for breathless attraction. Vaughn pulled out Sydney's seat for her and then took his own seat.

"This place is nice," Sydney commented, picking up the menu to hide her face. "Did you pick it, Va-Mike?"

"No. Ben's been in charge," he said as casually as he could. "Have you been here before?"

"No, I haven't."

She looked around at rapidly filling room, and the big, floor-to-ceiling windows, chasing away any shadows there may be. People walked by outside and peeked into the restaurant, which was a great ad on its own, but bad for Sydney and Vaughn. It wasn't secure and she looked sideways at Vaughn to see him looking around as well. He met her eye and shook his head. She could almost see the gears turning in his head and couldn't help but think how appealing he looked as he concentrated. Clearing her throat, she banished that thought as quickly as it came.

"I heard about this great place about a block from here," Vaughn said, starting to stand. "How about we go there?"

"What?" Ben asked, confused. "Why?"

Vaughn stood. "Come on. I'm not hungry yet anyway."

"If you two want to stay here, that's fine," Sydney suggested, standing as well.

"Oh, no," Francie said, grabbing her purse, her eyes shooting lasers at Sydney. "We are going with you."

Vaughn and Sydney left Ben and Francie in the dust the second they got out into the daylight.

"Did you know about this?" he hissed.

"No! I'm not stupid. If anyone sees us, we're both dead," she retorted.

He shook his head in disbelief. "God, what are odds of this happening?"

"I can't believe it either," she agreed. "What do we do?"

"Hey, why are you two walking so fast?" Ben called out.

"I wanna see this place. Va-Mike's talking up a storm about it," Sydney yelled over her shoulder.

Vaughn chuckled. "Nice. Watch the name thing though."

"Hey, gimme a break. It took all I had to not freak out when I saw you."

"Me, too. You did a good job."

"Thanks, so did you." He glanced sideways at her. "You look very nice, by the way."

Sydney glanced down at the little black dress she had decided on, blinking as she realized that they were on a date. A small smile curved her lips and carefully, she took Vaughn's elbow. He looked down at her with smile. Not dressed in a suit, he was wearing a maroon button-down shirt underneath a black sports jacket with black slacks. It wasn't casual but was definitely more relaxed looking than his usual attire. A lightness overcame Sydney and she gave his arm a little squeeze.

"So, this is our first date," she remarked conversationally.

He grinned, the worry lines disappearing from his face. "Yes, I guess it is. I always imagined it to involve a hockey game or something, but this is good too."

"A hockey game, huh?" she said. "We could probably arrange it..."

His arm stiffened under her grip, and she braced herself for rejection again, but then to her surprise, he replied with a simple, "Yeah, we probably could."

Their eyes met and Sydney found herself melting at the sight of the dimples creasing his cheeks. It seemed to her that he was asking her to pretend for one night. She knew it was dangerous and fear gripped her for a moment as she wondered what would happen if they were found out. There would be no hockey game, they both knew, but tonight, there would be no more hearing of the word "no"...only, "maybe" or even "someday". As much as they both wanted to make this date seem as real as possible, they couldn't. They had to end it as quickly as they could without raising suspicion, but until then...

They reached the rather ritzy Italian restaurant and Sydney charmed the Maitre d' in Italian to get them a table far from prying eyes. She and Vaughn sat across from each other in order to watch each other's backs. Ben sat next to Vaughn and Sydney took the time to study him. The cousins looked nothing alike, but Ben was good-looking as well. His hair was a wavy chocolate brown and his eyes a clear blue. He was looking at Francie with a smile, and Sydney could see that he liked her a lot. She was glad. Francie needed to have fun with a good guy and Ben was a good guy.

"So, Vaughn, have you read any potential bestsellers?" Sydney asked, feeling she had a hold on things.

"Vaughn?" Francie echoed.

Sydney saw panic skitter across Vaughn's face and knew a similar expression was on hers, but she quickly covered it up with a smile. The slip-up did remind her that this wasn't a real date and she shouldn't relax. Immediately, she straightened up in her seat.

"He told me his name was Michael Vaughn on our little walk here. I just thought Vaughn was very...sophisticated."

"Looks like you got the short end of the stick, Ben Greene," Francie said to her date with a teasing smile.

"That I did."

Vaughn threw Sydney a relieved smile. "Sophisticated, huh? Thanks. Sydney is an interesting name too. It's not something you hear everyday. Why did your parents name you that?"

"Would you believe that the reason is as tacky as the location of my conception?" Sydney said, her warm brown eyes dancing as she smiled at him.

The other three laughed.

"You're kidding?" Ben said.

"Nope."

Vaughn laughed harder, having a difficult time believing that Jack Bristow would ever do something so...cheesy. Sydney smiled delightedly. Their eyes met and she felt a warmth spread inside of her. Her smile softened and he stopped laughing. Neither of them denied the attraction between them and this "date" was simply too tempting. It was too easy to forget they were supposed to be making sure no one noticed them, too easy to give in to the desire to just be together. His gaze turned intense and she had to look away, her heart leaping in her throat.

"So, what's good on the menu?" she asked, opening the soft, green booklet.

Ben kicked Vaughn's foot. Annoyed, Vaughn looked at his cousin to see a look of complete and utter panic on his face. He pointed at the menu, more specifically, at the prices. Vaughn sighed. It was more expensive than he thought, but it had to be done. He only made a face at Ben. If he liked Francie as much as he said he did, this would not be a problem.

The interaction between the two men was not lost on Sydney, but Francie didn't seem to notice. She was intent on ordering something delicious, her growling stomach a testament to her hunger. Sydney closed the menu and looked at her date. Vaughn was resting his cheek on his hand, his expression wry as he listened to Ben's gasps of disbelief as he looked through the prices. He rolled his eyes comically at Sydney and she giggled.

The waiter came to take their orders and Vaughn got a bottle of wine for the table. Sydney arched an eyebrow as he named off a label she knew would cost a pretty penny but he only smiled.

"Francie tells me you're an investment banker," Ben said.

"That sounds interesting," Vaughn said.

"It is, but it's hard work," Sydney said, her fingers tapping at her wine glass. "I get sent around all over the world without really seeing anything. A friend of mine, a good friend, offered to take me to a restaurant in Italy once, but I couldn't because of work."

Vaughn wanted to reach across the table to take her hand. Instead, he stretched out his foot underneath the table and placed it next to hers. She felt the touch and looked at him. A pink flush stained her cheeks but she didn't move away. He was relieved and felt bolder.

"I'm sure your friend understood," he said.

"I hope he did," she said.

They lapsed into silence which Francie and Ben took for discomfort, but Vaughn and Sydney just got lost in their own thoughts. Their waiter brought them bread and salad, and they ordered. Sydney reached for a piece of bread at the same time Vaughn did and their hands brushed. The touch was electric and she looked down at her salad in order to get a hold of herself. She knew she was acting like a hormonal teenager but she couldn't help it. She had wanted to meet someone new on this date, but somehow, finding Vaughn here, was even better.

For months, she'd been fighting her attraction to Vaughn, but in this setting, it was even harder and she found herself losing control of herself. After all, this was her chance to pick Vaughn's brain, to learn things about him she couldn't deduce from the contents of his briefcase or his clothes or whatever. Yet, for the life of her, she couldn't think of a single question to ask.

"What do you do in your free time, Mike?" Francie asked, nudging Sydney lightly with her elbow.

"I play hockey in a local league," he answered. "I played when I was a kid and wasn't about to give it up just cause I'm in warmer climes now."

"You're not from around these parts?" Sydney inquired, intrigued to be learning to so much about her handler.

"No. I was born in France, in Normandy, and we even lived in Canada for a little while."

"Visiting him in the winter time was something else," Ben, a native Californian, said with a shake of his head.

"I miss the winter," Vaughn said, a little wistfully.

"You're French?" Sydney exclaimed, eyes wide. "Wow."

"Vive la France," he said, mockingly raising his wine glass in the air.

Both Sydney and Francie sighed at his accent. Ben sighed, but only because he'd seen numerous women react the same way the two of them just did.

"I moved around a lot as a kid, and I hated it," Sydney confessed. "But my dad and I moved here when I was eleven and I finally put some roots down. I have to say, I haven't experienced a full winter in a long time."

"Well, since you go to Boston almost every week, you can throw a snowball or two," Francie said. "Although, that bank probably keeps you as busy there as they do here."

"Yes, they do. I'm running around, kicking butt, and occassionally, doing my job right."

"You're probably one of the best," Vaughn said.

Sydney only shrugged, but felt an inward glow at his praise. It wasn't as if he hadn't called her amazing or incredible before, but she could never get tired of hearing it. He seemed to know how she felt because his foot gave a little wiggle next to hers and she beamed at him.

"If you'll excuse us, Boys, I think we have to make a run to the ladies' room," Francie said, taking Sydney's wrist in her hand.

"I was expecting it," Ben said with a wink.

Sydney and Francie went to the powder room, arm in arm, spilling out their makeup on the brightly lit counter.

"So, what do you think?" Francie said excitedly. "Isn't Mike a sweetie?"

"He's a really nice guy," Sydney said sincerely. "I like him."

Francie clapped her hands. "Great! Ben and I arranged for the two of you to go on a cruise on the coast after dinner."

"What??" Sydney exclaimed. "Francie! What if we didn't get along?"

"Then, we would have taken it. You're going though, right?"

Taking a deep breath, Sydney nodded her head, not seeing any way around it.

"I'm so excited for you! He could be the one!"

"Don't jump the gun. He could be a weirdo for all we know. It's only our first date anyway."

"Yeah, but you two are talking like you've known each other for years. Actually, I thought that was kinda strange, Syd."

"We're both friendly."

"No, it's more than that. You two are...comfortable with each other."

"He's a nice guy."

"That's all you can say about him," Francie clucked. "He is a nice guy, but he's also a smart, funny, good-looking guy. Come on, Syd. Act like a woman, for once."

Sydney playfully whacked her friend's arm. "Thanks a lot, Francie. I thought that was what I was doing."

"No. A woman would be giggling, and touching him, and all that flirty, I'm- with-a-hot-guy action."

"That's not me," Sydney protested, but added silently, At least, not when I'm not on the job.

"Fine, but at least show the guy you're interested."

"Thanks for the tip."

They walked back to the table and found their dinners waiting for them. Vaughn and Ben had waited for them to begin eating.

"You look like a meat and potatoes kind of guy," Sydney said, looking at Vaughn's steak and baked potato."

"Do I? Well, I thought you looked like a pasta and salad kind of girl."

Sydney laughed and started to slice up her grilled chicken. "I didn't feel like pasta tonight."

The four of them laughed and talked like old friends. Ben and Francie kept on exchanging happy looks, glad that their friends were enjoying each other's company. Both had been afraid it would be a disaster, but it was a roaring success instead. Finally, when the last dishes were taken away and the bottle of wine was empty, they stood. Vaughn took care of the bill but his look told Ben that he would be getting his own bill in the mail. Although, he had been unfazed by the prices on the menu, CIA paychecks weren't exactly bursting at the seams. He just wanted this night be special.

"Here are the tickets, chèr cousin," Ben said, trying to forget the amount of dinner.

"Tickets for what?" Vaughn asked, taking them.

"They got us a boat cruise," Sydney said. "We don't have to go if you don't want to."

"No, no," Vaughn said, pocketing them, and knowing they could use this as a way out. "Thanks, Ben."

He and Sydney stood, and they walked with Francie and Ben to Ben's car.

"This was a great night," Sydney said, giving Francie a hug, then Ben. "It was wonderful to meet you, Ben."

"You, too."

"I hope to see you around, Mike," Francie said, smiling at him.

"Yeah," Vaughn said, a little awkwardly.

"Good night then," Ben said, winking at his cousin.

They got in the car and Sydney and Vaughn watched them drive away before getting into Sydney's car. Neither said a word as they drove to the marina. The silence was heavy with words they didn't want to say or couldn't say, and Sydney felt it wearing on her nerves. The night had been perfect until this point, but it had to end now while they had the chance. But when she pulled into a space and cut the engine, they didn't make a move to get out of the car.

"Are we doing this?" Sydney inquired as she unbuckled her seatbelt.

"Looks like."

To her surprise, he took her hand in his. When she met his eyes, he leaned across the space separating them and pressed a hard, desperate kiss on her lips. Her arms wound themselves tightly around his neck as he pulled her closer to him.

"We can't, Syd," he said as they parted, his voice breaking.

"I know," she said, a sob in her voice. "But I just want to so badly."

They stared at each other despondently. Vaughn cupped her cheek with a gentle hand, his thumb brushing away the tears that fell from her eyes. He never wanted to cause her anymore sadness, but he had to protect her. If they wanted to have a future, he had to go.

But not right now.

"Come on," he said quietly.

He opened the door and she followed suit, wiping her face with her hands. She took the hand he held out and they walked down to the beach, two figures hiding in the darkness. Vaughn led her behind a dune and with a yank, had her in his arms again. They kissed feverishly, unable to get enough of each other. She tasted him for the first time and reveled in it. He pulled away from her only to press a trail of kisses on her neck and she sighed blisfully.

In no time at all, Vaughn's jacket was on the sand, his shirt untucked, and the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. Sydney's dress was bunching because of his wandering hands and the hem of her skirt was nearly at her waist. The hand he had at her waist was starting to trail downwards, when a sound made them jump apart. Without thinking, Vaughn pushed her behind him even though she was more than capable than taking care of things.

They then saw that it was merely a seagull tapping at a coke can curiously. Gasping, Sydney straightened her skirt and turned to Vaughn.

"I thought someone had found us," she said, close to tears.

He drew her to him gently and she drew in a deep shuddering breath as she buried her face in his chest. His arms tightened around her as he closed his eyes, breathing in her scent.

"Syd, I..."

"Don't say it," she whispered. "Please, I don't think I can walk away from you tonight if you do, and I have to."

"Okay."

He sat down on his jacket, drawing her down with him. Sydney rested her cheek against his shoulder, snuggling against him as he rested his chin on the top of her head. They sat quietly, knowing that the next words they would have to say was good-bye. The sound of the waves calmed them and for a few precious moments, made them forget that this was forbidden, that touching and kissing and loving was not something they were supposed to do. But here they were anyway.

Before she knew what was happening, Sydney found her lips captured by his again, but this time instead of the heated kisses they shared earlier, this kiss tasted of sadness. His lips moved slowly against hers as if he wanted to savor her taste while he still could. When he pulled away at last, she felt like her heart was breaking. It took all she had inside to untangle herself from him. He didn't offer her a hand as they got up, not wanting to touch her, for fear that they may never leave here.

"Good night, Vaughn," she said quietly.

"Good night, Sydney."

She started to make her way back to her car, not looking back once. She didn't hear his footsteps behind her and she sat in her car for a few minutes, watching the spot where he would emerge. But he didn't. Finally, she started up the engine and drove away, tears marking a silent path on her flushed cheeks. Swiping at her eyes, she glanced at the dashboard clock, surprised they had only been on the beach for thirty minutes. One stolen half hour. It felt like a lifetime to her. She touched her swollen lips, kissed so well by him, and smiled through her tears.

He loved her.

Behind the dune, Vaughn sat, covering his eyes with his hand.

"I love you, Syd," he murmured under his breath. "Someday, I'll tell you that and we'll finish what we started here."



*~*THE END*~*