after.midnight // v.naked
Title: Aftermath: Act 1
Author: Tamara
Rating: PG - good clean, angsty fun
Summary: Two years later, life just isn't the same. Spoilers for The Telling
Disclaimer: The characters in this story do not belong to me. They belong to JJ Abrahms. Well, everyone except Mirielle Vaughn. She's all mine.
A/N: Since I knew that Syd and Vaughn were doomed from the start, no matter how much I love them, I'm not really all that surprised that JJ created the two year rift between them. This smacked me in the face and demanded I write it, even though I tried hard to resist.


Los Angeles
2 years and 48 hours later

She'd been back in LA for two days. Two days in which she'd been questioned and debriefed and questioned some more. In two days she'd learned almost everything that had happened in the last two years. Marshall was married. Dixon was dating. Weiss was married and with a kid on the way. And Will had worked his way up to some highly coveted analyst position, doing work that was highly classified and potentially dangerous. In two days she learned the name of Dixon's new partner, a statuesque blond with a smooth southern accent and a smile that could bring a man to his knees. It took her two days to catch up on the last two years of everyone's lives.

Everyone except Vaughn. Vaughn, who she hadn't seen since he'd delivered her into CIA custody two days earlier.

"I guess life does go on," she murmured to herself. "Even when you're lying face down in an alley in Hong Kong."

She was exhausted, and she wanted nothing more to fall into bed, pull the covers over her head, and just wait for it all to end. But she knew she couldn't. Two years ago her only goal had been to be as normal as possible and be happy. And she had been, so happy she hadn't known she could be any happier. Even with everything going on with Sloane and her mother, things had finally been right in her life and she'd been looking forward to each and every day.

But that had all changed the night she looked into Vaughn's eyes and saw nothing but emptiness. When she woke up and realized that the life she knew was no longer hers. Now, her only goal was to remember the last two years of her life and try to forget just how great being happy had been. She was positive she'd never be that happy again.

She was lying on the cot of her mother's former cell, when she heard the outside doors open. She sat up just in time to see her father open the door to her cell and walk inside. "Hello Sydney," he said a bit stiffly but with obvious affection.

Sydney managed a smile. "Hi, Dad," she said as she got up from her cot and gave him a hug. One he returned without hesitation. Glad to see him, Sydney's smile widened. "So, how long before they clear my name and I can get out of this joint?"

The attempt at humor was not lost on Jack, who smiled slightly. "Actually, that's why I'm here," he said, handing her a file folder. "If you make an appointment to see Barnett sometime next week, Kendall says you're free to go."

Sydney read the file, frowning slightly. "Do I actually have to see Barnett?"

Her father nodded. "Attendance is mandatory," he said. He shifted a bit, uncomfortable and reluctant "You're not the only one he's forcing this on."

That made her look up in surprise. "Really? I mean, I can probably see why they'd want me to go, but why..." she trailed off, looking up at her father. "Who has to go exactly?"

Jack sighed. "I do," he said blankly. "You." He paused, looking as though he'd rather not say what he was clearly going to say. "Michael."

At the mention of Vaughn's name, his first name even, issuing forth from her father's lips, Sydney's eyes went blank. "Oh," she said, turning her back to her father and tossing the folder on the cot. "I thought he quit the agency. Why should he be forced to see Barnett?"

Jack didn't answer for a moment, taking the time to study his daughter, the slump of her shoulders, arms wrapped tightly around herself. "Sydney," he started hesitantly, knowing she wanted, needed, answers, but not knowing if he was the one to tell her. Life had changed in many ways in the time she'd been gone, and he wasn't sure she was ready to deal with it all. "Even though you know that it's been two years since we last saw you, you don't really know what it's been like without you." He took a step towards her, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Michael does. He's also going to have to come back to work here, at least for a bit while we sort this thing out. It doesn't take a genius to see that you being back here, that working with you again, will affect him. Sweetheart, he's spent two years thinking you were dead. And the very moment he starts to move on, Kendall puts him on a plane to Hong Kong."

"And I show up and ruin everything," Sydney finished, and there was no hiding the tears in her voice.

Jack smiled slightly, he'd missed her tendency to blame herself for things beyond her control. He'd missed everything about her. "I wouldn't say you ruined everything," he said, giving her a gentle squeeze. "But you have to understand this is hard for him, too." With a tug, he turned her to face him. "It'll get better though. For both of you."

Sydney looked up at her father and smiled. "Who are you and what have you done with my father?" she asked, only half joking. "That sounded like something Vaughn would say."

Jack Bristow laughed. "Well, a lot has happened the last two years," he admitted with a shrug. "I think Michael's starting to rub off on me." And in return, Jack had done everything he could to keep the man his daughter loved from slipping away.

Sydney shook her head, not quite managing to work her brain around that one. "Okay, this whole Michael thing is freaking me out," she said softly, pulling away from her father. "When I...when I was here, I was sure Vaughn was pretty far up on the list of people you'd most like to have drawn and quartered. Now you're calling him by his first name and stealing his best "How To Comfort Sydney in Ten Easy Steps" advice. What gives?"

Jack sighed, remembering just what had gotten him to the point where helping heal Michael Vaughn had become his top priority. "Michael didn't do too well after you disappeared," he said softly. "I didn't realize just how bad things had gotten until there was a mission in Prague four months after you'd gone missing. Dixon barely got him out of there alive. He spent a month in the hospital. He quit a week after he got out." Jack paused and sat down on the cot. "Kendall didn't take it well, losing two of his best agents in the space of six months. I thought I could talk Michael into coming back. I went to his apartment, gave him some spiel about being loyal, about his responsibility to the job, to you."

Sydney's eyes widened in disbelief. "You actually said that?" Jack nodded. Sydney sighed. "Dad, are you crazy?"

Jack had the grace to look sheepish. "I've never claimed to be the most empathetic person."

"I'll say," Syd remarked sarcastically. "So, what did Vaughn say? Because I'm assuming that remark went one step too far."

"You assume correctly," he said, remembering that night so long ago. "He asked me these questions. Really simple questions, all about you. What your favorite color was. What kind of ice cream you liked."

"Java Mocha Almond Crunch is my favorite ice cream. Green's my favorite color," Sydney said. "It used to be blue, but it changed because--"

"Green reminded you of safety and calm," Jack finished, smiling at Sydney's look of disbelief. "That's what Michael said. Anyway, after the simple questions he started with the harder ones. What you wanted to do after everything was over. Where you wanted to go. And then he asked me how many bruises you had from the mission in Moscow and how many stitches you got after the mission in Columbia. He asked me question after question after question. I couldn't answer any of them." Jack sighed heavily. "Then he told me I didn't know a damn thing about loyalty and I sure as hell had no right to talk to him about his responsibility to my daughter. Then he kicked me out." He smiled. "I can still feel the air from the door as he slammed it in my face. And as I stood there, staring at Michael's door, having just been delivered a very well aimed blow to the gut by my daughter's boyfriend, of all people, I realized that he was right."

Sydney looked at him, tears in her eyes. "I want to say that none of that is important," she said softly. "That it doesn't matter that you didn't know those things because I knew that you loved me anyway, but they were. Even if they were only important to me."

She wasn't sure where the softer side of Jack Bristow had come from, or who had helped him on his long journey to sensitivity, but she was grateful to have him there for her now. And with her lifeline now tethered to someone else, she needed someone to talk to, someone to make her feel better, only if it was just an illusion. If Michael Vaughn couldn't be the one she ran to, who better than her father to help heal her broken heart.

Sydney sat down next to him on the cot, leaning her head against his shoulder. "I love him, Dad," she said, admitting it aloud for the very first time. "More than I've ever loved anyone. And it hurts so much, being without him."

Jack wrapped his arms around his daughter and held her tight. "I know, honey," he said, rocking her gently as she cried. "I know."