after.midnight // v.naked
Title: Love No More
Summary: Three months later, life just isn't the same. Part 4 of the Love Tainted Series.
Distribution: Cover Me. Want it? Let me know.
Disclaimer: The Alias characters belong to JJ. Rachel's all mine.
A/N: Here it is, the fourth and final part. I've been really unclear on the time frame of each part, so I should probably clear things up. Part 1 takes place four weeks after Sydney's return. Part 2 takes place four months after part 1. Part 3 happens directly after part 2. And part 4 happens three months after part 3. See, it's not hard to follow at all.
Until three months ago, the hardest thing he'd ever had to do was let go of Sydney, to accept the fact that, no matter how hard he searched or how much he sacrificed, she was never coming back.
He had met Rachel at the opening of her gallery, four months after he'd started the process of moving on. He'd seen her from across the room, standing in front of a painting of a little girl in pigtails and a pink dress, playing in a sandbox, her mother by her side. He noticed the painting first, the scene reminding him of a different time, after his father died, when he and his mother would sit on the beach and build castles in the sand. And because the painting captured his attention, made him fondly remember a time everyone was always trying to make him forget, he sought out the woman who painted it.
Six months later, standing beside her on the beach where they promised to love each other for a lifetime, he wondered what had taken him so long to see her.
Meeting Rachel had changed his life. Loving Rachel had made it better.
And losing her hurt worse than anything in life ever had. Because when he had listened to Rachel tell him, in the calm, collected tone that always meant her heart was breaking, that she wanted him out of her life, he knew he had lost everything.
At a time when he hadn't thought he would ever be anything but numb, Rachel had made him feel. She'd had him laugh, she'd made him cry. She'd pissed him off, made him absolutely crazy with wanting her. Rachel had made him happy at a time when he didn't think he'd ever be happy again.
He wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do without her.
Painting had always been her therapy, something she started one rainy night in September when she was a little girl. Her first painting had been of her mother, dressed all in white, with a golden halo and wings. When she showed it to her father the next morning, he had smiled and hugged her close, telling her he loved her, that he would always love her. That very afternoon, her father had enrolled her in an art class, recognizing her talent, encouraging her to do what she loved.
In the last few months she had used more paint, stained more canvas than she can ever remember using. Most of her work, dark and downright painful, had worried Ramona, her best friend and business partner, but had sold suprisingly well. People, of every age and from all walks of life, were intrigued by the things that caused others pain.
And nothing hurt more than heartbreak.
She was out back working that night when the doorbell rang, the unexpected sound breaking her concentration. Sighing, she tossed her brush on the plastic tarp that covered the floor, and walked out of her studio and across the backyard. When she opened the front door, saw Sydney Bristow standing there staring back at her, she sighed and made a mental note to purchase more red paint.
"Come on in," she said politely, stepping back to let her enter. "Can I get you anything?" she asked as she strolled into the kitchen to get herself a drink. "Coffee? Tea? Water?"
Sydney shook her head, her eyes taking in the first glimpse of the place Vaughn used to live. "No, thank you," she replied softly, turning her attention back to her host, who stood there watching her. "I'm sorry about disturbing you, but I wanted to talk."
Rachel raised a brow in confusion. "Is this about Michael?" she asked, confused, because there was nothing the two of them had to discuss but the man they had briefly shared.
Sydney nodded and sat down on the couch. "But first I wanted to apologize."
Rachel smiled slightly, one of faint amusement, and rolled her eyes. "Let's get one thing straight," she said as she sat down in the black leather chair across from the couch. It was the only thing left in the entire house that belonged to Michael, if you didn't count the drawer full of his t-shirts, which she slept in every night, and she found that giving it up was impossible. "I'm not interested in hearing about how sorry you are because, until you showed up at my door, I hadn't really given you any thought at all." She noticed Sydney flinch at her words, which she had not intended to be cruel, just the truth. "So, save me the apologies, and tell me why you're really here."
There was a pause as Sydney made an effort to get herself under control. "I don't know if you know this," she said after a moment, "but Vaughn's not doing too well."
Rachel took a sip of her water. "I know," she replied softly, her answer obviously surprising her guest. "He's staying at the beach house, which, when I think about it, proves that he's wallowing in more than his fair share of self-pity."
The beach house, which they had bought two days after their return from Mexico, had been their favorite weekend retreat. That Michael had chosen to stay there, where memories of her littered every inch of every room, and the very air he breathed carried her scent, meant that their separation was hard on him.
She can't manage to muster up much sympathy to feel for him.
"Every morning he takes Donovan for a walk on the beach and every night he sits on the sand and he stares up at the sky," she continued. Turning her attention back to Sydney, she offered her a sad smile. "Believe me, I know more than you think I do."
And she did, because even though she told Michael she never wanted to see him again, that she wanted him out of her life, she didn't know how to function without him. So, she gets up early every morning, drives a hundred miles out of her way to sit on a beach and watch the man that she loves miss her.
She knows that, if he showed up at her door at that very moment, she would take him back, knows that if he called her on the phone, told her he loved her, that nothing was more important than being with her, she would make him come home.
And it's only because Michael is so damned determined to do the right thing, even if it means staying away from her when all either of them want is to be together, that they are miserable.
She thinks it funny that she loves him more for honoring her wishes, for leaving her alone. She thinks it's funny that still loves him at all, after all the tears she's shed because of him and all the pain he'd caused her. And she thinks that whoever said love was blind, knew exactly what they were talking about.
"So, why exactly are you telling me this, Sydney?" she asked after a moment, curiosity getting the best of her. Of all the things she expected, Sydney Bristow was not one of them. But now that's she's here, sitting on her couch, Rachel finds herself wondering why fixing things was so important to her that she had risked coming to see her. "Why come to me? What could you possibly have to say that I would want to hear?"
Sydney smiled slightly. "He loves you," she said softly, sadly. "He loves you the way he used to love me." She said it without flinching, like admitting that Michael didn't love her anymore didn't tear her to pieces.
"But that really doesn't mean much to me now," Rachel replied with a shrug. "Because when it mattered, he didn't love me enough."
And, when it all comes down to it, she's just not ready to forgive.
She wonders if she ever will be.
The last thing he expected when he walked into his bedroom, exhausted and depressed, was to see her. For a moment, he could only stand there and stare at her, lying on the bed, the frame holding the picture they'd taken at their wedding clutched in her arms. After three months without her, finding her there in their room, his first impulse was to slip into bed beside her and hold her in his arms. Instead, he watched Donovan hop up on the bed and plant himself in his place.
He tried to ignore the irrational wave of jealousy that went through him at the sight, but failed miserably.
He leaned against the doorframe and watched as she opened her eyes and smiled when she noticed Donovan in her arms. "Hey Donnie," she said softly, hugging him tightly. "You have no idea how much I've missed you."
"The first couple of weeks we were here," he said, directing her attention away from the dog, "he would sit in front of the door, waiting for you to walk through it."
She looked up at him and smiled slightly. "Sounds like the same thing I did after you left," she told him. "I kept thinking that maybe, just maybe, you'd come back."
"I didn't think you wanted me back."
"I never really wanted you to leave," she admitted. "I never wanted you leaving to be an option."
He walked over to the bed and sat down beside her. "I'm sorry," he said for the first time. She'd never given him the opportunity before. "I'm sorry I hurt you."
She could only smile and nod. "I know." It just wasn't enough.
But she didn't resist when he leaned in close, brushed his lips against hers, and she didn't pull away even though she knew she should.
"I wanted to see you," she said when he finally pulled away, her hands clutching his shirt to make sure he didn't go too far. "It's lonely at home without you." This time it was she who initiated the kiss, she who deepened it, pulling him into her arms. "And I wanted to do that."
Because the fact remained that she loved him, and while she wasn't sure what the future held for them, if there even was a future for the two of them, she knew that she always would.
"I love you, you know," she said as she wrapped her arms around him and laid her head against his chest, his heart beating rapidly under her ear.
He nodded, laying back against the pillows, pulling her close. "Yeah," he said softly, his hands stroking her hair. "I know."
"And I hate you so much," she continued as the tears fell.
He smiled sadly, the pain in her voice tearing him apart. "I know."
"And I hate myself because I wake up every morning wanting to be with you, even though you broke my heart," she said wearily, too exhausted to be angry anymore.
She fell asleep in his arms that night, for the first time in months. In the morning, she would give Donovan one last hug, kiss Michael one more time. And then she would get in her car alone, and she would go home to an empty house. But she knows that, when the pain of being without him gets to be too much, she will drive the hundred miles to their spot on the beach just to be with him. And one day, when she gets into her car to drive home she will not be alone.
Because now, she, too, knows how hard it is to let go.