Posted on behalf of yankluver
Title: A New Beginning
Spoilers: Season 3 stuff, specifically "Crossings", "After Six", "Blowback" and "Facade". It also has a general plot spoiler for episode 17, but unless you're up-to-date on your spoilers, then you probably won't be able to pick it out. I easily could have made it up for the purposes of this fic. Edited to add: This fic now contains a very specific spoiler for episode 17. I did not know about this spoiler when I wrote the fic. I just found out about it. I made it up and now it's happening in an episode. It's really an amazing coincidence. If you don't want that part of the episode ruined for you, then I suggest not reading the story.
Disclaimer: Alias and its characters do not belong to me. I do this out of
a love for the show and no infringement is intended.
Summary: Lauren gives Vaughn a gift, evoking a surprising reaction and resulting in a turn of events.
Lauren tapped her fingernails impatiently on the glass counter and rolled her eyes at the elderly salesperson, as he fumbled with the ribbon on the gift.
Her cell rang, providing her with much-needed relief from her annoyance.
"Hello?" she greeted the caller, her tone bordering on rude.
"What's the matter, sweetheart? Wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Or just beside the wrong person?"
Lauren sighed and moved away from the counter, lowering her voice. "I got my husband a gift and the dinosaur wrapping it couldn't be more slow."
"A gift? How sweet, thoughtful...and unlike you. What's the occasion?"
Lauren shrugged. "No occasion. It just seemed like a wife-thing to do. He's been acting very strange lately. Quiet, not sleeping. He won't tell me what's wrong and, quite frankly, I don't care enough to try to figure it out on my own. This should be a nice little band-aid."
"Isn't it your job to figure it out? It could have implications for us."
Lauren's jaw tightened. "I highly doubt it. It probably has something do with Sydney. It's always about Sydney."
"Green is an awful color on you, my dear."
"This isn't about jealousy. I have to keep this marriage intact. I don't know what's going on with him, but I need to make sure he won't end it any time soon. Sydney is an obstacle. I don't like obstacles."
"I've noticed that about you."
"Did you call for a reason?"
"No, I just felt like hearing your lovely voice."
Lauren groaned softly and hung up on him. She then walked back to the counter and plastered a smile on for the salesman.
He pushed the wrapped gift box toward her. "Here you go, ma'am. Sorry for the delay."
Lauren's plastic smile widened as she picked the gift up. "No problem. Thank you."
As she spun around toward the exit, her smile faded.
* * * *
Weiss took a swig of his beer and then placed it back down on the counter of the bar. He glanced over at Vaughn, who was nursing his own with a faraway look in his eyes.
"You know that Meatloaf song?" Weiss asked. "The one where it goes 'I would do anything for love, but I won't do that'. What is 'that'?" Seriously, I've been trying to figure it out for years."
Vaughn shook his head disinterestedly and lifted his beer, "I haven't got a clue."
Weiss grinned. "The meaning of Meatloaf and Backstreet Boys songs always stump me."
Weiss waited for a hint of a smile, but went unrewarded.
He finally sighed. "Where are you tonight? 'Cause your body's here, but every other part of you is somewhere else."
Vaughn stared straight ahead as he spoke softly. "Sydney remembered."
Weiss nodded, everything suddenly becoming clear. "Sydney remembered and Lauren didn't."
Vaughn turned toward him. "That doesn't mean anything, right?"
Weiss shrugged. "I don't know, does it?"
Vaughn rolled his eyes. "Who are you now? Barnett?"
Weiss chuckled. "I may not have the degrees that she does and may not be as well endowed as she is," he said, gesturing to his chest and getting a little smile out of Vaughn, "but I know how to ask a question. So, does it mean anything?"
Vaughn ran his right hand down his face and then rested his head in his palm. "I don't know. I mean, Sydney's mother killed my father. She's always carried that guilt with her. She has more invested in it than Lauren. It makes sense that she would remember."
Weiss nodded and then held up his index finger. "Except for one thing: Sydney's not your wife; Lauren is."
Vaughn groaned. "You have a knack for stating the obvious."
"Thank you, I try." He paused and then added more seriously, "I understand your point about why Sydney remembered. Is that what she told you?"
Vaughn looked down at the counter and ran his finger through the ring of water made by his beer mug. "She knew something was bothering me. She said she remembered what missing him does to me."
Weiss waited a few moments before speaking. "You and Sydney have always had a deep connection. She's always been able to read you and vice versa. I'm not surprised that she still can."
Vaughn bobbed his head. "It's just different with me and Lauren. Just because she didn't remember and my behavior didn't trigger it, doesn't mean anything. Right?"
Weiss offered him a wide grin. "Hey, your marriage is fantastic, right?"
Vaughn nodded, but couldn't meet his eyes. Weiss eyed him for a moment before asking, "Where's Lauren?"
"Home. A rare occurrence these days."
Weiss raised an eyebrow and then leaned toward Vaughn, lowering his voice. "Let me ask you something: If your marriage is so fantastic, then what the hell are you doing here with me at 8 o'clock at night, instead of home with your wife, taking advantage of such a rare occurrence?"
Vaughn turned to look at him as if he were going to say something meaningful, but then stood up, his voice emerging barely above a whisper. "Drinks are on you. Night."
He then turned on his heel and left.
Weiss lifted his beer to his lips. "Dr. Weiss: Asking hard-hitting questions...and getting no answers.
* * * *
Lauren heard approaching footsteps and turned her attention away from the stove to the doorway. She smiled at her husband as he rounded the corner, placing a kiss on her cheek.
"Hey," he said, his eyes moving to the stove and widening in surprise. "You cooked?"
"Your eyes do not deceive you," she replied, with a Vanna White-like gesture to the stove.
He raised an eyebrow. "What's the occasion?"
"No occasion. I just thought it would be nice to have a home-cooked meal for once. Aren't you tired of Chinese food and frozen dinners?"
He nodded, "Yeah, home-cooked would be nice for a change. So, what did you make?"
Lauren's smiled disappeared. "Well, perhaps it's not your favorite. Fettucine Alfredo."
Vaughn shook his head soothingly, "No, I love that dish. Definitely a close second. Thank you."
Lauren nodded and gestured to the dining room table. "I have a surprise for you."
They moved to the table and sat down across from each other. Vaughn eyed her as he filled their wine glasses. "Another one?"
Lauren picked the small wrapped box up from its spot in front of her plate and placed it down next to his.
Vaughn's gaze moved to the package, his eyes registering surprise, before meeting his wife's. "What's this?"
Lauren smiled, as she placed her chin on her laced fingers. "Just a little something."
"For what?" he asked, clearly confused and a little suspicious.
Lauren leaned forward a bit. "Must I have a reason to give my husband a gift? I just thought it would be nice. You'll see what I mean."
Vaughn stared at her for a long moment, before picking the gift up and quickly unwrapping it, revealing a felt box. He lifted the lid and looked at the gift, his mouth dropping open in shock.
His head suddenly snapped up at Lauren. "What...What did you do?" he asked, searching for words and unable to keep the terseness out of them.
Lauren frowned at his reaction. "I don't understand, Michael. What's the matter? Don't you like it?"
Vaughn reached into the box and pulled out his father's watch, which was now in perfect working condition. He stared at the hands, as they slowly circled the numbers.
"Lauren," he whispered, before his voice trailed off.
"I'm afraid I don't understand. This isn't the reaction I was expecting. You told me your father gave you that watch and that it was now broken, so I thought-..."
"You didn't even ask!" he spit out, his voice low but biting.
"I wanted it to be a surprise," she replied weakly but with a slight edge to it, as she resisted the urge to punch him in the face.
Vaughn placed his elbows on the table and rubbed at his face. He took a few deep breaths before looking back at his wife. "I'm sorry, I know you were just trying to do something nice. I didn't mean to react that way." He paused a moment before going on, unable to just let it go at that. "Didn't you wonder why I hadn't gotten it fixed myself?"
Lauren's brow furrowed. "No...I just thought it was one of those things that gets put off." She watched him shake his head and sigh. "What is this about, Michael? I realize your father gave you that watch and that it has sentimental value. That's why I thought you would want it to work again. I don't understand why you would prefer that it remain broken. What possible significance could that hold for you?"
Vaughn looked at her for a long moment, before dropping his head. "Just forget it. It doesn't matter. Thank you. It was a very thoughtful gift."
Lauren was beginning to grow more and more angry. It wasn't easy for her to put on this thoughtful wife act and he was making it that much harder. She'd gone through a lot of trouble to get it fixed. Three jewelers before the last one had said they would have to order parts, which would take weeks. Now, not only didn't he appreciate her efforts, he was upset with her.
"That's not good enough, Michael. I went through a lot of trouble to do this for you. I deserve an explanation."
Vaughn shook his head, "Forget I said anything. I was being ridiculous. This really is a very nice gesture. I'm sorry I made it seem otherwise."
Lauren studied him, noting how his eyes couldn't quite meets hers as he spoke. And then it finally hit her. She couldn't believe she hadn't realized it before. "It has something to do with Sydney, doesn't it?"
Vaughn's eyes darted to hers, before moving to a spot on his plate. "Lauren," he said softly.
"No, tell me. I have a right to know," she demanded.
"You don't want to hear this."
"Yes, I do."
"Sydney and I have a history. We--..."
"So, I've heard."
He lifted his eyes. "We have a history. One she and I have never tried to deny. But it has nothing with us, with our marriage. I see no reason to bring this up."
Lauren shook her head sharply. "You're mistaken. It has something to do with us when I give my husband a gift and he acts as if I just murdered his pet. You owe me an explanation."
He dropped his head and spoke hesitantly, his voice emerging softly. "Maybe I don't want to tell you. Maybe some things are just for us."
Lauren folded her arms across her chest. "And by 'us' I can assume you're no longer referring to you and me."
He swallowed hard. "I'm sorry, Lauren."
She shrugged, "No, if you want to keep secrets, then that's fine. That's the kind of marriage we'll have." She almost laughed at the irony of the statement.
"That's not what I'm doing and you know it. I have a past. You had one, too. I've never asked you to tell me about every relationship you've ever been in, every special moment you shared with someone else. I don't think you should expect me to."
"This is different. My previous relationships aren't thrown in your face every minute of every day. I have to deal with her, with you two going on missions together, with those little looks you share when you think no one's watching. Your past is very much a part of your present. And that entitles me to ask questions and expect answers."
Vaughn had grown tired of this and was beginning to share his wife's anger. A part of him wanted to tell her because he knew it would hurt her and, currently, that felt right.
His jaw tightened, his voice emerging calm and low. "You want to know? Fine, I'll tell you. When my father gave me that watch he said, 'You could set your heart by this watch.' It stopped on October 1st."
Lauren raised her eyebrows. "What's the significance of October 1st?"
Vaughn swallowed hard. "It's the day Sydney and I met."
Lauren stared at him so long he began to grow uncomfortable. She finally shook her head. "You're not over her."
"Lauren, that's not-..."
"No, no, I realize now you'll never be over her. I don't know why I ever thought you would be. I was fooling myself."
"None of this matters anymore. You wanted to know the significance, so I told you. I knew it would be difficult to hear."
"It's not about that. I have items that have sentimental value, significance that may be tied to previous relationships. But they are in the past, memories with no ties to the present. This is still very real to you. It still means a great deal to you. And that's not going to change."
"I don't know what you want from me."
"I want you to stop lying to me."
"I haven't lied to you, Lauren."
Lauren glared at him, before pushing her chair out from beneath her and practically stomping to a kitchen drawer. She pulled out an envelope and walked to her husband's side, dropping it onto his plate.
He stared at it in confusion. "What's this?"
Vaughn picked the envelope up, opened it and removed its contents. He stared at the picture of him and Sydney kissing in their cell in North Korea in shock and confusion. Lauren took her seat across from him again.
His head shot up in her direction. "Where did you get this? How?"
"That's not important."
"The hell it isn't! Whoever took this and gave it to you must have an agenda, Lauren."
"This isn't about that person. This is about you. About us."
He lowered his head. "This isn't what it looks like."
"You're not kissing a woman you claim is in your past?"
He exhaled deeply and offered the standard explanation. "We thought we were going to die. We got caught up in the moment."
"Let me get this straight. You thought you were going to die and you're thoughts weren't about your wife, who would be devastated by your loss....about how you would never see her again."
"I never said I didn't have those thoughts, Lauren."
"You didn't have to. It's clear where your head was."
"It was a one time thing. There's nothing going on between us. I'm sorry. I don't know what else you want me to say."
"I want you to admit that you still love her...That you stay up nights staring at broken watches just thinking about her."
Lauren could actually see his anger return, his face growing red and the muscles in his neck tightening. She knew she should stop. She was pushing too hard. But she hated how she couldn't control that part of him, the love he still had for Sydney. She couldn't stand the effect it had on him.
Vaughn shook his head sharply, "You just don't get it. You're so wrapped up in your own world, so consumed with being threatened by Sydney, that you've pushed me away. Ignored how I feel, tuned me out."
"What are you talking about?"
"Yes, that watch reminds me of Sydney and, yes, I did think about her while I sat up that night. But it wasn't just about her. I couldn't sleep...I went jogging because I was missing my father. That day was the anniversary of his death, not that you bothered to notice."
Lauren lowered her head. She felt no sadness or guilt over forgetting such a significant event. She was simply angry with herself for not doing her job well. This marriage was work and remembering things like that was a part of her job.
"Michael, I'm sorry. I didn't remember."
"You knew something was bothering me. I even told you about my father and the watch, but that didn't trigger anything either."
"I don't know what to say except I'm sorry," she replied, struggling to keep the curtness out her voice.
Vaughn shook his head, the anger gone from his voice. It was now eerily calm. "Something's wrong, Lauren."
Lauren's heart began to race at his tone.
Her voice was now approaching desperate, "Michael, people forget things. Spouses forget birthdays and anniversaries. I'm not the first and I won't be the last. It doesn't mean anything."
"Yes, it does. It shows how emotionally disconnected we are."
"She remembered," he said softly, cutting her off.
Lauren's eyes narrowed. "Sydney."
He nodded, "She remembered. She knew something was wrong and she realized what it was."
"That doesn't mean anything."
"It means everything," he replied forcefully. He eyed her for a long moment, before saying softly, "You're right. I still love her." He paused and then added, "And this just isn't working."
Lauren's eyes widened, realizing where this was going. She silently scolded herself for pushing too far. She had to keep this marriage intact. It was her job. She had let her need for control and power over him and their relationship overshadow that.
"You don't mean that. We can get past this. It's just a rough patch. All marriages have them."
"There's no getting past this, Lauren. It took me a long time to realize that, but I do now. This is never going to work."
With that, Vaughn stood up from the table, picking up the watch as he did so.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to pack a bag. I'll stay with Weiss for a while."
"So, that's it? You're just giving up?"
"I'm not giving up. I'm accepting the inevitable. There's no trust here, no connection. We could go on like this for years, but, I promise you, we would end up right here. Why postpone it and make each other miserable in the process?"
Lauren shook her head angrily. "I always knew she would come between us."
Vaughn sighed. "You know what? This isn't about Sydney. Not really. Something's missing, it always has been. I've just been too blind to realize it. With or without Sydney, it would still be missing. Having her back just made me realize it a lot earlier because, when I'm with her, nothing's missing."
Lauren's mouth dropped open, as she searched for words, but came up empty. He looked at her once more before exiting the room.
She then slammed her fist against the table and, with one sweeping motion of her arm, knocked the contents of the table to the floor.
* * * *
"Coming," Sydney called, as she walked to the door and threw it open.
She smiled at Vaughn, her eyes indicating surprise. "Hi. What are you doing here?"
"I'm going to be staying with Weiss for a while."
Sydney's eyes grew wide. "Did something happen?"
He stared at her for a long moment before replying, "It's over, Syd."
Sydney swallowed against the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat.
"Really?" she asked weakly, as if by asking it would become untrue.
He nodded. "Yeah." His eyes met hers, as he spoke softly. "It wasn't right, Sydney. It never was. Having you back just made me realize that a lot sooner."
He watched the tears pool in her eyes and ached to reach out and touch her.
He shook his head, his voice just above a whisper, "I can't let go of you. I've tried. God knows, I've tried. But you're a part of my past, my present...and when I look into the future, I can't imagine living it without you."
Sydney's heart was now beating widely in her chest. She was dying to throw her arms around him and kiss him, but resisted. It was too early for that. It wasn't right yet.
She wanted to say something, but there were no words that would do her feelings justice. He offered her a crooked smile, realizing this. He then reached into his coat pocket and removed the watch. He held it out to her.
"Your father's watch." Her brow wrinkled as her eyes followed the moving hands. "It's working."
Vaughn nodded solemnly. "Lauren had it fixed. She thought it would be nice."
"She didn't know. How could she?" she replied.
"She couldn't. It was just for us," he said, his eyes connecting with hers and saying more than words ever could.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
"Don't be. My father's saying still holds true. You could set your heart by this watch. It stopped the day we met. That was the beginning for us. Now we have a new beginning."
With that, Vaughn took the watch and tapped it against the wood of the door frame. He knew that it wouldn't take much with the fragile watch. He looked back at the hands and smiled at their stillness.
He then showed it to Sydney. "It just needed a little help this time...Kind of like us."
Sydney smiled broadly and then laughed. Vaughn arched an eyebrow. "What's so funny?"
"I just realized I never invited you in."
Vaughn smiled, "Can I come in?"
Sydney nodded and met his gaze, "Sure, it's about time."
She moved to allow him entrance and then shut the door, effectively closing the door to the past and opening one to the future.