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Until Next Time 1/1 - The Flirting Corner

About Until Next Time 1/1

Previous Entry Until Next Time 1/1 Nov. 2nd, 2008 @ 08:08 pm Next Entry
Posted on behalf of yankluver

Title: Until Next Time
Author: Steph (ILUVNYYANK@aol.com)
Spoilers: General season 3 stuff, including the last episode, "Full Disclosure".
Rating: PG
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: Kendall arranges for Sydney to secretly attend Vaughn's wedding.





****************

Sydney entered the plane, disguised as Julia, and spotted Kendall. He smiled as he rose from his seat and greeted her.

"Hi, Sydney."

"Hi," she replied with a hint of a smile. It soon faded. "Is there something wrong? We weren't scheduled to meet until next week. And is there a reason we're meeting on a plane?"

Kendall grinned, but revealed no teeth. She was still one of the most fascinatingly frustrating agents he'd ever worked with.

"I'll answer your questions in a minute. Why don't you have a seat?" he said, while gesturing to one of the overstuffed leather chairs.

She eyed him suspiciously, before sitting down. He took the seat opposite her.

"Well?" she asked impatiently. "Is there something wrong or not?"

Kendall shook his head, "With our current operation? No, you'll proceed as planned."

"Then I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Sydney, I asked you here to discuss a personal matter."

Sydney's brow furrowed, worry immediately taking up residence in her eyes. "Did something happen to my father? Vaughn?"

"No, they're both fine. Well, your father is still incarcerated, but, as we've discussed before, there's nothing we can do about that at this time."

"Then what is this about?"

"It's about Vaughn."

"You just said he was fine."

Kendall nodded, "He is." He paused and focused his eyes on hers, trying to adopt a sympathetic tone. "Vaughn is getting married tomorrow."

Sydney felt her heart drop into her stomach. That was literally the last thing she expected him to say. At Sydney's request, Kendall had not informed her about Vaughn's personal life. She asked that she only be told if he were in danger. Seeing Vaughn with another woman had been incredibly hard and she didn't think she could bear updates on his love life.

Sydney swallowed hard. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I know you asked me to only inform you if he were in danger, but I thought you had a right to know."

"And what exactly do you expect me to do with this information?"

He shrugged. "Nothing. I just felt I owed you that much. I believed that you would have wanted to know, despite your earlier request. If I was mistaken, I apologize."

Sydney looked at him for a long moment, realizing that she was seeing a very different man than the one she'd come to know before her life was destroyed. He genuinely cared for her.

"Thank you for letting me know." She paused and then added, "You still haven't answered my question about the plane."

Kendall folded his hands. "As I said before, you can choose to do nothing with this information, but you do have a choice. You've sacrificed a great deal for nearly two years now. I know it has not been easy for you to be away from the people you love, to know that they still believe you to be dead. I can't even imagine how hard that has been, but I know you did it to protect them. Hopefully, the work you've been doing will payoff soon and we'll be able to destroy The Covenant. Then you can be with the people you love again. Until then, I don't have to tell you how dangerous The Covenant is. They keep a close eye on the important people in your life, as you saw when you tried to visit Vaughn."

Sydney lowered her eyes, recalling the unpleasant memory. She had been so happy to see him after all that time apart, but her joy had quickly turned to pain at the sight of him with another woman. That was nearly a year ago. She wondered if that was the woman he was marrying.

Kendall went on, "It goes against my better judgment to allow this, but I feel I owe you that much. If you would like, this plane can take you to Virginia right now, where the wedding is being held. Of course, we'd have to take precautions. You would not be allowed any contact with the guests, especially Vaughn, and would have to stay a safe distance away from those that might recognize you. You'd have to wear a more elaborate disguise to help combat this. The blonde hair's pretty, but won't fool anyone who knows you." He paused and then softened his tone, "As I said before, this is your choice. It may not interest you to be there, but I felt you should be given the right to decide for yourself."

Sydney looked down at her pants and pressed at an invisible wrinkle. She could feel the tears begin to well up in her eyes, but swore she wouldn't let Kendall see her cry. She blinked back the tears as best she could, but couldn't bring herself to meet his gaze.

"Thank you for that."

"No need to thank me. Does that mean you want to go?"

Sydney took a deep breath and finally met his eyes. "The woman he's marrying, is she the same one I saw that night?"

Kendall nodded. "Yes. Her name's Lauren Reed. She works for the NSC."

"So you know her?"

"Not well, but we've met a few times. She seems like a nice enough woman."

Sydney resisted the urge to shake her head at that. 'Nice enough'? Vaughn deserved so much better than nice enough.

"Sydney?" Kendall asked, pulling her from her thoughts. "What do you want to do?"

Sydney didn't know if she could stand watching Vaughn marry someone else, but she was overwhelmed with a need to see him, even from afar. As much as she still loved and missed him, the one thing she wanted him to be was happy. She had always thought that she'd be the one to do that for him, but things didn't work out as planned. Things rarely did in her life. If this woman made him happy, then that was enough for her. It would have to be. But she needed to see that for herself, make that determination on her own.

"I want to go," she finally replied to Kendall.

"Are you sure? You must be sure, Sydney. This is a huge risk we'll be taking. I'm sure I'll end up regretting it soon enough."

"I'm sure," she said softly. "I need to do this."

Kendall sighed, as if he had been hoping she would refuse the offer. "Okay. Now, let me make myself perfectly clear. This cannot be said enough: You are to have absolutely no contact with anyone." He paused and then said hesitantly, "I need your assurance that you will not do anything to try to prevent this wedding from taking place, Sydney. I realize it will be hard for you to watch, but my reason for letting you know was not so you could in any way stop it from happening. I don't have to explain to you how dangerous that could be to the people you love or how detrimental it could be to our cause. I apologize for even having to say it, but I felt I had to."

"Don't apologize. I'll do exactly as directed," Sydney replied.

She wouldn't stop the wedding, no matter how much it hurt. Whether or not Vaughn was happy, the wedding would go on. There wasn't anything she could do about that. She just needed to see for herself.

"Good," he said with a closed-mouth smile. He then stood up, "I'll let the pilot know we'll be going."

With that, Kendall stood and walked towards the cockpit. Sydney watched him go, before sitting back and finally allowing the tears to come.

* * * *

The next day, Sydney and Kendall sat in a van parked two blocks from the Reeds' house, where the wedding would be taking place in less than an hour.

Kendall studied Sydney's disguise. She was wearing a short black wig with a severe, blunt cut. A thin layer of bangs skimmed just below her eyebrows. It was an outdoor wedding, so Sydney had the added benefit of wearing sunglasses. She wore oversized glasses with silver-toned frames and a dark tint. She was dressed in a light blue silk dress with spaghetti straps that hit just above the knee and hugged her slim figure. White strappy sandals with a slim two-inch heel completed the look.

Kendall handed Sydney an earpiece, which her hair would hide. "I want you to wear this so we can communicate in case anything should happen. It's quite possible, even probable, that The Covenant has sent some of their people to this wedding. If you notice something or someone suspicious, I want to know immediately."

Kendall leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. "Lauren's father is a senator so there should be plenty of guests there who Lauren and Vaughn have not met. Another unfamiliar face won't seem strange. Remember, you are not to speak to anyone. If anyone speaks to you, end the conversation as quickly as possible and move at the first chance you get. During the ceremony, I want you to sit in the back, towards the middle. That way, you'll be just another face in the crowd. After the ceremony, you are to return to the van immediately. I don't want you mingling with the guests at the reception. Understood?"

Sydney nodded, tiring a bit of Kendall's rules. "Got it. Can I go now?"

"Yeah, the ceremony will be starting soon and you want to make sure to get a seat in the correct section. Straight to your seat, Sydney."

Sydney bobbed her head and offered him a tiny smile, before exiting the van.

She walked the two blocks quickly, realizing she'd reached the right place when she saw dozens of cars lining the street and a tent looming in the acres that served as the backyard. The house or, rather, mansion was impressive. It was a colonial style, typical of the old south. A sprawling three stories painted white, with wrap-around balconies on each level and huge columns at its entrance, loomed in front of her. Sydney stared at it in awe for a few moments before joining a sudden stream of people headed for the back.

The backyard was equally impressive, if not more so. The land, which was actually a defunct farm, was vast, seeming to go on indefinitely. Various flowering trees dotted the lush lawn. A gigantic kidney-shaped in-ground pool done in natural stones flanked the right side. Rose petals and floating candles were scattered throughout the water. A large white tent, its interior decorated with thousands of tiny white lights and wild flowers, dominated the left side. Beneath the tent, circular tables and chairs were arranged around a wooden dance floor. The center of the yard was where the ceremony would take place. Hundreds of white chairs were situated on each side of an aisle of white silk, with pink rose petals strewn across it. At the head of the aisle was an archway covered in various flowers and more white lights.

Sydney took it all in, eyes focused on the archway. She could picture Vaughn standing there, looking as handsome as ever in his tux and smiling at his bride walking down the aisle. But, in her mind, there was only one bride. Sydney must have imagined this scenario a thousand times. She just never imagined she'd be watching it happen to someone else.

The tears began to sting her eyes and, before she knew it, they were running down her face. She dug through her matching purse in search of a tissue, but came up empty. She needed some tissues...or she would never make it through this. Sydney's eyes moved towards the house. Guests were coming and going freely, but she knew Kendall would....

"Sydney, you've taken your seat, right?"

Kendall asked in her ear, as if he could read her thoughts.

She glanced towards the seats where some guests already sat and then back at the house.

"I'm taking it right now," she replied, as she headed toward the house.

Sydney knew Kendall would kill her if he realized she was entering the house. He hadn't even specifically instructed her not to, since it seemed so obvious.

She entered the home through the patio doors, finding herself in a spacious sunroom with a 12-foot ceiling. The house was incredibly neat and smartly decorated in antique cherry furniture and rich fabrics. Sydney quickly spotted a spiral staircase located just outside the room. She figured there would be less people upstairs. She could quickly find a bathroom and then quietly slip back outside.

The second floor was a maze of hallways. Sydney took the one to her right. She walked past a few doors, before deciding to try one for a bathroom. She opened the door and found what seemed to be one of many guest rooms. She shrugged and entered, figuring it probably had a private bathroom. The room was large and decorated in French country. She perused it quickly before locating the bathroom. She entered it and closed the door behind her. Once in, she spotted a box of tissues, grabbed a few and then sat down on the toilet to blot at her red-rimmed eyes.

After a few minutes, Sydney heard the door to the room open and the sound of voices. She switched the light off and walked to the door, pressing her ear to it. The thick cherry wood muffled the voices, so she quietly opened the door just a sliver.

"I can't believe you're getting married today," a familiar voice commented.

"Neither can I," an even more familiar voice replied softly.

Sydney's mouth dropped open at the sound of Vaughn and Weiss's voices. She squeezed her eyes shut, relishing the feeling of hearing Vaughn's voice again. God, she'd missed his voice. It took all of her strength not to throw the door open and run into his arms.

She moved closer to the tiny space between the door and frame and peered through it. Vaughn sat on the bed, putting his cuff links on. Weiss, who was already fully dressed, sat beside him.

"You don't sound all that thrilled, man."

"I'm happy. It's just...There are a lot of people here I don't know. It's just not really my thing."

"Okay, seriously, you sound like you're about to attend your funeral, not your wedding. What's really bothering you?"

Vaughn dropped his head and ran a hand through his hair. He sighed and said softly, "I can't stop thinking about Sydney."

Sydney could feel her breath catch in her throat. She didn't even notice a tear roll down her cheek and splatter on the tile floor.

Weiss looked at Vaughn, but remained silent. He let him continue, sensing that he needed to speak freely. "When I met and fell in love with Sydney, I figured that was it. She was the woman I was going to spend the rest of my life with. Deep down, I knew the risks she took...I knew that I could lose her at any moment, but I never let myself really believe it could happen. When I imagined my wedding - and, yes, I have imagined it, feel free to mock - I always pictured Sydney in my mind. Sydney in her wedding dress, looking incredibly gorgeous. Sydney walking down the aisle towards me. Sydney in my arms as we dance for the first time as husband and wife. It's all still there in my mind. I can still picture it after all this time. It still feels so real to me."

Sydney squeezed her eyes shut, the words cutting through her.

Weiss let out a breath and placed his hand on his best friend's shoulder. "Look, I don't really know what my duty as best man is in this type of situation. I'm probably supposed to say something reassuring and comforting, but I've never been one to take the expected route, so why start now." That got a smile out of Vaughn. He listened as Weiss went on, "It's natural for you to be thinking about Sydney today. You loved her very much and planned on spending the rest of your life with her. I'd be worried if she weren't on your mind right now. I'm just...I'm not sure she should be the only thing on your mind. Lauren's got to fit in somewhere, Mike. If she's not even in the picture, then maybe you're not ready do this. Maybe the time's not right."

Vaughn shook his head, "Everyone's here and Lauren's parents have spent a fortune on this wedding. I'm going through with it."

"If the only reason you're doing this is so the Reeds won't lose a few bucks, then you're being an idiot. They're richer than God. Have you seen the bathrooms? They have one of those things that shoots water up like a water fountain, but, trust me, isn't one."

"A bidet," Vaughn supplied with a smile.

"Right. I don't know what it does, but I do know only obscenely rich people have one."

Vaughn rubbed at his face. "It's not just that. I don't want to hurt Lauren."

"She wouldn't want you to marry her if you weren't sure."

"I love Lauren, I do. It's just that...I don't love her the way-..."

"You're supposed to," Weiss finished for him, "The way you loved Sydney."

Vaughn nodded and said softly, "Yeah."

"Say the word, buddy, and I'll have this place cleared out in five seconds flat. All I have to do is yell 'stock market crash' and these rich snobs will run away screaming."

Vaughn pursed his lips and shook his head, as he met his friend's eyes. "No, I'm getting married today, Eric. You're right, I don't love Lauren the way I'm supposed to...the way I loved Sydney. But Sydney's gone and she's not coming back. There's no changing that. Lauren's a good woman and she loves me. That's going to have to be enough."

Weiss snorted. "Did you finish writing your vows yet? Because that was beautiful, man. I'm sure Lauren would love it." Weiss adopted a mocking tone, "'Well, I could do worse. I guess you'll do'."

Vaughn couldn't help but chuckle. "That's not what I meant."

Weiss patted Vaughn on the back. "Last chance. Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Vaughn replied in a whisper, before taking a deep breath, standing and then walking to the door. Weiss followed behind him and they exited the room.

Sydney allowed her weight to close the door. She leaned her cheek against the door and allowed the tears to stream freely down her face.

There he was, the love of her life, just a few feet away and she couldn't do anything about it. He was hurting because of her. He was about to make a huge mistake because of her. And she was left feeling helpless.

"Sydney?" Kendall buzzed in her ear.

"What?" she snapped.

"Just making sure you're following directions. The ceremony should be starting soon. You are seated, right?"

"Right," she replied, before pulling the earpiece out of her ear and throwing it in the toilet.

She smiled bitterly as it made a satisfying plop in the water.

* * * *

A few minutes later, Sydney had regained her composure and exited the bathroom. She quickly made her way through the house and back outside. The ceremony would be starting very soon and nearly all the guests were now seated. Luckily, Sydney still managed to find a seat in the back, but had to settle for an aisle seat, rather than one in the middle.

She perused the guests that sat in front of and to the side of her. Towards the front, she spotted Dixon and Marshall sitting side by side. She felt a sudden pang, realizing just how much she'd missed them.

Sydney's eyes moved toward the archway, her gaze landing on Vaughn's figure standing to the side, with Weiss next to him. He stood straight, eyes focused ahead. She couldn't remember ever seeing him look so handsome...and that was saying a lot. His hair was styled in that boyishly messy way she loved. He wore a black tux with a silver cummerbund and matching tie and vest.

She watched him carefully, noticing how he kept shifting his feet and wiping at his brow. He looked nervous, to say the least. She couldn't take her eyes off of him, delighting in being able to look at him again. Suddenly, his head turned in her direction and she could have sworn he was looking at her. Of course, she was too far back for this to even be possible, but it was comforting to her for some reason anyway.

The music soon began, pulling her attention away from him and to the head of the aisle. Sydney and the other guests stood up and swiveled their bodies to look at the bride.

She was tall and blonde, exactly as Sydney remembered her. She wore a simple strapless white silk gown. Her hair was pulled back and a short veil was affixed to it. Bucking tradition, it didn't cover her face, revealing pale skin, large brown eyes and lips accented with red.

Sydney took a deep breath, as she watched the woman walk down the aisle, offering closed-mouth smiles to the guests as she went. Sydney rolled her eyes, sensing an air of artificiality about the woman.

She finally turned her attention back to Vaughn, preparing herself for his smiling face, beaming at his approaching bride-to-be. Instead, she found his head bowed, eyes rooted the ground.

She felt her heart drop into her stomach as she watched him, remembering what he'd told Weiss. This wasn't right and he knew it. She had come here to see if he was happy, hoping that it would fill her with some sense of comfort and relief. But the man who stood before her didn't seem happy. He didn't look like he was awaiting his wedding...More like his execution.

Sydney balled her fists and blinked back the sudden rush of stinging tears. Every fiber of her being wanted to jump up and run to him. She couldn't believe that he was marrying someone else, someone he wasn't truly in love with. And it was all because of her. She was alive and well and he had no idea. She had no choice but to sit by helplessly and watch.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't even realize that the wedding was nearly over. The ceremony was mercifully short and she had missed most of it.
Lauren had joined Vaughn, the pastor had spoken and they had said their vows, which, thankfully, she had tuned out. She was quite sure she wouldn't have been able to bear hearing him vow to love and honor another woman for the rest of his life.

She held her breath, as she listened to the pastor say the words she'd been dreading.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. Michael, you may kiss your bride."

Vaughn swallowed hard, as he ignored a droplet of sweat running down his cheek. Slowly, he and Lauren moved closer until their lips met in a quick, passionless kiss. Little more than a peck, really. Sydney could tell Lauren wanted more, but Vaughn pulled back first and turned his attention back to the pastor.

Now, Sydney braced herself for the worst part of all. She wrapped her slender fingers around the seat of the chair, her nails digging into the wood, and watched as Vaughn and Lauren began to make their way slowly down the aisle.

She suddenly felt as if she had to vomit. She could feel the bile begin to rise up in her throat and had to swallow to force it back down. She watched, tears pooling in her eyes and blurring her vision. Lauren was all smiles, her left arm hooked through his and her right hand firmly clasping his arm. Vaughn nodded stiffly at the guests and forced a few smiles, but mainly focused his gaze on the ground.

When they'd made it about halfway down, Sydney couldn't take it anymore. She had to get out of there. Without thinking, she jumped up out of her seat and walked quickly down the aisle. The guests she passed were too focused on the "happy couple" to pay her much attention.

Sydney never saw Vaughn's eyes dart up and follow her form down the aisle until she disappeared from sight. His brow furrowed, as a chill ran down his spine. There was something about the woman...Something in the way she walked, something in the shape of her figure that seemed familiar to him. She reminded him of Sydney, he realized.

For a fleeting moment, he allowed himself to believe she could be alive. But logic soon took over. It was impossible. There was a body with matching DNA.

She was gone.

He shook his head, silently scolding himself for allowing even a brief moment of hope, especially right now. His mind was playing tricks on him. Either he'd completely imagined the woman or he'd projected Sydney's qualities onto her. It was no surprise. She'd been on his mind constantly lately. He'd even started having conversations with her again as if she were still alive, something he hadn't done since he'd met Lauren.

The couple completed their walk down the aisle and began to the make their way to the tent. Just before entering, Vaughn turned to Lauren.

"I'll be right in. I just have to...go to the bathroom."

He couldn't get the woman out of his mind. He had to find her, if there was even anyone to find.

Lauren's brow wrinkled in disappointment. "But we're supposed to be announced as we walk in. You know, the first time as husband and wife."

"I'll be right back, Lauren," Vaughn snapped.

With that, he turned on his heel and headed off in the direction he'd seen the woman go. She had headed towards the front yard. He was just about to round the corner of the house, when Weiss stopped him.

"Where are you going?" He paused and noted Vaughn's pale expression. "Are you all right, man? You look like you just saw a ghost."

Vaughn dropped his head and whispered, "Maybe I just did."

"What are you talking about?"

"Did you see that woman before? She practically ran down the aisle ahead of us. She had short black hair and was wearing a light blue dress."

Weiss's eyes widened and he shook his head. "No, I didn't see anyone. Are you sure-..."

"I'm not sure of anything anymore," he said, cutting him off.

"Look, what is it about this woman?"

Vaughn met his friend's gaze. "She reminded me of Sydney."

Weiss sighed and patted his friend's shoulder comfortingly. "You know it's not possible."

"I know, I know. It's just...she seemed so familiar. Either there was a woman who reminded me of Sydney or-..."

"Or what?"

"I imagined her."

"Imagined her?"

"It's happened before. In the months following Sydney's death, I had conversations with her as if she were still alive. I didn't really have visions of her, but, if I closed my eyes, I could see her. It was like she was still there."

"Mike, why didn't you ever tell me this?"

"You already thought I was going crazy. I didn't feel the need to support that belief."

"I could have helped."

"No, you couldn't," he replied softly.

Weiss exhaled deeply. "Look, it was just your mind playing tricks on you. It's not surprising, considering what today is and all you've been through. But she wasn't real, Mike." He paused and then added, "Today's your wedding day. Go enjoy it."

Vaughn nodded and then watched as Weiss walked towards the tent.

Just around the corner, Sydney leaned up against the house, her heart beating wildly in her chest. She'd heard the entire conversation. She was standing just yards away.

She couldn't believe what she'd heard. Vaughn had spoken to her after her death. She suddenly had some idea how devastated he must have been at the loss of her. She felt an overwhelming need to be near him, see him, touch him.

The idea popped into her head and, if Kendall had been privy to it, he surely would have killed her on the spot. Luckily, he wasn't. She was powerless to stop herself and, before she knew it, she had rounded the corner. Her eyes darted around the yard, looking to see if anyone was watching. Fortunately, it curved in such a way that they were blocked from view.

She finally allowed her gaze to settle on Vaughn.

He stood staring at her, his mouth hanging open in shock.

"Is it really you?" he asked, his voice tiny, but brimming with hope.

She smiled gently. "I've always been here and I always will be. That'll never change."

Vaughn took a deep breath and then let it slowly out, as he accepted the fact that what stood before him was nothing more than a figment of his imagination. Still, he'd rather stay in his delusions than enter back into reality.

"I miss you," he said, his voice choked with emotion.

"I miss you, too," she replied softly.

He shook his head. "Today...this whole thing...just isn't right."

"I know," she said in a quiet voice.

"I love you, Sydney," he said, as he took a few steps toward her, nearly closing the distance between them.

Sydney swallowed hard, as her heart began to race at having him so close again. She could smell his scent and had to fight the urge to the throw her arms around him and breathe him in.

"I love you, too," she said breathlessly.

They stared at each other for a few long moments, before she smiled sadly and placed her hand on his cheek. "You have to go now. Please, try to be happy. That's all I ever wanted for you."

Vaughn swallowed against the lump in his throat. He forced his words out, his voice hoarse and cracking, "And all I ever wanted was you."

Their eyes met and held, the love and desire as alive as ever. Slowly, he closed the distance between them and pressed his lips to hers. Sydney responded eagerly, savoring the feeling of his touch again. She pulled him deeper into the kiss, before they mutually parted. Their foreheads touched and their eyes remained closed, as they relished being together again.

To Sydney, it was real. To Vaughn, it was a piece of the past, fiction that seemed as sweet as reality ever had.

"Go," she whispered, her breath tickling his lips.

He slowly opened his eyes and met hers. They said it all. He was right where he wanted to be.

"I don't want this to end. I don't want to say good-bye. I don't know if I'll ever see you again."

Sydney caressed his cheek as she spoke, "I'm always with you, Vaughn. There's no end. There's no good-bye. There's only until next time."

He smiled, tears pooling his eyes. "Then until next time," he said, his voice just above a whisper.

He then squeezed his eyes shut, as he tried to ward off the tears. When he opened his eyes again, she was gone.

And Vaughn was left feeling as if he'd lost her all over again. She'd never felt more real to him.

Reluctantly, he headed back to the tent. Back to reality.

* * * *

Sydney had run all the way back to the van, tears running down her face, the air drying them as she went. She was out of breath and panting hard, as she opened the door and jumped in.

Kendall looked at her suspiciously, his eyes widening. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"

"Let's go," she managed to breathe.

"Sydney, did something happen? I've been trying to communicate with you for a while now, but I've gotten no response. I was about a minute away from going out there and seeing for myself."

Sydney dropped her head, remembering the earpiece that still floated in the toilet. "My earpiece wasn't working right. I threw it away."

"You threw it away? You should have come back and I would have given you a new one. Do you have any idea the kind of risk-..."

Sydney's jaw tightened, her eyes darting up and meeting his. "I know exactly the kind of risk I was taking, partly because you've told me a thousand times and partly because I'm not brain-dead. Haven't I sacrificed enough to prove that you can trust me?"

"It's not about trust, Sydney, and you know that. This is about protecting you, the people you love and our objective."

"Don't worry, our objective is fine. Nothing happened. As for the people I love...Well, I've hurt them enough already."

"You know that's not true."

Sydney dropped her head, her voice growing soft. "Please, I just want to go home. I never should have come."

Kendall studied her for a moment. "You're sure nothing happened? This is just a reaction to the wedding?"

Sydney snorted. "What? Watching helplessly as the love of your life marries another woman because he believes you're dead isn't enough? Something had to have happened?"

He shook his head, "No, it's enough. I was just checking. Are you sure you're all right?"

Sydney lifted her head and met his gaze, her eyes narrowing. "I haven't been all right in a long time." She paused and then added, "Can we please go now?"

Kendall nodded and gestured to the driver. "Sure."

Sydney looked out the window, as the van began to move. Before long, they were passing by the Reeds' mansion. Sydney looked at the guests milling around the yard, the rest probably in the tent.

She spotted Vaughn standing in front of the pool with Lauren, posing for pictures.

"Until next time," she whispered, as she passed by.

She could feel the air slowly expel from her lungs as she watched him disappear from view, realizing there might never be a next time.

Truth be told, she had no way of knowing when this would end...or if she'd even make it out alive.

*******THE END*******
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