Title: The Ring
Spoilers: "Welcome to Liberty Village"
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: Vaughn tells Sydney more about his intention to propose three years earlier, while recounting the love story of his grandparents. This leads to a surprising event.
Sydney and Vaughn stood in Sydney's kitchen, preparing dinner. Every so often, Sydney would look over at Vaughn. He finally looked up from his task of cutting tomatoes and smiled at her.
She returned the smile. "Nothing. I was just thinking."
Sydney paused for a moment before replying. "Liberty Village. What happened at the car dealership."
Vaughn arched an eyebrow. "You mean when we were nearly killed by yuppie psychopaths?"
"Before that," Sydney replied with a small smile. "The story you told about the proposal."
Vaughn nodded and placed his knife on the cutting board. He then returned his gaze to her. "What about it?"
"I know I already asked you about this, but...I'm just curious. Were you really planning on proposing that weekend?"
Vaughn turned the burner on the stove off and took Sydney's hand in his as he led the way to the living room. He sat down and she followed suit.
He was silent for a moment, his eyes focused on his hands. Then he swallowed hard and met her eyes. "Yes, I was."
Vaughn got a faraway look in his eyes, as he remembered what had led up to it.
* * * Flashback: Three Years Earlier * * *
Vaughn and Weiss sat on the couch in Vaughn's apartment watching a hockey game. Vaughn turned to look at Weiss. "I'm going to do it."
Weiss grinned. "You mean you're going to take my suggestion and put a mini-fridge in the living room? Oh, man, Mike, you are not going to regret it! Trust me."
Vaughn rolled his eyes. "Not that."
Weiss's face fell. "Then what?"
"I'm going to ask Sydney to marry me."
Weiss raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Really? I mean, you two haven't actually been together that long. Are you sure you're both ready?"
"I know I am."
"Okay, I know my experience with this kind of thing is limited to watching 'General Hospital', but-..."
"General Hospital?" Vaughn repeated, eyebrows raised.
"Hey, my grandma made me watch her 'story' when I went over there after school. I can't help it if I got addicted. Don't judge."
Vaughn held his hands up and shook his head. "Whatever you do in the privacy of your own home is no bus-..."
"Oh, you know what? Just shut up."
Vaughn laughed. "Sorry, you were saying."
"I was saying that I know I don't have much experience with this stuff, but I think you both have to be ready for it to work. Unless you want to blackmail her or kidnap her, then she doesn't have to be ready." Vaughn's brow furrowed in confusion. "I told you. Limited experience. 'General Hospital."
"Right." Vaughn sighed and shook his head. "Look, we've already nearly lost each other countless times. The risk will always be there. I don't want to wait and then regret it."
"You do know that being married doesn't mean something still won't happen, right? Then you'll be a widower or Syd will be a widow. Is that what you want?"
"I can't live my life like that. All I know is I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. And I know she feels the same."
Weiss smiled. "That was beautiful, man. I'd marry you." His smiled faded and he added. "No, seriously, I really want you two to be happy. You deserve it."
"So, how do you plan on popping the question?"
Vaughn shrugged. "I thought maybe I'd invite Sydney over here, I'd make her dinner and then I'd ask her to marry me. You know, something really simple and low-key, just the two of us."
Weiss shook his head. "If by simple and low-key you mean boring. I take it back. I won't marry you."
"What's wrong with it?"
"There's nothing memorable about it, Mike. You're not going to sit your grandkids down someday and tell them the story of how you proposed if you do it like that. 'So, then grandpa made dinner and said, 'hey, marry me...and pass the salt while you're at it'. It's boring."
"What do you want me to do? Take her to a Kings' game and propose to her with one of those obnoxious messages on the scoreboard?"
Weiss shook his head. "Whoa, no. You don't want to do that. I knew a guy who did that and she said no. The crowd booed him and threw popcorn."
"So, what's your wonderful suggestion?"
Weiss took a swig of beer before replying. "All right, I was saving this one for myself, but I guess you can have it. You buy a talking parrot-..."
"I don't think I like where this is going."
"And you teach it to say, 'Will you marry me, Sydney?' and hold the ring in its beak. Now that's a proposal. That's memorable. The grandkids will love it because, well, kids love talking birds. Haven't you seen Aladdin?"
Vaughn shook his head. "You know, I think you should keep it."
Weiss shrugged. "Fine, I didn't want you to have it anyway. But you have to come up with something good. You know how Danny proposed, right? The guy got down on one knee in the middle of a college campus and sang to her. That took guts. You've got to beat that."
Vaughn looked down at his hands and replied softly, "I'm not competing with a dead man."
Weiss sighed. "I know, I'm sorry. I just...I think Sydney deserves a proposal that's really special."
Vaughn nodded. "You're right, she does."
Weiss decided to change the subject a bit. "So, do you have a ring yet?"
"Yeah," Vaughn said with a nod, as he stood up and walked to a drawer in the kitchen. He pulled out a small velvet box and then returned to the couch. He opened the box and showed Weiss the ring.
Weiss's eyes widened. "Wow, that's, uh, nice, I guess. Oh, who am I kidding? What, did you make that in art class when you were seven?"
Vaughn looked at the ring and replied softly, "Actually, my grandfather made it. It was my grandmother's engagement ring."
Weiss looked embarrassed. "Oh, well, in that case, it's very charming." Vaughn looked at him. "No, I mean it. Sydney will love it and the history behind it much better than some ring you bought at a jewelry store." He paused and then added with a grin, "Plus, this is a helluva lot cheaper."
Vaughn smiled. "Now I just need to think of how I'm going to give it to her."
"Well, how did your grandfather do it? There must be an interesting story to go along with a ring like that."
Vaughn's eyes brightened. "There is."
"Start with that then. Maybe it'll inspire you. Where did he propose?"
"The same place they met. Santa Barbara."
"Santa Barbara used to be a soap opera you know."
Vaughn smiled. "By the way, my grandparents knew each other less than ten days before they became engaged. They were married for fifty-two years."
Weiss shrugged. "Yeah, I guess you guys have a chance then."
Vaughn simply shook his head, his smile widening.
* * * Present * * *
Vaughn shook free of the memory and looked at Sydney. It was so hard for Sydney to believe she and Vaughn had come so close to something so wonderful. She could feel the smile pulling at her lips and the tears forming in her eyes all at the same time. It was a strange feeling. Happiness at the thought of what almost was and sadness because it wasn't.
Vaughn looked into her eyes. "I know we hadn't been together very long, but I'd loved you for so long. I couldn't even remember what it felt like not to love you. Our jobs were so dangerous. I knew that at any moment we could lose each other. I could lose you. So I decided I didn't want to waste any time. I wanted us to spend the rest of our lives together. I had no way of knowing I'd never get the chance...that what I'd feared might happen was about to."
Sydney swallowed against the lump in her throat. "So, when you brought up Santa Barbara at the hockey rink that day-..."
"I'd already planned the trip. Weeks before actually. In the car that night I made it seem like it was a spur of the moment thing so you wouldn't get suspicious."
Sydney nodded and Vaughn went on. "I had reserved the Presidential Suite at the Biltmore and arranged for a private chef to prepare a meal for us to eat on the cliffs overlooking the ocean the night before we came home." Vaughn smiled bitterly. "I planned out what I was going to say and do in my head. I wanted it to be perfect."
A tear slid down Sydney's cheek. "It would have been."
Vaughn's eyes clouded over and his voice grew thick. "After I thought you died, I used to try to imagine what it would have really been like if it had happened. But every time I thought about it, something didn't seem right. So, one weekend, I decided to go up to Santa Barbara. I stayed at the Biltmore, I visited the beach and that restaurant we talked about, La Superica. It was hard being there without you; thinking about what that place could have meant to us. On my last day there, I was out walking when I passed the zoo. And then I remembered what you said about the giraffe with the crooked neck. I went inside and found the giraffe. It was so strange, but as I stood there watching it, I could suddenly imagine what it would have been like. And I realized it wasn't about being perfect or planning everything I said or did. It was about being in the moment - looking at you, smiling and happy, and realizing that's all I wanted to look at for the rest of my life. Then I'd do it. I'd tell you how I felt, how much I loved you and how I wanted you to be my wife. The words wouldn't have been practiced in my head a million times; the right words would just come in the moment. It would be perfect...for us."
Sydney wiped at the tears streaming down her cheeks. Then she lifted her hand and brought it to Vaughn's face. She caressed his cheek for a moment, before bringing her lips to his in a soft kiss. She then pulled back and whispered, "Thank you," against his lips.
They kissed again and then Sydney placed her head on Vaughn's chest. He wrapped his arm around her and held her tight, as she linked her fingers with his. They stayed like that for a long time, content in comfortable silence, until Sydney finally broke it.
"So, did you buy a ring and everything?" she asked.
"No, I didn't buy a ring."
Sydney shrugged. "That's okay, I didn't need a ring."
Vaughn shook his head. "No, Syd, I had a ring. I just didn't buy it."
Sydney's brow wrinkled in confusion. "Where did you get it then?"
"It was my paternal grandmother's. My grandfather gave it to me before he died."
Sydney smiled at the thought of an heirloom from Vaughn's family. "Tell me about the ring and the proposal."
Vaughn smiled wistfully. "My grandfather proposed to my grandmother on their first date. She turned him down. He did the same on the second date with the same result. Same thing happened on the third. Finally, on their fourth date, he said 'Helen, I loved you the moment I laid eyes on you and I know you felt the same way. I'm not a man who believes in wasting time. I know we're meant to be together. You can say 'yes' now and save us both some time or you can keep refusing me and postpone the inevitable. Either way, I know we're going to spend the rest of our lives together.'"
Sydney's eyes widened. "He said that?"
Vaughn nodded and went on, "My grandmother made him wait until the next date simply because she could and then finally said 'yes'. My grandfather didn't actually have a real ring; he couldn't afford one. Instead, he had made one out of some twisted copper wire and polished sea glass. He gave it to my grandmother and told her he'd buy her a real one when he could afford to. Three years later, he bought her a beautiful diamond ring, but my grandmother refused to take off the original one. She said that was the one that meant the world to her. This other ring meant nothing. It wasn't made by the hands of the man she loved and it wasn't given to her on the day they promised to spend the rest of their lives together. She told my grandfather to return the one he bought."
Sydney laughed. "Your grandparents sound stubborn and persistent. I think I would have liked them."
Vaughn nodded. "You would have." He paused for a moment before going on, "My grandmother never took that ring off. She wore it for fifty-two years, until the day she died. My grandfather gave it to me before he died. It was for the woman I planned on spending the rest of my life with."
Sydney hesitated a few moments, then sat up to face him. "The ring. You didn't give it to Lauren?"
Vaughn shook his head sharply and replied softly. "It was your ring." He then shrugged, "I didn't even give Lauren an engagement ring. It didn't happen like that. I don't think she would have liked it anyway. It wasn't exactly her taste."
Sydney bit at her lip. She didn't want to hear how it had happened. It didn't matter anymore.
"How did your grandparents meet?" she asked.
A smile spread across Vaughn's lips. "They met in Santa Barbara. He actually proposed there, too. That's why I chose it." Sydney mirrored his smile as he went on. "My grandfather was walking along the beach looking for sea glass. It was a hobby of his. He bent down to pick up a particularly interesting piece. When he straightened, he noticed a woman out of the corner of his eye sitting on the beach. He just stood there staring at her. Couldn't take his eyes off of her. He said she was the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. When he finally managed to tear his eyes away, he looked down at the piece of sea glass he held in his hand. It was in the shape of a heart. My grandfather took this as a sign. Never one to waste time or mince words, he walked over to my grandmother, introduced himself, told her that one day he would marry her and asked her out."
Sydney laughed. "He didn't."
Vaughn nodded with a grin. "He did. My grandfather was a very interesting man. He knew what he wanted and would go after it."
"What did your grandmother say?"
Vaughn chuckled. "First, she looked at him like he had 'two heads, both of which had a screw loose', then she said no."
"I'm guessing he didn't give up."
"He went back to the beach the next day and saw her again. He asked her out again and she refused. Same thing the next day. Finally, on the fourth day, my grandfather pulled the ring out of his pocket. He'd made it the night after they met. Twisted copper wire and a piece of sea glass in the shape of a heart. He showed it to her and told her the significance of the sea glass and how he had made it three nights earlier when they'd met. He said, 'One day I'm going to put this ring on your finger and you're never going to want to take it off. So, let's get on with it."
Sydney grinned. "And she agreed to a date."
Vaughn shook his head, smiling at the story he'd heard a thousand times. "She said no. She looked at him and said, 'You don't rush a lady.'"
"I definitely would have liked your grandmother," Sydney said with a nod.
"You two have a lot of common. She was stubborn as a goat, too."
"What happened next?"
"My grandfather came back the next day and sat down next to her on the sand. They sat in silence for an hour, until she finally looked at him and asked, 'How long do you plan on waiting?' He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, 'For as long as it takes. You don't rush a lady.'"
"So, then she agreed to a date, right?"
Vaughn grinned. "She made him wait another hour because she could, then agreed."
Sydney sighed dreamily. "That is the sweetest story. And four dates later they were engaged."
"Yes, they were. And my grandfather was right. She didn't want to take off the ring, even when she was offered a much nicer, more expensive one." Vaughn paused and his voice grew soft. "My grandfather died six months after my grandmother. He'd always been healthy as a horse. Never had so much as a cold. He said it was all due to good genes and drinking a teaspoon of honey every morning. After my grandmother died though, he was a different man. It was as if he had aged a decade overnight. He had always been very active, but after she died he didn't even leave the house. He said he was too weak, but the doctor couldn't find anything wrong with him. He died in his sleep, six months after my grandmother. My father always said he died of a broken heart." Vaughn looked into Sydney's eyes, which were now brimming with tears. "I guess I understand what that feels like."
A tear slipped down Sydney's cheek and Vaughn reached out and wiped it away with his thumb. He then went on. "Right before he died, he asked me to come see him and gave the ring to me. He said someday a woman would come along and I'd know that life before her and after her were nothing compared to life with her. He placed the ring in my hand and said, 'This ring is for her.'"
Sydney blinked back a few tears. "Thank you for telling me that."
"Thank you for coming along," he replied softly with a small smile.
Sydney smiled through the tears and brought her lips to his in a gentle kiss. When she pulled back, she asked, "Where's the ring now?"
"At my apartment."
"Can I see it sometime?"
He nodded. "Of course, it is yours."
Sydney smiled at the thought of what that meant, of that promise for the future, and then placed her head back on Vaughn's chest. She fell asleep to the sound of his beating heart.
* * * One Month Later * * *
Vaughn opened the door to his apartment and smiled at Sydney. "Hi, thanks for coming so quickly."
"Well, you said it was important."
"It is," he replied, as he stepped aside to allow her entrance and then closed the door behind her.
Sydney stood in his living room, frozen, mouthing hanging open in shock.
Vaughn smiled at her reaction and came up behind her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and whispered in her ear. "Welcome to Santa Barbara."
Sydney couldn't take her eyes off the room. It had been completely transformed. The room was filled with candles. The coffee table in front of the couch had red rose petals strewn across it and a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries in the middle. In one corner of the room was a large, shallow sand box filled with sand, two lounge chairs, an umbrella, a poster of an ocean on the wall and a paper sun hanging above it.
Vaughn took her hand and led her to the fire escape. There was a small table and two chairs on the fire escape. On the table was a gourmet meal and two glasses of champagne. On the floor of the fire escape sat a CD player playing sounds of the ocean.
Vaughn took her hand again and led her back into the living room. In another corner of the room were several potted plants and an oversize stuffed giraffe, whose neck had been bent. In front of the giraffe was a pile of sawdust.
Vaughn led Sydney to the corner of the room. She smiled through tears at the giraffe with the crooked neck. She then watched as Vaughn knelt down in the sawdust. He took Sydney's hands in his and spoke softly in a voice already constricted by emotion. "Better late than never." Sydney laughed and he went on. "My grandfather was right. I know what life was like before you and after you, and nothing compares to life with you. I don't ever want to know what life without you feels like again. Three years ago, I planned on doing this. But I guess we, better than anyone, know that nothing ever goes as planned." He swallowed hard and looked up into her eyes. "I love you, Sydney. I knew I was meant to love you the moment I laid eyes on you, crazy bozo wig and all." Sydney smiled at the memory. "We've been through a lot and it's taken us a long time to get here. I know we agreed to take it slow and that we still have a lot to deal with, but I've got to take a page from my grandfather. I know what I want and I don't want to waste anymore time. I want you to be my wife, Sydney." Vaughn reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box. He opened it up and turned it to face her. Inside, was the twisted copper ring with the heart-shaped piece of sea glass his grandfather had made all of those years before. He took the ring out and held it up to her, "Will you marry me?"
Sydney knelt down beside him, her eyes focused on the ring, so beautiful in its own way. She took a deep breath, smiled and said, "You don't rush a lady."
Vaughn smiled sadly. "I know, we said we'd take it slow and although this is a long time coming for me, it must seem like it's happening too fast for you. I understand. You've been through a lot. We both have. Syd, I already made the mistake of agreeing to marry someone when I knew it wasn't right. I won't make the same mistake again. This is right and, despite everything that's happened, I'm ready. But I understand if you're not." He took a deep breath, "So, how about this? I'll put it on the ring finger of your right hand and when you're ready, move it to your left hand. Then I'll know. And I'll be here waiting."
"How long do you plan on waiting?" Sydney asked, a smile pulling at her lips.
Vaughn smiled at the response. "For as long as it takes. You don't rush a lady."
Vaughn took Sydney's right hand in his and slid the ring onto her finger. It was a perfect fit.
"It's beautiful," she whispered, before wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him to her in a kiss.
Then she pulled back and looked into his eyes. It was all there in his eyes. Everything she ever wanted, everything she ever needed. It always had been. And it always would be.
She looked down at the ring and pulled it off her finger. Then she held it out to him. Vaughn's face drained of color, as he feared the worst.
"Syd-..." he began worriedly.
"Put it on the other hand," she whispered.
He breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived. He looked into her eyes as he spoke, "Are you sure you're ready?"
"I was ready three years ago," she replied softly. She then said, "I want you to put it on because I don't plan on ever taking it off again."
Vaughn smiled and, with shaking hands, took her left hand in his. He slid the ring onto her finger. A smile spread across Sydney's lips, as she looked down at the ring. Then she placed her hands on the sides of his face and leaned in close.
She whispered, "I love you, too," before bringing her lips to his in a kiss.
After a few blissful moments, they separated. Sydney looked up at the deformed stuffed animal and laughed. "I can't believe you did that to its neck."
"I didn't. Weiss and Marshall did. They helped me set this all up. The Presidential Suite at the Biltmore, the beach, the gourmet dinner on the 'cliffs' overlooking the 'ocean', the zoo."
"It's amazing. Thank you so much for doing this."
Sydney and Vaughn were leaning in for another kiss when they heard a thump.
Sydney's brow furrowed. "What was that?"
Vaughn's eyes widened. "Oh, I almost forgot!"
Vaughn stood up and extended his hands to help her up. He walked out of the living room and down the hall, as Sydney followed behind him. He stopped in front of the hall closet and opened the door. Inside, were Weiss and Marshall, squeezed in among a vacuum and broom.
"Hey, what's going on?" they both asked in unison.
Sydney raised an eyebrow and looked at Vaughn. He smiled and shrugged. "They came over to help, but you arrived so quickly after I called that they didn't have a chance to leave. So, I kind of shoved them into the closet when you knocked. I didn't want anything to ruin the moment when you walked in...or what followed it."
Weiss groaned at Marshall. "For the last time, no that is not the vacuum bag you have your hand on."
Marshall blushed. "Oh, sorry."
Marshall and Weiss squeezed out of the closet and took deep breaths. Weiss glared at Vaughn. "First, I practically break my neck carrying that stupid sandbox up here. Then I'm forced to harm an innocent stuffed animal. And, finally, I have to share precious oxygen with Mr. Can't-Keep-His-Hands-to-Himself over here."
Marshall leaned in to whisper to Vaughn. "About the sandbox, I'm going to need that back as soon as possible. Carrie would kill me if she knew I let you borrow it. Mitchell practically lives in the thing. As for the giraffe, I hate to do this, but you know the misses, I'm going to need it replaced with one that isn't damaged. It is Mitchell's after all."
Weiss rolled his eyes. "It's yours. Don't try to push it off on your kid just because you're a grown man with a large giraffe."
Marshall laughed, his face reddening, as he spoke to an amused Sydney and Vaughn. "It was mine...as a kid. I gave it to Mitchell."
"Then why was it in your bedroom?"
Marshall shrugged. "What can I say? Carrie likes it. It's one of those weird turn-ons, I guess. You know, kind of like computer games."
"What is wrong with you?" Weiss asked.
Vaughn placed his hands on their shoulders and pushed them towards the door. "Okay, thanks for coming, thanks for helping, see you later."
He had managed to get them all the way to the door. Weiss shook his head. "That's it? All the trouble I go through and all I get is a 'thanks and a see you later'? Can I at least have the chocolate-covered strawberries?"
Vaughn threw him a look. He sighed and turned to Marshall. "Come on, I have a feeling they want to be alone. Congratulations, by the way. Nice proposal."
Sydney touched their arms. "Wait," she said.
They stopped and she moved closer, placing a kiss on Marshall's cheek and then Weiss's. "Thank you," she said.
Marshall blushed and stammered, "You're...uh...you're...uh...welcome."
Weiss grinned at Vaughn. "Hmm, maybe you two don't want to be alone. How about you go, Mike, and I stay?"
Vaughn gave him a get-out-of-here-now-before-I-strangle-yo
Sydney laughed and Vaughn smiled, placing his hand on his chest to push him out the door. "I'll be sure to let Nadia know that," he said and then closed the door in his face.
Vaughn turned to Sydney and smiled at her. "Where were we?"
Sydney wrapped her arms around his neck and backed him up against the door. She then whispered against his lips, "Right about here I think," before pressing her mouth to his.
The sound of a soft knock from behind them caused them to pull back. Weiss's muffled voice came from behind the door. "Mike, you're not really going to tell Nadia that, are you? I was just kidding. That's what I do. I kid. Come on, I actually have a chance with a really hot, smart, butt-kicking girl. You wouldn't ruin that for me, would you?"
Vaughn sighed, closed his eyes, and leaned his forehead against Syd's. "I have the phone in my hand right now."
Sydney giggled as Weiss groaned.
"Goodnight," they both called.
"Yeah, whatever," he mumbled, as he walked away.
Sydney smiled at Vaughn. "You do know if he marries my sister he'll be our brother-in-law."
Vaughn laughed. "God help us and our future nieces and nephews."
"I think he's sweet," Sydney said.
"That's because he doesn't call you up at three o'clock in the morning wondering if it meant anything that Nadia bought him nachos at the bowling alley."
"No, that's annoying."
Sydney raised an eyebrow. "Like you've never called him up at three o'clock in the morning to talk his ear off about me."
Vaughn lowered his eyes guiltily. "Okay, but it was always much more important than nachos."
Sydney smiled. "It's nice seeing him like this. I hope it works out for them. They both deserve to be as happy as we are right now."
Vaughn brought his hand up to her cheek and caressed it, while saying softly, "Well, then they have a lot of work to do because I've never been happier."
Sydney whispered, "Neither have I," before her lips were once again captured by Vaughn's.