World Enough & Time
Disclaimer: The show doesn't belong to me, this fiction is not for profit, and is meant for entertainment only.
Rating: PG-13, for some strong language.
Summary: Future fic. Sydney and Jonah have left the spy life behind, but not the baggage.
Spoilers: Through "Remnants" (s3e10).
Thanks: to Sarklover89 for beta-reading!
He likes the summer because he works more. Work is that sun-drenched, dry mouth, stained skin, ache of exhaustion seeping into bones, kind of good. He likes it; it takes away the fever from his desire to write.
Summer evenings in Wisconsin are cold though, and then the construction sites grow silent and he and Breanne sit on her porch.
She�s a receptionist for the only real estate agency in town. Mainly she dresses up in white low-cut blouses and smuggles in magazines to read under the desk, and she smiles right through people as if they were transparent. He knows how much she hates it there because she comes home tight-lipped and dead-eyed and relieved.
They don�t talk much, either of them. He�s always tired, too little sleep at night, too much sun during the day. It�s being outdoors really that exhausts. Not his cup of tea, Will Tippin the born reporter and recruited spy, Will Tippin now dead or as close to dead as you get. He�s Jonah now, and he doesn�t mind it.
Breanne�s reasons are somewhat opaque to him. She seems to run out of smile by the end of the day. When she speaks it�s only what�s necessary, she hates frills and she hates most people, but for some reason she gravitates to Jonah Carver. She likes to hear him talk about his day - to narrate the unexciting little moments that make up the days on the job.
One evening, one of these summer evenings, she makes them both margaritas. They sit on the porch as the sun sets, drinking separately. He�s on a wicker chair, Breanne on a hanging bench that swings gently with the subtle motion of her breaths. He notices that she has sharp cheekbones and narrow dark eyes, and he realizes who she reminds him of. And the taste of tequila brings him back twenty years, back to a messy kitchen and a spilt sundae and Sydney Bristow.
His life, or what is left of it, is lived in secret while everything else comes to seem an appendix. The evidence is stacked in hidden file cabinets behind the wall of his closet, because there is only one thing he knows anymore and that�s how to be careful.
He writes. Not for money, not the articles he used to churn feverishly out at two in the morning two days after his real deadline and hours after June told him she�d fire him if it wasn�t in by morning, not because he wants to or because he really thinks that doing this will help him hold on to Will. He just can�t help it, can�t help but wake up at three in the morning and turn on the light and take out a piece of paper and write in longhand until his very soul is exhausted.
There are entire novels stashed in that closet.
He�d never been much into the creative shit of course, never found it worth his while to get into the soft stuff. He�d prefer to go after Breanne�s employers, for example, and expose the way that they make sure the female agents never make partner. Or to go after the local gun shop for selling revolvers to kids.
But, of course, he can�t do that. He searches instead for some other part of himself, the capacity to create rather than recount, inspiration rather than indignation. At least there will always be pen, and paper. The rest is less important.
She drains her margarita and curls up in the swing, knees to chest, hard green eyes watching him as he stares at the way the blades of grass cast pink shadows on each other in the dusk.
�My daughter called today,� she says.
He falls back to earth, into Jonah. �What?�
Breanne nods. �It�s been a year since I heard from her.�
The daughter, Michelle, is twenty years old, and had lived with her father before she went to college. Her conception had been during a short-lived marriage, and Breanne had cut ties with both her husband and daughter.
�Wow. What did she want?� he says.
�She said she wanted to say hi, maybe to meet up, to talk sometime.� Breanne pushes her hair back from her face, looking slightly lost all of a sudden, and very unlike herself. Then she returns to her usual crispness. �She�s probably had a fight with her father and needs emotional leverage on him. It�s the only reason I can think of.�
Jonah says, �Maybe she misses you.�
�She never knew me.�
�Maybe she wants to?� he fumbles, bewildered in the face of her cynicism.
�Did you say yes?�
Breanne looks up at him. �We�re meeting next week. What else could I say?�
He knows more than he wants to about the power of the past. He has been a spy in a previous life, a reporter in the life before that. His dreams are stained by it, taken over by it, as if his subconscious has never quite moved past the day he discovered Francie was Allison.
He wakes so many nights spitting and coughing, his mouth on fire with agony, tasting blood despite the fact that there is none. He wakes fearing for his life, screaming sometimes for Sydney, other times just screaming.
(Sometimes, though, he dreams about Sydney herself and it�s better. Not the fevered dreams of their days of ambiguity, dreams that tasted like tequila and made him shy to face her the next morning. No � she just appears, flickers, reminds. He wakes cold and not particularly unhappy. It�s not that he misses her, it�s just that she�s always there. Somewhere.)
At some point that night, after he has moved over to sit next to Breanne on the swing, to rock them back and forth in quiet waves, they go up together to Breanne�s bedroom. A routine they�ve held onto for months or years. He stays for an hour or two, but he doesn�t fall asleep while he holds her. He�s too afraid to let her see him sleep.
At midnight he gets up, leaves her sleeping � or perhaps pretending to sleep; Breanne is as good as he is at the underhanded self-protection, and if she ever did wake she wouldn�t let him know � and goes back home.
Three days later and she hasn�t called, which is unusual. So Jonah calls her, which he never does, in the middle of the chaos that comes as he tries to plan Bob Morris�s bachelor party.
�Hey,� he says. �You know we�re supposed to go to Bob and Leeann�s wedding in Connecticut next weekend right? I need to book the flight.�
She pauses. The line crackles with tension, and he�s not sure why. �Not mine,� she says.
�What?� God. They�ve been planning on this for months. �Isn�t there some rule saying the best man kind of shouldn�t go alone?�
�I needed you that last night you were here,� she says, her voice hasty and stumbling over each word to get to the next; she isn�t used to saying things like this. �You just left me. You always do that.�
He has no answer. �I�m sorry.�
�Fuck that, I don�t care about whether you�re sorry. It�s about both of us being cowards. I don�t want to do that anymore. Here it is, okay? Jonah Carver, I care about you. I don�t want to keep waking up alone.�
�It�s not what you think,� he says lamely. He�s not just some pathetic all-brawn, no-brain construction dude with commitment issues and a beer gut. (But he is.)
�What is it?� she says. �You an ex-con? You married already? Have a kid stashed away somewhere? What? I�d love to hear the story sometime. You�re so good at stories, Jonah. I know all about every guy you work with, how he acts and how he talks and everything you think about him. And I still have no idea what you�re thinking when you�re so deep in a reverie that you jump when I talk.�
Jonah understands that one stage is coming to an end between them. A change is approaching. He�s in danger of spending his evenings alone with himself from now on.
�Can�t we still go to the wedding?� he asks finally.
�Yes. But not together.� She�s friends with Leeann, the bride; he�s friends with Bob. So they�ll both be there, separate, probably not even talk to each other. But he�ll watch her; she�ll capture his gaze, perhaps more than she did when things were easy between them.
�Bree,� he tries.
�I�ll see you there,� he says, giving up.
�Okay. Take care.�
It�s the last sentence, spoken not unkindly and maybe with a hint of sorrow in her voice, that makes Jonah feel terrible. He�s thought of her as indestructible, but now he realizes belatedly that she isn�t.
He�s always been pretty sure, because she�s so unlike Sydney, because she lacks her beauty and vulnerability and grace, that he was in this for Breanne herself.
Still, when he hangs up he finds himself aching for the old life. For Sydney.
Jonah goes to Millwood the next week. Despite living in a town of three thousand, he and Breanne haven�t seen each other.
He misses her. He�s lonely, hanging out at his place every night. The feeling is so familiar that he realizes he never actually left it behind; it�s just that he�d found a way to distract himself for awhile.
Leeann is ten years younger than Bob, one of those women who look twenty-something until well into their thirties, and she�s beautiful. Her eyes actually fill with tears during the ceremony, and even gruff Bob Morris is smiling. He is Jonah�s best friend: they love each other in that unspoken male way, born of sweaty days working side by side in the sun, and beer-soaked Monday nights watching football.
Jonah�s mind drifts away during the vows. He sees Breanne sitting by herself in the pews of the church. She is wearing a pastel-colored suit, a light green that makes her graying auburn hair seem redder. Her eyes, he realize, have been trained on him the whole time.
At the reception hundreds of people mill around on the lawn in front of the Millwood Episcopalian church. She comes up to him, and they pour their drinks side-by-side. Punch for him. Water for her.
�How did it go with Michelle?� he asks.
�I was right,� she says. �Her father doesn�t want her to major in Women�s Studies. He�s threatening to cut off her funding till she picks a real major.�
�I know. I married that guy.� She shakes her head.
�So what�d you do?�
�I�m paying her college tuition.� Breanne crooks a smile at him. �Letting her grow up with that guy for a father� I guess it�s the least I could do.� She pauses. �I wouldn�t have made a good mother. But at least this way � you know. I�ve done something for her.�
Jonah wants to hug her, comfort her, but he doesn�t. �Can we talk when we get home?�
As if he�s just reminded her she�s mad at him, she returns to a businesslike voice, an impassive face. �Maybe,� she says. �I�m not convinced you have anything to say that�s worth hearing.�
�Fair enough. I know your time is very valuable,� he quips.
�I don�t find you amusing,� she tells him.
He grins. �Yeah, yeah.�
She takes her water and leaves, high heels unsteady on the soft lawn. He�s pretty sure she�s made up her mind about him already.
Because he couldn�t get a coach-class flight back to Wisconsin till tomorrow night, he�s booked a hotel for the night in Millwood. When the festivities draw to a close, he simply falls into the strange bed, exhausted.
He�s drunk and he knows it, but the possibility occurs to him to stay in Millwood. He�s tired of hiding away in Wisconsin, so tired. And this is a pretty town, from what he�s seen. New start, new life, new people to lie to. Jonah falls in love with his idea, and begins spinning wish-stories for himself, a bright-shiny future in a little Connecticut town.
He sleeps, dreams, wakes, and sleeps again. Millwood is no different, no different at all.
Sober morning, and he wanders amusedly through the tiny, quaint little town, full of places that spell shop with an extra pe at the end. Millwood is so enamored of its own small-town-ness. He likes the anonymity of his meander through town, and feels somewhat exotic, a stranger to everyone. Back in Wisconsin, he can�t walk through town without bumping into a dozen friends.
He finds a little caf� tucked away about a block off of Main Street, and he eats breakfast there. Coffee and a bagel, as always. The bagel is good, probably because Millwood isn�t so far from New York.
The caffeine still hasn�t kicked in yet when he emerges, so he watches the woman across the street stride by for a full second, his eye caught by her purposeful movements, before he realizes it�s Sydney.
Because he is who he has been, he follows her after she�s gotten a little way ahead of him. He isn�t sure what to do, how to approach her, whether to approach her, he isn�t sure if he can even think when he feels like he�s going to collapse. It�s been sixteen years since that night in Warsaw and he hasn�t laid eyes on her since, and he feels all of a sudden like he�s been suffocating for sixteen years and is finally allowed to breathe freely.
She drops a plain white envelope in a mailbox on the way. (A real letter, or a dead drop? He can�t be sure, although he has an inkling that if her hair is in a plain bun and colored a plain gray-brown, she might just be living a normal life. Of course, it�s Sydney so there�s really no guessing.) He loves the way she does this, her aim so perfect and her hand so dexterous that she doesn�t have to miss a beat in that impossibly fast stride.
She uses her left hand to toss the envelope. In the bright morning sunlight, he can see that she is not wearing a ring.
He follows her three blocks, and begins to feel somewhat� well� foolish. Still, he creeps along behind her, telling himself to act natural.
Sydney makes a left turn, down a narrow road lined with rickety stores. Then a right. By now he�s lost his sense of orientation, and his only direction is towards Sydney.
Jonah remembers a conversation he had once with Francie, that summer after they thought Michael Vaughn died. Francie didn�t know what was really going on; how could she? Sydney certainly didn�t come out and tell her that the man she had already fallen half in love with had last been seen submerged an all-consuming flood.
But Francie, being Francie, knew as well as Will did that something was wrong. When Sydney left one morning in the middle of a conversation, he and Francie had just looked at each other, gaping-mouthed. Finally Francie said, �I�m worried about her.� He had gotten up and been about to go look for her, to comfort her; he knew she needed someone. Francie said, �You�d follow her anywhere, wouldn�t you?�
�Pretty much, yeah,� he�d answered.
Jonah makes another right turn, and he�s two blocks behind Sydney now, because they�re the only people in sight this early in the morning. He smiles to himself, remembering. Francie�
Finally Sydney, without warning, spins on her heel to make a right angle and goes inside one of the stores. When Jonah catches up to her, he�s somewhat startled by the innocuousness of the name: Diane�s Books. He�d rather been expecting that she was on a mission.
He hesitates a long time before pushing open the door. Eventually he realizes that there�s no point in debating with himself; that he�ll never manage to leave without trying to talk to her, so he might as well go in.
It�s a bookstore. Just a bookstore. He keeps looking around, expecting something more� exciting. Because it�s Connecticut, and it�s Sydney and for some reason she�d stayed frozen in time in his imagination, stuck in a double life in California where nothing was just anything.
He can see her in the fiction aisle, A-D. He goes into the next row. E-J.
Step, step, step. He hears his footsteps, painfully heavy on the wooden floor. Distracted, he trips over a reading stool that was placed next to the shelves, and the clatter shakes the entire place.
�Shit,� he murmurs quietly. His toe hurts.
Jonah straightens and looks through the bookshelf to the other side, and encounters a pair of wide brown eyes. She�s standing right there, horrified � she must�ve heard his voice. After all these years, she recognized him.
He can�t hear anything but her shaky, heavy breaths. She closes her eyes for a long time, and then she opens them and he�s still there, of course. �Will?� she says finally, her voice barely audible.
He smiles. �Yeah.�
They go up to the second floor, which is full of old and used books that smell like they�ve been decaying up here forever. Sydney goes first, and Will follows a minute later, still seized by fear despite the fact that they�re the only two in the bookstore, except for the guy at the cash register.
At the top of the stairs he looks around and sees Sydney, leaning one shoulder against the wall that stretches to the right from the landing.
�Hey,� she says quietly.
He�s disconcerted by her calmness. She�s gotten old, he thinks, eschewing the forgiving �-er� suffix. Just old. And with that, she�s also become much more like her mother, much better at hiding, even from him, when she wants to cry.
�Hey,� he answers.
Her mouth works for a second, and she obviously has no idea what to say. All the sounds of the town, all the quiet sounds inside the bookstore, seem to be sucked away by the dust-choked air up here.
Will slowly moves towards the back corner, away from the landing. Sydney follows. �Take out a book,� he says.
She doesn�t question his fear, even though they know they�re alone. She plucks an old leather-bound copy of a Charles Dickens book off of the shelf. He�s got a Hemingway.
They open the books on their laps, sitting on the floor across from each other, their legs stretched out in front of them.
�Sydney,� he says, in the shimmering silence.
She looks up.
�I missed you,� he says.
In the face of a stranger, a stranger with a crooked nose and graying hair and deep-set, cryptical eyes, her smile reminds him that she is the same woman he�s always loved. �I missed you too,� she says. �You have no idea.�
�Try me,� he says, thinking of the way the eighteen Jonah years have passed, eatdrinkworksleepeatdrinkworksleep.
She makes that half-conscious motion with her hand as if she were tucking her hair behind her ear, but her hair is in a bun and her hand brushes air.
�So what the hell are you doing here?� he asks finally.
�I�m a teacher,� she says, lifting her hands helplessly.
�What? Like, no espionage? No deeds of derring-do?�
She smiles slightly. �Nothing at all.�
�God, Syd, that�s� that�s great,� he decides warmly.
�Yeah.� She seems rueful. �All that stuff � it was an addiction. I�m in recovery.�
�It does kind of grow on you,� he agrees, without telling her what she must already know � that he, like her, craves danger the way a junkie craves a fix. That he itches for the feeling of euphoria that he got after killing Allison. He needs an enemy, he needs to fight, instead of cowering like a mouse in a roomful of cats.
�Yeah,� she says softly, understanding him without any of that being spoken.
He wants to ask about Michael Vaughn. Who lives with her in Connecticut?
Instead, �What do you teach?�
�English,� she says. �High-school. So I�m on summer break right now. It�s nice actually. I�m horrifically underpaid � but it�s nice.�
�I can see you as a teacher,� he says. �A really good teacher.�
She smiles slowly. He has to catch his breath, she�s so beautiful.
�So,� she says after a long silence. Their voices are still muted by caution. �How have you been?�
�Good,� he says. ��I�ve been writing.�
Sydney looks a little startled.
�Not for a newspaper or anything,� he explains. �I just � I write. Talk about addictions � it�s the worst one you can get. Writing, I mean.�
A long pause. She�s wary of something, he doesn�t know what; maybe him. �What do you write?�
�I wrote a novel,� he says. It�s the first time he�s spoken that sentence and, despite all the ludicrousness of it, he feels a glow of pride suffuse the words.
�Really? Wow. How � I mean � what�s it like?�
�Coming-of-age novel.� He brushes this off. �That is, it�s like every other first novel ever written, I�m sure. Really crappy and somewhat autobiographical.�
�I wish I could read it.�
�When it�s published.�
�I know, I know. I�m not stupid. That was my way of saying no.� He tries to smile. �I know I can�t publish anything.�
She flinches at that last sentence, like he�s slapped her. Suddenly he realizes she�s about to cry, and that nothing can make the two of them strangers, and the sight of Sydney sad is still the hardest thing for him to take. But he doesn�t want to go back to being the old Will, sick-in-love Will, easy-forgiving Will.
�I ruined your life,� she says, her voice thick. �Didn�t I.�
He doesn�t answer.
�Will,� and she�s really crying now, �I�ve never said I�m sorry, but you have to know I am. I never, ever wanted you involved in this. I tried to stop it.�
His chest physically hurts when he makes himself stay still instead of going over to comfort her. �Dammit, Syd, this is not the time or the place,� he hisses.
She presses her hand against her mouth and takes one of those hiccupy breaths she always takes when she can�t stop her tears. �I know.� Another breath. �I know that. God, I�m sorry.�
He bites his lip, hard. She stands up, slamming her hand against the bookshelf so that every book jumps, scattering clouds and clouds of dust like snow upon both of them. Coughing a little as if to mask a sob, she rounds the corner and leans back against the end of the bookshelf.
Will rides it out for three seconds before realizing he can�t stand his own self-defense. He stands up himself and makes his way over to face her, and she smiles through tears. He nods in acknowledgment, touching her cheek, smoothing back dampened strands of hair from her face.
�Hey,� he says. �You know I love you, right?�
Her face crumples. �I can�t believe you�re here,� she says, her lip trembling.
He murmurs something in reply, something completely incoherent, and then finally she leans her forehead against his chest and he holds her so tightly that neither of them can breathe.
They sit together now, her body comfortably curving against his chest, her legs stretched out between his, his arms around her waist. The position is familiar � he remembers it from the last morning, in Warsaw.
The precious minutes tick away, and Will never forgets that he only has a finite amount of time before he has to make his plane.
They make conversation. She tells him the long and complicated and almost fantastic story of how her mother ended up right back where she started, in an American jail � and she says something about Jack Bristow, about how he�ll never remarry and how Irina has wrecked him. He tells her about the wedding, about how two years ago he played matchmaker between his friend at work and the girl who worked at the supermarket, and now they�re on their honeymoon.
She tells him she left the CIA the moment Arvin Sloane died. She doesn�t say exactly, but Will hears it anyway: the death was at Sydney�s own hands.
He tells her about the fire he had in his house ten years ago, and how he got stuck outside in only his boxer shorts on a winter night, as the neighbors crowded around so distracted by the sight of the firefighters that they couldn�t hear him yelling for a sweatshirt. She laughs, and he feels the vibrations through his ribs.
Finally Will asks what must be asked. �Where�s Michael Vaughn in all this?� he says. Don�t think I haven�t noticed how carefully you avoided even hinting at his existence.
Sydney disentangles herself from him, and sits up on her knees and faces him, examining him. He lifts his shoulders. �Well?�
She stands up, blinking reflectively. He follows her lead and stands up as well.
�Divorced,� she says.
�From you?� he says, slightly horrified.
�No,� she smiles a little. �No, from the woman I told you about. His new wife. Lauren.�
�Oh.� He feels more than a little stupid.
�I think I had something to do with it,� she says. �Of course, I did. It was all such a mess.�
�Where is he now?�
Sydney shakes her head. �I don�t keep in touch with him,� she says. �I know what you�re thinking � God, that was the greatest miracle of my life, the only miracle, really. I thought it would be forever. But Lauren disproved that.�
She sighs, but not sadly, just� tiredly. �We tried afterwards, but it wasn�t the same. We didn�t believe in each other anymore.�
He believes her, almost. He doesn�t want to, because experience says that what he wants to believe is never the truth; but where Sydney is concerned, he�s always pretty much been helpless.
Her eyes search his. �You know,� she says. �I left the CIA so that there wouldn�t be any lies � so that I wouldn�t have to fabricate an entire false life for the benefit of my friends. But � no one knows me here either. No one knows who I used to be.�
�I know,� she says. �You�ve always known me � even when I was lying to you, it didn�t really matter.�
They�re suddenly much closer to each other. He thinks, maybe, too close. He thinks, maybe, if they weren�t in a public place, they�d be tearing each other�s clothes off right now.
Her voice is low. �How long till you have to go?�
He checks his watch.
There is nothing clouding her expression this time, not tequila and not vodka and not the ghost of Michael Vaughn.
Experience still tells him not to believe that anything this beautiful is possible. But her kiss tells him all that he needs to know about belief.
He is wrecked, by everything that�s happened and everything he�s lost. Tomorrow he�ll talk to Breanne, and she�ll leave him. Later there will be others, other women who like him are lonely and need a body to warm the other side of the bed. He�ll try to feel safe, try to make it work.
But he�ll remember Francie and he�ll know better than to hope for safety.
Despite this, despite all of this, despite the fear and the danger and the fact that none of them will be or can ever be Sydney, he�ll live and that�s all he could ask.
If he only sees her once every sixteen years, he thinks as she opens her mouth under his, it will be enough.