Sakura
by Rach

Send feedback to: aliasrlm

Distribution: CD, of course. All others, please ask.

Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me. Alias is owned by ABC, Touchtone, is the creation of JJ Abrams and Bad Robot Productions

Summary: The end is nothing like she imagined. Sydney, ten years later.

Rating: PG-13 (for language)

Classification: Action/UST/General

*************
Sakura
*************

So it's come to this.

A gun. One bullet left (she's counted). A twisted half-smile on his face. Her finger itching to pull the trigger. His cocky expression, pursed lips, tilted head.

"You think this is it?" he says. It's a taunt, she knows this immediately.

"No, I don't think this is it," she pauses, her thumb clicking back the revolver's hammer. "I know this is it."

He laughs. The prick actually laughs.

"Awfully confident for a woman who, with a pull of that trigger, will sign her death warrant," he says, clasping his hands casually in front of him. He pulls at his right shirtsleeve, adjusting the cuff link. She feels beads of sweat form on her palm, making the gun's handle slick.

"No, I'm thinking you're the one with a gun pointed at your fucking head."

"You are aware that killing me won't end this," he says, swallowing hard. A clue that his apparent nonchalance was a ploy, a goddamned act. The sonofabitch was actually scared shitless.

"Sure it will," she says through clenched teeth, aiming the gun with more precision, her head cocked to one side, one eye squinted.

"You know, Sydney-"

"I don't know."

"I think we can work this out," he manages, raising his hands. Gold flashes on his ring finger and she feels anger shoot through her veins.

"Hmmm." she keeps squinting, keeps her eye on her target. "I don't think so."

The last thing she remembers is the look of sheer surprise that claims his face in the split second after she pulls the trigger.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

Mechanical and stiff, the words automatically pour into her brain.

But as she carefully sidesteps the crumpled, motionless body on the concrete floor and its accompanying circle of blood, her first rational thought is: Of course it was.

It wasn't supposed to end like this, but it did.

There were supposed to be arrests, trials, convictions. There were supposed to be depositions and accusations and betrayals. She wasn't supposed to pull a trigger. She wasn't supposed to kill. But then again, Vaughn wasn't supposed to die. Will wasn't supposed to have been shipped off to Alberta under a different name. Francie wasn't supposed to get fed up with having a friend that was always gone. Nothing happens the way you imagine it.

This is just another example.

She tugs at her dry cuticles until they rip and bleed, bites her nails until there's nothing left to latch her teeth onto, just jagged edges that scrape bitterly at her palms and snag her lightweight sweater. Rocking back and forth on a wood bench at the far end of the train platform, her arms are wrapped tight around her knees. She squeezes, then releases. Squeezes. Glances at the overhead signs in kanji, but doesn't try to test her Japanese knowledge. She knows where she's going and that's all that matters for now.

The wind picks up and she unties the fleece jacket from around her waist and pulls it on. It will rain, she realizes, seeing the sky darken to an ashy gray. The weather this time of year was predictable, consisting of cold, clammy days and misty skies. Rain. Sometimes a hint of sunshine. She packed accordingly and efficiently: in her backpack is a raincoat (black), two t-shirts (white and gray), a sweatshirt (standard Gap issue), three pairs of socks (white and thick, meant for running), three pairs of underwear (white cotton), a small toiletry bag (clear plastic and zippered) and a gun (black chipped paint, bought in Osaka two hours earlier). She didn't pack sunglasses or birth control pills.

An elderly woman sits down with a loud sigh on the next bench over. A Jackie O - style pink pillbox hat just barely covers a tuft of silver hair. She clutches a black umbrella in a white-gloved hand and starts playing the end against the concrete in an odd rhythm, a combination of taps and scrapes that assail Sydney's ears like nails on a blackboard.

The woman pauses, then resumes again.

Tap tap tap. Scrape tap scrape scrape. Scrape tap tap. Scrape tap. Tap. Scrape tap scrape scrape.

The woman repeats the strange rhythm until her dark eyes meet Sydney's. Old, wise, worn eyes that carry scars of hurt and betrayal. Lips wrinkled from pursing, as opposed to smiling. After a moment of eye contact and understanding, she bows her head just enough for Sydney to notice.

The train arrives with a howl and Sydney stands, throwing her backpack over her shoulder. She boards carefully and selects a seat in the very end of the car. The woman follows, sits across from her, continues to stare for five minutes.

Sydney stares back.

"You ...on vacation?"

The woman's voice is quiet but forceful.

Sydney nods.

"Going to Kobe?"

Another curt nod.

"You should go to Nara see big Buddha," the woman comments, her eyes finally darting to the window to take in the passing scenery.

A change of plans. Sydney tilts her head, her hand working slowly into her backpack until it hits the familiar feel of cool metal. "Naraare you sure?"

Eyes snap back, full of black fire. "Sure, yes!" The woman takes in a deep breath, apparently steadying herself. "Nara nicer than Kobe."

"I was supposed to go to Kobe," Sydney pushes on, her fingertips itchy, feeling over a long scratch on the gun's handle.

The gloved hand grips the umbrella's handle and the woman leans forward, eyebrows gathered violently in the center of her weathered forehead. "Nara has big Buddha. Nara has interesting people. You should go to Nara." A pause. Then, with the slightest hint of reluctance, "Kobe has nothing now."

Sydney sighs, her hand emerging from the backpack, empty.

"Arigato. Nara it is, then."

The rest of the ride to Kyoto is deathly silent, both women staring out opposite windows. Years ago, this scenery impressed Sydney Bristow. But not now. Constant, rolling hills just pass by in a blur of greens, blues, yellows and browns. She has a job to finish, loose ends to secure. She could be in Lebanon or New Zealand or cruising down the Nile for all she cared - the job has to end today. It just has to.

And there is a keen sense of desperation in her thoughts. The words "must" "have" "need" and "now" are all constants in everyday thinking, combining in a sharp, intense pull toward her final destination - Nara.

All she can think is of the possibility that by this evening, she could be free. She could be free of hair dye, press-on nails and living out of a backpack. She could be free from fear, from tattered running shoes, from worry. She could be-she winces, a hand gently resting on her stomach. Damn ulcer. When her doctor diagnosed it three months ago, she was surprised. Not that she had an ulcer, no, but that it hadn't happened earlier in her career.

And, yes, she is stressed. Worried. Tearing the hell out of her hands, wondering if she were a fool in having trusted him so implicitly. Hoping he'd be waiting for her in Nara. Praying that he didn't betray her, that he followed through on this one promise.

Their last face-to-face meeting had been three months earlier in Fairbanks, both of their bodies swallowed by hooded down jackets, both hunched over to ward off the bitter winter wind in the black of night. They were both weary, growing closer to exhaustion from this final task. The CIA had no idea she was in contact with him. Hell, if they had known he was even alive (he had been considered dead for quite some time), they would've hauled her off to be interrogated again, branding her a traitor. But it was a risk she was more than willing to take at this point.

"God," her teeth chattered as she managed to get a glimpse of him through the small opening in her oversized hood, pulled tight against her face. "Tell me again why we picked Alaska?"

"Because you and I, Ms. Bristow, are all about extremes," he hesitated before letting out a frozen chuckle, his gloved hands moving to warm his reddened face. "Either that or we're both hopelessly insane."

They quickly discussed their plans for the next few months, hammering out details cautiously and professionally. She managed to keep all hope out of her voice, but she knew if this strategy failed, she'd be ruined. And she knew that he was aware of that fact as well.

"And this is where I bid you adieu," he said, starting to turn.

"Wait." She didn't even recognize the sound of her own voice. It was strained, desperate, and yes, even a little hopeful. She found it a point of weakness that her breath formed clouds in the frigid air - a reminder, for all to see, that she was still human.

He stopped, the puffy coat making his arms stick out at his sides like an overstuffed toy bear.

A giggle escaped through her chapped lips. "Jesus, you look funny in that coat," she managed. "Why don't you let me buy you a drink? A hot chocolate or coffee or something?"

It wasn't a smart move, she knew that. Risking any further contact with him (shit, that made him sound like a virus) could destroy everything. She would've liked to plead ignorance, put it down to her innate naivety. She would've liked to blame the biting cold for numbing her common sense, but she knew why she asked him. It was a simple truth she tried to dodge time and time again - she was lonely. Lonely and cold and desperate and, yes, a bit hopeful.

His eyebrows rose. "Ms. Bristow, I happen to think I look quite dashing in this coat, thank you very much." He attempted a bow, but ended up looking like one of the animatronic inhabitants of Disneyland's "It's a Small World."

She bit her lip to stifle another giggle. "Is that a yes, then?"

He looked toward the empty road, his expression unreadable, then toward the dim light emanating from one of the few bars still open. "Yes."

They didn't say much on the half-mile walk to the bar - the howling wind made it difficult enough to walk without adding the burden of conversation. And what to say? "Hey, so you've been in hiding the past few years. How's that working out for you?"

No, conversation between them was always completely superficial. The obligatory weather-related comments ("Damn, it's hot," in Cairo, "I don't think this rain will ever stop," in Liverpool, "Since when does it snow in May?" in Owen Sound, Ontario). Then there were the half-jokes that neither one of them had the energy to laugh at. Instead, they always plowed ahead to the fast rush of information, sources, plans, details - it's what they knew best, it's why they met in person, it's what mattered the most. So what did that leave her with as conversation fodder? Her personal life was nonexistent and she wasn't even sure she wanted to know any details about his. He wouldn't be able to talk about where he was currently "living" (hiding would be a more appropriate term, she decided)it didn't leave much.

He pushed open the door to the bar (it apparently had no name - the sign in the front window only flickered "BAR" in red neon) with a hard shove, treading through a large snow drift on his way in.

She followed behind, her heavy boots crunching a three-inch layer of peanut shells that buried the wood floor.

There was no one there, not even a bartender. Just a long wood plank, empty save three black plastic ashtrays. Five wooden stools were placed at equal intervals under the bar. And two round tables, covered in red and white checkered plastic, took up the remaining space.

He shot her a bemused glance over his shoulder, his nose reddened from the cold. "What the.?"

"Maybe it's self-serve," she half-joked, pulling the knot loose on her tied hood.

"Or maybe we just stepped into The Twilight Zone," he shot her a crooked smile.

"No, I think I did that ten years ago."

It was supposed to be a joke, but they both knew it had more than a hint of truth in it.

"Same here," he said somberly.

Their conversation started like any other. First, there were the little tidbits of information. Then extrapolation. Childhood memories of knees scraped on unrelenting gravel and feet lodged in the crook of a bendy tree. Mothers who left too early. Fathers whose attention was sadly misplaced. No siblings. And the lies, well, the lies were a steady stream for both of them. She found it hard to deal - he had learned long ago to not let it bother him.

They laughed when the bartender arrived to see she had helped herself to a mug of beer and he to a glass of (awful) Cabernet. She blinked back tears when he mentioned Danny. He wore a contented smile when he spoke about loving a good glass of wine. They both hid grins when the bartender commented on the tastiness of this bar's "choice wines."

The conversation wasn't forced, even though their relationship surely was. It was born out of necessity, something neither of them would've anticipated ten years ago. But for some strange reason, they fit well together. Two oddities at a deserted Alaskan bar with cheap, shitty red wine and windburned cheeks. They parted quietly after paying the tab and observing the Northern Lights paint the sky in sweeping swirls that reminded Sydney of Van Gogh.

As she prepares to disembark in Kyoto, the older Japanese woman pushes up to her at the door, her umbrella clattering to the floor.

"I'll get it," Sydney offers, bending quickly.

The woman is deceptively faster and their faces are mere centimeters apart as they both reach for the umbrella. "Hurry, Sydney. Time is running short," she whispers through sealed lips, all trace of her strong accent gone. "You'll find the Great Buddha in the Todaiji Temple."

The woman's skilled hands grasp the umbrella and she rushes out the open doors of the car. She's out of sight within seconds.

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

She has a quick lunch of steaming ramen at the train station after seeing an amusing sign in a window display that reads, "Display portion is harf size." Then she buys a can of cold green tea and a box of strawberry Pocky from a vending machine as she waits for the Nara line.

She eats the Pocky, stick by stick, on the way to Nara, numbly chewing and swallowing. Through an unexpected haze of jet lag and nostalgia, she wonders why it tastes different than it did the last time she was in the country.

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

It's cold and wet in Nara, but it doesn't keep the city's infamous wild deer from appearing, looking for handouts from tourists. They attempt to follow her, but she shoots them a sharp "not now" look. Strangely enough, they understand and let her on her way up the hill to Todaiji Temple.

Although she might look it, with traveling backpack and (albeit forced) smiles, she's not a tourist today.

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

She didn't come to Nara to offer peace.

So she doesn't feel guilty for not attempting to admire the immense Buddha statue before her. She pretends that she's in awe, yes, but she's actually staking out the historic building, her eyes not on architectural details, but rather on exits and faces and possible hiding places.

Searching for him.

For thirty minutes, she walks around the temple and its environs, searching.

And, then, a surprise whisper from behind.

"This temple, you might be interested to know, was built on the order of Emperor Shomu in-"

"743," she cuts him off, turning on her heel to face him. "I know, I've been waiting here a half-hour."

"Hello to you, too, Sydney," he says with a slight bow of his head. "Shall I carry your bag?"

"I think I'll manage," she replies through clenched teeth. "Let's get this over with, OK?"

He attempts to take her arm, but she pushes him away. He sighs, holding up his hands in defeat. He's dressed casually in pressed khakis and a white button down shirt. "Despite what you may think, I'm just as anxious to have this matter resolved. Let's go."

She follows him on the path toward town, away from the temple, and asks, "Where are you taking me?"

She catches a glint of sadness in his gray-blue eye as he responds over his shoulder, "The only place that's safe - my home."

His flat is small, claustrophobic, but undoubtedly neat and, well, quite Zen.

She brings her backpack with her when she uses the WC. Their past, checkered, odd, reminds her that he is not to be trusted. Not yet.

"Can I get you something to drink?" he calls as she makes the short walk back to the living area/bedroom/dining room. "Tea? Juice? Wine?"

She can't help but chuckle, a foreign sound caught in her throat, at the mention of wine. He hasn't changed much, despite the light brown dye job.

"Tea is fine, thanks."

He moves about in the closet-sized kitchen expertly, every action smooth and deliberate. "I apologize about the condition of my accommodations. It's the price you pay for being on the run, I'm afraid." He stops and angles his head through the doorway. "I suppose you know that, too."

Their eyes connect and a mutual understanding occurs. She nods solemnly. "Yes, I do."

Silence. His sorrowful expression says more than any words could.

"Hopefully, if all has gone to plan, this on-the-run business will soon be finished," he adds, back at work in the kitchen.

She clears her throat, wanting to get to the point, down to business. "Hopefully."

She sits cross-legged on the tatami-covered floor. A black vase, holding a lone orchid, sits in the center of the room's low black table. Its beauty, initially stunning and overwhelming, is quickly overshadowed by its solitude. She briefly wonders what wilts faster, a single flower leaning on the edge of a bud vase or a dozen roses, battling for space and water in a larger container.

He appears again, drying his hands on a white dish towel. His fingers are long, slender and, as she remembers with the slightest wince, quite adept at slaughter.

"It'll be ready in a few minutes," he says, leaning against the doorframe. He studies her for a moment, his intelligent eyes burning over her seated frame.

"You look good," he comments with a certain decisiveness. "I like the shorter hair."

Her fingers brush the underside of her modern bob, having temporarily forgotten her latest hairstyle. "Thanks. It's actually not a wig for once."

"I can tell."

He sits on his futon, stretching his long legs out until one brushes against her knee. She shifts uncomfortably and her mind races for something to say.

"Why did you tell me to go to Kobe?" she starts, raising her eyes to meet his.

"Just a precaution I had to take," he replies softly, shrugging. "Trust isn't exactly my strong suit." The smirk returns to his face. "I'm sure you understand."

She dips her head slightly, the sides of her bob brushing her chin.

"Nice touch with the Morse code at the train station," she adds, feeling a smile creep onto her face. "I thought the poor woman was either having a seizure or was completely insane."

Shrugging again, he returns the smile, gracious, not too wide. He doesn't smile often enough. Then again, either does she. It comes with the territory.

"If you had a shorter name, it would've been much easier for her." He folds the damp dish towel in half and places it on his outstretched leg. "She's one of yours, you know."

"CIA? Or SD-6?"

"CIA, of course." He pauses, raising an eyebrow. "Perhaps you haven't heard? You've been traveling so much recently - rumor has it that SD-6 has finally been eradicated. Arvin Sloane, murdered at point-blank range. A shot to the head." The last sentence is drawn out, slow, meant to provoke a reaction.

"Oh, really?" she manages, steadily holding his eye. He knowsit was part of their plan, after all.

"ReallyI assume I won't be hosting you as a guest longer than a few hours?"

"No need to worry. I've come here only in hopes that you can provide me the status -"

"Indeed," he cuts her off brusquely. Leafing through the pages of a musty Voltaire book, his fingers find an envelope. "This, I'm convinced, will quell all of your questions and concerns."

She hungrily grabs it and tears the top off, the ripped paper floating to the tatami mat.

Inside is a single photo.

Another body, dead, on a cement floor. Another pool of blood. A gray folding chair in the corner. A stack of manila files in another. The scuffed soles of expensive designer pumps. It was precise, clean, professionally done. The face of the deceased, though, brings tears to her eyes and a deafening thump to her chest. Her hand flies to her mouth and she takes a finger between her teeth, biting. "Oh, God," her voice is raspy and emotional. "Oh God."

She can't look away, can't believe, can't decipher, can't breathe..

He moves to her side in what resembles a series of fluid yoga movements. Silently he places an arm around her shoulders.

Her fingers slide on the photo, combating moisture accumulated from her sweaty fingers and the tears now streaming down her cheeks, down her sweater, dripping onto the color print (Why color? Why vivid red? Why not a distanced black-and-white?). She bites her lip, glancing at the man seated beside her.

" it?" she chokes on the words. She can't see through the rippling flood of tears, can't swallow enough air.

A simple yes is his only reply.

"But how? How did you find her?" Her tone is uneven, as ragged as her fingernail stubs. Fighting for a solid breath, to focus, to center herself, Sydney closes her eyes and rests against him.

"It was surprisingly easy," he whispers and she knows he's trying to be sympathetic. She knows his past prevents him from being too much so. "Having suspected the end was near, Khasinau turned. He led me to her. He wanted out, too."

She is drawn to the photo. The deceased's eyes were wide and vacant, the body curled up in the fetal position. Her face, oh god, her face. Blank, holding no emotion, no final smile of peace nor twisted grimace of regret. No, her face was empty. Her god her face had once held so much. Her face at Sydney's first dance recital was full of joy. Her face as she held her daughter's hand on her first day of school projected nothing but confidence. Her face when she tucked Sydney into bed at night, the night before the car accident, contained only the marks of love. And now, her face, crudely captured on (color!) film only moments after her murder, was vacant. Dead.

"Oh all this she must've felt she was my mother."

"Shhhh, Sydney," his lips brush her ear. "You're safe now. It's over, love. Finally, it's over."

"It's over," she repeats in wonder, nestling her face into the crook of his neck. And the irony of it all hits her: The man who she never fully trusted ends up being her last savior. This man at her side, who she had once described as "the devil incarnate," has proven himself to be her last angel, albeit one with a sinful smirk and bad dye job. "Jesus, Sark, it's finally over."

Her hands push at the tears, smearing them down over her cheeks, past her lips, to her trembling chin, overwhelmed by the moment. It's just too much to take in and process without losing perspectiveor her sanity.

Having finally reaching the end of this nightmare, this dark twisting dirt road that had been the last decade of her life, she has no words. It isn't as glorious as she thought it would be, no, it is anticlimactic and sad and painful. There aren't any smiles or handshakes or hugs or cries of joy. There's no one to tell, no one to offer congratulations. She lets out a small whimper upon striking the realization that there's nothing left of her life but the gruesome, tear-streaked color print clutched in her white-knuckled fist.

She's drowning in thoughts of all the lives ruined or forever altered by her actions, by SD-6, by her mother and by the man sitting next to her. Vaughn and Danny and Will and Emily and her father - and that is just the top of the list. Throbbing in her head, stinging in her eyes, shortness of breath - it was as if she felt a thousand things at once and still nothing at all.

She shuts her eyes again, feeling her face scrunch and wrinkle and distort. "Oh God," is all she can say, the words fading in and out of memories of missions failed, lives cut short, violent deaths, lies, passion and the never-ending game that has somehow stopped abruptly, leaving her wobbling on a precipice overlooking everything she's ever known or loved.

Sark is still at her side, silent, rubbing her arms for comfort. The simple action does more for her than any words of consolation or congratulation.

She sits upright, the room spinning and swirling around her, and turns to him.

"What do I do now?" The words are empty, a space-filler.

He runs a hand through his blotchy brown hair and hesitates, biting his lower lip. His eyes dart from the tatami-covered floor to Sydney and back to the floor. Sighing, he leans forward, bracing himself with an extended arm that just barely brushes her back.

There's only a hint of a smile on his face as their eyes lock, hers confused and saddened, his sparkling and, yes, a bit hopeful.

"Stay to see the cherry blossoms."

Despite the painful burning in her stomach, she sleeps soundly for the first time in ten years.

The nightmares have not ended. Instead of dreaming about constant running and hiding, though, she dreams about her mother, who is screaming in pain, her face contorted into a thousand positions all at once. She's screaming for Sydney, for forgiveness, for help. Her bloodied hand reaches for Sydney, fingers trembling, splattering red on Sydney's white nightgown. Sark is there - head bowed, holding a Beretta in a gloved hand and a red rose in the other.

Her stomach burns and she chokes back a sob. And she does the only thing she knows: she runs.

"It's me," she says into her cell phone. "No, nobefore you say anything, let me say this: I'm done. Out. Finished." Her lips wrap around the words lovingly - they are exactly what she's been longing to declare for ten years.

She holds the phone a few inches from her ear and can still hear him.

"Sorry, Weiss," she interrupts, catching Sark's amused look from the corner of her eye. "Just tell Devlin I'm done. Thanks foreverything. And take care of yourself -"

"No, I don't know when I'm coming back to L. I'm ever coming back," she answers in a hushed voice, averting her eyes to focus on a group of uniformed schoolchildren waiting for the next train. "No, just -"

"No, I don't know anything," she says with an aggravated sigh. "And I have to go."

Exhaling, she hangs up. Her eyes meet Sark's and he offers a lopsided smile.

"You might want to turn that phone off for good."

"Right."

And without a second thought, she tosses it in the rubbish bin.

Smiling, they board the Kyoto-bound train.

Days pass. She finds herself developing a trust in Sark as she discovers more about his past (it mirrors hers in so many ways). She finds beauty in the fact that he never apologizes for who he is (or was). She finds herself with a new, smaller cell phone that's all the rage - the kind complete with Marshall-like gadgets and text messaging. She finds the odd taste of sake rather soothing as it burns down her throat. She finds herself squeezing Sark's smooth hand late one night. She finds a tingle is slowly replacing the burning in her stomach.

The cherry blossoms are gorgeous.

She leaves with these words: "I've got some loose ends to tie up."

His lips brush her cheek. "I understand."

What she wants to say: "See you soon," or "Take care of yourself," or "I'll be in touch."

Instead, she throws her backpack over her shoulder and places her gun on the clean kitchen counter. And she doesn't look back as she slides her shoes on and walks away from his flat, because she can picture him, leaning on the doorframe, watching her go.

Samuel Lingrove isn't expecting her - he stopped waiting over nine years ago. He remembers the exact day: it was the tenth of February and it snowed three feet in 24 hours and he read two Tom Clancy novels without getting up from his recliner once. Yes, it was then, as he managed to drift off to sleep, that he knew she was never coming for him. That she probably had forgotten about him. That she thought he was pathetic, a fool, unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

He's drying a non-stick pan he uses to make blueberry pancakes when the doorbell rings.

Unaccustomed to (and wary of) unexpected guests, he walks slowly to the door, the pan gripped tight in his right hand. Knowledge from years of martial arts classes flashes through his brain. Though he hasn't had to use a single move in the past ten years, he's convinced he can still kick ass if need be.

The dog, a Golden Retriever called Maxwell, is sleeping soundly in the living room. "A lot of good you are," Sam says under his breath, leaning toward the peephole cautiously, one hand braced against the double-enforced steel door.

"Holy shit."

The pan falls from his grip, splitting the taupe tile below with a loud crack.

"Jesus Christ."

His hands aren't fast enough at unlocking the three deadbolts.

"Sydney," he breathes, throwing open the door.

She's crying, a shaky hand covering her mouth. Despite her reddened cheeks and massacred fingernails, she's radiant.

"Will."

And with a garbled sob, she collapses into his waiting arms.

She stays with him for a week and helps him pack his things.

There are tense moments, awkward moments, emotional moments. Then there are the moments when she sees the Will she knew ten years ago - despite the wrinkles around the eyes, he's still there. That same sparkle in those ice blue eyes, yes, it's still there. And she still feels his warmth, his unconditional love, even though she's the reason he's been living in this hellhole of a town in northern Alberta. He's amazing and she tells him so.

"No, I've done nothing of importance," he responds, a hand shuffling through his head of (now dark) hair. "Now 've done it all. You've carried it all through. God, you're amazing, Sydney."

But she knows she's not. Amazing people don't kill. Amazing people don't celebrate the deaths of their mothers by viewing the cherry blossoms at the foot of Mount Fuji. Amazing people don't abandon their friends and loved ones in order to save their own asses. Amazing people don't quit their jobs from a train platform in Kyoto. Amazing people don't show up on the doorstep of an old friend and expect instant forgiveness.

She bites her lip and smiles at him instead. It grows until her cheeks burn into a beaming smile that she never knew she had in her. "I've missed you, you know," is all she says.

"Yeah, me too, Syd," and he hugs her tight. And Maxwell the dog slobbers on her leg.

She brings flowers to the cemetery.

Will, glad to be finally free of his dreadful alias, is now settled in her old apartment in LA, and she leaves him with Francie's last known phone number and the promise that she'd see him soon (and Francie, if she agrees to finally see Sydney).

She doesn't know if he believed her, but she meant it. She's lost enough in her life than to want to sacrifice her most loving friend.

The flowers, yes, the flowers. She doesn't know if she bought them out of symbolism or tradition or guilt, but here they are in her sweaty hand.

A pink one for Vaughn.

A yellow one for Emily.

A white one for her father.

A red one for Danny.

And an orange one for her. Because the color reminds her of a Malibu sunset and because she doesn't want to leave the cemetery crying and empty-handed.

So this is where her life begins.

A balcony with a view of the Mediterranean and orange tiled rooftops with rolling hills off to the east that slope down to the sea. Enormous, sparkling white yachts and women who tie white silk sweaters around their shoulders. An orange flower in a clear vase situated on her nightstand. Framed photos of her father and Will on her dresser - an acknowledgment of everything she's ever lost and loved. Sandals in every color and material. She likes the flats the most, having spent too much time in heels. She doesn't own a single pair of running shoes.

She spends her mornings painting on the balcony, her afternoons walking along the beach, her evenings with a good book at the local café and her nights in a sound, dreamless sleep.

She calls Will at least once a week to make sure he's alright and adjusting well to "normal" life. Francie returns one of Sydney's long-winded apologetic messages with a cautious five-minute call. It might not be perfect, but it's a start. And that's more than she ever thought she'd have.

Sark blends in well here, with his (now natural) blonde hair and his easy swagger, he's already made friends (of the non-criminal variety, thank God). In the afternoons, he plays bocce ball with the locals on their three-hour lunch breaks, winning easily most days. On some weekends, he likes to drive his black MINI Cooper north to the award-winning vineyards to sample the best wines in the world - and do his research. After all, a man like him needs to always have a project in the works. He hasn't stopped glancing around corners, sitting in the back of bars, or eyeing the closest exit routes - old habits die hard. But he has let his friends (and Sydney) call him Andrew. But not Andy, never Andy.

He sells her paintings (made with bright blue, sunshine yellow and mandarin orange) to local restaurants and coffeeshops, even though she's convinced the only place they deserve to hang is in the back of her closet. He teaches her how to make the perfect omelet and she convinces him to appreciate German beer on their weekend trips to Bavaria. They don't talk about their old lives, of the deceit and destruction and death. Instead, they read classic novels and she persuades him to read two bestsellers by Samuel Lingrove. He smarts, "Sounds like a chap I'd like to meet," and they exchange a knowing, wise look that reminds her to break the news gently to Will.

He tells her softly one morning after sunrise, "I never thought things would turn out this way." His fingers brush her cheek, wrapping an errant strand of her hair around his index finger as the orange-yellow glow floats in through the window. "I never thought I'd be here with you, of all the people in the world."

She sighs, smiling, squinting in the sunlight. "Nothing ever happens the way you imagine it," she replies, placing a tender kiss on the bridge of his nose, now freckled from days spent in the sun. "You really should know that by now."

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the end
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AN: Sakura means cherry blossom in Japanese.