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The Last Word

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Chapter 1

If I had just one tear running down your cheek
Maybe I could cope, maybe I'd get some sleep
If I had just one moment at your expense
Maybe all my misery would be well spent

Jack had thought, seriously, for a long while about never having any interaction with Irina. Just the thought of seeing her face, once beloved and now detested, was enough to make the muscles of his stomach clench in an instinctive desire to regurgitate whatever he’d eaten last. In the past, he had fantasized meeting her on some mission, in some way in which he held all the cards. He had developed several comforting scenarios, most of which resulted in her death. If he were honest, however, his imagination had always stopped short of the final moment. But being dishonest with himself was something at which he excelled.

Now he could watch her anytime he wanted. Caged. And wasn’t that the best way? This vibrant, dynamic, physical creature, caged. There was some justice. But why, why had she allowed herself to be caged? That was the question that kept him awake at nights now. Then it got worse. Irina conned Kendall and Sydney into the “necessity” of Sydney interacting with her. Why, he wanted to scream, why? Vaughn wised up after meeting with her the once and told Syd not to do it. The kid was smarter than Jack had thought. Sydney spending time with Irina? No good could come of this, no good at all.

Jack watched Sydney with Irina and knew he had to do something, say something. Who knew how she would use Sydney? Would it be for some game? Would it be to drive a wedge between him and his daughter? Or both? It took him an hour sitting alone in his car to prepare himself to see this woman face to face for the first time in twenty years. An hour spent mostly excoriating himself for the millionth time for having been her “man most likely to be a sucker.” Then another few minutes standing in the hallway leading to the tunnel to her cage. He saw Vaughn watching him, trying to be casual about it. The sympathetic look on Vaughn’s face was enough to turn his stomach, had it not already been seized into a tight ball.

Then, taking a deep breath, he walked down the hall, watching the gates open and close. He realized later that that breath had been his last one. He could feel every muscle in his body freeze the closer he walked toward her. His lungs labored for every shallow breath. Every muscle in his face felt like lead. There she was, right in front of him. He could not make his lips move. She began talking and then said, “Sometimes the illusion was as real for me as it was for you.” What the hell was that? Was she trying to make him think she’d had feelings, real feelings? Sorry, he wasn’t that big of a fool, again anyway. Finally his mouth opened and he threatened her. He had to. He couldn’t stop himself.

He turned to walk away, but she of course had to have the last word. Of course. She always had, every argument they’d ever had, she’d always wanted the last word. He remembered one time she had followed him halfway down the block in her nightgown and slippers in the middle of December to yell one last sentence at him. At one time, it had been a private joke between them, this need of hers. Now it was a private hell. Especially given what she said, what she threatened, for that’s what it was a threat, “Did you tell Sydney what you did to her after I left?”

How had she known? He stopped for a second, awash in the sensation of drowning, feeling like he had not progressed at all in the last twenty years. Keep walking, he told himself, keep walking. To his surprise, Vaughn was waiting for him at the end of the tunnel, his brow creased as it so often was. Jack stopped, feeling like his chest, his lungs would collapse. Vaughn approached the older man and grabbing his elbow, gave it a rough squeeze and said so no one else could hear, “The trick is to keep breathing.”

That was the last sympathy Jack got from Agent Vaughn for a while. He lost control. That whole poorly-planned idiocy about blowing up the cottage in Madagascar? What had he been thinking? But he was obsessed, wondering why Irina had turned herself in. Why? It was driving him nuts. He stayed up many nights running game theories through his head, rejecting every one. He even asked her. But the bitch just kept reiterating that she wanted to make amends. If he could have laughed, he would have. He wanted to talk to Syd about it, but she was so wrapped up in her hope that Irina was really Laura, her mother… Well, maybe on their next mission they would have a chance to have that discussion. He knew he had to do it, had to bring it up, but he’d almost rather die than do it.

 

Chapter 2

Could you cry a little?
Lie just a little?
Pretend that you’re feeling a little more pain?

 

Irina looked up as Kendall came down the hallway. The gates opened, then closed behind him. She was almost glad to see him. She had seen no one but the guards for more than a week and they had been strangely even more silent than usual the last two days. Usually she could hear them talking about sports or the weather or something else that was on their approved list of topics for Irina Derevko to overhear. But the last two days, there had been no conversation at all. They hadn’t even looked at her when they brought her food or took her to the bathroom. She watched Kendall approach slowly. Then she thought, 'Since when does Kendall take this walk by himself?' He knows I don’t talk to him without…she arched her neck. No Sydney, no Jack, not even Vaughn? Why did Kendall think she’d talk to him without one of them – what she thought of as her trinity of torment?

As Kendall stopped in front of her, she opened her mouth to ask. She closed it when she saw the look on his face. He was avoiding her eyes. That was odd. He never did that. Kendall always looked her straight in the face, he was aggressive about that. Unconsciously she tensed. Then asked, her voice huskier than usual, “What is it? What do you want? Where is---“

Kendall’s eyes swung back. He cut her off. “Ms. Derevko,” he began, “I regret to inform you,” he paused. Then started again, “I regret to inform you that Jack and Sydney Bristow have been reported missing in action and are presumed dead.”

Just like that. Just like that, he threw the words at her, as if she wouldn’t….

Her palms slapped on the glass as she stared at him, her face blank. “Ms. Derevko, did you hear me? I need you to acknowledge what I have told you.” When she just kept staring at him, he tried again. “Did you hear what I said?” Kendall asked crisply, crossing his arms. She finally nodded, never moving her eyes from his face. Her hands were still pressed palms up on the glass, moisture forming on the glass from the sweat from her palms.

“Good,” Kendall said. “Let me repeat it – your daughter and husband are presumed dead. We will not have final confirmation on their deaths until the extraction teams are done with their recovery work. Nonetheless, I wanted to inform you of this development and how it will affect you.” Feeling he was waiting for it, Irina nodded slowly.

“Now, we did some investigating since we learned of their MIA status two days ago and—“

Finally saying something, she yelled, ”Two days ago and you just tell me now!”

Kendall nodded calmly. “Yes, we had to have confirmation and also, we had to check on your legal status. We have discovered that Jack was still, technically, your husband. He may not have known that. In fact, that is our assumption -- that he did not know. Or else we are certain he would have begun the annulment process. After all his goal was to eradicate you from his life, wasn’t it?” He did not wait long for an answer and continued, “However, the fact that the process was not complete muddies your already complex legal situation. I am speaking of settling Jack and Sydney’s estates. Their wills left their estates to each other with no one else named in the event of their mutual deaths. Because legally you are, were, Jack’s wife and biologically you were Sydney’s mother, you are entitled to inherit their estates. Jack’s in particular is quite substantial. Good strategies, investment strategies. However, because you have admitted being a spy against this country and…well, a whole list of criminals in one package, you may not be eligible to inherit. The court will appoint a lawyer on your behalf. This lawyer will be seeing you ---“

Irina slammed her hands on the glass, “Stop it, you idiot!” and then began swearing in Russian. Kendall stood his ground and waited stoically for her to finish. “I don’t give a damn about their estates. I want information! How did they…” she trailed off.

“They were on a mission. For obvious reasons, I cannot go into details, but it was an accident.” Kendall answered.

“An accident? What kind of accident? Jack Bristow doesn’t have accidents. You don’t stay alive as long as he has in this business if you have accidents!” Irina protested.

Kendall nodded. “His luck ran out, Ms. Derevko. It wasn’t something Jack could have had control over – it was the weather.”

“The weather?” she asked incredulously. “The weather killed Jack Bristow? That’s ---” She stopped, unable to comprehend. In her dreams, her nightmares, of Jack’s death, it was never something as impersonal as the weather that killed him.

“Yes. Ironic isn’t it? All those missions, all those gun shots, knife wounds, poisonings, beatings, all the torture he has, had, withstood and it was a thunderstorm that killed him and Sydney.”

”A thunderstorm?”

“The plane they were flying in enroute to their mission ran into an unexpected and severe lightning storm. The plane was small and when the lightning hit it, the electrical system was completely fried. Even the back up was gone. Unfortunately it was in the dead of night in the mountains. Put simply, the plane crashed.”

“The plane crashed,” she repeated numbly. “But, the parachutes?” she choked out.

“I am sorry, there is no evidence that parachutes were used. However, recovery is still underway and if we learn anything else, we will inform you. At this time, we are expecting no good news. “

Her hands fisted on the glass.

Kendall continued, “One last issue. Naturally, you will now have to talk with someone other than Sydney and Jack. In deference to the fact that you may feel something of a loss due to the fact that Sydney was your daughter, biologically, I am prepared to give you some options in this matter. As long as you are reasonable. Do you have a preference?”

She choked out, “Agent Vaughn.”

“I see. Agent Vaughn is otherwise....unavailable at this time. I suppose there is no harm in telling you now that he and Sydney had a somewhat unique relationship for a handler and his asset. He has requested a short leave of absence.”

“Did he go to….the site?”

“I cannot tell you his whereabouts.”

“Can you ask him to see me when he returns?” she asked.

“I can ask. But he is under no obligation—“

“I understand. Tell me, will there be….” She trailed off.

“A service? Yes, there will be a small, private service for the CIA. Do you have any more questions?”

Staring straight ahead, Irina shook her head. Kendall turned and walked away.

When Kendall reached the Op Center, he made his quickly over to the monitor showing Irina’s cell. Irina walked slowly, slowly over to the cot. She picked up her one blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. She sank to the floor, her face a mask of shock. Looking into space, tears began to fall.

Kendall noted to Devlin, standing next to him, “If she’s faking, she’s damn good.”

“Kendall, she’s better than damn good. She’s the best. She fooled Jack Bristow for ten years. She knows we’re watching now.”

“How will we know?”

“That’s the rub, Kendall, that’s the rub. Get Vaughn in here asap. As anticipated…” He stopped and shook his head, “Geez, unbelievable….Vaughn will be the key. If he weren’t called out on that emergency, I’d have had him here watching this.”

Kendall’s face showed his disbelief. “I have had my doubts about his involvement as the contact all along. Do you really think he’s capable of performing, will he want to do this?“

Devlin shrugged, “He was the choice. And she’s asked for him now. He’s talked to her before, he can talk to her again. And he knew the plan, agreed to it, albeit reluctantly.”

“But the timing…Jack said a long time ago--“

“Hmm, he was right. Let’s give it a while.”

Chapter 3

I gave, now I'm wanting something in return
So cry just a little for me

A week passed. A week in which Irina stared at the three walls of her cell, only glancing at the glass when she heard someone coming. Initially, whenever she heard footsteps and the gates opening she would jump up from her position on the floor, looking….Seeing only the guards delivering her food, which went largely uneaten as the days went on. By the eighth day, she had stopped looking up. Then five more days passed. Then another. Then two more.

The gates opened and closed, the buzzer rang. Footsteps came down the hall very slowly. She felt, rather than saw, someone step in front of the glass and just stand there waiting. She tucked her hair behind her ear and turned slowly. Agent Vaughn stood there wearing a black suit. She sucked in a breath. Although she had never seen him in that suit before it practically screamed, “Funeral.” Raising her eyes slowly, she almost gasped at the look on it. There was pity in his face. Pity, for her -- Irina Derevko, the woman he believed killed his father. She had seen many looks on his face, usually intense concentration, that furrowed brow she used to tease Sydney about. She saw it often because he always looked down when talking to her, avoiding looking her in the eyes. No doubt afraid he would see a play-by-play of his father’s death . Now it was she turning away from the look on Vaughn’s face.

Looking down, she noticed that he held something in his hand. As she watched, he used a key to open the door to her cell. Without looking at her, he walked over to the table and laid down a single red rose and a single white rose. He turned and stopped, folding his arms as he looked at her. Waiting. He was not going to give her anything, she realized. She would have to ask. “The flowers are from?” she inquired finally.

“From the service. I thought you might like a flower from each of the main arrangements,” Vaughn said tonelessly.

“Service? No one told me…” she trailed off, covering her mouth as she turned away.

“I regret that. I assumed that Kendall had told you.”

“You regret that?” she asked accusingly. “Even though—“

“Yes, even though. You should have been told. Sydney would have wanted you to know, would have wanted you to have the flowers.”

“But not Jack.” He did not answer, so she continued, “Red for ?”

“Red for Jack, white for Sydney.” When she said nothing else, he walked out the door to her cell. Pausing, he said with no inflection whatsoever, “I understand you have requested that I be your contact. If I agree to do that, it will be for Sydney’s sake, no other reason.” She nodded. “And I expect full cooperation.” She nodded again. “After all,” he said as he locked the door behind him, “There’s no point in delaying telling us what you know. There’s no more Jack and Sydney to screw over, is there?” He walked away.

 

Chapter 4
If your love could be caged
Honey I would hold the key
And conceal it underneath
The pile of lies you've handed me

For ten days, the slowly-drying flowers sat upon the table. Then on the eleventh day, Agent Vaughn appeared without warning in the hallway outside her cage. He noticed the flowers and shrugged. His eyes met hers without any fear, any trepidation, she saw. Losing Sydney had changed him. I suppose, she thought, when you lose what you value most, what is left to fear? He began speaking, “I am here today to discuss the terms of your surrender. Obviously,” he paused, “there are alterations to be made. Jack had begun discussions with your prosecutor about house arrest. I would recommend you seriously consider the generous offer. Inexplicably generous offer, I might add.”

“In return?”

“Same deal as it would have been with Jack. Tell us why you really turned yourself in and tell us everything we need to know.”

“What do you need to know?”

“That will be revealed on a case by case basis.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I don’t understand the point of refusing. If you refuse, you can stay here indefinitely. And the point of that would be, what? Your choice. What will it be?”

“I see.” Irina stared at the flowers and then looked back at the man in front of her. “You, Agent Vaughn, are an interesting man.”

“I am not interested in your assessment of my character, Ms. Derevko.”

She stroked her chin. “Yes, interesting. On the one hand, you bring me flowers from my husband and daughter’s memorial service. I am assuming it was a memorial service, that their….” She trailed off.

“Their bodies were not fully,” he stopped and then started again, “recoverable. So, yes it was a memorial, not a funeral. Back to the point, however.”

Irina interrupted, “No, bear with me a moment. You bring me flowers, totally unnecessary, but thoughtful. Although sometimes in this last week, they were more like a taunt. Did you intend that?”

“I have already explained my motivations.”

“Yes, you said Sydney would have wanted that. That was a kind gesture, especially given that you believe me to be your father’s murderer. But then you come back today and play hardball. Yes, an interesting man. Now that I have gotten to know you, you remind me more of Jack than your own father.”

He reared back. “Me, like Jack Bristow? I don’t think so.”

“Yes, yes you are. I know what Sydney saw in you. It’s what I saw in Jack. Both of you are good, honorable men, loving and caring, and yet with a ruthless streak when necessary. I see in you what Jack was like when I knew him as a young man, that same laid back, yet intense---“

“Jack Bristow laid back? Never. Or not since---“

“Not since I betrayed him? Are you telling me that you never saw his sense of humor, did he never…” She stopped at the look of incredulity on Vaughn’s face.

“I don’t think you have any real idea what your betrayal did to him,” Vaughn said flatly. “But that’s neither here nor there. We are not here to discuss what Jack was like when you knew him. We are here to discuss the terms of your surrender. If you don’t want to do that, I have other jobs to perform today.”

“You are impatient today, Agent Vaughn.”

Vaughn snapped at her, “Losing her has made me impatient. I should have been less patient when she was alive, less willing to wait. We should have taken what happiness we could, however imperfect…What did waiting get me? What did waiting get you?” He stopped. Took a breath. “But again, moving on, do you want to cut a deal or not? Truthfully, the less time I spend interacting with you the better, so the sooner you can start talking, the sooner my time with you will end. Tell us what you know and retire to this house Jack bought for you. Or you can keep quiet and rot in this cell for the rest of your life, coming out occasionally to perform like a trained monkey. That’s your choice. What will it be?”

“Jack bought the house for me? Not the CIA?”

Vaughn bit his lip. Clearly, Irina thought, he had not meant to divulge the information. “Jack and Sydney didn’t like the house the CIA purchased. So, Jack bought a house on an island for greater security.”

“An island. An island.” She laughed, without amusement. “Jack. What I wouldn’t give to smack him. Greater security. So I move from one cage to another?”

“If that’s how you want to see it. You need to decide if it’s better than nothing, if that cage is better than this cage. I’ll return tomorrow.” Vaughn turned and walked away.

 

Chapter 5

And you’d hunt those lies
They’d be all you’d ever find
That’d be all you’d have to know
For me to be fine

The next day, Vaughn watched on the monitor as Irina paced her cage with barely-muted violence. Kendall said, “I don’t think I’d actually enter that cage with her today, Agent. Assuming she’s actually grieving, she’s in that stage called anger.” “Assuming.”

“Well, what’s it to be? What’s your choice?” Vaughn asked dismissively as he stood in front of her cell.

“Choice? What choices do I have, what have I had?” Irina spat out.

Now Vaughn began to feel his own anger rise. “You have had MANY choices. Many. But the one I still don’t understand—“ He stopped.

“Which one?” she asked.

“How you could abandon your daughter? Did you feel nothing for her, your own flesh and blood? It’s one thing to do what you did to Jack, he was just your mark. But to bring a child into the world solely to cement your cover? What kind of monster are you?” He stepped back and waited. Counted….

“You have NO right!”

“I have every right. I loved her. You did not. You could not have loved her and done what you did. You hurt her. Your very memory hurt her. You weren’t there when Jack had to tell her the truth about you. A truth he’d kept to himself, eating away at him, for so long, to avoid hurting her. I was there. I saw what it did to her. You did not. You weren’t there for the prom or pimples, or her first kiss, or ballet recitals or her driver’s test, or her college graduation. You weren’t there when Jack was sent to solitary and Syd therefore lost both her parents. You. weren’t. there.” He practically spat out the words. With the first ones, Irina had begun backing away slightly, surprised at the venom in his voice. As his accusations continued, she straightened her spine and looked him full in the face. Then he continued, “And I’d like to know – was it worth it? Was abandoning your daughter worth it?”

Irina slumped slightly. She said softly, “No.”

“Then why?”

“I had no choice, don’t you see?”

“No, I don’t see. Tell me. Show me. Explain why.” He threw the demands at her like a hockey player slamming a puck into the goal, with great force and speed.

“They convinced me it was my duty to leave them, to leave Jack and Sydney. And if I hadn’t bought that argument, then what my case officer told me…”

“What did he or she tell you?”

“He. He was suspicious. I had been undercover for ten years with Jack, we’d had a child together. When I refused to have an abortion, he told me I was on notice that there could be no more slipups. He said I was allowed the one mistake, that Sydney was my one mistake. That, as you say, it could help cement my cover and if need be, the baby could be a hostage if Jack discovered….That’s how my superiors saw my baby. But I…she was…But I didn’t know that when Sydney was six, almost seven….”

“Know what?”

”That he’d had our house bugged, our bedroom. He heard Jack and me talking about having another child one night. I was so stupid, I forgot….it wasn’t real. I had to convince the case officer that it wasn’t real, that I would leave them behind or…”

When she stopped, Vaughn began once again, speaking rapidly, throwing questions at her in staccato fashion. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that? You’d spent ten years living with a man you detested and you forgot it wasn’t real? How could you have another child with a man you viewed like you did Jack – as a sucker, as a means to an end? Why? Just to further cement your cover?”

“I never detested Jack! I, that would have made it easier---“ She stopped and then continued, “I told you before that he was a good, honorable man.”

“Whom you played for a fool.” She winced inside at the venom in his voice. “You know, I don’t blame Jack for being taken in by you. You figured out what he wanted, what he needed. You became that person. Who could resist? I couldn’t. No one could.” She thought he was done, but he continued relentlessly, his voice escalating with each sharp utterance. “But you, how you got up every morning and looked in the mirror. How you ate with him. Ironed his shirts. Made blueberry pancakes on Sunday mornings. Shopped for groceries with him. Made love to him. Had a child with him to use as a tactic, a bargaining chip – for ten years? Tell me, how do you pretend for ten years? Tell me! It would be quite an education for me to learn how one does that!” Vaughn yelled.

Irina slapped the glass with her hands. “You don’t! You can’t! And that was the problem, my problem, how I got caught. And never call Sydney a tactic. And Jack, he was, is, was not a fool!”

“Isn’t that what you told the KGB in your exit interview? ‘Jack Bristow is a fool.’ I saw the footage. Jack saw the footage.”

“Jack saw that?” “Yes. Yet another slice of the knife you wielded on him,” Vaughn said with a sneer. She had never thought to see that expression on that face and it stopped her.

She turned away. Vaughn prodded, “So your case officer had your bedroom bugged. And you didn’t know?”

“I found the bug the next morning running a routine scan. Knew my time was up. I had to convince them by the end of the day that it was all part of the game or…”

“Or what?”

“Or they’d kill us all. All. That’s why I left. To save them. I had to demonstrate my loyalty by leaving them. And too, they had told me that since Jack was leaving Project Christmas, his value to them was diminishing…”

“He was leaving Project Christmas?”

“Yes, he hated it. And I had encouraged him to ask for a reassignment, because the program was eating him up inside. I knew, knew he’d never tell his superiors that we’d talked about it, that I agreed with him that he should leave. Because officers weren’t supposed to talk to their spouses about the project.”

“You were caught weren’t you? On the one hand, Project Christmas was the raison d’etre, on the other hand if you didn’t support your husband he might become suspicious.”

“No, that wasn’t how I was stuck. I was stuck between convincing him to stay with a project he hated so that I could stay or supporting him in asking for reassignment and risk being removed from the op. But I chose to support him because…”

”Please don’t bother telling me you supported him because it was the best thing for him. I’m not buying what you are selling. You wanted out and that was one way to do it. And this so-called conversation about a second child? Well, there’s no way to check that story with Jack anymore, is there?”

“Believe what you want,” she said wearily. “It’s not like you can corroborate anything with my case officer at this time either. But what happened was when he heard us talking about another child, when he found out Jack had requested reassignment, he decided I was a danger at worst, a liability at best. And so I had to make the choice to leave and convince them that I could do so without compunction. One night Jack and I are talking about a sibling for Sydney and the next night I’m on a plane back to Russia. With nothing, nothing but the need to convince them I did it willingly. I did a good job of it until…”

“Until what?”

“My case officer told them, the KGB, that he’d found the note I left Jack.”

“You left him a note?” Vaughn asked incredulously, “You left a note telling him WHAT? That the last ten years were a lie and oops, So sorry, here’s a Hallmark card?”

“No! I…there was barely time. It was mostly just an apology and a confession….”

“Give me a break,” Vaughn said with no sympathy.

“No, give me a break. Do you know what it’s like to leave like I did?”

“No, but I know what it’s like to be left behind. I know what Sydney went through – I know what it’s like to be told that your parent isn’t coming home anymore!”

And with that, Irina deflated. “The note, Agent Vaughn, was discovered and destroyed by my case officer. I thought I had hidden it so well. But it turns out he knew the location, where Jack and I used to leave each other little notes. One of our little games. We had this little game about having the last word. I had, have, a problem with always wanting to have the last word and the notes were one way…You don’t want to hear about that. But for that note, that’s how I ended up in that pr….” She stopped.

“How did your case officer knew the location?”

“He had been in the house many, many times. Jack might have told him. Why would he think there was any reason to keep it a secret? He was always so proud of me, our relationship, he may have talked about the notes to a friend, someone he thought was a friend. I realized that too late. He would have probably joked about the game with a friend….. Jack and he…”

”What?”

“That was another betrayal, something else I never told Jack and I should have. He was Jack’s friend, his supervisor.”

“Oh my God. Your case officer was Arvin Sloane.” He stopped, “That’s how you knew that Jack used the spy kids stuff on Syd after you left. But wait. Wouldn’t he have known everything Jack was working on, why—“

”He wasn’t always Jack’s supervisor. He wasn’t always my case officer, just the last few years. And Jack always has something more going on than showed up on his reports, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, that WAS Jack. Always working on….”

“Always some little exercise in game theory, if nothing else.”

Vaughn met her eyes carefully, “Yes, if nothing else.”

“And too Jack is--” Vaughn interrupted her, “Was.” She pretended not to notice the interruption, “He is brilliant. And fearless. I think Arvin always hoped I would be able to turn Jack. His skills would have been a great asset. And the two of us working together? We would have been unbeatable.”

“You never tried, even the slightest hint?”

“No. Of course not. Jack had too much honor to turn his back on his country.”

“But it was your loss, what happened afterward, that turned Jack. Do you think Sloane planned it that way?”

“I did, when I heard that Jack eventually joined Sloane at SD6. But I knew Jack, knew he’d turn out stronger than that. I knew he’d end up being a double. It’s what I would have done.”

With that, Irina walked over to a chair in her cell and sat down. Vaughn gazed at her for a moment and then said, “This has been illuminating. I take it you have decided to cooperate?”

She stared at him, “That’s all you have to say?”

“What do you want me to say? That I understand? That I empathize? I don’t think so. I would rather spend my time prepping with my partner for your debrief.”

“Partner?”

“Yes. For obvious reasons, there are sections of your debrief I would rather not hear first hand.”

“I see. When will we begin?”

“In a few days, I need to organize…everything.” With a nod, he turned around and walked away.

“Good job, Agent,” Kendall said as Vaughn reached the monitor. “Are you okay, buddy?” Weiss asked, “That got a little rough in there.”

Vaughn was silent for a moment as he watched Irina just stand there in her cell, seemingly looking at nothing. “I can see how Jack ended up in a bar after dealing with just the thought of her being alive. The reality is…” He stopped. “Do we feel like we are seeing any reality here? It’s hard for me to judge, sometimes, being in there with her.”

Kendall replied, “I don’t know that any of us are the best judges of that. We’ll send the tape of this session to the appropriate parties for analysis and only then proceed.” Vaughn and Weiss nodded. Weiss asked, “So how long will that take, do you think?” Vaughn said with a half smile, “Long enough to allow me time to recover. Right now, I need to change my shirt.”

Kendall nodded. “Don’t blame you. In fact, why don’t you and Weiss go over to the gym and play squash or racquetball or something where you can smash a ball around?” The younger agents looked at him in astonishment. Kendall gave what passed for a smile on his face, “Even I can see that the only other alternative is getting stinking drunk. And I’d rather you just passed out from exhaustion. We need you at the top of your game on this one. No late night binging for either of you until this is done. When it’s finished, I’ll personally buy you a bottle to join the one I was already given to hold on to for you. Now go.”

 

-----

Chapter 6

And you'd cry a little
And die just a little
And maybe I would feel just a little less pain
I gave, now I'm wanting something in return
So cry just a little for me

 

Four days later, Vaughn and Weiss walked together down the hallway and the sessions began. They spent the next six months debriefing Irina. Vaughn felt sometimes like it would never end. One day, about five months or so into the debrief, in the middle of a long-winded narrative about the infrastructure of her crime syndicate, Irina stopped suddenly. Vaughn and Weiss exchanged glances and Vaughn finally prompted her, “Ms. Derevko, you were telling us about –“

“Yes, I know. I was just thinking, realizing, that this is all real isn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been in denial. Since Kendall told me, I’ve been denial.” She laughed, without mirth. “I thought this was all an elaborate game of Jack’s to….”

“To what?” Vaughn asked.

“To pay me back for what I did to him, to make me suffer. And at the same time come up with the most efficient way possible to encourage me to tell everything I know. After all, as you said, Agent Vaughn, without Jack and Sydney here, there’s no reason to keep quiet any more, is there? Kills two birds with one stone. It’s actually quite stunningly neat and tidy. And too, it makes my surrender absolutely useless, in terms of benefit to me. Quite the payback.”

“And your point?” Vaughn asked, “If you don’t have one, I’d like to get back to the intel.”

Weiss warned, “Vaughn, let her talk. You thought it was all some Machiavellian game theory of Jack’s?” he asked.

“Yes, but then I realized that I was wrong.”

“Why did you decide that?” Weiss asked.

“Three things. The first was when Agent Vaughn brought me those flowers.” She looked at him, he looked away. “I knew you would not be party to a deception like that, a game like that. You are not that cruel.”

“Coming from you, I don’t know if that’s an insult or a compliment,” Vaughn said dryly.

“Compliment.”

“And the second thing?” Weiss prodded.

“It’s been too long for this kind of game. Too long. Almost six months.” She stared off again.

Vaughn asked, “Well, the third?”

“This game would presuppose that Jack and Sydney’s deaths would hurt me. Since Jack never believed me when I said that I had turned myself in to make amends, when….No, he didn’t believe me. I didn’t encourage him to believe me, I threatened him. He didn’t believe me when I told him that the illusion of our relationship was as real for me as it was for him. No, it makes no sense as a game unless we were operating under the assumption that…”

“You gave a crap about your husband and daughter,” Vaughn said flatly.

“Or if this were a way to ascertain that.”

“But, you are a master games player yourself. How would we know what’s real and what’s not real, anyway?” Weiss asked.

“I suppose that’s true. The only person who could see would be Jack. Only Jack would know the truth,” Irina said.

“How, how would he know that?” Vaughn pressed. “You fooled him for ten years, so why would he know the truth now?

“I didn’t fool him, not about the important….He would know, he’d know. In his heart, he always knew the truth.” She stared off and then gave a smile, the first smile she had given since Kendall had given her the news.

“What is it?” Vaughn asked, “What’s so amusing?”

“I was just thinking, if this were a game, it’s one of his best. I admit it. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I appreciate it, perhaps better than anyone else. If it were a game, after I got done strangling him, I would congratulate him on flawless planning and execution.”

Vaughn and Weiss stared at her. Weiss said with a shake of his head, “That’s some sick relationship the two of you had.”

Irina shook her head. “No, not really. It was much more than that, what YOU think you see. Why do you think Jack is, was, so angry? It’s not just my betrayal. It’s because deep down, he knows it was real and he thinks I just threw it away. “

“What is ‘it’? What would you call what you two had?” Vaughn asked quietly.

“It was happiness. That was the amazing thing, I was happy. Even though – I know you’re about to interrupt me, Agent Vaughn, and say that of course I was happy, I was successful in my mission. Even though we live this life, it doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. Isn’t that what you spoke about months ago, that you should have grabbed what happiness you could? I agreed, that’s why I kept pushing you at Syd when you were sick.”

“Let me get this straight – you were trying to give me the benefit of your experience with Jack? YOU were trying to give me relationship advice?” Vaughn asked incredulously. “I think I’ve had enough today, Ms. Derevko.” He stood up.

“Can I ask you one more thing?” she said. He slowly sat back down and waited. “Do you have any photographs of Sydney? I know it’s a bit much to ask, but—“

“No,” Vaughn said flatly, “absolutely not.”

Weiss interjected, “C’mon, what would it hurt? Do you want one of her before you left or as an adult?”

Irina perked up, “How many do you have?”

Weiss admitted, “Jack had tons….”

“You’ve been going through Jack’s…effects?”

“Yes, as you can imagine, the CIA has to go through the estate before anyone else is allowed to do so,” Weiss was the one to explain again.

“I wonder -- there was a photo of the three of us when Sydney was born. I smuggled a copy away with me when I left, but someone destroyed it. Did you see it?”

“I saw no photographs of you in Jack’s house on public display, Ms. Derevko,” Vaughn told her.

“He destroyed them. Of course,” Irina nodded.

Weiss interjected, “Actually, I believe he boxed them up when you supposedly died and gave them to Syd when she left home.“

“That’s not entirely true, Weiss. I know—“ Vaughn broke off.

“What?” both Weiss and Irina asked.

Vaughn seemed to think hard for a moment before apparently coming to a decision. “I suppose there’s no harm in telling you. Jack kept a photo of you in a frame in Syd’s room for her and one…elsewhere in the house. So she could remember you as you were, or had pretended to be. He thought if he removed them all, it would raise questions. And he never wanted to do that. He always, always kept up the façade you had created for Sydney. No matter the cost to himself.”

“He did that for her.” Irina said softly.

“Yes. The truth is he allowed himself, forced himself, to see your lying face every day. To save her pain, he lived with it himself. So yes, there are photos, but…” he stopped. “I don’t have any intention of going through the albums in Sydney’s house looking---“

“Why don’t we just bring in the albums, Vaughn?” Weiss suggested.

“Are you out of your mind? Jack would… have had a fit!” Vaughn exploded.

“Still afraid of him, Agent Vaughn?” Irina taunted.

“I had a healthy respect for Jack,” Vaughn said quietly, while Weiss shrugged, and added “We all had a very healthy respect for Jack and his capabilities. Not the man to cross.”

“No, he wasn’t,” Irina agreed. “If it weren’t for Agent Vaughn following up on the bombing in Madagascar, let’s be honest, I’d be dead right now for having betrayed him.”

“Actually, I don’t know—“ Vaughn stopped. He shook his head and continued, “Yes, Jack was not the man to cross.”

Weiss looked at Vaughn, “Did you always feel he had a little book in which he recorded every transgression against him for later retaliation?”

Vaughn gave a bark of laughter. “Yeah. And can’t you see him poring over that book, making a check mark against a name when he got payback?” “You know it!” Weiss agreed.

“And the biggest entry would be mine, wouldn’t it?” Irina asked.

“Yes. A huge entry with no check mark,” Vaughn said flatly.

Irina mused, “I wonder if that was his greatest regret when that plane went down – that he never paid me back.”

“I think you give yourself too much importance. I think his last thoughts were probably of Sydney, wondering if and hoping she would make it.”

“Sydney, yes, any parent would think of their child at the end. One’s child is the most important aspect in any parent’s life. The most.” She swallowed and then swallowed again while they waited for her to continue. “But the photos? Do I have to beg?”

Vaughn stared at her and then said with finality, “Yes. Beg. That’s what Jack would have wanted. And for once, I’d like to see him, his memory, get what he would have wanted. Let’s make a check mark in Jack’s book, shall we?” Weiss stared at him in shock.

Irina nodded and whispered, “As I said, you are like Jack. Under your honor and goodness is a a ruthless streak…Fine. It’s a small price to pay.” Vaughn and Weiss watched as this proud woman laboriously lowered herself to the floor, chains clinking. “I am begging you. Please let me see the photos. She was my only child. No matter what you think, I loved her. Please.”

Vaughn stood up, looking down at her and Weiss followed him, his eyes darting from one to the other in this drama. “I’ll take your request under advisement,” he said and walked out, Weiss following.

“For the love of God, Mike, how do you do that?” Weiss exploded once they were back in the Op Center and walking back toward the monitors.

Vaughn snapped back, “Don’t let the bad cop, good cop routine we’ve got going in there go to your head.” He pulled out a chair and Weiss noticed that Vaughn’s hands were trembling slightly. “How do I do it? I keep remembering what she did to my father. Do you have any idea, Weiss, what it’s like to do this? It’s bad enough, but when she keeps bringing up Sydney like that?”

Weiss looked away and nodded. Vaughn continued, “And then, too, I saw those tapes. Those tapes of Jack’s interrogations when Irina left him high and dry. Even twenty years ago, he had a formidable reputation. No one believed that he didn’t know what Irina had been doing, they thought the Bristows were in league together. Those interrogations were not pretty. The way they threw the news that she could have been, then was in fact KGB, at him was not done…nicely. ”

“You saw the tapes? How?”

“Devlin showed them to me, to persuade me to take this assignment. No man, no one, should have to go through that pain. Finding out that the person you love was using you for ten years, that every word, every gesture, every moment, even your only child, was one big lie. Ten years. Can you imagine? It was agony to watch those tapes. He went from being so confused, grieving for his dead wife, worrying about his little girl to being….the Jack Bristow we knew, right there on those tapes. He changed before my eyes. Watching those tapes changed ME. I understand now why Jack was so tough, so stoical – he’d already lived through the worst possible torture, hadn’t he? To survive it, to keep going, he had to be cold. There was no other option. If you saw those tapes, you’d know that. Thank God, Jack will never know I saw them. Syd told me she saw them before…That it was like watching someone get their guts pulled out inch by inch without the benefit of anesthesia. That’s why she…”

“That explains so much about this op. You and Syd… I wondered.”

“Jack never knew she’d seen them either. It would kill him to have her see him that vulnerable.” He stopped for a moment and then looked up at Weiss, his eyes clear and unclouded with regret. “So, yeah, I made her beg, beg for that photo. Those same photos that probably ripped open Jack’s wounds every day. I’d do it again, just to see her on her knees.” There was silence for a long time.

Then Weiss asked, “Do you think it’s time?”

“Let’s let them be the judge of that.”

“What’s next in the docket, anyway? She’s given us tons on her syndicate. We left off her time with Jack to go forward in time to acquire the intel on her European operation when we got those rumors about Sark. We need to wind back. Before she’d gone over the deaths of most of the CIA agents. Is it your father next?”

“Yes. That’s where you go solo. There are limits. I told them initially that I would not do that debrief under any circumstances.”

“Don’t blame you. But about the photos?”

”She begged. We’ll bring them in, or at least some copies. I don’t know if I want the originals in her hands. She could be planning to spit on them or who knows what? It will be another good way to judge what’s going on. I hope.”

“So, you were just taunting her? For Jack’s sake? Frankly, I think you were harder on her than Jack would have been,” Weiss accused.

“Don’t bet on it,” Vaughn replied, “Don’t bet on it.”

Two days later, Weiss brought in a packet of photos for Irina. He shoved them through the slot in a large envelope. Irina raised her eyebrows, “This is it?”

“That’s all Vaughn would release.”

“He’s a much tougher….” Irina trailed off, searching for the correct word to describe someone with whom you should bond together in grief, but could not.

“Opponent?” Weiss supplied. “Yes. Better opponent, than I expected.”

“For all that Mike is laid back, he has a hard core inside him and you hit him where it hurts. His father and then hurting Sydney.”

“Deep feelings,” Irina whispered.

Weiss shrugged. “Well, you can keep those. They are copies. Just to remind you, next week we do the debriefing on William Vaughn.”

“That will be you alone, I assume.”

“Yes, Mike doesn’t even want to see the tapes, let alone be in the room with you for that debrief.” She nodded.

Chapter 7
Give it up baby
I hear your doin’ fine

“Are you going to be okay, watching this?”

“I have to,” Vaughn said with finality.

“For your father’s sake?”

“Yes.” He knew his voice was terse, brusque. He knew the agent sitting next to him did not deserve the attitude. His entire body was tense. His muscles ached as they often did these days, unable to sleep for more than an hour at a time as his mind churned with the details. As he dreaded this particular debriefing.

He had not slept last night. Giving up at 3am, he had come into the Op Center and watched Irina toss and turn for the next few hours while he reviewed his files. The agent on duty who had seen him in the same position night after night, kept trying to make conversation. He noted at one point that the only thing Vaughn and Irina had in common was relentless insomnia. Flipping the pages of the report of his father’s death, he had merely shaken his head at that agent and had been relieved when he finally left at 7am. Vaughn kept reviewing the file. He thought that if he kept doing it, he could handle today. But now he wasn’t so sure. He had seen the photos and turned past them quickly, but now to hear his murder described…. He had one question, one question only that he wanted answered. He had to know why, of all the agents, his father had been so tortured in ways none of Irina’s other victims had been.

The other agent said, “If you have to leave, that’s okay. I am here. I can stand in for you.”

“I know and thanks.” He could not summon a smile in gratitude. Reluctantly his eyes turned toward the monitor. They watched Weiss shuffle papers and finally begin to speak.

“Okay, Ms. Derevko, we’ve gone over how William Vaughn uncovered evidence and had presented his initial findings to his superiors. Now, let’s go over the actual execution.” Weiss began and shifted in his chair.

“You seem uncomfortable, Agent Weiss,” Irina commented.

“This isn’t easy for me either, Ms. Derevko. Michael Vaughn is my partner, my best friend. I know what the loss of his father did to him, his family. And it was all at your hands.”

”Not exactly.” As Irina tucked her hair behind her ear, those watching leaned forward.

Weiss inquired, “What do you mean?”

“I made the final cut, true, but to end his suffering.”

“What the hell are you talking about” Weiss demanded.

“He presented his first findings to his superiors. They disseminated the information on a need to know basis. Unfortunately, one of those listed in the need to know list was Jack’s superior, Arvin Sloane.”

“Your case officer.”

“Yes, Sloane told me to kill Agent Vaughn, William Vaughn. I made a mistake. I delayed completing the assignment.”

“Why?”

“I knew him. It’s harder to kill someone you know.”

“I’m starting to question that idea right now, Ms. Derevko.”

She smiled at Weiss, “Ah, even you have your limits, don’t you?”

“Stop with the Morticia Addams routine, Ms. Derevko and move along. You say you had trouble completing this assignment because you know William Vaughn? How WELL did you know him?” Weiss asked the last question with deliberate insinuation. After all, did Irina Derevko have any limits? That was what they were trying to ascertain.

She laughed, “Not like that! I was faithful to Jack, he kept me…” She smiled and continued, “And William Vaughn was in love with his wife, his family. We knew each other from Jack’s work. And when I should have been preparing to complete my assignment, I kept remembering…”

”Remembering what?”

Irina stared at him for the longest time. Weiss waited, he had learned from Vaughn the value of silence.

Finally she spoke, in a conversational tone, as if telling a memory to a friend. “When I had Sydney and the Vaughn family came over to the house to bring a gift and see the baby. That’s what I was remembering. Agent Vaughn, Sydney’s Vaughn, was a little boy. He was so cute, although in no way did he want to see some baby. And a girl baby? Blech.” She laughed, while everyone watching stared, rapt. “But his mother made him do the polite thing and go over and take a look at Sydney in her bassinet. She was so small, so pink, dressed all in pink. Jack was so thrilled to have a little girl, he always wanted her in pink. And so, Michael, I’ll call him that since he’s not in the room now, Michael trudged over and looked in. And he stopped and reached out a hand and touched her cheek as she was sleeping. He said, ‘So beautiful. Mine.’” Those watching gasped.

Weiss responded, “You have gotta be kidding me. Mike has never mentioned this. No way, this is just some story. He never mentioned meeting you or Syd as a baby.”

“Do you honestly think I could make this up? I assume he just doesn’t remember, or repressed it. You could call his mother to confirm it. Of course, Jack probably remembered it for the rest of his life – he was so incensed! Some little boy had touched his princess and said ‘mine’! It was so funny. I could just imagine how he’d be as Sydney grew up and began attracting boys and men!” She laughed. “We all laughed at Jack that day, gave him such grief. Michael’s mother and I made a joke that maybe one day the two of them would end up together. I’ve wondered many times about how Jack handled it when he saw, he must have seen, the chemistry between Michael and Sydney. Especially when he remembered that day, my joke about them ending up together. He must have been so angry…” She narrowed her eyes at Weiss, who had covered his smile with his hand. “I’m right, aren’t I?” Weiss nodded, his eyes dancing. He muttered, “I believe there was a gun involved.”

She smiled, then sighed, “But that story is true, and ….that’s why when, the first time I met him again and he said ‘Sydney’ instead of ‘Agent Bristow’, I said it was interesting. Because what had happened so long ago had come true.”

“I think we need to move on to the actual execution, Ms. Derevko. You say you delayed performing your assignment for….”

“Sentimental reasons. Believe it or not. I kept seeing that little boy and thinking how my daughter would feel if someone killed her father. My case officer,” “Sloane,” Weiss interjected. “Yes. Sloane had been correct, having a child did make me soft. And that was to the detriment of William Vaughn. Because Sloane got tired of waiting and got to him first. And decided to torture him, rather than just killing him outright. Sloane called me to tell me to come to the location to finish my job. When I got there, I saw what he had done. It was…unnecessary and inefficient. William Vaughn did not break, although his body….. There was no hope. Tell Michael that, there was no hope. And so I did what anyone would have done, I put him out of his misery. I understand that Jack often found himself in the same position with Sloane over the years. How Sloane must have laughed to think that he had backed both Bristows into those corners, doing his dirty work.”

“So you did kill him,” Weiss said for clarification.

“Yes, I did. I finished it, I put an end to it. I regret that since his death was inevitable from the moment he told his superiors, that I didn’t do it myself and spare him the suffering.”

“I see.” Weiss and Irina sat there staring at each other.

Irina shrugged. “Of course, there is no way for you to ascertain the veracity of my statement, is there? Just from Sloane’s patterns. I am assuming that Jack wrote reports about his work for Sloane that would corroborate this behavior as his pattern.” When he said nothing, she prodded, “Agent Weiss, is that so?”

“Yes. You are right about that. Of course, you could have known about his patterns, as you say, his habit of torturing people and created your story around that.”

“I could have. But look at my pattern – the other agents I was ordered to execute – were any of them tortured?” “No.”

“We all have patterns, habits, Agent Weiss. Well, almost everyone. The only person I ever met in this game who wasn’t psychotic and yet avoided all patterns was Jack. That’s what made him such a good games player. The unexpected.”

“Yes, Jack Bristow could look at a situation and devise a solution that no one else would even imagine, let alone attempt. He was unpredictable and fearless. I would agree with you on that. Let’s go back over this one more time….”

The two people watching the monitor stared at it still in shock. “Do you think…”

“I don’t remember it myself. I don’t. I don’t know, but I do know one thing I can check right now. My mother…Let me call her.” He dialed his phone and put it on speaker. He tapped his fingers impatiently until his mother picked up. “Hi, Mom, it’s me. I have a really weird question for you. Do you remember an old coworker of Dad’s – Jack Bristow? Do you remember the family?”

“Let me think.” She was silent for a few moments. “Oh, yes. He was married to that lovely English teacher who died in a car accident, I think it was? They had a little girl.”

“Yes, that’s them. There was some story about our family going over to his house when their little girl was born and I did something?”

She was quiet for a long while, while Vaughn felt his heart race. Then she laughed, “Oh, I had forgotten all about that. You didn’t want to go. Who wants to see some nasty, smelly baby, you said. A GIRL baby, even worse. And then we got there and you saw the baby and you just fell in love with her, right there. Talked about her for weeks. And the little pink bow on her head. ”

“The pink bow…..Wait. I…” Vaughn closed his eyes. “Oh my God. The baby with the pink bow in the white bassinet.” He turned white himself as he opened his eyes and turned slightly. “I had completely forgotten… Do you remember what I said?”

“You said she was pretty, I think, or was it beautiful? And then you said, ‘mine’ like you were talking about a Tonka truck some other boy was trying to steal from you. It was so cute, so adorable. It was so funny. And Jack Bristow got so irritated. Laura was teasing him relentlessly about it. I remember now.”

“Okay, Mom,” Vaughn said with a sheepish half-smile and a sideways glance.

“I always wondered what happened to that little girl, what was her name?”

“Sydney.”

“That’s correct. An unusual name at the time. So, do you know where she is?”

“Actually, she’s sitting here right next to me and she’s still beautiful,” Vaughn said and reaching out, grasped Sydney’s warm hand in his cold one.

“No! Do you know, that day, her mom and I talked about the two of you being together. Is that what’s going on?”

“Maybe. We’ll see. It’s complicated.”

“Darling, it’s always complicated. If it weren’t complicated it would be boring. Who wants love to be boring?”

“Boring? Not a chance, not with Syd. I’ll talk to you later, Mom. Bye.” He shook his head as they stared at each other in shock.

A short while later, Weiss came out. Throwing down his notes, he reached for a bottle of water. Looking at Vaughn and Sydney, he asked, “So. What do you think? Truth or fiction?”

Sydney spoke up, since Vaughn had grown silent. “Well, we called Vaughn’s mom and she did confirm what will hereinafter be known as the bassinet story. And Vaughn did start to remember it.”

Weiss chortled. “Hey, that was priceless. Almost worthy of Rambaldi, the way you two seemed destined to meet again.”
”Shut up, Weiss,” Vaughn said, but with a small upturn of his lips. Weiss and Sydney both turned to him with expressions of sympathy. “Mike – do you want to take a break, go home? I think that would be more than okay with everyone,” Weiss suggested.

Vaughn shook his head. “What I want to do, is take the tape of this session and have someone more knowledgeable than I about Sloane and Irina’s behavior analyze it.”

“I can do that, bring it over for you,” Syd volunteered. “No,” Vaughn countered. “I think we all should go.”

Chapter 8

Nothing’s gonna save me
Til I see it in your eyes
Some kind of heartache honey
Give it a try

Two days later, the analyst stood up and stretched his arms. “I think she’s telling the truth. I think, she’s been telling the truth, at least as far as she’s been questioned.”

Kendall crossed his arms over his chest. “On what basis are you making this assertion?”

“You remember Sherlock Holmes? When you eliminate the impossible, all that remains, however improbable, is the truth. I think that’s the only way to analyze this situation. She has told us the contents of her operations bible, her contacts, everything. Everything checked out. She was on the verge of becoming one of the biggest crime bosses in the world. There is no benefit to her turning herself in, as far as I can ascertain beyond what she said on the day she walked in – deciding she’d had enough of the game, wanting to get to know her daughter, making amends. It chokes me to admit it.”

“Can anyone else make any alternate suggestions?” Kendall asked the group assembled.

Devlin looked around. “Analysis has not come up with any other viable ideas, either. So, we may have to assume she is telling the truth, has been for the months of debriefs. But I still wonder…”

“As do I,” the analyst agreed. “ But there is no benefit to her lying about her feelings for Sydney, about not torturing Bill Vaughn, about Sloane being her case officer. She freely admitted executing the agents as part of her assignments, making the final cut on Bill, everything else. She could have said that Sloane killed all those agents or at least some, She could have said Sloane killed Bill. What is the benefit to telling the truth? It’s not going to improve her position. Why ask for Vaughn to be her contact? He’s proven to be less than conciliatory to her, but yet she hasn’t requested another contact. Why? There is no benefit to talking to Vaughn as opposed to Weiss. Except that she feels guilty. Of course, you could say she wants us to think she feels guilty. And what’s the point of that? We give her an extra blanket? We give her a superduper microwave or expanded cable in her house on that island?”

Kendall asked the analyst, “So what is your recommendation?”

“Sydney should come back from the dead. And press Irina Derevko a little more. She looks stressed and exhausted already. Actually she looks terrible. Is anyone monitoring her sleeping and eating patterns?” Kendall nodded. “Someone needs to keep closer tabs on her. She’s no good to anyone if she’s completely exhausted and rundown. Although for this purpose, it may allow us to get to the truth a little quicker. So, let’s see what happens when sheer shock kicks in. Can you handle that, Sydney, questioning her at that time?”

Sydney asserted, “Yes, I’ll handle it.”

Devlin asked, “How much debriefing is left?”

“Not much. Just minor details. The big question remaining, really, is just ascertaining how they targeted Jack. But that’s almost obvious,” Vaughn said.

“What do you mean?” Syd asked.

Weiss answered, “I agree with Mike. Having spent time with her and Jack both, it’s obvious. They gave Irina a pool of choices and she picked Jack because of the way their minds work together. Frankly, it’s scary. Think of Jack and Irina working in tandem for the other side. My God. If she had ever tried and succeeded in turning Jack, the two of them together….” He shook his head.

“The question is whether she felt a genuine connection to him or whether she was hoping to use that similarity to turn him eventually or for who knows what?” Vaughn added, “While there is some more intel to obtain, that personal question is probably foremost in your minds, isn’t it?”

Sydney nodded in his direction. Vaughn continued, “That’s going to be your job to ascertain. As their daughter, it’s appropriate for you to do that final job. It could get personal, possibly intimate. And in some ways, it only matters to the Bristows, not anyone else, doesn’t it?”

“Do you think she even knows the truth herself anymore?“ Sydney wondered aloud. And shrugged. “Well, let’s get on with it.”

Chapter 9

I don’t want pity
I just want what is mine

Kendall walked down the hallway. ‘Oh no,’ Irina thought, ‘It’s never good news when he comes down here alone.’ “Yes?” she asked huskily.

“Good news, Ms. Derevko,” Kendall said with what might pass for a smile.

“My debriefings are done?”

“Almost, almost, just a few remaining questions on your relationship with Jack.”

“What is left, do you want videotapes of our sex life?”

“Don’t tell me…” Kendall trailed off.

“No, that was a joke.”

Kendall raised both eyebrows. “I’m not one for humor, Ms. Derevko. Actually, I am here for two reasons. One is that it appears that you haven’t slept a full night since I gave you the bad news. I have arranged for a physician to come in and talk to you. Long-term insomnia is a serious problem and can impede your memories and your analytical ability. He may prescribe a sleeping pill for you.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t want to have my value diminished, after all, would I?” Irina said snidely.

“No, you wouldn’t.” Kendall said flatly, “After all, without the Bristows here, your only value to us is in your analysis. But I have one more item to discuss with you. You may wish to sit down.” He waited. She remained standing. “Fine. Your choice. I told you long ago, that if I had any news from the crash site, I’d tell you.”

”I recall, but this late…”

“We needed to finish your debriefings.”

“What! You withheld information, when you promised?”

”I promised I’d give you the information, not that I would so at your preference or convenience.”

“What is it?” she gritted out.

“Your daughter,” he began and looked down the hallway. “Ah, here she comes.”

No one was more astonished than Sydney when her mother slumped against the glass and fell to the floor in a dead faint. Rushing into the cage, she gently slapped her cheeks. “Mom! Wake up!”

With a jerk, Irina woke and sat up. “Oh my god, it WAS a game, you’re alive.” She grabbed at Sydney’s arms and used them to pull herself up. She whirled around to look down the hall and saw only Kendall’s back as he walked away. “Where’s Jack, where’s Jack? Is he waiting down the hall or---”

”No, Mom, no. I’m here, but Dad….”

“What do you mean? You’re here, where’s your father? He must be here! He was just playing a game--”

“No.”

“I don’t understand.” Irina once again grabbed Sydney’s arms, so hard Syd gave a wince, but Irina did not let go. “Where is your father?”

“He’s gone, Mom, you know that.”

“How can you be alive but not your father? No.”

“Mom, sit down. I’ll explain.” Sydney propelled her mother over to the cot and then sat down beside her as she told a tale of the plane starting to go down. Jack had been able to make his way to the parachutes and had thrown one at her. She had donned it and made her way over to the door, while the plane shook and shuddered more and more violently. Jack had fallen down and rolled away from the parachutes before being able to secure his. Syd had tried to make her way over to her father. Jack had screamed at her to “Go, go, Jump!” She had not stopped until he yelled, “Syd, for my sake, go. I love you. I want you to live. Go! PLEASE.” It was the please that had weakened her resolve and made her jump.

“And then what happened?” Irina asked.

“I parachuted down, fell into trees. Broke a few bones. Well, more than a few.”

“But why did it take so long?”

“Because we were in the back of beyond in Peru. My cell phone was lost in the fall and left behind on the site. When some locals found me, they cared for me, but it was a several day trek to the nearest phone, which not so surprisingly did not have the capabilities to call the CIA or the US embassy or…basically anywhere beyond the next town. By the time, the CIA found me—“

“How?”

“The transmitter in the parachute pack kept giving off intermittent, faint signals. The people who found me just left the parachute on the ground.”

“You’d have to keep flying over the area at low altitudes forever to pick up that kind of signal. But who? ”

“Vaughn. He never gave up. That’s why you didn’t see him at first.”

“That bastard! He never said a word. All this time, he knew?”

“Yes. Those were his orders and he agreed with them.”

“Why? Did they think a double loss would make me more amenable to talking? Is that what he thought?”

“Double loss?”

“You and your father.”

Sydney straightened and look her mother squarely in the eye. She took a deep breath. “Can we be honest? Did you feel a loss when you heard that Dad was gone? Did you? I’ve seen your interactions with him in this cell on tape. You look like you enjoyed tormenting him, baiting him. So what was it – did you feel a loss that you no longer had Jack Bristow to torture anymore?”

Crack. Irina slapped her daughter across the face. Sydney reached her hand up to her reddened check and stared at her mother in shock. “This is how Jack raised you? To speak to your parent like that?”

Sydney dropped her hand and taunted her mother, “So,what is it that bothers you? That I spoke with disrespect or that I spoke the truth?”

“You don’t know what the truth is.”

“Do you?” Syd asked accusingly.

“Of course I do. I remember…” She stopped.

Sydney prodded. ”What do you remember? You know, as I was lying there, recuperating, I wondered. Wondered why you picked Dad out of all the possible candidates. Why him? Why did he seem like such a sucker to you?”

Irina smiled. “Jack – a sucker? Never. Sydney, I picked him because I liked him.”

“What? WHAT?” She stared at Irina, stunned. The answer could not be…

“It’s that simple. He was intelligent, humorous, handsome, fun, good in…Well, I liked him in ways that I never liked anyone else. I wanted him.”

“You liked him. You wanted him. That simple. You have got to be kidding. That’s it. Dad was smart? Dad was cute? Dad was a good kisser? Dad. Was. Fun? Fun!” Sydney’s voice started out flat and quiet, but as she continued the volume grew louder and louder until she was almost shrieking at the end..

“Sydney, of course, don’t you remember? I remember that he had a great sense of humor, he could always make me laugh. And make me angrier, quicker, than anyone else in the world, ever. And he was smart, brilliant really. I keep using that word to describe him, but it’s true. The only man to truly challenge me intellectually. So quick, so articulate. Even in the midst of a huge fight he could fling words around like no one else. The only man to ever keep up with me in an argument. And I wanted that, I wanted him, for me. I had to fight for my choice because he was not my superior’s first choice.”

“Why not?”

“They thought he was too clever, that he’d catch on.”

“But he didn’t.”

“No. Because I never had to pretend for what was between us. And it was lucky.”

“I suppose it was lucky for you.”

“Yes, it was. It gave me that much more time to be…”

“A spy for the KGB.”

“I thought it was important. But looking back, that wasn’t why I stayed so long….”

“Why?”

“What is it with these questions today? Shouldn’t we be celebrating…” Irina smiled and touched her daughter’s hair.

Sydney jerked back. “No. I can’t separate, compartmentalize our relationship from the relationship you had with Dad. I need to know. Now. I spent all this time thinking that I wasn’t going to wait any longer, that I would ask these questions that haunted me, haunted Dad. Get it over with. I saw those tapes of his interrogations when you abandoned us. And then I saw the tapes of your debriefs with Vaughn and Weiss. Then I went back to his tapes. I have questions and I want answers. Answers for Dad. It’s the least I can do. He went to his death not knowing the answers. Tell me. Now. I think you owe me, us, that much. Why him?”

“I told you. I liked him. He liked me. We were a couple, a good couple. I would have picked him regardless of the assignment to be…. And because the first time he kissed me…”

Sydney sat there waiting. Finally Irina slanted her a look, “Do you really want to hear this?” Syd nodded. “You asked. The first time we kissed, I knew – he was the one.”

“The one,” Syd said flatly and with disbelief. “The one? This is not a romance movie, Mom. This is a ten- year long story of you duping him. So don’t try and tell me that the first time you kissed--”

“I wanted to cry. I knew he was the one and he was supposed to be my mark, my…”

”Your way to infiltrate the CIA.” Silence.

“Are you trying to tell me that you kissed him and fell in love?”

“No. I am trying to tell you that when we kissed I knew we would be in love.” Seeing the incredulity on Sydney’s face she inquired, “Don’t tell me that when you have kissed men, you haven’t been able to tell whether or not there is chemistry and how much there is.” She lowered her voice to a whisper, “Don’t tell me that when you kissed Agent Vaughn for the first time, that deep inside you, you didn’t hear this voice say, ‘Ah. Finally. Him. Thank you.’ I’m assuming, hoping that by now…” Sydney blushed. Irina raised her voice again, “That is what I am talking about. That moment when you just.…know. And all those years we were together, that voice never went away.”

Sydney stared at her mother in shock. “Oh, my God. You….loved him.” This could not be the answer. Could it?

“Yes. It was that simple. We loved each other. I was a fool. I was the one who was a fool, not your father. I should have told him, confessed, found a way to cut a deal. Instead I let this idiotic notion of ideology mean more to me than… and then they threatened you and your father. ”

“I saw those tapes, that’s not what I want to know. I want to know, go back, to Dad. You and him. I admit that when Dad told me that you were the KGB agent, not him—“

”You thought it was him? You should have known better. That’s ridiculous!” Irina protested.

“Hey, smarter people than me thought it too! Remember how he spent six months in solitary? You set him up very nicely, didn’t you?”

“It wasn’t meant to be that way. That was just an unfortunate outcome.” Sydney snorted and rolled her eyes. Irina protested, “But I knew he’d be cleared eventually. But that’s on the tapes with Vaughn and Weiss.”

”Yes. I was about to say that when he told me that it was you, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it largely because of my memories of the two of you together. That relationship you had, seemed to have had, that is what I wanted, looked for and then when I found out it was all a lie…”

“But it wasn’t, don’t you see? It wasn’t.” Irina reached out to touch her daughter. “Sydney, let me just --- I can’t believe you are really sitting here, after all this time, I thought---“ she broke off, struggling for control. Sydney looked up at the camera lens and nodded.

“No, Mom, let’s go back. I need to know NOW. No more waiting. You said Dad was fun and you liked him. I do remember the two of you laughing all the time, I’d hear you two after I went to bed, it was always nice to hear it…”

“Yes, well, it wasn’t just that your father knew how to tell a joke…” Irina trailed off.

Sydney groaned, “Umm.. I don’t need to know…”

“No. Let’s move off that topic. But he made everything…even arguing with him. I used to love to bait him, just to bait him, to get--”

Sydney laughed and interrupted. ”Get him going! I remember that. You’d wink at me and say something and he’d get so mad. Remember that one morning, it was around Christmas and you got him so mad, I don’t remember about what. And he stormed out to the car and took off. Then you ran after him in only your nightgown and slippers, yelling after him, while telling me to stay put. The next thing, I know the two of you are—“

“Jack was carrying me back into the house because I’d lost a slipper chasing him down the sidewalk. It was so cold he didn’t want to me in my bare feet. We were laughing so hard that he almost dropped me.”

“What were you laughing about, or shouldn’t I ask?”

”No, it’s okay. We were laughing about the fact that I chased him in public wearing almost nothing just so I could have the last word. I always wanted the last word. It drove him crazy, until he figured out how to get me back.” She looked off smiling. “One way, sometimes, he would pretend to let me have the last word. Then he’d wake me up in the middle of the night and say something….infuriating. Say something that would make me speechless. Oh, he’d make me so mad! And then he’d turn over and pretend to sleep. I can’t tell you the number of times I pummeled him in the back at 3am in the morning. And then we’d make up, like we always did…. All those games were just our way, one of our ways…”

“Whoa, this is getting a little, um, personal, should we be watching?” Weiss asked Vaughn. “No, I agree---“ and then stopped when he heard his name mentioned.

“Sydney, Vaughn said once, actually the correct word is accused. He accused me of becoming the perfect person to snare your father. But the truth is, the last truth I can tell you, is that I never pretended when it came to my feelings for your father, our relationship, what was between us whether in the bedroom or out of it. I never had to. I never had to be anything but myself. Truthfully, the reality between us made it easier for me to deceive him. I didn’t have to use any energy to pretend to be anything but me. And that’s why I was so successful at stealing from him. It’s ironic, isn’t it? The chemistry was just there, right from the beginning. I used it for selfish reasons, to steal from him for my country and to grab a slice of happiness for myself. I’d tell myself that I gave him ten happy years, I gave him you, and that he’d move on.” Sydney shook her head and looked away. Irina swallowed hard. “Even though, in my heart, I never did, I hoped for him….And when I saw him again, after twenty years, I thought it would be gone, but…chemistry is chemistry. Do you know what that’s like?”

“Yes. I do.” Sydney agreed thoughtfully. She stood up. “I – have to go.”

“You need to think. And so do I. This is it, isn’t it? That’s why you came now. Because I’m almost done with the debriefs and soon…”

”Soon, you’ll go to the island.”

“Another cage.”

“A nice one though.”

”Did your father really pick it out himself?”

”How did you know that? Oh, that’s right, Vaughn slipped up that one time. Yes, Dad picked it out. Actually before that last mission, he’d brought some things up there.”

”He was that sure I’d take the offer.”

“He said the odds were in favor, but with Irina Derevko, who knew?” Irina turned away. “Mom, Kendall told me that you haven’t been sleeping and truthfully, you don’t look good. Even the analysts are concerned. I think the doctor is down the hall waiting to prescribe you some sleeping pills and you should consider taking them.”

“I’ll think about it. When will I see you again?” Irina asked.

”Tomorrow or the day after.” Sydney reached out a hand and touched her mother’s arm. To her shock her mother stood up and grabbed Sydney in a hug.

Pulling back, Irina wiped the hair away from Syd’s face. “Thank you. Thank you for being alive, thank you for seeing me. Thank you even for forcing me to discuss your father. I feel, for the first time in twenty years, like I am breathing again. I just wish I’d had the courage to apologize to him. I thought I had time. Time to play out my hand…”

“None of us know that we’ll have the time. I learned that.”

“So, does that mean you and Michael?”She whispered, knowing that Kendall was somewhere in the vicinity.

”Yes,” Sydney whispered back with a blinding smile. “Chemistry, like you said, cannot be denied forever.”

 

----

Chapter 10


Would you cry a little?
Lie just a little?

On the day Irina was transferred to her house, Sydney and Vaughn accompanied her. The day before, Irina had, to everyone’s shock, apologized to Vaughn for being the one to make the final cut on his father. They had spoken privately for a long time and when they were done, both had nodded at each other.

When Syd asked Vaughn about it, all he would say is that he had closure now. Clearly much more had been said between them, Syd thought, if he agreed to accompany them to the house. He hauled in the few boxes, while Syd showed her mother around the pre-furnished home.

When they got to the bedroom, Sydney commented, “This is a nice peaceful room, Mom. Maybe you’ll sleep better here.”

Irina gasped when she saw the framed photo of her, Jack and newborn Sydney in a frame on the dresser. Staring at it, she said softly, “I doubt it.”

 

Chapter 11

Pretend that you're feeling a little more pain?

“How much did she ingest?”

“The doctor said enough to kill her twice over.”

“Do we know whether or not she took them herself, or was she forced—“

“You know the security on that house. No one came in or out.”

“Don’t you go there every Friday night you are in town.? She knew you’d arrive and save her. C’mon. It was a small risk.”

“No, it wasn’t. I had called her to tell her that I couldn’t make it tonight, that I’d be there Sunday. It was just sheer luck that the op was cancelled and I went out there instead.” Silence. Sydney continued, “But it could have been an accident. We think she may have become addicted to the sleeping pills.”

“Addicted? Irina? No, I …”

”The alternative is believing that she tried to kill herself. What do you think? Which story do you prefer?”

Silence, then, “Is she seeing another doctor, now?”

“Yes, I have an appointment scheduled for her as soon as she’s cognizant.”

“When do they think that will be?”

“At least a day.” Silence.

Sydney finally said, “Well, I need to go.”

“Is Vaughn with you?”

“No, he’s stuck at work tonight. Are you going to come to the hospital?”

“We’ll see. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Wait – I know this is hard. All around. And this development is hard to believe. No one would have ever expected…”

“You have no idea. No idea.”

 

Chapter 12

I gave, now I'm wanting something in return

A week or so later, Sydney and Irina sat outside on the deck of the small house, enjoying a rare day of warm sunshine so late in the year. Sydney kept shooting nervous glances at her mother until finally Irina said in exasperation, “Stop it. I’m not going to fling myself off of this deck. I could have done that at any time in the last two months, after all. The drop is not far enough to kill me, anyway.”

Sydney’s mouth dropped open in shock before she shrieked, “MOM! Don’t say things like that!”

Irina smiled for a moment and then looked away, “You know, your father would have laughed at that. He always had such a morbid sense of humor.” Syd’s mouth dropped open again and Irina said dryly, “You have to stop doing that. It’s rather unattractive.”

“Mom – that’s the first time you’ve ever mentioned him since that day I came back.”

“Your father? I know, odd isn’t it? When I consider that it was my despair over what I’d done in my life, worst of all to him without having a chance to make amends, that led me to that…idiocy. To being so weak as to allow myself to become addicted to those stupid pills. And then to try…..After everything I seen with drugs…you’d think I would have known better. But then again, you think I’d have brought it up.”

“What?”

“Your father.”

“Maybe not,” Syd said thoughtfully, “The things that hurt the most are often those which go left unsaid.”

“Hmm,” was all Irina said. Syd looked at her mother carefully and Irina met her eyes calmly. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do that again.”

“Why not? What’s changed?”

“Two things. One when I saw your face in the hospital – that was wrong of me, to not think of the impact on you. I was taking the easy way out, blunting my pain with drugs.”

Sydney blinked and when Irina did not resume speaking, prodded her, “And the second?”

Looking out over the water, Irina tucked her hair behind her ear and gave one of her enigmatic smiles. “You’ll think I’m crazy. Crazier.”

Sydney said nothing, just waited. She had learned the value of waiting from Vaughn, how keeping silent encouraged the other person to talk. “When I was in the hospital that first night, still groggy, I thought I felt, thought I heard….”

“What?” Sydney asked.

Irina laughed dryly, “I hate to say this, you’ll have me back to that psychiatrist so fast….” When Sydney just raised an eyebrow, Irina bit her lip and said softly, “You look like your father when you do that.”

“He always used to say I looked like you when I tucked my hair behind my ear,” Syd said quietly.

“Really? He actually admitted that you and I had some similarities?”

“Yes. Actually for a long time I was afraid that all he saw when he looked at me was you.”

“No, Sydney. No, never think that. You were his princess from the moment the doctor placed you in his arms. I remember lying in the bed, thinking, ‘Well, she’s first in his heart now. His princess.’ Then he looked up at me, with such love on his face for the both of us and said ‘Thank you.’ And I thought, for this moment, it’s all been worth it, to give you to him.” Irina turned her head away, but not before Sydney saw the brightness in her eyes.

Syd said, “Thank you for telling me that story.”

“You’re welcome. I should have told you before. I know you and your father were estranged for a long time, which is my deepest regret about the effects of what I did. But you know that your father loved you more than life itself. He should have had more children. It’s too bad time ran out before you could give him grandchildren to spoil rotten.”

They sat there in silence for a moment, then Sydney picked up the earlier conversation. “Mom, what were you saying, about that night in the hospital?”

“I thought I heard your father’s voice saying, ‘Don’t make it this easy on yourself. Live, Irina, and cope with it. I want to see you deal with it. ”

Sydney gasped. Irina nodded, “It does sound like something he would say, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” Syd choked out.

“And then I felt like he touched my hair, just like he used to. He loved me hair, never wanted me to cut it. I guess that’s why I imagined him running his fingers through it – it was something just between the two of us.” She sighed . “ I know this sounds ridiculous. Preposterous. I mean, it’s not like I believe in God. I lost my belief long ago if I’d ever truly had it. And if you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in the afterlife, and if you don’t believe in the afterlife, then Jack could not have been there that night. Or the other nights.”

“The other nights?”

“Each night I was in the hospital, I could have sworn he was there, I could have sworn each night I’d feel him touch my hair and then disappear. It must have been an illusion. And now I realize how insulting it was when I said to your father that the illusion was as real for him as it was for me. An illusion is not the real thing. Only the real thing is good enough. And we’d had the real thing. He must have wanted to kill me for saying that. Well, among other things.” She smiled ruefully. “And I must have been hallucinating, or just hoping he was there, forgiving me. Because then when I came home, I never felt it again and if his…spirit could visit me in the hospital it could visit me here, couldn’t it?”

“Do you want it to?”

“I don’t know. It’s like pouring salt on a wound in some ways. But if it had been true, if Jack had been there, there would be an afterlife, there would be a God, wouldn’t there? And I hate to think what price I would be paying if God were real.”

Well, there was really nothing to say to that was there? Sydney reflected.

“I guess it was just wishful thinking, an illusion.”

“I guess.”

They sat there a long while, watching the sun set.

Beep. Sydney’s cell phone. She answered. All Irina heard was, “Really? Yes. Okay. Yes.” She had raised her brows quizzically when Syd’s voice seemed quite excited, but then turned away as she assumed that her daughter was talking to Vaughn. She wasn’t too surprised then, when Sydney announced as she put away her phone, “We have a visitor coming. In five minutes.”

“We, don’t you mean you?” Irina asked, teasing.

“Why don’t you go comb your hair, Mom, the wind really whipped it around.”

Irina gave a smile as she said, “Oh, is it Michael? You want me out of the way so you two can say hello the way you want, without say Kendall, seeing?”

Sydney burst out laughing, “Something like that. Shoo. Comb your hair, put on some lipstick, whatever…”

“Fine. I’ll go. Although why I should put on makeup for your boyfriend…” she said as she walked toward her bedroom.

Exactly five minutes after Sydney’s cell phone had beeped, the door bell rang. Both women had been waiting in the living room. Sydney rushed to answer the door with a goofy smile on her face. Irina smiled indulgently and turned her back to give the couple privacy. She liked to think she’d had some small part in getting Sydney and Vaughn together, although…

 

Chapter 13

So cry just a little for me

Every hair on the back of Irina’s neck stood up. The voice she could not hear clearly, but the timber of it, the rhythm. Slowly, slowly, she turned. And almost fell.

Jack stood there.

Someone else was behind him, but her eyes were glued to Jack. Dressed in black, black slacks and shirt. Looking relaxed, but taller than ever. Then her eyes went over his body and realized that he appeared not only completely unscathed, but actually tanned and rested. She nearly stumbled, while he just stood there looking at her. She stared at him, knowing that any moment, surely her knees were going to buckle. She hated that his eyes flicked down to her legs, seeing her weakness.

But then Jack lifted his one eyebrow and cocked his head in that sardonic, slightly superior way that had always incensed her. That had been another private joke between them, how just by making those gestures he could send her temper through the roof. Her knees snapped into place and without conscious volition she raced forward, arms upraised.

“You goddamn son of a bitch! I’m going to strangle you!” Irina yelled as she raced toward him.

Jack began laughing. Laughing! Irina thought wildly as she took a swing at him. She was so furious she had not even set up her shot correctly. She was not surprised when he easily caught her arms and moved them behind her back. He quickly transferred both wrists to one of his hands, while using the other arm to haul her up against his body in a quick, jerking motion. “Umpf” Irina exhaled as she smashed into the hard wall of Jack’s chest. When she began kicking at him, he pushed her back into the wall and held her there. Still not giving up, she began biting wherever she could reach and stopped only when she heard Jack chuckle and then whisper, “You can bite me later in private if you want, Irina, but right now our daughter is standing right there.” She looked over and saw Sydney’s horrified face as her daughter called out, “Mom! Stop it!”

Then she heard Michael Vaughn say, “Syd, let’s leave them alone.”

Hearing that, another notion clicked into place as Irina peered around Jack’s shoulder to see Michael inside the doorway. “YOU! Damn you! Those flowers! You were in on it, the whole game, the whole time! I was right, you are just like Jack.” Irina snarled. “I can’t believe you fooled me that long. Oooh! I will---”

“No you won’t, Irina,” Jack said calmly, interrupting her. “After all, didn’t you tell him that if it were a game, you could appreciate it, that it was --- what was it she called the set up, Mike?”

“Stunningly neat and tidy. Brilliant. I think she said that twice.” Vaughn repeated with a huge smile.

“Oh my god. That’s one reason you said you were able to forgive me, isn’t it? You got payback.”

“Yes,” Vaughn said simply. “Yes and I was part of the payback, not just an observer. That’s one reason why Jack asked me to be the point person on this op, to give me the opportunity to extract my pound of flesh.”

“And the other reason?”

Jack answered, still holding Irina against the wall. “I remember the bassinet story, too, Irina. I wondered for the longest time why Bill Vaughn was so mangled because it was not your way. You were right – most of us have patterns. So, I wondered if someone else started the job and you finished it. I conjectured that you had been unable to fulfill your assignment because you remembered that day when Sydney was a newborn. So, I thought that I’d add guilt to the mix by having that little boy do your debriefs. Kendall didn’t think it was a good idea. He didn’t know you well enough to see the vague remnants of guilt on your face whenever you talked with Mike that I saw once I put aside my anger. But you made it easy and asked for him, as I expected.”

“I will kill YOU!” Irina gasped.

“Why, for knowing you that well? Get over it. You used your knowledge of me against me too, didn’t you?” She stared at him and nodded grudgingly. “Once I figured it out, I knew how to play the game. If you were telling the truth, then this game would work. If you weren’t, well, at least it would encourage you to give up your intel, since neither Syd nor I were there to torment anymore. And then the whole game, your game, would be over that much sooner.”

“Brilliant,” Irina said flatly. “But why did it take you so long to show up here and gloat? Did you expect me to become addicted to those pills, too?”

Jack took a deep breath. “Never. I regret that. If I would have known, I would have come back into the country, screw the deal I made. I never expected that. No one did. I am sorry that—“

”No, no.” Irina shook her head. “Don’t apologize for that, Jack. You are not responsible for me, I am responsible for me. It was my own fault for being weak. Isn’t that what you meant when you came to me in the hospital?”

Jack shrugged as he loosened her hands and put his arms around her. “Ah, so you were awake enough. But for the game, do you want me to apologize—“

Irina slipped her arms around Jack’s neck. ”No. Of course not, that’s ridiculous. I would have done the same thing.” Jack and Irina began laughing together.

“I know. But it was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Jack said through his laughter.

“Damn good, Bristow. Really. I appreciate it. Congratulations on a game well played, perfect planning and execution.” Irina continued laughing. Both Vaughn and Sydney shook their heads, although the older couple was paying them no attention. Irina continued, “And apologize? You shouldn’t. And you wouldn’t apologize, anyway.” He nodded with a rueful smile. Irina continued, “But I will. I apologize for being selfish and not doing a better job of hiding the note and so many things, so much. I don’t even know where –“

“That’s enough for right now, Irina.”

“Why, are we even?”

“Hmm, I think we still need to negotiate that.”

“Negotiate that!”

“Here they go,” Syd said loudly to remind her parents that there were others still in the room, “Michael, let’s get out of here. We need to catch the ferry. I remember these fights. This argument could take forever.”

“Yes,” Irina said, “Perhaps it could.”

Without looking at them, Jack said, “Bye Syd, Mike. See you tomorrow. Late tomorrow. Call first.”

 

Chapter 14

If your love could be caged
Honey I would hold the key

As the door closed behind them, Irina said, “Are you going to let me move now?”

“Not just yet. I have a healthy respect for your anger, Irina.” And then raised his eyebrows when she curled her left leg around his right.

“I’m not angry anymore, Jack. Well, not that kind of angry. And I remember how all of our games ended. I’m waiting. I feel like I’ve been waiting for twenty years for the end of this game,” she murmured and pulled his head down to hers with a jerk. Smiling, Jack said, just before his lips touched hers, “So, this isn’t going to be some long-drawn out affair right now, is it?”

“Are you an idiot? Of course not. This will be a quickie, just to take the edge off.”

“What if I don’t want a quickie?” Jack teased.

“That’s too damn bad. Kiss me and get your clothes off.” Once again she drew his face to hers and relaxed when this time he allowed their lips to touch. Twenty years since she had last kissed anyone like this. With honest emotion. She felt like she would lose control immediately as their lips met again and again, as their tongues touched and searched and explored. As their teeth nipped and tongues then soothed,as they learned each other again.

Suddenly, Irina realized that while she had been distracted by Jack’s mouth, he had unzipped her pants and was in the process of pushing them down. She noted, “I thought I told you to get your clothes off, not mine.”

“You take mine off,” Jack countered.

“Fine!” she snapped, in no mood for delay, and roughly pushed his pants down as he kicked off his shoes. Bending over to shove everything off, she jumped when his hands curved around her backside. “Stop wasting time and just get my pants off, Jack!” He raised an eyebrow and deliberately slowed his movements. She practically growled at him and he laughed. “Jack Bristow!” she snarled and raised her hand to pull him toward her. He grabbed her by the waist and lifted her up. To her surprise, he merely placed her against the wall. Then she moaned when he fitted their bodies together. They both sighed. Irina groaned, “Finally.”

“In a hurry tonight or what?” Jack gasped as she moved against him.

“Do you want to—“ she gestured with her hand toward the couch.

“No, against the wall. Do you know how many times I imagined—“

She cut him off, “Taking me against that glass wall in my cage?” He nodded. She gave a feline smile. “I know. Me too. That was my initial thought that first day you came to see me. I looked at you and that glass and…that’s why I started babbling, I think, to cover up. Twenty years, all that between us and the first thought in my mind is ‘Can we do it against the glass without breaking it?’ Do you think we could have a visit there sometime? Without the guards? Without the monitors being on?” She gave another smile as she felt his involuntary response. “Good idea?”

“Shut up, Irina and move for me.”

“God, I love it when you give orders like that, Jack Bristow.”

“Do you always have to have the last word?”

“Make me stop talking the way you always did.” Irina felt the smile of remembrance on his lips as he crushed her lips to his. But then he began murmuring instructions, telling her how to move, why he wanted her to move that way, this way. She had always loved his voice, the way he talked when they made love. When she had told Sydney he was articulate, she had luckily known where to draw the line at discussing their relationship, she thought with an inward smile.

But before she knew it, too quickly, she felt her body arch against the wall, preparing. Whispering in her ear, Jack asked softly, “That’s it, Irina. Are you ready? Do you remember?” She moaned her assent and wrapped her arms and legs tighter around him so that he could loosen one arm. She held her breath as he slowly, teasingly touched her. She thrust her pelvis forward at him, wanting a harder touch. Surprising a little gasp from him, she nearly growled the words at him, “For the love of god, Jack, now, please.” “So demanding. Some things never change. Okay, okay, hold on,” he answered as he used his thumb and she was gone, arching her back so far that he had to quickly cup her head to prevent it from hitting the wall. As she came down, he pushed her back into the wall and began moving toward his own release. Watching his face, she saw him getting closer and closer and yes, finally, he whispered, “Irina,” not “Laura”.

Resting their foreheads against each other, they took deep breaths. Suddenly Jack chuckled and pointed out, “We never even took off our shirts.”

“And look, they match, both black,” Irina noted. “Is there some kind of deeper meaning in that?” she asked with a small smile.

“You know, Weiss said more than once that the way our minds think in tandem is –“

Irina interrupted, knowing how to finish the sentence, “Let me guess, he said it was scary?”

“Yeah.”

“I think he’s scared of both of us.”

Jack rolled his eyes, “Gee, I can’t imagine why.”

“Well, right now, we’re not capable of frightening anyone, my legs…”

“Oh sorry. Let me let you down.”

“No! Carry me into the bedroom.”

“Will you stop with the orders? You’re not the international crime boss here, Irina.” Jack said as he carried her down the hall, anyway. “If I drop you, it’s not my fault. I’m not a young man anymore, Irina.”

“You looked and felt pretty fit to me, Jack. I don’t notice you complaining about your legs and you were doing all the work!” They smiled at each other as they entered her bedroom.

As he lowered her to the bed, she tried to prevent him from moving away, but he just raised his eyebrow and she let go. “Get under the covers, before you catch a chill. You’re still not one hundred percent.” As he began unbuttoning his shirt, she stopped his hands. “No, no, let me do it.” She finished unbuttoning the shirt and shoved it off. “Jack, can I say that I like the black on you? You never wore that when we were younger, but with your silver hair, now…”

He rolled his eyes. “Women and clothes. We can have a sartorial conversation later and you can critique my wardrobe then. Once a wife, always…”

“Your wife,” Irina said solemnly, looking into his eyes. He nodded as he reached out and pulled off her knit top. He pulled the covers up over her and stepped back. “Where are you going?” she asked.

“I’m going to take a quick shower. I’ve been on the road ever since the doctor told me that you were going to be released from the hospital. One last quick mission as part of the deal I made with Devlin. That’s why I wasn’t here earlier. I’ll tell you about it when I’m done. Rest for a little while.” Then he bent down and kissed her gently. “That’s an order, Derevko,” softening the demand with a smile. She smiled back as he left the room and closed her eyes, waiting for him to return.

 

Chapter 15

If I had just one tear running down your cheek
Maybe I could cope, maybe I'd get some sleep

Sliding into the bed with her, Jack said, “We need to have a conversation or two or three, Irina.”

“I think you’ve heard everything I can say, Jack.”

“I know.” He pulled her close, but arranged them so that they could see each other. “But I need to answer your question about why it took me so long to get here after it was clear that the game was done. It wasn’t my choice. I was concerned when I saw you in that debrief about Bill Vaughn. I told them you looked terrible, to get you a doctor, but I don’t think they really believed me. I was worried. But in order to get the approval to run the game, Devlin made me agree to several assignments that took me out of the country off and on for most of the last eight months. They sent me the tapes electronically to analyze every day, but I was only in town once a month or so.”

“You were the analyst they mentioned a few times? Of course.” She slapped the covers with one hand. “I even said that it was only you who would know if I was telling the truth.”

“At first I thought that was ridiculous, after all, wasn’t I your biggest dupe? And we had others watching too, analyzing. But then, it all fell into place, that you were telling the truth. It wasn’t some big revelation, although I had always wondered about the coincidence of one night talking about a second child and the next you being gone. There are no coincidences like that in our business.”

“I hoped you’d wonder about that when Sloane told me he’d destroyed my note. But it took you twenty years to piece it together. I don’t blame you. You were too angry and you used that anger to keep going. I knew that the moment I saw you again.”

“Yes.”

“I’d hear from time to time about your successes, your mission in the field. So many people talked about how the one opponent they never wanted to work against was you. I, I was proud of you. Part of me wanted to shout out, ‘That’s MY husband!’“

“You kept tabs on me?” Jack asked in shock.

“Of course, when I could, on you and Sydney, when I could do it without tipping my hand. I felt …guilty, even though I spent years convincing myself that I’d done the right thing, been a good patriot. When I heard how well you were doing, professionally, it absolved my guilt. Until I saw you. And then I got nervous.”

”I couldn’t tell,” he scoffed.

“Luckily. Or maybe not, maybe if I’d let you see… But you may not have believed your eyes.”

“I would have thought you were just trying to dupe me again, for some unknown reason and then spent the next few months losing more sleep wondering about what that reason could be.”

“Neither of us slept. But you wouldn’t have believed that either, without the tapes.”

“No, I would not have believed you about anything.”

“That’s why this game was such a good idea, wasn’t it? So when did you decide to send Sydney in to deliver the coup de grace?”

“The last time I did onsite analysis -- when you told the bassinet story. I’ve been out of the country since the next day, except for when you were in the hospital. Luckily I had flown back in that day. But I wasn’t even here when you talked to Sydney, when she reappeared.” He paused, “So you don’t seem mad that she participated in the game.”

“No. She’s OUR daughter, Jack. I wouldn’t expect anything else.”

“It was that interview---“ He stopped.

“What?”

“It was that interview, really that interrogation of you she did. Although I couldn’t make out some of her words, there was some problem with the tape in one section Mike couldn’t fix. But, anyway…” He stopped again.

Irina raised a brow but when he continued his silence, she noted, “Looking back on it, she was good, wasn’t she? Relentless. Did you hear what you expected?”

“I don’t know what my head expected to hear, but…”

“But was it what your heart expected to hear? I kept telling them that, deep down, you knew the truth, that’s why you were so mad.”

“And that was so goddammed irritating to hear. But you were right. The last twenty years have been a battle between what my heart, my instincts were telling me and what my head told me was true. Then watching that tape, it all made sense. No one can compartmentalize that much. No one, not even you, is so good at being undercover that for ten years you pretend that well to be a loving wife and mother and be a spy on the side. Vaughn asked all the right questions, didn’t he?”

“Vaughn, he surprised me. He was as good as you or Sydney.”

“I know. Disgusting, isn’t it? Even though I picked him, he surprised me too. I don’t know what changed him to allow him to play hardball so well, but whatever it is, I’m glad because it got us here.”

“Yes.”

“But let me finish. You know what the moment was when the lightbulb went off for me, when I knew you were telling the truth? That the reality of our relationship made it easier to carry out the deception?”

“What was it?”

“When you were telling Sydney that you picked me because you liked me. And I remembered this one time, it had always struck me as odd. Even then my radar told me something was…off.”

“When? Tell me!” She laughed, “Go on, give me a critique!”

“This one time, early on, when we weren’t more than kids. And we were at my apartment, making out on the couch. And I said something funny and you laughed and laughed. Then you pulled back and looked at me with such surprise, such incredulity, on your face and said, “I like you, I like you so much, Jack.” And I thought to myself at the time, ‘Why is she so surprised? Is there something wrong with me? Why wouldn’t she like me? Why else would she be here?’ But then you kissed me again. And I never felt anything else from you other than the love, so that one slip up was completely eradicated from my mind until I saw that tape.”

“Oh, my god.”

“Yeah, if I had given that one moment more thought…” They both stared at each other, realizing that if Jack had followed up on that one mistake, everything, everything would be different. Irina lifted her hand and touched his cheek, while Jack just looked at her. Even as she caressed his shoulder, he saw something else “click” in her eyes. “What is it?”

“Wait – that time frame – it was to mimic your time in solitary, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, although that was Devlin’s idea. I think Devlin was still afraid that I might kill you, especially since we didn’t really know what you’d say, what you’d tell us. He wanted me far enough away so that I would have a chance to have second thoughts before…”

“Before setting me up again.”

“Yeah. Madagascar. That wasn’t one of my best efforts. Not very subtle. I was too angry to set it up properly. And I didn’t expect Vaughn to be that smart.” He chuckled and shook his head.

“Of course he is. He’s so much like you, the you I knew before. That’s one reason why Sydney loves him.”

Jack rolled his eyes. Irina whispered, “You’re right. Why talk about them?”

“What do you want to do?” Jack laughed. Irina’s eyes were on his right shoulder, gently touching what looked to be a relatively new wound. Throwing back the covers, she said, “Let me see that scar.” As the sun completely set outside, slanting redness into the room, they began exploring his other’s bodies again – finding the changes that the last twenty years had wrought. Each wound, each remnant of a wound received kisses, as if they were children looking for and believing in the healing power in a kiss.

“We both have plenty of scars, don’t we?” Jack murmured at one point, tracing his fingers over the lower arch of Irina’s back with one hand, while the other hand caressed the puckered mark left by a bullet in Irina’s back right hip. As Jack touched her, running his large warm hands over her back and she moaned when he began massaging the backs of her legs, finally beginning to relax for the first time since…When? She did not even know how long it had been since she’d been this relaxed. And Jack….Well, she knew from watching him and hearing others talk about him, that relaxation had not been a top priority in his life since…. Control had been his top priority. Well, she was back now, she thought with an inner smile.

Turning over, she reached up and put her arms around his back. Pulling his head down, she bit his lower lip and smiled at the surprise on his face. “Didn’t you tell me before that I could bite you in private?”

“Mmm, so I did. However, let me add a restriction to that…” They both chuckled.

Irina noted, “You know, I told Sydney, and Vaughn I think, that one thing I loved about you was your sense of humor. Even in bed, you always made me laugh. Syd mentioned that she remembered us laughing after she went to her room at night.”

Jack smiled, “I know, I almost died when she said that. Watching that tape, I was afraid about what you might say next.”

“Even I have my limits, Jack,” Irina smiled back.

“Well, I’m not hoping to meet any limits tonight.” “No,” Irina agreed as she arched up into him and pulled his head down. Slowly sliding her lips across his, Irina felt his mouth open. Answering the silent request, she slid her tongue into his warm mouth and began stroking his tongue with her own. Anchoring her body into the bed’s softness with his weight, Jack framed her face with his hands. He realigned their mouths and took over, thrusting his tongue into her mouth, then pulled back, endlessly rubbing his own lips over hers, licking her lips, then biting them, refusing to enter her mouth with his tongue, until Irina moaned, “Please, Jack.”

“Mmmm, yes? What do you want?”

“You know what I like, how I want to kiss. C’mon, don’t be an idiot.”

“Idiot? Hmm, I think maybe I’ve forgotten what you like. It’s been a long time. And maybe my memory’s gone. Idiot.”

“You know –“

“I know, I remember you calling me idiot before. Your favorite name to call me when I truly irritated you. But I think you’ll pay this time for saying that.”

“Oh, no,” Irina breathed, remembering Jack’s way of making her pay. “Not tonight, Jack. I can owe you!” She laughed, then sobered, “No, not tonight. Tonight, right now, I don’t want to take that much time. In fact,” she pushed at his body and delighted in the fact that he remembered her signal to roll over. Grabbing her around the waist, he positioned her over him and reached up to pull her face to his. Now it was Irina’s turn to control the kiss.

She stopped as she felt Jack’s rough hands moving over her body, relearning the curves and hollows, ascertaining if she still responded the same way. No, he was not going to control them this time. She slid her body down his, kissing her way over every scar again, moving down his torso, smiling when she felt his muscles tense as he realized what she intended. She slid down between his legs and ran her hands lightly over his thighs as she lowered her head. His smile caught her eye and she quirked her eyebrow at him, “What?”

“I’m hoping that you’re not planning on biting me now, there. I did tell you there were restrictions on that offer, didn’t I?”

She grinned back at him, “But, Jack, when have I ever played by the rules?” They smiled at each other and then Jack reached out and began sifting his fingers through her hair. She closed her eyes, remembering all the times he had done that, remembering him touching her hair in the hospital. Remembering how much she wanted him, had always wanted him. Right now she wanted to make him crazy with wanting too and lowered her head.

“Irina, I wasn’t expecting…” Jack murmured as he began pulling her back up his body.

“We have twenty years to make up for. But I did it because I don’t ever want you to think of me as predictable,” she teased as she stopped when her face reached his chest.

“I don’t think there’s any worry about that,” Jack argued.

“For either of us,” Irina whispered as she caressed the muscles in his chest and arms. He ran his hands over her back, wondering what she was about when she stopped, her right hand over his heart. He raised an eyebrow. “Jack, you know there’s one scar I didn’t kiss for you. This one,” she said softly as she raised her head and softly, gently, kissed his chest over his heart. Without thinking she then rubbed the area with her hand. Suddenly, she remembered she had always told Sydney that she was “rubbing the love in” when she did that. Irina looked up and caught her breath at the look on his face, seeing that he remembered too. Seeing ‘her’ Jack there at last, in his eyes. She felt a tear or two in her eyes, she who seldom if ever cried, knowing she had been given that most rare of all moments in life, a second chance.

“I love you, Jack, you know that.”

“I know,” he said softly. “I saw it in the tapes, heard it, and I see it in your eyes.”

She arched up to give him a soft kiss and then lay back down on top of him, rubbing her cheek against his chest while he combed through her hair with his hands and massaged the back of her neck. In a short while, Irina’s breathing evened out and she fell asleep right on top of him. Reaching out, Jack pulled the covers up over them, thinking that now, finally, for the first time in who knows how long, he could sleep as well.

 

Chapter 16

Nothings gonna save me
‘Til I see it in your eyes

 

The sound of the ferry’s horn woke them both about an hour later. Irina had slid to Jack’s side and she looked up at him as he blinked his eyes open, instantly fully awake. They smiled at each other, but Jack broke the silence. “Are you hungry?”

Irina laughed at the question. “Some things never change, do they?”

“No, I suppose not. But I didn’t get to eat dinner tonight. What do you have in the kitchen?”

Irina reluctantly disentangled herself and sat up to get out of bed. Walking over to the closet, she grabbed her robe. Turning back, she caught his appreciative gaze roaming her backside. She let her own roam his long body stretched out on her, their, bed; it was much heavier with muscle than when she had met him just out of his teens. More powerful. Losing her train of thought for a moment, she cleared her throat and then said, “Well, there should be plenty of food. Sydney brought over so many bags this afternoon…Wait, that was because she knew you were coming over, didn’t she? I should have known when I saw her putting away those steaks. I am such an –“ She stopped unable to come up with the right word to describe herself.

“Such an idiot, Irina? Is that what you were about to say?” Jack asked with a smile.

Irina rolled her eyes, “Very funny.”

She reached over and pulled him out of the bed and into the kitchen. A few minutes later, Irina put a plate of toast down in front of Jack. She squealed as he pulled her onto his lap. “Come on, you’re not going to eat that with me sitting here, are you?”

“You bet,” he said as he took a bite.

“You’ll get crumbs all over me,” she protested.

“Hmm, I’ll make this easier,” he said as he pushed her robe off. “I’ll just lick the crumbs off you.” They smiled at each other, anticipating all the places where he might find crumbs.

Later, Irina lay gasping on the table, propped up on her elbows, looking at Jack. He looked pretty self-satisfied, she thought.

“So, we’re even,” he said.

“Even?” she asked.

“You know, before you got to---“

“Oh! Are we keeping score?”

“No, not really.”

She said firmly, “No, not at all, Jack Bristow. No scores in this game.”

“No?”

She shook her head. “No, this game is a game of give and take.”

“Oh, I see. The rhythm of give---” he said as he slid his fingers toward her again. She gasped and grabbed his hand to stop him. “No, Jack, later.”

“Why?”

“I can see something in your face. What are you thinking about?” She raised an eyebrow and waited, still holding the one hand.

He stared in her eyes and she could tell he made a decision. Still she was shocked speechless when he said, “I have a job offer for you.”

When she said nothing, just stared at him in shock, he explained. “Although I enjoy the idea of having you here in this house waiting for me to arrive and have these little conjugal visits,” he said in an arch tone. “It occurs to me that you might find your time here a little boring otherwise. And the world cannot handle the consequences of Irina Derevko’s boredom. Trouble. Big global trouble. At least that’s one argument I used with Devlin. We’ve been negotiating for two months now, hence my latest little missions, part of my deal with him.”

“What are you talking about?” Irina asked, her excitement building.

“Would you like to occasionally, to start, work as my partner on ops or analysis?”

“You are joking.”

“No,” he said firmly. Then with a quirk to his mouth, he explained, “Actually Weiss gave me the idea. He kept saying over and over that our minds work alike, that if you had ever tried and succeeded in turning me to the other side and we worked as a team we would have been unbeatable. I think you said it too. And I thought, well, what if we worked together on my side?” He paused and no one but Irina would have realized he was nervous.

She reached out and took his other hand in hers and brought both to her lips. Kissing the center of the palms one by one, she said, “Work hand in hand with you? That’s….” She stopped unable to think of the correct word. Although Jack had often finished her sentences for her in the past, this time he kept silent. She knew that he needed to hear her own thoughts. “Jack, that’s perfect. I wish I had thought of that twenty---“

He cut her off, “Don’t. Let’s not go there. Let’s deal with now.” She nodded, turning her head away so that he could not see the moisture in her eyes. “Irina, look at me.” She slowly moved her head back and he leaned over her and kissed her eyes. “Don’t hide from me, I need to know---“

“You’re right. This will only work if I am open with you.”

“Yes. But about the offer. You wouldn’t be totally free. You’d still have to stay here much of the time, but I think I can negotiate when you’ve proven yourself to having my house being an acceptable secondary location.”

“I’d be released in your custody.”

“Or Syd’s or Vaughn’s. Only us three.”

“I get the feeling Vaughn would be the worst of the three.”

“Probably. That kid can be ruthless sometimes. I couldn’t believe him when he made you beg.”

”Although a part of you appreciated it.” Irina bore him no anger for that, Jack saw. They were too much alike – she would have done the same thing and knew it. One advantage to having a partner in the business, a partner so much like himself.

“Yes. But that’s when I pulled out that photo and brought it up here.”

Irina confirmed, “That one on the bureau of us three?”

Jack nodded. “You know, when I was boxing up the photos after I found out the truth, I realized that one of the copies of that photo was missing. That must be the one you took. It never occurred to me, all those years…”

She shrugged, absolving him, “Why would it? Jack, Michael said something that day about one photo of me being in Syd’s room and a second photo was in the house.”

“Syd, that blabbermouth told him.” He shook his head. “She’s not the most closed-mouth spy in the world is she?”

“Well, are you going to tell me or do I have to ask Michael or Syd?”

He grimaced and she realized that he viewed whatever he was about to say as a weakness. “That photo, the one that’s here now, I kept it in my closet. It was in the back, behind the clothes you shove to the back when you don’t wear them much anymore, but you can’t seem to let go?”

“That photo? The same one I took. The one that Sloane destroyed, right in front of me.”

“Yes. That one.” He shook his head to indicate that conversation was done and then continued, “So, would you like to work with me? We are working, after all, right now on taking down that bastard.”

“Absolutely. When can we start?” Irina said with a huge smile.

Jack returned it, “When I feel you’re completely recovered. That will take some time, time I MUST spend here with you monitoring your recovery.” They both chuckled. Jack continued, “I can’t wait to see Sloane’s face when he sees as working together at the end.”

“Me either. We’ll have to negotiate who gets to kill him, though won’t we?”

“Yes. Both of us have motive. Means. But we’ll work together to make the opportunity. And revenge will be sweet.” Jack and Irina shared conspiratorial looks. “What would be sweet right now, though, is sleeping,” Jack said as he picked her up. “You still look tired.”

 

Chapter 17

Could you cry a little for me?

In the middle of the night, Irina woke up to Jack poking her in the shoulder. Involuntarily she smiled, remembering all those arguments he ended this way, pretending to try to get the last word. As if that were important, when they both knew that what was important was the end of the game. Ending up, like this game, like all their games, with making love. Opening her eyes, she looked up into his face and smiled. He smiled at her and said softly, “Just checking, Irina.” And said no more. Just turned back over.

"Checking?" She thought for a moment and then realized something. She whispered, "Because twenty years ago you left me in bed one morning -- one moment I was there, and the next I was gone? And you wanted to make sure I was still here?"

"Yes."

She stared at his back for a moment, feeling tears prick her eyes. Then turning toward him but not pummeling him this time, she put her arm around him. She pressed her face into his back, blotting her tears on his warm skin. He placed his hand over hers -- pulling forward until their clasped hands were lying on his chest, over his heart. Rubbing his chest, sighing, Irina said simply, “I’m sorry. I’m right here with you, Jack.”

Under her fingers, she heard his heartbeat, slow and steady. She wondered if he could feel her heartbeat against his back; it was anything but slow and steady. Her heart was racing as she asked, "Even with the game, this last game, have you gotten what you wanted? What you needed? Do you, can you forgive me? Truly?"

Silence for a long moment. Then Jack said, with a hint of teasing in his voice, "Hmmm, I'll think about it."

"Think about it! How long will that take?" she protested.

"Oh, probably---"

Hearing the smile in his voice, she knew what he was about to say and interrupted him, "The rest of our lives?"

Jack sighed. “You know, Irina, just once I'd like to get in the last word."

"What are you talking about? All those times you woke me up in the night, like this, you always got the last word. Always."

He said dryly, "I don't think it counts when the last word was me calling out your name as I --"

"Jack! That's not what I meant."

"I know. I rendered you speechless with anger on many occasions."

“That’s not what I mean either and you know it.”

They lay there for a long moment in silence, then Irina whispered, "Jack, I'm waiting." He turned back to face her in the darkness. There was enough light from the window to see each other, dimly.

"For what?" he asked softly.

"You know what. What your VERY last word is, what it always was. After the fighting, after making love, after all the games, it always was..."

She heard him take a deep breath, but he remained silent. Once again, she fought back tears and blinked rapidly. Jack took one of her hands in his. He reached his other hand up and with a finger, smoothed away the tears.

“Those tears are for me, aren’t they?” he asked and she nodded. Waiting.

“The last word, Irina,” and he stopped. Finally, he gently squeezed her hand and whispered, "After everything.......I love you."

THE END