Disclaimer: See all of the previous chapters
Bristow Residence, 12:34 PM Christmas Day
Watching her parents, Sydney mused, was truly fascinating. The last time
she had seen them like this- seen them as a couple- she had only been a
child. They had seemed perfectly normal then. Now everything they said, and
everything they did had so much more depth. There was always a rich and
mostly hidden subtext beneath everything. In some ways they were polar
opposites, but like magnets, those attributes seemed to pull them together.
The small glimpse she had gotten of her parents working together in
Kashmir, had intrigued her, and she wondered, not for the first time, what
would have happened had her parents met under different circumstances.
Seeing them work together would be-
"Sydney, could you pass the soufflé?"
Sydney smiled, pulling herself out of her thoughts and carefully handed it
to Jack. She straightened in her seat. So far today, with the exception of
Irina's brief explanation of how she got injured, they hadn't discussed
their mutual profession. It had been nice for a change. Still having both
of her parents in a room with no one as a prisoner, was too good of an
opportunity to pass up.
She cleared her throat, suddenly slightly nervous. "Dad, did you find out
anything from that disk," she asked into a lull in the conversation.
So quickly- subtly- that she almost missed it, Sydney saw Irina's eyes
flicker to Jack's and look away. It was another one of her parents little
exchanges, but this time she recognized the message, if not its content for
what it was. Question: Asked and answered.
Reigning in her impatience, she didn't press her father as Jack
meticulously wiped his mouth with his napkin and brushed away a stray
"Sydney," he started to reply, but stopped short as the shrill ring of a
cell phone interrupted him.
All three of them reached for theirs. In the end it was Irina who was being
contacted. She raised the phone to her ear and answered with a rapid burst
of Russian that Sydney couldn't quite hear. Sydney and Jack both eyed Irina
curiously as she listened.
When she responded to her caller, Sydney didn't even have to hear the words
that she said to hear the lethal fury in Irina's voice. Irina didn't even
stop to look at Jack or Sydney, she simply rose and stepped out of the room
Sydney didn't voice what she was thinking. She wasn't quite sure what she
was thinking actually. She knew that Irina's hands were far from clean. The
fact that she loved her mother didn't change that, but truth be told her
own hands weren't that clean, either. She had been responsible for the
death of more than one or two people during her career. It could be
justified of course, under the guise of patriotism. But was there really
any difference between she and her mother?
It was a question that she had wrestled with since she had learned the
truth about her Mom. More often than not, however, she responded to that
train of thought like the well trained agent that she was and
compartmentalized the thought away. It could eat at her, she knew, and if
she happened to hesitate at the wrong moment, it could get her killed as
"Sydney?" This time Jack's voice was different. He was firm but
compassionate. In a word, he was asking her if she was okay and Sydney
"I'm fine, Dad," she responded.
He nodded, "Sydney, we both know that Irina has made choices, done things
that you and I can't accept. But," he hesitated for a long moment and
Sydney had to wonder if he was going to continue, "I can accept that Irina
is not a saint. Irina is a brilliant agent, and a very smart, beautiful
woman, but she is also a woman of many flaws. Given the choices that she
was in life, I don't know that I would have chosen differently." He looked
carefully at his daughter. "What I'm trying to say, Sydney, is this. I know
what Irina is capable of and I know what she's done. I also know that I
love her. Not because of that and not in spite of that."
Sydney didn't respond, but inwardly she was amazed. She had never heard her
father talk like that, especially about her mother. She looked up at him,
thoughts still whirling through her head. She stood up from the table and
took a step towards him. "Dad," she said slowly, "I just need some time to
think. Not just about this," she waved her hand, to include herself, her
father, and Irina wherever she was, "but about everything."
He nodded quickly, "Of course." She had taken several steps away from him,
moving towards the door, when she heard him say, "Sydney?"
She stopped, turning back to look at him and she realized that for the
first time, he was looking uncomfortable. "Your old room is still
available," he said firmly, "It's just the way you left it.
Fifteen minutes later, Jack stood in the kitchen carefully surveying the
reason why he lived off of takeout. He was perfectly capable of cooking,
but he despised the clean up. He heard Irina approach from behind him and
looked up at her as he leaned over to put a small bowl in the dishwasher.
She looked at him curiously, nothing the conspicuous absence of their
daughter. "Where's Sydney?"
He frowned slightly, "Her room." His voice was bland, inflectionless.
"What did you tell her about the disk after I left," Irina asked quietly.
Something about how Jack was acting suggested that something wasn't right.
"Nothing," Jack said easily as if he had been expecting her question, which
he probably had, "We got sidetracked into another discussion and we never
discussed the disk."
"Well is she okay?" Jack had been answering her questions, but Irina was
getting impatient and tiring of their little game of twenty questions.
"She was upset," Jack admitted.
"About me," Irina said flatly.
Jack hesitated for a moment and Irina turned away suddenly. This had been
inevitable and she was well aware of the fact that this day had gone far
too well so far. "Jack," she said tiredly, "I have to go." She couldn't
look at him as she said those words. He had known that she would have to
leave eventually, but goodbyes were always tense moments for them,
reminders of times in the past when she hadn't said goodbye. "The person I
left in charge while I was in Budapest was assassinated today by one of my
rivals. I need to go back before Sloane sees any sign of weakness on the
part of my organization."
"Business before pleasure." It was a flat, dull statement of a cliché
spoken with no emotion betrayed.
She walked away from him slowly, and without a word. He knew why she had to
leave, and she suspected that as far as Sloane was concerned, he even
agreed with her. There was little else that she could say to him, though,
and she had a feeling that if she said what she really wanted to, he
wouldn't believe her at that moment.
She stopped and waited, not turning back to face him yet. "If you're
leaving now, tell Sydney." She heard what he didn't say. You be the one to
tell Sydney that once again you're leaving her.
She hesitated for a fraction of a second and then turned to face him,
"Jack.." She trailed off as she realized that she was talking to empty air.
After a long moment she walked towards the stairs with far less holiday
spirit in her, than she could have claimed an hour ago.
She climbed the stairs, trailing her hand along the banister as she did so,
suddenly feeling old. Her hand paused over a familiar gouge in the wood,
one that had been created during one of Sydney's more serious childhood
mishaps. There were so many memories here. She continued her climb up the
stairs and down the hall.
Irina walked down to the doorway that she knew contained Sydney's bedroom
and looked in. Knowing that Sydney was probably already aware of the fact
that she was there, Irina nevertheless knocked lightly on the doorframe.
"Come on in, Mom," Sydney said quietly, without bothering to turn around.
"This room," she said suddenly, "It's so weird seeing it like this. I
haven't been back in here since I moved out to start my freshman year of
college." She fingered a graying poster from a band that Irina didn't
recognize. "I actually forgot that I still had some of my things here. I
lost everything else in the fire," she stated needlessly. "It will be nice
to have some of my old things."
Irina let a shadow of a smile slip over her lips. "I know what you mean. I
travel very lightly these days." She sighed, knowing that was as good of an
introduction to the reason that she had come up here as any. This time she
wouldn't have the easy out of leaving Sydney a note as she slept. "I have
to leave soon. Business," she stated flatly.
Sydney fingered a small snowglobe on the top of her dresser, finally
lifting it up to examine it closer. She held it up to Irina with a slight
smile, "I can't believe that I left this here." Sydney grimaced, "Actually
I can." She looked steadily at Irina, "I was mad at Dad when I packed up
everything I was taking with me to my dorm room, because by that time I
knew that he wouldn't be back in LA in time to help me move into my new
dorm and I was furious." She didn't hesitate or look away from Irina. "The
first Christmas after you left, Dad was in solitary. From the little that I
remember, even Christmas didn't interest me much then, but what I really
didn't understand was why Dad wasn't there with me." She hesitated, but
then continued to talk, "A few weeks after he came home several months
later, he handed me this," She hefted the snowglobe, "and told me that it
was my Christmas present. He told me," she said with a wide smile, "that
Santa had been overworked, but that he loved me so much that he had gone to
the north pole to get my present from Santa, himself."
Her pained smile returned, "I didn't connect the fact that you were dead
with the fact that Dad was gone. I know you have to leave again, Mom, but I
guess this time I didn't want to be angry because you're not here. I might
not like what you do, or the fact that we're on different sides of the law
most of the time, but you are my Mom and I love you."
"Thank you," Irina said simply and didn't hesitate to hug Sydney, wrapping
her daughter tightly in her arms.
Sydney laughed lightly and smiled somewhat ruefully at Irina. "Thank Dad.
He said some things that made me think about some things differently." She
pulled back out of Irina's embrace to look at her. "I haven't ever heard
Dad talk like that before." She shook her head. "He really loves you, Mom."
A little over an hour later, Irina listened as the front door of their
house shut lightly, signaling that she and Jack were alone again. She
waited in silence as he walked back towards her, stopping several feet away
"Do you have to leave now," he asked quietly.
She wanted to say yes, she probably needed to say yes. "Why shouldn't I
leave, Jack," she demanded finally letting out the anger that she had been
suppressing in front of Sydney. Irina knew that it probably wasn't her
smartest decision to challenge Jack about his feelings for her, but at that
point she didn't care. "You hate me." She stated boldly, "and Sydney's safe
again. So why am I here?"
"Because you want to be."
"Not anymore," she snapped furiously.
"Because I want you to be here," he said fiercely.
"Irina," he said more calmly into the silence that followed. "I don't know
what to say."
"Sydney seemed to think you were fairly eloquent."
He grimaced, remembering that conversation with his daughter. "Not really.
All I said was that I love you." His sudden burst of honesty surprised even
him. He hadn't been planning on saying that to her especially not that
night. Something told him though, that if he hadn't said that Irina would
disappear again, and this time it would be his fault. He just hoped that
this time would be different.
She cocked her head slightly to the side, "What if I said that was all I
wanted to hear, Jack."
He looked at her for a long moment and then smiled slightly. "Then I would
ask why you're still standing over there. I have missed you, Irina and you
do have to leave again soon, no matter how much I dislike that fact."
She smirked at his response, but didn't hesitate to do what he had asked.
As he leaned down to kiss her, she had one last fleeting thought.. it was a
good thing Sydney was gone.
Hours later, long after night had fallen over the city, Irina climbed out
of the taxi that she had taken to the airport. She smiled carelessly at the
driver as she got out, not caring for the moment that, that gesture of
acknowledgement could increase the chances of the man remembering her face,
if someone came looking for her. For the moment she didn't care.
Her holidays had certainly turned out differently than she had expected.
She had spent Christmas day with her family and eaten a more or less
traditional family dinner. She had spent most of the day with Sydney in a
non life and death situation and it had been nice simply to be a mother
again, not "The Man." She had spent the rest of the time with Jack and it
had definitely been time well spent. They had, in fact, already made plans
for Christmas next year. Now though, it was time for her to return to the
life she had made for herself and content herself with only brief contacts
with her family for another year.
Two weeks later, Jack watched smugly, with Sydney standing next to him
wearing a look of grim triumph, as Arvin Sloane was dragged past them and
taken into federal custody, this time with no chance of a deal or immunity
of any kind. Jack fingered the note in his pocket that he knew by heart. He
had found it two days ago, in his mailbox. He knew it by heart. It
contained a series of letters and numbers that were the decryption code for
the disk that she had also provided him with which contained all of the
evidence he needed against Sloane, and two little words.
(7/7) Sorry folks, that's the last part. I hope you all enjoyed it, I
certainly enjoyed writing it, and I definitely appreciated all of your
feedback. Thank you.