AN: I have apparently had this finished but unposted all this time….I really should take a moment to double check what I have on my hard drive. I realize that very few people are likely still around to read the end but at least it will be complete and available for those who may just be discovering it.

Part 47

The family of four had put all things CIA out of mind in favour of enjoying their time together away from the stresses of life. Irina had a difficult time remaining immobile and by the second week had worn down all three people telling her to relax.

During the hours Jack spent on work the three ladies of the house would find ways to occupy each other. But when Jack left the work alone the younger girls found themselves horseback riding, shopping or working out to give their parents time to catch up.

Jack didn't have much to say where work was concerned, merely that all four of them were to appear at headquarters upon their arrival in L.A, while Sydney alternated between exploring the city and keeping in close contact with Vaughn. They had decided to use her mother's designer for the decoration of their own home but were hard press to agree on a style.

The time together was decidedly relaxing and eye opening; giving each person an experience they would not soon forget. So everyone felt the first twinges of stress and trepidation as the wheels of their private plane skidded across the tarmac of Los Angeles International Airport.

Irina had been sure to have Jacqui and Sydney's luggage delivered to the latter sister's house while earmarking hers and Jack's for the L.A. Ritz – their temporary residence for the remaining few days of their home's overhaul. There was no time to take care of the luggage themselves as the CIA had already left three messages on Jack's voicemail urging him to get to the office as soon as possible.

Exiting the airport terminal brought a mixture of anger and laughter to the family when they glimpsed the black CIA issue town car waiting for them. The young agent elected to pick them up was quickly relived of his duties as driver and ushered to the back of the car with Sydney and Jacqui while Jack drove with Irina as his trusty right hand. To add insult to injury, the young agent assigned to pick them up was the same man who previously flirted with Jacqui during the flight to Toronto. To his credence, he did well to appear relaxed in the company of Irina Derevko and Jack Bristow.

"What do you suppose is so urgent at headquarters?" Jacqui inquired with a huff.

"They likely want to lock your mother up again." Jack glanced in the rearview mirror then sideways at his wife.

"Now Jack, stop projecting. And anyway I already told you we'll do that next week," Irina's quick comment shocked Jack momentarily before making him grin like an idiot.

Sydney shook her head gently then leaned against the window in dismay at her parents' antics and the complete turnaround of character that had occurred.

Jacqui, the queen of over-dramatics, decided the comment deserved a mimicked vomiting motion. The young agent accompanying the Bristows to headquarters had blanched so entirely that Jacqui couldn't help but laugh at his expense. She marveled at the realization that her parents really were a force to be reckoned with.


CIA HEADQUARTERS- L.A.

The CIA had apparently recognized the abilities of her parents as well as the highest of the CIA brass stood before the four Bristows presenting the advantages of having Irina join in the pursuit of national security and international relations. To say it was a shock to hear the CIA offering one of their former imprisoned terrorists a very prestigious position and an abundance of trust was an understatement.

However Irina sat diplomatically and waited for the finale of the presentation before uttering a word. "Director Richard, while I'm flattered and intrigued by your offer, I must ask what motivated the CIA to entertain the possibility of adding my name to the ranks of agents?" Irina asked patiently.

"Ms. Derevko," the director began but was interrupted by Sydney.

"My mother wishes to be addressed as Mrs. Bristow, Director Richards." Her statement got raised eyebrows from her family who knew she was not one to overtly stir the pot.

"Of course, Mrs. Bristow. I apologize." Irina waved him off. "The truth is, that aside from your husband, you are the best," he glanced at Sydney and Jacqui, "and if the reports crossing my desk are accurate, the best breeds the best." The compliment directed at her daughters garnered a smile from Irina. "We would love for you to enter as a senior level agent and work in much the same capacity Jack has been for the past year. However; we would be pleased if you decided to work simply in a consulting capacity."

"And what becomes of Jack if I were to take your offer. I would in essence be taking his position in the agency." Irina threaded her fingers through Jack's under the table.

"You've actually brought me to my next order of business." The Director set them up then dropped the next bomb. "Jack, you are being promoted."

"Usually when I hear those words it means I'll be spending less time in the field and more behind a desk administrating," Jack's expression remained empty. The Director couldn't help a quick smile at the greatness in front of him, limited to one family.

"As you are aware, you're always able to turn down the promotion Jack but in this case more than any other, I would advise against it." Jack waited for him to expound on his words. "If you decide to Jack, you will be the newest Deputy Director of the CIA.

The Director felt some pride at finally drawing a physical reaction from the Bristows.

"That is a grand honor and offer however I am not interested in moving back to Virginia and therefore must decline." Jacqui and Sydney mirrored each other with furrowed brows but said nothing. Irina had anticipated his response from the tight squeeze her fingers had received.

"You may be surprised at how many anticipated your response Jack, and because of such we've found a way to employ modern technology and utilize your expertise of the Task Force to keep you in L.A. to oversee its workings as well as authorize all missions and their agents. The job may demand a few cross country trips but nothing too drastic," the Director waited expectantly.

"Will I be relegated to a desk?" Jack sat back in his chair.

"You'll be able to decide for yourself what the extent of your duties will be."

Irina rolled her eyes, almost feeling Jack jump at the offer and rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand in support.

"Then I suppose I look forward to working more directly with your office," Jack shared a tight smile the Director.

"Mrs. Bristow, does that make your decision any easier?"

"If the CIA has no objections, I would like a few days to make the decision," she smiled disarmingly.

"That leaves only the matter of Jacquelyn and Sydney," the Director shifted his attention. "Have you come to a decision regarding our offer Jacquelyn?" The Director asked gently, as though he were speaking to a child and Jacquelyn picked up on it.

"Well, I don't know. I've been doing a fair bit of walking lately and I do find it difficult to think at the same time," she deadpanned.

"I apologize Jacquelyn. I didn't mean to demean you," the Director said sincerely.

"Not a problem," she bounced back from the slight quickly, "and in answer to your question, yes I have decided. And I also look forward to working with the agency further." Her answer was received with enthusiasm from the CIA brass. "However I do request a measure of leniency that will be required during my further post-graduate education."

"Of course. And Sydney?" The Director asked finally.

"I've yet to decide whether I intend to continue on with the CIA. I first must speak to my fiancé." Her lips turned up at the last word.

"Well then Jack, you're taking the rest of the week off and although I don't want to pressure you, Irina, Sydney, if we could have your decisions upon Jack's return we would be most appreciative." Sydney and Irina nodded brokenly.

"And Jack, we'll iron out the details of your position next week." They all shook hands with the Director and left the conference room.

"That certainly didn't go in the direction I anticipated." Jack placed his hand on Irina's back as they walked toward the center of the Task Force.

"So are you going to take the job Mom?" Sydney asked once they made it to her desk.

"I don't know. I've received two job offers in almost as many hours." Jack fixed her with a confused look, so she clarified, "I was not about to sit around all day at home while you're away at work so I made a few calls to Universities in California hoping to find an open professorship."

"So who offered you the job?" Jacqui asked.

"UCLA," Irina waited for their response.

"Won't that be a little difficult to explain?" Jack sounded unconvinced of UCLA as a viable option.

"Not hardly," Irina rolled her eyes. "I told the Dean the truth." Irina sat on the side of Sydney's desk.

"What truth would that be?" Jack's tone was conversational while his daughter's blanched at the idea.

"The one where I came to the states to protect my identity from the Russian government and fell in love in the interim. When my cover was blown I was forced to leave my family behind for their own protection. Now that the threat has been neutralized I have been able to rejoin them." Irina allowed a smile to build on her lips. "She thought it was romantic. I think it also helped that her husband is former CIA and she recognized the name Bristow, although that was the undercurrent of the conversation."

Jack shook his head at the marvel that was his wife. "What would you be teaching?" Jack said with interest.

"An assortment of English and History. She offered me a beginners Russian class but the thought of hundreds of young minds butchering the language was too much to even contemplate."

"At least they're not limiting you to one department," Sydney jumped in.

"It is quite the offer," Irina admitted.

"So that begs the question, which are you planning on taking?"

"It would be nice if I could do both but I suppose this particular situation demands a choice."

"Well not right away. You have all week to decide," Jack assures her.

"So are we just going to stand around here all day, cause I have an apartment to unpack," Jacqui said with her usual fervor.

"What apartment?" Irina asked in surprise.

"My apartment," Sydney answered, "or I guess it's Jacqui's now."

"You're moving into Sydney's old apartment?" Jack equaled his wife's surprise.

"No offense to either of you but I've been living more or less on my own for most of my life. It would be unfortunate to start living with my parents now," Jacqui stated simply.

"You just don't want to have me telling you not to yell in the house and to pick up after yourself," Irina added sullenly.

"That too. I can finally live amongst my own mess….me dreams are coming true," Jacqui winked. "Don't worry, I'll be over all the time." Her smile became sly with thoughts of unannounced visits.

"Just as long as you don't mind having your mother and I at your place just as often," Jack maintained a light tone.

Jacqui cringed at the unannounced visits her parents could make in turn. "Well maybe I overstated. I won't be there all the time. I'll have work and school to contend with," she shifted gears quickly, away from her newly acquired apartment. "Well, gotta run. Bye." She kissed her mother and father on their cheeks and rushed out of the ops center.

"She's going to be home for dinner every night isn't she," Jack sighed.

"Of course. You don't actually expect the Princess to cook for herself do you?" Irina smiled.

"Oh, don't remind me that my daughters are legitimate Princesses. They're enough to deal with without the title." Jack paid little heed to the fact that one said daughter was standing right beside him.

"Come on, let's go home," Irina pulled gently on his arm and said goodbye to Sydney.


2 Days Later

SYDNEY & MICHAEL'S HOME

"I don't know what we were thinking. Our parents don't really need to meet each other," Sydney discarded another clothing choice from her closet.

"We're getting married Syd, they'd meet eventually," Vaughn called from the bathroom.

"Yeah but why today?" She huffed.

"My father already knows you and your family, it's only my mother everyone has to meet."

"That's what I'm afraid of," she murmured.

"It'll be fine. And if there's any tension we have Jacqui there to shock us out of it. That's why we invited her remember." Sydney jumped when he placed his hands on her shoulders. "You do remember your mother didn't actually kill my father right? That's points in your favour right out of the gate."

"What if your mother hates me?" She frowned.

"She won't. She's already convinced herself she'll love you." He kissed her shoulder and navigated a path through the boxes back to the bathroom.

Sydney watched him in frustration, "Tomorrow we're setting some time aside to finish unpacking."

"Yeah okay," he responded in a non-committal tone.

"I'm not telling you where your hockey skates are until you help me," she threatened.

"Evil woman. Using blackmail now," he smiled.

"I am my parents' daughter," She grinned back flashing her dimples.

"Wear the green top; my mom likes green," Vaughn told her before he jumped into the shower.


ELDER VAUGHN'S CAR - En Route

"It would be nice if you told me a little more about the woman my son is going to marry," Marie said to her husband.

"I don't know much. Only what Irina told me years ago and what her file indicates."

"Well what about Irina?" Marie narrowed her eyes. When William returned home she was so grateful that she didn't stop to ask herself the millions of questions that inevitably came later. One such question was who the woman was who had saved her husband's life and why she put herself in danger to help a man she didn't know. A part of her was suddenly very leery and very jealous. "You haven't said much about her. She did save your life and you two were in the same prison for months. How well do you know her?"

William caught the accusation in his wife's voice. "Not as well as you're implying," he chuckled at her. "I owe her a great deal but she and I have ever only been friends. Anyway she is madly in love with her husband and I happen to be just as in love with my wife." He took her hand and turned off on the exit that would take them to Jack and Irina's house.


JACK & IRINA'S HOUSE

"This one will be fine," she sipped at the wine. "How many bottles do you have?"

"Five Mrs. Bristow," the caterer told her.

"Wonderful." She smiled at her. 'We may need that many' she thought.

"Irina, have you seen my brown belt?" Jack rounded the corner to the kitchen where a handful of people were milling about.

"Do you need anything else?" She ignored Jack and asked the young woman.

"I think we've covered everything," she answered.

Irina pulled on Jack's hand to take him from the kitchen. "Your belt is likely in the pool room where we left it last night – on top or beside the pool table." She smiled at the memory.

"Right," Jack smirked at the memory. "How are your caterers working out?" He nodded in the direction of the kitchen.

"They're very professional and the dishes look divine," she gushed.

Jack looked his wife up and down. "Are you sure we can't reschedule? I'm sure I'm coming down with something." He pulled her to him.

"No you're not." She shook her head at him smiling.

"Then how do you explain why I'm suddenly very hot?" Jack pressed a kiss to her neck.

"Because you're a very horny old man who can't think of anything other than getting me into bed," she scolded but didn't push him away.

"That's simply not true. I think of getting you into the shower, the hot tub, on the kitchen table, the wall, the floor," he trailed off seeing the desire filling her eyes.

She pushed him away gently, "Go finish getting ready. Everyone will be here any minute." She gave him one last kiss before going to supervise the dining room set up.


JACQUI'S APARTMENT

TI blasted through the apartment; the base causing the glass vases on the tables to vibrate dangerously. Jacqui was too preoccupied talking to friends on MSN to notice.

She clicked on the 'Trish conversation'.

Trish- don't poop where you eat says: What the hell do you mean you're living in Cali now? You're insane!

Jacs- Living in Cali now, bring your surf board and visit….like…NOW says: Long story. But still have the house in T-dot and WILL be coming back to visit soon and often. But in the mean time get your ass here this fall.

She clicked another conversation at the bottom of her computer screen.

Jen- don't hate me because I'm the coolest person you know says: Your sister sounds almost as cool as me lol. Bring her to the T-dot and introduce her to everyone.

Jacs- Living in Cali now, bring your surf board and visit….like…NOW says: Come on Jen, no one could be as cool as you!!!!

Jen- don't hate me because I'm the coolest person you know says: So what are you doing tonight?

Jacs- Living in Cali now, bring your surf board and visit….like…NOW says: Just trying to get the apartment put together and pick my courses for fall semester.

Jen- don't hate me because I'm the coolest person you know says: What no big parties to hit? lol

Jacqui was about to type an answer when her eyes went wide and her heart started to pound. "shit!" She shouted to her empty apartment.

Jacs- Living in Cali now, bring your surf board and visit….like…NOW says: shit!!!!!!!! shit!!!!! shit!!!!!

Jen- don't hate me because I'm the coolest person you know says: What??????

Jacs- Living in Cali now, bring your surf board and visit….like…NOW says: Gotta go, forgot dinner party with the rents and sis. Meeting the in-laws….Syds going to kick my ass. Ttyl

Jen- don't hate me because I'm the coolest person you know says: good luck. Lates

Jacs- Sis is going to maim and torture me has just sighed out.

Jacqui bolted into the bathroom to get ready to go.


Sydney and Vaughn let themselves into her parent's house five minutes before they were expected for dinner. They could hear the caterers working in the kitchen but had yet to see one pass by.

"See, this is what a house should look like after you've moved in," Sydney spread her arms to indicate the immaculate home around them.

"I'm sure your mother hired a small country to come in and accomplish this," Vaughn said in all seriousness.

"Hardly, although I did employ a rather efficient organizational crew. With the exception of Toronto, I'm used to traveling light." Irina emerged from the left corridor that led to the dining room.

"Mom, the house looks great," Sydney hugged her mother tightly. "Ours is still a disaster of boxes," she looked pointedly at Vaughn. "We can't seem to get through the purging stage." She turned back into the hug.

Irina pulled away and Sydney took a good look at her. "You look amazing Mom."

"Thank you Sweetheart. So do you. That green is beautiful with your colouring," Irina turned to her daughter's fiancé. "You look quite dapper yourself Michael," Irina told him

"Thanks." Despite the weeks he'd had to adjust to 'Irina the Good' as Weiss had taken to calling her, he just couldn't seem to reconcile the woman before him with the woman the CIA had countless files and intel on. Truths he held fast to for years were not easy to discard.

"Come in and taste the wine the caterer picked. It's splendid." Irina took hold of Sydney's arm and led her through the house to the open kitchen in the structure's rear.

"Sounds good. I could use a drink about now," she answered honestly.

"You'll be fine. Bill already thinks you're fabulous and Vaughn's mother will as well if she knows what's good for her."

Vaughn – who had been trailing behind the mother/daughter duo – started at the potential threat. Irina turned slightly to catch his eye and smiled coyly, knowing she had succeeded in making him as nervous as her daughter.

Heavy steps ascending the basement stairs were heard from the edge of the kitchen where Irina and Sydney were tasting the wine. Jack appeared, dressed and mentally prepared for the evening meal.

"Vaughn," he nodded to the younger man whom he saw first. "Sydney, you look lovely." Jack kissed her cheek, immediately sensing her anxiety over meeting Vaughn's mother.

"Thanks Dad," she smiled. "We were just telling Mom the house looks great."

"All the credit goes to your mother. She and the designer wouldn't let me contribute to any part of the house sans my own closet and bathroom and even then your mother managed to throw out half my ties." Jack turned his eyes on his wife. "Apparently I have a distinct lack of colour and pattern variety."

"Do you mind if Vaughn and I take a look around before his parents arrive," Sydney asked eager to see the rest of her parents' large home.

"You don't need to ask Honey," Irina smiled warmly. "I told before to come over any time. No invitation necessary," she shook her head to emphasize the point.

"Kay, we'll be quick. Vaughn's parents are due to arrive any minute."

Jack and Irina were left alone, much to Jack's delight. "We don't have to stay for the entire meal right?" He hedged.

"We're the hosts Jack, what do you think?" She pursed her lips at his attempt at juvenile antics.

He changed gears suddenly. "Did Sydney look nervous to you?" He asked.

"Like a wreck. I don't understand why she has such a fear of meeting her future mother-in-law . Marie is going to adore Sydney," Irina announced with conviction.

"If I recall correctly and I'm sure I do, you were equally nervous when you met my mother," Jack made a show of thinking back.

"Ah yes but your mother was a formidable woman," Irina pointed her finger at him.

"The Great Irina Derevko found MY mother formidable. Will wonders never cease," Jack teased. "But she ended up loving you." He pulled her to him, "If it were possible I'd say even more than me."

At that moment the phone rang a distinct tune signally someone at the door. Jack picked up the receiver to check who their guest was. "Hello," he said, knowing his voice would be muffled escaping the speaker beside the large front door.

"Hi, it's Bill and Marie Vaughn." Jack recognized the deep voice of Bill.

"We'll be there in a moment."

He hung up and followed Irina to the front hall way. Jack opened the door to Vaughn's parents with no show of emotion, per his usual demeanor.

"Jack," William Vaughn said in greeting.

"Bill," Jack returned. "Come in," he ushered the couple through the door, shaking Bill's hand in the process.

"Good to see you up and about Irina," Bill said with a small smile. Irina smiled and gave him a hug.

"It's good to see you as well." They pulled apart. "And I am fine thank you. I had my entire family taking care of me," she told him with pride.

Bill turned to his wife then, remembering she was standing just behind him. "Jack, Irina, this is my wife Marie. Marie, Sydney's parents, Jack and Irina Bristow." He made a show of glancing sideways at Irina, "You are going by Bristow now are you not?"

"I see you still keep yourself well informed," she smirked. "It's a pleasure to meet you Marie. Bill spoke of you often over the years." She reached out to take the other woman's hand.

Marie hesitated momentarily, lost in staring at Irina. She was flabbergasted at the woman's beauty and ability to disarm with a coy smile and tilt of her head.

"A pleasure for me as well," Marie finally dislodged her thoughts long enough to shake the pre-offered hand. "I understand you did quite a bit for my husband. Thank you." She gave Irina a tight smile, jealousy bubbling under the pleasant façade.

"No thanks are necessary. I assure you." Irina waved away the gratitude, pretending not to notice the chill she received from Marie Vaughn.

"Pleased to meet you Marie," Jack broke through the lasting silence by offering his hand as well.

"Mom, Dad, you're here." All four turned to find Vaughn and an uncharacteristically shy Sydney emerged from the second set of basement stairs.

"Michael," Marie said with relief, rushing to hug her son.

"Mom, I'd like to introduce you to my fiancée," he smiled with no inkling of the worry in his mother's heart. "Sydney Bristow, my mother Marie Vaughn." He pulled Sydney tight to him while making the introduction.

"Nice to meet you Mrs. Vaughn," Sydney's nerves were settled just below the surface.

"Michael has spoken of you often Sydney," she said to the girl, who looked too much like her mother, Marie decided. No wonder her son had been attracted to her. "And please call me Marie." The words sounded hollow to her own ears, she was hopeful however that the others wouldn't notice.

"Dinner should be ready to be served shortly. Can I interest either of you in some wine?" Jack asked, playing the part of host impeccably.

"I'd love a glass Jack," Bill answered with a smile, having gotten to know Jack Bristow through his CIA file over the previous few weeks. "Marie?" Bill looked to his wife.

"Just half a glass please," she answered.

"Why don't you all adjourn to the living room, I'll have the wine brought in to us," Irina's smooth tones drifted over the group.

Sydney and Vaughn were already headed in that direction and Bill had taken the opportunity to bend Jack's ear. Marie hung back to observe Irina further, without the prying eyes of her husband and son.

She watched the other woman move down the hallway toward the dining room without making a sound. Her entire body seemed to glide with precision and ease toward her intended target and once she arrived she reached out to touch a young woman's arm gently though as not to startle her by the intrusion.

A friendly conversation ensued with the young woman, whom Marie deduced was one of the caterers for the evening. Irina managed to captivate the woman with her kind air and mysterious eyes. Marie realized she too had been captivated. As she studied Irina Bristow further, she found it increasingly less likely that she and Bill had not had a relationship beyond friendship. If she were honest with herself and so inclined, SHE would have a relationship with the woman, who managed to make you feel as though you were the only one in the world when she spoke to you.

"Are you ready to go in?" Irina caught the startled expression on Marie's face.
Marie had been so consumed with her analysis of Irina, she had neglected to see her conversation with the caterer end.

"Of course," she answered, trying to shrug off the jolt to her consciousness.

The living room boasted a large fireplace and decor with finely stated opulence. An adjoining room had an assortment of leather bound books in Russian and a grand piano overlooking the back terrace.

"Bill mentioned you were the director of the PR department for the French national banks," Irina was hoping to begin a dialogue with the woman.

The manner with which Irina had spoken Bill's name and the familiarity it eluded to further irked Marie. "I was; almost thirty years ago," she responded. "When we moved to America I took a job with one of the independent banks just opening in California."

"I understand you were once affiliated with the intelligence community but what is it you do now Irina?" Marie took a sip of her wine.

"Up until a few months ago I ran what was inarguably the largest and most powerful crime cartel in the world," she shrugged her shoulders at the flippant declaration. "I found it was the acquiring of information and subsequent power that was fun, once I had accomplished that, it became too boring to continue."

Marie was too shocked and appalled to utter a word, while Irina merely tossed her hair to the other shoulder.

"Dinner is served Mrs. Bristow," the young woman Marie had seen speaking to Irina earlier made the announcement.

"Where's Jacqui?" Sydney glanced sideways at Vaughn, beginning to sense the tension between her mother and his.

"We did tell her seven didn't we?" He looked perplexed.

"No, I told her six-thirty just to ensure she would be here when your parents arrived." Sydney checked the mantel clock to see it was already seven-thirty.
"I'm going to kill her," she seethed.

Jack and Bill led the way into the dining room, still talking amongst themselves.

"Word has it that you're the newest Deputy Director of the CIA Jack. Congratulations." Bill gave the other man a deprecating half smile, "Sir," he added.

"I'm 'sir'ed' enough by Marhsall, please just Jack." He rolled his eyes.

"Ah yes, Marshall, the jumpy little man who lives in the room with all those gadgets." Bill smiled, "Interesting fellow he is."

"To put it mildly," Jack raised his eyebrows, both men laughing at the expense of Marshall Flinkman. "You should see Irina play with the poor man. I thought he was sure to dissolve the first time she looked at him."

"Now I feel sorry for him, having to deal with your wife's breed of humor." Bill sat down, not breaking stride in the conversation.

"Yes, I'm sure I'm one of the few who can appreciate it." Jack sat as well once the women had taken their seats.

"That's because from what I've heard it's one thing you share," Bill joked.

"Are we waiting for someone else to join us?" Marie saw the empty place setting next to Irina. She was afraid of what other guests the woman would allow into her home considering her profession.

"Yes. Our youngest daughter should be arriving soon. It appears she's running behind," Irina smiled easily, still trying to get a handle on Marie Vaughn.

"And what does she do?" Marie asked politely.

"She's a terminal student," Jack answered, "and I meant that as gravely as it came out."

"She hasn't found a degree she enjoys putting into practice yet so she keeps going back to school," Sydney clarified.

"What did you study in school Sydney?" Bill asked.

"English Literature. I've received my PhD and recently I've been thinking of transitioning into teaching. It has always been my ultimate goal; I just got sidetracked along the way." She smiled slightly thinking of all that had happened since she had decided to work on her PhD.

A loud bang echoed through the house, announcing the newest arrival. Jacqui marched quickly into the dining room, hoping no one would notice her sudden appearance.

"That would be our youngest daughter now," Irina smirked.

"Jacqui, nice of you to join us," Jack said with an amused tint in his eyes.

"Hi Dad, Mom," she huffed as though out of breath, "sorry I'm late, I got caught up in picking my courses for the fall and lost track of time." She cast her eyes down regretfully knowing her mother would be able to tell she wasn't being completely honest.

"Jacqui, you're looking well." Bill did his best to hold back his laughter at the young woman's ability to create a scene.

"Thanks. Nice to see you again and in such high spirits." She smiled at him.

"Jacqui, I'd like to introduce you to my wife." Bill turned to his right to indicate the woman. "Marie this is Jacquelyn Bristow."

"A pleasure to meet you Marie," Jacqui stood and reached across the table to shake hands with the older woman.

"For me as well Jacqui." The adults began a conversation as Jacqui peeked to her left to find Sydney glowering at her.

"I know, I'm sorry," she pleaded with her sister.

"Later, I'm going to give you a lesson in telling time….then I'm going to kick your ass," Sydney managed to say between clenched teeth. "But for now you're the sacrificial lamb….if someone gets out of hand, you're jumping in," she told her.

"Fine," she whispered back harshly. "But just remember that you owe me."


The remainder of dinner went on without any great incident but Marie was still visibly on edge. Irina excused herself to the kitchen following Jack and after they had been gone more than five minutes Marie took it upon herself to check on them.

When she opened the door to the kitchen she found a sight that quenched her jealousy and reassured her that Irina was not interested in her husband as anything more than a friend.

Her son's future in-laws were wound together in a very passionate lip lock against the counter, oblivious to everything around them. Marie took a moment to study how well the couple fit together and how obvious their love for each other was. Letting the door swing shut behind her, she sat at the table once again, glancing between Sydney and Jacqui. The girls were the spitting image of both their parents and appeared to truly care about one another. She realized her extended family was going to be stranger than most but that was okay; without a little bit of strange, life got boring.


Epilogue

"What was Antonia's motivation? Was she attempting to rise beyond the Nebraska limits of women or was she simply trying to grow her crops?" Irina shrugged ironically, eliciting laughter from her very tense first year students.

Despite their response to the question, no one risked raising their hand to answer, choosing instead to glance around at their peers.

"None of you have an answer?" Irina smirked. "There are almost two hundred of you in here; you know statistically that's very unlikely."

A few shaky hands rose.

"I don't think she was motivated to do either. I think she was doing what she was raised to do; what she needed to do to stay alive, tend to the land. And in that she became symbiotically linked to it, growing personally in concert with her crops." The voice came from the back of the lecture theater, easily identifiable to Irina. All the other students looked around wide-eyed, trying to find the classmate brave enough to speak up.

"I didn't realize you were registered for this class." Irina leaned on the desk at the front.

"Oh, I'm not; I just wanted to sit in and witness this stimulating discussion on My Antonia for myself. And stop picking on the first years," she joked.

"Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the big mouth auditing your class today, my daughter Jacquelyn Bristow."

"What's up kiddies. Don't let the Prof scare you, she's more bark than she is bite," Jacqui smiled.

"Don't bet on it," Irina's response was equal parts teasing and predatory. "That's class for today people." The students began to move, gathering their belongings. "By next week I want a decisive understanding of Antonia's motivations. And I'll be calling on you so be prepared," her voice rose over the noise.

As the lecture theater emptied, Jacqui made her way down to her mother's desk.
"When did you get home?" She asked her youngest daughter.

"A few hours ago. I came here right after the debriefing. Thought you might want to see that I made it back alive for yourself." She held out her arms for inspection and to receive a hug. "I have a meeting with Dr. Gunta to go over my thesis focus at four," Jacqui said, regretful she didn't have more time to spend with her mother.

"That's okay, I have to meet your father for an early dinner and I have papers to read before I leave. But come by the house this weekend. Sydney's missed you; your mission lasted longer than any of us expected." Irina was grateful to have her baby home safe.

"How's she doing?" Jacqui enquired about her sister.

"The same as when you left, just more stressed." Irina gathered her papers. "You better go if you want to make your meeting on time. I'll see you later Sweetheart," Irina said.

"Bye Mom," Jacqui called as she strolled out the large theater doors.


JACK AND IRINA BRISTOW'S HOUSE

The house was quiet, having already seen the owners heading to bed. Only minimal light remained, illuminating the kitchen and family room enough if a late night drink were needed.

A key being inserted into the lock of the front door permeated the silence; the alarm was quickly disengaged and barely audible footsteps were heard traveling down the hallway.

The intruder moved into the kitchen, knowing the way expertly, opening the fridge and looking for something to snack on.

"What are you doing?" A sharp whispered voice said.

The intruder sprang back from the fridge at the ready, the door closing of its own accord with a thump.

"Geez Syd, you scared me half to death." Jacqui held her chest, covering her rapidly beating heart.

"Sorry," Sydney uttered. "What are you doing here?" She asked again.

"What are YOU doing here?" Jacqui countered.

"Vaughn's away and I got lonely." Her hand came down to caress her enlarged stomach.

Jacqui hung her head slightly, ashamed of her own answer, "The apartment is kinda big for one person and I missed Mom and Dad."

Sydney would have laughed at her sister's expense had she not seen the truth of her words staring her in the face.

"How are you feeling otherwise?" She indicated her stomach, pulling open the freezer door and extracted a tub of ice cream.

"Fine I guess. I have to pee a lot more often and I've started taking naps after my afternoon classes. But I still feel great." Sydney grabbed two spoons from the drawer while Jacqui pulled up two stools at the kitchen island and uncovered the frozen treat.

"So how goes the mundane life of English Lit professor?" Jacqui smirked.

"Actually not as bad as it sounds. I guess it helps that I can still work with the CIA but I like going to work, putting in a normal day and coming home." Sydney took a spoonful of ice cream. "Vaughn said you're really getting into the spy game," she joked.

"It's pretty awesome but a lot more work than I originally thought it would be," Jacqui sighed, taking a huge scoop of ice cream in her mouth at once.

"Smooth Jacs," Sydney laughed at her.

"I like ice cream," she shrugged innocently. "Dad's been keeping me on a short leash at work; he has a conniption if I even go to the bathroom without telling him." She rolled her eyes. "And on the days Mom's in the office they're like a tag team, driving me insane."

"They just want to keep you safe." Sydney told her.

"What they want to do is wrap me in bubble wrap and put me in a rubber room so I can't even break a nail."

Suddenly the bright overhead lights came on, stopping the girls cold.

"I found our intruders Honey and they're eating your ice cream," Jack called loudly behind him, laughing at the stunned expressions on his daughter's faces.

"What are you two doing here in the middle of the night?" Irina asked blurry-eyed.

"Sydney was lonely without Vaughn," Jacqui said.

"And Jacqui was just missing her Mommy and Daddy," Sydney shot her sister a superior look which garnered her a wonderful view of Jacqui's tongue.

"I knew giving you both keys and the alarm code was a bad idea." Irina rolled her eyes and grabbed two more spoons from the drawer, handing one to her very amused husband.

"But Mommy, don't you love us and want to see us?" Jacqui had a very sweet smile on her face.

"Of course I do, just not at 1 in the morning." Irina dug into the ice cream.

"So what are we discussing?" Jack took a place between his daughters.

"You and Mom and how you want to put Jacqui in a protective bubble," Sydney joked.

"That's just absurd," Jack protested. "If I had my way you would both be in protective bubbles," he pointed to both his daughters.

Sydney yawned, setting off Jacqui; both trying and failing to cover them. "You both need to get to bed," Irina told them.

"Stay here tonight. I don't like the idea of you girls out driving at this hour." Jack put away the ice cream.

"Dad, I live around the corner," Sydney protested with evident fatigue.

"Don't bother arguing with us Sydney, we'll have the final word." Irina disposed of all four spoons in the dishwasher.

"Okay, we're going." Jacqui pulled on her sister's arm. "Night Mommy," Jacqui kissed her on the cheek, "Night Daddy," she gave him similar treatment.

"Night Mom," Sydney followed her sister's example, "Night Dad. We'll see you in the morning." The two girls trekked up the stairs and proceeded to fall into their respective beds.

"Come on Mrs. Bristow. The princesses are asleep in their beds with us to keep them safe tonight. It's time for bed for us too." Jack kissed her temple, hugging her to him.

"I'm never one to argue when you want to get me into bed Mr. Bristow." Irina kissed her husband tenderly. They turned out the lights re-locked the door and set the alarm.

"I like having them home for a night." Irina glanced at the rooms the girls were occupying.

"Me too Irina. Me too."

END