Subject: Jack, Irina and Sydney
Author: Janice aka jes004
Disclaimer: The characters all belong to JJ Abrams and Company. I've only borrowed them temporarily for this story.
Sydney sat back, listening to the familiar tapping of computer keyboards. "Neither rain or snow," she thought wryly. The Post Office motto could very well have been the CIA's own mantra. Her family life was in shambles, but the work of the CIA goes on. She glanced over at Dixon and saw he was watching her. He gave her his quick smile and an encouraging thumbs up. She tried to smile back, but her heart wasn't in it.
She was thankful that Dixon had chosen to work for the CIA. He was someone she could count on, a man of deep personal integrity, someone to trust. And in her life, trust had become a rare gift. She turned back to her computer screen. A team had formulated possible scenarios on Sloanes next move. She tried to concentrate, but the information blurred before her. All she could think about was her mothers' betrayal. Why hadn't she listened to her father? Why hadn't her father followed his own advice? "Because you encouraged him to try and forgive her," an inner voice whispered. "You thought you could handle it, handle her. Not as smart as you thought." She tried to suppress the guilty recriminations of her subconscious, but the truth could not be denied.
"Sydney, you really should take a few days off." Dixon had always moved with a catlike grace. How long had he been standing there? "It will take them a while to track Sloane down. I promise I'll get in touch with you the minute we get a lead." He patted her on the back, then added "your Dad needs you right now, Sydney."
She looked up at Dixon, startled. Her Dad. She had been wallowing in her own self-pity and not given thought to how hard this would affect him. When he told her the news, he had appeared fine, even somewhat detached. His remoteness had fooled her into thinking he'd been unaffected by her mother's defection.
"Yes, he's good at hiding his emotions." Dixon looked at her gravely. "But, that is perhaps your biggest clue, Sydney. The less emotion he shares, the greater his inner turmoil. He's really hurting and he needs you now, more than ever."
This truth about her father had been staring her in the face all along and she had never seen it. When had Dixon grown so wise? "I'll talk to Kendall right away."
Kendall was sitting at his desk, reviewing paperwork. He looked up at Sydney's knock and waved her in. "Sydney. I was just going to call you. Your father. He's asked for a few days off." She drew in a shocked breath. Kendall gave her a sharp look. "Exactly. I'm a bit concerned. Do you think you could check in on him?"
"Actually, I came to ask you for a few days leave, too. I plan to spend some time with my Dad."
"Perfect. Let me know how he is doing." Kendall turned back to his work.
The lights were on at the house and her father's car was in the garage. A good sign that he was home, she hoped. Her old key still worked on the door and she quietly slipped inside. There was a murmur of sound and she followed it to the den. The door was closed. She opened it and was greeted with the sound of childish laughter.
"Dad?" She stood uncertainly at the door.
Her father quickly clicked the remote and turned off the tv.
"Sydney." He stared at her a moment, features blank. "If you are here to deliver a sermon, I'm not in the mood to hear it." He reached for the tumbler on the end table beside him. It was partially filled with amber liquid and, as in emphasis of his point, took a deep swallow.
Sydney moved over to the small bar and pulled out her own tumbler. Looking over the varied and expensive liquor choices, she settled on her favorite bourbon. Her father had always kept a well stocked bar. Sloane had said her father had gone on a drinking binge after the CIA released him from solitary confinement, but she had no memory of him ever being drunk around her. True, he would always have a glass of wine with his meal and often have a drink after dinner. It had been that way before her mother 'died'. Of course, she had no knowledge of what he did once she went to bed.
"So, Dad, what were you watching?" she said, trying to sound cheerful. "Dad?" she prompted, when he didn't reply.
"Family videos," he admitted with obvious reluctance.
She looked at him, puzzled. "Family videos? You have family videos?" A flood of memories washed over her. She had forgotten about the video camera, but, at one time, it had seemed like another member of their family.
"I converted them to DVD's two years ago. The video tape was on the verge of gumming up. I managed to save most of them," Jack stated flatly.
"How come you never told me about them?"
"I didn't think you were interested. You..., at the time, Sydney, you weren't talking to me. I figured the tapes were of memories you'd rather forget." Her father's face was void of emotion. Sydney recalled Dixon's words. Strong emotion was skillfully being covered by an empty mask. Their estrangement apparently caused her father a great deal of pain. She wish she had understood him better ten years ago.
"I'd like to watch them with you, Dad." The memories of her early years were dim and disjointed. She couldn't even be sure which ones were real and which ones were made up. Was the image of her mother teaching her to bake cookies a figment of imagination, fueled by the loneliness of her youth? Had her father once been the charming man, with an easy smile and exuberant laugh of her memories? Her father hadn't answered and she resorted to a tactic that had always worked when she was a kid. "Please, Daddy?"
He sighed and nodded. Happily, she sat down next to him, legs curled to her side and rested her head on her father's shoulder, something she hadn't done since she was a little girl. "Can we start from the beginning?"
She felt him stiffen slightly. "The very beginning?"
"Uh hunh. You never really talked about that time in your life." She heard him draw in a breath. "I know, Dad, at least, I know now. It's a part of your life you'd rather forget." She spoke quickly, afraid he wouldn't let her explain how important it was for her to see her parents before their world was turned upside down. "I want to know you better, Dad. I want to understand who you are and who you were. I am your daughter, and yet, I know so little about you. It would mean a lot to me."
He considered a moment, then picked up the tv remote and pressed it on. He switched to the more complicated DVD remote and pressed a few buttons. Sydney watched the images in fascination and Jack reached for his glass, refilled it and took another giant swallow.
The video started with an obviously uncomfortable Jack standing still while Laura adjusted the camera. Her mother looked so young and innocent. Her father was wearing a three piece suit and looked like he'd rather be elsewhere. Finally, the settings correct, Laura walked over to Jack and gave him a quick kiss of encouragement.
[i]"I'll be the laughingstock of the school, Laura."
"No, you won't. All the girls will be envying me my handsome boyfriend and all the guys will be ..., well, the guys will probably laugh," she conceded. "Do you remember your lines?"
"Of course," said youthful Jack, slightly affronted.
"Okay, then let's start." She faced the camera. "Good afternoon. I am Laura Anderson. This video was prepared for 'English Poetry - the Romantic Period'. As part of my presentation, I have a video rendition of what could be considered a typical proposal for the period." She turned and Jack moved to her, gracefully slipping to one knee.
"My beloved," Jack intoned. "You are my greatest treasure. You are my perfect candle, lighting my way. You are my eternity. Our souls are knotted together through immortality. Tell me, my dearest, that you feel the same. I cannot live another day without you at my side. Please make me the happiest of men and say you will be my wife?"
"That was good, Jack. Maybe would should try it again, though, just in case..."
"No!" he interrupted forcefully, swiftly reverting back to a standing position. "Laura, those lines ... they are ..."
"So romantic?" she offered.
"So cheesy. My god, it's a wonder anyone ever got married then. They probably died laughing before the lady could accept."
Laura laughed, rich and deep, then pulled Jack to her. She gave him a gentle kiss on his lower lip, then a full kiss. "Thank you, sweetheart." She frowned. "Ow." She patted him on the chest. "You've got something hard in your pocket, Jack. Can we move it to your pants?"
He laughed. "I've got something hard there, too," he responded suggestively. "Can you get the box?" Laura reached inside his jacket and pulled out a square box.
"Open it," Jack encouraged. She did and found a velvet jewelers box. Her hands were trembling as she pulled back on the lid. Jack pulled the ring from the case. He held her hand and then, gathering courage asked "Will you marry me, Laura Anderson? I have no flowery words. All I can say is I love you with all my heart and I want to spend the rest of my life with you at my side."
Laura threw her arms around him. "Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!" She kissed him again and this time it deepened. "Oh my god, Jack. The camera. Wait. Let me turn it off first. No, not you. The camera." [/i]
The screen went blank. Jack hit the pause button, trying to get his emotions under control.
"Dad, I didn't know you were such a romantic!"
"Romantic? No. I was a fool. Cuvee was right. God, what an idiot I was."
"You remember when they were torturing me in Kashmir?" She nodded. "Cuvee told me he was our 'matchmaker'. He thought it quite funny that my ego was so big, that I could believe a woman like your mother would go for a man like me." Sydney heard the pain and bitterness her father was desperately trying to hide. "Just looking at the old videos, I realize he was right. I wasn't the type of guy a woman like your mother would choose."
"Dad, I think you are wrong. The woman I saw in that video loved you. You could see it in the way she touched you, the way she looked at you when you weren't looking."
"Sydney, that's just wishful thinking on your part. Every child wants their parents to have that fairy tale love."
Sydney was unconvinced, but she held her tongue. "So, what's next?"
Sydney sat back and watched snatches of her parents early dates. She laughed over a beach trip. Her mother had buried her father in the sand, then spent an inordinate amount of time kissing the exposed parts. On one of their excursions, they made a trip to Kings Dominion, an amusement park outside of Richmond.
[i]"Never?" Jack said in disbelief.
"I am not going to say it again, Jack." Her mother sounded annoyed.
"Why am I not going to say it again or why haven't I ever ridden a roller coaster." [/i]
Sydney remembered that tone of voice from her childhood. She looked over at her father and grinned. There would have been hell to pay later for him later, of that she was sure. Jack returned her smile ruefully. "Yes, you're right. She extracted her revenge later. You'll see."
[i]"Is that it?" The camera panned the skyline, following the movement of twin roller coasters. "They are all screaming, Jack. It can't be that much fun."
"You're not afraid, are you? Don't worry, I'll protect you."
"Jack Bristow, I don't know what has gotten into you today, but you better stop right now, or you will be very, very sorry later."[/i]
"What had gotten into you, Dad? Mom looked like she was ready to sock you. I think I would have, too, if I were in her place."
Jack shrugged. "I don't know. Overactive male hormones, excitement, anxiety over the coming wedding. Who knows? But making up was always worth ... um, I, ahem..." Jack stammered over his faux pas and Sydney was surprised to see a blush creep up his neckline. She squeezed his hand reassuringly and continued to watch.
The video picked back up to the moments before they were seated. Jack trained the camera on Laura as she watched the laughing passengers disembark, glancing up once to send a sizzling glare at her fiance. The park employee motioned for them to be seated and locked them in place.
"You better hope I don't kill you after this, Jack, because it's not good form to be a widow before you're even married," Laura hissed. Jack focused the camera on her face. "And do something else with that camera, before I break it into a thousand pieces."[/i]
For a moment, Sydney thought she wouldn't get to enjoy her mothers' first coaster ride, but her father merely focused the camera outward. Her mother, apparently, was a little nervous going down the first hill. Sydney heard her calling for Jack, a note of desperation in her voice. The camera dipped as her father moved closer to Laura. Soon, however, Laura, began enjoying the ups and downs of the coaster and joined in the happy yelling of her fellow passengers. Sydney saw through her fathers' lens the final drop and tensed, wondering how her mother would take it. The happy laughter as they reached the bottom reassured her and she knew a roller coaster fanatic had been born. Once again the camera faded to black, then rejoined her parents in line for the "Rebel Yell". This time, her mother was in charge of the camera.
[i]"Laura, are you sure you want to go again? Don't you think ten times is enough for mere mortals?"
"I want to wait for the front again, Jack."
"But, Laura, we just had dinner." Jack was looking decidedly green. He looked at her and groaned. "This is your revenge for this morning, right?" A pause as Jack looks directly at the camera. "I thought so. Wait til tonight," he said under his breath.
"What was that, dear?"
"I said, you look lovely tonight."[/i]
Sydney glanced at her father, as the coaster ride played out. He seemed lost in thought, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. She turned back to the screen and saw that the wedding coverage was next.
"Hungry?" Jack moved from the couch, tossing the remote to
"What?" The abrupt transition startled her. Quickly, she paused the remote.
"I'm hungry. I know a great gourmet restaurant that delivers. The catalog is in the kitchen." He focused on the television screen. "Why don't you go ahead and watch while I order."
"Dad?" Jack's eyes flicked to her and then back to the screen.
"I can't watch it, Sydney. It ... hurts too much," he admitted somewhat reluctantly. She nodded and he moved to the kitchen. As an afterthought, she shouted to him "No squid or octopus, or, or fried chicken lips, Dad," and smiled as she heard him laugh in response.
Pushing the remote, Sydney immediately noticed a difference in the quality of the video. Obviously her parents had hired a professional to record the event for posterity. The video focused in first on her mother and the bridesmaids as they prepared for the big moment. Laura was looking radiant as she finished her makeup. There were two bridesmaids and an older woman all chattering about the preparations. One of the bridesmaids looked familiar and Sydney realized with a start that it was her Aunt Jane. She didn't know much about her aunt. When she was growing up, there had been occasional visits lasting only a few days.
Aunt Jane did not care for children, something she had made pretty obvious during her visits. The last time her aunt paid them a visit was right before her High School graduation. Since she was a top investigative reporter for CNN, Sydney knew she was alive and well, but that was pretty much it. Her father rarely spoke about her. The other bridesmaid was a mystery to her. She'd have to ask her Dad, especially since her mother had flown the coop.
The older woman turned toward the camera and addressed her mother. Sydney gasped as she realized this was her grandmother. Her father's mother. She paused the remote and stared at the woman she only vaguely remembered. Her grandparents death only two months before her mothers had been devastating for her father. It was no wonder he was such an emotional wreck at the time.
She started the video and listened as her grandmother complimented her mother.
"You look lovely, dear. It's time to put on the dress. Jane, honey, you get the veil. Sarah, why don't you help me with the dress?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Bristow, for all your help. I...I wish my own mother could have been here. But you have been so wonderful." Laura gave her future mother-in-law a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"Think nothing of it, my dear. You are a part of our family now. I would be happier if you called me 'Mom', though." She patted Laura on the cheek. "I know you'll take good care of my son. You love him. I can see that." Laura's eyes glistened and Mrs. Bristow quickly reached for a tissue. "We can't have you spoiling your make-up, now can we?" She turned as Sarah undid the buttons of the dress.
The camera switched to the grooms waiting area. Sydney laughed softly as she watched her father pace nervously around the room. She didn't recognize the two men who stood with her father, but the older gentleman had to be her grandfather. He looked stern and uncompromising.
"Jonathan, will you stop your pacing. Your marriage is simply a formality anyway." He walked to the door. "I'll be outside when you need me."
Jack looked at his father stonefaced and Sydney realized that her father had long practice in hiding his feelings. She didn't remember her grandfather very much. He had always seemed distant, not the grandfatherly type at all and the video bore out her memories.
The video switched once again and panned the assembled guests. A face stuck out at her and she paused the disc and zoomed in. Khasinau! He had been at her parents wedding. Pretty bold on his part. He didn't look too happy, either. Sydney wondered if her father knew about Khasinau.
"Dad? I need to ask you something." If he didn't know, it would probably cause him even more pain, but she couldn't *not* ask.
He popped his head in through the door. "No, I didn't order chicken lips or squid ink soup." Sydney frowned a moment at this. "There's such a thing as squid ink soup?" Jack shook his head. "I was joking, honey. I know I'm out of practice, but I didn't think I was that bad!"
"Oh." Sydney screwed up her courage and pointed to the screen. "Did you know Khasinau was at your wedding?" Jack froze.
"Sydney...." She could hear the pain, but there were too many questions and now might be her only chance to hear the answers. She forged ahead.
"I'm surprised the CIA didn't confiscate the tapes."
He was silent, then, just when she thought he wouldn't respond, he gave her an answer. "The tapes were originally on 8 mm film. Your mother knew someone at the college who could convert the tapes to video, so we could watch them with the VCR. She gave them to him about a week before the 'accident'. I was already in CIA custody when he finished, so the CIA never knew about the tapes. My sister was taking care of my financial interests and she picked them up for me."
"Dad, how come Aunt Jane didn't take care of me while you were being held? Six months was an awfully long time and I really needed family." Her voice ached with the remembered loneliness. The nanny had been kind, but she was no substitute for family. Her mother was dead, or so she thought, her father was 'away on business', or so she thought. It had been a lot for a little girl to handle by herself.
Jack raked his hand through his hair. "Jane can't handle being around children," he explained carefully.
"Dad, what aren't you telling me?"
Jack sighed. "Your aunt can't have children. She got pregnant in high school and ended up getting a backstreet abortion. There were ... complications. I'm not sure which was worse for her. Finding out she would never have a child of her own or having our father tell her it was no less than she deserved."
"Dad, please stay? I know it hurts, but I really need to watch this with you."
Jack resumed his place on the couch and took another swallow of whiskey. At Sydney's look, he shrugged, but said nothing. Sydney hit the play button and watched the processional. First her grandmother was escorted to the front. Then the lighting of the candles. Sydney had to smile. One candle refused to stay lit.
"An omen," Jack said gloomily and took another swig.
"Shush, Dad. Something like that happens at all weddings."
Finally, the groom and his party moved to their place in front. Her father really looked handsome. He was wearing his hair slightly longer and the curls were more obvious. She wanted to laugh at his 70's tux, but didn't want to take a chance on him leaving her to watch the wedding alone again.
Her mother obviously went with a completely traditional wedding, flower girl, ringbearer and all. Finally, the music swelled to the traditional bridal entry and her mother entered the church.
"Dad, why is your father escorting Mom down the aisle?"
"Your mother told us she had no family." Then, wryly, "she certainly charmed the socks off my father. I think it's the only thing I ever did that he actually approved."
Her grandfather released her mother and moved to a seat next to his wife. Laura was simply stunning. There were no other words for her. Nothing in Laura's manner indicated that she was not head over heals in love with the man who stood before her. The dress was lovely, an off-white silk that looked like it had been designed for another era.
"Your grandmother's wedding dress," Jack said, as if she had spoken aloud. "Jane was not happy about that. My father is the one who arranged it. I'm not sure my mother thought it proper, either, but your mother was thrilled and I was so besotted, I would have given her the moon if she'd asked." The last was said with strong self derision.
"Dad, I can't believe the woman I'm seeing is not in love with you. Look at her. She's looking at you as though you are the only man in the room."
"No, she's thinking how great this will go over with the KGB. She's successfully duped a CIA agent."
"No way. I know that look. See how she's reaching for you." They watched as vows were exchanged and Jack kissed his bride. They turned to the guests and Sydney noticed a slight change in her mothers expression. Shock? Laura recovered quickly, but some of the glow dimmed. Then she looked up at Jack and whispered something in his ear.
"What did she say, Dad?" Sydney's curiosity getting the better of her.
"It was a long time ago, Sydney, you can't expect me to remember such a tiny detail."
Her father's voice was flat, they way it always was when he was lying to her. "Dad."
He pursed his lips and she thought he was going to be stubborn and not tell her. "Please?"
He shook his head at her, giving a short laugh. "Well, we know where you got that ability. You are your mother's daughter."
"Funny, everyone says I'm exactly like you. That I may look like Mom, but I'm my father's daughter. Now, please tell me."
"Always remember I love you."
"I know you love me, Dad. Why don't you want to tell me what she said?"
"That was what she said," Jack responded with exasperation. "It was her favorite phrase. I'd find little notes in my suit jackets when I went on trips. She'd tape it to the sports section of the newspaper. Sometimes she'd tape it to the bookmarker of whatever novel I was reading at the time. On our first Christmas, she wrapped up several boxes, one within the other - like those nested Russian Matreshka dolls - the final box had a small gift with the same note. She even left one of those damned notes on the steering wheel of my car the night she 'died'." Pain mixed with bitterness and anger as Jack shared a part of his past that had been locked inside for twenty-one years. Sydney was glad that he finally felt comfortable enough to tell her long held secrets, but sad that what he shared caused him such pain.
The doorbell rang. "Dinner's here," her father said, putting an effective end to their conversation. She stopped the player, noting that it had moved on to the reception while they talked.
"So, Dad, what's for dinner?" asked as her father answered the door.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
Jack looked defensive. "I ordered the Chef's Surprise Special - you never know what you're going to get." Jack guided her to the table, which she noted, was already set, as the delivery man headed for the kitchen. "I've never had a bad dinner yet and it saves trying to figure out what I want."
Sydney watched as the cartons were placed carefully on the counter. The young man rummaged through the kitchen with an ease that bespoke familiarity. Her father apparently ordered his meals from the establishment fairly regularly. When the delivery man didn't immediately leave, she realized that serving the meal was a part of the service. Within moments, he entered the dining room with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. "Compliments of Chef Pierre, Mr. Bristow." He looked over at Sydney with barely disguised curiosity.
Jack furrowed his eyebrow in surprise, then apparently enlightened, started to laugh. "Thank you, Joe. Please tell him my *daughter* and I appreciate his gesture." Joe nodded and seemed to share the joke with her father.
"The Special tonight is Roasted lamb chops a la Chef Pierre. It is accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and honey asparagus. Your salads will be out shortly," Joe intoned formally, then returned to the kitchen.
"What was that all about, Dad?"
"Pierre thought I was entertaining a lady."
Sydney frowned. "A lady?" Then, understanding dawning, "Oh, a lady!"
Sydney sat back on the couch while Jack brought over the bottle of champagne. She raised her eyebrows and her father shrugged. "Doesn't everyone have champagne at their wedding reception?" he said nodding at the video footage currently displaying on the tv.
She smiled at his joke, glad to see some of his earlier tension ease. She looked at the monitor and saw her parents dancing together, seemingly oblivious to everything around them. Jane Bristow stood to one side, watching them. It struck Sydney that her aunt was not happy about her brothers' marriage. Did she sense something that others missed? If she had watched the video without knowing the participants, Sydney would have said the bride and groom were meant for each other. And yet, there was Aunt Jane, seeming to know something was awry.
"No, Sydney, Jane didn't know any more than anyone else." Her father accurately read her thoughts. "Her unhappiness came because your mother had succeeded where she never could. My father was not a very pleasant man, but he treated your mother like she was a royal princess." He stopped. "I suppose you feel the same way about me," Jack said without expression.
"No, I've never thought of you as a royal princess." She smiled up at him. "A royal pain in the ass, maybe."
"Sydney, I'm out of practice and this doesn't come easily to me, but I do love you. I don't want you to ever have to doubt that."
She looked into her father's eyes and knew that her response had the power to hurt or heal. She thought of the empty years, growing up almost without him. And then she remembered the important moments of her life. Learning to ride her bike, her first dance, her first date, high school graduation, college graduation. She thought of the nights he would come home late and tuck her in. He thought she was asleep, but she always waited up for him, waited for him to straighten her covers, waited for the light kiss on the cheek, waited for him to whisper that he loved her.
"Dad, do you remember what you used to call me, when I was little?"
"Yes. I also remember you telling me you didn't want me to call you that ever again. You were thirteen, I believe."
Sydney laughed. "Yeah, it was embarrassing in front of my friends. But I still wanted you to kiss me good night and say 'I love you, Buttercup'. Why did you stop?"
"You locked your door."
"I did?" Sydney looked puzzled. "I don't remember doing that. One of my sitters had a smarmy boyfriend and I used to lock my door when you were gone. She didn't last very long, anyway." She reached over and held Jack's hand. "When I was growing up, even when I was angry with you, Dad, I knew you loved me. I guess I forgot somewhere along the way." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then turned back to the screen. Jack had paused it while they talked and now he let it resume. She watched as the images moved from the reception to their honeymoon in Europe.
The first shot was of her mother leaning out against the brickwall of a very old bridge, hair gently blowing in the light summer breeze. Above and to her right was an ancient castle, glowing in the afternoon light.
"Heidelburg," Jack explained briefly.
[i]"Jack, will you put that thing away. Come over here and look. It's beautiful." The camera panned the bridge area, revealing a street lined with buildings that had stood the test of time. He zoomed in on one of the hotels.
"It's a beautiful hotel, Jack." At some point her mother had moved from her riverside perch and stood next to her father. "I'm feeling a little ... tired. Perhaps we should go and rest before dinner?"
"Excuse me, please." The camera wobbled as a small man bumped into her father. "So sorry. Entschuldigen Sie, bitte." The man almost lost his balance and fell somewhat heavily against her mother. She must have grabbed on to Jack to keep from falling, since the camera juggled awkwardly again. Jack steadied the camera and followed the man as he continued on his way.[/i]
Jack hit the pause button, stunned. "Cuvee. My god. Even on our honeymoon." Sydney wanted to reassure her father, but nothing came to her. She stared at the still image and felt a sharp welling of anger and hate. Not towards her mother, but rather the people who pulled the strings and placed her in such an untenable position.
"I don't think I can watch any more tonight, Sydney." He looked at the clock on the mantel. "It's late. Why don't you stay here tonight?"
"Thanks, Dad. My stuff's in the car."
The ring of the phone startled Jack out of his uneasy slumber. "Yes, hello?" he mumbled.
"Good morning, sunshine."
"Laura?" he said still half asleep. Then suddenly, he wasn't. "Irina." He looked at the clock. Three a.m.
"I'm sorry, dear, did I wake you? I must have miscalculated on the time difference."
"Like hell you did." Jack had no intention of being pleasant. "What do you want?"
"Sydney told me you were still living in our old house."
"Irina!" Jack let his impatience have full rein.
"I remember when I left we had a gopher problem. You wouldn't put poison out because you were worried that Sydney might accidentally get in to it. I always wondered how you got rid of them. Nasty animals. I hated them being so close to our home."
Jack was silent as he tried to remember a problem with gophers. The time right before her supposed death was a bit of a blur. His parents death had left him emotionally drained. That, coupled with Laura's death and the discovery of her betrayal, he was in a sad state. But he would remember gophers.
"You're calling me at 3 in the morning to ask me about gophers?"
"No, actually I called because I miss you. I've missed our daily talks."
Jack rubbed his eyes and an unbidden image of Cuvee invaded his memory.
"How could you, Irina." The words were out before he could stop them.
"How could I what?"
"Cuvee. On our honeymoon, for god's sake." Too much alcohol, too little sleep and an anger that had multiplied during his restless slumber loosened the normally tight rein he held on his emotions.
She was silent, then "My air time is almost up. Not enough time to explain. Someday, Jack." The phone clicked and she was gone.
He sat at the edge of the bed, rubbing his neck. Why had she called? Gophers. He lay back against the pillows. He sighed. The answer would have to wait until morning.
Jack groaned when the alarm finally invaded his consciousness. He'd had sleepless nights before, restless thoughts of love and betrayal, but morning usually brought solace and renewed strength against his demons. Not this morning. His ghosts were all too real.
Why had she called? Jack pulled himself from the bed and made his way to the shower, letting the sting of water soothe away the tension of the night. He liked showers. They cleared away the morning cobwebs, allowing him to simply think. [i]Laura had liked baths.[/i] He steered his mind away from that memory.
Once again he thought of his early morning phone conversation. It almost felt like he'd dreamt it. Almost. She taken a risk to call him, of that he was sure. So there was an important message in what she'd said. Gophers. That was the key. But what? Computers? The University of Minnesota had developed a search engine in the early days of home computing called Gopher. Surely too obscure. She used to love watching "The Love Boat". Her favorite character was Gopher. But what kind of a warning was that? He and Sydney had been watching the videos, maybe his tv was bugged. God, he hoped not.
The water for his shower cooled, but not his thoughts. Panama. She was so beautiful and he could feel the heat of her eyes on him all evening. Perhaps he should have protested more when she asked for the tracker to be removed, but anticipation made him careless. When she turned to him, his desire overwhelmed him and he was lost.
They made love fast and hard. He reveled when she lost control and groaned as he fell into the same abyss. He held her close and Irina lay quietly against him.
[i]"Jack?" He tried to fake sleep, not wanting to destroy the moment with talk, but Irina was insistent. "Jack. I know you are not asleep."
He turned to her, caressing her hair. She stilled his hand. "What's your real plan?"
"Kendall may have fallen for it, but I know you better, Jack. I've studied your strategies. This is far too simple and straightforward. You don't do simple and straightforward."
He had to admire her keen intelligence, even if it did present a slight problem in his plans. His brain automatically began analyzing new strategies, some way to incorporate this new twist in to his ultimate goal.
She sighed and brushed a hand across his cheek and behind his ear. He shivered, his body quickly reacting to her touch. He could feel it and he knew she could feel it. "You don't trust me." She continued her caresses, knowing that each touch would excite him more. "You want Sloane. I want Rambaldi. You want Sydney safe. So do I. We could work together?"
"I thought we were. You meet with Sloane, we nab him. That's the plan."
"No, Jack, it isn't. But we'll have to discuss this more later." She moved over him and let her body caress his. "Right now, I simply want you. And I don't want you to think I'm seducing you for information. I'm simply seducing you. We don't have much time and I don't plan on wasting it."
By morning, they had formulated an alternate plan. It had been an uneasy truce, but Irina was willing enough to submit to the passive transmitter. They agreed the only way their plan would work was for everyone to think Irina had betrayed Jack again. It was a sacrifice for both of them. She, in the loss of her daughters' newborn trust and he, in being thought a colossal fool once again.[/i]
He dressed, then made his way downstairs. It was still early, the sun just rising above the horizon. He set the coffeemaker and moved to the patio off the breakfast nook. When he and Laura had purchased the house, the backyard had been a mass of weeds and overgrown fauna. They had worked on the yard together, spending their weekends digging and planting, until it looked like an outdoor garden. Two years later, they had added a small pool. Once upon a time a hammock occupied the spot between two trees. Their yard had been a refuge of sorts for him. It pulled him away from the ugliness that surrounded his work to a place of innocence and laughter.
He looked at the neatly manicured grounds. Gophers, he thought. Why gophers? Gophers like to burrow underground and eat vegetation. Irina was right, they were not pleasant creatures. The could wreak havoc in lawns, just like moles. Moles. Of course. Jack replayed the conversation in his head.
[i] "I remember when I left we had a gopher problem. You wouldn't put poison out because you were worried that Sydney might accidentally get in to it. I always wondered how you got rid of them. Nasty animals. I hated them being so close to our home."[/i]
A mole. And it was someone close to Sydney. It was the obvious answer. But was that what she meant? Which of his daughter's friends would betray her? He could think of none. Still, it only affirmed that they had made the right decision to keep Sydney out of the loop. Her daughter's genuine anger and grief would make Irina's cover more convincing.
"Good morning, Sydney. Coffee? Breakfast?" Jack closed the door to the patio and headed back to the kitchen.
"Just coffee, Dad." She looked him over somewhat critically, then asked softly, "Are you okay?"
"Nothing a little coffee won't cure," he said as he reached for two mugs.
"You don't have to watch anymore, if you don't want to."
"I'm sorry about last night. It just took me a little by surprise. I'm fine, sweetheart."
She looked at him doubtfully for a moment. He placed the mugs on the small table and they sat, quietly sipping their coffee.
"Um, Dad, about last night." Jack stiffened slightly. "That chef, he thought you had a date?"
Jack nodded cautiously, not knowing where the conversation was going.
"It was kind of weird."
"Weird? In what way?" He was almost afraid to hear her answer.
"I don't know. I guess I never thought of you in that way before." At Jack's questioning look, Sydney tried to explain further. "With other women."
Jack relaxed. "So, what are you asking me?" he teased.
"I don't know. In my mind, it was always you and Mom. I don't remember you dating when I was growing up. I always thought it was because you were being faithful to Mom." She gave him a wry smile. "Silly of me, right?" Her look became pensive. "Funny, even knowing what Mom did, I still think of you as..."
"Not silly," Jack interrupted abruptly. "Naive, maybe." He looked at his daughter, eyes hooded. "I haven't lived as monk, if that's what you're wondering. I'm sure your mother hasn't abstained, either."
Sydney nodded. She wasn't sure why, but her father's admission saddened her. Her memories of her parents marriage had assumed fairy tale status over the years. She hated when real life reared its ugly head.
"Do you mind if I go ahead and start watching the rest of your trip to Europe?" She decided it best to avoid the word 'honeymoon'.
He smiled, immediately noticing the careful choice in words. "Only if I get to control the remote."