Summary: Jack/Irina angst, action, and romance, post Endgame. This was written before the finale (the reason I mention that will be obvious when you read the first chapter). The fic is set in the AU created in "Catch- 22", a short fic previously posted here. If you don't want to read the prequel, all you need to know is that Jack has found out, from Elsa Caplan, that Irina actually did love him when they were married and was extracted against her will and imprisoned for "reprogramming" 20 years ago.

Rating: PG-13, for suggestive situations and violence (graphic against one character).

Disclaimer: The characters are JJ's. The spec about Rambaldi is partially based on a thread at TwoP.


Chapter 1

"Evening, Mr. Bristow."

"Evening, Jimmy."

"Double scotch?"

Jack nodded and slid into a seat in the corner of the bar. He didn't need to look around to be able to visualize the scratches in the dark wood, the rows of bottles, the bartender carefully drying the glasses. This particular establishment was a favorite of Jack's. Large enough so that the clientele shifted, and he was never drawn into a conversation with "regulars". Small enough so that Jimmy knew what he wanted, and left him alone once he'd provided it. He had done some of his best thinking here over the years.

It had been a logical place to which to retreat when he had returned from Bainbridge Island. He had had time to reflect on the information Elsa Caplan had given him, to analyze it, dissect it piece by piece, and compare it to his own experience. The inescapable conclusion was that she had told the truth. Irina had loved him. She had protected him, borne him a child, and fought to remain with him. It had made her both extraordinarily effective in her role and a major security risk to the KGB. The question was, what difference did that make to him - them - now?

Moodily he swirled the scotch in his glass and watched it shimmer in the light. Years ago he had come to terms with her stealing state secrets from him. He was many things, but not a hypocrite. He had difficulty faulting her for doing something he had done all his life. It had been the pain and humiliation of believing that she had manipulated him all that time, pretending to return his love while secretly laughing at him ("Jack Bristow was a fool") that had steeped inside him like a slow-acting acid, eating away at his heart. Knowing that she had loved him - yes, he conceded, that knowledge eased the ache. But in its place welled up a deep anger, an even greater sense of betrayal. She had loved him, but had not trusted him with the truth. And her inability to do so had destroyed both their lives 20 years ago.

Irina. Pathologically unable to tell him the truth, then or now. She had sworn that her objective was to rid the world of Sloane so that Sydney could be free. Yet at the first opportunity, she had escaped to him. Jack winced as he thought of the ease with which she had smuggled out the Rambaldi manuscript. He had virtually strip-searched her that night in Panama, and still not found it. Consciously he relaxed his grip on his glass, which had suddenly tightened. Best not to focus on that night in too much detail.

She had been with Sloane for weeks now and not lifted a finger. Just the opposite. Satellite recon showed her actively assisting Sloane escape from the raid in Tuscany. Jack had told Kendall that he could tell if she was lying. He could. That was not the same as knowing when she wasn't telling all the truth. Apparently she had, once more, convinced herself that telling him the whole truth was not an option. Betraying him in the process.

Jack didn't look up as the seats around him were taken. The evening was progressing and the bar was filling up. Deep in thought, he didn't want to risk meeting eyes with the person next to him and being trapped in a polite conversation. It was only when he heard the soft hiss of the voice on his right that his head snapped up, incredulous.

"Evening, Jack. Mind if I join you?"