Title: What Greater Pain

Author: Robin/icyfire (wideyed@mikrotec.com)

Summary: Post-"The Telling" fic. Jack tries to hold the pieces together after Sydney's disappearance, but who can help him?

Ship: Jack/Irina, although it really wasn't supposed to be

Rating: PG-13 I would think

Disclaimer: No, I'm not JJ. Never have produced a TV show or written a screenplay for major movies. I'm also not a mouse with way-too-big ears, and I'm not the beginning of the alphabet. Oh, and I'm way too smart to try to earn money with these characters.

A/N: Yes, I've joined the crowd. I had to write some post-"The Telling" fic.

Thanks to Jenai for the encouragement. Thank you to Celli and Karen T. for the beta. As always, all mistakes are mine and mine alone. They just kept helping me make the story better and better with all their work.

Happy (early) birthday, Mai! I hope it's as fantastic as you are. :) And I hope you enjoy your fic gift.

***

There was someone in his apartment.

An instinct brought on by experience warned him as he cracked open the door, and an instinct brought on by training made him reach for his gun. His hands wrapped around the metal just as Kendall's earlier words played through his mind. The anger he had felt then was gone, replaced now with overwhelming despair. Dropping his head, he let go of the weapon, leaving it in his holster.

Setting his jaw, he pushed open the door and walked into his apartment. The lights of the city scattered through the terrace doors. He didn't bother trying to search out the person waiting for him; he would let Jack know of his presence soon enough.

He strolled over to the bar. Setting a tumbler down, he reached for a bottle of aged Scotch. Maybe he would have time for one more drink.

Icy metal touched the back of his neck just after he finished gulping down the fine liquor as if it were cheap beer. He hoped they would just pull the trigger. No grandstanding, no questions. Just let the darkness overtake him.

"Where is she?"

He closed his eyes, knowing that the woman behind him would no more kill him than he would kill her. Or that she would only kill him for the one reason he would kill her. He slowly turned and faced her, examining her, wondering when she had aged so much, knowing the answer. They had both aged decades in the last few days.

"That's the question, isn't it?" he whispered into the darkness.

Light glistened at him from her eyes as her mouth become harder. "I don't have time for games, Jack."

"And I don't have the inclination."

He turned back to the bar and picked up a larger glass. He filled it to the brim. Irina pushed the gun into his back. "Tell me where she is, Jack."

Kendall's words dragged through his mind again. He wouldn't repeat them. Not now. Maybe never. "You think this is some kind of shell game by the CIA," he realized. He took another gulp of Scotch. If there would be no bullet to bring him relief tonight, maybe he could find the numbness in alcohol. He had once, a long time ago, when he was young and grieving for his dead wife. A foolish young man who believed in love and happy endings had sought comfort in the warmness of alcohol.

The gun pressed harder into his back. "I don't have time for this, Jack. Where the hell is she?"

He took another gulp. This time it didn't even burn. "Put the gun down, Irina. We both know you won't shoot me."

"What makes you so sure of that?"

Turning, he leaned back against the bar, resting his elbows on the marble countertop. "Because you would only shoot me if I harmed Sydney. It's the only reason that you would kill me. Just like it's the only reason I would kill you." Another gulp. Maybe he could pass out within the hour. Actually sleep through the night.

The pistol in her hand trembled as she lowered it. "Jack?"

He'd never heard her sound so confused, so scared. "Remember the Eiperts?"

She nodded. "Our neighbors. Of course I remember them. I still occasionally crave Linda's soup."

"She did know how to make great soup."

"It was the only thing she could make that tasted good," Irina said, sounding more like Laura than the spy he knew she was.

"Remember their fights? How they used to scream at each other? Robert was always so calm and pleasant until the fights started, and then he was like a different man."

Irina nodded. "We always wondered why they didn't get divorced."

"Now we know." He stood away from the bar and stumbled into his living room. The city of Los Angeles spread out before him through his terrace doors.

Irina was standing in the archway between the kitchen and living room. He knew without even looking; he could feel her. "What do we know?"

He continued to stare at the city. "That it's possible to love and hate at the same time."

Her gasp was the only sound in the room for a few minutes. "Jack, where is she? Please tell me the truth."

He finished the contents of his glass. "The CIA doesn't know, Irina." He was silent for a few heartbeats. "I don't know."

"Jack, don't lie to me. Not about this."

"The CIA doesn't know, and it doesn't look like they will ever know."

"What do you mean?"

Jack stared down at the empty glass. "My old friend Sloane is getting to be too big of a problem. Resources are being wasted by looking for one agent. Kendall pulled Vaughn and me into his office today to tell us. He said she was 'missing and pr--'." He couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't say the words. Not now. Maybe never.

The sound of Irina sinking down to the floor reached his ears. He turned, saw her on her knees, tears in her eyes. He let the glass in his hand hit the floor as he walked to her. Sinking down before her, he drew her into his arms, offering comfort. He felt her tears through the front of his shirt.

It took a few minutes to realize he was crying with her.

***

Irina sat up, her muscles protesting. She looked down at the man sleeping beside her. Even with the lack of sleep and the ravishment of tears still on his face, he still managed to be the most handsome she'd ever seen. Intellectually, she knew she had been in the presence of men with better physiques. She had been with men who graced posters in most teenage girls'- -and a lot of women's--bedrooms. However, none of them did to her what Jack did.

Looking at herself in the mirrored closet doors, she grinned. Bruises, bite marks, and scratches from fingernails made their presence known in full force this morning. Looking back at the still sleeping Jack, she knew that she should get away while she could, but she wanted to take a shower. Any other agent would call in for a team, but she knew Jack wouldn't want anyone to know he'd spent the night in his wife's arms. He wouldn't call in a team--at least not yet.

She had to admit that his stunt with Sydney had drawn her out into the open, just as he'd planned. And last night, tired from three nights with little sleep, she had fallen for his act. For a few brief moments, she had believed that their daughter was really missing.

And after the way Jack made love to her last night, with a desperation she had never seen from him, she had worried that maybe it wasn't just a part of their game. Gathering her scattered clothes, she looked at him. He did love her. She didn't doubt it. She also didn't doubt his hatred.

However, she didn't hate him. Sometimes she came close. He was the only man who made her lose her focus. Like last night. Her goal to find out where the CIA was hiding her daughter had been unmet. Walking into the master bathroom, she knew that it would be soon fulfilled. She knew Jack; he wouldn't be able to stay away from Sydney for long. He would need to see for himself that she was safe, and he would go to the safe house where the CIA was keeping her. And a team of her most trusted employees would follow him and inform her.

Letting the hot water of the shower pour over her, she remembered Sydney's first mission. It had been a simple drop. She was to give a box to a man on a train. An untrained housewife could do it, and Sydney had been through months of training by the time Sloane had given her that first mission. Sydney had never noticed her father watching over her from a distance, and Jack had never noticed her watching over them.

He opened the door to the shower stall. Irina turned and saw him through the steam. "I'll wash your back," he said, stepping into the shower with her.

***

Irina ran the towel through her hair. She was already dressed, and her hair was almost completely dried, but was trying to get it as dry as possible before taking the hairdryer to it. The heat did terrible things to her hair.

Jack was dressed in a black t-shirt and a pair of black denim jeans. It used to be his favorite off-duty outfit, but Irina had a sneaking suspicion that neither piece of clothing made its way out of his closet often these days.

He was leaning against the windowsill, drinking a cup of coffee. After their shower, he had barely spoken to her, lost in thought. Again, a suspicion that he honestly didn't know Sydney's location whispered through her mind. Again, she pushed it away.

After she finished blow drying her hair, he turned to watch her. He leaned forward and put down the empty mug on the nightstand. When she was still Laura, his side of the bed had a picture of her and Sydney, one of Sydney's many "I love you, Daddy" drawings taped to a lamp, and a few different novels that he was always in the middle of reading. Now it only held a lamp and an alarm clock.

"Do you have access to a plane?"

Her eyes met his through the mirror. "Yes."

"Are you going to see Arvin?"

She hesitated for a moment, wondering about his game, trying to figure out what was the best hand to play. Decided on honesty. "Yes."

His eyes shifted to the right, letting her know that he was lost in thought. She stood up and reached for the tiny bag she had brought with her.

"Give me fifteen minutes."

She froze, inside and out. "What?"

"I'll need about fifteen minutes to pack."

She couldn't look at him. "Why?"

"Because I'm going with you," was all he answered.

She heard the doors to his closet open. She heard a suitcase being drawn out of it. "Jack--"

"I know you think I know where she is, Irina, because a part of me believes you know where she is. But I think both of us know that she's really gone, and that we are her only chance. And we have a better chance of saving her from whoever has her working together than apart."

The truth of his words ripped through her. Her daughter was missing. She felt like she couldn't breathe. "Jack, I don't believe the CIA will condone your working with me. Even if it is to find out daughter."

"The CIA can go to hell." The tone was mild, but she heard the venom in the words.

"Jack--" She turned to look at him and finally saw the outfits he was packing. Turtlenecks, jeans, slacks, and t-shirts. The suits and ties remained untouched. "They'll condemn you as a traitor."

"They can condemn me. Just as I condemn them."

"Jack, you'll be a wanted man. They'll hunt--."

His hands were suddenly on her shoulder, squeezing. "I don't give a damn what they want. I've given them all I'm willing to give. I want my daughter back, and I intend to find her. Now, will you help me or do I do this alone?"

Irina wanted to yell at him for lying to her. She wanted him to admit that he knew where Sydney was, that this was all a complicated plot to get her and Sloane. Looking into his eyes in the brightness of the morning, she knew that he was being totally honest with her. A single tear trickled down her cheek as she nodded. "Let me call the pilot."

She watched as he finished packing. Neither one of them said anything as he took his badge and his company-issued gun and laid them on the dresser. She took his free hand as they walked towards the door. "We'll find her, Jack."

"Of course we will," he replied.

She wondered if either one of them believed it.