X. The Double Agent

She wasn't wearing heels. In this instance, that was by and large a good thing.

Gritting her teeth, Irina sucked in another lungful of air, exhaling quickly as she quickened her pace, nearly skidding along the corner of the darkened tunnel, holstering the gun and slamming against the wall.

Breathing heavily, she waited, ears straining to hear the pounding of footsteps racing in her direction.

The blonde and black blur jerked around the corner, and without a moment's hesitation, she reached out, grasped a dark shoulder, and slammed the agent into the wall.

"Why do they keep sending you out on field assignments?" she snapped. "Do you realize this is the fifth time we've caught you?"

Agent Vaughn wore a thin film of sweat over his face, causing the skin to glisten in the buzzing, barely working fluorescent lights. He gasped hard, doubling over in an effort to regain his breath, rolling his eyes to the back of his head when he finally straightened. "Okay, first of all? The first two times weren't even you. And secondly: Do you REALLY think that right now is the time to discuss this?"

Irina flattened herself next to the wall, quickly reaching into her pants pocket and pulling out an extra round of ammunition.

"Give me your gun," she whispered, taking it from his outstretched hand, craning her neck to glance quickly around the corner. "How far away were they?"

"No more than a hundred feet." She frowned, closing her eyes and nodding. "Oh yeah, and by the way?" Vaughn's harsh whisper broke into her ear. "Can we discuss how realistic your method of torture should be? Because I almost passed out back there."

Her glance was incredulous. "My daughter stabbed you, threw you down a hill, and left you for dead, and yet you have a problem with a little knock on the head from me?"

"You hit me with a wrench!"

"Shut up, Michael." Glancing down the darkened hallway, she heard the faint pounding of racing footsteps, and finally made her decision. "One hundred feet south, then make a right. Through the sewers until you hit the fifth manhole. Once outside, step into the little café. Sloane will meet you there. Do you understand?"

The Agent's brow furrowed, nodding breathlessly. "Yes."

"Good. Now." He broke into a run, and immediately, Irina raised her automatic, shooting out the lights until she was left in pitch darkness.

The racing foosteps immediately faltered as they came closer, a British voice that had to be henchmen number one cursing into the darkness.

"Bloody, hell! Bastard shot out the lights!"

She smiled, sinking down to the concrete floor, and setting the gun down where they would find it.

"F*ck. Irina's gonna be pissed. She was having fun torturing that bloke."

She smiled, closing her eyes to suck in her breath. Well, she admitted. Yes, she was.

"Well, I'm not gonna tell her we lost him."

"Well, I'm not gonna!"

"Flip you for it?"

"Yeah, allright. Call it."

"Heads."

"Tails."

"Damn. Two out of three?"

Shuddering, Irina moved quickly into the darkness, away from her fighting men, and into the door on the right, stepping into the covered walkway, shedding clothes as she went.

She had less than five minutes to sneak back into her bathroom, before her guard would be suspicious of the shower still running.

Thankfully, she was glad for the cover.

She was sweating profusely.

--

"And of the Agent?"

Very real frustration crossed over Irina's face, shrugging in exasperation as she slipped into the chair beside HIM. "I left the room when you called me. In that time he somehow managed to escape."

HE narrowed his eyes in gross contemplation, idly caressing the silver ring that featured prominently on his left hand, third finger.

"Haf you discussed zis vith them?" he asked, thick accent rolling the words dangerously across his tongue.

Irina Derevko nodded shortly, twirling the pen in her fingers as her figure straightened. "Of course."

"And?"

Her mouth twitched, a secret smile slipping over her features as she met his glance with a humorless drawl, "I'm afraid they did not live long enough for me to be satisfied with their explanation."

HE studied her, letting that sink in. Erupting in laughter, rough fingers covered hers, patting them affectionately, opening his mouth around her index finger, sucking it in.

The revulsion nearly exposed her. Clucking her tongue, she smiled, patting his hand in recrimination and slowly drawing the finger out of his mouth.

"You are naughty, -----" she told HIM. "We have discussed business and pleasure."

"Yes," HE admitted. "I do not respect a woman I sleep with, and you Irina, I respect you explicitly."

"I am honored to have that respect," she said crisply. "And I apologize for my mistake. I let him go."

"You did no such thing," HE said, shaking his head. "You put too much blame on yourself, Irina."

"No," she sighed heavily. "I have betrayed you, ----. I did let him go."

"Nonsense. It is my fault. Those soldiers are incompetent. I gave him to you because I thought you might enjoy it."

"I did enjoy it," she concurred.

HE smiled. "Yes. I vas watching. But enough with petty revenge. You deserve better than to deal with these foolish boys. I haf a better job for you. You are special, Irina. One of a kind."

Irina was inclined to disagree, but she took the compliment with grace, sitting with the serpent in his lair, trapped in a world where her capacity for cruelty was far more admired than any mothering instincts she may have harbored.

This Irina? She was a monster. But she was nothing compared to HIM.

"I would say the same about you."

The small, pleased smile on her face grew when he smiled back, taking the flute of wine he offered and sipping it demurely.

Nodding, he motioned with his hand, suddenly all business.

"I have sent Sark ahead of you, to set up ze plan."

Putting down the flute, Irina tucked a strand of hair behind her ears, crossing her legs at the ankle, face hard and vindictive.

"Tell me what to do."

--

Fleeting glimpses hardly defined a marriage.

Irina Derevko never wore a wedding ring. She saw her husband, if she was lucky, perhaps once every three months. Each time she parted ways with him, she always wondered if it would be the last time she would touch his lips, the last time she would see his face.

It resulted in a violently passionate relationship, coming together in an explosion of touches, kisses, grunts and murmurs of love.

Afterwards, for whatever time she had left, she would lie with him, and talk about Sydney.

They were her greatest weakness.

There was a harder, colder part of Irina that whispered in her thoughts, dominated her will and her mind. For so long she had listened, counted on her darker self. That aspect kept her alive, existing as slowly, bit by bit, her humanity leaked out.

She knew that the Agency did not trust it. No one could truly understand why the devil in angel's clothing, suddenly became a guardian angel in Lucifer's guise. When questioned in the aftermath of the first successful mission, Jack Bristow's only explanation was a clipped, 'Never underestimate the love for a daughter'.

It would kill her some day.

Irina paused, glancing around the abandoned ice rink as she stepped down onto the slippery white, careful to keep her balance on the wetness.

Blades clicking shifted her focus to a young woman on the other side of the rink, stepping down onto the ice, casually dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.

Irina smiled, eyes suddenly burning in familiar emotion as she skidded, struggling to keep from falling as she moved forward as quickly as she could.

It would kill her, some day. But it was worth it.

Sydney, skating easily in her hockey blades, had gained a dangerous momentum.

"I can't stop!" she suddenly shrieked, and mother and daughter crashed to the ground in an unflattering heap, Sydney's crystal laughter making the bruising ache of Irina's jaw absolutely inconsequential.

Irina laughed, hand to her chest to catch her breath as she lay on the cold ice, breath coming forth in smoky tufts, mimicking those of her daughter.

"Oww," Sydney moaned beside her. "Sorry, Mom."

"Believe it or not, I've had worse." Pushing up to her waist with her elbows, she turned to inspect her daughter, smile fading at the reddish scab and the fade of a bruise on her left cheekbone. "Oh, Sydney..." Tipping her chin, Irina carefully fingered the wound, ignoring Sydney's hiss. "What happened."

"Korea," she said automatically.

"Who won?" Irina asked flatly.

"Duh. Me."

"Good girl."

Sydney shrugged humbly, small smile slipping onto her face before it faded just as quickly. "Hey! What happened to you?"

Touching gently at a tender area on her forehead, Irina winced slightly, pushing her daughter's hand away. "It's nothing."

"Korea?"

"Tokyo."

Sydney pursed her lips. "Who won?"

"Your mother."

"Go, Mom!"

Never quite sure how to respond to Sydney's sudden lapses into American slang, Irina pushed to her feet, hands out to help her daughter up. "Come on. Your friend Vaughn, is he allright?"

"Oh, he's fine," Sydney said, forced carelessness coloring her tone as a soft blush suddenly rose to her cheekbones. "Actually, he made a comment in his report that you used 'excessive force' while you were torturing him."

"Excessive force?!" Irina paused, wide-eyed.

"Yeah. I told him that I knifed him and rolled him down the hill, and he whined less."

"That is exactly what I told him!"

"That's more or less what he said," Sydney grinned. The smile faltered slightly when her mother squeezed.

"Is it getting easier between the two of you?"

Sydney considered, and finally tossed a tight smile in her direction. "It's not getting harder."

Carefully rearranging an errant bang on her daughter's forehead, Irina nodded slightly.

"Do not lose faith, Sydney. Sometimes things do not work out the way we expect them to, no matter how hard we try to manipulate our feelings."

Sydney studied her for a moment, letting that sink in, before she blurted out, "Yeah, but Dad didn't marry a blonde chick with a pseudo British accent!"

The outburst had Irina fighting to keep the smile from creasing her face. "No, but he did try to kill me. Twice- no- three- no- four times. Was it four times?"

Sydney smile was sheepish. "Five."

"Five, thank you."

"You seen him yet?" She asked, curling an arm around her waist as they headed unsteadily to the edge of the rink.

"Not this time," Irina said. "It was dangerous enough for you."

Sydney's eyes were so much like her father's. They gave their worry away instantly. "You know he has trouble sleeping when you miss your rendezvous," she said quietly. "He misses you."

"I miss him too," Irina said quietly. "Both of you."

"Yeah...I kinda miss you too, Mom."

Irina licked her lips, unable to say much in response to that. With a gentle touch, she carefully wiped away a particle of dust from her daughter's cheek.

Sydney blew out her breath, glancing around the rink. Regretfully, she glanced at her watch. "We're running out of time."

It was never long enough.

"Yes," she agreed immediately. "All right. You received the ad?"

"Yeah, I got it."

Irina shoved her hands in her pockets, gazing over the empty rink before returning to lock eyes with her handler.

"What is my counter mission?"

fin