Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, or anything else related to Alias and I'm certainly not making any money off of the whatsoever.

Author's note: This is for the Sd-1.com monthly fic challenge. The challenge elements will be posted at the end of the last update.

Part I

Budapest 9:03 AM, 2 Days before Christmas

An old woman pushed a battered old cart, filled with garbage, discarded food, old clothes, and odds 'n ins, through the park. She was used to the cold, she had grown up in northern Russia and snow was familiar to her. Still it had been years since Irina Derevko had sloughed through several feet of snow, dressed very convincingly as a homeless woman, living on the streets.

She cursed Jack mentally as a group of young boys darted past her, pelting her with several wet slushy snowballs before they ran away, laughing. Apparently they thought it was funny to prey on someone that they looked down on or didn't understand. Irina's own sense of humor was long gone, though. She had spent the last week in this homeless old woman role. It was more than probable that one or both of the parties that were making the exchange here later today, had put this park under surveillance for several days preceding their meeting. So she had arrived well ahead of time in an attempt not to draw attention to herself.

She half stumbled as she pushed her cart into a rock hidden under the snow. Irina cursed under her breath in Russian, but took advantage of her slight stumble to surreptitiously glance around the park.

She found her target a moment later. He was a middle aged man, who was standing stiffly in the middle of the park. Clearly he was a new recruit, either that or Irina had given the Covenant more credit as an organization than they deserved. His only value to them at the moment had to be his expendability.

A distinctive flicker of motion caught Irina's eye. She recognized Sydney all the way across the park even in her extensive disguise. It was an interesting combination of mother's intuition and years of experience at seeing through the disguises people wore. She stared at Sydney for one long moment, taking in all of the features of her daughter's face that she had thought she would never see again, before she looked quickly away again. Most spies had a sort of sixth sense about people watching them and Irina didn't want Sydney to see her now.

It was one thing, she thought as she started winding her way through the park again, to not see Sydney for twenty years, but still be able to comfort in the knowledge that she was alive. It was quite another to think that you had outlived your only child, to think that you had failed her one last time in the largest way imaginable. It was unbearable for Irina.

The only thing that had kept her alive was the one person that she knew had more reasons to want her dead than anyone else in the world. Jack had found her in the depths of Hell and he had forced her to believe that Sydney was actually alive.

He made Irina keep trying and for that she would always be grateful to him. Together, they had also found something else. It was something that Irina had thought could never be found again. She discovered that Jack still loved her. After all that had happened, after all that she had done to he and Sydney, hearing Jack say those four little words- "I love you, Irina"- had still shaken her more than she thought was possible. Those words had given her hope and made her believe that they really could find Sydney, after all the impossible had already happened.

Irina watched now, as the conspicuous man looked around nervously and she tried to push thoughts of that year out of her mind. She hadn't had much of a chance to make contact with Jack since he had been released from solitary and she wasn't sure how his time in solitary had affected the understanding that they had reached.

She noticed Sydney take up a careful and discrete position a little way away from the man. He had no clue why she was there. Almost all of the players were here now, Irina noted idly. According to the information that Jack had given her only one person was missing from this meet now, the courier.

Irina was the first to spot him, a moment later, as he entered the park. This was the difficult part, she was supposed to intercept the courier before he made the exchange with the very nervous Covenant representative. From what Jack had told her about Sydney's plan, Irina knew that her daughter was planning to steal the disk after the exchange.

Irina pushed the cart forward, still assuming the role of the crazy homeless woman. She was very aware of everything around her, even as she feigned preoccupation with things know one else could see. Her cart rammed into the courier with enough force to catch the man's attention without making him suspicious of her.

Still it was enough to ignite his temper. That was precisely what she wanted. She had made a quick assessment of him a moment before, an assessment of the way he moved and the look in his eyes. It all told her one thing. This man was a brutal thug, easy to anger and quick to react. She had known many men like him over the years and that temper had gotten most of them killed.

Irina kept walking, not even bothering to glance at him as she shoved rudely past him. She could have smiled in triumph a moment later when she heard him following her. She waited until they were hidden from view of the street and the rest of the park by a small, sickly looking group of evergreens and a generic statue. She only had to wait a moment before the man found her.

A brief flash of surprise flickered through his eyes, when he got his first look at her. Nothing in the way she carried herself or the way she was acting, suggested that she was the homeless person that he had been following. He didn't even make it through his first swing.

Her foot connected harshly with his knee and Irina heard bone shatter. He fell down with a surprising yelp of pain. His hand dove into his jacket pocket and she didn't hesitate. She kicked the gun out of his hand and knocked him unconscious with another sharp kick. Quickly she rolled him onto his side, and searched him, taking the disk, his wallet and his watch. She doubted anyone who knew what this man was really carrying would think it was just a random theft, but it didn't hurt to try.

Irina didn't waste any time in moving back to her cart once she had what she had come for. Her mission would be completed soon. The first thing she would do after she got out of the park, would be to find a luxury hotel where she could soak in a hot tub for hours. The second thing she would do was contact Jack and set up away to get the disk to him and take the chance to gloat over having one their bet.

She still couldn't believe that Jack had actually made the bet. It wasn't like him. He usually took their jobs far more seriously. The terms of the loser's payment had been left vague on both of their parts-neither really believed that they would lose. Irina was already thinking about what she would subject him to when she heard a very familiar voice.

"Are you okay, Ma'am?"

Irina almost froze at the sound of her daughter's voice calling out to her. Only years of training kept her moving without the slightest telling hitch of motion. She angled her head down, cloaking it in the limited shadows of the early morning light and kept walking without acknowledging Sydney.

Her daughter was stubborn, though. "I saw that man following you and I wanted to make sure he hadn't hurt you."

If it had been anyone else, Irina would have simply spoken to them briefly, maintaining her alias as she did, and convinced them that she didn't need any help. Sydney wouldn't be so easy to get rid of though. She would recognize Irina's voice the moment that she spoke. There was only one thing left to try- bluffing her way out of this. Sheer bravado had worked for her so many times before when she had no other options.

Irina pushed past Sydney, conscious of the squeaking of her cart's wheels, hoping that Sydney would take the hint. She was almost home free when she heard a dull thump. Something had fallen out of the cart, landing in the snow beside. Once again, Irina ignored it.

Sydney however, noticed it immediately and helpfully bent down to pick it up, intending to return it to the other woman. Irina actually winced when she realized what had fallen. It was the man's wallet. Sydney noticed the discrepancy immediately, and took a quick step back pulling her gun. "Stop," she said harshly, "Don't move or I'll shoot you right there."

Irina obediently stopped and raised her face towards her daughter. Enough was enough. "Hello Sydney."



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