Disclaimer: I do not own Alias or any of its situations or characters. I'm just temporarily playing in this sandbox and I'm definitely making no money from this.

Author's Note: This is the third fic in my post-ep Season 4 series, following Outside Truths and Ill-Fitting Answers.

A Matter of Belief

Beach. Sun. A gentle breeze. The rhythmic rolling of waves gently breaking onto the sand and receding with a chaotic roll of water that sucked the fringes of the water back into the deeper blue before allowing it to slip away again.

Nadia Santos shivered in the bright glare of the sun, but smiled at the beauty of the deep, clear, blue of the ocean against the backdrop of the sand glittering in the sun. She did love the Caribbean or just the beach in general, she reflected.

She had spent much of her time after her journey with Sloane at the beach thinking, relaxing, trying to make sense of what had occurred and what she would do after she finished her brief vacation from everything. She still hadn't come up with an answer to that when Sydney had come to see her. She supposed someday she might feel as if she'd had her choices taken away from her by being drawn back into intelligence work, but for now she was very happy to be where she was. She loved the life and the sense of purpose that came with what she did.

Besides, Nadia doubted that she would even have had this chance if she hadn't come back. Laying in the sun on a small island in the middle of the Caribbean that was absolutely deserted save for a her mother and sister, even if it was just for a day, was something that she would never have dreamed of a year ago. Now, it was really happening.

Nadia heard someone approaching from behind her, swishing their way through the sand. She cocked her head back, turning it from her lazily sprawled position to see who it was.

On seeing that it was Irina, Nadia raised herself up onto her elbows in surprise. "Hello," she said softly.

She had expected to see Sydney- rather than Irina- returning from yet another phone call to Michael Vaughn. She knew that Sydney was worried about him, if not why, and hoped for her sister's sake that he would be okay. She hadn't been prepared to see Irina, and it showed plainly on her features.

Irina sat down casually on the sand beside her. "You were expecting Sydney," Irina guessed.

"Yeah," Nadia managed through the lump that was suddenly in her throat. She hadn't been this nervous since her first mission. It was the same sense of excitement without any idea of what to expect next.

Irina gave her a look of polite inquiry, "Would you prefer to be alone?" Her voice was carefully neutral, but genuinely interested in the answer. "I had hoped for you and Sydney to have a brief reprieve here, even if it is only for a day."

"No," Nadia spoke quickly, "thank you, but no. I don't mind the company."

Irina nodded and relaxed beside Nadia in the sand.

The silence stretched for a moment, becoming uncomfortable for Nadia as it grew longer. She searched her mind for something to say. She had so manythings to ask hermother, but somehow she couldn't find the words or the courage to ask.

"Do you like Los Angeles?"

Nadia almost jumped at the simple question. "It's nice enough. Sydney and I have a great apartment that's right on the beach and very near to Eric- one of Sydney's friends," Nadia added quickly. "He works with us."

Irina smiled, bemused by Nadia's response. She wondered just how close of a friend Agent Weiss was becoming to her youngest daughter and when Nadia would be prepared to admit what was happening. "Yes, I remember Agent Weiss. He's worked with Sydney almost as long as Agent Vaughn. He's a very loyal man."

Irina considered telling Nadia about her first encounter with Eric Weiss, for just a moment, and then decided against it. She would wait. There was no point in mentioning that incident unless Nadia's relationship with Weiss progressed.

Nadia smiled, unaware of Irina's thoughts. "He is loyal and a good agent, as well. He makes me laugh," she added shyly. That was a nice change.

"I'm glad that you're happy there."

Nadia nodded, "Sydney's friends are very nice," Nadia conceded, but added with some reluctance. "I am happy, mostly. I miss working in the field, though. So far my only missions have been to rescue Sydney. Not that I mind," Nadia added quickly, "but I still miss it."

Irina smiled, both proud and amused. "Of course you do. You're my daughter." She continued in a different direction quickly. "They're probably just waiting for the results of your evaluations."

Nadia considered Irina's reassurance. "Maybe. I- sometimes I don't know what to think- Arvin, Jack and Sydney." She trailed off and shook her head.

Irina's expression went blank. She didn't like to see either of her daughters' pain or uncertainty, but much of it was of her doing, either directly or indirectly, and she wouldn't change that. She had done what she felt had felt was necessary for whatever reasons. Still she did lover her daughters, however,and she would do the best that she could to protect Nadia, even if she didn't have an active hand in it.

"Trust Sydney," Irina said quietly, succinctly.

Nadia looked over at her sharply.

"Trust Sydney," Irina repeated sharply. "She will be the only one whose interest in you will have no other motives concerning your welfare. She will protect you and watch your back to the best of her abilities."

Nadia nodded uneasily, slightly startled by Irina's intensity, but nonetheless remembering what Irina was saying. "Okay," she agreed, the note of uncertainty once again in her voice, but different this time. She wasn't sure how to reply to that.

A rich voice, gentler than she had ever heard it in the short time that she had been exposed to it echoed in her memory.

Well, I choose to believe it was the truth. When we had Sydney, Irina held her in this exact same way, and I can only imagine she did the same with you. So, for me, I choose to believe.

"It is a choice of belief," she murmured under her breath. Her memory of Jack's words blending with the hint ofundercurrent in Irina's words that had suggested that even Irina wasn't to be as trusted as Sydney. Nadia decided in that instant. She chose to believe that it was as close to a declaration of motherly love as Irina Derevko could give and that she could receive.

Irina arched an eyebrow at Nadia's strange comment and Nadia reddened slightly.

"I had a conversation with Jack a few days ago," she explained. "Sydney and I found an old photograph of you holding a baby," Nadia continued, "and I showed it to Jack to find out who the child was. He said that the child was your niece and related the story of how that photograph had prompted him to propose to you a few days later."

A hint of surprise showed on Irina's face. She glanced away from Nadia, looking out across the ocean and into the distance, seeing something there that Nadia couldn't. "I'm surprised that Jack spoke to you about that picture. It's a reminder of a time that was almost the happiest period of time that Jack and I spent together. After he discovered my true identity, those times became the most painful for him to remember."

"He was nice," Nadia spoke quietly. It seemed important to say that.

To Irina the statement plainly said that Nadia hadn't expected Jack to be nice. It made Irina wonder just how Jack had been behaving and what stories Nadia was being told about the infamous Jack Bristow.

"His ability to be nice is one of Jack's best kept secrets," Irina admitted distractedly. "He's a totally different person around his most trusted friends and loved ones."

"He told me that he chose to believe that it wasn't a lie." Nadia thought that she saw a smile flicker briefly over Irina's lips before it could be restrained and hidden once again.

"There are some things that we all choose to believe," Irina admitted slowly, carefully, "and sometimes what we choose to believe is more important than anything else."

Before Nadia could consider what Irina had said, Irina rose to her feet and extended a hand down to Nadia.

"Come. I think it is time that Sydney relaxed rather than worry about her Agent Vaughn. She can do that well enough when she is back in L.A."

Two days later, Jack Bristow stood in the middle of his living room. In one hand he held a light brown envelope. In the other hand he held the contents of the envelope- a single photograph- his wedding picture to be precise. He hadn't truly looked at it in well over two decades.

In the photograph he stood with his hands on either side of Irina's waist, holding her to him possessively. He was looking into her eyes as if nothing else existed for himin the world and she was laughing and happy in his arms, reaching back to cup his face in her hands and claim a kiss. Jack let the envelope and photo drop to his coffee table. As he turned away, Jack smiled.