Disclaimer: Not my characters, alas.
Timeline: For the sake of this story, let's assume season three and four didn't happen.

There were times when the illusion of our marriage was as powerful for me as it was for you.

Irina slipped into the warehouse, moving through the shadows with the grace of a cat. She left the window open behind her and crouched on the ground as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. A moment later, a figure dropped beside her with considerably less stealth than she had used. She turned to glare at her companion, not willing to risk a verbal reproval. Never mind, she thought, he would pay later.

Andre Bastien was a new employee, and this was the first time Irina was working alongside him. Now that they were in the field, she questioned the wisdom of her decision. He was, after all, barely twenty-one years old.

Yet she had been recruited at seventeen. She bit back a smile; maybe they didn't make spies the way they used to.

Irina could sense Andre's impatience and tried to ignore her own irritation. Maybe she was just getting too old for this.

Finally deciding it was safe enough to move; she stood and headed for the stairs. She didn't need to look behind her to know Andre was right on her heels, he was moving with all the grace of a herd of elephants.

Up the stairs, down the hall, third door on the left . . . Irina followed the blueprints in her mind. Soon she would have the manuscript and then—

She stopped.

"Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"Wait for me at the top of the stairs." Irina quickly picked the lock and entered the office. She unstrapped a knife from her leg and flicked the blade open. Carefully sliding the tip into the wallpaper, she cut it. She peeled the paper away and pried a cylinder from the plaster.

A gunshot sounded from downstairs.

Irina hurriedly stowed the manuscript in her backpack and went to see what was going on.

Andre stood at the foot of the stairs, a body at his feet. He looked up as Irina approached, and something about his posture made Irina hesitate. He turned to face her fully, and she knew even before he raised his hand to shoot her that he had betrayed her. She threw the knife, accurate even in the semi-dark, and heard the sound of it reaching its target. Andre fired even as he dropped to the ground, but his aim was off and the bullet merely grazed her arm.

She ran down the stairs and pulled the knife from Andre's chest. "Who are you working for?"

He opened his mouth, pink foam bubbling out, and Irina knew he was as good as dead.

"Irina?"

Caught off-guard, she looked to the person Andre had shot. Pressing her lips together, she slit Andre's throat, a more merciful death than he deserved, but she needed to ensure he wasn't a threat. Then she crossed to her husband's side.

Jack was in bad shape; the bullet had hit him in his abdomen, and he was struggling to breathe. Irina felt his pulse, relieved it was still fairly strong. If Andre wasn't already dead, she would gladly kill him again. Irina had only two rules for those she employed: never betray her, and never hurt Jack and Sydney.

"Where's your backup?"

He closed his eyes. "Came alone."

"Idiot."

"Suspected trap."

"You're still an idiot." She doubted Jack had come without backup, but she wasn't willing to risk leaving him to bleed to death. Keeping pressure on the wound with one hand, she unzipped her backpack and dug for her cell phone with the other.

"Irina." He was looking at her, and she wasn't sure if his frown was one of pain or confusion. She wanted to tell him she wasn't going to kill him, but didn't think he'd believe her.

Smiling – in a way she hadn't smiled since she called herself Laura – she leaned down and kissed his forehead. "What would you do without me, Jack?"


Jack bunched the bed sheets in his fists, determined not to give in to the temptation to scratch. Watching him from the doorway, Laura smiled.

"It's not funny," he said.

"Yes, Mommy, it's not funny." Sydney leaned against Laura's legs. "Pick me up."

"But you're full of spots."

Sydney put her hands on her hips. "Daddy's all spotty too, but I saw you kissing."

Laura's smile widened, and she bent forward and picked up her daughter.

"How come you don't have chicken spots, Mommy?"

"Chicken pox, sweetheart. And I had it when I was your age."

"Daddy has it too."

Laura looked at Jack, who was still fighting the urge to scratch. He threw a pillow across the room but she stepped aside in time to avoid being hit. Sydney continued chattering, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world for her parents to throw pillows at each other. Which it was. Of course, Sydney was never privy to what went on after the pillows (or whatever else was on hand) outlived their usefulness.

"Kelly Thomas told me she saw her mommy and daddy kissing and she said it was gross. I told her my mommy and daddy kissed all the time, and it couldn't be gross, 'cause then you wouldn't smile all the time. Am I right, Mommy? Besides, you kiss me too, and that's 'cause you love me." Sydney leaned her head on Laura's shoulder. "I love you, Mommy."

Jack looked as if he were ready to throw another pillow. Stifling her laugh, Laura approached the bed.

"I love you too, sweetheart. But how about if we show Daddy we love him? I think he's feeling left out."

Sydney practically leapt out of her mother's arms. "I'm sorry I made you all spotty, Daddy. But Mommy can make you better, right, Mommy?"

Jack raised his eyebrows and looked up at Laura.

"Take off your shirt, Jack."

"Are you forgetting our daughter is still in the room?"

Laura shook her head; this time allowing her laugh to escape. "I'm not planning on scratching that itch. Yet."

She picked up an unopened bottle of chamomile lotion from the bedside table and clicked her tongue. "Jack, I told you this would help."

"Nothing will help."

"Daddy's being a grump, Syd. Should we still try and help him?"

Sydney giggled. "Can I put the camel lotion on him?"

"He doesn't think it will work."

Sydney's expression turned solemn. She looked at her father and said, her tone serious, "Daddy, listen to Mommy. The camel lotion made me better."

Jack sighed. "Well, if you think it will work . . ."

Sydney moved aside to make room for Laura to sit and cupped her hands for the lotion. Then, together, they took care of the man they loved more than anything else in the world.