Summary: Set during the missing years. Jack investigates a lead into Sydney's disappearance.
Spoilers: Season three.
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.
The rain had been pounding down ever since Jack left the hotel. Outside that had been to his advantage, additional cover to blur his features and drive potential witnesses indoors. But now, creeping through the dimly lit hallways of a rundown apartment block, the water that dripped from his coat left a trail of damp that could betray his presence.
It was hard to tell if it was good luck that the block appeared ill-occupied. It was all too possible that the tip he was following was a trap. He was willing to take it nonetheless. His heart set up a beat to match the rhythm of the rain, not panicked but coursing faster with adrenaline. These missions were the only thing that could get his blood rushing now, the temporary prayer that he was drawing closer to the trail of Sydney's killers.
Or kidnappers. It was a slim hope, closer to self-delusion, but it was all that kept him going; the only thing that curbed the increasing desire to throw off the pretence of obeying CIA instructions and devote himself to following his quest full time.
If Sydney was alive, she would want her life back when she returned. Vaughn was already gone, abandoning the work that had been Sydney's lifeblood, no doubt sniffing round the skirts of a replacement girlfriend even now. Her closest friends had been buried, one in witness protection, one in an unknown unmarked grave while her parents made arrangements for the corpse of the woman that killed her.
When Sydney came back, she would need stability. She would need her father.
It kept him going.
Jack approached Kretzmer's apartment with caution. This was a whisper-thin lead he was following, a rumour of a hospital orderly who might just have been paid to provide a corpse to the right specifications in the right time frame. Kretzmer had been cagey on the phone, unwilling to commit to voicing anything that might get back to the people who'd hired him. He had only consented to talk to Jack in person on the proviso that Jack set him up with CIA witness protection.
Jack didn't feel bad about misleading him. This could be the man who had helped fake Sydney's death. It would be a greater kindness than he deserved not to leave him with a bullet in his brain.
If someone else hadn't done it first. Jack slowed, his hand going to his weapon as he saw that the door to Kretzmer's apartment stood a fraction ajar. Had he fled? Or had he only ever been a false lead intended to bring Jack to this place?
Even that would be a sign that there was something his investigations were close to finding. Jack pushed the door further open with his gun hand, slipping through the narrow gap. The apartment was in darkness, but the cheap curtains were still open, and the rain-spattered glass allowed in the faint glow of street lights opposite.
It illuminated the splayed corpse on the carpet, the seeming neatness of the hole punched in the centre of the forehead betrayed by the size of the pool of red that had spread from the other side.
Jack knelt down to check the identity of the body. Kretzmer. Damn it.
The copper smell of blood was overpowering. He reached out to touch the red pool on the carpet, and found it was still tacky. Kretzmer couldn't have been dead long.
At a movement in the shadows he whirled, raising his gun and pressing the barrel to the centre of his assailant's chest-
-Just as a knife blade came to rest against his throat. For a moment they both breathed carefully, locked in an embrace of mutual destruction that was closer than a kiss.
"If you shoot me, I will slit your throat," Irina Derevko hissed, leaning in close to his ear.
"You assume that's sufficient deterrent," Jack said coldly. He could see only the edge of her profile in the darkness, sketched in shadows by the amber glow from outside.
Even without having heard her speak, he could never have mistaken it.
"Take out your earpiece," she commanded. Jack gave a faint, humourless huff, and twisted his head as much as the knife allowed to show that he wasn't wearing one.
"You're here alone," she realised. Jack said nothing: aware that he'd just informed her she could kill him without consequence, not entirely sure that that fact bothered him. At least dying by his former wife's hand had a certain bloody symmetry to it, an illusion of deeper meaning that beat driving his car into an embankment or letting some talentless two-bit hood take advantage of a deliberate pause.
"Why did you kill Kretzmer?" he asked. He saw Irina's features contort in a scowl.
"I didn't. He was dead when I arrived here."
How convenient. "He had information for me," Jack said.
"You set the Covenant on his trail as soon as you got into contact with him," Irina snapped. "I would have had my chance to question him if you hadn't intervened."
The Covenant. Jack rolled the name around in his mind. He'd heard vague rumours of them, a loose collection of Russian nationalists who functioned like an organised crime family. But this was the first hint of any connection to what had happened to Sydney.
Was Irina following the same trail as he was? If so, she was ahead of him. He tensed against the blade of the knife, no longer so fatalistically willing to let himself be taken down.
"You believe the Covenant is behind this?" he said, desperation stronger than his pride. If this was a true lead...
"I would have had my confirmation if you hadn't blundered in," she said. She pressed the blade an uncomfortable fraction closer.
He barely noticed it. The world narrowed to the splash of amber light that gave shape to her features as he asked the only question that still mattered. "Do you believe that Sydney is alive?"
Irina was silent for a long time, her face working through subtle shifts of emotion that said more through their presence than any ability of his to read them. "It's possible," she said finally.
Jack closed his eyes and breathed out, letting his gun hand relax. The knife still held to his neck didn't waver.
"You were an idiot to come here alone," Irina said, after a moment. It was the same tone he remembered from her chastisement of students who'd made particularly boneheaded mistakes on their literature papers.
He opened his eyes to narrow slits. "I've grown used to the sensation of abandonment," he said, the burst of hope still expanding in his chest turning it from acid jab to wry self-deprecation.
He felt Irina shift closer in the darkness. Her breath on his ear made him shiver more than the touch of the cold metal.
"You should keep up with the personals in the London Globe," she said. "Someone might leave a message there that catches your interest."
She disappeared into the shadows, leaving Jack alone with the sound of the rain and the phantom sensation of her blade still lingering on his skin