AN: This story is a long, beautiful, tragic, action packed, fun, hope filled adventure about LOVE in it's various forms. A crazy roller-coaster! I wrote this in college and people really enjoyed it. Hope for the same here!

For the ROE fandom coming over from those stories on NCIS, you may see some similar themes! I write from my life experiences, hence, they may make appearances here, there and everywhere. ENJOY! -Wild

For those new to my writing, I also write to music. This story has a soundtrack. I will post the names of the songs, and where they start in the story. If you don't have them, you can find them for free on Youtube or Spotify a lot of the times. I can't strongly encourage you enough to listen to these specific musical selections while you read! It adds so much to it, and I often use certain songs or themes for 'character' themes or moments in time. They are as much of the story as anything else in the telling. :)

Music this chapter: (just keep it all on repeat until I tell you next song) Stay or Leave by Dave Matthews, Nothing Compares by Sinead O'Connor, The Scientist by Coldplay.

Disclaimer: I do not own the ALIAS characters presented in this story.

"Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny." - C.S. Lewis.



(Begins immediately after Season Two Finale when leaving Mexico City: Recap on 'The Plan')

*Stay or Leave*

Jack sat silently staring out the window of the cargo plane that was carrying the team back to Los Angeles from Mexico City; his face expressionless; his mind in a fog. Moments from the last year were fleeting through his mind in rapid succession like an old 8mm film; moments that had brought him to the present and his current predicament. The pain his body was feeling from Sloane's torture was nothing in comparison to the pain he felt in his heart; though he would never admit to either.

"Dad…"Sydney spoke softly sliding into the seat next to him, taking hold of his hand, bringing him back to the real world. "Are you ok?" The look of concern for her father was evident on her face.

"Yes, Sweetheart." Jack gave her a small smile that reached his lips, but not his eyes, as he returned a gentle squeeze of her hand. "I'm fine." He stated, quickly adding, "Really," to Sydney's arched eyebrows of disbelief. "This is nothing." His reply threw his mind suddenly back in time just two short months ago when Irina had responded with the same answer as he finished removing the tracker from her shoulder.

"Dad," Sydney jolted his mind away from thoughts of Irina once again, "I know you've been through worse. I just…" She stammered, looking down at their entwined hands, unsure of how to approach the subject. "I just… you looked a little lost in thought and you've been so quiet since we left Mexico City… I just wanted to make sure you were 'ok?' You know, with everything that has happened in the last few days… months really." A quick fleeting smile passed Jack's lips as Sydney finally looked up at him. "I'm sorry I didn't get to you sooner, but we had no idea where to look until we captured Sark and he gave up the location where Sloane was keeping you-"

"Sark?" Jack gasped interrupting his daughter's nervous rambling, surprised by the mention of the man's name. "What do you mean you 'captured Sark?' Where and how did you know where to look?" His mind so lost in thought and swimming with whatever drug Sloane had used, he hadn't bothered to ask before how they managed to find him.

"Mom..." Sydney spoke softly and continued, as Jack's eyes grew wide. "She… she called me after we returned from Zurich telling me how, 'Sloane had double-crossed her, switching the crates.' She said that she had no idea where Sloane was keeping you but that Sark did and we could find him in Sweden. I didn't want to believe her lies again but it was the only lead we had."

The sadness washing over her face breaking Jack's heart at the thought of her mother causing her such anguish once again.

"She was right. He was there just like she said he would be." Flustered, Sydney removed her hand from her father's and began fidgeting with the hem of her jacket.

*Nothing Compares *

"I just don't get her. She tells me the truth; then she lies; then the truth; then a lie… I just don't know what to believe anymore." Sydney sighed.

Jack listened silently, knowing his daughter needed to vent her frustrations, as he was feeling the same confusion over Irina Derevko.

"I've been telling myself since she betrayed us again that I didn't feel anything for her except hate…" Sydney's eyes started tearing.

Jack swallowed hard at the use of the word 'hate' when referring to her' own mother. He'd often felt it himself over the years when thinking of Irina but had never heard Sydney speak of her that way. He knew she loved her mother, no matter what she said. Her actions always spoke louder then words and he sensed that her intense need to capture Irina these past months, was an attempt to prove to herself, that she didn't love the woman who had hurt her so much… That Irina was the monster he'd led Sydney to believe she was.

"I've been lying to myself." Sydney broke the silence, saying out-loud what Jack was just thinking to himself. "All these months I've been trying to tell myself since she escaped and betrayed us, that I didn't feel anything but hate for her and that I wished she was dead… but when she was standing there tonight… on that ledge." Sydney shook her head still in disbelief at the memory of that moment.

Jack's interest sparked even more as he'd only heard the whispering between agents of Sydney and Irina's standoff on the roof.

"Telling me she realized she wasn't the one in the Prophecy, the one who was supposed to bring down Sloane, that it was me instead… wishing me luck," Sydney paused shaking her head in disbelief of the events of the night as her eyes began to tear. "And then, she smiled at me while I am threatening to shoot her again," Her voice raising an octave, "Telling me she loves me…and then she just… falls backward and is gone. It felt like a bomb had gone off in my chest and I couldn't breathe… She'd jumped. Of course she had a rope around her, but I didn't know that at the time…" Her anger and fears getting the best of her, the tears began to roll in a steady stream down her cheek, dripping from her chin. "All I could think of was… 'She was dead, just like I wished for,' but that wasn't what I wanted at all and I wanted to scream out and tell her not to jump, thinking I would never have the chance to say so much that I had never gotten to say…" Jack reached over and took hold of Sydney's hand as she continued, "But of course, nothing ever is, as it seems with Irina Derevko and by the time I realized what she'd done and that she really wasn't jumping to her death, and actually escaping once again…my feelings went straight back to anger… I, I… just don't know what I feel right now. All I know is that she infuriates me."

Jack used his free hand and gently wiped the stream of tears on her cheek. "She has that affect on people," He offered with a small smile and hint of sadness. "Sydney, I can't speak for your mother or even begin to explain to you, how her mind works or her motives in all this when I don't understand it myself… but I do believe… that for all her lies and deceit, she means it when she says she loves you... It may not be the most conventional way, but I do believe it's genuine. I know I said differently when she first turned herself into the CIA, but watching her with you… listening to her speak of you and with you, over the time period she was in our custody, Sydney… I think you already know this."

"I can't believe you're saying this! You're the one who's been telling me all along that I can't trust anything she says or does. Now you're telling me that I should believe she really does love me?" Sydney was fuming in the emotional confusion that everything was so complicated.

Jack knew what she was saying was true. He certainly wasn't the biggest supporter of Irina Derevko or her motives and yet, here he was defending her love for their daughter. Even he was baffled as to why.

"If that's true and not just another mind manipulation… then why does she continue to do these things to hurt me? She keeps saying that, 'truth takes time.' Well, I don't want to wait for it anymore! What possible truth can be out there to explain her actions over the last thirty years?" Sydney sighed, the anger rising inside her, "There is no truth, that's what I think! I think she just needs the time to fabricate another lie to pass off as an excuse for her behavior! What kind of mother uses her daughter's love, to manipulate her? She admitted that to me, that day in the ice rink! Before she knocked me out, of course. She said she 'knew all along that she would betray the CIA, but that she needed to gain my trust first.' Oh, and then the part of her love for you and me, not being a contrivance! Please, I can't believe I was so naive to 'want' to believe her."

"Sydney-" Jack began trying to calm his daughter and yet startled at this new revelation that Irina had said she not only loved Sydney, but him too. 'That...' Sydney had conveniently left out of her debriefing of the encounter with her mother.

"Dad," Sydney cut him off, "As far as I am concerned, there is no excuse in the world she could come up with to get her out of this… I am going to find her and justice will be served. And if she loves me like she claims too, then the only way she could redeem herself in my eyes, is to turn herself in again… This time for real, no hidden agendas!" She leaned forward, quickly placing a light kiss on Jack's cheek before leaving to sit next to Vaughn again.

The remainder of the trip was spent in silence as everyone onboard the plane contemplated the events of the evening and the significance they held. Sloane had escaped with the Rambaldi device, which was now complete, after double-crossing Derevko; in a baffling move, Derevko really was telling the truth about trying to double-cross Sloane and give them the Rambaldi device, only to be double-crossed by Sloane first. In her attempts to prove herself, Irina had given them Sark and saved Jack's life, only to elude capture once again after jumping from the roof of a forty-plus story building. The one thing that was somewhat clear was that Sloane and Derevko were no longer working together, or maybe this was what they wanted everyone to think… and the CIA had Sark to help them hunt Sloane and Derevko down.

*The Scientist*

Meanwhile, over the Pacific, Irina too, was lost in thought as she gazed out the window staring into the blackened sea, lit only by the light of the full moon. She was a bit sore from the fall, and the deep cuts on her arms from pulling herself through the broken window would no doubt need stitching, but her real pain lie in the thought she would never again see Sydney… or Jack.

Irina had thought she was 'The One,' the one in The Prophecy; the one that would bring down Sloane, ultimately saving Sydney from this life of espionage; but she'd been wrong and it cost her... her one chance of redemption with her family, if you could call them that. And it also cost her, her freedom and any further immunity she might have been granted. If only she'd realized it sooner and hadn't gotten into that limo in Panama… If only she'd listened to her heart instead of her head. Listened to Irina, the mother and wife instead of Irina, 'The Man,' the mafia leader and her Rambaldi obsession. Irina closed her eyes thinking back to the events leading to this night.

Her plan had been flawless, or so she thought. She would turn herself into the CIA; steal the information she needed about Rambaldi from their servers and take down the Alliance all at once. She'd planned for everything except falling in love all over again with something she'd accepted was dead long ago...

After her extraction and subsequent imprisonment in Kashmir, Irina had learned to accept the fact that her life as her alias, 'Laura Bristow' was gone, dead, something she would never have again. In fact, her method of survival had been to use her pain as a tool of motivation, to convince herself that she was deluded to think she ever loved Jack Bristow, turning what love she felt for the man, into despise. It was her method of survival. It was easier to live without him if she hated him. She'd gotten so good at it, she never thought encountering Jack while in CIA custody would be difficult. She'd seen his briefing tapes after her 'death,' and his imprisonment for her deception… he had turned his love into hate as well.

Irina did, however, want to build some kind of trust with her child, Sydney; to establish some sort of relationship with her and maybe, just maybe, have time before she left, to explain herself to a daughter she realized would hate her for her betrayal to the United States, but even more for her betrayal of their family. Everything about her plan was working exactly like she'd planned for with the exception of Jack.

Irina had planned on him distrusting her, believing she was planning something, she'd counted on his distrust and playing him against their daughter if need be but she hadn't counted on the level of hate which he felt for her. He'd set her up and tried to have her executed; he almost succeeded… but he didn't and her plan was back on track.

The almost execution was the first unplanned moment, the second was Irina's return trip to Kashmir, the last place on Earth she ever wanted to return to. But to gain Sydney's trust, to save her daughter from possible capture by the monster Cuvee… she had to go.

In the beginning of the trip, Irina actually found it amusing to goad Jack into fighting with her; he was such an easy target and seeing him so frustrated let her know that even though it was hate, he still felt something for her… and something was better then nothing. After all these years apart, she could still get to him, proving her power over him. But then their lives were put in danger on more then one occasion, and they had to work together to save themselves and their daughter.

Then, on the train, seeing Jack with that bottle, remembering the toaster incident... All the memories Irina had tried so desperately to hide away, came flooding forward and she started to remember the reasons why, maybe she didn't despise Jack as much as she thought… or he her. They had both dropped their guards down for a moment and smiled, even laughed about happier times when they were married… if only for a moment before realization had set in that those happier times were under false pretenses. Irina had never thought twice about saving Jack's life in the landmine field, the thought of not saving him had never entered her mind.

Once inside the prison, Irina masked her nervousness about being back in the place she'd desperately tried to escape from, by jumping into action telling Jack and Sydney where everything was and what the plan had to be. Telling them that their assumptions that she'd been an officer were incorrect and instead...a prisoner... was out of the question until Jack insisted she not leave his side. She almost… almost, lost her composure in telling them why she knew the sewage tunnels and mine locations, but kept herself in-check not wanting to 'go there' and relive the moment or show any signs of weakness to them. She forged ahead only to be caught by the man she despised so much, Cuvee.

Again, Irina had a role to play and this time… she had only hoped she could save Jack and Sydney once again from the man who haunted her dreams. She couldn't bear to see Sydney after spotting the tears welling in her daughter's eyes after her apparent betrayal, so she had to get through to Jack. Desperately trying to convey the message to him with her eyes 'that she wasn't betraying him again'… at least not yet. She'd offered he and Sydney a chance to escape, knowing Jack would take it… but what she hadn't counted on was his refusal to leave without her. She had resigned herself to believe that she would be forced to stay, play out her part with Cuvee long enough to get the Rambaldi device and then escape from him, from there once again. That was the turning point, Jack's refusal to leave without her.

The overwhelming love Irina had begun to feel again for her daughter, at being near her again…seeing the beautiful, strong, intelligent woman she had grown up to be, became almost unbearable and she'd started to spend her moments alone in her glass cage pondering her life and the road that could ever have taken her away from her daughter. The moment on the roof, Irina hadn't meant to break down like she did but the emotion of it all was too much. She had longed for so much of her life to be near her daughter, to have that connection again with Sydney, to feel her touch. In that moment she wasn't thinking about her master plan, only that she couldn't let Sydney leave without holding her in her arms. Sydney had returned her embrace, needing as badly as she did, the physical connection with her mother. The sound of the guards screaming at them and the bullets sliding into the chambers of the guns trained on her; brought her back to reality. Irina was a terrorist in their eyes and a threat to her daughter.

Jack had approached her about giving up her real agenda in exchange for a comfortable 'prison' with certain freedoms. An offer Irina toyed with, seriously contemplating taking him up on, but ultimately deciding that she should 'stick with the plan, move forward.'

Over the next couple of months her relationship with both Sydney and Jack had improved greatly, far beyond what she had originally expected and the thought of leaving them again brought sadness to her heart, only for a moment, before pushing the thoughts out of her mind, as she too, was an expert in compartmentalizing her feelings. 'She was here for a purpose;' Irina had to remind herself.

Jack had been full of surprises but none more then asking her for help in solving the Ariana Kane mystery. Irina had been honest with him and once again, saved his life when she could have easily refused to help.

Her closeness with Sydney was becoming dangerous to her plan. Irina had wanted to get close to her daughter, but not betray her in her final betrayal of the CIA. She hadn't counted on Sydney's need to interact with her mother or her own need to interact with Sydney. With SD-6 and the Alliance gone, Irina had successfully completed a main part of her mission in turning herself into the CIA, and the time was drawing near for her departure. She expected Sydney to leave the CIA with SD-6 and the Alliance gone, just as she said she would, but when Sydney came to her… telling her she was thinking about staying with the CIA, just so she could see her, it was too much for Irina. She didn't want to be responsible for keeping Sydney in the CIA when the main part of her plan was to get her out. Out, before Irina betrayed them, so she wouldn't be betraying her daughter. Irina tried to be distant with her, telling her not to make more of their relationship then what it really was and it pained her to see Sydney's hurt expression, but she had to. Sydney was stubborn and somehow, the CIA convinced her daughter to stay… against Irina's protest of refusing to see her if she did stay.

Irina had been upset and confused by Jack's involvement in it all. She had thought that Jack had wanted Sydney out of this life of lies, death and deceit just as much as she did; yet he did nothing to convince Sydney to leave. With Sydney staying in the CIA, the plans began to change… not so much in the tactical sense but in the emotional and reasonable sense.

The plan had been for Sydney to be out of the CIA before Irina escaped, as not to betray Sydney and to give Sydney her chance at a normal life. Irina would have the Rambaldi information and Sydney would have her freedom, but with Sydney's refusal to leave until Sloane was captured or killed; Irina's plan had begun to shift. She needed not only to use Arvin Sloane to get the Rambaldi pieces for herself but then take him out so Sydney could have her life back. She had found away to convince Jack that by working together to bring down Sloane, they could free Sydney and give her a normal life.

She'd be lying if she said she didn't enjoy her trip to Bangkok with Jack. Irina enjoyed Jack's reaction to her appearance when she first stepped out of the bathroom in the plane wearing the little leopard print dress. Jack said nothing but his wondering eyes, the hitch in his breath and the massive lump he attempted to swallow in his throat when she breezed by him to get her purse, told her that he still found her attractive, and she could still take his breath away. It felt good to be out and in action again after so many months in a tiny cell, though, she could have done without the part where she nearly had her head blown off if it not for Jack watching her back... something she really never would have expected. But then again, maybe she should have… Somewhere inside the cold man that Jack Bristow was now, was the same loving, adoring husband she once knew… He'd just buried that 'loving Jack' down deep, as she had done, to escape the feelings of betrayal and pain that 'loving so much' had caused.

On the flight to Hong Kong, Irina's emotions were threatening to get the best of her after Jack saved her life. Especially when he had every reason in the world to let her die, she wanted to thank him but somehow it didn't seem appropriate when there was so much more that needed to be said. Irina quickly jumped to a subject that she could retain more control over her emotions, and so she jumped to Arvin Sloane and his friendship with Jack and the obsession of Rambaldi. Jack had seen her tactical maneuver in trying to switch topics; that her emotions 'were' getting the best of her as tears welled in her eyes and she looked away. He found a way to bring the subject back to 'them' with his 'mutual devotion to our wives,' statement, reminding Irina of how much he really had loved his wife and how much she had cost him.

For the first time in a long time Irina allowed herself a moment to think about how hard it must have been on Jack to lose the love they shared. She'd only thought about herself and now she was seeing that she wasn't the only one affected deeply but her departure as 'Laura.' Feeling the same sudden urge for immediate physical contact that she had with Sydney on the roof that day, Irina grabbed Jack's hand as he passed her by. He didn't rip his hand away as she had feared he would, but instead let her hold on to it, caress it with her thumb as she used to when they were married and needed to feel close to him when she was upset. The contact had sent a bolt of electricity through her and she was sure, he felt it too. Irina was able to thank him for raising their daughter and instead of some snide remark about 'not being there and leaving them' like he had given her before their return from Kashmir, he simply let it go and told Irina to get some sleep. Maybe because he didn't feel right about taking the credit for raising Sydney to be the wonderful woman she turned out to be; he wasn't exactly there for her either. Sydney raised herself under the guidance of a nanny if they were talking truths. Something Irina thought about long after Jack had left her alone on the plane. She really began questioning betraying them again, but all thoughts of redemption were shoved violently back into their little compartment when she had laid eyes on the Rambaldi Manuscript. The electricity she felt as she picked it up was almost as strong as her earlier contact with Jack and it was Jack, that brought her back to the real world reminding her where she was and what they were doing.

When she and Jack returned to Los Angeles, Irina's goodbye with Sydney had almost been her undoing. Irina had spent the entire trip back from Hong Kong and the days and nights that followed, thinking about what she was going to say to her daughter in their final goodbye. She knew Sydney would be hurt and outraged with her when it was all over with and she wanted to make it as painless as possible for her, yet at the same time, conveying to her that she really did love her.

Irina did her best to elude Sydney's questions so that she didn't have to directly lie to her, just omitted the truth in certain areas. She meant what she said, 'it was going to be dangerous, she might be killed setting this trap…' and that she really did hope, someday, she would get the chance to comeback… to be in her life again. Placing her hand on the glass and having Sydney return the gesture with a mirror of her own hand, the last time so small it only covered her palm, now an exact match… moved Irina more then she could take and had to remove it quickly, fearing she would burst into tears at the thought of leaving her daughter again.

That night in the hotel room in Panama with Jack, Irina seriously began questioning her plan and couldn't stop the fidgeting that was overtaking her body. She tried to listen to what Jack was saying about the mission, though her mind was all over the place and mostly concerned with how to approach him about removing the tracker in her shoulder and not having him see through her. Irina's reasoning seemed logical to him and Jack agreed to remove it. She had gained his trust enough for him to go against CIA protocol and remove the tracker.

Irina sat silently on the bed as Jack removed the device from her shoulder with her mind all over the place in those moments. The sigh that escaped her was not out of pain, she hadn't lied to Jack about that… Irina really had been through worse; but more out of the loss of physical contact with his skin on hers'. Irina smiled, genuinely touched at his concern that he'd hurt her. Their eyes locked and she could barely remember what she was saying, as she watched Jack's eyes drift down to her lips, she could barely breathe and leaned in just as his lips captured hers. It was fierce, tense at first, but then she felt him melting into her as he lost himself in their kiss. She could feel Jack's hands in her hair and she reached up pulling him into her as well. Lying back onto the bed they began to fall into an all-to-familiar dance, with heat searing through their bodies at the immediate need for contact that had been absent for too long.

The shirt, that was already halfway off Irina's body, was discarded with one quick movement of Jack's hand, breaking their contact long enough to pull it over her head… long enough for Jack to stop and look at her intensely as he noticed the tears in her eyes.

"Jack…" Irina began in a soft, unsteady voice. Afraid of the repercussions of allowing herself to just let go, if only for one night. Jack sensed what she was thinking and immediately closed the distance between them, pinning her body to the bed with the weight of his own in a desperate attempt to keep her there; leaning down to silence her with a soft finger to her lips.

"Shhh" He responded in a soft whisper, sweeping the hair behind her ear as she had done so many times and passed onto their' daughter.

Jack had looked deeply into her eyes for a moment, seemingly searching for something, and then closed the rest of the distance meeting her mouth with his. There would be no talk tonight, no words at least… everything that needed to be said was spoken in body language and contact with each other that each had so desperately craved and yet denied existed.

The reunion lasted well into the early morning where exhaustion finally took over and they collapsed into each other, trying to at least get some rest before the mission. Irina hadn't slept long and woke to find herself on her side, staring directly at the face of one the men who haunted her dreams for the last 20 years. This wasn't a dream; this wasn't something her imagination had conjured up only to disappear in the morning. Jack was real and sleeping peacefully right beside her. Their legs entwined as they face one another and Jack's hand, still lazily draped over her hips as he had done so many times in the past. Tears began to roll down Irina's cheeks and over her nose onto the pillow as she thought about leaving him again and breaking his trust once more. She didn't know if she could deprive herself of him any more, she had pushed her feelings for him away for so long, now that they were out… she wasn't sure she could 'compartmentalize' them again. Irina wished the morning had never come and wanted nothing more then for time to stand still, if only for a moment longer. She sighed and leaned her head closer into Jack's, closing her eyes to fall asleep and wait.

Morning finally came and when Irina woke Jack was already awake staring intently at her. A small smile came to his lips; one she hadn't seen in years. She returned the smile and then closed her eyes again, wishing this day away.

Jack had taken the opportunity to lean in and kiss her softly, once more bringing her eyes open again as the contact was broken. "We should get going." He stated in almost a whisper.

Irina's only acknowledgement was a slight nod before she rolled over to get out of the bed. Suddenly shy and feeling vulnerable, she wrapped the sheet around her body and headed for the bathroom, looking anywhere but at Jack the entire way there hoping he wouldn't see the tears she was desperately trying to hold in. She was successful. She had made it into the bathroom and turned the shower on, the water cascading over her face and washing the tears away as fast as they were falling. When she'd finally gotten herself under control, had washed and shut the shower off, ready to be "The Man" again, she wrapped herself in the white plush towel when she heard the knock on the door.

"Can I come in?" Jack asked softly. "I need to brush my teeth."

Irina wanted to laugh at Jack's nervous tone about asking to enter the bathroom and feeling the need to explain his need to brush his teeth. Irina said nothing, just opened the door and smiled letting him in. He grabbed his toothbrush and watched in fascination while she finished combing her hair. She looked up in the mirror just as she finished and caught Jack staring at her. His movements were as slow as her own and she knew he was dawdling, wasting time just like she was, trying to savor every minute in this strange time-warp and echoes of the past before they had to leave. Irina found her own toothbrush and put on the paste and then held it suspended in mid-air waiting for Jack to catch on. They always used to brush their teeth together in the morning and 'Laura' had always put the toothpaste on his brush for him.

After a moment's hesitation, Jack brought his toothbrush up so she could put the paste on for him. She could feel his eyes watching her every movement as if he were analyzing her, at the time she thought maybe that was her paranoia talking but she realized now, looking back, that he didn't trust her completely as was evident by him injecting her with the passive tracker.

When she finished, Irina once again looked up and caught his eyes with hers in the mirror…staring back for a moment into them before she quickly turned and kissed him passionately only stopping at the pressing need for air. Resting her forehead against his, calming their breath as each knew they didn't have time for more… and relishing in the intimate contact. It would have been so easy to drop the towel and let Jack take her away from this all again, but she couldn't… 'Stick to the plan', she had to remind herself. Reluctantly, and then urgently, she broke the contact with Jack and left the bathroom so he could finish getting cleaned up and she could put on some clothes.

Irina hadn't a single word all morning, afraid of what to say… what not to say, afraid her emotions would get the best of her and ruin her plan. Jack, for the most part, had been silent as well. When both were ready to leave they headed for the lobby where they were meeting the agents who would be escorting them.

Just before reaching the door, Jack reached down and took hold of Irina's hand, as if knowing she was upset and needed the contact. He turned the handle and Irina pushed it shut to his surprise, and swiftly stood between him and the door staring intently into his dark brown eyes, willing him to see her love for him. Jack brought his hand up to brush her cheek with his fingers and then casually brushed her hair behind her ear once more before offering a small smile. Irina willed her emotions to keep her tears at bay and closed her eyes, leaned in and kissed Jack for the last time… softly, and tenderly, wanting to memorize it in everyway.

The ride to the meeting place had been absolutely silent and Irina was sure the guards knew something was going on between them as she and Jack said nothing, sitting across from one another in the van, but staring intently at the each other.

As she exited the van, Irina turned back once more willing Jack to see her. Her. Irina. And the love 'she' had for him, and almost asking for forgiveness for what she was about to do…again. Jack nodded, as if to say, 'Don't worry. It's going to be ok. This will work.' And then the door slammed shut, almost symbolically.

As Sloane's limo approached, Irina's mind raced with her options. She could give up her plan, and go along with the one she fabricated with Jack. She wouldn't lose him, or Sydney and she would have her redemption, and Sydney would be free of Sloane… on the other hand, she had worked so long and so hard for the Rambaldi Prophecy and she could still free Sydney of Sloane even if she lost her trust once again.

Back and forth, her mind raced. Julian had gotten out of the car and went to open the door. Irina had decided to give up her plan and go with Jack on this. But then the door opened and Sloane wasn't there. He changed the plan. Irina immediately felt out of place, what was she to do now? 'Go? Stay? Go? Stay?' She'd never been so indecisive in her life. Well, maybe once before when faced with the same situation… leaving her life with Jack and Sydney. 'Well, ok then. No Sloane then I am not going.' She thought.

Julian was noticeably angry with her over indecision and confused as to why Irina wasn't going along with the plan. Frustrated he began to leave and she saw the chance of getting Sloane going out the window and she had to think fast. She asked to take the guards, in a move that surprised Julian and even herself. Irina thought it would buy her time and give some protection if Jack caught on too slowly as to what was happening and she was in need of some protection from Sloane's men. Nervously, she looked towards the sky... still unsure about what she was about to do hoping Jack could see her on the satellite and figure out what she had been planning, and stop all this without exposing herself. And yet, she was saying 'goodbye' in case he didn't figure it out. Irina could see Julian looking at her in the rearview mirror and she could feel his eyes burning holes into her head as he was confused by her actions. Thankfully, he didn't know how confused she was about them. She could hear the helicopter above; 'Finally Jack has caught on to what was happening and is sending in the Delta Force to stop it Sloane…herself, from getting away.'

It seemed like forever and the chase was on, but 'we' had thought of everything and the double car switch worked; Julian lost the Delta helicopter. Irina was surprised at how quickly he reached over the seat and shot the men next to her, obviously upset with her as he ordered her out of the car, the first time ordering her around in his life. Nervously, she'd exited and this time, the real Arvin Sloane appeared. The choice had been made; Irina willed herself to try to act happy about it… it was her idea after all. She handed over the manuscript pages to the 'devil' and ultimately her last chance at redemption. "Thank you for extracting me." She gave Sloane a slight smile; 'God,' how she hated those words, the last time she used them was more then 20 years ago and was under almost the same precedent… Thanking a man she despised for extracting her from a situation she never wanted to leave and having to act happy about it.

Irina shook her head softly at the memories and relaxed back against the soft plush suede of her plane seat, closing her eyes at the memories and wiped the single tear rolling down her cheek. 'If only…' she sighed. 'No,' she admonished herself, shaking her head; she wasn't going to play the 'what if' game. She'd realized long ago that it caused more pain and, 'you can't change the past, only move forward.'

Maybe one day, Sydney would forgive her or at the very least understand her motives… but that day was yet to come, the truth would take time. Her daughter was just as stubborn as she was, something Sydney proved many times in the months that followed her mother's escape from CIA custody. Irina had to smile at the persistence Sydney had in pursuing her.

Their first encounter after Irina's escape had almost ended in disaster. Upon realizing Jack had been tracking her, she knew Sydney wouldn't be far behind and seeing her and Vaughn in the lobby of the building Julian was about to blow up… startled her even though she was expecting Sydney to be there. In a moment's panic, she'd called out to Sydney, knowing her child would chase her out of the building and survive the explosion. Their second meeting hadn't ended well either; she and Sydney had come face to face in a standoff in that tunnel ultimately ending with Sydney shooting her… in the arm, giving Irina time to escape just as she had done for Sydney in Taipei.

Irina unconsciously began to rub her arm where the bullet had pierced her flesh from that exchange. All that remained of the physical pain caused that day was a jagged pink scar, like so many others that marked her body. The emotional pain of that day would last long after the physical wounds healed. Sydney had been forced to shoot her own mother and also lost someone she loved and had thought died, all over again in Emily Sloane. Irina had seen the sadness and pain in Sydney's eyes and only hoped that her message of 'Truth Takes Time' would be enough for her daughter not to give up completely on her.

In the weeks that followed, Irina had gone through the motions, conducting business as usual but without the same passion as she had before. Her thoughts once, only of her Rambaldi quest now replaced by thoughts of her daughter and Jack. Rambaldi was beginning to have less and less of a hold over her now that she'd had contact with her long lost family.

The real low point had come when Irina had let Julian talk her into blackmailing Sydney for the keycard to the NSA facility in exchange for proof that would clear Will Tippin. Sydney had been right in telling her to 'go to hell.' After all, 'What kind of a mother shoots, electrocutes, and blackmails her own daughter?' She had reached rock bottom before, or so she thought, but nothing was worth the pain she'd caused Sydney. Irina knew there was very little chance that Sydney would ever forgive her for her actions, but at the very least… Irina could give Sydney, Sloane and the Rambaldi pieces she'd spent the last two decades searching for.

Watching Sydney skate with Agent Vaughn that day on the ice brought back a lot of memories of her own youth, in another time, another place… a generation apart. Something else Sydney had yet to learn the truth about… Of course, Sydney didn't believe her when she said all she wanted in return for helping Will was for Sydney to raid Sloane's warehouse. Irina confessed her plan and how she had carried it out, and tried to stress that the love she felt for Sydney and for her father were not part of her manipulation. She couldn't blame her daughter for not trusting anything she'd said. But Irina truly had, been sorry for everything she'd done and all she wanted to do now, was help Sydney. Sloane, however, didn't trust Irina either and double-crossed her by moving the crates containing the Rambaldi pieces and simultaneously kidnapping Jack and the Di Regno Heart, making it look as though Irina had once again manipulated them into getting what she wanted. Sydney was furious with her on the phone when she called trying to help and explain; Irina knew Sydney would be. But she was just as desperate to find Jack as Sydney was and giving up Julian was the only way to do so.

Irina's contact inside the CIA had told them that Julian had revealed Sloane had taken Jack to Mexico City. She had to be there, in Mexico, to make sure Jack was rescued and Sydney was safe from Sloane. The look on Sydney's face was absolute confusion when she realized it had been Irina who helped she and Vaughn escape the firestorm of bullets in the hallway by shooting Sloane's men. Irina told her to 'go after Sloane' but of course, her daughter didn't listen and instead pursued her up onto the roof of the skyscraper.

She'd wanted to slip away into the darkness but her daughter had cornered her on the ledge. She couldn't allow Sydney to take her back into custody but she also couldn't leave her again without some sort of an explanation for everything that had happened. It was up to Sydney now, to realize The Prophecy.

Irina felt the gradual change in air pressure and realized they were descending and it jarred her out of her previous thoughts. She was going home; well to one of them anyway, to slow down and rest for the first time in years without an agenda or prophecy to chase.

The pilot, waiting to greet her before she departed, seemed to be reading her mind and Irina had to admire the irony, "Welcome to Sydney, Ma'am… Enjoy your stay."