In a fit of incongruity, they had chosen a hiding place right in the centre of downtown Los Angeles. The old double bluff had worked so far - Jack simply had such a reputation for secrecy. Though the world knew, Jack wasn't exactly rational about the thing that was being hidden.
Like clockwork he walked into the busy hotel, though it was more of an amble than his normal decisive stride. He didn't look at anyone, slouching his shoulders as he headed for an elevator. He didn't even run to make himself visible so the chatty tourists would hold the opulent elevator.
Eventually he got to the twelfth floor, shoes noiseless on the thin carpet. He knew the door would be unlocked - Irina always did believe herself invulnerable.
Indeed the door was open. Unsettling how easy that prediction had come. Jack walked into the room, looking around for her until he heard the pointed sound of running water. Oh, hell.
He called out, edging toward the bathroom door, speaking German (which he knew she still understood). "Anya?" Using one of her old aliases. It wouldn't do to speak Russian, much call her by her name.
The response was instant; the abrupt elimination of the flow of water; the harsh, Germanic "Ja?" in reply. "One moment," Irina called in German. Jack sat down gingerly on her (huge!) unmade bed to wait.
It was a few moments, more like, but Irina appeared eventually, hair dry and wrapped in an enormous towel. "I hadn't expected you so early." It wasn't an apology; Irina never casually apologised.
Jack just shrugged. "We need your help." That was not an admission he could possibly make lightly.
And Irina knew it. She sat down next to him, easing herself down like a cat. "You need my help, or you need my help?" The subtlest little hint in her voice tweaked him. Still.
Jack just looked at her. "To say 'we' assumes that someone besides myself and yourself is aware you're alive."
For the barest instant, he saw the frustration on her face at having to be reminded of that fact. But she recovered, of course; shaking her hair out rom under the towel, hoping to act disinterested. "What do you hope I know?"
A lot, actually. Jack made it simple, watching her carefully. "The Cadmus Liberation Front."
"It's an offshoot of the Covenant, what of it?"
Well, at least he seemed to have her attention now. "They hired Anna Espinosa to retrieve a chemical bomb. Which she, along with Sark, have now taken. Ostensibly for themselves." He didn't think any of that surprised her, but then again, he wasn't looking at her face.
She took a moment to reply. Jack wondered what she was hiding, or if it was just instinct. "The CRF, last I heard, was incredibly weak. If they hired Anna, she wouldn't be all that impressed with them. The temptation for her to go freelance is great."
"True." He rose, needing to pace. "But the crux o the matter is, what do we ask her to discover whether she has or not? I mean, it isn't as if she'll simply tell us her plans. Or if she isn't freelance, who she's working for."
Irina folded her legs under her on the bed, head cocked to once side. The implication, Jack saw, was certainly not lost on her. Anna Espinosa worked for few people. "You have Anna?"
"We do. And as of yet she's only said one thing that might prove illuminating." Jack looked down at Irina, suddenly more weary than businesslike. He had a damned good idea who Anna was working for, but somehow he wanted confirmation. If his hypothesis was true, for all her faults, Irina would see it. "She spoke of a sentinel watching out for her."
He saw, though she tried to hide, the whispers of reaction on her face. The only reason Anna would have taunted him with that was that she'd been to Moscow; she'd seen the lying slab of granite. Or someone there had already told her. "You have to take steps, of course," was all Irina said.
He risked saying it aloud. "Of course we do, but what I need to know is, what could we tempt Anna with to make her lead us to Yelena?" There. He'd said it. It was in the air now.
Irina actually faltered, though the cynic's part of Jack figured it was more from the knowledge of being beaten. Eventually she spoke again, calmly, though the vein behind her eye twinged. "Anna doesn't want anything but power." She rose to stand with him. How ironic. "And Yelena won't give it."
Very true, given their intel and intercepted chatter. Jack had to say something sarcastic; this was getting away from him. "Seems to run in our family." Our - what had he said that for? She already knew him not totally unaffected by her, but he didn't have to compound it.
Irina just looked at him for a long moment, but her voice was not calm enough when she answered. "Yelena cares only for money. Bait the trap quietly and expensively enough, and you'll attract her attention." Her hand clutched almost white-fisted at the knot in her towel. "Ask Anna about K-Directorate's business contacts. You'll surely find someone to trap her with."
"Well, besides you, of course." Jack did feel compelled to point that out. It sounded so simple - who better to trap a Derevko than another Derevko? - but he or anyone could see what it did to Irina.
They were close now, very close. Jack could smell the antiseptic scent of her shampoo, could feel the gooseflesh from the air. "Just trap her, please." Irina's tone was ugly; equal parts silk and broken glass. "I'm tired of this."
Jack knew she meant the hiding, the inactivity, but she could have spoken in generalities. For all her faults Jack knew Irina Derevko was not cut out to be a cat's paw. So he simply kissed her - out of sympathy or apology or a desire to surprise, he had no idea. None of which he would ever admit.
Irina reacted as he'd thought, and yet she didn't. Her mouth landed against his, at first just there, then matching his own for intensity. He tangled his hands in her hair, ignoring the slivers of damp that trickled down his forearms. He felt Irina's arms wrap around his waist; feeling the tension in her muscles and tendons. Moving his hands down, he kneaded at the back of her neck with one set of fingers, while the other slipped under the towel covering her back. He heard Irina's tiny moan, but he didn't feel the towel slip until she had his tie and jacket off.
She had always been fond of feminine claws, and he had been expecting them. Still. It didn't mean he didn't hiss when he felt her nails dig into his back. Jack's hand dropped further, pushing her into the far wall firmly, feeling only the thud as they hit; neither the neighbour pounding on the wall or the beating of Irina's own heart registered that much.
Her movements were sharp; her hands short and desperate to go with his own carefully clinical motions as he balanced her between his hips and the wall. Irina grabbed like a grappling hook, fingers unconsciously clinging. Her mouth sought his again, strangely soft, but strong. He wouldn't have expected the cliche from her.
Her body was the same beautiful thing it had always been, Jack thought dispassionately as he bent his head to insert expert teeth into her skin at that one spot on her collarbone. Irina's back fairly arched, but even now she played dirty. How had she recalled that one knuckle directly up his spine, even through material ...
No matter. Irina slid herself further up his body, and he slid inside her, and somehow the brain experienced a very strange sort of electric shock.
Irina, as usual, gave no breathiing room. He felt her ankles lock around his torso as they slid together, her arms wrapped around his neck. It was quick, but not haphazard; sharp, but surprisingly not cruel. Then again, even as Laura she'd been desperate in the bedroom. Comforting to know even Irina had habits. Yet he hadn't seen this coming.
Jack fairly shuddered as Irina angled herself just right atop him, and he caught the tail end of a smirk as vision returned. It would have made his blood boil before. Now he simply retaliated, pressing her into the wall, his hands tangling harder and deeper in her hair.
Tilt happened fairly quickly after that, around the same time as Irina. She was quiet, like always. He couldn't recall his own reaction.
Eventually Irina found her legs, looking up at him all but silently. "Find her. I'm asking."
Jack nodded. No segues or clarification required. She knew he'd do it, of course, but if he did, at least part of it would be for her. Damn. What else could he do but turn to go?
Irina picked up her towel and simply watched, as natural as ever. He half expected her to offer some parting salvo, but she stood where she was. As he knotted his tie, though, she pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth, and disappeared. Jack kept that tang in his senses as he shuffled back down the long hallway.