She only came to observe. The followers believed she was in Hong Kong- this close to the endgame, they'd be suspicious of her showing up and claiming changed plans. She had yet to clear her name to Jack and Sydney, and while she heard that the impostor had been surprisingly humane to them in Vancouver, she doubted they'd have much patience for her explanations. To reveal herself to either party at this stage was extremely risky.

She approached on horseback. The chamber was in a desolate valley surrounded by tall, shadowy hills. Perfect for enemy spies or surprise attacks. There was a time when Irina would have claimed that this odd choice of location only showed Rambaldi's confidence. Now she realized that fanatical beliefs could stretch very far before they broke.

She saw Sloane and Sark arrive and enter the chamber. Then came the dynamite blasts. Sark reemerged, undoubtedly displeased at the dust and grime. Soon afterwards, Sydney, Jack and Vaughn ambushed the followers from another hill. The lower henchmen fell. Sydney entered the chamber while Jack and Vaughn ended up in a standoff with Sark and the last of his men.

Sark and the followers took Jack and Vaughn down into the chamber. Irina watched the empty camp and held her breath. It might benefit her to keep Sloane alive. The impostor would sooner die than reveal herself, and Irina's research indicated Sloane might be the only other person alive who knew the truth. On the other hand, if Irina was wrong about Rambaldi, if he held the key after all… then Sloane was about to become more dangerous than he had ever been.

She heard gunshots. First a quick three snaps. Then a second gun fired seven shots, slower, heavier, methodical.

The followers scattered into the hills. There was no sight of Sloane. Sydney and Vaughn slowly climbed out of the cave. Jack was between them, staggering, his head bobbing weakly, his arms slung over their shoulders. They laid him down and opened his shirt. Even from a distance, Irina immediately saw the crimson spread.

"Oh my God," she whispered.

She watched, frozen in horror, as Vaughn called for support. Sydney tended Jack.

Like a complicated reflex, Irina gathered her things and mounted her horse again without thinking. Her focus was only on Jack and Sydney in the valley below. She heard her own heart pounding her ears. Each moment passed like an hour. Vaughn spoke to Jack, then got up and brought their Jeep around. Sydney's gaze darted back and forth between her fiance and her father. "Wait, Vaughn, wait!" Irina heard her cry. Sydney looked to Jack again. She grew still. Were they saying their goodbyes?

Then, sobbing, Sydney tore herself away. She climbed in the vehicle and Vaughn drove off. There was only one mission important enough for Sydney to leave Jack at a time like this. Irina shuddered. She ought to stay in the shadows until her daughter was gone.

Jack stood up to watch them go. You fool! Irina wanted to scream. Wasting his remaining energy (and blood!) just to put their daughter's mind at ease. But would Irina expect anything else of him? She kicked her horse's flanks. Let Sydney see her for all she cared; Jack's bravado forced her to act now.

By the time Irina's horse crested the hill, Jack had collapsed. As she descended into the valley, she kept an eye on the Jeep; Vaughn continued driving away. She reached Jack, jumped from her still-moving horse, knelt over him and assessed the damage.

Jack lay still with his eyes closed. His face was pale; his lips were blue. Each breath was wrestled through a pained, papery wheezing. A collapsed lung, most likely. He had two gunshot wounds on the right side of his chest, one on the left just beneath the collarbone. Sloane had hit as close as he could without bringing Jack a quick death. Was this sadism… or strategy?

"Hold still," Irina ordered. She pressed the gauze Sydney had left against Jack's wounds. "How far out are your med techs?"

"Half hour," he murmured. Then his eyes flew open. "Ir… Irina…?"

"Jack, listen to me. You've lost a lot of blood. You can make it." Irina gritted her teeth. "But you have to hold still."

"Sloane," he whispered.

"Sydney shot him, didn't she?"

Of course she did. If Sloane shot Jack three times, then the seven shots after were Sydney's retaliation. Destroy Sydney Bristow's family and she'd destroy you. Irina might have thought, that's my girl, except Sydney was even better than that.

"She did," Jack nodded. "But…"

His eyes moved towards the entrance to the chamber. Irina understood. They were dealing with Rambaldi here. It was best to take precautions. Irina touched the gun in her holster. If Sloane were still alive by natural means, perhaps he could be negotiated with. But if Rambaldi's vision had come true, Irina would have to destroy him. Like the giant roaches in the tenements where she grew up: such ruthless abominations cannot be allowed a chance at survival. They must be squashed.

"They left behind some dynamite," she stated. She scanned the hills for signs of the few surviving followers; there were none. "But first you need new dressings."

She pulled fresh gauze from her pack. She pried the old dressings loose from the thick, dark blood, grateful that it was coagulating, even more grateful that it wasn't gushing. Jack bit his lip not to flinch. Typical. She glanced towards the dynamite, then the chamber entrance.


He nodded briskly. "Go."

She nodded back, and guided his hands to the gauzes. "Keep pressure on these," she instructed.

She moved to get up, but at first she couldn't bring herself to let go of his hands. She thought of the pictures she'd seen of Isabelle, the secondhand reports that Jack had stayed with the baby while Sydney was recently on deep cover. She thought of all the mistakes they both made as parents, and she knew that Jack was determined to remedy them this time around.

"If you die, I will kill you," she warned him as she stood.

He replied with the faintest flicker of a smirk.