Title: The Flesh Failures
Spoilers: None, really. Takes place after Season 4
One Derevko that you want to see: Irina
One place you would like to see: South Africa
One object/action you would like to see: Death of a main character.
AN: I need to thank my mother for interrupting her vacation in Antigua to give me advice on childbirth in general, and childbirth in the 70's in particular. I thank the Internet for giving me the means to find the dates of the events herein and Russian swear words on the fly. The digital age is a beautiful thing. For reference, my timeline came from the Alias Mythology Guideline Chronology.
"He wants children. You will give him children."
It's dangerous for him to be here, in person. More dangerous still for them to meet like this, face to face. He is a watched man, and she is a shadow that must remain unobserved. That he is here tells her how important this is. And yet, she cannot keep her anger from spilling over.
"I will not! I am not a breeding cow, to spawn on command."
His voice sharpens, an edge that's more than metaphorical. She's never unaware that her very life depends on the words that fall from his lips. "No, you are one of the Kontora Grubykh Banditov, thief and liar like the rest of us. Don't pretend that ball of ice in your chest has suddenly become a heart."
"I pretend nothing. It is not a question of 'heart'. A pregnant woman is vulnerable. Helpless..."
He smiles. "You have never been helpless, Irina."
"A pregnant woman is fat," she grits through her teeth, "and I do not care for children."
"But this is why it is perfect, do you not see? A child, molded by a knowing hand, can be an asset far greater than its liability. The child would be yours to shape as you will, loyal to mother and Motherland."
"Motherhood changes a woman. Are you not afraid my loyalty will shift?"
"With another woman-a...lesser woman-yes, this would be a concern. But for Irina Derevko--pssht!" He clicks his teeth as if he's disappointed she would ask. "It is not only your heart that is ice, my darling. I would expect America and the Motherland to come to peaceful terms before such a true daughter's loyalty would fail."
"Oh shut up, Alexander!" She slaps his hand and smiles, irritated and pleased by turns. "Now you are being silly." She is being talked around, and she knows it.
"You cut me to the quick!" he exclaims, and Irina laughs.
If Jack Bristow was ever simple, if he was ever trusting, he is no longer.
She takes a moment to savor that, warm as a swig of vodka, her handiwork. As she'd occasionally been bored with him in her incarnation as Laura, he is far more interesting now. Far more dangerous, too, but that's half the fun.
"Hello, Jack. If I kiss you, will you taste of Katya?"
They last saw each other at the so-called end of the world. Like most Apocalypses, it was overrated. Things went on. She went on, and told herself that she didn't miss them. It was proving more difficult in her fifties than it did in her touchy twenties.
Jack doesn't respond to her jibe, and that too is the fun of dealing with Jack. Until she sees his eyes.
They've always been his weakness, she thinks distantly, through the numb coldness that rises through her, despite the warm wind blowing through the louvers. Jack's face lies as easily as his tongue, but his eyes always give him away. His only defense has ever been to slam down the shutters completely, but that too is a giveaway of a kind.
"Jack--" she doesn't remember crossing the room, but suddenly he's there and his sleeve is fisted in her hand. "What is it? What's wrong?"
But she knows. Of course she knows; only one thing could put that burnt and sterile bleakness in his eyes. No, she thinks. She wants to put her hand over his mouth and shut him up. She wants to curse him with silence, as if by doing so, she can avert the happenstance, and not just the message. But she is numb. And she has to know. A mother has to know.
"Irina--" His voice is a scrape, hardly intelligible, except that she knows its every timbre. "It's Sydney."
Khasinau was right about her, of course. Up until the moment she killed him, there was little he was ever wrong about. Her loyalty did last, long after the agency and the country she gave it to was gone.
But her loyalty and her heart are two very different things. Her loyalty she gave, and-at the time-gave it freely, without reservation. Her idealism was no less than Jack's, albeit hidden behind jaded layers of defense.
Her heart, on the other hand, was always her own, and given to no one.
At least until it was stolen.
She has sunk to the floor. Her legs will not hold. Now Jack kneels in front of her and the deadness is his eyes is colored by concern.
In her mind's eye, she sees a fat and solemn baby, she sees a gap-toothed girl in striped socks, she sees a startled and horrified, bleeding woman stammering, "M...mom?" She hears the gunshot, the way she often does in those strange moments between sleeping and waking.
She didn't want this.
She didn't want this.
The anger, familiar and hot, pours in and finally she can unstick her tongue from the roof of her mouth. She turns her head and says: "Tell me."
"God Jack, I'm fine!" She shouts, socks and her remaining shoe clenched in one fist. I swear, if he comes up here, I will fling this damn shoe at his head, so help me.... "Go to work!"
"I... All right," he calls back. Some of his CIA training must be coming in handy, because his voice comes no closer than the stairs. "I'll call you later."
"Yes, you do that," she replies waspishly. She sits very still until the sounds of his footsteps fade away and the front door closes behind him. Then she throws the other shoe for good measure. She's too fat to put on her own socks and shoes, dammit!
It's fortunate that the fate of the species doesn't lie with me, she thinks viciously, and flops on her back. She's sweaty-hot already, only fifteen minutes out of the shower. Because if it was up to me, no woman would ever have to go through this!
She doesn't know what she thought, when she thought of pregancy. Truthfully, she doesn't remember ever really giving it a thought at all, except for a vague sense of repugnance when she sees some fat breeder waddling her way down the street, belly leading the way like its the one in control.
But most of those women seemed to have a glow. A slightly superior serenity that always made her want to smack it off their smug faces. She, on the other hand, does not have a glow. No.
What she has is morning sickness that is really morning-noon-and-night sickness. She has hot flashes that make her wonder if California really is the ninth ring of Dante's Inferno. She has swollen ankles, and aching back and aching head. She has emotions that spin on a dime, from tears to towering rage and back again. She feels like a stranger in her own body, like she's the interloper, and frankly, she's ready to scoop this thing out with a melon baller if it doesn't hurry the hell up.
I will kill Alex, when I see him next, she thinks, staring up at the ceiling with burning eyes. This is not what I agreed to.
She wonders if she has any sandals.
She doesn't cry, when Jack tells her.
She's never been a crying woman, unless there was something to be gained in tears. Instead, she is filled with a sirocco of heated revenge. She looks into his eyes and sees the echo of her own savagery.
Yes, he says without words, urging her onward, to her feet.
A gun from the desk drawer. A jacket from the closet and espadrilles on her feet and they're gone. She doesn't look back. There's nothing else of any importance. It's just another place, a bead on a string. She's a long way from a damply cold and overcrowded flat in Communist Moscow, and she's learned the necessity and pleasure of going light.
Baggage only weighs you down.
Her water breaks at 4:37 p.m., while she's in the middle of haggling with that sow at the grocer's over the price of a pound of fish. She knows American women do not bargain, but she can't bring herself to actually pay the ridiculous prices these gougers demand. Besides, she finds it comforting, a single grace note that reminds her she is really Irina, and not the insipid Laura.
"Yob tvoyu mat!" She doesn't even dream in Russian anymore, but when the gush of warm fluid that goes crawling down her legs, the swear words come out without a second thought. Behind the counter, the sow's eyes widen and she tches through her teeth. Her family is from Volgograd. Irina makes a face at her.
The low-grade ache in her back blooms into agony, like the grinding shift of a machine into a higher gear. And machine is the word for it, a mindless and ongoing process over which she has no control. She shuts her teeth on her moan-she's not going to give that bitch the satisfaction-and bends, planting her hands on her knees.
"M...miss! Your water!" There is a squeak of sneakers on tile as the boy that stocks the aisles skids to a halt.
She can see his open-mouthed gawp from the corner of her eyes and thinks it's very lucky she doesn't have a gun. "Yes." She grinds her teeth. "I'm aware of that. Perhaps you could call me a cab?"
It takes twenty minutes to hail a cab. Twenty minutes of leaning against a hydrant with one hand on her massive belly, panting in stupid controlled breaths as if breath can stop the tide. At last, she piles in the car-which reeks of garlic and sweat, enough that she wants to retch, as if she wasn't using her breath for other things-and they promptly get stuck in traffic. Patti Labelle sings loudly in bad French.
"Must be an accident," the cabbie offers, and smiles weakly.
Irina only glares, hunched over on one elbow and her hair falling in her eyes. In her mind, she reviews all the ways she'll kill Alex, when this is all over. She likes the one with the bear traps and the red ants the best, but the nail gun and the acid are a close second.
Another contraction, harder this time. How can they get harder, she wonders, stifling her groan. The cabbie eyes her nervously in the mirror and decides to lay on the horn.
Oh yes, she thinks. That will help.
It is an accident. And an hour before she arrives at the hospital. She's no longer silent; the pain will not be stifled. She moans like a cow and hates every moment of it. But at the next contraction, it bursts from her again, and she's helpless to prevent it. The machine works, whether she wills it or no.
She wants to walk on her own, but her body has other ideas. The cabbie deposits her in a chair and wheels her up to the maternity ward.
"Is this your husband?" The nurse, in her crisp uniform, is overly cheerful.
Irina's hands close hard on the chair's handles. "No."
They put her in a room and give her a gown. "You should call your husband," the nurse encourages. "You don't want him to miss this!"
In truth, she wants nothing to do with Jack, at this particular moment in time. Other than Alex, he bears the most responsibility for doing this to her. But pregnant wives-especially mild-mannered English Lit professor wives-are supposed to want their husbands at moments like this.
But it's not Jack that comes to the phone, when she rings through. It's Arvin. "I'm so sorry, Laura. Jack's been called away. He'll be back tonight. Would you like me to see if Emily could come and keep you company in the meantime?"
"No, Arvin, thank you."
God save her; the last thing she needs or wants is Emily hovering attendance. It would be cruel of Arvin to ask it of her; dealing with Emily's barely concealed envy and sadness over the past nine months has been tedious, to say the least. But Arvin is often cruel; it's part of his nature, and what separates him from Jack. Jack can be cruel, but never without reason, never for his own amusement.
Suddenly her anger punctures. She wishes for Jack. He's been so excited about this, far more excited than her. She could use some of his excitement right now. She could use a familiar face. A familiar voice. Isolated, she doesn't let herself dwell on the strangeness, the lonliness, but she is Russian; she still feels it. Keenly. Except sometimes, at night, when Jack is sleeping warm against her back, his arm slung over her stomach and he murmurs her name in his sleep. Or the name he thinks is hers. It feels hers, then.
Another contraction. Her concentration shatters and focuses again on the single track ahead. My God, she wonders, how long can this go on, exactly?
She's afraid of the answer. For the first time, she remembers the gatherings around their kitchen table; her mother and her mother's cronies telling over tales of childbirth. Theirs, their mothers, their daughters, grandmothers and sisters and aunts, each worse than the last. She paid so little attention to them; she wouldn't think she'd remember them now, but in her work for the Committee, she's learnt how much sinks below the surface of consciousness until needed.
Babies with extra eyes, fingers, toes. Whole limbs, on occasion, or tails. Babies with holes in their palates, teeth emerging from their cheeks. Twisted, siamese babies. Simple-minded. Labors that last for hours piled on hours, days. Stillborn babies...
She wonders if she would care, if the baby is stillborn. Each fluttering kick has been greeted by outsized delight by Jack, or Emily, or one of the women from the University, but she's only felt resentment at the reminder of the parasite she carries. Stillborn would solve a great many problems...
Alex wouldn't be pleased, of course. He'd probably make her try again, and soon.
She considers the wreck a second child will make of her body. No; stillborn will not do. The child needs to be born alive, and healthy...
Seated on a plane next to the ghosts of her daughters, Irina leans her head tiredly against the rest.
Losing Nadia was hard, though they'd spent so little time together, knowing each other. She sacrificed that, in the effort to keep Nadia safe; out of Rambaldi's all seeing eye and the hands of those who followed his hellish vision. Ironic, when you think on it.
No one had come to tell her, for Nadia. There had only been an email from Jack, and a coded dispatch on one of her old drops, from Arvin. Her boy, Weiss, sent flowers. Nadia's life had been like that. Much like her own; when she dies, likely there will be no messages at all. She will merely sink into obscurity, into legend.
As will Nadia, the much sought-after Passenger. It's a fitting title; Nadia was swept along the wings of her destiny without knowledge or consent. Then, like the now famous Oceanic 815, her flight crashed.
She wonders if it would have been so difficult if she had never met Nadia, never had those crisp, tense hours trying to save a world that had never been particularly kind to either of them. If she hadn't seen her, hadn't heard her voice, hadn't watched her reload and fire in under six seconds...would she have felt nothing?
She didn't know.
With Sydney it's different. There's pain, but it goes deep, so deep it barely hurts. Yet.
With Sydney, she's reminded of her mother's words when Marat died.
"No mother should outlive her child."
Her head aches.
No, that's a gross and evil understatement. Her head is cracking apart and her brain oozing through the cracks. Vaguely she remembers the doctor telling her that sometimes a mild headache can result from the spinal. That sukin syn better hope she never catches up with him. At least they've taken the baby away. It's screaming was...piercing, to say the least.
They tell her it's a girl.
"I don't want to talk about it," she mumbles, the pillow over her face to block out the light. "Go away, Jack."
Twenty-three and a half hours of labor, while the doctors argue whether her hips will accomodate a child or they'll have to cut her open. Twenty-three and a half hours where--although she can't wait to get rid of this child--her body has other ideas, remaining stubbornly closed. At least until the petosin. Twenty-three and a half hours of grunting and straining and sweating. Twenty-three and a half hours of the worst agony she's ever felt in her life.
And Jack's sorry.
"Laura, I'm sorry. I came as soon as I could. You know I wanted to be here." He twines his fingers through the hand that lies flat on the mattress.
She does know it. She just can't bring herself to care. Still, she has her duty. Always her damned duty.
"Yes," she pushes the pillow up and slits her eyes to look at him. "I know. I'm just tired."
At once, Jack is transformed from agent to husband. Under other circumstances, she finds the change endearing. "Oh. Well, of course. I didn't think. I should let you get your rest."
"Have you seen--her?" She has to remember to substitute for 'it'. New mothers don't call their children 'it'.
"Yes." He gives one of his rare smiles. "She's beautiful. Like her mother. Have you decided? On a name?"
God, she's forgotten that part. A name. But the solution is simple as it's elegant. She schools her face into Laura's smile, puts her hand to his cheek. "I thought you might want to name her."
Jack lifts her hand and brushes his lips over her knuckles. "Sydney," he says. Ah, he's been thinking on this. "Sydney Anne."
They deplane in South Africa. It's been several years since she's been here. The wind is familiarly warm, and she's cold. She realizes now that she's been roaming almost exclusively south of the equator since Nadia died, plagued by this same internal sense of cold, even in the most arid climate. She wonders if she'll ever feel warm again.
No mother should outlive her child.
"Irina?" Jack has a question in his eyes and she realizes she's been standing for more than a minute, staring into space.
She shakes her head, and takes his hand.
"It'll be over soon," Jack says.
Irina smiles. "I know."
She remembers very little of Syndey's first few months. She only remembers the perpetual bone-deep exhaustion, and the atavistic horror at the variety and quantity of disgusting, smelly fluids the little monster can produce.
Eventually, though, 'it' turns to 'the child', which grudgingly gives way to 'Sydney'. In her rare arguments with Jack, it's usually "your daughter", but that seems normal enough to pass.
Sydney calls her "Mom", and eventually she remembers to answer to it. Still, it's like "Laura"; another role, another name that doesn't really mean anything.
In all of her messages from Alex, no matter how brief, he always takes a moment to snidely inquire how she is enjoying motherhood. Her list of ways to kill him grows. She's up to one hundred and thirteen.
Jack is rising in importance and they move to L.A. On the one hand, she's happy. She has more to do, more to report back, and Alex is unstinting in his praise. On the converse, it means she's stuck here for longer, and that Jack is gone more often, leaving her alone to care for this child she doesn't really want.
When Sydney wakes at night, screaming at the top of her lungs, it's instinct that drives her, stumbling and stupid, from the bed. Not maternal; merely the desire of any sane being for silence.
When, at two, Syndey falls from the piano bench, earning a four-inch scalp laceration and a trip to the emergency room, her sense of panic, her nail-chewing worry is simply because if anything happens to Sydney, Alex will want her to try again. It has nothing to do with Sydney herself, who simply will not stay where she's put.
Having Sydney is excellent practice; one must be infinitely more careful when the way you stand, the tilt of your head, your words, are apt to be faithfully copied at the least convenient moments. Sydney is a sponge, absorbing more than Irina thinks possible. She takes Sydney to day care, watches the toddler silently and coolly identify all the exits, and knows that this too is a mimic of herself.
But it's not pride she feels.
The things she does--buying chocolate ice cream because Sydney likes it, kissing the scrape on the little girl's knee, buying calamine lotion and preparing corn starch baths through Sydney's bout with chickenpox--they're not gestures of affection. They are the things a mother would do. Should do. And because she is playing the role of mother, she does them. The fact that she hardly has to think about it anymore is a testament to her acting abilities.
They told her deep cover would be hard. Ha.
Arvin is not hard to find.
Maybe he never intended to be. Certainly he could make it harder than this; a dingy white-washed tourist dive off a beach too rocky to be picturesque. If he wanted to evade them, it wouldn't be like this, sloppy-drunk and unarmed. Irina has always found Arvin to be...distasteful, but she's never been so foolish as to equate that with stupid. Grasping, greedy, selfish and self-centered, but not stupid.
Still, he made no move to flee, to protect himself, as they come and stand over him. He only looks up from his filthy glass with bleary eyes and says in a rusted out voice, "I'm sorry."
"Duly noted," Jack says, the flat and tense line of his voice like a garrotte.
There's no more conversation. Neither she nor Jack is the representative of any law, except perhaps the very oldest; laws of blood, written nowhere. Arvin has already been judged and found wanting. What remains is only the punctuation on the end of his sentence. They get him up, march him out. No one interferes. This isn't that kind of place, and even if it was, one look into her eyes, or Jack's, is enough to quell the impulse. Self-preservation is another of the oldest laws, as well.
"I'm sorry," Arvin whispers again, and this time he looks at her. She's never heard Arvin apologize--truly apologize--for anything in the long years of their acquaintance. She doesn't know why he'd think it matters, though.
He was dead the moment he took one daughter from her, let alone both.
Sydney is five when the message comes from Alex: Seduce Sloane.
Systematically, she breaks every glass and dish in the house. She is short and irritable with Sydney and sends her crying to her room. When Jack arrives, she starts an argument with him that lasts into the wee hours of the night. He storms out to sleep elsewhere, and she cries herself to sleep. They are, of course, tears of anger.
In the morning, after she's seen Sydney off to school, she calls off her classes, makes herself up, and calls Arvin.
It's not difficult. She has always been aware of Arvin's eyes on her, like a hand. For all his protestations of love, he's wanted her from the start and he's grateful to have her now. She knows from her own marriage the pressures and frictions of cohabitation. Knows as well how to fan those embers of resentment and misunderstanding into something greater; a fire in which weapons can be forged. And then, too, Arvin is a man addicted to secrets the way others reach for drugs, or drink, or sex. He loves his wife, he loves his friends...but he loves his little secrets more.
She resents being whored for Alex's personal convenience, but she finds she likes the secrecy too. It makes her feel less the hausfrau Laura has become, and more like herself. They sit in hotel rooms and match vodka shots. They have assignations in cabs, in elevators, in alleyways and apartment passthroughs. It's like a whole other life.
But she always makes it home in time to pick up Sydney from school.
One day, the phone call comes.
"They're on to you," a voice says--one she doesn't know--and then the line goes dead.
But-- she thinks.
Sydney-- she thinks.
How can you leave her? she thinks. She's so young
Then she realizes what she's thinking. "Ahueyet!" she curses in Russian, just to remember she can.
And then that's it. She makes two phone calls, looks around once, puts on her shoes, grabs her purse and leaves the house forever.
When they meet, Calder asks, "Have you been crying?"
"Of course not." Her voice is cool, flat. Irina's voice.
I'll never have to be Laura again, she thinks, and for that one moment, she feels free.
On a piece of rock overlooking the sea, they put Sloane on his knees. Jack's gun centers the crown of Arvin's head, hers holds unwavering on his heart.
"Together?" Jack asks. She nods.
There's no need for a count. When it comes to revenge, they're always in sync.
They pull the trigger at the same moment, a single report echoing across the empty sky, and it's then--just then, when the blood spatters her face and breasts and belly and the body falls sideways into the dust--that it starts to hurt.