i'm incendiary too, man (allthingsholy) wrote in derevkoficathon,
i'm incendiary too, man
allthingsholy
derevkoficathon

fic: Distances We've Traveled (Irina)

Title: Distances We’ve Traveled
Author: allthingsholy
Summary: "She is like fire, collapsing in on itself; she is bound to self-destruct."
Written for thedorkygirl’s LJ Derevkoficathon, with challenge prompts by Lula Bo: Irina Derevko; St. Mark’s Square, Venice; a snow globe.

Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Everything ever aired in the US is fair game.
Email: allthingsholy(at)yahoo(dot)com; tell me that you love me, baby, then tell me how much.
Disclaimer: Oh, not quite mine. Almost…but not quite.
A/N: Big, bigger thanks to Alina for translating everything I asked her to and bigger, biggest thanks to Lula (who did some translating of her own). Sadly enough, she had to beta her own story because I’m neurotic and have no other friends. (This story was so atrociously late that…I should be shot, or something. Apologies.) Set post "The Telling".

----

She sits and stands and paces—she is rarely still, like a caged thing that claws at itself after too many restful hours. In her most primitive moments, she knows little but the attack, the ebb and flow of jabs and punches, the cold, hard sting of metal against her skin. She’s been bred to this, ages of fight in her history, in her blood. It feels like pressure on her organs, constriction in her veins.

This heartache she knows, too, the tightness in her chest, the knot somewhere behind her ribs. It’s comforting, almost, this pain, something always to rail against. For all her lies and strategies, she is predictable at times.

A week ago, she’d flung herself from a building, falling and flying and fearless, and now she’s locked herself in this hotel room, wearing the carpet ever thinner under her bare feet. "I love you," she’d said, and Sydney’s face had been so broken, so full of feeling, the face that’s now ash, dead tissue and bone. She opens her mouth and a cry like an animal’s escapes from her throat, a hoarse, fierce sound that bounces off the walls, off the glass. A hand is raised, a fist clenched, a mirror shattered.

She is like fire, collapsing in on itself; she is bound to self-destruct.

--

Virginia in the seventies, late fall heat wrapping its way around her arms, between her legs, in the folds of her skirt. She tucks her hair behind her ear—thoughtless, fluid motion so far engrained it’s traveled the thousands of miles from Moscow with her, become a part of the person she is now, the person she claims to be—and it’s this that catches his attention, this slow curve of wrist and soft slide of fingers. Some things turn out to be very easy, she finds.

Laura bends over a book, curls her slight frame into a hard chair and waits, the practiced, patient waiting of a person used to small, tight spaces—air ducts in Singapore, ninety degrees and burning, her rifle flush with the side of her body; the corner of her bedroom, raised voices and fists flying, Elena’s head on her shoulder and Katya’s tears in her hair.

Jack is approximately twenty-seven feet away, a carefully calculated distance, and he’s glanced her way thirteen times in the last five minutes; Irina’s counting his breaths, his page turns, memorizing the lines and shape of him, the furrow of his brow and the spread of his fingers against aging paper—these are all things she will come to use against him and she catalogues them carefully, sets them aside, and turns back to her book. She has come here to learn more than just the most intimate details of this man’s life and the secrets and talents he holds.

She reads of winters and long, winding journeys, of men and women and fate. Jack’s eyes are upon her again, and she turns a strand of hair over one delicate finger, for all he knows ignorant of his appraising gaze. Irina bites back a smile, swallows a laugh. Nineteen minutes later—so little of this has been left to chance—she leaves her chair, stalls on the library steps, and stops Jack on his way out, calling out from behind him as he walks away.

"Do you want to get coffee?" Her voice is low, either sexy or scared—it’s up to Jack to decide which. A questioning look from his bright, intelligent eyes and she soldiers on. "I just, I saw you in the library and I thought maybe you wanted to, you know—" and Laura pauses, unsure of herself and shifting from foot to foot, eyes darting to his face and away, books pressed tight to her chest. Irina runs her bottom lip between her teeth, hitches her breasts just so, and sees Jack smile, caught unaware and flattered and amused.

Some things turn out to be very easy, she finds.

--

She stands, fists at her sides and breathing ragged and sharp. She clenches her jaw, and her whole body shakes, ripples of motion down her arms, down her legs, through her skin and to the very center of being. The pieces of glass at her feet shine faintly, muted colors thrown to the walls, to the dresser, to the clothes she wears.

Slowly, deliberately, she places one foot before the other and walks over the glass. The shards cut at her feet, slide and slice through her skin as she makes her way to the bed. Lowering herself onto the edge, feeling her weight sink the mattress beneath her, she shuts her eyes, breathes in deep.

This is not mourning, she thinks.

Light presses against her eyelids and she opens them to examine her bloodied fist, the skin on her knuckles split open and bleeding, drops falling away onto her too-white pants. She wipes the back of her hand on the bed, watches the red smear and stain like paint, like love, like feeling. There is comfort in this too, the familiar sight of blood on her hands.

She raises a knee, runs fingers over the flat of one foot. Her soul bleeds; she doesn’t cry.

--

They sit on a blanket in the park, Jack’s head in her lap, her hair heavy against her neck. Laura runs a hand over his shoulder, down his arm, fingers at his temple, along his forehead—each touch spreading love to the remotest parts of him, pressing her devotion to every bit of skin she can lay hold of. She breathes in lazily, lets her eyes droop and her head fall back, lets herself be taken in by the soft, low timbre of Jack’s voice. Irina studies his body, the puckered flesh of scar tissue, where wounds have healed over and faded. A hand on his chest and she hears his breath hitch a moment, feels the small wince as he pulls away. He doesn’t stop speaking, disguises the pain by rearranging his body; Jack doesn’t mention it, and neither does she.

He tells her of his history, his life before she became a part of it, of brave, noble deaths and quiet, sweet women who fit against him like air. He shares these parts of himself, the deepest, most secret parts of his life—his father in the army, the fight he put up before they could kill him, his mother sick and dying, wasting away to just love and frail bones—but Irina isn’t interested in any of this, in any of the things he tells her with his voice so full of sorrow and the slight shake to his hands. She thinks of it as weakness, as something to be quelled down, stamped out, before it can grow and take hold of a person, drag them under until they’re nothing but despair and grief and heartbreak.

I have stories of my own, she thinks, and I bear them all inside me like weights.

Irina clamps down on the wave of hate that passes through her, and Laura smoothes Jack’s hair from his forehead, presses a kiss to the skin.

He grabs at her hand, holds her still a moment, twists up to sitting and looks her in the eye. There are no words for a moment, just the soft sound of leaves and quiet winds, the whistle of the birds up above.

Jack kisses her then, the slow sweet kiss Irina has come to fear, to hate; Laura leans into him, fits her palm against his cheek, smiles against his lips. She plays this part with such perfection, Laura so wholly outside herself, that Irina has begun to think her body halved, think herself split right in two. There are lines to her now, boundaries no one can see, borders marked out and drawn thickly inside herself; it’s important to her, that she knows where Laura ends and Irina begins.

Jack pulls away, a coy, shy smile on his face. One hand on her knee, he reaches the other to his bag, slides a hand deep in the pockets. Laura narrows her eyes, lifts the corners of her mouth in a smile.

Jack kisses her again, more timid, less sure, and leans his forehead to hers. Irina feels him press a ring into her palm, feels the cold metal of the band and the hard stone of the diamond, feels Jack’s breath quiver and his hand shake.

"Marry me," he says, and kisses her quickly, closes her fingers around the ring. His palm against her cheek, he raises her eyes to his own, runs a thumb along her jaw. "Marry me," he repeats.

Irina clenches her fist, digs her nails into her skin, closes her hand tighter around the band. She shuts her eyes, breathes out low. "Yes," Laura says.

--

Irina sits still on the bed, fingers pressed to her wounds to slow the bleeding. She is rigid, stiff, forcefully composed. The air around her is charged, filled up with sadness and heartache and tears she cannot let loose; all the pain and feeling bottled up inside her, she is full to the brim and still she feels like so much empty space, hollows contained by sinew and bone.

The sounds of bells slowly spread through the room, past the drawn curtains and through the cold air. They ring out a time she cannot comprehend, speak a language that is foreign to her, that is beyond all the multitudes of words that she knows; something in her cracks, another part smoothing over.

This is grief, she decides.

Irina lays back, curls into herself, wraps long arms around longer legs, thighs to the flat of her stomach. The thick sound of metal on metal presses against her, and she shuts her ears.

--

Rain beats against the apartment window, and the lights flicker; it’s quick, the way the brightness cuts out and back again, and if Irina were someone else, someone less trained to detect the subtlety of things, she’d probably think she imagined it. She pulls her sweater tighter around her shoulders and settles deeper against the arm of the couch.

Jack’s got his feet in Laura’s lap, is doing the crossword puzzle in pen. "How like him, his wife thinks, running a hand over the arch of his foot, "so sure and silent, so definite." Laura turns a page of her book, tucks her hair behind her ear and Jack looks up. He smiles over the newspaper, his eyes light and shining.

Outside, car horns sound and brakes squeal—LA in the rain is an entity all its own, chaotic and sudden and wild. Irina thinks of blizzards, snow thick and unrelenting, wind sharp as knives. There is a delicacy about this town, a softness about this city that she’s always disliked, has come to hate. Despite herself, she misses wide Virginia winters, the long expanses of white, clear snow almost reminding her of home, of Moscow, of the smell of her grandmother’s cooking and the sound of her father’s voice, free of vodka and full of warmth. These are things she reminds herself of, things she’s needed to remember of late, the parts of her mind, her history, her life that are Irina’s. "Moi devochki, moi krasavitsy," her father says, and something in Laura falls away.

Irina has a history, a past, and it is not Laura’s. They are not from the same place, seem hardly from the same time, and their stories are different, their histories hardly overlapping. Irina’s father was a drunk who died years ago in a cold Russian winter. Laura’s father was an English teacher who died shortly after her high school graduation, he and her mother becoming spun in twisted metal as their car slid off the highway and down a ravine. Laura still doesn’t like to talk about it.

Jack leans his head back, yawns, runs a hand over his eyes. It’s Sunday and it’s raining and they’re spending it talking and not talking, always together and always touching. It’s rare for them to have an afternoon like this, both of them in the same room, on the same continent; Jack’s been traveling more lately, his work on Project Christmas having stalled—he’s been sent to Bangkok, to Madrid, to Seoul and Leningrad. Laura knows these things because he tells her, because she takes him in her arms when he comes home beaten and bruised and she kisses and soothes the parts of him that are hurting. Laura leaves the lights off so he can sleep, reads instead of watches TV so as to keep the house quiet; Irina searches his briefcase when his breathing is deepest, codes messages into library books while he heals.

He told her two years ago, a week before they were married, told Laura about Langley and secret ops and things she’d been careful not to ask about, told Irina nothing she hadn’t already known. Laura had cried and worried and thought about calling off the wedding; Irina had laughed inside and thought again how easy this could be.

A sudden clap of thunder, and she starts, is pulled from her thoughts by the loud sounds of the sky. Laura knows that if she asked him, Jack could explain the thunder, explain the way the sky seems to contract and throw itself upon the earth, explain about electrical charges and things she has no head for; but the road was wet the night Laura’s parents died, the night their car went off the road with Laura in the back seat, when the metal pierced her ribs and gave her all her scars, and she still doesn’t like to talk about it.

The power goes out, the room becoming so full of shadows, and Jack sets his crossword puzzle on the couch, rises with the agility of a man used to smooth, swift movement. Before Laura can think, Jack’s lips are on her neck, his hands in her hair, and she’s dropped her book onto the floor, the soft thud lost in the strength of the rain against the window.

Jack lays her back on the couch, presses his body to hers. Irina glides hands across his back, lays thick kisses against his neck. Later, after, when they’re finally still, Laura settles beside him, and Jack tucks himself against his wife.

Within Irina, cells start to multiply and divide, and life begins to grow and take hold. Some things, she finds, aren’t easy at all.

--

She lies on the bed, hands clasped around her knees, and breathes in deep. The bells have silenced, replaced by the low hum of the fan overhead, the blades cutting through air. She watches the motion, the repetition round and round.

She thinks suddenly of Sydney as a baby, barely born, barely breathing, barely alive. She’d held her close that day, the urge to protect her suddenly strong, suddenly fierce—it was the truest feeling she’d known. Something inside her had shifted, widened, made room for this new emotion; it’s the place in her now that aches, the space inside that burns.

Behind her eyes, round cheeks are replaced with burnt hollows, Sydney’s body falling away to ash. Her vision goes unfocused, the fan blurs away. Her lids drop and she squeezes her eyes shut against the images, against the memories, against her own imagination. Fitfully, finally, she falls into sleep.

--

The car glides smoothly down the road and Sydney laughs from the back seat, her young voice high and clear. Irina keeps one eye on the road, checks the rearview mirror for a glimpse of her daughter’s curly hair, her wide smile. Sydney’s dressed in pink, frilly and sweet, headed to dance class to learn things young girls learn—how to bow, how to twirl, how to spin.

They reach the small building and Laura emerges from the car, feels Sydney’s hand in hers almost immediately. She’s half-tugged to the building, sees other mother’s with equally enthusiastic young girls. Irina’s one of many, a part of this group, her sweet smile spread across her face. She lifts a hand, waves at a friend—Laura is a part of this town, this community, her face well-known and her peach pie near-famous.

Once inside, she presses a kiss to Sydney’s cheek, watches her run to the center of the room, join the small group of girls gathered there, each one pink and pretty and perfect. A knot grows in Irina’s throat, a stone settles in her stomach. Her eyes linger on her daughter a moment before she breathes out, turns away.

Back in the car, Irina starts to shake. Her hands are cold and her face white, something like fear running through her, settling deep into the parts of herself she’s been trained to keep numb. The sun blurs her vision and she shivers; she’s going to meet Arvin Sloane.

They’d been having a small birthday party for Sydney, Jack and Laura hosting a few of his friends from work, a few of her friends from school, with wives and husbands and children. It wasn’t something Irina ever enjoyed, but the sky was bright and the breeze was soft and the smile on Sydney’s face was dazzling. Laura played the perfect hostess while Irina shook with fear—of being recognized from surveillance videos, being remembered from shootouts. She’s shot the men she’s dined with, assassinated their colleagues, killed their friends, and still fills their drinks with a steady hand and insides so twisted up she feels like fainting.

Irina had left Sydney with Emily, who shook up a snow globe Sydney had gotten as a gift; the white flakes had swirled and fallen and Sydney had smiled and laughed. Irina thought of Moscow, of her family, before she turned and walked into the kitchen, ran a hand along the small of Jack’s back, pressed a kiss to his shoulder. He’d piled raw meet on to trays, readied steaks for the grill, and smiled wide and happy. She’s dined with kings and presidents, been spread beneath rich hands and presented with jewels, but Irina favors Jack most of all. It’s a weakness, she knows, but one she takes pleasure in, losing herself to his touch and his voice and his love; the lines between Irina and Laura, the boundaries she’d once been so sure of, have faded and stretched, been redrawn and erased to suit her moods and her temperament. She is still an agent, still cunning and swift when he can’t see, still ruthless in all the ways she must be, but she’s softer now, parts of her smoothed over and fine; it’s less important to her than it was before, knowing where Laura ends and Irina begins. Jack and Sydney have done this to her, and she’s let them.

Laura watched Jack cross the kitchen, smiled at him as he walked to the backyard and the grill. She heard footsteps behind, saw Arvin coming down the hall towards her, hooded eyes set against coy smile. She’d never liked him, never trusted the way he looked at her or the feel of his hand on her arm. There was something in him half-hidden, coiled deep down in the darkest parts of his body, something dangerous and hard; Irina recognized too much of this in herself, but there was something else, something she couldn’t fit a name to, that made her stomach tighten and her fingers clench.

Arvin stopped, crossed his arms, leaned against the kitchen wall—there was something too relaxed in his posture, something too comfortable, too sure. A pang of fear ran through her, but she smiled and gave a laugh.

"Come to help me cook?" Laura asked, voice high and tight. Arvin didn’t move, kept his eyes steady as he watched her cross the room to the refrigerator at his side, stop with her feet inches from his.

As she leaned into the fridge, went to pull out plates of vegetables to be grilled, she heard Arvin’s voice. "Kazhetsya, ty ego lyubish," he said. His tongue tripped lightly over the Russian sounds like they were nothing at all.

Irina’s hand faltered, her breathing stopped altogether. Instinctively, she coiled into herself, curled in her shoulders and lowered her head. She didn’t pull back, didn’t move a step. His voice speaking those words in her language, and her eyes narrowed, her heart quickened. She’d been silent too long, hadn’t laughed or feigned confusion, and an attempt at ignorance now would be futile. She was caught, cornered, trapped like all the men she’s gone after, blood as cold as the agents’ she’s killed.

Arvin moved behind her, took a step closer. "Ya vsyo znayu, Laura," he whispered, one hand encircling her waist. He leaned in, pressed his lips against her neck; Irina froze. "We’re the same, you and I."

Irina’s pulled from her reverie by the sound of car horns honking, looks up to see a green light and her still stopped at the line. She presses the gas, starts off again toward the hotel, toward Arvin. She can already feel his hands on her, too small, too slender. She imagines it’s Jack’s hands on her waist, his voice in her ear, every time.

--

When she wakes, the sun’s no longer spilling under and around the thick curtains and the room’s dark and silent, the fan no longer turning. She sits up, feels stiff and drained, feels splintered like thin wood. The glass beneath the once-whole mirror is gone, no longer dotting the carpet or spread on the dresser.

She’s anxious suddenly—someone’s been here, been with her in this room while she slept. She rises silently, winces at the pain in her feet. Practiced eyes scan the room, but slowly, lazily; imminent danger no longer carries the same threat.

Irina crosses to the door, enters the main room with barely a cursory look around. It is no more than shadows, moonlight shining through the large window.

Her eyes settle on a figure in the corner chair, the one facing the bedroom door.

Jack.

--

The ground is cold beneath Irina where she sits, knees pressed to her chest, and despite herself she shivers. The chains at her wrists bite at her flesh, seem to cut at her all the way down to the bone. Outside her cell she hears voices, low, rumbling whispers, and plaintive, exhausted cries.

There are no windows, no glimpses of sky or wild, living things. She is alone, trapped by walls with only her memories and grief for company.

"Let me tell you a story, Irochka," her mother says from beside her. Irina turns her head, sees dark hair falling over a slender shoulder, sees the love in her mother’s eyes. She blinks and the vision is gone.

Then Jack is beside her, running a hand over her knee, down the bone of her shin, and up again, higher, to the plane of her thigh. "I love you, Laura," he says and Irina is almost ill, is suddenly crying, is suddenly alone.

When she’d first arrived, she’d imagined Jack broken and grieving, Sydney pale and confused; she had seen their heartbreak, had felt it mirrored in her own body, in the constriction of her chest and the knot of pain in her center. She’d entered Muzafarebad thinking she’d nothing left to lose, but the sure swell of her belly after months in her cell had proven her wrong—she’d had more to give and they’d taken that too. Chained to a hospital bed, legs splayed and breathing labored, she’d called for Jack, pictured his face as she’d seen it last, smiling and happy and calm.

Now in her cell, she thinks back to the day that she left, a lazy afternoon on the couch, her body tucked against Jack’s. Sydney napping upstairs, he’d read the paper and she’d read a novel; he’d questioned her about it, asked whether it was a thriller, a mystery, a classic.

"It’s a love story," she’d said, pressing the book into his hands.

A cell opens nearby and Irina turns toward the sound, raises her head toward the hallway. The click of heeled boots and murmurs of whispered pleas fade away and the silence returns, presses against her body, her eyes, her mind.

Irina leans her head back, hears her sisters younger and at play. “Stop, Lena—come back!” Katya cries, her arms spread and legs scrambling while Elena runs away, laughter trailing behind—they are each no more than nine, still happy and innocent. Since then, she’s seen Elena shoot men at close range, seen Katya stand still while a stranger’s blood sprayed her face, seen both wide-eyed and crazy with rage. Regretfully, she imagines, half-mad in a stone cell in Kashmir, that she’s been changed least of all.

Irina turns one hand over the other, twists her fingers round themselves just to feel skin, just to feel anything; she’s half-sure she’s dead when her cell door opens and a man steps inside. Boots buffed to a shine and clothes well-tailored and expensive, Gerard Cuvee stands before her, smug smile on his disgustingly handsome face.

Walking towards her, she shrinks back, folds in on herself until she’s thin as air, small as a stone; fear clings to the walls, drips from the ceiling, and Irina’s breathing slows, her throat constricting, choking on all that horror.

"Irina." Cuvee’s voice is smooth and even, his posture relaxed, eyes alight. He enjoys this, enjoys the sight of her cowering before him—the famed Irina Derevko, reduced to so many quivering bones and pale tears. He takes a step closer, stops just before her. "Stand up," he whispers, voice silky as oil, faint as poison; she doesn’t move.

"Stand up," he repeats, his voice firmer. When she fails still to move, he bends at the waist, grabs her firmly by the arms. Standing her on her feet, he presses her back to the wall and she feels the bones of her spine against the hard stone; she’s lost weight, grown thin over the months since she gave birth, her body shrinking, pulling in on itself, refusing to replace the life that’s been taken.

His hands are light on her arms, barely touching her and still she recoils. He fills her with dread, with loathing, with revulsion, but she is no longer strong, could not fight him if she had to, could not find the strength or will. She is a different person than who she once was; where there used to be two women, now there are many, multitudes of women in her ears, before her eyes—her mother, her grandmother, her sisters, her daughters. The cell is small, is empty, crowded.

Cuvee leans forward, runs a finger over the tender skin at her wrists; she winces, sucks in a breath. He presses his lips to her neck, firm and demanding, and his hands grasp her elbows. "You are mine now, Ira," Cuvee says, his breath hot in her ear. "No one’s coming to save you, blyad."

"A poshyol ty," she spits at him, pulling her head away.

He’s before her suddenly, face warped and thin and ugly. The back of his hand connects with her cheek, and she tastes blood. He stalks toward her, runs strong hands over her shoulders, pins her against the wall, his hips to hers.

Jack’s face floats before her eyes, Sydney’s head on his shoulder. "I can hate him," she’d said to Katya. "Ya smugo, Katenka. I will." Jack’s face fades away, Sydney’s body gone to black.

"Gospodi, spasi i sokhrani," she hears—"God, have mercy"—from a voice that sounds startlingly like her own. She feels rough lips against her shoulder and thinks to herself, "There is no god here."

--

His face is drawn, his eyes hollowed; he looks no better than she feels. When she comes into the room, he doesn’t rise, doesn’t move hardly at all, simply breathes in and out and in again.

He looks guarded against something, against her. He expects her to rage, to cry, to howl and moan; she has not reached that point, has not yet begun to mourn—she is grieving now and to her there is a difference. Mourning implies healing, implies acceptance and resignation, and she wants no part of any of those things.

She stands in the doorway, one arm on a chair back, another at her side. She sways slightly on her feet; she’s not eaten in days, has had little to drink besides. She is empty inside, void of food, of water, of life—in this bareness too, there is familiarity. She feels cavernous and deep and ripped apart and exposed; something inside her is broken, something that was never quite whole.

She meets Jack’s eyes, feels the weight his glance carries, feels the way his own heartbreak fills the air.

He rises, takes a step toward her; she takes a step back.

--

"Itsu kyouyako wa danshimasu ka?" Iseki’s voice is low, words coated with liquor and heat. The smoke of the bar makes them all sound thick and dangerous; even without the smoke, they carry their own threats, their own weight. There is no surviving in this business, she’s found, without the promise of pain.

"The deal is complete when the arms are delivered," she replies in English, staking her ground. This is her syndicate, her deal, her terms. Beside her, Cuvee smiles.

A waitress walks over, sets drinks on the table in front of them. Irina sees Iseki eye the young woman, sees the way he leers at her, the curl of his lips—she feels Cuvee’s fingers tighten on her thigh and slowly leans away. She gives the girl a steady stare, a disapproving smile, then lifts her drink to her lips. Cuvee’s touch is long familiar now, but sometimes she still thinks of Jack.

"And you can be trusted?" Iseki’s English carries only a hint of his Japanese accent, his words clipped and direct. Irina appreciates this, his straight-forward attitude—she suffers no fools, bears no artifice but her own. She is a force, stronger than ever before. This is what she’s become.

"I can be trusted to deliver on our agreement, yes." Her words are pointed, her real meaning implied: I can be trusted that far and no further. Iseki seems to understand, lifting his hand for the check.

Out of the corner of her eye, Irina sees a young girl, no more than 15, being pulled into the lap of a well-dressed Japanese businessman, his large hands around her small waist. Her smile is forced, her movements awkward. The man runs a hand over her cheek and the girl turns away, turns her face toward Irina, and something in her eyes brings thoughts of Sydney. She doesn’t know this girl, can’t imagine her story or her past, but the things Sydney’s been robbed of—her mother, her father, her childhood, her faith—the same things are lacking from this girl’s face. Sydney has not been pushed to the streets, not been forced to sell pieces of her body and her soul for what little money she can get, but Irina recognizes the resignation, the sadness, from the pictures of her daughter she receives every few months.

Often Sydney’s with friends, rarely she’s with Jack; Irina considers this a blessing—she’s left Jack now, has no intention of ever going back to or seeing him again, and his absence from her surveillance photos serves to reinforce her will. Sydney is a necessity, as central to life as breathing; Jack is a luxury, and a painful one at that. Irina has only so much room for self-inflicted pain, and the sadness in Sydney’s eyes fills her to the brim every time.

Irina regards the young Japanese girl, takes in the bend of her neck and the turn of her wrists. She and Sydney are about the same age now, Irina thinks, their bodies so young, but their souls so old. She knows of this firsthand, the way loss changes a person, ages them roughly, without mercy. The lines of her eyes tell their own tales.

Irina turns away, sees Iseki watching her with hooded eyes, and begins to rise. She feels Cuvee’s hand on her thigh, keeping her still, and his breath is hot against her ear. "We could stay," he says, voice slightly slurred. He was a necessary evil once, the man who removed her from her cell. He’d made her his whore; she’d made herself his partner. He’s since become a burden, holding her back, pulling her down. Long ago, she swore to be rid of such things.

"We’re leaving," she says, voice hard, eyes narrowed. Without waiting for him, she walks out of the club, eyes moving over faces, over shadows. She sees the young woman, still so reminiscent of Sydney, being led away by the business man. The girl looks at her with pleading eyes, and Irina turns and walks away.

--

Jack crosses the room, walks past her without speaking. He flicks on the lamp behind her and doesn’t turn around.

Irina drops her head, lowers her eyes to the floor. She draws a hand to her stomach, imagines the swell and the curves of her figure with Sydney inside her, imagines the flutter of Sydney’s heartbeat in time with her own. Eyes burning, her hand falls away.

She walks forward, slowly, stops at the window. After a moment, Jack crosses the room, stops just beside her, doesn’t turn his face to hers. Together they look down on St. Mark’s Square from twelve stories up, the lights and tourists and vendors mingling together, the roar of the crowd muted at this height. The silence invades the room, settles itself in every inch of spare space, fills the distance between Jack and Irina.

They should speak, should share stories and memories, build up their history like a shield around themselves, protect their bodies from this pain; but there is too much space between them, too many miles and memories—even in Sydney’s death, they are too far apart.

Irina studies Jack’s face in his reflection in the window. His eyes are worn, his stare unsettling, his posture tired. She breathes in a shaky breath and meets his gaze on the glass. Their daughter is dead, and already there is nothing left to say.

Voices filter in from the hallway—"Vorresti mangiare qualcosa?"—and Irina turns away. She crosses the room, drops onto the couch.

There are parts inside her, she knows, that still belong to Laura, that still recall a quieter time and a gentler woman. She’s realized, belatedly, that there came a time when Laura was as much a lie to Irina as she was to Jack. She doesn’t know if he knows this, doesn’t know if he’d care—regardless, she isn’t going to tell him.

Jack’s still facing the window, looking out on the city, but he’s got his eyes closed; he’s defenseless, unguarded. This, more than anything, stirs up something inside her, something, strangely enough, that is too close to rage.

Her voice is sharp when she speaks, sharp like glass, like knives, like pain. "You should’ve stopped them." It is cruel, she knows—she’s playing into his guilt, adding to his own heartbreak, but this, at least, is familiar, well-tread territory. A part of her remembers stone walls and handcuffs, ankles shackled to stirrups and smiling faces behind thick glass, but this is different, is separate. This is no pain she’s known before.

At her words, Jack sucks in a breath, opens his eyes, does not speak. She continues, blindly, cruelly. "You could’ve done something. I left her with you, to take care of her, and you couldn’t even do that. You couldn’t stop them from getting to her, and—"

When he turns, the look in his eyes is piercing and broken, his voice low and fierce. "Don’t talk to me about abandoning our daughter." He’s so angry he’s shaking, and he takes a step toward her; despite herself, she sinks back into the couch. "The number of times you’ve left her without giving it a second thought, and you have the audacity to—"

"I’m sorry." It’s not the first time she’s apologized, and is unlikely to be the last. There is something in her tone that’s less than genuine, that’s slightly forced—but even this, from her, is more than she’s used to giving. "I just...She’s gone." Irina’s voice cracks, her eyes filling. She extends a hand, slowly; it’s small, the gesture, but it’s enough, right now. A tear streaks down her cheek and Jack’s features soften.

Things are not forgiven, and the space between them is still too wide to bridge, but their daughter is dead are their souls are too close to broken. Jack crosses the room in two swift strides.

His kisses are hard and strong, nothing like the soft, slow kisses that she’d feared would pull her under all those years ago. His touch is not comforting or soothing, is not gentle or loving; it’s something else entirely, something she has never known from him, something she hopes never to feel again.

This is mourning, she decides.

--
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