"Insomniacs"

Irina Derevko, alias Laura Bristow, had not slept in over a year.

Before the one nap she had taken in a motel near the California-Mexico border, it had been six years.

To get rest, Irina employed a technique of meditation. Forty-five minutes of deep meditation equaled eight hours' sleep. Tonight, after almost forty-eight hours of torture in the Indian prison, she wanted nothing more than to lay on the hard, smelly cot and close her eyes. There was just no more energy left to begin meditating.

She wondered how she looked. She could feel the dull throb of a bruise on her left cheek, and blood dried from slashes on her arms. She had been submerged in murky, icy water, electrocuted and beaten with dull metal objects. When they had been convinced that she knew nothing – or perhaps when they had tired of torturing her – she was thrown in a damp, dank cell. She wore only a thin camisole and pants with a broken elastic. Her hair was frizzed and matted with sweat and blood.

She looked through the bars and saw another woman across the way, curled in a fetal position on the floor. She was mumbling to herself incoherently. She, too, had been beaten, Irina surmised. Otherwise, this wing of the prison seemed empty.

Irina wanted to sleep. Her body was so tired and broken. Only sleep would heal her. As her eyelids began to droop closed, she thought of laughing brown eyes and chestnut-brown hair. Jack's hands grasped Irina's waist, and his face pressed into her hair, breathing in deeply. A young voice calling her Mommy. Irina hadn't wanted to be extracted, put off the moment for as long as possible. That final day, she couldn't hold it off any longer. Couldn't hold them off any longer. She held on to Jack's hand a little tighter, hugged Sydney for a little longer. But she knew. She knew Laura was dying tonight. And knew that Irina would come back to life.

As Irina tried to sleep, she imagined her daughter's face, which she had seen only weeks before. But she could not remember it.

Irina's eyes remained open.

***

Sydney Bristow did not sleep. Since the moment she woke in an unfamiliar alley in Hong Kong, she was afraid of it. She was afraid of losing time, losing friends, losing her family.

It had only been four months since that day, but even after her meeting with Kendall, she still knew nothing. The answers to questions she had had only led to more questions, complicated ones that made her head hurt.

She stood before the granite slab and placed the lilies on top of her friend's grave. It seemed surreal to see her name on the tombstone, and Sydney began to weep.

Francine Calfo. Beloved daughter, aunt and friend.

It was seven in the evening on a Friday night, and Sydney had nowhere to go. Francie was gone. Everyone else had changed, as if the earth had shifted upon its axis, and Sydney was left behind.

She sank to her knees and wept openly, mourning her best friend's death and remembering her life, her vitality, her laughter and kindness.

"I'm sorry I never told you," Sydney whispered leaning over to kiss the stone. Flat, clear drops fell upon it. She laid down and closed her eyes, finally drifting off into oblivion.

When Irina finished her training course at the KGB, she was called in for an evaluation. Her trainer held her file in one hand as she sat across the table, masking her nervousness quite successfully.

"Derevko," he stated flatly. Silence for a moment, and then he flipped the page, not even looking at her. "Your training comes to an end today … if you're judged to be proficient in all of the disciplines." Irina hid a smile. Weapons training, reconnaissance, computers, automotive, martial arts, endurance, even American history and languages: She had mastered them all, and in record time.

The trainer continued to turn pages, the sound of the paper flicking beneath his fingers to a slow, numbing rhythm. Finally, he stopped and looked Irina in the eye. One eyebrow was slightly raised. "It says here that your preference is to go to America."

Irina nodded, trying not to look too eager. The trainer sighed as he sat back in his chair and stroked his dark mustache. "Well, unfortunately, your psychological evaluation indicates that you would be unfit for undercover assignment."

Irina frowned, confused. She knew her psychological testing went well. The psychologist had even told her that he had never met anyone who was so methodical, so calculating – her mind worked like a machine. She was perfect for this. They both knew it. "I don't understand," Irina said.

"You talk in your sleep," the trainer told her flatly.

Irina's heart sank. But she immediately pushed the emotion out of her mind. "I can fix this," she told him.

"If you can do it in a week, you'll go to America," the trainer said. He sounded doubtful.

She didn't blink as she answered, "I'll be ready in two days."

***

Sydney told no one of her nightmares. Dreams in which she fought her doppelganger, a woman who looked like her in face and build, but had blonde hair and fought like an animal. When she awoke, she never bolted upright like they do in the movies; her eyes would open in the darkness and her muscles would be sore from being clenched and tensed.

Although she told no one, her father remarked earlier today at how tired she looked. She did not disagree; neither did she give an excuse or explanation.

Sydney remembered when she was a child and had nightmares. Her mother sat in the rocking chair all night, promising to stay awake and chase the nightmares away. Sydney would open her eyes periodically and peek through her eyelashes at her mother. Irina's eyes were always open, as promised, and she rocked slowly back and forth in a soothing rhythm.

One night, Sydney asked, "Mommy, don't you sleep?"

Her mother smiled serenely and deflected the answer. "You were dreaming about the carousel. I don't think the nightmares will come anymore." With that, she rose from the chair, kissed Sydney on the forehead and left the room. Sydney, as promised, slept soundly that night and ever after.

Until now.

Sydney's new apartment didn't feel like home. Not yet. She missed the sound of the bathroom faucet dripping water into the bathtub. She missed Mr. Holliway's cat scratching out on the front porch when he occasionally forgot to let her in. Most of all, she missed the sounds of Francie coming in late on weekends from the restaurant, trying to be quiet but always dropping her keys noisily on the counter and slamming her bedroom door a little too hard.

Sydney drifted off a bit, lulling herself into oblivion. Her eyes were closed but she was aware still of her surroundings. She waited for the doppelganger, the woman who called herself Julia Thorne. Sydney was ready for her tonight.

But Julia never came. Out of the shadows a silhouette appeared, but Sydney wasn't frightened. Her hair was long and chestnut-brown, pulled back in a loose, low ponytail. Sydney did not move. Her mother had returned.

"Mommy, I can't sleep … the nightmares …" she whispered.

"Shh," Irina said comfortingly. She sat in the rocking chair by the window. "Go to sleep. I'm here now."

Sydney nodded, sinking more deeply into her pillow.

She jerked awake as the sound of her alarm clock pierced the morning silence. She glanced at it, confused. It reflected the correct time, five o'clock. Had she really slept for seven whole hours? There were no nightmares; in fact, she hardly remembered dreaming at all – except for the one about her mother in the rocking chair.

Curiously, Sydney turned over to look at the chair.

It was still rocking slightly. She smiled and whispered thanks to her mother.

- Fin – 02.12.04