Notes: Takes place during Sydney's Lost Years. Many thanks to crazythorn and kisskisskiss for the betas. truncated the actual title, which is "The Hurting Is So Painless From The Distance Of Passing Cars", which is wonderfully long and pretentious.
It's a quiet morning, and Jack soaks it in. Los Angeles is never this quiet, this still. Jack likes it, the silence.
It rained last night, and it looks as tough it will rain again. Jack doesn't mind, really. He's never really minded the rain, even welcomes it, occasionally.
He sits in the hotel's restaurant, eating breakfast. A cursory scan tells him that there are three people behind him, four people in front. None of them look threatening at the moment, but that could change. Anything about this situation could change at any moment. He knows he's paranoid, but he also knows that paranoia will keep him alive.
A waiter pours him a glass of orange juice, and Jack sniffs it, just in case. It's a futile measure, really. Odorless, tasteless, colorless poisons are easy to get. Jack wouldn't know what hit him. But it's a habit, and it can't hurt.
His mission today is simple: get some papers from the Russian embassy. It's something Jack could have done in his sleep, but he doesn't mind. He's been taking every mission he's free for, regardless of the size or significance, just to fill the days. Just for something to distract him.
Irina has new intel, a few more leads. It's not much, or she would have given it to him already. Jack should resent her for that, but he doesn't have the energy anymore. He doesn't have the energy for a lot of things anymore. He should be hunting down Sloane, perhaps. The man is responsible for getting them into this, for bringing Sydney into this business, but Jack doesn't care.
Jack tries not to think of Sydney, her smile, her presence, her life. It doesn't work. Sydney has always occupied -- will always occupy -- his thoughts. She's everything he has left to live for. He can't fail her. He can't give up on her.
They offered him a ride to the embassy, but he turned it down. Today, he wants to walk. Just because he can.
Sydney liked London. Jack never really understood it, since she was always loved bright sunlight and clear skies.
He thinks that maybe he should have asked her when he had the chance.
Jack sees Irina almost by accident as he walks through the London streets. She stands near the curb, seemingly waiting for a cab, long hair floating in the brisk wind and black coat allowing her to disappear into the masses, to fade into the background. Jack almost doesn't see her himself. For a second, she glances up from the street and looks straight at him.
It takes him by surprise, and he has to fight his instinctual reaction to make a double take.
She smiles at that, facing the street again, but doesn't acknowledge him in any other way.
Jack was expecting some sort of communication. He just didn't know that she'd be here in person.
Then again, Irina always did like throwing him off guard, just to see what he would do. He does resent her for that, but it lacks bite.
Jack still hates her. He hasn't forgiven her for anything. But it's dulled, useless, now. He has nothing left in him to feel. All that disappeared when Sydney did. The emptiness is better than the pain. It always is.
The street is a crowded area, full of noise and people. Some notice her, some don't (even though she doesn't want to be seen, not today, not here). To Jack, she stands out, vibrant and deadly.
She wanders through the crowd in an almost random pattern, but Jack can see that she's moving toward him. So they don't know each other, then. Just two people on the street, who accidentally bump into one another. ("Oh," she says, as if it were really an accident, mouth in an almost-smirk. He'd just nodded and walked along.) They've never met before. The disk she slides into his pocket doesn't exist.
He's not someone who craves her touch.
Jack's house in LA has always been quiet. It's a habit, too, a leftover from the days at SD-6. At times, you can hear the shower running, maybe the sink. Other times, there's the click-clack of typing. Those have been there for ages, since Jack bought it.
The house seems even quieter these days, muted somehow, as if noise would disturb Jack and his grief.
When Jack gets back to his hotel room with the papers (from the Russian embassy) and the disk (from Irina), he has the urge to take short nap, though he hasn't done really done anything today. Maybe he's just getting old.
He dozes off on top of the covers after he's taken his disguise off, after he begins to feel like himself again. He's still wearing his socks. They're grey, though darker than the clouds outside his window.
The rain wakes him a few hours later. It's not loud, just a quiet pit-pat, but Jack wakes anyway.
He's not very surprised to see Irina there, watching him. A little, he has to admit, but he knows she wouldn't just show up for a quick exchange of information. There's too much risk involved for so little gain.
"Hello," he says, sitting up and stretching. He doesn't ask how she found him or how she got in here. He doesn't particularly care. It's not like she'd tell him anything anyway.
She smiles, though there's something sad in her eyes, and he can't help but understand.
"It's all I have. Make good use of it." She doesn't mention that she's talking about the disk and that the information on the disk is everything she has on their daughter's disappearance. She doesn't have to.
Jack nods, a slight tilt of the head. It might contain something, some lead that just might sound to familiar to the friend of a friend of one of his contacts. He doubts it, though. Jack has always prided himself on being realistic.
So, only the barest of leads. Jack guesses he can live with that, as it's something. Not much, but still something.
"So, what brings you here?" he asks. He thinks he knows already, but he's not sure. He's fully aware of how little he understands her.
She studies him for a few seconds, before he meets her gaze levelly. He can't read her eyes.
"You," she says. Her frankness takes him by surprise. It's probably the only time Irina has ever given him a simple, succinct answer, and her directness throws him off guard (again).
He doesn't know how to respond that, so he just nods.
He never tells Irina that he doesn't love her, because he doesn't like lying when he can help it and he doesn't think she'd believe him anyway.
"It's raining," Irina says, glancing out the window. Her lips are quirking now, as if she's amused and she doesn't want to show it. Of course, Jack knows that Irina never shows anything she doesn't want to show. He envies her serenity sometimes, when his control comes close to breaking, when he gives himself away.
"It is raining," Jack confirms. He's not sure where she's going with this, and he might as well let her carry the conversation. She did, after all, start it.
He sits on his bed, back to the headboard. He never pulled back the sheets, and the comforter is only slightly rumpled. It seems right, somehow, to leave the bed the way he found it. Like no one was ever here.
Irina watches him, and he still can't read her eyes. This should upset him more than it does. "I was thinking of the first time you kissed me," she says. Her tone is wistful.
It was raining that day, an unexpected downpour. Jack doesn't like to think about if he doesn't have to. They were wet, he was young, and Irina was probably trying to manipulate the situation in her favor anyway. It was good moment, one that he doesn't want perspective on. He can keep it real that way (as real as it possibly can be). He doesn't want to know what Irina thought of it, thinks of it. So he says nothing. The memory is tainted already. No need to taint it further.
She says nothing else, and Jack is grateful. The bile was already beginning to rise in his throat, and it was taking everything in him to stop himself from snapping back. She knows exactly how to cut him.
He sighs, and resists the urge to rub his temples. He feels useless. He should be doing something, anything, besides sitting here. He should be looking for Sydney at this moment. He shouldn't be sitting here, staring out the window at the rain. But he can't think of anything better to do.
Irina glances at him, and he wonders what she sees. Does she compare him to his younger self? (He compares her to Laura every second they're together.) He knows he doesn't (can't possibly) match up, but there's no point in caring. It's not as if he could go back to being him any more than Irina could go back to being Laura. There's too much between them now. They are what they are.
Jack wonders what Irina called him behind his back, while they were married. "That capitalist pig, Bristow," perhaps? Or maybe just "Agent Bristow."
He figures that, in the end, regardless of what it was, she probably shortened it to "Jack".
It's much easier to say.
Irina slides into his lap and kisses him deeply, and despite everything that has happened over the last year, over the last thirty years, he kisses her back. The kiss is slow and wet, heavy with sadness and something else that he's not sure he wants to define.
It's a habit, he thinks, like sniffing a drink for poisons. Something you just do, because it's too familiar not to.
But he wants this, he dreams of this. Not a habit then, a drug, a temporary relief from the world. That's probably why he can't get away. And maybe he doesn't want to.
Her lips drift over his face, his neck, his ears. He can feel her breath on his skin. Is this her drug too? Does she want this release?
Or is it just one more manipulation?
Jack wouldn't put it past her. He knows that she'd use him and discard him without second thought. She betrays people the same way she breathes. Jack knows this, and he doesn't really care. She loves Sydney; that's all that matters. That's what he can trust. Not her betrayals, not her lies. Her love.
He doesn't want to think that maybe some of this is for his own benefit, that maybe he can forgive her (that he wants to forgive her). It would mean that he is susceptible, weak, that she has an opportunity to hurt him again.
"What are you thinking about?" she whispers into his ear as her fingers slide under his shirt and trace his ribs. There's a slight edge to it, and her nails dig into his skin. (Laura never liked to scratch. Irina loves it. Jack wasn't very surprised to discover this difference between them.)
"You." It's the truth.
"Good," she says. He thinks she smiles against his neck.
Jack remembers what it was like to be happy (not even completely happy, just a little). It wasn't that long ago.
He remembers Sydney's smile, her laugh, and tries to think of world where he'll never hear them again.
He's not sure he wants to live in it.
It's still raining when Jack takes a taxi to the airport. Irina doesn't go with him. ("I have other business to attend to," she had said, straightening his clothes. He had only nodded, because really, what else was there to say?)
Heathrow is busy; it always is. Jack makes his way through check-in, through security, through the crowds of people. It's familiar at least, repetitive, a habit in its own right.
He watches people sleep in chairs, waiting for their flights, jackets splayed out on them like blankets. They could be attacked by anyone at any moment, tagged, bugged, robbed, killed. Sleeps exposes you in that way, makes you vulnerable. He envies them, their casual trust in the kindness of strangers.
A young woman stands by the restrooms, holding the hand of a young boy. Her hair is dark and brown, her smile easy and kind. She reminds him of Laura (because it was never Irina he saw then), all beauty and light. Hope had come so easily to him then. Laura grounded him, gave him time to just be. He'd given her everything he could. Everything he thought she deserved. He feels old now, as if all the optimism drained out of him years ago. Maybe it has.
Jack never asks Irina about that time, how she felt about marrying him, about having their daughter. He's afraid of hearing the answer. It could destroy the fragile barrier he has erected between them. If she never loved him, he's free to hate he. His hate can protect him the moment she inevitably betrays him again (and he has no doubt that she will, after Panama). Maybe he can survive trusting her again, but he's not really sure he wants to find out.
There's a voice over the loudspeaker, announcing his flight. About time. Jack gathers his things (a suitcase, a jacket, a newspaper) and walks toward his gate. He's going back to Los Angeles, a place that should be home, but the thought offers no comfort.
It's not home, not really, not without Sydney there. He thinks Irina would understand, in her own way.