For Natushka, as part of yahtzee63's Dearly Departed Ficathon on lj. Thanks to scifichick774

Summary: For the first time, Jack Bristow is one hundred percent positive that he knows something about Irina to be true. Now he just has to find her to prove it.


And is this all? I thought, -and do we rip
The veil of Immortality? and crave
I know not what of honour and of light
Through unborn ages, to endure this blight?
So soon, and so successless? As I said,
The Architect of all on which we tread,
For Earth is but a tombstone, did essay
To extricate remembrance from the clay,
Whose minglings might confuse a Newton's thought,
Were it not that all life must end in one,
Of which we are but dreamers; -as he caught
As 'twere the twilight of a former Sun…1


I.

Fear no more the heat o' th' sun
Nor the furious winters' rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.2

It takes him five days from the moment his finger depresses the detonator to reach sky again.

It takes him seven days to make his way from the dig site in Mongolia to a safe house long forgotten, but now remembered.

It takes him four hours to hack into the CIA database from the computer he finds there to access the report on Irina's death.

And it takes him only half a second to realize that the woman who fell in Hong Kong was not Irina Derevko.

He's been fooled by her before - and if he looks back objectively, Jack Bristow can admit that he spent most of his mortal life finding ways to punish her for her duplicity and to punish himself for his stupidity.

But that was his life.

This is his afterlife.

The pragmatic part of Jack Bristow knows that this notion is a fanciful one at best - he's still alive, not dead, and comparing immortality to godliness or heaven is a dangerous comparison to make.

But he doesn't much care about such dangers in his present state. Unlike Arvin Sloane, Jack Bristow hasn't gained inner peace from Rambaldi's gift. He hasn't found the many centuries dead "prophet" to be a source of salvation. Though they may have had the bonds of distant daughters and a shared lover between them, there has always been a key difference between the two men; never more so obvious in that while Arvin continued to babble away about destiny and fate from his prone position beneath mountains of rubble within the cave, a resurrected Jack methodically cleared a path to the outside world and left the prostrate pilgrim behind.

No, Jack Bristow hasn't found the meaning of life, the path to Shangri-La, or even a greater appreciation for all of Earth's creatures from this transformative experience. If he had, Jack probably wouldn't have blasted shut the fissure in the rock face he had created to secure his escape, entombing his companion for eternity in the ruins of the cave.

Instead, all Jack has gained from the man who long ago set into motion a plan of Rube Goldbergian design - parchment, clocks, spheres, births, and betrayals all keyed to make Sydney's, and by extension, his life a living hell - is the ability to always heal, to never grow old, and to eschew the seductive maw of death completely.

And while the possibility of this "gift" would have been just the thing to make Irina obsessed, he knows with some sort of unmistakable clarity that she would never have turned her back on Sydney in those last moments.

He doesn't believe this like he believed Laura loved him. He doesn't understand this with the surety he understood that he'd never have a relationship with his daughter. He doesn't feel it as he felt the finality of his death.

But he does know it.

And there's only one way he can figure out just how or why.


II.

I have trod the upward and the downward slope;
I have endured and done in days before;
I have longed for all, and bid farewell to hope;

And I have lived and loved, and closed the door.3

His journey from his castoff sepulcher to the realization of Irina's survival may have only taken twelve days, four hours, and one half second to complete, but the process of proving that Irina is alive takes much, much longer. Being "dead" makes international travel difficult, but much more so when you can't hint to even your more trusted contacts that you're alive.

Jack Bristow knows what would become of him if anyone knew his circumstances. He's understood and accepted the importance of research on lab animals as an effective part of testing everything from nerve toxins to torture techniques, but that doesn't mean that he wants to be studied by humanity. So he keeps to the shadows, investigating any lead, no matter how obscure, for over two years without a single hint of her location.

In this time, he often thinks of visiting Sydney, but can't seem to make the journey to her without her mother by his side.

He never doubts that Irina's alive.

So when he finds her in Russia, the first and last place he ever should have looked, the shock and awe of their reunion falls quietly to the side of a burning need for kith and kin. The explanations of Irina-but-not-Irina's presence in Hong Kong take a backseat to the possibility of seeing their progeny flourishing against sunlit waves and warm sea air.

Or at least they do for Jack.


III.

For I am bound with fleshly bands,
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope;
strain my heart, I stretch my hands,

And catch at hope.4

As they travel the globe in anonymity, he watches Irina as she tries to puzzle out who assumed her place before the missile strike, who kept her incapacitated and unable to interfere, who took a cue from Anna Espinosa and affected a transformation. Who kept Irina sedated and weak so that she couldn't intercept the meeting of doppelganger and daughter.

Sometimes Jack wonders whether it's the idea of an imperfect copy that bothers Irina more than anything else.

Still, he watches as she looks for the answers to the "who" and the "why" of her deception. He notices as her frustrations mount as she finds herself constrained by the necessity of their ghost-like presence in the world. It's difficult to bully, cajole and torture the relevant information from sources without revealing that the reports of your death have been highly exaggerated.

Jack wonders about these things too, but in an abstract way. He knows that understanding the significance of every bit of intel isn't his job anymore and he hopes that someday it won't be Irina's preferred vocation or distraction.

He's never really hoped before - he decides to give it a try.

After all, he has plenty of time to decide whether or not it's a worthwhile pursuit.


IV.

A white well
In a black cave;
A bright shell

In a dark wave.5

Irina now knows who took over her operation once she made the laudable, but somewhat fatal, decision to scrap it, and Jack isn't all that surprised to find that her attentions shift focus to where his have always been.

The beach house is hard to find for anyone who is not Jack or Irina. But they made her; their daughter is a part of them and her thoughts laid bare. Concealing the tiny cameras and transmitters while the family takes a walk on the beach is a bit more difficult, but still a mere annoyance in the larger context of what is to be gained by this particular operation.

And as he watches Irina watch Isabelle on the tiny computer screen from their secure location, Jack finds himself mesmerized by the intent expression on his wife's face and the way her fingers clench as if to stop from reaching out and touching the electronic image before her.

And then he gets it.

He finally understands why he knew with such clarity that Irina was alive, that she hadn't betrayed Sydney for a sphere that rendered the bearer immortal and utterly cut off from mankind.

In fact, Jack realizes that he has known the reason why, even if neither he nor Irina understood it at the time, since the night of Isabelle's birth.

It's the reason why the real Irina decided not to go after the sphere in Mongolia and doesn't care, even though he knows she's burning with curiosity fed with years of obsession, to know the circumstances of his transformation even now.

Because Irina has already received the gift of immortality twice:

Sydney and Isabelle.

As he continues to watch Irina analyze, catalogue, and cherish every aspect of the granddaughter she will probably never be able to see again, Jack has never been more grateful for his ability to compartmentalize. He moves the part of his soul aching to have a partner in its immortality to the farthest recesses of himself - he has decades to figure out how to mourn that particular issue. He has lifetimes to come to terms with the fact that Irina does not.

Instead, he takes that moment to feel pride, and not a little conceit, in the fact that he directly, and indirectly, provided the means for Irina's initial, albeit somewhat fractured, salvation:

Sydney and Isabelle.

While their versions of immortality may differ, Jack knows that he and Irina will never truly be separated. And for the first time since Laura Bristow spun to her death on a slick patch of ice, he finds that he's at peace with their connection.


And by came an angel, who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins, and set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.6


Notes:

1From Lord Byron's "Churchill's Grave"
2From Shakespeare's Cymbelline, Act IV, Scene 2
3From Songs of Travel by Robert Louis Stevenson
4From "De Profundis" by Christina Rossetti
5From "Incantation," by Elinor Wylie
6From "The Chimney Sweeper" by William Blake