Disclaimer: Not my characters.
A/N: Set Post-Sevogda, in an alternate season five. The car crash never happened, either.
Warning: Character death.
Eternity in the Mirror
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in the mirror. But you are eternity, and you are the mirror. ("The Prophet" – Kahlil Gibran)
He follows her directions to the letter, taking a plane from Los Angeles to New York to Casablanca. From there it's a bumpy jeep ride to a town he's never heard of, an even more unpleasant camel ride out into the middle of the desert to where he finds himself blindfolded by an unsmiling man with skin the colour of dark chocolate.
Somehow, it's unsurprising to see Sark in front of him when the blindfold is finally removed. Jack says nothing and stares unblinkingly at the younger man.
Sark smiles. "I apologize for the inconvenience, Agent Bristow. Irina needed to be sure you weren't being followed."
Jack tilts his head slightly; he thought as much.
"We've found no trackers and no sign that anyone's been following you." Sark gestures towards the tent opening and leads Jack out into the sunlight. The same camel that carried Jack here is standing patiently in the desert sun, staring dully at the two men. Sark climbs into a waiting jeep and lowers his sunglasses to shield his eyes, then looks expectantly at Jack.
Jack remains where he is. "Surely you don't expect me to travel with you unarmed." The African who had blindfolded him is nowhere to be seen, and Jack wonders what has happened to the guns that were stripped from him.
"I'm probably going to regret this." Sark leans across the front of the jeep and opens the glove compartment, removing one of Jack's weapons. He holds it out for Jack to take.
Jack doesn't allow the surprise to show on his face as he climbs into the jeep next to Sark. He checks the magazine, and is even more surprised to find it still fully loaded. When he glances at Sark, he sees that he's smirking.
"Don't you ever get tired of running around at my wife's beck and call, Mr. Sark?"
Sark's smile fades slightly for a moment, before his expression turns mocking. "I could ask you the same thing. You seem to have made a habit of coming running when she calls."
Jack looks away. The desert scenery passes without him really seeing it; there is more truth in Sark's words than Jack likes to admit. Of course, when Jack received Irina's latest message, he told himself the only reason he agreed to meet with her was because he still felt guilty for killing her clone.
Even now, as they leave the desert behind him and drive into a small seaside town, he's telling himself that same thing. He denies that what he feels right now is anticipation; he tells himself instead that it's rather the feeling that he's walking into a trap.
Sark drops him off at a small airport. As Jack glances around, he thinks that to call this place an airport might be a bit too generous. All it consists of is a rundown hangar and a single runway. Sark exchanges a few words with the man waiting beside the small plane, out of Jack's earshot, of course. Then he gives Jack a cheery wave and returns to the jeep.
Jack is the only passenger. He sits near a window and watches the Mediterranean Sea pass by beneath them. He's not sure how much time goes by when the plane lands on an island. Jack has no idea where he is, but his gun is a reassuring weight against his side, and he's confident he can handle whatever happens.
When he's met by a grinning olive-skinned man who looks like he could still be a teenager, he feels what little patience he has start to slip. The boy explains in thickly accented English that he's here to take Jack to the quay, where he'll go by boat to another island.
Jack's mood worsens as the trip progresses; young Stavros talks non-stop about the island and its tourist attractions, and how Jack's next destination is a privately-owned island. Stavros proudly informs Jack that his father is the only person who carries people to and from that island. Stavros himself has never been, but his father assures him it's an unspoiled paradise.
Jack could care less. If Irina's not there, he decides, he's going to turn around and go home.
Stavros' father, also named Stavros, is already waiting when Jack arrives at the quay. He waves at Jack and gives a broad smile. Father and son exchange a rapid conversation in Greek, then the younger Stavros hops back into the car and drives away. Stavros senior motions for Jack to step into the speedboat.
His English is even worse than his son's, Jack realizes in dismay, and he likes to talk just as much. Fortunately the trip is just under an hour long, and as Stavros cuts the engines and lets the boat glide towards the dock, Jack addresses him for the first time.
"Does this island have a name?"
Stavros laughs, a deep, belly laugh, and looks at Jack. "Some of us call it Mount Olympus. I'm not sure what she calls it."
Jack is unsurprised that Irina is nowhere in sight, and that he is greeted instead by a tanned young man dressed completely in black. He has just climbed out of the speedboat when Stavros starts the engines again, backs away from the dock, and returns to the other island.
"This way," the young man says, and leads Jack up a narrow pathway. There's a slight incline, and a large Mediterranean-style house is at the top of the hill. Jack hopes he's reached his destination; he's been traveling for three days and he's exhausted.
Even once he enters the house, there's still no sign of Irina. The young man shows him to a room over-looking the ocean, and tells him to be ready for dinner at five.
Jack doesn't care about the view or the state of the room. He showers quickly, and it's only as he's drying off that he realizes the bathroom has been stocked with his favourite brands. Slightly suspicious, he checks the wardrobe. It's been filled with clothing in his size; once again, he feels a distinct lack of surprise.
He has no intention of sitting around until Irina is ready to see him. Confident that she wouldn't call him all the way here just to kill him, he feels fairly safe in venturing out the room to look around the house.
Twenty minutes later, he finds Irina lazing in a hammock next to the swimming pool. She doesn't react as he approaches, and as he draws near he realizes that she's asleep. The island is obviously very secure if Irina Derevko feels safe in enough to take an afternoon nap out in the open.
He wonders how wise it is to wake her, and so he just stands there staring at her. She's barefoot, dressed completely in white; loose drawstring pants and a sleeveless top. There's an open book resting on her chest. He tilts his head to read the title, and feels a smile tugging at his lips. She's always liked Anna Karenina, he thinks fondly.
He reaches down to take the book, and as he pulls it out from under her fingers, she wakes with a start. The hammock sways unsteadily as she tries to sit; he steps backward, guiltily holding the book.
And then she smiles, and it's a wide, open, joyful smile that he hasn't seen in years. Not since his world still made sense and she called herself Laura. It has the same effect on him now as it did then; there are some things a person can never become immune to, he thinks. Irina's smile is one of those things.
"You're early," she says, and settles back down again.
"You know me. I'm always early."
"How was the trip?"
"Long. Did it really have to be so complicated?"
She says nothing.
"I suppose that's not the route you come by," he says dryly.
"No." She holds out her hand, which he reaches for without thinking, and then she steps out of the hammock and stands in front of him, their bodies almost flush. "It's good to see you."
He cannot deny that he feels the same way about seeing her again. It seems that she's more beautiful each time they meet, but the last time they were together there was a haunted look about her that's gone now. Clearly these last few weeks have been good for her. She looks rested, peaceful.
He's immediately suspicious. "Your message left me curious. I thought – After Sevogda, I wasn't sure I'd see you again."
Her eyes dart left, towards the ocean and her smile falters slightly. He realizes then that he's still holding her hand, but he cannot bring himself to let go.
"You must be tired," she says. She's still not looking at him. "You should rest before dinner."
"Why did you bring me here, Irina?"
She shakes her head. "Later, Jack."
He's familiar with that tone; it brooks no argument. As he studies his wife in the late afternoon sun, her hand warm in his, her body so close that he can feel its heat, he wonders how he could have ever mistaken anyone else for her. Again, guilt creeps at the edge of his mind and he feels slightly ill at what he did.
The sun reflects off the water in the pool, and he remembers another night, another pool, another woman wearing his wife's face falling backwards into the water. Her smile still haunts his dreams.
"Jack, are you alright?" Her palm brushes his forehead, her eyes betraying concern, and he wants to apologize for not believing in her. But he's the first person to admit that apologies don't mean a damn thing, and so he says nothing.
"You should get some rest," she says. "I can bring dinner to your room and—"
"You'd bring dinner to my room?" The idea is at once foreign and familiar, and he can't help but comment.
She smiles again. "I wouldn't want you to accuse me of being a bad host."
"I'm not tired," he says, and in that moment it's true. He doesn't want to go to his room, to that empty bed, alone. It's unlikely he'd get much rest anyway, knowing that Irina is somewhere in the house. He'd rather be with her, even though he doubts their conversation will be either easy or pleasant.
"Okay." She thinks for a moment, then slips her arm through his. "Then I'll give you the grand tour."
They head down towards the beach; the clear blue water beckons invitingly. He remembers, a long time ago, a young man and woman making love on a beach not dissimilar to this one. Trying to regain his focus, he asks, "So, how long have you lived here?"
"Since Sevogda." She gazes out over the ocean, her expression faraway, and a slight smile plays on her lips. "Julian found it for me. He was so surprised to find out I was alive, I think he'd have done whatever I asked."
Jack considers that for a moment. "You know, I've never quite understood your relationship with Sark. For someone who claims to be loyal to no one but himself, he seems . . ." He can't think of the right word, so leaves the sentence hanging.
Irina looks at him. "He's family, Jack. My mother was a Lazarey."
There's a gentle breeze playing around them, whipping Irina's hair across her face. Without thinking, Jack reaches up to tuck it behind her hair. Her skin is warm beneath his fingertips and he lets his hand linger. She closes her eyes, turns so slightly into his touch that she might not have moved at all, then says, "Why did you come?"
"You sent for me."
"I didn't think you'd come. I—"
He doesn't realize he's been moving closer to her, that his other hand has slipped around her waist, and when he feels her lips against his, he's not sure if she kissed him or he kissed her. And then it doesn't matter, because what's important is that she's in his arms again. The last time he kissed her like this, she was someone else and he wonders again how he could have ever mistaken her kisses for another's.
He slips his hand under her shirt, his fingers splayed out across her back as he pulls her even closer.
"Jack, wait—" She steps backwards out of his embrace, then turns away from him, hugging her arms to her chest.
He wants to tell her that he's been waiting for months – years – but he just looks at her, and wonders at how fragile she suddenly seems. Hesitantly he puts his hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
She shakes her head, and he notices there are tears streaking her cheeks.
"We should head back up to the house."
He catches her as she turns. "Talk to me."
He sees something in her expression change. She steps towards him, slides her arms around his waist and begins kissing him.
"Isn't this what you wanted, Jack?" She guides his hands to her breasts, then reaches for his belt buckle.
"Not until you tell me what's going on."
Her playful expression vanishes and once again she steps away from him. Her smile is bitter, slightly mocking. "Your wish has come true, Jack. I'm dying."
He stares at her in shock, disbelief, horror. He's not sure which emotion is strongest. He wants her to deny it, to take back what she's just said, but somehow he knows she's not lying to him. Before he can do or say anything, she turns and starts walking back to the house. When he can finally move again, he runs after her.
She keeps walking. When he catches up to her, he grabs her arm, forcing her to stop. "Jack, let me go."
"Irina." There are no words other than her name, and he repeats it like a litany as he pulls her into his arms. She's stiff at first, but then softens against him and returns his embrace.
He doesn't know how long they stay like that; the sun has already started its descent, painting the sky in shades of red and orange, by the time she finally speaks. "Dinner's ready, I think."
How can she say that so casually, he wonders, as if she hasn't just turned his world upside down again? How can she think anything could be normal again?
"Dinner first, and then we'll talk."
He nods, and as they walk into the house he holds her hand, as if afraid she will disappear the second he lets her go.
The dinner table has already been set. Jack pulls out Irina's chair without even thinking; it's as if the last two decades have never happened, and the smile she gives him is tinged with sadness.
They eat in silence; Jack is too focused on Irina to pay much attention to what's on his plate. She doesn't look at him, not once, and suddenly it's too much for Jack to bear. He pushes his plate away and reaches for her hand.
"Tell me what's going on. What happened?"
"The aftereffects of Elena's – games." She still doesn't look at him.
"What else did she do to you?" Jack doesn't want to ask, doesn't want to know. The reality of what happened is probably worse than what he's spent every day imagining, and Jack wishes there had been more time to give Elena the death she deserved instead of one so mercifully quick.
Irina shakes her head.
"There must be something we can do. Have you seen a doctor? We'll find someone—"
"There's nothing we can do." There's a finality to her words that cuts him to the bone. "There was too much damage to my heart."
"What about a transplant?"
"I'm an old woman, Jack. I'm tired." She finally looks up and he sees tears shining in her eyes, but he also sees a strong resolution. She's accepted this, he thinks numbly.
He won't. He can't. Somehow, he's come to think of her as immortal.
"What about Rambaldi? Isn't there something—?"
She smiles. "Now you believe in Rambaldi?"
"You can't die."
Her smile fades. "I don't want to live forever, Jack. I've spent almost my whole life alone; I don't want eternity."
He's quiet for a while, then, "You don't want to die alone. That's why you brought me here."
"You don't have to stay if you don't want to."
"Irina." He walks around the table and falls to his knees next to her. Once again, her name is the only thing he knows, and he repeats it as he wraps his arms around her and buries his face in her lap.
She runs her fingers through his hair, comforting him even as he thinks he should be the one comforting her. "It's okay, Jack."
No, it's not, he wants to say. Irina's death will never be okay. His world fell apart the first time, and the second time . . . he doesn't want to think about the second time. He doesn't want her to die; he's never wanted her to die, not really. He can admit that now.
He looks up at her, the anguish on her face surely mirrored on his. "I don't want to lose you again." The words are almost a whisper.
"I've always been yours, Jack." Her thumb traces his cheekbone, and she smiles. "I've always loved you."
He's always wanted to believe her, and now he does.
And he can finally admit that he, too, has loved her all along.
He slides her shirt up to bare her stomach. His fingers graze the skin over her ribs, her waist, the small of her back. He presses his lips to her belly and feels her muscles tense under his touch. His hands move upwards to cover her breasts. Her pulse is deceptively strong and steady beneath his palm. He wants to freeze this moment in time, to stay like this, with her, forever.
"I want to make love with you," he murmurs against her skin.
She puts her hands on his shoulders and pushes him away from her, then stands. He gets to his feet and they look at each other for a moment before she takes his hand and leads him to her bedroom.
"Are you going to let me stay the night, or do I have to go back to my own room later?" He nips at her collarbone.
She laughs. "Stay the night."
"Every night?" He raises her shirt up over her head and tosses it somewhere behind him.
Her body bears new scars and he lightly brushes his fingertips over each of them, as if his touch can heal them. He covers each with a kiss, and by the time he's done, she's crying. He kisses her tears away and holds her gently, as if she's something fragile and precious.
And when she smiles, she's more beautiful than she's ever been.
"I'm not going to break, Jack."
You're already broken, he thinks, and now he's the one who's crying. His tears wet her belly, and it's her turn to comfort him again. She unbuttons his shirt, her hands skimming his chest as she slips it off him. She pushes him onto his back and straddles him, then bends down and kisses him.
"I love you," she says. In English, in Russian, in a dozen other languages, some of which he doesn't speak but the meaning is clear in each word she says.
He raises his hips slightly so she can slide his pants over them. She stands, removes her own pants, then looks at him. He holds out his hand, and she lies next to him.
"Do you remember the first time?" she asks.
"Yes." Too much cheap red wine, a lumpy mattress and awful music from the party next door. None of it mattered because he was with the most beautiful girl in the world.
She holds his hand, raises it to her mouth, and kisses his knuckles. "I wasn't prepared to like you. I told myself you would never mean anything to me."
He's not sure he wants to hear this.
"I was the fool, Jack. Not you."
He kisses her then, and no more words are needed for the rest of the night.
He never sees anyone else in the house, but somehow the food is always ready for them, the bed is always made, and his things are moved into Irina's room before he even thinks about doing it himself.
On the morning of the third day, they're curled together on a large couch in the living room, listening to music. Jack touches her as often as he can; he doesn't even realize he's doing it, but at the back of his mind is the constant thought that they're running out of time together.
"How's Sydney?" she asks.
"She's – happy, I think. She hasn't set a wedding date yet." He smiles. "She asked me about our wedding."
Irina's breath catches in her throat. "What did you tell her?"
He tangles his fingers with hers. "That I was the luckiest man in the world, that my bride was the most beautiful woman I knew—"
"Jack." She laughs.
"I told her the day I met you was the day I started living." Jack hasn't been this open with anyone in years. "At that point in time, our wedding day was the happiest day of my life."
She tilts her head so they're face to face. "Do you regret--?"
He covers her mouth with his fingers before she can finish her question. "Sydney asked the same thing."
She says nothing, and the uncertainty in her eyes breaks his heart.
"No," he says. It hasn't always been the truth, but it is now. "I don't regret it."
Irina's expression is still sad. "I told Sydney I'd see her get married."
"There's still time." She doesn't look sick, and it's easy to pretend there's nothing wrong when they're sitting together like this.
Jack has been waiting for her to ask, and hoping she wouldn't. "She's the same. They're keeping her in a coma for the time being."
Irina nods, and doesn't seem surprised.
"She'll get better," he says.
Irina looks away. "Jack, I need to tell you – I need to explain about Sloane—"
"It doesn't matter." He doesn't want to know her reasons, not out of jealousy or anger, but because he's realized that he doesn't need to know. He loves her anyway, and that's all the truth he needs.
Maybe she needs to hear it too. "I love you."
She's silent for a while, and then she presses herself closer to Jack. He holds her tighter, as if he can pull her into him, and she whispers, so softly that he thinks he's imagining it, "I wish she was yours."
Jack closes his eyes. He remembers, months ago, sitting next to Nadia's hospital bed as she recovered from a gunshot wound. He'd brushed her hair out of her face and wished the same thing.
"When Katya told me the Hourglass revealed it was Sloane, I – I'm sorry."
His eyes shoot open; his entire body tenses.
"Irina, I was there. I was standing right next to him when he broke the Hourglass." He remembers Nadia driving into a warehouse to save him, remembers thinking she was the spitting image of her mother, remembers feeling an odd sense of pride as she'd helped him to his feet.
"I'll have her tested as soon as I get back . . ." He trails off; he'd planned to stay until the end. "Irina, I—"
She's already pulling away, slipping out of his arms, off the couch. "You should leave soon. Before Sydney starts to worry about you."
He remains where he is. "I think Sydney would want to see you."
"Because she's finally found happiness and I am not going to ruin it for her."
"You're her mother."
"I haven't been much of a mother to her."
He crosses the room and takes her in his arms. "Irina, she loves you."
"I don't want her to see me die."
"Do you want to see her?"
She doesn't have to speak for Jack to know the answer.
"Let me call her. Let her come."
"And if she's not interested?" She tries to keep her tone light, but the tension in her body betrays her.
"She loves you. She'll come." He runs his hand over her back. "Let me do this for you."
She wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. When he reaches for her, she jerks away, an instinctive reaction that reminds him of the flight from Tikal. She'd been so broken then and looking at her now, Jack thinks that not much has changed. She may have healed on the outside, but there are inner wounds that he can't even begin to guess at.
She sits up in bed, her knees clutched to her chest, her eyes focused straight ahead. He knows she's miles away.
As he hoped, the sound of his voice breaks through the state she's in. She glances at him, uncertainly at first, and then smiles. "Jack?"
He risks touching her again, nothing more than a gentle hand on her shoulder, and is relieved when she doesn't pull away. "I'm right here."
"I thought—" She shakes her head. "It doesn't matter."
Jack has had his share of nightmares and has his own ghosts to battle, and he knows better than to press for details. "Are you okay?"
Surprisingly, she wants to talk. She curls against to him, her head on his chest, a hand over his heart. "I wanted to die," she says, and her voice sounds as if it comes from far away. "Every time my heart stopped, I wished it was the last time. I had nothing to live for anymore, but she kept bringing me back."
She falls silent for a while, and when she speaks again her voice is little more than a whisper. "There were moments – I don't know if I was dead or if I was dreaming – and you were there. So close, but just out of my reach."
He caresses her cheek, finding it wet with tears. "I'm here now."
She tilts her head to look up at him, and her smile is one of joy. "Yes."
"Irina, I am sorry—"
She silences him with a finger to his lips. "I saw you."
"What do you mean?"
"I saw you kill me."
It feels as if the air is suddenly sucked out of the room. "Irina—"
"Elena filmed it. She played it for me over and over again." She speaks dispassionately, as if she's talking about something as mundane as the weather. "She told me I should be proud. 'Look at what you've made; look at how well you broke him.'" Her voice catches, and she pulls away from Jack, shifting to the edge of the bed, then walking to the window.
There are no words that can undo the damage he has done to this woman. When, he wonders, did they become so skilled at hurting each other?
"I understand why you did it, Jack, but still . . ." She trails off as she turns to look at him.
He walks to where she is and stands in front of her without touching her.
"Watching it, over and over again . . ."
Jack slowly raises his hand to caress her cheek, gently wiping away her tears with his fingertips. She closes her eyes, leans into his touch.
"God help me, I love you anyway."
He leads her back to the bed, kisses her scarred wrists, holds her close enough to feel her heartbeat against his chest, carefully smoothes her hair away from her face. It's a while before he realizes the sound he hears is his own voice murmuring a repeated apology.
Wedding vows from a lifetime ago echo in his head: to love and protect, to cherish and honour.
Nothing has ever been the same since that cold November night when she drove into a river.