They were having a dinner party and they needed more-- well, it didn't matter. She had volunteered to get it from the refrigerator.
With the door open, she had her back to the kitchen door. She was already pulling at the plastic wrap that was covering Jack's grandmother's crystal dish, and her foot was nudging the door shut again, when the man in the doorframe came into her peripheral vision. He was leaning against the wood, watching her. By the time her body was almost facing his, she feigned surprised, as a housewife startled in her own kitchen was expected do.
"Arvin!" The way her mouth curled involuntarily around the American 'ah' sound disgusted her. "Jesus, you scared me."
The other men at the dinner table had lost their jackets and loosened their ties, but Arvin was still tight and together. Impeccable. "My apologies. Emily sent me for some more of that sparkling cider, if you still have some left."
Behind a smile, she considered him. She hadn't been wrong to think he'd been watching her the entire time. There was a moment, one that maybe only existed in her mind, and then she was in action again, setting the dish on the table in the middle of the kitchen and pointing to the counter. "Over there."
He thanked her and smiled. It seemed a little off.
"I bought that for Sydney and the kids," she said without prompting, one eye on him as moved in her kitchen.
"You know Emily." He fills her glass halfway, as if it were a fine wine. "Can never too careful."
It wasn't that Arvin Sloane didn't love his wife. There was love in his voice. There was just something...not right about the way he raised the empty bottle of cider so casually to ask where to discard it.
She shook it from consciousness, and pointed to the bin near the sink. "How are things?"
A sharp breath. "They're fine," he replied, too quickly. She stole a glance at him, and for the first time, actually saw something real. Things were not fine.
She rolled the plastic wrap into a ball and threw it in the garbage can by the sink. "I'm sure it'll work eventually."
"Yes," but his eyes never left the glass of cider. He drew out the syllables: "Eventually."
In hindsight, she would call herself stupid for allowing herself to be drawn into him like that. Usually so in sync with everything, and yet, in that moment, she wasn't anything but the wife of this man's best friend. It was her first mistake.
There was a small pie next to her on the table. "Is that...?" Suddenly, he was standing next to her.
"Margot's famous blueberry pie?" she finished. Again, her voice made an unflattering stretched vowel sound. She hated the small Texas accent she had acquired from somewhere. "Yeah, it is."
He was standing so close to her that she could smell his cologne. Uncomfortably close. His voice dropped. "They were here?"
She nodded. "Only for a while. She decided to take Michael up to San Francisco to see Bill's parents at the last minute, and she just stopped by to apologize for promising me dessert."
"That was kind of her," he mentioned.
Maybe it was her own guilt that made her ramble. "He's getting so big, you know. In a few years, he's going to be as tall as his father."
Arvin shook his head. "You're a horrible woman, Laura."
It hit her like a ton of bricks. His words stuck in the back of her throat, tasting rotten. Carefully, slowly, she raised her eyes to his, trying desperately not to look suspicious. To not see the accusation she thought she heard in his voice. Lately, things were becoming more difficult. Someone had pulled her file in Moscow.
She forced a smile. "What do you mean?"
He licked his lips, waiting for the kill. "Leaving this pie out in the open to tempt everyone."
Oh, God. The pie. She hoped she didn't look as relieved as she was, so she bowed her head, pretending to hide a small laugh.
"It's about willpower," she murmured to the countertop.
"Willpower?" By now, the dish from the refrigerator was in her hands, and she was moving toward the dining room. Her back was to him again when he spoke: "Kak dva pal'tsa obossat'!"
He said it like he was breathing, like it was nothing at all. Her heart was pounding. Last week, someone broke into a building in downtown Moscow and stole, of all things, her personnel file. And only her personnel file. She tried not to look as terrified as she felt.
One step at a time, her feet moved and her body turned to him again. She tried to stay relaxed and loose, but her knees had already locked with fear. Confused, "What?"
And then there it was, written all over his face; in English, Russian, and every other language. She wasn't just being paranoid this time. The moment seemed to last a lifetime. She thought she might drop Jack's grandmother's priceless dish.
"Sorry." He pressed a hand to his forehead, sighing. "The bank's been dealing with these Russian investors the last few weeks, I guess it just rubs off on you."
He knew the kitchen had to be bugged. She played along. "Oh, that's what that was?" she asked lightly.
It was a dance, no doubt about it. Arvin only smiled.
He had his wife's glass in his fingers, saying he had to rejoin the party before someone asked after him. Translation: we can't do this now. She smiled until his shadow was gone from view, and then she virtually collapsed, the expensive crystal thudding on the table again.
They had a house on a cliff that overlooked the ocean up near the California border that had been closed up since Memorial Day. That's where they met.
Thanksgiving was in two weeks. Everything in the large house had absorbed the colder mountain temperatures-- the couch, the floors, the countertops, the walls-- so she just stood in the middle of the living room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, staring at nothing and just waiting. When she heard his tires on the gravel driveway, she turned toward the largest window and watched the tides hit against the rocks below, in some desperate attempt to make it seem like she wasn't waiting. That he was just wasting her time. It was a silly thing, but it was the only way she could think to keep some semblance of control over the situation.
She had left the door halfway open, but she heard its rusty hinges when he pushed it open wider. He must have stood there in the hall that led into the living room for a couple of minutes before he spoke. "I think the word you're looking for here is--"
She turned sharply. "I know who you are."
Arvin was running his hand over the plastic that was covering the furniture in the room. He looked at her nonchalantly. "I don't know what you're talking about."
She crossed her arms. "The place isn't bugged, Arvin," she spat. "No one even knows we're here."
He tilted his head at her, his smile like a devil. "Not even your husband?"
"No," she swallowed. Was that...guilt? "Not even Jack."
He pulled back one of the plastic sheets and took a seat on the large floral couch. She had always hated that couch. "Like I said, I don't know what, or who, you think I am, Laura." The emphasis on her alias was more than intentional.
She was still, knowing exactly what he was trying to do: she had to show all her cards without knowing any of his. With a moment of hesitation, she decided to go with it. "Alliance." Arvin sighed with exaggeration and boredom, smiling and not bothering to stop her. It wasn't enough. "SD-6."
He shook his head. "I work for a bank, Laura."
"You're the head of a terrorist organization."
"You're KGB," he countered, carefully.
It slapped her.
He added, "Right?" but she was silent. She was done. "That's all right. Your silence is answer enough."
The wind off the water knocked the wooden shutters against the side of the house. The breeze sent chills down her spine as it crept in through the small crack along the frame of the window. She hugged herself, steeling her body against the cold and the world.
"What do you want?" she asked precisely.
Maybe she had finally found the right tone of voice. Arvin shrugged off the casual attitude; his shoulders squared, and he leaned forward, more seriously than she had ever seen him. "Why are you here, posing as my best friend's wife?"
I'm not posing, she almost said, but thought better of it. That only made things more complicated. She needed control. She smiled without a trace of humor. "You already know that."
"Actually..." He pushed himself up off the couch and walked toward the large window. Staring at the ocean, he finished: "I didn't pull your file."
She blinked. "Then, how--"
"Your identity is a means to an end, Laura. Someone wishes to extort information from me, and you're the pawn." He turned to her. "Don't think for a second that you're the center of anything. You're only a thorn in my side."
Arvin took several steps towards her. "So tell me: does the CIA have a catchy name for you yet?"
She stared at him for a long time before answering. With deliberate amusement, she answered, "Not that I'm aware of."
"Pity," he replied, smiling.
That seemed, for the moment, to break the ice between them. Arvin began to laugh, and she followed suit, all the while stealing small glances at him. Just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was she really just an assassin to him? Could she be that lucky?
When she tried to move past him, to the window, he suddenly quiet and his hand was gripping her arm. "We're not done yet."
Her breath caught, but she tried to hide it.
With his hand on her arm, he was able to pull her closer to him. "You're still a problem for me, Irina."
It was the first time anyone had called her that in years. Not even her handler used her real name.
"These people, they need to know that they can trust me." He paused, and she noticed that his thumb was making small circles on the inside of her upper arm. She could have broken his arm. "I think you know what that means."
She was silent. She knew.
"But the idea of it..." Then his other hand, his thumb slid down her cheek, tracing the angle of her cheek. So intimate, so uncomfortable. She squared her jaw under him. "It makes my stomach turn."
Her eyes locked with his, not convinced. "Arvin, please."
He put two fingers over her lips to silence her. Her eyes fluttered shut. There wasn't much left to control. She waited. And waited. And waited. And--
Suddenly, he let go. Her eyes opened, and she saw him backing away from her.
"You've got a week. Come up with something better."
It took her almost a minute to react; by then, he was almost gone. He was already to the hallway when she called out after him. "Wait."
He turned smugly, like he'd been expecting it the whole time.
There was only one way for her to regain the upper hand. She swallowed her own disgust, squeezing her eyes shut and producing tears worth of an Oscar. "Oh, God, Arvin. I'm so scared."
Arvin Sloane took two large, disbelieving steps back into the living room.
Her breath caught dramatically. Only half of it was a lie. "Everything's falling apart. I need your help."
It worked. He pulled her into a hug, murmuring whispered words into her ears. Her tears were already soaking his shoulder. With a sigh and a seductive whisper, she leaned into his ear. "Say you'll protect me."
It was a power play, pure and simple.
He kissed her forehead and told her it would be all right. She let him kiss her on the mouth, too; allowed his hand to travel down to her thigh and under her skirt. This was about control.
"I should kill you," he whispered into her neck, fingers tugging at the hem on her thigh-highs.
She grabbed his chin and made him look at her. "But you won't," she warned. Maybe she looked desperate. He answered by covering his mouth with hers again.
There weren't any sheets on the bed, no pillowcases on the pillows; only the folded quilts and afghans in the drawer under the bed frame.
A wicked twist of karma: she was wrapped in the blanket she and Sydney always fell asleep under in the summer. She rolled over and pulled it a little tighter toward her body, trying to suppress her own shame. Everything happened for a reason, she told herself. Even this.
She heard Arvin mutter, "This never happened."
She stared at the wall. "I understand." She tried to deny to herself that there was moisture gathering in the corners of her eyes.
"I meant--" but he stopped himself. His hand was resting lightly on her shoulder. "This would kill Emily if she ever..." He didn't finish his sentence.
Of course. Emily, the only woman she ever felt really close to, the woman who thought her husband worked at a bank, the woman who went from doctor to doctor, trying to give her husband the one gift God wouldn't allow.
It was like they were two normal people, having an affair. Almost.
She thought of Sydney, too, who was at home, practicing the small song about unity that she had to learn for the Thanksgiving pageant, and for a split second, hated that it was all a lie.
There was an offer of a job. A job and a name: Rambaldi.
But by then, it was too late. Caldor, her guy-on-the-inside, got out of a taxi in their driveway and paid the driver too much. He grabbed the keys to her station wagon and told her to get in. When she tried to run upstairs for her overnight bag, he grabbed her wrist and yelled that where they were going, they weren't going to need overnight bags.
The next two and half months flew by in a blur. There were meetings and medical exams and lie detectors. She learned to not concentrate on anything.
Her first real, coherent thought was nausea. She was lying on the couch in the sitting room in their family's house, the one that had been in the Derevko name for generations, and she felt dizzy. Outside, she breathed in the cold Russian air and she felt sick to her stomach. She barely made it to the bathroom in the guest room.
There was a soft knock on the door. She was on her knees, but she said something in Russian and Katya pushed it open. She'd been gone so long, she barely recognized her own sister. She still wasn't sure why Katya had volunteered to care for her older sister.
"You should eat something," her sister scolded.
Irina slumped against the tub and stretched her legs out in front of her. The bathroom had always seemed more spacious when she was a child. "Can't eat. Can't hold anything down."
"Then you should see a doctor."
Her denial was too adamant; she knew it the second that the sound left her mouth. She swore.
"This is not the flu, then?" Katya asked coldly.
With eyes shut, she shook her head slowly. Katya clicked her tongue in disappointment. "Oh, Irina..."
Her fingers were quick to wrap around her sister's ankle. "You're not going to tell anyone, you understand me? Not a soul."
Katya crouched down next to her sister. They were both KGB and Irina knew who her sister reported to, knew what they would say, knew what conclusions they would jump to.
Katya was running a hand up and down her arm, reassuringly. "You'll take care of it?"
Instead of answering a question she had tried to push from her mind, Irina looked up into her eyes. "You have to promise me," she repeated.
Her sister sighed. "I promise."
She grabbed her sister's shirt and pulled her closer. "On Momma's grave, Katya."
A soft smile on her lips, and she leaned forward to press a kiss to her forehead. "Our little secret."
Maybe there was some part of her that knew her sister never meant it. A part that understood.
She had woken up in Kashmir, believing herself to be exiled forever.
The last wave of pain had sent her head colliding with the stone of the infirmary's walls (though it was hardly that, an infirmary), but the dull thudding in her skull was barely a blip on her internal radar. It was almost a welcome relief. Her chest was heaving from exhaustion and her hair was matted against the wall. Sweat poured into her eyes.
At night, she cried.
There was no comfortable position on the small metal cots for anyone, let alone a woman, nearly ready to give birth. Her child would kick in its womb and she would cry. She would cry for ever thinking of the growing thing inside of her as hers. It was fate's child, not hers. She could not love it. She never slept anymore, and maybe that was some kind of punishment, as if she hadn't had enough.
There were no machines to monitor the baby's heart rate. Yes, they had weak anesthetics, but it had only succeeding in reducing the leading edge of each contraction. Irina tried not to think of what it was like the first time, for fear that her tears of pain might become tears of...something else. Tears of longing.
She couldn't understand why she hadn't simply understood that this child was an indication of her compromised loyalty. Or why she had let them drug her and ship her to a place where traitors belonged. She knew, in her heart, that was not a traitor. This is not Jack Bristow's child, she repeated over and over in her head, in place of sleep; I am not a security risk. Maybe it was the truth that made her keep silent; the disgust of it all.
There was a woman, a nurse, if one could call her that, and she was holding Irina's hand, stroking the back of it, as if that might relieve her of something. Yet every time she thought about pushing her away, the child within her would push further towards freedom, and she would tight her grip on the nurse's hand, all without thinking.
Freedom. In the respite before the next contraction, she caught sight of Cuvee in the doorway, admiring her. Perhaps not admiring; perhaps reveling in her suffering. Her eyes were trained on him when she pursed her lips and readied herself for another. Fuck you.
"I can see the head!" the fat Russian doctor proclaimed, with a smile on his lips. As if being born into this filth was something to celebrate.
He told her to push again. And then again. And then--
Her stomach was too large to see what he was holding in his hands, boy or girl. Emotion was rushing inside her, and despite herself, she began wriggling on the table, trying to see around herself and the nurse. Trying to tell if she had a son or a daughter.
She was mistaken. She had nothing. This child would be sent away as soon as humanly possible, a stain on an almost-perfect undercover mission.
Perhaps sensing her confusion, the Russian doctor held up the child, still pink from his mother's womb. His. It was a boy. It was a boy, and he was staring intently at his mother, contemplating her strange face. He did not cry, but Irina did, against her better judgment. The sound of sobbing did not spark a similar reaction in him.
No one asked for a name. No one asked her for anything.
Cuvee stepped behind the doctor, placing a hand on his shoulder. The nurse handed him a white receiving blanket; the red from his tiny body smeared all over when he was wrapped in it. The doctor placed the child in Cuvee's arms, and for a moment, she watched him look at the boy fondly. It disgusted her.
With only one glance to his mother, Cuvee was taking the child away. The word caught her throat. "Wait," she choked. But no one was listening.
In the hallway, the child began to wail. Irina collapsed, alone.
She watched his limousine pull out the parking lot of Credit Dauphine. Some things never changed.
He was in his private study. He never knew she was there until the barrel of the gun was pressed against his neck. Flatly, she said, "Surprise."
He turned his head slightly, the indication that he recognized her voice, but she still allowed him to swivel in his office chair and act surprised to see her standing there. He arched an eyebrow, but she already knew the answer: "I already cut the backup alarm."
Arvin glanced at the gun, then back at her, completely nonchalant. "We thought you were dead."
"I was," she replied, "for a while."
There was a small, familiar smile on his lips. It gave her chills. "I saw Sydney yester--"
Irina pressed the barrel of the gun into his forehead, right in between his eyes. "Don't talk to me about my daughter, you son of a bitch," she said firmly. But he only grinned then.
"Where were you?" he finally asked.
Another eyebrow, though this one was genuinely surprised. "Why?"
She considered another answer for a moment. "My country was falling apart." In truth, her country had crumbled and she only found out three months after it was too late.
He took this on its face, because it was the truth; at least, part of it. "And now?"
Irina titled her head. "You know."
He grinned again, much more satisfying than the first time. "Rambaldi," he preened, and it made her want to stick the weapon into his mouth.
There was a moment, when no one said anything. She wanted to ask about Emily, but the thought of it, so pedestrian and normal, didn't quite mesh the image of her pointing a gun at Arvin Sloane. She wouldn't even dare to tread near the subject of Jack, for her own sake.
He sighed, almost bored with her. "Did you come here looking for something?"
To kill you, she thought. Maybe it was the truth. She'd spent many nights thinking about the rationale behind it.
She pulled back the hammer. "Those people trying to use me to extort information from you?" She waited for the recognition. "You never bothered to tell me it was my own government who sold me out."
He smiled, smug as he was. "Desperate measures, Irina. You know what I mean."
A child's crying echoed in her ears. She almost let her secret go right then, but she restrained herself. Another time, another place, when it might be used to gain something other than her own personal satisfaction.
Arvin licked his lips. "Come work with me."
And waste my newfound freedom, she wanted to spit. Instead, she said, "Not now."
He leaned forward, a dangerous maneuver when there was a gun trained on his forehead. "We combine our talents, and Rambaldi will be within our grasps faster than we could imagine."
Maybe it was because she didn't understand obsession the way Arvin Sloane did. Or maybe it was because she would never forget the feeling of his hands on her body, in unholy places. Desperate times, perhaps, but this was far from that.
"Someday," she mused, but it was without feeling.
There must have been a look in her eye, because Arvin's forehead crinkled with thought. "Is there something else?"
Of course, there was always something else. This time, his name was Julian and he was living with a respected Russian diplomat, and today was his first day at a private boarding school in England.
"No," she lied. "Nothing."
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Title: And I Am Weary
Author: Tahlia [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG-13 | het | 22k | 03/23/04
Summary: Irina's world is falling apart (circa 1980)
Disclaimer/Other: Inspired by spoilers, sure, but not like you think. This is basically a romp in that lovely little grey area of canon.
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