Ice And Glass
by Chris Anderson

Once, this hall led nowhere. A glass dragon's lair, without the dragon. Once. But now... Now, the dragon has come home, and she is glass as well.

I think that I can see straight through her- but everything seen through her is distorted, different. Unrecognizable even if I knew it by heart. But she is glass, all sharp edges and clear blades of crystal. Cutting, always cutting, and every stroke draws blood.

It's midnight when I go to see her. Midnight, and a raging thunderstorm outside. I come in out of the rain, coat but no umbrella, soaked to the skin but too tired, too weary, to care.

The others surround me with exclamations and looks of concern, offering towels, hot coffee, offering ears to listen. From somewhere far away I hear a voice ask if they ought to call my daughter.

No, I tell them. I'm alright. I needed to walk, clear my head. The clouds opened up while I was out there. That is all I tell them.

Walking the paths through the park, past the carousel dark and empty, the way we used to walk together. Almost waiting, almost looking, for some fool to try to mug me. Yes, of course, you can have my wallet and my watch, a hundred dollars and a Timex, and there's just one more thing before you go...

It's happened before. Once. He wasn't in any shape to identify me, but my dear old friend doesn't take chances. Arvin Sloane had him killed.

And so I don't do that anymore.

I used to go to the range to shoot, but you can only practice so many hours before they take note, begin to ask questions you cannot answer. But I have to do something.

So I tell them about needing some time to myself, to sort things out. About being caught out in the rain.

The others smile with relief; I am not quite as crazy as they feared I might be. I do have the sense to come in out of the rain, after all- I was close by, and so I thought, why not? They nod, assure me that all is well, everything quiet. No trouble.

I let them get back to their work.

And then, as I knew they would, my steps turn down that hall. I walk, slow, ID held up for the guards to see. I think every one of them knows me by now. I am sure they have heard the story, whatever version of it races around these halls on wings of whisper and rumor. They know why I come.

I, too, know why I do this. Know it in my heart, though the rest of me would rather not admit it.

I come in the dark of night, out of the storm, and it is fitting, so fitting.

Though it is late, the lights burn. They fear her in the dark. I can feel their fear, can feel it in every inch of this place. In every millimeter of glass. How safe we should feel, with the dragon behind the glass. But the way she has owned that space since she entered it tells all- It is not she who is prisoner, but us. We are prisoner to our fear, to her dark eyes, to her silent, mocking laughter.

I know, though they have never said a word to me- they wouldn't, of course- that her guards understand why I loved her. Because she is beautiful, strong, sure of herself... but more than that, so much more.

One of the other agents said it best when they thought I was out of earshot; "She could have been one of us."

Oh, yes. Could have been, should have been...

The gates rise and close again behind me, and I walk forward. Little puddles of rainwater in my wake.

I am suddenly chilled. It is colder here than anywhere else in the building. My eyes narrow, and I make note of this. On my way out I will speak to someone. This is cruel. It also reeks of disrespect, and I will tell them- as I have told them before- that if you do not respect this woman she will do nothing for you. And why should she? She has nothing to lose, they have made sure of that.

They can kill her, of course. They can, but they won't. They need her too badly.

She sits on her bed, and she has stripped it bare to wrap both thin blanket and thinner sheet around her. She huddles there, curled over her pillow, wearing every bit of clothing she still owns, her jaw set in that firm line I remember so well. Too proud to plead, to beg, she will freeze to death before she asks them for anything. Which will gain none of us anything, and will also upset my daughter.

To say nothing of what it would do to me.

She looks as if she hasn't slept in days. Shadows under her eyes, deep shadows. She shivers, a sign of weakness she would never allow herself to show under normal circumstances.

I realize then that this can't wait.

"This is inexcusable," I tell her. "I'll be back."

I sweep out of the inner room, past the gates again, startling the guards as I rush by. "I need to see Kendall as soon as he gets in," I call over my shoulder to them. Running now, running across the main floor, down another side hall...

I have a small cubby here to call my own, which they term an office. I keep a few item in that room, changes of clothing being the only thing I am concerned about now. I rifle through the file cabinet that takes up half the office space, a cabinet which has been converted to a cunningly disguised closet. I pull the heaviest overcoat from among the hangers, and leave the room at a run.

I return to the glass room with the coat over my arm, and beckon one of the guards to follow me.

"Open the door," I tell him, and my voice is as cold as that room.

He hesitates. "Sir-"

Irina watches all of this from her place within the glass box, curled into a ball now to conserve heat. Her expression looks impassive, but I know better. I feel her eyes on me. The eyes of a bird of prey. Does she see an ally, or a potential victim?

I have no time to care, no time to question. There is no choice. She is glass, but she is also becoming ice, and love her or hate her, I can't let her freeze.

I look at this guard and his hesitation, and fury sweeps over me. Watch your temper, I tell myself, as she had told me once. He's not worth it.

Something of my inner turmoil must have shown in my face, because the guard nods slowly. "I'm going to have to report this, Agent Bristow-"

"Fine. Do so, then. Now-"

He turns, keys in the code that raises the last barrier. I duck under it before it is more than halfway up, run to her.

The temperature drops even further as I cross that line. As I reach her I realize her lips are turning blue.

I don't hesitate; I can't. I throw the coat over her shoulders, wrap her up in the coat and in my arms, hold her to me. I tell myself that I do this because she will die without the warmth, because she needs it. Truth told, though, I have wanted to do this for a long, long time.

I grasp it then, everything I have known all along but have been too afraid to face. It no longer matters what she is, what she has done- it never has. I hold her and feel a fierce protectiveness, such as I have only felt for two souls in all the world. Sydney, and this woman.

For the first time I know her, really know her. Know everything about her, where she had been, what she had done. And I understand it then, that we were not so very different. I held myself to the moral high ground, but I had sacrificed it too many times for the sake of my daughter, for the things I told myself were good and just, and above such petty considerations of morality.

Irina is my mirror then. I no better than her...and she, she no worse than I. Touching her this catalytic revelation, after so very long...

"Irina... Irina."

"Jack." Her voice barely a whisper; even so close, I strain to hear.

I shout to the cameras and the microphones then, call for the blankets, the coffee I set aside before.

"Stay with me, Irina... Talk to me. What year is it?"

She curses me in her native Russian. I try not to smile.

"Tell me your name... Birthplace. Where are you now?"

"Irina... Derevko... Moscow... the old... USSR. A very- cold glass box."

They arrive then with blankets and steaming Styrofoam cups, but no one wants to cross that now-invisible threshold. No one... But I hear someone talking quietly to the others, see hands taking the items, and then the group parts.

Michael Vaughn steps forward. Into the chill, into the light. Into the cell which holds the woman who killed his father. I don't want to think of what it costs him to do this. He brings me what I've asked for and retreats without a word, and as I lift the blankets, take them to Irina, I hear Vaughn speaking to the gathering again. They trickle out of the room, back to their posts. I think Vaughn remains, but I am not certain.

I hold a cup to Irina's lips. "Drink this." And I can see that she is trying, but-

She struggles for breath, quick little gasps- and then the struggle fails.

I swear. Throw the cup aside. And I breathe for her. No thought, only reflex, reaction, movement. Counting the chest compressions, breathing into her mouth again, and her lips are cold, so cold...

Another breath, given. Hers without thought, because she needs it and I don't.

A flicker of movement, then, her lips pushing back against mine. Kiss of life, and she breathes. Oh yes, she breathes.

I pull back. Not because I want to. Because I have no other choice.

"Are you alright?"

She nods. Softly, then: "I don't know who I am anymore, Jack. Irina Derevko or Laura Bristow."

My heart stops. Pain as if it will break, again. "Who do you want to be?" I ask her, dreading the answer, needing it.

"Laura could hold her daughter, kiss her husband. I see the sun now, once in a week." I know this; in a way I helped arrange it for her. "I only wanted to hold her, Jack. Just once. I wouldn't hurt her, any more than you would."

Those words, my love, so double-edged... for I have hurt her, too, though I only wanted to protect her.

No, we are not so different, are we? If you were telling the truth about having shot her. And I believe, suddenly, that you just might have been.

But all I say to her is, "I know." I tell her I am sorry because this is what you say. Not because I understand what I am sorry for, or why I am apologizing for others. Perhaps because they never will.

"Don't," she says. "Don't apologize as if you were one of them."

"Aren't I?"

"No. Which of them would have come in here?"

"My- our daughter."

"No, Jack. Sydney is no part of them, either."

"Yes, but-"

"Jack? Shut up."

This is probably the wisest course of action; I nod.

"Thank you," she says. Her eyes flick past the barrier line, to Vaughn. "And you. Thank you."

Vaughn looks at her, at us, for a moment. "I think it's something my father would have done."

He leaves with this parting shot, doesn't see it strike home. She winces. "Yes," she says, "yes, he probably would have."

"Are you alright?" I ask her, for the second time.

And for the second time she nods. "Go. Go back to your side of the glass."

I realize as she speaks that I do not want to, and that is why I hesitate. "Irina-" But I have no words, none that would express what I really want her to know before I go. I do all that I can.

I kiss her. The way I used to, meaning it, all of it.

"It will be warmer here in a moment. Keep the coat."

I rise, and the glass comes down behind me as I cross the first line.

Her voice calls after me. "You should get out of those wet clothes."

I answer without turning back, because if I were to look at her now I could not continue on as I must. I could not walk away. "Yes. Probably."

There is more I want to say; at the very least I want to promise her I will be back. But I have learned of the folly of promises...promises I may not be able to keep. I go on, while I can still place one foot before the other.

I don't so much request of the guards that the heat be turned up, as I tell them they will do so. Perhaps I am starting to look a little mad, or maybe they are impressed by the fact that I crossed the line, entered the dragon's lair- that I touched her and lived to tell the tale. But in any case, it happens that suddenly no one is arguing with me. So I leave them with the heat restored and orders I know they'll follow, to see that she has anything else she needs.

Vaughn waits for me beyond the guards, on the main floor. He hands me a blanket, which I take with a nod of thanks.

"You still want to see Kendall?"


Vaughn watches me for a second or two before speaking. "It's your call, Jack. But I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

I consider this. "You may be right, Agent Vaughn. I'll take it to Devlin."

We are friends, of a sort, Devlin and I. There are things he doesn't know, things he carefully never learns. He understands, much as anyone can. He won't ask the questions with awkward answers. Kendall would want to know why I kissed her- probably still will, when he finds out. Devlin won't ask.

Vaughn, I notice, doesn't ask, either.

But then, there is more of Irina in Sydney than I might once have liked to admit.


Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Plain Style / Fancy Style