one truth
by Melanie-Anne

There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie that we don't believe anymore
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
Sting "Russians"

Irina Derevko does not cry.

She is a murderer, a liar, a thief. She is not weak. When she thinks of the woman she was once (and could still be, actually) she tells herself it is not regret that she feels. There are more important things in the world than a man with a broken heart and a little girl who looks at the stars and dreams of her mother.

Irina Derevko does not cry. But-

There's a part of her that refuses to forget the smell of her daughter's hair, the taste of her husband's kisses, the way he held her at night, the sound of her child's laughter. And Laura Bristow (who was always too human for Irina's liking), Laura Bristow regrets.

Laura Bristow is dead. She has to stay dead if Irina has any hope of living.

Sometimes Irina dreams of the life she could be living had she made different choices. Perhaps there would be more children: a boy, with his father's eyes. She (Laura, not Irina, never Irina) would stay up late talking to Sydney about life, love, boys and everything in between.

Dreaming is dangerous, and the worst part is that she always wakes up.

She's not sure if she loved Jack (loves, the Laura in her head insists, loves). There was passion and heat and tenderness, but their marriage was built on lies: this is the story of Jack and Laura, the airplane parts salesman and the college teacher. (This is the story of Jack and Irina, CIA agent and KGB spy.) The only true thing was Sydney.

But still . . . they slept together the night before Laura died, before Irina started living again, and he had said he loved her. She had said she loved him, and she thinks she meant it. (Made love, Laura mutters sullenly, you made love.)

She knows she could never have stayed, really, as romantic as the thought sometimes is. It comes in the nights when she is feeling lonely, when she aches to be held tenderly, as a woman.

But she is Irina Derevko, and she cannot allow herself to feel. Yet once a year, she allows herself to feel like Laura for just a short while. Once a year, she receives a photograph from a source in the United States. Once a year, she sees her daughter's face. She memorizes the changes, greedily drinks in every detail of her child's face, and tries to ignore the sadness in Sydney's eyes.

She thinks of her other child, Nadia, the girl she never really had a chance to know. She wonders why she feels less guilty about her, and waits for Laura to pass judgment. For once, the voice of her conscience remains silent. Maybe she is not supposed to know all the answers.

When she has committed every detail of the photograph to memory, she lights a match and watches it burn. No one can ever know she hasn't completely let go of the past. She is Irina Derevko, but no matter how much she tries to prove otherwise, she is not a monster. She is not a machine, and she is not completely callous.

She is Irina Derevko, but she is also Laura Bristow and she is a mother. (And maybe, Laura says, she has also lost her mind.)

She tells herself the pricking in her eyes is not tears, and inside her head, Laura laughs.

(Most of all, Irina has always been good at lying to herself.)

Years pass, too many too quickly, and each brings a day of photographs and hidden regrets. Laura grows silent after a while, and Irina is surprised to find that she actually misses her.

It is when Laura finally dies that things spiral out of control. For the first time in twenty years, she comes face to face with her daughter. The moment is nothing like she has imagined. To save her life, she shoots her.

Don't let yourself love, Irina, her mother had said, love is a waste of time. You will only get hurt.

But don't you love me, Mama? I love you, I'll never hurt you.

And she remembers the look in her mother's eye when she introduced Irina to the KGB. The way her voice had hardened when she told Irina to stop crying and grow up; this was important, she had been born for a purpose and nothing on earth could change her destiny.

Now, sitting in a cell in the country she'd sworn to fight against (once upon a time, when the Cold War looked like it would go on forever, once upon a time, before she realized what the name 'Milo Rambaldi' really meant to her) Irina studies the woman her daughter has become.

Sydney is beautiful, but there's a toughness in her eyes that shouldn't be there. There's a guardedness in the way she looks at Irina, coupled with the faint hint of hope.

I'm sorry. This isn't what I wanted for you. (It isn't Laura thinking this, it's Irina, and she feels regret welling up inside her, begging for release.)

But Irina Derevko does not cry. She smiles at Sydney, this child who is part her and part Laura and part Jack. She tilts her head slightly, then stands up and approaches the glass.

She knows what Sydney is really here to ask, knows that these other questions could be asked by any other agent. And she knows Sydney will never ask it:

But don't you love me, Mama?

She answers anyway, inside her head: of course I do, but nothing can change your destiny.

And when Sydney leaves and she is alone, she remembers nights long past when she would sit by her daughter's crib and watch her sleep, just because she could. But she is not that woman any more, and Sydney is all grown up now. It's too late for explanations and apologies, not that she feels the need for them. She is not that weak.

She is Irina Derevko and she does not cry, no matter how desperately she wants to.


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