Just Enough Rope by Chris Anderson

Disclaimer: Alias is the property of other people, including J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot productions.

Laughter was such a great part of her life when Sydney was young. It's hard not to laugh with a young child in the house, but somehow the Derevkos managed it. She doesn't remember laughter being much a part of her life when she was a girl. Oh, she and her sisters had their fun, played their games when and where they could, but their childhood was a perilous time, and sometimes it was best not to draw attention.

She learned how a childhood ought to be, watching her daughter grow up. Sydney had been a happy child until Laura's death and Irina's disappearance (she still can't think of the death as hers, even though in a way it was). If there was reason to laugh, Sydney laughed- and there was often reason. Her mother, sweeping her up into her arms, dancing across the grass; her father, telling silly jokes...

She had meant to give her daughter all the things she never had. For six years she managed it. And then...

The laughter stopped. Sydney didn't smile, Jack didn't tell corny jokes... And Laura? Laura no longer laughed because Laura was dead.

Irina laughs now, though.

Remembering Sydney's face in those bygone years, before it all went so wrong- remembering her bright, happy little girl, whose first word somehow was not the "dada" that comes so easy to babies, but the more difficult "mama"... Remembering the things her daughter did; a guilty face, her mother's makeup all over everything- Sydney, her clothes, the table- things Irina would never have dared with her own mother... She laughed then. She laughed and shook her head, cleaned up the mess and Sydney, and only scolded her gently not to make messes with her mother's things.

(And even thinking quietly to herself, she turns aside from any thought of what her own mother would have done... what her own mother *did* do, when she found Katya and Irina dressing in her old uniforms, and Elena giggling conspiratorially alongside them... But the memory comes anyway, the sound of Illeyna's voice raised in anger, the sight of the hand lifting, and she flinches before the blow but doesn't feel it; her mother had struck Katya first. And then it had been Irina's turn... Eldest, responsible for her sisters, and she should have *known* to treat those things with more respect...

She had only wanted to pretend, just for a day, just for a moment, that she could be like her mother...)

These days she laughs sometimes at Jack, going through the motions though he's forgotten half the words. Dear Jack- so much more than the foolish patriot she thought she had married, and all the more dangerous for that. Wearing the masks that may fool others, but have never fooled her. She laughs because they are much the same now. For everything she has ever done that he once believed contemptible, he has done something equivalent, or worse. He lost his right to criticize her actions when he killed to convince Sydney not to trust her. And she likes him better for it.

She laughs at Sloane, who thinks he is approaching answers, when he no longer understands the puzzle. She laughs at his thin quest for redemption, hardly obscuring the darker motives that lie beneath. She laughs because he has done a foolish thing, a stupid thing, in anchoring himself as he has. So long as Sloane plays these games, she will always know where to find him.

She laughs at Sark, too, for trying to manipulate the masters, and for his surprise when he is himself manipulated in turn.

She laughs, bitterly, furiously, at Michael Vaughn. How dare he think that her daughter- *her daughter* would deign to be the other woman? (But Sydney is her mother's daughter, and there is little chance of that, whatever he thinks.)

And she laughs at Lauren Reed, who thinks that she has mastered the game. In the KGB of old they had names, few of them kind, for women who do what Lauren does. It is one road to power, true, but it is not the one that teaches most. And Lauren Reed will regret the lessons she did not learn; Irina will make certain of that.

She laughs, too, at Katya, when they stand one night upon a rooftop, Lauren in the scope of Irina's rifle, her finger on the trigger.

"You should kill her," Katya says.

"If she dies now," Irina replies, "Sydney will go back to Vaughn."

"Yes," Katya says. Then, "You know what Illeyna would have done."

Irina nods; it has been a long time since Katya has invoked the specter of their mother. But she does know. "I won't make her mistakes," Irina says, and lowers the rifle. "I would rather see how this plays out."

Katya nods. "Let her keep pushing Sydney... acting strangely, flaunting knowledge she shouldn't have..."

Irina laughs as she breaks the rifle into its component pieces with practiced ease, and stows them in their case. "Just enough rope, and she will take care of herself."