Truth and Weakness
By She's a Star
Disclaimer: Alias belongs to one Mr. J.J. Abrams.
Author's Note: Second person! SpyRents! SpyDaddy denial! The first thing I've written in about sixty trillion years! It's all so magical. (Or maybe really, really terrible. Who knows?)
Laura had told you once that she hated lying. You hadn't thought anything of it at the time; her eyes had been sparkling in the dim candlelight, her hair falling from its carefully fixed chignon and brushing against the curve of her throat. It had been your first "real" date; a French restaurant and formal attire contrasting against the cups of coffee or impromptu evening walks you'd shared with her before. You hadn't kissed her yet and were trying to figure out how to rectify that predicament; therefore, what she was saying wasn't of primary interest to you at the time.
Irina had probably taken this into consideration and concluded that you wouldn't search for any deeper meaning in the words. And so Irina - Laura - they are both entirely separate and very much the same for you now - had confessed to making up some forgotten excuse so a professor would allow her to turn a paper in late. A faint smile had played at the left corner of her mouth as she'd spoken, and you can recall wondering how someone so stunning could so much as exist, let alone display any interest in you.
That woman is dead now, or perhaps erased. Is it possible to mourn someone who had never actually lived to begin with? These are the sorts of pointless questions you've asked yourself, hating her and missing her (or who she'd pretended to be; it's only that you hadn't known the difference) and not allowing yourself to wonder what sort of woman she had actually been. How much of her had been composed of lies.
And this almost seemed to be a disease; something of hers that you'd kept long after she'd gone. You've always lied, of course - your work requires it - but after losing Laura you became acutely aware of how often, how effortlessly you've learned to deceive. Not the way that she does, but subtle and near-insignificant deceptions. Sydney has become the victim of most of them. (Laura would have hated this, you half-allowed yourself to think once before extinguishing it with the reality that Irina, wherever she may have been, did not care.)
She is lying now, and you're aware of this and trying not to let it slip away from you. Though she's proven herself, though she spends day after day in a cell without complaint or any display of discontent, though something softens in her eyes whenever Sydney is mentioned, Irina Derevko is not capable of truth. You tell yourself this because you have to; because you've always fallen prey to her charms easily, and therefore need to be reminded of certain things.
When she had first turned herself in, the very notion of actually seeing her had seemed inconceivable. For one thing, you'd let her become almost dead in your mind, needing this as a sort of inexplicable revenge. Resurrection of any kind didn't seem slightly appealing. For another, you weren't quite sure you would be able to believe it. She'd conjured a flawless facade in Laura, and the idea of looking into the eyes of a woman with her face and seeing someone else entirely held an indescribable sense of impossibility.
But despite all this, you had to (for closure, perhaps, but you never allowed yourself to think this fully), and you entertained the notion that maybe she would have faded in some way. Maybe the vibrancy or the sweetness that she'd held as Laura would have disappeared; maybe (you foolishly speculated) there would be no resemblance at all.
And so you'd seen her. And she still moved with the same hypnotic grace, and was still beautiful. (Surreally; intoxicatingly so, in a way that almost numbed the sharpness of the memories.) Her hair, carelessly pulled back; brushing against the curve of her throat.
She wasn't Laura, of course, but traces of her lingered.
And now, without meaning to, you've begun studying them. Holding any interest in her whatsoever is unwise; you know this, and therefore tell yourself that it isn't out of interest. Rather, you're searching - for something chipped or inconsistent in this woman that she's claiming to be now. She just wants to help Sydney. To help all of them. She wants to pay her debts to this country. When you are in your right mind, you don't believe it, but looking at her it seems almost plausible.
(This is the reason you search. Because it isn't plausible, and you'll prove it in time.)
She tucks her hair behind her ears when she's conflicted or lost in thought, the way that Laura had. (The way that Sydney does; truth is present in small things, and you try not to let this sway you.) Her eyes hold the same spark of intelligence but also harbor an unfamiliar superiority, as though she is all-knowing and above the rest of you somehow. There is a constant sensuality in nearly everything about her that Laura had sometimes displayed traces of; the way she moves or glances or speaks. You try to note this with a detachment and disinterest, and tell yourself that you do so successfully.
She laughs the same way that Laura had. Amusement unbridled, eyes dancing, the sound low and full. Unquestionably genuine, and strange and unfitting of Irina Derevko. You think of the train in Kashmir; Sydney beaming and you thoughtlessly, foolishly inviting back memories that you'd buried. (Not deep enough, you've learned as of late.) And in that moment, something had either become blurred or startlingly clear - the difference is hard to distinguish, with her - and she'd smilingly thrown in her own details, hands moving to emphasize her words, as you'd relayed the broken toaster story. She'd caught your eye the way she had a thousand times in another life, and for a second you'd loved her without considering it. Simply because you always had.
For a second.
You'd realized then exactly how deeply the extent of this weakness ran, and had vowed never to fall prey to it again. It was a momentary lapse; understandable but not quite forgivable just the same. In any case, that was all.
At the prison in Kashmir, when she had pretended to betray you, you'd found yourself considering it a kind of retribution. You are never to forgive this woman, regardless of whether it is just a second, because she's broken you and - more importantly - she's hurt Sydney. It isn't your own bitterness that requires you despise her. It's for Sydney, like everything else, and when you think like this - with this strange almost-righteousness - it seems that perhaps it will get easier.
(It doesn't; it hasn't, but you anticipate this shift all the same.)
It's only that Sydney has begun to forgive her now, and you can see why. Though it seems like defeat to admit it, you are almost certain that Irina loves Sydney. Where your daughter is concerned, there is something like weakness in Irina, and truth, you've learned, can often be found in one's weaknesses.
You continue to observe her. She reminds you of something you already know, something you haven't bothered to eliminate for a reason you don't quite understand. "You know, technically, we may still be husband and wife." Laura, you recall, had a habit of finding strange things humourous. Another similarity; still no chips, nothing substantial, but you'll find something if you keep looking.
When you are suspected of Emily Sloane's murder, you ask for Irina's assistance without knowing why and find yourself remembering, ridiculously, when you asked her to dinner the first time. You find that two of them are blurring even moreso now; remembering Laura and Irina at the same time, and it's just that you're watching her, that's all. Sooner or later you'll discover her endgame, and there will be a triumph and a satisfaction in it. You tell yourself this.
You find yourself visiting her for no reason. (Irina bites her lip when uncomfortable about something; Laura hadn't done this.) One Wednesday, you are on your way to see her, intent upon asking what she knows about a terrorist group that has surfaced in Marseilles, when you realize that it is, technically, your wedding anniversary. You contemplate turning back, and don't.
And this is when you begin to suspect, despite yourself, that you've lost sight of things. She is disarming, you've always known this, and now part of you is almost hoping that the woman you are on your way to see (the woman that ruined your life, you feel compelled to remind yourself) is not another fabrication.
When you reach the glass, the bars creaking and shifting with a routine gracelessness that seems unsettling today, she is seated cross-legged on the floor, reading the one novel that she has been allowed with a raptness that suggests the story is unfamiliar to her. You know this isn't the case, and are reminded of Laura lying in bed next to you, lost in Tolstoy or Nabokov. She always had a passion for words. It was one of the things you'd found alluring about her.
She looks up, and the hint of a pleased smile lights her face.
"I was just thinking about you," she says by way of greeting, the nonchalant softness of her tone suggesting an intimacy that you choose not to fully acknowledge.
"Likewise," you lightly respond, only because it somehow seems to you that brushing off the statement would award her some kind of victory.
She doesn't speak for a moment - just stares up at you with a cryptic almost-smile that you've nearly grown used to. And so you look back down at her, your own form reflected dimly in the glass that separates you.