Takes One to Know One
She doesn't have the privilege of observing casual behavior, but Irina Derevko's powers of gathering information don't stop with sight. She knows when the guards change shifts, she can summarize each of their dull lives—Sean wants to ask out Catherine from Research but isn't sure what she'll say; Derek and his wife are unexpectedly expecting another baby, their sixth; Jeannine has lost twenty-five pounds on her diet; Erin can't wait for the next episode of The Young and the Restless; useless facts, but facts nonetheless—she hears things about missions and of employees.
She wonders if maybe the guards just don't think she has ears, or if they underestimate her, because with the amount of intel they unwillingly give her, she's surprised they still have jobs. Most of what she gleans isn't of import—the CIA's missions may be top secret, but they're not usually intellectually riveting—except one day when she hears a name. Not Sydney's, though she's heard Sydney's plenty.
Vaughn. Michael Vaughn, though she doesn't hear his first name for a couple days.
She doesn't remember all the people she's killed, because if she did she might legitimately go insane, but she remembers Patrice. She remembers the look in his eyes right before she shot him: resignation, but no fear, not like all the others. He'd even chortled a little. Most notably, he'd told her about his child. Not because he thought she'd feel sympathy, but so that she'd know there would be someone out there who would one day stop at nothing to track her down and kill her.
He gave her his son's name, André, and at the time she thought it was just carelessness. But weeks of research turned up nothing, and she thought he lied to her or, perhaps, he was a smarter man than she gave him credit for. It turned out to be the latter when, eventually, she found out Patrice Michaux had supposedly run his truck off a bridge with his wife and little boy inside. Police never found the bodies, but really, they'd surmised, no way could they have survived something like that.
Irina remembers laughing for thirty seconds straight. The amount of faith civilians put in law enforcement amuses her.
The newspaper where she'd found the article didn't mention the boy's name, but it didn't have to. The answer was obvious. There was no picture, as the article mentioned the boy was just eighteen months old, but Irina had an inkling he'd grow up to be a CIA agent just as his father was. He would inherit the cunning, and couple that with the inevitable good looks, the CIA would be drooling over the chance to enlist André Michaux into their field rank.
In hindsight, she supposes she shouldn't have been so trusting, but in her line of work, there were few people who straight up lied to their murderer even though they knew they wouldn't make it out alive. Especially when said murderer taunted them about children or whatever. (People are suckers for anklebiters.)
But she did, and she never questioned that Patrice Michaux might not have actually been the name he kept. At least, not until one of the nights when she crept through Jack's files and happened upon one in particular. The name—William Christopher Vaughn—rang no bells, but the picture. The picture definitely did. It was the stoic, robotic photo governments require, not at all the smirking and handsome visage she saw, but it was definitely him.
She scanned the file even though it was unrelated to the one she was supposed to be looking at, all of which was pretty cut and dry, until she got to the "family" section.
SPOUSE: Wendy Marie Delorme – DOB 02/10/1945
CHILDREN: Michael Christopher Vaughn – DOB 11/27/1971
There were pictures this time, unlike in the news article. Doting wife and mother Wendy was pretty, if rather boring. Their son was just as Irina had imagined, handsome and CIA. What she hadn't counted on, just like with Bill, was that his name would be changed. Michael, she'd recited to herself. Michael. I look forward to meeting you.
After that she continued on with her assignments and Vaughn more or less went to the back of her mind. She had no doubt they'd cross paths, but she didn't actively seek it out.
Which is why it simultaneously tickled and intrigued her to hear the boy's name while in her cell. She gathered he's her daughter's handler—the beautiful irony—and that he's quite capable. (Erin shares with Jeannine some truly torrid fantasies.) Driven by emotions, Sean reported, but an excellent strategist, above average in hand-to-hand combat, and unparalleled in marksmanship. Irina couldn't help smiling to herself. Someone was quite the brave little soldier.
Vaughn gets mentioned now and again just like Sydney, but most of the news is just rehashing. Nothing to alleviate Irina's boredom. She still has a sense the day will dawn when they'll come face to face, but she thinks it won't be until at least after she's released. So it comes as a surprise (not that she shows it) when he barges to her cell, radiating malice and disgust through his expertly tailored suit.
She watches as he stands there, imagining him moments before talking to himself, telling himself to keep a hard posture and brilliant poker face. All of which vanishes the instant he sees her. Laura Bristow would want to hug him. Irina Derevko is pleased her husband isn't the only man she can disarm.
He doesn't look at her until the last possible moment, and she stares right back. The picture in Bill's file hadn't done him justice, she sees, although she presumes the pained wrinkles and clenched jaw aren't usually there. She can easily see this man as a sad little boy at his father's funeral, trying to be strong for his weeping mother.
He babbles about a computer disk, one she knows well, his eyes never holding hers past that first initial glance. She doesn't respond, choosing to study him some more, and just as she could have predicted, his carefully controlled mask crumbles faster than a child's sandcastle at high tide. He sticks to his interrogation, but it's clear he wants to shout very different words, colorful words.
He then plays his last card, the Sydney card, and at first it makes her hopeful because maybe, finally, she can see her daughter. But then it makes her curious. A professional handler, even a handler in the coddling U.S. government, would never refer to his asset by his or her first name. Yet this man, this…Michael, said her name easily, familiarly. Lovingly.
She comments on this, and there's a brief flash of panic across his face, and he stares at the apparently interesting floor in an attempt to duct tape his indifference back together. It doesn't work. She knows it, he knows it. But he valiantly keeps up the effort. Even goes so far as to correct himself and refer to Sydney officially, but it has the same intonation to it.
She apprises him of the situation into which Sydney would get herself, to pull the fire alarm first. To an outsider her words would seem to the point and devoid of further meaning. But to herself and to Vaughn, they mean something else. She hadn't said in order for the mission to succeed or Sydney must do this. She'd said if you want to protect her. She chose the words carefully, and by the renewed jaw clenching of Vaughn, she knows he caught the distinction too.
He turns to leave, but she can't help giving a parting shot. It's just too delightful an opportunity. She can't see his face as she tells him of the uncanny resemblance to his father, but she's sure her envisioning is pretty close to the truth. Eyes squeezed shut, posture rigid, jugular vein throbbing with rage, hands fisted so tight the knuckles stand out. He gives a brief glance over his shoulder at her, and she reads everything in that one look. There's something else in it too, though, something she hasn't seen for thirty years.
There's no fear. Resignation that he had to talk to her, perhaps; rage, definitely; but no fear. When she told him of the resemblance she meant physique. She wonders if he's really more like his father than she'd thought, or if the lack of fear is just stupidity.
Although, while she gets pleasure from prodding him, she also wonders if she should give him some credit. After all, instead of being like his father or even Jack, who had fallen for a conceivably mundane woman, he fell for Sydney Bristow. It takes fortitude to go after her daughter, the result of two of the best spies the world produced. Whether Sydney returns his affections she doesn't yet know, but she wouldn't be surprised. Even the best of operatives give into the Boy Scout routine.
Then again, Irina muses curiously, maybe he hadn't divulged to Sydney his real past. There's no way he doesn't know. She'd been quick to read him—wow was he easy to read—but she realizes that she must have misjudged him as well. Keeping such a monumental secret as he has, fooling not only the CIA but everyone that he's the prototypical boy-next-door with nothing to hide, well. That's a twist she finds downright delicious.
It comes up again years down the road when by some stroke of misfortune it's the two of them dutifully cutting the brake fluid lines. Irina finds it somewhat fitting it's the two of them, in this the eleventh hour. Everyone had ultimately trusted her even after swearing they wouldn't. Jack did. Sydney did. The CIA did. But Michael, this…child, he never had. Collaborated with her, yes. Tolerated her, yes. Refrained from saying what he truly felt to save face with Sydney, yes. But never ever trusted her. She respects him a bit for that.
But she doesn't respect the lying. It's a necessity in their line of work, but it shouldn't leak into one's personal life. She should know better than anyone. She tells him this, tells him that he must inform Sydney of his past, and true to form he doesn't take it well. His taut muscles and twitching face spit silent curse words in a half dozen languages.
He rambles that she's not one to be giving marital advice—touché—and that he'll handle this himself thanks. He's not the person she remembers that day he spoke to her pretending to be detached from Sydney. He's different. Colder. Harder. But that determination is still there. Albeit petulant. As if he really thinks he can keep the truth from Sydney. If Irina couldn't keep her secret from Jack, Vaughn sure as hell can't keep his.
But she perseveres and quite truthfully tells him the only way to have a potentially successful marriage is to do exactly what she didn't. For whatever reason she's always found it hard to lie to Vaughn. Maybe because he'd never trusted her, or maybe because after everything he'd actually made it to the fiancé stage with her daughter, but whatever the cause, she's always been pretty straight with him. And she can see that despite his frostiness, her words got through, that he'd tell Sydney the truth some way or another.
When she hears of his supposed death by Prophet Five—classic Jack, she chuckles; she's surprised everyone fell for that sodium morphate trick—she knows he followed through on his silent acquiescence. A fact she finds quite interesting. Because while she knew her words resonated, she still doubted he'd actually do it. The temptation to keep an ugly secret from your spouse is tantalizingly strong. But he'd done it, had thought of Sydney and their impending baby instead of concealing the truth. Had sacrificed months of his life to save theirs where William had effectually doomed his son.
It's this revelation that causes her to write a particular note and send it to a particular address. An address which comes via Jack's not considering that the two of them have overlapping contacts, and so it takes her hardly any time at all to pinpoint Vaughn's location. It's truly out in the middle of nowhere, an excellent place to hide a preposterously wounded spy.
She doesn't get to watch him as he reads it, but just as she had that day in the cell when his back was turned, her imagination is just about as good as the real thing.
Michael, it reads, because she knows the use of his first name would unnerve him,
You truly are nothing like your father.
He doesn't need an ending salutation to know who it's from, and the pain that results from him violently crumpling the note and hurling it into the fireplace is that which he wishes to bestow on her. Irina knows he'll run himself ragged trying to figure out what the note means, whether it was a compliment or an insult, whether it had hidden meaning or should be taken at face value.
She also knows he'll never get the chance to ask her. What can she say, she loves a dramatic exit.