Title: A Son's Journey

Author: icyfire

Summary: "Why had he cared about one man's opinion so much?" Jack yearns for his father's approval.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never have been, and I lose money on Alias, not make it. Bad Robot and the Mouse own Alias.

The song lyrics are also not mine. I can't write song lyrics. Lowen & Navarro are singers and, I believe, the songwriters of "Until the Well Runs Dry." I think it's usually customary to name a songfic after the song used, but I guess I'm a rebel at heart. ;)

Rating PG-13 for language

Spoilers: Up to "Salvation" (2X06). The story is set after that episode.

A/N: This is Miss Celli's extremely late and extremely early birthday present. It was originally supposed to have just been last year's birthday fic, but since it's songfic--something I've never ever written--and I pulled out all my hair writing this--Celli has graciously accepted it as a dual birthday gift.

Big huge "Thank you!" to Karen T. for the beta. She helped make this a better story. All mistakes, however, are still mine.

Ship: There is some Jack/Laura here.

***

Call for the preacher

Cause I think I'm going to stumble

***

"Call when your plane lands."

"Yes, Sir," Jack answered. He made sure his voice was steady, crisp. He knew his father expected no less of him; his son was to act like any man under his authority.

"This is a great opportunity for you to serve our country," Colonel Thomas Bristow told him.

"Yes, Sir," he answered again, knowing that his father didn't want to hear any other answer. Jack discreetly examined the families surrounding them, and he wished that he and his father could be like the man and son standing over by the boarding ramp. It would be great to hear his dad tell him that he would miss him, to hear him say "be careful." Or maybe to hear that Colonel Bristow loved him and was proud of him.

"I expect you to be the best that you can be, Son. Failure is not an option."

He'd heard the same words dozens of times before, but they'd always been said to new recruits put under his father's command. He nodded, hoping that the look of fear that he'd seen on so many faces was not showing on his own. The old man never allowed fear to show, and he had no respect for those who did.

Swallowing, Jack pushed down the doubts he'd been feeling since Bob Carlin had first approached him four months before. Jack had been debating what he'd wanted to do with his life--questioning if he could be a career military officer like his father was and expected him to be--when the CIA had let him know they were interested.

After a few minutes of awe and excitement--and a few daydreams of being James Bond with cool gadgets and hot women--Jack's analytical brain had started to reason through the job requirements: lying, killing, whatever was needed to get the job done. He had doubted he could do it.

Besides, he hadn't thought he was as impressive as the CIA recruiter had tried to claim he was. Sure he'd scored well on some standardized tests; that didn't mean he would make a good agent. He had reasoned that if they actually took the time to study him, to see what he could do, the people at the CIA would quickly realize their mistake in picking him.

He had decided to decline the offer.

But then he had come home to find his father waiting for him. And saw the look of pride on the Colonel's face. The CIA, because of his age and his father's clearance, had already discussed the job offer with him. Jack had spent a life time working to earn his father's respect; his father's proud eyes had made the decision for him.

He was going to work for the CIA.

"I won't fail, Sir," Jack said, hoping that he wasn't lying. The father and son next to the boarding ramp hugged, and Jack wished he had the courage to try to hug the man standing at attention in front of him.

Thomas Bristow held out his hand. "See that you don't." It was an order. Resisting the urge to salute, Jack nodded and shook his father's hand. He reached down, grabbed his carry-on bag, and turned to get in line to board the plane.

As he handed the stewardess his boarding pass, he glanced at the sad father watching his son leaving. He saw tears in the man's eyes. He shifted his gaze to his own father and saw the same cool face that had been there a moment before.

Walking the long ramp to the plane, Jack heard "Failure is not an option" ringing in his ears. Please, Lord, he thought with every step. Don't let me fail.

***

I'll try not to mumble

So he can hear my prayer

***

"Speak up, Mr. Bristow," Lloyd Harrison snapped. "I can't hear you."

Jack struggled to speak past the lump in his throat. He was the quietest of the group he was training with, and he was the youngest, too. Even worse, everyone else seemed so self-assured and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Unlike him.

"I think the agents were wrong," he said, his voice a little clearer than before, but still not as strong as it should be.

He felt every eye focus on him. Usually this class studied missions--what had been done right during previous CIA assignments. Or at least that's what the discussion was always about. No one seemed to want to talk about what had gone wrong. It was almost as if it was traitorous to even consider the possibility that the CIA had made a mistake.

Of course Jack saw the mistakes. They glared at him.

He never spoke up in class, expecting the others to point them out, always left wondering if he was seeing something that wasn't there when no one did.

But he couldn't stay quiet today. Not about this mission. It had been a mistake from the onset, and listening to Lisa McGuire--the most brilliant student in the class--bragging on every aspect of it had left him with a sour stomach.

"You think the agents were wrong, Mr. Bristow?" Harrison said with a hint of mockery in his voice. He leaned back on his desk and crossed his arms and ankles. "And what do you--someone who has never been in the field-- think they should have done?"

Jack almost backed down, almost said he was wrong, but then he looked up at the three faces projected on the wall. They were photos of three people whose families were left to mourn their absence. Those three agents, who had died because their team leader had made a terrible mistake, wouldn't let him remain quiet.

He crossed his fingers and tried to find the courage to speak. Thinking about his father, he made himself look his instructor in the eyes. He wouldn't show his fear. "I think the team leader lost focus of the bigger goal. China is our enemy, and they did have a piece of intel that we needed. However, the Soviet Union is our common enemy. The better way to get the intel we needed was to arrange an exchange. We should've formed a strategic alliance."

"A strategic alliance? An exchange? Am I to understand, Mr. Bristow," Harrison said with the same mocking lilt he'd used before, "that you think we should have contacted the Chinese Central Investigation Department with an offer to share our intel in exchange for theirs?"

Jack looked down at his hands and thought about his father. Thought about the disappointment that would be on his face if the CIA sent him back home with a "Thank you, but Jack Bristow does not fit our requirements" letter. The CIA promoted following the line, not asking questions, but here Jack was--an unimportant recruit--saying that the agency was wrong. He looked back up at the accusing eyes in the projection on the wall and returned his attention to Harrison. "Yes, Sir," he said.

Jack heard the other students shifting around in their chairs. Harrison was now walking towards him. "And what would keep them from giving us fake information?"

"Fear," he answered, feeling a trickle of sweat course its way down the side of his face. "The border dispute between them and the Soviet Union is a growing concern of theirs. In this instance, China would have realized that we had a better chance to stop the Soviets than they did. Working with us would have been to their advantage."

Harrison looked down at his watch and then back at Jack. "You are absolutely correct, Mr. Bristow. This mission was a disaster for this agency. An unnecessary disaster. The team leader arrogantly presumed that he needed to prove he was smarter than his Chinese counterparts. Instead he proved how dangerous and reckless he was with those who trusted him with their lives. In fact, the intel gathered that day was incomplete, and we ended up forming an alliance with China's CID, which ended with us achieving the 'bigger goal,' as Mr. Bristow called it. Class dismissed."

Jack inhaled a gulp of air; he wasn't going to be sent home to explain to Thomas Bristow why the CIA no longer considered him a viable agent candidate. Besides being upset that Jack had failed, his father wouldn't have approved of him questioning authority.

"Mr. Bristow, please stay for a few minutes."

At least he didn't think he was about to be sent home. Harrison's voice had been firm, but he didn't look upset; he looked almost pleased.

Jack glanced at his watch as he walked towards the large cherry desk in the front of the room. His instructor noticed. "In a hurry, Mr. Bristow?"

"I'm sorry, Sir, but I have a Chemistry exam in an hour." He wanted to wince at how weak his voice sounded, but he struggled to appear calm.

"A chemistry exam?" Harrison shook his head as he walked behind his desk. Sitting down, he sighed, "Damn, but you are young."

Tossing his pen onto the desk, he leaned back in his chair. "I admit that I wasn't thrilled when the agency informed me that there would be a seventeen year-old boy in my class, Mr. Bristow. I read your test results, read the field reports--"

"Field reports?"

Harrison grinned at him. "We usually get people after college, Mr. Bristow, and then only those who apply to work for us. You attracted the agency's eye, so they sent agents to study you."

Jack shifted, uncomfortable with the idea that someone was studying him when he had been oblivious. He was also uncomfortable with the fact the CIA was so interested in him that they had sent agents, spent resources, to study him.

He felt Harrison studying him now. "I was also unhappy to hear that you planned to study for you college degree while in training. I thought it was an unnecessary burden, especially on one so young."

He could only nod, unable to explain that his degree was his failsafe. It gave him something to fall back on if he failed. When he failed.

Harrison shook his head. "I thought I would have to make allowances for your age, which goes against the grain where I'm concerned. I don't believe in allowances. I think they get agents killed."

Jack was unsure what his teacher was wanting him to say. "Agreed, Sir."

His teacher leaned forward with a grace which belied his age. "Then stop making me make allowances for you, Jack. Stop hiding your intelligence. Stop acting like the last man picked for the team. You're fucking brilliant. I'm not even finished going over mission specs when I see from your face that the entire op has re-organized itself in your brain. It also tells me that you've seen every mistake made in every mission we've discussed. Haven't you?"

Jack was sure he hadn't seen every mistake, but he doubted Harrison would appreciate him debating semantics at the moment. "Yes, Sir."

"I know you have. Just like I know that you are standing there telling yourself that you didn't see every mistake." Harrison shook his head when Jack didn't say anything. "Jack, I don't give a damn about your age anymore; you're the most brilliant student I've ever taught, and I'm going to start treating you that way. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir."

Harrison stood and walked up to him. "Listen to me carefully, Jack. I'm going to stop making any allowances for your age and for your lack of self- confidence. Because I'm afraid if I keep doing it, I'm going to be the reason you get killed one of these days. And the CIA can't afford to lose a viable asset like you."

He walked around Jack and stood right next to him. "So, Mr. Bristow, you'd better start sharing your thoughts in class, or I'm going to make your life a living hell. Do we understand one another?"

Jack nodded, feeling as if he was home. His father always used the same means of intimidation; getting in someone's personal space was an effective technique. "Yes, Sir."

"Good. Dismissed," Harrison said, turning his attention to something on his desk.

Jack walked out of the room thinking he should feel better after hearing his teacher's praise, but somehow he was feeling worse. The pressure of expectations weighed heavier on his shoulders. He'd lived with them all his life, but he'd never met up to his father's. Not even now. Failure was not an option, but it seemed to be the only end result he knew. Please don't let me fail.

***

End 1/5