Title: Free Will

Summary: Jack goes to work for Sloane after Sydney goes missing.

Genre: Jack angst, with a strong J/I overlay. Minor mission bits as well. Some sci-fi.

Rating: PG-13 for language. One R bit, which will be well flagged in advance.

Disclaimer: All the characters are JJ's, with the exception of Grenis, who is mine. And who I promptly blow to bits.

With thanks to Spyjacked, whose encouragement significantly increased the probability that I would publish this, and whose comments will make it better. And to Evanscence.

With apologies to Isaac Asimov and Charles Dickens, for ripping off their concepts.

Setting:  Immediately post-The Telling


Jack sat groggily in the Ops Center conference room, waiting with impatience for the fog in his brain to clear.  He swatted irritably at the long-suffering medic who moved forward to check his blood pressure again.  "How much longer?" Jack asked, for the 3rd time.

"Not long, Agent Bristow.  We've injected you with a stimulant that will counter the effects of the tranquilizer you were administered.  Another couple of hours and you should be fine."

Jack growled with exasperation.  It had already been 3 hours since the Ops team had found him.  He had just sat through one of the most frustrating debriefing sessions of his life.  Sloane missing.  Irina missing.  The DeRegno heart missing.  Il Dire, whatever the hell that was, missing too.  Everything and everyone was missing.  What a cock-up. 

Damn Sloane.  How far away was he by now?


Vaughn parked his car in front of Sydney's house.  The debriefing, while ugly, had been blessedly short; and he hoped she was packed for their trip.  Three days in Santa Barbara.  Sydney definitely needed the break.  He rang the doorbell and waited.  Puzzled, he rang again.  When there was no response he peered in through a window, and his stomach clenched with fear.


Jack's phone, buried in his jacket pocket, began to ring.  With effort, Jack stretched an arm towards the chair that held the jacket.


"Jack, it's Michael Vaughn.  I'm at Sydney's house."  Jack heard the underlying strain in Vaughn's voice.  "You'd better come over here right away."

"Sydney?" Jack demanded.

"She's missing."


Arvin Sloane sat aboard his private jet as it whisked its way across the Pacific.  The immediate crises of the previous 48 hours were past.  Il Dire was safe.  He had outwitted Derevko and the CIA.  Everything was falling into place.

Once again, he was pursuing the next piece.  This time, not a Rambaldi artifact.  Not an ancient document.  But a human asset that was critical to his success.

Jack Bristow.

Arvin pursed his lips.  A challenge.  It would need to be done skillfully; Bristow must choose to work with him of his own free will.  Fortunately, Jack had a few chinks in his armor.  And  Arvin, his friend of 30 years, knew them better than anyone.  Even better perhaps, Sloane mused, than Jack himself.


Disconsolately, Jack made his way through Sydney's house one more time.  Sydney had apparently vanished into thin air.  For the past 72 hours he had driven himself and the Ops Center team relentlessly, following up every lead, with no success.  Jack himself had not slept at all. 

His gaze swept the now well-covered crime scene as he barely restrained his impulse to scream in rage.  This had been her home, her safe haven.  What had she thought, seeing Will lying, apparently dead, in the bathtub?  Seeing Francie attack her?  And how had he, her father, failed to realize the mole was Francie, once Will was cleared?  What good had all his strategies and plans been if he had failed to protect his own daughter? 

Abruptly he halted, retracing his steps.  Something nagged at him, something he had missed.  He paused in the kitchen, scanning carefully.  There.  On the refrigerator, a small piece of paper, held on by a magnet, surrounded by pizza and Chinese delivery menus.  A note that had not been there previously.

"Thoroughbred.  468-923-5874."

Thoroughbred.  Sloane's code name when he had worked at the CIA, all those years ago.  Sloane had counted on his finding this.  Jack snatched the paper off of the refrigerator and sagged against the counter, overcome with relief, as he realized the meaning of the message.  Sydney was alive.  Sloane wanted something, but at least Sydney was alive.


Jack sat in his car, and carefully smoothed out the paper.  A name.  A phone number.  A decision.  He found it curious that Sloane had left the decision to make contact up to him.  The thing of it is, you are going to work with me -- sooner than you think.  Perhaps he wouldn't want much.  Jack gazed unseeingly out of his windshield.  Perhaps the tooth fairy was real.

And the question of the hour, Bristow, he thought to himself, is whether there is anything you'd refuse to do to get Sydney back.  Any line you wouldn't cross.  Would you kill someone?  Well yes, you've already done that before.  Would you kill 10 people?  100?

He hesitated for a moment only, then dialed the number.


"Where is she?" Jack asked dispassionately.  He would not give Sloane the satisfaction of hearing the worry in his voice.

"Being taken care of."

"I can take care of her."  Jack worked to keep his temper under control.  Damn Sloane and his overactive interest in Sydney's welfare.

"Apparently not."

"What do you want?" Jack snapped, unable to maintain the semblance of control any further.

"I've already told you, Jack. Our friendship," purred Sloane.  Jack felt the nausea rising in his throat.  "A partnership.  Which you will find beneficial.  To you.  To Sydney."

"Leave Sydney out of this," snarled Jack.

"I think you need to see her first, Jack, before you say that."  Click.