By Nomad
May 2008

Summary: Arvin Sloane has never had any desire to have an affair.
Spoilers: Up to 3x14 Blowback.
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.

Arvin Sloane has never had any desire to have an affair. He loves his wife: deeply, sincerely, and irreplaceably. There is no room for another woman in his life.

Laura Bristow is a beautiful woman, but he meets many in his line of work, and goes home to one who eclipses them all. She has an air of strength and dignity, but so does her husband, and - contrary to one sharply curtailed rumour that followed an unfortunate mission - Arvin has never wanted to have sex with Jack Bristow.

Laura beckons his attention because there's something wrong. And not obviously so; a large, apparent flaw would be the opposite of interesting. She appears to be perfect for Jack.

Too perfect. Real people never fit so well; real relationships have odd-shaped gaps that love pours in to fill. When two people fit as if they were moulded, it's a sure sign that one of them has been.

But moulded to what end? Not to win the heart of a man who is still surprised she'd want it. Jack's affections are a stepping stone, not Laura's endgame.

To find out what that is, he has to play.

Jack is the king in this game of chess; all the value in the game lies with him, but he cannot be wielded effectively. Laura, Arvin feels, is an innocent-looking pawn, marching unopposed toward the far end of the board. He must know what she will transform into.

The only other piece he has to bring into play is himself. If Laura's game involves Jack's CIA connections, then his own will be of interest to her. He must offer himself as available - subtly, of course - and see if she pursues the matter, and how far.

Strategy and counterstrategy. It's no betrayal. If Laura is innocent, then she won't take the bait. If she's not innocent, he's protecting Jack, not harming him.

Emily doesn't even enter into this equation. This is intelligence work, albeit self-assigned, and completely separate from the world he inhabits with her. It's no different from being an actor.

This time feels different, though. Maybe it's the mundane immediacy of the setting. A move made over dishes in Jack's kitchen. A countermove made in their local bar. Something feels wrong.

He tells himself that the nausea when Laura takes the bait is disappointment for Jack. That the impulse to make his excuses and run is a childish urge to back away from the truth. He has to follow through, or Laura will discover his game.

It's not until she rolls over and gives him a slow smile that he realises she's known it all along.

"Jack must never know," she says, grasping his shoulder. "I don't know if our marriage is strong enough to survive this... but your friendship would never recover."

It sounds sincere, but her eyes make it a threat. His stomach rolls.

Laura Bristow is playing this game too.

And she's just locked him into a stalemate.