By Nomad
July 2008

Summary: Arvin Sloane, 1982.
Spoilers: Up to 4x19 "In Dreams".
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.

The house is very empty.

Arvin has never previously suffered from loneliness. In fact, he always thought it rather an affected complaint. Like boredom, a malady that afflicts only those too unintelligent to find ways to fill their time.

Even now, he is not bored, but he's restless in a way he's never been.

Emily has taken to her bed. Her bed, as it always instantly becomes on the return home from another heartbreaking visit to the hospital. She cannot bear for him to touch her, and he feels useless, helpless, the two things in the world he can least bear to be.

Always before there was the prospect of another try, painful but at the same time reassuring. A thin thread of hope to hold onto for the future.

This time is different. The lost hopes of before could be replaced with new ones. But Jacquelyn was more than a hope, and she cannot be replaced.

He held her in his hands, but she was dead.

He wanders the house, strangling in the silence but unable to leave. If this is punishment, it's the cruellest ever devised; to see Emily suffer in payment for the sin he committed against her.

He didn't love Laura, didn't truly even want her - just wanted a release from the crushing weight of failed obligation that waits for him in the marriage bed. The ghosts of unrealised children that lurk, crowding out the parents who fail to create them.

That title will never be his. He will never leave behind any legacy, never have the family that he counted on to fill the empty spaces that he didn't bother to furnish any other way.

He has no friends but Jack, and he cannot bear Jack's company. Not now. It's wrong to hate him, wrong to despise the way he wallows in his own heartbreak. The scars of Laura's treachery have had no time to heal. But he's out of his solitary confinement now, and yet trying to crawl straight back in. Trying to amputate his connection to Sydney, protect her by quarantining himself.

Arvin understands what it is to feel poisonous, but the empathy is beyond him. Jack has Sydney, he has Sydney, and he's voluntarily removing himself from her life. The sheer ingratitude it takes to squander something so desperately precious makes him ill.

The greatest kindness he can do Jack right now is to stay well away from him.

And so he is alone.

Work is a poor distraction. The CIA has taken advantage of Jack's imprisonment to shunt Arvin away from the field, and they like him too much in his new role to reverse the decision. He has a gift for the work, but it doesn't consume him mind and body the way that field work used to.

He needs to be consumed. He needs to be buried completely, beyond the point where he can think.

Books cannot hold his attention, and music is painful to listen to. Crosswords and other puzzles aren't worth even considering. His mind can track an orchestra of interrelated variables. Posed puzzles are too trite with their one simple solution.

The real world is too complex, and it offers no solutions. Only chaos, chaos, chaos, with no purpose, for no reason. There's nothing for him to solve here.

He's taken to straightening the house, a small and pointless project that at least gives him the illusion of helping Emily. He cannot touch her garden; her precious flowers are dying, but to go out there and tend them would feel like an admission, an acceptance that some part of Emily is gone forever.

He won't believe that. Emily is strong; stronger than anyone but Arvin understands. This is a terrible blow, but she will recover. Their love will recover.

And in the meantime, he will keep the house for her, shoulder some minor burden in lieu of the one he can't take from her. Perhaps it's time to clear out some of his old papers, empty the house of the past. In time, they can build a new life on the ashes of their old dreams.

For now, it's impossible to look that far ahead. The best he can hope for is a few minutes' amnesia found in flicking through old documents.

It's late evening by the time he's worked his way around to his study. Once he's cleared this room it should be after nine - late enough to justify crawling into bed and willing the remaining hours away.

He'll be sleeping in the guest room again.

In the bottom drawer of his desk he finds a sheaf of papers from his time in the Engineers. There are architectural plans in there, curling open from their rolled state and conspiring to jam the whole thing shut. He hasn't opened this drawer in a while.

Eventually he wrestles them out and spreads them on the carpet. There's little here he needs to keep; it's a life he won't go back to.

Under the edge of a blueprint, a scribbled phrase catches his eye. 'Child of sorrow', tagged with a large question mark. It strikes a resonant note, and he tugs it out to reveal more of the page.

He can't help a faint huff of amusement when he realises what he's found.

It's the Rambaldi papers; that obscure Italian code master his superiors were hung up on, convinced the mysteries of the universe were hidden in his puzzles.

Arvin doubts the reality is anything so dramatic. But it's certainly true Rambaldi was a genius. The best minds of generations have wrestled with his cryptic clues. Arvin spent a few weeks playing at the task himself, until he realised it would take decades that he didn't care to spare.

He shuffles the papers now, and carries them over to his desk. The works of Italian mystics mean little to him, but the intricate codes take long days to decipher.

He needs a way to occupy his mind.