By Nomad
September 2008

Summary: Pre-series. Jack, Arvin, and a French prison cell.
Spoilers: Season 1.
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.

This wasn't the first time Jack had rescued Arvin Sloane from a dingy prison cell in Europe. It wasn't even the first time he'd done it with paperwork rather than weaponry.

It was, however, the first time the paperwork was legitimate.

Arvin jumped up as soon as he arrived. "Jack! The artefact, was it retrieved?" he asked, almost desperately.

Jack was torn between disgust and pity. Didn't Arvin realise how ridiculous his obsession with this mythical machine made him look to the CIA?

"The cleanup teams found nothing resembling your description of the 'Gate of Waters'," he said. He couldn't quite conceal his disdain for the name, but Arvin didn't even seem to notice. He turned away from the bars in frustration.

"The Sons of Rambaldi. I knew they'd come back for it. Dammit, Jack, if the CIA had gotten me out of this cell a day earlier-"

"Arvin..." Jack felt strangely helpless. Arvin was usually so politically astute, far better than Jack at negotiating the twists and turns of other people's vested interests. And yet he couldn't even seem to see the amount of trouble he was in past the blinkered conviction that this machine - this fifteenth century invention - was of global importance.

He wondered, not for the first time, if Arvin was having some kind of a breakdown. But it was a guilty suspicion, and he shoved it away hurriedly. It was an error of judgement. They'd all made them. And it wasn't fair, after all his years of dedicated service, that the CIA should hang Arvin out to dry.

"The CIA has formally apologised to the French government," he said simply.

Arvin's gaze sharpened; he wasn't so far gone that he didn't recognise the implications of that. "Since when do we acknowledge and apologise for our operations?"

"Arvin, you went off the book!" Jack burst out, frustrated. "This was completely unauthorised. You got three agents killed, shot up the home of a man with government connections, and all the justification the CIA has to show for it is a star chart and a prophecy in a fifteenth century manuscript!"

Arvin gripped the bars intently. "Jack, the Gate of Waters is a serious threat. Rambaldi left instructions for synthesizing an airborne biological weapon," he said forcefully. "If the Sons of Rambaldi had successfully activated it, they could have taken out half of Paris."

"The CIA should have supported you," Jack said. He meant that. He didn't believe for a second that Arvin was right about Rambaldi's importance, but nonetheless, he'd earned his benefit of the doubt. If he'd believed these cultists were dangerous, that should have been reason enough for the CIA to authorise an op against them.

"The CIA has been looking for an excuse to push me out," Arvin said flatly.

Jack let his silence stand for agreement. It was true. Despite his prior record with the agency, Arvin's increasing insistence on pushing to make Rambaldi's inventions a priority had ruffled somebody's feathers. Jack felt like a spectator on the sidelines of an inevitable train crash, watching Arvin's stubborn refusal to back off from his obsession rush towards the agency's increasing impatience. The CIA were treating him less kindly than they should... and yet Arvin was the one who could have saved himself at any time with a lip service denial of his belief in Rambaldi.

Arvin had shielded Jack from the worst consequences of his slide into recklessness and near-alcoholism in the years after his imprisonment, but Jack had no idea how to protect his friend from this... insanity.

And yet when Arvin's eyes met his, they seemed the same as always - only more weary and more bitterly disillusioned. "No doubt I'll be expected to demonstrate gratitude that they've negotiated me a quiet retirement in place of public humiliation." He shook his head. "I won't do it, Jack. I won't be put out to pasture like an old man at the end of his usefulness."

"A transfer, then?" Jack suggested. "Any of the other agencies would be glad to have you." Obsessed or not, Arvin had a genius for the work. The CIA were fools to throw him away.

"Yes, they would." Arvin smiled thinly. "But no, Jack. I can see the US government lacks the vision required to handle what's ahead. I believe a more... drastic... career change is in order."

As he let his friend out of the cell, Jack couldn't help but wonder uneasily what Arvin Sloane considered drastic.