By Nomad
November 2008

Summary: Jack has a talk with Arvin after the season five finale.
Spoilers: Right up to the very end.
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.

Jack had toyed with the idea of leaving Arvin trapped under the boulder, but he'd known all along that he wouldn't go through with it. Torture had never been his intent, only confinement.

He hadn't intended to join Arvin in that confinement, but it seemed Rambaldi's miracles worked just as well for non-believers. In retrospect, he should probably have considered the ramifications of detonating a bomb in a chamber full of fluid that brought back the dead.

In his defence, he'd had rather a lot on his mind.

Jack didn't hold Arvin particularly responsible for the actions that had brought them to this point. It seemed slightly unfair when he was so self-evidently insane.

He'd stopped talking directly to his hallucinations now, which only brought his insanity down to a subtler, less immediately obvious level.

"Nadia is alive, Jack," he said earnestly. His eyes gleamed like coins in the half-light.

Jack closed his eyes. "Arvin..." He trailed off, helpless. Dealing with the irrational had never been his forte. He'd always struggled to converse with Sydney when she was a small child, though she'd never seemed to mind bouncing non sequiturs off his attempts to follow her loose threads of conversation.

"I know you believe I killed her," Arvin persisted. "I almost believed it myself, even knowing better. But Jack - that wasn't Nadia."

Jack pursed his lips, and contemplated another sigh of, "Arvin..." He wasn't sure it would do any good. Arvin didn't give him the chance to utter it anyway.

"Prophet Five never had a permanent cure," he said. "They were bluffing. I suspected as much when they claimed their cure had come from Rambaldi's work. They replaced Nadia with a helixed operative, thinking I would believe in their miracle cure and accept her. The woman who died was not my daughter."

Jack shook his head, unsure whether to pity or be disgusted by this slip into delusional fantasy. But then-

"Sloane," he breathed, realisation dawning slowly.

Arvin cocked his head quizzically, no doubt pondering the cause of the shift in formality, but Jack wasn't talking to him. He met Arvin's eyes, astonished.

"She referred to you as Sloane," he said. "When we were looking at the files in your storage facility. I thought it odd at the time, but I assumed she was merely trying to distance herself in the event that you should prove to be up to no good."

Arvin closed his eyes and let out his breath in a rush that was almost a sob. "It wasn't her," he said, as if it were as much a revelation to him as to Jack. Jack realised that, however much reason Arvin might have had to believe he'd killed a double, he could never have been completely sure it hadn't been his daughter.

Jack gripped his shoulder in silent support. Knowing this changed everything... but there were still matters unexplained.

"Then why all this?" he asked.

"Prophet Five's interest in page forty-seven encouraged me to renew my studies of it," Arvin said. Jack didn't bother to question how it had come to be in Arvin's possession in the first place. "I divined that there was a possibility of discovering a hidden message by casting the manuscript into flames, but naturally I was reluctant to test it."

He took a breath. "The impostor must have seen some of my notes. She..." his voice wavered, "engineered a confrontation that allowed her to throw the page into the fire. She tried to stop me from seeing the message, and I... we... there was a struggle." He looked up at Jack, his eyes glistening. "I knew... I believed it wasn't her, but seeing her there..."

Jack, having found what he believed to be Nadia's body himself, had no trouble imagining.

"I think I lost my mind, a little." Arvin gave a humourless quirk of a smile. "It haunted me, the possibility. The idea that I could so easily have killed her, that perhaps I had. I saw her everywhere. The lines between reality and nightmare blurred."

Jack had already surmised as much from his ramblings while he was trapped under the boulder. But this plot to open Rambaldi's tomb had more than madness behind it.

"Why rejoin Prophet Five?" he asked. "What could they offer you, having pretended that they'd already delivered Nadia?"

"There was a message in page forty-seven," Arvin told him. "It spoke of Rambaldi's ultimate achievement, a formula that could heal the body of all injury and illness." His voice darkened. "Prophet Five were fools, chasing the selfish dream of immortality, but I saw my chance to cure Nadia for real."

"And yet you used it on yourself," Jack said archly.

Arvin tilted his head. "I knew Sydney wouldn't rest until I was brought to justice. I couldn't afford to be arrested, so I had to make her believe I was dead. And the only way she would ever do that was if she were to kill me herself."

"And shooting me?" Jack said, without much heat. He'd once executed Arvin and murdered Irina. It seemed almost churlish to make an issue of having been killed in return.

Arvin looked at him. "Sydney would never have killed me unless she had good reason," he said. "I always intended to revive you with the elixir, of course."

"Of course," Jack said wryly. He spread his hands, indicating the cave that was their prison. "And did your plan account for this?"

"I shared my knowledge with Irina," Arvin said. "Even if she believes me failed, she'll excavate the tomb at the first opportunity."

"And if Irina is captured, or dead?" Jack said pointedly.

Arvin smiled thinly. "Ah, Jack," he said. "You should know better than anyone not to count Irina Derevko out too hastily."

That was certainly the truth. But Sydney had been on Irina's trail - and Jack had intended his explosion to seal this tomb for eternity.

He suspected they could be in for a very long wait.