By Nomad
April 2009

Summary: A what-if story set in 1982. Jack receives a late night visitor.
Spoilers: Up to 4x19 "In Dreams".
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.

Jack's first thought, hearing someone at the door this late, was that it was the FBI returning. There was no one who would drop in on him socially; his work colleagues had taken pains to distance themselves from a man still suspected of KGB connections, and the superficial overtures from his neighbours and Laura's former coworkers had dried up over the months he'd spent in prison.

He wasn't sorry to lose them. The endless cycle of sympathy and condolences had been nauseating, and now every semi-familiar face was cause for new paranoia. How many of Laura's fellow teachers were also plants for the KGB? How many of his concerned neighbours were undercover agents checking up on him?

His only true friend was Arvin Sloane, and he was across the ocean, reassigned to Europe on a sufficiently long-term basis that he'd taken his wife out there with him. Jack wasn't sure that their paths would ever cross again, at least not for the foreseeable future.

So it was with some degree of surprise that he opened his door to find Arvin on the other side of it.

It wasn't just his presence that was unexpected. It was the fact he looked so little like his usual impeccable self. His suit was as expensive as ever, but it was crumpled with days of wear, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. He looked like he hadn't slept in weeks.

Of course, the most surprising thing was the fact he was holding a baby.

Arvin met Jack's questioning gaze with flat and weary hopelessness. "Emily's dead," was all he said.

There didn't seem to be much for Jack to do but stand aside and let him in.

The child started crying as soon as Arvin brought it in, tiny baby lungs still strong enough to shatter the cloak of silence that had followed Jack home from solitary. Arvin walked in circuits and made soft shushing noises; mechanical, reflexive gestures of soothing that Jack remembered well from endless sleepless nights back in another lifetime.

"It was... a risky pregnancy," Arvin said quietly as he paced, all his attention on the baby. "We knew that. That was why we avoided making any announcements. I took the liaison job in Europe so I could be home more often, so Emily wouldn't worry..."

He trailed off, the rest of the story hanging unspoken and obvious.

Jack found himself at a loss to offer comfort or sympathy. His own insides were still hollowed out from the gut-punch of Laura's death and betrayal. He barely had the strength to keep himself and Sydney going, let alone shoulder the burden of Arvin's grief.

The baby continued to wail, refusing to be calmed. Jack wondered if the child was conscious of its loss even at such a young age, aware of the inadequacy of a father alone as a substitute.

At the sound of soft footsteps on the stairs he turned, and saw Sydney staring down at them with wide eyes, her stuffed bear clutched in front of her like a shield. Her hesitancy made him ache. Seven years old, and already she'd learned to be afraid of visitors in the night.

He couldn't send her back to bed with the baby still howling, so he beckoned her forward. She approached them cautiously, curiosity and his permission restoring some of her boldness. She peered at the bundle in Arvin's arms with undisguised fascination, and Jack felt a sudden pang for the other children that he would never have, for the life that had never been anything more than an illusion. His throat felt thick, and it was a moment before he could speak.

"Sydney, you know Mr Sloane," he said. "And this is his baby..." He looked over at Arvin, realising he didn't know the child's name or gender.

Arvin raised his head from the baby to give Sydney a pale smile. "Jacquelyn," he said, his voice weary but certain. "Her name is Jacquelyn."

Jack met his eyes, startled and humbled, but the only thing staring back at him was bleak exhaustion. Arvin was beyond the point of summoning his customary smugness at having played an unexpected conversational shot. It wasn't a calculated revelation, just a simple fact.

"Why is she crying?" Sydney asked, stretching up on tiptoes to see.

"She's probably hungry," Jack said.

"Can we feed her?" she asked eagerly. Sydney hadn't had much exposure to younger children; Jack wasn't sure how well she comprehended the difference between a baby and a toy or a pet.

He looked to Arvin, registering both the bag that probably held the necessary supplies and the fact that in his current state of mind Arvin was unlikely to be able to deal with anything so complex. Jack stood and moved to take the baby from him. Arvin neither helped nor resisted, looking rather blank and lost once he was relieved of his precious burden.

For himself, Jack felt half-forgotten instincts flow back in; one hand just here, the other just there, a careful grip to cradle and support the fragile form of a new life. He held the baby down lower so Sydney could see, and felt something kick in his chest at the wonder on her face as she tentatively reached out to touch one perfectly formed little hand. The baby stopped crying momentarily, clear blue eyes opening wide at this unexpected intrusion on its insular little world.

Jack straightened up, mind already running ahead through the mechanics of assembling bottles and heating up formula. Clear, concrete, useful things that he could do to lessen this child's distress.

"Yes," he said, and smiled softly down at Sydney. "We can do that."