Human Error

By Nomad
September 2009

Summary: An equipment malfunction during a 1980s mission forces Jack and Sloane into an awkward situation. Slashy.
Spoilers: Up to 4x19 "In Dreams".
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams and co; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.

Arvin had a bad feeling about the mission from the start.

It was Jack's first return to the field since his capture by East German Intelligence. The Germans had held him for two weeks, and the CIA's post-mission debrief had rounded that out to almost a month. The trouble was he'd sold his cover too well: with the shadow of Irina Derevko still hanging over him, being released unharmed looked more like collusion with the enemy than success.

Jack had already begun taking risks and cutting corners, gambling with his safety and sacrificing his precious time with Sydney to prove himself to the CIA. Arvin feared how much further this setback was going to push him.

He'd had to pull strings to get himself assigned as Jack's backup on this mission. No one else was clamouring for the position, but Arvin had taken a shift to desk-work to give Sydney some stability in the months Jack was in prison, and the CIA weren't keen to let him go back. He was running out of stalling tactics to avoid giving an answer on the job they'd offered him in Europe. It was a good move for his career and he knew it would please Emily, but it felt like he was being deliberately separated from Jack.

Arvin knew he was Jack Bristow's only lifeline, and he wasn't about to let that line be cut.

Which was why he wasn't sure if it was bitter irony or deliberate sabotage when the comms fuzzed out at a critical point in the mission. "Obsidian, report!" he snapped into the microphone.

All he got back was static.

Arvin looked up through the tinted windows of the surveillance van. The back-alley club Jack had disappeared into was like thousands of its kind: grim, seedy, sordid, and possessed of private rooms where more than just the latest party drugs changed hands. The owner of this particular club had an impressive collection of blackmail photos, some of which the CIA were very interested in acquiring. And since his prices tended towards the exorbitant, they were acquiring them the easy way.

Theoretically easy. Jack's brief was to get himself invited into the private rooms in the back, tranq his host, acquire the man's personal key, and visit the file store in the basement.

He'd gotten as far as the invitation when the comms cut out.

"Obsidian, what's your status?" Arvin demanded again. If there was any variation in the static, he couldn't hear it.

There was no evidence anything was wrong beyond the comm failure. Protocol said he should allow Jack the fifteen minutes he might need to complete the mission before taking action.

Slavish adherence to protocol had never been Arvin's style. He yanked off his tie, popped the top button of his shirt, and headed out into the club.

Even dressed down, the suit was too smart; his hair was too short, and he wasn't wearing enough leather. But a confident walk carried him through the smoky dark of the club's interior. He shouldered aside a guy twice his size who loomed into the way and continued into the back without pause.

The sound effects coming from most of the rooms that he passed were nothing Arvin found enticing. He drew his gun as he reached the stairway down to the basement, instincts alerting him to a half-seen, half-sensed whisper of movement. He spun around the corner, aiming down the stairs at-


Jack lowered his own weapon with an eloquent scowl.

"We lost comms," Arvin said. It was a simple statement of fact, not an apology.

"You don't need to check up on me," Jack insisted heatedly.

Arvin held his gaze, refusing to be cowed. "It was the logical course of action."

Jack's eyes flashed. "It was unnecessary." He took a breath for further words, then cut himself off abruptly as they both heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway towards them.

The basement was off limits to anyone but the club's owners, and there was nowhere to duck into that wouldn't be harder to explain than lurking in the stairwell. As Arvin's brain ran all the angles, his body was already moving, twisting to shove Jack up against the stairway wall and pull him down into a kiss.

Jack kissed him back aggressively, continuing the argument on the only battleground available. The strangeness of kissing a man, kissing Jack, was superseded by the reflex to fight back and take control of the situation. Not matching Jack force for force would have been an admission of surrender.

Blood rushed in Arvin's ears, and it took too long for his field instincts to drag back messages that should have come back instantly: that somehow they'd shifted position so that he was the one pressed against the wall, the whole of Jack's bodyweight pinning him, his hand trapped flat against Jack's chest; that his body was reflexively pushing up into Jack's, finding something in angles and hard muscle that wasn't so different from soft yielding curves; that whoever had been approaching had turned off into a side room and there was absolutely no reason now that they should be still kissing.

And yet they were. The mood had shifted a gear beyond combative into something more murky and dangerous. There was a kind of desperation to the way Jack was kissing him now. Six months in solitary, the East Germans, the interrogations, all the landmarks of his life turned upside-down...

Jack needed something to cling on to, and it was incredibly tempting to be it. Because he loved Jack, he did, and while Arvin was sure he'd never thought about this, it was difficult right now to figure out why. It was natural enough, an extension of what had come before, a way to express things not easily spoken in words. It would be a gesture of comfort, and-

Wrong. It would be wrong. Because he did love Jack; this wasn't Irina Derevko, a guilty weakness of the flesh to be washed away in self-disgust and regrets. Letting this continue would be something else entirely.

Something he couldn't do to Emily, no matter how lonely he felt as the weight of unrealised dreams and unborn babies piled up between them, forcing them further and further apart.

He shoved Jack away from him, not gently.

They faced each other across the stairwell, both breathing hard. Jack's eyes were still smoky with something that Arvin chose to interpret as anger.

"You got the photos?" he said. Jack gave a curt nod.

Arvin turned and led the way back up the stairs without a word.

The cool air outside the club was not the slap back to reality he'd hoped, but a shiver brushing over his sensitised skin that made his nerves feel raw. They got back in the van and drove away from the club in utter silence. Arvin knew enough about himself to be glad they had a flight to catch home and not a hotel to go back to.

He made a mental note to talk to Devlin as soon as they got back.

Maybe it would be wise to take the European job after all.