Victories and Defeats

By Nomad
September 2009

Summary: Jack and Arvin talk between seasons three and four. Slash.
Spoilers: Up to 4x17 "A Clean Conscience".
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to J.J. Abrams and co; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.

Drinking with Arvin Sloane was always dangerous.

It had been dangerous in the carefree seventies, when too much beer and easy laughter had coaxed Jack into embarrassing himself and sharing secrets that he'd never meant to tell. It had been dangerous in the grim hell of the eighties, when there was always the terrible, choking fear that he would start crying into his whisky. It had been lethally dangerous in the SD-6 years, when the slightest slip would have seen him and Sydney betrayed.

And it was dangerous now, for more reasons than he could count. But their agreement to work together against Elena meant establishing a cover of frequent private conversations - and Arvin had never been slow to twist the professional towards the personal.

"I know it must have been hard for you to learn the truth about Irina's plans," he said, as he rose to pour himself another glass of wine. His turned back was a small and calculated mercy. "You wanted to believe better of the mother of your child - and the truth is, so did I."

Once again, he appropriated Jack's betrayal, elevating the affair that he'd dismissed as trivial to the equal of a marriage. Jack would have welcomed the white hot anger he'd felt before, perhaps even the stab of hurt, but right now all he felt was hollow.

"It seems the joke is on both of us," he said, staring down into his wine glass. "You coveted my wife, but in truth you had no reason to be jealous."

Such a fool. He'd been such a fool. It was a refrain he'd recited over and over again so many times in his life, and yet he never seemed to learn from it.

Arvin returned to sit next to him, draping his arm comfortably along the back of the couch. "Oh, Jack," he said, shaking his head as he set the glass down on the coffee table beside them. "You were never the one that I was jealous of." He smiled, eyes crinkling warmly.

Jack frowned a little, not quite understanding the remark and looking for the barb hidden beneath it.

He went still as Arvin reached out with his free hand to touch the side of his face, thumb stroking along his cheek just a fraction from his lip. What...?

He was both shocked and unsurprised when Arvin leaned forward and touched his lips to Jack's.

It scarcely qualified as a kiss; it was barely even contact, over as quick as a blink. But Jack's lips were left tingling as Arvin drew back, his mouth already twisting into a wry smile. No doubt he was fully aware what Jack's reaction would be: to withdraw, to make his excuses and leave, to consign the- pass? No, Arvin could hardly intend it as a serious pass; a declaration, perhaps - to the file of things best not talked about.

It was the sting of knowing that those who manipulated him thought him so blindly predictable that caused him to do none of those things, but instead pull Arvin back to him for a longer, deeper kiss.

The way Arvin's shoulders momentarily went stiff with surprise under his grip was more satisfying than the kiss itself. Although that too carried with it an unexpected breath of relief, fresh human contact to wipe away the traces of the poison kisses he'd exchanged with his former wife moments before he'd killed her. The thought of writing that night over with new sensory memories was incredibly tempting.

But this would hardly be any less treacherous an entanglement. Jack broke the kiss and drew back - feeling, as he usually did with Arvin, that in taking his minor victory he'd managed to give away some greater prize.

Arvin smiled at him, a softer, kinder, gentler expression than Jack was either used to or comfortable with. He didn't speak, but raised his glass from the table and took a calm sip before setting it down, still smiling.

Jack knew that he should go. It would be exactly the defeat that he'd just tried to avert, and a worse one now that he'd just raised the stakes, but lingering to let whatever game of Arvin's this might be play out would be a far bigger mistake. He rose from the couch.

"The CIA will expect me back to debrief on your intentions," he said. A thin excuse, for all it had the dubious endorsement of being true. He was playing double agent again, this time against his own agency. He tried not to think too deeply on why it troubled him so much less this time around.

"What will you tell them, I wonder?" Arvin said drolly, with a small tilt of his wine glass that was almost a salute. He smiled from behind it. "I'll see you next week, of course?" he said, the lazy intonation making clear the rhetorical nature of the question.

It would be simple enough to declare these meetings at an end. Their purpose had been largely served, and there were tactical benefits to be argued in not letting the CIA suspect they'd become too close. It would be an entirely defensible decision.

Defensible, but for the minor cost of leaving Arvin Sloane with the belief he was afraid.

"Next week," Jack agreed, showing no expression.

And wondered if he'd ever stop being a fool.