Salvation Payment Plan
by Shrift

Jack stood at the observation window of the small medical facility. Sydney's sleep was troubled, the line creasing the skin between her eyebrows reminding him so much of Irina that he had to close his eyes to keep from reaching out to her. The hair on his nape prickled, and when Jack opened his eyes again, he could see Arvin's reflection in the glass.

"You need to rest," Arvin said, his hand closing over Jack's shoulder.

Jack resisted the urge to tense. "I'm fine."

Arvin didn't let go. His expression was indulgent. "Please, Jack. Remember who you're talking to?"

"Why didn't you ever tell me that you were allergic to morphine?"

In the window, Arvin's reflection shrugged easily. "It never came up. I don't recall you bothering with anesthesia when you cut off my finger."

Jack's mouth twitched. "I was in a hurry."

"You'll hear no recriminations from me, Jack." Arvin squeezed his shoulder. "Come. She's safe now. You need to rest."

Jack wasn't one to waste time arguing over the obvious -- he was tired. He'd been up for more hours than he cared to remember. And while Sydney's safety was relative, she was considerably safer here than she was in Lindsey's hands, about to have her skullcap removed.

The terror of losing her was so great that Jack would do anything -- do anything and use anyone -- to keep her safe. And that bastard had been ready to cut her open.

He had almost been too late. And that... was unacceptable.

Jack watched Arvin as he steered them both down the corridor. He was certain that Arvin knew exactly how important Sydney was to him, and that helping him rescue her had been a part of Arvin's ulterior motive of the day. The hour. The moment. It galled him that he didn't know what that motivation was or how to judge its immediacy. Arvin had always focused on the big picture, but Jack had known him to engage in more than one act of petty revenge.

When would Jack's debt come due?

"I can almost hear you thinking, Jack," Arvin said, smiling slightly, his eyes opaque with secrets. "'What is he up to? Why is he helping me? What does he stand to gain?' Am I close?"

"Are you?" Jack asked, halting in front of the doorway.

Arvin returned his stare for a moment before smiling brilliantly and gesturing at Jack to precede him into the room. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's rude to answer a question with a question?"

"That was the idea," Jack said, and stepped into the room they'd converted into a rough barracks. It was an empty patient's room filled with cots and munitions -- spare and utilitarian, but clean. Vaughn and his wife were down the hall.

Arvin surveyed their scanty accommodations with a bemused smile. "Well, it's not much, but it's certainly better than lice-infested mats, isn't it, Jack?"

Jack knew exactly was Arvin was talking about -- a mission on the outskirts of Taipei gone horribly wrong back when they were still the good guys, back when their hair wasn't gray and their bodies barely scarred. Lee Wu had captured and held them for six days before a rescue team could reach them without causing an embarrassing international incident.

The conditions of their tiny prison cell had been less than ideal, likewise the treatment they'd received from their captors.

"Yes, quite," Jack answered, and despite himself, he relaxed slightly in response to Arvin's smile.

It was strange, how much history they shared, how much of their past was linked inextricably together. Strange and unsettling how he could know Arvin so very well, and at the same time, not at all.

"Why are you helping us, Sloane?" Jack said, moving closer although Arvin wasn't easily intimidated by his size.

But every ounce of intimidation helped, after all.

Arvin's smile became nearly beatific. "I told you, Jack. You and Sydney -- you're my salvation."

"Try again," he said. It hadn't convinced him the first time, and seemed even less likely now that the threat of danger was less immediate.

"You're so tense." Arvin cocked his head and reached out. "Here, let me --"

Something leapt in his stomach. Jack's hand shot out and captured Arvin's wrist, feeling the bones grinding together in his grip. "What do you think you're doing?

Arvin's unchanging smile was vaguely unnerving. "What does it look like I'm doing?"

He caught Arvin's other hand when he saw it move in his peripheral vision. Arvin's skin was warm, metal watch-band biting into Jack's palm. "Tsk, tsk. You're answering a question with a question, Sloane. Bad form."

Arvin ignored the jibe. "You know, after Emily died, I realized something." He took a step closer, fully invading Jack's personal space, but Jack refused to let his discomfort be known. "We're close, you and I. In fact, you're probably the only person left in this world who truly knows me."

"That's... precious, really," Jack said, letting his annoyance show but eyeing Arvin warily. "I'm touched."

Arvin frowned, laugh lines curving into valleys around his mouth. "What we have is unique, Jack. Don't belittle that."

Jack could feel the warmth of Arvin's breath, and his proximity had Jack's skin prickling in reaction. Arvin was a threat, standing close enough to disable or kill, and every instinct urged him to put some distance between them. "Again, what do you think you're doing?"

"Don't be obtuse," Arvin chastised. "It doesn't suit you."

Jack didn't bother to repress his sneer. "What does suit me?"

Arvin closed the space between them, and Jack could feel Arvin's erection pressing against his thigh. "I suit you, Jack."

"I don't think so," Jack said, letting go of Arvin's wrists.

"Oh, I do think so," Arvin persisted. He didn't move away, instead rising up on his toes and settling his hands on Jack's hips, Arvin's beard brushing against his cheek. "Let me do this for you. For us."

"Are you insane?" Jack demanded harshly.

"I've never been more sane in my life, I think you'll agree," Arvin said. He pulled back slightly, and his eyes were like glass beads.

Perhaps this was part of what Arvin wanted from their deal. What Arvin wanted didn't overly concern Jack, not as much as why he wanted it, and what he planned to do with it in the future.

Jack had played games with higher stakes than this. He would sacrifice anyone for Sydney's continued well-being -- even himself.

"Sanity," Jack said, letting a little warmth bleed into his tone, "is overrated."

Arvin's thumbs slipped under his sweater, gently rubbing circles on the skin at his waist. "When I heard they put you back in solitary -- I want you to know that I did everything in my power to help your case."

"Did you," Jack said. His hands hung at his sides.

"I did," Arvin said. "But I was hobbled by my own tenuous situation with the NSC. I was... pleased when Sydney returned and bartered for your freedom."

"As much as I value my freedom," Jack said, reaching up to clasp Arvin's arm just under his wiry bicep, "I wish it had come at a different price."

Arvin nodded. "I couldn't do anything for you then. Let me do something for you now."

He could feel Arvin's fingers easing open the top button of his pants. His abdominal muscles twitched. "You're just brimming with altruism these days, aren't you, Sloane?"

"I sometimes think of it as a payment plan," Arvin said. "I'm earning my salvation one good deed at a time." That bright, enigmatic smile returning to his face, Arvin leaned in and pressed his lips against Jack's neck. His wet mouth contrasted strangely with the prickly sensation of his beard stubble, and he pushed a hand underneath Jack's sweater, his callused fingers scratching the small of Jack's back.

Jack stood there and let him. Let him press warm, open-mouthed kisses up his neck, let Arvin cup him through his pants, Arvin's thumb slowly dragging down the zipper, teeth parting one tick at a time. He could feel Arvin's moist breath on his mouth, the slide of a tongue tickling his lower lip.

He kept his eyes open while Arvin kissed him. Arvin didn't, and Jack had to wonder if this was part of the reason why Arvin felt so paternal toward Sydney. Although -- and he hated to admit it -- for much of Sydney's life, Arvin and Emily had been more emotionally accessible than he had.

His mind shied away from those memories, and almost in retaliation for his traitorous thoughts, Jack opened his jaw wide and kissed Arvin back. Kissed him hard, his tongue stabbing into Arvin's mouth over and over again.

Arvin's breath caught in his throat and he pushed closer, rocking into Jack's hip. His hands were persistent and expert, and Jack felt himself beginning to respond, a heaviness and tension building in his groin.

There was a brisk knock at the door, and it swung open almost immediately. "Sorry to bother you, but Sydney's awake and asking for --"

Vaughn stopped in the doorway, his hand clutching at the doorknob. Gobsmacked would be the word for his expression. Eyes wide. Mouth open. Complexion turning white.

Jack's heart pounded, and a flush struggled to rise above his neck. It wasn't embarrassment so much as... shame, perhaps. His lips were still wet, the skin around his mouth hot with beard-burn.

"We'll continue this later. Jack," Arvin said, pulling away and nodding. He looked unruffled, but his eyes were bright and his mouth red. He turned to leave the room, forcing Vaughn to move out of the doorway.

Jack casually buttoned his pants. "Vaughn."

He attempted to walk past him, but Vaughn lunged forward and grabbed his sleeve. "Wait! Is he forcing you to --"

Jack shook off his hand and pushed his face close to Vaughn's. "Don't be naive," he snapped, his voice louder than he'd intended. He'd expected better of Vaughn; his assessment of the situation was far too simplistic for an agent of his experience and skill.

The best kind of lie was one that was easier to believe than the truth.

Vaughn blinked at him, mouth open and his hand outstretched. He recovered a moment later, sliding his hands into his pockets and clearing his throat. "Should I be concerned?" he asked quietly.

"Let me handle it," Jack said. "Now, if you'll excuse me. Sydney's waiting."


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