He met Emily Bell in the same summer he started to work with Jack Bristow. This seemed important, somehow, though he never was quite sure why. She was walking into a lightpole, short sighted even then, and young enough to be touchy about wearing glasses, and so easily distracted by her first visit to Washington. He was on his way to a quick lunch when he saw it happen: the blond girl, the old fashioned Washington lightpole, and blood splattering on her forehead.
He had just returned from a mission to Chile that day, but her blood was different. He caught her when she stumbled back, organized a cold bottle and a hankerchief for her to still the bleeding until the ambulance arrived, and held her hand throughout the quick drive to the next hospital where they stitched her up. She wasn't that upset, more annoyed than anything else by the accident, but she smiled at him, and somehow didn't let go of his hand.
"Why didn't you?" he asked her later, after their third meeting, when it occurred to him that she wasn't the type to be clutching the kind hands of strangers.
"Because," she replied, "you seemed so lonely, walking there. That's why I ran into the lightpole, really. Because I was watching you, and I just thought: This is the most unhappy man I've ever encountered."
"I had my first briefing in the White House that day," he replied, pretending to be insulted.
"Yes," she said, and the calm compassion in her eyes undid him.
"The greatest danger an agent faces," his old instructor used to say, "is to lose faith."
Quite what kind of faith was not mentioned. Arvin Sloane had always needed to believe in something greater than himself, but the religious instructions of his childhood was something he had left behind before he was even old enough to get his driving license. There was the belief in his country, true, yet that grew thinner and more stretched day by day. It wasn't that he minded killing, or using his superior intelligence to entrap and betray. He hardly would have joined the agency if he did. But he increasingly wondered about the purpose of it all.
That was when the monk who wasn't found him and told him about Milo Rambaldi. Somewhere between manuscripts, puzzles and promises of a mystery that was too great to be solved within a single lifetime, Sloane realized what had happened. Rambaldi was separated from him by the safe distance of several centuries, tantalizingly out of reach and promising salvation at the same time, more surely than any country ever could. Of course he had not been a proper patriot, or a decent Christian. Until watching an ancient, impossible machinery start to work, he had not understood that the quintessential component of faith was love.
When he first saw Irina Derevko, he was struck by her beauty, but he felt neither desire nor sympathy nor dislike. She was Jack's fiancée Laura, and responsible for Jack hunting down first editions of all the romantic poets these days, which was remarkable enough, but she reminded him of a perfect, polished jewel, complete in itself. One admired it at a distance, but it was unable to spend any warmth, or, for that matter, suffer any blemishes.
He didn't change his opinion until years later, when he and Emily were going through a difficult period. Emily wanted him to leave the agency.
"It's not that I am not proud of you," she said, "but I think… I think it's eating you alive, Arvin. It's not good for you."
Laura never seemed to make similar demands of Jack. In fact, she was positively encouraging him. Sloane suggested a skiing vacation for the four of them, in Heavenly Valley, Nevada. Maybe talking things over with Laura would help Emily realize that the intelligence business wasn't carnivorous competition for a marriage.
None of them gambled, which made the casino they stayed at a reasonably cheap and comfortable place to be, but one evening, he and Jack were interrupted mid-chess game by a phone call, and somehow the board got knocked over. Laura put the pieces back, exactly as they had been, which would have been a remarkable display of memory in any case. But Laura had claimed, earlier, that she didn't play chess. Then Sloane noticed something else. One of the pawns, only one, was not where it used to be. It was one of Jack's, and now it was in a position to threaten his knight.
He looked at Laura, and as their eyes met, something in her expression changed. Not a diamond then; glass, which shattered, with shards that could cut your throat if you weren't careful.
Later, he wondered whether it was the spark of suspicion that caused sex. He certainly was not in love with her, and he knew she didn't love him, either. But he never could resist a revelation.
Arvin was one year ahead of Jack in training, but as soon as they were both field-rated, their superiors tended to assign them together. "Because we get the job done," Jack said, not yet marked by Irina Derevko and still young enough for a satisfied boast or two over a late night dinner, when they celebrated his promotion together.
"Because we can monitor each other," Arvin said, and Jack laughed and called him a cynic before agreeing that this was probably another reason. They were the best, and they knew it. The problem with being the best, on the same level, was of course that you either had to become competing rivals, or you had to absorb each other into a perfect union.
Given an either/or option, Arvin Sloane had never understood why he should not choose both/and instead.
When he left the CIA to become one of the founders of the Alliance, he never questioned for a minute whether or not it was safe to ask Jack to come with him. Jack had to, it was as simple as that. There were rational reasons as well, of course; after the Derevko disaster, the CIA would never fully trust Jack again, but they would not hesitate to use him to hunt Arvin down once they realized what had happened, and Jack was the only one with a chance of success. Better to make him an offer first.
This rationale became somewhat stretched once Arvin realized that the CIA had, in fact, gotten there first. It still held, though, throughout cooperations and betrayals, threat and help, and the never quite acknowledged wooing of daughters that marked their lives together.
"The only reason I could think of for you to save my life," Jack once said grimly, stitching him back together, "is to encourage a feeling of debt on my part."
"As always, Jack, you're in danger of outsmarting yourself," Arvin replied, watching his blood on Jack's hands with a certain fascination.
Where else should it be, really?
He gave Sydney her name, because Jack and Irina could not agree on one, and besides, Jack asked him to when they got drunk together in Saigon on the occasion of her birth. At that point, he had no idea of what she would become to him.
When he recruited Sydney, he had not seen her for many years, other than on photos, due to Jack's request after SD-6 had started. The little girl he had known was gone. Her physical resemblance to Irina was startling at times, but it vanished as soon as one heard her speak. She wasn't really like Jack then, either; she was herself, a beautiful, untrained weapon which it was his task to form.
Emily adored Sydney. "I wish Jack would have let us adopt her when Laura died," she said wistfully, and Sloane agreed. During some of Sydney's visits at his house, he pretended to himself that she was the daughter he and Emily never had. And yet he was glad she wasn't. He wouldn't have been able to lead Emily's daughter to her destiny. Not Emily's child.
Sydney's hatred after the execution of the hapless boy she had been engaged to was a cleansing fire that burned away many things. She wasn't his daughter, no; she was fate, judging fate, which had to be endlessly courted against all the odds, until it was finally won over.
Of course she betrayed him, time and again; that was what fate did. Of course she returned to him, time and again, and never took a single one of the opportunities he gave her to leave him forever.
"Have you ever read the tale of Merlin and Nimue, my dear?" he once asked her when she came into his office, carrying resentment and need with her as usual.
She shook her head, but in her eyes, dark and accusing and utterly her own, he could read that she was lying.