Author's note: Just writin' with characters for my own amusement! This fic was inspired by a request from AtlantisGirl12, who wanted hurt Arthur angst. Of course, the fic request was definitely a little while ago, but I've finally managed to get myself in gear today.
This is pre-film, here – Mal is alive, and Arthur is slightly younger, having just started to work with Mal and Dom. Enjoy reading and let me know what you think in a review!
They say that God is in the details, but the more details Arthur notices, the more his apprehension grows.
He is easing his way slowly down the hallway, late afternoon sunlight filtering through the thick-paned windows to his left. Dust motes float lazily through the golden shafts of light. Outside, the leaves of ancient oaks lining the dark drive below are just beginning to turn in the autumn cold. A slight draught of the cool air has crept through an unseen crack in the walls, brushing him now with ghostly fingers as he steps carefully down the quiet corridor. He shivers involuntarily.
What time is it? The sunlight in the hall says early afternoon, but Arthur has the distinct impression that he is early, earlier than he was supposed to be here. Perhaps it is the sense that he is not supposed to be there yet that keeps him quiet, staring down the hall at the solid oak door at the end. The door is not anything out of the ordinary – same dark paneling and lead crystal knob as the other doors in the house – but he finds his eyes are riveted to the wood as he draws closer. As he steps across another square of light on the floor, he realizes he is holding his breath.
Not just holding his breath.
He is listening.
Every cell in his being seems to be set on a hair trigger as he strains his ears into the silence. The silence presses back, at once solid and almost deafening, until Arthur thinks he won't be able to stand the rising tide of tension that threatens to burst from his chest. A breath before he is about to give up, he hears it.
The dull sound lances through him, the sudden noise is almost physically painful as his stomach drops. The dust motes in the air seem to slow in their eddies as Arthur continues to listen. There is another thud, a crash, and a woman's scream from behind the door.
Arthur breaks into a run down the hall. The corridor is not that long, but it seems forever before he finally reaches the door, throwing all of his weight at the oak. He wrenches at the doorknob with white-knuckled hands, cursing furiously under his breath as more shouting and another crash comes from the room on the other side. "Open, goddammit," he hisses, throwing his already aching shoulder against the wood. The sting in his shoulder is quickly forgotten when the door suddenly gives and he tumbles into the room.
His eyes are suddenly, unmercifully flooded by details. The towering bookshelves, row upon row of leatherbound volumes on law, the titles embossed with gold leaf. The sunlight streaming through the south window, catching the glass of scotch on the desk blotter. The large houseplants in the corner, dark leaves kept perfectly dusted by the maid. But the details fly to the corners of his mind while he stares, throat dry, as he takes in the sight of his mother cowering in front of his father, her thin shoulders backed against a wooden cabinet, a bruise already forming on her lower lip. She is crying hysterically. "Mom," he rasps.
She looks up suddenly, her face streaked with tears. "Arthur, honey, go away," she pleads, as his father suddenly wheels toward the doorway where Arthur stands. The study is large, but it feels claustrophobic as the man's face grows thunderous, his dark eyes narrowing in anger. "What are you doing in here?" he snarls. "Get out!" He advances toward Arthur as his wife catches desperately at his sleeve.
"Leave him alone!" she begs, eyes brimming with tears and desperation. "Please, Nathaniel, leave him alone!" Arthur had been rooted to the spot, familiar dread clutching at his stomach, but he snaps when his father shakes the woman from his sleeve and shoves her against the shelves. "Don't touch her!" he yells hoarsely, his voice strained from a throat squeezed tight in fear and helpless rage. And before he knows what he is doing, he has launched himself at the man, fists swinging.
His first blow lands squarely on the man's jaw, but he can do little to block the returning fist that sends him staggering sideways. A stack of papers spills over the edge of the desk as the man comes at him like a hurricane. Arthur is at a serious size disadvantage, and he twists like a wildcat as his father grabs his arm while his mother screams from the corner. A lucky elbow strike makes his father loosen his grip.
The older man stumbles back, hand going to his mouth. A small droplet of blood stains his fingertips, and Arthur feels a second of vicious elation before the look in his father's eyes makes his blood run cold once again. "Son of a bitch!" the man shouts, and this time Arthur can barely stay upright against the furious onslaught. A iron fist in his gut doubles him over, and he crashes headfirst into a dark walnut armoire. His ears are ringing when he hits the floor.
"Nathaniel, stop!" His mother's hands are clutched tightly in front of her as she weeps, and Arthur feels his stomach heave as though he is going to be sick. Shaking his head to clear it, he manages to get to his knees before a shadow falls across the Persian carpet in front of him. He schools his features into a blank mask before he looks up, but when he raises his head he sees not only his father towering over him and his mother shivering in the corner, but a third person, as well. Mal is standing in the doorway.
Arthur feels like he has been knocked down again.
Mal takes a step into the room, cautious and concerned. "Arthur?"
His father turns away from him to face the woman in the doorway. When he speaks, it is in a tone that demands an answer, a tone that doesn't seem to change whether he is arguing in court or speaking with his family. "Who the hell are you?" he demands. "What do you want with my son?"
Mal ignores him completely. "Arthur, come. Can you stand?"
Arthur steadies himself against the armoire as he picks his aching body up off the floor, using the back of his hand to wipe a rivulet of blood from the corner of his mouth. He finds he cannot bring himself to look Mal in the eye, but rather steals a sidelong glance toward his father, who is glaring at the Frenchwoman. He sees the salt and pepper head dive suddenly toward the drawer of the writing desk. His gun, Arthur realizes, thinking of the black handgun that sits heavily in the bottom of the drawer. "Mal, look out!"
Mal starts as he lunges across the desk to knock the gun from the man's hands, but he is too late. With a deafening bang, the gun goes off. Red blossoms on Mal chest before she slumps to the floor.
Arthur is yelling and weeping trying to wrestle the gun from his father's hands as the kick snatches him from sleep.
Up until now, Arthur has always woken from PASIV sleep smoothly, his eyes sliding open to land him safely in the waking world. This time, however, he wakes to Mal shaking his shoulders and a throat that feels as though he has been screaming for years.
His eyes fly open completely now, and he finds himself in a modest brown recliner, Mal's large eyes studying him closely as he runs a shaking hand over his face, mortified. Dom's voice floats in from across the room.
"Is he awake?"
"Yes, thank God."
He expects to be told that he can no longer work with them, that he is too young, too inexperienced. The dream world can be gripping, confusing, and they need someone who does not make mistakes. But Mal does not say any of this.
Mal coils the lead line from Arthur's arm neatly and professionally.
Mal makes him sit up and drink something hot.
Mal sends Dom away on an imaginary errand.
She sits next to the young man – and he is young, no more than nineteen – and waits for his hands to stop shaking. She smoothes an imaginary wrinkle on her dress before she speaks. "Some runs…they are more difficult. The next time will be better."
Arthur nods stiffly.
"Part of this was my fault – I had not told you yet. There is something important you must always remember. Arthur, regarde-moi." Still embarrassed, he hesitates for a moment before looking at her. He is relieved not to see pity written on her face, but when she places a gentle hand on his arm her eyes are still deeply sad. "Arthur…you must not build from memory."
"I…" His voice catches in his throat and he tries again. "I just meant to build a door. I didn't mean…" He looks down again, cradling his head in his hands. He hears the tremor in his voice and hates himself for it. "I…I'm sorry."
Mal watches him quietly for a moment before carefully placing a comforting arm across his shoulders. He is still trembling slightly from the clinging wisps of the dream. When she finally speaks, she speaks softly.
"You do not need to apologize, mon petit."
And after a moment, Arthur lets himself cry.
regarde-moi - look at me
mon petit – my little one