A/N: Just a little recap for anyone that may be confused as I am throwing a lot of dates and numbers at you during one part of this chapter.
The current year for the story is 2001 set 8 years before inception or the Fischer job happens.
Current ages of the characters:
Yes, I know that Michael Caine is in his 70's I realize this but was he really supposed to be that old in "Inception"? Probably not so I kind of fudged his age a little bit. At least when Inception happens he's 65 in my verse which I think is appropriate.
Thanks so much to everyone that has been reading/reviewing as it gives me the strength to go on! Please continue to review to let me know if you would like more, what can be improved, etc. Thanks so much!
A Memory Forgotten
Arthur opens his eyes to endless beautiful fields. The sky above bears white puffy clouds that hang so low in the sky it almost feels like Arthur can reach up a hand and easily touch them. Arthur is lying on the soft ground and as he shifts it doesn't feel like grass underneath him. When he's up in a sitting position he realizes its tulips and what his eyes thought were fields were but they are of tulips of all different colors. Arthur has to squint to look at the horizon as it's almost too brilliant and dazzling for his eyes.
He hears movement next to him and he turns his head and sees Mal has sat up and is looking out to the view around them. She closes her eyes and inhales deeply through her nose looking completely tranquil and at home. Arthur's just about to ask her a question when her eyes snap open and she turns her attention to Arthur. She gets up and sticks a hand out to Arthur. Arthur studies her hand but doesn't take it. Dream or no dream he still isn't used to touching people even though he may have touched the Sergeant. Arthur shakes himself to rid himself of the thought and gets up without Mal's help. Mal is looking out to the endless fields of blooming tulips with a sweet smile on her face.
"Beautiful isn't it?" She turns to Arthur slowly and Arthur finds himself nodding though feeling a bit dazzled. The only time he had shared dreams was strictly for military purposes namely on how to train soldiers, run training exercises and how to kill. He didn't know sharing dreams; personal dreams could be so…well beautiful as Mal put it. They walk and Arthur soon discovers that they are on top of a ridge. They make their way down it crushing delicate tulips under their shoes in the process. The decent is a little slippery and cumbersome but as they make their way down the ridge and pick up a little speed from their momentum Arthur feels himself smiling. He feels the air whip around his face and he feels like he's six years old again and allowed to play outside in some off, rare occasion. He feels free. Mal is laughing sweetly beside him and she picks up speed and is practically sliding down the ridge. She does a cartwheel when she gets to the bottom. Arthur catches up with her a short time later and both of them are a little out of breath, bent over, hands on knees though smiling through flushed cheeks.
Mal motions for Arthur to follow and Arthur follows her through the endless fields of tulips. The sun is shining brightly. He feels the warm rays absorb through his skin and his clothes warming him. He outstretches his hands and dips his fingers to the fields feeling the petals of the tulips so velvety and smooth on his fingertips. He finds himself closing his eyes and he inhales deeply the scents of the sweet flowers and relishes in how the tulips feel. He opens his eyes a short time later and sees that Mal is a distance away from him kneeling, back to him, in a spot of land that bears no tulips. The land she's kneeling in is barren and only sports dirt. The small area looks rather ugly and obscene next to the colorful brilliance that's before them. When Arthur approaches closer he notices that Mal is clawing at and scooping dirt with her fingers and is planting seeds. Arthur sits beside her. Mal looks over her shoulder, pushing hair out of her face and smiles warmly at Arthur.
"It's been so long for me. I love coming here. It's like my hideaway."
"Why tulips?" Arthur looks out to the vast sea of reds, purples, oranges, yellows, pinks and even whites- the vast array of vibrant colors making his eyes hurt. He squints with the sun in his eyes.
Mal wipes a little sweat from her brow with the back of her hand and wipes dirt from her hands on her pant leg. She pivots a little so she's facing Arthur though still kneeling in the dirt.
"They're perennials. They always come back. I planted all these and although they'll die they'll always come back and bloom," she smiles a little and Arthur notices a little sadness touching at her eyes. "Dom doesn't agree with me and we don't really know how far the dream sharing can go, we're still learning things but I would think that if you can die in a dream that you would come back just like these flowers," she looks out to the world she's created. "The worlds we create in our minds…" and there are tears in Mal's eyes suddenly. She blinks several times and takes a breath. "They're too special to be forgotten and not come back but," she wipes at her eyes with the back of her dirt stained hands. "That again is where Dom and I differ. We both love to explore and create, to revel in this new discovery but I like to store and save things too," she smiles again and goes back to digging at the earth with her fingers, gently raking at it, treating it with much kind and tender care.
"But if this is a dream, a world you created, wouldn't the flowers just come back or stay the same regardless if you planted more? If you wanted them to they wouldn't have to die." Arthur feels he really doesn't understand anything about the dream world nor anything about this lovely creature kneeling in front of him. Mal smiles and shakes her head, soft curls bouncing around her delicate features just like the tulips she planted, her focus still on the dirt.
"That's true, dear. But I love to plant them and watch their cycle and again to me knowing that they always come back gives me hope and it makes my heart soar. It's like a truth knowing that I haven't planted them all yet. It's something I can fall back on. It makes me feel like I'm not dreaming," she laughs a sweet, sing song laugh. She meets Arthur's gaze. "That probably doesn't make much sense, no?"
"You dream to make it feel more like reality?"
Mal shrugs a little, a smile playing on her pretty lips. "In a way yes," she rubs her hands together to rid them of dirt. "But Dom always teases that I'm a little selfish and this is true. I always want more," she winks and it's like a patented Mr. Cobb wink, a wink of playfulness and full of sin. Arthur wonders who started the wink first.
"We have a lot to teach you," Mal gets up suddenly and dusts herself off. She doesn't offer her hand to Arthur this time and Arthur is almost thankful for it. He's glad but also a little embarrassed that she's learning not to offer him her hand. That maybe it isn't ok to touch him and Arthur's cheeks burn a little. They walk slowly through the fields again until the endless rows of tulips become sand and beach and there's an emerald ocean stretched out before them to their one side.
"We also have a lot to learn about each other. This is my dream so naturally you'll learn about me but we'll learn about you too when we go into your dreams." Arthur doesn't know how he feels about that. He barely knows how dream sharing really works and the actual rules if there are any. Arthur's never been very good at letting people in and he feels when he does they leave right away. His mind flashes to Mr. Henry, his teacher, and the Sergeant and Arthur grits his teeth with anger. Arthur had always kept to himself, closed off his emotions and avoided getting close to people. The prospect of opening his mind freely to others didn't exactly thrill him.
What did I get myself into?
Arthur stops walking. He looks down to his sand stained shoes and watches the tide. He digs a little through the crystalline sand until his fingers brush a flat rock. He skips it out to the ocean and squints at it until he can't see it all. It calms his nerves a little, the surroundings so much like his childhood home but much like endless crashing waves his mind too is a tumble of emotions. He sees a flash then, lightning quick in his brain. He's chasing the tide and the wind is ruffling his hair. There's someone next to him and they are smiling with him, watching him, content just with his company. He walks the beach with this person until Arthur spies his home, his childhood home in the distance resting on its familiar cliff. The flash and the vision is gone, over in an instant but it confuses Arthur since it's a dream of him as an adult and he hadn't been back to New Hampshire, his home or spent any real time on a beach with anyone like that. A strange feeling comes over him and its like when Mr. Cobb and him were stealing the dream sharing machine and he had the vision of the house burning and the white feathers falling from the sky like a dream but almost feeling like a memory forgotten. He feels cold all of a sudden though the sun is high in the sky and is blazing hot.
Arthur notices Mal looking over her shoulder and noticing that Arthur isn't walking behind her. She walks up to Arthur with her eyebrows furrowed, the light salt breeze in her hair, the sun from the waves lighting up her pale features.
"What's wrong, dear?" her big green eyes much like the sea search Arthur's, concern and worry plastered all over her face.
Arthur kicks at a small rock in the sand and avoids her eyes, rubbing at his arms and trying to push out the strange vision. He looks out to the sea. He didn't want to be childish and ungrateful. Mr. Cobb and him had come all this way and they were in Paris now but Arthur didn't chose this life. It was chosen for him. He was doing what he felt he should do. He also felt he was addicted to the dream sharing, that he had a hunger for it and he wasn't sure how to satiate it but he was scared of it at the same time. He needed to understand it and control it. He felt he had a long road ahead of him and he had no idea where it was leading. Arthur was all about control and order; it was what kept his disorders in check. How would he survive on his own without that constant routine and control? How does he explain that to someone? If Mal or Mr. Cobb knew of his disorders, his dark past or the "other thing" would they send him away? Would they regret their decision to include him? Although Arthur tells himself it doesn't matter if they do it does. As unsure of this life he's leading he doesn't want to be turned away. Arthur laughs a little bitterly under his breath and Mal is still searching his face, frowning and not backing down, another trait that her and her boyfriend share.
"This place just reminds me a little of home. I guess I'm a little homesick," he lies. He wants Mal to stop searching him like she's trying to figure him out and to stop looking concerned.
"You're a horrible liar." Arthur meets her eyes and her eyes are burning with fierceness and conviction.
"I know you just met me but I want you to know that you can trust me, dear. We're a small little group of dream sharing rebels. It started off as just an invention and small experiment and then it grew. We were just on the cusp of something when the military took over but now we have it back," her green eyes are burning with intensity and her gaze won't break away from Arthur's. "We're starting this new, exciting thing together and we need to be honest with each other and work together as a team, dear. We're paving the way for some big things but we need you to trust us. If there's anything I can do please just ask," and she smiles a heart melting smile and it's almost too much.
Arthur looks down to his shoes which are getting buried in sand. He scuffs his shoe at a stone again and nods. "I think if we just take things slow and not thrust me into things it would be better. I suppose I have… trust and control issues," he feels that his chest is a little lighter after he released the statement like it was bottled up inside him for a long time but it isn't even the whole truth and maybe not even half of it. Mal is still eyeing him, her face cool and impassive, studying him like she's the type of person that won't back down and Arthur knows this somehow. She nods after a time and looks out to the ocean.
"I understand. I apologize if I threw you into this too soon. We'll take things nice and slow. You can even go under by yourself to create the dreamscape on your own if you like, to get used to it." Mal closes her eyes and inhales deeply. "Soon it will come so easily to you it'll be just like breathing in air," she opens her brilliant eyes and motions with her head towards down the beach. "Are you ready to keep going?" she smiles. Arthur nods and they continue down the beach. Mal explains as they walk that they are in the simplest and rawest form of dreamscape.
"Rawest form? So it gets more detailed?"
Mal smiles a little and kicks up sand with her shoes almost losing her shoe completely. "Yes, that's where Russell comes in. Like I said we're still learning and experimenting with how to manipulate the dreamscape but Russell is our acting architect as we call him. He helped my father and I run some experiments back in Oxford and he's wanted to help ever since."
Arthur remembers trying to ask the elusive Russell about being an architect back when they were in the van together.
"What does an architect do exactly?" He thinks it might be obvious but with dream sharing the rules seem to go out the window since they're not dealing with fundamental physics and reality.
"An architect constructs the dream for the dreamer. Right now we're still experimenting with it but it proves to be useful if Russell constructs a dream from something that none of us knows about and we have to try to find our way out. It's fun. We'll show you sometime when you're ready."
"But why construct the dream? Couldn't you just build it as you're in it? I did a little constructing back at Fort Irwin for the training exercise for the military. Both me and the Sergeant came up with the plans but we ultimately entered my dream. What do you hope to accomplish? You're not raising an army are you?" His question is legitimate but she breaks out in laughter and covers her mouth, an apology on her face when she notices that Arthur was being serious.
"Oh no, dear. Right now we're using the dream sharing machine to connect people to one another kind of like how the internet did. We're still pushing the limits of its powers and we're still developing it especially the drugs that are used alongside of it. Once we develop it enough I hope it can bring people together and help them," she dangles a shoe off her toe and smiles like she doesn't have a care in the world. Arthur is envious of that feeling. Arthur knows the side effects of Somnicol all too well. It's something he rather not relive ever again.
"The worlds we create in our minds. We can be anyone, do anything, go anywhere," she closes her eyes, slipping off her shoes and she slowly walks until the gentle tide hits her feet. She smiles. "I think that's why I dream and build worlds of real things for the time being," the tide rolls in and laps at her porcelain skin, sand burying her toes slightly and she laughs a little. "I'm a little afraid of dreaming too impossible things and not wanting to come back," she cranes her neck up and raises her face to the sky, opening her eyes.
And then Arthur is opening his eyes to the unfamiliar ceiling full of artificial lighting, catwalks and beams, old broken windows and dusty corners. His vision swims and blurs and he feels very sick. He hears voices but all he can do is lean over to his side so his face is close to the floor and deposit his stomach and then he doesn't remember anything at all as black dots swim and dance in front of his eyes.
He opens his eyes again but this time to a bright and airy space. His eyes adjust to the light that's coming in from the solitary window. His head throbs in pain and he turns his head on the pillow to the direction of the light and trains his painful eyes to the window. The thin, translucent curtains are fluttering a little and cool air is wafting in. His body hurts as he tests it and explores it under the blanket as he lies on the twin size bed. His head feels fuzzy and he overall feels a bit weak and off like he had a bad hangover or the flu. He tries to sit up but his head swims and dizziness washes over him. He lies back down with a soft PLOP as his head hits the pillows. He rubs at his eyes and face and he thinks he might have dozed off again but jerks awake when he hears a gentle knocking at the door. Mr. Cobb peeks his face into the slightly open door. He looks hesitant and his eyes are softened into concern. "Did I wake you?" Arthur shakes his head which brings on fresh pain like a lighting flash across his temple.
Mr. Cobb opens the door the rest of the way, crosses the room and grabs the solitary chair in the room, dragging it over to the side of the small bed. He sits, hands clasped in his lap and he smiles weakly at Arthur. "I would ask you how you feel but I know you feel like shit," he smiles almost sheepishly or in an apology and looks down at his hands which he's knotting together.
"How is she?" Arthur's voice cracks and sounds paper thin. He wonders how long he's been sleeping. Mr. Cobb wipes at his face slowly and Arthur inspects him as Mr. Cobb is a little closer. There are deep bags under his eyes, his eyelids looking darker than usual and there's at least a day's worth of stubble donning his normally clean face. His clothes look rumpled and slept in. He looks exhausted.
"She's recovering as well," Mr. Cobb's smile and voice are very thin and stretched and there's a sadness there. Arthur wonders if he's blaming himself. Mr. Cobb exhales deeply, runs a hand over his scratchy face and rests his bleary eyes on Arthur. "We really need to perfect a different drug," he sighs angrily. "I tried to warn her but she looked so excited about going under after not being able to for so long," he shifts in his seat, his hands clasped together so tight that his knuckles are turning white from the pressure. "It's my fault and I'm sorry. I should have put my foot down but when it comes to her…" He looks about the room seeming lost in his own head. He rests his gaze back on Arthur after a few heartbeats. "Well anyway. If you need anything let me know. We're at Mal's house. I think she wanted you to stay here actually," a little smile tugs at the corners of Mr. Cobb's sunken in face. "You probably don't want to now but the offer still stands," he shrugs. Arthur searches Mr. Cobb's saddened, bloodshot eyes and he isn't sure what he wants to say. His head is still throbbing, he feels tired even though he probably has been sleeping for days and all he wants to do is go back into the dream again. He thinks he knows exactly how Mal was feeling when she could go under again after so long.
"You can think on it. Just get some rest," Mr. Cobb leans over and squeezes Arthur's shoulder and Arthur watches him with slight horror on his face and then he's closing his eyes involuntarily, his body reacting strangely to the unwanted and unexpected touch. Mr. Cobb must have mistaken Arthur's reaction to the touch for sleep because suddenly he hears a door being shut and Arthur is alone. He has a lot to think about mainly about when he'll feel better enough and when a new drug will be ready so he can go under again. Sleep does find him eventually and when he wakes again it's to Mal sitting on the edge of the small bed and for some reason it doesn't startle Arthur. She's looking out the window but when Arthur shifts a little under the blanket she rests her eyes on him and smiles sweetly. Her face looks ashy, her normal glowing skin looks dull and her usual vibrant and curly hair is flat and lifeless looking like it's been slept in. "How are you, dear?" Her voice is a little hoarse and Arthur realizes that she's still not one hundred percent herself. She must still be recovering from the Somnicol sickness. Arthur tests himself and tries sitting up. He feels a little bit better but still not strong. His body feels too heavy and his head is still throbbing. "I'm ok," he lies. "You should be resting too."
Mal waves the instruction from Arthur away continuing to smile brightly like she's putting on a brave face and not really letting on how weak she is. Arthur thinks it's brave but stupid. She pivots on the bed and turns more towards Arthur. Her face is ashy and her eyes look very tired. "I have to let my boyfriend get some rest. He can't be watching the two of us round the clock now can he?" Arthur can only blink and swallow hugely at her. "How long have we…?" Mal smiles and it looks like it takes a lot of energy for her to do so. "About four days now," she laughs a little and it's not her normal light, sing song laugh. It sounds paper thin and raspy. "I told you I was a little selfish. I think Dom was trying to warn me about the Somnicol before we went under as we were prepping but I wasn't having any of it," she laughs a little. "I can be a stubborn woman," she winks. She smoothes the blanket at the foot of the bed and regards Arthur. "I'm sorry, cher. Dear I mean," she laughs and smiles weakly looking exhausted. "Do you forgive me?" her big eyes are full of tenderness and apology and Arthur finds himself nodding.
"You're welcome to stay here," she motions around the small room. "I think after our little episode though I think you'll want to get out of the house, no?" Arthur looks to the solitary window and can see swatches and little glimpses of the busy Paris streets below. "I've never been to Paris."
"C'est la meilleure ville du monde. Ou peut-être la plus belle?" Mal chuckles a little, the laugh becoming a cough. "I'll show you when we…when we recover. You'll fall in love," her tired eyes crinkle at the corners and she smiles a knowing smile. What Mal meant by "fall in love" Arthur isn't sure. He doesn't know if she meant with the city or actually fall in love with someone. He hopes she meant the former. They sit for a time looking out the window and at the city that neither of them can explore right now, too bogged down by sickness and their tired bodies. There's a vase full of tulips resting on top of the small desk that's pushed into a corner of the room. They talk and Arthur finds that he quite enjoys her. She's easy to get along with, is genuine and is almost devastatingly kind. When you speak she always gives you her undivided attention and her big eyes always seem to cut through you like she's looking into the very core of you. She's a solid presence and he's reminded of feeling he's being sucked into her vortex like a ship being hurled into a whirlpool. He met someone else like that once but he was long gone now.
She recovers quicker than him and visits Arthur every day. She sits at the foot of the small bed and brings him food. She peels and feeds him oranges and she'll talk about her life in Paris or tells him stories because she's learning that Arthur doesn't talk about himself. She doesn't push it and Arthur is very grateful for that. She licks orange slice juice off her fingers, her face vibrant, her skin glowing again and she tells him of when she first met Dom and how she hated him at first. She laughs but she always gets that same look in her eye when she speaks of him like she's letting everyone in on a deep secret. They're so blissfully in love that it's almost blinding and Arthur again is reminded that he's never felt anything like that before and probably never will. He thought his parents had it but his mother was so damaged and his father was away too much. Letting people in was too hard anyway. But Mal was worming her way in and Arthur wasn't really aware it was happening like she had cast a spell over him and "his room" as Mal and Mr. Cobb were affectionately calling it.
When Arthur feels stronger Mal waits for him patiently at the foot of the old stairs rocking back and forth on her heels, hands behind her back and a sweet smile on her face. They walk the Paris streets. Mal takes him shopping, fussing that he needs a warmer coat especially since they were near the river. She helps pick one out for him. They walk the narrow crowded streets and Mal takes him to all the little intimate places that she likes-a corner pastry shop that sells the best pot de crème, her favorite bridge that she likes to stop at to watch the boats pass below them on the Seine. They stop in market squares and watch tourists bustle back and forth, pigeons gathering and scattering like an endless loop, the sun setting and bathing everything in a warm, golden glow. They walk to the Eiffel Tower at night. They pass fountains that are lit up and seem to shoot up straight to the starry sky. They walk until he's staring up at the wondrous tower and Arthur thinks it's probably one of the most beautiful things he's ever seen. He feels his eyes widening impossibly at the sight. It lit up like a beacon to the heavens is like a touch on his heart.
Mal shoots him a sideways glance, a smile playing on her full lips as she watches him act in total awe. "You're in love now." Arthur can only nod faintly and blink up at the marvelous sight. "It must be a dream," he whispers almost to himself and Mal only smiles more widely beside him. They walk back along the Seine and its like Arthur is seeing it for the first time. Its glassy obsidian surface is full and dancing with light reflected from the city's brilliance. There are a million stars out and the air is crisp and calm. Arthur's eyes search the sky for it and find it like it was hiding. The crescent moon is like a tease and Arthur's heart throbs as he remembers how many more days until the next black moon. Mal eyes him curiously but she doesn't comment like she's filing things away. Arthur is filing away things too. He wants to be able to remember how the Paris skyline looks at night, how it holds so much promise and truth, how the Seine looks magical with the lights of the city reflected into it and how the moon's glow is bathing everything.
Arthur finds himself wanting to stay with Mal and Mr. Cobb. He knows he's perfectly capable of staying in a hotel or renting an apartment himself. He isn't a child or doesn't need to depend on these people but it's something in Mal's eyes-so warm, comforting and, Arthur must admit, trusting. He hadn't felt something like that in a very long time maybe not since Mr. Henry or since meeting Dr. Trollsund. Mal is delighted with his decision and he can see it in her eyes that she wants to embrace him. Arthur is picking up on people's body language more and more when they feel the need to touch him. He's getting better at recognizing and anticipating the signs. Mal thankfully doesn't and again Arthur can't help but feel a little embarrassed mixed with his relief like he had done something wrong.
Mal fixes up the small bedroom upstairs for him which is officially deemed: "Arthur's room." Even Mr. Cobb smiles warmly when Mal fusses over the comforter and quilt that Arthur should have. Arthur is free to decorate it as he sees fit but Arthur had never had a space all to his own before and doesn't really own anything so he keeps it simple. His only decoration in the room is a vase full of tulips that Mal keeps fresh for him, his dog tags that he rests beside the vase and his wallet.
He gets used to living with the two of them. He gets used to simply being called: "Arthur" again after what felt like a lifetime of being called by his military rank but mainly he tries to get used to living a life without a regimented routine or strict schedule which is the hardest to get used to. He feels like he's sitting on his hands and Arthur likes to stay busy. They have to find a new chemist and develop a new drug before anyone can go under again so it's a waiting game. Mal tells Arthur to: "Treat it like a vacation of sorts," but Arthur has never had a vacation and wouldn't know what to do with himself if he was supposed to take one so he doesn't. He pesters Mr. Cobb for their data logs, their case studies, their documentation on their experiments, anything that Arthur can research because he feels he may go out of his mind insane if he can't focus on something.
"Arthur, you're going to have to start calling me Dom eventually. Mr. Cobb was my father," he eyes him intently and Arthur finally gives in and nods and promises he'll work on it. He would tell Mr. Cobb, err Dom, anything to be able to keep his strict mind occupied with something, something he can throw himself into. Dom eventually rolls his eyes and gives Arthur the case studies and their documents on the dream sharing. Arthur spends many a sleepless night pouring over the materials, not getting up from his desk in his room until he feels he's satisfied some deep urge, his mind not resting until he feels he's gotten some sort of a grip on the material. It's like he's back at the military academy and how he would spend endless hours pouring over his work not thinking it was good enough and thinking something bad would happen if he didn't perfect it. He rifles through the many papers and documents until his eyes are bleary and sore, his head buzzing and his back aching and he knows its OCD behavior but somehow it comforts him in the unfamiliar setting. He doesn't understand half of the scientific equations or vernacular that Professor Miles had documented in his reports and notes but Arthur reads them over and over again anyway, pushing the words in, trying to make himself understand thinking that if he didn't that something bad would happen to someone.
Mal has to drag him away from the files and papers many a time, shoving plates of food in his hands, telling him sternly to shower and take a walk outside every once in a while. During the day Dom and Mal would research or hunt for chemists or travel to visit Miles to consult with him. Arthur was again told he was on "vacation" because they didn't have any work for him yet as experiments were on hold until they could develop or acquire a better drug for the dream sharing machine. A couple weeks pass and Mal comes into Arthur's room with new tulips and asks Arthur if he'd like to join Dom and her to visit Miles at Oxford as Miles wants to meet him. Arthur feels a strange stirring in his chest upon hearing that he's been requested like he's going to see the Wizard of Oz. He tries to hide his excitement and nervousness as they ready to leave for the train station.
Professor Stephen Miles' office is small, cramped, smells slightly of dust and is littered with boxes. Professor Miles is much like his daughter with inquisitive, warm eyes that grab and hold your attention. He has an aura about him that oozes intelligence, quiet humor and grace. His movements are deliberate and thoughtful and Arthur feels strangely calm being around him like just his presence is enough to calm his nerves and placate him. Arthur is surprised to find he's British. He assumed he would have been French as well like his daughter. Miles seems very at peace with everything and the attitude is catching Arthur finds. Mal and Dom embrace him when they arrive. Arthur hangs back and observes the tender reunion and looks about his small office. Dom calls him over and he introduces Arthur to Professor Miles. Miles smiles, his wrinkles smoothing and the corners of his eyes crinkling behind his glasses when he shakes Arthur's hand. His touch is cool and light. "You must pardon my mess. I'm packing though I never really used this office much anyway," he shrugs a little and chuckles revealing yellowing crooked teeth. Miles gestures to a chair and after Arthur takes it he blinks at the Professor curiously. "Packing?" Mal and Dom level their careful gazes on Arthur and Miles nods. "I suppose they didn't tell you. I'm leaving Oxford. I accepted a job at École des Beaux-Arts so I can be closer to my brainchild and more importantly my family." Miles smiles, clasping his hands together and holding them close under his chin. "Which apparently is growing now," and he shoots Arthur a warm, thoughtful look. Arthur feels strangely at home with the look but squirms a little in his seat under his direct powerful gaze. The Professor looks to Mal sitting next to him. "Sweetheart would you be a dear and get your old decrepit father a tea please?" Mal smiles at him, her whole face lighting up. She nods and gets up from her chair. "Take Dom with you would you? He hasn't seen the campus in a while," and Miles winks at Arthur. Dom shoots Miles a puzzled look and Miles meets his gaze coolly, challenging him and chuckles. "That means I'm trying to talk to Mr. Marek alone if you didn't catch my subtle hint." Dom's face breaks out in a sloppy grin, a slight blush of embarrassment creeping up on his cheeks and he nods and rises from his chair. He meets his girlfriend at the doorway. They interlock fingers and close Miles' door behind them as they go.
Arthur immediately feels a bit on edge after the door closes. No one told him he was going to have a private one-on-one conversation with the Professor. Miles sits back in his chair in relaxation and steeples his hands together under his chin observing Arthur like he's a rare species.
"I wanted to thank you personally for what you did. You helped Dom secure the device and I know all about what you had to leave behind and I know it wasn't easy," his weathered, faded blue eyes search Arthur's face and Arthur isn't sure if he's supposed to say something. Of course it wasn't easy for him to leave everything behind, pack up and leave with a man he barely knew and trusted but he did it and he still wasn't one hundred percent sure why he did. The prospect of the dream sharing intrigued him and he still very much wanted to know more about his father, possibly have him notice him and above all else forgive him. If he did what his father wanted maybe it would earn him back his trust and possibly love. Arthur finds himself clasping his hands together between his open legs, his head slightly bent and trained to the floor and he nods.
"You have no idea how much it means to me, truly. And I meant what I said. You're family now. Anything you need you just ask."
Arthur can only train his eyes to the beaten up, scuffed wooden floor that seems to own a lot of history. He takes a deep slow breath and nods again.
"I can sense you're still scared and uncertain and I get that." Arthur's eyes snap up to the Professor's face and Miles is leaning back into his chair regarding Arthur solemnly. "You were thrust into this and," he chuckles. "You have no idea what's going on or in store for you," he chuckles lightly and pinches at his eyes behind his glasses. "I don't mean to laugh but I can understand how you're feeling. When I created the device I felt the same way. I felt much like Alice tumbling down a rabbit hole never knowing where I would turn up."
Arthur twists his hands that are clasped together between his legs and scuffs his shoe across the ancient floor. He nods again.
"I see a lot of myself in you," the Professor sighs, a slight frown on his face. "You're searching for someone and I know how that is too," Arthur searches his aged face and the Professor smiles weakly. "I've been searching since I was twelve years old," his weathered blue eyes scan his small office and Arthur finds himself leaning forward in his chair. Miles clears his throat and he straightens up in his chair, leaning forward a little in his seat as well. "I created the device for selfish reasons. Did that ever come up in the research and documents Dom gave you? Did Dom even mention it?" Miles smiles faintly again like he already knows the answer and Arthur can only blink at him. "No, I suppose he didn't," Miles chuckles. "I don't think Dom is aware of my flaws anymore. Maybe he never was. When he's possessed with an idea everything else seems to dissolve away with him. His convictions and passion is strong but sometimes he misses the little details," the Professor smiles and regards Arthur.
"Maybe you ought to hear my story and let yourself decide if you truthfully want to do this? I think it's only fair that you know everything before you…" the Professor pauses and furrows his brow like he's trying to think of what he wants to say. He levels his gaze on Arthur after a few heartbeats. "continue down the rabbit hole so to speak. Not to say that you can never leave but it surely makes things more complicated especially since what we're dealing with is secretive and not exactly legal now in a certain sense."
No one had ever given him a choice and Arthur feels strange after hearing Miles' offer. Miles was giving him an out, a "speak now or forever hold your piece" type of offering. Arthur doesn't know if he feels better knowing he can leave if he wants but where would he go? He went AWOL from the military blowing that career path. He had stolen a top secret device from the said military and had run away with it to another country. What was he supposed to do now? He was given a choice but really his only choice was to keep going, going further, tumbling into the unknown and hoping he would land on both feet.
With his decision made he regards the Professor carefully. "I'd like to hear your story." Even though he knows he isn't going anywhere he still wants to know why Miles thinks he developed the device for selfish reasons and who he was searching for as his quest hits close to home with Arthur.
Miles nods thoughtfully; his enclosed hands resting slightly over his lips in a contemplative way that Arthur imagines he doesn't even realize he's even doing it.
"My mum died when I was twelve years old. I came from a very religious and strict household. My mum took her own life. According to my father that meant she secured her own place in the deepest, darkest areas of hell." There's a pregnant pause and Arthur again finds himself leaning towards the Professor in his chair, his eyes going wide as his story is already mirroring his own in some ways.
Miles laughs under his breath bitterly, a non believing look on his face. "According to our father she wasn't allowed to be in our lives anymore after she took her life. In a fit of rage he burned all her possessions and all traces of her including any and all pictures of her like he was burning her out of our lives completely," he shakes his head and takes a deep, shuddering breath. "Not to get into specifics and really it's too horrible to relive but he did things to my siblings and I, traumatizing us so we would forget her. This set up our hatred for our father as well and my two older siblings moved out of the house as soon as they could, thankful to be away from him. I was too when I turned eighteen and left home. We all scattered like birds, fleeing from our torturous past, all landing in different areas of the country." Arthur feels his heart getting heavier and feels it as it pounds painfully in his chest. Miles' story, his past is a total train wreck and Arthur feels sympathy but also intrigue at his sorrowed tale.
"When I was finally free of him, finally free to live on my own and experience the world and I was finally allowed to think of her I couldn't," Miles looks down to his large, weathered hands resting in his lap neatly and laughs bitterly. "My father had successfully burned her from my mind. I would lie in my bed some nights and I would have strange dreams and I would wake up with this feeling that I cannot describe. I know my mind was trying to conjure her up, to remember her and I would swear I saw her but I could never remember it fully after I woke. I…" and Miles' voice is strained and he shakes his head a little, looking about the room with a pained expression on his face and Arthur knows that look. He knew it all too well from trying to run away from his past and what he did to his own mother and wanting to run back to his own father for forgiveness. It was a look of total bewilderment, abandonment and betrayal mixed with grief and hatred. A minute or so passes and Miles seems to compose himself again. "I couldn't remember her face," and Miles closes his eyes, his face looking ashy. "Even now I cannot remember what my own mum looks like. I was twelve years old and I should still be able to see her…" Miles blinks his eyes open, his stony face looking irreparably sad. "But I cannot," he smiles weakly. He inhales deeply through his nose and Arthur think he looks so much older now like reliving the tale was taking years off his life.
"I had to see her again. You can't even imagine how frustrating and saddening is to not be able to remember what your own mum looks like. It's like a crime, like something was stolen from me and really it was. I loved my mum very much and she punished herself, put her children and husband before her own needs and didn't seek help for her depression," he smiles sadly, his eyes looking faraway. "It was the forties and you didn't admit you had problems back then. To show weakness was a great dishonor not only to you but your family as well. To her God was the only one that could help her and death was the only answer to be truly free," he waves a hand dismissively in front of his face like he's waving the memory away. "But I'm getting off track, forgive me. My desire to see her face again was all consuming. My siblings were a bit older than me and I reasoned that they would still remember her and her face because they had more memories of her. I tried to get them to talk about her, to describe her but we had become estranged. We hadn't seen each other for several years and they were becoming strangers to me. They were more than willing to forget the past and just focus on future. They didn't want to talk about her and it could be because our father had erased the memory from them too or because they still had some of those religious notions from our upbringing and didn't want to talk about the heathen that took her own life," Miles shrugs and his craggy face looks tired.
"Whatever the reason they refused and I was left feeling incredibly bitter and even more consumed with the idea that I had to see her. I couldn't let it be a memory forgotten. I had to see her one more time. So I threw myself into schoolwork and my studies. I graduated and got my degree in psychology but it wasn't enough. I felt so much unrest and inner turmoil back then. I was very young and had to understand everything. I had to devour everything and anything that I could get my hands on to be able to recreate her," Miles shakes his head and chuckles to himself. He eyes Arthur after a moment. "What do you think of that? Scary isn't it how the mind of a possessed person thinks, hmm?" Arthur can only regard him wide eyed and nod a little. He knew all too well how obsessions work and he swallows hugely, a lump forming at his throat.
"My colleagues thought I was quite mad. I was spending all hours in the library or staying up late researching things they didn't think I ever would understand," he points to his head with his index finger. "Try telling my obsessed brain that it was crazy. I entered my masters program for architecture but I was interested in so many things. Again my colleagues thought I was crazy wasting my time with architecture since I was very good at math and chemistry. I excelled in engineering and physics but…I loved to build things and I was stubborn. I think the more people told me not to do something I only wanted to do it more," he laughs lightly.
"My father died right before I earned my masters. All of us, my siblings and I are, were reunited again for the first time in several years. I took that opportunity to try to reason with them and get them to open up and share about our mum. My oldest sister Phillipa would only bicker with me and my older brother Alan would close up and only murmur prayers under his breath like he was totally brainwashed. I told myself if only I could have connected myself to their closed off brains somehow and suddenly this strange, incredible idea took over me as we were watching my father's casket being lowered into the ground. What if I was able to go into my siblings memories? The only ones that still seemed to remember my mum? It was crazy but again," Miles taps at his head with his index finger. "Try telling my brain that. I was consumed with new ideas and purpose and again I threw myself into my research and work in my spare time. In 1972 after I earned my masters and was teaching at Oxford I started working on my crazy idea. Somehow people were pulled into my craziness and gravitated towards me and I'm still not sure how or why even to this day. Maybe it was the passion I showed or maybe they just felt sorry for me? Whatever the reason my two colleagues and I shared a small lab in the basement of Oxford and in between teaching I developed the idea and they helped me execute the trials. Now through all this I had basically zero social life as you can imagine. I was all consumed with work and research," he smiles and it lights up his face making him look younger again.
"I met Marie in 1973. She was working as a secretary in the Dean's office," Miles whistles. "She was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. Prettiest eyes and face, legs that went on for days and she was French! God, I just wanted to lean on her desk and listen to her speak as she answered the phone all day," Miles chuckles a little. "Any excuse to go to the Dean's office I would. She of course caught on to my lame flirting attempts eventually," he sighs heavily and there's a faraway look in his eye again. "I don't know what she saw in me. I was some half crazed lunatic that spent all his time in the dark basement lab like some nutter talking about nonsense about sharing memories through a device," he laughs a hearty laugh. "But she saw something in me and she truly made my world beautiful to live in. She quieted my overzealous and overworked brain. She settled me," he nods a little in remembrance. "We were hot and heavy from the get go and I just knew she was the one. We married in '74 and everything was kind of a whirlwind. Everything was happening very fast. My colleagues and I were making breakthroughs with the device we were building and Marie and I were expecting our first child by the end of '74," Miles stops, smiles a toothy grin and regards Arthur. "Mallorie was born in September of '75 and it should have been the happiest day of my life and in a way it was but we made major head way with the drug we were developing that went along with the device that same week and I was just riding this feeling. I told you I was selfish," he eyes Arthur and Arthur can only blink at him with saddened eyes. Arthur had an idea of where this story was heading.
"Marie agreed to be a stay at home mum as I was just too busy with my teaching and my outside work. We would argue all the time when I was home which was infrequently. 'I was putting my family on the backburner, I didn't even know my own daughter, and all I thought about was my work'. And this was all true but of course I couldn't admit it at the time. I was so close to my dream of seeing my mum again and nothing was going to stand in my way not even my family," Miles sighs deeply and closes his eyes. "And I didn't really know my own daughter then and that to me is my hugest regret," he opens his eyes and smiles weakly. "We divorced in '78. Marie fought to get full custody," Miles sighs deeply, more pained this time. "She was granted it because the court saw me as an ill suited father who was too involved in his work. They left me and I deserved it. It was a bad time for me after that and I would be kidding myself if I didn't think from time to time back then that I should take my own life and just hope I see my mum again that way instead, deeming everything as 'too hard'," he sighs again. "But I carried on somehow. The development of the device was my only real outlet, my only real thing. In 1993 I got the surprise of my life. My daughter, being curious about the father that she didn't really know, sought me out unbeknownst to her mum. She was just like me at that age. She was eighteen and ready to fly the coop, stretch her wings and experience things. I was given a second chance with her," he smiles hugely. "I'm not a religious person, I gave that up when I was twelve but I thank whoever is up there everyday for giving me a second chance to know my daughter. We developed a relationship slowly after that over the years mostly in secret from her mum, building up what we had lost," he smiles and Arthur swears he sees the beginnings of tears in his eyes.
"She stumbled upon my research in my office one day, going over my things when I wasn't there. I wanted to be cross with her but the look on her face was so eager and full of passion. She was immensely interested and I found myself telling her everything," Miles shrugs looking bewildered and guilty. "How could I not? She was my daughter, my only child and I thought I had lost her. I always imagined having a large family but after Marie left and took Mal I knew it was never in the cards for me. I only had Mal and if she wanted to know me and what I was working on I wanted to share it with her. I didn't want to hold anything back from her or deny her anything anymore. She started working with me in the lab and by that time her mum, my ex wife, found out. Marie felt betrayed of course and Marie and I really didn't have much of a relationship at all before that point but it forced us to talk. I argued with her that Mal was an adult and could choose her own life but Marie kept accusing me of brainwashing her," Miles shakes his head glumly. "It was an uphill battle but in the end Marie knew she couldn't keep Mal from doing it and Mal was a lot like me. If someone told her she couldn't do something she would just want to do it more. So we worked together while she took classes at Oxford. She helped me immensely as I'm getting to be quite an old man now and although I used to be able to stay up all night and do research and run around like crazy I can't anymore. My mind is still quick but my body isn't," he laughs.
"I met Dom three years ago. He was a student of mine when he was taking an introductory architecture course. He was going to school for engineering after leaving his military career though," Miles leans in close to Arthur and motions for Arthur to come closer. Arthur leans in hesitantly. "I'll let you in on a little secret." Arthur's eyes go wide and he swallows and nods deeply. "I think Dom wanted to go to Oxford because he knew his father had gone here. I don't think he graduated but he attended. Dom will never admit it of course but he didn't choose Oxford on a whim," Miles shrugs a little. "I guess Dom doesn't have the best relationship with his father either and we bonded on that though he never really speaks of him though I've tried," Miles' eyes crinkle a little at the corners. "I took to him as we both were little lost souls, men that fell off the path. What started as a friendly student teacher companionship turned to real friendship," Miles smiles and he looks very much alive.
"I found myself telling Dom about my research one night over good wine," Miles laughs. "I swear that boy knows all my guilty pleasures. He was very interested in it right off the bat just like my daughter and wanting to be a lab assistant but I refused. I already didn't like that my daughter was doing test trials on the device and drugs and I didn't want to rope in any more young blood. But he was very insistent and there was a fire in his eyes and this passion emanating from him that told me that he wouldn't let go," Miles shakes his head a little. "I think Dom is keeping something to himself about what his true reasons for getting involved are and maybe it has to do with his father. I'm not sure," he shrugs with a: "what are you going to do?" type look. "He met my daughter and of course took to her right away. I again refused. I love Dom dearly but he is an overzealous, cocky American who wanted to play the hero," Miles chuckles. "Essentially he was acting like me all those years ago and being the protective father that I am I told him to back off. Mal didn't like him right away anyway saying he was too obsessed and she didn't like arrogant Americans," Miles smiles and Arthur finds himself smiling a little too. Miles shrugs. "They're inseparable. I don't think they even know how it happened," he chuckles. "One day she hates him and Dom's respecting my wishes and then the next day they're madly in love and Mal is bursting into my office saying that I better not get in the way," he shrugs, smiling sheepishly. "And I don't anymore because again I can't deny her after not being in her life for so long and really I do adore Dom. He's the son I never had but he just needs someone to help him see all the little things, the little details," Miles regards Arthur coolly. Arthur finds himself nodding and absorbing Miles words.
"Our breakthrough came after a year of all of us working together as a team. The Somnicol worked successfully enough with the device. We were able to enter each other's dreams but not memories," there's a queer smile on Miles face, somewhere between a grimace and a pleasantry. "Memories can be in dreams but we weren't able to separate the two and just enter strictly a memory which means I won't be able to enter one of my sibling's minds for a memory of my mum. Not that they really would have allowed me anyway but…," he scratches the back of his head and frowns. "I was extremely pleased with the success though. I had spent so much time, energy, money, etcetera on the device and it was finally successful. Just not in the way I had truly hoped. I had spent more than twenty years of my life perfecting it and I still cannot do exactly what I want with it," he rubs at his chin and looks forlorn. "Well, and you know pretty much the rest I'm sure. Dom probably told you. Last year, after the success of the dream sharing machine caught wind and Oxford was going to fund me to develop it further the military swooped in and took it from us. I just had it and it was just as quickly taken away. We were all devastated but I think it hit Dom the hardest. He wouldn't give up even when all seemed lost," Miles smiles like he knows a secret. " Dom quit school though I protested since he was so close to graduating though he insists he'll go back," Miles rolls his eyes deeply. "He used his prior excellent work with the military to give him leverage and he knew people that could get him into a government job. I don't really agree with all the tactics he used or how he went about it as it wasn't all legal but he was able to get into the Pentagon and then it was just a matter of time when the dream sharing device was shuffled around in the UK and then finally the US," Miles closes his eyes again and takes a deep breath. He opens his eyes and they are bright and shining. "I am very happy to have it back as it obviously needs to be further honed as most people are having negative reactions to the Somnicol," Miles shakes his head. "I'm not sure why. We'll have to do further testing or just start from scratch and try to develop a different drug," Miles scratches his balding head looking a little glum. He eyes Arthur after a while. "And that's my story. So, knowing all that and my true reasons for wanting to keep developing the device do you still want to be aboard this ship so to speak?"
Arthur twists his hands in his lap and bites his lip. He shrugs a little after a time.
"I do. I just have a couple questions."
Miles nods faintly, looking solemn. He gestures to Arthur to continue.
"You say you can't separate dreams from memories? But memories can happen in dreams right? So are you developing the technology further in hopes that you're able to share or experience a memory with someone or…?" Arthur still feels a little lost but the idea is intriguing all the same. Arthur somehow feels it's probably possible to share memories with others but how to really convey that in a dream probably would be tricky. They would probably have to be very profound or powerful memories.
The Professor rubs at his chin thoughtfully and nods. He flashes a toothy grin after a moment. "You're very perceptive and I can tell you like to have all the details straight," Miles winks. "A man after my own heart," he leans towards Arthur and seems to think about what he wants to say like he's choosing his words carefully. "Dreams are fascinating. Wouldn't you agree?" Arthur nods in agreement. "In dreams you can conjure up anything and everything," Miles spreads his arms out wide to elaborate. "And we've done it. At least in the truest, simplest sense we're able to connect people and share dreams, go into their minds," Miles folds his hands in his lap neatly again. "But it isn't enough. It's too simple at least for me," he sighs deeply. "I love that we developed it but I'm a selfish old man," he laughs. "I need to be able to share memories, connect with others on the past too, to share things that have already happened."
"Is it possible?" Arthur finds himself asking and he almost regrets it the minute it leaves his mouth. He doesn't want to frustrate or sadden the Professor further.
Thankfully Miles just smiles thoughtfully. "No, it's perfectly possible. It's just bloody difficult," he chuckles a little. "I've tried for twenty years and we're only able to just share dreams," he bounces his knee a little anxiously. "If only there was a way to truly manipulate the dream to be able to withdraw information somehow or change it the way you needed it. And we are able to do that in a sense but when it comes to memories…" he waves a hand in front of his face in a dismissive gesture. "Well, Dom and my daughter are enamored with the dreams and are perfectly content on just developing that and I should be satisfied with that as well," he crosses his arms and looks about the small office.
"Do they know? About why you developed the device I mean and what you hope to accomplish?"
The Professor smiles at him sadly and that's all the answer Arthur needs. "Like I said you and I are similar in that we're both searching for someone. I haven't found her yet and I do hope you find your father. Would you expect anyone to understand your desire?" Miles searches Arthur's face deeply and Arthur shifts in his seat uncomfortably from the heavy gaze and feels confused as to how the Professor knows he's looking for his father. He shakes his head after a time. "No, I wouldn't." Miles nods at him a little looking contemplative.
"They know a little of why and how I got interested in it and how I'd like to be able to go into memories but not what I'm searching for or what I want to do," he sighs. "They think, just like everyone else, that I'm just content with the dreams. You have to understand I love them both very much and I want them to be happy. I hope they get married and have lots of children," he chuckles. "At least I'll be able to spoil my grandchildren like the way I would have liked to have spoiled Mal. I don't tell them everything because I don't want to crush their spirits or that passion they have and I don't want to deny Mal anything anymore. She's very happy and I don't want to make her unhappy ever again. Like I said they are very enamored with the dream sharing," Miles shrugs and flashes Arthur a toothy grin. "And who knows maybe I'll be able to learn from them and be able to be at peace with just developing the dream sharing." Miles eyes say differently and Arthur knows deep down that Miles will never be truly satisfied until he finds what he's looking for because Arthur feels the same. Arthur has a very strong urge to tell the Professor that he wants to help, a feeling sweeping over him. He also wants to tell him that they are the same in a lot of ways but he's interrupted by a knock on the door. Mal peeks her head in and smiles at them.
"Can we come in or do you need more time to sit and grill poor Arthur?" she laughs her sweet, sing song laugh. Miles rolls his eyes playfully but motions to her to come in. He chuckles a little. "No, we're done with the interview and lie detector test," he winks. Mal and Dom breeze in. Mal hands her father a steaming mug of tea and hands Arthur an equally steamy mug of black coffee, just the way he likes it. Arthur thanks her and the four of them talk and the three colleagues visit after a time and talk turns to work eventually. Arthur is mostly silent during those parts in the conversation but Miles shoots him knowing looks every once in a while like they share a secret because they really do and Arthur knows he'll keep it for him because they are very much the same. They're two men with deep dark secrets who are searching for someone that will absolve them of their sins.
Miles moves to Paris in an apartment that's close to Mal's house and they all help move all the equipment into Warehouse Six. They set up their lab and offices of sorts. Russell makes appearances and helps as well. Arthur still isn't sure how Russell fits into the equation of everything but the others know and trust him and Arthur keeps closed mouthed, keeps his head down and tries his best to keep up. The five of them work very well together and blessedly Arthur is given tasks to do to keep busy. The four former colleagues are all very excited to have the device back and Arthur tries to share in that excitement with them. The four of them get caught in deep discussion and debate about heavy things concerning the device and Arthur can't keep track of what they're talking about. He admits to himself he feels like the odd man out, the "new guy" but the others do include him and educate him as much as possible but there's a lot to learn as Mal had told him. It seems Miles' hints about keeping Dom on track and pointing out the "little things" were correct.
"I want you to be my point man." Dom and him are alone in the warehouse after a long, grueling day of research to find a new chemist and various other things regarding developing the device further.
Arthur knew what a point man was in the military. They were the first to lead and go into enemy or hostile territory. The point man was always the first to get shot. They were leaders and had to be incredibly brave. Arthur eyes Dom suspiciously thinking he misspoke. "Point man?"
Dom chuckles a little, his steely eyes flashing. "I guess it's an old military term but I thought we could identify with it more that way?" Dom shrugs. "I want you to be in charge of research and above all else to keep me in check and on track," he laughs a little. Arthur furrows his brow at him. "So you don't want me to go under?"
Dom waves his hands in front of his face. "No, no. I do but you have an important job besides that, we all do. Yours is just more detailed orientated and time consuming but from what I read about you at Fort Irwin you like detail and doing research." This was true though it could prove dangerous given what kind of mood he was in or if he felt stressed. His OCD could come out very easily. He had been able to keep it under wraps as of late thankfully. Arthur thinks of Dom and Miles and how they all are keeping secrets from one another. It was just one more to throw on the heap. Arthur nods at Dom.
"I know we're all doing research now but eventually when we get a hold of a chemist and develop the new version of the drug you'll be solely responsible for research as we're all going to have different tasks to focus on." Arthur nods again. "Do you accept it then?" Arthur opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He had always loved doing research on the background and origin of things, spending hours in the academy's library reading up on things he thought were interesting to keep his mind occupied but he still liked doing things as well. Arthur couldn't help feel afraid that by working behind the scenes he wouldn't be able to enter the dream anymore.
"Yes," Arthur says after a time. "But I want to go to school and I think you should finish too." The revelation startles Arthur and seems to startle Dom as well. He blinks at Arthur rapidly, a curious look broken out on his face. It was hard for Arthur to make decisions and figure out what he liked but he knew he wanted to go to college and he hoped he would be able to swing it while working with Dom and the others. He was always good at multitasking and he hoped it brought on a new routine for him to live by but knowing it would bring on new stress too which could trigger his OCD tenfold.
"Ok," Dom says sounding bewildered. "It's a deal," and Dom offers him his hand. Arthur stares at it. He doesn't like to shake hands if he didn't initiate it first. Arthur does take it after a while begrudgingly. The brief contact with Dom's skin makes Arthur flush and sends a jolt down his spine leaving him feeling tingly even after Dom releases his hand from him.
The first few months were a transition period. Not only for Arthur getting used to living in another country outside the US away from everything familiar, getting used to the unregimented lifestyle not full of control and order and being able to make decisions for himself. It was also a transition period for the team as well as they set up shop in Warehouse Six and had to learn to all work together and above all learn about each other.
Mal opened up to him very easily like she was an open book. Dom was willing to talk about some things but not others just as Miles had told Arthur there were some subjects with Dom that were off limits completely mainly about his father and parts of his military career and why he left to go to Oxford. Russell was a bit of a loose cannon and his moods varied widely. Some days he would be completely jovial and good humored with everyone except Arthur and other days he would barely utter a word to anyone and kept to himself. Russell was more prone to be snarky; sarcastic, cold and overall evasive about most things the more Arthur talked to him and tried to get to know him. Russell more or less never sought out Arthur exclusively for conversation nor talked to him unless spoken to first and although he was never outright cruel to him Arthur got a vibe that he resented Arthur somehow. The architect walked around with a chip on his shoulder and a grudge with the world and Arthur wondered if it was because the device was taken from them by the military and Arthur had worked for the said military? It was the only thing that Arthur could think of as to why Russell would feel some animosity towards him. Despite the awkward feelings or grudges they were able to push their differences aside when it came to work.
They had to keep a low profile. Dom, Russell and Arthur had all worked together to steal a top secret device from the military and Arthur and Dom had gone AWOL from their jobs. They all assumed that the three of them were probably seen as possible culprits, the feds piecing things together. They knew their faces were probably showing up in federal databases and airports for "No fly" listings. They would have to bunker down and sit tight. All of them used aliases and fake identities for everything with the exception of Miles who didn't commit any crimes and still had his legal job.
"You're going to have to change your name."
All of them were working in their respective spaces in the warehouse. Arthur had his own small office in one of the rooms off shooting from the main warehouse space. They had found an old desk when Dom and Arthur had gone to a dump. They brought it back and Arthur took great pride and care in cleaning it and re-finishing it. He never had something like that to call his own and although it still leaned a little because one of the legs was shorter than the others and it had a faint, unpleasant odor Arthur still loved it. There was a table and workspace in the main portion of the warehouse where he could have spent time doing his research in the airy space but he liked knowing he had his own "office" as well.
Arthur peers at Dom leaning up against the door frame of his office and blinks at him.
"I mean you have a fake passport but for everything else you're going to have to change it," Dom smiles a little a sloppily. "You'll still be Arthur but…" he trails off like Arthur knows exactly what he means.
"I have to change it legally?"
Dom shrugs. "Legally in a sense. Let's put it this way. You won't be Arthur Marek anymore but you'll still have a US birth certificate somewhere out there that says that you are but here you'll have a new identity."
Arthur furrows his brows at the once deadly consultant.
"What's your name here?"
Dom laughs. "James Matthews," he waggles his eyebrows. "Really imaginative I know," he laughs again to himself.
Arthur shrugs helplessly at Dom as Dom is staring at him apparently waiting for Arthur's new identity.
"Who do I look like?"
Dom cocks his head to one side. "You look like an Arthur. Not very much like your father." Arthur nods. He had gotten that a lot growing up. He looked very much like his mother. "Are you asking for help choosing a new name?" Arthur feels his face flush and he nods.
"How about Jacob Bloom?" Arthur eyes Dom suspiciously. "I don't know if I feel comfortable taking my father's name. Did you take yours?" Dom's eyes go dark and his face goes stony. "Yes," he breathes after a time, his voice strained and Arthur definitely feels he struck a nerve. He wants to press Dom further but there's a look in Dom's eyes that says: "cease and desist". Arthur thinks it's a shame really as they both could commiserate on their fathers but he can't force Dom to talk about it.
"If you don't like it then just get back to me by the end of the day. Russell knows someone that can get the paperwork…"
"No, its fine," Arthur interrupts, shooting him an apologetic grin. "Jacob Bloom is fine," he plasters a fake grin on his face. It doesn't really matter what his name is right? He'll still be Arthur…
"Ok," Dom nods his head a little, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. "Just remember that Arthur Marek doesn't exist anymore here. You'll only be called Arthur by us and even then we may have to address you as Jacob depending on the situation. Can you live with the name?"
Arthur nods vigorously and maybe a bit too eagerly and Miles' words of caution about tumbling down the rabbit hole echo in his brain.
"Ok. I'll tell Russell so we'll get the ball rolling. Sorry to bother you," and he swiftly removes himself from the door frame and slips back into the main warehouse. Arthur listens to his footfalls echo and fade and then Arthur is alone again. Arthur should feel used to it but people were wrapping themselves up in his life and for the first time he didn't feel utterly alone.
Months go by like trying to keep sand in your palm. It leaks through the cracks and dissolves away. All of them were busy trying to find a new chemist. The chemist that helped Professor Miles back in the '70's and '80's had left to pursue other things after he deemed Miles' experiments too: "time consuming and slow moving". Miles had worked with a few others but never for too long and he mostly had to do things himself by trial and error. Although Miles had some background in chemistry his eyesight was going and his fingers weren't as deft so they needed someone else to help test and correct the compound. Who they could trust was the tricky part.
Dom and Russell had a lot of connections and they knocked heads and came up with a list of names that Arthur could run background checks on to make sure they were still reliable. Months of searching, weeding through names and trying to track down the chemists was sometimes very frustrating but after Arthur finally tracked him down Dom was able to convince them to work with them short term.
Oleksander or "Olly" he insisted on being called was a brilliant man and chemist that Russell and Dom both knew from Oxford. He was from the Ukraine and after he graduated he drifted about like a nomad taking but then rejecting teaching offers all the while traveling and making it hard for Arthur to pin point him. But Arthur did track him down and Olly was persuaded after Dom promised him good money and security and above all a chance to work with something "otherworldly".
Olly is a small, slight, quiet man with a mop of unruly, dark curly hair and a broad face. He wears large glasses and Arthur notices that he seems a bit jumpy and darts around from place to place very quickly like he's on edge. Despite his sometimes odd behavior he is pleasant to talk to but very concentrated on his work.
When they secured Olly as their chemist the other five colleagues breathed what seemed like a huge collective sigh of relief. They now were able to move forward and work on different tasks. Snow is falling steadily in Paris now and whispers are moving their way to the surface about the three men that stole a top secret military device and fled the country. Dom's connections in the US tell him that the feds have already questioned all his acquaintances and have exhausted Arthur's though they are still looking for both men that went AWOL. Arthur is warned not to call anyone back home as it's still too dangerous.
Arthur only has one person he wants to call and as the months pass he feels the mounting desire to hear their voice. He spends his Halloween cooped up in the warehouse working some long hours into the night, Thanksgiving and Christmas are spent with Dom and Mal in Mal's house, New Years lying on the couch by himself watching old movies and Valentine's Day walking through town watching floods of lovers around him walk hand in hand. He admits to himself that he's home sick and in a moment of weakness he calls his number from a payphone with an international calling card.
"Arthur?" Dr. Trollsund sounds genuinely shocked.
It's late at night and he hopes he got the time zone conversations right. He thinks it's probably in the late morning or afternoon in the States.
"Yes," he breathes and he finds himself closing his eyes. It's a little piece of home after four months and it feels so good to hear a familiar voice.
"Arthur are you in some kind of trouble? Some investigators and police came by and asked me about you. They asked me if I knew where you were. Are you alright?"
Arthur looks around to the crowded Paris night streets. Couples are taking leisurely strolls by the Seine looking content and serene and the city is lit up and looks lovelier than ever but there's something heavy sitting on Arthur's chest.
"Yes," he lies.
"They said you went AWOL and that I was supposed to contact them if you ever called or showed up. What happened?"
Arthur knows he's trying to be a good friend and equally good therapist but there was no way Arthur could get into specifics without putting them both in danger.
"I'm in a safe place. I just wanted to let you know…let someone know that I'm ok," he smiles weakly into the receiver and he can feel his heart breaking into a million pieces. He looks up to the brilliant night sky and feels the moon's glow tickling his skin.
"How is everything?" Arthur knows that Dr. Trollsund is referring to his OCD and his "other thing". He also knows that Dr. Trollsund is keeping him on the phone probably in an attempt to figure out where he is. As with everything else Arthur has to let him go too. He thought back when he first arrived in Paris that he could come back to the States, come back to normalcy and possibly see Dr. Trollsund again but that just wasn't in the cards for him at least not for quite some time.
"I have to let you go," and Arthur truly means this and he finds it's getting harder to breath. He won't have anyone to rely on in terms of his disorders but he would have to struggle on and keep going.
"Arthur, wait. I want to help you. I'm concerned. Please…"
"Goodbye," Arthur cuts in, hanging up the phone abruptly, his tears staining the world around him until it's just a dark, swirling mess. Arthur allows himself this moment to mourn a life he left behind and for the scary unknown that awaits him.
Olly works dutifully, sometimes without rest, testing the Somnicol. More tests are run and thankfully Arthur is sat out on those having tested the Somnicol too much already for his tastes. Russell and Dom step up to the plate to go under and test the compound to much of the same results as with Mal and Arthur. They wake up violently ill and Russell is put on bed rest for a couple days.
Somnicol is deemed ineffective and has to be scrapped. A storm cloud of depression seems to sweep through the warehouse when Olly delivers the bad news. Miles and Dom especially take it hard and Arthur can see how it affects Mal as she feels split and pulled in two different directions as she tries to comfort both of them. Thankfully Olly wants to help develop a new drug as he's grown attached to the work over the few months he's been working on it. It helps the others feel that everything is not totally lost.
There are good times that make their way into Arthur's life. Time passes over him and heals the holes that are in his heart even filling up the ones created by home sickness. He finds himself slowly appreciating Mal and Dom and the little family they have become. Control and routine is something he still struggles with but trust is coming easier as the three of them walk home together every night to Mal's old, small house with the rickety stairs, worn banister, the creaking floors, the ancient floorboards and small windows. It feels larger and rather homey with the three of them moving about in it. They stay in a lot those first few months and Mal cooks for them and they drink good wine that Miles likes to pick out for them. Miles will join them too sometimes. The three of them will sit around the small table with Arthur and joke about the old days and their beginnings of working together and Arthur finds himself smiling with them. None of them pester Arthur about his past or prod him to talk about himself like they're patiently waiting for him to be ready. It fills Arthur up with a certain feeling he cannot describe but he thinks maybe it's something very close to love.
From time to time Arthur is left to himself when Dom and Mal leave to have some time for themselves. Arthur takes the opportunity to explore the city and visit Miles. They formed a bond after they first met each other and Arthur feels special that it's something different than Miles' relationship with Dom and Mal who are his actual family. Miles teaches Arthur how to play chess; they take walks around the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He likes walking around the huge courtyard with Miles and looking up to the old buildings full of so much history. He likes listening to Miles as he relays the history of the school and all the famous people that graduated from it.
"I'd like to go here," Arthur finds himself saying, his head craned up to the tall pillar in the middle of the courtyard with the beautiful sculpture resting on top. Miles chuckles lightly beside him. "A man after my own heart." Arthur meets his eyes and they both smile. "I think we can arrange that," and Miles leads him around the rest of the grand campus and Arthur can't be any more pleased with himself that he made a decision all on his own.
Miles takes him to the Louvre which is very close to the university. They spend a couple hours there and still they didn't see a fraction of its beauty. Miles is patient with him and lets Arthur drag him wherever he wants to go. Arthur could have stayed there all day. They visit the Arc de Triumph and it's another powerful structure that Arthur can't take his eyes off of. He literally has to be dragged away from it. They eat outside at a small café and Miles orders good wine. Arthur is becoming more accustomed to alcohol as all of his team mates do like a good drink. Talk turns to dreams and their work and it could be the good wine or the way Arthur knows he trusts Miles but he finds himself opening up to him, something he hadn't done since talking to Dr. Trollsund.
"I only dream about things that have happened. For whatever reason I don't have unique dreams but lately I keep getting these…these flashes in my head of strange things that feel like dreams but are things that never happened to me like I made them up," he chances looking at Miles fearful of his reaction. Arthur thinks he sounds rather juvenile and stupid for saying it and his cheeks burn a little. He tries hiding them behind his wine glass.
"You say you never have new dreams? You only dream about what has happened meaning memories?"
Or nightmares he adds silently.
Arthur nods and Miles regards him solemnly.
"That's very interesting. Are you sure that these 'flashes' aren't memories that maybe you've forgotten?"
The men eye each other from across the table, the realization playing out on both of their faces. Arthur never thought that maybe they could be memories but why didn't he remember them? Arthur always prided himself on having an excellent memory. It bothered Arthur as the revelation seemed accurate and he knew he would stop at nothing to try to figure the memories out. Miles and him were really the same. They both needed to remember something.
His happiest times were with Mal. In their off time she teaches him French and the piano. Miles owns a car and Mal insists on teaching Arthur how to drive when he lets it slip that he never learned as he never had anyone show him nor never needed to drive anywhere. Arthur feels childish but also pleased as he takes instructions from Mal and she teaches him how to work the old car. He nearly kills them but they joke about it later, a sweet inside joke.
When spring came and slowly melted the city of dying snow and everything again was in bloom she would teach Arthur how to garden and would take Arthur on little day trips. They visited the Loire Valley Castles, the Chartes Cathedral and they would rent a car and travel up the coast. Mal learns quickly all the things Arthur is slowly realizing he likes. She remembers he loves the beach and ocean from when they first met and Arthur knows she's trying to win him over and have him possibly open up to her more. They walk the beach together watching the many boats on the crystal blue ocean, the endless miles of crystal sand and feeling the gentle breeze in their hair. They roll up their pants and take off their shoes and as they walk Arthur tells her that he's from a small town in New Hampshire and that he lived in a huge house on a cliff that overlooked the Atlantic and that he loved being outside and watching the waves crash into each other.
"I spent as much time as I could outside," he watches gulls lazily ride thermals and tourists running around snapping pictures of everything. The sun is almost blinding and the sand is warm under their toes.
"Why was that, cher?" she asks gently. Arthur feels he does trust her and somehow he feels he owes her after how warm, patient and inviting she's been to him over the past seven months but it's still incredibly hard. He had been hurt and punished by too many people in the past mainly from himself.
"Inside was always a bit stuffy. I didn't like to be inside," he hopes he conveyed in his voice that the subject was off limits. Arthur looks to Mal hesitantly and Mal only nods faintly looking a bit crushed. Arthur knows that look of disappointment and guilt stabs at his insides. She was trying to earn his complete trust only to be shot down once again.
Maybe in time, he tells her silently, I'll be able to tell you everything about all the horrible, ugly and black things about me and inside me but then you'll have a different opinion of me. You'll be scared of me and then you'll know why I don't tell anyone these things.
Mal is unusually silent then as they walk the beach together and she feels miles away. Arthur realizes he doesn't want things to change. He's beginning to really like his new life as scary and unpredictable as it could be sometimes and he didn't want the others to distance themselves from him.
If you can be patient with me just a little longer…I know I can be difficult but you didn't do anything wrong, he wills her silently, urging her with his eyes as she looks about the beach. Please don't give up on me as sometimes I think I give up on myself.
The six of them work independently in Warehouse Six most of the time. They'll have meetings but then they'll scatter to each of their respective places in the warehouse. There isn't a lot for Arthur to do but he'll read up on anything and everything relating to the dream sharing device and tries to help Miles look through great volumes of books relating to chemistry and the human anatomy specifically the brain to try to assist Olly as much as they can as he tries to perfect a new compound for the device.
There are many failed attempts at the new compound some of them with negative side effects. Miles is very concerned about them all testing the new drugs but they all are insistent, Arthur included, to try to perfect the new drug knowing that there's no one else that can test it out as the device needs to be kept secret.
More time passes and slips through Arthur's fingers. He enrolls and gets accepted into École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in the fall with the help of Miles pulling a few strings. He enrolls in the architecture program and is quietly excited that Miles will be his professor after he takes his general courses. Everyone except Russell is very pleased for Arthur.
Though he feels closer to Miles and Mal his relationship with Dom gets stronger too. Arthur would be kidding himself if he thought he never stopped liking him in a certain way or thought he wasn't still dashingly handsome. He didn't know if the attraction was mixed up with hero worship or what. Arthur buries it all down along with the rest of his secrets. When Arthur first started the journey with Dom back at Fort Irwin Arthur felt he had a scar on his heart from feeling betrayed by him, tricked by him and maybe being used by him. Dom was the one that gave him no choice, thrust him into the unknown, plucking him from the military and filled his head with stories about Arthur's father.
Through working with Dom more intimately away from the fake setting as him being the deadly government consultant Arthur sees a new side to him. Though the passion and desire is still there the: "I'll do whatever it takes if it kills me" façade has faded. He's a lot like how he was when he broke into the mess hall with Arthur and made Arthur an omelet. He's calmer and gentler and Arthur isn't sure if it's because of Mal or because the device is secured now. Either way it's becoming on the older man and Arthur finds himself warming up to him. Besides Russell Dom is hardest to place his trust in though as time goes on and Dom practices just as much patience and grace as his girlfriend Arthur finds himself relying on him and Dom takes it seriously. Though the scars are still there from feeling betrayed and used they crust over and heal. Arthur knows Dom makes major efforts in making him feel comfortable and building up their relationship. Although Dom thinks they go unnoticed as at first Arthur shies away or shoots down his invitations to do things or requests to chat they certainly aren't unnoticed. Though Arthur can't say they are the best of friends they're slowly getting to the point where maybe they aren't just simply "comrades".
The Sergeant works his way into the equation somehow. Arthur doesn't like to admit it but he finds himself thinking of the British officer quite a bit. Sometimes when he overhears Russell speaking to Mal or Dom Arthur will stop what he's doing, close his eyes and just listen to the accent and be content with being swept away in memories of a time when he was almost happy upon just hearing a certain someone speak to him outside a bar or inside a bar when he almost certainly didn't hate him. The pleasant memories are clouded with bad ones as well and guilt always twists deep inside him almost leaving him feeling breathless when he thinks of how he left things with the Sergeant. They had argued violently, anger erupting into a fever pitch and Arthur had called him a coward and had finally confronted him about the ridiculous white feather that he had given him that first day they knew they would be working together. He expected a violent retort but instead the Sergeant seemed to be taken down a peg and was visibly crushed, mumbling something to Arthur about: "not remembering". Arthur didn't understand what he meant. He only understood the explicit pain and hurt on the Sergeant's face as he stormed out of his hospital room. And Arthur had tried to make it right after he learned that the bastard was leaving Fort Irwin, their mission together, and his life altogether before saying goodbye or trying to make amends with him. But Arthur was too late. He could only watch him leave from behind the high gated fence; watch him leave quickly from his life without a goodbye just like his father. And why should Arthur care? That was what troubled him the most some nights when he couldn't sleep. Why did he care?
Dom and Mal take him to the Le Ciel de Paris restaurant, the highest restaurant in all of Europe with the view from 56 stories up, for his 22nd birthday. The view takes Arthur's breath away and he can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance looking small from how high up they are. They dine on rich foods and expensive wine and Arthur finds himself strangely happy. He couldn't believe almost a year had passed since he had come to the great city. All of them felt more relaxed and felt they could cut loose a bit more as things in the US had settled down and the feds weren't constantly looking or asking about them. They could splurge and afford to go out more, not feeling they needed to hide all the time. They were feeling safe and content but maybe a little too much so.
Olly was making good headway on the new drug. He felt confident that by Christmas he should have some good news as the experiments and trials that everyone participated in were resulting in better outcomes. The side effects weren't as bad and all around things were looking up. Everyone seemed to have a bit of a spring in their step from the positive results instead of constant failures, bringing on a much needed burst of confidence in them like a battery recharge.
Arthur overall felt good himself. School was giving him a routine and regimented life again and he felt his OCD was more in check because of it. Though keeping his body in shape was still a priority he still felt himself change as he wasn't as toned or built from so much muscle anymore-consequences of a regimented military life. He kept himself strong and enjoyed jogging by himself and weight lifting with Dom but his body wasn't sharpened like a tool anymore. He looked leaner after losing some of the muscle mass but Mal always complimented him saying he looked more "human" when she caught him frowning at his appearance in a mirror. His hair had grown out as well and he couldn't remember the last time he had enough hair to actually maintain or worry about.
"You look so handsome, cher," Mal would say when she would notice his hair was getting longer too. Arthur had no idea what to do with it as he was blessed or cursed with his mother's Jewish genes and he had naturally more thick and curly hair so he slicked it back like Dom's, replicating it as best he could, wanting it out of his face so he could work.
He was busy and could admit to himself he was happy for probably one of the first times in a long time. He was riding high on the good news about the new compound almost being ready and like most good things in Arthur's life they don't last.
Arthur's mind is going in a million different directions thinking about his finals and the upcoming holidays when he'll be on break from school but also his research. Arthur is going over some of the results of the experiments with Dom as they are alone in the warehouse sitting together on the old weathered couch that Miles insisted on bringing in.
"I need something decent to relax in. My old bones don't like to sit on uncomfortable chairs all day," Miles complained loudly one day. Then before they knew it an old leather couch was pushed up against a wall in the main warehouse portion and nobody questioned it.
Arthur can tell Dom isn't paying attention. He was getting good at recognizing his moods, ticks and overall body language as they've been working alongside each other for more than a year. The older man is bouncing his knee up and down, nibbling on a thumb nail and is darting his eyes all around, everywhere except the documents Arthur is trying to show him. Arthur is reminded of when Dom asked him to be his point man and told Arthur he would have to keep Dom in check and keep him "on point".
"Hey," Arthur snaps his fingers to get Dom's attention and Dom whips his head to Arthur's direction, thumb nail still sloppily inserted in his mouth and his eyes wide.
"What's up with you?" Arthur finds himself asking, annoyance seeping into his once good mood.
"I'm going to propose to Mal," he says in a rush, the words tumbling from his mouth, his eyes going wider and a boyish grin exploding on his face and Arthur knows that they won't be able to get any more work done now. Arthur closes the file and finds himself smiling though he feels surprising pangs of jealousy and flutterings of something else in his stomach.
Dom reaches into his back pocket, unfolding a sheet of paper and sucks in a deep breath. "What should I write vow wise? I'm no good at this stuff," Dom rubs at the back of his head with a pen and smiles sheepishly, throwing Arthur a pleading look. "And you think I'm good at it?" Arthur squeaks out. "Dom, you haven't even proposed yet. I don't think you need to worry about…"
"You have a way with words, Arthur," and his burning blue eyes are begging with Arthur, nervousness erupting on his face and Arthur finds himself nodding because Dom is obviously over anxious and nervous for some reason and Arthur knows Dom wants it perfect for Mal because she deserves it.
Arthur swallows the huge lump forming in his throat down and takes a deep breath.
"I don't want to hear: 'I love you'. I've heard that all before and it's empty and stale. Every time someone has said it to me it turned out to be untrue. They couldn't handle me and didn't want me. I want to hear: 'I'm going to take care of you forever'," that might release the burden on my heart he adds silently. Arthur didn't realize he felt that way until he said the words and his cheeks burn a little in embarrassment upon revealing something so personal.
Dom stops scribbling away at the paper and can only blink at Arthur like he's seeing through him. He nods a little after a while like he's absorbing his statement. Arthur didn't realize until that moment that he was a little tired of being alone but at the same time he thought it was just punishment for what he had did and really who could love him anyway after what he did? He was too afraid to let anyone in anyway.
Dom's mouth is moving but Arthur hadn't caught anything the other man had said, too absorbed in his own thoughts.
"I'm sorry. What did you say?"
Dom smiles and chuckles a little like he caught Arthur red handed. "I said it's good, very good. You're speaking from experience right? You got your heart broken a lot? I always took you for more of a lady-killer or heart breaker myself," he winks and nudges him with his elbow in an attempt to break the tension.
Arthur knows it's a tactic to get to know him just like when Mal took him to the beach in the spring time. Arthur wants to let these people in but it's an uphill battle with himself but he finds he can do it sporadically and slowly. Not too much at one time.
"I don't pursue anymore as a general rule. It always leads to disaster. So when are you going to ask her?"
Dom's eyes widen a little at Arthur's revelation and he blinks several times trying to keep up with Arthur's train of thought. Dom smiles after a time and he goes back to looking a bit nervous.
"Soon, "he says shakily and laughs. "I'd like to be married by next year," Dom shoots him a look and Arthur nods because he thinks that's what he supposed to do in this situation even though he really has no idea.
"Be my best man?"
Arthur feels his heart skip a beat and he almost asks Dom to repeat himself because clearly he didn't hear him right. Surely Dom has other friends he can ask? It's Arthur's turn to blink at him and they stare at each other probably for an uncomfortable amount of time.
There's no fucking way.
"Sure," he finds himself saying hesitantly instantly regretting it the second it leaves his mouth. Dom's face erupts into elation and Arthur sees the warning signs in his body language that he wants to touch or God forbid hug Arthur. Arthur bolts from his seat in a flash in an attempt to thwart Dom's need to touch him. This apparently only made things worse however because Dom's grinning from ear to ear and leaps up from his seat and is crushing Arthur to him in almost a bear hug mumbling: "Thank you. I need all the help I can get," into Arthur's shoulder. Arthur feels paralyzed, black dots swimming in front of his vision from the too much contact. He closes his eyes and sucks in air like a drowning man. It's too much too soon just like revealing his past. It's all too much. Dom releases him but Arthur is still desperately trying to catch a grip as the room is spinning and it's hard just to breathe. He knows Dom is staring at him but there isn't much Arthur can do besides lean against a wall for support and try to bring himself back down to earth. He couldn't remember the last time he had gotten a hug. It was just too much. Sweat is pouring down his back and is forming at his neck and he can't open his eyes or breathe.
"Arthur are you ok?" Dom sounds too close and too concerned. Arthur can only nod. "No, really. Buddy, are you ok?" Arthur hated that endearment but he nods more adamantly not trusting his voice just yet. Arthur's face burns and he feels the obsessions coming on as his body is stressed to the max. He doesn't want anyone to see him this way less of all Dom. "Arthur…?"
"I'm fine," Arthur snaps and his eyes fling open as well to prove the point but he's anything but fine. He propels himself from the wall which he finds out immediately is a bad idea as he goes stumbling forward but thankfully doesn't fall. He waves off help from Dom who is still staring at him and stumbles out of the warehouse as fast as he can. He locks himself in his small bedroom immediately when he gets home and thankfully his OCD doesn't take over until he's behind those closed doors. It claims him to a chair and Arthur's unable to move until he ties his shoes correctly because really his laces are not done right and he could surely slip, fall and die if it's not done right. Time has no meaning for him as he rocks back and forth in the solitary chair, his fingers so sore he swears he'll have blisters in the morning as he ties and unties, a constant futile loop.
He wakes up sprawled out on the floor having no idea how he got there only guessing he passed out from exhaustion. His back and hands are aching horribly, his fingers are blistered and he curses himself until his throat is raw because now he won't be able to work efficiently with bandaged hands. How was he supposed to explain this to everyone? "I'm sorry. I have OCD and I was tying my shoes all night until my fingers were raw because I also can't handle people touching me if I don't initiate it first." Arthur shakes his head and sets to work popping his blisters, feeling miserable, all his good feelings from the night before vanished before his eyes.
He doesn't know what to tell anyone so he doesn't tell them anything when he shows up late to the warehouse that morning with his bandaged fingers. Dom shoots him these confused, apologetic, sympathetic looks and Arthur can't handle their pity. He holes himself up in his office and tries his best not to come out. He snaps at anyone that tries to come in or talk to him and he knows they don't warrant it and it's just his anger with himself that's being projected on them but he can't help it. They avoid him like the plague and even when Mal tries to collect him at the end of the day he barks at her that he is going to walk home by himself. It's childish, juvenile and insane but he doesn't want to talk about it and he doesn't want to see her sad smile that he knows is there without looking. He holes himself up in his room when he gets home and doesn't talk to anyone, his OCD coming on because of his stress again. It's like a vicious cycle.
This goes on for a couple days until they have a morning meeting on the third day. Dom says he has an announcement and he can see Dom and Mal's glowing faces and Arthur knows and he feels the color drain from his face and he wants to stick his tail between his legs and slink out of the room because he feels ashamed on how childish he's been acting, totally losing sight of the bigger picture.
Dom pulls Mal to her feet and the smiles on their faces are priceless. Dom turns to her and there are tears in their eyes.
"Mal has agreed to make me the happiest man alive and to be my wife," he takes her hand and Mal's lips are quivering and everyone around him is sighing and clapping, congratulating them. Mal pulls Dom into a kiss and then Miles is approaching them and it's a big soppy tear fest of hugs and endearments and Arthur is the only one still sitting in his chair feeling like the hugest schmuck in the universe. After the heat of the moment dies down and everyone else except the happy couple has scattered Arthur approaches them and they immediately look a little wary like they're expecting Arthur to snap at them again. Arthur winches at their reaction making him feel even smaller than he already does. Arthur tries to hide his bandaged fingers in his pockets and smiles at them. They look like the happiest couple in the world and Arthur is almost in awe of them.
"I just wanted to congratulate you and apologize for my behavior for the past couple days. I'm very sorry. I've been acting like a huge jackass."
Dom looks down to his shoes, his arm still around Mal and Mal only smiles weakly at Arthur. They still look a little scared of him and Arthur feels his stomach drop. He realized he really cared for these people and didn't want them to be alarmed or scared at how he would react. That's the last thing he wanted. They had shown him great hospitality and he was being rude.
"Whenever you feel ready to tell us what's going on we'd like to know since we're concerned, Arthur and you are living with us," Mal says gently averting her eyes.
Arthur feels a stab at his heart and waves a hand in front of his face. "What is or isn't going on with me can wait," he gestures between the couple and smiles. "This is about you two but I promise I will tell you." He has no idea if he'll be completely honest. Dom can't meet his eyes and Arthur knows he's probably still hurt with how Arthur has been treating him the past couple days. When they go back to work Arthur can only think of ways to make it up to them and he works out a plan.
Mal and Dom are totally surprised when they walk into the restaurant and all of them are already there; ready to celebrate with them on their recent engagement. Arthur had orchestrated and fronted the surprise party in hopes to apologize and smooth things over with everyone for his recent behavior. Mal and Dom were tickled and totally touched that Arthur had put it together and the fear and wariness they felt towards him the day before seemed to evaporate. Before they shared the good meal together Arthur rose from his chair, clinking on his glass to get everyone's attention.
"I want to propose a toast to the newly engaged couple," Mal and Dom watch him intently and Arthur tells himself he better get used to it if he's going to be their best man. He takes a big breath and continues. "Dom. Mal. You two have been so great to me taking me into your home and into your life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and I wish you two all the happiness in the world." Mal looks like she may cry and Dom meets Arthur's eyes after probably four days of them not really speaking to each other or looking at each other. "To family," they all raise their glasses, clinking them together and drinking to the sentiment. And Arthur meant what he toasted to. These people were his family and the knowledge sits well with him.