He can't quite bring himself to believe that the richly polished wooden box contains Arthur. No. Arthur's body.
Arthur is dead. It was just last night he was gripping Arthur's hips and smashing their lips together, but that was only a dream, a comforting lie created by his subconscious while his own body was hooked up to the PASIV.
It hadn't felt like a dream.
Arthur is dead, he repeats. Arthur is dead and I killed him. He needs a cigarette. He needs Saito to stop sending him concerned glances. He needs to not be at his best friend's fucking funeral. Fuck. He needs Arthur. That's it; he just needs Arthur, needs to see his pale skin and his condescending smirk. If he can have that, then the rest of the world can go to hell and it would fine with him because he would have Arthur. No, he reminds himself sternly, and thinks of the people who need him. James and Philippa. He's already left them without a mother. He won't leave them with a shell of a father as well.
"I need to let you go," he says, carding his hands through Arthur's coffee-coloured locks. Arthur says nothing, just looks up at him sloe-eyed through a wreath of cigarette smoke. His lips quirk almost sneeringly, and Dom sees an echo of Mal as she had been after she died; she had worn slinky dresses he couldn't resist, her face made up perfectly to emphasize her sultry lips and devilish eyes, and her words had been cruel. He remembers a gun in her hand and the sharp bang when she shot Arthur in the leg, remembers the diamond glint of a knife twirling in her lithe fingers. He hopes Arthur isn't becoming like that. He doesn't think he has the strength to murder Arthur again.
"You're dead," he reminds Arthur. "I can't have you hanging around like this in my subconscious. It isn't safe." Arthur remains silent. Instead his smooth fingers trace their way up the front of his shirt, skimming over the skin of his neck and nestling under his ear.
"I have to focus on my children," Dom argues with the mute Point Man on his lap. Arthur hasn't said a word, but, dammit, his provocative actions feel like arguments. Very persuasive arguments.
"So let me go," murmurs Arther lazily, winding his hand through Dom's own hair. He smirks again, and they both know that Dom has no control over Arthur. Not this Arthur, this simplified projection of a complex man who will never again exist outside of dreams. Dom sighs. He doesn't want to deal with another Mal, and he knows that if Arthur stays he, like Mal, will become a twisted ruin of a memory, a dark shade mirroring Dom's guilt back at him.
But then Arthur is sitting up, his suit rustling quietly as he moves, and when he rests his head on Dom's shoulder, Dom thinks that maybe it will be alright to keep Arthur around for a little while longer. He isn't hurting anyone.
He decides to take a break from work. He had just gotten back in the field but now Arthur has thrown him off kilter. He calls Ariadne and tells her he won't be working for a while, and after she hangs up he dials Eames, but the Forger doesn't answer is phone and he leaves an apology-filled message after the beep. Then he goes outside and plays with his children; for a short time he is focused only on them, and it is only after he tucks them in and wanders to his own room that his thoughts turn back to the problem of Arthur. "Why did I have to wait until you were dead to tell you I love you?" he mutters into his pillow while imagining his friend.
He imagines Arthur lying across from him, dressed in white t-shirt, the blanket pooling around his slim waist, smiling languidly. He wonders what would have happened if he had confessed his feelings while Arthur was alive. He imagines they would curl up together in the bed, his arms looping around the Point Man's thinner frame while they slept, and in the mornings they would get up when the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. They would amble downstairs and make breakfast, enough food for them and the kids, and when the children awoke they would run down the stairs, screaming like monkeys, and upon seeing them Arthur would scoop them up in his arms and whirl them around the kitchen. They would demolish the food then cart the kids off to school, and drive to work with the radio playing loud, and, and..."You're such a sap," he imagines Arthur saying.
When he met Mal he would sometimes send her flowers simply because he felt like it, or he would go out of his way to get jobs in Paris since she loved the city so much. Even after they had been married for years he would put special effort into planning their anniversary, her birthday, and Valentine's Day. He would have done those same things for Arthur.
He realises that the left side of his face is slightly cold and damp from the growing wet spot spreading across the cotton pillowcase. He doesn't wipe away his tears, just buries his face deeper into the downy fluff and wraps his arms around it.
He just needs something to hold.
He doesn't use the PASIV for a week. Seven straight dreamless nights leave him feeling refreshed, and on Monday he thinks he has the strength to face Arthur again. Nimbly he hooks up the needle and slides it under the thin skin on the underside of his arm. He settles back into the lounge chair and closes his eyes, breathing deep and trying not to think of anything...
Arthur looks at him with dark eyes that flicker with malice. Even when he grins the hostility stays, lending his expression an oddly disturbing tone. "Stay with me," he purrs, leaning forward, his elbows resting on the table. Their hands entwine, and Dom almost wishes he could pull away but he can't because Arthur is so damn captivating in his ebony suit, pressed white shirt, and bow-tie. "I..." he begins weakly, then Arthur is gripping his hand painfully, the cold smile still in place. "It's the least you could do," says Arthur silkily. "For killing me." Dom has no reply, and he pretends to peruse the menu in front of them. It's a very high class restaurant, one that he's visited before, but as far as he knows Arthur never went to it. A pale hand snakes over the top of the laminated cream-coloured page, and the menu is slammed onto the tabletop. Their glasses and silverware rattle against the china plates. Arthur's mouth is a thin, disapproving line but his voice sounds very calm. "Stay with me," he repeats. Dom stares at Arthur's hand, still pressed down on the menu.
"For how long?"
"It doesn't have to be long in the real world. But in Limbo..."
His head snaps up, staring at the Point Man in horror. "No," he says brusquely, the word spilling out before his brain can stop it. Arthur narrows his eyes.
"You stayed there with Mal." His nostrils flare delicately.
"That was diff-"
"Or am I not as good as she was? Not good enough to spend a lifetime with?" His face looks like marble, all hard angles and cold gleaming skin. Dom feels slightly ill.
"I couldn't spend a lifetime with you anyway," he points out desperately. "You're dead!"
"And whose fault is that?" Arthur snarls, almost yelling, then he is smashing his wine glass against the table. It disintegrates into sparkling scraps, cutting into Arthur's hand, causing a small pool of scarlet to blossom. Arthur seizes one of the largest shards and lunges across the table, his other hand twisting Dom's tie, pulling him forward. Dom can't think, only pulls feebly back, but the crystal shard is descending to his neck, burying deep and ruthless- and he gasps awake, his hands flying automatically to throat to check for damage. The skin is smooth and unbroken. Only a dream, he reminds himself. But the flinty look in Arthur's eyes, the callous twist of his lips, are imprinted deep into his memory; it's slightly odd, because he never saw Arthur in real life lose control like that and it was terrifying to see such anger on a face that he had only ever remembered as being calm and occasionally amused or annoyed.
His heart is still fluttering nervously and cold sweat trickles from his forehead as he removes the needle and tucks it inside the silver briefcase. He needs some time away from the PASIV to figure out what to do about the situation.
He needs Miles.
He explains the situation to Miles, and when he done explaining he asks "What should I do about Arthur?" Miles is silent for a short time, and he can practically see the older man cocking his head thoughtfully before he answers.
"I don't think it's Arthur you should be worrying about, Dom. You need to worry about you. I think...if you accept your feelings for Arthur, and you accept that you killed him and it was an accident...I think his shade will go away."
He sighs. "I'll give it a shot. Thanks."
They hang up without saying goodbye.
This is the last time I'll abandon you
And this is the last time I'll forget you
I wish I could...
He switches off the radio. The song was too close to home to bear listening to, and it hurts even more because Arthur had liked that band. The car trembles to a stop and he shuts off the ignition, leans against the headrest and breathes deep. The flowers on the passenger seat burn crimson, and he wonders why he got red roses, because the color looks too much like Arthur's blood when it spread across the white linen tablecloth in the most recent dream. He scoops up the flowers, fumbling with them a bit while he opens the door, and steps out. The air is chill and the sky a depressing grey, and he gloomily thinks that this is perfect weather for him. He buttons up his black coat, strides to his destination, and the weather is painting everything else drab grey too. The roses are the brightest thing in the cemetery.
The headstone hasn't been installed yet, and the mound of dirt is disturbingly fresh. He knows it is the correct grave; the location of it is burned into his mind, he could find it with his eyes closed. He removes one of the roses from the bouquet and places the rest of them at the head of grave. Then he's crying, again, and he swears he didn't even cry this much when Mal died. Mostly because he'd just felt numb, and there hadn't been time to grieve. He weeps and all he can say it "I'm sorry" over and over, and when his tears finally run out he feels old and worn. He kneels beside the dirt mound for a while longer, then pushes himself heavily up and he trudges to another grave-site. This one has a headstone, a simple but lovely thing with two names engraved on it, even though only one of the graves beneath it is occupied. He places the lone rose besides Mal's name and stands there wordlessly before shambling back to his car and driving home in silence.
"I'm sorry," says Arthur softly. Dom glances over and sees Arthur's eyes shining with regret and an apology written clearly on his handsome face. Once again he is struck by how strange it is to see Arthur being so emotional.
"I know," he says, and their hands knit together as they walk through Rome. They enter the Villa Borghese, which in real life is on the other side of the city, but he likes the gardens and wants to wander through them with Arthur. They don't speak as they walk, even though there are no projections to interrupt them. The stars dangle overhead and he tilts his head back to stare at them.
"I just wanted you to stay," explains Arthur quietly, after about twenty minutes of comfortable silence.
"I know," he repeats. Then, "But I can't stay with you, Arthur. You're gone."
Arthur shakes his head. "I'm right here." He lifts Dom's left hand and presses it to his chest, to the heartbeat that patters there. "See?"
It's so tempting, to stay in Rome with Arthur while the heavens whirl above them, but he's been down that path before and he knows it leads nowhere good. "I can't. I'm sorry." He tugs his hand free and walks away quickly, tucking his hands in his pockets and forcing himself to not look back. "Dom!" calls Arthur desperately, but he doesn't respond. It's not real, he tells himself. Arthur's not real.
"Dom!" The Point Man calls again; his voice is farther away so he's clearly not following, but Dom starts running just the same. He flies over the sidewalk, past villas and palazzos and marble statues that watch him with hollow eyes, and he can't stop because if he does Arthur will be there, and he can't handle that right now.
When he wakes up he doesn't cry.
He doesn't hook up to PASIV anymore. Instead he spends time with his children, and he works on renovating a section of the house. He thinks of Mal and of Arthur less and less, and one night when Philippa asks for a story he finds himself telling them about one of the first jobs he, Mal, and Arthur worked on, when they were just starting out and had no real idea what they were doing. They had been in Bangkok, and when he tells the story he embellishes some parts to make it more comedic (not that it needed much help in that department) and he leaves out a few other parts, such as the time a beautiful, bejewelled kathoey had begun flirting with a befuddled, tipsy Arthur, the results of which had been hilarious but not altogether child-friendly ("Because- 'cause I'm a professional, Dom. I don't just sleep with random- with random people...even if you can't tell she's really a man...fuck, I dropped my drink."). He laughs with his children while he tells the story, and remembering them doesn't hurt.
He finds an old photo of the three of them and hangs it in the hallway; it looks like it belongs there, where he can pass it every morning and see them as they were, happy and whole and wonderfully alive.
When he finally goes under with the PASIV it's been over two months.
He doesn't dream of them.
A/N: The song Dom hears on the radio is Stockholm Syndrome by Muse.
Kathoey are Thai transgender men or effeminate gay men. They are males but often make impressively beautiful women.