"Man, you gotta talk to him," said Steve in a low voice, looking over his shoulder at Tommy. Tommy was leaning his head against the cell bars, muttering to himself, nodding gently.
"He don't listen to me anymore," said Brandon, following Steve's gaze. "I think…" he trailed off, widening his eyes meaningfully.
Steve frowned for a second, then opened his mouth in realization. "No way, man. We don't wanna deal with him. He's crazy, man! We don't even-" he lowered his voice further with another cautious look at Tommy, "We don't even know if he's alive."
"Tommy'll listen to him," Brandon insisted. "At this point…" he gestured helplessly at Tommy.
"Good night," Ariadne's tone was light and casual. She waved to Arthur as she turned in the opposite direction, walking down the sidewalk which passed by the warehouse. Arthur nodded in return and started toward his car. His pocket buzzed just as he reached into it for his keys. The caller I.D. was unknown, with a 254 area code. Texas. Feeling his stomach clench, he answered.
"Arthur?" said a quiet voice through a thick Southern drawl. "It's…um, it's Brandon King."
"I know," said Arthur sharply. It was exactly as he'd feared. "What is it?"
"It's Tommy. He's…he's in trouble."
A wave of relief swept over Arthur. He wasn't dead. Yet.
"What's he done now?"
"I was just…I was hopin' you could talk to him. He don't listen me like he does to you."
"I'm not exactly in a convenient position to come to Brazos at the moment," said Arthur, adding silently, in a convenient position to talk to Thomas Burgess without hitting him.
"Come on, man," said Brandon desperately. "He's-he's real bad. He needs you."
Arthur fumed silently. Leave it to Thomas to break down again just as he was working on the most sensitive job he'd had yet.
"Goddammit," he whispered. "I'll be there tomorrow."
"Thanks, Arthur," sighed Brandon. "Thanks so-" Arthur hung up.
Arthur spoke privately with Cobb the next morning, telling him he would be gone for a few days. Cobb had never asked outright about Arthur's wayward brother, but knew enough to concede without questioning Arthur's motives. Ariadne, Eames, Yusuf, and Saito were left to speculate where exactly the Point Man was going two weeks from the planned date of operation.
"Hey, B.K.," Tommy croaked pathetically from where he sat in his cell. "Do you think you could pass me a cigarette?"
Brandon obliged, offering his lighter, choosing not to point out that it was his fifth in the last hour. "Listen, Tommy," he said hesitantly. "I, uh… you're brother's coming down."
Tommy dropped the cigarette. "What!"
"I thought he could talk to you and-"
"Jesus Christ, man, I'm not crazy! And I don't need his help."
"Maybe you do," said Brandon. "I mean, he had some problems with the army too, and I though you could-"
"No, Arthur had problems with his fucking brain. Because he's a lunatic."
He's got his head on better than you do, Brandon said silently.
As Arthur had expected, the drive through Brazos brought back exactly the flood of memories from which he had been running when he'd fled to London all those years ago. He felt as though everyone he passed would stop and stare at him, recognizing him, whispering behind their hands. "There's Arthur!" "He's got nerve showing up here." He shivered and continued to the jailhouse.
Brandon met him outside. He looked much older than Arthur remembered. He had purple shadows under his eyes, and stubble which had still been soft and light the last time they'd met. His face was drawn and his eyes were tired. This was not the innocent high school football star with whom Arthur had gone through basic training. This was the tired group leader who had shouldered the mantle of taking care of Thomas.
Brandon offered a hand, which Arthur shook. "He's inside."
Arthur followed him up the cracked concrete steps into a small, dirty room, in the corner of which was a small barred cell. A young man with close-shorn black hair sat on a moldy wooden bench. He didn't look up as Arthur entered.
Arthur moved so that he was right next to the bars, closest to Thomas. "Hey, Thomas," he said, allowing his voice to slip easily back into the old twang he'd abandoned when he'd arrived in London all those years ago. Thomas didn't look up.
"Tommy, please, man," muttered Brandon.
"I don't need your help." The voice was barely audible.
"All evidence to the contrary," Arthur replied. "Double DUI, fighting. It's just like high school, huh?"
That got Thomas on his feet. "You shut the fuck up! You have no idea what you're talking about."
Arthur raised his eyebrows. "I know what a pain in the ass you were then, and that I wouldn't inflict that on anyone else."
That earned Brandon a guilty glance from Thomas.
"I thought we were over this." Arthur softened his tone. "I thought things were getting better."
"They were never better," said Thomas acerbically. He stood up and walked towards the bars so he was nose to nose with his brother. "We were in fucking Iraq. What the fuck could have gotten better? They got better for you, because you left."
"Tommy…" said Brandon.
For a brief moment, Arthur thought about the last eight years since he'd left the service, about the countless deaths he'd suffered, of those moments of panic in the middle of the night when he couldn't find his die, of that explosive, strikingly real pain as Mal… stop it. He ordered himself. You're here for Thomas, you selfish bastard.
"I did what I had to do," he said vaguely. "And you have to, too. And believe me, Tommy, the way to do that is not through a brown bottle."
Thomas snorted. "What do you know? What do you know about shit?"
"A lot more than you'd think."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Look at you," Thomas gestured at Arthur's immaculate suit. "You've done pretty fucking well for yourself, haven't you? Good old nancyboy Arthur."
Arthur grabbed Tommy by the collar of his shirt and pulled him so his face was squished against the bars. "Shut the fuck up." And just for a moment, both Brandon and Tommy saw the ruthless, grating soldier they'd known, before Arthur regained his composure and released his brother.
"Do what you want, Thomas. I don't give a fuck and neither does anyone else." He looked briefly at Brandon. "I'm sorry, man." He left the station.
Upon return to Paris, Arthur doubled his ardor, working feverishly, often into the early hours of the morning, doing anything to get Tommy's furious face out of his mind's eye. He wasn't very successful.
He and Ariadne were alone in the warehouse when his cell phone vibrated across the surface of the work table, the screen showing the same 254 number.
Expecting another plea for help, he answered. "Hello?"
He heard a deep shuddering breath, and Brandon's voice: "Tommy shot himself."
Icy cold raged through Arthur's veins, blacking out his mind. He felt nothing. He saw nothing. There was nothing at all except those three words, over and over and over."
After an eternity, Arthur whispered, "God. I'm…Jeannie." The thought had appeared out of nowhere, the pretty blonde girl Tommy met in 10th grade biology. He looked up and saw Ariadne watching him curiously. He stood up and left by the back door, which let out into a well-lit alley, underneath a bright yellow street lamp.
"Ain't talked to her. Just wanted, I mean…" there was another long silence. "I thought you should know."
"Thank you, B.K." He could tell he'd caught Brandon off-guard with the use of his nickname.
"I'll see you?"
"No." Arthur hung up and went back inside.
Ariadne smiled when he passed her table. "Everything okay."
"No," Arthur said again, offering no explanation. He left the PASIV case open on the table and walked outside. He leaned against the outside wall, lighting a cigarette with the practiced hand he hadn't used since he'd left Iraq. Tommy had been right about one thing at least. Not in that last outburst in the jailhouse. He'd been right the first time Arthur had talked about leaving the army. He'd been right that Arthur wasn't man enough to deal with war. He'd taken the easy way out, the martyr's way. And now he had no one to thank but himself. He'd left Tommy to Brandon without a second glance, because he was a selfish bastard. It was easier to hide Texas in the box with the rest of his life. And he'd keep doing that. His dreams weren't contaminated like Cobb's. He was better at concealing. Thomas would join the rest of the war, the rest of Brazos, in that box, and no one else would be any the wiser.
He heard the creak of the door and Ariadne came to stand beside him. He didn't look at her. She nudged his arm, and he saw she'd brought him a Coke in a classic glass bottle-alcohol while dreaming was a tried and tested surefire way to a week long head ache. He accepted it gratefully and raised it skyward.
"To Tommy Burgess."
"To Tommy Burgess," Ariadne echoed, oblivious to whom she was toasting, but Arthur appreciated it all the same.
"And I hope the Devil's got a case of Bud Light."
"I'd imagine he does," said Ariadne.