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Friday, February 11th, 2011 04:55 pm
Title: The Boy Who Spoke With Ghosts
Word Count: 4300-ish
Spoilers: Inception/Sixth Sense crossover. Major spoilers for both movies.
Parings: Mostly Arthur/Eames pre-slash (for now -- more will be coming later)
Notes: Based from this excellent prompt on the Kink Meme: Arthur's real name is Cole Sear. Bonus points for an "I see ----__ people" that's not totally cracky.
Notes 2:
 Thanks [livejournal.com profile] sejitsu  for taking a look at the characterization for me! (Grammar and spelling errors are totally my own, though. ;D )
Chapter 1|
*****


The forest stretched in every direction; thick pine trees with trunks bigger around than a mid-size sedan was long curved up, higher than Arthur could see. Frogs croaked in quiet symphony around them and some kind of blue bird with a ridge of black feathers along its head called through weavings of branches in a raspy voice.

Arthur scuffed a leather oxford along the ground, trying to get a feel for the texture of this dream. The forest floor was littered nearly six inches thick with sprigs and pine needles. If he wasn't paying attention it could hinder movement.

This was the last dry run before the extraction. Their mark was somewhat of an amateur naturalist. This was the setting Dom judged he'd feel most at home – and therefore most open to suggestion.

Some small animal scurried, unseen, in the underbrush and Arthur tried not to grimace. "Can you increase the lighting at ground level?" he asked.

"I can somewhat, but too much light may make the dreamscape look sterile," Dom answered. He tipped his head up anyway and squinted in concentration. The branches about them seemed to draw back and Arthur saw to his relief that the suspiciously shadowed bulge in the ground a few feet off was simply a gnarled tree-root.

Eames watched Arthur's examination of their surroundings with unconcealed interest. The forger was dressed wholly inappropriately for the dream, of course, with a horrible green paisley shirt, cream colored pressed trousers and an irritating smile every time Arthur looked at him.

"I take it your parents never took you camping as a child," Eames said, catching his eye.

Arthur was the first to look away. "No." He moved past the other man, casually taking out his handgun from its holster and checking the sights along its length. The large tree trunks were bare of branches up to fifteen feet high, so there was little worry about ambushes from projections above.  "I grew up in North Philadelphia. We didn't have forests like this." And his mother had worked too many jobs at one time just to keep food on the table. They didn't exactly have extra cash for vacations.

"And you're going to be playing a forest ranger?" Eames asked, eyebrows raised.

Arthur shrugged. "I'll improvise." He turned to Dom. "So how do we keep from getting lost in all of this?"

He would never say it out loud, but Arthur always thought that Dom seemed more at peace with himself when he was building a dream. Calmer, even before Mal had died. At that moment Dom was looking around the forest landscape, his creation, with something almost like a smile on his face. He was an extractor by trade, but in his heart of hearts... he was an architect. An artist.

"I've marked paths through the trees," he replied, and walked to the nearest tree to lay a hand on the reddish-brown bark. He pointed up to the lowest branch. "See the small pinecones on the end of that branch there, and how it's slanted? That will point your way. All paths lead to the river, our staging area."

Eames nodded to himself, taking up the conversation. "Right, so Mr... Fellmen, is it?" He waited for Arthur's nod to continue, "gets himself lost in the woods. We let him wander around for a bit and become desperate." He started walking as if to emphasize his point, and ducked behind the trunk of an obscenely large tree. A woman walked out from the other side. She was young, in her mid-twenties, with an athletic build, reddish-brown hair pulled into a braid, and a dusting of freckles across her nose. She wore hiking boots, khaki shorts and a tank-top which was perhaps a little too tight to be truly effective for a day of hiking. She smiled at Arthur and Dom, showing slightly overlarge teeth and continued, "And then he runs into Cindy, here. His old college girlfriend."

"Arthur will be running interference to make sure no projection gets in the way," Dom said. "And I'll be taking the role of the—"

He was stopped as a strong gust of wind suddenly whipped up from nowhere and everywhere at once, kicking up dust and pine-needles and silencing all animal life. The forest had been set in mild summer's day, but this wind was cold – freezing cold. And in the space of a few heartbeats the dreamscape around them morphed from summer to crystalline frozen winter.

Arthur took a step back. His shoes crunched on frost-rimmed pine needles.

Dom's head snapped around, looking for the source of the disturbance. "Are either of you doing this?" he called, loudly over the gale.

"Not me, mate." Eames replied, back again in his own body. He cast Arthur a look. "What about you, Darling?"

Arthur didn't answer him. He had his gun out – more of an automatic reaction than anything else – and head held cocked. "Do you hear that?"

There was a sound on the wind, too faint to be heard clearly. But the moment he called attention to it, the noise spiked sharply in volume; a scream – a woman's scream split the air, causing startled birds to take flight and shaking frozen needles from the trees.

"What the hell could be doing this?" Dom demanded. "Something up above?" He said more, but the unearthly scream increased in pitch and Arthur couldn't hear him anymore.

Arthur's gun slipped from his fingers as he clapped his hands over his ears, but the sound only still increased, louder, and louder... nearly vibrating the air around him. He couldn't block it out. He couldn't –

Searing pain exploded on either side of his head, as if someone had twisted an ice-pick in each ear. Arthur fell to his knees, screaming – and he couldn't hear his own voice. Everything had gone silent. Someone wrenched his hands away – his palms were covered with bright red blood – and Arthur stared into Eames' ashen face.

The other man's lips moved, but Arthur couldn't hear his voice.

"I think my eardrums ruptured," Arthur said, numbly, looking around. Dom still stood off a few feet away looking shaken, but not in any pain. Hadn't he heard the noise?

Eames' lips tightened. He mouthed, "Right. Hold on," and bent to pick up Arthur's dropped handgun. Seeing the intent in his eyes, Arthur nodded and closed his eyes.

He felt Eames' steadying hand curl around the back of his neck, his touch feather-light. Almost in a caress, or silent apology. Then cold steel against his temple. Then nothing.

...

Arthur opened his eyes to see the warehouse in shambles. Every paper he'd carefully filed during three weeks of prep-work now littered the floor.  The desk across the room had been upended, the extra chair thrown at least twenty feet away. His whiteboard was knocked over, one of the legs bend up sharply, and all of the carefully drawn architectural specs on the mark's house had been ripped into at least four pieces, strewn across the room.

His ears were ringing, the air was bitingly cold, and little pin-pricks of dread running and down his arms told him everything he needed to know.

"Damnit," Arthur whispered.

The warehouse had been Visited while they dreamed.

How could this have happened? Why now? It was almost noon, a time of day when even the most powerful of spirits had a hard time manifesting – even to him.  And Arthur always made sure, doubly sure, that he set up their workplaces at least a mile away from any known hospital, morgue or cemetery.

Dom, reclined in the next lawnchair over, gave a sudden jerk and a snort as he came awake, blinking open his eyes. He took one look around the warehouse and then reached immediately into his pocket to withdraw his totem.

Eames came awake last – presumably he'd wanted to make sure Arthur and Dom were dead, and therefore awake up above, before turning the gun on himself. "Oh Hell," he breathed, after a startled moment of looking around. "Looks like we've had company."

Dom's totem fell over with a quiet clatter and the man gave an audible sigh before straightening. "Arthur?"

"Yeah." The name – the sharp command in Dom's voice was as good as a slap of reality. Arthur removed the needle from his arm and stood to retrieve his laptop. "On it."

Someone had slapped the lid down, but luckily done no other damage than that. And within a few seconds he had pulled up the program linked to the alarm system rigged throughout the warehouse.

Nothing was tripped. He knew it wouldn't be. Whoever, whatever did this wouldn't need to worry about opening doors or windows.

Eames, meanwhile had produced a small handgun from somewhere and was carefully prowling around the warehouse as Arthur worked, glancing cautiously behind bare steel columns and over the overturned desk.

Yet, the warehouse itself was flat, only on one level, and with a completely open floor plan. There was no one there, other than them.

"None of the alarms went off," Arthur said anyway, just for propriety's sake.

He glanced at Dom, and then did a double-take. Eames had set up a mirror upon one of the low shelves to practice his forgery – the glass was now broken into several jagged pieces. Dom stood before the remains of it now, face turned to examine his right cheek: there was a single, reddening, mark across his face, as if someone had scraped a fingernail from a point just under his right eye, down almost to his chin.

"I don't suppose this warehouse was built on an old indian burial ground?" Eames asked lightly, into the gathering silence. He looked at Arthur and added, "But I don't suppose you're the type to believe in ghosts, are you?"

Arthur glanced sharply at him, a retort on his tongue – then froze as he caught sight of pair of dark, angry eyes. Mal peered up at them all from over the edge of up the upturned desk. No, not at them... her attention was focused solely and completely on Dom.

And as Arthur watched, she slinked forwards on all fours in a lithe crawl, keeping to the edge between shadow and light – like a panther stalking its prey.

"Arthur? Darling? Are you alright?"

Arthur couldn't look away. "I—"

"You all heard that scream. Someone was here," Dom growled cutting him off, and stomped to Arthur's side to examine the laptop for himself. It put him within arm's reach of Mal and Arthur quickly stepped between them.

He didn't think Mal would hurt him to get to her husband. At least, the Mal he had known in life wouldn't. She hesitated, eyes snapping to him, and the air temperature plummeted again.

"Leave," she hissed. But she wasn't talking to Arthur. "Now."

Eames startled, looking around. "Did anyone hear that?"

Dom still tapped at the laptop, unconcerned. "Hear what?"

Eames looked to Arthur for confirmation, but Arthur wasn't paying much attention. Leave now?

Then it hit him. "I think whoever did this meant it as a message." Arthur said facing Cobb, but watching the ghost's reaction out of the corner of his eye. When he spoke her dark eyes snapped to him and he felt the force of it like another gust of cold wind. He swallowed. "It was a warning."

"What, back off or else?" asked Eames. "This isn't anyone else's territory – I checked. No other team was approached for this job. We aren't stepping on any toes."

"I don't know, but think about it. We were all completely vulnerable when we were under, yet whoever did this just..." Arthur lifted a hand, indicating the thrashed room.

"And the scream?"

He only shrugged. Most likely, only he had heard the scream. Dom and Eames were let in on it because they shared the dream. Certainly, Arthur had gotten the blunt of the impact; evidenced by his burst eardrums, while Dom and Eames had only seemed unsettled.

Dom cursed something under his breath and slammed the lid of the laptop down, evidently giving up on the alarm system.

Arthur forced himself to take a deep breath. Mal hadn't moved, but Dom and Eames were smart men and while he didn't expect them to put everything together, they'd get over their shock soon and start asking questions. Questions, in Arthur's experience, were dangerous. He didn't have time for this now. "What do you want to do, Dom?" he asked.

Dom gazed around the room once more – the light fell over his face causing the mark to stand out angry and red on his cheek. "Whatever this was meant to mean, the fact is we've been compromised. Let's pack it in – burn the evidence. All the files. Everything."

"Brilliant," Eames muttered.

Dom looked pointedly around the room. "You don't think this it's a good idea?"

"No, no," he replied, quickly. "There's no doubt in my mind that there's a bad feeling about this place. It's just... " He sighed and caught Arthur's gaze, just for a moment. "Well you know how it is. I just hate leaving things undone."


                    *****


Arthur sat on the edge of his stiff hotel bed later that night, phone cradled against his ear. "Pick up," he murmured, glancing at his watch. "Pick up... pick up..."

The line clicked and a tired sounding woman's voice asked, "Hello?"

"Hello, is this Nina Campbell?"

"Speaking."

Arthur hesitated for a beat, eyes flicking across the room. "Edith was your grandmother?"

A pause, then, "Yes? Who is this?"

"A friend," he answered, quickly. "Mrs. Campbell, please listen carefully. Those papers you've been looking for – Edith left them for you by the bay window in her old room. The third floorboard from the wall is loose. She wasn't able to tell you, in time."

"Who is this?" the woman demanded.

Arthur hung up, then glanced over to the old woman sitting beside him. Her back was bent from age and her white hair stuck every which way from what had formally been a tight bun.

"She knows," he said. "The rest is up to her, now."

Edith smiled and raised a trembling hand to his cheek. "Bless you, child. Nina's a good girl... She'll do right by the money. I think... I don't have to worry about her no more." Then she was gone, blinked out like a snuffled candlelight.

Arthur let out a long breath and glanced back at the cell phone, still cradled in his hand. The job was dead in the water, meaning he was unexpectedly at loose ends. It didn't happen often – he planned too carefully to be out of work when he didn't want to be.

Apparently, Mal had other plans.

He could take the next flight out. Go stateside for a bit. Dom couldn't follow, of course, but that wouldn't stop Arthur from reconnecting with old contacts, putting out his feelers, hunting for someone who needed a quick and dirty extraction –

Another thought occurred to him right on the heels of that. It was November, wasn't it? What day did Thanksgiving fall on this year, anyway?

Arthur chewed his lower lip, but his fingers seemed to make the decision for him, dialing the number by heart and pressing send.

This time the phone picked up on the second ring.

"Hello?" came a roughened, tired voice.

"Hey Ma," he said warmly. "Did I wake you?"

"Cole!" The surprise in her voice made him inwardly wince. He didn't call back home often – never on a job. "This is a surprise," she said, as if reading his thoughts. "Are... are you okay?"

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just had a job fall through and I was wondering if you and Sam were busy for Thanksgiving."

"Cole, listen to me. You are always welcome to drop by, no matter what the occasion," she said, with the same tone of voice she used to use to assure him he was a normal boy, and not a freak on her eyes.

Arthur had long ago come to accept the fact that he was a freak, but her words still made him smile. Something seemed to loosen in his throat, the last bit of chill from Mal's earlier haunting finally easing away.

And when someone knocked on the door to his hotel room, he ignored it. "I know," he said, softly. "Thanks."

"As it happens, your step-sister is flying in on Tuesday," his mother went on briskly. "She's getting over a breakup – you met the man, I think. Keith, with the long hair? Well, it'll be a full house but we will make everyone fit."

"That sounds good. I—"

The hotel room door swung open and Arthur had his handgun out and aimed before the intruder took one step into the room. It was Eames – hotel card in one hand and an electronic reader of some sort he'd obviously used to break in the other.

He saw the gun and stopped, a small smile curving his lips. "Are you going to shoot me, luv?"

Still keeping the weapon trained, Arthur muffled the speaker-end of the cell against his shoulder and said, quite calmly, "Get out."

"No, I don't think I will." Despite his glib tone, Eames made his movements slow and obvious as he reached behind him and shut the door. "I know you, Arthur and you'll be out of this room and on a plane to who-knows-where in less than an hour. We need to talk."

Arthur considered firing – just a wingshot, nothing fatal – but thought that explaining the sound of the gunshot to his mother would be more trouble than it was worth. She was wise enough not to ask any questions about his job, and he never volunteered information. It worked for the both of him.

"Fine," he said, tightly, and lifted the phone back to his ear. Amazingly enough, his mother was still talking. She had not noticed the silence on the other end and was apparently trying to catch him up on the last several months of family news.

"Ma, I have to go," he said, as soon as she had paused for breath. "I'm going to be late for a meeting. I'll catch a flight out and be there on Wednesday."

Eames stayed quiet and kept his hands in plain view while Arthur said his goodbyes and gently hung up. Arthur lowered his gun only reluctantly – but kept it well within reach. Just in case.

With the gun down, Eames relaxed. "Headed back home I take it?" he said lightly, too lightly. "Going to visit Mrs. Arthur?"

He snorted. "You know Arthur is not my last name."

"Ah, but it's not your first name either."

Arthur's lips twitched, despite himself.  Jamie, he thought, and felt momentarily fond. He cleared his throat. "What did you want to talk about Mr. Eames?"

"Hm. Down to business then I take it?" Eames let out a long breath. "What else? A man just doesn't wake up to see the room he was just in torn to pieces without any evidence to the how or why without questions."

"And what makes you think I have answers?"

Eames looked at him for a long moment as if considering the weight of his words. "I think you know something you weren't quite willing to share with the rest of the class."

Arthur's breath caught, just for a moment, although he was careful to keep his face as blank and neutral as possible. "Do you."

"I'm sure of it." Eames shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Don't take it personally: it's my job to read people. You have your tells, just like everyone else."

Briefly, Arthur wondered how much digging Eames had actually been able to do into his past. He had never told anyone about his abilities, aside from his mother. And Mal... but she didn't count: she had figured everything out all on her own.

He didn't tell. Never had the compulsion to tell – he'd had enough people saw him as a freak all through his childhood. So much so that he took time and care into crafting strong, organized, dependable Arthur-- a man who was a far cry from Cole Sear who talked to the dead..

"Why does it matter?" Arthur asked. "You heard Dom. The job is over."

Eames shrugged again. "For him, most certainly. But some of us have a reputation to keep up."

Ah. So that was what this was about. Arthur strongly considered reaching for his gun again. "You're saying you want me to finish the extraction with you, behind Dom's back?"

"Arthur darling, you say that like it's a bad thing."

"No."

Eames grinned, as if charmed by his refusal. "That loyalty of yours is admirable, but it's going to get you into trouble one day."

Arthur narrowed his eyes. "Get out," he said.

But he wasn't talking to Eames. He caught a hint of movement from behind the forger – a uneven, limped walk and a dark pair of eyes. Mal stepped out from behind Eames, hands locked into claws by her sides and radiating cold fury into the room.

"What are you doing here, Arthur?" she hissed. "You aren't supposed to be here."

Eames, meanwhile had continued speaking, completely unaware. "We were all but done with the planning. You can build the forest again by memory and I can go on with the extraction." He smiled, easy and smooth. "We'd make a good team."

"Eames..." Arthur started.

But he got no further as Mal suddenly struck – her clawed hand slashed at the window and struck at the blind, catching the tassel and whipping the whole thing up to let light spill briefly in, before it crashed down again.

Eames jumped at least three feet to the left, completely startled. Had it been under any other circumstance, Arthur might have found it funny.

"Bloody hell!" Eames swore, and stared, unseeing, through Mal to the window. He tentatively reached towards it as if to check for wires, then stopped. Gooseflesh stood visibly on his arm. "What is going on around here?"

And in the background, Arthur could hear the sound of a little girl's quiet weeping.

It was too much. All of this was too much. Arthur stood, fingers smoothing down his rumpled vest out of nervous habit – it was better than itching for the handgun. "If you want my advice— leave," he told Eames, flatly.

Eames just stared. "Look at you," he murmured, with a glance back towards the now settled blinds. He could not see Mal pacing back and forth – nor hear her low, cursed French. "You're not even alarmed... What the hell is going on?" And for the first time Arthur could hear a note of genuine fear in his voice – fear of him. "Did you do that?"

Arthur's jaw clenched as he sharply shook his head. Embarrassment and a very old anger burned hot in his veins.  "I didn't—don’t look at me like that," he snapped, fighting down the urge to deck the other man. He'd rather have Eames angry than afraid of him... or look at him that way.

"Like what, Darling?" Eames reached for his wrist, but Arthur pulled back, turning his head aside to look away.

"It doesn't matter. Just—just get out."

The other man was silent for a moment. Then, "Come with me, Arthur."

His voice was soft, like a man trying to gentle a feral animal. It slid neatly under Arthur's iron control, and something clenched deep inside Arthur's heart. "Why?" he asked, and was ashamed when his voice broke on the word. "So you can watch the sideshow?"

He felt more than heard Eames step closer. The other man touched his jaw, turning his Arthur's head back to him and he could easily see the worried concern in his eyes – and beyond that, Mal looming, nearly over his shoulder.

"Because you're alone," Eames said simply. "I don't think you know how so very alone you are."

He was wrong. Arthur was never alone. That was the problem.

Somehow, he made his voice come out steady. "You need to go."

Eames just looked at him for a long, endless moment. His gentle touch felt hot in the chilled room and when he let his hand fall, it seemed all the colder for it. "Alright, luv. If that's what you want."

He turned to go, but Arthur blurted, "Eames."

Eames looked back, eyebrows raised.

"Don't continue this job," Arthur said. "I have a bad feeling about it."

It wasn't the type of thing he'd normally would have said – the man he'd crafted as Arthur didn't work off of 'feelings'. He worked off of evidence. But Eames nodded, once, his expression sober. As he left, he closed the door quietly behind him.

"Will he be coming back?" piped a voice from the other side of the room. The little girl in the yellow dress had stopped crying some minutes ago and now sat cross legged towards the head of the bed, idly playing with Arthur's totem, rolling the die back and forth on the mattress between her hands.

"No," Arthur said quietly. His hands smoothed his vest again. "I don't think he is."

The girl nodded and got up, completely unconcerned at his mood. She skipped away – vanishing through the door easily as if it weren't there.

Arthur closed his eyes for a moment, gathering himself, then turned towards Mal. "Why?" he asked, curtly.

Mal limped a step closer, intent and focused and so close he could have reached out to touch her. A new drip of blood tracked down her cracked face as she smiled, and Arthur briefly wished he could see her as Dom's projection: still terrible, but physically whole and undamaged.
Her voice sounded like the rasp of leaves against concrete. "Because you aren't ready to take this leap. Not yet." Mal looked over her shoulder, back to the window. "Make sure Dom gets out safe, would you Arthur?"

And she was gone.

Arthur waited a moment, breath held, but the room was silent – he was alone in a way that he hardly ever was.

Very, very alone.



To be continued...

*****

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