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I think I've got one chapter after this. If it gets to be too long, then it'll be one chapter and an epilogue. I actually know exactly how I want to end this. ^_^

There are, believe it or not, still a handful of suggestions that I will, will, will fit into this before it's over. One of them is actually from the very first chapter! I couldn't find a place for it until the next chapter or even the epilogue, where it will go perfectly (that's the spider one.)

Again, I have to limit the suggestions I'm taking as the plot of the story is actually complete, and it's really just "what happens to them after this" that comes next. HOWEVER, if there's still something small that you really want to see, comment and I will do my best.



New suggestions!

[livejournal.com profile] efcia asked for, Arthur, squinting his eyes in the sunlight and Eames watching him with a simple and pure joy. This is sweet and I have the perfect place for this in the next chapter. :D

[livejournal.com profile] wirrrn suggested, physical appearance to Arthur by Baba Yaga?! I kind of love it when things can possibly be supernatural, but can be explained by reality, but then still left a little bit open to interpretation. That's why I had fun with this suggestion and I really hope you like what I was trying to do. :D



These are older suggestions, some of them even from the beginning! But eventually I will get to them.

[livejournal.com profile] twisted_ream there's this huge spider on eames' back and he can't get it off and arthur just laughs AS OF NOW I KNOW EXACTLY HOW THIS ENDS, AND WHERE THIS FITS. :D

[livejournal.com profile] gelbwax's suggestion with Arthur's badass fedora getting swept away and then returning later... FINALLY!

[livejournal.com profile] enoughglittersays, My one and only request for this story is that after this is all over, and they come through the other side of whatever you've got planned for them, I would love to see an epilogue or something where they finally get to go on vacation, and no one tries to kill them or torture them or torture-then-kill-them. Just...vacation. Aww, I agree. That would be nice. ^_^ Also? OMG, the art that you did really makes me want to put Arthur somewhere warm. :D

[livejournal.com profile] wirrrn asked for, Heat- rather than cold- becomes a problem. This can actually fit in pretty close to the end. Iiiiiinteresting. ^_^



And let's not forget:

TOUCHY FEELY.

[livejournal.com profile] hockey_joy Eames' nose to Arthur's ribcage. This is going in here for sure. Later though. :)

[livejournal.com profile] xkatchy - Arthur's face to Eames's ass. In a completely non-sexual way. OR Arthur's elbow to Eames's crotch. Not on purpose of course =) Oddly, [livejournal.com profile] gelbwax seconded that one. Poor Eames! ^_^

[livejournal.com profile] mydeerfriend Maybe a hand and the back of a knee or lips!

[livejournal.com profile] spndreamz Arthur's hair Eames' nose?



So obviously, I still need a chapter or two to tie these all in. ^_^

Anyway, STORY. :D




** ** ** **
14 - What If This Storm Ends

** ** ** **

Of course, Arthur had everything in the room packed up and ready to go in about seven minutes. He then went to the compartment that Ann and Jack had been staying in and collected their PASIV. They didn't need the militsiya to find that. He took Ann's purse, he compounds, her Moleskin, her notebook. Jack hadn't brought much aside from clothes. He swept through the Fenderlyns' room too, and took all their papers, cell phones, electronics.

He did this with practiced calm and a clear head. He'd had his little moment, and maybe he'd have another at some time, but for then, it was time to work.

In the communal shower he washed the blood off, scrubbed under his fingernails, and stood under the warm water for three minutes, letting his mind go blank.

When he came back to their room, Eames was packing up his work station. The compartment smelled of metal and chemicals, vaguely of smoke. Eames had engraved something.

"What are you working on?" Arthur asked. Something to get them the fuck out of Russia with ease, he hoped.

Eames turned and held up a chain with two separate dog tags on it: an American one and a British one. "I think Michelle deserves these," he said.

"Isn't that a little risky?" Arthur asked.

"Please tell me you don't think that these contain any real information. Forger?"

"Oh. Right."

Arthur sat down on the bed. He almost let everything crash down on him, just for a second. It was 4 AM. Just a few hours of sleep, that was all he wanted. And some food. And an aspirin. And sex, the good kind. But none of those things were really practical yet. He rubbed his hand across his forehead.

"It's going to be chaos when the train stops," he said.

Eames grunted in reply.

"We'll need to flash some cred and then get away quick, make a clean sneak if we can."

"We thrive in chaos," Eames said. He leaned back in the small chair and stretched, pulling his arms over his head and arching. Even battered as he was, he looked to Arthur the same as he always had: like a piece of art. And he didn't even realize.

"It's not going to take them long to figure out that we weren't who we said we were," Arthur went on. "Then they're going to start searching. And they'll be looking for two men traveling together."

Eames rested his arms on his legs, leaning forward. The chain dangled from his fingers and he regarded Arthur with calm, with ease. "The usual," he said.

'The usual' was them leaving a country separately, lying low on different continents and keeping contact through disposable cell phones for a few weeks, and then meeting in some other country to pool their data and clean up any lingering details they had found. As yet, there was no one set place where they could do this.

"It's all right," Eames said. "I'll be fine, at any rate. I need some time to go over things in my head."

"I do, too," Arthur said. He wanted to do some research into their past, into the missing four months, and find out how it had all begun, how it had ended, and most especially, if there were still any stragglers from Project Voodoo who might pop up in their future.

He didn't necessarily need Eames's skill set for that sort of work, and he did these things better without emotional distractions.

"You'll be all right?" Eames asked.

"Yeah, I'm okay," Arthur said.

"I'll hold onto the PASIV devices and lie low in Russia for a bit. Think I'll go to the states once I can get out of here," Eames said. "No one will look for me there. It's a quiet place for me. You?"

"Don't know yet," Arthur said. "Somewhere warm. Hawai'i seems an unlikely place for this business. Never did a job there, only a lockdown that one time."

"Kona again?" Eames asked, smiling.

"Nah. Bad memories." He smiled back. "I want to hear from you the second you're able to reach me and there's no elbows tagging along. If I don't get the wire on you in two days, I'm coming after you, you hear?"

Eames's smile turned a little knowing; Arthur had seen that look many times and still didn't know what it meant. "I hear you, Arthur," he said.

"It's going to be a madhouse once we leave this room," Arthur said. "And it's not going to end until we're in two different places. Say goodbye to me now."

It took Eames two strides to cross the room and join Arthur on the bed. There wasn't enough time for anything more than a kiss, so Arthur made sure it counted.

** ** ** **

Eames had expected some looks when they went back into the dining car, where all the passengers had locked themselves down. (Or where Daniel and Helen had locked them down, perhaps.) He'd expected questions, crying, maybe a few shouts, of "When can we get off?" and "someone tell us what's going on!" demands.

He had not expected a round of applause.

So he stood behind Arthur, his head throbbing, his hands curled into fists, and just let his jaw drop. Arthur, for his part, turned to look at Eames with a similar expression.

"We almost got them all killed," Eames said. "They don't understand."

"They don't," Arthur said, "but they'll take our side when we disappear. Come on, take care of this." He shoved Eames in front of him.

Eames wanted to scowl at Arthur for that, but instead he put on his best game face. All right. If this was what the people on the train wanted, then that's what they would get. And after all, there hadn't been a single civilian casualty.

And yes, Arthur had in fact gone out into a blizzard to rescue a group of stranded tourists. And Eames had actually used himself as a human shield. So, maybe they weren't as bad as all that, but really? Applause?

He jumped up onto one of the tables and held his hands up for silence. He felt ridiculous, but what else was his life if not a series of events wherein he had to do adapt to ridiculousness? He thought he played these things off fairly well.

"All right," Eames said, "yes, all right, very good."

They quieted at the sound of his voice. A few people were weeping softly. None of this could be easy for them, and emotions were running high; every emotion. Eames had to put up his hardest shield or he would never last in this environment.

"We'll be coming to the stop, I imagine, as soon as the train is in a hospitable enough place. They're not going to wait for the station because this has been a terrorist attack, or at least that's what it's going to look like. So we'll all be off this train in a short time."

Another burst of applause, but he had expected this one.

"Here's what you need to know," he went on. "There were four people involved in this, who bought out or replaced most of the crew. Those four people are dead and we had no civilian casualties. But…" He waited out a cheer, at this. "But you also need to know that they were coming after my partner and I. Not any of you. We didn't foresee this. This was not a business trip and there was no intrigue involved. We just happened to be here, like the rest of you. I wish more than anything—and so does my partner—that we hadn't come. We were the ones who put you in danger, here. That's on us.

"Years ago we were both assigned to breaking up an international crime ring, and this, this whole situation here, with these people, seems to have been related to that." He felt no guilt at this lie of self-preservation. "The danger you were in was the result of our involvement in this case." That, at least, was the truth. Lies were always easiest when they weren't exactly lies.

"So, for what it's worth, we're both very sorry," he concluded. "And we both owe you our gratitude, for your bravery." That part was also true, and it came out easily.

He looked back at Arthur, who was nodding in agreement and approval.

He added, "I think it's safe for you to go to your compartments if you want, and collect up your valuables. I'm sure they're going to tear the train apart, so I would carry on my person anything I didn't want to lose. Umm. I guess that's it."

He jumped back down from the table.

The relief was palpable, as if they had all been set free of this claustrophobic room that smelled of fear. It transferred to Eames as well and he sighed, feeling some of the tension drain from him. The relief was illogical, because he and Arthur still had so much work to do just to get out. To have a "clean sneak" as Arthur would say.

The Nelsons made their way to them. They shook Eames's hand and thanked him, but really they were looking for Arthur.

"Anthony, Miranda," Arthur said. "Good work out there."

Miranda answered by throwing her arms around Arthur's neck and sobbing. To Eames's probably obvious shock, Anthony did the same thing. The couple clung to Arthur, who seemed to take this patiently, if a little awkwardly, patting them both and saying, "Good job, good job, well done." Arthur had the good sense not to direct their attention to Eames, as he might otherwise have done. He must have sensed that Eames was very nearly done with human contact for a while.

Everyone else seemed to want to touch them as they went by, to crowd around, shake hands, hug, kiss, thank. Did you not hear a word I said? Eames thought. Did you not get that we almost got you killed because our pasts followed us? Was I not clear on that part? But the weepy smiles just kept coming, and hands patted his back and clasped his arm. They were grateful, stupidly grateful to be alive.

Eames didn't like things like this, high-strung emotions in general didn't sit well with him and his walls were already most of the way down from everything that had happened. He couldn't seem to call up his usual defense.

Then he felt a more familiar hand low on his back, a well-known pressure. He glanced at Arthur, who gave him a small smile. Eames remembered the first day on the train, only a few short days ago, but which seemed now like months past. Back then, these same people had gotten in his space, only they had been annoyed, irksome, pushy. Arthur had defused his mounting tension with the same gesture that day, too.

He nodded his thanks.

That was about all that either of them were getting. The train shifted and slowed, knocking people around them both. Relief changed quickly to surprise, and then a mild panic as the train ground to a stop.

It's now, we're stopping, we can leave, we're rescued, everyone seemed to murmur in different ways. Then they all went rushing, dashing to their rooms to collect their belongings as he had told them to. In their haste and panic, finally, Arthur and Eames were forgotten.

Eames looked around, but didn't see Michelle or her parents anywhere. He needed to catch them before the authorities broke them all up. Before they made their clean sneak.

"Let's get our stuff out of the room," Arthur said, "and be the first ones out."

"Right," Eames said. He took a breath and cleared the lingering haze from his mind, dispelled all of those different touches, words, and emotions that swirled around like so much dust.

Right. Clean sneak.

** ** ** **

Arthur leaned up against the side of the train, clutching his many bags. For the moment, everyone was leaving him alone. The first rays of dawn were just beginning to spread their fingers over the white hills. Sunrise did nothing to soften the glare of the militsiya's flashing lights, and the hard contrast of spotlights on the snow. Makeshift shelters, erected in haste and with military efficiency, dotted the otherwise blank landscape: red medical tents, and a few that were closed on three sides with the fronts open.

This was obviously A Very Big Deal. This would go national.

The slowing blades of the helicopter whipped the snow into a frenzy, and for a second it was like being in the white-out again.

The shouted orders of the militsiya carried above the whirring copter blades and the wind, probably frightening the rest of the passengers. 'Poshli za nime', Arthur heard, which he thought meant 'get him' or 'grab him'. It told him that there had indeed been more hired guns hiding out on the train, ones who had simply tried to duck away somewhere, probably the engine room. At least he didn't have to deal with them.

Chaos, Arthur thought. But he'd handled chaos before, and he could handle it now. Even on two hours of sleep and no food. He'd gone through worse, with less resources. In a few hours, with any luck and most of his skill, he'd be on a plane, and this would seem like a different world. Then, he could sleep.

He about how he would settle into the airplane seat, leaving behind this country, this train, and all the people on it. Michelle, Helen, Daniel, Eartha, everyone he had been stranded with. The bodies of Ann and Jack; a past he hadn't even reconciled yet. The endless snow and cold of this morning, the business he and Eames had not finished.

And Eames, of course. He'd be leaving him behind, too. This morning, this entire trip, would be another piece of his past. Soon. It would be over soon. And he would be alone, to deal with it.

Arthur was okay with being alone. He needed it.

His eyes snapped open and he realized that he'd been sleeping on his feet. He pushed himself away from the train where he'd been leaning and turned to the right, looking for Eames. Before he turned completely, something caught his eye, to his left. Something in the sky, something soundless, not a helicopter. It left a trail of black in his vision as it flew towards him.

Baba Yaga, his mind supplied, slightly hysterically.

By the time he had his head turned around to see what it was, Eartha was standing directly in front of him.

Arthur dropped his suitcases and staggered back, hand clutching his chest much the same way that Francis had been doing out in the cold.

"I'm sorry, Arthur," she said. "Oh, honey. I didn't mean to sneak. I've got a way of being too quiet. Frank says so all the time."

And Francis, speaking of, came up behind her holding two cups of coffee and a brown paper bag. "That's god's honest truth," he said. They stood side by side, with their matching tweed coats. "She flies on silent wings."

"It's okay," Arthur said, feeling like an idiot because he had stuttered on the first word about three times before getting it out. "It's, I'm fine, just startled." It had taken Arthur years not to punch things that leapt out at him from nowhere. That control was hard-won and he was thankful for it.

Frank held out the two cups, and the bag. "Eartha snuck away and got you and Mr. Eames some bagels and coffee," he said. "Wherever Mr. Eames is. You can give him some breakfast."

Arthur looked at Eartha. Her lined face looked coy and knowing. He shook his head to clear it. "You snuck away?" He waved his hand towards the many cars, vans, lights, helicopter, and officers. Fuck, and here he was wondering how he was going to get out of all of this. She only kept smiling at him. Arthur took the cardboard holder with the coffees, and the paper bag. He was so hungry he almost couldn't stand it.

Which explained him seeing dark streaks darting through the sky towards him, and the way he was jumping at shadows. No sleep, no blood sugar, of course he was hallucinating Baba Yaga and falling asleep against the outside of the train during a raid.

"Thank you," he said. "God, just, yeah. Thank you. I'm so hungry I could, I could…" Eat children, was what he very nearly said. Then he had to take a moment to stifle the hysterical laughter that threatened to come bursting out. What came out instead was a ridiculous giggle, too giddy. He dug into the bag and retrieved a bagel which, bless them, was still warm.

Eartha laughed along with him and indulgently watched him take a bite.

"Arthur," she said after a moment or two, "I think I may have something of yours."

"Fum-fing o'mine?" was what came out of his mouth, along with some crumbs. "Sorry," he said. "You have something of mine?"

Her hands, which, he noticed belatedly, had been behind her back the whole time (he really was in a bad way, he guessed,) produced a crumpled black and brown fedora.

"That is mine!" Arthur said, unable to stop the embarrassing break in his voice, which was still pretty fucked up from being choked out. "Where? How?"

"I found it iced to the outside of the train, just stuck to one of the windows." She straightened it out as well as she could and placed it on his head. "Strangest thing."

It was a strange thing. Not the strangest, by any stretch, but still strange. Arthur looked down to the bagel in his hand, the cardboard holder of coffee in the other. He thought about her scratchy gloves on the back of his head, in the snow. "Thank you," he said to both of them.

"You saved us," she said. "A bit of breakfast and a crumpled hat that was already yours is a small payment."

"But you're nice," he said, and realized how stupidly tired he sounded, how little sense he was making. "You were brave, you… You have strength." He glanced at the wig she wore, then dropped his gaze to the ground.

"Yeah, I reckon she can make it through about anything," Francis said, slipping his arm around her frail shoulders. "And we're going to have us some stories to tell when we get back home. Guess we'll be on the news."

"I guess we will," Eartha said. "I must start practicing my autograph."

Arthur laughed politely and tried to picture their northeast hometown, maybe their little house decorated with all maritime knick-knacks, like glass balls in nets, ships in bottles, seashells in the bathroom.

Eartha put her hand on his arm and said, "Take care of yourself, Arthur."

"You do the same," he said.

She leaned up and kissed his cheek and he actually felt himself blush and go a little stupid. He didn't normally deal with people like this. Didn't really deal with people outside of his business in general, he guessed. Or hadn't, in a long time.

Francis shook his hand and wished him a safe trip home. Eartha's hand lingered briefly on his arm before she turned away.

Arthur felt chilled and a little stunned, as if he'd been thrown back into a noisy world of helicopter blades, shouting, and whirling snow drifts.

He heard Eames's voice and looked across the field to see him casually chatting with one of the uniformed militsiya. Arthur's Russian was for shit, but he did catch the word 'comrade' a few times. And the ease with which Eames was talking to this guy said volumes. He'd already convinced them that he and Arthur were the good guys. They had both produced some ID, but that would never be enough to last, once the real digging started.

No, this was something more than that. Eames had connections everywhere. Arthur remembered their first night on the train, how Eames had told him about his time here. Of course he knew people. He'd probably done some favors.

The officer clasped Eames's shoulder, smiling, gesturing with his other hand as he talked. Pointing towards the train, towards the vehicles, towards the parked helicopter. Then Eames turned, as if sensing out where Arthur was (which he usually could do, even when Arthur was trying to stay undercover,) and pointed towards him. The officer looked concerned for a moment. They exchanged a few more words, a few more gestures, and then suddenly, the two of them were hurrying toward Arthur.

Arthur snapped to attention and held onto the suitcases.

"Vrach, vrach," the officer said, as he came in towards Arthur way too fast.

"What?" Arthur asked, looking over the guy's shoulder at Eames. "What, what's he saying?"

"It's all right," Eames said, "he's saying he's a medic. I told him you'd gotten locked out of the train, he wanted to look you over. Not a bad idea, Arthur. Where the hell did you get coffee? And biscuits?"

"Bagels," Arthur said, handing him the bag and eyeing this medic who was Eames's comrade. "I got them from…" He turned to point to where Eartha and Francis had been standing. They were gone, no trace of them. He scanned the crowd and didn't see them anywhere. "Where did… Did you just see…" He turned to Eames. "Eartha?"

"Who?" Eames said.

Arthur's stomach did a flip. He reached into his pocket and gripped onto the die. It assured him he was in reality - they were real, this had happened, he was certain of it, how could Eames not know? "Eartha and Francis. The old couple?"

"Oh!" Eames said. "Right. Matching coats. Just saw them walking about."

Arthur released a sigh of immense relief.

"Let this man take a quick look at you," Eames said. "I'm not convinced yet."

"I'm okay," Arthur said. And goddamnit, he was, he'd be more okay if people would leave him alone to get his thoughts together. But now that the guy was here, he didn't want to rock the boat. He glared at Eames, who shrugged helplessly. Then he just kept still and quiet, while the medic checked his hands, pressed on his fingernails, looked at his eyes, and finally, checked the ring of bruises around his throat.

The medic asked him something in fast Russian. Arthur glanced at Eames for a translation.

Eames looked down at the ground. "He wants to know if one of the hijackers attacked you."

"Yes," Arthur said quickly. "Da. Eames, tell him yes. Tell him we subdued a few of them."

"Told him already," Eames said.

The medic smiled, a young, friendly look, and tapped Arthur's forehead with his gloved forefinger, speaking another phrase he didn't know. Arthur was too surprised to ask what he meant.

"You," the medic clarified in his heavy accent, "shell shock, comrade."

"Who even says that anymore?" Arthur asked, looking at Eames. "Tell him I'm fine. Just tired." He looked back to the medic and tried for a smile. "Just tired. No sleep."

"Need to get help," the medic said, tapping his own head this time.

For some reason, this alarmed the hell out of Arthur. He didn't need help. He didn't like to be told he needed help. He really, really hated when people insinuated that he was going crazy. Even if he did think he was seeing things flying around, and momentarily not believing that normal human people had actually brought him breakfast.

"I just need to go home," he said. "Just home."

"Bone weary," the medic said, still smiling.

"Yes."

"But no frostbite, yes?"

"Yes," Arthur said. "I mean, no. No frostbite. Thanks. I'm fine. Check him," he added, jerking his chin towards Eames. "Look, he got his ass kicked pretty bad." And he's really the one with the 'shell shock' in case you're interested, he thought. It was going to be tough to split up, to leave Eames like this. But they didn't have a choice this time.

"He's looked me over," Eames said. "We go back a few years. Comrades."

"I got that," Arthur said.

"He's helping us out here," Eames said, with meaning in his voice. "Clean sneak."

Arthur's eyes darted to the medic's face. His smile now looked more sly than open. Arthur nodded. "Got it. Spasiba, really, spasiba."

"Finish your business and go," the medic said, in English. Then he added something in Russian to Eames, speaking slowly. Eames listened carefully, nodding and saying 'mm-hmm, uh-huh, da, da, spasiba.'

The medic gave Arthur another clap on the shoulder, clasped Eames's hand, and then he was gone.

Eames turned to him, his eyes wide and exhausted. "Your hat," he said. "It looks a bit crushed."

"Oh. I lost it in the snow and then Eartha found it for me. It was important. You gave me this hat."

"That's right." Eames leaned against the train, next to him. For a few moments they just stood side by side, watching the chaos, the news vans, the lights. "Unbelievable," Eames said.

Arthur grunted in agreement.

"We've got one more thing to do. Then we separate." He turned to Arthur and pulled the dog tags he had forged out of his coat pocket.

"Right," Arthur said.

They both pushed off the side of the train, slow and weary, and made their way through the throng.

Eames had a way of finding anyone he needed to find in a crowd. It was a gift of his, Arthur noted. He could sense them out, or something. Michelle and her parents were, thankfully, not being shaken down or filmed or questioned when Eames found them. They stood together, the three of them, under one of the open makeshift shelters.

Michelle brightened when she saw them both coming. She didn't seem to know which of them she wanted first, so she threw her arms around both of them at once. Arthur looked over her shoulder at her parents. Helen, who'd been so suspicious of him but had trusted Eames right away. Who'd held down a base with a gun in her hand, on a hijacked train. And Daniel, who'd come out in the snow looking for him. Their eyes showed a look he'd seen a thousand times before, that civilian 'What the fuck just happened, when do I wake up?' look.

You won't, he thought. But when you get on the plane out of here, you'll feel like it was a dream.

Michelle let go of them and backed away, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her purposely ratty coat. "Sorry," she said. "Just glad you're both alive because I was afraid you wouldn't be."

"The two of us being alive," Eames said, "is due in large part to you."

Her eyes widened for a second, before brimming with tears. Because she was, after all, just a kid, the tears ran unchecked down her face. Helen put her hand on Michelle's shoulder and gripped hard. Michelle let her, instead of swatting her away.

"I was really scared though," Michelle said. "Like, really really scared, but it was so weird, I didn't realize how scared I was until it was over. I mean I was scared while it was all happening, but it was a different kind of scared, like a not-thinking kind."

"I felt the same way," Arthur said. "It's always like that. You never get used to it. And you never should." He looked to Daniel and to Helen and said, "You raised a brave girl. Guess it's no surprise since you two are the same. The two of you held everything together in our absence. You both did a tremendous job."

Daniel allowed a few tears to slip down his face.

"Umm," Eames said, opening his palm and showing the dog tags on the chain. He addressed Helen for this one. "Is it all right if we give these to your daughter? One's mine and one's Arthur's. Just as a small 'thank you.'"

Helen nodded, smiling with tightly reined emotion.

"You're kidding me," Michelle said. "You can't. Your names… all your information. I'll wear them. I'll show them to people. You can't trust me with this."

Eames laughed as he slipped the chain over her head. "Show them all you want, the names haven't been used in years and none of this information exists in any databases. They are unrecognizable."

Which was partly true, Arthur mused. When Michelle held the tags in her gloved hand, Arthur noted that Eames had taken the time to distress them, to make them look hard-worn. Certainly at a time like this, it was the intention behind the gift that counted. If this forgery would make a kid proud, if it would serve as gratitude for her service, then it was all fine by Arthur.

"And stop stealing things," Eames said. "It'll only lead you to trouble such as this. Even the best of thieves get caught sometimes and you don't want to deal with the fallout."

"Please, spare me the lecture and let me have my moment," Michelle said. "Also, whatever."

Eames turned his attention back to her parents. Arthur felt it best to let him do the talking, because human contact was Eames's area of expertise.

"I hope you can forgive us for putting you into such danger," Eames said.

Daniel spoke up, saying, "We were proud to help."

"And it's not as if you asked them to come after you," Helen said. "It was just the wrong time and place. We were frightened, but we lived." She gave a high-pitched, little laugh. "And I for one feel stronger for it. I never knew I could handle myself that way. I do wonder if we'll all suffer some lingering nightmares and stress." She stopped to consider this. "Yes, I expect we will," she decided. "But we're certainly not going to let it destroy us. We're not going to cower in our homes, afraid of the next danger."

"No way," Michelle said. "My disaster quota is filled. The chances of something bad happening after this are, like, stupidly low if you think about it. How often does this kind of thing happen to people? Pretty much never. I'm good."

Arthur would have loved to agree with her. As it was, he didn't tell her she was wrong.

"Will you two be all right?" Daniel asked. "You've both been hurt pretty badly."

"I'm all right," Arthur said. He felt like he'd done nothing but insist that he was fine for the last two days. Or maybe even for most of his life; he didn't know.

"Been banged up worse," Eames said. "I foresee my survival."

"Well, look, here's my card," Daniel said, handing it over to him. "We're in New York. If you need anything, from a medical standpoint, I can help you. If you need counseling, I can refer you to someone."

"Appreciate it," Eames said.

"Thank you," Arthur said. He noted that Daniel only gave one card, probably assuming that they were going to continue traveling together.

And speaking of, he knew that they had to start moving. Eames's comrade had only given them a small window of time. Yet, this goodbye was also where he and Eames parted ways for the time being. Maybe that was why they were stalling.

"Take care of yourselves," Arthur said.

Michelle hugged him again, pressing her face into his coat and sniffling into the wool. Then she did the same to Eames again.

"Bye, you guys," she said as she pulled away, ducking her head and trying to hide her tears, which she probably thought were stupid.

"Farewell, Dollymop," Eames said.

He turned to leave, and Arthur took his cue and followed him.

"Hey," Michelle called after them. They turned back. "Hey, don't forget, Mr. Eames. Call a fig a fig. Not an olive. Remember? It's a fig you have there."

Arthur had no idea what this babble meant, but Eames's jaw dropped an inch or so before he smiled, rolled his eyes good-naturedly, and kept walking.

"A fig?" Arthur asked.

"Long story, I'll tell it to you when we meet up again. You're short on time."

"I know," Arthur said. "Are you good to go?"

"I'm good. Going to lie low here with old friends until I look fit to travel. You?"

"All set."

"The moment you land, all right?" Eames said, "the usual."

"I'll let you know where I am when the dust settles," Arthur said. "If you need me before then, get me."

Eames took a furtive look around, saw that no eyes were on them, then leaned in for a quick kiss. "Good luck. See you 'round the bend."

"Take care, Mr. Eames."

And then they parted, Eames on one side of the train tracks, Arthur on the other. Neither looked back.

It wasn't until an after exhausting two hour bus ride, then a hitched ride that lasted three hours and a fifty minute airport wait, that Arthur finally settled into his seat on a small, private plane and breathed for what felt like the first time in days.

When the plane took off, he shifted in his seat and reached into his carry-on for more water. His hand came into contact with a bit of cold metal, an unfamiliar shape among the many known items. His mind felt slow; he should know what this was, but didn't until he drew it out of the backpack.

It was the gold pocket-watch that Eames had stolen for him on the first night, with the train carved onto the front. Arthur hadn't put it into his backpack; he had actually lost track of it. Holding it in his hand again threw the entire trip into reality. And as he had expected, it seemed like ages ago that they had boarded the train together. Ages ago that Eames had handed this to him and said, 'My pleasure' in the low purr that went straight through Arthur's spine.

He swallowed hard and clicked it open. The inside now had an engraving on it: a simple, neatly written "A", and ampersand, and then an "E".

Arthur clicked it shut again, laughing. "Jesus, Eames," he said to no one.

He needed some time to either work through whatever leftover issues lurked in his mind from hist past, and from Ann, or to compartmentalize them so that he could work. He needed this time alone.

As the plane ascended and the clouds over Siberia broke, Arthur looked out of the window. White, some forest, more white, and then a lake, the biggest and deepest of all. He would have been there, with Eames, probably by tomorrow if all had gone according to plan. He could even see the railroad tracks, splitting the pristine snow in two.

He needed the time alone, and Eames needed it also. But, Arthur mused, looking down at the dark line of train tracks bisecting the snow - it was going to be a long, dull few weeks alone.

** ** ** **



15 - Ku'u Aloha
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