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Before anything else, I want to thank you all, so much, for the endless support and the kind comments you’ve given me. Also for your patience. "Sit-rep" as Eames will ask in this chapter? Real life, not so good, tbh. No need for details, just, not good. But you guys’s comments overwhelmed me with kindness! Your positive thoughts, and your offers just to listen - so sweet. How can everyone be this nice? :D

I want to direct everyone to this BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF GUEST ART FROM SWEETSIGH. How utterly lovely and adorable! I have been having the crappiest craptastic week ever, but this put a huge smile on my face. ^_^ Thank you so much!

Plus I would like to direct your attention to [ profile] neomeruru’s IMAGE PROMPT. I am in total agreement that whenever a story includes a train, some crazy bastard has to go on top of it. ^_^

Onto your suggestions. I skipped this part last update, but I will make up for that now.

These are your new suggestions from the last chapter I posted.

In general, I’ve heard a lot of people using the word "cliffhanger" and you all kind of incepted me. So I wanted to make a cliffhanger. ^_^ I shall say no more.

[ profile] gelbwax simply said, I was literally hanging off a cliff the entire time. HANGING ON BY MY FINGERTIPS. INCEPTION. BRRRRMMMM!

[ profile] fae_boleyn said, By the time Eames gets to him, I have a feeling he'll be in pretty bad shape. We two, we think alike. ^_^ Then, she also said: Suggestions? Ann and Jack having a spectacular falling-out would be nice. SPECTACULAR SPECTACULAR! I hope this part will satisfy. ^_^ Also, [ profile] osaki_nana_707 I doubt Arthur's going to come out unscathed from that. D: ^_^;; I like not-unscathed!Arthur. :)

[ profile] saigonostalker said, This is the part of the story where Eames goes all Clint Eastwood on the bad guys and Arthur uses his Boy Scout knowledge (which he acquired during research for a job and not actually as a Boy Scout) to keep our poor snow-cone passengers alive and conscious, right? I hope this works out to your enjoyment. ^_^

[ profile] towel_master said, I am waiting for Eames to take over this goddamn train SINGLE-HANDED. XD And I really hope everyone ends up safe. That poor old lady. Please don't let her freeze! I had a lot of fun with Eames in this chapter, and I was trying to keep him realistic as well. I hope this made a nice balance. :D

[ profile] spndreamz said, So when eames finally gets back to Arthur we get some snuggling for warmth right? Lol :D How am I supposed to resist that? Seriously. :D

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

[ profile] orgasmblush said, I would very much like for Arthur, however much of a BAMF he may be, to just not be able to save himself, like, once. And, yeah: Eames can totally take care of himself and Arthur AND Michelle. I'm talking, like, whipping boy Arthur, here. My favorite Arthur. :D I also promised to beat the hell out of Eames too though, right? And it was Eames’s turn to go rescue Arthur instead of the other way around, for once. I hope this worked out!

[ profile] mydeerfriend, [ profile] twilightthief, and actually most of you want Eames to NOT get rescued, but to go all BAMF on the train and possible killing machine, using whatever he has within reach, while protecting Michelle. ^_^ I think, or at least I hope, that I covered that in the last chapter. :D

[ profile] twisted_ream there's this huge spider on eames' back and he can't get it off and arthur just laughs Actually? I kind of think this is going to come somewhere near the end. :) IN FACT AS OF NOW I KNOW EXACTLY HOW THIS ENDS, AND WHERE THIS FITS.

[ profile] efcia a broken mirror, possibly a small one. I can see the shattered glass, maybe even a small amount of blood on them? Done! :D

Anonymous suggests, One having to carry the other. DONE!

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

When I asked how I could possibly resolve this thing that's happening between them, [ profile] we_reflamingos suggested,
I wonder if, for some reason, Arthur & Eames were deep enough together again, Eames might recognise a certain ray gun or a bottle of healing. Or perhaps in Eames hospital (where all the important stuff is) - Arthur only went to the the top floor ... but I'm sure that glass elevator could stop at other floors. Oh, and what goes up, usually also goes down.
I LOVE IT. Hopefully I can get to that soon.

[ profile] sparrow_hubris said I want this but with Eames instead of Laura.
OMFG you don't even realize! ^_^ My fetish for Arthur's hair!

[ profile] twilightthief agrees, Agreed on the hair playing/smoothing! ME TOO BB.

[ profile] twilightthief says
I have a feeling the boys need to go under again. Someone else suggested it but I love the idea that they remind each other of the deals they made and the ideas they incepted each other with.
I’m def. going to need this scene later.

[ profile] efcia adds, What I really want to see, though, it's more interaction between Arthur and Ann. [ profile] saigonostalker then said, Also also, for some reason I'd really like to see more interaction between Arthur and Ann. Cool, I will try to work her in more. :D

[ 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. ^_^

Awesome. You guys have given me terrific ideas to work with. :D

I totally forgot about the body part suggestions, lol! Lemme see if I can still get some of these in here.


[ profile] hockey_joy Eames' nose to Arthur's ribcage. Hotter / sweeter than it has any right to be. ^_^;;

[ 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, [ profile] gelbwax seconded that one. Poor Eames! ^_^

[ profile] sparrow_hubris love the idea of someone (preferably Eames as always) playing with Arthur's ankle. The fine bones, and it being delicate in of itself but attached to strong calves being super sexy and all. And the hair Tabi, the hair. Play with it!!! All around UNF. ^_^

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

[ profile] spndreamz Aurthur's hair Eames' nose?

Sweet! Okay, moving onto the actual story, now. ^_^

** ** ** **
12 - My Love I Am The Speed Of Sound
** ** ** **

The movies made it look exciting and somewhat easy to run across the top of a moving train. In fact, Eames was terrified and had to crawl most of the way, even the train wasn’t going that fast. It shifted slowly around a turn and he gripped onto a metal bar across the top. The turn was sluggish, but it angled the entire body of the train, and the top was so icy that he felt his legs slide across to the southern side, opposite to the ladder. His legs dangled over the side while the wind ripped at his feet and tore at his trousers.

"Oh fuck," he whispered, "fuck, fuck."

When the train straightened out, he pulled his legs back up so he was lying parallel on top once more. Then he started pulling himself towards the train's forward motion. He didn't know where the ladder was anymore. He would have to find the edge of the roof, in the fucking dark, and slide down far enough to feel for rungs. Fuck, he was going to die.

Even if he found the ladder, he didn't know how he would make it to the fucking door, and then open it. Or even if the door would open when the train was moving.

It was entirely dark and he didn't know where the other men were either, the ones who were on top of the train with him.

Sweating even in the icy wind, he pulled himself forward until he came into contact with another warm, moving body. He punched at it just because it was there, because they were chasing him and they had guns. His fist came in contact with ribs, a shoulder, spine, head.

"Stop, stop!" the man cried. And something that sounded like "I don't want to die!"

"Then let me fucking pass," Eames said. Though he didn't know if he made himself clear over the roar of the train and the wind.

But the other man, the hired gun that Eames couldn't see, just kept clinging to the roof. If he did move, he'd probably fall.

"Let me live," the man said, a bit louder this time, "and I'll help you, I promise, I promise!"

The voice seemed to be getting louder. Eames wasn't sure why until he felt the wind against his back die down bit by bit. No, the voice wasn't growing louder: the train's rumble was getting softer. It was slowing down.

Eames stopped punching the other guy and held on to the top with both hands. As the train slowed to a stop, the momentum whipped his legs off to the side. He felt himself skidding across the roof. This time he slid off until his hips hit the edge of the roof. His mind went blank and he scrambled for purchase. At the last second, he grabbed onto a metal ridge and held on until his hands burned. When the train stopped completely, he pulled himself up again, arms shaking. He could still hear the other man a meter or so away, pleading for help. All the fight had gone out of Eames. The two of them lay there for a second, hanging in, panting like mad. The other guy was in his way.

"Move," Eames said. "I will shove you right the fuck off. Move."

"I can't," the goon said. "I can't, I can't, I can't move."

Slowly, Eames got to his feet. His legs shook with the lingering sensation of the rumbling train, and with adrenaline. In fact, everything was shaking. His eyes stung with cold, his chest hurt, his entire head throbbed. He tried to shake it off. There was still work to do.

"Let me step over you," he said. "Don't touch me or I'll break your skull."

"Right," said the man. "Get me down from here."

"Fuck off," Eames said, once he was clear of the clinging body. Fucker got himself up there, he could get himself down. And there were two more men atop the train somewhere, too.

His eyes adjusted to the dim light that came from below, the little squares of amber cast on the snowy ground from the windows. He saw only one more body clinging to the top. He looked to the side of the train he'd climbed out from, the northern side, and saw those window-lights reflected on the snow. They looked like a picture of heaven.

He looked to the other side, south, where his legs had been dangling off, and saw nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing but a steep cliff-drop. It explained where the other hired guard had went.

The involuntary moan that came from his own mouth sounded weak and pathetic. He took two steps backwards and went to his knees. Shaking, almost wetting his trousers, he crawled backwards toward the safe edge, the one that dropped off into the snow, not into the fucking void. He let his feet dangle a few inches over, feeling around for the top of the ladder. His arms shook so badly that if he went any further, he wouldn’t be able to hold on anymore. He’d slip completely off.

Finally, the toe of his boot hit the top metal rung. He breathed a sigh of relief that sounded more like a sob and began to ease himself down.

"Where are you going?" the man closest to him yelled. "Fuck, don't leave me!"

"Don't look down the other side," Eames said. "The ladder's here. Come down after me. Don't make me kill you. You owe me." Maybe, maybe not, but it was a clear enough survival tip that he thought could earn him some gratitude.

He was panting like a frightened animal by the time he reached the bottom rung. He didn't even feel cold anymore. Who the fuck knew that trains took turns like that, that close to fucking cliffs? What if the train driver timed the turn wrong or something? If he'd known about that kind of shit, he would have never gotten on this goddamned thing. He was never doing another train tour again.

His feet hit the snow and he was glad for it, so thrilled to feel the ground beneath him, the snow wicking up the cuffs of his trousers. When he got to the door, he vaulted up the stairs and pulled it open, flinging himself inside and pressing back against the wall. He was in the restaurant car again. The surprised looks he got from the passengers told him what he must look like: half-frozen and half-mad. He probably looked exactly like a man who had ridden on the top of a train with his legs hanging off, as it went past a motherfucking cliff.

The passengers were huddled into booths and around tables in the dining car, watching him with some mixture of fear and hope. He didn't know who they thought he was. Perhaps they thought him the kind of man to come back inside the train to try to help them, instead of going to rescue his partner. Or perhaps they thought nothing at all of him other than that he was some crazy, daredevil secret agent. He was none of these things. He was just some ex-military criminal who was in a bad spot.

Catching his breath, and trying to shut away his useless adrenaline, he reasoned that there were a lot less guards than the first time. He'd taken at least five of them out. Two were stuck on the roof and weren't likely to come chasing after him. He'd keep his eyes open for the Fenderlyn brothers. 'Keep your specs peeled,' Arthur's voice whispered in his head, giving him a moment of fortitude, and such a strange mix of longing and guilt that his over-wrought system almost couldn't bear it. He wiped tears from his face that were probably not from the sting of cold air-- though he couldn't tell―and resolutely moved forward.

"Mr. Eames. Mr. Eames. Hey."

He turned when a hand touched his shoulder, and saw Daniel gripping him, and still holding onto the gun. He looked quickly for Michelle and found her sitting at one of the restaurant booths with her mother Helen. She was watching him with tired, gleaming eyes.

"You did it," he said to her.

"Yes," Daniel answered for her. "She gave me this gun and, well. I don't know, I did my best to defend this car. We outnumber them. I think that they realize this now."

"Ann?" Eames said. He knew this request for information probably didn't make sense, but Daniel just nodded.

"She went running up to the locomotive part of the train, or whatever they call it. She wanted to stop it from moving."

Of course she did. Ann didn't want to leave Arthur behind; he was her agenda. Ann had stopped the train, somehow. Maybe she had reasoned with Jack. Either way, that was the direction he needed to go in.

"Can trains go in reverse?" he asked.

Daniel looked surprised, but quickly gave it some thought. "I think so," he said. "If they haven't killed the conductor, you can probably find some sort of button to make it go backwards."

"It's called a reverser lever," Michelle said. "Trains like this have forward, neutral, reverse and air-brakes."

Eames stared at her, surprised.

"Umm," she said, "I googled it before I came here."

"Oh, yes," he said. "Yes, brilliant." She smiled wanly. Eames looked to Helen, who wasn’t smiling. She just looked pale, tired, and about ten years older than she had. She kept her arm wrapped around her daughter. "Hey," Eames said to Michelle. "I should probably tell you I disapprove of what you did. But you saved my life. And when I get the train back where it was, and I find the survivors out there, you’ll have saved their lives. It was brave of you to get that key."

Michelle smiled a little wider and nodded in acknowledgment.

"Don’t ever do anything like that again," Eames said, glancing toward Helen. Now, she looked a little bit proud.

"Whatever," Michelle said.

"Right, whatever," Eames said. He turned back to Daniel, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "Can I ask you to hold down this car again? I don’t have anyone else who’d do it."

"I’ll do my best," Daniel said. "Are we going back for them?"

"Yes." He didn’t mean to answer so emphatically, but there was no way that they weren’t.

"The bad guys have got to be in the, the driving room, or whatever it’s called, where the conductor is. They can’t have killed him - unless they know how to operate a train? But that takes years of…"

"I’ll see when I get there," Eames said. "And thanks," he added over his shoulder, as he made his way out of the car, toward the front of the train.

He met no resistance until the third car down. If there were more hired guns, they were hiding out somewhere, or maybe all protecting the control room. Three cars down, one of the Silver Class passenger cars; he was almost to the control room, when he ran once again into Giles Fenderlyn.

Giles seemed just as startled to see him, as he came out from one of the rooms. "Thought you’d be dead by now," he said, drawing his gun. He blocked Eames’s path.

Eames was quicker. He came at him with a straight-punch before Giles even got to raise the pistol. Giles’s already broken nose splintered again under his fist. Eames finished him off with an uppercut to the jaw before he hit the floor. He took the gun, checked that it was loaded, and briefly considered shooting Giles in the leg. Instead, he took Giles’s belt off and trussed him hog-style, arms bound to his ankles. It took him about a minute - precious time he really couldn’t afford, but he had no other choice. Still, to this day, he didn’t like unnecessary violence. Giles was out of play for a while and unarmed. He couldn’t shoot a man while he was down and he didn’t have time to fuck around.

Arthur would shoot him, his mind supplied without his permission. No mercy, that’s Arthur. Hand a man over for torture.

He told his out-of-control subconscious to shut the fuck up, and kept moving forward. He heard Ann’s voice before he even got there, shrill and with an hysterical edge to it that he hadn’t heard before. He couldn’t make out her words. Then, following her voice came Jack’s, murmuring something.

The door to the control room was heavy, and had a slide for a card-key. Eames just banged on it with his fist and said, "Open up!"

The voices inside went quiet. After a moment the door slid open, revealing Jack, his blue eyes narrowed and hateful. The look only lasted a moment before it changed to the wide-open look of feigned innocence he’d been giving Eames since the beginning of the trip. Except, he was also holding a pistol.

"Darling, I told you to stay." Again, his face changed, just as quickly. Anger this time. Childlike, almost. "Who hurt you?" he asked, reaching towards Eames’s face.

Eames pulled away from his hand. "Your two boys, after you left me chained up and unable to defend myself." He pushed past Jack, into the control room. Ann stood in the corner, leaning back against the lip of the control counter. Tear tracks streaked her red, blotchy face. She clutched her purse with both hands, her nails leaving little crescents in the leather. He wondered what she was keeping in her purse that she needed to grip it so tightly.

The train driver was pressed up against the controls opposite her, frightened and weary. He was an old man with a white beard and blue eyes.

"Can you make it go in reverse?" Eames asked him.

"No," Jack said. "We’re not…"

"Fuck you, Jack!" Ann shrieked. "You shit, you shit, you said he wouldn’t be hurt, you said you wouldn’t hurt him!"

"He left the train on his own." He turned to the Eames and said, "I stopped the train for you. When I heard you’d gone outside, I stopped it. How could you do that to me? Why would you leave the train?"

"You know why," Eames said. "Now reverse this fucking thing, Jack, or so help me…"

Jack turned to the conductor, pointing his gun in the old man’s face and releasing the safety. "Forward," he said.

"Reverse!" Ann shrieked.

Jack turned before Eames even saw him move, and backhanded Ann, still gripping the gun. Eames heard her jaw pop. She fell to the side, clutching the back of the driver’s chair.

As had happened on occasion, Eames didn’t even realize that he had lifted someone off the ground until after the fact. One second he was looking at Jack, and in the next, he had Jack’s shirt collars bunched in his fists. Jack’s feet dangled over the floor as Eames pressed him up against the door. It occurred to him, vaguely, that he might be pushing his luck.

He put Jack down slowly, almost gently, still breathing hard. He could not get past his own surprise. How hard he’d struck Ann, his sister; actually his partner. Eames didn’t have his entire memory back from the time he’d known them, but he would never have imagined this. Was it a new development? Did Jack regularly hurt other people? Was his abuse a general thing, or was it situational? He couldn’t remember. His fingers spasmed with wanting to punch him in the face.

Those same fingers also remembered the contours of this man’s shoulders, neck, and face.

"Christ," Eames said. "Reverse the train, it’s not just Arthur out there, you fucking prick."

"No," Jack hissed, shoving his hands away. "You don’t get him. He doesn’t get to keep you. He sold you out, he hunted you, and you hated him too, you would have thrown him away when I knew you, like he deserves. You would have left him to die." He pulled himself away from Eames, red-faced, gritting his teeth. He didn’t look like the put-together, icily handsome man he’d been on that first night, or even a few minutes ago. He looked like something out of a nightmare. "Fuck him, he doesn’t get to live, and if you keep this up, neither do you."

The gunshot made everyone jump. The train-driver cried out in fear. Eames instantly checked himself for the entrance or exit wound that he wouldn’t feel for another few seconds, for the oozing blood, the spreading stain anywhere on his body. There wasn’t one.

Jack fell to his knees. He looked up at Eames and said, "What? What?" His hands grasped weakly at Eames’s legs. Blood wicked out across his shirt from a hole in his shoulder, maybe close enough that it had gotten his lung, too. Eames stepped away from him in horror.

But he stepped forward again when Jack started to fall. The boy he’d been fourteen years ago didn’t want him to get hurt. That boy cried out as he tried to catch the body of the man he loved. Hands that didn’t feel like his own eased Jack gently onto the ground. Jack coughed twice, still alive.

"Reverse," Ann said. Her words were slurred.

Eames looked over his shoulder at her, stunned. She coughed, and spat blood onto the floor. She spat again, fragments of one of her molars this time. Her cheek was white, where Jack had struck her with the gun. In an hour or so, it would be black. Her purse was still clutched in one hand, now open.

His first order of business was to relieve her of the gun. He took it from her cold, shaking fingers. She let it go willingly. Then he looked back to where the train driver was standing, braced against the wall, white-faced and in a panic.

"There are people stranded a few kilometers back," Eames said. "They’re going to die. Can you reverse the train? No one here is going to hurt you."

The train driver swallowed hard, licked his lips, and nodded his head.

"Good," Eames said. "Take it to where the train was stopped earlier. Only a few minutes’ ride, right?"

Another nod.

"I’ll get these two out of here. Just do your job." He reached down and slid his arms under Jack’s shuddering body. "Get the door," he said to Ann. She didn’t move. "The door, Ann," he ordered.

She jumped, and moved sluggishly, in a daze, toward the door. She was clearly in shock.

Eames lifted Jack and took him out of the control room. As soon as they were gone, Ann having closed the door behind her, the train shifted again, backwards this time.

Eames found an empty compartment in Silver Class and took Jack into it. At least he could put him down on a bed and leave him there. He didn’t understand what he was doing, or what he felt. Four months of his memory, gone for so long. A man he’d forgotten all about but had loved, back then, in some selfish, childish way. Eames didn’t know who Jack had been back then, but probably not a violent, desperate, sociopath. Probably not someone who would throw random people out to die in a blizzard, and break his sister’s face.

He looked over his shoulder again at Ann, after he put Jack down. Her eyes were empty. She stumbled backwards against the opposite wall and sagged down until she was sitting. She didn’t stop there, but continued to fold herself in half, hands gripping her hair. She shuddered in silence for just a second, and then the cry that tore out of her was an inhuman thing. She wailed, senseless, throwing her head back against the wall and pounding her fists on her legs. There were no words to her cries, just half-formed vowels, the sounds of a wounded animal.

Eames felt all his hair stand on end as he watched her.

What monsters this business made of them, he thought.

He thought of Mal, at the end of her insanity. Setting Cobb up for death, or a lifetime of hell. He thought of Cobb, after Mal had died. He considered how Cobb had, in fact, set them all up on the Fischer job, had sent them all under without warning them that they could lose their minds in limbo. Not even a consideration for Arthur, his steadfast partner.

This is what it does to you. Insanity and betrayal around every corner.

Finally, he thought of Arthur, Glock-wielding Arthur who did this work because he loved it, because he lived for it. He thought of his own hands around Arthur’s throat, squeezing.

Ann’s screaming tapered off into desolate, lost whimpers. She was a liability, a loose end. Because his gut feeling told him to, he plucked her purse from her lap. She allowed him to do this without a fight, looking up at him with watery, blank eyes. He didn’t have to dig far to find the little, metal vials she kept inside there, ones he was so familiar with. Those quick-acting sedatives that Arthur was so good with. She probably even had the one she’d used on Arthur, when she touched him.

He left the compartment, opened one of the vials, and tossed it through the door. Then he slid the door shut behind him. It would take care of them for a while, at least.

What monsters, he thought again, as he left the compartment.

The train moved backwards.

** ** ** **

Arthur couldn’t carry her much further. His thoughts moved like melting ice and didn’t make much sense, but he knew he was slowing down. Decisions such as "move forward" seemed too complicated. He was losing energy pretty fast - that at least made sense.

"I can’t do it," said Francis, from behind him. "I can’t go anymore."

"Just a little," Arthur said.

Miranda was still helping Francis walk, and Anthony was still helping him carry Eartha. The snow had died down, but the wind had picked up. There was no shelter. His shirt clung to him, his fingers dug into Eartha’s coat, seeking body heat. He couldn’t keep carrying her, but she was keeping him warm. He’d hoped that they could at least huddle up against the train, but now that was gone, too. They may as well have been walking through the void. Once in a while, Miranda would light up her cell phone and shine it on the snow, looking for footprints, as Arthur had instructed her. He knew somehow this didn’t make sense, because the footprints would have already been buried by wind-blown drifts. But he couldn’t think of anything else to suggest.

And then, suddenly, the snow dropped off a few inches. Arthur stumbled so hard that it took Anthony gripping him around the waist to prevent him from falling, and spilling Eartha all over the ground with him. She gasped against his neck and held on tighter.

"Tracks," Anthony said. "Look! Right here, the train tracks!"

"Oh, thank god," Miranda said. "Thank god, we can follow them!"

"Can’t," Arthur said. He sounded muddled and slurred, even to himself. "No, we’re done. Done for tonight."

"That’s crazy," she said. Her hand came down on his shoulder and she shook him. "You’re not making sense. Look, we got here, the next stop can’t be…"

"It’s miles away," Anthony said, before Arthur got the chance to.

"We don’t need the train station," she said. She sounded hysterical. "Just, just someone to help us! There has to be something!"

"We don’t know what’s ahead," Arthur said. He and Anthony, by mutual agreement, gently set Eartha on her feet. "We don’t know," Arthur went on. "Tigers. Siberian. Tigers."

"Oh, Arthur," Eartha said. "You sound really bad. I’ve made you so tired."

"No, I’m okay."

Now, he felt another hand on his shoulder. Anthony, probably. Too dark to see anyone.

"You’re not okay," Anthony said. "None of us are right now. But we do have to stop."

"Tony…" Miranda said.

"Listen to me," he said, "I know what I’m saying. We can’t expend much more energy. You need the glucose in your brain to survive. Walking all night can and will deplete it. Eventually we’ll all get so strung out on hypothermia that we’ll make some really bad decisions. Let’s stop, while we’ve still got our heads together."

"Huddle on the tracks," Arthur suggested. "Snow up on either sides, like a shelter. From the wind. Am I making sense?"

"What?" Anthony asked.

"He says," Eartha said, "that if we get down on the train tracks, the snow on either side will shield us from the wind. We can huddle and we’d better do it fast." She put her gloved hands on Arthur’s face again. "You’re making sense," she said, "you’re just making it in french."

"Oh. That. Well, dreamwalking and Ann being there, like an inception to the old days, like fourteen years ago. She taught me, mostly."

"Now you’re not making sense," she said. "Now come on, we do as Arthur says. I can’t ask him to go any further and I know Frank can’t keep going either."

"What if a train comes and hits us?" Miranda said.

"We’ll feel the tracks vibrate," Anthony said. "Come on. It’s a good plan."

Arthur felt hands on his shoulder now, turning him around and guiding him downwards. The world tilted, and was suddenly lit up by a blue glow. Miranda’s cell phone again. The blue streaked in front of his eyes and went dark for a second. When it came back, there was an arm braced across his back and his ass was just about hitting the cold ground.

"…Since you don’t have a coat," Anthony was saying. "And then we get Eartha and you in the center. Then Francis. Randy and I can link arms around you as much as possible. Okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Arthur said. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was agreeing to, but it sounded like the right thing.

"How are you hands?" Anthony asked.

"Pretty numb."

"Okay, then you’ll stick your hands into my coat. How about your feet?"

"Waterproof shoes," Arthur said.

"Good. And everyone else?"

"We brought our hiking boots," Francis said.

"Mine hurt," Miranda said. "They ache. Like from frostbite."

"Can you move your toes?"

"Yes," she said, "but it hurts when I do."

"Then you can still feel them. Okay. Everyone down."

Arthur felt people settling behind him, in front of him, and to his sides. He couldn’t tell who was who, at first. Gloved hands, and arms with heavy coats on them went around his shoulders. Someone settled across from him and he was pressed backwards into another warm body. It felt like heaven.

I might live, he thought. He hadn’t stopped to really consider dying, until then. Not until he could rest. It was still possible that they could all die out here. The train could be gone for good, or at least until morning, which was as good as forever, from where he was sitting. They might make it another few hours, but the coldest part of the night was yet to come.

Still. They could live. If the train came back, or another one came along. Or, maybe even if the train that Eames was on reached an area where there was cell phone service. Then everyone would call for rescue and they would be found. Yes, Eames was on the train and he would send a rescue back.

The thought of Eames on the train, and of the train going away and not coming back, snapped the tiny threads that had been holding him together. His hands hurt, his face hurt, his tongue felt thick and dry. His throat was starting to actually throb with pulses of fiery pain. Eames’s hands had done that, and the cold air had burned it raw.

"You did so well," Eartha said. She was beside him. "We would be dead by now. Well, at least Francis and me. If you hadn’t come after us, you know. Shh."

She put her hand to the back of his head and tugged his face into her coat. Almost instantly, some feeling came back to his cheeks and his chin. Even his nose burned. She smelled like cold, frost, wet wool, and some underlying scent of perfume from the seventies, something that aunts and grandmothers wore. He almost wanted to grab onto her, but he could only reach her hair and he remembered that it was a wig. And anyway, someone else was grabbing his hands and pulling them into their coat. He dug his fingers into the warmth. Felt like a woman’s ribs.

"Don’t you get handsy," Miranda said. "My husband is sitting right there."

He laughed, a little. It sounded more like a sob, which he didn’t mean.

Francis, he guessed, was behind Eartha. Miranda and her husband on the outside of everyone, with their arms linked and their heads ducked down. Their coats acted like a makeshift tent. Hiding out on the rails; that had been a good idea.

It was dark, but he was pretty sure his eyes were closed anyway. He even felt some of the tension ease out of his shoulders. It was nice to stop and rest. It was really nice to let someone else be vigilant.

A scratchy hand petted his hair and rubbed fingers into his scalp.

Baba Yaga, he thought, briefly forgetting where he was.

"Oh, no," Eartha said, bringing him back to the present, "I’m not your mama. Is she still living?"

Oh, shit, Arthur thought, and laughed silently at himself. He hadn’t even realized he’d spoken it aloud, and felt instantly mortified. God, she thought he was calling for his mama. Which, now that he thought of it, was a hell of a lot better than letting her think he’d been calling her Baba Yaga. Because maybe not everyone would take kindly to that.

"Umm," he said, "yes, my mother’s alive." Somewhere.

"Well, then you’ll get to see her again soon," Eartha said.

"Sure." Not likely.

"She’s probably real proud of you, being a special agent and helping people."

"Mmm," Arthur agreed. Haven’t heard from her since college graduation. Plus I’m a criminal.

"You should call her when…"

"Wait," Arthur said. He un-burrowed his face from her coat and sat up straight. He wasn’t even sure yet what he heard, if anything.

"I hear it too," Anthony said.

Arthur pulled his hand from the inside of Miranda’s coat and felt around on the ground. This was dangerous as hell; he was getting his hand wet again, which was one thing you never, ever did once you got it dry. Finally he put his hand onto one of the spikes in the track. It burned like shards of ice going through each finger.

But it was also vibrating. And the vibrating was turning into rumbling.

And the silence was turning into noise.

The noise turned into a train whistle.

"Off the tracks," he said. "Everyone up."

They hustled up, clumsy, tripping and flailing. Arthur’s legs burned with returning blood. The cold air that hit him felt like a fist. Moving from the huddle was like pitching himself into the second circle of hell, buffeted by relentless, icy winds. He tripped over the snowbank, righted himself, and grabbed whoever was closest to him to pull away from the tracks.

"Come on, back up, back up," Anthony was saying, urging everyone back.

"Cell phones," Arthur said. "Everyone, light up." He dug his out of his back pocket with burning cold hands, and touched it on.

Two more phones lit up on either side of him: Anthony’s and Miranda’s.

"I can’t believe it," Miranda said. "I can’t believe we’re saved."

Yes, they had to be, this time. It had to be Eames. Jack wouldn’t have reversed the train for them. Ann might have, maybe. If she even knew.

But no, it hadn’t happened like that. It was Eames. He knew it; it was the only thing that made sense. Eames had commandeered the train and was coming back for him.

The cold settled into his chest once again, without the shelter of the snow banks and the makeshift tent of coats, and bodies. He thought he could actually feel his temperature plummet a few vital degrees at the sudden change. His blood pressure dropped, too; he could feel that as well. Getting up so fast hadn’t been the best idea, but had also been his only option. That, or get hit by the train, the train whose light he could now see. Then, a second later, he couldn’t see it because his legs wouldn’t hold him anymore.

"Oh, hang on, hang on," Anthony said, grabbing for him.

Then the roar of the train and the squeal of brakes shut out any other voices, and Anthony wasn’t quick enough to catch him.

But we’re okay now, Arthur thought. His heart thudded in his ears and there seemed to be a lot of concern over him. But it didn’t matter. He felt nice, sort of. Warm. Like he was floating. Even the train went silent.

** ** ** **

Since the train had left and come back, and Eames had no idea how far Arthur might have had to go to find the others, he took about thirty seconds to run to their compartment and grab Arthur’s coat. Adrenaline was pushing him now, and intuition and years of field experience made his decisions for him.

On his way back to the dining car, he banged on every compartment door, and herded everyone he found into that one area. There were hundreds of people, and they were crammed in, frightened and murmuring.

The train whistle blew, and a few moments later, it slowed to a stop. Arthur and the others had to be somewhere close.

"All right," he said, his voice carrying above the din, "all right, settle down." He didn’t have a hell of a lot of time to wait for their attention. Fortunately, they seemed willing to listen to him.

"Right," he went on, "it’s hard to know who to trust. Fortunately the train driver is all right. Many people on the staff were working for the ones who took over the train. A few of them are gone now, but probably not all of them. One of their two henchmen is missing, name of Kenzie Fenderlyn. You’ve seen him. He’s small, dark hair, brown eyes. Broken nose, now. The other, Giles, is unconscious and locked up, but could still be a threat. Also broken nose. They might be armed. You outnumber them, but do not put yourselves in danger. Clear?"

Assenting murmurs were his answer. He didn’t have time to wait for anything more, and had to trust that a group of tourists would rise to the challenge of caring for themselves and each other. It had happened before.

"I’ll need someone to come with me," he said. He didn’t expect a lot of volunteers, nor did he want many.

"I’ll go," Michelle said, standing up and trying to peer over the crowd.

"Like hell," Eames said, when he saw her little body shoving people out of the way to get to him. He would maybe find time to appreciate her offer later. But not now.

Her father Daniel was already shrugging on his coat. He handed the gun to Helen, who took it willingly.

"Right," Eames said to Helen. "Stand in the center and watch both doors. Keep your eye on the door to the outside, too, because there was one more fellow on the roof and I don’t know if he’s still there or not. Likely not. Mind you don’t shoot us when we come back through. Ann is still alive, all right? As far as I know, they both are. I’ve locked them up as well as I could, but no guarantees. The car is crowded, so don’t open fire unless you really think you need to. But if you need to, then do so."

"Got it," Helen said.

Eames turned to Daniel. "All set?"

Daniel offered him a small smile. "Tally-ho?"

"Right. That’ll do."

The passengers cleared a path to the door, and once again, Eames went out into the night.

"Shit," Daniel said from behind him. "Mr. Eames, this is bad."

"Please don’t remind me." Arthur knows what to do, he tried to convince himself. It’s been about thirty minutes. That’s survivable if he got shelter. Arthur had survived in the elements for a lot longer than thirty minutes, and he’d been in worse condition. He could do this.

Even so, Eames’s heart seemed to stutter to a stop when he saw two small lighted cell phones waving about, five or so meters down the train. Only two phones, and he could already hear voices that sounded concerned, even urgent. He did not hear Arthur’s voice.

He was running before he even realized it, barely aware of Daniel huffing and stumbling behind him. Their only light was from the train’s windows, but the small party of survivors (survivors, his mind urged,) was close enough to the train that he could make out their shapes before he got there.

"Over here!" a man’s voice called. Probably Dr. Neilson or whatever his name was, Eames thought. He just ran, pushing through the snow until he was nearly on top of them.

Arthur, Arthur, he wanted to call, but he took in the entire situation, first. Five people. Two elderly, the man clearly exhausted and clutching his chest. Not good. The elderly woman holding onto him, exhausted but alert. They were both dressed warmly. Two adults, also dressed warmly, also alert. They were struggling to hold up the fifth person, Arthur, clearly unconscious, and just in his shirt and slacks.

"Who’s worse?" Eames addressed the entire group.

"I’m okay," the elderly man said. "Pills, just need my pills."

"You take him," Eames instructed Daniel, pointing to the elderly man.


He’d given the only doctor to the old man, and maybe that was the right decision and maybe not but it looked that fellow was around the corner from an actual heart attack, and Arthur was young, and strong.

It also freed Eames up to grab Arthur from the two people who were trying to actually hold him upright, but were jostling him around and you never, you never handled someone that roughly when they were cold like this.

They babbled at him about how they didn’t want to put him in the wet snow, and they’d huddled for warmth and he was okay, he had just been okay moments ago, right before Eames got there he’d been standing up and signaling like the rest of them and then down he went.

Eames checked for a pulse, found one, and carefully, carefully picked him up.

"Back on the train, everyone," he said. "Go and help those three."

Daniel walked ahead with the elderly couple, assisting both of them until the younger couple, Nelsons or Nilsons or whoever, took over aiding the woman.

Eames followed behind with Arthur, walking what felt like the longest five meters of his life.

Hell, he thought, might just have been nearly slipping on the steps and almost toppling backward with Arthur, which might have stopped his heart. Stopped both their hearts, he reckoned.

But the heat and noise of humanity hit him as soon as he was back in the train. They crowded around him, and fuck, the situation was so delicate, he heard himself yelling Back off, back off! and they must have done, because he found a cleared off, plush, red bench up against the wall. As if he were handling glass, he put Arthur down on it and finally took an actual look.

His lips were blue, his hands were white but not puffy. He was breathing. He was shivering, which was a good sign. His shirt was wet and Eames started to carefully, but quickly, undo the buttons. He was aware of the warm press of many people at his back, crowding him, crowding them both and again he shouted at everyone to get away, move back. As one, they did.

Arthur opened his eyes just as Eames was sliding the wet shirt from his shoulders.

"You’re all right," he said, before Arthur made any sudden moves or freaked out.

"Eames?" His voice was slurred, faint, and sounded like a scratched record.

The ring of bruises around his neck stood out shockingly against the rest of his pale skin. Eames hated himself, and for a moment, just hated everyone and everything. "Right here. Don’t move."

"Are we inside?"

"We’re inside. Don’t move, all right?"

"I’m okay," Arthur said.

Eames pulled his shirt the rest of the way off and wrapped his long, black coat around him in its place, then laid him back down on the bench.

Arthur’s eyes seemed to ease into focus. "You look like shit," he said.

That, finally, sounded like Arthur talking, and not the cold. "Sit-rep?" Eames prompted.

"Eggs in the coffee," Arthur said.

It was babble, but it was Arthur babble and he took it as a good sign.

"I’d like to move you, but I’m afraid to. You were unconscious."

"Got up too fast," he said. "Blood pressure. Not… I’m okay."

"You’re not going go to into cardiac arrest? Because if you do, Arthur, I swear I’ll…" He couldn’t think of any threats to use even in jest. He’d already hurt Arthur enough, the thought of doing it again made him ill.

"I’m all right. Eartha."

This was babble that he didn’t understand. "What’s that?"

"Lady. Eartha. She all right?"

"She’s fine. They’re all fine, let’s worry about them later."

Arthur was struggling to sit up whether Eames wanted him to or not. The color hadn’t even returned to his face yet but it drained even further once he was upright. And the panic and mayhem, the noise and chaos of the room wasn’t the right environment for this. He’d made it to the car without hurting Arthur, and he’d make it another few meters to their compartment, where he could assure himself, at least, the Arthur would live. Where he could see to it.

He picked him up again and made his way through the crowd, who once again moved aside easily to let them by.

The silence inside their compartment cleared the fog from Eames’s head. It also drained some of the adrenaline. Ann’s shattered mirror, still streaked with his blood, lay in the corner. The bed he’d been chained to also had splashes and spatters of his blood on the coverlet. Still, he kicked the cover off with his foot and put Arthur onto the bed.

Arthur came around again when Eames tucked the blanket around him and got to work taking his shoes off. He just said Eames’s name, assured himself that’s who he was with, then settled back down, shivering.

Eames unlaced Arthur’s boots, thankful as he often was that Arthur was a practical man who counted on quality. The boots were waterproof and had probably spared him all of his toes. He took off his socks (dry, but cold) and wrapped his hands around first one foot, then the other. He slid his hands up Arthur’s cold ankle, rubbing gently. Arthur hissed in a breath at the returning heat.

"Sorry," Eames said. It was a good sign though, that there was no lasting damage.

With practiced hands, he undid Arthur’s trousers and slid them off, along with his pants. Arthur allowed this as he always did, though without his usual intent.

Eames was just putting another blanket over him when someone knocked at the door.

"It’s only me," Daniel said from the outside.

Yes, a doctor about now would be a good thing. Eames slid the door open and let him in. Daniel was holding a mug with a straw, which he handed to Eames.

"How is he?" he asked.

"Says he’s fine." Eames stood back and let Daniel hover over Arthur.

Daniel was thorough, checking his hands, his feet, his lips, his pulse. He asked Arthur a few questions, to see if he answered them coherently.

"Who was out there with you?" Daniel said.

"Anthony and Miranda. Francis and Eartha. Is she okay?"

"They’re all fine," Daniel said. "Well done, Arthur." He turned back to Eames. "That’s decaf tea with sugar. Get that into him, all right?"

"Yes, of course. He’s all right, you think?"

"Keep an eye on him, and come get me if… Well, Mr. Eames. I’ve got to say this." He looked uncomfortable for a moment, then got into some kind of doctor mode, distant and professional.

Eames braced himself. It could go either way, he prepared himself to hear, or something like it.

Instead, Daniel gestured to the marks around Arthur’s throat. "If you’re having an episode of PTSD," he said, "and you fall asleep and suffer another one of these night terrors… I’m saying this to both of you, because you’re adults. Mr. Eames, can you trust yourself not to hurt him? Arthur, are you aware of the symptoms, and are you in any shape to call for help?"

Eames fought down his initial reaction, which would have been defensive and illogical. It killed him that Daniel was right. That it was probably better, safer, for someone else to see Arthur through this.

"He’s quite right," Eames said.

"No," Arthur said. "I get it, concern, thank you. I’m okay. We’re good."

"Will it be all right if I come by to check on you?" Daniel asked. "As a physician."

"Arthur," Eames said, "I really think you should consider…"

"It’s fine," Arthur answered. "Yes. Come check. We’re fine."

"Right," Daniel said. "Okay. Have that tea while it’s warm, and keep up with your fluids. I’ll be back in one hour." He gave a nod to Eames before he left, handing over control of the situation - control that Eames wasn’t sure he possessed. He slid the door closed behind him and Eames locked it.

Once Daniel was gone, Arthur seemed to come apart at the seams. His teeth chattered, he shook all over and tried to curl in on himself, burrowing for warmth.

"Here," Eames said, holding the straw to his lips. "Slow, all right?"

Arthur drank, shivered harder, and pushed the cup away.

"You," he said. "Please."

For a moment, Eames hated himself. Truly hated his own wretched self for not knowing what to do, for putting Arthur in danger, for breaking his heart when he tried not to put him into danger.

He stripped off quickly. He hated Jack for starting all of this. Hated Ann for getting into his head, yes, but hated Jack for getting where it counted. But he also felt an immense wave of pity for Jack, because he had only wanted someone else, too. It was just desire that drove him. And the dreams, the endless time spent in one’s own mind, in the minds of others.

What monsters, he thought, though not entirely of Jack. Or at least not him alone.

He got into the tiny bed and climbed over Arthur so that his own back was pressed against the cold wall. When Arthur curled into him, touching him with freezing hands, pressing cold skin all over him, it was for survival. His heart was beating too fast, his breath too shallow. He tucked his cold face under Eames’s neck, his hands under Eames’s side. For survival.

Eames pulled him in close,one arm around his waist, the other around his shoulders. cupping the back of his head with his hand. He finger-combed through Arthur’s hair, which had bits of ice clinging to it. He melted it with his hand until Arthur’s hair was just wet, and starting to get warm. He was trying to be practical, trying to think logically. In terms of survival. Maybe he was hyper-vigilant, he didn’t know. He’d spent a few hours getting smacked around, again, so it could be. He couldn’t let go of that, he had to be mindful. If he fell asleep like this, and hurt Arthur again… No. He had to stay awake.

When Arthur finally sighed and relaxed into sleep, all of the tension drained from him at once. He slept soundly, at peace, as if he had not a concern in the world. Of course, he was exhausted. He probably didn’t have the energy to remain mistrustful. Yet his sigh sounded like that of a man who had just come home after a long, harrowing journey.

** ** ** **

Back on March 3rd, anonymous suggested: When Ann first came up to Arthur I had the clever thought "What if she was Dinclusin's sister?!?" and then it turns out she is, and I was happy. It'd be interesting if you could play around with some of her ideas- she could be the female eagle killing her brother- maybe she could be a possible ally for Arthur. I kind of want to see her dropping subtle hints as to what her brother's plotting.

I couldn’t remember which of you suggested it (and it ended up being anonymous, hehe,) but
honestly, I didn’t think I was going to go this route so I never really included it in any of the suggestions (and it would have been a spoiler anyway) but I guess it really stuck with me.

So, thank you, anon!

13 - Warmest Welcome, Violent Stranger
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