moragmacpherson: (delirium)
moragmacpherson ([personal profile] moragmacpherson) wrote2012-05-22 11:22 am

Fic: Penrose Stairs (Inception-SPN), Sam/Arthur, Arthur/Eames, NC-17) 3/3

Title: Penrose Stairs (3/3)
Authors: [personal profile] moragmacpherson  [personal profile] dragonspell.[personal profile] callowyn
Betas: [personal profile] callowyn, [personal profile] sistabro
Fandoms: Inception-Supernatural crossover fusion-AU; let's just call it Superception
Rating: NC-17
Final Word Count: 19,541
Pairings: Sam/Arthur, Eames/Arthur
Timeline: Set during "Mystery Spot" (3.11) for Supernatural, pre-movie for Inception.
Disclaimer: None of the characters contained herein belong to me and this work is not intended for any profit or other commercial purposes.
Not Such As I Was
Contents include: Language, graphic sexual situations,canonical character death, angst
Author's Notes: Included at the end.
Summary: The stairs make four 90-degree turns as they ascend or descend yet form a continuous loop, so that a person could climb them forever and never get any higher. This is clearly impossible in three dimensions.

Master Post

Tuesday's Child is Full of Grace

Wednesday's Child if Full of Woe

Thursday's child has far to go
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The entire world was made of pain and someone was laughing at Arthur. Arthur clutched his Glock, ready to raise it as he cracked one eye open. This was a mistake: there was light in the room, and it didn't just stab, it skewered his eyeball. The empty bottle of Cuervo falling out of his left hand and onto the floor probably explained that. But Arthur couldn't be in this much pain if he were still drunk, so he still lacked an explanation for the bearded redneck seizing his wrist and taking his gun away. "Don't point that piece of Tupperware at me, boy, there are young'ns about." Arthur had seen this man before and heard that voice before—but somehow not at the same time. Nothing in the world made sense any more.

The old guy shook his head and sat down on Mal's divan, taking a drink from a flask he pulled out from his vest. "So you're Sam's 'friend', huh? Believe it or not, it's actually reassuring to meet you, poor arrogant bastard."

Sam. Sam had left. Again. Arthur hadn't been able to stand the emptiness of his own house so he'd gone to the Cobb's. Then there had been drinking, and more drinking, and... "Bobby?"

"Mr. Singer was already on his way to California when you called him last night, Arthur," said Mal as she walked in, carrying a tea tray and looking like an angel of mercy in yoga clothes. "Still, I did not expect him to arrive quite so soon."

She set down the tray and handed Bobby a cup of coffee to which he replied with lowered eyes and an even lower "Thank you, ma'am."

Then she stepped over in front of Arthur and dropped a white tablet in his hand. "This first," she said, and he took it without question. It was an Altoid, not an aspirin, but considering his mouth's current ashtray flavor, he gave her an appreciative groan as he continued his struggle to get into any kind of upright position. Once he finally reached a stable incline, Mal offered him a glass of water and two more tablets, these ones almost certainly aspirin. Arthur swallowed it all gratefully while she laid the cool backs of her fingers against his forehead. "You'll live," Mal told him when he finished. "What's more, we have a guest, so s'il te plaît?" she said, gesturing expectantly.

She seemed to want him to scoot up so that she could share the couch with him, but Arthur was still taking a full stock of his own misery. Leaning further onto his right side to pull himself up on the arm of the couch made something stab into his leg; with a grunt, he lifted his hips so that he could pull his keys out of his pocket and toss them on the coffee table. Mal was still watching him; Arthur occupied himself with pulling his legs out from under himself and trying to present himself as something resembling a human being. Coffee helped.

Bobby made a show of not staring while Arthur tried to snap the cricks out of his neck, studying the bead on Arthur's key chain instead. Once Arthur had settled, he cleared his throat and said, "So, Arthur Mendelsohn or Dortmunder or Denton or Schwartzreich or Hammond, not only are you the world's authority on Project Lavoisier, but you're also the first and only person Sam's gone to for help since Dean died. Any ideas why?"

"You mean, why didn't he go to you first, Agent O'Connor?" rasped Arthur. He took another sip of coffee; Mal must've let him smoke through an entire pack last night. "Can't say for sure. He said it was family business." Arthur coughed and cleared his throat, shaking his head. "It looked more like a psychotic break to me, but Sam's also spent our entire relationship making certain that I don't understand the family business."

Mal scowled at Arthur before flashing Bobby an apologetic smile. "Sam has always been rather guarded about his past with us. As we have long been about his past with others. Regardless of which secrets we keep for him, we do all care about him, very much."

"Caring about Winchesters will be the death of all of us one day, mark my word. It's something of a comfort to know Sam has other people out there." Bobby looked down. "If there's any— Sam won't even return my calls. I had to find out about Dean from the Broward County Coroner's office."

Arthur had a fleeting moment of déjà vu, but he chalked it up to the hangover. "I'm sorry. About Dean. But Sam— as bad as losing Dean is, it's got to be more than that. Last time I saw Sam was in January, after I spoke to you. Day before yesterday he showed up at my house looking at me like it had been years, and not good years either." Arthur finished his coffee and pushed away the craving for one of the cigarettes Mal had likely hidden away already. "So, Bobby, you tell me: what else happened during February?"

Bobby shook his head. "Pittsburgh was the last time I saw the boys too. Dean—" And hell, his voice broke a little when he said it. "Dean called me the Saturday before he got shot. He and Sam, they'd been trying to track down this con-artist who'd stolen something... very valuable from them. The trail had gone cold, so Dean said they were going to check out a possible job down in Florida. He didn't think the case would pan out. Couldn't raise them for a week and a half, then the coroner called me up, tells me that as his listed next of kin, I needed to arrange for the disposal of Dean's remains." Bobby's face pinched; he opened and drank from his flask like he didn't notice he was doing it. "It's like I've lost them both." Bobby stared at the table for a long minute, then shook himself, offering Arthur the flask. "Sam— how was he?"

Arthur ignored Mal's glare and took a sip, savoring the burn of surprisingly well-aged single malt Scotch. Apparently, Bobby Singer had priorities. "Robotic at best," he said. "The couple of times he let himself get anywhere close to emotional, he started acting like a sulky kid until he caught himself. I made him a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and then he bolted the first chance he got."

Mal rubbed Arthur's shoulder. "I didn't get the chance to see him, but with Sam and his issues since childhood... it's always been a fine line between nervous breakdown and psychotic break. We're leaning towards psychotic break this time."

Bobby's lips quirked to the side. "Let me guess: thick slab of government cheese melted on split-top wheat, cut diagonally?"

Arthur blinked. "Yes."

"Can't tell you how many hundreds of times I've seen Dean make Sam that sandwich since they were both little boys." He let out another bitter laugh. "Grief ain't a psychotic break, but Winchesters will try to make it look like one, what with all their dramatic gestures."

Mal pursed her lips together. "Still, I think we can safely say that Sam is pursuing some reckless path of revenge. He... his dramatic gestures, as you say, may progress into deliberate acts of self-harm."

"He’s a Winchester." Bobby shrugged. "No disrespect intended towards your diagnosis, Dr. Cobb. But if we want to find the boy and stop him, I need to know what he's tracking. I may have been able to pick up the trail from Florida to California, but if you hadn't called when you did, I'd be in Palo Alto this morning, not Los Angeles." He picked up the coffee cup again, giving Arthur's keys yet another glance before looking up at him. "Just— what exactly did he ask you to do? Don't matter how little sense you think it makes."

Arthur rolled his eyes and scratched at the stubble on his cheeks. "Sam wanted me to do a highly intrusive global search and data mining project, searching for, quote, 'ironic deaths'." Arthur closed his eyelids so he could massage his still-aching eyes. "Never gave me any real definition of what that meant, and half of the deaths in his files— they were unlikely, but still, the deaths resulted from apparently natural causes."

He heard Mal lean forward on the couch. "Mr. Singer, you know who he's looking for."

Arthur's eyes shot open to see Bobby avoiding eye contact and once again fiddling with Arthur's keys. "Well, ma'am, yes, I expect I do. Trouble is— do you know what this is?" he asked Arthur, pointing at the charm.

"It's from Sam's— I mean, Sam gave it to me back in Pittsburgh. Called it a," and Arthur paused here, pretending he didn't replay every conversation he ever had with Sam over and over in his mind, "— said it was a little piece of his world, to keep me safe from the crazy. Looks like it didn't work." And what did it have to do with anything?

Bobby let out another bitter laugh. "Idiot should've told you they work better if you wear 'em." Then a brief look of horror flashed over Bobby's face; he didn't quite manage to hide it by drinking his coffee. "See, Sam isn't just hunting something, he's also being hunted by a totally different something. And that thing—well, better safe than not," he said, finishing the cup. "Dr. Cobb, could you please call your daughter in for a moment?" Bobby asked, tucking Arthur's Glock behind his back, out of sight.

Mal frowned but nodded and walked to the dining room, where she could see Dom and the kids outside the patio doors, Phillipa blowing bubbles while Dom cradled a smiling but still pale James. "Phillipa? Could you come inside for a moment, s'il te plaît?"

As she followed her daughter back into the living room, Mal continued to eye Bobby suspiciously, but the old coot transformed as soon as the child came into the room. A warm smile appeared on his face and his posture shifted from jaded barfly to beloved children's television host. "Hello again, Miss Phillipa. Tell, me, when's your birthday?"

"Next month!" Phillipa announced proudly. "I'm gonna be..." She paused, trying to remember, and gave her Uncle Arthur a pleading look.

Arthur tried to imitate Bobby and straighten up, managing to say, "Pippa's going to be three years old." Phillipa beamed at him, and okay, life wasn't quite so terrible as he'd been thinking.

Bobby nodded. "Well, I have a very special present for a pretty little girl who's about to turn three. I don't know if I'll be able to come around for your birthday, so is it okay if I give it to you right now?" Phillipa didn't even bother to glance back at her mother for permission before skipping over to Bobby, who had pulled what appeared to be a necklace out of his pocket, dangling it in front of her. "This is a magic wishing charm. Can you turn around and hold your hair up so I can put it on, please?" Pippa turned around to let Bobby tie the leather thong around her neck, and Arthur saw a charm identical to his bead—the same design as Sam's tattoo.

Bobby straightened Phillipa’s shirt, smiling at her. "Now, you just make a wish and always keep this necklace on. If you can keep it on for a whole year, right up until you turn four, then your wish will come true."


"Well, so long as you don't wish for a pet unicorn, princess. Now, you go on with your pa, little one, and look out for your brother."

Pippa's nose wrinkled. "James is too sick and little to play with any good."

"Maybe now, but give him a couple months, I reckon you'll hardly be able to keep up with him."

Phillipa wrinkled her nose. "Sure," she said, heading out the door.

Mal stopped her with a hand. "What do we say to Mr. Singer?"

"Merci, monsieur," Phillipa sighed.

"You're welcome, little one." Bobby's face remained soft as he watched Phillipa go. Then he turned to Mal. "Willing to bet you'd have to wrestle her to get that off her neck now, but all the same, make sure that stays on day and night."

Mal's lips thinned, her eyes narrowing. "Will you explain to me why?"

"The design's the same as Sam's tattoo," said Arthur, brain still firing a half-second slow.

Bobby nodded slowly. "Yes, well, the boys—err, Sam, he needed something a little more durable. I'll make up some for you, Dr. Cobb, and your son and your husband just as soon as I can. But let's all show our cards at the same time, shall we?" He took a drink from a different flask, then handed it to Mal. "Indulge an old man's whimsy and take a sip of that please, ma'am."

Mal did so, then frowned as she swallowed. "It's just water." She stuck out her tongue and reached for her coffee.

"Arthur, if you could take a drink too." Arthur opened his mouth to protest and Bobby cut him off. "It'll do your head some good, especially if I don't have to beat you over the head with it when you try to refuse."

Arthur scowled and tipped the flask back. The water tasted more than a little stale and vaguely salty. "What's this all about?"

"Precautions," said Bobby. "Sam had good reason to try to keep you folks out of this whole mess. What we do... well, this ain't a life he chose, but for whatever reason he always winds up stuck back in the middle of it." Bobby paused briefly and then said, "It’s not his fault, but so far as I'm concerned Sam's lost any right he had to keep secrets from any of us." He looked up at them, his face frank and open. "Thing of it is, if I do tell you, I can't un-tell you, understand?" Bobby's gaze met Arthur's with some additional weight of meaning.

Arthur leaned forward. "Then Sam should've thought of that before he left the reservation."

Bobby nodded grimly and looked at Mal. "And you, ma'am?"

"Even if you hadn't as much told me my own family could be in danger,” she said, “Sam is also family."

Bobby broke into a single, bitter laugh. "Ain't that the truth? Well, now that we're all on about the same level, I'm going to say that I got closer to the truth of Project Lavoisier than most other folks when I gave you a call, Arthur? Tell me, how deep into it was our Sam?"

Mal and Arthur exchanged looks. "He was... involved," said Mal.

"So right in the middle of it." Neither Arthur nor Mal changed their expressions and Bobby sighed. "Like I said, boy's got a talent. Now, if what my research told me was correct— up until I ran up into you." Bobby shook his head at Arthur, but with some admiration in his expression. "Then one or the both of you has access to a device that would, ah, let me illustrate my side of the problem for you in very clear, believable terms?"

Arthur blinked. "You're not wrong."

Bobby slapped his hands against his thighs. "Well, break it out, because it's about damn time someone else knew what keeps me up at nights."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Five months later and the closest Arthur had gotten to Sam was last month, a vampire nest in Austin that Sam cleared out. Arthur was three days too late.

Bobby’d had a good laugh when Arthur had asked him whether the vampire infestation was related to the huge colony of bats in the city. "You've got a lot to learn, kid, but you'll get there." On the other end, Arthur heard Bobby flipping through an address book. "Haven't heard about any other jobs in the area, but there's an arms dealer that John used to be friendly with just outside of Marfa. Sam ought to be running low on ammo by now."

As it turned out, Sam had gone east instead, taking care of a load of ghouls in Louisiana, and had rearmed not through any arms dealer but by breaking into the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant. It took Arthur a week to plant enough false leads to keep those incompetent hacks at the FBI from blundering into Sam first. But even given the delay, and the fact that the whole stunt made it clear that Sam had stopped caring about his personal safety at all—Arthur had to give him points for sheer ballsiness.

And Arthur's trip to Marfa hadn't been a total loss: Vito No-Last-Name-Given had somehow procured an FN-SCAR-L and been willing to part with it for a mere six grand. Arthur had been wanting to try one out for ages. Not only was it an improvement on the M-16, but it also shot silver bullets with nearly the same accuracy and penetration as a NATO round.

Now Arthur was driving somewhere in Tennessee and losing ground. Arthur's phone chirped and he pulled it out of the center console. Mal texted, Blue coyote in AZ was rabid not Loki. no sign of Sam. Mal and Dom had meant to spend the summer investigating the potential risks and opportunities of building dreams within dreams, but instead Mal and Arthur had been criss-crossing the country looking for Sam while Dom watched the kids. Arthur shook his head: that coyote had sounded like a good lead, especially after that one anti-immigration sheriff had been mistaken for a border crosser by his own Minutemen and shot dead. They'd even had Bobby pass it along to Sam's voice mail, running the risk that he would see it as the trap it was — though Sam wouldn’t know that Mal and Arthur were working with Bobby.

The phone chirped again, softer this time. Eames. That made ten already this week. Arthur had been forced to put a password on his voicemail for people to leave messages, after both Mal and Bobby had been bounced out because his box was full of messages from Eames. But for once, just because the phone was already open, Arthur looked without deleting. i know youre alive. found you on CCTV at the atm last week + nobody else is that surly arthur I can help.

Arthur stared at the screen far longer than was legal or safe while driving. He could always—

No. If Arthur was considering calling Eames back, it meant his exhaustion had hit the level when he needed pull over for the night. Arthur finally understood Sam's low standards when it came to sanitary conditions in American hotels, but he was coming up on a decent-sized town called Clarksville and he could probably find a respectable chain, at least. All Arthur needed was a place to shower, sleep, and leave again in eight hours.

Those eight hours were cut down to five when the room phone rang at seven that morning. Arthur was already snarling by the time he had the receiver against his ear. "I didn't ask for a wake-up call.”

"I know Lavoisier didn’t pick you for your morning-after cuddles, but my goodness, someone is cranky," came an unfamiliar male voice. It might as well have been a bucket of ice-water.

"Sam Winchester is a hard man to find, isn’t he, Arthur?” the voice said. Arthur sat up. “Oh, but I don’t want to be rude—would you prefer I call you Sergeant Lan—"

"Who the fuck are you?" Arthur shouted, cutting him off. He jumped out of bed and started searching the room for bugs. This man knew Arthur's room number. He knew Sam's full name, and the codename Arthur had been protecting for seven years—more than that, he knew Arthur's real name. Arthur hadn’t heard his own name from anyone except his mother in years. No one in the world knew all four of those things. Whoever this guy was—government, dreamshare, hunter— this was someone to be reckoned with.

“Relax, hotshot,” said the voice. "Your secrets are safe with me.”

“Forgive me if I’m not inclined to believe you,” Arthur snapped. “Now what the hell do you want?”

“I've always liked you, Arthur, and you're very good at your job. So sit down and get a piece of paper."

Arthur grabbed the complimentary pad of paper beside his bed. "Why?"

"Because I'm going to tell you exactly when and where you're going to find Sam Winchester."

Arthur gripped the pen tighter. "You some kind of psychic?" After Pamela Barnes had hit a dead end, Arthur had mostly given up on psychics—she’d grabbed Arthur's ass and been horribly disappointed to find out his sexual preferences, though at least they'd been able to bond over mutual love of the Ramones. But Sam was good. Not even Bela Talbot, when Arthur'd tracked her down (the antique Colt now safely ensconced in one of Arthur's private safehouses), had been able to locate him.

The smug asshole on the other side started laughing again. "Oh, Arthur, you're even more adorable when you first wake up." His voice turned less playful. "If you’d had your morning coffee, you’d know exactly who I am."

Arthur wished he had that coffee to swallow around. "The Trickster."

"There's the best point man in the business," he said, and it sounded he was praising a small child. Did he really think Arthur would appreciate the condescension, or was he antagonizing Arthur on purpose? If finding Sam was playing into the Trickster’s game, maybe Arthur should stay out of it, wait for another chance.

"Sam's finally tracked me down,” the Trickster said. “Now, before you start getting your panties in a knot, you should know: I'm not going to hurt him. I'm trying to help him." And now he sounded like an exasperated parent. "I'm on your side, kiddo. Which is why you need to get your scrawny butt down to the Broward County Mystery Spot at exactly 9:15 pm tonight." He gave Arthur the exact address, exit number, and street directions for when Arthur got off the highway. Then he added, "Don't take too long in the shower, and eat one of those gas station hotdogs for lunch. You should make it right on time."

If not now, when? Arthur had been missing Sam on every job he worked for months. This might be the best chance he’d get at making Sam see sense, even if the Trickster’s intentions did end up being more malicious than he claimed. Arthur wished again for a stake that would get the job done and checked his watch. "That’s cutting it pretty close, considering I hit Atlanta at rush hour."

The Trickster laughed. "Today, Arthur, you don't have to worry about luck." He could hear the smirk on the other end of the line. "See you tonight."


The Trickster proved to be a demi-god of his word, at least as far as directions were concerned. Arthur parked next to Sam’s ridiculous car in the Mystery Spot parking lot at 9:12 pm. He paused for a moment, resting his head against the top of the steering wheel. Then he sat up, shrugged the wrinkles out of his jacket, and checked to make sure his Glock had a full magazine. It wouldn’t do much good against the Trickster, if the lore was to be believed. Then again he had led him to directly to Sam so maybe Arthur could give him the benefit of the doubt. Arthur considered it for a moment then chambered a round before pointing it at the ground and slipping through the unlocked back door, as per the Trickster's instructions.

The Mystery Spot was shoddy showmanship and cheap superstitious pandering combined into one tacky oversaturated hellhole. From the day-glo hallway, Arthur could hear voices from deep inside, but it was difficult to track the source with all the narrow halls and thin walls. It didn't help that a couple of the props — the tables on the ceiling, the clocks running backward — reminded him too much of dreamshare before Sam came along, when the rules of physics really didn’t have meaning. Some of the things that Arthur had seen in peoples' heads... the old soft places didn't always come with a warning, but the moment a dream started to resemble a Salvador Dali painting, you knew one was near. Better to shoot out than risk Limbo.

Arthur paused and pulled out his totem. He'd rolled it plenty of times today, but just seeing the pips and reassuring himself of its proper imbalance was enough for now. He let out a soft sigh, tucked his totem away, and moved his finger back on the trigger guard before continuing onwards.

Finally he came to a corner where the murmurs became coherent. He could hear Sam sniffling, but nothing sounded immediately threatening—the voice from the phone, the Trickster, actually sounded like he was considering giving in to the puppy dog eyes, just like the rest of the world. "... don't know. Even if I could—"

Sam jumped on the words desperately. "You can!" he said, and Arthur could hear the quaver in his voice.

The Trickster shot back with a "True," that sounded as firm and confident as Cobb. The tone shifted again after a brief pause, to that consoling, patient voice he'd used on the phone. "But that don't mean I should."

Sam replied with nothing but hitched breaths. Arthur tested the boards ahead of him and dared to creep forward to get a better view, using a few random seahorse sculptures to keep himself concealed. The new position revealed a sight far more disturbing and unnatural than any of the lame props.

The Sam Winchester Arthur knew charmed his way through situations. He was always ready with a quick retort, or a distraction so subtle that you didn’t realize he hadn’t answered your question until halfway through the next conversation. He cajoled, he used those damn eyes, he nagged, and if necessary, he wasn't above resorting to threats. Sam Winchester did not beg. But there he stood, shoulders and jaw quivering as his throat worked to keep the sobs down, staring down at a... short guy wearing a shirt straight out of Eames' wardrobe.

"Sam, there's a lesson here that I've been trying to drill into that freakish Cro-Magnon skull of yours," said the Trickster. Arthur's brief disappointment at the demi-god's unimpressive appearance fell away when Sam didn't try to contradict the comment — or complain about the insult.

"Lesson? What lesson?" asked Sam, sounding lost and confused. His shoulders kept shaking, his neck flexing, and Arthur was a split second from revealing himself to protect his Sam from this inhuman bastard, but the Trickster's reply stopped him in his tracks..

"This obsession to save Dean? The way you two keep sacrificing yourselves for each other?” For the first time there was no hint of a smile in the Trickster’s manner. “Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood. And pain."

Arthur drew back a little, unsure. He’d pick Sam over any god that stood in his way, but the Trickster wasn’t entirely wrong. Wasn’t Sam’s inability to leave Dean the whole reason he was in this mess?

"Dean's your weakness,” the Trickster said, and Arthur couldn’t bring himself to disagree. “The bad guys know it too. It's gonna be the death of you, Sam.”

And that—that sounded entirely too much like a god stating a fact. How much did this Trickster god know? There had to be a way to stop it, whatever was coming for Sam. Maybe, if Sam could just hear the truth in the Trickster’s words, that would be enough to shake him free of this path.

"Sometimes you just gotta let people go," the Trickster finished, turning away, and Arthur allowed himself the hope that that would be the end of it.

But Sam stood his ground: one last, senseless plea. "He's my brother."

The Trickster tossed the stake into his other hand and caught Arthur's eye just as he said, "Yup." He flashed Arthur a small smile before turning back to Sam. "And like it or not, this is what life's gonna be like without him."

"Please—" Sam began, on the verge of tears, but the Trickster held up a hand.

"There's more to life than brothers, Sam. Turn around.”

Arthur took a short step into the light, and Sam’s overbright eyes found his.

The Trickster beckoned Arthur. "Don't get all stabby again, Sam, because this is the genuine article.” Arthur stepped forward, and Sam stared, eyes wide and lower lip trembling. He looked almost like he might bolt for the closest exit, and Arthur's greeting froze in his throat. He couldn't stand this, couldn't stand the idea that Sam's first instinct was to run from him now.

"And why should I believe that?” Sam turned away from Arthur. “Ten minutes ago you were Bobby. Six months ago you sold radio ads. You’re trying to distract me, okay, and I can't —"

“I’m not a projection,” Arthur broke in. “This asshole woke me up at the crack of dawn and made me drive all the way down here but I only came because I wasn’t sure how else to find you.” Couldn’t Sam tell the difference between an illusion and the real Arthur?

“Arthur's been tracking you for five months,” the Trickster said, and Sam looked from one to the other, frowning. The Trickster sauntered closer. “The kind of thing you’d notice if you didn’t have your revenge blinders on, Sammy.”

“Don’t call me that,” Sam said, looking so lost and afraid that Arthur moved toward him instinctively.


“Arthur?” Sam’s eyes skittered around Arthur’s face.

Arthur tried a smile. “Bobby kind of...told us what you do. Mal and I. And he gave all the Cobbs those little beads like the one I have so they’re safe, more or less. We’ve been trying to find you, Sam.” Sam looked back to the Trickster, and Arthur added quickly, “Check your totem. It’s me, I promise.”

“He came for you, Sam,” said the Trickster. “All by himself. He always would’ve followed you if you asked. If I didn’t know the word gave you crazy kids hives, I’d call it love.”

Very deliberately not thinking about that last bit, Arthur pivoted to face the Trickster, raised his Glock, and put two bullets in the chest and one in the forehead. The body slumped and disappeared before it hit the floor.

Sam coughed. "Mozambique drill’s not gonna work on a Trickster."

"Bobby said as much," said Arthur, shrugging and holstering the gun. He turned back to look at Sam and smiled. "But you know how I hate people who wake me up."

Sam laughed weakly, not quite able to meet Arthur's gaze. "He'll be back soon. He's not — he's never done." He swallowed roughly.

“So how were you planning to stop him?” Arthur asked.

"He killed Dean," Sam said, his voice eerily quiet and even. "Over...and over again. And he thought it was fun." Sam’s voice cracked as he finally looked Arthur in the eye. "And now it's been six months and he won't give him back."

“It’s gonna be okay, Sam,” Arthur said, and split-second later he had to brace himself as Sam's full weight leaned into his chest and Sam's knees buckled.

Arthur was strong, but even he couldn't keep all of Sam Winchester standing alone. He managed to drop them both to their knees without letting go, rubbing circles on Sam's back and moving his fingers through the curls at the nape of Sam's neck. Sam was trying to say something, face buried in Arthur’s collar, but Arthur couldn’t understand him between the sobs and hiccups. For his own part, there wasn’t anything that words would convey better than the tightening of his grip around Sam’s shoulders.

With a rustling sound, the Trickster reappeared. He didn’t say anything, just pulled a chair off the ceiling and settled in to stare at them with a look on his face that Arthur couldn't quite place: something between triumph and envy. Arthur glared back, bringing one hand to the back of Sam’s head as though to shield him; Sam’s fingers twisted like claws into the fabric of Arthur's shirt.

After another minute or so, the sobs finally began to subside. Arthur could feel the instant when Sam finished fully processing their conversation. His fingers released Arthur's sides, his spine went stiff, and Arthur let him do it, let Sam pull away. Arthur had had five months to adjust to knowing Sam's secrets; Sam was only now realizing that his carefully-protected façade had been shattered.

"Hi," Arthur said. Sam gave a watery, hysterical laugh, and Arthur resisted the impulse to hug him again. “Look, these past few months—I just want to say that I get it, okay? I understand why you never—I understand a whole lot."

Sam tried to wipe the snot from his nose, but he still looked like he was about to throw up, and Arthur couldn't stand it. Arthur offered Sam his pocket square and tried to phrase his next statement correctly.

"The whole time I've just—“ Arthur had to take a deep breath and lean back again, watching Sam clean himself up a bit. "I just wanted to know if you meant it."

Sam pushed his hair out of his face, still sniffling. "If I meant what?" he asked, his eyebrows knitted together.

And so what if he didn't remember the note Arthur still kept in his glovebox? He’d still written it. Arthur could quote it back for him if he liked—eight words weren’t hard to memorize. Arthur glared at the Trickster again, but the Trickster seemed deeply involved in consuming a lollipop and wasn’t looking at them. That would have to be close enough to privacy. Arthur squeezed his eyes shut and pushed the words out. “When you said you—wanted to stay."

Arthur hadn’t thought it possible for Sam to look more miserable. “Arthur,” he began.

"I can deal with this, Sam,” Arthur said, and his voice was steady, calm. “I’ve been dealing with this for the last five months." He smiled a little. "Learned how to bless my own holy water and everything. Mom's gonna have a fit if she ever finds the crucifix."

Even spooked and anguished, Sam had to laugh at jokes about Arthur's mom. That let Arthur say the last bit, the part he'd been rehearsing in his head over and over for five months. “So can you please just come back?”

Sam flinched, but the time for hiding was over. Arthur continued, “You always said if things had been different that we could’ve worked something out, and things are different now. Right? I found out and I’m okay. It’s okay, Sam.” Sam still wasn’t looking at him. “I want you to come back,” Arthur said, and it was probably the most difficult sentence that had ever come out of his mouth. “Or I'll go with you. I don't care. I just want you. I want you to stay with me. ”

Silence, save for sniffles.

And Sam was still looking at the floor, and Arthur looked down too, because he needed to know if the ground was dropping out from underneath him or if it just felt that way. Then Sam whispered, "I did—I do want to."

“Then what’s the problem?” Both Sam and Arthur twisted around to look at the Trickster, who'd stood up and come closer without either of them realizing. Arthur suppressed the urge to shoot him again. Sam scrambled to his feet, and Arthur followed suit.

"You can have this, Sam,” the Trickster said, pointing at Arthur. "This? Is something healthy. This road doesn't lead to the Apocalypse..”

“You shouldn’t have brought him.” Sam’s jaw clenched, and he was back to not looking at Arthur. “He’s not part of this, he shouldn’t even know about it, this isn’t—“ He choked a little, throat closing.

The Trickster looked up at Sam, and he looked…tired. “I swear, it’s like talking to a brick wall.” He sighed, and walked a few steps away before turning back to Sam with a flourish. ”Fine. The way I see it, you’ve got two choices here, Sam. I give you what you want, and it’ll be Wednesday again, this time without the nut job in the parking lot. And you’ll have three more months. And then Dean’s deal will be up. And you’ll have to do all this again.”

“What deal?” Arthur asked, but they ignored him.

“You don’t know that for sure,” Sam said, emphasizing his words through the nasal stuffiness his tears had given him. “We could still find a way to get him out of it.”

"I do know that, Sam. You've watched me tie time in knots like a sailor: you think I can't see the future?" The Trickster jerked his chin at Arthur. “There are other people in the world besides Dean. People who care about you.”

Arthur wanted to be wary of someone who could see that so plainly. This asshole had just witnessed Arthur confessing things to Sam that he usually didn’t even let himself think about. But he couldn’t worry about how the Trickster might use this against him when he was so busy watching every unhappy line of Sam’s face.

“He found out your big secret and he’s still here,” said the Trickster. “Go hunting together. Or go back to that dreamsharing business, if it makes you feel better. Hell, I’ll even throw in a bonus—those demons you’ve been after? Lilith, all her henchmen, that Ruby chick? I can keep them off your tail for good.” The Trickster moved toward Sam again, watching the way Sam’s mouth shook. He sighed. “That’s my counteroffer, Sam. Wake up tomorrow as safe as you’ll ever be, with a damn good shot at a long and reasonably happy life.” He moved until Sam made eye contact and said, ”Stop looking for things you’re not gonna find, Sam, and look at what's right in front of you. You have another choice here.”

Sam choked on another sob, but Arthur didn’t move, could barely keep his breathing steady as he waited for Sam to choose.

“I need—” Sam said, nose dripping and tears on his cheeks, “to go back—to Wednesday.”

Wednesday. Dean. And nothing Arthur had done for the past five months would matter.

Arthur had taken bullets that felt better than this, the sick twisting in his gut saying he didn’t choose you. He never chooses you. He never will. Even when Sam left Stanford, Arthur had held onto some hope that he’d come back, if not to dreamshare then at least to their little circle, to him. He’d been hoping that much longer than he wanted to think about. They just worked together, him and Sam, and Arthur was more than ready to follow Sam into his life if Sam wouldn’t come back to his. Sam said he still wanted this, dammit, so why wasn’t he willing to try, why was Arthur never going to be good enough to keep him?

“I’m sorry,” Sam whispered, and for all Arthur’s control he couldn’t stop a tear from rolling down his face.

Winchesters,” the Trickster snarled. “Why can’t you let each other go?

Almost voiceless now, but loud enough to Arthur when he couldn’t let himself breathe without sobbing, Sam said, “He’s my brother.”

"And what am I?"

"Arthur—" Sam began, but the Trickster cut him off.

“You know what? Fine. This all stopped being fun months ago. And maybe you’ll remember this in three months when Arthur’s gone and Dean’s still dead.” The Trickster stalked away to the center of the room, looking somehow taller. Sam gave a shuddering gasp, his face blotchy red again, but didn’t say anything else.

The Trickster paused, though, and looked fully at Arthur for the first time. Arthur reached for his handkerchief, found it still missing, and tried to surreptitiously wipe his eyes on his sleeve.

“If it’s any consolation,” he told Arthur, “you aren’t going to remember any of this. You won’t even be thinking of him, I’ll make sure of it.”

Arthur looked at Sam and tried to imagine ever not thinking about him. “It’s not.”

The Trickster nodded and held up one hand. “I wish he had picked you,” he said, almost to himself.

Arthur thought, so do I.

The Trickster snapped his fingers.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Arthur raised his shoulders and rolled his head around, trying to get the cricks out of his neck. The mark hadn't emerged from his hacienda during this entire eight hour shift, and Eames was late to take over. This particular hole in the wall was actually a hole in the wall, a little niche in the hillside where Arthur could lie and wait outside of any sniper's line of sight and get some idea of the mark's routine. The grass made it softer than Afghanistan, but the bugs made it much itchier.

Finally his phone vibrated in his pocket and Arthur grabbed it, keeping his voice low and reminding himself that no matter what, he couldn't scream at Eames for whatever excuse he was about to give. "Yes?"

"I'm coming to take over, don't shoot," said Stella, hanging up immediately. Arthur frowned—it was definitely Eames' shift, he'd taken over for Stella at noon. Nonetheless, he started packing up, and by the time Stella crept over the ridge, he had the station set up just the way she liked it. "Where's Eames?" he whispered.

Stella shrugged, pushing him out of the way so she could get into position. "Said he'd found an anomaly in the background research, wanted to talk to you about it at the office. Sounded serious. I told him he'd do double shifts tomorrow."

Arthur's eyes narrowed; that was just vague enough that Eames could have something entirely different in mind. Then again, the mark had been behaving oddly— it was also entirely possible that Eames' evil mind had realized some evil illogical possibility that would never occur to Arthur. "Okay. Thanks."

Stella gave him the double pat on the shoulder that was her version of a full-hug. "Don't worry about it, just get out of here. You're noisy."

He crawled off, smiling. Working with Stella made things easy: she and Arthur came from similar backgrounds, even though hers was Belgian Jewish military, and they tended to think very much alike. It made dealing with Eames and Ivan and their mercurial ‘creativity’ much more tolerable. Stella stuck with things that worked, and it was her superior ability to infiltrate that made her an extractor rather than a point woman. He'd never once blown a job with her on lead, unlike other extractors he could think of; Mal's and Dom's experimental jobs tended to be much more exciting, but he kept getting shot during them— and not always in dreamspace.

By the time he’d reached the truck to drive back to the office, Arthur had run through his mental file on the mark and figured it had to be something about the step-daughter. Eames understood psychology and family dynamics far better than Arthur ever could, so there was the possibility that a freshly uncovered secret on that front might make the job much simpler—and require Arthur and Victor to completely redesign the dream.

Really, everything was going fine until his phone rang again and he picked up without looking. "I'm almost there," he said, expecting Eames' usual impatience when he'd had a breakthrough.

Instead, Sam Winchester hummed wordlessly. "Uh, okay. Is this a bad time?"

Arthur kept his eyes on the road. It was eight pm on Valentine's Day and Arthur was on the phone with Sam Winchester, who most likely was a thousand miles away, doing whatever it was that he never wanted to talk about. "There could be worse, but make it quick."

"Okay," said Sam, before taking a long pause. Arthur dodged a trench in the road and gave the phone a look, to see if there was still a connection. "I've just been, you know, thinking about things."

Actually, given the tone of Sam's voice, there would never be a good time for this conversation. But Arthur kept his tone light. "Important things, I hope?"

"Yes," came Sam's immediate reply. "I—Look, you remember Pittsburgh?"

“Uh,” said Arthur.

“Because I guess, seeing you again, that you were willing to show up, uh.” Sam cleared his throat. "I guess I hadn't realized how much I missed you."

Sam paused again; Arthur pulled over into the undergrowth and killed the engine. "Sam, what's going on?" It had already been a long day— Arthur itched in places he didn't want to think about— and Sam's voice sounded too tense, too nervous, too much like the worst was yet to come. And that little spark of... no, Arthur wouldn't let himself think that.

Sam sighed. "Arthur, I love you."


"And I want you to be happy. And it looks like you're— I mean, you were stressed, but you looked good last month." Because this was Sam Winchester, he would never have considered that part of the reason Arthur looked good was because he'd been there to see Sam. But Arthur didn't have anything to say back, because he might not be quite as intuitive at social interactions as Eames but he wasn't a moron.

"You looked happy," said Sam. "And... I want that for you, okay? Just not. Not with me."

Arthur checked his watch again to confirm: Sam had indeed chosen to have this conversation on Valentine's Day. "You do know we're not dating?" he said roughly, cutting off something about how Sam took Arthur for granted—which was damn fucking straight, but Arthur didn't mind, because Arthur never minded doing something for Sam because... because...

"No, we're not," replied Sam, and Arthur could hear just a little hitch in Sam's voice. "But that's... that's good. Because I really do love you, Arthur. I just... I think we should stop pretending that I'll ever be able to make you happy."

Arthur squeezed the bridge of his nose. "May I ask what led to this epiphany?" He wanted to hang up, he did, but this was Sam and he couldn't quite make himself pull the phone away before Sam answered.

"I'm fucking this up,” Sam said, and his exhale came as a rush of static. “What else is new, right?” Arthur frowned, but Sam was still speaking. “I just—needed you to know, I guess. And you— you can always call me if you need help, or if I forget to send James and Phillipa their birthday cards, or if you just need to scream at someone, because I deserve it, I really do."

Arthur straightened his back; he hadn't expected that much of an overcorrection. "Sam, are you okay?" he asked, soft and gentle as he only ever could manage with Sam.

“Yeah.” Sam sniffled again. "Trust me, worrying about me will just make you miserable. I know you'll still—check up on me, and all, and if the FBI ever grabs me I know who's bailing me out. But you should just—find someone better for you, all right?"

"This isn't making me worry about you any less," said Arthur after a moment's pause.

“Nobody’s dying anytime soon,” Sam said, oddly emphatic. “But it's not fair to you to keep doing...this."

Arthur sighed and knuckled his forehead with his free hand. "What about to you?"

"Told you: don't worry about me." Sam's voice had gone uncharacteristically calm—not detached, not resigned, but somehow serene. "And give Mal a hug next time you see her?"

Arthur's eyes went wide. "Sam—"

"I’ll update the Oblivion File if anything goes really wrong,” Sam said. “Until then, I've made my bed and I'm gonna sleep in it." He let out one bitter laugh. "It's just not a bed you really want to join me in."

Fuck, Arthur was tired, and he was especially tired of fighting with Sam. He never won anyway. "Okay. You say so."

"Good," said Sam, sounding relieved; Arthur envied him. "Good. Okay. Go get some sleep or something, okay? And just—thanks."

Arthur started to say, "Goodbye," but the line clicked shut before he could get it out.

About ten minutes later, Arthur pulled into the office courtyard, planning to tell Eames that whatever it was could wait. Yes, it was barely half past nine, but Arthur needed... Arthur needed some rest. Some normal sleep. And possibly a couple of shots of José Cuervo's Extra-Añejo Reserve, which he just happened to have on hand at his hotel room.

But before Arthur could even kill the engine, Eames opened the passenger door and hopped into the truck with him. "Your couch is comfier and you sprang for the beachside room, so we're definitely doing this at your place," Eames said, like that explained anything.

"What?" said Arthur, totally lost. Eames was holding a couple of paper bags that he set in the footwell, their contents an utter mystery.

Eames smiled and turned on a dim flashlight on his keychain, flashing it at Arthur's face. "As expected," he said, turning it off and stuffing it back in his pocket. Arthur kept staring at him blankly and Eames sighed. "Four years I've known you, and as surly as you are generally, you're the most miserable bastard on the planet come Valentine's." Somehow Eames had Arthur's phone in his hand. "Mmm. Ten minutes. Just get a call from the usual suspect?"

Arthur was this close to shooting him in the head, damn the consequences, but then the expression on Eames' face softened. "You don't have to answer, you know. I just figured— don't get that look on your face. If I ever decide I'm set on sweetly romancing you, I'll do a far better job of it than this." Eames winked at him. "But I figured that an Alfred Hitchcock marathon, some mole, and a quart jar of Angel LaGuerta's freshest bathtub rum would be a pretty decent prescription for whatever it is."

Arthur stared at Eames for a second before saying, "The rum's in a glass jar, right?"

"Of course."

"And it's his best stuff?"

"He has a soft spot for me," said Eames, sounding entirely too sure of himself.

"So there's only a forty percent chance we'll wake up blind," said Arthur. Even sealed in a jar, he could scent a hint of LaGuerta's brew already.

Eames grinned. "I've set up a tidy nest egg for us to retire on, just in case," he said. "Come on, the mole's getting cold and I know how much you hate microwaved rice."

Arthur looked at him for just a second more, then let himself smile just a little, and put the car into gear. "It always comes out crunchy and nasty," he grumbled to save face.

Eames chuckled and put his hand over Arthur's on the shifter. "So you've informed me, darling." Then he pulled his hand back, and once again they were just Arthur and Eames: two of the best in the business, there to watch each other's back even when they bickered like schoolchildren; partners because sometimes... sometimes Eames made Arthur laugh when he wanted to die. Arthur slanted Eames one last glance and felt the corners of his mouth turn up.

Sometimes, Eames made Arthur happy.


End Notes: If you made it this far, sorry about the delay -- I had to finish that pesky M.A. and then... well, then this chapter got a little out of hand. I started this story back in December as a complete puff-piece. "Ha ha -- it'd be funny to see Mystery Spot from the point of view of someone stuck in the loop -- and ooh, phone sex!" Maybe 5k, a few bits emotional, but most of it fun and goofy.

Then Cally and Bridget and DS took a look at it and informed me that, "No, the real story starts on Wednesday." And we all chatted and wrote and certain facts about this 'verse I hadn't understood previously revealed themselves. It was a bizarre moment for me, an admiral in the Eames/Arthur armada, who still believes this series will ultimately be "Eames/Arthur, past Sam/Arthur," when I realized that 'oh, fuck: Arthur loves Sam and he is about to... oh they're both going to be so fucked over by this." It's Shakespearean tragedy: even though Gabe ships Sam/Arthur (a fact which may be further elaborated on later, if I ever convince Lass to write it), there was simply never a question of who Sam was going to choose at the Mystery Spot. There's just a bit left to tell in this season three trilogy -- hopefully that story won't manage to double the word count of the entire series. **shakes head**

All of my love and gratitude to the everyone who helped me write and beta and revise when weaknesses that had been in the outline since the earliest days suddenly became glaringly obvious on the last run-through. I love you all dearly, even you Cally, even when you made me write a scene so angsty that I broke out into hives. (If you need it, there's photographic proof.)

Oh - and in case some of you missed it: back in March, I posted the series' timeline to anyone who wants to join in on the fun (oh, right now, what I'd give for some fluffy Sam/Arthur Stanford era fic). There's a couple of spoilers still left in there, but with this story out of the way, I think most of the biggest surprises are finally in the open.

And thanks for making it through to the end, and for your patience, and for reading.