"And Eames Runs"

"I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore"

-—-

The surf licks at his feet and Eames runs.

He gathers driftwood as it comes into shore. He doesn't have to. He can create the pyre easily, if he wants (just has to close his eyes, picture it, and it is) but he likes the semblance of work. Likes pretending that this is what wood does, that it just comes in with waves and dries in his hands. It distracts him, and there's nothing else to do. The world is quiet, save for the birds. The sun never sets or moves and neither do the clouds; it's just Eames. Just Eames, running and running.

There's nothing else to do. So he collects the wood piece by piece and builds a pyre for a body that isn't there.

-—-

"I think it looks brilliant."

Arthur's hands twitched as they gripped the armrests, testing. He looked up and glared at Eames through the mirror. No words, but Eames still smirked, rushing in to defend himself: "What? I'm being honest. You look like Patrick Stewart. You know, in that movie." Maybe not quite as fit, he thought, but it was no use explaining the Picard crush just this second.

Arthur rolled the chair back, slowly, hands shaking but trying to firm up judging by the way his eyebrows furrowed. He turned left and right, the trifold mirror coming back at him to show every angle. He stopped; met eyes with his reflection.

"I look like Christopher Reeve."

"Nah. I never did like Superman."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know."

Arthur's eyes flicked to Eames' reflection, then back to his own, and not for the first time Eames wondered what he saw there, as he sat back with hands settled in his lap. He still looked the same, when he was still. Regal if cold, strong features stone-set and eyes half-drawn. Was it a comfort? Or just a reminder he really wasn't?

"I don't think I need this," Arthur said, eyes not leaving the mirror.

"You keep falling with the crutches."

"That's not what I meant."

I know. But he ignored the topic, moving on to "Are the crutches really any better?"

Arthur didn't answer, and Eames smiled; stepped closer, wrapping an arm around Arthur's neck. He knew that too. Yes, they were.

The crutches, as unwieldy as they were, looked temporary.

-—-

The surf licks at his feet and Eames runs.

He has enough wood now, he thinks, to burn a giant if he so chose. The pile's to his head, and wide enough that he has to crane his head in from the far side to get a complete picture.

He runs anyway. It's not enough. It never seems enough. His legs never tire and the shore spits it up whether he's there to collect it or not. Maybe that's what he's waiting for. Some sort of cue that it's done. It would be nice. But his legs never tire and the sun never sets and so he keeps on running, collecting the wood and piling it up. It's more wall than pyre now but he might as well.

The shoreline goes on forever. There's always more wood to be found.

-—-

"You going to lie in that bed forever?"

Silence. Eames turned to the door, taking the doorknob. It felt like ice in his hand.

"Fine then."

But he held on. Waited. . . waited . . .

Heard, "I'm not using the chair"

Eames relaxed his grip. He turned back, leaning against the door as he crossed his arms. "Well," he said, "I could carry you, darling, but I think you'd only find that worse."

Arthur's face scrunched up so fast, Eames couldn't help it. He had to laugh.

-—-

The surf licks at his feet and Eames runs.

He hears the birds, flying overhead, and while he doesn't recognize the songs, he's hunted a few times as a child and he knows the forms. This one an owl, this one a Jay; there's even a red tail, regal if cold. Eames always liked them best. They fly together and Eames feels a little guilty. In nature, it'd be impossible. But then, this is hardly nature, he reminds himself. He can't blame them for grouping up here. How else can they remember how to fly?

So he runs, cataloguing in his head, and follows them into a cove he doesn't remember. One of Arthur's creations. It must be, he thinks, seeing how very average it is. Torches on the wall light his path but other than that, he sees nothing but cave walls and stalagmites (stalactites? He can't remember and doesn't care, Arthur's not here to annoy anyway) as he slows to a walk.

It's only when he comes out the other side and ends up where he started that he thinks to look down at the footprints that aren't his own.

-—-

The ride back was silent, but Eames didn't try to fill it. By now it was a routine. Every Wednesday, his life went: Wake up. Enjoy hours of Arthur's bantering and nervous shifting. Drive Arthur to Dr. Mack. Drive him back in absolute quiet. Scrape him off the chair that he seemed spread too thin on and know that tomorrow things would be normal again until the next week.

In short: Eames didn't like Wednedays.

He didn't like Mack either. She was soft and presumptuous, marshmallow sticking to your fingers and never letting go. She asked too many questions, smiling and hesitating as she did them like a sweet little doe, and that was just with Eames. Arthur came home after sessions with her as wound up as Eames had ever seen him: pale and quiet and tight, all sharp twitches and turns. They argued. Eames didn't know what about and Arthur never mentioned (that was also part of the routine). It was like going back to the old days, when Arthur slept and Eames ran, from Cobb to Ariadne to Yusuf and finally to Mack. Arthur sat there and thought he betrayed nothing, and Eames saw everything: the red in his cheeks, the shaking in his hands, the hoarseness in his voice.

But Eames never asked, and so Arthur never explained. Until today. Until Eames pulled into the garage and stopped the car and heard:

"I don't want to go there again."

"I know."

"Could I not?"

"Wasn't she your idea in the first place, love? Seems like your fault for being responsible."

Arthur looked away. Leaned his head against the glass. "Why do you call me that?"

"I've always called you that."

"You do it more often now."

Caught at last. Eames pulled the key out of the ignition and smiled. He stretched over, whispered in Arthur's ear, "It was your subconscious that gave me the tip, darling."

Arthur shifted against his breath, and though he couldn't see Eames could imagine his eyebrows twisting in frustration. "You can't really use dream invasion as a pick up line," he said. But there was no hostility behind the words, just slow strained notes of exhaustion, and Eames pressed on with kisses in a line down his neck, saying:

"Come on, it's a classic. 'Get out of my dreams and into my car'?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

One last kiss, right at his nape. "You always did lack taste, Arthur."

"I don't want to go again."

Eames drew back and Arthur's eyes moved with him, almost apologizing for the sudden break of the atmosphere. But he didn't say more and Eames cleared his throat and just said again:

"I know."

"I mean it, Eames. I mean more than that. I'm deciding this. I don't want to go again and I'm not going to. And don't say 'I know', okay?"

"Okay."

"Because you always say that. And you don't."

I know.

-—-

The sand sinks in between his toes. Fills his nails and scratches his skin. He slips, falls on fragments of a shell and scrapes his knees.

But Eames runs. He runs until the footsteps are his own again and no one else's, can't belong to anyone else. He runs until it's safe to look again. He doesn't want to see. Doesn't need to see, and isn't meant to. Arthur could have shown him this, if he wanted. Could've invited him, could've told him, could've done many things but he didn't. Just because Eames stumbles on it by accident, just because Arthur can't complain—it doesn't mean he's entitled to it. He shouldn't look.

Or so he tries to tell himself.

It's easy to be the hero in your head.

-—-

"He can't just not come."

Mack always sounded a tad different on the phone. Like as long as she didn't have to look at you she could say whatever she wanted however she wanted. Eames liked her better this way.

"I know."

"Mr. Eames. Please. You say that a lot, and I'm not seeing any proof."

Slightly. He liked her slightly better this way.

"I've known Arthur for almost fifteen years," he said, popping up on the counter. From the tub, Arthur mouthed something. Probably the exact number, but Eames couldn't tell, the lip movements cut off by a cough. "Have never been able to convince him of a damn thing," he continues. "You expect me to do it now?"

Arthur raised his eyebrow (I'm not that stubborn), and Eames wriggled his own back at him (Yes, you are, dear, but that's what I love about you), as Mack sighed. There was a pause, and he could see her in his head, trying in vain to scuff up that lovely walnut chair Arthur had bought her. "Just try? He doesn't need to see me every week, if he wants. That was more for his benefit than mine—"

That caught his attention. He glanced at Arthur. Switched ears in time to hear, "—I'm scared that he's not going to come when I do need to see him. And I can't—"

"Define 'for his benefit', would you, doctor?"

Mack stopped. Out of the corner of his eye, Eames caught another flick of the eyebrows from Arthur (What are you even talking about?) and he shifted more towards the door, till the tub was completely out of view.

". . . Well," she said, "it was his idea. Something like dream therapy."

The phone burned hot against his ear as he switched again. He cleared his throat. "Huh."

"But, well, we had a few . . . disagreements. Personally if he's done with it, I can't say I'm disappointed."

"Right. Doctor, you mind if I ring you some other time?"

"What? No. You always say that and you never do."

"Then far be it from me not to continue a fine tradition." He disconnected. Smacked the phone against countertop as quick as he could. His ears still burned.

"Eames?"

He leapt off the counter. Slipped off his sandals and kicked them behind, as he unbuttoned his shirt.

"Uh, Eames?"

The underwear was the last to go, and he flung it onto the sink as he stepped into the tub, pulling Arthur up by his arms to slide in underneath and ignoring the string of curses that resulted.

"Fuck, you're getting water everywhere! There's barely enough room for me in this thing!"

Eames didn't respond. Just laid Arthur over him and wrapped an arm around his waist. The smell of fresh shampoo, a mix of melon and apple and some herb Eames probably couldn't pronounce, hit him as Arthur slowly settled, his head falling on Eames' shoulder.

"She told you," whispered Arthur.

Eames tightened his grip. "How'd you know?"

"You're trying to distract me. It's a cheap trick, by the way. As usual."

"Life's full of cheap tricks."

"You're full of cheap tricks," Arthur mumbled, and Eames felt himself smirk, just for a second.

"As are you, apparently. But you show me yours and I'll show you mine."

-—-

The surf licks at his feet and Eames runs.

And then, he doesn't.

He kicks at a stone, and it hits the water with a splash, too small to count. He kicks at the pyre instead; feels something in him fall into place and so he grabs a branch and begins to bash. And bash. And bash. The pile falls and splinters and crows roosting at the ends fly off caws that piece his ears.

And Eames bashes, and bashes, until his hands burn and his eyes burn and the pyre that became a wall is gone. There's just driftwood by the shore, drifting back into the sea and out of his hand as he stands, never tired but not awake.

Arthur would say, "It seems a little counterproductive, don't you think?"

Eames doesn't need to hear it to know, but the Arthur gripping him by his wrist says it all the same.

-—-

"The fact I hid it . . . it doesn't mean anything."

"I know."

"You always say that."

I know.

-—-

to be continued .

Many thanks as always to the beautiful and wonderful Audley for betaing like a fiend. The second half is done. Just needs to be edited/rewritten a tad/a lot. It'll be up soon.

The snippet of a poem remains Edgar Allen Poe's "A Dream Within a Dream".