Title: Our Last Night On Earth
Pairing/character(s) : Eames/Arthur, Cobb, Ariadne, Yusuf, Philippa, James, Mal and Saito
Word count: ~10,100
Disclaimer: I had this dream where I owned Inception. Then, I woke up.
Summary: In which Philippa is kidnapped, Arthur feels guilty, Eames pours him some coffee and the team has to do something that might be a little more tricky than inception itself.
Warnings: A bit of sex, mentions of violence against children, lots and lots of coffee and *plot*.
Notes: Supernatural fans may recognize a reference or two.
Thanks to: laria_gwyn (laria_gwyn. livejournal. com) for being an awesome beta. Girl, you rocks! Remaining mistakes are mine.
Our Last Night On Earth
by Dana Norram
Arthur is a mess.
He knows he is a mess. Even if his voice and hands are steady, he knows he is a mess and he knows that Eames must have noticed it, too. Arthur knows because there's a long, heavy pause on the other end of the phone after Eames had finally picked the damn thing up, followed by a half-surprised and doubtful "... Arthur?"
"Yeah, it's me," Arthur says. "Where are you?"
There are two things people should know about Arthur. One: he never calls. He manages to show up in person. Two: he always knows where people are. People who matter, of course.
Eames is one of those people. Arthur thinks Eames is complicated, but he knows Eames is the kind of guy who gets the job done. He's the guy Arthur needs right now.
Eames is also the kind of guy who knows when someone is hiding something from him.
"What happened?" Eames replies instead of giving Arthur the answer he asked for. Arthur knows he should thank Eames for pointing out the obvious. Eames won't just give him his current location because lying low is part of his job. "Arthur?" Eames repeats when Arthur stays silent.
"They took her." He finally puts it into words, his voice still steady, though his hands have started to shake a bit. At least Eames can't see his hands right now, he thinks. "Philippa. Cobb's daughter. They took her."
There's more silence on the phone, but it is shorter this time.
"Do you remember the last time we met?" Eames says and Arthur nods, though he knows Eames can't see it.
"Yes." He pauses. "How much time do you need?"
"I assume you're at home, so I'll see you in four. Three, if I get lucky."
Arthur nods again and hangs up. He pockets his mobile, slides a hand through his hair, sighs and picks a line.
There are six people in front of him. One of them holds a child by her hand, a small girl with curly red hair. She doesn't look anything like Philippa, but Arthur can't help but think about her and he wonders if she is as scared as he is.
And he tries to not think about Cobb, who he was barely able to convince to stay at home, with James.
Arthur feels personally responsible for what happened. He wasn't fast enough. He had screwed up. It was his fault. It-
"Sir? Sir?" The lady at the counter raises her voice just a bit.
Arthur blinks, shakes his head and apologizes.
He buys a one-way ticket to Las Vegas.
Eames is already waiting for Arthur as he steps into the bar three hours and thirty-six minutes later.
They had met there two months ago, when Eames was doing a job in the city that never sleeps and Arthur was bored.
Since the inception job, Arthur is always bored.
Arthur tried to get back to his old life after Cobb retired, but it didn't take him too long to realize he couldn't. He was addicted to the thrill, to the sort of emotion he couldn't ever get playing by the rules.
Then he called Ariadne and spent three months in Paris, helping her to militarize her subconscious.
"Just in case," Arthur had said to her then.
Arthur left to accept a job because Saito needed a professional who could dissect someone's life like a guinea pig in biology class.
And Arthur and Eames met up here and there along the way. The first time, Arthur swears, was a coincidence. The second time, he admits he had tracked Eames down. Because even if Arthur thinks Eames is one of the most annoying persons he knows, Arthur still respects him as a professional and he appreciates his opinions and his contacts.
Eames is also, as Arthur eventually found out, the only person who can hold his liquor like Arthur can.
And one and a half years after the inception job, while busy with traveling, working and drinking, Arthur got a call from Cobb and Cobb invited him to come to James' birthday party.
"I didn't want to go, but-" Arthur shrugs, then gestures at his sixth beer. "He's my godson, you know. And I hadn't seen him since his mother's funeral."
Eames nods behind his glass of whisky, but stays silent.
"So I went with Philippa to buy his gift. She's a smart one. We were heading back to Cobb's when they-" Arthur tries to put his beer bottle back on the coaster, but misses it by a whole inch. "There were four of them and I didn't have my gun and I tried, I-" Arthur covers his face with a hand.
He only realizes he's done it for too long when he feels Eames' fingertips touching his elbow.
"It's okay," Eames assures him and Arthur knows it is a lie, but he looks up anyway.
"No, it's not." Arthur pulls a face. "What they want-" he shakes his head. "It can't be done."
Eames waves to the bartender to refill his glass. He never turns his eyes from Arthur.
"It isn't a matter of money, then."
"No," agrees Arthur. "They want a job."
"Inception?" Eames plays with the drink in his hand, the click of the ice cubes mingling with the noise of the background.
"No," says Arthur. "They- he. It's he, actually. He wants an extraction."
Eames puts his glass down. "So what's the-?"
"From a coma patient."
And of course Arthur isn't good at reading people like Eames can, but somehow he knows what's going on inside his head. He watches as Eames' face darkens, as if Eames finally understands the dimensions of the problem. Arthur knows it because he feels the same.
"His name is Albert Forquin. He lost his wife and oldest daughter in a car crash awhile ago," continues Arthur. "The only family he has left is the youngest who's been in a coma since she was five. She's fourteen, now. He's been trying to wake her up since she got sick, of course, but now he-"
"Now he thinks he doesn't have a choice." Eames smiles sympathetically at him.
"Yes." Arthur blinks. "He eventually learned about dream-sharing and convinced himself that his daughter is in a coma because there's something blocking her subconscious, keeping her from getting back in touch with reality, as if she's trapped in-" Arthur's trails off.
"Limbo?" suggests Eames.
Arthur nods. "Inception made us famous in the business, you know that. He tracked Cobb down instead of the rest of us because Cobb is Cobb, of course, but also because Cobb has kids. I think he thought Cobb would understand."
"So this guy tried to talk to Cobb before he attacked?" Eames asks with a raised eyebrow, his glass completely forgotten.
"Not exactly." Arthur shakes his head again. "He sent Cobb an email presenting himself as an academic, someone claiming to study the side effects of dream-sharing. He's a doctor, this guy, you see, so he had a solid background. He asked Cobb about the scenario. Hypothetically, he said. Cobb explained to him that hypothetically, yes, that could be done. But that the odds of getting it right with someone who had never dream-shared before were ridiculously small and Cobb himself wouldn't dare such thing."
"I imagine Mr. Forquin didn't take that so gracefully." Eames grins darkly. "Cobb never thought he and his kids could be in danger?"
"Not really, there weren't any threats. The guy just thanked Cobb for his time and never got in touch again, not till-"
"He was asking for his ransom."
"Yeah," manages Arthur. "I wanted to go to the police, but Cobb wouldn't let me. Forquin said that if he so much as heard a siren, Philippa would be dead. I never saw Cobb so scared. Not even when he called me after Mal jumped."
Eames nods in agreement, but he stays silent. Arthur notices as Eames starts to drum his fingertips over the counter very close to Arthur's hand, so Arthur reaches for his bottle of beer. He doesn't sip from it, though. Arthur just waits.
Because he didn't call Eames so they could drink to his misery. He actually has this hope that Eames somehow will have a magic solution hidden inside the sleeve of his hideous paisley-green shirt.
He watches as Eames picks up his whisky again and drinks from it for awhile. Eames bites his lower lip, eyes somewhere above Arthur's head. The minutes pass and Arthur feels his heart starting to pound faster inside his chest, his pulse racing, but he doesn't say a thing. Eames finally finishes his drink and smirks at him, though it doesn't reach his eyes.
Still, his next words undo the knot inside Arthur's stomach.
"Come on, darling. We have a job to do."
"You haven't exactly done this before."
They're back at the airport. Arthur's wearing the same clothes he wore on the journey from Los Angeles. He can almost feel the desert dust on his lapels, but he didn't bother to stop at a hotel on their way here. Eames had said they should go to Rio de Janeiro, so Arthur doesn't see any reason to waste daylight.
"Of course I haven't." Eames shrugs. Arthur had just called Cobb to give him an update and he had just started this conversation so he could try to forget Cobb's tone of voice, something between powerless and despair. "But I know people who have," Eames adds.
"Are they in Brazil?" wonders Arthur.
"No, they're dead." Eames' face turns into a grimace. "Yusuf is in Brazil."
"Please don't tell me they died on the job."
Eames actually smiles this time, but Arthur knows it isn't a good smile.
"No," Eames snorts. "They died because they didn't have any relatives to keep paying for their medical bills after their insurance ran out. The doctors didn't have any choice but to pull the plug. That's what killed them."
"So they lost their minds."
"Seems so." Eames glances at him. "They didn't have a successful inception on their resumes, though. Or the best point man the whole bloody underworld could buy, mind you." He winks and Arthur knows how screwed up he is when he finds that a bit endearing and not just mostly annoying.
"I'm not the best," he states, looking down at the airplane ticket in his hands. Arthur thinks he is glad that they're steady as steel.
This is when Eames chuckles. But when Arthur looks up at his face, Eames' eyes are soft.
"You should try to forgive yourself, love," he says. "You did your best on the Fischer job."
Arthur knows Eames is just trying to cheer him up, but the truth is that Eames' words make him feel even worse.
"That's the problem," Arthur points out. "My best doesn't seem to be good enough."
Eames sighs as if his patience is starting to wear out. But his voice sounds the same as always when he speaks up again, a tone between half-amused and half-serious. Arthur feels his chest warm up a little.
"We got the job done, didn't we?"
Arthur doesn't know what to say, so he just shrugs and follows Eames through the gate.
"Tell me again why we didn't just call Yusuf to meet us." Arthur manually rolls the window of the cab down.
Of all the four seasons in the whole year, of course he had to choose to visit Rio in the middle of the freaking summer. And of course they had to pick the only cab without an air conditioner in the whole fleet of yellow cars lined up outside the Galeão.
"Do you have Yusuf's number?" Eames asks politely, with a smirk.
Arthur groans in frustration.
"That's a rhetorical question, I hope," he says, a bit glad that at least the driver is starting to speed up, the wind rushing against his face.
"My people in Mombasa told me that Yusuf said he was done with the dream business." Eames shrugs a few minutes later.
"Did you believe that?"
"Of course I didn't."
Arthur feels the side of Eames' body being pressed against his so Eames can catch some of the fresh air. Why Eames doesn't roll down his own goddamn window, Arthur doesn't know and when he opens his mouth to say something about it, he only manages a choked sound that Eames doesn't seem to notice, so he tries to ignore the warmth of Eames' body until Eames speaks up again.
"Yusuf is probably just done doing business with people like us." He pauses. "We could have died there, you see."
Arthur gazes at Eames from the corner of his eyes.
"But we didn't."
Eames laughs. "Oh, that's the spirit."
They fall into silence for awhile. The cab is caught in rush hour traffic and the heat increases considerably. Arthur undoes the knot of his tie and two buttons of his shirt.
"You might want to lose the waistcoat, too, darling." Eames shifts and puts a space between their bodies. Arthur breathes a sigh of relief. "It's only going to get worse."
Arthur ignores Eames. But just like a bad joke, a few minutes later, the heat gets impossibly worse and he takes his tie and waistcoat off, leaving three of his shirt buttons undone.
To his credit, Eames doesn't laugh.
"Aren't you hot?" Arthur asks then and only as he sees Eames' huge grin does he realize what he has just said. "I mean. You're not even sweating."
"I stay a lot in Mombasa, you see." Eames shrugs. "That's why Yusuf chose to live here, I assume. It's like home. With a beach."
"Don't you have beaches back in Kenya?"
"We do." Eames smiles a little smile. "But nothing likes Ipanema."
Yusuf doesn't look happy to see them.
He doesn't try to run or call the police, so Arthur thinks they may have a shot in there. They sit at Yusuf's table and Eames takes the lead. He recounts the whole story and Arthur feels like kissing him in gratitude, because he doesn't think he would be able to go through that again.
Yusuf tosses Arthur a sympathetic look when Eames finishes talking. He sighs deeply.
"Fine," he says after a whole minute. "I'll help. But I'm not going in this time."
And Arthur feels like kissing Yusuf too, but he just lets out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and finally allows himself to take a sip of the beer Yusuf had offered them earlier. It's lukewarm and Arthur almost spits it out, but he holds it in at the last second.
Eames trades glasses with him without a word. Yusuf gestures to a woman sitting in the kitchen a few meters away who's busy talking with two adolescent girls. All of them shoot glances towards Eames, who seems oblivious.
"I'll have Maria here set up a room for you two," says Yusuf. "And you, Arthur, look like hell. How much time since you last slept?"
Arthur frowns. He has been walking in circles, trying to think, taking planes and making phone calls for what feels like years, but he doesn't know how to answer Yusuf so he drinks from Eames' glass and relaxes as he feels the fresh coolness of the beer sliding down his throat.
"I'm fine," he says. "I- I need to call Cobb."
Arthur slips a hand inside his pocket, but he finds it empty.
Eames raises his hand, Arthur's mobile safe between his fingers.
"I'll call Cobb," he explains. "You, on the other hand, will get some sleep."
Arthur only realizes how tired he is when he finds himself agreeing without a fight to follow Maria upstairs.
Arthur dreams about Philippa, of course.
He sees the kidnapping happen from all different angles. He feels the thugs pressing guns against his forehead, ribs and neck. He watches Philippa shouting and kicking shins and hands with her short legs, all the small details and he doesn't know whether they're real or not.
Mal shows up after. She asks Arthur how he could lose something as important as her baby girl. She isn't yelling the way Arthur once saw her do while she and Cobb were arguing, though. Mal is whispering, as if she feels afraid someone may hear them.
"I'm sorry," Arthur begs and Mal cups his face just like she used to do. This time Arthur feels her fingernails plunging into his cheeks.
"No, you're not." She smiles quietly. "You should know when something bad will happen. It is your job, Arthur. It's your responsibly. You should know."
"I tried, I-" Arthur tries to look away, but Mal's nails keep his face still. "I'm sorry."
"You can do better than that, Arthur."
He wakes up when Mal slashes his throat open.
Arthur sits up on the bed, feeling a cold chill run down his spine and he realizes the air conditioner is turned on.
He pulls back his sheets and blinks in the dark as he notices Eames on the other bed, his back turned to him.
Eames isn't wearing a shirt, his broad shoulders covered in tattoos that Arthur never had the opportunity to pay attention to before. He feels his heartbeat slowing down bit by bit and he lets his mind wander, wondering for the first time why Eames is being so nice to him.
The truth is Arthur doesn't know why he called Eames in the first place. Even if Eames was an obvious choice, since he was in the dream and in the underground business. They had performed a successful inception job and they used to drink together, too, but still. Arthur feels something is off and he blames his current concerns for being unable to figure it out.
For starters, Eames hadn't mentioned money. Not even once. He had flown from wherever he was when Arthur called all the way to Las Vegas, then down to Rio, and Eames hadn't complained a single time.
Actually, Eames had been trying to smooth things for Arthur since they had met, hours, maybe a whole day, ago.
Arthur shakes his head and decides he will be putting himself back together once the next day begins. Because Eames is obviously being a gentleman against his best judgement and Arthur won't allow him to keep this up.
He frowns in the dark and whispers quietly, "Thank you, Mr. Eames."
They are already there once Arthur climbs down the stairs.
All of them.
Ariadne is drinking what looks like orange juice and doodling something on her napkin. Yusuf is talking in Portuguese on the phone, taking notes on a piece of paper. Cobb is pacing in the hall, but his eyes look thoughtful instead of just troubled.
Eames is handing him a plate with slices of white bread covered in butter and a blessing cup of coffee. Arthur's stomach flips at the sight of food and his mouth waters at the smell of coffee.
"Clean it up and I promise I'll tell you everything."
He takes the plate and cup from Eames' hands and sits down without a word.
"You're welcome, darling."
When Eames winks at him, Arthur's stomach flips again.
"I'm surprised you didn't call Saito as well," Arthur says twenty minutes later as Eames pours him a fourth cup of coffee.
"He did," says Ariadne, eyes on her third napkin. "Saito flew me in on one of his private jets all the way from Paris."
"He also said to call if we need anything to get the plan done." Eames smiles.
"So you already have a plan?"
"Yes, we do." Cobb's voice is equal parts broken, anxious and concern. He glares at Arthur. "And you shouldn't have tried to work everything out by yourself, Arthur. You have been asleep for the whole day."
Arthur would have checked his wristwatch, but he remembers he never had the chance to adjust the time zones, so he just accepts Cobb's word.
"Are you telling me that you have slept," he says before he can get hold of himself, but Cobb just smiles quietly at him.
"She's my daughter, Arthur, of course I haven't slept." The cup of coffee in front of Cobb is getting cold and Arthur's inner self whimpers at the thought of such good coffee being wasted like that. "But I'm not the one trading planes more than you change your suits for the last three days."
Ariadne mouths "Three days?" to Eames, who winks at her. Arthur remembers his promise from the previous night and ignores them.
"I see," he says. "So, what's the plan?"
They tell him.
Arthur stares at the four of them in silence for a second or two. Then he laughs. Hard.
"You have got to be kidding me."
Eames trades dark smiles with Cobb and Yusuf. Ariadne watches him with a sympathetic look.
"Remember when you kept telling me that inception couldn't be done?" Cobb asks him.
Arthur doesn't answer. He just nods and reaches for Cobb's cooling coffee.
"Do you know why I never heard you out?"
"Because you said you had done it before?" Arthur slides a hand through his hair. "I don't see what that has to do with the fact that there's no way that guy will agree to open his mind to us."
"Arthur, the point is that I knew all the risks and I did it anyway. I risked your lives because I was desperate." Cobb pauses, as if he feels ashamed, but Arthur knows he doesn't. "So, I know what that guy is thinking. I've been there."
"He doesn't have anything more to lose, love." Eames tilts his head at Arthur. "It's his only shot. He will let us in."
"So," Ariadne finishes with her fourth napkin. "It's a two-step job."
"Yes," says Cobb. "First we'll go into his head. I'll ask him for photographs of his old house and of his family, so I'll be able to suggest his subconscious bring up memories of his wife and older daughter at the time of the accident."
"Then I get to watch and to impersonate them." Eames nods.
"And I can get familiar with his memories to build something his daughter may feel safe in," adds Ariadne.
Arthur blinks. "And what about me?"
"Oh," says Cobb. "You're plan A."
"I thought that was plan A."
"No, that's plan B." Eames smirks. "Cobb's daughter's location should be somewhere inside that man's head and if it is, you're going to find it."
Arthur feels all the eyes at the table on him. He doesn't like it.
"I'm not an extractor," he sighs.
"No, you're not," shrugs Eames. "But you have worked with the master and I bet you know a trick or two. And of course our guy doesn't know that. That way you go in after us and catch him with his pants down."
"And if I fail?" Arthur is talking directly to Eames now.
"Well, if you fail," it is Yusuf who replies. "Eames will have to forge the man's wife and daughter, Ariadne will have to build at least two dream levels and I will have to work in a sedative that can fight the girl's coma medicines."
"You're not going into her head, right?" Arthur asks Cobb.
"It's the only way I could get Eames and Ariadne to agree with the plan," Cobb says and Arthur sees Eames and Ariadne trading looks. "If we can't get the info from him, I won't be going down with you into the girl's head."
"It's too dangerous," Ariadne says as a matter of reinforcement.
"And your boy is already one parent short," adds Eames. He turns to Arthur. "You do agree, don't you, darling?"
"I do." Arthur nods. "Tell me more about plan B."
"Well, it gets a little more tricky." Eames scratches his face. "But if we think about it, it's basically the same thing Cobb and Ariadne did to get Fischer back. We don't really know what's going to happen down there. We know how we get in. We just have to come up with the how we get out."
"Can't we use a kick?" suggests Ariadne.
"Theoretically, yes, but we don't know if the girl is indeed in limbo," Yusuf says and Arthur finally sips at Cobb's untouched coffee. It's already cold, but still tastes good. "She could be anywhere. Maybe she isn't even able to dream at all, we really don't know the extent of her injuries. In case her brain is completely dead, you all could be dragged deep inside her mind like it's a black hole."
"There have been plenty of cases of people waking up after years in a coma just like nothing happened, though," Cobb interrupts. "If there's some minimal activity, she could still dream and if she could dream we can get inside and sort out whatever is keeping her asleep. And," he adds forcefully, "according to her medical files, she has minimal brain activity."
There's a long silence following Cobb's words. Arthur finishes his coffee.
"Well," Eames starts to say. Arthur immediately gazes at him. Maybe it was the number of hours they had spent together for the last day or two, but Arthur finds himself relaxing at the sound of his voice. "If she's able to sleep, let's just hope she hasn't been literally sleeping all this time. Nine years, you said?" He eyes Arthur and Arthur nods back. "Nine years dreaming would be like a bloody century in a dream state. And that's in a first level alone. She would have already died of old age there at least one time. I mean, even if we're able to wake this guy's daughter up, I'm not sure if he'll like what we would be bringing back."
"Wait." Ariadne shakes her head. "You lost me, Eames. Are you saying we shouldn't do this then?"
"What Mr. Eames is trying to say, Ariadne," he grimaces. "Is it's a good thing that you have a militarized subconscious now too. That girl probably will try to tear us all to pieces. We're going to need all the help we can get."
Cobb lets out a heavy sigh.
"Let's put Saito back on the phone."
"That's what five cups of coffee does to a human being."
Arthur looks up to face Eames.
"Even if the human is you, you know," Eames adds with a smirk.
"It was six, actually," Arthur replies. Eames sits by his side on the porch. "And I think I had enough sleep."
Yusuf's house is a two-story building with an open view of the Atlantic. Arthur can't care less about the sea right now, but at least the breeze out there is better than the suffocating heat inside the house or the mechanical coldness of the air conditioner in the bedrooms.
"Where is everybody?" Eames asks him, his voice hoarse from sleep.
Following dinner (pizza and beer), Eames had immediately excused himself to bed. Once he left the room Ariadne, maybe noticing Arthur's frown, told him that Eames had been up since earlier that day, talking to his contacts and working with her and Cobb on the plan. Apparently, he also hadn't let anyone wake Arthur up.
"Cobb took a plane to meet Saito," Arthur says, shoving all the information Ariadne had given him down into his mind. "He's interviewing him about his time in limbo. Besides Cobb, Saito's the only one who has been there for awhile and still managed to get back in one piece. Ariadne went with him. She's been down there, too, after all."
He casts Eames a glance from the corner of his eyes. Eames is wearing nothing but his trousers, his bare, tattooed chest exposed. Arthur swallows and continues.
"And Yusuf said he needed to buy some compounds he couldn't find here, so he packed and went to the airport, too."
Arthur hears Eames laugh quietly.
"I see you're back in the game, knowing where everyone is."
Eames pats him on the shoulder. Arthur stiffens beneath his touch.
Eames frowns. "Are you okay?"
Arthur thinks on it for a minute.
They stay quiet for several minutes. Even at that hour there are still people walking down the beach and Arthur thinks about how it would feel to be one of them, having only their ordinary dreams to step in.
"I can't believe we're doing this," says Eames breaking the silence.
Arthur looks up.
"I can't believe you are doing this," he says before he can stop himself and he knows he should have as Eames glares back at him. "I mean, I thought you would be the first one to do what Yusuf did. I thought you would help, yes, but-"
"What," Eames snorts. "Didn't think I'd risk my neck like that?"
"No, I didn't. I know you respect Cobb, but I didn't think you would do this for him."
Eames stares at Arthur for so long that Arthur ends up looking away from him.
"I'm not doing it for Cobb, you see."
Arthur realizes Eames' voice sounds only half-amused and he opens his mouth to ask what the hell he's trying to say, but Eames is already standing up.
"Why did you call me then, Arthur?"
Eames doesn't stick around to hear his reply, though.
Arthur doesn't complain about it. It isn't like he has an answer anyway.
Arthur isn't surprised that plan A doesn't work. He's more surprised, actually, that it isn't his fault. Even playing the amateur extractor he is able to get the information, all of it, hidden in a safe inside a chest in a children's bedroom, just like a pirate's treasure. He has to shoot down three or four projections on his way there, yes, but he gets it done.
The problem is that the information isn't exactly what they had expected.
Mr. Forquin had let them in, but only after he had sent Philippa away with his men, instructing them to kill her if he didn't pick up his phone for more than three days to let them know he was alive and well. So he didn't know where Philippa was, because he didn't know where the men were.
Cobb sighs and nods as Arthur finishes his report.
"Time for plan B then."
"You've been avoiding me." Eames' voice reaches him as Arthur finishes packing.
Arthur looks up.
"You've been avoiding me."
Eames sits on Arthur's bed, but he doesn't reply.
They're heading back to the States that night. It's been a week and half of preparation. Eames had gone under every day for at least three hours. Cobb helped Arthur with paperwork, the both of them sorting through medical files, police reports and photographs. Yusuf formulated a compound which would work along with the girl's medicine and Ariadne had shown Arthur the final design of the second maze just an hour ago.
Since Eames would be performing forgery in both levels, they decided he would not be the dreamer. Cobb had argued about Ariadne sitting alone in the first level, but the two rounds of practicing inside her head had shown him she could take good care of herself.
And like he's reading Arthur's mind, Eames says, "You taught her well."
Arthur quirks an eyebrow, but doesn't reply. Eames watches him for awhile before he speaks again.
"I'm doing this for you, you see."
Arthur stops in his tracks, dropping his bag on the floor. He stares back at Eames, his mouth hanging open.
"What?" he manages after a few moments.
Eames runs a hand through his hair.
"Do I have to draw this out for you, Arthur?" He sighs. "I'm doing this because you asked me to."
Arthur feels like a thousand butterflies have just started a mutiny inside his stomach. He closes his mouth and then opens it again, trying to come up with something that won't sound as stupid as he feels.
"I didn't ask you to do this," he says but the look on Eames' face immediately tells Arthur he isn't doing a great job of not sounding stupid. "I'm sorry, I don't-"
Arthur stops trying to explain himself when Eames starts to laugh.
"God, you're so adorable when you're dense."
Arthur glares at him. He opens his mouth again, but gives up on saying anything else as he feels Eames hands on his cheek. Arthur's heart races.
Eames tilts his head. "Arthur?"
"I didn't realize."
"Of course you didn't." Eames smiles softly. "I'm subtle and you lack imagination. It's my fault entirely, really."
"Why does that sound just like an insult?"
Eames laughs hard this time. "And even when he tries to use his imagination, he fails at it completely."
"Now I'm sure you insulted me," Arthur says, but he's smiling. He can feel the corner of his mouth twisting against his lips.
Eames' hand is still cupping his face, but he doesn't try to kiss Arthur and Arthur doesn't really know if he would like that, but now that he's thought about it, he starts to wonder.
Arthur can't put it in words, though. At least, not in those kinds of words.
"Eames," he says, feeling Eames' fingers linger against his cheek. "I don't know why I called you."
Arthur watches Eames bite down on his lower lip.
"Don't worry," he says and lets Arthur go. "We'll figure it out."
Arthur sleeps on the plane.
He dreams about Philippa, of course.
They're inside Cobb's SUV, heading back from the toy store and Philippa is telling him all about this boy in her school who likes to poke her when her teacher isn't looking and to pull her hair by the swing at the playground.
She asks Arthur why the boy hates her so much and Arthur smiles quietly at her, saying that no, that the boy doesn't hates her, that he just doesn't know how to express himself.
Philippa mouths something like 'immature' and Arthur laughs.
In this dream, they get to Cobb's house safe.
Eventually, Arthur realizes that Eames is there, too, playing dress up with James, who's wearing a pirate costume.
Eames raises his head when Arthur steps inside the house holding Philippa by the hand. Eames smiles at him and stands up, cupping Arthur's face between both of his hands. Arthur feels Philippa letting go of his fingers and he thinks about trying to reach for her, but he knows he would have to retreat from Eames' touch and he doesn't want to-
Arthur wakes up to a persistent poke against his shoulder.
He blinks at Eames' face too close to his.
"We're about to land, love." Eames winks. "I'd have buckled you up, but I'm afraid you might try to kill me in your sleep."
Arthur snorts and puts on his seatbelt. He feels himself smiling, though.
Maybe it was the dream he just had or the heavy warm pressure of Eames' arm against his, but the truth is that for the first time in days Arthur feels like they actually could pull this off.
"I had a dream," he says before he can stop himself.
Eames looks at him for a moment. "It was a good dream, I hope."
Arthur tries to remember James' laughing voice as he orders Eames to walk the plank and Philippa's happy giggles.
He leans his head against the seat and closes his eyes.
"Yes, it was."
Arthur feels satisfied as he finally finds himself in a hotel room.
There's nothing particularly wrong with Yusuf's house (or in sharing a room with Eames, Arthur also thinks, but he manages to shove down that thought almost immediately). Arthur just likes the impersonal air of hotels in general, the professionalism of the people who work in hotels, how they aren't supposed to ask questions or to care more than they're strictly paid to.
He has just finished checking the PASIV inside his aluminum case when he hears a knock on the door. And he tries to ignore the disappointment that hits him when he sees it is just Cobb in the doorway.
Arthur steps back to let him in.
"Saito just sent me this." Cobb hands Arthur a folder. "Are those the men you saw in Forquin's head?"
After plan A had failed, Saito had called and suggested that Arthur give him the descriptions of the projections he had fought with before breaking into Forquin's safe. It is a long shot, Saito had said then, but he could use his contacts to try to track them down.
Arthur flips the pages between his fingers.
"Yes, it's them," he says and automatically reads the data, frowning. "It doesn't have their current location."
Cobb nods. Arthur knows Cobb is more disappointed than he is.
"Saito is working on that." He pauses. "Arthur, if there was any other way, I-"
Cobb stops as Arthur digs his fingers into his shoulder.
"It's okay," Arthur says. "We're going to be okay."
"You're a terrible liar," Cobb points out with a grimace. "There's... there's something you should know, before you go in tomorrow."
Arthur raises an eyebrow.
"That it wasn't your fault," Cobb says and this time he digs his fingers into Arthur's shoulder. "What happened to Philippa. It wasn't your fault. You can't go down there thinking I blame you."
"I don't think you blame me." Arthur tries to shrugs off Cobb's hand, but Cobb just stays there.
"Okay." Cobb smiles quietly. "But you do blame yourself."
And Arthur doesn't have anything to say, because it is true. He just nods nonchalantly by way of an answer.
"Alright, then," says Cobb, giving Arthur's shoulder a long, firm squeeze that could have turned into a hug. "Sleep well, Arthur."
After Cobb leaves, Arthur glances around his room. He feels strangely alone.
Arthur swears under his breath and goes to find Eames.
"Jesus, you're such a cliché," Arthur lets out as he spots Eames at the bar.
Eames toasts him with his glass. Arthur frowns at the liquid in it. It has lots of ice, a slice of lemon, and looks oddly transparent.
"It isn't whisky," he says, siting on the empty stool beside Eames.
As Arthur gets a bit closer, he can smell it.
Arthur frowns. "Are you drinking water?"
"Cheers." Eames sips at his glass. "Chemist's orders. No alcohol 'till we get the job done.'"
Arthur laughs darkly. "So much for celebrating our last night on earth."
Eames put his glass down and eyes Arthur carefully.
"Do you think it's our last night, then?"
Arthur doesn't really want to think about it.
"I'd rather not think about it," he says and he steals Eames' glass, drinking some of it.
"Speaking of clichés, there's tons of them for last nights, you see." Eames cocks his head with a smirk. "And I can think of lots that don't involve a single drop of alcohol."
Arthur puts his elbow on the counter, supporting his face with a hand.
"Are you trying to seduce me?"
Eames smiles like a cat who just found a canary drowning itself in his milk.
"It depends," he shrugs. "Am I succeeding?"
Arthur reaches forward and presses his lips against Eames' mouth, just a quick peck. He watches as Eames opens his mouth, trying to say something. Arthur never thought he would find someone looking so lost so appealing. He grabs Eames' wrist, feeling his racing pulse beneath his fingertips.
"I guess you'll find out."
Arthur hauls Eames off his stool.
Arthur is a mess.
His hands are shaking as he runs his fingers all over Eames' face, pulling him into another kiss. Eames opens his mouth, pushing his tongue against Arthur's teeth, a hand pressing against the small of Arthur's back. Arthur feels the back of his head hit the door behind them and he lets Eames pin him to it, lets Eames take his lower lip between his teeth and then bite it hard.
Arthur's heart races and he doesn't trust his voice when Eames says "Bed?" so he just nods affirmatively, half-conscious of his tousled hair and feverish cheeks. Arthur kneels on the bed, feeling Eames' fingers digging into his hips, Eames' mouth on his neck, doing things with his tongue Arthur is sure must be illegal in several states.
And he lets him.
Arthur lets Eames yank down the zipper of his trousers, lets Eames' fingers grasp his half-hard cock, stroking him.
"Mmmph," moans Arthur and closes his eyes.
He can feel Eames' breathing against his groin and he knows what he wants, but his words were lost somehow between the time they left the bar and the time they stumbled inside Eames' room.
They only settled for Eames' room because it was closer to the elevator's door, after all.
Arthur grabs a handful of Eames' hair, praying he'll understand and Arthur throws back his head when he feels Eames' lips closing around his cock. He makes a strangled noise from the back of his throat that he isn't sure could be translated as pain or pleasure. His legs are shaking, too, and Arthur tries to lose his trousers at the same time Eames takes him in whole, the air inside the room becoming impossibly hot and Arthur isn't sure he'll be able to keep breathing if Eames doesn't stop, but he doesn't want him to.
"Eames," he manages and Eames lets go of him for a couple of moments, just to help Arthur to get rid of his trousers, boxers, loafers and socks.
And Arthur hisses through his teeth when he feels Eames touch him behind his balls and insert a finger slippery with saliva into his ass.
"Eames-" he repeats breathless, grabbing Eames' hair again.
Eames obliges him, sucking him, fucking him with one finger, then two, scissoring them inside him, before he can add a third.
It all lasts only a couple of minutes, but Arthur feels it like hours.
Maybe he's dreaming, he thinks, and he opens his eyes, blinking at the lights. Arthur thinks of his totem, then, probably tossed somewhere on the floor along with trousers, boxers, loafers and socks.
Arthur is panting and curling his toes over the sheets when Eames finally removes his fingers and stands, casting him an unreadable look before he reaches for his bag over a chair.
And Arthur bites down a groan when Eames, still fully dressed, rips open the foil of the condom packet with his teeth and opens his fly, pulling out his cock, his obvious full-hard cock, rolling the condom on it. Arthur feels his mouth go dry. He tries his best to not collapse on the mattress, tries to ignore his shaking legs and his racing heart.
There's a small tube in Eames' right hand when he kneels back onto the bed, grasping Arthur's hips with his free hand to put him in a better position, pushing his legs further apart. Arthur feels Eames' properly lubed fingers back inside him and he closes his eyes again, digging his hands into Eames' shoulders blades.
He feels only silk underneath his skin and groans out in frustration.
"Easy there, love," Eames mutters against Arthur's cock, the hum of his words sending shivers through his entire body.
Arthur unconsciously tries to shove himself against Eames' hand and Eames, maybe deciding he's done with the teasing, pulls his fingers out of Arthur, forcing Arthur's body down on the bed, so Arthur can straddle onto his lap, taking half of Eames' cock inside him. Arthur rocks his hips, eyes shut, biting his lower lip so he won't cry out.
He feels Eames' hands on his sides, touch light as a feather, stroking his skin to calm him down. Arthur feels it burning when he takes Eames' cock all at once and he grunts against Eames' lips.
Arthur starts to move faster when he feels Eames' cock hitting something inside him that makes his body arch, and he thrusts and shoves himself against Eames, trying to reach that spot again and again and when he does, Arthur grabs Eames' silk shirt between his fingers and tears its buttons open.
"Ohgod," Eames moans when Arthur sucks on the joint where Eames' neck meets his shoulder, Arthur's fingertips tracing all over Eames' tattoos. "God, Arthur-" he repeats, weakly.
They aren't looking at each other when they come.
Arthur's head has fallen backwards, facing the ceiling, the lights bursting behind his eyes like a broken prism. He can feel the unsteady thump of Eames' heartbeat against his ribs, can feel Eames' arms wrapped around his waist, his own cock pressed between their bodies, Eames' cock still pulsing inside him.
He carefully slides himself out of Eames' arms as soon as he notices Eames has fallen asleep, all the small little noises escaping from his parted lips. Arthur gathers his clothes from the floor, puts on his trousers and tiptoes barefoot out of the room without a sound.
When Arthur finds himself alone in his own bed, freshly showered and tucked in his pajama bottoms, he lets out a deep sigh.
Arthur thinks about what it would be like to stay there overnight. What it would be like to wake up in the warmth of Eames' arms.
But in the end, he decides that would be too awkward.
That night, Arthur doesn't dream.
Albert Forquin's wife is a beautiful, nice and smiling dark-haired woman in her late twenties.
At least she was at the time her five-year old princess fell off a staircase, hit her head on the floor and slipped into an irreversible coma.
Arthur had seen multiple photographs of the woman and even had a few glimpses of her when he was busy searching for the safe in Forquin's head, but seeing her now, impersonated by Eames, is an entirely different matter.
She feels alive and she's calling for her little girl.
"Sally? Sally, where are you? It's time to go home."
He gazes around what looks like a kindergarten, the walls covered with children's crayoned drawings.
Arthur doesn't know the details of the first level's layout. Since Ariadne is the dreamer, she didn't bother to show him or Eames much. She had said it would be safer this way and Arthur couldn't help but hear Cobb's voice in her words.
At least they are there.
Cobb was right. The girl – Sally, he repeats to himself, trying to ignore the anxious feeling inside his chest – has minimal brain function and allows the three of them into her dreams.
Yusuf and Cobb stayed up above, in Sally's private room at a clinic in Cleveland, monitoring the PASIV and the four people attached to it. Ariadne made Yusuf promise he would tie Cobb down if he so much as tried to follow them in.
They only had two hours to sort this out. That was the best Yusuf said he could do with the medicine cocktail the girl was taking. Which gave them about twenty-four hours in the first level and something like a week in the second. Arthur hopes they don't have to use all of it, because he can't shake off the feeling that things are going to get ugly once they find the girl.
Arthur is wrong.
Their first sight of Sally is quite ordinary.
She has the exact appearance of the five-year old Arthur had seen in the pictures taken before the accident. Her long dark hair is parted in two ponytails, her yellow dress is covered with red and blue flowers. She's playing on a swing, her feet sweeping off the ground.
Eames smiles at her and she beams up at the illusion of her mom.
Maybe her subconscious knows, somehow, that the illusion is something other than her usual visions, but she doesn't attack them. She calls mommy! and throws herself into Eames' outspread arms.
Eames doesn't flinch, not even one bit. He acts as if holding kids in his arms is something he does every day. Arthur can't help smiling.
"Where did you go, mommy?" she asks and her voice carves a hole in Arthur's heart, because she sounds just like every little girl he has ever met in his life.
She sounds just like Philippa.
"I was caught in traffic, sweet," Eames says as he strokes her hair. "Mommy is sorry she is late."
Sally doesn't question her mom about the other two grown-ups with her. She accepts it when Ariadne pats her on the head and giggles happily when Eames forces Arthur to give her a piggyback ride to the car in the parking lot.
They drive for half an hour, Ariadne at the wheel, Arthur in the passenger seat.
He watches Eames in the rearview mirror, tickling the girl, making her laugh until tears start to form in the corner of her eyes. And when Eames looks up, smiling at him, meeting Arthur's eyes, the face in the mirror is Eames' real face.
Arthur smiles back.
As the hours pass, Arthur almost forgets he is in a dream.
He checks his totem, just to be sure.
Sally has the stamina of most girls her age, increased with a subconscious drowned in heavy drugs, so she just wants to play and to play and to play.
Eames rolls with it. He plays catch and he answers every silly little question that kids ask their parents (why is the sky blue? what is grass made of? can I get a puppy for my birthday?).
By the time the sun finally sets, Arthur is watching them from a safe distance. He sighs and confides in Ariadne.
"I'm not liking this."
Ariadne only nods, but he can see the goosebumps on her forearm.
"I mean," he continues. "It can't be that easy."
"It's not. We still don't know why she won't wake up. We've been down here for hours and the only thing I've figured out so far is that she loves her mom, carrots and playing hide and seek." She shakes her head and then adds as an afterthought, "What kind of kid likes carrots anyway?"
"I did," says Arthur before he can stop himself. He frowns down at Ariadne's laughing face. Well, he thinks, at least it wasn't Eames.
Arthur sighs and glances up at Eames again. "They seem to be having a good time."
"Yes," smiles Ariadne. "It's odd that her sister hasn't shown up to play with them, right? I mean, she isn't much older than Sally."
"Now that you mention it," Arthur pauses. "It is."
He looks around. Sally and Eames are playing on the grass. Sally has prepared them a nice picnic and she is offering Eames a sip of imaginary tea in a plastic pink flowered tea cup. Neither of them are paying attention to Arthur.
"Go call Mrs. Forquin," he says to Ariadne. "Tell her it's past bedtime."
Arthur feels relieved when Eames is Eames again.
Sally doesn't fight as Eames helps her into bed, giving her her warm milk with a minor sedative in it. Once she falls asleep, Arthur looks at Eames already helping Ariadne with the PASIV hidden in Sally's closet.
They didn't have a real opportunity to talk about what they had done in Eames' bedroom. Not that Arthur had any clue what he should say about it, but he feels he should say something, anything, because Arthur is sure this time.
He's sure the next level won't be a walk in the park.
Arthur looks at Eames, sitting on the chair by Sally's bed and opens his mouth, but not a sound comes out.
"See you downstairs, darling," Eames says.
And somehow, Arthur feels they're good.
He nods at Ariadne.
She presses the button.
Sometimes, Arthur really hates being right.
In the second level, all hell breaks loose.
Ariadne had designed Arthur a labyrinth disguised as a park with swings, slides and sandboxes, where Eames will be impersonating Sally's sister so both of them could play together and reach the root of whatever the girl's problem is.
What Arthur sees in front of him, however, couldn't look less like a park.
"Where the hell are we?" Eames asks.
Arthur thinks it's a damn good question.
This has never happened to him before. When he was the dreamer, the dream played by his rules. Now, Arthur discovers himself unable to change a single carpet in this scenario.
They're walking down a hall in a house he has never seen before. He pulls his Glock out of his jacket and narrows his eyes.
"You should change," he says to Eames.
When Eames does as he is told, they're attacked.
Arthur hears the hissing of a kitchen knife flying into the wall right behind them. He ducks, covering the body of Sally's sister – Anna according to the files – with his own, shooting over his head at a projection of Sally's mother, who falls dead.
"You're heavy," says Eames in a high pitched voice, muffled by Arthur's arm.
"Sorry." Arthur gets off of him. "I think we might be in her home. Maybe where the accident happened?"
Eames looks around, as if he is searching for exits. It's really odd to see such a concentrated look on the face of a young girl.
Unlike during the inception job, if they're killed in this dream, they shouldn't fall into limbo, Yusuf had said as he explained that his sedative wasn't strong enough to keep them under after that. Theoretically, Yusuf added, if they died, they should just wake up in the upper level.
Theoretically, Arthur thinks, he should be able to change his own surroundings since it's his goddamn dream.
So Arthur doesn't take any chances. He checks every corner before he lets Eames step into a new room.
Still, they get attacked by an old man holding a baseball bat, a woman who throws oddly heavy books at them (she has a sticker on her lapel where it reads Miss Adams) and several little kids with sharpened blades.
After a couple of hours, Arthur has a deep cut on his left arm, but Eames under Anna's skin is unharmed.
"What are you doing here?" a familiar voice asks them as they enter a bedroom.
It's Sally and unlike the Sally on the first level, this one doesn't look happy to see them. As they both stop through the doorframe Arthur immediately notices two things. One: Sally isn't talking to him. Two: she also has a gun.
"Hey," she hisses, pointing the gun at Eames. "I'm talking to you, you little bitch."
Arthur glances down at him. Anna's features look thoughtful. Eames steps forward.
"If mom hears you talking like that she'll ground you," Eames says in Anna's voice. "Put it down, Sally, come on. Let's play outside."
Sally doesn't even blink. She just shoots.
The bullet hits Eames' in the belly and he cries out, grabbing the wound with his small hands, the blood soaking into his greenish Disney Princesses T-shirt. Arthur drops his Glock and reaches for him, putting pressure on the bullet hole.
"She is not supposed to be here!" yells Sally. "This is my room, mine-mine-MINE!"
Arthur feels Eames grabbing him by his collar, pulling him closer, so close he can whisper in Arthur's ear.
"Tell her she's in trouble," he gasps, losing hold of Anna's voice. "Tell her mommy and daddy will be home soon and she'll be in trouble."
Arthur frowns down at him, but since he is short of ideas he does as Eames asks.
After that Sally immediately drops her gun and starts to cry, a loud five-year old girly crying.
"Mind telling me what I just did?" Arthur asks and the face of Anna Forquin winks at him.
"It wasn't an accident," Eames says, the color of his cheeks starting to fade.
"Of course it wasn't an accident, you moron, she fucking shot you!"
"No," Eames laughs and coughs. Blood. "She didn't fall off the stairs. The sister pushed her."
"You have to make her feel guilty," Eames manages, his eyes losing focus. "She needs to think her sister felt guilty for what she did to her. You have-"
Arthur feels the dead weight of Anna's body when Eames stops breathing. And he nods, though he knows Eames can't see it.
"You're in big trouble, young lady," he says to Sally, who is still crying on the other side of the room. "Your sister here is going to be just fine and when she wakes up, she is going to tell your parents what you did to her. Now, come here and tell her you're sorry."
Sniffing loudly and wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her little hands, Sally stands and walks over. Then, when she finally manages a muffled "I'm sorry, sis-" Arthur picks up his Glock and shoots her in the head.
Arthur leans against the wall behind him, breathes and swallows hard.
He tries not to stare down at the two little bodies next to him as he inserts the barrel of the gun inside his mouth and pulls the trigger.
Arthur is a mess.
His hair is completely tousled from Philippa's little hands and the first two buttons of his shirt went missing after he allowed himself to carry James on his back. He can hear a dozen kids playing in the backyard in a sort of mix up welcome home party to Philippa and a late happy birthday for James.
Arthur is sitting in the kitchen and he eyes Cobb over the counter with a deep frown. Cobb looks just thoughtful instead of troubled, but still.
"Hey, are you okay?" Arthur asks.
Cobb has been keeping himself busy for the last few minutes slicing bread in order to make the kids sandwiches. He stares at the knife in his hands, then up at Arthur.
"I was just thinking," Cobb says. "He didn't get what he wanted, you know? His kid is finally awake and he won't be able to be with her."
Saito's men had found Philippa while Ariadne, Eames and Arthur were busy down in Sally's mind. Fourteen-year-old Sally had woken up to see her dad being arrested for kidnapping and attempted murder. And Mr. Forquin had shouted and fought and cried when Eames told him what had happened down there.
Back then, Arthur still could feel the light weight of Eames' dead body from the second level, so he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for the man.
"Yeah," he sighs.
Arthur hasn't seen Eames since they left Cleveland the day before. He wonders if he should call him or something, though he still doesn't know what to say to Eames.
"Well, I guess there's no way everybody can get their happy endings," he adds then, as an afterthought.
Cobb stares at him with a raised eyebrow, but he doesn't reply.
This is when Arthur hears the doorbell.
"Arthur, would you check the door, please?" says Cobb, starting to slice tomatoes.
When Arthur reaches the door, James is already opening it.
And he watches in silence as Eames picks James up off the floor, making the little boy giggle. Ariadne says something like "Isn't he beautiful?" and Yusuf apparently agrees with her.
"What-" Arthur starts, but he closes his mouth as Yusuf throws a heavy package into his hands ("Just a little something I bought for your children" says the card).
"It's from Saito," Yusuf declares. "Where's the toilet?"
Arthur points in one direction. Yusuf disappears.
"Where's Cobb?" asks Ariadne.
Arthur points in the other direction. Ariadne follows it.
Arthur and Eames stare at each other over James' head.
"God, you're a mess." Eames' voice is clean with laughter.
Arthur feels his heart starting to race. He makes a movement like he means to reach for Eames, but he changes his mind halfway and closes the door instead. He is glad his hands are steady as steel.
"What are you doing here?" he asks Eames then.
"I thought I might find you here."
James makes an irritated noise and shifts impatiently in Eames' arms. Eames puts the boy back on the ground and James runs away. Arthur watches in silence till James disappears from their sight.
"Well, you found me," he says.
"Fancy a drink?" Eames grins.
"It's a kids' party." Arthur glares. "Jesus."
"Darling, I can think of lots of things I can do that don't require alcohol."
"Like asking you to dinner, you little pervert."
"Oh," Arthur pauses. "Dinner sounds good."
"That's the spirit."
That night, Arthur doesn't get any sleep.
(Neither does Eames.)
Notes: This was wrote in a weekend when I should be studying for finals and originally posted at my Live Journal (dana-norram. livejournal. com/ 44512. html). I'd love to know your thoughts. ;*