This was originally written for the Arthur/Eames LJ community's Secret Santa (run by fakebody) as a gift for korvazor. Since the exchange is over, I'm posting it here!

Disclaimer: I do not own Inception!


Soliloquy (I Walk This Stage for You)

Arthur dies on a Sunday morning. Eames is sitting in the breakfast room of the most expensive hotel in London eating bacon – proper English bacon – and eggs, reading the paper, and Arthur dies. He gets a call from Cobb halfway through the sports section and almost doesn't pick up, but Cobb rarely rings if it isn't important. He flips open his phone.

Cobb's voice is bleak. He says three words and hangs up.

Eames puts down his fork and a few Euros for the breakfast and walks out of the hotel. He winds through the maze of streets – is this a dream? – back to his apartment, and calls Arthur's phone. It rings six times and clicks. Arthur's recorded voice says that he can't be reached.

Can't be reached. This is, apparently, so funny that Eames laughs himself sick. He throws up bacon all over his kitchen floor and washes away the taste with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

-aaa-

"I am not in love with you," says Arthur, turning a gold cufflink between his right thumb and forefinger. It is perfectly round and inlaid with cowrie shell that sets off the brown in his eyes. Eames had given Arthur those cufflinks after the Graham extraction in Maine, had gifted them offhandedly as if he hadn't spent hours looking for just the right pair. "I think, James, that I would know. If I was in love with you."

"Would you, now?" asks Eames, who is sitting unnaturally still by the window, watching Arthur's ghostly reflection crossing the Thames back and forth. It is almost dark outside, and the lights of London are flickering on one by one. It looks like a postcard: idyllic, serene. And Arthur's pale face is in the middle, unreadable.

"Yes." He sets the cufflink on the bedside table. His graceful hands, now unoccupied, seem to pose a question, a helpless 'What do you want from me?' "I would feel something. Something different."

Eames isn't ready for this admission, or for the ache that rises suddenly in his chest. He turns around and snarls "Anything, Arthur. You mean you should finally feel anything." This is unkind. Arthur is, after all, not a robot; he is a man. He is a man who holds too much inside and doesn't know how to say what he feels. Perhaps he is not so different from anyone else.

"James." It is a warning.

"What were you expecting?" Eames asks, standing and walking into Arthur's personal space. "Were you expecting some cliché happy ending? Something like your best friend's wedding – oh yes, I was there – where you would find a woman and never stop smiling at her?" He places his hands on Arthur's hips over his creased white shirt, but he lets his fingers slip under Arthur's belt. Arthur doesn't move, just opens his pale pink mouth in a puff of air. "The world doesn't work like that, Arthur."

"I'm not an idiot."

"No, you're not, so stop pretending." Eames's hands move farther down and Arthur suddenly grips his arms. "Stop pretending that you don't feel that quickening, that you don't think about me all the time." Eames squeezes lightly and rubs his stubbled cheek against Arthur's smooth one.

"Nngh…"

"You say my name when you're asleep," Eames breathes, and he lifts one hand up to cup Arthur's lower back. Arthur has gone pliant and now embraces him. Eames gently lays his head against Arthur's chest. "I can hear your heart beating."

"James, I-"

They fall backward onto the bed, Eames on top but bracing himself and Arthur flushed and trembling below. "James, I'm not in love with you," he says, with as much resolve as he can muster, his eyes dark but missing their usual sharp sting. Eames chuckles low in his throat and leans down for a kiss, pressing his lips to Arthur's with steady determination.

They do it with the blinds open, letting in the darkness, the absence of stars. The city watches with its one glowing Eye revolving above the Thames. None of it matters because this time…

This time Eames knows that Arthur is lying.

-aaa-

"I'll have the check, s'il-vous plait," Eames says, folding his hands on the table and scattering tiny crumbs. The waitress smiles at him; even though he's English, he's handsome. Besides, he's leaving a sizable tip.

Eames can afford to be magnanimous these days.

As he waits, Eames swipes a finger around his plate, collecting leftover cream and chocolate sauce from his profiterole. He sticks it into his mouth and imagines Arthur's moue of distaste. Arthur never had liked sweets.

-aaa-

There is pain, and there are stars bursting bright before his eyes, and Eames reels backward, groping for the surety of the wall. "Arthur," he gasps, and is met by another of the man's right hooks. It glances as Eames turns, and Arthur fumbles forward in compensation, allowing Eames a split second to gain some distance. "Arthur, stop." He spits blood and it lands on the concrete between his Ferragamo loafers.

"You," snaps Arthur, "fucked up." His skin is white and his mouth set. His knuckles are red. "You fucked up, Eames. And now we are in a shitload of trouble."

Eames wipes at his face carefully with a handkerchief and sighs. "I'm sorry."

"That isn't good enough!" Arthur whirls on him, reaching instinctively for his shoulder holster, which – oh fortune, good fortune – is empty of his Glock. He throws his hands up in contempt and looks away. "How much did you do it for?"

"I'd rather not-"

"How. Much?"

Eames looks at Arthur from under long eyelashes, chewing on his lower lip and carefully prodding at his aching nose. "Forty thousand." It had seemed like a steal at the time. There was no love lost between him and Cobb; they'd only been working together for two months and, despite Cobb's obvious genius, he found the man abrasive. He should have remembered that Arthur would be on the job, too.

"Okay. Fine." Arthur strides toward his desk and knocks some of the papers off of it, scooping up his computer and pocketing his ring of flash drives. "Don't speak to me again."

"I hardly think there's a need for that," Eames scoffs, folding his arms. "You and I both know it'll be a cinch for you to outrun them." But that, apparently, isn't the point of Arthur's grand, third-grade silent treatment, because all he does is shoot Eames a poisonous glare and walk out of the warehouse.

Cobb forgives Eames six months later when Eames triple-crosses and sells him Megatech's information cheap. Arthur takes two years, one month, and ten days.

-aaa-

Eames strolls down the street, placing one foot in front of the other carefully, as if he were on a ship. A ship that looks like Paris – it's not impossible. Ariadne could pull it off, and has done stranger things, in dreams. Eames doesn't check if this is a dream, doesn't try and forge his way out. He doesn't want to be anyone but himself.

If this is 'reality', so be it. He already knows in his stomach that it isn't quite real.

-aaa-

Arthur is delicate. Not in body, no, and he has remarkable strength of opinion, but Eames doesn't always know how Arthur works… how Arthur fits all the shining metal pieces that spin and whirl and glitter in the sun together to make himself. Why Arthur doesn't break. Why, sometimes, something small will make him pause.

They are sitting on the steps of a convenience store in a South Carolina suburb, wood splintering in places under their shoes. Arthur is dressed down in a light blue polo shirt and khaki pants. He is licking his lips and fingers because, somehow, Eames convinced him to have a strawberry ice cream.

Eames holds out a brown paper napkin, grinning, and says "Where do you want our flat to be?" The sun beats down on his head and neck, and he thinks he's burning already.

"What?" Arthur blinks up at him, hand outstretched for the napkin, the trace of a dimple showing near his half-smile. A smile that disappears in an instant. Eames doesn't even see it go, and that frightens him.

"Don't you want to have a place together?" Somewhere down the block a little girl is playing jumprope, singing a counting rhyme very quietly to herself. Eames runs a hand back through his hair and suddenly feels very stupid. "No, forget I asked."

Arthur's skin is cool but it calls up a spark when he rests his hand on Eames's. "I do want it." He is also looking down the street, but not at the girl. He is looking at the gas station, its plate-glass windows plastered with wanted posters, gray and gray mugshots framed by bold black type. "Our lifestyle just isn't conducive to that kind of… domesticity." He huffs out the word as if it is a curse.

As if it is a diamond that, if touched, will get dirty.

Eames runs a thumb along the bones in Arthur's hand, committing each to his fastidious memory. "I would give that up for you," he says, and the world stills.

"I couldn't," says Arthur, and he pulls away awkwardly, standing and stretching and lamenting the fact that their rental car has no AC.

-aaa-

It is sunny outside, and Eames smiles because of it. He passes a woman selling roses on the side of the street and buys a bouquet of red ones. He buys them with the thorns still on, and pricks himself accidentally as he's paying for them.

Red was Arthur's least favorite color. He always looked awful in it. That didn't stop Eames from slipping red roses into his buttonhole every time they went out.

-aaa-

Bodies press against him, thinly clad in layers of spandex, silk, and sweat. He is left moist as he shoves his way through the club to the back, moist and smelling of primal humanity. Sex and heat, sex and heat. It throbs through the crowd like a heartbeat, rising and swelling with the deafening rhythm of the band and going straight to his dick. It's all he can do not to touch himself as he glides into the shadows by the wall.

"Hello," murmurs a woman, and it carries through the noise. Her body is sensuous and full, like that of a Renaissance nude, and she's wearing almost as little. Her hands are strong when they take his. "Let me help you, stranger."

He pushes her to the bed in the back room with ease, holding her down as he strips away her dress to bare breasts blushing rosy. Headlights strobe across the window shades, striping her face black and gold, and he runs his palms down her supple sides. She moans throatily. He tries to lose himself in it as he unzips his jeans.

He reaches a moment of pure clarity in that dingy room, half-naked with an unknown woman lying between his thighs on dirty sheets. He doesn't want to do this anymore. He takes forever to let it sink in, and she starts to question him, curious at first and then impatient. If he isn't going to touch her, he could at least let her up to piss, yeah? She's still in the other room when he fixes himself and leaves, feeling unclean down to his bones.

The cold air shocks him and suddenly he is tired. He checks his cell. No new messages, just like the last seven times. He hasn't heard from Arthur in three months. Gone off with Cobb, is what he hears on the street. Hiding out somewhere in Europe. You know he offed her, right? Frankly, Eames could care less about Mrs. Mal. She was clever, he'll give her that, but no one who would throw themselves out a window can be trusted, or ever should have been. Still, he knows that Arthur is mourning her.

Eames is mourning Arthur, the bewildering boy who entered his life like a lucky penny and left it like a whore, not even bothering with "Goodbye."

-aaa-

"I miss you" is the first thing that comes out of Eames's mouth, which surprises him. He had been planning to say something ironic, turning possible quips in his mind since he boarded the plane early that morning. He had missed the funeral, which Arthur would have been angry about had he been capable of caring. Eames thought that dealing with an angry Arthur was easier if you used humor as a diversionary tactic. Instead, he'd gone sentimental, somewhere along the way.

It didn't matter. He hadn't really missed the funeral – he had intentionally spent the day in Scotland, sitting on the side of a green, grassy hill and watching the clouds until it poured. It wasn't some lovely poetic gesture, simply an activity that didn't require him to think. Meditation.

"I do miss you," Eames says, mostly to himself, kneeling and laying the roses by the foot of the white marble gravestone. He lets his fingertips trail across the polished surface, which is cold even in the sunshine. "They suit you better now, Arthur. 'Arthur… Elliot… DeLacey.'" One rough fingertip traces the delicate letters on the stone as he reads. "'Né le 12 Novembre 2001. Décédé le…' Sunday morning, May 7th, 2036. Oh, love…"

There are other people walking along the neatly-kept paths in the graveyard. A young girl in gingham comes up beside him and lays a hand on his shoulder. She takes a moment to read the stone and gives a little nod, eyes closed, to Arthur. Then she turns to face Eames and asks, in heavily accented English, "Who was he, sir?"

"Someone I loved very much," Eames replies, standing. "He died a year ago today. …This is the first time I've come to see him."

The girl looks a little longer at Arthur's headstone. Suddenly she takes Eames's hand in hers and gives it a squeeze. "I think he's happy."

Eames is quiet for a long time, but she doesn't leave. Her hand is warm in his. Finally, he sighs. "You think that? That Arthur is happy?"

"You came to see him. That would make me happy." She waits another minute, then pulls away and runs down the path, throwing her arms around the leg of her mother. Eames blinks after her. He turns back.

"I hope you are," he says to Arthur, ignoring the pressure in his throat. "Very much so."

-aaa-

"Gate 7, now boarding," announces the speakers, a jumble of static in space. Eames picks up his bag and gets in line for his plane, boarding pass at the ready. The world is growing slowly pink as the sun sets.

It feels like a weight has been lifted off his chest. He had done it. After a year of struggling with himself, he had come. It hadn't killed him.

He no longer wanted to die.


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