Going Right (when there is only one way left).

Summary: Arthur/Eames. Everyone has a destiny, but sometimes it's better to remember that everyone has a choice.

Disclaimer: Nolan's, not mine.

Originally posted at LiveJournal: 3 January, 2011

xxx

There are times in life where choice is pivotal.

Sometimes, a question can change reality, change everything.

"Do you want to make your dreams come true? Make yourself invincible?"

the answer is a derisive impossible

Arthur didn't join dream sharing.

His name grew a reputation in the army, his status got higher and higher and he was allowed to listen to more classified secrets.

Of course, the number of people he had killed grew, the number of sleepless nights matched it, and when he did sleep, it was usually nightmares.

Secrets only Arthur and a handful of other people knew were leaked and he never found out how. Just because he was let in on the loop didn't mean he knew everything.

He married a lovely woman—Spanish, feisty, with scarred hands—and retired with two kids and multiple grandchildren, thinking he had seen it all when really; he'd missed out on everything.

the answer is I don't dream

Arthur was killed by his nightmares.

His name was forgotten, his death covered up as a tragic suicide with all the right paperwork to prove it.

He was the tipping point and the lucid-dreaming program closed prematurely, before the PASIV device was ever perfected.

Dream-sharing never existed in its complexity, just another pipe dream.

the answer is alright then...

Arthur didn't pursue dream-sharing after it closed.

His name grew a reputation in the army, his status got higher and higher and he was allowed to listen to more classified secrets. A lot of secrets: especially the ones regarding the idea of restarting the lucid dreaming studies, for reconnaissance rather than training this time.

Of course, the number of people he had killed grew—with guns, with knives, with his own bare hands—the number of sleepless nights rose and matched it, and when he did sleep, it was usually nightmares.

It was as if, over time, Arthur's mind had become his own worst enemy.

So he was immediately suspicious when he was dreaming about a small museum he had visited once, and only once, but had enjoyed immensely. Art hung on the wall, bright colours from furious brushstrokes. There was relaxing background music coming from unseen speakers. Arthur looked at his hands, and they weren't shaking.

Training kicked in.

How did I get here? No idea.

What feels wrong? Just the atmosphere is wrong.

Protect yourself.

You are dreaming.

The walls started to rattle and the artwork started to shake. A small porcelain pot beside him was in danger of falling off its post, and Arthur steadied it instinctively.

"Hello, Arthur."

Turning around, Arthur saw a tall man, broad shouldered and with muscles that promised he trained. Boxer, he profiled roughly, knowing that this was all a lie and he could look totally different.

The stranger was dressed in neutral tones, a small smile quirking his lips. For a second, Arthur was fixated by them, but the moment passed.

"Can we chat for a bit?" the man asked with a grin, and Arthur took a step back.

In his hand, Arthur's grip shattered the small porcelain pot. A shard cut into his arm, bloody red and the pain very familiar. He knew exactly what to do.

Panic flashed across the stranger's face, but Arthur didn't stick around to hear what he would say, grabbing a bit of porcelain and slicing his throat open.

Upon waking, he found himself in an unfamiliar hotel room, a needle trailing from his arm. Following the line, he saw a PASIV device—or at least, that was what it looked like, similar to his memories, but smaller and with a bit more artistic flair in the design. This was a perfected dream-sharing device, Arthur realised.

Gently sliding out the needle, Arthur looked at the still sleeping body beside him. The timer on the PASIV said the man would wake in ten seconds. Quickly, Arthur pressed a pressure point at the base of his skull and knocked him out, ensuring another half-hour at least.

Calling security, Arthur removed the man and never saw him again. From what he'd heard though, the army had gotten their hands on the stranger because he was doing some very illegal things with classified army software.

The experience was blip on the map of much greater things, and the entire affair was forgotten because, well, it was just a dream, after all.

He married a lovely woman—later divorced—and retired with three kids but only two grandchildren, thinking he had seen it all when really; he'd missed out on almost everything.

the answer is what's in it for me?

Arthur joined corporate dream sharing.

The army had done it before, sold private software to the highest bidder when they wanted to scrap a project. Of course it was all very hush-hush under the table work, but when the transaction was completed, Arthur was one of the first recruited for the company.

It was there he met Eames, a strange fellow who they called a forger because he could slip in and out of bodies in dreams as if they were costumes. Apparently he came from old money and was a crack shot at poker. But what Arthur liked best was when Eames would smile that cocky grin that said I know it all.

Arthur didn't really have much chance to talk to Eames though. They worked in different sectors and there were so many rules regarding work relationships he never bothered.

In the end, Eames married a nurse. She cheated on him twice, but through rigorous counselling, they got through it. Life wasn't perfect, but Eames was happy enough.

The corporation were using dream-sharing to try wake coma patients up. Arthur loved the work, loved the idea he was making a difference. It felt good to do this, even when he pulled late hours at the hospital and had to field questions from sceptical doctors and psychiatrists alike who kept insisting it was impossible.

"Is it impossible to dream?" he would reply, tiredly, every time.

Even when he was more than set to retire, Arthur kept working in the hospitals. He knew the names of every doctor and nurse in most of the places he'd been in. He also knew the names of every person he couldn't wake up and those he did.

Life and death was in his hands, and Arthur thought he'd seen it all.

Really though, he missed on some of the most important things.

the answer is I'm listening...

Arthur helps stops dream-sharing from being shut down.

When the government had said, "Enough is enough," and tried to shut down the lucid-dreaming program, Arthur had protested the most. He was just a foot soldier, but he knew how to argue. He didn't grow up in a family of lawyers and learn nothing. By compiling the right documents and coercing the help of several scientists, he had gotten an extension of six months.

It was in the fifth month they'd perfected it.

By introducing the idea of a 'totem', subjects could identify reality better and suicide rates dropped. The pain resistance program was starting to take. Men trained with dream-sharing could have pain thresh-holds that would kill a normal person.

This added a whole new element to warfare.

That was when dream-sharing turned into an arms' race.

Russians and Chinese soldiers were being put under torture that broke boundaries the Americans set in place. God only knew what the Koreans were doing to their men. Soon, the original boundaries were forgotten and it was all about making soldiers numb to anything and everything; almost dehumanising them, making them into robots.

It was like when nuclear weapons were first introduced; everyone wanted a piece of it, but weren't ready for the fallout.

The idea of using dream-sharing as a tool of theft was never even considered.

War was imminent. People were scared and the word 'PASIV' had the same effect as 'air raids' or 'bombs'.

Underground, in an undisclosed location, Arthur was strapping a set of new recruits in for an eight-hour dream-sharing shift. This would be painful for them, and for Arthur, who would be the one subjecting them to pain.

The majority of recruits were men, but there were woman, too. Studies had shown that women's resistance could stretch higher, their bodies able to compensate for pain in a similar way they'd remove the memories of agonising child birth.

Ariadne was one of the youngest of the lot; stubborn and eccentric but she looked like child bait, for crying out loud. How young would they get before it was too young?

"Arthur, you get that you're torturing good men and women, right?" a voice muttered angrily in his ear.

Arthur steadfastly ignored the projection. He was dreaming the scenario and none of his projections should have been appearing, but lately this one had seeped into every one of his dreams. Luckily his superiors hadn't noticed. Otherwise he'd probably be sent for rehabilitation—to reconnect with reality—but really it was just shock sessions.

Knowing pain and withstanding it did not mean one should seek out times to experience it.

Eames, as his projection had once introduced itself as, wore the face of a protester Arthur had recognised. Wealthy background, strong humanitarian values and didn't like the PASIV war. How Arthur started dreaming up this guy to be his conscience, he would never know.

"What's the point of making these people senseless?" Eames was growling, his voice louder than the cadets' screams. "Training them would be more effective."

"They have been trained," Arthur bit out in frustration. He didn't like talking to his guilty subconscious. "And hurting them now will stop them being hurt in the future."

"I'm not too sure about that, darling."

Whipping around, fist raised, Arthur was met by empty air, paranoia running like adrenalin up and down his veins.

In the end, imaginary Eames was right. The PASIV war finally broke out and the first place hit was the training centre headquarters. All the pain resistance was for nothing when everyone died immediately.

the answer is yes

Arthur went into illegal dream-sharing.

He dropped from the grid and went underground. As much as the army wanted to dust this entire mishap under the rug, lucid-dreaming was hard to escape from. It spread like an unknown global virus, and Arthur followed it, learning as he went.

There was Xiàngyá in China, who taught him how to build. In the army he only dreamed, but she showed him how to make houses and skyscrapers. She also showed him how to use a gun, even though he'd already known from the army, but he let her teach him again regardless.

Then there was Löwe in Germany. He worked with chemicals and after a lot of persuasion, showed Arthur how to make a make-shift PASIV device and the standard Somnacin formulae. Arthur, in turn, showed Löwe how to roll his own cigars and count cards.

Australia found him with Cassidy, who knew how to tailor suits and showed him how to command a room and all round scare the fuck out of everyone. The only regret Arthur had about meeting her was that he didn't teach her how to use a weapon. The day after he had left the country, she was mugged and killed in one of the darker streets.

In England, there was Eames; Eames with his dry humour, flippant accent, and warm hands. Arthur didn't know him from work, or from the army, or even from a contact. They'd met like normal people, in a bar.

They had spent about two months together—in some always undefined relationship—before Arthur had shown him the PASIV. When they went under, Eames kept mimicking Arthur until he changed physically, into Arthur.

They discussed what they could do from there. Eames was captivated by the idea of transformation, but Arthur wasn't heading that way. For a while, Eames wanted to follow Arthur and learn as he did. But Arthur shook his head and gave Eames one of his contacts, which would lead him to India, where he could learn forging.

It was a talent only a few had, and he wouldn't take away Eames' chance of learning how to embrace it.

From there it was Egypt for Arthur, and then Norway—where he worked for the first time with a team of extractors—then France, where he met Professor Miles. Arthur wore his best suit when he met with the Cobbs, quickly captivated by their passion about dream-sharing.

The rest, as they say, is history.

And that was the answer Arthur chose.

Or was it?

xxx

A/N: I'm screwing with you. It is. ^_^

This had so many false stops and starts, but I think I'm finally happy with the way it's turned out. Perhaps a little shorter than planned, but oh well.

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