I deeply apologize for making you all wait this long for an update! I hit a writer's block for this story, started others and pretty much abandoned this. But I will finish this story! There's only one more chapter to go! But I hope you enjoy this extremely late update!
Arthur wouldn't remember it.
He wouldn't remember the ride to Devohn's. He wouldn't remember how the man saved his life.
He wouldn't remember waking up for the first time either, but before he could even pry his heavy eyelids open, the smell of whiskey hit him hard enough to make his head spin. He drew it in deep through his nostrils and let it burn in his throat and swarm through his body, the heat licking his skin. A false memory of drowning his sorrows in a glass of it came to mind. It was easier to believe than the truth.
Death had been knocking at his door.
The whiskey burned out and the metallic smell of blood swelled in the air and like a gust of wind it danced around him fast enough to make him dizzy. He felt like he was going with it, hovering and gliding across the ground like a piece of paper blowing in the wind. It was an opulent feeling of peace, until the ground came up hard.
Pain seared through his shoulder like the tip of a knife cutting through cloth and ran through the rest of his chest. He felt his throat constrict and heard the muffled sound of his own groan against the blood rushing in his ears. The hard surface below him felt rough against his fingertips as they tried to dig into it to ride out the pain. His fingers began to sting and he recoiled them quickly, bringing them up off the surface to curl them into his chest protectively, but they were interjected. Something big and soft, yet with a rough surface caught him around the wrists.
He blinked sluggishly, barely opening his eyes to half mast each time. He rolled his head in frustration, as if his eyelids would snap up like shades on a window.
His eyes opened in an opaque world.
"Arthur? Can you hear me?"
He tried desperately not to blink, afraid that if he closed his eyes they would forever stay shut. Against his own accord, they sluggishly began their descent, blacking out the milky world around him. He felt his muscles constrict, before the idea of fighting to stay awake came to mind. He tried to pull his wrists free of their entrapments, afraid that they were the reason he was plunging back into darkness once again. It was cold and dark. It felt familiar, but not welcoming. He rolled his head again, this time with more force he realized he could produce, his skull connecting hard with what was below him. His throat constricted again but this time it didn't make that muffled groan, rough and deep. It was airy and quivery.
"Easy, darling. Take it easy."
He felt his teeth grind as the voice filtered through his ears. He wondered why the voice would make him do so, but he could almost hear his muscles sigh as they went lax, or maybe he had made the sound.
He opened his eyes with much less of a struggle, though they opened to half mast. The world was blurry, but not so much so that he couldn't make out distinct shapes. A man hovered above him, his face reminding him of the first job he pulled with Cobb.
He was seventeen and a quivering at the knees kind of boy with his chest stuck out way too far for his own good. He had something to prove to the world, or maybe the world had something to prove to him. Either way, he held the gun between his hands in a fierce grip that made his knuckles turn white as they shook and his heart hammered in his chest.
The gun was as empty as he felt.
He had died at the tip of a blade being thrust into his chest on that first job. He had had that strike of fear like a bolt of lightning as he watched his blood pour out. When he stumbled back he had caught a glimpse of Cobb looking anything but worried. He felt himself fall and prayed he was falling out of the world, because at seventeen he shouldn't have been plunged that deep into reality.
He fell, but went deeper than he could ever imagine. He woke up back where he started, but felt as though life just got that much longer and it wasn't a settling feeling. Cobb had hovered over him, his face twisted deeper into that guilt ridden face of his he tried desperately to cover.
The man above him had the same look molding his face, but it wasn't Cobb. He let his eyes run down the man's face and followed his arms to his hands where they circled around his wrists that looked like spaghetti noodles in handcuffs. It would have been a humorous observation had the man's hands not been so red. He didn't have to look twice to know that the red was that of a stain.
It was the stain of blood. His blood. His life. It was the stain of him upon the man's hands. It weaved around the bones and veins looking just as vital.
"I know I'm charming to look at, but neither one of us hit for that team so save it for Ariadne would you?"
The voice tore his gaze away from the hands. He met the man's face again. A smirk, marred by sleep deprivation, what appeared to be concern and what was unmistakably guilt, was displayed like a forgery.
"Eames." Realization hit him in the chest and he swallowed thickly against it, his eyes closing ever so slowly.
He felt the man's hands leave his wrists and he dropped them across his stomach. Eames stood from sitting on the edge of whatever he was laying on and nudged his leg. "Go back to sleep, Arthur."
He wanted to protest, to resist. His eyes wouldn't grant him disobedience and started their descent.
"Why?" He muttered desperately trying to get free of the grip exhaustion had on him.
He heard a soft chuckle. "Because you need it."
"No." His voice was harsh and he swallowed thickly as he pried his eyes open to see Eames. The forger's back was to him with his head turned to look over his shoulder. "Why is it... on your hands?"
Eames' head suddenly turned away from him. He felt himself being pulled back into that dark place again, but instead of fighting it he let it claim him because he didn't deserve to be in a world where no one could look at him.
Arthur wouldn't remember any of it, but he wouldn't need to.
After all, stains are hard to remove.
Eames stood in the bathroom in Devohn's place. It was in the basement of a rundown apartment building and the toilet, shower and small sink with a medicine cabinet hanging above it had been crammed into a tiny room that was just a little bit bigger than a closet. A single low-hanging lightbulb descended from the cracking ceiling, giving off a dull yellow light that made the dirt and grime stand out that much more.
The forger's large hands grasped the sides of the sink as he let the weight of his shoulders hang between his arms. It was a wonder the sink didn't break. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror trying to recognize himself. He came up empty, which was better than staring at it long enough to figure it out and dropped his head once more between his arms.
The faint smear of blood in the cracks and crevasses of his rough skin stood out more than the veins protruding in his hands. He sighed heavily and resisted the urge to run them down his face. He pushed himself away form the sink, ducking when the back of his head hit the lightbulb making it swing back and forth. He watched it sway with squinted eyes as his back found the wall behind him. His spine rolled up against it and his knees buckled, sending him sliding to the floor.
He brought his elbows to rest on top of his thighs so he could look at his hands. He traced the faint patterns of the stains on one hand with the index finger of the other. For a moment, it was all he could see, but he blinked and in a split second he was staring at Arthur laying on the wooden slab that Devohn had requested that Arthur be laid on.
Death had been so close.
He shook his head and he could see the stains again, the stains of Arthur's life on his hands.
"It'll come off."
Eames, despite his pride, jumped at the voice that wasn't his, that wasn't in his head. He looked up to see Cobb standing in the doorway.
He cleared his throat and looked back down at his hands. "What are you talking about?"
Cobb was silent a moment, staring down at the forger with a practiced look, before moving to lean against the sink in front of Eames. "Your hands."
"What about them?" The forger asked, making fists with both.
He heard Cobb sigh and could barley see the extractor run a hand through his hair.
"Arthur was seventeen."
Eames suddenly looked up, but cursed inwardly when he realized that's what Cobb had wanted. He kept his gaze.
"He was seventeen the first time I-" Cobb paused while the memory played out in his head, flashing like an old picture show. He shook his head once. "He died on the first job by a knife to the chest."
Eames snorted and shook his head, though it was anything but humorous.
"Now I had told him that death in a dream just meant that he would wake back up, but when it happened, you know, there was those few seconds..." Cobb trailed off and the forger noticed the glazed look in his eyes when his mind got trapped. The extractor shook his head and looked back at Eames. "It is easy to feel responsible for him. I get that. But what he did, it was his choice."
Cobb pushed himself away from the sink and walked toward the doorway.
"Wash the rest of the blood off your hands, before you can't get it off."
Eames looked back to his hands. "Did you?"
Cobb stopped in the threshold of the door, one hand resting on the frame as he turned back to Eames.
The extractor didn't say anything, and Eames knew he wouldn't have to. After all, silence is the most definitive 'no'.
AN: Once again I apologize for how long it has been! One more chapter to go though! I will get it posted! Thanks for reading and sticking with me. Let me know what you think!