For the inception_kink prompt: During the taxi cab shoot-out scene, it's Eames that gets shot, not Saito.
this was originally posted on the meme but i've worked out the tenses, proofread it, and made it all shiny and stuff. AND I GAVE IT A TITLE ALREADY. rock yeah. \m/ just posting this on here for safe-keeping. :)
The sound of gunfire clears the air.
“Eames, you alright?” Arthur shouts from the driver’s seat.
He’s met with silence.
“Eames?” Arthur asks again.
“Fucking hell,” Eames finally replies, gasping out a pained breath, “Fucking hell.”
Arthur turns around then, and the obnoxious honking of horns and the projections and the rain spattering against the cracked wind shield are all forgotten.
Blood spatters Eames’ torso, a hand stained red grasps at his chest.
“How bad?” Arthur asks, worriedly, tearing his gaze away to concentrate on his driving.
“In and out,” Eames answers, his voice bitten off the edges with a wheeze of air that, Arthur is certain, didn’t come from Eames’ nose. Or his lips. It’s labored, and pained, and everything that a suppressed whistle sounds like. “I hate getting shot.”
Arthur stares at him, intently.
“Still alive, Arthur,” Eames reassures him. That would have to do, Arthur thinks, but the half-hearted smile that stutters on Eames’ lips doesn’t reassure him at all.
From the passenger’s seat, Saito reloads his gun. “You better get us to the warehouse quickly.”
Arthur grunts. He doesn’t need to be told twice when the urgency is all but screaming in his ears.
He glances at the rearview mirror, at the pinched look of pain on Eames face, and the way his chest shuddered when he gasped in much-needed breath.
(He doesn't even notice that Fischer’s bagged head still rests on Eames’ lap. He only has eyes for Eames, and the steady trickle of blood that seeps from between his fingers.)
Eames shakes his head and sinks further in the backseat, his arm falling on Robert’s back. The hand on his chest doesn’t falter; it tightens even more.
“Go,” Saito urges.
And Arthur goes, flooring the gas. If he bumps a few cars on the way, and his eyes are not a hundred percent focused on the road, Saito doesn’t comment on it. He just buckles himself in and braces his arm against the door.
At the warehouse, Saito slides the door open. Eames keeps his arm on Fischer’s back but his hand is limp and his gun has fallen to the floor.
“Get Fischer, go, go, go,” Cobb shouts from outside.
Yusuf and Saito wrench the door open and pull Fischer out quickly from where he slumps against Eames.
Arthur, however, all but scrambles from his seat and onto the back, jarring Eames’ knees.
“You holding up?”
Eames chokes up a laugh. Where from, Arthur can only wonder. He gently pulls back Eames’ hand from his chest and he winces, actually winces, his countenance stuttered for a moment by the grotesque splatter of blood that darkens Eames’ grey suit jacket and soaks the shirt underneath.
Arthur makes a sound somewhere deep in his throat as his own hand presses against the wound, Eames’ hand falling limply to his lap. “That’s the last time you try to impress me with your crap shooting, Eames.”
When Eames doesn’t have a ready retort, Arthur glances up at his face. He’s not worried, of course he’s not. This is just a dream, after all, and when Eames dies—and he will die, Arthur’s pretty damn sure of that, confirmed even more so by Eames’ labored breathing and the fact that just under his palm, against his skin, is the rattle of breath as Eames inhaled-exhaled-inhaled-exhaled, gasping in air that rushes out through the bullet hole as quickly as Eames draws them in.
Nicked lung. Arthur clicks his tongue, and taps Eames on the cheek. “You still with me here?”
Eames smiles, dazedly, “Never left.” But I’m going to, the unspoken reply, is all that Arthur hears in his head.
Before Arthur can do anything else, the passenger side door wrenches open. The stern line of Cobb’s face greets him and he knows he’s in trouble. Not because he had gotten Eames shot—Eames has died in dreams before, and a lot of those times Cobb had been more amused than annoyed—but because Arthur’s supposed to be prepared for these things and he chose now to screw up.
“The hell happened back there, Arthur?” Cobb demands, sounding angrier than Arthur has heard him in a long time.
Cobb grabs Eames by the shoulders, and Yusuf is there to take him by the torso. They lay him down on the floor while Arthur is left inside the car, the smell of freshly spilled blood assaulting his nose, crawling up his skin.
He refuses to look at the large patch of blood on the backrest, and how it seeps into the corners of the upholstery like a crudely painted waterfall.
Eames bites back a moan when Yusuf tears open his shirt. Buttons fly to the floor but no one takes notice.
“—not ready for this kind of violence!” Cobb all but shouts, and the accusation is as good as both of Cobb’s fingers pointing at Arthur.
Arthur knows this, he does. He has no excuses to worm his way out of blame this time, not when Eames has his eyes screwed shut and the fucking whistling of his lungs at every drawn-in breath is loud enough to snap Arthur back to awareness.
He can’t take this. He fumbles almost blindly for Eames’ gun on the floor and pulls himself out of the car. With a practiced jerk of his hand, the crisp click of screws and bullets and springs lock in place, snapping the silence in the air.
Arthur aims for Eames’ head but before he can pull the trigger, Cobb rushes at him and grabs his arm, pressing him up against the cab.
The impact jars Arthur’s remaining hold on his composure and he pushes back, taking aim a second time.
“Don’t,” Cobb snaps at him, and the vice-like grip on Arthur’s arm sobers his frayed nerves.
“He’s dying, Cobb. I’m taking him out,” Arthur snaps right back, his eyes flashing dangerously at Cobb.
Tension tightened in his arm but Cobb’s fingers, just as stubborn, tighten even more around Arthur’s wrist.
“You can’t. If you kill him in this dream, he’ll go straight to limbo.”
Arthur blinks. He didn’t expect that, and neither did Eames.
“What the bloody hell are you talking about?” Eames forces out between lips now stained even redder with flecks of blood.
Cobb sighs, his now shaking hand releasing his grip on Arthur’s arm as he steps back and away. Farther away, where he can breathe.
“You die in a dream, you wake up, Cobb,” Arthur says flatly at Cobb’s back. When Cobb doesn’t reply, Arthur turns to Yusuf. “That is how it goes, right?”
Yusuf’s hand on Eames’ chest falters, slightly, and Eames grunts at the added weight on his chest.
“Not in this dream. We’re too heavily sedated,” Cobb interrupts, averting his eyes from Arthur’s incredulous gaze.
“That is just fantastic,” Eames snorts, then coughs almost immediately after.
When the coughing doesn’t stop, Yusuf pulls him up by the shoulders and shifts him gently—or as gently as Yusuf could manage, as Eames hacks and shudders, blood splattering all over his lap and the floor—against the cab.
“You knew this,” Arthur accuses him, the gun now lowering to his side, pointed away from Eames. Away from anyone, now that the information has sunk in. “And you didn’t tell anyone.”
Cobb shakes his head. It’s not denial. If anything, it confirms the gravity of their situation much more than a nod possibly can.
Arthur’s chest tightens at the realization. Eames dies, he goes to limbo, and even though Arthur knows it was the projection who had shot Eames, that it was Fischer’s subconscious who summoned the heavy security, that it was Cobb who roped them all into this, Arthur can’t shake the feeling that if--when--Eames falls into limbo, it’s his fault.
This time, he can’t do a fucking thing about it.
Somehow, among Yusuf, Saito, and Cobb, they prop Eames up on a chair in front of the mirror. His shirt is unbuttoned, and his ruined grey jacket in a heap somewhere that Arthur can’t see from where he sits behind Eames’ hunched back.
Over Eames’ shoulder, Arthur sees Browning looking back at him but Arthur doesn’t take in the fine details of an old face, or the white head of hair. All he sees is the back of Eames’ head and how his head droops slightly forward, his shoulders rising sporadically in a futile attempt to regain his breathing.
In another room, Yusuf and cob plays bad cop-bad cop, masks over their heads.
“I know Browning,” a whistle of air, a wheeze of breath, “Is a damn fine specimen of male, Arthur, but—"
“Shut up, Eames,” Arthur admonishes, and he means it this time. Not because Eames is being his usual annoying self but because Eames is dying, for fuck’s sake, and he’s not allowed to yet.
Eames struggles to cough up a bark of laughter and fails just before he begins. What remains is a shaky smile on Browning’s face. “—but stare at him for too long and I’ll get insanely jealous.”
Arthur doesn’t say that it’s not Browning he’s staring at. That he’s not staring, not really. He’s checking, every fucking second he possibly can, and he probably won’t let Eames out of his sight until he’s sure, one hundred percent sure, that Eames is awake in his first-class seat in Saito’s newly bought airline and that he’ll walk out of that fucking plane with his mind intact and his tongue sharp like it should be. Like it always should be.
Eames in limbo, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture in Arthur’s head. But Arthur doesn’t tell Eames this either.
Just as Eames braces himself on the dresser, spitting blood and God knows what else on the floor, Cobb comes in from the door. His mask is pulled up to his forehead and from where Arthur sits, he spies something like a photograph in his hand.
He allows Eames a moment to catch his breath before handing the photograph to him. “Saw this in Fischer’s wallet.”
From the reflection of Browning in the mirror, Eames peers closely at the picture in his hands as if having trouble seeing it when it’s already right up in his nose.
“Useful,” Eames agrees.
“Ready?” Cobb asks him, and Arthur pushes himself upright. The gun is still in his hand, he realizes then. He’s still tempted, so very tempted, to put Eames out of his misery and his finger itched against the trigger. But a look from Cobb cuts this thought short.
Eames nods. More like let his head fall and heavily pulls it back up, then lets it fall again.
“Let’s give him a good show, shall we?” He replies in between short coughs and even shorter gasps of air.
As it turns out, Eames’ injury had worked to their advantage. Fischer has apparently never seen his godfather in such dire straits, let alone heard him breathing through a hole in his chest. He spills out secrets, angst, and all the tragedy of his unsatisfying childhood in under an hour and soon enough, Eames and Cobb are discussing the next level of inception at the back of the van.
Eames bites off a curse under his breath as Yusuf does a sharp turn, making Eames jar his shoulder against the side of the van.
Arthur turns to look at him.
Eames looks back with a quickly fading lucidity in his eyes. The smile on his face stretches languidly across his lips.
Eames’ head rolls, slowly, against the backrest of his chair as he turns to Cobb, the smile falling from his face. He raises an eyebrow, in that same slow, languid pace that agitates Arthur. Because Eames is lazy, Eames is casual, Eames takes his own time sometimes so annoyingly that Arthur fidgets. But he's not slow, not like that.
“Next level, you’re sure Fischer’s projection of Browning will hold?” Cobb asks as he pulls out the IV lines from the PASIV and proceeds to hook himself up before passing the rest to Arthur.
“Course I’m sure,” Eames replies sluggishly, as sluggishly as the blood has blotted a jagged map on his (Browning's) pinstriped shirt.
(There’s no other way around it but to hope that the projection does take, because Arthur’s sure Eames won’t last under the strain of forgery all over again.)
Arthur glances at Eames as he sticks his own IV line on the inside of his wrist.
Even with his eyes closed, Eames feels Arthur’s eyes on him. He meets his gaze under the heavy droop of his eyelids and Arthur wonders how Eames can muster up the strength to fucking smirk when his chest doesn’t even look like it could still shoulder through another lungful of air.
Arthur can practically hear all of the possible jokes and taunts playing through Eames’ brain. Something about Arthur’s eyes on him, something about staring at his face, something about being not being in control and how Eames has always known that Arthur has a heart underneath all the Armani.
“Be a darling and help me out with this, would you?” Eames says instead, weakly raising the IV line in between loose fingers.
Arthur hooks him up, and pretends that the slight shake of his hand as he touched the dried blood on Eames’ wrist is due to the fact that Yusuf is an awful driver and his projection of New York’s streets has way too many potholes and inch-deep puddles.
At the hotel, Arthur helps Eames lower himself on the armchair next to the bed.
He doesn’t tell Eames to go to sleep once Arthur had inserted the IV line, because he doesn’t want Eames to go under again. He wants him to stay there, on that level, where Arthur’s confident Eames could weather out the next few minutes by his side.
Eames doesn’t tell Arthur to be back before the kick. The edge in his eyes speaks of enough urgency and enough want for all this to end that Eames knows Arthur will never forgive himself if he screws up a second time.
Just as Eames goes under, he can almost feel Arthur’s hands as they cup his face and when he closes his eyes, he can almost chalk it up to his vivid imagination that Arthur, maybe, presses their lips together in a chaste kiss that chases him to the winter cold of his subconscious.
It’s Ariadne who dreams up the third and final level; she and Cobb fight off the projections as Saito waits with a sniper rifle atop one of the high-security hospital’s many towers.
Eames accompanies Fischer into the ward, gun in one hand, grenade in the other.
He dies as Fischer opens the vault and his stumble into limbo is to the chorus of Fischer’s sobs and Maurice’s death.
When Arthur breaks through the surface of the lake, his first thought is of Eames’ still body underwater. How the blood rose in curled wisps above his chest, surrounding his head in a grotesque halo of red.
Ariadne gasps for air beside him and they crawl up the banks of the river together. Some few feet away are Yusuf and Saito, both of them holding back Fischer as he shouts for Browning’s name, over and over.
“They’re going to make it, Arthur, don’t worry,” Ariadne says, her tone vaguely reassuring but Arthur gleans nothing from it but the optimism that goes hand in hand with inexperience.
Ariadne doesn’t know anything about limbo and how it captures the soul and never lets go until the mind weathers out the years of human existence and all that’s left is a wisp of an old and ancient spirit longing for release. All of it in a span of mere hours, when the body remains young but the mind tires and tires and tires until all it wants is nothing else but a quick end.
When Arthur dives back into the water, his two-minute breathhold just enough to get him back down to the van at the bottom of the lake, he ignores Ariadne’s cries.
Inside the van are Cobb and Eames, both still very much lost in their own versions of hell, and without hesitation, Arthur grabs an IV line and joins them.
Arthur opens his eyes and all he sees is the murk of the surf. He sputters, sitting up in the crashing waves of the shores of limbo. Buildings crumble above his head but the debris doesn’t hit him like he expects them to.
Nothing goes as one expects them in limbo.
First, he finds Cobb. The beard on his face has grown thick. He stands on the roof of Mal’s childhood home and even though the brick on the building is a fiery red, an insistent flow of stark grayscale seems to crawl slowly up the walls.
“Cobb!” Arthur calls out to him from the sidewalk. “Where’s Eames?”
Cobb shakes his head and looks at Arthur as if through an opaque glass. “How long has it been?”
Arthur doesn’t know.
Cobb grimaced, passing a hand over his face. “I can’t find him.”
“Go back, Cobb,” Arthur tells him, his jaw tightening as his resolve hardens even further. He’s going to find Eames. If anyone’s going to find him, it’s going to be the one who brought him here in the first place. “I’ll take care of it.”
And just like that, Cobb nods. Without hesitation, he falls back, back, off the rooftop and back to wakefulness.
It takes Arthur days before he could track any semblance of Eames’ subconscious in the sudden vastness of nothing once Cobb had woken up.
The buildings are gone and in their place, Arthur fills the void with white. White sand that stretches over to the horizon. A white sky overcast with clouds that promised no rain and no wind. He’s a long way away from the beach now. He can’t even hear the soft lap of the ocean against soft sand.
His feet are dry as he trudges on, due north, and behind him is a trail of footprints that leads off to as much nothing as the nothing that meets him as he travels ever forward.
The first thing he stumbles on is a patch of grass that peeks from mounds of sand. He bends down to touch it. Lush, green grass that doesn’t look like the kind of grass that flourished in tropical countries.
He looks up. He’s met with a stretch of grassland that spanned over hills and hills of even more lush greenery. He breaths in and smells the earthy tang of dew and rain-dampened soil.
When he sees a young boy and a herd of sheep pass over a swell of earth, he knows he’s on the right track.
He walks for what feels like days, and soon enough he finds himself on a cobblestone road at the heart of downtown London. The street is empty, except for a cul de sac lined with blue double-decker buses.
Yorkshire, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool are painted on their sides in white block letters.
Farther on, deeper into the city, he finds red double-decker buses.
Paris, Mombasa, Las Vegas, New York.
Until finally, a private jet in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, the same white block letters on the buses written on its side. Atlantic City.
He climbs the opened hatch-ladder that led inside.
The interior is as garish and expensive as he remembers it, all those years ago, or has it been just last spring? When Arthur himself has boarded this plane, with Eames in his blue suit just behind him. He glances over his shoulder; he’s alone.
He finds Eames in the cockpit.
He’s thin. His face has grown older, lined with years--decades--spent in an empty England, spent riding empty buses leading to empty cities that may or may not be special to him. He stares blankly at the windshield that separates him from the rest of his endless dreamscape. His stubble has grown thicker and the line of his shoulders, that had always been strong and stern, is bowed under the weight of too much empty thought projected on a blank canvass that stretches to eternity.
“Where are you headed?” Arthur asks him as he sits down on the co-pilot’s chair.
“New Jersey,” Eames answers him in a tone so bland and a voice so rough with disuse.
(Arthur wonders how long it’s been since Eames has talked to someone. He hadn’t bumped into a projection the entire time he’d prowled the empty streets.)
“What’s in New Jersey?”
Eames shrugs, but a fond smile plays at his lips. He reaches into his jacket—a blue one, Arthur realizes, the very same blue suit jacket Eames had worn on that trip to Atlantic City—and takes out a folded piece of paper.
Arthur takes it. It’s grown soft, the familiar handwriting of the short note has faded until Arthur could barely make out the words he still vividly remembers penning himself.
“Do you think he’s still waiting for me?” Eames asks. “He’s not the most patient man in the world, you see. He’s always got somewhere else to go, other people to see. Another job waiting somewhere.”
517, Trump Marina, Sunday. Don’t be late, Arthur reads, but he already knows this note by heart. He remembers writing so many notes, all of them much longer and much more eloquent than this one. All of them had wound up in the trash bin until the only sheet of paper Arthur had left was a receipt for a three-hundred fifty-dollar suit he’d bought a couple of days earlier.
Arthur turns the paper over. Gieves & Hawkes, Atlantic City, New Jersey, written in elegant serif at the heading.
“He did,” Arthur finally says, once the silence has pressed on far too heavily on him. He looks at Eames and wills for Eames to look right back at him, with piercing gray eyes that seem to dive deep into his soul in the infuriating way that Eames has always read other people. “I waited for you. You were three days late but I was still there.”
Eames frowns, then, as if only just remembering that detail. Then he laughs, threw his head back and laughed. “He gave me hell for it, you know. Him and his bloody schedule.” Then his laughed tapers off, leaving behind a wistful look so full of open affection and longing that Arthur has never seen on the youthful face he remembers on Eames.
Arthur turns in his seat. He takes Eames’ face in his hands and looks into eyes so very old and so very tired that Arthur shudders out a breath at the realization that Eames has been in this plane, this plane heading to nowhere to Atlantic City to the young Arthur that he remembers.
“Merry chase, Eames?” Arthur teases lightly with a smile that doesn’t quite dispel the edge in his eyes. “You gave me one hell of one, you know.”
Looking into Eames’ eyes he sees the cloud of too many empty days, months, years, wither at the seams until the brightness of recognition flashes. Brightly. And Eames smiles, his same cocky smile that softens somewhat as he finally finally remembers that this man’s voice is Arthur’s. That this is Arthur.
Arthur smiles back at him and when he does, Eames presses their lips together in a kiss that is nowhere near the novel passion of that weekend in Atlantic City. The kiss is chaste, almost tentative, but the insistent thrum of longing is full of nothing else but the very same affectionate patience Eames has always reserved just for him.
“Arthur,” Eames breathes out, as if the very taste of Arthur’s name on his lips is enough to awaken him. “Missed you, you know that?”
Arthur laughs, quietly, and the touch of his breath against Eames’ lips is real enough.
Eames kisses his cheek. “What do you say we resume this up there, eh?” He whispers into Arthur’s ear.
Arthur opens his eyes at the blinding light of the sun streaming in from the open airplane window. He blinks back the sleep from his eyes. Exhaustion leadens his mind but it doesn’t stop him from shooting upright in his seat.
He’s met first with Fischer’s confused face, then Cobb’s nod of greeting. The PASIV is nowhere to be found.
--Eames is smiling, and Arthur thinks that Eames’ smugness has never been a source of such profound relief.
“Morning, Arthur,” Eames greets from where he sits, his feet crossed at the ankles atop the LCD screen of the in-flight first-class entertainment system. “Slept well, I hope?”
Arthur rolls his eyes at him and pretends that the grin on his face is not amused, but annoyed. That the deep sigh he expels through his nose is not respite, and not satisfaction, and not a lingering sense of what he had lost there in limbo, but what he had found. Again. After months of forgetting and years of finding.
“That, I believe, is a yes,” Eames whispers into his ear as strong arms—not thin, not old, not aged, not tired—wrapped around his chest from behind. “Now what do you say we go ahead and continue what we started in there?”