Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 12:12 pm
Title: When Somebody Loved Me, Everything Was Beautiful
Fandom: Inception
Pairing: Eames/Arthur (pre-slash)
Word Count: 3000~
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Implied violence against an animal.
Summary: For as long as Eames could remember, it had always been him and Darling.
Notes: Really loosely based off of this kink meme prompt. I'm not gonna lie... this is a strange fic. It started off as an exercise to get me out of writers slump, and then took a u-turn. This version is edited from the one on the kink meme.
*****





Eames carefully placed the log upright upon the broader stump and checked to make sure it sat flat. Then, grabbing the axe, he took careful aim and swung. The log split down the middle in two neat halves. He bent, hip twinging, and added the pieces to the small pile and took up a fresh log and axe again.

That his hip hurt was nothing new – it was an old injury and bothered him more often than not, though he had learned to ignore it. Eames worked until the twinge became regular and throbbing; only then stopping to slowly gather up the cut pieces up in his arms.

"Darling!" he called, upon straightening.

There was a distant bark of answer from the weedy hills. Before long, a golden retriever tore out from a stand of trees, tongue lolling and stickers all caught in her fur. She joined Eames as he made his slow, limping way back up the winding road towards their cabin.

"There's a storm coming on, Darling," Eames said, casting an eye towards the west. The sky was still blue above him, but out among the horizon ominous thunderheads were gathering. A chill wind swept up right on the heels of his words, tumbling dust and fresh fallen leaves everywhere.

Darling took no heed of his words, only proudly led the way; tail up like a banner in the wind.

They made it to the door just as the first few flakes started to fall.

*****

Eames didn't know how old he was. It used to matter, once, but he'd found out a long time ago that time pass by differently when one lived without clocks or daily commutes.

Now Eames marked time by storms, by seasons, by the graying of Darling's muzzle and by the age spots on his hand. He didn't own a mirror -- he'd no need for it after he'd finally left society behind-- but knew he probably looked a fright. At least there seemed to be no need to comb anymore, with so little hair left on his head.

Besides, it was nice to pretend he still looked as he had in his thirties. Why shatter that illusion?
 
There was no telly, no electricity at all for the storm to knock out. So Eames loaded the fireplace with the fresh-cut wood and lit a fire, putting a kettle of water to heat for tea while the wind howled between cracks in the cabin's walls.

He was just starting to doze in his favorite chair; comfortably warm at the fireside with Darling snoozing at his feet, when a loud banging startled him nearly bolt upright.

At first he feared the storm had knocked a branch against his cabin. A tree had fallen on his roof seven or eight years ago. And aside from nearly smashing him and Darling, it taken him all summer to clear it away and patch up the damage.

The banging sound came again— rhythmic and not coming from the roof at all, but rather, the door.

It took a few seconds for him to realize someone was knocking.

Eames rose stiffly out of his chair, back, ribs and hip aching fiercely now, and unwound the leather latch which held the rough-cut door shut.

A man stood on his doorstep. He was as hunched as Eames, only with cold instead of age; hands tucked under his ribs, lips blue, and a rim of frost coating his upper lip.

He nearly collapsed in on Eames, half-way frozen and shivering hard enough to come apart.

Somehow Eames was able to get the man, staggering, inside, and sat in front of the fire. The poor bastard was wearing nothing but a smart looking suit vest, shirt, and trousers. His hands shook so hard with cold that Eames had to hold a mug of warm tea to his lips.

"Easy does it now," he murmured, coaxing him to swallow. "What's someone like you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"

The man – young man, Eames supposed, pegging him in his late twenties or early thirties, opened his mouth, but all that came from his half-frozen lips was a groan.

His hand, though, curled around Eames' wrist with a desperate strength and would not let go.

****

Eames helped him out of his suit and covered him with the thickest blanket he owned. Darling sat herself firmly upon the man's feet as if claiming him.

The man soon closed his eyes. His death grip on Eames' wrist slackened.

****
 
The next morning dawned warm and clear as it did in this part of the country, and Eames made eggs over toast while his guest poked about the one-room cabin. He had not spoken much, yet seemed thoroughly bemused.

"Do you need to go out, Darling?" Eames asked.

The man turned around, glancing at him sharply. "No, I'm fine here."

"I was speaking to the dog," Eames said, and limped over to where Darling stood, patiently, pushing her nose at the crack in the door.

The man made a somewhat strangled sound behind him.

*****

"I never thought you as the rustic type," the man said, between bites of egg. He was clearly ravenous, but ate cleanly, neatly. Eames had made sure to cook the yolks through, just as he knew Arthur would want them.

Arthur. Yes, that was his name, wasn't it?

"I'm not really," Eames confessed, then shrugged at Arthur's look. "Everyone just started to seem... a bit flat. I couldn't put my finger on it, and to be honest it started to drive me a little around the bend. So I left. Darling came after." After the first few years alone in the wilderness, when sheer loneliness had started to drive him a new kind of insane.

Arthur looked thoughtful. "Projections," he murmured, almost to himself. "Of course they wouldn't be real enough for someone like you."

"If you say so," Eames said, and bit into his own toast.

"What about me?" Arthur asked. "Am I... flat?"

Eames considered him for a long moment. "You remind me of someone."

"Oh?"

"I can't quite remember," Eames said. "But I'm certain it will come to me."

****

"Why don't you just cut her fur short?" Arthur asked, as Eames sat down to spend another long evening by the fire, with Darling laid out expectantly before him, combing her fur free of burrs and stickers.

Arthur himself was curled up in the old armchair, reading a book Eames didn't recognize. Not one his own, then.

"You wouldn't think to look at her, but Darling's rather particular about her coat," he replied, easily. "She'd never forgive me if I cut it short."

"She's a dog, Eames."

"It doesn't mean she lacks feelings."

Arthur made a soft, irritated sound in the back of his throat. Then again, Eames got the impression the other man didn't like Darling very much. Arthur never called her by her name.


****

Arthur set about fixing the small cracks between the logwood walls that summer, patching everything up so that the wind could no longer sneak in and chill the air. He cut firewood, too, when Eames was too sore to do it. At night, they shared the same bed for warmth against the storms raging outside, huddled together while thunder and wind-driven snow raged against the walls.

Eames still cooked nightly for them both. He knew, as if in a half-remembered dream, that Arthur could burn cereal given then chance.

It was a simple existence, not too much different from when it had been just him and Darling. Until Arthur had to go off and ruin it one day saying, "I can't stay here anymore. I'm losing myself."

"No one's ever asked you to stay," Eames replied, a little gruffly as he teased a nasty burr out of Darling's hair. "We got along fine without you. I suspect we will do the same when you're gone."

Arthur shut his book with a snap. He had been reading again... he was always reading, and Eames sometimes wondered where he got the books, but always forgot to ask.

"Don't you miss civilization, Eames? People? You used to be able to read people inside and out."

It sounded right, but it must have been a long time ago. He could barely remember.

Arthur knelt, putting a hand over his own, stilling them. "Come with me."

Eames felt his mouth go a little dry. "I can't leave Darling. You know I can't."

"She isn't real," Arthur snapped, getting up in disgust and walking to their bed.

Darling, perhaps sensing the change in mood, rose and licked his face. He curled his fingers in her silky hair, bowed his head. He couldn't let go.

*****

"Try to remember," Arthur said, leaning forward in expectation. Something had changed in his manner in the last few weeks – a curious, almost frantic light had come into his eyes. He was correct: Eames had once been a master at reading people, and Arthur was acting like a man who's time had almost run out. "Compare what is around you with what you know, logically."

Eames, who was busying himself shuffling a desk of cards Arthur had given him – his fingers may have been knotted with age, but there were things his muscle memory would never forget – said, "No one is keeping you here, Arthur. I'm self sufficient. You needn't stay for me."

"Eames, you pull fresh eggs out of the cabinet every day. We don't even have chickens. Doesn't that bother you?" Arthur hooked his thumb behind him towards the kitchenette. "You have a working microwave and no electricity."

"And a very fine job you did at installing it," Eames said, wondering if the man was fishing for a compliment.

Darling barked at the door and Eames rose to gather his hat and pail. Wild berries would be ripening this season and he didn't want to miss them.

****

"I never understood why he did it," Arthur said, one night as the storm forked lightening outside.

Eames was laying half asleep, listening to the steady sound of his heartbeat. He asked, "Who did what?"

"Dom Cobb." A long pause. "I never really forgave him, never really understood... but I think I do now."

Something in the quality of his voice caused a chill to crawl down his spine. Eames hitched the blankets higher, but he still felt cold. "Arthur?"

"Just go to sleep Mr. Eames."

****

A week, a month, an age later, Eames was limping back up the long winding road to the cabin, three plump salmon hanging from a fishing line, and body aching from the long day.

He called for Darling, but she didn't come.

He found Arthur, looking ashen, but resolute, sitting at their table. A handgun sat on the table before him.

Eames stilled. "Where's Darling?" he rasped.

Arthur's eyes flicked to the handgun and then away.

"You..." A wave of horror swept through Eames – rage unlike any he'd felt in years, not even when Cobb screwed them over in the Fischer job, the bastard. It gave him strength, carrying him forward, hands at Arthur's throat.

Arthur was faster, though, younger, uninjured. He easily knocked Eames out of the way and backward, pinning him against the wall with a forearm.

Eames spat in his face.

"You son of a bitch! You fucking son of a— You killed her! You killed her!"

Arthur flinched, but didn't back away. Only looked at him, calm and sad, and didn't deny a thing. "I did it to set you free."

"I'll kill you!" Eames swore, struggling. He could feel tears leaking down his cheeks, longed to break free and rip Arthur's face off. But he was too weak, and Arthur was too strong...

... when had that happened? Eames remembered pushing Arthur down, once, shielding him as gunfire erupted over their heads. Arthur had cursed at him, tried to shake him off and get up to return fire, but Eames was just that much stronger than him, and he was heavier to boot...

Arthur cupped his jaw roughly. "Just try to remember. God damnit, Eames! Just try!"

"But..." Eames' struggles slowed. He licked his bottom lip, found it try. "I'm not dreaming?"

"No," Arthur said. "No, not quite. But you still need to wake up."

And Eames didn't resist as Arthur shoved the gun roughly in his hands, pointing towards Eames's own chest. He didn't protest as Arthur curled his own shaking fingers about the trigger.

Eames had to be the one to pull it himself, he realized. It had always been up to him.


****

 
The next thing he remembered was the frantic beeping of machinery. Then Arthur's voice, arguing vehemently above him with another.

A calmer voice telling Eames to relax, that they'll have the breathing tube out shortly.

****

It took some maneuvering for Eames to unlock the door and let himself inside his London flat. Hard to maneuver with crutches and a cast on his right arm. But, as he'd already waved away offers of help at both the hospital and at the front of the building, he'd figured he would find a way to manage.

The inside of the flat, when he finally got the door open, smelled musty and damp. Just as it should, for all that it sat unused for six weeks.

Eames spent the next few hours drifting like a ghost through his own rooms, picking up objects and replacing them, examining everything as if they belonged to another person. He had been forging people all his life. He should be able to manage this.

His various injuries – especially his fractured hip – still ached. His mind had obviously translated much of it while he lay comatose, as a body of an old man. He still felt old, though the doctors assured him he would eventually be right as rain again with rest and some moderate physical therapy.

It had all been very stupid, really. Eames had been fresh off watching England lose the game with his mates, took a step outside to smoke, and then promptly been plowed down by a driver going too fast to turn a corner in the rain.

Of all the ways he expected to die (the various bounties on his various identities by various multi-national corporations being chiefly among them) that one had not been high on the list.

Word got out, as it tended to do in the dreamshare community, and nearly the entire bloody team had flown in: Cobb, Ariadne, Yusuf, and of course Arthur. Sadly, being in a coma was much different than most types of dreaming: Hazardous for anyone to attempt to join and knock the dreamer awake by normal means.

And Eames might still be puttering around in the rustic cabin in his own head if Arthur – Arthur of all people – hadn't decided to go rogue and plug himself in, consequences be damned.

Then the man had off and disappeared, leaving Eames feeling... disconnected. Uncomfortable in his own skin for the first time in his life. Stuck alone in a too large, too quiet flat.

So maybe it had been all a dream. But he had been happy there.

He missed his dog.

Hot pin prickled behind his eyes and Eames blinked several times, turning away and settling for the sofa instead. But the room was still too quiet and he tried to take his mind off the emptiness with first the telly. Then, when that didn't work, looking up far off tropical places he could lose himself in once the casts came off, preferably gambling away hideous amounts of his savings. Or other people's.

He was just starting to doze off when he heard a knock on the door.

Arthur stood on the other side, neatly dressed as always with his hair slicked back, and wearing what on anyone else would be a sheepish expression. Only Arthur never looked sheepish. Not even when he had just shot other people's dogs.

"Arthur," Eames said, leaning against the door jam, more out of exhaustion than casualness. "This is... a surprise."

Perhaps Arthur caught a flash of Eames' expression – the latent desire to punch him again and again even though he knew Darling was only a manifestation of his own loneliness down there and Arthur had pretty much saved his life – because he winced and immediately reached for something just left of Eames's field of view.

"Here," Arthur said, quickly rising and shoving something at him.

And abruptly, Eames was juggling a blonde, fluffy, extremely wiggly puppy in his good arm.

"What?" he managed, a bit weakly. "Arthur... what?" and unsuccessfully tried to turn his face away as the puppy licked frantically at him.

Arthur's cheeks went pink. "Ah, well... I thought since I took Darling away it was only fair."

"You do realize," Eames started to say, but was forced to stop the puppy nearly tumbled out of his grasp. Arthur swooped in, catching it, and the puppy twisted around to trying to lick his face instead. Eames tried again, "Darling was a projection of... She was because I missed you so much, you know?"

"I know," Arthur said and leaned in with the puppy to his chest. Close, and allowing Eames to carefully stroke its fur. "Can we come in?"

It wasn't often that Eames was struck mute. But at that moment, with Arthur standing there, and the familiar feel of fur under his fingers, he felt things click into place. He felt, in that moment, that at last he was home.

Eames stepped aside and let them both in.

~ Fin ~



 
Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 07:47 pm (UTC)
That was really cute, I love Arthur showing up with a puppy as a peace offering
Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 08:01 pm (UTC)
Oh god this fic, it's horrible and wonderful and just so striking I love it so much. The emotion in it feels so very real despite being so understated and this was just such a pleasure to read. I love the take you took on the original prompt, this is simply gorgeous
Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
Oooooh, I really liked this! :) Great adaptation of the prompt
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
Excellent. I like how you had the manifistation of storms throughout Eames' dream. His emotional stress. The way Arthur filled in the chinks of his cabin... and his life.

Just wonderful touches and a great fic. Kudos my dear.
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 01:00 am (UTC)
Oh, this was lovely! And brilliant. It hadn't even occurred to me what would happen - or what COULD happen - should someone fall into a coma in this universe. Interesting! I liked the parallels with the injuries and how they manifested in old!Eames. I also LOVED the dog's name (AS DID ARTHUR, CLEARLY, HE'S JUST HIDING A SMILE FOR SERIOUS ANY SECOND NOW). ;)

Also... PUPPY. Excellent ending! :D
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)
Ohh my heart ♥ I love the way that the flat projections got to Eames, and the way you ended it with Arthur showing up with the puppy ♥ ♥
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 02:30 am (UTC)
This was so beautiful! I love the emotions that sort of mired Eames into his day to day life, the inertia of having nothing changing and wanting things to stay that way because it feels safe... Aww, Eames! I'm so glad Arthur came to drag him out of it.
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 02:48 am (UTC)
I just kinda wanna snuggle into this forever.
I whimpered a little bit when Arthur got there and answered to 'darling' only to find out it was the dog and then when Arthur says he understands why Cobb did what he did! (at this point my lower lip was trembling) And then Arthur!!! Oh, I totally understood and it had to be done but I cried for both of them!!!
And then the end. Awwwwww.
You are brilliant.
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 03:17 am (UTC)
awww

awesome fic, the idea of it is so compelling. and its executed beautifully without any loose ends (which is always a problem of mine.)

so cool.
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 08:27 am (UTC)
Love this - at first I thought Eames had realy retired, until things didn't add up. The explanation - coma following a car accident - is so terribly ironic but realistic. And I loved Arthur showing up with a peace offering in the end. I wonder what they'll name the puppy?
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 11:39 am (UTC)
I love the kind of abstract voice you have at the beginning. It's very much a dreamy haze, which makes for beautiful reading. ♥