Word Count: 8,163
Notes: Slightly cracky Greek myth AU. Written for perfectivity for dream_holiday. The prompt I used was 'Arthur is super drunk/half asleep Arthur and thinks he has dreamed up a sexy night time visitor', although it's strayed a little from that as it turns out :)
Summary: For a one night stand Eames is astoundingly persistent. How dare a man who Arthur met quite by chance also just happen to work in the exact same niche criminal enterprise? Arthur doesn't believe in coincidence, but the truth may be something even more impossible.
The first time it happens is... well. The first time. Arthur doesn't make a habit of drinking, he's abstemious by inclination and far too cautious to just let himself get drunk. Even in the army, when a day's furlough would likely lead to a splitting head on the parade ground the next day for 99% of the men in his squadron, Arthur makes a beer last, nursing it quietly, pretending he's had more, buying rounds when it's his turn but not necessarily drinking them. No-one seems to notice, or if they do, he commands enough respect that no-one calls him on it.
It's not that Arthur has a problem with trusting himself or others. It's that... well, trust is such a rare commodity, isn't it? Arthur merely likes to be in control of any situation, that's all, and to know what substances go into his body. It's not a big deal. He can party with the best of them when he wants to. He just happens to do it sober.
So it would be a time he lets his guard down. How could it not be? Unless there just happen to be nefarious criminal types just dying to kidnap and drug him. Hah. His imagination is better than he thought. No, it's nothing like that - he's at a family wedding of all things, and he's there in uniform because all the nice girls love a soldier or something like that, and there's punch. Fruit punch. Just like his Auntie Fran used to make, all delicious and fruity with cranberry juice. Arthur loves cranberry juice. So he might have had one. Or two. One or two, definitely. Then because he was thirsty, he drank them quickly and now he is... Arthur looks round, too quickly, and the room spins. He forgets what he was thinking.
"There you are, you lovely thing," says a voice in his ear. It's a purring kind of voice and Arthur wants to turn to it automatically, as though all good things come from it, from him, the man at his side, cupping his elbow, "I've been looking for you all your life."
"All my life?" says Arthur, wanting some specificity even when three sheets to the wind and random gorgeous strangers start breathing into his ear. He thinks the stranger is gorgeous anyway. Probably it's the beer goggles talking.
"Well, certainly those adult parts of it, once you were of sufficient age that I could afford to take notice of you without feeling too much like a cradle-snatcher."
Arthur's companion seems amused, and Arthur wants to tell him he's always been of 'sufficient age' - even when he was a child, he couldn't ever remember a time when he really felt young.
"'M not a kid," he says instead, which is not coherent enough, and irritates those parts of him that realise quite how drunk he is.
"Oh Arthur, I know that, none better. I wanted to welcome you in person, I suppose. To our little club. Most people, except for those with a strong religious inclination, are more likely to have joined long ago. You're unusual, so I kept an eye on you, I suppose. You don't mind?"
Arthur squints sideways at his tormentor. At the distracting expanse of tattooed skin, at the luscious full lips that quirk upwards as he stares. No, he doesn't mind. Although he wonders if he should.
"What's your name?" Arthur asks, abruptly, the desire to perhaps see the man again bubbling into his consciousness, but knowing he needs a name to manage it.
The guy huffs a small laugh, even as he steers Arthur away from the press of people towards a wilder corner of his aunt's landscaped garden. "Dear Arthur, so on point even now. You should do your research, you know. I have many names, to many peoples, but you can call me... Eames, I think. More up to date than Evius."
"Eames..." It feels right on Arthur's tongue, somehow, which is madness but perhaps that is the point. It's a wild night, after all, and the fruit punch is sliding through his veins in much the same way that Eames' hands are sliding under his shirt.
"Darling," says Eames, right before Arthur's senses are drowned by the smell and taste of Eames pushing him greedily against a tree. "Debauchery in nature's arms. It's a classic."
"I don't care," says Arthur, unable to bear the wait a second longer, thrusting up against a hard muscular thigh. "Just shut up and fuck me."
Fortunately for everyone's self control, Eames does.
One night stands are not something Arthur had ever thought he would indulge in, so when he wakes the next morning with a series of hickeys blooming like roses across his chest, and a certain satiated aching in all his limbs, he's faintly ashamed. Then he curses, showers as hot as he can stand, and proceeds to put it out of his mind. It's not that an encounter with an attractive stranger is unwelcome precisely, but Arthur's blood runs cold to think of the vulnerable position he'd been in, the chances he'd taken. A little voice whispers that it's no more than any other young man of his generation might have done, but Arthur holds himself to a higher standard, and he's disappointed in himself. But it was a family wedding, no-one is likely to ask, or to tell, and so he goes back after his furlough is over and everything is the same as it ever was.
Or it would be. Arthur discovers he looks for a certain reflection in the curved glass of a bottle now, or for a presence out of the corner of his eye. He puts it down to paranoia, to being in the army for too long, to the heat and the flies and the dust. He's been shipped to Afghanistan, and for once his paranoia is put to good use, while being called mission readiness by his superiors. Arthur would curse his luck at being put on point duty except that it's his vigilance that'll save the lives of his patrol if he sees the roadside bomb in time. He can't regret that. He is the best, after all.
There are afterimages flaring green in his vision by the end of a patrol these days, and Arthur's finding it hard to sleep. He needs to get some rest, he knows it, but his eyes are scratchy and dry, he has a headache, and a horrible feeling he may have a touch of sunstroke. He gets up to fetch himself some hydration - his canteen might be full of unpleasantly metal-tasting water but it might settle his headache, if nothing else. But he must be further gone than he thought, the starbursts in his eyesight distorting everything too much, because the canteen he picks up from the tiny table in the corner of the platoon tent isn't his own. The first large gulp is too much, the harsh sting of spirits biting at the back of his throat, until he swallows, in a reflex to stop himself choking. It brings tears to his eyes, but it's better than waking half the inhabitants of the tent with his sudden coughing fit. Arthur sways, the strength of the liquor going straight to his head, until he is captured under the elbows and set on his feet again.
"Whoops-a-daisy... There you are," says a familiar and comforting voice, an impossible voice, as unlikely in this context as the solid muscular body crowding his. Arthur is almost loath to turn round, because that makes the impossible too real, and he's not sure he wants to face the likelihood that he's gone mad in the desert, like some sort of ridiculous cliché.
"Whoops-a-daisy? Who says that?" Arthur can't focus on the big things, doesn't really want to, but something smaller, that's ok.
"Ah, well, it's part of my charm, I expect," says Eames, laughter curling around the syllables like smoke around a cigar, "Always being a little behind the times. I can't help it, I'm afraid, pet."
Arthur turns round, looks into Eames' eyes. Who can't be here. Who's an hallucination brought on by too much sun and stress. Arthur apparently really needs to get laid if he's bringing his one-night-stand to life in the middle of Afghanistan.
Eames looks unfairly good though, Arthur can't help but think. After the wedding his memory was a little hazy, but he's pleased to see that Eames is as hot now as he seemed then. Dark blond hair, blue eyes, a full and generous mouth - that's smiling at him, revealing teeth that are just a little crooked. A real amount of crooked, in fact - because who hallucinates crooked teeth?
Eames lifts an arm from Arthur's waist to run it through his hair and down the side of his face, in a gesture that might conceivably be described as tender. A hint of ink peeks out from the rolled-up sleeves of his BDU shirt. Arthur digs his fingers into the meaty part of Eames' forearms, just as a test, and the flesh gives in a satisfying way, and which doesn't make Eames wince but Arthur can tell he wants to. Stupid macho bullshit, but he can't deny that he'd do the same.
It's still not proof. He could be dreaming this, for example. He's always had very vivid dreams.
"So have you decided?" Eames is smiling at him, with a hint of mischief. "I can see that logical brain of yours working away, and I want to know what you've concluded. Why don't you tell me while I sort out your headache for you?"
Arthur wants to protest, but there's something about Eames that always puts him off-balance and even on the defensive. Something that whispers to him of the comforts of home. Something that makes the wildest inconsistency unfairly plausible.
And his hands are magic. As Eames begins to sweep his thumbs in circles on Arthur's temple, his whole head held in the cradle of his large palms, Arthur could easily forget his own name. The relief of it is bliss, the nagging headache, the dizziness, and the after-images that have plagued him for days, are all soothed away by Eames' touch. He feels like he could be floating in a warm bath. Embarrassingly, he even thinks he lets out a groan. Distantly, he hears Eames chuckle and wonders when he closed his eyes.
"Don't worry, Arthur, no-one will hear us. I don't have much power these days, but I can borrow a little from Morpheus. No-one will wake up."
It disturbs Arthur that the thought hadn't even occurred to him.
So Arthur has a fantasy lover. So what? Lot's of people have fantasies they don't talk about. It's all perfectly normal. Of course, most people's fantasy lovers don't turn up randomly to cure headaches, don't appear in the theatre of war, or keep platoon-mates asleep. Arthur is prepared to believe that he's unusual, but not that unusual. So sensibly, rationally, he concludes that he really has been dreaming. Of course, it's the most logical explanation. Everyone knows that.
But Arthur doesn't touch another drop of alcohol while he's in Afghanistan. It might also be one reason behind the curiosity that makes him apply to a new black ops team that's being put together. Scuttlebutt says that it's in the wholly new field of dream-sharing technology. Scuttlebutt is often wrong, but in this case it doesn't even begin to skim the surface of the reality. Arthur learns exactly how it feels to be gutshot, strangled, blown to pieces and drowned. Among other things. He can't say that he's surprised that he appears to be good at this job too. If there's something delicate and dangerous to be done, apparently Arthur is the army's man every time. He gets commendations he can't talk about and a chest full of ribbons to prove it. He's still not sure it's worth the rest.
The worst of it is that he doesn't even see Eames again - but Arthur is fierce in his mental defences. He's glad he's not going insane, he's happy that fantasy lovers don't exist except when his mind is on the very edge of its boundaries. But when alone in his bunk, biting his hand to muffle any noise, if the image of Eames' hard body floats in his mind's eye, or if the memory of his broad hands, or the spicy rough scent of him, helps to bring Arthur off quicker than otherwise - well, who is he to complain about it?
It all comes to a head one night in a bar. It's a shady place, with rough wooden tables and a mysterious golden mask on the wall. There's snow falling outside, but inside the clientele are full of jolly cheer. Hard-bitten, bearded guys for the most part, having a good time but Arthur knows the mood could turn ugly in a heartbeat. He's also a little contemptuous - it seems Lt. Sumner, who's the dreamer for this level, has watched Indiana Jones a little too often for Arthur's taste. The chinos and brown leather bomber jacket he himself is wearing are in keeping enough and are about as dressed-down as Arthur is willing to go in the less than perfect circumstances.
They're meant to be there discovering the location of a particular warlord's opium fields, so they can be fire-bombed with a greater chance of success, and the map is meant to be won from the warlord in a game of dice - loaded ones, naturally. Although perhaps Arthur isn't as surprised as all that when things don't go quite to plan, the whole job has had an edgy feel, as though there's something not quite right. Arthur is on look-out and protection, point-man again, although without the benefit of more intel than has been deemed need to know. Personally, Arthur thinks there's a whole lot more information that he could have done with knowing, but it's not like he has another option other than to try and do his fucking job.
So the shit hitting the proverbial fan is not a surprise. Arthur's throwing punches and overturning tables before he even begins to think about it. He does his best to lay down covering fire to protect Lt Sumner at the dice game - with a revolver, no less, there's such a thing as too much authenticity - long enough for him to pick up his winnings, but doesn't know how well he succeeds. Because the next thing Arthur is consciously aware of is the blood trickling down his face, a splitting headache, and what looks like half the bar-top - a nice black and white grained marble - lying on his legs. They're both broken, of course.
Damn Indiana Jones obsessed lieutenants. The bar's also on fire.
Arthur struggles then, with all his not inconsiderable might, to very little avail. He knows, with a visceral bone-deep terror, how much burning to death will hurt. He'd tripped and nearly fell into a bonfire when he was a child, he has the scar on his leg to prove it. He can cope, literally cope, with anything else, but he can't handle fire. God damn this man's fucking army, where's his team-mates? But he knows. They've left him to die, because it's standard operating procedure in a hostile environment. He'll die in the dream and be no worse for it in the real world, and then he'll get to do it all again tomorrow. Well, not this time.
Arthur struggles futilely against the immovable marble, then against the rough wooden planks of the floor, desperately trying to pull himself away, to drag himself out by his fingernails, without any success. His thumb knocks against a cool sticky cube, and he clutches it, a red die fallen from the craps game. He clutches at it like a lifeline for no particular reason, and then in spite of himself he thinks of Eames. It's a random thought, produced in the most dire of circumstances, but Arthur has it none the less. Eames would no doubt be a projection, but surely that wouldn't matter. At least Arthur wouldn't be alone.
He's giving in to something, Arthur knows, but it doesn't stop him. He won't be able to put the genie back in the bottle, and he knows that too. Calmly now, given the way his heart is jack-rabbiting, Arthur lifts the die to his mouth. There's a sweet smell, a little sickly, probably a cheap scotch of some kind, but that's the least of it. Arthur puts out a delicate tongue and licks at the die, just once, suppressing his shudder of distaste. It's all that's required. One tiny fleeting hint of whisky on the tongue and then he's there. Eames is there. For once Arthur doesn't hide his relief.
Eames bends down and carefully lifts the bar-top off of Arthur's legs while he tries not to hiss as the feeling comes back to them, nerves screaming in newly-discovered pain.
"It's all right, pet, we'll get you out of here," says Eames lightly, and Arthur might be mistaken, but there's a darkness now behind the casual grin, as though it takes a lot to rouse Eames' anger but this might just have managed it. Arthur sympathises - it must be his own anger reflected back into his projection's eyes.
Eames picks him up then, and Arthur wants to laugh, because it's like any cheesy Hollywood movie ever made. He wouldn't be surprised if Eames even had a whip tied to his belt, although he doesn't look to see. Instead he's carried out in the hero's arms with an outline of flames at his back. Being held to Eames' chest feels so good that Arthur, for once, just appreciates it.
Eames leans down as they walk, until his mouth is brushing the shell of Arthur's ear. "It's not just booze, you know, there's all sorts of ways. Ritual madness. Ecstasy. Revelations and epiphanies even. I'd like to think I've offered pretty good equal opportunities over the years. Don't feel you have to wait to call me, Arthur, please. Ask and I'll be there."
It's not something Arthur wants to probe into right then, even though he knows he should. So he avoids the question. "What's your first name?"
Eames hesitates, and Arthur wonders if he'll accept the change of subject. "Dion. I suppose. If you must."
But Arthur doesn't want to think about that either. He prefers Eames anyway. As a name.
Absconding with a military PASIV machine is pretty damn freeing. It frees Arthur from all sorts of restrictions and scruples, and it keeps him busy enough that he doesn't have to think about anything too hard. Which is just as well. Like the fact that Eames seems to turn up everywhere now. Like the fact that he seems to know everyone in the dreamshare community, on both sides of the legal line. Like the fact that everyone seems happy to see Eames, who is the best forger in the business, did Arthur know that? Yes, Arthur does know that, thank you very much. Well, he knows it now.
It's ridiculous. How dare a man who Arthur met once quite by chance, who he apparently can't get out of his mind judging from his unruly sub-conscious, also just happen to work in the exact same niche criminal enterprise as Arthur? The odds are slim, the coincidence unlikely. Arthur doesn't really believe in coincidence, so he begins to look for other connections.
Like the fact that he seems to be especially friendly with the Cobbs, and with Mallorie Cobb in particular. Arthur begins to work with them more regularly just to test the connection. He finds, completely by accident, that he likes them both. That Dom is an architect of great skill, and his wife is an extraordinary extractor, delicate of touch and compassionate too. They haven't Arthur's hard edges either, having come to dreamshare through an academic route. Mal makes Arthur laugh, a rare enough thing, while Dom just shrugs at them both indulgently, the settled domestic kind of love just pouring off him as he bounces their new baby on his knee. Philippa, their daughter, messes around at his feet before asking Uncle Arthur to play horsie. Luckily Uncle Arthur only gets a very minor pout when he refuses - he's wearing Gucci for god's sake. Which is another welcome change.
As for Eames, he's often just there, a glass of something always in his hand, a raised eyebrow above a paisley shirt, comfortably slouched against the kitchen counter.
"A family friend," Dom dismisses when Arthur asks. Mal merely goes more French and incomprehensible when Arthur brings up the subject of Eames.
"What is it, darling?" Eames asks, his voice low and smooth, like warmed brandy on a smoky evening. But Arthur just shakes his head, as though a phantom migraine is making itself known in some other dimension, and takes Eames hand off his thigh. Philippa isn't the only one known to pout in the Cobbs' house.
So it's probably Arthur's imagination. Everything that has happened, or that he's imagined has happened, really are all due to the things he'd logically decided they must be - stress, overwork, sleep deprivation. Despite the speculation that has been going on in the maniacally busy parts of his mind that won't give up on it and want to come to different impossible conclusions. But he's tired of the game, or he's willing to settle for a normal life - as normal as anyone in dreamshare is likely to have anyway. And Eames has been trying hard, god knows, perfectly politely, with his wandering hands and his filthy innuendo, that nevertheless never seems to offend. And he's still as gorgeous as ever, that's never changed - Arthur has wicked sinful thoughts about Eames' mouth, about being held against the wall by that body, and those hands; he wants to lick the ink he knows that Eames sports until they're both groaning with it.
But then Mal and Dom go too far, go too deep. Not that Arthur knows that's the problem. And suddenly Dom is taking the knives out of Mal's hands, and her eyes are far away, holes in a face that leads to nothingness. And Eames is spending every waking minute he's allowed to with her, all the time that Dom lets him have, who's grateful for it, because Dom too is falling apart, even as he tries to put his beautiful wife back together, as hopeless a task as catching the wine falling from a shattering glass.
When Eames holds Mal's hands and whispers in her ear, Mal will talk back in French, and Arthur wishes that it was a language he'd ever paid any attention to. Eames has stopped putting his hand onto any part of Arthur's body he can reach, and he's stopped flirting. It terrifies Arthur for unspecified reasons, while Eames just manages to look unbearably sad and old when he thinks Arthur isn't looking. But he still makes Mal smile, at least, manic smiles or wistful ones, and since Eames is one of the very few to coax a real reaction out of her these days, Arthur hopes that it will help.
It doesn't. Arthur finds Eames by chance in a bar that's all polished wood and brass fittings. There's a conveniently empty stool next to him which Arthur slides onto before he's even really thought it through. Eames raises his glass to Arthur, which contains a heavy dark red wine, and then reaches for the dusty bottle and splashes some into another glass. It looks old and expensive, not Eames' usual taste at all.
Eames is smiling, but it doesn't fool Arthur. It doesn't reach his eyes. "It's too late. She's one of mine but that doesn't help. She'll be gone by morning and I can't stop her. I never can, not any more. And that's my punishment, I suppose."
"You do know that you are making no sense at all?" said Arthur, carefully, trying not to let the edge of either fear or affection colour his voice.
Eames snorts in a way that shouldn't be sexy, and yet he still manages it. "Darling, I'm hardly allowed to do otherwise. I don't like losing one of my people, that's all. Her mind is so beautiful, even now. Mad, bad and dangerous to know, she would have run on the hills of Thebes like the wind. She would have loved it." Eames waves his glass in a way that makes Arthur realise he's a lot drunker than he'd thought. It might be why he's talking more nonsense than usual.
He doesn't mean to but Arthur stays with Eames. He tells himself that Eames might get himself into trouble, he might get himself mugged or lose track of the right hotel, or any one of a number of scenarios, which are good enough reasons surely? It means Arthur doesn't have to think about the fact that he's missed Eames these last months. He has no claim, and nothing to miss, not really, but the luxury of sitting in an ordinary bar and keeping him company is... welcome. Arthur finds it surprisingly peaceful. At some point, a lot later, Eames rests his hand on his knee and Arthur doesn't even push it away. It's a comforting weight, warm and solid. A point of contact in the darkness.
At some stage Arthur even takes a sip of the wine he's been poured. He thinks that's when he really understands. It's so compelling and rich on his tongue, tasting of long ago sunshine and the heavy salt of grief. History in a bottle, as though two thousand years were distilled into a mouthful. He's surprised when it doesn't send him reeling.
Perhaps he's finally starting to get a head for wine.
After Mal's death, Dom goes on the run. During the funeral Eames tells Arthur what Dom's planning and asks him to leave with him.
"I'd go myself, pet, but I'm not what he needs right now. I'll remind him of her too much, and I can't help him, not like you can. All that efficiency and willpower of yours has got to be good for something, right?" Eames cracks a smile, just a small one, not inappropriate for a funeral, but at the same time his hand casually brushes against Arthur's in a move that feels more like begging than if he'd got down on his knees. It disarms Arthur, makes him bite out his words a little less.
"Fine. But there is nothing good about this situation. You work to get this resolved as soon as possible, and in the mean time I'll try and keep him alive." Eames makes a complicated face that ends with some kind of an apology and while Arthur is still seething, he feels better about things. "For the record, I would have gone anyway," he says, more quietly, and is rewarded with a flash of Eames' crooked teeth that's as good as a caress.
It so happens that Arthur's skill set is one that fits criminal enterprise one step ahead of international law enforcement perfectly. He's still the point man, going in first, taking the responsibility, clearing the way - and doing it so efficiently that Dom barely notices all his hard work. That would bother Arthur more if he thought that Dom was in any fit state to acknowledge it, or if he wasn't already used to being treated like dirt. Thanks to the army he thinks he can come up smelling of roses whatever is thrown at him. He's proud of it. Yet despite that Arthur reckons Dom would still drive a saint to drink.
They work with many different teams until Mal's shade becomes too active, until they become poison to work with, not quite blacklisted, but not top of the food chain either. Arthur grits his teeth and carries on, he's been shot and stabbed before, after all; he's a big boy. It's not really Mal, he reminds himself, it's Dom's own guilt, although that doesn't exactly make his feelings towards Dom any more more warm and gooey. It helps when Dom stops designing the levels and moves into the extractor's role. It helps even more when they work with Eames.
Arthur misses him. He would rather have all his fingernails extracted in lemon juice than admit it, but to himself he can afford to concede the fact. It makes him grumpy when he's actually with Eames. When did the ease they had in each other's company disappear? When did it become so hard to reach out? How can a relationship that started with sex become so much less and so much more?
Then the inception job comes along and everything is different. They get a new architect, Ariadne, who despite being wet behind the ears, takes one look at Eames and snorts in a very unladylike way. If she rolled her eyes any further they would fall out of her head. Eames looks sheepish but not cowed by it, as though he's trying very hard not to pinch her cheeks. After Arthur kisses her to distract the projections, and she doesn't slap him, he decides it's ok to ask how she knows Eames.
"Huh. Would you believe we were married once?" Ariadne's eyes are twinkling, and Arthur would dismiss it as a joke except... He's good at reading people. She's joking about something, he gets that much. "He dumped me in Naxos. Probably the best thing that could have happened to the both of us."
Arthur laughs and they carry on, but he wonders about it. Perhaps Ariadne is not as young as she looks?
They are in the first level of the dream and Eames is dying. Arthur wants to punch something, preferably Cobb, but it was his own slip-up that meant they didn't know Fischer's subconscious was militarised. He should have assumed it, even without the proof - what billionaire's only son wouldn't be? - but Arthur likes to dot his 'i's and cross his 't's, he hates to follow hunches or even logically worked out hypotheses. And now they're stuck in Fischer's mind with no way out except for the kick. And Eames has been shot.
Arthur's heart is beating too fast, his hands are stained with Eames' blood where he tried to staunch it in the taxi, and he's listening to the ragged sounds of Eames in pain as he attempts to convince Fischer of his kidnap as Browning. A consummate professional even when gutshot. Arthur clenches his hands in helpless anger. When this is over he's going to kill him. If he's not dead or in limbo first.
They go down to the second level, to the hotel, and then to the third, leaving Arthur to arrange the kick, and to take some of his frustration out on the projections. Yusuf is too early and there isn't enough time before the second kick to cope with the zero gravity but Arthur makes time, roping them all like steers with wire and tubing, dragging them to the elevator, setting the charges. He runs a shaking finger along Eames' cheek and wonders when he came to matter so much. Wonders what the hell he can do about it. His breath stutters in his lungs and his hands feel cold. Shock, he reminds himself. Because Eames isn't breathing any more. He's not just dying, he's goddamned well gone and died.
Arthur barely thinks about it, which is self-preservation instinct perhaps, because he knows if he lets himself dwell too heavily on the incredibly stupid idea he's about to implement he might not survive his own insanity. He does a quick calculation, sets the timer for the detonator and then as it goes off, his finger still against Eames' soft lips, Arthur calmly puts his gun to his own head and pulls the trigger. They all of them only have seconds here, now the dreamer's dead, but he only needs seconds - that will be days for him in limbo, or even forever. But he can't let Eames rot in his own sub-conscious. He just can't.
Arthur opens his eyes and there is golden sand beneath his cheek, a handful of seaweed clenched in his fist. The soft sounds of a gentle beach on a summer's day filter through to ears that aren't waterlogged after all. There's sand in his mouth though, which Arthur spits out before getting to his feet. He's dry again because he wishes to be and his suit is not salt-stained. Arthur may never have been to limbo before but he's heard the stories. Nothing but that which you bring with you. He can bring order out of chaos and find Eames too, if he just puts his mind to it. Literally.
There's a booming noise and Arthur tenses before realising that the cliffs along the coast are not cliffs at all but skyscrapers caving into the water like icebergs falling from a glacier. There's a strange dichotomy between the tearing, rolling ocean farther along and the gentle slap of the small waves at his feet. Arthur takes a hesitant step up the beach raising his gaze to the horizon, expecting bland emptiness, the desert of unformed consciousness. What he gets is something different. The rolling gentle hills are covered in blue-green vegetation, with a hint of rust at the top. There is the smell of sage in the air, and a glimpse of the green-grey tops of trees nestling in a valley, and snuggling up the early slopes. The glimpse of white limestone, hinted at from a broken mountain top, and from the scrubby patches on the barer slopes, shine out like diamonds. Then a distant noise echoes, made more lonely by its distance and solitary splendour, a bleating sound, perhaps that of a sheep or goat, Arthur's not sure. What he is sure about is that this place, this incredibly detailed, Mediterranean-like paradise, should not be here. This is limbo, and Eames hasn't been here that long. Has he? Arthur followed him down only moments later and from the second level. Surely Eames hasn't had time to build all this?
Arthur turns his head. He's not sure what to expect. There's the prickling of distant embarrassment he knows he'll feel if Eames works out the sentiment he's showing by coming here, but mainly Arthur is aware that something important isn't right. A sudden weight pulls at his shoulder and comfortingly he knows that a Glock has appeared in the holster under his arm. There's a sharpness to his vision that means he's poised to attack, the adrenaline pushing him forward, but it's only Eames on the beach. Only Eames, who looks a little windswept, and his hair is longer, but otherwise hasn't changed. It says a great deal for Eames' usual sense of style that he's dressed in some kind of white sarong and Arthur doesn't bat an eyelash.
"Well, this is pleasant." He watches Eames wince minutely and realises he's said it in much the same tone that somebody might use upon finding say, a dead drug dealer in the living room. But he didn't mean it like that, not exactly. Arthur hates being off-balance, and Eames has pretty much had him tilting from the very first moment they met.
"I can explain." Eames looks distant for a second and then focuses back on Arthur's face, one corner of his mouth curling up in a teasing smile. "Actually, I can't. It's all terribly unbelievable, darling, to such a rationalist as you. And you're not one of mine, not even a little bit, despite my best efforts. I've had to drag you every step of the way, so I really don't know what I can say to convince you, especially here in dreamspace. You're not going to believe a word of it. And I can't even blame you."
Arthur opens his mouth to respond with a cutting insult or two of his own, but memories of other occasions stop him. Times when he was stressed, tired or over-worked. Little things that add up to something bigger and more impossible. But Arthur is a point man, he plans, he sifts the information and then he acts accordingly. He can't ignore things just because the conclusions are unpleasant. That wouldn't be doing his job.
His jaw flexes when he realises he's grinding his teeth. So instead he bites out the words, "Try me."
It has nothing to do with the tiny pinprick of hurt at Eames rejection. No really, nothing at all. He'd thought they were a team and here Eames is denying it to his face. Perhaps thinking Arthur isn't good enough. He'd never thought of himself as being 'one of Eames' because he's not presumptuous that way, and they're all too independent for labels anyway, but even so. Arthur swallows, feeling stupid at his assumptions. Serves him right for believing they had something more.
"Don't be like that," says Eames softly. He's moved closer, without Arthur being aware of it. Almost as though he can read his thoughts. In limbo, he supposes, anything is possible, but the knowledge doesn't make him any happier.
"What is it, Mr Eames?" Arthur snaps at last, and that feels better, keeping him on track. The sight of Eames bare chest is distracting, but watching his bare toes dig into the sand is somehow even more so.
"Where do I start?" Eames flaps a hand at the hillsides, at the sage and scrub, in a helpless way. "I was born here. This is Ikaria. It's a Greek island..."
"Ten miles south west of Samos. I know."
"Of course you do. It's been so long since I was last here that I was surprised to see it too. Surprised I washed up here, I suppose. But if we built a boat and sailed south east I guarantee you we'd also find Samos, and Chios, and Naxos. All the others. I suppose since I've been around the place a tad longer than most, my subconscious has had time to establish itself, quite deeply, in all the places that matter, particularly these early ones, which is the root of the problem as you might say. They had to go somewhere and here's as good a place as any."
Eames is rambling. He's also stretching out a hand, Arthur might even imagine in a pleading fashion, and he isn't at all sure what will happen if Eames touches him in his current tense state. He might explode like a bomb.
"Are you saying what I think you are saying? Clumsily, by the way." Arthur wants his conclusion to be refuted, to remain unvoiced, in case just by inhabiting limbo even for this small time, it's sent him irretrievably insane. Specificity, in this case, is overrated.
"If I asked you for your real name, what would you say?"
He can see that Eames doesn't want to say it, is twisting and turning like a fish on a hook, squirming with his own kind of embarrassment. Arthur points at the staff that's lying on the sand behind him, a thin rod with a pine cone-shaped head that Eames is studiously ignoring.
"That is a thyrsus, you were once married to Ariadne, you were born in Ikaria and can be summoned with alcohol. I've done my research, as always. I know who you think you are, god help me."
Eames is grinning now, suddenly all smiles, like a boy post-test, the hard part out of the way. "Well, that's all right then. Shall we go and find an olive grove and I'll mix honey and wine and feed you grapes from my hand. It'll be marvellous, darling. Retro is the new chic."
"We shall do no such thing." Arthur is sure he can feel a vein in his forehead starting to throb. "Quite apart from the fact that we'll miss the second kick if we stay long, even here, it's not that easy."
"Nothing ever is with you, love."
That stymies Arthur, just for a moment. Surely nothing worth fighting for is ever easy? Doesn't Eames understand that? He turns away and stares up at the recreated slopes of Mount Pramnos. Does that mean Eames has given up fighting for Arthur?
Eventually he forces out words. "What did you mean when you said I wasn't 'one of yours'? You said Mal was one of yours the night she died. But you say that I'm not." His voice is distant, as though it's not really him speaking. And then Eames does touch him and he doesn't explode or attack, instead he feels unexpectedly grounded, with Eames' large hand holding his arm, holding him down.
"Oh Arthur, I didn't mean..." Eames' voice is soft and full of regret. "It's just that I don't have worshippers any more, of course not, there's no cult of Dionysus these days. But if there ever was a woman who truly was a maenad in her soul, that woman was Mal. I knew her for a kindred spirit as soon as the first sip of wine-and-water touched her lips when she was five. I know everybody you see, anyone who has ever touched a drop of alcohol, or howled at the moon, or threw a stone at a tank for freedom's sake. They're all mine, in a way, but some are more so than others. That's all."
"Then what am I, Eames? Do you fuck about with everyone like this? Do you randomly turn up and drive the entire world absolutely crazy? Well, I appreciate the thought, the specialness of your attention, but I bet there are a great many lushes just begging for it out there, so next time I suggest you go harass one of them." Arthur is feeling almost incandescent with anger. That masks a deeper humiliation he's not going to examine too closely. "You're also assuming I believe you."
"Would you like a drunken orgy in a Thracian olive grove, Arthur? By way of proof? We've got time if you do. Here we've got all the time in the world."
"Not true and not the point."
Eames is inching closer all the time. Arthur can feel the heat of him with every fibre of his body. He wants to step away in high dudgeon. He wants to press every centimetre of his flesh against Eames, he wants to lift the ridiculous white chiton and explore, he wants to run away and press the mouth of his Glock lovingly to his forehead. There's another hand now, on his hip, and the brush of a muscular thigh against his knee. He's not sure if he imagines it but he smells a tantalising hint of salt and cinnamon in the air from Eames' skin. The hand on his arm is rubbing now, up and down, not too much, not yet, but not soothing either. Eames like this could never be soothing.
Eames is curled up behind him now, snug against his back, and Arthur still isn't moving. "You're my Arthur if you want me to be. Do you want me? You've fought me so hard - you always perceive my strengths to be your weaknesses, did you know that? But I want you Arthur. I always have. You don't think I seduce just anyone on a first date?"
Arthur opens his mouth to say that's exactly what he thinks, but Eames chooses then to kiss him behind the ear, with a tiny nip, and down his neck, fluttering light kisses that seem more gentle than Arthur is used to. Creatures like Eames probably seduce people all the time, but Arthur can't bring himself to say so, not when Eames is being so maddeningly careful with him. But it's lovely, he'd never deny that, to be so close and so cared for in a situation that isn't immediately fraught with danger, maiming or drug-compromised consent. He wishes he could stay.
But he can enjoy this for a little while. He twists in Eames' hold until their chests are rubbing together and he can run his fingers up the muscles of Eames back, solely to hear him groan. He gets to kiss Eames properly, savouring the plush feel of the lips beneath his own, and the plunge of heat when Eames opens up beneath his searching tongue. It's perfect and wonderful. Perhaps too perfect for the ordinary world.
Reluctantly, he draws back an inch or two and stares at Eames, at the hope in his eyes, and the affection in the corner of his mouth, and the rejection he fears in the line of his jaw. He's a ridiculous man who Arthur happens to be stupidly fond of, and he's tired. Tired of fighting him.
"What will we be like out there?" he asks, "This shared madness of ours will fade and then what will be left?"
Eames smiles, crookedly, but he looks full of wonder all of a sudden. "There'll be you and me, darling, just like always. No more, no less - just us, I promise." He shifts then, a quick abortive movement towards a pocket that doesn't exist, and then sheepishly opens up his hand between them anyway. What was empty before is no longer, filled with the creative stuff of limbo. A cheap plastic red die lies on his palm which Arthur recognises.
"I kept it for you," says Eames, happily.
And Arthur wants to laugh as he plucks it off his palm, because it's not something that should make him believe the preposterous, but it does. How else could Eames have possibly known? He slips it snugly into his waistcoat pocket for safekeeping - a ridiculous notion in limbo but he does it anyway. The ground shakes then with the tremble of a distant earthquake - or an exploding building, a ricocheting elevator or a van hitting the water at sixty miles per hour. Arthur grins, all teeth and unacceptable levels of risk-taking. He leans forward, capturing Eames' mouth for another kiss, pressed as close as possible, grinding up against his flimsy chiton. Eames cannot possibly mistake the hand that Arthur fumbles between them, reaching for his Glock, but he doesn't protest, just opens his mouth wider, tasting a little deeper. His eyes closed, Arthur brings the gun to Eames forehead first, ever the gentleman, finally ready to start their new life together regardless of the circumstances. Perhaps it really doesn't matter, and Arthur's been worrying over nothing. They can only try it and see.
After all, in many ways, Eames has always been an impossible thing.