Word Count: 2,694.
Disclaimer: Nope, not mine.
Summary: Eames is dead. Arthur goes out for revenge. Eames/Arthur, slash, One-Shot.
A/N: Style experiment, bbs. Fill for two inception_kink prompts at once (aren't I efficient!): this one (Arthur hunts down the man who killed Eames) and this one (The one where Arthur fucks up).
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If there’s one thing that Arthur has learnt all these years, it’s that hating is easy.
Loving is hard.
Arthur drives with his headlights cutting the fog, engine humming, mileage raking up like the poker chips Eames used to keep on the dresser, little keepsakes. Arthur’s driven like this before, six or seven hours with only small breaks to eat, to drink, to go to the bathroom, to pull over to the side of the road and not sleep, desperately trying not to not sleep, that time when they were on the run in Frankfurt and Eames had said Arthur you’ll crash us like this, take a rest, come on, just two hours, come on.
Arthur drives with the road slipping past, black and silent, a dark ticker-tape from A to B. This is Eames’ old car, the beaten up Rolls Royce, with at least seven bullet-holes on the bumper. Arthur had pointed out once that bullet-holes draw attention. Eames had laughed, gone out and bought windscreen stickers, the type that look like bullet-holes and Eames had pasted them everywhere, on the doors, the windows, the back of the boot, the hubcaps.
Arthur had hated him.
The diner is cramped with the smell of old grease, the kind that forms a thin film on the walls. It’s almost empty. The clock by the window is chipped and reads two, at least ten minutes fast, Arthur thinks.
Arthur goes to the bathroom and tilts his face to the side, critically. He wets his hands, wipes them dry. His eyes feel sore so he squeezes them shut, once, very tightly, before opening them.
His phone rings while he’s still halfway through it, the shrill buzz that tells him it’s Ariadne. He turns the razor off and puts it down, pats his pockets.
He checks. It is Ariadne.
Arthur takes the phone out and puts it next to the cracked white sink. By the time Arthur’s finally finished shaving the ringing has stopped, Ariadne’s given up. Arthur washes the shaving cream off his chin and his neck. He runs his palm across the smooth skin.
For a moment there’s just the fluorescent light and the scent of Eames’ aftershave and the way Eames used to run his palm over Arthur’s face every morning after he’d shaved, just a small, quick touch.
Arthur pockets the phone.
By the time Arthur steps back out to his car he is clean, put-together, recognisable.
Eames is dead.
Car crash, not a car crash, purpose, not on purpose, the tiny square of newspaper print on that Saturday morning with Arthur at breakfast and the cup of coffee that never got finished, teaspoon trembling in Arthur’s fingertips.
Arthur drives because he has a name, a location, a small smattering of places that lead the way there. Arthur has a file he compiled in four days, hotel bed with the sheets tucked in, undisturbed, Arthur with the laptop screen on the inside of his eyelids whenever he blinks.
There’s a face.
There’s dates, associates, a particular favoured brand of gun. Smith & Wesson. Magnum.
Eames is sitting beside in the passenger seat, sometimes, with a dreadful paisley collar and flicking his nail against the window, whistling abominable, out-of-tune things. Eames has a grin that clashes with the upholstery. Arthur finds himself trying to search for it, ducking glances, a silent sort of twist whenever he takes a hand off the wheel and slides his palm up and over the passenger seat.
The leather is cold. The seats are supposed to be heated but that’s been broken for years. Eames never fixed it.
Five years ago –
Five years ago Arthur shot Eames for the first time, broke his nose for the first time, in reality, in a dream, in that order. Arthur built them both a cathedral and brought it crashing down about their ears. Arthur kissed Eames, too, for the first time that year, crouched behind a car while it pissed buckets, water running underneath their collars and the two of them squinting into the rain, ducking bullets.
Arthur fucked it up, that year.
It didn’t matter for a while. They were still sort of young, in their late twenties, and friction somehow got the jobs done. Eames made fun of Arthur’s ties. Arthur shot Eames every time they dreamed, and enjoyed it.
Eames fucked it up, that next year.
Eames fucked it up by turning up to Arthur’s apartment in Marseilles and refusing to budge, to leave, and that night Eames had curled up in Arthur’s bed, around Arthur, their thighs and their chests still sticky. The next morning, Eames had made them both crepes, slightly burnt.
It had somehow felt strangely perfect. It hadn’t at all felt temporary.
Five years ago –
Five years ago isn’t really that long, once you actually take time to think about it.
1719 N Rock Rd, Wichita, KS 67206.
The warehouse, when Arthur reaches it, is empty.
Arthur takes five minutes to crack the security code, which is long, but Arthur hasn’t had much sleep. Arthur isn’t even particularly careful about it – he parks the car out front, an invitation, or a warning. Arthur isn’t quite sure which exactly it is.
It’s daytime. Arthur could easily get sniped, standing here.
It’s a curse, or it could be a relief. Arthur isn’t quite sure which exactly it is.
Eames had said, once, that the problem with Arthur was that he always had to work his way to something.
“Some things shouldn’t need to be forced, sweetheart,” Eames had said, which had seemed rather dumb at the time because Arthur had been busily occupied in trying to hack through a Level 5 CIA Clearance.
“Right,” Arthur had said and kept right on typing. “Like we don’t need to force our way into other people’s minds to steal secrets. Is that what you’re talking about?”
Eames had pouted.
Eames had always pouted too much for a full-grown man of thirty-three.
“I shouldn’t need to force my way into your pants,” Eames had said.
“Do some work,” Arthur had deadpanned back at him.
“Or your heart,” Eames had said.
Arthur had rolled his eyes. “Which movie are we supposedly re-enacting now, Eames?”
Eames had gone very quiet after that, flipping files and pestering Mal about tea. Arthur had gotten his Clearance eventually. Cobb had grinned. Mal had shoved sandwiches at him.
Following the Arkansas down through Kansas like a yellow-brick road, just not quite the right shade, into Oklahoma and there are towns Arthur ticks off the fold-up map, a sharp red that bleeds through the paper too quick.
He doesn’t really think about it, not too much, because there are some things you should think about and some things you should leave alone, like the way Eames’ hair had looked slightly too long until Arthur had snapped sometime mid-January and taken a pair of kitchen scissors to them. The result had been far from satisfactory and Arthur had laughed without meaning to, Eames with the plastic-handled mirror and gaping, not going out of the house for a week.
Those sorts of things.
There are bigger things, too, like the feeling that had clenched on Eames’ face when Arthur had jumped off a cliff in a dream, on a job, and for some reason hadn’t died immediately, just gasped on the rocks with the salt on the wind until the blood in his lungs had snuffed him out, finally.
Some things –
Five years ago –
– shouldn’t need to be forced.
They’d seen each other die, killed each other, sometimes. Killing each other had seemed easier, always, because at least that had made things controllable, a finger on the trigger of a Glock, a Sig Sauer.
At least that had made things a conscious choice, not a fragment of it left to accident.
It’s a shack just on the fringes of Tulsa, stinking of petroleum. It’s been burnt out, just a hulk in the set of the ground, tilting to one side, world-weary, half-dead.
There’s a ute and Arthur contemplates taking it; the Rolls Royce is not built for this kind of thing, slogging across all the dust and the country and the wheels turning that particular shade of orange, dipping a hesitant toe into brown.
The ridiculous fake bullet-holes Eames pasted on are peeling a little in all of this heat.
Arthur sleeps the night in the Rolls Royce, not dreaming, not of Eames, not of himself, not of anything.
The next morning he goes around the car and smoothes all the flaking bullet-hole edges, pats them back onto the metal, and hopes that they stay.
He doesn’t take the ute. It feels loyal, this way. He takes his pen out and crosses the shack off the list.
Sometimes Arthur thinks that the two of them were never even, never quite standing on the same level of ground.
Arthur fucked up.
Eames fucked up.
Arthur fucked up, again, the year after.
Arthur fucked up by taking a job in Peru and disappearing, really disappearing, because it was a high-profile job and there were eyes and ears and silenced pistols everywhere, and you never know what hits you until it does. Arthur kept off the radar for almost a month and didn’t tell Eames.
It was safer, not to, at the time.
It was safer up until the point Eames rang everyone, flew everywhere, looked in every place he could think of, hotels, motels, entire cities, starting from the bottom and working right up, starting from the top and working straight down. It was safer, really, Eames with the bruises under his eyes, Eames forging visas, Eames forging passports, Eames thinking he was dead and then maybe not dead and then maybe dead was better, perhaps, better than betrayal of this level, this kind, the kind that goes right to the heart and rips.
It was safer.
It was safer.
It was safer this way.
It was safer and it was a terrible lie.
Broken Arrow and that’s funny, Arthur thinks. In an extremely ironic kind of way.
Pauls Valley, Ardmore, Dallas. Dallas where JFK got shot. Dallas of the Dallas Cowboys and then the long drive down, down, down, gas stations with perpetual dust layers, the stretch of a sky that doesn’t end, just comes back around again like a circle, like getting absolutely nowhere.
Waco, Austin, Lockhart, Boerne, the tiny apartment in San Antonio already empty and with a sign to rent, Arthur’s red pen scratching, the map turning creased and the coffee stains on three of the corners from diners in three different US states. Eames, Eames had always been good with maps, humming and running the routes through his head, clipping out directions from the passenger seat and God, Eames, the careless splay of his hands on the dashboard and this country so empty, so extremely vast like Arthur is the only one still left in it, Eames gone somewhere else, Eames not here, Eames not here.
Arthur fucked up by going away.
Eames fucked up by coming back.
Eames fucked up by being something worth having.
Arthur fucked up by not realising this.
Eames fucked up the year after Arthur did, them always doing this, back and forth, your punch, then mine, though Eames never really pulled any punches and was always trying to get back onto Arthur’s side.
Eames fucked up by calling after half a year of ignoring Arthur, not taking his jobs, not wanting anything to do with him after Peru and then Eames calling to say Arthur, darling, where are you, Arthur telling him, Eames flying up from Cape Town. Peru stayed firmly back in Peru and Eames never brought it up again.
It was always there, though. It was real.
Lax, loose, everything easy to enter in Mexico, like plunging into someone’s head and finding it hard to exit again, like finding it hard to let go of something.
Arthur buys from street vendors, stays in motels, combs his hair back in the mirror each morning and brushes his teeth from muscle memory. The sky is scorching and Eames always loved the heat, learnt to crave it like it was a part of him, or a part of Arthur he couldn’t quite reach, but still tried.
Eames always tried everything.
It wasn’t that Arthur didn’t care.
Arthur cared. Arthur cared about the way Eames never took things seriously, relied on his gut and his instinct, his flair for improvising, for being able to disappear everywhere he went and not on street plans, on risks, on percentage, on the things that can ward off coincidence.
In the mornings when Eames swore in great streams at the alarm clock, in the shape of his pillows, the pool of his sheets, the curve of him pressed up to Arthur’s back, little things. Details. Specificity.
Arthur cared. Arthur cared quite a lot, actually.
It is possible that Arthur fell in love with him.
A lot of things in this world are possible.
A lot of things in this world are missed.
Calz. Azcapotzalco la villa #1155 bis, Col. Lindavista, C.P. 07300, México D.F.
Past the Instituto del Petroleo station and the children by the side of the road, the hawkers, the priests, this squat, sprawled city where Aztec kings once lived and learnt and loved. Here, in these narrow streets, the sun cast in triangles and strange oblongs on the walls, this sense of clash, of not really belonging, here is where Eames would go, where Eames went.
Here, after the fifth and the last, all of five years, not really long if you think about it and Arthur has been thinking about it, not meaning to, not trying to, just the last time that Arthur ever saw Eames at that airport in Los Angeles, looking back before finding the taxi rank.
Here, after all of five years, the fifth year – this year – and Arthur fucked up one last time by choosing Dominick Cobb over Eames.
Mal happened, because she had to happen.
Inception happened, because it had to happen.
Arthur drives, the weight of his Glock by his back and Arthur drives because he has to drive, because hating is easy, regretting is hard, and revenge is what Arthur can strive for, at least.
This is different.
This place – this studio – is alive, still. There are people in here.
This is the right place.
Arthur leaves the car a few streets away, strolls into the complex casually and tasting the air, remembering that Eames was here, maybe once, that Eames was ended by someone in here.
Arthur’s careful but only this one last time, silent in the corridors.
There’s a wife.
There are children, a boy and a girl.
Arthur knows this.
Arthur shoots the man point-blank all the same.
It feels good, in the way only killing feels good, that terrible weight at the base of your spine like howling, like all the things you can’t say because they’re all raw noises, animal things. It feels good, even though killing never feels good. It feels good, it feels awful, it feels like it doesn’t quite end because revenge never really ends anything.
It feels –
It feels like it’s much too late, which it is.
It feels so unforgiven.
Arthur stands with the red slicking past his shoes. A baby is crying in the room upstairs.
This is the end of the yellow-brick road, and Eames would be laughing at Arthur for that.
There was never any yellow-brick road.
Revenge was never going to heal anything.
The sky is still the same shade of blue; the cold feeling in Arthur’s chest is still there. There is one more line crossed off of the list. It means everything and nothing.
A/N: Yes, I'm a sucker for the ambiguous ending. Yes, I'm a sucker for the inward-direction vs. outward-direction theme. Yes, I fucked around with the movie timelines a little to make this work. I claim poetic licence/laziness. :grin: Hopefully after all the recent crack I can still write angst convincingly! Though, mind you, I did write this at three last night, so...
Please don't forget to comment, darlings! My other Inception fics are here; my other inception_kink fills are here. Please feel free to check them out, or friend me for future Arthur/Eames!
[There is now FANART for this, by the wonderful incandescent!]
[There is now a pod-fic for this fic, by the ever-lovelyemilianadarling!]