croik: (Eames is artsy)
[personal profile] croik
Fandom: Inception
Title: And You Should Have Listened
Words: 2,800
Rating: R
Disclaimer: Inception and its characters aren't mind and I'm using them here for no profit.
Warnings: Major character death (Eames), minor violence
Summary: When Arthur can't cope with Eames' death, he asks Cobb for the impossible.
Notes: I don't normally read character death fic, and I never thought I would write it, but oh god here it is. If you've read my other fics you'll spot some references, but I do not consider this fic "canon" to any of them, because it's extremely unhappy. Written for [livejournal.com profile] ae_match, C&C Welcome and appreciated.
Extra: In podfic form, read by [livejournal.com profile] templemarker <3



It's a dry, autumn afternoon in L.A. when Arthur visits Cobb in his condo. They haven't seen each other in just under six months but Arthur looks as if he's aged years: the lines have deepened around his eyes and mouth, his hair is thinning and growing gray, his posture is slumped. He lets Cobb put a glass in his hand but he doesn't look at it let alone drink. He tells Cobb why he's there and Cobb is shaking his head before he's finished.

"I can't do that," Cobb says, his heart in his stomach. "I haven't even been under in years."

"I've tried everything else," says Arthur, but he's barely even there, can't even meet Cobb's eyes. "I can't live like this."

"I know." Cobb puts his own glass aside, and rocks forward in his chair so he can reach Arthur's hand. He squeezes. "I know, believe me. But what you're talking about isn't possible, and even if it was, I wouldn't help you do it. You don't want this." He takes a deep breath. "He wouldn't want--"

"If you don't help me, I'll find someone else," Arthur interrupts, and Cobb knows just what he means, so he has no choice but to lean back. He doesn't commit to anything, but he agrees to go under.

*


Cobb blows dust off the PASIV case, and sets it up on the bedside table. The tubing is stiff and the needles need a thorough cleaning. Arthur helps, and soon they're stretching out side by side on the bed. Cobb inserts Arthur's needle for him. The inside of his wrist is pale, old scars visible only under the closest inspection. "When was the last time you dreamed?" he asks as he smooths the tape down.

"Almost six years ago."

It's been longer for Cobb, and his heart beats a little faster as he plugs the vials into the machine. "I've already added the sedative," he says. "Five minutes' worth, only. That will be plenty of time once we get down there. You know what we have to do?"

"I remember."

Cobb inserts the needle into his arm, and for the first time in over a decade, it stings. As he settles next to Arthur he wants to say something, but he knows there's nothing that will change Arthur's mind at this stage. All he can do is wait and see. He closes his eyes and feels out the plunger. He pushes it.

*


Cobb opens his eyes to a twisted alleyway. It's dusk, several hours later than when they went under, and the stones are glossy and orange in the light. He can hear tires screeching, and hurried footsteps echoing off the brick walls, but everything is still, as if time has stopped, frozen. There's a car in the street half turned in a skid and men balanced impossibly mid-step at the alley entrance. Fire blazes out of the barrel of a gun.

"I told myself later that I had a bad feeling about this one," says Arthur. He's deeper in the alley, standing over the body. "But that's bullshit, really. I never saw it coming."

Cobb joins him. The body is face down, blood dribbling from a small crater where the back of its skull once was. The growing stain is the only movement in the dream other than Cobb and Arthur, huddling together by the wall.

"I had to leave him," Arthur says. His voice is flat. "He was dead before I could even turn to look. There was nothing else to do."

Cobb has to look away from the body. "I know."

"In the old days, people used to say that your dreams could tell you the future," Arthur continues. "I'm not sure if all this proves or disproves that."

"It doesn't prove anything," says Cobb. "It's...the job. And he knew that. He always said--"

"Dom." Arthur pulls a Glock out of his jacket and racks the slide back. "We've had this conversation before." He puts the gun to his head and has too little trouble pulling the trigger.

Cobb watches Arthur drop to the alley floor. As soon as he hits, his body becomes as still as everything else in Arthur's mind. The moment is locked, just below the surface, immortal.

"I told you so," Cobb says, quietly, because it's the only time he can say it. He pries the gun out of Arthur's hand, but he has to look back to the impossibly-frozen car on the street to remind himself he's dreaming before he can squeeze.

*


Limbo. Cobb washes up on its shores for the third time. The salt stings his eyes and he flounders for a moment, disoriented and hating that he's there. Wet sand gives way beneath his fingers as he claws his way up the beach, out of reach of the icy surf. It's all dreadfully familiar, but when he rights himself he realizes immediately that everything else has changed. His city is gone--only the barest foundations remain as crumbled granite with grass and weeds growing through the cracks. Further away the stones are sparser, separated, even organized. They look like headstones, and as Cobb stumbles closer, he realizes that they are.

Arthur is leaning against one of the markers. He waits for Cobb to reach him, and though his attempts to avoid Cobb's gaze are nothing new, there's something else in his face that Cobb has no trouble understanding.

"You've been down here more recently than six years ago," Cobb says as they follow a path of packed dirt through the cemetery. The air goes from salty to stale with every step. "You built all this."

"I've been under, but not this far down." Arthur scrapes the back of his hand across his mouth. "I didn't want to risk being this deep by myself."

Cobb nods; at least Arthur is still that sensible. He glances at the headstones as they pass, and notices a name he recognizes. Frowning, he continues to watch them as they progress. "These are all people you've known," he says.

"People I've lost," Arthur corrects him. "The ones along the path, anyway."

Cobb keeps his eye on them, recognizing a few more. One name catches his attention. "Old Ben Bone," he murmurs.

Arthur stares straight ahead. "Eames took it really hard," he says, and as he continues, Cobb realizes this is the first time they've talked about it. "I told him--we all told him--it was only a matter of time. But Eames was adamant that Bone was too careful to OD. He said it was a long term effect of the Somnacin. That we had to stop using it."

Cobb remembers. He was far out of the business by then, but he remembers Eames' phone call early in the morning, the sigh of relief when he was able to say that he didn't even look at his PASIV anymore. He wonders if Arthur knows about that call, but he's talking, and that's the best thing for him, so Cobb doesn't interrupt.

"We fought about it for weeks," Arthur goes on. His eyes flicker to the side, tracing the headstones. "I didn't want to give it up. But then Dr. Banks went under, and didn't wake up. Then Roth, and McAllister, and Gubet. Then Kikuchi's whole team got caught in Rennes when only their mark woke up from a job. They're all dead now, of course." He turns his eyes forward again. "Everything changed after that. There is no mind crime anymore."

"You went back to material crime," Cobb prompts.

"Yeah. Cons and hacks. Easy jobs, easy money." Arthur swallows. "Seemed like it at the time, anyway."

The headstones begin to thin, becoming shapeless, wind-worn rocks once more. Cobb takes one last look over the cemetery expecting to see a special marker, something more prominent than the collection of dead acquaintances, but nothing stands out. "Where's his?" he asks gently.

Arthur shakes his head. "He's not here."

*


Arthur and Cobb come to another beach. It's brighter than limbo's doorstep, with vibrant skies and only gentle waves. The sand is rusty and fine, and it sticks to their shoes and ankles. A dry heat soothes away the heavy discomfort of the graveyard before it.

"This is the last dream he and I shared," says Arthur, as he steps out of his shoes and socks. His toes stretch and curl in the sand. "It was always one of my favorites. Sometimes there'd be a summer house..." He turns his head and a roof rises out of the sand, broad and sloping, a small beach cottage beneath. They head towards it. "We'd spend hours here, winding down from a job. Cheaper than the real thing."

Arthur lets them in, but as soon as the door opens gunshots ring out, and chunks of wood are tossed out of the doorframe. Cobb lurches back but Arthur already has a gun in his hand. He returns fire, each percussion echoing impossibly up and down the beach. His face is hard as he storms down the front hall.

Footsteps race across hardwood. Cobb forces a gun into his grip and follows, but he sees only a flurry of indistinguishable movement in the cabin great room. Glass shatters, and by the time Cobb catches up, Arthur is alone, glaring at the broken picture window.

Cobb is all too glad to let the pistol evaporate from his fingers. "What was that?"

"It was him." Arthur shoves his gun into his shoulder holster and turns down another hall. "I can never catch him."

Cobb frowns after him. When he starts to follow, his heel cracks a shard of glass, and he starts. Fifteen years later and he still starts. He doesn't know what to say.

*


Arthur and Cobb dive for cover behind an overturned billiards table. Round after round pounds the wood, destroying bar stools and smashing beer bottles. By now Cobb has realized that none of the shots are meant to be lethal, but he stays hidden, his Beretta unfired. Arthur has no such reservations. He fires back, barely even blinking with each report of the gun. But again, their attacker vanishes without presenting enough of a target.

"Arthur," Cobb says as the dust clears. "You realize that's not really him, right? We're fighting your own subconscious." When Arthur tries to climb out from behind the table, Cobb grabs his shoulder and forces him back. "And if it's fighting us this hard, it means you don't want this."

Arthur stares fixedly at the ground. The muscles along his jaw stand out, and for a moment it looks as if he's considering turning back. Cobb holds his breath. But then Arthur shakes his head, and pushes Cobb's hand off.

"Doing nothing is worse," he says, clawing to his feet. "Let's keep going."

*


Cobb lets Arthur take him back through his memories.

There are hotels, and bars, and alleyways, and office halls. There are dreamscapes filled with sloping hills, fields of rainbow-colored reeds, icy crags, silver desert dunes. There are no projections but one--one that Cobb never sees except in flashes at the edges. The bullets hit closer to home but still nowhere near flesh. Each one is a warning. Cobb knows it so well.

"I'm trying," Cobb says in the projection's wake. He's trying so hard, but Arthur is always two steps ahead, and his ears are closed.

They're under a pavilion in an old park that Cobb remembers. "This is where he said it," Arthur says. His fingertips drift over a picnic table, tracing the lines in the wood. His finger swirls over a knot. "He said it so easily, like it was nothing."

Cobb can smell burgers on the charcoal grill, potato salad in the open cooler. "This is where I had Phillipa's graduation party."

"I couldn't breathe," Arthur continues, as if Cobb's said nothing. "But we just kept talking like it didn't happen. It shouldn't have even meant anything by then, because I already knew, but it still..."

Arthur stops abruptly, still staring down at the knot. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry I never understood what you were going through."

*


They're running through LAX baggage claim. There are even more bullets now, and for the first time Cobb is afraid. He can feel lead hissing past his ears, and the thought of waking up on the beach yet again injects panic into his limbs. He slides behind a baggage cart, but the leather and canvas shred easily, and then there's pain shooting down his side. Blood pours from his ribs.

Arthur's Glock drives the projection away again, but by then Cobb is sagging into a bench, his arm around his chest. He can still breathe but the effort is agony, and he wonders if it's his lung--if he's been shot right through his lung. Then he tastes blood in his throat and knows for sure.

Arthur winds his tie and presses it against the wound. It slows the flow of blood but not by much. "I guess," Cobb says hoarsely, "you really wanted me to shut up, huh?"

"I'm sorry," says Arthur. His brow furrows. "You should wake up. I'll find a way to finish this myself."

"No." Cobb grabs Arthur's shoulder, using him as a brace to push himself upright. "I'm not going anywhere without you. We should both wake up."

Arthur doesn't reply, but Cobb knows his answer. He's tempted to finally use the Beretta, but he knows just as well that Arthur won't wake up until he's ready, and he can't risk them being separated. He wavers, but manages to stand on his own power. "He's getting more violent--we must be close," he says. "Let's go."

*


Walls rise before them. Waves crash, and the earth heaves, and a projection is ever in the corners, hiding with a loaded gun. Cobb's shirt and pant leg are soaked with blood, and he can feel his skin growing cold. He doesn't have much time. Not long after he says so, they reach a door. Arthur's hand hesitates on the knob, but when he twists it open it's with force. They stride into the final room of Arthur's mind.

It's an old motel room. There are empty beer bottles on the table, and a cigarette, half-crushed but still smoking, in the ashtray. Everything feels thick and real, and even through the pain of his throbbing chest, Cobb can feel the air seeping into his skin. He swallows hard as he looks to the bed, where their quarry has finally stopped.

Eames is relaxing on his back. He's younger than Cobb ever knew him, T-shirt stretched over a finely muscled chest, his hair sloppy and whiskers charming. Despite his youthful face his smile is wise, and he looks only at Arthur, with emotion Cobb has trouble reading. He can't tell if it's regret, or acceptance, or please, Arthur, please don't. He already knows how it's going to end.

Arthur is younger, too. He looks exhausted, with his hair in his face, his suit rumpled. He pulls the Glock out of its holster again. "I need you to go," he tells Eames, as if he's been practicing. "I can't keep going with you here."

Eames settles into the headboard. He doesn't reply, and his expression doesn't change. He patiently waits.

Cobb sags against the table. "Arthur," he says, making the attempt one last time. "You don't have to do this. I'll help you. Please, let's just wake up."

Arthur shakes his head. He lets the clip drop to the floor and replaces it with a fresh one.

"For Christ's sake, look at him," Cobb says, frantic. "He is you. You don't want this."

Arthur levels the gun at Eames. Cobb looks between them, waiting for Eames to speak, but all he does is continue to smile back. Eames' eyes crinkles at the corners. He's beautiful, and it makes Cobb ache, missing a time when someone loved him that much.

"Arthur." Cobb grimaces. "Please."

Arthur's eyes are hard, but his hand trembles around the gun.

*


When they wake up, Cobb packs the PASIV away and leaves the room. He gives Arthur time while he gulps down the drinks they left abandoned earlier. As he stands in the bathroom, rubbing his sore ribs, he resolves to dismantle the PASIV and dispose of all the Somnacin left.

An hour later, he finds Arthur on the balcony. He has both hands on the railing, and he's staring into the distance in dull, unseeing repose. It's a chilling image, and Cobb approaches slowly, quietly, until he's close enough to take Arthur's hand. It's cold in his.

"I want you to move in with me for a while." He squeezes. "So I can keep my eye on you. All right? You can use James' old room."

Arthur stares straight ahead. "I don't think it worked," he says. "I don't feel any different." His shoulders sag minutely. "I feel...empty."

Cobb lets his breath out. "No," he says, and he wraps his arm around Arthur's shoulders as they face the sunset together. "That means it worked."
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