November Like a Trainwreck
Arthur/Eames pre-slash, PG, prompt: "it may have just been a moment to you, but it changed every single one that followed for me."
It was a few years ago, back in '94 or some other forgettable year like that. He'd been a kid back then, kind of impressionable, big sweater, scruffy jeans, scribbling things inside a notebook and pushing his glasses up his nose. Maybe '95. Suburban white kid. You know the kind. He was the youngest in his Pre-Calc class and didn't have that many friends, just Chris from down the road whose family moved to Ohio the summer of freshman year and after that was never heard from ever again. He didn't mind though; he didn't like working in groups, there was always a conflict of interest.
It was around fall of the same year. The weather was pretty damp, and he'd forgotten his gloves but it was okay because he could put his hands inside his pockets so they could warm for a second and then take them out again when he felt like drawing. He'd been trying his hand at sketching lately, drafting blueprints of bridges and buildings made entirely out of glass windows and steel frames. The pencils leave his fingers smelling like lead, smudged grey in the corners.
One morning on a Wednesday, he skipped class and headed to the park. Just to, y'know, get away from everything, concentrate on his own projects, his art. The wind was blowing through the leaves, they kept pouring over his head in piles and he kept brushing them off his shoulders irritably. They were everywhere on the ground that day, brown and wet and shaped like hands.
There was another gust of wind -- he looked up for a brief second to squint at the sky, the way light was angling through the trees and casting shadow over everything. He was looking up, and then accidentally let go of the sketch in his lap.
The page blew in the wind and he watched it for a moment taking flight like a newly freed bird soaring in the air, until he realized what was happening and promptly jumped off the bench to chase after it, tripping on his unlaced sneakers.
Before the page could fly high up, a hand shot up into the air and caught it. This was before the suits and the slicked back hair. Before Arthur started doing odd jobs for Dom, before he even knew who Dom was, and before Arthur's growth spurt in senior year and he grew out of his awkward, clunky clothes.
Before all of that -- the lying, the thieving, the elegant lifestyle and coat tails -- and Eames was just this English kid who went to the Catholic school down the road, St. Patrick's where all the rich kids go, and who wore combat boots under his pleated pants.
It was November. And Eames was seventeen years old and he was a terrible smoker. Arthur could see how he was trying too hard in the angle of his hands, the tension between his fingers. Eames ran his eyes over Arthur's sketch for a moment before blowing a puff of smoke into Arthur's face, grinning widely. His knuckles were bruised, his necktie undone like a red noose around his neck. The sun was shining above his head, streaming through the leaves, and smoke rose from the end of his cigarette, contrasting sharply against the light, the harsh red of everything.
"Nice drawing you got here, love," Eames said, flicking the ash of his cigarette onto the ground, smirking. "So what else can you do?"
Reasons To Survive November
Arthur/Eames, PG-13, prompt: "Eames ends up in a coma after a job goes wrong. "
Time passes. October comes. The trees that line the sidewalk start shedding dark brown leaves, littering the streets. Arthur drives through them, disturbing their peace. They flutter like feathers in the air, hovering for a moment, suspended in the wind, before drifting back on the ground, collecting in piles.
Arthur takes the elevator to the 10th floor. He doesn't bring flowers this time, because it's been two weeks and there is still no progress. He enters the door, sits on the chair beside the window. Eames is asleep on the bed, connected to tubes and machines that monitor his breathing. His hands rest on his stomach; he looks at peace. Arthur watches the rise and fall of Eames' chest, the faint movement behind his eyelids.
He listens to the sterile rhythm of Eames' breath and wonders if Eames is dreaming.
It is Arthur's fault, mostly.
It's his job to make sure nothing like this ever happens, that everything proceeds according to plan, that, when Eames hears the kick, he'll wake up along with the rest of them.
But barely a month has passed and now they are all scattered across the globe. Cobb is with his kids, learning what it's like to be a father again, Ariadne has returned to Paris to finish her degree, Saito to his empire, Yusuf to his newly acquired wealth.
It's four in the morning when Arthur is shaken awake. The curtains are partially open, the light outside bathing the room in a honey orange glow. Arthur's chest swells for a moment but then he sees that it's just a medical intern, peering into his face and asking him if he'd like a cup of coffee.
Arthur says, no, thanks, I'm just leaving and picks up his jacket from the back of his seat.
Later, when he steps out into the street, he turns and looks up at the rows of open windows lining the hospital's 10th floor. He imagines Eames standing behind one of them, silhouetted against the morning light, grinning with crooked teeth, and for a moment Arthur almost fools himself, his blood jumps, his legs can barely move, but then some guy in the street shoves him aside, jolting him out of his daydream.
"You're standing in the middle of the street, you moron!"
Arthur ducks his head, sheepish, before moving out of the way.
Arthur's mother lives in Ohio.
Arthur has tried so hard to be a good son, still tries, even now; he'd send her money along with his letters, pictures of Cobb and his two lovely children, the places he's been, notes hastily scribbled in ballpoint pen, left in drawers, stamped and sent months and months later.
But Arthur stopped writing about year ago and last he heard his mother moved to another state. She thinks he's an investment banker.
Arthur doesn't know why he insists on visiting. He thinks it's probably due to guilt and some deep seated sympathy for Eames who reminds Arthur of himself, a man who turned his back on his past, a man without a family now, a list of failed connections;
Arthur doesn't know a lot about Eames even though the man has been hanging around Cobb long before Arthur came into the picture. He doesn't know the exact details of their relationship, the where, when, why, but he does know the nature of their affiliation: Eames has something that Cobb needs and vice versa.
These days, Arthur finds himself with nothing to do. He's got too much money, too much time. He contemplates flying to New Hampshire to visit Cobb and his family but then thinks the better of it and stays put in St. Mary's Hospital.
Arthur watches Eames sleep sometimes on lazy afternoons and does sketches of buildings in a notepad. He used to want to become an architect, like Cobb, but he's go far too many ideas to put into paper, his hands can't move fast enough and he can't focus on one idea before moving onto the next.
Arthur wants to move on like everyone else has but then there's Eames and Eames is still dreaming. And it's been three weeks now, and Eames' face is slack and serene. And Arthur wants to shake him by the shoulders, punch him until his face breaks, until Eames' eyes finally open, and he laughs his laugh and unfuriates him by calling him darling.
Arthur wants to yell at Eames for not waking up soon; he wants to call Cobb and ask him why the hell everyone's managed to move on without him.
In the end, Arthur moves into an apartment near the hospital. He goes to museums in the day, Opera houses in the evening. When he has time (and it feels like he always does) he pays Eames a visit and sits by the window that looks out into the street.
"How long has it been?" Arthur asks. It feels strange to talk to Eames like this, because it's not like he can hear a fucking thing. But they're alone now, and Arthur is bored, and strangely tired even though it's only 5 in the afternoon. He folds his hands across his knee, forming a tent with his fingers.
"I think it's been a month," Arthur continues. "It's weird, you know. How time passes. Before long, you're old and everyone else has left you and gone on with their lives."
Arthur slouches in his seat and puts his feet up on the bed, disturbing the topography of the covers. "I think my mom's dead." he says, frowning slightly. He screws his eyes shut, yawning into a fist. "Anyway, I'm not sure yet. I might have to track her down first. She's the only family I have left and I'm worried she's stuck in a nursing home somewhere. She's 68 and she has a bad back and she hates people." He sniffs out a laugh. "I hate people."
Arthur turns to look at Eames whose hands are still positioned across his stomach.
"I don't hate you, you know," Arthur tells him. "Well, maybe not all the time."
Arthur brings a portable radio the next time he drops by for a visit. There are fresh flowers on the bedside table and a get-well from Ariadne leans against the glass vase, folded in the corners.
He starts playing Opera music because it helps him relax and also because he's read somewhere that music sometimes revives coma patients from their deep sleep. Arthur brings books to read, Sunday periodicals and various newspapers. He puts his feet up on the bed, taps his hand against his knee to the beat of the music.
When the song comes to a close, Arthur pops his neck and stretches his arms.
"You hate Opera music." he says, realizing that it is true only a second later. "Maybe I should play some more."
Arthur gets up to the change the track on the CD then stands next to the machine that callibrate Eames' breathing. He thinks about pulling the plug, the disappointment in Cobb's face, and the funeral that will follow. Arthur's hand hovers, outstretched, but he is too much of a coward to do it.
Instead, he throws himself back to his seat, unfurling a newspaper in his lap. He glances above the paper, at Eames who sleeps and sleeps and sleeps.
Eames continues to say nothing, continues to lie very still, and Arthur doesn't know what to say next so he checks the business section instead.
"It was my birthday yesterday." Arthur says, "And the strange thing is is that I forgot." He picks up at the skin around his fingernails, closing his eyes. "I'm 29 now." he continues, without missing a beat, "I feel like I'm 60. I feel like, I'm just waiting to die."
The machine hums in response. "Do you ever feel that way?" Arthur asks. "I feel like I've done everything there is to do; I'm bored. I don't know," he sighs and scrubs his face. "Maybe it's knowing I'm almost 30. I should be married at this point with a kid on the way. My mother would've wanted that for me. White picket fence, 2.5 kids."
He picks up a backdated issue of Newsweek from the table. "I don't believe in marriage though." he says. His voice is quieter with the admission, "the same way I don't believed in organized religion." He flicks his eyes up at Eames again. Eames' face is unshaven and Arthur wonders if enough nurses are attending to him.
"I'll bring you a cake next week," Arthur promises although it is met with no response, "A cake you won't be able to eat because you're still dreaming, aren't you? When are you going to wake up Eames? What's so interesting you don't want to wake up from the dream?" He leans forward and touches the faint edges of Eames' stubble with his thumb. Eames used to pull Arthur into one-armed hugs and ruffle his hair it falls out of place, grab Arthur by the back of his shirt, and make passes at him. Now he just lies there, breathing, pale and unnmoving.
Arthur climbs to his feet. "You're a bastard." He says, the words coming before he has the chance to think. He grabs his jacket, swiveling around when he reaches the doorway.
"I hope you know that, Eames." he says. "And I hope you never wake up because you don't deserve to live."
He feels bad for saying that of course, because even though Eames is a bastard, he doesn't deserve any of this, and it's all Arthur's fault.
A few days later Arthur comes back with a shaving kit and a box of pastries under one arm. He feels silly and overblown, like a cliche, a schoolboy with a crush or a choir boy making penitence.
The nurses smile at him shyly because they know who he is; he's the only one visiting Eames days. Cobb keeps promising to swing by but he there's always something or another that's keeping him busy.
Arthur enters the door and is surprised to see a familiar face occupying his seat. It's Ariadne. She smiles tiredly at him and picks up her jacket, moving forward to give him a hug.
"Hey," she says, voice groggy. "How is he?"
Arthur puts down his things and sits at the foot of the bed. "There hasn't been any progress at all."
"Really?" she frowns, sighing deeply and running a hand through her hair. "You think he'll be okay?"
Arthur shrugs. He feels helpless and he hates it. Ariadne eyes the shaving kit and pastry box in the corner, her brows furrowing in confusion. "What're those for?"
He feels sheepish; she wouldn't understand anyway so he changes the subject and invites her to coffee.
When Ariadne leaves, they're alone again, and Arthur finds himself wondering if he's gone crazy. He touches Eames' face gingerly, his hands shaking with faint tremors. Often times he wonders what it is Eames is dreaming about, if he has a happy life in there, a lover, children, if Arthur is in there too.
Arthur leans close and breathes in deeply, the clinical smell of Eames skin and his warmth, and his sweat, something that is uniquely his, something that Arthur hardly ever noticed before. His sweat, the heady scent of it. Sharp.
Eames' beard has gotten out of control so Arthur takes it upon himself to exact revenge.
"This," he says, feeling a spike of courage shoot through him, "This is for all those times you made inappropriate comments and spilled coffee on my blueprints." He laughs, and for a short moment it becomes easy to pretend Eames is just really alseep, not in a coma. Arthur disassembles his kit and puts a basin of water on the bedside table.
"I'm going to make you pay, old man." Arthur says and then proceeds to shave Eames' jaw. It feels more intimate than it's supposed to be with Arthur quietly touching Eames' face, hands curved against his neck and throat, with Eames lying asleep like this, next to him, breathing gently, his warmth perfuming Arthur's face.
Arthur taps the razor against the basin of water and wipes the shaving cream off Eames' face with a towel.
"We need to get you to a new hospital," he says after a pause, wiping a spot of white off Eames' cihn. "The nurses here aren't taking care of you properly."
Arthur leans back, puts his things away, pushing them under the bed before a nurse finds them and he has to explain his intentions all over again. He stands near the window, watching people cross the street.
Soon enough, it starts to snow.
It's Christmas. Arthur hates it. He buys tacky holiday cards to send Ariadne and Cobb, pre-wrapped gifts for James and Philippa. He drinks coffee with nutmeg down the street, in the coffeeshop across the hospital. He buys a plane ticket to Paris dated December 23rd because he promised Ariadne on the telephone he was going to spend Christmas with her.
Even the hospital is in a festive mood, with bits of string hanging in some of the rooms and a lopsided plastic pine tree near the entrance, strung up with colorful sparkling tinsel.
Arthur spends less time in the hospital and more time in the apartment he rents, listening to French operettas in the living room and drinking himself to sleep. It's the road to ruin, darling, Eames would've said but Eames is not here right now, he's not even existing in the same reality anymore, so there is no one to stop Arthur from spending his evenings with the women he meets in bars every night.
Arthur wakes up some mornings, irritable and angry, staggering out of bed and clutching his head in his hands. Some days he wakes up resigned, but most days he doesn't bother getting out of bed at all.
Arthur doesn't dream anymore but sometimes he'd get these snippets in his head, these strange ideas. He blames the wine. He's been drinking so much lately he is starting to think his blood has turned alcoholic, that he can just burst into flame any minute. He toys with the idea, imagines his clothes and skin on fire.
Sometimes he contemplates joining Eames, hooking himself up to the machine to pull Eames out of his dreams. They've tried that before and it didn't work, Eames is lost in there somewhere, in limbo, in his head, but maybe, just maybe --
And here they are now some odd months later, Arthur making his usual rounds to the hospital, arms full of presents.
Eames' room is dark, there is nothing on the bedside table but a vase of water. There are no pictures of family or cards from friends like Arthur has seen in other rooms.
Arthur heads to the giftshop, takes the vase, fills it with plastic flowers. He puts boxes of presents by Eames' bedside, one from Ariadne, one from him -- a striped necktie on sale, nothing special -- then drapes his jacket over the chair next to the bed.
At midnight, he hears the staff belting Christmas songs out of tune.
Arthur sinks under the hospital covers, pulls Eames' arm out of the way so he can rest his head on the same pillow. Around them, the machines hum. Arthur closes his eyes, feeling more tired than he's ever felt in a long while, and whispers into the hollow of Eames' ear.
"Wake up, Eames." he says, voice cracking. His lips touch the edges of Eames' ear and this makes him ache somewhere deep inside, like the cold in the air. "Wake up you smarmy bastard."
He clenches his fist into Eames' shirt, shakes him violently, once, six times. But Eames doesn't respond and just lies there, pliant, eyes closed. Arthur lets him go, slumping.
Out in the hall, the nurses laugh and make festive noises. Arthur feels Eames shift for a brief second, his fingers twitching.
"Hey," Arthur says, tapping him on the cheek. "Hey, can you hear me?"
There is no response. Arthur chalks it up to his imagination, lying back down. He stares at the ceiling where patterns of light from the street crisscross and blend. He closes his eyes and puts a hand on top of Eames' where an IV needle is embedded.
"Merry Christmas," Arthur whispers, patting him on the hand.
He falls asleep, curled against Eames' side.
Before long, December comes to a close. The frost in the air thickens.
Arthur tracks down his mother and finds out that she's in Florida, living on some guy's ranch. He and Ariadne make plans to meet again in a few weeks but Ariadne says she's not sure when she'll be free after the holidays because she's got exams and so on.
A few days pass; it is December 31st. The roads are frozen and Arthur parks his car a few blocks away from the hospital. He gets coffee and digs his hands inside his coat pockets for warmth.
It's been a few days since he's last seen Eames and Arthur is often plagued with irrational worry that something bad will happen to him if he's not there. Arthur takes the stairs this time, three steps, four steps, two, and shakes the stiffness out of his joints.
He steps into the room and is surprised to see that all the lights have been turned on. Eames is not in bed like he should be, and Arthur is seized with a tremendous wave of panic. He drops his jacket on the floor and stomps out of the room, grabbing a passing nurse.
"21B. There was a coma patient in 21B. Where is he now? Answer me!"
"I-I don't know," she stammers, and it's only then that he realizes he's been gripping her arms hard enough to hurt. He lets her go and she smiles at him weakly, rubbing up and down her arms.
"Sorry," he mumbles, flushing. "I was just-" he waves a hand and goes back inside to pick up his coat from the floor.
Arthur finds him sitting on the bed wearing a flimsy hospital gown, drinking water through a straw, kicking his legs back and forth.
"I'm starkers," Eames says weakly with a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "I need trousers."
Arthur laughs in relief; it feels like he laughs for a long time, knees weak, his lungs burning.
"I heard you out there," Eames continues. "You were really worried, weren't you?" He smirks but Arthur doesn't register anything but the hot flash that sears across his belly, crawling up his throat.
"I was in bathroom, I heard you," Eames says, starting to speak now in singsong. He looks tired and presses the heel of his hand into his eyes. His hair is longer now, and Arthur remembers pushing it back for him while he slept, remembers the shape of Eames' face under his hands, the strong bones and hollow curves, how, one time during Christmas, he wanted to kiss him but couldn't.
"I," Arthur says. He walks to the bed, mouth refusing to move. Eames sets his glass of water aside and leans back on his palms. "How long was I out for? Feels like a lifetime."
"Three and a half months." Arthur says when he finally gets his voice to work. "Did you dream?"
Eames shrugs; he doesn't look away from Arthur's face, like there's something there he wants to see. There are lines around his eyes, like he's aged a few years; he's lost a bit of weight over the months. His hospital gown hangs off him like a thin sheet and Arthur can faintly see the outline of his ribs through the material.
Eames says, "I didn't dream. Not quite, love. But I did hear you speaking to me." He smiles, lowering his eyes, "And don't think I didn't feel you trying to grope me in my sleep."
"I wasn't trying to grope you in your sleep!" Arthur explodes, face red in embarrassment. But he's happy in a way he can't explain, the feeling bubbles up in his chest like this solid thing, this thing he can't explain, this warmth and goodness and --
Eames grins at him, a flash of crooked teeth and pale lips. He pushes his hand up, winding it through Arthur's hair, pulling him close. He traps Arthur between his knees, smiles at him, tracing the details of his face with his eyes.
"Welcome back," Arthur says because after everything that has happened that is the only thing left to say. He moves forward, knocks his forehead into Eames', closing his eyes; Eames feels solid in his arms, warm, real, alive.
Eames laughs lightly, touching the back of Arthur's ears, kissing his temple. "Thanks, love," he says, and sighs against his face, quiet, "It's good to be home again."