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who: paris in summertime: by ?

I hear the song of your sadness

if they've become the same, it's time you unbecame


who: paris in summertime: by ?
AndreaLyn andrealyn
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It’s been ten years since the biggest job in Arthur’s career.

It’s been a full decade since he helped to revolutionize dreamsharing and showed everyone that an idea could be generated, it could be planted, it could be done.

Sometimes, he can’t believe it’s been that long. Sometimes, it feels far shorter, like ten years has no business stretching out so endlessly and reminding him of how harsh time can be to people.

Sometimes, it feels more like...

“Visiting hours will be over in ten minutes,” the nurse says as she leans down in front of Arthur to catch his eye.

She’s wearing a polite smile that they must be taught when they’re going through school. It’s probably part of a detailed syllabus amidst the learning of how to change bedpans and how to insert catheters. Right in between, Arthur’s sure they learn how to smile at loved ones in such a patient manner even in the face of crises and disaster.

Arthur genuinely believes that Nurse McCraney could smile through the apocalypse and not break a sweat. “Would you like us to take him back to his room?”

Arthur is barely paying attention. He’s been whispering a story like a mantra under his breath about a time in Thailand when it rained and poured and it didn’t matter because their dreams were sunny and safe and they were rewarded with more money than they ever needed.

Arthur refuses to let go of his hand and holds on tighter with both of his own as he turns his attention upwards to regard the Nurse. “No,” he says, his voice breaking mildly. “No, I’ll take him back.”

Today is a good day. Which is to say that he thinks he’s living in someone else’s skin, but at least he’s calm.

“Are you taking me back now, darling?” Eames asks, peering up at Arthur with a worried look in his eyes. Eames clasps his hand firmly and brushes the space of warm skin on his ring finger. “Why aren’t you wearing your wedding ring, Arthur? Did we have a fight? Did I forget? I’ve been an absolute tit about forgetting things lately, god knows how you still put up with me.”

Arthur forces the smile on his face. “It’s okay, Eames,” he promises. Early on when the splinters had first begun to show, he’d been given a hefty amount of literature by Ariadne and all the texts agreed on the same thing:

Play along.

They’ve been on this playground of falsities and lies for two years now. It’s been ten years since they incepted Robert Fischer and Eames had been fine for eight of them before too much pressure was applied and now he’s splintered into so many pieces and people.

Arthur visits daily. He’s bought a little apartment just down the street and comes to visit Eames every day, even when he’s not himself. “Come on,” Arthur coaxes, helping to get him back onto his feet. “Let’s get you back to th...to our room,” he corrects himself.

Today is a good day, Arthur has to remind himself, as he tucks Eames into his bed and brushes back the lanky strands of hair from his forehead. It’s been growing out since Arthur caved in to the inevitable and admitted Eames into the hospital.

Arthur simply can’t give him the kind of care he needs.

“Eames,” Arthur murmurs, rubbing his thumb over Eames’ neck and leaning in to press a kiss to his cheek. He lifts up the blankets and slides into bed, pushing in against Eames’ body carefully. His current personality believes that he and Arthur have been married ever since the Tangiers job. His current personality is a female version of himself and lives in the utter belief that they are, apparently, very happy.

Arthur knows to play along and so until Eames falls asleep, Arthur will be present.

“Eames,” Arthur repeats softly, stroking his cheek with his palm. “I’m going to make this better. I’m going to make everything better.”

“I’d be happy if you just fixed the curtains, darling,” is Eames’ tired response. “They’re atrocious,” he mutters, which gives Arthur cause to look over the mustard-yellow fabric. He smiles ruefully and wraps his arms tighter around Eames.

“I promise, I’ll fix them,” he assures.

They stay like that until Nurse McCraney comes into the room at one in the morning, looks at her watch, and then at Arthur. Eames is asleep and Arthur takes the opportunity to slowly slide out of bed and nudge his shoes back on, adjusting his shirt jacket and accepting that he won’t get the wrinkles out until he sends it for dry-cleaning.

“Watch after him,” Arthur requests politely.

Nurse McCraney smiles at Arthur and squeezes his shoulder lightly. “I’ll do my best until you come back tomorrow at three on the dot. Like always.”

He wonders when he’d become so predictable. He knows that if he actually wants to put a precise date on it, all he needs do is look at Eames’ admission papers.

“We have a friend from Paris who’s coming to visit,” he says at the last minute, folding his suit jacket carefully over his forearm. “Would it be possible to book the private suite on the first floor when she comes?” Arthur smiles wistfully as he thinks of the porch, enclosed with the sun shining in and warming you up from the outside-in. “He loves that room,” Arthur says, even though Nurse McCraney knows that fact as well as he does.

“I’ll see what I can do,” she promises. “Go home. Get some rest.”

Arthur doesn’t know how to say that every night when he returns to an empty apartment devoid of Eames’ clothes, the smell of his cooking, and the prospect of a night without bantered conversation, inane (and occasionally insane) arguments, and lazy idling, he finds himself too depressed to cope with the situation. Some days, he wonders if it would be so bad to lose his mind to the grief.

At least that way, he could keep Eames company during all the hours of the day.

Arthur’s never been a defeatist. Rather than let himself lose reality, he plans to bring it back to Eames.

*

Arthur had missed all the warning signs until it was too late. If he’s honest, he’ll admit that he was ignoring them.

Back when they worked all the time and they spent an equal amount of times in dreams as much as out, Arthur had simply overlooked what later came to be distinct and worrying warning bells. They would come out of the dream and Eames would take far longer than usual to put himself to rights. Arthur and Cobb would already be debriefing while Eames locked himself away in small bathrooms and spoke to his reflection as though it could shed some light on the situation.

“Is he all right?” Cobb always asked.

And Arthur had shaken his head to dismiss Cobb’s worries, as though he could wave away Eames’ issues and they would disappear.

There’s something almost painfully comical about the fact that Cobb was the first to notice that Eames was going off the rails – the first to see the trouble and the first to want to do something about it. Arthur, though, had promised that Eames was fine.

Weeks and weeks pass and eventually, others started to notice as well. Ariadne wanted to bring in a psychiatrist and the passing array of coworkers started to swear off working with Eames because he was unbalanced. You never knew who he was going to be when you stepped into a dream with him.

For Arthur, a man who liked to live by a plan and consistency, it should have been more terrifying than it was. Instead, Arthur continued to make excuses.

That kind of wilful blindness is gone, now. He can’t pretend any longer.

Arthur accompanies Cobb as he brings up his suitcase, having checked into his hotel room just minutes ago. “How are the kids?” Arthur asks, putting aside inflections and emotions in his voice and keeping an even-keel so he doesn’t have to focus on things like how wrong he was or how Eames is suffering for his inattention to detail.

In ten years since the Fischer mistake, Arthur’s been impeccable, but he’s paying for it by screwing up in such a grandiose way that it makes him wish he’d been fucking up in small ways all along so this never had to happen.

He knows that it’s psychological, that it’s not karma doing this to Eames, but some days Arthur wonders and prays to an assortment of deities as if that would ever help.

Cobb looks well. He no longer bears the tense look around his eyes of a man on the run and Arthur’s glad for him. He hates bringing him out of retirement for this, but Cobb had insisted. “Miles has them. Phillipa complained the whole way about how she doesn’t think she needs a babysitter, seeing as she’s sixteen,” Cobb continues with a knowing look.

“She played hooky last week to go joyriding around the city, didn’t she,” Arthur points out, as if reminding Cobb of things he already knows is going to make Arthur feel better – and secretly, he admits that it does.

Cobb smiles ruefully. “She insists that was a motion of speaking out against her school’s intolerance for student freedom of thought by forcing them into dingy labs like rats.”

“Let me guess. She hates chemistry?”

“She really hates chemistry,” Cobb agrees with a heavy exhalation. “Yusuf’s offered to tutor her, but...” he trails off warily. “The thought of Yusuf explaining how he and I know each other puts me off the idea. She’ll get a tutor. She’ll figure it out.”

Arthur nods at that, clasping his hands tightly behind his back as he wonders how much longer they’re going to spend on niceties and small talk.

“Arthur, we’ll discuss the research,” Cobb promises as he glances up from unpacking his suitcase. “I can practically see you vibrating with anxiety. Do you mind if I go by the hospital and see him?”

Arthur hesitates at that.

“I don’t have to...” Cobb says quickly when Arthur still hasn’t replied.

“No. No, it’s not that, it’s just that if it’s a bad day, I don’t want you seeing him in that kind of state. When he’s lucid, Eames is pretty adamant that he doesn’t want any of the people he cares about to see him this way,” Arthur admits, breathing out heavily and knowing that he’s an exception because he’s there for all of it – the good, the bad, and the strange.

He’d been at Eames’ side the day that he checked into the hospital and he intends to be there the day he breaks him out. Here they sit, now, in a small hotel room on the brink of a solution and Arthur just has to hope that it’s going to work.

“I’ll swing by the hospital later and give you a call if he’s okay to accept visitors,” Arthur promises, watching as Cobb starts unpacking his larger suitcase, bringing out the old standbys of the job. Arthur can’t lie – he’s inordinately pleased to see them because he knows that before Cobb retired, he’d been the best and he’s come prepared.

Arthur hesitates as he watches Cobb start to amass research slowly and methodically in the manner that Arthur prefers – something he doesn’t have to do, but it’s enough of a personal touch that Arthur is quietly pleased. It’s such a little gesture, but right now under the circumstances, it means the world to Arthur.

He checks his watch and adjusts his coat and bag carefully. “I should get going,” he says, voice clipped. “If Eames is having a bad day...” If Eames is having a bad day then Arthur is going to devote his night to helping him as best as he can. “Well, I’ll see you later,” Arthur says instead, all false smiles and forced cheer.

It’s draining him more than he can bear to deal with on a daily basis. But Arthur is a patient man and he’ll continue on.

He leaves Cobb to the work they’re best at and goes back to the routine that’s become his life over the last while.

He sits with Eames for hours that night. The blessed lucid state lingers as the sun sets and Eames sits up in his bed and Arthur plays poker with him, betting large buttons and losing every round while Eames laughs with delight. “You’ve such a terrible poker face, darling,” Eames chides, collecting his winnings. Arthur ought to call Cobb and let him visit, but he’s feeling selfish and doesn’t want to share Eames, especially when the good days are few and far between.

Arthur just grins and leans his elbow against the beddings, staring up at Eames and wishing that he could figure out how to prolong this state. He’d tried, once, with the PASIV, but the results had been unwieldy at best and had left him completely unconvinced that he could ever draw out one of the good days.

“The last I recalled, you like my face,” Arthur calmly replies, sliding a card from the deck into his hand and trading down a low two for it, trying to memorize the easy smile on Eames’ face and the way he seems at home in his body. Arthur soaks in the fact that he can, at least, recognize Eames’ body language rather than trying to translate all manners of foreign poises.

Eames groans ruefully as he folds his cards and regards Arthur patiently. “While I’m terribly worried about those lines on your forehead,” he clarifies, reaching over to brush two fingers over the lines – and Arthur closes his eyes in blissful calm at the warm touch. “Yes, I do love that face of yours. You need to stop worrying about me.”

Arthur gives him a pointed look. “Eames...” he deadpans.

“I know, I know, I’m mad as a hatter now,” he sighs. “Have I apologized today?”

“If you do, I’m going to kick your ass, regardless of how much the nurses will hate me for it,” Arthur warns. “Don’t apologize.”

Eames does this every time a lucid state comes around, as if somehow he’d brought this on himself. Arthur just wants to rid him of that ridiculous notion.

Arthur wins the hand and busies his attention by dealing again, even though Eames’ fingers have begun to trace the rest of his face and cards are the last thing on either of their minds. Soon, the light touches are replaced by Eames’ lips and Arthur is so desperate for the attention that he leans into every scant touch and seeks out every inch of warmth that Eames can offer.

It doesn’t last very long. There’s something about the hospital environment that keeps the both of them from ever feeling too romantic and so they never progress further than kisses. On occasion during a lucid day, Eames has been released into Arthur’s custody and they spend the day at the apartment doing nothing more than fucking.

They haven’t had one of those days in months and Arthur is hurting for it.

“New hand?” Eames suggests, collecting the discarded deck and putting it back together, dealing them a new hand. They play several rounds and Arthur begins to suspect that Eames has been letting him win before, because now he cleans up tidily with flushes and straights and four of a kinds.

He shakes his head and clucks his tongue as he pulls in the last of Arthur’s winnings. “I must admit, I think I’m disappointed.”

“Eames, you’re a thief,” Arthur reminds him.

“As are you. I’m in wonderful company.”

“You’re a thief and a habitual gambler,” Arthur corrects himself. “If you weren’t winning, I’d wonder why anyone ever hired you.” And wonder whether he was losing on purpose.

Without pausing, without smirking, Eames simply deals the next hand. “Why, Arthur, that’s simple,” he says calmly. “I give the best blowjobs in the hemisphere. What, you think I got any jobs on talent?” he scoffs, winks, and then softens when Arthur winces slightly. He’s always hated when Eames disparages his talent like that because of an old rivalry that ran between them so very long ago. “Well, Arthur, are you in or are you out?”

To get Eames back permanently, Arthur is in so deep that if he fails, he’s never going to be able to dig his way out of the hole filled with far-flung hopes.

*

This job is not like any other job.

Arthur can prepare as long as he likes, but he’s never going to feel like he has all the answers and for that, he feels like they should cancel, they should back out. He doesn’t like going in without knowing everything and the stakes are too high this time around. Arthur has constant moments where he wants to push Cobb back to his children and tell him to enjoy all the good moments, like Arthur didn’t. Now that he’s lost Eames, Arthur starts to hate himself for wasting those moments that they did have.

The plan is still coming together slowly – almost too slowly for Arthur’s liking. It’s been a year since he thought up the idea and it’s taken every minute of that time to start developing chemicals, allies, crew, and the necessary aid in order to make it all work.

Cobb had been his first phone call when Arthur realized that Eames couldn’t be fixed by slapping a bandage on him and insisting that he simply toughen it out. Arthur had asked if this was how Mal had presented and when Cobb told him that what’s happening to Eames has never happened to anyone before, Arthur started to think of new ways to fix a new problem.

Saito is too busy running his company now that Fischer-Morrow no longer stands in his way of capturing market share and dominating energy in parts of the world that Arthur refuses to take jobs in. One phone call and three words got them the financial backing they require for a venture of this magnitude.

Three words was all it took: Eames needs help.

Saito lives by honour and down in the mazes of inception, Eames and Saito had managed to do their share of bonding. Whatever friendship they struck up is enough that Saito sends a blank cheque to Arthur and tells him that he is to spare no expense in helping Eames.

“When he is better,” Saito says over the phone, “tell him that there was simply no room for tourists.” Arthur can almost hear the smile in the words that follow. “I think he will enjoy that.”

He has the personnel he needs. He needs three dreamers apart from himself and now that Cobb is willing to build again, he has two architects for the job and a chemist. He knows it’s risky to bring in the forger as the subject of the dream, but they have little choice.

“What sort of levels are we looking at, here?” Ariadne asks when she first arrives and immediately sets to work as if they’re on a strict timeline. Arthur’s appreciative of her sense of urgency. While Eames’ condition isn’t worsening, Arthur would rather not let him waste another moment in the collapsed chaos of his mind.

Arthur has been formulating this plan for years and so when she asks, he already has his answer. “We need familiar places. The chances are that Eames is going to populate the levels with his own projections and imagery,” he warns. “We need to be able to accommodate them.”

“Okay,” she says, tapping her pencil against her paper as she begins to think.

“Oh,” he says, as though offhand, as though this wasn’t coming at some point, “and Ariadne?”

“Yes?”

“He’s militarized.”

She pales for the briefest of moments, but that’s quickly subverted by a stubborn look on her face and she nods with great determination. “I think I can make it work with a maze on one level,” she promises. “But you’re going to have to figure out something for the first and third,” she warns. “But then again...” she goes on, tapping her pencil in a slightly faster rhythm against the page. “There’s no reason that three intricate mazes won’t be able to do the trick.”

For days, they work on nothing more than the problem of getting through Eames’ subconscious without being dropped into limbo far too soon. They’re on a very tight time-table within each dream and any change to the plan could ruin inception before they even get a chance to start it.

“We have to get the inception ideas down,” Arthur says heatedly when they get into yet another argument about Eames’ goddamn militarization. Sometimes, he wishes for Eames to be sane so he can barge into one of these endless tiffs and shout some embarrassing non-sequitur that gets everyone’s attention and pushes the topic back to rights.

Yusuf shakes his head and pins his finger down on his notebook – filled with chaotic scribbles. “Until we’re sure we can avoid being shot and sent straight to limbo, we can’t touch the messages. We need to assure we have the time to plant the seed. You remember the Fischer job.”

Arthur flares red in fury and humiliation at once. He hates being reminded of that job and would almost rather go back to feuding than discuss his fuck-up one more time as a textbook example of what they’re trying to avoid on this job.

The issue of militarization has split the group into their own various camps which they’re all reluctant to abandon. Ariadne argues for her mazes, Cobb wants to run Mr. Charles, and Arthur is sure that he’s going to be able to slip through the cracks of Eames’ subconscious with no problem. It’s Yusuf who finally breaks up the argument and steps away from the compounds he’s studying with his microscope when they devolve into the sixth argument on the subject.

“There’s no reason we all can’t be right,” he points out. “We’re going to need to stabilize him on multiple levels. Running Mr. Charles can only work for so long and Arthur, you cannot actually support each level as the dreamer,” he theorizes. “I have something we can use,” he guarantees, lifting up an octagonal-sided bottle filled with an amber-tinted liquid. “I have just the thing for Mr. Eames.”

“Yusuf,” Arthur says warningly. “We’re not here to reinvent the wheel. We just need to help Eames.”

“Getting killed on the first level isn’t going to get us anywhere,” Yusuf argues. “He’s my friend too, Arthur. I wouldn’t do this if I weren’t sure.”

“Are you?” Cobb finally speaks up, turning away from the storyboards that Ariadne’s sketched for the job in order to keep events and messages in order. “Sure?”

Arthur digs his nails into his palm and regards Yusuf with the kind of judgment that he reserves for anyone – he has high expectations of the people he works with and it’s the reason that he very rarely works a second job with anyone that’s disappointed him.

“What is it?” Ariadne asks, bearing the brunt of curiosity for all of them. She wanders over to his work-bench and picks up the bottle with delicate fingers, studying it curiously before leaning over and skimming through his notes, touching each page and rifling through them. Her gaze narrows as if she’s seen something she recognizes, but doesn’t quite understand, and the way she turns that look back to Yusuf worries Arthur, just slightly.

“What?” Arthur demands.

“That’s the formula for producing ecstasy.”

“How would you even know that?” Yusuf asks, bemused, crossing his arms over his torso.

“Contrary to what the world might think of me, I didn’t spring forth from an ocean of innocence,” Ariadne cuts back at him. “And I’m older now. We’re all a lot older and I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve done a lot of things. Why do you think that ecstasy will help subdue Eames’ projections?”

Yusuf grins, tapping his nose just slightly. He’s excited now, beaming and basking in the recognition and Arthur sighs. They have time, but he has no patience for side-trips down academic peaks of pride, not on this job. He crosses his arms and leans back in his chair, vowing to pay attention when the information becomes pertinent to the job.

“The assumption of the projections with a dreamer, in a militarized mind, is the conscious awareness that someone else is perpetrating the landscape,” Yusuf reminds them.

“We know,” Arthur interrupts, sharply.

He gets glares from Ariadne and Cobb at that and he shoots them back a glare of his own. They all know how this works, they’ve been doing it for decades.

Yusuf clears his throat and rolls his eyes. “What if Eames wasn’t entirely aware that he had outside sources building and supporting his dream for him?”

“You think ecstasy will dull his ability to descend on the dreamer?” Arthur interprets, edging back his disbelief as he actually gives thought to the concept. “Would it alter the strangeness of the dream?”

“Most likely,” Yusuf confirms. “But I’ve amended the ecstasy to isolate the calming variables. We’ll lace the somnacin as we go into the dream with my compound and he shouldn’t be able to process the foreign nature of a dream.” He hesitates. “Not at first, anyway.”

Arthur takes a moment to think about this.

That’s when Cobb pipes up. “Yusuf,” he says calmly, managing a tight smile. “Ecstasy-laced somnacin going into the first level...?”

“Yes.”

“Which means we’ll all feel the effects as well?” Cobb continues.

There’s a longer pause, this time. “...Yes.” Yusuf flashes a sheepish smile. “If I’m the dreamer on the first level, I shouldn’t be too affected. Not with the amendments I’m making.”

“Good,” Arthur says, trying to cut this off before it can turn into personal sharing time about their pertinent drug histories.

That doesn’t matter at the moment and Eames isn’t even here to poke fun at Arthur for having a stick up his ass just because he doesn’t want to talk about the one and only time he’d ever been on E, when Eames had been there with him and they swallowed pills in a dark alleyway outside a seedy bar in Rome.

“We have the first level figured out. As for the second level, Ariadne, you’ll be the dreamer and use your mazes to evade projections. Cobb, third level posing as Eames’ security. And I’ll run the rest,” he assures, tidying up his papers and gathering up his things. “Good job, everyone. Tomorrow we’ll go over the ideas and messages we need to plant.”

“Arthur,” Ariadne calls quietly, getting his attention as he slides into his coat.

“What?”

“You said that he’s going to appear splintered. How are we going to know what to expect down there?”

“He’s already exhibiting their personalities up here.” He tries to calm her by offering a half-smile, something that might have convinced her in the old days, but they’re a long way from that now. “We’ll go over that tomorrow, too, Ariadne. Don’t you worry.”

“I’m worried about you,” she confesses and heads to the door to put on her coat, matching him step for step. “We don’t have to talk here, but we should. Arthur, are you sure that you want to be doing this?”

It’s been ten years since Cobb first brought her around to the warehouse and she hasn’t changed much in that time. She works primarily on an individual basis from a drafting studio in Paris, going out into the field only when strictly necessary. She spends whole nights building impossible cities in her dreams and she wears the knowledge of a creator in her gaze. She looks older than the girl she is and Arthur can understand why.

Dreams age people prematurely, shows them worlds they can only have in certain lights. Dreams put the dreamer through entire lifetimes in the span of one night.

She doesn’t possess as much naïveté as when she started, but she hasn’t become cynical in her work. Three years ago, she started dating another architect in the dream-sharing business, but they work on opposite continents and so Ariadne has insisted on a letter-sent romance. His name is Ethan and he’s been good for her. He’s not half bad himself when it comes to drafting mazes, but she’s got a knack that Miles had spotted and hadn’t been wrong about that puts her head and shoulders over the competition.

“Arthur,” she gently says, touching his shoulder. “Where are you going?”

“I need to go see Eames,” Arthur says sharply. “I need to know what his mood is like today.” Who he is today.

“I’ll come with you.”

Arthur swallows down his thanks because he’s not sure if he’s grateful to her for coming with him when he’s not sure if he’s going to want anyone to see Eames as he is. He knows that she won’t be dissuaded, not when her mind is made up, and so he lets her trail along as he signs them both in and gives polite and proper hellos to the staff on their way in.

He stops at the nurse’s desk to talk to Nurse McCraney and awaits the verdict with heavy trepidation resting against his chest like a weight.

“It’s her,” she warns Arthur. “She’s been asking for you. We couldn’t get you the suite,” she says apologetically. “He’s not stable enough to move him down to the first floor.”

“Of course. That’s fine,” Arthur murmurs. Ariadne looks at him quizzically and Arthur wonders how he’s going to explain this. Eames has probably been in this state for some time and has likely been expecting him. Arthur braces himself for what’s to come.

“Honestly, look at you!” comes the verbal assault the moment he walks in the room. Eames is out of bed, pacing the floor and sipping a cup of tea in a manner that would best be described as practiced. “I asked the help when you were going to visit me, but they said you were busy. Busy,” he harrumphs. “You’re always too busy for me. And you’re skin and bones,” he sharply comments.

“Ariadne,” Arthur says, very calmly. “I’d like you to meet one of Eames’ most common forgeries,” he offers. “As far as I can tell, it’s a cobbling of personalities ranging from his mother, my mother, and various schoolmarms he had when he was younger.”

“Maternal figures,” Ariadne interprets, fidgeting with her fingers as she adjusts her jacket.

Arthur paints a polite smile on his face as he approaches and very carefully reaches out to take hold of Eames’ hand and press a kiss to the back of it. “I was just busy at work. You’re always on my case about needing to be strong and needing to work,” he reminds Eames, playing the game with aplomb.

This particular mix and melee of personalities is Arthur’s least favourite because it does nothing more than remind him of his own disappointed mother so very far away, a woman that Eames had met on one memorable occasion and pronounced ‘lovely’ with only the barest hint of sarcasm. Arthur agrees – his mother is all kinds of lovely until she starts harping on Arthur for not working a more traditional job with a more traditional schedule that allows him to visit his family more often.

Lovely doesn’t really sum it up best when that starts to happen.

“You’re both just in time for tea,” Eames says brightly, gesturing to the table by the window. “Sit,” is not a question.

Arthur skirts around the furniture – the hospital had let Arthur bring in some of their possessions from the apartment, but try as he does to make it seem like a warm and welcoming place, he can’t quite manage. Every time he brings in a new tablecloth or new curtains, he sees the angry glare of the hospital bed’s metal and he knows that this isn’t home. They lock the doors at night and ask Arthur to leave when visiting hours are over.

This isn’t home because he can’t come back to it and stay.

He sits down in the adjacent seat to Eames’ and smiles politely when he pours a cup of tea, doing the same for Ariadne. She looks blessedly calm, as if this is just any old situation that she’s been thrown into and can handle with grace.

Arthur tucks one of the silk napkins onto his lap and keeps a wary eye on Eames. He’s been judging his moods lately in order to assess whether or not they can take him under. Arthur’s been waiting for the calm of the storm, but he can’t predict it and he’s beginning to think they might as well jump in while the weather’s wicked – the chaos might help them to blend in.

“How are you doing, ma’am?” Arthur politely asks.

Eames seems to be onto Arthur’s strategies and turns to Ariadne as he sips at his tea. “This boy,” he remarks. “Goes off and expects he can just swan back into a woman’s life with a polite little phrase and a smile on that beautiful face of his. Are you married yet, Arthur?”

Arthur grits his teeth together and forces a smile. Eames can’t help it, he reminds himself. Eames’ whole body language has changed, his voice, his general being. His skewed thoughts have changed as well and he isn’t doing this on purpose.

“I told you that I would tell you if I did,” Arthur promises calmly – and doesn’t he find it odd that there is a forgery somewhere in Eames’ mind that believes them married. Apparently, she and the maternal coalition haven’t sat down to have a chat.

“Don’t wait too long,” Eames says with a firm nod, sliding three biscuits onto Arthur’s plate with a pointed look that he needs to eat them. “You may think that you’re wise putting your career ahead of your personal life, but one day you’re going to wake up and look in the mirror and realize it’s too late.”

Arthur goes stiff and cold at that, a shock of grief racing through him. He did realize it’s too late and now he’s faced with the prospect of this for the rest of his life if he can’t fix it. He’d almost rather Eames think he’s just a gender to the right because at least he remembers their history perfectly.

Ariadne seems to be able to read the situation – and Arthur is more than grateful for her talents in the matter – because she reaches over to take a biscuit before diving headfirst into deceit. “I don’t know that I ever saw Arthur as the marrying type,” she admits. “There was this one guy...”

“You’ll know more than I do,” Eames remarks politely, every vowel and consonant professionally clipped. “Arthur never talks about his love life.”

“Well,” Ariadne murmurs with a sad smile. “Arthur’s crazy about this guy. He’s not so bad. I mean, they’re definitely good together, even if they drive each other crazy. He’s just a little unavailable right now, but Arthur is doing his best to get him back,” she says, so determined and so furiously forward that Arthur believes she’ll stop at nothing to help him. “And then maybe, maybe...”

“Oh, no,” Arthur cuts in and warns her off. “Don’t you start.”

“I’m just saying, you’ve been together a long while.”

“Stop it, Ariadne,” he groans and slumps in his chair – perfect posture now a thing of the past. If suddenly Ariadne and Eames are going to form an alliance against him – which they always used to do when Eames was in his right mind – then he can’t be expected to have any kind of manners.

They drink tea and Eames keeps his eyes on Arthur, as if judging him constantly, and Arthur doesn’t want to admit that he likes it because it’s still Eames and Arthur is apparently still his centre of attention. During some of the harder times, that’s enough to make his day.

Nurse McCraney ducks her head into the room when the hour arrives and relieves Arthur from the constant worry about what Eames might say next. “Time’s up,” she says quietly and apologetically.

Ariadne looks to Arthur to take the lead in leaving. Eames has begun to tire and some of the sharp maternal disapproval has faded, replaced with something like a desperate longing to be anything but alone. Eames has a grip on Arthur’s wrist and tugs lightly when Arthur stands.

“Arthur,” Eames gets out, sharply pleading.

“I have to go. I can’t stay,” he apologizes, leaning down to press a kiss to the back of his palm before pressing it to the table. “Stay well. And don’t forget, I’ll come visit soon. I promise.”

“You always promise,” Eames mutters and there’s that discontent rankling in his voice once more. Arthur helps Nurse McCraney ease Eames back to bed and waits at his bedside for the nightly regiment of pills to help him sleep.

When that routine is over, Arthur lingers in the doorway.

“Do they ever let you stay?” Ariadne asks quietly, reminding Arthur that he’s not alone anymore.

Arthur shakes his head. “Officially, no, but a couple of the nurses look the other way if they find me here in the morning. I try not to, lately. Eames is confused enough in the mornings as it is. My presence doesn’t help.”

Arthur’s whole life has become a desperate attempt to do nothing more than help Eames and so he stays over less and less, even though the nights at home alone grow worse with every passing week.

Ariadne stays extremely close to his side as they leave the hospital and at some point, she bumps over until she’s twined her fingers with his and clasps tightly onto his hand in support. They make it to the car before they speak again and then it’s only for Arthur to ask where she wants to be dropped off.

“The hotel is fine,” she assures and Arthur turns his attention to driving and obsessing over Eames – as is his wont when he allows his mind to wander.

He parks the car in the lot of the hotel and turns off all the lights, expecting to say goodbye to Ariadne and to tell her what time he expects her at the conference room the next morning, but he finds he can’t speak. He finds that all he can do is think about what he just brought her to see and whether or not it’s as bad as she might have imagined.

They sit in the car for longer than they necessarily need to outside of Ariadne’s hotel that night. Arthur wants to bid her goodnight, but his mind inevitably strays to the job and instead they sit in the car while he asks questions about the job and go over logistics and details.

Eventually, Ariadne quiets him by reaching over and pressing her warm palm to his thigh. “Arthur,” she says evenly and quietly. “You’re not alone in this.”

Years after the first inception job and years before Eames started to lose his mind, there had been a temporary point in which Arthur had been happy -- so very happy because he and Eames had stumbled their way into a happy truce that made sense to the both of them. It made sense every morning they woke up to a new day, every day they drank coffee together over worn newspapers. It was comfortable and perfect when they spent their afternoons wandering through parks discussing security, cons, and extraction, and every night they went to bed together fighting for the covers and arguing over the pettiest things.

Then the signs started to pile up, Arthur continuously ignored them, and here they are.

“Ariadne, imagine if this were Ethan,” he says, his voice remarkably steady. “And you’ve known him for twenty years and suddenly he doesn’t even know who he is most days. Some days he doesn’t know you, some days he thinks he married you, and some days he’s himself. Those days when he’s himself,” Arthur says, his gaze drifting out the window to affix on a spot in the distance so he doesn’t have to look at her as he says this, “I think those days are the worst. It’s just a painful reminder of what I lost because I didn’t seek help sooner.”

“Is there a psychiatrist who deals in this sort of thing?” Ariadne promptly demands.

“...No,” Arthur admits.

Ariadne takes that opportunity to give him a light shove at the arm. “So stop blaming yourself. We’re diving deep into his mind to try and make things right. Isn’t that enough, Arthur? You’re going to do the dreaming equivalent of moving mountains for Eames and when he’s in his right mind, he knows that it means you care for him. Isn’t that enough?” she demands one more time, almost angry.

“Honestly?” Arthur says, exhaling shakily. “It just doesn’t feel like it. We’re attempting to incept sanity into a broken mind, Ariadne. This is a shot in the dark. It’s...it’s one degree shy of hoping it’ll all turn out for the best,” he says with disgust.

They sit there in the dark for another few moments of awkward silence before Arthur decides that he’s had enough of obsessing over this issue. He refuses to turn back now and any doubts he might have will have to be set aside.

“Let’s go inside. We need to get some rest. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day,” he says, knowing that it’ll be doubly so if they can’t manage to get the ideas down pat.

Eames needs to be whole, but that idea needs to take, and at the moment, Arthur is left wanting for Eames’ creativity and imagination when it comes to layering an idea in such a subtle way that it’s an art of its own.

*

When all the plans are made and every level matches a message and bears the hallmark of inventive and impossible architecture, there’s no reason to linger any longer without going forward.

Arthur knows that unless they act, all that’s left is the possibility of abandoning their plans. It’s now or never before they hesitate their way into missing a window.

Arthur has been watching the hospital and memorizing their shifts. He knows when to move and the shift change going into the night staff is the perfect time of opportunity. There are less staff, enough confusion as people arrive and depart, and they have the additional cover of night to protect them. Most of the patients are sleeping, which gives them their entrance time.

They arrive on schedule. Cobb and Yusuf are holding onto the weapons and the equipment (respectively) and Ariadne hovers behind Arthur as he picks the lock of the front door and uses the keycodes he’s dutifully memorized to get them inside the security office without setting off a single alarm, timed so that the guard is checking patient rooms instead of live feeds.

He signals for the other to head down the hallway once he’s assured that he’s cut the lines of the security feeds and quickly manoeuvres his way up the stairwell in order to get them to Eames’ room. Arthur slides his fingers over the door handle and uses the electronic key card he stole from the nurse’s station to gain entry.

Sitting there, beside the bed, is Nurse McCraney – just as Arthur hoped she would be. Earlier that day, he had slipped her a folded piece of paper with instructions and a request that she be in Eames’ room after the shift change. He’d included a cheque issued in her name as incentive to come with the promise of more money to follow.

She looks tired and shaken, as though she’s already lived through the worst of something. Arthur wants to tell her that she has no idea and that she’ll be the innocent bystander in this.

“I don’t know why I came,” she says, her lower lip jutting out stubbornly as she stares at Arthur. There’s a flurry of activity around them as Cobb starts to set up the room. Arthur can see her nametag from here and he stares at her full name – Eve McCraney – and wonders if she’s ever loved anyone enough to be willing to die for them. He doesn’t want to ask because in this case, money does a better job of talking than his words will ever do.

Arthur digs out the remainder of the promised money and thrusts it towards her, barely glancing up from the bag he’s digging through for supplies. “I’m not going to hurt him. None of us are,” he insists sharply. “I’m still Arthur. I’m still the same man who visits him. I just need to try and help him.”

She might be wary about this, but she still reaches forward to take the money from him skittishly, as if she’s afraid that any minute, he’s going to change his mind and take the offer back. It’s a fair sum of money and hers is a common reaction, but there’s a part of Arthur that’s still mildly disgusted at how far people will bend their morals for a sum of cash.

“If you hurt him, I’m calling the police,” she warns.

Arthur just nods and glances over his shoulder to see Cobb holding up the line. “We’re ready, Arthur. You said he’s sedated?” Cobb asks of Eve.

She nods rapidly. “When he took his evening pills, I slipped in heavy sedation, just like you asked me to.”

“That should put him in a relaxed state, open to the drugs on the first level,” Yusuf says and Arthur realizes that he’s begun to hold in his breath anxiously.

Arthur settles on the bed next to Eames, bracing up the edges so that he’s not going to fall out. He carefully swabs Eames’ forearm and pushes the cannula in, turning to Eve and giving her a firm nod. “Play the music according to the timeline we gave you,” he instructs her as he adjusts his shirt and his position, getting comfortable in Eames’ near-embrace. A the last moment, he shifts just an inch more and slides his arm over Eames’ torso, sliding the IV into his arm and looks at Nurse McCraney with an apologetic look in his eyes. “I have to try,” he whispers.

“Please don’t hurt him,” she begs, her shaking hands hovering over the deployment device on the PASIV.

“Do it,” Ariadne insists, slumped and ready in a chair nearby.

Eve McCraney takes one last look at the strangers in the room and lets her gaze settle on Arthur as she pushes both hands down with a steadiness that wasn’t there a moment ago.

The drugs race through the tubes and bring on the familiar heady sensation of jumping from off the highest cliff without knowing what’s waiting down below. Arthur closes his eyes and prepares himself for whatever dreams may come.

Level One

this is such a promising prologue... I love how you deal with arthur's reaction and loss towards a loved one with a mental illness... will have to save the rest for another day, but this is beautiful...

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