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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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He’d expected to wake up on the shore of his own subconscious.

Ever since he’d begun planning this a year ago, Arthur has been training his mind to come to expect what limbo will be like. Great depth is what he needed for this job and so he’s sewn in certainty of what is reality and what isn’t. He’s solidified his sense of self and put his trust in his totem and has prepared himself for the sands of limbo.

When he opens his eyes, that’s not what he finds. He’s in a bathtub, underwater, and it takes him exactly three seconds to clasp the sides of the tub and haul himself out. His suit is soaked and he’s spitting up water, but he knows who he is and knows that he’s dreaming.

He just doesn’t know who designed the room he’s in.

He doesn’t wonder about that any longer when he sees the shape of a man in the doorway smiling down at him with fondness and looking so familiar that Arthur could cry. He fists for his totem to ground himself in the fact that this is not reality and when he’s sure of the weight, he turns his attention back to Eames.

“I was waiting for you to arrive,” Eames says with a smirk on his face. He looks like himself, sounds like himself, and for a brief moment Arthur wonders if the idea has already taken root in Eames’ mind and if that means they can go home. It’s too soon to risk it, though, especially when they only have one shot. Arthur is not willing to simply throw it away. In fact, he’s willing to spend a lifetime down here in order to be sure that the idea takes. “Do you like what I’ve done with the place?” Eames asks, gesturing around them with a pleased smile.

Cobb’s bullet had hit Eames first.

In the space of seconds on the third level, Eames has had time to create from nothing and has somehow managed to summon Arthur directly to his designs. Arthur is too busy swimming in bathwater and relief to focus too much on what that means – and if it means that he and Eames are connected in more ways than one.

Arthur struggles his way out, dripping puddles of water on the tiled floor of what appears to be their bathroom from their shared apartment.

“Eames, you shouldn’t be creating from memory,” Arthur accuses, scrubbing his hands through his hair.

Eames casts a disdainful and chiding look over his shoulder as Eames goes about putting on a pot of tea. “Arthur, my entire mind is fragile as a delicate eggshell. Are you telling me that your greatest concern at this very moment is whether or not I create from memory?” He begins to steep the tea. “Do you still take it two milk, one slice of lemon?”

Arthur stares numbly forward, trying to dry himself off with one of the towels hanging beside him – that looks disturbingly similar to one of the towels hanging on a rack in his apartment bathroom. “Yes,” he manages to eke out. “Eames, do you know why we’re here?”

“I imagine it has something to do with me,” Eames murmurs as he fetches the teacups, blue and white patterned china that Mrs. Eames had given to her son for his thirtieth birthday. “All this fuss about me, I hope it’s important, Arthur.”

“It is,” Arthur says, his voice hoarse and he barely manages to get the words out past the lump in his throat. He’s frozen in place as he watches this functional version of Eames that he hasn’t seen in almost two years and begins to realize how much he’s missing. It’s the simple things. He misses the sureness in Eames’ fingers and the confidence in his voice. He misses those bright smiles and the way he moves his body like he knows how every muscle and tendon with every inch given.

He crosses the room and clasps hold of Eames by the shoulders, staring him in the eyes and knowing that they’re going to start today. Arthur is going to grip onto reality as tightly as he can and they’re going to hold on.

The kettle is whistling away, but Arthur has no time for tea.

“You,” he begins, not letting Eames blink or do so much as look away, “are William Eames and you are whole. And that’s how I love you.”

Cobb had agreed that it was somewhat manipulative, that it was risky when emotions and situations could change, but inception works better with positive reinforcement and with Arthur’s emotions backing his words, he knows that he has a better chance of driving the message home like this.

“You’re William Eames, you’re whole, and I love you.”

“Arthur,” Eames says fondly. “I don’t make tea for just anyone.” He leans in to press a light kiss to the corner of his lips. “I love you, as well.”

It’s a start. It’s a good start.

From there, Arthur settles into what seems to be the life that was meant to be waiting for him. He has so many questions, but for the first two weeks, he settles himself into his focus point of incepting a message into Eames’ mind. Every breakfast he brings Eames’ tea to him and tells him that he’s William Eames, that Arthur loves him, and that he is whole. Eames smiles distractedly and goes back to peering over the London Times with his reading glasses and it’s so normal that Arthur could cry.

Finally, three weeks in, he dares to ask.

“Eames, do you know what’s going on?” he asks, watching Eames scrape marmalade against a slightly-burnt piece of toast. He doesn’t want to alert Eames to the surroundings being limbo, just in case it brings everything crashing down, but he wants to ask whether Eames knows that this is all just a dream.

He has more questions, but he wants to start with the easy ones – easy being relative to the inquiries that Arthur is holding back.

Eames glances up and gives a thoughtful hum. “Would this have to do with being in limbo, Arthur? Actually,” he scoffs out, pressing his palms to the table. “It’s a terrible relief to be here. My other forgeries are all clawing through different levels, but I’m myself here. I don’t feel that tug pulling at me and trying to confuse my memories. I know who I am. Arthur,” he breathes out, so reverently and fondly that it makes Arthur shiver. “It’s the first hint of peace in years. Thank you.”

He says nothing about leaving and Arthur briefly panics and worries that if Eames finds too much peace and solace here, he may never want to leave.

That’s a bridge he didn’t think he’d have to cross.

Arthur tries to steady the panic, but he finds that he can’t exactly manage. One more time, he’d failed to factor something monumental into his plans and now he’s going to pay for it if he can’t course-correct. “Eames,” he says, the name tight and controlled. “You know this isn’t reality. You know you can’t stay here. I’m trying to help you. I’m going to make it peaceful up top. I promise.”

Eames looks at him almost sadly and begins to pour tea into mugs. “Arthur,” he chides quietly. “Don’t make promises you don’t know that you can keep.”

Breakfast is spent in silence – panicked on Arthur’s part – until finally Eames sets aside his paper and regards Arthur curiously. “Have you looked outside the window, yet?” he asks, gesturing to the curtains. “Cobb left behind a great deal to explore. I’ve yet to strike out there, mostly because I’ve no idea how this place works. I didn’t want to step outside to peruse the architecture and lose ten years of life because I couldn’t remember how to get back.”

Arthur, suddenly, feels gripped by the sheer desire to see what Cobb made down here, what he and Mal created. It’s like a spectre of her is still lurking and all he needs to do is go outside and find something of her that he’s never encountered before. It surprises him in how much it aches to realize how much he wants it.

But he, too, doesn’t know how memory and control works down here. It’s risky.

The question is, is memory and love worth risking it?

“Do you want to go look?” Arthur asks, trying to keep his own tone calm and nonchalant.

“It’s theirs,” Eames says thoughtfully, “but it’s also hers. If we can find an anchor, maybe,” he says. “I just don’t want to lose the precarious holding pattern of sanity you’ve managed to give me.”

Arthur knows that they have plenty of time to explore the world and they can save that for when Eames is more stable. For now, Arthur gets up from his chair and rounds the table to cup Eames’ cheek. “You’re William Eames,” he says, the lump in his throat thick and his breath shallow, “and you are whole and that’s how I love you.”

Eames smiles, but it’s weak yet. “Are you going to tell me that every day?”

“Every day,” Arthur promises, clasping Eames’ hand tightly in his. “Every single damn day.”

*

Every once in a while, Arthur feels the resonance of the other levels in minor disturbances. His water glass will tremble while he’s cleaning his gun or the weather will take a small turn for the worse and he wonders what’s going on up there.

Eames notices, as well.

“Am I missing a party?” he remarks as he sets aside the crossword he’d been perusing. “The cupboards keep trembling.”

“It’s the other levels,” Arthur says, his gaze worriedly on the ceiling, as though somehow the others will be able to communicate a message down to them through sheer desire of thought alone. “If I had to guess, I’d say the third. Yusuf and Ariadne were in fairly well-defended mazes, but your projections on the third level were already on Cobb’s heels, Mr. Charles or no.”

“I do have some very vengeful fuckers in my subconscious,” Eames agrees in a mild tone, as though the possibility of Cobb being ripped apart just one level above – the possibility of all of Arthur’s plans failing – is clear as day.

Arthur stops paying attention to the ceiling when rationality kicks in and he remembers that looking up isn’t going to do a thing. “Eames, are you there when the forgeries have the driver’s seat? Do you even have any control?”

“Quite a limited amount. Good forgery has always been about total and true belief,” Eames says, not even looking up from his crossword as he dabs the nib of the pen with his tongue and scribbles in an answer. “I believed wholeheartedly in who I was, but every once in a while, I had a flash of recognition that I was mad. Tiny moments,” he says, his voice growing smaller, “when I wasn’t lucid, that’s all I had. Tiny moments and all I could think about was that you were still there, still stubbornly by my side. Idiot,” Eames finishes fondly, finally looking up.

“You’ve called me worse,” Arthur replies, trying to force down the lump in his throat.

“There you were,” Eames goes on, shaking his head as he gestures with two fingers for Arthur to join him.

Arthur, never one to be cowed, scowls and smacks Eames’ fingers away – a gesture that elicits a loud laugh from the other man. He still ends up going to his side, but only when Arthur is through scribbling down today’s journal entry. He arranges himself on the couch opposite Eames, his feet pressing against Eames’ thighs.

“There you were,” Eames repeats himself, the crossword in his lap and Eames’ attention on Arthur, “being an idiot and throwing away your own life for me.”

“I still took jobs,” Arthur says defensively. “I just stopped travelling for them. I started consulting. Not everyone needs a point man in the dream. Sometimes people just need the research.”

“The Arthur I met when I was just a young bloke wouldn’t have said that,” Eames says, scoffing. “Christ, he’d have had your head for saying that. The sheer notion that you compromised anything for me, the notion that you’re here for me...I don’t think I ever realized how much I mean to you,” he admits. “I’m supposed to be a master of reading people. And here I was, so very stupid for so long. Can you forgive me for that, Arthur? Can you forgive me for being an idiot?”

The lump isn’t vanishing and Arthur finds it difficult to look at Eames for too long – Eames in his sane perfection – and so he looks away instead, right out the window at the lovely weather they’re having.

“I’m sure they’re fine on the other levels,” Arthur says, his jaw tensing up from setting it so firmly to avoid showing too much emotion. “Cobb’s a professional and I think his projection of Mal was trying to help.”

He only turns when he feels a light touch at his side and looks back to find Eames staring at him. “Arthur...”

“Don’t apologize. Stop apologizing,” Arthur orders, because he can’t take it anymore. “I always knew how you felt. And you always knew enough about my feelings. You might be an idiot and I might have given something up for you, but it doesn’t mean we were emotionally stunted. Just...”

He trails off, because Arthur doesn’t know the word for it.

“Just talented in our idiocy,” Eames finishes for him, leaning over to press a brush of a kiss to Arthur’s temple before he returns his attention to the crossword.

They go on like this in their own world for what feels like minutes, but is actually years. Arthur only keeps his grip on time through his journal and he even begins to forget to log entries some days – mostly because Eames grabs him by the wrist and hauls him back to bed before their day can even start.

They while away whole days like that in limbo’s strange architecture of time. Arthur loses time, but he blissfully surrenders it if it means he can Eames like this.

They finally decide to go out into the world around them years after they arrive. Eames leads and Arthur trails after him, never letting him out of his sight. Arthur keeps a slow pace, hands in the pockets of his worn jeans, and barely looks at the architecture around them. His focus is entirely on Eames.

The landscape around them so very clearly reflect Dom and Mal. Arthur doesn’t want to look too closely. He doesn’t need to give himself any reason to prefer limbo to reality and he still fears that memories of Mal in combination with Eames’ sane presence at his side might be potent enough to do just that.

“It’s mad, really,” Eames is saying as he stops to regard Mal’s childhood home. “It’s all still right here.”

Arthur catches up to him and presses his hand to the small of Eames’ back for just a moment. “Cobb is in the network of dreamers. He and Mal created all this and he’s dreaming right alongside us. His memory of her might be just a shade, but his memory of her architecture is exact.”

“Who did you bribe to get to me, incidentally? Please don’t say it was the sweet old lunchlady,” Eames begs.

“It was your nurse. McCraney.” When Eames doesn’t look like he recognizes the name, Arthur tries a different tack. “Eve.” And there’s the dawn of epiphany on Eames’ features.

“She’s a lovely woman, you know,” Eames says, taking hesitant steps forward as though he wants to go right up to the door of Mal’s childhood home and knock, as though there will be someone waiting inside.

“She had a soft spot for you,” Arthur admits.

“And you,” Eames says. “Don’t think I didn’t have enough sane moments to notice how often she bent the rules for you. Even in your forties, Arthur, you look like a man decades younger. You look elegant and flawless.”

Arthur slides his palm upwards to press between Eames’ shoulderblades lightly, a gentle touch to remind him that he’s going to be there without the need for flattery.

“Eames, I need to ask you something,” Arthur says, his eyes stuck on the windows of this dilapidated house before them. The years of disuse show in its cracked facade and Arthur wonders how many lifetimes have been pressed to this architecture between Cobb, Saito, and now them.

Eames finally tears his gaze away and Arthur is glad for it. He doesn’t want to go into that house with its secrets and a safe waiting to lock away the world.

“Why are those forgeries the ones down here?” Arthur has to wonder and though he’s waited years to ask, he needs to know the answer. “Why Fischer? Why that near-exact replica of your mother?”

Eames looks at him with great sympathy and Arthur grits his teeth.

“Don’t,” he warns, voice low. “I don’t need your pity.”

“You keep looking for logic in all of this, Arthur. Don’t you understand?” Eames says, shaking his head as if disappointed in Arthur’s inability to comprehend the situation. “There is none. For all we knew, it could’ve been a fabrication of Cobb the moment we dropped dreamside. The second level might have been my father. Maybe it’s just that those forgeries have come topside recently. Maybe they’re close to home. Maybe they mean something to me, or to the network of dreamers,” he allows. “But sense? Sense in all this? There is no sense in madness. Next you’ll be asking what broke me into pieces.”

Arthur still doesn’t know the answer to that, either, and for a man who lives his life with a head for facts and figures, it’s a daily barrage to his rationality.

“Sometimes, there are no clean-cut answers,” Eames goes on. “And that’s okay. Why Fischer? I’ve no idea. But, tell me this,” he prods, grinning with a cocksure smile and sliding his arm around Arthur’s waist. “Was it a good one?”

Even in the throes of madness, Eames is still concerned about the aesthetics of his forges.

“It was perfect,” Arthur says, hating that Eames’ talent for perfecting the habits and mannerisms of others led him down this road. “Eames, when this is over...”

“This is the part where you tell me I can’t ever forge again?” Eames pipes up when Arthur trails off, unable to even bring up the words – and certainly not as the ultimatum he needs them to be. “I don’t know that I can do that, Arthur.”

“It’s been ten years since we performed inception, Eames, what else is there left to do?” he tries to argue, not half as stubborn as he might have been years ago. He’s grown tired of fighting against a disease that he can’t even see. He doesn’t need to argue with Eames atop it all.

Eames is silent and rather than answering, he takes Arthur’s hand in his. “Come on, let’s go. There are a few city blocks nearby. From what Cobb’s said in the past, I think that’s where their current home is. I’d like to see it.”

They don’t talk about what will happen when they come out of the dream. It’s an avoided subject for years after that day they spend studying Cobb’s streets.

Arthur never stops thinking of it or about how, if this works, he could still lose Eames all over again if he goes against good advice and decides to forge anyway, taking himself back down a dangerous path.

He’s not sure he can endure this twice. He’s sure that no man or woman could.

*

Up above, though Arthur can’t know, things are not going half as well as he imagines them to be, even in the secure labyrinths they’ve built.

Yusuf has had to leave the sanctuary of the room and is poised halfway off the fiftieth story of the Empire State Building, gun in hand, pigeon on shoulder, with two projections dangling from the window-washer scaffolding below him, shooting wildly. The dreamers are safe, though.

Ariadne’s mazes have held safe, but she’s had to leave her post in order to check the charges for the kick. What used to be a long hallway in the style of the old French mansions has now become something of a twisted hall of mirrors and she navigates it with ease, gun clasped tightly in hand just in case.

Cobb and Mal have set up their post at the restaurant. It’s hardly recognizable for what it once was and they hide behind shot-through tables and destroyed fixtures. Just once, just before Mal takes a graze to the shoulder and Cobb suffers a burn on his leg, they kiss and when he eases back, he looks her in the eye and feels nothing but the grief of memory and none of the guilt.

All this is happening as Arthur ages onwards.

In the blink of an eye for Yusuf, in the space of a sentence for Ariadne, and the length of a conversation for Cobb, Arthur ages and incepts Eames and they turn the wastelands of limbo into their own world.

*

It takes ten years for the chilling thought Arthur had once feared to resurface. Eames is at peace here and in great control of his sanity. Eames isn’t faltering. Despite a daily ritual of an idea placed in Eames’ mind, he never talks about going back up through the levels and ending up in reality. Eames is aware that they’re in limbo, but he never speaks about getting out.

It sends a chill through Arthur’s spine and he’s almost too frightened to ask the question he needs to. So instead he avoids it until days become months and then months become years. When Arthur checks his notebook and discovers that ten years have passed and he’s no closer to finding out if Eames is going to abandon reality for the sanity in limbo, he knows that he has to do what’s hardest and ask the question he’s been avoiding.

“Eames,” Arthur says, catching at Eames’ wrist when the other man is about to head out for a morning run.

They’ve made rules about how far they’re permitted to go. They’ve made something of an invisible perimeter, as if that will guarantee they don’t lose themselves.

Arthur wonders if they really believe their silly rules will actually work, but he has to hold onto belief in something. Eames pauses and raises a brow, waiting for Arthur to speak.

It’s taken him ten years to get to this point, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s a struggle for Arthur to even coax the words past his lips.

“Arthur,” Eames sing-songs with a bemused smirk. “I know that time is rather endless here, but I don’t exactly want to spend it trying to read your mind.”

Arthur rolls his eyes, but he laughs and it breaks the tension that’s been surrounding him tightly.

“Eames, it’s been ten years.”

“Yes,” Eames concurs with a nod of his head. “Bravo for being a calendar, Arthur. I knew you had it in you.”

That gets another laugh and the tension is practically pouring out of Arthur, now. He feels like he can ask this question, but he’s not sure that he’s going to be ready for the answer. “Eames, do you want to stay here?”

He receives nothing but silence in response, which is – frankly – almost more terrifying than an answer could ever be. Instead, Eames just smiles and leans in to press a kiss to the corner of Arthur’s lips in parting. The lock of the door as it closes behind Eames is practically deafening and Arthur flinches at the sound of it and can’t stop thinking about the question.

He lets it go temporarily and brings it up two months later.

Again, there’s no answer. This time, Eames is simmering a sauce for dinner and makes Arthur taste the acidity of it and they don’t talk about whether or not Eames is ready to abandon the real world over appetizers, dinner, or dessert.

It becomes routine for Arthur to ask every two months: Do you want to stay here? and every time he sees the same thing – a flickering of wariness in Eames’ expression and then a blank canvas. It never changes, no matter how many times Arthur asks.

Ultimately, Arthur does the only thing he can to ensure he doesn’t go mad himself from wondering whether Eames has abandoned reality.

He has faith. He has faith that every morning he will give Eames a message and that one day when Arthur is sure it’s taken and the kick comes, he has faith that they’ll both be ready to go.

Time passes in dual rapid pushes and halting spans of slowness and Arthur stops asking the question. He starts to notice other things, though. He notices the world they’ve slowly begun to build around them and he notices (with great and desperate relief) that they’ve gone back to their old habits and ways.

He sees it one day when he passes the mirror in their front hall on his way out into the small neighbourhood block that they’ve built. It catches him off guard and he stops with keys in hand – because even though he doesn’t need them, he likes the ritual of it – and stares for a long moment.

“Eames,” he shouts. “Come here.”

Eames isn’t far – he never is – and stops when he arrives at Arthur’s side, looking curious but not asking anything just yet. Arthur takes Eames’ face in his hands, clasping his cheeks and turning his head side to side to look for things that he’s been ignoring.

He’s supposed to be focusing and time is slipping away from him quicker than he expected. Some days, it’s as though he blinks and he loses weeks at a time.

“What on earth are you doing?” Eames protests with a warm laugh that makes Arthur’s stomach twist with delight. Hearing him sound so sane, so calm, so wonderful is something that he’ll never tire of.

Arthur catalogues the changes and knows that he’s lost more time than he can account for. He still hears the musical warnings played by Nurse McCraney so far up above, but those slip his mind as time goes by. Eames looks older now. There are crow’s feet at the edge of his eyes and his hair is going grey faster than Arthur’s. He’s gained weight and wears his glasses far more than he used to.

He’s ageing. They’re both getting older, which means that Arthur is running out of time to get the message into Eames’ mind and for it to stay.

Arthur’s fingers drift over Eames’ face, thumb brushing against the wrinkles by his lips from all the smiling he did as a younger man and shakes his head. “You’re getting older,” is all Arthur manages.

“So are you, you know,” Eames points out. “You’re still terribly attractive, though,” he murmurs, holding Arthur at the elbows. “You’re infuriating that way.” Arthur lets out a dismissive snort, because that had been what stopped him – seeing his own ageing face and the way his hair is thinning and the bags under his eyes seem slightly more permanent than ever before.

“You’re William Eames,” Arthur starts again, the second time today, but he’s never believed that overselling something could do anything but help, “You’re whole...”

“And you love me, I do know,” Eames replies. “It’s been thirteen years of you saying that every single morning to me. Honestly, sometimes I use it as an alarm,” he wryly remarks, earning a light shove at the shoulder from Arthur, but they’re both laughing within seconds. “Do you really think it’s going to take, Arthur?” Eames asks after a long moment in which Arthur refuses to let Eames go.

“I don’t know,” Arthur admits with a shake of his head. “And that terrifies me. The idea of losing you is difficult,” he says, looking into Eames’ eyes and brushing a stray eyelash from off his cheek, “but losing you to this of all things, an unseen, hidden enemy that I can’t fight makes me feel powerless.” He pauses, trying to quell the frustration he feels. “I hate that, Eames.”

“I can imagine,” Eames hums out his reply. “You have a mildly concealed fit when I don’t send the right instructions to the dry-cleaners. God knows how you’re coping with me being insane.”

“Don’t joke,” Arthur warns. “It’s not funny.”

“If it’s not funny, then it’s just terribly sad,” Eames replies, sympathy lurking in his expression. “And I would rather laugh than cry.”

*

Arthur wakes up one morning ready to turn over and press a kiss to Eames’ lips and give him the message. His back aches and Arthur knows dimly in the back of his mind that it’s been twenty-five years since he surfaced from the water of a bathtub that Eames designed. He wakes up ready to say the same thing he’s said every single morning for twenty-five years, but instead of being able to do that, he finds Eames already awake and staring at him.

“What...” Arthur mumbles, but doesn’t have time to finish the sentence. Eames brushes Arthur’s hair with his open palm – Arthur’s hair is much thinner now than it ever was before, let to fall loose over his forehead – and stares at him fondly. “Eames, what’s going on?”

“Don’t you think it’s time, Arthur?” Eames asks, plain as day. “Don’t you think it’s time to see if it’s worked?”

“I have to be sure,” Arthur says stubbornly, feeling panic gripping every inch of him and making him so thoroughly unsure. “If we go up there and it didn’t work...”

“If we stay here much longer, one of us is bound to lose ourselves,” Eames interrupts and counters with such patience that Arthur feels the tables reversing. Eames had always been the one quick to snap or panic and Arthur had been constant and calm. “There are moments, now, when I forget that we’re not supposed to be here. It’s been twenty five years, darling, and if we stay much longer, we’re going to be here forever. You’ve put a lot of hard work into this. It’s time.”

Here they sit, now, positions reversed and Arthur doesn’t like it one bit.

He’s too stubborn to simply let go like this and so rather than accept what Eames has to say, he turns away from his touch and begins going through the regular routine that he’s become accustomed to in limbo.

The world around them thrives, now. The buildings are no longer dilapidated and they resemble architecture from the world, three times over. There are monuments from most continents and adored buildings from the cities they once loved.

Limbo has become their world and Eames is trying to prevent it from becoming their reality. Arthur knows this is the prudent thing to do, but he can’t leave yet.

“How can we be sure it took?” Arthur asks when he comes out from the washroom, drying off his hands.

“That’s just the thing, Arthur, we can’t be,” Eames says quietly, a sad look in his blue-gray eyes. He seems distant, as if he’s enduring as much sadness as Arthur bears, but is trying to push it deep and away. “There are no clearcut answers, remember? It’s never as simple as all that.”

Twenty-five years and all of Arthur’s carefully laid plans are starting to collide here and if they don’t work, he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

He feels short of breath as he closes the distance between himself and Eames and grabs hold of his face with less gentleness than he would at any other time. “Eames, if this doesn’t work...”

“If it doesn’t work, I don’t want you bringing a PASIV around to my doorstep again. I want you to start living your life. If this doesn’t work, Arthur, you move on,” Eames warns, a dangerous inflection in his voice.

“No,” Arthur argues, that fierce stubbornness making a triumphant return. He grabs hold of Eames’ arm and holds him in place. “No, Eames, I won’t. I won’t.”

“You’ll throw your life away.”

“I’m forty-two and a criminal. I decided to chance it a long time ago, long before I ever met you.” Arthur needs to hold on to some kind of hope and right now, that’s the idea that this is going to work. “The kicks are going to come soon, anyway, Eames. Please, please, let’s just...”

“Just what, Arthur? Here we are, attempting inception for the second time.” Eames smiles warmly and brushes his thumb slowly over his lower lip. “How could I have ever said you didn’t have imagination? Look how clever you’ve been. Look how wonderful the world you’ve built is. Maybe. Well, maybe I was wrong.”

Arthur lets out a hoarse laugh that sounds hollow to his ears. “Now I get an apology from you?”

“Yes, well, we were on the outs. Telling people you were a stick in the mud with no creativity helped me feel better,” Eames remarks with a smirk on his face. “Arthur,” he begs, pleads, whispers, “Arthur,” he exhales again, like a reprimand. “It’s time. Let’s go and see the world you tried to create for us, up top.”

Arthur feels the truth of Eames’ words hit him in the chest like a heavy object, bringing reality crashing through so many levels of the dream and he turns away for just a moment to let the worry and panic and emotion of this endeavour to crash over him like waves in the ocean.

He presses his lips together and when he looks back to Eames, his vision has become blurred with tears of frustration and anger and love.

“Eames...”

“For ten years, you thought I wanted to stay here. Don’t turn the tables now, Arthur,” Eames chides lightly, cupping Arthur’s face with his hands and gently brushing his fingers up and down his cheeks. “Even if this doesn’t work, we had a lifetime together, you and I. And it was brilliant, Arthur, don’t you ever think it was anything but.”

“It shouldn’t be over, yet,” Arthur argues.

“It might not be, but you have to take a leap of faith, now,” Eames says. “It took me a long time to acknowledge that we might be waking up to failure, but I can’t be so selfish as to keep you down here where I know who I am. I can’t dare rob you of the opportunity to see if all this worked.”

Arthur’s breaths are sharp and shallow and he feels a hard pain in his chest that faintly seems like heartbreak.

“I might lose you.”

“I know,” Eames agrees and his own calm smile falters now. “But I lost you a long time ago when I lost my grip on reality. I want the chance to have you back, Arthur. Properly.” He brushes his fingers over Arthur’s forehead – over wrinkles that weren’t there before and gray hairs that have grown as the years passed them by.

Arthur stares at Eames and feels lost, suddenly, in this false reality they’ve constructed for themselves. It’s without answers and it requires too much faith for him to appreciate it properly.

“Please,” is Eames’ last gambit.

It’s all Arthur needs for him to crumble and realize that Eames is right.

It’s time.

*

Arthur had expected the kick to bring down the sky in ash and fire when twenty-five years passed and the music permeated every depth of the dream, but it’s not twenty five years when the storm comes.

Every morning as they approach twenty-five years and kick, Arthur looks out the window and witnesses the world they built. He grounds himself in his totem and kisses Eames’ forehead distractedly as he mumbles familiar words into the warm skin of his neck. He continues on with the knowledge that none of this is real. Twenty five years comes and goes, but the kick doesn’t come.

And then, one day when he’s least expecting it, the ground trembles and the sky splits open with fire. Arthur has been in the study with a copy of a map of limbo, something that he wants to leave behind in the event that he’s ever in the situation that someone needs this and he’s in the network of dreamers.

Eames had been outside, smoking – because limbo though it was, Arthur still refused to allow Eames to smoke inside the house.

“Arthur!” Eames shouts up from the sidewalk.

“Eames, get up here!” Arthur’s shouting, throwing open doors and unlocking a path to the roof that he’s been keeping secret for twenty-five years. There’s been no need to jump because the timer was still active.

They would have simply kept returning to limbo and possibly without the hold on reality. Reality...

Arthur fumbles for his totem and checks it as he does every morning when something strikes him as so close to real that he’s not sure anymore. True to his beliefs, the weight registers wrong and he tucks it away in a hurry, assured of his presence in a world that’s false. He starts to grow anxious when the sky starts to crack open and the storm starts pounding at their windows. “Eames! Faster!” he barks, losing his patience.

He grabs a gun from the kitchen drawer and hauls Eames out along with him, taking him by the wrist to shove him down the hall.

It’s far from gentle. It’s as far as Arthur gets from gentle, but when there’s a result to achieve and something he needs to get towards, he’ll do anything.

“I’m coming,” Eames says mildly – as if that will somehow staunch Arthur’s mood.

Right now, his blood is burning in his veins with adrenaline and he would raze worlds in order to get to his end-goal. Now, at this moment, all he needs to do is get to the rooftop and administer the kick. It’s time and if Arthur dwindles any longer, he’s going to want to stay and then they’ll have lost even more to limbo than just a long shot.

Right now, they need to get out and Arthur’s mind is solely focused on this goal.

Eames takes a while, but once he kicks into gear, he’s the same man that the SAS put so much time and pride into so many years ago. Arthur watches him move with grace despite the years of age creeping into the bones and joints of his body and knows with sheer intuition that if Arthur falls somehow, Eames will make his way out. Eames will tap into that self-preservation running through him and find his way up and out.

Somehow, no matter how, they’ll find success in all this.

Arthur fights his way through the warring winds on the roof, squinting through debris and sand and wreckage and holds out his hand for Eames to take.

“Eames,” he calls over, having to shout loud as he can above the roaring storm. “It’s the kick! It’s time to go!”

Eames wanders to the edge of the building and even though Arthur can barely see a thing in the storm, he can see the way Eames looks solely at him. Arthur reaches out and, with shaking fingers, claims hold of Eames’ hand to squeeze it tightly, as if to give himself reassurance that this is the end of the story and he has to turn the page if he’s ever going to know the conclusion.

“I’m ready,” Eames mouths the words and turns until his back is to the edge of the rooftop.

Arthur takes heavy breaths and walks to the edge, letting the toes of his feet rest just over the ledge. He lets go of Eames’ hand and stares alongside to where Eames is standing with his back to the world while Arthur keeps an eye out for him.

He can hear the dimmest of bass notes in the sky – music to bring them home – and Arthur has time for one last ragged smile that’s directed at Eames.

“Race you up the levels?” Eames shouts above the hurricane of chaos and Arthur laughs at that, a sound that barely makes it above the noise, but for the fact that Arthur wills it to.

Arthur nods and though he can barely breathe for the adrenaline coursing through him, he knows that it’s time to take a leap of faith. “You’re on,” he agrees and stares down at the world beneath them.

It’s time he says goodbye to a world he knows is false.

He takes one last look at Eames and when neither of them has jumped yet, he steps sideways and rests his hands on Eames’ shoulders. “I’m coming too,” he promises under his breath and inches forward until his foot is between Eames’, his arms wrapped tightly around his waist.

The wind blows and Arthur stops resisting.

He lets gravity begin to pull him and he closes his eyes as he falls with Eames, down and down until he gasps...

...He opens his eyes and sees for the briefest of moments the restaurant. He searches around him and can’t find Cobb or Eames, but he sees Mal. She smiles at him and leans forward to cup his cheek with her palm.

“Cobb is gone,” he protests, the ground sliding away from him, bringing him moments closer to the level above him.

“Dom isn’t the only one who knew me,” is all she has to say as she presses a fond kiss to his forehead. “A bientôt, mon petit,” she says with great regret and sadness and he feels the world giving way from under him...

...Beneath him, the shards of mirrors are coming ever closer and it’s a quick jolt to his system before he’s...

...back in New York City above the streets and the ground coming ever closer with such speed and in this one moment before reality, Arthur closes his eyes and rides the kick all the way back up, at least knowing that he’s come out of this alive and...

*

When Arthur comes to, he sees the chaos around him first and foremost. Yusuf has already packed away the PASIV and is staring at Eames with the edge of desperation that comes of pulling off a job this big. Cobb is checking his phone and murmurs the name ‘Saito’ under his breath as his fingers fly over the number pad.

He feels Ariadne’s hand on his arm and looks to her for the briefest of moments, never once wanting to take his eyes off of Eames – who is still waking up.

“What was it like?” she asks, quietly.

“It was a lifetime,” is his steady answer, perched up on the edge of the bed and looking over Eames like a prince come to wake the sleeping beauty. “It was perfect until it all came crashing down.”

“Do you want some privacy?” Ariadne asks and Arthur finds himself nodding, needing to be alone with Eames when his eyes finally draw open and the moment of truth dawns on them.

He hears them in the distance as they leave. Cobb ushers Nurse McCraney out with them, explaining in a quiet tone that they’ll know better if this worked in hours. The heavy hospital door closes and Arthur grabs hold of Eames’ hand, holding onto him like a drowning man being given a line of hope.

Every breath feels like endless torture. Every second that passes as Eames slowly rouses feels like a lifetime.

Reality, in the last few moments, has become more torturous than limbo had ever been.

Eames finally opens his eyes and searches the room.

Arthur finds his gaze and holds on tighter to his hand, cataloguing every moment and every small reaction and action. He watches as Eames’ expression softens and he stares up at Arthur with a mixture of fear and fondness.

Arthur can only know that he’s tried.

He knows that he’s done all he can.

So, with a weary and hopeful heart, Arthur smiles down at him and brushes his finger in slow circles against Eames’ palm. His heart trying to beat out of his chest, Arthur reacquaints himself with the reality around him and knows that no matter what happens, they go forward, from here.

It’s time.

“Good morning, Mr. Eames.”

THE END

NOTES: There's a lot of people that get a lot of thanks for this. liketheroad pretty much sat at my side and let me ramble on and on and on and for that, I'm eternally grateful. loveflyfree let me pitch ideas and everyone on my f-list pretty much got to hear about my whining. The title of this story comes from a song by Magnolia Electric Company.

It's Don't Fade On Me and you can download it to hear. In general, though, The Cave by Mumford & Sons has become my unofficial theme music for this piece. Thank you for reading and getting to this end!

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This is perfection. I don't have much else to offer up beyond that. ♥

Thank you so much for reading it and I'm glad you liked!

I'm in awe. this story has such an incredible plot that seems the perfect "Inception 2: The Fallout" (stupid title is stupid, sorry, but I hope you have catch what I mean)

♥ Thank you for reading and I'm glad that you think it felt that way because I was definitely using the movie as a base (I even wrote most of this to the soundtrack, so certain scenes pace according to the tracks!)

i love this so much, i don't even have the words.

i am still holding my breath at the end - hoping against hope. THIS IS A DIFFERENT VERSION, OBV. but i would just like to say that ALL OF YOUR EDITING has paid off!

it's amazing and heartfelt and wonderful and i will read again and again ♥

THANK YOU FOR READING! And I do know how I project the end in my head, but I wanted to take a cue from the movie and pay a little homage to reader's interpretation.

AND THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR ART!

Oh my goodness, my heart is pounding. I feel like I'm right at the edge of the cliff, waiting to find out exactly how well the inception took. ♥

♥ Thank you so much for reading!

this is fucking brilliant! ♥ i really don't know what else to say, but the idea, levels, all the details, oh my god, you are a genius, really, to come up with something this big and... wow, just wow.

also, now i feel just like i've seen inception, not knowing how it really ended (i believe it worked :D), but this ending suits the story oh so well.

♥ Thank you so much for reading and I'm very glad all the planning paid off. I have my notebook pages of 'messages' and themes and they changed a lot, but I think for the better! I hope!

ohmygod. Oh my god. I don't have much to say, other than the fact that this is completely and utterly beautiful. ♥

Thank you so very much for reading!

This was lovely. Thank you!

Thank YOU for reading~!

that was wonderful--so intricate and detailed and beautiful. Thank you!

Thank you for reading and for your lovely words!

Oh this is so wonderful! The thought and care that's gone into this and oh, Arthur, your Arthur is heartbreaking. AND THE ENDING, OH MY GOD.

♥ I'm glad you liked him because there were times I wanted so hard to switch POV's, but it would've been a whole different story if I did. Thank you for reading!

OH MY GOD. Just... OH MY GOD. I was already expecting your big bang to be a masterpiece, but this is just... wow. So beautiful and painful and hopeful all at once. Thank you so much for sharing~ <3

♥ Thank you so much for reading!


Thank you so much for reading!

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♥ Thank you so much for reading. I pretty much cried through one of the scenes, so I'm glad that I was able to get some of that across!

This is incredible. This is really tense and really well thought out and put together. And dude, that ending had my heart in my throat. Gah.

Thank you so much for reading!

What a wonderful and epic journey this was. I nearly welled up at many parts (the hospital visits! Arthur's love for Eames in general! THEIR ENTIRE TIME IN LIMBO dhjfjhsdgf!)

And that ending. THAT ENDING. So amazing. I love the moment it cuts off and I am just going to be in my corner imagining the happy version of everything, ahh.

Thank you so very much for reading and I'm very glad that the parts I intended to be a little more serious came across that way.

Heartbreaking but hopeful. Loved it. Thanks!

Thank you so very much for reading!

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