Rating: PG-13 (language)
Disclaimer: It all belongs to Nolan
Notes: Written for a prompt over on inception_kink : Arthur giving Eames mouth to mouth resuscitation, where either Arthur genuinely saves Eames's life and they have a "moment" or Arthur overreacts... "As much fun as this is, sweetheart, are you quite done?"
Now, some men are sculpted as great displays of strength, all bulging muscles and protruding veins, thick as ropes and a bit reminiscent of the Disney version of Hercules, all brawn and plenty to show for it. At the other end of the spectrum are those who have been destined to be wee, short, and a little bit dumpy, forever destined to be the sweet, adorable guy to whom the girl comes crying, always the best friend and never the boyfriend. Somewhere in between, there are the ones who have shoulders broader than your average-width doorway, men who resemble telephone poles, the underwear models, and the couch potatoes.
Then, there are men like Arthur - lithe and nimble, built for speed with an agility and grace that's often not seen outside the herds of gazelle roaming the sub-Saharan plains or off the gymnastics floor. Wiry and corded with lean muscle, they bend with or against the wind with equal ease, cutting through air currents quickly and efficiently.
Right now, Arthur's outrunning the wind itself.
He hears Cobb behind him, footsteps pounding against the wooden planks; he hears Ariadne's cutesy little flats slapping along, sweet voice being carried away on the wind as she calls something out to him - and perhaps he should stop, perhaps it would be wiser to wait up for the rest of the team, all he can see in his mind's eye is the smug look on the Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabe's face (who currently has a nice little bullet feature right between the eyes, courtesy of Arthur's lethal aim) as he swung the crowbar at the back of Eames's head, sending the forger toppling off the edge of the pier and into the waters below - and there is no time to be wise, no time to stop or think or do anything besides run.
"Arthur, wait!" Ariadne. She sounds winded, and not unlike a little sister calling after her elder brother and his cool, older friends from school.
"Arthur!" Cobb. The older man is gaining on him, and Arthur ignores him, one hand gripping the rusting, paint-chipped railing beneath his fingers and vaults over it, his entire body a curve of charcoal-suited elegance as he dives into the frigid water below.
Ariadne stops, hunched over with her hands on her knees as she gazes despondently at the remnants of the evidence of Arthur's entrance into the water, mere ripples instead of splashes or waves - neat and composed almost, much like the Point Man himself. "He..." she gasps, lungs burning, but can't think of anything to say and turns to Cobb, who's actually taking the mere fives seconds required to toe off his shoes and jacket before plunging into the water himself, albeit with slightly less grace than Arthur.
It's obviously no use shouting, and Ariadne sinks to her knees, the cold February wind biting through her jacket and her teeth chatter, clacking against each other as she stares into the dark water below, hands folded together as if in prayer, and not only for warmth. This isn't a dream, she reminds herself, and reaches into her pocket for the slightly hollowed chess piece carefully sitting there, feelings its weight between her fingers. This isn't a dream and the water down there must be absolutely freezing, there's no cell service for miles and for all Ariadne knows, more of their backstabbing client's goons might be waiting around, waiting to pick them off like birds on a telephone line. She should run, she should hide, she should go back to the car and drive as far away as possible, as fast as she can because she signed up for dreams and not for this, definitely not for this.
But Ariadne doesn't run. She clutches her totem tightly in one fist and stares down into the swirling waves, and waits.
- * - * -
Fuck, it's cold.
That's the first thought that spins through Arthur's head as he slices into the water like a knife; spinning, spinning, spinning like Cobb's little top, that had been Mal's before his, and as he kicks his legs, he realizes belatedly that he forgot to take off his shoes. No telling what partially-ice water does to expensive Italian loafers, but Arthur takes that random, stupid thought and jams it into the file folder in his mind labeled "idiotic, fleeting notions thought of in the entirely wrong situations" (and if there's also an entire tab in said folder neatly labeled 'Eames' in copperplate font, it's nobody's goddamned business but Arthur's).
His long limbs move in powerful strokes that propel him rapidly through the water and Arthur's holding his breath, mindful of his sparse air supply and just how deep underwater he must be. He blinks in the dim, murky light, searching for just a flash of that cocky smile or stupid burgundy jacket that's too tight in the shoulders and all around bad seaming, swiveling his head this way and that. Slowly, panic begins to build in his chest, pounding like a drum because he can't see what he wants to see, he can't see him, he can't see Eames. And it fucking terrifies him.
Then, suddenly, he's there.
Arms moving slowly and awkwardly due to the weight and resistance of water, head flopping forward and drifting ever downwards, Eames is there and Arthur lunges for his unresponsive form, arms reaching out and snagging the edge of the forger's jacket with deft fingers. A grunt that translates to nothing more than a mouthful of wasted air escapes Arthur's mouth as he struggles to juggle Eames's dead weight (and he did not just think dead weight) under an arm and journey upwards to the surface of the water.
Easier said than done.
There's the twinge of lactic acid in his overworked muscles and his thighs are burning, burning like the air that's slowly seeping out of his lungs as Arthur continues to struggle upwards. There's what seems like a light above them, two-dimensional and separating as though it's being put through a prism, and no matter how many strokes Arthur pulls upwards, it never seems to get closer. It doesn't seem like they're moving at all and Arthur gives a small, frustrated swipe at the water, and - goddamn it, Eames is heavy, it's probably time to start laying off all that Chinese takeout, but there's no more air in Arthur's body and he has to let go, has to get to the surface for one more breath of air-
Fingers are closing around his arm and Arthur jerks, startled. Cobb, again. Of course it's Cobb. Didn't know who else he would have been expecting, and Cobb grabs one of Eames's freely swaying arms, pointing upwards. Arthur nods, receives a mouthful of water, but kicks, kicks, kicks as though that's the only thing he can do. Steadily, the light grows closer and closer...
They break through the surface with a magnificent heave and Arthur's shoes slip in the wet sand as he and Cobb together haul Eames onto the dirty shore; Ariadne's running down the wooden steps of the pier and then sprinting towards them, sand and grit flying everywhere. Arthur is sure he looks a mess as he swipes his soaked, disheveled hair out of his eyes and away from his forehead, carelessly flinging his tie over his shoulder as he stares down at Eames's pale, pale face and bloodless lips tinged with blue, and for the first time in who knows how long, Arthur doesn't give a damn what he looks like.
Someone is pushing on Eames's chest, one hand curled on top of the other fist, compressing downwards with considerable strength and Arthur imagines he can hear ribs creaking under the pressure. Someone is tilting the forger's head back and pinching his nose, bending down toward the slack jaw and as Arthur feels his own cold, trembling lips touch Eames's, he realizes that someone is him.
The body beneath his hands remains motionless as Arthur begins another round of chest compressions, as he dredges up the breath he's not sure he has in order to force air into Eames's mouth and into his waterlogged lungs, but there is no response.
Ariadne gives a small sob, stifled by her fist and her eyes are fixed on Eames's face, wide and shining with tears. "He's not..." she gasps, and Cobb puts a hand on her shoulder, his features tight and schooled into the mien of one who has already faced death (the permanent kind) before. "He's not going to..."
Arthur barely spares her a glance but he as he kneels there in the sand, beating on Eames's chest in a rhythm that's soon giving way to desperation, he wants to yell at her to shut up, because Eames will come back, the forger has to come back, Eames always comes back, and he will this time too. He's turning back to bend his face near the other man's, feeling something in his chest starting to wither and die when there's a puff of breath across his cheek and a familiar, if slightly weak, voice.
"As much fun as this is, sweetheart, are you quite done?"
Ariadne drops to her knees in the sand with a wordless exclamation of joy, flinging her arms around Eames, her tears turned to laughter. Cobb puts his hands on his hips and tilts his head back toward the sky, breathing in deep and shaking his head with a tiny grin as he reaches out and claps Eames on the shoulder. Arthur though, stays frozen where he's fallen back, stunned and unmoving.
Eames accepts Cobb's hand and stand shakily, flinging an arm around Ariadne and leaning on the girl just a bit. Then, he glances over to Arthur and raises and eyebrow, a corner of his lips already quirking upwards into one of those infuriating smirks, as if he hadn't just gotten hauled out of the grips of death. "All right, darling? You're looking a bit peaky there, dear Arthur."
Arthur gets to his feet slowly, and takes a couple of halting steps forward, eyes tracing the contours of Eames's face, memorizing the features he already knows too well.
Then, he rears back and punches Eames in the face.
- * - * -
Bastard. No good, smug little son of a bitch. Goddamn bastard.
Cobb. Again. Why can't he just leave Arthur alone?
"Arthur." Cobb is kneeling right in front of him now, one hand a heavy, solid weight on his shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"My suit is ruined," Arthur mumbles, fingers twisting in the soaked fabric, head bowed, gel-less hair falling over his eyes. He's sure the tie can't possibly be salvaged either, and it's the blue silk one he really likes. Same goes for the shoes, he thinks, who knows what kind of gunk is floating around in the water.
As if that matters. As if any of that matters when he's just done the stupidest thing in his entire life, when he'd just overreacted and basically molested another man. But he'd thought Eames was dying, he'd thought Eames was dead...and Arthur's breath hitches, because oh God, Eames had just almost died and this wasn't a dream, there weren't any kicks to bring them back, no overture of non, je ne regrette rien ; he's shoving his hand into his pocket, fingers fumbling for his die. Cobb's fingers on his shoulder tighten and the other man's eyes are narrowed, narrowed shrewdly because just like an overprotective elder brother, he knows what's going on in Arthur's head and he's seen this before, seen Arthur so unguarded and unsteady and this close to a panic attack. Arthur drops his gaze and tries to breathe.
"No, Eames," Cobb's voice says, tone dangerously low and seriously pissed off. He's on his feet and Arthur sways a little without the steadying hold and sees Cobb out of the corner of his eyes, hands clenched into fists as he speaks in short, curt sentences to Eames, who still looks bedraggled and a little worse for the wear (it's the bump swelling over his eye) but better than about ten minutes ago, when he wasn't looking like anything alive. "...seen this...Arthur needs space...a job gone south...long time ago..."
Arthur closes his eyes. But of course Eames doesn't know of the first job Arthur ever took or of his first death, doesn't know the terror of getting dragged underwater and feeling the last gasp of air slip away, of feeling weightless in a sea of black water. He wouldn't know of how Arthur drowned to death; he doesn't know any of that. And why does it even matter? Dragging in a deep breath, Arthur forces himself to stand and presses the pad of his thumb against the indentations of the small cube: one, two, three.
The two men fall quiet as Arthur strides by; Ariadne looks at him worriedly but Arthur refuses to look at any of them and walks on.
- * - * -
"I said 'no', Eames," Arthur says, scowling down at the dossier on the table. He can smell Eames's cologne, a whiff of spice and sandalwood, but he doesn't turn around.
There's the sound of shifting feet, then Eames's voice comes again, this time quiet and filled with something miraculously close to an unnameable emotion Arthur refuses to recognize. "I wasn't taking the mickey back there at the docks," the forger says, lilting accent curving around consonants and vowels. "I just wanted to say thank you."
"Fine," Arthur bites out, harsh and unrelenting. "You've said it."
A sigh this time. "At least give me the courtesy of eye contact, yes?"
Odd rage bubbles up in Arthur's chest and he whirls around, mouth open to inform Eames and his smart mouth that he doesn't owe the forger anything and if he wants courtesy, he should have thought of that before he-
Lips press against his, and Arthur's breath stutters in his throat. His hands come up, flutter about oddly like butterflies, and then Eames is pulling back, smiling at him with an expression both tender and soft. "Thank you, love."
And then suddenly, just like that, Arthur's not running. Not anymore.