Character/Pairings: Arthur/Eames, Ariadne, mentions of Cobb, James, Phillipa
Word Count: 2,735
Disclaimer: Mr. Nolan owns it all
Summary/Author's Notes: Written for this prompt at inception_kink in which Eames is a ghost and Arthur is the stranger who's the only one who ever brings Eames flowers. Romance (of an odd sort) ensues. AU.
They say the dead have it lucky, resting comfortably beneath six feet of earth and slumbering forevermore, whiling away eternity and blissfully unaware of the ongoing cruelties of the dark and ugly world, lucky enough to have departed from the cares and troubles of the living. Those who believe in an afterlife profess that the dead are in a better place, walking the streets of gold beyond the pearly gates or chatting it up with Anubis and Horus, celebrating with the seventy-two virgins and playing fetch with Cerberus.
They say that the dead are at peace.
Clearly, they are idiots who have obviously never been dead before, and thus have no fucking clue what they're talking about. The very fact that they still can talk is testament to that. Dead men tell no tales, but if the dead could talk, they would tell the truth - and oh, if they could talk, the tales they would tell.
- - - - -
It's a quiet and nondescript little cemetery, out of way and largely ignored by the general public. There's no adjoining church or parishioners coming around every Sunday to trample reverently over the bones of the dead; no large highway alongside the patch of ground, no memorial commissioned by a benevolent senior figure with too much money on his hands or by a congressman intent on wasting the tax dollars of his constituents. Small, with fifty or sixty little headstones at most, people had stopped bringing out their dead here a while ago. A wrought iron fence surrounds the plot, and about once every two weeks, a caretaker comes out and cuts the grass, makes sure that everything looks at least relatively neat and that no bored or mischievous kids have come to mess around, and that's that.
Periodically, there'll be visitors - on birthdays, days of death and remembrance, on anniversaries - solemn-faced children now grown and visiting the final resting places of their parents, overly priced bouquets in one hand and dragging along guileless, wide-eyed grandchildren with the other, little ones who never knew Grandpappy or Nana at all; a little old lady toddling around in her Sunday best and pillbox hat with the dark veil and ostrich feather who still wears her wedding ring (true love never dies); the occasional broken-hearted lover come to sob and shed fat crocodile tears for all of two months probably, before never coming back again. Flowers of all shapes and sizes, colorful arrangements and single stalks, potted or planted or tied together with a ribbon, they decorate the small mounds of earth marked by slabs of slate here and there, roses and lilies and forget-me-nots of the bluest blue imaginable scattered here and there and everywhere -
After all, who would care to visit a dilapidated little headstone hidden away in the far corner of the cemetery, out of sight, weathered, and overrun with weeds and grime? No one, that's who. Out of all the grave markers, this is the only one that has never received any visitors, never had a single flower laid down upon it in loving memory, this plain and almost ugly little slab of slate with only one lonely word etched into its surface: EAMES.
- - - - -
Contrary to what many may think, the dead can indeed handle corporeal objects and flowers are the favorite.
Whenever flowers are placed upon a grave, they're taken down to the individual buried underneath six feet of earth, and whatever they say about diamonds being a girl's best friend - when you're dead, flowers are everyone's best friend.
Roses are always greatly admired, and daises are truly sweet, but lilies start to emit quite a stench after a couple of days. Sunflowers, though - those are rare, but inarguably the very best, because they are sunlight and warmth and adoration, the longest lasting and a sign of true affection.
- - - - -
The young woman's brow screws up as she peers at the black and white checked board, and then her lips purse. "That can't be..." She scowls up at him suspiciously. "Eames."
"What?" he asks, raising his hands in innocence. "Perfectly legal, Ari. Check the rule book if you like; I'm not fussed."
She hits him then, whacking him on the arm with a fairly decent punch. "Cheater," she accuses playfully, but her eyes sparkle with mirth.
Eames smirks as he reaches out to carefully flick his friend on the forehead, resisting his urge to grab the other and plant a friendly noogie on her head. That wouldn't do at all, given the row of stitches spanning the length of her skull and stretching down along a temple, so he merely sits back and watches her reclaim her queen and a slew of pawns, rearranging the board.
Ariadne Elaine Brooks, merely twenty-three years old, raped and beaten to death by a jealous ex-boyfriend; she still wears the evidence of the attack on her skin like battle wounds. Such damage is rare among the dead (good thing too, because if that were the norm, Eames would frankly be immobile, missing both legs and with his guts spilling out of his body.) but not entirely unheard of, and as he takes in the blackened wide doe eyes, the ugly purple-black tattoo of bruises mapped out across the young woman's pale skin, Eames once again feels the overwhelming urge to beat the little shit to death, but for obvious reasons, can't.
(Feisty little Ariadne, bless her, hadn't gone down quietly. She'd fought like a tiger, she said, and is now pretty certain the bastard won't be making any babies anytime soon.)
"What is it?"
"You've got that look on your face again," she says slowly. A lock of her dark brown hair slips over her dislocated shoulder; she hefts a bishop in her palm, fingers wrapping around the grooves and chips in the piece. "Is everything okay?" Kind, thoughtful Ariadne. She really is one departed far too soon.
"Just wonderful, dove." Eames sends her a reassuring grin, trying not to wince when her returning smile opens up the gash along one cheek. Sure, he's been dead for the better part of half a century and the ghastly and grotesque have never bothered him before, but seeing a pretty young woman (or man) this victimized makes his blood boil. Or the equivalent, given that he's really nothing but a bag of bones and a ghostly image now. Maybe it's just the soldier in him.
Ariadne starts suddenly; the bishop in her hand falls to the floor and she turns her attention upwards, beyond the dirt of the earth, up to the land of the living. "There's someone here," she says, and a big smile stretches across her features, lighting up her entire countenance, pleased and happy.
"Your mum and dad?" Eames guesses. He's seen that look - like being struck by lightning or a particularly startling revelation - on the faces of many others when receiving visitors. He inclines his head with a smile, pleased at her happiness. "Well, go on."
She positively beams and then disappears in a wisp of smoke (her ex tried burning her body to hide the evidence, the sick fucker) and the slightest displacement of air, and Eames settles down with a sigh, leaning back against the hard-packed dirt wall at his back. He knows he really shouldn't be feeling this way; after all, he's been buried here more than fifty years and with never one visitor. Despondently, he gazes down at the dog tags still hanging around his neck, dented and dimpled with machine gun fire that scratched off everything but his last name for identification, and he knows he should be grateful that he wasn't left on the beaches of Normandy for the gulls and vultures to pick clean or simply burnt to a crisp in a giant bonfire. The gnawing hurt and loneliness has seeped away a little since Ariadne came along; before that, he'd simply slept eternity away.
(Really though, he couldn't resist taking the poor dove under his wing, so to speak, when he found her sobbing and begging her parents and friends at her funeral to see her and hear her: please, please, I'm here; I'm here, goddamn it. He remembers waking up in the little graveyard, the last thing he saw being his own lower body ripped away from the rest of him, and instead of panic and anger, merely felt a bitter resignation.)
"Eames!" Ariadne pops up right in front of him, flushed and blushing furiously, a red tinging her pale cheeks, clutching a bouquet of bright yellow daffodils to her chest. Squashing down the sharp little sliver of jealousy lancing through his chest, Eames' next action is to frown quizzically, because Ariadne's parents only ever bring pink roses, their late daughter's favorite. "He's here again!"
Ariadne rolls her eyes good-naturedly and shoves him half-heartedly. "The guy! You know." Despite being newly dead (five weeks, two days, and counting) compared to Eames' more than half a century, Ariadne is more attuned to the going ons in the world of the living - perhaps still reluctant to let go - and brings around the latest news and gossip. "The one who's been cleaning up everything around here?" She flicks him a sly glance. "The cute one with the fantastic ass, according to old Ms. Eloise."
Eames shakes his head fondly. "New owner?"
The young woman shrugs. "Dunno. But look!" She thrusts forward the bouquet, blushing madly again. "Aren't they beautiful?"
He smiles, kindly, "They're lovely, Ari," and wonders if this fellow who apparently enjoys gallivanting around in cemeteries would notice the ugly little headstone in the far corner of the graveyard, if this generous stranger would stop to perhaps lay a flower on his grave. Wishful thinking, most likely.
And Ariadne, always so perceptive, gently lays a hand on his arm. "He's going around to all of them, Eames," she tells him softly, and then, abandoning the bouquet, hugs him fiercely. "Don't worry. He'll get to yours."
Yes, Eames thinks, that's what he had hoped would happen with the previous caretaker and the one before him, too.
* - * - *
Eddie, to his left, screaming out and hitting his knees, clutching at the stump of his missing arm. Jason, right in front of him, exploding in a shower of gore and chunky pieces of flesh. Marshall, to his right, simultaneously vomiting and bawling for his mother. The sharp acrid stench of death pierces through the salty sea air and is so thick that he can almost taste it.
His feet slip in the wet sand as he runs, and thinks of the poker chip in his pocket - "for luck", his mother had said as she kissed his forehead, "come back to me, my darling" - and of his comrades dying right and left, of how he's going to be dreaming of this battlefield for an eternity from now on, of the heavy rifle in his hands.
And that's when his luck runs out: lead punches through him, swift and ugly and fucking agonizing; his own body crumples to the sandy battlefield and he's staring up at the grey, grey sky and thinking of never again seeing his poor mother's face, of never fulfilling a single one of his dreams, of never falling in love-
-and then, darkness.
Eames jerks awake, the screams of decades past still ringing in his ears, and blinks. He's a pretty heavy sleeper; Jonathan Rider two rows over had been talking about a terrible thunderstorm a couple of months ago and Eames can't remember anything from that night. In fact, the only reason he ever wakes these days is whenever Ariadne comes around. So why-
"-it's really been a while, hasn't it?" The voice breaks through the curtain separating the living from the dead, smooth and sophisticated but kind, and then a hand reaches out, brushes lightly across the ugly marker, and had Eames lungs, he would've forgotten how to breathe.
Someone is talking to him, touching his gravestone, cleaning away the dirt and rubbing a soft bristle brush wet with warm water across his name, gently scraping away the lichen and moss, and although that part isn't so pleasant, all Eames can think is that someone is here.
"Alright, let's see." Another brush of fingers - and now Eames can tell they're long and elegant, like that of an artist, and oh if that doesn't turn his crank a bit to be honest - across the slate and then a murmur of contemplation. "Eames, hmm?"
Eames never thought he would love the sound of his own name so much.
He spends the rest of the day basking in the memory of the feel of the young man's gentle touch on his headstone, of that voice speaking his name, of the loveliness of a spark of attention, however brief, after being alone for such a long time. Ariadne drops by for a visit and literally squeals when she hears of the visit, hugging him so tightly that Eames thinks she might've cracked a rib (that is, if he had any) and tells him smugly "I told you so". When she hears that the young man didn't leave any flowers behind though, her face falls and then scrunches up in confusion, but Eames really can't complain.
This kind-hearted young man, whoever he might be, has already been enough of a darling in giving Eames more than enough.
Still though, he waits anxiously for the next day.
- - - - -
He's bouncing on the balls of his feet, craning his neck and trying to peer through the layers of dirt separating him from his visitor, and Eames suppresses a shiver at the polite salutation, waiting, for what he doesn't know but still waits all the same.
The next feeling that descends upon him like a fog moving over land, is near indescribable.
Think of a first kiss, a first orgasm, the unsurpassed slew of emotions on a wedding day or when facing down the barrel of a gun: elation and joy and terror all melded into one, an emotion that no one living can possibly experience - and Eames nearly chokes on it when he looks down and finds himself looking at beauty and radiance unparalleled in the world of the dead, calloused fingers cupped gently around the petals of a sunflower. Heat surrounds him like a blanket, like a pair of arms winding around his torso and embracing him, real and warm and alive.
Eames thinks that it's at that moment that he quite literally begins to fall in love.
* - * - *
His darling keeps coming back, day after day, rain or shine, and with a fresh flower every few days - hyacinths, forget-me-nots, roses, chrysanthemums - but the sunflowers are always Eames' favorite. The young man continues making his rounds around the graveyard but always makes a point to visit Eames', sitting down on the ground and making light conversation as if he knows Eames can hear him, as if he knows Eames has fallen in love with the sound of his voice.
Eames hears of his darling's business partner and children, of little James who wants to grow up to be Superman and Phillipa who looks so much like her mother but has a spitfire of a temper that often gets her into trouble. He listens to complaints about a job, of how peaceful the day is, of Machiavelli and Plato and stupid custom officers overseas, of everything and nothing at all, until Eames wonders if this has somehow become an odd dating ritual of some kind.
(Ha. He wishes.)
For now, Eames is perfectly content with just listening to the young man's voice, with just sitting here and inhaling the scents of clean laundry and lavender and aftershave, basking in the unmistakable presence that he's learned and memorized now - but he knows that soon, it won't be enough. He knows that soon, the want and the need to see this man will become more than he can bear, that the ache inside him - which is strange, because he'd thought he stopped feeling a long time ago - will augment, swell like the crest of a wave, and become untamable.
Then, the visits stop.
* - * - *
To be continued...
Part II Here