Betas: sistabro, architeuthis
Fandoms: Inception & Supernatural
Pairings: Arthur/Eames & Past Sam/Arthur
Timeline: Post-movie for Inception, an AU version of the events in the first half of 7.01 for Supernatural. Also, approximately five hours after The Call, which really needs to be read first.
Series: Not Such As I Was
Contents include: Language, gratuitous sexual innuendo, snark.
Summary: It's a long drive from Pierre to Sioux Falls.
As soon as they got to the relative privacy of the rental car Arthur withdrew a crisp but disturbingly thick manila folder from his briefcase in the backseat and handed it over to Eames. "Here's some background reading for the drive," said Arthur as he settled behind the wheel.
"Considerate of you, seeing as we have nothing but three bloody hours of South Dakota ahead of us." Eames opened the file. "Federal Bureau of— darling, I want you to know that I am trying desperately not to play the jealous boyfriend in this situation, truly I am, but you must tell me: have you ever hacked the FBI for my files?"
"The FBI? No. Interpol? Yes. And before you ask, yours is longer," deadpanned Arthur as he pulled out of the parking lot.
"The thought hadn't even occurred to me, love, but I'm glad you noticed," said Eames. He pretended to preen and Arthur flashed him a too tight smile. "Also, have I mentioned lately that I find your obsessive stalking habits to be entirely endearing and useful and not creepy or unsettling at all?"
"You may have brought it up the last time you came home from tailing a mark's friends and family around for days at a time in order to imitate their habits and speech patterns, but I had trouble hearing you over the roar of hypocrisy rushing by," said Arthur in a familiar refrain. But his jaw clenched after he said it. His jaw had been clenching during the flight to Pierre as well so Eames dropped the subject and the banter because he wasn't a deliberately cruel man by nature. Given their current situation and surroundings, Eames decided it would be best for both of them if he shut up and played some classic jazz on the radio while Arthur took his anxieties out on everyone else on the road.
By the time Arthur had merged onto the highway and brought the Crown Victoria up to a cruising speed that allowed him to blow past the tricked out Honda Civic ahead of them like it wasn't even moving, Arthur's jaw had unlocked so that he could hum along to Take Five. He even started tapping out the rhythm on the wheel. Eames gave himself a mental pat on the back for a job well done. Then he started leafing through the file. It didn't take long to find something that made his mouth hang open for several seconds longer than it ever should. Eames looked over at Arthur and cocked an eyebrow at him, but Arthur failed to notice. Eames decided that, regardless of Arthur's nerves, he was owed at least some explanation for what Arthur had dumped into his lap.
He cleared his throat. "Arthur, you are aware that this file states that Sam Winchester died in March of 2008?" Eames' eyes widened as he skipped ahead to the relevant report and list of exhibits. "Taking his brother and at least 9 other people including an FBI deputy director along with an FBI helicopter, and the entire fucking police station with him?"
Arthur nodded. "Fucker waited two weeks before he called to let me know that he and his asshole brother made it out of there hours before the place exploded. I mean, I understand lying low, but he had me scared shitless that he'd really died that time," he grumbled without actually sounding mad about it at all.
Eames took pity on Arthur and didn't point out how many parts of his response were incredibly and horribly wrong on a basic level — though no doubt an accurate description of reality. Instead, he reached into his pocket and checked his totem for the eighth time today before saying, "Well, it's good to know Lavoisier doesn't do anything by halves in the real world either."
"If your positions were reversed and he was looking at your file then he'd be saying the same thing," said Arthur. He shrugged. "Apparently I have a type. Last time I checked your aliases have been declared dead by authorities in Singapore, Bolivia, and the United Arab Emirates and did you ever return that Renoir to the Musée d'Orsay or are they still displaying your forgery?" The devious bastard was just trying to get a rise out of him, because he had to know already, but Eames was feeling generous.
"Again, the obsessive stalking is charming, really, and I gave the Renoir back when I realized that you'd never let me keep it in the house," said Eames. "Though that brings up an excellent question," Eames said, flipping back to the biographical section. "What exactly is it that Sam and his brother do other than—" Eames choked a little as he found the mugshots of Sam's known associates, including his father and brother. "You must be joking. Does he come from a family of fucking male models? Arthur, this simply isn't fair."
Arthur snorted out a single, bitter laugh. "Quit skimming and start reading. They may look pretty on the outside but Sam's family is about as fucked up as you can imagine." Arthur's eyes had gone dark. "As for what they actually do? I don't know and neither does the FBI. Sam only ever told me that it meant a life on the road, lots of petty crimes, and that it was a quagmire of insanity too dangerous to ever even talk about." Eames arched his eyebrows at the idea of someone telling Arthur that and not receiving a compound fracture as a reply. "He also made me promise never to look into it further on my own, which, as you keep pointing out, is one of the most difficult and infuriating promises I've ever kept." Arthur's jaw resumed clenching. Eames let the music fill the silence between them while he read about Sam Winchester, a man who could make Arthur not research and probably made water flow uphill as his encore.
After Eames finished, Sam Winchester somehow made even less sense than he had before. He closed the file and looked up. According to the road signs, they were on Interstate 90 approaching a town named Chamberlain. Over on the driver's side, some of the tension had seeped out of Arthur's face. When his gaze flickered over at Eames he managed a small but earnest smile. "I was about to warn you, you're going to miss the Missouri."
Eames peered out at the river appearing just ahead of them. "Well, it's rather difficult to miss, isn't it? Just like everything else in this country it's utterly over-sized." Arthur punched him softly in the shoulder. "Oh, fine: it's a gorgeous view and while I maintain that it would have been equally sneaky of us to fly into Sioux City and only have to drive for an hour, I'm glad that I saw it. Is your random fit of patriotism appeased? Or must I butcher the words to 'God Save the Queen' in order to praise your beloved homeland?"
"No, that was quite sufficient, thank you." Arthur reached over and patted Eames' knee and even though Arthur was a condescending asshole, Eames didn't mind the touch. In fact, he'd be perfectly happy if Arthur decided to slide his lovely long fingers just a few inches higher. Alas, Arthur withdrew his hand and wrapped it back around the unappreciative steering wheel. "Read anything interesting?"
Eames sighed. "Yes, plenty of interesting things, though none that make any modicum of sense. If Lavoisier had ever gone into criminal dreamshare he could have named his price and still had a rugby scrum of extractors on his doorstep every morning fighting for the chance to double it. Hell, Maddy's rates started at a hundred grand for legitimate freelance work and most of the time she was still overbooked. Always made time for me, though." Eames felt a pang of regret at the memory. "And she was only almost as good as Lavoisier."
Arthur was nodding, albeit sympathetically. "I had the chance to go under with her once before she disappeared, and yeah, it was a close thing."
"So, knowing you and that opportunity were never more than a phone call away, why the hell has Sam Winchester opted to spend the last seven years in a series of cheap hotels paid for with lousy credit scams while moonlighting as a grave robber?" That sounded harsher than Eames intended and Arthur had a talent for taking things the worst possible way. Sure enough, the jaw clench had returned. "I— Arthur, what I meant was that he could have used you for your contacts, not that— and that doesn't sound any better, does it?"
"Don't strain yourself, I know what you mean," said Arthur. "And I've been asking myself the same question for years. I've even asked Sam himself."
"And what did he say?"
"That it's something he has to do and that I should stop asking about it."
Eames barked out a laugh. "Darling, your ex sounds like an extraordinary prick of the first order."
Arthur shrugged. "What can I say? I have a type," he said, but with a wink this time. Lavoisier could be either mad or saintly to give up all that money, but the fact that he let go of Arthur meant he had to be the biggest fool who ever lived.
His loss. "Obviously, the file cuts off in March 2008," and one day, Eames would bring up the fact that he and Arthur had fucked for the first time a little more than a month after that, but now was not the time for that conversation. "Care to fill in the rest?"
"I don't have a lot more. After the FBI stopped looking for him, Sam's calls became more erratic. That was the same year that everything went to hell with Mal, and then I was out of the country so much trying to keep Dom alive that I think we exchanged four voice mails in two years." Arthur shook his head. "The last one was while we were planning the inception job, and it was this long, rambling apology that sounded more like a suicide note than anything else. I called back as soon as I got it, but he didn't pick up."
He gave Eames a rueful look. "I was a little distracted after that, maybe that's why I messed up Fischer's background checks, I don't know. When I got back to the States, first thing I did was track him down. New phone number, it turned out. He was fine, he told me, and wasn't it really time that we both moved on?" Eames couldn't remember the last time he'd heard Arthur sound that bitter. His hands curled into fists, but Sam's face remained a hundred miles out of arm's reach. Eames could be patient though, and he'd make Sam pay for this when the opportunity presented itself. "That's the last I'd heard from him until this morning."
In between those two phone calls he'd started dating and eventually living with Eames and it had been as natural as breathing but far more rewarding. Eames couldn't imagine going back to the way things were before, when Arthur wasn't completely intertwined with every aspect of his life. They lived together, they worked together, they fought and fucked and neither of them could sleep right anymore if the other one wasn't sleeping next to him and they never talked about it because words couldn't do it justice. Because every morning they looked at each other and then checked their totems to make sure it was real.
Eames would do his best to fix this spectre of Arthur's past, send it on along its merry way as fast as he could. The past wasn't allowed to take Arthur back.
"Do you have any idea why today was different?" Eames asked, because Arthur loved specifics and was terribly good at hiding behind them when he was cornered.
"There's one thing that occurred to me," Arthur admitted. "Have you ever heard of a technique called Trauma-Inducing Event Memory Sequestration?"
Eames blinked in genuine surprise. "A House of Pain? I helped build one once, back in '05, but no one's made one of those in years because most of the time they don't work. Worst case scenario, the memories break free even stronger and can cause a psychotic break. At best, they were a stop-gap measure to stabilize patients for conventional psychiatric care."
Arthur nodded, leaning forward as he caught up to a clutch of traffic. "Trust me: I know. Cobb used one after Mal died."
"Well... that certainly explains— good heavens, how did I not catch that at the time?"
"Because you didn't work with us afterwards until the inception job?"
Eames gripped the handle on the door as they zoomed up behind a semi. Arthur didn't bother to change lanes until they almost clipped its tire flaps. "That was a rhetorical question, dearest, but you might be on to something."
"Well, you did spend half of the prep time in Australia," Arthur said, sliding the full size sedan through a compact gap in order to pass a Buick on the right.
"You're being very kind. By the way, turn signals are not a sign of weakness."
Arthur flashed him a toothy grin as they broke free of the pack. "Also, if I remember correctly, you spent the other half flirting with me like an eight-year old."
"Let the record show that you were flirting right back at me." Eames felt a brief rush of nostalgia for the chase. "Do you remember how long I was wearing my hair then? I should have had Ariadne braid it so that you could dip it in your ink well. Of course, the way I got into your inkwell after that job was far more satisfying, so I really can't complain," said Eames, letting his voice go husky as he leered at his partner.
To Eames' immense satisfaction, a slight blush accompanied Arthur's responding scowl and, even better, he shifted about in his seat and looked away. "That's just— oh, so much empty prairie, so many places to hide your body," sing-songed Arthur as he turned his gaze back to the motorway.
"So many places we could pull over for a quickie?"
Arthur smirked but shook his head. "Should have thought of that before you made that horrific the ink well joke." He held up his hand. "And before you even think it: no, road head is never a good idea."
"Two years we've been together and you've still no imagination at all, because I for one can think of plenty of—" Arthur curled down all the fingers on his hand except for the middle one. "Oh, because that gesture's not inviting me to have even filthier ideas. Love, you really need to think these things through."
Arthur put his hand back on the wheel and took his foot off the gas as he finally cracked and broke out laughing. "I hate you so much right now," he gasped. When Arthur laughed he did it with his whole body. Eames felt the tension in his own chest snap free as he watched and laughed along with him. "Goddamn it, Eames, you did that on purpose, didn't you?"
"I'd have also accepted the quickie or the road head, but yes, anything to get you to relax for a bit," admitted Eames.
"I'm driving ninety miles an hour in a car that weighs two tons, asshole, I need to focus on the road just a little."
"We can slow down to seventy or so and still arrive in time for dinner." Eames sighed and reached over to cup the back of Arthur's neck in his hand. "You haven't just been focused since this morning, darling, you've been clenching your jaw whenever your mouth's shut. If I didn't know that Xanax completely fucks up your Somnacin reaction for two days, I'd have dosed you on the plane." Arthur leaned back into the touch and Eames gently kneaded at the rigid tendons under his fingers. "That's better. Now, what was it we were discussing before I got distracted once again by thoughts of your delightful arse?"
Arthur moaned. "Don't remember, keep doing that."
"I won't stop so long as you manage to keep your eyes open and tell me why you brought up Houses of Pain. You didn't want me to try to build another, did you?"
"No," said Arthur. "But before you signed on to build that first one, did you read the original paper describing the technique?"
Eames tried not to feel insulted. "Of course."
Arthur's face slid into a smile. "You get three guesses on the name of Subject Alpha and the first two don't count."
"No," Eames gasped but Arthur just nodded. "I don't believe you. How many fucking people is this guy?"
"As far as I know, that's the whole list. To be fair, Mal worked with her mother to construct Sam's, and the House of Pain did stop his night terrors."
For the first time, parts of this puzzle started to fall into place. "Well, if anyone would be able to sustain one, it would be him. Except that he's had this fundamentally flawed antique rattling around in his skull for the last decade, during which —judging by his FBI file— he's added potentially hundreds of additional memories to it." Eames shuddered. "And now it's collapsing around his ears?"
"That's my guess."
"And— just so I'm clear about this, he's also Lavoisier, which means that when I go under with him to try and sort it out, I'll find the strongest projections that have ever tried to tear me to shreds inhabiting the stablest, most realistic dream I've ever had?"
"Forget about one-shot-one-kill and even if you manage to shoot yourself out first, the headache lingers for hours."
"Now I understand why you volunteered me straight off, but you do realize that I've no idea how to fix something like this?"
"You've got the strongest psych background of anyone that I'm willing to trust with his identity, not to mention that you're only one with enough military training to have a chance against his projections if they turn violent." Arthur sighed. "Besides, it's just a guess. But either way, we wouldn't have a career without him. We kind of owe it to him to try."
"I'm not arguing with that, I just don't have to be happy about it."
"You stopped the massaging."
"Sorry. I'm just trying to wrap my head around the fact that somehow this Sam Winchester fellow managed to change the course of my life in so many different ways without me knowing that he even existed until now."
"You get used to it," Arthur assured him, "and then he's just this decent, good person who's never wanted anything other than the chance to be normal." Arthur paused, then added, "Unfortunately, he's really bad at it."
"At being normal?" Eames barked out a laugh. "So normalcy and communications, those are his glaring weaknesses? I need to know these things, for potential therapeutic reasons entirely unrelated to the fact that he's your ex-boyfriend and I am a jealous bastard."
"He also has the worst gas of any person I have ever met, much less shared a bed with." Arthur smirked. "I kicked him out of my car for it once. It was pouring outside. I regret nothing."
"That's positively repulsive," Eames said, wrinkling his nose and making a mental note to avoid burritos in the future. "Also, you're a terrible human being."
Arthur wagged his eyebrows. "His taste in clothing is worse than yours, too. The pink floral print shirts — you have no idea. Thank God that you're different sizes or you might start sharing them."
"Now you're just talking nonsense," Eames replied, rolling his eyes.
But he'd misjudged something and Arthur's ever mercurial mood shifted suddenly, turning pensive and painfully insecure. His face dropped and his tongue darted out to wet his lips as he struggled to choose the right words. "Have I mentioned that you're dealing with this whole situation much better than— I mean, I should've told you more of this before I dragged you all the way out here."
Eames pulled Arthur's right hand off the steering wheel so that he could kiss the whitened knuckles and twine their fingers together. "Probably, but I'd still have come along, so there's no need to fret about it, love." Arthur didn't contest the point and eventually Eames turned the radio back up and found the local NPR station.
The headline news of the day was interesting enough. It seemed that one of the more vocally anti-homosexual churches in the country had been visited by an attractive young man in a rain coat claiming to be God. After proclaiming his complete indifference to sexual orientation, he then proceeded, a shaky witness claimed, to smite the pastor for hypocrisy and leave an image of himself in a stained glass window. The police were holding the entire congregation in custody on suspicion of conspiracy and murder while they investigated.
Arthur glanced over at Eames, who dutifully checked his totem for them both. "As if this day couldn't get any stranger," he said, trading a grin with Arthur. Considering what lay ahead of them, neither of them was above comforting themselves with a little schadenfreude.
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