mirabella: (Autumn trees)
mirabella ([personal profile] mirabella) wrote in [community profile] mirabellafic2012-10-03 07:53 pm
Entry tags:

Where the Dead Live, Arthur/Eames, R.

Happy October, everyone. Here's something to kick off the Halloween season.

Title: Where the Dead Live
Fandom:
Inception, Arthur/Eames, R.
Summary:
There's a monster in Arthur's basement. Maybe he shouldn't have invited it in.
Warnings: Gore.




Arthur is thirty-one years old and there's a monster in his basement.

His die keeps telling him that this is reality. He'd rather believe his totem's been compromised. But there's still no signal on his cell phone, still nothing but static on the TV and the radio; when he goes out in the daylight to get food and supplies from town, everything is silent and unmoving, because there's no one left alive there now. That there are pockets of other survivors he knows, because the monster told him, but he doesn't feel any urge to go look for them.

If he did that, he might have to explain the monster, and he'd frankly rather not.



People who live under the radar are survivalists by nature. Arthur's never believed in the possibility of alien invasions or zombie apocalypse, but he doesn't need to – no Skynet drone could match an IRS database crawler for sheer relentless malevolence, and Arthur will take his chances with the shambling dead any day over a pissed-off plutarch who thinks he's above the law and is probably right.

(Or he thought he would have, before. Back when he didn't know just how fast the dead travel.)

Of all the people Arthur has met in dreamshare, Cobb is the only one who wanted the house in the suburbs, the family, who wanted to be an upstanding citizen with nothing hanging over his head but the gutters he needed to clean the leaves out of. Sometimes Arthur wonders if Cobb would have been less crazy if he hadn't wanted so frantically to be a normal guy leading a normal life; if he'd been able to roll with the demands of dreamshare instead of clinging to his life before. Right now, though, Arthur mostly wonders if Cobb's still alive. Wonders if last night or the night before James and Phillipa were crouched over him where he sprawled unmoving on the hardwood floors, faces smeared with red, a triumph of the cold pragmatism of hunger over the American Dream.

For a second, he thinks he hears a noise from inside the house; his hands are moving, slamming a clip into his Glock almost before he knows what's going on. But he sits, ears straining into the stillness, for a good five minutes and doesn't hear anything but the sounds of the woods around him. When he sets the gun back down, his breath is shaky in his lungs and his heart is racing wildly; but there was no noise after all. There couldn't have been. It's only 4:30, and the shadows are growing long but the sun isn't down yet.

The monster won't be awake for hours yet. Arthur sits and watches the shadows, loneliness and terror trying to edge each other out of his head, unable to figure out if it's dread or impatience he feels when he thinks about the dark spreading over the woods like floodwater.



It started with Ariadne. Or ended with her, depending on the it in question.

There was a job in Phoenix, of all the godforsaken places – Phoenix, where wool suits go to die, where the baking heat wilted Arthur's hair around his face in gel-sticky strands and made spending the day asleep in a lawn chair the lesser of many, many evils. Phoenix is dusty and run-down and looks like it was built to be filmed through Marion Crane's car windows and then forgotten when Alfred Hitchcock stopped filming and walked away. Arthur, East Coast down to the tips of his Italian leather shoes, can only even tolerate Los Angeles long enough to visit Cobb; everything between West Hollywood and Manhattan looks to him like the unfortunate remnants of a more primitive world. But Ariadne, too young and too unconnected to know who in dreamshare she shouldn't be working with, took a job there, saw red flags when it turned out to be working for the mob, and convinced her extractor – Jarvis, easily unnerved – to bring in Arthur for some measure of security.

It paid well, and Ariadne is – was – a pleasure to work with as long as you didn't go near a PASIV unsupervised with her around; so Arthur, at loose ends, answered the call.

He was there for four days. It seems strange to him, now, that he didn't notice anything on the last day – no cars run forebodingly into telephone poles and belching steam into the sullen air, no bodies in the streets, no sirens. It was quiet, he noticed that much; but it was Phoenix on Sunday and Arthur didn't even leave his hotel room and his laptop until evening – Cobb and his habits notwithstanding, a great deal of dreamwork, like most other illegal businesses, is done at night. When Arthur climbed into his rental car and headed for the dismal machine shop where they'd set up their base of operations, there was nothing in his surroundings that set off his alarms.

Not until he got to the shop, and everything was dark except for one small light burning somewhere inside.

He came in through a window in a storeroom, gun out and ears straining. He could already smell blood. Anyone with sense would have turned around, gotten out, and not tried to contact anyone from the team until they were three states away and had a new phone; Arthur, who is the most sought-after point in the business partly because his team can trust his loyalty over his common sense, edged open the storeroom door and peered out into the dark.

Jarvis was on the floor in the hallway, a faint expression of surprise on his face, glasses reflecting a tiny, sharp gleam from inside the shop. There was a dark stain on the carpet under him, surprisingly small considering that something had ripped out his throat. That was not quite what Arthur had expected to see. It looked like Jarvis had been attacked by the world's most precise and fastidious feral dog.

Out on the shop floor, something moved. Arthur heard it, the stealthy scrape of movement against concrete, and saw it in the way the light on Jarvis' glasses flickered like a candle. Gun out in front of him, Arthur cleared the hallway with a careful glance and crept out toward the shop.

There was a worn steel shop light hooked into a power cord running along the wall, spilling a harsh pool of yellowish light onto the concrete floor. Nathan, the chemist, was sitting at a machine table with beakers set up in front of him, slumped over the table as if he'd fallen asleep, his shadow etched sharply onto the floor behind him. Blood dripped off the table and into the light, weirdly dualistic, the shadow of the blood drop streaking sharply across the floor and meeting the real drop in the growing red pool underneath Nathan's chair.

"Arthur," Ariadne said.



Even now, knowing what he knows, Arthur can't tell what it was about her voice that kept him frozen in the shadows with his gun trained into the shop, not speaking, breathing slow and even to silence the sound. He wishes he could; wishes even more that he knew why that sixth sense saved him then only to fail him so badly later.

Outside the circle of light, on the other side, what Arthur had thought was a shadow turned slowly around, and like the sudden resolution of an optical illusion Ariadne moved a little forward into the light. Now that he could see her, Arthur could see other things too – like the blood that was smeared over the lower half of her face and soaked the front of her shirt.

What the fuck is going on here? he thought distantly.

"Arrrthurrr," Ariadne called in a faint, mocking singsong. "I know you're there. I can hear your heartbeat."

Arthur settled his grip a little tighter on his gun and aimed it at Ariadne. A part of him still hated to, and an even larger part was having just a little bit of difficulty coming to grips with what was going on. He'd seen a lot of ugly things in Iraq, seen things nearly as ugly in the dreamshare business, but this was the first time he'd ever had a team member go completely off her head and start eating the other team members like she'd been dreaming of the Donner Party and hadn't quite been able to come up.

"What the hell happened here?" he grated out.

For just a moment she looked a little lost, like human speech was stranger in her ears than she'd been ready for. Then she smiled her quick, impatient smile, so very Ariadne that Arthur wished he had a hand free to reach for his totem. "I'm hungry," she said.

There was something about her mouth.



It's October. That pisses Arthur off. This is enough of a nightmare without feeling like humanity's been the butt of some mean-spirited cosmic joke. The autumnal equinox is past, the balance of hours tipped in the enemy's favor.

Dark comes early, up here. Not everything that's nocturnal stays down as long as it should.

For the first two days, Arthur stayed away from the door to the basement. There were times when that meant sticking his earbuds in his ears and turning up his iPod, even if he was taking his life in his hands by doing it, because the thing in the basement wants out, and it's far more persuasive than Arthur's comfortable with. It's no use telling himself he should kill it; he's not going to, and he knows it. Better to face up to that. He's met people who disagree, but Arthur always thought he'd prefer to know where the bullet that killed him was coming from so he could turn around and die facing it. It's a relief to know that, in the end, he was right about that. Small victories.

That was the first two days. Sometime on the third day, Arthur blinked out of his thoughts to find with a cold flash of panic that he was standing in front of the basement door; in the day since, he's found his feet carrying him there more and more often. He's not unaware of the danger – he's excruciatingly aware of it, of the way its edges ebb and flow with the light, but he finds himself walking along it anyway, like a child skirting the edges of the bed in the dark.

It will be dark soon. Arthur goes and stands in front of the door anyway, resting his hand against the cool wood, swallowing hard against a sudden wave of miserable grief. He's sure in what's left of his heart that even in its sleep, the monster knows he's there.



On the highway out of Phoenix, the radio in his car died, flipping aimlessly through static on scan. He fuelled up the car as often as he could, until he pulled up at a gas station and saw that the door of the car on the far side of the pumps was open. Inside, a woman was standing still in front of the counter, a half-gallon of milk swinging loosely from her hand as if she'd fallen asleep where she stood and forgotten about it. The clerk was nowhere in sight; on the window behind the counter, a handprint smeared red across the inside of the glass. Arthur kept driving.

By Taos, there were highway patrol cars slanted empty across the streets, lights still flashing. Arthur ditched his rental car, nearly out of gas, and hotwired one. He'd always wanted to drive a police car, so what the hell – and, more important, there was a shotgun still in it. Speeding down the highway, he pulled out his phone for the twelfth time, saw no bars, hit redial anyway, and held on with white knuckles to the phone as it hissed silence into his ear.

He was pretty sure the world was ending. Desperate for information, for contact, to reassemble the network that has always been shifting sand under his feet but ground all the same, Arthur still found himself dialing Eames' number, over and over, getting more and more frantic as he got nothing but silence, then – driving through some godforsaken town which against all odds still had cell phone signal – voice mail (You've reached me, leave a message and then an equally terse beep). There were other calls, too – to Yusuf, to other point men, even to Saito, reaching only a secretary with a trembling voice who could only recite Saito-san is unavailable woodenly over and over. But it was Eames he called afterward, every time, Eames who didn't answer and didn't answer and didn't answer until Arthur slammed on the brakes, threw the door of the squad car open, and screamed panic and despair to the unending dust while he smashed in the back windows with the butt of the shotgun.

It was the blood on his hands that shocked him out of it; the blood, the unbreathing silence weighing on his ears, and the sun from the west turning amber on the ground. Shaking so hard he could barely keep his grip on the gun, Arthur got in the car and drove.



He's never stayed this long before; never come this close. He's sitting with his back to the door, knees tucked up in front of him, and the shadows on the floor are getting deeper with every passing minute. He wonders if he's finally given up.

When the shadows have climbed up the walls so far that only the slender pine molding is left in the light, the monster wakes. Arthur doesn't hear it, but he doesn't have to. He can feel it. The silence in the basement takes on a curious listening quality, a predatory stillness he didn't have before. In Iraq, Arthur could sniff out an ambush faster than anyone in his unit, and he'd never been able to explain how. It was something about the way the he found the silence weighing on him, like he was wading through pool water that looked cool and clear but felt blood-warm and oily against his skin.

"If I let you out," he says aloud, "would you go away if I asked you to?"

"No," the monster says quietly, from just about the level of Arthur's ear.

"If I revoked my invi –"

"Don't," the monster begs. "Arthur, please. I don't know what it would do, but let's not try."

Arthur closes his eyes. It's not much darker on the inside. "You've been in there for two days. You have to be starving by now."

"I'm not all that hungry," the monster says. "Not yet."

"But," Arthur says, not understanding. "You came here for a reason. I'm assuming that reason was that you were hungry and you knew I'd let you in so you could rip my throat out."

There's silence for a minute more, and then a sigh, oddly rusty-sounding, as if the monster isn't used to breathing anymore. That's fair, Arthur thinks; it probably isn't. "That's not why I came."

"Then why?" Arthur grinds out. He tries to keep it a question for the monster, and not a question for God, if there is a God left.

"Because I was cold and lonely and I wanted you," the monster says simply. "I always did want you, darling. I always will."

Arthur's hand is on the floor in front of the door. It's an old house, inherited from his grandfather back in the days when Arthur still had a uniform and a last name, and the bottom of the door doesn't fit flush with the wood underneath it. It's terrible for drafts. If Arthur slides his hand back a little, the side of his little finger can slip right under it before he even quite knows he's reached the door.

There's a minute where everything stays still, and then cold skin brushes against Arthur's hand from the other side: the little finger of the monster's hand, a steady, quiet pressure all along the length of his own.



Arthur was lucky, he thinks. He got all the way to Tulsa before he was attacked for the first time since Ariadne.

It was a miscalculation on his part; maybe a stupid one, but maybe not, and probably understandable either way considering that the fucking world had ended and the batteries were dying in his phone and he couldn't shake the sudden miserable panic at the thought of what might have happened to Eames. And maybe that was stupid too, to fixate on Eames like he was the walking representation of Arthur's entire life before, but Eames had simply always been there – the smirking boy in a SAS uniform who had known Arthur by another name had somehow managed to follow him through the six or eight months of hell that had surrounded Arthur's split-second decision in front of an unguarded PASIV, through the plunge into dreamshare and (dis)organized crime, through the deliberate construction of Arthur's entirely new life, shedding his own identity as he went and never once letting slip the smallest thing about Arthur's life before. He hadn't always been close, but he'd always been on the radar. And now there was this wasteland, and no Eames to be found, and it was a very bad time to find out just how badly Arthur needed him.

Maybe more than needed. But that wasn't something Arthur was ready to think about then, and there was no point in thinking about it now.

But the miscalculation: Arthur, who had heretofore paid about as much attention to the geography of the American heartland as he had to the ice shelves in Antarctica, wasn't prepared for the vast amount of empty space between what had once been human settlements. If he had been, he'd have filled up every gas can he could find and stowed it in his trunk. On fumes and afraid to leave the highway, Arthur had had to hotwire an elderly pickup truck outside a farmhouse that probably belonged to a family of cannibals; possibly as eager to be away as he was, the truck had against all odds carried him all the way into the outskirts of the city before something in the engine rattled and tore and left the truck a smoking, useless heap in the middle of I-44 an hour after dark.

Up ahead at the exit, there was an apartment complex, somehow still lit. There would be plenty of cover and plenty of cars; the freeway was dark, and Arthur knew how to move fast and silently when he needed to. Grabbing the shotgun off the seat beside him, he slipped out onto the asphalt and ran.

There were still cars in the parking lot, left there like the scattered belongings people had dropped on the lawns; the whole complex had the unmistakeable look of a place evacuated in a hurry, doors still standing open to the humid night. In no mood to be picky, Arthur headed for the first thing that looked like it might carry him a few states closer to the New Hampshire woods – a small SUV, big enough to be sturdy but not big enough to burn through gas on uncertain roads.

He'd almost gotten the engine to catch when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Jolting upright, he only had time to catch a glimpse of dark hair and pale skin in the driver's-side mirror before a woman not much bigger than Ariadne yanked him out of the car and sent him flying into the parking lot, far out of reach of his shotgun.

Arthur pulled out a pistol and shot her in the kneecap. It slowed her down, a little, but his next trigger pull came down on an empty chamber. With the memory of Ariadne's weird strength and speed still hovering with hallucinatory clarity in his head, Arthur scrambled to his feet and ran.

There was an apartment dead ahead of him with the door hanging open. The average apartment had somewhere around fifty things that Arthur personally knew how to use to kill someone, and some of those things could even take off someone's head with the right leverage. Not letting himself consider the possibility that it also meant a nest of vampires, Arthur threw himself inside and went for the open kitchen, knives first and easiest. His hand went to the light switch on reflex, but even in the dark he could see the butcher block on the counter. The butcher knife was in his hand in a second; not even stopping to aim, he spun on his heel and slashed the knife around into –

Nothing. Thin air. Breathing hard, Arthur stared back toward the doorway. The woman was crouched outside it, swaying back and forth in what looked like baffled frustration; as he watched, she made a dart toward it and cringed back as if the cheerful flowered doormat had burned her.

"Well, I'll be damned," he said softly.

"Let me in," she said. Her voice was whiskey-drenched, one of those very pretty raven's calls that certain types of men seemed to find irresistible.

Wary and fascinated, Arthur came slowly toward her, kneeling down on the other side of the doorstep, where he'd be able to roll and throw her into the wall if she made a sudden lunge. There was less than two feet of thin air between them. She stared at him across it like it was a bottomless divide, hair hanging in her face in tangles and her breath hissing in and out with an unpleasantly damp sound.

"You have to invite me in," she said, like it was something reasonable.

"You're fucking joking," Arthur said. "Is that even true or do you just think it's true?"

"What difference does that make to you?" she asked sharply. Her eyes were fixed on the line of Arthur's throat, where his pulse was hammering.

Arthur smiled grimly and took a better grip on the knife, settling his fingers with precision and care. "Well then," he said. "Come on in."



"You haven't been this close to me since I got here," the monster says. "I know you aren't getting complacent. What is it, then?"

If he turns his head, Arthur can see the chair sitting in the middle of the hallway. It looks an awful lot like an electric chair, sturdy metal with manacles on the legs and back. A flexible man who was used to getting around restraints could get himself into it, though he'd be hard put to get back out. Arthur has no idea what it was originally used for, but he found it in an antiques store in Maine and was reminded that it's better to be prepared than to have to worry about makeshift restraints when you were trying to find out who'd sent someone to kill you.

"I want you to do something," he said. "You can think of it as a good-faith gesture to prove you really didn't come here looking for dinner. Or you can think of it as the thing that's going to stop me from cutting your head off with this machete I've got."

"Persuasive as always," says the monster, sounding fond and amused. "All right, spit it out."

"There's a stack of wood by the far wall," Arthur says. "You're going to go stand by it. You're not going to move from that spot until I tell you to, and then you're going to do exactly as I say."

"You're coming down?" The amusement is gone, and now the monster sounds faintly worried.

"What's it going to be?" Arthur asks, catching a name before it leaves his lips. It nearly chokes him with how badly he wants to say it, but he won't; not to this thing wearing Arthur's most desperate desire around it like a shroud.

"I'm going," the monster says. Arthur hears footsteps going back down the stairs, and in a moment, the monster's voice from the other side of the basement. "Right, I'm there. Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

Arthur picks up the chair and brings it back to the basement door. Heart pounding in his throat, he reaches up and slides the deadbolt noiselessly out of its housing.

"Arthur?"

Arthur's hand is on the doorknob. If he turns it, that will be it – he won't be able to go back from it, and it might well get him killed. In a flash of unpleasant insight, Arthur realizes that he doesn't entirely care whether it gets him killed or not. He's pretty sure neither he nor anyone else will be alive for much longer anyway.

It's almost enough to make him turn and walk away, leaving the door unlocked. Instead he yanks it open, tosses the chair down the stairs, slams the door closed and bolted again, and leans with his forehead on the cool wood of the door, shaking all over.

There's a minute of silence from the cellar, and then the faint scrape of metal on concrete. "I'd ask what I'm meant to do with this, but it seems fairly obvious," the monster says.

"Just strap yourself in," Arthur orders.

There's silence for a few minutes more, only vague rustlings and scraping to indicate that anyone is down in the cellar at all. "All right, done," the monster says finally. "I trust I'm going to live through this. So to speak."

Arthur hits the light switch beside the door, spilling indifferent fluorescent light out from under the door in a thin slice. Pulling the Glock out of the back of his jeans, he eases the door open and makes his way carefully down the stairs.

True to its word, the monster has strapped itself in. Arthur can't look it in the eye; can barely look at it at all, this thing animating Eames' body – this thing that moves like Eames, talks like him, knows Arthur like Eames did. It hurts, seeing it; hurts in a way that makes Arthur almost wish Ariadne had been just a little faster.

"So tell me, darling –"

Arthur puts the barrel of the Glock against Eames' forehead. Against the monster's forehead, he tells himself, but it's getting harder and harder to make the epithet stick. "Don't call me that," he says. "You don't get to call me that just because he used to."

The monster looks pained. "Arthur, it's still me," he says. "I swear to you on everything I have ever held dear. I'm… changed a little, that's all. Not even as much as all that, frankly. I suppose I always was a bit of a bloodsucker."

Arthur keeps the gun in his hand and checks the straps and manacles. They're as tight and solid as Arthur would have made them himself, which scares him a little – either the monster is much stronger than Arthur allowed for or he's operating in good faith after all. "That's bullshit," Arthur says evenly. "I know what happens to people when they change. It's not them anymore. Not even close."

Eames' eyes, still grey and changeable no matter what's looking out of them, lock sharply on Arthur's. "That does sound personal. Who exactly have you seen change?"

"I –" Arthur takes a step back, feeling suddenly ill. For a moment he's back in the overheated workshop in Phoenix, slamming his hand down on the button behind him and then hauling Ariadne up onto the table saw, one hand fisted in her hair and the other in the back of her shirt; then, afterward, standing in the aftermath of great arterial gouts, blood all over his face and clothes and tiny fragments of Ariadne's cervical spine in his hair, shaking so hard he can barely stand.

Rolled against her ribs, her head stared blankly up at him, mouth open to expose wolflike fangs. The crime scene was beyond his ability to clean up; he went back into the bathroom, washed off the blood, puked into the sink, and got back in the car.

"Arthur," Eames says, soft but implacable. "Who?"

"Ariadne," he says. "We were on a job in Phoenix. She killed our team and then tried to kill me. She kept coming even with a full clip of bullets in her chest, that was when I knew."

"Did she hurt you?" Eames asks sharply. "Arthur. Stay with me, this is important. Did she bite you?"

Arthur brings himself out of his thoughts and back into the basement by sheer force of will. It's not much better here. "No. I mean, obviously not, I'm still alive. What difference does it make?"

"None to you," Eames says. "A great deal to me."

"Why?"

"Let's just say," Eames says carefully, "that I'm the jealous type."

Arthur slams the butt of the Glock across Eames' face before he even realizes what he's doing. As hard as he swung, he should have felt bone breaking under it; but Eames just rolls with it and comes back a little annoyed and a little bruised.

"Fuck you," Arthur says unsteadily. "Do you know how many times I called him between here and Phoenix? Do you know how fucking desperate I was? I almost wouldn't have cared about the fucking apocalypse if Eames had just answered his goddamned –"

He stops, rubbing his hand over his face and breathing deep to get himself back under control. "And just when I thought I'd gotten him back, I found out, no, Eames is fucking dead and what's standing in my living room is something wearing his corpse and the blood of its last meal. So forgive me, okay, if I don't really give two shits about what type you are."

There was a lot of blood. Arthur, understandably enough, thought that blood was Eames', because Eames did such a very fucking good job of pretending to be hurt and scared out of his mind, and Arthur ordered him inside before he thought twice. It wasn't until he came back with towels and bandages and found Eames sprawled in the easy chair, comfortable and smiling indulgently, that he realized what happened.

It wasn't easy, getting Eames down into the basement. Arthur still doesn't go into his living room, where the furniture is more or less smashed to kindling.

The monster pretending to be Eames winces a little. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. I handled that badly. I suppose I didn't think you'd take quite such marked offense to… well, I suppose I didn't think at all. I wanted you with me, and there you were, unhurt and so very you."

"How the fuck would you know what I am?" Arthur asks, and realizes too late that it's almost a plea; that he wants to believe this thing in his cellar is only Eames with a new set of fangs and a few less morals when it comes to eating other people.

"Once upon a time," Eames says, "the United States government made the fatal error of failing to live up to the expectations of a young man named Eli Meiri; and then, having disillusioned him – and, much worse, bored him – made the crowning mistake of leaving him alone with a momentarily unmonitored PASIV. Meanwhile, across the pond, Her Majesty's government was failing just as abjectly to socialize a thug from Borstal with a slight gambling problem and an endless fascination with all the ways in which people could be made to do very stupid things."

"Like letting vampires into their safehouses," Arthur says tightly.

"You haven't been watching the right horror movies," Eames tells him. "That doesn't have to end badly."

"Just because you can still remember a few things –"

"I remember," Eames says softly, "that the first time I saw you, you were disarming the timer on a live block of C4 for fun. I thought you had astonishing hands and marvelous eyes, and it took me all of about an hour to realize that you were surrounded by people who didn't even deserve your respect, let alone your obedience. I'm afraid that's become something of a theme."

It sounds so much like Eames, this monster in his body; Eames, who never liked Cobb, who knows Arthur will remember looking up from that block of C-4 to find a group of SAS soldiers watching him; who may know, or at least suspect, that Arthur couldn't have identified four of those five soldiers an hour later to save his life. Needing the reminder, Arthur steps forward and takes hold of the monster's jaw, opening his mouth none too gently. Fangs glitter in the light where Eames' eyeteeth should have been, perfectly formed.

Arthur slips his thumb in between Eames' lips and traces over the back of one of them, over the delicate ivory curve to the razor-sharp point. For a moment, he pauses with his thumb there, feeling the urge to press upward and draw blood as if he were standing on a tall building and fighting the hypnotic, vertiginous pull of the jump. He can see it so clearly, the thin red line drawn on his skin behind the fang, the way his blood would drip down into Eames' mouth. Eames has gone very still, eyes closed, waiting.

Shaken, Arthur pulls back his hand.

As if he were waking slowly from a not entirely pleasant dream, Eames traces his tongue along the path of Arthur's thumb, then closes his mouth and opens his eyes. "I shouldn't do that again if I were you," he says quietly. "I didn't come here to kill you, Arthur, truly, but I'm getting hungry and I don't quite have the self-control that I used to. Don't push it or we'll both be very sorry."

"Why are you different?" Arthur whispers. "Ariadne wasn't… her. She knew me, but I think that was all. It sure as hell didn't stop her from trying to kill me."

Eames looks away. "There's, er, a transitional period, so to speak. I… wasn't quite myself either, the first few nights. It passes."

"So if I'd found her a couple of days later she might have been fine." Arthur should feel worse about that than he does. He did like Ariadne, but she ate his team and tried to rip out his jugular, and that tends to prejudice Arthur against people a little.

"Might have. Or might not. It might take people differently for all I know." Eames looks back up at him, strangely cautious. "It probably helps, you know, having someone with you who's been through it."

Arthur gives a short, disbelieving laugh. "What, are you trying to recruit me or something?"

The thing in the chair still looks like Eames. That's the worst part. Even the slow, feral hunger that creeps into his face like it can't be held back anymore, though it makes clear that Arthur's the only thing in this basement that's still human, doesn't mean Arthur can't see Eames underneath. "I told you, pet," the thing says, letting its eyes roam over the line of Arthur's throat the way Eames used to look at million-dollar sports cars. "I came here because I wanted you."

Arthur mouth is suddenly dry. He tries to swallow anyway. "And suppose my answer's no."

"I don't think it will be," the monster says, and smiles. "I rather think no one's is, in the end."



Arthur's more or less nocturnal now, and he's guessing the rest of the world is too. Better not to be asleep when the vampires come. So when his surveillance equipment, run off a solar-powered generator, gives a sharp warning beep, Arthur comes bolt upright in bed with the sheets pooled around his waist and the sun streaming in through his windows.

On the monitor across the bedroom he can see a guy coming up around the side of the house, stealthily but not stealthily enough, hands and face bare to the sun – not a vampire, then, but not anyone who has any business sneaking around Arthur's house either. Eyes fixed on the image, Arthur slides out of bed, pulls on a pair of jeans, and picks up his gun off the nightstand. A warning light blinks on on the security display when the guy on the monitor jimmies open one of the side windows.

Arthur's mouth quirks in annoyance. If the guy's broken the lock, Arthur's going to shoot off his toes one at a time and then make him run to the hardware store twenty miles away for a new one.

Down the hall, there's a soft thump as the guy comes in through the window. If he's a contract killer he's a piss-poor one; but then, Arthur doesn't imagine there's much call for contract killers anymore. He's probably a looter, either hoping Arthur's dead or planning to speed him on his way.

Arthur's finger slips around the trigger… and then, slowly, slips back off. As the footsteps come slowly down the hall, seeming to hit every single creaking board on the way, he turns his gun in his hand, moves silently behind the door, and waits.



After Tulsa, Arthur started seeing survivors, here and there. A guy sitting by the side of the highway on an old tire, hands hanging limply between his knees, staring blankly at nothing with a woman's body lying prone on the ground behind him. A young family, mother and two kids huddled in the back seat while the father tried frantically to fix whatever had gone wrong with their car. Two women who looked like they might have been aging roadhouse barflies before whatever trauma had splashed their cutoffs and tank tops with blood and put axes in their grim, capable possession. They were half a day apart, a day, long stretched miles of desolate highway.

Arthur didn't stop for any of them. He isn't a bad person, but he is a pragmatic one, and the list of people he will go out of his way for begins and ends with the people who have some current claim (financial or otherwise) on his loyalty. He was never going to be the guy who crusades across the post-apocalyptic landscape herding the tattered remnants of humanity under his wing like Moses with the Israelites, and he'd be lying if he said he wasn't perfectly okay with that.

He kept calling Eames, wherever he got a signal. And a dozen other people too, but always Eames. After a while, it got almost cathartic. He told Eames' voice mail about the guy on the tire, about the shopping mall that was burning to the ground as he drove past it, about the corpse of a little girl almost buried underneath a murder of hungry crows that flocked into the air in a black-winged cloud when Arthur drove past. Wherever Eames' phone is now, there's voice mail on it of Arthur cursing at him for not picking it up, railing at him for not providing complete intel on that clusterfuck of a job in Minsk, narrating the long, oppressive scroll of middle America past the windows.

Once, a voice mail of Arthur sobbing quietly as he leaned his head on the steering wheel, begging Eames to just fucking answer his phone. Arthur doesn't really like to think about that one.

The thing that used to be Eames says there are still survivors. The handful of them Arthur saw on the long drive from Phoenix were enough; he doesn't really care to see any more.



When the looter wakes up with a pained start, he's strapped into Eames' chair. It doesn't take him long to realize that, or to locate Arthur, dressed and buttoned up now and polishing a gun on the couch in front of him.

"Oh, hey," the looter stammers. "I, um. I didn't know there was anybody living here. My, my brother had a cabin a few miles away but he wasn't there and I – I remembered he said there was an old guy who lived here a long time ago, was he related to you? I don't – my name's Jim. What's yours?"

Arthur glances up from the gun and gives Jim an unimpressed look.

It's October, and the air's cool. Jim is sweating anyway, small droplets beading at his hairline. "Look, just don't hurt me, okay? I swear to God I thought nobody lived here –"

"The car in front didn't tip you off, huh?" Arthur asks sardonically, and watches Jim try to fish his way out of it.

"I knocked on the front door," Jim protests weakly. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm really glad there's someone here. I've been, uh, living on the road for like a week now, it's good to see another face that's not trying to eat me, you know? Look, I'm not armed or anything, you can let me out of here. I'm not gonna hurt you."

Arthur raises an eyebrow. Fortunately, even Jim seems to realize how painfully stupid that comment was.

"Okay, yeah, ha, you're the one with the gun, huh? I couldn't hurt you if I tried. That was a stupid thing to say. Just let me out now, okay? I'll, if you want I'll go away and you'll never see me again."

It was late afternoon when Jim broke in, and now the light's failing. "It'll be dark soon," Arthur says idly, looking out the window. "Anyone out in those woods by themselves without a base will be an easy dinner for any vampire that stumbles off the road."

Jim looks a little torn. Clearly taking his chances with the vampires does not sound much worse than taking them with Arthur. "I'll be okay," he says, not sounding any too certain. "I mean, what would you do with me if I stayed here? You'd have to either feed me or eat me, and you don't look like a vampire. Or like you're starving. I mean, I guess if you were starving I'd be in a whole lot of trouble right now, ha ha, but –"

Arthur looks back over his shoulder. The door to the cellar is half in shadow now, but there's enough light to see the huge deadbolt shot across the top.

Jim's gaze follows Arthur and what looks like every drop of blood drains out of his face. "Hey," he says weakly. "Hey, man, come on."

Arthur's sort of glad Jim's so annoying. He's not entirely without sympathy, but it does make this easier. "Nothing personal," he says, giving Jim a brief, thin smile.

It's apparently not reassuring. Jim's hands start twisting frantically in the cuffs behind him. "Look, no," he says desperately. The legs of the chair start rattling on the hardwood floor with a noise like a spilled can of marbles. "Listen to me, man. Whatever you've got locked up down there, just… just put it down, man. You gotta let it go. It's not the person you knew anymore."

"Yeah," Arthur says quietly, rubbing at a stubborn spot on his gun, mouth quirking in a humorless smile. "The worst part is that I know that."

"Look, I can help you," Jim almost sobs. "Who is it? Wife? Girlfriend? Kid? Because I can see why you wouldn't wanna take them out yourself, but there's nothing left of her in there, honest to God. I can, I can do it and then you – you just talk a walk or something and you can blame me for it. You can. I, I broke in here and killed your wife or whoever and disappeared."

Arthur presses his lips together and wishes briefly for his iPod. He's never been the sadistic type, and listening to Jim grovel for his life is getting on his nerves. If it weren't for the fact that this guy's life might buy a few more days of… of Arthur's, he'd honestly just let him go. He glances at his watch, then looks out the window again, measuring the length of the shadows and thinking about the unpredictability of head injuries. It would be a lot more merciful to just knock the guy out again, but he's not sure he should. If he dies, Arthur will just have to go out and find another one.

The thought almost makes him laugh, but dear God, it's not fucking funny.

The sudden wash of relief in Jim's eyes when Arthur gets up and walks around behind him is enough to make Arthur wince a little. "Oh, hey, great, fucking great, you won't regret this, man, you won't –"

"Sure," Arthur says, not unkindly, and knocks him out again.



When the noise starts up from the basement just before dark, while Arthur is sitting on the porch with a rare glass of scotch in his hand, it's almost a relief. The monster will be awake soon and Jim is clearly going to be alive to meet it. Arthur was a little worried there for a while.

The sun slips under the horizon. Now that he can't hear them clearly, Arthur's not too bothered by the cries; it's not like he hasn't heard men scream themselves hoarse from terror and pain before. It's a little different this time, but the more he drinks, the less different it really seems. He's not sure he could live with having just grabbed Jim off the highway and dumped him into the cellar, but this – a guy who would probably have been as quick to kill Arthur if he'd caught him off-guard – this, he can live with.

When the shouts turn to full-throated screams, Arthur downs the last of his scotch and gets to his feet. For a minute he wonders how long it's going to go on, if this thing that used to be Eames likes to play with its food; but it's only seconds before the screams cut off abruptly. A little unsteadily, which in his current environment really translates to suicidally unsteady, Arthur goes and stands in front of the basement door. He can't hear anything, and he doesn't put his ear to the door to listen.

"Who was that, then?" the monster asks finally.

"No one," Arthur says. "A looter. He broke in. Get in the chair if you're done, I have cleanup to do."

"No need, pet," the monster says, sounding a little contrite. "There's bleach down here, and there's not much mess. Give me a few minutes, I'll take care of it. You can do disposal later."

Arthur leans his forehead against the door. "You left smears under the faucet in Minsk."

"One time," Eames says, sounding annoyed. "And it was… Arthur? Are you drunk?"

"No," Arthur says, not entirely truthfully.

"The hell you're not, Arthur, bloody Nora – look, I'm going to get this cleaned up and get in the chair and you're going to come down here where I can keep an eye on you until you've sobered up, do you hear me?"

"What are you afraid of?" Arthur asks dryly. "That a vampire's going to eat me?"

"Fucking yes, if you must know," Eames snaps, sounding genuinely alarmed. Arthur knows that voice; that's the tone Eames gets when someone has fucked up, the job is blown, and Eames' brain switches over into "Clean up, disappear, and rip someone a new asshole later" mode. When that part of his brain clicked on, Eames was the most efficient person Arthur knew.

Was, when Eames was alive.

"Five minutes, don't move. Arthur? Are you up there?"

"Yes, Ea – yes, I'm here," Arthur snaps back. "For fuck's sake, I'm not incapacitated, and I'm not stupid either."

"Right, well, just keep talking for a minute, would you?"

" We're in the middle of nowhere," Arthur tells him, scowling at the door an inch in front of his face. "The guy you just ate was the first live human being I've seen in weeks."

"Ouch, darling. Don't be petty."

"I'm being factual. There's a difference. Three weeks, one live human being and one vampire. The odds aren't good that six more are going to come strolling by tonight." Arthur closes his eyes and swallows hard. He even misses the bickering. He misses Eames, so desperately and hopelessly that it's like a pit underneath him covered by the thinnest skim of ice under his feet.

"It's your totem that's loaded, Arthur, not the vampire apocalypse. All right, this will do. I'm getting in the chair now. Give me 'til the count of five and then get down here."

Arthur counts to five, slowly. Then counts it again. Finally, when he's sure his eyelashes aren't damp anymore, he opens the door and goes down.

Jim's on a tarp in the corner, laid out straight like cordwood with his head plunked down ignominiously between his spread knees. There's blood all over his clothes, but none anywhere else, and not much on Eames. Arthur can't even tell where exactly in the basement dinner took place. "Looks like you were a little enthusiastic."

"Not so much enthusiastic as practical," the monster tells him. "Take his head off and he won't come back."

Arthur thinks of Jarvis and Nichols, dead in the deserted shop in Phoenix. He wonders if they're still there, food for the flies in the unending summer, or if he's the only member of that team who didn't bring home a set of Phoenix: But It's a DRY Heat! souvenir fangs from the job.

"You look all in," the monster says, sounding as gentle as it's possible to with someone's arterial tissue probably still stuck between his fangs. "Look, I sleep on that pile of old blankets in the corner. Go lie down and sleep it off."

Arthur rubs his hand across his forehead. Not the hand with the gun, he's faintly proud to note. "You're joking, right?"

"If it's me you're worried about, it takes me a good fifteen minutes to get out of this chair and I'm not exactly quiet about it. You'd hear me long before I got out, I promise."

"There's a dead body in my basement, remember? I'm not keeping a rotting corpse down here, it's unsanitary. A corpse that doesn't rot is bad enough."

"Arthur, I'm not a corpse," Eames says. "I'm something that isn't what I was, I grant you, but whatever it is I am now, I'm not dead."

He's tied to the chair. Arthur can walk right up to him in relative safety, and finds that he has. "You're cold," he notes, touching his palm to Eames' cheek. "Not now, because you just ate, but you were before. You're pale without someone else's blood under your skin. I couldn't find your pulse. Maybe that's not dead, maybe it's just something that looks a hell of a lot like dead, but does it really matter?"

Eames turns his face into Arthur's palm, eyes drifting closed like the touch of Arthur's skin is the most sensual thing he can imagine. His breath is like ice. "Arthur, I swear to you, I am the same person I always was."

"Eames didn't eat people."

The monster sighs. "The same person except for eating people. When you consider the sorts of things I do for a living, it's not really that much of a leap."

Arthur's fingers are moving of their own volition, drifting up to slip into Eames' hair, tracing the line of his ear, the scar through his eyebrow. He never really got to touch Eames much; it isn't that enjoyable touching his corpse, but Arthur can't quite seem to stop doing it anyway. "I want to believe you," he whispers. "I want to believe you so bad."

"Oh, balls, Arthur, who else would I be?" Eames chides him, the sharpness of his words in unnerving contrast with the gentleness with which he nuzzles into Arthur's hand. "Alien? Brain-eating parasite? Demonic monster from the hell-pits of bad CGI?"

"Ariadne –"

"I told you, Ariadne was newborn and it takes a bit to get your wits about you again. It's not like coming back from the dead, darling, it's like coming back from a bad weekend in Marrakesh." Eames traces the tip of his nose slowly up Arthur's wrist, following the blue tracing of veins; nostrils flared a little, like he's breathing Arthur in. Like he's smelling him.

Like he wants to be able to track Arthur on a dark night by his scent alone.

Arthur touches his thumb to the lush softness of Eames' lower lip. Eames might be the one with the gambling problem, but Arthur's totem isn't a loaded die for nothing. "If that's true, Ariadne would have woken up to find out she'd killed her entire team. How about you? What would you have woken up to find?"

Eames gives Arthur's thumb a light, oddly chaste kiss, then opens his eyes languidly and looks up at Arthur. His pupils are a little too wide for the bright fluorescent light; he looks drugged. "The empty space where my Arthur ought to have been," he says.

Arthur draws his hand back and braces himself on the arms of the chair, holding tight to the thin slices of metal. "Tell me what happened."

"Another time," Eames wheedles. His face tilts up toward Arthur, so close Arthur can feel the chill of his breath. He smells like Eames and blood, and Arthur has a dozen memories of that smell, not all of them entirely unpleasant.

"No," Arthur says hoarsely. "I have to know, okay? I have to know how he died. Was he on a job? Who was he with? Who… who bit him?"

"Oh, Arthur," Eames whispers. His lips ghost across Arthur's face and come away tasting of salt. "It's just a little change, love, I promise."

"You just ripped a guy's head off," Arthur snaps.

"And you threw him down here knowing I would," Eames reminds him, and Arthur would answer but his mouth is all tangled up in Eames', breathing warmth into that biting chill and licking the taste of copper back out. Eames makes a soft, hungry sound and his arms flex against the cuffs holding him down; he could bite through Arthur's lips right now, but he's not doing it.

He doesn't feel like a monster. He feels like a man who's wanted Arthur's mouth on his for a long, long time.

"Your very first job was in Paris," Eames pants when their lips part for a moment. "You had a better offer from Dubai but you turned it down because you don't speak the language and you were still unsure of yourself. The job was a roaring success, mostly thanks to you, and you bought a flat in Prague with the proceeds. Arthur, it's me."

"Yeah?" Arthur asks hoarsely. He can't stop touching, and it feels awful, he feels like a necrophiliac, but it's getting harder and harder not to wonder if this really is Eames after all. He doesn't want it, doesn't want that bright coal of hope kindling in his stomach, because nothing good ever comes of hope this desperate. "What was our first job together?"

"D.C., August of 2010," Eames says immediately, smiling like it means something to him; like the memory is a good one. "Six months after you stole the PASIV; four months after my precipitous midnight exit from the SAS dreamshare program. It was a bit of a shock to walk in and see you – I didn't know you as Arthur yet, and I wasn't sure I was meant to know you then. Clearly the answer was no."

The answer was no. Arthur remembers being surprised by the strength of it, by how much he wanted to keep their past a secret for only the two of them to share.

"But clearly," Eames adds, craning his neck up to brush a gentle kiss along the underside of Arthur's chin, "I was meant to know you afterward."

Arthur's eyes drift close, his whole body angling into Eames of its own volition; annoyed with himself, he snaps his eyes open again – and freezes, knee planted on the chair and hands cradling Eames' face. "Shit," he says. "I can't do this right now."

"Why the fuck ever not?" Eames snarls, sounding close enough to the end of his patience that Arthur is five feet away before either of them can blink.

"For one thing, because there's a fucking severed head watching me," he says, proud of how evenly his voice comes out. "Sorry, that still bugs some of us."

Eames closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He still looks close to losing some sort of control. It's frankly a little nerve-wracking; he was formidable enough as a human with SAS training. When he opens his eyes, though, he mostly looks sheepish. "Right," he says. "And some of us don't have the self-control we used to, which I believe I told you. Look, will you do something for me?"

"Depends on what it is."

"Go to your bedroom, lock the door if you want, and let me do the disposal. I'll come right back and you can lock me in."

Arthur blinks at him. "You're fucking crazy."

"And you're impaired at the very least, if not actually drunk. I don't want you wandering about outside in the dark like this."

There's a long silence before Arthur says, hating the sound of his own voice: "You know, Eames always thought I was competent. In fact, Eames thought I was pretty badass when it came to taking care of myself. The best at what I did, I think he said more than once."

"I still do," Eames says. "But it never stopped me from worrying. Or from saying so, in my own way."

Security's going to run you down hard. Be back before the kick. God, if they'd only known. Arthur might have followed Cobb right down into Limbo and never come back up.

When Eames talks, if he tilts his head a certain way, Arthur can see cold ivory fangs behind the dark softness of his lips. He catches himself staring, unwillingly fascinated, watching for those fangs the way he used to watch for the little telltale signs that a mark's dream was about to turn sour.

Without realizing it, he's come close again, close enough that another step brings him in with his legs spread wide around Eames' knees. Bracing himself on the chair, Arthur pulls the gun out of the back of his pants and sets the barrel against Eames' cheek, tilted upward toward his brow. Eames looks back at him, unafraid. "I would have to be so fucked up I couldn't stand before I couldn't blow someone's large intestine out with this gun at fifty paces," he tells Eames.

Eames' eyes should be black, or glowing yellow, or something like that. Not this soft grey-green, not the same as Arthur has always seen them before. "One of your better qualities," Eames says hoarsely. "Unfortunately, I'm fairly sure my kind can live without our large intestines quite long enough to put an even bigger hole in that pretty throat of yours."

"The army didn't kill me," Arthur whispers, drawing the barrel of the gun down Eames' face in a slow drag. "Dreamshare didn't kill me. The fucking vampire apocalypse might kill me, but it won't be tonight."

Eames smirks, turning his head so the gun slides under his jaw like a lover's hand. "Darling, stay here with me and I'll give you a taste of what this part of the vampire apocalypse has in mind for you. Killing isn't quite the right word for it."

"Or quite the wrong one?"

"Arthur, I need you," Eames breathes, eyes soft and pleading and a little bewildered, fangs sharper than switchblades white in his mouth. "I don't even know why or what's happening to me right now, there's no fucking instruction manual for vampirism. I was always a little in love with you before, you know, you and your guns and your immaculate tailoring. Lovely Arthur, deadly as nightshade. But then… then everything went to shit and when I woke up it was all I could think about. Where you were. What you were doing. Whether you were safe. That you might not be, that you didn't have me there to watch your back. I couldn't bear it."

"Yeah, well," Arthur says, and swallows hard against the urge to lean down and kiss that look off Eames' face. "I was fine. I am fine."

"I've twenty-seven messages on my voice mail that say otherwise. Arthur, wait, don't, come back here –"

"You got all those fucking messages?" Arthur asks thinly, finger twitching on the trigger as he steps back away from Eames. "You got them and you didn't think to, I don't know, maybe fucking call me back?"

"For the first few days, I was… unavailable," Eames says. "And then it was too late. You want the truth? I didn't call you back because I was afraid you'd hear it in my voice and I didn't want to put you on your guard. I didn't want you to see me coming. I think you could have killed me easily from a distance, but up close… I knew – I hoped – that it would be a different story. That I'd have a chance to make you understand."

"Understand what?" Arthur asks, knowing it's a terrible idea. That it was a terrible idea to give Eames a door that wide to walk through when he was alive, let alone now, when he's this.

He doesn't think there's much of a limit to what vampires can convince you to do, one way or another, once you open the door and let them in.

Eames opens his mouth – and doesn't get a chance to answer. In the silence between his breath and his response, a board in the living room floor above Arthur's head creaks stealthily and then is quiet again.



Arthur stopped in New York City on the way to New Hampshire. His favorite apartment was there, the one he spent the most time in, the one that was closest to being home for him. He supposes that in some small corner of his mind he hoped he'd be able to stay there, that New York alone of (apparently) the entire world would have absorbed a vampire apocalypse with its usual disdainful aplomb and kept right on functioning.

Of course, that wasn't how it was.

There was smoke curling sullenly from the subway entrance at the corner of Arthur's block. Cars were parked at random angles in the street; a police car's siren droned wearily a few blocks away, dying with the car's battery. Arthur took the stairs fifteen flights up to his apartment with his gun drawn, despite the pale sunlight that streamed into the stairwell through the high, dusty windows – he wasn't stupid enough to think that vampires were all he had to worry about.

The hallway on his floor was dark, even the exit signs burnt out, lit only by the light spilling out of half-open apartment doors. Arthur's own door was still securely closed and locked; he opened it as quietly as he could and stepped in, blinking in the light that flooded in through the wall of windows on the far side.

For a minute Arthur just stood there, swaying on his feet. He was fucking exhausted, and all he wanted to do was go to bed.

Leave a message, Eames said tersely on his voice mail.

"I'm home," Arthur said. "Or what was home, I guess. I can't stay here. That pisses me off, you know? I know you can't get attached to… to things, or places, in this business, but I really liked this apartment. Shit."

The silence made his skin crawl. Arthur's apartment was reasonably soundproof, but he lived in the middle of Manhattan; there was no shutting it out altogether. He didn't think he'd ever just stood in the middle of his living room and heard nothing.

"I'll keep this phone until – well, until it dies, I guess. Or until one of us does, anyway. Staying in the city strikes me as a really goddamn bad idea so I'm going to one of my safehouses. If I leave soon I'll get there before dark. I have to start packing."

But he stood there instead, in the middle of his living room, looking out over the city with the phone clasped to his ear. There was already a thin layer of dust over everything, as if Arthur hadn't lived there in years.

"I, uh," he said, rubbing at his nose. "I dated this guy for a few months, last year. He used to stand there in the kitchen in the mornings making omelets and coffee and like four kinds of juice. He really loved this kitchen. I finally had to tell him I fucking hate eggs. Things sort of… went downhill after that. I don't know, tell a guy you hate eggs and all of a sudden you can't do anything right."

Arthur remembered getting dressed to leave for a job, tightening his tie snug against his throat, suitcase by his side; cordially inviting Alex, who was still in his bed and half asleep, to cook his eggs somewhere else from now on. He had a vague memory of unpleasantness ensuing; but half his mind had been on the job and at least another quarter had been on Eames, who was forging for them in the dreamscape and reality both. Eames, and the swift, sure movements of his hands as passports, driver's licenses, and currency materialized underneath them as if out of thin air; Alex, naked in Arthur's bed, might as well have been an attractive but uninteresting piece of art on an office wall. Come to think of it, he'd never seen or heard from Alex again after that. It was probably just as well.

"I wish," he said, and stopped, rubbing at his temples. His head hurt. "I wish you'd been able to see this place. I think you'd have loved it too."

Outside his window, a hawk soared over the park. Arthur was glad to see that at least the animals were going on about their business, probably better off for getting humanity out of their way.

"I have to go," he said finally. "Call me when you can. I think out of everyone I know, you're about the least likely to get taken down by the vampire apocalypse, so I – I have to believe you're still alive. I have to, because I think if I stop believing that…"

He pushed end call before he could say anything else. But it was still a while before he dropped the phone into his pocket, straightened his jacket, and went to his room to pack.



Arthur and Eames go still, looking up at the basement ceiling. For the space of maybe half a minute, the whole house hovers in that crystalline limbo that's like one long indrawn breath before an explosion. When the silence is broken again by another soft creak – six paces from the kitchen door, Arthur notes, a map of the house rotating like wireframe in his head – neither of them starts. Arthur checks to be sure that there's a round chambered in his gun and turns toward the stairs.

"Arthur!" Eames whispers, barely audible. "Let me loose."

"Fuck you," Arthur breathes back, not taking his eyes off the door.

Eames twists in a way that makes the leg of the chair brush against the floor – not loudly, but enough to make Arthur's nerves jolt unpleasantly. In a flash he's back across the room, fast and silent, anchoring the chair to the floor with his hands on the seat.

"Don't. Move," he breathes.

"Don't be stupid. Let me up."

"I've only been stupid enough to invite one vampire into this house, and that's you, okay? This is just another dumbass looter. It took me three seconds to take out the last one. Sit tight and I'll bring you dessert."

Eames clearly wants to argue but Arthur's already too far away, flipping the wall switch and plunging the basement back into darkness.

"Arthur," Eames whispers again, barely loud enough to carry, and Arthur closes his eyes and shivers. There's someone upstairs in his house and the last goddamn thing he needs is for monsters to be whispering his name in the pitch blackness of his basement, even if they're doing it with Eames' voice. When he starts climbing the basement stairs, the skin between his shoulder blades itches like he was a ten-year-old terrified of what might be watching him from the shadows, and he has to clench his teeth to quell the urge to take the stairs at a run.

The blackness somehow manages to swim a little in front of his eyes and he curses himself a little; despite what he told Eames, he's still got too much alcohol in his system to be able to hold his own in any sort of sustained combat. Stupid, it was stupid; he should have realized that where there was one there'd probably be more.

In Arthur's defense, he'd never fed a man to a vampire before tonight. He thinks he can be excused for feeling like that called for a fucking drink.

When he eases the door open and slips out into the hallway, everything is silent – but someone is still in the house. Arthur can feel it. Reminding himself that he hasn't invited anyone in, that Eames is in point of fact the only person he's ever invited into this house, he edges out to the corner of the living room, feeling far too exposed in the bright moonlight streaming in through the windows.

Nothing's there. Arthur cases every corner, including the ceiling, looks for odd shadows under the furniture. The living room is clear. Carefully, Arthur paces out into it. The living room floor is a hopscotch of boards Arthur's rigged to creak and boards he's rigged to stay silent; his combat boots don't make a sound as he makes his way toward the short, dark hallway where the kitchen gleams, full of cold moonlight, on the other side.

Come out, motherfucker, he thinks, his vision anchored in the luminous white of his gun's sights, but nothing answers him yet.

The hallway is four paces long, taken at a normal stride. Coming at it from an angle so he's not so vulnerable, with moonlight before and behind, Arthur can't see anything in that four-pace stretch of the dark. He could go back to the bedroom and get his night vision goggles, but that would leave him vulnerable for that much longer, and even with alcohol still thrumming through his system Arthur has no doubts about his ability to take down anything that might jump him in the dark; so he resettles his grip on his gun, securing it in his palms, and slips into the hallway.

One careful pace. Two. Three, and the dark presses in on him like a shroud but moonlight and clear vision are one step away now; Arthur pulls the gun back to him and up so he's not leading into the room with it, and –

For a moment, all he can register is the sudden lack of gravity; then he's landing on the splintered remains of his coffee table, already destroyed in his fight with Eames, and his body, figuring things out before his brain does, softens the landing with a tight, efficient roll. He comes back up gun-first, locates the human form in his living room, and shoots out its eyes with two quick shots.

It doesn't fall. What it does is crick its neck with a sharp sideways jerk, smile through the gush of blood down its face, and bend forward to dump two spent bullets out of its eye sockets and onto the floor.

"What the fuck," Arthur says.

"Nice shot," the vampire says conversationally. "But I can still smell you. Tobacco and bay rum in the soap and scotch on your breath, you're a step up from most of the cattle. Where's my brother, by the way? I can smell his blood."

"I didn't fucking invite you in," Arthur grinds out, hauling himself to his feet. One rib twinges badly.

The vampire moves with him, circling closer. "No, but the old guy who used to live here did. Thirty years ago, maybe? My parents wrecked their car on the road outside trying to avoid a deer. He let us come in to use the phone. I guess there's no statute of limitations. Where's my brother?"

Arthur shoots out his kneecap. The vampire curses and stumbles back a little; but only a little, and then he's back up, limping but no more than that.

I'm fairly sure my kind can live without our large intestines quite long enough to put an even bigger hole in that pretty throat of yours, Eames whispers in Arthur's head. Arthur wishes now that he'd given in to momentary weakness and let Eames loose. At fifteen minutes to get out of that chair, there's no way in hell Eames will make it up from the basement in time to do anything but throw what's left of Arthur in a shallow grave.

He tries anyway. The vampire likes to talk; okay, let him talk. "You might want to be a little more specific. Who's your brother, and why would I have seen him?"

The vampire tilts his head up and inhales, long and rich. "You know what else I smell? Dead things." He smiles at Arthur, blood already turning clotted black on his lips. "That's okay. He always was an obnoxious little shit."

Arthur takes a step back. Adrenaline and alcohol are making him shaky now, and the gun is unsteady in his hands. "Great. So now you know – get the fuck out. I revoke your invitation."

The vampire flinches a little, then tries to cover it by smoothing his hair back with a suddenly unsteady hand. "Too bad you aren't the one who invited me," he says, flashing a sudden, savage grin. "But hey, if you want to take this outside –"

Being thrown through a window in the movies is an easy matter of breakaway frames and glass made of melted sugar. Being thrown through a window in real life sucks out loud. It's joints being bruised and half-unseated by unyielding wood, skin being sliced through by glass shards still obstinately seated in the frame, landing on a hundred knife-sharp slivers and trying to blink wood dust and worse out of your eyes. Arthur hits the ground hard on his back, fires at the dark shape launching itself after him, and rolls fast so the vampire lands in a crouch where he was the moment before. For a moment, he contemplates the distance between himself and his car. He'd never make it in time even if the doors were unlocked, and he's not sure they are. The world tilts alarmingly around him, sliding slowly off its moorings.

He shoots for the balls next. That puts the vampire down on the ground with his hands clasped around gushing blood; Arthur lands a kick to his sternum that crunches satisfyingly under the sole of his boot. He's too slow moving back, though, and one bloodstained, talon-nailed hand hooks in the cuff of his jeans and yanks him off-balance. Only for a second, but too long – the vampire's other hand closes hard around his ankle and Arthur goes down hard on the back of his neck. Spots swim in the air above him and he tries to bring up his gun, but he's not fast enough to keep his head from being yanked back to expose his throat to gleaming moonlight and fetid, coppery breath. He surges back and headbutts the vampire as hard as he can in the nose, feeling bone break under his forehead and the red wash of pain in his scalp; but it costs him too, and his body is feeling less and less willing to do as it's told.

"Fuck you," he pants, and spits blood into the vampire's face, which now that he thinks about it is maybe not quite the gesture he'd hoped. "I killed your brother. He broke into my house and now he's in two pieces in my basement, just like he deserved. You wanna hear how he whined and sniveled and begged for his life? 'Hu-hey, man, don't kill me, bro, swear to God I'll do anything you want, just puh-puh-please lemme out of here!' Take his fucking head with you when you leave."

"Oh, now," the vampire says, his grip tightening in Arthur's hair. "Just for that, this is gonna hurt. A lot."

Very close, something growls long and low.

The vampire looks up, startled; Arthur takes advantage of his momentary distraction to drag his gun up and put a bullet right in the vampire's hip socket. It's all he has time to do before the vampire's body-checked right off him, what feels like half Arthur's hair still clenched in his fist. Coughing painfully and shielding his ribs, Arthur rolls to one side and peers after him.

It's like watching a fight on a DVD at twice the speed. And not a very even fight. Brute strength and speed might have been enough to take Arthur down but it's shit against Eames, who's stronger, faster, and better trained. Everything's so still, no sound but the incongruous hum of frogs from the nearby pond and the sound of fists connecting with bodies, over and over; but Arthur, watching, knows almost to the move what Eames is going to do to the other vampire. He knows it because he's seen Eames fight a hundred times, in every venue from filthy bare-knuckle rings in Croatia to gleaming skyscrapers in a rich housewife's mind, he's sparred with Eames a dozen times himself, and there's nothing here in the half-conscious moves of Eames' body that he doesn't know.

Maybe the body remembers. Training, it remembers that. But the grim, half-mocking smile on Eames' face, that's not his body moving on autopilot, and neither is the way he draws it out, playing with his food, causing pain just to cause pain; and the thing is, Arthur's seen him do that before too. Only twice, and for goddamn good cause both times; but here, too, there's nothing Arthur doesn't know, nothing but his speed and strength to make him different now than before.

Arthur's always loved watching Eames fight. He doesn't know what that makes him, or what it makes him that he loves it now, but he's never really cared and he's in too much pain to start.

The fight ends when Eames gets bored, which is actually only a few minutes after it starts, and ends with the other vampire's head forcibly separating from his shoulders. Eames throws it into the trees by the hair, steps away from the endless pulses of black, sluggish blood spilling from the stump, and looks over at Arthur with blood all down the front of his shirt.

It occurs to Arthur, belatedly, that he probably should have used the last five minutes to get somewhere safe.

He manages to get halfway levered up, ribs screaming in pain, before Eames is on him. Literally on him, slamming him back down to the ground by the shoulders and making him give a strangled cry of pain. Fuck me, I'm about to die, Arthur thinks, dazedly; he's covered in his own blood and weak as a kitten, and Eames… well, he has that whole impulse control thing going on.

"Arthur," Eames whispers shakily, pinning him to the ground by his shoulders. "Don't… don't move for a minute. Please."

He's left Arthur's hands free. Arthur doesn't believe for a minute that he did it by accident. Slowly, he raises his gun and lets the barrel rest against Eames' gut.

"I think –" Eames says, and swallows convulsively. "I don't want to hurt you, darling, believe me. But you're going to have to work with me for a moment. Don't move."

Pinned and bleeding, finger on the trigger, Arthur does as he's told. There's a certain amount of relief in that, in lying back and letting someone else do the decision-making. This is a bad time to feel it, but there it is, like slow warmth filling his chest.

Moving slowly, Eames bends down and noses Arthur's jaw to the side, exposing his throat. Breath quickening, Arthur tilts his head obediently to the side. He's pretty sure Eames can see the pulse hammering in his neck; he's sure, now, that Eames can smell sweat and adrenaline and fear on him. Something, sweat or blood, trickles down his neck; he realizes it's blood when Eames makes an almost pained sound and leans down to lick it up, his tongue trailing slowly up Arthur's skin over pinpoint scratches that sting in tiny flares like fireflies in the dark.

Arthur's afraid to move, even to close his eyes. He wants to; he wants to slip his finger off the trigger of his gun and shift his legs apart to make room for the slow hardening of his cock in his jeans. He's always known his wires were a little bit crossed, but this, he thinks, is sort of ridiculous.

He can't help it. Eames is still pinning him down, chasing blood across his throat with slow, savoring licks like it was fine chocolate at a hundred an ounce, and his mouth feels so good, the only thing in or around Arthur's body that does.

Eames sits up with a shudder, hands easing back from pinning Arthur's shoulders to resting on them. "Right, okay," he says, sounding dazed. "I can stop. Fucking good thing I just ate my fill, Christ, but I can… fuck me, Arthur, you taste amazing. How badly are you hurt?"

Arthur looks at him for a long moment, then puts the safety on his gun with an audible click and lets it fall onto his midsection. "A couple of broken ribs. Maybe a concussion, I don't know yet. Could've gotten here faster, Mr. Eames."

"And I could have not been here at all. I told you to let me out of the bloody chair, but would you listen?"

Arthur can't help but smile. "Fifteen minutes to get out of it, huh?"

Eames has the grace to look embarrassed. "Or something else with a five in it. Listen, I'm going to get you inside. I don't want you lying out here smelling of blood for the whole world to track down."

"Okay," Arthur says, blinking up at the stars. He really, really doesn't want to get up.

He does anyway, though. It's that or let Eames carry him. As it is, he has to lean on Eames all the way in and back to the bathroom, where Eames draws a steaming bath in the elderly claw-foot tub, prods Arthur out of his clothes and into it, and disappears. Arthur, too tired to argue, slides down in the tub, watches the mirror fog over in the dim light from 40-watt bulbs, and tries not to fall asleep while the water turns pink around him.

He's floating, half asleep and half awake, when Eames reaches past him and pulls the plug, keeping him where he is with a hand on his shoulder. The bloody water drains out and Eames refills the tub, then picks up a washcloth and starts smoothing it over Arthur's shoulders. Arthur cocks an eyebrow and looks down at Eames' hand; he thinks he's too tired to get hard but he's not sure what will happen if he tests that hypothesis and it turns out to be false.

Or what he wants to happen.

"I got rid of your looter," Eames says quietly.

Arthur closes his eyes and slips a little further under the water. "Thanks."

"When I – well, woke up, let's call it," Eames says, trailing the washcloth down over Arthur's sore chest. "I found half a dozen corpses stacked up in my hotel room and blood splashed all over the walls. I was on a job in Vancouver and I had no idea where my team was or what was going on. The last thing I remember is going under to work on my forge and bleeding from the neck suddenly, just – great gouts all down the front of the mark's father's favorite suit. The dream collapsed, and everything's a bit of a blur after that until I woke up in the hotel room bathtub. I was so thirsty I thought I'd burn up, even then. My architect was in the corpse pile, and I thought, oh, I must have killed her, my mistake."

Arthur cracks an eye. "Which architect?"

"Leonora Vidalia."

Arthur jolts upright, then hisses and grabs his ribs. "Leonora Vidalia? The same fucking Leonora Vidalia who sold Crawford out to the Bulgarian mob and almost got both of us killed in the crossfire? You worked with her again, are you serious?"

"It was an interesting job and it paid well," Eames says defensively, trying to gently push Arthur back down. "I thought I had things under control. And I did, mind you, until all this happened. I'd also like to observe that your main concern right now isn't her grisly end but that she might have done something just as ill-advised if the job had gone on as planned."

Narrowing his eyes, Arthur leans back against the back of the tub again. "What's your point?"

Eames looks down at the washcloth, turning it over in his hands. His bloody shirt is lying on the floor beside the tub, leaving him in his undershirt, and the hard cords of muscle in his arms flex fascinatingly with the movement. "My point, darling, is that we've never been very nice people, when you come right down to it, have we? Everything we do has rather an enormous dollop of self-interest added to it – even you, in spite of all that time you spent trailing Cobb about like an exasperated puppy. I only want you to consider whether it's in your best interests to continue on as you are, holed up here in the middle of nowhere, getting older and less able to take care of yourself with every passing day."

Arthur reflects on this for a minute, then hoists himself up and leans – rather painfully – on the side of the tub, resting his chin on his hands and putting his face far too close to Eames and his fangs. "Maybe not," he says. "But I'd be human right to the end."

Temper flares in Eames' eyes; Arthur's too tired to move away this time. "Right, and then what? You're buried with some sort of trophy, are you? Are you telling me half the lure of dreamshare isn't being able to be more than human? Something else, something different? Don't lie to me, Arthur, I've seen you build. You and your paradoxes, things that could never exist in the real world, you love them. I've seen you build Mobius strips and Penrose staircases, I've seen you decorate a garden with three-pronged widgets made from hens' teeth, don't bloody tell me that being human is anything but confining to you."

"So, what, I become a vampire and stop dreaming? Isn't that counterproductive?"

"No, pet, because Somnacin still works for us," Eames says, threading his fingers into Arthur's damp hair. "You become like me, and you go right on dreaming when you come up."

Arthur's mouth quirks in a smile. "Like Limbo," he says. "Without the scrambled egg."

"Cobb and his mad wife lived fifty years in Limbo," Eames reminds him, nuzzling lightly at his temple. "By all accounts, they were very happy there."

"You're a very persuasive man, Mr. Eames," Arthur whispers.

Eames slips a hand down to trace lightly over Arthur's hip. "And you're quite naked and rather slippery," he whispers back. "You've no idea what it's costing me to go on arguing with you instead of stripping off and climbing into the tub."

He must still be bleeding a little. It's hard to tell with the water trailing out of his hair – but not hard to tell from the soft sound Eames makes when he wraps strong fingers around Arthur's jaw and tilts it up to lick underneath it.

Arthur groans. He's battered and sliced and possibly concussed, his ribs are broken, he's had too much to drink and had to deal with two headless corpses today, and there is absolutely no way what little blood is left in his body should be slowly filling his cock. But it is, and when Eames nips hard at his throat the sudden ache of pain and pleasure has him panting. "Eames," he says, pushing against Eames' shoulder. "This is… not comfortable."

Breathing hard, Eames pulls back. "Shall we remedy that, then?"

It was watching him fight, Arthur thinks, that did it. Watching Eames fight has always made Arthur think with his dick when he can think at all, and now… Eames could have killed him a dozen times over tonight, and he hasn't. He hasn't hurt Arthur at all.

Yet. He still might. The thought has Arthur's hands shaking in something that isn't entirely fear.

"My bedroom's that way," he says hoarsely.



Arthur's been imagining Eames' hands on him for years. Sometimes it goes like this: one of them hurt, the other pushing him back onto the bed and touching with slow, gentle strokes. Eames is warm to the touch, long planes of bare skin covered in dubious tattoos and the clean ridges of muscle.

When Arthur touches his chest, there's no heartbeat under his hand.

"Arthur, my Arthur," Eames breathes into his ear. "I'm not leaving here without you, you know."

"Undead and a stalker," Arthur whispers back, smiling as he rocks his hips up to match Eames' slow rhythm.

"I'm going to give you back your life," Eames murmurs. "Dreaming. That flat in New York that you love. Your gorgeous suits."

Arthur rolls them over, not without pain, and slides his hand up around Eames' throat. "If you fuck me over," he says. "If you turn out to be just some fucking horror-movie creature wearing Eames' body after all, I will hunt you to the ends of the earth and take pieces off you with a blowtorch. And don't think there won't be enough left of me to do it."

Eames grins up at him and arches, making Arthur sigh and tilt his head back. "You must know I'd never have gone to all this trouble for a man who wouldn't threaten me with a blowtorch while I was fucking him."

Arthur stills the slow rolling of his hips and braces his hands on Eames' shoulders, looking down at him. In the moonlight, he can't see as well as he'd like. "I'm serious," he says. "I haven't made up my mind about this. If I agree and it turns out you're just a very clever forge, it's going to go really fucking badly for you. There's… there's still time for you to be gone before I wake up."

Eames picks up one of his hands and kisses his fingers softly. "I'm not going any farther than the basement," he says. "You can even come with me if you want."

"I don't," Arthur says, unmoving. "I don't want any of this. To be honest, I think being a vampire would kind of blow."

Eames is still for a minute underneath him. Arthur's sort of glad he can't see the look on his face. "I know you don't, pet, but let's be realistic for a moment, shall we?" Eames says, not unkindly. "However little you might want to be like me, I suspect you want even less to live out the remainder of a very short life alone in a decrepit house in the middle of the woods in New Hampshire. And I know you well enough to know, given a greater and a lesser evil, which one you'll choose."

"Maybe." Arthur's tired and sore. He doesn't want to be doing this right now. There are other things he does want to be doing, like leaning down to mouth along the column of Eames' throat. "Let's talk about this later."

Eames rolls them back over, carefully, settles himself between Arthur's thighs and sinks deep on a long stroke that makes Arthur press up against him with a soft, needy sound. "Maybe," he whispers, breath like ice against Arthur's skin.



When Arthur wakes up, amber autumn sun is slanting across the bed where Eames was the night before. Still half asleep, Arthur stretches out his hand and rests it in the light, feeling the warmth on his skin.

In the corner, the security monitors blink silently, switching from one camera to the next in grainy black and white like an old film reel.



At a rest stop outside Hartford, phone plugged into the dash with the charger rescued from his old apartment, Arthur picked up a signal long enough to check his voice mail; only this time, instead of hanging up when there were no new messages, he sat back against the seat and kept listening.

"First saved message; sent Sunday, October 7th, at 9:38 A.M."

Arthur, this is Ariadne. Um, I hope it's not weird, me calling you like this. If it is, I'll apologize later, but we've run into some issues on the job I'm on. Jarvis… well, you know Jarvis. Look, I don't want to talk about this to your voice mail. Call me. Or just – get on a plane to Phoenix and there'll be two hundred and fifty grand waiting for you.

"Next saved message; sent Sunday, October 7th, at 12:14 P.M."

Arthur? Nathan. From, um… I guess we last worked together in Berlin. Listen, our architect is going to call you with an offer. She's got her panties in a wad because our job turned out to be working for the syndicate and, I don't know, she thinks one form of organized crime is worse than another form of organized crime or something. She's got Jarvis shitting his pants about it. Look, not that your company isn't always a pleasure and all, but don't come out for this one. Everything's under control, and the people we're working for won't like it. Just call her back and tell her to deal.

"Next saved message; sent Tuesday, October 9th, at 9:01 A.M."

Yes. Hello. I was, uh, I was referred to you by someone whose name will be familiar to you. He inferred that you might be interested in doing some business in a… well, in a – oh, son of a bitch.

"Next saved message; sent Wednesday, October 10th, at 4:30 P.M."

Arthur, it's Cobb. I know it's been a while, but I need a favor. Our colleague in Maastricht isn't quite as quick to return my calls as she used to be so I need someone to broker an equipment deal. Your cut would be $25K for about an hour's work. This isn't me getting back in the game; I just… need it for private use. Research. Give me a call.

"Next saved message; sent Friday, October 12th, at 11:53 P.M."

Arthur, darling. I see a call from you but no voice mail, which can only mean that you're three sheets to the wind and you're afraid if you start talking to my voice mail you'll wind up pouring out your desperate infatuation with me. If I'm wrong, don't tell me. Let me cherish my illusions. But do call me back and tell me what it is you wanted, because hang-up calls from the efficient Arthur make me nervous. I'm in Canada, by the way, which you probably knew. It's fucking cold. No moose yet, but I'm sure if I make it to the bottom of this bottle of excellent tequila there'll be a whole herd of them. I hope… I hope you're somewhere balmy and not freezing your balls off like I am. Do call.

"To delete this message, press 7. To save it in the archives, press 9. To rep –"

Arthur, darling. I see a call from you but no voice mail, which can only mean that you're three sheets to the wind and you're afraid if you –

"To delete this –"

Arthur, darling. I see a call from you but no voice mail, which can only –

"To del–"

Arthur, darling.



So it ends with Eames; or starts with him, depending on the it in question.

Arthur's lying on the rug in front of the fireplace, head pillowed in Eames' lap. Eames is petting his hair with long, hypnotic strokes, and the unpleasant wet trickle down over Arthur's collarbone and the jagged edges of his torn shirt is slowing drop by drop. His vision's playing tricks on him; the fire dims and sparks by turns, or at the same time, sudden flares catching his eye and then disappearing as soon as he looks full at them. Nothing hurts, but he's so tired, more tired than he's ever been in his life.

"I'm dying," he says.

Eames smiles, cold and fond. "Yes, pet," he says. "But only for a while."

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