Level Two [2/2]
Eames’ journey through the whirlpool was just as treacherous and terrifying as Arthur’s had been and come the end of it he was both exultant at being able to breathe once again and annoyed when that one simple pleasure was immediately taken away from him when he was thrown callously upon the island; his head planting itself face-first into the sand beneath him.
Groaning and grouching, Eames shoved himself angrily up, choosing to ignore the way his entire body felt like it was about to give up on him and instead focussed all his energy on scrubbing the sand from his eyes and mouth, before then scanning the area around him.
“Arthur!” He shouted without preamble, pushing himself into a run as he caught sight of the other man up ahead, thrashing about in the sand with a… a… something bearing down upon him.
His running came to a staggering halt as the creature- a Pokey, he decided- whipped its gnashing head around to face him, its segmented body tailing angrily in the sand.
“Eames…” Arthur’s voice was strained, coming through to him from behind clenched teeth, his face red and sweat slicked with exhaustion. Eames could see the way his arms shook violently with the effort of holding the creature away from him.
“Gun,” he gritted out then, his head jerking a fraction to the side, his eyes never leaving the creature, and Eames’ own gaze zeroed in on the glock lying just inches from Arthur’s head.
“‘S empty,” Arthur pressed on, voice cracking and Eames cursed before a sudden thought hit him and he groped frantically against his shoulder holster, fingers blindly probing a moment before-
“Aha!” he cried in triumph. The Pokey’s head turned back towards him, its teeth snapping together in a bite before it looked back to Arthur and then to him once more as if unsure who to go for- whether it should let loose the prey already caught or pursue the fresh target.
“Arthur, I’m going to distract it,” Eames called, ignoring Arthur’s half-gasped ‘don’t be stupid’ and throwing the fresh magazine of ammo he’d stuffed in beside the mushroom in his gun holster towards Arthur. It landed with a soft thump close beside the gun and the Pokey growled, eyeing first the magazine and then Arthur before slowly turning it beady-eyed gaze back to Eames.
Arthur looked at Eames for the first time then, his eyes sliding from the creature in front of him to the fresh magazine and then to stare at Eames with such intense relief that Eames wanted to throw all caution to the wind and tackle the creature right off of him that very second. He held himself in agitated check however, not wanting to risk any further harm to Arthur.
“Come on!” Eames called stepping forward and then backwards, he moved himself in a slow arc behind the creature, watching as its lower body thrashed angrily in the sand, its beady eyes trying to keep both him and Arthur in sight.
“Come on you bugger!” Eames shouted, clapping his hands to add noise to his distraction. He could see Arthur biting his lip against the Pokey’s jerky movement, trying to remain quiet and keep his hold.
“Eames!” Arthur suddenly cried out and Eames took his eyes off the Pokey for a second to see Arthur staring at the body of one Eames had assumed he’d previously dealt with, except it was moving and Eames cursed as the side of the body nearest Arthur suddenly popped itself into a new head.
Eames’ distraction was all the creature atop Arthur needed to decide to attack him now. And thankfully for Eames, the Pokey attacking him was exactly what he’d needed in order to let Arthur get to his gun, load the magazine and shoot the damn thing in its face.
Or rather, to shoot both these damn things in their damn ugly faces.
The Pokey landed on him with a snarl, planting itself square on Eames’ chest and crushing the air right out of his lungs. He barely got his arms up in time to prevent a face full of teeth. The Pokey gnashed it teeth at him and Eames’ felt himself gagging at the stench emitting from the creatures mouth.
“Arthur,” he ground out, torn between trying to breathe through the weight crushing his chest and not wanting to breathe at all least he taste the creature’s rotting breath on his tongue. “Any time now would be much appreciated!”
He heard three shots fired in quick succession and then one loud, wet bursting sound. He heard Arthur’s footsteps upon sand even over the sound of the Pokey’s snarling and the thrum of blood rushing in his own ears. He saw Arthur’s bare legs in his peripheral before another, single shot was fired and Eames watched, with some amount of fascination, as the Pokey shuddered at the impact of the bullet lodging itself in its face before it finally, finally exploded; it head bursting open like rotten fruit to spew its warm and soggy insides all over him. Its headless body wavered a moment before Arthur kicked out at it, sending it toppling to the side and allowing Eames to drag himself out from beneath it. As soon as he was clear, Arthur resumed shooting every single segment of the creature that remained.
Eames looked at him. Arthur’s eyes were wide, wild even, his gun arm outstretched but shaking as he finished firing on the creature. He lowered his arm when finished, his chest heaving with exertion and adrenaline.
“Arthur,” Eames called softly and Arthur turned his gaze to him again, his eyes softening slightly before his legs gave out and he slumped heavily to the sandy ground, his gun slipping from suddenly slack fingers.
Eames hurried to his side, his hands touching frantically at Arthur’s face, his arms, chest, everywhere he could reach; trying to make sure Arthur was okay.
“‘M fine,” he slurred, smiling shakily as he lifted an arm to touch at the hand Eames had rested against his cheek. “Just tired.”
Eames leant in, brushing his lips dryly across Arthur’s mouth before pressing their foreheads together. Arthur’s fingers tightened around his hand and Eames closed his eyes, content to spend even an instant just breathing with Arthur.
After a while Arthur sighed, shifting, and Eames opened his eyes to meet Arthur’s gaze.
“Help me to the water?” he asked, grimacing as he used his free hand to pluck distastefully at the ruined undershirt he wore; it was ripped and bloodied and stained beyond all hope of salvaging. Though still intact, his underpants appeared to be in a similar state. It wasn’t just his clothing that looked more than a little worse for wear, Eames noted, Arthur’s entire body was slicked up with whatever the Pokey’s had sprayed all over him, thick clumps of sand sticking to him, as well as-
“Is that blood?” Eames asked, after having helped Arthur to his feet and secured his gun back in its holster. He turned Arthur’s head carefully to the side, seeing the dark crust of blood coating his hair and the top of his ear.
“A little. It’s alright though,” Arthur answered. He held willingly onto Eames’ arm, his fingers squeezing reassuringly as he tilted his head towards the water where the whirlpool was in the process of disappearing.
Eames frowned, worried, but led Arthur to the edge of the beach, helping him to sit in the seawater when they were a couple inches into it. He didn’t offer to help as Arthur shucked his shoulder holster and undershirt, but he did offer to hold Arthur’s gun as he tore a strip off his undershirt and proceeded to use it to wash the grime off the rest of his body.
“Thank you,” Arthur said after a moment, looking up to find Eames’ gaze intent upon him.
“You’d have done the same for me,” Eames allowed.
Arthur dropped his eyes, his fingers digging into the wet sand at his sides. “I tried—” he started then stopped, hesitating a minute before starting again. “I did try to follow you.”
“I know,” he agreed, his gaze still too intent.
“I’m surprised Cobb let you follow me,” Arthur said looking away.
“Hmm,” Eames hummed, then, “Cobb didn’t have a say in the matter of me following you.”
Arthur frowned at his words.
“He tried,” Eames admitted. “I told him in a toss up between the two of you—”
“Oh, Eames,” Arthur looked up again. “Tell me you didn’t?”
“You missed a spot,” Eames said instead, motioning towards the cut on the side of his head. He didn’t wait for Arthur to do anything about it, instead he plucked the strip of undershirt from Arthur’s fingers and carefully touched it against the congealed blood, cleaning it away.
“Well?” Arthur prompted when Eames remained resolutely silent.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Was all Eames said.
Arthur frowned again, lifting his hand to catch Eames’ when it became apparent that Eames was finished and just trying to prolong the distraction. He tugged the cloth from Eames’ fingers.
“He won’t be happy,” Arthur warned.
“That’s his problem then, isn’t it?” Eames sighed at Arthur’s continued frown. “I wasn’t going to just leave you here, Arthur. Wherever here was.”
“Anything could have happened to me, Eames. What if the whirlpool had killed me? You’d be dead too for following.”
“But it didn’t,” Eames said.
“But it could have. And then that thing… if you’d been a second later we’d both be dead and useless to Cobb.”
“I don’t care about, Cobb.” At Arthur’s pointed look Eames huffed and clarified. “I don’t care about him as much as you.”
Arthur pursed his lips. “We should be treating this like any other job—”
Eames took hold of Arthur’s hands then, pulling him in for a quick, closed-mouth kiss. “This isn’t any other job,” he breathed against Arthur’s lips.
“Eames,” Arthur sighed, but he kissed back, once.
“I’m not waking up without you, Arthur,” Eames breathed, tensing as he felt Arthur freeze, his mouth moving away. He held fast to Arthur’s hands, keeping him from pulling away altogether.
“Eames you—” Arthur turned his head to the side, looking away.
“Arthur,” Eames’ voice was insistent enough to draw Arthur’s gaze back towards him.
“You can’t—” Arthur shook his head. “This isn’t one of your trashy romance novels, Eames.” He gave a half-laugh though it was entirely without humour.
Eames squeezed at his hands, encouraging Arthur to continue.
“If anything happened to me here, or on any job,” he met Eames’ eyes, “I’d want you to wake up. Without me.”
“I’d want you to do the same,” he agreed. Arthur raised an eyebrow and Eames’ grinned widely at him. “Doesn’t mean either of us are going to do it though.”
Arthur opened his mouth to reply to that but found himself smiling instead. He scowled, trying to force his lips into a disapproving line but Eames’ own smile only grew and Arthur found it hard to force a displeasure he wasn’t entirely feeling. He sighed, exasperated but smiling.
“What am I to do with you, Mr. Eames?” he huffed when Eames laughed outright.
“I can think of a few things,” he answered with waggling eyebrows. Arthur smacked feebly at his arm.
“Yes, me too,” Arthur agreed, his voice dry. “The first of which is you helping me out of the water before the whirlpool returns.”
“You spoil all my fun, Arthur,” Eames moaned, but he was already pushing to his feet and holding his hands out to Arthur.
- - -
After much debate, Arthur had relocated them both to the other side of the island, deciding to watch the mouth of the canyon in wait of Cobb instead of taking up residence in the fortress. After a quick sweep of the rest of the island for any hidden dangers, Eames had agreed, more than happy to sit on the beach with Arthur sprawled out beside him.
They sat beneath the cluster of palm trees now, the large leaves above them protecting them from the worst of the sun’s glare. Eames had his back against one of the trees with Arthur pressed up against his side, his body a reassuring weight against Eames’ chest. He had one arm curled loosely around Arthur’s waist, his fingers lazily playing with one of Arthur’s hands.
“Do you think he’s alright?” Arthur murmured sometime after they’d settled, his eyes not having left the entrance to the canyon a moment since they sat.
“Hmmm,” Eames hummed his agreement, turning his head to kiss at Arthur’s temple. “Cobb’s too stubborn to not be.”
“Stop that,” Arthur muttered, squeezing at his hand.
“Stop what?” Eames asked, amused.
“Eames this isn’t the time or the place—” Arthur groused.
“We’re not doing anything,” he replied innocently. Arthur pursed his lips.
“What’re you thinking?” Eames asked after a long stretched out silence.
“I don’t… it just feels wrong being together like this when Cobb is who knows where and Ariadne is stuck with that creature and Satio is in Limbo and—”
“—hey,” Eames interrupted, tightening his arm. “Hey,” he said again, “it’s all going to work out, Arthur.”
“You can’t know that.” Arthur said.
“No, I can’t. But if it doesn’t, knowing that we had even this as our last moment together will be enough for me.”
Arthur tensed up against him.
“You can have this, you know?” Eames said, softly.
Arthur’s silence was almost as loud as any verbal denial he could have made in response to Eames’ words. Just as Eames was preparing to loosen his arms and give Arthur the option of moving away, Arthur unexpectedly turned his head towards him, face tilting upwards to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
Eames smiled, turning to face Arthur properly. When Arthur didn’t drop his gaze, or move away as he’d expected, Eames made to press his mouth more fully against Arthur’s; their lips soft and wet as they moved lightly against each other.
Arthur pulled away first, frowning. “Did you hear—”
He jerked himself out of Eames’ arms entirely as a cacophony of popping noises sounded. His initial reaction to the sound was to draw his glock, his eyes sweeping back and forth as he pushed to his feet, trying to find the source of the sound and praying desperately it wasn’t another one of those Pokey’s, as Eames had called them.
It wasn’t. Arthur’s relief was short lived however when Eames called his name, stepping towards the water which had begun to froth up, large squid-like organisms popping into existence before their eyes.
“Bloopers,” Eames said, his distaste evident.
“What?” Arthur asked, tearing his eyes away from them to look at Eames.
“Oh shit,” Eames cursed a second later, lifting his arm to point towards the canyon where- Arthur turned, his eyes widening- Cobb could be seen swimming towards them.
“Cobb!” Arthur shouted, waving his arms and trying to get his attention. Cobb must’ve seen them because he paused, waving an arm back towards them.
“Cobb- go around!” Eames shouted, trying to gesture that Cobb should avoid the direct route towards them. Cobb waved again before diving beneath the waters, uncomprehending.
“He’s going to swim right into them!” Arthur said, horrified. Watching as the squid- or Bloopers, whatever they were called- dipped below the surface, fanning out around the island as if sensing the approach of their prey.
“Shoot them!” Eames yelled towards him then, his hands fisting uselessly at his sides.
“I can’t,” Arthur said, biting his lip in frustration. They both knew that Cobb could be anywhere beneath the waters and that even one stray bullet could put an end to him.
There was a sudden agitation to the water and they both watched, dismayed, as the Bloopers seemed to converge as one on something thrashing under the frothed surface.
“Cobb!” Arthur yelled, taking an unthinking step towards the edge of the beach, needing to do something, anything, to help his friend. Eames grabbed at his arm, his fingers too tight but squeezing brief sense back into him. He turned frantic eyes on Eames, and then… his eyes slid away from Eames, to a point over his shoulder.
“The cubes!” He shouted suddenly, pulling away and running towards the shimmering boxes they’d neglected to touch in the initial sweep of the island.
Eames followed suit, diving towards the first of the boxes and punching it square and centre. It shimmered a moment before spitting out a bundle of C4. He cursed, though of course happy to find something useful, it wasn’t the kind of useful they needed for this situation.
Arthur had cracked open two of the six boxes, revealing a fresh magazine in one box but nothing in the other. Eames hurried to his second box, yelling with triumph as it spat forth a shimmering star. He leapt towards it, grabbing it in his right hand and setting off in a sprint towards the water, not even pausing to wait as it spewed its contents all over him.
He was in the water a second later, diving towards the seething mass of Bloopers. He swam straight into them, trusting the star to work the same here as in the game as he reached out, ripping the creatures away from Cobb’s body. The Bloopers reared away from his touch, their grasping tentacles withering up into their milky bodies before they popped right back out of existence.
Reaching Cobb, Eames hooked an arm around his shoulders, pulling his seizing body towards him and kicking out, swimming as quickly towards the surface as he could manage with the added weight. He felt sand scraping at his knees and pushed himself into a stand, twisting his body to hook his hands beneath Cobb’s arms and dragging him from the water.
Arthur was at his side in seconds, helping to pull Cobb the rest of the way out and aiding him into a seated position, smacking at his back and forcing him to cough the water from his choking lungs. His body jerked, seizing with the poison of multiple stings.
“Can’t—” Cobb’s voice was strangled, “move.”
The words were a struggle to spit out, and Arthur watched with a growing fear as Cobb’s body slowly stopped moving all together. It started with his legs, the stillness creeping up the length of them, crawling over his lower body and paralysing him as it went.
“If it reaches his lungs—” Eames breathed, trying not to look at Cobb’s face and the clear panic there.
“The mushroom!” Arthur snapped all of a sudden, shifting his hold on Cobb and staring imploringly at Eames who wasted no time in scrabbling at his shoulder holster and pulling from it the green mushroom Yusuf had gifted him; its spotted body a bit sodden and looking a little worse for wear.
Arthur didn’t care how it looked as he snatched it from Eames’ hand and began tearing into it, grabbing small pieces and pushing them between Cobb’s lips bit by bit.
“Chew, Dom,” he breathed, but he could see the struggle it took to him to move his mouth as the paralytic began moving further up his body. Eames reached over, massaging at Cobb’s throat and coaxing him into a half-choked swallow.
“That’s it,” Arthur encouraged, “come on, Dom. You can do this.”
He continued feeding his small pieces and Eames helped him to swallow, but as fast as they worked it just didn’t seem to be fast enough and soon Cobb was gasping for air, his chest heaving, straining for breath before freezing altogether. His eyes widened, his mouth opening on a silent scream before his body started seizing with renewed effort.
“NO!” Arthur cried out. Eames’ hand found his, his other touching at Cobb’s shoulder and watching, useless, as he finally slumped in Arthur’s arms, his head lolling to the side.
They sat there unmoving, silent except for the sounds of their heavy breathing.
Arthur’s grip on Eames’ hand was painfully tight but Eames didn’t pull away, not even when he helped Arthur to lower Cobb’s body to the beach.
“We’ll get him back,” Eames tried and Arthur nodded, a muttered ‘I know’ passing his lips as he continued to stare at Cobb.
“I said I know!” Arthur snapped, tugging angrily at his hand. Eames kept his hold, using it to pull Arthur towards him and enveloping him in a one armed hug over Cobb’s body. Arthur struggled against him, his face pressing into Eames’ neck even as he tried to push ineffectually at his chest with his free hand.
A cough sounded from between them and they both froze.
“Get a room,” wheezed a voice and Arthur jerked himself almost violently from Eames’ releasing arms as they turned quickly to see Cobb blinking blearily up at them.
Arthur smiled brightly at him, one hand moving to grasp at his shoulder, reassuring himself that Cobb was actually still there and breathing and alive.
“Don’t kiss me,” Cobb joked, weakly, and Eames laughed in shock both at the words and the fact that Cobb had actually just made a joke. Arthur was smiling so hard his dimples were showing and Eames reached over, unable to resist pulling Arthur towards him and kissing his cheek.
Cobb rolled his eyes at Eames’ actions but he was smiling with a look of apologetic fondness Eames would never have expected to see directed at him. Not from Cobb anyway.
“You should probably finish this,” he coughed, picking up what remained of the mushroom and brushing the sand off from where it had landed on the beach.
“Yeah,” Cobb agreed, letting Arthur help him up again. He took the mushroom and fed himself this time, taking small cautious bites and swallowing distastefully against its sogginess.
They waited patiently for Cobb to finish and then longer still as they waited for his strength to return enough to let him move his entire body once more. While they lingered, Eames retrieved the ammo and C4 from the shimmering boxes and smashed open the remaining ones only to find them empty.
When Eames returned, Cobb was announcing himself fit and ready to continue moving on. The look he shot Eames and Arthur when they both pointedly stared at the cuts lashed up his legs and the way his entire body trembled with just the effort of sitting up, was pure, stubborn Cobb. Eames watched as Arthur shook his head but helped him to stand anyway.
They made their slow way across the island, waited for the whirlpool to disperse once again, and then swam the short distance between the island and the fortress, Cobb floating between them. It was almost a relief when they made their way out of the water, passing the lone flagpole and stepping into the coolness of the stone fortress which signified the end of the level.
They blinked against the initial darkness, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the change of light before moving further inside. Arthur helped Cobb to sit down beside the PASIV lying in the middle of the room. He slumped a little, breathing heavily and sweating with the exertion of the move.
“Okay?” Arthur asked, voice soft enough to give the allusion of privacy.
Cobb nodded. “I’ll be fine in the next level,” Cobb assured him, then, “are you okay?”
“Me?” Arthur asked, confused.
“I didn’t expect to see you, either of you, after what happened in the canyon.”
Arthur grimaced. “I wouldn’t recommend it as a shortcut,” he agreed.
Eames moved to kneel beside them then, putting down the C4 and magazine he’d collected on the island and placing them beside the PASIV. He touched at Arthur’s shoulder.
“Keep the ammo,” Arthur said, slanting him a look as he opened the case and carefully unrolled the tubes. “I’ll only need the explosives.”
“You sure?” Eames asked, watching him curiously. He was also asking about Arthur’s unspoken agreement to stay behind in this level.
“I’ll be fine.” Arthur agreed, letting Cobb take and affix his own needle before turning to Eames who offered Arthur his wrist without further comment. Arthur’s fingers were cold against his skin, but gentle, as he inserted the needle and taped it in place. His hand lingered in a hold as he reached to depress the button in the middle of the case.
“Just… try not to kill yourselves, or each other,” Arthur said, quirking a worried smile at them both. “And bring Ariadne back safely,” he said, his hand still hesitating. “And don’t forget to fetch Satio either.”
“Arthur…” Cobb huffed and Arthur pursed his lips a moment before pressing at the button and releasing the sedative. Before they fell under, Eames twisted his hand in Arthur’s hold and curled their fingers together, his encouraging smile slackening soon after as sleep took hold.
[ Next… ]