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Hello everyone! Here's a fic I've written that doesn't fit anywhere in the timeline of my previous ones. It is still set in Inception 'verse, but not in the specific one I've done. Based on this prompt. It's a Halloween fic! ^_^ Basically, Arthur fakes his death and goes deep underground. Eames, unknowing, mourns him and brings flowers to his grave. Arthur hears word of this unknown figure "haunting" his grave and goes to investigate.

Word count: 14K

Rating: Hard R to NC17-lite. Very light, I think. :D

Warnings: Graphic descriptions of violence. Mentions of imagined torture. Images of death and corpses. Mentions of prostitution. Murder.

Apology: I am very, very sorry it took me this long to post this. I did most of it in about 4 days, then let the ending sit for the rest of the week. So sorry to keep OP waiting! Hope you like this. And I hope the rest of you will enjoy it, too. :D

** ** ** **




Sometimes death is a slow crescendo: tentative signs of illness, a tightness in the chest, a lingering cough. But sometimes it broadsides you in the middle of a night out.

Eames is in the middle of one such night, cleaning up at poker, and he's not even cheating or card-counting. These are mates and he doesn't care if he wins or loses. A year later, he'll remember the smell of cigar smoke, the red walls of the pub, the torn leather of the cushions. The sticky table, what he was wearing, and the laughter of the girl across from him. Scottie is her name. To her left is Mad Jake, to her right is Baron, and next to Eames is Vincent. They're all in dreamshare, though no one is currently working.

Baron makes a joke, and Scottie's laugh is still ringing out when Griffin comes in and takes a seat. He's clutching a manilla folder. His lips are pressed together. All laughter, all the games stop at once, because something has happened and it isn't good.

"What's up?" Scottie asks, pulling up an extra chair for him.

"News from the states," Griffin says.

"Don't much like the sound of that," Jake says.

Neither does Eames.

"Arthur's dead," Griffin says without preamble.

Everything inside of Eames goes tight and cold. Still, he waves his hand and says, "Nah."

"That's what I thought too," Griffin says. "But then these got out."

He spills the contents of the folder onto the table and spreads out a handful of photos.

Autopsy room. Arthur. Eyes open, mouth slack, skin mottled and badly lacerated. The back of his head blown to bits. Various angles showing different injuries. The line of crude stitching from his clavicles presumably to his groin, but the photos don't show that far.

Vaguely, he's aware that Griffin is still talking. ... Dom Cobb's kids and said that if he didn't tell them... Arthur tried to... grabbed him in New York... Five days and eventually he broke and spilled the information... Kids back with Cobb, lucky bastards...

There's a photograph of Arthur's hand and wrist. Each of his fingers is broken and his wrist is twisted and swollen to twice its size.

Arthur's always had such fine, delicate wrists. The dark hair on his forearm is visible. Eames can recall what it feels like, how it stood on end when he brushed his lips to Arthur's wrist once.

He's going to be sick.

"Eames, you all right?" Vincent says.

"Shit," Griffin mutters, "shouldn't have sprung those on everyone like that. Sorry, that was tactless."

Vincent grips his arm. "You were mates, weren't you? You and Arthur."

Griffin shoves the photographs into a pile and crams them back into the folder. Eames gets one last glance of Arthur's broken wrist, another of his open eyes, then they are gone.

"Yeah," Eames says. "Yes, we were mates, we worked together on and off."

"I worked with him once," Scottie says. "Never met a more steadfast man. He got shit done, didn't he?"

"Yes, very brave," says Baron. "Good at what he did."

"The best," Jake agrees. "Dreamshare has lost a valuable ally."

"Dom Cobb is going to be torn up," Scottie says. "Especially if Arthur was going all out to protect his family again."

"Well," Griffin says, "here's to a courageous man." He raises his glass.

"May he rest in peace," Baron adds.

They all raise their glasses and share a toast. Eames does, too, though he can't think of anything to add. He can only keep seeing Arthur's broken wrist.

One time, he had put his mouth there. Just once, the both of them drunk on whisky and crashing after the biggest job of their lives. They'd planted an idea and nearly gotten stuck in limbo. God, he couldn't stand Arthur then. He liked him. Loved him. Wanted to duct tape his snide mouth shut. Wanted to throw him out a damn window, or onto a cheap hotel bed. They could never seem to decide, but it had stopped at kissing, and then Arthur had laughed, and his mobile had gone off and Cobb was pulling his strings again, calling him home. Always Cobb, telling Arthur to do this, go here, find out such and such, pull the trigger, get me home.

Eames takes a drink, and tastes nothing.

"Eames, why don't you call it a night?" Baron says. "Shit, why don't we all? Can't think of playing anymore, after seeing that. Can't even think of sleeping."

"It does remind one of one's mortality," Scottie says. "Could have been any of us."

Not really, Eames thinks.

They settle tabs and file out. Eames is out the door before any of them.

"Take care of yourself, mate," Vincent says. "Give us a ring if you want to talk, yeah?"

"Yeah, of course," Eames says.

One by one, they leave him, finally, blessedly alone.

He gets halfway to his flat, trying to mentally process these images, so that he can file them somewhere in his mind where they'll be harder to access. Eventually he fits them into "reality" and has to stop, duck into an alley and vomit. The tears still won't come, though.

He's lost mates before, yet he feels much like he had when his Mum had died. Everyone else will wake up tomorrow with a sense of sadness and temporary sobriety about life and death. But it feels like something more to him and he can't think of why, he can't think, it doesn't make sense.

Until it does make sense.

He's in love with Arthur, and it's too late.

He calls Cobb the next day. He wants to demand answers, but he knows that Cobb will be feeling just as raw and angry as he is, so he doesn't.

"Is it true," he says, more a statement than a question.

Hesitation. The kind that usually precedes a lie, in Eames's experience. Finally, Cobb says, "Yes."

Eames can hear Cobb's two kids in the background and he thinks Bastard, you got what you wanted, and Who's going to rescue you now, hmm? But he says none of it.

"I need two things."

"Eames..."

"I need two things, Cobb. I need to know where Arthur is laid to rest, so I can pay my respects. Then I need to know who did this."

"Eames, listen to me. Arthur doesn't... He wouldn't want you involved. Pay attention to what I'm telling you. Arthur would not want you involved in this."

"I need to..."

"Did you see the pictures?"

broken fingers open eyes Y-incision, how they had hurt him before they'd killed him, how they had tortured him...

"Yes. Yeah, I saw."

"Eames, don't get involved in this. Just think, all right? Use your head, use what you know. Do what Arthur would want you to do, and..."

"Oh, fuck you, Cobb. Like you ever gave a second's thought to what Arthur wanted. Little too late to be considering that, isn't it?"

"Eames..."

Eames hangs up. He'll be glad if he never has to hear Cobb's voice again. He's got his own resources, better than the ones Cobb has anyway. He can figure this out on his own.

He'll hurt them like they hurt Arthur. And maybe take from them what they took from him.

** ** ** **

Sometimes disasters happen in increments: you can see the first domino fall. Sometimes you can step in and stop the cascade, other times you just stand and watch helplessly. Often, though, disaster bangs on your door and stops you in the middle of cooking dinner on a Tuesday night.

This is the way it happens for Arthur. He's in his New York apartment, cutting tomatoes to put into egg salad. He's thinking maybe he'll call Eames. There's no job. He just wants to see how he's doing and catch up on some gossip. Who's working, who's retired, who's trying an inception, who's gone insane, who's dead. Eames knows these things.

His laptop is open and broadcasting WEHM, "progressive radio," they call it. It's September and he's got the windows open over the sink.

And then his door is banging nearly off the hinges. Arthur drops the knife and grabs his Glock from the drawer, instantly ready. It sounds like someone's trying to break it down.

"Arthur! Arthur!"

Cobb's voice. But there's no guarantee he's alone. He sounds panicked, almost hysterical. There could be someone else out there with him. Arthur knows better than to look through the peep-hole. He unchains the door, stands behind it and says, "Come in." Pulse pounding and gun at the ready.

Cobb stumbles in and slams the door behind him. He glances everywhere around the apartment, everywhere but at Arthur, as if checking each corner and exit. This is shell-shocked Cobb, traumatized Cobb, Cobb as he had looked the night Mal died. Arthur's chest constricts briefly, nerves lit up. This is it, they're on the run again. Everything he's set up here is over. He'll leave his hastily-prepared egg salad for the ants, because he won't be coming back tonight.

And then Cobb breaks down, and once the words start coming, they don't seem likely to stop. "Pippa, Arthur, they took her, oh Jesus Christ, next time they'll really hurt her, she and James are with..."

"Cobb, start from the beginning," Arthur says. There's already a block of ice in his chest, but he's working on calm, projecting it.

Cobb grabs him by his upper arms, squeezing hard and shaking him. "They took her out of school to let me know they could get to my kids, Arthur. They took Pippa and left James, it's just a cut on her arm, to tell me they mean business, she needed stitches, but when they brought her to me I killed him. I put the kids in their room and I killed the man who brought her to me, now that's it, I go to jail and the kids don't have anyone to protect them..."

Arthur grabs Cobb's forearms as Cobb holds onto him, and says, "Okay, you did the right thing, don't worry about that, okay? I was with you and I pulled the trigger. Got it? That's gonna be the official story."

"How, Arthur?"

"I'll figure it out." He holds him steady, with his hands and with his eyes. "Where are the kids now?"

"On a plane to France."

"Good. Tell me who these people are and what they said they wanted. Let's start there."

Cobb takes a few deep breaths, focusing on Arthur's eyes, which is a good sign. It means Cobb is ready to calm down and talk to him. He's still spasmodically squeezing Arthur's upper arms, though, the heat of his hands seeping through his shirt like a contagion. For a second it looks like Cobb might crack up again. Arthur gives him a little shake to keep him focused.

"The Kingston job, when we were on the run. Remember?"

Arthur does remember. They'd done an extraction on an arms dealer. Small-time, one of their first jobs after Mal. A conglomerate called Internal Trade wanted to know where the Kingston traders were based, and had come up with a gang on the west coast.

"Right, well the Kingston traders started going after Internal Trade, hitting them one by one. They ended up with financial backing, it's not small-time gang warfare, it's a corporation. Internal trade is mostly gone but Kingston wants to know what other information we extracted from them."

"It was a simple extraction, you had one piece of information, that's all."

"I know, but they don't believe that. All of Kingston is coming after us. They had the backing all along, Arthur."

Arthur lets go of Cobb and takes a few dizzy steps back. "I got us that job," he says. His mouth feels desert-dry. "I didn't know they had corporate backing."

Cobb doesn't say anything.

"It didn't show up anywhere." It should have, he thinks. Their liaisons should have turned up in the research. "I should have found it."

"That's not why I'm here," Cobb says.

"I know." Arthur rubs his hand over his mouth, his eyes. He sits heavily on the couch that he will likely never see again. Looking back, he can see that first domino. And from the center, as he is now, he can almost see the last one, too.

"I need to leave the country," Cobb says.

Arthur nods. "This is on me, Cobb. And I'm really fucking sorry. But do one more thing for me."

Cobb remains silent.

"Let me handle this."

"I didn't come here to blame you, Arthur. I just came to ask what I should do, because you know these things." Cobb sits next to him and takes him by the shoulders, turning him so they're face to face. "Arthur, listen to me. You can't have every detail every time. That information just doesn't exist, and I was the one who put you in the game to begin with. So this is nobody's fault. I don't acknowledge that enough."

"Doesn't matter," Arthur says, tired. "It's done. They hurt your kid. It goes no farther than that. Okay? This is where they stop."

"What do you need?"

"I need to die," Arthur says.

"Jesus."

"Hear me out. It has to be convincing. They can't see me coming. This way I'll be able to get information on who, and where they are. No one hides from a dead man. I'll send out word that we extracted some piece of information, some bullshit thing we found, and then I'll turn up dead. This way they'll think I ratted everyone out and they killed me. Ther'es two factions; they'll pin it on each other. Then I'll get to work on them. Got it?"

Cobb nods, numb.

"It's going to take me a few months to gather intel. Then a few more to get everything done." To kill them, is what he doesn't say, because he hasn't yet gotten to that part, himself. He's not some action hero who goes around blithely killing people without looking back. Black ops had used him a few times, but nothing on this scale, and it's never gotten any easier. The day it gets easy is the day he'll have to take himself out.

"A year?" Cobb asks.

"Two. Because then I'll need it to all blow over, and I'll have to resurface when they're all gone. And you don't tell a soul about this, Cobb. No one. If you tell them, you put them in danger. You have to be the only one who knows I'm alive. I'm sure a few others who know me will be able to figure it out, and that's fine. But don't confirm anything. This is for own safety and theirs."

"Right."

"I'm going to need death certificates, autopsy reports, photographic proof and stuff."

"Eames," Cobb says.

"No. I mean it; don't involve him in this. He wasn't even on that job and he doesn't... Just, leave him out of it. I'll do that part myself. I picked up a few things from him. Cobb, I know this part is hard for you. But I need you to arrange my funeral."


*

The next day, Arthur sits at his desk, laughing at his own shoddy work. His death and autopsy photos are so over the top and gruesome, it's almost cartoonish. But they'll fool anyone who doesn't know shit about forgery.

Using Eames for this would have been so much better, but Eames is innocent in this. He'll laugh at Arthur's amateurish attempts, when he sees the "leaked" photos.

'Nice try, mate, Eames will say. 'Very imaginative of you, give you that.'

Yeah, he'll show Eames imagination.

He won't be able to talk to Eames during his exile. Well, he won't be able to talk to anyone, really. Strange, to focus on Eames. Stranger still to be thinking about that one time after the Fischer job.

Should've, could've, would've.

Eames had kissed his wrist, almost a joke, like a romantic lover. Arthur remembers his smirk, the both of them so drunk, and so wasted on success.

He gives his corpse-photo a broken wrist. It doesn't look convincing, but then, are doctors really going to be looking at this? Photoshop experts? He doubts it. He's no artist, but he can get by in doctoring photos.

Arthur finishes up, then destroys his computer.

Then he ransacks his house. Turns over chairs, cuts through cushions, breaks glasses.

He's liked it here, for a while. But it's time to move on.

** ** ** **


Eames is good at the con, good at the psychology of crime, and good at recon. He has never liked killing.

It's seven months since Arthur died, and he's got his first lead: Something on Wikileaks about the CEO of a big pharma company called HalliCorps Pharmaceuticals, feeding funds into a small group called Kingston. Kingston ends up being an arms dealer. Eames has a vague idea of how this intel might have seen the light of day: extraction. Someone had managed to get access codes to the company's accounts, and they did it quietly enough not to alert said CEO. It was recent, too.

The man's name is Ken Burton and he's got two children, a boy in high school and a girl in college. His death isn't going to be easy for them, but neither is the knowledge that he's been feeding arms dealers, who turn around and run their guns to gangs who slaughter families in the Ivory Coast, to use their children to mine chocolate.

Fucking chocolate, which Eames really loves, and now he's got to give up some of the brands he likes.

He remembers the first Kingston extraction, though, because that had been Arthur and Cobb. And that's how he makes the connection. He still doesn't know who performed this latest extraction. Maybe it was even Cobb. He doesn't care.

He poses as a thuggish prostitute, the kind that Burton likes to rough up, then kills him in his hotel room. It's clean—one muffled shot to the head—but nothing about killing is not horrifying.

As an afterthought, he breaks Burton's wrist. This is a horrid affair, involving dragging the corpse to the floor and breaking the bones over a chair. No, this man didn't suffer like Arthur did, but Eames finds himself incapable of torture. He's relieved when he discovers this for certain.

Completely not as an afterthought, he leaves a small cluster of yarrow flowers in Burton's hand. He'd planned that part in advance. Yarrow signifies war.

** ** ** ** **
Arthur is good at the research part of it. He's good at surveillance and connecting the dots. He's also good at extraction, which he performs, alone, on Kenneth Burton four months after his exile. He gives it another two months before he leaks the information, even the stuff about Burton's penchant for picking up big, tough-looking guys, and humiliating them at gunpoint. Sometimes extraction tells you things you never wanted to know.

He also leaks the part about the chocolate – not that anyone will give a shit about that.

He leaves Burton alive, in case he needs him again for more information.

He's got a list of names, and it's no hardship to find the other two people who had taken Philippa from school, and probably set her up for even more therapy than she would have been getting already.

These are the parts that Arthur doesn't mind doing, but he's never liked killing. Even when it comes to killing someone who hurts little kids. It's just not easy. Still, Arthur's always been one to take on projects that aren't easy, and just because he doesn't like something doesn't mean he's not good at it.

He gets the first one at home, and breaks in while he's bathing. He feels no righteousness when he pulls the trigger. No thrill, no sense of justice. Just a sick kind of shakiness all the way to his guts. Some guy who roughed up Cobb's kid (and who knows what else he'd done, or would have done in the future?) is dead, but all Arthur can think of is that dull "POP" and the final jerk of the body as it dies. No dramatic music, no ending theme, and certainly no relief. Worse, he's got to do this all again.

A month later, Ken Burton turns up dead in his hotel room. So much for being able to use his mind again.

With his access to emails and databases, Arthur finds out the details of the murder within two days. Burton's wrist had been broken. So maybe a trick gone wrong? Even more strangely, the killer had left flowers on him, a sprig of yarrow or something. Maybe it's some kind of gang war bullshit, or arms-dealer code.

In an anonymous hotel room in Santa Fe, he googles "yarrow significance" and comes up with "health and healing." That doesn't sound right. It must be something personal, in that case. Arthur knows shit about plants and symbolism. Exhausted, he shuts his laptop and turns over in the musty bed.

His thinks for a while about Dom, wonders how he's doing. He hasn't seen anything on the news about him, and nothing has pinged on his radar in months, not since right after he left. He wonders how the kids are coping with this latest bout of violence in their short lives.

His thoughts turn to Eames, though he can't imagine why. He's had so much work to do, and so much of it awful, that he hasn't thought of him in a few months. Staring at the blank hotel wall, he wonders what Eames is up to these days. The last time he'd seen him, Eames had been, well, kissing him actually. And that had come out of nowhere. It seemed to startle both of them. Then Eames had, oddly, kissed his wrist, and...

Arthur turns onto his back, thinking of Ken Burton and his broken wrist. About how Arthur had photoshopped a broken wrist onto his own shitty, hastily done death photos. A strange coincidence, he guesses, but at least it explains why he's suddenly thinking of Eames.

Still, it leaves a strange feeling in his gut. He can't sleep. He fires up his laptop again and searches aimlessly on the internet. "Flower significance." "Yarrow symbols" "Flower meanings." Wikipedia tells him that yarrow's actual name is Achillea Millefolia. Bored, he keeps googling, until he comes across a page that lists Achillea Millefolia as having a symbolism totally unrelated to health.

Apparently Achillea Millefolia means "war."

Well, that makes sense, then. It's got something to do with gunrunning gangs.

At just after 3 AM, he shuts down the laptop and finally drifts off to sleep.
** ** ** **

Eames can't believe it. The man he was just about to kill is already dead, the day before he'd set up the assassination. He's glad, on the one hand, because it's one less murder he has to commit, and he knows he's starting to lose touch. Well, he's lost touch with his mates, but that happened a year ago. These days he feels like he's losing touch with himself. With reality, even. He hasn't worked. Hasn't talked to anyone. Hasn't done any dreaming, any cons, hasn't stolen anything. Hasn't gone for drinks or games. His mobile has been off for the last few months. He plots assassinations. Eats alone. Feeds the birds in the park. This is what his existence has become. Perhaps he could call it "focused," but really, he knows he's just obsessed.

The one thing he hasn't lost touch with in the past twelve months is that aching void in his chest. He loved Arthur. Loves Arthur. Just loves him too late. Since he's stopped working and using somnicin, his natural dreams have returned. They consist of Arthur's open eyes. And lately his dreams have been filling in the blanks that the photos left: the sound of Arthur's bones cracking, one by one. The smell of fear, and ultimately the smell of the autopsy room. He tastes blood in his sleep. Arthur dies every night, and every night he rots out of his beautiful clothes, underground.

Eames can take a pretty fair guess as to why he's reacting so poorly to losing someone who was, in essence, a colleague, and at best, a mate with some mutual flirtations. He's been in the dream business since his military days, so his dreams have always been either regulated or self-regulated, and never left to the will of his subconscious. Now, his subconscious is bubbling over, and it's furious. Everything he'd ever buried, every feeling he'd bottled or throttled, wants out.

That, and well, he loves Arthur, and he hates the people who hurt him until he screamed, until he died.

He's heard it said that nearly everyone in long-term dreamshare eventually has their off-years, those times when they just out-of-control lose their shit. It happened to Mal, it happened to Cobb, it's happened to some of the finest. Eames is aware that he may very well be losing his shit.

In September, he decides to visit Arthur's grave. He makes arrangements quickly, booking a flight to the USA's east coast. Cobb had only told him once about the grave – the only time he and Cobb had spoken since Arthur's death. He's pretty sure he can find his way. So he'll visit, and he'll pay his respects.

Then, maybe, the nightmares will stop.

** ** ** **
In late September, a year and three weeks after the incident that sent him running, Arthur blows the Kingston trade gunrunners wide open. After linking HalliCorps Pharmaceuticals to the gun trade with his extracted and leaked information, the falling dominoes do most of the work.

Arthur does do one thing, though. He finds the head of Kingston, the man he and Cobb had extracted from years ago. And with the stories that came out after Burton's death, it isn't difficult to follow the trail his gun-trade leads to the Ivory Coast.

When he leaks that information, nothing changes on the large scale. People keep buying slave-mined chocolate. That isn't going to change and that isn't Arthur's agenda. What it does accomplish, is to lead him to their middle-men. Arthur knows that he would never survive should he take on the Ivory Coast empire. He's just one man, not an army or a revolutionary. He's not involved in any of that stuff.

Other factions are, however, and now those factions have a list of names, and a trail of breadcrumbs. Half of his work is done and he doesn't even have to leave his laptop. He hooks weapons traders up with weapons traders, an anonymous matchmaker. He oversees the trading of AK series parts with IED parts, and flies back to the East Coast while they turn against each other and buildings crumble. A small empire falls behind him, and this time, he didn't even have to pull the trigger. The snake eating its own tail.

There are still a few lingering threats to neutralize before he's finished, and then a few loose ends to tie up.

Next year. This time next year he'll be free.

** ** ** **
Eames finds Arthur's grave in a secluded cemetery on a small, damp island off New York. He's not ready for this and he's got no outside perspective. Eames is smart enough to realize what he's doing to himself, where he's leading himself.

The headstone is small, with the name "Arthur Delamere," etched across the top, and no other information. It is dwarfed by a mausoleum next to it, inconspicuous and unassuming. He's dreamed about this grave, but it's never looked like this in his dreams. So small and plain.

The earth over it is beginning to settle, sinking down from its mound. It's been a year, so grass has grown over it, but it still has that fresh look. Under the dirt, Arthur is mostly bones and teeth, with wisps of dark hair that used to curl over his ears when he let it.

No flowers adorn this grave. No footprints lead to or away from it. As far as Eames can tell, no one has even been to visit.

"I'm sorry, my love," he says, and lays down a hastily-tied bunch of purple harebell flowers.

There's just one more thing he's got to take care of. He's found another name: Albert Bouchon. The next person he needs to get rid of. He's got flowers for him, too.

** ** ** **
Arthur tracks one more of the Kingston henchmen to New Jersey. Albert Bouchon, this guy's name is, and he's one of the few left who know of Cobb. They're all scattering now, these remnants, running and shitting their pants since HalliCorps and the Kingston trade collectively imploded. But as long as they live, they'll remember him, they'll remember Cobb, and they'll remember Cobb's weakness: his kids.

Bouchon is hiding out in a cheap motel. Arthur has watched him come and go, on and off for a few days. Greasy and skeevy, selling drugs and whores now instead of gun parts. How the mighty have fallen.

One day in October, Arthur returns ready to finish Bouchon off, but Bouchon doesn't show. He's a drug dealer, so he's always coming and going, but on this crisp, breezy day, nothing. No activity to or from his shitty motel room.

Arthur enters the motel at dusk—there's no security here—ready to force the lock on Bouchon's door. He doesn't have to; the lock's already been forced. He draws his gun and pushes the door open.

The smell knocks him back a few steps and he gags, coughs, and pulls his shirt up over his nose and mouth.

All the lights and television are off. The room is oven-warm, with the heat turned up. Dusky light creeps in through a filthy, closed window. The only sound is the hum of a refrigerator. On the unmade bed in the center of the studio apartment, reclines one Albert Bouchon, deceased.

Arthur comes a little closer, keeping one foot on the door, in case he should have to run out. It could be that Bouchon offed himself or OD'ed, or just up and died. But the bullet-wound in the center of his forehead tells a different story.

So does the broken wrist.

Arthur's blood goes cold for a second. This could be some more gang vengeance, but his sense for danger tells him otherwise. It feels close. It feels like it's got something to do with him.

The other hand, he sees a moment later, is turned palm-up. Curled in the blue, stiff palm is a single, orange-gold flower. It's wilted, but not totally dried out.

That, and the state of Bouchon's decomp, tell him that this probably happened yesterday. Which means that he had better get the everloving fuck out of here.

He hears people in the hall. By now the smell is going to start making its way out there, with the door having been opened. He can't get out that way. Taking one last glance at that gold flower, he goes to the fire escape and throws open the window. He flees outside, into the relatively fresh air, and hurries down the ladder to an empty alleyway. From there he walks to his car, parked a few miles away.

Once he's settled into his not-so-shitty hotel room, he showers, throws on sweats and an old t shirt, and opens his laptop. He googles "orange flower name" and finds a few pages with images of various orange, gold and yellow flowers. Finally he sees one that looks like the flower the corpse had been holding.

Marigold.

He searches "marigold symbolism."

Cruelty and grief.

Arthur rubs his hands over his face, scrubs at his eyes and scratches at his wet hair. Is this message for him? Is someone trying to communicate with him through something as roundabout and plainly dark as murder? Or vengeance?

"Oh," he says to his laptop, "this is so fucked up."

The thing is, he hasn't had any real, human contact in over a year. Sure, he's talked to clerks and cashiers, waiters, flight attendants, cab drivers - all very briefly. But he hasn't actually had a real conversation since going undercover. His voice is dry and dull from lack of use.

He understands his situation, and his own lack of perspective. He's got to get his head on right again. Of course this isn't about him. He's just been alone for too long; he's paranoid. He could very well be losing his mind.

Ah, well. It'll return soon enough, once he's back among the living.

The next day, Arthur drives back up to New York. When he stops for dinner in Brooklyn, he makes sure to have an actual conversation with the waitress. They talk about nothing more than the weather, Autumn, the pilaf that he's eating, what's playing at the movie theater, and other such nonsense. But she smiles and he smiles, and it's human contact and just for that hour, it feels good.

He buys a half dozen caramel apples and continues east. He doesn't know why, exactly, but he wants to go look at his own grave. Maybe to see if there's some connection with the murders. How that would even begin to work, he doesn't know. He's already convinced himself that he's being paranoid, and they have nothing to do with him. But it's a hunch, and it drives him onward.

The drive takes him a few hours and he listens to the radio and eats one of the apples. Eventually he rolls down the windows to let in the cool, Autumn air.

He gets to the cemetery at dusk. It's unlikely that anyone would come snooping around his grave, but better to be safe. He slips into an oversized hoodie and pulls the hood up over his head. He probably looks like any other person walking around, searching for the grave of a loved-one.

He finds his grave next to a mausoleum. He'd thought it might be creepy, looking at his own name on the tiny tombstone, but it isn't. He feels nothing when he sees it, because he is not, in fact, under there. It's just engraved lettering on rock. No big deal after all.

What is strange, though, is that someone has put flowers there. A chill shudders up his spine and down his arms. This can't be an accident. Even if he is going slightly out of his mind, and even if he is starting to see connections where there aren't any, this one is difficult to deny.

He wishes there was someone he could ask, just to get some outside perspective. Does this mean anything, or am I really losing it?

He snatches the flowers up and stuffs them into his large front pocket. They're dry, and a few of them crumble, but they remain mostly intact until he gets to his car.

Sitting in the driver's seat, he takes out his phone and googles "purple flower identification." This gets him a list with pictures. It looks like these flowers are called Harebells. Arthur can hardly believe that he actually has a page called "the language of flowers" saved, but it's been a bizarre year, and he does. He searches for their meaning.

'Submission, grief.'

Arthur shuts down his phone. He still has a few things to take care of, but in the meantime, this feels as close to meaningful human contact as he's had in over a year. Even though he has no idea what the other person is telling him. He'll just have to get some flowers of his own—and they'll have to be pretty common and easy to come by, otherwise he could lead the feds right back to him.

Which is exactly what this Flower Vigilante is probably doing to himself. He might be doing Arthur some favors, but he's going to eventually leave a trail of bodies and exotic flower orders.

If this is indeed his ally, he or she is playing a really dangerous game. The people they're hunting are still a threat, and the last thing Arthur wants is to involve anyone else. Especially when he's this close to closing in on the rest of this crime ring.

He has to send a message of his own.
** ** ** **

By the time Eames gets to the next guy in line, he's too late. Someone has already offed one Mr. Howard Stafford. In fact, a body bag is being loaded into an ambulance outside of Mr. Stafford's U-dub high-rise.

Stafford wasn't one of the small-time gangbangers; actually he was one of the high-ups, a chief investor in both HalliCorps and Kingston. And very likely the one who had actually ordered the hit on Arthur. Eames can't confirm that one, but Stafford had Dom Cobb's home address, and an unhealthy amount of information on the Kingston extraction. He had, actually, ordered hits on other people in dreamshare.

The thing is, Eames was going to try to extract the details about Arthur's murder before offing Stafford. Who did the actual deed, and who their allies are. He's got the PASIV with him. He was going to confirm this for himself, and wrap everything up. So that he could rest. So that Arthur would be avenged, and, god damn it, so that Cobb's bratty kids could be left in peace. Because no matter what Eames feels about Cobb, he still can't get past the fact that they came after his children.

Then Eames was going to clean up the rest of them, and go home. Meet up with his mates. Go back to work. Live again.

But now Stafford is dead and he will never have that information. Fuck it all.

Eames heads back to southern Seattle to wait it out for a few days. Eventually, the details come out. Stafford was a rich white man, and people, sadly, take more notice when rich white men turn up dead. Therefore the investigation goes public, and the details are easy to come by. It's fucked up, but so it happens that photos of the crime scene get leaked.

The killer had used a black sharpie to write one word on the wall:

"MONKSHOOD"

This has utterly puzzled the investigators. There was no poison involved; Stafford had been shot. Is it code? Is it the beginning of some sort of serial murder spree? These are the questions that the public asks.

The only question Eames has is, who the fuck else is trying to avenge Arthur? This is his thing, Arthur is his to mourn. And what kind of hack writes the name of the flower instead of actually obtaining it?

Intrigued—and angry—Eames hits up the language of flowers website.

MONKSHOOD: Beware, a deadly foe is near.

** ** ** **
The next corpse turns up when Arthur is on the East coast again. It's December, and there are only two killers left to kill. Well, it's down to one, now.

The flower this time was asphodel. 'My regrets follow you to the grave.'

To the grave? Arthur immediately thinks of the flowers on his grave, two months ago. Maybe he's supposed to go back there. Maybe there's another message left for him. That's the only thing it could mean.

He just can't get back yet. He's still got one more murderer to take care of. And if he's going to leave a message in return, it had better be a good one.

"Fuck, I'm having a corpse conversation," he mutters to himself, gripping his hair. Which, he realizes, has gotten long in his neglect this past year and three months. "I really am going crazy."

But he's doing it anyway. Checking the symbolism. How to answer that code? How to answer "my regrets follow you to the grave?"

The last man he kills begs for his life. It takes place in his home, while his wife is out. He begs Arthur, please, please don't do this, he didn't mean to hurt her, it was an accident. He only did what he had to do. What he was told to do. He was only doing his job.

It's babble, and the only thing it means to Arthur is that this man is guilty of more than what Arthur is here to finish up. It doesn't make it easier. He's still not good at killing.

Two shots to the head, and Arthur lays down forget-me-nots all around the room. Pretty self explanatory, he thinks.

If this message is answered, Arthur will have nothing further to do with it, because there's no one else to kill. He's run out of murders.

He waits until he's on the other side of town to pull over and vomit. For about five minutes he leans against his car, shaking, the biting December wind stinging the wetness on his cheeks.

That's it, then. No more killing. He can rest.

** ** ** **
Forget-me-nots.

The other killer had left forget-me-nots, fucking up Eames's message. And now, there's no one left to kill, so he can't possibly send his own message.

To whom, though? a little voice asks him, from deep inside. Who is getting your messages? Arthur is dead. Get over it.

It's January, the new year. The last killer is dead. The crime ring has fallen and burned. It's over. Relief overwhelms him, but also a creeping fear. Now that his work is done, he'll have to accept it and move on.

He's still got to remain hidden at least for a few months, before he resurfaces. It won't do to pop up out of nowhere a few weeks after what has essentially been a killing spree. Hello mates, it's me again! I went on a vacation, that's all. What flowers?

No, he's got to wait until this blows over. The only thing he's got left to kill now is time.

He goes to the East coast, to stay for a while. He can still visit Arthur's grave, for a bit. Just to get it out of his system for good. Leave him some more flowers, perhaps, this time without the corpses to go with them.

He buys a used car and drives out east with a bouquet of tea roses. 'I'll remember always.'

February. He leases a small flat on the little island. He wears a long coat with a hood when he visits Arthur now, in case anyone else should wander around the cemetery and see him. Can't have that.

Eglantine. 'I wound to heal.'

The end of February, which was when he'd first met Arthur years ago: Love Lies Bleeding. Melodramatic perhaps, but fairly straightforward at least.

He returns in March, with an array of roses. I love you. I'll always love you. I still love you. Mourning. Eternal love.

He goes again in May, as the sun sets. To his utter shock, he finds Arthur's grave scattered with rose leaves. No stems, no petals, no flowers. Just the leaves, everywhere.

Eames drops all of his roses and turns to go. He's got to find out the meaning of this.

A group of teens block his path, coming in his direction. He sees them before they see him, and he's got just enough time to pull the black hood over his head before turning from them.

They shriek as one, and one of them yells about seeing a ghost. Someone else babbles about getting a camera out.

He flees over the fence and winds around the back of the cemetery to his car. Fuck, that was too close. He's got to be more careful from here on in.

Back at his flat, he calls up his "language of flowers" page. It could be that someone else (the other killer, maybe? The one he'd thought of as his rival for Arthur's... well, for his vengeance, anyway,) left actual roses, and that something or someone had carried them off, sparing only the leaves. But that doesn't seem likely.

And there it is on his laptop, staring him in the face:

Rose leaf. 'You may hope.'

** ** ** **
Arthur's got only got a few months of exile left before he can return. To work, to Cobb and the kids, and to his life. He thinks it might actually feel like resurrection when he does so.

Eames, though. Maybe he'll call him first. His time alone hasn't left him with much time to think about the colleagues he left behind. Colleague, friend, whatever Eames is to him. Was to him, maybe. Arthur has no doubt that Eames has moved on to more available pastures. Brilliant, confident, attractive – a guy like Eames never wants for company.

He spends most of his time working on his computer, following up on coverage of the Flower Murders. Arthur tries very hard not to think of them as murders at all, but more as insurance policies. He still has no doubt that they would have killed Cobb. First, they would have made Cobb watch as they hurt his kids. And then they would have come for Arthur, and probably a great many other people who had worked on that one, godawful fated Kingston job, the one that he had accepted.

Well, Arthur has learned a lot since he was just a baby criminal. He's learned how to navigate the system, and he won't be making that mistake again. He tries to justify it over and over again: I was young, I didn't know what I was doing, it was my first crime, I was scared, I was stupid... All of that might be true, but none of it made the problem go away. So, Arthur had made the problem go away. And if his payment for his mistake is two years of exile and a string of nightmarish murders under his belt, then that's just how it is, and he's nearly paid up.

He doesn't feel he owes a debt to society for killing men from international crime rings. These were men who had slaughtered families and put children to work as slaves. Men who'd beat up on sex workers, who had killed for greed. If anything, he's done society a favor.

Still doesn't make it any nicer, though.

And his two years underground has not made him nicer, either. He knows he's paranoid. He knows he looks like shit, with his hair down past his ears and in unkempt curls, and shadows under his eyes that never leave these days. He knows he's lost any skill he had at human contact. He doesn't even meet the cashier's eyes when he buys his groceries from the little market he goes to.

The last time he had visited his grave, he'd found flowers on top of flowers. Elgantine, Love Lies Bleeding, all different kinds of roses. Seeing them there had filled him with a terrifying joy, the thrill of contact, made more extreme by the fact that it had been his only contact. He gets that. He's aware of his own overblown reactions.

He'd wanted to speak back to this person who cared so devoutly for his grave. He didn't know who it could be (still hasn't got a clue,) so he hadn't wanted to give an actual, committed reply.

'You may hope,' he'd said, in rose leaves. Because he would come back to life, in a few months.

It's high summer when Arthur returns again to his grave. The sun beats down on the humid air; the scent of the ocean overwhelms the pines, but only just. Cicadas click and buzz in the trees. A gorgeous day, but still, he's in a cemetery walking toward his own grave.

He finds zinnias this time, all different colors. He doesn't even need to check the web page anymore, since he's got it committed to memory. Remembrance. Lasting affection. Thinking of an absent friend.

That same joy fills him, tinged with nerves. He gathers up the flowers and takes them home with him.

He returns in August with two different flowers.

Viscaria: 'Will you dance with me? And Wallflower: 'Fidelity in adversity.'

He leaves them to wilt under the hot sun, and waits a few weeks, wiling away his time in his leased apartment. He thinks maybe it would be nice to start a garden. Not here, not now, obviously. Not with only two more months on his lease, and this late in summer. Apparently most local leases end on October 6th. He thinks of that day as the day of his resurrection. Just a few weeks before his birthday.

He spends a lot of time reading local magazines online, now that most of the dust has settled from the Flower Murders. In September, while looking for local items of interest, the name of his graveyard jumps out at him from the page.

His hair stands up; his fingertips feel cold. He reads it once quickly, and then again more slowly.

Sitting unassumingly beside a mausoleum, a tiny grave—and its mysterious visitor--have become the focus of local attention.

The Rural Hill Cemetery is not the resting place of anyone famous. It does not boast legends of lingering poltergeists or noisy ghosts. Until now, that is.

'I saw this dark figure last winter,' says Christi Emmerson, of Lakeford High. 'It was wearing these black robes and had its head covered. I was with a bunch of my friends. When it saw us, it disappeared.'

Overactive imaginations, you say? Emmerson and her group of friends are not the only ones who have seen this dark figure. In a story reminiscent of the mysterious visitor who appears at the grave of Edgar Allen Poe once a year, locals have dubbed this hooded figure
'The Pleurant', named after a French statue that depicts a weeping figure.

'It's a little strange, I admit,' says Cara Lake, the groundskeeper at Rural Hill. 'People come and go to visit their loved ones all the time, and they leave all sorts of things. But for anyone who knows anything about flower symbolism, it's kind of an interesting story.'

What Lake means is that every few weeks, flowers appear strewn around the tiny headstone marked 'Arthur Delamere.' The choice of flowers seems less than random, a fact that has curious locals scrambling to unravel their meanings.

When asked if she's seen the mysterious figure dubbed
The Pleurant, Lake says she isn't certain. 'I see all sorts of things here. I might have seen him, or her. Maybe it's just someone in a winter coat, bringing flowers to their loved one.'

Maybe so, but that has not diminished local interest. The grave occasionally attracts curious visitors, waiting for a glimpse of the dark, mourning figure.

'The only thing that really bothers me is that it's disruptive,' Lake says. 'If people could be respectful, that's fine. But now we have people spray-painting and writing on the outside of the mausoleum next to the headstone, and that's just not right.'

No one seems to know of an Arthur Delamere. Whoever he was, it's certain that he was not from around here. The headstone itself remains a mystery.

There is some comfort, however, in knowing that a lonely stranger might yet be loved even in death.


Arthur closes his laptop with shaking hands. This has gotten much bigger than he'd ever imagined. It's a dangerous game, and he's so close to the finish line now. He's got to find out who this person is.

He puts on his sweater, grabs his keys, and heads down to the cemetery. On his way, he stops at a Home Depot store to look for flowers, and picks up a potted orchid. 'You flatter me.'

When he gets to his grave, he's not alone. Another figure kneels there, touching the headstone.

The Pleurant, he thinks, his insides clenching around his heart. Now I'll find out.

But it isn't the Pleurant. It's the groundskeeper, the one from the newspaper. She rises when she sees him coming and says, "Oh, hello. Yes, another visitor. This little grave is so popular. You brought flowers?"

"Oh," Arthur says. "Hi. Yeah." Christ, he really has forgotten how to talk to people. "Umm. I'm not... I'm not that person. The Pleurant, I mean. I just came to... I felt sad. When I read the article, I felt sad, and I wanted to bring something. Didn't mean to interrupt you."

She arches one iron-grey eyebrow and dusts the dirt off her knees. "I was trying to scrub some paint off the headstone. People think they're being smartasses, putting graffiti everywhere."

"That's a shame."

"What've you got there? Orchids? Rare love, perhaps? Or flattery?"

Arthur looks at her, surprised. "I wasn't really thinking about the meaning," he lies quickly.

"It seems like everyone is leaving flowers here these days."

"Then," Arthur says, "there's no way to tell if they were left by some visitors, or by, whoever it is. The Pleurant. Doesn't that mix things up?"

"But you brought some," she says.

Arthur starts back, feeling nervous and exposed. He shouldn't have come here. "I guess I did."

"I'm not judging you," she says. "That's why lots of people come. It's like answering a message in a bottle. Go on, leave your flowers. But I have to tell you, no one has seen the Pleurant--or whatever you want to call it—since the article came out."

"What days did the flowers usually show up, before the article?"

"I never really kept track," she says. "Random days, seemed like. No holidays or anything special. And I'll tell you what else. If I knew he or she was going to show up, I wouldn't tell anyone. Whoever they are, it's their business. People in mourning should be left alone."

"Yeah. I guess you're right." He sets down the potted orchid on top of his grave.

"Those aren't gonna last too long when the cold sets in, honey," she says.

"That's okay. No flower really does."

He shoves his hands into his pockets and walks the path back to his car.

Random days. No holidays. Nothing special. Nothing special to anyone who doesn't know him, maybe. But what if it is someone who knows him? As admittedly insane as it sounds to him, and inasmuch as he realizes that he's totally lost all perspective, it could be someone who actually knows him. Or knew him, before he went under. Then, maybe the days hadn't been so random after all. And if that's the case, then the Pleurant will surely show up on one day in particular.
** ** ** **

Arthur's birthday. This is the last time Eames will visit his grave. It's time to live again.

It's late October. Arthur has been dead for two years. Under all the dirt, he's just bones now: long and narrow, still showing laceration marks. Fingers and wrist broken.

Eames watches the moon rise between the pine trees, a big, gold coin. Pulling the hood over his head, he follows the familiar trail to Arthur's grave. He's brought flowers with him one last time.

Cyclamen. 'Goodbye.'
** ** ** **


Pleurant, 2/2.

Date: 2011-10-14 01:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shaded-sun.livejournal.com
"Oh, fuck you, Cobb. Like you ever gave a second's thought to what Arthur wanted. Little too late to be considering that, isn't it?"
Fuck. It's like when Eames' composure broke, mine crumbled with it. Tears started just as I read this line.

Moving to the past, I felt a weighted down with the knowledge that things won't work out for Arthur. (Wait a minute! I forgot that Arthur's staging his own death. Damn, I have the memory of a goldfish.)

So this is nobody's fault. I don't acknowledge that enough."
It's good to see Cobb appreciating Arthur, but it feels empty now that it is too late to have an impact. :(


Oh, the trail of flowers is beautiful. ♥ You've put so much thought into the meanings. <3

Date: 2011-11-02 03:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sho-no-tabi.livejournal.com
I'm so sorry I missed this comment! Duh. Thank you so much. I have such mixed feelings about Cobb because while I enjoy him and I think he's a good guy, I'd also like to see him say he's sorry for how he treated Arthur. And, well, for cheating everyone else for his own gain. :)

Anyway, thanks for this!

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