niftywithaN (niftywithan) wrote,
niftywithaN
niftywithan

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Inception Big Bang [Part 1/3]

Title: We found salvation, scratched into the earth like a message.
Author: niftywithan
Artist: daarl
Type: Mild Slash, Mostly Gen
Word Count: 17,461
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Eames, Yusuf, Cobb, and brief appearances by Ariadne and Fischer.
Warnings: Some disturbing war violence/imagery; ambiguous character death.
Summary: The city of Warsaw has been decimated by German troops in the midst of the Second World War. A British soldier - Captain William Eames - is stationed in the ruins, forced to maintain his cover as a soldier of the Wehrmacht in order to complete his mission. During this time, Eames stumbles upon a wounded Jewish pianist hiding in the destroyed city and decides to take him in. The man's name is Arthur. [Pianist AU]

Author's Note: Many thanks to my wonderful artist, daarl, and my loyal beta halcyonmuse. This is my first ever Big Bang challenge and I had a blast writing for it, so I hope everyone enjoys the story!

Link to fic master post: [link]
Link to art master post:
The gorgeous fanmix for this story can be found here. Listen to it, it's absolutely fantastic!

- - -

Part One

The skies over Warsaw were dark and heavy with impending rain as Captain William Eames trudged through the desolate remains of the once-great city. He passed the National Library and imagined he could still smell the acrid odor of burning paper, could still see black smoke billowing from the windows and fire consuming the mounds of books as the national records were systematically destroyed. Eames had been forced to watch – forced to direct the destruction, of all things – in order to maintain his cover as a captain in the German military.

It had made him sick.

It was at times like those when he wondered whether the information he was providing the British army was truly worth what he was forced to witness. Eames had seen the wasted men and women working in camps, mere wraiths amidst the smoke and stench, their eyes dull and sunken, waiting for death. He had glimpsed the piles of corpses, freezing and frost-covered in the late Polish autumn as no German had deemed them worthy to bury. He had witnessed the utter destruction of the Warsaw uprising and the subsequent razing of the city by German forces.

Eames was about done with this war.

He huddled deeper into his greatcoat and blew warm air onto his gloved hands, rubbing them in hopes that the friction would bring some feeling back. His breath misted before his face and he scrubbed irritably at the stubble on his jaw; it had been quite a while since he had been able to wash himself properly, let alone shave. He thought longingly of his flat waiting in London, complete with hot showers and his own bed, and turned down a rubble-strewn street, tugging his hat lower over his forehead.

A short distance down the street a four-story building was still standing. Eames headed for it, hurrying a bit to escape the biting cold. Some of the windows were shattered, and the foundation appeared to be crumbling a bit, but other than that it was a haven in the devastation of Warsaw. The front door was heavy and slightly jammed. Eames grunted as he shoved it open and stumbled into the unexpected warmth of the building.

It must have been a rather luxurious hotel before the bombing. A dusty-looking grand piano sat in the darkened atrium, the keys slightly yellowed and warped with age, and beyond that was a grand staircase and an ornately carved desk.

Eames closed the door behind him, happy to turn his back on the cold, and stepped over to the piano. He lightly touched one of the keys and a clear note sang through the building. He smiled.

Something moved in another part of the hotel.

Eames’ head snapped toward the sound and he grappled for the gun at his back. He gripped the rifle tightly and moved toward the back of the room, where he could hear low, rustling movements. His eyes narrowed as he approached the sound; the shadows made it impossible to see into the corners of the room, and God only knew what was hiding there.

Who’s there?” he snapped in German. “Show yourself!

The rustling stopped. Eames listened very carefully and thought he could hear labored breathing from out of the darkness. He frowned and advanced a few more steps, thinking it was just an animal.

Stay back,” a voice rasped in heavily accented German. “I’m warning you.

Eames froze, his gun half-lifted. His eyes were slowly adjusting to the gloom and he could just make out the hunched figure of a dark-haired man crouched in the corner of the room, clad in stained and shabby clothes. His breath was misting in front of his face and he appeared to be trembling, and his hands were clutching at his right leg, which appeared to be covered in a large bloodstain.

Are you all right?” Eames asked, and the man jerked and looked up at him, apparently surprised by the question. It was only then that Eames noticed the white band on the man’s right arm, torn and dirtied but still unmistakable. His eyes widened and he lowered his gun.

“You’re Jewish,” he breathed in stunned English. “What are you still doing here?” The man glared, dark eyes shining with defiance.

“Why does it matter? You’re just going to kill me, aren’t you?” he asked, his own English touched with a Polish lilt, and he might have actually been intimidating if not for the uncontrollable trembling and hoarse voice. Eames slung the rifle over his shoulder with a shake of his head.

“No,” he said. “There will be no more killing from me in this war. I’ve had more than enough.” He held out his hand to the man, who simply stared at him, dark eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Captain William Eames, of His Majesty’s Armed Forces.”

The man’s eyes widened slowly. “You – you’re British? Then why are you –?” He did not finish, instead gesturing at Eames’ ensemble, which was clearly a Wehrmacht uniform.

“I’m undercover,” Eames said, and the word tasted bitter on his tongue. He felt ashamed, admitting that he was an Englishman who knew of the Wehrmacht’s atrocities and yet was helpless to stop them for fear of blowing his cover. He expected this man, this Jewish man, to call him out on it, but instead a tiny light of hope came to the man’s face.

“So you are not going to kill me?” he asked.

“No.”

“Then do you have any food?”

Eames blinked. “Not on me, sorry.” The man’s face fell and Eames added hurriedly, “But I can get you some. There’s a house not far from here, it’s pretty much still standing. I’ve been using it for shelter. I can take you there.” He stepped forward and extended his hand again and this time the man took it tentatively. His fingers were like ice against Eames’, and it was far too easy for Eames to tug him to his feet. His clothes hung off of him like rags – they were obviously too large for him – and it made him seem even more emaciated.

The man winced when he stood, favoring his injured right leg.

“What happened?” Eames asked, nodding to it as he pulled the man’s arm over his shoulders and slipped a hand around his slim torso to help him stay standing.

“A tank decided to blow up the last building I took refuge in,” the man said. “I didn’t manage to get out completely unscathed.”

“How bad is it?” Eames asked.

The man glanced at him, clearly unused to seeing concern from someone in German uniform. “I’ll live.”

They made their slow and painful way toward the door, and then the man suddenly stopped, staring off to the right.

“What’s wrong?” Eames asked, and the man just shook his head and laughed humorlessly.

“A piano,” he said, waving a hand towards it. “I didn’t even know there was a piano in here, and yet this was the building I chose to hide in.” He huffed out another laugh. “It seems I’ll never truly get away from it.”

“Do you play?” Eames asked.

“I did.”

Eames glanced at him, saw the pain in his eyes.

“Will you play now?” he asked, quietly, and the man hesitated for a moment before shaking his head.

“No,” he said. “Not like this.”

Eames said nothing. Then he maneuvered them nearer to the door and carefully leaned the man against the wall.

“What are you –?” the man began, but stopped when Eames lowered his rifle to the ground and unbuttoned his greatcoat, swinging it off his shoulders and around the man’s, who looked at him with questioning eyes.

“You need it more than I do right now,” Eames said with a small grin, and was rewarded by a slight nod and a quirk of the man’s lips, the closest thing to a smile he had seen yet.

“Thank you,” the man said, tugging the greatcoat tighter around his slim shoulders. “My name is Arthur. Remind me of yours?”

“Eames.”

The man – Arthur – nodded again and pushed himself away from the wall. He swayed dangerously and Eames lunged forward to catch him before he hit the ground.

“I’m fine,” Arthur rasped, but this close Eames could tell that his breathing was still labored and his dark eyes were glazed with fatigue. Eames supported him with one arm and removed his glove with his teeth, then touched the back of his bare hand to Arthur’s forehead. His brow furrowed.

“You have a fever,” he said, stuffing the glove into his pocket and using both hands to help Arthur stand. He looped Arthur’s right arm over his shoulders and gripped him firmly around the waist. “Come on. We need to get to that house before you faint on me.”

It was a struggle through the freezing, wasted streets of Warsaw, and Arthur was dead weight in Eames’ arms by the time they made it to the relative safety of the house Eames had commandeered as his own. It was one of the few buildings untouched by the destruction, left that way by Eames’ German “compatriots” so that he could remain in the city and keep an eye out for enemy troops.

Eames unlocked the door and dragged Arthur into the front hall, then lowered him onto the stairs and crouched in front of him, lightly slapping Arthur’s cheeks in an attempt to rouse him from his stupor.

“Come on, Arthur, I need your help to get you upstairs,” he said. “We have to get to the attic and I don’t think I can carry you all the way there.” Arthur blinked at him blearily and bobbed his head.

“Help me up,” he muttered, holding out a hand, and Eames tugged him to his feet once more. The journey upstairs was slow and painful, but eventually they arrived at the small attic door. Eames kicked it open and settled Arthur onto the small cot in the corner. Arthur closed his eyes and collapsed back onto the bed, murmuring his thanks before slipping into a feverish slumber.

Eames waited until he was sure Arthur was asleep before leaning over and checking the wound on his right leg. Whatever had happened, it had left a large tear in the flimsy fabric of his trousers. Eames unwrapped the makeshift bandage Arthur had created and winced; the gash was deep, the edges black and jagged and probably agonizingly tender from the cold and the beginnings of infection. Eames covered it again and turned his attention to Arthur’s extremities. His hands and feet were mottled black and blue with frostbite, and where he was not turning blue he was extremely pale. Eames was unsure whether this was natural for Arthur or an effect of the cold. Either way, he needed treatment.

Eames tucked the covers around Arthur, who was still huddled in Eames’ greatcoat, and headed downstairs to collect what he would need.

- - -

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Arthur knew he was dreaming. He knew he was in pain. He could remember a hotel, a piano, a German soldier with kind eyes. He remembered walking through hazy agony, the dull pulse of fever throbbing through his head and his leg, supported only by sturdy arms and broad shoulders and the promise of a haven.

And then… nothing.

But Arthur could see the trains. He watched as children were torn from their mother’s arms, as husband and wife were ripped apart, screaming and sobbing and reaching. He could hear the gunfire. He could see the bullets rip through the bodies of the innocent, lined up and helpless, together but still so alone.

He watched it all like a ghostly spectre, surprisingly emotionless and unable to intercede. Sometimes he saw himself. He watched as he ran with his sister through the crowds of Jewish men and women, desperately searching for their family. He remembered feeling his heart beating in his throat. He remembered the bittersweet joy when he hugged his mother for the last time, although he did not know it would be the last.

Then the crowds were gone, herded onto trains like so many cattle, and Arthur was left alone. He walked through the abandoned streets of the ghetto. He saw dolls, broken, lying in the gutters. He saw half-open suitcases, ripped jackets, shirts, scarves, all dropped and forgotten in the panic of relocation.

And then the streets of Warsaw vanished, and Arthur drifted into darkness.


- - -

It was bright when he opened his eyes. His first instinct was to defend himself, to leap from the bed and run, escape to somewhere dark and safe and secret, but his body would not move.

Arthur thought he would feel panic at being so helpless, but instead he felt only pain. His leg throbbed. His hands and feet pulsated with searing cold and try as he might he could not so much as wiggle his pinky finger. He blinked and turned his head and he saw a window nearby. There was a chair at his bedside, currently unoccupied but for a dog-eared paperback hanging over the armrest and a steaming cup of something on the seat.

Someone had been there.

Arthur’s head was foggy. He tried to look down at his body but all he could see was a pile of blankets, which would explain why his chest felt so heavy. He wished he could see his hands, wished he knew why his leg hurt so badly, wished whoever had been at his bedside would come back and reveal himself, but his fatigue proved greater than his will and he slipped slowly back into unconsciousness.

- - -

A face loomed out of the blackness, a face always linked with memories, with laughter and music and old family friends.

Arthur found himself watching again as he marched from the ghetto with his family, his sisters and their husbands and his fragile, doting mother, none of them knowing their destination and far too frightened to ask. He saw that face, saw the horror in those familiar blue eyes, felt the strong hand grip his arm and drag him from the line.

His sisters had called for him. His mother had cried out, her hands still outstretched to where he had last been. Members of the Jewish Ghetto Police urged them on and Arthur soon lost sight of them.

“Let me go!” he shouted, his voice echoing oddly as he attempted to wrest his arm from the blue-eyed man’s grip. “Let me go, Cobb, that’s my family!”

“And they’re being sent to Treblinka,” the man muttered, and Arthur remembered the ice-cold horror that sank into his gut at that name. “If I could save them all I would, but I am risking myself helping only you, Arthur. If you stay behind these lines you’ll be sent to a labor camp, but it’s better than extermination. I’m sorry. I just…” The man stopped and Arthur found himself hypnotized by the emotion in those blue eyes, the strange combination of defiance and resignation.

“Cobb…” Arthur said, but the policeman shook his head and shoved him away.

“Go,” he said, already turning back to his position in line. “Get away from here and wait for the train that goes to the labor camp. And please,” he stopped and turned and smiled, the saddest smile Arthur had ever seen, “when you remember me, remember me better than this.”

But Arthur never went to the labor camp. Instead he had nodded and turned his back and run as fast as he could away from the parade to Treblinka, away from his family and the extermination camps and his old family friend, who had just saved his life by risking his own.


- - -

The next time he awoke it was dark but for a small orange glow created by a lamp on the table beside his bed. Arthur blinked his way to consciousness and saw that the chair at his bedside was occupied. A man – the German (or was it British?) soldier from before – was sprawled in the chair, apparently fast asleep, the dog-eared paperback cradled against his broad chest. Arthur frowned. He wondered how long the man had been sitting there. He was clad only in shirtsleeves and dark trousers, and his untidy hair was falling into his eyes. He must have been cold. The soldier was wearing a rather large watch but Arthur could not make out the time, nor could he determine simply from the time how long he had been sleeping or how long the soldier had been sitting there.

Now that he was a bit more awake, Arthur realized that although all of his aches and pains were still present, they were much lessened. His leg felt tight – like it was bound up somehow, probably with bandages – but did not throb with as much intensity as it had before. He could wiggle his fingers and toes if he tried and the cold seemed to have finally left them. The only problem was the fog of the fever, which made him over-warm and thickened his head and slowed his thoughts.

Arthur drowsed. He watched the soldier at his bedside and tried very hard to come up with his name, but his fever-clogged mind denied his efforts and he finally succumbed to sleep once more.

- - -

The gun was a heavy, comforting weight in his hands. Arthur waited for his turn to shoot. He wanted his turn for vengeance. He wanted desperately to be an active part of the rebellion, to kill those who killed his family, to take back his home and his people and his life.

Then there was fire. Gunpowder. Explosions and heat and noise and pain.

Arthur could hear the shouts, the angry commands barked out in German, too fast and too quiet against the chaos of Warsaw’s destruction to be properly made out. Arthur saw his friends mowed down by lines of Germans with rifles. He ran for his life. He knew he was next, knew he would never survive this. He tried to take shelter in an old hospital but then the world was shattered with whistling shells and flames and explosions, and then Arthur felt a searing pain in his leg and he fell to the ground, writhing and biting his lip hard enough to draw blood to keep from screaming, keep from drawing attention to himself, because maybe – maybe – if he was quiet they would pass him by and assume him dead.

Pandemonium passed and the hospital became dark and quiet. Arthur was alone. His leg burned, he could barely stand, but he managed to crawl out of the hospital and into the destroyed streets of his once-lovely city.

He recognized nothing.

The ashes fell like snow, white and soft and almost apologetic. The sun was lost beyond the rim of the horizon, choked out by the smoke and devastation. Arthur staggered through the waste, aimless and horrified and searching for something he could not name.

The cold came in with the night. There was no food. There was no life.

There was nothing.


- - -

Eames stepped into the crumbling municipal building with a little shiver of relief, clapping his hands and stamping his boots to remove the snow and get feeling back. He nodded at the soldier in the corner, a young German he had met once or twice before, and headed for the back room.

“You’re late, you know,” said a voice before he even pushed the door open, and Eames rolled his eyes.

“My apologies, Mother,” he said, entering the room and locking the door behind him. “Did I miss much?”

The man behind the desk – a stout man wearing a white lab coat over his Wehrmacht uniform – glared up at Eames over the glasses perched on his nose.

“That’s not the point,” he said.

“So that’s a no.”

The man – whose name was Yusuf – huffed an exasperated breath and returned to the paperwork he was poring over. Eames grinned, basking in the small victory, and settled himself in one of the chairs in front of the desk.

“What are you working on?” he asked.

“I’m looking over the report you gave me last week,” Yusuf muttered. “The one on the drugs the Germans are using. Remember?”

“Yeah,” Eames said, leaning forward in his seat. “It was something that started with an ‘s,’ wasn’t it?”

“Somnacin,” Yusuf provided, sliding a paper over to Eames and pointing out the word he had circled. “It’s a compound that allows people to share dreams.”

Eames raised an eyebrow. “Right, but how does it work?”

“Well I don’t know that yet,” Yusuf said, snatching the paper back. “I haven’t had time to read it all. But think of the possibilities the Germans are creating here! If people can share dreams, then they can actually steal ideas straight from one another’s minds. Eerie, isn’t it?”

Eames nodded and sat back in his chair. Yusuf lost himself in his reading again, and Eames turned his attention to the window and the light snow falling outside.

Dream-sharing. It was the entire reason he was undercover. A few years back the British military had gotten word of new German technology that could be used against them, both in warfare and everyday life. They had sent Eames in to steal the research and Yusuf to interpret it. What they had found so far was… well, terrifying. Dream warfare. It was unbelievable.

And yet Eames had seen it work. He had watched as two German scientists were hooked up to a large machine. They had fallen asleep almost immediately and stayed that way for five minutes, and then one had awoken, gasping and wide-eyed and scrabbling at the IV and swearing he had just been murdered by the other scientist in the dream. The other scientist had woken up not a minute later. Their stories matched, and Eames remembered feeling the heavy weight of dread settle in his stomach. He could no longer write it off as impossible.

The Germans had offered to let him try, but he had passed. He wanted no more to do with this dream-sharing than was strictly necessary for his job. He pretended to be interested, of course, so he could gain the information, but the idea of someone digging around in his brain frightened him more than he would ever care to admit.

But then Eames had to admit that it could be intensely interesting to see someone else’s thoughts, to be privy to a stranger’s secrets and learn what no one else could learn, and this thought brought him to the one thing he was trying to avoid thinking about: Arthur, feverish and vulnerable and locked in his attic.

Eames had been taking care of the man for a few days now. He had cleaned and bound the gash in his leg, warmed and bandaged his hands and feet, and kept long vigils at his bedside to make sure the fever did not worsen. Despite all of this, Eames could do nothing to alleviate Arthur’s fever dreams, and as the man had tossed and turned and moaned on the bed Eames had found himself wondering what he was dreaming about, and wondering how he could help.

He was not sure why he felt such a strong need to help Arthur. He was a complete stranger, not to mention dangerous for Eames to associate with, and Eames suspected he would be quite capable of taking care of himself if not for the debilitating nature of the fever. Even so, Eames felt oddly protective of him, and it was only after a lengthy deliberation that morning that he had managed to convince himself to leave Arthur alone for the day.

“You’re quiet,” Yusuf commented, not even looking up from the pages of research.

“I’m thinking.”

“About?”

Eames sighed and rubbed a hand over his jaw, which was still covered in a healthy growth of stubble; he had not shaved in days.

“Dreams,” he said. It was half true.

“Are you curious about the process?” Yusuf asked, eagerly looking up from his research.

“Not the science of it, no,” Eames said. “But the methodology seems intriguing. I mean, how does one simply waltz into someone’s dream and steal an idea without the dreamer noticing?”

“I’m not sure,” Yusuf said, turning back to the papers on his desk with a dejected air. “I’m only interested in the science of it.”

“Of course you are,” Eames muttered, and turned his gaze back to the snow falling outside the window. He checked his watch briefly; a quarter past nine. Only six more hours before he could get back to the house and his new responsibility.

- - -

Arthur considered running.

His leg and hands were much better than they had been, and his fever had broken. Hanging on a hook across the room was the greatcoat the soldier had let him borrow the other day, and right below it was a sturdy-looking pair of boots. Arthur could very easily swipe both the coat and the boots and disappear once more into the streets of Warsaw.

Except that he had nothing to go back to. All that remained in Warsaw for him was starvation, hypothermia, and the danger of capture and persecution. His family was gone. His home was gone. The only kindness he had seen in weeks came from the mysterious soldier he had met in the hotel who had nursed him back to health, and Arthur did not even know if he could feel grateful for that… at least not yet.

Arthur was not used to accepting help from others. He was, by nature, a very independent man, and the fact that this stranger had saved his life for no apparent reason did not sit well with him. It was suspicious, to say the least. Why would the soldier have gone out of his way to help him? It was dangerous for anyone to be seen with a Jew, and the soldier had known who he was when he decided to help. The only explanation Arthur could come up with was that it was a trap, and that thought once again had him eyeing the greatcoat and boots hanging so deliberately across the room.

But then… there was warm soup by his bedside whenever he awoke, and a heater under the window and soft blankets all around him, which made it all too tempting to stay. Arthur knew he would be hard pressed to find better accommodations in this time of war, especially with his heritage, so he decided to wait it out and trust that if the soldier ever tried to hurt him, at least Arthur would be well rested enough to take him on.

Arthur sighed and sat up in bed. It was snowing outside and judging by the light it was early evening. Arthur reached over and turned on the lamp on the bedside table. The book there caught his eye; it was the dingy old paperback the soldier had been reading during his vigil, a battered copy of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. Curious, Arthur opened to the beginning and began to read, and that was how the soldier found him an hour later.

“You’re awake.”

Arthur jumped at the soft pronouncement from the doorway and hurriedly snapped the book shut. The soldier was standing at the door, one hand frozen in the process of unbuttoning his coat and a grin slowly spreading across his face.

“How do you feel?” he asked, entering the room and closing the door behind him.

“Better than I did,” Arthur admitted, watching the man warily as he made his way across the room.

“Good,” the soldier said. “You had me worried for a while.”

“Why?”

The soldier blinked and shucked his coat, hanging it beside the greatcoat on the opposite wall.

“Well, your fever got really high. I didn’t know if I’d be able to bring it down,” he said. Arthur shook his head, his brow furrowed in frustration, and placed the book on the table.

“No, I mean… why did you bother to help me at all? You don’t know me from Adam,” he said. “What’s in it for you?”

The soldier stared at him in silence for a moment, then said quietly, “If I had left you at that hotel, you would have died. I’m sorry for showing some concern.”

Arthur pressed his lips together and glared down at his hands, still lightly bandaged and clenched in his lap.

“I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m not grateful,” he muttered. “It’s just… I have to be suspicious. Lately, sympathy from someone in German uniform is rather unheard of.”

The soldier stepped forward and grabbed the chair at the bedside, spinning it so he could comfortably straddle the backrest.

“I told you before,” he said, his blue eyes intense, “I’m not German. I’m a British soldier posing as a German captain. My name is William Eames. And I’m not going to hurt you.”

Arthur bristled at this – he was not some child who had to be reassured of his safety – but Eames smiled and any insult that might have been lurking behind his statement fled from Arthur’s mind.

“Also,” Eames said, leaning back a bit, “you said before that you’re a pianist. I happen to like classical music. In return for me housing you here, I want you to play.”

Arthur cocked an eyebrow and looked around the attic, which housed only the bed, a table, and a crooked old wardrobe.

“Where?” he asked.

“There’s a piano downstairs in the parlor,” Eames said. “When you’re ready, I’d like to hear how good you are.”

“What makes you think I’m any good?” Arthur asked. Eames reached out and lifted Arthur’s right hand, careful of the bandages. Arthur blinked at him, too startled by the contact to pull his hand out of Eames’ grip.

“You have piano fingers,” Eames said, gently tapping Arthur’s long, thin index finger.

Arthur jerked his hand away with a scowl, but Eames just smiled and grabbed The Power and the Glory from the table, rising to his feet with a stretch.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better. Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be downstairs,” he said, then actually winked at Arthur and left the room.

Arthur stared after him. Clearly the soldier was determined to be baffling at all turns. Arthur heaved a sigh and slumped against the pillows, lamenting the loss of the book. Despite Eames’ obvious invitation, he was not yet ready to head downstairs, so he turned off the light and watched the snow fall beyond the window.

- - -

Eames checked on Arthur early the next morning and found him fast asleep, curled on his side in the bed. His face was relaxed and untroubled, his lips slightly parted and dark hair mussed. Eames crept closer and gently touched the back of his hand to Arthur’s forehead, checking for fever. His temperature was normal, perhaps a bit warm, but much better than it had been.

The amount of relief Eames felt as he shrugged into his heavy coat and left the attic was startling. Arthur had spoken the truth when he had said they were strangers; they had barely exchanged more than twenty words over the past few days, and Eames really had no idea who Arthur was beyond a Jewish pianist and war refugee. There was no real reason for him to be so concerned for Arthur’s safety.

And yet he felt personally responsible for protecting him. From the first moment he had laid eyes on him, wounded and freezing and feverish in that wrecked old hotel lobby, Eames had decided he would take care of him. Perhaps it was simply Eames’ way of dealing with his undercover job, a way for him to sate the bitterness he felt when he was forced to burn down another building or shoot another innocent man in the head to keep his cover. Surely the dream-sharing technology was not more important than mercy, but either way, Eames had his mission and to desert it at this point would be even worse than fulfilling it.

So was that all Arthur was? A charity case, just some way for Eames to make himself feel better?

Eames did not think so. He did not see Arthur as helpless, even when he could barely stand or was thrashing with fever dreams. Rather, Eames suspected Arthur would be a great comrade, someone trustworthy to share his secrets with. Sure, Yusuf knew about their undercover work, but having a confidante in Arthur was different. Arthur had his own secrets, his own dangers, simply by existing within the borders of Warsaw, so Eames thought he would understand the constant state of almost-terror he lived in. The secrecy, the constant threat of discovery – it was something they could live through together.

These thoughts distracted Eames so thoroughly as he moved through the ruined streets of Warsaw that it was not until the group of soldiers was almost upon him that he realized he was not alone.

Heil Hitler,” the first soldier said, apparently a lieutenant and the highest ranked among the soldiers, raising his right hand to eye level as he greeted Eames. Eames clenched his teeth and nodded mutely as he returned the signal.

How are things looking, Hauptmann?” the lieutenant asked, rubbing his arms with gloved hands to ward off the cold.

Quiet,” Eames replied flatly. “What are you doing here, Brauer?

Just checking in,” Brauer said with a careless shrug. “Oberst Kohler hasn’t heard from you in a while. He wants to know how you’re doing.

I’m doing just fine. There isn’t much to report on now that the city has been destroyed.

Brauer looked uncomfortable as he peered at the destruction all around them, and Eames was forcibly reminded of how young the lieutenant was. In fact, a quick glance at the other three soldiers revealed their youth, as well, and Eames checked his anger a bit. He sighed, his breath clouding in front of his face.

Come with me,” he said, motioning for the group of soldiers to follow him. “There’s no reason for us to stand around in the cold.

He led them to the crumbling municipal building where Yusuf was waiting. The posted guard saluted smartly at their approach but Eames waved him back to his seat. He removed his coat and motioned for the other soldiers to do the same, then took a seat behind his desk.

Where is Oberst Kohler nowadays, anyway?” he asked once the younger soldiers had settled themselves in the rickety office chairs.

In the south with General Höffle, dealing with the Slovak uprising,” Brauer said. He shook his head. “I swear the Polish are going to throw us out of the country without the help of the Allies if we don’t do something about them soon.

Eames grunted, secretly glad. He could not think of a better situation, personally. No one could accuse him of quitting his mission if he was forced out of Poland with the rest of the German army.

And did you hear?” Another of the young soldiers spoke up, his blue eyes wide and frightened. “The Red Army is on the move. Rumor has it they’ll be here within the month.

Rumor means nothing,” his taller companion said with a grin, smacking his arm good-naturedly. The younger soldier just glared and rubbed the spot where he had been hit.

That’s what you said about the Allies’ invasion at Normandy, arschloch,” he muttered, and received another smack as retribution.

The Soviets are coming to Poland?” Eames asked the lieutenant, ignoring his younger comrades. Brauer lifted one shoulder in a shrug.

Who knows? Our information is usually late and almost always inaccurate. Damn higher-ups never tell us a thing.” He tensed suddenly, as though just realizing he was talking to someone who outranked him. “No offense, of course, Hauptmann.

Don’t worry about it,” Eames said, but he was already thinking of the implications of a Soviet invasion of Warsaw. The nearby camps would be liberated, of course, and the Wehrmacht soldiers taken as prisoners of war. Eames was not sure if he could barter his way out of that or not. Being killed as a German in a prisoner camp was not exactly the way he wanted to go. Maybe he could get Arthur to help him…

It must be terrible,” said the soldier who had not spoken yet, addressing Eames in a quiet voice while his companions began to squabble about rumors.

What do you mean?” Eames asked. The soldier leaned forward and Eames saw that his eyes were dark, almost as dark as Arthur’s. It was surprising to see that in a German soldier.

Having to stay in this wasteland all the time,” he said. “Doesn’t it get lonely?

I’m not alone,” Eames replied automatically. “I have Yusuf working with me.

Yes, but he’s a scientist, isn’t he?

So?

Well, scientists are usually a bit odd, aren’t they?” the soldier asked, flashing a glance toward the partially open door to Yusuf’s office. Eames could not help but smirk at that.

Perhaps. But he gets better with time. He’s just very enthusiastic about his research.

I see.” The soldier was still eyeing him sympathetically and Eames had the strangest urge to reach across the desk and strangle that pity right off his youthful face.

But then the door slammed open, letting in a rush of frigid air, and all four of the young soldiers leapt to their feet. A burly man stepped into the room, mustache bristling and eyes narrowed. Eames kept his seat – the man, as intimidating as he looked, was only another lieutenant.

Heil,” the new lieutenant barked, lifting his arm in salute, and the four soldiers returned the gesture. “Leutnant Brauer, come with me, and bring those idiots with you.

Yes, sir,” Brauer said, and grabbed his coat from the rack. “Kommen,” he said to his companions, and they all hurried to follow the larger lieutenant out into the cold.

Auf Wiedersehen, Hauptmann,” the large lieutenant said to Eames before he left, and Eames nodded and returned the farewell.

“Who the hell was that?” Yusuf asked in startled English when all the soldiers had left. He was standing in the doorway to his office, a sheaf of papers in his hand and ink stains on his face.

“Lieutenant Dominik Wolff,” Eames said, frowning. “But I don’t know what he’s doing in Warsaw. Last I heard he was somewhere in France.”

“Probably got kicked out when the Allies got there,” Yusuf said matter-of-factly, and stepped back into his office.

“Probably,” Eames muttered, and turned to the files on his desk. He sighed, grabbed the top one, and began to count the hours before he could leave.

- - -

Part 2: [link]
Part 3: [link]
Tags: big bang, fanfic, inception
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