Type: Mild Slash, Mostly Gen
Word Count: 17,461
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!
- - -
Eames came home to music.
He stopped in the entryway, scarf halfway off, and listened to the melody echoing through the old house. The piano was slightly off-key, probably from age and effects of the destruction, but the song was still peaceful and lovely and it brought a smile to Eames’ face. He kicked off his boots and swept his scarf from around his neck and crept through the dimly lit hallways until he arrived at the parlor in the back of the house.
Arthur was seated at the old grand piano, wrapped in Eames’ own greatcoat and completely unconscious to the new presence in the room, his eyes closed, face serene. Eames watched in fascination as long, pale fingers skimmed across the keys with the precision and confidence of years of practice and a natural ability Eames could only dream of. Eames was no expert on classical music, although he did greatly enjoy listening to it, but he thought he recognized the piece as one of Beethoven’s sonatas.
Eames lost himself in the music. He watched Arthur sway with the beat, watched those graceful hands glide up and down the keys, and was entranced. For almost five minutes Eames simply stood in the doorway, partially listening and mostly staring, amazed at the beauty of the piece and the elegance of the player. Behind the piano was a large window only partially covered by blinds, and the dim gray light of late evening and snow fell beautifully upon the yellowing ivory keys and Arthur’s calm expression.
When the final chord finally faded into silence, Eames felt his heart twinge and realized that he had not wanted it to end. Arthur lifted his fingers gently from the keys and stared down at them. His hands were still bandaged, and Eames realized belatedly that it must have been painful to play.
The silence grew heavy and Eames finally announced his presence by quietly clearing his throat. Arthur did not jump, but his shoulders tensed and he turned just barely in Eames’ direction.
“Well?” he said.
“Beautiful,” Eames said, thrusting his hands into his pockets. “Beethoven, right?”
Arthur smiled slightly. “Sonata No. 14.”
“Ah,” Eames said, taking a casual step forwards. “The Moonlight Sonata. A classic.”
“And also a good way to ease my way back into playing,” Arthur said, finally turning to face Eames completely with one eyebrow cocked, a sarcastic expression that was already becoming familiar. “Apparently if I’m going to stay here with you, I have to be on top of my game.”
Eames smirked. He was relieved to see that there was more color in Arthur’s cheeks today, and he appeared to have slicked back his dark hair in an attempt to keep it under control. Eames kind of missed the unruly hair from that morning; it made Arthur seem more approachable, more human than this poised and perfect artist sitting before him.
“Are your hands still hurting you?” Eames asked.
“They’re just stiff,” Arthur said, flexing his fingers. “It will take a while to get the movement completely back.”
“And your leg?”
“Also stiff,” Arthur said, glancing at it. “But usable.” He paused and glanced up at Eames, looking vaguely uncomfortable. “Thanks for that, by the way.”
Eames smiled. “You’re welcome.” He turned to leave the room, unbuttoning his coat as he went, then called over his shoulder, “You hungry?”
“Then I guess I should cook something, shouldn’t I?”
“Nonsense.” Arthur frowned and got rather shakily to his feet. Eames watched him carefully, ready with a steadying hand, but Arthur managed to stay upright. “I’ve been bedridden for too long. Just show me to the kitchen and I’ll cook dinner.”
“No,” Eames said, and before Arthur could protest he added, “I’m cooking tonight. In return, I want you to play some more. Will you take requests?”
Arthur made a face. “That’s not exactly a fair trade, seeing as you’ve been cooking for me all week.”
“You can cook tomorrow. But tonight I want to hear more music, so you’re going to concentrate on that and only that. Deal?”
Arthur still did not look happy with the arrangement, but he sighed and said, “Deal.”
“Good,” Eames said with a grin, retreating down the hall toward the kitchen. “Then why don’t you play me some Chopin while I make us some tea?”
Arthur smiled at that, and settled on the piano bench again. “How about Nocturne No. 20?”
“Sounds lovely!” Eames called from the kitchen, and Arthur began to play.
- - -
The snow let up a few days later, leaving Warsaw covered in a coat of white. In some places the cinders and snow had mixed into a gray and depressing mush, but Arthur concentrated on the shining white areas and had to admit that he felt a little better.
His hands were almost completely healed, and he suspected the piano playing had something to do with it. It would not surprise him in the least, as Eames was the one who insisted he keep playing and the soldier had done more surprising things than subtly prescribe physical therapy.
It was still a bit strange, but the two of them had fallen into something resembling a schedule while Arthur recovered. They switched off cooking every other day (although there was not much to be made with Eames’ military rations), and after dinner would sit in the parlor, Arthur at the piano and Eames in the cozy armchair, drinking tea and sometimes talking but most often losing themselves in the music. Arthur was surprised and impressed by Eames’ apparent knowledge of classical piano music and his never-ending supply of requests. Sometimes he asked Arthur to play original pieces, as well, and as the nights drew on it became evident that these were often Eames’ favorites.
There was one such piece that Arthur had written in Bruges that Eames requested four times in two days.
“Seriously, again?” Arthur asked on the fifth request, and Eames raised an eyebrow from his seat in the armchair.
“I like it,” he said. “And it’s short and simple so it shouldn’t be too hard to play.”
“Eames, that’s not the point. Why do you like this piece so much?” Arthur asked. Eames looked away, staring at the darkening sky outside.
“It sounds familiar,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the key or the melody or what, but… it reminds me of my mother. She used to play the piano for my brothers and I when we were little, but she couldn’t read music so she made up her own songs.” He shrugged and looked back at Arthur, flashing an abashed smile.
“Oh,” was all Arthur could say, and started playing his composition. He watched Eames as he played (the song was relatively simple, his mind could afford to wander) but the soldier’s face was simply content.
They never talked about their families. For Arthur the pain was still too fresh, and Eames knew better than to bring it up. Arthur really had no idea what kind of background Eames came from, or even specifically where in England he was from. Their conversation was usually kept to the weather and music and books and who was cooking what when, so Arthur was curious and very tempted to ask Eames some questions about this newly revealed facet of his life.
Once the piece was finished they sat in silence for a moment, and then Arthur turned slightly on the bench so he was facing Eames.
“What happened to your mother?” he asked in a soft voice.
“She died when I was thirteen. Consumption,” Eames said, still staring out the window.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur said, an automatic answer.
“It was a long time ago,” Eames said. “And I still have my dad and my brothers.”
“How many brothers?”
“Two. I’m the oldest.”
“Where are you from?”
“South side of London.”
Arthur frowned. “But… your accent. Where did you attend university?”
Eames grinned and slouched even more in his chair, looking like a cat that just caught the canary. “My, my, my. What’s with the third degree, Arthur? Is this for an interview or something?”
“I’m just curious,” Arthur said. “I’m trying to figure you out.”
“Because I still don’t really get why you saved me.”
Arthur saw the way Eames froze, saw the shock in his widening eyes, and he was not surprised; it was the first time he had admitted that Eames saved his life. He looked away from that stunned expression, focusing instead on the yellowing piano keys, and brushed his fingers against the tops of the keys, removing the dust that collected there.
He sensed but did not see Eames rise from the armchair and walk over to the piano, pausing at the end of the bench.
“I saved you because it was the only thing I could do,” Eames said quietly. “I saved you to prove a point. That people can still have mercy, even during a war.” He paused, and Arthur felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder, gripping tightly. “But mainly I saved you because I wanted to.”
Arthur found he had nothing to say to that, so he simply nodded and continued staring at the piano. Eames squeezed his shoulder.
“I’m going to bed, Arthur. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, then left the parlor, leaving Arthur alone with his thoughts and the silence.
- - -
“What is with you lately?”
Eames startled and looked up from the file he was reading, a dispatch from a British commander about his newest assignment. Yusuf was frowning at him from the doorway to his office.
“What are you talking about?” Eames asked, rubbing his eyes.
“You’ve been staring at that same page for almost ten minutes now,” Yusuf said. “Even you don’t read that slow.”
Eames glanced at the page and realized with a jolt of annoyance that he had not absorbed a single word of it.
“Damn,” he muttered, and slapped the file closed.
“Have you not been getting sleep or something?” Yusuf asked. “Because I have something you can take for that.”
“I’ve just had other things on my mind, that’s all,” Eames said.
Yusuf made a face. “‘Other things’? Like what? The city is deserted, that dispatch you’ve been staring at is the first contact from England you’ve had in months, and we haven’t gotten any news about the state of the war since those four soldiers came in more than two weeks ago. What’s there to think about?”
Eames sighed and dropped his head into his hands. He had contemplated telling Yusuf about Arthur before. God knew the man could keep a secret, since he was as far undercover and in as much danger as Eames was, but for some reason Eames balked at the idea of sharing this particular secret with him. There was always the slight chance that Yusuf would freak and worry and tell someone that Eames was hiding a Jew, and Eames was not willing to take that risk. All he wanted was to keep Arthur safe, and for that silence was the best option.
With that in mind, Eames lifted his head and smiled a sad smile and lied: “Home.”
Yusuf nodded sympathetically. “I get it. Let me know if you need anything, okay?” Eames nodded and Yusuf went back into his office without another word.
As soon as he was out of sight, Eames reopened the dispatch. He did not like lying to Yusuf but it was his only choice to guarantee Arthur’s safety, so instead of dwelling on it, he turned his full attention to the file and began to read.
Eames burst into Yusuf’s office fifteen minutes later and slammed the heavy file down on his desk, making Yusuf jump.
“Do you know what they want me to do?” he demanded, jamming a finger at the file. “They want me to go in. To try dream-sharing. They want me to open my mind to these German bastards just so they can better understand how it all works.”
“Well… doesn’t that make sense?” Yusuf asked warily. “I mean, experience is the best way to learn about something, don’t you think?”
Eames leaned over the desk, his voice low and menacing. “Then why don’t you volunteer to let the Nazis dig around in your brain, hm?”
“Who says they’ll be digging?” Yusuf asked. “So far all they’ve developed the technology for is training soldiers. You’ll probably just go in, kill a few guys in the dream, and come out. No digging involved.”
“But what if they see something?” Eames asked. “I can’t control my subconscious. What if something comes out? What if they find out about us?” About Arthur echoed in his mind, as well, but of course he did not vocalize that particular fear.
“Just make sure you’re the dreamer and not the subject,” Yusuf said, digging through the stack of papers on his desk. He produced a single document and showed it to Eames. “See?” He pointed at something circled about three quarters of the way down the page. “The dreamer makes the dream, and the subject populates it with his subconscious. If you’re the dreamer, there’s less of a chance for the subject to interact with your subconscious in a way that might reveal any secrets. They can’t go digging through your mental safe if it’s not available to them.”
“Almost positive,” Yusuf said. “And hey – if they start to suspect something, just shoot them out of the dream and call it training.”
Eames laughed humorlessly and slumped into the chair in front of Yusuf’s desk, running a hand through his hair.
“I’m just ready to be done with this,” he said, and Yusuf sighed, reaching across the desk to pat Eames’ hand.
- - -
Arthur looked up from his book when the front door slammed open. His hand edged very slowly toward the table beside his chair, hovering over the drawer he knew contained Eames’ extra pistol. The door closed with another slam, followed by a dull thud, a hiss, and a barrage of muttered curses. Arthur relaxed and his hand returned to his book just as a wet and grumbling Eames entered the room.
“Hey,” he muttered, removing his hat with a violent flourish.
“Hey yourself,” Arthur said, cocking an eyebrow. “Having some issues?”
“I stubbed my toe.” Eames sounded almost petulant, and he was definitely pouting a little. Arthur could not help a small smile, but he ducked his head to hide it, instead pretending to concentrate on marking his place in his book.
“What are you reading now?” Eames asked, shrugging out of his greatcoat.
“Hemingway,” Arthur replied, setting the novel aside. “His newest, I believe. I found a copy in the attic.” He paused and watched as Eames kicked off his boots and collapsed into the chair across the room, rubbing one hand wearily over his eyes. “Is everything all right?”
Eames heaved a sigh. “You know that mission I told you about?”
“The dream thing?” Arthur asked, brow furrowing slightly.
“Yes. It turns out I have to participate in it tomorrow.”
Arthur froze, dark eyes wide. “You’re going to let them dig around in your head?”
“No!” Eames said, sitting up straighter in his chair. “No, of course not. I could never let them do that. I just… I have to go in with them, that’s all.”
Arthur relaxed a bit. “Oh. Well, be careful.” His lips quirked into a sad little smirk as he picked up the novel again. “You have plenty to hide, after all.”
Eames grunted in assent and closed his eyes, and just as Arthur was getting back into the book he thought he heard Eames mumble, “And plenty to lose,” but he could not be sure.
- - -
“This, herren,” pronounced Colonel Richter, strutting before the men assembled in the drafty meeting house, “is the very first prototype of a Somnacin IntraVenous Device, also known as a SIV Device.” He patted a great contraption of wires and tubes, which Eames had been eyeing warily since he first stepped into the room. “It has been tested by many before you, but these men were mostly scientists. You, meine herren. You will be some of the first soldiers of the Wehrmacht to try out this new technology.” Richter paused here for dramatic effect and Eames felt sick when the men around him burst into applause, clearly finding themselves blessed to be a part of such a project.
“Herr Meier!” Richter called, and a mousy man in a lab coat scurried over to his side, completely dwarfed by the colonel’s broad form. “Get these men hooked up. I want them all under in no less than five minutes.”
“Jawohl, Oberst,” Meier replied with a tiny bow. “Which man is to be the dreamer?”
Richter beckoned to Eames. “Hauptmann.”
Eames stood and prayed that his legs would not give out beneath him. He could feel his heart beating in his throat as he approached the long table where he was to lie while asleep. Meier donned a set of bulbous spectacles and blinked owlishly at Eames as he approached.
“Remove your coat, bitte, Hauptmann,” he said, “and roll up your sleeve.” Eames obeyed, slipping out of the greatcoat and tossing it over his chair. He rolled up his right sleeve and presented his forearm to Meier, who swabbed the inside of his wrist with a clear, chilly liquid. “Lie down on the table,” Meier continued, and Eames did, swallowing nervously. Meier noticed and indulged him with a kind smile. “There is nothing to worry about, Hauptmann. Just relax.”
“Sure,” Eames grumbled, and then something sharp pinched the inside of his wrist and the room began to swirl into gray…
- - -
He was on the shores of a vast lake. The sky was cloudless and the sun was setting over the waves, casting a ruby reflection. He felt peaceful. He could not remember the last time he truly felt peaceful. He quite liked it.
A gull cried to his left and he glanced in that direction. Someone was walking down the beach toward him, waving. He waved back and a grin spread across his face. He had been waiting for this person.
The illusion broke. Eames turned to face the three soldiers walking up to him through the sand, all looking rather pale and confused. The feeling of peace fled from him and he greeted them with a resigned nod.
“What are we supposed to be doing here?” asked the tallest, a lieutenant by the name of Mueller.
“I’m not sure.” Eames glanced over at the person approaching their group from down the beach. For some reason, the proximity of the soldiers took away the joy of seeing that person. He wanted that person to turn, to run, to escape while they still could.
Eames looked away from the approaching figure and back to the soldiers. Mueller was eyeing him strangely, one pale eyebrow raised.
“What do you keep looking at?” he asked, his gaze flickering down the beach.
“Nothing. Let’s just… let’s explore the dream a bit before we start killing each other, all right?” Eames said, and he started to lead the men away.
“Wait.” One young soldier stopped in his tracks and cocked his head, eyes distant and listening. “You hear that?”
Eames froze, as did the others. Sure enough, beneath the gentle surge of waves and calling of gulls was the echo of music. A piano, to be exact, and Eames’ blood turned to ice when he realized he recognized the tune as the piece Arthur had written in Bruges. Eames surveyed the beach for any sign of the telltale piano, but all he saw was a darkened silhouette watching him from near the water – the same person from before, although this time he was not waving. His dark eyes were narrowed, flashing fiercely in the setting sun, and Eames flinched beneath that gaze.
I will not betray you, he insisted, desperately wishing the figure could hear him, but the piano music continued and the figure’s glare never wavered.
“Is that a projection?” Mueller suddenly asked, having spotted the figure, and his hands went automatically to his rifle. Eames grabbed his arm.
“He won’t hurt us,” he said, but Mueller shrugged out of his grip and took aim anyway.
“This is what we’re here for, right?” he asked, and he pulled the trigger before Eames could speak.
The first bullet struck the projection high in the chest. Blood spurted from the wound and the figure collapsed. As soon as he hit the sand, dozens of new projections – soldiers, this time, with bright swastikas on their arms and knives in their fists – converged on him and began to tear him apart.
The screams were horrible, so realistic and reminiscent of guttural cries uttered during fever dreams that Eames wanted nothing more than to run into the frenzy and grab the dying man and simply wake up. The screams and piano music were brutally cut off mid-cry, and Eames had to look away when the projections of soldiers finally left.
Mueller was shaking, the rifle clattering in his hands, wide blue eyes locked on the carnage before them.
“Leutnant,” Eames snapped, and the boy finally looked at him. “We still have training to do. Get a hold of yourself.” He glanced at the other two soldiers, both just as pale and terrified as their comrade. “That goes for all of you. I want you to separate, taking only your rifles. The game is survival. Last one out of the dream wins.” Eames paused, took in the newly determined faces, the tight lips and fragile bravado. He narrowed his eyes at them and hissed, “Go.”
The soldiers scattered.
Eames watched them until they disappeared from sight, and it was only then that he allowed himself to look down the beach again. The projections of soldiers had dispersed. Even the body was gone, leaving behind a smear of dark wet sand.
Eames gripped his own firearm and set off across the beach, and if the gun shook slightly in his hand, he paid it no attention.
- - -
He woke with a lurch to a bright light and the uncomfortable tug of an IV at his wrist. His left hand automatically scrambled at it, desperate to remove its poisonous influence, and then the mousy form of Meier appeared at his side and small, deft fingers removed the needle.
“How did the training go, Hauptmann?” Meier asked, winding the thin IV tube into a tight loop.
“Fine,” Eames lied. He watched the light swinging above his head and tried to clear his thoughts. His head felt foggy, distant, like it did after a particularly un-restful nap. “Mueller survived the longest. See to it he gets some sort of reward.” He sat up slowly and his head throbbed once, twice, making him wince.
“Jawohl, Hauptmann. But where are you going?” Meier asked, magnified eyes concerned behind his spectacles.
“Home,” Eames said, then swung himself off the table, grabbed his greatcoat and rifle, and stormed out of the laboratory.
It was snowing again when he got outside. He huffed irritably, a misty puff of warmth in the cold air, and tugged his hat low over his face. He pulled the collar of his greatcoat up, double-checked that his rifle was safely slung across his back, and stuffed clenched fists into his pockets before venturing into the bitter wind.
The dream had not meant anything. It showed that he was worried about Arthur, yes, but how could the young soldiers possibly pull that meaning from one glimpse of a projection and a ghostly piano? Surely he was only being paranoid.
Something crashed on the street ahead of him and Eames lifted his gaze in time to watch a small group of Wehrmacht soldiers break down the door of a half-destroyed warehouse.
“Gehen, gehen!” the burly leader called, and three soldiers burst into the building, rifles at the ready. Eames’ eyes narrowed; he recognized that voice.
“Leutnant Wolff!” he called, stepping up to the soldier. “What are you doing here?”
“Searching the premises,” Wolff replied with a dark glare. “We’ve heard rumors that there are Jews still in the vicinity. We need to clear the city before the Red Army gets here.”
Eames’ eyes widened a bit. “You mean the Soviets are actually coming?”
“Rumor has it they’ll be here within the week.” Wolff turned his glare on the warehouse, arms crossed over his chest. “The bastards can have this cursed city, for all I care, but the Oberst wants it cleared before they get here, empty of both Jews and soldiers.” He glanced at Eames. “You’ll probably get your own notification soon. If I were you, Hauptmann, I’d leave now.”
“Yes,” Eames said, slightly breathless with the news. “Yes, all right. Danke, Leutnant.”
Wolff nodded at him, then barked a command to the soldiers inside the warehouse while Eames hurried off.
Shouts followed him down the street, echoing through empty alleyways and rubble-strewn avenues, as more groups of soldiers forced their way into the abandoned buildings of Warsaw. Eames’ pace quickened with each new yell, each crash that marked the entrance of a new building. From the sound of things, they were methodically checking the city from north to south. They were not on his street yet. They could not possibly be on his street yet. Besides, Wolff would have known if a Jew had been found, especially if a Jew had been found in the building Eames was known to have inhabited for the past few months. Certainly he would have mentioned something.
So Arthur was fine. Surely he was.
Eames turned a corner and found himself face to face with a group of young Germans, who saluted him with a barrage of “Heils” as he passed. He returned the salute with barely a thought and hastened down the street.
Only a couple more blocks now.
There were no more soldiers here, not that he could see. But there – on his left. Was that a busted door? Had it been like that a week ago, or was it newly cracked open, the victim of a Wehrmacht-issued rifle butt and a few great heaves? The thought made Eames’ blood run cold.
They were too close.
Another block, another turn, and Eames could see his own front door, mercifully untouched. A yell echoed somewhere to his right and Eames realized he was almost running. What if the dream had been some sort of premonition? What if that scream he had just heard from down the street was not a yelled order, but a cry of pain? What if Arthur was already taken, already tortured, already killed? What if Eames was too late?
He burst in the front door and slammed it closed behind him, locking it with a bit too much force, and then he froze.
The house was dark and silent but for his breathing. It chilled him, and his heart started to throb somewhere in the vicinity of his throat.
“Arthur?” he called, just loud enough to carry up the stairs but not loud enough to be heard through the cold-fogged windows. There was no reply. He took shaky steps into the front room, then into the kitchen, then into the parlor, where the late evening light cast dull shadows onto the abandoned piano.
“Arthur!” Eames yelled, cold dread settling in his stomach and winning out over caution.
“Up here, Eames,” came a soft call from upstairs, and Eames took the steps two at a time to reach him. The attic door was slightly ajar and Eames shoved it open the rest of the way, morbidly pleased when it slammed against the wall hard enough to shake the doorframe.
“Next time I come home in a panic, would you please answer instead of giving me a heart attack?” Eames snapped, his frustration dimmed only by the relief he felt at seeing Arthur safe.
“Sorry,” Arthur said. He was standing near the window, eyes fixed on something outside the fogged glass. The dim evening light outlined his silhouette, highlighting the solemn lines of his face and the feathery tufts of his mussed dark hair. The bed was rumpled; he must have just awoken.
Eames calmed at the lack of reaction, hypnotized by Arthur’s stillness. He wanted irrationally to reach out and touch him, to assure himself that Arthur was real and not about to vanish like that doomed projection in his dream. In the cold silvery light he looked like a phantom, ephemeral and distant, and while that serenity made him beautiful, Eames thought he preferred the laughing man he had taken his leave of that morning.
“I can’t stay here, can I?” Arthur asked, his voice hushed, and Eames blinked back into reality.
“The Soviets are coming,” he explained. “They’ll liberate the city. That’s why the Germans want it cleared.”
“So do I wait?” Arthur asked, then looked over at Eames with eerily calm eyes. “Or do I run?”
“You wait,” Eames said firmly. “It’s safer, and I can protect you.”
Arthur’s mouth quirked in a humorless smile.
“You can’t protect me forever, Captain,” he said, then turned his gaze back to the window.
- - -
Arthur was unable to sleep that night. He kept hearing phantom shouts and crashes, kept imagining soldiers invading his and Eames’ house, shooting down the soldier in cold blood and dragging Arthur to a fate worse than death.
It was strange. At some point Eames’ life had come to mean at least as much to Arthur as his own. He had even started to think of this rickety old house as belonging to the both of them. Of course he had grown to like the kind-hearted Brit, but he could not pinpoint the exact moment when they had become more than just doctor and patient, or when friendly concern had become something more, something that ate at him relentlessly whenever Eames was away from the house and in danger of being discovered.
Arthur rolled over and buried his face into the pillow. Just that morning he had been unable to sit still, instead taken to pacing as he wondered if Eames would come home safely from the dream-sharing experiment or if he would be exposed as a spy and killed on the spot. The thought of Eames being killed made Arthur’s blood run cold, especially since there was a good chance that it would be at least partially Arthur’s fault. No man was supposed to harbor a Jew, especially not under the very noses of the Wehrmacht. Eames had been in grave danger from the moment they had met.
After another half hour filled with silence and elusive sleep, Arthur finally threw his blankets off and sat up on the edge of the bed. He slipped his feet into the large boots Eames had let him borrow in place of his own worn shoes and headed for the door, grabbing Eames’ greatcoat from its hook to ward off the night’s chill. He paused just outside the door, glancing at the closed door that led to Eames’ bedroom, before creeping down the stairs. The seventh step groaned, the sound echoing roundly through the old house, and Arthur froze. He listened for a full minute but all he heard was his own breathing and the constant ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. Eames had not awoken.
Arthur managed to make it to the parlor without another sound. He sat on the piano bench and lifted his hands, let his fingers ghost over the ivory keys, closed his eyes to imagine the notes they would produce with just the slightest pressure. He let his mind clear, let it be filled with only the music, but he was lurched from his reverie by the loud creak of footsteps from upstairs. He stopped his pantomime with a light sigh and listened as the steps crossed the hall, paused for a second, and then thundered towards the stairs and down into the front hall. Eames burst into the parlor looking distinctly frazzled. He was barefoot, sleeveless shirt askew, hair mussed and eyes bright. Arthur had a vague thought that he must be cold.
“Would you mind warning me before you disappear in the middle of the night?” Eames growled, voice still rough with sleep. “Just leave one little note, that’s all I ask.”
Arthur flashed him a guilty smile. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Eames grunted and slumped into his usual chair, muttering something about heart attacks and bloody frights.
“What were you going to play?” he asked once he had recovered himself a bit.
“Clair de Lune,” Arthur said. He gestured toward the silvery light filtering in through the window. “It seemed appropriate.”
“Well, then.” Eames raised an eyebrow. “I’m waiting.”
So Arthur began to play, quietly at first and then with more intensity, until finally the music filled the room, swirling into the shadowed corners and dancing through the beams of moonlight. Arthur kept a careful eye on Eames as he played and noticed when, about four minutes or so into the song, the soldier’s head fell back against the chair and sleep took him once more. Arthur finished the song with a small smile on his face and let the last notes fade into the night. He rose from the piano as quietly as he could and crept over to Eames’ chair, sweeping the greatcoat from his shoulders and draping it carefully over Eames’ slumbering form. He paused for a moment, simply watching the soldier sleep, and wondered how many times their positions had been reversed back when he had been ill. Arthur gently brushed some rogue hairs from Eames’ face and allowed an affectionate smile to grace his lips when Eames turned ever so slightly into his fingers. Then he busied himself at the desk for a moment before making his way up to his room.
For some reason, sleep came much easier after that.
- - -
Eames awoke with a crick in his neck and pale January sunlight on his face. He groaned and sat up straight in the chair, stretching to ease his back and neck, and was surprised when a heavy weight dropped onto the ground, accompanied by the fluttering sound of falling paper. He blinked at his own greatcoat, which now lay in a heap at his feet, before bending to pick up the small piece of paper that had tumbled to the floor beside it. Thin letters, so rapidly scrawled that they were barely legible, ran across the paper:
“Gone to sleep in my own bed. If I am not there, you have permission to panic. A.”
Eames huffed out a laugh.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, and climbed the stairs to check.
Just in case.
- - -
Part One: [link]
Part Three: [link]