Disclaimer: I don't own anything!
Author's Note: I blame this entirely on esking, who suggested this in one of her reviews and the idea would not let me go. Thank you so much.
This does take place in the Tit for Tat verse, but it's not actually part of it, if that makes any sense.
Happy belated Halloween! I was up half the night trying to come up with an ending that worked for this. Hopefully, I succeeded. My prayers go out for all the people hit by hurricane Sandy.
My brother and I's book, the first in an alternate history/fantasy series, is now up on our tumblr. Link is below. That or just search Sanctum Files.
"We are all books containing thousands of pages and within each of them lies an irreprable truth."
-Subject 16 (Assassin's Creed)
His brother's head was a familiar weight on his shoulder, the light snoring a comforting sound. The view outside the window was, at least, no longer endless stretches of ocean that had been there for the flight to New York. Now there were cities and endless miles of road down there and Cameron could spot mountains in the distance. Perhaps those were the mountains he knew, the mountains he remembered.
His left hand reached up to toy absently with the silver cross around his neck. He would feel naked without it; he slept, showered and had fought in a war with it.
Passengers, we are beginning our descent into Burlington, Vermont. Please return your seats to their upright position and make sure your trays are put away. Please turn off all electronic devices.
Cameron gently shrugged his right shoulder, "Arty," he murmured and he felt it when his twin woke.
"We there yet?" Arthur James Reynolds asked, yawning and not quite removing himself from his younger brother's shoulder.
"Soon. We're going down now. How was your nap?"
"Fantastic until you woke me up." There was a glare directed at his ear, Cameron knew.
"What can I say. I'm a hazardous leaning post."
Arthur laughed. "I think you need a new occupation then," he said, sitting up.
Cameron looked back out the window, watching the city grow slowly larger, the mountains still green from summer. "Maybe. What do you think of professional clown?"
Arthur caught his brother's flash of a grin, full of mischief. "I think the only way you could make people laugh would be to dress like one. You'd look ridiculous."
"Yeah and I suck at balloon animals. Except for a snake. I'm good at those."
"And worms too. Don't forget that."
"Very true." The brothers could only hold in the laughter for another few seconds before it burst out of them, too loud in the confined space and perhaps slightly touched with hysteria, but they hadn't had a good night's sleep since the explosion and they were finally home and it was all hitting them at once. But they're both here and they've made it and that would have to be enough.
Their sister stared at them at the airport, their mother looking short beside her. (They hardly recognize this lovely young woman. When they'd left, she had still been coltish with hardly-there curves and chubby cheeks. But that had been nearly five years ago.)
She hugged them both fiercely, her arms strong with lean muscle and yes, this was their sister, their Mina. They return the embrace and Cameron inhaled the old familiar smell of her lemon-scented shampoo. Their mother was next and she was warm and soft and Arthur knew the shape of her as well as he knew the color of the sky and the feel of the earth.
The twins turned on instinct because years of being confused had them both responding to each other's name and a woman ran to them, dark curls bouncing behind her. She nearly rammed into Arthur, who hugged her tightly before leaning back and kissing her.
When they pulled apart, she was slightly flushed. "Missed me?"
"How could I not?"
Cameron, one arm still around his sister's shoulder, just smiled at his brother's girlfriend. "What, don't I get a welcome home kiss too?"
Arthur widened his eyes and gasped dramatically. "My own brother, trying to steal my girlfriend out from in front of me. Et tu, Brute?"
"It's not stealing if they're willing," Cameron reminded him.
"Looks like you're out of luck then," she told him, but she gave him a hug anyway. "Welcome home."
"Don't worry, April, I missed you too."
(It's surreal and warm and a little too close and the brothers will excuse themselves to the bathroom—long flight, they explain away—so that they can get a little air. They'll lean against a wall and look at each other, trying to get air because things here are too close, despite how they might welcome it.
"…We need to go," Cameron reminds Arthur quietly. "There's a drive ahead of us."
"Think we'll be able to fall asleep?"
"I hope so."
It's not that they don't love their family, that they haven't missed all of this because they have but it's too much, an overload, after almost five years out in the desert, half-paranoid with the sounds of gunshots and bombs exploding.
They take a deep breath before they push themselves off the wall and find their family out by baggage claim)
After the third night in a row when Arthur woke April with his tossing and turning, with his sudden snaps to attention and, once, he hit her in his sleep hard enough that she woke with bruises, the brothers shared a room again.
(It's easier to sleep knowing that the person in the other half of that bed isn't afraid of being there, isn't afraid of you. It's comforting to know that there's someone to hang onto that isn't full of false platitudes)
There came a morning when Cameron was sitting at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee and a piece of toast—he was hungrier for more, but he'd been strictly banned from anything more complicated after the stove explosion of '98—and his brother shuffled out, bleary-eyed and apparently not in the mood to find a shirt. In an old habit, Arthur's fingers ran through his brother's hair as he passed by and halfway through, he paused.
Cameron tilted his head back. "Something about my hair that you find particularly fascinating?"
Arthur tilted a fond half-smile at him. "It's getting long again. I hadn't noticed."
Cameron had always kept his hair longer than his brother's, an old personal preference that might, once, have been a rebellion against people confusing them.
(It's a reminder and it's reality-grounding. They're not going back to the desert. They're here to stay)
She was the one to sit next to him in Analyzing Classic Literature. (It's a strange thought, going back to school. But this is familiar and he's always enjoyed learning) She was opinionated and intelligent and her lips twisted into a grin or a smile in an interesting way. Her eyes were blue-gray and her hair a curious shade somewhere between blonde and brown, but leaning more towards brown.
"Hannah Dardel," she introduced herself. Her hair was tossed up in a messy clip and she seemed utterly at ease with herself.
A feathery eyebrow arched. "Cameron….like the actress?"
Cameron pinched the bridge of his nose; it wasn't the first time he'd heard that. (…sorry, darling…) "My mom thought she was having twins of different genders."
"Ah. And you got the short straw?"
"Sorry for being so unoriginal for a first question," Hanna said. "I'll come up with something better for next time."
"You think there'll be a next time?"
"Ooh, ouch. You can get prickly, did you know that?"
"I've been told."
Class began and they commented quietly back and forth and more than once, Cameron had to smother a laugh in his hand. She had a biting wit that spared no one paired with subtle observations. After class, she shouldered her bag and asked, "Wanna get some coffee?"
The nightmares didn't ever quite go away, but it got to the point where they could sleep most nights. (No fireworks. Fireworks make the dreams come back with a vengeance and both brothers are tense all day on the Fourth of July and New Years)
Arthur went back to April in the apartment the twins shared. But Cameron had told him that if he was going to propose soon—which he was—then Cameron was going to find his own apartment. Arthur had only looked at him and asked if he was sure.
"I'm not going to just toss you out on the street because I'm getting married, y'know."
"I know," Cameron told him, playing with a straw wrapper absentmindedly. The twins tried to have at least one meal together a day. "I want to."
It was a strange kind of want, to be separated from his brother. He wasn't used to it.
"No rush," Arthur reminded him, stealing one of his fries.
Cameron stumbled to his feet, putting his glasses on clumsily as he did while trying to search for the source of the noise. Since he'd moved to his own apartment and Arthur and April had theirs, he wasn't used to the weird sounds of this one yet.
Blinking blearily, he followed the sound until he reached his front door. Opening it with the caution of the sleep-deprived, he found a mewling lump of fur on his doorstep. He reached down and grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and big gray eyes blinked at him before the fur bristled and it was baring tiny teeth at him.
Cameron wasn't fazed. "It's like you're asking to be left outside. C'mon."
In the light of the bathroom, it was difficult to tell what color the small cat was underneath the several layers of mud and filth from outside. Its nails dug into his hand when he went towards the sink and he had to take a deep breath. To be woken up for this wasn't pleasant.
Instead, he got an old towel and dampened it before running it over the cat's fur until he was clean. After a few minutes of it, the tension leaked out of the cat. As the muck from outside washed off, the color of the fur became more clear, or rather, it sort of did. It was patchworks of color, with a white-tipped tail and black-splotched ears.
He wasn't entirely certain what you fed a cat—they'd grown up without pets—but he had some milk in the fridge. That would do for now, wouldn't it?
After a few weeks, the cat proved to be stubborn and far too adventurous, constantly climbing on things seemingly only to find out what was up there before launching itself to the floor. Cameron couldn't read without a ball of fur plopping in his lap or a paw on a page and often, when he slept, he felt the barely-there weight on the small of his back. The first morning after it happened, he'd nearly squished the cat in the morning when he rolled over, but after some scratches and an apology, it didn't happen again.
He called the cat Gatsby—his brother said, with a waggle of his eyebrows and a grin, that Cameron should name him Catsby. Cameron threw a pillow at him.
Gatsby didn't like his brother, would hiss and shrink into a corner whenever he neared. Cameron could only shrug. He had a picky cat.
Arthur James Reynolds and April Richardson were married mid-autumn, when the trees of Vermont were painted in glowing shades of red and orange and gold. Cameron stood beside his brother on the altar, clapping as they exchanged rings. His sister—a bridesmaid—exchanged a look with him, all smiles and warmth.
Mina dragged him out to the dance floor later, her feet bare—"I'm not about to stay in heels all night—laughing as they twirled and accidentally stepped on each other's feet.
Cameron stood up at the podium for the toast. "First things first, thanks for coming. And congratulations to the bride and groom," He lifted his glass of champagne and his brother smiled at him. "Arty, I literally can't remember a time when I didn't know you. I remember once in…third grade, in Ms. Brown's class, you passed me a note. I remember it because a certain someone was giving a presentation that day and that note said, 'I'm gonna marry that girl.' April, before you start getting concerned, it was you that day. Now, I'm not gonna pretend to understand why you want to marry Arty—"
"Hey!" His brother protested, but he was grinning and Cameron could hear their mother laughing.
"But he's a lucky man and I wish you both the greatest of happiness."
Hannah laughed when she saw his movie collection. "You would be a sci-fi nerd."
"That is classic cinema right there," Cameron told her from his spot on the couch.
"Oh, right." She looked over her shoulder at him. "So, Trekkie or Star Wars?"
Cameron tilted his head a little. "What do you think?"
"…Star Wars. I think you'd dig Leia in the bikini."
"What sane man wouldn't?"
Hannah shook her head at him and they spent the rest of the afternoon debating on which was better.
He was there when his first niece was born, trying to keep Arthur from hyperventilating. Familiar green eyes, one of their few differences, looked at Cameron. "…Do you think I can do it?"
Cameron blinked at him. "Do…what?"
"Be a good dad." Arthur's right hand went up to the cross that he kept beneath his shirt.
"Of course you can. Why wouldn't you be?"
Arthur shook his head. "…Nothing. Just—thinking."
"And here I thought you were the optimist out of the two of us."
When Cameron peered over his brother's shoulder to take a look at his niece, his heart wanted to stutter to a stop (This isn't right, something in him whispers…) His niece was beautiful and when Arthur passed her to him, Cameron was so afraid of letting her fall.
"Hi," he whispered, stroking a finger along her small, chubby hands, along a cheek. There was a line of dark hair already. "I'm your uncle."
"We've been trying to come up with a name," April said from the bed. She was exhausted, but there was a smile on her face. "Any suggestions?"
Mina slipped beside him. "Oh, she's gorgeous." Cameron passed her over dutifully.
Emma bustled in later—she'd been at work when Cameron called her after Arthur gave him the message and had been unable to just leave her students—and she kissed April's forehead and hugged Arthur, telling him congratulations.
"My first grandchild," Emma said proudly, holding the baby.
(The world freezes then and another image superimposes itself over everything. A different hospital room, Mina in the bed, smiling tiredly, a plain man beside her and Emma holding a baby wrapped in blue…)
Cameron sat, the world spinning a little, the conversation a whirl. When everything refocused, Arthur was right in front of him, as ever a steady touchstone. "Hey, you alright?" he asked because he knew that the nightmares never truly went away.
"Yeah, sorry. Just…got dizzy all of a sudden."
Arthur didn't seem to quite believe him, but he asked, "What do you think of Ashley? For the name?"
Hannah tasted of apples and too-sweet coffee. (He doesn't know why he half-expects the taste of smoke and cigarettes) She was warm against him, all soft curves and a spiraling tattoo of a flower and vine down one leg. Her hair spilled over her shoulders onto his chest and she laughed a little breathlessly.
Her fingers—long and elegant, an artist's fingers—played with the cross around his neck. (His dog tags…where were his dog tags?) "Didn't peg you for religious."
His lips curled into a kind of slow smile that was almost a smirk and the words were out of his mouth before he ever thought about them. "We can't all fit into our boxes."
Hannah laughed and he felt the vibrations. "I suppose not."
Cameron graduated four years later with a Bachelor's Degree in English and many a sigh of relief. Arthur was the first to hug him round the shoulders. "You made it," he said and there was a specific kind of warmth in his eyes that Cameron didn't think he could ever forget. (We're out of the war, that warmth says. We're home and we're trying to forget all that we saw, trying to forget that it had nearly been us in that explosion and we're missing a few friends now and sometimes their sisters or their wives call to talk and they don't know what to say, but they try anyway…)
They went out to dinner and they traded stories and laughter. Mina introduced them to her boyfriend, a junior high teacher from Wisconsin and Arthur and Cameron were good at entertaining Ashley and letting themselves lose at tic-tac-toe and hangman. Arthur kept insisting she could be an artist, but the pictures she drew were impossible things and houses on cliffs where the waves looked more like shards of glass than water, but she would only tell him that it was supposed to look like that.
"Uncle!" Cameron scooped her up as Ashley ran to him, laughing and she hugged him tightly around his neck. She had her father's eyes and hair so dark a brown that it was nearly black and he'd already told Arthur that she would be a heartbreaker.
"Hello, sweetheart." He shifted her so that he could carry her with one arm, bending to pick up her schoolbag with the other. "How was school?" Half the time, he was the one picking her up since he could dart out of work quickly to drop her off. He worked as an editor at the same local magazine that Arthur took photos for.
Her nose wrinkled. "Too easy."
That made him laugh. "Oh is that so?"
"Yeah. I 'ready know how to read. And the others are'll slow at it and it's so easy."
"Don't worry, they'll catch up."
"He had to work late." Arthur had found work as a photographer while he'd started going back to school, but he'd found that he liked it so much that he kept doing it. These days, a local magazine liked his work enough that they sent him all around New England.
He set her down—"You're getting too big for me to carry"—and she held his hand while they walked. "Uncle Cam, when're you gonna marry Hannah?"
Cameron looked down at her, surprised. "I…don't know. Why?"
"Well, grandmama said that when two people are in love, they get married. You and Hannah're in love, right?"
(He has the absurd idea to tell her that he doesn't think marriage is for him. That he prefers the idea of loyalty and trust without a ring)
"We're getting there, sweetheart."
Cameron Reynolds and Hannah Dardel got married in spring, with a slight chill still in the air. Arthur stood beside him and leaned in when she walked up the aisle.
"Took you long enough," the older brother whispered.
Cameron shot him a look. "Oh shut up."
Arthur grinned wide, dimples on display. "Do you have enough gel on?"
Cameron's hair hadn't wanted to behave today and it felt strange to have had to use so much gel. "Can you save the smartass comments?"
"Only for so long."
Mina's first child was a boy, all big baby blue eyes and already a full head of hair. Ashley loved to play with him and would read to him to get him to sleep. The boy's name was Robert (Not his name. His name is supposed to be something else, Cameron's mind whispers and the name is supposed to hurt…)
Mina leaned her elbow on Arthur's shoulder. "Your daughter is a godsend."
Arthur kissed her temple. "Runs in the family."
Thanksgiving was a full affair at Emma's house. Children racing each other in the yard—for Mina had a little girl not two years after Robert named Danielle (That name settles easily within Cameron) and she had the bright green eyes that Arthur had gotten from their great-grandparents, the ones who had never left the old country.
Arthur and April had another girl—naming her Emma—and she was still small enough to be crawling.
Hannah leaned into Cameron. "What do you think about kids?"
Cameron turned to her. "I like them?"
"I meant for us."
"Oh." (He hasn't imagined the possibility in a long time) "Do you want them?""I've been thinking about it." She kissed the corner of his mouth. "You'd be a good father."
His thumb played with the ring on the fourth finger of his left hand (No ring…never a ring…a die, a red die…) "I—you want to try for it?"
She grinned wickedly. "Well, no harm in trying, is there?"
Cameron woke in the wee hours of the morning to retching for the third day in a row and the suddenness of the awakening had his soldier's sense—usually dormant now—buzzing in the back of his skull and where were his dog tags? The space beside him was empty.
"Hannah?" He padded to the bathroom, opening carefully.
She was kneeling over the toilet, hair twisted hastily back from her face. She looked balefully at him. "Well, I think I'm pregnant."
He smiled in sympathy and dropped a kiss on the top of her head before going to get her some salty crackers and a can of Sprite. After he did, she told him she'd be out soon, that he didn't need to fuss over her.
Cameron dialed his brother's number by memory.
"Whatever it is, 's too early."
Cameron smiled to himself, leaning back against the counter. Gatsby leapt up and curled into his lap. "Arty, Hannah's pregnant."
A pause and then, "What?"
Cameron heard April in the background, wondering what was going on and if Arthur was trying to give her a heart attack. Then the spreading of the news and he heard the scuffle for the phone.
"Congratulations, Cameron," April said and she was a feisty woman indeed to best Arthur in a wrestling match.
Cameron listened to their words, even if they didn't register and Arthur and April did that thing where their sentences flowed smooth together—though not as smooth as the twins', of course—and he was looking around the kitchen of he and Hannah's apartment and he felt the sudden terrible feeling that he didn't know where he was.
He didn't recognize these cabinets or the photos on the fridge. Didn't know the table just visible or the couches. He knew the books, the books were familiar, and the record player in the corner. But that was it.
(And something whispers that this isn't real and a hand reaches for dog tags and finds only a small silver cross)
Their first child was a little girl and when Hannah asked if he had a name in mind, his first thought was Mallorie (Not it, not it at all and he remembers a grown woman's silvery laughter and warmth, but he doesn't recognize this woman, not at all).
Ashley and Robert peered over the edge of the crib to look at their cousin while Danielle toddled after them and Cameron felt warm because his brother was scooping up Danielle so she could see and he exchanged a look with his brother and Emma was here and this was family.
(Feels right and wrong at the same time because he knows there are faces missing. There is a blonde man with too-old eyes and a tired smile with a blonde daughter, smart as a whip, and a quietly creative son. He knows that there is a woman named Mallorie missing and there is a phantom of a silhouette with gray eyes like Gatsby…)
Mallorie was her grandmother's grandkid, everyone knew. She had her intelligence, her stubbornness. Hannah laughed when Cameron mentioned that one night, offhand.
"Then you're your mother's son," she said.
She learned Elvis lyrics before she learned to speak in full sentences—"Great, it's catching," April groaned—and Gatsby was protective of her, always curling up with her to sleep.
Cameron woke one night to Mallorie sitting cross-legged on the bed beside him. Hannah worked nights a lot these days at one of the hotels in town. "What is it, sweetie?" he asked, rubbing one eye.
"Had a nightmare," she said simply, but there was an old fear in her eyes. She had a lot of nightmares and turning eight hadn't made them go away.
Cameron lifted the covers and she curled up beside him, resting her head on his stomach. "What was it about?"
"It was weird," she warned.
"Try me," he told her. He felt a slight shift in the mattress and when he glanced over, Gatsby was padding across, a shadow to Mallorie as always.
"There was this huge mansion—but it was like those Japanese buildings an' it was right by the sea and there was this really pretty lady there—her hair even looked a little red and she was wearing this real pretty dress and she was standin' out on this porch kinda thing and just lookin' out at the water, but the water was like glass, but broken."
(Shivers run up Cameron's spine because he knows this ocean, knows the way it looks when the waves crash, knows the green lightning flashing above it)
"Doesn't sound so scary," he said, trying to shake off the bad feeling that just the description gave him.
"Wasn't. Just kinda…creepy."
"You're right," Cameron told her. "Do you want to try to sleep again?"
She shook her head. "Can—can you read to me?"
"Of course." Cameron resigned himself to getting no more sleep that night and sat up a little, patting a little blindly at the bedside table for his glasses. "What do you want me to read?"
"How's The Thief Lord sound?" It was one of her favorites, had been since she started reading by herself.
She flashed him a grin and dashed to go get it. She settled against him and Cameron adjusted his glasses so they rested just so on his nose before he began to read.
"It was autumn in Venice when Victor first heard of Prosper and Bo…"
Sometimes, he would wake up in the middle of the night scrabbling for something on the bedside table. (When Hannah asks, he tells her he needed his glasses. It's a lie. He doesn't know why ,but he needs to feel the indentations of dots on a red die…)
The cousins were having a girls' day, or so April told Cameron when she asked him to pick them up from the mall. She was stuck in some pretty bad traffic and couldn't make it.
So here he was, perusing the shelves of the bookstore across from the movie theater until they came out.
So into the book he was reading that he didn't quite register that someone was speaking to him. Cameron looked up and didn't know the man standing there, looking like he'd seen a ghost.
"Arthur?" The man repeated and his voice was accented and the name fell off familiarly.
Cameron shook his head; he was used to this by now. It had been forty years of it, after all. "Sorry, you've got the wrong one." A look of confusion. Had the man not known that Arthur had a twin? "He's my twin."
"But you're Arthur."
"No, I'm pretty sure I'm Cameron. And you are?" Something in the back of his mind was buzzing, like his soldier's sense, but it wasn't trouble, he knew that much.
"My name's Eames."
(It doesn't just ring bells. It rings gongs and thunder and airhorns and how does Cameron know that name?) "Nice to meet you. How do you know my brother?"
Eames kept staring at him (Gray eyes, like rainy skies and Gatsby) "I was a soldier too."
Cameron felt the tension coil in his shoulders. He tried not to think of Iraq as much as possible. "That so?"
"Mm. But I didn't stay out there for long. Got dragged along to a special program."
Eames' lips quirked a little in a familiar way. "Don't need to sound so disbelieving, darling. It's true."
"Don't call me that."
A flash of something in gray eyes, there and gone again like lightning. (Cameron knows this conversation, knows the feel of this back-and-forth. He knows the rhythm, the snap and release of it all, whip-fast and easy)
"You need to come back, Arthur."
"I'm not Arthur. And come back where?"
"This place, it isn't real."
A familiar arch of an eyebrow and before either of them could speak, a voice rang out.
"Dad!" Cameron looked instinctively and, out of the corner of his eye, caught Eames turning too. Mallorie was walking inside, Ashley and Danielle with her. She hugged him quickly around the middle before turning to look at Eames.
She studied him, weighed and measured his presence before sticking out her hand. "Mallorie Reynolds."
(The flash returns, but now it lingers, like a drizzle after the rain and Cameron has a chance to read the emotion. It's pain, old pain that only comes from love)
He shook her hand as gingerly as someone touching fragile glass. "Eames."
She smiled at him. "I like that name. It suits you."
Eames didn't seem to know quite how to take that comment; Cameron could relate. His daughter had leaps in her mind that he didn't know how they got there. "…Thank you."
Mallorie turned to her father (She has the look of him, almost. Dark curls that she's always pushing away irritably and she dimples when she smiles. Her eyes are her mother's, blue-gray like the fog. But in spirit, she is something else entirely, a fey and brilliant mind) "We ready to go?"
Cameron glanced between her and Eames (There is a gold chain below the collar of his shirt, hardly visible. Something about it clicks something else into place in Cameron's mind) "Yeah, let's head home before your aunt thinks I kidnapped you lot."
Eames appeared more and more often, everywhere. He had no taste in shirts and he didn't quite fit into Vermont. He was very British in that he seemed to very much like his tea and he seemed to insist on calling Cameron his brother's name. After a few more tries of insisting that this world wasn't real, he seemed to have given up.
"You really have nothing better to do, do you?" Cameron asked one afternoon on his way out of work.
"Not at the moment, no."
"Do you even have a job?"
"Of sorts." It was evasive and when Cameron looked, there was a touch of mischief in that smirk. "I do a lot of odd jobs, really."
"No need to be so condescending."
Later, when Cameron asked his brother if he knew him, Arthur just shook his head. "No. Should I?"
Something in Cameron spoke through him and said, "No."
At some point, they talked about traveling.
"Favorite place in the world..." Eames hummed thoughtfully, doodling on a napkin with a pen he'd charmed off a waitress, though Cameron didn't quite agree that 'charm' was the right word. "I have a few. Mombasa, certainly."
"Mombasa?" Cameron found it difficult to picture the man in front of him in a city like that. "Why?"
Eames looked at him like Cameron had finally asked the right question. "The color, the people, the heat."
Cameron's nose wrinkled. He remembered the heat, remembered a scorching desert, remembered a sudden explosion, remembered burns seared on flesh (But he can't remember burns from that explosion, can he? He wasn't hurt when it happened). "I'll take snow over heat any day."
Eames' lips twisted in a strange expression that wasn't quite a smile, but Cameron had no other word for it either. "I'm not surprised."
"You said there were a few places?"
"Nairobi. Mostly the same reasons. Chicago."
"What's in Chicago?"
The twist of the lips grew sad. "Someone I miss."
"No, you don't," Eames told him. He was there and gone in an instant and Cameron wondered if he hadn't dreamed it. But when he looked at the napkin, there were two words written there, inked carefully, with designs swirling around it.
(A memory flares to life. Fingers along his right forearm, tracing nonexistent words. He knows what the other is doing, but he pretends not to because there had been a silent agreement to never speak about it. "Is there something particularly interesting about my arm, Mr. Eames?"A smile. "Nothing more than usual, darling.")
There were more memories (Can they be memories when Cameron doesn't remember making them? But sometimes his name doesn't fit right, like a shirt grown too small. Cameron does not remember, but someone else that he is does)
Simple ones. Walks through cities—some that Cameron had only dreamed of—and sharing a newspaper. Long drives in the Midwest.
Ones that felt layered somehow, with needles in arms and falling, always falling somehow.
Complicated ones. Eames sitting outside an apartment door. ("I didn't change the locks…") Eames braced against a sink, looking too lost in a swirl of tattoos.
Faded ones. A beautiful woman (He knows her like he knows the name Mallorie and the taste of red wine) dancing with them, curled onto a couch and arguing with Eames over spices.
Painful ones. Ones that made Cameron curl into his side, hands searching for a scar.
Old ones. Cigarette smoke and a familiar smiling twist of the lips. ("Trying to give me lung cancer?") A poker chip flipped across knuckles. The weight of a die.
Ones that settled into his mind like they'd always been there. Fluffy socks. Warmth against his back in the night. Fingers running over skin, lips following. A humid day spent in front of an air conditioning vent. ("…in Iraq about five years ago…") The stretching of buildings, the power to shift gravity and create impossibilities (And that straightens his spine when he thinks about it, makes him feel much more like someone who is both not and more than Cameron Reynolds)
The sound of a name.
"That's a name, Eames. Who am I?"
Cameron shoved Eames into a wall. "What is going on?"
Eames inclined his head, eyes glittering. "Finally starting to remember, darling?"
"Whatever has you so riled up."
Cameron backed up and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't remember them, that's my point."
Eames shifted until he was leaning against the wall rather than pressed against it and waited.
"They're—they're not memories. I know what memories feel like. They're like—facts. They are. The sky is blue, grass is green and I'm going insane."
"You're not going insane." Cameron narrowed his eyes at him and something about the expression made Eames laugh. "It's true."
"And how would you know?"
"The same way I know that you almost got a tattoo when you were eighteen."
Cameron froze. "That's not so strange. Plenty of people do that."
Eames reached out and grabbed his wrist, turning it so that his underarm showed. "Right here. Semper fidelis."
With a twist of his arm, Cameron freed his wrist. "Doesn't prove anything."
"Does one of your memories have a scar?" Eames pointed to his left side. "Right here? From an explosion?"
Ice dripped down his spine. "I wasn't in an explosion. We almost were—Arthur and I—but we made it out."
"No, you didn't." Something was there, pressing up against Cameron's mind like a nose against the glass. "…You were injured. Badly. And your brother…didn't make it."
(A familiar laugh before the world turns upside down and it's too hot and where is Arty? A single green eye left in a mirror image's face)
"Where are your dog tags?" Eames asked quietly.
Cameron didn't know. He couldn't remember ever having his dog tags, not even that day of the explosion. (You never remember the beginning of a dream. Always start right in the middle of what's going on) He remembered his cross, remembered his brother shaking beside him (Dead at his feet).
"You have to come back."
"Go back where?"
"To reality, Arthur."
"I'm not Arthur."
"To me, you always have been. You took your brother's name and his dog tags after he died." ("Survivor's guilt, darling?")
Cameron heard glass cracking and breaking somewhere. "Then how is this possible?"
"It's a machine. It lets you go into people's dreams. That's where you are now. That's where you've been. You went too deep, darling."
"Then why are you here?"
"You did the same for me once. Do you remember?"
(Waves of shattered glass. Green lightning—as green as Arthur James Reynolds' eyes. A little girl in a dress stained with old blood. Arthur James Reynolds dangling a locket. "I came to get you.")
Cameron stared at him and there was a little more recognition there. "You have a daughter."
A tiny flinch. "Yes, I do." A hand fished out the locket from beneath his shirt, unhooking it with a familiar ease. (He knows this ease, has seen it for years)
Cameron took the locket and opened it. He knew the picture inside, knew the smile, knew the clashing of colors and he had no way of knowing it otherwise. "…I have a daughter too."
"…She's not real, darling. None of this is."
The very thought made Cameron want to rebel. He knew his daughter, knew her moods, her smiles, her opinions. He knew her favorite songs, knew that she hated a lot of modern music in a way that had her cousins rolling their eyes at her.
Before Cameron's eyes, Eames rippled. A softening of the face, longer hair, shorter height, rounder eyes with thick lashes. Wider hips, small waist, breasts. It could be any face in the crowd, could be anyone, but the point was that it wasn't Eames.
(How many times has he seen it? Has he felt skin and bones shift beneath his hands in correction? A Joker's grin, an old man smirking with a cane, a child with a wide, gap-tooth smile. A grey scarf, a boy with a bike, a girl with a checkerboard hat and a cheeky smile. The word comes easy. Forger.
"…plenty of good thieves."
Mombasa. A chemist with a fondness for stray cats. Japan. A businessman who's too old for his age. Paris. A young woman with a love of scarves. U.S. A man who loved his children. Vermont. A nephew and niece he doesn't know. A daughter that doesn't exist. A brother that's dead...Nairobi. Warmth and refuge and the sticky kind of heat—A wicked grin. "The best kind, darling."—and a file tossed onto a table. Chicago. Breakfast and bacon-flavored kisses. Stitches in the bathroom and movies on sleepless nights. A little tree at Christmas and burned cheesecake.)
"Eames." The name settled right this time, settled like nicotine on the tongue and salt water in the skin.
The woman melted away. "Yes, darling?"
A flash of fear—what if this was all a lie? What if this was real and the other world a dream? His little girl, not so little anymore, would be devastated. Hannah. Bright Ashley and sweet Danielle. Fiery Robert (Arthur Bishop, his mind whispers)—and he wanted to stay. Wouldn't that be easier? Be better? What was waiting for him up there?
(Family, home, laughter, pain, joy, relief, adventure, love, creation, reality…)
"Why didn't you try that earlier?"
Laughter, slightly breathless and relieved. "I did. Over and over. But forges only work if the mind is open to them and you, darling, are stubborn."
"You have no room to talk," Arthur—for he was Arthur again, was point man and godfather, dreamer and soldier once again—said and he felt the difference in his walk, in his shoulders. He was himself again.
"Ah, but if I hadn't been so stubborn, where would you be?" Eames' eyes were on him, as though waiting for Arthur to not believe him again, to suddenly stop walking.
But he didn't. He saw reflections of the world in the projections now and it hurt to think about Mallorie. And Arthur James Reynolds. About it all.
Arthur didn't answer, his hands in his pockets and, somehow, a familiar red die had made its way back. Picking it out of his pocket, he stopped walking and Eames mimicked him, waiting for the other shoe to fall.
(There's a reality here in limbo. A different kind of reality, for certain, one that builds itself and he needs to give it one last try, just to be sure)
He knew the feeling of a mind stretching, knew what it was to bend the world and he felt it as the concrete of the sidewalk folded itself upwards into neat stairs. He climbed them and folded the ends to fit each other in an old practiced movement and he walked twice through an infinite staircase before looking down to meet Eames' eyes.
"Believe me now?"
Assured of the dream, Arthur smirked a little as he stepped off the stairs. "You jump, I jump, Jack."
The streets fell away, not quite as easily as they would have if Arthur had been entirely in his right mind, entirely in control and it left them standing on a precipice, an ocean below them.
Eames looked down the cliffside, heard Arthur step up to be side by side with him. "After you, darling."
And they let themselves fall.
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.