Word Count: 1,958
Summary: If Arthur is a murderer, it's only because it's all he knows. An equilibrium AU.
Notes: A Christmas present for ghostrunner7. rosekay gave this a quick run through. Any remaining mistakes I blame entirely upon googledocs.
Arthur misses his dose on a Tuesday. There is nothing significant about it. It has happened before. Extenuating circumstances and all. Doses go missing, or get broken, or he’s too busy in a firefight to take his interval. What is significant is that he doesn’t do anything about it. When he examines it later, he has no idea what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought he’d be able to take a replacement dose before he began to feel the side-effects of skipping it. It doesn’t matter.
By the time he meets Eames’ he’s already been without Prozium for four hours. It’s enough. When he restrains Eames’ from assaulting the sweeper team stepping through his door, he feels it. Anger. Resentment. Why can’t sense offenders just comply with the rules? Eames has no context for Arthur’s grip tightening reflexively around his wrists. He just assumes Arthur is more merciless than the rumors of the tetragrammaton have lead him to believe.
Arthur is horrified by it. And still he doesn’t do anything about it.
He stops Fisher from shooting Eames when he escapes from the Sweepers attempting to bind his wrists and tries to take the pry bar they’d broken down the false wall in his house with to another cleric’s unsuspecting head.
“It’s a waste,” Arthur says evenly, one hand behind his back, the other on Fischer’s elbow, pointing his gun arm at the ceiling. “Surely he has confederates.”
Fischer blinks at him, long eyelashes fluttering. After a fraught moment he looses his grip on the butt of his service weapon. “If you say so...” he says slowly.
And that’s the beginning of the end. He walks through Librian square with its giant screens displaying father’s face as he delivers his typical rhetoric, and then the alarm sounds, and the entire square takes their interval in unison. He is only pretending. For the first time he feels the prick of the needle.
Although he knows the real transition is when they find another resistance cell and he stumbles on the room of cluttered--the only word he has for it is in the language of the clerics--emotional content. Maybe crap, a word he has never understood in its idiomatic usage. He accidentally knocks what he knows to be a record turntable with his elbow and the sound crackles to life while he’s busy examining a glittery sphere filled with white particles. An approximation at snow, he believes. The globe is in terrible taste. He doesn’t know where the sensation of it comes from. But he knows instantly that he dislikes it, where before he’d only felt a strong sense of confusion as to why sense offenders found these things so important. And through it all the record is playing.
He turns his head towards the little machine when the gravelly voice of the singer says ‘looks like freedom and it feels like death, it's something in between, I guess.’
And yes, this is how he feels about emotion, about sensation. He pulls the album off the turn table and stares at the title.
It’s like a message.
It takes several minutes to pull himself together. And even then he could’ve turned back. Pulled out his dose and depressed the trigger. If he’d had any sense of self-preservation he would’ve done it. Instead he finds himself saving a young animal colloquially known as a puppy, or so the book in the archive tells him and kissing Eames over the metal interrogation table after Eames tries to stab him in the eye with a pen.
Arthur, who always has plans and explanations and contingencies, does not have the words to explain what he is feeling. As he learns the contours of Eames’ body, the sweet curve of his lips, the strength of his hands, Eames lists, “Attraction, arousal, urgency,” one by one in a soft voice between gasps.
After Arthur has shuddered to completion and still feels weak-kneed with it, he looks into Eames’ face and says, “Why?”
They’re lying on the cold floor, Arthur’s black uniform, the mark of his rank, a mess. He is glad that nobody cares about Eames’ testimony or every forbidden word, gasp, and kiss would be recorded for all to see. They want to execute Eames. He has no further use. To keep him alive when he serves no purpose but to break the law is irrational.
Eames doesn’t hesitate before speaking, his fingers twirling around a pen. When he’d been taken in, there was a little red disc in his effects, a poker chip, the archivist explained. Arthur imagines the pen is standing in for the chip. “In the before they used to take drugs, recreationally, I mean.”
Arthur knows this, he’s destroyed drug labs before. But he lets Eames continue without comment.
“But you see,” the pen clatters to the concrete as he taps his forehead, “what we create in here? Better than any drug.”
Arthur can’t help a laugh. He has laughed before--at puns, at clever riddles his superiors have laid out. He knows the appropriate response is a laugh. This is the first time he’s ever laughed despite himself. “I know that, Eames,” he says, trailing his fingers over the tattoos that the prison uniform revealed. How had he ever had the gall to get them? But Arthur knows the answer. Eames hasn’t been assigned a companion and it is a crime to be naked, to show more than regulation apparel allows. No one would ever even know he was wandering around, skin written with emotional content. “I mean, why me?”
Eames looks blindsided, like he didn’t expect this question which Arthur finds so obvious. He had tried to kill Arthur, and Arthur had retaliated with a sexual advance. Arthur knows this much: it should’ve made Eames want to kill him more.
When he doesn’t answer, Arthur rises to his feet and puts his uniform back together. He smooths a hand over his gelled-back hair.
Eames looks up at him as Arthur pulls his leather gloves back on. “Something about you, love.”
Arthur turns his head abruptly. “You don’t love me.”
Eames uses the table top to haul himself to his feet. “It’s...an expression.”
“I see,” but Arthur doesn’t see and he leaves, just like that, despite the fact that Eames’ shirt front is patterned with translucent stains and his lips are still bee-stung red. The guards who come to escort him back to his cell won’t know what it means anyway.
When he goes back home and sees the mess that the puppy he illogically saved makes of his bedroom, he thinks very briefly of naming it Eames. But that’s a terrible name. He names it Tacoma for one of the other songs off The Future album he found in that basement full of contraband. It sounds good--pretty is perhaps the word he is searching for. He thinks the dog would prefer it to Leonard, the name he briefly toyed with. But does the dog feel? Or have opinions? No one has ever told him otherwise.
Why do they even bother with names? Arthur has one. Ostensibly his parents chose it. Aren’t names inherently suffused with emotion? One that shows preference for one set of sounds over another? But, Arthur reasons, Libria was created not to wipe out emotion, but to remove its costs. He has to believe that or he cannot countenance what he has done. It is not rational. Arthur did not and could not know.
He nearly manages to save a team of resistance leaders from a group of sweepers on his next case only to be foiled by Fischer appearing around the corner at the last minute. The leader and his men, in what Arthur can only assume is a fit of insanity, lay down their lives so that Arthur may survive. He doesn’t understand. Arthur has killed hundreds if not thousands of their kind.
He does not even understand when he locates the leader of the resistance, Cobb, and pledges his loyalty. “It’s a matter of scale,” Cobb explains. “Knowing what you know, the access you have, and the abilities you possess--you are far more valuable to the resistance than they are. They knew it.”
This kind of cold-blooded logic is unexpected. “Feeling is a luxury,” Cobb repeats, “and our greatest weakness against an enemy constantly capable of such calculation.”
And then perhaps Arthur does understand. But he also knows something that Cobb, who has never been on the other side of it, doesn’t know. Emotion makes the resistance unpredictable. The tetragrammaton can only guess at what they do not understand from their numb concrete prisons.
Ariadne, one of Cobb’s right hands, accompanies him as he leaves. “You know, before he joined the resistance, Cobb was married to the Vice-Counsel.” She means Mal, the head of tetragrammaton. He turns his head to take in her expression. He is still not well-versed enough in the different tones of voice these enthusiastic temperamental people have. Anger and happiness and fear and excitement are easy enough to spot. This is something far more nuanced. “Can you believe that?” she says, trying to guide him to the right response.
“Yes,” he replies, “I can believe that.” They forget that he believed in what he did. They act like him ceasing the dose was like an on switch. But he still understands why the tetragrammaton exists. There is no rape, there is no theft, no assault, no discrimination. He has decided they are not worth the loss of choice, of life, of culture. It’s a heavy cost, though, and even as he walks these halls and schemes how he’s going to break Eames out before incineration, he is reminded.
He is sent to kill Father. But it turns out there is no Father. Only Mal. She was Arthur’s teacher, and she tells him all along he was set up, trained his entire life to infiltrate the resistance. As he watches her lips move, Arthur feels a new emotion, despair.
But the thing is, they trained him too well. He kills her and disrupts Father’s broadcasts, and because he’s no longer an indifferent automaton, he feels sorry because she is Cobb’s wife. He knows that Cobb still loves her, because he keeps a red ribbon in his pocket, one that perfectly matches the one in her hair. Did Mal ever feel that way about Cobb? It appears that neither of them loved each other more than they loved their ideals. He bends and closes her eyes.
He doesn’t linger. Eames was scheduled for processing. Only a semantic difference from execution, he’d pointed out before attempting to blind Arthur. Eames has been shoved into the incineration chamber and left by his guards who have now all fled in fear. Arthur nearly doesn’t make it in time. When he drags Eames out, eyelashes a little singed, and prison uniform crisped around the edges, Eames stares at him like he’s crazy.
“Arthur, what?” he says, gasping against Arthur’s uniform front. He leaves sooty tracks against the white gabardine. Arthur briefly mourns the fact that he killed almost forty people, avoided a single blood stain, and now the pristine stretch over his chest is marred by unfortunate hand prints. But they are Eames’ hand prints, proof that Eames wants to touch him, wants to be near him, even if he doesn’t love him.
“You weren’t supposed to save me,” Eames says.
Arthur thinks again about that song, ‘looks like freedom and it feels like death, it's something in between, I guess.’ He couldn’t not save Eames, but he’s not sure he’s ready to explain that. Not certain he has acquired the vocabulary for it. All he says is, “But I did.”
I think this subconsciously registered with me when I first saw the above picture and thought how much JGL looked like John Preston there. I blame it all on that picture.