Word Count: 3,000.
Summary: Eames finds a strange camera in an empty house by the sea...and a figure who only appears in polaroid photographs. (where Eames goes to Limbo to save Arthur, who had died. Yet in the end, he isn't so sure.)
Note: Highly recommend playing the music as you read this. :)
C A M E R A
"In photography there is a reality so subtle
that it becomes more real than reality."
Gunfire. He could taste the dust in his mouth along with the familiar, coppery flavour of blood. Eames looked like he was shouting, his face barely an inch away from Eames' nose. The whole world tilted to the left for a moment, before settling back down on its axis.
"Arthur. Arthur! Stay awake, do you hear?"
"I'll just be a moment," said Arthur. At least, he thought he spoke out loud. He couldn't hear anything though. "I'll be right back."
And even as the world bled to grey, Eames' eyes were warm and brown.
The house was by the sea.
Everything smelt of salt, like the dry sea foam that lined the edges of the sea. Eames could feel the sand between his toes. It was soft and warm, the flavour of cooling coffee.
The house stood at the top of a tall, grassy hill next to the sea. There was a winding dirt path which led a trail from the beach onto soil and Eames followed it, feeling the sand change beneath his feet – became harsher, rocks and small stones prickling his skin. But he kept walking, through the coarse dry grass which thickened slowly as he made his way up the hill, towards the house. Stray daisies caught on the damp fabric of his pants, flecks of sand on the rolled up sleeves of his shirt. His collar was unbuttoned, and something clinked against his chest.
There were no birds – only the wind. But distantly, Eames could hear music playing from a gramophone. It sounded like a piano, but he couldn't be sure. He walked on, feet no longer sinking into the sand. Soon, he crested the hill (as the sun crested the sky – time spun slowly here) and he paused, catching his breath. Turning, Eames looked out over the way he had come and saw that the beach was unusually straight. The edge of the shore stretched into the distance, like cream lace against the edge of a dark blue dress. It was straight, as if it had been drawn that way and Eames couldn't quite make out anything in the distance.
The world stood quite still.
Turning back, Eames continued to make his way to the house.
"I never knew you had a hobby like this," said Eames, unable to help the smile twitching at the edge of his mouth as he flipped through a book of prints.
Arthur shrugged, looking away.
"I like taking pictures," he said, "And it's useful, sometimes. Not all of us have a photographic memory like you."
"Ah," said Eames, setting the book down, "We all have photographic memories. Just not everyone has the film."
Arthur gave him an unimpressed sort of look. But he looked like he might laugh at any moment, and that was good enough for Eames. He turned the old polaroid camera over in his hands.
"So have you any pictures of me?"
Eames couldn't help laughing when Arthur's face went bright red. Hooking one arm around the latter's waist, he pulled him closer and dropped a kiss to his hair.
Although it had not seemed far, the sun was almost dipping the other side of the horizon by the time Eames reached the house. He walked up to its deserted front porch, up the wooden steps – they were wind washed and smooth beneath his feet. The house itself looked as if it had been taken straight from the pages of a story book – a doll's house – with wide windows and white wood. The door stood at the center of the house, paint peeling at the edges. Like everything else about the place, the red paint was faded from too many years staring out into the sun.
"Hello?" said Eames, voice a little hoarse from disuse.
No one answered.
He raised a hand to knock on the door – then thought better of it. Instead, he tested the worn brass door nob, and found it unlocked. The door creaked open and Eames stepped forwards.
Inside, the house was surprisingly well kept. There was no smell of damp, no cobwebs coating the window sills. Instead, there was only a thin layer of dust over the furniture. Eames brushed his thumb over a gilded picture frame and it came away a little grey. There was a boy in the picture – and the familiar lines of his face made Eames pause – but he put the frame back on the side table and continued through the hall and up the stairs. By now, there was only a little light filtering in from the sunset. Everything was red and brown, washed warm by the time of day and Eames thought it wouldn't be a bad place to live, if one had to live somewhere. The gramophone was still playing, so someone must live here.
Perhaps they had just stepped out for a moment, and would be back soon.
He reached the landing on the second floor. The hallway was unlit, though old-fashioned electric lamps lined the walls. The wallpaper was the thick kind, a repeated motif of the fur-de-lis embossed over and over. Eames went left, past two identical closed doors until he reached one that had been left ajar.
He pushed it open with one hand.
The room had two beds, neatly made with military corners – all pressed edges and sharply turned sheets. Eames took a few steps into the room, eyes flickering over it's blank walls and the one solitary window that faced the sea. The curtains billowed, white and blue. It drew his eyes towards a heavy wooden trunk that sat directly beneath the window. Looking back over his shoulder, Eames closed the door and knelt down in front of the trunk. He wedged a fingernail between the edges of the clasp and managed to prise it open.
Inside was a familiar polaroid camera.
Eames picked it up, memory leading him to flicking it open from the front, the rectangular flash popping up at the top. After staring at the camera for a long moment, he looped the camera strap over his own neck and stood up, closing the wooden trunk with a thud. His hand was on the door, about to pull it open, when a sudden thought struck him and he turned back to face the room. Running a finger absently over the button at the top of the camera, Eames raised it to eyelevel.
The film rolled out from the bottom of the camera. Eames took it between thumb and forefinger, glancing down at the picture he had just taken.
And nearly dropped the camera.
On the faded polaroid, there was a figure sitting on the bed, head turned towards the open window. And even in the dim light, Eames would have recognised that profile anywhere.
He looked up from the photograph, heart thudding hard against his rib-cage.
The room was empty.
"Arthur?" he asked the room.
No one answered.
Raising the camera, Eames took another picture. He waited for the click and whirr, then eagerly took the polaroid from its slot. But the light had faded so much that there wasn't enough for the camera to capture a proper picture and the room was too dark and blurry to make anything out.
Eames sighed. He unhooked the camera from his neck and set it down on one of the beds in the room. He took the opposite bed, not bothering to close the window or shut the curtains. He wasn't sure when he fell asleep.
"It was Mal's," said Arthur.
They were standing in Cobb's house. Both James and Phillippa were outside, building snowmen with Ariadne whilst Cobb cursed and generally burned things in the large kitchen. Despite it being the middle of December, everything was very warm.
Eames examined the doll-house, crouching down so he could peer at a miniature mirror in a miniature bathroom.
"I brought it over for Phillippa when she turned six," he said, "Though I don't think Cobb lets them play with it very much. A bit fragile. I probably shouldn't let you near it."
Eames chuckled, using a finger to push on of the dining chairs into line.
"Your words wound me, darling," he said. The doll-house was two storied and made out of smooth wood. There were many rooms and a winding wooden staircase connecting the two floors together. There were even miniature curtains you could pull open and shut. Eames did just that. Several times.
"Should I ask Phillippa to let you borrow it?" said Arthur wryly, though Eames could see the smile on his face without even turning around. He examined one of the rooms with two matching beds and cotton duvets. He opened the window with his pinky-finger.
Back in the kitchen, Cobb swore and dropped something.
"Is that your way of asking me whether I want to settle down?" asked Eames, only half joking. He straightened, "I know a place that might strike your fancy actually. I can see it, the two of us, white picket fence…"
He trailed off with a laugh as Arthur shot him a glare.
"Oh don't look so cross," said Eames, stealing a kiss, "It's lovely I swear."
The look softened.
"Well," said Arthur, "maybe if it's by the sea."
In the morning, the door was open, and when Eames took a picture, the room was empty.
"Where are you…?" he muttered to himself, slinging the camera over his neck and leaving the room to explore the rest of the house. Pushing open the closest door, Eames came across another seemingly empty room. It was not unlike the first, except this one held a large wooden writing desk instead of a bed. There was a black and white photograph framed on the wall though Eames couldn't tell what the subject was. Holding the camera up to his face, Eames took a picture.
He held the polaroid in his hands, and Arthur looked back at him. He was sitting on the edge of the desk, wearing a sharp grey jacket. The sleeves were rolled up to the elbows in the summer heat, and he was looking right at the camera.
"There you are," said Eames, running the pad of his thumb over Arthur's smirk in the photograph. It left a smudge on the glossy print, colours awash with the sun. He took another picture – and caught a glimpse of Arthur's sleeve near the open door. The open-
"Oh no you don't –" Eames began, but it was too late and he wrench the door wider with a laugh, half running into the deserted hallway.
"Come on," he said, "Come out!"
Click – Arthur leaning on the wooden balcony, hair flying loose about his face. Click – Arthur sitting in a wicker chair, engrossed in an empty cup of tea. Eames followed the phantom through the house, a growing stack of polaroid photographs in one hand and the mysterious camera in the other. In the not-so-great distance, the sea whirred like the film and the camera.
Click – Arthur leaning against the window, looking out at something beyond the polaroid frame. He had lost his jacket, and Eames wondered distractedly where it might have gone.
Eames lost track of time. He forgot about finding the gramophone, the music that was still playing somewhere, somehow. He chased the shadow of Arthur through the empty house, each photograph a comforting reminder that he wasn't alone. The sea murmured reassurances in his ear, soft like a kiss barely there.
It became too dark for the camera. But next morning, Arthur was asleep on the bed across from his. They fell into a comforting routine. Soon, Eames had too many photographs and he had to keep most of them in the heavy wooden trunk in that little room in the house by the sea. Someone had put a sprig of dried lavender so that the wood itself smelt of it; heady and familiar.
Then, one day:
Eames took a photograph. Click. And all it showed was an empty room.
At first, he hadn't thought anything of it. But as the day wore on, and the pile of empty photographs grew in his pocket, he began to get worried.
"Arthur?" he called, "Darling?"
The house was as quiet as ever.
Dread grew in Eames' chest.
He rounded the corner, to one of the rooms Arthur liked best – it was lined with two tall bookshelves. A glass bottle with a miniature glass tea-clipper ship sat on the windowsill. Click. But it was empty as all the other rooms.
"Arthur, stop it. Arthur?"
Click – the hallway with its narrow wooden staircase. But no Arthur.
In frustration, Eames threw the polaroids to the ground, each and every one showing an empty house with no figure within. He glanced outside, through the sliver of sky he could see through a door left ajar. It was late afternoon. Very late.
He ran back to the room he had spent his first night in, skidding to a halt in front of the trunk and wrenching open the lid. His heart was loud in the silence, filling his head until the emptiness of it was all he could think about. The photographs were still there, at the bottom of the trunk, Arthur in every frame. With shaky hands, Eames took another picture of the room. Click.
There was nothing but furniture.
"Where have you gone?" he asked the house, frantic, "Where have you gone?"
The house did not reply.
Catching sight of the billowing curtains Eames leaned across the trunk and took a picture out of the window.
Click. There was just enough light in the sunset to light up the slope that led up to the house and the dirt track amidst the dry, dry grass. And there, in the distance, was a figure silhouetted against the sky.
Eames' heart leapt.
"Arthur," he shouted out the window, silence drowning his voice, "Arthur!"
I'll just be a moment.
Not bothering to close the window, Eames ran from the room, down the hallway, past all the closed doors, down the wooden staircase, through another hallway, through the faded red door and out of that little white house by the sea.
He took another picture of the place where he had saw Arthur – but now, there was no figure, no silhouette. Only the faded yellow of the polaroid and the dwindling sun. Eames resumed running, down the steps of the veranda until his feet (still bare) hit the dirt. Eames ran, down the slope, away from the little white house by the sea. He ran until the soil beneath his feet slowly turned into sand. Then he ran until the sand became so soft he sank with each step and he didn't stop until he was standing at the edge of the sea.
He turned slowly, in a circle. The beach was as deserted as the day he first stood on it, with no footprints other than his own. He glanced down at the camera in his hands – and it was only then he noticed a printed number at its corner, beside the shutter button.
It read: 1.
Eames took a deep breath and raised the camera to his face. Then, a thought struck him. He turned the camera lens to his own face.
"Arthur," he said to the sea, "Smile."
There is a camera in a wooden trunk in the little white house which stands on a hill next to the sea. There is a winding dirt path which led a trail from the soil onto sand, with nothing but dry, dry grass for the eye to see.
There are no footprints, only sea foam.
On the sand, there is a single polaroid photograph.
In the photograph, there are two figures. Both are smiling.
I'll be right back.
Author's Notes: originally this was going to be a fairytale/ghost AU sort of fic, but I think this setting works a little better. I haven't written anything creative since about April this year, so I wanted to write a short piece to get back into it. It was inspired by Peter Lewis' short film of the same name. If you visit my tumblr or LJ, you shall find the accompanying music to this fic, which I highly recommend.
Unbeta'd. If you find any mistakes, feel free to point them out and I shall fix them. :) Also I have started using my tumblr, where I will be writing drabbles, snippet updates, request fics and posting art/music and fun stuff. <3
x lots of love for you.