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The privilege to die

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The first time they ever met, Eames was older than dirt and Arthur’s thirteenth summer had just passed. He was on the cusp of manhood, but the rainy season brought a plague that took the whole tribe save a handful of children. Those, the raiders took.

The boy-who-would-one-day-be-Arthur was a strong, capable slave. He tried protecting his fellow survivors, but by the time his fourteenth summer passed, he alone remained.

He did not know it was because of the fox whose life he spared. He would not know for a long time.

.

The second time they met, the man-who-would-soon (for a relative value of soon)-be-Arthur had just awoken from his first death. His masters had been massacred and the new raiders decided to keep only the female slaves. All the men and boys were killed.

Arthur-to-be had lost count of his age, but he knew he couldn’t be more than twenty. He died fighting, and he was glad of it.

But he woke up and there was a colorful bird watching him. He got over his shock quickly (maybe he didn’t die, after all?), burned his fellow slaves’ bodies, ignored the corpses of his masters, and tried to catch the bird for dinner.

The bird laughed at him, but he finally followed it to a caravan led by a man called Adamas, who smiled at him and made his insides tremble. Adamas nodded to the bird and brought not-yet-Arthur to a pallet, bidding him rest.

In the morning, Adamas showed him how to use a sword and named him Ater.

Ater spent many summers with Adamas, though he never grew older than he was when the raiders killed him. Every spring, the bird who led him to Adamas returned, and eventually, he left Adamas, following the bird again.

.

Ater changed with the times, the way his first and only teacher taught. He had lived, and he grew stronger, and he fought when necessary. As the years passed, he amassed a great many heads, though he rarely sought them out.

He wanted only to live. He didn’t care for some far-oft maybe prize.

.

His name changed frequently (for a relative value of frequently) and eventually, he chose Arthur, which would remain as part of his name for the rest of his lives. He liked the irony – an immortal named after the Once and Future King. He knew Adamas would get a kick out of it, too.

The first time he and Eames spoke was while he was a page in the Virgin Queen’s court. Eames was calling himself Robin and when he wasn’t charming the queen, he was making eyes at Arthur.

Arthur didn’t recognize him yet. But it came time for him to die and he left England for Italy, and then wandered as he saw fit.

.

The second time they spoke, Eames was furious and Arthur’s body still healing from the gas chamber. He looked at the angry man holding him up and saw wings at his back, a bushy tail.

“You,” he gasped, lungs finally starting to work again. His long-faded memories were sharp – a fox and a bird, and his life spared.

Eames carried him out, and neither of them glanced at the people who didn’t notice their passage. They never spoke of it, but Arthur knew that none of the doctors who studied him – his healing, his pain threshold – survived.

Eames took him to Adamas – Matthew Adams, this life – and the three of them went to Canada, where they lived out the rest of the war.

After they had settled, Arthur sat Eames down and ordered him to explain. Eames shrugged, grinning, and said, “I’m a trickster, love. We’re free as the wind, and just as immortal.”

“I’m immortal,” Arthur countered. “And I can’t feel you like I do Matthew.”

Eames shook his head. “I’m not like you, Arthur.” He spread his hands, smirking as he said, “I can’t die a’tall.”

.

The war ended, as wars do, and the three separated again. Matthew returned to Europe, Eames to wherever he was when not watching Arthur, and Arthur traveled to South America.

Arthur went back to the States when he heard about a new technology that allowed people to dream-walk.

When he left the American military, he took the technology with him. And when one of the doctors from the program called him in a panic not long after, well. It’d been awhile since he was such a well-paid criminal.

.

Of course Eames was involved in dreamshare. And as a forger, no less. He smirked at Arthur the first time they worked together, when Cobb introduced them.

For the first time, Eames was called Eames. Neither of them let on that they’d met a long time before.

Cobb insisted they have a totem, a way to tell dreams from reality. Eames laughed to Arthur later how ridiculous it was – dreams or reality, there’s no difference to a trickster.

Arthur’s totem was the lightning that didn’t dance on his skin in dreams. He had a fake one to satisfy Cobb and explain to the newbies, and Eames laughed about that, too.

.

Soon enough, Arthur was known as the best of the best. When Cobb retired after the Fischer job, Arthur was the one sought after for the impossible jobs. By that time, it was known that Eames only worked with Arthur.

When Arthur died, nobody was surprised that Eames’ vengeance was both bloody and loud. That he vanished afterwards – no one was shocked then, either.

In Italy, a young student named Arturo met a grinning trickster at the coast. They held hands as they walked along the shore, splashing their feet in the surf.

This would be a quiet life, Arthur decided. And this time, he’d be keeping Eames for good.