Spoilers/Warnings: No and no.
Summary: 'Oh Arthur,' his mother says rapturously after Arthur has escaped the ill intentions of the second magician and been singled out for embarrassment by Lord Godfrey’s steward through no fault of his own, 'I always hoped one of my sons would be a Heroic Archetype!' From the inception_kink prompt, "Fairytale AU. Don't care if it's crack or really a dream or completely serious as long as Arthur/Eames is the main pairing. Hell, Arthur and Eames could both be Princess Ariadne's rescuers who fall in love on the journey, IDEC. "
Disclaimer: Inception is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it.
Notes: The title is stolen from the marvelous Douglas Adams (the full quote: I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be). This fic probably borrows more, in spirit, from Shrek, Ella Enchanted, and Terry Pratchett than it would like to admit. It knows it will never be as good as any of those three things (so I thought Shrek was fun; so sue me!) but it appreciates their contributions and is trying not to be too bitter. ;]
For as long as anyone can remember, the Bennetts have tended to Lord Godfrey’s pigs.
Arthur is the third son of Thomas and Elena Bennett, and he and his brothers are the seventh generation of Bennett men whose task it will be to slop and wash and sing charming lullabies to the pigs (the Bennetts pride themselves on providing a full line of pig-related services).
Arthur’s life is dogged by humiliation and tragedy. By the time he has reached the age of eighteen he has been kicked, spit upon, mocked, and generally disparaged by people who always seem to be a) far wealthier than he is, and b) to be possessed of critical character flaws (such as arrogance, sloth, or greed), not to mention trampled by pigs rather a lot. Besides which, two separate (and distinctly evil) magicians just happen to wander into the really quite out of the way hamlet he calls home, each clearly intent on cursing him.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arthur has developed an ingrained distrust of money and power. He is also clever, charming, courageous, and given to ideas above his station.
When Arthur is seven his eldest brother, William, sets off in search of glory for himself. William is probably a good person, but he is also unspeakably vain, and at some point along his quest (Arthur isn’t really sure it counts as a quest if it’s just a bit of wandering around leering at female residents of the nearby villages) he is rude to a cross-eyed old woman. The cross-eyed old woman turns out to be a fairy of one kind or another, and William is pressed into her service for one hundred years. He sends the occasional letter which mostly say things like this fairy is most unpleasant, although also smoking hot and jesus I’m bored, how are the pigs, do they miss me?
When Arthur is eleven his remaining brother, Philip, sets off to explore the world and learn its secrets. Philip is almost certainly a good person, but he is also so unintelligent (willfully or not) as to defy belief. The secrets of the world prove to be a bit much for him, and when a sphinx (it might possibly have been a griffin, or perhaps a dragon; no one seems sure) asks him three riddles, he gives answer like seven and a prize pig to perfectly crafted puzzles which are meant to be answered with things like the second Tuesday in a leap year and the unknowable depths of the cosmos. The sphinx is so astonished by his ignorance that it digs a deep pit and throws him in. Philip is apparently meant to stay in the pit and listen to other travelers answer the sphinx’s riddles until he has attained some sliver of knowledge. Arthur occasionally goes to visit him and Philip seems remarkably contented with the situation (he does usually shout up at Arthur to bring him a bit of cheese, as sphinxes apparently do not like cheese).
This is all a bit unfortunate, if not the end of the world, besides which it is cause for his mother to be absolutely overjoyed.
“Oh Arthur,” she says rapturously after Arthur has escaped the ill intentions of the second magician and been singled out for embarrassment by Lord Godfrey’s steward through no fault of his own, “I always hoped one of my sons would be a Heroic Archetype!”
Which is all by way of saying that on the day Arthur turns twenty-one word reaches Lord Godfrey of a princess from a distant land who is imprisoned in a castle guarded by dark and mystical creatures. Arthur is summoned to the manor and informed that he is going to be rescuing the lovely Princess Ariadne from her cruel plight.
“What with the low birth, the demeaning profession and your clear and inherent good character, combined with a keen thirst to prove yourself-- you have got a keen thirst to prove yourself, haven’t you?” Lord Godfrey asks, looking suddenly concerned.
Arthur says yes, he supposes he does. He does not mention that he has not got a keen thirst for a beautiful princess, as that seems like an inappropriate comment to make at this particular juncture.
“Right, well,” Lord Godfrey says, “off you go then.”
It is late afternoon when Lord Godfrey dispatches him, but Arthur rides for a few miles before nightfall and makes his camp near a crossroads. He falls asleep beneath a dark, clear sky and thinks that it is remarkably nice not to be worrying about the nocturnal habits of half a dozen swine.
He awakes the next morning to find an annoyingly good-looking man peering down at him in an frankly evaluative manner.
Arthur startles up from his bed roll and confronts the (broad-shouldered, stubbled) stranger with an expression which he hopes is perturbed and not bleary.
“Who are you?” He demands.
“Sir Eames,” the other man says with an accent which Arthur is certainly not going to think of as charming. “I’m from a few kingdoms over. Nothing to fuss about, darling.”
He seems utterly unfazed by the conversation, the situation, and possibly the entirety of existence so far. He is also eating an apple.
“What are you doing here?” Arthur asks, feeling flat-footed and therefore peevish.
“Oh, nothing much,” Eames says, munching noisily on the apple, “just rescuing the fair princess Ariadne. All in a day’s work, etc., etc.”
“I’m sorry,” Arthur says, not sorry in the least, “who did you say you were rescuing?”
“The fair princess Ariadne-- oh fuck, I think her name’s Ariadne,” Eames says, fishing in his saddlebags. “I wrote it down somewhere, I know I did.”
Which, Arthur will think later, was probably the point at which it all went to hell.
“I’m afraid you must be mistaken,” Arthur says firmly. “I myself have been sent to rescue Princess Ariadne, and I must continue on without delay. If you will excuse me.”
“Why, this is entirely ideal,” Eames says, demonstrating what appears to be a remarkable talent for disregarding Arthur completely. “We will ride together, of course! The company will hasten the journey, we will both be better protected against trouble on the road, and I will have something entirely delightful to stare at should the scenery grow dull.”
It takes Arthur nearly a full ten seconds to think of something to say, which is far longer than he would like and, apparently, too long altogether because Eames is swinging into his saddle and setting off (and looking entirely too attractive doing so) and, well. Arthur does have to ride that way, of course.
“I am good deal more interesting than scenery,” he shouts, and spurs his own horse forward.
“Of course you are darling. I misspoke. I shall spend the entire journey staring,” Eames says, which is when Arthur realizes that flirting (even of the accidental sort) had been a terrible, terrible idea.
He stares straight ahead, and therefore has no idea if Eames is staring even occasionally, which does not bother him in the least.
“Well then,” Eames says after fifteen minutes of total silence save for the sound of their horses’ hooves, “we ought to introduce ourselves. I am Sir Eames, knight of the realm, pledged in the service of Lord Cobb-- which, I might add, largely entails looking dangerous when unsavory company comes calling and larking about the castle stealing things. Ah! Your profile’s gone all stern, pet. Have no fear, I always return them. Don’t be so disapproving. Now. We’ve heard plenty about me, especially since one of us knew all of it already. What about you?”
“I’m Arthur,” Arthur says.
There is more silence.
“Enlightening,” Eames says. Arthur does not say anything; he is thinking about mucking out the pig shed and wondering if it is much different than larking about a castle. Before he can think about it his eyes are straying sideways and then he is looking at Eames, who, in spite of his (many) shortcomings does not seem to have the I-am-better-than-you-mostly-because-I-ca
“I serve Lord Godfrey,” Arthur says, which is true. “His holding is not far from here.”
“Ah,” Eames says, and is almost certainly going to say something else, as he has not so far proved the reticent type, except it is at that exact moment that a massive lion chooses to leap from the tall grass at the side of the road and try to kill them both.
A minute and a half later Arthur is cleaning his sword in the very same grass, which he thinks is a neat little irony. The lion had not been a master of strategy, and had spent most of its time saying several quite uncomplimentary things about Arthur’s mother.
“Hmm,” Eames says. Arthur turns around, sheathing his sword, and finds himself being stared at (he is flushing, of course, because he has just exerted himself to kill a talking lion). “What an intriguing man you are, Arthur.”
Arthur is not entirely sure what he is meant to say to this, and his flush is not dissipating in the slightest which is really quite annoying.
“I know how to take care of myself,” Arthur says.
“You do indeed,” Eames says as the horses (only slightly spooked, having been born into a world with more than its fair share of improbable circumstances) move forward. “So it’s to be talking lions from now on, is it?”
They spend the night on the fringes of a forest which is almost certain to be both magical and menacing, as is the way of these things. Eames whistles too loudly and accidentally scatters Arthur’s carefully collected pile of firewood (twice) while Arthur is busy stoking the flames.
But after dinner he also retrieves another apple from his saddlebags, cuts it into slices with quick, sure fingers, and takes them over to the horses. He shares them evenly between Arthur’s horse and his own. Perhaps he notices Arthur watching, because when he returns to the fireside he has an orange with him, and he tosses it to Arthur.
There are several reasons to return it without taking a bite, not the least of which is, “I do not accept gifts from slightly insufferable knights who have an inappropriate penchant for staring at me from all angles.” Except that over the course of his life Arthur has gotten to eat exactly one bite of an orange and so by the time he considers refusing he has devoured half of it.
Eames is watching, looking amused, and Arthur becomes keenly aware of the juice dripping down his chin.
“Oranges are something of a rarity where you come from?” Eames asks and Arthur, overwhelmed by the burst of pure sunshine on his tongue, tells the truth on accident.
“I tend to pigs,” he says. “I am not a lord, or a knight, or even a squire. I certainly do not have the chance to eat many oranges.”
Eames does not say anything for a few moments. The fire crackles tensely to itself, apparently keen to add to the atmosphere of the moment.
“And why would a man of your talents be set the task of tending pigs?” Eames says finally.
Arthur watches the fire, which proves its sense of the dramatic moment by quieting down, allowing the silence to grow. Arthur has no appreciation for the fire’s artistic talents, as he is trying to count the number of knights he knows who would associate with someone they knew to be a pig-keeper. He is having trouble getting past “zero.”
“You do not know me, or my talents,” he finally says.
“I know of your talent for slaying massive, talking lions,” Eames says, a smile in his voice. “It is not an insignificant skill, as it turns out.”
“But perhaps my pig-keeping skills outweigh even my markedly impressive lion-killing abilities,” Arthur says, an answering smile appearing on his face. He is finding it difficult to work up the energy to reign it in. He could swear the fire looks pleased.
“Ah, well,” Eames says, stretching out on his bedroll. “You will have to give me a list of your as yet undemonstrated talents tomorrow. I do not wish to be surprised by them.”
“No?” Arthur says, turning his head to look at Eames, one eyebrow raised.
“You’ve caught me out,” Eames says, looking caught-off-guard and pleased by the fact. “I am rather enjoying your surprises, as it happens.”
Arthur lies down on his own bedroll and does not say anything, for fear it will be rather silly. Even the fire, he feels, could not possibly approve of that.
The next day does bring with it a good many surprises, although it is difficult to categorize them as “pleasant.” They are, in order: a gryphon, an enormous, fanged serpent (who makes a fair to middling attempt to hypnotize them; “I’ve seen better,” Eames says dismissively) and a baby dragon. Neither he nor Eames could bring themselves to actually kill it, so they mostly watched it flutter about and sneeze bits of fire into the air, dodging when appropriate.
“Er, shoo,” Eames tries when this becomes rather tiresome, and the dragon obliges.
Arthur snorts and starts his horse forward again at a brisk walk.
“Is that the best you can do?” Eames inquires of the forest of large which is, of course, a truly terrible idea.
Moments later, they are set upon by harpies.
Arthur has heard tales of the shrieking, winged creatures swooping down from the sky to torture travelers, but he has never seen one with his own eyes. There is -- to be perfectly frank -- not much time to observe them, because he is relatively busy trying not to die. He does notice their strange, snarling faces and their curved talons which are, he suspects, perfectly designed to rip out someone’s internal organs without too much trouble.
The thought is unpleasant, so Arthur sets about using his sword to prevent it. Eames draws his own blade and out of the corner of his eye Arthur watches as he brings it down, hard, on a feathered neck. Not flawless technique, Arthur thinks, a bit choppy, but effective. Strong. And quick, very quick.
Thinking these things is perhaps not the wisest course of action in the middle of a battle to the death, and when Arthur finds himself pinned to the ground with claws digging into his shoulder blades it is very frustrating that he only has himself to blame.
“Fuck,” he says, or tries to say, but what comes out is more like, “Fnrgh” because ow ow ow god damn it ow.
(Ow ow ow god damn it ow is not a conducive mindset, as it happens, to pronouncing proper words. Even curse words.)
“Fuck,” Eames says on his behalf and then there are some very unpleasant hacking noises and a long, rattling shriek.
The weight falls away from his shoulders and then a dead harpy falls with a thud onto the road next to Arthur, which is really quite disgusting.
“Arthur?” Eames says in a voice which has quite a lot of strain in it.
“That’s really quite disgusting,” Arthur says. “Also, apparently you are not entirely useless.”
“Thank you for your contribution,” Eames says curtly and then he is crouching down next to Arthur, peering at his shoulders, grimacing.
“I’m fine,” Arthur says, and sits up. This turns out to be a terrible idea because it causes his shoulders to catch on fire. He returns Eames’ grimace with one of his own, but does not say anything. Shoulders on fire. Fine. He is confident it will not be incapacitating.
“You’re an idiot,” Eames declares. “I had been forming a very generous impression of your mental capabilities, but I shall have to begin anew.”
“You smell worse than the pigs,” Arthur says. It is a lie, but an undeniably satisfying one to tell.
“You cannot ride in that condition,” Eames says, not bothering to acknowledge the slight.
“Nonsense,” Arthur says, but he does not stand up just yet.
Eames rolls his eyes and turns away momentarily, glancing around at the road and the forest. “We ought to stop for the night anyway,” he says.
“It is barely past noon,” Arthur says. “Really, if I had known you were such an insufferable mother hen I would not have chosen to travel with you.”
“Chose to travel with me, did you?” Eames asks and then, before Arthur can answer, “Fine. Never mind stopping so that you can recuperate from being nearly mauled to death by a harpy, we will stop for lunch. Agreed? Excellent.”
Arthur does not protest (but only because he is very hungry, really). He does not protest when Eames helps him off of the road and settles him carefully in the grass, barely leaning against a tree out of consideration for his back. He does not even protest when Eames orders his shirt removed and retrieves bandages from his apparently bottomless saddlebags.
He does not protest when Eames’ hands splay, warm and cautious across his back, but that is only because he is not paying any attention to them whatsoever.
“Excellent,” Arthur has occasion to say the next morning, a few hours after Eames has finally agreed that his shoulders are in sufficient condition to allow for traveling. “A dragon. Just what I was hoping for.”
They are crouched in the shrubs just in front of the entrance to an ancient (and frankly quite grim) looking castle. Nearer still to the entrance is, well. A dragon.
“We could hardly expect to avoid one,” Eames points out matter-of-factly. “Princesses locked away in castles are seen as dreadfully common if they can’t even manage a dragon.”
“Of course they are,” Arthur says, gripping the hilt of his sword. “Have you any suggestions for vanquishing it, or shall I just try my luck in open combat?”
“Oh no!” Eames cries suddenly in a remarkably good woman’s voice. “Whatever shall I do? I am but a helpless-- though visually stunning-- princess wandering through this dreadful, dirty forest and now there are leaves in my hair-- although of course I still look thoroughly ravishing-- and I am hopelessly lost! I do hope someone comes along soon to rescue me, as I cannot possibly escape my plight without assistance! I suppose I shall just have to rest on this rock which is just slightly to the northeast of that gigantic, foreboding castle-- having arranged my skirt just so, naturally-- and await a knight in shining armor!”
The dragon perks up, darts a quick glance around the forest, and then trundles off.
“...Really?” Arthur says. “Really?”
Eames shrugs. “Dragons are notorious skirt-chasers,” he says.
“Larking about the castle stealing things was a bit of an understatement, was it?” Arthur asks. Eames shrugs, grinning.
“I may have left out a few incidental dragons,” he says. “They are an occupational hazard of sorts, once you’ve been knighted.”
“An occupational hazard,” Arthur repeats, deadpan, taking a few cautious steps forward. The creature is nowhere to be seen.
“Indeed,” Eames says. “Dragons, swooning maidens, evil sorcerers-- it all gets a bit boring, really.”
“You are an incorrigible showoff, and probably a liar,” Arthur says. “Although I will concede that you throw your voice passably.”
“How unendingly kind of you,” Eames says. “I shall treasure the compliment,” and then they are crossing over the drawbridge.
The castle itself was probably grand, once, but is now being used primarily as training ground for cobwebs who wish to improve their skills in matters like drooping lazily from door frames and sprawling along stone walls.
They encounter a particularly impressive specimen at the foot of the stairs, one whose tendrils stretch to coat nearly half of the bannister. The stairs themselves climb up into increasingly dim light, until finally there is, Arthur would swear, nothing at all.
“Ah,” Eames says. “A dark and ominous staircase. Perfect. Up we go!”
Arthur sighs, but of course Eames is correct. Fair maidens are nearly always kept at the top of mysterious stone towers, and the more intimidating the climb, the more likely it is imprisoned royalty waiting at the top of it.
So they climb.
It takes them a good half hour of stumbling through the darkness to reach the top, and they rarely speak, choosing instead to spend their breath on putting one foot in front of the other (and on sneezing; the dust is thicker in the air the father they go). Atmospherically speaking the entire thing is ideal: a dragon, a grim and-- frankly-- quite dingy castle, and now a long and arduous final task before they reach their destination. It is all exactly as it ought to be, which is why when they finally emerge into the round, open room at the top of the tower it is all a bit anticlimactic.
There is a bed, true, one hung with silk draperies. There is a thick, luxurious rug, and several tall, slender candles mounted in elaborated, bejeweled holders. There is even a window, and therein lies the problem.
Lying on the sill, one end knotted to the bedpost, is a rope (or, a rope of sorts: it would seem to be made from the sheets Arthur can only assume once graced the bed). Feeling rather uncertain of himself, Arthur walks to the window and surveys the ground below. Eames follows.
At the end of the rope, her hair slightly disheveled and her dress torn at the hem, is a woman Arthur can only assume is Princess Ariadne.
“I got quite tired of waiting, I’m afraid,” she says, peering up at them. “I hope I do not offend you, gentlemen, when I point out that your capacity for rescue is underwhelming.”
“Our capacity for rescue is excellent,” Eames says peevishly. “It is your capacity for being rescued that is poor.”
“And why are there two of you?” Ariadne continues. “And really, shouldn’t at least one of you be blonde? I’m almost positive there’s a stipulation, somewhere, that at least one of you be blonde and riding a noble steed.”
“For God’s sake,” Eames says, “we’re rescuing you, you ungrateful wretch.”
“We’ve been through this already,” Ariadne says. “And, I might add, drawn the conclusion that you are absolutely shitty rescuers.”
“We had not reached any sort of conclusion whatsoever,” Arthur says indignantly. Ariadne shrugs.
“Have it your way,” she says, “I’m off. I’ve really got far better things to do than argue with two men whose most spectacular talent seems to be climbing stairs.”
“Well,” Eames says as Princess Ariadne strides off toward the horizon, her skirts hitched up around her knees as she clambers over fallen logs and through brooks and around other inconveniently placed bits of nature, “that was a bit of a surprise.”
Arthur does not say anything.
“An interesting young woman,” Eames says. “I rather wish she had elected to stay and converse. I think we might’ve gotten along.”
“You called her an ungrateful wretch. I do not think that qualifies as an invitation to converse.” Arthur points out, though without much conviction.
“It depends on who you are talking to, but on the whole I am forced to agree,” Eames says, sounding cheerful enough. “Ah, well. I dare say there will be another fair princess to rescue tomorrow. You can barely take a walk through the kingdom without stumbling over two or three of them, it seems.”
“Yes,” Arthur says, and then, “Well. I ought to be going.”
“Ought to be what?” Eames says, his brow furrowing.
“Going,” Arthur says. “I was sent to rescue Princess Ariadne, and as I have failed in that task, I must be getting back home. Lord Godfrey is quite particular about who watches over his pigs.”
“Ah,” Eames says. “I see. Yes, I suppose I should be moving along as well.”
No one moves. There is silence for a moment. They are standing very close together, Arthur realizes.
“Why did you undertake this, anyway?” Arthur asks suddenly. “This quest. It is clear you have no need of the fame, or the glory, and I doubt it was the potential for monetary reward which drew you in. Surely there are certain advantages to staying someplace where you are a knight?”
“There are,” Eames agrees, sliding his fingers down Arthur’s sides until they are slotted just between his ribs. “Most of what you need is brought to your door. The majority of the population is unfailingly deferential; no one wants to criticize a knight of the realm. You are continually invited to feasts and festivals. The young ladies are lovely and are excellent at feigning interest even if they do not feel it in truth, and there is no man who does not wish his daughter to marry into such prestige. Besides which, most of the time there is someone else available to slay the dragons, someone still hungry to prove himself.”
“So why leave?” Arthur says. It seems a very important question.
Eames pauses, studying Arthur’s face.
“I got bored,” he says finally, and then grins. It’s startling and open, and Arthur’s knees do not feel weak (he is far too practical for that) but it’s possible he blinks a few times more than would be strictly usual.
“You got bored,” he echoes.
“I do not like having things brought to me,” Eames says. His thumbs have drifted down to Arthur’s hips and are resting there, applying just the slightest hint of pressure. “I like to go out and get them for myself.”
“Hmm,” Arthur says because yes, alright, fine, the thumbs are distracting.
“How attached are you to being a swineherd?” Eames says.
“I-- what?” Arthur says and then (because this is just embarrassing), “Not particularly. Attached, that is.”
“I ask because there are really plenty of other pursuits for a man of your gifts,” Eames says; his fingertips slip under Arthur’s shirt as though they have a will of their own. “For example, there was a lovely ruby set into that throne we passed on the first floor. Many people are interested in that sort of thing.”
“Why does your mind fly so quickly to law-breaking?” Arthur demands in a voice that is a touch raspier than he might like.
“We’ll be bandits,” Eames says gleefully, as if instead of a reprimand he has heard yes.
“We’ll be caught and hanged,” Arthur says weakly as Eames backs him into the cool, stone wall.
“Oh honestly, darling, you’re severely underestimating the both of us and you know it,” Eames murmurs, his words ghosting over Arthur’s lips and Arthur-- who has never been renowned for his patience-- curses under his breath and presses their mouths together.
Some time later, Eames pulls away (though not, Arthur notes, all that far away). Arthur is certain of three things: one, his own hair is more mussed than he generally approves of; two, Eames’ lips are red, and swollen, and Arthur would very much like to spend a bit more time mapping them with his own; three, there is work to be done.
“Well,” he says, just slightly out of breath, and moves toward the door.
“You seem to have a few misconceptions about how this works,” Eames says, his voice pitched low. "I will enlighten you: at this moment in time it is very important that you stay here."
“Not at all,” Arthur says. “As I understand it there is a ruby downstairs which I have been tasked with stealing. Are you going to come along?”
“You are an utter and complete bastard,” Eames says, catching up with him a few steps into the corridor, “and I am only following you because I am expecting a great deal of victory sex once we’ve liberated that lovely gem stone.”
“I do not think it is going to be particularly difficult to liberate,” Arthur says, trying very hard not to smile.
“It will be a victory nonetheless,” Eames says, and Arthur cannot help but agree.