You wake up.
This is your first problem: You.
The English language has no way of differentiating between the plural and the singular ’you’. As it turns out, neither do you.
You’re sitting across from each other, still hooked up to the PASIV, and you look at him—a separate entity to you—and think: this is wrong. What’s worse, you are all too aware of the fact that it is wrong that you think it’s wrong.
Because it is right. You aren’t right.
Which leads you back to the problem.
The job went bad, you are told.
You held out for as long as possible, to make sure it was still successful, you are told.
You fell into Limbo, you are told.
One of you fell first. The other one of you went after. To save you, perhaps. Maybe just to keep you company.
Limbo. Cobb is saying it and he stutters when he speaks, the way you know he does when he’s scared.
What is there to be scared about?, you wonder. You reach for each other, your hands dry and warm and comforting against each other. Because you are scared to be apart.
Cobb is panicking. Cobb is pacing back and forth, chanting, shit, shit, shit, because he doesn’t know what to do. He relies on you to be the level-headed one. Ones. He refers to you as two separate people and you can’t stand it. You punch him, you yell at him, but Cobb doesn’t stop. He calls you Arthur, he calls you Eames, and he frowns at the way your hands cling tighter to one another, fingers interlocked.
He doesn’t understand, you say. He could never.
Of course I do, he says, sad, and then, he says, Mal.
The guilt lances through you and you divert your eyes.
You need to be alone, you say.
I’ll leave you alone, Cobb says. With each other.
You weren’t always this way. Once upon a time, you were not Arthur and you were Eames. Once upon a time, you were Arthur and you were not Eames.
You were two, and you fell.
Eames. Eames is the one who comes down after. Mere seconds after, but you don’t know how long that translated to down there. Arthur has made a city with winding roads and dead ends. A labyrinth.
You cheat. You find your way into the centre, and there you are. Arthur. Eames. Watching each other.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to find you. Let’s go.”
You can no longer remember.
When holding hands no longer feels like enough, you wrap your arms around each other. You kiss, and then finally, something feels right.
You kiss until you can’t breathe, until your hands begin to wander and you undo your clothes, pulling them off, stripping them away, and it’s just you, joined together, and you realise how this has happened.
In Limbo, there are no restraints. You are not drunk, there is nothing forcibly lowering your inhibitions. There’s just no point in holding back.
You want each other, so you take each other. Again and again until you stop marking time by when you are, but when you aren’t.
This is impossible in the real world, and you remember—this is not real. You need to escape, but you need to wait for the sedative to wear out first.
You reach for each other; hands, mouths, hips, legs.
You lie in bed, two bodies pressed against each other, skin against skin, comfortable in your own company, but you know that this is wrong. You can’t work this way; not permanently.
The phone rings and Cobb is telling Arthur that he is bringing Ariadne to visit, because she’s worried. He asks if you’re okay and you say, “we’re fine.”
You sit shoulder to shoulder when Ariadne comes. She hugs you. Then she hugs you again.
“This is reality.” Her voice is trembling. “You know that, right?”
Of course you do.
“Check your totem,” she says.
“We don’t have one,” you say.
“We had a die,” you say.
You rummage through your pockets, and a small cube of red plastic clatters to the floor. You reach to pick it up and Ariadne gasps, “No.”
You stop, fingers still curled in the air. “What?”
“Eames,” she says, “only Arthur can touch that. Or it defeats the purpose.”
You shrug, and move your hand away.
You pick it up and look at it in your fingers, four pips facing upward.
“But we know this is the real world,” you shrug, “that doesn’t change anything.”
You are Arthur and Eames, and you are in Limbo.
This is one of the increasingly rare moments that you classify as aren’t. Arthur is panting, not out of exhaustion, because this is a dream and he can fix that with a mere thought. Arthur is panting because Eames likes the sound of it. You’re lying beside each other, entwined, and it is difficult to tell when Eames ends and Arthur begins.
You are beginning to forget.
“Do you know the story of Narcissus?” you ask aloud.
Of course you do.
You wake in the middle of the night, from a dreamless sleep. There’s a memory in your mind—of being young, when people called you David, when you learned to play poker for the first time, and your poker face was terrible.
“Do you remember?” you ask.
You think about it. For hours and hours.
But you don’t.
You don’t go back to sleep, because you can’t. You sit awake and panic, reaching for memories you can’t access. Thoughts that do not belong to you.
You try to convince yourself that this is okay, it must only be temporary, but it doesn’t work.
Your poker face is beginning to slip.
“This is wrong. We shouldn’t be this way.”
There are two parts of you. There is Arthur and there is Eames. Melded together perfectly, seamlessly.
Then, there it is. So small that you haven’t noticed it before: a crack.
“I think I—”
You don’t know which one of you uttered it, but it hangs in the air between you, and it scares you.
You call Cobb.
I…, you begin to say, and he looks delighted. Hopeful.
It’s such a welcome change from the torn, terrified look he usually gives you that you can almost forgive him for being happy about something that causes you such pain.
He leaves, and you cling to each other, fearing the loss of your mental intimacy, hoping to make up for it with physical intimacy instead.
We’ll be fine, you try to reassure yourself. Yourselves. You’re beginning to doubt each other’s words.
What do you know?
You wake, and it’s morning.
“Arthur,” you gasp.
“I’m here,” he says, and you reach for each other. You go back to sleep.
You only realise how strange this is when you wake up again, later.
You wake, and you’re alone.
“I was just in the next room,” Eames says, stroking your hair, “I’m sorry.”
“I was so afraid.”
I, I, I. You throw the word around so easily, now.
“You’ve been getting better, these past few days,” Cobb says, and you know he’s talking to both of you. You know there are two of you. He sighs, like a weight has been lifted from his chest. “Maybe you just needed time.”
“Can you remember anything from before Limbo?” Ariadne asks.
You’ve tried before, but you were getting confused between two sets of memories. Two sets of reality.
“We were in love,” you say. It’s something you both remember.
“Were you together?” she asks, “because I don’t remember that. Maybe I didn’t notice.”
“No,” Arthur shakes his head. He looks at you. “Back then, we didn’t know.”
“But now we do.” You touch his hand. He holds yours.
“Eames,” you say. You’re walking together and his hand is on the small of your back. You’ve almost returned to normal. Almost, because there are things that have changed permanently.
You stop walking, taking him by surprise. He walks another step and you turn, so your bodies are pressed together.
“I like when we’re like this,” you murmur. “I like when we’re close.”
“It’s comforting,” Eames nods. “I know.”
It’s no longer something you constantly need, but that only makes it even more pleasant.
“Arthur, I love you.”
You’ve never said it before. Not in the countless years you spent together in Limbo. Not before, and not after. Not until now.
He looks at you, tracing your features with his fingertips, the way you sometimes do to remind yourself that what you are seeing is nothing like your reflection. He smiles, and it’s his smile, close-mouthed and reserved, not wide and cheeky like yours. It’s his lips that lightly brush against yours, and it’s his voice that says, “I love you, Eames.”