Arthur is still bleeding a little at the elbow from removing the PASIV needle too fast.
‘Where the fuck did they come from?’ shouts the forger, out of breath. His name is Eames, he is horrifyingly unprofessional, and Arthur has no plans to see him ever again, especially not in a working environment. This job has not gone well.
‘Get out of here,’ Arthur snaps, reloading his gun. ‘The money’s already been wired to your account. We’ll be faster if we split up.’
‘And leave you all alone?’ asks Eames, somehow managing to sound like he’s teasing even with blood dripping down one side of his face.
Arthur peers round the corner. ‘I’m not alone,’ he says, twitching his head back as bullets whizz past. ‘I’ve got five heavily-armed yakuza here to keep me company.’
‘Well, if you’re going to be like
Eames draws his gun and runs towards the stairs, keeping his head down. Arthur turns when he hears the footsteps stop. The forger is standing in the stairwell, out of the sightline of their attackers. He presents a dramatic silhouette, standing in profile gun in hand against the pale grey concrete. Arthur hasn’t known him long, but he knows enough to suspect that he’s posing on purpose.
As soon as Arthur catches his eye, Eames blows him a kiss. Then he darts down the stairs and is gone. Hopefully forever.
* * *
‘He’s good,’ says Cobb.
‘No.’ Arthur wishes Cobb were here so he could witness Arthur’s Extra Serious Face in person.
good. I’ve not heard of him failing yet.’
‘I’m not disputing that, Dom,’ says Arthur. ‘I just don’t want to work with him. Have you actually
Eames? He’s a disaster waiting to happen. I had to wait a day for him to sober up before we could even start the planning stages. Then disguised himself as a playboy model and tried to seduce me in a nightclub bathroom in the mark’s subconscious.’
Cobb sounds suspiciously like he’s trying to suppress a laugh. ‘Can’t have been very successful with that one, I suppose.’
,’ Arthur repeats, with extra emphasis.
‘I don’t know, Arthur,’ says Cobb. ‘He’s meant to be very talented. Might well be the best forger out there.’
‘What about Timothy Chan? Or Maria Hanff?’
‘Well, they’re hardly as good-looking as Eames, are they?’
‘What?’ Arthur holds the phone away from his ear, startled. Like Arthur, Dom Cobb is a professional. He doesn’t make comments like that. Also, he’s married.
‘I know I prefer to have good eye candy around when I work,’ he continues. ‘Otherwise, what’s the point of a life of crime?’
What. The fuck.
‘Eames? Is that you?’ Forgers. Impersonating someone’s voice over the phone would be a piece of cake for someone like Eames. Arthur can’t believe he just got
‘Glad to see I made a lasting impression,’ says Eames, reverting back to his natural voice. ‘Pity it wasn’t a positive one. Maybe we can work on that in the future.’
Arthur can just imagine the smug look on Eames’ face. They only spent a week together in real life, yet Eames’ face and all its expressions are so annoying they seem to have burnt themselves into Arthur’s memory. ‘Is the job even real?’ he asks.
‘Of course it’s real,’ says Eames, all false indignance and English accent. ‘Would I waste your valuable time? Naturally, I jumped at the chance to work with you again.’
‘I’m not saying another word to you till I’ve spoken to Cobb face-to-face,’ says Arthur flatly.
Just before he hangs up, he hears the unmistakable sound of a kiss.
* * *
‘You look marvelous today, Arthur. I can barely contain myself.’
Beside him, Cobb looks like he can barely contain
self. He's teaching Arthur the dream layout and Eames has been hovering over them all morning.
‘That would be a lot more effective as a compliment if it didn’t come from someone wearing herringbone tweed in ninety-degree weather,’ says Arthur tersely.
The most irritating thing is that Arthur knows Eames must be doing work at
point because he already appears to have the mark’s entire life-history memorised, but all he ever seems to do is hang around Arthur’s desk making lewd comments and being a general pain in the ass.
Instead of sympathising like a true friend, Cobb seems to find this completely hilarious.
‘You’re going to give my pointman an embolism,’ says Cobb. ‘Go make yourself useful and fetch us some coffee before he shoots you.’
to serve,’ says Eames, rolling the words around in his mouth. ‘How do you like yours, Arthur? Warm and sweet like your friendly demeanour? Brown, like your eyes?’
‘Strong. Like my feelings of annoyance right now.’
‘Your feelings for me are strong?’ asks Eames, delighted. Before he ducks out of the room, he makes sure to blow Arthur a goodbye kiss.
‘He really is as bad as you said,’ Cobb remarks. He doesn’t sound particularly bothered about it.
Arthur shoots him a look. ‘Because I’m usually so prone to exaggeration.’
Now Eames has left the room, Arthur permits the corner of his mouth to turn up, just a little, into a smile.
* * *
It’s not a large community, so one does get used to working with a few familiar faces. Eames is competent and competent forgers are thin on the ground. Arthur has even grown to find him rather amusing, not that he’d ever admit it. Give Eames an inch and he’ll take a mile.
Linden, however, is
someone Arthur intends to work with again anytime soon. Whoever introduced him to the dream-sharing business should be ashamed of themselves. Also, he is a complete dick.
Arthur’s usual method of dealing with people who are pissing him off is to ignore them either until they take the hint or he snaps. Eames’ method, on the other hand, is to make a special effort to be as annoying as humanly possible. In the case of Linden, Arthur can only approve.
‘We can’t lead her there,’ Linden is saying. ‘We’ll fall.’
‘There’s nowhere to fall
,’ Arthur says slowly. ‘Because we’ll be
on the floor
‘But that’s the ceiling!’
Arthur is starting to lose his patience. ‘But it’s
the floor. Once we reach the interior of the palace her childhood memory should take over. The sensation of weightlessness combined with...’ He gives up. Linden’s blank expression is just too depressing. ‘The ceiling is
,’ he repeats.
‘You know, it’s really rather tragic when people fail to appreciate your creative side,’ says Eames mournfully. ‘
think your plan is wonderful.’
He’s laying it on a bit thick, but Arthur lets it slide because Linden is audibly grinding his teeth. For some reason, Linden finds Eames’ flirting incredibly irritating, and after four days of Linden’s idiocy, Arthur is willing to resort to petty revenge.
Eames leans over Arthur’s shoulder, completely ignoring anyone’s personal space bubble as he peers at the laptop screen. ‘Could you explain it again?’ he asks sweetly.
‘I’ve just explained it
,’ says Arthur, hoping Linden will take the hint.
But Linden isn’t paying attention. ‘Do you mind?’ he asks irritably. ‘You’re in my face.’
‘Oh, my apologies!’ says Eames, wide-eyed. ‘Am I bothering you? I’m afraid I tend to lose focus with Arthur so close by.’
Arthur thinks he may have sprained something, he just rolled his eyes so hard.
‘Jesus Christ,’ mutters Linden under his breath.
‘Well, I suppose I should leave you to work, then,’ says Eames, and turns his head just enough that Arthur can feel the bristles of his three-day beard brushing up against the side of his face. Swiftly, Eames presses a kiss to Arthur’s jaw, then straightens up and strolls off out of the office.
‘How the hell do you put
with that?’ asks Linden.
Arthur takes a sip of his coffee, schooling his features into as innocent an expression as possible. ‘Put up with what?’
* * *
Arthur wonders where Dom is. Not that it matters; he doubts even Dom himself cares where Dom is right now.
Someone has put a black bow in Philippa’s hair. Mal’s mother, probably. The two children are standing on either side of Miles like little sentries, James’ pudgy hand fisted in the hem of Miles’ black wool overcoat.
Arthur keeps to the back of the hall. There are a few familiar faces here, but mostly these are people from Mal’s
life. The crowd’s grief is overlaid with a sense of scandal, and many are whispering the half-shocked gossip that comes when an attractive, successful young woman is murdered by her husband. Mal’s mother managed to keep the press out, though.
The service is conducted in French. Arthur wonders how much the children can understand. He realises he doesn’t even know if the Cobbs were raising them to be bilingual or not.
Afterwards, Arthur means to slip away unnoticed, but Miles somehow spots him in the crowd and heads him off before he reaches the exit. He looks like he’s aged ten years since Arthur last saw him, but his grip on Arthur’s arm is still strong.
‘Tell him to call me,’ he says. His voice is very controlled; he doesn’t need to say Dom’s name. ‘I know you can get hold of him.’
Arthur nods wordlessly, and Miles lets him go.
Something makes him pause outside and turn back to look at the church. A second later, and Arthur would’ve missed him.
He’s clean-shaven for once, and he looks more sombre than Arthur has ever seen him before. Well,
he’s sombre -- it’s a funeral. Even Eames wouldn’t screw around at a friend’s funeral. But somehow Arthur hadn’t expected him to show up at all.
Eames makes no move towards him. Instead, he raises a hand in greeting, then blows Arthur a kiss. For a moment Arthur is frozen, Mal Cobb’s friends and family moving about him, but then he realises that for once, Eames isn’t flirting. Just a little, Arthur feels the cold lump of grief in his gut begin to thaw.
* * *
The next time they meet, Eames is up to his usual tricks.
Arthur has assigned himself the role of Ariadne’s babysitter once they get off the plane. She’s not a child, of course - at twenty-two she’s startlingly brilliant, and Arthur doesn’t think for a moment that she’s going to go back to designing hotels and office blocks after this. But she’s just made the transition from bookish architecture student to white collar criminal in one transatlantic flight, and someone has to keep an eye on her if only to make sure she puts Saito’s paycheck through a reasonable number of accounts.
At any rate, it’s not overly suspicious for a man and a young woman, previously strangers, to perhaps bond over a shared cabin and go for a drink together once they reach solid ground.
,’ says Ariadne, dragging her enormous suitcase onto a luggage trolley. ‘I can’t believe we did it, you know?’
Arthur picks up his more moderately-sized case. ‘Well, try to resist bragging about it.’
‘I think I can manage that,’ she says, eyes twinkling with the excitement of adrenaline comedown. ‘It’s just weird that I won’t be seeing you guys again, I guess.’
It’s sweet that she thinks that this is the only time she’ll ever work in extraction. If Arthur were a betting man, he’d put money on her being back in the business within a year. She’ll probably finish her degree first, though. She’s tenacious like that.
‘You’ll see Cobb again at least,’ he allows. ‘He’ll be visiting Miles now and then, and he likes to keep track of his protégées. You might even get to meet James and Philippa.’
‘Were you his protégé?’
He smiles. ‘Not exactly.’
They’ve reached the exit. Ariadne docks her luggage trolley and Arthur helps her heft her suitcase over to the taxi rank.
Arthur turns to ask Ariadne where she’s headed when some asshole ducks ahead of them and steals the first taxi, slamming the door behind him.
It’s Eames. He rolls down the window and sticks his head out. ‘
sorry,’ he says cheerfully. ‘I’m in a terrible hurry, didn’t notice you two there.’
‘That’s OK,’ says Ariadne. ‘We can get another one.’
‘Hey, weren’t you two on my flight?’ asks Eames, mischievous. ‘
the suit.’ As the cab draws away, he blows them a kiss.
Ariadne giggles and sends another kiss back on the palm of her hand.
‘Is he always like that?’
‘More or less,’ says Arthur, and suppresses the sudden embarrassing urge to explain to her that Eames meant that kiss for
, not her.
* * *
‘Casinos again? You’re getting repetative.’
Eames turns. He doesn’t look particularly surprised to see Arthur there. In fact, he looks a little drunk, although he is typically so languid and drawling that it takes an expert to differentiate between drunk Eames and Eames as normal.
‘I go through phases,’ he says, offended. ‘Last year it was 18th century Russian art; this year it’s casinos. Anyway, what do you expect if you ask me to meet in Las Vegas?’
Las Vegas had
been Arthur’s suggestion, but sometimes you have to make concessions during the preliminary stages of a job. The only thing Arthur can bring himself to like about this town is the overabundance of people eager to be parted from their money, but even that has an irritating side to it: too easy.
‘You’ve been up to the eyeballs in gambling debts since the nineties,’ says Arthur. He doesn't mention that the Fischer job has probably paid off all of those by now. Probably. ‘The first step is admitting you have a problem.’
‘My only problem is that money can’t buy me your love, dear Arthur,’ says Eames expansively, causing a woman across the table to smirk at them.
The casino is warm enough that Eames has discarded his jacket, an icy glass of something standing on the table by his elbow. From behind his chair, Arthur has a perfect view of the tattoo worming its way up Eames’ arm and under his rolled-up shirtsleeve. Eames has had a haircut recently, a fading section of paler skin at the hairline on the back of his neck contrasting with the rest of his tan. It looks very smooth.
‘You don’t know that for sure,’ Arthur points out. It was a long flight to get here, and right now fucking with a not-so-sober Eames looks to be a pretty entertaining (if not particularly wise) idea.
‘That I can’t be bought. After all, I
a professional.’ Gratifyingly, Eames chokes on his drink. ‘But the answer is no,’ Arthur finishes, once Eames has wrenched his neck turning round to stare at him. 'I was just pointing out that you hadn't tried that method before,' he adds innocently.
Eames attempts to regain his aplomb, face still a little red. ‘I would never suggest anything so sordid.’
Eames considers this, then nods in agreement.
'Come on, Mr Eames,' says Arthur. 'We have business to discuss.’ Although at this point Arthur is wondering if they should take a short break beforehand to allow Eames to sober up a little before they meet with the new clients.
‘As you wish,’ says Eames with a put-upon sigh. He picks up the dice in one hand and holds them up, looking up at Arthur through his eyelashes. ‘For luck?’ he says innocently, offering him the dice. At first Arthur doesn’t understand what he means, then he rolls his eyes. This is what happens when you indulge Eames’ flirtations in public.
He’s seen that mocking tilt of Eames’ mouth a hundred times, but for some reason this evening he decides to take it at face value. Imitating the many women in cleavage-bearing dresses clustering round all the high-rollers, Arthur leans over Eames’ shoulder and blows gently on the dice. He glances sideways at Eames, who looks amusingly stunned that Arthur actually took him up on his suggestion.
They are close enough that Arthur can smell his cologne.
Eames rolls the dice. Not a good throw.
'It appears that your technique could do with some work,' Eames remarks, grinning.
‘You shouldn’t rely on luck,’ says Arthur, straightening up. ‘You never know when it might run out.’
Eames gathers his dwindling hoard of casino chips and follows him out to the hotel where Arthur’s new clients will meet them. ‘Seems to be going pretty well so far,’ he says with a wink. ‘You’re here, aren’t you?’
* * *
Once the meeting is over, they’re out of the hotel and halfway across the parking lot before Arthur realises there’s no reason for Eames to still be here.
He stops and turns. Eames almost bumps into him, but doesn't step back. He's never had a lot of respect for personal space, particularly Arthur's.
‘Is there any particular reason why you’re following me?’
Eames’ expression is one of polite confusion. He's put his ugly jacket back on, and the breeze is ruffling his hair a little. He looks a mess.
‘I’m walking you to your car,’ he explains, as if it's completely obvious what he's doing. He is standing
too close. ‘Proving that chivalry isn’t dead.’
‘I think you’re well aware that if it came to a fight, I’d take you,’ says Arthur, and Eames’ mouth stretches out into an infuriating smirk. Arthur tells himself he didn't phrase it that way just to get a rise out of Eames. ‘If you want chivalry, win me a jousting match or something, then maybe I’ll be impressed.’
‘Oh, so you’re admitting that you’re a princess?’
Arthur steps back and turns towards his rental car, but Eames catches his wrist, bringing Arthur’s hand up between them. Arthur could break his hold easily, but he doesn’t.
He’s giving Arthur that same look he’d given him in the casino. For a moment Arthur thinks he’s going to go with the chivalry theme and kiss his hand. He can feel Eames’ breath over the sensitive skin on the inside of his wrist, anticipating it and not sure if he should break away or stay still. But then all Eames does is drop something into Arthur’s palm.
Casino dice, two black and one green. The ones from earlier; he must have pocketed them. Not mistakable for Arthur’s totem.
He breathes a good-luck kiss over the dice in Arthur’s hand, tickling and making Arthur’s fingers close up around them involuntarily. They stand there for a moment, locked in place till Arthur breaks the silence.
‘I don’t need luck,’ he says quietly.
Eames hardly seems to change but Arthur can see the moment when that false cockiness flows back into his expression. ‘Of course you don't,’ he says smoothly. ‘You have unswerving competency on your side.’ He takes a step back, and Arthur has an unsettling feeling that he’s somehow managed to say the wrong thing. ‘Well, I suppose I’ll see you on the flight, then,’ says Eames.
Arthur watches him leave, a square-shouldered shadow against the bright lights of the casino fountains. He weighs the dice in one hand, his rental car keys in the other. Eames was acting oddly, but they’d both been in a strange mood tonight. Things would be back to normal when the time came for them to go to work.
* * *
into Arthur’s hallway when Arthur opens the door.
‘Terribly sorry to drop in like this,’ he pants, stripping off his jacket. ‘Do you mind closing the door behind me?’
‘I mind you
,’ Arthur hisses. He takes in Eames’ sweaty face, his laboured breathing. ‘Who’s chasing you?’
‘Just the police, dear boy. But I’d really rather you let me in just in case they
manage to catch up.’
‘And out of all the doors in the entire city, you came to mine?’ He doesn’t bother to ask how Eames knows where he lives.
‘Well, I could’ve broken into a stranger’s house,’ says Eames with a reproachful look. ‘But that would’ve been rather impolite, wouldn’t it? Especially when you’re such a gracious host.’
Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose. On any other occasion, he might have been persuaded to admit that this was a good way to liven up an otherwise uneventful Sunday afternoon. However -- ‘My
Eames pauses. ‘Ah,’ he says. ‘And I assume she wouldn’t appreciate an unexpected addition to the family in the form of a wanted criminal?’
‘You assume correctly,’ Arthur lies. In fact, Arthur’s mom would
Eames, which is why it is imperative that they never meet. Arthur can handle them separately, but he doubts he could deal with them as a united force.
Also, Arthur’s mom is under investigation by Interpol under three different aliases, and only one of them is even
the end of the statute of limitations. It’d be highly embarrassing if she ended up getting arrested in his own house.
‘I can just pop in and borrow a change of clothes. I’ll be in and out before you know it.’
‘That’s what she said,’ says Arthur involuntarily. It’s his mother’s fault, he’s sure -- she always causes him to regress to adolescence. He disguises his embarrassment by dragging Eames in by the lapels and closing the door behind him. ‘The closet’s along the hall. If you’re not out of here in two minutes, I’m coming in to make sure you’re not trying on my underwear or something.’
‘Why, is your underwear unexpectedly interesting?’ enquires Eames. Then, fondly: ‘Your clothes have a separate room all to themselves? Oh,
Arthur shoves him down the hall. ‘
His mother is still sitting at the kitchen table, flipping idly through the paper. ‘Who was that?’ she asks, looking up.
‘Just a friend,’ says Arthur. ‘He came to borrow something. He’ll be out in a minute.’ Hopefully.
She raises an eyebrow. ‘He came to borrow something from your closet?’ Her seat in the kitchen has a partial view of the hall.
Arthur changes the subject, attempting to pick up the topic from where they left off when Eames arrived. ‘What were you saying about the Giacometti?’
To his credit, Eames
out in under two minutes. Unfortunately, he decides to say goodbye first.
He shows up in the kitchen doorway wearing one of Arthur’s undershirts (stretched horribly out of shape), a grey wool jacket over one arm.
‘Thanks for the lend, darling. I’ll be out of your hair in a tick.’
blows Arthur a kiss
‘He’s just teasing,’ says Arthur despairingly, as his mother smirks.
‘I can see
Finally, the back door slams and Arthur breathes a long sigh of relief.
‘You know,’ says Arthur’s mother thoughtfully. ‘I think he stole your Glock, the one you keep in your underwear drawer? He was hiding it under the jacket.’
* * *
run out of bullets?’
It’s a testament to Eames’ ability to stay cool that he manages to sound merely exasperated when they are crouched mere inches from the loud, irregular sound of bullets ricocheting off brick and concrete.
‘They’re not real guns, so probably not.’ They are both covered in damp brick dust from head to toe. If this were the real world, Arthur would be decidedly pissed at the ruination of this suit.
‘He was in the military. Shouldn’t he be aiming for verisimilitude?’
‘Perhaps they’re reloading,’ Arthur suggests.
Eames nudges him with his leg. ‘How about I make a run for it, eh?’
‘Feel free, if you enjoy being perforated.’
‘I put a little back door in the floor below us. As long as we get down there we can probably escape.’
Arthur tries to dislodge some of the brick dust from his hair. ‘So it’s “we” now?’ he wonders out loud. ‘Getting shot was not on my agenda for this afternoon.’
‘What’s the worst that can happen?’
‘Painful death,’ says Arthur flatly.
Eames is smiling at him. ‘You know, I have the strangest feeling of deja vu. Remember the first time we worked together?’
Arthur shifts. There isn't a lot of space in their hiding place, and he's practically sitting in Eames' lap. It's not entirely awful.
‘Vaguely. It was a disaster.’
Eames reaches into his pocket, nudging against Arthur’s hip, and pulls out a grenade. ‘You create a distraction, I’ll leg it to the lift shaft.’
Arthur stares at the grenade. ‘You had that the entire time?’
Eames’ lips twitch. ‘Possibly. But I was enjoying the pleasure of your company.’
Arthur rolls his eyes, and nods. Eames hands him the grenade. ‘Thanks,’ says Arthur drily.
Eames leaps up and starts running, and Arthur counts to three before lobbing the grenade over the wall. When the smoke clears, Eames is on the other side of the room, miraculously unscathed and leaning nonchalantly against a pillar outside the line of fire.
of here,’ calls Arthur, exasperated.
Eames grins, and blows Arthur his trademark kiss. Punchy with adrenaline or perhaps something else, Arthur reaches up with one hand and mimes catching the kiss in mid-air, tucking it into the pocket of his waistcoat.
Eames bursts out laughing. ‘I’ll expect you to return that later, darling!’ he shouts across the hall.
Arthur checks his gun. ‘Try me when we're up top, if you're feeling lucky,’ he calls out, feeling a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. ‘We’ve still got a job to finish.’