He’s lifting weights when Jimmy passes the word along that there’s a call for him. He’s put on maybe 15lbs of muscle since he got here, and none of it intentional. At least when his body’s working he doesn’t have to think.
Prison is so fucking dull. He’s not read a decent book in three months and he can practically
his vocabulary atrophying.
The corridor housing the phones is far from deserted. There are guys leaning against the walls and the bars of the doors all the way along, shooting the shit and practising their looming skills. Eames lights a cigarette and strolls past them all, unworried. By now, people know not to fuck with him.
‘You don’t get calls,’ says Jimmy, against all obvious evidence to the contrary.
‘Looks like you’re wrong on that one,’ says Eames, and takes the phone. Jimmy scurries off. ‘Hello?’
The voice is tinny, but achingly familiar. Eames’ breath catches in his throat. ‘Are you safe?’
‘I dealt with them,’ says Arthur. Eames can picture exactly the expression on Arthur’s face right now, which is to say: no expression at all.
‘All of them?’ Eames asks, not because he particularly cares, but because he wants Arthur to stay on the line as long as possible. He’s not heard from Arthur since he got arrested and he’s not so much been worrying about Arthur as worrying about what Arthur has been doing to other people. Just hearing Arthur's voice is better than anything he's experienced over the last ninety-five days, and he doesn't know when he'll get to hear it again.
‘I saved Nash for last,’ says Arthur. ‘So we can do him together.’
‘Oh, you shouldn’t have,’ says Eames, hearing as his own voice goes warm and slow. He still can't make himself give a shit about the gaggles of eavesdroppers in the payphone room. 'Where are you?' He thinks he can hear traffic in the background, the sound of the road.
'Texas,' he replies, and Eames clenches his fist, nails digging into his palm.
'What a coincidence,' he says, as lightly as he can manage.
‘Did you miss me?’ asks Arthur, teasing like a blade held a hair’s breadth away from your throat.
‘Arthur -- ‘
Arthur cuts him off. ‘I’m coming for you,’ he says. ‘Now.’
The phone goes dead.
Eames goes back to his cell before rec time is even over, veins buzzing with life in a way they haven’t done in weeks. After all this time working out in the yard and thinking of nothing, jerking off in his narrow bunk and thinking of nothing, getting into fights he doesn’t give a shit about and living within the simple, stupid confines of prison routine, having his brain come back online like this is like ripping open an old wound. Suddenly every thought he’s not been allowing himself to have since he got locked up comes rushing back into his head, and most of them involve Arthur.
How did Arthur escape? Why didn't he visit before?
When will Arthur be coming for him?
How soon is
The guards come to his door a couple of hours later
. Two to take him away and a third to open the doors for them.
Eames nods to them. ‘John. Paul. Ringo.’ The three of them standing side-by-side look like a particularly unattractive wall.
‘Get up,’ says the one he calls Ringo, and he obeys, as slow and insolent as he can. They frogmarch him to the transfer office, and Eames tries to calm his heart and not let himself hope to hard. He keeps his face closed off to the questioning looks and catcalls from the men they pass on the way. Finally, the door clanks shut behind them, blocking out the noise of the main prison complex.
Standing next to the transfer desk is Arthur, ignoring the guard and watching Eames’ approach with his hands purposefully relaxed by his sides. He looks exhausted and just as long-limbed and delicious as Eames remembers, if not more so. Eames isn’t so rusty that he can’t control his reaction at seeing him, but it’s a close run thing.
Arthur’s wearing a suit but it isn’t one of his own. Dark grey and off-the-rack, it must be part of a disguise -- FBI, NSA maybe. There are no recognisable signs of nervousness, no twitching or foot-tapping, but Eames can tell he’s impatient as hell to get out of here. Eames couldn’t agree more.
Ringo pulls out a pair of handcuffs and slips one end around Eames’ wrist and one around Arthur’s, securing them together. He leans into Eames’ space, smelling of breath mints and stale sweat. ‘You’ll be back,’ he says, leering.
‘I doubt it,’ says Arthur, voice clipped, and signs something on the transfer desk, sliding it over to the security officer. ‘Is that everything?’
Arthur leads him out into the car park, a line of guys in prison scrubs jeering at them through the chainlink fence. Eames keeps his mouth closed, careful not to mess with an iota of Arthur’s plan until they’re well out of here, whatever Arthur's plan may be. Now is not the time for kidding around. But he takes advantage of the cuffs to tangle his fingers with Arthur’s for an instant before Arthur opens the door of a black, dust-spattered sedan. Arthur unlocks himself and cuffs Eames to the ring on the dashboard, and the blood is rushing so loud in Eames’ ears he doesn’t even hear the engine start. He can almost taste freedom in the air.
Once they’re out of sight of the prison, Arthur takes out his keys and hands them over. Eames takes off the cuffs and closes them with a flick of the wrist, pocketing them for later. ‘In answer to your earlier question,’ he says. ‘Yes, I missed you.’
‘I know,’ says Arthur, eyes on the road, and Eames decides not to push it. He can tell when Arthur’s about to snap, and now is one of those times.
The road is straight, and Arthur’s hands are at two and ten on the wheel, occasionally making minute adjustments but otherwise still enough that he might as well be carved out of marble. Eames is torn between wanting to stare at him and catalogue every tiny, beautiful detail he might've forgotten over the last three months, and choosing the more sensible route of watching the desert flash past outside the window because it’s too painful to just look and not touch. Making Arthur crash the car because Eames can’t resist the urge to give road-head is not the way he wants to celebrate getting out of jail.
‘I’ve got something for you,’ says Arthur. ‘In the briefcase.’
Eames pulls the briefcase off the dashboard. It’s got a bloody rotary lock. ‘What’s the combination?’
‘Figure it out,’ says Arthur, and pulls over into the desert, driving into the dry, yellow brushwood and stopping in a spray of dust and grit. ‘OK, we’re dumping this car,’ he says, and gets out. ‘The FBI tracks all its vehicles and I give it an hour before they realise I’m not the real Agent Schultz.’
‘FBI? Well, I suppose that explains your tie.’
Arthur wrinkles his nose in scornful agreement.
A little way off, behind some dead trees, is a car that is far,
less FBI-issue than the dirty black sedan. In fact, it’s so unlike anything Arthur would ever use that Eames bursts out laughing.
It’s a bright yellow Chevrolet Silverado, with flames painted on the front and -- Jesus fucking Christ -- “Pussy Wagon” spelled out in lurid pink letters on the back.
?’ he chokes out.
‘I was in a hurry,’ says Arthur, annoyed. ‘It was the fastest thing available that didn’t have any visible bullet holes. Forgive me for wanting to get to you the quickest way possible.’ He opens the door for Eames, handing him in like Eames is his bloody prom date or something, and Eames laughs even harder.
They rejoin the empty road and Eames watches the nodding-head Virgin Mary bob in time to the swaying of the Playboy symbol hanging from the mirror. ‘Seriously, darling. Where did you even
‘It belonged to an associate of Nash. He won’t be needing it any more.’
And doesn’t that sentence speak a thousand words. Eames wonders if the real reason for Arthur’s FBI suit is because he’d got bloodstains on whatever he’d been wearing earlier in the day. Arthur always knows where to find a good dry-cleaners, but those people tend to draw a line at unquestioningly washing out the evidence of arterial spray.
Eames runs through a few more predictable combinations for the briefcase, and finally gets it right with a sentimentally familiar code: 528 for one lock, 491 for the other. Eames’ old service number. It opens with a satisfying click. Inside are a greaseproof paper-wrapped Red Velvet cupcake (frosting slightly dented, as the cupcake is a quarter-inch taller than the interior of the briefcase), a Beretta 92F and matching silencer, and Eames’ prisoner transfer paperwork. He unwraps the cake and swirls a finger through the frosting, licking it off. After three months of prison meatloaf and reconstituted mashed potatoes, it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted.
‘Arthur,’ he pronounces through a mouthful of cupcake. ‘You are the best man I’ve ever known.’
‘Probably true,’ says Arthur aiming for deadpan, but his cheeks dimple just enough that Eames can tell he’s holding back a smile.
Nash?’ he asks. ‘He’s not in the back of this horrible truck, is he?’
‘We’re meeting him in a diner about twenty miles from here.’
‘He thinks I don’t know he sold us out,’ says Arthur shortly.
‘Won’t he be wondering what happened to all his friends?’
‘No,’ says Arthur, and were it anyone else, that cold look in his eyes would be terrifying. ‘I did it fast. There’s no way he can know yet.’
Well, if Arthur says
, Eames is willing to take his word for it. Arthur can slit a person’s throat so gently they won’t even know it till they’re dead on the floor.
‘I know I’m good,’ says Eames. ‘But even I’m not good enough to carry off prison scrubs in a public diner without attracting at least some attention. We’re going to have to stop somewhere for clothes.’
‘Check the back of my seat,’ says Arthur, and Eames reaches round to find a dry-cleaning bag hanging there. He unzips it to find a mushroom-coloured three-piece suit. ‘The shoes are in a box on the floor,’ adds Arthur.
Eames raises an eyebrow. ‘You couldn’t get some of
clothes?’ he asks, although he has no doubt it will fit perfectly.
‘I want you in this,’ says Arthur steadily. Eames's pulse stutters
Arthur parks the truck on the shoulder so Eames can get changed. Eames transfers the handcuffs into the pocket of the suit jacket and throws his prison uniform into the ditch, pulling on his new trousers first and wishing for a shower. He can feel Arthur watching him as he buttons his trousers, which are a little tight thanks to the extra muscle he’s put on (and fully intends to neglect now he has better things to do that work out all day), and pulls his shirt on extra-slow for Arthur’s benefit. The car door slams as Arthur gets out, and Eames can’t help but smile to himself. ‘I’m assuming you’ve got some kind of plan for later,’ he says. ‘But it’s been a long three months for both of us. Is a kiss really going to hurt?’
‘Yes,’ says Arthur.
Arthur’s not a big man, but he more or less
Eames, using all his weight to his advantage. Eames staggers back against the car, hands coming up to steady himself and also because -- god,
-- he’s been sitting next to Arthur in that truck for at least ten minutes now and they’ve
not even touched yet.
Eames has always been very happy to let Arthur shove him up against things and maul him, but never before has one of things been a
Desert air has dried his skin already, grit sticking in the corners of his eyes, but Arthur’s mouth is hot and wet and just as perfect as he remembers. He bares his throat so Arthur can suck a painful kiss just under his collar. Breath faster already, he's burning up, desperate after too long not being able to do this, to feel the hard planes of Arthur's body beneath his hands. He can feel Arthur’s heart beating rabbit-fast against his chest, the way it does when Arthur’s been up all night planning a job and thinks it’s a good idea to live on caffeine tablets and fruit juice. ‘When did you last sleep?’ he asks, watching Arthur’s shuddering eyelashes.
‘Wednesday?’ says Arthur, sounding unsure. His lips are red from rubbing against Eames' stubble.
He reaches round Eames and pulls open the car door, but Eames pulls him in for one last kiss, running a hand down along Arthur’s spine.
‘You smell like nitroglycerin,’ he whispers, voice low. ‘What
you been doing?’
Arthur combs his fingers through his hair, taking deep breaths. ‘You don’t want to know.’
* * *
The diner is predictably deserted, just a couple of truckers by the counter and a young woman painting her nails at one of the tables by the window, ice cubes melting fast in the glass of coke in front of her. Nash is sitting at one of the booths already, and jerks his head up when they come in.
‘Afternoon, Nash,’ says Eames pleasantly. Beside him, Arthur is like a coiled spring. Nash can clearly see something’s wrong already, and is jumpy as hell. Eames almost feels sorry for him -- he doesn’t give a shit about Nash, not really. Nash is a rat by nature, and therefore Eames feels that it’s unfair to get angry at him for acting like a rat. Arthur, on the other hand, is so psychotically loyal he can’t even understand the concept of casual betrayal, and for this reason Eames has no doubt that Nash will be dead by the end of the day. Arthur’s been waiting for this for three months.
‘Hey,’ says Nash, and they sit down opposite him. ‘You look good. You get out early?’
‘Something like that,’ says Eames.
A waitress comes over. ‘Coffee,’ says Arthur tightly.
Eames shoots her an apologetic look, and stretches an arm round the back of Arthur’s chair. Ordinarily Arthur would shrug it off and glare, but it appears that today he’s going to cut Eames some slack. ‘Pancakes for me, love,’ he says, and she returns his smile, noting it down.
‘I already ordered,’ says Nash, and she leaves. ‘So, you think you got a job for me?’ he asks, hands twisting in front of him. His poker face is atrocious.
‘Maybe,’ says Arthur. ‘We need a good safe-cracker. You know anyone?’
Nash frowns. ‘I can make some calls,’ he says, and stops again as the waitress comes back with Nash’s waffles. When Nash goes to the counter to top up his coffee, Arthur takes out a small bottle and sprinkles it over Nash’s plate.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ asks Eames, looking at Arthur’s tired eyes and the strained set of his mouth.
‘What do you mean, am I sure?’ snaps Arthur. ‘He--’ he breaks off when Nash sits back down. Eames puts his foot over Arthur’s beneath the table.
Barely paying attention, Eames keeps the business discussion afloat while he and Arthur both watch covertly as food disappears into Nash’s mouth. After a while, he begins to cough. Eames glances round to see that Arthur hasn’t moved, hasn’t so much as widened his eyes.
Nash gulps down coffee until his cup is empty.
‘I can’t -- I can’t move my -- ‘ he says, and his eyes roll round to look at Eames, horrified and filled with a dying man’s empty apologies. ‘You?’
‘Can’t take credit for this one,’ says Eames easily, leaning back as Nash’s fingers twitch. ‘This was all Arthur.’
‘What -- ‘
Nash’s skin is sallow, veins blue under his eyes, sweat beading at his temples.
‘It’s a paralytic,’ says Arthur. ‘Soon, he won’t even be able to move his eyes. But he’ll still be able to feel.’ He pulls his foot out from beneath Eames’, quick and sharp, and makes to get up. ‘You can take it from here.’
Eames grabs his wrist, stops him. ‘Will it kill him?’
He shrugs. ‘Eventually. Why, you want to just leave him here? Someone’s going to notice soon. I’d hate to have to shoot the waitress; she seemed nice.’
‘Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit.’ He glances over at Nash, who is twitching and starting to list to the side, breath rasping. ‘I’m just glad I’m out of jail. But you can have him if you want.’
Arthur stands over Nash for a moment, considering, snakelike. ‘Leave him, then,’ he decides, and turns on his heel. The door to the diner swings closed behind him and then he’s just a dark, crisp silhouette against the bright white-yellow of the desert. Nash makes a noise like he can’t quite believe what just happened, which is fair enough considering the circumstances.
Eames claps him on the shoulder. ‘You’re better off this way, mate,’ he says. ‘Who knows, maybe they’ll call an ambulance.’ Although he highly doubts that Arthur gave him anything with a common antidote.
He catches up with Arthur at the car. ‘You want him, don’t you? There’s still time to go back.’
‘I want to tear his fucking heart out,’ says Arthur dully, turning the key in the ignition. ‘If they’d got me as well, you’d have been put away for
Eames reaches out and rubs his fingers down the nape of Arthur’s neck, making him shiver and waking him from his daze, just a little. ‘I’m hurt, Arthur. Surely you don’t underestimate me
much. I’d have got myself out sooner or later.’
Arthur relaxes. ‘I’d have preferred sooner,’ he says, and they’re just making the turn back onto the highway when he hears the distant scream of the waitress as she finds Nash slumped over his waffles.
* * *
They ditch the Wagon once they reach Mexico. The Beretta comes in useful at the border. They roll down both windows, Eames leaning back to give him more room, and Arthur only needs to take one hand off the wheel to make both shots. They barely even have to slow down; the Pussy Wagon might have a stupid name, but its bumper makes short work of the traffic barrier.
Arthur has a couple of thousand dollars folded into his pocket, and they use some of it for a hotel room in the section of Tijuana that's not populated by shrieking fraternity boys. The wind is blowing in from the West and Eames thinks he can just about smell the sea. They leave the window open.
When Eames gets out of the shower, Arthur is still dressed, sitting on the bed with his briefcase open in front of him, staring at Eames’ release paperwork with bright, glassy eyes that speak of sleepless nights and multiple homicide. Eames sits down next to him and loosens Arthur’s tie, unbuttoning his shirt slowly. He presses a kiss to Arthur’s temple. ‘Oh, love,’ he croons, smoothing down Arthur’s hair. ‘You’re so tired, aren’t you?’
‘Don’t patronise me,’ says Arthur, but his voice is muffled and he’s sagging against Eames’ shoulder, head tipping back to give Eames better access.
‘That’s right,’ says Eames, soft and meaningless, and wonders for a moment if this is the wrong way round, if it’s really Arthur that should be comforting
. But then he thinks how crazy he would be right now if their roles had been reversed and it’d been
who’d been locked away for three months. ‘You got them all,’ he says, and slides Arthur’s shirt from his shoulders, running his hands over the smooth, neat curves of his arms. Arthur’s eyes are fluttering closed and twitching open again arrhythmically. He reaches up to brush his fingers across the bruise he made earlier at the base of Eames' neck.
‘I need coffee,’ says Arthur.
‘I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but you’re not getting any. You’re sleeping. And after that, you’re fucking me. Possibly for several days with occasional pauses for room service.’
Arthur’s mouth quirks into a smile, a loose, happy smile that Eames hasn’t seen in a long time. ‘Get me some coffee and we can start on that now. You just got out of jail, it’s traditional.’
‘Theoretically, I can only agree with that sentiment. But the happy memory would be tarnished somewhat if you passed out from exhaustion halfway through, wouldn't you agree?’ He stands, tugging Arthur to his feet.
‘It’s traditional, and I
it,’ says Arthur, pretty much for the sake of being argumentative at this point because he follows it with a jaw-cracking yawn as he’s stripping down to his underwear. Eames pushes him onto the bed and follows him down, wrapping an arm around Arthur’s midriff. Arthur rolls over, checking the gun is within reach on the bedside table, and falls asleep almost immediately. Quietly, Eames huffs a laugh into his shoulder and pulls him closer so their legs fit together.
Next, Eames thinks, they should try Italy. He doubts that Arthur’s been covering his tracks as well as usual, and some dull and unfortunate law enforcement officer is probably sitting in a poorly-lit office right now, looking at fuzzy surveillance footage of them gunning through the border and trying to work out who the hell they are. In Italy there will be Renaissance art for Eames, clothes for Arthur and good food for both of them, and no one trying to prosecute them for mass murder.
They won’t be going back to the States for a long, long time.