Eames stands at the baggage carousel after the Inception job, watches the suitcases go by, wonders why he doesn’t feel different. Surely achieving the impossible should feel heady, exhilarating. Should make him want to fly somewhere expensive--Monaco, maybe--and spend all his money and rack up a few debts and a few regrets, just to celebrate.
He doesn’t know where to go, what he’s meant to be doing.
He looks to Arthur, who’s already looking at him, who looks like he’s been looking at him for a long time. He looks tired. Like maybe he’s been looking too long.
“Pick a destination,” says Eames.
“Copenhagen,” says Arthur, immediately. “We should drink.”
“Excessively,” says Eames.
“Deface things,” says Eames, convinced.
There’s the tiniest pause before Arthur says, “I don’t really care anymore.”
That, Eames thinks, is the problem. Perhaps in its entirety.
It is nighttime in Copenhagen, clean and brightly lit and Scandivavian. They find the ugliest, most corporate hellholes to drink in and have a drink in each, too quickly, just so that they can leave as fast as possible and move on to the next.
“You’re tourists, yes?” asks one bar girl, pressing a tumbler of German whisky into Arthur’s slightly wavering hand.
“Not really here to see anything,” says Eames, still reeling from his dose of unidentified grain alcohol. “More about forgetting.”
Arthur glances at him before knocking back his drink, then sets it down slowly. The barmaid tries to hand them their change, but Eames kisses her hand and tells her to keep it, just so he doesn’t have to figure out the words Arthur’s keeping between the lines of his mouth.
At 4.30am, the party’s still going on somewhere, but it’s not here. The jetlag is catching up. Eames’s body feels like it’s mid-afternoon, but of which day, he’s not sure. He’s heavily intoxicated and sitting on a kerb, scuffing his shoes against the cobblestones, and Arthur is listing beside him, so when they’re finally approached by one of Denmark’s laid-back and well-meaning police officers, Eames is honestly unable to tell him the date.
“Sir, I think you should make your way back to where you are staying,” the officer tells him, gently but firmly.
“Jesus, Eames, this foreigner speaks better English than you do,” Arthur mutters into one of his knees.
“And your companion too.”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite remember where our hotel is,” says Eames, when the truth is, they hadn’t booked one. Their luggage is stored in a locker at the airport.
“I remember,” ejects Arthur, standing with an alacrity Eames is certain he himself could not achieve at this juncture.
“Would you like me to escort you to your destination?” asks the officer.
Arthur says, “No,” just as Eames says, “God, yes.” The police officer lends a supportive elbow and Eames gets to privately savour his victory all the way to the incongruously named Boston Hotel.
“Stayed here years ago,” says Arthur, falling back onto the wide bed. “Rude receptionists. Great pillows.”
Which, of course, means that Eames should get down there as well, test those pillows. He flops down onto the bed and rolls around a bit, to get a feel. He doesn’t quite see what Arthur means.
He tells Arthur this and Arthur says, “Trust me, in the morning, you’ll realise.”
Arthur is looking at him again, with that slight thinning of the mouth that Eames can’t read anything into. The silence stretches on, filling up with the words neither of them are saying. Eames shuts his eyes, so that he doesn’t have to look back at Arthur any more, and reopens them to sun streaming through the curtains.
Arthur was lying about the pillows. Or, at least, whatever comfort the pillows once possessed, it has now since been overtaken by Eames’s insistent, throbbing hangover. He rolls out of bed and peels off his clothes on the way to the shower. There’s a folding plastic chair placed helpfully next to the sink and he sits on it in the shower cubicle, slumped, too fragile to stand.
When he’s finished, he wanders back into the bedroom and towels his hair dry and watches Arthur sleep, tries to tell himself it’s not creepy. While he’s looking, Arthur blinks and shifts awake.
“You fell asleep with your shoes on,” says Eames. “By rights, I should have drawn on your face.”
Arthur makes no noise at that, just toes off his shoes and wriggles out of his jacket, drops it on the floor next to the bed, then rolls his face back into the pillow. Eames stares at the jacket and the way it’s crumpled so carelessly. He tugs the curtains a little more tightly closed, picks up the jacket and drapes it neatly over a chair, but leaves the shoes lying haphazardly, then gets back into bed.
He gets under the sheets this time, naked, while Arthur still lies fully clothed on top of the covers. He is snoring quietly, gently.
When Eames wakes up for the second time, Arthur is gone, but there’s a note on the bedside table with ‘breakfast’ written in his fastidiously tidy handwriting. Eames puts yesterday’s clothes on with faint revulsion and stumbles downstairs, where Arthur is reading the newspaper in the sunny conservatory, probably as some kind of subtle fuck-you. Eames wears his sunglasses at the table and drinks very black coffee.
“I’m not sure this has worked,” Arthur says and Eames’s hangover amplifies the sound, along with the clinking of spoons and the scraping of chairs.
“On the contrary, my darling, I think it’s working a little too well.”
Arthur lowers the newspaper and, now that he’s got a good view, Eames can see Arthur’s eyes are bloodshot and his skin is pasty. He looks terribly tired.
“Can we go somewhere quiet? Out of the way.”
A few tables over, a grizzly toddler starts screaming and thrashing in its high-chair, and Arthur adds, “Somewhere without children.”
“There are never guarantees,” Eames replies, sadly. He snatches up Arthur’s blackberry and starts looking up flight times to Fiji. Arthur makes a disapproving sniffing noise, but just rustles his paper in retort.
Fiji is a destination full of firsts for Eames. He scuba-dives and takes scores of blurry pictures of small, brilliantly coloured fish, draws something that’s not a copy of a famous painting for the first time in years and is vaguely pleased with the result.
It is also the first time he sees Arthur’s knees.
Arthur has spent the week sitting in the same sun lounger on the beach, working his way through a succession of trashy paperbacks, wearing an overlarge shirt, shorts and a straw hat. Every time Eames gets back from surfing or cliff diving or wakeboarding, he brings Arthur a glass of fruit juice. Arthur always smiles and goes back to his Jodi Picoult and once his face disappears beneath the brim of his hat, Eames has nothing left to look at but the slight sunburn on Arthur’s knees and the sand stuck to the arches of his feet.
It’s beginning to drive Eames slightly barmy.
He gets a call from Cobb, who begins the conversation with, “Ariadne wanted me to ask--”
“We’re fine,” says Eames, preemptively. “How are you? And why are you calling me and not Arthur?”
“All of Arthur’s phones go straight to voicemail.”
This, when given thought, is unsurprising, given that Arthur seems to be approaching his enforced relaxation with the same military precision he used to try and drink himself into a coma in Copenhagen. Eames wouldn’t be surprised if Arthur had drawn up a timetable dividing up his time between reading, sunbathing, and having a nap.
“Where are you?” asks Cobb.
Eames looks across the beach at Arthur, who is paddling in the sea, scuffling his feet through the waves and looking out towards the sunset, and replies, “Ah, well, if I told you that, I’m afraid I would have to kill you.”
“Very funny. No, seriously, Eames. Give me a location.”
“Is there some kind of emergency?”
“Is Arthur’s presence, or mine, immediately needed?
“Uh-- No. No, not really.”
“Is someone out to kill us and is tracking us down right now?”
“Then I shall tell you, in the kindest way possible, to fuck off. Arthur and I will resurface eventually.”
Arthur turns to look at him as he ends the call and gives a wave, holding on to his hat with his other hand. Eames waves back, absently, then goes to join him.
Hanging up on Cobb brings a call from Ariadne herself for his pains.
“Do you know what time it is?” he hisses into the phone, scrubbing at his eyes.
“No, I do not. That’s the purpose of this call, actually, since I don’t know where you are.”
“I’m really failing to see why you care.”
“You have stolen Arthur and sequestered him in some corner of the globe and turned off his phone. Is it so hard to believe I might be little concerned?”
“Arthur turned his phone off of his own volition, and I did not steal him. This was his idea, actually.”
The doors between his and Arthur’s bedrooms are open. If he listens, he can hear Arthur snoring, gently, rhythmically, in counterpoint to the waves outside.
There’s a pause at the other end of the line, a long one, and Eames wonders whether Ariadne can read something into his voice, something he hadn’t meant to give away.
“Just bring him back in one piece before the end of the month,” she says. “Saito says he’s had wind of a job you might be interested in.”
“Don’t worry, sweet girl. Takes a lot to take Arthur to pieces.”
He doesn’t mention he intends to find out.
He gets up early, the next morning, too restless to sleep. Arthur dozes on towards midday and Eames, suddenly lonely, wakes him up with a cup of coffee.
Arthur rolls over in bed and scrubs a hand through his hair, scratches at his stubbled chin. Eames sits on the edge of the bed after he hands over the mug, forgets how strange this is.
“What?” Arthur asks, voice rough with sleep.
“Where would you like to go next?”
“Barcelona,” says Arthur. “I’ve booked the flights already.”
Eames wonders if he’ll ever get tired of how Arthur is always a step or two ahead, but the thought seems unlikely. It gives him something to chase after.
“Slightly further back,” Eames calls, camera poised. “No, a bit more.”
It’s a blisteringly hot day in Spain and Eames is trying to get Arthur to trip into a fountain.
He’s pretty sure Arthur’s already figured out what he’s doing and is plotting brutally efficient revenge.
“A bit to the left?”
Arthur just looks at him like, bitch, please?
“All right, smile!”
Barcelona is a lovely city, though Eames would have preferred Rome.
“I’ve conducted too much business in Rome,” Arthur had said at the airport.
“Too many memories?” Eames had said.
“Too many chances of getting recognised and shot at.”
Eames has only been to Barcelona once before, a rushed business trip that took place on a mostly nocturnal schedule, and his memories of that visit are hazy, blurred over by double-crosses and head trauma. He hadn’t remembered, or perhaps had never seen, the beauty of the place, riot of sound and colour, the majesty of Gaudi’s legacy. He’s reminded, inexplicably, of London, but for the gorgeous, perpetual sunshine.
Of course, if he were a true romantic, he would say that the city pales in comparison to Arthur.
But he isn’t--or, he would never admit to it--so he doesn’t.
“Gaudi was killed by a bus, did you know that?” Arthur comes out with, while they’re sitting eating lunch on the steps of the Sagrada Familia.
“As good a way to go as any.”
“They thought he was a tramp,” Arthur continues through his sandwich. Eames is so fascinated by the idea of Arthur talking with his mouth full that he almost misses, “So they didn’t let him on the buses. That’s why he got run over, because he had to walk everywhere.”
“The irony,” says Eames, still a little slow on the uptake.
So far, Barcelona has been about learning things, learning their wonders and learning to appreciate them. The more Eames learns about Arthur, the more he is filled with wonder. He already appreciated Arthur, with his attention to detail and incessant preparation for every possibility, but now he’s beginning to appreciate him as different things. Like being fallible, for having allergies, for being someone, not just a man.
Eames isn’t stupid. He knows he’s falling in love with Arthur. He can’t stop watching Arthur’s hands as he explains some other facet of Barcelona’s history, can’t stop marvelling at the fact that Arthur knows all this, has put it all away in some corner of his mind so that he could tell it to Eames.
But he’s not finished. Like the Sagrada Familia, falling in love with Arthur will be Eames’s greatest masterpiece, but it’s not done yet. It will be, though, with time.
Cobb calls again and Eames makes the mistake of saying the word ‘job’ in front of Arthur.
“I thought we were trying to get away from all that,” says Eames.
Arthur just looks at him, a little sadly and a little resignedly, and holds out his hand for the phone. “Let me speak to him, Eames.”
Ms. Katherine Brown, upon first impression, comes across as an almost carbon-copy of Arthur, aside from the pencil skirts and the perfectly applied nailpolish. Eames is no longer impressed by efficiency, merely impatient with incompetence, but he can’t help but marvel at the way she and Arthur circle about each other like impeccably groomed tigers, all mirror-shine shoes and synchronised watches.
“Were you married?” he asks her, one night in their workshop, working late while Arthur is out on surveillance. They’re eating noodles out of card boxes, watching redubbed Russian television, and Katherine doesn’t even blink at the question, just looks out at the rain and says,
“Twice. Ended badly, both times,”
and Eames can see what happened in the shadows of her face, the thinning of her lips. He left her, the first time, then she left him. Both were expensive, nasty affairs. Neither keeps touch.
“Work has always loved me better,” she says.
Then, seven minutes into the actual job, the mark shoots himself in the head. Katherine betrays them and hands them over to a Russian dream gang, and Eames wakes up to a fistful of knuckleduster and a mouthful of blood. He lets himself feel a moment of surprise, but then looks at trim, corporate-looking Katherine, the obvious breadwinner of any marriage, and realises she’s doing this for the money, probably still paying off the divorce settlement.
They knock him out, and the next time he wakes up, he spends an unspecified time alone in a small room with a burly Russian, who asks him very enthusiastically about the intricacies of inception, before Arthur bursts in, sporting a fire extinguisher and a bloody nose. He clocks the Russian in the face, then just stands there, quite still.
Eames has been hit in the head one or seven too many times by this point and the world is beginning to look more than a little muzzy.
“Arthur,” he says, thickly. “Arthur, are you real? I think I’m dreaming. I think they took my totem and I’m having trouble remembering-- am I dreaming? I think--”
“No, Eames, you’re not dreaming,” Arthur says, kneeling to untie Eames’s feet from the chairlegs.
Arthur could be lying, though. Dreams lie. Eames lies in dreams. Eames, dreams, dreams, Eames, lies...
He realises that he’s mumbling, and that Arthur is holding his face, peering into his eyes.
“Jesus, what, did they drug you or something?”
Eames looks at Arthur, as steadily as he can manage, looks at the way his eye is starting to swell, looks at the blood on his upper lip. Then he looks at the patch of peeling sunburn on Arthur’s nose, and realises that this is not a dream and Arthur has rather stolen his thunder, storming in, rescuing Eames.
“You were meant to be the princess,” Eames mutters.
Arthur just makes a snorting, unconcerned sound, hoists him onto his shoulder, out of the building with minimal casualties and into a waiting taxi, whose driver seems quite taken aback by the spatterings of blood and the sub-machinegun Arthur is unsuccessfully trying to hide behind Eames’s back.
When he next wakes up, floating out of heady unconsciousness, he’s lying on a hard youth hostel bed with a bag of frozen broccoli florets on his head. Arthur is kneeling on the floor, pulling passports and scarlet-stamped visa papers out of a brown paper bag.
“Where on earth were you hiding those?” Eames asks incredulously. “I’m pretty sure your tailoring is far too fine to account for a package like that, else I will be sorely disappointed when I next admire you.”
“I had them delivered by a contact,” Arthur says . ”They owed me a favour.”
“And thank God they did,” Eames replies, touching a hand to his broccoli. “What’s the damage? Not cracked anything important, have I?”
“Not that I could tell. You’ll have a couple of good shiners, though.”
“Fantastic. Nothing like panda eyes to put suspicions into people. We’d better lay low, or else go somewhere extremely exclusive.”
There’s a pause, where Eames realises he automatically said ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, and panics a little, before chancing a look at Arthur.
Arthur’s smiling slightly, completely unconcerned. “I have a villa that’s suitable.”
“Whereabouts? It’s inadvisable for me to enter Portugal any time in the next six months.”
“Sicily,” says Arthur. “The family in those parts owe me a few favours too.”
“Only you, Arthur, would have the Sicilian Mafia in your debt. Go on, then, tell me why. Enquiring minds wish to know.”
“I organised their taxes. Whoever their last accountant was, they couldn’t handle compound interest for shit.”
Arthur’s Mediterranean household is moderate, picturesque and secluded, with nothing in its cupboards except a few tins of ravioli and enormous quantities of wine.
“Those Russians were keen on inception, weren’t they?” Eames says, sitting on the kitchen counter, steadily emptying a bottle of fine red.
“Sometimes I forget it was ever that special,” Arthur says, wiping the dust off the table with slightly haphazard motions. “I think I internalise the stress of it.”
Eames thinks about that for a minute.
Eames has the feeling that after that superhuman feat, that marvel of science, artistry and luck, he should feel superhuman. Instead, there are a dozen niggling mundanities occupying his brain. A birthday present to be bought and sent. Telephone calls to be made. A referendum to be voted in. A bill to be paid, but for which house, he can’t remember.
“So what you’re saying,” Arthur says later, languidly, after Eames has put a few glasses of rose in him, “is that you want to feel like Superman, but you really feel like Clark Kent.”
“Precisely,” Eames says. “Well, not quite precisely. The metaphor is a little stretched, given that I’m not an alien who’s trying to pay the rent by working for a newspaper while holding down a position of vigilante heroism at the same time. I don’t have a Lois Lane.”
“Very important,” Arthur says. “Terrible thing to miss.”
Eames pauses, looks at Arthur and says, very deliberately, “Arthur. Will you be my Lois Lane?”
Arthur smiles at him, half dopey grin, half narrowed, knowing eyes. “Of course I will. Someone has to be around to admire you in the famous tights.”
Eames laughs and goes along with the joke, and they have another bottle of wine to accompany the truly awful television on offer, but really, he’s being serious. He just doesn’t know how to convince Arthur.
Eames is cooking when Ariadne next calls and he puts her on speaker on the countertop, so that Arthur can hear from where he’s doing yoga or pilates or something else involving excessive contortion and regulated breathing.
“What are you cooking?” she says. “There’s loads of clanging.”
“Ah, but it’s a surprise, lovely girl. I’m steadily introducing Arthur to culinary delights beyond pizza and cold leftover Chinese takeaway.”
“I can cook!” Arthur calls from his sun salutation.
“Yes, Arthur can cook. He just chooses not to exercise these totally, not at all fictitious skills of his and live a life of deep malnutrition and unexciting tastes.”
“Yeah, well,” Ariadne says, over Arthur’s muted squawk of indignation. “Once you’re gotten over this adorable period of domestic dependency, Dom has hooked me up with a job that could use either or both of you, a legal one. You should probably call him and pretend to ask him about it. Ever since you two eloped, he’s been real twitchy.”
Eames laughs loudly, but Arthur goes quite still where he’s lying flat on the floor. Keeping one eye on him, Eames says, “Not elope, never elope. This has been more of a relaxation gig. A boys-only romp over spectacular scenery and extremely persuasive Russians.”
“Well, if you could tell me how to convince Yusuf to take me on one of these ‘romps’, I’d be grateful. I don’t think he’s realised we’re serious yet and I need some way of driving it into his cluttered skull in the nicest way possible.”
Before Eames can reply, Arthur has scrambled up off the floor and snatched the phone up.
“I’m really sorry, Ariadne,” he says, “but we gotta go,” and hangs up.
“What did you do that for? Are you--”
Eames falls silent, because Arthur is leaning on the counter, shoulders hunched, looking like he’s trying to decide whether to be angry or disappointed.
“What do you think we’re doing here, Eames?” he asks, very quietly.
The cogs are slowly falling into place, but more of the wine he’s been cooking with has gone inside Eames than in the food, and it’s hampering his usually lightning-quick understanding. “What?”
“Oh, God,” Arthur says, explosively, throwing down the phone and striding out of the kitchen. Eames has the presence of mind to turn off the hob before following. He finds Arthur standing by the front door, his face in his hands.
“Arthur,” Eames says softly, reaching for him but not touching, not quite.
Arthur takes a shaky breath and takes his hands from his face, but he won’t look at Eames.
“Please tell me--” he stops and visibly tries to compose himself, but when he continues, it’s even shakier than before. “I just don’t want to find out I’ve been wasting my time.”
And, suddenly, Eames realises that he’s standing in Arthur’s house, somewhere in Italy, that Arthur has let himself be led wherever Eames had wanted, that Arthur has saved his life more times than he could count, in times when it would have been easier, far easier, to cut and run. To leave Eames to sleep in the bed he has made of apathy and disillusionment.
Eames’s brain is still catching up, still processing, but his body responds instead, steps in close. He turns Arthur’s face gently, touches their foreheads together, slots his nose in beside Arthur’s, and their lips brush. For a moment, Eames just breathes him in, and Arthur lets him.
“Not wasted,” he says. “Not one moment wasted.”