Arthur vanished on a Thursday.
Eames was in Mombasa, doing some inside espionage for Cobol Engineering who thought that one of their top engineers had been bought by Lieung Corporations which was a bloody slow but very well paid job. Nothing as exciting and exotic as the Fisher Job but a job that needed imagination and the fine craft of forging.
One of the advantages of being in Mombasa was being near Yusuf, meaning that Eames didn’t need to bother finding a good chemist.
“I’m an excellent chemist.” Yusuf corrected him when Eames brought it up. Yusuf had closed his shop for midday break and they were drinking tea in his office while Eames made nice with Yusuf’s cat. It was good to have allies everywhere.
“It’s good to see you’re so modest.” Eames teased him. Yusuf gave him a look that told Eames what Yusuf thought of false modesty.
“Is there a point of you being here?” He asked a question he liked to ask whenever Eames annoyed him.
“Actually there was – “Eames began before he was interrupted by his phone. He held up a hand to excuse himself while he answered the call.
“Cobb, what can I do for you?” Eames leaned back in his chair. “Another highly exciting job where Yusuf can prove that he’s a good chemist.” Eames winked at him and Yusuf shook his head.
“You’re not as funny as you think, Eames.” He muttered.
“It’s about Arthur.” Cobb said on the other side of the line, making Eames sit up straight.
“What about him?” His sudden change in body language had caught Yusuf’s interest and he was watching Eames closely.
“Apparently there was some trouble at his last job and he has to go underground for a while.”
“That’s pretty vague even for you, Cobb.” Arthur was an excellent Point Man, if he had to go underground after a job then the shit had literally hit the fan.
“That’s all Arthur told me.” In his defence, Cobb didn’t sound happy about it either. “He called me to let me know that I wouldn’t hear from him in a while.”
“And you called me, why?”It was not as if his and Arthur’s relationship had transgressed the professional line, at least not by much.
“Eames.” Cobb’s tone told Eames two things: a) Arthur hadn’t told him, b)they still had been obvious enough to let Cobb catch up on it
“Okay, okay.” Eames held a hand up even though Cobb couldn’t see it over the phone.
“I’ll keep you in the loop.” Cobb promised before he hung up.
“A nice day to you too.” Eames muttered sarcastically to the dead line.
“Arthur?” Yusuf asked as soon as Eames had closed his phone.
“Run into some trouble. It’s nothing.” Eames answered dismissively.
“You’re going to look for him?”
“Why should I? Arthur’s a grown man. He can take care of himself.”
“If you say so.”
“He’ll be back in a couple months.”
Eames really expected whatever mess Arthur had gotten himself into to be solved in a couple months. He found Cobol Engineering’s spy and handed him over (and later heard that it ended ugly. Cobol Engineering didn’t tend to be forgiving and their boss was a fan for scarring people into loyalty).
Afterwards he took a job in New York, something as mundane as a wife who wanted to know whether her wife was cheating on her or not (she did but not with the expected candidate) and two months after that the Cyprian government needed some help with a ring of antique smugglers.
In France he teamed up with an old friend, Victor Hugenay, who was probably the best art thief of the world, and did some real world forgery for the change. He hadn’t heard from either Arthur or Cobb in seven months now and even though he wouldn’t admit it, it bothered him.
While they were in Paris, Eames broke into Arthur’s flat but there was no evidence that Arthur had been here in the past seven months.
It wasn’t that they hadn’t gone more than seven months without talking to each other but usually Eames knew where Arthur was instead of this. Drifting and spinning away in the current of the big cities, fewer phone calls and even less words until the person was no longer there and no one could quite remember the last time they were something more solid than a memory.
“Eh, ça va?” Victor asked him the next morning.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Eames frowned at the canvas. Jaccard’s ‘Firemoon’ wasn’t what he was usually forging.
“There is a story about this painting, you know?” Victor asked, lighting a cigarette.
“Really?” Eames faked disinterest.
“Jaccard left a series of riddles for his friend Hernandez so he could find this picture after Jaccard’s death and sell it to live comfortably for the rest of his life.”
“Raoul Hernandez died in poverty.” Eames pointed out.
“Because Jaccard assumed that his friend would come back to him instead of looking for him himself.” Eames knew that Victor was trying to tell him something. Their friendship reached back to the days where Eames had run errands for the London mob and Victor went by the name of Chander to have more credibility while smuggling archaeological artefacts from India. Wasn’t it nice how art brought people together? He knew that Victor kept the tabs on him, just like he did on Victor. So Victor knew about the inception and Arthur, just like he had known about Johnny and Archie and Eames had known about Julie and Lydia and Olivia and had flown to Toulouse immediately to help Victor move the bodies of the people who had killed Victor’s daughter Brittany and his protégé Justus.
“Loin des yeux, loin du cœur?” Victor asked with a teasing smile.
“You know me. I’m never interested in people who can’t solve their own messes.”
“Naturement.” Victor said and then changed the topic to the security systems of Charles Coteau’s villa.
The idea itself, like so many ideas, was growing slowly. At one point he was doodling something on a napkin when he and Victor went out for drinks to relax from the work stress, and suddenly the next time they’re in Paris, he contemplated putting the picture he drew onto the wall opposite Arthur’s flat.
Just in case he came back.
He didn’t do it, though, dismissing the idea as too imaginative for Arthur to understand. Instead he annoyed Cobb on the phone a couple times to see if he had anything else on Arthur’s whereabouts, and Yusuf as well because Yusuf expected that from him and would feel neglected if Eames didn’t drop in every couple months to spoil his cat and sleep on his couch.
“Pensez-y.” Victor gave him the sketch at the airport before Eames left for Mombasa.
“Je ne penses pas. Je rêve.”
“Utilisies ton imagination. C’est ton fort, n’est pas?”
“Mais pas pour lui.”
“La chance sourit aux audacieux.” Victor said, leaning in to kiss Eames’ cheek. “Au revoir. Fais attention a toi.”
“When didn’t I?” Eames asked back but Victor merely rolled his eyes and gestured for him to finally go through the security check.
“Eames.” Like so many of his friends, Yusuf had mastered the art to give a whole range of emotions off just by saying Eames’ name.
“Yes, Yusuf?” Eames didn’t even look up from his newspaper while scratching Yusuf’s cat behind the ears since she had decided that his stomach made a good pillow anyway.
“Why is there a picture of a guy in a trenchcoat and a fedora on the wall opposite my door?”
“Why do you think it’s my fault?” He stopped scratching Sarabi’s head, which earned him an annoyed glance from green eyes.
“Eames.” Shorter this time and Yusuf was dangling his sketch in front of him.
“It’s a new project.” Yusuf’s raised eyebrows told him that the other man didn’t believe him.
“Nothing illegal.” Yusuf’s disbelief rose.
“You wouldn’t know honest work if it bit you in the arse.”
“Hey! I’ve done honest work – granted I was fourteen and only did it for a day but that still makes me better than Arthur.”
“Arthur was in the military.”
“Ah, but the work Arthur did there has nothing honest about it.” Eames replied, ignoring the amused expression that had appeared in Yusuf’s face as soon as Eames had mentioned Arthur.
He contemplated asking Saito for a favour, even going as far as flying to Tokyo but didn’t do it. Instead he paid the Shinkansen to put up posters of his picture in their trains a couple months.
His next stop was L.A. Cobb had promised to tell him if he heard anything from Arthur but Eames didn’t trust him, not before the Fisher Job and certainly not afterwards. Cobb lived a bit out of town and Eames hated driving on the wrong side out of the dreamscape, but he managed. There was a nice, little shop on the other side of Cobb’s garage. Not Eames’ best work but in his defence the middle of a LA suburb wasn’t the best place to spray a masterpiece on a wall.
He flew back to Paris under the pretence to see if Victor had already managed to sell Firemoon and maybe drop by Ariadne for a coffee but really to check if Arthur had come back to his flat and when he found it still untouched, he left his picture on the wall opposite of Arthur’s bedroom window.
“Eames!” Ariadne looked genuinely happy to see him again. “Have you heard from Arthur?”
“Not a word.”
“Dom said he hadn’t heard anything since Hong Kong either.” She mentioned but Eames shot her a surprised glance.
“Yes, didn’t he tell you? Arthur vanished there. Tadashi was the one who called Dom to let him know that he wouldn’t hear from him for a while.”
“Tadashi?” Eames couldn’t remember having heard that name before.
“He worked with Arthur and Dom on the Saito job. I think Arthur’s training him.”
“Arthur?” That sounded very unlikely. He really wasn’t one to let people close that he didn’t know and he hadn’t mentioned that Tadashi once to Eames.
On the other hand, maybe he was simply jealous.
“When we walk out of here, does this keep going on or do we pretend it never happened and go back to the way things were?” Eames had asked him that after the first time they had slept with each other while getting back into his clothes. Arthur, who had stood in front of the mirror adjusting his tie for some business dinner he had later, had met Eames’ eyes in the mirror when he had answered: “It keeps going in here.”
And Eames had nodded and replied: “Works for me, darling.”
Eames stood inside the same hotel suite now, nearly ten years later, wondering if that ‘business dinner’ had in truth been Arthur meeting with Tadashi. He had never been jealous before, but looking back it seemed like there never had been anyone to be jealous of. Arthur had always been too devoted to his job, to Cobb and Mal to have time for anyone else. That’s why his affair with Eames had been so convenient because there had been no strings attached.
Eames wondered if Arthur had ever been jealous of his conquests. He liked to sleep around, considered it one of the perks of his job even if it was never serious since Eames was a big fan of friends with benefits, something that had so far worked in his favour.
Except with Arthur, it seemed.
He was so pathetic, Eames thought, shaking his head. He grabbed his jacket and keys and went outside. He promised himself that after Hong Kong he would find a new job and forget Arthur. If the man didn’t want to be found then Eames wouldn’t coerce him.
It was easy to get lost in Hong Kong, to be simply carried off by the crowd like the sea and not caring on which shore it would spew you out again. He had always been the type for that but he had never thought that Arthur was as well. He had always seen Arthur as someone grounded in the real world and more than capable to clean up his own and usually Cobb’s mess as well, not like Eames who had nearly as many passports as there were countries and couldn’t use half of them since some police or another looked for him.
His phone beeped.
“Look up.” The text message said, the sender was an unknown number. Above him, on the other side of the street one of the LED advertising panels changed colours.
It was Eames’ picture.
He whirled around, trying to see where Arthur was but there were too many people on the street. The picture mocked him in bright colours but Arthur wasn’t here.
Eames blinked and when he looked up again the picture was gone as well.
He came back late. There was a flight to London waiting for him in the morning and a call from the lobby that should wake him up in time. Trying to drown in own stupidity in weak Chinese beer and expensive imported whiskey had only convinced him that he was a pathetic lovesick fool. And maybe he was dreaming anyway and should just shoot himself to wake up. Maybe this was Lydia Cartier’s revenge for that botched inception two years ago.
“Eames.” Arthur’s tone was clipped, professional. He looked impeccable in his three piece suit, not at all like a man on the run. He stood at the opened window, bathed in the bright colours of the LED ads from the other side of the street.
“Must have been a hell of a fuck up for you to stay hidden in here for all that time.” Eames tried to sound nonchalant as if there hadn’t been fourteen months since the last time they had seen each other. And there were things he could say: Why now, why not then, why did you let go, why didn’t you, what would it take but Eames bit back every single question. Arthur might answer, and he might lie.
Or, God, he might not.
“I’ve got your message.” Arthur said calmly, not moving from his place at the window.
“I didn’t think you would.” The combination of slightly too much alcohol, exhaustion and Arthur made honesty break out from under his skin.
“It was very...imaginative.” Arthur always said that word like it was an insult and this time was not different.
“I know how you love a challenge, darling.” Eames winked at him.
“Speaking of challenges, it took you a long time to come here.”
“Your friends weren’t very forthcoming with information.” Eames pointed out, throwing his shirt into his bag and changing into a t-shirt. Arthur watched him without any reaction, not that he had ever been the type who ripped Eames’ clothes from his body.
It wasn’t until Eames lay down on the bed, that Arthur moved, crossing the room. He sat down beside him, near, but not close, reaching out to touch Eames’s fingers that rested lazily on the mattress, and cautiously, as if he was expecting to be denied, he slipped his own fingers between them. Eames’ stomach fluttered; this was the closest to an apology he was likely to get.
“What did you do?” Because maybe the time for questions had come. All questions, any questions. “You turned up here, in the same place that you vanished fourteen months ago, the same place we slept together for the first time nearly ten years ago and you expect me to believe that it is a coincidence?”
“You think you’re dreaming.” It wasn’t a question.
“I don’t know, you tell me.” But Arthur was only shaking his head, leaning over and sliding his free hand into Eames’ hair to hold him down by it.
“They say whoever looks for the truth deserves punishment for finding it.” He was so close that his breath was ghosting over Eames’ face. He was smiling humourlessly. “But I can shoot you if you want me to.”
“What did you do?” Eames asked again, refusing to be distracted by the curl of Arthur’s lips.
“Fourteen months ago I provided Lionel Glover with false Intel on Aamira and Paula Rosenberg to establish Keira Korpi as the new head of Lex-Wayne Industries. And then she was shot two days later. I’ve signed my death warrant as thoroughly as I could.” Something self-deprecating stole itself into Arthur’s smile when he told Eames that he had collapsed the international bounty hunter network only to be trumped by someone else.
“That wasn’t a point man’s job.”
“You used to run errands for the mob; I assassinated people on orders, in and outside the dreamscape. Industrial espionage is less prone to human errors but sometimes I miss the thrill.” Arthur smiled again and Eames understood for the first time how dangerous and how beautiful Arthur really was.
"Will you come back with me?" It probably wasn’t the question he should ask but it was the only one he wanted to ask.
“Paris, Mombasa, Scotland for all I care.”
"Will you run away with me?"
“You don’t need to decide right now.” Arthur let him go, moving away from him but Eames caught his wrist. Their eyes met in the darkness and Eames willed Arthur to understand that this was as close as Eames would come to asking him to stay.
“You followed me halfway around the globe.” Arthur said after a while. “Why?”
Eames had always been a man of action, so he kissed Arthur, sweet and hard. It was what it was and it wasn’t going to change, being who and where they were.
Arthur was gone the next morning but there was a message written in tacky lipstick on his bathroom mirror that made Eames both smile and roll his eyes. Maybe he would give Arthur a C for effort; at least he was trying to use his imagination.
He called Yusuf on the way to the airport, talking about a new job and asking in passing if Yusuf’s morals about poisoning people were still as strict after the Fisher Job where he had been more than ready to let them all be turned to vegetables for the right price.
“I’ll castrate you chemically and feed you to my cat.” Yusuf threatened good-naturedly.
“Remind never to get on your bad side.”
“Then stop trying to spoil Sarabi into being your ally.”
“You should have more trust in your cat, Yusuf.” Eames grinned. He couldn’t see him but he just knew that Yusuf was shaking his head on the other side.
“I’ll see you in London.” He said finally. “And now that you found him you can wash that tacky love note from my wall. It ruins my view -”
“It’s an original.”
“And tell Arthur he’s welcome to drop by for a tea.” With that Yusuf hung up on him and Eames went to get his plane.